Invitation to the Celebration of the AbM Victory Against the Slums Act

29 10 2009

Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
29 October 2009

On 14 October 2009 the Constitutional Court ruled against the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government and in favour of Abahlali baseMjondolo. The court found that Section 16 of the Slums Act was unconstitutional and invalid. The Slums Act now has been struck down.

Abahlali baseMjondolo will be holding a celebration of our victory against the Slums Act this Sunday, 1 November, at 9am. The celebration will take place the Richmond Farm Transit Camp. All progressive communities, journalists and members of the public are welcome.

Reasons for Choosing Richmond Farm Transit Camp as the Celebration Venue

The Richmond Farm Transit Camp has been chosen as the venue for the celebration because we are determined to ensure that this victory in the Constitutional Court against the Slums Act also marks an end to such transit camps (also knowns as amatins, TRAs and decant camps) which undermine our human dignity.

We have said, since the very first introduction of the Slums Act as a provincial bill, that transit camps are not temporary. Transit camps are being introduced to people as ‘temporary accommodation’, but on the ground people are staying in transit camps for much, much longer. People moved to transit camps are staying there for two years, ten years, or even longer. That shows the government does not know the meaning of temporary and that that the government cannot recognise our humanity. Transit camps are not a way to house the poor. They are a way for the government to expel the poor from the cities.

The people of Siyanda were forced to accept a legal eviction from their shacks to the Richmond Farm Transit Camp. They were not supposed to stay at the Richmond Farm Transit Camp for more than a year. This one year time limit is a negotiated, legally binding agreement made in court. In spite of this legally binding agreement, it is already the tenth month since the people of Siyanda have been living in the Richmond Farm Transit Camp. And, in spite of this court agreement, there is still no progress on when, where or how the people of Siyanda will be moved into houses. This is in spite of the fact that the eThekwini Municipality and the Department agreed, in court, to a one-year time limit. And yet the government has done nothing about their houses, and has said nothing about where their houses will be.

For all these ten months, the people at the Richmond Farm Transit Camp still do not have working toilets. They still do not have working taps for water. They still do not have security. In fact, people are being attacked everyday by criminals, especially when they are coming from work.

The eThekwini Municipality and the Department of Transport swore by an oath of the court that there would be adequate services and a time limit in the transit camp. But we can see that even when the government swears to a binding order of the court, and by the law of the land, they do not comply. And again it should be remembered that ,a href=”“>before the people of Siyanda were forced from their self-built homes, they had electricity, they had water, and there was no fear of being victims of crime as compared to the transit camp. Their shacks were also much bigger than the tiny accommodation in the transit camp. They had more privacy and they had space for small businessness, gardens and chickens.

It is for all these reasons that we are holding our celebration of the Slums Act victory at the Richmond Farm Transit Camp. We wish to bury the transit camps with the Slums Act and holding our celebration at at transit camp will remind us and show others what we are against and why. It will also show the people in this transit camp that although the government has forgotten them Abahlali baseMjondolo has not forgotten them.

Background of the Journey from the Shacks to Constitutional Court

1. Community Analysis

It has to be remembered that in 2007 Abahlali created a reading group and democratically elected a task team to analyse and discuss the content of the Slums Bill before it was passed as provincial legislation. Abahlali not only had a series of meetings at Kennedy Road to analyse the Act, but also held community meetings in each and every area to discuss it. This was so it could be further analysed and understood by each and every member who is living in a shack settlement. To see what the aim of the Bill was, and the feelings and analysis by the people, please see our first, original press statement.

During these discussions in all Abahlali areas, we felt that the aim of the Bill and the feelings of the people were in contradiction. This is because the feelings of the people were for their communities, the places where they stay, to be developed. The aim of the Bill, however, was to “eradicate” or “eliminate” their communities. People want development, not “eradication” or “elimination.” They do not want transit camps in faraway places. They do not want to be moved at the whim of the MEC, or municipality. The people who founded our settlements occupied land in the cities for good reasons. We are urbanites. We do not want to be ruralised in the name of ‘development’. We are resolved to defend our right to the cities.

2. The So-Called Public Participation Process

In 2007, soon after we held our own community discussions about the Bill, the KwaZulu-Natal legislature came to the shack settlements.

It was interesting to see the KwaZulu-Natal legislature coming to the shack settlements to hold public participation hearings about the Bill. A public hearing was held in Kennedy Road. When the legislature came to Kennedy Road, it was the first time we had seen them in the shacks. They came with heavily armed and intimidating police, even a police helicopter, and bussed in ANC members from other areas. It was like they were going to a war when in fact the were supposed to be coming for a discussion.

We mobilised at the Hall. We mobilised against the Slums Bill. But this mobilisation was used to justify that we had agreed on the content of the Bill! People were not allowed to raise their own feelings about the Bill, they were not allowed to use the microphone in the Hall, unless they could quote from the text of the Bill.

This was the so-called public participation process of the Slums Bill. But this was not a public participation process, with meaningful engagement. This was another lie of our democracy. The legislature that came to Kennedy Road were doing this just because the law requires them to vet the Bill in the communities, but the concerns and analysis of communities were not taken into consideration. Once again it was made clear that our role is to listen and not to think.

