6 February 2015
Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement
An Old Snake in a New Skin – From Raymond Masondo to Heinrich Bohmke and Bandile Mdlalose
In 2006, when we made it clear that we would not give up our autonomy to the NGOs and walked out of a meeting at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) at UKZN, some NGO workers, such as Mondli Hlatswayo, rushed to call us criminals on emails and in the press. At the time we could see no difference between how these NGOs responded to our insistence on our right to organise ourselves, to think for ourselves and to take our own positions and how the state responded. They both declared that we were criminals under the control of a white man.
As everyone who is familiar with the history of our movement knows since then we have been subject to constant defamation from a small group of people, all linked in different ways to CCS. These same people have never said a word when we have faced evictions, arrests, beatings, torture and murder. We continue to see very strong parallels between how the state responds to our movement and how some NGOs respond to our movement.
Since 2006 people supporting our movement have also been defamed and in some cases also harassed and intimidated. This has included the harassment of people at work and attempts (failed) to get them in trouble with their bosses. In one case this harassment and intimidation has extended to the family of one of our comrades.
CCS has also tried, in writing, to censor us and to censor academic work on our movement. This has been done in writing and it cannot be denied.
We have never attacked CCS or the people in their wider network in return, or tried to interfere with their work. We have focussed on our struggle and left them to focus on what they want to do. But the attacks have continued. It has seemed to us that CCS has seen our movement as a rival for political space. For years activists coming to South Africa from North America and Europe have told us that they first went to CCS where they were told all kinds of things about our movement which they later discovered to be completely untrue when they came to our meetings to see things for themselves. Recently we were informed that Patrick Bond, director of CCS, made a statement about our movement at a conference in France which is completely untrue.
After we made it clear, in 2006, that we would no longer work with CCS in any way Patrick Bond continued to tell people internationally (and in writing) that CCS was working with our movement. For this reason we had to put a short note on our website stating that we do not work with CCS. Patrick Bond tried to force us to remove this note and tried to threaten one of our comrades, a very well-known writer and activist, to ensure that our website would be what he called ‘cleaned’.
The constant defamation that we have faced is, like evictions or beatings by the police, one of many attempts to vandalize our humanity. It has come under different names. One of the first names under which this defamation came was Robert Masondo who was supposed to be a concerned member of our movement who was sending out emails to the CCS list requesting help from the NGOs. There was no such person as Robert Masondo. They could not find anyone in our movement to support their agenda and so they invented a fake name. Robert Masondo was a fabrication. Later on the main person producing this defamation (and legal opinion has confirmed that it is defamation) was Heinrich Bohmke but there have been others, all connected to Bohmke and all linked in different ways (formally and informally) to CCS.
But although the names attached to this defamation have changed over the years the themes of this defamation have always been the same. They are that:
1. We are really criminals (even murderers).
2. We have no real politics of our own.
3. We are controlled by a white man.
4. Our press statements, website, and all the academic work and films on our movement are part of a giant conspiracy to pretend that a bunch of criminals with no politics is really a movement.
5. This conspiracy is all aimed at getting donor money.
6. Our movement is now dead (this has repeatedly been said since 2007).
A lot of this defamation has been very similar to the attacks against us from the ANC. Our response to attacks by the ANC in October last year is online here: http://abahlali.org/node/14403/
We have never met some of the people that have produced or attached their names to this defamation and none of them have participated in our meetings or done interviews with us or any kind of proper research. Newspapers and academic publications have generally refused to take these attacks seriously in view of the fact that they are not based on any credible evidence. However they are often circulated on Patrick Bond’s email list.
In the one case where a person linked to Bohmke and CCS claimed to be an insider to our movement this was just not true. Handing out large amounts of money to random people in the Kennedy Road shack settlement (people who have never participated in our movement), giving out expensive gifts (such as a bicycle), running a workshop in a settlement where we only had, and not for long, one member and running after our movement by coming to big events, like marches, does not make a person an ‘insider’. To be an insider a person must participate in our meetings.
On the other hand many activists, students and academics from around the world (America, Brazil, Europe, India, Kenya, Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe etc.) have spent time with our movement, freely participating in all our activities and interviewing any one that they wish to speak to. Not one of the students or academics that has done proper research on our movement, or one of the activists that has spent time with our movement, considers this long campaign of defamation to have any credibility whatsoever. In fact they are all, without to our knowledge a single exception, disgusted by it. They all see it as grossly dishonest. The same is true of the journalists that have spent time with our movement, attending meetings, spending time with people and doing interviews.
Many people have noted how racist this campaign against our movement has been. It shows us to the world as criminals, people who are like children and can’t think for ourselves and people who are just hunting for money. Yet our members have been committed enough to our struggle to have been arrested, assaulted, tortured and murdered. Many of our members have lost their jobs due to their political commitments. There are many people who have come to meetings year after year since 2005 without ever once asking for anything for themselves. We have constantly refused co-option from NGOs and the state and rejected any relationship with any organisation, no matter how much money it has, that does not respect our autonomy. CCS is not the only NGO that we have refused to work with. It makes no sense at all to say that our movement is just about hunting for money. We have often refused jobs from the state. If we were hunting for money from the NGOs we would focus on issues like climate change, human rights, freedom of expression and so on. We would work very closely with CCS and other NGO projects and focus on delivering people to their events. There are no donors that focus on supporting the occupation of unused land and buildings. There are no donors that focus on supporting road blockades.
