Category Archives: Blikkiesdorp

Open Democracy: The Cape Town model, state violence and military urbanism

The Cape Town model, state violence and military urbanism

Christopher McMichael, Open Democracy, 5 January 2012

Lead by the pugnacious Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance is South Africa’s official opposition party and the governing party of the Western Cape, the only one of nine national provinces not under the control of the ruling ANC. Despite recent successes the party has failed to win substantial support among South Africa’s black majority, due to a widespread perception that, notwithstanding its meretricious rhetoric of an ‘ Open Society’, the party remains a bastion of white privilege. Further scepticism has been created by the parties’ aggressively neoliberal policies which propose to reduce the country’s already partial post-apartheid social welfare system . However, the DA is hoping that the increasingly overt internecine fighting with the ANC will alter South Africa’s political landscape to give it a credible chance of becoming the ruling party by the end of the decade. With the ANC beset by corruption scandals, a growing intolerance for political dissent and the seeming inability to robustly tackle growing levels of social inequality, the DA is attempting to position itself as a pragmatic and efficient government in waiting.

Central to the strategy is the promotion of the City of Cape Town as an exemplar of good governance. The DA’s Cape Town manifesto promotes the city as beacon of ‘world class services, order and stability’ (and by extension paints ANC run urban areas as decrepit ‘feral cities’). Notably, in a country where inequality has sustained high levels of violent crime, the DA’s Cape Town model offers humanistic sounding injunctions about improving safety through reducing historical legacies of underdevelopment, poverty reduction and ‘’violence prevention through urban upgrading’’. The DA’s official line on urban safety promises to enrol ordinary people in the improvement of the city through social crime reduction strategies: as one memorable slogan in the recent local election campaign noted "a child in sport, is a child out of court". Notably, the DA claims that its policies are linked by a concern for individual freedom and the limitation of abusive state power.

However, as the last few years have shown much of the self-proclaimed success of this model is in fact contingent on state violence and the perpetuation of a low level social war against the urban poor. Rather than an aberration this betrays a basal authoritarianism within the DA, which views the poor as targets for pacification, containment and ‘warehousing’.

Take for example the saga of the N2 Gateway housing project. In conjunction with the ANC led National government the city has attempted to move thousands of people from the city to Delft. Despite all the talk about meeting housing ‘’backlogs’’, most activists and researchers argue that the construction of ‘beautiful formal housing opportunities’ between the international airport and the city was a pretext for massive forced removals fast tracked ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Indeed, the quality of these housing opportunities was quickly revealed to people who had been moved from shack settlements into the two Temporary Relocation Areas (TRA) associated with the project. The DA managed Symphony Way TRA ( better know as Blikkiesdorp) greeted its new residents with government built corrugated iron shacks, barbed wired fencing, access control by the South African Police Service (SAPS) and regular patrols by apartheid era Casspier armed personal carriers.

The residents of the Symphony Way informal settlement were so unenamoured with the prospect of being forced into a glorified refugee camp that they occupied a nearby road in Delft for 21 months, the longest political action of its kind in South African history. And as the city was continually warned by residents this uprooting of communities has seen Blikkiesdorp invaded by gang related violence. With Blikkiesdorp as its premier dumping ground for unwanted and ‘risky’ populations, the ‘world class’ security of the city is often bought at the expense of creating insecurity on the periphery.

For example, immediately prior to the World Cup last year, hundreds of homeless people were evicted from the areas around the Greenpoint stadium to Blikkiesdorp, a sudden influx of people which seemed to bear all the hallmarks of an orchestrated clean up. The international media had a field day with this story, especially because of the camp's disturbing similarities to the titular zone of exception in the film District 9. However, the DA’s slick press cadres denied that there were any links between this and the upcoming World Cup. Indeed, when conducting research for my PhD, one City spokesperson even told me that they were not even aware of any controversy about the evictions. These denials looked slightly farcical in light of the city's public unveiling of its philanthropic sounding 'Winter Readiness Plan for street people’, which aimed to "rehabilitate" its "participants" by offering vaguely described "activities" which would keep them out of the city bowl. Coincidently, the plan was initiated a month before the World Cup and happened to fit exactly into FIFA imposed by-laws about restricting the visible presence of poverty within host cities. Most tellingly, the plan stressed the importance of ensuring that "our task is to get to people living on the streets before they acquire survival skills on the streets. Once a person survives a winter on the streets it is even more difficult to persuade him to consider getting back home." Using language that wouldn’t be out of place in the control of wild animals, the statement reveals much about the status of the down and out in the eyes of the Cape Town authorities.

