London's Night Tube is finally ready to begin, possibly

The central section of London's new Night Tube Map. Image: TfL.

It’s happening. It’s finally bloody happening. A mere 49 weeks after we were told it would, London is launching its “night tube” service.

On 19 August, all night services will begin running every Friday and Saturday night on both the Central and Victoria lines. The Piccadilly, Jubilee and Northern line services will follow later in the autumn.

Or at least, that’s the plan. This last bit might still be a bit optimistic, for reasons we’ll come to below.

The night tube service was originally expected to start on 12 September last year. It was delayed because the unions which represent both drivers and station staff were a bit miffed about their members being expected to work all night without significant increases in pay. (Ungrateful curs.)  

Now an agreement has been reached, involving training up another 200 part time night drivers. Huzzah, etc.

Except, not everyone has agreed t this agreement: the RMT union has yet to agree a deal regarding the pay and conditions of its maintenance workers. RMT members work primarily on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines – on which, presumably not coincidentally, night tube services still don’t have a definite start date.

Anyway. All that’s still to come. From August, it seems certain – well, likely – well, possible – that all night weekend tube services might begin on the Central and Victoria lines. Let joy be unconfined.

Here, from a piece we ran when the service was first announced back in September 2014, are eight places you’ll be able to visit at 3am on a Saturday once the service on all five lines is running as planned.

Heathrow Airport

There actually aren’t any flights scheduled to take off or land from Heathrow between 23.30 and 04.30, and relatively few in the couple of hours following that. But both security restrictions and immigration queues mean the airport itself is a hive of activity all night, so an all-night Piccadilly line will genuinely be of some use. And if you aren’t planning to travel anywhere, why not visit anyway, for breakfast, or inappropriately early booze?

Wembley

Historically, events at Wembley Stadium, whether music or sports, have generally wound down not long after midnight. Now, thanks to the miracle of the night tube, it’ll be possible for the place to keep rocking well into the early hours. Imagine football matches, with seven hours of extra time! Or a Take That concert that goes on until 5am! Imagine what it’ll do for house prices!

Acton

By night, Acton will have no fewer than four tube stops. This is four more than the entire London Borough of Hackney does during the day. Everybody loves Acton.


Epping Forest

By day, a pastoral haven on the edge of London; by night, the set of The Blair Witch Project – and all just a short hop from Loughton tube. Why not experience the woods in the full wondering-if-they’ll-even-find-your-body creepiness that they were meant to be enjoyed in?

Hampstead Heath

Basically the same, but with a slightly higher chance of bumping into Ed Miliband. [Editor’s note: we’re assuming this joke was topical when we first published this in September 2014.]

Faces Night Club, Gants Hill

“Faces Lounge And Club Is The Most Famous & Talked About NightClub In Essex & London”, the venue’s website announces cheerily, which is an odd way of putting it, but okay. The late Jade Goody was purported to be a regular, and a visit to Faces still allows you to mingle with top celebs. Peter Andre! Joey Essex! Danielle Lloyd!

The website also gives sample taxi fares back to selected destinations, one of which is Chelsea (£45). Which seems a bit optimistic, to be honest.

Canary Wharf

“No, you can’t have a cab. It’s 3 in the morning – quit whining, and get the bloody tube. Oh, and be back by 6, or don’t come back at all.”

Cockfosters

There is literally no reason to go to Cockfosters. There is basically nothing there. But it does have a funny name, so. Might seem like a good idea in the early hours of Saturday morning.

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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.