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Publication Details

Reference
Ngwane Trevor (2010) Xenophobia and Civil Society Reactions in Chatsworth: Lessons from 2008.  : -.

Summary
This article reviews Chatsworth’s xenophobic explosion of 2008, specifically in the Bottlebrush informal settlement, in the context of structural economic oppression. Durban was the third most incident-prone site in South Africa, following the Gauteng megalopolis and the Cape Town metropolitan area; nationally the xenophobic violence left 62 people dead (including 21 South Africans), 670 wounded, dozens of women raped, at least 100,000 people displaced, and extensive looting (Misago, Landau and Monson 2009, 7-12). In Durban, Chatsworth was the main site of attacks, and further site research in August 2010 revealed that anti-immigrant tensions remain severe in Bottlebrush (Zvavanhu 2010). In an earlier article, the Centre for Civil Society research team made the case that there are deep structural problems in South African society, including Durban, which must be incorporated as central to any analysis of xenophobia (Amisi, Bond, Cele and Ngwane 2011). This becomes clear in a particular case study of Bottlebrush.

The Chatsworth areas that were investigated include Bayview (flats), Bayview Unity Avenue, Welbedacht Ashram, Crossmoore Shack Settlement, and Westcliff Flats. The research entailed interviews with 45 people, including 25 community members/ residents, two police officers from Metro Police and SAPS Chatsworth, three municipal officials, and 15 victims of xenophobic violence. From these, we have sufficient ethnographic information to confidently put forward hypotheses that cross socio-economic context with more detailed considerations of housing, employment, gender, generation and ethnicity.

Historical, social and demographic factors in Bottlebrush
It is estimated that about 6 million people live in shacks in South Africa; in Durban, there are 650 000 shack dwellers out of a total population of 3.5 million, about 20%. [1] No exception, Bottlebrush suffers overcrowding, inadequate water and sanitation services, ‘shacks [that] dangle off steep, refuse strewn slopes… a colourful mishmash of materials, shapes and sizes.’ [2] On the one hand, ‘Social life in the settlement consists of rowdy and energetic Friday and Saturday parties’ with the attendant overindulgence, violence and dangerous sexual liaisons. [3] On the other, economic deprivation, environmental pollution and related health problems abound. With respect to the latter, Bottlebrush was one of the test cases in a project by the eThekwini municipality, and was found to have ‘severe pollution problems impacting on community health [and] low level or poor existing infrastructures and services’. [4] During field visits, there was no sign of the benefits of this project. The place was as filthy and squalor-ridden as ever.

Bottlebrush consists of hundreds of shacks built around two hills sloping sharply down into a small dirty stream. The place is teeming with people and, when you stand on one side of the hill, you can see and hear people busy in their shacks across the stream giving an eerie claustrophobic sensation as if everything is happening inside a fishbowl. This feeling is accentuated over the weekend when everyone is home, with people talking, radios blaring, children shouting, dogs barking and the odd car driving through the extremely narrow, precarious, concrete roads. Rough looking young men sit in street corners or in shebeens (drinking houses) that are strategically located at key points in the settlement. Groomed, confident young women walk in pairs along the streets chatting away. There is the inevitable drunk zigzagging in the street. Older women go about their washing in the few water taps placed at unexpected points in the street, often not a real tap but a thin plastic pipe sticking out of the ground and kept closed by bending it against itself and tying it with a piece of string.

The Bottlebrush community is a recent beneficiary of a government housing project. A total of 964 houses are being built in situ, that is, in your current yard where you have your shack. But it is hard to distinguish the new houses from the old brick houses some people built for themselves; everything appears drab and sub-standard. The local hall, a big ramshackle building that looks like it was built by a fly-by-night bricklayer, boasts a big sign stating that it has been closed because it was damaged when pipes were being laid to service the area. There is no other local community facility besides this dead white elephant hall. Electricity has been installed at Bottlebrush and one can see wires confusedly crisscrossing the street poles intent on finding their way into each yard. Most shacks are made of planks or wooden boards pinned together with rusty nails. Each yard can squeeze in as many as 13 shacks.

Bottlebrush got its name from the street that takes you from Crossmore Street, Chatsworth Unit 9, through some ‘Indian’ houses into the shack settlement. Ironically the almost obscure green sign put by the municipality to indicate where the area is reads ‘Bottlebrush Community Hall’. Apparently the settlement was born about 20 years ago when people fleeing political violence in KwaNdengezi, a township bordering Chatsworth, sought refuge in the hilly bushes and built plastic shelters. The first land invaders at Bottlebrush must have been ANC supporters running away from IFP warlords. The area continues to be an ANC stronghold although COPE found a footing in the build-up to the last national elections. At the moment the only local civic and political structure in operation is the ANC Branch Executive Committee. The latter is the authority that runs Bottlebrush.

Almost every respondent who commented on the issue held this committee in disgust because of their poor and allegedly corrupt leadership of the area.

Bottlebrush is big but the problem is the leadership. The people there put their hopes on me because they are not good leaders. The committees have spent 15 years in power and even if it is time to vote then there are shenanigans with membership cards. It is people who are working for their pockets. [5]

No development. Nothing happens here. Even if there is a little development then they eat the money, there is corruption and then that development ends up getting nowhere. It is exactly the local leaders and committees, everything ends up with them. It is just them who get everything, they block things and we get nothing. [6]

Bottlebrush is notorious for being a rough, crime-ridden place. Indeed, things have improved because there was a time when gangsters ran amok terrorizing the residents. This was brought somewhat under control when the community, led by the local ANC, organized a vigilante group which literally killed the gangsters. [7] According to one respondent other forms of civic organization were banished from the area because these ended up ill-treating people in the name of maintaining law and order. That left the ANC BEC. However, there is an apparent leadership vacuum in the area leading to a sense of insecurity by residents who feel that the area is lawless. Matters are made worse by the fact that Ward 71, which incorporates Bottlebrush, was won by the Minority Front with the ANC losing out because of the ‘Indian vote’. [8] The ANC has allocated a proportional representative councilor to work in the area but it does not seem as if she is very active in local affairs. [9]

Bottlebrush is still known as a crime-infested, lawless place.

