12 & 13 September 2006: S’bu Zikode & Philani Zungu arrested, bound and beaten by Nayager and released

Update: Click here to see Niren Tolsi s article in the Mail & Guardian


Democracy Takes a Beating in Durban
(Sunday Tribune, 17 September 2006)

Abahlali baseMjondolo is the shackdwellers’ movement that grew out of a protest organised from the Kennedy Road settlement in Clare Estate on Saturday 19 March 2005. The protest was organised after a piece of nearby land long promised for housing was suddenly sold off to a developer. On that day Alfred Mdletshe told Fred Kockott, the first journalist on the scene, that ‘We are tired of living and walking in shit. The council must allocate land for housing us. Instead they are giving it to property developers to make money’. The movement that grew out of this first protest quickly spread to nearby settlements, and then across Durban and on to Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg. Abahlali now have members in more than 30 settlements.

Their highly democratic mode of organising, the deeply humanistic statements of the elected President S’bu Zikode and their thoughtful use of legal marches, negotiations and other tactics has won them major attention from community media to Al Jazeera and the New York Times. Recently leading figures in society like Bishop Reuben Philip and poet Dennis Brutus have lent their credibility to Abahlali’s struggle for genuinely democratic governance, access to services and decent housing in the city. But the local state has responded with consistent repression, most of it patently illegal. This has included the illegal banning of marches and severe police violence. More than 100 Bahlali have been arrested since March last year but in every instance charges have later been dropped as there has been no evidence to go to take to trial. The power of arrest is being systematically misused as a form of political intimidation.

On Monday 4 September Abahlali used the Promotion of Access to Information Act to demand that City Manager Sutcliffe tell them, in concrete detail, what the city’s plans are for them. The next day Mxolisi Nkosi, the HOD in the Dept of Housing, called Abahlali in to berate them and demand that they cease speaking to the media. Abahlali asserted their refusal to be silenced all over the media spectacularly out arguing Departmental Spokesperson Lennox Mabaso in two major radio debates. Nonhlanhla Mzobe, a key Abahlali activist, found that her boss had received a letter from the local councillor, Yakoob Baig, demanding that she be fired for supporting the ‘red shirts’. The following Monday Abahlali, together with community organisations from the Municipal flats in Wentworth and Chatsworth, protested outside the Housing Summit at the ICC wearing t-shirts demanding “Talk to Us, Not For Us.” Again this put them all over the newspapers, radio and TV.

On Tuesday Abahlali were invited to be on Gagasi FM from 18:00 to 19:00. They had recently raised some money via a 16 team football tournament to help with the transport between the settlements. Some of this money was used to hire a small car, a Tazz, to help with all the getting round for radio interviews, meetings and so on in the hours after taxis have stopped running. At around 17:40 S’bu Zikode (President), Philani Zungu (Deputy President) and Mnikelo Ndabanakulu (PRO) got into the car to leave for the radio interview. While the car was still stationary, officers from the Sydenham police station, notorious in the settlements for its corruption, brutality and anti-African racism, pounced. They thrust guns into the faces of the Bahlali and accused them, in a highly racialised manner, of driving a stolen vehicle. The police ordered the three men out of the car. When they saw that Ndanankulu was wearing one of the famous red Abahlali T-shirts they pulled it off him, insulted him, pushed him around, threw the shirt into the mud, made a great show of standing and spitting on it and announced that ‘there will be no more red shirts here’.

Philani Zungu politely but firmly told them that they had no right to act like this and suggested that this was racist political intolerance. He was assaulted. Zikode was also assaulted as the two were bundled into the van. The police picked up Ndabankulu’s red shirt and said they were taking it ‘to use as a mop in the station’.

Ndabankulu, Zikode’s wife Sindi, Zungu’s mother, Ma Zungu, and a handful of others soon got to the nearby Sydenham police station. They were denied entrance, sworn at and racially abused. Someone sent an SMS to P4 radio explaining that their guests were under arrest. This was announced on air. Within minutes Bahlali started arriving from all over Durban and Pinetown. There was soon a crowd of around 40 people outside the station. Access to the prisoners and medical attention for Zungu was asked for, but denied. The police refused to say what the charge was.

In the nearby Kennedy Road settlement an emergency mass meeting was being held in the hall. More than 500 people squeezed in and more waited outside. An SMS was sent to people at the police station to see if bail was possible. The police said that there would be no bail. When this was conveyed to the meeting a group of women in the front decided to march on the police station.

Within minutes of people getting onto the road the police arrived. They gave no warnings to disperse and began shooting with rubber bullets and live ammunition. Anyone on the road or even moving between the shacks was shot at. A women in her 40s, known as Zinovia, was shot in both legs.

Back at the police station there was a glimpse of Zikode and Zungu lying face down on the floor handcuffed and bound at the feet. Ndabankulu’s red shirt was lying on the floor next to them. In the Charge Office there was a whiteboard headed ‘Suspicious Behaviour’ that listed ‘3 Black Men Driving a Tazz’ at the top. It was announced that Zikode and Zungu were to be charged with assaulting a police officer.

Word was received that the police were continuing to shoot in the settlement and that there had been some attempt at a fight back with stones and bricks. Zikode got access to his cell phone and sent out two messages “Please look after Sindi!” and “Nayager has satisfied himself with us. Too tough with Philani.” (Glen Nayagar is the notorious station commander with a record of racist violence towards Abahlali. He has also been accused of intimidating journalists who have witnessed police violence against Abahali.) Zikode was assured that Sindi was ok and asked if he wanted people to protest outside the police station, as they were determined to do, or to make a tactical retreat in the hope of calming the police down. He replied “Up to them!! I am fighting for them. Not for myself.”

