Cape Town, 18 November 2009
by Mnikelo Ndabankulu, Abahlali baseMjondolo
We Want the Full Loaf (not just a child support grant)
The Slums Act
The Slums Act first came to our ears as a Bill in 2006. The information about this Bill came to us indirectly through our sources.
It was clear that we needed to discuss this Bill as Abahlali. M'du Hlongwa and I both went to the Government Communications to ask a copy. We had two copies and we shared these copies and we analysed the Bill. We had a number of meetings where we read the Bill together going one line by one line.
Before we could get into the Bill the name of the Bill was already frustrating us as it talked about shack settlements as 'Slums'. Yes our communities are under developed and they need development. That is obvious. But they are not 'slums'. A slum is a place where there there is nothing good, where there is no survival. We immediately thought that it is wrong to call our communities 'slums'. We immediately thought that the government must recognise that our settlements are communities – communities that are underdeveloped due to neglect by the government - and that they need to be developed by that same government. They need to be made formal – not to be eradicated.
When we got into the Bill we found that it contradicts with the Constitution. It was taking away the small rights that the shack dwellers have. PIE protects us against evictions. Section 26 of the Constitution protects us against evictions. Not all evictions can be stopped with PIE and Section 26 but most can be stopped because almost all evictions are illegal.
We were not impressed that while we were having little rights these little rights were now being taken away from us. This Bill was taking us from little to nothing.
This Bill was making it a criminal offence to resist evictions whereas the Constitution allows us to resist. This Bill would mandate five years in prison or a R20 000 fine for resisting an eviction. No shack dweller can afford R20 000. If you are arrested and jailed for raising your concern about your right to keep living where you are you are then you are not living in a democracy. Nobody in their sober senses would just fold their arms, clap their hands or ululate while their home is destroyed. Therefore this Bill would make all shack dwellers to be criminals.
We saw that the Bill would also be an attack on backyard dwellers, on those who have utilised unused formal houses. The Bill was putting too much pressures on the owners of unused land and vacant houses that had been occupied to get rid of people. It was forcing the land and house owners to evict people. One clause said that landowners must make sure that their land is protected by fences and security personnel. Not all landowners are happy that we have occupied their land but they were forced by the Constitution to accept our occupation.
At that time we were already being evicted by the Municipality but those evictions were illegal. We were having good success in stopping them by going to court. We saw that this Act would give the Municipality a stand to justify their evictions – to make what was illegal become legal.
At that time the Municipality was already taking people to transit camps. We had already discovered that they are very, very bad compared to the structures that we have built ourselves. They are very bad compared to the communities that we have made ourselves. The transit camps are built in a train style. There is one wall to separate you from your neighbour. If he is a drunkard you will suffer too. People are very badly affected.
The Bill wanted to make transit camps lawful and to force our eviction to these camps. It did not specify where the transit camps would be. You might be here in Sydenham but find that you are taken to Chatsworth, to a place that you don't know. Forced removals destabilise workers, schoolers and congregants.
When we settled in these areas, when we chose these areas those areas that the government is planning to force us to were there too. But those areas were last on our list. In fact they were not even on our list. Chatsworth and Verulum were always there but we didn't choose them for a reason, for a good reason. We will always reject any programme of reruralisation.
For all these reasons we nicknamed the Slums Bill as the South African Operation Murambatsvina.
We saw that our citizenship would expire as soon as this Bill was passed.
We decided to tell the government that on the analysis of the organised poor this Bill was anti-poor. We decided to tell the government that they must implement their Breaking New Ground policy because it is more pro-poor.
Our opposition to the Bill was widely known. The government had to have a public hearing and they decided to have it at Kennedy Road so that they could say that we had agreed to it. Lennox Mabaso [at the time the spokesperson for the then MEC for Housing in the Province, Mike Mabuyakhulu] sms'd [S'bu] Zikode to say that they were coming to Kennedy. The day of the hearing came. They first sent a police helicopter. It was flying very low over the settlement from early in the morning. Then they sent in many, many police. Then ANC and SANCO supporters came in Municipal buses. Then the the politicians came in a long line of big cars.
The ANC and SANCO supporters were told that they were being taken to register for houses. For this reason the government's own supporters were very frustrated at being told one thing while in fact the agenda for the meeting was different.
Only Abahlali could contest the government officials because we were the only ones that had read the Bill. But the protocol was very strict. You were only allowed to speak if you could quote from a sub-section of the Bill first but they didn't give copies of the Bill to anyone.
The reason why the Municipality could pass its electricity policy in 2001 that denies electricity to shack dwellers and condemns us to fire is that in those days there were no vocal organisations like Abahlali. Without Abahlali the Slums Act would have walked free.
We criticised the Bill very heavily that day despite their attempts to suppress us with protocol. One politician invited us to parliament to debate the Bill there. We went there, to Pietermaritzburg. When we got there we found Mabuyakhulu reading the Bill like a Pastor in church. There was no opportunity for questions. Then we were told to go out for lunch and that we could debate the Bill after lunch. But when we came back in they just said that the Act is passed and everyone clapped. The opposition parties were not interested and did not oppose the Bill. Immediately the media were phoning us and asking for comment. We were still waiting for the debate and were caught by surprise.
