(For the archive)
Electioneering strengthens the divide
The heart of the coming local government election is a contest over the politics of space, writes Raj Patel
January 17, 2006
By Raj Patel
This weekend, KwaZulu-Natal Premier S’bu Ndebele went on the campaign trail assisted by incumbent ANC councillors panning for our votes this election season. It was a shambles, with some rallies backfiring and others postponed in a number of constituencies.
This didn’t happen because the ANC is unpopular. Far from it. The ideals of justice, equality, democracy and dignity, for which the majority fought against apartheid, are held more strongly than ever. It’s not the majority of people who are rejecting the ideals of the ANC – it’s the leadership. Take for example the events at the Kennedy Road settlement this weekend, where the premier was scheduled to hold a rally. Residents were informed on the Friday, via a stern call from Crime Intelligence, that Ndebele would be arriving on Saturday.
The next day, with the sun already roasting the ground, the rally was inaugurated with the arrival of nine police vans, a Caspir and an armoured bus. Thus was the ground made safe for democracy. Well, one kind of democracy anyway. Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shackdwellers’ Movement, likes to distinguish between people’s politics and party politics. Two different conceptions of democracy were up against each other. One works to engender democratic discussion where people live and work. The other argues that control won by election is the legitimate excuse for top-down domination.
By this time, only a handful of ANC supporters – none from the settlement – had arrived, sporting new, black ANC T-shirts. As the sun rose higher and the police retreated to the shade, several buses and “Benzes” brought in other ANC supporters to the shacks.
The police stood guard over the proceedings, protecting the ANC elite from the people in whose name they served. When ANC Councillor Yakoob Baig tried to drive his car into the settlement, he was met by hoots of derision. He retreated into a thicket of armed police. When a sufficiently large body of ANC supporters had arrived, the rally pushed through to the central area outside the community centre – a small dusty area just wide enough for taxis to pick up people and then turn around. With eight cars there, it was full. It also happened to be the site of one of six water taps that services a settlement of 6 000.
The ANC’s sound equipment was parked right in front of it. When the residents of the settlement started chanting above the noise of the rally, Supt Glen Nayager gave them an order to disperse, so the ANC could continue. Where were the shack- dwellers to go? They were already home. Having only been told the day before that their homes would be descended upon like this, few residents of the informal settlements were present. Those who were there dressed in red “No Land, No Vote” T-shirts and chanted and sang against a mounting ANC chorus.
It appeared that many of the ANC supporters knew that there was a rally more than two weeks before, but didn’t know where it would be until they got off the bus. It was sort of an electoral magical mystery tour, with a free T-shirt and food thrown in. When they arrived, and after some initial hostility, many ANC supporters had long and spirited discussions with the shack-dwellers. Upon seeing the conditions in the shacks, one ANC traveller, a man in his 50s, turned on Baig: “Why can’t you give them the land?” Pointing to the houses on the opposite side of the road, he continued: “They have houses. The people in the jondolos don’t even have that.”Baig,
for once, was lost for words.
Those who try to explain the city’s housing policy usually end up incriminating themselves. Demagogues like the Minority Front’s Amichand Rajbansi have drawn deserved criticism for their racist scaremongering in Chatsworth, conjuring up spectres of racism with statements like: “Our Indians are ignored while residents of informal settlements have been moved in.”
But Rajbansi isn’t the only one to pit working class Indians against working class Africans. Jayraj Bachu, the councillor for Ward 23, has also promised to rid his ward of informal settlements so that property prices can rise. When Rajbansi advocates the exclusion of shackdwellers, he’s a racist. When Bachu advocates the same policies, he’s a steward of democracy and a friend to the home-owner. The resegregation of urban areas and the re-expulsion of poor people from wealthy areas is the ANC housing policy that dare not speak its name.
The heart of the local government elections, then, is a contest over the politics of space. On the one hand are shack-dwellers who believed, and still believe, in the ideals of desegregation, of the possibility of rich and poor and black and white living side by side. On the other hand lie local councillors seeking to fence the rich from the poor – councillors who, faced by questions of redistribution from within their own party, can only remain mute. This explains why S’bu Zikode, Chairman of the Kennedy Road Development Committee, said: “They can campaign. That is their right. But we know this is a war on the poor.”
And as for the ANC? Mnikelo Ndabankulu, of the Abahlali baseMjondolo, put it well: “The thing I want to clarify is that we are the ANC.
“We reject the current ANC nominee for our ward and we, therefore, have a policy of no-vote for this election. We will vote in 2009 when we are happy with the nominee.”