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Minutes of AbM meeting with Church Leaders, Kennedy Road, 9 October 2007

Abahlali baseMjondolo, Abahlalism, Church

Notes after an Abahlali baseMjondolo meeting with church leaders, at Kennedy Road, 9 October 2007.


This is a first draft. It seems very important to try and write down some of what is emerging – but somehow the writing seems very inadequate to capture the subtlety and wisdom of the encounter. I hope others who were there will take some time to add and correct this account. (It is not an attempt to write everything that was said.) I hope also that doing so feeds the movement – and perhaps helps church to be church.

The meeting did not happen in a vacuum and some of what went before is important to record. That history would need to include the strong place of people’s faith and prayer throughout the life of Abahlali baseMjondolo, and the ongoing work of the churches sub-committee within the movement. At this particular meeting however, what was perhaps uppermost in our minds was the march of the 28th September, which had ended in the police unleashing unprovoked violence against the thousands of highly disciplined ‘bahlali, and in the arrests of 14 members of the movement for ‘public violence’ and ‘violating the Gatherings Act’. An eyewitness account of the events noted that: “When the police attacked this protest yesterday, church leaders had been leading the people in prayer and were standing at the front of the crowd – they were among the first to be thoroughly doused when the water cannon was turn on”.

In response to this attack on the people, some church leaders, most of whom had been at the march with Abahlali baseMjondolo, issued a public statement firmly condemning the police action and reiterating their commitment to solidarity with movement:

Police Violence in Sydenham, 28 September 2007: A Testimony by Church Leaders

We are appalled and deeply disturbed by the unprovoked violent and aggressive action of the SAPS at the public gathering organised by Abahlali baseMjondolo held in Sydenham, Durban on 28 September. In good conscience, we cannot remain silent in the face of the SAPS’s flagrant disregard of our country’s legal provision for our hard won right to express dissent, let alone their sheer disrespect of our common humanity as children of God.

As leaders in various churches and ecumenical organisations, we were present in the march organised by Abahlali, joining with them in their call for an end to the ongoing eviction and exclusion of the poor, and the destruction of their homes. The march was extremely well prepared, with the city officials being given ample notice, and arrangements having been made with the SAPS. The march was conducted in a disciplined manner, with the clear and stated intention being to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Mayor. Whilst the marchers were waiting for the Mayor to arrive to receive the memorandum, the SAPS chose to attack the people assembled at the agreed upon venue. We wish to state clearly as eyewitnesses, that prior to this attack by the police:

* no participant of the march threatened any violence, or threw, or threatened to throw, stones or sticks or any objects at the police, or any members of the public ;
* no orders were given by the police calling for the dispersal of the people assembled, nor were any instructions or warnings given by the police;
* no “warning shots” or anything of that nature were given by the police.

What we did experience, was a completely unprovoked violent attack by the SAPS on people gathered to submit their demands to the Mayor of our city. This thuggery is deeply disturbing, and even more so as it was led by senior officers of the SAPS. Instead of protecting members of society, the SAPS violated and betrayed their trust. We cannot allow such behaviour to go unchecked, and expect the leadership of the SAPS to be held accountable for such despicable behaviour.

It was with shock that we then learned of the audacity of the SAPS in charging 14 participants of the march with “violating the Gatherings Act” and with “public violence”. The only public violence experienced in Sydenham on 28 September was that inflicted by the SAPS. The attack of the SAPS on these residents leaves us outraged. In the face of this violent attack by the SAPS, and in keeping with our vocation as church, we will continue to stand alongside the poor as they struggle for the recognition of their own humanity and dignity. We cannot be silent whilst our brothers and sisters suffer such brutal injustice.

“In Truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me…” (Matthew 25:40).

