Earth Summit: 'Politicians come, but nothing changes'

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The Independent Online

Frank Khuamlo remembers Tony Blair's last visit to Alexandra, Johannesburg's slum suburb, years back. Since then, he says he has become disappointed that many other leaders have visited Alexandra but his life has not changed.

"It's as if our poverty is some form of tourism for them. They come, see, and go but nothing changes," said Mr Khumalo, who is unemployed. "I cannot say this visit will change my life in any way."

Mr Blair would probably have disagreed when he visited the township, a few miles away from Sandton, where the UN Earth Summit is under way. The Prime Minister later told journalists that although there was still serious poverty in Alexandra, the situation had definitely improved since his last visit.

"I remember when I last visited Alexandra, there was a sense of shock. There was tremendous poverty ... But on the other hand, [now] you can see change happening ... Alexandra and South Africa are getting better," he said, adding that the biggest challenge was people's cynicism about the possibility of change. He said: "Look at South Africa, at how change can come about."

Mr Khumalo had not come to Alexandra police station for Mr Blair's visit. He was trying to pay a traffic ticket but was locked out while the VIP visited. He was unenthusiastic about the trip and hoped that no "arms" would be donated.

Alexandra is a haven for crime because of the poverty. Many thieves invaded Sandton at night from the slum. When police chase these criminals, they were ruthless and targeted innocent people, Mr Khumalo said. With more arms, they could even become more "ruthless", he feared.

But Mr Blair did not donate any arms. He visited because the township has been twinned with the London Borough of Southwark since the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, visited last year. The twinning aims to help Alexandra's policetackle domestic violence, youth crime and crime intelligence.

Joel Mtiba, the officer in charge, updated Mr Blair on how his station had benefited and about the huge problems faced in combating violent crime in Alexandra, especially murder, rape and robberies.

The ultimate solution was to alleviate the squalor in Alexandra, Mr Mtiba said, and Mr Blair seemed to agree.