Anti-Eviction campaign member Stoney Sithole shows a house where a wall collapsed and the top structure came undone from the foundation. The owner is still expected to pay the bond! (Photo: Cape Times)
by Martin Legassick
Mandela Park is situated in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township, some 26 kms from the city center. It was established by the Botha government from 1983 with the initial intention of housing all Africans in the area. This of course proved impossible: Crossroads, KTC etc as well as the established townships of Gugulethu, Nyanga, Langa remained. Instead the repeal of the pass laws in 1986 resulted in the mushrooming of Khayelitsha, partly from other parts of Cape Town, but mainly from new immigrants from the Eastern Cape. The township grew to perhaps 300,000 by 1990 and to 500,000 and more during the 1990s – and is possibly the second (after Soweto) or third (after Mdantsane) largest in the country. Mandela Park was established within Khayelitsha in the late 1980s, by the banks, who bought the land and started building housing on it in 1986 – one of the few areas in the country where Africans bought housing through bank bonds.
Not only is Mandela Park named after our former President. Every street in the community is named after a struggler for liberation in the ANC tradition – James Calata, Albertina Sisulu, Wilton Mkwayi, Robert McBride, Jenny Schreiner, Peter Mokaba, Bram Fisher, Winnie Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Thandi Modise, etc. etc. This reflects the fact that those who moved into the new houses in Mandela Park were overwhelmingly ANC supporters and activists. An ANC branch and Youth League, as well as SANCO, flourished at the start of the 1990s.
A recent survey by PLAAS at the University of the Western Cape found that half of all households in Khayelitsha had an income of less than R167 a household member and the bottom third had a monthly income of R39 a person.1 Mandela Park residents, living in houses and not in shacks, are not “the poorest of the poor” in Khayelitsha. But they have suffered seriously from the consequences of GEAR. Many of the production line workers who could at the start of the 1990s hope to afford to buy a house have since been retrenched. There is substantial unemployment in the area as well as in the whole of Khayelitsha.
Today most residents of Mandela Park are deeply disillusioned with the ANC and SANCO. They feel they have been deserted by those in whom they put their trust. The underlying reason for this is that government has been unable to resolve their housing problem with the banks, and when they have taken action about this, they have not been listened to or discussed with, but arrested and charged. Hundreds have thus been criminalized by ‘their’ government. It is indeed sad and ironic to witness, outside the court in Khayelitsha, more than a hundred women singing the old anti-apartheid song “Senzeni na – what have we done?”- and asking that of their ANC government. In addition, several members of the Anti-Eviction Campaign, a community-based social movement that speaks for the residents of the area, are presently under apartheid-style bail conditions – having to be in their homes from 6pm to 6am, and forbidden from attending political meetings.
The banks own the land on which housing is built in Mandela Park – as well as the vacant land in the area. This has meant that there has been no absolutely no development — no new schools or clinics built for example.
This whole strategy – of no negotiations, only arrests — is presided over by the Western Cape MEC for Safety and Security, Leonard Ramatlakane, provincial chair of the South African Communist Party – so the disillusionment extends to SACP leaders as well, as the cover picture of Mandela Park residents demonstrating outside parliament vividly illustrates.
On 24 June 1992 Solomon Mahlangu branch and the neighbouring Makhaza branch organized a march on the council offices to protest against rent rises.
A month later, on the night of 22 July, one of the Makhaza leaders of the march, Nelson Sithole, was assassinated at his home – by men with their faces hidden by balaclavas, probably police. “Why do you tell people not to pay rent?”, they asked.4 The murder has been investigated by both the TRC and the Scorpions, to no avail. Nelson’s widow, Hilda Phoswayo, has been since then a close political comrade.[Congress Militant reporting on the assassination]
One day in 1993 I had just dropped Hilda off at her home in Makhaza when my car was stoned by youth and the windshield broken. It was the period of unrest following SACP leader Chris Hani’s assassination at Easter — in which the American Amy Biehl, in a similar situation in Gugulethu, got out of her car and was killed. I simply trod on the accelerator and fled the area. Hilda, and other comrades in Solomon Mahlangu branch took up the issue at public ANC meetings, but in the mood of the times were not listened to. The other day, in contrast, I was walking in Mandela Park by myself and crossed paths with a young man – or rather, he went out of his way to approach me. We did not know each other. “It is very unusual to see a white walking around in our places”, he said. “It is a revolution. Congratulations. Keep it up.” I felt embarrassed, and thanked him.
