Category Archives: Speech

The Politic of Land and Housing

The Politic of Land and Housing
Friday 11 February, 2011

I have been asked to speak on the politic of land and housing in our cities. I only get these invitations because of the strength of the movement of which I am part and so, on behalf of Abahlali baseMjondolo, I thank the University of Chicago African Civilizations Program for this platform.

The churches have rallied to our struggle in difficult times – after fires, after arrests, after beatings and of course after the violent attack in Kennedy Road settlement in September 2009. We know about the role that the churches have played in Brazil, Italy, Zimbabwe and in Haiti and we believe that the churches can play the same role here if they take a clear decision, as some church leaders bravely have already, to be with the people, to clearly take the side of the people instead of being just another ‘stakeholder’. Bishop Rubin Philip has stood strong in the politics of the poor.

The right to land and the right to housing remain huge problems in South Africa. These problems are not technical, they are political. These problems will not be solved by consultants’ reports, academic conferences at the ICC and meetings with the MEC at Suncoast or Sun Cities. These problems will be solved when the people who do not count in this system, the people that have no proper place are able to stand up and to take their place and to be counted as citizens of this country and our world.

Our politics starts by recognizing the humanity of every human being. We decided that we will no longer be good boys and girls that quietly wait for our humanity to be finally recognized one day. Voting has not worked for us. We have already taken our place on the land in the cities and we have held that ground. We have also decided to take our place in all the discussions and to take it right now. We take our place humbly because we know that we don’t have all the answers, that no one has all the answers. Our politics is about carefully working things out together, moving forward together. But although we take our place humbly we take it firmly. We do not allow the state and its councillors to keep us quiet in the name of a future revolution that does not come. We do not allow some NGOs or academics to keep us quiet in the name of a future socialism that they can’t build. We take our place as people who count the same as everyone else. Sometimes we take that place in the streets with teargas and the rubber bullets, sometimes we take our place in the board rooms and sometimes we take our place in other countries as we believe there are no human boundaries. Sometimes we take that place in the courts. Sometimes we take it on the radios. Today we take it here.

Our politics starts from the places we have taken. We call it a living politic because it comes from the people and stays with the people. It is ours and it is part of our lives. We organize it in our own languages and in our own communities. It is the politics of our lives. It is made at home with what we have and it is made for us and by us. We are finished with being ladders for politicians to climb up over the people.

Sometimes it gets hard but we keep going forward together. Sometimes we don’t know what to do any more but we keep thinking together. Sometimes a settlement stays strong. Sometimes a settlement fails to stay strong. But we keep going forward together.

Today we need to talk about the politics of land. We need to talk about the politics of housing. We need to talk about a politic of the poor – about a living politics thought, organised and owned by ordinary people.

We need to talk about the politics of fire. We need to talk about the politics of toilets. We need to talk about the politic of class. We need to talk about the politics of AIDS, the politics of xenophobia and the politics of rape.

To think about all this we must start with the history of where we come from. Who are we and what type of society we want to build.

It has become clear to us that whenever we talk about history we are seen to be launching an offensive. It has become clear to us that this is because the rich want to believe that we are poor because we are less than them – less intelligent, less responsible, less clean, less honest, less educated. If we are poor because we are just less than the rich then we must be happy for every little thing that we are given, we must be happy with a hamper or some old clothes when our children are dying in the rats and the fire and the mud.

But we are not poor because we are less than the rich. We are poor because we were made poor. The rich are rich because they were made rich. If your ancestors had the land you will go to university and get a nice job and look after your family well. If your ancestors lost the land you will be lucky to find a dangerous job that you hate so that your family can just survive.

The growing poverty in rural communities encourages mostly young people to migrate to the cities. Therefore as long as the cities grow in the same way as poverty, urbanization is not an exception. People will have to keep moving to the cities in search of hope. This reality calls upon all city authorities to learn to share the cities and to accept this growth. It is the same poor people that build cities and then get kicked out to rot in places like Parkgate and Blikkiersdorp once they are finished building for the attraction of foreign investments. It is the same poor people that wash and iron for the rich while living in shacks where it is very difficult to wash and iron their own clothes. It is the same poor people that bravely guard the homes and business of the rich who come home to find their homes illegally destroyed by the criminals that are called the Land Invasions Unit. It is the same poor that look after the children of the rich as they grow to become even richer. This is wrong. We need democratic cities. We need fair cities. We need welcoming cities. We need cities for all.

Every child that is born into this world has the same right to grow in safety and to reach their full potential and to shape their world in equality with all other people. When you take this seriously your politic does not impose ideas on people – it imposes people on ideas. Taking the value and dignity of every person seriously – and taking it seriously now and not after services have been delivered, development achieved or socialism built – is a simple politic. But it is also a dangerous politic. It is threat to oppression which is always justified by making some people count for more than others. Anyone who threatens oppression will find that they are called criminal, violent, unpatriotic, short minded, treasonous and more.

We need to think about how we can create a new kind of communism, a new kind of togetherness. A living communism that recognizes the equal humanity of every person wherever they were born, wherever their ancestors came from, whether they are poor or rich, women, men or GLBTs. This new togetherness must also understand that the world, what God has given to us all, must be shared by us all. The earth should be recognised as God’s gift to humanity and not something to be fenced in and bought and sold for private profit.

The system we suffer under now keeps the land in the hands of the descendents of those who had stolen it through the barrel of colonial guns. The system turns the once most trusted leaders in our cities into enemies. The enemies that do not only hate and neglect the poor but the enemies that send police to beat the poor, arrest and shoot them whenever we voice out our concerns. The enemies that hire the thugs to attack us. The system talks a lot about democracy, but it does not practice democracy. The system talks more about all the rights, gender equality and justice but does not make any of this real. Progress in courts and conferences doesn’t always mean progress in ordinary people’s lives. We continue to insist that the real lives of people, all people, must be the measure of progress.

This is a system where almost everything is done in the name of the poor but only for the poor to be betrayed and undermined again and again. This is a system that allows formations of many institutions such as NGOs, NPOs, businesses and states to violate the human rights of the poor and the marginalized in our society.

We need to ask ourselves what is this system? This system is a system where the people are separated into two – those that count and those that do not count. Those that count are those with money. Those that do not count are those without money. This system values business profit before humane value. This system turns democracy into a way to become rich. Money is made to dominate human thinking. Therefore we have to turn it upside down and put the human being first. Always we must start with the worst off.

What went very wrong in our society is when business profit is put ahead of human value. What went very wrong in our society is the thinking that sees development as being only the job of the few clever technical people, who are meant to think about development for the majority. Grassroots organizations such as Abahlali baseMjondolo are strongly opposed to this top-down approach to development that sees people as nothing else than the helpless individuals who cannot think for themselves. In this view the work of the poor is to vote when we are told and to be passive receivers of services. This is why the so called experts on the poor and our struggles always want to call our protests as ‘service delivery protests’ even when we clearly state what we are struggling for. They are failing to understand that our politic is actually based on a demand for dignity and equality. Our demand for active citizen participation is just a demand for democracy. In fact citizen participation is required by any democratic state yet it is seen as act of violence. The fact that our demand for dignity is taken as violence means that we have to accept that change may not always be easy or sweet. We will be beaten, we will be demonized. Some of us will be killed. Right now these realities lie before the whole world in Tahrir Square in Cairo in Egypt.

We are the people that are not meant to think. We are the people that are not meant to participate in planning and to debate on issues that affect us. We are the people that should be happy to live on hampers. The poor are strongly opposed to these dehumanizing characteristics of the top down system that has terrorized our communities and our lives.

Abahlali have said over and over that the majority of our people believe in a true democracy, a democracy that caters for every gogo and mkhulu at home, a democracy that does not see people differently, a democracy that does not make few people better than the majority, a democracy that is not driven by the wealth that has torn our society apart. We believe in a participatory development of the people, for the people and by the people themselves. We are concerned that at least most of the houses that are being built, they are built for the people, without the people. This is why some people reluctantly accept these houses and then they either rent them out or sell them to some desperate fellows and run back to shacks. This is not a matter for the police and the National Intelligent Agency (NIA). The reason for this is not that shack dwellers cannot think or are stupid. The reasons for this is the failure of authorities to involve shack dwellers not only in the planning but right from the project identification through to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation – in fact all through the project cycle. If you take people out of their communities, sometimes at gun point, and move them to rural human dumping grounds where there is no work they will not stay there. People have to survive. We want it to be clearly understood that the bottom up development approach that recognizes that a properly human life is what the majority of the poor prefers. Thus communication and consultation is vital if authorities are to be serious and respecting of those that they call ‘beneficiaries’.

It is very sad that some businessmen, like Ricky Govender in Motala Heights, have been terrorizing their communities in search for a land to expand their business and wealth. In Motala Heights the settlement leadership and very senior families have been forced up and down the lawyers and courts to defend their right not to be evicted from their land. It is the same with the eNkwalini community who have consistently been threatened with eviction by the farmer, who had just bought the farm in Northen KwaZulu-Natal. What is more upsetting with all the evictions that are taking place in the country is that they are not only illegal because they are carried out without the court orders but that they are also criminal. We have had to advise the police and municipal officials quite several times of Section 26 of the South African Constitution and the Prevention of Illegal Occupation of Land Act that protects the homeless, the poor and most vulnerable members of our society, children and women.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has managed to stop most evictions in eThekwini in settlements like Motala Heights, New Hanover, and Tumbleweed in Howick just to mention a few. The old settlements, which were founded by land occupations, are now safe. But the new occupations are still at risk of eviction. We have seen this recently in Motala Heights and eMmause.

