Street Vendor’s Support for Shack Dwellers

21st October, 2009: Durban – South Africa


StreetNet International, leader of the World Class Cities for All (WCCA) campaign for inclusive urban planning and preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, congratulates WCCA Campaign Partner organisation, Abahlali baseMjondolo, on their successful Constitutional Court challenge to declare invalid Section 16 of the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Slums Act.

Street vendors and shack dwellers have been seeing an increase in evictions from their homes and their workplaces, intensifying in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Participatory development plans are being scrapped at a rapid rate as the fever to make profits out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup takes hold of government (including local government) and the private sector.

StreetNet wishes to recognise the positive contributions made by Abahlali baseMjondolo, as a progressive civil society social movement, to improving the lives of the most marginalised people in South Africa. According to the Natal Mercury (15 October 2009) “the challenge to the act was brought by Abahlali baseMjondolo (shack dwellers’ movement) and was seen as a victory for all those living in shacks, as the KZN act was widely regarded as a blueprint for similar legislation in other provinces.”

Not many South Africans noticed in April 2008, when a wave of attacks broke out against foreign nationals in informal settlements in Johannesburg and Cape Town, members of Abahlali baseMjondolo went tirelessly about the informal settlements of Durban where they had members, addressing their members and urging them not to think of doing the same in their areas, pre-empting the possibility of widespread xenophobic attacks in these areas.

Abahlali baseMjondolo’s invaluable social contribution was greatly under-appreciated at the time, as attacks against foreign nationals were eventually far less widespread and on a smaller scale in Durban than Johannesburg and Cape Town.

It was with great distress that we received reports of attacks on shack dwellers in Kennedy Road in Durban on the 26th September 2009, resulting in the deaths of two, displacement of many shack dwellers, and death threats against Abahlali baseMjondolo leaders forcing them to go into hiding. Reports about the 20-hour battle which followed the first attacks were confused and contradictory, and many people tried to politicise the incident and its aftermath.

But what is clear is that it is not acceptable for leaders of a civil society organisation struggling to ensure that shack dwellers enjoy the constitutional rights to which they are entitled, making a major contribution to the peaceful co-existence of shack dwellers of South African and foreign nationalities, to be forced into hiding in a democratic country.

As Abahlali baseMjondolo (like StreetNet International) is a respected organisation in the international civil society movement, their international partners War on Want, Domestic Workers United, New York Poverty Initiative, and Picture the Homeless drew the attention of the world to the 26th September attack and its aftermath, and the fact that Abahlali baseMjondolo leaders are still in hiding. In addition to extensive internet publicity, which has become an effective weapon in all international working class solidarity campaigns, demonstrations were organised outside the South African Embassies in London and New York.

StreetNet International calls on all progressive working class and civil society organisations in South Africa to support the positive work being done by Abahlali baseMjondolo, and to make all efforts to ensure that the democratic rights of the Abahlali baseMjondolo leaders to live freely in their communities and afforded the necessary protection against death threats against themselves and their families.

Pat Horn

International Co-ordinator

Tel. 031 201 3528 (h)
076 706 5282 (cel)