South African politicians have promised better housing and the sinister-sounding “slum eradication” for years. Undocumented, unreliable and famously corrupt, these promises have failed to pull slum populations into legal, decent government-provided housing. The landless have no option but to occupy public land.
After apartheid, the new Constitution (1996), and then the Prevention of Illegal Eviction [PIE"> Act (1998) gave some protection to people occupying land without the permission of the state or the capitalists. It was still possible for people to be evicted, but only after an order of the court had been issued. In 2005 the Constitutional Court insisted that the Act “expressly requires the court to infuse elements of grace and compassion into the formal structures of the law”. When evictions were allowed, they were not supposed to be carried out violently or to leave people homeless.
In 2005 the government announced that ‘slums’ would be ‘eradicated’ in South Africa by 2014. The KwaZulu-Natal Provincial government announced that ‘slums’ would be ‘eradicated’ in the province by 2010. The eThekwini Municipality spoke as if it was a scientific fact that ‘slums would be cleared’ by 2010. On this basis anyone struggling for land and housing was shown to the world as a troublemaker, a liar, a criminal or an agent of the ‘third force’.
It was clear that the main strategy to ‘clear the slums’ was mass evictions rather than providing people with decent housing. Since the Slums Act was passed in 2007, the provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal has been trying to reverse the limited legal rights given to occupiers after apartheid, so that the government can evict people more easily. At the same time land occupations have been presented as though they are a political or criminal conspiracy - a matter for the police, other armed forces and intelligence - rather than a popular response to social injustice and, therefore, a matter of social justice. The eThekwini Municipality, like many other municipalities around the country, also set up an armed unit to destroy land occupations. This unit has consistently acted violently and in violation of the law. The government is attempting to rule us at gun point and with violence, rather than through participatory democracy and with negotiation.
In 2009 our movement succeeded in having the Slums Act declared unconstitutional. For this we were punished with severe repression. Illegal and violent evictions continued and our movement, and other occupiers, continued to be shown to the world as part of a criminal and political conspiracy. However people continued to occupy and to hold land despite serious repression. The Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest was evicted more than twenty times, two comrades were assassinated, and a third was executed by the police. Others were assaulted, shot, tortured and arrested. However our members continue to hold that land. They have installed electricity and water and built crèches.
By moving from land occupations to occupying the City Hall, the streets in central Durban, the courts, and space in the media, our movement was able to show the world that the government was acting violently and illegally. We began to win wider support for our occupations. We have successfully held all the land occupied by our members and there have been many new land occupations, or expansions of existing occupations, organised outside of our movement.
However, in March 2013 the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Human Settlements in KwaZulu-Natal, Ravi Pillay, obtained a court interdict that authorised the municipality and police to take any necessary steps to “prevent any persons from invading and/or occupying and/or undertaking the construction of any structures and/or placing any material upon the immoveable properties” listed, and to “remove any materials placed by any persons upon” that land. This was an attempt to roll back the limited protections offered to occupiers by the Constitution and the PIE Act. It was an attempt to return to how land occupations were treated under apartheid. It was an attempt to achieve by the backdoor what the government had failed to achieve with the Slums Act. The state used this interdict to claim that the ongoing armed attacks on the Marikana Land Occupation were lawful. On 20 August we succeeded in having this interdict declared unlawful and unconstitutional.
Since then Ravi Pillay, his spokesperson Mbulelo Baloyi and the notorious Nigel Gumede, head of Human Settlements in the eThekwini Municipality, have been trying to win back some credibility in the media. They have been saying that:
1. While some people respect the law and wait for houses to be delivered our movement is a ‘racket’ engaged in ‘queue jumping’.
2. Land occupations make it difficult for the government to plan its housing projects and therefore they slow down delivery and the ‘eradication of slums’.
3. Action will be taken to protect land from occupation including setting up a privatised provincial land invasions unit which will be an armed force with its own intelligence capacity.
