Following threats against S’bu Zikode, leader of South African shackdwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, by the chair of a municipal housing committee, the group has called on democrats across the country to support Zikode and other activists ‘facing imtimidation and repression’.
Abahlali baseMjondolo is a movement of the poor that struggles to protect, promote and advance the dignity of the poor in South Africa. One of our roles is to bring the government to the people and the people to the government. We have marched to take our demands to councillors, mayors, premiers and the president. We have had many meetings but in Durban, the city where our movement was founded six years ago, we have never, despite all the marches, ever had a meeting with the mayor to discuss our demands.
When Obed Mlaba was the Mayor and Mike Sutcliffe ran this city for John Mchunu there was no hope for any kind of meaningful engagement between the organised poor and the City. But when James Nxumalo became Mayor we had real hope that things would be different. He was respected as one of the few politicians that could humble himself and engage the poor with respect.
On Thursday, 13 October 2011 at 13:30pm we finally had our first meeting with the Mayor. There were fourteen Abahlali members elected to represent the movement at this meeting. There were also officials from the eThekwini Municipality's Department of Human Settlements and councillors, including the Chairperson of the Housing Portfolio Committee and Infrastructure, Nigel Gumede. It was a promising meeting. We had hope that when we met with the
Mayor, our hopes might be rebuilt again.
Mayor Nxumalo humbled himself with respect and apologised to Abahlali for cancelling, at the last minute, the first meeting that had been arranged. However as the Mayor was so humble and respecting the presence of Abahlali Nigel Gumede interrupted and introduced himself as a murderer (“Ngingumbulali mina”). He attacked Zikode threatening to beat him saying “uZikode akakaze ashaywe”(Zikode has never been beaten). He said that “uZikode akabazi abantu" (Zikode doesn’t know people). He also said that the ANC is at war with AbM and that he has to go to the bushes for Zikode. In Zulu idiom this is a clear threat – a threat of attack, a threat of ambush. The mood was sensitive and fragile.
The dawning of democracy was supposed to mean that the time of the politic of war had passed. Those who are trying to bring it back are a threat, a deep threat, to our society. The new Mayor has a lot of work to do in teaching people like Gumede what it means to be in a democracy. Gumede has served more than 5 years on his portfolio and he still fails to respect the public, especially the poor. Gumede is disrespectful not only to the poor but even to the Mayor himself, for he has attacked the guest of the Mayor in front of the Mayor. Everyone in the meeting expected the Mayor, who chaired the meeting, to protect Zikode. It is the responsibility of a chair to protect anyone who is victimised by anyone at a meeting. This meeting expected the chair to call Gumede into order but he did not. His silence raised a lot of questions about the role of the chairperson of this meeting and the role of any chairperson at any meeting.
In September 2009 our movement was attacked by the ANC in the Kennedy Road settlement. The attackers said that they wanted to kill S'bu Zikode and other leaders. They demolished and looted our leaders' homes while the police did nothing. Our leaders were forced to flee and to become refugees. For months
death threats were openly made against a number of our leaders.
In 2009 Nigel Gumede praised this. He saw an opportunity to go to the Kennedy Road settlement and rubbish the work of Abahlali. He promised the Kennedy Road residents that he would build them houses in February 2010 and said that if he failed to deliver the houses the community must chase him out. His comments at the Kennedy Road settlement after the attack were filmed by the film makers
that made Dear Mandela. They are on record.
ANC people attacked us in Kennedy Road in 2009 and we have now been threatened by a leading ANC member in Durban in the Mayor’s office.
This has not moved us from our stand that we demand that Nigel Gumede must resign. He has got no manners for the public. He has become a serious threat to the organised poor by using his powers as the Chairperson of Housing Portfolio Committee and Infrastructure to threaten our leader. After we were attacked in 2009, had our homes destroyed and looted, and were repeatedly and publicly threatened with death it is deeply irresponsible for a leader of the ANC to openly say that the ANC is at war with Abahlali and to threaten to beat and attack our best known leader. We came to this meeting to negotiate. The Mayor made it clear that he is willing to negotiate. He has instructed his officials to examine all of our demands and to report back to us in a second meeting in two weeks time. But Gumede declared war on our movement and threatened violence to our best known leader.
What kind of politician declares war on a democratic poor people's organisation? What kind of politician declares war on people asking to negotiate? What kind of politician declares war on people who are still suffering from recent violence and threats at the hands of the ruling party and have come to a meeting to discuss healing?
If any of us committed any crimes the government has the power to arrest us and to have us charged with those crimes. Yet they don't arrest us. They don't arrest because they know that there is no court that can find us guilty of exercising our democratic rights. Instead we are slandered, attacked and openly threatened with attack.
