Paddy Harper, City Press
The ANC chairperson and mayoral candidate in eThekwini, Zandile Gumede, has offered an olive branch to Abahlali baseMjondolo, the movement representing shack dwellers, on the eve of the local government election.
It is a move that may shift its 17 000 members situated around Durban to vote for the governing party.
Her commitment to engagement with the movement, and her assurances that “demolitions are not the answer”, may give the ANC the upper hand in a number of wards located in formerly Indian areas around the city, where Abahlali has a strong presence – including the Kennedy Road and Cato Crest areas, as well as Siyanda, north of the city.
The movement has not endorsed any party for this election, but Gumede believes that her initiative may swing its vote towards the ANC.
For the past 10 years, there has been a continuing battle between Abahlali and the ANC in the city, which has demolished shack communities’ homes legally and illegally.
Last month, two ANC councillors in the Pinetown area were jailed for the murder of an Abahlali leader last year, while the city’s slum clearance unit demolished shacks at Kennedy Road during the first week of July.
Yesterday, Gumede met with residents of Siyanda, where Abahlali members whose homes were bulldozed by the city were relocated to.
They had approached the court and won an order compelling the city to rehouse them in 2014.
Earlier this week, she and other city and ANC leaders visited the shack settlement at Sydenham – where two people were buried alive when their shacks washed away in a flood – to oversee rescue operations.
The move followed a series of meetings with the Abahlali leadership – and communities they represented – which she convened after the July 8 demolitions.
Gumede confirmed the meetings, saying that “demolitions are not the answer”.
“I have met with the Abahlali leadership and the communities. They were my first project [as ANC chairperson]. I believe we have to engage people as we need to know what they want and what their problems are.”
Gumede said that, while there had been “no promises”, and “no miracles” were expected, she believed there could be an end to demolitions.
Abahlali spokesperson S’bu Zikode said that there had been a commitment from Gumede to halt evictions and improve relations with the city. “She has acknowledged the wrongdoing and apologised for it. It is a great start.”
Zikode added that Abahlali was not backing any party and encouraged its members to vote as they chose.