South Africa. June 3, 2020. If you are poor and black your life does not count to this society. It is often the state that will come to you with a gun. Your home can be destroyed, you can be assaulted, tortured and killed with impunity. This is the experience of impoverished people across South Africa. Our dignity is continuously vandalised by the state. Some people, like migrants and sex workers, are at even greater risk.
Submitted to Enough 14. Image above: Archive image of an Abahlali demo.
It has always been like this but during this lockdown the middle classes have suddenly started to take state violence against impoverished black people seriously. They have been shocked that at least twelve people were murdered by the police and the army in the first weeks of the lockdown. They have been shocked to learn that in South Africa the police kill more than three times the number of people that are killed by the police in the United States per capita. No impoverished person was shocked. This has always been our daily bread.
Threats from the state are also particularly targeted at people who think, organise and act independently from the ruling party. If you decide that from now on the oppressed should decide for themselves how to confront their oppression, and if you organise outside of the ruling party to build the power of the oppressed from below, you are likely to face severe intimidation, threats of all kinds, slander, wrongful arrest, assault, torture and, in some cases, assassination. Our movement has lost 18 to comrades to assassination and state murder.
We have been informed that after receiving repeated threats Ayanda Kota from the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape has had to go into hiding. This follows a court judgment in January that, following an application by the Unemployed People’s Movement, ruled that the council of the Makana Municipality must be dissolved for its unconstitutional failure to provide services to its residents. There are now indications that other councils in other municipalities in the Eastern Cape might be subject to similar rulings.
The UPM did not take the decision to approach the court likely. There has been extreme looting by the ANC in the Makhanda Municipality and it is completely dysfunctional with water provision having collapsed, roads breaking up and rubbish lying uncollected in the streets. The fact that the Province decided to appeal the case is an indication that they are threatened by the existence of the UPM.
It is not surprising that threats have been made to Kota following this ruling. When an organisation of impoverished people becomes a threat to the ruling party and the state the first thing that they try to do is to discredit and remove its leader. Assassinations are no longer mostly just a problem in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. There have been numerous assassinations in Port Elizabeth recently, with a number of trade unionists having been targeted. This reality means that threats need to be taken seriously.
Our own experience in Durban is that violence can follow swiftly from victories in court. For instance, on 24 April we secured an interdict against the violent evictions that the eThekwini Municipality had been carrying out in the eKhenana settlement in Cato Crest in violation of the law, the Constitution, the regulations preventing evictions during the lockdown and an interdict that we had previously won against evictions in eKhenana. Immediately after we secured the interdict against the eThekwini Municipality, Mr. Mkhize, the leader of the city’s notorious Land Invasion Unit went to eKhenana and fired live ammunition at the community seriously injuring one person.
In 2009 after we won an important case against the provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal in the Constitutional Court our members were attacked in the Kennedy Road settlement by armed men identifying as ANC, and acting with the support of the police. Our leaders were specifically targeted with the clear intention to kill them. They managed to escape but their homes were destroyed and they had to go into hiding. After the attack Willies Mchunu who was then in charge of the police in the province, went to Kennedy Road to announce the demise of Abahlali.
Our experience with the ANC is that they do not deliver the services that they promise, let alone a fair distribution of land, wealth and power. But there are two things that they are very good at delivering. One is to use public money to make themselves and their families rich. The other is to hire hitmen to do the job of killing those who expose the corruption in the municipalities where they lead.
We write this statement as a warning to the national leadership of the ANC that if anyone in the leadership of UPM is assassinated we will hold the ANC accountable for this act.
Death threats are terrifying. People under threat often have to move away from their families, and stop going to work. If they can fall asleep they wake up at night with every noise, and have no appetite for food.
As a result of death threats people from Durban have had to go to the Eastern or Western Cape to hide. People from the Eastern Cape have had to come to Durban to hide. One of our leaders had to move from Durban to Cape Town. It has been normal, for many years now, for grassroots activists to sleep in a different shack in a different settlement every night when a struggle is running high and hot.
None of us deserve to go through these moments in life. We wish to express our solidarity and our support for comrade Kota and all those who go through a similar situation, and, of course, for all those who have lost their loved ones for trying to humanise the world. We understand the pain of growing children without fathers or mothers, the pain of being a widow, of losing a son or daughter. We call on all genuine democrats and progressive forces, even within the ANC, to reject the politic of blood and death.
Hit men and corrupt politicians must be exposed and prosecuted.
Today we are all Kota.
The people of Makana deserve clean governance. Demanding an end to corruption is no crime. In fact, they deserve much more than just clean government. They deserve land, housing, a decent income, the right to participate in all decision making that effects them, good education for their children, and the right to live in safety and to be treated with dignity.
Kota must be very careful. We know what some councillors and politicians are capable of.
Abahlali baseMjondolo, June 3, 2020.
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