Dispatch, South Africa 3: From shacklands to dignity

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MBAFRICA162x120Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran was in South Africa, a month before the World Cup soccer tournament begins. Her third and final dispatch follows.

As I traveled throughout South Africa, from the Indaba travel show in Durban to the scenic Garden Route to cosmopolitan Cape Town, an underlying theme as people talked about the fast-approaching 2010 FIFA World Cup has been one of national healing and unity.

This year marks 20 years since former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and while much progress has been made since the fall of apartheid, the country is still licking its wounds, and there is still much progress to be made.

There appears to be this hope throughout South Africa that an event as big and important as the World Cup will further help unite the country under a common cause — to prove to the world that South Africa can pull it off without a hitch and show the world it can and has come together as a nation.

But throughout the country, there remain signs of the challenges of repairing a once-broken country.
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Driving from Cape Town International Airport toward the city center along highway N2 stretches a series of townships including Khayelitsha, one of the highest-populated townships in South Africa.

Above the cars whizzing towards chic Cape Town looms a billboard that reads “N2 Gateway: From shacklands to dignity.” The billboard refers to a pilot housing project called N2 Gateway that is attempting to provide more permanent homes to people living in the township shacks.

The project is laced with controversy. There have been claims that it’s an attempt to clean up the townships in time for the World Cup. Non-governmental international organizations have criticized the way the housing is being sold and allocated to individuals.

I don’t know whether the social experiment is one that is working. In cities across the U.S., we have housing projects that are arguably a flawed fix for low-income residents. So who am I to judge about South Africa’s attempts to start bridging the gap between rich and poor?

But having seen firsthand the massive amount of newly-built houses that border miles and miles of shackland outside of Cape Town, I can only say that it looks like progress. Whether it is progress only South Africans can know and only time will tell.

Click to read Michelle Baran's first and second South Africa dispatches.

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