ON: Gentrification

“If you drive over the bridge, you’ve gone too far. Then you’re in the CBD CBD” – this was the warning I would add when giving directions to my friends when I used to live in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. As a student it was public knowledge that crossing the Nelson Mandela bridge, meant leaving the relative “safety” of the patrolled, student filled streets of Braam and entering, “real” downtown Johannesburg.

Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Me
Patrons at the Motherland coffee shop. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

When I lived in Braam four years ago, the prettification of the place had only just begun. The trendy, art decor-ish apartment block I had moved into still had builders coming in and out, paint fumes choking us and an irregular electricity supply. But it was by far the safest and cleanest place around me. Standing on the balcony of my brand new apartment, with supplied furniture and 24-hour security and fingerprint access, were the rows and rows of rusty, bird-shit-stained, peeling walls that housed the bane of property developers and the state’s existence. The blaring gospel music and the sight of panties on balconies became mine.

The run down apartments – housing entire extended families – around me reminded me of Lucky Kunene, a fictional character in a local movie, Jerusalema. Basically this ex “baddie” buys rundown buildings in the inner city, promises reduced rent to inhabitants, collects it then forces the landlords to take the reduced rent. When they fight him on it, he makes running the place and evictions impossible; then buys the buildings when landlords inevitably give up. And when he gets control, the twisted Robin Hood of Hillbrow rids the buildings of drugs, prostitutes and general squalor. The apartments around me are the places we see red ants descend upon where people are evicted after not paying rent because of the lack of services, which are a result of unpaid rent and so on and so forth.

Dictionary definition of Gentrification: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.

By the time I was in third year, our prettified part of the inner city had really come alive. Jolling in Braam was now a viable option. You could hop from Puma Social Club, to Great Dane to Kitcheners. None of which had entrance at the time, Great Dane just had a password some nights and if you didn’t have it R20 was your fine. In the daytime there was Post and Double Shot and Father – all of which my student budget could never quite afford but made an effort to save for come allowance day.

“Once you start to notice bike lanes in your neighbourhood – especially if you’re from the hood – that’s an indication that  the neighbourhood is about to be gentrified.” – Negus Korby in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Me
Thrift stalls at Kitcheners Cravery Bar. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Then there was that whole “take the streets back” thing Nike had going on, I asked myself “back from who?” but those thoughts were quickly sanitised by the cute banana loaves and frozen lemonades at Motherland. At the time all the change happening on the streets I walked on daily was exciting. I spoke about the “rejuvenation of the inner city” with that hipster smugness we all hate. Without thinking about the people that lived on the periphery of these changes, on the other side of the bridge or even in the middle of these changes but not being able to enjoy the changes because of financial barriers.

I love Braam with all of my heart. As a girl from Pretoria it helped me begin to navigate the city in a way I never would have if I lived in res or at home. Of late, I have had to reevaluate this love. Gentrification and spatial violence in these rejuvenated spaces has come under some scrutiny. I’ve read the articles with an open mind, making me question myself and ultimately feeling guilty for my entire social life being based in one of these questionable spaces.

In 2013 evictions of informal traders in the inner city, saw over 2000 people displaced. Operation Clean Sweep (uncanny coincidence huh) was apparently an initiative aimed at ridding the city of “illegal hawkers”.

One of the things that has contributed to my mixed feelings is Not In My Neighbourhood, a unfinished documentary by Kurt Orderson. I saw the full version  this past week for the first time, screenings haven’t come up to the city of gold yet but I have spoken to him and he assured me it will happen at some point. Watching this actually made me think about spatial violence in our current context. The evictions we see in buildings too close to our little bubbles are akin to the forced removals of apartheid, are they not? But perhaps instead of bulldozers arriving suddenly, we now force people out with the exorbitant rental fees imposed after renovations.

“For inner city street traders, who are increasingly pushed into smaller and smaller spaces… Gentrification is also about – in Johannesburg – urban redevelopment is also about not just a particular aesthetic effect, it’s also a mode of governance.” – Mpho Matsipa in Not in my Neighbourhood (2013)

It had never occurred to me until I wrote this, but there are no street vendors in Braam, there are many little spaza shops and cellphone shops and salons – but no one has a little table set up on the street. Now I’m wondering if this is by design or perhaps there was just never a need for “informal traders” because everyone has a shop? Hmmm.

