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South Africa: Organising in the Shadow of Death

Abahlali baseMjondolo: Since our movement was first formed in 2005 various factions of the elite – including in the ruling party, the government, NGOs and the universities – have considered the self-organisation of impoverished people in a democratic movement to be an illegitimate development.

Submitted to Enough is Enough.

Note: Enough is Enough is not organizing any of these events, we are publishing this text for people across the US and Europe to be able to see what is going on and for documentation only.

All positions in our movement are subject to election, and the right to recall. We continually hold open and public meetings at which decisions are reached, usually by the process of continuing discussion until a consensus is developed. Yet despite this our decision to organise ourselves, and to speak and act for ourselves, has constantly been presented as an external conspiracy by elites who feel that they have a natural right to think for us, to speak for us and to represent us. We have regularly been presented as criminals. 

We have faced constant lies and slander, some of it organised by intelligence, and serious and often violent repression including assault, the destruction of our homes, arrests and imprisonment on false charges while awaiting trial, torture and death. Our members have died at the hands of the police, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit and the izinkabi. At times some of our leaders have had to go underground and in late 2009 the whole movement had to organise underground for some months.

In 2009 our members were openly attacked by the ANC, acting with the support of the police, and driven from their homes in the Kennedy Road settlement in Clare Estate. For months our members were openly driven from their homes by armed supporters of the ruling party acting with the open support of the police. Leading figures in the ruling party publicly supported this repression.

In March 2013, Thembinkosi Qumbela, who was not a member of our movement but did support a land occupation that our members also supported, was assassinated in Cato Crest. In June the same year Nkululeko Gwala, our Chairperson in Cato Crest, was also assassinated. In September that year Nqobile Nzuza was murdered by a police officer during a protest in Cato Crest. She was 17 years old. After a long struggle the police officer that murdered her was convicted of murder. In September 2014 Thuli Ndlovu, our chairperson in KwaNdengezi, was murdered by two ANC Ward Councillors. After another long struggle the two Councillors were convicted of murder and are now serving their sentence. In June last year we lost two weeks old baby Jayden Khoza after he inhaled teargas when police attacked the community in Foreman Road in Clare Estate. In the same month Samuel Hloele was murdered by the Anti-Land Invasion Unit in what was then eMasenseni and is now the eKukhanyeni land occupation in Marianhill. In November our chairperson in the Sisonke Village land occupation in Lamontville, Sibonelo Mpeku, was kidnapped and murdered. On 17 December 2017 Soyiso Nkqayini and Smanga Mkhize, were shot by unknown men in the eNkanini land occupation in Cato Manor. Comrade Smanga was seriously injured and Comrade Soyiso, the Youth League organiser in the occupation, passed away. In January this year Sandile Biyela, was killed while escaping a brutal police attack on the Solomon Mahlangu land occupation near Chesterville. On 22 May S’fiso Ngcobo, our chairperson in eKukhanyeni, was assassinated. On 29 May S’bu Zikode suddenly lost control of the car that he was travelling in. When the car was taken to a mechanic it was found that it had been deliberately tampered with. This was a clear attempt on his life.

Qumbelo, Gwala, Ndlovu and Ngcobo all knew that they had been marked for death before they were assassinated. Today we are hearing the same things that we heard before their murders. We have the same sense that we had before their murders, a sense that death is imminent. 

As we have previously noted the Mayor and the Chief Whip in the eThekwini Municipality

made disturbingly undemocratic, authoritarian and threatening statements about our movement, and about S’bu Zikode, at an Executive Committee on Tuesday, 12 June 2018. The Mayor, Zandile Gumede, said that there was a ‘third hand’ behind our movement. She also said that the City would not work with our movement and would, instead, work with the South African Shack Dwellers’ International Alliance – the South African branch of the international NGO that used to be known as Shack Dwellers International (SDI). The Chief Whip, Nelly Nyanisa, said that S’bu Zikode is “hellbent on making the city ungovernable”. She also issued a clear threat against our movement saying “We will deal with them.” This was all reported in the media. Similar statements were made by ANC leaders prior to the attack on our movement in Kennedy Road in 2009. 

Since these statements were made by the Mayor and the Chief Whip we have had numerous warnings from various credible sources that S’bu Zikode’s life is in grave danger. These warnings have come from people in the ANC and people in the police who are opposed to the political gangsterism in Durban. Some members of the police in Durban have often been directly supportive of, and involved in, political gangsterism and repression. But there are factions in the police, especially at national level, that are opposed to this. We have and will continue to work with them to achieve credible investigations into the murders of our comrades, and the plan to assassinate S’bu Zikode, with the aim of achieving arrests and prosecutions. At the same time we will continue to build democratic people’s power from below and in struggle. 

We have been warned from credible sources that the ANC in Durban is planning to present our movement as a ‘terrorist’ organisation to legitimate further repression. We have been through this kind of experience before when we have been presented as criminals, and as a ‘third force’, to justify repression. We repeat that we are a democratic organisation, with an audited membership in good standing of more than 50 000, that takes its important decisions in open public meetings. We stand for justice, and the dignity of our members. 

The courts have repeatedly found in our favour and have repeatedly noted illegal conduct against our members by the eThekwini Municipality. Our aspirations for land, housing and dignity are firmly in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic.

Our members freely participate in the formation of the movement’s positions, sometimes over many months of discussions in numerous meetings. This includes any collective decision that we may take about a strategic response to elections. In this regard, as in all other matters, our leaders follow the mandate generated in free and open discussion by our members. Our leaders do not give a line to the members. This is a fundamental part of our politics.

There are two main reasons why we are facing such extreme hostility from the ANC in Durban. One is that the Zuma faction has had to retreat to the City of Durban, and the City’s large budget. This faction is organised around corruption and the housing budget is one of the most important vehicles through which corruption is organised. We oppose corruption, often very effectively, in communities across the city. The Zuma faction is also trying to build an ethnic project. Our movement unites people from various ethnicities, races and nationalities in a democratic struggle for justice. This also makes us a direct threat to the Zuma project. We have held public assemblies of up to six or seven thousand people in football grounds. This is far more people than Zuma can get at his court appearances, even with a huge budget. 

We will not retreat. We have faced and survived previous waves of repression, especially in 2009, and again in 2013 and 2014. We have faced and survived all kinds of dirty tricks and lies. In 2018 we are bigger and stronger than we have ever been before. We will survive this wave of repression too.

However, we wish to make it clear that if another attempt is made on S’bu Zikode’s life, or on the life of any one of our members or comrades, we will hold Zandile Gumede and the eThekwini ANC directly responsible. 

We are calling for national and international solidarity with our movement and in defence of democracy in Durban.

The politic of blood in this city and province must come to an end. We will not rest until justice has been served for every one of our members and comrades who have been murdered. Every assassination of every person, without regard for the organisation in which they held membership, must be thoroughly investigated with a view to achieving a successful prosecution and conviction.

We stand for peace and justice.

Land & Dignity!

Abahlali baseMjondolo, July 7, 2018.


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