Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cities of the Poor -- a series of radio reports

This week, the World, a production of Public Radio International and the BBC, is visiting the shantytowns of the world. My old friend Armstrong O'Brian Ongera, Jr., from Nairobi, is featured in the first report. You can read and listen to these dispatches from Kenya, South Africa, Peru, India and Brazil at Each broadcast gets posted online after it runs on the show. The entire series should be available by Friday evening.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Evictions loom in Nigeria

Squatters in Lagos had better watch out. I came across this threat against squatters in an article about port development in Lagos, Nigeria in the December 1st issue of African Business:

Government plans to remove informal settlements from port areas have also attracted some criticism but the presence of shanty towns within port bounds is completely incompatible with international shipping standards....

...The government is particularly keen to demolish the informal settlements at the Lagos ports of Apapa, Lagos and Tin Can Island. President Olusegun Obasanjo commented: "There is no reason whatsoever why those people who should not be in the ports, no matter what they claim, should be at the ports. And we will make sure it does not happen. We will not relent on security....On the miscreants and shanties in the ports, I have already given a directive...and it will be carried out."

I'll be in Lagos for several months starting in late January and will see what I can find out about this first-hand.

Monday, December 18, 2006

In Kibera, a cult leader's rally sparks clashes with the cops

Two people died after a rally held by a former Kenyan cult leader who has political aspirations spun out of control in Kibera. The East African Standard reports (via

Friday, December 15, 2006

Developers profit, but do slum-dwellers?

Mumbai's subsidized solution to the spread of shantytowns is to give developers big zoning bonuses in return for their building a small number of tiny (225 square foot) apartments for the displaced families. It's not always a popular tradeoff, as this New York Times business section article admirably demonstrates.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nightmare for the Common Man

As this picture aptly shows, in Abuja, Nigeria, the city plan is more important than the needs of the people. Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times talks with people whose homes were destroyed by the authorities and finds a "chasm between the tiny, rich and powerful elite and the vast, impoverished majority of the nation’s 130 million people."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

the worst in housing rights

Agence France Presse, 5 December:
Greece, Nigeria and the Philippines were named on Tuesday as the worst offenders for forced evictions and breaches of housing rights by the campaign group Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. (visit for details)

Unveiling its annual "Housing Rights Violator Awards," the group charged the three countries with "systematic violations of housing rights and (the) continued failure to abide by their international legal obligations."

In the Philippines, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced under government policies of "beautification" and "development," with most of the victims coming from the urban poor, COHRE said.

Infrastructure projects such as rail network redevelopment, and high-prestige events like the ASEAN summit, have been behind many such evictions, with the people in question often relocated to sites with "appalling" living conditions, it added.

In Greece, Roma gypsy communities "continue to face pervasive and persistent discrimination in access to housing," COHRE executive director Jean du Plessis said in a statement.

Police took part in 79 forced evictions of Roma communities in the first half of 2006, according to the Geneva-based group's Global Survey.

In addition, "the conditions in which these communities live are dehumanising and constitute a grave human rights violation by the Government of Greece," du Plessis said.

In Nigeria, over two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2000, and the COHRE said the government had "consistently neglected its responsibilites and violated its obligations under international law".

Nigerian civil servants were not safe from the threat of eviction, with 1,388 officials and their families forced by soldiers from high-rise blocks in Lagos in December 2005, as part of a policy to privatise government-owned housing stock.

COHRE also highlighted the efforts of seven Chinese human rights activists, who received the "2006 Housing Rights Defender Awards."

Jean du Plessis said the seven had displayed "exemplary commitment, courage and perseverance in their struggles for the land and housing rights of hundreds of farmers, workers, residents in China."

Eviction as an olympic event

From Agence France Presse, datelined 6 December:

Beijing will demolish the final 22 squatter "villages" remaining in the city by June as part of efforts to beautify China's capital ahead of the 2008 Olympics, state press said Wednesday.

More than three million square meters (32 million square feet) of "illegal" structures will be destroyed during the campaign, which will focus on areas around the Olympic Village and other Games venues, the Beijing Daily reported.

Following the campaign the city will have "rectified" 171 such "villages" in its efforts to prepare for the Games, the paper said, citing a meeting held Tuesday.

The villages are made up of buildings housing some of the city's huge migrant worker population, a phenomenon that has appeared in cities all across China as the nation undergoes an unprecedented urbanization process.

There were no details about how many people live in the final 22 villages to be destroyed, or the total number who will have been forced to find new homes from all 171 villages.

The report also made no mention of where these people would be moved to.

Officially there are 3.6 million migrant workers living legally in Beijing out of a total population of 15.4 million people.

However, there are no figures on the many other people from rural China who have come to the Chinese capital for work and not registered.

Earlier this year, the city government insisted the legal rights of migrant workers would be protected ahead of the 2008 Olympics, following reports that up to a million people could be evicted to spruce up the city's image.

The defense came amid accusations by overseas human rights groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch that Beijing authorities had already embarked on a campaign to close schools serving the children of migrants.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Eye on Rocinha

An article on Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, by a researcher who's been there, published in The Sun, of Midwest City, Oklahoma.

Eviction threat to 849,000 squatters

This story from Bulatlat, The Philippines's alternative weekly magazine, details how Tondo, a squatter community that has existed since the 1950s, is in line to be demolished in the drive to privatize the country's ports. The lucky thing is the neighborhood has a history of political activism and organizing. The bad news: 5,000 houses in neighboring barangays (squatter villages) have already been demolished in the past nine months.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

evicted at gunpoint

Durban, SA: Residents of a small squatter community called Juba Place were pushed from their homes at gunpoint today. They were forced to relocate into shabby new homes across town, which another community also coveted. So now they have to be protected at gunpoint so their new neighbors don't evict them. Read the sordid details at

Where water is a crime

People in the developed world might be amazed to hear this, but many of the leaders of Maclovio Rojas, a squatter community in Tijuana, Mexico, spent years in jail for the crime of stealing water.

These are people who have been living without this basic resource for 18 years. Their local, state, and national governments have done little to help them. They are treated as criminals for demanding access to something that is fundamental for human survival.

Maclovio Rojas is set on the scrubby hills on the eastern edge of Tijuana. Here, the dusty dirt streets are rutted and the homes sit precariously on the denuded turf. And yet people here have pooled their money and established their own schools. They have built an active community center and a neighborhood bank. They are striving desperately to improve their community.

Yet they are still considered illegal, still considered radical, still considered criminal.

When will Mexico and Tijuana recognize that these are citizens who should be offered cooperation and understanding and not charged with crimes for simply trying to make their lives and the life of their city better?

Sadly, Maclovio Rojas is not only fighting with the governments for recognition, but is also battling a nearby colonia, which has claimed the same land as its own holding. When squatters battle each other, the battle for legitimacy is weakened.

(praise be to Carlos--aka philipk--for his expertise on Tijuana and for introducing me to Maclovio Rojas)

Betrayal and the colour of the heart

An article by Philani Zungu, Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a squatter organization in Durban, South Africa:

I hope that one day it will be realised by our government officials how much betrayal they have served to the floors on which they stand and where they belong. It is very sad that our politicians forget that their power started with people like us, people like the red shirts. Their silk suits come from older struggles, from other people struggling then like we do know in the yellow shirts of the UDF and the unions. When they were coming into power they told us that the only colour that mattered was the colour of the skin. But the black men in silk suits do not work for us. They work for the rich – black and white. They say that they are working to give us service delivery. They are really working to deliver us to the rich – to smash our informal shacks and either leave us homeless or dump us in formal jondolos in the bush. It is the colour of the heart that matters. In our struggle we have learnt that people of different skin colours have red hearts. It is the colour of the heart that matters.

Freedom is the equalisation of all people. All people need the same respect and all people need what is necessary for a proper life – some land, a house, water, electricity, access to good education and doctors, police and courts that work for the people, the chance for proper work and support for the young, the old and the sick. It is very sad that the people we trusted the most, the people we gave a mandate to secure our freedom, seem not to understand what is freedom. They understood quite well in the struggle but now they no longer understand. It is quite that the struggle is not over. We cannot just wait for service delivery. We are in a second phase of struggle. Older struggles put our people in the silk suits. Now our struggle, the second phase of struggle, has to force the men in silk suits to work for the poor and not the rich.

In the first struggle, when there was no freedom at all, people did not accept to be silent victims. People did not compromise. They were brave enough to put their lives at risk. Many people had so much faith that they gave up their lives to invest them in the new generation that would live in a free country. Now that we have some freedoms in law but no full freedom in reality, now that there is no better life for all, now that the government leaves shack dwellers to burn in the fires, beats us when we march and smashes up our homes and either leaves us homeless or dumps in formal jondolos in the bush why should we be silent? Why does the Municipality of Ethekwini expect Abahlali baseMjondolo to remain silent? Why are we expected to have unlimited patience while we are being attacked because ‘service delivery is coming’? Why are Abahlali baseMjondolo victimised when we claim back our humanity and the rights that we are promised with our citizenship? Why are we not allowed to work with academics at the university? Why are academics at the university not allowed to work with the poor? The answer is clear. This democracy is not for us. We must stay silent so that this truth can be kept hidden. This democracy is for the rich who will build and then enjoy themselves at uShaka, King Senzagakhona Stadium and King Shaka Airport. We will only go to these places to protect and clean up for the rich.

Today Fazel Khan, a sociologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), is facing charges for speaking to the media. But it is very clear to Abahlali baseMjondolo that the intention behind these charges is to get rid of Fazel from the university. He must go because he has broken the rules. With other academics, academics who are already gone from the University, he has spoken to the poor instead of for the poor. He has worked with the poor instead of with the rich in the name of the poor. Abahlali already know what the outcome of Fazel’s case will be. His dismissal is the main objective of the university bosses right now.

For a long time we have heard rumours from various people that eThekwini City Manager, Mike Sutcliffe, has been boasting that he has instructed the university to get rid of Fazel Khan and Richard Pithouse. Last year the Mercury reported that the University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Makgoba, had told Fazel that Mayor Obed Mlaba had instructed him to ‘act against academics working with Abahlali.’ It seems that this is now being accomplished with the charges against Fazel.

The people in power are fighting against the poor instead of serving the poor. Because the poor still exist in unfreedom it is clear that people in power are fighting against freedom.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

two-faced in San Diego

So as I arrived in San Diego to make a presentation on squatters at San Diego State University, these two news stories suddenly seemed terrifically relevant:

1. Residents in San Diego's ritzy McGonigle Canyon area are mobilizing to push out a squatter encampment established by Mexican day laborers in the wilds of the canyon. They offer no plan to work with the laborers to find better housing solutions.

2. The City Council of nearby Escondido has passed an ordinance to make it a crime for illegal aliens to rent apartments in that city.

It's a classic catch 22: one city pushes out squatters, telling them to get apartments, while an adjacent city makes it illegal for those same people to rent apartments.

Cape Town prepares for official violence against squatters

Here's a disturbing story: the Red Ants--a private security force known for assaulting squatters and destroying their homes--are being brought to Cape Town to assist in squatter relocation, the Cape Argus reports.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

gecekondu resistence

Ankara squatters are starting to demonstrate for their rights. These pictures are from An article, in Turkish, can be found at
Thanks to Ercüment Celik for the link.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Killings in Mathare

Thousands of refugees are fleeing the Mathare shantytown in Nairobi after four days of fighting between two rival gangs. The battle between the Mungiki and the Taliban has claimed eight lives so far. The Daily Nation, via has details.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Squatter Book Stalls Evicted

Hyderabad's oldest book market -- which had been in the same place for better than 30 years -- was destroyed by court order yesterday, The Hindustan Times reports. "Shop owners could be seen crying when municipal employees forcibly dumped books in vehicles and bulldozed the structures," the paper reported. Those who tried to resist were arrested.

'The spirit of Murambatsvina should not die'

That's a quote from Zimbabwe's Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo, who announced that a new drive against squatters, shack dwellers, and illegal structures of all sorts will begin -- perhaps as soon as next week. South Africa's Mail & Guardian Online has the story.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

ANC uses tear gas in Durban evictions

A low level war is brewing in Durban, as the muncipal government has moved on squatters in the Motala Heights neighborhood, the Independent Online reports. Squatters assert that beyond knocking down 15 homes, the authorities used tear gas and actually shot at squatters during a recent demolition drive. The squatter community at Motala Heights has existed for better than 30 years -- and the authorities had no court authorization for the eviction action.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

flinging the shit

Outsiders always seem fascinated by the concept of 'flying toilets' -- the practice in some Kenyan communities that lack water and sewers, of people defecating in plastic bags and flinging them as far from their homes as possible. Inter Press Service News Agency revisits the story to see whether flying toilets are still in use in 2006.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

How Sensitive

The city of Lagos, Nigeria intends to get rid of nine squatter communities. The Vanguard newspaper reports that it'll be relocation with representation. "We are collaborating with the people," Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Bolaji Abosede, told the paper during a ceremony honoring World Habitat Day in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Does anyone -- perhaps someone in Lagos -- have more information?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Stand, my boy, everything is for our home!

Ercüment Çelik, a Turkish scholar doing a PHD in Sociology at Freiburg University in Germany, and working on informal workers and new social movements, recently returned to Turkey and visited two communities in Ankara that are under threat of eviction and demolition.

Squatters there are being offered a truly Faustian bargain: pay more than they can afford for a small flat in their redeveloped communities or accept forced removal to a new community on the outskirts of town, where they will also have to pay too much for the right to live.

Ercüment was kind enough to send this brief dispatch from the front lines:

Since June 27th, people who live in slums (gecekondu) in the Çöplük and İlker quarters of Ankara have been running an anti-eviction campaign against the urban transition project of the central municipality. They are saying: "We want neither palaces nor villas; we only want houses in which we can live as human beings." The municipality is demolishing all slums and constructing luxurious flats and villas instead. The city's urban planning scheme puts forward the image of a city without slums. Does this mean a city without poor people? Of course not!

Most of the people who live in the gecekondu communities survive on minimum wage or pensions. Their families are quite large and unemployment is high. Their priority is to survive, and only secondarily to live in well-planned communities. Otherwise, who doesn’t want to have well-conditioned housing? These people are actually not against the idea of the transition of urban areas, but they are against being unjustly treated.

Most of the residents don’t have deeds to their parcels. When they built their houses, they were a voting block for the politicians. That’s why they were tolerated for many years. Many politicians promised to provide legal title deeds, particularly when they were running to become a member of parliament or a mayor in these districts. Now the poor people are being kicked out of their homes. The municipality offers them the opportunity to buy these new flats, but how can they afford it?

The municipality gives them two options: people who have deeds and more than 400 m² of land are going to get a 100 m² flat. The ones who have less than 400 m² have to pay approximately $300 per m² in four years to the municipality to own a flat. The people who do not have a deed will be removed to Doğu Kent, a new settlement very far from the city centre. They are being offered the opportunity to buy plots in this area, which are 200-250 m², and the debt can be paid in ten years. The reality is that most of the people don’t have deeds and have very small pieces of land. Moreover, if a person has an income (whether minimum wage or pension) of approximately $250, how can he or she pay $500 monthly to own a flat on the same land on which they have been living. It is obvious that they will be unjustly indebted.

The poor people are responding by organising themselves under community organisations called Halkevleri (People’s Houses), and campaigning for their housing rights. They demand that the government modify the requirements by reducing the 400 m² land requirement to 200 m² and the $300 fee to $35. In addition, they want demolitions to cease and new homes to be built on the same land where they have been living.

Of 3,000 houses in these communities, 500 have already been destroyed. The people who accepted the municipality's conditions and left their homes already regret that decision, since they have difficulties paying their debts. The ones who are resisting the push to get them out meet more problems day by day. Instead of listening to their demands, Melih Gökçek, the mayor of the central municipality, cut people’s water, sent gangsters to these areas, and attempted to force the residents to sign the agreements. People see strangers in their neighbourhood at night, hear gun shuts, and receive telephone threats from unknown people.

In Turkey, anti-eviction protests have taken place very often. But this may be the first time that the poor people in the gecekondu communities are building an organised movement and expressing their demands in a long-run campaign. These movements also give new functions to community organisations like Halkevleri, which have been voiceless for years. New social movements are born at the heart of the gecekondu communities. The marginalised people are coming together and calling for justice, a better life. It seems that this time they are not ready to give up easily.

