What started as a rally for economic justice in Philippi East on Saturday, August 16, the date marking the second anniversary of the Marikana Massacre at Lonmin mine, ended as another struggle over housing in the contentious city of Cape Town.
The rally was a call to action from organisations, trade unions, and social movements across the city to remember those who died at Marikana exactly two years previously. “Marikana Day is the coming together of all our struggles,” stated the posters in the city informing of the event. “It’s not just about the murder of 34 people, but about land and housing, about decent services, and about a living wage for all.”
Organisations participating in the event included Marikana Land Occupation, NUMSA Western Cape, Housing Assembly, UCT Left Students Forum and Right 2 Know Campaign, among others. Many Philippi residents who had previously been evicted from Marikana Settlement along Symphony Way in Philippi, which would be the final destination of the march that started at Philippi train station that morning, were amongst the throng of demonstrators.
It was mid-afternoon by the time the march was moving up Symphony Way towards the final stopping point. All along the busy main road, marchers had to navigate past columns of timber being sold on the pavement, corrugated iron sheeting blinding onlookers from the ground, furniture sets waiting to be moved in, and people offloading various materials from the backs of bakkies. Alongside these bakkies, new shacks were being built on what had previously been vacant land.
By the time we reached the older shacks of Marikana Settlement, our final destination, a heated argument broke out between residents living at the settlement and new land occupiers, many of whom were building their structures that day. Despite a number of community and organisation leaders calling for unity and cooperation amongst those involved in the disputes, the weight of the moment resulted in marchers lowering their banners and the march quickly dissolved.
The march had been brought to an abrupt ending but its purpose continued. The scene at the Marikana settlement was a reminder of why people are making demands for social justice in Cape Town. The situation there was not new in the city. Citizens, many of whom are in precarious employment conditions, were no longer able to afford their rent and were looking for an alternative place to build homes. Yet those living in the settlement since last year were not willing to have their community further encroached upon by newcomers.
One onlooker, who had previously stayed on that same land and had been evicted earlier this year, is now renting a home across the road. He works for a company on an ad hoc basis, and did not know when he would receive his next pay cheque. “I feel the pain of the people who stay here. I feel the pain of those that rent. I feel the pain of both sides,” he said.
In a statement issued by Alderman JP Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, after dozens of shack dwellers were evicted from the land next to the Marikana Settlement in Philippi East in August, it was noted that “the City, with [its] law enforcement agencies and the South African Police Service (SAPS), will continue to do everything in [its] power to contain the situation.”
Six days after the march, the evictions that took place on the land off Symphony Way in Philippi East as a response to land invasion were reported to have resulted in the most violent clashes between police, Law Enforcement and shack dwellers on that land since forcible evictions started taking place two weeks ago.
Video via Pablo Pinedo Bóveda.
As if the art demonstrations and activist interventions manifesting as reminders of the horror of the Marikana massacre across the city had not evoked a sense of responsibility, suspicions were confirmed last week that one man evicted from his shack had been shot by live ammunition, during the clashes on Friday, August 22. According to eyewitness accounts, video footage and interviews with evictees done by GroundUp, these shots were from the service pistols of the riot police against those resisting eviction.
Thirty-four miners were shot down on 16 August 2012 at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine. It is two years later and not a single police officer, government official, or Lonmin employee has faced charges for their involvement in the first authorised massacre in the history of democratic South Africa.
The miners who were shot down two years ago have become a symbol for police brutality and impunity in South Africa. Recently, law enforcement in Cape Town has been reported to have humiliated and assaulted shack dwellers in Philippi East during earlier evictions, and used stun grenades to control the crowds, yet no condemnation has been given for the brutal force law enforcement has used to evict shack dwellers.
Video via Groundup.
Perpetual acts of violence by law enforcement against citizens suffering under conditions of inequality beg the question: will the crevasses of South African consciousness through which these occurrences slip ever be narrowed?
As those who continue to demand a living wage, decent housing for all, and basic services suffer under police brutality in a city that “simply cannot afford or tolerate large-scale land invasions,” as JP Smith contests, the justices consistently denied to the poor in Cape Town converges with the 34 deaths and 78 injuries that took place at Lonmin in 2012 to remind us that “we are all Marikana.”
Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Christy Zinn is a postgraduate researcher and urban thinker striving to interrogate the social and spatial dynamics of cities. Believing that people make a city tick, she focuses on invoking a culture of active citizenship within urban communities.
Image: crosses placed outside the University of Cape Town to commemorate the Marikana massacre. Brendon Bosworth.
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