Saturday, 21 November 2015
Unemployed People’s Movement Press Statement
Makana Municipality Blames Xenophobia on the ‘Third Force’
On Wednesday a number of the people displaced in the xenophobic attacks and their families decided to hold an all night vigil outside the City Hall. This decision was taken after they were told that the men had to leave the safe accommodation by noon on Friday as the municipality was unwilling to pay the bill. It was not safe for them to return to the community and they had nowhere else to go. They were in a desperate situation. This was why they decided that it was necessary to protest.
This was a peaceful protest by families, including their children. During the vigil the police told them that they didn’t have a permit to protest and that their protest was illegal. The Gatherings Act does not require protestors to apply for a permit (in fact it makes no provision at all for permits) and the Act makes it clear that the role of the police is to facilitate the right to protest. The police were therefore acting illegally and against the letter and spirit of the law. They threatened people with arrest. But when people at the vigil made it clear that they were all ready to be arrested, and that they would not be intimidated into leaving the vigil, the police backed down. Mohammed Moraad arrived at the vigil and threatened the people at the vigil saying: “The ANC is coming after you”. It is understood that Moraad rents office space to the ANC in Grahamstown and is an ANC member.
At 10:00 a.m. on Friday the Human Rights Commission and the Gender Commission held a meeting in the City Hall. The Human Rights Commission chaired the meeting. Municipal officials told the people who had been at the vigil that the venue was full. They were not allowed into the meeting. In fact there were empty seats inside. It is therefore clear that they were deliberately excluded from the meeting. It is unacceptable for human rights organisations to hold a meeting that is about people directly affected by xenophobic attacks without the full inclusion of the affected people.
Only eight affected people, four men and four women, were allowed in. However they were not included in the meeting as participants. They were just able to observe. A meeting about people that doesn’t include them as full participants is also seriously problematic. It is seriously patronising and goes against all democratic and progressive values.
Once again the municipality lied. They claimed that the people who were displaced in the attacks and have now returned to the community on their own, because they had no choice other than to risk exposing themselves to danger, had been ‘reintegrated by the municipality’. They lied about the provision of food claiming that there was no shortage of food, when there has been a serious shortage of food – people have recently been reduced to having one meal a day. They took responsibility for the food provided by organisations like the Red Cross and other small organisations and individuals, including students. Masifunde used its petty cash to help with providing food and other necessities in the crisis and our organisation is now in debt after we also used our money to provide food. The Municipality have never provided food.
The Municipality weren’t even certain of numbers. They are failing to even pay the R8 000 a day required to keep the remaining displaced people in the safe space. For the first two weeks the displaced people stayed for free. The Municipality paid for one week and then refused to continue to pay. After the vigil people were allowed to stay on for two more days but tomorrow (Sunday) will be the last day that people can stay in the safe accommodation. The cost is R8 000 a day.
The Municipality also said that they were aware that there is a ‘Third Force’ that is behind the xenophobic attacks. It was stated that the ‘Third Force’ is aiming to ‘bring instability into the municipality prior to the election’. It was subtly implied that the Unemployed People’s Movement was the ‘Third Force’. It was stated that this Third Force must be investigated. The police confirmed that the investigation has begun. Mohammed Moraad described the UPM and Masifunde as ‘a false anti-xenophobic group’. This collapse into sectarianism and paranoia is juvenile. Blaming those who have worked tirelessly against xenophobia for xenophobia is completely ridiculous.
The police blamed the vigil for the attacks on shops on Thursday night. They said that the vigil was derailing the municipality’s plans. This is a classic case of victim blaming. This is disgraceful conduct on the part of the police. The affected people have a democratic right to protest. It is the reasonability of the police to ensure that this right is protected.
On Friday evening the UPM was contacted by two people who both wish to remain anonymous. They warned us that Ayanda Kota, UPM and Masifunde are being investigated by the police for instigating and being behind the xenophobic violence. Their warnings were credible.
Every time that poor black people organise themselves and speak for themselves the ANC says that they are really being used by a ‘Third Force’. We have seen this across the country, including at Marikana. It is a paranoid, anti-democratic and colonial argument that has nothing to do with reality. It is often used to justify repression.
If the police were really interested in doing their job properly one of the things that they could do would be to organise an impartial and credible investigation into Mohammed Moraad’s activities. A number of the people whose shops were looted have stated that Mohammed Moraad is buying and selling looted goods. In the township it has been widely understood, for years, that Moraad buys and sells stolen goods from house breakings. Many people say that they assume that Moraad is able to do this with impunity as a result of his connections to the ANC. These allegations need to be thoroughly investigated.
In 2011 UPM was often described as part of the ‘Third Force’. In that year a document from the Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC was leaked. It stated that Ayanda Kota must be ‘character assassinated’. Shortly afterwards Ayanda Kota was arrested on a bogus charge and assaulted in the Grahamstown police station. He is suing the police for this assault with the support of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa but the case has not yet come to court.
After Ayanda Kota was assaulted in the police station a document, written by Heinrich Bohmke, was circulated in which dishonest statements were made against Ayanda Kota and others. Numerous people described the document as clearly racist and our lawyers described it as highly defamatory. It was a classic case of an attempt at character assassination.
Two people signed affidavits stating that they were offered large sums of money by Mohammed Moraad to give negative information on Ayanda and UPM to be included in the document written by Heinrich Bohmke. This is the kind of thing that happens, as well as much more serious forms of repression, when legitimate forms of popular organization are said to be a result of the ‘Third Force’. Activists are subject to organized attempts at character assassination and to violence.
There are serious problems in this town including well-organized xenophobic attacks, escalating robberies at people’s homes, an influx of drugs, in particular tik, and serious violence against women. The police should be doing their job properly and not allow themselves to be misused by corrupt and discredited politicians. No one should be above the law.
The municipality needs to put aside its paranoia and conspiracy theories and start taking this crisis seriously. The people who have been the victims of xenophobic attacks need to be at the centre of all discussions about the way forward. There should be nothing for them without them. The women must be fully included in all discussions.
r updates and comments please contact Patricia May, Siyasanga Bentele or S’bongile Jonas on 046 622 2847.