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To be poor means to live with death as a constant presence. It means that daily life is a struggle for survival. That is the reality of the shack-dwellers in South Africa. Amidst this depresseing state of affairs, still members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement are able to find strength to build their solidarity and continue in the struggle for social justice.

Life is always difficult in the shacks. If you are poor and black you can be killed with impunity. But it is not only the politicians and their izinkabi, or the police or private security companies that take our lives. We live in life threatening conditions every day. We die in the fires, from disease, drugs and crime. Our children die from diarrhoea. Our neighbours die because the roads next to the settlements are not made safe for pedestrians. The economy excludes us. The development of the cities excludes us. We are denied access to land, electricity, water, housing, education and work. We are also denied the right to participate in the discussions about the future of our society and in decision making about our lives and communities.

We do not count to this society. We are left to live a life that is dangerous, exhausting, and stressful. Death is always close by. We can work for years and still have nothing to give our children. We are treated like animals, not people. We are treated like rubbish. It is only in our struggle that the value of our lives is affirmed. We struggle for dignity but we also find dignity in struggle. We bury our dead with dignity.

On the 11 January 2016 we were very sad to lose Khaliphile Jali. Jali contributed immensely to the struggle of Abahlali in Kennedy Road before we were driven out of the settlement in 2009. He was one of the Kennedy 12. He was one of the men arrested on fabricated charges and kept in Westville prison for a year. The charges against him, and the others, were thrown out when the case came to court. There was no apology for this fraud, this abuse to these men and their families. Jali was 33 years old. He had 3 children. He had been sick for a while before he passed on. He was laid to rest on 24 January at his Dayimane home in the Eastern Cape. He will be remembered for his courage in the fight against injustices and oppression.

On 14 January 2016 Abahlali also lost Baba Khumalo, an old umhlali from the Siyanda branch. He had a heart attack and passed on. Baba Khumalo was also a poor man. The stress of impoverishment means that heart attacks, high blood pressure and panic attacks are common, even among the young. He died fighting for dignified housing for his family and community. Baba Khumalo was married to MaZulu and had four children as well as grandchildren. We were very encouraged by the manner in which Abahlali branch in Siyanda supported and cared for the Khumalo family. At times of great loss like this the meaning of ubuhlali is confirmed as a living practice. Our struggle is not just about service delivery and materialism. It is also about the proud spirit of belonging to a collective who are determined to humanise the world.

On 24 January 2016 we lost another comrade. James Nyathi was an umhlali who lived in the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest. He was electrocuted to death while visiting a friend in a settlement in Chatswoth. He died instantly. Nyathi was originally from Zimbabwe. He was undocumented. He came to South Africa long time ago, while he was young, and found himself a partner who is a South African. They had one child. Nyathi was a very active comrade in good standing in our movement. When the police discovered his body he was registered as an unknown individual because he didn’t have papers. The state wanted to bury him as an unknown person. But he had family, neighours and comrades. His Cato Crest comrades refused to accept that the state should bury him. They went to identify and claim the body. They located his family and neighbours back home. The Cato Crest branch raised R6 000.00 from within the land occupation and negotiated with a funeral parlour to ensure that Nyathi had a dignified funeral. For us ubuhlali is well demonstrated in this tragedy. When comrades value human life we do all we can to lay our fallen comrades to rest with dignity. In the week of Nyathi’s passing the Abahlali Women’s League were up and down with food, donations and support to his wife. The spirit of neighbourhood and the love and care we witnessed during this difficult time for Nyathi’s family confirmed ubuhlali.

On 6 February we were very sad to lose another leader. Isac Mabika was an Abahlali branch coordinator. He was originally from Mozambique. He was 33 years and had two children with his South African partner. Mabika was a very active member and a leader in our Briardene branch. He was attacked by an unknown man at 6 in the morning and killed with an axe. Even in this time of great loss we were encouraged by the spirit of ubuhlali and unity of the community working hand in hand with the family to repatriate his body back to Mozambique. The suspect is still at large and no arrest has been made. Abahlali held a Memorial Service to honour Mabika on Thursday, 12 February. He will be laid to rest in Mozambique on Sunday, 14 February.

To be poor means to live with death as a constant presence. It means that daily life is a struggle for survival. As we struggle for land and dignity we must also take care of the sick and bury the dead.

TJ Ngongoma 084 6139772
Zandile Nsibande 074 7675706
Thapelo Mohapi 076 1861884