The struggle for Zille-raine heights

The struggle for adequate housing by the residents of Zilleraine Heights reflects the hardships faced by the working class and the lower middle class in South Africa.

More than half the community have jobs but all cannot afford to buy or even rent a house. The current government housing policy will not even provide enough dwellings for the annual increase of 236 000 housing units needed, let alone provide for the over 3 million families who currently need housing. A capitalist housing policy means that the government deliberately builds too few houses so that the banks and construction companies can keep prices and thus profits high (see our 2007 budget article and housing leaflet). Driven by the resultant desperate living conditions (overcrowding; living in garages; some being evicted from bond houses by the banks) 54 families occupied vacant land in Civic rd, Grassy Park (Cape Town) on the 18th March 2006.

Occupying land during the period of a local government election campaign proved especially effective especially as the DA and ANC had just rune campaigns promising houses for the poor and an end to evictions. The DA alliance had narrowly come into power in the Cape Town Metropole and was keen to do anything to consolidate its position. The new mayor, Zille, went on a campaign to gain further support, making promises to various communities. This was the background against which the DA (through Zille) provided transport for the 54 families to be moved to a nearby open field, next to a school. Zille promised the families that they were to be given first priority for the next housing project in the area.

Unfortunately for the community, Zille promised the same Pelikan Park housing scheme to several neighbouring communities as well as to them.

As soon as the DA had consolidated its position of power in the Cape Metro, their promises to the communities also disappeared in the mist. The DA alliance then began attempts to evict the 54 families and have them thrown on the outskirts of the city in a dustbowl called Happy Valley. The DA claimed that the vacant land is to be used for a sports complex; In the court proceedings against the people of Zilleraine heights, the DA however argued that if they allowed the 54 families to remain there it would have severe implications for the housing lists as more people would be tempted to ‘jump the queue’ and invade land. Later the DA contradicted itself by claiming that they will settle a further 82 families on the same land if the court rules in the community’s favour. The DA wants to gain support, even if they lose the court case.

The myth of the ‘housing list’
Many people have been on these so-called housing lists for a long time, oftern for more than 10 years. This means that the housing list is meaningless and only serves to postpone people’s anger. It also serves to divide the resistance to the lack of housing provision as many desperately cling to their individual position on the housing list rather than uniting to take on the state to provide housing for all.

The N2 Gateway project also shows how meaningless the list is. When the state discovered that many people on the list were unemployed, the list was scrapped and a new list drawn up of people who had employment.

The community starts to mobilise
Since the community came under threat of eviction they joined up with the Anti-Eviction Campaign and various squatter communities. They held a mass march through their area together with the AEC, the Anti-War Coalition, the Workers International Vanguard League and various squatter communities. They have been mobilizing support in neighbouring communities and linking up with the adjacent school. Gradually, greater unity in the community is developing.

Lessons of the struggle so far

  1. Independent action by the working class is the means to advance their demands;
  2. When being threatened by loss of power, capitalist parties such as the DA will make the most far-reaching promises- as long as they remain in power. When the threat to their position of power subsides, these parties will turn on the very working class whose support they previously needed;
  3. The courts will only act to prevent the classes from tearing each other apart but only as long as the system of exploitation remains intact (it is for this reason that building working class unity to ward off an attack by the state, is a crucial starting point for the defence of the people of Zilleraine Heights);
  4. To solve the housing question means a resolute, determined struggle against the banks and the construction companies who thrive on the homelessness and desperation of the working class. It follows that this struggle must also be waged against the very state, the police, the courts, who help maintain the capitalist system – the system of exploitation that is the cause of the forced enslavement of the majority by the minority- the capitalists. For this step, the working class needs its own party that will lead the struggle for power. In this the WIVL stands ready to give the lead.

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