Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Abahlali March on Mayor Obed Mlaba, Sept 28

15 people were arrested and released during massive police repression of an authorized march to hand demands to Durban Mayor Obed Mlaba by Abahlali baseMjondolo.

More information on the march here
photos by Richard Pithouse

A Memorandum of Demands to Mayor Obed Mlaba

Submitted by Abahlali baseMjondolo and Allied Organisations on Friday, 28 September 2007

We the shack dwellers of Durban & Pinetown and our comrades from around the province are democrats and loyal citizens of the Republic of South Africa. We stand here because we are being evicted from our homes and forced off the farms and out of the cities. We stand here because we are dying in shack fires because we do not have electricity. We stand here because we are being raped when we try to find a safe place to go to the toilet in the night. We stand here because we are denied the right to visit the graves of our ancestors. We stand here because in many settlements thousands of people share each tap and toilet. We stand here because children are being forced to stay in their parent's shacks long after they are grown and have their own children. We stand here because we fear that 2010 will be our doom. We stand here because your Municipality breaks the law every time it demolishes our shacks and evicts us without a court order. We stand here because it is clear to us that the rich do not want to give us any space in the cities, in the rural areas or any where in the country and that the politicians have decided to be the partners of the rich. We stand here because our councillors do not represent us and so we have to represent ourselves.

The same economy that made the rich to be rich has made the poor to be poor. The wealth in this country was built on the theft of our land and from our work in the farms, mines, factories, kitchens and laundries of the rich. We can not and will not continue to suffer the way that we do. We can not and will not allow our voices to be stifled. The time has come for the poor to be heard. The time for politicians to talk for and about the poor while they make deals with the rich is over. The time has come for politicians to talk to the poor and to talk to the poor openly and honestly and respectfully so that we can, together, ensure that there is a place for everyone in this city and in this country.

Mayor Mlaba, today we the shack dwellers of eThekwini make the following demands to you:

We demand participation in genuinely democratic processes of consultation and citizenship.

· We demand an immediate moratorium on the evictions and demolitions that result in some people being left homeless and others being forcibly removed out of the city.

· We demand adequate land and housing in the city so that we can live in safety, health and dignity.

· We demand an immediate moratorium on the selling of government owned land to private developers

· We demand a commitment to the expropriation of privately owned land for collective, social housing

· We demand an immediate commitment to seriously explore the possibility of upgrading rather than relocating each settlement and to undertake this exploration in partnership with each settlement

· We demand an immediate moratorium on the eviction and harassment of street traders

· We demand that electricity be installed in all shack settlements.

· We demand an adequate supply of well maintained toilets in all settlements.

· We demand an end to the shortage of taps in our settlements.

· We demand refuse removal in all settlements.

· We demand well-resourced and staffed health facilities and support for our own initiatives to care for p
eople living with HIV/AIDS.

· We demand support for our crèches and an end to
the exclusion of our children from schools and universities.

· We are threatened by criminals and we are threatened by police officers who treat us as if we are criminals. We therefore demand policing that respects the poor.

· We demand an immediate recognition that all settlements will experience natural growth, especially as children grow up, and that this requires existing shacks to be expanded and new shacks to be built.

· We demand an immediate explanation as to what happened to the R10 billion Phoenix East housing development that you promised us after we marched on you on 14 November 2005.

· We demand an immediate explanation from you as to what happened to the piece of land adjacent to Loon Road promised to the Foreman Road settlement when you visited the settlement while campaigning for the 2000 local government elections.

· We demand an immediate explanation from you as to what happened to the piece of land across from the Kennedy Road settlement which was promised to Kennedy Road by Yakoob Baig while campaigning for the 2000 local government elections.

· We demand an immediate investigation into the rampant corruption in the drawing up of housing lists.

· We demand an immediate investigation into the activities of the notorious Pinetown gangster landlord Ricky Govender.

· We demand an immediate investigation into the activities of the notorious police officer Glen Nayager.

We also want to use this platform to, with our comrades who are here today from around the Province, make the following demands to the other Municipalities and to the Provincial Government:

· The Slum Elimination Act is immoral and illegal. Our settlements are communities to be developed not slums to be 'eliminated'. This Act must be scrapped immediately.

