Ivan Massow: “No matter how rich it is, a city that chokes its people is a poor one”

A cyclist on London's Primrose Hill, with the capital busily choking behind him. Image: Getty.

Ivan Massow is seeking the Conservative party nomination to be London mayor. Here's his plan for the capital.

Last week we learned that, instead of 4,000 deaths per year in London being linked to long-term exposure to air pollution, there are, on new estimates, nearly 10,000.

Despite current efforts to expand cycling and crack down on diesel engines, much more needs to be done. The recent revelation that London’s new Routemaster buses’ batteries are not working makes the urgency even greater.

Since the 1952 Clean Air Act, which banned emissions of black smoke in London after a smog that lead to more than 4,000 premature deaths, legislation has not kept up with developments. Today’s pollution, which is killing even more people, is invisible. The London electorate don’t want prescriptions or lectures on the city’s predicament – they want action to make our air cleaner.

Of course, governing a city that is a beacon – of finance, freedom, innovation, entrepreneurialism and culture – whilst ensuring we don’t choke on the externalities of our economic success is a fine line to tread. We must continue to attract investment, keep driving productivity, and, importantly, increase the housing supply.

A city, however must never embrace success at the cost of its citizens. The success of a city must be measured in quality of life for all, for which both economy and environment are essential elements.

So how can we make environmental improvements without shackling London’s growth? The answer is by investing in green tech, funding improvements in green infrastructure, incentivising greener transport and making sensible regulatory changes. We must be both bold and smart in our response, otherwise we risk harming people’s quality of life in other areas through economic damage.

For instance, Boris’s cycling revolution will have a long-term environmental benefit, but only if we build on his legacy. If elected, I will support resurfacing roads to make London safer and more welcoming for cyclists: they’ve done this in Paris, and many outer London boroughs have called for it, too.


This should be complemented by an outward expansion of the Cycle Hire network in more central areas. We should also increase the Congestion Charge for high emission engines, ban delivery lorries at peak times to improve cycling safety, and invest in electric car pools to help the government meet the Supreme Court’s order to clean the capital’s air, particularly of nitrogen oxide.

Should we crack down on parking spaces and try to make life difficult for motorists who don’t have dirty engines? Absolutely not. Great cities are alive with motion. Take this away and you get museum pieces like Florence – a city which has practically banned cars and, with them, the majesty of a real city.

But should we regenerate green belt land to make useable parks where Londoners can go, not just a no man’s land between us and the countryside? Absolutely. And should we back ultra-low emission zones, extend them to boroughs outside of the central activity zone and bring more and more networks onto the Oyster system? Yes. Should the GLA insist that all new taxis and buses should be hybrid engines or electric vehicles? Definitely.

On the flip side, we cannot understate the damage that would be done to London’s economy if we don’t finally get a grip on airport expansion. It is simply not sensible to rule it out – it should run as a complement to improved transport links to Luton and Stansted. Likewise, increasing aviation taxes yet further is not going to produce the routes that we need to remain competitive as an economy.

We must increase energy efficiency through upward, rather than outward, housing development. Standards of development must ensure sustainability as well as beauty. My priority as mayor will not be to build houses on the green belt, but to redensify the centre, and to decontaminate of 30km2 of brownfield sites.

Ultimately, these economic priorities will run in concert with, not be road-blocked by, my desire to make London a greener place to live and work. That must be the balanced approach that any mayor makes to the capital’s multi-faceted challenges, and I look forward to showing why I am uniquely suited to rise to that task. You can count on me to constantly lobby for this – the fact that Londoners deserve better air.

Ivan Massow is a gay rights campaigner and financial services entrepreneur. He is seeking the Conservative Party’s nomination to be the next mayor of London.

If you or someone you know is hoping to be mayor of London, and would like to put forward your own plans on these pages, then please do get in touch.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.