Land and housing activists: “We will take the land because it belongs to us”

Red Ants carrying out the eviction at the Bekezela informal settlement in Newtown. Pic by Ihsaan Haffejee/GroundUp

There has been an increasing number of land and housing activists that have been murdered lately. Mthunzi “Ras Moziah” Zuma was shot and killed during a road blockade next to the land they were occupying near Khayelitsha Mall. Less than a month later another land and housing activist in Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay 41 kilometres west of Khayelitsha was shot by the police during a housing protest and later died in hospital.

Land and housing activists have pledged to continue taking and occupying vacant land despite brutal repression by the state and the killing of those who fight for land. The commitment was made at seminar in Khayelitsha Monday night where different groups of organisations representing activists from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town met to share their experiences of state and police brutality.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Land and housing activists have pledged to continue taking and occupying vacant land despite brutal repression by the state and the killing of those who fight for land. The commitment was made at seminar in Khayelitsha Monday night where different groups of organisations representing activists from Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town met to share their experiences of state and police brutality.

Thapelo Mohapi from Abahlali baseMjondolo said that in 2009 they were attacked by a group chanting pro-ANC and threatening slogans, which left 2 people dead and hundreds displaced. “We were attacked by the ruling party in Kennedy Road Informal Settlement,” explained Mohapi.  The Durban-based activist told the crowd of about 150 activists and community members that the communities also bring the violence onto themselves by voting the political parties into power. He shared the story of how a 17-year-old learner who was a supporter of Abahlali baseMjondolo was shot twice in the back with live ammunition during a protest organised around a road blockade in 2013. “We live under a mafia state and have gangster leadership but we will take the land and use it,” concluded Mohapi.

Mphumeleli Mdzanga from Izwelethu occupation in Cape Town said they occupied the land near Khayelitsha Mall because it had been standing vacant for years. Mdzanga said they have received threats from the city council and that one of the leaders was shot after they barricaded a road next to the occupation. An eyewitness says that a car approached the barricade and the driver of the car came out and shot Zuma.

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Residents in Town 2 occupy land in Khayelitsha. Pic by Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp

“The system is made to benefit the rich and disadvantage the poor. The police and the state have responded to us and to land occupations around the country in a brutal way,” said Mdzanga who claims that he had his camera broken by the Anti-Invasion Unit as he was filming them while they demolished a shack that he and other occupiers had built as a meeting space after the police forced them off the land.

Thembani Landu from Marikana Informal Settlement in Cape Town said they started to build shacks on the land opposite Lower Crossroads in 2014. The area according to Landu does not have electricity and they use the bucket system for sanitation. In 2015 violence broke out between the residents of Marikana and Lower Crossroads over illegal electricity connection.

Landu warned political parties to stop showing interest in them around election time. “We don’t need T-shirts from the DA or the ANC. We want service delivery,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Siyabonga Mahlangu from the Inner City Housing Federation in Johannesburg bemoaned how police are absent until evictions. “We only see them when we are evicted,” he said, joining the chorus of warnings about the involvement of party politics as they undermine the struggle for land.

Activists and community members who attended the seminar. Pic by Lunga Guza

Another housing group from Cape Town, Reclaim the City, raised the importance of being independent of political parties. The organisation is currently occupying Helen Bowden Nurses Home at Somerset Hospital next to the Waterfront.

Sheila Madikane is a domestic worker and a housing activist with Reclaim the City who stays in Sea Point and has been involved in the housing struggle in the area since 1996. Reclaim the City objected to the sale of the Tafelberg school site for some private development in order to raise the critical need for low cost housing in Sea Point. “We marched to the house of the Premier to say that the land should be used for people and not for profit,” said Madikane who has been living in Sea Point since 1987.

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