The shack dwellers believe that land and housing in the cities will bring about a safer environment, an environment that is free from shack fires, an environment that is free from rats, rapes and crime when our children and women have to find water and toilets in the bushes. If we were to be serious about caring cities, the first step will have to be to respect human life and human dignity.

Mnikelo Ndabankulu a spokesperson for Abahlali baseMjondolo often says that “we do not need electricity, it is needed by our lives”. Our settlements are not temporary. Some of us have lived our whole lives in them. Our children have grown up in them. Electricity, water and sanitation can no longer be denied to shack dwellers. The eThekwini Municipality has often told us that money is not a problem, but that the problem is land. But the problem has never been just that there is no land in the cities as we have always been told. There is land. The political problem is that that land is privately owned by companies like Tongaat-Hulett. That problem can be solved but that would require recognizing the humanity of everyone and there has never been human recognition in the first place. In all our cities being poor, living in a shack or selling in the street, is seen as a crime. Until this is fixed right the poor will always be taken as trouble makers when in fact they are excluded from positive thinking that could contribute in the building of a caring city. A city where everyone has a say and an equal opportunity in shaping and reshaping these cities into a caring cites.

One of the biggest mistakes when planning development in the cities is when the City does not provide basic services that are urgently needed by human lives. I am talking about services like the inadequate provision of water supply, not enough toilets, the no electricity provision and no proper collection of refuse as there is no access road to inner shack settlements. The result of these denied services is very serious. Without refuse removal there are rat bites and diseases. Without electricity there are shack fires. Who is to be blamed for the fact that we still live without these life saving services other than those who are meant to serve and to save the public in governments? We have seen the authorities shifting blame to the poor themselves with childish claims that the shack dwellers are dirty or lazy or drunk or that we do not want to move from filthy conditions.

People are often confused about what our movement stands for when it comes to land and housing. Today I want to suggest a list of ten demands on the political questions of land and housing that could be used to begin a discussion about a platform for a united front on land and housing. These demands came out of years of discussion in our movement. We would be very happy if you could discuss them in your own university and organizations so that we can, together, start the work of shaping a new vision for our cities and our world.

1. There must be no more homelessness and poverty.
2. Life saving basic services, including electricity, water, refuse removal and toilets, must be provided to all settlements.
3. The land on which the settlements have been founded must be transferred to the collective ownership of the people living in each settlement.
4. Settlements must be upgraded where they are where ever this is possible.
5. When people have to be relocated they must be given the option of moving to well located land.
6. Unused land must be expropriated from big corporates or rich individuals to house the poor.
7. There must be no more forced removals. People must only be relocated voluntarily.
8. Government must negotiate with the organizations that represent each settlement and not with the councilors.
9. Shack dwellers, tent dwellers or farm dwellers have a right to disagree with the government, big corporates or NGOs.
10. Shack dwellers have a right to organize themselves outside of the political parties and outside the state control.

We have asked people to speak to us, not for us. We have asked people to work with us, not for us. We have asked people to think with us, not for us. We have asked people to understand that our movement will always belong to its members and never to any NGO, political party or individual. We have asked people to understand that we need a living solidarity, a solidarity that is built in partnership with our living politics, a solidarity that is built around the real everyday suffering and struggles of our people.

I hope that this is clear.

In recent days comrades have been arrested in Mandela Park, here in Cape Town, and in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. We stand in solidarity with these comrades.

We also, together with people all over the world, stand firm with the comrades in Tahrir Square. We are far apart in distance but close in spirit. Their courage in an inspiration to us all.

I thank you all.

S’bu. Zikode

Presentation by S’bu Zikode at the CUNY Graduate Center for Place, Culture and Politics, New York

S’bu Zikode – presentation at CUNY Graduate Center for Place, Culture and Politics
NOVEMBER 16, 2010

Rush Transcript

00:00 I feel like calling “Amandla”, but I thought I should be disciplined, at least the last night I am here. I am happy to be here tonight, especially to be meeting an audience like yourself. I am honored and humbled to be speaking at this university. I just thought I should share some of the sharings I have shared with some folks here in the United States. But I thought it was also important to bring the life context in which I would be able to speak and make sense of the conditions in South Africa. It gives me great pleasure to be invited here into the United States of America to speak not only my mind but a collective mind of many Abahlali members. I only get this invitation because of the movement I am part of, so I thank Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers’ movement. I also thank the National Economic and Social Right Initiative. I thank the Poverty Initiative, I thank Picture the Homeless, Take the Land Back. I thank the Media in Mobilizing projects. I thank the Taxi Workers United, the Domestic Workers United. I thank Abahlali friends that are based here in the United States. I also wish to extend my sincere gratitude to the Center here, the Center for Place, Culture and Politics and all other associate departments that have made this moment special.

02:14 I thought I should just speak about the question as to what happens when the poor organize, mobilize—take their own charge outside the state control; when the poor become powerful outside the state control. Some of the clip you may have seen speaks volumes, speaks to that, what happens when the unorganized becomes organized; when those who are not meant to speak, speak. The power of the poor starts when we as the poor recognize our own humanity; when we recognize that, in fact, we are created in the image of God and are therefore equal to all other human beings. But the recognition of our humanity without action to defend our humanity is meaningless. It is very important that we as the poor people begin to define ourselves before someone else from somewhere else define us. It is very important for the poor to say, “This is who we are, this is where we are, this is what we want, this is how we want what we want.” We say that we are being excluded and disrespected. We say that we want our full humanity, that we want justice, that we want dignity and full participation in the planning of our communities, in the planning of our cities, our states, our countries, our world.

3:59 The more of us stand together, the more of our humanity is filled. The power of the poor becomes evident when the poor are able to organize ourselves for ourselves. When we begin to achieve this, it is always a moment of great promise, a moment of great danger. Frederick Douglass, the great hero of one of the greatest American struggles, the struggles against slavery, said “Power concedes nothing without demands”. This is why a collective demand – a demand backed by organization, determination, and courage – is a moment of great promise. But it is also a moment of great danger, because the power of the rich and the politicians always take the legitimate demand of the oppressed to be criminal and illegitimate. This is one of reason why we need to be standing together across the sea, across color lines, borders, genders, religion, creeds, you name them – to redeem the promise of our struggle, if we can survive its dangers (and none of us can do so on our own).

I have been sent here by the movement to build a living solidarity with the movements here in the United States. We want to look for ways in which we can support each other to realize the promise of our struggle. There is also a real danger for the organized poor if we do not define ourselves, if we allow others to define us and define our struggle—we risk being defined as people who are not able to struggle for ourselves, as people who need leaders and not comrades, as people who must be spoken for and not to.

06:05 But when we succeed in defining ourselves and escaping the danger of not defining ourselves, we have to face a new danger. There is another kind of danger for the organized poor when we do define ourselves. Our movement is going through a tough time after successfully defending ourselves. We are under attack from the state, from the rich, from a few individual leftists, few individual academics—you name them – who are all divided in their politics, but united in their belief that it is their duty to speak for and to represent the poor. It has always been an insult to think that the poor cannot speak for themselves. It has always been an inhuman and brutal attack that the rich and the landowners should employ themselves or must be hired from somewhere else to think, represent, and take decision for the poor. As a movement of the Shack Dwellers, we have successfully represented our struggle both nationally and internationally. It is one of the reasons why I am here to represent our struggle before those who have the rights, the money and the power to represent us. This has been a crisis for some of those who have employed themselves to speak, write and decide for the poor. The refusal of our movement [to accept that others should speak for us] has been met with huge campaign to discredit and rubbish our movement’s efforts to build a just society where everyone matters, where everyone is equal, where everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

08:16 We have learned that there is a very big difference between those forces in civil society and the left that are looking for followers and those who are looking for comrades. We have learned there is a very big difference between those forces in civil society and the left who think that they are the only one who can liberate the poor and those who are willing to work with the poor as we liberate ourselves. The state has many strategies to silence the poor as do the big corporates and the rich. Leaders are offered money and jobs. There is a quiet diplomacy through which the movement is given some acknowledgement. There are meetings that lead into all kinds of technical debates and away from the simple politics of our demands for land and housing. There is intimidation. But when all these efforts by the state to silence the poor fail, they send in the police. The police do not come as we have asked to protect the poor—but to beat us, arrest us and even shoot us. We have braved all that and survived brutality and all kinds of attack by the state and the rich. Our popularism and action has made our movement to grow rapidly despite the conditions that you may have seen. Our movement has faced many challenges. When we started to become a popular force in the society, the state went to try its diplomatic means of attacking the Shack Dwellers and the poor.

