Category Archives: Lisa Fry

Facing Uncertainty with Unity: Lives and livelihoods of shack dwellers in Motala Farm

Facing Uncertainty with Unity
Lives and livelihoods of shack dwellers in Motala Farm

Lisa Fry
Advisor: Richard Ballard, UKZN
School for International Training


I would like to thank Richard Ballard for advising me during this project. He was instrumental in providing contacts and gave me direction when I got lost in the overwhelming amount of information. I would also like to thank the community of Motala Farm for allowing me to visit, and thanks to all who were surveyed. Special thanks go to Mrs. Shamitha Naidoo, Miss. Lewisa Motha, and Mr. Bekhi Ngcobo; this project would not have been possible without their guidance and insights. A final thank you is to Emily, the intern at Legal Resources, who kept me updated with information about changing court dates.

Cover photo: A destroyed shack, surrounded by its neighbors facing the same fate

1. Introduction

Jump off the taxi at the sign for Motala in Pinetown and walk into the suburb along a road through greenery. The road ends with large houses along a tributary road, leading toward a nature reserve and the primary school in one direction, and Govender’s Supermarket, Butchery, and Bottle Store on the other. On the surface, it looks like a lovely, small, comfortable area. Continue past Govender’s stores along the road towards his villa, and you still may not notice the other half of the Motala Farm suburb. In backyards, and along dirt paths off the main track, are tin and iron houses. Neighboring the Govender Villa is an entire settlement of shacks nestled almost picturesquely into the side of a green hill (Picture 1). These are the residences of the poor of Motala. They came for a variety of reasons, including the search for work and the Group Areas Act. Many were born in Motala Farm, and some are the third or fourth generation to live there.

Picture 1: The Motala Heights jondolo settlement as seen from the approaching dirt road. A close look shows that the lower part of the hill is covered with the boards from destroyed shacks.

Turn off the main road and walk up a dirt track to the shack settlement. The homes here are known as jondolos, to differentiate them from the tin- and- iron houses scattered throughout the whole Motala area. Piles of boards, and in some places bricks, cover much of the lower part of the hill – shacks that have already been knocked down to evict their occupants. The remaining residents are fighting in court through Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Durban-wide shack dwellers’ movement, for their right to remain in Motala Heights, rather than be relocated to Nazareth Island, a new housing development with “leaky houses.” The new housing development is considered by most Motala Heights respondents to be far from employment, educational, and social opportunities.

Hidden in overgrown pathways and behind large brick houses are Indian and a few Black African tenants living in tin-and-iron houses that are essentially shacks. Recently, the Indian tenants have become involved with Abahlali baseMjondolo as well since they also face eviction, although if evicted they will not get houses from the government like their Black jondolo-dwelling neighbors because they are currently living on private land. Many of the tenants were born in the suburb, and they have nowhere to go if they are evicted. Their lives and means of livelihood are tied to the place.

“Survivalist” is the word that best describes livelihood methods of shack dwellers in Motala Farm. Unemployment is high, and many depend on temporary, causal, or part-time work in the surrounding industries. One woman, from a tin-and-iron house on privately owned land, observed that after paying rent and for electricity, there is hardly enough money to buy bread and milk, much less pay the exorbitant fees the local school illegally refuses to waive.

Tired of broken promises and not being allowed consultation into their future, shack dwellers all over Durban have taken the housing issue into their own hands in the form of a large and militant shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo. Both the poor African and Indian communities in Motala Farm are now working with Abahlali baseMjondolo.

