Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The people of Pandang Raya fight eviction

(A portrait of the urban poor resistance against the expansion of capital)

Makassar, Sulawesi, Indonesia. 23 February 2010

Pandang Raya is a small settlement, around 4900m2. It sits in a strategic position, in the town centre and wedged between a housing development and the largest shopping centre of the city. It is a clear target for those who are enticed by investment opportunities. This has already happened in several other places, now lost or marginalised by the pace at which infrastructure is built, and now the same threat hangs over Pandang Raya. This small area which comprises only 40 homes has turned into a potential goldmine for the man who presently claims it: Goman Wisan, whose background is in the cocoa business and who lives in Palu city.

The legal process has already gone on a long time. A hearing took place whice was won by the businessman and a decision was taken to evict the land. the high court has already issued eviction orders several times. The first eviction order failed because of the struggle the people put up on the land, and likewise the second was also cancelled after a series of actions that the people carried out at various places: the land registry, court of justice, and the city police station. The residents continue to fight for and defend the land as well as seeking solidarity from others. Aside from the matter of principle, that this land has supported and sheltered them for decades, they also have an official right to use the land, and it is clear that the entrepreneur's claim is based on the title to a different piece of land. But whoever legally and technically owns the land, it is the interests of capital that exercise the real power. On February 23rd, 2010, an eviction order was once again issued by the high court.

Since the morning the residents had been preparing their strategy, tactics and ammunition to confront the eviction. From their location between the housing complex and the shopping centre, they blockaded the connecting road in both directions. One hundred metres from their houses, the street was closed off with oil drums and barbed wire.Stones from the verge and bamboo spikes were collected as ammunition to defend their place. They were joined by students and other organisations acting in solidarity with them against the eviction threat, and made speeches whilst the street was blocked. At around 9am a police unit from the East Makassar local police was mobilised, and moved towards the site. In the end 10 vehicles of riot police, or around 300 cops, were deployed for this eviction. Their arrival suddenly made the atmosphere more tense, as the people prepared to confront the police, who were already in formation complete with riot shields.

As the police got into formation, something interesting happened. In front of the police, the residents slaughtered a goat as a symbol that whatever might happen they would go on fighting until the last drop of blood. An expression of the spiritual side of the struggle, which was frequently mentioned during the action. This can be seen as a way of being mentally and psychologically prepared to obstruct the eviction plan, despite being very few in numbers.

After a period of time, the police started moving towards the peoples' blockade. As this happened the people became on alert. The cops moved forward and closed in on the barricade ahead. The people shouted out an ultimatum so that the cops would not advance, but they continued to approach the blockade the people had built. Things heated up as the cops got close, and the people started throwing stones at the police, beginning the clash. The stones kept flying, that minimalist weapon that people can use to impede the terrible possibility that their homes may be destroyed. The police kept on moving, until they were able to pass the main blockade. The defences of the people began to be dispersed, not to mention the fact that their ammunition was almost finished. But things changed once more as several people threw molotov cocktails. Several cops were hit in this attack, one was even set on fire which caused them to break their formation. The molotovs continued to create confusion, until the police unit eventually retreated. But the situation did not yet calm down, because the first line of police was replaced by Dalmas, a special anti-riot squad, who were equipped with iron shields. In the hot weather, this new unit advanced to attack, directly firing tear gas towards the people. The shots rang out twice, and caused the people to scatter Despite the burning feeling and asphyxiation from breathing the gas, they still continued to defend themselves by throwing rocks and molotovs.

But once again something interesting happened, as if nature had chosen to take the side of the people. The wind blew, and the tear gas that had been fired flew back towards the cops and made them disperse as well. As the last of the stones were thrown, dalmas finally weakened and retreated. As they moved back, the people prepared more stones and ammunition so as to face the possibility that the attack would come once again. The police restrained themselves, until after some time one of their leaders asked for a representative of the people so they could negotiate. The situation became calmer as the decision to evict that day was once again cancelled. Outpourings of happiness were expressed through cheering and singing, all the more so when the police finally went home and left them alone. The clash between the people and the cops lasted for less than one hour; by around 12.00 it was already calm.

In Indonesia, the word anarchist is seen as being identical to riots and disturbances. It is associated with criminal damage, throwing stones and similar acts. This is changing the real meaning of the word, in which such acts can be a way to obtain the space we need in which to live. Outbursts of anger, expressed through throwing stones and molotovs, are endlessly portrayed in mainstream society, and especially in the media, as something akin to barbarism or chaos. But it is never seen that this is the way they force people to confront the violence that actually originates from the state and capital.Violence to a degree that is totally disproportionate to the throwing of a few stones and molotovs. And amusingly, the media also thrive on situations such as this.

The events of that day in Pandang Raya are only part of the story. The urban poor resist in these ways to maintain their niche in the urban environment, whilst financial interests (entrepreneurs) try to force them out, excited at the prospect of investing on their land.

Will they in the end get the victory? There's no-one who can give an answer to that, apart from to say that the people should keep hold of those stones and ammunition, and be ready to keep fighting.


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