Squatters Expand South African Cities

Near Johannesburg and Cape Town, black towns are now allowed to grow apace, but only in outlying settlements of low-grade homes

TOWNS like this mushrooming conglomeration of shacks and hastily erected stucco homes about 25 miles south of Johannesburg are likely to become a common sight in the ``new South Africa.'' ``They call it orderly urbanization,'' says Silas Lamola, who lives with his wife, Emily, and seven-year-old daughter, Trudy, in a three-room zinc shack owned by Emily's mother.

``But I don't see it as progress at all,'' says Mr. Lamola, one of some 1.5-million squatters in the greater Johannesburg area.

The inner walls of the Lamola home have been neatly covered with the front pages of local newspapers, which appear to flicker in the soft candle-lit interior. The outside is partially painted in a pale pink, which contrasts with the harsh environment of unfinished dirt roads and half-built houses.

``We still have the same problems,'' he says. ``We were brought here without proper planning. There were no schools, no clinics, no roads, no electricity, no sewerage.''

But Lamola concedes that there are some improvements - not least of them a sense of permanence for a section of society that has grown used to a nomadic existence.

``Here we are at least allowed to improve our homes,'' he says. ``And you don't have to walk too far for the nearest water tap.''

In the past, the government has pursued a policy of relentless hostility against black squatters.

But in recent years it has come to accept the inevitability of black urbanization and has begun to lower building standards, condone informal settlements, and urge the private sector to get involved in providing low-cost housing.

The flow of rural blacks to the metropolitan areas has accelerated dramatically since 1986, when the government scrapped its hated and futile ``pass law'' system that attempted to stem migration of blacks to the cities.

A typical example is Khayelitsha, a black neighborhood established less than four years ago among wind-swept sand dunes about 12 miles outside Cape Town. The core of the project is low-cost housing, but many of its 500,000 inhabitants live in shanty-towns and tent camps beyond the view of Cape Town's affluent white southern suburbs.

Orange Farm - the equivalent of Khayelitsha in Johannesburg - is another attempt by the authorities to control the process of urbanization and determine where informal housing occurs. Already a community of some 20,000 people, Orange Farm is less than three years old. It is one of several sites on the periphery of metropolitan areas which have been set aside by the white authorities for some of the country's estimated 7 million blacks without permanent housing.

Since the government halted ``forced removals'' in response to international pressure three years ago, it has continued to ``persuade'' black residents to leave settlements earmarked for white occupation. ``Persuasion'' usually entails a combination of incentives at an improved - but more remote - alternative site and subtle pressures against those who stay.

The government's search for vacant land for black occupation is being complicated by the vast racial disparities in land allocation.

This has taken place under laws - known as the Land Acts - which reserve 87 percent of the land for whites, who make up less than 15 percent of the population. The misallocation of land nationwide is bolstered by laws enforcing residential segregation in the cities.

President Frederik de Klerk has announced that all discriminatory laws relating to land will be scrapped during the first half of next year as part of the process of dialogue with the African National Congress (ANC), the major black opposition group.

But people like Lamola are skeptical that negotiations between the government and the ANC will lead to tangible benefits for the millions like him. He arrived in Orange Farm early last year from Weiler's Farm - a squatter camp about four miles away.

Lamola, who was a teacher in the Weiler's Farm community, says he was detained, harassed, and threatened so often by the authorities that he finally decided to quit.

``I felt I had to leave for the sake of my family,'' Lamola says. ``I feared that one day they would come and burn me in my home.''

One of the images that will be difficult to erase in the ``new'' South Africa is that of homeless black citizens huddled together in sub-zero temperatures after being forcibly evicted from their shanty homes.

In recent years, all that has changed is that those who drive the bulldozers and wield the crowbars are black instead of white.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Squatters Expand South African Cities
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today