4. It is not true that government houses are only allocated to ANC members.
5. Our movement is only active in ANC controlled wards and is not hostile to other parties.
Today there are more people living in shacks in the eThekwini Municipality than at any other time in history. The year 2010 came and went, and the year 2014 came and went, and the number of houses being built each year by the Municipality declined and the number of people living in shacks grew. Today the Municipality says that the housing ‘backlog’ is 400 000. They have been using this number for some years now. At the same time they admit that they are not reaching their annual target for building houses. Nationally the government says that 2.2 million households are living in shacks. According to the government this number increases by 350 000 every year. But the government says that it only builds 140,000 houses every year.
It is therefore clear that:
1. The number of people living in shacks is growing and will continue to grow in coming years.
2. The government’s house building programme is not reducing the number of people living in shacks.
3. Under the current circumstances most people living in shacks will die before receiving a government house.
4. In Durban the government has lost the ability to prevent new land occupations.
The housing crisis in Durban is not just a question of the number of people living in shacks and the number of houses being built by the government. It is also a question of how urban land is allocated, where houses are built, how houses are built, how development is planned, the size and quality of houses, and how houses are allocated. In this situation our responses to Pillay, Baloyi and Gumede are as follows:
1. THE ALLEGATION OF QUEUE JUMPING
The allegation of queue jumping goes back to the days of the notorious former City Manager Mike Sutcliffe. Since our movement was founded in 2005, the government has spoken as if there is an orderly process that will result in everyone living in a shack receiving a home. The fact is, if things continue as they are, most people living in shacks now, as well as most people who will build new shacks in the future, will die without receiving a house from the government. The main reason for this is that as impoverished people we don’t count to the government. They prefer to waste money on things like uShaka, the Moses Mabhida Stadium, the Commonwealth Games, or Inkandla, rather than to build decent, well located homes with and for the people.
The government speaks as if there is a housing list and that we are trying to jump the queue on this list. In fact it is well known that there is no housing list. Houses are allocated through the Branch Executive Committees of the ANC which have replaced the Ward Committees. Sometimes allocation is done on the bonnet of a car at night. Whatever big decisions are made above the ward committees are made on the 21st floor of the ANC offices in Commercial City.
We have had several meetings with Ravi Pillay in which we have demanded that an open and transparent housing list is established and that the allocation process is made open and transparent. We have made these demands since 2005. They have consistently been denied because not having an open and transparent list, and an open and transparent way to allocate houses, serves the interests of corruption. Corruption is what holds the ANC together and gives it its power.
Any politician or government spokesperson who claims that we are ‘jumping the queue’ must be challenged to provide a copy of the housing list and an explanation of how houses are allocated.
Furthermore, it is well known that our movement has won many victories against evictions and for upgrades, as well as forcing well-located land to be made available for public housing. For instance, it was our movement that first demanded that land owned by Moreland must be expropriated for public housing. We put thousands of people on the streets in support of that demand. Now that Cornubia is being built on land that the government got from Moreland, you will not find any member of our movement being allocated a house in Cornubia. It is always ANC members that benefit from our struggles. Any politician or government spokesperson who claims that we are ‘jumping the queue’ must also be challenged to show evidence of our members being allocated houses.
2. THE ALLEGATION THAT LAND OCCUPATIONS SLOW DOWN DELIVERY
The land question in South Africa has its roots in historical dispossession. Justice requires that the land be restored to the people. The ANC was founded to deal with the land issue. The Freedom Charter (1955) states that: “All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose”. It also states that: “All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security”. It is now more than twenty years after apartheid and we remain without land and without housing. The government has no plan to ensure that we can access land and housing. The ANC has no confidence to the Freedom Charter. It has disregarded the mandate of the people, the same people that freed its leaders from prison, allowed others to return home from exile and elected it into power. We are told to embrace the ‘politics of patience’ but patience only means accepting that our oppression will continue for ever. It means that we must continue to live in undignified and sometimes life threatening conditions for ever.
People occupy land because the government has failed to restore land to the people and to secure the people’s right to the cities. Land occupations are a popular response to government failure. The government always says that they have money for housing but that they don’t have land. Land occupations are a way in which the people identify available land. A progressive government would recognise the social value of land occupations.
