Sunday Times: Shack, rattle and roll

Note: AbM, along with its sister organisations in the Poor People’s Alliance, has boycotted all elections since 2006 but has never disrupted an election in any way. Also, the damage referred to here was not caused by AbM WC. There are a number of organisations, including AbM WC, the ANC YL and smaller community organisations that are or have been organising protests in Khayelitsha and, in at least some cases, there are serious ethical and political differences between some of these organisations as well as very different views on what constitute legitimate tactics. Following the dishonest and hysterical attempt by the TAC et al to demonize AbM and turn the movementv into a ‘folk devil’ in Cape Towm all protests in Khayelitsha have been ascribed to AbM WC in some quarters but this is certainly not the case.

Shack, rattle and roll
Nov 14, 2010 12:00 AM | By ANTON FERREIRA
Mzonke Poni is the face of an ANC nightmare – an angry activist mobilising the township masses to protest at what he calls the government’s failure to create a better life for the poor.

Poni heads the Cape Town branch of Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM), which means “shack dwellers” in Zulu, and is a social movement that was formed amid housing protests in Durban five years ago and has spread across the country.

The group, which shuns all parties and electoral politics, launched an “informal-settlement strike” in Khayelitsha last month, which the city of Cape Town said cost R1.5-million in damage to property, including a fire station that was attacked by a rock-throwing mob.

It has threatened further protests to disrupt local elections next year – adding a new ingredient to the political cauldron of the Western Cape, where the ANC is desperately fighting the ruling Democratic Alliance.

“In this country, it’s time the people stood up and questioned the authorities,” said Poni, 32, this week from his office in a converted container in the garbage-strewn streets of Khayelitsha.

“I’m living in an informal settlement, so that is why I’m getting involved. I don’t have my own toilet, that’s why I’m getting involved. I don’t have electricity, that is why I’m getting involved.”

Poni said that the first and last time he voted was in 1999. “I gave my vote to the ANC . But from 1999 until now I’m still experiencing the same conditions – I’m stealing electricity under democracy. I’m going out at night and connecting it illegally. I don’t even have R5 for airtime.”

Since it launched in Khayelitsha two years ago, ABM has alienated everyone from Cosatu and the SACP to Helen Zille’s DA and the ANC Youth League.

A joint statement by the Treatment Action Campaign, Cosatu and the Social Justice Coalition has denounced the ABM protests as “irresponsible, immature and ignorant”.

“The struggle for social equality . requires serious organisation . not a few hundred who throw stones for a few days and become cannon fodder for self-appointed leaders,” it said.

The DA’s provincial spokesman for safety and security, Melanie Kuhn, said: “They don’t seem to be interested in sitting round a table.”

The deputy chairman of ABM in Khayelitsha, Mthobeli Qona, though, was unapologetic about the movement’s tactics. “We are just burning tyres so the government can come and listen to us. If you send a letter, they will never listen. The only thing is to barricade the roads, then they will come.”