Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
While critics opposed plans to end £19 million assistance to the biggest economy in Africa, the government here shares a skewed judgement. In the same way as UK international development secretary Justine Greening exaggerates South Africa’s progress, president Jacob Zuma ignores the one in four South Africans who still face slum conditions, living in informal settlements.
As Cape Town, the country’s second most populous city, hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa, hundreds of shack dwellers pledged their determination to occupy land needed for their homes. These homes have been repeatedly destroyed by government agents at a settlement named Marikana, in a growing township between Nyanga, Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha and Philippi.
The settlement in Philippi East is called Marikana in tribute to the 44 people shot dead by police – most of them miners working for the UK-registered multinational Lonmin, during a strike for a living wage last summer. It was given the name because the residents are also ‘organising ourselves peacefully and are willing to die for our struggle’.
Since the shacks were built and occupied on vacant land, the authorities must observe South African law which requires a court order to evict them. Yet, despite lacking such documents, day after day police and law enforcement officers arrived and demolished their houses, shot at residents with rubber bullets, dispersed them with pepper spray and arrested four people.
Abahlali (also known as AbM or the red shirts) is a shack-dwellers’ movement and campaigner Cindy Ketani says ‘When they come to destroy these shacks, they show us no court orders or papers. They just pull these people out like dogs’.
Activists complain the authorities are abusing their power, knowing residents have no access to legal support. So much for progress, with South Africa becoming the world’s second most unequal nation since apartheid ended. Its constitution proclaims that every citizen has a right to a house. But millions continue to live in settlements, often denied proper sanitation, water supply or aqueduct, electricity or telephone services.
Testimony to the risks involved without electricity came when three recent shack fires left 83 people homeless in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. Abahlali has campaigned on this issue, demanding, among other things, the electrification of shacks, and connected thousands of people to electricity. Nonetheless, in South Africa, there is a daily average of ten shack fires, with someone dying in a shack blaze every other day. Meantime, the accommodation backlog in Cape Town alone is estimated at between 360,000 and 400,000 homes. Even so, the city’s rulers spent half a millon pounds (8 million rand) setting up its Anti-Land Invasion unit to pull down shacks.
Forty per cent of South Africa’s 50 million population live below the poverty line on less than one pound (13 rand) a day, while more than one in three of the mega-rich earn over £14,000 (200,000 rand) a month. In addition, the TopEnd survey into the country’s most affluent individuals found that one in ten boast a household income of at least £35,000 (500,000 rand) a month. The average value of their property with continuing worth is above £443,000 (6.5 million rand). And amid the starkest and most poignant contrast, four in ten own more than one home, and three per cent six or more.
Almost 20 years on from South Africa’s first democratic elections, the first census in a decade exposed the disturbing fact that white people still take home six times more pay than their black compatriots. Another report, by Statistics South Africa, warned that two-thirds of the country’s youth live in poor households, with a per capita income below £47 (650 rand) a month. More than one in seven South Africans are unemployed, and the young are worst affected, with half of 18-to-25-year-olds jobless. The labour federation, cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions), says no other middle income country around the globe suffers from such high unemployment.
Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s general secretary, says: ‘We call it a ticking bomb. We think that one day there may be an explosion. Seventy-three percent of people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35, and a lot of them have been to universities’.
Lack of work, money and secure homes threaten to exact a corrosive effect on South Africa. But the spirit of people that resisted separate development based on colour now confronts the rich-poor divide. One of those forced out of their Marikana housing was Zoe Zulu, a mother of a one-month-old son and a five-year-old daughter. Like the other residents of the 126 destroyed homes, Zoe had nowhere to go, insisting she would rebuild her shack and not leave Marikana until she has been given a home.
Caroline Elliot is international programmes officer at War on Want
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Richard Murphy says that the appropriate political will and understanding of tax can put an end to offshore avoidance and evasion
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes