Earlier this week, in a scene reminiscent of the Apartheid era, the police were called in to help facilitate the demolishing of a community of shacks in Lwandle, Strand (a community in the Western Cape). In classic Apartheid-style , the community was sectioned off with barbed wire while the police shot rubber bullets and hurled teargas canisters at anyone who tried to salvage their belongings. If you closed your eyes hard enough (the sound of bulldozers flattening corrugated iron and rubber bullets whizzing past you) you could almost imagine this was happening in the late 60’s. But it isn’t. It’s happening in the rainbow nation.
A political blame game has since ensued between the Democratic Alliance and the South African National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) with both parties offering a resounding “not my fault, dude”. The Democratic Alliance, through their spokesperson Phumzile van Damme, lay the blame on Sanral and the Department of Transport, saying the “responsibility of the evictions lies squarely with them” and that it was “disingenuous” to blame the DA for the affair. Sanral have since shot back, claiming that all of this could easily have been avoided “if “the City did not walk away from the discussions with Sanral to find an amicable solution to the issue”.
While the country was still letting out a collective “what-the-f*ck”, an estimated 25 families was evicted from a plot in Alexandra yesterday. The residents had been living on a plot of land on 1st Avenue for more than a decade before being forcibly removed yesterday. This, remember, is happening just a few days before a brutal cold front is set to grip the country.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. Both the ANC and DA-led municipalities have evicted entire communities with cold callousness before (here, here and here). But what happened in Lwandle and Alex is symbolic of a larger, underlying problem: South Africa’s ticking time-bomb of poverty.
Let me start off with a disclaimer: the land in question is private land. As Sanral and the DA so readily pointed out, Lwandle’s residents were occupying illegal land. No one is disputing this. The City of Cape Town’s Siyabulela Mamkeli further stressed this point in a recently released statement:
“As the land in question is owned by Sanral, the City has not been responsible for policing these informal settlements. Sanral appointed a private company to ensure that no further growth of the settlements takes place, but new structures have continued to be built on the Sanral land,” said Mamkeli.
But the above-mentioned quote is chilling for a couple of reasons. In an attempt to absolve the City of Cape Town from any wrongdoing, Mamkeli has unintentionally revealed how little the government cares for the poor. While he’s correct in acknowledging that the land in question is private property he seems to infer that because of that it’s okay for City to turn a blind eye and stop “policing these informal settlements”. Here’s the thing though: Sanral’s job is to build roads. Period. The burden of providing adequate housing is the responsibility of the municipality. If the City of Cape Town had provided proper housing for the people in Lwandle, there would be no community to demolish. It’s as simple as that. Sanral alleges that this is matter that dates back to 2003. In the eleven years since then, why hasn’t the City of Cape Town provided housing for Lwandle’s residents? This is a simple case of pointing a finger and having three point back at you.
The demolishing of the settlements (and I use that word loosely) was a simultaneous flattening of this whole rainbow nation kak. The moral standing of any country should be determined by how it treats it poor. And if this week’s happenings are anything to go by, we’re content with simply chewing them whole and spitting them from one raw deal to another. South Africa eats its poor.
Follow me on Twitter: @RofhiwaManeta
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