The Intimidation of Grassroots Activists Continues in Kennedy Road & Motala Heights

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
Tuesday 8 March 2011

The Intimidation of Grassroots Activists Continues in Kennedy Road and Motala Heights

At about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday the 20th of February Nozuko Hulushe, the chairperson of Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Kennedy Road settlement, went to fetch water. She was accosted by a man that she had never seen before. He rudely and aggressively demanded to wash his face in her bucket of water and she refused. After she finished he washed his face at the tap and then insulted her and assaulted her.

While he was assaulting her he made threats to her relating to the Kennedy 12 court case, her leadership role in Abahlali baseMjondolo, the fact that the ANC has lost the settlement (to a democratically elected structure with very close links to Abahlali baseMjondolo) and the press statements that the movement has issued after previous assaults on and intimidation of Abahlali baseMjondolo members in the settlement and witnesses in the ongoing Kennedy 12 trial. He specifically warned Nozuko not to ‘run to the media and to the police every time she got problems.

While the assault, and its associated threats, was occurring a friend of Nozuko’s, Nonhle Mkhize, took her own bucket off her head and rushed to Nozuko’s aid. The stranger immediately began to beat her on her face and head. After a while he took off his sandals and hit her with his shoes and punched her on her face and body. Nonhle was able to grab a stick and Nozuko grabbed a bottle and together they managed to fight their attacker off and he fled. They were both left with serious bruises and cuts.

Nozuko immediately phoned the new (and democratically elected) Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) and the police. The KRDC arrived straight away and the police came much later. Detective Mazibuko entered the incident in his Occurrence Book. Because the man who had attacked Nozuko and then her friend Nonhle was not from Kennedy Road the KRDC asked people to look out for him so that he could be identified.

At 6 pm that evening he was seen at Zandile Mdletshe's place together with Zandile, her brothers and George Mduduzi Cele, who is Zibuyile Ngcobo’s cousin. Mdletshe was the leader of the unelected ANC group that seized control of the settlement after the attack by an armed and drunk mob chanting ANC and ethnic slogans in September 2009 and she has been identified in court as a person who played a key role in the attack. Ngcobo is a well known ANC member and a member of the local BEC of the ANC. Mdletshe and Ngcobo have a well documented history of violence and intimidation in the settlement.

On Monday when Nozuko was returning from the doctor she saw her attacker again – this time he was at Zibuyile Ngcobo’s place. Zandile Mdletshe was there too. Nozuko’s attacker has recently been staying at Zandile’s place regularly but he is from a hostel in KwaMashu.

On Saturday 5 March Zandile Mdletshe was handing out food vouchers to her friends and relatives in Kennedy Road. These vouchers were allocated for disaster relief after some shacks were damaged in the big storm that hit KwaMamSuthu (the Quarry Road shack settlement) in Ward 23. The KRDC made a note of all the details and has made a full report to the public protector. This is just one incident in a very long line of incidents of blatant corruption. Will any action be taken? Or will the elites once again defend this sort of corruption and intimidation because they depend on it to keep their place in this world?

The intimidation of community leaders is not only happening in Kennedy Road. In Motala Heights, in Pinetown, Ricky Govender continues his blatant thuggery, sometimes with the open support of the Pinetown police. Govender has a long history of intimidating activists, tenants and even journalists. Yet there is no inquiry into his actions and nothing is done to force him to obey the law. A few weeks ago he even laid charges against five well known Abahlali baseMjondolo activists at the Pinetown Police station. The five were Mashumi Figlan, Shamita Naidoo, Mnikelo Ndabankulu, Bheki Ngcobo and James Pillay. He took a list of newspapers articles that exposed his thuggery to the police and asked them to arrest the AbM members that had spoken to the media. There could hardly be a clearer case of a rich, powerful and dangerous man trying to misuse the state to silence his poor critics when his own intimidation has failed to do so.

Yesterday Govender went, with the police at this side as if they are his personal security, to the new land occupation in Motala Heights and told the people there that they must sign statements saying that Motala Heights B Chairperson Shamita Naidoo had sold the land to them. Of course no one paid for this land. It is unused land that was occupied by people that had been evicted from their homes by their landlords and who have nowhere else to go. Govender is also claiming that this land is his when in fact it belongs to the Municipality. This was definitively ascertained before the occupation was organized and we have checked again and the land in question remains municipal property. It is clear that Govender is trying to persuade the police that they should open a criminal case against Shamita Naidoo and that she is responsible for the fact that homeless people have built their own homes in Motala.

Govender then went to the home of James and Gonnie Pillay. He has been trying to evict them for years without success and they have suffered all kinds of intimidation including an attempt at arson. This time he came with some very aggressive and insulting men from pest control who told Uncle James that his poor man’s house was dirty and that pests were moving from there to Govender’s rich man’s house and so they would have to bulldoze everything in the interests of public hygiene. This is outrageous. It is Govender that has been illegally dumping industrial waste right outside the Pillay’s home for years. It is Govender whose bulldozers burst open the municipal pipes and left open sewerage running through the community when the Shembe Temple was recently destroyed. It is Govender that is making a mess in this community.

Govender has now also brought the piece of land on which Shamita Naidoo and 25 other poor families are living. Some have lived there for as long as 65 years. He is saying that “I will show Shamita who is the mayor here’. He is using his money to try and get control over the community.

As a movement we note that there is a big discussion about corruption in the media. It is said that senior officials like Mike Sutcliffe will be arrested soon. We will finish and issue a statement on this matter soon. But right now we need to note that we have constantly made statements about corruption and the intimidation that goes with it in places like Kennedy Road and Motala Heights, as well as Joe Slovo, Siyanda etc, without anything changing. It seems very clear that people like Ricky Govender and Zandile Mdletshe are not lying when they say that they have backing from the top down. Sutcliffe and other officials keep saying that if corruption is brought to them they will act. We have been constantly ignored during more than five years of pointing out corruption. All that has happened is that we have suffered serious repression.

We also note that there is a big discussion about threats to press freedom and censorship but that very few people are willing to be in a living and practical solidarity with people like Nozuko Hulushe and Shamita Naidoo who face real and constant danger as a direct result of the work that they do in their communities. There is a tendency to talk about abstract principles while ignoring real people and real communities that are being oppressed year after year. We are asking for solidarity, real solidarity, with people like Nozuko and Shamita.

People like Govender and Mdletshe might have support from the top down. They might have politicians and police officers that are supporting them. But we have support from the bottom up.

Abahlali baseMjondolo gives Ricky Govender notice that we will not allow anyone to be evicted from this new land that he has bought with his dirty money and that we will shine a very bright light on any act of intimidation or exploitation against the 25 families living there. We also give Ricky Govender notice of our continued determination to ensure that Motala is developed democratically, in the interests of the whole community, and not by one man for his own private interests. We will walk this journey and face its dangers with Shamita Naidoo and all the comrades in Motala Heights. We will continue to invite the progressive clergy, academics and journalists to come to Motala and to see the situation there for themselves.

We also give the ANC notice that we will not allow them to continue to use violence, corruption and intimidation to try and retain some influence in Kennedy Road. The ANC took Kennedy Road by violence and they held it for a while with violence and corruption. But they lost it to democracy and it will remain democratic. In fact we still have to extend the democratic gains that have been made in Kennedy Road until everyone has the same right to organise freely and safely and the exiles can return home in safety. This will require that an end is put to the politic of violence that the ANC brought to the settlement and continues to use in the settlement despite the fact that their leaders have lost control of the settlement.We will walk this journey and face its dangers with Nozuku Hulushe and all the comrades in Kennedy Road.

Women like Nozuko and Shamita do hours and hours of unpaid work in their communities – organising for housing, getting children into schools, starting and running crèches and vegetable gardens, mediating conflicts, stopping evictions, looking after the old and the sick, organising Christmas parties for the children and much, much more. Women like Nozuko and Shamita are izimbokodo – the rocks on which our communities and movements are built. What kind of a country are we living in where people like this face assault, intimidation and police harassment at the hands of state backed thugs be they poor men from hostels or rich men from big houses?

It remains clear that as the poor we are not living in a democracy. It is a matter of urgent importance that this reality is recognized. No attempt to build a national politics of the poor in this country will succeed until it is understood that there is no democracy for the poor in this country and action and solidarity are organized from within an understanding of that reality.

People like Mdletshe and Govender are the local Mubaraks to the ANC’s America. We are the people. We know what we must do. We pray for the strength and courage to be able to do it.

For more information and comment please contact Abahlali baseMjondolo on 031 304 6420.