Wednesday, November 22, 2006

evicted at gunpoint

Durban, SA: Residents of a small squatter community called Juba Place were pushed from their homes at gunpoint today. They were forced to relocate into shabby new homes across town, which another community also coveted. So now they have to be protected at gunpoint so their new neighbors don't evict them. Read the sordid details at

Where water is a crime

People in the developed world might be amazed to hear this, but many of the leaders of Maclovio Rojas, a squatter community in Tijuana, Mexico, spent years in jail for the crime of stealing water.

These are people who have been living without this basic resource for 18 years. Their local, state, and national governments have done little to help them. They are treated as criminals for demanding access to something that is fundamental for human survival.

Maclovio Rojas is set on the scrubby hills on the eastern edge of Tijuana. Here, the dusty dirt streets are rutted and the homes sit precariously on the denuded turf. And yet people here have pooled their money and established their own schools. They have built an active community center and a neighborhood bank. They are striving desperately to improve their community.

Yet they are still considered illegal, still considered radical, still considered criminal.

When will Mexico and Tijuana recognize that these are citizens who should be offered cooperation and understanding and not charged with crimes for simply trying to make their lives and the life of their city better?

Sadly, Maclovio Rojas is not only fighting with the governments for recognition, but is also battling a nearby colonia, which has claimed the same land as its own holding. When squatters battle each other, the battle for legitimacy is weakened.

(praise be to Carlos--aka philipk--for his expertise on Tijuana and for introducing me to Maclovio Rojas)

Betrayal and the colour of the heart

An article by Philani Zungu, Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a squatter organization in Durban, South Africa:

I hope that one day it will be realised by our government officials how much betrayal they have served to the floors on which they stand and where they belong. It is very sad that our politicians forget that their power started with people like us, people like the red shirts. Their silk suits come from older struggles, from other people struggling then like we do know in the yellow shirts of the UDF and the unions. When they were coming into power they told us that the only colour that mattered was the colour of the skin. But the black men in silk suits do not work for us. They work for the rich – black and white. They say that they are working to give us service delivery. They are really working to deliver us to the rich – to smash our informal shacks and either leave us homeless or dump us in formal jondolos in the bush. It is the colour of the heart that matters. In our struggle we have learnt that people of different skin colours have red hearts. It is the colour of the heart that matters.

Freedom is the equalisation of all people. All people need the same respect and all people need what is necessary for a proper life – some land, a house, water, electricity, access to good education and doctors, police and courts that work for the people, the chance for proper work and support for the young, the old and the sick. It is very sad that the people we trusted the most, the people we gave a mandate to secure our freedom, seem not to understand what is freedom. They understood quite well in the struggle but now they no longer understand. It is quite that the struggle is not over. We cannot just wait for service delivery. We are in a second phase of struggle. Older struggles put our people in the silk suits. Now our struggle, the second phase of struggle, has to force the men in silk suits to work for the poor and not the rich.

In the first struggle, when there was no freedom at all, people did not accept to be silent victims. People did not compromise. They were brave enough to put their lives at risk. Many people had so much faith that they gave up their lives to invest them in the new generation that would live in a free country. Now that we have some freedoms in law but no full freedom in reality, now that there is no better life for all, now that the government leaves shack dwellers to burn in the fires, beats us when we march and smashes up our homes and either leaves us homeless or dumps in formal jondolos in the bush why should we be silent? Why does the Municipality of Ethekwini expect Abahlali baseMjondolo to remain silent? Why are we expected to have unlimited patience while we are being attacked because ‘service delivery is coming’? Why are Abahlali baseMjondolo victimised when we claim back our humanity and the rights that we are promised with our citizenship? Why are we not allowed to work with academics at the university? Why are academics at the university not allowed to work with the poor? The answer is clear. This democracy is not for us. We must stay silent so that this truth can be kept hidden. This democracy is for the rich who will build and then enjoy themselves at uShaka, King Senzagakhona Stadium and King Shaka Airport. We will only go to these places to protect and clean up for the rich.

Today Fazel Khan, a sociologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), is facing charges for speaking to the media. But it is very clear to Abahlali baseMjondolo that the intention behind these charges is to get rid of Fazel from the university. He must go because he has broken the rules. With other academics, academics who are already gone from the University, he has spoken to the poor instead of for the poor. He has worked with the poor instead of with the rich in the name of the poor. Abahlali already know what the outcome of Fazel’s case will be. His dismissal is the main objective of the university bosses right now.

For a long time we have heard rumours from various people that eThekwini City Manager, Mike Sutcliffe, has been boasting that he has instructed the university to get rid of Fazel Khan and Richard Pithouse. Last year the Mercury reported that the University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Makgoba, had told Fazel that Mayor Obed Mlaba had instructed him to ‘act against academics working with Abahlali.’ It seems that this is now being accomplished with the charges against Fazel.

The people in power are fighting against the poor instead of serving the poor. Because the poor still exist in unfreedom it is clear that people in power are fighting against freedom.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

two-faced in San Diego

So as I arrived in San Diego to make a presentation on squatters at San Diego State University, these two news stories suddenly seemed terrifically relevant:

1. Residents in San Diego's ritzy McGonigle Canyon area are mobilizing to push out a squatter encampment established by Mexican day laborers in the wilds of the canyon. They offer no plan to work with the laborers to find better housing solutions.

2. The City Council of nearby Escondido has passed an ordinance to make it a crime for illegal aliens to rent apartments in that city.

It's a classic catch 22: one city pushes out squatters, telling them to get apartments, while an adjacent city makes it illegal for those same people to rent apartments.

Cape Town prepares for official violence against squatters

Here's a disturbing story: the Red Ants--a private security force known for assaulting squatters and destroying their homes--are being brought to Cape Town to assist in squatter relocation, the Cape Argus reports.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

gecekondu resistence

Ankara squatters are starting to demonstrate for their rights. These pictures are from An article, in Turkish, can be found at
Thanks to Erc├╝ment Celik for the link.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Killings in Mathare

Thousands of refugees are fleeing the Mathare shantytown in Nairobi after four days of fighting between two rival gangs. The battle between the Mungiki and the Taliban has claimed eight lives so far. The Daily Nation, via has details.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Squatter Book Stalls Evicted

Hyderabad's oldest book market -- which had been in the same place for better than 30 years -- was destroyed by court order yesterday, The Hindustan Times reports. "Shop owners could be seen crying when municipal employees forcibly dumped books in vehicles and bulldozed the structures," the paper reported. Those who tried to resist were arrested.

'The spirit of Murambatsvina should not die'

That's a quote from Zimbabwe's Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, who announced that a new drive against squatters, shack dwellers, and illegal structures of all sorts will begin -- perhaps as soon as next week. South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online has the story.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

ANC uses tear gas in Durban evictions

A low level war is brewing in Durban, as the muncipal government has moved on squatters in the Motala Heights neighborhood, the Independent Online reports. Squatters assert that beyond knocking down 15 homes, the authorities used tear gas and actually shot at squatters during a recent demolition drive. The squatter community at Motala Heights has existed for better than 30 years -- and the authorities had no court authorization for the eviction action.