Sunday, 21 March 2010 – Human Rights Day
Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Release
Our political rights are always taken from us with technical arguments.
When we are evicted we are always told that it is because the land is ‘too steep’, the soil is ‘not right’ and so on. Of course once our shacks are demolished flats or businesses for the rich are quickly built on the same land that we were told was ‘unsafe’ for us.
When we are denied bail we are always told that it is because the police ‘need time to complete their investigations’, or even to ‘type documents.’ This is how it goes.
Technical arguments are always used against us because it is assumed that technical questions can only be answered by experts. The state has their own experts on their payroll and so by making important social questions into problems to be resolved by experts they seize the right to answer these questions on their own – they expel the people from any chance to debate these questions. The Freedom Charter said that ‘the people will govern’. It didn’t say that the experts will govern. It didn’t say that there will be democracy if the city managers decide to allow it.
Today we went to court to ask the judge to interdict Sutcliffe against his attempt to limit our right to protest by keeping us away from the City Hall and the main streets. We have won similar cases against Sutcliffe twice before. But this time the City played a dirty trick. They told the court that they could not allow us to march through the main streets and to the City Hall because the City Hall is being repaired and it would be ‘dangerous’ for us to come too close to it. They argued that our basic political rights could be stolen from us because of a technical issue.
Our lawyer pointed out that yesterday SADTU marched to the City Hall. Their response was that Abahlali baseMjondolo is a mass movement and that our march will be much bigger than the march organised by SADTU. This is true but it remains clear that the repairs to the City Hall are just being used as an excuse to prevent us from protesting freely in our own city. We would have been happy to keep a safe distance from the building. Anyway even if it was dangerous to come close to the City Hall that would not make it dangerous for us to protest in the main streets.
Unfortunately the judge allowed the City to use a technical argument to take away a basic democratic right. We have asked our lawyers to explore the option of launching an urgent appeal first thing tomorrow morning.
But irrespective of the outcome of that legal process we will be marching tomorrow. The marchers will decide, democratically, when we are all together, how to respond to this attack on our basic political rights. But one thing that we are very clear on is that amandla remains with us. We go to court to confirm the rights that have been won in prior struggles but we are very clear that the only real defence for these rights, and the only way to win new rights, is through the power of the organised poor. For example everyone can see that organised communities are not evicted. Unorganised communities are evicted, illegally, every day.
Many of us spent today with our comrades in the Rural Network in eNkwalini where farm dwellers who have been subject to a reign of terror by a farmer called Mark Channel mourned Human Rights Day. Their homes have been demolished, they have been shot and their cattle have been impounded. They live on this land but they do not live in any Republic of South Africa. They live outside of the protection of human rights and the law. We spent the day listening as they shared their stories. It is clear that from the flats to the shacks and the farms there is no place for the poor in this democracy.
Sutcliffe has decided to protect the name of the City Hall by using dirty tricks to keep us away from it – to keep our protests as hidden as a transit camp. But tomorrow we will be coming into the city from the townships, the farms, the flats, the shacks and the transit camps. We will be coming into the city from the townships of Inanda, KwaMashu and Lamontville. We will be coming into the city from the farms in eNkwalini, New Hanover, Howick, KwaMjolokazi, Melmoth, Utrecht, Baba Nango and eShowe. We will be coming into the city from the flats of Hillary, Russell Street, Mayville, Wentworth and Dunbar. We will be coming into the city from the shacks of Joe Slovo, Foreman Road, Clare Estate, Palmiet Road, Quarry Road, Motala Heights, Siyanda, Umkhumbane, New eMmaus, Pemary Ridge, Arnett Drive and, yes, Kennedy Road. We will be coming into the city from the transit camps of Richmond Farm, eNsimbini, Ridge View, Cato Manor and New Dunbar. We will be joined by representatives of some churches and NGOs. All of these struggling communities will bring their own demands to Jacob Zuma. We will also issue our collective demands to Jacob Zuma.
Many journalists have been phoning us and asking if our ‘service delivery protest’ will be going ahead tomorrow. We appreciate the interest of the media but we really want to stress that this will not ‘be a service delivery protest’. We have never organised ‘a service delivery protest.’ In fact our first marches were to announce that we rejected top down rule by the councillors and that we would, as we have done for the last five years, begin to rule ourselves. The language in which people’s struggles are turned into ‘service delivery protests’ is a language that has been imposed on our struggles from outside – it is not our language. Of course we are struggling for land and housing, water and electricity. But we do not accept the limited way in which these ‘services’ are ‘delivered’. Often an important part of our struggles is to reject that the way that services are delivered. For example we do not accept transit camps. We are struggling for the full recognition and realisation of our humanity in a society that denies our humanity at every turn. We are struggling for real equality. We are struggling so that the world that God gave to humanity is shared fairly by all of us. To call our struggles ‘service delivery protests’ is a way of making them safe for our oppressors.
We appeal to the media, and to other groups too, like academics, NGOs and churches, to please exercise an important discipline when talking about struggling communities and movements. That discipline is a simple one but it is a very important one. That discipline is to speak to people before speaking about them or for them. As we have said so many times before we are poor in life, not in mind. If you want to know why we are struggling just ask us and we will tell you. If you want to know why people are protesting in Mamelodi, Orange Farm or anywhere in the country you don’t need researchers or analysts or spies – you just need to ask them.
We have a clear message for all those who believe that they have a natural right to rule the poor from above be they in government, civil society or the left. We have a clear message for all those big men like Willies Mchunu, Michael Sutcliffe or Ashwin Desai who believe that they have the right to ruin any organisation of the poor that they cannot rule. Our message is this:
We have been evicted, forcibly removed, beaten, slandered, publicly threatened with death, arrested, jailed, tortured and driven from our homes. Some of us have lost everything that we ever owned in this world. But we will not give up. We will not be turned against each other. We will work and work and work to unite the poor against the politicians and the rich. The problem in this society is the deep political disempowerment of the poor and we will solve this problem by organising ourselves to build our political power. Struggle is hard and it is dangerous. But struggle is the only way to defend our humanity and the humanity of our children. We have a deep responsibility to continue with this struggle until we achieve real equality and a fair sharing of this world.
The march will be supported, with a physical presence, by the Rural Network and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance. It will also be supported, without a physical presence, by our comrades in the Poor People’s Alliance – Abahlali baseMjondolo Western Cape, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Landless People’s Movement in Gauteng.
For more information on the march please contact:
S’bu Zikode, Abahlali baseMjondolo President: 083 547 0474
Troy Morrow, Chairperson of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Hillary Branch and march convenor: 071 511 8446
Zodwa Nsibande, Abahlali baseMjondolo General Secretary: 082 830 2707
Representatives of the following organisations that will be in solidarity with Abahlali baseMjondolo can also be contacted for comment:
Reverened Mavuso Mbhekeseni, Rural Network: 072 279 2634
Des D’sa, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance: 083 982 6939
Ashraf Cassiem, Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign: 082 337 4514
Mzonke Poni, Abahlali baseMjondolo of the Western Cape: 073 256 2036
Maureen Mnisi, Landless People’s Movement (Gauteng): 082 337 4514