Can professional analysts be partisan but objective in their study of urban conflicts? This is an important question. Should technicians of practical knowledge respond to the ethical and political issues in urban development? Are built environment professionals simply carrying out a brief from a governmental client, and therefore neutral?
Housing question as social relation
Housing the people is a process fraught with social and class conflict. This means that people and the authorities contest two core issues. First, who will pay for housing and services? Second, where will government locate the settlements? These issues underpin many ongoing protests in marginalised townships for the past 12 years. Because of limited affordability residents feel intensely about their limited ability to pay the economic costs of housing and services. In order to rectify things they demand greater government assistance. People do not want to live on the margins of our cities. Due to their anger demonstrators also protest vehemently (and sometimes violently) for their right to the city. Professionals can no longer pretend neutrality in relation to the conflict. After all professional service providers carry out the briefs contained in government tenders.
Partisan but objective
In response to the above situation we branded INSITE as linking development to people (and not the other way round). In addition, I helped found an activist media project, Stellenbosch Transparency. This is a vehicle for re-focusing my expertise. Our projects provide a meticulous, objective analysis of events in local struggles. At the same time we align ourselves for the benefit of the poor and marginalised. We are currently documenting an eviction from an informal settlement, Kreefgat, in Stellenbosch. (Click here and open Kreefgat project under Urban Land and Housing Operations).
We share information and analysis. The aim is to grow awareness and understanding by dominated communities as well as elites. Transfer of knowledge can enhance community participation instead of elite manipulation. Growing awareness and understanding by masses of people can deepen democracy. We use INSITE project expertise to enhance grassroots operational strategies and tactics. I am available to brief both communities and elite landowners about our findings. Our analyses suggest points of commonality that can facilitate non-violent but just resolution of conflict.