Landless People of Alexandra occupy Frankenwald

At the heart of contestation: Behind this fence lies Frankenwald, the land the people demand for housing.
Frankenwald, Sandton, Gauteng, South Africa

A week full of clashes with law enforcers saw residents of Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg, no less determined in their quest for land. Calling themselves Landless People of Alexandra, on Sunday 9 July they invaded an open piece of land known as Frankenwald in Kelvin near Alex that belongs to Wits University. They were violently dispersed with rubber bullets and six of the leaders were arrested. Upon their release on warning the following day, they vowed to continue the fight and said they will reinforce their march to occupy that land on the 12th of July 2017.

“No human being can stay under such conditions as ours in Alex. We live with rats and squashed with our parents in one rooms. There is no privacy. Now it’s time to liberate ourselves,” said one of the march leaders, Thabang Lediga.

His sentiment that for years, Alexandra has been neglected is shared by many. In 2001, over a billion rand was allocated to develop the township but the money has disappeared in the pockets of greedy politicians leaving the township still in squalor. Alex residents are pained to see land lying vacant when Alexandra is getting no bigger while its population is rising.

While they might have legitimate concerns, landless people are warned of opportunists who will take advantage of their noble call and buy off the struggle by bumping individual leaders up the housing list.

“What we want is fairness and coordinated efforts. We don’t want people to jump the queue,” said Adolf Marema, one of the area Councillors who is part of a task team looking at the land question in Alex. Currently there is a court interdict from the original owners of Alex who were dispossessed of the land by the 1913 Land Act.  According to the interdict, no major development can take place in Alex until their property rights are restored.

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“Negotiations are underway to resolve this,” said Keith Khoza, the spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Housing and Human Settlement. He also added that discussions to acquire Frankenwald from Wits University are at an advanced stage. The plan is for a mixed residential development for the people of Alex.

“What we don’t want is people to illegally invade land and turn it into informal settlement. After 1994 we promised to eradicate all informal settlements and replace them with proper housing and services. We can’t afford another informal settlement,” he said.

Wits University Spokesperson Shirona Patel confirmed the negotiations over Frankenwald.

In his State of the City address, the Mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, said the City faces major housing challenges.
“This administration has inherited a housing backlog of over 300,000 units and the City is only able to build an estimated 3,500 houses per year. This means that it will take almost a century to catch up with the current backlog alone. This is simply unsustainable and it is clear that something has to change in our approach if we are to ensure that our people’s right to adequate housing is realised,” Mashaba said.

The Landless People of Alexandra hear in his assurances no reason to suspend their action. “We’ve heard about negotiations. We sat in some of these meetings. Nothing has been forthcoming. For us to speed up the process is to occupy the land. Let them come arrest and shoot us. We are ready,” Lediga said.

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