A Gathering of the Third Force ?
The goal that our attackers wanted to achieve when they ambushed us on the night of 26 September 2009 has not been achieved. A surprise attack was launched against our movement, the spontaneous resistance to the attack was broken by the police, our office was destroyed, hundreds of our members and supporters were chased from Kennedy Road, thirteen of our comrades were jailed and illegally detained and we have been banned from openly organising in the settlement where our movement was founded. But our movement was never just in Kennedy Road. Before the attack there were fifteen settlements affiliated to our movement in Durban and more than 50 branches across Durban, Pinetown, Tongaat, Howick, Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town. The goal of the attack was to destroy our movement to punish us for our victory against the Slums Act, to deny us the victory that we had won to have the Kennedy Road settlement upgraded where it is and to neutralise us before 2010. But our movement still exists. In fact it continues to grow. Since the attack we have launched four new branches and we will launch another four new branches soon.
In Kennedy Road there is no political freedom now. Abahlali is banned from the settlement and if you are thought to remain loyal to the movement there is still a risk that you may be assaulted and that your home will be broken down or burnt. We have always allowed political freedom. When we organised No Land! No House! No Vote campaigns we allowed those residents who wished to support political parties to do so. You are either a democrat or you are not and the only real test of your commitment to democracy is whether or not you allow different views to express themselves. No one can deny that we passed that test. No one can deny that the ANC has failed that test.
All of the services that we provided in Kennedy Road are no longer provided. There is no more Drop-in-Centre for people living with HIV and AIDS, there is no more community crèche, there are no more food parcels for families that are starving, there is no more collectively organised care for the sick. Bread is no longer baked for the hungry. There is no more Operation Khanyisa. Now people just connect how they feel without regard to safety – and now people sometimes have to pay for a connection. Even the hall that we fixed up and maintained so carefully after it had lain desolate for years is sinking back into desolation. The grass has not been cut. Rubbish is rotting everywhere. Those who cannot afford to send their children to private crèches now leave them with gogos who are also busy with fetching water, baking and making beer. The care is not the same. At our crèche we taught English and counting, we gave pills to the children that needed them. We had a full time teacher from the community who took her responsibility as a serious job. She had been on courses on how to teach the small children. It is a strange thing that when we as the poor are allowed to govern ourselves we can do all this. But when the political party that has all the money seizes control of our community because to them it is a rebel community they can’t even run a crèche. It is clear that their agenda starts and ends with maintaining political control over the people.
On 19 February 2010 the Kennedy 12 appeared in court again. This time the magistrate openly admitted that there was massive political interference and pressure on this case. He failed to give details of this interference and pressure. We will look for ways to force this into the open.
The case was remanded until 4 May 2010. If the case does go to trial on 4 May the 5 comrades who are still in Westville prison will have spent 7 months in jail without any evidence being presented to the court to indicate that they are guilty of any crime. They spent two months in prison without a bail hearing. Detention without a trial or a bail hearing is a crime. When they did have a bail hearing at the end of November last year no evidence was brought against them other than that they had been identified in a line-up. That means nothing. Their accusers had been to court six times and had seen them in the dock each time. Before that they were neighbours, some were team mates in the same soccer teams. Some had known each other for twenty years. The issue was never whether or not the accusers could recognise the accused. The issue was whether or not the accusers could bring any evidence against the accused. They have failed to do this. There is still no evidence.
It is clear that we are heading for a political trial. When there is open intimidation in the court – including death threats – when politicians are openly advising the prosecution, and when there are repeated delays that keep people locked up because the IO has ‘forgotten to come to court’, because ‘the typist is unavailable’ or because the prosecutor is ‘unavailable’ (when in fact everyone can see her smoking outside the court) you know that you are not dealing with anything that can be called justice. The police investigator has missed court 4 times. He says that he has forgotten to attend the court but if he cannot even be relied on to remember a court date how can he be relied on to investigate a complex situation like the attack on AbM in Kennedy Road? In the constitution of our movement it says that if someone is elected to a responsible position in the movement and they miss three meetings without an apology then they must lose their position. Surely a police officer who fails to attend the case that he is investigating must be removed from that case?
The normal rules of justice have not been applied in this case. It is no different to how the normal rules about evictions or the right to march are not applied in our case. It is clear that the normal rules are never applied to the poor.
The police and the prosecution are supposed to be working for the public. We are, as we have stated many times, especially when we are arrested for ‘public violence’ when we exercise the basic rights promised to us in the constitution, very clear that we are also the public. If this idea of the ‘public’ has to have any useful meaning it has to mean everyone. But it is very clear that the police and the prosecution are not working for us – they are working for the politicians – for Willies Mchunu and the thugs that were deployed against us. It is clear that the poor in this country are supposed to accept that the normal rules do not apply to us. It is also clear that in this country the mobilised poor, those who have organised themselves to speak and act for themselves, are taken by the politicians to be enemies of this society – the same society that we are expected to guard, clean and build in silence.
