Helen Zille left out myriad key points in her recent article regarding the Lwandle Evictions, in addition to making a few suspect claims. I will attempt to respond to what she said, and cover what she “missed.”
On 9 June 2014, Helen Zille, head of the Democratic Alliance and Premier of the Western Cape, released this article entitled “The Real Story Behind the Lwandle Evictions,” which I highly encourage you to read first. In her article Zille covers a lot of ground, including, but not limited to, her sheepskin slippers and fluffy knee-blanket, allusions to anarchy, ANC stormtroopers, and of course multiple reminders of upcoming local elections. Unfortunately, Zille failed to include a number of important pieces of information in her diatribe against the ANC, and it is crucial that we be reminded of them if we are to truly understand what happened and where to go from here.
Snug in my fluffy knee-blanket of understanding.
Zille begins her article with a distasteful attempt at an expression of solidarity for those evicted last Monday in Tuesday. “Snug in my sheepskin slippers under a fluffy knee-blanket,” she states, “I began this newsletter acutely aware of the situation of the people I am writing about.” Yikes. Interestingly enough, Zille never once actually writes about the victims after the second sentence.
I do not know whether Zille has ever lived in an informal settlement, had to live in constant fear of being unable to feed herself or her loved ones, or had her home, belongings, money… her life, destroyed before her eyes. I know I haven’t, and I certainly do not pretend to. In fact, I have yet to find anything indicating that Zille has even visited the eviction site or seen the conditions that the 250-400 families are currently living in.
Meeting human needs.
The article is quick to point out that
“…the City of Cape Town is the only government agency that has actually done anything to meet the “human need”. The City has made community halls available to shelter the homeless…”
Having actually been to these community halls I can tell you that it is difficult for me to consider them “shelter” of any kind. As of right now these halls are overflowing with families, hundreds of people packed like sardines into freezing cavernous rooms without heat, washrooms, or bathing facilities. The air inside is heavy and unmoving, and smells like you might expect it to, as hundreds of people, including young girls, are forced to urinate and defecate in public. To make matters worse, the victims of these unlawful evictions have been fed one meager meal per day since Tuesday. If Zille really intended for the public to know what the City of Cape Town has done to “meet the human need” of these people, she might have included such pertinent information.
Why now, why me?
The article goes on to point out (no less that five times by my count) that events of this nature are not unique to South Africa (not exactly comforting information) and asks why other such evictions like those in Alexandra, Johannesburg did not receive similar press. This is a legitimate question, considering how terrible these events are, but Zille seems be focused on other things:
“Referring to the sustained public outcry, Mr Zikode said: “We have to ask, why now? “One can only think it is politicking ahead of the local government elections (in 2016)”.”
She laments the media outcry as a dirty political blame game, and then goes on to, uh… blame the ANC for inciting and directing unwarranted anger at the Democratic Alliance. Zille is most likely on to something here, and she rightly questions the motivations of many DA critics and journalists.
There is no doubt that a number of people, affiliated with both the DA and the ANC are attempting to inject politics into a human rights violation, just like Zille is doing with this article, but there is something off about this conversation. According to Zille, the reason for the sudden outrage regarding the evictions is political maneuvering by enemies of the DA. But let’s be clear, many of us are outraged because thousand’s people’s homes were destroyed without warning, unlawfully, with support from armed city police.
Claiming that similar tragedies take place without similar media coverage does not mean that such outrage is not warranted. If anything, this means that future evictions (and there will be future evictions) should be covered with equal ferocity and outrage. After all, at its core, the machinations of bickering parties are petty issues in comparison to this egregious violation of human rights. Those of us who do not risk losing a seat in a far off local election should be glad that people are finally taking note of what is happening here, not complaining that the world is paying attention to the plight of these people.
In her attempt to shift blame to SANRAL (and do not get me wrong, SANRAL shares a large portion of responsibility, and should answer for what they have done), Zille repeatedly states facts about the event. SANRAL owned the land and did not provide alternative housing; the ANC encouraged people to move onto the land quasi-legally, and handed out free swag to those who did. Once again these are important points, and once again other important information is left out, forgotten, or ignored, in any case, missing.
The point is that the DA and the City of Cape Town are not as blameless as the article would have us believe. In fact, the city sent SANRAL a letter two days before their temporary interdict in January clearly encouraging the nationally owned company to do something about the squatters. The City’s letter said that the structures “were erected without consent”. The City’s letter then gives SANRAL fourteen days “to rectify the situation”. The letter then cites section 6(5) of the Act which refers to when “an organ of state gives the owner or person in charge of land notice … to institute proceedings for eviction”. In other words, SANRAL were put to terms by the City to evict the occupants.
The application for an interdict by SANRAL did not attach any plans for alternative housing; rather it attached the City’s letter and letters from better-off South Africans who objected to “squatters”.
Furthermore, while Zille is quick to point out that evictions like this have taken place before, she fails to mention that when similar situations have occurred, South African courts have ruled that the city is responsible for providing emergency/temporary housing, see the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality v Blue Moonlight Properties case.
Law of the Jungle
Finally, Zille attempts to further distance the DA and the Western Cape from responsibility, stating that call for action by her party have been made in haste, and that to provide housing for anyone and everyone who needed would lead to a “law of the jungle” in which entails arbitrary chaos and the collapse of the rule of law – see, straw man fallacy and slippery slope fallacy if you are confused about this brazen statement.
In invoking images of chaos and anarchy as a result of allowing lawbreakers (referring here to the victims of the Lwandle evictions) to leapfrog housing waiting lists, Zille is creating a very poor representation of the actual issue at hand. No one is calling for the government to provide permanent housing for these people; instead we are asking that SANRAL and the city government fulfill their constitutional obligation of providing emergency and temporary housing to those who need it. To create a straw man argument in place of this, while people suffer without food and housing is intellectually dishonest and repugnant.
Lastly, I find it sad that the City government warns that to alter policy now would lead to a “law of the jungle.” If this is true, then I wonder what we might call a policy that puts profits above people, and lends armed guards to teams of bulldozers so they may suddenly and illegal demolish the homes of thousands of people? At least in the jungle communities could live without fear of such crimes, and not have to wonder whether or not their own government will play politics with what remains of their lives.
Spread the Word
Want to get involved? Share this article with your friends using the hashtags #SANRALEvictions #Lwandle and #CapeTownEvictions. If you are on twitter, tweet to @DA_News and @helenzille or contact the DA directly.
Ryan is a political scientist, humanist, and dog lover. He is currently a Master’s Candidate studying International Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin Madison.