South Africa caught in a wave of land occupations


For more than a year South African has seen an ongoing wave of land occupations in urban areas. This wave started in April/May 2017 in Gauteng, in townships south of Johannesburg such as Eldorado Park and Freedom Park, and quickly inspired occupations in surrounding areas.

The inspiration spread to other regions, leading to land occupations in Cape Town at Mandela Park, Town Two and Makhaza. Next were land occupations in Port Elizabeth, King William’s Town, Durban, Free State and elsewhere.

At the beginning of 2018, South Africa continued to witness land occupation struggles with occupations in Waterfall in Midrand, Marlboro, Ennerdale, Finetown, Blue Hills, Weilers Farm, Alexandra and Zandspruit.

The occupations continue to spread to a number of municipalities in the Gauteng region, such as in Olivenhoutbosch and other areas in the City of Tshwane. At the same time, in the Western Cape, Zwelihle residents in Hermanus occupied vacant land with dozens arrested. Occupations spread to Gugulethu, Philippi, Mfuleni, Delft, Makhaza and Kraaifontein in Cape Town.

In all of these land occupations there is one important trend: the occupiers are mainly backyarders, unemployed women and men, young and old, who are tired of empty promises and corruption by the ANC government. These are backyard dwellers tired of staying with their parents or paying rent to neighbourhood landlords.

The major difference between community revolts in the past and recent land occupations is that in the past struggles were not linked to each other and there was little or no joint or self–coordination of struggles. The present land occupations started to do a linking-up between the struggling communities.

Through their linkages land occupation communities began to organically coordinate their struggles. In Gauteng, 2017, struggling township communities south of Johannesburg started to coordinate their struggles through joint actions. It was not only coordination of struggles and joint actions but joint community meetings drawing up a set of joint demands and taking joint decisions.

In Gauteng, community links and joint coordination is developing, especially between areas such as Thembelihle, Freedom Park and parts of Soweto.

Joint coordination of struggles was tried in Cape Town in 2017 but didn’t function well partly due to government interventions. In 2018 there were renewed attempts to link–up land occupation communities in Gugulethu. The new attempts inlcude Gugulethu Seven Backyarders (NY 112), Uluntu Backyarders (NY 108), NY 43 land occupiers, NY 50, Station Park land occupiers and What’s–up land occupiers (NY 4).

Residents in Gugulethu are rebuilding their shacks after being demolished by the City of Cape Town. A new innovations is that the occupiers have their own central house where they all sleep, take turns to cook, share meals and watch TV. Decisions and actions are taken jointly in an effort to unite these communities.

Millions of people in black working class communities still live in informal settlements and backyard dwellings with no hope of ever getting or owning a house of their own. Many backyard and informal settlement residents are over sixty years old. This tells us that people are tired of decades of unfulfilled promises and continuing corruption. Land occupations across the country are an indication of the ongoing attacks on the living standards of the working class.

Government crackdown

In all of these occupations the government responded by criminalising land occupation struggles in the mainstream media. In many instances the government responded by sending law enforcement to destroy occupiers’ shacks and confiscate their building materials.

In response to the land occupation in Olivenhoutbosch, Cyril Ramaphosa warned that those who invaded land would feel the full might of the law and that allowing illegal land occupations would set a bad precedent as invading land is a sign of disorder and violation of law. This shows that the Ramaphosa regime is going to continue to crush the struggles of the poor.

Given the continuing lack of access to housing, land and the increase in unemployment in the country land occupation protests look set to increase in coming years. The coordination of struggles displayed by current land occupations suggest that the land occupation struggles are here to stay and are getting stronger.

The current wave of land occupations around the country tells us that the poor people in South Africa had enough of the ruling ANC and its empty promises. Again these land occupation struggles show the world that poor working class people are tired of corruption and rich people paying themselves big salaries while poor people are suffering.

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