For the City of Cape Town to condemn people who occupy land is for the City of Cape Town to condemn the poor

For the City of Cape Town to condemn people who occupy land is for the City of Cape Town to condemn the poor

We note that yesterday, the 25th September 2011, the City of Cape Town's reactionary and often violent Anti-Land Invasion Unit, with a help of Law Enforcement, Metro Police and South African Police Service demolished more than 100 structures at Kraaifontein. These structures had been erected by backyarders on an open field that had remained an unused piece of land for more than 17 years. In some countries unused land is considered to be public land. Here in South Africa the state will always attack any attempt by the poor to make good use of unused land.

It is essential that everyone is clear that although the poor are constantly presented as violence, especially the organised poor, it is in fact that state that is violent. It is the state that invades and destroys people's homes and attacks anyone that resists.

Late today the City of Cape Town issued a statement condemning people who are occupying land (they call it 'invading land). They claim that 'land invasions impact on the City’s ability to address the housing backlog and serve the people of Cape Town'. Once again the positive actions of poor people to improve their lives and do something about their situation are presented as anti-social and criminal. We all know that the housing backlog would remain unaddressed if all land occupations stopped tomorrow.

Last week the city of Cape Town launched its IDP. At the media briefing it acknowledge that it will take the City many, many years to address shortage of housing within Cape Town. A politics of patience will cause us to die in the shacks and backyards. We know it and the City know it. And yet they are willing to send our armed men to intimidate us and beat us into accepting a system that oppresses us and which offers us no hope of decent housing in our lifetimes.

Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape condemns the City of Cape Town's actions against land occupiers in the strongest possible terms. You cannot wage war on the poor and then say that you want to negotiate with us. If you are serious about negotiations then you must renounce violence and issue a moratorium on all evictions.

For the City of Cape Town to condemn people who occupy land is for the City of Cape Town to condemning the poor. They are criminalising poverty. It is domination and exclusion that should be called into question. The commodification of land and excessive wealth should be called into question. The struggles and survival strategies of the poor should be actively supported.

It is the responsibility of the City of Cape Town, like any other city, to provide houses to the poor. All progressive cities recognise that land occupations have an important social function. For as long as people do not have houses it is essential that the occupation of unused land must be supported by the City.

We would like to dismiss the claims by the City of Cape Town that people who occupy land they want to jump the housing waiting list. The same thing is said all over South Africa. In most places the housing list is a fiction. It does not exist and is just a lie that is told to keep the poor in order. In Cape Town the housing waiting list that they talk about is totally disfunctional. It has been used a political tool by the City of Cape Town to incite division between poor people, and amongst Africans and coloureds.

We call on the City of Cape Town to support all efforts by poor people to move this city forward by respecting and supporting people centred processes such as creating communities from below. We insist that the City of Cape Town stop initiating war against the poor. There must be no more Hangbergs, no more Taflesigs and no more Symphony Ways.

We call on the City of Cape Town to provide all relevant basic services to those who build their own structures on unused land. Furthermore the city must also provide technical support to people who occupy the land by working with the communities to ensure that people do not build close too each other and that enough space is left for emergency vehicles such as fire fighters and ambulances. This will also ensures that it becomes much easier for the city to upgrade the area at a later stage.

Land occupations are not the crisis in Cape Town. The crisis is poverty, homelessness, exclusion, state violence and TRAs. Land occupations can be a small part of the solution to this crisis.

Now that the City of Cape Town has admitted that they cannot house the people of Cape Town they have no right to stop us from occupying land and housing ourselves.

Our invitation to the Mayor to work with us in establishing democratic people's forums at the community level remains open. These forums need to be neutral in terms of party politics and not dominated by any political parties as remains the case with all relevant structures set by City of Cape Town such as ward development forums. They need to be bottom up and not top down spaces.