The creation of a far flung prison camp, whose architecture serves as a weaponised form of containment is one thing, but the city considerably upped the ante with last year's attempt to evict the residents of Hangberg. As gruellingly recorded in the Uprising of Hangberg documentary the police were clearly told to prepare for war: without provocation the SAPS opened fire with rubber bullets, destroyed homes, beat up schoolchildren. Several residents lost eyes. This shock and awe campaign was undergird by a sophisticated DA strategy of disinformation, in which the press was assured that the police were ‘liberating’ the area from ‘ drug dealers’ and it was falsely claimed that violence had been initiated by the community.

One of the most telling scenes in the film is Zille’s petulant response to the community’s anger about this officially legislated brutality. Surrounded by her police praetorian guard she storms off when the understandably furious community refuses to accept a pious lecture about their own best interests. Among activists Zille has become notorious for this kind of behaviour, with radical community groups who deviate from the official agenda set down in meetings accused of undermining ‘development’ through talking ‘politics’. As seen in Hangberg, this rapidly transmutes into the vilification of protest as ‘criminal’. The DA script entails a division between the ‘deserving poor’ who want development and ‘troublemakers’ who make the cardinal sin of demanding to be engaged in the political process.

The violence at Hangberg was so extreme that containing the negative publicity proved a challenge even for the party’s finely honed techniques of reality management. At a local election meeting this year I saw a normally slick councillor reduced to half-baked evasions when the issue was raised. After mumbling something about a ‘tragic misunderstanding’ his conclusion was "you know how the police get in these situations". While the level of state violence unleashed was perhaps exceptional, this kind of militarised policing is not. As an aspirant ‘World City’, the DA has managed Cape Town by drawing on a transnational repertoire of what Stephen Graham calls the new military urbanism : ‘crowd control’ which aligns ‘non-lethal’ weaponry with hyper aggressive tactics and campaigns of media dissemination. While this is initially tested on groups which the state considers marginal it may quickly become the norm. Indeed, the party’s official security policy reveals an eagerness to rollout such ‘first world security measures’ if in power, from mandatory prison labour to the pre-emptive identification and tracking of ‘potential’ criminals. To this end, Cape Town’s central business district (CBD) has seen the establishment of a CCTV network of Orwellian proportions whose surveillance footprint far exceeds any other city in the country. However, this funnelling of resources into the CBD stands in strong contrast to the epidemic violence in the sprawling Cape Flats to the south east, in which children have exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress comparable to a warzone.

As the party supporters are quick to point out, ANC dominated councils in other cities have engaged in similar actions, from orchestrated attack on the shack-dwellers' movement, Abahlali base Mjondolo in 2009 to last year's dramatic upsurge in recorded cases of police brutality. Indeed, it can be argued that this is a problem which transcends parties as urban authorities’ efforts to create sanitised world class cities fuses with historical legacies of authoritarianism. Despite the troubling developments, post-apartheid South Africa has a vibrant civil society which continually exposes and challenges these abuses. However, the nature of our recent past means that ordinary South Africans must be continually vigilant about the application of state power, especially when this is glossed in a packaged coat of ‘’international best practise’’.

Thus, despite the service it pays to liberal platitudes about an open society, the DA’s approach to Cape Town's ‘peripheral’ areas and populations appears to replicate a governmental strategy of disgusting inequality by force and lashing out at society’s most vulnerable. As Jean Pierre de La Porte has put it, the DA’s Cape Town model is divided into a Manichean “world of orderly haves and embarrassing have-nots, mocking the weak has become acceptable, since their own failure to be prudent and follow the rules has brought their every misfortune upon themselves – the vulnerable are dunces’’. Under Zille’s botox hardened smile lies a ready resort to the fists of iron which fortify this divide.

The Government of Cape Town Violates the Rights of the Poor

The Land belongs to the People

The Government of Cape Town Violates the Rights of the Poor

Carmen Ludwig

Even 17 years after the end of the apartheid regime the majority of South Africans are living in the world’s most unequal country and are still fighting a daily struggle for the realisation of their constitutional rights. In July, Carmen Ludwig took part in the World Congress of Education International in Cape Town, speaking to a number of activists and occupants of land in Mitchell’s Plain there.

Apart from its postcard scenery, the city of Cape Town promotes itself with being the second-richest city and the second-largest centre of economic activity in South Africa. The City at the foot of Table Mountain has aimed to become a globally competitive city, with the highest standard in infrastructure to attract business. The living standards in the city are also portrayed as exceptionally well: Averagely, residents of Cape Town have access to the country’s best health, education and housing services – however only averagely.

Whilst this is surely true for the inhabitants of the rich suburbs, it must sound like mockery to the ears of the inhabitants of the townships in and around Cape Town. Cape Town alone lacks about 400.000 houses and roughly half a million people have no access to basic sanitation. Corruption and self-enrichment of the political class also deny the poor their benefits in housing and infrastructure. Consequently social conflicts are on the rise, concerning goods and the delivery of services, such as water, electricity and living space, and concerning resistance against forced evictions, reminding of Apartheid times.[1]

Talk with us, not about us

Autonomous and community-based movements, such as the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Mitchell’s Plain Backyarder Association, the Mandela Park Backyarders and the shack dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo are part of the poor people’s struggles in Cape Town, based on self-organisation and the shared understanding, that the poor are the foundation and the intellectuals of their own struggles.[2]

It isn’t merely the denial of public services but also ignorance and lack of respect, which increase anger and frustration in the poor communities. Colin Graham from Mitchell’s Plain, who supports the land occupants, comments: “The politicians take us for idiots because we live in huts and haven’t got proper homes. Why do they use us, think that we are uneducated, stupid people and make empty promises? Holding our babies for the newspaper and afterwards they send the law enforcement to tear down the home of the baby.” [3]

Shortly before the municipal elections in May 2011, the open toilet became a symbol for the violation of the poor’s human dignity and the arrogance of those in political power. In Makhaza in Khayelitsha more than a thousand toilet facilities were built by the government of Cape Town, without any sort of walls or barriers. The dwellers were forced to refrain from using the toilet or to use it in full view of the public. Only because of protests lasting months and in order of the High Court of Cape Town, the government agreed to provide appropriate walls and to include the inhabitants into the decision making process about further issues.

In the substantiation the court ruled that the implementation of the human dignity as guaranteed by the constitution means simply “that human beings be treated as human beings” and the open toilets are a violation of this fundamental right. The procedures undergone by the government is also an expression of contempt towards the poor, who are expected to put up with these toilet facilities, as Mzonke Poni, chairman of Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape illustrates: “The City deals with the poor at a quantity scale and not at a quality level. This expresses itself in building open air toilets for the poor. Imagine building an open air toilet at the Cape Town beach promenade Sea Point and forcing tourists to bring blankets along to visually protect themselves. That would be an embarrassment. But if given to the poor, the City sees no problem. They say: we did deliver something; they didn’t even have the toilets in the first place. That is an insult to the poor!”