But in Bottlebrush there are no rules. [10]

In Bottlebrush there is no law. It is a place where the buck eats grass during the day. If you meet someone who hates you, he beats you up. [11]

Bottlebrush? It is not alright. It used to have a lot of crime but it is better now. It is not a great place. There are criminals. [12]

The biggest complaint is that it is an area with a leadership without vision, a place where there is no development.

Bottlebrush is a skomplaas [rough shantytown]. It is a place with many different people. You can’t have law because there are many different people. That’s why I say it is a skomplaas. I am not insulting them. There is no law and order there. On Friday they get drunk. Everyone is pulling their own way. It is about being someone’s homeboy and even if he does something wrong they will say leave him alone it is my homeboy. So there is no order. [13]

I don’t want to live here, I want to leave. The people here can strangle you in broad daylight. [14]

Bottlebrush. It is mostly people from the farms but most carry themselves as jondolo. You respect the one who respects you. I saw this for myself when my sister died. I was alone with the boys who live here. You can’t expect help from anyone. There are different ethnic groups or tribes here, Zulus, Xhosa. People say I will never be friends with that Zulu. If it was up to me I would leave this place. [15]

The time of xenophobia
When xenophobia erupted in Chatsworth, foreign nationals from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe living in the Bottlebrush and Unity Avenue informal settlements of Chatsworth were most severely affected. In these areas, anger and resentment brewed as locals collectively blamed foreigners for housing and job shortages. As the violence ensued, the government did not provide assistance and it was left to civil society to fill the void and respond to the crisis. Neighbourhood associations and religious groups from the area provided relief in the form of shelter, clothing and food, but due to limited resources and capacities assistance did not extend beyond the short term.

Although the response of civil society did not extend into the long term or address the root causes of xenophobia, there is potential for such involvement at present. Misunderstandings of structural factors that lead to marginalization led in turn to symbolic violence in the form of xenophobia in areas such as Bottlebrush and Unity Avenue. Civil society groups in Chatsworth, such as the Bayview and Westcliff Flat Residents Associations have been organizing around issues of structural violences such as evictions and service delivery failures in the post-Apartheid era. Civil society in Chatsworth, with its history of organization and mobilization around issues of housing and service delivery, is in a position to coordinate with marginalized citizen in communities if xenophobia reoccurs, to share experiences and lessons learned.

Civil society groups in Chatsworth, such as the Westcliff Flat Residents Association, have a long history of action and mobilization around issues such as shelter and service delivery. In an area like Chatsworth were civil society is strong, was the response to xenophobia handled more efficiently than in other areas? Was civil society able to respond to both short-term and long-term issues involved in the xenophobic attacks?

When the xenophobic violence broke out in South Africa in May of 2008, Chatsworth was not immune. The xenophobic attacks in Chatsworth began after news reports of attacks in Alexandra and western Cape began filtering through media outlets. Within days of the attacks in Alexandra, the Durban SAPS called a meeting with several local NGOs to discuss strategies for evading similar attacks in the eThekwini municipality. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Menonite Council (MCC), both implementing partners for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), note that through these meetings several hotspots were identified and extra policing was deployed to these areas.

Before all prevention measures were put into place however, xenophobic incidents began to be reported. Pockets of violence were recorded throughout the township, but two areas were particularly hard hit. The hardest hit was the informal settlement of Bottlebrush located in Unit 11. Also recording violence was the Unity Avenue settlement. In Bottlebrush informal settlement residents note that before the attacks began pamphlets were distributed throughout the community warning foreigners threatening imminent violence if they did not immediately vacate the premises. Many foreigners fled immediately, but there were attacks and several deaths inside the settlement. The flashpoint of violence descended into chaos and it is impossible to get clear numbers of the number of attacks and murders that ensued. In Unity Avenue, many foreign residents fled their homes and there were reports of attacks on settlement residents by other settlement residents, but most of these attacks took place outside the settlement rather than inside. Attacks inside the settlement were avoided in large part due to coordination by the Bayview Police Forum.

A member of the police forum, a South African married to a Zimbabwean living in the Unity Avenue settlement, contacted police forces and requested that extra forces to patrol the area until tensions cooled. The added police presence inside the settlement did not mean that violence was avoided though. One victim of attack relates how his neighbours caught him on his way from his job at the local garage on the main road outside the settlement and beat him causing severe head injury. The looting and destruction of foreigners´ homes and properties were also recorded. Community members themselves, rather than the police, dealt with incidents of looting using internal structures of maintaining order and traditional justice to punish offenders.

Victims of attack and those fearing attack fled to police stations such as the Bayview SAPS station and the Chatsworth SAPS station as well as to nearby Morton Community Hall. In addition, other victims fled to churches in central Durban, such as Emmanuel Cathedral, where intake of xenophobic victims from other areas of the city had already begun.

Where did it happen?
The Durban township of Chatsworth was created under the auspices of the Group Areas Act of 1950. The Group Areas Act was an effort on the part of the Apartheid government to residentially segregate the city on the basis of race. Roughly, the city was divided into concentric circles, which the white residential areas in the center of the city, the Indian and coloured residential areas lying outside them, and the black or African residential areas beyond those. Using a process of forced relocation, the Group Areas Act created racially homogenous enclaves in Durban that, despite the fall of the Apartheid regime, still exist in basically the same form today.

Chatsworth was incorporated in 1964 to form a deliberate buffer between white residential areas and the large African township of Umlazi. Divided into eleven residential units, Chatsworth possess a developed industrial infrastructure and a significant middle class of merchants and business men. Due to high unemployment, however, the area has also been the site of large numbers of evictions as well as water and electricity cutoffs. Poverty is rife in Chatsworth which is home to long neglected government housing projects, known locally as ‘the flats’ as well as numerous shack settlements.

