A Short History of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Durban Shack Dwellers’ Movement

Click here for a more recent (2010) introduction to the movement by Gerhard Kienast. Hier klicken für einige Dokumente in Deutsch.

Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo
(Compiled October, 2006)

The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement began in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. Although it is overwhelmingly located in and around the large port city of Durban it is, in terms of the numbers of people mobilised, the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa. Its originary event was a road blockade organised from the Kennedy Road settlement in protest at the sale, to a local industrialist, of a piece of nearby land long promised by the local municipal councillor to shack dwellers for housing.

The movement that began with the road blockade grew quickly and now has tens of thousands of supporters from more than 30 settlements. In the last year and a half the movement has suffered more than a hundred arrests, regular police assault and ongoing death threats and other forms of intimidation from local party goons. It has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers in subaltern and elite publics and occupied and marched on the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets. The movement also organised a highly contentious but very successful boycott of the March 2006 local government elections under the slogan ‘No Land, No House, No Vote’. Amongst other victories the Abahlali have democratised the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won acces to schools, stopped the industrial development of the land promised to Kennedy Road, forced numerous government officials, offices and projects to ‘come down to the people’ and mounted vigorous challenges to the uncritical assumption of a right to lead the local struggles of the poor in the name of a privileged access to the 'global' (i.e Northern donors, academics and NGOs) that remains typical of most of the NGO based left. The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy. In some settlements the movement has also successfully set up projects like crèches, gardens, sewing collectives, support for people living with and orphaned by AIDS and so on. It has also organised a 16 team football league and quarterly all night multi genre music competitions.

The best way to make direct contact with Abahlali baseMjondolo is to send a letter to:

Abahlali baseMjondolo
Kennedy Road Informal Settlement
286 Kennedy Road
Clare Estate
South Africa

Below you can find a chronologically arranged selection of some of the pamphlets, memoranda, speeches, press releases and articles that were produced (in English) from the road blockade in March 2005 till the arrest and assault of S'bu Zikode and Philani Zungu in October 2006. It is not, at all, a comprehensive archive but does give a good enough feel for the various forms of writing that have been produced from within this rapidly developing struggle. For a small and quick to download selection of pictures go to South Africa Indymedia here or look at the Media Albums here at Abahlali.org.

1. 'We are the Third Force' by S’bu Zikode
2. The Road Blockade and the Birth of a Movement
3. Begining with Local Domination
4. The Battle of Foreman Road with *new* video in Zulu and English
5. Mayor Mlaba Responds With Lies
6. Areas Breaking from Party Control Are Quickly Repressed
7. Triumph in the High Court and in the Streets of Durban
8. Some Time for Reflection after the Election
9. The Struggle Continues – More Fires, More Threatened Evictions…
10. UnFreedom Day
11. We are Human Beings, Not Pets
12. Using the Constitution, Getting Assaulted and Shot at by the Cops
13. New eMouse Cracks
14. No Longer on Our Own
15. But Repression Continues

*New* Breyani and the Councillor, 21 minute film by Sally Giles and Fazel Khan.
*New* Our lives – Photography and writing from Abahlali women.

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