10:03 The state came out with a new legislation in Kwa-Zulu Natal which is called the Kwa-Zulu Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-emergence of Slums Act in 2007. The new legislation was created to legitimize this attack and to legitimize evictions. To be poor and homeless meant to be criminal and that you could be imprisoned from up to 25 years for resisting an eviction. Abahlali mobilized all kinds of resource people, including lawyers, to challenge the constitutionality of this legislation. The poor South Africans were represented by our movement, who were represented by the Center for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand and we won a historic victory against the constitutionality of the Slums Act. This victory against the Slums Act was not our first victory. Before that, we had stopped evictions, forced interim services in some of the informal settlements, and won some kind of recognition. But after this big victory in the constitutional court, a victory for the entire country, a victory for our future generation, there was a moment of silence as the state was humiliated after a serious defeat by the Shack Dwellers. We continued to feed our orphans, we continued to look after our sick, we continued to build preschools, vegetable gardens, as project of self-help. All these good efforts of trying to build an equal society become a major threat to the authorities. Some state institutions have good people who we kept engaging while being very careful to always keep our autonomy.

12:00 We carefully managed negotiations without being co-opted into the system so that we could claim victories from the state while continuing to build power outside the state control. But as we kept building a strong movement, the state was busy preparing itself to destroy our movement. This brought us to the 26th -27th of September 2009 when a group of about 40 men violently attacked our headquarters at the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement. The homes of our leaders, their families, their friends and the general membership of the movement were destroyed and we were driven out of the settlement and forced out to hiding. The attack was endorsed by the provincial leadership of the ruling party and the provincial government. Two people were left dead, as you may have seen, in that violence [that came with the] attack that night. Our attackers were never made to answer into these entire crimes committed on the day of the attack up until today. Abahlali called for an independent commission of inquiry into the attack, but this call has fell into deaf ears. This is the sort of heavy price that a movement of the poor may have to pay for the prize of a human world, a world of equality and dignity. This sort of attack happens when a movement continues to organize, to think, to grow outside the state control. A living politic is not build in one day, it is built in prayer, humility, sacrifice and courage. Our struggle is a class struggle, it is a struggle of the poor, those living in the shacks, selling on the streets, doing domestic and secretary works.

14:00 To build a fair world where everyone matter, we need allies among those in similar class and amongst those with better resources and opportunities. The time will come when the poor and the uneducated—but human—will be required to play a human role in our society. A time will come when the humanity of everyone, of every human being is recognized in our society. This time may or may not be on judgment day. When this time comes will depend on our commitment and courage. It will also depend on how well we can support each other. History will judge us all.

Ladies and gentlemen, I thought I should just share this story because many or probably some of you have been following the story of our movement and I am here to affirm, confirm, and also remind you that what you’ve just seen is not just a movie, it’s life, it’s the lives of the people. People are born in these conditions; people are killed in these conditions. And they are killed by those who are meant to govern us, who are meant to lead by example, to build a society. So I thought tonight it would also be an opportunity for me to remind, especially an audience of this caliber, of our role and probably the expectation that each one of us would really expect in terms of support and solidarity.

16:05 And also remind you that we have great minds, great intellectuals who have decided to also use their degrees to also rubbish the little efforts we can contribute to life. Not to impress ourselves, but at least to try and make the Earth a better place than we have found it. As Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, suggested that we should try. While our movement is under attack from the state, it is also being attacked by some academics. Some of them have studied in this beautiful university. They have obtained their degree and they have fought to serve the society, to do justice. But they have chosen to use their wisdom, their skills, their profession, to rubbish –not only rubbish—but destroy the basic struggle of surviving. There is a campaign that is going on, some of you probably will have received some of the big documents, claim to be well researched, because our movement is one of those researched movements. Where writers come and go. They leave us in those conditions. And then what they write, they do not account to us—they want to impress other people.

18:02 So we are facing a double repression from the state, from some of the famous professors, who think it is their job, obviously, to think for us, to represent us, to talk about us and to take decisions for us. So, I am here also to warn and plead for your just minds [so] that at least our wisdom and profession should be used rather to advance the interest of justice, not to impress though, [but for] the movement but for the greater society. So our society needs you, your country needs you, maybe I am speaking too big, your family needs you, your neighbor needs you, your city needs you, your country, your world needs you. We have not claimed to be clever; we have always been humble. We take our place in our cities, humble, but we take it very firm when it comes to injustices. We have made a lot of sacrifice, we have committed ourselves. We have taken an oath that we cannot live in peace while there are people who are living under these conditions. So South Africa is one of the well-known country which have successfully hosted the FIFA World Cup. And we were reminded in South Africa during the World Cup that we should be very smiling in welcoming the international dignitaries and international communities.

20:00 Again, we were reminded to be human being, because you guys were coming to South Africa. But when you left, things have suddenly changed. And obviously leading up to the World Cup, there was a campaign to sweep the cities, to hide poverty, to hide our shack settlements. We had to deal with that. So in conclusion, I think it would be good for a dialogue, obviously, to exchange, and you know, welcome those great ideas. We should not use this space only for question but also for inputs, feedbacks. We are all learning. I’m here to learn. But I’ve also been sent by those old Mamas, those old gogos who have entrusted me to stand here before you to bring South Africa to you through the video, through myself. So I am welcoming some lessons, obviously [also] questions of clarity, especially around the issues of justice. So the movement that I come from, again, it’s Abahlali baseMjondolo. Abahlali means “the residence—living in the shacks”, it started in Kennedy Road in 2005 to fight, protect, promote and advance the movement of the Shack Dwellers and the poor. This is our call. This is what we do. Though in doing it, outside the state control, it has been a crime.

21:57 On the night of the attack, when our movement was attacked, the very same victims whose home was destroyed, burned down, were also arrested. They are yet to be tried on the 29th of November on many charges, including: murder, armed robbery, criminal injury, there’s more than seven charges that were labeled. And again the very same acts that violence attack, the state has been very smart in making sure that it becomes a criminal matter, a criminal question—to take away the politics of it. A propaganda has been spread. Lot of misleading information has been written because we do not control the media. So the information that is portrayed outside is that obviously these poor folks, you know, are thugs. They don’t know what they’re doing. Party politic has become the only license for democracy. To participate in decision-making, you are forced to join a particular political party it is your only token to citizenship. So social movements have been an alternative space outside of party politics and that becomes crime to those who are in power. So the victims of the attacks, people whose homes were burned down, are yet to be tried from the 29th of November.

23:59 So again, the state makes it as if it is a criminal trial. Yet, we know it is a political trial. There were poor folks that you may have seen demonstrating against their own fellow brother and sisters, because the system and the state is so smart enough to turn the poor to fight amongst one another. And we’ve also been warning, it is our own movement that has warned, even during the 2008 attack on foreign nationals, we have warned that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. Unfortunately, that anger is turned to one another when the poor have to vent that anger to one another. We have to deal with that at the movement level, at individual levels. It is a task that we have really have to deal with. If I were to share some of the successes of the movement, the numbers of challenges, difficulties – the movement is not perfect; not at all—but to share some of the successes besides the constitutional court victory [I would start by saying] that the movement has managed to create its own space, a very precious space where we have come together as the organized poor. We have used this space to be able to share, to learn in this space. We have used this space also to cry when we have to face the repression and the attack.

25:57 We have used this space to laugh and to enjoy life. We have not received housing in our cities, and it’s even worse now that we don’t even have the shelter that you saw. Those shacks were broken down, burned down, without any alternative accommodation. Yet there is a constitution, there is a housing act that says you should provide at least an alternative accommodation should an eviction order be granted. But then, after the attacks, there are hundreds of us, I’m talking about the new South Africa, the rainbow nation. Something that has just happened, thirteen months ago, we‘ve been forced into exile, we’ve been forced into hiding, we’ve become refugees in our own country, in our own province, in our own city, in our own settlement, in our own families. It’s the story that I thought I should share to those of us who are serious and working on the issues of social justice – that any one victory may come at a considerable price. It will also test our commitment to a better life in our own small ways. But again the space that we use is a space that we protect so much. People have tried to invade that space, and we have managed to run away with the space! And we continue underground to organize, we continue to cry together and to make sure those tears fall into a fertile ground. They don’t fall inside, because none of us know the damage of the tears that fall inside.

28:02 So, we have to create a basin to collect all these tears. What a wonderful space. And that on its own, it’s a crime. I would not be surprised if I return to South Africa few weeks time – the first call I have always received if I were to leave the country, it would be a call coming from the National Intelligence Agency. “Where do you come from? Who did you meet? We’ve been missing you in the country.” See how other people can remote other people’s life? You know, when I lost my first job because my boss was the president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, when he said “no, I cannot have you anymore” because as president of the Durban Chamber of Commerce, he would issue a statement and I would have different view. He would call me for discipline. I would go for protest, and the next day he would call me and discipline me. You know what, you don’t own my time. You should be grateful that I work for you from 8 to 5. After 5 you don’t own my time. And I had to lose that job. It is a price that we have to face wherever we are, in our own working environments. It’s a test, again, to our democracy.