Bottlebrush is located in a steep valley sprawling outward to the Ridge shopping center. There are no formal roads entering the settlement and only one paved way in. Numerous steep and winding footpaths provide entry to various points in the settlement. Ambulances cannot navigate the steep and often washed out in route and police refuse to enter the settlement. When emergency health services are called, settlement residents must find some way to transport the sick and wounded to the main road for ambulance assistance. Police cannot and/or will not respond to calls from the settlement. According to a Metro Police officer, the settlement is infamous for violence and crime and the police themselves are frightened to enter. The officer recalls an incident some years ago where two officers entered the settlement to collect money from two men known to be operating a hijacking racket and were murdered in the settlement. Despite the fact that the officers entered the settlement to collect dirty money and were themselves operating outside the law, stories such as this live on in the locker room lore and influence the decisions of officers.

In addition to being neglected by emergency medical and security services, the Bottlebrush community is not fitted for water or electricity services. Water must be accessed from a standpipe and transported by hand to the shacks. There are no sanitation facilities in the settlement. The residents of Bottlebrush live in shacks constructed mostly of scrap metal and wood, some dangling precariously on the edges of the valley. Paraffin and candles are used in lieu of electricity, making fire an ever present risk. Should a fire break out in one shack, it would likely spread quickly to neighbouring shacks as the shack density is very high in the valley and many of the shacks are attached to one another.

Although Chatsworth is a mainly Indian township, the Bottlebrush settlement is inhabited by mostly African residents of Zulu descent as well as a large number of foreigners hailing Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Poverty is rife and unemployment is high amongst residents that have been unable to access formal housing elsewhere. Amongst the Zulu residents the Bottlebrush community is an ANC stronghold, but the politics of the community are rather divisive. One group has strong connections to the ward councilor in the area while another is more strongly linked with the leaders of the Crossmoore informal settlement located just across the main road from Bottlebrush. Infighting between the groups causes turmoil within the settlement and also stymies solidarity actions outside the community.

Unity Avenue is also an informal settlement sprinkled with RDP houses, but there are several key differences between the two areas. Unity Avenue began as an informal settlement about 15 years ago. Like Bottlebrush, due to the nature of the settlement it is difficult to put an exact date on its establishment. Unity Avenue is located in Bayview, Unit 2, of Chatsworth adjacent to the Bayview flats. Unity Avenue is named for the street that enters the settlement, a one lane cement path in bad repair that intersects Summerfield Road and swoops through the top part of the settlement, down a steep hill and back up again completing the circle.

Built on a steep hillside, the road only service part of the settlement. The rest must be reached on foot causing serious problems for weak and ailing residents. Like Bottlebrush, the lack of access means that services such as ambulances cannot reach the sick and injured. Unlike Bottlebrush however, the police do not fully refuse to enter the Unity Avenue settlement. Several community leaders in Unity Avenue are members of the local police forum for the Bayview area, and as such have connections on the force. The police responded, for example, when members of the community called to report the outbreak of xenophobic violence in the settlement. They patrolled the settlement throughout the night to keep control of the situation and deter the opportunistic looting that had begun. In addition, on a more regular basis, police make sweeps of the settlement as they know there are many illegal foreign residents living there. The undocumented immigrants in the community live in fear of these sweeps where deportation can only be avoided by bribery.

As one of the first RDP projects, houses began replacing shacks about 12 years ago. These first cement tin-roofed structures were built before the minimum size requirements were introduced. The project was aborted prematurely leaving a smattering of 146 brightly coloured matchbox houses speckling the hillside. The houses never accommodated all the people in the settlement and as more people came the shortage grew worse. Building of shacks continued over the years to accommodate growing families and new residents. Many home owners build shacks off of their homes and rent them out as a source of income.

Unity Avenue is much more densely populated than Bottlebrush with one shack practically built on top of another in some places. Due to its precarious location perched on the hillside, mazes of homemade staircases built of scrap material wind between the shacks creating a labyrinth that locals navigate with ease but whose twists and turns can easily disorient an outsider. Unlike Bottlebrush, the residents of Unity Avenue do have access to water and electricity. The RDP houses were fitted with pre-paid water and electricity meters and later as shacks were added, residents rerouted water pipes and split power cables to extend services to the informal housing.

Unity Avenue is a more heterogeneous community than Bottlebrush. While the majority of residents are black South Africans, there are also significant numbers of Indian South Africans and foreigners from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Many residents in Unity Avenue have strong links to the Zanzibari community living in Zanzi Town in Unit 2. The mosque is located just outside the settlement and many of the locals in the community are of Zanzi descent with family members in countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe – the same countries where many of the foreigner residents come from. The attacks in Unity Avenue were less pronounced than in Bottlebrush perhaps because of the social networks and solidarity of the Zanzibari community. Those that were displaced from the settlement were mostly newcomers that had lived in the settlement for less than two years and did not have strong links to the community.

Inside the settlement, each nationality of foreigners has a leader. This leader is in charge of settling newcomers into the area and is also often in charge of organizing jobs for his compatriots. The leader of the Zimbabweans in the Unity Avenue settlement, for example, notes how the process for integration into the community functions. If a Zimbabwean is interested in moving to the community, he or she first makes contact with him and he arranges a space in the Zimbabwean quarter of the settlement arranging prices with the landlord. In addition, he uses his connections in the building industry to arrange day jobs and casual labour for skilled and unskilled Zimbabweans. Due to these processes there is a geographical residential segregation amongst residents of the community along national lines.

Who were the perpetrators and victims?
The attackers, a victim from Cato Crest/ Cato Manor argues, were mostly young men who live in the area.

It was boys who beat up not girls. It was men, and young men, no women [16].

