South African Poor People’s Movements Fight for Housing and Jobs

Editor’s note: We received the following January dispatches from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the South African Shack Dwellers Movement.  See earlier stories in With Sober Senses, including a review of the movie “Dear Mandela.”

Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape
1 January 2012

Government policies behind shack-fire epidemic in Cape Town

As residents of QQ Section shack settlement and members of the movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, we would like to say that we are not happy about what happened early this morning across the street from QQ Section.

A massive shack-fire, which started at around 4 am, swept through almost the entire shack settlement of BM Section leaving thousands homeless and at least three (but possibly as much as six) people dead. We have a few Abahlali members in the settlement and, as residents of QQ Section, we also have a large number of friends and family who also were affected by the fire. We therefore remain in living solidarity with all those affect by the fire in BM section and other shack fires in WD Section and in Du Noon.

The scourge of shack-fires throughout all of Cape Town’s shack settlements and the delayed and uncaring response by the city clearly shows that shack dwellers have been isolated socially, economically and politically. If the government would give us the respect of a citizen of this country, this kind of incident would not have happened.

The immediate cause of the fire remains uncertain (either a cooking accident or a knocked over candle by a drunk community member). Yet the resulting massive fire is beyond our control as residents of the shacks. In other words, these fires are not only preventable, but they are caused by uncaring and anti-poor government policy.

As citizens of this country, we have a right to decent housing, to efficient sanitation, to affordable electricity and to well-planned roads. Yet even though residents of BM section as well as numerous settlements affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo have been protesting for these things for years, the government has delivered almost nothing we have demanded for our communities.

If we had electricity, dangerous paraffin stoves and candles would be a thing of the past and shack-fires would be a rare phenomenon. If we had piped water into our homes, we would be able to quickly fight the fires ourselves.  If we had proper access roads in our settlements, fire-fighters would be able to stop fires much quicker.  If we had brick house and our own plots of land, fires would not spread from one home to the next.

If we had all these things, or even some of them, an accident by a drunk neighbour would not affect the livelihood those around him.

Shack-fires in Cape Town, just as this report shows they are in Durban, are the result of government policy that denies us the basic things we need to live healthy and safe lives.

Instead, shack-fires have now become an opportunity for the city to pretend it cares for us by giving us a few food parcels and blankets each time a fire rips through one of our communities. And yet, even the city’s contingency plan is lacking:

Disaster Management has failed to provide emergency accommodation to all the victims of the fire in BM Section.

Despite claims to the contrary, Disaster Management has failed to provide all victims with food, clothes, blankets and other necessary emergency items.

We therefore appeal to Mayor de Lille to sit down with Abahlali baseMjondolo and other shack
dwellers throughout the city to discuss the role that the City of Cape Town plays in creating the conditions of the current shack-fire epidemic.

We as AbM-WC are also asking for solidarity with the victims of the BM Section fire. Please contact us if you’d like to help.

2 January 2012
Unemployed Peoples’ Movement Press Statement

From Marikana to ‘Maritzburg: Our Country is Disgracing Itself

During the Christmas break we received the most shocking news from KwaZulu-Natal. The provincial traffic department in that province advertised 90 positions for trainee traffic officers. More than 150 000 people applied. Most of them were aged between the ages of 18 and 20. On Christmas Day 34 000 people received text messages saying that they had been short listed for these jobs. They were divided into two groups and asked to report to the Harry Gwala Stadium on the 27th and 28th of December. They were not told what to expect on arrival. When the thousands of hopeful and excited young people arrived at the stadium they were told that they had to perform a fitness test – running four kilometers. They weather was very hot and no water or medical care was provided. Many of these young people had already traveled long distances to reach the stadium. Many of them were not properly dressed for a 4 kilometer run in the heat. On the first day hundreds of people collapsed and six died. A seventh person committed suicide. On the second day the so-called fitness test was repeated. By Sunday 230 people were in hospital.

This is not an isolated case. There have been many cases where thousands of young people have turned up for a handful of jobs. There was the case of the National Youth Development Agency in East London. There was the case of Transnet in Bloemfontein.

The politicians are calling the loss of seven young people in Pietermaritzburg a tragedy. They also called the massacre at Marikana a tragedy and the murder of Andries Tatane a tragedy. This is not a tragedy. It is a disgrace. It is an outrage.