29:59 A democracy that serves the interest of the few. So, South Africa right now is under this so-called Black-led majority. And what has been noted is the escalation of fraud, corruption, favoritism, nepotism, political intolerance, politicization of services. So if you are not my comrades, if you are not in my party ‘you get nothing, forget it’. If you are in the Shack Dwellers movement ‘S’bu will give you a house’. If you belong to DA, Democratic Alliance, ‘Helen Zille will provide’. A society that was once proclaimed by Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and all of those who have fought to end apartheid, and some of you who have contributed so much to the South African politics, to realize the democracy that has been undermined. I want to thank you and allow some questions and feedback. Thank you.

31:28 DARA S’bu will take one or two questions at a time and then we’ll give S’bu a chance to respond.

31:36 Q1: Can you talk about the leading up to and the aftermath of the World Cup a little bit more? And also I’m curious how you continue your organization when so many people have been displaced. How do you continue bringing people into the organization?

32:00 Q2: I just wanted to get a better picture of the organization, how many people there are, and where they are located, what they do after their shacks have been destroyed, where do they go, and if they have access to other facilities that are necessary for us to survive?

32:18 S’bu: Sure, uh, maybe it’s good to start with the last one. The movement has been formed in the shanty town of Kennedy Road which is in Durban. It was formed by the Shack Dwellers themselves, its lead by the Shack Dwellers. It has spread to the neighboring cities, Jo’burg, northern part of Kwa-Zulu Natal in the Western Cape, in Gauteng. So it has become a national movement. We are working with fully paid membership with 64 communities around the country. And then, those who are supporting the organization and our alliance partners, we also work with the Landless Peoples’ Movement, we work with Cape Anti-Eviction campaign, the Networking from Natal to form what is called as the Poor Peoples’ Alliance, PPA, as the national alliance of movements. So we have at least a minimum of 25,000 memberships [across the alliance]. [Membership] is fully paid because, to get membership you subscribe. You pay. So others are supporting without that, but we also monitor to members—you pay at least one and a half dollar to become a member and you accept responsibility of being part of the struggle from the onset. It’s not easy to organize under this situation. There was a period in which we all had to go underground. There was a moment of silence when the hit men were hired and paid and were hunting for us up and down. And because of your courage, and your organizing here in the states, that has also saved our life to campaign and create awareness. Some of the folks here have protested in the South African embassy here and have written letters of support. Some of you have also written petitions raising concerns and solidarity for our movement.

35:00 S’bu: A lot of support has really come from here. We salute you for that. It has really made a difference that we are able to organize secretly and managed to continue our space. We had to relocate obviously from Kennedy Road where our offices were based and found a space in town. So, interesting enough that the organization has grown up since the attack. It has been joined by not only Shack Dwellers but Flat Dwellers, people living in the Flats in the municipal owned Flats, people who are living in the rural communities, and under the traditional leadership of the chiefs. And again, it’s becoming a threat. So, after well, we are still living in hiding. In other words, we are no longer in Kennedy Road. We have to live in safe homes and have to continue our work. We run that risk. We don’t have any VIP protection, no bodyguards. We have to go to town when we need to, but there was a window in which we were hunted. But because of the support that we received internationally, then the state became aware that anything that happens to us it will not only be a national scandal, but international. So, hence we extend our deepest gratitude to all of you and to some of you who are also being criticized for supporting the thugs. We thank you for that. At least a thug that is able to breathe like you is a better thug. It’s worth supporting. Help us come out of that thuggish situation.

37:11 S’bu: Well, leading to the World Cup, obviously, South Africa was excited. And those living in the shack settlements were being threatened with evictions. We had to go through a lot in trying to defend our land, our communities. Because the World Cup has also been used as a license to displace people so that they can attract investments, but also for the international communities not to see that poverty. We had to work so hard, you know, to save people’s home through action. In fact we came up with the Upside Down World Cup, not because we’re not patriotic, but our citizenship, well what would it mean if we didn’t participate as citizens? We had to go to court in defending some of the communities who were facing eviction not only from the state but also private landowners who saw the World Cup as an opportunity to displace people. I think we’ve done well in that. Then obviously, after the World Cup the state is building new shacks. That’s very interesting. People are living in the shacks and the government is building another shacks. The difference with those shacks is that they are government-approved shacks. So you will be moved from those shantytowns that you saw to government approved shanty towns, which we call transit camps, Lindela, temporary relocation areas, decant camps—and in those transit camps, again, outside the legislation. The very same Slums Act, was trying to legislate that, make it legal that before you get a subsidy that is assisted by government, you’ve got to move to another government-approved shacks. And in those transit camps there is no specification as whether or not you’ll be getting basic services like water and sanitation. The duration of stay is not clear. You can leave as long as you can leave. You can rot in those transit camps waiting. So a new politic in South Africa has been created, a politic of patience. “Order, comrades!”. We’ve been under apartheid for more than 400 years. So, a politic of patience is now the movement of the day.

39:59 Q3: My wife and I have been working with schools in South Africa for a while now and I intend to continue to do that and we were particularly impressed with some of the schools right outside some of the townships. One was Soweto and the other one was right outside of Stellenbosch. I wonder, are you working with the school children? And I was, I guess, awed by how well the schools were run and the spirit of the children from the townships while they were in school. Do you see those schools as a vehicle for your work?

40:39 Dara: Let’s take one more question.

40:42 Q4: Yes, I wanted to ask what the recent public workers’ strikes a couple months ago. Was there any sort of cross-unity between the public workers who also had gotten into confrontations with the governments and they see your situation previously in conflicts with the government reflected in their own? Is there any sort of attempts unity or some sort of cross-solidarity thing? Second question I would like to ask is since Zuma was elected have you seen things get better, get worse or stay the same in terms of government attitudes to you?

41:28 S’bu: The honorable president Jacob Zuma has also been once a hope. Looking at his background from the rural communities in the northern province of KwaZulu Natal, Zululand. And again, like many, when he got to power we also thought that he should have learned so much outside, not really outside government, but [having an] observational view without being a state president. But, we have already lost a hope. He is a very silent man. He doesn’t seem to be taking a decision. I’m not too sure if [it] is teaching of democracy. Sometimes you’ve got to be a leader. You’ve got to be a man. Not dictate. I was just sharing with some folks that we have invited the president to the shack settlement but because of the structures and the systems that are there, he cannot listen to us unless the ANC structures says listen to those folks. If our relationship is not good with the ANC local branch, for instance, mind you, its party politics now. If the premiere of the province is not happy with us, automatically the state president will not be happy with us. We have made calls now for him to visit the informal settlements.

43:25 S’bu: What appeared as a response, he was seen discovering a new white shack settlement somewhere in Pretoria, where the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) made a picture of him visiting the new white shack settlement that we didn’t know that there are white folks living in the shack settlement. So he kind of want to pretend that he is going to the shacks, but he will not go to those who are making noise. So that is the strategy so that you blame yourself for speaking out, you pay a price for speaking out. He would rather go to those who have not asked him. I mean what we see is obviously a failure of taking decision and have to follow the structures, the systems that are already there. The public servant strikes have really been a turning point in the history of South Africa. It is very interesting how the labor movement, Cosatu, can bring the economy of the country to a standstill. That’s the power of the people, the power of organizing. And again, Zuma was not here. [He had] to take the flight to somewhere in China. But unfortunately[for Zuma] the workers will not back down, you have to come back and confront it. And make some compromises, private deals.

45:20 S’bu: So, again, the class struggle, the working class also has its own challenges that the Congress of Trade Unions, for instance, would invite social movements to their protests to add into masses that are necessary to shake ad change. But when we march and invite Cosatu to support us, suddenly COSATU is nowhere to be found. All the leadership of Cosatu, suddenly they are too high to be reached: “Who the hell are you?” That’s their game. But we believe the labor movement could bring about change because of their numbers and their masses. But what has been very problematic is when Cosatu had to come into an alliance partnership with the ruling party. Now the trouble is that alliance, the Africa National Congress, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu are married. So the Communist Party is no longer a Communist Party because they are also part of government. Their language has suddenly changed. The same communists are buying big cars and obviously Cosatu, obviously with the exception of its General Secretary, who sometimes shows that he is their leader, he will speak his mind, he will always be called into order to be disciplined. So, that is the unfortunate part that the labor movements have all been co-opted into one government. So their voice outside government is not that powerful.

47:22 S’bu: Obviously schools have a role to play and are playing a role, especially the tertiary institutions. We have a good working relationship with students from the University of Cape Town, for instance, the University of KwaZulu Natal, Rhodes University, through student’s movements, like students who are doing law—the student for law and social justice and student from the University of South Africa. Also, there are community outreach programs. It’s with the high schools that we have not had any relationship. But I do think it will really work. And obviously, we work with churches, particularly the Anglican churches. They have supported us, they have suffered with us, they have been subjected to all sorts of criticism.

48:32 Q5: I just wanted to ask whether you felt that your movement has been successfully in its beginning days allowed for a sense of security and support in either the new members or people that (unclear). A lot of organizations (unclear) and what you would advise people that would like to start a social movement or a young social movement to do to create that sense of (unclear).