· There must be immediate action to prevent farm workers from being evicted, harassed and banned from visiting their ancestor's graves.

· There must be immediate action to prevent the enclosure of land for private game reserves.

· There must be immediate action to prevent the threatened evictions in eNkwalini

· There must be immediate action to prevent the eThekwini & Msunduzi Municipalities as well as private landowners from continuing to carry out illegal demolitions and evictions and forced relocations to rural ghettoes like Park Gate and France.

· Those of us living in municipal flats note that in addition to providing substandard housing, the councils charge rents way in excess of our ability to pay. We therefore demand the writing-off of all rental arrears.

· We opposed the hosting of the 2010 World Cup on the grounds that we couldn't afford to be building stadiums when millions have no houses. But now that it is coming there must be an immediate commitment to declare that the World Cup will be an '100% Evictions Free World Cup' all across the province. i.e. That there will not be any evictions of shack dwellers or streets traders.

Today people from around the city and the province are uniting in support of our struggle. Today we express our support for our comrades elsewhere. We stand with our comrades in Joe Slovo in Cape Town and we stand with our comrades in Protea South, Kliptown, Thembelihle, and Thembisa in Johannesburg. We also stand with our comrades in Harare, Istanbul and Port-au-Prince. We assert, in particular, our support for Shamita Naidoo, Louisa Motha and all of the people of Motala Heights who are facing violence, death threats and the constant threat of illegal evictions at the hands of Ricky Govender.

Today, we demand answers. We have approached the municipality on many occasions, and many promises have been made to us. Yet still we have no land. We still have no houses. We are still being pushed out of the cities. We still have no electricity and so we are still terrorized by shack fires. The municipality says it will house us. We demand to know when. We demand to know where. We demand to know how many houses. We demand to know who will be resettled. We demand to receive all of this information in clear language and on a regular basis and to be consulted about these decisions.

We are here to stay. We will not go away. We will not be silent.

more at

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rethinking the crisis of local democracy

Imraan Buccus

The Mercury, August 16, 2007 Edition 1
Since 2004 an unprecedented wave of popular protest has ebbed and flowed across the country.

A number of protesters have been killed by the police and, recently, a number of ward councillors have been killed by protesters.

In two instances, in Khutsong and in the Kennedy Road shack settlement here in Durban, protests have given rise to movements that have become an important part of the national political landscape.

The Minister for Safety and Security reported that there were more than 6 000 protests in 2005 and one academic has calculated that this makes South Africa "the most protest-rich country in the world".

However, despite the incredible scale of these protests, and their resulting in large boycotts of the 2006 municipal elections in Khutsong and in parts of Durban, analysts have battled to properly understand them.

The starting point of almost every intervention in the ongoing avalanche of commentary about these protests is that they are "service delivery protests". This assumption is shared across government, the academy and NGOs. Noted commentator Steven Friedman is an exception.

Friedman has wisely pointed to the fact that most protests have targeted local councillors and has argued that the essence of the problem is that councillors are being used to communicate government views downwards rather than to communicate community views upwards.


On a recent edition of the SABC-TV programme Interface, the head of a shack dwellers movement in Durban, Sbu Zikode, made an equally important point.

He argued that while all the experts are having their say, the people organising and participating in these protests are very seldom given a chance to speak about what they think, what they are doing and why.

Democracy is not ruled by experts. That is oligarchy. Democracy is ruled by the people and Zikode's point is of profound democratic import.

If we follow Zikode's suggestion and pay attention to the thinking of people organising and participating in these protests, one thing becomes immediately clear. And that is that these protests are in response to a crisis of local democracy rather than a crisis of service delivery.

It is true enough that in most instances failed service or misguided delivery is where things begin to go wrong. But even here the problems with service delivery are often due to a lack of democratic public participation in decision-making.

For instance if people are not consulted about whether it is in their interests to be moved from urban shacks to peri-rural RDP houses, protest is likely even though service delivery is happening.

But time and again people organising these protests explain that they didn't take to the streets because of failed or misguided service delivery.

