Click here to read the version of this lecture published in The Witness.
University of KwaZulu-Natal Forum Lecture
Thursday 22 October 2009
Party Politic Vs Living Politic in Kennedy Road
The Kennedy Road settlement, like all other Abahlali baseMjondolo settlements, has been embarking on a living politic.
This politic is a living politic because it talks about the realities of our democracy – a democracy that serves the interests of a minority while the majority our people continue to live and to die in inhuman conditions.
Our living politic talks about the fact that shack settlements have been denied life saving basic services such as water and sanitation. It talks about the fact that there is no road access, no refuse collection and no electricity. It talks about the fact that people’s lives need services like electricity.
It is a politic that talks about the fact that the intelligence of the majority has been denied while all decisions are taken by a minority.
It is a politic that says that everyone has been created in the image of God and that therefore we are all equal.
It is a politic that says that everyone in our society counts be they rich or poor and without regard to what language they speak or to where they or their ancestors were born.
It is a politic of truth that can be seen by anyone driving through Kennedy Road. Anyone can see that poverty, unemployment and hopelessness remain a challenge. It is a fact that cannot be denied that crime remains high and that ethnicity – the politic of some that is used to attack the politic of all – remains a challenge.
But the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) and Abahlali baseMjondolo have been working very hard to build a politic of all – a politic that does not divide the poor.
We have long opposed the criminalisation of all shack dwellers and demanded fair and supportive policing for shack dwellers. When the state stopped criminalising our movement and agreed to negotiate with us after the March on Mlaba in late 2007 we were able to begin negotiations with the Sydenham Police. We eventually developed a partnership to work against crime. This partnership was one of the fruits of our struggle.
All of these efforts of years have been turned into a party politic, a politic from the top down, a dirty politic, a politic full of fear, threats, arrests and death. Therefore what is happening in Kennedy Road is no longer a living politic that starts from the lives and thinking of ordinary people. Most people are confused and frightened. They cannot tell you who is the real enemy or why the poor must now fight the poor. It is a party politic.
The attack on our movement in Kennedy Road was planned at a very high political level. It was planned at a level that has the power to remote the South African Police Services. It was planned at a level that can send war lords to destroy our movement. It was planned at a level that has tax payers’ money to sponsor buses to bring our attackers to court to try and render our comrades accused of murder guilty before they go to trial – to demand that they must not be given bail and must be made to stay in Westville Prison even though no court has found them guilty of a crime.
The reasons for the attack on our movement are simple.
The politicians are trying to hide the simple truth of what has happened and what continues to happen. They are trying to blame those who were attacked by shifting the focus onto the KRDC, onto Abahlali and onto our offices.
The state itself does not talk about the dead people. It doesn’t talk anything about the people who have been displaced. It doesn’t talk anything about the people who have had their homes destroyed. It doesn’t talk anything about the whereabouts of our children, many of whom are schooling. It doesn’t talk anything about the people who threatened with death for speaking the truth about their lives.
The Disaster Management unit in the City has not responded to this crisis because it has been instructed not to respond.
Our struggle was criminalised from 2006 until the end of 2007. But we did not give up. We stood firm confident that our struggle was grounded in the truth of our lives. After 2007 our movement became a platform for poor people to engage the state. We developed some good relationships including with the head of the Human Settlements Department in the provincial government. At our last meeting with her on the 27th of August a task team was set up to investigate the evidence that we had brought forward of misallocation, mismanagement and corruption in housing. As a result of this some high level officials are being investigated as we speak.
By constant struggle in and outside of the courts Abahlali baseMjondolo has successfully stopped most illegal evictions in the City. We insist that good land must be used to house the poor. Others insist that that same land must be used for the rich to become richer. Every time that we stop an eviction we make powerful enemies.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has taken the Provincial Department of Housing to the highest court of our land – to the Constitutional Court to challenge the already buried KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act. We know that this has angered most high profile officials and politicians.
The attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo is aimed at destroying our movement, its leadership, its membership and its head quarters in Kennedy Road. The aim is to replace our elected structures with a ‘comrade KRDC’ that will take its instruction from the party and not from the people – from the top and not from below.
I want to take this opportunity to express some words of gratitude to all of you that have given a moments’ silence to Kennedy Road. I want to thank all of you that have contributed to our struggle from the date when we first made our submission against the Slums Bill up until today. It has been a long journey from the shacks to the Constitutional Court and we have not walked the distance alone.
We have returned home from the Constitutional Court to a war on our movement and on our democracy. I want to thank all of you who have been collecting food hampers, making donations, organising protests and sending statements of solidarity.
I want to thank the Students for Law and Social Justice and all the students and academics around the country that have rallied to support our movement and to defend our democracy.
If the attack on our movement is not resisted there will be new attacks on other movements and other people. When you stand with us you also take a stand for your own future.