WSF (1996): “Fight Squatter Evictions”
From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 1, first quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here
The last few months of 1995 have seen a wave of attempts by government structures to evict squatters in Gauteng. There are about 7 million squatters in South Africa.
In June 1994, the State, civic organisations and squatters agreed to call a moratorium on land invasions and evictions. According to this agreement, squatters settled before June 1994 would not face eviction. All land invasions after this period would be illegal. This agreement has been used to attack squatter communities.
Squatters were evicted from Moffat Park in south Johannesburg by the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council. These actions were supported by conservative (White) residents who thought that squatters would lower property values and increase crime. They threatened to burn down the camp, and withhold their rates and service payments if eviction did not take place.
In October, serious confrontations took place between squatters attempting to build new houses and private security guards employed by the Johannesburg Council. A court order prohibited further settlement in the area. The removal of the 300 shacks in the Park began in mid- December. Police, soldiers and private security guards were present to prevent squatters attacking the bulldozers. Squatters were opposed to the eviction, and tried to rebuild their shacks. Many accused the ANC of “selling out” poor people after promising them housing.
At first the Johannesburg Council refused to provide the squatters with alternative land, saying this would encourage more land invasions. Later it decided to move the squatters to an empty building in Johannesburg, while new land could be found. About 700 squatters are now housed in this building. Conditions are overcrowded and squalid, with too few cleaning, toilet and running water facilities. About 120 squatters remain in the Park, saying the building is a congested health hazard located too far from work.
The Gauteng legislature’s attempt to remove 450 squatter families living on the east bank of Alexandra township was less successful. In September, a court order was obtained for their removal. Evictions began at the end of October. Squatters blocked the entrance to the camp with logs, and threw stones at council workers brought to begin shack demolitions. They were dispersed by police with rubber bullets and stun grenades. The removals were halted on a legal technicality in November. The Gauteng government and the Johannesburg Council have vowed to challenge this ruling.
Attempts have also been made to remove squatters in Parktown, Langlaagte, Thokosa and Tembisa.
REMOVALS ARE UNJUST!
We are opposed to all forced removals. Removals cause suffering and they provide no solution to the problem of homelessness. The government gave a variety of reasons for the removals. In the case of Moffat Park, it is quite clear that they were out to pander to reactionary White ratepayers. We say that the cities have been racially segregated for too long- let people live where they wish!
It was argued that the Parktown squatters created a “health hazard”. However, eviction will not solve this issue. What is needed is community upgrading and the provision of basic services. The removals in Alexandra and Thokoza were “justified” on the grounds that the squatters had moved on to land set aside for low- cost housing projects. Tensions were created by portraying the squatters as “queue jumpers” stealing the place of people waiting patiently for homes.
The truth of the matter is that too little land has been set aside for occupation. This is why there are massive waiting lists and this is why no land is available to squatters. This situation forces Black working and poor people to fight over limited resources. People have to live somewhere. It is wrong to evict the homeless from land that was stolen by colonialism in the first place.
Besides, housing plans must be flexible and democratic enough to adjust to the concrete needs of people on the ground. They should help the homeless, not be a weapon to justify removals.
INVADE THE LAND
People are homeless because they have come to the cities from the farms and homelands, because the Apartheid government tried to prevent Black people from settling in town, and because business does not find it profitable to build houses for the poor.
The new government has taken some positive steps towards solving this legacy, but its plans are too small and too slow. Only 10,000 houses have been built for the poor so far. We must take action to win our right to shelter and security.
Moffat Park and Tembisa squatters have recently helped set up the National Homeless Organisation of South Africa (NHOSA) to demand that the government listen to squatter demands, and provide land with water and toilets. NHOSA says it will back its demands with mass action. This is the way forward!