Monday, December 31, 2007

Nairobi Shantytowns Erupt

If Kenya's incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, did not rig the election, asks challenger Raila Odinga, "why does he seclude himself in State House at dusk to be sworn in without the media, diplomats, observers and other Heads of States." For those who don't know the details, Odinga was leading in the polls in the lead up to the election, and was ahead by 1 million in the count just one day before the official results were announced. Once the election commission announced th results, the incumbent president was sworn in for a second term in a secretive 15-minute action and the government immediately imposed controls on the press.

The danger for Kenya is that the contested results, which outside observers said were tainted by fraud, exacerbate existing tribal tension. Kibaki is a Kikuyu, the dominant Kenyan tribe. Odinga is from the nation's second-largest tribe, the Luo. Kibera, the shantytown where I lived when I was doing the reporting for Shadow Cities, is in Odinga's parliamentary district and reports are that violence has broken out between Kikuyus and Luos in the community. Other shantytowns around Nairobi report riots and anger. The two photos, from The New York Times, show the extent of devastation in Mathare, Nairobi's second-largest shantytown.

You can view a disturbing video from the British newspaper The Guardian here.

The Nation, the country's largest newspaper, has details of Odinga's plans to contest the results.

later in the day update: The New York Times offers a New Years Eve view of the situation on the streets.

As the Times points out, "Mr. Kibaki now faces trouble not just on the streets, but in the Kenyan Parliament as well. More than half of his cabinet was voted out of office in a wave of seeming dissatisfaction with his government, and his party won about 35 seats in Parliament, while the opposition took nearly 100 seats."

This brings up an interesting issue: if we are to believe the results certified by the Election Commission, we have to believe that an overwhelming number of people split their ballots. If 100 opposition politicians were elected to Parliament and half of Kibaki's cabinet lost their parliamentary posts, is it truly credible that so many people voted against Kibaki's party's nominees for Parliament but for the incumbent president?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Losing faith

Johannesburg squatters take little interest in the current fight between Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki for leadership of the African National Congress. "The ANC has done nothing for us," one squatter tellsReuters.

The article notes that people expected investment and empowerment after the ANC took control of the government, but 13 years later, there's not much to show for majority rule. "We can't even get a toilet, unless we can afford to bribe the authorities," another squatter said.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The dark side of micro-credit?

Are small-scale loans from Grameen Bank and other micro-credit institutions being used to fund dowry payments? That's the provocative assertion in this essay from openDemocracy: "While micro-credit has benefited large sections of the rural population in many ways, it has also worked against women's solidarity and contributed heavily to the inflation of dowry. Grooms' families are aware that money is available to brides' families more easily now, through Grameen Bank, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) or other NGOs."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

what's the world record for evictions?

Maybe China takes the gold, for evicting 1.5 million people to make way for next summer's Olympics in Beijing, according to the Committee on Housing Rights and Evictions. The AP has the details. COHRE gives Beijing, Slovakia and State Peace and Development Council of Burma its annual Housing Rights Violator Awards. Read COHRE's citations here.

Digital Cities

Subtopia, Bryan Finoki's revelatory blog on military urbanism, features a thoughtful post on one artist's digitally manipulated photos from the favelas, or what Bryan calls Squatter Imaginaries. Join the discussion about the role of art in revealing/questioning/documenting social fractures.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The squatter millionaires

It ought to be great news. On Thanksgiving Day (for those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with U.S. rituals, that occurred on Nov. 22nd this year), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that they were giving $10 million to Shack/Slum Dwellers International, a major squatter organizing group in Mumbai, India.

But consider that SDI sometimes doesn't advance the interests of all squatters. In Durban, South Africa, the squatter group Abahlali baseMjondolo was threatened that it would be harassed by the government if it did not join SDI. Here's a note from a recent Abahlali press statement.

We were then told that if we wanted to be
able to meet with the government regularly and to be able to get
houses we must join SDI. The instruction was clear: stay on our own
and keep thinking and speaking for ourselves and be arrested, or join
SDI and be obedient and be rewarded. We refused to join SDI. We
announced this on the radio. Within days the arrests and beatings
started and they have not stopped since even though we are currently
suing the Minister of Safety & Security and even though we have
marched on the Sydenham Police. The money for SDI is not money for us.

Abahlali asserts that SDI has created a coalition with the South African government while the government continues evicting many shack communities. Thus SDI is implicitly condoning those evictions. This is a serious charge.

So I say: Congratulations to the Gates Foundation for, as program officer Melanie Walker told writer Neal Peirce, triumphing over the "scary" prospect of giving $10 million to "people without a bank account." This is a welcome step and will no doubt help the organization draw attention to housing issues and inequities around the globe.

But the Gates Foundation should remember that there are hundreds of millions of squatters around the world who are not represented by SDI (indeed, the majority of the billion shanty dwellers on the planet aren't represented by the group.) They deserve recognition, too, and they certainly shouldn't get the shaft simply because they haven't joined SDI.

addendum, one day later:
And SDI should note that with money and success comes responsibility to be inclusive. SDI tends to only work with groups that embrace it's own 'savings-plan' version of organizing. But there are many communities that don't see saving money as the best organizing tool, particularly if they are facing immanent eviction. SDI now has an opportunity to broaden its vision and its reach.

Where are Durban's street children?

Rounded up, yanked off the streets, and jailed by local authorities, because FIFA, the world soccer federation, met yesterday in the city, The Daily News asserts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Three Cheers for Infrastructure

Mega Cities expert Janice Perlman makes a profound statement:

"The international funding agencies of investment institutions need to give more to urban development and less to rural development," said Perlman. "I’ve argued that the people who come to the city [and live in squatter developments] are the cream of the crop with the highest ambitions and aspirations. If given the chance, they would build middle-class communities. You can’t blame people for polluting the watershed if you don’t provide them with water infrastructure."

Perlman advocates integrating squatter developments into the surrounding neighborhoods. Rather than demolishing these self-made communities, she recommends connecting them to the city’s infrastructure by incorporating paved streets, steps, plazas and new facades as well as offering services such as clean water, sewage connections and electricity. If visually they’re more like the surrounding neighborhoods, these needy areas will be more likely to interact with the middle class nearby, she said.

Bone Hill

The Homeless Workers Movement is the urban branch of the Landless Workers Movement, the Brazilian group that has been seizing rural parcels from wealthy land barons and building new towns in rural Brazil. In Sao Paulo it has established several new communities, Le Monde Diplomatique reports. Oddly, the group has been recruiting its land invaders among people who live in some of the city's many other favelas. Still, the ideology sounds impressive:

Helena Silvestre, an MTST leader, described squats as a school for participatory democracy and a training ground for future community leaders: “We want to use a specific issue, housing, as the starting-point to help lay the foundations of real popular power.”

The Sao Paulo community chose to call itself Bone Hill because, Silvestre said, "the homeless are a bone that sticks in the authorities’ throat."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

let there be light!

