You have been part of the solution

Today, the Women of Ward 80 marched on their councillor, Bhekisisa Elliot Xulu. Like many councillors, Xulu is corrupt. The litany of allegations against him reads like a career in crime. You might wonder why the ANC allows so many corrupt councillors to operate so blamelessly. Well, it turns out that Xulu has struggle credentials: he was part of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s, and this, it seems, is his trump card. Having successfully associated himself with an (at the moment) unimpeachable moment in the New South Africa’s memory, he has bought himself immunity from prosecution.

Xulu preys on the old. A story that incensed many at the march today was the tale of his extorting R30,000 from a pensioner, in exchange for a one-roomed Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) house. Of this, R10,000 was for the house, and R20,000 was for ‘insurance’, for what “might happen to the man inside the house”.

Many of the pensioners at the protest today were from Mkhumbane – Cato Manor in English – Durban’s equivalent of Johannesburg’s Sofiatown, or Cape Town’s District Six. Like them, Cato Manor used to be a zone of non-racialism, a zone of liberation, creativity, and resistance. Like them, it was regarded as a threat to apartheid. Like them, Cato Manor was forcibly shorn of its residents, who were evicted in the 1950s and early 1960s.

When Xulu steals from them under the protection of his new masters, he makes flesh the preying of one history (of the 1980s struggle against apartheid) on another (the experience of, and resistance to, forced removals). And the latter history is one that the current city management would very much like us to forget. To remember it is to make possible the questioning of today’s “Slum Clearance Programmes”, which in language and action, replicates almost exactly the apartheid programmes. Well, not exactly. Under apartheid, people were moved to better houses than they are under the ANC.

And so people marched today. They marched against the councillor’s corruption. They marched for dignity. They marched in the memory of Monica Nomthandazo Ngcobo, a 23 year old woman, who was walking on the pavement on March 2, near a protest against Xulu, and who was killed by the police. Hit in the stomach and head by a rubber bullet, claimed the police. Except that she was shot in the back with 9mm pistol and an R1 rifle.

The march was plagued with difficulties. The Municipality, as ever, dragged its feet in issuing an acknowledgement of the right to march. Few South Africans realise that they live under some of the most progressive freedom of expression legislation on earth – all they have to do to have a legal march is inform the police seven days in advance. That’s it. The police can choose to negotiate the route, call a meeting, issue paperwork, or shoot people. But the right to march is more or less sealed with the handing of an appropriate form to an appropriate officer.

Unfortunately, because few people realise this (and because the government is reluctant to publicise it), many still hope for a march ‘permit’. And when it doesn’t come, people get anxious. The police confirmation arrived yesterday at 4pm. Soon after that, Xulu travelled the streets, announcing through a loudhailer that the march was illegal, and anyone who went would be shot.

Despite this, around 1000 people showed up today, in defiance of Xulu, in fear of being shot, certainly, but ready to fight anyway. It was a serious victory, and it gave people courage. The police then told the marchers that they were simultaneously both too early to march, and too late. Once it became clear that the police were clearly talking shit, the marchers got aggravated, and the police backed down.

The police tried to hustle the march along, and the marchers fought back. At a crucial intersection, with the police urging the march through, everyone just sat down. Plonk. In the middle of a major street. The police were not pleased.

On the way, they passed this sign.

It’s wonderfully ironic. The City has gone all out to stigmatise precisely the people marching here. They tried, hard, to get a new ANC councillor. One sign – “We Love the ANC, We Hate Bheki Xulu” sums it up nicely. Xulu was appointed as an ANC candidate in 1994, on the basis of his struggle credentials, elected, and then re-elected after his first term because the community felt he’d been insufficient time to ‘deliver’. Toward the end of his second term, in August last year, community representatives approached the ANC Branch Executive Committee (BEC), to ask that a different councillor be appointed. The BEC told them that the nomination had already happened. They then approached the Regional committee, who referred them back to the BEC. After pointing this out to the regional committee, the community was met with silence. They took their complaints to the provincial committee, which was equally unresponsive.

An independent candidate ran against him in the recent elections. It was a tough, and close run race, as you can see from the election results here. The election was held amid a number of irregularities. ANC staff were tending polling booths as IEC officials (Independent Electoral Commission, though some signs rewrote it as independent electoral crooks). After death threats for not voting ANC, physical attacks against the opposition, and some very fast and loose with the numbers, Xulu got 5330 votes, the runner-up independent candidate was 246 votes behind with 5046.

Xulu threatened individuals on the march. Monica Ngcobo’s uncle was one of the four people (and the only man) leading the march. He said that Xulu’s men had come by the night before. He said they’d kill him. And he said he didn’t care – there was a place waiting for him by his niece’s side. And a place for everyone else who stood up to them.

Unimpressed, Xulu came to the march:

Overlooking the rallying point at the end of the march was a girl’s school. The students chanted and sang along with the speeches. And, after one particularly loud chant, they shrieked and ran away. We looked up, and saw a lone man run up to the hill, and point a camera down. Soon after, three, four and then a dozen other men charged him, and kicked him to the floor. There were arrests.

The story, apparently, was that Xulu had brought the cameraman to find out who was at the march. Some of the younger members of the crowd had spotted Xulu’s tinted-windowed car prowling behind the march, and had run after it. The car had driven into the school, and they followed. When the cameraman got out, they jumped him. And then they in turn were jumped by the police, and the cameraman driven away, apparently to hospital (at least, I hope so, he got quite a kicking), by his boss.

But – now here’s a thing that doesn’t happen often – the police swept up about 20 men, bundled them into the back of the van, took them down to the station and then, and then, and then, let them go. And another thing. After the white and Indian police had left, a few African boys in blue took one of the police vans, and drove the elderly and overheated protesters back home.

Chinks in the armour of the state? Not sure. Most likely, though, from the way a couple of the uniforms were talking, they were as sick of Xulu’s immunity as everyone else. And if the ANC won’t let the police get him, perhaps the police are happy for the people to prevail. And if they do prevail, perhaps, once again, they will have been part of the solution.

NB Full photo story at Indymedia here.