M&G: Kennedy Road 12 taste freedom


Kennedy Road 12 taste freedom
NIREN TOLSI – Jul 29 2011

Outside the Durban magistrate’s court last week members of the “Kennedy Road 12” 12 members of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shackdwellers movement based in Durban — stood blinking in the sunlight, almost un­able to believe their fate.

“I’m just too happy. I can’t believe I am outside again,” said 24-year-old Sibulelo Mambi, one of them.

An hour earlier, a nightmare that had begun almost two years ago for the 12 finally ended when magistrate Sharon Marks acquitted them of charges ranging from murder to public violence.

The charges related to a deadly attack on Durban’s Kennedy Road informal settlement in September 2009 which left two dead and thousands fleeing for their lives.

Evidence led by the state failed to shed light on the still murky events of that night, with Marks describing the state’s witnesses as “belligerent”, “unreliable” and “dishonest”.

In the attack, armed men who were calling for the ethnic cleansing of amaPondo from the settlement laid siege to a local community hall where the Abahlali baseMjondolo social movement’s youth wing was holding an all-night workshop. The terror that followed included the destruction of Abahlali leaders’ homes in Kennedy Road and the death of Nthokozisi Ndlovu and Ndumiso Mnguni.

Abahlali has long claimed that the attacks were instigated by the local ANC, with the possible collusion of local tavern owners. Their aim, Abahlali says, was to eviscerate a movement outside of mainstream politics that was mobilising poor people to uplift communities in informal settlements.

It is also alleged it was payback for the movement having the temerity to challenge the provincial government legally over the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act, a case won in the Constitutional Court weeks before the attack.

The claims have been dismissed by the ANC.

Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip, who provided support for the Kennedy Road 12, also described the arrests as politically motivated.

“Abahlali’s victory is a victory for all who speak the truth,” Phillip said.

“It is a victory that should give courage to the poor of eThekweni, of South Africa and the world who organise and mobilise and who speak and act for themselves.

“That is never an easy path and it seems always to provoke slander and violence from the powerful and the rich and from those who would rather speak for the poor than listen.”

The Socio-Economic Rights Insti­tute of South Africa (Seri), which with Trudie Nicholls Attorneys in Durban represented the 12, said that Marks “expressed disquiet that police identity-parade witnesses had been coached to point out members of an Imfene dance group closely associated with Abahlali rather than anyone who had been seen perpetrating the violence”.

After the state had closed its case the Kennedy 12 were granted an acquittal under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act on the grounds of a lack of clear evidence against the accused.

Seri executive director Jackie Dugard said last week’s verdict “raises worrying questions about police complicity in attempts to repress Abahlali’s legitimate and lawful activities on behalf of poor and vulnerable people living in informal settlements across South Africa”.

“We now call upon the police to launch a full and proper investigation into the attacks on Abahlali and to bring the real perpetrators of the violence to justice,” Dugard said.

Although there is no clarity about what happened at Kennedy Road that night the 12 have no doubts about what has happened since.

Outside court, Sicelo Mambi (31) revealed stab wounds on his stomach and head, which he said he suffered while in custody.

“It was because of intimidation. If you don’t belong to a gang, they will come after you,” he said.

Since the arrests the families of all of the Kennedy Road 12 have moved out of the settlement, many back to the Eastern Cape, and the 12 view it as imperative to be reunited with their families, rebuild their lives and find jobs again. A civil action suit has also been instituted against the state.

Two years ago the 12 had very little, and their long walk to freedom began again on Mandela Day.