"The recognition of our humanity without action to defend our humanity is meaningless."
The opening remarks of S'bu Zikode, President of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement of South Africa, at a November 2010 event organized at the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center (NYC). Thanks to David Harvey and Chris Caruso for hosting and organizing the event. Camera by Harris Mendheim and Josh Glaser.
strong>S’bu Zikode – presentation at CUNY Graduate Center for Place, Culture and Politics
NOVEMBER 16, 2010
00:00 I feel like calling “Amandla”, but I thought I should be disciplined, at least the last night I am here. I am happy to be here tonight, especially to be meeting an audience like yourself. I am honored and humbled to be speaking at this university. I just thought I should share some of the sharings I have shared with some folks here in the United States. But I thought it was also important to bring the life context in which I would be able to speak and make sense of the conditions in South Africa. It gives me great pleasure to be invited here into the United States of America to speak not only my mind but a collective mind of many Abahlali members. I only get this invitation because of the movement I am part of, so I thank Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers’ movement. I also thank the National Economic and Social Right Initiative. I thank the Poverty Initiative, I thank Picture the Homeless, Take the Land Back. I thank the Media in Mobilizing projects. I thank the Taxi Workers United, the Domestic Workers United. I thank Abahlali friends that are based here in the United States. I also wish to extend my sincere gratitude to the Center here, the Center for Place, Culture and Politics and all other associate departments that have made this moment special.
02:14 I thought I should just speak about the question as to what happens when the poor organize, mobilize—take their own charge outside the state control; when the poor become powerful outside the state control. Some of the clip you may have seen speaks volumes, speaks to that, what happens when the unorganized becomes organized; when those who are not meant to speak, speak. The power of the poor starts when we as the poor recognize our own humanity; when we recognize that, in fact, we are created in the image of God and are therefore equal to all other human beings. But the recognition of our humanity without action to defend our humanity is meaningless. It is very important that we as the poor people begin to define ourselves before someone else from somewhere else define us. It is very important for the poor to say, “This is who we are, this is where we are, this is what we want, this is how we want what we want.” We say that we are being excluded and disrespected. We say that we want our full humanity, that we want justice, that we want dignity and full participation in the planning of our communities, in the planning of our cities, our states, our countries, our world.
3:59 The more of us stand together, the more of our humanity is filled. The power of the poor becomes evident when the poor are able to organize ourselves for ourselves. When we begin to achieve this, it is always a moment of great promise, a moment of great danger. Frederick Douglass, the great hero of one of the greatest American struggles, the struggles against slavery, said “Power concedes nothing without demands”. This is why a collective demand – a demand backed by organization, determination, and courage – is a moment of great promise. But it is also a moment of great danger, because the power of the rich and the politicians always take the legitimate demand of the oppressed to be criminal and illegitimate. This is one of reason why we need to be standing together across the sea, across color lines, borders, genders, religion, creeds, you name them – to redeem the promise of our struggle, if we can survive its dangers (and none of us can do so on our own).
I have been sent here by the movement to build a living solidarity with the movements here in the United States. We want to look for ways in which we can support each other to realize the promise of our struggle. There is also a real danger for the organized poor if we do not define ourselves, if we allow others to define us and define our struggle—we risk being defined as people who are not able to struggle for ourselves, as people who need leaders and not comrades, as people who must be spoken for and not to.
06:05 But when we succeed in defining ourselves and escaping the danger of not defining ourselves, we have to face a new danger. There is another kind of danger for the organized poor when we do define ourselves. Our movement is going through a tough time after successfully defending ourselves. We are under attack from the state, from the rich, from a few individual leftists, few individual academics—you name them – who are all divided in their politics, but united in their belief that it is their duty to speak for and to represent the poor. It has always been an insult to think that the poor cannot speak for themselves. It has always been an inhuman and brutal attack that the rich and the landowners should employ themselves or must be hired from somewhere else to think, represent, and take decision for the poor. As a movement of the Shack Dwellers, we have successfully represented our struggle both nationally and internationally. It is one of the reasons why I am here to represent our struggle before those who have the rights, the money and the power to represent us. This has been a crisis for some of those who have employed themselves to speak, write and decide for the poor. The refusal of our movement [to accept that others should speak for us] has been met with huge campaign to discredit and rubbish our movement’s efforts to build a just society where everyone matters, where everyone is equal, where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
08:16 We have learned that there is a very big difference between those forces in civil society and the left that are looking for followers and those who are looking for comrades. We have learned there is a very big difference between those forces in civil society and the left who think that they are the only one who can liberate the poor and those who are willing to work with the poor as we liberate ourselves. The state has many strategies to silence the poor as do the big corporates and the rich. Leaders are offered money and jobs. There is a quiet diplomacy through which the movement is given some acknowledgement. There are meetings that lead into all kinds of technical debates and away from the simple politics of our demands for land and housing. There is intimidation. But when all these efforts by the state to silence the poor fail, they send in the police. The police do not come as we have asked to protect the poor—but to beat us, arrest us and even shoot us. We have braved all that and survived brutality and all kinds of attack by the state and the rich. Our popularism and action has made our movement to grow rapidly despite the conditions that you may have seen. Our movement has faced many challenges. When we started to become a popular force in the society, the state went to try its diplomatic means of attacking the Shack Dwellers and the poor.
