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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
South African squatters: Where should they live?
South African squatters
In scenes reminiscent of apartheid, the flimsy homes of poor black South Africans have been destroyed by men with crowbars.

The government says it will not tolerate illegal Zimbabwe-style land invasions.

Critics say the government has not done enough to build homes for the poor and redress inequality.

What should happen to the squatters, many of whom say they have nowhere else to go?

Are the government's actions right? How can the land issue be solved?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Maybe the ANC government should spend less on arms and concentrate on fulfilling the needs of desperate people who have waited all their lives for things many of us take for granted - like running water, electricity and a roof over their heads - before the millions who voted for a peaceful transition realise that once again they have been sidelined in favour of the rich and powerful.
Eileen, UK

Demolishing people's homes is not a solution to pending frustration

Erich Teichmann, UK
I comment as a South African ex-pat that lived there for 20 years. The biggest problem with South African sociological issues is that they are discussed at a political level and never resolved. Every issue is compared to the apartheid era; there is always an excuse for actions of the current government, as "they have inherited a legacy". What South Africa needs are leaders to realise the economics of Africa - you cannot build a stable (and liveable) economy by allowing the infrastructure to decay the way it does in SA due to corruption and the absolutely unacceptable crime rate.

It is no wonder that the economy is going in a death spiral. Demolishing people's homes is not a solution to pending frustration (Zimbabwe style). You are left with people who have nothing to lose and they will act accordingly.
Erich Teichmann, United Kingdom

Unfortunately the white people in South Africa are still only interested in themselves and not the good of the country. What they don't seem to realise is that they can't keep holding on to most of the country's wealth (land, finance) and expect the black people to sit back and wait for them to give them what is theirs. It's just a matter of time before things blow up. They must get down to helping sort out the country's problems and stop considering themselves superior (ever heard of a white cleaner?) - a problem with most whites in colonised countries.
Peter P, UK

It is outrageous that the South African Government turns a blind eye to the core problem of the land issue and prosecutes the same people who have been prosecuted for centuries. This act by SA government is a clear manifestation of the apartheid era. What is happening in SA is no different than the situation in Zimbabwe. The root cause of the land issue lies in the hands of white farm owners who acquired chunks of land from the natives unlawfully. These farm owners have continuously refused to concede. Both SA and Zimbabwe's government have failed miserably to come up with a reasonable land distribution plan that is long overdue.
Shakur G. Habib, USA

Promises were made by the ANC that were totally unrealistic

Rob Holman, London, England
Blaming apartheid and government mismanagement are standard fare. Promises were made by the ANC that were totally unrealistic. When there are literally thousands of uneducated squatters who commonly resort to crime to feed their families, I'm afraid you can't just wave a magic wand and create the "jobs" that Maxwell from Korea suggests. It isn't that easy. The South African government does not has the financial means to solve the problem of squatters overnight.

I think the answer long term has to be better education for the squatters, especially concerning family planning - most of the squatters have around eight children, and promiscuity is also a major problem, which is spreading the AIDS virus on a massive scale.
Rob Holman, London, England

The cause of squatters is homelessness. The South African government should address this problem by building more affordable housing. Its actions of evicting squatters are just like the days of apartheid and even more galling is that no one is paying any attention. If the white government had taken action to evict squatters, the roar of international outrage would have been deafening. Where are the activists and Amnesty International now?
Jeff, USA

The land-grab issue arises from tribes being displaced by other tibes. This is easy to trace back to the 1700's, simply because documented history was kept by European tribes who settled in South Africa.

There are tribes who had land taken from them, and should now be compensated for this loss. The usual ramblings talk of Bantu tribes being displaced by European settlers, but there is another facet which is often ignored because of the lack of written history thereof: the displacement of the San and Khoi people by Bantu tribes. The whole thing gets really complicated, but it is something which should be foremost in the minds of the South African government - how to redress past injustices without creating new ones. It is an extremely sensitive and important subject, and very surprising that the SA government has neglected it over the last 7 years.
Ian, South African in USA

Land invasions are not the root cause of the problem

Shaun, South Africa
Land invasions are not the root cause of the problem but rather a result of poor resource management by the elected and the hopelessness of the homeless. Central Government and Provincial Governments do have the resources such as Finance and Land which can be used. What they do not have is a clear action plan and accountability to satisfy the needs of the homeless. Only when this is published and results measured will the people accept the waiting. As for the current concern, land invasions cannot be allowed as there are no set criteria. However government must find a solution even if it requires a temporary tent town, set up and run by the army, on government land until the permanent plans are realised.
Shaun, South Africa

The land issue in South Africa cannot be resolved by simply occupying any land forcefully. Squatters are homeless and without jobs - for them a job is important, then a home can follow. Jobs should be provided and people should have a right to buy a house. You cannot have a nice house without a job. How do you plan to maintain your house and family? Squatters need jobs before they can afford a decent house for themselves.
Maxwell, Korea

The squatters may not be able to simply return to their villages and townships. By moving to urban areas, the rural poor shift strategies of subsistence. By doing so, they have been left vulnerable to further change. The government must do three things. First, it must enforce law and order, as they are important characteristics of democracy as well as autocratic regimes. Second, they must be willing to rehabilitate squatters regardless of their affiliation with the opposition.