During the protests in front of the Municipal Building, a woman joined the protest with her little son. It was very hot, they had walked quite a long way, and the little boy became tired and started crying. The mother, however, encouraged him to resist the urge to cry. "Stand, my boy," she said. "Everything is for our home!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deal or No Deal

Several hundreds of African immigrants who've been living in a local gymnasium after being evicted from their squat by the French government have agreed to leave the facility with only vague promises and no guarantee they will not be deported, the World Socialist Website reports. The group reportedly made a deal with the government because six of their members had engaged in a 42-day hunger strike and were in danger of grave illness if no solution was found.

Fear of Flying

It looks like Mumbai International Airport Ltd. expects 85,000 squatter families that have lived on the margins of the airport property for years to relocate, perhaps to the very edge of the city, Mumbai Newsline reports. Asked about the squatters' demand that they receive new housing on the airport grounds where they have been living, an airport company spokesman termed it "a little difficult."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

World Habitat Day -- October 2nd

You probably won't find it on most calendars, but October 2nd is World Habitat Day. Let's keep track of how many evictions are reported.

I've been thinking about what people can do to ensure that people do have the right to shelter. The International Alliance of Inhabitants has called for this week to constitute World Zero Eviction Days in counterpoint to World Habitat Day. It's a great idea, but when I read the fine print, I thing something's missing: a tough-nosed political strategy for making the demand a reality.

Here's my modest proposal: tell the World Bank, let's create a concrete plan to force the IMF, the G-7, the U.S. State Department's Agency for International Development, and the U.N. Development Program (feel free to add ot the list) to agree to the following demand: No money for any country or municipality that engages in forced evictions.

Let's starve those horrible regimes that push people from their homes and force them to acknowledge housing as a human right.

Asia's largest slum -- or real estate gold?

Another article on the massive redevelopment planned for Dharavi, this one from the Indian Express. It may well be, as Bryan Finoki suggests on archinect 'the world's most ambitious urban renewal plan.' [thanks to Bryan for the link.]

Still, when I hear "plush housing, malls, multiplexes, pottery institutes, leather designing centres, a proposed cricket museum and stadium, gardens, parks and world class public transport" in an area ten times the size of the Nariman Point office zone in downtown Mumbai, I can't help but hear the ugly footfalls of gentrification.

A sidebar on life in Dharavi makes the point: "Builders get 535 acres of prime land, in return for providing free housing to 52,000 families—-plus hospitals, schools, international craft villages, peace parks, art galleries, an experimental theatre and a cricket museum! But since the 'apartments' need be no more than 225 sq ft each, and the minimum distance between two buildings no more than five metres, there will be quite a bit of surplus land. A cool two crore sq ft, to be exact [that's 20 million square feet, for those not initiated in Indian numerology], which builders may sell in the commercial market. In addition, the Government has granted an unprecedented Floor Space Index (the ratio of total floor area to the plot size) of four—-considerably higher than Mumbai’s standard 1.3—-as a 'bait' to potential developers. No wonder the sharks can’t wait to bite. And with Rs 2,700 crore [$574 million] expected to land in the official kitty, neither can the state government."

Sounds like the only people getting maximum value here are the big real estate moguls of the Maximum City.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Property Rights in Favelas?

Brazil plans to spend $1 million to map Vidigal and Rocinha, two neighboring favelas next to the city's tourist zone, with an eye towards providing full property rights to the residents.

This may be a good thing (though it's much more complex than the government lets on): but there's much nonsense in the article:

1. "Without title, residents cannot finance home repairs, get credit or mail, or sell their property."

Well, no: while residents may not be able to get bank loans, people do manage to make home repairs, they can get credit cards through the local branch of the Caixa Economica, a federally-owned bank, and there's a booming market in which people buy and sell the possession rights to structures in these communities.

2. "They can also be evicted without legal recourse -- a real fear in a city where entire slums -- known as favelas -- have been removed to make way for commercial developments."

Sure this is a risk, but the truth is that Rocinha and Vidigal (and the majority of the city's 600-plus favelas) have been generally accepted as permanent parts of the city. There haven't been massive forced evictions in Rio in decades.

3. "Rocinha is reputed to be the largest shantytown in Latin America."

I appreciate the fudge-factor wording, but, no, Rocinha is not 'the largest shantytown in Latina America'--not by a long shot. It is the largest favela in Rio (or at least one of the two largest; Rio das Pedras is approximately the same size.) But its population is estimated to be somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000. There are many larger favelas in other Central and South American Countries.

4. "the Rocinha and Vidigal shantytowns"

Does it really make sense to call these communities that have water and electricity and in which most buildings are multi-story and made from reinforced concrete and brick 'shantytowns?' Rocinha and Vidigal are two of the most urbanized favelas in the city. Rocinha is almost fully developed, and a number of chain stores from the legal city have opened in the favela. Why call it a shantytown?

5. "The program is expected to benefit more than 5,000 families in the two favelas."

Hmmmm. The communities together probably have a population of close to 300,000. At five people per household, that's 60,000 families. So only 8 percent of the families in the two favelas will benefit. What will happen to the other 92 percent? What will happen to rents when people become property owners? What will happen to local businesses? Will they have to suddenly obey zoning ordinances and other codes? And what about the huge number of buildings that share walls or are propped on each other or cantilevered over each other. How will those land titles be drawn?

In short, handing out property titles is not always a simple thing.

[thanks to Jesse Walker for the link]

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is Sprawl Essential?

Urban sprawl is constantly reducing the vital area necessary for countless species of animals, plants as well as for the human race. Everywhere, the ecological toll of urban sprawl is growing. Geneva, where I live, is no exception. I am writing a book on the destruction of the last forest remaining close to the city, and it is very sadening to witness the urbanization of beautiful forests with fully grown trees and prairie. After countless such disapearances witnessed since 20 years, one gets a wide-angled picture of what is happening. Economic growth is the mantra leading the political programmes of every major political party. The problem is, with every new corporation choosing Geneva for its location, the population rises. And every new inhabitant induces 400 m2 of infrastructure.

As long as economic growth, as we know it today, continues to dictate our policies, urban sprawl will continue.

The question is, can we have a sprawl-less economic growth? Is there an alternative to what we’re living?

With these words, writer, former squatter, and dedicated squattercity commentator Philippe de Rougemont proposes a new and urgent topic for debate.

So have at it: Are there alternatives to sprawl? Or do capitalism and growth necessitate ripping apart the countryside in the search for ever-more-rare urban land? Is continuing urbanization an ecological disaster?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Good on Paper

At the start of August, the Kazak Government pledged to provide free land to all citizens. But the promise turns out not to be worth very much the Institute for War and Peace Reporting suggests in an article.

In Almaty, the financial centre of Kazakstan, and Astana, the capital since 1997, "the state has sold off much of its real estate for commercial use, so land is in short supply in city centres and the growing suburbs," the new agency notes. Local officials say they simply cannot implement the government decree. "In Almaty and Astana, acquiring even one plot of land is today unrealistic. There is simply no land," Ramazan Sarpekov, a justice ministry official, told the Kazak online newspaper Liter. "When they were drafting the decree, they should have taken account of the realities of large cities which have the highest population density."

Friday, September 15, 2006

"When a house is killed, it is a serial killing"

... "a mass grave of all the things once used to give a home to meaning"

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish undoubtedly wrote this about Israel's recent bombings and attacks, but it also serves to express the tragedy of evictions and demolitions around the world Open Democracy has the full text.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Soccer War

Two French footballers got into hot water with the far right when they invited evicted Paris squatters to be their guests at a soccer match against Italy. The African squatters were booted in a paramilitary action by the French government back on August 17th and have been living in a local gymnasium ever since. Pravda has the details.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


1,800 Johannesburg squatters who had been in their homes for 14 years were illegally evicted yesterday, a local city council member told The Star newspaper. The problem: eviction notices were served on the wrong community. The newspaper reports that shreds of childrens' homework and half eaten loaves of bread litter the ground where the shacks were destroyed. Authorities carted away much of the usable debris, so the squatters couldn't even build rudimentary shelters.

Don't tell Mama!

A press release from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the tough squatter organization based in Durban, South Africa, notes that they have been warned not to talk with the press (so much for freedom of speech.) And they face a catch 22: the municipality says it cannot fund its plan to help squatter communities because of lack of funding from the province, but provincial officials say the squatters must work things out with the municipality.

