Diverting the Homeless for the Sake of Diverson

The other day, an old friend sent me the link to a story from NPR that while not shocking is still sad and a little sickening. It seems that as South Africa was preparing itself for the World Cup, it began to force homeless people from one of the areas in which the event is being held.

In Capetown, just a couple of blocks from the brand new soccer stadium, live hundreds of homeless men, women and children. According to media reports, South African police are forcing people to pack up and leave the campsite they have been occupying. Some reports claim that in some cases physical force has been used to eject the homeless. They are being relocated to a place called Bilikkesdorp, about 45 minutes outside of Capetown, near the airport.

Isn’t this the same country where blacks fought Apartheid for years, during which struggle the rest of the world came to their aid? How soon they forget. But this isn’t just a problem in South Africa. Both China and Salt Lake City, Utah pulled the same thing when they hosted the Olympics. So did LA and even here in Boston when both cities hosted the Democratic Convention.

So although relocation of the homeless may be common, I’ve still got to ask: where is the outrage? You’d think that of any country in the world, South Africa would be the one that would protest the treatment of marginalized people. Where is Mandela? People laugh when I say that the public has become numb to homelessness. “No James, they say, we’re just trying to find a new way to combat it.”

But really, is this the new way? Host a major sporting or political event and sweep the homeless problem under a rug for a few days or weeks? Sacrifice human beings for tourism and continuing coverage from ESPN?

If homeless advocates from South Africa or anywhere else a major event is taking place had any balls, they would bus and carpool the homeless right to the front gates of these events so tourists and television stations from around the world could see how homelessness has become a major problem and is not going to go away anytime soon.

But of course that won’t happen. Why? Because as I’ve said before, no one wants to destroy the golden goose. See folks, if homelessness were covered in the media, say like Katrina or the Oil Spill or the World Cup, people would be outraged and would scream at politicians to act, and then something might actually get done. But that won’t happen.

So this tiny story will get no real airtime. It will only be given space in small newspapers like this one and on stations with the public interest in mind, like NPR. Everyone else is caught up in the majesty of the World Cup.

I’ve never been a soccer fan (yeah I said soccer), so while many will crowd bars, watch television, and cheer for their favorite country to win, I will be thinking of those folks in South Africa who are homeless and have been forced to other locations. The people who will never receive the same exposure as a bunch of men who run around a field trying to kick a black and white ball. You know folks, the team that loses in the Cup will get to go home. The homeless in South Africa will not have that luxury.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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