Shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo has called the draft bill to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with property, vague and misleading. The bill aims to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.
Leader S’bu Zikode was addressing a crowd of about 400 shack dwellers during one of organisation’s regular General Assemblies on Sunday 2 February in Durban, where the proposed amendment by the National Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee to Amend Section 25 of the Constitution was central to the agenda.
“This matter is urgent,” said Zikode. “It is something we have been demanding for the past 15 years. The bill in its current form is misleading the public. It has already cast aside poor black people. It needs to be stated fairly that land in fact does belong to all of us and not the elite. It is vague on fair land distribution, a clear indication that land will still be a privilege to those who have money.”
Zikode went on to say that a fair process in the expropriation of land would be one that leads to communal ownership, and one that especially recognises black women’s underprivileged position with a view to giving them the opportunity to access and own land.
“Access to land is a fundamental right, not a commodity. Poor people need places where they can raise their children with dignity. There are many existing communities that we have legally and successfully occupied because we know we have the right to live in the country we were born in. We also note the systematic exclusion of women in the Ingonyama Trust where single women and widows are denied the right to own land,” he added.
The Ingonyama Trust is a private body set up to administer 2.8 million hectares of the former apartheid homeland of KwaZulu on behalf of its sole trustee, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. The Trust, which was established in 1994, just days before the apartheid regime handed over power to the new ANC government, is in charge of nearly a third of the land in KwaZulu-Natal.
Parliament approved the draft bill, which sets out the legislative requirements for the state to lay claim to the land for a public purpose or in the public interest, in 2016. The parliamentary committee on land expropriation published its new draft bill for public comment in December 2019.
Understanding the Constitution
Student and activist Busisiwe Diko, 25, responded heatedly at the meeting. She said young people living in shack settlements and rural areas need to understand the nexus between Section 25 and Section 26 of the Constitution and how the two coincide.
“The Constitution is my Bible. We can access land and claim democracy by using the Constitution as a tool. Millions of young generations live in restricted and ignored settlements and rural homes, but we cannot live to die in such conditions. We are ready to take up space, but we must always understand the fine print. Currently, the conditions of the proposed amendment bill are impossible for us. How do you give people the right to adequate housing yet deprive them of the right to land?” asked Diko.
Youth interim leader Nhlakanipho Mndiyata, 23, said the conditions Abahlali had offered towards the amendment of the bill would ensure an overdue paradigm shift among marginalised groups.
“Giving land access to dispossessed black people will bring about a change that many have died waiting, fighting and hoping for. The narrow focus of the bill currently indicates that we again might wait a lifetime without having access to land and adequate, comfortable homes. It is still a long way to go but the call for the comments to the amendment of the bill has brought us hope,” said Mndiyata.
Forced into action
Only Mngadi, 76, has been living in a shack for more than 23 years. She said the amendment of the bill would force the government to take decisive action to make land available to poor people living in urban areas.
“The government must finally prioritise poor black people. I have aged, living in a home that leaks and is rusty. We don’t deserve to grow old still waiting for promises made to us. What is democracy when you live in a forgotten community?
“My life has instead worsened since 1994 and our children cannot get jobs because where they come from is not empowering or supportive of their dreams,” said Mngadi tearfully.
Abahlali baseMjondolo will submit feedback from its General Assembly on the draft bill, as the deadline for public comment has been extended to the end of February.