Cape crusaders

Bizarre alliances are being forged to back Mandela's bid for the 2004 Olympic games. But not everyone is persuaded
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The Independent Online
Hammer, Milky and Benny, all killed in gang clashes, are commemorated in a wall mural outside Ernie Peters's shebeen in Belhar Extension 13, one of Cape Town's coloured (mixed-race) ghettoes. A caption warns: "Gang- sterism leads to jail or death".

Mr Peters, aged 32, a moustachioed "reformed" gangster with all his front teeth missing, is a man of strong opinions. "Anyone who doesn't see that the Olympic Games will be good for Cape Town is a dumbo," he says, as his "boys" while away another day playing pool. "The Games will bring thousands of jobs and the chance of legitimate employment. That will help us on the Cape Flats. You don't find a man with a job robbing houses."

Along with an odd assortment of gang leaders, drug dealers and born-again Christians, Mr Peters is spearheading a rather bizarre - and some say entirely disingenuous - campaign which aims to rid the sandy, poverty- ridden Cape Flats of his own kind, reformed and unreformed. On the nearby main road Olympic bid flags flutter from every lamp-post. The city's gangsters have adopted the slogan, "If Cape Town wins, we all win". They claim they have even avoided violent confrontations with the Muslim vigilantes of Pagad (People Against Gangsterism and Drugs) in an effort to help cut crime and improve the city's international image.

But with just three weeks to go until the 2004 Olympic city is announced, there are ominous signs that tensions between Pagad and the gangsters are growing. Pagad has come out against the Games, and warns it will not help perpetuate a false image of Cape Town as a law-abiding city. Attacks on gangsters' houses have increased, and gangs recently withdrew from a non-retaliation pact. A year after pictures were flashed all over the world of gang leader Rashaad Staggie being burnt to death during a Pagad protest, another violent upsurge could yet ruin Cape Town's chances of becoming the first city in Africa to host the Games.

THE BID team is playing that card - a first for Africa - for all it is worth, and President Nelson Mandela, whose value to the bid cannot be exaggerated, is milking the world's conscience dry. About 70 International Olympic Committee members have so far visited Cape Town. President Mandela has met almost half of them, his appeals leaving some close to tears. Cape Town's improving odds owe much to the president's assertions that bringing the Olympics to Africa would boost the continent's economy and confidence, and encourage the African renaissance in which he is so keen for the world to believe.

President Mandela has all but said that the world owes South Africa the Games - as thanks for its miraculous negotiated transfer of power - and also that it is time to honour a downtrodden continent. He points to the five Olympic rings and asks: which is the only continent so far denied the Games? He tells the Olympic movement that it helped bring down apartheid, by banning South Africa from 1963 until 1992, and can now "deepen" a fledgling democracy.

The developmental line has never been pushed so hard. In a city where affluent whites cocoon themselves in luxury, the IOC delegates have not been spared the downside of a city horribly deformed by apartheid.

"Resources are concentrated in the white suburbs," says Peter de Tolly, bid director and city planner. "Wealth always takes the high ground." His aim is to redirect resources, and new sports facilities, specially designed to be adapted for the Games, are already being built in shanty settlements - albeit on the fringes.

Cape Town's Olympic facilities are largely to be seen on paper. But IOC members are taken to a boxing ring being built near the black township of Khayelitsha, where locals once dumped rubbish. "Some delegates have been shocked by the shacks," says Mr de Tolly. "But others were impressed that we have not tried to hide the problems."

Michael Fuller, finance director on secondment from Ernst & Young, is evangelical about the benefits the Olympics will bring. "The Development Bank of Southern Africa estimates the Games will bring $7bn [pounds 4.9bn] to Africa and create 90,000 jobs," he says. That might not make a splash in Europe, but in Africa it could kick-start economies.

The bid team has all political parties and big business on board. But convincing Capetonians has been more tricky. Surveys suggest white opposition could be as high as 70 per cent, with the same proportion of blacks and coloureds in favour. A rough rule of thumb has emerged: the richer and whiter the Capetonian, the less likely he or she is to support the Games.

Brian Radcliff, a staunch critic of the bid, thinks the conclusion too trite. While he is happy to talk, he wants his address kept a secret, lest he fit a vulnerable stereotype. He lives behind high walls in Constantia, an opulent suburb which has attracted paparazzi prey like Viscount Althorp, Princess Diana's brother, and Baroness Thatcher's son, Mark.

Mr Radcliff insists it is not his own paradise that is threatened by the Games, but the livelihoods of families on the Cape Flats. The Olympics, he says, would accelerate a damaging trend. Under apartheid, blacks were kept out of the Cape, which was a "coloured preference area". Today coloureds are still the largest group, but black Africa is edging south towards Table Mountain.

"JOB seekers are coming from all over Africa," says Mr Radcliff, who argues the Games will attract many more, seeking construction and tourist jobs. "It is the hundreds of thousands already unemployed here who will suffer. Cape Town has become the most favoured destination for illegals from the rest of Africa."

One bid company insider says: "The trouble with Capetonians is that they have been hiding behind the mountain for too long."

But to be fair to Mr Radcliff, disquiet is not confined to rich whites. A Stop the Bid campaign has managed to unite crusty retired Englishmen and black left-wingers, who say money would be better spent improving housing, education and health. A Third World country, the anti-Olympians insist, cannot afford the luxury of the Games. Cassiem Parker of Pagad says the developmental theme is a "gimmick" which will have no lasting effect.

Perhaps it is a sign of pessimism about the future, but there is a view that Cape Town could be Africa's one and only Olympic chance. Mr Mandela is a huge factor - though that is a weakness as well as a strength: by 2004 he will no longer be president and may no longer be alive - as is South Africa's unique mixture of First World infrastructure and Third World living conditions for the majority.

President Mandela is expected to go to Lausanne on 5 September to make a final appeal. South Africa's rivals can take comfort that the ballot is secret, because on a show of hands, emotion would probably overpower lingering concerns that Cape Town does not yet have the expertise and resources to stage the Games. In public, few would have the heart to deny the old man the chance to see the Olympic torch carried across the continent, even by a route that would have to side-step war zones and famine.