New eThekwini Mayor Disrespects the Shack Dwellers

Friday, 7 October 2011
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement

New eThekwini Mayor Disrespects the Shack Dwellers

Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA is very disappointed by the new mayor’s disrespect for the shack dwellers. The hope that we had that the new mayor would be different to the last mayor has been dashed. Obed Mlaba was never prepared to meet with us. He had many things to say about us but he would never meet with us. James Nxumalo, the new mayor, agreed to meet with us in September and the meeting was confirmed to be held yesterday on the 6th October 2011. We had organised many meetings in our organisation to carefully prepare for the meeting with the mayor. Comrades had taken time off work for the meeting. People were excited. But the meeting was cancelled in the last hour.

The mayor has vowed to serve all the people of Durban, rich and poor, and regardless of all the lines that have been put between people of different colours and people speaking different languages. He is not just there to serve members of the ruling party. In a democracy we have a right to organise autonomously if that is our choice. We had high hopes when James Nxumalo was appointed as the mayor because when he was still a Council Speaker he was able to meet some of our leadership. When other politicians were attacking us he was willing to speak to us. We even trusted him when he visited some of the shack settlements that were gutted by shack fires in May and June this year. But today we have realized that he was pretending to be in solidarity with the shack dwellers. He has managed to use the people of Durban, including shack dwellers, to ascend to power. It is true that we did not vote in the last election. But it is also true that we did not mobilise against James Nxumalo as we hoped that he would be willing to work with us.

We thought that he was a good, humble and accessible leader. But once again we have learnt that good leaders are corrupted by a corrupt system. We have been reminded that it is better to destroy such a system that corrupts good people. Nothing good can be done on a rotten terrain.

We know of some people who claim to be leaders in this municipality who hate the shack dwellers. They would rather have the democratic image of the city ruined than to engage shack dwellers. It is the same municipality that sends the police, private security and sometimes thugs to attack our movement. It is the only municipality known to us that has the policy to prohibit the electrification of shack settlements so that our children can be burnt to death in these shack fires.

It is the same City that has treated shack dwellers with contempt for years and continues to dream of a world-class city without slums. This is just another way of saying that they dream of a city where the poor have no place, no rights, no freedom and no dignity. They want us far away, quiet and invisible. The Human Settlement Unit has avoided meeting the organised shack dwellers but every day they get paid in the name of the shack dwellers in the city. We believe that they hate our movement because we have exposed corruption in the city, we have resisted the comradism in development, we have stopped so many evictions, we have won our case against the ‘Slums Act”, we have refused to vote for people that oppress us and we have organised ourselves as shack dwellers and run community services outside of the City's control. The City accused our leaders of running our own authority in Kennedy Road. The same accusation has been made in Motala Heights and many other settlements. And of course they hate us for our victory in the case of the Kennedy 12 that has exposed the thuggery that the ruling party deployed against us.

Our movement began with a road blockade in 2005. That road was blockaded because it was impossible for shack dwellers to speak to the people that they had elected to represent them. We have always wanted to engage the state to improve our settlements and our city. But when politicians refuse to recognise us and to negotiate with us our movement is left with no other choices except to engage in mass mobilisation. It is time for us to return to the streets.

We believe that, as the Freedom Charter says, the people shall govern. We have always been clear that we are not just struggling for quicker and less corrupt service delivery. We have always said that we are struggling for land and housing in the cities and for a bottom up system of real democracy in which development can be fully democratised. But we have also always warned that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. In a city where poor people face eviction, forced removal to transit camps, armed disconnections from electricity, shack fires, incredible corruption in housing and incredibly badly built housing for those that do get housing it is deeply irresponsible for the City to play ducks and drakes with the organisations of the poor. Everywhere frustrations are high.

When the government treats us with contempt, shows us that our lives count for nothing and criminalises poverty and the struggle against poverty, we have no choice but to use people's power in the streets and in the courts when need be. We have done all that we were supposed to do to respect those who do not appreciate and deserve such respect. We have exhausted all political avenues only to be betrayed time and again. One of the most urgent demands to the City has been to house those who continue to be homeless and displaced by the September 2009 attack in Kennedy Road settlement. Yet we are now in October 2011 and there has still not even been one meeting to discuss a way forward on this matter.

We will be hosting a press conference in our offices in town where we will be announcing our programme of action. The press conference will be held on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 at 10 am, Office 416 Salisbury Centre, Tower B, 347-351 Pixley kaSeme Street, opposite Woolworths. We will be holding a General Meeting over the weekend to take the mandate of all our branches and affiliated communities. All branches and communities have been asked to collect their demands and to bring them to the General Meeting. Abahlali has recently launched new branches in Shallcross, Intake View, Richmond Farm, KwaMashu etc. We will bring the demands of the old branches and communities, that have been struggling for many years now, together with the demands from the new areas.

We believe that our numbers will force the deaf ears to account.

For more information contact:

Mazwi Nzimande (Abahlali Acting Administrator) on 031-3046420
Mzwakhe Mdlalose (Abahlali President) on 072 132 8458
Mnikelo Ndabankulu (Former Abahali Media Officer) 081 309 5485
Mama Nyawo (Nokuthula Nyawo) 083 9491379