They seemed to have gone from shack to shack looking for ‘makwerekwere’. They knew which shacks their targets occupied, just as happened to a respondent who got beaten up in Germiston:

They were choosing houses; they knew this one belongs to a Zulu, this one to a Shangaan. They had many weapons, all sorts of weapons. They came into the room I was in. [17]

The beating was merciless and terrifying. You were lucky to come out alive:

…They came into the room I was in. This one guy hid under the bed and they couldn’t find him. I felt it wouldn’t be good to join him because they would be suspicious and find us. So I thought it is better that my brother is saved and he can tell my people how I died. They beat me up, hey, they beat me up. They beat me and beat me and beat me... [18]

The trauma stays with you, it is hard to forget. Yet still, because of economic reasons, the migrant workers had no choice but to come back to South Africa after their beating:

I wanted to go but my body said, don’t go back to Johannesburg. I was scared, I wanted to go there but my heart said don’t go there. So on fourteen January I came back but I didn’t want to go back to Johannesburg. I went to Durban. I said I will see what happens. Anything can happen, if I die my brothers will remain. [19]

For some, because of the pressure to earn a living there is a need for rationalization and a defeatist if courageous fatalism takes over:

I want them to kill me here in South Africa, I will die here. If I hear it is now in Mariannhill and it’s coming here, they must kill me. I am tired of running. I ran from Johannesburg, I can’t run again. People die and others remain. They can kill me. [20]

Some of the perpetrators were apprehended:

The man who beat me was arrested, he stayed 2 months in the police station after that he was released. He is around. I am scared of him because I don’t know what he is thinking about me. [21]

Police came and said whoever beat makwerekwere must be arrested. Landladies were asked to identify those who beat up makwerekwere. Some did, some did not. [22]

All in all it is a sad, sorry affair:

What can I do? It’s too hard because some people just can’t understand. It’s too hard. Can they attack me? Yes, but they are scared of the police. [23]

They don’t want Mozambicans. But others want us. They say we (South Africans) and Shangaans must be one, but others don’t want us. [24]

I don’t know, at work they say we must go back home, yes we can go back home, because it is your South Africa not ours, we will go back. [25]

The victims of xenophobia and those displaced by the violence were mostly foreign nationals from Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. There were also a few victims from Tanzania. Mozambicans, Malawians, and Zimbabweans make up the largest communities of foreign nationals in Bottlebrush and Unity Avenue.

Mozambican, Malawian, and Zimbabwean immigrants are not the only foreigners that live and work in the Chatsworth area, however. Nigerians have business contacts and links in the township as do many Pakistani immigrants. While the Nigerians typically reside in central Durban, only coming to Chatsworth on business, the Pakistani immigrants hold residence in Chatsworth in ownership houses throughout the area.

Who responded to the xenophobic attacks?
While some that were displaced from Chatsworth sought shelter outside of the township, at Emmanuel Cathedral in central Durban for example, this analysis focuses specifically on the response of those in Chatsworth to the violence within the township. In Chatsworth, many of those displaced from Bottlebrush sought shelter in the Moorton Community Hall just outside of the settlement. The victims were transported from Moorton Community Hall to the Chatsworth Police station, the central SAPS station in Chatsworth. Those displaced from Unity Avenue sought immediate shelter in the Bayview Police station. Due to space constraints at Bayview Police station, these victims were also transported to the Chatsworth Police station. At the Chatsworth Police station, victims were corralled into the inside the gates and tent was set up in open air next to the holding cells. Eventually, due to overcrowding and lack of resources, some victims had to be housed elsewhere and the Westville Baptist Church in Westville took in the overflow. Westville Baptist was able to house them in facilities usually set aside for transitional care of homeless residents in Durban.

Approximately 30 xenophobia victims from Bottlebrush and Unity Avenue spent approximately six weeks at the Chatsworth Police station. Most were single males, but there were several families including women and children as well. The current investigation focuses on the assistance of these victims at the Chatsworth Police station. Coordination and assistance was handled by three main groups of actors: neighbourhood associations, religious organizations, and private philanthropists. Brandon Pillay of the Bayview Flat Residents Association and Orlean Naidoo of the Westcliff Flat Residents Association (neighbourhood organizations from Unit 2 and Unit 3, respectively) managed assistance from their groups. Isaa coordinated assistance from the local Muslim community and Swami Ramkripananda Saraswathi that of the Sarva Dharma Ashram. In addition, Professor Fatima Meer donated money to aid the relief effort.

In addition to signaling actors who did respond to the crisis, it is also necessary to point out those that did not. The Refugee Service Provider Network (RSPN), including implementing partners for the UNHCR (MCC and LHR) who responded to xenophobic violence in Durban, did not respond to the crisis in Chatsworth as those affected in Chatsworth were not registered refugees. The mandate of MCC and LHR only cover those foreigners that are registered as asylum seekers or refugees whereas the victims at the police station were undocumented immigrants, most with expired tourist visas. MCC did handle some of the displaced in Bottlebrush who fled to central Durban with other migrants from other areas of the city. These victims were registered by MCC and emergency accommodation was arranged (at Emmanuel Cathedral, for example) even though such actions were outside the organization´s prevue. MCC was networking immediately after the crisis trying to engage the municipality who were adamant that the crisis did not fall under their mandate. This left organizations like MCC overextended and unable to coordinate or assist in other areas.

Thus, the assistance of large organizations and service providers was virtually absent in Chatsworth. The Red Cross, also a member of RSPN and involved in the response to xenophobia in central Durban, was the only national and/or international aid organization to assist in Chatsworth. The Red Cross provided water and a box lunch on the day that the victims left the Chatsworth Police station to be eaten en route to their home countries for repatriation.

While the police provided an outdoor area for the refugee to stay and a tent to cover them from the rain and sun, no other assistance was provided. Neither did the municipal, provincial or national government provide any assistance. Therefore, the responsibility for the day-to-day care of victims housed at the police station fell squarely on the shoulder of civil society.

The Bayview Flat Residents Association (BFRA) assisted during the initial outbreak when victims from Unity Avenue fled to the Bayview Police station. The BFRA assisted with the reintegration of some victims back to their homes in Unity Avenue when the situation quieted and the transfer of others who were still too fearful to return to their homes to the Chatsworth Police station. In addition, the organization assisted churches in other areas care for xenophobia victims by cooking meals.

The Westcliff Flat Residents Association (WFRA) was involved from the time that the victims arrived at the Chatsworth Police station until they left six weeks later to be repatriated. The WFRA liaised with police and provided material assistance in the form of blankets, mattresses and food for the victims. The members of the WFRA, both foreigners and South Africans themselves, spent time with the displaced victims during the tense days following the xenophobic attacks. Besides absolute necessities such as food for basic sustenance, the WFRA also organized a braai for the victims of xenophobia during their stay at the police station. For victims who had been uprooted from their homes, forced to live in a tent in the cold and wind, and relied on the charity of others to food and cloth themselves, a braai was a welcome reprieve from the desperate situation into which they had been forced. Orlean Naidoo of WFRA also took the lead in helping to organize repatriation for the victims. She liaised with municipal councilors, police, and other organizations to secure buses for repatriation. She also liaised with private donors, such as Professor Fatima Meer to secure funding for mattresses, blankets and food.

In addition to neighbourhood organizations, local religious organizations also provided material assistance and organizational support. Members of the Muslim community, led by a Malawian woman (Isaa), assisted Orlean Naidoo in organizing blankets, food and mattresses. In addition, he and his organization helped with repatriation efforts by coordinating with foreign embassies. The WFRA also worked closely with the UKZN Centre for Civil Society in a series of meetings (including Wolpe Lectures) aimed at opening up lines of communication, common analysis and constructive actions in mid- and late 2008.

The Bottlebrush incident and the politics of housing
Why is it that xenophobic attitudes escalate into attacks especially in informal settlements? And how can this be avoided? Part of the answer lies with the political, social and economic dynamics in informal settlements around the production and use of housing.

Many informal settlements start off as land invasions. Working class people, constrained and excluded by capital from access to land and housing, are compelled to take matters into their own hands and commit a grievous sin under capitalism, namely, trample upon the sanctity of private property. This defiant collective action no doubt leaves its mark on the consciousness of the people concerned.

Research into Bottlebrush reveals that when people do this the plan is to resist eviction or removal from the invaded land until the authorities tacitly recognize the new settlement and hopefully include them in future housing development. This is how Bottlebrush was born, and also how Ekupholeni (Crossmore), an offshoot of Bottlebrush, was born. Certainly, the people of Ekupholeni were very proud of their accomplishment, establishing a new settlement, and they were very hopeful that in the near future subsidized housing would be built for them.

The point here is that many informal settlements are born out of class struggle, the struggle between the principle of private property which is premised on production for profit, and the principle of public ownership or municipalisation where land is appropriated to satisfy human needs. In other words, the struggle of labour against its domination by capital. Harvey argues that ‘the relation between labour and the built environment can be understood only in terms of it’. [26]

The question is how a working-class community born of class struggle, such as Bottlebrush does, turn against other members of the working class albeit originating from other countries? After all, workers are quite capable of figuring out what is what, who their enemies are and what is in their best interest. They should be able, after ‘socializing’ or ‘commoning’ the land, to extend that principle to other arenas of life including their relations with immigrants. [27]

What militates against this? At this point, a series of overlapping factors - politics, ideology, organization and leadership - become decisive in the equation we are trying to solve. And again, Marx and Harvey provide the basic framework for the explanation needed. Harvey, following Marx and other Marxist thinkers, suggests that ‘homeownership for labour’ is a crucial is a crucial ideological bulwark for the survival of capitalism and its hallowed private property principle:

Extended individualized homeownership is seen as advantageous to the capitalist class because it promotes the allegiance of at least a segment of the working class to the principle of private property, promotes an ethic of ‘possessive individualism’. [28]

The evidence from Bottlebrush suggests that as soon as the land invaders take over the land, build their shacks and manage to ward off attacks and attempts to remove them by the state, the tendency is to slide into individualized private ownership of the shacks and the land upon which they are erected. The attack on private property represented by the invasion and the raising of the principle of public collective ownership implied by the collective act of invading and defending against state attempts to dislodge the invaders soon gives way to the parcelling out of more or less privately owned pieces of land which, after sometimes, congeals into a ‘lumpen’ form of landlordism.

This is exactly what happened in Bottlebrush. Today, many ‘houseowners’ in this informal settlement are landlords and landladies who rent out shacks to other community members including immigrants from African countries. [29] It is fascinating to see how, in the context of an informal settlement,

Homeownership, in short, invites a faction of the working class to wage its inevitable fight over the appropriation of value in capitalist society in a very different way. It puts them on the side of the principle of private property and frequently leads them to appropriate values at the expense of other factions of the working class. [30]

The ethic and practice of self-management and self-government which develops during the period of invasion and initial settlement, instead of being extended and developed into a struggle against capital, is turned into its opposite whereby the ‘people’s committees’ which lead the community end up being arbiters and managers of value extraction by landlords from tenants, many of whom, in Bottlebrush at least, are immigrants.

