Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Zimbabwe Demolitions Visible From Outer Space

No lie. Check out the photos. The first shows Porta Farm, a squatter community outside Harare formed by government fiat when Zimbabwe evicted people 15 years ago before a Commonwealth summit. The second is the same community after Operation Murambatsvina, the demolition drive initiated by the government last year.

See the photos, enlarged.

Read the Amnesty International press release.

Red Ants evict squatters

Police shoot squatters. Twelve people injured. Shades of apartheid. But it's the new South Africa. And it's outrageous. The Star has the details.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the number of squatters has incresed from 275,000 to 3.4 million over the past 30 years. Their communities occupy only 5.1 percent of the city's total land but are home to 37.4 percent of the city's population. And, while the total population density in the city is 121 people per acre, you have to multiply that by 7 in the shantytowns, which boast 891 persons per acre.

Amazingly (and contrary to the myth that there's an absolutely bleak future for squatters) more than half of these people have been able to knock down their mud and cardboard dwellings and rebuild them from brick.

You can read more on a recent census of the Dhaka's shanties (funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development!!!) in The Daily Star.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

exactly who are the rats here?

This article on rat infestation appeared in South Africa's Daily News on May 17th. It's one of the last lines that's scary, spoken by Vernon Mchunu, spokesman for the Durban City Council: "We continue to clear slums so that rats will not have dirty places to breed."

Thanks to Richard for sending me the article. I'll let him provide the context: "This discourse is precisely, and I do mean precisely, the same as that used under apartheid and colonialism to justify previous state attacks" on the exact same squatter area.

Is there no difference between the African National Congress and Apartheid? It's a thought that may seem horrifying, but when it comes to squatters, the rhetoric and reality are largely the same.
Rats Infest Cato Manor

By Bongani Mthembu

A recent study conducted by the eThekwini municipality's communicable
diseases unit has revealed that rats in Durban's Cato Manor settlement
have two potentially fatal diseases which are easily transmitted to

The findings of the Natural Sciences Museum's research are not being
taken lightly. According to the head of the communicable diseases unit,
Dr Ayo Olowolagba, plague, leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were the
three diseases that were usually found in rats.

He said, however, that only leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were
detected during the research. Olowolagba said it was extremely difficult to
diagnose the three diseases as their symptoms were similar to those of
the flu and needed to be tested in a special laboratory in order to be

The findings of the study have prompted council to distribute rat traps
to residents in areas identified as being prone to rat infestation
before the problem spreads to other parts of Durban.

"We are very concerned about the problem because many rats that we
caught had the diseases. The good news is that people who were found with
the diseases have never been sick. We believe those who came into
contact with the rats had immune systems that were strong enough to quell any
infections," said Olowolagba.

Council spokesman Vernon Mchunu said the extent of the health problem
caused by the rats had raised serious challenges for the municipality
which wants to curb the problem before it escalates.

"Council officials' visits to the area have resulted in the development
of the Cato Manor beautification campaign which is comprised of various
elements such as sensitising residents about the need to keep the
community clean," he said.

Mchunu added that council also wanted to ensure that wild cats which
fed on rats were prevented from coming into contact with humans.

"One of the identified causes for the prevalence and increase in the
number of rats in the area is the amount of litter and rubbish dumps. We
want to make sure the whole area is cleaned and that we continue to
clear slums so that rats will not have dirty places to breed," he said.

Mchunu said an educational door-to-door campaign dealing with
environmental health, waste disposal, sanitation, rats and remedies to deal with
related problems would be launched soon. Mchunu said 20 people had been
recruited from the area to assist in the campaign.

Published on the web by Daily News on May 17, 2006

land for the poor

Evo Morales starts land redistribution with government owned parcels. Reuters via the Tehran Times.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

journalist shot gangland style

A reporter who helped squatters in his neighborhood buy the land on which they lived was gunned down in the Philippine capital yesterday. The Philippines Daily Inquirer has the story. Albert Orsolino covered MalacaƱang (the presidential palace) for the tabloid Saksi. He is the 78th Filipino reporter assassinated since the restoration of democracy 20 years ago, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Other reports suggest the media death count may be as high as 101.

Hip Hop against violence

MV Bill, an authentic purveyor of hardcore Brazilian funk, from Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro, has made a documentary and released a book about the the lives of young drug runners he knew in his community. Here's the lead, from a Bloomberg News dispatch:
In 1998, Alex Pereira Barboza began filming the lives of 17 ``falcons,'' teenage boys who work as lookouts for drug dealers in Brazil's shantytowns. By the time the documentary opened in March, 16 of them were dead -- killed in gang warfare or by police. The 17th was in jail. "I thank God that he was put in jail, because that's probably why he is still alive," Barboza, a 31-year-old rap musician who goes by the name MV Bill, said in an interview in Sao Paulo.

more murambatsvina

Targeting the poor in Zimbabwe. The Independent reports.

See also this Reuters report on people who are still homeless after the government-sponsored demolition drive that uprooted 700,000 from Zimbabwe's cities last year. Sadly, the article shows that the political opposition is feckless. Consider this comment: "We are not against the clean-up exercise per se, but what we are saying is that the government should have built new houses first, before demolishing the old ones. The whole thing was done in reverse," said Innocent Gonese, an opposition legislator who sits on a parliamentary committee on housing.

