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SOUTH AFRICA: Police Arrest 52 in Landless March Ahead of Earth Summit

Agence France Presse
August 22nd, 2002

Fifty-two protesters were arrested after about 2,000 landless South Africans marched on provincial offices in Johannesburg to demand an end to forced removals from squatter camps, a police spokeswoman said.

Amanda Roestoff told AFP the landless people were arrested when they refused to move from the premises at the end of the march.

"Police arrested 52 of them and they will be charged under certain sections of South Africa's gatherings act," she said.

The protestors said Wednesday that some 10,000 landless people from around the world would join them in a protest march on the Earth Summit on August 31.

The activists, members of South Africa's Landless People's Movement (LPM), marched to the office of Gauteng provincial premier Mbazima Shilowa.

"We demand that the forceful removal of people from land end. We plan to use the World Summit for Sustainable Development to highlight our plight, because our own government is not responding," Siphiwe Ngomane, a representative of the umbrella National Land Committee, which supported the march, told AFP.

"We believe that an event of this magnitude can change the hearts and minds of governments. Without political will there will definitely not be any change," he said.

The LPM earlier promised "surprise action" at the Earth Summit, which starts Monday and is expected to be attended by some 50,000 delegates, including around 100 heads of state and government.

The 10,000 marchers representing landless and rural people worldwide who will join the August 31 march include activists from Via Campesina, a powerful international movement representing peasant workers and farmers, a source at the march told AFP.

The marchers, wearing red T-shirts and carrying placards berating President Thabo Mbeki as a "capitalist", walked under police escort to demand Shilowa's signature on a memorandum pledging to end all removals of homeless people.

Provincial Housing Minister Paul Mashatile refused to sign the memorandum, and was eventually shouted down when he tried to speak to the demonstrators from the back of a police truck.

"They want us to stop removals completely. In many circumstances we are moving them from a dangerous places to better areas," Mashatile told AFP.

"Under no circumstances can we sign a memorandum that will completely force us to stop move people," he said.

In 2001 some 7.3 million South Africans lived in often unhealthy conditions in an estimated 1.6 million "informal housing units" or shacks, according to the latest survey by the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR).

The government's land reform has been slow-paced, attempting to undo the effects of a ruthless land reform law that saw land taken from blacks by the colonial government in 1913 and after 1948, when the white apartheid government came to power.

By March 2001, only 12,000 of 67,000 claims had been settled, the SAIRR said.

Copyright 2002 AFP





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