It has been a heartbreaking day. If you’ve only got a minute, please click on this link and sign the petition at the end of it. Normally, I think internet petitions are largely futile, but this time, I think it’s worth taking a moment to do. So, please click and sign, and I’ll explain why it’s worth doing below the fold.
So this is what has happened. I’ve worked for years with a social movement in South Africa called Abahlali baseMjondolo (which is Zulu for “people who live in Shacks”). They’re an utterly inspirational group of people living in shacks, and they started with a group living on the borders of a rubbish dump in Durban. Through its political mobilization and actions, the movement has proved that poor people don’t need the government to think for them – they can think for themselves.
For this they have been punished. Two nights ago, the shackdwellers were attacked by men wielding knives, machetes and even a sword. They chanted slogans of racial hatred, in a night of horror pulled almost directly from the Apartheid-era government’s playbook. During these attacks, the leadership of the shackdwellers movements were hunted.
Some have been killed, others have had their houses destroyed. The picture above is what’s left of my friend, S’bu Zikode’s house. Dozens are now homeless. Arrests have been made, but those arrested are the victims of the crime, not its perpetrators. The police near this particular community, as I’ve noted before, are relics of Apartheid, and they haven’t quite got the message that South Africa is now free. Nor, apparently, have the local politicians, who were guarded by the police as they watched the attacks being carried out.
They believe that they are protected, immune to pressure. But the South African government is still very sensitive to international pressure. Next year, the country will host the world’s largest sporting event, the Soccer World Cup, and the government is vulnerable to international pressure. The petition is addressed to the South African president, and although he’s a pretty useless man, the more people who sign it, the likelier it is that he’ll feel compelled to stop the violence in the shacks. And, for right now, that’s the first priority.
Those whose lives have been destroyed will need money, and we’re working out how to get funds and supplies to them. But before they can rebuild, the thugs need to be taken out of their community, and out of government.