Martin Legassick: Background to Delft evictions

Background to Delft evictions

Thoughts provoked by being interviewed by Keketso Sechane, Heart 104.9 radio, 19/2/2008

Today people have been evicted from houses in Delft at police gunpoint – despite their non-violence. But this situation, arising from illegal occupation of N2 Gateway Houses, was not caused, as the Housing DG said on your programme earlier, by DA councillor Frank Martin. It is a product of a contradiction between two things: on the one hand a desperate and worsening housing crisis in the Western Cape; and, on the other, the inflexible bureaucratic attitude of the tops of the national and provincial Housing Departments and the management of Thubelisha Homes in the N2 Gateway project.

In fact the blood spilled by women and children today through police shootings is on the hands of Housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Thubelisha tops John Duarte and Prince Xanthi Sigcau.

The housing backlog in the Western Cape is 360,000 and worsens every year. The backlog increases by 18,000 a year, while only 10,000 houses a year are being built. Hence the length of time people spend on the waiting list (more than twenty years) and hence the desperation – expressed in the chants of the Delft occupants outside the Cape High Court (and, for thirty minutes, at a meeting called by provincial housing minister Richard Dyantyi in Delft last Saturday) of “We want houses! We want houses!”

The national government spends a mere 1, 5% of its budget on housing – compared to the 5% regarded as the norm for developing countries. With an imaginative government, in fact, the 8 million unemployed in the country could be put to work to build the needed houses, with the relevant SETA’s focussed on providing crash courses for the necessary skills in building. But this is precluded for the present ANC government by its stress on defending neo-liberalism and capitalist profit.

The N2 Gateway project, moreover, was conceived less to build houses, or to contribute to solving the Western Cape housing crisis, than to prettify the margins of the N2 highway before the 2010 World Cup. The poor were to be eliminated from the sides of the N2, and more expensive housing installed there. The poor were to be banished to the margins of the city in Delft.This “pilot” project claimed to be implementing the new “Breaking New Ground” national housing policy of minister Lindiwe Sisulu. But in reality it has broken every proclaimed aim of this policy. It was imposed from Pretoria. Every phase of it has run into problems from the start and overall it has been a disaster. The Cape Town city council (when the DA won control of the city) was removed from any participation in it by the ANC government.

The BNG policy claims, for example, to be “accelerating the delivery of housing as a key strategy for poverty alleviation and using “provision of housing as a major job creation strategy”. However, housing provision has slowed since its introduction.

The national average since 1994 of 180,000 a year has declined steadily since 2002/3 – to 137,659 in 2005/6. And even Finance Minister Manuel has disputed whether these figures are correct, or are gerrymandered by corrupt developers.

The BNG policy promised “increased flexibility and demand responsiveness”. It promised to address “the distortions of the inherited apartheid space economy”, i.e. to stop settling the disadvantaged on the fringes of the cities. It promised an “in-situ upgrading approach to informal settlements.”.

But instead of “demand responsiveness” N2 Gateway has ignored the wishes of beneficiaries such as residents of the Joe Slovo settlement in Langa. Instead of ending the “distortions of the inherited apartheid space economy” and “in-situ” (on site) development, it wishes to forcibly remove Joe Slovo residents to the margins of the city in Delft from where few of them will return to Langa.

When this creates problems, Thubelisha management, instructed by housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and aided and abetted by provincial housing minister Richard Dyantyi, simply tries to bulldozer its way through any problems that arise.

Recently appointed acting CEO John Duarte complained in Monday’s Cape Times (18/2/2008) that instead of immersing himself “in the detail of the project, building schedules, protocols and targets” he had “been exhausting valuable time and money in court defending Thubelisha’s mandate to build houses for the poor”.

What he fails to understand is that building houses is not just about bricks, mortar, and spreadsheets. It is about fulfilling the needs of living, breathing people. This the process engaged in at all phases thus far of N2 Gateway has failed to realise, failed to adapt to – by failing to consult, listen and negotiate.

The attempt to find solutions in the courts to a political and social problem is futile. This is what Sisulu, the housing DG, the Prince Xanthi, John Duarte, Richard Dyantyi – the government and Thubelisha tops – have been trying to do. This actually means forced removals, with, inevitably, police overreaction, injuries, possible deaths. It is the poor who suffer the consequences.

In the Western Cape, COSATU offered to mediate solutions to the problems in both Joe Slovo and Delft. This has been ignored by the government and Thubelisha.

It is bureaucratic madness to try to forcibly evict Joe Slovo residents to Delft, where they do not want to live, on the margins of the city, and at the same time to forcibly evict Delft residents from houses that are not wanted by Joe Slovo residents, which are desperately needed by Delft residents who have nowhere else to live.

Who controls allocation of the houses in N2 Gateway? In theory it is supposed to be a collaborative project between the province, Thubelisha, and the city. In practice it is controlled by Thubelisha – who use it for their own inflexible ends.

Constantly spokespersons for Thubelisha proclaim that this is a “pilot project”, a “laboratory” – but in a social science “experiment” it is vital to listen to feedback from your so-called “beneficiaries”. This the N2 Gateway project – in particular Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, and Thubelisha general manager Prince Xanthi Sigcau has signally failed to do.

This is why blood is on their hands, in the injuries suffered by women and children from the bullets of police in Joe Slovo last September, and again in Delft today. They are building up a legacy of bitterness against themselves.

As the housing crisis deepens, these problems will get worse, not better. There will be many conflict situations ahead.

Lindiwe Sisulu has a particular responsibility in this. The N2 Gateway is her “flagship project” yet she has not lifted a finger to try to resolve the problems. Instead she has taken a hardegat line but left it to her subordinates to impose. She is a coward not to come and meet the Joe Slovo and Delft communities face to face.

Lindiwe Sisulu, strangely, was one of the 40% of Mbeki’s ministers who survived onto the NEC. Moreover she has been elected to the 20-member National Working Committee of the ANC. She should be forced to resign.

Martin Legassick