Category Archives: Mail and Guardian

M&G: ‘Shock and awe tactics’ used on shack dwellers

‘Shock and awe tactics’ used on shack dwellers

by Jared Sacks

On April 27, while political parties were spending fortunes to celebrate freedom, the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo commemorated – or “mourned” – what it called UnFreedom Day in Sweet Home, the shack settlement in Philippi on the Cape Flats.

On the same day, a group of shack dwellers from the Philippi East area increased their occupation of a piece of land just off Symphony Way, between Stock and Govan Mbeki roads. But a day later, the City of Cape Town decided to show them exactly how unfree they still are.

This settlement, according to community leader Sandile Ngoxolo, was named the “Marikana land occupation” in honour of the workers who died last year in North West province in their struggle for a living wage – and because “we too are organising ourselves peacefully and are willing to die for our struggle”. Homes were built and occupied, and families worked through the night of Freedom Day to put the finishing touches to them.

On Sunday April 28 the Democratic Alliance, which runs Cape Town and which is trying to showcase an anti-apartheid past with the “Know Your DA” campaign, showed that its approach to land issues is not so different from that of the old apartheid National Party. At 1.15pm a large contingent of the city’s anti-land invasion unit (ALI) and dozens of day labourers arrived. They were backed up by law enforcement units and police vehicles, including, for extra effect, a Casspir and a Nyala.

These forces evicted residents from their homes, often beating them in the process. They pepper-sprayed Abahlali activist Cindy Ketani and then stole her phone, shot another woman twice with rubber bullets and arrested Abahlali baseMjondolo activist Tumi Ramahlele and community member Kemelo Mosaku.

Ramahlele claims to have been severely beaten by law enforcement members inside the Casspir after being arrested and is preparing to lay a charge with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate after being examined by a doctor.

For its part, the ALI then took apart the Marikana homes, often destroying people’s property in the process.

This was repeated on Tuesday April 30 and once again on Wednesday May 1, only with a much larger police contingent present, which took down yet more homes. Two more residents were arrested.

The May Day eviction finished the job begun on Freedom Day, destroying every last home. Moreover, most of the zinc sheets residents had used to build their homes were confiscated by the ALI.

On Friday May 3 I got a phone call from a newly homeless resident, Zanele: “Law enforcement is back again. They are not only taking our zinc sheets, but now they are even taking our sails [plastic tarpaulins]. We do not know what to do. It’s raining and we have nowhere else to go.”

I later found out that not only was removing people’s belongings illegal (especially if the city doesn’t allow residents to claim it back) but also it is against the ALI’s official guidelines. I also found out that not only were these evictions illegal but also that the city was citing a non­existent Act to justify them.

City of Cape Town media manager Kylie Hatton claimed in a statement that the evictions were done in accordance with the “Protection of the Possession of Property Act” as an act of “counter-spoliation”. But Sheldon Magardie, director of the Cape Town office of the Legal Resources Centre, said there is no such law. Advocate Stuart Wilson, director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, and constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos concurred.

The overarching law that regulates evictions is section 26(3) of the Constitution, which states: “No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.”

Unfinished and unoccupied
The Prevention of Illegal Eviction From and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act of 1998 (the PIE Act) expands on that, as well as on “spoliation”, and details the procedures a municipality must follow in order to conduct a legal eviction.

According to Wilson, in common law “counter-spoliation … permits a person who is in the process of having property taken from them to immediately take that property back without a court order”.

But, as Wilson, Magardie and others explain, counter-spoliation does not apply to the eviction of people from their homes. Once they are deemed squatters, or even illegal land grabbers, as per the 2004 case of Rudolf vs City of Cape Town, the PIE Act must apply.

To justify the eviction in terms of counter-spoliation, the city claims the structures were not homes but were unfinished and unoccupied. This is a blatant lie. I saw the homes, and there are photographs and videos showing clearly that the homes were fully occupied and were being lived and slept in from as early as April 25.

On Friday May 3, for the fifth time that week, I set off for the “Marikana” occupation. When I arrived people were cold, wet, tired and depressed. “How could they take the only things we have that would keep us dry?” they wondered.

