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Desai, Ashwin and van Heusden, Peter  (2002) "Is this Mandela's Park?" Community Struggles and State Response in Post-Apartheid South Africa.  : -.


There has been a growing corpus of literature tracking the ANC’s adoption of neo-liberal economic policies. However very little has been written on the reaction of communities who face the consequences of this rightward shift that manifests in evictions, electricity and water cut-offs effected at gunpoint under the guise of cost-recovery. Across South Africa community movements have arisen to confront these attacks on the poor. This article focuses on one such movement in Cape Town, the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign (MPAEC) with particular emphasis on the militant forms of direct action undertaken in defense of “rights” to water, electricity and shelter and the response of the post-apartheid state to these struggles.

Setting the context

Almost every article about the townships outside Cape Town begin with the haunting juxtaposition of the squalid conditions in which people live and the majestic views of Table Mountain and Devils Peak that can be seen over the shanty roofs. Cameras like to zoom out from a shot of the mountains to a vantage point amidst the misery of a wet and hopeless squatter camp.

The thing that distinguishes the townships most from the suburbs of South Africa is the inadequate housing. Not only are the houses small and poorly constructed but there are simply not enough square metres of roof to cover the heads of all of those expected to live there. Of course, water and electricity services are terrible too. There are almost no parks and facilities and the general infrastructure is poor but it is the struggle for decent housing that really defines the existence of the people living on the bleak and windswept plains of the Cape Peninsula.

During apartheid the Government was reluctant to assign African people any sort of permanent status in the Western Cape least of all in the housing sphere. Large numbers of workers and peasants came to the City of Cape Town from the Bantustans of the Transkei and Ciskei in search of work and food during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and their lot was to stay in sprouting shantytowns. The reluctance to provide proper houses for Africans stemmed from the idea that the races should live apart. The Western Cape was to be the place for white people and, somewhat reluctantly, coloureds.

With the advent of constitutional democracy it was expected that the position of the poor in general would improve. Only the very cynical didn’t assume that the position of the residents of Guguletu and Khayelitsha, the townships in the Cape Peninsula where Africans lived, would receive particular attention from a developmental state.. Here there was a strong ANC voting bloc providing the ruling party with the only real foothold in the Western Cape Province against entrenched white and minority interests. Indeed the election of 1994 proceeded on a tide of emotion and historical vindication with Khayelitsha voting for the ANC in percentages above 80%. The 1999 general election that would install Thabo Mbeki as President in the place of Nelson Mandela was far less emotional. It was fought on a basis of concrete promises of social development. The slogan that typified the 1999 election was “a better life for all”.

The social backdrop against which people began to realize their dreams of a better life in a house of their own was a virtual collapse of the local manufacturing economy. This was a result, in the main, of the ANC Government’s home-grown structural adjustment programme, GEAR. In terms of GEAR, tariff barriers were dismantled allowing cheap goods produced in East Asian sweatshops to flood the country and for agricultural produce from the North to be dumped here. At the same time, exchange controls were relaxed allowing South Africa’s middle-classes to expatriate large sums of money. The textile and clothing industry that had traditionally provided jobs to many of the residents of Khayelitsha all but collapsed. The same happened in the furniture and food and beverage sectors.

Not only wages were affected. Social income was attacked as too. GEAR was its reduced childcare grants; the only source of income for the many single-parent families in townships. Pensions too were kept at their dismal apartheid levels. All the while, Government insisted on payment of school fees, lights and water accounts, while privatized services like train-transport and health-care escalated. This was done under the banner of Masakhane described as “part of the drive to normalize governance and the provision of basic services at the local level. It aims to persuade people across South Africa that they must contribute to this participation and by paying for housing and services”.

True enough, the ANC Government pushed ahead with a programme of mass housing delivery. However, the motor for this programme was the private rather than the public sector. The notions of a public-private partnership and a “mobilisation” of mortgage bond finance were taken as the way forward. It was quite startling to some that this model represented, in many ways, the housing policy of the reforming National Party government responding to the initiatives of the big-business sponsored Urban Foundation during the late 1980’s.

The ANC government’s embrace of the market and the insistence on developing a ‘culture of payment’ was to embolden private speculators to aggressively pursue those who had fallen into debt, as we will see in the case of Mandela Park.