49:06 Q6 It looked like from a scene in the video that there was a certain amount of education that was going on as members of the movement were helping other people when their shacks were torn down and I wondered whether you could talk a little bit about what kind of self-education is being done within your movement and where you see the value of that education, in terms of building a movement.

49:41 S’bu: Thank you. Our strategy starts from the ground, it starts in action. Through meetings we learn. In our leadership meetings, a lot of learning takes place. There are mass meetings of this nature. There are also camps where the movement sits the whole night, from 6 pm to 6 am, because in these usual meetings sometimes they don’t have enough time. One or two hours time is nothing when you are suffering. So a committed movement, part of its program, is that it will have these camps in the whole night. It’s not only a question of land and housing in the city that gets discussed but the broader political ideas of what makes us poor. What are the systems that keep us in this poverty?

50:51 S’bu: And again, we call this popular education. Abahlali has come up with the University of Abahlali BaseMjondolo, our own home-made university. What a wonderful space, where there are no teachers, there are no lectures, but leaders and facilitators. Through the University of Abahlali, also, its not only politics but also learning of computer literacy, trainings. The University of Abahlali also serves as a referral where we send shack dwellers into the formal universities through the universities’ community outreach program. Universities have a responsibility as well. If there are organized (unclear) it’s easy for that to happen. So a lot of learning takes place but also we have a year calendar where we align ourselves with the national events like the Freedom Day, which we have turned into the UnFreedom Day. We cannot fool ourselves and celebrate and say we are free while we die in the shacks. We host our big events on the 27th of April. Every year we have a big rally where we mourn the loss of our freedom. And we feel shame when some of us, who are as poor as we are, are used by the politicians when they have to escort the politicians because there are free buses, free t-shirt, free food only for that day. That freedom comes in one day, on the 27th of April. For us we talk of a freedom that comes every second, every minute, every hour. That’s the permanent freedom we are looking at, not a once off because someone has been impressed with something.

52:59 S’bu: So, and obviously June month is the youth month in South Africa…to commemorate the Soweto uprising. So again, leading to a youth month, youth also have their own activities, so we have Abahlali Youth League, a separate space to build youth leadership and involvement. The youth should also take responsibility. It takes a very strong and courageous youth not to sit back when their parents are being made to suffer. That political consciousness happens in action, through protest we learn. Obviously, something to learn bro(unclear), the first day you take a membership of our movement, we educate you so that if you’ve made a mistake you better don’t join us. When you take a card, you take a membership card, you have a responsibility to check your neighbors or your families, if they are not going through the same difficulties that you face. We consider your humanity and personality not complete when you’re alone, in isolation to others. Your humanity becomes complete when you have others surrounding you. So then you have a responsibility to recruit. We only consider a community to be member or a branch of Abahlali when there is, at least, about 50 members. When there is a minimum of 50 members, then we consider you as a branch. That’s how our membership is able to grow that quick. And then we talk to communities when they join Abahlali, that they are taking a risk of all sorts. But what is important when you join, around education, we also stress to people that we are not going to struggle for you but that we struggle with you. We’re not going to stop any eviction for you but we will stop some eviction with you. We’re not going to do anything for you but we will do things with you.

55:31 S’bu: So you are not going to take membership card and relax at home and our leadership in our office does not save, as in, some kind of consultants when people are threatened with evictions they run to the office. The strategy is not in the office. So you better wake up from today, you are going to defend yourself. Your neighbors will help you to defend yourself. I think building from that, really helps people to be aware of the risk they take from the very same day they join, the responsibility that goes with that, the commitment that goes with that.

56:20 Q7: You talk about shack dwellers and people in the rural areas and I think what you said is that those groups are somewhat new to the movement. And so I was wondering if you could talk about what kind of historical social divisions there are (unclear), I’m assuming there are, between the rural communities (unclear) and the shack dwellers and how you build a movement to have those different groups of people aligning with each other

57:00 Q8: Given the emphasis on allowing the poor speak for themselves, can you comment on negotiating your relationship with documentary filmmakers, photographers, journalists, people that want to…portray a picture of what your movement is all about, what you’re doing (unclear)

57:19 S’bu: Thank you. I think that’s a very important question. I mean, just to add on that, our relationship also with middle class people, you know, with academics, with NGOs for instance. We’ve also been very clear that we will not be co-opted and we want to speak for ourselves. To people that are joining us and people that are supporting us with all kinds of resources, even the lawyers, just to make a typical example of the Slums Act, of how we instruct our lawyers. When the Bill was presented to us, not because we were smart but because, I mean the state is required by the law that the Bill should go for public comments, public hearing. Then they brought it to us, then we had to, within the movement, task individuals from the movement to read through the bill. It was the very same young folks, the Mazwis the Mnikelos, those that were on video, that were tasked, you know the special task team, that will read through the Slums Act, the Slums Bill. And they read it, sentence by sentence, made sense and presented their analysis to us, to the movement and we’ve discussed it and we’ve discovered that it was not only an attack on our movement but an attack on the poor. It’s only then when we had requested this support of resource people, you know lawyers for instance, to have a second thoughts and eventually instructed the lawyer to add for us.

59:22 S’be: But all the way to the constitutional court, we’ve been giving the back up to our legal team. I think they were very courageous also to have these kinds of clients who give them back up all the way. And they could easily point out in the court, Pierre (unclear names), this is what this Bill will do to my clients, here they are. And again, when we ask people to be…to support us, all resourced people, we ask people not to use or to abuse that opportunity. Often, resourced people for instance, will hijack the struggles of people. You will find them commenting, on the radio for instance, on behalf of the people. In the name of help, they often disempower. They want to do things for us, without us, and not with us. So again, we encourage people to be careful how they kind of support, especially if they are not comrades but friends of resourced people. So we say people should talk with us, not for us. They should help us to fish ourselves, not to fish for us because they will come and they will go, they will leave us suffering. So in the process of empowering, we ask people to support us side by side, not behind us, not to lead us, because that often disempowers and it imposes. So that’s how we work, you know, with resourced people.

01:01:15 S’bu: Filmmakers, we all, I mean, they are open, we discuss these issues with them. They don’t take decision for us or think they are too smart for us. It’s good to work with humble people who will always ask, ‘but how can I help?’, ‘this is what I can offer’, ‘how can we do this?’ But if they come as masters, then often it becomes problematic, in the name of help. You know, some do it unintentionally, they just want to help. But the way they help, they disempower in the process, or they hijack those struggles. And the very same voice is undermined and it collapses. It’s a fragile situation to maintain. That’s why it must be clear when people want to join whether they want to be comrades, they want to be friends, or they want to fund us, for instance, it must be clear.

01:02:10 S’bu: In terms of different groups, you know, from the shacks, from the flats, from the traditional communities, I mean it’s been very clear that there is one struggle. Again, South Africa has a history of this segregation. There’s poor black townships there, coloreds there, whites there. And it’s taking the country so long to integrate and the country talks so much about an integrated society. The demarcations that are there have made it clear for us that it’s not going to go away today. But what has happened really is that, as much as the country talks so much about inclusive cities, what has become clear is that it is no more a color question. I’m not saying it’s no more there but it has become a question of how much do you have. For instance, I mean, government will build these homes and will expect all sort of people, the rich and the poor, that’s what they’re trying to do, build an integrated society, not around color but around socio-economic backgrounds. But again, you know, people who earn differently are unable to live together because some people tend to see that those who are poor are devaluating the value of their property. And it’s always a clash that sometimes I cannot pay services and someone else has to pay services and it’s not fair. So there’s so much that gets said about this integration but it’s not working. And slowly, slowly, the poor are getting pushed out of cities for number of reasons. Not in terms of color now, I’m not saying that has been sorted out, it’s not yet sorted out. But at least that has helped us to understand the need to define ourselves, to know the people in the same class in which we are. Therefore, living in the municipal owned flats, for instance, and living in the old traditional homes, it really doesn’t make any difference with us.

01:04:36 S’bu: They’re in our movements, they’re our own comrades while we suffer evictions, they are also complaining about water cut-off, no electricity, evictions, they cannot afford to pay this rent because sometimes with this public housing of subsidy scheme they are sweet when people have to enter but when people are inside, then suddenly the rent goes up. You know, it’s a very smart system of chasing those who cannot pay. They’ll have their water shut down, their electricity cut off. We faced the similar situation. It’s not only a question of shelter, but other necessities surrounding that.

01:05:27 Q9: You talked a little bit about…continuing to build your organization with people committing in hard (unclear), organizing with your neighbor and your comrades but I guess I wanted to bring it back to the gentleman’s question who asked about some of the, like in the beginning, when you referred to (unclear) your whole reason (unclear)

01:05:52 Q10: Are there people who live in your shack community or other shack communities who oppose maybe (unclear) movements and object to some of the things you do?
01:06:02 S’bu: Who?…oppose
01:06:05 Q10: – people who live within the shack communities who oppose the movement and how you handle that.

