Oppidan Press: UPM, AbM to march over Cato Crest violence


The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) will be holding a march in solidarity with Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in Grahamstown on 30 October 2013 from 3-5pm, starting at the Cathedral on High Street.

Members from UPM will address the crowd before marching to the police station to hand over a memorandum of demands including the right to association and the right to protest unharmed.

In a press release the UPM said, “We will be gathering at the Cathedral in High Street and marching to the police station where the UPM will be handing over a memorandum against state repression and police brutality.”

The organisations cite the on-going police brutality in South Africa, including the killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg in 2011, the Marikana Massacre and the killing of three activists in Cato Crest earlier this year as cause for the march.

The UPM and AbM have called on Grahamstown residents and the staff and students of Rhodes University to march in solidarity against the “repression of the poor”.

Rhodes University has expressed support for the movements, recently hosting S’bu Zikode, founding president of AbM. Zikode spoke at Rhodes University about the evictions and violence in Cato Crest.

In an open letter (attached below) to the South African Police Service (SAPS), Rhodes staff and students demanded that there be accountability and transparency in police dealings with citizens, particularly in those cases involving violent protest and retaliation.

“In all incidents, the perpetrators of violence remain unpunished. This failure to take decisive, criminal action against the police sends a signal that the lives of the poor are less valuable and their deaths are acceptable casualties in the making of our new democracy.”

“I think it matters a lot in the sense that communities are subjected to police brutality and that we have to react when police take that right to behave unlawfully towards citizens,” said Tarryn Alexander, one of the organisers and a lecturer Rhodes Sociology Department.

The march will begin at 3pm at the Cathedral on High Street and will end at the police station around 5pm, all are welcome.

Words by Chelsea Haith

Open Letter to the SAPS: Marikana Continues

More than a year since the Marikana Massacre and the unadulterated violence that the South African state permits against the poor continues.

This is a violence marked by poverty, the denial of responsibility on the part of politicians, and even death inflicted upon South Africa’s poor by the ruling elite who continue to masquerade a non-participatory and brutal system as if it were the democracy once promised.

Since early 2013 we have witnessed again, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the naked violence of the police in the destruction of shack settlements and the active silencing of those who protest against it.

In Kwa-Zulu Natal the eThekwini municipality have illegally evicted people from their homes. They have employed the forces of the South African Police service (SAPs) and the Land Invasion Unit to illegally demolish shacks in which families live, rendering dozens of people homeless and bringing into the Cato Crest community extreme violence and intimidation, including murder. This is unacceptable. We cannot stand by and watch in silence.

The show of aggression by police in the destruction of homes patently disregards a court order with  the Durban High Court made on 22 August 2013 that all evictions would stop pending the final outcome of an application made by the municipality to the court.

With no legitimate court order to justify their behaviour and in defiance of a series of interdicts against their actions – the local municipality have openly ignored the High Court’s instructions. Particularly, the instruction to provide “temporary habitable dwellings that afford shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those destroyed”. Instead it has continued its attack on the shackdwellers and their livelihoods in Cato Crest.

Two activists – Thembinkosi Qumbelo and Nkululeko Gwala – have been killed. There have been no official investigations into these killings in spite of allegations that these activists were targeted for assassination.  The Land Invasion Unit and SAPS have also shot at protestors repeatedly at close range with live ammunition.  Nkosinathi Mngomezulu and Luleka Makhwenkwana have been hospitalised and on 30 September Nqobile Nzuza, a 17-year-old student at Bonella High School, was shot dead by the Cato Manor police. Even though there are witnesses to the shooting, Nzuza’s alleged murderer continues to function as a police officer in the area.

Yet it is those who protest the murders of activists, those who demand not to be evicted from their homes, those who defend themselves against state-sponsored violence and those who struggle for land and housing who are portrayed time and again as the hooligans, as the inciters of lawlessness against the police who evict them.

Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), South Africa’s largest post-apartheid social movement has supported the rebuilding of demolished shacks and the establishment of “Marikana”, a resettlement on adjacent land named after the area where last year police shot dead 34 miners. Members of Abahlali believe that in any democratic society people should be able to decide where they live. Shacks should be upgraded where they are and people should not be forced to leave their homes and communities and to move to the outskirts of the city away from jobs, schools, hospitals and other key resources to which all people should have access. AbM are not affiliated to any political party or Non-governmental organisation.

In 2009, Abahlali won a historic victory in the Constitutional Court when they had section 16 of the Slums Act overturned. Because of AbM, an act that would have given provincial powers the ability to enforce mass evictions was declared illegal.  Their political significance to social justice was heralded by their branding and criminalisation within the ruling party. This continues today.

Bandile Mdlalose, General Secretary of AbM, was organising a (peaceful) march at the Cato Manor police station after the murder of Nqobile shortly before she was arrested. The police retaliated with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas. She was then arrested while standing on the pavement. The media reported it as a ‘violent’ protest; E News said protesters were ‘running amok’ while showing visuals of people running in terror from the police. Mdlalose was held for seven days before she was released on R5000 bail and ordered to stay out of Cato Crest.  There have also been constant allegations of assaults by the police, and death threats against activists. S’bu Zikode, President of AbM, is in fear of his life and has been forced to flee his home.


In a statement released on 7th October, AbM called on comrades in South Africa

“To take urgent action in solidarity with us and against the repression we are facing. We call on all comrades to support our call for the authorities in Durban to cease their violent repression of our movement; to clearly condemn the violence of the police, the Land Invasions Unit, the party thugs and the assassins and negotiate rather than repress the organised poor; to act against those that have perpetrated this violence and embrace a democratic politic, a politic of negotiation.”

We cannot afford to be indifferent. What is happening in Cato Crest is not acceptable on any level; our silence and the silence of the media must stop implying that it is. We are here to say we are outraged.

A Call to Action: Ficksburg (2011), Marikana (2012), Cato Crest (2013) – Enough!

30 October – March in Grahamstown against police and political violence (Cathedral to the police station – meet at the Cathedral at 3:00pm)

Organised by The Unemployed People’s Movement and Staff and Students of Rhodes University.

We note with concern that state violence against Cato Crest residents and activists is not an isolated case. In post apartheid South Africa there has been a growing and alarming trend towards the brutal repression by the police and local government of poor and working class communities who seek to exercise their democratic rights by protesting for their most basic human needs to be met. Members of such communities have been arrested, imprisoned, and even killed for demanding decent housing, employment, a living wage, electricity, water, and education. These resources are integral to living with respect and dignity and are resources that the middle and upper class take for granted.

Three of the most notable incidents of state violence include the killing of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg (2011), the Marikana massacre (2012), and the killing of three activists in Cato Crest (2013). In all incidents, the perpetrators of violence remain unpunished. This failure to take decisive, criminal action against the police sends a signal that the lives of the poor are less valuable and their deaths are acceptable casualties in the making of our new democracy. It shows that the law in South Africa is not for the poor and working class, but only protects those with wealth and power.

We reject this. We believe that all who live in South Africa have the right to protest and live without fear of police violence or political harassment, and intimidation.

It is clear that we cannot trust the state and business to restrain the police. Building a strong, democratic, grass roots politics is the first step towards halting violence against poor and working class communities. It is up to us to keep the police and politicians accountable.

It is within this context that we call for the following –

  • Protest is a basic democratic right. We demand that all police and private security present at demonstrations should be disarmed. No live ammunition, rubber bullets, water tankers, pepper spray etc. should be allowed.
  • Freedom of association is a basic democratic right. We call for political tolerance in the run up to the next election. People have the right to choose not to vote, or to vote for the political party of their choice. Political intimidation and thuggery undermines democracy.