All the attempts by the NGOs to start movements from above and under their control have failed. Money does not build movements. We have built and sustained a movement for almost ten years despite very serious repression. Yet although it is the NGOs that have failed to build movements we are the ones being shown to the world as incapable of being able to think for ourselves or to organise ourselves. They continue to insist that we must accept political direction from them. One of our comrades has reminded us of the famous quote by Steven Biko that warns against the logic that blacks must remain perpetual pupils while whites remain perpetual teachers. This is the logic of a number of the NGOs and their international networks. For them we are either perpetual children who cannot be trusted with adult responsibilities or we are criminals whose politics is really just fraud.
Many people have also noticed that although the names attached to the defamation have changed over the years it is clear that the themes of this defamation have remained the same. The same lies are always repeated and the same individuals are always targeted. We have never entertained these constant lies. The media has almost always refused to take them seriously and no person or organisation that is important to us has ever taken them seriously. From 2006 until 2009 we just ignored these constant lies and focussed on our struggle. We knew that very few people were taking them seriously and we knew that if anyone was uncertain about what to think they could always come to our meetings, observe our processes and see for themselves what was true and who was being dishonest. Also if someone was going to believe these lies without coming to see our movement for themselves then they were not the sort of person that we wanted on our side.
In 2009 we were attacked in the Kennedy Road settlement by the local ANC acting with police support. The ANC told some incredible lies about what had happened. As usual Bohmke took the side of our oppressors. He wrote a piece in the Sunday Tribune that basically supported what the ANC was saying. This was the first time that the media took this long campaign of defamation seriously. In our understanding this is probably because Bohmke was supporting what the ANC and the state was saying and the media will always give some space for the ruling party and the state to express their positions. All of the many academics and students that had done work on our movement wrote a collective letter in response to the newspaper stating that Bohmke’s article was not true. Two of our members also wrote a response to the newspaper. It was pointed out that the function of all these lies was to send us back to the dark corners so that the people who think that they have a right to own and control our struggles through the NGOs could continue to speak for us without us, and to think for us without us. We made it clear that we would not accept to be oppressed in our own struggle as well as in society.
When the matter of the 2009 attack went to court the state could not find a single witness who could provide credible testimony in support of the case for the prosecution and the whole case was thrown out of court. This was despite the use of torture by the police and death threats, and an attack on one state witness in her home, by the local ANC. In fact even two of the state’s witnesses – a police officer and a resident of the Kennedy Road settlement bravely told the truth about what had happened. Bohmke had never found much support for his defamation but after this Bohmke was entirely discredited amongst most of the few people that had taken him seriously.
Since last year the defamatory attacks on our movement have come under a new name – Bandile Mdlalose. As everyone that knows the history of this long campaign of defamation against our movement can see the themes of the defamation continue to remain the same despite the fact that they are now attached to a new name.
Bandile was elected as Secretary General of our movement in 2010 at a very young age. She didn’t live in a shack. She and her family lived in a four room subsidy house in KwaMashu. Her mother had support in Siyanda before joining our movement. Siyanda was a new area to our movement at the time and the residents there were mobilized by Bandile’s mother to vote for Bandile in a block vote. This was the first time we had this sort of block voting in our movement. It was strange to have someone with no record of struggle, and who was not a member of a branch, voted into a senior position like this but it was in accordance with our Constitution. Although we always try to encourage collective membership through branches or affiliated settlements individual membership is allowed.
After Bandile was elected in 2010 she was always respected by the movement and it was expected that she would be shaped by the same living politic that has shaped all of us. She was often mandated to represent the movement nationally and internationally. The movement managed and is proud to have given Bandile an opportunity to study development and politic at UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus in the adult education programme. She was given all opportunities to grow in our living politic. We understand that when new people come into our movement they will come with ways of thinking that don’t fit with ubuhlali. We understand that it will sometimes take some time for new people to understand ubuhlali.
Bandile was always brave when we had to face the police as well as politicians like Nigel Gumede. There were always some complaints from our members though. Some people said that she was rude to them when they came to the office. Mnikelo Ndabankulu, who was in our movement from the beginning, was often critical of what he often called her ‘me, me politics’. There were some people in our movement, as well as in a church organisation that we work with and a university programme that we work with, who raised questions about her honesty. It also become clear that Bandile did not accept comrades from the Eastern Cape as equal members of our movement. Some of our comrades in other grassroots organizations were concerned that when she went to NGO meetings she would speak as if her being there meant that our movement was there. This has never been our politic.
When Abahlali receives an invitation to attend an event hosted by another organisation, whether addressed to the movement in general, or to one office bearer like the president, administrator or secretary, it will always be taken to an Abahlali meeting for discussion. It is only at the meeting where it will be decided whether or not Abahlali will send a representative. If we agree then the next discussion is to collectively decide on the name of the person who will represent our movement, taking into account the nature of the invite and expectations. After the meeting or conference the person who has been mandated to attend must always report back at the next Abahlali meeting. Everyone who is chosen to attend a meeting outside the movement knows that they cannot take any decisions for the movement there. They can only bring proposals back to the movement for discussion. This practice has always been the case and a lot of young activists have had an opportunity to travel internationally. We are careful to share these opportunities around. But Bandile personalized invitations that were addressed to her as the secretary general. In doing this she travelled to Johannesburg and spent a week in Cape Town without knowledge or mandate from Abahlali as a collective. She even went to speak at CCS without any mandate. As we have explained this is an NGO that we have boycotted since 2006. Of course this decision was taken long before Bandile joined our movement but if Bandile has wanted to raise the question of the boycott in a meeting we would have been happy to have a discussion about it. But she didn’t do that. She just went on her own and formed her own relationship with this NGO.
