The text of another statement I wrote when I was a Media Officer for the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF). I was guided by comrades of KCR and others to paint the picture of what was happening on the East Rand, and how the working class was fighting back.
C/o AIDC offices, 3rd floor, COSATU House, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, 2017
PRESS RELEASE — PRESS RELEASE — PRESS RELEASE —
APF: KATHORUS TO MARCH AGAINST PRIVATISATION 10 MAY 2001
The Kathorus Concerned Residents Committee (KCR), which is affiliated to the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), will be holding a mass march on the office of Mayor Bavumile Vilakazi of the East Rand (Ekurhuleni) Metropolitan Council on Thursday 10 May 2001. The KCR is an independent civic organisation, and ran candidates in the December 2000 local government elections.
The anti-privatisation march, which will begin at the Hunters Field Stadium, Katlehong, at 8:30 in the morning, has been called to demand an end to privatisation, housing evictions and retrenchments on the East Rand.
The Kathorus area – comprising Katlehong, Thokoza and Vosloorus- is the second only to Soweto in size. A heavily working class area, centred on the heavy industry of the East Rand, and partly built over unsafe dolomite land, Kathorus has been reeling under the blows of privatisation for years.
Housing evictions are a major problem for residents. In the 1980s, the apartheid regime decided to stop building and maintaining black working class houses and hostels.
Instead, the government decided to follow World Bank thinking on urban policy, and implement “site-and-service” schemes. According to this approach, government would make one-off grants of plots of land equipped with basic services to poor people, sometimes with a one-room “starter” house. These allocations were and are referred to as “housing subsidies.” Private sector loans would then be used to “top up” this allocation.
In Kathorus in 1987, the Family Housing Association, linked to the big business think tank on housing, the Urban Foundation, was at the forefront of the new housing policy. It offered low interest loans to township families: families that bought a site of land would be provided with loans for building materials as part of a “build-your-own-house” scheme.
However, the scheme was soon taken over by Thubelisha Homes, which handed over the loans to the banks and in this way mortgaged the houses, unilaterally transforming the housing scheme into a bond system subject to high interest rates. The effect has been that loans of approximately R8, 000 have escalated into debts of over R40, 000, and in some cases, over R60, 000.
This has been particularly severe in the context of large-scale retrenchments and deindustralisation that have taken place on the East Rand. An estimated 50, 000 manufacturing jobs have been lost over the last few years, plunging many families into destitution and making it impossible for them to keep up ever-escalating repayments and bank charges. Whole factories have been closed, and the new jobs that have been created have largely been casual, non-union, employment.
The effect has been increased poverty and rising crime. As a result, thousands of families have had their goods attached to pay off debts.
Furthermore, Servcon, a joint venture set up by government and commercial banks in 1994 to deal with bond defaulters, has embarked on a campaign of “rightsizing” people to properties that they can more easily afford.
What this means in practice is that whole families are moved from 5-room houses to 1-room houses. This creates enormous problems for families as children and parents are forced into the same rooms, and it destroys working class communities as people are forced into new, unfamiliar neighbourhoods and schools.
When it is recognised that the problem of bond repayment is linked directly to escalating bank costs, and when it is noted that the banks are, in effect, punishing poor people burdened with low incomes and high unemployment – people that the banks would not ordinarily consider lending money- the hideous social injustice of the situation becomes starkly evident.
The evictions, retrenchments, and low wages that ravage the area must also be situated within the context of declining local government spending on social services. Allocations from central government to the municipalities have fallen by 85% in real terms since 1991, with the effect that less, not more, is available for basic amenities such as streetlights, power points, and taps.
This is part and parcel of the neo-liberal macro-economic strategy of government, the so-called Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR) of the African National Congress (ANC) government. GEAR advocates massive cuts in social services, labour market flexibility, the opening of the economy to foreign competition, slashing corporate tax, and the wholesale sell-off of public assets.
The financial squeeze on local government has unleashed further attacks on the black working class. The Metro Council is under great pressure to enforce the payment of arrears and levies for electricity and water, without taking any account of the financial circumstances and social needs of affected households.
Many questions also remain about how municipal electricity and water bills are calculated in the first place, as many residents have complained of erratic and unexplained billing.
It is not uncommon to see the dreaded “red overalls” security guards accompanying teams cutting off and removing electricity cables. As in Soweto, whole blocks face what are, in effect, collective punishments are visited on whole streets for non-payment through the physical removal of electricity cables. People are then charged to have the cables reinstalled!
The total number of people affected by evictions and cut-offs so far may well exceed 38, 000 at this date.
Finally, GEAR has also led to a general neglect of social service spending. The education budget was cut by 4% in real terms in 1997-1998, by a similar amount the following year, and then by 1% for 2000-2001.
Many Kathorus schools are in a pitiful state, with inadequate supplies of textbooks, science equipment, and overcrowded classrooms. Under GEAR, the apartheid legacy of run-down township schools has not been addressed: it has been worsened.
Hence, the march includes the following demands
- Increased spending on local government services and delivery of efficient and effective social services
- Safe and humane payouts of pension and disability grants, and proper support and care for elderly people
- Reconnection of all electricity cables that were cut or removed at no cost
- An “indigency policy” that will make basic services available to the poor, and the general implementation of affordable municipal tariffs
- All residents who bought before 1994, or who built their houses, should be declared paid-up and be issued with their title deeds
- The return and indemnification of goods attached by the sheriff
- The abolition of the apartheid debt, and the redirection of debt monies to social development
- The upgrading and development of schools and roads in the area
- Free education for children from grade 0 to grade 12
- No exclusion of repeat matriculation students and over-aged students from public schools
- Libraries, schools and parks for communities which do not have them
- The immediate removal of the ESKOM/ “red overall” electricity cut-off squads from the area
- A moratorium on retrenchments and the institution of mass public works programmes to employ the unemployed
- Democratically controlled police and professionally trained rape counsellors at every police station and the reinstatement of satellite police stations
- An end to all forms of privatisation
If you are having problems with cut-offs or evictions, contact Samuel Myane at 082-7337-488 or Colin Dube 903-3990.
(Mr) Lucien van der Walt