Thousands take on the fight for decent housing in South Africa

27 June 2017 - 4:15pm

Close to ten thousand shack dwellers and people living in informal housing took to the streets of Durban to protest against state sanctioned violence against them. The protest, held yesterday, was to draw attention to the fact that shack dwellers, hostel dwellers and those living in squalid government housing are being killed during violent eviction clashes with police and anti-land invasion units. They were also drawing attention to the violence of the neoliberal economic system operating in South Africa that is seeing more people plunged into poverty, with the number of households living in shack settlements sitting at 2.19 million. 


(c) Abahlali base Mjondolo 


The sea of red t-shirts that snaked through the streets of Durban carried placards that gave voice to all the issues facing shack and hostel dwellers: some called for the right to a house; others for electricity and water. There was one big banner calling for an end to violence against women and children. There were placards calling for the city to engage with shack and hostel dwellers and for them not to be left out of planning processes. The most dominant ones were calling for an end to the violence and brutality that thousands of shack and hostel dwellers face at the hands of police and the anti-land invasion unit on a daily basis. 

During the last 6 weeks, War on Want's partner Abahlali base Mjondolo had to bury two members of its community: two week old Jayden Khoza and Samuel Hloele. Samuel was shot in the back as he tried to escape the violent eviction that took place in Marianhill on the 13 June 2017. Jayden was killed during a protest action that turned violent when the police clashed with members of Abahlali. They were protesting at having been left out of the local urban planning budgeting process. Two weeks ago, the chairperson of Ubunye Bama Hostela - a social movement organising hostel dwellers for the tranformation of hostels in Durban and a partner of War of Want - was shot at 17 times as he sat in his car at a stop signal. He was targeted for his activism in the hostels. Thankfully he was not injured. 


(c) Abahlali base Mjondolo 


During the protest, Abahlali drew attention to the effects of the violence of neoliberalism on shack dwellers, emphasising that it is women who bear the brunt of this violence. In a country where the provision of basic services is based on profit, the poor living in shack settlements who cannot afford to pay for services due to precarious work and unemployment, are left out. The majority are African women. In shack settlements women have to make use of portable toilets that are situated quite a distance from their homes - on average at least 100 people use these toilets on a daily basis. Women have been victims of rape, violent abuse and murder as they are forced to make use of these portable facilities - the only ones available to them. They are under threat when they go to use the central public taps to collect water. Women and girls are under threat as they walk through shack settlements where there is no security present, and where violent crimes are high. In a neoliberal world, women and people of colour are marginalised, sent to the periphery and invisiblised. There is no duty of care from the neoliberal state towards the poor. In South Africa, even after spending decades fighting off race oppression, the country is now facing a war against women and the poor. Abahlali and Ubunye Bama Hostel are at the frontline of that struggle. 


(c) Abahlali base Mjondolo 


All 23 branches of Abahlali's got together to develop a set of demands for the city. It was a painstaking process built on the principles of democratic participation and inclusivity. Abahlali's memorandum made solid demands including that the city: 

  • Be truthful, honest and respectful in their engagement with shack dwellers
  • End all evictions and recognise the democratic value of grassroots urban planning
  • Shackdwellers be treated with respect and dignity by all local councillors and that councillors take direction from below rather than imposing from above
  • End repression and provide justice for all killed and injured comrades
  • Recognise Abahlali's commitment to participatory democracy and include them in all discussions about budgets and the future of their communities
  • Grant fair access to decent employment for all
  • Provide electricty and all basic services in shack settlements while they wait for decent housing
  • Provide information on the plan for decent housing for shack settlements - when, where and how their housing will be built
  • Conduct an investigation into corruption in social housing
  • Implement an efficient mechanism to ensure tenure security for all people in land occupations and in social housing. 

Even though ten thousand people marched on the city of Durban, the Mayor of the city refused to meet them to accept their memorandum. No representative of the city was sent either. That is the extent to which the neoliberal city will go to ensure that they make it known that poor people of colour have no place in world-class neoliberal cities - those will always be the preserve of the elite classes.

War on Want is committed to the struggles of our partners, Abahlali base Mjondolo and Ubunye Bama Hostel. We will continue to stand with them shining a light on their power and their fight so that they will never be made invisble. 

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