Mandela Park-2002

In Mandela Park houses were built from 1986 with residents getting mortgages from banks and the houses being developed by private contractors. Riding on the mass mobilizations of communities, residents demanded that their houses, which often immediately started to crumble and were left unfinished, be upgraded. When this failed to produce results, residents instituted a boycott of bond repayments. The state, fearing a violent backlash that would feed into UDF support, was hesitant to attempt mass evictions and so the banks found it difficult to act on default judgments. This trend continued into the first few years of the ANC coming to power. However as the ANC itself entered into relationships with banks and private developers and supported evictions for non-payment, so the banks became more confident to act on debts. In Mandela Park this process was accelerated in late 2001.

Soon the Sheriff of the Court was arriving at houses with attachment orders. The banks even sold a number of properties from under the new owners but seemed to lack the confidence to go ahead with an actual eviction for most of the year 2000. However, perhaps emboldened by evictions in other Cities, the Cape Town Unicity embarked on a vigorous campaign of eviction during 2001.

As in other Cities, social movements arose to confront these attacks on the poor. While the issues in Johannesburg centered on electricity cut-offs, thus giving rise to organisations like the Anti Privatisation Forum and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, the issues in Cape Town more closely resembled the situation in Durban where evictions were the prime evil. An umbrella body uniting a number of new civic formations called the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign (WCAEC) emerged in 2001. Supported by a number of City-based NGO workers, trade unionists and left activists, the Anti Eviction Campaign was nevertheless rooted very firmly in township constituencies in Tafelsig, Delft and Bonteheuvel where evictions of coloured residents took place first. However towards the end of 2001, the Western Cape Government focussed its attention on the African township of Khayelitsha.

For those who would suggest that this was a decision from which the Provincial ANC authorities were exempt since the Province was controlled by a rival political party, it bears remembering that at about this time a significant realignment in Western Cape politics occurred. The old party of apartheid, the New National Party, severed its ties with the liberal Democratic Alliance and formed a team of sorts with the African National Congress. Anyone seeking an explanation for the new-found confidence of the Provincial Government to attack African townships would see the ANC moving from opposition to Government-in-waiting as a good reason for the change in policy. (In this regard it bears mentioning that in Gauteng where evictions and electricity cutoffs are most prevalent the ANC is hegemonic and in Durban it controls the Durban Unicity, which is responsible for the most brutal evictions and water and electricity cutoffs).
In the first few months of 2002 Mandela Park had become a place of fear. As a report at the time put it: “Over the past few months, a large number of households in Mandela Park have received final notices, a large number have experienced actual eviction and many more are living under the threat of eviction. Such evictions are supposed to be followed by relocation to smaller houses in informal areas outside the community (especially in Harare and Makhassar). This process is described as ‘rightsizing’ as people living in 2 rooms are said to be living beyond their means and should be relocated to more affordable 1 bedroom houses.” (Oldfield and Stokke, 2002: 20).

One of those evicted in February 2002 from 23554 Mandela Park was a pensioner Mr. Mcondobi. In good health at the time he was moved to 56938 Thubelitsha. These kind of ‘houses’ are called dog kennels by residents and are “bitterly cold, have no plastering on the inside walls, are leaking through the roof and have no bath and shower. Pensioners have to wash themselves in tiny plastic buckets which barely fit inside the ‘bathrooms’ comprising a toilet and basin only”. (WCAEC, press statement, 30th June 2002). As the winter of 2002 set in Mr. Mcondobi contacted pneumonia. He died alone, isolated from the community of Mandela Park that he was familiar with. To add insult to injury, many of those evicted are scorned by the communities to which they are ‘rightsized’ as they are seen to have taken housing that should have been earmarked by someone already living in overcrowded housing in that area.

Another way in which the banks have tried to recover debt is through furniture repossessions. Two of the effected people, MT Malindi of 6 Reverend Stofile Street and NR Snyman of 117 Peter Mokaba Street, made their stories known at a community meeting in June 2002. The two families received letters stating that they owe banks R 36 042.37 and R97 449. 30, respectively. This was for houses that were sold to them for just R24 000. Both families stopped paying their bonds when their houses started to disintegrate. There are reports of even worse escalations. Some families were in debt of up to R100 000 for houses that they had originally purchased for R24 000.