2. The Broader Context of this Struggle

2.1. A brief history of Indian affairs and housing issues in Durban

Struggles surrounding the issues of suitable housing and slum clearance are not new to Durban. The issue initially revolved around overcrowding and unsanitary conditions of the Indian working class housing and was related to the Natal “Indian problem.” The same issues that faced the informal settlement populations in the late 19th century continue to this day: encouraged or forced removal to the periphery resulting in the loss of livelihood opportunities. Bagwandeen reports that the housing issue was central to Indian politics in South Africa in the 1940s, causing much anti-Indian legislation and propaganda , but it in fact housing issues began even earlier.
The first Indians arrived in Natal in 1860 as indentured laborers, an arrangement already being used in several other colonies. Between then and 1911 when the last indentured laborers arrived, more than 150,000 workers were imported, while “passenger Indians,” mostly Gujarat Muslim traders who had paid their own passage to South Africa, settled in as competition to European traders . Swanson notes that the promoters of indentured labor most likely did not expect settlement as a result of the program, despite the original offer of land in South Africa as an incentive for laborers to participate; Indians were supposed to repatriate or remain as peasants and laborers. Instead they concentrated in the urban areas, some trading on a small scale or working as artisans, while others obtained small plots of land for market gardening.
1871 saw the first proposed idea of and serious action towards separate Black and Indian “villages”, the location of which would be on the outskirts of Durban. These “outskirts” would be surrounded by the town in less than one generation, setting up a pattern of removal to the periphery. Additionally, many Europeans were under the delusion that most Indians would repatriate – even long after the majority of Indian South Africans were in fact born in South Africa and thus had no reason to repatriate – and so did not feel that it was important to spend money developing “Indian areas.” White explains that because residential differentiation in these areas was not economically based, and the wealthy lived next to the poor, as well as difficulties building because of the world war “the de facto Indian areas failed to develop into areas attractive either to reside in or invest in by the growing class of affluent Indians;” a few of most wealthy began moving into predominantly European areas adjoining Indian areas. Bagwandeen elaborates, explaining: “Areas occupied by Indians came to be characterized by a welter of shacks and shanties amidst substantial homes.”

In 1932, the city of Durban expanded to between four and five times its former size, although still smaller than the current municipality, incorporating peripheral areas that some former indentured Indians had settled in to escape paying municipal rates and taxes. In 1937 housing was built in Cato Manor that the Durban City Council felt was suitable but was considered inadequate by the Indian people for whom they were intended. The houses were of poor design and construction and the living conditions would be unhealthy. Additionally, the location was considered poor, with no employment available in the area and no good, cheap transportation available to other parts of the city. Finally, “many who needed the houses could not afford either the rentals or installments for the sub-economic or economic houses and the main problem was therefore one of poverty.”

The parallels to the present situation are clear. Bagwandeen, introducing “Indian penetration” between 1940 and 1946, makes a comment about the Indian housing issue of the time:

“It is universally accepted that shelter constitutes one of the necessities of human existence…it is significant…that all people require the same degree of shelter…But it is the quality of housing and the environment in which it is situated that are important. They affect the well-being of individuals and families”

Not much has changed in the intervening years.
Indians continued to be pushed to the periphery, however, with the result that eventually some ended up as far from the city center as Pinetown and Motala Farm. Whether these settlers were originally rural farmers or followed the industrial expansion is unclear, but before legislation was passed to create Motala Farm as an “Indian area” there was already an Indian community living mixed with “Coloreds” who would eventually be relocated. The fear of “Indian penetration” into predominantly European neighborhoods, fueled by the European fear of the residential integration of a few affluent Indian landowners, was finally addressed by legislation in 1943 by the “Pegging” Act , the first of many legislations leading to urban segregation. Through this Act,

Indians were allowed to retain properties purchased up to March 1943, and thereafter it was illegal to acquire or occupy premises in predominately white areas. Whites and Indians could not engage in any transaction relating to the acquisition or occupation of property unless a permit was issued by the Minister of the Interior
The Act applied to the Durban municipal area for three years, during which time a solution to the housing problem was to be created.

Instead, the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act of 1946, known as the “Ghetto” Act, was implemented. Land in Natal was divided into “controlled” and “uncontrolled” areas. In “uncontrolled” areas one race could buy or sell from and to one another with no restrictions, but “controlled” areas were under the authority of the Land Tenure Advisory Board, who had to approve all land sales. Freund explains that “these measures were directed against so-called Indian penetration of white neighborhoods rising on the Berea above the racetrack, and of the Indian business district behind the city centre.”

The final step in urban segregation, indeed a reason that a few Indian residents of Motala Farm cited as their reason for moving to the area, was the Group Areas Act of 1950, which finally resulted in the loss of Indian land in “white-only” areas and complete urban segregation.

2. National Housing Policy

The current South African constitution guarantees housing for all people, as Section 26 of the Bill of Rights states:
26. (1) Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing.
(2) The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.
(3) No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.

The Breaking New Ground national housing act of 2004 calls for a change in attitude toward housing from “slum clearance” and simple provision of housing to actual reduction of the causes of informal settlement. Theoretically, local government and informal settlement communities are to work together to provide houses for residents through in situ upgrading wherever possible, using innovative measures as necessary. Where such upgrading is not possible, housing is to be provided on “well-located” land. Residents are to work together with local authorities to decide if “land is well-located in relation to their livelihood strategies and opportunities for the development of their human capital.”

