Opinionista Mabine Seabe 15 October 2011

What’s in the name of informal settlements?

Our young democracy is a conundrum of socio-economic ironies and injustices. Our poor stay in squatter camps (informal settlements for those who care to be politically correct) and our freedom fighters are honoured by getting squatter camps named after them. We need to start uplifting the poor in the name of our heroes and heroines.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Cyril Ramaphosa and Chris Hani are the names of several of South Africa’s most renowned liberation fighters, known across the world. They are among the people who were at the forefront of bringing the apartheid government to its knees, who endured prison sentences, mental and physical abuse, and who led mass struggles undr trying circumstances. In the case of Hani, the ultimate price was paid, before he could taste the fruits of his labour. In honouring these men and women, informal settlements, mostly places of oppression and defined by the legacy of apartheid, have been (ironically so) named after freedom fighters.

This year has been marked by protests, many of them in informal settlements, in the name of attaining basic services like decent housing, sanitation and schooling; the very services which the majority of South Africans were denied under the apartheid government. It is a slap in the face of the poor to name informal settlements after those who fought against an oppressive regime.

Many of the leaders who were at the forefront of the liberation movement have carved their place in various levels of the public and private sector, yet the foot soldiers have yet to realise their dreams of living a better life in the new South Africa. For them the struggle is still very much alive; it never ended. To say that people in informal settlements are where there are because they aren’t hard working or are lazy is to show political naïveté.

Government policy needs to move away from trying to conjure up jobs on its own to creating an environment which conducive to economic growth and job creation in the private sector. The public sector should only facilitate the process instead of trying to be player and referee concurrently. Under a climate where we have a robust private sector, the trend of job creation will follow, thus helping citizens who still struggle to taste the fruits of democracy.

Technical skills development should take place in the informal settlements. For example when Tokyo Sexwale’s Human Settlements Department and Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s Public Works Department embark on upgrading the informal settlement, the residents should be the beneficiaries of the jobs which are created as a result.

Unless the poor and vulnerable are liberated, South Africa cannot reach full fruition. If we want to properly commemorate our struggle icons, we need to look at economic policy which will not only protect those who are already driving the economy, but also at those on the periphery of the economy who desperately need a chance to liberate themselves from the clutches of poverty.

ANC divorcé and now Cope spokesman, Smuts Ngonyama, famously said “I didn’t join the struggle to be poor”. What he should have gone on to say was “neither did I join the struggle so the poor would remain poor.”  Informal settlements should become centres of development, which we could look at and know that Hani would be proud of what has become of his sacrifice. DM


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