Saturday, 14 July 2012

Birds in the Cornfield: Squatter Movements in Johannesburg, 1944-1947

by Alf Stadler, 1979

During the second half of the forties, between 63,000 and 92,500 Africans settled in squatter camps in and around Johannesburg.' The camps were mostly situated beyond the city's south-western borders, in the area which later became Soweto, but there were also camps at Alexandra, ten miles to the north, and at least one within a few miles of the city's centre and one at Albertan, six miles south-east of Johannesburg. The largest of these densely concentrated settlements accounted for anything up to 20,000 inhabitants who occupied dwellings of hessian-sacking, wood, corrugated iron and cardboard. The settlements which will be discussed here were organized into movements led by individual leaders and committees. One such leader, James Mpanza, organized his movement as the Sofasonke party, which revealed religious and military overtones, while another, Schreiner Baduza, organized squatting as a deliberate strategy in the political struggles of the poor. In most cases, such leaders mobilized a following and settled on vacant land. They levied charges on the inhabitants, established services and an administration, including 'police' and 'courts', and assumed control over trading activities in the camps. The closely settled camps and the considerable authority of the leaders served to increase the autonomy of the squatter communities. 

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