Eviction Train Rolls into Alberton

By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat  

No trains enter the old train station in Alberton, situated at the western edge of the Ekurhuleni metro municipality in Gauteng. They stopped years ago, shortly before the end of Apartheid. But people never stopped arriving in the station on the top of a hill on the north side of the city.

Sarah Tshabalala, age 60, has been living since 2002 in a shack numbered “327” in the informal settlement that grew up on both sides of the old station platform. She came here four years after the settlement first began. “We don’t live nicely, as you see the conditions,” she says, gesturing to her tiny shack and large piles of trash nearby.

On Mondays and Fridays, Tshabalala says she has regular domestic work, earning R100 a day. The rest of the week she cares for her four-year-old granddaughter — the mother has died — and collects cans and bottles for recycling. She cannot say how much she earns from this work, as any profit goes immediately towards buying paraffin and bones with which to cook.

Having recently turned 60, she applied for a pensioner’s grant from the government in June, but was told to come back in September to receive assistance in filling out the paperwork. Even then, the bureaucratic hassles continued. She has not received a single pensioner’s check.

Now Tshabalala and other Alberton residents worry how much longer they may remain at the old train station eking out the meager living they can as it is. Intersite, the company that owns the land — and claims to want to restart the train service in the station — is threatening to evict the residents. In 2007, some residents were moved into RDP houses in the settlement of Thinasonke, 30 km away. There was little rejoicing amongst these people for their newfound houses. Many maintain a second residence during the working week in a shack in Alberton station. At least there, say residents, finding employment is still a possibility.

Fighting a case for eviction … while it is being built
The Community Organization Resource Center’s Max Rambau attended a meeting between Intersite representatives, community leaders Sam Makhafola and Malibongwe Rasmeni, and ward councilor Bruna Haipel on 5 October. There, he says, it became clear that Intersite was building a case for eviction.

A quick glance at the minutes from this meeting bear out such an interpretation. Much of the time was spent discussing the presence of illegal immigrants in the settlement and accusations that the community was using electricity and water that they do not pay for. The latter charges are spurious on their face. There is no electricity to speak of in the settlement, and only two working water taps. Towards the back of the settlement, another tap, flowing uncontrollably with water, has been left unfixed by the municipality and Intersite for the past two years.

No one is providing any services for the residents of this settlement. Fourteen pit toilets exist for the 252 households counted by community leadership. Many women despair of having to relieve themselves in bushes that leave them exposed to the ever-present threat of rape. Trash piles up on all sides, including that dumped by the municipality just outside the borders of the settlement. “I know it’s our responsibility to make our place clean, but it’s the responsibility of the municipality to help us do it,” Rasmeni said.

On 8 October, the community marched to the Alberton Civic Centre to hand over a memorandum of demands to the Ekurhuleni Metro Municipality mayor’s office. ANC Deputy Branch Secretary for Alberton George Letloleng handed over the memorandum for the community.

Confused allegiances, changing agendas
The leadership of the ANC local branch, whose representatives do not live in the settlement, complicates an already complex set of political relationships that affect the residents of Alberton Station. Ward councilor Haipel is from the Democratic Alliance, as is much of her council. The Ekurhuleni metro government is run by the ANC, but with a significant DA minority. Meanwhile, Rasmeni and Makhafola have suggested that the assistance offered by General Alfred Moyo and Mohau Melani of the Informal Settlement Network may be perceived as threatening by ANC leaders.

On 16 October, Moyo suggested that Rasmeni and Makhafola focus on their mandate from within the community rather than focusing too much on political affiliation. The goal should be to form an informal settlement development committee, and not congregate under a banner larger than that.

The ANC branch secretary Lufele Lufele and his deputy, Letloleng, have clashed on multiple occasions with Haipel about the real intentions of the ongoing process between the ward council and Intersite. They demand, with good merit, to see Intersite’s plans for renovating the train station site, question the overbearing presence of Intersite lawyers, and ultimately accuse the proceedings of moving apace towards eviction.

