Tag Archives: South Africa

Dear Mandela, or, The Politic of Human Dignity

www.dearmandela.com

When their shantytowns are threatened with mass eviction, three ‘young lions’ of South Africa’s new generation rise from the shacks and take their government to the highest court in the land, putting the promises of democracy to the test.

UPCOMING SCREENINGS

23 November 2012 – Wuppertal, GERMANY
19:00 – Autonomes Zentrum,
Markomannenstr. 3, 42105 Wuppertal
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

26 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
15:00. University of Gothenburg, School of Global Studies (organized by the Gothenburg Centre of Globalization and Development)
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

26 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
18:30. Hammarkullen Folkets Hus, Gothenburg
(organized by the Centre for Urban Studies at University of Gothenburg and Folkets Hus)
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

27 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
18:00 at Vårvindens Youth Centre in Biskopsgården, Daggdroppegatan 3, Gothenburg
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

5 December, 2012 – New Jersey, USA
12:00pm – 3:00pm. Rutgers University
*Q&A with filmmaker Dara Kell & Omotayo Jolaosho
http://ruevents.rutgers.edu/events/displayEvent.html?eventId=74042

TAKE ACTION

5 things you can do right now:

1. SIGN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S PETITION TO STOP FORCED EVICTIONS IN AFRICA: http://www.amnesty.org/en/end-forced-evictions

2. HOST A SCREENING OF DEAR MANDELA
To request a community screening kit, please contact us at sleepinggiantfilms@gmail.com.

3. LEARN MORE ABOUT ABAHLALI BASEMJONDOLO
Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement of South Africa, has a fantastic website with a rich library of articles and readings. Please visit them at http://abahlali.org/

4. DOCUMENT EVICTIONS
Our partner WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. They have created guides for video advocacy—learn more and get involved with their work here: http://www.witness.org/training

5. BUILD THE MOVEMENT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Dear Mandela is about a social movement in South Africa, but there are similar movements all around the world. Here are just a few of the organizations in our network that you can get involved with or support:

IN THE UNITED STATES:

THE CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. http://ccrjustice.org/

POVERTY INITIATIVE at Union Theological Seminary:
The Poverty Initiative’s mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor. http://www.povertyinitiative.org/

PICTURE THE HOMELESS is an organization founded on the principle that in order to end homelessness, people who are homeless must become an organized, effective voice for systemic change. We have a track record of developing leadership among homeless people to impact policies and systems that affect their lives and our efforts have created space for homeless people, and their agenda, within the broader social justice movement. http://picturethehomeless.org/

The Media Mobilizing Project (MMP) exists to build the media and communications infrastructure for a movement to end poverty, led by poor and working people, united across color lines. http://mediamobilizing.org/

NATIONAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS INITIATIVE:
In partnership with communities, NESRI works to build a broad movement for economic & social rights, including health, housing, education and work with dignity. Based on the principle that fundamental human needs create human rights obligations on the part of government and the private sector, NESRI advocates for public policies that guarantee the universal and equitable fulfillment of these rights in the United States. http://nesri.org/

IN SOUTH AFRICA:

SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS INSTITUTE OF SOUTH AFRICA (SERI) is a non-profit organization providing professional, dedicated and expert socio-economic rights assistance to individuals, communities and social movements in South Africa. SERI conducts research, engages with government, advocates for policy and legal reform, facilitates civil society coordination and mobilization, and litigates in the public interest. http://seri-sa.org/index.php

IN THE UNITED KINGDOM:

WAR ON WANT is a brilliant voice for ending forced evictions and fighting poverty. They work in partnership with grassroots organizations around the world, and have for years supported Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa. To get involved, visit http://www.waronwant.org/

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:
Amnesty International has a campaign dedicated to ending forced evictions in Africa. Learn more at: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=11180#map

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The Politic of Human Dignity
Presented by Lindela Figlan at the Anarchist Bookfair, London, 24 October 2012

The meaning of dignity is often misunderstood. Many people only think of dignity in relation to the economic status of those who are better off. This is understood to mean that a person with no money is taken as a person whose life and voice does not count and is therefore a person with no dignity. It is also understood that a person with money does count and is therefore a person with dignity. But no amount of money can buy dignity.

Money can buy many things. With money you can live in a house that will not be demolished without warning, that does not leak in the rain, that has water, toilets and electricity. With money you can even give your children their own rooms. With money you can buy your children education and know that if they fall sick or meet with an accident they well be well looked after.