It became clear that Bandile was not willing to work through a democratic structure and that she wanted to promote herself as an individual to the NGOs. There is a big difference between using a movement to promote yourself as an individual and committing your energy as an individual to a collective movement. Some of the members began asking why the leadership was protecting Bandile. The problem with her attitudes to people from the Eastern Cape started to cause tensions. The impression that she was being protected by the leadership started to cause some tensions in the movement. But she had been elected to her position and there was no formal complaint against her so all that could be done was to keep discussing ubuhlali and hope that she would mature into the politic of the movement. Many of us thought that she was young and that she would learn the politic of the movement in time. We can now see that we were wrong. She was never interested in ubuhlali. It was also unfortunate that after the repression in 2009 we allowed the movement to grow too rapidly, people came in with all kinds of politics and it was no longer safe to hold camps and opportunities for careful political discussion were not as regular as they had been before the repression.
In 2013 we faced serious repression again. Three activists were killed in the struggle over the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest. Others were shot and there were also arrests and beatings. Two of the people that were murdered were given death threats and knew beforehand that they would be killed. After these murders four of our members received death threats. Two people, Bandile Mdlalose and S’bu Zikode, received death threats from the ANC structures in Cato Crest. Mnikelo Ndabankulu was threatened by a caller while he was representing the movement on a radio station. Ndabo Mzimela was also threatened with death on the radio. Bandile was also arrested in Cato Crest and detained in Westville prison for a week. We gave her full support when she was inside and when she came out. But people were under very serious pressure and, as happened after the repression in 2009, this started to create some tensions. There was serious conflict between Mnikelo and Bandile in a Whatsapp group. Many of the most energetic of the younger members of our movement were part of this Whatsapp group.
At the same time Bandile started trying to privatise her relationship to new communities that approached the movement. Twice when people came to the Abahlali office to approach our movement Bandile privatised her relationship with them so that they didn’t have an opportunity to connect to the movement as a whole. This happened in Wyebank and in Claremont. We didn’t ever launch branches in these areas because the residents only had a relation to Bandile and not the movement and they didn’t follow the processes to establish a branch. When Bandile would travel to these areas she was being driven by someone from CCS. Our movement has never worked like this. Branches have always related to the movement as a whole rather than to individual leaders. There was a lot of concern about how Bandile was behaving. But because of the repression, and the conflict with Mnikelo, we were very careful to respond constructively to the situation. However some members started to ask us if Bandile was working for CCS or if she was accountable to our members. We still hoped that when this phase of repression passed we could resolve the serious problems that were developing. We had learnt from 2009 that it is not a good idea to try and deal with difficult questions during a period of repression when people are severely stressed. It is better to request everyone to remain calm and to focus on the work that needs to be done and to have a careful discussion and a healing when things are easier.
The next problem came when Bandile advised the Ridge View Community to occupy flats on 31 December 2013. This community had not joined Abahlali at that time but she met them privately. None of the processes for forming a new branch were followed and she kept her relationship with them privatized. They had a relationship with Bandile as an individual and not with a democratic movement as a whole. Bandile also took their membership money. She charged R50 for membership whereas the cost of membership in the movement is now R20 a year. In all the years of our movement we have never before had someone charge their own rate for membership, higher than the rate decided on in our meetings. When people pay membership fees the procedure is that the money is immediately deposited into the Abahlali banking account but Bandile failed to do so. This was the first time that this ever happened in our movement. She retained the money for herself. She then promised the Ridge View people bail money and lawyers for legal representation should they get arrested.
When the occupation happened the police were waiting. Twelve people were arrested and Bandile disappeared in court leaving them without assistance or explanation. It was at this time when we got very angry calls from the community and became aware of the arrests and the deal that she had made with them. An occupation is something that needs to be carefully and democratically planned. It is highly irresponsible to advise people to occupy and promise support to them when this has not even been discussed with the movement and there has been no proper planning to support the occupiers. No movement can operate like this and retain the trust and respect of its members. This was the first time that something like this had happened in our movement.
The Ridge View Community then logged a written complaint against Bandile. The complaint was referred to the Abahlali Disciplinary Committee which then communicated the complaints and all other correspondences to her. She was given the opportunity to respond and defend herself against the allegation during a hearing set for the 6 April 2014. It was further explained that should she fail to appear before the committee the hearing would proceed in her absence. All this was in writing.
Bandile wanted S’bu Zikode to intervene and stop the DC. She also approached people outside the movement to lobby them to stop the DC. She did not approach the movement’s elected structures to express any concerns. When Bandile realized that S’bu was not going to protect her from the DC and would respect the autonomy of the committee she became very, very angry at S’bu. This was the first time that she was ever angry at S’bu. Before this she always held S’bu in very high respect. She started to attack S’bu personally inside and outside the movement but she did not take her issues to the movement’s structures.