Land occupations take the programme of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid forward. They take the programme of the Freedom Charter forward. They take the struggle for justice and the Right to the City forward. Land occupations are land reform from below. They are urban planning from below.
In many cases the people that occupy land have previously been (illegally and violently) evicted by the government and occupy because they have nowhere else to go. This is what happened in Cato Crest.
Whenever land is occupied the state claims that it is land that has been identified for ‘housing delivery’. Mostly they are lying. They should not be believed when they claim that land occupations are on land identified for ‘housing delivery’ unless they can show proof of this. But if it does happen that land is occupied in an area where development is planned, this should be a matter of negotiation. If development was undertaken in a democratic manner people would be happy to negotiate with the government and, if necessary, move to alternative and equally well located land to accommodate development. The problem is that development is a top down process that is totally corrupted and often carried out at gunpoint.
3. THE PROMISE TO SECURE LAND
The money that will be spent on setting up a Provincial Land Invasions Unit is money that should be spent on providing services and houses. When the government decides to treat the crisis of land and housing, which is a matter of justice, as if it is a problem of criminality they are criminalising poverty. This means that they are continuing to govern us according to the logic of colonialism. They want to use armed force to suppress an urgent question of justice when they should be using negotiation and participatory democracy to ensure the democratisation of the cities in terms of the allocation of land, the allocation of money and decision making. Even when they use private security officers they are heavily armed. We have been struggling, for many years now, for the social value of urban land to be placed before its commercial value. This is the way to decolonise the urban question. Pillay and Gumede are committing the government to a violent and repressive future. They are committed to continuing to govern in a colonial way. This has been well explained by Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth.
4. THE CLAIM THAT “IT IS NOT TRUE THAT GOVERNMENT HOUSES ARE ONLY ALLOCATED TO ANC MEMBERS”
There are two ways to get a government house in Durban. You must either be an ANC member recognised as loyal to the local Branch Executive Committee of the party, or you must pay for the house. The corruption in housing allocation is obvious. In the morning people can be seen leaving RDP houses in their police, prison warder and Transnet uniforms. Nkululeko Gwala had documented evidence of corruption in housing allocation. He was assassinated for this. We have this information. Information is very dangerous in Durban. However we have evidence of corruption that, with certain guarantees, we can share with anyone that doubts the extent of corruption in housing allocation.
The BECs control the Ward Committees. The only people in the Ward Committees are ANC business people and, in some wards, the sort of NGOs where ‘NGO’ stands for Next Government Official. These NGOs are loyal to the ruling party. The BECs operate according to ANC policy, and not to government policy or the law. This is where the allocation of housing is corrupted.
5. THE ALLEGATION THAT OUR MOVEMENT ONLY OPPOSES THE ANC
Since our movement was founded in 2005 we have been accused of being a front for the Third Force, the IFP, COPE and now the DA. When we were formed most of our members came from the ANC but we took a decision to be independent of all political parties, and to this day no one can hold membership of any political party, or have a job in an NGO, and be a leader in our movement. We are a membership based and democratic movement and all decisions are taken via democratic processes. We have always kept our autonomy from all political parties and NGOs. It is true that in 2014, after we faced severe repression, including assassinations, our members took a decision that we should make a tactical vote against the ANC in protest at repression. However we do not work with any political party and are well organised in wards controlled by all parties in Durban.
Over the last twenty years the government has failed to resolve the land question and the housing question. They have failed to secure the right to the cities. They have failed to democratise urban planning. This is why people are now undertaking urban planning from below. A government that was on the side of the people would understand this, it would recognise the social value of land occupations and work to democratise our cities. However the ANC wants to criminalise poverty and govern the cities with violence and repression. The ANC are managers of a neo-colonial state. They refuse to recognise our humanity. Our struggle for land, housing and dignity continues. We are well aware that more of us will lose our lives in this struggle but we have no choice but to continue.
* Abahlali baseMjondolo is the largest shack-dwellers movement in South Africa. For more information please contact:
Thapelo Mohapi 060 469 7413
Ndabo Mzimela 076 606 6176
Zandile Nsibande 062 947 1947
S’bu Zikode 083 547 0474
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