I'm not usually a techno worshipping type, but here's a handy device that could transform people's abilities to get light without wasteful diesel generators or kerosene lanterns. It's called the GaiaLux Ecolight and has been entered in NASA's Create the Future design contest. Basically, it reuses discarded mobile phone chargers to get electricity to rechargeable batteries that in turn power a highly efficient LED bulb. It can be recharged on variable or low current and the batteries will run the light for 40 hours. It's a nifty idea that could reuse some of the 125 million phone chargers that are discarded every year as well as potentially providing affordable (and bright) lighting in places that need it.

A few follow-up questions for inventor John Barrie:

1. How much does the GaiaLux cost? Does the price make it within the reach of people with alarmingly low incomes? Are the materials and supplies that are necessary manufactured in the countries that might find uses for the light, or will they have to be imported?

2. How heavy is the light (because people who don't have their own electricity would likely need to carry it somewhere to recharge the batteries)?

3. Is it feasible to recharge the batteries through solar power?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Plague of Fires Takes Another Life

"The terror of shack fires is everywhere and it will stay everywhere for as long as we are forced to live 13 people in one shack with candles and a paraffin stove because it has been decided that electricity is not for us and that we are not allowed to expand our shacks or to build new ones as our families grow."

Eloquent words from Abahlali baseMjondolo.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

gentrifying Dharavi

The plan to demolish and resurrect Dharavi as a fully developed upper class zone is moving forward. But some recent newspaper articles put forth some interesting stories.

1. livemint reports that the Maharastra government's take from redeveloping Dharavi could be 500 percent higher than anticipated (as much as $2.5 billion), due to steeply rising land values. A hut in Dharavi today commands between Rs4,500 and Rs5,000 (approx. $125) a sq. ft while industrial and commercial sheds rent for up to Rs10,000-12,000 (close to $300) per sq. ft. This means a simple shanty, 10 feet wide and ten feet deep would cost $12,500 -- a fortune for the average squatter.

2. Meanwhile, Express India reports that the government still doesn't know how many people will be uprooted or will qualify for new housing under the Dharavi plan.

3. Twenty-five teenage girls in Dharavi have made short films about life in the community. Read a brief article about their efforts in Zee news.

goats patrol the social scrap heap

One San Francisco neighborhood is using goats to deter squatters: read about it here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Roof Rights

Cairo's squatters have taken to the rooftops, as this dispatch from Reuters details. Rents down below can be 10 times as much as the price of roof space.

(thanks to Ted C. for the link)

Monday, October 01, 2007

'no power, no position, no fame, nothing'

An eloquent message from S'bu Zikode, of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement in South Africa:

Silencing the Right to speak, is Taking away Citizenship

Sunday 30 September 2007

Not only as a leader of the Movement of Abahlali, but also as an ordinary South African Citizen, as a parent, as a father and mostly a human being I am extremely hurt. My heart is torn apart when in my own country, in a broad daylight like on Friday the 28 September 2007 it is made so clear that the poor are not Citizens. When they try to sweep up us out of the cities it is clear that we are not citizens. When they beat us to stop us speaking it is clear that we are not citizens.

It is of a great concern that thousands of Abahlali baseMjondolo members have marched peacefully to the eThekwini municipal mayor Obed Mlaba and have been received with such violence. We marched to demand no power, no position no fame, nothing from his family. We only marched for the Right to life of the shack dwellers, the farm dwellers and thousands of forgotten citizens of this country in the name of democracy, in the name of a better life for all.

What a life without shame, without conscience, without respect for vulnerable groups in our society the elderly women and children. The presence of church leaders amongst the poor has had a far-reaching reason to those in need of a church. The biggest curse is that while praying, the innocents were started to be flooded with heavy forces of water, the strong church leaders stood very firm to shield the innocents. The heavy armed members of the SAPS started assaulting the church leaders, throwing teargas, beating helpless women, shooting old women and men at the back while running to their homes.

This event took place at about 12:15pm when the innocent marchers were still waiting for the mayor to receive the memorandum of demands as arranged with him. The march had complied with the Gathering Act of SA. Without any provocation or unruliness the police decided to act on the instructions of the Mayor of non compliance with the South African Law, because he thinks being at that position means being the law unto himself.

The incident took place in my presence. I had offered myself to represent the helpless so that they may see many more, so that they may not be alone while taking their pain for as long as they still believe that we all have all the Right to life. I think this is a difficult leadership style one needs to adopt to save so many lives. Thus I think it is enough that many of us are born and die in shack fires in jondolos, that we die through various diseases associated with unhygienic conditions from the poisonous air we breath in the jondolos, that we live and die with TB and HIV/AIDS as the research confirms that the shack settlements have the highest infection of the virus. People die because of crime, floods and storms; they die while trying to find toilets in the night. We are seeing no future to our children except to the children of those in authority like Mayor Mlaba. Some of us die while trying to speak truth to power, as we get shot while marching.

After a long shooting I had received a call from the Municipality saying that a representative is on his way to receive the memorandum. But already fourteen members were arrested, four were heavily shot and two were badly wounded. This was quite disturbing. Who was going to hand over the memorandum as the police under the command Sydenham Glen Nayager had already chased everyone? In the next ten minutes I received a call saying that I must bring the Memorandum in Baig's office as the official was very scared to come out. Then I said he must come out as most comrades have fled, wounded and harmless, and most police were gone still chasing people away down the roads. I had remained with a small group of less than one hundred with elderly people and pregnant women you couldn't flee.

Then we had no other choice but to face the remaining police and I read the memorandum loudly to Mr. Mzi Magubane who described himself as a senior Manager from the Dept. of Housing in eThekwini municipality. Magubane has been described by System Cele as another old liar. She said that when she was still a child 'this man used to deceive my father when he was still alive working in the Kennedy Road Committee, today he has come to bluff me.' So Bahlali your message was sent with another dishonest man with a history of lies.

Today we have to take care of our comrades who for no reasons were imprisoned; today we have to look for money to pay bail and lawyers to represent them in court for nothing. Today like other days we have to run around doctors and hospitals to try and support the shot and hurt comrades. Today like any other day we have stood together and planned an alternative, as we shall not allow any forces to force us silent. So as long as Amandla belongs to us we shall not fear. As long as democracy is used to further the political scores of the minority and as long as there is great inequality in our society Abahlali will stand together for the dawn of true democracy where everyone matters.

As challenges increase every day for the Movement one is for us to seek for justice to take its course. I will soon be writing to the Amnesty International for a wide range of legal support on this dirty behavior of SAPS. But all of this will not compromise any demands. We will make a follow up and engage the city in a progressive manner that seeks to see a remarkable social change for all. Our city and our country still need true leaders that do not run away from their responsibility like Mlaba. We need leaders that will act, as servants of the public not expect to be masters over the public like eThekwini mayor Obed Mlaba.

S'bu Zikode

Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

as if Dharavi hasn't changed in seven years

The Indian government has woken up to realize that many people have moved to Dharavi since 1995. Now, everyone living there prior to January 1, 2000, will be entitled to be rehoused by the developers seeking to remake the community as a high-price enclave. The Economic Times has the details.

But what about the people who moved in during the past seven-plus years?

I'm not a fan of the Dharavi redevelopment, which will uproot families (most will be banished to tiny and crude apartments in areas far further from the center of town and the places where they work), disrupt thousands of businesses, and generally privatize something that the people who live there should have control of. But still, if they're going to offer to rehouse people, shouldn't the developers rehouse everyone who lives there, no matter when they moved in.

