Opinion: The Kennedy Road killings are akin to Stalinism and a threat to democracy

14 10 2009

October 14, 2009 Edition 1 – Cape Times
Martin Legassick and Mzonke Poni

ON September 26 at 11.30pm, a group of 30 to 40 men wielding pangas, sticks and guns surrounded the community hall in Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban.
Kennedy Road is the original home of Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM), a social movement of shackdwellers which has active branches in 34 Durban settlements and 54 nationally, with about 20 000 members. ABM is respected internationally and throughout South Africa by civil society organisations for its participatory democratic and non-violent procedures.

Witnesses say the men shouted: “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy, Kennedy is for the AmaZulu.” The men vandalised the community hall, but were spontaneously resisted by unarmed residents, later supported by some members of the local safety and security sub-committee armed with sticks.

The rampage continued for more than 24 hours. There were deaths on both sides and many were injured.

On the Sunday, in the presence of Sydenham police (who just stood by) and the ANC ward councillor, the shacks of 27 leaders of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), affiliated to ABM, were destroyed and many more looted.

Hundreds fled. Many lost all their possessions. The ABM offices were abandoned. On the Sunday morning the police made arrests – not of any of the attackers, but of eight members of the KRDC safety and security sub-committee, some of whom had not even been present.

The police have said the attacking mob were vigilantes attacking (ABM) criminals. But ABM in Kennedy Road has been conducting a campaign to root out criminals, originally with police co-operation.

The truth is far more sinister. As the Mail & Guardian reported last week, “…eThekwini regional chairman John Mchunu, addressing the ANC’s regional general council, specifically condemned ABM for trying to divide the tripartite alliance”.

In fact, ANC leaders in the region hate ABM, which has contested evictions and struggled for service delivery. ABM supporters say the attackers were shebeen-owners and ANC members.

As ABM president S’bu Zikode has said: “We have forced the state to accept that they must negotiate our development with us. We have exposed the corruption of many senior officials. We have also exposed how ‘housing delivery’ is actually a form of oppression breaking up communities and forcing people into ghettos far outside the cities.

“We have done this most famously with our case in the Constitutional Court against the Slums Act (passed by the ANC government in KwaZulu-Natal).”

The endorsement of the attack by the ANC became clear when KZN Safety and Security MEC Willies Mchunu turned up at Kennedy Road with a huge police presence and denounced ABM as “criminals”.

A statement claimed: “The KZN provincial government has moved swiftly to liberate a Durban community (Kennedy Road) that had been placed on an illegal curfew. Matters came to head at the weekend when a group of men attacked and killed two people. Community members said that the forum (the safety and security sub-committee) had placed them under an illegal curfew.”

The committee did implement a very reasonable rule that shebeens should close at 10pm rather than running 24 hours a day.

The press statement added that community members “told the team of assaults, intimidation and how a community hall had been hijacked. They also alleged that the forum was responsible for the weekend attack… [It] apparently has links with the chairman of Abantu Basemjondolo (sic), Sbu Zikode”.

Thus the ANC, abetted by police one-sidedness, attempts to criminalise ABM. At the bail hearing of the eight sub-committee members arrested two buses of ANC supporters arrived, chanting “ABM are criminals”. But, as Zikode has said, “our crime is a simple one. We are guilty of giving the poor the courage to organise the poor”.

The press statement further announced that the “forum”, because it had “no official standing”, was disbanded. This means government is intervening in civil society to dissolve an elected committee. That is close to the methods of a one-party state like Stalinism. Local ANC leaders are enforcing a ban on ABM in the settlement and anyone not showing public support for the ANC risks having their home demolished, or worse.

Clearly the attack was condoned by the local ANC and endorsed by the regional ANC, using “ethnic cleansing” as the initial rationale for a political attack on the right of existence of ABM and its local committee. This has been a severe attack on the democratic rights of all South Africans by the KZN ANC. If they get away with, literally, murder, this will set a precedent for the future.

An independent inquiry is needed. The residents of Kennedy Road need to be assisted to return to the site, to rebuild their homes, to be compensated for their losses, and to exist in safety. They must have the right to re-elect representatives of their choice, free from intimidation by the ANC. ABM must have the right to reoccupy their offices without the sword of death hanging over them. Anything less will be a travesty of justice.

# Legassick is emeritus professor at the University of the Western Cape and a housing activist. Poni is chairman of Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Western Cape.

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