But money does not buy dignity because to be a person with dignity you must recognise the dignity of others. No person is a complete person on their own, that is without others. In isiZulu we say “umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu”. This means that a person is a person because of other people. Rich people are always demanding that other people show respect to them just because they are rich. They are always forcing us to show respect to them. The politicians are the same. But there is no dignity in forcing other people to show respect to you. There is dignity in respecting the humanity of others and in being respected back.

As poor people we do not live in dignified conditions. In fact when it rains we live like pigs in the mud. Our shacks are always burning. We do not have toilets. We are disrespected by politicians and, when we have work, we are disrespected at work. Security guards and domestic workers are often treated as if we are not fully human. Sometimes we are also disrespected by NGOs, academics and other people that think that they have a right to lead the struggles of the poor and who get very angry when we explain that for us solidarity must be based on talking to us and not for us and thinking and deciding with us and not for us.

But poor as we are we achieve our own dignity. Some people achieve dignity in their churches. Some achieve dignity through culture, in something like a choir. And we achieve dignity in the togetherness of our struggle. Our struggle is a space of dignity. Here we can express our suffering, we can think together and we can support each other. Our struggle is also a tool to fight for a world in which our dignity, and the dignity of all people, is recognised. Our struggle gives us dignity now and it also aims to create a work in which land, wealth and political power are shared amongst the people.

S’bu Zikode first called this a living communism, a communism that is fully in the hands of the people. Therefore our struggle is based on the idea that defending our dignity now is the best way to create a world that respects everyone’s dignity in the future.

Our struggle is a living politic. It is a politic that everyone can understand and which is owned and shaped by the people. It is rooted in our lives as we live them everyday. We do not see politics as something that should be left to political experts or dominated by political experts.

Before Abahlali baseMjondolo was formed the shack dwellers in South Africa were considered by government and some other people in our society, people in NGOs, universities and the media, to be the undeserving poor. This claim came as the result of the perception that the poor are lazy, uneducated and people who do not think and therefore do not count the same as other human beings.

The general public, civil society and the media could not defend the poor against this indignity. The media had little or nothing to report on anything that surrounds shack dwellers, be it good or bad, that considered us as human beings or citizens. We were mostly seen as a threat to society – as a problem to be controlled. When shacks were on fire radios and televisions would not air or broadcast this. On the other side the state would refuse any provision of basic services to the shack settlements or to engage us as citizens. We were always considered as people who cannot think for ourselves. Someone from somewhere else would always be hired and paid to think for us, to represent us and to take decisions on our behalf. This was the state mentality towards the poor. It was also the mentality of most NGOs and of most of civil society. It has also been the mentality of what we have called the regressive left – that part of the left that thinks that its job is to think for the poor rather than with the poor and that tries by all means, including calling us criminals and supporting state propaganda and repression, to ruin what it cannot rule.

The rights that we have on paper were always refused in reality. This included our rights as citizens, our rights to the cities and our rights to respect and dignity. Whenever we asked for our rights to be respected, for our humanity to be recognised, we were presented as troublemakers, as people that were being used by others, or as criminals. Our request to participate in the discussions about our own lives was taken as a threat. It is important that everyone understands that in this regard civil society and the left was often no different to the state.

Abahlali has been organising and mobilising to build the power of the poor from below. We do not organise people. We organise ourselves. When people want to join our movement we explain that they must organise ourselves and that we will struggle with them and not for them. We ask them to think about this seriously, to discuss it with their neighbours and, if they accept that we will only struggle with them and not for them, then we welcome them into the movement. It can take a long time to join our movement. You must understand it well and you must be serious.

We do not support any political parties or vote in elections. Politicians are always using the people’s suffering and struggles as ladders to build their own power. We have therefore decided that we will not keep on giving our power away. We build our own power in our communities and encourage people to also build their own power where they work, study and pray. Where possible we govern our own communities ourselves.

Our struggle started when we rejected the authority of the ward councillors and decided to represent ourselves. Today a new struggle is starting as workers on the mines reject the authority of the trade unions and represent themselves. We are hoping that the struggles in the shacks and on the mines and in other work places can come together. But struggle is very dangerous. As the poor, in the shacks and working in the mines, we are not allowed to think and act for ourselves. It is seen as criminal, even as treason.

