The following is a self-written history by our movement. After a lot of deliberation with our members, we came up with this document as a way of explaining how we have come to say Kwanele! Please use this document in order to better understand our struggle…
2009: Backyarders rally at night to avoid a police ban
It is now 17 years since the first democratic government came into power, with a constitution that promises many freedoms in its declarations: What have been at the forefront of most people dreams when the new ANC government came into power was the famous quote “There shall be houses, security & comfort”. It is now years since we first voted and there is little change to show for that, besides five year voting ritual.
The story in Mandela Park (Makhaya) started in the late 1990’s, when the government’s new neo-liberal policies enabled companies to retrench workers in the name of rightsizing and many government departments out-sourced their responsibilities to private companies. They literally handed over the future of millions of workers to the hands of greedy employers and labour brokers. They also built up a strong layer of a Black capitalist class through Black Economic Empowerment.
When many workers lost their jobs in factories, councils, hospitals and in universities, life became even harder for many families in Makhaya. Banks came in threatening to repossess the bond houses. Soon afterwards, community members saw the Sheriff of the Court accompanied by a strong force of heavily armed police men with vicious looking dogs, guns and vehicles. People were evicted from their houses that they have called home for almost ten years. Sometimes the Sheriff of the Court would arrive at a house when the people are either at school or go out to look for jobs; that would not discourage the Sheriff to break the door and remove the house-hold goods. If it was raining, people’s belonging would be runined. These evictions affected the mental health of school going children. Parents’ self esteem would also be greatly affected and this oppression often resulted in the rise in alcoholism, gender violence and other social problems.
By the early 2000s, the evictions were now taking place almost every day and the community got tired of this attack on their livelihoods, while they saw the police protecting people whom the community saw as “bad elements” (Sheriff of the Court, the banks, local politicians).
The community decided to assist evicted families and take their goods back inside the houses. This was the beginning of the community organising to claim their rights and this activism later developed into an organised group called the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC). The group was really helpful in fighting what it saw as an attack on poor unemployed community members. The believed that the government and banks were attempting to criminalise being poor.
For abut five years,the AEC was a powerful group in Mandela and they have many successes. Community members were empowered and they were not afraid to go prison for what they believed in because they knew that they also commanded a lot of community support. But like any independent democratic group, government saw this movement as a serious threat. The community set up a free high school in Andile Nhose for youth who could not afford or were kicked out of local schools. The police eventually came in and arrested people and declared the school closed. Soon after, many AEC leaders were placed under investigation by the National Intelligence Agency and often threatened with assassination by various political groups. After a lot of harassment, two main unemployed leaders of the group gave in to government pressure and took jobs working for the government’s housing department. This was a turning point in the struggle for housing in Mandela Park. With the loss of these leaders, many community members gave up hope.
However, toward the end of 2007, a new group from within Mandela Park emerged and they called themselves the Mandela Park Backyarders. This movement was led by a new crop of leaders who were dynamic, youthful and fearless. Learning from past experiences, the community did not rely on only a few charismatic individuals but instead built a strong leadership cadre numbering more than two dozen.
The movement demanded that the housing minister should consider them, the residents of Mandela Park, when housing is allocated in their area. The Backyarders felt that the open-space in their community is being used to resolve government’s housing crises in other areas without addressing the own burning housing needs. As with previous agreements with provincial housing ministers, the group met with MEC for Housing Bonginkosi Madikizela demanding that the housing list should consider themelves as well. Like Whitey Jacobs before him, the MEC agreed to allocate 30% of the new housing development in Mandela Park to local backyarders – an promised heard by hundreds of community members and media. Only a few months later, the minister reneged on this promise and the community became very angry.
Backyarders tried all available alternatives: asking for meetings with the MEC, writing letters to the national government, writing press statements, protesting, etc. Instead of dialogue, we’ve been met with violence and repression at the hands of our MEC.
So, in 2011 the Backyarders decided to take their own initiative: families started to build their own houses on their own – without government help. We began our Siyawuthatha Ngenkani Campaign (We Are Taking It By Force Campaign).
Through our campaign, hundreds of houses have already been built by backyarders on unused land in Mandela Park.
While the Housing Department has come in and destroyed our self-built houses, and while we suffer repression and false arrest from DA leaders, they have not destroyed our resolve.
We are planning on building more homes until we no longer suffer the indignity of living in shacks in other people’s backyards.
Forward to Land and Housing for the poor!
Aluta Continua! The Struggle Continues!