Bishop Purity Malinga (Methodist Church of Southern Africa); Bishop Rubin Phillip (Anglican Church of Southern Africa); Rev. Dlamini ; Rev. Mavuso; Rev. Mtetwa; Rev. Ndlazi (United Congregational Church of Southern Africa); Brother Fillipo Mondini (Comboni Missionary); Dr. Douglas Dziva (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council); Dr. L. Ngoetjana (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council); Mr. David Ntseng (Church Land Programme); Mr. Graham Philpott (Church Land Programme).

Brother Filippo Mondini had also written after the march:

“Last Friday the institutions, especially Major Mlaba and the police, have again attempted to vandalize the humanity of the poor. The violence shown by the police is just one example of what happens when poor people speak for themselves. …Abahlali has shown again its strength with the thousands of people that the movement was able to mobilize. Among them also several religious and priests. The Churches are finally recognizing that to be at the side of Abahlali is something important, something that they cannot miss.

The presence of priests, pastors and religious, the presence of a bishop, do not add anything to the struggle of Abahlali. The movement and the righteousness of its cause do not need the Churches. On the contrary, it is Abahlali that is helping the Churches to be Church. Shack Dwellers, with the strength of their prophetic voice, are pointing at the “Reign of God”. When Shack Dwellers are struggling for houses, land, participation and democracy they are participating in God’s dream for all humanity. God dreams of a world where nobody is exploited, where the goods of the earth are shared among all human beings. The ‘Reign of God’ is not something that we have to expect after this life but it is something concrete and real. The struggle of Abahlali is making God’s dream true and real. That is why nobody will break this movement. Moreover, whoever disrespects Abahlali disrespects God.”

These are powerful statements of church leadership finding church and God in the actions of movements of the poor. But not all responses of church institutions are the same (and indeed, we should not exaggerate the extent to which the institutional church responds at all). Even in the build-up to the march, as well as its aftermath, some others persistently offered to ‘mediate’ on behalf of the movement, to convene and direct ‘civil society support’, and/or quietly questioned the strategies and leadership of Abahlali baseMjondolo. In this context, a meeting of the movement with ‘church leaders’ cannot proceed naively assuming an unproblematic solidarity – it is also a continuation of the ongoing struggle of the poor to speak for themselves. In discussions prior to the planned meeting, some connected with the movement reflected that there is an important, and potentially useful difference between how some church leaders had responded after march (by partly at least asking ‘How can I support?’) and the many other responses of FBO [Faith-Based Organisation] and NGO people who keep wanting to mediate with city on behalf of the movement. This distinction is crucial: the former (‘How can I help?’) keeps open the possibility of AbM staying on the path it chooses and within the ‘spaces’ of action where it is strong; the other (offers of ‘mediation’ etc.) are an attempt to impose strategies and a politics where the movement is disempowered at the expense of giving power, prestige, and ultimately control, to outsiders like the NGOs and the churches. This critique of the ‘mediation’ and ‘advocacy’ approach is actually a big topic but for now we should at least make clear that:

* theologically and politically it is imperative that the poor and oppressed speak for themselves
* mediation and advocacy are sometimes appropriate when conditions are such that people truly cannot speak for themselves, but they are always at the expense of the voice of the poor and oppressed
* Abahlali baseMjondolo can and does speak and think for itself, so offers by ‘civil society’ (including church leaders and FBOs) to ‘mediate’ are not appropriate
* rather, those parts of civil society that really want to help, must start from some clear pre-conditions:
o that they respect the movement and the people;
o that they will act in ways that affirm the truth that the movement think, acts, and speaks for itself; and
o that they will act in ways that build the power of the movement to do so.
o (by implication: they will not act in ways that undermine or take away the movement’s voice, or replace it with their own.).

What helped ensure that the initiative stayed with the movement for this particular meeting was making very clear who called it, who drove it, and who’s agenda was on the table. Even the structure of the programme and the venue (at the crèche in Kennedy Road) for the meeting reflected this. After singing, prayers and watching video footage of the events at the march, the welcome and clarification of the purpose of the meeting was the responsibility of the movement leadership. This was to be followed by presentations by Abahlali and only thereafter presentations, in response, by the church leaders. After that, the meeting would move to think concretely about ‘ways forward’ for supporting Abahlali.

