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
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History