Two Comrades Lost in a Shack Fire on the Night Before the UPM Vigil in Grahamstown

13 March 2011

At 5:30 this morning the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) leadership received a call from the eThembeni shack settlement to say that the settlement was on fire. Two people, a couple, perished in that fire. The community could not successfully fight the fire on their own as the taps are very few and very far away. The fire brigade could not get into the settlement because there is no road leading in to it.

Our comrades living in shacks are constantly facing fires and exploding gas stoves. Last week one of our comrades was very badly injured by an exploding stove. She is now in hospital in P.E.

This is how we live. This is why we struggle. There is no other reason.

As we keep vigil tonight we will remember all the people who have died in shack fires here in Grahamstown and around the country from Khayelitsha and Mandela Park, to Kennedy Road and Foreman Road and to Protea South and Tembalihle.

We repeat our invitation to all those who wish to be in solidarity with the poor to join us in the vigil tonight. We add our voice to the voices that are saying loudly and clearly that the causes of shack fires are political and that these fires are not natural disasters. They are a result of the social abandonment of the poor by a predatory and authoritarian state.

11 March 2011

Invitation to Join the Unemployed People’s Movement in an All Night Vigil

The Unemployed People’s Movement, in Grahamstown, will be holding an all night vigil this Sunday 13 March 2011.

We are holding this vigil at the Cathedral as we know that the police and the municipality will not give us a permit to protest and that they will not dare to attack us in the Cathedral.

We will enter the Cathedral at 7 and stay there until 12 at which point we will move the vigil to Church Square where we will sleep outside. The Church Square may be outside but it is safer than a shack – the square is lit by the street lights, there are no snakes there and while it may rain while we are sleeping outside there rain comes through the leaks in our shacks anyway so it makes no difference being outside.

We will be joined at this vigil by the new student solidarity group Students for Social Justice and we welcome their initiative and their support. All other individuals and groups that support our aims or who wish to protest against the repression and criminalisation of our struggle are welcome to join us.

We had a debate about whether to use black armbands, to show that we are in mourning for our lost freedom and democracy, or red because red is the colour of our movements and our struggle. We have chosen red.

We are holding the vigil for the following reasons.

1. In our recent march we gave our memorandum of demands to the Makana Municipality. They said that our demands fall on the provincial government and so we are holding the night vigil in the hope that someone from the provincial government will come down and hear the people.

2. We wish to highlight our deep concern at the way in which the Zuma regime has become a predatory state in the hands of a nexus of corrupt politicians and business people. Zuma has gone straight from a generally corrupt relationship with the notorious Shaik family, one of whom now heads the National Intelligence Agency, to a generally corrupt relationship with the Gupta family. We note also the scandal of the incredible corruption at the commanding heights of the eThekwini Municipality in Durban and add our voices to those calling for the immediate resignation of Obed Mlaba and Michael Sutcliffe and for a full investigation into their dealings and, if necessary, their prosecution. We note also the various corruption scandals here in Grahamstown.

3. We wish to highlight our growing concern at the criminalisation of our struggles and movements. The severe repression of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban is well known. There are also serious cases of repression in small towns around the country. In Harrismith one comrade died from poisoning while in police custody and another comrade got very ill from poisoning while in police custody. All comrades have been advised to refuse all food while in the Harrismith holding cells. We have previously explained the repression that we are facing here in Grahamstown. In Ermelo a comrade has been killed and others have been tortured by the police to invent evidence against their comrades. Nationally at least four comrades were killed last year by the police during protests. The South African Municipal Worker’s Union have also lost a comrade to police violence during a protest.

4. Unemployment = no jobs, no food, no housing, no dignity. The unemployment crisis is a social explosion waiting to happen and it must be addressed with serious urgency.

We welcome the recent statement by the South African Municipal Worker’s Union indicating that they are no longer able to call on their members to vote for the ANC in the local government elections. We call on all trade unions to debate this matter freely and openly within their membership.

We express our solidarity with the revolts in North Africa and with the spirit of hope that they have kindled world wide.

We express our support for the call by Abahlali baseMjondolo for all the progressive movements in South Africa to demand that the African National Congress allow Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return to Haiti immediately and that the South African government issue a clear statement of support for the right of the Haitian people to freely chose their own leaders and the future direction of their country.

Kwanele! Kwanele!
Genoeg is genoeg!

Contact people:

Xola Mali – 072 299 5253 –
Ayanda Kota – 078 625 6462 –