The meeting

In his opening remarks, Abahlali baseMjondolo president, S’bu Zikode said we are here to honour the presence of God in this place and in the people and in their struggle. He said that our wisdom is given by the Lord. We cannot act without the Lord. We are not too clever – the wisdom we have is God-given. In discussions like this, and in the actions of the movement, we define ourselves – we define ourselves in and through the presence of God. Our struggle, which is also and always our choosing to be truthful, is not divorced from God, and God is on our side. Our theologians tells us that God is not neutral but takes the side of the poor – and this is confirmed today when the church leaders are here at Kennedy Road – they have descended to this level where the people are rather than having a meeting in the City Hall or the offices of powerful. By the end of the meeting we should be able to say who is the church?, and what is the role of the church in the struggle and in our communities?

Zikode outlined who was present from the movement – the executive was represented, and there were the ‘Kennedy 6’ hunger strikers; the 14 arrested at the last march; and those who had been beaten and injured by police at the same march.

Ma Nkikine, from the Joe Slovo settlement and one of those arrested at the march (she was also shot 6 times in the back with rubber bullets), spoke. She remembered the names and actions of those who had continuously knocked down the shacks where she had lived during the apartheid times. The change since apartheid seems very little – and sometimes it feels like it was better before. She suggested that perhaps the church leaders can persuade the new political leaders, like Mayor Mlaba and President Mbeki, to change their ways. “The Mayor sometimes comes to my church, he asks for blessings and this helps him to get elected. Maybe the church leaders can give their blessings to Abahlali baseMjondolo and strengthen it?”

Mnikelo Ndabankhulu, who was arrested after the march, talked about the march and the police action. He stressed that, even though the movement had done everything it could to act within the law, the people were treated just the same as if it had been an illegal march – they were treated just the same as they were on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, or at Sharpeville in 1960. “The police don’t even fear God and they showed no respect for the priests and church leaders.”

Shamita Naidoo, from Motala Heights, spoke about ‘abahlalism’ from her experience of the unified struggles of African shack dwellers and poor South African Indians in tin houses at Motala. She said Abahlali baseMjondolo had awakened the Indians and showed them the light. They see that Abahlali is really fighting for something that is right. The movement is a help for those who cannot be heard, who are hidden, to be known and to speak for themselves. In this way, they can show how the poor are really suffering. Perhaps the church leaders’ solidarity with the movement can help to open doors to other communities who are hidden and silenced. It is hard work building the movement but it is good work and we present ourselves to the world in a deeply dignified way. “The march was my first experience of such a thing and even people from the media commented to me how dignified and organised we were.”

Louisa Motha spoke. She is also from Motala Heights. Echoing the words of one of the hymns sung at the beginning of the meeting, she repeated: “Nkosi sikelele” – but we are not yet blessed. The leaders of South Africa say we are free, but the poor are not free. Their 2010 [soccer world cup] is coming – but it will bring more arrests, more evictions, more demolitions; the street kids will be taken away to Westville prison to impress the international visitors. These leaders will need the prayers of the church leaders because they have sins, and the blood of children, on their hands. She said that the land and the resources on it are a gift from God for all the people. No one person can own what God gave to everyone. “In your last days, you will need to ask forgiveness for what you have done to the poor.”

M’du Nqulunga was a hunger striker in prison. “If it wasn’t for the presence of the Bishop who visited us in prison and of God, perhaps I would still be there, in prison. I refused food in prison for Abahlali baseMjondolo. Our challenge to church leaders is to always be available – we were arrested before and it seems clear, we will be arrested again – so keep coming, day in and day out. Perhaps we should give a big thanks to [councillor] Yakoob Baig because his oppression has united all the people to make the movement strong. Abahlalism is bigger than ‘land and housing’ – it is also socialism because we must socialise what we have and share all things in common. What is happening in the life of your neighbour, of the people next door, matters. We must think whether they have eaten today or whether they will be able to eat tomorrow. So we must prioritise humanity amongst Abahlali.”