Suddenly a group of men in camouflage arrived all pumped up with adrenalin and a will to violence. They declared the collection of about 40 people an illegal gathering and began herding people off using their guns like cattle prods and threatening to shoot. One of the Sydenham policemen shouted, in Fanakalo, ‘Hamba inja! Hamba!’ Another, a notoriously racist and violent local police reservist told anyone who’d listen that ‘The Red Shirts must go back where they came from’.

Kennedy Road was still occupied by the police. But around Clare Estate small groups of Bahlali were meeting in settlements or in safe places like the forecourt of the BP in Clare Road where community activists Des D’sa from the Wentworth and Orlean and Pinky Naidoo from Chatsworth arrived to offer solidarity to Ndabankulu, still shirtless, and three Bahlali looking for a late taxi to get back to Pinetown. A march of 20 000 on the Sydenham Police Station was suggested.

The next morning there were hundreds of Bahlali in the Durban magistrates’ court. The Magistrate released Zikode and Zungu without asking for bail. They were joyously carried out of the court on the shoulders of their comrades. Both men had visible wounds and explained that they had been personally assaulted by Nayager who had hurled political abuse on them as he bashed their heads against the wall. A group of policemen had enthusiastically photographed Nayager’s assault which only ended when Zungu was knocked unconscious and could not be revived. After the celebration in the court gardens was over they went straight to the District Surgeon to have their injuries recorded with a view to laying charges against the police.

Another red shirt will be sewn for Mnikelo Ndanankulu on a rented pedal power sewing machine. But the city’s democratic credentials are in tatters that will not be sewn together by more empty pomposity at the ICC or wasting billions of rand on another airport and stadium. This assault on two men trying to get to a radio interview was an assault on democracy. If the rulers of this city do not learn to accept that the poor have a right to disagree with the powerful then our future will be as ugly as the Sydenham Police station.



MEC s Office Instructs Shack Dwellers to Stop All Communication with the Media

Thursday, 06 September 06:47 PM

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release 6 September 2006

On Thursday last week Abahlali baseMjondolo announced that we would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to compel the eThekwini Municipality to disclose its plans for shack dwellers to shack dwellers. The next day we received a sudden invitation to attend a meeting with the office of the provincial MEC for housing at 3:00 pm today.

We took time away from our work and made ourselves available for this meeting. We hoped that we would finally get answers to our basic questions about what future the government is planning for us when we are told that the slums will be cleared by 2010. We would like to register our profound disappointment and disgust at the way in which this meeting was conducted by Mxolisi Nkosi, the HOD in the Dept. He behaved like an Inkosi berating his subjects in front of his councillors. There was no democracy in the meeting. We were not allowed to speak and when we insisted that this was our right we were threatened. Mr. Jaguja, a respected member of his community, of Abahlali and the Methodist church was insulted by Lennox Mabaso and told to shut his mouth when he tried to speak. The purpose of this meeting was for us to be told to know our place. Nkosi said that he had been getting phone calls from the media and instructed us to stop speaking to the media. We will not be intimidated. We will keep speaking to the media.

Nkosi then instructed us, making much use of complicated English words that we don t understand, that from now on the province would not be dealing with our matters. He insisted that Abahlali must go back to the Municipality and that the councillors are the route to communicate with the Municipality. We have tried this for years. The councillor system failed us and then the Mayor failed us. Recently Mike Sutcliffe told a researcher from England that his slum clearance programme would not meet its 2010 target because of a lack of funding from the provincial government. Now the provincial government tells us to back to the city!

Nkosi is trying to make the councillors as Gods above the people. We will not accept this. As citizens of a democracy we have a right to stand together, make our selves strong and demand answers directly from government. We will not be sent back to the control of lying and corrupt councillors who take their orders from above and not from below. In some of our settlements our councillors have even tried to intimidate us with armed threats. We have no choice. We will now go back to the streets in our thousands. And we want to make it very clear that it is Nkosi and not some third force that will be making us march.

On Monday and Tuesday we will be protesting because we have been denied access to the housing summit that is happening at the IEC in Durban. We are the ones who need houses but we are denied access to the conference. The rich will be there in numbers to speak the language of house prices and to demand that the poor are relocated to keep prices high. No one will be there to speak for the poor and for putting people before the profits of the rich.

The government talks about Breaking New Ground and says that upgrades are better than relocation because they keep the people near the city where there is work, schools, healthcare and so on. The government s own policy states that relocations make the poor much poorer. But the city and the province want to push the poor out of the city. They are in the pockets of the rich. This is not the democracy that we and our ancestors fought for. There is no justice in this.

We will keep struggling and we will keep talking to the media. Our ancestors were not silenced by Shepstone and McKenzie. Our parents were not silenced by Botha and Buthelezi. We were not silenced by De Klerk. We were not silenced by Sutcliffe when he tried to ban our marches. We will not be silenced by Nkosi. On the question of our right to speak to the media the struggles against apartheid have already won us a victory that we will defend. In this case the law is on our side. We will defend our right to speak.

Democracy is not about us being loyal to Nkosi. Democracy is about Nkosi being loyal to the citizens of this province.

For further information or comment please contact:

S bu Zikode, President, 0835470474
Philani Zungu, Deputy President, 0729629312
M du Hlongwa, General Secretary, 0723358966
Mnikelo Ndabankulu, PRO, 0735656241
Nonhlanhla Mzobe, Kennedy Road Settlement 0760884352
Colbert Jaguja, Juba Place Settlement 0732854270
Lindela Figlan, Foreman Road Settlement, 0725274600
Zodwa Nsibande, Kennedy Road Settlement, 0834925442
Louisa Mota, Motala Heights Settlement, 0781760088