Post Annual General Meeting Speech by S’bu Zikode

Cindezela lapha ukubona isiZulu.

14 December 2008

Post Annual General Meeting Speech by S'bu Zikode

Delivered to Abahlali baseMjondolo at the Blue Lagoon, Durban


Comrades, as you all know we have come from a very unique AGM of our beloved Movement, a Movement whose unique strength has enabled so many shack dwellers to stand together and to be very strong in defending and protecting ourselves, our communities and our right to the cities.

Our 2008 AGM held in the Kennedy Road Hall on 23 November was as successful as all the others that we have held since the launch of our movement in October 2005. Our movement is still growing and all of our branches and affiliated settlements elected their representatives and the hall at Kennedy Road was overflowing. Everyone was free to say what ever they wanted to say. The voting went well and it was wonderful to have our comrades from the Poor People's Alliance with us. But, as you all know, I took a decision not to stand for another term. As I explained my intention was always to remain strongly committed to the movement but it seemed clear to me that all positions at all levels of leadership in our movement need to be shared, that the burden of leadership in a movement of volunteers needs to be shared, that I need time for my family and to be able to read and to think about what we have achieved with our living politic – a politic that was always based on us thinking carefully about our lives and our struggles. We have to change ourselves before we can change the world and, without time to think, that change becomes difficult.

We have often said that as the poor our only strength is in our discipline. Our numbers mean nothing if we are not organized and we cannot be organized without being disciplined. Our discipline has never been about taking orders from above. Our movement grew out of a rejection of the top down politics of the councillors, the ward committees and the branch executive committees. We have always rejected top down politics in all its forms – including those NGOs that want to remote our movements. Our discipline has been about discussing things carefully at our meetings, thinking together at our meetings and then taking decisions that we are all committed too. Our discipline is a shared responsibility. It is not about some people disciplining other people. It is about us sharing responsibility together. For this reason our movement is built around the meetings. All of our meetings are always open. Anyone can put any issue on the agenda. Anyone can speak. If comrades have questions or worries they must come to the meetings in their settlements or the meetings of the Women's League, the Youth League or the Abahlali baseMjondolo secretariat. This is the space for questions to be asked and for worries to be coughed out. It is also the space where we share the work that must be done. If we continue to respect this space our movement will continue to be strong.

Leading this movement is not an easy task. It is a task that demands a leader who is humble enough to listen to everyone but strong enough to never compromise people's lives by not standing up when that becomes necessary. The task demands political creativity because we have to invent our struggle as we wage it. The task demands respect for all age groups within the Movement – it demands a better understanding of what Abahlali Youth is like, Abahlali Mama's, Gogo's, Baba's and Mkhulu's are like. It calls for a leader who is willing to learn and who is prepared to be led as the Vice President of Abahlali, Lindela Figlan, likes to puts it. This willingness of all our leaders to learn and to be led is very important in our Movement's work of defining itself and knowing itself before someone else from somewhere else defines our Movement. We can never know our enemy and our world without knowing ourselves; we can not understand all the challenges lying ahead of us and their possible solutions if we do not understand ourselves.

As a disciplined member of Abahlali baseMjondolo I have always admired how members of our Movement have shown such trust in me in this very high and very demanding Task to lead such a growing Movement. And I still ask myself as to what wonders or qualities of leadership I have demonstrated to Abahlali that you can elect, re-elect and then re-elect me again in this challenging task. As you all know this year I did not stand and no one else stood for the position of president and so the ballot paper for the position of the president was empty. And yet you all wrote my name on the empty ballot papers. It was a very emotional day for all of us.

Comrades I have noted how you asked me to reconsider my decision at the AGM. I have noted the views of the new secretariat and the outgoing secretariat. I have noted all the views of those of you that have come to the office and to my home to ask me to reconsider.

