South Africa's Poor Targeted by Evictions, Attacks in Advance of 2010 World Cup

By Democracy Now · 6 Oct 2009

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Picture: Democracy Now
Picture: Democracy Now

Thousands of South Africans are being displaced in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. While Durban completes the finishing touches on its new stadium, thousands of the city’s poor who live in sprawling informal settlements are threatened with eviction. On Saturday, an armed gang of some forty men attacked an informal settlement on Durban’s Kennedy Road, killing at least two people and destroying thirty shacks. 

Democracy Now speaks to two South African activists who are fighting back. Mazwi Nzimande, president of the Shack Dwellers Movement’s youth league. He has been displaced by this latest attack and is currently in hiding. And Reverend Mavuso Mbhekiseni, member of the Rural Network in South Africa.


JUAN GONZALEZ: We end today with a look at South Africa, which is poised to host the World Cup, the premier international football competition, next year. While Durban completes the finishing touches on its new stadium, thousands of the city’s poor who live in sprawling informal settlements are threatened with eviction by the ruling African National Congress’, or ANC’s, slum clearance policies.

Late this Saturday night (26 September 2009), an armed gang of some forty men attacked an informal settlement on [Durban’s] Kennedy Road killing at least two people and destroying thirty shacks. A thousand people have reportedly been driven out of the settlement. Eyewitnesses say the attackers acted with the support of the local ANC structures. Members of the Durban Shack Dwellers Movement, which brings together tens of thousands of shack dwellers to demand their right to fair housing in the city, were holding a youth camp when they were attacked.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last month we interviewed a young leader from the Shack Dwellers Movement, eighteen-year-old Mazwi Nzimande. He is president of the movement’s youth league. He has been displaced by this latest attack. He’s currently in hiding. We also spoke with Reverend Mavuso Mbhekiseni from the Rural Network in South Africa. They were in the US speaking out against the anti-poor policies in post-apartheid South Africa.

I began by asking Mazwi to explain the Shack Dwellers Movement.

MAZWI NZIMANDE: The Shack Dwellers Movement is a movement that was made by the poor people, the people who were waiting for housing since 1994. It’s the movement that is made out of poor people only, because the poor people are feeling betrayed, so they decided to join hands together and approach the government and make the government to be aware. They say there are still poor people in South Africa, because they feel that they are the forgotten citizens of the country. The only thing that is being remembered is to build stadiums for the 2010 World Cup. They don’t talk about the poor people anymore. They’re only talking about promoting the country, so the poor people decided to join hands together and approach the government and say, “Hey, we are still existing in the country, so we are still waiting for those houses.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: What is the [Slums] Act? When was it passed? And what has been the impact of it on the poor communities of South Africa?

MAZWI NZIMANDE: The Slums Act was first a bill in 2006, when the Shack Dwellers Movement was invited at the provincial parliament in Pietermaritzburg, when it was still a bill, you know. So we were invited to come and observe while they were introducing the Slums Act. And it has not been good for the shack dwellers, because the Slums Act says you should not resist eviction. If you resist evictions, you might be fined 20,000 rand or being sentenced at five years. So, most of us cannot afford that, because we want to be in our shacks, we want to be close in the city. I mean, that’s what we want. We want the government to provide houses where the people are, close to our working place, close to our schools, close to the hospital. Plus, we have a right to be close to the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Isn’t South Africa unusual in that it has housing as a human right written into the Constitution?

MAZWI NZIMANDE: It does, yes. But now, it seems like it’s working for certain individuals, not for the poor people, because you will be surprised and shocked when you go to South Africa and see thousands and thousands of informal settlements. And then we just don’t understand, because, I mean, since 1994, these people are still on the waiting list. Each informal settlement has about 7,000 people. And in our movement in Durban only, we have fourteen settlements, and each of those have about 7,000, 5,000. And you will just find it so hard to understand why at this time of the year.

