5 January 2012
Unemployed People’s Movement Press Statement
Our movement has been approached by Mr. Velile Ben Mafani. He informed us that tomorrow he will throw three stones, one white, one black, and one red, through the window of the High Court in Grahamstown. He will tie a letter stating his demands around the stones.
Mr Mafani was born in a shack settlement in Coega, just outside Port Elizabeth two days after Christmas in 1953. His parents worked on nearby farms, bought and sold produce from the farms and his mother worked in kitchens. The apartheid system did not want black people living in their own places in the cities and in the 1970s they were threatened with forced removal to the Ciskei Bantustan which was a human dumping ground. Mr Mafani formed an organisation called ‘Operation Go Nowhere’ and they organised against the forced removal. But Piet Koornhof pressured them and their struggle was defeated. On the 15th of April 1979 the police and the bulldozers came. Mr Mafani was the first to be put inside a police van. The door was closed. He couldn’t see anything but he heard the screams as the shacks were destroyed and were people loaded up on to trucks like animals to be dumped in the Ciskei. People were told that there was a Court Order from the High Court in Grahamstown ordering their eviction. They were shown the paper but they were not allowed to read it.
Three thousand people from Coega were dumped in Glenmore, near Peddie. Today it is more than two hours by car from Coega. They lost their work, their cattle and their homes. They lost everything. Soon after their arrival in Glenmore 140 people, mainly children and old people, died. There were no funeral parlours and they couldn’t afford coffins so the dead were just wrapped in blankets and buried on the banks of the Fish River.
Since then Mr Mafani has never stopped challenging and struggling for justice. When democracy came he had high hopes that the new government would be willing to work with the people that have been forcibly removed from Coega to find a solution that would restore their dignity. Nothing was happening despite all his letters so in 1996 he want to the Legal Resources Centre for help. In 1997 he lodged a land claim. He has written letters to all kinds of people. He is approached the media for help. He has approached the premier, the Special Investigations Unit, the Public Protector and the SAPS. He has knocked on every door. He has many files with letters, affidavits, medical records, court records and all kinds of documents. He has a dvd that tells the story. But none of his efforts yielded any fruit.
In May 2004 he came to Grahamstown and threw three stones through the window of the High Court, the same High Court that ordered the Coega eviction in 1979. One was white to symbolise freedom, one was red to symbolise the people that died in Glenmore and were buried in blankets on the banks of the Fish River and one was black to symbolise that he will never accept being forced to live in a dark place. He was arrested on a charge of malicious damage to property and kept in the Waainek Prison in Grahamstown from 23 May till 2 September 2004. He was released without being sentenced after it was said by Dr. Dwyer that he ‘was mentally retarded and wouldn’t understand the charges’. Later Dr. Dwyer wrote a letter saying that after getting the background he realised that Mr. Mafani was not mentally ill and that he was fit to stand trail. Mr Mafani understands the charges perfectly well. The only thing that he doesn’t understand is why his community are still being treated like rubbish after democracy.
When we heard this story we were reminded of how Frantz Fanon resigned from the mental hospital in Algeria saying that it was the system, colonialism, and not his patients that were insane. It was this realisation that made him become a revolutionary fighting to destroy colonialism. It is the system, the madness of the system, a madness that continued from apartheid and into democracy, a madness that treats human beings like rubbish, that drove Mr Mafani to throw three stones through the window of the Grahamstown High Court in 2004.
He did it again in 2007 and again in 2008. Both times he was arrested, charged, found guilty and given a suspended sentence of five years. In 2008 his lawyer said that he must knock on the right door which was the Equality Court. He started the process but then the Premier intervened and said that the case was out of the jurisdiction of the Grahamstown court and so it must be moved to Peddie. He used his own money to start the process again in Peddie. He heard nothing for 5 months, then 8 months and then the case was just stopped without an explanation.
Tomorrow, at ten o’clock, he will do it again. He says that he has exhausted all the avenues that the system provides for people wishing to raise issues with the government without success. He says that he won’t run away after he has thrown the stones through the window. He will just stand there and wait for the police to come. He says that this problem is depressing him in his heart and that he can’t spend the last years of life writing letters that bring no result.
His demands are that:
1. The people evicted from Coega be allowed to return.
2. The government exhumes the bodies of the 140 people buried in blankets on the banks of the Fish River and gives them a dignified burial.
Mr Mafani says that Glenmore is a civic prison. He says that it is suitable for cows that stay thin and graze but that neither he nor any of the other people that were dumped there are cows and it is a terrible place for human beings. There has been huge development in Coega. More than a billion rand has been spent on development there. There is a new port and factories. Mr Mafani insists that the people forcibly removed from Coega in 1979 have a right to return to Coega, to live there and to work there. The ruling party are trying to isolate Mr Mafani in Glenmore. They are trying to isolate him and are calling him names. But his courage is not failing. He says that this is a struggle that he will follow till his last breath.
Under apartheid forced removals turned people and communities into rubbish to be dumped in far away places. Today poor people are still being forcibly removed from farms and cities. People and communities are still being turned into rubbish. As the UPM we are, together with our comrades in other movements like Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Landless People’s Movement and the Rural Network, determined to demand that the dignity of all people in South Africa is recognised. There must be justice for all past injustices and people must never again be treated like rubbish. As Abahlali baseMjondolo say everyone must count and everyone must count equally.
The UPM is willing to support the Glenmore community in their struggle and we are willing to raise this issue with our comrades in Students for Social Justice.
If any journalists are interested in this story Mr Mafani has detailed documentation of his long struggle for justice for the people evicted from Coega in 1979.
Mr Mafani can be contacted via: 078 625 6462