01:06:12 S’bu: Yes…for simple reasons. For party, political…the party politics. So I think in our movement we make a very clear distinction between a party politic, which is an electoral system, and the living politics. You know, a living politics is a politics that everyone understands, you know. Simple politics that I have no water, no light, yet my life need water. I don’t need light but my life needs light. So we call that a living politics that does not need any big boss in theory to understand. A politics that says I am poor but my neighbor is living in a 1.5 million house [and it is] clear that [the same] system puts us together. Party politic really has, you know, been a popular license to participate in any future development…So, again, a concept of a social movement is not a new concept in South Africa. During the struggle for liberation, the way the United Democratic Front that united outside apartheid politics was in our social movement it was in the civics. But again, it was of the new teaching, people have been taught that to become active citizen, you got to have, you got to join a certain political party. It is your only license to participation, to any development that affects you. It is their only license, through party politics.

01:08:12 S’bu: So as a result, when we started the movement, obviously it was not easy for people to understand. They thought it was another new political party that was trying to oppose the current government, and so on. But again, it takes a very strong courageous leadership to keep this kind of education so that people become aware that, in fact, what divides us is this party political affiliations. So South Africa is a very interesting typical example of a country where people think that if I am this party A and you are this party B, then, automatically, this makes us enemies. And people have been killed for that, that you are not in my party, people have died for that, and people are still dying in South Africa, just for being in a different political party. Then our teaching in our movement, which has really not been appreciated, is being able to also integrate and to do away with that kind of mentality. Again, part of our recruiting strategy is to say to people, leave your party politics at home. We don’t need it here. You are entering a different terrain. So in our movement you will have people from all different party political backgrounds but they are able to speak in one voice because now they can understand what brings them together. And they are the witnesses that my party didn’t help me. My party is not building homes for me. My party, even if it is in government, it cannot even provide electricity. So why should I continue with that? So I think that suffering is also able to bring people together to do away with party political thinking, as if that is the only license for your voice to be heard or to participate in the economy of the country, or political situation.

01:10:28 S’bu: So I think it’s not been easy to…to deal with that. But at the same time, the teachings of the party political systems still insists that if you are not in my party, then you are my enemy. As a result, the party political systems are able to say to some of the shack dwellers that are in the same location, neighbors, that the movement is actually trying to oppose us. So that’s why you may have seen some folks from the shack settlements protesting against the shack dwellers. But we know the game. Some of them were paid to do so, local drug lords and shebeen owners are the main culprits that serve as a vehicle to pretend that people can turn anger against one another. I think the system is very smart to use the very same poor to tend their anger. Also that this community can be seen to be unruly, then, a mediator is needed. And they are smart to maneuver and deal with that so that you are looked as stupid, fighting against one another when there is no need. To start a movement obviously is not an easy thing and I’m saying that in our movement there were no cleaver individuals that sat down and thought of building a movement.

01:12:08 S’bu: It was through anger, hunger, and frustration. A piece of land was promised to the residents of Kennedy Road and a meeting was set up in the same piece of land. The Department of Housing officials were excited to come in and arrest people after it was discovered that that piece of land was sold to a business, a local businessman, yet it was promised for housing. And instead of officials coming, they send the police. And then the community jumped into the street and the road was blockaded. Through that road blockade, and again, many of us were not aware that by blockading a road, that on its own was a political act. Up until, 14 people were arrested, beaten, and tortured in prison. It’s only when we realized that we were playing this dirty game politic, it’s only when we realized that in fact, we are playing with fire. But again, through courage and strength of the people, we marched the next day to demand that those who were arrested be released or all of us be arrested because they were charged for public violence.

01:13:34 S’bu: Now, which public, because we are the public. (unclear) charged for us then it doesn’t make sense to us. Rather, take them out because we are the public that should have been the victims of their act. But if you cannot release them then arrest us. And again, the protest in the next day was also dispersed with… guns and so on. The movement grew up like that. It was not easy. It’s only when we started seeing that, in fact, we were entering a different terrain. Obviously other neighboring settlements who felt the same, they did not come to support us because they were living in similar conditions, they [came because they] thought that the struggle was theirs. So we are not here to support you but our fight is the same, we are here for ourselves. That’s how the struggle grew up. Many settlements joined and I remember 2005 was declared as the year of action. It was fulfilled all over the country. That’s how the movement was formed. We had to coordinate that and then sit down now and the movement was born. So I think that, in the way that we already do, it may be easy to connect, collaborate and (unclear), making tonight that these different organizations that are struggling their own isolated dark corners, their struggle is so hard, it will not be won by individualism. S’bu: Down individualism, down. (audience: down). Down capitalism, down. (audience: down). (audience laughter)
01:15:32 Dara: Unfortunately, we are out of time (applause) thank you so much (applause continues)… Any last closing statement you want to make?

01:15:55 S’bu: Thank you so much. I am humbled, again, when I occupy the space I take it very humbly but firmly. My message obviously would be that we all have a role to play as brothers and sisters in our own small ways and I invite you to create the very same precious space I have spoken about. Some of you are already busy building that space. And my discoveries here have been an excitement and a passion, the willingness to build this precious space, a space where everyone counts, where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. Again, it is our duty to go out and do our duty to our country…to build a fair society. Let’s again try to leave this Earth a better place than we found it. Thank you.

CLP: People’s Food, People’s Sovereignty (Edition # 6: June, 2010)

People’s Food, People’s Sovereignty (Edition # 6: June, 2010)

From walking and working with groups and communities who struggle for food and for sovereignty in their lives, we know that there are so many people who go to sleep without food – often for three days and more at a time. Our country’s history of violence, conquest and theft undermined the social, political and productive lives of the people. It deliberately attacked the ability of the majority to live their lives to the full and on their own terms. And even after more than 15 years of our so-called ‘democracy’, the masses of the people, especially in rural areas, still struggle for life. Being landless, penniless, jobless, sick and without the resources for farming (which includes access to safe, affordable water) are some of the reasons why these people cannot produce. In this newsletter we share some aspects of these different places and the struggles of the people there. There are many things in common across the different experiences and places.

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Yours Sincerely,

Rev. Thulani Ndlazi

Democracy is on the Brink of Catastrophe

Rhodes University, 30 October 2009

Democracy is on the Brink of Catastrophe

The road to real democracy has not been easy to those who are still searching for the truth in it. It is like the long road of Abahlali baseMjondolo to the Constitutional Court. Democracy means different things to different people. To some leaders democracy means that they are the only ones who must exercise authority upon others. For some government officials democracy means accepting anything that is said about ordinary men and women. With the attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road we have now seen that this technocratic thinking will be supported with violence when ordinary men and women insist on their right to speak and to be heard on the matters that concern their daily lives. On the one side there is a consultant with a laptop. On the other side there is a drunk young man with a bush knife or a gun. As much as they might look very different they serve the same system – a system in which ordinary men and women must be good boys and girls and know that their place is not to think and speak for themselves.

It must be remembered that we have no world without families, without neighbourhoods and without nations. If democracy is to be a living force it must be a reality in the real world of our lives. Therefore there is no democracy in settlements like Kennedy Road if residents are forced to take instruction from party politicians, while those who refuse to take such instructions are attacked and killed. The attack on Abahlali in Kennedy Road was an attack on our democracy.

We must be clear that our democracy is not perfect. It is a democracy of the few, for the few and by the few – a democracy for the rich and by the rich. It is a class democracy, a democracy that criminalises our believable movement and most movements of the poor and by the poor. It is a democracy that does not only protect the interests of its champions but leaves its ordinary members to rot in jondolo (shacks), substandard housing and the life threatening conditions that are found in places like the Kennedy Road settlement.

Our democracy has failed the poor. Therefore it is our responsibility to make it work for the poor – to turn it into a living force in the lives of the poor by building the power of the poor and reducing the power of the rich. We need to struggle to democratise all the places where we live, work, organise, study and pray. The solution to the fact that our democracy has failed the poor is not to attack democracy from above.

The attack on Abahlali members, its leaders and its offices in the Kennedy Road settlement on the 26th of September 2009 has been a wakening call that our democracy is on the brink of catastrophe. A catastrophe in which no man or woman may be able to rebuild or connect the spirit and soul of our humanity.

Abahlali have been attacked because it has organised the unorganised, it has educated the so called uneducated, it has given voice to the voiceless. Our movement has forced the senior officials to investigate their own employees on all allegations of misallocation, mismanagement and corruption in the delivery of housing and in tender issuing processes. Abahlali have stopped most evictions in the cities where we have members by protesting and taking some municipalities and some government departments to court. We have taken the provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal to the Constitutional Court.

Our attackers are very rich and are using the tax payer’s money to carry out the attack. They even remote the attack from a distance so that the poor can been seen to be fighting amongst themselves. We have seen in the past how the poor have been made to turn their anger against their fellow brothers and sisters without sound and able reasons. This is catastrophic and must be stopped now.

The poor must be allowed to seriously engage on the issues that make them poor. They must be supported in all efforts and methods by which they intend to liberate themselves. Everyone has a role to play, be they rich or poor, in shaping this country in to one that immediately begins to respect and look after its poor of the poorest as we move to an end to poverty. The land and all other resources must be shared equally; the laws must apply to everyone including those who make them. The concerns of the poor must be raised loud enough to be heard without fear or fever. The poor must be allowed to determine their own future without allowing party politic to mislead our generation.