At a meeting on 19 October between Intersite, the council, and community leaders — this time with a representative from Wits’ Center for Applied Legal Studies observing — Haipel admitted multiple times that the goal was eviction, even while denying Letloleng’s argument to his face. “Intersite is going to do the eviction, but they will need to sort out alternative land,” she said at one point. At another, she was unequivocal: “The fact remains that, legally, they [the residents of Alberton Station] are going to be evicted.”

Moreover, a second process, independent of that of the DA-led ward council has been initiated based on the memorandum delivered to metro authorities. The speaker of the EMM council, Patricia Nombeko Kumalo is chairing this process. She has spoken with clarity about the need for service delivery to be the number one priority in the area. Though this has also been brought up in the ward council-driven process, moves towards informal settlement upgrading have been reluctant and little progress is evident from a process that has gone on for much longer than that initiated by Kumalo. Her visit to Alberton Station on 16 October in response to the memorandum brought home the need for immediate action there. “It would have been a different ballgame if I didn’t go there,” she said. Later in the day on 19 October, she met with Rasmeni and Makhafola, accompanied by other EMM officials and the ANC branch representatives.

Room for positive action
The situation for Tshabalala and other residents of Alberton Station is quite clearly tenuous. Intersite is pursuing a case for eviction that is, at least half-heartedly, being shepherded by the ward council. Though Haipel has talked about service delivery, it remains rather unclear what she plans to do about it.

Kumalo appears to be driving a new process that could yield dividends and provide leadership within government structures to stave off eviction. She said that the EMM council approved R100 million to address service issues earlier this year. According to her, the tender is out and about to be awarded. This is a place where community-driven leadership can step up. Kumalo clearly recognizes the value of informal settlement upgrading and has expressed a keen interest in the work of the Informal Settlement Network in this regard after learning about it from Moyo. She met with ISN and CORC representatives on Friday, 30 October, about such issues.

Such an ongoing engagement may reveal new ways that the community of Alberton Station, and perhaps others in the Ekurhuleni metro could benefit from partnership with government. But it will be important for individual community leaders to remain close to their communities and not get caught up in talk shops with politicians.

Prior to a community meeting in Alberton Station, held on the platform of the old station, Chantelle Solomon, age 24, stood off to the side, holding her small child. When I asked her what she would most like to do to improve her situation, she was unequivocal: she wants to move to somewhere where she can have a house and get work. Rasmeni walked by and encouraged her to say that cares most about toilets, not houses.

It may very well be that informal settlement upgrading is the best option available to the people of Alberton Station. But community buy-in will be key to ensuring that the continued political negotiations turn towards the people and not just political convenience.


Eviction of the Aoko Road Traders, Nairobi, Kenya

By Louise Cobbett, SDI Secretariat 

On the 4th of November 09, the Nairobi City Council served the Aoko Road Traders of Nairobi with a 48-hour notice of eviction, however by midnight of the 5th of November the bulldozers arrived. There were a total of 797 trading shacks demolished, with 297 being part of a Pamoja Trust enumeration. Aoko road is situated in an area known as South B in the city of Nairobi. The road sits behind the middle income housing of South B and the front of the Mukuru Fuata Nyayo and Kayaba slums. The reasons given for the eviction was that the traders were based on top of road reserves, and the Council wanted to construct the roads
However, the traders- along with the Pamoja Trust- had taken part in negotiations with the municipality and a local  bank to develop trading stalls along Aoko that would allow for uninhibited passage of the road. . The negotiation had included an enumeration and the organization of the traders into a community saving scheme. 
By the end of October an agreement had been reached that concluded that as long as the roadside traders allowed the municipality to construct the road, and after the construction, agree to standardized stalls – then there would be no problem from either side.