The protests of the marginalised are battles of dignity and participation. How can the city expect to know which kind of toilet facilities are suitable and appropriate better than the residents themselves? With the slogan “talk with us, not about us!”, Abahlali baseMjondolo brings this all to a point. Instead of being confronted with a predetermined decision the residents want to be taken seriously as political subjects and also want to be included in decision processes. According to Mzonke Poni, “there is a lack of political will in terms of engaging with people directly. The people are not viewed as subjects, but instead as objects and passive recipients of service delivery by the City. And I have to say, it is very disappointing and frustrating to be treated that way in your own country.”

The occupation of an unused field by homeless people and backyarders in Tafelsig, in the Township of Mitchell’s Plain in Cape Town stands as an example for a variety of struggles of the poor countrywide. Ibrahim Abrahams is one of the occupants, trying to defy the Capetonian winter by living in covered holes in the ground or in tents for over 90 days now.

“Before we used to stay in a house in a backyard with five, unemployed people,” he explains. “Although I don’t have a roof over my head, it is easier for me and my family here on the field. I no longer have to ask others, but can take my life in to my own hands. On this field I have won happiness and freedom. We just want for the city to leave the field to us, so we can build our own home.”

The state’s housing system is opaque and inconsistent, failing to provide for fair distributed housing facilities. Consequently, the hardship and desperation of the poor result in the occupations of land. “The people that are occupying this piece of land, people who despite the odds decide to go and sleep outside in the cold are not doing that by choice. The circumstances have forced them”, comments Mzonke Poni and explains: “The waiting list is a disaster. We need a different system to distribute housing facilities. People who are living under pressurizing conditions need to be prioritized. The City merely refers to the waiting list. But in that case, the people must at least be allowed to live in peace, where they are and where they want to stay. The land belongs to the people!”

Repression against appropriation from below

The Democratic Alliance, the governing party in Cape Town responds to the occupations with police repression and the criminalisation of the poor, instead of providing the highest standard of infrastructure as mentioned on the city’s homepage. To that effect the City declared a policy of zero tolerance and founded the Anti-Land Invasion Unit in 2009, a specialised police squad with the task of preventing land occupations. During evictions the police use water cannons and rubber bullets against the dwellers, like on May 15th during the first evictions in Tafelsig.[4] The Capetonian Anti-Land Invasion Unit also uses the tactic of daily harassment to force the occupants to abandon the field, as Peter Adams, on the waiting list for a house for 13 years, reports: “Thousands of people lived here in the beginning. Most people went back to where they used to live because they are afraid of the police repression. The law enforcement comes on a daily basis, they arrest us, take our covers. What are we supposed to sleep on? We are helpless and we can’t fight them. Who are we that they just come and hit here? We also belong here in Cape Town.”

Who has the right to the City and access to what kind of living space is a disputed question in South Africa. Appropriating land encourages the development of communities from below, independent and self-organised. This process could be supported und used for a betterment of the life of the poor by the government. Mzonke Poni shares this view: “If a piece of land is not used, not earmarked for anything, people must be allowed to occupy that piece of land and to build their own structures. The city just needs to ensure that they are supportive of the people, to ensure that they don’t build structures on wet area or that they don’t build structures too close to each other for example. The government should merely ensure that the community they are creating themselves will be better and safer than the current informal settlements, because the problems with the informal settlements in the townships are over-population, lack of streets and the hazard of shack fires.”

On the 30th of August 2011 the High Court of Cape Town passed a sentence on the occupation and a verdict against the occupants’ right to stay on the field in Tafelsig. The process was accompanied by protests of residents of Mitchell’s Plain outside the court. With reference to the waiting list the judge approved of the City’s eviction order and the occupants were told to leave the field until the 26th of September. The judge also launched an investigation to identify ‘ringleaders’ of the occupation and bring them to account. This is an attempt to segregate the poor peoples’ movement and to criminalize individuals with the intention to discourage and prevent people from occupying land in the future.

The City has now offered occupants to move to Blikkiesdorp in Delft, which was primarily built as a temporary relocation area in 2007. It is regarded as an unsafe area and as an integral part of the City’s strategy to evict ‘unwanted’ people and dispose them there.[5] This strategy, which aims at whisking people away from one Township settlement to the next – disregarding their right to participation, personal will and social relationships – is inhuman, sustains segregation and therefore no way to solve any problems. This is also applicable for political priorities, which are in accordance with the current free market policies in South Africa, focusing primarily on the strengthening of competitiveness and therefore maintaining commitment to the interests of business and of the – mainly white – rich people.

