Kliptown 5 to be sentenced on Friday 13th March at Protea Magistrates Court

12 03 2009

Justice delayed is justice denied:

After 18 month-long trial, five community activists found guilty of public violence for daring to demand service delivery in Kliptown (Soweto)

On the 3rd September 2007 more than twenty community activists were arrested in community protests organised by the Anti Privatisation Forum against the slow or non-delivery of services in Soweto (Kliptown and Protea South). Fourteen comrades were arrested in Protea South though only four of those charged were taken to the Protea Magistrate’s court on the 4th of September 2007 and the others were released after being held captive for more than 24 hours without any charges being laid. In Kliptown, twelve comrades were arrested for public violence including five juveniles (underage, school-going children) and have been appearing in court since September 2007. After more than twenty appearances and almost two years, five were found guilty of ‘public violence’. The five activists are: Thabo Modisane, Charlie Nyatumba, Sibongile Maphalale, Ricardo and Oscar. Yet, all the activists and the community were doing was exercising their right to protest and making legitimate demands for long awaited housing and basic service delivery. The convictions are an outrage and an insult to any notion of real justice.

Criminalisation of protest

Since the African National Congress government took over power in 1994, there have been tens of thousands of protests in the country because of slow and non-service delivery. Many of the frustrated community members have protested out of anger and frustration from non-delivery of basic services in their communities. In South Africa, public violence is regarded as a criminal charge which allows the state to demand higher bail amounts from the very poor people. Communities have called on their elected local ward councillors to account for the non-delivery of basic services and they have also conducted innumerable marches and handed over countless un-answered memorandums and petitions. Provincial and local governments have failed to communicate their progress reports in terms of development with the community. Poor communities have been forced to resort to using the same tactics that were used to over throw the apartheid government – taking to the streets to have their voices heard!.  In some cases, such as Khutsong, such protests have succeeded in having the demands of the community met. But, for most others, including Kliptown, this has not been the case.

Over one and a half years ago, the Kliptown defendants were released on R500 bail each. The reason given by the magistrate for this excessive bail was that communities have to be discouraged from taking to the street to demand service delivery while there remain other options for their voices to be heard. On 14th August 2007 – less than a month before their arrest – the Kliptown community handed over a petition together with a memorandum to the Eldorado Municipal Offices, demanding the recall of the useless ward councillor and further demanding that the Department of Housing address their housing needs. No response to the memorandum was received from either the municipality or the Housing Department. And now, twenty court appearances later and with no material evidence being presented of “public violence”,  five community activists are convicted for “public violence”. This should make it clear that the state’s plan all along was to ignore the legitimate demands of the community for housing and basic services and to put a chill on community protest by making an “example” out of the five Kliptown activists. The state never had enough evidence to mount a serious prosecution of the accused but regardless, it now convicts them to send a ‘message’ to other community activists and organisations and to cover up the delivery failures of the ANC government. While so much is said about the independence of the judiciary from the state and ruling party, this case (as with many others) gives lie to this claim.

Problems with Legal Assistance: A Call for (non-commodified) Justice

Criminalising legitimate protests of poor communities like the Kliptown one, makes it extremely difficult to find free legal representation. It is simply far too expensive to hire private lawyers in general and even more so in a case that has consisted of twenty different hearings spread out over a year and a half. The huge class/wealth divide in our country makes it impossible for the poor to access adequate legal defence. Justice has been commodified.

While the APF managed to initially secure the services of a pro-bono lawyer, the length and demands of the case unfortunately resulted in the lawyer having to excuse himself. As a result, the accused were subsequently represented by a attorney from the state’s Legal Aid Board. In the past, there has been distrust from the community to the use of Legal Aid Board lawyers given experiences where defendants have been effectively forced to submit guilty pleas so that they could get suspended sentences. However through engagements between poor communities organised by the APF and the Legal Aid Board, the relationship with the Legal Aid Board has taken a more positive turn. Nonetheless, securing committed and affordable legal assistance/aid for community members arrested for legitimate social and political protest remains a huge challenge for organisations of the poor.

The APF renews its call for progressive lawyers to step up and be counted in the struggle of the poor for their basic rights. Those struggles cannot be simply seen/treated as ‘civil/political rights legal cases. The reality of the state’s criminalisation of legitimate protest makes it imperative that progressive lawyers take up these so-called ‘criminal’ cases. In the specific case of the Kliptown 5, we appeal for lawyers to offer their services pro-bono so that we can appeal against the convictions and any sentence that is to be handed down this coming Friday (13th March 2009).

