On 14 May 2009 the Constitutional Court will hear the attempt by the shack dweller’s movement Abahlali baseMjondolo to have the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act declared unlawful. Other provinces have been mandated to develop similar legislation and the decision of the court may have a significant impact on the future of our cities.
Thabo Mbeki’s government built a lot of houses. But this does not mean that we have been building democratic and inclusive cities. On the contrary it is a major mistake to assume that the resolution of the crisis in our cities is a simple question of building houses. We should recall that the apartheid state built a lot of houses and that around the world authoritarian regimes, like the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, have often built a lot of houses.
In fact Lindiwe Sisulu, Mbeki’s Housing Minister, left the state’s housing programme in a catastrophic mess. The Breaking New Ground Policy, officially adopted in 2004, recommends democratic engagement with communities with a view to upgrading settlements where they are. It has never been implemented. The constitution protects unlawful occupiers of land against summary eviction but the state is the primary perpetrator of systematically unlawful evictions. The state’s actions are, in strict legal terms, routinely criminal. Read more