Otherwise, the Dharavi plan simply amounts to a high-tech eviction.

Friday, September 21, 2007

'This is not democracy. This is not justice'

"I can't look after them while they are busy making children," developer Ricky Govender says of the South African squatters who are desperately trying to find a solution that will not render them homeless after decades of living on a ragged scrap of land called Motala Heights in Pinetown, just outside Durban.

"Ever since we became more aware of our rights and started fighting for them we have been living with this sense of threat from the landlord," responds resident Shamita Naidoo, who lives on a property adjacent to Govender. "He has sent me a letter saying I am prohibited from entering his land -- where my mother lives, in the house my parents built and where I was born. I will be arrested otherwise."

The city is cooperating with Govender and is attempting to force the squatters off their land with a vague promise of a new home 15 kilometers out of town.

The Mail & Guardian has the awful details.

The squatters have scheduled a march for civil & housing rights for Friday, 28 September 2007. "We are treated as if we do not belong in this country," the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo said in press release. "We are treated as if the law is not for us, as if the land is not for us, as if the city is not for us, as if the electricity is not for us, as if the schools are not for us. This is not democracy. This is not justice. The City gives us no choice but to march."

Monday, September 17, 2007

who's failing to cooperate with whom?

Some South African squatters now face being penalized for refusing to "cooperate with government" if they protest their impending eviction, Martin Legassick writes in this article from The Cape Argus that has been posted to the Abahlali baseMjondolo website.

The squatters blocked the N2 freeway to protest the fact that they were being evicted to make way for N2 Gateway, a pet project of SA Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. They also offered their own plan that would provide new housing without any forced evictions.

"Sisulu does not like the term 'forced removal,'" Legassick writes. "But what substantive difference is there in her present search for means of 'compulsion', from the apartheid government of the 1970s wanting to forcibly evict Crossroads residents out of Cape Town altogether?"

Good question.

Seems to me it's Sisulu and the government that is failing to cooperate with the squatters.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

the new new orleans

I missed these pieces when they first came out.

an AP writer's editorial on New Orleans


and AP dispatch on squatting in New Orleans

What these emotionally wrenching articles show is the incredibly injustice of allowing New Orleans to rot.

I had the idea, right after Hurricane Katrina smashed through the city, that people should return to squat the land. I wanted activists to organize tent cities in the lower 9th and throughout the most devastated areas. The idea was tactical, not practical--the concept being to show the politicos and the rest of America that the people of New Orleans were refusing to relinquish their city. I thought that the idea of a shantytown right in the good old US of A would shame the country into action.

"No one knows exactly how many people have taken refuge in abandoned buildings, but unprecedented increases in trespassing arrests and vacant-building fires suggest there could be thousands" says the AP article.

The whole city is a shantytown. And does anyone out there care?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

ragpicking or recycling

How's this for an interesting fact: "More than 95 percent of New Delhi has no formal system of house-to-house garbage collection, so it falls to the city's ragpickers, one of India's poorest and most marginalized groups, to provide this basic service for fellow citizens."

That the situation in India's capital city, according to dispatch from the International Herald Tribune.

The city is planning to celebrate Gandhi's birthday on October 2nd by giving 6,000 ragpickers gloves, aprons and boots. The ragpickers, understandably, say they'd prefer wages, social security, pensions, health care, uniforms they hope will discourage police harassment, education for their children, and decent housing.

Given that most of the city has no sanitation services, the people in the rag trade are, in a sense, public servants. Shouldn't they be treated that way? "If we stop, who is going to do this work instead of us?" Mohamad Nazir, one of the ragpickers, told the Herald Tribune. "They know they won't find other people who are willing. Within two days the whole city would be stinking and filthy."

what it takes to be a megacity

Once again, the World Bank has allocated around $200 million for 'slum upgrading' in Lagos, Nigeria, the Daily Sun reports. Nine communities--Agege, Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Ilaje, Iwaya and Makoko--are supposed to receive new infrastructure and unspecified other improvements under the deal.

But what does this mean? What does the upgrading entail? And, given that the city supplies neither water nor electricity (most people with enough money sink boreholes to tap underground water and run diesel generators to get their electricity), what kinds of infrastructure improvements are contemplated. Further, what will happen to the current residents during and after the work? And, finally, why is this all taking place, as the newspaper notes, in order to "impact positively on Lagos as a whole in its quest to attain a mega city status?" What does that mean?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

'urban villages'

That's what the Chinese call haphazard and convoluted old urban neighborhoods that have historically functioned as places where migrants can get a foothold in the city.

I don't yet know the nature of land holdings in these communities, but I have visited several in Guangzhou. They are built quite like squatter communities--with lanes only wide enough for a bicycle cart and buildings with balconies that cantilever so far out over the alleys that two neighbors could have an affair without ever leaving their respective homes. Like squatter communities all over the world (and like Italian renaissance hill towns), the alleys sometimes make abrupt twists, jutting around this or that projecting building. It's possible to enter these communities and never figure out how to get out. They are full of surprising stores and restaurants and computer centers and tea shops and temples and groceries and beauty salons. Which is to say, they are full of life.

Guangzhou's 138 urban villages are almost all threatened by nearby luxury developments. Liede, a community hard by the Pearl River (and pictured in the photos above during the festival held when the River rises and washes over the neighborhood's embankments and into its streets and houses), has almost been emptied, and is slated to be destroyed by October 15th. Xiancun, not far away, is sandwiched between three luxury developments and is next for the wrecking ball. Shipai, which abuts the fancy Tianhe Commuter Shopping District, is still vibrant and fully functional, but the existence of this land so near to the new central business district must have some developers panting.

I don't think the Guangzhou authorities quite understand what will be lost if these communities go.

I'll write more on these fascinating communities as I learn more.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Irish land activism

Some squatters in Dublin have taken lucrative payouts to leave their homes. Others have filed adverse possession claims. The Irish Independent has details.

people vs. pine scent

Why are these disputes always binary. Trees vs. Squatters. That sort of thing.

I understand why Philippine authorities want to restore watersheds and green areas in cities. But the best way of doing this is not by demonizing squatters (see this article from the Inquirer) but by working with them. Yes, plant a million trees. But how about getting the squatters into the act and letting them plant the trees. Join with the squatters and watch environmental activism truly take root.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Metro Manila stomping on squatters

Two articles from the local press show that authorities in the Philippine capital are ripping down squatter settlements without working with these communities to find alternative solutions or to provide replacement housing.