A comrade of ours stood as councilor for the ANC in the 1995 local elections. He was also one of the leaders of the 1992 rent march. We warned him that if he stood on the existing ANC programme, rather than a socialist programme for the ANC, he would become unpopular. He went ahead on his own anyway. Since then the ANC has degenerated. This councilor for example rules even in his own particular area mainly by fear, carries a gun, and has an array of ‘strong men’ around him. He is one of the main local opponents of the Anti Eviction Campaign.
Since 1995 I have continued frequent visits to these parts of Khayelitsha, working particularly with a previous ANC local leader, become SANCO leader and SACCAWU shop steward, as well as with a SACTWU shop steward. I eventually met the leaders of the Anti-Eviction Campaign in October 2002.
Background: Africans in the Western Cape
During and after the Second World War the African population of the Cape Peninsula grew enormously. Most shunned the official ‘locations’ and lived rather in privately-owned and rented high density flats and houses along the docks-Observatory axis or scattered through the predominantly white and Coloured residential areas of Cape Town as plot owners or tenants. The new urban influx however lived mainly in unregulated ‘pondokkie’ settlements in the peri-urban areas around the fringes of Cape Town.5
Under apartheid in the 1950s, Cape Town “became a test case for influx control and racial segregation”.6 Shortly after the election of the NP government in 1948 the Minister of Native Affairs, Mr E.G. Jansen, said that a “question which will require very serious consideration is whether the population of Natives in the Western Province must not be reduced very drastically”7 In 1953 the Secretary for Native Affairs, W.M. Eiselen, complained of the “ring or outer circle of unplanned, uncontrollable and without exception illegal concentrations of Bantu who drift towards the cities” settled in camps which local authorities “cannot control”8 In 1954 the Manager of Native Affairs for the Cape Town City Council told ANC stalwart Dora Tamana and the young Ben Turok that “the policy of this government is to reduce the number of African families living in the Western Cape… The labour needs of the Peninsula are to be met by migratory labour”.9
Government policy, implemented by local authorities, forcibly removed the African population by means of the Natives (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act of 1945 (as amended in 1952 and 1955) and the Prohibition of Illegal Squatting Act 52 of 1951.The first of these acts made provision for establishing locations and proclaiming compulsory residence in them. This was a powerful measure for forced removals from non-location residence. In 1946 the whole of the Cape Peninsula was declared a proclaimed area under Section 23(1) of the 1945 Act.10 The Prohibition of Illegal Squatting Act of 1951 provided for the establishment of emergency camps and the removal of Africans squatting ‘illegally’ to such camps, the demolition of shacks without requiring a court order, as well as compulsory location residence, and compelled local authorities to cooperate.11 The imposition of passes on women from 1954 also was a powerful instrument for organising forced removals.
The unregulated areas of residence were destroyed and Africans were forcibly removed — moved to single men’s hostels in Langa, or to ‘emergency camps’ in portions of the the new locations of Nyanga (established in 1946) and Gugulethu (established as Nyanga East in 1958 and renamed in 1961) where ‘illegals’ were sifted out for deportation from the Cape Peninsula area altogether, or, if they qualified to remain as ‘families’, allocated housing.12 It involved “a spatial re-mapping of the Cape Peninsula.”13 Women were particularly severely treated, and many endorsed out of Cape Town altogether. The aim was to turn as many of the African population as possible at first into single migrant labourers – by attacking family relationships — and later to eliminate them altogether.14 Together with this the Western Cape was formally declared a Coloured Labour Preference (CLP) area from 1954/5.15
The struggle over Crossroads was preceded by the struggle to resist removal of three squatter settlements which had developed around the University of the Western Cape from about 1974. About 10,000 people were evicted from Modderdam during the week following 8 August 1977. An activist observer reported: “As the camp was razed, squatters chanted hymns and freedom songs, charged columns of policemen, and hurled furniture onto Modderdam Road. Many burnt down their own shacks. Police used dogs and teargas to disperse the crowds of hymn-singers, spectators and demonstrators. Several squatters were hospitalized with dog bites. One woman, treated for chest pains, was discharged back to the camp with instructions to rest in bed for two weeks. Two women in labour were rushed to an emergency room. A third gave birth to a girl under a plastic tarpaulin next to the sidewalk. As a bulldozer approached one shack, a government official heard a baby scream. He ran into the shanty and yanked a two-week old boy from his mother’s arms. ‘God knows it is an inhumane task’, he told a reporter as he cuddled the child, ‘but I am trying to make it as humane as possible.’”16 Following this, Werkgenot, with a population of 5000, was demolished on 25 August 1977 and Unibel, with a population of 15,000, between 16 and 20 January 1978.17
Crossroads, due to the experience and consciousness of the womens’ committees in the camp, survived.18 The success of Crossroads gave impetus to the UDF campaign to oppose the establishment of Khayelitsha – though in May and June 1986 vigilantes forced 70,000 squatters surrounding Crossroads to move in what Josette Cole calls “one of the most brutal forced removals… ever to take place in South Africa”.19
This was one of the early examples of state-sponsorship of “black-on-black violence”, together with Inkatha in Natal from 1986 and the huge wave of counter-revolutionary violence in the Transvaal from 1991 almost to the 1994 elections.
As already mentioned, Khayelitsha developed out of the post-1986 flood of movement to the big cities. Even last month (February 2004) I saw a big new movement of shack-building in Makhaza, turning a road through the bush on the edge of Khayelitsha into the centre of a new settlement.
Meanwhile the first small steps have been taken to redress the forced removals in Cape Town, with the restitution of land to those evicted from Ndabeni, and – after long long delays — the first houses handed over in early 2004 to people evicted from District Six in the early 1970s.
Background: Anti-Eviction Campaign
The banks began building houses in Mandela Park in 1986 and people first moved into them in 1988. The deposits on the houses were low, about R500. But the houses were not complete. They had no ceilings, or only one door, or no ventilation. They had cracks. They had rising damp. There was no plaster. The lot size was too small as the banks built two houses on a single plot. The problems still exist in many of those houses today – 15 years later (except where people have solved them at their own expense). The community at the time said they were not prepared to pay for the houses until the banks resolved their problems. In the early 1990s – in common with the general boycott on rent and service payments in townships up and down the country – Mandela Park residents refused to pay their bonds.
As a result of the boycott there were negotiations with the banks facilitated by the ANC and SANCO. No solutions came up. A local Joint Task Force for housing was created, with the ANC-SACP-SANCO alliance on it. People were told all their demands would be met. But they were still not sure how much they should pay on their bonds. Fieldworkers, paid R2500 a month, were hired by the taskforce from the community to evaluate the houses. Heated debates developed in report-back meetings. Eventually proper report-backs stopped. SANCO would call meetings promising that the housing question would be discussed. But when people turned up at the meetings, the housing question would not be on the agenda. When other petty items were discussed, people would get fed up and leave – and then housing policy would be raised late in the meeting under ‘general’ when very few people remained to agree or disagree. People started to boycott these meetings.
From paying to FNB and Standard, many people were told to pay the bonds to Khayelethu Home Loans. Others still pay to NBS, Standard, FNB, Nedcor, Saambou and Absa. In 1996 SANCO and Khayelethu Home Loans distributed a letter speaking of a Joint Cooperation Agreement they had signed. It stated that “all our clients are obligated to pay their bonds and failure to do so will result in legal action.” As we understand it, it was at around this time that SANCO was given a shareholding in Khayelethu Home Loans of around 20%. So the organization that people had looked to to protect and advance their interest against the banks was now a part of the bank itself.
In 1995 Servcon was formed in terms of the 1994 ‘record of understanding’ signed between the new ANC-dominated government and the banks. Servcon is half owned by the government and half by the banks. It was meant to serve the interests of the people, and to deal with the ‘historical problems’ (as it is put) of incomplete houses, arrears, etc. In fact, in the view of the AEC, it has acted as the agent of the banks. Servcon offers four options: ‘rightsizing’, rental, buybacks, or evictions. ‘Right-sizing’ meant being moved to tiny houses far away from the community. All these options favoured the banks and the community opposed them all. But Servcon said that people must find a method to pay or else be evicted. The problem was that people could not afford to pay what the banks demanded. This was especially so when they had built up arrears, for whatever reason. High interest rates over the past period have also vastly inflated the cost of these houses. Originally the houses cost R25, 000. But many people have paid thousands of rand more than this for them over ten years and still don’t own them.
The first evictions took place around mid-day in September 1999. There were a lot of police, in Casspirs and in small vans, together with sheriffs, with dogs, teargas and rubber bullets. They cordoned off one street at a time and started to evict people. The whole area came out, as well as neighbouring areas in Mandela Park, to try and prevent the evictions. People were beaten with batons and bitten by police dogs. Teargas was fired by the police to disperse the people, and rubber bullets were fired. There were numbers of injuries. The police managed to evict only 13 families on the first day. Many people who were evicted were restored to their houses by the community.
After this ANC ward councillors came in promising to solve the problems – but on condition that people must pay to prevent evictions. Their problems were not listened to. Small workshops were organized, with just a few people together with councilors and SANCO people etc. Vulnerable people were targeted – pensioners, the disabled, single mothers and so on. In fact the March 1998 briefing document of Servcon states that “people over 65 years or disabled” can apply for assistance not to be relocated. But many such people have been evicted and right-sized in Mandela Park. They were intimidated by the representatives of the Alliance. This is a main reason why there was a low vote in the area for the ANC in the local elections in 2000.
After the elections evictions started on a much bigger scale. People didn’t have the energy to fight back all the time and were confused. At least 190 families must have been evicted. They were “right-sized” – relocated to smaller houses elsewhere in Khayelitsha far away from Mandela Park, in Harare or Makhaza. By 2001 the sheriffs and police were evicting more than 30 houses a day. In some cases people’s houses were put up for sale by the banks even before they were evicted – because there was no new smaller house ready for them. And they still had to continue to pay the bond on the original house.
The Anti-Eviction Committee began to organize and campaign from the end of January 2001. Through SAMWU shop stewards in Mandela Park, they came in contact with the Anti-Privatisation Forum and met other people facing the same problems. In particular Tafelsig in Mitchell’s Plain had fought evictions the year before. The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign with whom they linked up also had members in Athlone, KTC, Valhalla Park, Gugulethu, Delft, Tambo Square, Mfuleni etc. A two-pronged campaign, combining negotiation and mass action was launched, based on a mobilized community. Western Cape safety and security MEC Leonard Ramatlakane has claimed that the AEC was comprised of only “a handful of people” (Cape Times, 8/11/02). However consistently since 2001 the AEC in Mandela Park has held twice weekly meetings, on Wednesdays and Sundays, which are attended by hundreds of people, young, middle-aged and old, with a predominance of women.
In the course of its existence the AEC has had solidarity from activists visiting from many countries, including Argentina, Canada, Italy, Norway, the United States, Germany, India, and Palestine – as well as from fellow-social movements in Johannesburg and Durban.
Mr Ncama is an 80 year old card-carrying ANC member. She is a care-giver to 5 children. But she was evicted from her home in Mandela Park on 25 July 2002.21
Hleliwe Nosense Elsie Gaji is 63 years old. She was born in Molteno in the Eastern Cape and followed her husband to Cape Town in the 1970s where she lived in Crossroads, and went through all the experiences of Crossroads. In 1989 the Gaji’s moved to a house in Mandela Park. On the day of Mandela’s release Hleliwe and her husband joined the huge crowd on the Parade listening to Mandela speak – of the Freedom Charter and nationalization; there is still a picture of Mandela in their home. But the pension on which the Gaji’s live has not been enough to keep up with increasing bond demands. In 2001 they were ‘right-sized’ to what they describe as a ‘dog kennel’ n Makhaza. “We went hungry. In Mandela Park our neighbours were family. They fed us. Here we are alone.” Hleliwe’s husband grew very depressed. But then the community came to them and told them their home in Mandela Park had been taken back from the banks and they could go back to it. “The Gaji’s were marched, ran, sang and danced back into their old home” write Desai and Pithouse. Hleliwe says “At least my husband died in the house he lived for.” Desai and Pithouse comment that Hleliwe has “made her whole life within a cycle of dispossession, resistance, repossession and repression that has moved seamlessly from apartheid to post-apartheid South Africa, from Botha to Mbeki.”22
Mr Mcondobi, a pensioner, was evicted and ‘right-sized’ in February 2002. He was in good health when he was moved but was moved to a house with no inside plastering, a leaking roof, and no bath or shower. As winter set in, he contracted pneumonia and died. Bheki Nkonyane of the Western Cape housing ministry claimed in a letter to the Cape Times that Mr Mcondobi “subsequently went to the Eastern Cape and only died there two months later.” (15/11/02). But Mr Nkonyane was misinformed. Mr Mcondobi died in Khayelitsha and the Anti-Eviction Campaign arranged for his funeral and his burial – in Khayelitsha. At least seven other old people from Mandela Park also died, and possibly 15 through Khayelitsha, as a result of Servcon’s campaign of eviction and right-sizing.
Vakele Alfred Hempe is 55 years old. He illustrates what happens when there is no community anti-eviction campaign. He came to Cape Town from Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape in 1958 after his father, a farm labourer, died and his mother could not afford to look after 13 children. In 1979 he started work as a Hyster driver for South African Breweries, and was earning R30,000 a year by 1988. He bought a house – elsewhere in Khayelitsha than Mandela Park. with a loan from what is now ABSA of R58,000. In April 1998 he was retrenched and found it impossible to keep up bond payments. In early 2000 he was served with a summons by the bank, and the ANC and SANCO refused to assist him. On 31 August 2000 his house was repossessed by ABSA and Hempe, his wife, three children and three grandchildren were evicted. He eventually managed to reverse the eviction – at the cost of having to pay R800 a month, eating up almost all his wages as a casual at a company called Giant. Though he has never missed a payment, the bank has renewed attempts to evict him and he lives in fear of the sheriff’s knock.23
Broadening the Struggle
The anti-eviction campaign broadened its concerns to these questions. People had built up ‘arrears’ because they could not afford to pay. This is why the AEC raised the demand for a R10 a month flat rate service charge, and this is what its members pay each month to the council. In April 2002 hundreds of AEC members sat in at the municipal offices in Khayelitsha to protest these cut-offs and to demand R10 a month service charge. In November they marched to the electricity company who agreed to reinstall electricity boxes they had taken out.
Throughout this period the AEC wrote letters to the banks, and it began writing to the Western Cape ministry of housing after the ANC/NNP government came into office in the province in late 2001. There were no positive responses, and further direct action was launched. On 30 May 2002 some 250 AEC members went to the center of Cape Town and held a sit-in at NBS to complain about vulnerable people being ‘right-sized. They also raised the issues of the small plot sizes, the rising damp, and the fact that residents had installed ceilings and roofs in the houses, had repaired faulty electrical wiring, and plastered and filled in cracks also at their own expense. They raised the question of the purchase of the land in Mandela Park by the government.
On 12 June more than 200 AEC members sat in at the offices of Khayalethu Home Loans. When the head of the organisation appeared they showed him a videotape of conditions in the houses, and of the struggles they had waged. They told him to scratch the arrears due and to drop the prices of the houses. KHL agreed to scrap the arrears, and also stated they would never again evict pensioners and the disabled. But the other banks have still refused to scrap arrears.
In June the banks took out a court interdict against the campaign, trying to prevent them from resisting any more. The AEC had no money to hire lawyers to oppose it. This interdict is still in force – and has been used as the basis for holding activists in prison for lengthy periods without trial.
From the time the ANC entered government in the Western Cape in late 2001 the AEC wrote numerous letters to the provincial MEC for housing, Nomatyala Hangana. She refused all invitations to come and visit Mandela Park to discuss the evictions and the problems with Servcon. From the government the AEC wants payment of the subsidy for first-time home buyers to people in Mandela Park and elsewhere facing these problems. And they want the government to buy back from the banks the land the houses are on and to develop it. Eventually on 26 June 2002 hundreds of AEC members went to Ms Hangana’s offices in Wale Street. “Officials would not tell us if Nomatyala was there. While we were waiting for the Managing Director of Servcon to arrive as we had been told, police surrounded the building, sprayed teargas inside, and arrested 44 of us. Some of those arrested were pensioners and children. We were charged with trespassing – in a ministry of our elected government! Among our bail conditions were that we never appear in Wale Street!”24
In September one AEC member, a shop-steward, led a strike against privatization at his workplace, a sewage works in Khayelitsha. He was charged with continuing with his AEC activities and held in Pollsmoor. He was dismissed from his job in consequence.
On 26 October 2002 the AEC (together with the APF) and the ANC held rallies on the same day in Khayelitsha. AEC leaders reported: “We only had money for four buses but 6,000 people came to our rally… The ANC had 12 buses moving all around the Western Cape and nice loudhailers. Jacob Zuma was the main speaker. Nobody came. The [ANC] rally was postponed. They said it was because Pirates were playing Sundowns but people came to our rally at the same time.”26 The same story – of no attendance at the ANC rally – was reported on e.tv news that evening.At the AEC-APF rally in Khayelitsha, 26 October 2002 (Photo: Vukani)
In the article Leonard Ramatlakane was quoted as instructing the provincial police commissioner Lennit Max to “deal with the anti-eviction group, which is behaving as if it is representing the state. It’s unacceptable that a handful of people run around positioning themselves as people who have the right to allocate houses and evict people… I have asked Max to bring order to Khayelitsha and he must make sure the group is dealt with. It is manipulating the concerns and real problems of the community and should be brought to order.”27
The Khayelitsha police commissioner Risimati Shivuri, quoted in the same article, however said that “Arrests will not solve the problem, political intervention is needed” (my emphasis). To this day, that political intervention – in terms of conducting negotiations with the AEC and listening to the voice of the community, has not been forthcoming.
The ‘Felicia” mentioned in the second headline was Felicia Petani, a domestic worker, who had been bought a house by her employer, one Tanja Truscott – a house repossessed by the banks from someone in Khayelitsha, who was reinstated in it by the anti-eviction campaign. The story was a scare story. In a subsequent letter in the Cape Times, Tanja Truscott claims that she “established” that the original owner “approached the banks to be right-sized over 10 years ago, in 1991.”28 No-one in Mandela Park was “right-sized” in 1991, nor did anyone even know of the idea! The first evictions (“right-sizings”) were in 1999 and most took place in 2001. “The house stood empty for many years”, says the employer. This is simply not true – and the person clearly does not know Khayelitsha where no house would stand empty for many years! The original owner was removed from his house for at maximum ten months (not ten years) before returning to it.
Truscott also claimed that the AEC “throw people onto the street at a moment’s notice.” AEC insists that neither with Felicia nor with anyone else did this happen. Other new owners after discussions with the AEC agreed to move, and the AEC assisted them in finding other vacant houses. They assert that they have not left a single new owner without alternative accommodation. Even Truscott was compelled to admit in her letter to the Cape Times that Felicia “was told they would move her to another house.”(13/11/02) – a fact which incidentally was not mentioned in the original Cape Times story on her by Eric Ntabazalila (8/11/02). The AEC anyway regards it as very irresponsible of Servcon and the banks to sell off these houses, which are in dispute, to new owners.
On December 8th local councilors and SANCO representatives attended a mass meeting in Mandela Park called by the AEC. Councillor Mbongeni Ngombane claimed that the AEC “hijacked” the meeting, but the people wanted Ramatlakane, who was present, to speak, and he refused. This caused much anger and “chairs were thrown about.” Ngombane also asserted, quite incorrectly, that “the majority of people in Mandela Park want to pay for their houses” – what Mandela Park residents want is affordable bond payments. The meeting was “rescheduled” at a venue outside Mandela Park and was “poorly attended” – in fact only by the councilors, Ramatlakane and their henchmen.29 “Members of the Anti-Eviction campaign” – who were in the majority – “toyi-toyied outside and chanted slogans against the ANC and President Thabo Mbeki.” At this meeting Ramatlakane took a tough line. Ignoring the hundreds of evictions instigated by Servcon, he focused on the new ‘owners’ – “People with title deeds have to be protected and no-one has a right to just come up and claim that you are staying in their house and you have to leave… people are going to be arrested.”30
David Macfarlane, in an article titled “Education by the people” pointed out that around the country fees, transport and school uniform costs were resulting in the exclusion of students from school. Salim Vally, acting director of Wits University’s Education Policy Unit said that “The Anti-Eviction Campaign and other social movements have been bringing multiple instances involving violation of constitutional rights to the attention of the E[ducation] R[ights] P]roject].” He added that “These community initiatives are important…The unleashing of creative community energies needs to be encouraged and tapped, not undermined. While we are waiting for the government’s review of its education finance policies, children are still being denied their rights on an ongoing, daily basis. The Khayelitsha initiative is a striking case of what the ERPO has been recording nationally – a groundswell demand for justice that is gaining momentum.”31
Negotiations with the WCED were very protracted, and included demonstrations and mass action by the students at the WCED offices in Kuils River. In May the WCED agreed “in principle” to register the school. But in August the WCED refused registration and closed the school down. Only eight primary school students were registered at a nearby school and the rest, including 200 matric students, were not accepted by the WCED. The unemployed teachers were refused jobs. “The Acting chairperson of the school’s governing body, Chris Ndabazandile, reported that most of the students were now sitting at home and that the school was closed despite meeting all the requirements for registration. ‘We were told that the reason the school is closing is that the African National Congress does not want it. Why…are they playing these unconstitutional games with us.”32 Later in the year Chris was to be arrested on framed up charges (later withdrawn), and held overnight in Site B police station where he was subjected to racial abuse – called a “kaffir”.
A week after the first report on the school, the Mail and Guardian also reported on the arrest of AEC member Max Ntanyana and four others on charges of ‘intimidation’ and ‘breaking bail conditions’. The AEC blamed the arrests on the favourable publicity the school had had. A regular Sunday AEC mass meeting was “monitored by undercover police officers” admitted Police Commissioner Lennit Max. “Ntanyana was abducted outside his house after the meeting by three men [in plain clothes] who jumped out of a black car with no number plates. They grabbed him and dragged him into the car.”33 Ntanyana has been made by the police the scapegoat for the AEC. He was held in Pollsmoor for more than three months, and released only on stringent apartheid-era-like bail conditions, which the AEC regards as unconstitutional and which are being taken up by the Freedom of Expression Institute
At the first workshop I asked all those present – aged between about 13 and the early twenties – to write a letter to President Mbeki telling him what they wanted. There follows the letters that they wrote:
What we children want
We are the poor: don’t cut our water
We can’t afford to pay our bills
They turn off our electricity and water because we didn’t pay our bills. If we were employed we would have a chance to pay our bill. Even the whites are not born in the same equal level. In our life we have stages so if we were the same people or if we were employed we will have chance to pay our bills
Moved to smaller houses
“The police are not doing their job”
The new law of South Afrca?