People born in South Africa are not immune from such exploitation. The invasion of land in Crossmore was effected by Bottlebrush tenants who ‘got tired’ of paying exorbitant rents in the settlement. The worst part, according to the leader of the Crossmore invaders, was that as tenants they were not allowed any say in Bottlebrush community affairs. [31] No one will be surprised to hear that the most exploited and ill-treated tenants in Bottlebrush are African immigrants. [32]

An interesting angle is the fact that the Bottlebrush committee consists of the leadership of the local ANC branch. On face value this seems like ‘opportunism’ or even ‘corruption’ because many respondents accused some committee members of benefiting financially and in other ways from the situation. [33] But the issue goes deeper than that. Petit landlordism is tolerated by capital, according to Harvey, because it is ‘a glorious tool to divide and rule’ and, further:

[capital] preserves the principle of private property intact in the context of class struggle by permitting labour to return to the face of the earth [after being disposed by landed property] as a partial owner of land and property as a condition of consumption. [34]

Hence, the ruling party, the ANC, runs local branches that seem to strengthen capitalist processes. Moreover, when the invaders are left alone by the state after successfully taking over the land, their hope is to be given ‘umxhaso’ (Zulu for subsidy) housing and this is premised on the orderly existence of individual households or people who qualify.

This further pushes the community towards acceptance of the private property principle in land and house ownership because it is a condition set by the state for you to get a house. At the same time, African immigrants without documents are automatically excluded. And, in the case of Bottlebrush, tenants even if born in South Africa, are also excluded with only landlords or ‘stand owners’ (‘omastende’) qualifying to receive houses.

Indeed this is exactly what is happening now in Bottlebrush with the government busy building RDP houses in the area. And, as happened with the Crossmore invaders, meetings are still (in October 2009) being called by tenants in Bottlebrush who are planning another land invasion both to escape petit landlordism and to position themselves to get subsidized houses sometime in the future, something they are not going to get as long as they are tenants in someone’s yard in Bottlebrush. [35]

What is the relevance of all this to the xenophobic attacks? The most exploited tenants appear to be the immigrants. The disadvantage of being an immigrant is that you are condemned to the status of a permanent tenant as you are excluded from ever owning a house in South Africa especially if you don’t have papers.

During the xenophobic attacks in Alexandra one issue raised by the attackers was that immigrants acquire houses corruptly and thus jump the queue. Many South African born people, tired of waiting on the waiting list, will bribe an official to get a house. Immigrants need a house as much as South African citizens and are not immune to bribing someone to secure it.

Hence here we find one possible interaction between xenophobia and the struggle of the working class to access adequate and affordable housing. The working class is divided because capitalism – even petit landlordism - pits one section of the class against another. But in addressing this, the problem must be located firmly within the class struggle between labour and capital. This must involve an understanding of the relationship between struggles in the workplace and the place of living.


The Bottlebrush incident and xenophobia at the point of production
With respect to the workplace, the investigation into Bottlebrush reveals that almost all the African immigrants living there are employed, especially the men. But they are mostly precariously employed. One respondent, for example, complained that he travelled to work about three times the previous week only to be told there was no job for the day. The employer insists that he reports for duty and only decides when he is there whether his services will be needed.

There are many other stories of such ill-treatment with the most common one being underpaid, immigrants are, as a rule, paid much less than South Africans. Some South Africans recognize this injustice and blame the employers, while others want to blame the immigrants for accepting low wages.

Why do immigrants accept low wages? Because they are desperate. Because they can save. Because when they get back home they can change the money into the local currency and make a fortune.

And what goes on at the workplace finds its way back to working-class communities and some of the frustrations of South African born workers add fuel to the fire of xenophobic attitudes.

The Bottlebrush findings also indicate that immigrant workers are not only ill-treated by the employers but also by fellow workers. They work harder, longer and are given the most difficult tasks. In at least one case, the employer docks immigrant workers’ pay at the behest of other (South African born) workers and such money is used to buy braaivleis.

Immigrant workers appear to sometimes provide cheap labour to the South African economy and also serve as a kind of underclass labour force that is pushed around by both employer and fellow employee at the workplace. This is well recognized in Bottlebrush.

Youth and gender dynamics
The research indicates that the violence against African immigrants was waged largely by young adult males. [36] Some commentators have identified a ‘masculine entitlement’ in the violence that defines women as the property of South African men hence the attacks on male immigrants. [37] In this section, we consider the twin dynamics of youth and gender in the xenophobic attacks trying to provide a theoretical explanation of the operation of these factors.

In Bottlebrush there is little evidence emerging from the interviews that women immigrants were attacked. However, it cannot be ruled out and the story of women and how they were affected by the violence clearly needs further investigation. [38]

They were displaced with the men and had to go and live somewhere else until the violence subsided. [39] There is no doubt from casual conversations and the rather brief interviews conducted with young immigrant women that they experience discrimination, ill-treatment or at least verbal abuse and negative labelling as ‘non-South African citizens’. [40] The women expressed a very strong sense of being the ‘other’, of not belonging and of wishing that they were in their ‘own country’. [41]

Historically the migrant labour system in South Africa was characterised by the movement of male labour from African countries and the rural areas of South Africa to the mines rather than the migration of women. However, over time women also found their way to where the men were necessitating, for example, the birth of African settled communities (in the form of ‘locations’ and townships) since the single-sex male compounds could not accommodate women. The apartheid government, in line with its dogged pursuance of the logic of apartheid later built female hostels to accommodate women.

In Bottlebrush, according to the respondents, at first only the male immigrants lived in the area, but recently female immigrants are also settling in the area. [42] According to the immigrant women themselves this is because of the pressure of poverty and other problems in their home countries. On the other hand, the male immigrant respondents talked about bringing ‘our women’ to stay with them. [43] We should note however that many ‘single’ immigrant men, no doubt out of necessity, soon establish short or long-term
relationships with local South African women. [44]

Where does the perception or the reality of competition over women come from? we think we can find an explanation by a consideration of structural and ideological factors. There is a very high unemployment rate in Bottlebrush that mirrors the situation in the rest of the country. Nationally unemployment, using the expanded
definition, is about 40%.

