Dear Mayor de Lille
I wish, at the outset, to make it clear that we, as Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape, and the many organisations in solidarity with us across Cape Town, appreciate some aspects of your speech yesterday.
We appreciate the fact that you acknowledge that shack dwellers, including backyarders, are living as we are as a result of a history of oppression and not because there is something wrong with us. Once this fact is acknowledged then it becomes obvious that we need justice and not charity to help us to survive poverty for another day or education to train us to accept our poverty. What is required is an end to poverty.
We appreciate the fact that you acknowledge that political freedom did not mean economic freedom for the majority. Once this fact is acknowledged then it becomes obvious that we cannot continue with an economic system that has made the rich richer and the poor poorer after apartheid. What is required is to think about the housing crisis outside of the logic of the economic system that has worsened the inequalities inherited from apartheid.
We appreciate the fact that you acknowledge that people have been waiting for houses for many years and so have had to seek alternatives on their own. Once this fact is acknowledged then it becomes obvious that we cannot continue to criminalise the survival strategies of the poor like land occupations, self-organised electricity and water connections etc. When we do criminalise the survival strategies of the poor we are criminalising poverty itself. In a country where CEOs are earning R2 million a month this is disgraceful. In a City where property developers, working closely with the DA municipality, are making fortunes by taking the best land for the rich this is disgraceful. Poor people building shacks on an empty piece of land are not a threat to society. It is the alliance between politicians and elite property developers that are a real threat to the integrity of this city.
We appreciate your honesty in being open about the fact that according to your statistics there are 450 000 families needing houses in Cape Town and that the number is growing by 16 000 a year but that the City is building less than 7 000 houses a year. For too long politicians have told shack dwellers that we must be silent and obedient because shacks will soon be eradicated. This is a lie and it is a lie that has enabled politicians to present our struggles as a conspiracy by the ‘third force’ when in fact our struggles come out of the real and serious crisis of our situation. The truth is that if things stay as they are most of us will die in shacks. This is why we cannot accept any way forward that accepts the limits of current situation as if they were cast in stone when in fact they come from the choice to privilege the interests of elites against those of the poor.
We appreciate the fact that you say that you believe in open and honest engagement. We also believe in open and honest engagement. However if you think about it for a few seconds you will see, we are sure, that open and honest engagement is not a few people listening to a stage managed PR exercise organised by the City. Open and honest engagement actually means open and honest engagement – i.e. a free and open discussion by all who want to participate. Yesterday you ran away from open engagement. Your staff said that our wish to talk to you was a ‘security risk’ and a ‘disruption’. If you are serious about your stated commitment to open and honest engagement then we expect you to condemn those in your staff who fear the poor, to put aside their side managed PR exercises, and to engage with us in open assemblies.
However we are deeply concerned about the fact that you said nothing about the necessity for us all to struggle to change the situation in which the number of people without houses is growing every year. You want us to be patient while you work to make some small changes within this oppressive situation. This is not acceptable to us. You are asking is to abandon all hope for our lives. This we cannot do. We need to struggle against this situation that oppresses us. We need to demand a solidarity tax on the super-rich to finance housing, we need to place large taxes on elite property developments, we need to expropriate land, well located land, for housing, we need to kick the tenderpreneurs out of housing development. We need to be clear that for as long as the state is failing to house people land occupations must be encouraged. We need to be clear that for as long as the state is failing to provide water, electricity and sanitation people must be encouraged to appropriate these services for themselves. We need to be clear that for as long as Cape Town is dominated by elite interests the poor need to refuse all instructions to be patient and, instead, to organise ourselves, to build our collective strength and to challenge the elite interests.
We are also concerned about your failure to acknowledge the fact that in Cape Town, as in ANC controlled cities like Durban and Cape Town, the state is recreating apartheid style spatial segregation. Poor people are being dumped in the middle of nowhere. We are committed to an equal right to the cities for all people.
We are also concerned about your failure to acknowledge that it is unacceptable that in post-apartheid South Africa the houses that are being built for the poor are worse than the township houses that were built under apartheid.
We are deeply concerned about your failure to condemn Blikkiesdorp and all other TRAs as an absolute disgrace to our City and its people. We hope that you will commit to moving all residents of TRAs into decent and well located housing immediately and to never, never building one of these monstrosities again.
We are also deeply concerned about your failure to acknowledge the unlawful state violence that has been deployed against the poor by the DA in Hangberg and Mitchell’s Plain. For as long as the DA, like the ANC elsewhere, continues to respond to land occupations with state violence the open and honest discussions that you say that you want will be difficult to achieve. It is common knowledge that you can’t negotiate with people that are using violence against you. If you are serious about negotiating with the organised poor then you should issue a moratorium against state violence against land occupations.
We are not struggling because we like to struggle. We are struggling because we live in the middle of a crisis every day and the state has no plan to resolve this crisis. We are struggling because if we don’t struggle we will, like Irene Grootboom, die in our shacks.
We are keen to negotiate with the state to try and come up with solutions to resolve the housing crisis. But we see no point in being part of stage managed PR exercises where there is no willingness to engage in real discussion.
If you are willing to engage in real discussion we will welcome you to our communities and we will engage with you openly and honestly. But if all you want to do is organise stage managed events where you try to legitimate your complicity with an oppressive situation we will continue to organise against a City that treats us with contempt. We will continue with protests, road blockades and land occupations. We will have no choice but to organise, through struggle, a popular vote of no confidence in your administration.