Tuesday, August 19, 2008

blame the victims

The Johannesburg Government now blames squatters for the fires that periodically devastate their communities. Here's what a spokesman for Johannesburg Emergency Management Services told the Star newspaper about a fire this past weekend that destroyed 1,000 homes in the Denver hostel squatter camp in southern Johannesburg: "In illegal informal settlements there are a lot of social factors that come into play. High on the list is drunkenness... where a person drinks and forgets to put out the candle... or they might leave a pot cooking on a stove and go and buy beer again."

Anyone who has spent time in squatter communities or other informal settlements knows that drunkenness is no more prevalent there than in society as a whole. The greater issue, which the Durban-based squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo has articulated many times, is South Africa's continuing effort to prevent squatters from gaining access to electricity: "As usual the poor must be blamed rather than the system that denies people decent housing and fails to, even as a minimal measure, electrify the shack settlements."