EARTH SUMMIT: Crime Capital of the World Tries to Clean Up Its Image ; SECURITY OPERATION

By Tromp, Beauregard | The Independent (London, England), August 24, 2002 | Go to article overview
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EARTH SUMMIT: Crime Capital of the World Tries to Clean Up Its Image ; SECURITY OPERATION


Tromp, Beauregard, The Independent (London, England)


NOT SINCE the gold rush of the 1870s has the city of Johannesburg seen such a flurry of economic activity.

As tens of thousands of government officials, business leaders, NGOs, and green activists descend on the city this weekend for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, its people and its sprawling suburbs are gripped with summit fever.

Often referred to as the New York of Africa for its ethnic mix and its hard business heart, "soulless" Johannesburg is usually overlooked as a destination for international gatherings in favour of coastal Durban and Cape Town.

It is, after all, the world's murder and car-jackings capital, and South Africa's most polluted city. Delegates offended by extremes of poverty or blatant wealth will find plenty of both.

Organisers have spent months helping Jozi, as the local black population call their home town, tidy up its ragged image. Trees have been planted, street hawkers booted out of areas likely to attract the first summiteers, and soldiers sent to patrol the streets.

To allay fears of violent crime, the police presence has been heavily reinforced and the city has installed security cameras on street corners. But the planners are taking no chances. Egoli, meaning "City of Gold", the central commercial district of Johannesburg, will hardly feature for the most distinguished visitors.

The summit's main sessions will all take place on the sanitised periphery, in plush Sandton, a kind of "new Johannesburg" six miles north of the city. Delegates will also converge on Nasrec, about four miles south of Johannesburg, and Ubuntu Village, three miles to the north.

At last count, 106 heads of state and government have confirmed attendance.

As the delegates started arriving at Johannesburg International Airport yesterday they were quickly escorted out of the arrivals hall into coaches, to be whisked down the highway towards their accommodation. Many routes have been closed to traffic for the duration of the meeting.

A total of 20,000 security guards have been recruited to shield the visitors from the reality of life in downtown Johannesburg.

Police, army, air force, intelligence services, private security companies, fire and rescue services, hospitals and even morgues have been roped in. Scores of chaplains, psychologists and social workers will be on hand to counsel the security guards.

A special bicycle unit manned by "hand-picked, fit officers" will also be on patrol around the "security island" that the Sandton Convention Centre has become. A three-mile no-fly zone enforced by unmanned spotter aircraft, attack helicopters and fighter planes has been imposed.

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