Prince Csibalda, 60, from central Johannasburg will not be attending the opening ceremony of the World Cup today — nor can he watch any of the games from his home.
The 60-year-old sweet seller and father of two teenage children has been evicted from a communal squat yards away from the South African city’s banking quarter as part of the government’s drive to gentrify the area.
Prince, who mends televisions for a living, moved to South Africa from Zimbabwe in 1986 and was an active member of the ANC when the party was proscribed as a terrorist organisation.
The softly spoken former soldier was among the first to move into the seven storey block and is an elected member of the commune’s committee.
The building was abandoned as part of the “white flight” from the city when apartheid fell. There is no water or electricity, but the residents were left unmolested by government officials until 18 months before the World Cup.
The government set up a special task force to identify the owners of abandoned city-centre buildings to encourage them to sell or reinvest. In Britain, squatters who have lived in the same building uninterupted for 12 years become the legal owners.
The squatters, despite having no money and few political supporters, have managed to take their case all the way to South Africa’s Supreme Court. The legal delay has in many ways prevented the developers from achieving their slum clearances in time for the World Cup.
Down on the street
“I have been living here since 1996 and I just want peace to do my business as a technician doing television repairs,” Prince said. “I have no place to go. I have a family — my granddaughter is three years old.
“To evict us now, it is not humanitarian. We have been deprived of water and electricity, which for a small child, it is torture. We had a committtee and we lived as a commune, but this is no longer working because the co-operation is not there.”
Musa Oreal, 29, lives in the same squatted hotel building. He survives on 90 rand a day selling sweets to sustain a diet of millie meal and boiled chicken heads.
He said: “They are throwing us out on to the street at the same time thousands of tourists are coming to the city. Other people, if they have to survive, will turn to crime and to drugs if they do not have this place to stay. This is a disaster.”
A few miles across town, Francina Molothlanyi, 42, an unemployed domestic worker, stands under a collapsed ceiling in room 413, which she shares with her husband Edward, 43, and two teenage children.
They are just one of the families forcefully evicted from the San Jose building in the Berea district of Johannesburg. The building housed 600 people and was run as a commune with an elected committee — many of them former ANC activists.
Isaiah Mahlobo, a committee member, said there was a thriving community living in the building “where people would help you with your shopping, we all knew each other as friends”.
He told the Sauce: “This is about slum clearances. They desperately wanted to move us out of the city. But most people here would not be able to afford the bus back to work. They would be homeless, without work.”
Everyone paid a peppercorn rent to the committee, which provided services, including electricity and security — essential in downtown Johannesburg.
The city tried to turn the ownership of the property over to the developer Brian Miller and used the Red Ants security firm to evict the residents by force.
Challenged by the committee in the constitutional court, this failed, and the tower block has now been taken into city ownership. The building has been destroyed, vandalised and pillaged since the residents left. Even the metal walls have been stripped away.
Francina said: “There is water constantly leaking into the room where my family lives. There is no electricity. The toilets barely work. I cannot go to work because if it rains the room is flooded and I have to mop the water.
“We left San Jose to come here because we were promised it would be better. It is much worse. They make it worse because they want to force us out of the city.”
Squatters in Johannesburg have successfully turned to the courts to prevent evictions and also demand better conditions if they are “repatriated”.
A total of 10,000 people were facing eviction from the Joe Slovo shack settlement along the road from the Cape Town airport to make way for World Cup hotels. A campaign from the Anti-Eviction Campaign has prevented the “slum clearance”.
Rehad Desai, a highly acclaimed film-maker in Johannesburg, has been documenting the eviction of San Jose and the plight of the residents in their new inner-city slum building.
He said: “Properties in central Johannasburg were abandoned by their aparthied owners. They were taken over by the destitute, by political activists who had fought for freedom.
“For more than a decade they have built homes and communities. But now that the World Cup promises to elevate the value of these buildings, the white owners are back, the city is sending in security, and the residents are left with nothing.”
The charity War on Want has published a report about the forced evictions taking place in South Africa ahead of today’s start of the World Cup — including those around stadiums where England will play its matches.
The report states: “Viewed by many as a crucial source of income for the country, the 2010 football World Cup has only exacerbated the plight of South Africa’s poor.
“Since South Africa was named tournament host, the rate of evictions has increased, particularly in areas around stadiums, practice facilities and other sites designed to cater to tourists.”
The report adds: “Drawing on the legacy of the anti-apartheid movement, over the past decade a vibrant resistance to evictions and economic discrimination has emerged in South Africa.
“Led by groups like War on Want’s partners the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Anti-Privatisation Forum and Abahlali baseMjondolo KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, thousands of poor people across the country have banded together to claim their rights and fight injustice.
“Using methods ranging from street protests to litigation, our partners have won several hard-fought victories benefiting shack-dweller communities in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.”
The World Cup in South Africa has seen the interests of big business aggressively dominate the needs of the local poor. Coca Cola will make millions while Musa is banned from selling sweets from within five kilometres of the stadium. But the resistance of the squatters has been inspirational.
The Olympics in Britain in 2012 will see exactly the same dominance of multinationals over the interests of local residents and workers. During the World Cup matches, we should be cheering on the the slum-dwellers, not the teams.
This post originally appeared on Brendan Montague’s blog.