Word from Westville, more evictions loom, cops seem to get the law, another fire

Good Friday, 6 April 2007

Word has been received from the Kennedy 5 via a quick cell phone conversation. They were able to explain that they were removed to an isolation cell on the 7th floor of the prison, room 702, after they announced their hunger strike and began refusing food. They are resolute.

Yesterday the council’s men arrived at the Shannon Drive settlement to begin marking out shack for demolition. After that they went to the Arnett Drive settlement and instructed people there to ‘register’ all the shack owners by the end of the Easter weekend or face immediate eviction. Both settlements are in Reservoir Hills where the ward councillor, Jayraj Bachu, was elected on an explicitly pro ‘shack clearance’ programme.

For quite some time the Municipality has usually undertaken its preparation for its illegal evictions as well as the evictions themselves on long weekends when many shack dwellers are away at rural homesteads. Thandi Kambule, 0769135059 from Shannon Drive can give further information on this unfolding evictions crisis. These evictions are being planned and are clearly intended to be carried out in the same blatantly illegal and unconstitutional manner as the eThekwini Municipality’s other evictions. They will be resisted by the usual mix of legal action and mass mobilisation.

Also, S’bu Zikode met with officers from the Crime Intelligence Unit of the SAPS (the post-apartheid vesion of apartheid’s political intelligence units) this morning to discuss the march on the Sydenham Police station. Zikode explained the law governing such protests and they agreed that there was no legal basis for a ban but stopped short of giving permission for the march. This delay, again, is a typical strategy. Delaying announcements on the legality of marches can make mobilising difficult when many people, with good cause given previous life threatening incidents of police violence in response to marches illegally deemed illegal by the police (and fatal incidents in Umlazi and Siyanda), are scared to be part of marches not clearly declared legal by the police.

A fire began in the Lacey Road settlement (just near Sparks Road, Sydenham) at about 3:00 a.m. last night. It consumed 8 shacks before it was stopped – this time with the welcome help of the fire brigade. There has been real progress in getting the support of the emergency services since Abahlali started organising shack dwellers two years ado. No one was badly hurt this time and reconstruction efforts are well under way. Just under a year ago half of the settlement burnt down and the article below appeared in the Mercury. It is worth repeating the fact that this plague of fires is a direct consequence of the Municipality’s 2001 decision to cease the electrification of shack settlements on the grounds that they are ‘temporary’. But of course settlements like Kennedy Road are 30 years old and earlier this year the Municipality finally admitted that it would not be able to ‘clear the settlements by 2010’. Settlements are not, therefore, going to be a temporary phenomena. Therefore people need water, electricity and sanitation to be provided as a matter of extreme urgency.

For comment on this latest fire, or the general problem of shack fires, or to offer assistance please call M’du Hlongwa from the Lacey Road settlement on 0723358966.

For a short history of shack fires in Abahlali settlements, including pictures, press statements etc, see part 9 the Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo at MetaMute at


Shack Fires are No Accident


Thursday – May 11, 2006 10

Shack Fires are No Accident

by Raj Patel & Richard Pithouse

Before the Treatment Action Campaign successfully politicised AIDS it was widely assumed that people killed by the HI virus had died from natural causes. Now, outside of the Presidency, it is widely accepted that people who die from AIDS are most often killed by a profoundly immoral policy rather than a treatable virus.

A similar politicisation needs to be fought for with regard to shack fires. Disastrous fires are regular events in shack settlements. People are regularly killed and badly burnt. They are also subject to the major set backs that follow from a total loss of property, including things like I.D. books and school uniforms that are necessary to access the resources that the state does provide to the poor.

In Durban shack dwellers often do everything that they can to cope with the constant danger of fires. In many settlements there are volunteers who take turns at standing watch for fires. When half of the Lacey Road settlement in Sydenham burnt down last month the shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, was able to able to send in teams of relief workers from nearby settlements to clean up and reconstruct the settlement and to use various networks in and outside of the settlements to arrange large donations of food, clothing, blankets and building materials.

Abahlali baseMjondolo have also invested a lot of time in looking for safer options for cooking and lighting. Recently, a promoter of a new fuel – ethanol (a sop for SA’s sugar cane industry) – came to the Kennedy Road settlement, to advertise a stove that is supposedly cleaner, safer and cheaper than paraffin. The stove is able to use less fuel than a paraffin stove partly because the fuel itself burns hotter. The savings come from less money spent on fuel. But only if you can turn the thing off when it has finished

“Otherwise, it is more expensive”, said Zodwa Nsibande, an Information Technology student in Durban who suffered severe burns from an ethanol stove a few days ago. “I was trying to turn it off, but it didn’t work, and the flames shot out, and then it exploded.” The flames seared through Zodwa’s t-shirt and trousers, leaving her with first and second
degree burns.

She was not the only victim. The hot, clear ethanol flames flumed out of the side of the stove, burning Zandile, Zodwa’s mother, on her leg as she rested. “It’s lucky that the children were playing outside. They’d be burned to ashes otherwise,” said Zandile. The Nsibande family’s bed was consumed by the flames, as was the front of their shack.

Neighbours quickly brought water to douse the flames in the shack, “though when we tried to put the ethanol out with water, it got much worse”, said Zodwa, who eventually extinguished the flames on her body by smothering them with dirt. But the ambulance didn’t come. “It’s always like this in the Jondolos. If we lived anywhere different, they would have come,” said Zandile. For 90 minutes, Zodwa’s burns were left untreated, and by the time transport arrived, arranged in desperation through a middle class friend with a car, Zodwa was in a trance of pain, her wounds a sash of blood and fluid beneath her clothes.

