Category Archives: Social Movement’s Indaba

Statement by Marie Huchzermeyer on Abahlali baseMjondolo’s decision in 2006 to disrupt the Social Movement Indaba

Statement by Marie Huchzermeyer on Abahlali baseMjondolo’s decision in 2006 to disrupt the Social Movement Indaba

Bandile Mdlalose’s 2014 paper in Politikon continues a line of argument about Abahlali emanating from people aligned to the Centre for Civil Society,  that began in 2006. This line of argument is that ‘white academics’ have been controlling Abahlali and that “the academics and left activists coming from the suburbs found shack-dwellers who could be made to look like their dreams and assumptions”. These arguments began to be made in the media in 2006 when Abahlali took the decision, with the Anti-Eviction Campaign, to disrupt the Social Movement Indaba hosted by the Centre for Civil Society at UKZN. Continue reading

An open letter to participants in the Social Movements Indaba

An open letter to participants in the Social Movements Indaba

The Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign wishes to make clear to all social movements and participants in the Social Movements Indaba that its representatives will not be attending the SMI to be held in Cape Town from 2-5 December 2007.

We have seen the “Planned Agenda” and want to make absolutely clear that we did not give the SMI leadership permission to cite our name as participants. We reject the dishonesty of the SMI leadership in this regard with the utmost contempt. Our inclusion as participants will mislead other social movements throughout South Africa, Africa and internationally. It also will mislead funders such as the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation who have partly financed this gathering of the SMI

One of our constituencies has indicated the very same sentiment: the Joe Slovo Residents Association, also cited in the agenda as participants, will not be attending the SMI.

The Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign was a founder member of the Social Movement Indaba in its original intention to be a platform for social movements. In its ranks it concentrates the experience of most of the mass struggles in the Western Cape since that time: in Mandela Park, Tafelsig, Silvertown, QQ section, Gugulethu, Hanover Park, Gympie Street and so on.

But since its inception the SMI has degenerated into a vehicle controlled by NGOs. Now it merely poses as a forum for bringing together social movements. In reality the SMI has become an obstacle to the linking up of real social movements around the country and is a source of division.

The Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign will not allow some NGO’s and academics to further their careers with the blood, sweat and tears of communities. We despise the way they act as Trojan horses and the way they co-opt activists because of the resources they enjoy. Major social movements such as Abahlali base Mjondolo in Natal and the WCAEC withdrew from the SMI a year ago because it no longer fulfilled its original function. The SMI needs to be reclaimed and driven by people on the ground and not by its self-appointed ‘leaders’.

Let us compare the record of the SMI in the Western Cape in 2007 with that of the AEC. With far less resources than the Western Cape SMI, the AEC has done the following:

(1) As a result of years of campaigning under the leadership of the AEC, by ten villages with defective housing managed by the Cape Town Community Housing Company, the government allocated R46 million to repair the defects.

(2) As a result of the AEC’s ‘scrap the arrears’ campaign (directed against the pink letters issued by the Cape Town Council), the Council agreed to scrap arrears up to September 2003. This was a partial victory.

(3) The AEC has been involved in helping organise marches of thousands of people on parliament by N2 Gateway residents and by Joe Slovo settlement residents, worked with Joe Slovo on the occupation of the N2, and has also cooperated with the Joe Slovo task team in working out a strategy to fight the forced removal being attempted by Sisulu, Dyantyi and Thubelisha. This has thus far won a reprieve until the High Court hearing on 12 December.

All this is in addition to regular assistance by the AEC of individuals and small groups with struggles against evictions.

What has the Western Cape SMI done in 2007? So far as we know, it has only organized one small demonstration at parliament of some 50-80 people! There has not even been an SMI presence at the court appearances in Bishop Lavis of 8 Joe Slovo militants on charges of public violence. This shows the extent to which the bureaucracy of the SMI has lost touch with community-based organizations.

We invite all representatives of genuine social movements – provincial, national and international — attending the SMI conference to join residents of Joe Slovo and members of the Anti-Eviction campaign in showing our solidarity with the 8 Joe Slovo militants at their next court appearance in Bishop Lavis at 9am on December 5.





