Silumko Khethokuhle Radebe gives an overview of the housing struggles discussed in Nairobi.
The programme on housing and evictions at the World Social Forum in Nairobi was as follows:
� Right to Housing and Zero Eviction : 21 January 2007
� Confronting Privatisation’s Effects on Housing & Land Rights by Habitat International Coalition- Housing & Land Rights Network
� People’s Fund for the Right to Land and Housing for the Development of the Public Housing Service for the promotion of the secu- rity in housing through cooperation (22 January 2007)
� 2007/08 housing right world mobilization jour- neys : 24 January 2007
� Marathon through the slums for basic rights: 25 January
The african situation
The Situation in Zimbabwe is that on 18th May 2005, the government launched Operation Murambatsvina and it left more than 500 000 people homeless or affected by this operation. This is clearly an elite’s attitude of not caring for the needs of the working class and its continued exploitation. The state in Zimbabwe was built by the migrant workers for the elite and their only reward was to enjoy food rights but no land rights. When Zimbabwe got its independence in the 80s, the master and slave relationship continued to exist except that this time it was the black elite who were the masters. Evictions & destruction of houses were happening throughout the 80s & 90s as a tool to silence any opposition to the ZANU-PF rule.
This along with many other social ills continued to weaken the working class. So social movements all over the world should in solidarity remember the 18th of May 2005 and mark it as a day of action against evictions.
The land in Kenya is owned by a few elite who have accumulated wealth at the expense of the working class. More than 65% of the population live in the slums (5% of land). When the new government took over in 2000, it wanted to clean up Nairobi and make it the City of the Sun. But we all know that had devastating results on the working class and poor people of Kenya. It became difficult for the working class to do subsistence farming and at the same time food prices rocketed sky high, pushing people into further poverty. The people have taken up the land campaign and are making sure that the poor are fighting back in reclaiming their spaces.
The land struggle campaign was launched in Abuja in 2003 when, after the national general election, the government decided to build a better city and intensified the demolishing of shacks. More than 800 000 people have faced evictions and they have been affected by this cleaning up campaign. Then different movements in the country decided to take forward the affordable housing campaign but that didn’t benefit the majority because the main struggle was to put pressure to the halting of evictions. Evictions remain the most important struggle in the country because people are being driven off their land because of their class position.
The Anti-Privatization Forum is a Gauteng-based social movement struggling for access to housing and basic services in twenty-two communities. The campaign for housing is part of the APF’s on going campaigns for access to basic services such as water, electricity, health services, education, telecommunications and the struggle against HIV/ AIDS and unemployment. More than 50% of South Africans are surviving on less than R20.00 a day. Many more survive on social grants because they are unemployed. This makes it difficult for people to pay for housing or any other social service. The solution is for the state to tax the rich so that it can provide housing to the poor and the working class. Since 1996 many of the unemployed members of the APF and working class communities have applied for a housing subsidy but the response from the state has been appalling. They have built “houses” which are worse than those that were built by the apartheid regime. What is even worse is that many people are homeless because of a lack of delivery by the state. The Growth, Employment and Redstribution (GEAR) strategy and the new policy called Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa have worsened the situation.
legacy of apartheid
The legacy of apartheid and the backlog of building decent low-cost housing under the African National Congress government in the East Rand, Soweto, inner-city Johannesburg, and Sedibeng or Vaal Triangle have forced many people to resort to being shack-dwellers with no access to basic services.
Also the issue of civil war in Africa has sent many communities packing down to South Africa in search of a better life. This has been a national crisis, worsened by the government’s denialist attitude to HIV/AIDS and unemployment, leading to many orphans being evicted out of their homes by corrupt councilors. Recently there were sparks in the country, like in Orange Farm, Vaal Triangle’s Kanana, Free State, Kwa Zulu Natal, North-West and Pretoria, where residents blockaded major roads in protest against the relocation of the residents and the slow delivery of basic services.
the role of the Private sector
The recent increase in the number of evictions in the communities by the profit making corporations have further dented the efforts of the government in the delivery of houses. These institutions (banks and estate agents) continue to enjoy protection from the government as its neo-liberal policies allow them to evict people without following proper procedures and listening to the problems of the community. In a context of high unemployment, the MEC of Housing in Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane, has in recent meetings made a call for a moratorium on evictions, but areas like Soweto and Sedibeng have been hard hit by evictions in the past year. So it was clear for the APF that the struggle against evictions must be given attention and the organisation sent me to network with other international organisations that are battling evictions.
Evictions have taken different shapes in Latin America and they have happened because of different reasons. In a country like Argentina, more than 100 000 people are forced to live in sub-standard slums where conditions facing the working class are horrific. The war situation in Colombia has further pushed the working class into abject poverty and left the majority without any proper shelter. When infrastructure is being rebuilt after the war, it is built in a way that it displaces the community. In Peru, the communities have over a number of years tried to resist foreign invasion by the Americans who continue to occupy their land, pushing the aboriginal people into a no mans land. Business is given more land than the people of Porto Rico and houses are destroyed so that enterprises can be built.
america, Europe and asia
In New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina destroyed nearly the entire city and it left many people homeless. It was a task of the government to relocate the people to safe land and rebuild New Orleans so that the people could move back into homes. But with the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur, and many other countries where they have military-bases, the government’s budget has been stretched so the rebuilding of the city has been left to developers. There is lack of housing in the area because developers have been stealing land of the working class and there is a closing of space for public housing. People are not welcome in their homes anymore and a new campaign has been taken up “The Right to Return to the City”, organized by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. The United State of America Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Group has been using the military campaign to highlight the plight of the homeless because the budget is being used to support all the military activities. The poor are being forgotten as money is being used for war and it is difficult to mobilise in the country. People are mainly focusing on what is happening in the war and are passive in the struggle against globalisation. Few campaigns have been taken up in the country to highlight the plight of the working class, like the march to the headquarters of Coca- Cola in Atlanta for its role in supporting military action of the US government. In a country like Italy, where the government has started to go ahead with partial privatisation, many working class people are being forced into sub-standard conditions. So many people have been focusing on the issue of war & evictions and they have decided centrally to make it their campaign. The making of India a beautiful country has forced many working class communities to be homeless or to live on the street. Working class organisations are still poor and not well resourced or organised. This makes it difficult for the working class to fight back the impact of neo-liberalism.
International day of action
It is clear that the working class movements around the world are confronted with many different threats when it comes to housing. These organisations have continued to mobilise against evictions or forced removals. The 18th of May 2007 was earmarked as an international day against evictions in solidarity with comrades from Zimbabwe.