What could be the city’s justification for confiscating the tarpaulins? Did they want people to get wet and sick? Is it punishment for daring to build shacks in the first place?

I can understand the city’s perverted rationale for illegally evicting poor people from empty land. I can understand the economic logic behind the city leaving such land vacant until its value increases, and I can understand the city’s perversion of the PIE Act to place the interests of the rich and well connected over the welfare of the poor.

But, visiting Sweet Home on that cold day, I could not understand the reason why the ALI would be so malicious as to steal an item vital to the struggle to keep dry on such a miserable, rainy day.

Well-thought-out strategy
Then I remembered Naomi Klein’s discussion of the role of torture in her book, The Shock Doctrine. Torture is a notoriously unreliable way to extract information but, as Klein points out, that is not its primary motive. Rather, it is to put the victims in a position of such disarray that they could not resist power.

In the case of these occupiers, shocking them with aggressive displays of power, removing their belongings and making them as uncomfortable as possible in the rain was equivalent to the “shock and awe” tactics of the American invasion of Iraq. As Harlan K Ullman and James P Wade define it in their history of the war, Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, the aim was “to seize control of the environment and paralyse or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events that the enemy would be incapable of resistance at the tactical and strategic levels”.

Is this why the ALI flouted its own guidelines? Was it mere meanness, or a well-thought-out strategy aimed at breaking the will of the community?

Whatever the case, these actions show that the DA’s liberal ideal of small, “efficient” government is a farce, because it requires an extensive, violent, often illicit system of authority to contain the basic demands of the poor – as well as their larger, emancipatory aspirations. The ANC, too, in a city such as Durban, talks about the “rule of law” while responding to the organised poor with astonishing violence.

This violence is physical, social and spatial. Geographer David McDonald writes in World City Syndrome: Neoliberalism and Inequality in Cape Town (2008) that it is now “arguably the most uneven and spatially segregated city in the country”.

Abahlali baseMjondolo mourns on UnFreedom Day because, for the poor, the only thing liberalism has given them the right to vote for their oppressors.

If we are to have any chance of resolving the escalating crisis in our society, we are going to have to think beyond liberalism. To start, we need to talk about redistribution and put the social value of urban land above its commercial value.

M&G: Field of shattered dreams

Field of shattered dreams

The orange metal giraffes holding up Mbombela Stadium’s roof peer through the pecan nut trees that surround Nhlesiphi Mathebula’s home in Mataffin township, just across the road.

On a hot afternoon, when sunlit showers have cooled the dust beneath, it is hard not to imagine this place as the idyllic confluence of African earthiness and the global modernism the World Cup was supposed to bring to the country.

Yet Mathebula’s memory of the day in October last year when police invaded her home and beat the 68- year-old with a gun butt tells another story: “They came in, shooting rubber bullets everywhere — without warning. I went to the gate because I was looking after my 11 grandchildren [and great-grandchildren] and I was worried for them; that’s when they hit me here,” says Mathebula, pointing to just below her ribcage. “I’ve never seen the police behave like that before.”

The police invasion of Mataffin followed yet another protest by community members and their children who, in 2007, had been evicted from the nearby Cyril Clarke primary and John Mdluli secondary schools. The buildings were used as offices for the construction company working on the stadium and will, during the World Cup, be used as Fifa’s Nelspruit offices.

The October attacks followed the torching of a police squad car during the protest. Anger had long been fermenting in Mataffin. After their eviction, the township’s school-going children were moved to temporary tin structures with the promise that construction on the new schools would run parallel to that of the stadium. It did not happen.

Instead, several attempts to contact the provincial department of education were ignored until December last year, when the sod-turning for the new schools finally took place. Now, both are close to completion.

Andries Sibiya, a 22-year-old unemployed soccer enthusiast wearing a Bafana jersey, took part in the protest. He said the incident has left a bitter taste that remains with the community: “The government put entertainment before education in building the stadium. We kept asking: ‘When will the new schools be built?’ But we didn’t get any answers.”

At one of the temporary schools, the football page of a national newspaper flaps over the broken window it covers. The air conditioning in the classroom is broken, the fans have been vandalised and the walls are daubed with graffiti.