Breaking New Ground, is optimistic and calls for a change in approach. Instead of housing simply being provided to communities, the policy calls for cooperation between local government and community members to deliver housing in a way that promotes economic growth, crime fighting, increased social cohesion, and increased of quality of life. In situ upgrading “is more likely to be responsive to poverty and vulnerability, and lead to social inclusion, than a relocation process, due to the socio – economic disruption (of delicately balanced livelihoods) associated with the latter.” However, politics and image issues may have overridden the original focus on helping the poor. Huchzermeyer notes that the World Cup bid announcement added the transformation of “visible” informal settlements before international visitors arrived to the agenda. Although few World Cup visitors are likely to come across Motala, many in the area believe that the development needs of the poorest community members are not the primary motivation for relocation plans. There are allegations of corruption; it is widely believed that the local councilor reports to Mr. Govender before and after his armed visits to the informal settlement. Those vulnerable to eviction fear the loss of livelihood and community.

Marie Huchzermyer, the primary researcher into the South African housing policy and its effectiveness (or lack thereof) has mentioned the disruption of livelihood that can be caused by relocation to peripheral housing settlements. The South African housing policy calls for “communities and the beneficiaries of government housing programs [to] be mobilized to partner [with] the Department [of Housing] in the implementation of the new human settlements plan” to assist with poverty alleviation. However, many settlements that should benefit from this new policy are not, and instead are being relocated to locations that negatively impact the struggle for livelihood. Sophie Oldfield, although speaking in a different context, summarized the difficulty: “Clearly, housing is not just a product, a material asset to be delivered to a family.”

Poverty eradication is only one of the ANC’s three key policy objectives for the new term related to housing – reducing vulnerability and promoting inclusion are the other two – going beyond mere concentration on improvement of housing, infrastructure, and physical environment to community involvement. The new policy emphasizes the role of housing delivery in poverty alleviation, linking it to employment creation and access to subsidized property as a form of “wealth creation and empowerment.” Residents can in fact have backing from the Informal Settlement Upgrading Program, set up by Breaking New Ground, to remain in their current settlement rather than be relocated to the periphery. In Motala Heights, however, events show that the eThekwini municipality is not implementing the approach outlined in Breaking New Ground. It seems it is easier for the municipality to push residents into already built houses as quickly as possible, rather than solve the actual underlying problems that have created the need for people to be provided with housing rather than be able to purchase their own. Thus, instead of the provision of housing allowing employment creation and access, it actually removes these opportunities with the removal of shack dwellers to the periphery.

2.3 Housing policy in KwaZulu-Natal

KwaZulu Natal’s new Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Bill, hereafter referred to as “the Bill,” mentions in its preamble the provision of affordable housing, especially to those who “prior to the advent of democracy in South Africa [were] disadvantaged politically and economically,” as its motivation, along with the constitutional right to housing. However, the aims of the Bill outlined in its brief abstract uses such terms as “progressive elimination” “measures of prevention,” and the term “slum” to describe substandard housing. A “slum,” as defined by the Bill, is “overcrowded or squalid land or buildings occupied by predominantly indigent or poor persons with poor or non-existent infrastructure or sanitation.” All of this jargon has negative connotations implying dealing with a problem rather than proactively working toward a permanent solution as the national housing policy invites.

The objectives of the act show that the emphasis in KwaZulu Natal is on the image of complying with national policy, rather than the reality of the lives and livelihoods of the people affected by “elimination and prevention” of “slums.” The Bill does not mention livelihood opportunities that could be gained or lost by moving people from their residential location of choice. Most of the Bill relates to evicting people living in unsuitable conditions or who are illegally squatting and sets up the responsibility of each municipality to evict as it sees fit. There are only a few sections about providing proper housing, none with the consideration for livelihood shown by the national policy. Section 7, for example, states: “the responsible Member of the Executive Council must promote and facilitate the provision of adequate housing throughout the Province within the framework of the national policy on housing.” This vague statement is immediately followed by Section 8, however, a lengthy detailing of the powers of the Member of the Executive Council to “monitor progress by municipalities in their programmes for eradication of slums” and “take all reasonable and necessary steps to support municipalities in their progressive elimination of slums.” The Member can approve slum upgrading programs, any relocation project, and the financing of these projects.

Upgrading does not seem to be the preferred method of “slum clearance,” however, as measures to encourage quick clearance are also provided by the Bill. Under Section 11, each municipality must provide a status report detailing slums and unlawful occupants in their area of jurisdiction, and then provide a yearly report of “the steps taken towards the realization of its slums elimination program during that fiscal year, as well as the improvements made in the living conditions of the persons concerned as a result thereof.” The municipalities must compare their slum elimination progress to their targets, and take measures to improve if targets are not met. This encourages simple improvement of living condition, only the provision of housing, without much account for the quality of the houses provided or the livelihood issues attached to the location in which such housing is provided, although livelihood is briefly mentioned later in Section 12.
All of this discussion has a very relevant application to the fate of the “slum” dwellers of Motala Farm. If the Bill is passed, all the poor residents, whether living on public or private land, can be evicted by the terms of Sections 6.2 and 10, on the basis that they occupy dwellings unsuitable for habitation as outlined in Section 5. If evicted, the municipality can provide them with temporary housing until more permanent structures are built For permanent relocation plans, Section 12 stipulates that:
In the event of a municipality deciding to make available alternative land or buildings for the relocation of persons living in a slum, such municipality must take reasonable measures, within its available resources, to ensure that such alternative land or building is in reasonable proximity to one or more economic centres.
However, “reasonable proximity” is at the discretion of the municipality; the occupants to be relocated need not be consulted. The municipality’s “available resources,” or the resources determined to be necessary to address the issue, also rely on the preference of the municipality. They may choose to spend very little resources to ensure continued livelihood so that quotas and targets can be met. Hopefully as this Bill passes through the Provincial legislature the opinions of those to be affected by the Bill will come into consideration.

3. Jondolo dwellers: Lives

3.1 General Conditions

Thirty subjects surveyed lived in the jondolos on the hill in the settlement in Motala Farm known as Motala Heights: fourteen women and sixteen men. During the course of the survey, observation and conversation allowed a picture of this disrupted community where about half the shacks, have been knocked down, leaving piles of boards and other rubble, mostly on the lower part of the hill. The dirt road coming from the main Motala road ends where the hill rises more steeply but shacks continue, looking precarious, nearly to the top. There is a small red shop selling cool drinks before the road ends, and a tuckshop is further up the center of the hill behind the toilet.

The toilet is to one side at the end of the road, with water taps in front where there is always someone doing washing or relaxing in the minimal shade. The toilet was finally provided three years ago after two women, ANC community representatives at the time, fought with the municipality for water, which first came in a big container before the pipes were installed. They also managed to get rubbish collection provided for a time. The ANC committee tried to take credit for the work, much to the indignation of those actually responsible.

The tuckshop on the hill seems to be a gathering space for some of those not working during the day; it boasts a covered porch and a battery powered radio. During the heat of the day, however, most people retreat to the slightly cooler insides of shacks. Women, and occasionally men, doing washing by the taps at the toilet or in tubs in front of shacks are a common sight. Because of the high rate of unemployment, as well as those who work only on a temporary, casual, or part- time basis, there are many people in the settlement during the day, going about their household tasks and attempting to avoid the heat.

3.2 Life: An Example

One woman’s life in Motala Heights is an example of the established community. She was born in Motala Heights to a father who was from the area and a mother from Cape Town. Her mother worked for an Indian man who is now one of the main Indian Abahlali representatives. This woman wants a house, but would be happy if services, such as having the area cleaned and rubbish collection, were provided, as well as delivery of food parcels to needy households.
No one in her household currently works, and one of the children was forced to leave school for financial reasons. However, this respondent would like to stay in Motala Heights rather than be relocated to Nazareth Island, because in Motala she “can at least do small washing and temporary work to get food to eat.” Unfortunately, she feels that although it is a strong community, it is not safe because all sorts of people come up and down the road. Additionally, at the time of our conversation, the respondent was afraid to sleep in her house for fear that it would be broken down in the night.

3.3 Livelihood

Only six respondents reported currently having a job; only one is a woman, who recently began working at the Motala Heights Library. Three of these employed residents are the sole income earner in their household, and two more reported that at least one other member of the household worked on a temporary or casual basis. Eight people reported having no job, though of these, six reported that at least one other person in their household works; in the other two households there are currently no income earners. Temporary, casual, or part-time work in the area was reported by nine respondents, five of whom reported that at least one other person in their household also worked on a temporary basis. Four respondents reported being on a grant or pension, two of whom reported being the sole source of income for the household. Three women reported doing washing as their means of employment, although only one was the sole income earner for her household . One young respondent had dropped out of school and was waiting to receive ID papers and find a job . 23 respondents in the jondolos came to Motala Farm looking for work; many surveyed cited closeness to jobs as the primary reason they wanted to stay. One man commented that if he moved he would no longer be able to earn “pocket money from day jobs,” a whimsical reference to his survivalist livelihood opportunities.