10:03 The state came out with a new legislation in Kwa-Zulu Natal which is called the Kwa-Zulu Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act in 2007. The new legislation was created to legitimize this attack and to legitimize evictions. To be poor and homeless meant to be criminal and that you could be imprisoned from up to 25 years for resisting an eviction. Abahlali mobilized all kinds of resource people, including lawyers, to challenge the constitutionality of this legislation. The poor South Africans were represented by our movement, who were represented by the Center for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and we won a historic victory against the constitutionality of the Slums Act. This victory against the Slums Act was not our first victory. Before that, we had stopped evictions, forced interim services in some of the informal settlements, and won some kind of recognition. But after this big victory in the constitutional court, a victory for the entire country, a victory for our future generation, there was a moment of silence as the state was humiliated after a serious defeat by the Shack Dwellers. We continued to feed our orphans, we continued to look after our sick, we continued to build preschools, vegetable gardens, as project of self-help. All these good efforts of trying to build an equal society become a major threat to the authorities. Some state institutions have good people who we kept engaging while being very careful to always keep our autonomy.
12:00 We carefully managed negotiations without being co-opted into the system so that we could claim victories from the state while continuing to build power outside the state control. But as we kept building a strong movement, the state was busy preparing itself to destroy our movement. This brought us to the 26th -27th of September 2009 when a group of about 40 men violently attacked our headquarters at the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement. The homes of our leaders, their families, their friends and the general membership of the movement were destroyed and we were driven out of the settlement and forced out to hiding. The attack was endorsed by the provincial leadership of the ruling party and the provincial government. Two people were left dead, as you may have seen, in that violence [that came with the] attack that night. Our attackers were never made to answer into these entire crimes committed on the day of the attack up until today. Abahlali called for an independent commission of inquiry into the attack, but this call has fell into deaf ears. This is the sort of heavy price that a movement of the poor may have to pay for the prize of a human world, a world of equality and dignity. This sort of attack happens when a movement continues to organize, to think, to grow outside the state control. A living politic is not build in one day, it is built in prayer, humility, sacrifice and courage. Our struggle is a class struggle, it is a struggle of the poor, those living in the shacks, selling on the streets, doing domestic and secretary works.
14:00 To build a fair world where everyone matter, we need allies among those in similar class and amongst those with better resources and opportunities. The time will come when the poor and the uneducated—but human—will be required to play a human role in our society. A time will come when the humanity of everyone, of every human being is recognized in our society. This time may or may not be on judgment day. When this time comes will depend on our commitment and courage. It will also depend on how well we can support each other. History will judge us all.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thought I should just share this story because many or probably some of you have been following the story of our movement and I am here to affirm, confirm, and also remind you that what you’ve just seen is not just a movie, it’s life, it’s the lives of the people. People are born in these conditions; people are killed in these conditions. And they are killed by those who are meant to govern us, who are meant to lead by example, to build a society. So I thought tonight it would also be an opportunity for me to remind, especially an audience of this caliber, of our role and probably the expectation that each one of us would really expect in terms of support and solidarity.
16:05 And also remind you that we have great minds, great intellectuals who have decided to also use their degrees to also rubbish the little efforts we can contribute to life. Not to impress ourselves, but at least to try and make the Earth a better place than we have found it. As Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, suggested that we should try. While our movement is under attack from the state, it is also being attacked by some academics. Some of them have studied in this beautiful university. They have obtained their degree and they have fought to serve the society, to do justice. But they have chosen to use their wisdom, their skills, their profession, to rubbish –not only rubbish—but destroy the basic struggle of surviving. There is a campaign that is going on, some of you probably will have received some of the big documents, claim to be well researched, because our movement is one of those researched movements. Where writers come and go. They leave us in those conditions. And then what they write, they do not account to us—they want to impress other people.