I agree with Abahlali: democracy is about government officials being loyal to the people.

Here's the press release:

On Thursday last week Abahlali baseMjondolo announced that we would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to compel the eThekwini Municipality to disclose its plans for shack dwellers to shack dwellers. The next day we received a sudden invitation to attend a meeting with the office of the provincial MEC for housing at 3:00 pm today.

We took time away from our work and made ourselves available for this meeting. We hoped that we would finally get answers to our basic questions about what future the government is planning for us when we are told that the slums will be cleared by 2010. We would like to register our profound disappointment and disgust at the way in which this meeting was conducted by Mxolisi Nkosi, the HOD in the Dept. He behaved like an Inkosi berating his subjects in front of his councillors. There was no democracy in the meeting. We were not allowed to speak and when we insisted that this was our right we were threatened. Mr. Jaguja, a respected member of his community, of Abahlali and the Methodist church was insulted by Lennox Mabaso and told to 'shut his mouth' when he tried to speak. The purpose of this meeting was for us to be told to know our place. Nkosi said that he had been getting phone calls from the media and
instructed us to stop speaking to the media. We will not be intimidated. We will keep speaking to the media.

Nkosi then instructed us, making much use of complicated English words that we don't understand, that from now on the province would not be dealing with our matters. He insisted that Abahlali must go back to the Municipality and that the councillors are the route to communicate with the Municipality. We have tried this for years. The councillor system failed us and then the Mayor failed us. Recently Mike Sutcliffe told a researcher from England that his 'slum clearance' programme would not meet its 2010 target because of a lack of funding from the provincial government. Now the provincial government tells us to back to the city!

Nkosi is trying to make the councillors as Gods above the people. We will not accept this. As citizens of a democracy we have a right to stand together, make our selves strong and demand answers directly from government. We will not be sent back to the control of lying and corrupt councillors who take their orders from above and not from below. In some of our settlements our councillors have even tried to intimidate us with armed threats. We have no choice. We will now go back to the streets in our thousands. And we want to make it very clear that it is Nkosi and not some third force that will be making us march.

On Monday and Tuesday we will be protesting because we have been denied access to the housing summit that is happening at the IEC in Durban. We are the ones who need houses but we are denied access to the conference. The rich will be there in numbers to speak the language of house prices and to demand that the poor are relocated to keep prices high. No one will be there to speak for the poor and for putting people before the profits of the rich.

The government talks about Breaking New Ground and says that upgrades are better than relocation because they keep the people near the city where there is work, schools, healthcare and so on. The government's own policy states that relocations make the poor much poorer. But the city and the province want to push the poor out of the city. They are in the pockets of the rich. This is not the democracy that we and our ancestors fought for. There is no justice in this.

We will keep struggling and we will keep talking to the media. Our ancestors were not silenced by Shepstone and McKenzie. Our parents were not silenced by Botha and Buthelezi. We were not silenced by De Klerk. We were not silenced by Sutcliffe when he tried to ban our marches. We will not be silenced by Nkosi. On the question of our right to speak to the media the struggles against apartheid have already won us a victory that we will defend. In this case the law is on our side. We will defend our right to speak.

Democracy is not about us being loyal to Nkosi. Democracy is about Nkosi being loyal to the citizens of this province.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Home vs. Tourism

This is worse than home vs. golf. Squatters who have occupied the Gaborone Dam area in the capital city of Botswana for better than 40 years must be evicted to make way for uses more friendly to tourists, government officials have urged. The squatters have been occupying the area since the late 1960s and use sand from the Notwane River and water from the Gaborone Dam to mold bricks for commercial purposes. The government-run Botswana Press Agency has the details.

Abuja squatters to be ejected

"They are only interested in rendering people homeless," said Raphael Elijah, a musician and squatter in Abuja, Nigeria, of the government's move to demolish 1,500 homes, his among them. This Day (via has details.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Golf vs. Roof

The Mayor of Caracas, Venezuela has declared that he wants to condemn two elite golf courses to build new housing for the poor, The New York Times reports. “We’ve done studies that show that 20 families survive for a week on what’s needed to maintain each square meter of grass on a golf course,” Mayor Juan Barreto said.

While this 'forced acquisition' may or may not have President Hugo Chavez's blessing, the paper notes that "squatters occupy units in more than 140 buildings in Caracas, either illegally or with the approval of city officials. Mayor Barreto, who once pursued doctoral studies in sociology, has ordered more than a dozen takeovers of buildings, including a 96-unit residential complex in El Rosal, a district with soaring postmodern office towers and the Caracas stock exchange. Mr. Barreto made apartments in the building available to families of firefighters who were homeless or had to commute from far-flung areas to Caracas to work. The firefighters now live in 46 of the building’s one- and two-bedroom apartments."

What's your take: golf or roofs?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Zimbabwe: 'Clean Out Filth' Victims Still Destitute

The Solidarity Peace Trust, a coalition of religious groups, reports that many of the Zimbabweans displaced in Operation Murambatsvina 15 months ago are still living in misery, reports.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Nigerian military torches squatter neighborhood

Here's an ugly story, courtesy of Human Rights Watch: The Nigerian miliary went on a rampage on August 24th and torched the Aker Base squatter neighborhood of Port Harcourt. The soldiers, acting in response to the killing of an army sergeant during the kidnapping of an Italian who worked in the nearby oil compound by armed militants, carried cannisters of gasoline and doused homes and businesses before setting them ablaze, residents said. Human Rights Watch says the soldiers and the Nigerian government must be held acountable for the unprovoked devastation of the community.

"The flame is a demon that has destroyed our lives."

That's how a 6-year-old boy put it after a fire in a Durban shantytown on Friday that left hundreds of families homeless. The fire occurred in Siyasokola, a community whose name means "we are in dire need." This fire started from a paraffin burner, a common type of stove in such communities. A day after the fire, people were already reconstructing their homes with whatever scrap they could find As community leader Nhlanhla Mbili put it, "In December 2004 there was a fire disaster similar to this one. Somehow, rebuilding our shacks has become a part of our lives."

[Sorry there's no link on this post. The Sunday Tribune, from whose pages these details are taken, is subscription-only, even online. Thanks to Richard Pithouse for sending me the text of the article.]

Monday, August 28, 2006

Obama in Kibera

Baraka means hope in Swahili, and perhaps Barack Obama brought some when he visited two NGOs in Kibera. This is a story on his visit from the East African Standard.

What to do about the housing crisis in the U.S.

A Washington Post reporter has penned an op-ed documenting the extent of the housing crisis in the United States. Here's the shocking lead: "In the past five years, housing prices in Fairfax County [Virginia] have grown 12 times as fast as household incomes." Reporter Michael Grunwald suggests that the cost of housing should be a major political issue.

But beyond pushing for more public policy pronouncements, his prescriptions fall a bit short: "The best thing local officials can do to promote affordable housing is to get of the way -- stop requiring one-acre lots and two-car garages, and stop blocking low-income and high-density projects."

Unfortunately, ending exclusionary zoning and upping density may result in more rental units, but experience shows that this will only nudge prices downward at the top of the market.

Question for you economic visionaries out there: what should we do about the ramp up in prices and the acute shortage of affordable housing in the United States?

Friday, August 25, 2006

the power of incrementalism

The Financial Times gets it right: favelas have become better incrementally. As the article explains, "Rather than wipe slums from the map, the authorities looked to civilise them and integrate them into the urban fabric. Roads have been asphalted, water pipes and electricity lines extended into squatted settlements. Further measures ranging from the provision of street names and house numbers to the granting of legal titles to properties have been a feature of this approach, as have moves to introduce schools, clinics and regular policing."

In his dispatch from Diadema, a town of some 400,000 people on the southern edge of São Paulo, reporter Richard Lapper finds a community of "brightly painted cheap restaurants, beauty parlours and stalls selling fruit juice. Children play football and swim in a well-equipped sports facility financed by local employers. From a central bus station, modern coaches ferry residents to São Paulo's underground railway network, reaching the centre of the city in a little over an hour."

In other words, the squatter community is actually a real neighborhood. It's terrific. And it's terrific to see this transformation -- the product more of what people have done themselves than what government has done for them -- honored in a mainstream paper.