Sihle, also from Joe Slovo settlement, stressed that they have gained a lot since joining Abahlali baseMjondolo . “We have heard about the history of struggles – even in 1976 to resist Afrikaans in our schools. They won this and one day too, we will win. During the apartheid times, we saw leaders of churches supporting the struggles and we need this again. Across all the denominations, we need the prayers for Abahlali baseMjondolo, prayers for their dignity because they are not respected. The experience of the march shows us that the virus of not respecting the poor is spreading from the political leaders to the police too who also showed us no respect when they gave us no warning to disperse but attacked us.”

After these presentations, S’bu asked what do the church leaders say?

Nazareth priest, Baba Mkhize said he was initially surprised to hear about church leaders in the march – what were they doing coming into politics? “But I have seen and listened to the points – especially that we struggle to bring back our humanity; and that we must be aware of our neighbour’s needs. The struggle has raised important challenges to the church leaders. We used to feel proud and satisfied if our congregations filled up our churches on Sundays – but now we must think about the rest of their real lives – are they hungry and poor? Some church leaders are poor too. We usually do not hang our own dirty laundry in public because the people put their trust in us and we fear what they would think if they knew. Sometimes we say that we are fasting in a religious way – but this can be a sort of automatic fasting because we have no food actually. The local church leaders who are here in the settlements must come together, must pray together. Before the next big march perhaps, we will pray together. Even if these local churches are poor too, we can provide ‘soul food’ for the struggle. We will pray for just one thing – a better life. The leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo must continue to bring challenges to the church leaders. I will report on these matters to my superiors in the church because now is the time to act.”

Bishop Rubin Phillip of the Anglican church was grateful for the opportunity to be at this meeting and explained that he was “Here to listen to you, to the people – I am not here with big answers and solutions. I need to learn how you believe the church can help in your struggle – you have taken the initiative, you have suffered, you know. In your successful march of the 28th, you have shown that you are not powerless but you are powerful, that you are determined to bring about change. That’s a powerful thing to have decided. Good will come out of your march. I am here today as head of the Anglican church in this part and also the newly elected chair of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council. I will use my position and influence to help in any way that I can. I have been thinking hard about Sbu’s question: “What is the church?”. Is the church made of the powerful and the middle-class, or the oppressed and the poor? If we are honest, the truth is that we have lost our way; we no longer stand with, march with, are in prison with, or take our place among those who still suffer, those who are still hungry. What is true is that we church leaders drop everything when we are called by the State President’s or the Premier’s offices. I think we like to mix with the rich and powerful – and they provide very good catering at their lunches! The church has been co-opted and has been made to forget its rightful place among the poor. Abahlali baseMjondolo helps us to re-discover our identity and our role. I have tried to listen carefully to what has been said. I have heard some of the following things:

* be in solidarity with your struggle – in marches, in prison, where ever it is necessary
* provide ‘soul food’ for your struggle, gather together in prayer
* work with the people to play a role to really change the structures that cause pain, unemployment, hunger and all other sufferings of the poor
* be practical.

I will take these things to my council. We can call a meeting of wider church leadership and we would like you to come and make your voice heard, and help to create consciousness of these things. In the meantime, call on us, keep setting the agenda. This is the true church – or challenge is how to bring the leadership alongside. I am proud of the leadership of this highly respected movement. They can no longer ignore you and I offer a great word of appreciation for what you are doing.”

Bishop Dladla said he would not repeat what others had already covered. He emphasised that the churches had not prayed enough. “I support Bishop Rubin to unite all the churches here and I think we should organise a big gathering where everyone wears their church uniforms too. We don’t need long stories and trying to put the blame on people but we must simply unite and say ‘when will these people be free?’. We must also pray for the leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo because it is clear that, once they start speaking they become enemy number 1 and they are in danger. I was a shop-steward in the past. During negotiations with the bosses I never took any food and drinks that were offered because it could poison you. The churches must learn this too when they are invited to the Premier’s offices.”