‘Mediating’ evictions was an organization called SERVCON Housing Solutions (Pty) Ltd. SERVCON is described in its own affidavit in which it seeks an interdict against the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Committee as a body owned half by the banking council and half by the local government. It states that its task is to “persuade” people to “right size”. To some extent Government in this country is a victim of its own democratic and developmentalist rhetoric. Mass evictions could not simply occur without a counter-reaction. The ANC had learned that in order to ward off popular uprisings against its policies it needed to manage and diffuse the conflict effectively. It is probably for this reason that a very strange beast SERVCON was born. In 1999 an agreement was made that Servcon take over handling mortgages for low cost homes where the home owner was in three months or more arrears. The options presented to those in default are 1). Repurchase the property from the bank (i.e. starting afresh to some extent, 2). Lose the house and rent the house from the bank, and 3). Be ‘rightsized’to tiny homes in Thobetisha, a part of Makhaza.

Of the approximately 33000 low-cost housing bond defaulters in South Africa as at the end of 2001, some 2000 reside in Khayelitsha. Servcon is a political instrument, which seeks to obtain the consent of people and communities, essentially for evictions but, at a broader level, for the logic of capital. Your right to a better life is a function of your having money.

By the middle of 2002 the residents of Mandela Park began to organize against evictions. At first the MPAEC sought an active dialogue with the banks and the Provincial Minister of Housing…The campaign presented their primary demands as (1) the structural problems with the houses must be fixed (extensive leaks, cracks etc.), (2) the government must buy back the land, and (3) the housing subsidy must be used to pay for the houses and outstanding debts.” (Oldfield and Stokke, 2002:20). All attempts at meetings with the MEC for Housing, a portfolio held by the ANC and the banks were rebuffed. The MPAEC were “told to take their housing complaints to the developers, their economic problems to Servcon and their land demands to politicians.” (Oldfield and Stokke, 2002:2002).

The community slowly came to realize that their desire for meetings and dialogue with bank and government representatives was not bearing fruit . This realization set in train a series of militant actions. At the beginning of May community members burnt down two houses that the banks had repossessed. This was a catalyst for more collective public organizing. The Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign (MPAEC) of Khayelitsha was set up and made contact with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign that had its genesis in the predominantly Coloured township in nearby Tafelsig. An important centre for the two communities meeting and sharing ideas and resources was the offices of the South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU). This was greatly facilitated by the fact that one of the leaders of the MPAEC, Max Ntanyana was also a SAMWU shopsteward.

On 30 May 2002, 250 community members from Mandela Park, Khayelitsha occupied the ground floor National Building Society (NBS) offices in St Georges Mall, Cape Town. Most of the occupiers, the majority of whom were pensioners, faced eviction the following week. Their situation was desperate as they had to pay back R500 a month. Their monthly pension stood at R540.

The action came after The MPAEC had tried for over one month to set up meetings with (NBS), Standard Bank and Servcon Housing Company. According to a MPAEC press release the “NBS demanded to dictate the agenda of the meetings… The committee also petitioned the MEC for Housing in the Western Cape, Nomatyala Hangana, who also failed to turn up at any meetings and referred the matter to the MEC for Local Government, despite the fact that the houses are not council owned. The community was left with no choice but to hold a peaceful occupation of the bank”. (MPAEC press statement, 30 May 2002).

On 12th June the MPAEC organized an occupation of Khayalethu Home Loans company and refused to let the manager leave until the company’s head office in Johannesburg agreed to attend a meeting which Khayalethu had previously promised, but failed to attend . After occupying the offices for over four hours the management faxed a written guarantee that its director, Mr. Rabie, would come from Johannesburg for a meeting. He took the next flight from Johannesburg arriving at the Khayalethu office to accept the release of the employee that had been present during the occupation. He was then taken to Andile Nose Civic Centre where a crowd of about 600 now took him “hostage”. Their demand was that he ratify an agreement right there to waive all the accumulated interest on home loans and deduct all monies received from the original capital sum. After three hours, during which time Rabie was alternatively threatened with - and offered to – sleep at the Andile Nose Centre, he relented. An agreement was reached in terms of which the MPAEC would collate all the data, bring individual homeowners to the Andile Nose Centre two weeks hence and the deal would be put into effect by the necessary deductions being made from the account of all those who presented themselves.