Bandile began making threats that if the DC went ahead she would destroy the movement by going to the media and to Bohmke and CCS. We were not worried about the media as we had nothing to hide. As we have already explained Bohmke is notorious for his defamation and character assassination against grassroots black activists and anyone that has supported them. He has not only defamed us. He had also written defamation about other people too (also dishonest and confirmed as defamatory by legal opinion). We knew that Bandile had already formed a relationship with CCS and so we knew that the threat was serious. However we could not allow our movement to be blackmailed by this kind of threat. Also, as we have already explained, no one that is important to us had ever taken Bohmke’s defamation seriously. In fact it had destroyed his own credibility. It had not damaged our movement. It now seems that those few individuals who have supported this long smear campaign against us without success are under the impression that having someone who used to be a member of our movement supporting the smear campaign will allow them to finally succeed in destroying our credibility. We are not worried. Truth remains truth and lies remain lies.
Bandile stopped coming to meetings as a participant and started to storm into meetings, disrupt them and insult and swear everyone. One of these incidents was observed by someone from an international human rights organisation who was in Durban to offer support in response to the repression that we (including Bandile) had been facing. At this time Bandile was sending emails to our international allies making all kinds of allegations. One day she stormed into a meeting, disrupted it and insulted everyone. She was asked to leave. She then said that this was intimidation by S’bu even though it was not S’bu who asked her to leave. There are many witnesses to what happened and it can easily be shown that she was not being honest about this incident.
Our AGM last year was difficult. We have discussed this frankly. But we did hold a successful election. When there was a general meeting after the AGM to find a way forward Bandile came to that meeting with two people from CCS.
But Bandile did not attend the DC. It went ahead without her on the 6th of April 2014. This process was carefully documented, conformed to the movement’s rules and was transparent and fair. The committee found that the allegations against Bandile by the Ridge View people were true and, because she did not attend the DC and there was no way of negotiating a healing, it was decided to expel her.
Bandile was informed of her expulsion in writing by email. It was made clear that despite the expulsion she would still receive full legal support from the movement for her case arising from the struggle in Cato Crest.
S’bu was not part of the committee or the process. No academic was directly or indirectly part of this process. We have been quite happy to share all the documents pertaining to her expulsion as we have nothing to hide.
We decided not to issue a statement about the expulsion as we did not want to humiliate Bandile or risk her chances of finding work. Also, very importantly, we didn’t want to undermine her when she still had a case on for public violence.
The day after Bandile was expelled there was a meeting with the MEC for Human Settlements over the Cato Crest issues. There had been a long struggle to win this meeting. The delegates were inside and other members from Cato Crest were standing outside the meeting demonstrating in support of the delegates inside. Bandile arrived. She was driven by a CCS employee. She stormed into the meeting and insulted S’bu, MaMkhize Nxumalo (Abahlali General Chairperson) and the movement to the ANC and told various lies. She took the side of the ANC. The meeting was ruined.
The people in Cato Crest became so angry with her that some of them wanted to testify against her in her case arising from the struggle in Cato Crest. Some of our members in Cato Crest also insisted that we must withdraw legal support for her case. It was a difficult situation. We had to have long discussions before there was an agreement that although people were very angry with her it would not be a good idea to testify against Bandile or to withdraw legal support for her case. Bandile had made it clear that she was going to put her personal issues before the members of the movement and that she had decided that we are now her enemies. But the politic that says that your enemy’s enemy is your friend is very dangerous. She had chosen that politic. We did not choose that politic and we will not choose that politic.
Bandile approached a lot of media to attack the movement. The only newspaper that took her story seriously was Jacob Zuma’s personal newspaper the New Age. However even this newspaper gave us an opportunity to respond to her allegations in the article.
Shortly after her expulsion she travelled to Cape Town and represented our movement at a meeting of the Social Justice Coalition as if she was still a member. This really shocked us and we had to write to some of our allies and explain that she had been expelled. No movement can have a member who has been expelled travelling around claiming to represent the movement.
Bandile was also taken to Wyebank by a CCS employee after her expulsion where she misrepresented herself as a leader of AbM.
We also discovered that after her expulsion she went to the bank and tried to make herself a signatory on the movement account. We discovered this because the bank called us and showed us the forms. This really shocked us. However although we were informed that this was an attempt at fraud we did not press charges.
A few days after her expulsion Bandile acquired a car. She told one comrade, in writing (Whatsapp), that it was bought for her by an employee at CCS.
Bandile began sending emails to everyone on our mailing list that we have built up over nine years of struggle as well as a long list of academics around the world. In her first email she made it clear that her concern was now for Bohmke, who she named. She said that he had been unfairly marginalised from our struggle. In these emails, which legal opinion has confirmed as defamatory, highly untrue statements were made, especially about S’bu. She suddenly also started to attack Richard Pithouse. She was never hostile to S’bu until it was clear that he would not act to stop the disciplinary process against her and she was never hostile to Richard until these emails started. She knew that Richard was not involved in the disciplinary process and she remained on good terms with Richard after her expulsion. However as is widely known some people in the NGOs and their networks blamed Richard when our movement and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign walked out of an NGO meeting hosted by CCS in 2006. This was when the NGOs called us ‘criminals’. Richard wasn’t even at the meeting where the decision to walk out was taken. There were a number of other people that are not members of our movement who were at this meeting, because it happened, without being planned, when the Anti-Eviction Campaign comrades arrived at workshop on housing being held in the Kennedy Road settlement. They can all confirm this.
