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Black Agenda On Housing And Townships

By BO Editorial Collective

As promised, Black Opinion shall in the next few days publish chapters of the BLF Black Agenda on a daily basis. Today we offer you chapter 3 of the BLACK AGENDA ON HOUSING AND TOWNSHIPS. Please share your thoughts with us via the following email address: [email protected]

Townships and squatter camps must end! The South African housing situation reflects colonial and racist patterns. The 1994 ANC takeover of the apartheid state didn’t lead to ending this reality. The truth that South Africa is anti-black is visually expressed in the housing question. The black majority live in townships and squatter camps while the white section of the population is accommodated in white suburbs.

It was Frantz Fanon who better expressed the colonial housing question as the expression of the truth about its racist nature. He explained the radical separation policy of racism in these terms:

“The settlers’ town is a strongly built town, all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town; the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans swallow all the leavings, unseen, and unknown and hardly thought about. The settler’s feet are never visible, except perhaps in the sea; but there you’re never close enough to see them. His feet are protected by strong shoes although the streets of his town are clean and even, with no holes or stones. The settler’s town is a well-fed town, an easy-going town; its belly is always full of good things. The settlers’ town is a town of white people, of foreigners.”

This is what Fanon says about the other part – the Native towns or the places where black people live:

“The town belonging to the colonized people, or at least the native town, the Negro village, the medina, the reservation, is a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute. They are born there, it matters little where or how; they die there, it matters not where, nor how. It is a world without spaciousness; men live there on top of each other, and their huts are built one on top of the other. The native town is a hungry town, starved of bread, of meat, of shoes, of coal, of light. The native town is a crouching village, a town on its knees, a town wallowing in the mire. It is a town of niggers and dirty Arabs”.

This characterization of the living and housing spaces under colonialism is given force in South Africa in the division between town (white settlement) and township (black township). The apartheid state created townships as dumping zones for cheap labour to serve the white towns. That is why life in these townships and squatter camps is so brutal to the extent that Pastor Xola Skosana has correctly called the townships “hell on earth”.

What Is To Be Done?

Multiple interventions are necessary to end the racist housing question in our country, namely:

– Firstly, the revolutionary people’s movement and government must end the townships as we know them. This is the only way to end the apartheid spatial designs. The townships must be depopulated and redesigned to build houses which are consistent with a dignified life. Houses that cannot be rehabilitated for human occupation must be demolished and from their ashes dignified housing must emerge. There must be better houses built with all the acceptable modern infrastructure and amenities from schools, parks, hospitals, libraries and community centers. These new settlements must reflect a new society that puts black people first and respects black people as human beings.

– All squatter camps must be uplifted into proper dwellings within five years! No black person must be subjected to the indignity of a tin house in the middle of nowhere with no full amenities consistent with a dignified life of a citizen.

What about the problem of over housing by the white section of the population? To this end two interventions are necessary:

– Firstly, where a white family is over-housed, for example 4 people live in an 8 bedroom house, in that case the extra rooms shall be taxed to build housing for homeless black families. Alternatively the actual house shall be subdivided so as to ensure equitable housing for all. It is against our collective revolutionary morality that one family should be settled with over-housing whilst another has no home at all.

The policy that guides the resolution of the housing question is driven by the principle of anti-racism. Nothing must reflect the racist past and everything must put blacks first!

The people’s state shall ensure that the current whites only suburbs are built up and occupied by black families. No white enclaves shall be allowed. The biggest intervention shall be the building of new housing which shall be based on the new revolutionary ethos that puts black first and ensures dignity for all. This new housing design shall be self-sufficient and based on the community centre as the heart of the settlement. Every settlement must have a community center catering for 300 households, which shall have all the essential needs of the community. The community centre shall be the heart of community life comprising of, inter alia, librarie(s), clinic(s), entertainment centre, gym, theatre, cinema, computer center, people’s communal canteens, laundry, child care center and after care.

The idea of the community center based settlement is to cater for all the needs of the community in a collective fashion and to bridge the gap between the well off and the poor. All the children of the community shall be taken care of collectively by the community, up to assisting and guiding the children with their homework. After all, we are Africans and subscribe to the notion that “it takes a village to raise a child”. The housing design must conform to this philosophy.

The new settlement must also address both the women’s liberation question and the ecology challenges. The settlement must ensure women’s time is freed from the drudgery of household work, so that women can realise themselves as full citizens. The burden of domestic chores and child rearing must be shared collectively by the community.

In the new settlements, ecologically sound mechanisms of providing energy shall be developed and used.

How shall these challenges be met?

The first thing to be done is to end the current tender system that drives the building of the anti-black RDP houses. In South Africa right now, we have a problem of unemployment, lack of skills, lack of housing and a lack of proper community amenities. The problem of unemployment and lack of skills shall be addressed amongst other interventions through building houses for our people.

Firstly, a layer of housing development officers shall be trained through the universities, and other institutions of higher learning. We have to get Azanians inspired enough to get involved in a massive reconstruction campaign which shall get “Azania working!”. These reconstruction and development officers shall serve as guides to facilitate the massive work of rebuilding houses and new homes for the people. They shall be trained in the philosophy of black consciousness and also in technical skills of serving the community through collective work. The people shall, with the help of their government, build their own houses. From there, a national movement of resolving the developmental needs of all shall be kick started.

What our country needs is to unlock the creative energies of our communities and allow the collective genius of the people to manifest within a framework of a government that does not hamper but rather encourages people’s solutions. Within a decade the colonial and apartheid housing horror shall be something of the past as new Azania rises and blacks live in dignity in their own country. It can be done!”

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