Sth Africa: Housing Protests Set Cape Town Ablaze
Housing protests in Gugulethu and Khayelitsha set Cape Town ablaze today (Monday 23 May 2005) as residents burned tires in Landsdowne Road, Khayelitsha as well as Gugulethu. In Gugs, the whole of NY1, the township thoroughfare, was blockaded every 100 metres with piles of burning tires. Residents were expressing anger at the lack of service delivery in terms of houses as well as water and electricity for informal settlements.
These protests follow similar actions over recent weeks in Port Elizabeth, and have been further inflamed by the “N2 Gateway” housing project that plans to build 16 000 houses in Cape Town in the coming years. Long time shack dwellers and backyard residents are incensed that residents of shacks that burned down in the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Langa are going to be housed before people who waited for housing much longer than them.
The surface story of rivalry over a waiting list, however, hides a much deeper vein of anger that comes from grievances that today, 10 years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, people still have to be exploited by backyard-landlords, walk kilometers for water even in the cities and shit in a hole in the ground (or a bucket). Town 2 residents graphically illustrated their discontent today when they dumped the excrement from their buckets in the house of Ward Councillor Phakamile Kula. Burning barricades of tyres were met with force by the South African Police Services and City Police, with 19 residents being arrested.
Similar force was used to disperse any sign of residents gathering in Gugulethu. A group of visiting journalists who were greeted with stun grenades fired by SAPS when a crowd gathered around them (one journalist was hit in the leg). This violent reaction did little to stem the protest, whose amorphous nature can maybe be summed up by the fact that ‘the committee’ co-ordinating the mounds of burning tyres and rubbish as yet doesn’t have a name. As an organization, though, it has undergone a baptism of fire, first organizing a protest that aspired to block one of Cape Town’s major highways, the N2, and now facing the prospect of 46 comrades arrested, another at least 20 injured, and a township that feels like a warzone.
“We are non-violent” Sandile (*) from the committee told us, and amazingly, in a township where protest has generally meant stone throwing and the destruction of government and commercial vehicles, he was right. The uneven battle between police and residents was marked by violence only from the police side – otherwise, it was a game of running and ducking, staying one step ahead of the “authorities”. On Saturday, Wallace Mgoqi, the Cape Town city manager and formed land claims commissioner, was booed out of a collective meeting where he came to address the land occupations that have been happening over the weekend. There is a sense in which the state has lost all initiative, and again, in Gugulethu, this is momentous. This is historic ANC heartland, and the scale of these protests, the drubbing of Mgoqi, the obvious support that the residents offered to the protestors (could a distinction even be drawn?) marks a shift whose ramifications no doubt are causing sleepless nights.
Also in Gugulethu today were a few individuals from Cuban Heights, the land occupation in Lavender Hill that has set a record of its own. You see, Lavender Hill is a “coloured” settlement, and there hasn’t been a land occupation here since the 1980s. Not even in the heady days of the early 1990s did residents simply seize that for which they were told to wait. Today’s events in Gugulethu put a lie to the notion that recent housing protests in Cape Town were racially motivated affairs of “coloureds” angry that they were being ignored in favour of “Africans”.
Harrismith, Inanda Road, Masiphumele, Kennedy Road… the names trip off the tongue, one after another, the names of roads blockaded, linked to communities that are ‘gatvol’. A many headed hydra, something for which not even the demons of the “ultra left” “new social movements” can be blamed. These are the people by the side of the highway, the backyard dwellers, the shack dwellers, the uncountables, the invisibles, the ones that the BMWs and Pick ‘n Pay trucks drive past every day and ignore. Yet, today, there was a war. No one’s going to ignore that!
Update: 24 May 2005. In Athlone Magistrates Court today, all those arrested in Gugulethu were released without paying bail. They have to appear on charges of public violence on the 8th of July 2005. In Khayelitsha Magistrates Court, 8 comrades were released without paying bail, but up to 18 are being held overnight to appear for bail hearings tomorrow. At this point, the comrades don't have a lawyer to represent them. Watch http://sa.indymedia.orgfor updates and further developments