Socialist Worker

Poor launch land war in South Africa

Issue No. 1979

Protest for land and housing in Foreman Road settlement in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (Pic: Todd McPherson)

Protest for land and housing in Foreman Road settlement in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (Pic: Todd McPherson)

A wave of bitter revolts over land and housing is sweeping many parts of South Africa. Ten years after the end of apartheid, the ANC government’s commitment to neo-liberalism means millions are still waiting for proper houses, clean water and toilets.

What began as spontaneous rage is growing into a movement. Every week sees large groups of landless and homeless people settling land, building shacks and demanding the authorities provide services. Activists spoke to Socialist Worker about the revolt.

Mnikelo Ndabankulu, Foreman Road development committee

‘At the Foreman Road settlement in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, we are fighting for basic rights, for land and housing. We have waited too long. On 14 November police attacked a peaceful demonstration of 2,000. Dozens were arrested and many people injured.

The elected committee of Abahlali Base Mjondolo, a shack dwellers’ movement, tried to gain permission for the march. The city council, however, illegally denied the application.

The march proceeded peacefully. But then, without the mandatory warning, the police, backed by trucks, charged the crowd with riot shields, arresting individuals at random.

They chased the marchers into the Foreman Road settlement, firing rubber bullets and charging with batons.

One of the first arrested was System Cele, a 19 year old elected committee member from nearby Kennedy Road settlement attending the march with her young baby.

She reported that police pushed her around, demanding that she reveal S’bu Zikode as the person making people march.

When she said that there were people marching all over the world, and that S’bu could not be inciting them all, they assaulted her, breaking her teeth on the pavement.’

Cape Town activists

‘We have seen a continuation of the land and housing struggle of recent weeks in the Lavender Hill area of Cape Town.

On Saturday 19 November, police and city council law enforcement arrived to mark shacks in the new settlement in St Montague Village made up of about 500 families.

Along with residents in other settlements these residents were served with court orders prohibiting them from extending their shacks or putting up further dwellings.

This means people will now be forced to stay in the often tiny homes (as small as ten feet by ten feet) that they have erected for themselves.

Law enforcement was meant to mark all completed shacks with red crosses, but they had to leave before they finished. Three days later over 100 police swarmed into the field, smashing shacks and fighting with residents. Residents were sprayed with pepper spray, and hit with batons and rifle butts. About 15 shacks were smashed.

In Western Cape 350,000 families don’t have houses. Only 11,000 houses were built in the whole province last year. Meanwhile, in Cape Town alone, 260,000 families wait for houses and that number grows by 20,000 a year.

Shack communities are told they can’t get electricity. They get only a few toilets and little water because they are “temporary”, even if they’ve been living in the same place for years. Meanwhile the government is selling its land for rich developments.’

S’bu Zikode, chair of the Abahlali Base Mjondolo (shack dwellers) movement which currently includes 14 settlements in Durban

‘The shack dwellers’ movement in ­Durban is always being accused of being part of a shadowy Third Force.

I must warn those comrades, government officials, politicians and intellectuals who speak about the Third Force that they have no idea what they are talking about. They are too high up to really feel what we feel.

Most of us are unemployed and have to spend all day struggling for very little money. Aids is worse in the shack settlements than anywhere else.

Our bodies itch every day because of the insects. If it is raining everything is wet. If it is hot the mosquitoes and flies are always there.

There are no holidays in the shacks. The night is supposed to be for getting rest, but people stay awake worrying about their lives.

We have seen how dangerous being poor is. In the Kennedy Road settlement we have seen how Mhlengi Khumalo, a one year old child, died in a shack fire last month. Seven others have died in fires since the authorities stopped providing electricity to informal settlements.

My appeal is that leaders who are concerned about peoples’ lives must come and stay at least one week with us.

They must feel the mud. They must share six toilets with 6,000 people. They must dispose of their own refuse while living next to the dump. They must come with us while we look for work.

They must chase away the rats and keep the children from knocking the candles. They must care for the sick when there are long queues for the tap. They must be there when we bury our children who have passed on in the fires, from diarrhoea or from Aids.

We discovered our municipality does not listen to us when we speak to them in Zulu. We tried English. Now we realise they won’t understood Xhosa or Sotho either.

The only language that they understand is when we put thousands of people on the street. It works very well. It is the only tool that we have to emancipate our people. Why should we stop it?’

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Article information

Sat 3 Dec 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1979
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