Category Archives: Harry Stopes

Death Threats in Durban

The London Review of Books Blog


The last time I was in South Africa, in 2015, I met with members of Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), an organisation of informally housed people, based mainly in Durban and the surrounding KwaZulu-Natal region. The group’s name means ‘Shack Dwellers’. I was added to their mailing list.

In the last few months the tone of AbM’s updates has become increasingly urgent, as the violence of the state’s response to the movement seems to have intensified. On 22 May, a group of unknown men ambushed and shot dead S’fiso Ngcobo, a branch chairperson in the west Durban suburb of Marianhill. AbM blame the murder on a local ANC councillor, who they say had previously made threats to Ngcobo. ‘Under the rule of the ANC,’ AbM said, ‘the price for land and dignity continues to be paid in blood.’ According to a letter that AbM sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa in June, Ngcobo was the 16th AbM activist murdered since 2009.  Continue reading

LRB: The Mandela Complex

Harry Stopes

In December 2013, a group of people living in shack settlements in Newlands West, Durban, entered and squatted a development of 16 nearly complete apartment blocks on Castle Hill, about ten miles north-west of the city centre. They stayed for more than a year before they were evicted on 17 December 2014. The developer calls the site Hilldale; the squatters called it the Mandela Complex.

Since 1994 the main government policy for housing the poor in South Africa has been to provide free homes, for private ownership, through the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). To be eligible for an RDP home, your total household income mut be less than 3500 Rand a month. That isn’t much (currently around £200), but there are millions of South Africans who earn less, or nothing at all – a quarter of the workforce is unemployed. Around 180,000 RDP units have been built in Durban since 1994. Continue reading

London Review of Books Blog: Outside South Africa House

by Harry Stopes

There were no more than twenty of us outside South Africa House the other week. Londoners are used to small demonstrations outside foreign embassies, and passers-by didn’t pay much attention. We were there in support of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (Zulu for ‘shackdwellers’) movement. AbM was founded in Durban in 2005, after land at Kennedy Road, which the municipality had long promised would be used for housing for the poor, was sold to a developer. Echoing the language of Lefebvre, AbM call for the poor’s ‘right to the city’.


The state’s response has been unyielding. In 2007 the Kwa-Zulu Natal provincial government passed the Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act, which provided for forced evictions without a court order. AbM went to the Constitutional Court to have the law overturned. They won the case, but on 26 September 2009, shortly before the judgment was passed down, an AbM meeting in Kennedy Road was attacked by an armed gang, which AbM leaders say was connected to local ANC figures. Two people were killed. Thirteen AbM supporters were arrested, and no attackers.

Continue reading