Solidarity from Movement for Justice in El Barrio to AbM

2 10 2009

STATEMENT OF SUPPORT TO THE SHACK DWELLERS MOVEMENT OF SOUTH AFRICA FROM MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE IN EL BARRIO IN NEW YORK CITY.

To our sisters and brothers in Abahlali baseMjondolo [AbM] (Shack Dwellers Movement), the Kennedy Road Settlement in Durban, South Africa:
Greetings in solidarity on behalf of Movement for Justice in El Barrio. We want you to know that we, the simple and humble people of East Harlem, New York, are filled with rage for everything that is happening to you, our sisters and brothers, in your country of South Africa((. It pains us to hear that 3 members of your community have been pronounced dead and there may be more, many are missing, and even more are seriously injured. This repression that began on the evening of Saturday September 26th, and has yet to cease, in the form of invasion and violent raids in your community are a blatant attack on democracy and the movement for the power of poor people.

It is obvious that not only are the local police behind what is happening in the Kennedy Road shack settlement, but local politicians, that are members of the state party, the ANC, as well. We know that when the Sydenham police were called, they did not respond, and that police dressed in plain clothes that were present during the attacks did nothing to stop the destruction.  In addition, we know that of the arrests that have been made so far, none of the people who are part of the militia that launched this completely unprovoked attack on Saturday evening have been arrested, and that most of the Kennedy Road Democratic Committee (KRDC) is behind bars at the Sydenham Police station (including those that were not even present during the attacks because they were attending a public event nearby!).

It is obvious that the police knew about these attacks and that they support this militia that clearly wants to destroy everything the Kennedy Road shack settlement has created and stands for. And, of course, the police can do this because they know they can get away with it as they have the support of powerful local politicians who want to destroy the Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers Movement) and KRDC because they are in the way of their political and economic control.

As we stated to you when you visited us, we stand with you sisters and brothers because we too are fighting the same system that uses vicious and aggressive strategies of displacement to remove us from our homes, only we are in different places. But no matter, we know that in all parts of the world the capitalist system and its political class from above impose these practices against the simple & humble people.

Which is why we are sharing these words from across the oceans and continents to let you know, from here in East Harlem, New York, that we are going to support you and we will do everything necessary so that this ends in favor of the South African community, so that one day in the future we all will be able to achieve our liberation.

Sisters and brothers you are not alone, we are with you and unite in one cry of dignified rebellion and rage.

Long live the dignified struggle of the Abahlali baseMjondolo!

Sincerely,

Movement for Justice in El Barrio

Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo:

The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers Movement) began in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. Although it is overwhelmingly located in and around the large port city of Durban it is, in terms of the numbers of people mobilized, the largest organization of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa. Its originary event was a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road settlement in protest at the sale, to a local industrialist, of a piece of nearby land long promised by the local municipal councilor to shack dwellers for housing.

The movement that began with the Kennedy Road blockade grew quickly and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements. In the last year and a half the movement has suffered more than a hundred arrests, regular police assault and ongoing death threats and other forms of intimidation from local party goons. It has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers in subaltern and elite publics and occupied and marched on the offices of local councilors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets. The movement also organized a highly contentious but very successful boycott of the March 2006 local government elections under the slogan ‘No Land, No House, No Vote’. Amongst other victories the Abahlali have democratized the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won access to schools, stopped the industrial development of the land promised to Kennedy Road, forced numerous government officials, offices and projects to ‘come down to the people’ and mounted vigorous challenges to the uncritical assumption of a right to lead the local struggles of the poor in the name of a privileged access to the ‘global’ (i.e. Northern donors, academics and NGOs) that remains typical of most of the NGO based left. The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicized and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy.

The AbM office is in a community center on Kennedy Road, located in the Kennedy Road informal settlement, and is also home of the AbM meeting hall and a childcare center.  The office is the location of most AbM General Meetings as well as the meeting place for the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC).  The KRDC is just one of many autonomous political organizations that function within each settlement; these organizations, often called Development Committees, constitute AbM.

Background information on the attack

1. On Saturday night members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee were subject to a surprise attack by a group of about 40 armed men chanting anti Mpondo slogans. The police failed to intervene. People were killed. Later on that night all key AbM leaders were subject to attack. Everyone’s houses (and businesses in two cases where people had shops) were destroyed. This mob (now known as ‘the Zulu mob’ in the settlement) has direct connections to the local ANC who had promised, two weeks ago, to turn the AbM office into an ANC office.

2. The police arrived in the morning and arrested 8 people all (as far as we know – we’ll only be sure who has been arrested when they appear in court this morning) are members of the KRDC – the same people who were attacked. Among the arrested are people who were performing a dance at a public event elsewhere in the city on Saturday night. Attacks and threats continued unimpeded in the presence of the police. Calls for help were ignored.

3. Thousands have fled the settlement and some individuals, all key AbM activists, are in hiding as they have been told that they will be killed. Some Xhosa and Pondo people organized themselves against ‘the Zulu mob’ – this was independent of AbM or the KRDC, which are mulit-ethnic organizations. There may well have been counter violence from this quarter. If so it may well be accurate to characterize it as defensive.

4. On Monday morning a huge police presence descended on the settlement as the local ANC councilor and the provincial MEC for Safety and Security arrived (proving that it is easy to get the police there when the state wants them there). They spoke in the hall and offered a clear endorsement of the fact that AbM has been driven out of the settlement. Some of their statements have been recorded. They began, bizarrely, to claim that the KRDC had launched the attacks – this is a total fabrication that they will not be able to sustain, as there were many witnesses on the scene – including some who are independent of local politics. They have also denied the ethnic character of the first attack.

5. After the politicians left so did the police. The settlement was left in the hands of groups of armed men – many not know to the residents. They trashed the AbM office and banned, on the pain of death, all AbM activists and supporters as well as media from entering the settlement.

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