Let's investigate the political vampires that feed off South Africa's housing crisis
6 July 2014
The inquiry established recently by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu into the demolition of 234 shacks on land in Lwandle (Strand) owned by the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) will begin work later this month.
While a thorough investigation is needed, this panel (an eclectic mix of ANC affiliates) has, as I have written before, all the makings of a political hit squad to target the DA-run City of Cape Town.
It is also interesting to note (as former ANC MP Raymond Suttner does here) that despite recent evictions across the country, from Cato Crest to Alexandra, the only place the Minister has set up an Inquiry is in the one province not governed by the ANC.
Despite these obvious indicators of political bias, there are good reasons to ask some probing questions about the circumstances surrounding the Lwandle evictions.
I return to the issue today to analyse a trend that is emerging countrywide, and which deserves the attention of an in-depth and credible investigation, because it is becoming a serious threat to our democracy.
The background of the Lwandle evictions is well-known. Removing the shacks from this land was part of SANRAL's plan to bring E-Tolls to the Western Cape.
This is why SANRAL has, since 2010, refused to engage the City of Cape Town to install services to the shacks on their land, resulting in several warnings from the City about the untenable living conditions. Early this year, SANRAL obtained an interdict to prevent further settlement, and when this occurred, proceeded with evictions, just as one of winter's worst storms commenced.
It soon became clear that the evictions were merely a symptom of deeper underlying forces that shape the contest for land and resources in a context of severe deprivation. Written submissions from members of the community, consultative meetings and affidavits have painted a chilling picture of what was going on behind the scenes.
It is now clear that this crisis (like several before and since) was deliberately engineered by a group of individuals seeking to use the desperate circumstances of the most vulnerable people to build a political profile for themselves in the run-up to the 2016 local government elections (just as they did before 2014).
Led by racial-populists Andile Lili and Loyisa Nkohla, this group describes itself as a "people's rights movement". They are, in fact, a syndicate of human rights violators working from within the ANC to exacerbate human misery, so that they can extend their own power and control.
Known as Ses'Khona, or sometimes, Sisonke, the network includes several ANC councillors and aspirant councillors engaged in an internal party battle to retain their positions, or oust their rivals in the 2016 local elections.
So worried is the ANC about their tactics and influence, that shortly before the 2014 election, it withdrew misconduct charges against Nkohla and Lili arising out of their on-going "ungovernability campaign" in Cape Town. In return Ses'Khona withdrew its threat to support the Economic Freedom Fighters on May 7, and endorsed the ANC instead.
Appeasement has merely emboldened this faction, as the Lwandle story reveals. Following SANRAL's January interdict to prevent further settlement on its land, Ses'Khona set up an office on the site.
From this base, it is now common knowledge in Lwandle that Ses'Khona openly encouraged people to violate the court order, "selling" plots to them for as much as R2,500. They also used the opportunity to recruit members, at a fee reflected on an official membership form which includes banking details.
When the inevitable (and anticipated) evictions followed, Ses'Khona seized the opportunity they had created to pose as the champions of the peoples' "right" to remain on the land.
After confronting the police and SANRAL, Ses'Khona also set itself up as the community's negotiating vehicle with the authorities, massively inflating the list of displaced people, demanding compensation on their behalf -- and becoming the gatekeepers of all relief efforts.
The City of Cape Town's Disaster Management Team housed the evictees in a community hall and provided a continuous supply of food and other resources, which included flood kits, blankets and daily meals.
As one would expect in such a crisis, the elected ward councillor played a key role. But, instead of ensuring that disaster relief was dispensed to all who needed it, Lwandle ANC Councillor, JJ Maxheke, helped his Ses'Khona allies to divert the resources to the home of a well-known Ses'Khona committee member at LP 81 Pholile Park.
Eventually, as happens in so many similar situations, coercion won the day, because the service providers just wanted to deliver the resources and leave. They ended up in the hands of Ses'Khona and the police were warned not to intervene.
Inevitably, the Lwandle residents who had refused to pay Ses'Khona a "membership fee" to live on the SANRAL land were sidelined. Several affidavits document how desperate community members protested outside this house for resources to be distributed fairly to those in need.
Having created false hope, and made a tidy profit from illegally selling SANRAL land, the so-called "people's rights movement" was now literally taking food out of evicted residents' mouths to coerce them into joining their vampire organisation.
Lwandle is not the only place where Ses'Khona has applied its political model of human trafficking. Among the desperately poor new urban migrants on the Cape Flats, Ses'Khona finds many ways of increasing a community's vulnerability, establishing control of resources, and using patronage to mobilise people to their cause.
In some cases Ses'Khona has actually encouraged the destruction of existing services to exacerbate the anger and frustration that their mobilisation strategy requires.
Take the recent example of Kosovo, in Phillipi, where Ses'Khona members destroyed sanitation facilities and then prevented contractors from accessing the area to repair the damage. In a further unprecedented act of vandalism, the electricity substation was also destroyed, leaving 5 200 households without power.
This is the lowest and most sadistic form of politics imaginable. It creates and feeds off human suffering.
And it is not limited to Lwandle or Kosovo. Predatory politics is becoming the norm in informal settlements across South Africa.
Anton Harber in his socio-cultural portrait of Diepsloot township in Gauteng, documents how informal parts of the settlement are divided among competing political groups.
New arrivals in Diepsloot start in an area known as "the waiting room", which was under the control of the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) at the time of his writing.
Residents could then "progress" to other parts of Diepsloot depending on how long they had lived there, on condition they accepted the rule of the political bosses of the new area (the ANC or one of its affiliates), who controlled resource allocation, including access to state housing.
This form of power abuse now poses a serious threat to our democracy.
If one strips away all the morbid manifestations of failing states, there is one central root cause: politicians who abuse their access to state institutions and resources for the purpose of political patronage. This has become routine in our society, from President Zuma's manipulation of the National Prosecuting authority (to entrench his power) -- to ANC councillors' manipulation of disaster relief (to entrench theirs).
The growing housing backlog in all our major centres, together with the perception that everyone is entitled to a free house, has created fertile ground for corruption and patronage in its most exploitative form.
How can we address this crisis?
The National Development Plan's chapter on "Transforming Human Settlement and the National Space Economy" provides an excellent diagnosis of the problem, but is uncharacteristically vague about solutions.
The NDP concludes that only 15% of all South Africans are able to address their housing needs independently of state support. This is a shocking statistic, an indication of market failure, and entirely unsustainable by the state.
The NDP concludes that it "may also have undermined the incentive for people to upgrade their own housing circumstances" while fostering "increased dependency on the state for the supply of private goods". The more the state delivers completed individual units, the bigger the backlog grows, and the greater the scope for political corruption and community conflict becomes.
The NDP proposes "a revised approach to human settlements in which the state properly fulfils its obligations of providing high quality public infrastructure and environments while also supporting and facilitating low income households in acquiring adequate shelter".
This requires new partnership models, involving all sectors of society, including individual families, incentivised by state subsidies, to bring together the elements required -- land, planning, services, finance, materials, labour -- to provide a variety of housing options. These models would range from the upgrading of existing shacks to affordable bonded units, and serving different sectors of the "housing market" within the affordability constraints of the state and individual families.
We invite Minister Sisulu to work with us towards achieving this new model with the urgency that the NDP says is needed. We are ready and willing to work together. But this will require co-operation and mutual support envisaged in our Constitution, not yet another inquiry that risks becoming a variant of power abuse for party political gain.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the online newsletter of the DA leader.
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