For further comment/ information or to offer assistance please call APF Organiser – Silumko Radebe – on 072 1737 268 or 011 333 8338. Email to silumko@metroweb.co.za

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WIVL: Kliptown 5 found guilty of public violence, demanding houses in historic Kliptown

Kliptown 5 found guilty of public violence, demanding houses in historic Kliptown

The housing struggles in Kliptown, Soweto, reflect the true meaning of the Freedom Charter, namely that a section of the black capitalist will benefit out of the democratisation of the country. In the words of Nelson Mandela when commenting on the so-called nationalisation clause from this Charter, from the June 1955 edition of the Liberator magazine:

‘The breaking up and democratisation of these monopolies will open up fresh fields for the development of a prosperous Non-European bourgeois class. For the first time in the history of the country the Non-European bourgeoisie will have the opportunity to own in their own name and right mills and factories, and trade and private enterprise will boom and flourish as never before.’

What is important further, is that this development of a black capitalist class, is at the expense of the demands and rights of the working class. What follows from this is that the new black managers, the ANC in government, then adopt all the repressive measures of a capitalist regime, which indeed they are. The monopolies remain largely untouched and the black capitalist class are thus junior partners of imperialism. The ANC are incapable of even fighting for the demands of all the black middle class, let alone that of the working class. Yet, the Cosatu and SACP leaders all call for a resounding electoral victory for this capitalist ANC.

The national organiser of the WIVL, Thabo Modisane and 4 other activists having been found guilty on the 10th March 2008 on a charge of public violence . The charges relate to a protest by the community in Kliptown, under the banner of the Anti-Privatization Forum, on 3 Sept 2007 when they took to the streets to demand houses. On the 14th August 2007 the community had handed over a memorandum calling for their local councillor to be recalled and for adequate housing for all. In the town where the Freedom Charter was adopted ion 26 June 1955, Kliptown, thousands still live in shacks despite the document promising houses for all. To date, one and half years later, the memorandum has not been responded to.

On the 18th April last year (2008), there were confirmed cases of cholera in Kliptown. One of the first people to contract it was Kelebogile Malefane, who died on the 12th June 2008 of this preventable disease.

The response of the ANC government to years of protest by the Kliptown community for houses? They built a R200 million white elephant, called Freedom Charter Square. Part of the square is a 4 star Holiday Inn, which cost R23 million to build. This hotel remains mostly more than half-empty while 30m from its doors lies a sprawling squatter camp where raw sewage flows in the streets.

The magistrate in this case repeatedly postponed the case more than 20 times to give the police more time to find ‘evidence’ against the 5 accused.

On Friday 13th march 2008, the 5 face the prospect of being jailed for the crime of being leaders of the resistance to capitalist non-delivery to the working class. The case is being held at the Protea North magistrate’s court in Soweto. Public violence carries a possible sentence of 5 years in prison.

It should be the capitalist parliamentary parties who should be on trial for the crime of keeping the working class without homes and of being the agents of profits for monopoly capital.

We call for a national and international campaign against the victimization of these working class activists. We are calling for mass protests at the court on Friday 13 March 2008 as part of a further general mobilization of the working class. The finding of the court exposes the true nature of the coming April elections, namely that it is a contest between the bourgeois parties as to who will be the new manager to serve the capitalist masters. Not a single one of them can commit to building decent houses for all the working class; thus it follows that every single one of them would support the arrest and jailing of activists who find themselves at the leadership of the working class. A vote for any of the parliamentary parties is a vote for more cholera, more homelessness, more starvation, more arrests of activists.

The capitalist monopolies made over R700 Billion in profits last year. Yet the ANC-SACP-Cosatu Popular Front bails out these same capitalists with hundeds of billions of Rands (Eskom electricity scam of new power stations. the 2010 stadia, etc). The capitalists continue to retrench hundreds of thousands of workers; no-one is bailing out the over 20 million starving; who will bail out the Kliptown 5? It is only united working class action, nationally and internationally can stop the imperialist attacks. The deeper their crisis, the more they will adopt harsher measures against working class fighters.

Forward to decent houses for all! Organise or starve!

Further information on the details of the court proceedings can be obtained from the APF ( Silumko Radebe

ph 072 1737 268 or 011 333 8338)

The above statement is that of the WIVL.

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