We walked out of the parliament and we told our comrades what had happened. It was decided to call our legal experts. We put our proposal on the table which was that they should take this Act to court because it was violating the Constitution. They listed to us and said that they would check if this was a winnable battle and then report back to us. They reported that the battle was winnable and we filed the papers.
At first it was proposed that Judge Nicholson would hear the case. But at the last minute Judge Vuka Tshabalala decided to take the case. We wondered about the independence of the judicial system. We know that he is a big comrade of the ruling party.
At the Durban High Court the lawyers of the government presented their side of the story. Vuka Tshabalala listened well and even encouraged them from time to time. When it come to the turn of our lawyers to speak Vuka Tshabalala would attack our lawyers. He wouldn't listen and he wouldn't let them speak. Sometimes he would sleep for 20 minutes. Once he took the last sip of water from his glass, fell asleep, then woke up and tried to drink the same water again. Even the man who says 'Silence in the Court' laughed. A man who had to take a serious decision on people's lives slept in the court. We were not happy. That is why we called him Lala Tshabalala.
Once the decision came that we had lost the battle the government were too excited talking everywhere about a 'landmark decision'. We told our members that they mustn't worry. That they must wait and see who will have the last laugh. We told our people we had options – the court of appeal or the Constitutional Court. We decided to go to the Constitutional Court – straight to the Cup Final.
We filed our papers and we went to the Constitutional Court. We went to the court in two buses and a taxi. We travelled the whole night. When we arrived there the way that we were treated made us feel that we are still citizens of this nation. We were given water. There were video screens for those who could not fit into the court. Our own independent media were allowed into the court with their cameras. We were happy with the way that the judges attacked both legal teams. It was very fair. And our lawyers could respond very well to all the questions from the judges. The government lawyers could not respond to all the questions. They even moved out before the hearing was over. They were already surrendering because they could feel the heat. On the basis of our own assesment of the court proceedings we were confident that we would be enjoying a victory. Everybody was confident. The Mail & Guardian wrote an article called 'Shack dwellers' victory bus'.
We were told to wait for three months. Three months came and we heard nothing. We kept on discussing. We were concerned that Pius Langa was retiring. Personally I expected Dikgang Moseneke to take over as it was clear that he is the best judge. But Sandile Ngcobo was appointed. I was worried. I don't call him a judge. I call him a comrade judge [a comrade of the ANC]. We were worried that comrade judges would not be ready to embarrass their comrades.
But when we were called back to the court Langa, Moseneke and Ngcobo were all there. The judgment was overdue but the result was great for Abahlali. We were not surprised. We expected victory because we knew that on this matter the Constitution was on our side. If we had lost we were going to just burn the constitution document outside the court.
Section 16 was found inconsistent with the Constitution. This was also our analysis at the very beginning. The government was told to pay all legal costs. The costs were around R250 000. I wished that the money could come from the salaries of Mabuyakhulu, Mabaso and [then Minister of Housing Lindiwe] Sisulu who all endorsed the Act and congratulated themselves so highly after Lala Tshabalala's judgment.
The perpetrators should suffer - not the people who pay their taxes to the state. That money is the people's money.
It was not just an Abahlali victory. It was a national victory as all provinces were planning similar Acts.
We will always appreciate those church leaders, academics, legal experts and activists that stood on our side during the darkness of this Act through to the brightness of our victory. We will always salute these people.
A few weeks after our court victory against the Slums Act we made a big celebration in the Richmond Farm transit camp where victims of the Act have been staying in a tin town. We buried these kinds of communities when we buried the Slums Act and so we had to celebrate our victory with the victims of this Act. We couldn't take the Constitutional Court to the people but we could take the celebration to the people.
The Kennedy Road Attacks
The Kennedy Road attacks puts the faith of the democracy of the Republic of South Africa on a water bridge. We can't guarantee the reality of the theoretical democracy that we are told that we are living in.
We do know for a fact that the attacks on the Abahlali office, the KRDC [Kennedy Road Development Committee] members and the Abahlali leaders living in Kennedy Road were planned by the ruling party.
It is a fact that since Abahlali commenced in 2005 the ruling party and the local ANC activists at ward level couldn't get hold of the Kennedy Road community.
Many people, including ruling party members, had to dance to the Abahlali tune because it was meaningful to the people – even to them. Abahlali was speaking about their real concerns – about water, electricity, houses, land and the right to remain in the city. The political party resolutions are always too far from the people. Abahlali was of the people, by the people and for the people and therefore always very close to the people. The politics of land and housing is a living politics. It is a people's politics and the people knew exactly what they were fighting for.
Councillor Baig was not happy with the success of Abahlali and the failure of his party's reputation. In 2005 Obed Mlaba said 'never mind about the mushrooming movement it will be nowhere to be found after the elections.' Four years later we were much stronger. We were not a mushroom but a big river that gets stronger as it gets closer to the sea.