It is a disgrace that so many young people have no jobs or income or access to education. It is a outrage that people who are desperate for jobs are treated in such an inhuman manner. If the apartheid government had done this it would have been an international scandal. There would have been protests around the world. It is very clear to us that we are held in contempt by the politicians that say that they are representing us and carrying out the second transition in the national democratic revolution on our behalf. We are not human beings to them. We are just ladders to them. They are predators becoming rich and powerful in the name of our suffering and struggle. They are the real counter-revolutionaries.

The lives of people who are poor and black count for nothing in this country. They count for nothing to the capitalists, to the politicians and even to some of the media. It is our duty to insist that the lives of all people must count. People must be held accountable for the outrage in Pietermaritzburg. We fully support the call for the resignation of the MEC for Transport in the province, Willies Mchunu. He was discredited in 2009 for his role in supporting the armed attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo by ANC supporters. We reject the statement by the South African Communist Party in support of Mchunu with all the contempt that it deserves. The SACP are nothing but apologists for oppression.

Frantz Fanon wrote that: “A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society, a society to be replaced.” Our society is not viable. It must be replaced.

Our mission for the new year is to keep working to unite all the struggles – in the shacks, on the mines and on the farms – into a revolutionary mass movement of the working class and the poor that can change this society from below. We are also determined to ensure that this is the year in which the NGOs learn to respect the autonomy of our movements and to understand that their role is to support the struggles of the working class and the poor and not to lead our struggles on our behalf. We will not be bussed into NGO meetings over which we have no control and where we are treated with no respect. Solidarity is not the same thing as manipulation and domination.

27 January 2013
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press statement

Protesters Threatened in  KwaNdengezi

Abahlali KwaNdengezi are currently engaging in a protest against corrupt and
authoritarian development. Abahlali KwaNdengezi have had no choice but to
defend their homes, their graves, their culture and of course their dignity
against the eThekwini Municipality’s failed housing project in their area.
They are currently protesting against a corrupt housing project that is being
imposed on people from above without consultation or respect. Once again we
see that failing political leadership creates hatred and violence in our

Abahlali baseMjondolo in Ward 12 and the leadership of the movement have done
all it can to engage councillor Ngcobo (Nqola), the Office of the Speaker in
the eThekwini municipality and the office of Nigel Gumede (Human Settlements
and Infrastructure) on the crisis in KwaNdengezi. However they have all failed
to respond to our warnings about the crisis in the area.

On the 31 August last year the community had to protest against the City’s
stealing of residents’ yards in the name of development and in some instances
allegedly selling the RDP houses that they built on people’s yards, and over
their graves, to people who are not from the community. The memorandum that
was handed over was, like many others, thrown in the bin and has never been
responded to. Many people’s homes were destroyed and replaced by houses built
for those who are not even known by the families and the community. The
politicians are misusing this housing project to get wealth and power for
themselves at the expense of the community.

What choices are we left with when political leadership is in such crises that
councillors, like Nqola did threaten to shoot residents in the broad day
light? A case of intimidation by the local councillor was reported to the
police in September 2012 (Case 197/09/2012). But it was never investigated
until today just like the case of intimidation by Nigel Gumede that was
reported to the police in 2011 after he made an open threat against S’bu
Zikode. The crisis of political leadership means that the political leadership
are leaders unto themselves and a law unto themselves. They have wandered far
from the people and are now exploiting the people instead of serving the
people. The politicians are ensuring that ‘development’ is there for their own
interests and not to meet the urgent needs of the people.The police are there
to protect the politicians and not to serve the people equally and fairly.

We request the media to rush to KwaNdengezi in Pitoli section to witness the
hijacking of people’s right to housing. We request the media to see for
themselves how the City creates war in our communities in the name of

Moments ago isosha lomkonto wesizwe [ex-MK soldier] uNhlanhla Mkhize
threatened the protesters and pointed them with a gun. The community was
marching and also saying slogans against corruption. Mkhize then came out of
the house and pulled a gun. It became clear that he is doing this because he
is one of those who bought a house.

We demand that this project be stopped, fully investigated and that all future
development in the area be undertaken in an open and democratic manner.

For more information on the crisis in KwaNdengezi please see:

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