3.4 Education

Of those who reported their education level, four women and one man had no education, while two men had achieved matric. Men on average had a higher level of education than women: 6.5 Standards compared to 3.8 Standards but this does not seem to be particularly significant in relation to work, as the one woman who holds a job only achieved a low standard, and the men with matric were not currently working. Only four respondents reported having at least one child in school, although of these people, one woman said she has five children attending school, surely a strain on the already survivalist livelihood of the family.

3.5 Relocation

All respondents surveyed wish to remain in Motala Farm. Closeness to work was the primary reason cited, but other reasons include the perception that Nazareth Island, where the municipality has built houses for the settlement, has no job opportunities, and transport to jobs from the development is expensive. Also, the municipality houses are considered to be leaky, and have no water or electricity . An elderly man who had lived in the settlement 16 years presented a particularly touching reason for wanting to stay. He reported that he left Johannesburg because there was a war there. Now he has been in Motala Heights for so long that he wishes to be buried there .

One respondent was of the opinion that those who are moving only lived in Motala a short time and had jumped at the chance to get a house. They had not been born there and did not know the history of the place, she asserted . My own findings on this point are slightly contradictory: only a few subjects had in fact been born in Motala, although 24 of the 30 residents surveyed had lived there more than five years, and 12 had lived there more than 10 years. None of those surveyed, even a respondent who had come less than a year before, wanted to leave.

4. Tin- and- Iron House dwellers

While those in the jondolos came primarily looking for work, the Indian residents of the tin-and-iron houses were primarily either born in the area or came to marry someone born in the area. Of those born in the area, several respondents are the third or fourth generation; when the parents and grandparents of a few respondents came to Motala Farm, it was “still bush.” It is important to note that most, but not all, of the tenants in the tin-and-iron houses are Indian, while all of those living in the jondolos are Black. The interracial relations will be addressed below, but the fact that the community is “mixed” was referenced repeatedly and has some bearing on how the housing struggle is perceived.

4.1 Conditions

The tin-and-iron houses are not houses at all, but shacks that appear only slightly sturdier than some of the wooden jondolos. The buildings tend to have many tiny rooms because multiple generations often live together, a construction scheme that has been in existence in the Durban peri-urban Indian society since at least the early 1900s. The occupants are all tenants (Picture 3); in fact, much of the land belongs to Mr. Govender the “local tycoon” mentioned above, who has been buying up land in Motala Farm for the last 15 years, although his plans for the land remain speculation. Other landlords in the area seem to be taking cues from Govender when it comes to the tenure of their tenants, many of whom face eviction with no place to go. Tenants are not allowed to make improvements on their shacks, to the point where one tenant was forbidden from adding an indoor toilet. The reason given for this restriction is ominous and removes security of tenure: there may be “development” at any point, and the tenants will be evicted and their houses knocked down.

Picture 3: The view of a landlord’s brick house from the front stoop of one of the tin-and-iron houses in the back yard. Several other houses in the yard are visible.
Shacks frequently flood in the heavy costal rainstorms, and the swampland some are built on seeps through the floor. The houses are frequent guests to snakes and rats, especially those built near the river. The river is a problem in itself. It is contaminated by a chemical factory near the school, but since those who live near the river do not have water taps, they must use the river water that they know to be contaminated to survive. In fact, the conditions of most of the tin-and-iron houses led my guide to finally say that the tenants should not actually be paying for their accommodation, because it is equal to the free jondolos on municipal land, who also get free water and toilets.

4.2 Lives

One woman, born in Motala Farm 60 years ago, began working at the age of 15 to help out her family. She worked in many places, from a butchery to a clothing factory, all in the Motala Farm and Pinetown area, although now she is not working. Only she and her husband live in their shack now that her last daughter has married. Her small shack also had one of the most attractive interiors of a home I have ever encountered. All of the shacks had neat interiors, but hers was especially tidy and appealing. When I commented on her home, she replied that “just because you live in a shack doesn’t mean you should treat it like a shack.” Her pride in a home, no matter how inadequate, is reflective of the dignity of all Motala Farm shack dwellers, they still take pride in what small part of their environment that they can control. This proud woman told me that although her sister and daughter have extra rooms in their houses in other parts of Durban that they have invited her to live in, she will not leave Motala, where she was born and bred; she will die there.