The Constitutional Court ruling in favour of Abahlali means that a people’s democracy will not be undermined at every turn. It means that forced removal to transit camps can no longer be considered as the delivery of adequate and alternative housing as was a provision of the already buried Slums Act. Abahlali have always been open to free discussion and have always promised to return every meaningful engagement by the state with a meaningful contribution from below. Despite all the attacks on our movement and the long road to the Constitutional Court the ruling of the Constitutional Court in favour of Abahlali means that while party politic is trying to bring our democracy to the brink of catastrophe the Constitutional Court recognises our humanity and it recognises that the poor have the same right as everyone else to shape the future of the country. We encourage everyone who believes in real equality before the law and all democrats to refuse any form of attack on our democracy -a democracy fought very hard to be won. Let us do whatever it takes to protect our children, our nation and our world.

I take this opportunity to share with you how disturbing and difficult it is to be forced to exile in your own country. I and many leaders of our movement have been made refugees in our own country, in our own province, in our own city, in our own settlement. Our families, including our children, are going through a very difficult time. Some of them have been admitted in hospitals because they cannot cope with the trauma. The state has not responded with any relief for those whose homes were burnt down and who were made homeless by this attack. The state has not condemned our attackers. The state has not arrested anyone from our attackers but continues to threaten our members in the courts and outside the courts. We continue to receive death threats. We are even threatened with death in court whenever we attend the bail hearing for our members. On behalf of Abahlali I also take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have supported our movement in this difficult time, through writing solidarity statements, through demonstrations, through the collection of donations etc. I thank all those of you who have made written submissions to oppose the already buried Slums Act. A celebration of our victory is starting on Sunday, 01 November 2009 by slaughtering of a cow. You are all invited to join us in our celebration of this important victory on the long road to land and freedom. You are all welcomed.

I thank you all.

S’bu Zikode

Shamita Naidoo and S’bu Zikode spoke to the topic of ‘Democracy is on the Brink of Catastrophe’ at a seminar held at Rhodes University by the Faculty of Humanities and the Women’s Academic Solidarity Association on Friday 30 October. Not everyone could be accomodated in the room and a number of people had to be turned away. S’bu’s talk is below. Shamita did not bring a written version of her contribution but a transcription was typed up and will be available shortly. Abahlali baseMjondolo were joined at the talk by the Unemployed People’s Movement from Grahamstown and spent Friday afternoon with the movement in the Vukani settlement where they saw the atrocious conditions there including pre-fabricated houses that have rotting floors after less than a year; RDP houses, also less than a year old, built (like in Durban) on a slab and without any foundation, with asbestos roofs (many of which have blown off in full or in part), walls with cracks so big that you can put your first in them, large gaps between walls and roofs, walls that have blown over the in the wind and walls that shake when you bump them. People will die in these houses in the winter and it is inevitable that people will also be killed when these houses collapse on to them. For comment on the situation in Vukani or the work of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown contact Ayanda Kota on 07825 6462.

Post Annual General Meeting Speech by S’bu Zikode

Cindezela lapha ukubona isiZulu.

14 December 2008

Post Annual General Meeting Speech by S'bu Zikode

Delivered to Abahlali baseMjondolo at the Blue Lagoon, Durban


Comrades, as you all know we have come from a very unique AGM of our beloved Movement, a Movement whose unique strength has enabled so many shack dwellers to stand together and to be very strong in defending and protecting ourselves, our communities and our right to the cities.

Our 2008 AGM held in the Kennedy Road Hall on 23 November was as successful as all the others that we have held since the launch of our movement in October 2005. Our movement is still growing and all of our branches and affiliated settlements elected their representatives and the hall at Kennedy Road was overflowing. Everyone was free to say what ever they wanted to say. The voting went well and it was wonderful to have our comrades from the Poor People's Alliance with us. But, as you all know, I took a decision not to stand for another term. As I explained my intention was always to remain strongly committed to the movement but it seemed clear to me that all positions at all levels of leadership in our movement need to be shared, that the burden of leadership in a movement of volunteers needs to be shared, that I need time for my family and to be able to read and to think about what we have achieved with our living politic – a politic that was always based on us thinking carefully about our lives and our struggles. We have to change ourselves before we can change the world and, without time to think, that change becomes difficult.

We have often said that as the poor our only strength is in our discipline. Our numbers mean nothing if we are not organized and we cannot be organized without being disciplined. Our discipline has never been about taking orders from above. Our movement grew out of a rejection of the top down politics of the councillors, the ward committees and the branch executive committees. We have always rejected top down politics in all its forms – including those NGOs that want to remote our movements. Our discipline has been about discussing things carefully at our meetings, thinking together at our meetings and then taking decisions that we are all committed too. Our discipline is a shared responsibility. It is not about some people disciplining other people. It is about us sharing responsibility together. For this reason our movement is built around the meetings. All of our meetings are always open. Anyone can put any issue on the agenda. Anyone can speak. If comrades have questions or worries they must come to the meetings in their settlements or the meetings of the Women's League, the Youth League or the Abahlali baseMjondolo secretariat. This is the space for questions to be asked and for worries to be coughed out. It is also the space where we share the work that must be done. If we continue to respect this space our movement will continue to be strong.

Leading this movement is not an easy task. It is a task that demands a leader who is humble enough to listen to everyone but strong enough to never compromise people's lives by not standing up when that becomes necessary. The task demands political creativity because we have to invent our struggle as we wage it. The task demands respect for all age groups within the Movement – it demands a better understanding of what Abahlali Youth is like, Abahlali Mama's, Gogo's, Baba's and Mkhulu's are like. It calls for a leader who is willing to learn and who is prepared to be led as the Vice President of Abahlali, Lindela Figlan, likes to puts it. This willingness of all our leaders to learn and to be led is very important in our Movement's work of defining itself and knowing itself before someone else from somewhere else defines our Movement. We can never know our enemy and our world without knowing ourselves; we can not understand all the challenges lying ahead of us and their possible solutions if we do not understand ourselves.

As a disciplined member of Abahlali baseMjondolo I have always admired how members of our Movement have shown such trust in me in this very high and very demanding Task to lead such a growing Movement. And I still ask myself as to what wonders or qualities of leadership I have demonstrated to Abahlali that you can elect, re-elect and then re-elect me again in this challenging task. As you all know this year I did not stand and no one else stood for the position of president and so the ballot paper for the position of the president was empty. And yet you all wrote my name on the empty ballot papers. It was a very emotional day for all of us.

Comrades I have noted how you asked me to reconsider my decision at the AGM. I have noted the views of the new secretariat and the outgoing secretariat. I have noted all the views of those of you that have come to the office and to my home to ask me to reconsider.

Comrades I have also noted how our comrades from all the organizations that make up the Poor People's Alliance have stood strong for my return as your leader, these comrades have come with a smile to us as they come from a mile to strengthen our course as their course. I can not stop reading sms's and it has been their call that has finally prompted my decision to accept the trust that you placed in me at the AGM. I refer to comrades from the Landless People's Movement in Gauteng, the Anti-Eviction Campaign in the Western Cape, Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Western Cape and the Rural Network in KZN. I salute their commitment for a just society. I salute their commitment to the principle that the poor should think and lead their own struggles. I salute their courage over the years. There is a long road ahead but we will walk it together.


We declared 2005, the year in which we formed our movement, as the Year of Action. How we marched that year! Last year was the Year of No Evictions and we were successful in stopping every eviction that threatened our settlements that year. We declared 2008 the year of Land and Housing. But instead it became the year of the Red Devil in Jondolos (Matt Birkinshaw 2008). Kennedy Road, Jadhu Place, Foreman Road, Emmause, Motala Heights, Arnet Drive, Emagwaveni, Ash Road in Pietermaritzburg and QQ-Section in the Western Cape were all affected by the plague of fires. This was also another year of rats attacking our children. A baby was killed in Kennedy Road and more babies were bitten afterwards. This was also a year in which shack dwellers in Durban were still denied official access to electricity and suffered assaults and even shootings in the armed and violent de-electrifications in settlements like Kennedy Road, Pemary Ridge, Emagwaveni-Tongaat and Arnet Drive. And while we are denied official electricity and attacked for making our own life saving electricity connections the government leaves live wires dangling from the pylons above our settlements. We all know that this would never happen in Westville or Umhlanga Rocks. People who are denied official electricity and attacked when they connect themselves have still been shocked to death by these dangling wires from the high pylons in places like eMagwaveni and Kennedy Road. This has also been a year of floods (Ash Road-Pietermaritzburg) and it has been a year of threats of massive eviction in Arnet Drive, Emagwaveni in Tongaat, Motala Heights in Pinetown, Siyanda C-Section and eMacambini in the northern part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This year was also the year, the terrible year, in which people born in other countries were attacked all over South Africa.

It has also been the year of the notorious transit camps.

And it has also been the year of the equally notorious Slums Act.

It has also been a year of talks, slow dragging talks, but talks nevertheless. We have been in talks with the Project Preparation Trust (PPT), the eThekwini municipality, Ricky Govender of Motala Heights, Mr Moolan of the Emagwaveni land and even the Land Invasions Unit and the police.

It ended as a challenging year where the highest post and task in the movement remained vacant for more for more than twenty days after the Annual General Meeting.

