Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Evicting the poor

Sunit Bagree on international sporting events and the housing struggle

February 20, 2011
5 min read

In the run up to last summer’s World Cup, several thousand people in South Africa were forcibly evicted from their homes and workplaces. These buildings were torn down and replaced by the tournament’s ‘controlled access sites’ and ‘exclusion zones’. Victims of this practice were temporarily relocated or sent to transit camps unsuitable for human habitation. Even worse, some of those who spoke out against the government were targeted by the police for harassment and, in certain cases, physically attacked.

For major sporting events, this was not an isolated incident. All too often the organisers of high-profile competitions and celebrations are responsible for a variety of human rights abuses, including forced evictions and other violations of the right to adequate housing.

The Commonwealth Games kicked off in Delhi less than three months after Spain lifted the World Cup. Over 200,000 people were forced out of their homes as a result of the Games, putting the controversy about accommodation for athletes into context. If the ‘India Shining’ slogans of a few years ago painted a distorted picture of the country by ignoring the marginalised, the desire to ‘beautify’ Delhi for the Games went much further. Pavement and slum dwellers were uprooted from their homes and lost their livelihoods as privileged classes deemed them an eyesore and nuisance.

In hosting the Winter Olympics last February, Canada demonstrated that it is not only emerging economies who use grand occasions to trample on their poor citizens. In Vancouver, the authorities failed to prevent unscrupulous landlords from evicting their vulnerable tenants and charging higher rents during the event. In addition, there was a distinct crackdown on the homeless in various parts of the city, as the government sought to conceal from foreign visitors the city’s shocking inequality.

Yet in all these cases, as well as in other instances of forced evictions and associated human rights abuses, the oppressed have not remained silent. Across the world, people have challenged those who place short-term profits over human dignity and, secondly have developed alternatives to the neoliberal economic dogma that justifies such abuses. For example, in Brazil (which will soon host the World Cup and Olympic Games), the National Movement for Housing Struggle has occupied empty properties in different cities, resisted evictions and transformed these properties into permanent community housing solutions for low-income workers. Such people are also challenging discriminatory attitudes by asserting that they are citizens who, like everyone else, must be properly consulted and appropriately compensated. In Pakistan, the residents of three settlements in Karachi have repeatedly taken the government to court over plans to construct the Lyari Expressway. This has caused massive delays to the project and forced the government to negotiate with residents.

Unfortunately, the UN’s performance on these issues has been uneven. Some excellent research and public statements (especially by the key Special Rapporteur) has been offset by the organisation’s decision to celebrate World Habitat Day at Expo 2010 in Shanghai  – the site of over 18,000 forced evictions. In addition, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fail to consider forced evictions. Perhaps this is not surprising, as the Goals also completely ignore rural housing and claim that the target for slums has been achieved despite the fact that there are over 50 million more slum dwellers now than in 2000.

Indeed, the MDGs do not engage with issues of power and human rights, which lie at the core of poverty and provide the framework to overcome it. Civil society groups at local to international levels must work in alliance with those enduring forced evictions, as well as the many millions of others who are denied their right to adequate housing, to change socio-cultural attitudes and pressure states to meet their obligations towards all of their citizens. Only then will the organisers of mega-events and ‘development’ projects be forced to play fair.

For more information on housing struggles visit the International Alliance of Inhabitants.


Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.

Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu

Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns

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