Power to the Poor People



Issued by the Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign

Phones: 079 370 9614; 078 580 8646; 073 256 20336; 072 392 5859; 073 144 3619; 076 186 1408

The attachment has photographs and more information. Click here to read last year’s letter on the SMI from the AEC following the public campaign of paranoid and vicious slander by Hlatswayo & others after actually existing mass based social movements declined to accept the unilateral imposition of NGO control over their movements, and over the right to appropriate funding and mediate international solidarity in the name of their movements. Hlatswayo’s speech at this year’s SMI has been widely circulated. It is astonishing, not only for its dishonesty but also for the absolutely certainty of his assumption that there is a ‘we’ that has a (donor funded) right to constitute and impose a vanguard…In most of the world people with these assumptions are sad but irrelevant. Here they have donor money…

The Strong Poor & the Police

The Strong Poor & the Police

by Philani Zungu

Abahlali have discovered that when the strong poor speak for ourselves the people who are paid to speak for us, from local councillors, to Mike Sutcliffe and some NGOs and academics, call us criminal. They ignore the fact that it is hundreds of years of crimes against our ancestors that have driven us into the shacks and that even in these shacks the municipality breaks the law when it demolishes our homes. It seems that when ever we want the same rights as other citizens we will be called criminal. Often the powerful people who call us criminal for telling the truth get the police to attack us.

The South African Constitution gives us all the right to gather and to protest and say what we want to say. It is therefore unacceptable that every time there are mass gatherings of the poor and that every time we raise our voices the police are sent to oppress us. The police are sent to break the law and to stop us from marching and from speaking.

In a democratic society the police would exist to maintain the law and to ensure the safety of our communities. The police would be there to ensure our safety when we organise mass gatherings. But when we organise mass gatherings the police are there to make us unsafe! They assault us and shoot at us when they should be protecting us. Police brutality is not the exception. We suffer from illegal police brutality all the time.

On the 3rd of December 2006, the day after Abahlali and the AEC protested together at the SMI, the people of the Siyanda settlement blockaded the Inanda Road to protest against eviction and forced removals. They had a memorandum to hand over to their councillor. Abahlali and AEC were there. Before the councillor could arrive to receive the memorandum he, like so many other councillors, instructed the police officials to act on his behalf. Residents of Siyanda said that one of the police officers told them that they had been personally instructed by the councillor. The same thing has happened in settlements like Kennedy Road and Motala Heights. The councillor for Siyanda instructed the police to attack the people. He said that he would personally love to be there to help.

People were assaulted very badly to the extent that 3 people were admitted to King Edward Hospital and kept their under police guard. One other lady went to hospital on her own. Her situation is still very bad. She was already on strong medication before the police assaulted her so cruelly. According to Ntombi Fikile policemen were even breaking down people’s door to assault them in their own houses. We have also seen this in E-Section, Umlazi where one man was even shot in his own home and in Foreman Road.

Abahlali baseMjondolo counted eleven people who had been badly injured after being assaulted by the police but there were rumours that more people had been hurt and were hiding in case the police came back to hurt them again.

My personal point of view is that as far as Section 205 of the 1993 Regulations of Gatherings Act goes the police in fact committed a crime in Siyanda. Just as they have committed crimes in Foreman Road, in Kennedy Road and in Motala Heights. In all of these places they have disobeyed the constitution of our country. This behaviour needs to be condemned. Serious steps need to be taken against the regular breaking of the law by the police because while they break they law they criminalise us. The police are getting paid for their work on days when they commit these crimes even though they fail to understand that their duty is to the people and the constitution that protects the people and not to the powerful. The police are there to work for us. Abahlali have struggled to make them understand this in some places and will continue to struggle to make the police serve the people. In Umlazi, E-Section, there has been a big success with the arrest of the councillor’s hired assassins. There the police are now protecting the people from the powerful.

Like in other police attacks in other settlements the people in Siyanda lost their cell phones and had the doors to their homes broken. In fact what happened is that they suffered from armed robbery but the armed robbers were the police. Then the victims of the criminal behaviour were charged in court with public violence! It was the police that committed public violence! More than 100 Bahlali have been charged in the last year and a half but every time the charges have been dropped. This is because the police arrest us to intimidate us but never had any evidence against us. For them they use arrest just like tear gas or dogs or bullets. It is just one of their weapons.

Our communities need the South African Police Service to do their job. We want to enjoy our rights and to feel safe. The behaviour of the police is therefore a challenge for Abahlali baseMjondolo, a social movement who loves the poor people and who will defend the poor people. We need to push for a strong campaign to concientise the media, our people and the police about our rights and what the police are really supposed to be doing and who they are really supposed to be working for. All we need to do is to get the police to obey the constitution. When it stops the police from attacking the poor it well be real and it will be strong.

Philani Zungu is the Deputy President of Abahlali baseMjondolo

Abahlali baseMjondolo at the Social Movement Indaba – Unedited video footage

Here is the full 40 mins of unedited video footage of the Abahlali baseMjondolo and Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign protest against the Social Movements Indaba, in two parts:

Part II

This footage contains the full protest with the exception of the last intervention, by S’bu Zikode as Antonis’ batteries ran out a few minutes before the end of the protest.

It is instructive to contrast this video footage with the public claims about this protest by various people associated with the Centre for Civil Society and the SMI.

