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South Africa: The Shack Dwellers’ Road to the Constitutional Court

category southern africa | community struggles | non-anarchist press author Wednesday May 06, 2009 20:51author by Abahlali baseMjondolo - AbMauthor email abahlalibasemjondolo at telkomsa dot net Report this post to the editors

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release, Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Abahlali baseMjondolo will once again climb another high mountain for the first time when our struggle for the safety, dignity and equality of the poor ascends to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa. In 2005 when we formed our movement we committed ourselves to do whatever it takes to protect the rights, lives and future of the shack dwellers and the poor in South Africa. We are determined to defend our children, without compromising our future generation.

Most of the people and communities that join our movement do so when they are threatened with an eviction. We build and run crèches and gardens in the settlements, we educate ourselves through our own university, we fight to democratise this society from the bottom up by building the power of the poor against the rich and the politicians, we do what we can to support people after fires, we fight for water, electricity, toilets and access to schools. We oppose xenophobia. This list is long. But the fact is that most people join our movement because they do not want to be evicted from the cities where they already have some access to work, education, health care, libraries, sport facilities and so on.

The struggle for the right to the city, for democratic cities for all, is therefore at the centre of our struggle. Our struggle for the right to the city has never been easy. It has been a long journey with many obstacles to overcome and many small victories along the way. After some time and many battles, sometimes in court and sometimes in the streets, we stopped all evictions in all our settlements. But other settlements continue to face evictions. And when they are confronted with evictions they often come to us and we have to begin the struggle all over again.

But at the same time as we have made progress in stopping evictions and even negotiating with the eThekwini Municipality to upgrade some of our settlements the ama-tins or governments shacks have been imposed all over the country. They are called transit camps in KwaZulu-Natal, Temporary Relocation Areas (TRAs) in Cape Town and Decent Camps in Gauteng. They are nothing but a way for the government to evict the poor, to force people out of the cities, in the name of providing so called ‘housing opportunities’. The government uses these places to say that it is ‘housing’ people. Anyone can see that these places are for no purpose other than oppressing the people. These are places for people that do not count in our society, people who are unwanted. Some of them are like prisons. Many do not have even basic services. How can a family live in one room? The transit camps must come to an end. We have joined with our alliance partners in all of these provinces to call for an end to all oLindela.

And then in 2007 the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of the Re-emergence of Slums Act was imposed by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Housing. This Act was imposed against the will of the poor who the government is meant to serve. It is a clear attack on the poor. It is an attempt to give legal support to the transit camps and to evictions and to criminalise our movements. It is an attempt to turn the forgotten people into the deliberately excluded and deliberately oppressed people. We cannot accept this.

Abahlali baseMjondolo have made it clear from the onset that we will not accept any attempt by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Housing to undermine our struggles, our lives and those rights that are protected by the constitution. The road from the shacks to this court has never been an easy one. It takes a very strong shack dweller’s organisation to stand firm for what we believe is right for the future of our cities. It takes a very humble, democratic and a caring government to understand the will of its citizens. A caring government would rather engage its citizens than turn them into its rivals.

We believe that there was no need in the first place for the Slums Act. The only need was for the Department of Housing to table its worries to the shack dwellers themselves. If they had concerns why didn’t they call a housing summit with all shack dweller’s organisations? Abahlali baseMjodolo are determined to be part of the solution of any problem associated with the lives and communities of our members. But this can only happen when shack dwellers are accepted by government as profitable members of our society. But in the Slums Act we are presented as criminals whose homes must be destroyed, whose organisations must be criminalized and whose lives deserve the transit camps instead of the accepted house with dignified material. When the politicians try and justify this Act they always talk about freeing the people from Slum Lords but while we fight Slum Lords they work with them to try and control communities and to try to force them to accept oppression! The MEC for housing in KwaZulu-Natal always says that people need proper houses. We say the same. But while we struggle for decent housing they are forcing the people into the government shacks – the notorious Transit Camps, oLindela.

We still have solutions to our own problems. We still believe that the Breaking New Ground policy must be implemented. We still believe that settlements must be upgraded, with democratic planning at every step of the way, where they are. If this is genuinely not possible then houses must be built nearby. We still believe that while people wait for the houses they must get free basic services such as water and sanitation, electricity, collection of refuse, access roads for emergency vehicles, and that fire hydrants, community halls and crèches for our children must be provided in all our settlements. We still believe in a moratorium on all evictions.

We will all, together with our partners in the Poor People’s Alliance, as well as Bishop Rubin Phillip and many other church leaders, journey to the Constitutional Court to ask the judges there to protect our rights. We are convinced that we have good case, and that we have a good legal team, which takes our instruction quite seriously. We are sure that there will be much national interest in this move by our organisation as this Act, which the National Department of Housing has asked other provinces to copy, will have a devastating impact on millions of forgotten shack dwellers in our beautiful country if it is not challenged.

We call upon all Abahlali friends, all progressive organisations, church groups and passionate individuals to join us in this journey. Abahlali baseMjondolo in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, the Landless People’s Movement in Gauteng, the Rural Network in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign have all confirmed that they will join the march down this historic road from the shacks to the Constitutional Court.

Further queries can be forwarded to the following members of the Poor People's Alliance:

Mnikelo Ndabankulu ABM-KZN 079 745 0653
Mbhekiseni Mavuso Rural Network KZN 072 279 2634
Mzonke Poni ABM Cape Town 073 256 2036
Ashraf Cassim AEC Cape Town 076 186 1408
Maureen Mnisi LPM-Gauteng 082 337 4514

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