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Abahlali baseMjondolo: SA champion for shack dwellers’ rights gets international recognition

S’bu Zikode, leader of shack dwellers’ organisation Abahlali base Mjondolo, has been awarded the Swedish Per Anger Prize for 2021 in recognition of his commitment to human rights. (Photo: Michael Jaspan)

‘A shack without water, electricity and sanitation is not worth calling a home. On the contrary, it means life-threatening circumstances that are particularly harsh towards women, children and minority groups,’ says S’bu Zikode, founder of the activist housing movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.

The Swedish government has recognised South Africa’s S’bu Zikode for being a champion and defender of the rights of the homeless.

Swedish ambassador to Iceland, Håkan Juholt, said he was “delighted that S’bu Zikode and his movement’s important work for the right to housing, land and dignity is recognised through the prestigious Per Anger Prize 2021.

“The many global challenges we are facing today means that we need activists of his calibre, now more than ever. His commitment to assisting those most in need has impressed me deeply. It will be an honour for me to present him with the award.”

Zikode, a prominent figure in civil society, founded Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban in 2005 to fight for the rights of people to access housing and fight against illegal evictions, in accordance with Section 26 of the Constitution:

  1. Everyone has a right to have access to adequate housing.
  2. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to achieve the progressive realisation of this right.
  3. No one may be evicted from their home or have their home demolished without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.

The organisation has grown considerably and has more than 80,000 members with branches in Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town.

Speaking to Maverick Citizen, Zikode said: “This award is indeed an honour to me, to Abahlali and the entire working class. I am deeply humbled and honoured. The significance is that it says Abahlali’s struggle is just and legitimate.

“Struggling communities around the world can learn from the courage of Abahlali. Per Anger was a courageous and selfless man. Therefore it means courage meets courage, principle meets principle.”

In South Africa, however, Zikode and his organisation have not been regarded in such high esteem.

“Abahlali have lost 18 activists to violence by the police, the Land Invasion Unit and the izinkabi (hitmen),” says a press release issued by the organisation on 29 March. The release came after the minister of human settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, released a statement congratulating the organisation.

Abahlali baseMjondolo denied that Sisulu is “the patron of Abahlali BaseMjondolo”.

“This is not true. Our movement does not have a patron. Moreover, all our efforts to engage the minister on violent and unlawful evictions in eThekwini have failed.”

Sisulu’s statement said, “We will continue to work closely with our various stakeholders, including Abahlali and Slum Dwellers International, to better the lives of our people.”

Zikode was not impressed by Sisulu’s words.

“The minister finds herself and the SA government embarrassed not to have found value in Abahlali’s work. So the statement is nothing but a damage control tactic,” he said.

The organisation says the minister failed to intervene in eThekwini when state-sanctioned evictions took place during the initial lockdown in March, even though they asked for her help.

Abahlali baseMjondolo recently held a memorial lecture for a murdered leader, Thuli Ndlovu, who it described as one of its bravest members.

Ndlovu had allegedly been on the receiving end of threats from his local councillor regarding a housing development that Abahlali opposed.

“Thuli Ndlovu, one of our leaders, was [allegedly] murdered by two ANC councillors working for the City of eThekwini. Both the minister and the ANC have not said a word about these murders,” said Abahlali’s statement.

As for the impact the Per Anger Prize was likely to have on the work of Abahlali, Zikode told Maverick Citizen: “No doubt the award will elevate Abahlali’s work and Abahlali will be encouraged to stand firm for what is right, even in the midst of the shadow of death and politics of blood.” DM/MC


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  • Cudos to Mr. Zikode. Living next to an informal settlement here in Kameeldrift East, Pretoria for over twenty years little has been done. It is only when elections loom that mostly “cosmetic” or quick solutions are implemented, proverbially handing out sweeties for votes from all political parties.

    • Correct – there are informal settlements in our area of KZ-N that have many, many sets of ditches dug to house water pipes etc etc because they are redug every single election. Nothing happens after that, of course. Pure electioneering on behalf of the “ruling” party, paid for by the rate payers.

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