After Bandile started sending out these emails few people, not that many, contacted us to ask what was going on. Most of the people who did contact us said that it was obvious to them that this was Bohmke’s old agenda under a new name – an old snake in a new skin. But there were some people that were concerned. Some were under the impression that there was a split in the movement. We met and drafted a letter explaining everything that had happened in a calm and clear way that tried to stick to the facts and avoid personal attacks and sent this to those people that had expressed their concern. However we still did not issue any public statement. Bandile was able to access our email account. She saw this letter and became even more angry.
When our members met Bandile and asked her why she was doing this her answer would always be the same – “for my family”. After her expulsion Bandile suddenly had money to travel to other parts of the country. It was clear that she was getting strong financial support from somewhere. She has the same right as anyone else to make whatever alliances she wants to. We don’t question this. However we do question the intentions of anyone who funds an individual to make dishonest attacks on a movement.
We were told by our friends at the university that the director of CCS (Patrick Bond) was running around the university saying that he needed to get Bandile a job at the university but that she couldn’t been seen to be working at CCS. A job was secured for her at the university. However various people – our members who are cleaners at the university, academics at the university as well as visiting activists – tell us that Bandile is at CCS every day.
We repeat that Bandile has a right to make whatever alliances she chooses. We have a right to refuse to work with Patrick Bond and CCS and Bandile has the same right to choose to work with Patrick Bond and CCS. We do not question that. But Bandile does not have a right to attach her name to lies about us in the way that she is doing. What is being said is not true and it is defamatory. We question the motives of any organisation that funds or arranges funding for one individual who is producing constant defamation against a movement at the same time as that organisation is suffering serious repression. As far as we know the only statements issued by Bandile are attacks on our movement that continue Bohmke’s old agenda and make it look like a former member of our movement is now showing that Bohmke was always right about us. We have not seen a single statement issued by her that is in support of the struggle of oppressed people.
Following her dismissal Bandile lodged an action against our movement with the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) claiming that she had been unfairly dismissed as if she was a worker that had been unfairly fired from a job. She was represented by a law firm with connections to CCS. We were very surprised that she took this action as she was expelled from a political organisation after being found to have violated a number of its rules and not dismissed from a job. We never considered her to be an employee and therefore we did not understand why she was taking us to the CCMA.
The first meeting called by the CCMA to deal with this matter was on the 14th of May. At this meeting Bandile claimed to have been unfairly dismissed and demanded financial compensation. Our response was that she had never been an employee of our organisation and that, therefore, she had never been dismissed from a job and we did not owe her any financial compensation. The Commissioner at this first meeting was Mr Mthokozisi Khuboni.
As there was no agreement between ourselves and Bandile the matter was adjourned to 10 July 2014. On the 3rd of July the law firm representing Bandile contacted us to demand all of our documents relating to Bandile’s expulsion. Although their attitude was very aggressive and we were aware of their links to CCS we were happy to hand these documents over to the law firm as we had nothing to hide and were confident that the process that resulted in her expulsion was in accordance with our rules and fair.
When we returned to the CCMA on 10 July there was a new commissioner, Ms Fiona Moodley and then Ms Balkaran. We were surprised to see that at this meeting Bandile was accompanied by one of the men that, working with the local ANC, had intimidated us with threats of violence to cancel a meeting in Newlands on 1st of June 2014. Bandile’s mother and her friend had attended this meeting wearing ANC T-shirts.
At this meeting at the CCMA Bandile changed her demand. Whereas she had originally approached the CCMA claiming to have been unfairly dismissed and demanding compensation she now agreed with us that she had not been an employee of our organisation and withdrew her demand for financial compensation. She asked, instead, for reinstatement.
Our guess was that when her lawyers saw all the documents relating to her expulsion they realised that the process had been fair and had therefore advised Bandile not to contest the expulsion. We went to the CCMA with the head of the Abahlali disciplinary committee and delegates from among the community members that had laid the complaint against Bandile that resulted in her dismissal. We consulted with this group of members and it was clear that they could not accept Bandile’s reinstatement to the position that she held prior to her expulsion. But we always try, where ever possible, for healing where there is conflict and so we offered that she could return to the movement as an ordinary member with the same rights as all other members to stand for a position at the next AGM. We thought that this was a fair offer. However her lawyer rejected this offer and said that her demand was that she return to her position. We could not accept this. Returning someone to a high position after they have been found to have been responsible for serious violations of our rules by a fair and careful disciplinary process would be too damaging to the credibility of our movement in the eyes of our members. Most of our members have a background in the ANC. They expect our movement to be different to the ANC and to hold its leaders to the highest standards. This is why the right to recall leaders, as well as the right to lay complaints against leaders and to have them fairly investigated, is so important.
The commissioner then made a suggestion to resolve the disagreement. She said that both parties should agree that there was no dismissal because Bandile had never been an employee. The commissioner also said that we should have described her expulsion as a ‘termination of membership’ rather than using the term ‘dismissal’ (which the head of our Disciplinary Committee had used in an email to Bandile). And she said that if we were not prepared to return Bandile to her position, and that she did not want to return as an ordinary member, then Bandile could submit a letter of resignation.