18:02 So we are facing a double repression from the state, from some of the famous professors, who think it is their job, obviously, to think for us, to represent us, to talk about us and to take decisions for us. So, I am here also to warn and plead for your just minds [so] that at least our wisdom and profession should be used rather to advance the interest of justice, not to impress though, [but for] the movement but for the greater society. So our society needs you, your country needs you, maybe I am speaking too big, your family needs you, your neighbor needs you, your city needs you, your country, your world needs you. We have not claimed to be clever; we have always been humble. We take our place in our cities, humble, but we take it very firm when it comes to injustices. We have made a lot of sacrifice, we have committed ourselves. We have taken an oath that we cannot live in peace while there are people who are living under these conditions. So South Africa is one of the well-known country which have successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup. And we were reminded in South Africa during the World Cup that we should be very smiling in welcoming the international dignitaries and international communities.
20:00 Again, we were reminded to be human being, because you guys were coming to South Africa. But when you left, things have suddenly changed. And obviously leading up to the World Cup, there was a campaign to sweep the cities, to hide poverty, to hide our shack settlements. We had to deal with that. So in conclusion, I think it would be good for a dialogue, obviously, to exchange, and you know, welcome those great ideas. We should not use this space only for question but also for inputs, feedbacks. We are all learning. I’m here to learn. But I’ve also been sent by those old Mamas, those old gogos who have entrusted me to stand here before you to bring South Africa to you through the video, through myself. So I am welcoming some lessons, obviously [also] questions of clarity, especially around the issues of justice. So the movement that I come from, again, it’s Abahlali baseMjondolo. Abahlali means “the residence—living in the shacks”, it started in Kennedy Road in 2005 to fight, protect, promote and advance the movement of the Shack Dwellers and the poor. This is our call. This is what we do. Though in doing it, outside the state control, it has been a crime.
21:57 On the night of the attack, when our movement was attacked, the very same victims whose home was destroyed, burned down, were also arrested. They are yet to be tried on the 29th of November on many charges, including: murder, armed robbery, criminal injury, there’s more than seven charges that were labeled. And again the very same acts that violence attack, the state has been very smart in making sure that it becomes a criminal matter, a criminal question—to take away the politics of it. A propaganda has been spread. Lot of misleading information has been written because we do not control the media. So the information that is portrayed outside is that obviously these poor folks, you know, are thugs. They don’t know what they’re doing. Party politic has become the only license for democracy. To participate in decision-making, you are forced to join a particular political party it is your only token to citizenship. So social movements have been an alternative space outside of party politics and that becomes crime to those who are in power. So the victims of the attacks, people whose homes were burned down, are yet to be tried from the 29th of November.
23:59 So again, the state makes it as if it is a criminal trial. Yet, we know it is a political trial. There were poor folks that you may have seen demonstrating against their own fellow brother and sisters, because the system and the state is so smart enough to turn the poor to fight amongst one another. And we’ve also been warning, it is our own movement that has warned, even during the 2008 attack on foreign nationals, we have warned that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. Unfortunately, that anger is turned to one another when the poor have to vent that anger to one another. We have to deal with that at the movement level, at individual levels. It is a task that we have really have to deal with. If I were to share some of the successes of the movement, the numbers of challenges, difficulties – the movement is not perfect; not at all—but to share some of the successes besides the constitutional court victory [I would start by saying] that the movement has managed to create its own space, a very precious space where we have come together as the organized poor. We have used this space to be able to share, to learn in this space. We have used this space also to cry when we have to face the repression and the attack.
25:57 We have used this space to laugh and to enjoy life. We have not received housing in our cities, and it’s even worse now that we don’t even have the shelter that you saw. Those shacks were broken down, burned down, without any alternative accommodation. Yet there is a constitution, there is a housing act that says you should provide at least an alternative accommodation should an eviction order be granted. But then, after the attacks, there are hundreds of us, I’m talking about the new South Africa, the rainbow nation. Something that has just happened, thirteen months ago, we‘ve been forced into exile, we’ve been forced into hiding, we’ve become refugees in our own country, in our own province, in our own city, in our own settlement, in our own families. It’s the story that I thought I should share to those of us who are serious and working on the issues of social justice – that any one victory may come at a considerable price. It will also test our commitment to a better life in our own small ways. But again the space that we use is a space that we protect so much. People have tried to invade that space, and we have managed to run away with the space! And we continue underground to organize, we continue to cry together and to make sure those tears fall into a fertile ground. They don’t fall inside, because none of us know the damage of the tears that fall inside.
28:02 So, we have to create a basin to collect all these tears. What a wonderful space. And that on its own, it’s a crime. I would not be surprised if I return to South Africa few weeks time – the first call I have always received if I were to leave the country, it would be a call coming from the National Intelligence Agency. “Where do you come from? Who did you meet? We’ve been missing you in the country.” See how other people can remote other people’s life? You know, when I lost my first job because my boss was the president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, when he said “no, I cannot have you anymore” because as president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, he would issue a statement and I would have different view. He would call me for discipline. I would go for protest, and the next day he would call me and discipline me. You know what, you don’t own my time. You should be grateful that I work for you from 8 to 5. After 5 you don’t own my time. And I had to lose that job. It is a price that we have to face wherever we are, in our own working environments. It’s a test, again, to our democracy.
