Shackdwellers ‘under the sway of an agent provocateur’

Shackdwellers ‘under the sway of an agent provocateur’

September 24, 2006 Edition 1

Lennox Mabaso and Harry Mchunu

By their very nature agent provocateurs are people who are directly assigned to provoke unrest within a group while indirectly representing their own selfish interests.

They are used against political opponents. They deliberately carry out or seek to incite counter-productive or ineffective acts in order to foster public disdain.

They seek to provoke government repression with a hope that they will alienate their constituency and thus increase support for themselves. In this sense they thrive on provocation and not reason. 

The article by Richard Pithouse, (“City sees red over housing protests”, Sunday Tribune, September 17) reflects the clandestine operations of an agent provocateur at his best.

A cursory glance may give an unsuspecting member of the public an impression of honest comment written by someone who is genuinely concerned about the plight of shackdwellers. But on closer inspection, Pithouse is less worried about the problem of homelessness than another agenda.

In a normal society, housing is the responsibility of an individual. A person works, earns an income and builds a home. When our government resolved to enshrine housing as a right in our constitution, it was because of the recognition that ours was not a normal society. Apartheid had condemned millions of our people to an inhuman condition of living in shacks.

The government committed itself to, within available resources, provide shelter to our homeless citizens.

Since 1994 the government has built nearly two million houses. This is an achievement unparalleled in the world. The dignity of close to six million people has been restored.

We have, in this second decade of democracy, introduced bold programmes with clear time-frames by which we wish to see all the homeless people living in the security and comfort of their homes.

Among the key programmes we have developed is the slum clearance programme, which was conceptualised and successfully implemented in KwaZulu-Natal and has since become a national programme.

Reading Pithouse’s article, a visitor from Mars would be forgiven for thinking that the government was doing nothing about the plight of the poor. However, evidence will expose these untruths.

Why, all of a sudden, do we have people like Pithouse propelling themselves to positions of housing messiahs? The fact that they masquerade as academics and use facilities of our academic institutions funded by the taxpayers to create an anti-democratic government agenda, has to be a sad indictment on our democracy.

Let us separate fact from fiction. On July 20, the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs had a meeting with representatives of Abahlali baseMjondolo, who were led by their president, S’bu Zikode. Pithouse was part of this meeting.

During the meeting, chaired by the Head of Ministry, Mxolisi Nkosi, clarity was given by the department on a number of issues of concern to Abahlali.

Some of the issues raised needed responses from the eThekwini Municipality. Again Nkosi volunteered that the Department of Housing would invite representatives from the city to attend the next meeting.

That meeting took place on September 6. The eThekwini Municipality was represented by Cllr Nigel Gumede, who is a city council executive committee member and Chairman of the Housing Portfolio Committee, as well as Municipal Head of Housing, Cogi Pather.

Unfortunately, Zikode and Pithouse were not present. Gumede and Pather shed light on a number of concerns that Abahlali had had. Here Gumede said there already was a project earmarked for some of Abahlali and there was an agreement between the municipality and Abahlali that there would be a site inspection. On the agreed day, Abahlali had not arrived.

The ministry was taken aback at this revelation because Abahlali had made us believe that it was the municipality which was blocking their access to proper housing. It began to raise doubts about the intentions of Abahlali.


One of the resolutions of this meeting was that a new date would be set for the site inspection and that there would be ongoing interaction between the municipality and Abahlali.

Abahlali have a democratic right to exist as a lobby group but cannot act as if they have their own pseudo leaders other than the democratically elected leaders of our people.

Pithouse reveals his true objective in the penultimate paragraph of the article in which he says, “. . . the city’s democratic credentials are in tatters that will not be sewn together by more empty pomposity at the ICC, or wasting billions of rands on another airport or stadium”.

This clearly shows his aim is to rubbish the developmental programmes of our democratic government. This self-appointed messiah wants to dictate the government’s programme of reconstruction and development.

Abahlali baseMjondolo are, unfortunately, just a stepping stone in Pithouse’s march to attack the government. Our government remains committed to providing houses for our people, but because of competing interests, we can only do that within available resources.

Mabaso and Mchunu are communication officers in the Department of Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs.

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