From the negotiations during the occupation the MPAEC realized that there was some direct relationship between Servcon (company owned 50% by govt, 50% by banks) and Khayalethu. One of the reasons that people are paying so much is because they took micro-loans for bonds without even realising it. The intensity of the direct action led to immediate results as Khayalethu Home Loans agreed to write off arrears. The victory was a tremendous boost for the MPAEC and community meetings swelled in numbers.

Despite repeated requests from the MPAEC, the ANC MEC for housing refused to come to any meeting in Khayelitsha. Instead during the occupation she told the MPAEC that they can only send 2 representatives to meet her, and that they would have to join with SANCO and all other 'stakeholders'. They refused these preconditions.

On 26th June some 300 MPAEC and Tafelsig AEC members converged on the Western Cape provincial parliament to get a date for a meeting with ANC MEC for Housing Nomatyala Hangana. The police responded by firing teargas canisters into the crowd and arresting 44 people from Mandela Park and Tafelsig, 24 men and 20 women. The 44 were charged with trespassing and summoned to appear in Court 13 of the Cape Town Magistrates Court for trial on July 26th 2002. Four of the campaigners, including two very old men, immediately laid charges of assault against the police.

Servcon together with BOE Bank, First National Bank, Nedcor, Standard Bank of SA and ABSA Bank responded by applying for an interdict against MPAEC and four members of the organization including the chairperson Max Ntanyana. Unopposed because of the lack of resources the interdict interdicts the respondents from 1) preventing evictions, 2) persuading or inducing others to do the same 3) compelling people to vacate their homes (i.e. the people that have bought bank houses after someone was evicted) and 4) directly or indirectly inducing or encouraging any person to unlawfully occupy property belonging to the banks and Servcon.

SANCO is problematic in township politics in the Cape,. This once-proudly pro-poor civic movement maintained a level of independence from the ANC that the SACP and Cosatu never managed during the anti-apartheid struggle. However, through intricate investment deals, it now actually owns shares in companies building houses and providing home finance. This vested interest has seen its leadership take the most reactionary positions during the crisis in Khayelitsha arguing that: “we are avoiding toyi-toyi, it is not appropriate in the current period, it was appropriate when we were fighting against the apartheid regime. Toyi-toyi will not advance the interests of the community; it leads to destruction of property”. (Mthetho Xali, 2002, p.111). In Johannesburg SANCO has become so reactionary in its attempt to reconcile its poor constituency with its support for the neo-liberal ANC that it has collapsed into fascism. The Sowetan of 10 September 2002 reported that SANCO has taken, and is acting on, a policy decision to assault women who attended funerals on the East Rand without covering their heads. SANCO justified this in the name of the ‘President’s moral renewal programme.’ It is no surprise that the songs of the MPAEC attack SANCO as bitterly as the companies themselves.

The Western Cape AEC were learning some lessons as their press statement reveals: “if you are poor and have a housing problem, you should not think of asking the MEC of Housing to address it. If you do so, you will be beaten by the police, arrested and banned. Whether the ANC or DA or NNP takes up portfolios, it makes no difference. The poor continue to be treated as if we are dogs who don't need houses but can sleep in the open in winter." (Western Cape Anti-Eviction press statement. 26th June 2002).

Back in Mandela Park, the Sheriff of the court arrived to repossess the clothes of a woman pensioner who owed R800 on her water account. The community organized to defend the pensioner. The police moved in firing rubber bullets and teargas. Twelve people were arrested including MPAEC chairperson Max Ntanyana. Despite some suffering injuries after being hit by rubber bullets, they were held overnight in police cells and denied medical attention. The 12 appeared in court the next day,11 were released on bail while a juvenile held overnight illegally was released without charge.

As the confidence of the MPAEC grows they have taken to reinstating those evicted and rightsized. One of the beneficiaries of this reinstatement strategy is 80-year-old Mrs. Ncama. On the 25th July 2002 the police arrived with overwhelming force (six Casspirs) to effect the eviction of Mrs. Ncama for the second time. (MPAEC, press statement, 25th July 2002). Often these forced removals are a death sentence as the old are cut-off from vital community assistance and networks.

The MPAEC has been a catalyst for anti-eviction committees being set up across Khayelitsha. Community meetings continue to be well attended and it is almost a weekly occurrence for the community to engage in running battles with the municipal police as they come into the area to back up evictions and repossessions of clothing and furniture. The reinstating of those rightsized continues.

