Category Archives: Open Letter

Exchange of letters between Martin Legassick and Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu

Exchange of letters between Martin Legassick and Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu

On 12 September the Cape Times published the following letter from Martin Legassick under the heading “Meet residents, Sisulu”.

Instead of issuing a meaningless “ultimatum” to the residents of Joe Slovo informal settlement, (“N2 Protest ultimatum”, September 11) Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu should live up to her responsibilities and meet the community face to face.

I was invited by the task team at Joe Slovo informal settlement to observe their protest action shutting down the N2 early on Monday morning. What I saw in the dark was a peaceful protest interrupted by a police riot. Contrary to some news reports no guns were fired at the police. Nor were stones thrown, until the police had wounded some 12 people with rubber bullets. Riotous police behaviour was witnessed by reporters again later in the morning, as you report, when police opened fire on a crowd including old people, children and women with a mere 20 second warning, and wounded many more.

Joe Slovo residents marched to parliament on August 3 asking to see her because they do not want to be forcibly removed to Delft and have a plan for how N2 Gateway should be altered to take them into account. The present residents of N2 Gateway phase 1 also marched to parliament on July 17 asking to see Minister Sisulu, because they are fed up with the unaffordable rents and the building defects in the flats. Both submitted memoranda. N2 Gateway has become a fiasco.

Minister Sisulu did not meet either of these communities, and issued replies only through the media, disdainful of their complaints. As a result, she now has the blood of women and children on her hands. By refusing to meet them, she is acting like a coward. In addition she and her messenger MEC Richard Dyantyi (who has said that removal to Delft is “necessary”) are behaving like old apartheid ministers trying to engage in forced removals. If N2 Gateway is Sisulu’s pet “flagship” project she must meet with protesting communities face to face rather than delegating the responsibility to others. They will not give up their demands, whatever it costs.

Martin Legassick
(Emeritus Professor, UWC)

Martin Legassick received the following reply from Lindiwe Sisulu, addressed to me at the University of the Western Cape, dated 12/9/2007:

I have read your letter (Meet residents, Sisulu) that appeared in the Cape Times of 12 September 2007 and reject the contents with absolute contempt.

In fact, if you were present at the N2 Gateway and did nothing to stop what was clearly an explosive situation, who has blood on their hands?

It is such a sad day to see you come down so low in my estimate.

Yours sincerely,

L. N. Sisulu, M.P.

Minister of Housing

Martin Legassick replied to her as follows (6/10/2007):

Dear Minister Sisulu,

Because I am retired I do not go into the University of the Western Cape very often and hence received your letter of 12 September replying to my letter in the Cape Times of the same date only yesterday. You were clearly very angry when you wrote it, saying that you “reject the contents with absolute contempt”. I hope that by now you are reflecting more wisely on the situation of N2 Gateway and the Joe Slovo informal settlement.

The NGO Development Action Group, which has worked with government on housing, wrote as long ago as its 2004-5 annual report that “The top-down approach in the N2 project undermines its overall sustainability… The casual, continued and increasing practice of excluding people from decision-making about development processes that directly affect their lives is an obstacle that communities are unlikely to tolerate for much longer.”

It is this exclusion of people from decision-making about their own futures which has led to the present situation. There have seen several publicity pictures of yourself in the newspapers, posing in a hard hat at various stages of N2 Gateway. But when have you ever sat down and met with the residents of Joe Slovo informal settlement, over whose homes N2 Gateway phases 1 and 2 have been and are planned to be built? Never. Not once! Yet now you intend to try to forcibly remove them. It is outrageous, a travesty of democracy. You should withdraw your court action and engage yourself in meaningful negotiations with Joe Slovo residents, listening to what they have to say. The Western Cape provincial structures of COSATU and the SACP have also called on you to do this.

You have relied on Thubelisha and on MEC Richard Dyantyi to conduct negotiations on your behalf. When you first declared this project, it was as your own national pilot project, your flagship. Yet, when there are difficulties, you are not there to deal with them. This is why in my letter I called you a coward. And, unless you are prepared to meet with the residents of Joe Slovo I will continue to regard you as a coward.

Prince Xhanti Sigcawu, general manager of Thubelisha, stated in a letter to the Cape Times on September 20th that there were only 1500 families remaining in the Joe Slovo informal settlement who had not moved to Delft. Yet in the papers you, Dyantyi and Thubelisha submitted on the same day to the Cape High Court calling for the forced removal of the residents of Joe Slovo, there was a list of 4500 households, and a request to remove an average 100 families a week for 45 weeks, again an estimate of 4500 households. Prince Xhanti misled the public in his letter. Yet you have said that you have “the fullest confidence” in Thubelisha’s “consultations”. How can you have such confidence in people who lie to the public?