Upon receiving the eviction notices, the Aoko traders went to the Deputy Mayor in an effort to stop the planned action. They met with the Deputy Mayor at 7 pm on the 4th of November and left the offices with the assurance that the evictions were to be stopped. However, by midnight the stalls were being demolished. 
Though the traders did not physically resist the demolition they stood, holding banners condemning the actions in hope that the local media would appear at the scene. The traders were subsequently arrested and charged with illegal assembly and committing acts that would inspire further acts of violence.

On the 6th of November six traders, including two women were arraigned in court. All the arrested were members of the community saving scheme. Working closely with a local political activist, Esther Waithera and Pamoja Trust, the traders negotiated with court officers to reduce the charge to illegal assembly and “non violent chanting”. The Narc Political Party, which Ms Waithera represents provided a lawyer

The traders pled not guilty and the hearing of the case was set for January 2010. Bail for each of the six was set at Ksh 5000 (US$ 70). The fifty or so traders attending court quickly raised Ksh 10,000 and were assisted by Ms Waithera with 20,000. Bail was posted successfully and the six walked out to a warm but quiet reception. The traders were fearful of being re- arrested for another “illegal assembly”. 
On the 9th of November, Pamoja Trust spoke with the deputy mayor, who explained that the demolition appeared to be backed by higher political forces. A date has been set with the deputy mayor on the 11th of November to discuss what happens next. .


Zimbabwe federation highlights accomplishments

By Benjamin Bradlow 

***Editor’s Note (4 Jan 2010): For an update on behind-scenes-negotiations with local government officials at this convention, check out the SDI blog.***

 Dennis Ndlovu smiled as he stood on a step ladder, nailing pink cloth into a wooden beam. He was putting the finishing touches on a model two-story house that the Zimbabwean Homeless People’s Federation built at last week’s National Housing Convention in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. “Through this kind of model, we can accommodate more families,” Ndlovu said, arguing that the model can be used to lobby government authorities to show that the homeless people of Zimbabwe, organized as the ZHPF, can provide their own solutions to the housing shortages that affect their lives daily.

The model was just outside the Elephant Hills Hotel. There, politicans, developers, international aid agencies, and other delegates were debating low-income housing policies and strategies in Zimbabwe. But Ndlovu and his fellow federation members were using the conference to showcase the solutions that poor people in Zimbabwe can and already have developed by themselves.

He said that the federation got the plan for the two-story shared houses during an exchange with the National Slum Dwellers Federation in India. Both federations are part of the Shack / Slum Dwellers International alliance. Patience Mudimu, a project coordinator with the Dialogue on Shelter, an NGO that supports the work of the ZHPF, emphasized the importance of such exchanges. “We have learned a lot from [NSDF] and we still have a lot to learn,” she said.

In September, SDI hosted Fidelis Mhashu, Zimbabwean Minister of Housing and Social Amenities, on an exchange visit to India, where the minister was exposed to the concept of community-led construction of multi-storey residential buildings. The model at the October housing convention in Zimbabwe was borne out of Mashu’s request for a similar model suitable for Zimbabwe. The ZHPF intends to use this model as a negotiating tool in their negotiations for land with local authorities.

On Tuesday, 27 October 2009, just as federation members put the finishing touches on the model house, SDI president Jockin Arputham and fellow SDI coordinator Rose Molokoane brought Mhashu, and a number of Zimbabwean city and town mayors to view the house.

Federation members greeted the politicians with songs sung in Shona and Ndebele, emphasizing the work that federation members have already achieved in just over ten years of existence. One song translated to “people who were once lodging [in temporary structures], are now in houses.” Another: “houses are being built, houses are being built, my dear wife, houses are being built.” Federation members mimicked cleaning the windows and floors of their new houses as they sang.


Just minutes away from the hotel where conference delegates stayed, many federation members were not just impersonating the everyday actions of home ownership. They were — and are — living them. Through the communal savings schemes central to the rituals of the Zimbabwean federation, as well as all such SDI-affiliated federations in over 30 countries, the ZHPF in Victoria Falls have built over 340 homes. In addition, the federation itself has serviced the site where these homes lie with sewerage, water, and roads. Members are currently working to provide the settlement with electricity.

Tapfumaneyi Muronzi, age 45, lives in the area, but does not yet have his own home. Still, he said, seeing the progress the federation has made there relying on its own savings and wherewithal, he can’t help but be inspired. Though he had not previously been a member of the federation, “I think I’m going to be part of a [federation saving] scheme now,” he said.           

As part of the national housing conference, Mhashu led a delegation of mayors to visit the federation, informally known as Umfelandawonye (“we die together”), and the settlement they have built in Victoria Falls. Ndlovu spoke to the politicians. “Through our spirited efforts we have serviced this land. You can see that there is no missionary here,” he said. He pointed to the throngs of village residents and other federation members from across Zimbabwe. “This is the missionary.”

Femias Chakabuda, mayor of Masvingo and president of the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe, laid a brick on fresh mortar in an unfinished house the federation has been building for a local orphan. Housing, he said, “is everyone’s responsibility, with government as the facilitator.”

Mhashu, who also laid a brick, said he was “humbled” by such a “symbol of self-reliance in this country … “I won’t sleep until I find a solution to the problems in this country as far as housing is concerned,” he said. “Because of the zeal that I see is in [the ZHPF], I am going to make sure that the land is made available to you.”


The successes the federation showcased at the convention are all the more notable for the trying circumstances during which they were achieved.

The hyperinflation that destroyed the value of the Zimbabwean dollar was of particular concern for a federation built on communal savings. “All our savings schemes had no money,” said William Hwata, a federation member from the resort town of Kariba. To respond to these particularly dire circumstances, individual savings scheme leaders took on larger roles, collecting information about all kinds of social issues. “They collect not just savings, but any challenge that is affecting a community,” Hwata said.

Because money was next to worthless, the federation could not save. “It was better to keep food stuffs than to keep money. That’s what we were doing in a tough situation,” Hwata said.

The Gungano Fund, a bridging finance fund and technical support organization for the ZHPF, was basically eroded by hyperinflation. If a loan had originally been for Zim$20, but was subsequently devalued to Zim$0.02, said Hwata, “We would ask what can we get for two cents. Then if we find out that it can get one nail, then now you owe Gungano one nail.”

With the introduction of the US dollar and South African rand as currency in Zimbabwe, the federation has moved back to monetarization. The federation has negotiated with the Gungano fund to set up rates of exchange to convert back from material loans and savings to currency. “Federation members — they are educated like they’ve got degrees,” Hwata said.


Back at the model house, the politicians peppered federation members with questions: Where are the separate doors for each family that lives in the structure? Where are the toilets? How did you develop this idea?

As federation members patiently showed the politicians around the house, responding to their concerns, a consensus seemed to emerge among the politicians. “It’s quite a good idea,” said Nkosilathi Jiyane, mayor of Victoria Falls.

Muchadeyi Msaunda, the mayor of Harare, went even further, proposing that this kind of house should be built in every city in Zimbabwe.

On Thursday, as the conference neared its end, federation members packed the hotel conference room ahead of a joint speech by Jockin and Rose. As the two leaders of SDI were called to the stage, Rose led the federation in rousing renditions of federation songs, leaving the rest of the audience with stunned looks on their faces. After Jockin and Rose explained the work of SDI and pleaded for land and support from government officials in Zimbabwe, many in the audience raised their hands to ask questions.

Responding to one question about the financial and technical capabilities of the community-based federation model, Rose was unequivocal: “Today we are eating, tomorrow we are not eating. So it is a messy process. Today we’ll be right and tomorrow we will be wrong. But we will learn from our mistakes. Can you please accommodate our messy way of operating?”

After a week of showcasing the achievements of the federation’s “messy” processes, many were now agreeing that this “way of operating” may just be the way forward to respond to the historic conditions of urban poverty in the 21st century.