They have all the money. They have the police and the intelligence services. They have musicians and journalists and as many lawyers as they want. They can send bulldozers to evict us at any time or the securities to disconnect us. All that we really have is our togetherness. We are not paid to struggle. We are just poor people that are taking our lives seriously. Yet we are presented as a threat to society.
Nigel Gumede needs to understand that S'bu Zikode gets his mandate from the people. S'bu Zikode takes no decisions for the people. He, with many other leaders in our movement, tries his best to faithfully carry out the decisions taken by our members. Whatever he has to say does not come from him but from Abahlali. In our movement direction comes from below. S'bu Zikode is not Abahlali baseMjondolo but we as the membership form the organisation. If you attack S'bu Zikode, who is mandated by us, that means that you are attacking all of us. We are all S'bu Zikode.
We have more than 10 000 members in 64 different settlements – 49 in KwaZulu-Natal and 15 in the Western Cape. We are all S'bu Zikode.
Nigel Gumede is very angry that S'bu Zikode has gone abroad. This was raised after the attack in 2009 and again at this meeting where Gumede threatened Zikode. In the past Zikode has been questioned by intelligence agents after travelling abroad. But every citizen of this country has the same right to go abroad. It is not a crime to go abroad. And it is not only S'bu Zikode who goes abroad to represent Abahlali. All active members may be elected to represent the movement abroad and to tell the untold stories and share the perspective that the shack dwellers have developed in our discussions in Abahlali. We are always the marginalised and always the talked about. We are always known to be those that are poor, that are uneducated and that can’t speak for themselves. But the only difference between the poor and the rich is money. We can all take decisions for ourselves and talk for ourselves.
S'bu Zikode was elected to lead our movement for six years in a row. He often asked to be allowed to step aside to find work and focus on his family. But the members insisted that he stay on and, after discussions with his family, he agreed. He has always led our movement with courage, dignity, gentleness and humbleness. He has worked days and nights and weekend after weekend for years.
He has paid a high price for this commitment. He has been arrested, tortured, slandered, chased out of two jobs and severely beaten. He has had his home destroyed and looted and has had to become a political refugee. His family have paid a high price for all of this.
No one in Abahlali would deny that S'bu Zikode has been a powerful leader or that he has been such a powerful leader because he has always insisted that his only role is to support people to organise themselves and to struggle for themselves. But this does not change the fact that S'bu Zikode does not make us struggle. It is oppression that makes us struggle.
Even though Nigel Gumede has attacked the poor we would like to acknowledge the humbleness and respect of the Mayor who has shown that he has got a heart for the people. As a movement we are looking forward to having a good relationship with him because we have seen his willingness to cooperate with the poor. We continue to see his appointment as the Mayor as a real opportunity to move towards a politic of discussion and negotiation in Durban – a real partnership between government and the people.
But Nigel Gumede must go. Gumede has gone too far with his threats. He has no respect for the public and the elected leaders of the public. We are not threatening him but we are telling him that he needs to step down in the interests of democracy. We cannot allow the politic of war and killing to be brought back into this country. We wish to make it very clear that if anything happens to S'bu Zikode we, and all our comrades, will hold Nigel Gumede responsible.
All politicians and officials must learn to respect everyone who they lead or represent without any regard to their gender, race, age, language or socio-economic or political background. No politician can run a City Hall like its their own Spaza Shop.
Democracy cannot be reduced to voting. Democracy is also the right of all people to organise freely and to speak freely. Democracy is not just for members of the ruling party and the middle classes. Democracy is for everyone and that includes the poor. We have the same rights as everyone else to organise freely and to think and speak for ourselves.
We are calling on all democrats, in and outside of the ANC, to support this call to defend our hard won democracy. We are calling for clear statements of support for S'bu Zikode and all other activists facing intimidation and repression. We are calling for practical action to support S'bu Zikode and all other activists facing intimidation and repression. We are also calling on all democrats to work to isolate the warlords, the authoritarians and all others in the ruling party, and in other organisations, that are vandalising our democracy. We cannot go back to a politic of war.
For more information please contact:
Bandile Mdlalose: Abahlali Secretary General 071 424 2815
Mazwi Nzimande: Abahlali Spokesperson 031 304 6420
Mzwakhe Mdlalose: Abahlali baseMjondolo President 072 1328458
Nokuthula Nyawo: Abahlali baseMjondolo Co-ordinator 083 9491379
It is not just in our movement that we say “We are all S'bu Zikode”. At
short notice this statement is also supported by the following organisations.
We expect other organisations to also issue statements of support once they
have had the opportunity to discuss this issue.
Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape – Mzonke Poni, 073256 2036
Landless People's Movement – Maas Van Wyk 079 267 3203
Rural Network – Reverend Mavuso Mbhekiseni 072 279 2634
South Durban Community Environmental Alliance - Des D'sa 083 982 6939
Students for Social Justice - Ben Vogel 071 224 6524
Unemployed People's Movement – Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462
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