Click here to see the statement by the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign after a section of the NGO ‘left’, behaving with the precise paranoia, dishonesty and tendency to slander that is exhibited by the state when confronted by popular power, called the movements ‘criminal’ in the national press for staging a reasoned and peaceful protest against their attempts to assert an unwelcome authority over the movements. None of these ‘left’ intellectuals ever saw fit to make an intervention in the press when the movements were confronting evictions, arrests, assaults, torture etc, etc…Their priorities are quite clear.

On the SMI, from the Anti-Eviction Campaign

Following this article in the M&G the following letter was sent to the Mail and Guardian but, despite their publishing three letters attacking Abahlali baseMjondolo in a specially dedicated extension of the letters page, it was not published. (Scroll down to read What Happened at or to the SMI)

Letter from the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign to the Mail and Guardian

The Western Cape Anti Eviction Campaign (WCAEC) was, together with the Anti-Privatisation Forum, Jubilee South Africa and the Landless People’s Movement, a founder of the Social Movement Indaba (SMI) in 2002. That is why it is incorrect for your reporter Niren Tolsi (“On the far side of left”, December 8-14) to echo the claim of SMI secretariat member Mondi Hlatshwayo that the WCAEC “invaded” the December 2006 SMI in Durban. The SMI was set up as a platform for social movements and we regarded its space as our space. Yet some SMI ‘leaders’ attempted to deny us and Abahlali baseMjondolo access to the meeting!

Mondi Hlatshwayo’s description of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the biggest social movement in Durban, and the WCAEC as a “mob” merely shows the degeneration of the SMI secretariat. It is the kind of description used by apartheid agents against the mass movement of the 1980s.

Our joint grievances were twofold. One was what your reporter calls the “familiar complaint” that the SMI has been taken over from community-based social movements by NGOs and academics. If it is familiar, that is maybe because it is correct. Unaccountable NGO’s are using their access to financial resources to dominate the SMI and to marginalise social movements in it. We believe that the role of NGOs is to be the servants and not the masters of communities, and we called for the SMI to return to its founding idea of being owned by community-based social movements.

Our second grievance was that Abahlali baseMjondolo had been mandated by the 2005 SMI to host the 2006 SMI in Durban, but had been so marginalised by Durban NGOs on the organising committee that they had been forced to walk out of it. This took place not “a week” before the SMI, as Des D’Sa is quoted in your article as saying, but more than a month before. Yet the organising committee did nothing to remedy the situation.

We also firmly deny that we chanted down fellow-activists or, as Hlatshwayo claims, that we insulted them or used abusive language. We regard it as monstrous that he should also state that “we didn’t want a situation where people were going to get injured” as our aims were entirely non-violent. We appealed to the rank and file of the SMI to take responsibility for owning and controlling the process and agenda of the SMI – and we still appeal to them, up and down the country, from Limpopo through Orange Farm to Cape Town, to do so.

We also deny Hlatshwayo’s claim that we did not give the secretariat a platform to reply. We specifically asked them to respond to our grievances — but when we had finished there was complete silence from them.

After our intervention ‘leaders’ of the SMI, including Hlatshwayo, Virginia Sethsedi and Roy Chetty, to their eternal shame, attempted to evict WCAEC members from our rooms on UKZN campus which we resisted, as we always resist evictions by council, banks, agents, and the mayor in Cape Town. The SMI secretariat also refused meals to the WCAEC delegation.

We reaffirm our solidarity with academics Faizel Khan, Richard Pithouse, Richard Ballard and Raj Patel, all marginalised or persecuted because of their links with Abahlali baseMjondolo.

For the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign

Ashraf Cassiem, 082-480-5489

This document was written and circulated around Durban and ‘Martizburg for signatures last year but in the end it wasn’t published at the time due to the heavily intimidatory climate that included appalling public slander (often emailed under faked identities) and various kinds of threats and intimidation, including threats of people being sold out to their bosses and threats of violence against people that spoke up about what was happening. It is now published here anonymously.

What happened at or to the SMI national meeting?

The SMI has been quite important. One of its key actual functions is to occupy the political space claiming to represent social movements in South Africa. Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), the only organisation of the poor large enough to be considered as a social movement in KZN, were part of planning the national event until they pulled out.

Our understanding is they felt they decided to pull out because they were not being taken seriously, and that those driving the agenda for the national meeting would not make it responsive to the actual needs, priorities or issues that AbM were raising. If the agenda for the SMI was not being defined by actual movements of poor people, then who’s agenda was it?, and why should AbM give legitimacy to a process that while carried out in the name of popular movements of the poor in their experience was in fact undemocratic? – but the SMI carried on.