It is a disgrace how this case has dragged through 12 appearances. Perhaps they are trying to ensure that we have no money left for a good lawyer when the trial comes.
How are we expected to abide by the law when the state does not? What are we supposed to do when citizens are compelled to respect the law but the state does not? How are we supposed to protect our struggles when the state has no respect for the law? How are we even supposed to get the money to pay lawyers to argue that we too deserve to be treated within the law?
Last year won a great victory in the Constitutional Court. That victory has forced the state to admit that it cannot ‘clear the slums by 2014’ and to promise to meet our demand and to access land and to build houses in the cities. But while we can get a fair hearing in the Constitutional Court there is no fairness lower down. Despite this we believe that power remains with us. When the law can’t be a remedy for us we will use our political power.
The guys in prison are suffering a double victimization. They must endure imprisonment and they must endure the assaults that they are suffering in the prison. Once again their visitors are being chased from the prison at visiting hours – both comrades and family. We have asked Bishop Rubin Phillip to contact the prison authorities on this matter. On Tuesday a group of priests from South Africa and abroad visited the prison.
Things are still difficult for the people displaced in the attacks. They all lost the infrastructure that a person needs for a sustainable life. Many of them lost everything. Many of them are still looking for a safe place to stay.
The attack was meant to destroy our movement -to frighten us back into the dark silence from which our movement emerged. Well we have a very bad news for our attackers and those that have supported them – for people like Jackson Gumede, John Mchunu and Willies Mchunu. The bad news is that since the attack we have formally launched four new branches. We have launched new branches in:
· Cato Crest (Umkhumbane)
· Lindelani (Ntuzuma)
· Port View (Diakonia Avenue, CBD)
We are also preparing to launch three new branches in:
· The Ridge View Transit Camp (Chesterville)
· New Dunbar (Mayville)
· Albert Park
There is also underground organising that we cannot yet speak about.
We don’t go to shack settlements, or blocks of flats, or to the old tin houses or the new amatins to mobilise people. People come to us. They mobilise us to come and share our experience of struggle with them. All we do is to allow ourselves to be mobilised. It is the condition of people’s lives that recruits them to this struggle.
On Sunday we launched a new office in the transit camp in Siyanda B. A few weeks ago we opened our new head office in the CBD. We lost a lot of books in the attack but our library is running again.
Since the attacks we have carried on the work of fighting evictions. Evictions have been stopped in:
· Tumbleweed (Howick)
· Hillary (Durban)
· Motala Heights (Pinetown)
In all these areas the battles are ongoing.
On 17 March 2010 it will be one year since the High Court issued an interdict against the Department of Transport giving them one year to provide permanent housing to the people that it evicted from Siyanda and into the Richmond Farm Transit Camp. But there are no plans yet for housing these people. The court also issued an interdict that forced the Department to provide basic services. But almost a year later there is still no water, there are still no toilets. The court also ordered that there would be a report to the court every three months but there has been no report. The Department of Transport is in contempt of court. We will take this battle up in the streets and in the court. We will demand that the Department be held accountable to the people forced into the Richmond Farm Transit camps like fish into tins and to the High Court.
We are well advanced with plans for more mass action. This will include things like public protest and, in one area, a rent strike. We will announce these actions soon.
About 150 of the people displaced from Kennedy Road are meeting once a week with the exiled but democratically elected Kennedy Road Development Committee. They have formulated the following demands:
1. The right to safe and permanent return to the Kennedy Road settlement.
2. The right to access to nearby land if someone else has built on their land in the interim.
3. The right to full and equal protection from the SAPS for everyone.
4. The right to have the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the Kennedy Road Development Committee and the eThekwini Municipality in February last year recognised and honoured as a legally binding document.
5. The right to free political activity for all within the settlement.
6. The right to have the ANC coup recognised as a coup that has no standing. The ANC committee should be set aside and a credible outside organisation should hold a free and fair election for a new committee.
7. The right to have our right recognised to land and housing in the upgrade that was won by our struggle.
8. The right to continue to struggle for the realisation of these legitimate demands in and out of the courts.
9. The right to have the attack and the blatantly unfair and unlawful judicial process that followed it investigated by a credible and independent commission of inquiry.
The situation in Kennedy Road is very bad now. There is no longer any leadership – there is just political control. The demolishing of homes of AbM supporters continues. The outside ANC is no longer in Kennedy Road. The settlement has been left in the hands of the local shebeen owners and the local ANC that perpetrated the attack. It is disgracing how the ruling class overlooks the social needs of people and is just interested in politics – in controlling the people from the top down. The crime rate is now very high in the settlement. The situation is particular dangerous for women. It is also affecting people outside of the settlement. The middles classes near to the settlement are becoming very concerned about the increase in crime.
There are serious debates going on in the settlement. People are asking where Willies Mchunu is now when the community has no leadership and is not safe. In February he promised that he would house people but he can’t fulfil those promises. In fact after we were attacked John Mchunu said that the people would be taken from Kennedy Road to the transit camp in Chatsworth. People are now wondering if in fact it could be that we were attacked so that the land that we had won could be taken back from us.
The state has failed to respond to the worldwide call for an independent commission of inquiry. On Friday Abahlali baseMjondolo will meet with Church Leaders to take forward the proposal for the churches to conduct their own inquiry.
Perhaps because of the escalation of crime in the settlement, and because of how this is now affecting the middle classes nearby the settlement, or perhaps just because some police officers really do want to do their work properly the local police are now, at last, starting to act against the leaders of the coup. On Thursday last week two people – a shebeen owner and well known criminal who were both involved in the attack – were arrested for demolishing a house of an AbM supporters. This is an important break through. Up until now the police have just refused to open cases for people whose homes have been demolished. S’bu Zikode was the only person who succeeded to open such a case. Others were just chased. Mashumi Figlan was badly insulted when he tried to open a case. Mondli Mbiko was promised that a case would be opened but nothing happened. Therefore we welcome these arrests and commend the police. They are a sign that the local police are starting to resist the political pressure and to obey the law rather than the politicians. They are not the first sign. Last week two others, both members of the new ANC committee in Kennedy Road, were arrested for assaulting one of our comrades. If the police can follow the law rather than just taking orders from the ruling party then there are some small but important signs of hope.
The arrested people are:
1. Sizwe Motaung (shebeen owner)
2. Linga ‘Mnqundu’ Hitsa (well known criminal)
3. Zibuyile Ngcobo (Member of the BEC of the local ANC and part of the new ANC committee installed after the coup)
4. Nana Ngcobo (Member of the BEC of the local ANC and part of the new ANC committee installed after the coup)
It is interesting to note that, while we have been rebuilding our movement and looking after the displaced and the jailed, people have been struggling all over South Africa. If we are the third force then it is clear that the third force is everywhere. And if the third force is everywhere then it is clear that the third force is just another name for the organised poor. There is no doubt that the poor will rise again and again. Nothing will make Lanesdowne Road or the Golden Highway safe for the business of the rich for as long as the poor are kept poor. The only question is what will the poor rise for? Will we rise against each other or we will rise against injustice? It is so sad that in Uganda and Kenya the rich and their priests and Maulanas are trying to turn the people against each other. Here in South Africa we commend those who, like Sikhula Sonke, have taken a clear stand against xenophobia and for a struggle that empowers the poor to take back our dignity from the rich in and out of government.
It is also interesting to note that while we have been rebuilding our movement Haiti has been devastated by this terrible earthquake. It is clear that from Haiti to Kennedy Road the poor are not allowed to choose their own leaders and to build their own power. From Haiti to Kennedy Road we are only allowed democracy if voting means that we support one faction of the rich against another. From Haiti to Kennedy Road our political weakness leads us to be vulnerable to disasters like fires, floods and earthquakes. And from Haiti to Kennedy Road disasters are misused to seize even more control over our communities in the name of helping people who have been made to be desperate. For Haiti to Kennedy Road the solution, the real solution, is the political empowerment of the poor by the poor and for the poor.
Our struggle began in 2005 with marches against Yakoob Baig, the Ward 25 councillor. We have heard that his house was recently repossessed by the bank. Two days later one of our members saw him at the Suncoast Casino. The rich think that only they are fully human. They think that only they are real citizens. They think that we are dirty and stupid and that we like living like pigs in the mud. But in fact the only difference between the poor and the rich is that the rich have money and the poor do not. There is no other difference. Some poor people wake up one day and notice that they are rich. Some rich people wake up one day and notice that they are poor. Money can come and it can go but you were still born to the same mother and you still have the same mind. We are issuing a public invitation to Yakoob Baig to come and speak to us if he needs a place to stay. We can show him how to get some pallets from the dump and arrange for some land where he can build a jondolo for his family.
We want to thank all those people around South Africa and around the world who have supported us after the attack. Their investment has not been wasted. Our struggle continues.
Any popular movement that is serious about building the power of the poor and that is serious about demanding the full recognition of the equal humanity of the poor will face many challenges and tests. We have confronted and passed many challenges and tests since 2005. The attack on our movement in Kennedy Road has been the greatest test that we have faced so far. But we have passed it.