South Africa Grooms for Sequel to 1992 Earth Summit in Rio

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Throughout South Africa, excitement about Earth Summit 2002—which is being billed as the biggest conference in the history of the country and of Africa overall—has been rising. "Johannesburg is ready to begin the complex task of ensuring the Earth Summit is a success not only for the city but also for our planet," said Amos Masondo, Johannesburg's executive mayor.

During a recent visit to check out preparations for the conference, Nitin Desai, United Nations undersecretary-general of economic and social affairs, said he observed a strong sense of local involvement and an eagerness to use the event as a wedge to advance domestic policy.

"What I have seen is that preparations are well ahead of schedule, and I am sure South Africa has the capability of making this [conference] a memorable one," he said. "South African organizers and politicians appear to be committed to making this event a successful one and to implement policies in their own country."

Facelift for Johannesburg

The global conference comes during long-term efforts to revive old Johannesburg—South Africa's City of Gold—by touting its cultural roots as a 115-year-old city offering a true African experience and celebrating the mineral wealth from which it sprang.

A major facelift is underway, which officials hope to have completed by the time the Earth Summit visitors arrive. Streets and sidewalks are being fixed and cleaned, old buildings are getting a scrub-down, and street hawkers are being moved to designated trading areas or instructed on how to display their wares without obstructing pedestrian traffic.

With urban crime still a major problem, surveillance cameras have been mounted in strategic areas of the city and the metropolitan police force has been trained and expanded to help prevent incidents of crime.

The main location for the conference will be Sandton Convention Centre, a new high-tech facility in Sandton City, an area that has become the major financial headquarters of southern Africa. With diamond-shaped spires of glass and steel that glitter at night, its skyline contrasts sharply with that of old Johannesburg, five miles (eight kilometers) away, from which major businesses have been moving over the past three decades to counter traffic congestion and inner-city decay.

South African journalist Leon Marshall is a regular contributor to National Geographic News.

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