Hard Crackers is pleased to publish this recent message from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement in South Africa. The message was released on the anniversary of the Soweto Revolt in 1976.
We thought it would be helpful to readers if we said a little about the group. The Movement is a grass roots organization that fights a never-ending battle to improve the lives and living conditions of shack dwellers and the poor with a special focus on asserting their human dignity. It is primarily active in the Indian Oceanport city of Durban on the eastern coast of South Africa. Durban is located in the province of KwaZuluNatal.
The Movement was launched in 2005. It is the largest organization of the militant poor in South Africa. It currently has about 50,000 members. The group’s first action was a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road settlement in protest of a sale of nearby land to a factory owner for a plant. The land had been promised to shack dwellers for permanent housing.
In the years since, the group has fought for improvements in existing shack settlements and for permanent homes. They emphasize the importance of the shack dwellers being directly involved in all decisions regarding their current and future housing conditions. As a result, they have faced constant attacks from the ANC-controlled governments at the provincial and national level. But they still endure.
Kennedy Road Settlement
16 June 2020
Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA. Press statement
Today the Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth are mourning all the comrades who lost their lives in the struggle against oppression.
We mourn the courageous young people who lost their lives in the 1976 uprising. The uprising that began on 16 June was not just about Afrikaans being imposed as the language of education. It was an uprising against a whole system of oppression. These brave young people were prepared to lose their lives to fight against the system that they had seen oppress their parents.
The struggle against apartheid was never just a struggle to replace a white government with a black government and a white elite with a black elite. The struggle was also for real democracy, land, housing, good education, decent work, safety and everything else that is required for people to live in dignity and with hope for their lives.
On 16 June 2020 it is not yet Uhuru for us, the youth who are living in shacks. Now that winter is here our shacks are burning, as they do every year. There have been three major shack fires in Durban in the last few days. Many of us continue to be excluded from quality education. Few of us will find jobs. Many of us suffer from anxiety and depression. Some try to ease their pain with whoonga.
The problem is not just that the government has abandoned us in terms of land, housing, education, health care and work. The problem is not just that we continue to live in the mud like pigs in shacks of indignity. The problem is not just that impoverishment is getting worse as the years pass. The problem is not just that every year there are more shacks and fewer jobs.
The problem is also that the government continues to actively oppress us. Like the youth of ‘76 we continue to see the government violently and brutally attacking our parents. We see our homes being demolished and burnt down by the eThekwini municipality. We see our parents being humiliated, abused, beaten, robbed and sometimes even killed.
When we say we are mourning today we mean we are mourning for the lives of all comrades who lost their lives in the struggle against oppression including those who were killed by the apartheid regime and those who were killed by the ANC.
We remember Comrade Nqobile Nzuza who was murdered by the police during a protest against evictions organised from the Marikana land occupation in 2013. She was 17 when she was murdered. We do not accept that a life lost in struggle in 1976 must be remembered but that a life lost in 2013 must be forgotten. Each human life is a human life and must count as a human life. Oppression is oppression whether it is carried out by the apartheid regime or the ANC.
Today we also remember all the comrades in our movement who have been assassinated, brave comrades like Nkululeko Gwala from Cato Crest and Thuli Ndlovu from KwaNdengezi. These comrades were murdered because they exposed corruption in their areas. We also remember comrades like Samuele Hloele from Ekukhanyeni who was murdered by the Anti Land Invasion Unit during an eviction
The reality is that for most of us there will be no work. When there is work it is usually precarious and exploitative. Even those of us with degrees can sit at home year after year. The neoliberal policies of the ANC are making impoverishment worse. Instead of providing opportunities to us the ruling party and the state use the izinkabi, the police, the anti-land invasion and private security to brutalise us. They try to divide us with xenophobia and ethnic politics. We do not matter to this government. During the lockdown we have seen lives of ordinary black people taken by the army and police. This is the reality.
There is also a very serious problem of violence against women. Women are not safe in the streets or in their homes. Women are not safe from the police, from the councillors or their partners. When impoverished women work to build their power in struggle they are met with repression and not support by the state. Today we also remember and mourn all the women who have been murdered, whether they have been killed by the ANC, like Thuli Ndlovu, or murdered by their partners. We are committed to building women’s power in struggle and to putting women’s issues at the centre of our struggle.
The corona virus has shown how unequal our country is. The poor and the working class are most affected by the pandemic. We continue to live under the situation where water is a privilege not a necessity. We are unable to self-isolate, or physically distance ourselves as required in order to stop the spread of the pandemic because we live so close to each other, often in one room shacks. Shack fires make things worse. Instead of coming with measures that will stop the spread of the pandemic our government is putting the lives of children and teachers at risk by opening schools in the midst of a pandemic. They continue to evict us.
However, we do not despair. We have taken responsibility for our own lives. Our branches which are led by young people are creating means of surviving, and building democratic forms of progressive and co-operative power from below. In eKhenana, eNkanini and Ekuphumeleleni our young comrades are working hard creating gardens to grow food on occupied land. Our branches have also created community kitchens for those who are in need in our communities.
We are in full support of our comrades in the US who are calling for the banning of the police because the police are used to protect the interests of the elites. We have seen comrades being killed by the police, as well as private security, in protests and during evictions and disconnections. The police have killed at least sixty unarmed people on protests in the last twenty years and thousands of other people. The police must be banned. Private security companies like the Red Ants and Calvin & Family Security that are used to attack the poor must be banned. All anti-land invasion units must be banned.
The struggle against the police is the same from South Africa to Brazil, Kenya and the United States. Everywhere the police can attack and kill you with impunity if you are poor and black. The police are not the answer to the social problems in our communities. Social justice and democratic forms of self-management are the way forward. Popular feminism and democratic socialism from below are the way forward.
Today we also remember and mourn the lives of Collins Khoza, George Floyd and all the others all over the world who have been killed by the police.
The government talks about the 1976 uprising as if oppression is something that is in the past, as if it stopped in 1994. We remain impoverished. We continue to be repressed. We continue to be murdered by the state when we stand up and insist that our human dignity must be recognised. Oppression has not yet been defeated. The struggle continues.
For a glimpse of the daily realities of shackdwellers’ lives, and to hear the movement’s members eloquently describe their aims, and the pushback they constantly experience, have a look at the short documentary ‘A Place in the City.’