Abahlali baseMjondolo: Growing From Strength to Strength

Published on 12th October 2015

South Africa shack dwellers movement
Today marks the Tenth Anniversary of our movement. For us it is a very important moment, it is a special day. It is a day to celebrate the victories won on the journey we have travelled together. It is also a day to mourn as it reminds us of pain as well as joy as we reflect backwards. This journey has not been easy. But in the middle of many difficulties and suffering, we have managed to remain a people’s movement, with strong commitments and ideas, with much creativity. We have succeeded to win many allies to our side.

We have made a promise to ourselves and made an oath to our God and to our country and our world. An oath that we will struggle for justice, equality and dignity for those of us who are oppressed and excluded, for those who do not count to this society and this world. A promise that we will struggle for the social value of land to come before its commercial value. A promise that all the land and all wealth of the country must be shared equally. A promise that we must all enjoy the same the right to the cities. A promise that the poor and oppressed must be treated with respect and dignity. A promise that we will be able to participate in all decision making relating to ourselves and our communities.

We would not have been successful in this journey on our own. Many comrades have stood firm in solidarity with us. In this world speaking and acting for the poor is a very good career move. Thinking, speaking and struggling with the poor is taken as a scandal by the regressive forces in the state, civil society and, yes, in the authoritarian and racist parts of the left. In standing firm in solidarity with us some comrades have lost their jobs. In standing with us some comrades have risked their academic credentials. Some families have been torn apart. Some comrades, including high ranking bishops, have risked their religious credentials for us.

Some comrades and their families have paid a heavy price for our struggle. We have been tortured, arrested, beaten and shot at. Some of us lost our homes. We have been violently and illegally evicted from our homes and even killed. In this journey I am reminded of the Kennedy Six and the trial of the Kennedy 12. In this difficult journey comrades I cannot forget how Nkululeko Gwala, Thembinkosi Qumbela and Nqobile Nzuza and, yes, Thulile Ndlovu, were assassinated. These four comrades were committed to justice and equality, to the struggle for land, for the right of the people to participate in all decisions about themselves and their communities. They risked their lives to oppose corruption. Even in this time of celebration, we remain in solidarity with miners who were slain in Marikana and their families. We remain in solidarity with all the activists who have been assassinated and all the activists who have been murdered by the police during protests.

These are not only the comrades who passed on during the course of our journey. There are also some comrades with whom we founded this movement who have also passed on. Comrade baba Duma, mama Madida, mama Magagul, Sipho Gwala, Chazumuzi Ngcobo, Cosmos Nkwanyana, Mdududzi Ngqulunga, Fikile Nkosi, Bongo Dlamini, Sli Motha and others. These comrades made their contribution and sacrifice to our struggle for a better humanity, justice, equality and opposition to corruption.

We have achieved a lot in our journey for land, decent housing and dignity. When we began our movement there was a policy prohibiting the installation of electricity to all shack dwellers in Durban. Today there is an agreement that electricity should be provided and although it is slow the roll out has started. When we began our movement most settlements had no working toilets or showers, we used to use bushes to relieve ourselves. Today ablution blocks with showers are being rolled out. When we began our movement government, NGOs and academics would all talk for us. Today we are able to speak for ourselves. We have not just occupied land – we have occupied space in the media and in all kinds of political and other discussions.

When we began our movement there was no independent political instrument for shack dwellers and other poor people. Today we have a powerful movement that can contest the state, the ruling party, private landowners and other forces in communities, in the streets, in the courts and in the media. Since the Slums Act was first passed in 2007 the state has continually being trying to roll back the limited gains won for people occupying land outside of the law in the new Constitution and the PIE Act. We have continually defeated these attempts. We have fought a long and hard struggle against transit camps. The Municipality called them ‘housing opportunities.’ We called them ‘human dumping grounds’ designed to break our political autonomy and we hold on occupied land. As a result of committed resistance the Municipality has now promised to stop building these organised attacks on our dignity as humanity beings. However many of our members, and many others, remain in the transit camps.

Since 2008 we have consistently and seriously opposed xenophobia. There has never been any xenophobic attack in any area where we have a branch. We continue to work closely with migrant organisations integrating them into our activities. Our solidarity with the Congolese Solidarity Campaign is an example of our strong commitment to Africa without political borders imposed on human life. 

After ten years we remain committed to the principle that there should be nothing for us, without us. We do not want people to define us, talk for us, or to decide for us, in our absence. After ten years we remain committed to the politic that has dignity of the poor as its main objective. We are all human beings just before we are anything else. Oppression vandalizes our humanity. Resistance restores our humanity.

We must build from all our achievements and the spirit of resistance in order to make our way into the next ten year as we move forward. We will have to invest all our energy and resources that we have to build our families and our communities. Where we do not have land, let us occupy land. Where we have shacks and where we can afford it, even if bit by bit, let us build our own decent homes. Where we have no water and sanitation let us not waste time and connect ourselves to clean water and sanitation. Where we have no electricity, let us help Eskom and the state and connect our own homes to electricity to save our lives and the lives of our children.

If the state still refuses to release serviced sites at least in order for us to build our houses then let us assist them. We must intensify our struggle for the establishment of a democratic and transparent housing list. Let us fight for the creation of  housing allocation policy and creation of housing allocation committee that is democratic and made with democratic peoples’ organisations and not only the ruling party. Let us insist on the collective and not the individual ownership of the land that we have won in struggle. Let us struggle to build decent homes and free ourselves from all kinds of oppressions in our families, neighbourhood and the state and its party. Let us stand strong in our opposition to xenophobia, which is aimed to divide the oppressed. Let us stand strong in our commitment to women’s power in the struggle and in society.

We all know that KwaZulu-Natal is made to be a violent and blood province as many of its politicians rule with terror. They have created and sustained a politic of blood and fear. Let us rise as we have risen above this kind of politic and expose all perpetrators as we have done with Mzi, Nqola and Lutsheku. We can only achieve this when we work in the spirit of ubuhlali and our living politic.

Let us extend our warm gratitude to our solidarity partners who have carried us through thick and thin in this difficult journey. The Church Land Programme, we would not have made it without your support. The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa you have stood firm with us throughout the long journey through the courts. War on Want you have understood that poverty is political and pledged with us to fight global poverty and injustices. The South Africa Development Fund your support has been amazing. Amnesty International you have always been there to work with us to secure our safety when our lives are under threat.

We thank you. Entraide & Fraternite you have walked the journey with us and reminded us that you will be with us in spirit and that “in the middle of many difficulties, pain and suffering you remained a peoples’ movement.” Misereor we appreciate the thought and care, and the deep understanding of people’s struggles in Latin America that you have bought to your support for us, especially in dark times. XminusY you have supported direct radical action and your solidarity has helped us to create the force and the power we are witnessing today. We cannot forget intellectual comrades that have walked side by side with us. Even when the journey has been very tough you remained principled. To all our friends and comrades abroad we cannot forget your support and solidarity. Your protests against repression have been vital in keeping the space open for us to organise and resist.

Today, on behalf of all Abahlali baseMjondolo, our friends, partners and comrades and in the interest of love for our country and our world I wish you all a Happy Tenth Year Birthday.
The struggles continues.

By S'bu. Zikode

Former President of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA. During the Tenth Anniversary of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA.

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