John Nkomo, a 17-year-old grade 10 pupil, says: “These tins go with the weather. If it’s hot, it’s hotter inside; if it’s cold, it’s colder inside. We can’t learn here.”

The Mbombela stadium’s chief architect, Mike Bell, is effusive about the “power of stadiums” and that this one’s “wildest African” design will add to the “experience and memory of the experience” during the World Cup.

With its 18 giraffe pylons, zebra design seating and sinuous green walkways, the stadium is drenched in symbolism and rooted in its locality. The nearby Kruger Park, with its promise of the Big Five, is an obvious reference.

But it also stands as a monument to the poisoned chalice that has become South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup. Blood is mixed into the bricks and mortar of Mbombela stadium.

Rumours of a political hit list have circulated in this gorgeous corner of South Africa after provincial arts and culture spokesperson Sammy Mpatlanyane was shot in his bed in January. This followed last year’s assassination of Mbombela municipality speaker Jimmy Mohlala. Both were considered “good guys” intent on clean governance.

Mohlala was due to testify in the disciplinary hearing of former municipal manager Jacob Dladla, who was fired after being found guilty of financial mismanagement relating to the tenders for the stadium’s construction.

Mbombela executive mayor Lassy Chiwayo said the announcement of the city as a World Cup host had seen an intensification of the “worst alien tendencies within the [majority] ANC”, including corruption, tenderpreneurship and factionalism based on avarice and power-seeking — all with an eye on the financial gain to be milked from World Cup tenders.

In a frank interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, Chiwayo said that “forces within the party in the province — representing business interests rather than those of the people who voted for the ANC — were working to consolidate their position to make money from the tournament from very early on [through access to dispensing tenders].

This we see from the systematic deployment of certain people to positions like [those of] the municipal manager and the chief financial officer within the municipality.” This, said Chiwayo — whose own name is rumoured to have been on a hit list — was the backdrop against which the killings occurred.

If the Mbombela stadium stands on the grave of a tarnished World Cup dream that has seen alleged political hits being made “in the name of greed”, it is also, on a local level, a prism through which to view the power-induced malaise afflicting the ANC government.

This is something that Chiwayo believes “the party is vulnerable to, but [is] up to the challenge of overcoming”. But in those coffins lie other corpses, including that of government sensitivity towards citizens and their human rights.

In an earlier interview with the M&G’s Matuma Letsoalo, Mohlala’s widow, Bonnie, related how the officers investigating her husband’s murder went about it: “They have a bad attitude … They beat people. They assaulted me.

I thought I was going to die. They tortured us [Mohlala’s wife and her children] during the interrogations. They covered our faces with plastic bags, before they started beating us at my house,” she said.

Sitting on her stoep, Mathebula looks wistfully at the orange giraffes: “I would like to go there, but tickets are too expensive,” she says. Despite living so close to the stadium, Mathebula, like many in her community, remains far from the World Cup dream.

UN envoy criticises SA’s forced evictions

Available at

Pretoria, South Africa

24 April 2007 06:56

The United Nations’s chief housing watchdog called on Tuesday for a halt to forced evictions in South Africa, saying people were being left homeless in breach of the country’s Constitution.

“I am calling for a moratorium on evictions across the country until policy is brought in line with constitutional provisions,” Miloon Kothari, the special rapporteur on adequate housing, told reporters.

Despite the fact that the right to adequate housing is enshrined in the Constitution, increasing numbers of people are being removed from dilapidated buildings by the security forces.

“One disturbing phenomenon is forced evictions. People continue to be evicted from their homes, whether in the inner cities, rural areas or on farms in spite of strong legislative protection,” Kothari said at a press conference.

Kothari also indicated that he believe that the government had got its priorities wrong by spending huge sums on staging the 2010 World Cup when it was struggling to provide adequate housing.

Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said earlier this year there was a danger that plans to build hundreds of thousands of new low-cost homes could fall victim to shifting budget demands in the run-up to the tournament.

“It is very odd that countries with high levels of poverty allocate huge sums to sporting events,” said Kothari.

After a two-week visit of South Africa’s cities and rural areas, Kothari said he was shocked by some of the living conditions in Johannesburg’s inner city.

