Make Crime History | Abahlali baseMjondolo
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Make Crime History

Make Crime History

by S’bu Zikode*

The poor were not born to be poor. We didn’t become poor because we are lazy or stupid. In fact we have to work very hard and be very clever just to find a place for ourselves in this world that the rich have made for themselves. History made us poor and the history of our country is a history of crimes against the innocent. Because of these crimes millions of people are living in shacks and selling in the streets. The poor have the most to gain from an end to crime. More than anybody else we want a country where the human dignity of every person is respected. More than anybody else we understand that working for an end to crime is the responsibility of every one of us. It is our duty to God, to our country and to our children. We are prepared to do our part of this work.

But I feel oppressed when high profile people, including politicians, speak about crime at the high level where it is very unusual for anyone to be a victim of crime. So few powerful people want to speak directly to communities. They prefer to make statements on the papers, radios and televisions. But when you make a statement there is no person in front of you to tell you about their lives. When you just make statements it is like you think that you already know everything. But when you humble yourself and talk to people you show that you know that you don’t know everything. A proper understanding can only come from talking to everybody and that talking can never be finished. That is why all the good leaders were humble. They were servants of the people, not masters.

Some kinds of crimes are planned in shacks. Others are planned in big conferences at the ICC. Both of these kinds of crimes make people to suffer and must be stopped. But we must remember that both kinds of crime the truth is that most of the time the victims are not the powerful people. It is the people without power who most affected by crime. It is the poor and women and children. Putting more poor people in prisons will only make them better criminals. The way to deal with crime is to invest our energy, resources and time in our communities. When human dignity is at the centre of our communities then our communities are places where crime is not accepted inside or outside.

There is a big problem with many local police stations. We will begin to deal with local crimes only when men like acting Superintendent Glen Nayager of the Sydenham Police Station can acknowledge that he and he alone can’t deal with crime. If he keeps treating all the poor as if we are all criminals he will just be wasting his energy. He will just make us feel that the police are our enemies. He must acknowledge that he is too high to understand the daily life at the grassroots. He must understand that just because we can’t address him like he can address us that doesn’t mean that we are just rogues.

Before I started struggling against the big crimes with Abahlali baseMjondolo I struggled against the local crimes. I joined the Police Reserve Force in February 2000. I had been into the Sydenham Community Service Centre. Before I entered I found an old African Mama with a baby on her back standing outside the door just helplessly waiting. When I asked her why she was just waiting there she told me that she had been chased out because she didn’t speak English. None of the policemen on duty could speak isiZulu or even isiFanakalo. I was hurt to hear that. How can a police station serve the people when no one there can speak to people in their own language? I went inside with that woman to translate so that she could lay her charge and from there I decided to be a reservist. I underwent interviews, tests from the District Surgeon and trainings and worked as a Reservist at the Sydenham Police station.

Now that shack dwellers are fighting against evictions and for land and housing in the city he calls us all criminals. He thinks that he can arrest and beat us any time. He comes when we are marching and he comes when we are meeting and he comes when we are just living our daily lives. He needs to understand that we are an anti-crime movement. We have a trackable record in working against all kinds of crime. And he needs to think about the fact that although the police have arrested hundreds of us the courts have dropped the charges every time. But we, the shack dwellers, have won a number of victories against the City in the courts. We work to make this a country in which there is respect for the human dignity of each person. We would be happy to work with the local police to make our communities and all the people around us safe if they recognised us as citizens. If our communities could work against crime in a partnership with police officers that treated us with respect we could make our communities and neighbourhoods safe for everyone.

If the police continue to behave too high from the people like Nayager does then I fear that incidents of people taking the law into their own hands, as it happened in KwaMashu recently, could happen more often. When police officers like Nayager take the law into their own hands thinking that they are above the law then communities start to do the same. We can only really condemn what happened in KwaMashu when our police force becomes a police service as Madiba instructed.

We need the high profile people to make less statements and do more talking where people live and work. We need these discussions to be real discussions. We need the results of these discussions to be acted on. We need to build a country where the police serve all the people. If the police serve all the people then they will be trusted and it will be easy to marginalise the criminals in our communities and to organise against the criminals high up who are using the county’s money for themselves and making the poor poorer. Then we can make our country safe for everyone.

* S’bu Zikode is the elected president of the shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo. On 12 September 2005 he and the organisation’s deputy president, Philani Zungu, were arrested on a charge of ‘assaulting a police officer’ by officers from the Sydenham Police Station while on their way to an interview with iGagasi FM. They had just been warned to cease speaking to the media by a senior official in the provincial Housing Department. They were released the next morning and all charges against them were dropped. Zikode and Zungu have laid criminal and civil charges against Nayager who they have accused of beating and abusing them severely while they were in his custody.