World Habitat Day

Today is World Habitat Day – a chance to “reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter.” Not all reflections are equal, of course. Amnesty International have pointed out that around the world, over one billion people living in slums are being ignored. In some cases, those people aren’t being ignored at all – they’re being actively fought. Those pondering their right to adequate shelter most vigorously are the ones facing greatest repression. Readers with longer memories will recall that, almost a year ago today, the houses of some of the leaders of Durban’s shackdweller movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, were destroyed. Members of the movement attacked, some of the attackers were killed, and absent any serious investigation, it was movement leaders who were charged. While waiting for justice and despite attempts to write its obituary by both the state and civil society in South Africa, the movement has persisted. Their statement on the anniversary of these attacks is below the fold.

Statement on the Anniversary of the Attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Kennedy Road Settlement

A year ago today our movement was attacked by an armed mob in the Kennedy Road settlement. The police refused to come to our aid and for months the homes of our best known comrades were destroyed and they had to flee for their lives. Two weeks before the attack the chairperson of the ANC in Durban, John Mchunu, publiclyattacked our movement saying that it was a threat to the ANC. The day after the attack Willies Mchunu, the Provincial MEC for Safety & Security, said that a decision had been taken to disband our movement. He described the attack that drove us from our homes and our community as a ‘liberation’. A few weeks later the Pemary Ridgesettlement was brutally attacked by the police.

These attacks on our movement were political. We believe that the politicians decided to destroy our movement because they knew that they were going to lose theSlums Act case in the Constitutional Court and because we were exposing their corruption and stopping their evictions. We believe that they encouraged some of their supporters to attack us by offering them tenders and the power to allocate houses in the upgrade that we had struggled for and won. They tried to disguise what they were doing by mobilising people on an ethnic platform. It is no coincidence that the tension on the ground began after Jackson Gumede, the chairperson of the Branch Executive Committee of the local ANC, was given the tender to clean the toilets in the Kennedy settlement after our campaign for decent toilets.

The attack has caused real suffering for the people who were injured and the families of those who died in the conflict. It also caused real suffering for those who were displaced and had their homes destroyed and all their possessions looted. It damaged our movement in some ways but it has not destroyed our movement.

The people who were displaced are still suffering. They are scattered to their families or they are renting shacks in other areas. The government has done nothing for the displaced. After the attack we could not have large and open meetings as we always had before. For some months we had to organise underground.

But although our leadership was displaced they have shown more power and energy to be active from exile. They have not been intimidated. Our members have not been intimidated. They have shown real courage and determination in rebuilding their movement from the bottom up.

Our struggle has continued and the following new areas have joined our movement since the attack:

1. Hillary Flats
2. Lindelani shack settlement (Ntuzuma)
3. KwaMaphulelo shack settlement (Stanger)
4. K-Section shack settlement KwaMashu
5. Palmiet shack settlement (Clare Estate)
6. Portview Flats (Beach front)
7. Ridgeview transit camp (Chesterville)
8. Richard Farm A transit camp (Near KwaMashu)
9. Richard Farm B transit camp (Near KwaMashu)
10. Siyanda B5 transit camp (Near KwaMashu)

There is now also a Kennedy Road Exiles branch with 127 members in good standing. It meets every Sunday. And 1 365 new members have joined the movement in their individual capacity and are currently paid up card carrying members in good standing.

The following old areas that had branches in good standing or were collectively affiliated to the movement before the attack remain active and in good standing:

1. Arnett Drive shack settlement (Reservoir Hills)
2. Foreman Road (Reservoir Hills)
3. New Hanover shack settlement
4. Howick shack settlement
5. Kennedy Road (Reservoir Hills)
6. eMatinini (Siyanda)
7. Motala Heights A shack settlement (Pinetown)
8. Motala Heights B shack settlement (Pinetown)
9. New eMaus shack settlement and decayed church houses (Pinetown)
10. Pemary Ridge shack settlement (Reservoir Hills)
11. eShowe Shack settlement
12. Tongaat shack settlement
13. Siyanda A transit camp (Near KwaMashu)
14. Siyanda B transit camp (Near KwaMashu)

We therefore have a total of twenty five active branches and affiliated communities in KwaZulu-Natal. The movement is also growing in Cape Town. We have not been defeated.

Our programmes have continued and we have taken some major steps forward. We have marched against the State President for the first time and the Women’s League has organised a women’s march for the first time. Our president S’bu Zikode was awarded the Order of the Holy Nativity. This is the first time that this award has gone to a non-Anglican.

Our demands with regard to the attack remain as they always were. They are that:

1. The government takes real steps to restore and to guarantee political freedom in the Kennedy Road settlement.
2. The government takes real steps to enable the free and safe return of the exiles and to guarantee their safety if they chose to return to Kennedy Road.
3. That compensation is paid to all those whose homes were destroyed and who had to flee the settlement on the threat of death without receiving any protection from the police.
4. That there is a free and fair election for a new committee in the settlement.
5. That the government set up an independent and credible commission of inquiry to look deeply into the attack.