Brother Filippo Mondini said, firstly, that “A most powerful thing that Abahlali baseMjondolo has achieved is that you speak for yourselves, you are the masters of your own suffering, you know. So what the church cannot do is steal your voice again. You have won your voice and it is wonderful. It is also so important to acknowledge that there are churches in the settlements – engage with these people; learn and discuss how they read the Bible; discover with them that Jesus’ project was a revolutionary one – and so you carry on with what is already happening to liberate the gospel. This connection with Jesus’ revolutionary project and the Bible is not just strategic or ‘political’ – the gospel is relevant to the struggle.”

In his closing prayer, Brother Filippo remembered that God is like the good shepherd who does not abandon the flock when the wolf comes – and asked God to give the churches the same courage as Abahlali.

The meeting agreed to mobilise for a mass prayer gathering at 9am on 11th of November, 2 days before the next court appearance of the 14 Bahlali arrested at the march. If possible, we could connect this also with the solidarity actions that are being planned by the poor people in Turkey who have sent a statement of solidarity and who are planning to make a protest at the South African embassy there. We will pray that, in their actions, they will not be treated by the police like we were at our march.

Minutes of the Abahlali baseMjondolo meeting to Discuss Legal & Political Strategies to Oppose the Slums Bill

Minutes of the Abahlali baseMjondolo meeting to Discuss Legal & Political Strategies to Oppose the Slums Bill

Held: Friday 13 July, 9:00 a.m., Kennedy Road Hall.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has decided to oppose the Slums Bill by all means necessary. A Slums Bill Elimination Task Team was elected to take the resistance forward. The first task was to lay a foundation for resistance by self-education about the Bill. This took the form of line by line readings and discussions. Everyone’s input has been taken into serious account. The second step was to call a meeting of everyone opposed to the Bill. The meeting was scheduled for Friday 13 July, at 9:00 a.m. in the Kennedy Road Hall, Clare Estate, Durban. People came from all over Durban, Pinetown and Pietermaritzburg as well as from Cape Town and Johannesburg. People who couldn’t attend in person sent written submissions. Everyone who wants to join the struggle against the Slums Bill was welcome to attend this meeting as well as the media. The following notes from that meeting were prepared by David Ntseng and Mark Butler.

Mystica: Frahana Loonat opened the meeting with a short prayer. Sibusiso Zikode, president of Abahlali, lit a candle that was donated to Abahlali by the Kirkens a symbol of hope and solidarity in Abahlali struggles. Lighting the candle brightens the hard journey Abahlali still have to travel in their struggle for land and housing. Throughout the meeting the candle was burning right until the end of the meeting. At the end Louisa closed with a prayer.

One thing S’bu stressed at the beginning was that our struggle is for human being. For our conditions, this translates into demands for housing and land. This struggle provokes a response from the state – part of which we can see in this Bill. Perhaps if Abahlali baseMjondolo did not exist, there wold have been no such Bill.

‘Bahlali who have given careful consideration to, and analysis of, the Bill gave an overview of what the Bill says on its own terms. Zodwa read the preamble of the Bill just to set the scene and refresh people’s memory on the aims and objectives of the Bill. Clearly, it pretends to be in the interests of the poor and makes many claims that it is designed to answer the problems of the poor and the landless and the homeless. But this is not truthful. As Mnikelo said in reaction: the Bill intends to make Durban a world class city by “cleaning up” or by forcing poor people out of the city – that is why demolishing of shacks is so rampant. David also commented that there is a serious contradiction in the way the rationale to have the Bill is presented and the actual content of the Bill. The danger is that the municipality will deliberately misunderstand the overall goal of improving the quality of lives of people living in shacks and making Durban a world class city and a slum free city as a justification for demolition of shacks.