The Inquirer

the Manila Times.

the news from 4200 BC

There were squatters in urban Syria 6,200 years ago, according to new archaeological evidence reviewed in this article from Scientific American. Contrary to the traditional myth of kings founding cities, "the northern Mesopotamian metropolis at Tell Brak shows a more haphazard, perhaps squatter-promoted, growth pattern," the article notes. The dig at Tell Brak suggests that squatters occupied the urban periphery, much as squatters do around major cities in the developing world today. Then, the squatter communities grew towards the city as the city grew out to meet them. "Kings were quick to take credit for founding cities," archaeologist Jason Ur of Harvard University tells SciAm. "We're taking royal inscriptions at their word, which could be a bad thing to do."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


To all of you who wonder what has become of me and why the blog has been dormant for a month: I am in Guangzhou, China and am a victim of the 'great firewall of China' which seems to block all of blogger's services. If this post works, you can find me via email at: squattercity at yahoo dot com

Monday, August 13, 2007

'Buy the land for the squatters'

An independent candidate for local office in Barbados has an engaging proposal. "Government can ... purchase the land, parcel it out, and resell it on more favourable terms to the squatters. That is what a responsible Government would do," said Douglas Trotman. The Nation Newspaper in Barbados has the details.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Rhino’s horn

Ain't this a sign of the times. The squatters can't stay in their homes, but the symbol of their resistance to Geneva's gentrification--the red horn that stuck out from the corner of the squat called Rhino--is up for sale and has commanded a bid of 1 million Euros. The Tribune de Geneve has a brief report

Berlin, a squatters' utopia, collapsing

Development pressures threaten a Berlin squat that has been in existence for almost 2 decades. Here's a key detail: "Irish, British, Danish and American investors are now buying up Berlin real estate at a steady clip, discovering the value in prices that are hovering at about €1,500 per square meter, or $192 per square foot." In the case of Koepi--named after Koepenicker Street, where it is located--the demon is a local firm called Sanus. The International Herald Tribune has the details.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Squatter War a comin' in Metro Manila?

The Metro Manila Development Authority has vowed to rid the city of squatters in three years. The agency plans to push out 17,000 families every year, according to this article from the Manila Standard Today. And talk about humane treatment: the settlers are told to leave voluntarily or "we tear down their structures," MMDA general manager Robert Nacianceno told the paper. The agency is asking the government to slash the budgets of the National Police, National Housing Authority and Department of Social Welfare and Development and to apply the money to creation of resettlement sites.

Plotting for land

Squatters settle down in Barbados. "While there is no uniformity as to where the houses are built, some residents have put in their own road network," The Nation Newspaper reports in an inside view.

Rhino's a dinosaur now

Tragic news: Geneva's historic Rhino squat has been evicted after 20 years of open and notorious occupation. Geneva chief prosecutor Daniel Zappelli ordered the police to evict the squatters despite the fact that the landlord and the occupants were still in court. "There comes a time when state authority should be affirmed and restored," Zappelli said. The prosecutor's office is currently dealing with at least 27 criminal procedures concerning squatting in Geneva. swissinfo has the sad details.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Beat Diaspora

Beat Diaspora is the blog of 'Gregzinho,' an American living in Rocinha and working for the Two Brothers Foundation, a great educational NGO. Lots of info on bailes funk (favela all-night dance parties), the cops, the drug gangs, and, simply, real life.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Squatters Rights, Post-Soviet-style

Transdniestria, an area in Moldova that has declared independence and calls itself the Pridnestróvskaia Moldávskaia Respública, or PMR, has passed a law to allow rural land occupants to gain legal title to their holdings, as advocated by Hernando de Soto. See The Tiraspol Times, 16 July and Tiraspol Times, 10 July.

Now: what about urban land?


Sixteen squatter communities in Fiji have come together to create a community organization. It's called the People's Community Network the Fiji Times reports.

And consider this, from Sekove Ratu, one of the leaders of the squatter community called Muslim League Settlement: "Every time when squatters are mentioned, people get the thought of poor people who scarcely make a living. This is the wrong perception."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

sacred cash cow

A story I missed back on July 4: the Economic Times reported that without a single drop of concrete hitting the ground, the government of Maharastra state in India has already earned more than 10 million rupees (appxoximately $250,000) simply by selling the forms that developers must use to express interest in getting one of the bids to redevelop Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter community.

Boxer Shorts and Books

Sergio Fajardo, the Mayor of Medellín, in Colombia, is democratizing the space for development in the city. He is deliberately pursuing a strategy of erecting important public buildings in squatter areas and shantytowns, though apparently without major evictions. The result is turning many neighborhoods into vast construction sites. The New York Times has the details.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Three views from inside the favelas

The BBC offers the words of three favela dwellers in Rio about life in Complexo do Alemao in Zona Norte and Rocinha in Zona Sul.

I'm glad that reporters are offering verbatim opinions of residents. Still, it's sad that the Beeb frames the story as one of violence. Journalists, as the first person interviewed says, "sell violence to sell newspapers."

Think about it: this compendium of interviews is titled "Inside Rio's violent favelas" and notes that "Brazil's government has pledged $1.7bn (£850m) to improve conditions in Rio de Janeiro's huge shantytowns, or favelas, in an effort to beat organised crime."

And what about normal life in the favelas? Will any news service ever simply walk in and cover that?

[thanks to Washington for the tip about the clip!]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Could be good news for the favelas

On the surface, this seems like great news: $1.7 billion in real infrastructure for the very real residents of Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Finally, these communities will have government-sponsored water systems and other basic services. Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, sounds a strong note of solidarity, refusing to blame the residents for the opportunistic drug gangs that occupy many of the favelas. "If the state doesn't fulfil its role and does not provide (adequate) services for the people, drug traffickers and organised crime will," President Lula said. "We want people to have road access, street lighting, hospitals and schools." BBC NEWS has details.

The devil, of course, is in the details, and it remains to be seen how this infrastructure program will be carried out and who will truly benefit. Let's hope it's more than hot air.

I hope any readers from Rio will keep us posted on whether this is one promise Lula will keep.

[thanks to Bryan for the link]

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Poor Abandon Rural Past for Big Cities

We've known this for years, but it bears repeating all the time: "among the more than three billion people currently living in cities, one billion live in slums and squatter settlements." Inter Press Service News Agency has the details of a new UN Population Fund study. The conclusion? "The battle to reach the Millennium Development Goals, halving extreme poverty by 2015, will be waged in the world's slums."

Now let's draw out a corollary: it's the slum-dwellers themselves -- the world's squatters -- who will have to lead the mega-cities of the future towards a more equitable distribution of housing and wealth.

"a bad situation"

Police in Rio de Janeior invaded the notorious Zona Norte group of favelas known as Complexo Alemao, killing 19.

"Is it a hard situation?" José Mariano Beltrame, Rio state's public security secretary, asked. "It is. Is it a bad situation? It is. If today, in an operation we can count 15 or 20 deaths, I'm sure that the same action next year or in 2010 would produce 50, 60 or 100 deaths."

Brazzil Mag has details.

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."

Monday, June 18, 2007

violence in Jacarezinho

Brazil's hardcore police are still shooting it out with drug gangs in the favelas as the city tries a show of force in the lead-up to the Pan American games next month. The latest body count: eight dead in Jacarezinho, the sprawling favela in the city's working class Zona Norte. The police claimed they had wounded the local drug Kingping (a man called Snoop) and confiscated 6,000 bags of cocaine and three grenades.

But consider this: drug traffickers "have maintained their bases in the Vila Cruzeiro shantytown despite a police occupation that has lasted more than a month."

Reuters reports.

Dharavi Protests

Seven thousand people demonstrated against the plan to redevelop Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter area. The group, an odd coalition of squatters and conservative Shiv Sena politicos, rallied outside the offices of the city's Slum Rehabilitation Authority. The demonstrators asked that squatters have a say in the redevelopment plans. Mumbai News Line has more.

