The 2016 local election campaign has begun and many are cashing in on human misery, writes Helen Zille.
Cape Town - Snug in my sheepskin slippers under a fluffy knee-blanket, I write about the past week’s evictions, acutely aware of the situation of the people I am writing about.
They were forcibly removed last week, in two mass evictions – one in Alexandra, Gauteng, and the other in Lwandle, Western Cape. Many more people may have suffered the same fate in different parts of South Africa, but their stories did not make the news.
Both removals involved extreme human misery.
While the Alex evictions passed largely unnoticed, scores of commentators competed to be heard above the roar of condemnation that accompanied the Lwandle evictions.
One of the few who noticed the anomaly was S’bu Zikode, president of South Africa’s largest national organisation of shack dwellers, Abahlali baseMjondolo, who described it as “strange” that the Lwandle eviction had received so much media attention, given that evictions happen “almost every day throughout the country”. Referring to the sustained public outcry, Zikode said: “We have to ask, why now? One can only think it is politicking ahead of the local government elections (in 2016).”
In the case of the Lwandle evictions, I first learnt about them on Twitter, which focused, understandably, on the human misery, but gave little further information.
It took me 24 hours to get the facts: the Lwandle site is owned by the South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral), a national government agency. This land falls within a road reserve that Sanral needs for the implementation of the controversial e-tolling project, scheduled to begin in six months (to which the city and the province are vigorously opposed). People have been squatting on parts of the Sanral land for years.
Every time some are moved off, others move in. The city has been prevented, by law, from providing services on the site, except for the periphery, where they have been repeatedly vandalised.
The city has regularly warned Sanral to prevent further unlawful settlement on its land, to no avail. In January, as the e-tolling project drew closer, Sanral obtained a court interdict to prevent any further “occupation” of the land.
Despite this, the number of structures on the site continued to grow. As a result, on Monday June 2, the sheriff of the court, supported by the SAPS and metro police, began the evictions.
This was the cue for the usual army of Twitter trolls, unburdened by inconvenient facts, to blame both the mayor and me personally for the unfolding human misery.
Attempts to establish responsibility and accountability were (as usual) dismissed as “bickering” while the winter storms escalated and Sanral remained silent about the “alternative land” it was committed to provide.
At the height of the crisis a newspaper editorial put it succinctly: “The new SA is supposed to be a caring society that responds first to human need and then to legal niceties.”
Minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu has had a great deal to say on the matter. But it is worth noting that the City of Cape Town is the only government agency that has actually done anything to meet the “human need”. The city has made community halls available to shelter the homeless and offered “enhanced” housing “starter kits” to rebuild structures as soon as Sanral could identify an appropriate piece of land to house the evictees.
Sanral has identified another road reserve in Blackheath to relocate the people, bounded by formal, bank-bonded housing, eliciting significant resistance from local residents. So the problem remains far from resolution.
But there is another aspect to our instinct to “prioritise human need over legal niceties” that we ignore at our peril. As Business Day correctly noted: any situation in which “human misery” takes precedence over the law is “ripe for exploitation by individuals seeking to milk the system”.
This brings us to the nub of what happened in Lwandle this week.
During a fact-finding visit to the site, provincial officials encountered Andile Lili and Loyiso Nkhola, the leaders of the ANC’s “ungovernability” campaign (also known as the “Poo Protesters”) in charge of the situation. On further investigation, the officials found that Ses’Khona had an office on the site: a sturdy structure that had somehow escaped demolition. According to some evictees, they had been required to pay R25 each to Ses’Khona (disguised as a membership fee) in order to obtain a plot (and a T-shirt in ANC colours). This account was confirmed by the Ses’Khona organiser on the site, Vuyiswa Swentu.
It is clear that Ses’Khona is merely continuing its “ungovernability” strategy. They have openly called for land invasions in Cape Town and are now actually facilitating them by identifying “vulnerable land”. Then, in return for a “membership fee”, they encourage people who do not meet the housing allocation criteria (because they are too young or have already benefited before) to move on to the land.
Stripped of all the rhetoric, the truth is that Ses’Khona, in the most cynical way possible, is creating human misery (that we then prioritise over “legal niceties”), to advance their “ungovernability” agenda. And legitimate beneficiaries are sidelined once more.
If Sisulu really means it when she states that “we do not tolerate, condone, nor encourage any illegal occupation of land in our country”, she would find out what role the ANC’s Ses’Khona storm-troopers are playing in facilitating these invasions and creating “human misery” for their own “ungovernability” agenda.
Does this then imply that we should welcome the committee that the minister unilaterally announced to investigate the situation surrounding the invasion and evictions on the Sanral land?
Unfortunately, this committee does not pass even the most rudimentary scrutiny.
It includes Ses’Khona’s own lawyer, Barnabas Xulu; ANC stalwart Annelize van Wyk, who pre-judged the matter from the start in a Twitter tirade blaming the city; Nonhle Dambuza, an ANC MP; and a former ANC MP, Mampe Ramotsomai, who was reportedly arrested after 15 000 Mandrax tablets were seized from her home in 2001, before the case mysteriously vanished from public view. The committee is to be chaired by Denzil Potgieter, who has previously been chastised by a judge for conducting an “improper” inquiry set up by Marius Fransman against a DA council.
If Minister Sisulu was serious about establishing the truth, she would have set up an inquiry in consultation with the mayor of Cape Town; and she would also inquire into evictions countrywide.
But that is not the purpose. The 2016 local election campaign has begun. That is the prism through which to understand the Lwandle occupations and evictions.
Abahlali baseMjondolo hit the nail on the head.