Again, a significantly alienated public is not healthy for democracy whether or not squatters make it to the polls or not. Third, the government must come to terms with its past. Needless to say, the transition will not be easy for government or opposition, rich or poor, white or black.
David Galbreath, UK

The South African government should be ashamed to treat its poor this way. This shows the total lack of recognising the plight of the poor in SA. A cliché and attitude of western mentality. Food and shelter before politics.
Melese Tamrat, Canada

The ANC need to address the land issue with urgency

Dee Snook, South African in England
South Africa has had an influx of (illegal) immigrants from neighbouring countries, who come seeking a better life. This is compounding South Africa's own problem of rural settlers who flock to crowded cities seeking employment. The PAC acted illegally and they should be prosecuted in accordance with the law. The rule of law must apply in all cases and the High Court acted correctly in upholding the order.

The PAC behaved despicably by using desperate people as pawns for political gain against the ANC. The ANC came to power on unrealistic promises, which they knew they would be unable to deliver on (1 million homes, free services etc). The only losers are the people whose expectations are raised at election time. The ANC need to address the land issue, with urgency, before frustrations are capitalised on again.
Dee Snook, South African in England

In my opinion this situation should never have occurred at all. If the country was being run in an efficient and non-corrupt manner (or at least in such a way that millions of Rand destined for poverty relief didn't just disappear). Zimbabwe's situation is completely different to that of South Africa. Our land situation, which pales in comparison to theirs, is being handled through the courts and with firmness.

I hope that those who vote in the next election think about which party can actually carry out their promises and not just leave us with pipe dreams.
Sarah, South Africa

A plot of land with freehold title would be a good start

Garth, Zimbabwe
The South African government needs to be far more proactive in providing the previously disadvantaged black people with some tangible benefit to make them feel that they personally have benefited from independence. A plot of land with freehold title would be a good start. If not, it is likely that these people will start supporting extremist politics which will not be to anybody's advantage.
Garth, Zimbabwe

Most South Africans, some more reluctantly than others, agree that land redistribution is critical. Most would also agree that the government's redistribution programme is frustratingly slow. It does at least establish a legitimate channel of redistribution. The government is in a difficult position.

On the one hand it would desperately like to help poor South Africans to own property. On the other hand, they recognise that it is essential for South Africa's long-term development that the international community is comfortable that an anarchic free-for-all land grab will not be tolerated. To rip property from a bloated white minority to toss to the struggling masses may be a captivating picture to many Westerners, but were it to happen, it would be their governments and bosses who would be the first to disinvest.
Ryan Short, South African in UK

The squatters are moving into the city limits because there are no jobs out where they came from. The whole trouble is simply over-population and this Government is doing nothing about birth control.
WR, South Africa

The ANC has forgotten who elected them

Peter, UK
The ANC has forgotten who elected them. Sending in thugs to destroy shacks set up by desperate people with nowhere else to go - and this in the middle of winter - is not what a "people's government" would do. The PAC will not allow the ANC to drag its feet on the land issue for as long as Robert Mugabe did. To retain credibility the ANC must solve South Africa's housing and land problem for the people and not for the international community.
Peter, UK

For one reason or the other, the government is wrong for intending to misplace the poor and the homeless. The citizens should be treated justly and fairly regardless of their race, religion, colour and ethnic origin for they are equal in the eyes of the law. They should be treated same. So I think the government should plan professionally to curb the crisis and to show the world that it is caring for humanity, not the greed of the wealthy. We are anticipating change in the near future. Good luck.
Abdulrashid Hussein, Canada

A few years from now the blacks in South Africa will pause to take stock of how much they have gained since the end of apartheid...and realise that they still have nothing. Zanu (pf) and Mugabe tried the same methods of appeasing whites at the expense of blacks in the early 1980's until they realised it just wasn't worth it. S.A. is headed for a situation that is going to make Zimbabwe look like child's play. Personally I give them less than three years.
Samanyika, Zim/U.S.

