Sunday Argus: ‘No land, no home, no vote’

‘No land, no home, no vote’

By Susan Comrie

The new bank-bonded houses on Symphony Way in Delft are standing empty – bright signs invite people to “come in and have a look” – but around the perimeter the razor-wire fence sends a different message.

Just metres away, the Symphony Way pavement dwellers look on angrily.

They have spent the past 14 months living in makeshift homes along this small section of road in Delft after they were evicted from houses they illegally occupied in the N2 Gateway Project in February last year.

Earlier last week veteran New Zealand anti-apartheid activist John Minto, the man who helped spearhead protests against the Springbok tour there in 1981, flew out to stand in solidarity with the remaining 127 families who, 15 years after apartheid ended, say life is no better for them.

“Symphony Way is a microcosm of the bigger problem in South Africa,” says Minto. “We didn’t expect things to change overnight – we didn’t expect miracles.

“But when we were protesting during apartheid we didn’t do it to make a few black people rich. It’s a huge disappointment.”

The New Zealand activist has been a thorn in the side of several governments, leading protests against human rights abuses by the US and Israel, and attracting international attention with the 1981 anti- Springbok protest under the banner Halt All Racist Tours.

Standing outside the Symphony Way creche, where earlier last week Minto spent the night, he explains that rugby was never the issue – instead he and others saw a chance for New Zealand to “punch well above its weight” to ensure there was nowhere safe for the apartheid government to hide.

Now in his 50s, Minto is turning his ire on South Africa’s democratically elected government, claiming the poorest citizens are still living under a form of apartheid.

“In South Africa the links between politicians and business are very strong, but the links between politicians and people are very weak.

“Fifteen years is a bloody long time to prove yourself… If the ANC couldn’t deliver 15 years ago they should have told people ‘It will take 25 years before we can give you houses’ – at least that would have been honest.”

The people of Symphony Way have long given up hope that the ANC government or the DA-led city council will change anything.

While posters for political parties line most other roads in Delft, there are no signs of election promises past the heavily barricaded entrance to the Symphony Way settlement – residents have announced that they will boycott the elections.

“We refuse to vote,” says resident Kareemah Linneveldt. “We say, ‘No land, no home, no vote’.”

Of the many families who originally set up home in Symphony Way, some have accepted the city council’s offer of shacks in Blikkiesdorp, the temporary relocation area down the road in Delft.

However, many residents say they are terrified to move – just a few weeks ago, a 16-month-old baby was raped in Blikkiesdorp.

Minto’s decision to come to South Africa now to highlight the problems of Symphony Way may look carefully calculated, but he chuckles at the suggestion that the timing of his trip was more than co-incidence.

His decision to meet Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, whose criticisms of ANC president Jacob Zuma have made him persona non grata with the ruling party, makes that harder to believe, but Minto says he has “gone past worrying about giving deliberate slights to the ANC”.

“I hope to be here as an observer, but also as someone willing to say that the emperor has got no clothes on – that the emperor is almost naked.”

For the residents of Symphony Way, that realisation came a long time ago.

* This article was originally published on page 8 of Sunday Argus on April 19, 2009