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 communaut├ę 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.