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Durban protests: shack dwellers demand attention,2172,122670,00.html

Durban protests: shack dwellers demand attention

March 01, 2006, 10:15

By Tiffany Hodgson
In some northern wards of Durban, shack settlements can be found nestled into formerly Indian suburbs. This situation has led to some of the most publicised protests in the country in the past year, says Richard Pithouse, an analyst from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The non-violent unrest has been featured in various national and international media, such as the New York Times, The Economist and newspapers in France, Australia and Uganda; as well as the majority of national print and broadcast mediums, he says.

These protests have been some of the most sustained public shows of dissatisfaction over the past few years. A number of marches have occurred, comprising more than 5 000 people each. The main wards in focus are Ward 25 (Clare Estate) and Ward 23 (Reservoir Hills), Pithouse says.

The eThekweni Metro has stopped service delivery to the shack settlements on the grounds that they are temporary and therefore not worth
investing in. However, Pithouse points out that they are a rapidly growing and enduring force in the area. To add to this, all the competing parties support the mass removal of shack settlements. The situation has important implications for the elections, he says.

What does this mean for the elections?
The political ontestation in these wards during the elections will be of great public interest, given the shack dwellers’ situations. They demanded the immediate resignation of local councillors; however, these councillors have been put forward again as ANC candidates. Jayraj Bachu and Yacoob Baig, of wards 23 and 25 respectively, are two such candidates. Shack dwellers have since taken a “no house no vote” stance with regards to the local elections.

The richer suburbs like Reservoir Hills will not be affected by the boycotts, as those constituencies are loyal to the ANC. This is not, however, the case in other areas, says Pithouse. Allegiance is largely split between the DA and ANC in the poorer neighbourhoods, with the shack dwellers constituting the deciding vote. In the past, the informal settlers swayed the vote in the ANC’s favour. The current situation, and recent actions taken by the ANC-controlled municipality, might change the election outcome, he says.

And as a result …
Hundreds of the shack dwellers – chanting slogans and carrying banners – marched to the Durban City hall on Monday to highlight the lack of housing, water and sanitation. The movement was granted a court order to go ahead with the march after Metro police had prevented them from leaving their homes early yesterday morning in what the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) called a “military-style operation”. The FXI also stated that they consider the eThekwini Municipality’s stance “high-handed, illegal and brutal”.

S’bu Zikode, president of Abahlali base Mjondolo (The Shackdwellers’ Movement), hailed the court ruling as a victory for the poor. Despite this, there is unanimous anti-shack sentiment among the parties. No matter which parties garner the most votes in the elections, the attitude towards the shack dwellers is predicted to remain negative.