Comrades I have also noted how our comrades from all the organizations that make up the Poor People's Alliance have stood strong for my return as your leader, these comrades have come with a smile to us as they come from a mile to strengthen our course as their course. I can not stop reading sms's and it has been their call that has finally prompted my decision to accept the trust that you placed in me at the AGM. I refer to comrades from the Landless People's Movement in Gauteng, the Anti-Eviction Campaign in the Western Cape, Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Western Cape and the Rural Network in KZN. I salute their commitment for a just society. I salute their commitment to the principle that the poor should think and lead their own struggles. I salute their courage over the years. There is a long road ahead but we will walk it together.


We declared 2005, the year in which we formed our movement, as the Year of Action. How we marched that year! Last year was the Year of No Evictions and we were successful in stopping every eviction that threatened our settlements that year. We declared 2008 the year of Land and Housing. But instead it became the year of the Red Devil in Jondolos (Matt Birkinshaw 2008). Kennedy Road, Jadhu Place, Foreman Road, Emmause, Motala Heights, Arnet Drive, Emagwaveni, Ash Road in Pietermaritzburg and QQ-Section in the Western Cape were all affected by the plague of fires. This was also another year of rats attacking our children. A baby was killed in Kennedy Road and more babies were bitten afterwards. This was also a year in which shack dwellers in Durban were still denied official access to electricity and suffered assaults and even shootings in the armed and violent de-electrifications in settlements like Kennedy Road, Pemary Ridge, Emagwaveni-Tongaat and Arnet Drive. And while we are denied official electricity and attacked for making our own life saving electricity connections the government leaves live wires dangling from the pylons above our settlements. We all know that this would never happen in Westville or Umhlanga Rocks. People who are denied official electricity and attacked when they connect themselves have still been shocked to death by these dangling wires from the high pylons in places like eMagwaveni and Kennedy Road. This has also been a year of floods (Ash Road-Pietermaritzburg) and it has been a year of threats of massive eviction in Arnet Drive, Emagwaveni in Tongaat, Motala Heights in Pinetown, Siyanda C-Section and eMacambini in the northern part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This year was also the year, the terrible year, in which people born in other countries were attacked all over South Africa.

It has also been the year of the notorious transit camps.

And it has also been the year of the equally notorious Slums Act.

It has also been a year of talks, slow dragging talks, but talks nevertheless. We have been in talks with the Project Preparation Trust (PPT), the eThekwini municipality, Ricky Govender of Motala Heights, Mr Moolan of the Emagwaveni land and even the Land Invasions Unit and the police.

It ended as a challenging year where the highest post and task in the movement remained vacant for more for more than twenty days after the Annual General Meeting.

Victories in 2008

The life of the poor is not easy in this world and it is not easy in this country. I have already mentioned some of the threats that we have faced this year.

But we must remember that we have achieved a lot in 2008. As much as it has been the year of the Red Devil, the year of the transit camp and the year of the attacks on people born in other countries it has also been the year of negotiations.

We have continued with all our ordinary work this year. We have worked to build the structures in the branches and affiliated settlements, to connect water and electricity, to defend our land, to ensure the safety of our communities, to ensure the continued power of women in our movement, to start and run gardens and crèches, to continue with the university of Abahlali baseMjondolo including training in computer skills, to run a library, to hold camps where we can discuss and be together through the nights, to care for each other in times of trouble, to support the struggles of other communities when they have asked us for solidarity and to take our own struggle forward in the settlements, in the streets and in the courts. Some of our branches and affiliated settlements are full of life – their spirits are always high and they are full of energy, creativity and courage. Some are only highly activated in times of crisis but seem to go to sleep a little when threats recede and to assume that others will keep the growing movement strong for them. Our movement ends this year much bigger than it was at the end of last year. We have many more members in many more settlements than ever before. But as the movement grows the work that must be done grows too.