Subject 49 has lived in shacks all over Motala Farm in the last 35 years: every time he constructed one and had lived in it for a few years he and his family were evicted and moved to another location. Their latest shack, although it is on a higher part of the bank above the river, still floods in heavy rain. The respondent has many cars in his yard and during our conversation was in the process of expanding the driveway past his home because he is an informal mechanic. This man does not want to fight for housing: he wants to follow the proper channels, but seemed bewildered that the local councilor is not acting and that following procedure has not worked. However, he felt very strongly that houses are the most important need for the poor of the community

The attitude towards their survivalist livelihood by all of Motala Farm’s shack dwellers can be summarized by one woman’s comment. Her husband is on a grant, and they receive a child support grant for one of their three children, all of whom are in school; the family is surviving on the grants. However, she is “thankful to God because at the end of the day He makes a way.” The hope that the people still hold despite all setbacks inspires hope that someday they will have the proper shelter they deserve in their dignity as human beings.

4.3 Previous housing attempts

The current housing struggle is actually the third attempt by tin-and-iron house tenants to get proper housing. The previous government promised proper housing to Motala Farm residents in the 1970s, but instead housing became a game of survival of the fittest; those who could bought land and built houses, and those who could not became their tenants. Eight or ten years ago the Motala Farm Ratepayers Association, comprised of landlords, conducted a census of families. They claimed that the association would fight for low-cost housing in the area, but the project was never mentioned again.

4.4 Livelihood

Like the jondolo dwellers, most tin-and-iron house dwellers, if employed, work in the area. Since many in this situation who were surveyed are older and on pensions, I also asked them what kinds of work they did before, so as to explore the idea of intertwining life and livelihood further. Many reported having done work in nearby industry or held other jobs in the area

4.5 Work

Twenty respondents not on a grant or pension reported having no job. Of these, sixteen were women, which suggests a gendered dynamic with regard to employment. Further exploration showed that employment is indeed somewhat gendered, at least among the Indian community, with most women taking care of children, and their husbands and sons the primary income earners. Of the women who do not work, four reported that at least one other person in the household has a job, while a further six had at least one household member who worked on a temporary, casual, or part-time basis. The other five women reported that no one in the household worked. Two of these households are receiving financial assistance from other family members, and one household is living on maintenance from the respondent’s ex-husband.

Since some of the households hold large extended family, it is unsurprising that the women of the family are housewives. One woman actually gave “housewife” as her occupation, citing the difficulty of finding a job as her reason, a contradiction from the report of respondents who wish to stay in Motala Farm precisely because of ease of finding work.

One aspect of income in the Indian community that is worthy of note is the prevalence of disability grants: four respondents had disabled children, three of whom are on a disability grant, and one respondent is disabled himself. A few other respondents complained that they should be on a disability grant for health reasons.

4.6 Education

Education levels among the tin-and-iron house dwellers are more equal between genders than those of the jondolo dwellers, although the smaller subject pool of men may have influenced the results. Of those who reported their education level, women had an average education level of 5.7 Standards, while men had an average education level of 5.9 Standards. Three women had no education, while two had achieved matric, one of whom had actually taken a few college computer courses. One elderly woman explained that the reason she had not gone to school was that “girls who went to school had boyfriends”! Only one man had achieved matric, but all who responded had some education.
17 respondents reported that one or more child in their household is currently attending school. One of the livelihood challenges reported by all parents and grandparents of schoolchildren is the cost of education. The Motala Heights Primary School costs between R600 and R800, and school fees are not waived even with proper documentation that a family is unable to afford fees. The area’s primary high school is further away in another suburb and costs R1000, not including transport fees. For people living from day to day, never knowing where income may come from or when they could be evicted with nowhere to go, this is just one more obstacle in their path.

4.7 Relocation

One older man summed up the general feeling of the tin-and-iron house dwellers when he stated that “even though it is a dump” he will die in Motala, because it is where he was born and has lived his whole life. 17 of the 30 Indian respondents were born in Motala Farm, with three reporting that one or more of their parents were also born in Motala. A further six respondents came to the area for marriage, with three reporting their spouses were born in Motala Farm, although it was implied with the others; one woman said her mother-in-law had also been born in the area. Many of the tin-and- iron house residents surveyed were around 50 or older: the youngest interviewed who reported age or length of time living in the community was born there 28 years ago, while the oldest reported age of a respondent born in the area was 63. Two respondents could not remember how long ago they had arrived in Motala; one man who estimated 50 years and a woman who could only remember that it was more than 41 years, the age of her son.

