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Social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo backs EFF in ‘tactical vote’

Social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo backs EFF in ‘tactical vote’
Abahlali baseMjondolo spokesperson Thapelo Mohapi discusses the dangers its members face in the notorious eThekwini Ward 101. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

On Sunday, Abahlali baseMjondolo held a ‘30 Years of UnFreedom’ event to reflect on the 30 years after apartheid. The movement, whose leaders have been killed as they fought for dignity and decent housing, will support the Economic Freedom Fighters in the 29 May general elections.

Abahlali baseMjondolo – a social movement representing thousands of shack dwellers in eThekwini and other parts of the country – has welcomed the appointment of a special task team to probe the killing of its 25 activists over the past 10 years.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) announced the task team in March 2024 but only contacted Abahlali’s leadership last week, informing it that it would set up a meeting with the SAHRC, Abahlali and the task team to thrash out how the probe will be conducted and what role Abahlali will play.

The task team was established after the SAHRC wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa in June 2023, calling for an intervention into the alleged rights abuses suffered by Abahlali members.

On Wednesday afternoon, S’bu Zikode, Abahlali baseMjondolo’s president, said the leaders and members of the movement have been under siege from corrupt politicians and officials and have had to arrange bodyguards and safe houses for activists who have received threats.

Zikode said the movement’s call over the years for the focused investigations of these politically motivated murders had been ignored and the President only acted after the movement approached the United Nations.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Abahlali baseMjondolo top leadership in hiding after repeated death threats — general secretary

“We welcome the appointment of the task team. But we strongly believe that the President did so after pressure from the international community after we had gone to the UN, which then forced the government to answer questions about these killings.

“It is sad that our government only acts to impress the international community when they start asking questions. Nothing when these killings and human rights violations were committed,” Zikode said, adding that they had written to Ramaphosa in 2023 and had had talks with Police Minister Bheki Cele on several occasions over the years.

A movement under attack

Zikode said there have been few convictions for the murders of its 25 members. The convictions include a riot policeman for shooting and killing Nqobile Nzuza, a 17-year-old unarmed female protester, during Abahlali’s road blockade in Durban’s Marikana informal settlement in September 2013. She was shot in the back.

They also include the conviction and life imprisonment of two former ANC councillors in eThekwini, Mduduzi Ngcobo and Velile Lutsheko, and hitman Mlungisi Ndlovu, for killing Abahlali leader Thuli Ndlovu at her home in KwaNdengezi Township, near Pinetown, in September 2014.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Abahlali leader – Murder of Lindokuhle Mnguni ‘the end of our constitutional democracy’

The rest of the killers are still at large. They include the murderers of Lindokuhle Mnguni (28), who was tracked in hiding and killed in September 2022. Mnguni was a youth leader of Abahlali in eKhenana settlement in Cato Manor and was a key witness in the murder of Ayanda Ngila, another Abahlali activist who was killed in the Cato Crest informal settlement years earlier.

Zikode said he has no doubt that his movement is being targeted: “Nothing police have done ensures that the lives of our members and leaders are protected. We are on our own.

“We are the biggest social movement representing the poor and marginalised. Abahlali is a threat to people in authority… Both corrupt politicians and government officials see us as a threat. We have been able to expose high levels of corruption. Some of the killings [of our members] are committed or carried out by people who are supposed to be the custodians of our Constitution,” he said.

Thirty years of hardship

On Sunday, Abahlali hosted a gathering in Durban dubbed 30 Years of UnFreedom, to reflect on the state of the country and the treatment meted out to the poor and the vulnerable.

anc mk party ethekwini

A motorist passes through sewage spilling on to the streets of Cato Crest, Ward 101, eThekwini. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

Daily Maverick also sat down with Abahlali’s spokesperson, Thapelo Mohapi, where he discussed the movement’s position on the state of the country.

“We called it that… [because] many people in the shack settlements are still without access to basic services such as water and sanitation. We still live under very inhuman conditions in the informal settlements. We continue to be burnt alive and washed away by floods. Our dignity as shack dwellers has been undermined by the government.

“⁠There are no highs for the poor and the working class in the 30 years of democracy. We continue to live like pigs in the mud. We are only important for votes in this government. The only time that the ANC remembers us is when there are elections. We are seen as a bank for votes,” said Mohapi.

Rich country, poor citizens

South Africa has more than 61 million citizens, the vast majority of whom are poor and live below the poverty line. Abahlali says the country has enough natural resources to cater for all its citizens.

Mohapi said: “Our founding president and statesman, Nelson Mandela, built and left a good foundation and a cue for successive leaders to take this country forward. However, greed and corruption have failed the people of this country. Since Nelson Mandela there has never been a president that cares about the people.

“Our country is rich in minerals and other resources. The country has built a state-of-the-art infrastructure, which costs billions of rands. The country is rich enough to take care of us all,” he said, adding that greed has permeated the political and public sector, resulting in billions being stolen.

“The country is in crisis because it is led by corrupt leaders who do not care about the people. We need selfless leaders who will serve the people and not their selfish interests.”

MK party is ‘ANC-lite’

Abahlali says most of its leaders and activists were killed during former president Jacob Zuma’s term of office and they view his uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party as an ANC faction which is angry with Ramaphosa.

anc mk party ethekwini

MK members, Jabulani Mkhize, wooing Ward 101 resident Sbongile Xulu to vote for the party. (Photo: Chris Makhaye)

“Today Zuma talks about the return of land and many other issues. But he also says he wants to fix the ANC, which he says it is now not the ANC he knows. Today his MK party decries the paltry R350 social grants for the poor yet during his term there was nothing handed out to the poor.

“Our view is that he failed to do many of these things when he was the president of the country and surely he cannot succeed now with the MK party. We think that he is only trying to win votes at the expense of the poor people of this country,” said Mohapi.

On supporting EFF in the polls

Mohapi said that a few months ago his movement invited most political parties to present their policies so that it could choose which, if any, to endorse in the 29 May elections. Abahlali’s general council reviewed and thoroughly analysed the policies and on Sunday announced it had decided to support the EFF.

This might be seen by critics as flip-flopping since Abahlali endorsed the DA before the 2014 elections, and before the 2016 local government elections it endorsed the ANC after lengthy talks with former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Prior to 2014, Abahlali led a “no vote” campaign encouraging members to boycott elections.

Mohapi said the DA and the ANC had let the movement down. Abahlali says the DA never really pursued the movement’s interest once it was the official opposition in the KZN legislature, and Gumede later referred to Abahlali as a “Third Force” used by unnamed foreign interests to discredit the government.

When Gumede was forced to step down after she was charged with corruption, Abahlali celebrated.

“This decision (to support the EFF) was a result of a democratic process, it was not a position that was dictated by the leadership. The general membership looked at the policies of all the parties, especially on land issues, and decided to go with EFF because it is the only party on the left that has policies that resonate with our members,” said Mohapi. 

Before backing the EFF, Abahlali presented a list of 20 minimum demands to political parties, including commitments to decent housing, a plan to create jobs, end the criminalisation of land occupations, and provide services to existing informal settlements.

On Sunday, the movement said: “To be clear, Abahlali is not joining the EFF or offering it uncritical support. This is a tactical vote. Abahlali will remain Abahlali, keep its autonomy and remain a people’s movement. On 29 May we will vote. On 30 May we will continue the struggle.”

Writing in Mail & Guardian, Dr Imraan Baccus, an independent political analyst who has worked with Abahlali’s leadership in the past, said the movement had made a “tactical error” by deciding to support the EFF in the upcoming poll.

Buccus noted that Abahlali viewed the MK party as a dangerous offshoot of the ANC and it couldn’t support the DA due to the positions it has taken on Israel and Palestine, leaving only the EFF and IFP as possible parties to support.

“It would be unthinkable for a movement as ethnically diverse as Abahlali baseMjondolo to support the IFP and so simple logic meant that it had to be the EFF,” he said.

“The movement seems to have found its own decision painful. This is not surprising. The EFF is corrupt, authoritarian and unprincipled — the polar opposite of Abahlali baseMjondolo in many ways,” he said.

“There seems to be no doubt that if there was a credible alternative the movement would have made a different choice.

“But while a tactical vote against the ANC makes sense, and while making that vote hurt the ANC by casting it for one of its real rivals rather than a small party makes sense, the problem is that 2024 is not 2014.

“This year we are in a very different situation. The polls show the MK party could win more votes than any other party in KwaZulu-Natal. The EFF has been growing closer to the MK party and could well go into coalition with it, raising the terrifying prospect of the latter running the provincial government,” Baccus said. DM

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