Through the negotiations that we have been involved in all year our voice became louder and louder as the City was forced to sit down and listen to Abahlali. These talks were very carefully facilitated by PPT. Along the way we had to ensure that representatives from all our settlements could participate, that we kept the right to be political and to be critical and that we kept our intellectual autonomy by ensuring that we did not send all of our most committed comrades to the negotiations and that the delegates to the negotiations reported to our Abahlali meetings.

We are finalizing the details of the MOU that commits all parties to providing specified services to 14 settlements and to upgrading three settlements with on site housing. All kinds of very important breakthroughs have been achieved already including the right for shack dwellers to get services while they wait for houses, the right for shack dwellers get houses where they are living and the right to genuinely participatory and democratic urban planning.

We have already finalized the Abahlali Settlement Plan for Kennedy Road which will enable Abahlali and the city to acknowledge injustices and to find a common ground on which to respect the needs and the voice of the shack dwellers while upgrading the settlement where it is. The threat of forced removal that has been hanging over Kennedy Road since 1995 has now lifted.

In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle of one house for one family against the one house for one shack system. In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle that no one will left homeless by development. In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all. We withdrew from the negotiations when any of our settlements were under threat. We have won the right to bargain collectively. We have won the right to include new settlements in our negotiations as they join us. The history of our relationship with the eThekwini Municipality has been painful. Many of us have suffered arrests and beatings. But although we have agreed that we disagree on some issues, like electricity, we have, by negotiating directly with officials and leaving out the politicians, come to a common understanding that is a good platform for the future. As we leave this year we enter a new era in the history of Durban and in the history of our movement.

When the attacks on people born in other countries began in Johannesburg in May we committed ourselves to shelter and defend our comrades born in other countries. There were no attacks in any of our settlements and we were able to stop attacks in some nearby settlements where we do not have members. We offered sanctuary to everyone that asked for our help. A very high position in our movement was held by a person born in another country and living here without papers. We made contact with many refugee and migrant organizations.

Once again we conducted a Clean up Campaign in Kennedy Road to try and reduce the infection of rats. It was not easy but it was successful.

In previous years the city and the media ignored the people left homeless as result of shack fires but during this year Abahlali has forced the city to provide at least the building materials after shack fires, or even those tin houses when that is the will of the affected communities and families. We have been clear that people have the right to choose or to reject the tin houses after fires. The City has accepted this.

As always we have strongly rejected all forms of forced relocation. Right now we are fighting this battle in Siyanda where people face forced removal by the Provincial Department of Transport for the construction of MR577 Freeway. This battle has also been fought very hard in Motala Heights and in Arnet Drive through political means and on legal terms. A very huge victory was won by Arnet Drive in the Durban High Court this year and, although the year is not quite over, we can say that we have successfully stopped every eviction threatened against our members, old or new, during this year. This is the second consecutive year in which we have won every single battle against eviction. The last time an Umhlali was evicted was in December 2006. We are determined that it will never happen again.

We have also fought the notorious KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Slums Act outside and inside the court of law. We are waiting for the verdict of the judge. If we are not successful in the High Court we will continue onto the Appeal Court and then the Constitutional Court. We will never accept the Slums Act. Now that the City is treating us with respect we will force the Province to do the same. When the Province has been forced to accept our humanity we will, with our comrades in the Poor People's Alliance, take on the national government.

The Movement has also managed to host the very big National Events such as the Unfreedom Day that we hold every year on 27 April at which the organization weighs its strengths and reflects on freedom. The freedom celebrated in the stadiums is, in fact, not the freedom that we all fought for.

In December 2006 we formed the Action Alliance with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Some of the left NGOs did not take that declaration of our autonomy very well. They have continued to lie about our December 2006 protest against their top down style to try and show that we are too stupid to think our own struggles. This year we expanded the alliance to include the KwaZulu-Natal Rural Network and the Johannesburg Landless People's Movement and formed the Poor People's Alliance. We are now a movement that is in the cities and on the farms. We are now a movement that is in Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Pinetown, Durban and Cape Town. We are determined to make this alliance a strong voice of the poor, by the poor and for the poor. We held two national meetings of the Poor People's Alliance this year.

