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Ice-cream Factory (NR)

Nikki Rixon/Twenty Ten

Associated features: Ice Cream Factory fire (Text and photo feature on the burning down of this building 10 days later) and Incendie à l'usine Chico’s Ice Cream d’Alexandra (French text)

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

South Africa remains a place of two realities - extreme wealth and abject poverty. With a quarter of the population unemployed and service delivery failures all too common, the everyday reality for many South Africans can be somewhat grim.

Alexandra is a poor, densely populated township that was established in 1912. It borders, and stands in stark contrast to, Sandton, the wealthiest suburb in South Africa. The sprawling township is characterised by scarcity of land, homelessness and a high rate of unemployment.

Situated in the industrial side of Alexandra is an old ice-cream factory that has been taken over by locals. They have built two floors filled with one-room dwellings made from recycled tin and wood, dangerously connected by narrow wooden planks. Some of the homes have electricity – apparently via an illegal connection to the township’s supply.

This unplanned area has put pressure on basic resources and many of the residents complain that water pressure is low and the sewers frequently block and overflow.

There are many questions the township residents would like answered: Why did South Africa build such state of the art stadiums and spend billions on giving the country a ‘facelift’ when more than 80 per cent of our population is living in such appalling conditions? Who is benefiting from the FIFA World Cup? It seems that the poor are getting no direct benefit from the soccer tournament and the majority cannot afford tickets to the games. Their only participation will be via the fan parks.

Despite these questions, many of the people living in the ice-cream factory are surprisingly willing to enter into the good spirit of the World Cup, and are proud of their country (a sentiment echoed in the African concept of ubuntu). Many of them have planned to visit friends or family with electricity and a television to watch the games.

There are no easy answers to Alexandra’s questions. The other side of the socio-economic coin is that having the World’s attention focused on South Africa will bring increased investment into the country. Hopefully this will eventually filter down to the grass roots of the population. Hosting the World Cup in South Africa also shows the country in a much more positive light than it has previously been portrayed, which can only be a good thing for all its residents.

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