Victories in 2008

The life of the poor is not easy in this world and it is not easy in this country. I have already mentioned some of the threats that we have faced this year.

But we must remember that we have achieved a lot in 2008. As much as it has been the year of the Red Devil, the year of the transit camp and the year of the attacks on people born in other countries it has also been the year of negotiations.

We have continued with all our ordinary work this year. We have worked to build the structures in the branches and affiliated settlements, to connect water and electricity, to defend our land, to ensure the safety of our communities, to ensure the continued power of women in our movement, to start and run gardens and crèches, to continue with the university of Abahlali baseMjondolo including training in computer skills, to run a library, to hold camps where we can discuss and be together through the nights, to care for each other in times of trouble, to support the struggles of other communities when they have asked us for solidarity and to take our own struggle forward in the settlements, in the streets and in the courts. Some of our branches and affiliated settlements are full of life – their spirits are always high and they are full of energy, creativity and courage. Some are only highly activated in times of crisis but seem to go to sleep a little when threats recede and to assume that others will keep the growing movement strong for them. Our movement ends this year much bigger than it was at the end of last year. We have many more members in many more settlements than ever before. But as the movement grows the work that must be done grows too.

Through the negotiations that we have been involved in all year our voice became louder and louder as the City was forced to sit down and listen to Abahlali. These talks were very carefully facilitated by PPT. Along the way we had to ensure that representatives from all our settlements could participate, that we kept the right to be political and to be critical and that we kept our intellectual autonomy by ensuring that we did not send all of our most committed comrades to the negotiations and that the delegates to the negotiations reported to our Abahlali meetings.

We are finalizing the details of the MOU that commits all parties to providing specified services to 14 settlements and to upgrading three settlements with on site housing. All kinds of very important breakthroughs have been achieved already including the right for shack dwellers to get services while they wait for houses, the right for shack dwellers get houses where they are living and the right to genuinely participatory and democratic urban planning.

We have already finalized the Abahlali Settlement Plan for Kennedy Road which will enable Abahlali and the city to acknowledge injustices and to find a common ground on which to respect the needs and the voice of the shack dwellers while upgrading the settlement where it is. The threat of forced removal that has been hanging over Kennedy Road since 1995 has now lifted.

In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle of one house for one family against the one house for one shack system. In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle that no one will left homeless by development. In all of our negotiations we stuck to the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all. We withdrew from the negotiations when any of our settlements were under threat. We have won the right to bargain collectively. We have won the right to include new settlements in our negotiations as they join us. The history of our relationship with the eThekwini Municipality has been painful. Many of us have suffered arrests and beatings. But although we have agreed that we disagree on some issues, like electricity, we have, by negotiating directly with officials and leaving out the politicians, come to a common understanding that is a good platform for the future. As we leave this year we enter a new era in the history of Durban and in the history of our movement.

When the attacks on people born in other countries began in Johannesburg in May we committed ourselves to shelter and defend our comrades born in other countries. There were no attacks in any of our settlements and we were able to stop attacks in some nearby settlements where we do not have members. We offered sanctuary to everyone that asked for our help. A very high position in our movement was held by a person born in another country and living here without papers. We made contact with many refugee and migrant organizations.

Once again we conducted a Clean up Campaign in Kennedy Road to try and reduce the infection of rats. It was not easy but it was successful.

In previous years the city and the media ignored the people left homeless as result of shack fires but during this year Abahlali has forced the city to provide at least the building materials after shack fires, or even those tin houses when that is the will of the affected communities and families. We have been clear that people have the right to choose or to reject the tin houses after fires. The City has accepted this.

As always we have strongly rejected all forms of forced relocation. Right now we are fighting this battle in Siyanda where people face forced removal by the Provincial Department of Transport for the construction of MR577 Freeway. This battle has also been fought very hard in Motala Heights and in Arnet Drive through political means and on legal terms. A very huge victory was won by Arnet Drive in the Durban High Court this year and, although the year is not quite over, we can say that we have successfully stopped every eviction threatened against our members, old or new, during this year. This is the second consecutive year in which we have won every single battle against eviction. The last time an Umhlali was evicted was in December 2006. We are determined that it will never happen again.

We have also fought the notorious KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Slums Act outside and inside the court of law. We are waiting for the verdict of the judge. If we are not successful in the High Court we will continue onto the Appeal Court and then the Constitutional Court. We will never accept the Slums Act. Now that the City is treating us with respect we will force the Province to do the same. When the Province has been forced to accept our humanity we will, with our comrades in the Poor People's Alliance, take on the national government.

The Movement has also managed to host the very big National Events such as the Unfreedom Day that we hold every year on 27 April at which the organization weighs its strengths and reflects on freedom. The freedom celebrated in the stadiums is, in fact, not the freedom that we all fought for.

In December 2006 we formed the Action Alliance with the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. Some of the left NGOs did not take that declaration of our autonomy very well. They have continued to lie about our December 2006 protest against their top down style to try and show that we are too stupid to think our own struggles. This year we expanded the alliance to include the KwaZulu-Natal Rural Network and the Johannesburg Landless People's Movement and formed the Poor People's Alliance. We are now a movement that is in the cities and on the farms. We are now a movement that is in Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Pinetown, Durban and Cape Town. We are determined to make this alliance a strong voice of the poor, by the poor and for the poor. We held two national meetings of the Poor People's Alliance this year.

At the November meeting of the Poor People's Alliance we took the decision to continue to refuse the domination of certain NGOs, to develop our own position and campaign on the elections and to continue to build a living politic in our communities that can take up our issues and be answerable to us. We have decided to boycott the 2009 elections under the banner of 'No Land! No House! No Vote!' We are currently working on a statement to announce and explain this boycott to the world.We will continue to refuse all attempts by NGOs to buy movements by offering money to individuals. We will continue to refuse party politics. Our aim is to build the power of the poor and to reduce the power of the rich.

On 16 June this year our Youth League became official in operation. On 9 August we also managed to launch our own Women's League in which women will support women to continue to play a leading role in the struggle of Abahlali baseMjondolo. In September, the heritage month in South Africa, a Mass Prayer was held to commemorate all those who had suffered and passed away in shack fires and rat attacks. In this month, again for the first time in our history, a City wide Shack fire Summit was held and attended by number of community organizations, NGOs, Church Bodies and the Poor Peoples' Alliance all working together to strengthen our partnership against all forms of oppression including the red devil.

Kennedy Road Settlement and Arnet Drive and Pemary Ridge have, finally and after years of struggle, been earmarked for upgrading. This is a major victory. But up until the houses are actually built, and up until all other settlements are also catered for with decent housing in the cities, we will have to continue to stand together and to stand strong. On the 10 December comrade Zodwa and I set a meeting with Mr. Moolan, who owns the land on which the Emagwaveni Settlement has been built. We actually met. He has shown some great respect and concern for this community and made it clear that he had made an offer to release 50% of this land to the community provided that the city meets his conditions contained in the proposal that we yet to see. We will work with Mr. Moolan and the City to develop a solution for Emagwaveni.

The Way Forward

Our movement is founded on the politic of equality. We start from the recognition that we are all equal. We do not struggle to achieve equality. We struggle for the recognition of the equality that already exists. Our Movement therefore demands that we face and confront any element that seeks to undermine our humanity as ordinary citizens. Today I wish to remind comrades that we are also all equal and deserve equal treatment with in our Movement regardless of our positions and tasks. This is the Movement of the poor. It is not an NGO. The movement is not here to save you. You are the movement. You hold its future in our hands. You must decide its future. The movement only has one program – to be guided by its members.

We are all volunteers and we should all fully participate in all activities of the Movement without any fear or betrayal of one by another. We should all act together, collectively and responsible. Our Movement demands that we are honest to ourselves before others, and our Movement demands that we fear shame, disgrace and any form of evil. We are thus expected to be very humble and courageous to face what must be faced as we defend the future of our own children. If our growing Movement only places this burden and all its challenges on a handful of people then we can not win the war against oppression and injustices. If and only if we, today, all commit ourselves to working harder at all levels in the movement and to being decisive and responsible in sharing the burdens of responsibility then I recommit myself in leading the comrades as requested by you.

We must all demand change and transformation from within ourselves before we can walk outside and make new demands. What I can guarantee to my comrades is my commitment to work with you and not for you, to be led by you and not to lead without you. There will be nothing for you without you. In all these commitments to both myself and to Abahlali I wish to express my deepest, heartfelt gratitude to the elderly mothers of our Movement who have stood very strong next to me and my family through prayers, calls and visits when the dark cloud of my attack gathered over me. I will always salute that love and warmth through all difficult times. I urge you all to offer the same support to Mzonke Poni, our chairperson in the Western Cape, who was recently subject to a similar attack, late at night, by an unknown group of young men.

In conclusion I wish all Abahlali baseMjondolo members, all shack dwellers, all Abahlali friends and supporters and all the marginalized and the oppressed a Happy Christmas and Just and Peaceful New Year that is free from evictions, disconnections, mysterious attacks in the dark of night, police violence and all the other evils that we must confront as we take on and defeat the war on the poor.