In addition to the practical gains of the MPAEC, the political culture of its meetings continues to evolve. Meetings of hundreds of people remain a place where people can put their heads together, and discussion is extremely practical, drawing on the many varied strengths of the community. The culture, promoted by some in the liberation movements, of simply applauding speakers on a platform, has been decidedly broken. People openly speak of the political nature of this form of organisation (twice-weekly mass meetings, designation of delegates rather than representatives): in the words of one activist “we want participatory democracy, not representative democracy”.

The irony of the community struggles is that residents have to fight a ‘revolutionary’ struggle to keep themselves in apartheid’s satanic ghettoes. As the diary of events in Mandela Park illustrates life in neo-liberal South Africa is, for the poor, a permanent state of emergency.

Concluding remarks

The Mandela Park community has been engaging in militant action for some five months. The MPEAC meetings have grown to over 600 residents from an initial base of around 250. Anti-eviction committees have sprung up in other areas of Khayelitsha. The language of the meetings too has changed as the state increases repression. It has moved from calling on the ANC to intervene to an outright condemnation of the ANC. This realization has been reinforced by links made with the Concerned Citizens Forum (CCF) in Durban and the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC) in Johannesburg, cities where the ANC dominates local government but acts brutally against poor communities.

While community movements have fought militant struggles to ward off evictions and the like and challenged the gradualist, corporatist and nation-building script of the ANC, the battles remain defensive, localized, particularistic and single issue. This is both their strength and weakness.

The community movements are at the heart of something tremendous taking place in South Africa. Community movements like the MPAEC and not COSATU or the SACP are central to the building of a left oppositional culture in South Africa. Their growing strength, combativeness and anti neo-liberal stance was clearly evident during the march during the World Conference against Racism in 2001 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002. The dominant slogans were ‘Down with GEAR!’, ‘Down with the ANC!’ and ‘Down with Mbeki!’. It has taken less than a decade for the mystique of liberation and the guise of the talking left, acting right ANC to be exposed.

As we finish writing this report from the fault-lines of neo-liberal South Africa, Max Ntanyana is once more in jail. When he appeared with five other members of the MPAEC on 13th September in the Khayelitsha Magistrates Court he was refused bail. The state opposed the bail application on the basis that it needs five more days to bring witnesses from SA’s big banks to give evidence on why Ntanyana should not be released. The five other members of the MPAEC were released on bail with the most strenuous of bail conditions that hark back to the banning orders of the apartheid regime. They are not allowed to associate with evicted persons, or speak against evictions. They are not allowed to travel and must report to the police three times a week.

The WCAEC succinctly describes what the struggle in Mandela Park is about. “ What people are fighting for is the right to houses, houses that they have spent years paying for, houses which were delivered to them in an incomplete state and which they have spent thousands of Rands repairing and finishing themselves”. (WCAEC, press statement, 12th September 2002)

The state has not challenged the use of apartheid style control by banks and private developers to force the harshest of housing deals on the residents of Mandela Park. Apartheid placed this intolerable burden placed on Africans struggling to find a place to rest because it was determined to ensure Africans did not see a long-term future for themselves in the Western Cape. The ANC government change this because it would mean challenging its own policy of marketisation. A policy that has an uncanny resemblance to the policies of the reforming National Party. What the latter did not have was legitimacy. The ANC government still has some legitimacy in certain quarters. It is using this legitimacy to criminalize dissent and to implement the logic of apartheid more effectively and brutally than Botha could

Is this Mandela’s promised park?

1. Fonky Goboza, MPAEC media officer
2. Ismail Petersen, Tafelsig Anti-Eviction Campaign
3. Peter van Heusden, member WCAEC WCAEC, press statements
MPAEC press statements

Bond, P. (2000). Elite Transition: From Apartheid to Neo-liberalism in South Africa. Durban: University of Natal Press.

Oldfield,S and Stokke,K (2002). Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign Report

Xali, M. (2002). “They are ‘Killing us Alive: a case study of the impact of Cost Recovery on Service Provision in Makhaza Section, Khayelitsha” in McDonald, D. A. and Pape, J. (eds). Cost Recovery and the Crisis of Service Delivery in South Africa. Pp. 101 – 119. Zed Books: London and New York

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