I don’t have an opinion on “gentrification”, I think I see both sides on this one. I get people who argue against it and I find their arguments valid but I also get people who are in favour of it and think that it brings positive change but for who is the question? I don’t have the answers, I’m just a girl with a blog, thinking out aloud.

 

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ON: Sweeping #OperationFiela

Operation fiela. Fiela in Sepedi means “sweep away”. This is the name my government chose as a response to the recent spate of xenophobic attacks in the country.

This year it started in Soweto, when “foreigners” were looted out  of the shipping containers that are their livelihoods. Some kicked, slapped, knifed and burnt. Our leaders said it was all down to criminality, not xenophobia but added that perhaps sharing business secrets with unemployed, discouraged South Africans would help- because it wasn’t xenophobia.

“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,” Lindiwe Zulu, Minister for Small Business Development (January 28, 2015)

Then last month “afrophobic” attacks (the chosen instigator this time) broke out in Durban and copycat attacks spread to other parts of the country. We were told lies about how many had died as a result, reminded that South Africans had also died. This time were even treated to the “third force” delicacy – nice. But back to operation sweep away.

In May 2008, South Africa witnessed its worst wave of xenophobic violence. An estimated 20 000 people were displaced, 62 died during clashes, 600 more injured, over 500 arrested but only 132 convicted for crimes committed during that time.

Screenshot from a short clip I took in Jeppestown, Johannesburg last month.
Screenshot from a short clip I took in Jeppestown, Johannesburg last month.

Often the names given to police or government operations have more bark than the implementations bite. Normally bad things happen, they say nothing for what seems an inordinate window between the occurrence and their reaction. And then (normally) things that make it look like things are happening happen – photos are taken, interviews conducted, live crossings on the scene – some people feel like something has happened because their voices are heard or a heavy police presence alters their daily reality somewhat. Then we all run towards the smoke of another fire in the distance and leave before a pile of ashes can form before us, at the current crisis.

Normally.

Sometimes the (re)action comes in the form of a temporary structure or a wrongful arrest – something, anything that will appease even the skeptics for a few beats.

This time they chose force, brute force and swift broom strokes to deal with the problem.

Every police man or government official I have spoken to has said that Operation Fiela is in no way linked to xenophobia, it’s just a standard joint operation to deal with criminal activity in certain areas (read hostels, informal settlements and other such places where they can stamp their boots with unadulterated impunity). Even though they’re collaborating with the same army that was deployed a few weeks ago and conducted humiliating night time raids.

“Large sections of police were unleashed on people, their doors kicked down and people were asked to show their papers. It was a military operation in the middle of the night,” Stephen Faulkner, Cosatu nine unions representative (May 12, 2015)

This week, Stephen Faulkner said it perfectly, to paraphrase: this entire operation needs  a rethink, we can’t go around unleashing the military on people and sweep them away (deport them) like rubbish.

Wayne Ncube, human rights lawyer, explained that deportation is a lengthy process with many steps, which is why they are concerned with the high number of arrests and possible deportations that have already happened. This week they are working towards consulting with about 400 of the latest victims of such a raid which took place at the Central Methodist Church last Friday.

I have not spoken to a single person who isn’t in government who has stood behind the operation. The raids never made sense to begin with, nor do the arrests. It would be easier to believe that these are “standard joint operations” if they were in actual fact standard. If we knew about weekly or monthly raids to seize illegal firearms, bust prostitution rings and arrest undocumented people it would have been easier.

But the timing – first the limp condemnations a week after the first attacks, then the army deployment and raids two weeks after that – the boasting and plenty photo opps say otherwise.

PS

Born free, but still in chains

Last week I gave an impassioned speech to a group of young, soon to be journalists at my alma mater. I told them that this might possibly be the best time to be a young journalist, the opportunities are endless, and other such brochure stuff.

They believed me. Hell, I believed me. And a part of me still does – there is so much we can do, yes we’ll run into and slog under organisations that are counter-revolutionary but it can be done. We can be authentic to ourselves and each other while running on this side of the tracks.

But a part of me faltered and scoffed at the hypocrisy of that talk we had when I read a report with statistics on everything “born free” and my oh my do the numbers look bleak.