29:59 A democracy that serves the interest of the few. So, South Africa right now is under this so-called Black-led majority. And what has been noted is the escalation of fraud, corruption, favoritism, nepotism, political intolerance, politicization of services. So if you are not my comrades, if you are not in my party ‘you get nothing, forget it’. If you are in the Shack Dwellers movement ‘S’bu will give you a house’. If you belong to DA, Democratic Alliance, ‘Helen Zille will provide’. A society that was once proclaimed by Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and all of those who have fought to end apartheid, and some of you who have contributed so much to the South African politics, to realize the democracy that has been undermined. I want to thank you and allow some questions and feedback. Thank you.
31:28 DARA S’bu will take one or two questions at a time and then we’ll give S’bu a chance to respond.
31:36 Q1: Can you talk about the leading up to and the aftermath of the World Cup a little bit more? And also I’m curious how you continue your organization when so many people have been displaced. How do you continue bringing people into the organization?
32:00 Q2: I just wanted to get a better picture of the organization, how many people there are, and where they are located, what they do after their shacks have been destroyed, where do they go, and if they have access to other facilities that are necessary for us to survive?
32:18 S’bu: Sure, uh, maybe it’s good to start with the last one. The movement has been formed in the shanty town of Kennedy Road which is in Durban. It was formed by the Shack Dwellers themselves, its lead by the Shack Dwellers. It has spread to the neighboring cities, Jo’burg, northern part of Kwa-Zulu Natal in the Western Cape, in Gauteng. So it has become a national movement. We are working with fully paid membership with 64 communities around the country. And then, those who are supporting the organization and our alliance partners, we also work with the Landless Peoples’ Movement, we work with Cape Anti-Eviction campaign, the Networking from Natal to form what is called as the Poor Peoples’ Alliance, PPA, as the national alliance of movements. So we have at least a minimum of 25,000 memberships. [Formal Membership that comes with a card] is fully paid because, to get membership you subscribe. You pay. So others [active supporters] are supporting without that, but we also monitor to members—you pay at least one and a half dollar to become a member and you accept responsibility of being part of the struggle from the onset. It’s not easy to organize under this situation. There was a period in which we all had to go underground. There was a moment of silence when the hit men were hired and paid and were hunting for us up and down. And because of your courage, and your organizing here in the states, that has also saved our life to campaign and create awareness. Some of the folks here have protested in the South African embassy here and have written letters of support. Some of you have also written petitions raising concerns and solidarity for our movement.
35:00 S’bu: A lot of support has really come from here. We salute you for that. It has really made a difference that we are able to organize secretly and managed to continue our space. We had to relocate obviously from Kennedy Road where our offices were based and found a space in town. So, interesting enough that the organization has grown up since the attack. It has been joined by not only Shack Dwellers but Flat Dwellers, people living in the Flats in the municipal owned Flats, people who are living in the rural communities, and under the traditional leadership of the chiefs. And again, it’s becoming a threat. So, after well, we are still living in hiding. In other words, we are no longer in Kennedy Road. We have to live in safe homes and have to continue our work. We run that risk. We don’t have any VIP protection, no bodyguards. We have to go to town when we need to, but there was a window in which we were hunted. But because of the support that we received internationally, then the state became aware that anything that happens to us it will not only be a national scandal, but international. So, hence we extend our deepest gratitude to all of you and to some of you who are also being criticized for supporting the thugs. We thank you for that. At least a thug that is able to breathe like you is a better thug. It’s worth supporting. Help us come out of that thuggish situation.
37:11 S’bu: Well, leading to the World Cup, obviously, South Africa was excited. And those living in the shack settlements were being threatened with evictions. We had to go through a lot in trying to defend our land, our communities. Because the World Cup has also been used as a license to displace people so that they can attract investments, but also for the international communities not to see that poverty. We had to work so hard, you know, to save people’s home through action. In fact we came up with the Upside Down World Cup, not because we’re not patriotic, but our citizenship, well what would it mean if we didn’t participate as citizens? We had to go to court in defending some of the communities who were facing eviction not only from the state but also private landowners who saw the World Cup as an opportunity to displace people. I think we’ve done well in that. Then obviously, after the World Cup the state is building new shacks. That’s very interesting. People are living in the shacks and the government is building another shacks. The difference with those shacks is that they are government-approved shacks. So you will be moved from those shantytowns that you saw to government approved shanty towns, which we call transit camps, Lindela, temporary relocation areas, decant camps—and in those transit camps, again, outside the legislation. The very same Slums Act, was trying to legislate that, make it legal that before you get a subsidy that is assisted by government, you’ve got to move to another government-approved shacks. And in those transit camps there is no specification as whether or not you’ll be getting basic services like water and sanitation. The duration of stay is not clear. You can leave as long as you can leave. You can rot in those transit camps waiting. So a new politic in South Africa has been created, a politic of patience. “Order, comrades!”. We’ve been under apartheid for more than 400 years. So, a politic of patience is now the movement of the day.