And although the Bill is not an Act of law yet, it seems as if the provincial government is already implementing it in different ways. For example, the delegate from Pietermaritzburg told the meeting that they have already been told by a councilor that the municipality will start to research in the shack settlements counting the houses and the people preparing the ground for the next steps in the Bill – which is most likely to remove the people and criminalise those who resist or return to shacks from the formal shacks they will be removed to. She said: In our area, Ash Road settlement, some officials have come to alert us that they will soon come to audit shacks in our area and we are not allowed to build anymore shacks.

In many ways, the whole exercise seems to us to be a big waste of resources. It is not at all clear to us that the Bill was even needed at all – and yet there has been so much time, money resources wasted just on drafting the thing already. For example, setting up these ‘transit camps’ proposed in the Bill – i.e., that municipalities will erect whilst people are awaiting their houses: government will have to waste time and money to access the land from existing landowners where these will be located. If they’re going to identify such land, why not use it to build decent houses for the people? We were not fighting for ‘transit camps’. ‘Upgrading’ where we are would probably be better but if relocation really is sometimes necessary, then why not use our existing jondolos as the equivalent of the ‘transit camps’? – we are there already! And as S’bu noted, the ‘houses’ in the transit camps are likely to be nothing more than government approved jondolos anyway. Furthermore, as Mnikelo pointed out, these will lead to government becoming shacklords and shack farmers which make it (and its business partners) profit out of people’s despondency. S’bu said that indeed these shacklords and shack farmers will definitely be the government as they intend to erect transit camps.

The process and the content of the Bill is insulting to us. We fought, died, and voted for this government and so that we can be free in our country and have decent lives, houses and jobs – but this government doesn’t treat us as people who can speak and think for themselves and who have the freedom to do so. It would have been better to spend energy into a better process to be in line with the approach in, for example, the ‘Breaking New Ground” national housing policy. But this Bill is not coming from the people who suffer – it is imposed on us from above. In effect, this Bill will make things much worse for us. It could even turn our earlier victories into nightmares – for example, it will make our activists liable to arrests, prison and fines for fighting to stop evictions!

Within the movement of Abahlali we have had many discussions about this Bill. We have decided to oppose it by all means. As Louisa put it: “The government is upset for what we’ve done. Actually we embarrassed the government by pulling down the big Lannie’s pants. That is why they introduce the Bill to shut our mouths and intimidate us. We have uncovered the dirty shit they are doing in our settlements”. As the movement, we acknowledge that this opposition to the Bill includes building a broader coalition of organisations and people to work with us because it is a broad struggle with different aspects.

In the next part of the meeting, Bahlali came from a different angle to talk about what they would say if they were to make a Bill. The first comment was to emphasis that we would take land back from the big private landowners who have shown that they don’t know how to use it properly and fairly. It should go to the people who need it. Secondly, if you are going to write such a Bill, you should come and speak to the very poor people, and consult with us about what is needed and how to make a better Bill. As S’bu said: “I would make sure that I first consult with the poor before I do anything. Proper consultation is a right not a favour”.

We could take what is true and not contentious from existing documents like the Freedom Charter and the ‘Breaking New Ground’ policy and put these into effect – which would have the opposite effect to what the current Bill will do when it is put into practice. The good parts of these existing documents and policies, and also parts of our Constitution, are full of Abahlalism because “these policies somehow prioritize the need to improve the quality of life of the poor” (Mnikelo) – but they are not put into practice. In this way, we are reminding them [the government] not surprising them because these things were promised to us.

It was also discussed that if Abahlali baseMjondolo just relied on the Constitution and so on, there would be problems too because there are bad parts – for example, in the Constitution, there is the property clause that protects landowners and private ownership rights; and in the existing housing policies and laws, people can be removed if there is an ‘alternative accomodation’ available so, when there are these ‘transit camps’, the government might be able to use these to excuse the forced removal of the people.