They explain that they took to the streets because there was no way for them to get to speak to government, let alone to get government to listen to them.

For as long as government officials continue to assume that a mandate at the polls gives them a mandate to act in a unilateral and top- down manner for five years, these protests will continue.

Ordinary South Africans had a taste of popular democracy in the great democratic upsurge of the 1980s and expect the post-liberation democracy to take the same popular form - to be ruled by the people rather than ruled by experts.

The government is certainly correct to take the view that something must be done about these protests.


These levels of intense social conflict is potentially very damaging to society and could, for instance, be extremely embarrassing come 2010. Imagine if the eyes of the world turn to us to see an action replay of the 1980s with burning tyres, teargas, rubber bullets and pitched battles between the very poor and the police in our streets.

Already both police and protesters are taking an increasingly hard-line stance with very negative social consequences.

These protests are clearly about a crisis of local democracy. It is the nature of local democracy that needs to change.

The government needs to take public participation seriously and to recognise that ordinary people have every right to be part of the deliberations and decision- making that will affect their lives. And commentators and experts, be they in the media, NGOS or the academy, need to learn that they should listen carefully to the voice of the poor rather than just make easy assumptions about what they think people are saying.

Experts would like this crisis to only be about service delivery because then the response to the crisis would be to bring in more expertise. But a crisis of local democracy means less reliance on experts and taking the intelligence and experience of ordinary people more seriously. It means fewer Powerpoint presentations and more community meetings.

Imraan Buccus is programme manager for research at the Centre for Public Participation and a PhD fellow in the Netherlands.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The No Land, No House, No Vote Campaign Still on for 2009

From Zmag, thanks to Mandisi Majavu for the forward...
Today's commentary:

ZNet Commentary
February 05, 2007
The No Land, No House, No Vote Campaign Still on for 2009

By M'du Hlongwa

South Africa does not think of the poor. The poorest of the country are the majority but we are kept voiceless. The poorest I am talking about are the shack dwellers, the street traders, the street kids, the flat dwellers who can't
afford the rent and the 'unemployeds' from Cape Town to Musina in the Limpopo Province and from Richard's Bay on the Indian Ocean to Alexander Bay on the Atlantic Ocean.

(photo of Mdu talking to an ANC member,
by Raj Patel/Steph Lane, Jan 14, 2006)

We always say that the fact that we are poor in life does not make us
shortminded. We know that our country is rich. There are all the minerals like gold and aluminium, the water and the forestry, the trade and the industry, the agriculture, the art and the culture and the science and the technology. The Freedom Charter said that the wealth of South Africa should benefit the people of South Africa but it is not like that.

The land of our ancestors was taken for the farms and the forests. Our grandparents and parents worked on those farms and in the mines and factories and houses. Now we are either trying to make a living selling to other poor people or we are the servants who come quietly into the nice places with our heads always down, to keep them nice, and to keep them working for the rich. Most of our time goes into just trying to survive. To get some little money, to get water, to see a doctor, to rebuild our homes after they have burnt down, to get our children into school or to try and stop evictions. We shouldn't be suffering like this.

Our shacks are flooded during heavy rains. Sometimes they are even washed away because the City won't let us build proper structures or build proper houses for us in the city where we need to be to work and study. And our shacks get burnt down in fires because the City thinks that we don't deserve to have electricity. We are always losing our belongings in these fires and sometimes loved ones, especially children and old people, are lost.

The constitution says that everyone must have adequate shelter. We don't
have adequate shelter and the situation is not getting better. Now the city is trying to evict us and is leaving people homeless on the side of the road. How many lives will be destroyed before our voices are heard? How many children will drown in rivers on the way to school because 'there is no budget' to build bridges while casinos, and airports and theme parks have huge budgets?

Who will do something about the fact that the police who are supposed to
protect the people are always abusing us? Is it right that they come into our houses and ill-treat us, insulting us, stealing from us and hitting us? Who will do something about the fact that even when our youth finish grade 12, they just sit at home because there is no work and because our parents can't afford to send us to university? Who will turn our economy from something that lets the rich get richer off the suffering of the poor into something that lets all the people make a better life?

