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It is arguably one of the largest shack dweller’s movements in the country. The movement started small on the pavements of Kennedy road in the very early 2000 ‘s with a handful of families left without a roof over their heads – having been evicted overnight. Back then, the shack dwellers’ corrugated iron sheets which they used to construct their homes were mauled down, crushed like newspaper while their household goods and furniture were tossed out like used toilet paper. The men and women whose homes had been demolished protested blocking Kenny road until council officials could address them, but their voices are nothing compared to the thunder which is taking over the streets these days.
Abahlali Basemojondolo are organized and over the past eleven years or more they have been relentlessly defending their right to shelter through land occupation using “inkani” despite constant harassment, assault and arrest by the city’s police or security officials employed by the City Improvement Districts (CID’s).
The City Improvement Districts are private-public partnerships created in the early 90’s to meet the needs of cities which were buckling under the pressure of high rates of urbanisation after 1994. The city’s infrastructure was stretched to the limit – which meant that existing tax regimes could not ensure adequate service delivery.
To solve this problem property owners realized that they needed to mobilise local resources such as tax and levies to supplement municipal services. CID’s are comprised of 51 percent of property owners representing 51 percent of the property value, who enter into a service level agreement with the council which collect levies on the behalf of property owners. These CID’s are divided into two main categories: improvement districts which address crime and grime and competitive nodes called management districts which focused on place marketing.
CID’s would then have highly visible patrol officers who would among other things deter and prevent crime. Cleaning and maintaining the area including washing side-walks, cutting grass and trees, dealing with homeless people, Youth and sweeping out inappropriate social behaviour.
This cleaning up process also included cleaning up high jacked buildings occupied by people considered to be illegal tenants in inner cities, moving homeless people out of the cities, and removing or demolishing shacks erected on private or public owned land leaving thousands of people without shelter. Back in 2007 Abahali marched as they often did to the city, demanding that the city mayor at the time Obed Mlaba engage with Abahlalibasemjondolo to secure some land and provide them with basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. They were repeatedly met with silence -the mayor along with his second in command was too busy to meet with them. Almost a decade later the trend has not changed.
Presidential hopeful and current minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu, who is serving for the second time in the housing department since democracy recently stated that despite the government having built more than four million homes since the early 90’s – it was still not enough to meet the country’s needs. She noted that there is still a large number of informal settlements and backyard shanties which still need to be eradicated.
In her recent open interview as a presidential candidate for the ANC, Lindiwe Sisulu emphasised the need for a woman president to take over the reigns of government. She spoke about increasing transparency and accountability within the ANC, but she did not mention with any great detail the one story which could make a difference in the country going forward. The Land question; How does she plan to resolve the question of land tenure, or create an environment conducive to constructive dialogue on the issue? What will she do differently as the country’s president which she couldn’t do as a minister of human settlements?
What is to be done with the increasing number of homeless and unemployed people including street traders who are being swept out of sight to make way for pristine world-class cities, with no land on which to build a home? Despite comments about more housing being needed, opening up a new bank for low-cost housing loans, allocating more than 600million to urban development projects in the country’s metropolitan areas. Her most assertive response to the question of landlessness recently has been to address the needs of property owners: “Property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their properties are guarded when they see illegal occupations taking place they must act immediately and report it to law enforcement agencies. I will be meeting with property owners to indicate my views about this, municipalities and law enforcement agencies must take action immediately when cases of illegal occupations have been reported” she said in an interview with a local newspaper.
Those who support her candidacy say she is the most radical social democrat within the ANC, who is introducing practical pro-poor policies. Meanwhile, Abahalibasemjondolo are no longer waiting or requesting permission to occupy the land. They are doing it, despite constant evictions, demolitions and state-sponsored violence. The movement is growing. The mood South African right brings to mind the famous opening line in Charles Dickens famous novel – A tale of Two Cities – where he wrote about the poverty and opulence which preceded the French revolution in the 1800’s.
“It was the best of the times, It was the worst of times, It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of, incredulity, It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it t was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisier authorities insisted on its being received for good and for evil in the superlative degree of comparison only”