We discussed this proposal with our delegation and we agreed to it. We agreed to it because we had never considered Bandile to have been an employee, this agreement did not require us to pay compensation to Bandile or to reinstate her, both of which would have been an acknowledgement that we had done something wrong when we had not done anything wrong, and because this agreement did not question, in any way, the fairness of the process that resulted in Bandile’s expulsion. Also, although a decision had been taken that Bandile’s actions were so serious that she had to be expelled from our movement, we never had any intention to embarrass her publicly or to damage her chances for finding employment in the future. For this reason we were happy to confirm that Bandile had not been dismissed from a job while remaining confident that the process that resulted in her expulsion from our movement was necessary and fair.
The exact words of the agreement that both parties signed are as follows:
Whereas the Applicant claimed that she had been unfairly dismissed.
And whereas the parties agree that there was no employment relationship between them.
And whereas further the Respondent concedes that it ought not accordingly to have subjected the applicant to a disciplinary hearing resulting in her dismissal
And whereas finally the Respondent concedes that the ‘dismissal’ is void.
It is now agreed that the Applicant has elected to forthwith submit a Letter of Resignation which will result in the termination of the membership from the Respondent’s organisation.
At the same time Bandile wrote a short letter of resignation from the movement.
However the day after the agreement was signed Bandile sent out another email in which she claimed that at the CCMA we were forced to admit that we were wrong and that her name had been cleared. This is not an honest account of what happened at the CCMA. The CCMA did not investigate the allegations made against her by the Ridge View people or our process for investigating those allegations.
We still ask ourselves a question as to why Bandile had taken Abahlali to the CCMA in the first place if she conceded that she was not an employee. It makes no sense at all to take an organization to the CCMA and claim that you were unfairly dismissed as an employee of that organization and to then suddenly change your mind and agree that you were never an employee of that organization and then claim the agreement by both sides that you were never an employee as a vindication. But this sort of manipulation of facts is typical of the long campaign of slander against us.
In the email sent out after the agreement was signed at the CCMA Bandile also made a number of dishonest statements. Once again many people noted how these statements follow very closely what Bohmke has been saying about us for many years. Bandile even said that our movement is dead. At the time we had started having to rent halls to be able to hold our ordinary general meetings on Saturdays because attendance was so high. Of course our movement faced many serious challenges, most of them related to how to organise under seriously repressive conditions, including impunity for the illegal eviction, wrongful arrest, assault and murder of grassroots activists, and the strain that the stress that comes with repression can place on personal relationships and the affect that this can have on an organisation.
We were certain that the campaign of slander and defamation against us that has been driven by Bohmke, with the support of few others linked to him, since 2006 would continue for as long as our movement continues to exist and to protect its autonomy, and for as long as the dishonest character assassination of black grassroots activists by Bohmke and others could be carried out with impunity. The fact that Bandile had chosen to associate herself with this politic, and with the NGO that has always been linked to this politic, did not suddenly make the claims that were being made true. The only thing that had changed is that CCS now had the support of a former member of our movement who had been expelled from our movement for good reason.
However our members made it very clear that this impunity to engage in character assassination by means of lies must be opposed. At a time when activists were facing assassination with impunity – as well as eviction in violation of court orders, wrongful arrests assault and death threats – it would, it was felt, be irresponsible, to allow these lies to be uncontested. We were and are not willing to allow people like Bohmke, and now Bandile too, to waste our time by having to call meetings and write long responses to every allegation that they will make. We could not allow these people to set the agenda for our movement. We had to focus on the struggle.
It was therefore decided to bring these lies into a place where evidence has to be provided for claims that are made and a neutral third party can assess this evidence. Everybody remembered how the lies told by the ANC (and supported by Bohmke) in 2009 fell apart in court. We therefore initiated a process to bring this campaign of character assassination before a judge. Papers were served on Bandile for defamation.
Bandile’s first attempt to start a new organisation, Friends of Justice & Democracy, collapsed because people from the Eastern Cape did not want to work with her. She then went on to launch her own organisation, the Community Justice Movement. We made it clear to our members that we don’t have all the answers, that everyone is hunting for answers and that we welcome any new organisations trying to take the struggle forward. However we were disappointed but not surprised to see that Bandile announced herself as President before her new organisation was launched. If someone announces that they are President of a new organisation before the launch, where the election is held, there is clearly a serious problem. When the election was held Ma Shezi was elected as President. However Bandile’s mother persuaded people to set this aside and made Bandile president despite the election result. This resulted in some serious tensions in the new organisation. We think that this organisation is being supported by CCS with the hope that Bandile will be able to deliver the ‘masses’ to them as Patrick Bond has already promised people overseas that she will build a radical new organisation, one that he feels that he will be able to control and represent this time.
Two former members of our movement reported, separately, that when Bandile tried to recruit them to join her organisation she told them that Bond was her funder. They also both reported, separately, that she had told them that her emails were being written for her by an academic. She gave the name of this person to both of these people and they both reported that name to us. This academic is close to both Bond and Bohmke and has a long relationship with CCS. Sometime later a third former member of our movement also reported that Bandile told her that Bond was her funder when Bandile tried to recruit her to the new organisation.
