On 19 December 2007, a small community of South African pavement dwellers illegally occupied unfinished houses in Cape Town. After battling in court, they were evicted on 19 February 2008. Many of them decided to remain across the road from the houses they’d been living in and built shacks along the pavement of Symphony Way. After a further 20 months of dispute, the community was evicted again, to the nearby Blikkiesdorp ‘temporary relocation area’.
This book relates experiences of life on Symphony Way, told by the people themselves in their own words. The text was also edited by them. It is a remarkable and moving volume, charged with emotion and satiated with reasonableness. There is both poetry and prose. ‘Put your shoes into my shoes and wear me like a human being would wear another human being,’ Conway Payn starts his story.
We read of births and marriages on the pavement, of arrests and confrontations with police and cold government officials. One family describes how they occupied a house after living in different backyards for 14 years – compelled to move on by close friends or relatives. A 16-year-old girl describes her disgust at having to go to school with non‑ironed clothes because of no electricity.
Life on the pavement is tough but it is also democratic and collective. One woman describes how her personality changed from introspective and fearful to outgoing as the result of her experiences on the pavement. What shines through is the Symphony Way dwellers’ persistence, their self-confidence and their pride as the result of this struggle. They insist on their human dignity when constantly treated like animals by officialdom.
‘We may be poor but we are not stupid’ is a refrain that runs through the pages. Their continued hope for houses is encouraging and is a sign of their solidarity. Several children born on the pavement were named ‘Hope’.
Voices from Symphony Way is a unique book and a remarkable achievement. Read it for yourselves and learn.
This review was first published in Amandla!, a progressive South African magazine that stands for social justice
Battles for survival: climate crisis and far right rising ● Europe’s creeping fascism ● The far right in Britain ● New anti-racist movements ● The climate uprising ● Green New Deal debate ● Lowkey interview ● Anti-fascist music ● Book reviews ● and much more
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Finding a Voice: Asian women in Britain, by Amrit Wilson, reviewed by Maya Goodfellow
Ewa Jasiewicz reviews the new book by D Hunter
Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women by Silvia Federici, reviewed by Jessica White
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication