Witness: The Kennedy Road Informal Settlement controversy: Why an independent inquiry is essential

The article by Willies Mchunu, the Safety & Security MEC who notoriously claimed to have have ‘liberated’ Kennedy Road after the attack on the AbM, to which the piece below was written in response, is online here.


The Kennedy Road Informal Settlement controversy: Why an independent inquiry is essential
27 Oct 2009

Jared Sacks

ON October?20, in an article titled “The Kennedy Road Informal Settlement controversy: the ANC side of the story”, MEC Willies Mchunu replied to an opinion piece of mine, which laid the blame for the attacks on local shebeen owners who were in cahoots with members of the local branch of the African National Congress.

He claimed that the sole purpose of my writing the piece was to discredit the ANC while, in fact, the purpose of my opinion piece was to build upon the increasing pressure from civil society, which has been calling for an independent investigation into the Kennedy Road mob attacks.

Although Mchunu is attempting to name and shame me as a peddler of lies with some kind of hidden agenda, I am only one of more than 1?000 people who believe that certain local ANC interests are complicit in the attacks. As it stands now, over 1?200 academics, NGOs and sympathetic individuals have signed a letter urging President Jacob Zuma to intervene to ensure that an independent and transparent inquiry takes place.

While it is nice to hear the MEC finally admit that his side of the story is that of his party, the ANC, this sadly shows us all that party politics permeates the functioning of his department and, therefore, his department cannot possibly conduct an unbiased inquiry into the attacks. But the MEC’s article would have us believe that his Department of Community Safety and Liaison, headed by ANC officials, has already conducted its own “independent” investigation.

So the question remains: if Mchunu is so adamant that Abahlali baseMjondolo, numerous church groups and clergymen (including the Archbishop of Cape Town), and at least 1?200 people in civil society are telling outright lies, should he not be the first person to demand an independent investigation into the mob attacks?

Only someone with something to hide would seek to divert attention away from the need for a nonpartisan inquiry into what is really happening at Kennedy Road.

Since I wrote my previous letter, I have spoken to many more residents regarding the situation in Kennedy Road. They all essentially say the same things.

•There was never a curfew at Kennedy Road.

•The attacks were carried out by shebeen owners and youth affiliated to the local branch of the ANC.

•The attacks were meant to remove Abahlali­ baseMjondolo from Kennedy Road and destroy the movement.

•The repression continues to this day and residents (including old women) who remain at Kennedy Road have received death threats and they fear for their lives.

•Homes continue to be demolished by the mob, which has installed itself as the new leadership of Kennedy Road.

It is also important to note that an investigation by the Mail & Guardian exposed on October 11 that what Mchunu calls a “stakeholder meeting” is actually devoid of anything­ that could be construed as “the community”.

It was found that of the 88 people who signed the attendance register at one such meeting, there were only seven people who claimed to be residents of Kennedy Road, and that those seven people were in fact from other areas in Sydenham.

In contrast, mass meetings called by the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), where decisions on issues such as community safety are made, have included the participation of hundreds and sometimes thousands of Kennedy Road residents.

On the one hand, Mchunu claims maximum legitimacy for his Community Policing Forum, which was formed during a meeting of a mere 150 “stakeholders”. On the other hand, he claims that the Kennedy Road Safety­ and Security Committee was an illegitimate­ structure, when it was in fact supported by the majority of the settlement’s residents through the KRDC’s public meetings­.

What I am attempting to show here is that Kennedy Road remains on 24-hour lock-down, despite assurances that it has been liberated. The settlement, which is receiving 24-hour police surveillance, has become a pseudo-fascist ministate run by the mob that originally attacked the community.

We also know that only members of Abahlali baseMjondolo have been arrested. There are now 13 members arrested from Kennedy Road and eight more have been arrested­ in other settlements.

These arrests are being made by the same police officials who were present at the mass meetings in which the Safety and Security Committee was formed. But, if we can all agree that it was an Abahlali youth camp that was originally attacked by the mob almost a month ago, then why is Mchunu not calling for the attackers to be arrested?

So, let me risk repeating myself: if there is nothing for the MEC to hide, then there is nothing to lose and plenty to gain by calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the attacks.

Still, Mchunu has assured us all that “it is inconceivable that the party that leads government [the ANC] should act in a manner that is inconsistent with the Constitution”. Why then has the Constitutional Court of South Africa just found in favour of Abahlali baseMjondolo that the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government’s Slums Act would have provided for the possibility of mass evictions and is, in fact, unconstitutional?

Well, let us, as civil society, assure the MEC that this is not the first nor the last time that a political party will subvert our Constitution.

•Jared Sacks is the executive director of Children of South Africa (Chosa).