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With Abahlali baseMjondolo's 'Kennedy 12' due to go to court this week, Lucy Bamforth summarises the background to the case, the accusations against the movement's members and the stalling of the trial.

Amid local, national and international condemnation from human rights groups and religious leaders, the court case against a group of Abahlali baseMjondolo residents originally known as the 'Kennedy 13' was slated to begin in Durban, South Africa, on Monday.

What happened instead was just the opposite: Instead of the beginnings of a trial, the court room remained empty of both the accused attackers and key witnesses, prompting the court magistrate to delay the trial to 29 November and reiterate the right to fair and speedy trial proceedings.

The good news is that the five remaining jailed members of the Kennedy 12, a group of 12 Abahlali baseMjondolo residents charged in connection with the attack, were brought to court the next day and released on bail. The other seven members were released on bail in November last year.

On 26 September 2009 a group of about 40 armed men entered the settlement where many of Abahlali baseMjondolo reside and began violently attacking residents' homes, leaving two dead and forcing others to leave their homes for fear of their safety. The name 'Kennedy 12' refers to a group of supporters of Abahlali baseMjondolo and its leaders who were arrested in connection with the attacks, and had lost their homes as a result. Seven of those 12 were released in November, but the remaining five were, until Tuesday, being held without sufficient evidence against them.

Abahlali baseMjondolo says that the attacks were sanctioned by the ANC (African National Congress) in an attempt to intimidate the settlement from continuing to criticise the government, as they have done in the past through constitutional challenges and the exposure of corrupt ANC politicians. The ANC has disputed these claims, and Abahlali baseMjondolo seems to have a right to be suspicious: There were numerous court delays and claims from a government minister that the settlement had been liberated from the hands of the (elected) Abahlali baseMjondolo Chairperson S’bu Zikode, the person who spearheaded the many marches and legal proceedings against the local ANC leadership.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has released a series of statements about the way the police and local government have handled the case (links for which appear at the end of this article), as well as the many calls local and international activists have made to release the Kennedy 12.

Justice on trial: A statement at the commencement of the trial of the Kennedy 12
The Kennedy 12 go to trial today
The Kennedy 12 case postponed - the jailed comrades to be released


* Lucy Bamforth is a recent journalism and history graduate from Carleton University.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.