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Durban, South Africa: Building Autonomy & Solidarity from Below on the eKhenana Occupation

Durban. South Africa. The eKhenana Occupation now has the Frantz Fanon Political School, the Thuli Ndlovu Community Hall, the Sifiso Ngcobo Poultry Solidarity Project and the Nkululeko Gwala Food Sovereignty Garden.

Submitted to Enough 14.

Since our movement was formed in 2005 we have been committed to building organic organising from below. Our movement was built settlement by settlement and occupation by occupation. From the beginning we also worked to build a living solidarity with other struggles. In the early years we offered solidarity to comrades in countries like Haiti and Zimbabwe. When our movement was under attack we received international solidarity from organisations as far away as the United Kingdom, the USA and Turkey.

During the last five years we have been sending our comrades to the MST political school in Brazil. Through working together with the MST comrades, and other comrades at the school, we have learnt the ways of organising in different countries. From the MST we have learnt about agroecology and the importance of making our occupations sites of production, as well as places to live, build community and access the cities.

There were gardens in our branches before we developed our relationship with MST. In 2008 the strong women in Motala Heights founded the Motala Diggers. But from the MST we have learnt to organise urban farming on a much bigger scale and how to organise co-operatives to manage the farming and to distribute the produce on a democratic and collective basis.

Yesterday we officially opened the garden and poultry farm at the eKhenana occupation in Cato Manor, Durban. This work came as a result of learning exchanges with our comrades in the MST. The seeds for the garden came from the MST. This garden serves the community. It feeds many families that are headed by children and do not have anyone employed. The money that is made from selling the excess produce via the shop run by the cooperative has paid for all kinds of important things such as PPE and transport for people needing to go into central Durban. The cooperative recently donated a mobile sound system to the movement.

Food sovereignty is now a very important part of our work in our movement. We believe that we can create our own food and not rely on the government, who come with unhealthy food parcels when elections are coming and pay people small grants that can just keep them alive. Mostly when people receive the grants they take the money straight to the supermarkets owned by the big capitalists. The grants are not a subsidy for the oppressed to build autonomy. They are a subsidy for the capitalists.

The politic of autonomy is always dangerous, and has created many enemies in the ruling party and the state in the past. This is because as the poor we are supposed to rely on the state for everything, including land, housing, services and food. When we create our own autonomy by organising ourselves; occupying land; building our own homes, halls and community infrastructure; arranging our own access to services; and developing our own capacity to disrupt, march and engage the media the politicians say that we ‘are running our own authority’ and our efforts are met with violent repression.

In 2009 our movement was attacked in Kennedy by the ANC in the presence of the police. One of the reasons why we were attacked was that at that time we had a drop in centre which provided various kinds of support to people in the settlement including bread for many families. The ANC said that ‘Zikode is running his own authority’ and celebrated when we were attacked.

Our ideology of Ubuhlalism is about working together as the poor to build our own democratic power and to find solutions to our own problems. We believe that as the poor we are our own solutions. We believe that a neighbour should not sleep when their neighbour does not have something to eat.

The eKhenana occupation has faced serious repression, including more than twenty armed and violent attempts at eviction. The state used the Covid-19 lockdown as cover to wage regular attacks on the occupation. Women were most abused and targeted in these attacks. Despite the devastating effects of police brutality towards women during violent evictions, the women on the occupation have never lost sight of the fact that meaningful change for them cannot come through appealing to elites for reform from above but only through unity from below. Women took the lead in building and sustaining solidarity on the occupation. Women’s power has always been the foundation of our struggle and today women remain in the forefront of the struggle in eKhenana.

The food sovereignty project in eKhenana that was officially opened yesterday was named after our late comrade who we lost in our struggle, comrade Nkululeko Gwala.  Gwala was the chairperson of the Cato Crest branch. He was assassinated in 2014 after threats were made against him by senior leaders in the ANC in Durban.

We also officially opened a poultry farming project that was named after Sifiso Ngcobo. Sifiso Ngcobo was the chairperson of Ekukhanyeni branch.  He was assassinated in 2018 after he received many threats from the ANC.

We also opened the Thuli Ndlovu Memorial Hall in honour of our late KwaNdengezi chairperson and member of the National Council who was assassinated by two ANC ward councilors in 2016.

The names of the of these fallen comrades were engraved in this living struggle so that this history remains with the movement.

From the local to the global level solidarity among the left is very important. We need to ensure that we work together as the human race.

Abahlali baseMjondolo , December 14, 2020.

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