The report, Born Free But Still in Chains: South Africa’s First Post-Apartheid Generation, was released by the South African Institute of Race Relations last week. Luckily their definition of a young person is different from Stats SA (which includes everyone between the ages of 15 and 34), in this report Born Free’s are defined as people under the age of 25.

There were many graphs and numbers broken down and presented in the 39 page report, some of the more jarring (personally), are in this quick infographic I made:

Born free graphic

The statistics aren’t new but I thought about the numbers a lot more personally this time – they are alarming, they are dire, they speak to a crisis even. They speak to the brazen young men we see and speak to at protests, the young girls who want my details so they can get a job (even if it is just carrying my camera bag). They speak to the anger on timelines and the rage that breaks into our homes and smashes windows.

The numbers mattered more now because I see the faces behind those numbers every day and that realisation makes it all so real.

In the report unemployment and education are highlighted as the two biggest concerns we have – unsurprisingly the former is often caused by the latter but not always. The bulk of those unemployed did not complete their secondary (high school) education, and on the other hand almost 400 000 varsity graduates sit without work – so who’s to say having a degree helps these days.

I have no answers at all, but I do know that the columns and warnings about us being a ‘ticking timebomb’ are true. We’re the generation that won’t let the empty promises be the hope we cling on to, we want answers and action and it makes me so happy to know that we are inching ever closer to making ourselves heard. It’s already happening, it’s already here. Like Fanon said we just have to collectively fulfil our mission, I think we have already discovered it.

These statistics cannot continue to rise. That there are people in positions of power who are blase about them (if I’m being polite) is sickening. They should know that their protection now is temporary, if we have to destroy to build they might be collateral – something to think about while they can.

There was a wealth of information in that study that also spoke to how many children are orphans, how many (overwhelmingly black) are child headed households, how HIV/Aids has affected them,  how many have never received any early childhood development, how their living conditions haven’t changed in 21 years (sleeping on the floor, washing and relieving themselves in buckets), their dreams and their hopes.

Read it. Gain some perspective before you run around telling people they are “lazy” – there are millions of children who have to fight every single day just to stay alive, be cognisant of that.

We definitely need new names

I have now written a few stories and filmed footage around the current spate of Xenophobic violence in South Africa. I have had debates about whether its xenophobia or afrophobia, about the good King and the reluctance from our government to shame him and about self-hate/unemployment/ignorance being catalysts for the violence.

I have thought about and consumed information on this topic for the past three weeks but I still feel like there’s nothing I can say. The shame coupled with the guilt and anger and sheer despondency have rendered me speechless.

I have nothing intelligent to add to the “stop xenophobia” calls and campaigns – particularly because I feel that a lot of the talking is happening at a level that doesn’t speak directly to the guys wielding pangas and knives on the streets. The guys who are drunk at 7a.m. with the whole day ahead of them to burn and loot and terrorise. The guys who we rarely think about outside of their sins.

A lot of the rhetoric from the top said: no matter what your frustrations are, you have no right to mete that out with violence against others. Another reminded us of the moral debt we owe to those who sheltered us in our time of need. But within those same ranks we had people in positions of power saying the amount of “foreign nationals” in South Africa was reaching a problematic level.

On the ground the guys I talked to said they don’t want “foreigners” in this country because they steal their jobs, sell drugs and steal “their” women. I didn’t know I was a thing that could be stolen. The same guys who told me that are also the same guys who felt it appropriate to try to kiss me, despite my continuous and unwavering “No’s”.

All of that aside, they were the first people I thought of when I heard this quote last night: “You lose your soul when you feel like the world has forgotten about you.”

I just don’t understand how another person from this continent can be called a foreigner. To me anyone who calls them that has no proper scope of history – they obviously know nothing about the false colonial borders, efforts by those same colonisers to have us identify and discriminate on “tribal lines” and obviously even less about the Bantu migration, we’re from Congo yo (but that is a story for another day).

I don’t understand how we let everyone and their mother walk all over us for hundreds of years then have the audacity to touch another African just because we know we can hit them and nothing will happen. It’s like men who beat their wives when they get home after biting their tongues for several hours saying “yes baas”. He bottles is anger and frustration, knowing that saying or doing something to “baas” will have real consequences, consequences a coward like him couldn’t possibly deal with. So he waits, stores that anger, until he can reach a target he can attack with the conviction that no one will be there to back his victim.

