South Africa


Abahlali baseMjondolo: We need to build a just peace amid unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng

Looting in Ndofaya on July 12, 2021 in Soweto, South Africa. Shack dwellers organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo argues that the poor have suffered at the hands of government for years and that their peaceful protests against inhumane living conditions have either been ignored or met with violence. The organisation says the violent protests in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are the result of the poor having been ignored for too long. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

Shack dwellers organisation, Abahlali baseMjondolo, have come out strongly against the current spate of violent unrest and looting saying that government had ignored the poor for too long.

“Abahlali baseMjondolo has always warned that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. We have warned again and again that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” says the organisation’s statement. 

Abahlali said that for years the poor have suffered at the hands of government who have continuously met their peaceful protests against inhumane living conditions with violence. Now, protestors are revolting against government’s unjust responses. 

The shack dwellers organisation said that its members have been made to feel as though they are “beneath the law” and have been subjected to brutal evictions and violence particularly from Ethekwini municipality. The organisation claims officials have ignored court orders against demolishing their dwellings and destroying their property.

Speaking to Maverick Citizen, General Secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo Nomsa Sizani said, “We have used the courts to protect ourselves, without the law we would be ruled by political gangsters”.

They say that the current looting and rioting has nothing to do with former president Jacob Zuma and that the eruption of these protests only served to light the fuse of the poverty and unemployment bomb in the country.

(Read the report here on the uneasy calm prevailing in Gauteng on 15 July, 2021, following days of violent protests and looting.)

Abahlali highlighted that in October 202o the organisation marched through the streets of Durban demanding an end to corruption while accusing Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa of failing the country’s poor. They were ignored by government.

“It cannot be normal to have more than 42% of the country’s population unemployed. It cannot be normal to have such a high level of state corruption. It cannot be normal to have the poor ruled with so much violence from the state and the ruling party,” Abahlali’s statement continued.

Abahlali expressed concern that the country was heading towards instability levels seen in Zimbabwe and that a lack of leadership in South Africa was breeding criminality. It also bemoaned a lack of leadership on the ground in response to the looting crisis.

When asked whether the organisation would be open to working with government, Sizani responded, “We can work with our Government, if only they commit to a genuinely democratic form of engagement. We would like to see the bottom-up system used, not the top-down system. We would like to see land and job opportunities shared fairly to all SA, without choosing only the members of the ruling party…we will not be coopted  by Government to give them legitimacy though.”

The organisation summarised their position regarding the ongoing violence as follows:

  1. Zuma and Ramaphosa have both failed the poor.
  2. The riots are a result of starvation and not support for Zuma.
  3. We remain committed to the Constitution because the law gives us some protection from the political gangsters in the ANC. Without the law, repression would be much worse. We would just be ruled by violence. Therefore, the Constitution must be defended at all costs.
  4. The Covid grant needs to be immediately reinstated and increased and all unemployed people must get a grant. Nobody can be without an income.
  5. Food parcels need to be made available in all communities. They need to be given directly to hungry people and not to councillors who are mostly corrupt and in support of Zuma.
  6. There must be a rapid release of land for housing and community farming and an end to evictions.
  7. Urban farming cooperatives must be supported with seeds, fertiliser, tools and land.
  8. There needs to be a serious programme of job creation.
  9. If [Premiere of KwaZulu-Natal, Sihle] Zikalala can’t come out with a clear statement in support of the people he must be removed from office. He needs to immediately call for calm in the province, provide clear leadership and assure the safety of the people. All he does is give statistics of the fatalities and the extent of damage.
  10. We all need to call for calm and peace, and to work for calm and peace.
  11. All forms of xenophobia and tribalism must be opposed.
  12. There need to be dialogues in each city and province, and nationally, on how to build peace and justice. This must include all membership-based grassroots formations to pave the way towards an inclusive future for South Africa. These dialogues can begin the process of forming solidarity councils in each city.

Sizani said that Abahlali “do not have faith that Zikalala can lead this Province out of this crisis. He had failed this Province since last year when this Province had a high level of corruption. 

“He did not protect us from this looting and burning of warehouses and malls…He also made a statement on television that the law enforcement and SANDF are deployed in the areas of the elites to protect the elites and their properties and not the large poor mass population.”

Read the full statement here DM/MC


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