Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, The Star
Johannesburg - Section 33 of the EFF’s founding manifesto states that “the EFF will be involved in mass movements and community protests that seek the betterment of people’s lives. The EFF will also associate with movements that demand land through land occupation, aimed at making the message clear that our people do need land”.
So it should come as no surprise that Ward 86 of the EFF in Tshwane supports the community struggle in Nellmapius. Struggles like this are community struggles that come out of the material conditions of homelessness.
Historically, many black South Africans who live in urban industrial areas live on land given to them not out of the state’s benevolence, but as a result of the land occupation struggles they waged. Soweto or a significant part of it is the result of such a struggle.
We know that murderer James Mpanza, after spending 13 years in prison, led what came to be known as the Sofasonke movement in Orlando in 1944, which resulted in modern Soweto.
This movement, led by someone who was not a leader of the ANC, must tell you a lot about the ANC and the question of land. This is the same year Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo were portrayed as radical ANC youth, yet not once did they associate with Mpanza’s movement. That is why, in the radical history traditions, Mpanza is referred to as the father of modern Soweto.
Occupation is how many black poor people find the space to build homes in urban areas where they have the chance of getting a job.
Now, as in the 1940s, people do not just arrive in the city and start identifying land to occupy. There is a process of consultation with the authorities over a long period of time and they wait to be given ground to build homes.
But when they cannot take their spaceless condition any longer, they may break into an open area initiating a struggle; a struggle for homes.
This is the case with Nellmapius. These people have been on government waiting lists for decades waiting for houses. They have been told this land they occupy will be given to them.
Media and bourgeois interpretations of such struggles seek to delegitimise them, dismiss them as land grabs, as criminal. This is because within the bourgeois myopic imagination, law is an end in itself, not a tool towards an end. They do so because the question of private property is protected by the law.
But the question and the history of land in South Africa is fundamentally linked to two crimes against humanity: the crime of colonisation and that of apartheid. These crimes were crimes of land dispossession through violent means. This is like a thief who takes your car at the stop sign, changes its colour and earns its protection under the law. In the same way, stolen land came to be protected under colonial-apartheid law, and now enjoys further protection under bourgeois democratic law.
In a country with this reality, and a looming crisis of homelessness, when people occupy land, it is ahistorical, irresponsible and alarmist to declare them as illegal and criminal.
This is because the democratic state guarantees the right to adequate housing as a basic human right. This means the state is obliged to create conditions for adequate housing for all citizens.
The constitution further prohibits demolitions and evictions without a court order, and such orders must only take place when all factors have been considered. The state cannot demolish homes or evict people without providing alternative accommodation.
Lwandle is the most recent example; it was illegal, inhuman and thus the government had to be held accountable.
Other post-apartheid examples are movements like Abahlali base Mjondolo. We also know from Stats SA that 14 percent of citizens live in informal areas, most in townships and 2.1 million more housing units are needed.
Between 1994 and 2012, an estimated million farmworkers were evicted from farms that should be theirs. All this points to a simple fact: South Africa has a crisis of homelessness.
Under these conditions, a caring government would not send the police to a site where people have initiated a land occupation struggle; neither would it take those in support to court. A caring government would not make policy pronouncements that it will not give those under the age of 40 houses because they lost nothing under apartheid.
A caring government would send its officials to help the homeless communities, providing land with alternative stands or help them divide stands properly in order to settle.