The politicians have shown that they are not the answer to our suffering.
The poor are just made the ladders of the politicians. The politician is an animal that hibernates. They always come out in the election season to make empty promises and then they disappear. But we know that lies are for the time being but truth is for life. These guys get into power by lying to us and then they make money. They don't work for the people who put them up there. In fact our suffering ends up working for them. Their power comes because they say that they will speak for us. That is why in Abahlali [Shack Dwellers Movement] we started to say 'Speak to us and not for us' and why we vote in our own elections for people who will live and work with us in our communities and without any hopes for making our suffering into a nice job.

We know that our country is rich. We know that it is the suffering of the
poor that makes it rich. We know how we suffer and we know why we suffer. But in Abahlali we have found that even though we are a democratic organisation that gets its power from the trust of our members and have never hurt one person, the government and even some NGOs call us criminal when we speak for ourselves.

We are supposed to suffer silently so that some rich people can get rich from our work, and others can get rich having conferences about having more conferences about our suffering. But the police never come to these conferences. These conferences are just empty talking. When we have big meetings where we live, the police are even in the sky in their helicopters. These conferences demand our support but they never support our struggles. We are always on our own when the fires come, or when the police come, or when the City comes to evict us.

I want to say clearly that I am a Professor of my suffering. We are all
Professors of our suffering. But in this South Africa, the poor must always be invisible. We must be invisible where we live and where we work. We must even be invisible when people are getting paid to talk about us in government or in NGOs! Everything is done in our name. We are even told that the 2010 World Cup is for us when we can't afford tickets and will be lucky to watch it on television. The money for stadiums should go for houses and water and electricity and schools and clinics. Even now shacks are being destroyed and street traders are being sorely abused by the METRO and SAPS police to make us invisible when the visitors come. This World Cup is destroying our lives. I call 2010 'The year of the curse'. South Africa is sinking. It will only be rescued if the poor take their place in the country.

But before 2010 is 2009. This is the year of the National Elections in our
beloved country. When the elections come I want to see who will be queuing in that hot or rainy day to vote. I see voting as the same as throwing your last money in a flooded river. I believe that many people who voted before want to go and ask to get their X's back. Abahlali sensed this early and in the 2006 local government elections we said "No Land, No House, No Vote". We said that whenever we have voted for people who say that they will speak for us, they hibernate afterwards. We said that we would struggle for land and housing against all councillors. We said that we would make ourselves the strong poor by building our settlement committees and our movement.

We got beaten for that by the police. Some of the NGO people said that we were too stupid to understand what elections were for and that we needed 'voter education'. They need an education in the politics of the poor. They should come and live in a settlement for even just one week before they say that we are too stupid to understand our own politics. Our boycott brought the percentage of voters in the areas where we are strong right down. In these areas the councillors can't claim to represent the poor and we have made our own organisations, which do represent the poor because they are made for the poor by the poor, much stronger than the councillors. Abahlali is much stronger than Baig and Bachu and Dimba.

I am sure the number of non-voters who choose to work very hard every day
struggling in their communities instead of giving trust to politicians will be multiplied in 2009. I will personally be pushing for Abahlali and our sister organisations to take the 'No Land! No House! No Vote!' campaign into the 2009 National Elections. Oh! South Africa the rich, sinking country! There is no more need to vote for politicians in this country. I always say to people that they should vote if they ever see even one politician doing something good for the poor.

But from the local government to the provincial and national parliaments I
only see politicians on gravy trains and holidays and in conferences with the rich. They are the new bosses, not the servants of the poor. They deceive us and make fools of us. They ask us for our vote and then disappear with our votes to their big houses and conferences where they plan with the rich how to make the rich richer. Their entrance fee for these houses and conferences is us. They sell us to the rich. Can anyone show one politician who has stood up to say build houses not stadiums? Can anyone show one politician who has said that Moreland's land should be for the poor who are still waiting to be a real part of South Africa and not for more shops and golf courses? Can anyone show one politician who has said that it is wrong for the police to beat us and arrest us when we want to march? Can anyone show one politician who has stood with us when the police shoot at us?

