How will South Africa fare for human rights?

I admit it.  I know absolutely nothing about football. I don’t know my penalty-kicks from my corners. But that said, I always enjoy the World Cup.  It’s the buzz, the spirit of national camaraderie and the general jubilant atmosphere which a major international tournament of this kind can bring.  

So now they've begun and all eyes – apart from those of us who will do anything to avoid the f-word – will be upon South Africa for the next four weeks.  I’ve already bagged my spot on the sofa tomorrow evening.

South Africa has been under the media spotlight in the run up to this tournament. It’s not surprising really given that this is the first time an African country has hosted the world’s biggest footie tournament and it’s a country which is country beset with poverty and great economic and social challenges.

Against this backdrop, South Africa can be applauded for putting on a colourful performance.  But we cannot ignore the apparent disregard for human rights in the preparation.   Police have stepped up their crack down on the hawkers and the homeless as they’ve attempted to remove South Africa’s poverty from the razz and dazzle of the new stadiums.  

And Amnesty’s concerned at the diversion of police resources from the poorer neighbourhoods to protecting the stadiums and the international visitors.

Questions also remain as to how the people of South Africa will fare after the final whistle has blown on 11 July at Soccer City in Johannesburg.

Trevor Nelson’s piece in the today’s Guardian points to the poverty which persists in South Africa and highlights how millions of people in South Africa live in the same impoverished conditions of 40 years ago.

It’s in the poorest areas in both rural and urban areas where one is more likely to see major discrimination against women.

For example, an estimated 5.7 million people in South Africa live with HIV and AIDS, and women and remain disproportionately affected.  Teenage girls aged between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to be infected with HIV as their male counterparts.  Amnesty has also highlighted that there remain particularly high rates of violence and abuse of women in South Africa

Some positive steps have been taken by President Zuma to attempt to tackle the HIV/AIDS challenges presented there.

But greater scrutiny and respect of human rights is essential before we can see any significant improvement in the lives of millions of South Africans.

As hosts of the game, South Africa has automatically qualified for a place in this year’s World Cup.  But it really needs to do more to earn its position as a defender of human rights (check out Amnesty's viral).  Over the next month Amnesty will be making sure it doesn't fall foul of that.

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