Well, yes. But even building new housing must be done in concert with squatters, who have often lived in their illegal homes for decades.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Irving Berlin in Delhi

There's an old Irving Berlin song about slum tourism (It's from the 1937 musical On The Avenue). It could be reprehensible, but the punchline is: "Let's go slumming, nose thumbing, on Park Avenue." The song turns the phenomenon on its head and suggests that average folk go prowling around the richest neighborhood of New York the same way the rich look at the poor--like animals in a social zoo ("Let's go smelling where they're dwelling, sniffing ev'rything the way they do.....Come let's eye them, pass right by them, looking down our noses as they do.") But the rich still persist in peeping at the poor. This Observer article (thanks Edesio for the link) covers the bizarre phenomenon in Delhi, with snippets about slum tourism to the Bronx to Rio and Rotterdam.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

when in doubt, blame the squatters

Yeah, right: the lawyer for a landlord of a warehouse complex in Brooklyn implies that squatters might have caused the city's biggest fire in a decade, Newsday reports. The fire, just a few blocks from my home, essentially destroyed the seven-building complex, which was rezoned a few months back to allow fancy residential towers.

Meanwhile, the Mayor says the spread and pattern of the fire suggests that an accelerant might have been used.

What's a little arson among friends?


Good advice from squatters in Malaysia: stay united. Squatters from four Kuala Lumpur communities--many of whom have lived there for a generation--have heard that the city wants to force them out to make way for a highway. Their only option: unite to fight for their rights. Looks like they had an excellent turnout at their recent meeting.

horribly unhealthy

Reuters reports on the impact of the drought in East Africa on sewage run-off in Kibera.

Monday, May 01, 2006

removal or renewal

KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa is hot to punish squatters. This dispatch from the Sunday Tribune of 30 April (subscription only, thanks to Richard for emailing the text) asserts that the local housing minister is seeking to create a special security force to demolish illegal constructions. Similar units--known as 'red ants' because of the red coveralls they wear--are much maligned and feared in other provinces of South Africa. It seems like the new South Africa is embarking on a war on the poor.

KZN push for an end to slums
April 22, 2006

By Xolani Mbanjwa

The KwaZulu-Natal government is pushing for legislation that will give
local authorities the power to eradicate the proliferation of slums.

MEC for Housing and Local Government Mike Mabuyakhulu this week tabled
the Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act which, if passed, will be
the first of its kind in the country. Its aim is to eradicate shack
settlements by 2010, ahead of the 2020 target set under the Millennium
Development Goals.

Mabuyakhulu said he wanted the law to be passed before the end of the
current financial year. He wants municipalities to employ special units
similar to the so-called Red Ants - the shack settlement-clearing
security guards in Gauteng which are used to demolish illegal settlements.

The MEC said it had become clear over the past 12 years that housing
needs were evolving, bringing new challenges.

His visit to the Housing Conference in Kenya, involving all housing
ministers in Africa, prompted the department to "vigorously maximise
housing options if slums and informal settlements are to be eradicated".

"Our diplomatic approach is not working. We are now taking a stronger
approach," he said.

More than R500 million had been budgeted for slums clearance programmes
in 2005 and this year and a portion of the money had been used to clear
illegal shacks in areas such as Clare Estate in Durban.

"There is a huge need for housing in KwaZulu-Natal, and in Durban, in
particular, which has the biggest number of slums.

Trends all over the world show that the biggest cities attract slums.
The problem with housing is that when we relocate people to low-cost
houses, almost immediately new slums are erected elsewhere," said

Development experts, however, have reacted to the proposed legislation
with apprehension.

Dr Richard Ballard, researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
School of Development Studies, said, "Similar proposals have been kicked
around, but it is the first time that attempts have been made at enacting
such a law.

"It worries me, because with this legislation you're not addressing the
actual housing problem, but addressing it at the wrong end." Ballard
said people wanted to access economic opportunities closer to the city
because of jobs.

"I am not likening the ANC government to the apartheid government, but
this is what the apartheid government used to do to deal with similar

Why are we going back to those methods? It would seem that
policy-makers are more worried about the image of the city than the poor. It seems
as if they are punishing the victims of the system that brought them
there in the first place."

In his budget speech last year, Mabuyakhulu said an audit undertaken by
his department had identified about 250 000 slums and informal
settlements, about 80 000 of which were found in the greater Durban area.

Last year the department was able to complete about 40 000 low-cost
houses in the province and now aimed to build 250 000 by 2010, with 49 000
units under construction.

Since 1996 the KwaZulu-Natal government has built more than 500 000

Appealing for parliamentarians to support the proposed legislation,
Mabuyakhulu said, "It is my honour to announce that the department has
conducted an audit and compiled a schedule of existing slums.

This schedule has guided the department in its drive to eradicate slums
and existing informal settlements with a balanced focus on urban and
rural slums . . . We are convinced that without such an intervention, our
slum clearance programme will be an exercise of futility."

Mabuyakhulu also announced an increase in the housing subsidy this year
from R31 929 to R36 538.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesman for Mabuyakhulu, said the new Act would be
piloted and "it is likely to have an impact on other existing legislation.
People will no longer erect shacks and claim ownership of property
within 24 hours. It will put an end to 'Shark Farming'."