UN-HABITAT said Friday it was concerned at riots over housing and basic services that have rocked South African townships this week.
Demanding improved housing, and better water, electricity and sanitation services, hundreds of South Africans have taken to the streets in demonstrations around the country that have at times turned ugly marred with looting and destruction of property.
“We were somehow used to food riots in African countries but the current demonstrations in South Africa are among the first protests for better housing and services,” UN-HABITAT’s Director of Regional and Technical Cooperation Division Mr. Daniel Biau said.
“While the government of South Africa has provided important subsidies for social housing in recent years, the global crisis affects directly the urban poor in this country. That crisis was ignited by the mismanagement of the US housing finance sector. It has now an impact on the housing conditions of the African poor. Housing is increasingly at the core of economic and social development”, he said.
In South Africa, the leader of the protestors, operating under the banner of the South African Unemployed People's Movement (SAUPM) warned in remarks carried by the South African news site, Independent Online:
"This is just the tip of the iceberg and I myself cannot stop the people because they are angry," said SAUPM chair Ms. Nozipho Mteshane, adding, "We want the government to provide the unemployed people of this country with a 1,500 rand (USD195) basic income grant."
According to news reports, on Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in Johannesburg, the Western Cape and the north-eastern region of Mpumalanga. In Durban, 94 members of the South African Unemployed People's Movement were arrested after raiding two supermarkets in the city centre and helping themselves to food without paying.
South Africa's government has vowed to crack down on riots in townships where residents are demanding better water, sanitation and housing.
"We are not going to allow anybody to use illegal means to achieve their objective," a local government minister told a South African radio station saying poverty was the priority. "We are saying this is a government that is legitimate, and has been elected democratically," Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka said on Talk Radio 702. "Anything that is to be done, must be done within the law and the constitution."