39:59 Q3: My wife and I have been working with schools in South Africa for a while now and I intend to continue to do that and we were particularly impressed with some of the schools right outside some of the townships. One was Soweto and the other one was right outside of Stellenbosch. I wonder, are you working with the school children? And I was, I guess, awed by how well the schools were run and the spirit of the children from the townships while they were in school. Do you see those schools as a vehicle for your work?
40:39 Dara: Let’s take one more question.
40:42 Q4: Yes, I wanted to ask what the recent public workers’ strikes a couple months ago. Was there any sort of cross-unity between the public workers who also had gotten into confrontations with the governments and they see your situation previously in conflicts with the government reflected in their own? Is there any sort of attempts unity or some sort of cross-solidarity thing? Second question I would like to ask is since Zuma was elected have you seen things get better, get worse or stay the same in terms of government attitudes to you?
41:28 S’bu: The honorable president Jacob Zuma has also been once a hope. Looking at his background from the rural communities in the northern province of KwaZulu Natal, Zululand. And again, like many, when he got to power we also thought that he should have learned so much outside, not really outside government, but [having an] observational view without being a state president. But, we have already lost a hope. He is a very silent man. He doesn’t seem to be taking a decision. I’m not too sure if [it] is teaching of democracy. Sometimes you’ve got to be a leader. You’ve got to be a man. Not dictate. I was just sharing with some folks that we have invited the president to the shack settlement but because of the structures and the systems that are there, he cannot listen to us unless the ANC structures says listen to those folks. If our relationship is not good with the ANC local branch, for instance, mind you, its party politics now. If the premiere of the province is not happy with us, automatically the state president will not be happy with us. We have made calls now for him to visit the informal settlements.
43:25 S’bu: What appeared as a response, he was seen discovering a new white shack settlement somewhere in Pretoria, where the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) made a picture of him visiting the new white shack settlement that we didn’t know that there are white folks living in the shack settlement. So he kind of want to pretend that he is going to the shacks, but he will not go to those who are making noise. So that is the strategy so that you blame yourself for speaking out, you pay a price for speaking out. He would rather go to those who have not asked him. I mean what we see is obviously a failure of taking decision and have to follow the structures, the systems that are already there. The public servant strikes have really been a turning point in the history of South Africa. It is very interesting how the labor movement, Cosatu, can bring the economy of the country to a standstill. That’s the power of the people, the power of organizing. And again, Zuma was not here. [He had] to take the flight to somewhere in China. But unfortunately[for Zuma] the workers will not back down, you have to come back and confront it. And make some compromises, private deals.
45:20 S’bu: So, again, the class struggle, the working class also has its own challenges that the Congress of Trade Unions, for instance, would invite social movements to their protests to add into masses that are necessary to shake ad change. But when we march and invite Cosatu to support us, suddenly COSATU is nowhere to be found. All the leadership of Cosatu, suddenly they are too high to be reached: “Who the hell are you?” That’s their game. But we believe the labor movement could bring about change because of their numbers and their masses. But what has been very problematic is when Cosatu had to come into an alliance partnership with the ruling party. Now the trouble is that alliance, the Africa National Congress, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu are married. So the Communist Party is no longer a Communist Party because they are also part of government. Their language has suddenly changed. The same communists are buying big cars and obviously Cosatu, obviously with the exception of its General Secretary, who sometimes shows that he is their leader, he will speak his mind, he will always be called into order to be disciplined. So, that is the unfortunate part that the labor movements have all been co-opted into one government. So their voice outside government is not that powerful.
47:22 S’bu: Obviously schools have a role to play and are playing a role, especially the tertiary institutions. We have a good working relationship with students from the University of Cape Town, for instance, the University of KwaZulu Natal, Rhodes University, through student’s movements, like students who are doing law—the student for law and social justice and student from the University of South Africa. Also, there are community outreach programs. It’s with the high schools that we have not had any relationship. But I do think it will really work. And obviously, we work with churches, particularly the Anglican churches. They have supported us, they have suffered with us, they have been subjected to all sorts of criticism.
48:32 Q5: I just wanted to ask whether you felt that your movement has been successfully in its beginning days allowed for a sense of security and support in either the new members or people that (unclear). A lot of organizations (unclear) and what you would advise people that would like to start a social movement or a young social movement to do to create that sense of (unclear).
