Arbeitsstelle Friedensarbeit im Haus kirchlicher Dienste

Ökumenische Dekade zur Überwindung von Gewalt 2001 - 2010

Canaan is everywhere - migration, poverty and relocation in South Africa

During the days of the informal settlement “Canaan” in Durban on each day of the year 1992 more than 10.000 people became refugees worldwide. The number of refugees rose to 18.2 million - this was eight times as much as 20 years previously. Another 24 million were displaced within their country. This means that almost every 130th human being was forced to flee ("The State of the World's Refugees," UNHCR Report 1993).

Today, in 2012, we see no reason for complacency - the number of refugees is increasing. The latest figures available show that the number of refugees of concern to the UNHCR stood at 10.5 million refugees at the beginning of 2011, down slightly from a year earlier.

A further 4.8 million registered refugees are looked after in some 60 camps in the Middle East by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which was set up in 1949 to care for displaced Palestinians.

The refugees of concern to UNHCR are spread around the world, with more than half in Asia and some 20 percent in Africa. They live in widely varying conditions, from well-established camps and collective centres to makeshift shelters or living in the open.

In South Africa, the plight of forced removals, migration and homelessness has a long history. During Apartheid’s repressive days poverty in rural areas and economic dependence of the former "homelands", political oppression and overcrowded townships were some of the main reasons for the creation of the many informal settlements in the periphery of most South African cities. According to the findings of the Urban Foundation of 1992, within the next 20 years 127 000 housing units per year would have had to be built to meet the needs of the people within those settlements. In other words, 15 apartments per hour for the next 10 years would have had to be raised to master the task.

In the early 80's, a house of stone and cement was on average occupied by 3-4 white South Africans, but the ratio for black South Africans was 1:43. Until the mid-80s many black South Africans tried to find a room in the major townships in the vicinity of industrial centers. They moved in with relatives, building huts in backyards or stayed in so-called “hostels” , men's dorms for workers.

First, the apartheid government attempted to raze unplanned settlements by violent eviction of the occupants. Again and again "forced removals" or forced relocations took place. Up to 1984, 3.5 million people were displaced in this way, either from their ancestral homelands or in areas of "squatter camps" (settlements of landless people).

But in 1989 some of the most infamous occupancy laws were withdrawn (the "Land Act", "Group Area Act") and the migration to the cities showed rapid growth. In the greater Durban area, the number of landless people living in informal settlements grew from 5000 in 1965 to 1.8 million in 1993. In April 1994 there were 9 million landless people in South Africa (Time).