Squatters struggle on in Cairo

Three months after a major fire swept through the Qalaat el-Kabsh shantytown in old Cairo, hundreds of people are still without homes. The blaze was started by a faulty gas clinder, but residents also report that the first muncipal fire trucks didn't arrive until three hours after the alarm had been raised. Egypt Guide has the details.

Squatters in Nepal call general strike

A general strike called by squatters in Kathmandu has been creating traffic snarls in the Nepalese capital. The squatters are demanding land rights and a government commission to look into issues affecting squatters. Nepal Human Rights News reports.

Squatters success!

A cement company in the Philippines has handed 1.4 hectares of land to Gawad Kalinga, a religiously-motivated non-profit, so the 200 squatter families who have occupied the tract can stay. It may not be a truly scalable solution, but at least this one community has avoided eviction. The Sun Star has the details.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Squatters Rights in the UK

Harry Hallowes, 70, who came to London from Ireland when he was 20 and has been living for decades in a self-built shanty deep in the woods of Hampstead Heath has won the title to his house and garden. He applied for the deed based on adverse possession after a property firm tried to evict him. The BBC has details.

Friday, May 18, 2007

struggling to put food on the table

A short article from IRIN News notes that women are more often than not the principle breadwinners in their families in the shantytowns of Nairobi.

--thanks to Mohamed for pointing me towards this article.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Squatters enjoy life

The Fiji Times has discovered that squatters are real people and enjoy life. I'm shocked. Shocked.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Renewal or Removal in Dharavi

National Public Radio's Morning Edition today featured a reasonably balanced piece on the proposal to remove residents from Dharavi, one of the last remaining major squatter areas in teh center of Mumbai, and replace them with a planned community. You can listen to the piece, by reporter Philip Reeves, here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

what would Gandhi say?

Mumbai's historic salt pan lands (used for the past 250 years for the production of salt) may now become history, as the government wants to hand the remaining 5,500 acres of the coastal flats to developers who seek to relocate squatters from communities in the center of the city, The Business Standard reports. Environmentalists are worried about development on these fragile parcels, which are some of the densely developed city's last remaining open land.

Mumbai airport offers deal to squatters

The Business Standard reports that Mumbai's Airport Authority wants to relocate 60,000 squatters so it can expand its runways. The squatters are holding out for replacement housing near the airport, as most of them work for the authority that is trying to evict htem.

resistance is not futile

Residents of Bagatelle, a squatter community in Trinidad & Tobago, have vowed to resist efforts to remove them to make way for a stadium, Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday reports. The squatters say most of them applied for official 'certificates of comfort' (which I guess are what we in New York would call certificates of occupancy) 15 years ago, but got not official action. Anasthasia Dailey, head of the Diego Martin and Environs Committee for a Better Community, said it was "time to legalise Bagatelle and all communities out there whom Mr Rowley [T&T Housing Minister Keith Rowley] considers squatters."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Miami shantytown up in flames, but will its message be lost

The Miami Herald and Florida Today have the sad details. Forty four people lost their homes.

Will the Liberty City squatters rebuild....even stronger?

cooperative effort to tame trash in Rocinha

Viva Favela reports (in Portuguese) on a new mutirao -- mutual, communal effort -- to clean up garbage in Rocinha.

When I lived in the community, a woman's association had gotten a tractor and a wagon, and hired men to come around several mornings a week to pick up the trash. Still, it was only relocated to an area along the Largo dos Boiadeiros at the bottom of the favela, a location the city coul reach with a garbage truck. There was always way too much trash for the city to cart away.

fortunes & misfortunes of squatters in Buenos Aires

The Washington Post offers a take on the growth 'Neighborhoods of Misery' of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A good factoid from reporter Monte Reel: "even in places where rural migration to urban areas has begun to level off -- such as Argentina -- slums within cities continue to grow at a fast pace, through good economic times and bad." Despite robust economic growth, the money is not trickling down to the poor. "Population growth in the capital," he reports, "is fastest in its shantytowns, which continue to pop up beside railroad tracks, appear under bridges and even expand across the grounds of an ecological reserve."

He makes a key point: that the local name for squatter communities--'villas miserias,' or "neighborhoods of misery"--is actually a misnomer, for these are "slums that -- with enough money and infrastructure improvements -- conceivably could be transformed into permanent neighborhoods with full services"

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Death and life in Brazil

Two Washington Post articles (the second a series of short vignettes) on death
and life in Rio's favelas.

(thanks to Washington for the second group of stories)

[and my apologies for being so sporadic on this blog of late: I just got back from Lagos, Nigeria, where I have been living for the past three months as I work on a new book.]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Squatters in an island paradise

Anyone who thinks urban squatters are confined to megacities, think again:

Squatters now make up 12 percent of the population of Fiji, according to this dispatch from Fijilive, and rural residents are continuing to trek to Suva, the capital city that is home to 3/4 of the country's population.

Syrian squatters

Aysh Warrwar is a hillside squatter neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus. Residents have invested in their own services, but are still not receiving infrastructure or assistance from nearby local governments. And, with no hospital close by, they have to pay more for health care than people who go to government hospitals.

A recent government experiment has brought the first public investments in the neighborhood in 30 years -- a primary school and a garbage truck.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Great Water Rip Off

More proof (if more proof is needed) that people in Kibera are being ripped off, and possibly sickened by the way water is distributed. Inter Press Service reports that a new study shows that Kibera residents people in informal settlements pay about eight times more for water than those living in wealthier areas.

Of course this has been known for years. As I wrote in Shadow Cities, A World Bank Water & Sanitation Project study done more than four years ago proved the same thing.

IPS reports that the Nairobi Water Company has invited water kiosk owners in Kibera to join the system legally. They have, of course, resisted because of the high profits they make retailing water. Daniel Makau, one of the water vendors, told IPS he makes between $58 and $72 a month selling water. Truly big bucks, considering that most Kibera residents I knew earned between $30 and $40 a month.

Jo-burg can evict squatters

A court ruling in Johannesburg gives the city the right to evict squatters from buildings it deems unsafe, the Johannesburg News Agency reports.

The Supreme Court of Appeal decision allows the government to evict approximately 300 people from six buildings in the inner city that it argues are unsafe and unhealthy. The court ruling does, however, require the city to provide temporary relocation housing for the people it evicts.

The question of course is this: speculators have long used allegations that buildings are unsafe or dangerous to push low income people out. City officials have often colluded in those actions. Why not require the city to make the buildings habitable and fix violations rather than summarily ejecting the residents?

liberian evictions

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has given squatters under Monrovia's Gabriel Tucker Bridge a week to prepare for their eviction, according to this dispatch from The Analyst newspaper.

Public Works Minister Lusinee Donzo says the squatters must be pushed out because they have been dredging sand from under the bridge.

Of course, wouldn't it be easier to simply make a deal with the squatters not to mine sand from under the bridge, if that's the key problem.

The government has pledged to assist the squatters -- but did not disclose what kind of assistance will be provided.

The eviction of these squatters is part of a larger city effort to drive out all illegal occupants, officials said.

