The ongoing wave of land occupation struggles

Land occupations across the country are an indication of the ongoing attacks on the living standards of the working class. The recent wave of occupations 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. We also witnessed 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. 

Joint coordination of struggles was tried in Cape Town in 2017 but didn’t function well partly due to government interventions.  

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

The attempt to link–up land occupation communities has been tried again in 2018 between Gugulethu backyard dwellers. This is still being experimented with between four land occupation communities; 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 are building their shacks slowly after being demolished by the City. The strength here is the fact that all of these areas 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.  

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 increasing rate of unemployment in the country land occupation protests will increase in coming years. Furthermore, the joint 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. 

In all of these struggles people complain about not having a house and the only option is to occupy vacant land. Coordinating struggles locally is an attempt by communities to consolidate their struggles locally with no intention to create an artificial national character. This is one of the major advances and a lesson that can be drawn for future battles.

 

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