Quote of the week

[Nostalgia] is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense … nostalgia is less about the past than about the present. It operates through what Mikhail Bakhtin called an ‘historical inversion’: the ideal that is not being lived now is projected into the past.

David Medalie
8 September 2009

Sanity and humanity prevails – for now

When the Constitutional Court granted an order in June, allowing the government to remove the residents of Joe Slovo outside the city of Cape Town to Delft 20 km away, some of us wondered quietly whether the government had not perhaps been as untruthful to the court as it had previously been untruthful to the residents of Joe Slovo.

The government had told Joe Slovo residents that they would be moved “for their own good” so that houses could be built for them as part of the N2 Gateway Project, but after the completion of phase 1 of the Project it transpired that few of those removed from Joe Slovo would be able to afford the rent of the new units. Those residents who were gullible enough to believe the government and agreed to move to Delft during phase 1 are mostly still languishing in Delft while others (with political connections?) have moved in to “their” homes at Joe Slovo.

The court was told that the 15000 individuals who had remained in Joe Slovo after phase 1 could be moved to Delft during phase 2 of the project to allow for an “upgrade” of the rest of Joe Slovo and that 70% of the new houses to be built at the site of Joe Slovo (which would not number fewer than 1 500) would be allocated to the residents who had been removed from Joe Slovo.

The eviction order was granted on condition that temporary accommodation – meeting certain basic standards – were provided in Delft  and that 70% of the new houses were allocated to Joe Slovo residents. These conditions considerably softened the heartless order made by the Cape High Court, while still endorsing a mad, farcically bureaucratic, scheme reminiscent of the apartheid era forced removals.

As part of the Constitutional Court judgment the government was ordered to build a new temporary relocation area in Delft, where people would have access to water and electricity. The government was also instructed to set up meetings with residents, who had complained of being ignored, and report back regularly to the Constitutional Court. But as the Sowetan reported recently, on August 24 the Constitutional Court quietly issued a new order suspending the evictions “until further notice”. Maybe sanity will prevail in this matter after all.

The order was suspended after Western Cape MEC for housing Bonginkosi Madikizela – from the DA nogal -submitted a report to the court saying he had “grave concerns” that the “massive relocation” might end up costing more than it would to upgrade Joe Slovo (trust the DA to worry about money first). Madikizela also said the Constitutional Court had not made any plans for people who would be left behind in the temporary relocation area after Joe Slovo had been upgraded because under the N2 Gateway Housing Project there would not be enough new houses to accommodate all the original Joe Slovo residents.

He was also concerned that erecting a new temporary relocation area for Joe Slovo residents could be legally challenged by people who were further up on the waiting list. As The Sowetan reports, Joe Slovo task team leader Mzwanele Zulu described the court order suspending the eviction as “a blessing”. “We were not happy at all about going to Delft. We have plans for Joe Slovo and we just needed this opportunity to talk to the government about development in our community,” Zulu said.

A report commissioned by the MEC will now be delivered to the Constitutional Court by the end of this month after which the Constitutional Court will decide the way forward.

Surely the government will now rethink this mad idea to forcibly remove 15 000 people – some who have lived at Joe Slovo for 15 years – to a dump 20 km away? We all know the N2 Gateway Project was conceived in haste, part of a vanity project dreamed up by heartless officials and politicians. The Project failed to adhere to the very principles set out in the government’s Breaking New Ground policy which requires in situ upgrades of informal settlements where this is at all feasible.

Maybe FIFA officials (who already vetoed the building of the Cape Town stadium in Athlone because the TV pictures of such an opulent stadium in the midst of poverty was not acceptable to them) and the Mbeki cabinet did not like the sight of all those shacks on the road from the airport into the city of Cape Town? It can’t be good for one’s conscience (if any) to drive past such poverty in a R1.3 million car.

Surely this whole idea was madness from the start? Why can’t the people actually LIVING in Joe Slovo be asked what THEY want for their area? Why should government Ministers, rushing past Joe Slovo to the airport in R1.3 million cars, decide FOR people how they wish to deal with the problems of Joe Slovo? Why can’t the residents be asked to help work out a plan to upgrade the Joe Slovo settlement while most of them remain where they are?

Clearly conditions at Joe Slovo are not ideal. Something must be done to improve these conditions in line with section 26 of the Constitution. But moving people 20 km away to little apartheid-style houses that look like cardboard boxes, requiring them to suddenly pay far more for transport to go to or seek jobs, without even asking them what THEY might want, smacks of the kind of bureaucratic arrogance for which the apartheid government was rightly condemned.

Ironically it took a new administration under Jacob Zuma and a provincial government under the white-led DA, to ask questions about the sanity and humanity of this harebrained and heartless scheme. Let us hope they do not lose their nerve and that they will, once and for all, put a stop to the idea of forcibly moving 15 000 people – District 9-like – to far-off Delft.

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