For me the reasons of anger and frustration at broken promises decades after democracy are secondary – this is about our level(s) of self hate. It runs deeps and cuts wide.

I say we need new names because we can no longer claim to be true sons and daughters of the soil, when we treat our own like this – I don’t know which words they might be but any that speak to a deep betrayal and self-hate will suffice.

PS

**Photo: Tracy Lee Stark/The Citizen

Gauteng honours 22 Nigerian church collapse victims

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 20, 2014. 

Gauteng premier, David Makhura, said families who lost loved ones in the Nigerian collapse should be comforted by the fact that they died doing God’s will, at a mass memorial service held at Johannesburg City Hall this afternoon.

Bereaved families who lost loved ones in the Nigerian SCOAN church building collapse at a mass memorial service held at the Johannesburg City Hall, 20 November 2014. Picture: Valentina Nicol
Bereaved families who lost loved ones in the Nigerian SCOAN church building collapse at a mass memorial service held at the Johannesburg City Hall, 20 November 2014. Picture: Valentina Nicol

The memorial service comes two months after a guesthouse connected to prophet TB Joshua’s, Synagogue Church of all Nations collapsed and killed 116 people, eighty of which were South African.

Makhura said the nation is with the 22 families from Gauteng who lost loved ones. “They died in God’s name, they died serving him,” he added.

Seventy four bodies were successfully repatriated on Sunday, with a further 11 left behind. Earlier this week, Phumla Williams, spokesperson for the department of communications said the identification process for those left behind would have to start from scratch to “positively identify” the remains.

Sombre-faced family members made their way into the hall, some holding hands and others holding back tears.

The families have been asked to not view the mortal remains of their loved ones as the bodies were exposed for some time.

Makhura said government did their best in the repatriation process because “Jacob Zuma’s government is a government that cares.” The 22 families who will lay their loved ones to rest this week, need only ask if they need any assistance Makhura said.

Horror N12 crash driver case postponed

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 12, 2014. 

A truck driver accused of three counts of culpable homicide appeared briefly in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.

Isaac Maruding, the man who was driving the truck that caused a huge crash on the N12 in Alberton last month, has had his bail extended after a postponement.

Maruding appeared wearing all black, a change from the dirty overalls he was wearing before. Today magistrate, Samuel Hlubi allowed for his case to be postponed and moved to regional court when he reappears on January 23, 2015.

Truck Driver, Isaac Wade Maruding appears in court, 12 November 2014, at the Palmridge Magistrate’s court on the East Rand. Maruding is accused of causing an accident on the N12 near Alberton that damaged over 40 vehicles and killed 3. The case was postponed to 23 January 2015. Picture: Alaister Russell
Truck Driver, Isaac Wade Maruding appears in court, 12 November 2014, at the Palmridge Magistrate’s court on the East Rand. Maruding is accused of causing an accident on the N12 near Alberton that damaged over 40 vehicles and killed 3. The case was postponed to 23 January 2015. Picture: Alaister Russell

It was revealed that Maruding’s private attorney, Mokhele Salemane, has withdrawn since he secured R7000 bail for his client. A withdrawal state prosecutor, John Ntuli, called Salemane “unprofessional” as the court was only informed Wednesday by the accused.

The postponement was granted to give Maruding time to yet again find a new legal representative.

Three people died when the truck Maruding was driving ploughed into cars stuck in traffic on the N12, damaging 48 cars. Maruding fled from the crime scene – something the state previously argued made him a flight risk.

Maruding is facing charges of culpable homicide and reckless and negligent driving.

He was previously convicted of the same crimes almost 17 years ago. He served 18 months in prison for those crimes.

Maruding’s licence has been handed over to authorities until his case is finalised. This means the former taxi and truck driver will have no way of making an income for some months to come.

 

VIDEO: Charges withdrawn in Meyiwa suspect

NOTE: This article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 11, 2014. 

The  NPA has officially withdrawn the charges against Zamokuhle Mbatha, the 25-year-old man accused of killing Senzo Meyiwa.

Mbatha had his second appearance in the Boksburg Magistrates Court on Tuesday morning and the charges of murder and robbery were dropped against him within five minutes.

State prosecutor Gertrude Market requested that Mbatha’s appearance on Tuesday took place in absentia.

It became apparent why when Magistrate Daniel Thulare accepted the State’s request to withdraw the charges.Thulare said there was not enough evidence against Mbatha to carry on with his trial.

