Thursday, June 21, 2007

the false words of a world class city

The KwaZulu-Natal Elimination & Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Bill is full of great-sounding rhetoric. But the reality of the proposed legislation is extremely dangerous. Abahlali baseMjondolo, a truly democratic and courageous squatter organization in Durban, points out that the proposal will make it easier for the local governments in the state to demolish shack communities.

Despite a series of noble clauses reaffirming the state's belief that "everyone has a constitutional right to have access to affordable housing," here's part of what the bill really says: "A municipality may ... institute proceedings for the eviction of an unlawful occupier from land or buildings falling within its area of jurisdiction if such eviction is in the public interest." And it has another surprise for long-term squatters who might feel that the new law might not impact them: land owners will now have a legal obligation to eject all squatters. What's more, the bill criminalizes resistance. Any squatter who "interferes with the reasonable measures" the state or city or private landlord has taken under the bill (think cutting a hole in a fence or reoccupying a vacant plot or simply holding a rally on the site), can be charged in court. If convicted, each squatter could face five years in jail and a 20,000 rand ($2,800) fine.

In other words, this bill does the exact opposite of what it says: it establishes a right to evict, not a right to housing.

"We do not need this Bill," Abahlali says. "The first thing that we need is for government (local, provincial and national) to begin to follow the existing laws and polices that protect against evictions, forced relocations and which recommend in situ upgrades instead of relocations. After that we need laws that break the power that the very rich have over land in the cities and we need laws to compel municipalities to provide services to shack settlements while people wait for houses to be built. This Bill is not for shack dwellers. It is to protect the rich, by protecting their property prices."

The group ends its communique with an eloquent message for all municipalities that aspire to remake themselves as 'world class' cities.

"A World Class city is not a city where the poor are pushed out of the city. A World Class city is a city where the poor are treated with dignity and respect and money is spent on real needs like houses and toilets and clean water and electricity and schools and libraries rather than fancy things for the rich like stadiums and casinos that our cities can just not afford."

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