In some cases inhabitants of derelict buildings had to walk down 14 flights of steps to a tap on the street just to get water.

“I have been to many countries where living conditions are very, very poor. What did surprise me is some of the grossly inadequate living conditions in the inner city where there is no regular sanitation.”

Although South Africa’s government has built over 2,4-million houses since the end of apartheid in 1994, many of these were not up to scratch and had not been built with the residents in mind.

Kothari said he had seen houses that were “hastily constructed, poorly planned and designed in the absence of any consultation between local authorities and residents”.

In hundreds of informal settlements spanning the country he was disturbed at the numbers of people living “without basic human dignity”, and said people were being segregated away from urban centres, services and jobs. — Sapa-AFP

Mbeki criticises ‘apartheid’ planning for the poor – distances self from own policies

24 April 2007 07:16

Too often land for the poor is demarcated in apartheid fashion far from employment opportunities, President Thabo Mbeki told the South African Local Government Association (Salga) conference in Midrand on Monday.

“Except for a few cases, there is still a settlement pattern for poor black people to be on the outskirts of town, far from employment,” he said. “It is unacceptable for the allocation of land close to employment centres to be solely for the upper end of the income market.”

This is a failure to use housing as a catalyst to integrate communities separated by apartheid, Mbeki said.

He further criticised the lack of sports grounds and parks in housing developments. “Many children grow up with no place to play.”

While Mbeki received a warm welcome from the 1 500 or so delegates, he also criticised many for not responding to the needs of the community.

He said he need not remind certain councillors that they stood for election to serve their communities. Accountability and ethical conduct by municipal leaders remain central pillars of the developmental government.

“Clearly those who decide to stand for election as councillors must be committed to serve their people,” the president said. “It is wrong to meet them only when the president visits and it is unnecessary for the president to have to remind councillors that their primary responsibility is to serve their people.”

High turnover
Mbeki also expressed concern about the high turnover of councillors, noting that 60% of them elected last year were new. “So we have ditched 60% of the old ones … I don’t know what impact that has on the quality of work of local government.”

He noted that the people who carry the heaviest load in local government are the mayors and councillors. It is essential that other spheres of government not be obstacles to the work of councillors, and provide help to them when it is requested.

Progress being made in local government is often overshadowed by continuous allegations of maladministration and corruption. Challenges lie ahead to ensure sound financial management and financially viable municipalities.

Mbeki called on Salga to use the conference to explore how it can make itself more accountable for what happens in local government; how it can improve its ability to anticipate tension in poor communities; and the practical role it can play in the fight against poverty and underdevelopment.

He further called on the association to ask how it can make members who bring local government into disrepute accountable for their actions.

World Cup
Later in the day, the Salga national conference wound up with word of the 2010 Soccer World Cup possibly offering opportunities to all municipalities.

Dennis Mumble of the local organising committee told delegates his organisation is in discussions with world soccer body Fifa about the possibility of fan parks being allowed in all municipalities.

Mumble also urged councillors to think about security and accommodation capacity, should their areas accommodate base camps for visiting teams. He advised them to attract 2010 soccer tourists to their areas outside the 90 minutes they would be watching their teams in stadiums.

Meanwhile, delegates raised concern over the resignation last year of Salga chief executive Makhosi Khosa; the government plan to create a single civil service across national, provincial and local governments; allegations of untrained managers appointed through political party favour; and the issue of training opportunities for councillors.

The Salga meeting, with the theme Together Strengthening Local Government to Alleviate Poverty and Create Jobs through Accelerated Service Delivery, is set to continue for the rest of the week.

Salga is an employer body that acts as a voice of local government. — Sapa

SA housing appals UN’s rapporteur

19 April 2007 06:16
Miloon Kothari, United Nations special rapporteur for adequate housing, was appalled at the living conditions of Johannesburg’s poor. “These are emergency conditions … it’s worse than I expected,” he said on Tuesday, walking through San Jose, a dilapidated, 16-storey building in Berea.