Joe Slovo residents have concluded that it is a waste of time discussing with Thubelisha or Dyantyi. They want to talk to you. On 3 August they marched to parliament to present a memorandum with a request to meet you. It was received by your personal assistant, who promised a reply within a week. In fact your only reply was a disdainful one reported in an article in the back pages of the Weekend Argus (25/8/2007). You did not even have the courtesy to deliver your reply to the residents of Joe Slovo.

Let us deal first with the hypocrisy of your reply. You claimed that Joe Slovo residents were “unwilling to accept that communities of the future would cut across race and class.” This is because they oppose the building of bond (or “gap” housing) on the land from which you want to evict them. But if you want to integrate communities across race and class, why do you not, as COSATU Western Cape regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich has suggested, move them to state land in Constantia rather than to the margins of the city in Delft?

You also claimed you wanted to “eradicate slums”. But what you are doing is building housing on the land occupied by Joe Slovo residents which they cannot afford – bond or gap housing. The cynical would claim that you merely want to prettify the edges of the N2 before the football World Cup in 2010. In fact you are not eliminating slums but merely moving the Joe Slovo ‘slum’ to Delft. I have seen the TRA housing in Delft and it looks like a concentration camp, with only public communal toilets, few taps, and not much electricity. Most of the Joe Slovo residents who have been previously moved to Delft are very unhappy and want to return to Joe Slovo. Many of them moved only because after the January 2005 fire anything looked better than the tent accommodation they were in.

You refused to meet with the Joe Slovo residents, instead trying to debate with them through the media. Perhaps you do not understand their frustration. They took an action of peaceful civil disobedience, closing down the N2. The police opened fire “explosively” with rubber bullets, and wounded a number of people. You ask me what I could have done to prevent this situation. Why try to shift the blame onto me? All I can say is that this situation would not have occurred if you had met with Joe Slovo residents. This is why I repeat that the blood is on your hands.

In fact, your actions, as the SACP and COSATU also state, are no different from those of the apartheid government. They evicted Africans from Cape Town in the 1960s and 1970s on the grounds of race, until the residents of Crossroads successfully defied them in the late 1970s. You are moving the poor from near the centre of Cape Town, where they have access to job opportunities, schools, etc to the margins of the city (Delft) on the grounds of class. You are forcibly evicting the poor in the interests of the better-off. Shame on you, Minister Sisulu!

After the Joe Slovo residents occupied the N2 you lost your sense of proportion. For example you threatened that all residents of Joe Slovo would be removed from the housing waiting lists. Let us leave aside that Tony Ehrenreich regards the housing waiting lists as “a joke”. How could you unconstitutionally deny the right of housing to any South African citizen? “She has declared we are not South African” said Joe Slovo task team member Sifiso Mapasa to me, echoing the words of Sol Plaatje about the segregationist 1913 Natives Land Act, that it turned Africans into “foreigners in the land of their birth.” Moreover, the allocation of housing is, by law, a provincial and not a national responsibility. Finally, this meaningless “ultimatum” of yours would have constituted action against individuals without giving them a hearing, also unconstitutional.

The international media are very interested in the story of the Joe Slovo informal settlement. Your arrogant behaviour towards its residents will bring world-wide discredit on our government, as has the president’s silence on Zimbabwe and the health minister’s ‘denialism’ on AIDS.

What however most disturbs me about your letter is that you have replied to me at all, when you still have not replied to the residents of Joe Slovo. Your letter is rude to me, but I take no offence at that. What disturbs me is that if you have “absolute contempt” for what I say, then you must have the same for the residents of Joe Slovo. Most of them would have voted for the ANC in the last elections – and this is how you treat them, ignoring them, refusing to meet them, insulting them. From recent statements you have made in parliament it would seem to me you have become mesmerised by the banks, and forgotten that you are a servant of the people. If you wish to continue this correspondence, do so not with me, but with the elected Joe Slovo residents task team, whose contact details you have.

I returned last Thursday from the Cape High Court. The previous week, as you must be aware, thousands of Joe Slovo residents presented papers contesting your interim forced removal court order, making a mockery of your and Thubelisha’s claims that Joe Slovo residents are being “intimidated” into opposing removal to Delft. On Thursday I joined those same thousands outside the court in singing “Asiyi e Delft”.

Let me conclude by saying that I am willing to meet you any time, with the residents of Joe Slovo, to sit down and discuss these issues on a face to face basis.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Legassick
Emeritus Professor