49:06 Q6 It looked like from a scene in the video that there was a certain amount of education that was going on as members of the movement were helping other people when their shacks were torn down and I wondered whether you could talk a little bit about what kind of self-education is being done within your movement and where you see the value of that education, in terms of building a movement.
49:41 S’bu: Thank you. Our strategy starts from the ground, it starts in action. Through meetings we learn. In our leadership meetings, a lot of learning takes place. There are mass meetings of this nature. There are also camps where the movement sits the whole night, from 6 pm to 6 am, because in these usual meetings sometimes they don’t have enough time. One or two hours time is nothing when you are suffering. So a committed movement, part of its program, is that it will have these camps in the whole night. It’s not only a question of land and housing in the city that gets discussed but the broader political ideas of what makes us poor. What are the systems that keep us in this poverty?
50:51 S’bu: And again, we call this popular education. Abahlali has come up with the University of Abahlali BaseMjondolo, our own home-made university. What a wonderful space, where there are no teachers, there are no lectures, but leaders and facilitators. Through the University of Abahlali, also, its not only politics but also learning of computer literacy, trainings. The University of Abahlali also serves as a referral where we send shack dwellers into the formal universities through the universities’ community outreach program. Universities have a responsibility as well. If there are organized (unclear) it’s easy for that to happen. So a lot of learning takes place but also we have a year calendar where we align ourselves with the national events like the Freedom Day, which we have turned into the UnFreedom Day. We cannot fool ourselves and celebrate and say we are free while we die in the shacks. We host our big events on the 27th of April. Every year we have a big rally where we mourn the loss of our freedom. And we feel shame when some of us, who are as poor as we are, are used by the politicians when they have to escort the politicians because there are free buses, free t-shirt, free food only for that day. That freedom comes in one day, on the 27th of April. For us we talk of a freedom that comes every second, every minute, every hour. That’s the permanent freedom we are looking at, not a once off because someone has been impressed with something.
52:59 S’bu: So, and obviously June month is the youth month in South Africa…to commemorate the Soweto uprising. So again, leading to a youth month, youth also have their own activities, so we have Abahlali Youth League, a separate space to build youth leadership and involvement. The youth should also take responsibility. It takes a very strong and courageous youth not to sit back when their parents are being made to suffer. That political consciousness happens in action, through protest we learn. Obviously, something to learn bro(unclear), the first day you take a membership of our movement, we educate you so that if you’ve made a mistake you better don’t join us. When you take a card, you take a membership card, you have a responsibility to check your neighbors or your families, if they are not going through the same difficulties that you face. We consider your humanity and personality not complete when you’re alone, in isolation to others. Your humanity becomes complete when you have others surrounding you. So then you have a responsibility to recruit. We only consider a community to be member or a branch of Abahlali when there is, at least, about 50 members. When there is a minimum of 50 members, then we consider you as a branch. That’s how our membership is able to grow that quick. And then we talk to communities when they join Abahlali, that they are taking a risk of all sorts. But what is important when you join, around education, we also stress to people that we are not going to struggle for you but that we struggle with you. We’re not going to stop any eviction for you but we will stop some eviction with you. We’re not going to do anything for you but we will do things with you.
55:31 S’bu: So you are not going to take membership card and relax at home and our leadership in our office does not save, as in, some kind of consultants when people are threatened with evictions they run to the office. The strategy is not in the office. So you better wake up from today, you are going to defend yourself. Your neighbors will help you to defend yourself. I think building from that, really helps people to be aware of the risk they take from the very same day they join, the responsibility that goes with that, the commitment that goes with that.
56:20 Q7: You talk about shack dwellers and people in the rural areas and I think what you said is that those groups are somewhat new to the movement. And so I was wondering if you could talk about what kind of historical social divisions there are (unclear), I’m assuming there are, between the rural communities (unclear) and the shack dwellers and how you build a movement to have those different groups of people aligning with each other
57:00 Q8: Given the emphasis on allowing the poor speak for themselves, can you comment on negotiating your relationship with documentary filmmakers, photographers, journalists, people that want to…portray a picture of what your movement is all about, what you’re doing (unclear)
57:19 S’bu: Thank you. I think that’s a very important question. I mean, just to add on that, our relationship also with middle class people, you know, with academics, with NGOs for instance. We’ve also been very clear that we will not be co-opted and we want to speak for ourselves. To people that are joining us and people that are supporting us with all kinds of resources, even the lawyers, just to make a typical example of the Slums Act, of how we instruct our lawyers. When the Bill was presented to us, not because we were smart but because, I mean the state is required by the law that the Bill should go for public comments, public hearing. Then they brought it to us, then we had to, within the movement, task individuals from the movement to read through the bill. It was the very same young folks, the Mazwis the Mnikelos, those that were on video, that were tasked, you know the special task team, that will read through the Slums Act, the Slums Bill. And they read it, sentence by sentence, made sense and presented their analysis to us, to the movement and we’ve discussed it and we’ve discovered that it was not only an attack on our movement but an attack on the poor. It’s only then when we had requested this support of resource people, you know lawyers for instance, to have a second thoughts and eventually instructed the lawyer to add for us.