Kothari is on a two-week visit to assess the state of housing and land rights in the country. Guided by researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), he visited poor peripheral communities and derelict inner-city buildings like San Jose to gauge the government’s efforts to care for the housing needs of the poor.

Outside the moribund San Jose, Kothari spoke to a crowd of residents that had gathered to meet him. “We support everyone’s right to adequate housing,” he said, “But it is not happening, so we are here to investigate and to support your struggle for your housing rights.”

“There is clearly a very large national housing crisis,” he told the Mail & Guardian Online. “It is partly a legacy of apartheid and the past land dispensations. But a distinction must be made between that and what could and should be done now.”

Based in India, Kothari was appointed special rapporteur in 2000. He is an architect by training and has great experience working in the areas of housing and land rights. Dressed in a traditional Indian kurta shirt and black pants, he walked through the area interacting with residents about their housing conditions and everyday experiences in the city’s tougher neighbourhoods.

He was visibly affected by the living conditions of the people he met. He said the situation in many inner-city apartment buildings was “horrible” and “dangerous”.

San Jose’s residents are among the city’s poorest, earning less than R600 a month, and live without basic water, electricity and sanitation.

Resident Nelson Khathani led the rapporteur through the decaying building, explaining that garbage is only collected about once a month. The basement is blocked with sewage and faeces, which residents try to clean out once a week.

“It is a humanitarian situation that needs to be sorted out soon. Things like policies and time frames — none of that excuses the fact that people who live in these conditions are suffering health and safety problems, especially children,” Kothari said.

San Jose has been earmarked for regeneration by the city, which last month won an appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) when it ruled that the city could evict residents of buildings such as these. However, the judgement is being appealed at the Constitutional Court, Cals announced this week.

“The state has a moral duty to provide adequate housing. And the judgment [by the SCA] does not keep with the moral obligation to provide for people who can’t afford it,” Kothari agreed.

The judgement was made regarding San Jose and another derelict building on Main Street in the inner city. A few houses on Berea’s Joel Street were initially also part of the court case, but were ruled to be safe for human habitation.

Kothari visited the houses, which are crumbling and subdivided to accommodate a separate family in each room. They have no legal electricity connections, and shacks have been set up outside to house even more people.

“It’s not about safety,” said Stuart Wilson, a researcher at Cals. “The city is only interested in large buildings they can give over to property developers.”

On Saratoga Avenue, near the Ellis Park precinct that is a key 2010 focus area, an old warehouse has been turned into makeshift housing. Thin wooden slats partition the spaces, and there is no water or electricity. Private property owners are trying to evict the residents, who are often raided by the police.

“Private developers can be included, but they have to be involved in a way that the poor can also be involved,” Kothari said. “The government must have the last say. If [development is] given over totally to the private sector, it won’t serve poorer [people’s] needs.

“Things like market rules, property values and gentrification cause a divide between the rich and the poor. It leads to a new form of segregation, not along race but economics.

“My question to the municipality would be: Why is the municipality not upgrading the buildings and making them safe? Why [after renovation] do the buildings not go to those living there for so long?”

Kothari said the municipality has the money to provide for the poor.

“The resources are there; it’s a question of what you prioritise. The conditions of the most poor people should be the first priority, not things like 2010 and tourism … It’s important that we don’t have for years and years people living in derelict buildings without access to services.

“We can’t say we are respecting people’s rights to housing as is [written] in the Constitution when people live like that.”

Right to water
Kothari also visited Phiri in Soweto, where he met residents who have to rely on a metre system in order to get water. The complicated system uses a metre installed outside each property, and works by users visiting vendors to top up their water supply. The system has no indicators that inform users when the supply is about to run out.

“I was surprised by the metre system. It does not appear to be a just solution … That policy leads to serious compromises for the poor,” Kothari said.

He said he was very disturbed by the situation of water privatisation, and will be taking the issue up with government officials during his trip.

On Wednesday, Kothari held a workshop with a number of civil society organisations to get a clearer picture of the issues affecting the country. Discussions included the eviction of mineworkers, the right to water and the challenges facing landless people.

The rapporteur has already been to Limpopo and the Northern Cape; he will still be visiting Durban and Cape Town before presenting a preliminary report on his findings in the coming week.