We have learnt that this order is one that cannot respect our humanity. In fact this order is based on our exploitation and exclusion. This order is designed to oppress us. Therefore we have understood that, as Mnikelo Ndabankulu first said, it is good to be out of order. We are not loyal to this order. We are loyal to our human dignity and to the human dignity of others and when that requires us to be out of order we are prepared to be out of order.

We have dedicated a lot of our energy in building a University of Abahlali where we can discuss and learn together. Here we educate ourselves to refuse to be co-opted into a system that promotes the indignity of others. We educate ourselves to refuse to be shaken by the politic of fear created by the political parties and the police. In 2009 our movement was attacked in Kennedy Road and in Pemary Ridge. Many of us lost everything and had to flee. Some of us had to go underground. This attack was aimed at destroying our movement. A senior politician by the name of Willes Mchunu said that a decision had been taken to ‘disband’ our movement. However we are still here. We continue to exist and to struggle in the province where warlordism and assassination is the order of the day. We continue to try to make sure that the poor remain permanently organised and strong. This has helped us to build a strong voice for the movement. As a result of the power that we have built from the ground up we have been able to speak for ourselves in many spaces that were previously barred to us. For us it is important that, just as we occupy land in the cities, we must also occupy our own space in all discussions. This is the only way that we can take our struggle out of the shacks and into spaces from which the poor have been excluded. Of course this requires us to break the protocols that maintain power in certain circles by depriving others an equal chance to participate in these circles.

Today, as a result of our struggle and the struggles of other poor people, we see a slow shift away from seeing shack settlements as something to be bulldozed without any sense that there are human lives in these places. There is now recognition that there are human lives in the shacks. We have stopped evictions in many settlements. In some settlements we have won agreements to upgrade these settlements with proper services and houses instead of forcibly removing people to the human dumping grounds called transit camps. Basic services such as water and sanitation, refuse collection, road access, electricity etc which were being denied to us are now being rolled out. In Durban the eThekwini Municipality long had a policy that forbids electrification of any shack settlement in the city. The result of this is constant fires. Today this killer electricity policy is under review and a pilot project to roll electricity in some four settlements has begun. To survive day by day these services are needed and they are important steps on the road to winning material conditions that accord with human dignity. To talk about an equal and a just society without land, houses and services for all is bizarre. This progress has come through the years of struggle and the power of the organized poor. Of course we still have a very long road to go. And with state repression getting worse all the time that road is a dangerous one.

As repression gets worse solidarity becomes more and more important. We see the role of NGOs and progressive forces being to support and strengthen the work of what we call our amabhuto and the NGOs call social movements – to work with our movements in a way that respects our autonomy. We urge the NGOs to be responsive and to learn from those who are struggling about the best way to support them without assuming that we need to be given political direction or creating the dependency syndrome. In order to do so you will have to familiarise with the practices of the movements. War on Want and the Church Land Programme are some of the very few organisations that have demonstrated this culture over years. They have had to revisit their strategic planning and to remove the red tape that prevented them from being able to offer effective support when comrades are in jail and in need of lawyers, bail money or facing death threats and in need of safe homes. They have not wasted our time with donor requirements and protocols that sometimes undermine and compromise our struggles. They have never tried to impose their own agendas on our struggles. They have understood that the struggle for human dignity is often criminalised. They have understood that they oppressed have every right to lead their own struggles.

We know that here in Britain the working class and the poor are being made to pay the price for the greed of the rich. We know that you are under attack from a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. We know that you are resisting. We are in solidarity with you and with your struggles. If there are ways that we can support you please let us know. You are all welcome to visit us in South Africa. There are some ways in which are struggles are very different. But we face a common enemy in the form of the system that is known as capitalism.

http://www.abahlali.org

Sekwanele!
No House! No Land! No Vote!
Everyone Counts

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More than a decade after apartheid ended millions of South Africans still live in basic home-made shacks. We hear from the inhabitants as they eloquently argue their case for real citizenship rights. 

The shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, began in 2005. Their slogan is ‘Talk to us, not about us.’ ‘It’s not that people like to live in shacks. No one will ever want to live in these conditions but they need to be close to their work’ explains S’bu Zikode, Abahlali’s elected leader. However, the group has not been welcomed by the ANC. They’ve been met with aggression rather than with negotiations. Police shot Mariet Kikine with six rubber bullets at a peaceful demonstration. ‘I’m not stopping to fight the government for my rights. Now they’ve made me brave.’ In the build-up to the 2010 soccer World Cup, Durban shack dwellers fear they will be bulldozed out of the city, or arrested. ‘This new legislation makes it a crime to build shacks or resist demolition and eviction.’ But the shack dwellers are determined not to give up.