59:22 S’be: But all the way to the constitutional court, we’ve been giving the back up to our legal team. I think they were very courageous also to have these kinds of clients who give them back up all the way. And they could easily point out in the court, Pierre (unclear names), this is what this Bill will do to my clients, here they are. And again, when we ask people to be…to support us, all resourced people, we ask people not to use or to abuse that opportunity. Often, resourced people for instance, will hijack the struggles of people. You will find them commenting, on the radio for instance, on behalf of the people. In the name of help, they often disempower. They want to do things for us, without us, and not with us. So again, we encourage people to be careful how they kind of support, especially if they are not comrades but friends of resourced people. So we say people should talk with us, not for us. They should help us to fish ourselves, not to fish for us because they will come and they will go, they will leave us suffering. So in the process of empowering, we ask people to support us side by side, not behind us, not to lead us, because that often disempowers and it imposes. So that’s how we work, you know, with resourced people.
01:01:15 S’bu: Filmmakers, we all, I mean, they are open, we discuss these issues with them. They don’t take decision for us or think they are too smart for us. It’s good to work with humble people who will always ask, ‘but how can I help?’, ‘this is what I can offer’, ‘how can we do this?’ But if they come as masters, then often it becomes problematic, in the name of help. You know, some do it unintentionally, they just want to help. But the way they help, they disempower in the process, or they hijack those struggles. And the very same voice is undermined and it collapses. It’s a fragile situation to maintain. That’s why it must be clear when people want to join whether they want to be comrades, they want to be friends, or they want to fund us, for instance, it must be clear.
01:02:10 S’bu: In terms of different groups, you know, from the shacks, from the flats, from the traditional communities, I mean it’s been very clear that there is one struggle. Again, South Africa has a history of this segregation. There’s poor black townships there, coloreds there, whites there. And it’s taking the country so long to integrate and the country talks so much about an integrated society. The demarcations that are there have made it clear for us that it’s not going to go away today. But what has happened really is that, as much as the country talks so much about inclusive cities, what has become clear is that it is no more a color question. I’m not saying it’s no more there but it has become a question of how much do you have. For instance, I mean, government will build these homes and will expect all sort of people, the rich and the poor, that’s what they’re trying to do, build an integrated society, not around color but around socio-economic backgrounds. But again, you know, people who earn differently are unable to live together because some people tend to see that those who are poor are devaluating the value of their property. And it’s always a clash that sometimes I cannot pay services and someone else has to pay services and it’s not fair. So there’s so much that gets said about this integration but it’s not working. And slowly, slowly, the poor are getting pushed out of cities for number of reasons. Not in terms of color now, I’m not saying that has been sorted out, it’s not yet sorted out. But at least that has helped us to understand the need to define ourselves, to know the people in the same class in which we are. Therefore, living in the municipal owned flats, for instance, and living in the old traditional homes, it really doesn’t make any difference with us.
01:04:36 S’bu: They’re in our movements, they’re our own comrades while we suffer evictions, they are also complaining about water cut-off, no electricity, evictions, they cannot afford to pay this rent because sometimes with this public housing of subsidy scheme they are sweet when people have to enter but when people are inside, then suddenly the rent goes up. You know, it’s a very smart system of chasing those who cannot pay. They’ll have their water shut down, their electricity cut off. We faced the similar situation. It’s not only a question of shelter, but other necessities surrounding that.
01:05:27 Q9: You talked a little bit about…continuing to build your organization with people committing in hard (unclear), organizing with your neighbor and your comrades but I guess I wanted to bring it back to the gentleman’s question who asked about some of the, like in the beginning, when you referred to (unclear) your whole reason (unclear)
01:05:52 Q10: Are there people who live in your shack community or other shack communities who oppose maybe (unclear) movements and object to some of the things you do?
01:06:02 S’bu: Who?…oppose
01:06:05 Q10: – people who live within the shack communities who oppose the movement and how you handle that.
01:06:12 S’bu: Yes…for simple reasons. For party, political…the party politics. So I think in our movement we make a very clear distinction between a party politic, which is an electoral system, and the living politics. You know, a living politics is a politics that everyone understands, you know. Simple politics that I have no water, no light, yet my life need water. I don’t need light but my life needs light. So we call that a living politics that does not need any big boss in theory to understand. A politics that says I am poor but my neighbor is living in a 1.5 million house [and it is] clear that [the same] system puts us together. Party politic really has, you know, been a popular license to participate in any future development…So, again, a concept of a social movement is not a new concept in South Africa. During the struggle for liberation, the way the United Democratic Front that united outside apartheid politics was in our social movement it was in the civics. But again, it was of the new teaching, people have been taught that to become active citizen, you got to have, you got to join a certain political party. It is your only license to participation, to any development that affects you. It is their only license, through party politics.