There is lots of land for everyone

Des Currie, South Africa
Africa is a big place. There is lots of land for everyone. A piece of unused land in Kempton Park makes difference neither here nor there, so why not let squatters use it, at least they will have a home to go to. Rapid urbanisation in Africa is a fact of everyday life as more and more people pour into the cities. It is not going to go away because a few squatters are thrown off a piece of previously vacant land. To compare this with the Mugabe land grab is incorrect in the extreme - ten thousand people on a hundred acres of land is not the same a thousand on a million acres.

Let the government of South Africa wake up. They do not have to build the houses for the people, just give them the land and the means, and they will build their own houses. As I said, there is land aplenty in Africa, even in the cities.
Des Currie, South Africa

Time and time again the African is exploited, this time by other Africans for political purposes. Those being exploited are often poorly educated and live in poverty by others who are rich and well educated. The SA Government should rehouse these people at the PAC's expense and then perhaps Marcus Harris, USA, (below) would like to lobby his government into giving back the lands to the Indians.
Phil Davies, UK

Mine is a question to the victims - where are they coming from? Surely they were sleeping somewhere before? I would also like to appeal to opposition political parties not to play politicking with such sensitive issues as land. To our government - you better pace up the land distribution process. We do not want to see the Zimbabwe problem in South Africa.
Not to be revealed, South Africa

Via the UN and other organisations, funding has been sent to Africa. I have read posts in the past from citizens in Africa that this money just goes to corrupt governments. Perhaps part of this money could be better used to help solve the land issue. That way the governments can afford to compensate the current landowners and allow them to reallocate the land more equitably among all its people.
Anna McKenzie, USA

The international community at times forgets that land was taken away by whites from the African majority

Zwelithani Mobuza, Zimbabwe/ USA
The international community at times forgets that land was taken away by whites from the African majority. The effect of colonialism and apartheid are now coming to a head. The majority of Africans are increasingly supportive of the land grab policies of Robert Mugabe. Why? They see no progress in the talks and obviously they cannot pay white farmers.
Zwelithani Mobuza, Zimbabwe/ USA

I think that the South African government should quickly move to redress the inequality in land distribution. This should be done openly and in a transparent manner. It will absolve the government of any blame in the future and also prevent a Zimbabwe-like situation developing. After all isn't this what the majority of South Africans were fighting for?
Waweru, UK/ Kenya

The government shouldn't forget that these squatters were on the frontline as cannon fodder or sandbags during the apartheid era. Many of them have lost relatives in the struggle against discrimination. And now they are facing the same! Absurd, isn't it?
Fukara, Canada

The deck must be cleared in South Africa like it has been cleared in Eastern Europe. The country must be cleansed of all the vestiges of racial and economic oppression so that true democracy can flourish for all of its people. It seems to me more ethical that the needs of millions of landless Africans are more important than those of a few. The greater good in South Africa is to meet the needs of the masses, not just the white minority.
Marcus Harris, USA

The government has done very little to encourage people to remain in their rural areas

Matthew Tattersall, South African living in the UK
The government is sitting on a crisis that has been coming a long time. The key difference between what has happened in SA as opposed to Zimbabwe is that in SA it is an urban problem and not rural like in Zimbabwe. For years there has been a steady influx of people into urban areas looking for jobs. The government has done very little to encourage people to remain in their rural areas by creating jobs, encouraging agriculture and developing infrastructure.
Matthew Tattersall, South African living in the UK

As the PAC party instigated the land invasion, they should be held responsible for the homeless and provide them with shelter. In fact, like the judge ruled, the land they inhabited is unsafe and it is a miracle that no one was harmed by the electricity lines, or the pipelines running through the area. Nevertheless, if a British political party was selling of land illegally in England, would your courts not hold them responsible, in fact maybe trial the leaders for theft, fraud and compensation for the victims?
George, South Africa

The SA government need to prevent land grabbing by squatters is understandable; but it must also embark on a policy to set aside land that can be legally owned by the landless. Evicting them from one plot today and another tomorrow only perpetuates the apartheid-era experience which they've had enough of.
Rina M, Sudan/ Canada

As in other countries, South Africa cannot support large population groups setting up squatter camps wherever they like. The squatters should return to the villages and townships they originally came from. It's sad, but the simple fact is that South Africa cannot remedy all its problems overnight. Progress must be at a steady pace, not a revolutionary one which would simply plunge the country into chaos, civil war and utter disaster. The ANC are right not to follow Zimbabwe's lead.
Natassia Khan, UK

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See also:

12 Jul 01 | Africa
Police evict SA squatters
12 Jul 01 | Africa
Eyewitness: Evicted and homeless
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