Rhodes University, 30 October 2009
Democracy is on the Brink of Catastrophe
The road to real democracy has not been easy to those who are still searching for the truth in it. It is like the long road of Abahlali baseMjondolo to the Constitutional Court. Democracy means different things to different people. To some leaders democracy means that they are the only ones who must exercise authority upon others. For some government officials democracy means accepting anything that is said about ordinary men and women. With the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road we have now seen that this technocratic thinking will be supported with violence when ordinary men and women insist on their right to speak and to be heard on the matters that concern their daily lives. On the one side there is a consultant with a laptop. On the other side there is a drunk young man with a bush knife or a gun. As much as they might look very different they serve the same system – a system in which ordinary men and women must be good boys and girls and know that their place is not to think and speak for themselves.
It must be remembered that we have no world without families, without neighbourhoods and without nations. If democracy is to be a living force it must be a reality in the real world of our lives. Therefore there is no democracy in settlements like Kennedy Road if residents are forced to take instruction from party politicians, while those who refuse to take such instructions are attacked and killed. The attack on Abahlali in Kennedy Road was an attack on our democracy.
We must be clear that our democracy is not perfect. It is a democracy of the few, for the few and by the few – a democracy for the rich and by the rich. It is a class democracy, a democracy that criminalises our believable movement and most movements of the poor and by the poor. It is a democracy that does not only protect the interests of its champions but leaves its ordinary members to rot in jondolo (shacks), substandard housing and the life threatening conditions that are found in places like the Kennedy Road settlement.
Our democracy has failed the poor. Therefore it is our responsibility to make it work for the poor – to turn it into a living force in the lives of the poor by building the power of the poor and reducing the power of the rich. We need to struggle to democratise all the places where we live, work, organise, study and pray. The solution to the fact that our democracy has failed the poor is not to attack democracy from above.
The attack on Abahlali members, its leaders and its offices in the Kennedy Road settlement on the 26th of September 2009 has been a wakening call that our democracy is on the brink of catastrophe. A catastrophe in which no man or woman may be able to rebuild or connect the spirit and soul of our humanity.
Abahlali have been attacked because it has organised the unorganised, it has educated the so called uneducated, it has given voice to the voiceless. Our movement has forced the senior officials to investigate their own employees on all allegations of misallocation, mismanagement and corruption in the delivery of housing and in tender issuing processes. Abahlali have stopped most evictions in the cities where we have members by protesting and taking some municipalities and some government departments to court. We have taken the provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal to the Constitutional Court.
Our attackers are very rich and are using the tax payer’s money to carry out the attack. They even remote the attack from a distance so that the poor can been seen to be fighting amongst themselves. We have seen in the past how the poor have been made to turn their anger against their fellow brothers and sisters without sound and able reasons. This is catastrophic and must be stopped now.
The poor must be allowed to seriously engage on the issues that make them poor. They must be supported in all efforts and methods by which they intend to liberate themselves. Everyone has a role to play, be they rich or poor, in shaping this country in to one that immediately begins to respect and look after its poor of the poorest as we move to an end to poverty. The land and all other resources must be shared equally; the laws must apply to everyone including those who make them. The concerns of the poor must be raised loud enough to be heard without fear or fever. The poor must be allowed to determine their own future without allowing party politic to mislead our generation.
The Constitutional Court ruling in favour of Abahlali means that a people’s democracy will not be undermined at every turn. It means that forced removal to transit camps can no longer be considered as the delivery of adequate and alternative housing as was a provision of the already buried Slums Act. Abahlali have always been open to free discussion and have always promised to return every meaningful engagement by the state with a meaningful contribution from below. Despite all the attacks on our movement and the long road to the Constitutional Court the ruling of the Constitutional Court in favour of Abahlali means that while party politic is trying to bring our democracy to the brink of catastrophe the Constitutional Court recognises our humanity and it recognises that the poor have the same right as everyone else to shape the future of the country. We encourage everyone who believes in real equality before the law and all democrats to refuse any form of attack on our democracy -a democracy fought very hard to be won. Let us do whatever it takes to protect our children, our nation and our world.
I take this opportunity to share with you how disturbing and difficult it is to be forced to exile in your own country. I and many leaders of our movement have been made refugees in our own country, in our own province, in our own city, in our own settlement. Our families, including our children, are going through a very difficult time. Some of them have been admitted in hospitals because they cannot cope with the trauma. The state has not responded with any relief for those whose homes were burnt down and who were made homeless by this attack. The state has not condemned our attackers. The state has not arrested anyone from our attackers but continues to threaten our members in the courts and outside the courts. We continue to receive death threats. We are even threatened with death in court whenever we attend the bail hearing for our members. On behalf of Abahlali I also take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have supported our movement in this difficult time, through writing solidarity statements, through demonstrations, through the collection of donations etc. I thank all those of you who have made written submissions to oppose the already buried Slums Act. A celebration of our victory is starting on Sunday, 01 November 2009 by slaughtering of a cow. You are all invited to join us in our celebration of this important victory on the long road to land and freedom. You are all welcomed.
I thank you all.
Shamita Naidoo and S’bu Zikode spoke to the topic of ‘Democracy is on the Brink of Catastrophe’ at a seminar held at Rhodes University by the Faculty of Humanities and the Women’s Academic Solidarity Association on Friday 30 October. Not everyone could be accomodated in the room and a number of people had to be turned away. S’bu’s talk is below. Shamita did not bring a written version of her contribution but a transcription was typed up and will be available shortly. Abahlali baseMjondolo were joined at the talk by the Unemployed People’s Movement from Grahamstown and spent Friday afternoon with the movement in the Vukani settlement where they saw the atrocious conditions there including pre-fabricated houses that have rotting floors after less than a year; RDP houses, also less than a year old, built (like in Durban) on a slab and without any foundation, with asbestos roofs (many of which have blown off in full or in part), walls with cracks so big that you can put your first in them, large gaps between walls and roofs, walls that have blown over the in the wind and walls that shake when you bump them. People will die in these houses in the winter and it is inevitable that people will also be killed when these houses collapse on to them. For comment on the situation in Vukani or the work of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown contact Ayanda Kota on 07825 6462.