Sounds like more Muramtatsvina to me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

a whole new level of justice

Alternative dispute resolution in Dharavi. A number of women's groups around Mumbai have started their own version of 'courts,' with encouraging results. It's good to see the police are now committed to this.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Zambia gets the demolition bug

The government of Zambia has decided to demolish all shantytowns. These communities, it so happens, are also where the opposition draws its support. The horror continues. Isn't there a difference between squatter settlements and well-off people who have grabbed government land for their own gain. And where will the dislocated people go? Reuters and the Times of Zambiahave details.

[thanks to Gabe for alerting me to this story]

Friday, March 02, 2007

Danish squatters fight eviction

Squatters in Copenhagen, who have occupied their building for 25 years only to have it sold out from under them by the City Council, clashed with police enforcing an eviction order. It was a paramilitary operation and cops arrested 30 squatters after dropping from helicopters to the roof of the building. The BBC has details.

[thanks to Andrea for the alerting me to the story]

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

one squatter community's surprising position in global trade

Here's a story that might surprise some European fishermen: their catch is being processed in one of Lagos, Nigeria's most notorious shantytowns.

The squatter community of Makoko, home to perhaps 200,000 people, is most famous for its small riverside population. For almost 100 years, the people here have fished the local waters and have built their homes on stilts above the placid and increasingly polluted lagoon. Here, women paddle canoes between the houses, selling bread and cassava, candy and cloth, sodas and staple goods. Some even cruise the waters selling home-cooked meals.

Occasionally, one of the wooden homes looks like its on fire: smoke slides between the rough boards and billows out the windows. A closer look reveals that these seemingly burning buildings are local smokehouses. 50-year-old Ogun Dairo tells me that she's been smoking fish for better than 30 years. She purchases the fish from a local refrigerated warehouse that's also in Makoko, but on dry land. For all of the 30 years she's been in the business, she reports, the fish has been imported from Europe. She buys between five and seven large boxes of fish every day, then she smokes the catch (each fish has its tail stuck into its mouth, making it shaped like a ring) over a fire stoked with wood and sawdust (other Makoko merchants purchase the firewood and sawdust from nearby riverside sawmills and transport it to the community by canoe.)

Ogun Dairo sells the fish to retailers who work the streets and markets of Lagos.

There are many smokehouses like Ogun Dairo's scattered across Makoko. They are all buying European fish, proving that squatter communities like Makoko have long had a role to play in the global economy.


By the way, Ogun Dairo's fish tastes great: delicate rather than overpowering, and really refreshing in the Lagos heat.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Squatters face key South Africa Court Date

The city of Johannesburg has appealed a court decision blocking it from evicting downtown squatters. High Court Judge Mohamed Jajbhay had ruled that the city first had to find alternative accommodation for people being evicted and said the city had a duty - in terms of the constitution - to have a proper housing policy in place before people could be removed. The city claims the buildings the squatters occupy are hazardous and a health threat. The case has now been filed with the Supreme Court of Appeal and could affect squatters in many South African cities. The Star has details.

Risk to squatters around the Mumbai airport

As the Hindustan Times reports, 60,000 families are fearing for their future now that the Mumbai Airport Authority plans to evict them from their communities to make way for an expansion plan.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

sit-down strike against no-sitting ordinance

The city of Olympia, Washington has joined the no sitting bandwagon, passing an ordinance that blocks anyone from sitting on the sidewalks in parts of downtown during daylight hours. In response, homeless people and advocates have erected several tent cities. Now the City Manager has vowed to demolish the encampments.

Here are several articles from The Olympian that tell the story:

tent city built

tent city raises concerns

disband or else!

[thanks to Dj Nuts & Bolts, Free Radio Olympia 98.5, for the heads up]

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Losing everything in the Jakarta flooding

Though the horrific flooding has affected everyone in the Indonesian capital, consider this, from the Asia Sentinel: "Illegal squatters who live in 30-year-old “temporary” plywood houses occupy areas along the riverbanks. Efforts to evict them are ongoing and heavy handed but this time the floods have done the work. While five-star hotels are offering discounts to the wealthy in search of shelter, tens of thousands of the poor have lost everything in the last few days."

And as The Jakarta Post points out:

Poor public discipline and the disgraceful national habit of destroying the environment and dumping garbage into rivers are certainly a factor, along with unchecked growth in the capital that has resulted in more and more squatters on water catchment areas and along river banks.

But much more damaging has been the corruption in the bureaucracy and the power of lobbyists to win the day for commercial interests above all else.

The root cause thus lies in the immense power of vested interests in the government, the military and business conglomerates.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Homeless encampment at risk in Japan

The city of Osaka, Japan is mulling a plan to evict 3,500 squatters as it prepares for a major sporting event. Japan Times has the ugly details.

(thanks to Anthony George for sending the link)

[And, for anyone who may have been wondering why this is my first post in more than a week: I'm in Lagos, Nigeria for the coming three months as I start work on a new book. I'll be posting new items from Lagos at some point soon.]

Friday, January 26, 2007

Survivors Village

Here's some good news out of New Orleans: squatters are occupying several builings of the St. Bernard Housing Project in New Orleans, Survivors Village reports in this press release. Through this action, and a tent city they have also erected, former residents of the complex are pushing for it and other housing projects to be renovated and re-occupied rather than demolished.

Let's hope these activists can get some coverage and change some minds. The lack of national interest in the fight to help New Orleans to recover is absolutely staggering.

[thanks to Ben Maurer for alerting me to this story]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Out of sight, out of home

For the majority in Delhi, the Indian capital, new malls and hotels rising on the city's periphery are not signs of hope. They're indicators of eviction. The Guardian's Randeep Ramesh reports on how the city's supposed renewal plans are bulldozing the homes of the poor.

"The problem for Delhi is huge because 32% live in jhuggies (slums)," an activist says. "How can you just bulldoze. Where will they put all the millions of people? What about their rights?"

Still, the report continues, groups that can develop political swat can block demolitions: "Unlike the poor, powerful groups can mobilise to bring the government to heel. A recent attempt to seal thousands of illegal shops was halted by a coalition of traders who could vote the Congress party out of power in the Delhi municipality."

If squatters represent 1/3 of the population, how come their don't have political power? A serious question for the world's largest democracy.

[Thanks to e-tat for alerting me to the article]

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Slums of Addis

In Ethiopia, where a recent study suggested that 80 percent of the urban population lives in shantytowns without basic sanitation, squatter communities are unrelentingly awful, this Agence France Presse dispatch opines. But what's the solution? An Addis Ababa government official notes that around one-quarter of all units are owned by local authorities and rented out at rates that have been frozen since July 1975, vastly reducing the potential for income that can be pumped back into housing improvements. "The government also believes in privatization of public houses," said the official. "Through such projects, we can alleviate slums and informal settlements," he added.

But let's parse this.

--Three-quarters of the units are not owned by local authorities and are not rented out at subsidized rates. Yet those units, too, have apparently not improved.

So what's the benefit of privatization?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Graphic Ghana - News

A fire in the squatter community named Sodom And Gomorrah leaves as many as 34,000 people homeless, the Ghana Graphic reports.