It seems clear that key parts of the de facto leadership of the SMI ‘brand’ began to speak about AbM’s withdrawal as the result of AbM being manipulated by one white academic activist as part of what they claimed was that individual’s fight with other activists and academics who have a lot invested in the political space associated with the representation of social movement politics. Interestingly the very odd claim that one white man was somehow ‘behind’ a democratic movement of thousands was exactly how the state initially responded to the emergence of AbM…

On Sunday, AbM, joined by members of the Anti Eviction Campaign (AEC) from the Western Cape, went to the SMI meeting in their numbers to make their position known, to put forward the agenda they would have wanted, and to ask for an apology for the way they had been treated in the build-up to the meeting. When this intervention failed, they walked out and were joined in this by some others too, including the Socialist Students’ Movement) – but the SMI carried on.

On Monday, shack residents from Siyanda settlement in Durban – not organised into, or directly connected with, AbM – protested against the destruction of the homes and their threatened removal to ‘low cost housing’ elsewhere. Police shot them, killing one person and locked up the injured in jail cells – but the SMI carried on, making no comment or intervention about this. However ABM and the AEC were on the scene within minutes and immediately began organising practical solidarity.

In fact the the SMI carried on surrounded by newly erected security barriers, beefed-up security personnel and an emergency plan, just in case their meeting (now let’s remember, this meeting is the Social Movements Indaba meeting) got disrupted again by an actually existing social movement of actually existing poor people, actually speaking for themselves.

That evening, when AEC comrades returned to their accommodation at the University (where the SMI meeting was happening), they were subjected to threatening and insulting jeers and songs, and they were physically evicted by SMI heavyweights. The evictees joined the other AEC comrades who had been staying in jondolos with AbM members all along anyway – but the SMI carried on.

The SMI carried on and vilified the AbM as ‘criminal’ from the podium. In a tragic alignment with the ways in which the authorities have tried to undermine AbM, the SMI’s ‘line’ bought into the idea that AbM are criminals being manipulated – manipulated by a white academic activist. As should be obvious, this is blatantly racist and insulting to the obvious and demonstrated capacity of AbM to think and act all on their own. From our own experiences of some of the events we talk about here, we know that it is also a lie – a vicious, racist lie.

It seems to us that, pretty much from the beginning, AbM have been a rather uncomfortable phenomenon for much of the established South African left. Unlike almost every other ‘social movement’ in the country, AbM emerged, grew, and exists, outside of the initiative and political direction of self-consciously ‘left’ NGO activists. As such, it has never been susceptible to the control that vanguardist activists exert; it has never quite fitted the fantasies of what a social movement ‘should’ be/act/talk/think like. The movement’s origins were within the actual experiences of poor people and that is where it orientated its praxis. Moreover from the beginning it organised without funding and never developed a dependency on donors or people who mediate relations with donors.

If nothing else, it must be clear that the SMI can no longer claim to speak for social movements in South Africa. Hopefully, intelligent and reflective comrades will start to go far beyond this obvious conclusion and begin to think very carefully about what else these events actually mean for all of us.

These notes were written by a couple of people based in KwaZulu-Natal at the time these events were unfolding in December 2006. (For what it’s worth, none of us is called Richard.) Initially we hoped, vainly perhaps, that putting some thoughts down might encourage critical self-reflection before perceptions that were being deliberately created hardened, and before lessons that could be drawn to the benefit of broader processes of movement building were lost. If nothing else, we thought that reflection was essential in the aftermath of a national meeting of a thing called the ‘Social Movements Indaba’ that found it necessary and justifiable to erect security barricades to prevent its deliberations being attended (‘invaded’ and ‘disrupted’ they would say) by an actually existing social movement with an actually existing mass membership joined together through actually existing democratic practices. We thought that reflection was essential when, in the varied justifications from within the SMI after these events, the languages and the lines of attack mirrored completely the attacks on AbM from other hostile elites who also cast AbM as essentially a gang of criminals manipulated a white activist. We never developed these notes beyond these opening comments but the extraordinary stream of emails from within the SMI camp that followed after their national meeting will provide plenty of truly horrible data for careful analysis at some point in the future.


Abahlali baseMjondolo is not the only grassroots black movement to be subject to appalling racist attacks by the white dominated academic/NGO left who are unable to understand that poor black people think their own struggles themselves. As Ashraf Cassiem famously put it, “We are poor, not stupid”. There is an eerie familiarity with the response of the 1968 obsessed white/institutional Parisian left to the recent Parisian uprising and the appalling attacks on Abahlali following their very polite and well reasoned (see the raw video footage here) declaration of intellectual autonomy from the NGO left at the SMI meeting. See Emilio Quadrelli’s Grassroots Political Militants: Banlieusards and Politics. Alain Badiou’s ‘What is the Left?’ is also rather useful for thinking through the astonishing authoritarianism, ruthlessness, propensity to wild slander and complicity with some of the practices of the state that have typified the response of a section of the NGO left to the emergence of actually existing mass movements of the poor resolved to think and act for themselves.