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Editor’s Note. Thanks to the Reclaiming Spaces mailing list and Mute Magazine for the heads-up, links to the videos, and the text of Mr. Figlan’s speech.

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Filed under activism, film and video, interviews, urban movements (right to the city)

South Africa: No Easy Path Through the Embers

Richard Pithouse
No Easy Path Through the Embers

In Texaco, his novel about the history of a shack settlement in Martinique, Patrick Chamoiseau writes of a “proletariat without factories, workshops, and work, and without bosses, in the muddle of odd jobs, drowning in survival and leading an existence like a path through embers.” But Texaco is also a novel of struggle, of struggle with the “persistence of Sisyphus” – struggle to hold a soul together in the face of relentless destruction amidst a “disaster of asbestos, tin sheets crates, mud tears, blood, police.” Texaco is a novel of barricades, police and fire, a struggle to “call forth the poet in the urban planner”, a struggle to “enter City.” It’s about the need to “hold on, hold on, and moor the bottom of the your heart in the sand of deep freedom.”

The shacks that ring the towns and cities of the global South are a concrete instantiation of both the long catastrophe of colonialism and neocolonial ‘development’ and the human will to survive and to hope to overcome. To step into the shack settlement is often to step into the void. This is not, as is so often assumed, because a different type of person finds that the tides of history have washed her into a shack settlement. It is because the shack settlement does not fully belong to society as it is authorised by the law, the media and civil society. It is therefore an unstable element of the situation. Its meaning is not entirely fixed.

The crack in the settled order of things and the official allocation of people to space created by the shack settlement has often enabled the politics of clientelism, violent state repression and criminal organisation that make any emancipatory politics impossible. It has also enabled the outright fascism of the Shiv Sena in India. But that is not the whole story. The shack settlement has also enabled what has been called the quiet encroachment of the poor in Iran and a set of insurgent political experiments in places like Haiti, Venezuela and Bolivia.

In South Africa the shack settlement has emerged as the central site in the wave of popular protest that began at the turn of century and gathered real momentum since 2004. A number of the poor people’s movements that have emerged from this popular political ferment have had a considerable part of their base in shack settlements. The largest of these movements is Abahlali baseMjondolo [People who live in the shacks] which was formed in 2005 and has opposed evictions, organised around issues like school fees and shack fires, challenged the state’s attempt to roll back legal gains for the urban poor and become a compelling presence in the national debate.

The intensity of the shack settlement as a political site – be it of an assertion of equal humanity, a demand for the right to the city or xenophobic or homophobic violence – has made it a highly contested space. This is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary it was also the case in the 1980s, the 1950s and the 1930s. The difference is that in the past when a certain political intensity cohered around the shack settlement it could always be read, even if a little gingerly, as the bubbling base of a national struggle, as its urban spearhead. That’s no longer the case. These days the struggle for the cities, the struggle for inclusion, is, plainly, ranged against national elites and their version of nationalism as much as the older enemies of urban planning as a poetry for all.

The illegality with which the state has routinely acted against the shack settlement in post-apartheid South Africa is well documented. The violence, the brute physical violence, mobilised against the shack settlement by the formal armed forces available to the state – the police, land invasion units and municipal and private security guards – is equally well documented. What has been a lot less well documented is the turn by the ANC toward the mobilisation of state-sanctioned horizontal violence against independent popular organisation. It has happened to the Landless People’s Movement on the Eastern fringes of Johannesburg and it has happened in Durban, a port city on the country’s East coast.

At around 10:30 on the evening of the 26th of September 2009 a group of armed men, around a hundred, many of them clearly drunk, began moving through the thousands of shacks in the Kennedy Road shack settlement in Durban. They knocked on some doors and kicked others in. They identified themselves as ANC supporters and as Zulus and made it plain that their enemies were leading members of Abahlali baseMjondolo who they described as Pondos, a Xhosa speaking ethnic minority in the city. They demanded that some men join them and assaulted others. Those who refused to join them were also assaulted. The entirely false conflation of Abahlali baseMjondolo, an organisation that is admirably diverse at all levels, with an ethnic minority emerged out of an attempt to cast the organisation as a front for COPE, the political party formed by a walk out from the ANC when Jacob Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as the organisation’s President. In Durban this split was often read in ethnic terms. Zuma has to take some responsibility for this himself. His campaign for the Presidency of the ANC and then the country was often presented in crudely ethnic terms.

