Dear Mayor de Lille
Thank you for the reply from your chief of staff to our letter dated 12 September. We have now had time to circulate it amongst our members and to discuss it carefully.
We do appreciate your invitation for the leadership of Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape to meet with the mayor. There has, after so many years of struggle in Durban, been no such invitation from any mayor in Durban and we note and appreciate your willingness to meet with us.
As we have previously stated we have no interested in attending stage managed events that are designed for the media rather than to enable genuinely open discussion. We are committed to participatory democracy and to participatory budgeting and urban planning methods and would like to find forms of engagement that are genuinely participatory. As we have both noted in the past the current policies are failing to address the urban crisis in Cape Town. We cannot accept that so many of our people will live their whole lives in shacks. We need to find a new path and to advance down that path. This requires the development of a serious critique of the current policies and not just PR exercise in support of them. We want to build a people’s Cape Town in which all people count the same and everyone can live a life of safety and dignity. To us it seems logical that this will only be possible when people are put before profit and the social value of land is put before its commercial value.
Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape does not represent all shack dwellers in Cape Town or in Khayelitsha. We are always very careful not to speak for people who have not given us a clear mandate. There are many different organisations and some people are not members of organisations. We can only speak for our members and even then we can only speak for them after careful discussions about mandates. But we would be very willing to work with you to set up people’s forums in each area, starting with Khayelitisha, at which open assemblies, open to all organisations and people, could be held to discuss the way forward in each area. This is our proposal for a way forward.
There are two aspects of the letter from your chief of staff that we find disturbing. One is that he states that you are only willing to engage organisations that ‘have the best interests of the citizens of Cape Town at the heart of their agenda’. The problem for us is that the question of what is in the best interests of the people of this city is a political question. The DA has close engagements with property developers that we see as anti-poor. To us it is clear that they are only interested in private profit. On the other hand when we raise the issues of the poor we are often presented as trouble makers or even as people who are violent, irrational and criminal. Any attempt to define who represents ‘the best interests of the citizens of Cape Town’ and how these interests should be taken forward before a discussion takes place runs a real risk of excluding those of us, like Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape, that rejects the neo-liberal character of the DA City Council as being anti-poor. In a democracy all citizens have a right to hold and to express their views and no Mayor or council has any right of any sort to exclude people who hold dissenting views from discussions.
We are even more concerned that your chief of staff has said that a meeting would only deal with ‘service delivery issues’ and would not deal with ‘unrelated issues’. Since when was democracy only about ‘service delivery’? Since when was human dignity only about ‘service delivery’? We reject many aspects of the ‘service delivery’ provided by your government. For instance Blikkiesdorp is, for us, a scandal and a place that is more like a prison than any ‘service’ that is being ‘delivered’ to the people. We have a democratic right to take this view and to argue for it when we engage the state. In fact we reject the whole paradigm of ‘service delivery’. We want participatory urban planning and not the top down ‘delivery’ of ‘services’ to a passive citizenry. We also have a democratic right to take this view and to argue for it when we engage the state. In fact our view is much closer to the Constitution which stresses public participation in decision making than yours which wants to exclude the poor from any meaningful participation in decision making. We have every right to insist on discussion on issues ‘unrelated’ to ‘service delivery’. Your chief of staff wants to confine us to discussions of peripheral importance just as we are already confined on peripheral land on the outskirts of the city.
Any attempt to reduce legitimate engagement between citizens and the state to the technical questions of ‘service delivery’ is an attempt to depoliticise issues that are deeply political. Depoliticisation always functions to make privilege seem natural and normal. Politicisisation can function to challenge privilege. We are committed to politicising poverty, exclusion and inequality. Any attempt to deny us the right to do this work is an attack on a basic democratic right. The letter from your chief of staff is deeply infused with the authoritiarianism of the white capitalist elite that runs Cape Town and which refuses to recognise that poverty and the housing crisis in Cape Town are political issues.
At this time last year we called for a week of informal settlement’s strike. We did this to show our anger, to show that we could disrupt the system that excludes and oppresses us and to force the people in power to take us seriously. However the ANC YL, an organisation that we reject as a club for aspirant tenderpreneurs and the goons of the predatory elite, took advantage of the situation to organise their own protests some of which were accompanied by real thuggery. We would like to avoid having to return to a strategy of disruption and to be able to participate in a strategy of mass popular engagement on the urban crisis in Cape Town.
Do you accept our proposal for people’s forums across Cape Town aimed at working out a plan to turn this city of privilege and exclusion into a people’s city?
Chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape