Members of Abahlali baseMjondolo do not believe the draft bill on changing Section 25 of the Constitution to allow for expropriation without compensation takes their needs and welfare into account. This became clear as they marched to the Durban City Hall on Monday 24 February to present their recommendations to the eThekwini municipality. Discussions on the issue, first announced on 31 July 2018 after a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee, continue to gain momentum as the deadline for public submissions looms.
In its submission, Abahlali calls for a “bottom-up” approach to ensure fair land distribution and makes it clear that the movement does not trust politicians to achieve this. “Abahlali’s position is that land should be seen as a public good and not as private property and as a commodity. Land should be made a ‘right’ and not a form of property.
“We also do not agree that the state must own the land on behalf of the people because the state itself in its current form cannot be trusted. Land must be distributed to the people and managed on a democratic basis, from below. […] These proposals must apply to all land both in urban and rural areas and to residential, agriculture and commercial land.”
Abahlali’s founding president, S’bu Zikode, said the current proposals for the amendment of the bill will not improve the lives of people living in shack settlements.
“From the beginning our movement rejected the idea that land should be turned into a commodity, something to be bought and sold. We insisted that land should be distributed on the basis of human need, and we affirmed the need for grassroots urban planning and for the bottom-up and democratic management of land.
“We insisted that women must be full and equal participants in all decisions relating to the allocation and management of land. However, the state was prepared to put the commercial value of land before its social value,” said Zikode.
‘Land is a human right’
Addressing the large crowd, Abahlali national organiser Mqapheli Bonono said: “Right now, as it stands, the government is only talking about how they will benefit from land and nothing about us. What is to become of us living in undignified conditions? The government needs to explain to us what the expropriation without compensation bill will mean for us. Will it give us the right to land, or will it see poor people sink even deeper and die landless?
“We will not sit back and watch while the land that is a human right to everyone is being monopolised. Land was taken away through colonialism and [this was] emphasised through apartheid. It has been 26 years into democracy, yet the same oppression still applies to the poor. The poor remain landless and voiceless while the black elites in power turn a blind eye,” said Bonono.
Nhlanhla Mtshali, 40, a resident at eNkanini in Cato Manor, was hospitalised in August 2017 after an alleged attack by the eThekwini municipality’s Anti-Land-Invasion Unit. He said the draft bill needs to be rejected because it excludes the rights of people living in shack settlements.
“People living in informal settlements are part of the great number of South Africans living in impoverishment, yet we still don’t count. Our voices and dignity remain [a] dream because of our living conditions. The government has forgotten that inside emjondolo (shack settlements) are lives with human rights that should matter. We should matter.
“I know the pain of watching your home burn to ashes and all your possessions destroyed. When abadilizi (the Anti-Land-Invasion Unit) come to our houses, they not only demolish your shelter, they also kill your dignity. You watch your whole life crumble.
“The dispossession of the destitute needs to end. We are happy that land expropriation without compensation is now being discussed in Parliament, but it does not seem to have the interests of the poor, landless South African [at heart]. How can that be when we are dying for a basic human right, the right to a home?” asked Mtshali.
Lindokuhle Mnguni, 26, lives in a settlement called eKhenana, which was established in Cato Crest in 2016. eKhenana residents have faced numerous evictions that led to dozens of them becoming homeless. They later obtained a court interdict allowing them to occupy the area without the threat of eviction. Mnguni said Abahlali members took to the streets to present their submissions on the bill in person because it was “impractical through an online submission”.
Sidelined as the ‘other’
“Shack dwellers bear the brunt of [being] poor. We continue to be sidelined and the draft bill in its [current] state does not speak to us. We do not understand its language because we have not been included.
“The government has never been fair to us. They have killed us, abused and neglected us. We have to constantly fight to belong because we are seen as ‘other’ in the constitution. That is why we are all here on the streets so that everyone takes notice, because the online submissions might just never make it to the right hands and eyes. This way, they will surely recognise and hear us,” said Mnguni.
Fikile Ngcobo, 61, from the Lindelani shack settlement in KwaMashu, said the draft bill lacks a focus on women living in poverty. Becoming emotional, she said the amendment of the bill would take time to materialise and even longer to benefit poor women living in marginalised communities.
“The recommendations on the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution mean nothing without the inclusion of the poor black mother, sister and child of this country. We are here to be both seen and heard. This has been a fight we have been fighting for decades. We will not stop – the black woman shall rise,” said Ngcobo.
Abahlali’s recommendations were handed over to municipal official Leonard Masinga, who accepted it on behalf of the parliamentary ad hoc committee tasked with amending Section 25. The committee is chaired by ANC member of Parliament Mathole Motshekga.