[Hpn] Johannesburg, South Africa - Poverty turns spectator sport at U.N. world summit - San Francisco Chronicle - September 3, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Wed, 04 Sep 2002 11:46:17 -0500


Poverty turns spectator sport at U.N. world summit

Soweto is teeming these days with delegates eager to experience
the "reality" of poverty. Soweto bus tours prove to be a hit with delegates

Soweto, 9 miles southwest of Johannesburg, is home to between 2.5
million and 3 million people - South Africa's largest black township.

___________________________________________________________
By Gavin du Venage - San Francisco Chronicle - September 3, 2002

Johannesburg -- When they are not discussing world hunger or
global warming, Earth Summit delegates can be found in plush
hotels feasting on beluga caviar, quaffing fine wines and taking
tours of the impoverished black township that symbolized the
fight against apartheid.

Soweto is teeming these days with delegates eager to experience
the "reality" of poverty. The ghetto tourism is attracting so
many visitors that the Johannesburg City Council is furnishing
air-conditioned buses, and private tour operators are doing such
a brisk trade that they have nicknamed their jaunts around Soweto
"the struggle route."

"Soweto is not as bad as I thought it would be," said U.S. visitor
Gerry Harak, who is accompanying his son, a Nature Conservancy
delegate, to the summit. "We have been through the middle- and
upper-class areas, and they seemed fine."

Only encounters with over-eager curio sellers, who thrust carved
wooden objects into the hands of all visitors along the roadside,
dampened Harak's enthusiasm. "Depressing," he said.

Soweto, 9 miles southwest of Johannesburg, is home to between 2.5
million and 3 million people. South Africa's largest black township, it
has a variety of dwellings ranging from single-sex hostels and wooden
shacks to beautiful brick homes.

Some Sowetans are getting used to being viewed by foreigners from
the windows of a bus.

VISITS APPRECIATED

"We don't feel like we are in a zoo, especially if people interact with us"
said Ali Hlongwane, a longtime resident and curator of a museum located
at the site where a children's uprising against the white government
began in 1976. "Sometimes they get out of their vehicles and talk to
people, which is appreciated."

But Hlongwane added: "We are disappointed that none of the actual
(U.N. summit) events have taken place in Soweto. That would have
been a real vote of confidence in us."

The summit, however, has been a windfall for some.

Lolo Mabitsela is charging $100 a day to stay with a "real black
family" at her own home. She now has five guests.

"I am very happy with the business I am getting," she said. Her
happiness is understandable, considering that many similar homes
in Soweto can be bought for less than $4,000.

Restaurateur Siphiwe Ndlala is doing a booming business at his
establishment, Wandi's Place.

"Every day we get Americans, French and Chinese coming here to
taste real African food," said Ndlala. "They don't want hamburgers
or pizza. They are eating traditional cuisine," ranging from entrails
to brain -- all delicacies in southern Africa.

In Sandton, the ritzy suburb where many of the conference's
45,000 delegates are lodged, the fare is more familiar -- prawns,
oysters, beef and gallons of wines.

"We have a ton of oysters, a ton of beef fillet, and we have also
brought in specialities like foie gras for the French," said chef
Hannsheinz Kerber of the Sandton Sun and Towers Intercontinental
Hotel. "We have spent $100,000 on food for the summit."

MODERATION URGED

With such southern African nations as Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe
and Lesotho on the verge of famine on a biblical scale, the potential
embarrassment of holding such a sumptuous event has not escaped
the United Nations.

Igbal Riza, chief of staff to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has
circulated a memo pleading with the heads of each delegation to
practice moderation.

"It would be wise to refrain from excessive levels of hospitality,"
said Riza. "We must keep in mind that the summit is taking place
in the midst of a major food crisis affecting 13 million people."

Just beyond the security-cordoned zone of Sandton is Alexandra
township, two-thirds of whose 350,000 residents are jobless and
dirt-poor.

Each day, scores line up at communal taps or wait for a water
truck to arrive so that they can take a few gallons of clean
water to their shacks. City authorities say that at least 170,000
informal settlement households in Johannesburg do not have direct
access to clean water.

Summit delegates, however, are hardly inconvenienced by the
regional drought that is largely responsible for the food crisis.

Mineral water companies have supplied them with 80,000 bottles,
much of which is imported even though city tap water is
considered safe to drink.

IMPORTED WATER 'OBSCENE'

"It's crazy. You can get bottled Italian water if you want," said
Glen Ashton, coordinator for SafeAge, a South African food safety
organization. "The stuff has been hauled 6,000 miles to a city with
perfectly clean drinking water.

People living in squatter camps nearby have no access to fresh
water, and delegates are chugging imported water. It's obscene."

At a summit plenary meeting early this week, Gourisankar Gosh of
the Geneva- based Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative
Council noted that 6,000 children worldwide died each day of
waterborne diseases.

"If Americans donated the $11 billion they spend on ice cream in
one year," he suggested, "it would be enough to provide safe
drinking water and sanitation to the world's poor."

The summit's excesses are not confined to food and beverages.
Official government delegations are staying at $300-a-night
five-star hotels where they enjoy indoor gyms, swimming pools and
air-conditioned suites. For those who require more privacy,
luxury guesthouses are $2,500 a day, with a four-wheel- drive
Mercedes and chauffeur thrown in.

"These are important people we are sending, and they have to be
taken care of," said a senior U.S. diplomat.

In contrast, the 6,000 members of the Landless People's Movement,
a local group that represents the homeless, have commandeered an
abandoned amusement park (aptly called Shareworld), where they
sleep on mattresses on the floor and share cooking duties. They
have extended an invitation to any summit participant to stay
with them.

"We have had to install electricity, running water and repair the
roof," said the group's coordinator Florence Cairncross. "But it
is now very comfortable."

There have been no takers so far.



2002 San Francisco Chronicle
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