AMY GOODMAN: Mazwi mentioned the World Cup. It’s almost the only way we talk about South Africa today in the United States. But what exactly is happening to people as a result of the World Cup, which is watched by over a billion people and is going to be in South Africa for the first time?

REV. MAVUSO MBHEKISENI: Our government is concerned about developing spaces, not population development. So, as they develop spaces, they move away people. They say people should move away, so to pave way for the development, to help it. So, by building these stadia, they are moving people away from the cities and away from their original places, even in rural areas, because they want to build malls, big malls. They want to build freeways, so that, to us, this World Cup is a mass eviction of poor people. So that’s what is happening in South Africa. We are not going to live and stay in the stadia. We are not going to sleep there. So they are destroying our houses or our homes. Because we can afford those homes, so they say—they call them slums, and so we are evicted. So we are saying this World Cup is accompanied by evictions and destruction of our own—and demolishing of our own homes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when you say they are moved out, does the government—where are they being moved to? Is the government providing them adequate housing where they’re being moved to?

REV. MAVUSO MBHEKISENI: Government is promising them that they are going to have houses about fifty kilometers away from the cities, only to find that there are no houses. You will be moved to transitional relocation camps, where they say you have to wait for some—it’s ten years before you get housing.

AMY GOODMAN: Give us a historical perspective. Reverend Mavuso, you were there before the first democratically elected government of Nelson Mandela. You were there under apartheid. Compare that to today.

REV. MAVUSO MBHEKISENI: There is now a widening gap between the rich and the poor. During apartheid, it was the whites and blacks. So, now that is the type of apartheid that we see now, that people are getting more richer, and people are getting more poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever get a chance to meet Nelson Mandela? You’re eighteen years old, but President Mandela is still alive.

MAZWI NZIMANDE: I mean, I didn’t get a chance to see the days of Nelson Mandela, but, I mean, I’m hearing things that he’s such a wonderful man, he’s such a good man. You know, he has that powerful voice. But I don’t believe, because he is still alive, but there are informal—there are shack dwellers in South Africa, but he hasn’t said anything. There is that huge gap. Mandela is up there, and the people are down there, so it’s very hard to, like, get a chance to meet with Nelson Mandela. Even the current president, I haven’t met him, you know, because those people are high up. The only time they come to the communities is when the elections are going to take place. And they come with bodyguards. So, for me, it’s hard to understand why does a man that we must elect as a president come to our community, has bodyguard. That means he fear us, you know. So how can we access the man who comes with bodyguard in our communities? I don’t understand.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And if it’s true, as you say, that there’s been so many problems in terms of the widening gap in the country, why is the ANC leadership still receiving such huge support at the polls?

REV. MAVUSO MBHEKISENI: People were educated, through what we call domestication, that they should love one party, because that party gave them—will give them freedom. This is a majority party of—and it is a black government, so they say if we vote for another party, then it means it will not be democracy. They think democracy comes with the ANC. So they think ANC is democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Rev. Mavuso of the Rural Network in South Africa and eighteen-year-old Mazwi Nzimande, president of the Shack Dwellers Movement’s youth league. We only have fifteen seconds, but he is now in hiding after a major attack on their shacks this weekend, Saturday night.

Mazwi, what happened? Very quickly, who did this? Who attacked people, killed two and hurt the shacks?

MAZWI NZIMANDE: Thank you. Firstly, we were not there, but on Sunday during the day, we went back to Kennedy Road to check on how things were, how the conditions were. I mean, it became clear when we saw the ANC guys who were there, you know, enjoying themselves, having that gathering. Even the [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds. We have five seconds.

MAZWI NZIMANDE: Even, I mean, so clear, it’s the ANC, because they have mentioned it, that they want the whole informal settlement to be known to the ANC [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: Mazwi Nzimande, we have to leave it there.

This interview was originally published by Democracy Now. To listen to or watch the interview, please click here .

This transcript is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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