South Africa: Land Occupation Defies a Broken System

Xolisa Phillip
Abahlali baseMjondolo

Visit any black area in the Eastern Cape and you will find a section called eNdlovini. This has a double meaning: the first literal translation is “at the elephant/place of the elephant”. The second meaning is more nuanced and slightly loaded: “the place at which we charged in and settled”.

The Xhosa word for elephant is “indlovu”, so eNdlovini invokes — at least for mother-tongue speakers — a powerful image of resistance.

The second meaning also denotes a unified force, while it also connotes defiance against the establishment.

Although the latter definition is a loose translation, it speaks to a phenomenon that has been prevalent throughout the Eastern Cape: “ukundlova”.

Ukundlova is the act of identifying a vacant piece of land on which to settle. Thereafter, a list of names is drawn up from backyard dwellers, new arrivals in the city and young adults looking to leave home.

Once that is done, residents come together to partition the vacant land, so those in need of space are apportioned plots. Those allocated these plots then buy or source material and start building their shacks.

Basic necessities such as water, sanitation and electricity are often an afterthought and tend to be superseded by the urgent need to have a roof over one’s head.

In most places where this organic form of development takes place, transport is not a problem because the taxi industry is responsive to new routes. So are “ojikeleza”, the local cabs.

There are many such eNdlovini settlements in the Eastern Cape — stretching from Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred and Jeffreys Bay to little Alexandria and beyond.

This is how most new settlements spring up in the province. Or at least this is one of the ways in which they do.

But the process is often complicated by bureaucracy. Officialdom dictates that such settlements are considered illegal because they come into existence without permission from the relevant authorities.

There is a section of Walmer called Airport Valley. In the late 1990s, it comprised mostly shacks built on sand dunes.

The majority of the people who had settled in that part of Walmer now live in RDP houses in Wells Estate near Motherwell.

In sections of Wells Estate, too, there have been moves by local residents to begin the process of ukundlova.

One such attempt was thwarted in June 2017, when residents started building the frames of their shacks.

Another was quashed in a section of bush alongside the M17 to Addo.

A relative called to complain that “uTrollip (Athol Trollip) uyawachitha amatyotyombe akahleki.” (“Trollip demolishes shacks, he does not play.”)

But Trollip is not the focus of this piece — ukundlova is, as well as its main drivers. The act is often viewed in a negative light and frowned on, with commentators saying it threatens property rights.

Viewed from a different perspective, however, perhaps residents are being proactive about their rights by getting up and doing things for themselves.

Also, would it not be more constructive for municipalities to use their large networks of councillors to work with communities to determine their spatial needs instead of making their existence a problem?

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and natureIt is misguided to attribute the spate of ukundlova unfolding in Gauteng — and elsewhere in the country — to the EFF’s utterances on land without talking to the people driving the phenomenon.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and natureUkundlova predates the EFF and will probably be around for a long time, as long as the conditions on the ground necessitate it.

The real scandal here is that the system has failed, and continues to do so.

For as long as that is the case, people will do whatever it takes to meet their valid needs.

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

Image may contain: 1 person, standing, sky, child, outdoor and nature

Abahlali continue to resist on the Zikode Extension Land Occupation on the East Rand in Gauteng

Abahlali baseMjondolo in Gauteng who are currently in occupation of formerly unused land in the East Rand continue to resist in the midst of the continuous demolishing of their structures by the metro police. Today the metro police arrived at the occupation and demolished and burnt again.

We continue to resist. We will not move. We are demanding to be addressed by the premier David Makhura. We have been promised this land by the then MEC of Human Settlements in the province, Paul Mashatile. We are sick and tired of empty promises. We want to hold the Gauteng government accountable for the land that they have promised to us.

We know that our struggle for land has been reduced to criminality. We are not invaders, land grabbers or anarchists. We occupy land for our survival. We occupy land for living. For too long we have been living in shacks of indignity. For too long we have been living like pigs in the mud. For too long black people have been denied access to land by the colonial system. We were further deprived of the right to the cities by the apartheid system.

We have been patient for long enough. We have waited for the ANC led government to give us access to land and to democratise the cities since 1994. Now it is the time for us to occupy this land and to take our place in this city, because nothing will not be given to us. The ANC has clearly failed to distribute land to us.

When we occupy land we are encouraging a democratic urban planning process from below. We will continue to occupy vacant land for the benefit of the impoverished people of this country. Those who are in need of land must organise in democratic structures, build their power and occupy. We continue to believe in the principle that the social value of land must come before its commercial value. Those who are occupying land so that they can sell it or rent it out do not represent us. We believe that land must be occupied for survival, for living and thriving.

Instead of addressing the issue of the land, and democratising the cities, the ANC led government sends police to attack those who are occupying land. If the ANC was serious about the land question, and the urban question, they would support this occupation, and other democratically organised occupations.

We would like to thank all the comrades who are supporting the land occupation in Germiston. We are not deterred. Our spirits are high as we enter the third night on the occupation. We are unshaken by the metro police. We will hold this land.


Thapelo Mohapi 062 892 5323
Nomnikelo Sigenu 073 680 8662
Siya Mpolase 063 876 5333

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, crowd and outdoor