Mbatha’s family, who filled two benches in the packed court room, were overjoyed. Lindiwe Mbatha, his sister-in-law, said: “We knew they had the wrong person. He would never do something like this”.

The family left the court in song.

Mbatha will be released from police custody and investigations into Meyiwa’s killing will continue.

TAC needs millions ASAP

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 7, 2014. 

Picture: Supplied by TAC
Picture: Supplied by TAC

The Treatment Action Campaign have embarked on an emergency fundraising drive to counter the R30 million deficit they are facing.

The HIV/Aids activist organisation is urgently in need of financial support via donations to keep them from closing their doors.

Lotti Rutter from TAC said: “We have a R30 million deficit… We are trying to crowd source the money we need” through a current month long fundraising drive.

“So far there has been a great level of support, We are hopeful that will raise enough money,” she added.

TAC has been at the forefront of the fight against HIV/Aids for close to ten years now.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu made a passionate plea for donations for TAC, saying they have been central to restoring hope to the millions of South Africans afflicted by HIV/Aids.

“Aids is not over, it is not over until the evils that drive HIV such as rape and violence against women and children are defeated,” he said.

Rutter said the public support has been overwhelming in the few days that they have embarked on the drive.

Last night a virtual townhall meeting was held by the campaign on social network Twitter under the #SaveTAC hashtag.

The conversation centred around their funding issue as well as the vital role of social activism:

If TAC is unable to get the funds it needs this month, they will be forced to close their doors on December 1, World Aids Day.

Homeless boy finds baby tossed from car

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 6, 2014.

A homeless boy in Braamfontein, who thought he had picked up a Checkers plastic bag filled with food and other “nice things” near Wits University, was shocked when he instead discovered the mangled body of a dead baby.

Wits University campus control director Robert Kemp said the body had been dumped from a white Volkswagen Polo driving down Jan Smuts Avenue in Johannesburg late on Tuesday night.

It was particularly cold and wet that night, and the desperate homeless youngster thought he might have found something to help him through it.

“A passing vagrant saw the packet thinking there might be something nice for him in there but then he discovered the deceased baby,” said Kemp.

The young boy immediately looked for help and quickly approached campus control officers at the Nowsell Hall residence.

Warrant Officer Richard Munyai confirmed the incident yesterday.

“A case of concealment of birth has been opened… that is basically [an] abortion,” he explained.

He added that preliminary findings revealed that “it was a stillborn baby in that plastic”.

A police investigation was underway.

Is ANCYL backing #BringBackBhekiCele?

NOTE: Article first appeared on The Citizen website on November 4, 2014. 

A crime prevention campaign launched by the ANC Youth League Tuesday, doubled up as a platform for the ‘bring back Bheki Cele’ campaign.

Bheki Cele, now deputy minister of agriculture and fisheries, was invited by the ANCYL in his capacity as an ANC national executive committee member. The event, hosted by the youth league, saw ‘Operation Wanya Tsotsi’, a call to reclaim the streeta being launched.

FILE PICTURE: Mourners call for the reinstatement of the country's former police chief Bheki Cele as they gather at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday, 1 November 2014 for the funeral of slain Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa. Picture: Giordano Stolley/SAPA
FILE PICTURE: Mourners call for the reinstatement of the country’s former police chief Bheki Cele as they gather at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday, 1 November 2014 for the funeral of slain Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa. Picture: Giordano Stolley/SAPA

The crowd erupted when Cele, dressed in all black with a signature hat, entered the Vosloorus Civic Centre. A group shouted “bring back Bheki” when a question on how to fight crime was asked.

Cele called on the youth to channel the anger the country has over crime to start fighting it. “We must organise to close and squeeze the space for criminals”.

He added that communities should come together to expose criminals. “You know these people. Criminals like to talk about their loot, their money and their girls but you choose to keep quiet.”

The crime fighting campaign came after the shooting and killing of Bafana Bafana captain and Orlando Pirates goalie, Senzo Meyiwa, last week.

Cele’s attendance was seemingly in line with the call from aggrieved fans who asked for the former police commissioner to be brought back to fight crime. ​The informal campaign was trending on social network Twitter under the hastag #bringbackbhekicele last week:

https://twitter.com/Sgebzzz/status/528062660831485952