Aluta continua – The struggle continues

Mzonke Poni describes the attitude of the government as follows: “Let us spend less time with the poor; one cannot solve their problems because they are too many and, their problems are too big. Let us spend millions and plant roses at upper suburbs of Cape Town so that when rich people drive they must smell roses and say that the city works for them. Go to Khayelitsha and give them the bucket system instead of toilet facilities, so when people drive there they must smell their shit. That is the reality.”

This reality results out of politics which consciously put up with the increase of the country’s unequal wealth distribution and therefore the rise and continuation of social struggles in South Africa.

This article was published in German in analyse & kritik, No. 564, on the 16th of October 2011

p. 19, Link:

Cape Times: Heartbreak, eviction, broken promises

Heartbreak, eviction, broken promises

Melanie Gosling

FOR around 50 years Ellen Leputing has been trying to secure a home in Cape Town, but has been evicted, burnt out, betrayed and beaten by the system. Her family are facing eviction again.

On the surface, it is a straightforward case of the authorities trying to remove people from a condemned building. On a deeper level, it lays bare the battle of the poor and the powerless to keep a roof over their heads, a battle which, for some families, carries on over decades and across generations.

Leputing, 62, is a state pensioner living in Sandile Park, Gugulethu. She used to live in the adjacent Masonwabe Park, two blocks of 40 flats in Gugulethu’s Dr Moerat Road. Two of her adult children and several grandchildren still live there, as do four of her sister’s children.

It’s a ghastly place. An old hostel once owned by Murray & Roberts, it is now so run-down it has become a health hazard. The drainage system and parts of the roof have collapsed, the walls are cracked and raw sewage lies in pools in the courtyard. The foundations are so unstable, the city engineer says a severe storm could flatten the entire building.

Next week, the city council goes to court to seek an order to have the 300-odd Masonwabe Park residents evicted so the building can be demolished. The city has offered them 56 single-room units in Blikkiesdorp, the temporary tin-shack settlement area near Delft. They don’t want to go.

“Blikkiesdorp, no, it’s too dangerous, my family can’t go there. Anyway, it is mos our own place, not the council’s. The Malaysians bought it for us,” she said.

Leputing was born in Cape Town in 1949 and grew up in Old Crossroads. When she had children of her own, she continued living with her parents, but it was a struggle in the tiny house with just a kitchen and one room. Her father died, her mother could not pay the rent and they were evicted. Leputing, her husband and six children moved to KTC squatter camp in the early 1980s.

KTC started with a few shelters in January 1983, made from branches and plastic sheeting, dotted between the Port Jackson bushes. Within a couple of months there were over 1 000 shacks. One of them was Leputing’s.

It was a tough life. Under the apartheid government, the Bantu Affairs Administration Board regularly moved in and demolished shacks of the “illegals” – those who did not have official “passes” to live in Cape Town. Apartheid minister Piet Koornhof said at the time that he would not allow another “uncontrolled squatter camp like Crossroads to develop”.

There were frequent police raids with tear gas and dogs, and many were arrested and their shacks destroyed. Leputing’s stayed intact – for a while. “But the witdoeke, they chased us out. They burnt down my house. We had to run.”

Apartheid police colluded with vigilantes, known as witdoeke because they wore white cloths around their heads or arms, to fight against the ANC-aligned “comrades”.

In May and June 1986, the witdoeke began a three-week attack on KTC, burning shacks and attacking residents, leaving 60 000 people homeless and 60 dead. One of them was Leputing’s 19-year-old son.

She and her children fled to the “rent office”, where they holed up while KTC burned.