As the attackers continued their rampage through the settlement the conflation of Abahlali baseMjondolo with an ethnic minority resulted in violence that was both politically and ethnically organised. The police, usually ready to swoop on shack dwellers in spectacular fashion at a moment’s notice, failed to respond to numerous, constant and desperate calls for help. Most of the people under immediate threat hid or fled but as the night wore on some people tried to defend themselves. At times this was organised in terms of a defensive ethnic solidarity. By the next morning two people were dead and others were seriously injured. One, who died with his gun in his hands, had been one of the leaders of the attack. The homes of the elected local committee, affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo, and a number of other prominent people had been destroyed and looted.

The ANC, which usually responds to the crisis of urban poverty with an unconscionable lethargy, moved into action with remarkable swiftness. The local ANC sized control of the settlement from the elected structures that had governed it. The provincial ANC organised an Orwellian media circus in the settlement where ANC members from elsewhere pretended to be ‘the community’. Wild and patently untrue allegations were made about Abahlali baseMjondolo. The Provincial Minister for Safety and Security, Willies Mchunu, and the Provincial Police Commissioner, Hamilton Ngidi, issued a statement declaring that the settlement had been ‘liberated’.  People without ANC cards were excluded from public life in the settlement and death threats were openly made against a number of activists with the result that Abahlali baseMjondolo was effectively banned in the settlement. Thirteen people, all Xhosa speaking and all linked, in various ways, to Abahlali baseMjondolo were pointed out by the local ANC as being responsible for the violence and were arrested and charged with an astonishing array of crimes including murder.

At least a thousand people had to flee the settlement. More than fifty people and the previously public activities of a whole movement with more than 10 000 paid up members had to go underground. Abahlali baseMjondolo issued a widely supported call for a judicial commission of inquiry that would carefully examine all aspects of the violence in the settlement but this was ignored. Instead the provincial government set up a high level task team to investigate what it called ‘criminality’. In a series of thundering press statements Willies Mchunu sought to present Abahlali baseMjondolo as a criminal organisation. “Let us not”, he insisted, “give crime fancy names, criminals are exactly that criminals – and they must be treated as such.” He declared that “I hate criminals” and called for communities to compile lists of ‘criminals’. Mchunu’s task team began its work by summarily announcing that “The structure that is called Abahlali Base Mjondolo be dissolved” and then proceeded to invest its energies in trying to frame the men that had been arrested after the attack while allowing the open demolition and looting of the homes of Abahlali baseMjondolo activists to continue for months without consequence.

 At the bail hearings of the men arrested after the attack ANC supporters, some armed, came to court hearings where public death threats were openly issued. The bail hearings were carried out in a way that was patently politicised and patently illegal. The accused, who became known as the ‘Kennedy 12’ after charges were withdrawn against one of them, were severely assaulted in prison.

The attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo didn’t come out of nowhere. There had been an ANC meeting at the settlement at which it was said that S’bu Zikode, the national President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, had to be ‘chased from the area’ because ‘the ANC couldn’t perform as it wanted’. At the ANC Regional General Conference, a week before the attack, the chairperson of the ANC in Durban, the late and deservedly notorious John Mchunu, warned against “Counter revolutionaries […] colluding with one mission to weaken the ANC and its Alliance.” Under the heading of “CRIMINAL” his speech referred to Abahlali baseMjondolo as: “The element of these NGO who are funded by the West to destabilise us, these elements use all forms of media and poor people [sic].” Before that there had been extremely violent assaults on S’bu Zikode and Lindela Figlan, the chairperson of the Kennedy Road Development Committee. Mzonke Poni, the chairperson of the movement in Cape Town, had also been attacked.

State hostility to the movement had ebbed and flowed over the years but had always been present and had always taken the form of paranoid delusions about conspiracy and external manipulation.

The entirely prejudicial assumption that poor people could not possibly organise themselves or think and speak for themselves was endemic. Activists were regularly arrested on plainly spurious grounds, marches were unlawfully banned and savagely attacked by the police. There was systemic misuse of the criminal justice system to harass activists and divert the movement’s attention to endless court cases. More than a hundred people were arrested over the years on plainly trumped up charges which were then dropped just before the cases were scheduled to go to trial. The sole conviction achieved by the state after all these arrests was when Philani Zungu admitted to having illegally connected shacks to the electricity grid.

