Sunday, August 31, 2008

charred remains

Eight people were buried this weekend after another disastrous fire in the Kennedy Road shack settlement in Durban, South Africa.

The municipality blames the squatters, who get drunk and knock over the candles. The squatters knock down that ugly slander. It is, rather, the municipality that is to blame, for its policy of refusing to allow electrification in the shack neighborhoods. And when the squatters pirate electrical service, the municipality dispatches the police to destroy the makeshift connections and arrest (and sometimes bludgeon) the offenders.

Here's a stark statement of the problem, from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the brave squatter mobilzation in eThekwini Municipality:

Let us be clear. People in houses [as opposed to wood and sheet metal shanties] also get drunk. Their children also like to play in the house. The difference is that they have electricity and so their houses do not burn when these things happen....The problem is not that we are stupid. We do not need training on how to avoid fires. The problem is that we do not have electricity. Electricity will save our lives. Most fires are caused by candles and paraffin stoves. If they don’t connect we must connect. If they will not connect us then they must not arrest and beat us for connecting ourselves. If democracy is for everybody then everybody needs to be safe in a democracy and we are doing the work of the government when we connect ourselves. When we connect ourselves we are making the democracy real. When we connect ourselves we are making everyone count the same. Anyone who says that electricity is a luxury that the poor do not deserve must spend one winter living in a shack and trying to survive the fires before they speak about what is a luxury and what is a necessity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

blame the victims

The Johannesburg Government now blames squatters for the fires that periodically devastate their communities. Here's what a spokesman for Johannesburg Emergency Management Services told the Star newspaper about a fire this past weekend that destroyed 1,000 homes in the Denver hostel squatter camp in southern Johannesburg: "In illegal informal settlements there are a lot of social factors that come into play. High on the list is drunkenness... where a person drinks and forgets to put out the candle... or they might leave a pot cooking on a stove and go and buy beer again."

Anyone who has spent time in squatter communities or other informal settlements knows that drunkenness is no more prevalent there than in society as a whole. The greater issue, which the Durban-based squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo has articulated many times, is South Africa's continuing effort to prevent squatters from gaining access to electricity: "As usual the poor must be blamed rather than the system that denies people decent housing and fails to, even as a minimal measure, electrify the shack settlements."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Calcutta wants to replace squatters with high rises

Another scheme to push out squatters, this time in Kolkata (Calcutta.) Apparently, the city government, recognizing that many squatter areas occupy valuable real estate in the center of town, has decided to allow multi-family reconstruction. This, of course, gives developers a massive financial incentive to drive as many as 1.5 million people from their homes. City Renewal, a blog maintained by people affiliated with the Howrah Pilot Project, gives a clear-eyed summary of the issues involved.

[thanks to Nila-kantha-chandra/Rama for sending this my way.]

Rwanda's Capital's Crime

Demolition in Kigali as the government has razed the centrally located squatter community of Poor Kiyovu (so called to distinguish it for neighboring Rich Kiyovu.) Thus politicians work hand-in-hand with developers, and the people suffer. I suppose the good news is that the administration did at least promise to reimburse people for their losses. But, as this blog post points out, many have not received anything.

Here's the nub of the issue: "It seems that the government wishes to engineer a city in which Kigali residents and delicate-stomached foreigners will no longer have to suffer vulgar displays of poverty in the city centre. Its a loss for the city. These people were a major part of the life of the city centre. A much better strategy would have been for the city to have improved the property rights laws and infrastructure in poor Kiyovu to promote its development. Shame on the City of Kigali."

(thanks, Maurice, for sending this to me.)