At the November meeting of the Poor People's Alliance we took the decision to continue to refuse the domination of certain NGOs, to develop our own position and campaign on the elections and to continue to build a living politic in our communities that can take up our issues and be answerable to us. We have decided to boycott the 2009 elections under the banner of 'No Land! No House! No Vote!' We are currently working on a statement to announce and explain this boycott to the world.We will continue to refuse all attempts by NGOs to buy movements by offering money to individuals. We will continue to refuse party politics. Our aim is to build the power of the poor and to reduce the power of the rich.

On 16 June this year our Youth League became official in operation. On 9 August we also managed to launch our own Women's League in which women will support women to continue to play a leading role in the struggle of Abahlali baseMjondolo. In September, the heritage month in South Africa, a Mass Prayer was held to commemorate all those who had suffered and passed away in shack fires and rat attacks. In this month, again for the first time in our history, a City wide Shack fire Summit was held and attended by number of community organizations, NGOs, Church Bodies and the Poor Peoples' Alliance all working together to strengthen our partnership against all forms of oppression including the red devil.

Kennedy Road Settlement and Arnet Drive and Pemary Ridge have, finally and after years of struggle, been earmarked for upgrading. This is a major victory. But up until the houses are actually built, and up until all other settlements are also catered for with decent housing in the cities, we will have to continue to stand together and to stand strong. On the 10 December comrade Zodwa and I set a meeting with Mr. Moolan, who owns the land on which the Emagwaveni Settlement has been built. We actually met. He has shown some great respect and concern for this community and made it clear that he had made an offer to release 50% of this land to the community provided that the city meets his conditions contained in the proposal that we yet to see. We will work with Mr. Moolan and the City to develop a solution for Emagwaveni.

The Way Forward

Our movement is founded on the politic of equality. We start from the recognition that we are all equal. We do not struggle to achieve equality. We struggle for the recognition of the equality that already exists. Our Movement therefore demands that we face and confront any element that seeks to undermine our humanity as ordinary citizens. Today I wish to remind comrades that we are also all equal and deserve equal treatment with in our Movement regardless of our positions and tasks. This is the Movement of the poor. It is not an NGO. The movement is not here to save you. You are the movement. You hold its future in our hands. You must decide its future. The movement only has one program – to be guided by its members.

We are all volunteers and we should all fully participate in all activities of the Movement without any fear or betrayal of one by another. We should all act together, collectively and responsible. Our Movement demands that we are honest to ourselves before others, and our Movement demands that we fear shame, disgrace and any form of evil. We are thus expected to be very humble and courageous to face what must be faced as we defend the future of our own children. If our growing Movement only places this burden and all its challenges on a handful of people then we can not win the war against oppression and injustices. If and only if we, today, all commit ourselves to working harder at all levels in the movement and to being decisive and responsible in sharing the burdens of responsibility then I recommit myself in leading the comrades as requested by you.

We must all demand change and transformation from within ourselves before we can walk outside and make new demands. What I can guarantee to my comrades is my commitment to work with you and not for you, to be led by you and not to lead without you. There will be nothing for you without you. In all these commitments to both myself and to Abahlali I wish to express my deepest, heartfelt gratitude to the elderly mothers of our Movement who have stood very strong next to me and my family through prayers, calls and visits when the dark cloud of my attack gathered over me. I will always salute that love and warmth through all difficult times. I urge you all to offer the same support to Mzonke Poni, our chairperson in the Western Cape, who was recently subject to a similar attack, late at night, by an unknown group of young men.

In conclusion I wish all Abahlali baseMjondolo members, all shack dwellers, all Abahlali friends and supporters and all the marginalized and the oppressed a Happy Christmas and Just and Peaceful New Year that is free from evictions, disconnections, mysterious attacks in the dark of night, police violence and all the other evils that we must confront as we take on and defeat the war on the poor.