FACT SHEET: Abahlali Laying False Rumors to Rest

There are many tactics to keep us, as the organised poor in, our place. There is intimidation, different kinds of violence, driving people out of their jobs, arrest and all kinds of co-option. There are also lies. Since 2005, many rumors and lies have been spread about Abahlali, its members, and leadership. After the attacks, many more have been spread. Abahlali wishes to set the record straight.

FACT SHEET: Abahlali Laying False Rumors to Rest

Rumor #1: Abahlali President S’bu Zikode and Youth League President Mazwi Nzimande live in mansions in Mhlanga.

FALSE: S’bu and Mazwi have never even been to the beaches of the rich in Mhlanga. S’bu lived in a shack in the Kennedy Road settlement until an armed mob destroyed his home with pangas and bush knives in September 2009. Still displaced, he lives in an undisclosed township, where he suffers, like most of the country’s poorest, water and electricity cut-offs and the constant threat of eviction. Mazwi Nzimande lives in a shack in the Joe Slovo settlement. All Abahlali leaders live in poor communities.

Rumor #2: S’bu is a shack lord and/or taxi boss.

FALSE: S’bu never owned a shack, except for his own and that was destroyed by an armed mob in September 2009. S’bu lost two jobs as a direct result of his commitment to AbM and in 2008 he put a deposit on a taxi as he needed an income that was independent from state influence. However he could not make the repayments and the kombi was repossessed by the bank. He remains unemployed and without an income. There is a taxi boss that does not live in Kennedy Road with the surname Zikode, who is not related to S’bu or his family, but sharing the same surname has caused a lot of confusion. All positions in AbM are elected and they do not come with any salary from AbM or from any other organization. Many of our leaders have committed themselves to the movement full time without any salary and they and their families have paid a high price for this commitment. Their commitment to the struggle against poverty has made them poorer.

Rumor #3: AbM is being paid by foreign NGOs to keep African people poor and in shacks so that those NGOs can keep raising money for themselves.

FALSE: When our movement started we had no funding at all. Even now that we do receive a little bit of money the total amount of our budget for a year for the whole organization is less than the salary of one senior NGO worker and we are very careful to work in a way that does not make us dependent on any external funder. All our funders are listed on our website. There are no secrets about the little bit of money that we do accept from progressive funders. Our financial records are kept in the office and are available to any of our members at any time. We have always struggled for land and housing and in each community that struggle is under the democratic control of that community. It was AbM that stopped evictions and won upgrades in places like Kennedy Road.

Rumor #4: Abahlali is a violent organization.

FALSE: Abahlali does not condone violence by its members. We define violence as harm to persons. We do not consider burning a tire in the street, or forming a road blockade to be violence. We have organized hundreds of protests in different places since 2005 and not one person has ever been hurt by any AbM member at any of our protests. However our members have often been hurt, sometimes seriously, by the police.

Rumor #5: Abahlali disrupts elections.

FALSE: At every election since 2006 Abahlali has taken a ‘No Land! No House! No Vote!’ position. This position has been discussed and reviewed at open mass meetings before each election. It is decided at these meetings whether to continue voting boycotts or not. Voting boycotts were practised by activists in the liberation struggle, and first reactivated after the fall of apartheid by the Landless Peoples’ Movement. But even when we have taken a collective position Abahlali members are still free to vote how they like, and Abahlali branch areas are not no-go zones for political parties. Even during the day of election, Abahlali doesn’t even have a counter event that will make people not to go and vote as it’s their democratic rights to go or not to and Abahlali respect that.

Rumor #6: Abahlali are killers/thugs:

FALSE (1): There is no doubt that one of the people that was killed in Kennedy Road when we were attacked in September 2009 was one of the attackers. He was armed, with a gun, at the time. There are conflicting stories about the other person. The attack was a total surprise and in the midst of the fear and confusion of that night some people in the community did try to defend themselves. But it must be recognized that everyone has the same right in law to self defence when they are attacked by people who are trying to kill them. However we are very clear that it remains a tragedy when the poor are turned on each other and neighbor attacks neighbor. We mourn these deaths as deaths of people in our community. It is clear that the real responsibility for what happened lies with those that planned and launched the attack. Once the politics of open discussion is replaced with violence there can only be disaster.

Anyone who claims to have any evidence that Abahlali as a movement has ever killed or hurt someone is asked to come forward and tell the police because as the movement we would immediately distance ourselves from any wrong doing by any one of our members or supporters as it is against our principles and our constitution. We are very clear that our struggle starts from the recognition of the humanity of each person, that we are struggling for the dignity of each person to be defended and that you cannot struggle for dignity and humanity without struggling by means of recognising everyone’s dignity and humanity.

FALSE (2): We have been shown to the world as thugs after we, as organized poor people refused to be led by those few academic who wanted to speak for us without us. When we took a stand that, “those who feel it must lead it” and “We are the professors of our own suffering” those academics immediately started to tell the world that we are thugs. They were lying then in 2006 and they have lied constantly since then. If it means that the price of keeping our autonomy is that the regressive left in the university will call us thugs then so be it. We will never take their money and be their boys and girls whose only job is to come in and sing and dance at their meetings with visiting American academics and then go home while they take all the decisions for us. There is a lot of racism in this thing. We are willing to work with anyone that is willing to respect the autonomy and democracy of our organization but we are not willing to take instruction from anyone or to have our organization brought under anyone’s control. AbM will always belong to its members. We will always refuse all offers of money that are made to individuals or which do not respect the autonomy of our movement.

Rumor #7: Abahlali is a “third force”

FALSE: It is very sad to hear that when poor people are asking for what they were being promised and someone else from somewhere else will then say that, “There is the third force”, behind them. That is a very huge insult to the poor and marginalized communities, because its undermines our own thinking as the people who are suffering. Our third force is to see our children being burnt into death by shack fire, being bitten by rats and dying. It is being denied basic services like water and sanitation. Our third force is to live in shack settlements without even one toilet and to have to use the bush as the toilet. It is time for the ANC, and the left NGOs, both who think they have a natural right to speak for the poor, to understand that we are able to think for ourselves. We will continue to organise ourselves for ourselves and to think and speak for ourselves. We will continue to say ‘Speak to us, not for us’. We will continue to welcome solidarity from anyone who is looking for comrades and not followers.