For a week in March this year (the 19th to the 24th), the Housing Assembly held its first annual political school in Salt River, Cape Town. The political school was attended by various organisations from all over the country, including Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, Free State and the Western Cape.
Activists present at the political school were representing many organisations who are also organising around housing struggles, as well as organisations part of the broader social movements in South Africa. These include: Landless Peoples Movement, Abahlali baseFreedom Park, Abahlali Pisco, Thembelihle Crisis Committee, Orlando Task Team, MST (a Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement), Right2Know campaign, and Housing Assembly branches of KwaZulu Natal.
Activists present were required to draw from their experiences regarding challenges they have faced living in different types of settlements. The types of settlements represented were what is typically found in working class residential areas; such as RDP houses, informal settlements, backyarders and lower class rentals.
The RDP commission noted common problems with RDP houses and came up with a list of demands from which a campaign could be constructed around. These included cracks in the structures, partitioning that are not built all the way to the roof, while others reported that their houses did not have partitioning at all. The impact on the occupants of these houses includes bad health in general, and a financial burden as these houses allegedly have a six month warranty. When this expires, the constructor legally cannot be held accountable anymore, and neither does the municipality take responsibility. The commission found that tender recipients want to grow their own personal accounts using the tenders they have been awarded to build much-needed housing in poor and working class communities. These RDP houses are of low quality because spending on construction material is minimised as much as possible.
The informal settlements commission reported on problems such as lack of electricity, which often lead to illegal connections. These connections are normally unsafe and can result in the deaths of children who play around these live wires. When it rain, it floods and the belongings of the residents get damaged. The other major danger raised was that of fires that spread swiftly and result in deaths. These fires spread quickly because of the lack of space provided for housing, resulting in the informal settlement structures being built too close to one another. Backyarders and rentals had similar problems of expensive rent, little to no space for children to play, and being exploited by landlords.
An interesting discussion took place around the history of borders, challenges to building unity and xenophobia. Here, there was lively discussion regarding how borders have affected and shaped identity, discrimination and led to violence as well. The question on xenophobia also informed the answer to who exactly qualifies for houses in the country. Participants agreed that they should fight for decent housing for all, and comrade Mike from Housing Assembly cautioned that going against ‘housing for all’ would allow capitalists to divide the working class.
Comrade Agusto from MST gave a presentation about the Brazilian favelas (working class housing), highlighting the racial discrimination that is prevalent in Brazil.
The event concluded with various resolutions, demands and methods that could be campaigned around to address matters which the school focused on, and highlight how they link to the struggle for decent housing for all.
Comrade Thembelani of the Housing Assembly brought out paticipants fighting spirit when he asked; “what is the purpose of our existence if we don’t claim what rightfully belongs to us?”