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South Africa: Climate Change in the Shacks

category southern africa | environment | non-anarchist press author Tuesday July 05, 2011 21:01author by Bandile Mdlalose - Abahlali baseMjondolo Report this post to the editors

Climate change is one of the main issues facing the world at this moment. We all know that when things go wrong, like when there is an earthquake or a flood, or a drought, poor people are most vulnerable. And usually the response to these disasters is a second disaster for poor people. For instance in Sri Lanka the so-called ‘development’ after the Tsunami forcibly removed fisherfolk from their coastal land to give it to developers to build hotels. Sometimes the attempts to prevent disaster are also a disaster for the poor. In South Africa when it is acknowledged that we as a country are using too much electricity it is not the big companies or the rich that have the police and the security guards kick down their doors to disconnect them. In some other countries in Africa poor rural people are being forced off their land so that it can be used for bio-fuels. Maybe this will slow down climate change but why must it be the poor people in Africa that must pay the price for this? They are not the ones that caused the problem. The ones that caused this problem are the rich, especially in America and in Europe.

We are the most vulnerable people to crime, to disease and to climate change. And yet the government is privatizing the workshops on climate change. If we perhaps get the invitation it requires funds. Where are we supposed to get the huge amount of money to go and attend workshops about climate change? By this means the government is making this a discussion that is reserved for the rich. Some of the civil society organizations are just as bad. They keep forgetting that they are not organizations of the people and act as if they represent the people. It is very important that the organizations of the people – trade unions, community organizations, churches and social movements – are fully included in all these discussions. Neither the government nor civil society must be allowed to privatise them.

Diseases like Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Diarrhea, Malaria, HIV/AIDs are human made. Many people will ask why I say these are human made diseases. It is because people are not suffering from these diseases in the same way in the suburbs as we are in the shacks. It is the way that we have made the world that is causing some of us to die from so-called natural causes while others are living healthy. Climate change can lead to drought or to floods. It is already very difficult to deal with the hard rains in the shacks. Everything gets wet. Everything starts to rot. When shacks are leaking some people just stand up the whole night when it is raining. As we live in undeveloped communities we fetch water for cooking, cleaning, health and hygiene. If we have no access to clean water and we lack access to a proper sanitation services we end up exposed to diseases that could be preventable. Too much water or too little water will be a disaster for our health.

In most cases when we have shack fires the government will always say that the fire is caused by an illegal connection. Our attempts to survive poverty are then shown to be the problem while no one is saying anything about the system that denies some people access to electricity and puts some people in transit camps and other people in nice houses. If the discussions about climate change are not opened to the organizations of the people, especially the organizations of the poor, we will find ourselves being blamed for climate change, and how it affects our lives, too. We become the victims of every thing is happening to our lives.

There are debates like Copenhagen, Conference of the Parties that have taken place globally and there are also debates Nationally that discuss about the climate change and developments. But we only see these debates on TV. We are not invited to participate in these debates. They will say: "But who are you to be invited into Mansion buildings?" We are known as the dirty, filthy, uneducated and muddy people who can’t be engaged with but just needs to be told what needs to be done and to be arrested if we disagree. What about our dignity? We know that they understand and imagine us as those sort of people but our dignity is not negotiable.

I acknowledge the role that the United Nation played in their plans of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that said that on 2020 the shacks globally must be developed in terms of education, water and sanitation and proper housing. Unfortunately our South African government interpreted it the other way around and said that by 2014 all the slums will be eradicated. The KZN Provincial government wanted to finish all the shacks and build their own transit camp which I choose to call it the “Government Shacks”. So from what I can see from all these talks and planning at the very high level like the United Nations is that we are talked about and yet no one wants to come and engage with us. Our government can even interpret a pro-poor position as a license to attack the poor. Part of the problem is that these big organizations like the UN think that they can use millions and millions of rands in donor money to create their own fake poor people’s organizations that will be tightly controlled by their NGOs and be their good boys and girls. Our government likes this too.

We are already under serious pressure and stress in the shacks. When we lose our loved ones in shack fires and thunder lightening the government does not want to take responsibility for the shack fires or the fact that we are not safe from the thunder lightening in our shacks. Yet there are always workshops and meetings that are set without our presence to express our grievances. It is really amazing how many workshops there are to discuss our lives and suffering but you can not find anyone to help you when your shack burns down. We as an organization of the poor can also help to develop our communities. We have great plans for our communities but yet they are not implemented because our government is distancing himself from us. We are not recognized by the government as people that can think. Most of civil society is exactly the same. As the Anti-Eviction Campaign first said ‘we are poor not stupid’. In other words our problem is that we lack money. It is not that we lack intelligence. And Abahlali has shown us that we were made poor by the same system that made the rich to be rich.

As we are struck by climate change it is not the time when the government or civil society should take decisions for the people but the people themselves needs to be included in all stakes and decisions because they are the one that is most affected. I would urge that the Community Based Organization with the support of the Faith Based Organization and those few Civil Society Organization that are willing to work with the poor to come together and tell the government what needs to be done and what needs to be prioritized first. Mostly the first prioritization is that a stop must be taken to the top down approach from the government. We as the citizens are the most at risk of being harshly affected by the climate change and we must be able to play our role in identifying what the government needs to do to minimize the impact of climate change on people in South Africa, especially on those made vulnerable to climate change by their circumstances.

Written by Bandile Mdlalose
Abahlali baseMjondolo General Secretary
071 424 2815

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