Category Archives: state criminality

Dream of true freedom lies smouldering in the grave


Dream of true freedom lies smouldering in the grave

INSIGHT – Nomboniso Gasa

“THE democratic genie has been let out of the bottle” pronounced Neil Coleman, of Cosatu in the heady days after the election of President Jacob Zuma and his government.

It was a government described as open, accessible, people friendly and pro-poor.

Coleman is not only a decent man. He is also a man of principle.

There was no rancour, populism or triumphalism in his words. His was a deep yearning to see our democracy maturing.

So what has happened to the democratic genie?

Today, images and messages are everywhere, they give us a glimpse of what lies ahead. Slowly and systematically our hard won freedom is being limited. The stranglehold is political, economic and geographic.

In Makhaza township in the Western Cape, the DA gave the poor its Hobson’s Choice – open toilets or continues the bucket system. “The choice is yours.”

This of course, was not about a provincial government that was willing to explore options with the citizens in the light of financial constraints. No, it was an open and direct display of contempt for the poor.

The DA is not alone in its contempt for the poor. In Bizana, Eastern Cape, people were forcibly removed from the “squalor” in which they lived, their shacks mowed down in an action reminiscent of the apartheid era. Yet some of the hands and brains behind the bulldozers this time were those of comrades with whom some of the community had once shared battle trenches.

For some, these were their sons and daughters, metaphorically and literally.

These shacks probably took a long time to put together. Squalid as they seemed, they were the only homes the people of this community had. The people were given no alternative accommodation as the law requires.

Municipal councils flout the very laws they are supposed to uphold and enforce. They do so unabashed because they know crimes against the poor are crimes for which they will not be held accountable or risk losing their jobs. Why should they?

The minister of human settlement, in a fit of populism, knocked on someone’s door and spent a night there, while the owner went to sleep with the neighbours. She hoped this unwanted intrusion was a small price to pay for the change that would be brought once the minister had “experienced” sleeping in the shack.

Well, things did not turn out that way. As soon as the cameras stopped clicking and ink of journalists had dried, Tokyo Sexwale promptly forgot about the tourist experience in the shack. It was only when people claimed their agency and began to protest and reminded the one- time, one-night visitor of their existence that the minister went back.

He partly remembered his word.

This is an era of short term mass appeal – camera, lights and action.

Even the President took time to help someone settle in a better home. We saw him unpacking the refrigerator, lounge suite, microwave and all, including, I hope electric vouchers.

The government with a human heart was in full swing.

Now, the other day, Sexwale described informal settlements as ugly eyesores and this was not for the first time. People live there wena, we muttered accusingly at the television screens, shaking our heads with embarrassment.

Why do people live in these conditions, we asked angrily pointing at the screen.

Look at what has become of this democratic genie.

Now, if the promise of the President to the National House of Traditional Leaders is realised, by December 2010 South Africa will have a dual legal system. The areas that were formally marked as “homelands” on the map before 1994 will be rezoned as “traditional communities”.

The Traditional Courts Bill is no Mickey Mouse law. We are Africans, are we not? In the name of restoring our cultural dignity and honouring the wise ways of our forebears, “traditional” leaders will decide on economic development and even hear criminal cases and disputes and much more. For the subjects in traditional communities, the magistrates’ courts will not be courts of first instance.

Reading the draft Traditional Courts Bill the question arises, why should people in these communities vote in the forthcoming local government elections? The municipal and local government system has nothing to do with these communities. There leadership and governance are predetermined. So, what will they be voting for?

Everywhere, we see images of a troubled land and its people. The dream lies smouldering in the grave, says the poet.

The gap between grandiloquent statements, cameo appearances amid the drama of poor people’s lives and the real lived experiences of a world shrunken by poverty and the indifference of the powerful is becoming wider by day.

Freedom will only have any real meaning if citizens claim it for themselves. This requires careful and deliberate building of a promised nation. Freedom is earned every day. Only then, shall we find that democratic genie which we will have to continually protect.

Nomboniso Gasa is a researcher, writer and columnist on gender, politics and cultural issues

Pretoria News: Shacks outside luxury estate burned down

Click here to read this article in German.

Shacks outside luxury estate burned down
July 22 2010 at 09:42AM

By Graeme Hosken
Crime Reporter

Good enough to build and clean the “madam’s” multimillion rand home, but too poor to live outside the walls of a luxury Pretoria security estate, a Malawian family watched as Tshwane Metro Police torched their shack along with dozens of others.

