Resilience persists at Cape Town’s Marikana

The Marikana land occupation in Philippi has suffered devastating violence, and residents make their lives against the gross neglect of the state. But despite the grim conditions many residents are…

“First the land, then electricity and proper sanitation for our people. We can talk about houses later,” says Daluxolo Naki, 36, as he ambles down one of the many narrow, rubble-strewn pathways near Protea Road, the economic hub of the Marikana land occupation in Philippi, Cape Town.

On 20 August, Marikana residents demanded the upgrading and electrification of the settlement when they marched to the office of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, whose recent resignation will come into effect at the end of October.

Long-time residents say that the City’s failure to provide basic services has had deadly consequences.

Naki says he came to Marikana in 2013 “in need of a space that belonged” to him. He was among thousands who occupied the vacant land after being squeezed out of Philippi’s backyard rental market.

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26 April 2018: A woman makes her way to her shack through her flooded front yard. 

Police brutality

Marikana residents have since endured a punishing struggle to hold on to the land, including, according to reports on a series of evictions in 2014, being fired on by police. It was during this spate of police violence that residents named the settlement Marikana, after the 2012 Marikana massacre of striking mine workers on the platinum belt in North West.
 
Marikana’s densely packed shacks and labyrinthine pathways stretch over six pieces of privately-owned land. In August 2017, the 60 000 people who call Marikana home won what many South African shack dwellers have lost – a court’s recognition of their rights to the land on which they live.
 
In a watershed ruling, the Western Cape High Court dismissed an application to evict the residents and ordered the City of Cape Town to consider expropriating the land if negotiations to purchase it fail. The expropriation of this swathe of prime land would be the first of its kind in South Africa. 

But Naki and other residents told New Frame that in the wake of the landmark high court ruling, large parts of Marikana have descended into violence. The settlement grabbed national headlines in September and October last year, just weeks after the ruling, when running gun battles left 23 dead.

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26 April 2018: A double story shack that belonged to a businessman who was allegedly murdered.

Exodus

According to long-time resident Wendy Nyama, 39, the violence, perpetuated by local gangs, has driven many residents from their homes. “An exodus is happening in Marikana,” she says, claiming that there are no businesses left in three of the settlement’s five sections, one of which has become a “no-go zone”.
 
Naki points out a double-storey shack on Protea Road. The shack’s owner, a man who had established a business selling timber to residents, was gunned down two weeks earlier. Two other residents, Ntomboxolo Ngxabazi, 29, and Loyiso Nkqintiza, 39, claim the violence is a direct result of the City’s poor services and broken promises. 

They point out many defective standpipes and portable toilets on the edges of the settlement, and claim that police cannot work in the area at night due to inadequate lighting. At the time of the shootings last year, the City promised residents it would erect high-mast lighting around Marikana, but this has not yet happened.
 
Priya Reddy, the City’s director of communications, told New Framethat erecting the masts will mean relocating some of the structures in the settlement. The delay, she says, is due to the City working to “identify options for the relocation of affected residents”.
 
According to Reddy, the City has spent about R1.4 million providing 1 216 toilets for Marikana’s 60 000 residents, leaving the ratio of residents to toilets at 50 to 1, while 411 people have to share each tap.
 
According to the Emergency Housing Programme, which outlines the minimum standards of services to households in the most desperate situations, no more than 5 families should share a toilet and no more than 25 families should share a tap.

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26 April 2018: The communal toilets.

No action

Despite an opinion piece by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille in May this year, which called for “a test case of expropriation without compensation”, both the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town have appealed the high court’s ruling.
 
When asked why the City appealed the ruling, Reddy told New Frame: “The main concern for the City is the precedent-setting finding that it infringed the constitutional rights of both the landowners and the occupiers.”
 
Although many have fled Marikana, there remain signs of persistence at the settlement. While New Frame was there a group of men resurrected makeshift wooden pylons that had been torn down during a storm the previous night. The pylons support a web of wires that carry self-organised electrical connections to the settlement. In sections of Marikana, some residents are beginning to build brick homes, an indication of permanence that was not here a year ago, according to Nkqintiza.
 
“This place is our home,” says Naki, explaining why most residents remain. “Here, in my yard, I have that sense of peace. If I live in another man’s house, I have to live by his rules,” he says, referring to the restrictive conditions under which he previously rented a backyard shack in Philippi. “When I live in my home, I live the way I want to live.”

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