SDI Letter to the Witness in Response to Article by Ndivhuwo Wa Ha Mabaya[_id]=20089

In an article that appears in your newspaper today (Working Towards a Slum-Free South Africa), Ndivhuwo Wa Ha Mabaya, head of Media Services in the Department of Housing makes the inference that Slum Dwellers International (SDI) supports the controversial KwaZulu Natal Elimination and Prevention of Slums Act.

The article argues that Abahlali Basemjondolo were mistaken in their efforts to oppose this legislation in the courts and to portray it as “inhumane and unconstitutional” and “designed to allow the Government to embark on irresponsible evictions of homeless people”.

These comments are juxtaposed with the fact that the Government and SDI … “have signed partnership agreements to work together since 2004.”

This juxtaposition is disingenuous and misleading. SDI certainly does have a partnership agreement with the Department of Housing and tries to work closely with the Minister and her officials. This does not mean that we support everything the Minister and the Department decide to do. SDI has had a close working relationship with the Southern African Catholics Bishops Conference since 1991, but this does not mean that we are opposed to contraception and abortion.

SDI is not in the habit of making press statements and seldom makes public statements of opposition to actions and decisions of other stakeholders in the urban sector. Public declarations have a habit of compromising our capacity to negotiate with and on behalf of organised shack dwellers in the SDI network, including SDI members in over seven-hundred informal settlements in South Africa.

This is one occasion, however, when a counterfactual is called for. SDI does not support the Slums Act. In this respect we agree with Abahlali Basemjondolo. This legislation may not have been drafted in order to allow the Government to embark on irresponsible evictions of homeless people. Should Government choose to do so, however, this legislation will make such actions legal. It will roll back many hard fought victories won by the urban poor since 1994.

SDI’s partnership with the State does not erase the contestation between those who want slum-free cities at all costs and those who want slum-friendly cities as a precondition for their incremental elimination. It simply locates the debate within the National and Provincial Departments rather than the courts.

Joel Bolnick
(SDI Secretariat, Cape Town, South Africa)