The mom begged not to be identified for fear of being fired and losing the measly R50-a-week salary she is paid to clean her employer’s multimillion Woodhill Estate home.

The woman – a mother of three children, including a seven-month-old infant – described how she and her young family were getting ready to sleep on the streets.

“It is freezing. I don’t know what to do. I am scared my children will die,” she said.

Their crime: They, along with 400 other people, are an eyesore and destroy the property value of the residents living in five luxury housing estates around their little community of migrant workers and illegal immigrants, known as “Cemetery Estate”.

The “estate” is on council land between the Pretoria East Cemetery and Woodlands Boulevard shopping centre.

Close by, are the multimillion rand Woodhill, Mooikloof, MeadowGlen, MeadowRidge and Hillside security estates.

Accused of being illegal immigrants and of being behind the area’s apparently skyrocketing crime rate, many “Cemetery Estate” residents worked as cleaners in the luxury homes on the posh estates.

That was until Wednesday when metro police, on the orders of lawyers representing those living in the estates, burnt down their shacks and ordered them to leave the Pretoria East area.

Using a court order from 2008 to control the occupation of council land along Garstfontein Road, the estates’ lawyers on Wednesday demanded that police destroy the 50 or so shacks in “Cemetery Estate”.

Within less than 24 hours of an “eviction notice” being served on “Cemetery Estate” residents, heavily armed metro police, guarded by the Garsfontein SAPS, oversaw the shacks’ destruction – torn down with spades and crowbars.

Plastic sheeting, cardboard partitions and wooden planks were dragged into piles and torched.

While city and law enforcement authorities have accused those living in “Cemetery Estate” of being illegal immigrants and criminals, no one was arrested or held for deportation.

A “slip-up” saw metro police failing to notify Home Affairs officers about illegal immigrants living in the area, or alerting the council’s housing and social services departments about the need for alternative accommodation.

Asked why no one was arrested, police said they didn’t have time to check fingerprints.

The Malawian mother, a qualified teacher whose husband was paid R600 a month to build her ‘madam’s’ multimillion rand house, said: “We can work inside the estates, but can’t live next door.

“Council does this because we are poor and our ‘madams’ are rich; because we have plastic roofs and paraffin stoves and they have tiles and electricity,” she said.

Mariza Oelofse, representing residents from the luxury estates, said: “We were approached by our clients to have these squatters removed. We went to the council and requested they adhere to the court order and remove these people, which is what they did.

“We are satisfied with the way the city responded.”

Oelofse said the land could not be occupied because it was agricultural land and a nature conservancy. “Highly endangered plant and animal species have been decimated because these people have eaten them and polluted the Moreleta Spruit with human waste.

“There are strict regulations regarding land occupation. Our clients have expensive rates and people can’t just stay here.”

Asked where the people should stay, Oelofse said: “It is not our concern.”

Metro police spokeswoman Alta Fourie said the informal residents posed a “serious” problem, especially regarding crime.

“Housebreakings, breaking into cars, rape, and smash-and-grab attacks have increased, mostly because of these illegal immigrants,” she said.

Asked for the crime statistics and why no one was arrested, Fourie referred the Pretoria News to the SAPS whose spokeswoman, Aveline Hardaker, referred the newspaper back to Fourie.

Fourie said residents were given 24 hours to move. “We told them we would destroy their shacks if they didn’t move, which is what happened. It is now their responsibility to relocate and find their own accommodation,” she said.

Attorney Louise du Plessis, representing “Cemetery Estate” residents, said the court order was not against her clients.

“There is no court order on that property. The existing court order says the municipality must bring an application to have the people evicted, which it has not done. This order is not an eviction notice and the council’s actions are criminal.

“Evictions can’t happen by torching people’s property. This is a declaration of war by the city on civil society and homeless people and we will now see them in court,” she said.

Mark Napier, of Urban Landmark, said regardless of whether there was a court order or not, the city had to find alternative accommodation for evicted people.

He said: “Virtually all cities’ policy statements, including Tshwane, talk of integration of poorer people into the city. But, as soon as a real opportunity arises, the city listens to the wealthier residents and evicts the poorer residents.”

Asked to comment, council spokeswoman Dikeledi Phiri, said: “I can’t respond… due to the unavailability of key officials in the housing department.”

* This article was originally published on page 1 of Pretoria News on July 22, 2010