housing

Marikana: Both sides to blame

As some of you know, maybe too well, I’ve been doing fieldwork on community organising — the formation of grassroots organisations among residents to advocate for / take care of communal matters like safety and development — in a new informal settlement in Cape Town. That informal settlement exploded in violence over the last week of May, just after I concluded my fieldwork. I sent a letter off to the Cape Times for publication, explaining my view of matters. It was shortened and published on June 8, 2015 as “Active engagement between City, Marikana could’ve averted violence,” but here’s the full version.


The events of the last week in Marikana informal settlement in Philippi, Cape Town, powerfully illustrate the saying that when elephants dance, the grass gets trampled. Innocents died, scores have been injured, many houses burnt, and countless lives disrupted. As a student-researcher who has been gathering information on community organising in the Marikana settlement for the last six months, I have had deep conversations with all sides of the current fracas. In my opinion, both the leaderships of Marikana and the City of Cape Town deserve the strongest possible condemnation; the Marikana side for their actions, the City for their inaction.

Cape Town’s Marikana began as an occupation of undeveloped, unfenced, mostly privately-owned land which was a known hotspot for illegal activity and violent crime. The land occupiers wanted to meet their own housing needs, while denying criminals the space to kill and rape. After intense periods of confrontational eviction activity in April 2013 and August 2014, the land occupiers and the City settled into an uneasy accommodation. As court cases against the Marikana settlers ground on, life in Marikana became more settled, even routine. Local street committees and the SAPS brought violence, infighting, and crime in the community under control. People began to build lives there.

All this changed in the last half of May. Residents in nearby Klipfontein began protesting against electricity cuts, and people from Marikana joined in solidarity. Now, direct action—barricading, stone-throwing, toyi-toying—was back on the table. Even so, a crisis could have been averted—but instead, Marikana leaders decided to ride the momentum, stoke the flames. On Monday, 25 May, they called for their own community to mobilise. But by barricading roads, burning tyres, hurling stones and spreading rubbish, protesters only succeeded in alienating their neighbours, to whom they should have been reaching out as allies. They disrupted the daily routines of people throughout Marikana, Philippi East, Khayelitsha, and other areas, making it harder for honest, hardworking citizens (including many in their own community) to safely get to work and school for a full week. In fact, people of neighbouring Lower Crossroads, fed up of the disruption, retaliated over the weekend. Marikana leaders must ask themselves: was it worth it? (more…)

Advertisements

Which would you rather…

… a house, or a right to housing?

Professor Thio Li-Ann asked me this at my admission interview to NUS law this morning. (I’m applying for the GLB.) I gave a disappointing answer, in my opinion. I pointed out that a house could always be repossessed or expropriated whereas a right to housing was protected by the law. She replied that resources might be constrained, and that right to housing wouldn’t always be fulfilled. Moreover, the resources which had to be devoted to fulfilling this right to housing would have to be taken from someone else. We went back and forth a bit, and I brought out my standard argument: this is a society that has solved the problem of scarcity, and if we wanted to, everyone could have a good standard of living. Our problem is therefore not overcoming scarcity, the way it has been for millennia, but distributing abundance. (The idea of a post-scarcity society is something I found in JK Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, if anyone’s interested.) At that point we switched to a different line of questioning.

(more…)