Gringos to the rescue

After Rio Governor Sergio Cabral promised a crack down on drug gangs, the drug gangs responded with violent incidents around the city. Now Brazil's President has weighed in with a new plan: bring in the gringos! That's right: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced that the government would bring tourist hotels and inns to the Rocinha neighborhood of Laboriaux, which hangs over the top of Gavea, one of Rio's wealthiest communities. Lula's plan also includes "construction of roads, creches, hospitals and a convention centre in Rocinha," The Guardian reports.

There are, of course, lots of items that seem not to have been addressed in this plan. Among them:

1. The neighborhood already has roads and creches.
2. What will happen to the people evicted for these developments?
3. Will there be rules to restrict rent increases in the newly formalized favela?
4. Who will develop all these things? Will the longstanding residents truly benefit?
5. Why only Rocinha? Rio has 700 other favelas. Rocinha is actually the most urbanized and knitted into the city's fabric. A cynic might say it's because Rocinha is closest to some of the city's ritziest neighborhoods.

Rocinha residents (or Rio residents) who read this: please tell us what you think.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

'The Capital Does Not Only Belong to the Rich'

The plight of Pays-Bas, a small squatter community in Niamey, Niger, profiled here by Inter Press Service News Agency, illustrates all-too-typical themes.

--the demonization of squatters: "These areas are dens of thieves who disturb the sleep of peaceful communities of the capital," Boubacar Ganda, president of the Council of the Niamey Urban Community (Conseil de la communauté urbaine de Niamey) -- a body of elected officials -- told IPS.

--the pretense that eviction is actually for the squatters' benefit: "Catastrophes must be prevented. It's for this reason that the residents of Pays-Bas must leave this dangerous zone that they are living in -- illegally," Soumaïla Yahaya, a municipal official, told IPS.

--the broken promises: Four months after seeing their homes demolished in the name of safety and security, they are still waiting for resettlement at an alternative, developed site promised by authorities, IPS reports.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

'I am the Professor of my suffering'

an eloquent essay by M'du Hlongwa, a member of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a squatter organizing group in Durban, South Africa:
South Africa does not think of the poor. The poorest of the country are the majority but we are kept voiceless. The poorest I am talking about are the shack dwellers, the street traders, the street kids, the flat dwellers who can't afford the rent and the unemployeds from Cape Town to Musina in the Limpopo Province and from Richard's Bay on the Indian Ocean to Alexander Bay on the Atlantic Ocean .

We always say that the fact that we are poor in life does not make us poor in mind. We know that our country is rich. There are all the minerals like gold and aluminium, the water and the forestry, the trade and the industry, the agriculture, the art and the culture and the science and the technology. The Freedom Charter said that the wealth of South Africa should benefit the people of South Africa but it is not like that. The land of our ancestors was taken for the farms and the forests. Our grandparents and parents worked on those farms and in the mines and factories and houses. Now we are either trying to make a living selling to other poor people or we are the servants who come quietly into the nice places with our heads always down to keep them nice and to keep them working for the rich. Most of our time goes into just trying to survive. To get some little money, to get water, to see a doctor, to rebuild our homes after they have burnt down, to get our children into school or to try and stop evictions. We shouldn't be suffering like this.

Our shacks are flooded during heavy rains. Sometimes they are even washed away because the City won't let us build proper structures or build proper houses for us in the city where we need to be to work and study. And our shacks get burnt down in fires because the City thinks that we don't deserve to have electricity. We are always losing our belongings in these fires and sometimes loved ones, especially children and old people, are lost. The constitution says that everyone must have adequate shelter. We don't have adequate shelter and the situation is not getting better. Now the city is trying to evict us and is leaving people homeless on the side of the road. How many lives will be destroyed before our voices are heard? How many children will drown in rivers on the way to school because 'there is no budget' to build bridges while casinos, and airports and themeparks have huge budgets? Who will do something about the fact that the police who are supposed to protect the people are always abusing us? Is it right that they come into our houses and ill-treat us, insulting us, stealing from us and hitting us? Who will do something about the fact that even when our youth finish grade 12 they just sit at home because there is no work and because our parents can't afford to send us to university? Who will turn our economy from something that lets the rich get richer off the suffering of the poor into something that lets all the people make a better life?

The politicians have shown that they are not the answer to our suffering. The poor are just made the ladders of the politicians. The politician is an animal that hibernates. They always come out in the election season to make empty promises and then they disappear. But we know that lies are for the time being but truth is for life. These guys get into power by lying to us and then they make money. They don't work for the people who put them up there. In fact our suffering ends up working for them. Their power comes because they say that they will speak for us. That is why in Abahlali we started to say 'Speak to us and not for us' and why we vote in our own elections for people who will live and work with us in our communities and without any hopes for making our suffering into a nice job.

We know that our country is rich. We know that it is the suffering of the poor that makes it rich. We know how we suffer and we know why we suffer. But in Abahlali we have found that even though we are a democratic organisation that gets its power from the trust of our members and have never hurt one person the government and even some NGOs call us criminal when we speak for ourselves. We are supposed to suffer silently so that some rich people can get rich from our work and others can get rich having conferences about having more conferences about our suffering. But the police never come to these conferences. These conferences are just empty talking. When we have big meetings where we live the police are even in the sky in their helicopters. These conferences demand our support but they never support our struggles. We are always on our own when the fires come or when the police come or when the City comes to evict us.

I want to say clearly that I am a Professor of my suffering. We are all Professors of our suffering. But in this South Africa the poor must always be invisible. We must be invisible where we live and where we work. We must even be invisible when people are getting paid to talk about us in government or in NGOs! Everything is done in our name. We are even told that the 2010 World Cup is for us when we can't afford tickets and will even be lucky to watch it on television. The money for stadiums should go for houses and water and electricity and schools and clinics. Even now shacks are being destroyed and street traders are being sorely abused by the METRO and SAPS police to make us invisible when the visitors come. This World Cup is destroying our lives. I call 2010 'The year of the curse'. South Africa is sinking. It will only be rescued if the poor take their place in the country.

But before 2010 is 2009. This is the year of the National Elections in our beloved country. When the elections come I want to see who will be queuing in that hot or rainy day to vote. I see voting as the same as throwing your last money in a flooded river. I believe that many people who voted before want to go and ask to get their X's back. Abahlali sensed this early and in the 2006 local government elections we said "No Land, No House, No Vote". We said that when ever we have voted for people who say that they will speak for us they hibernate. We said that we would struggle for land and housing against all councillors. We said that we would make ourselves the strong poor by building our settlement committees and our movement.

We got beaten for that by the police and some of the NGO people said that we were too stupid to understand what elections were for and that we needed 'voter education'. They need an education in the politics of the poor. They should come and live in a settlement for even just one week before they say that we are too stupid to understand our own politics. Our boycott brought the percentage of voters in the areas where we are strong right down. In these areas the councillors can't claim to represent the poor and we have made our own organisations, which do represent the poor because they are made for the poor by the poor, much stronger than the councillors. Abahlali is much stronger than Baig and Bachu and Dimba.