[Thanks to Tom Neilssen for the FT link.]

de Soto -- right and wrong

An interesting article in The Economist (subscription required, so no link here) highlights an Argentine study of a Buenos Aires neighborhood where half the people received land titles and the other half didn't. The study, called Property Rights For the Poor, (available HERE in an acrobat file) uses the Quilmes neighborhood as a test case for the theories of Hernando de Soto, who suggests that simply giving out land titles will allow squatters access to mortgages and other forms of credit that will liberate the dead capital inherent in their homes. The results: while having a title deed did encourage residents to invest in their homes, it did not give them more access to credit or create any increase in their incomes.

Families that had title deeds tended to have fewer kids, though, allowing the authors to conclude that "entitling the poor increases their investment both in the house and in the human capital of their children, which will contribute to reduce the poverty of the next generation."

burning with indignation

The horrific death of 70 year old Zithulele Dhlomo, who had resided in the Kennedy Road squatter settlement in Durban for two decades before being incinerated in a shack fire last weekend, has moved his neighbors to action The Centre for Civil Society reports. Community residents joined famed poet Dennis Brutus and other religious and civic notables to demand city services and housing rights.

As one squatter said, "Better to lock us up in jail – in jail there is light, in jail there is water, in jail there is a toilet."

Squatters say that the municipality stopped providing electricity to the shack communities and thus people are forced to use candles, which often cause shack fires. They are demanding services from the eThekwini municipality.

This is the way good can arise from the ashes of tragedy: through organizing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Squatters stone police after forced removal

The bad news from South Africa keeps getting worse. This article from the Pretoria News details another round of violence between squatters and police.

Would someone please explain to the ANC government: moving squatters 15 kilometers out of town is objectionable because they would spend all their money commuting and would have no money left to feed themselves and their families. The solution is not eviction, but working with squatters to improve their neighborhoods.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Police evict Africans in raid on France's biggest squat

Yesterday, police evicted African squatters from France's biggest squat, a former school in a nice Paris suburb. Again and again and again: eviction with no plans for rehousing except Red Cross emergency shelters. No offer to work with the squatters. No offer to do anything but push people out.

Ghislain Thierry, 25, an electrician who has lived in the building for a year and a half, is originally from Cameroon and has been in France legally for 12 years. Here's his take on the eviction: "I have a decent job and enough money to rent a flat. You'd think I would be able to find a roof over my head without having to live in a squat, but not in France. I experience racism every single day, in every aspect of my life."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Kenya: Entire Cabinet to Undergo Wealth Probe

Not exactly related to squatter, but...

this is an earth-shattering event: financial disclosure for all the ministers in the Kenyan government. Of course, the information should also be public, and it should include President Mwai Kibaki. But this small step forward in transparency may loom large in coming years. And if any big-time Kenyan politicians are profiting from huts in the country's squatter areas, this would be the right time for the information to come out.

Monday, August 14, 2006

the true cause of shack fires

from a press release sent out by Abahlali baseMjondolo, after another slum fire killed a 70 year old man:

These fires are not acts of god. They are a direct consequence of the eThekwini Municipality’s infamous and unconstitutional 2001 decision to suspend the provision of electricity to shack settlement.


S’bu Zikode, President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, said "They tell us that they will clear the slums by 2010 but they won’t tell us what their plan is – where they want to put us and when they want to move us. They will not or cannot show us any programme. While we wait for a promise with no details we are being killed. We seriously condemn this incident. We are saying that the government is responsible for this death. Everyday we are making noise about fire, about the urgent need for water, electricity and toilets, about the need for land and housing in the city. It is not like we are keeping quiet. Everybody knows what is needed but the government just ignores us."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Aguablanca: eviction in Colombia

Aguablanca is a squatter community of about 600,000 people in Cali, Colombia. At 3am on June 16th, 900 police officers arrived to smash 1,200 homes in the community. In the melee, a six-month-old child died of exposure to tear gas. A 1 1/2 year old kid was smashed in the head and is still hospitalized. And many families are still living in crude conditions on a nearby roadside.

For what? These kinds of violent forced evictions are among the worst excesses governments can visit on people.

[Thanks to TEO for the link!]

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

World Bank: billions for Lagos slums

The World Bank offers N25.2 billion ($200 million) to upgrade slums in Lagos. But what is the money for, who will control it, how will it be spent, will the slum-dwellers themselves be involved, will people be able to afford what the World Bank money might produce? Money alone is not the issue.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


A reader dropped this big question in a comment on a prior post and I figured I'd open it up here. So, blog readers, have at it. Yea or nay? Why, why not? Let's get a discussion going.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Shack Fire as Excuse for Eviction

Three hundred squatters in the Quarry Road settlement in Durban were burned out of their homes Friday night. Now the government is exploiting the situation, pushing squatters to relocate to the edge of town and even attempting to extort money for old shipping pallets that were delivered to help in recreating the lost shelters. South Africa Indymedia has the story.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bahamas squatters hold firm against the government

Squatters in the Bahamas, who have occupied government-owned land for several decades, are fighting to keep their homes, The Bahama Journal reports.

Monday, July 17, 2006

In Iraq, a failed housing market

Not squatters, but on their way, perhaps. This story on the housing crisis in Iraq from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting shows that market forces are conspiring against ordinary Iraqis in Sulaimaniyah.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Squatters in the Solomon Islands

The number of squatters in the major city of the Solomon Islands, a South Pacific archipelago of 1,000 small islands and coral atolls, is growing by an astounding 26 percent a year, the government admits. Honiara, the capital city, is now 1/3 squatters. Wow.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kazakh squatters clash with police

Squatters in Almaty, Kazakhstan's commercial (though not political) capital, are fighting government forces seeking to demolish their homes, Reuters reports.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Putting people above politicians

S'bu Zikode, president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a movement that arose in Foreman Road and other squatter communities in Durban, South Africa, writes eloquently of his country's discrimination against the poor. From The Mercury newspaper.

His critique: 'the government, other organisations and academics speak about the poor all the time but so few want to speak to the poor.'

His solution: 'Poverty and neglect by the state have thrown us together in our shack settlements and from that togetherness we have become strong. The politics of the strong poor is anti-party politics. Our politics is not to put someone in an office. Our politics is to put our people above that office.'

His hope: 'I am optimistic that the "will" of the poor will soon be done because the poor are the majority of this country and the majority is beginning to speak for itself.'

Thursday, July 06, 2006

International Poverty Pimps

Here's an absolute scandal: One-quarter of the world's development aid to poor countries is going to consultants and close to another 25 percent is "swallowed in administration costs, double counting of debt relief, tied aid, donor aid that is allocated to geopolitical and commercial priorities and domestic refugee spending in donor countries," according to a new report by ActionAid International. The bottom line: half of all development aid doesn't reach the poor. InterPress News Service has the details.

The report, called RealAid 2, can be found here.

No freedom for the poor

The mjondolo settlement in Durban's Foreman Road, as visited by a reporter from the Mail & Guardian newspaper, illustrates the growing inequities of the new new South Africa. Forced relocation is not the answer. Squatter empowerment is.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Rhino charges on

A victory for Rhino, Geneva's oldest squat, as reported by swissinfo. Essentially, Switzerland's top court voided an eviction order pushed by Geneva prosecutor Daniel Zappelli, asserting that the squatters were no danger, either to themselves or to public order. As Swiss journalist Philippe de Rougemont writes, "The court's decision is a strong message to the over-zealous Daniel Zappelli, the Geneva state prosecutor. He has been criticised even by people from his own conservative group for being too agressive about sympathetic and arty squatters, instead of fully cooperating with foreign justice departments to help squeeze the big fish: money launderers, tax evaders, etc, that flock towards Switzerland and Geneva." Thanks to Philippe for passing on the good news.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The ANC's eviction plans in Durban

At the recent World Urban Forum, I asked Lindiwe Sisulu, South Africa's Housing Minister, about forced evictions in Durban. In case some readers of this blog can't believe that the African National Congress government engages in such tactics, so reminiscent of Apartheid, here's a press release from Abahlali baseMjondolo, a squatter organizing group that has emerged as one of the most exciting bottom-up social movements in the country. Abahlali says that, despite fine words in favor of squatters, the ANC, at least on the local level, is pushing a policy of "mass evictions and forced removals under its 'slum clearance' programme."


Two hundred families in the Motala Height Settlement are facing eviction at the hands of the eThekwini Municipality [the official name for the government of the city of Durban]. Legal experts have declared that the planned evictions are both unconstitutional and illegal. The Motala Heights community has declared that it will resist all attempts at eviction in the courts and by mass mobilisation.

After Ward Councillor Derek Dimba arrived at the settlement on 17 June 2006 with police and private security to mark out the homes slated for destruction the community quickly mobilised and won a promise that the process will stopped until a meeting with Dimba.

But yesterday Officer Pillay of the SAPS [the South African Police Service] returned to the settlement with police and private security back up and tried to continue the process of identifying homes for demolition. The community stopped the process. Pillay promised to return and break down the shacks. The Motala Heights Development Committee told him that "This is the land where we belong. This is not the land where you belong. Don't come back without our permission."

The Motala Heights settlement lies amongst the gum tress on the hill behind Motala Heights suburb which is, in turn, just behind the many factories in Pinetown's industrial area. It was founded in 1994 and the residents mostly come from Zululand, the Eastern Cape and Ixopo although some are from as far away as the Free State. Almost everyone came here to work or to reunite families divided by migrant labour. Most of the men in the settlement work in the factories and most of the women work in the houses in the adjacent suburb. There are almost 300 shacks in the settlement. The land is owned by local tycoon Ricky Govender and he is aiming to extend the suburb up the hill in a large private development after the shack dwellers have been evicted.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Dutch squatters fight to save their homes

Squatters in the Netherlands are organizing against a government proposal to reverse the country's notably liberal laws on squatting. See also this dispatch on

Dutch squatters have reclaimed a tremendous amount of housing and been a positive force in helping to alleviate the country's housing crisis. To join the struggle to support the squatters, visit

Friday, June 23, 2006

Squatter Communities on Fiji

In further proof that squatters exist in the most unlikely places, The Fiji Sun reports that squatter communities are growing as urbanization continues on the island. The housing ministry is vowing to relocate any squatters who lose their land leases.

Thanks to Munna Prasad for the link!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Urban Forum

Vancouver, Jan. 20th: I arrived this afternoon in the temporary capital of the empire of ineffectual good guys known as the World Urban Forum. I'm cynical about these UN-sponsored gatherings (can't ya tell), but being a fly on the wall does give an opportunity to learn some things and make some contacts.

My own bad planning ensured that I was in flight and thus missed the session on squatter communities this morning. But I checked out a session on creative muncipal approaches to financing stuff for the poor in French-speaking Africa in the afternoon. Niamey, in Niger, has started a plan to map the central city, giving every house and address, thus making it easier to collect taxes (indeed, the statistics bandied about show that the city quadrupled the amount it collected after the survey.) Dakar, Senegal has started a municipal microfinance credit program. And Douala, Cameroon has floated an issue of municipal bonds to provide seed money for housing for poor people.

The theme of the forum is "Turning Ideas Into Action" but so far, my experience is that there's more hot air than concerted, connected, committed political action. Still, I can hope.

Monday, June 19, 2006

U.N. Issues Global Slum Population Report

The misery takes the headlines. And it's true: the number of squatters is increasing, and there is no excuse, in the 21st century, for so many people to be living without necessary infrastructure. But the dispatches, like this Associated Press report printed in the Guardian miss the interesting news.

Consider: "Approximately one-fifth of slum households live in extremely poor conditions." That means lacking three or more of what the UN calls "basic shelter needs"--including a permanent structure, sufficient space, access to potable water, access to sanitation, and security of tenure.

Sounds awful, right? But it also means that 80 percent of the world's shanty dwellers don't live in extremely poor conditions. Memo to the UN: take a look at those communities.

All squatter encampments start in squalor, in mud, in despair. But 80 percent of them improve and grow and develop. What is it about the communities that improve that we can apply to the communities that haven't.

My observations from my two years living in squatter communities around the world: squatters need two things for their communities to grow:

1. some guarantee that they won't be evicted.
This doesn't have to be a title deed or 'security of tenure' in some legal sense. The favelas of Rio de Janeiro and most of the gecekondu communities of Istanbul don't have legal security. They have only customary security. But everyone has accepted that they will not be evicted and so their communities have been able to improve and grow and develop and are now true functioning neighborhoods.

2. some access to politics.
This can be seized from the system through tough-minded organizing or made use of because government reaches into the communities to forge partnerships. But communities need to work the political structure if they are to get some of the infrastructural goodies that only government can provide: water, sewers, garbage pick-up, electricity.

If the world can offer these two things, squatters will build and wire and pipe their communities and turn them into the cities of tomorrow.

Thousands left homeless

8,000 evicted from two forests in Kenya, the East African Standard reports.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Squatter Conflict in Kazakstan

Violence and a hunger strike as squatters in Almaty, the second-largest city of the former Soviet republic, battle to save their homes. The municipality wants the land, so the rumor goes, to turn it into a car racing track. So far, they have repulsed the police incursions and only a handful of homes have been destroyed. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting has the story.

"Because the [squatter-held] area does not technically exist in the eyes of the municipal authorities, there are no public utilities such as water, electricity and gas," IWPR notes. How typical: people are denied services on a technicality. As a squatter told the reporter, "Like all citizens of this republic we have equal rights to land." I would add: And equal rights to services, too.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

mud hut for sale

In the new South Africa, shanties have value. The shack in the photo recently sold for $21,000. The New York Times reports.

Landless workers occupy Brazilian Congress

1,000 landless laborers temporarily took over the lower house of the Brazilian Congress. Video here. BBC article here.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fiji squatters ask: what would Jesus do?

A group of Fiji squatters who have held their land for 60 years has applied to the Human Rights Commission and the courts to help them resist an eviction effort mounted by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The Fiji Times reports.

Eviction in Cambodian Capital

Seven hundred riot police wielding tear gas descend on a Phnom Penh squatter community that is home to 1,000 people, Reuters reports, via the New Zealand website

Cambodian authorities want the squatters to move 15 km out of town. Here's why, according to the article: "Land disputes are a hot issue in Cambodia, where garment factories and hotels have sprung up to expand the major textile and tourist industries."

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Zimbabwe Demolitions Visible From Outer Space

No lie. Check out the photos. The first shows Porta Farm, a squatter community outside Harare formed by government fiat when Zimbabwe evicted people 15 years ago before a Commonwealth summit. The second is the same community after Operation Murambatsvina, the demolition drive initiated by the government last year.

See the photos, enlarged.

Read the Amnesty International press release.

Red Ants evict squatters

Police shoot squatters. Twelve people injured. Shades of apartheid. But it's the new South Africa. And it's outrageous. The Star has the details.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


In Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, the number of squatters has incresed from 275,000 to 3.4 million over the past 30 years. Their communities occupy only 5.1 percent of the city's total land but are home to 37.4 percent of the city's population. And, while the total population density in the city is 121 people per acre, you have to multiply that by 7 in the shantytowns, which boast 891 persons per acre.

Amazingly (and contrary to the myth that there's an absolutely bleak future for squatters) more than half of these people have been able to knock down their mud and cardboard dwellings and rebuild them from brick.

You can read more on a recent census of the Dhaka's shanties (funded in part by the United States Agency for International Development!!!) in The Daily Star.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

exactly who are the rats here?

This article on rat infestation appeared in South Africa's Daily News on May 17th. It's one of the last lines that's scary, spoken by Vernon Mchunu, spokesman for the Durban City Council: "We continue to clear slums so that rats will not have dirty places to breed."

Thanks to Richard for sending me the article. I'll let him provide the context: "This discourse is precisely, and I do mean precisely, the same as that used under apartheid and colonialism to justify previous state attacks" on the exact same squatter area.

Is there no difference between the African National Congress and Apartheid? It's a thought that may seem horrifying, but when it comes to squatters, the rhetoric and reality are largely the same.
Rats Infest Cato Manor

By Bongani Mthembu

A recent study conducted by the eThekwini municipality's communicable
diseases unit has revealed that rats in Durban's Cato Manor settlement
have two potentially fatal diseases which are easily transmitted to

The findings of the Natural Sciences Museum's research are not being
taken lightly. According to the head of the communicable diseases unit,
Dr Ayo Olowolagba, plague, leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were the
three diseases that were usually found in rats.

