Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
13 September 2007

Sisulu lost the plot

I have always liked Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. She seemed intelligent, hard-working and, for a cabinet minister, not without a modicum of wisdom and compassion. Her recent statements on the N2 Gateway fiasco have been so astoundingly stupid and arrogant that I have now changed my mind.

In Parliament on Monday she threatened to remove protesters from Joe Slovo informal settlement from the housing waiting list.

If they choose not to cooperate with government, they will be completely removed from all housing waiting lists.

There are so many things wrong with this statement that it is hard to know where to begin. Section 26 of the Constitution says that everyone in South Africa has a right of access to housing and that the state has a duty to realise this right progressively, given the available resources. Moreover section 33 of the Constitution states that “everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair”.

This means that neither the Minister nor her officials can legally remove anyone from a housing list that is supposed to give people a shot of accessing housing, without a fair hearing. I can direct the “honourable” Minister to the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal in Permanent Secretary, Department of Welfare, Eastern Cape, and Another v Ngxuza and Others.

When the Eastern Cape government unilaterally cancelled the disability grants of thousands of residence, the SCA in that case slammed the Eastern Cape government and declared their actions illegal. Writing for the Court, Justice Edwin Cameron commented that the province had:

Conducted the case as though it was at war with its own citizens, the more shamefully because those it were combating were the least in its sphere … The applicants formed part of a group of South Africans with the least chance of vindicating their rights through the legal process.

For the Minster to think that she has a right to unilaterally take away the rights of the very citizens who elected her into office is a shameful disgrace. What has happened to that much abused phrase “innocent until proven guilty”. I assume Mr Jacob Zum and his supporters are as we speak preparing statements of outrage about this abuse of power by the Minster.

But the statement of the Minister is shockingly disrespectful of the Constitution in another way. She seems to suggest that individuals will be punished and their rights expunged if they fail to cooperate with the government. But the Constitution guarantees for everyone the right to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of conscience, which means we have a right, yes a right not to agree or cooperate with the government.

The Minister’s statement speaks of an arrogance that has sadly become all too pervasive among government officials. It reflects an attitude that government knows best and that ordinary people should just shut up and follow government orders – no matter how detrimental those orders may be for a particular individual.

The people of Joe Slovo are not stupid. They do not trust the government because the government has already lied to them regarding the first phase of the N2 Gateway Project. People were promised that they will be moved into the new houses, but this did not happen because they could not pay the high rents being charged.

The erstwhile neighbours of those poor unfortunate souls are now being promised that they will be returned to the permanent structures to be erected on the cleared land, but these structures, we know, will be showcase housing for the benefit of Fifa and the tourists driving from the airport, so they will cost a lot of money and will therefore not be affordable to most of the Joe Slovo residence.

The Minister knows this, her officials know this and the protesting residence know this too. No wonder they are protesting and no wonder they do not want to cooperate. Only people without any self respect agree to cooperate with a government hell bent on taking away your rights.

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