Let us keep our votes. Let us speak for ourselves where we live and work. Let us keep our power for ourselves. The poor are many. We have shown that together we can be very strong. Abahlali has now won many victories. Other organisations are working hard too. Let us continue to work to make ourselves the strong poor. Let us vote for ourselves every day.

M'du Hlongwa lives in the Lacey Road settlement in Sydenham, Durban. He is
unemployed and his mother works as a cleaner in a state hospital. He was the secretary in the first and second Abahlali baseMjondolo secretariat but did not stand for election for a position in the 2007 secretariat in order to be able to complete his book on the politics of the poor and to try and gain access to a university to study to be a teacher. However he continues to be an enthusiastic ordinary member of Abahlali baseMjondolo and to do volunteer work each week day morning work for people living in HIV/AIDS. He is 26.

For information on Abahlali baseMjondolo visit

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Outside the ICC again

by Fazel Khan

Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2006 at 1:22 AM

Hundreds of protestors from indigent communities around Durban and KwaZulu-Natal at large, picketed outside the International Convention Centre, Durban, the venue of the KwaZulu-Natal land and housing summit from mid-morning until past lunch time this Monday. The demonstrators came from a diverse milieu - there were the shack dwellers of the Abahlali BaseMjondolo demanding democratisation and land and housing in the city, then the flat-dwellers of Wentworth with their more modest call for upgrades to their abodes, present were also the recently radicalized Unit 9 Chatsworth land invaders, and the balance consisted of the indigent under-housed citizens from throughout the province.

At stake - the future location of their homes or future homes; where their children would one day go to school; their future employment possibilities, delivery of basic services - so in a sound bite … "their livelihoods". And it was being discussed at this summit, without their input, less still their approval being sought. Their leaders or representatives had never been invited as the land and housing summit was dominated by government officials, elite NGOs, and corporate goons. However, even their token presence, i.e. the picketing outside the ICC, was so unwelcome that over a hundred policemen maneuvered the protesters to a relatively, hidden and inconspicuous part of the greater ICC environs. In fact city manager Sutcliffe, despite his humilation in the high court in February this year, once again issued an illegal diktat banning the march. But this time the police accepted the protestors refusal to have their basic rights denied by Sutcliffe's notorious authoritarianism. As Mnikelo Ndabankulu said, "The police, they have now learnt to respect bahlali". The picketers were not demoralized in the least, as they toyi-toyied, and chanted protest songs while dorning blood red T-shirts with the slogan "Talk to us … not about us".

The arrogance of the government officials in Durban is legendary and today was a day like any other as KZN MEC for Mike Maphai refused to take the protesting communities' memorandum of their demands. If fact, he was reported to have told a delegate sent by the protestors that "… we can't build match boxes next to 3 million rand houses". The delegate knew immediately what the MEC was referring to, and it concerns the Abahlali BaseMjondolo's demands for low cost houses to be built in the middle class neighbourhoods of Sydenham, Reservoir Hills and Clare Estate where they have lived for many years, work, send their children to school and so on.

This protest comes ahead of a small one held last Monday at City Hall where Abahlali demanded that the Durban city officials in the housing department be more forthcoming in releasing information as per our constitution. The demands are yet to be acted upon.

When the protestors' allocated time was over, they gathered their banners and boarded their hired taxis for the journey home. At least just for a brief moment the delegates at the summit, in their suits and pampered surroundings where rattled by the presence for people they usually only see doing their ironing or as a bleep on the computer screen somewhere on the income distribution graph.

Friday, May 19, 2006

clearing the slums

Mabuyakhulu Plans for War on the Poor
May 19-Richard Pithouse
Centre for Civil Society

Every great city in this world, from ancient Rome to New York, was, at some point, ringed with shacks. Today around one billion people live in shacks and the numbers are growingly rapidly. In South Africa it is often confidently asserted that shack settlements are an apartheid hangover which will soon pass. In fact the number of people living in shacks has almost doubled in the last 12 years. Despite this politicians like KZN Housing MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu insist that shack settlements will be eradicated in time for the 2010 World Cup. While houses are being built they are certainly not being built at anything remotely like the rate to enable Mabuyakhulu to eradicate shacks from KZN in his lifetime. His plan is to pass new legislation enabling municipalities to set up their own Red Ants units to destroy shack settlements. He is planning a legislated version of Operation Murambatsvina.