He said, however, that only leptospirosis and poxoplasmosis were
detected during the research. Olowolagba said it was extremely difficult to
diagnose the three diseases as their symptoms were similar to those of
the flu and needed to be tested in a special laboratory in order to be

The findings of the study have prompted council to distribute rat traps
to residents in areas identified as being prone to rat infestation
before the problem spreads to other parts of Durban.

"We are very concerned about the problem because many rats that we
caught had the diseases. The good news is that people who were found with
the diseases have never been sick. We believe those who came into
contact with the rats had immune systems that were strong enough to quell any
infections," said Olowolagba.

Council spokesman Vernon Mchunu said the extent of the health problem
caused by the rats had raised serious challenges for the municipality
which wants to curb the problem before it escalates.

"Council officials' visits to the area have resulted in the development
of the Cato Manor beautification campaign which is comprised of various
elements such as sensitising residents about the need to keep the
community clean," he said.

Mchunu added that council also wanted to ensure that wild cats which
fed on rats were prevented from coming into contact with humans.

"One of the identified causes for the prevalence and increase in the
number of rats in the area is the amount of litter and rubbish dumps. We
want to make sure the whole area is cleaned and that we continue to
clear slums so that rats will not have dirty places to breed," he said.

Mchunu said an educational door-to-door campaign dealing with
environmental health, waste disposal, sanitation, rats and remedies to deal with
related problems would be launched soon. Mchunu said 20 people had been
recruited from the area to assist in the campaign.

Published on the web by Daily News on May 17, 2006

land for the poor

Evo Morales starts land redistribution with government owned parcels. Reuters via the Tehran Times.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

journalist shot gangland style

A reporter who helped squatters in his neighborhood buy the land on which they lived was gunned down in the Philippine capital yesterday. The Philippines Daily Inquirer has the story. Albert Orsolino covered Malacañang (the presidential palace) for the tabloid Saksi. He is the 78th Filipino reporter assassinated since the restoration of democracy 20 years ago, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. Other reports suggest the media death count may be as high as 101.

Hip Hop against violence

MV Bill, an authentic purveyor of hardcore Brazilian funk, from Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro, has made a documentary and released a book about the the lives of young drug runners he knew in his community. Here's the lead, from a Bloomberg News dispatch:
In 1998, Alex Pereira Barboza began filming the lives of 17 ``falcons,'' teenage boys who work as lookouts for drug dealers in Brazil's shantytowns. By the time the documentary opened in March, 16 of them were dead -- killed in gang warfare or by police. The 17th was in jail. "I thank God that he was put in jail, because that's probably why he is still alive," Barboza, a 31-year-old rap musician who goes by the name MV Bill, said in an interview in Sao Paulo.

more murambatsvina

Targeting the poor in Zimbabwe. The Independent reports.

See also this Reuters report on people who are still homeless after the government-sponsored demolition drive that uprooted 700,000 from Zimbabwe's cities last year. Sadly, the article shows that the political opposition is feckless. Consider this comment: "We are not against the clean-up exercise per se, but what we are saying is that the government should have built new houses first, before demolishing the old ones. The whole thing was done in reverse," said Innocent Gonese, an opposition legislator who sits on a parliamentary committee on housing.

Well, yes. But even building new housing must be done in concert with squatters, who have often lived in their illegal homes for decades.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Irving Berlin in Delhi

There's an old Irving Berlin song about slum tourism (It's from the 1937 musical On The Avenue). It could be reprehensible, but the punchline is: "Let's go slumming, nose thumbing, on Park Avenue." The song turns the phenomenon on its head and suggests that average folk go prowling around the richest neighborhood of New York the same way the rich look at the poor--like animals in a social zoo ("Let's go smelling where they're dwelling, sniffing ev'rything the way they do.....Come let's eye them, pass right by them, looking down our noses as they do.") But the rich still persist in peeping at the poor. This Observer article (thanks Edesio for the link) covers the bizarre phenomenon in Delhi, with snippets about slum tourism to the Bronx to Rio and Rotterdam.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

when in doubt, blame the squatters

Yeah, right: the lawyer for a landlord of a warehouse complex in Brooklyn implies that squatters might have caused the city's biggest fire in a decade, Newsday reports. The fire, just a few blocks from my home, essentially destroyed the seven-building complex, which was rezoned a few months back to allow fancy residential towers.

Meanwhile, the Mayor says the spread and pattern of the fire suggests that an accelerant might have been used.

What's a little arson among friends?


Good advice from squatters in Malaysia: stay united. Squatters from four Kuala Lumpur communities--many of whom have lived there for a generation--have heard that the city wants to force them out to make way for a highway. Their only option: unite to fight for their rights. Looks like they had an excellent turnout at their recent meeting.

horribly unhealthy

Reuters reports on the impact of the drought in East Africa on sewage run-off in Kibera.

Monday, May 01, 2006

removal or renewal

KwaZulu Natal Province in South Africa is hot to punish squatters. This dispatch from the Sunday Tribune of 30 April (subscription only, thanks to Richard for emailing the text) asserts that the local housing minister is seeking to create a special security force to demolish illegal constructions. Similar units--known as 'red ants' because of the red coveralls they wear--are much maligned and feared in other provinces of South Africa. It seems like the new South Africa is embarking on a war on the poor.

KZN push for an end to slums
April 22, 2006

By Xolani Mbanjwa

The KwaZulu-Natal government is pushing for legislation that will give
local authorities the power to eradicate the proliferation of slums.

MEC for Housing and Local Government Mike Mabuyakhulu this week tabled
the Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act which, if passed, will be
the first of its kind in the country. Its aim is to eradicate shack
settlements by 2010, ahead of the 2020 target set under the Millennium
Development Goals.

Mabuyakhulu said he wanted the law to be passed before the end of the
current financial year. He wants municipalities to employ special units
similar to the so-called Red Ants - the shack settlement-clearing
security guards in Gauteng which are used to demolish illegal settlements.

The MEC said it had become clear over the past 12 years that housing
needs were evolving, bringing new challenges.

His visit to the Housing Conference in Kenya, involving all housing
ministers in Africa, prompted the department to "vigorously maximise
housing options if slums and informal settlements are to be eradicated".

"Our diplomatic approach is not working. We are now taking a stronger
approach," he said.

More than R500 million had been budgeted for slums clearance programmes
in 2005 and this year and a portion of the money had been used to clear
illegal shacks in areas such as Clare Estate in Durban.

"There is a huge need for housing in KwaZulu-Natal, and in Durban, in
particular, which has the biggest number of slums.

Trends all over the world show that the biggest cities attract slums.
The problem with housing is that when we relocate people to low-cost
houses, almost immediately new slums are erected elsewhere," said

Development experts, however, have reacted to the proposed legislation
with apprehension.

Dr Richard Ballard, researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal
School of Development Studies, said, "Similar proposals have been kicked
around, but it is the first time that attempts have been made at enacting
such a law.

"It worries me, because with this legislation you're not addressing the
actual housing problem, but addressing it at the wrong end." Ballard
said people wanted to access economic opportunities closer to the city
because of jobs.

"I am not likening the ANC government to the apartheid government, but
this is what the apartheid government used to do to deal with similar

Why are we going back to those methods? It would seem that
policy-makers are more worried about the image of the city than the poor. It seems
as if they are punishing the victims of the system that brought them
there in the first place."

In his budget speech last year, Mabuyakhulu said an audit undertaken by
his department had identified about 250 000 slums and informal
settlements, about 80 000 of which were found in the greater Durban area.

Last year the department was able to complete about 40 000 low-cost
houses in the province and now aimed to build 250 000 by 2010, with 49 000
units under construction.

Since 1996 the KwaZulu-Natal government has built more than 500 000

Appealing for parliamentarians to support the proposed legislation,
Mabuyakhulu said, "It is my honour to announce that the department has
conducted an audit and compiled a schedule of existing slums.

This schedule has guided the department in its drive to eradicate slums
and existing informal settlements with a balanced focus on urban and
rural slums . . . We are convinced that without such an intervention, our
slum clearance programme will be an exercise of futility."