The government was forced to sit down with us and to make meaningful engagement. In the end we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide services to 14 settlements and to upgrade three where they were via Breaking New Ground. It was a historic breakthrough.
But then the Slums Act victory made some politicians to be very angry. We were the first community organisation in KZN to take the government to the Constitutional Court. Questions remained in the party: “Who do these people think they are?”. It was decided that: “They must be sorted out!”.
A strategy was made to make the people in Kennedy Road to fight each other. Most of the KRDC have lived in Kennedy Road for twenty years or longer. They were all elected. Everyone who is elected can be recalled if there is a problem by making an emergency AGM and holding new elections. But someone came and told some people that the elected committee, their neighbours, were now people that must be killed.
We feel very sorry for people who can be used in this way – people who don't know who their real enemy is. The ANC were prepared to participate in any project to destroy Abahlali and to teach its leaders a lesson. In the end the project that they chose was a Pondo/Zulu tribal war.
Zulufication was inspired by Polokwane and the mobilisation for a 100% Zulu boy. Many people were happy with this. These people started to label those Zulus who didn't support Zulufication as spies or sell outs. They prepared for a political war between COPE and the ANC. All targetted people were called COPE. All independent movements, like Abahlali, were labelled as COPE so that they could be attacked.
And the decision by the Safety & Security Committee to make ten o'clock the closing time on the shebeens – a decision take to reduce tribal tensions that are escalated by alcohol abuse, gave the ANC the opportunity to mobilise the shebeen owners against the KRDC. They were very strategic to make the shebeen owners to support their attack. The sheebeen owners fought against the community for their own interests. But the question of shebeen closing times was not the real issue.
The real politics is clearly revealed in the fact that Pres [S'bu Zikode] and Vice [Mashumi Figlan] have never been members of the Safety & Security Committee and they were also attacked.
And anyone who was not happy with the Safety & Security Committee could have requested a quick AGM to elect a new committee. There was no reason to kill the volunteers. Why didn't they elect a new committee? It is because they were making a political attack.
The Drop-in-Centre served thousands of people with Aids and other sick people too. It is not operating any more. The crèche was operating on behalf of parents so that their children would be safe and educated while they were at work. It is not operating any more. The hall is not being looked after any more. There is long grass growing around it now. There could be snakes and other wild reptiles there. The library is gone.
After the attack the ANC said that it was not right that people had to go through the KRDC to get the hall for marriages and funerals. They were forgetting that the KRDC was elected every year and that they must maintain and clean and secure the hall. They must fix the broken windows, cut the grass, buy cleaning equipment and get paint and chairs. There is nothing wrong with asking people to make a small payment to use the hall for marriages and funerals. This is where the KRDC got the money to run the hall so that it was kept in a good condition for the whole community.
The really killers are left free and their victims are in jail. The Kennedy 13 are the same people whose houses were vandalised. The house of Zikode was demolished after the Kennedy Road 13 were arrested. The really perpetrators were never arrested.
As soon as Abahlali was chased out the ruling party moved in and launched its own committee. That fact shows clearly that the target was for the ruling party to take over Kennedy Road. That was the ultimate goal. They will regret what they have done when the truth comes out through the independent enquiry that we are calling for. We are confident that the truth will be revealed in this enquiry.
Now the police have attacked our people in Pemary Ridge. The police will always attack us when they think that we are weak. They will only respect us when they can see that we are strong. They take shack dwellers as nothing. We are their playground.
After the attacks in Kennedy Road there was solidarity from many organisations, NGOs and activists. They all condemned the attacks. But my evaluation shows that international solidarity is more than local solidarity. We are not forgetting the efforts of the the church leaders who have gone to court with us, the students that have picketed, the academics that have signed petitions. We really appreciate their support and we won't forget it. But these efforts are still less than the international solidarity. Our international friends picketed South African embassies in England, in New Zealand and in America.
So we call on those people who claim to be pro-poor to act pro-poor. We call on local activists and organisations to take a stand. In a situation like the one that we are in now everyone must make their choice and stick with it. You are either on the side of the oppressed or you are on the side of the oppressors. You are either with the government or you are with the people. We do not like people who will not take a side. Everyone must take a side.
We appreciate solidarity and we would appreciate support to continue to us and to other oppressed organisations.
The Full Loaf
We have taken one victory and suffered one defeat. But we will keep going. No one ever said that struggle is easy.
We have always been clear about our struggle. Every person is a person and every person must count the same. This is obvious. But we do not count. Therefore we have to be out of the order that oppresses us. We have to rebel. Everyone must have the full loaf of bread that each person needs to live well. Service delivery is just trying to keep the people happy with one slice of bread when in fact a person needs the whole loaf. It is the same with human rights. Having the human right to a house is not the same as having a house. Of course if you don't have any bread then you must struggle for that one slice. But our struggle does not stop there. After you have won one slice you struggle for the next slice up until you have the whole loaf. Only then can you relax. Our struggle is not only for service delivery or human rights. Our struggle is for the full loaf. It is important that this is clear to everybody.