Activists join forces in struggle for right to the city

By agency reporter
October 7, 2013

British campaigners and representatives from overseas social movements battling for employment and housing rights in their cities will join forces next month in a unique event that will seek public support for their causes.

Londoners – market traders opposing immigration raids and a woman struggling to stay in the capital – will stand alongside a Malawian striving to improve life for urban vendors and a South African demanding adequate homes for communities.

The Right to the City event, set for 7 November, will also stage the launch of a special exhibition by award-winning photographer Tina Remiz, whose pictures depict Zambians trying to survive as market traders and street sellers.

The venue for the meeting and show – the Candid Arts Gallery in Islington – lies near the Old Red Lion pub, where Thomas Paine is believed to have written passages of his bookThe Rights of Man.

Queen’s Market stall holders in the east London borough Newham will hit out at Borders Agency swoops on black and Asian traders and tell how they defied council plans to shrink their patch in favour of luxury housing and a supermarket.

Izzie Counihan will reveal how Brent council forced her family from their home into emergency accommodation over just £18 a week land inheritance and will warn of thousands at risk of depression or even suicide amid the housing crisis.

Faith Shawa, from the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector (MUFIS), will describe the constant government harassment and discrimination that faces people scraping a living from selling whatever goods they can muster, in a country where 88 per cent of the population must survive in the informal economy.

S’bu Zikode, founding president of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, will discuss South Africans’ struggle for dignity, especially in relation to access to land, land, housing, water and electricity. He will highlight their fight against state violence, of which he has personal exprerience.

Before his London visit,l he will address people in Brazil who are facing removal from their favelas ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and tell how South Africans fought and won a landmark case in the Constitutional Court against evictions planned before the 2010 World Cup.

After the UK trip, Zikode will travel to Spain, where he will meet groups who won a moratorium on evictions of the most vulnerable in the country, following numerous suicides by people unable to cope amid its financial crisis.

Other speakers at the event will include Alison Brown, a professor of urban planning and international development at Cardiff University, Dr Stuart Hodkinson, a lecturer in critical urban geography at the University of Leeds, and Dr Jeff Garmany, a lecturer based in the Brazil Institute at King’s College in London.

The event has been organised by War on Want, in partnership with MUFIS and Abahlali baseMjondolo, after the charity held a photography competition that Remiz won to land a commission to shoot pictures in Zambia.

War on Want international programmes officer, Caroline Elliot, said: ”The global financial crisis sparked by bankers’ greed, together with governments’ austerity measures, have further eroded people’s right to the city around the world.

“As home prices spiral, gentrification intensifies and cuts ravage both public and private sectors, millions of the urban poor lack decent housing and jobs.

“Our event will enable people to learn more about resistance here and globally to back these struggles for change.”


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