Abahlali made it clear that we were opposed to the Bill at the so-called public participation process. A week later, we were invited to Parliament, where the Bill was passed without the will of the people. The Bill was passed, in front of us, without us even having a chance to speak. So our invite was meant to justify the passing of the Bill. Our invite and so-called participation was meant to justify the passing of the Bill against the will of the people.

3. From Shack to The Durban High Court

It also has to be remembered that Abahlali opposed the Slums Act in the Durban High Court in 2008. When we went to the Durban High Court, ‘comrade’ Judge President Tshabalala found that the Act was consistent with the PIE Act and that, in fact, the province had taken a positive initiative in the making of this kind of law. He said the province should be applauded for the work it had done. The ‘comrade ‘Judge said that the province, through the Act, was dealing with the land and housing issues, and that the province had the power to pass such legislation. This is how the comradism of party politics works.

When Judge Tshabalala found in favour of the government, a decision which has since been overturned in its entirety, we had a number of debates on the radio and in the press. One of our young members were threatened by government officials after speaking on the TV news. They arrived in their 4X4s and promised to make sure that she lost her job.

Now that the High Court decision has been overturned, and Abahlali has won in the Constitutional Court, and Section 16 has been declared unconstitutional, and the Act has been scrapped, nothing is happening on the radio or in the press. So we call upon the very same radio stations and press who rushed to give the government space to discuss their victory to also provide us a space for public debate about the case.

After the Slums Bill was passed officially into legislation as the Slums Act, the municipality used the Act to justify evictions across the province. Evictions of communities such as KwaManciza (Ntuzuma), and other areas, were justified under the Slums Act.

And we believe that the municipality may still use it to justify evictions in areas that do not know about our victory over the Act. The municipality has always broken the law with regard to evictions, and we fear that they will continue despite the court ruling. Obviously our task as a movement is to inform communities about the outcome at the court and the meaning of this historic court ruling.

4. From the Shacks to the Constitutional Court

Abahlali were confident that this Act was unconstitutional, and so our appeal against the finding of the ‘comrade’ judge was taken straight to the Constitutional Court. The case was held before a full bench of Constitutional Court Judges. And they were able to find Section 16 unconstitutional. We were vindicated.

On the 14 of May 2009, Abahlali and our partners in the Poor People’s Alliance from across South Africa – the Western Cape Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Rural Network and the Landless People’s Movement – mobilised to go to the Constitutional Court to see and to witness the will of the people being brought forward in front of the highest Court in the land. Our partners in the Poor People’s Alliance mobilised not only in solidarity with comrades in KwaZulu-Natal, but also across the country, because the legislation was to be passed in every province in South Africa.

And on the 14 of October 2009, the cries and worries of poor communities across the country were considered. It was the first case of its kind where poor people at a grass-roots level were able to take the government to the highest court against legislation, and able to win the case.

Despite the fact that were told at the last hour on the previous day before the judgment was handed down, we as movement managed to mobilise to go to the Constitutional Court to listen and to witness the reading of the judgment.

Abahlali is facing violent attacks from the ANC. We know that the attacks on our movement were timed to coincide with our victory in the constitutional court. We know that the attackers want us to focus on the violence instead of focusing on celebrating the victory. We know that the attacks were planned to discredit the movement in the eyes of the media at the time of our victory. We know that this was done deliberately so that we would not be able to celebrate our victory at the Constitutional Court. We will claim our victory and we will ensure that there is wide discussion about its meaning and the way forward within our movement and within all the movements in the Poor People’s Alliance

5. The Constitutional Court Judgment

The reason we are having this celebration is that we should avoid misunderstandings of the judgment. The reason we are having this rally of celebration is so that the judgment can be read, discussed and analysed, and a way forward can be given as to the meaning and effect of it. We, there at the celebration, can collectively put together the thoughts and ideas of the people about the judgment and its meaning directly from people who are living in the shack settlements, as well as the rural areas, and provide a way forward, especially because we know that municipalities and private landowners will continue to break the law, or use the buried Slums Act. We will caution communities and think through a way forward.

We need to think and discuss what will happen to the transit camps or amatins because the amatin were a provision of the Slums Act. Now, after the judgment, the future of the amatins, the transit camps, the TRAs, the decant camps are in question.

And yet as we speak, after the attacks at Kennedy Road, the community at Kennedy Road has been threatened that they will now be moved to the notorious transit camps in Chatsworth.

Thanks and Further Invitation

We want to thank all the organisations and academics who made submissions on the Slums Bill, as well as CALS (The Centre for Applied Legal Studies) who represented Abahlali from the Durban High Court up until the Constitutional Court. We most especially want to acknowledge the shack intellectuals who analysed the Act, who compared it with their own living politics, and developed criticisms of the Act, which not only contributed to the case, but formed the whole basis of the case. The analysis and criticism from the High Court to the Constitutional Court is owning to them.

Abahlali will be slaughtering a cow as part of the victory celebration.

Again, progressive communities, journalists, and members of the public, please be invited.

Further Information and Comment

Please contact:

Mnikelo Ndabankulu: 079 745 0653
Zodwa Nsibande: 082 830 2707
Maziw Nzimande: 074 222 8601




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