However, researchers have suggested that unemployment is highly gendered (and age-related) with unemployment among young African women estimated at about 75%, the worst affected of all social groups. [45] Similarly, although to a lesser extent, young African men experience unemployment levels much higher than the national average. It has been suggested that by gender activists, especially in the context of studying the vulnerability of women to HIV infection, that ‘poverty [...] increases women’s vulnerability to the need to grant sexual favours in exchange for resources’ [46]

Some respondents suggested that ‘local women’ found immigrant men attractive because they provided them with resources. [47] We need not come to any definite conclusion in this respect except to note the need for further research that can shed more light on the material basis for intimate relationships between working class men and women, irrespective of country of origin of either sex.

On the ideological front, there is no doubt given the evidence from the interviews that patriarchal attitudes abound among both immigrant and South African born men. Women are assumed to ‘naturally’ do the unpaid domestic labour in working class male-headed households. In addition and related to this view is a patriarchal attitude that considers women as an asset or even the private properly of (their respective) men.

There is also the view that men must attract or pursue women and that the wealthier a man is the better his chances of ‘catching’ women and keeping them.

The corollary to this is that if a man does not have enough money women will find him less attractive. In a nutshell, men are assumed to be in competition for women and their material possessions largely determine who comes out the winner. Other attributes can be thrown into the mix but wealth seems to be seen as the decisive factor.

It is this potent mix of structure and ideology in a context of an unequal and highly competitive society that fuels the perceptions that lead to the ‘masculine entitlements’ and violent competition between men fighting over women that characterise xenophobic attacks. To this some gender activists add the role of the conservative ideology of ‘familism’ that can turn men into monsters in a context of the disempowerment many of them experience due to poverty, unemployment and a failure to see any way out of their sorry economic condition. The family remains the poor man’s last resort: it will give him power and authority when no one else will. [48]

Conclusions
It is apparent from our research that within the processes of uneven and combined development of both capitalism and civil society in the region and in Durban, deep structural forces are responsible for xenophobia. Durban civil society was only partially successful in organising short-term crisis responses to the violence of 2008, but did not offer any long-term solutions. Moreover, as for maintaining attention, civil society organisations were generally incapable of preparing for a new upsurge of xenophobic sentiments. Few were involved following the short-term response in 2008, even though the analysis above suggests that there is a space for civil society co-operation around the structural factors and root causes of xenophobia.

For example, civil society in Chatsworth has a history of successful mobilisation around issues such as housing and service delivery, but this did not directly benefit xenophobia hotspots such as Bottlebrush and Unity Avenue. As another example, the KwaZulu-Natal Refugee Council has barely begun the work of building political solidarity with the wide range of regional immigrants – especially from the Great Lakes region, Nigeria’s Niger Delta, Zimbabwe and Swaziland – that might be feasible.

As for short-term problems within civil society, a lack of co-ordination and leadership were consistently cited as the greatest challenges in dealing with this crisis. Respondents suggested that organisations had been ‘polarised’, and mentioned ‘antagonism’ and ‘finger pointing’. This suggests that, due to the lack of leadership, the situation deteriorated as the crisis wore on. Many organisations had expected local government to take a leadership role, and expressed their surprise and disappointment that this had not occurred. They eventually experienced a kind of donor fatigue.

All respondents seemed to view reintegration of migrants as the only realistic solution, but viewed management of the reintegration process as flawed. This was tied to the view that several respondents expressed that not enough had been done to engage both displaced people and community members in education, response and reintegration proposals. Reintegration cannot be successful without engagement with ‘host’ communities and well-facilitated dialogue between communities and refugees. In Durban, there was no coherent process to manage this communication, and this appears to have resulted in reintegration being successful in some cases but not others. There is a definite disjuncture between organisations that dealt directly with communities within their member base, and other organisations that dealt with displaced people and whose response was instinctively charitable rather than developmental.

Most importantly, the response of civil society did not address the root causes of xenophobia. Within a year, most of those repatriated had returned to South Africa. A worldwide economic crisis, job losses and rising prices made the situation even more precarious. The sentiments that bred the mid-2008 attacks are still present and although there has been no mass violence on the scale of that social catastrophe, the period immediately after the 2010 World Cup suggested the high potential for renewed disaster.

Many of the structural constraints are beyond local community capacity in any case because of the politics of scale. Changing regional geopolitical policies – such as South Africa’s exploitation of Zimbabwe, the DRC and Swaziland – is a tall order, as is insulating South Africa from ongoing world economic volatility.

Another example of a structural challenge well beyond civil society’s control is the sensibility that foreign nationals receive South African citizenship fraudulently after bribing Department of Home Affairs officials. (Such fraudulently acquired citizenship resulted in foreign nationals getting access to child support grants, permits to work permanently in South Africa, access to free medical treatment in state hospitals and acquisition of free houses.) It is perceived that some foreigners go to the extent of bribing Home Affairs officials and Marriage officers that conduct illegal marriages with South African women without their consent so as to acquire citizenship.

Another local cultural perception is that foreign men take wives and partners away from South African men, because they are willing to pay school fees for children of whom they are not the biological parent. Hence some of the causes of xenophobic attacks mentioned to researchers include jealousy. Other structural, long-term problems noted by researchers include alleged crime and drug dealing.

In sum, we have identified a series of shortcomings associated with the partial responses to xenophobia by civil society organisations in Durban, and major long-term structural problems that local organisations are unable to address – and that we are only at the initial stage of identifying and documenting. These latter include unemployment, poverty, competition for few resources that the government is providing, poor services provided by the municipality to local people, preferential treatment of foreigners by employers who perceive them as a source of unorganized and cheap labour, and fraudulent marriages that assisted foreign nationals to get citizenship.

By all accounts, there is severe competition for jobs, houses and social grants. Other respondents disputed any form of competition as foreign nationals do work which South African nationals are refusing to do, such as operating as car guards and running cheap salon businesses in the streets. These are opportunities that foreign nationals created and local people are still reluctant to explore. Foreign nationals are willing to settle for lower-paying jobs whereas South African nationals demand a living wage when they choose jobs, a factor associated with the low cost of reproduction of labour power in the sites from which they came.