There is currently an Amnesty International supported civil case pending against the police after S’bu Zikode, the President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, and Philani Zungu, the then Deputy President of the movement, were arrested while on their way to a radio interview in 2006 and severely beaten in police custody. In some settlements local ANC leaders deployed armed force to prevent Abahlali baseMjondolo from organising and it was not uncommon for people to have to show ANC party cards, and to publicly affirm their loyalty to the party, to access what development was available in the shacks.

A degree of popular hostility to the movement first emerged in Durban during Jacob Zuma’s election campaign for the Presidency of the ANC during which the movement was criticised for its cosmopolitan nature and, in particular, for having Indian and Xhosa speaking members in prominent positions. The movement, which had long been attacked as an ANC front in areas controlled by the Zulu nationalist party, the IFP, and which has always refused party politics and boycotted elections, was declared to be a front for COPE. In the lead up to the attacks ethnic sentiment was tied to the interests of the business class in the settlement and both were channelled through the local ANC. The ANC habitually channels development through the networks of patronage organised through local party structures and some of the local business class people had an eye on the coming upgrade of the settlement negotiated by Abahlali baseMjondolo after years of struggle. Others were angered by the decision, reached democratically, to regulate the opening hours of the bars in the settlement.

The attack on Kennedy Road was not the end of the repression confronted by the movement. On the 14th of November that year the police attacked the nearby Pemary Ridge settlement, also affiliated to Abahlali baseMjondolo, kicking in doors, beating people and firing live rounds into the home of Philani Zungu. Thirteen people were arrested and fifteen were left injured. All charges were eventually dropped against the thirteen. The police have never had to account for the injuries to the fifteen.

On the 18th of July, which is Nelson Mandela’s birthday, an event in which the state and corporate power invest with equal enthusiasm, the case against the Kennedy 12 was thrown out of court. No credible evidence had been brought against any of the accused on any charge and crystal clear evidence had emerged of the state’s attempt to frame the men.  Witnesses contradicted their original statements and each other and some freely admitted that the police had told them who to point out in the line-up. Credible testimony was given that statements to the police had been concocted by the police. One witness admitted that she was lying and others were obviously lying. One witness said that she had been told to give false evidence but that she would not do so. She was subject to death threats and was attacked in her home and only saved by the quick reaction of her neighbours.  Another witness, a police officer, gave credible testimony that confirmed, in important respects, the Abahlali baseMjondolo account of events including the fact that the violence in the settlement was an attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo by the ANC and not, as the state had claimed, that other way around. The state could not find, with both bribery and intimidation in its arsenal, a single witnesses to credibly attest to the veracity of the avalanche of propaganda issued by the ANC in the wake of the attacks. The judge made some very strong comments from the bench about the extremely dubious manner in which the case had been investigated and the obvious dishonesty on the part of the witnesses that stuck to the ANC line.

The ANC continues to deny, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, that its members organised the attack. Hopefully the civil case that Abahlali baseMjondolo is bringing against the police will allow some of that evidence to be tested in court. But the ANC cannot deny that violence was used to drive key activists from their homes, that their homes were openly destroyed and looted, and that death threats were openly issued against activists without any sanction from the police. There is now a court record that shows clearly that the police investigation into the attack was a failed attempt to frame people linked to a social movement rather than an attempt to mount a fair investigation into the violence that began to occur in the Kennedy Road shack settlement in September 2009. The ANC is also in no position to deny that its leading officials presented the largest social movement in the country as a criminal organisation without a shred of evidence to this effect, issued no statement of opposition to the violence and extreme intimidation directed against the leading activists in the movement and sought to summarily disband it by decree. The time when it made sense to consider the ANC as a democratic organisation has, clearly, passed. The path through the embers will not be an easy one in South Africa. It is time for all of us committed to the idea that democracy must be for all of us to moor ourselves, firmly, in the sands of freedom.

Richard Pithouse teaches politics at Rhodes University in South Africa. He works closely with a number of social movements in South Africa.

An earlier version of this essay was posted on the Reclaiming Spaces mailing list, to whose organizers and moderators we express our gratitude. This version of the essay is published here with the author’s kind permission.

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Filed under activism, political repression, urban movements (right to the city)