30 July 2008
As part of War on Want’s work to improve the lives of people living on the margins of society in precarious working and living conditions, we have recently formed two new partnerships with organisations that fight evictions among shack dwellers and council estate residents in South Africa’s urban areas.
Following the election of the African National Congress to government in South Africa in 1994, there was great hope and expectation that finally the inequalities that had existed for so long along racial lines would be redressed and black people would see marked improvements in their standard of living and better access to public services such as housing, water and electricity.
However, during the nineties in South Africa there was widespread privatisation of water and electricity provision which saw the introduction of user fees. This made it very difficult for the poorest people to have access to these important services. Little has been done to restructure the economy to improve the inequalities of the past and land redistribution is proving to be very slow.
As South Africa prepares for the Football World Cup in 2010, the government wants to show the rest of the world how far the country has come in terms of its development. Using the Millenium Development Goals as its justification, the South African government has introduced the Slums Act with the view to ‘eradicating’ all slums by 2014.
This has meant that many shack dwellers on the outskirts of large South African cities are being evicted and moved to ‘temporary’ settlements where they often find themselves living in poor conditions for many years. They are removed from their communities and places of business with added transport costs as a result and are plunged further into poverty.
Furthermore, authorities are reluctant to develop water and electricity infrastructure in slum settlements as this could be seen as giving legitimacy to their existence. This has led to several fires in shack settlements where people resort to using paraffin for cooking and heating.
Slum residents want good public services at a cost they can afford with the possibility of upgrading their dwellings rather than moved arbitrarily to precarious accommodation and away from their communities.
War on Want will work with two organisations which are campaigning to end the evictions of residents and ensure they are given permanent housing with decent public services wherever they live.
The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC) was founded in 2001 in response to mass evictions and water cut-offs being carried out by local government in slum communities and council estates throughout Cape Town. Developed as a means of informing and mobilising community members around a set of concrete demands, the AEC has consistently called for adequate public housing, basic service delivery, a halt to privatisation, and the accountability of police officers and public officials.
Since its inception, the AEC has primarily relied on public meetings, grassroots education and mass marches to directly oppose the South African government’s indifference to the needs of the poor. Within its first two years, the AEC’s community organising had already resulted in a moratorium on evictions from council housing, a flat rate for basic services, and the scrapping of arrears for pensioners in bank housing.
As one AEC activist put it: “As coordinators of the Anti-eviction Campaign, we are not leaders in the traditional authoritarian sense. Instead, we are like a set of cutlery. We are the tools that are there to be used by poor communities fighting against the cruel and oppressive conditions of South African society. Power to the poor people!”
The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement was established in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. The movement that began from a road blockade in protest of a sale of land in a settlement quickly grew and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements.
The movement has adopted the slogan, ‘Speak to us, not for us’, and has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers by mobilising them to demonstrate against the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets.
The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as grass roots democracy. In some settlements the movement has also successfully set up projects like crèches, gardens, sewing collectives, support for people living with and orphaned by AIDS.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has also embarked on popular education through the creation of the University of Abahlali which also runs the IT department to enable members to acquire the necessary computer skills needed today. Furthermore, the establishment of the Abahlali Library propelled the movement’s stance to further the need for knowledge and understanding for all of Abahlali's activities.
We look forward to working with these organisations to achieve improvements for the poor of South Africa who are fighting for better lives, free from poverty.
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