4.8 Hidden Problems
There are more problems in the community, tied into livelihood, than just unemployment and expensive school fees, although few will speak of it. Alcoholism and drug use plague the community, especially among the men. Subject 63 feels that because unemployment is so high, when men are not working they have nowhere to go to spend time with their children, such as a park, so they go to the pub instead. I observed several teenage boys, who had apparently dropped out of school (or were skipping), hiding a bottle of alcohol at my approach with my guide, an early start to a lifetime of alcohol abuse. A care center for women with drunken husbands was identified as a community need, although a more preventative solution is also needed in the long run. The respondent also explained, from experience, that most men refuse counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The ultimate result of this problem, she concluded, is divorce and destroyed families. Single women struggle without whatever extra income their husband provided, although the reduced expenditure on alcohol surely equals or outweighs the lost income.

Two other issues, related to one another, that are not addressed particularly openly are class relations and racism. A tuckshop owner, also a homeowner with no tenants, assured me that he is not bothered by the people in the shacks, and is quite content to have them in the Motala Farm community, which he describes as “one big family.” A different story was told by the agenda for the Ratepayer’s Association meeting, which had “Squatter problem” as an item for the 7 December 2006 meeting. An interview with one of the ratepayers implied underlying racial tensions that may or may not relate to class. His home backs up to the shacks, and he does not like their presence and is glad that they are moving. The Blacks invaded the land, he informed me, and they don’t belong there. He is of the opinion that the Blacks should be happy to get free two- room houses, no matter where the houses are actually located or what the quality of the buildings may be. The respondent is convinced that all of the jondolo dwellers are being evicted so that Govender, who the subject’s son works for, can build “low-income” houses. These houses, he admitted, are not actually going to be affordable to those with low income just as current permanent structures rented out by Govender are not affordable (Picture 3).

Picture 3: One of three rental houses belonging to Govender. Rent for these buildings is reported to be R2000 per month, plus electricity and running water.

5. Brief History of Abahlali baseMjondolo

Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dweller’s movement in Durban, was born from a long history of broken promises from councilors about housing. The attitude that those who live in “slums” are invisible most of the time, are simply a problem to be dealt with, and probably do not have access to legal protection from illegal evictions along with the insufficiencies of the top-down housing delivery scheme, was finally resisted en masse. The shack dwellers, at first just from the informal settlement Kennedy Road, but eventually from all over Durban, decided they wanted to speak for themselves. Although the movement faced opposition both from other shack dwellers and the municipal government, it has become strong. Their demands that they are given houses, and on their terms, are seen as a threat to the state’s power, especially since Abahlali has managed mostly positive media coverage, has been able to prevent several evictions, and has obtained legal representation. The state, on the other hand, has been portrayed as inhumane, though evictions with no provision for shelter, and violent in its anti-march tactics. In short, the poor have thrown off their cloak of invisibility and have become embarrassingly visible. They have made their demands heard by all, no longer allowing themselves to be defenselessly swept aside, and will continue to do so until their request is honored. The people refuse to acquiesce to anything less than their rights as human beings and citizens of South Africa.

There are those on the right and on the left who think that poor Black shack dwellers could not possibly be intelligent enough to become such a threat to the municipal government’s power without behind the scenes coordination.

However it is clear that the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement is well able to think and act for itself and to do so effectively. For instance while I was working on this study the movement quickly mobilized, was able to challenge and protest evictions, and was even able to procure a court order against further removals in Motala Farm.

5.1 Motala Farm and Abahlali baseMjondolo

Subject 62 is one of the original Abahlali members in Motala Farm. She and several others read in the newspaper about the movement in February 2006 and went to speak with them. She explained that their reason for joining together with the wider movement to struggle is that they “are all involved in the same struggle.” There is a general feeling among these people that the government makes many promises up until elections, and then nothing is done; this opinion prompted the Abahlali movement to boycott the last election.

In August, Indymedia South Africa published an article by “Motala Heights Development Committee.” The article described the community’s mobilization to fight evictions, the violence and threats used by the local councilor, and made the allegation that the councilor is working with, or under orders from, “local tycoon Ricky Govender.” The article also mentions that “[t]he 63 families scheduled to move to Nazareth Island would rather stay in Motala Heights where they are close to work, schools, the local clinic, shops, and other benefits of being near Pinetown and where they are part of an established community.”

The community members’ resistance and desire to remain was only intensified by several actual evictions and the destruction of shacks. Their connections with Abahlali baseMjondolo, although there were setbacks, allowed the struggle to continue to the point of ultimately winning the reprieve of a court order on 29 November 2006 banning further evictions.

