Despite my views on religion, I found this incredibly moving. It’s a message from members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo shackdwellers movement in South Africa, appealing to friends in the Church to support the shackdwellers in their upcoming trial – and you can find out more about that, and how to pitch in to the legal fund for that trial here. If you missed S’bu Zikode’s US tour, in which he explained the broader shackdweller’s struggle, you can watch him here and here. But the letter below doesn’t really need an introduction.
A Letter to our Comrades in the Clergy
We greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ.
When we are evicted, beaten, arrested, attacked and slandered we always remember that God chose a poor man, a humble carpenter, a man with the rough hands of worker, to bring his message of salvation into the world. Jesus Christ must have had mud on his shoes.
Sometimes all the powers in this world seem determined to work together to deny our equal humanity and to keep us silent and locked into in the darkness and degradation of our suffering. But the fact that God chose a poor man to bring his good news to humanity always reminds us that our equal humanity is a fact that cannot be denied. If God recognises the humanity of the poor then no man or woman has a right to deny it.
We want to thank all of you for standing by us as the organised poor in difficult times. We know that some of you have been attacked, as some academics have been attacked, for taking a side with the organised poor. You have always struggled with us and not for us. You have always understood that we have to begin our struggle by recognising the equality and dignity of everyone. We embrace your courage and we recognise you as real comrades in the struggle to humanise this world.
The attack on our movement last year was not just an attack on our movement. It was an attack on our democracy. Very few people recognised this but the progressive church leaders did. You stood with us and showed us a living solidarity. We appreciate it deeply and we affirm that we will stand with you when ever you require our support, be it personal or political. We took courage from your support and your support really helped us to get a fairer hearing in the eyes of the media and wider society.
There are many people who can only see the poor as dirty, dishonest, criminal, short-minded, ignorant and violent. When ever we organise and mobilise there are many people who can only see us as people who be being used by someone else and as people who are a threat to society. We constantly face all these stereotypes and prejudices. But with you standing with us many people’s minds are opened and we have a better chance of being recognised as human beings, human beings who are poor. We don’t ask for any special treatment. We just ask to be recognised and treated as human beings – human beings that can think and speak for ourselves like any other human beings.
The attack has done serious damage to our movement. Many of our members are still struggling to repair their broken lives. We have had to spend so much time on dealing with the crisis that we have not had enough time to keep developing our unity and to keep discussing the deeper meaning of Abahlalism. As evictions have pushed more people into our movement this has led to some real challenges. Our movement is facing a difficult time. We need solidarity now more than ever.
As many of you will know the Kennedy 12 return to court on Monday. As you all know the legal process following the arrest has never been fair. Many of you have witnessed the intimidation and the biasness that we have faced. Many of you stood with us while we were publicly threatened with death. We have had real difficulties in securing legal representation. We have not been able to prepare as we would have liked. We know that at least one of the witnesses against the Kennedy 12 has been threatened with death if she refuses to testify. We take this as a sign that the prosecution has prepared very carefully.
We would deeply appreciate it if as many of you as is possible can accompany us to court next week, especially on Monday. Your presence will give us strength; it will help us to get a fairer hearing and it might also pressure the state into not interfering with the legal processes any more than they already have. We don’t count to their eyes. But you do count to their eyes.
All we are asking from the court next week is that the accused be given a fair trial.
But we continue to argue that it is unacceptable that no one has been arrested for the attack on us. More than 30 families lost their homes, more than a thousand of us had to flee their community, many of us were injured. Some of us almost died. Our office was taken over. Our movement was banned from the settlement and an unelected structure imposed from above by the ANC and our members that remained in the settlement were subject to extreme intimidation. This is all being treated as if it was not a crime.
We also continue to argue that that a full and independent inquiry into the attack is necessary. We also appreciate your support with this demand.
We hope that when this trial is over we can meet and have a full discussion on the theology of equality and liberation. We feel sometimes like the world is closing in on us and all of who stand for the dignity and equality of every human being need to be together, to think together and to struggle together. We need to find ways to affirm that God intended this world to be a common treasury for all of us. We need to find ways to affirm that God is on the side of the poor. We need to find ways to affirm that God loves justice.
For more information please don’t hesitate to call us.
Ms Zodwa Nsibande
082 830 2707
Ms Bandile Mdlalose
031 304 6420
074 730 8120