While residents in the Soweto suburb of Protea South clash with shack dwellers over electricity, members of the Landless Peoples Movement are urging both sides to rise above infighting and unite against a government which has failed to provide sufficient services throughout the past sixteen years.
The Poor Peoples Alliance is an alternative shack dweller federation comprising movements in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces of South Africa. Its members are increasingly at loggerheads with the South African government and with some more established slum dweller federations operating in the country, as we reported here and here on its sister organisation, Abahlali baseMjondolo. It arose out of frustration that the usual channels of government and the NGO community in South Africa had failed to deliver much real change to large numbers of the urban poor.
The Landless Peoples Movement (LPM), the Gauteng arm of the alliance, reported that on the evening of Sunday, 23 May, a group of men attempted to burn down the shack of its chairperson, Maureen Mnisi, in the informal settlement of Protea South.
It coincided with attacks made by five men armed with guns and a machete on the shack of another LPM member and supporter of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front, and reports of men roaming the informal settlement, disconnecting electricity lines feeding the shacks and clashing with shack dwellers until midnight. Two people were shot; one died and the other was hospitalised.
The LPM believes the violence is the work of people residing in bond houses in the area. Bond house residents have been clamouring for the shack dwellers to be evicted in order to push up the value of their houses, using electricity disconnections to exert pressure on the shack dwellers. LPM has been resisting these moves, organising reconnections as the need arises, and believes its engagement is the reason for the attack.
Nevertheless one LPM member, Bongani Xezwi, wants shack dwellers and bond house residents to avoid recriminations and identify the common enemy. He argues that both sides should work together to fight the government which he blames for failing to provide sufficient electricity services to the whole community throughout "16 years of democracy". In an open letter, he wrote that "the people with the electricity ... are sitting in their government offices and they are not even seeing the need of giving services."
"Let us make the government to leave their offices and come to address the issue of electricity in Protea South and other poor communities," his letter continued.
As Eyewitness News reported, LPM's ally, Abahlali baseMjondolo, plans to build a shack settlement outside the main stadium in Cape Town during the World Cup to draw international attention to the problems of the urban poor.