Bandile got support in two areas via her mother’s connections. One was the Mandela Complex flats in Newlands (96 families) and the other a small shack settlement in Pinetown (a member who has been there estimated that about 30 people live there but we don’t have the exact number). She often holds meetings for her organisation in the CCS seminar room.
In December the residents of the Mandela Complex broke with Bandile and her organisation. They made it clear that she is no longer welcome in their community. Mr Elijah Cele of the Provincial Department of Human Settlements offered displaced a families a tent to stay in. Bandile worked closely with Mr Cele on this and tried to encourage the residents to move into the tent. However they refused and restated that they were no longer willing to support her organisation. Despite this she continued to try and represent them in Isolezwe. When they saw this they wrote a statement, in Zulu, which they sent to Isolezwe.
On the 23rd of December Bandile sent out another email. Attached to it was an article with Bandile’s name on it from the academic journal Politikon. This article is so dishonest that it cannot be called anything other than a deliberate attempt at fraud. Unlike the New Age the journal gave us no opportunity to respond to all the lies in the article before it went to print. As with all her previous emails attacking us it is obvious to everyone that has worked closely with Bandile that these are not her words and ideas. This article is a dishonest attempt to prove the correctness of all the defamation produced by Bohmke and others over the years.
In this email Bandile implies that our movement is responsible for the murder of a member of the Community Justice Movement – Dutch Faku. Dutch was a security guard who was killed at work by criminals. One was arrested after the murder and the other was shot dead by the police. There is a newspaper article on this murder. It can be accessed here: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/one-of-durban-s-most-wanted-shot-dead-1.1799124#.VJuMfWGAIE
Dutch lived in the small settlement in Pinetown, the only place where Bandile still has some support. There is a good relationship between us and the committee there. When our member, Thuli Ndlovu, was assassinated last year their chairperson attended the memorial and was warmly welcomed by us. After the murder of Dutch we were invited to the memorial scheduled to be held in his community. When we explained that it might be difficult to attend the memorial after Bandile’s allegations the local leadership had no idea at all about Bandile’s statement and were completely shocked to hear about it. They came to the AbM office to see it for themselves. They said that they were not consulted about the statement, expressed their shock and said that they will take action within their organisation against Bandile.
We are not aware of a single person that has taken this implied allegation of murder by Bandile seriously. Not one person has contacted us about it. The media have completely ignored it, the ANC have completely ignored it and the police have completely ignored it. The ANC often tells its own lies about us but even they couldn’t see a way to exploit this for their own purposes.
However, although we are not aware of a single person that took this allegation seriously murder remains a very serious allegation and so we had a meeting to discuss this allegation (and the dishonest article in Politikon) soon after the New Year. It was our first meeting of 2015. Just as we were starting the meeting a delegation of former members of Bandile’s organisation from the Mandela Complex in Newlands unexpectedly arrived at our office. They explained that they were informed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that Bandile had invited the EFF to a meeting at CCS to discuss the issues of the Mandela Complex people. They explained that they were outraged to hear that she was continuing to represent them without their permission and so they had gone with the EFF to confront Bandile at CCS. They reported that while they were there Bandile was receiving calls from Patrick Bond advising her to offer them food parcels. This infuriated them even more. This habit of thinking that poor black people can just be bought off with food is one of the reasons why we cannot work with Patrick Bond. In 2006 we referred to this as ‘biryani politics’ whether it came from the ANC or the NGOs. At this meeting one of our oldest and most respected activists said that we cannot accept this because “We are human beings, not dogs”. Other black activists in other grassroots organisations have had similar experiences of attempts to buy them off with offers of food when they have raised issues about how NGOs treat them. For instance this happened at the COP 17 conference. The Mandela Complex people also said that Bandile had told them that ‘Bond was her funder’.
When the meeting could continue we decided that although it was clear that no one is taking this latest allegation seriously we could not, especially with all the repression we are facing, fail to respond to this allegation. We decided that we needed to place it on record that is entirely untrue and that it is part of a long campaign of defamation against us going back to 2006. And, just as we did respond to Bohmke on the one occasion when he got into the Sunday Tribune, and we did respond to Bandile in the article written in the New Age, we decided that we would respond to the Politikon article. We have written to the editor and she has given us 3 000 words in which to respond to the article. We have been given a very short time to prepare our response. In fact it is due today. To prepare a response properly would take at least two long meetings. But despite the many pressures that we are under we are doing what we can to develop a collective response in this very short time. We held our first meeting to develop our response on Wednesday. Our response will not attack Bandile personally but it will focus on the lies that are in the article, it will show that the author of this article is ignorant of well-known aspects of our movement and its history, and it will put the lies in the article in context of the long campaign of defamation against our movement.
Politikon have also stated that the first version of the article that they received was sent back because their lawyers in London found it to be defamatory. We have also been informed that it was Patrick Bond that recommended the article to them. We have to query the intentions of anyone that recommends the publication of a defamatory attack on a movement. On our understanding defamation is not the same thing as debate. We note also that Patrick Bond called a press conference at CCS to present this article, and others, to the media. We did not see any newspaper reports after this and, in fact, have not seen any newspaper reports at all on Bandile’s various allegations against us aside from the one article in the New Age. It seems that it is not possible to lie with the same impunity in a newspaper as it is on an email list, and now also in Politikon.