If the government had nothing to hide they would have had no problem in agreeing to an independent commission of inquiry. But they are scared of the truth and our demands to the government have gone unheard. Therefore we are:

1. Continuing with the Return to Kennedy Road Campaign.
2. Launching a civil claim against the Minister of Police and Willies Mchunu for damages resulting from their failure to protect us against the attack. We all know that the lower courts are not free and fair but higher up the poor can get a fair hearing. Mike Mabuyakhulu can tell Bheki Cele and Willies Mchunu what to expect.
3. Ready to give our full co-operation to the independent commission of inquiry into the attack that Bishop Rubin Phillip is setting up.

Our movement’s strength has always come from our commitment to people’s politics – a living politics that comes from the ordinary needs of ordinary people and which is firmly under the control of ordinary people. This is a politics of unity. The parties divide the poor in order to rule the poor but our people’s politics unites the poor on the basis of our common problems. In all the fires that struck Kennedy Road after the attacks a people’s politics re-emerged in the settlement in the midst of disaster. The return to Kennedy Road campaign was welcomed. The displaced people were welcomed in the settlement. But the people that were displaced still cannot return to the settlement without guarantees for their safety. The top down political influence that succeeded to turn the poor against the poor can do the same again. When night falls we cannot be certain of our safety in the settlement.

The politicians have been clear about their aim to destroy our movement. However some of the officials in the Municipality have continued to recognise the Kennedy Road Development Committee as the legitimate representatives of the settlement and have continued to negotiate with the KRDC on the commitment to upgrade the settlement that we won after years of struggle. Our last meeting with the officials was on 22 June 2010. It went very well and they promised to come back to us in four months with a full technical report.

Some cases were opened against the people that had destroyed our homes. They were opened with great difficulty and most attempts to open cases were refused. But we have heard nothing about the cases that were opened.

The area committee of the ANC is now running Kennedy Road. They were never elected by the people. They were just appointed by Willies Mchunu. Nomsa Dube and Nigel Gumde both went to Kennedy Road after the attacks and promised people houses. But now there is silence about these houses.

The arrests that followed the attack were political from the beginning. Justice was delayed and denied. The detainees were severely assaulted in prison. They were kept in prison for months and months without any evidence being brought against them. The fact that the witnesses didn’t even bother to pitch up to court when the trial was due to start shows a lot.

For us it is very sad that the Human Rights Commission has reacted to the open toilets in Cape Town while they have failed to investigate the Kennedy Road attack. We ask ourselves why they put the right to have walls around a toilet before the rights to safety, a home and to political freedom. We ask ourselves which comes first: a private toilet or the right not to be attacked and driven from your home?

We see that Cosatu and the Human Rights organisations are taking a good position on media freedom. But it is very sad that Cosatu and some of the Human Rights organisations say nothing about the repression faced in Kennedy Road, in Pemary Ridge and in Protea South, in eTwatwa. We wonder why we don’t count to them. We wonder why our politics does not count to them.

It is clear to us that for many people democracy is something for the rich, the middles classes and even the working class but not for the poor. It is clear to us that for many people our demand for basic dignity is taken as a chaos and a threat to society. It is clear to us that for many people our humanity is invisible. Just as many people are silent when we are forcibly removed from the cities many people are also silent when we are evicted from this democracy. But democracy means the rule of the people and we are a large part of the people and so no one can say that there is a real democracy in our country if the poor are not allowed to think, to speak and to organise for ourselves. No one can say that they are really a defender of this democracy if they do not also defend the right of the poor to organise freely.

We won the case against the Slums Act and yet the government continues to build transit camps. Corruption is everywhere. We can show anyone who is interested the live evidence that there is corruption in every development. Corruption exists at the bottom but it does not come from the bottom. It comes from the top.

Jacob Zuma failed to answer the memorandums that we sent to his office from our marches after the attack. We were thousands and yet he said nothing. We are always asking the politicians to come and sit with us and to talk to us but we only see them on TV or rushing past on the freeway with their blue lights. We see that any rich person can pay for the right to have dinner with Jacob Zuma. This is not democracy. This is the rule of the rich. In a real democracy a poor person would have the same right as a rich person to have the ear of the president. We are preaching an unpopular gospel which is the truth about our democracy.

We are discussing some new strategies. We are talking about this in our branches and with our comrades in the Poor People’s Alliance and we hope to announce a national week of action soon. We are hoping to see combined actions in Johannesburg, in Durban and in Cape Town.

As Abahlali baseMjondolo we will carry on focussing on our programme to defend the dignity and the rights of shack dwellers and poor people until the promised Canaan is reached. Even those who were used to fight against us are also poor and are therefore also part of our responsibilities. We will continue to preach the gospel of land and housing. We will continue to preach the gospel of a politics for the poor, by the poor and of the poor.

We thank all those who have shown us a living solidarity over the last year. We thank the movements, the church leaders, the lawyers, the academics and the activists around the world who have stood up to say that democracy and freedom are either for everyone or they are not real.

For more information and comment please contact:

Mondli Mbiko: Co-ordinator, Kennedy Road Development Committee in Exile 073 1936 319
Mzwake Mdlalose: Chairperson of the Kennedy Road Development Committee in Exile and Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo 072 132 8458
Bandile Mdlalose: Abahlali baseMjondolo Secretary General 031 304 6420, 074 730 8120
Mnikelo Ndabankulu: Abahlali baseMjondolo Spokesperson 0797450653

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