Joining Forces in the Fight for the Right to the City

25/10/2013 10:45 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

As regional leaders next week gather for the African economic conference in Johannesburg, within post-apartheid's wealthiest province, the leader of some of South Africa's poorest communities prepares to join forces with allies overseas in the bid for justice and the right to the city.

Only weeks after reports that poverty has grown in South Africa over the last decade, the founder of the country's shack dwellers' movement gets ready to build solidarity with marginalised groups in Britain and Brazil.

Earlier this month a survey revealed South Africa's lived poverty index up from 0.71 to 0.81.

S'bu Zikode, founding president of the charity War on Want's partner Abahlali baseMjondolo, will first head for the biggest Latin American nation to share ways that may help resist evictions in the runup to football's Greatest Show on Earth, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a threat which faced South Africans before the 2010 tournament.

Zikode will meet people in Rio's favela shanty towns, facing threatened displacement for the 2014 World Cup, and tell how South Africans won a landmark case in the Constitutional Court against evictions before the 2010 tournament.

He will visit areas where poverty means that most young boys dream in vain of their family affording tickets to see the Cup, let alone ever playing for Brazil.

Zikode was raised by a single mother, enrolled as a law student, but, unable to pay fees or rent, left university and moved to Durban's Kennedy Road settlement.

With the disadvantaged commonly being banished to the outskirts of cities, the settlement has suffered violent attacks, resulting in deaths, housing destroyed and many dwellers fleeing to safety.

Abahlali's pioneer must now move from one home to another for his own protection, and from Rio flies to London, where he will stand alongside UK activists and another overseas social movement representative campaigning for decent jobs.

Zikode will discuss South Africans' struggle for dignity - especially through access to land, housing, water and electricity, with 42 per cent living on less than two dollars a day - and highlight their resistance to state violence.

He will address a unique public meeting - the Right to the City - that will also feature Izzie Counihan, who will reveal how Brent council forced her family from their home into emergency accommodation over just £18 a week land inheritance and warn of thousands at risk of depression or even suicide amid the current housing crisis.

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

And Faith Shawa, from another War on Want partner, the Malawi Union for the Informal Sector, 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.

The Right to the City event on 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, after huge job losses followed pressure from western institutions that brought pressure brought cuts and industry sell-offs.

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

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

Other speakers will include Professor 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.

Free places at the event should be reserved at The exhibition will run from 7-9 November.