Tuesday, April 25, 2006

police state tactics against squatters

A politician in the South African Province of KwaZulu Natal is proposing a new law that has apartheid-era resonance: the "Prevention of the Re-emergence of Slums Act." It would make it a crime for squatters to seize unused land--and, undoubtedly, would require a new police force to patrol the areas where squatters might invade.

Such an act is based on a fundamental misconception of why shantytowns form. People don't live in crude shacks because they want to. They don't come to the city thinking, "Here's the future I'm looking forward to: I'll go to Durban and live in a mud or tin hut without water and electricity. That sounds great." They come to the city hoping desperately to find a job. And they move into shantytowns because there are no other options. No one builds housing they can afford.

Of course, some of the rhetoric about the proposal attempts to make it sound well-intentioned: The Act "would recognise the existing slums for upgrading and outlaw the erection of new slums," said Local Government, Traditional Affairs and Housing MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu. "We will never win the war on the eradication of slums if we do not vigorously maximise our housing options and prevent the erection of new slums....The envisaged act seeks to achieve this. We are convinced that without such an intervention our slum clearance programme will be an exercise in futility."

The bottom line, however, is this: criminalizing the erection of new squatter communities is a police-state ordinance not a housing policy.

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