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South Africa and its World Cup: What about Housing Rights?

South Africa has good reasons to be excited. Tomorrow, 11 June 2010, the 19th FIFA World Cup kicks off in South Africa, this year’s host country of the premier international football tournament. It is the first football World Cup on the African continent. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the opening ceremony in Johannesburg at the personal invitation of Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s President.

According to a United Nations envoy, the World Cup “presents the country and the rest of the continent with an opportunity to harness the power of the international event to project Africa’s potential for peace and development”. The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace said that “the World Cup in South Africa is a unique occasion to transform the African people’s pride and enthusiasm into a positive dynamic of solidarity, tolerance, and development. Mega-sports events create legacies such as infrastructure and tourism. This World Cup when successful will also contribute to the confidence and pride of many persons and States in Africa. This is extremely important for the African future”. Summarized, the event “underlines African renaissance”.[1]

But it’s not all roses there. The ‘beautification’ of host cities during preparations for mega-events like the World Cup or the Olympic Games means that thousands of (mainly poor) residents are forced out of their homes. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing said that 20,000 people were removed from the Joe Slovo settlement in Cape Town and moved to poor areas, this to make way for rental housing for the World Cup.[2] The forced eviction of people in the context of mega-sport events is not an exceptional phenomenon. In Britain, 400 people have already been forced to move for the 2012 Olympic Park in London, and in New Delhi, 35,000 families have been evicted in the context of the Commonwealth Games in October 2010. Past events in Barcelona (2002), Atlanta (1996), Seoul (1988) and many more cities have all resulted in the forcible removal of people.[3] In many cases, it is unlikely that those people are allowed to return to their homes after the event.

From an international human rights perspective, the situation of forced evictions as a result of the ‘beautification’ of cities negatively affects several human rights, such as the freedom of movement (including the right not to be arbitrarily displaced), the right to property, the right to respect for private life and the right to adequate housing. I will here zoom in on the right to housing. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, talking about the 2010 World Cup, “all the commitments for affordable housing were left behind and were not prioritized” as a result of the stadium projects falling behind schedule.[4] “The tearing down of informal housing has taken place without prior notice, provision of adequate alternative housing or compensation and in violation of domestic law prohibiting forced evictions. In May 2010 hawkers protested outside the local FIFA operations centre in Soweto calling for an end to evictions and the disruption of their means of livelihood near soccer stadiums”.[5] While South Africa has the primary responsibility to secure the rights of its citizens, also FIFA, the world football’s governing body, has a role to play. But it seems that also FIFA does little to effectively address housing concerns.[6]

The South African constitution states that “everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing” (section 26(1)) and that “no one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions” (section 26(3)). However, it appears that the South African government considers that the ‘beautification’ of cities with an eye to the World Cup justifies the human rights violations of its citizens. On the international level, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) stipulates in its article 11(1) that every person has the right to adequate housing. The relation between the right to adequate housing and forced evictions has been clarified in detail by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, on the one hand in its General Comment No. 4 (see article 8(a) and article 18) and on the other hand in its General Comment No. 7. It is clearly stated that the removal of people against their will from the homes they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection, constitutes a violation of the right to housing. However, while South Africa is a signatory to the ICESCR, it has not (yet) ratified the Covenant and therefore is not legally bound by it. According to Dr. Lilian Chenwi from the Cummunity Law Centre (CLC), “the repeated lack of a public explanation by the Government as to its failure to ratify the ICESCR is wholly unacceptable, especially considering that South Africa has been active in the drafting process of the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR. We urge the Government to show that it is serious about economic, social and cultural rights in South Africa and internationally, by immediately ratifying the ICESCR”.[7]

It is beyond doubt that the 2010 World Cup will be indelibly printed in the memory of South Africa’s forcibly evicted residents – but it won’t be a nice memory.


[1] http://allafrica.com/stories/201005261343.html

[2] http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/03/08-5

[3] http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/03/08-5

[4] http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/03/08-5

[5] http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/human-rights-concerns-south-africa-during-world-cup-2010-06-04

[6] http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2010/03/08-5

[7] http://www.cohre.org/store/attachments/RWP%20-%20ESR_Reviewn_Vol_9(2)_June_2008.pdf, p 26.

3 Comments

  1. […] this is an interesting blogpost about the negative impacts associated with the 'beautification' of cities for large, international […]

  2. ana aslan ana aslan 4 March 2011

    Africa has made a very nice World Cup
    Were not violent events and the show was great

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