It’s clear that the poor have become some sort of ‘project’ for the MECs and the politicians. Whether each little project they come up with succeeds or fails doesn’t really matter to them because they move on. They do not include us, or respect us, or listen to us about what we think and need. As Donovan said: “They have embarked on a process of giving us what they think we need including this Bill without asking us what we need. They have taken away our dignity by denying us a right to say what we need and how we think that can be delivered. They are not interested to knowing how we see democracy being practiced in our country”. This was reinforced by Sibusiso’s comment: “we are treated as properties not as people who can think for themselves, someone must think for us. To me our government is a liar”. Mark also added that: “The Bill does not take the poor seriously. Abahlali have made submissions to oppose the Bill and they had already opposed it at public hearings. All that was not taken into account, it just did not matter. As far as I’m concerned this Bill is a waste of time and it shows government’s arrogance as treats the poor as some piece of shit; I would expect someone to write something that shows respect for the poor not this piece of crap. This Bill undermines the intelligence of the poor.”

And while they waste time coming up with Bills like this one, more and more land is being sold off all the time anyway – so we will have to face our oppressors and capitalists in the future anyway when we need land.

Part of the time and resources they have wasted was in the so-called ‘hearings’ they had about this Bill. This was a deeply insulting process which was not for them to listen to the people at all. We in Abahlali worked hard on our submission to the hearings but it was completely ignored – so what were the hearings for then? And so much money was spent on them! It makes it clear to us that we are already in a prison and that they do not want us to get out of it. Louisa said “But we will be needed soon during election time. They can oppress us now during the Bill, but they will need us soon”. So to those who make this Bill we say: you think you can do this to the people, but you forget where you come from; you can fly high, but you will have to come down again! We have said from the beginnings of our movement that we aim to mobilise in order to partner the government – but is becoming clear that this mobilisation has become a threat to the government and the politicians. Some of us fear that, with this Bill as a law, the future will give us hard times. The Bill is like a prophecy of the hard times to come, with arrests, imprisonment, fines and so on. The Bill will make it so that we will have a new Mandela as our leaders will be imprisoned – but we are still going to fight.

The third part of the meeting looked at what was being said in the submissions that we received from others stakeholders like lawyers and academic policy experts and supportive NGOs. Richard commented that: “It’s encouraging that people have taken time and made efforts to express their views about the Bill”. They all seem to agree that this Bill does not follow the Constitution, the law, or the national policy. This fact creates possibilities to oppose it – and also to win over more people who could be sympathetic to our position because we are asking the government to follow the law. The submissions also recognise the way that the Bill does not respect the thinking and the strategies of the poor. This means that we can also point out how dangerous it is to make these kinds of laws because they will worsen social instability and conflicts, they will worsen the growing gap between the rich and the poor. This is important because we must all stress the need to include the poor in any talk about alternatives to this bad policy. We must not allow anyone to fall into a trap to convince the government that this Bill was a mistake but let them get their ‘experts’ to write another one for us!

When we look at the submissions, we should be aware that there might be a danger of focusing on tackling the Bill itself and losing sight of the people’s own issues and agenda. We must not get side-tracked by the details of one proposed law into putting energy into something that might not be relevant to people’s actual issues. It is better to stay on what the people themselves prioritise and define, it is better to continue to assert your/our identity and reality about who you/we are, and fight the Bill ‘outside’ of it’s logic and not within its details. On the other hand, we can’t just ignore the Bill which is partly a response to our mobilisation as a movement and opposing their shit in our settlements. So we can use the Bill to assert the power of Abahlali baseMjondolo, we can rise above it and not be limited to just engaging a piece of technical law. To mobilise around it, we must – as we always do – start with a living politics, a politics of what’s close and real to the people. This has been the basis of the movement’s success. This Bill is bad, it is an attack on shackdwellers and perhaps even, an attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo. Our movement’s successes have createed the crisis that the government is forced to respond to. They could have responded with good laws or bad ones, and this one is bad. So we must engage it. It is true that there would be dangers to lose the living politics if the main thing became technical, legal engagement. So we will always bring it back to the people and back to the living politics. In this way, it is OK to venture into this ‘enemy territory’ with our tactics, but we always return to the people and will not let the enemy’s approaches and language dominate. Even in this meeting, it is the movement that called it and that proposed a legal challenge and broader coalition to support it, not the NGOs or the legal experts. In these ways, we continue to safeguard our intellectual and political autonomy.

