Category Archives: Chantelle Benjamin

Business Day: Poor should not be hidden, rights group tells SA

Poor should not be hidden, rights group tells SA
Chantelle Benjamin

Chief Reporter

SA, AND the eThekwini municipality in particular, need to move away from the idea that the poor should be hidden from view in world-class cities, the Geneva-based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) warns in a scathing report.

Durban might be hailed for the many low-cost homes it is building, but it has been accused by the centre of evicting hundreds of shack dwellers illegally, of building houses far from the city, and of building small, poor-quality homes.

The municipality was also criticised for its failure to provide sufficient basic services to those shack dwellers still waiting to be placed in houses, leading to a high number of shack fires and sanitation problems, allegations that have been denied by the city’s head of housing, Couglan Pather.

The Swiss-based research has implications ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, with concerns by civil rights organisations that instead of the government dealing effectively with the poor, they will simply be shipped out of the cities ahead of the event.

Durban was criticised during the Fifa 2010 preliminary draw in November for its removal of street children, some of whom were allegedly housed at Westville Prison.

COHRE said SA as a whole had seen a “disturbing shift in recent years from pro-poor and rights-based discourse with regard to shack settlements to one that is more security based and sometimes anti-poor”.

COHRE executive director Salih Booker said the organisation was concerned with the manner in which evictions had been carried out. “Evictions are a routine occurrence in Durban and our researchers did not come across a single instance in which an eviction by the municipality had been carried out in accordance with the law.”

Booker also expressed concern about the “high levels of state repression” that shack dwellers were subjected to between 2005 and last year, in Durban in particular. He said though evictions were not legal, they were not always forced.

He said to correct the situation the municipality needed to plan for the natural growth of settlements with higher density housing projects, and to consider subsidised transport for people who had been relocated to peripheral sites.

Booker did commend the work being done by Project Preparation Trust, an independent public interest organisation that specialises in projects for historically disadvantaged communities, which had seen talks between the eThekwini municipality and shack dwellers lead to an undertaking by eThekwini to step up the provision of basic services to a number of settlements and to set up two pilot projects in which settlements would be upgraded.

Business Day: Jo’burg may not evict residents of derelict buildings

OCCUPANTS of two derelict buildings in Johannesburg’s inner city will not be evicted and the city will have to improve their living conditions until suitable housing can be found, in terms of an agreement commissioned by the Constitutional Court.

The agreement submitted to the Constitutional Court yesterday follows two judgments in the Johannesburg High Court in which the state, or more specifically municipalities, have been held responsible for providing housing for the poorest of the poor in the city.

The decisions could have serious implications for municipalities where housing is not available for people in the lowest income bracket.

Following the first court judgment in which the city of Johannesburg was criticised for inadequately planning housing for inner city poor, the city said it would provide R300m for urban regeneration programmes in the inner city, and agreed to provide 50000- 75000 inner city residential units by 2015.

The city and occupants of a building in Olivia Road, Berea, and in Main Street, in the central business district, agreed two months ago to work on a settlement at the urging of the Constitutional Court after fighting the matter in the courts. The Constitutional Court reserved judgment in August pending the outcome of negotiations.

In terms of the agreement, interim measures will be put in place to improve the conditions of the two buildings, such as providing water and a general clean- up of the properties.

Residents will be provided with other accommodation in the inner city from January in the Old Perm and BG Alexander buildings in Hillbrow and MBV Hospital in Joubert Park, which are being renovated. The residents will not pay more than 25% of their incomes in rent. The accommodation will make provision for individuals, families and single parents with children.

A socioeconomic survey of all occupants will be conducted before they are moved to permanent accommodation.

The survey will take into account whether members of the household are employed, the household income and housing affordability thresholds.

Advocate Paul Kennedy, who represented the occupants of the buildings, argued in the Constitutional Court that the buildings the city said it could provide were either full or were not affordable.

Jeremy Gauntlett SC, on behalf of the city, argued that the city had an obligation to evict people from unsafe buildings.

Chief Justice Pius Langa said in August that the Constitutional Court “would love to encourage the parties to co-operate in the interests of the people they represent”.

Mainstream newspaper articles on the renewed upsurge in popular protest

(For a particularly reactionary response see the article by heresy hunter Jovial Rantao below. For a view – very rare in our media – from someone who actually helped to organise some of the first wave of so-called ‘service delivery protests’ in 2005 watch S’bu Zikode on the SABC TV discussion programme Interface this Sunday at 7:30 p.m.)