In Durban the eThekwini Municipality has already destroyed settlements illegally leaving people homeless. The Municipality has acted with equal contempt for the law when the shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo have attempted to express their concerns. City Manager Mike Sutcliffe banned his first shack dwellers' march on 14 November last year. The Freedom of Expression Institute issued a statement condemning Sutcliffe's ban as "a flagrant violation of the Constitution and the Regulation of Gatherings Act." When shack dwellers tried to protest against Sutcliffe's illegal ban they were shot at and savagely beaten by the police. Journalists were threatened with violence if they reported what they had seen and photographic evidence was stolen at gun point.

The Abahlali were eventually able to garner the connections to challenge their ongoing de facto banning. Sutcliffe had banned a march of 20 000 people into the city planned for 27th February 2006. Early that morning the police occupied the largest settlements in a military style operation using armoured vehicles and helicopters. All exits were blocked and key people were arrested, sometimes while still asleep, and later assaulted in the Sydenham police station. But this time Abahlali were able to go to the high court with the backing of the Foundation for Human Rights. They won a court order interdicting the city and the police from interfering with their right to protest. With the interdict in their hands they were able to leave the settlements and march into the city in triumph.

Shack dwellers have won major access to voice which now enables them to comment on the policies affecting them everywhere from community radio stations to the New York Times. At their core of their struggle is a demand to be able to live close to the city where there are opportunities for work and decent education. They are also demanding housing, basic services and genuinely participatory policy making. The Municipality's response has largely followed a two prong strategy: send out the police to deal with the shack dwellers and tell middle class citizens that everything is all right because houses are being built and the UN organisation Habitat endorses the housing programme. But most of the houses that are being built are tiny, badly made dwellings in bleak apartheid style rural ghettos far from opportunities for work, decent education and health care. The fact that Habitat endorses this provides no comfort. Habitat has a dismal record of failure to engage with shack dwellers and its attempt at developing a model pilot project in Nairobi, where it has its plush headquarters, has been a complete failure. Habitat functions largely to offer legitimation to governments with similar failings. This is unsurprising. The UN is, after all, an organisation of governments.

The return to colonial style rhetoric about 'clearing the slums' means that shack settlements are seen as temporary aberrations. This enables the municipality to justify halting service provision to shack dwellers. This goes back to 2001 when the municipality announced that "In past (1990s) electrification was rolled out to all and sundry*electrification of the informal settlements has now been discontinued." The consequence of this is that the ominous glow of shack fires lights up the winter sky. People live in terror of fire. Electrification could halt the deaths, burns and suffering caused by these fires. The provision of even a few more taps could prevent women from spending huge portions of their lives queuing for water.

With budget and policy priorities as they are the only way that KZN shack settlements will be gone in four years time is if the state wages a massive militarised assault on the poor. If they choose or are forced to step back from the madness of the war Mabuyakhulu is planning the shacks will still be there. And the women will still be discussing the latest fire in the water queue.

Monday, March 13, 2006

home and ends...

i've made it home. the last weeks have been a little crazy and exhausting so i haven't posted. hopefully this will begin to make up for it.

so first, the march 2 wks ago monday: about 2000 members of Abahlali baseMjondolo marched down West St to Durban's city hall, to hand a memorandum of demands for housing and other desperately needed services to a rep from the city govt:

"We the shackdwellers of Durban, democrats and loyal citizens of the Republic of South Africa, note that this country is rich because of the theft of our land and because of our work in the farms, mines, factories, kitchens and laundries of the rich. We can not and will not continue to suffer the way that we do.

"Our voices cannot be stifled. Today, like everyday, we braved heat, hunger, thirst, exhaustion and police repression. Today, we had our day in court. Today, we won a recognition of our right to speak. Today we march on the city because today we stand up for our right not only to speak, but to live, to breathe, to eat, to sleep and to work in dignity and safety."

The guy who collected the demands, when briefly given the mic, said something about how everyone would have a house in six years time. He was promptly booed off.

