||The new government promised to correct past crimes and build a better
life for all, writes Jeff Purcell
The politics of land and space in KwaZulu-Natal go all the way back to
the 1800s. The continued control of Durban by a minority has led to
dangerous housing, like shacks, being commonplace for hundreds of thousands.
On August 1, 25 homes burned down at Jadhu Place in Clare Estate near
Durban. While the fires still burned in some places, offering some light
in the cold winter evening, we walked over burned school uniforms,
destroyed possessions, and the ashy remnants of several hundred people's
Just across the road, hundreds of living rooms, and glowing windows
illuminated the difference between the first world and the third world,
There is a stark difference between Jadhu Place's informal settlement,
and the high-walls, barbed-wire, and floodlights of big city Durban:
Seeing both at once, you can't help but feel a bit confused.
How did the two develop so differently, so vastly and so very inequitably?
It's simple. Between the time the British opened a trading post at Port
Natal in 1824, and only a few years ago, African people were imprisoned
in what was called "Zululand", an invention of European policies and
imagination. The Shepstone System, as it was called, required all
unnecessary African labour to leave the new settlement. Zululand shrank
many times, especially when sugar took off and more land for wattle
plantations was desired. Europeans could stake claims for vast pieces of
land all over Natal, but the Africans could not; they belonged, after
all, in "Zulu-land".
Natal's managers were so committed to this idea that they began
importing indentured labour from different parts of South Asia.
These persons were, briefly, guaranteed some land in Natal, but the
grants were rescinded just a few years later. Some of these persons are
now the same Indian folks who form a small part of the impoverished
masses in apartheid townships specially created for them.
By the 1880s, when the British Empire annexed the Transvaal, Zululand
was carved into 13 districts of "smaller and more numerous" sizes,
designed for optimal "manageability". All valuable resources - like
water, prime agricultural land, minerals, beaches, ports - were in
Natal, of course.
So Zululand, and the locations and reserves (later townships) that were
designed to hold surplus labour, developed poorly. Lacking resources,
and subjected to tremendous overcrowding, most farm land was quickly
degraded, and the promised "decentralisation" never happened. On the
other side of the "border" Europeans grew rich from gold and diamonds.
Natal's power grew by demanding the poverty of its majority.
Apartheid consolidated these historical relationships; it did not create
them. Yet in the 1980s, when the National Party relaxed influx controls
and the Group Areas Act, they insisted that all new settlements by the
predicted "internal migrants" be linked to market-based land values.
Private developers would be responsible for finding "suitable locations"
of new development, so that "existing patterns of segregation" remain.
The 1984 Strydom Report insisted that legislation must "concentrate on
perpetuating what has been achieved".
A decade later, when everyone voted for the first time, the new
government undertook to correct past crimes, and build a better life for
all. However, the ANC's adoption of market-based, developer- and
bank-driven housing and land policies have used the NP's own plans
against the majority.
Why were all land reform targets missed? The subsidies were small, and
the current landowners had to be "willing-sellers". New housing
delivery, just like land, was linked to market mechanisms, so that
profits would fuel delivery, not need: "Privatisation," City Manager
Mike Sutcliffe warned in 1990, "has increased the potential for the
poorest to be pushed out to the urban periphery." The NP called it
"orderly urbanisation". We should call it apartheid by other means.
When Jadhu Place's residents finally were allowed to enter Durban after
Group Areas ended, they quickly found there was no place for them.
Abused and robbed by colonisation, then apartheid, and now
cost-recovery, many found that the small subsidies were only enough to
buy a shed far away from the cities. So they built shacks, which the
government has pledged to "clear" by 2010, insisting that it will remove
current residents "to the periphery" where there is no shortage of
What's increasingly obvious, after 12 years of so-called democracy, is
that South Africa will continue to be separate and unequal as long as
the all-powerful market determines where and how houses can be built.
Consider for example Jameson Park. It stands at the intersection of
Florida and Musgrave roads. It is a lovely area, good sized, with a
large grassy area, and well-served by both kombis and Mynah buses, but
Jameson Park's primary function is for dogs.
Yet the municipality keeps telling shackdwellers and flatdwellers that
there is no available land. At Jadhu Place, the fire was started from a
gas cooking stove; KwaZulu-Natal's current managers have stopped
programmes to electrify the shacks, and the result will certainly be
While the shacks at Jadhu Place still smouldered, the contrasting lights
of the homes on the opposite hillside clearly portrayed SA's "first-
world-third-world" dilemma. Those bulbs run on these flames, we all thought.
As long as dogs of the rich have more land than the poor, and the houses
with pools of the wealthy have more electricity than the shacks of the
impoverished, South Africa will always remain violent.
Jeff Purcell is a visiting research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KZN.