01:08:12 S’bu: So as a result, when we started the movement, obviously it was not easy for people to understand. They thought it was another new political party that was trying to oppose the current government, and so on. But again, it takes a very strong courageous leadership to keep this kind of education so that people become aware that, in fact, what divides us is this party political affiliations. So South Africa is a very interesting typical example of a country where people think that if I am this party A and you are this party B, then, automatically, this makes us enemies. And people have been killed for that, that you are not in my party, people have died for that, and people are still dying in South Africa, just for being in a different political party. Then our teaching in our movement, which has really not been appreciated, is being able to also integrate and to do away with that kind of mentality. Again, part of our recruiting strategy is to say to people, leave your party politics at home. We don’t need it here. You are entering a different terrain. So in our movement you will have people from all different party political backgrounds but they are able to speak in one voice because now they can understand what brings them together. And they are the witnesses that my party didn’t help me. My party is not building homes for me. My party, even if it is in government, it cannot even provide electricity. So why should I continue with that? So I think that suffering is also able to bring people together to do away with party political thinking, as if that is the only license for your voice to be heard or to participate in the economy of the country, or political situation.
01:10:28 S’bu: So I think it’s not been easy to…to deal with that. But at the same time, the teachings of the party political systems still insists that if you are not in my party, then you are my enemy. As a result, the party political systems are able to say to some of the shack dwellers that are in the same location, neighbors, that the movement is actually trying to oppose us. So that’s why you may have seen some folks from the shack settlements protesting against the shack dwellers. But we know the game. Some of them were paid to do so, local drug lords and shebeen owners are the main culprits that serve as a vehicle to pretend that people can turn anger against one another. I think the system is very smart to use the very same poor to tend their anger. Also that this community can be seen to be unruly, then, a mediator is needed. And they are smart to maneuver and deal with that so that you are looked as stupid, fighting against one another when there is no need. To start a movement obviously is not an easy thing and I’m saying that in our movement there were no cleaver individuals that sat down and thought of building a movement.
01:12:08 S’bu: It was through anger, hunger, and frustration. A piece of land was promised to the residents of Kennedy Road and a meeting was set up in the same piece of land. The Department of Housing officials were excited to come in and arrest people after it was discovered that that piece of land was sold to a business, a local businessman, yet it was promised for housing. And instead of officials coming, they send the police. And then the community jumped into the street and the road was blockaded. Through that road blockade, and again, many of us were not aware that by blockading a road, that on its own was a political act. Up until, 14 people were arrested, beaten, and tortured in prison. It’s only when we realized that we were playing this dirty game politic, it’s only when we realized that in fact, we are playing with fire. But again, through courage and strength of the people, we marched the next day to demand that those who were arrested be released or all of us be arrested because they were charged for public violence.
01:13:34 S’bu: Now, which public, because we are the public. (unclear) charged for us then it doesn’t make sense to us. Rather, take them out because we are the public that should have been the victims of their act. But if you cannot release them then arrest us. And again, the protest in the next day was also dispersed with… guns and so on. The movement grew up like that. It was not easy. It’s only when we started seeing that, in fact, we were entering a different terrain. Obviously other neighboring settlements who felt the same, they did not come to support us because they were living in similar conditions, they [came because they] thought that the struggle was theirs. So we are not here to support you but our fight is the same, we are here for ourselves. That’s how the struggle grew up. Many settlements joined and I remember 2005 was declared as the year of action. It was fulfilled all over the country. That’s how the movement was formed. We had to coordinate that and then sit down now and the movement was born. So I think that, in the way that we already do, it may be easy to connect, collaborate and (unclear), making tonight that these different organizations that are struggling their own isolated dark corners, their struggle is so hard, it will not be won by individualism. S’bu: Down individualism, down. (audience: down). Down capitalism, down. (audience: down). (audience laughter)
01:15:32 Dara: Unfortunately, we are out of time (applause) thank you so much (applause continues)… Any last closing statement you want to make?
01:15:55 S’bu: Thank you so much. I am humbled, again, when I occupy the space I take it very humbly but firmly. My message obviously would be that we all have a role to play as brothers and sisters in our own small ways and I invite you to create the very same precious space I have spoken about. Some of you are already busy building that space. And my discoveries here have been an excitement and a passion, the willingness to build this precious space, a space where everyone counts, where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Again, it is our duty to go out and do our duty to our country…to build a fair society. Let’s again try to leave this Earth a better place than we found it. Thank you.