Shack dwellers vow to fight government’s war on protest

Mphathi Nxumalo, The Daily News

Durban – Despite Community Safety and Liaison MEC Mxolisi Kaunda’s declaration of war against illegal protests, shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) plans to defy it, saying it was a war against the poor.

Kaunda promised to end these protests within three months.

At a media briefing held at the Department of Public Works’ offices in Mayville, Kaunda said in the past financial year there had been more than 530 public protests in the province, and 270 illegal ones in the past four months. 

The hot spots in Durban and surrounding areas included Chesterville, Cato Manor and uMlazi.

On Tuesday, motorists travelling to work were caught in traffic on the N2 Durban-bound after protesters set alight tyres on the busy freeway.

Durban metro police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said police were clearing a similar incident on the N2 at Umbogintwini.

Traffic had to be diverted from the N2 at Isipingo on to the M4.

“What makes matters worse is that the majority of these protests become violent and result in malicious damage to private and public property,” said Kaunda.

Some of the protests have choked major arterial routes and resulted in substantial economic losses for the province and the country.

AbM spokesperson Thapelo Mohapi said this was a war against the poor and would result in the “torture and killing” of protesters.

“Abahlali will continue to support people who take to the streets. There are real reasons behind the protests, and demonstrators are not fools,” said Mohapi.

“We are prepared to lay down our lives for the economic liberation of the poor,” he said.

Mohapi felt Kaunda should have instead said he would find a way to better engage with the poor.

He said Abahlali would not be telling protesters to back off.

At a media briefing, Kaunda said a sub-committee was established to devise a strategy to deal with the protests.

The committee includes Kaunda and MECs from the departments of Education, Human Settlements and Public Works and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. They would report to Premier Willies Mchunu.

“We are not a government of tyres We will not tolerate anarchy,” said Kaunda. He said they would not fight with people, but with the illegal approaches being used by them.

He said criminal elements in communities were using protests to divert police attention away from criminal activities they engaged in.

Kaunda had earlier said the protests were draining police resources and keeping them from dealing with other matters such as murders.

Dr Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, expressed concerns about Kaunda’s declaration.

“This is a very bold undertaking.

“I think it will be extremely difficult to implement this policy decision,” he said.

Burger said with the spontaneous nature of protests, people did not go through the proper processes of applying for permits and that the demonstrators were venting their anger.

Burger, who worked for the police for more than 35 years, said he doubted they would be able to quell illegal protests, which were generally hard to monitor.He said this could create confrontations between police and protesters, which law enforcement tries to avoid.

Burger said there was a spike in protests in winter when the lack of access to basic necessities, such as electricity, became more acute and gave rise to feelings of discontent.