It was a sweet victory for Abahlali just to rally at all, given the police and city manager's desire to keep them from leaving their settlements... the police were at foreman and kennedy rds before dawn, with helicopters overhead. by 6 when people were gathering to get on the buses, police led by a notoriously racist commander stormed into the crowd at foreman rd and told people to disperse and go home. when residents tried to tell him they were at their houses, he responded with orders to grab some of the young leaders from inside of their homes. 3 young guys were arrested, one of them an innocent bystander, and M'du, probably a known organizer, was picked up by the police on the street waiting for a bus to take him to work.

for me it was a long and exhausting day, but for most of Abahlali members, like the hundreds stuck at Jadhu Place [many there were from other settlements] without food or water when the buses they were riding were turned away from downtown by the police, had taken the day off work. so, as Sibanga told me, they had no other plans. They would wait until they were allowed to go back to the city center.

The high court ruled that the city had no right to block the march. so instead of 10 a m, around 3 Abahlali kicked off with an hour window allotted to get to city hall.

election day, i went to foreman road, to talk to mnikelo and lungi and jama, who were having a quiet day at the settlement and planning an evening celebration braai {barbeque}. there were 2 huge police trucks parked at the entrance to foreman from clare road, and other police drove by, but outside of an entourage when the councilor arrived early in the morning to transport the few voters who wanted to go to the polls, the police weren't causing any trouble.

after getting a ride with jama and george and lungi to SPAR grocery to get some specially-cured meat that George ordered, they dropped me at one of the nearby polling stations, where i ran into Zelda Norris, an organizer at the Sydenham Council Flats, allies of Abahlali, historically a place where "coloured" families were sent to live when the apartheid govt separated families into communities based on race. it's still largely a coloured community, though this polling place at a community center she was observing at had quite a mix of folks in line--Indians being shuttled in via ANC escort vans [usually mostly empty], whites driving into the parking lot in fancy cars, blacks on foot, with kids playing makeshift football on the huge lawn behind the building.

Zelda told me that Baig seemed "up to his old tricks"--she had been stationed at another poll as an election judge, but before she arrived the ANC judges had sealed the ballot box without any other witnesses. He's apparently known for his dirty politics--last election cycle the results were thrown out because he had been bribing people to vote. Zelda said she also witnessed instances of coaching of voters by ANC judges, and had complained. The other judges asked that she be removed.

So she switched to this other place, which gave her the opportunity to observe activity in multiple precincts--all over this ward, turnout was low. it ended up being around 35 to 37% of registered voters. i wonder what the percents would be if they including the district's eligible voters, not just those who are registered. A lot of Abahlali supporters didn't even register to vote. Plus a lot of people, especially young people, have yet to receive identity cards from the govt., and you need one in order to vote, go to school, work, there's a serious backlog. Lots of people are waiting.

and just like the housing crisis, something that seems easily fixed, if programs were better staffed. it's not like the funding is not available--national reports that came out right before the election talked about millions of rands that had not been used by local govts to provide "service delivery", the catch phrase for plumbing and water, electricity, houses, healthcare, etc.

for some reason, SA FM radio thought i would be a good election observer to talk to, so at 5:45 the next morning, i was on the air trying not to sound incredibly stupid answering questions about observation standards. i had spent all sorts of time preparing to talk about the local mishaps happening in Baig's ward, but didn't get enough time.

first rusty instance in a long while of not taking advantage of the air time to direct the conversation. SA FM newsdesk did eventually get the story, but i'm not sure what happened in the end.

except of course, that Baig won, again.

last monday there was a followup court hearing to determine who would pay the costs of the original proceedings of abahlali vs. the eThekweni municipality. The court ruled against the city, saying it was responsible since it had disallowed the march. a victory, and a groundbreaking moment, perhaps, for civil society and the future of protest for movements in South Africa.