At Addington Hospital, she was given painkillers, bandaged, and discharged at 3am. “How could we pick her up?”, asked Zandile. “We don’t even have electricity – how can we have transport?” In the end, doctors at Addington, whom Zodwa praised highly, arranged a stretcher for her until the morning as there were no more beds available.

“We need electricity,” said Zandile. “And if the government doesn’t give it, I’ll make a plan.” Zandile is right. The only way to stop the fires is for the settlements to be electrified. The eThekwini Municipality’s electricity policy states that “In the past (1990s) electrification was rolled out to all and sundry…because of the lack of funding…electrification of the informal settlements has been discontinued.” The claimed lack of funding is not some objective reality. It is a political decision. The Municipality has chosen to support the uShaka themepark and the A1 Grand Prix and to offer public subsidies to casinos and hotels. It looks like it may now commit itself to building a new stadium. All of these subsidies for the rich could have been used to ensure that shack dwellers have access to the electricity that will protect them from the constant threat of fire.

Public investment in elite projects is often justified in the name of the international publicity that will come to the city. In fact the city’s appalling treatment of shack dwellers has recently got far more international publicity for the city than uShaka or the A1 grand prix. Many influential publications like the New York Times and the Economist have recently run prominent stories highly critical of the eThekwini Municipality in this regard

Although the eThekwini municipality has decided not to put electricity into the shacks, the city’s richer residents are happy to employ shack dwellers as domestic workers, petrol pump attendants, waiters, security guards and so on. Shack dwellers are not a different species of humanity living in a different world to the middle class. Often they are the people minding the children, folding the laundry and protecting the property of the middle class. If the municipality continues to choose to condemn them to nights of terror they will have to take to the streets do demand electrification or, as shack dwellers do in the most of the world, connect themselves illegally.

One thought on “Word from Westville, more evictions loom, cops seem to get the law, another fire

  1. abahlali

    Hi Richard and all comrades!

    I just read your article…written on Good Friday. Good Friday…in Westville, Shannon Drive settlement, Lacey Road Settlement, Kennedy Road…this is the day of the Cross. But what does it mean CROSS in Westville, Shannon drive….Ash Road? I remember that when I was a child I alway been told that Jesus died because of my/our sins. But now I’m beginning to discover a new meaning. The Cross is not the instrument of a God who needs the suffering of the people. I am discovering that Jesus died not because of my sins but because of the way he lived. Jesus was executed because he was preaching a good news of liberation. He was preaching peace, love, resistance to the logic of the empire. Jesus dreamt a society with no poor, and oppression. Jesus died because of the God he preached. He preached a God who could be found outside the Temple, a God who did not need sacrifices. The God of Jesus was a God who scared the authorities.

    All the pain experienced in Kennedy Road, Shannon drive, Lacey Road, Ash road, Jadu place…is not willed by God! This is the good news. If these crosses are not God’s will, it means that God dreams something different for the people. God’s dreams for all of us are about happiness and a dignified life. God does not send suffering as a test of obedience or as a punishment. Therefore, the crosses that people are bearing today are meaningless because they are imposed by a system of death. They are there to be combated rather than to be understood and accepted. In other words, the suffering that unpoverished are enduring must not be seen as God’s will, rather it should be conceptualized as tools of an oppressive system that marginalizes people and reduces them to cheap labour. That is whay such crosses are meaningless: the system that produces such oppression, such crosses, must be called with its own name: sin. The situation of poverty and oppression is due to an economic and political system promoted and sustained by a minority. This must be considered a sin. That is why, the suffering of the people is a non sense that cannot be absolutely confused with the will of God.

    Nevertheless, the Cross of Jesus remains there as the wisdom of God. Therefore, how is it possible to understand this scandal? Which kind of Cross can deliver and sustain the struggle?

    Bearing the Cross of Christ means to be delivered from oppression and such a Cross is the one borne for the sake of liberation, freedom and love. Only this Cross has meaning because it is a Cross endured for the cause of the Kingdom and, struggling for this cause leads to suffering and, sometimes, even death. This can be seen in the life of Jesus.

    Jesus died because of his life, his option for the poor, his fidelity to the Kingdom and his radical solidarity with human beings. The Cross is a symbol of the full story of Christ’s becoming human, suffering and dying. That is the good news! Jesus remained faithful to the project of the Kingdom and in this way entered in solidarity with all those who are bearing a Cross for their fidelity, love and liberating actions. This is the meaning of the Cross! In his death, Jesus transformed the cross from an instrument of humiliation into an instrument of struggle against slavery, oppression and death. This aspect of Jesus’s Cross can also help to understand that the suffering of the impoverished is a cross without meaning and that they are called to bear a heavier one: the Cross borne because of the struggle against oppression and poverty.

    The Cross that liberates and gives life is the Cross borne for the cause of the kingdom. When men and women are struggling for houses, water and more generally for a dignified life, are giving meaning to the Kingdom of God. This is a Cross that generates love and transformation in this world. That is the Cross that Jesus bore. Jesus died so that people could stand upright. Jesus died so that people could find hope to struggle against a system of death which pushes people to live in makeshift houses. Following Jesus is to live out his subversive plan, his stance for the poor against the situation of misery and oppression. Following Jesus means placing oneself at the service of liberation from all oppression. As Jesus’s life taught us this can easily lead to persecution and suffering. That is also what is happening in this country…in Kennedy Road, Westville, Lacey Road…



Comments are closed.