In such settings, the traditional practice of superexploitation of women – who raise workers when they are young, who look after sick workers and who look after workers when they retire, thereby allowing employers to hire these workers more cheaply than those with local families, school fees, health insurance premiums, pensions, etc – is also a critical factor.

There are at least eight concrete conclusions. First, civil society’s response to xenophobic violence did not go beyond relief, which consists of providing food, temporary accommodation, lobbying and advocacy. It did not address South Africa’s extremely high unemployment, tight housing market with residential stratification, extreme retail business competition, world-leading crime rates, Home Affairs Department corruption, patriarchy and cultural conflicts, and severe regional geopolitical stresses. It is therefore possible to witness the repeat of a large-scale xenophobic violence in the future.

Second, the xenophobic violence is rooted in interlocking, overlapping, market and state failure beyond the ability of civil society organisations, which are equipped for limited local advocacy, service delivery, and sometimes local solidarity. Third, the xenophobic violence was associated with denialism of structural inequality and of capitalist urbanisation’s social-segregating orientation.

Fourth, reintegration of non-South Africans in the affected areas was spontaneous without the contribution of the United Nations and national/provincial/municipal government. Fifth, reintegration was also tolerated where non-South Africans rent accommodation (at high prices) from South Africans in sites like Cato Manor and Cato Crest, Chatsworth and Bottlebrush.

Sixth, civil society solidarity with immigrants did occur and shows that South African and non-South African communities can live in harmony – if there is a conducive environment in which people’s concerns can be freely expressed. Seventh, immigrants have been always welcomed for their cheap labour in mining, factories, and plantations. Yet, both pre and post-1994 South African governments were reluctant to provide non-South Africans a genuine set of rights for living in hostile cities.

Eighth, the local KwaZulu Bantustan and same-sex hostels long served as Durban’s ‘reserve’ for local cheap labour, and have since been replaced by regional labour supplies (especially Zimbabwe), overcrowded townships and shack settlements, and poorly maintained inner-city areas such as Albert Park and Point Road. These much broader spaces are now breeding grounds for socio-economic discontent, socio-cultural frustrations, persistent anti-foreigner rhetoric, and xenophobic violence.

Considering the underlying and immediate causes of the crisis, civil society organisations’ short-term responses to the crisis were only partial, reflecting the unevenness of Durban social organisation. It is to the long-term problems of a durable, structural nature that serious socio-political activists really must turn.

References
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Notes

* The author is with the University of Johannesburg Research Chair in Social Change, and recently completed a masters thesis at the Centre for Civil Society, School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa. The author thanks the Atlantic Philanthropies for financial support.


[1] Angela Brown, Environmental Health Interventions in Informal Settlements, Ethekwini Health Unit, Ethekwini Municipality, 21 May 2009.

[2] Shannon, op.cit. p.161

[3] Evan Mantzaris, op. cit. p.170. Also, Angela Brown, op. cit.

[4] Angela Brown, op.cit.

[5] Felakhe Mhlongo, ex-Bottlebrush resident, leader of Ekupholeni shack settlement, near Bottlebrush.

[6] Youth, MaSithole’s first daughter, Bottlebrush resident.

[7] Two ANC branch office bearers applied and were that operated in the area. (Truth and Reconciliation Commission, amnesty application no. 2790/96, 19-20 October 1998)

[8] Respondent, Bottlebrush community member.

[9] Her name is Nokuthula Judith Makhanya, I wrote this report before we could meet. .

[10] Prema and Helen, Ekupholeni shack settlement resident, the only Indian couple living there.

[11] Mhlongo, respondent.

[12] MaSithole’s 1st daughter, Bottlebrush resident.

[13] Khambule, ex-Bottlebrush resident, now lives at Ekupholeni.

[14] MaSithole’s 2nd daughter, Bottlebrush resident.

[15] Nana, landlady, Bottlebrush resident.

[16] MaSithole, landlady, Bottlebrush resident.

[17] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[18] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[19] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[20] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[21] Aguillo, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[22] MaSithole’s 1st daughter, Bottlebrush resident.

[23] Respondent, immigrant from Malawi, Bottlebrush resident.

[24] Ronaldo, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[25] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[26] Harvey, ibid. p.37

[27] The notion of ‘communing’ derives from the notion of ‘common goods’, that is, goods that are held in common by all members of a community or society.

[28] Harvey, ibid. p.42

[29] Mfundisi Mhlongo, interview respondent and member of the Bottlebrush ANC Branch Executive Committee which ‘is in charge’ of the place.

[30] Harvey, op. cit. p.43

[31] Mfundisi Mhlongo, respondent.

[32] Respondents, Bottlebrush immigrants.

[33] Respondent, Bottlebrush landlady.

[34] Harvey, ibid. p.43

[35] Respondents, Bottlebrush and Ekupholeni (Crossmore).

[36] Respondents

[37] Please see note no. 105 in this report.

[38] The rape of women was reported to be part of the violence that was meted out during the height of the xenophobic attacks.

[39] Ronaldo, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident

[40] Female respondents, 2 immigrants from Zimbabwe

[41] Female respondents, immigrants from Zimbabwe

[42] Khambule, resident of Ekupholeni shack settlement.

[43] Marcellino, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident.

[44] Ronaldo, immigrant from Mozambique, Bottlebrush resident

[45] S. Hassim Turning Gender Rights into Entitlements: Women and welfare provision in post-apartheid South Africa, Social Research, vol.72 no. 3, 2005.

[46] Jacklyn Cock ‘Maids and madams in retrospect’ in Greg Ruiters (ed.) Gender Activism: Perspectives on the South African transition, institutional culture and everyday life, Rhodes University – Rosa Luxemberg, 2008, p. 45.

[47] Anonymous respondent, immigrant from Malawi

[48] Germaine Greer quoted by Jacklyn Cock, op cit, p.53

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