smash the shacks to save us from the plague (2006)

Two articles from yesterday’s Daily News are pasted in below. In the first one the spokesperson for the eThekwini council, Vernon Mchunu, says that rats are carrying terrible diseases in Cato Manor, including the plague, and that council will respond by teaching shack dwellers how to be clean and by clearing slums. Of course this discourse is precisely, and I do mean precisely, the same as that used under apartheid and colonialism to justify previous state attacks on Umkumbane (Cato Manor). Of course the reason why settlements are dangerously unhealthy spaces is because the council refuses to provide decent sanitation and water or any refuse collection. This strategy of forcing people into dangerous squalor by withholding, and even withdrawing basic services, shooting at them when they ask for decent services, then blaming them for the unhygenic conditions, and then violently destroying their homes and communities to ‘get rid of unhygenic conditions’, seems to have a long term political utility…..

And then, below that, is a press release run as an article, in which Shackdwellers’ International and its new attempt at a simulated social movement FedUp are presented as the good ‘civil society’ partner (as opposed to Abahlali of course). Shackdwellers’ International has an interesting history. In Robert Neuwirth’s new book on shack settlements, Shadow Cities, he explains that it began as a radical movement in Bombay in the 70s (blocking roads, locking municipal officials in the toilets they expect shack dwellers to use etc) but then become an authoritarian top down rich global NGO that works with the UN’s Habitat to offer the illusion of legitimacy to governments. It has, no doubt in exchange for its generous funding, provided this service to governments looking to have a civil partner to legitimate forced removals all over the world. Earlier this year it issued a statement lauding the eThekwini Municipality’s policy and practice on shack settlements. Habitat is no better. It’s plush headquarters are in Nairobi, far from the horendous and rapidly worsening conditions in Kibira settlement and Habitat’s pilot project in Soweto Village, Kibira has been a total disaster. The eThekwini officials are aways going to Nairobi to be trained. The results, thus far, are a constantly escalating oppression of shack dwellers and an increasingly militaristic discourse around getting their own red ants to ‘clear the slums’ by 2010.

I’m only a third of the way through Mike Davis’ new book, Planet of the Slums, so I might have to eat my words if he pulls something out of the hat further on, but so far he uncritically lauds Habitat. What kind of pseudo leftist declares that there is no left in the slums and then lauds Habitat (which works to produce co-opted pseudo movements to legitimate repressive governments and so shut out real poor people’s movements of which there are many in settlements around the world) as being the inheritor of the tradition begun by Engles…..? Sectarianism is stupid but allowing people like Davis to present this kind of crap as ‘left’ is even more stupid. Since when do leftists draw their conclusions on World Bank and UN studies without reference to what people resisting the UN and World Bank and the governments they work with think….?


Rats infest Cato Manor

By Bongani Mthembu

A recent study conducted by the eThekwini municipality’s communicable diseases unit has revealed that rats in Durban’s Cato Manor settlement have two potentially fatal diseases which are easily transmitted to humans.

The findings of the Natural Sciences Museum’s research are not being taken lightly. According to the head of the communicable diseases unit, Dr Ayo Olowolagba, plague, leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were the three diseases that were usually found in rats.

He said, however, that only leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were detected during the research. Olowolagba said it was extremely difficult to diagnose the three diseases as their symptoms were similar to those of the flu and needed to be tested in a special laboratory in order to be detected.

The findings of the study have prompted council to distribute rat traps to residents in areas identified as being prone to rat infestation before the problem spreads to other parts of Durban.

“We are very concerned about the problem because many rats that we caught had the diseases. The good news is that people who were found with the diseases have never been sick. We believe those who came into contact with the rats had immune systems that were strong enough to quell any infections,” said Olowolagba.

Council spokesman Vernon Mchunu said the extent of the health problem caused by the rats had raised serious challenges for the municipality which wants to curb the problem before it escalates.

“Council officials’ visits to the area have resulted in the development of the Cato Manor beautification campaign which is comprised of various elements such as sensitising residents about the need to keep the community clean,” he said.

Mchunu added that council also wanted to ensure that wild cats which fed on rats were prevented from coming into contact with humans.

“One of the identified causes for the prevalence and increase in the number of rats in the area is the amount of litter and rubbish dumps. We want to make sure the whole area is cleaned and that we continue to clear slums so that rats will not have dirty places to breed,” he said.

Mchunu said an educational door-to-door campaign dealing with environmental health, waste disposal, sanitation, rats and remedies to deal with related problems would be launched soon. Mchunu said 20 people had been recruited from the area to assist in the campaign.

Published on the web by Daily News on May 17, 2006

Shack dwellers are Fedup

Rose Molokoane knows the plight of shack dwellers and is fed up. It’s not that she is disgruntled with life.

In fact, as an activist of Fedup (short for Federation of the Urban Poor) she’s quite optimistic about the future as long as we have proper plans.

Molokoane is one of those involved in the organisation of the International Slumdwellers Conference being hosted by the Shackdwellers International network and sponsored by the Department of Housing.

Starting in Cape Town on May 19, the conference will bring together 200 slumdwellers, government officials and NGO staff from 15 countries and the United Nations.

The keynote address at this gathering of residents of slums and informal settlements, as well as delegates from Africa, Asia and Latin America, will be Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Molokoane, a recipient of the UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour, said in most countries slums or informal settlements and slumdwellers were regarded as problems to be dealt with as part of top-down urban planning and housing delivery.

“We are not seen as citizens of the city. Slumdwellers’ own ideas and capacities are ignored, and our survival strategies are criminalised. Governments tend to try to deal with us via local politicians such as councillors, who often have divided interests.

“But we slumdwellers have our own organisations, such as Fedup, that provide a way to interact with us more effectively. As long as government is willing to form real partnerships with us, listen to us, and incorporate our ideas and capacities into the development of cities, then problems like we have seen in SA can be avoided and we slumdwellers can get the cities we want and need.”

The purpose of the conference, she said, was to showcase examples of such partnerships between organised slumdwellers and governments in the developing world.

One such example is the Municipal Urban Transport Programme of Mumbai, India, where the National Slumdwellers Federation of India and the government of Mumbai and Maharashtra state formed a partnership to relocate and house tens of thousands of slumdwellers from areas to be affected by new transport routes.

The importance of the event is shown by the fact that housing ministers and senior government officials from Argentina. Brazil, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe will attend.