Jama and Mnikelo say that they will continue to put pressure on Baig, that really it's easier for Abahlali to continue to pressure him rather than someone new since they have a "working relationship" of sorts[ and also on the provincial government, now their point of focus, since they deliver the funds to local councils.

when i said goodbye, everyone seemed in high spirits, the foreman rd guys were busy painting a banner for international women's day. it was especially hard to say goodbye to S'thembile. many tears shed. when will i be coming back? soon, but probably not soon enough. no money left, and so much work that needs to be done on this side of the world.

how to return enough thanks to all of my new friends who gave me so much of their time when i was visiting? thank you so much, and i hope someday to be able to return the favor(s).

it's been hard to reconnect to this side, perhaps partly because of the cold, partly due to the long estrangement from my partner and my co-op community. plus i'm looking at starting anew with work or school or some other path quite soon. 3 months doesn't seem like a length of time that could change my perspective so drastically, but...

culture shock ---> so much of everything everywhere. my body recalls the fastness and vastness of this city, but my brain is still a bit overwhelmed. hard to just jump back in to my life. i've been gone, things are not as i left them, my 'hood looks different, my house has new members, my love is distant, my path is unclear. not to mention my govt is being really reckless and it's stressing me out.

it's hard, knowing what's happening on the other side of the world, and also knowing that no one around me can imagine where i have been. i was confronted by this hippie-Jesus missionary the other day as i was doing a book event for Jonathan Kozol at the main library downtown, he's the Bono or Michael Moore, which might be a more appropriate comparison, of the teacher/education activism world in the US. This lady was explaining to me how she has just let her God lead her day to day, how she hasn't had to use her social security card in nearly 30 years. how "his" teachings hold a lot of wisdom for me to discover. outside of the fact that my dad's a minister and i've grown up knowing some of this stuff, i was amazed at the way this woman so accurately represented the insulation and self-involved-ness of some people i've run into being back... and talking to people like her about taking a trip to "Africa" is not easy... the dark continent is full of hopeless poor people that need our help, right? people who can't help themselves... stories like abahlali's don't often make it this far.

and maybe it's not that so many people here are selfish and self-absorbed. my eyes, my body, my thoughts, are just used to seeing and being a lot less confined, and maybe i've had more opportunities to ask the right people decent questions....

there will have to be a part 2 to this, as my west coast conscience reminds me, i've done a poor job of writing about my thoughts. so soon, another post. but til then,

thanks for your time and your eyes.

for more on the continuing struggle, see, or, or CCS's webpage.

and special everflowing thanks to Richard, Raj, Fazel, Helen, S'bu, Jama, Mnikelo, S'thembile, Esther, Thandi, Philani, George, Lungi, Nonhlanhla, Sibu, the rest of the Abahlali committees, Zelda, David, Genda, Antony, Shannon, Amanda, Anokhi,
Vash, RichB, Ashwin, John, Amisi, Jacob, Busi & Wiseman, Lionel, Jerry, Dana... for your time, wisdom, help and friendship. and to Ry, my parents & gram laura, and friends & housemates for your patience, love and support. "onward!"

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

victory in sight

photos first:

abahlali march down west st with police escort

mnikelo from foreman rd

1500 people in all

s'bu reads demands of abahlali to rep from city

earlier in the day there was serious police harassment at jadhu place, when 10 buses of abahlali rally goers were turned away from town by police because the city manager had declared their march illegal. police wouldn't let settlement residents wait near the street to hear for the court verdict, and instead chased them up the hill toward the mjondolo.

after 3 hours in court, abahlali won the right to march. so much more to write and process. sleep first, and i'll add a lot more tomorrow. by then there will be election results... but i'll leave with this-- the process of democracy is an endlessly active one. it's not something that can be limited to marking an "x" for a candidate, or, in fact, it is limited when so much emphasis is tied to that action of "the power of x," as the election slogans here go.

the energy in the streets, the effervescent feel of the crowd at the rally was real power. and it was an inspired show of the creative energies of people, "the masses," left to create their own outlets for being heard, and left to build new forms of trust and relationships, accountability and democracy.

i looked around this crowd filled with visionary courageous leaders, and i felt so lucky to be among so many friends.

there are more photos up at indymedia's newswire:

Abahlali base Mjondolo marches to Durban city hall after day of police harrassment

pt 2: Abahlali base Mjondolo marches to Durban city hall after day of police harrassment

photos of police harrassment at jadhu place