Mabuyakhulu also announced an increase in the housing subsidy this year
from R31 929 to R36 538.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesman for Mabuyakhulu, said the new Act would be
piloted and "it is likely to have an impact on other existing legislation.
People will no longer erect shacks and claim ownership of property
within 24 hours. It will put an end to 'Shark Farming'."

Friday, April 28, 2006

'death of freedom'

Five thousand people attended Durban's 'death of freedom' rally. The Mercury reports. Here's a quote all South Africans should remember, from S'bu Zikode, one of the leaders of the squatter organizing group Abahlali baseMjondolo:

"How can we celebrate freedom when we only hear tales of freedom or see people's lives changed for the better in other parts of the country, but never in our communities? We cannot celebrate, we have nothing to be cheerful about. We are the forgotten people who are expected to be content with sharing five toilets among 5 000 people. How can a community of 5 000 people celebrate when it is expected to make do with six [water] taps?"

In the past, Abahlali members have been brutally punished by police when they have attempted to exercise their right to public protest. This time, thankfully, everything apparently went off without a hitch.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

housing projects for squatters

The administration in India's capital, says it will build 10,000 apartments in the next two years to replace the city's burgeoning shantytowns, Express India reports. Of course, this will not come close to keeping up with the city's projected population growth.

the human rights of corporations

Back in November, I blogged about a European Court of Human Rights decision that a successful adverse possession claim over some property had violated a corporation's 'human' rights. Now the case is being appealed to Europe's top rights panel. The Financial Times has a brief report.

at it again

Zimbabwe's still going after squatters, this time burning down a 200-family settlement in Masvingo city. reports.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

police state tactics against squatters

A politician in the South African Province of KwaZulu Natal is proposing a new law that has apartheid-era resonance: the "Prevention of the Re-emergence of Slums Act." It would make it a crime for squatters to seize unused land--and, undoubtedly, would require a new police force to patrol the areas where squatters might invade.

Such an act is based on a fundamental misconception of why shantytowns form. People don't live in crude shacks because they want to. They don't come to the city thinking, "Here's the future I'm looking forward to: I'll go to Durban and live in a mud or tin hut without water and electricity. That sounds great." They come to the city hoping desperately to find a job. And they move into shantytowns because there are no other options. No one builds housing they can afford.

Of course, some of the rhetoric about the proposal attempts to make it sound well-intentioned: The Act "would recognise the existing slums for upgrading and outlaw the erection of new slums," said Local Government, Traditional Affairs and Housing MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu. "We will never win the war on the eradication of slums if we do not vigorously maximise our housing options and prevent the erection of new slums....The envisaged act seeks to achieve this. We are convinced that without such an intervention our slum clearance programme will be an exercise in futility."

The bottom line, however, is this: criminalizing the erection of new squatter communities is a police-state ordinance not a housing policy.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dharavi Deal Moves Forward

The math seems a bit skewed: the Mumbai government has knocked down 169,184 huts in Dharavi for redevelopment out of which 25,591 tenements have already been constructed." DNA (Daily News & Analysis) reports.

Water most expensive for city's poorest

"In one month I pay just about as a family that has access to tap water pays in a year," a Mexico City squatter tells El Universal. The profit that goes to the water dealers, so the article reports, amounts to 20 times the average minimum wage.

Shack blaze leaves 250 homeless

In South Africa: a fire in a Durban squatter community. What the article doesn't say: that the government's policy of preventing squatters from getting electrical hookups was what really caused the blaze. Squatters with electricity wouldn't be using candles.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

squatters come up with own rehab plan

A visionary approach, led by squatters, to demolish their huts which were getting uncomfortably close to the runways of Mumbai's airport and create a new community right nearby. Many of the squatters work at the airport and feel commuting would be a great harm to their lives. Interestingly, the squatters are being advised by P.K. Das, an architect who is also a leader of Nivarra Hakk Suraksha Samiti, an aggressive pro-squatter agitating group. Mumbai Newsline reports.

unFreedom day

A dozen years on, it's time for irony, not celebration: April 27th in Durban, South Africa.

Abahlali BaseMjondolo, a terrific new squatter community organization, has joined with several tenant groups to lead a day of mourning for the new South Africa. As the groups explain in their press release:
The first democratic elections were held in South Africa on 27 April 1994. The promise of that day was equality, a vision that all South Africans might be able to share the country’s wealth, that all would be equal under the law, that all would have inalienable rights. That day is commemorated as "Freedom Day", and its memory celebrated in a national holiday each April 27th. As years have gone by, the hope has turned to bitter irony. Twelve years after the first democratic elections, the gap has increased between the rich and the poor!

What are we fighting for?
Decent Houses for All in the City
Free Basic Services
Basic Income Grant for All
Unconditional access to all resources of this land
Rights for All informal workers
A health, clean environment
Equality for All, including all vulnerable groups (women, children, sick/disabled).

What are we against?
Forced Relocations
Water and Electricity Cut offs
Lying Politicians
State Repression, police brutality and impunity
Land Theft

The unFreedom day festivities will begin at 12 noon at St. John’s church on Rippon Road in Claire Estate in Durban, S.A.

Friday, April 21, 2006

the demolition fascists

Nangla Machi, a self-built settlement of 40,000, was destroyed by the Delhi authorites a few weeks back. MidDay offers this moving response.

Probably over a third, perhaps more, of urban India is composed of slums, but they are everywhere regarded as non-city, an illegitimate, invalid parasite onto what a city should be, a stigma on our image.

Why are slums, so integral, so important and so economically useful to the city in its entirety always, everywhere regarded as being so not-city.

Are our conceptions of cities too idealised to accommodate its greatest reality? Do we view cities as being so non-village or non-poor that we don’t like the very idea, let alone the reality of how its poorest live?
They are in fact what our cities should be — hospitable, inventive, resilient and full of survivors and entrepreneurs. In order to save our cities we need to save our jhuggis. This is the slogan that greeted all visitors to Nangla Machi, the city that is no more.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The real estate deal called Dharavi

This says it all: "International players will start bidding for Dharavi." It's from an article in the Financial Express, which notes that 535 acres of land in Dharavi, Mumbai's largest squatter community, will be auctioned for a likely price of Rs 4,000 and Rs 7,000 per sq ft. (between $90 and $150 per square foot) Says one developer: "The land at Dharavi is flat and horizontal. Whenever such land is redeveloped, a lot of area is released for development of skyscrapers."

Sound like a squatter's worst nightmare.

Erdogan shows hypocrisy on gecekondu issue

Turkey's Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdogan, who is presiding over massive squatter demolition in Ankara, was himself a land invader in an Istanbul squatter community. That's the word from Mustafa Mutlu, a columnist for the newspaper Vatan, as translated by the Turkish Daily News.
Vatan's Mutlu examines Erdogan's latest condemnation of those who build and dwell in illegal gecekondus (shanties) this week. Speaking at the 6th Congress on Housing, Erdogan was quoted as saying: "And to those who try and raise sympathy for these people by saying, 'Those poor and miserable people had a house, and now it's been taken away from them,' I say how are these people poor and miserable by your account? This [gecekondus] is a racket. We are providing homes for YTL 200 monthly payments. Let them go and use these apartments." Mutlu notes that this is by no means Erdogan's first tongue-lashing of gecekondu owners and builders. He recalls words from Erdogan in October of 2004, when the premier announced that gecekondus in Ankara were to be razed to the ground.

Noting that he will stand by the veracity of these words by Erdogan, Mutlu goes on to highlight the particular hypocrisy contained in this stance, asking: "Who was the politician who built a gecekondu on forestland in Sultanbeyli? Does anyone remember? Yes, it was the prime minister himself." Mutlu then recalls a court case against Erdogan for illegally constructing a villa in Sultanbeyli in 1986. He also reminds readers about how Erdogan received a 10-month prison sentence for violating the Forest Law in 1990 but that the sentence was converted into a fine and in 1998 the entire episode was expunged from the record.

How the squatters won

It's a story bound to warm Hernando de Soto's heart: The Jamaica Gleaner reports on a Jamaican squatter community that resisted government-led eviction efforts and whose residents now have the title deeds to their lots.

But before you can say "the blessings of private property be upon you," note this: most residents are improving their homes with loans from the government's National Housing Trust, not with mortgages from private banks. This is not liberating dead capital, a la de Soto; it's a subsidy program. The same money could have been given to the same people when they were squatters--and their homes would have been improved sooner.