The relationship with the movement is poised to benefit the Indian community in the tin-and-iron houses of Motala Farm as well. In October, Indian tenants became involved with the shack dweller’s movement when they filled out affidavits for the court case. Unfortunately, since they live on privately owned land rather than municipal land, their case is complicated. Currently, steps are being taken to discover ways to bring their case to court as well.

The Indian and Black shack dwellers have much in common. Their children attend the same schools, which all agree have fees that are too high. They have lived side by side for many years, in essentially the same conditions, and though the Indian people have electricity and those in the jondolos do not have to pay rent, all of their dwellings are unsuitable for habitation. They do many of the same kinds of jobs, and some of the jondolo dwellers do occasional work for some of the tin-and-iron house dwellers. The jondolo dwellers are happy for the Indian people to join in because they are a community, and they grew up together.

However, the feelings of the Indian residents are mixed. While some of the Indian people are enthusiastic about the joint struggle, others, whether jaded from previous letdowns in relation to housing or for other reasons, are more wary. Subject 52 was one of those opposed to the cooperation. He feels that under the new government, Indian needs have been ignored. Motala Farm, he asserts, is what it is because of the Indians, so they deserve the first right to proper houses. This man told me that Blacks get houses if they are evicted, and cannot be evicted without being given houses, but if Indians are evicted they have nowhere to go. In fact, he felt that the apartheid government was better because they built schools and hospitals, but “the current government has done nothing and built nothing.”

This issue of trust is a dividing point for the Indian community. The above respondent’s opinion was echoed by several other Indian respondents, who felt that the housing struggle is “just for Blacks” and that they would be deserted after the jondolo dwellers got what they wanted. Subject 62, speaking for “the Blacks” felt that the Indian people not filling out their forms was inhibiting the struggle, but assured me that they were very happy to have their fellow shack dwellers participating in the struggle and would certainly not desert them. The Abahlali movement’s principles imply that all shack dwellers will work together until all obtain proper housing in areas that can support them economically and socially

6. Conclusion

Ultimately, all that the shack dwellers of Motala Farm want is a house. They would like a sewer system, and lower school fees, and a park, and a community hall – but in the end, it is a house that each wants: “A decent home where we can live and pass on and know we had something,” in the words of one resident. It is more than the basic need for shelter – it is a desire for a basic right of dignity.
Housing issues in South Africa are closely tied to livelihood. Livelihood is both social and economic. Life is inextricably bound with livelihood; remove the means of livelihood and life will be destroyed. Most of the shack dwellers surveyed wish to remain in Motala Heights. Their lives and their livelihood opportunities are tied to the place whether a new arrival or an older member of the third or fourth generation. The current provision of housing by the local government, as well as the new provincial bill for the “elimination and prevention” of “slums” threatens to disturb not only the livelihood means of many residents of Motala Farm: it threatens to break apart a longstanding community.

The struggle in Motala Farm is just one example of the housing struggles all over South Africa. The national government, through the constitution, promised to provide proper housing to all in need as part of the effort to reduce the inequality that is partly a result of the underdevelopment of certain sectors of the society. However, it was recently recognized that simple provision of housing is not enough in the effort toward of poverty eradication, reduction of vulnerability, and promotion of inclusion, all of which are associated with reduction of inequality. The location of provided housing in a socially and economically viable place is as important as the housing provision itself. The pattern of removing poor people to the periphery has reached a breaking point.

However, this shift in approach has not yet been fully embraced by local government. Rather than consult with informal settlement residents to determine the best course of action to provide housing, the eThekwini municipality has chosen to give false promises and not communicate plans for informal settlements in the municipality with residents. This has caused the shack dwellers to take matters into their own hands and demand proper housing on their own terms through marches, direct action and court action. The future of the disadvantaged living in a survivalist manner hangs in balance. All depends on the power of the people and the willingness of the municipality and province to change their perception of housing delivery from mere provision of a good to the idea that it is the provision of increased quality of life that makes day to day survival a little easier.


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Field Research

Subjects 1 – 28 were surveyed and interviewed on 14 November 2006.

Subjects 29 – 49 were surveyed and interviewed on 20 November 2006.

Subjects 50 – 62 were surveyed and interviewed on 24 November 2006.

Subjects 63 – 68 were surveyed and interviewed on 30 November 2006.

The case of Bhekuyise Ngcobo and others vs. eThekwini Municipality was scheduled to be heard 21 November 2006, and was rescheduled to 29 November 2006. On the latter date the matter was settled for the time being in the judge’s chambers, although the case will resurface later, according to the intern for Legal Resources.