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On 25 March it was announced that S’bu Zikode will be awarded the 2021 Per Anger prize. Per Anger was a courageous anti-fascist and the prize is awarded by the Swedish government for “for humanitarian work and initiatives in the name of democracy”.
The award was greeted with great joy by the movement and there were celebrations in three provinces – and from the streets to land occupations, halls and even a high school.
On 26 March Minister Lindiwe Sisulu issued a statement congratulating S’bu Zikode on the award. The statement said that “We will continue to work closely with our various stakeholders including Abahlali”. It also said that the Minister is “the Patron of Abahlali Basemjondolo”.
Abahlali welcomes and appreciates the Minister’s congratulation to our leader on the occasion of this important award – an award that recognises the integrity and courage of our leader, as well as the courage, dedication, sacrifices and achievements of the movement as a whole.
However, there are a few claims in the Minister’s statement that are misleading and need to be corrected. The Minister claims that she is a patron of Abahlali. 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. Even during the Covid lockdown when all evictions were stopped by law by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and the UN had announced a world-wide ban on all evictions she did not bother to stop the eThekwini Municipality from evicting Abahlali.
During the lockdown S’bu Zikode personally approached the Minister to intervene and stop the violent attacks on Abahlali members by the eThekwini Municipality. Instead the Minister ran to Cape Town and pretended to be supporting evicted residents there. She did this to score a political goal. This is because Cape Town is governed by the Democratic Alliance. In eThekwini where the City is run by the African National Congress she refused to intervene. Even when a woman of the KwaMathambo occupation in Durban was shot by the City’s Land Invasion Unit with live ammunition she refused to condemn or stop the evictions, or support the woman who was shot. She was playing party political games instead of standing in solidarity with the oppressed.
At the time when eThekwini’s Land Invasion Unit shot Yamkela Vezi with live ammunition on the eKhenana occupation the matter of the evictions was being heard by the Durban High Court. These evictions where carried out in contempt of a court interdict that was secured a year ago. S’bu Zikode reported this incident at a virtual meeting with the Minister and she said she had written to eThekwini to stop the evictions.
But the evictions did not stop. Mr Mkhize, the municipal employee who allegedly shot Yamkela, was never arrested. He was not even suspended from his duties despite evidence being brought before the police. There was no investigation at all. Once again it was clear that in the eyes of the eThekwini Municipality we do not count to the law and that our humanity can be vandalised without any consequence.
Abahlali have lost 18 activists to violence by the police, the Land Invasion Unit and the izinkabi (hitmen). Thuli Ndlovu, one of our leaders, was murdered by two ANC councillors working for the City of eThekwini. Both the Minister and ANC have not said a word about these murders. More people, including children, have been killed in shack fires, floods and even by rats. In all of these deaths the Minister has never mourned with us. We are stunned to find that, today, the Minister claims that she is a patron of Abahlali.
Such a statement is an attempt at damage control. Why would the Minister wait for the Swedish government to recognise Abahlali if she really recognised the legitimacy of the movement? Why did the Minister not give S’bu Zikode a call before she went public? Clearly this not a sincere congratulation to S’bu Zikode but a deliberate attempt to mislead the Swedish government, the people of South Africa and the world at large.
Clearly the Minister is embarrassed by this award and feeling pressure. If the Minister really wanted to engage Abahlali she would organise a genuine meeting with Abahlali leadership and discuss all human rights abuse pertaining to housing everywhere – in Ekurhuleni, Cape Town, Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth) and Durban, etc. It cannot be that when the DA evicts it is an outrage but when the ANC evicts it is a non-issue. This is opportunism, not principle.
In her statement the Minister goes on to mention big housing budgets and money we have never seen, nor heard of. Why is this not discussed with Abahlali? Why is budgeting, housing provision and urban planning not undertaken in an open and democratic manner? Surely in a real democracy budgeting and planning would be a participatory process?
We hope that the Minister can commit to a genuine and democratic working relationship with Abahlali, other democratic formations and the poor people of South Africa and the working class in general. The politic of blood and the politic of lies have no place in our democracy.