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South Africa: Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s statement on the current crisis in times of the #coronavirus

South Africa. April 1, 2020. We as the Women’s League of Abahlali baseMjondolo see the need to express our pain and fear, and our deep disappointment and anger at the eThekwini municipality. We need to issue a clear warning that we will not continue to accept oppression.

Submitted to Enough 14.

Abahlali as a movement teaches respect. Men must respect women. People of different generations must respect each other. People who are born in different countries and people who speak different languages at home must respect each other. We have struggled for years in our movement to ensure that poor people are treated with respect. In this crisis caused by the corona virus we have respected the President’s call to stay indoors even though this is very difficult when there are many people living in one shack, and even though this is very difficult when we don’t get paid when we don’t work.

It has been promised by national government that there will be no evictions during the lockdown. But by day five of the lockdown the eThekwini Municipality had already attacked us, violently, and unlawfully, three times. They destroyed our homes and left many people injured. It is very sad and unjustifiable what they are continuing to do to us as impoverished people. They are undermining us and rendering our rights useless even during this time of darkness, not only in our country but even globally. Is this happening because we are not counted as human? Is this happening because we do not count as citizens of this country? Is this happening because we do not have rights as shack dwellers?

Sizokuthola nini ukuphumula ezweni lethu uma sihlukumezwa kanje?

How are we going to be indoors while our houses are being demolished? Some of us we are single parents who not working. We can’t afford to buy more building material after the securities, armed men sent by the government, have broken and burnt it.

As women we have been denied the right to housing. Even when we build our own houses they are destroyed. Housing is not possible without land and we are denied the right to land. We have been oppressed by the Kings in our rural areas. You are denied access to land if you are a single mother. We have moved to the city and now we are still facing the same oppression from the eThekwini Municipality.

It is really so sad for a single mother and her children to be chased away from their homes at this very hard time. It is such a humiliation. What must a mother say to her children? It is such an embarrassment to our government. What happened to the ‘women empowerment’ that the President of the party in power promised us at the beginning of the year? It is clear to us that this ‘women empowerment’ is not for us. When we work to empower ourselves securities are sent to attack us.

We are afraid of the corona virus, but there is no virus worse than not having a place to stay. There is no virus worse than armed men attacking and destroying your home. There is no virus worse than armed men shooting at your family, including children and old people. There is no virus worse than having to sleep outside, where there is always the fear of rape. There is no virus worse than our children waking up at night crying and shouting in fear.

We say that enough is enough. The struggle for land and dignity in the cities goes back more than a hundred years. Our struggle to occupy land, build homes and defend our dignity was the struggle of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union. It was the struggle of the United Democratic Front. We do not want this struggle to also be the struggle of our children. It is enough.

We have buried our children and husbands as a result of these violent evictions. Right now, some of our men are in hospital, or at home with serious injuries. The brutality of the SAPS, municipal security, private security, the Red Ants and the Anti Land Invasion Unit has taken too many lives and left too many people injured. The blood of too many innocent people has been spilt. It is enough.

Ukubekezela kwethu sekuphelile. Isibindi sethu siqinile.

Our movement organises the oppressed and projects the voice of the voiceless, the voice of the landless and homeless people of our country. Since it was established in 2005 we have been invited to a variety of different meetings by the departments of housing and land affairs, as well as municipalities, regarding the issues of land distribution and evictions. We have been to many meetings but not even one of those meetings has helped us with resolutions of the eviction situation we are facing. Why are we still invited to those meetings if our ideas and views are not going to be taken to consideration? It is enough.

After fifteen years of struggle we continue to face unending evictions, relocations, the demolition of our vital belongings, the demolition of our houses, threats to our members and leaders, and killings.  It is enough.

Now in this crisis, as we speak, we don’t know how to make sure that we stay safe from the corona virus. Some of us don’t have even food to put on the table because we’re self-employed. Those of us who are street vendors are already devastated by the lockdown. Now we’re stressed about where we are going to rebuild our children’s homes. We are stressed that when we do rebuild the securities will return to attack us again and destroy our homes again. It is enough.

As the Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League we will hold the government responsible for anyone who will die because of the corona virus since we told our children to stay indoors and to wash their hands. But where are they going to practice this hygiene if they are homeless? We built homes for our children. It was the municipality that destroyed them. It is enough.

The Government is always saying that he is worried about Gender Based Violence but he sends armed men to attack us and leave women and children homeless and destitute. If there is any rape or murder of a women or a child who has been made homeless in these attacks we will hold the government responsible since he doesn’t care about our safety. He is even sending the SANDF to victimise impoverished people across the country. It is enough.

As Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League we think that this 21 day shutdown has been implemented with a top down approach. Why we were not told on time to prepare ourselves? Why were we not included in decision making so that our suggestions could be included in the planning?  The government is always deciding for us like we can’t think for ourselves. It is enough.

It is not right that blood must still be shed for the land that our fathers and mothers fought for so that we could live without fear. For how long are we going to live with fear and tears in our only homes? This is a war against the poor. It is enough. We will act.

How many lives must we lose during evictions? How many husbands must we lose? How many children must we lose? Each and every human life counts as a human life. Rich or poor a human is a human.

Senzeni na?

When the President says that “our people should remain indoors” but our homes are destroyed it becomes clear to us that we are not classified as people of this nation. When the President addresses the nation he speaks as if the role of the government is to protect its citizens yet the same government is the cause of harm and despair for its citizens. The way we are treated as women during evictions is so humiliating, disgusting and devastating.

Women have too much work on their shoulders. If you are a women you have to go to work after work because you take care of your family and do cooking and chores. But in these communities who are currently facing these illegal evictions you also have to figure out how are you going to rebuild your children’s home. On top of that when these illegal evictions occur the securities abuse us and our children like nobody’s business. There is always sexual harassment and assault. They beat us up very badly. They don’t care whether you’re carrying a baby or not. As a result of this brutality some of us end up finding it very difficult to receive grant money because our Sassa cards are being destroyed along with all our other belongings. Some of us are defaulting on our treatment because our medication and clinic cards are destroyed so our health is at risk. Some of us experience miscarriages. Sometimes we even lose our partners.

We as the Abahlali Women’s League call upon the President to end his silence on the attacks on our movement, and all the other abuse from the police and the army against poor people across the country, including three murders. He must give us the answers. When will this violence and abuse stop? How are those of us who have been evicted going to spend 21 days without shelter? Where do they really want us to go at this critical time? We have complied with the request of the President of the country. However, if the eThekwini Municipality can’t respect us we won’t tolerate their disrespect. We will act.

Enough is enough bomama! This is our time to show our government that we stand for our children. We are fighting power to survive in the world.

Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela.

Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo


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