This discussion was also connected to the agenda item that followed about legal and political strategies for our opposition to the Bill. Our engagement with Bill is not disengaged from the culture and demoratic practices of Abahlalism that are deep within the movement. This meeting today will also be followed by more of our broader meetings and workshops in the settlements with all Abahlali to share, discuss, report and make sense together with everybody. In this way, we arm ourselves with information which, we have come to see, is power – and a threat to the powerful ones in government. So far, we have agreed that some experts in policy and law will assist Abahlali baseMjondolo financially and legally to take our challenge further. Next week, two delegates will meet with top advaocates and academic policy experts in Joburg. The Premier of KZN has rubbished us in public saying we are ignorant and haven’t read his Bill – well, we will turn the tide and show him when we meet in court if this Bill becomes a law. If our challenge comes to court, we will mobilise in our numbers to fill the courts and create what they call ‘chaos’ but which is actually the disciplined, democratic power of the people. The MEC should be made to know that the ‘3rd force’ is in the conditions and the lives of the poor which are made worse by the government which does not deliver on their promises. The government should stop shooting the messenger, and should rather take the message. Across the country, the people are on the streets to remind the government of its promises.

In building our challenge to this Bill, we should also:

* use connections we have with the Cape Town movements to build wider mobilisations;
* look at broadening the coalition to draw in also middle-class and religious people too who can be concerned and conscientised around these issues of social justice.

The meeting also discussed a possible 3rd legal strategy: so far on actual evictions, we have used lawyers, good lawyers whose work we value deeply, but usually after the evictions have happened. Now we are looking at a Constitutional Court challenge to the Slums Bill which is important but which could take a long time to come to an end. Perhaps we need a 3rd more militant legal strategy too which recognises that the Durban Municipality is repeatedly acting illegally and find a proactive lawyer who is ready to be more aggressive and take on cases at an early stage to challenge this illegality and make the city bosses criminally responsible. We could imagine that within a month or so, there would be a warrant of arrest for Mike Sutcliffe for being in contempt of court. Certainly we have given the bosses in the City and also Mabyakhulu in the provincial government too many chances.

Towards the end of the meeting, the following comments were also made:

S’bu: Operation Clean Up is underway, Operation Slum Free Cities is underway, our role is to connect these crimes to Soccer World Cup 2010. We need to embark on an Eviction Free 2010 Campaign. We need to build a case of contempt of court every time there are evictions taking place. We need to find confrontational lawyers who will deal with municipalities up to issuing of warrants of arrest for city officials who carry out evictions.

Mnikelo: It seems like the government’s response to poor people”s demands is to call them names, like the Third Force. To me if the government wants to do away with the Third Force it should deliver land and houses. So for now we should continue sharing the information about pending evictions with our people especially those who will be affected.

Lisa: As legal processes continue people must not stop asserting their rights in whatever way they can locally. Some of it will involve setting a network of lawyers. But also explore other ways of resisting, undermining and exposing the limitations of the Bill.

Farhana: We may also consider bringing in faith communities to support the strategies of the movement.

S’bu: Basically as Abahlali we see this as a way of demanding respect from government. It is about our life as humans who must have dignity in the society. We are about emancipation of consciousness to fight for our rights. Our supporters must always show that they too respect us as we respect them.

Nokwenzokuhle: Abahlali are an inspiration to us at Ash Road in Pietermaritzburg. Their support and courage has given us strength to stand our ground and assert our rights and interests without fear of the authorities. We are not afraid anymore.

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