Evictions, arrests, and shootings
Promises not fulfilled
We can’t pay; its not we don’t want to pay
“All we want is our rights”
“Banks evict our mothers from their houses”
“Enough is enough”
Our parents cannot afford us because of their bills
We won’t stop the campaign
We are not thugs, we are the people
The government is representing the rich
The government forgets who put them there
In the course of exchanges on these arrests on the Debate listserve, leading SACP member Mazibuko Jara asked for more information on what was happening in Mandela Park. The Mandela Park AEC e-mailed him in November, asking him to arrange for publication of its standpoint in the SACP publication Umsebenzi, and for a reply from Leonard Ramatlakane. Here, slightly edited to avoid unnecessary repitition with what has gone before, is what they wrote:
“What has been taking place in Mandela Park for more than ten years is a struggle between the community and the banks. In Mandela Park and other parts of Khayelitsha the banks own the land and financed houses in the areas. People paid initially low deposits to move in. But when they moved in, the houses were below-standard condition, with no ceilings, no plaster, only one door, rising damp, etc. There was a bond boycott. Then the ANC and SANCO were involved in negotiations with the banks, but in Mandela Park we were not kept informed about the progress of these negotiations and could not make any input.
“Meanwhile, because of rising interest rates, and the massive disemployment in the area (which suffered largly from the GEAR policies) many people fell into big arrears with their bonds. They could not afford to pay. The original cost of the houses was R25, 000 but many people have paid much more than this over ten years and still do not own their houses.
“Under the agreement Slovo made with the banks as Minister of Housing, Servcon was set up. Servcon offered so-called “alternatives” to people with arrears: rental, buyback, ‘right-sizing’ or evictions. None of these options has been satisfactory to the people of Mandela Park and we have expressed this many times in letters to relevant authorities.
“With massive support from the community, the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign refused to accept this “right-sizing” and has restored people to their original homes. Together with this the community has gone en masse to NBS, to Khayelethu Home Loans, and to the Western Cape MEC for housing, Nomatyala Hangana’s office and peacefully occupied them to negotiate proper solutions. These were political actions of civil disobedience which are in the traditions of protest movements in our country, and which have been engaged in recently, for example, by the Treatment Action Campaign.
“As a result the Mandela Park community has been subjected to harassment and victimization by the police. This is a campaign authorized by the provincial government. Thus in the Cape Times of 8 November 2002 Leonard Ramatlakane, MEC for Safety and Security in the Western Cape, as well as provincial chair of the Communist Party, is quoted to have instructed the police commissioner to “deal with” the AEC. This was despite a statement in the same article by Risimati Shivuri, police commissioner in Khayelitsha, that “Arrests will not solve the problem, political intervention is needed.”
“The Western Cape Housing Ministry’s attitude has been that the people restored to their original homes are “trespassing” and hence must be arrested. When one person is ‘trespassing’ that is an individual act. Here more than 300 people have been charged with ‘trespassing’. That represents a political movement that needs to be dealt with politically. But the Housing Ministry has handed matters over to Ramatlakane to deal with, and his police methods are being supported by ANC councillors and SANCO leaders in Khayelitsha. There is complete insensitivity to traditions of protest and to the context of the so-called ‘crime’
“Leonard Ramatlakane has criminalised a political question — a part of the question of how to solve the housing problem. As a result, people have been spending time in jail…
“It is not an excuse to claim that Ramatlakane is an ANC minister not accountable to the Communist Party. As an SACP member, the SACP bears responsibility for his actions. In our view, if Ramatlakane finds his position incompatible with SACP policies he should resign as a minister or resign from the Communist Party. For the moment, all SACP members should hang their heads in shame at what he is doing.
“The SACP would like everyone to join their recently-launched campaign against the banks. In Mandela Park people have been campaigning against the banks for ten years, but we have never had support from the SACP – though this campaign has sprung out of the actual grievances of the working class. Instead, through Ramatlakane, the SACP is instrumental in trying to repress this campaign.
“In our view, the SACP should insist that he changes his strategy immediately. “All charges should be dropped, and negotiations entered into with the Mandela Park AEC by the national and provincial housing ministries and the banks. If members of the SACP cannot secure such a change of policy, we would ask, ‘what are you doing in a party that can entertain a comrade engaging in such activity?’”
No reply was received from Jara, and the document was not published in Umebenzi.
South African Labour Bulletin, 27, 6, December 2003.