Land is an asset that people kill for. It has been so for a long time, through aeons of civilisation in fact. In South Africa today it has become the ANC led government’s biggest political hot potato that it now juggles in an endeavour, on the one hand, to woo popular votes among disenchanted voters, including the poorest of the poor, and on the other, placate fears of investors who are becoming increasingly wary that South Africa could descend down a similar nationalisation path of its northern neighbour, Zimbabwe. But issues at stake here are infinitely more complex than Zimbabwe, and also go way beyond the populist demand for ‘expropriation without compensation’, a term that now has its own acronym, EWC, in the political of lexicon of South Africa 2018.
While the deafening cry for land ownership to be restored through EWC to people who were dispossessed through colonialisation and the subsequent apartheid era reached crescendo pitch during a recent series of pubic hearings on land, the fact the South Africa’s democratic constitution allows for EWC, where it is just and equitable to do so, has fallen on deaf ears, even among journalists who have regularly written on the subject since the ANC adopted a resolution in December last year to amend the property clause (Section 29) of the constitution.
Amid this, some of the more pressing issues surrounding land rights – and the government’s failure to use effective mechanisms at its disposal redress the imbalance in land ownership in South Africa – have taken a back seat. And while there are clearly, and understandably, deep rooted emotional connections to the idea of farming the land, the dynamics of argiculture today – both subsistence and commercial – mitigate against this pipe dream of living comfortably and well fed through working the land.
In reality, the demand for land is actually infinitely far more intense in urban areas than in rural areas where vast swathes of potentially arable farming land already exists under communal ownership, parceled out by traditional leaders, who also sign off concessions to mining conglomerates, pocketing the pay-offs in many cases. Again, though that is another completely separate issue, albeit equally worth exploring in this series: Umhlaba wabantu (Land of the People).
What this case study delves into is a typical conflict over land and housing in the urban context: the Emaphaleni housing development in Durban’s Clermont township – a conflict that saw one woman’s home petrol bombed, and another destroyed by an elderly woman’s own family members, and nineteen ‘dissident residents’ appealing to the Durban High Court to prevent a bloodbath over a housing development that looked from the very onset set to turn awfully awry.
This investigation, sponsored by the Taco Kuiper Trust, dates back to 2014 when a team of Durban University of Technology journalism students supervised by Roving Reporters documented the conflict, until they too were warned that our inquiries extending into a neighbouring shackland, were exposing them to danger. With the dust long settled, a Roving Reporters team recently revisited the area, to find affected residents, once ‘at war’ with each other, living as neighbours again in the completed housing development – a neat and well serviced complex of 20 -three storey blocks of flats. But tensions sill simmer, highlighting the complex social dynamics and challenges that government faces in addressing the growing state of homelessness in South Africa. The associated proliferation of poorly serviced transit camps – rows upon rows of corrugated iron containers – where people often die awaiting promised homes – as happened to one woman in the Emapheleni case – is testament to extent of the problems government needs to address.
In documenting the experiences of the affected residents, both then and now, we ask relevant authorities a simple question arising: What lessons have been be learned?
June 2, 2014
A ministerial housing project has gone awry in Clermont, Durban. Fifteen families who refuse to destroy their homes and move into a transit camp to make way for planned developments are under siege. Read more
September 19, 2014
Nineteen Clermont households have been ordered by the Durban High Court to vacate their homes to make way for a low-cost, high-density housing scheme that has cost taxpayers more than R7 million before construction has even started. Read more