On Thursday, 11 July 2019, the South African Cities Network (SACN) and SERI co-hosted a seminar with Professor Bernadette Atuahene, a professor of law, author, documentary filmmaker and activist at which she presented her recent paper “Predatory Cities”. The seminar was hosted at the SACN offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. The 23 attendees comprised government officials, community members, researchers, and practitioners.
Prof. Atuahene defines Predatory Cities as urban areas where officials take property from residents and transfer it to public coffers intentionally or unintentionally violating existing laws. She proposes Detroit, Michigan in the United States as a predatory city which has used exorbitant and illegal property rate evaluations to increase state revenue while simultaneously dispossessing the poor of their homes. This led to a property tax foreclosure crisis in which 1 in 4 properties in Detroit were foreclosed between 2011 and 2015.
Atuehene notes that foreclosure rates tend to be very high in cities with majority African American populations largely because poorer home owners are most affected because they do not have the resources to challenge unconstitutional tax inflations.
In South Africa, the City of Johannesburg has taken similar measures to increase revenue collection to the detriment of its poor residents. In 2018, SERI’s Alana Potter and Kelebogile Khunou published a working paper titled, “Turning off the tap”, on the City's decision to discontinue universal free basic water. According to Potter and Khunou, “(t)he City’s decision to withdraw the universal provision of 6kl of FBW, and the requirement to register as an indigent to receive benefits is unreasonable because the use of an indigent register, in the City’s experience spanning nearly two decades, has proven to be ineffective as the register has been and is currently significantly under-representative of those who should have been receiving the full benefits of the ESP. Moreover, the City is yet to provide a convincing financial argument for the withdrawal of the universal provision of FBW, given that the City’s rising block tariff structure had always allowed it to remain financially viable. The result of the decision is that there are now hundreds of thousands of households who are excluded from receiving FBW, and who need to be informed of the ESP and undergo the registration process which itself is a deeply flawed method. . . The decision constitutes a regressive step by the City of Johannesburg, which is required to take reasonable legislative and other measures to progressively realise the achievement of the right to sufficient water, within available resources.”
Download the working paper here.