Recently more emails have been sent from Bandile’s email address attacking us. Many people have told us that they have noted the close similarity between these emails and Bohmke’s obsessions and his style of writing. As people who have worked closely with Bandile we are confident that she is not writing these emails. We repeat that she has a right to choose to work with CCS and with Bohmke. If she wants Bohmke to write her emails for her that is her choice. But we do query the intentions of anyone that constantly makes dishonest statements about our movement. If Bandile was serious about the struggle she would be focusing on building her new organisation. Our position on the new organisation remains the same. If it wins support and commits itself to the struggle of the people we will be happy to work with it.
All comrades and all organizations make mistakes and we have made mistakes and we will continue to make mistakes. We welcome any discussion about how we can organize and struggle better. We welcome any discussion about how we can learn from the mistakes that we have made and the mistakes that other organizations have made. However nobody in their right mind can see constant defamation as a positive contribution to the struggle. All that Bandile’s new friends offer is defamation. These are people who have always been determined to ruin what they cannot rule. What we are dealing with here is a tiny group of middle class people who are trying by all means to destroy our movement in order that they can have full control over the representation of the political space in Durban in academic and NGO spaces. They wish to eradicate us as an organisation of the strong poor so that they can continue to think and speak for the poor. They are not willing to accept our demand to ‘speak to us, not for us’ and ‘think with us, not for us’. It is clear to us from their tactics that what they are fighting for most of all is to be able to represent the struggles of the poor internationally, especially to other academics. It is clear to us that racism is a very big part of what is happening here. It is also clear to us that this is revenge for our decision to refuse the control of the NGOs and to walk out of the meeting hosted by CCS in 2006.
The CCS model for working with grassroots structures is to offer employment to someone in that structure following which that individual will take instruction from CCS and try and deliver the support of the structure to CCS. This is not a democratic model. It is also not a model that works. Organisations that take this route quickly find that their members lose confidence in the organisation. Despite all its money and all the people that have been employed by CCS it remains an NGO with no movement. Our model for engaging with NGOs is very different. We do not accept that any of our elected leaders can take employment with any NGO. We negotiate solidarity on a collective basis, and with regard to particular projects only, with those few NGOs willing to respect our autonomy. When we agree to work together on a particular project we do so in a manner in which with all members of our organisation remain accountable only to our members.
Those who wish to know the truth about our organisation are welcome to come and meet us and sit in on our meetings. Those who are far away should remain aware that those who have always defamed us, and who Bandile has now chosen to work with, have no personal experience of our movement. On the other hand many activists, academics and journalists from all over the world have participated freely in our processes and know very well what is true and what is not. They should also be aware that we are constantly under surveillance by the state and that if we had any big secrets they would have come a long time ago. Anyone who wishes to get more insight into why it has become impossible for some comrades to work with Bandile is welcome to meet with any member of the Ridge View, Marikana Land Occupation or Mandela Complex communities and to discuss any matter of their choice.
Bandile’s new friends have our entire mailing list. It seems sure that defamation will continue to be emailed to all our comrades around the world and to a long list of academics around the world. We cannot stop this. A number of people have contacted us to say that all requests sent to Bandile’s email address asking to be taken off the mailing list for this defamation have been ignored. Twice people requesting to be removed from this mailing list have had a reply to their request circulated to the whole mailing list (in both cases many people have noted that it seemed obvious to them that these replies from Bandile’s email address were written by Bohmke). People who do not wish to receive these emails any more are just marking them as spam. This is all that we can advise. We apologise to those people who registered to be on our mailing list and are now receiving these emails but do not want to keep receiving these emails. The situation is beyond our control.
We are aware that the defamation will keep coming and that this statement will provoke further intimidation and lies. However we are not going to keep responding to all the defamation that will keep coming. This is the only statement that we will issue. We are also going to, with their permission of course, send out a translation of the statement from the Mandela Complex people. After that we will say no more on this matter. However we will meet Bandile in court for the defamation case and we will, despite the very short time that we have been given, develop a careful response to the article in Politikon showing the various points at which it is dishonest.
One thing that makes us very sad about all this is that it is obvious to us that once it becomes clear that Bandile has agreed to support this long campaign of defamation against us, and once it becomes clear just how many dishonest claims have been made in her name, she will lose her credibility. She will then be dropped by her new friends. We expect that they will then find someone else to continue their campaign. There are always people that need money.
Our silence until now in the face of numerous lies issued in Bandile’s name has not meant that we accept what is being said. We have been trying to conduct ourselves in a dignified and respectful way. We were not bought up to embarrass other people. We have been trying to, as we have always tried to do since 2006, ignore the world of lies that flourishes on Patrick Bond’s email list and focus on our political work. However the accusation of murder, an accusation that is entirely untrue, is a step too far.
This statement has been prepared in a number of discussions, beginning on the 6th of January and including long meetings on the 6th of January and the 4th of February. It has been through nine drafts. Leaders were given printed drafts to take home and enable the discussion to continue at different levels of our organisation. We take collective responsibility as a movement for its production, its content and its dissemination.
For further comment please contact:
Zandile Nsibande – 074 767 5706
T.J Ngongoma – 084 613 9772
S’bu Zikode – 083 547 0474
Thina Khanyile – 060 310 8170