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Clinton brings hope to Cape Town ghetto

ONLY Hillary Clinton was expected at the Victoria Mxenge Housing Project in Philippi, one of Cape Town's saddest, sprawling shack settlements yesterday.

When Bill also stepped out of the shiny black limo, part of a fleet of US vehicles being flown all over the continent with the Clintons, the temperature of a few hundred ghetto dwellers rose. "I can't tell you what this means to me," said an emotional Dennis Mofokeng, 31, standing a little apart from the crowd and swallowing hard. Mr Mofokeng is a member of the 280-strong housing cooperative named after an assassinated anti-apartheid activist. "To think the President would come to a place like this. He must know how we struggled."

American marksmen were crouched on the community hall roof: security men in mirrored shades manned the wire separating the Clintons from locals. The housing project, still a building site, seemed too fragile for the 20-vehicle cavalcade crawling around a narrow dirt track, carefully avoiding the ducks.

Soon Hillary and Bill, of the White House, Washington, were breathlessly admiring Veliswa Mbeki's new inside flush loo. But Mr Mofokeng seemed to find nothing incongruous in the surrealest of scenes. "I am just so proud," he said.

It is easy to be cynical about the US tour of the world's poorest continent. But yesterday the Clintons did manage to reach through the suffocating security and the wire to touch local people.

It would be hard not to be moved by the sight the Clintons had just whizzed by on the other side of the road. South Africa has no shortage of appalling housing, but Philippi, a vast squatter camp of cardboard and corrugated iron, is among the worst.

Mrs Clinton first visited Mxenge last year on a solo trip to South Africa. She said yesterday that she was impressed by the scheme in which shack dwellers - predominantly women - save for and build their own homes.

Mr Mofokeng still lives across the road. Everyone there, he says, dreams of moving to Mxenge. But most are unemployed and have no money to save. President Clinton said yesterday that Mxenge was a model that could be replicated throughout South Africa.

If only the housing crisis could be that easily solved. The project is innovative but low incomes and a shortage of affordable land - Mxenge is built on land donated by the Catholic church - are major obstacles to it spreading.

Presidential optimism reigned again later in Mr Clinton's historic speech to the South African parliament. It was a triumphant moment for the ANC - to have the first US president to visit South Africa praise its achievements. US anger at South Africa's support for Libya and Iraq were forgotten. Mr Clinton's hosts suffered reciprocal amnesia, forgetting America's early bolstering of apartheid during the Cold War.

South Africa is the political highpoint for the Clintons on this six- country tour. President Mandela and his companion Graca Machel warmly embracing the Clintons yesterday - this is the image most likely to delight the public - particularly black Americans - back home. And Mr Clinton took care to connect the struggle of blacks in the US and South Africa, and said much rested in both countries on South Africa achieving its dream of a multiracial democracy. "America wants a strong South Africa," he said. "America needs a strong South Africa."