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Robinson warns of stark divisions that are crippling 'Rainbow Nation'

THE divide between the rich and poor in South Africa's so-called Rainbow Nation is still too stark, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson has warned.

Poverty, hunger, HIV and Aids, rape, crime and violence are still rife in the sprawling townships where many are disillusioned with the African National Congress (ANC) party -- which marks its 100th anniversary this week.

Mrs Robinson said there has to be government leadership and grassroots involvement to really tackle economic inequality.

Speaking before she flew out to the UN's Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa, Mrs Robinson said: "They had this wonderful beginning. I was there for the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. I will never forget how emotional it was and three years later I paid a state visit to South Africa, and again you had this sense of hope and optimism.

"There was a wonderful constitution, there had been a peaceful transfer of power and somehow it just has not been implemented and that sense of economic fairness and the divides are too stark."

The human rights activist is a regular visitor to South Africa and its top tourist destination, Cape Town, a cosmopolitan city which boasts a state-of-the-art football stadium built for the 2010 World Cup.

But when there, she spends her time with the impoverished in townships and settlements like Khayelistsha, Joe Slovo, named after the famous ANC leader, and Blikkiesdorp -- which its residents claim was a dumping ground to hide the poor when the world's sporting eyes focused on the city.

People in the townships argue that the glamour and excitement that surrounded the World Cup did nothing for them, their standards of living or their fight for survival.

Campaigners say conditions in Blikkiesdorp -- which translates as "tin can town" -- are worse than in the townships created during Apartheid.

Many residents maintain they were forced to live in the rows of corrugated tin structures in the bleak temporary relocation camp about 20 miles from the city in Delft.


"The government told us it was going to be great, it was going to be something that will change things," said Themba Kleas (21). "But there are no changes now."

Matilda Groepe (57), local co-ordinator with the anti-eviction campaign, lives in shack M27.

"It's hell on Earth living here," she said, as thousands queued for food from a charity.

"People are dying waiting and fighting for their own houses when children who are 18 and 19-years-old have their first house because of corruption.

Posters hanging on the home of 37-year-old Kareemah Linneverldt read: "No land, no house, no vote."

A former pavement dweller, she claimed she would rather be back living on the street.

"If I could go back there I would and give up this. Here it's like you are in a little prison. It is a concentration camp."

Unlike many, Ms Linneverldt -- one of the few in the area who work -- never expected the World Cup to change things.

"It was only for the rich because we couldn't afford to even look at one match and we lot of people were driven from their homes because of it."

Away from the slums and squalor, thousands of Capetonians enjoy the other side of a vibrant city, socialising in chic cafes and lively bars along Long Street and the Waterfront.

Student Emma Stotko (21) revealed the World Cup brought a pulsing energy to her home town.

"It was like the city never slept," she said.

But, the daughter of a black South African Muslim and a white Catholic from Zambia, she admits her background makes her more aware of the plight of the poor.

"I was brought up in a very mixed background . . . Part of my family is poor and the other side wealthy. You need to be concerned about social things. You can't ignore them."

• The trip was sponsored by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund, which was set up by Irish Aid -- part of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs -- in memory of the journalist killed in June 2004 while filming a report for BBC Television News in Saudi Arabia.

Irish Independent