Jun 08 2010

Cape Town, the World Cup and an African success story misunderstood

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 7:05 AM

The Center for Investigative Reporting has published an interesting, well-balanced, technically-impressive and timely report on the struggles in Cape Town of shanty dwellers trying to retain their informal housing arrangements — in the face of a municipal drive by Cape Town authorities to “clean up” the city, considered South Africa’s most charming and best-run, in advance of this month’s World Cup. The report, which stopped shorting of finding any forced removals because of the games, highlights the difficult balance between urban planning and the value to burgeoning urban populations of living closer to jobs and services (even if they must subsist in shacks). Unfortunately the audio report comes without any African voices; only the American reporter, Christopher Werth, can be heard narrating this clever slide show. The report also reinforces a flimsy conceit — that it takes an enterprising well-meaning American to uncover some kind of inhumanity in Africa (which appears to have escaped the notice of Africans themselves), Yet the content of the report makes clear that Cape Towners have fought hard and publicly over the issue of informal housing — and the need to resist and reduce forced removals (the question even was debated in South African courts, where presumably African voices were heard). A more effective way to tell this common African story –such fights are occuring in every African city every month — is to elevate one or a group of Africans into the role of narrator, perhaps choosing Africans who are themselves on the front lines of the struggle. Then the text and context of the report would give voice to African voices and empower the only people who can actually solve — and even comprehend — the complexities of the Cape Town slum crisis; and of course these are the people who live in the city themselves. Instead, the report, while well-meaning, reinforces an inaccurate an ultimately demeaning stereotype — that Africans are unable to tell their own stories and to discuss their problems — and potential solutions in their own ways. The struggle of the residents of the “Joe Slovo” shanty is actually a good news story from Africa, not an expose of wrong-doing and shame, but rather an inspiring example of how grassroots movements can make a difference in Africa, and how an African urbanization that too often strikes Westerners as bewildering and dehumanizing is rather empowering, democratic and hopeful.

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