I am sure that the number of non-voters who choose to work very hard every day struggling in their communities instead of giving trust to politicians will be multiplied in 2009. I will personally be pushing for Abahlali and our sister organisations to take the 'No Land! No House! No Vote!' campaign into the 2009 National Elections. Oh! South Africa the rich sinking country! There is no more need to vote for politicians in this country. I always say to people that they should vote if they ever see even one politician doing something good for the poor. But from the local government to the provincial and national parliaments I only see politicians on gravy trains and holidays and in conferences with the rich. They are the new bosses, not the servants of the poor. They deceive us and make fools of us. They ask us for our vote and then disappear with our votes to their big houses and conferences where they plan with the rich how to make the rich richer. Their entrance fee for these houses and conferences is us. They sell us to the rich. Can anyone show one politician who has stood up to say build houses not stadiums? Can anyone show one politician who has said that Moreland's land should be for the poor who are still waiting to be a real part of South Africa and not for more shops and golf courses? Can anyone show one politician who has said that it is wrong for the police to beat us and arrest us when we want to march? Can anyone show one politician who has stood with us when the police shoot at us?

Let us keep our votes. Let us speak for ourselves where we live and work. Let us keep our power for ourselves. The poor are many. We have shown that together we can be very strong. Abahlali has now won many victories. Other organisations are working hard too. Let us continue to work to make ourselves the strong poor. Let us vote for ourselves every day.
M'du Hlongwa lives in the Lacey Road settlement in Sydenham, Durban. He is unemployed and his mother works as a cleaner in a state hospital. He was the secretary in the first and second Abahlali baseMjondolo secretariat but did not stand for election for a position in the 2007 secretariat in order to be able to complete his book on the politics of the poor and to try and gain access to a university to study to be a teacher. However he continues to be an enthusiastic ordinary member of Abahlali baseMjondolo and to do volunteer work each week day morning work for people living in HIV/AIDS. He is 26. For information on Abahlali baseMjondolo visit

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dutch squatters face anti-liberal backlash : Mail & Guardian Online

Squatters under fire in Amsterdam. The Mail & Guardian has details.

Forced evictions in the Catholic Church in part responsible?

Tens of thousands of people have been forcibly evicted in Luanda, according to the Amnesty International report Angola: Lives in ruins. Among the powerful institutions implicated is the Catholic Church. In 1998 the government gave the Church the title to land it had owned prior to the country's independence. The Church, Amnesty alleges, has worked with the government to forcibly remove 2,000 squatters from a parcel where it wants to build a sanctuary. According to the report, "Forced evictions have been carried out apparently at the request of the Catholic Church by members of the National Police from the Fifth Division who regularly arrested, beat and used firearms against the residents, seriously injuring some." The Archibishop of Luanda responded that many of the squatters were opportunists and had arrived after the church announced its plans for the property.

More Murambatsvina

"We might go back to Operation Murambatsvina if people continue to squat," a high-ranking Harare official warns. You remember Murambatsvina, don't you: the government-led putsch against squatters that left 800,000 homeless in the Zimbabwean winter. A short article in The Herald details the threat.

Danish police arrest squatters

More squatter clashes in Copenhagen. The International Herald Tribune reports that the disturbances have come after the city sold a building out from under squatters, who had been in residence for two decades.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Port Harcourt's New Year Gift of Horror

Several fires in shanty neighborhoods of Port Harcourt, Nigeria left thousands homeless on New Year's Day. The Vanguard (via has the sad details.

Friday, January 05, 2007

When squatting is better than 'upgrading'

In Delhi, reports Inter Press Service News Agency, "there seems to be no place for the poor."

In preparation for the 2010 commonwealth games, at least 70,000 homes have been razed. In October, the Nagla Maci squatter neighborhood was bulldozed and relocated 45 km away in north-west Delhi.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Development Authority has handed 350 acres of land earmarked for slum re-housing to private developers. "Newspaper reports have revealed that the builders plan to build 750 luxury flats on the land while the housing for the poor will be in high-rise towers with no lifts or private toilets," IPS says, while pointing out that this inequality actually institutionalizes slums. "In February 2002, Motia Khan, a 40-year-old slum in the heart of Delhi, was demolished, and relocated to the Rohini area in blocks spread over five floors. Flat owners are still paying monthly installments of 2,000 rupees (roughly 45 dollars, which is more than half their monthly income) for flats without lifts, water supply and choked drains."

With characteristic understatement, the IPS dispatch concludes, "In-situ upgradation for slum improvement can happen only if people force governments to keep their election promises."

In other words, progress is possible only with tough, take-no-prisoners community organizing.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Pottinger Settlement

No, it's not a Robert Ludlum title.

It's a unique Miami law that takes its name from Pottinger v. City of Miami, a 1988 federal court case (decided in 1992), in which the city's policy of arresting homeless people for engaging in "life-sustaining conduct" on the street (thus making it a crime simply to be without a home on public land) was ruled illegal. "The City’s practice of arresting homeless individuals for the involuntary, harmless acts they are forced to perform in public is unconstitutional," senior United States District Judge Clyde Atkins wrote in the decision, adding that "the City’s practice of seizing and destroying the property of homeless individuals" was also against the law. The principles of Judge Atkins' decision were memorialized in a 1998 memorandum called The Pottinger Settlement.

Now an intrepid group of activists are building shanties on city-owned lots, citing the Pottinger settlement in support of their legal right to use the land.

Here are a few relevant sites:

take back the land, a blog run by the land invaders

an article from The Final Call

Shantytown U.S.A., an article from the South Florida Sun Sentinel

Liberty City residents have come up with a visionary strategy to create housing. Is anyone in New Orleans planning to follow suit?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A 10' X 10' shanty in Bangalore is worth more than $22,000!

So says The Hindu, India's most respected daily newspaper. The paper reports that the Karnataka government wants to cash in on the value of the city's shantytowns through a plan that would allow private developers to take them over as long as they provide replacement housing for the squatters.

Here's the relevant stat: "a large number of slums in Bangalore are located in the city centre where land prices have increased in the recent years....[and] the land value of some of the huts (10 feet by 10 feet) in Gandhinagar area has been estimated at over Rs. 10 lakh [for the uninitiated into Hinglish: a lakh is 100,000; 10 lakh is 1 million], although the occupants cannot sell the land as they have no documents for them."

So that 10 X 10 hut is worth $22,600.

Now tell me who benefits if the squatter gets a lousy single-room apartment while the developer gets the rest of the value?

fire leaves hundreds homeless in Kolkata

220 families are now homeless after a fire in the Ultadanga neighborhood of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), ExpressIndia reports.

Squatters create a new 'ministry for the housing crisis'

In response to squatters who took over a bank branch and rechristened it the 'ministry for the housing crisis,' French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has announced that France has adopted the Scottish law that gives citizens an actionable right to housing. Sounds like good news. So, squattercity denizens, help me out here: what is the 'Scotland's legally enforceable right to housing,' as referred to in this article from the Financial Times, via Euro2day. I found the relevant laws on the site maintained by the British Office of Public Sector Administration but haven't had the time to page through the boilerplate to find out what this legislation actually does. Can anyone out there provide a lay person's guide to this legislation?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Catch up

Two articles I missed towards the end of the year. My apologies for being so late to the party.

1. Squatter Church evicted in San Diego.

2. Copenhagen Squatter Eviction Sparks Riots.