NIA ‘probing service protests’
Chantelle Benjamin

THE National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is believed to be investigating the causes of recent service delivery protests and meeting members of the Gauteng government over protests that have been particularly violent.

The secret meeting two-and-a-half weeks ago was held amid insistence by senior members of the provincial and national governments that some of the protests were politically motivated.

A senior Gauteng local government official , who asked not to be named, said yesterday that reports from community development workers in some Gauteng areas the most affected by the strife suggested that people affiliated to certain political parties were behind some of the unrest .

NIA spokeswoman Lorna Daniels said only that meetings were often held between the agency and the government .

This week alone, protests were held on Monday in Kliptown, where thousands of people from several informal settlements marched through the central business district to demand sanitation facilities, electricity and housing.

On Wednesday, residents of Mamelodi took over the municipal building . Both protests ended in battles with the police.

Yesterday, local South African Community Party member, teacher and head of the Merafong Demarcation Forum, Jomo Mogale, attended an education department disciplinary hearing for allegedly inciting learners to boycott classes over the incorporation of Khutsong into North West.

United Democractic Movement leader Tokan-yane Mokgatla was singled out as being the alleged instigator of a protest that led to the death of councillor Ntai Mokoena in Deneysville, in the northern Free State, while the Inkatha Freedom Party has been blamed for encouraging the recent hostel protests in Johannesburg.


South Africans feel abandoned

THE surge in public protests has much to do with the gulf between politicians and people and not so much the slow delivery of services, according to analysts.

Political analyst Steven Friedman of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa said: “What is lacking at the moment is a link between the government and the people.”

Friedman’s view contradicts claims by the Gauteng MEC for local government, Qedani Mahlangu, that the protests are the work of agent provocateurs who want to destabilise townships.

South Africa has seen an increase in violent protests in municipalities.

Earlier this month a protest in Deneysville in the Free State was marred by the murder of a local councillor.

Friedman said a close look at the protests showed that people were raising a concern that the government appears to have abandoned them.

Friedman said: “In most cases, you hear the way people phrase their grievances, they hardly talk about the provision of houses or the size of a house. It is always about the mayor or the councillor having done or not done something.

“The most common theme in the complaints show that the people feel their leaders have no time for them.

“To me it is not just about service delivery. What people are saying is that they are not being listened to and they do not have councillors who will listen to their issues.”

He added that research done a few years ago to gauge people’s feelings on service delivery, showed that people — even those living in shacks — were happier if they felt that government was listening to and working with them.

Friedman said voters wanted leaders who respected them. “What we need to be discussing as society is what kind of messages we send out.

“We should be judging our councillors and have councillors who judge themselves based on how much they know their constituencies,” said Friedman.

The ANC often argues that the overwhelming vote it gets in each election is proof it has not lost touch with the masses.

Friedman disagrees: “Part of the problem is that the ANC often uses the same strategies which succeeded under the repressive apartheid regime despite 80 percent of the population being treated as second class citizens.

“But being in government and winning 70 percent of the vote means little if you do not have the political dominance in communities or the ability to make things happen. For that you need to work with your people.”


Jovial Rantao
It’s emotional blackmail

The government must be sensitive to the demands of the poor, but it should not be coerced into giving way to their continual cries of ‘Free this, free that’

It is important that we, as South Africans, remain sensitive to the plight of the poorest of the poor and that we remain alive to their reality. However, it is also important that we should warn of a culture of dependence and entitlement that is creeping into these communities.

A huge number of these South Africans have no means of income or the ability to generate a livelihood and depend on the handouts and the state to provide for them.

The private sector and the government have each played a role and dispensed some kind of assistance, all aimed at alleviating the situation of our indigent fellow citizens.

While the private sector dishes out donations and other forms of assistance, the government, on the other hand, has introduced a multi-pronged approach to deal with poverty and those trapped in it.

One of the government’s answers has been to provide all kinds of social grants for those with no income. The government has also provided housing, temporary jobs, etc, to people.

While the interventions by the government have served the purpose for which they were designed, there is a huge risk that the interventions have created a “dole culture”, some kind of a dangerous dependency and entitlement culture which the state or South Africa, for that matter, cannot sustain.

The message that is circulating in the low income communities is that if you want anything, the government will provide. If you want a house, the government will provide. Once you have a roof over your head, the government must provide free electricity and water.

Then the government must make available a grant so that the families can live. The constant refrain is: “The government must provide.” The only thing that people have not asked for or demanded from the government is the right to have children.