Later, they went back and salvaged what they could from the cinders and built a new shack on Tambo Square. They had a roof over their heads again, but with the onset of the the Cape winter, Tambo Square soon flooded. They packed up and moved to Fezeke, where the municipality had set up a tent camp for KTC refugees, and lived under canvas for two rainy months.

It seemed as if she would never have a proper house. Then she learned from “Mayor Njoli” about an empty Murray & Roberts hostel in Gugulethu. It had 40 flats, each with three rooms, a toilet and bathroom. There were beds, cupboards and stoves. She and others persuaded the security guard to let them in.

Later, a residents’ committee met Murray & Roberts, who told them they no longer had any use for the building and they could live there. They said the land was the council’s.

Residents renamed it Masonwabe, meaning “place of peace”. In 1988, there were 74 adults and many children living in the flats.

According to Leputing’s affidavit in the court papers, in the early 1990s the ANC and Malaysian government agreed to create a project to provide housing to township dwellers around the country.

The old Masonwabe flats would be repaired and residents would get sectional title deeds. The Western Cape Housing and Development Trust was established to administer the project.

The trustees were Allan Boesak, Aburazak Soman, Mongezi Mngesi and Essa Moosa.

There was an official opening in August 1995, attended by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Steve Tshwete, other ANC representatives and Malaysian dignitaries. “Winnie Mandela, she congratulated me and said the flat was mine.”

But the promised repairs never happened, nor did they get sectional title deeds to the flats. Apparently there was a shortfall in the Malaysian money, which the trustees were to make up with housing subsidies, for which the residents qualified. But the trust appears to have been run in a slap-dash manner, and it never applied for the subsidies, so the residents never got title to the flats.

The deeds office shows that the trust still owns the flats, but the trust has become dysfunctional. The building, never built to last, began to deteriorate, but to the 315 people living there – mostly children and grandchildren of the KTC refugees – it was at least a roof over their heads.

The residents, unemployed or low-income earners, never had the money to repair it themselves.

The Malaysian donor project did build some houses on the property, and Leputing moved into one of them.

She was told she owned the house, but to date has no title deeds.

“It is so small, my children stayed in the flats next door. But the flats are so wet from leaks, they leave their clothes here,” she said, pointing to a room crammed with clothing and suitcases. She worries about her children and grandchildren. Believing she had at last secured a permanent home for her family, she finds they are to lose it again.

“Now they want to pull down the flats and make my children go to Blikkiesdorp. That is a dangerous place, and it is far.”

About five years ago, the city approached the residents and said it wanted to demolish the flats and redevelop the land. Councillor Sheaam Sims told them she would provide them with a written undertaking that those residents who qualified for housing would be able to return to the new development. She wanted them to sign documents saying they would move to Blikkiesdorp in the meanwhile.

The residents refused, believing if they moved they would languish in the wastes of Blikkiesdorp and join the endless waiting list of people wanting houses.

Leputing’s affidavit states that while the Masonwabe residents agree that the flats are unsound and they should move, the city has known for five years that the building was unsound but did nothing to secure other accommodation or redevelop the site. It also says they were led to believe by a city councillor that the site would be redeveloped for them.

Chennells Albertyn attorney Camilla Rose, who represents Leputing, said residents have brought counter-applications to compel the council to comply with its undertakings to the residents, and with its constitutional obligations.

Standing next to the pool of sewage, Leputing looks around her: “This is our place. Why must we go to Blikkiesdorp and the council fixes this for other people?”

The City of Cape Town has created this war in Blikkiesdorp

29 July 2011
Press Release

The City of Cape Town has created this war in Blikkiesdorp

We warned the City.
We warned the courts.
We warned the public.

Fearing for our lives and with a heavy heart, we write this to tell Zille, Plato and de Lille and say: We told you so!

Yesterday, the morning of the 28th of July, Blikkiesdorp exploded into a full-scale drug war.

This is what we warned the government against when we resisted our eviction to Blikkiesdorp from the pavement of Symphony Way. The shacks we built ourselves were better than the shacks that our City has built and dumped us in.

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