A Soweto rethink on boycott: Pay for services, but not rents

But, says the civic, the service charge for electricity and water must be determined by the residents – not by the state. The SCA is surveying service charges throughout the Witwatersrand including white, "coloured" and Indian suburbs – and says this study will define how much Soweto residents should pay.

This new development decided at the recent annual SCA meeting and announced by the civic this week, is part of the campaign to step up the rent boycott. A representative for the SCA said issues such as the rent boycott, service charges, the education crisis and the vigilantes phenomenon were discussed at the meeting. 

The rent boycott has been in force in Soweto for 18 months and has left the Soweto Town Council in the red to the tune of R127-million. The SCA representative said there was no intention of ending the boycott. The bulk of the deficit represents electricity, water and other services.

In an interview with the Weekly Mail the SCA's acting publicity secretary said that during the 18 period 28 White City residents had been killed in August 1986 when they resisted council police evictions. A few months later more residents were shot dead in Orlando West during another attempt to evict them. The evictions continued in most townships in Soweto resulting in injuries, damage to tenants' property and the arrest and detention of civic and youth leaders, students and parents.

The acting publicity secretary said vigilantes were also deployed in an attempt to smash the rent boycott.  The meeting resolved that people had long paid for their houses and that they should be handed over to residents in the following manner:

  • A tenant who has occupied a house and paid rent for 15 years should be given the house. The excess amount accrued through rent payment should be used for costs such as transfer and registration fees;
  • A tenant who has occupied a house for less than 15 years should be allowed to buy the property and the amount of rent paid should be taken into consideration in determining the value of the house.

The meeting also decided that rent arrears should not be paid. "In so far as the service charges are concerned it was resolved to investigate service charges in white, "coloured" and Indian suburbs and compare these to Soweto rates and the quality of services provided in each case, and this investigation should not take more than a month to complete," the representative said.

"But central to the understanding of this resolution is people agree that service charges have to be paid for, but at reasonable rates taking into account the crucial factors like the high unemployment rate in Soweto." He said the SCA was open to negotiations with Soweto town clerk Nico Malan "but talk with the councillors is completely out. Nobody wanted these men and only a meagre five percent voted them in 1983".

Meanwhile, political observers have told Weekly Mail that there was reliable evidence that State President PW Botha was "taking a personal interest in the whole matter of rent boycott". Mark Swilling, a political scientist at Wits University, said the Standing Committee on Constitutional Affairs was again contemplating pushing the Rent Bill through parliament. The council has acknowledged that it uses the security forces in its bid to break the boycott.

"The Development Bank is also reviewing the whole financial structure of Soweto. The Soweto rent boycott is a major priority for the government. They want to find a solution. Until now they have rejected all approaches by the civic body to find a negotiated solution. "But if this (negotiation) does not succeed this could result in the application of new strategies and tactics by the government. It could turn Soweto into another Pietermaritzburg."

He believes the SCA's decision to pay for services was a good one. "The community has got the most to gain if they put forward proposals and call for negotiation once again." Swilling said the boycott was probably one of the most successful community struggles sincethe establishment of Soweto.  

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.


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