An analysis of the recent so-called lack of delivery protests reveals that most of the people who have taken to the streets – some of them engaging in illegal violent acts – have got nothing to do with service delivery but everything to do with failure by the government to provide everything free.

Residents of Kliptown took to the streets this week. They burnt shops and engaged in acts that forced the law enforcement agencies to react. Their demand – free houses. There were similar protests in Mamelodi and Desneyville in the Free State.

I am sure as night follows day that there will be more similar protests in the near future.

These protests seem to me like some sort of emotional blackmail against the government and creative queue-jumping by some streetwise community members.

Here is what seems to be the formula. Erect an illegal shack or live in one. Then take to the streets, in an act designed to embarrass the government – at all levels – portraying them as failures. In the process you barricade a street or two, disrupt traffic and other economic activity and make a claim that you were promised free houses.

This act will force the government on the back foot. It will then be forced to move the protesters into RDP houses as quickly as possible, to avoid the negative publicity. And voila, the protesters will get keys to their own house – brick and mortar.

While the “service delivery” protesters’ trick would have worked, down the line you’d have frustrated ordinary South Africans, who registered their names for a free RDP house but would have to wait a little longer because the clever queue-jumpers have had to be attended to first by the government.

There is, of course, another element to this trend. And that is the role played by politicians or so-called community leaders, particularly at local government or grassroots level. These are the people who go around telling residents that they are entitled to free this and free that.

These are the “leaders” who say to communities, “Just vote and the government must meet all your needs – free of charge.” These “leaders” would portray anyone who urges people to do the right thing such as following procedures to secure a house and pay for municipal services as failures.

Quite clearly, things cannot continue the way that they are going at the moment.

It is important that the government, while remaining sensitive to the needs of those who elected them, does not allow itself to be blackmailed by these “service delivery protests”.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a need for a change in the mindset. Firstly, the people must be assisted to ditch this culture of entitlement and pursue a partnership with those who can help them to pull themselves out of the poverty trap.

These so-called community leaders must be exposed for the charlatans they are. The government, for its part, must resist the temptation of throwing money at the problem. There must be other ways through which individuals and communities can be assisted and empowered. The government’s Vuku’zenzele project is a project that must be revived and placed at the core of anti-poverty campaigns.

UN observer shocked at state of SA housing

UNITED Nations special rapporteur for adequate housing Miloon Kothari has criticised SA’s housing policy, saying there appeared to be an increasing gap between delivery of housing and legislation — which could affect development.

Kothari, who is halfway through a two-week visit to examine and report to the UN on the state of land and housing rights in SA, said yesterday that preliminary impressions after visiting Northern Cape, Limpopo and Gauteng were that policy at national level, such as the social inclusion policy, was not filtering down to local government, and so increasing segregation.

Speaking after talks with 11 nongovernmental housing organisations in Johannesburg, he said: “Some of what I have seen was worse than I expected.”

Kothari was shocked at some of the living conditions of Johannesburg’s inner-city poor, which he saw during a visit on Tuesday, particularly those living in buildings where water had been cut off.

“I do not accept the argument that these buildings used to be privately owned so the municipality can wash its hands of ultimate responsibility for residents. A visit to properties owned by the Johannesburg Social Housing Company suggests there are problems with implementation. Joshco and Johannesburg Water are public companies. Who is monitoring these companies and projects to ensure delivery? It should be the municipality,” said Kothari.

He said nongovernmental organisations in developing countries, such as India, where he is from, were jealous of the progressive standards in SA, and the fact that the right to housing was enshrined in the constitution and in judgments of the Constitutional Court.

“This is sufficient ground for policy that ensures the rights of the most vulnerable are protected.”

Segregation between the rich and the poor was increasing, he said.

“The implementation gap as a preliminary observation seems to be growing instead of narrowing and that is where I will be looking and trying to find ways to reverse that trend.”

Kothari said cities such as Johannesburg were finding themselves caught between trying to encourage growth and development in order to compete globally, and the protection of human rights.

Presentations were made by a number of organisations including the Centre for Applied Legal Studies: Water Rights division, the Landless People’s Organisation, the Inner City Resources Centre and Social Surveys Africa.

Representatives from people who have been evicted or are facing eviction also made presentations.

Some of the issues raised were the lack of consultation by the government when it came to moving people living in informal settlements to new areas and consideration of the needs of the community concerned.

Jean du Plessis of the international Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions said that “using eviction as a tool of development (which was a global trend with China leading the way) did not promote development among the poor”.

Kothari met Land Bank and government officials in Pretoria yesterday and is to visit Durban and then Cape Town before presenting a preliminary report on Tuesday.