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Another comrade appeared in court today on trumped up charges of conspiracy to murder, another comrade has been charged with the same offence and there has been more violence and armed intimidation at the eKhenena Occupation.
In the early years of our movement Shamitha Naidoo and Louisa Motha led a brave struggle against the notorious thug Ricky Govender in Motala Heights in Pinetown. Govender, who was widely referred to as a gangster and claimed to have a personal connection to Jacob Zuma, was illegally and violently evicting poor people from their homes to build houses for middle class people. He was commodifying land for private profit. He repeatedly acted in a wide variety of illegal ways with complete impunity. The police answered to him, and not to the law.
Govender was in business with a senior police officer and the Pinetown police openly acted on his instructions. He made death threats against Shamitha and various other people. On one occasion his sons made a death threat against a journalist. This struggle went on for years and the whole history is well documented on our website. Through this struggle Shamitha and Louisa emerged as powerful women leaders in our movement.
In recent months Shamitha, who has been working in trade union education, has returned to her organising and community work in Motala Heights. Shamitha led a defeat of Govender before and her return is a threat to his control over the area.
In 2009 a young man in Motala Heights was tragically killed as a result of a fight between a group of young men. The police made no accusations against Shamitha as a result of this tragic murder. However now, all these years later, she has been charged with ‘conspiracy to murder’ – the same charge brought against Mqapheli Bonono and Siniko Miya. It is clear that the state is using real murders to bring fake charges against our leaders. This is outrageous and we will fight this every step of the way in and out of the courts.
Today another resident of the eKhenena Occupation, Maphiwe Gasa, was charged with conspiracy to murder. The police informed her that they wanted to arrest and so she handed herself over at the police station. S’bu Zikode accompanied her. She has a 16-month-old baby, who is ill. The police intimidated her and threatened to detain her with the baby. After a long argument they eventually agreed not to detain her today. She will join Bonono and Miya in the dock tomorrow.
It is not just our leaders that are under attack. Our occupations are also under attack.
As we explained in our last statement the eKhenena Occupation is under sustained vertical and horizontal attack with formal and informal forms of repression. This is not a new strategy – the same tactic was used during the attack on our movement in Kennedy Road in 2009. That attack came from both the police and ANC aligned thugs acting with impunity.
Along with attacks from the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, Calvin & Family Security and the police – including the recent arrests – the occupation continues to face attacks from people who want to see the commune destroyed and the land to be used to extract private profit. In our view the local ANC is the pivot connecting these two lines of attack.
On Monday evening one of the members of Abahlali in the occupation, Musawenkosi, was attacked by the brother of the notorious hitman for the taxi industry who we mentioned in our last statement. As we noted this hitman appeared at our Unfreedom Day event at the occupation on 25 March this year, and is also brother to the girlfriend of the man who has, as we noted in our last two press statements, been behaving very strangely in a very long list of organisations of the left – to the point where many people are assuming that he is an intelligence agent. We also made it clear that although these suspicious are widely held we cannot confirm that he is in fact an agent.
This man, his girlfriend and her two brothers – one of whom is the notorious hitman – are organising the local forces against the occupation. Our understanding is that this man is a central player in producing the witness statements against our members.
When Musawenkosi was able to defend himself, his attacker took out a gun and started firing it in the air. This was clearly an act designed to frighten and intimidate our members. Our members face a situation in eKhenena in which there has been sustained state violence against them, their leaders have been arrested and continue to be arrested and people linked to a notorious hitman are now acting with impunity because they feel that they have the force of the state, the ruling party and a very dangerous local criminal on their side. Already these people are moving to build on the occupation with the clear aim of trying to take it over.
When Musawenkosi was attacked his attacker kept asking him why he was on the side of Abahlali while they come from the same rural area. He was implying that as a Zulu person he should not support a movement that is multi-ethnic. This is exactly what happened in the attack on Kennedy Road in 2009, and this kind of division is often encouraged by politicians, including senior politicians. Politicians have said that Abahlali are “bringing people from the Eastern Cape to build shacks in Kwazulu-Natal.” They speak as if the Bantustan system is still in place and that Xhosa speaking people do not belong in KwaZulu-Natal. Our principle has always been that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. The fact that our movement has members and leaders of various ethnicities, and born in various countries, is one of the reasons why the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal hate us.
Many of our members grew up in the ‘80s when there was a civil in KwaZulu and Natal between Inkatha and the UDF. This has left deep scars and trauma for many of our members. They do not want their children to be brought up in the same way. Nobody wants to bring their children up in a situation in which gunshots are a normal part of life.
This is why we are committed to building a politic of peace, a point that our President made very strongly at the recent Unfreedom Day event in eKhenena, a point made while a notorious hitman stood staring at him from the back of the crowd. We will continue to work for a politic of peace, but we cannot do this on our own. Other social forces in society need to work with us to build a consensus that it is unacceptable for impoverished black people to be ruled by the gun, whether in the hands of the police, private security, local structures of the ruling party or local thugs. We are calling for solidarity in this work.
When our members are ruled by violence and criminality, whether from the state or other forces, liberals always tell us that we must report the matter to the police. The police and the politicians always speak as if the fact that we don’t have an open case means that we are not telling the truth about our lives. The reality is that, over fifteen years, many of our members have been arrested on fake charges and assaulted or tortured in police stations. Again, and again, when people have tried to open cases in periods of intense repression they have been insulted, threatened with arrest, thrown out of the police stations or even assaulted. If people are able to open a case it will never be taken seriously. Anyone who wishes to be in solidarity with us in this time, or even to really understand what is going on, needs to understand this reality.
We are calling on the police to stop being an armed force for the politicians and to stop working with local thugs. We are calling on the police to speedily and fairly investigate real instances of crime – including people who carry guns and use them to terrorise communities – and to arrest the real criminals. How can it be that these marauders are free to do whatever they want while the police are arresting and jailing the people who are peacefully advancing the rights of the community?
Everyone who takes democracy seriously must ask themselves what kind of country we are living in when a notorious hit man walks freely, and a deeply and internationally respected leader of the oppressed sits in the cells in a police station?
We deeply appreciate the outpouring of solidarity that we have received, and continue to receive, from comrades around the world – from Brazil, Ghana, Benin, Mali, the Ivory Coast, Gambia, Tunisia, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. It shows how widely respected Mqapheli is on the international left. It has humbled and deeply moved us, and we have been able to share some of the statements with Mqapheli in the cells.
Our membership recently passed 100 000 people. We now have 86 branches in good standing across five provinces. Our movement has much more power than it did during the 2009 wave of repression. But when it comes to holding land, and defending the non-commodified democratic self-management of land, we are still very vulnerable to the combination of violent vertical and horizontal repression, a form of repression involving the police and local thugs and criminals working in a pincer movement.
Solidarity helps to keep us safe, and to keep the space open for us to organise, mobilise and build.
To all the comrades and organisations around the world who have sent statements of solidarity we thank you, we thank you, we thank you. We will always answer the call when our comrades are under attack anywhere in the world. An injury to one must be an injury to all.
The many statements of solidarity that we have received can be seen by scrolling through our Facebook page. Please be aware that there is a fake page set up by someone who we do not know that regularly advertises financial scams. The real page is at https://web.facebook.com/abahlalibasemjondolo/
Bonono, Miya and Gasa are scheduled to appear in the Durban Magistrate’s Court tomorrow – Thursday 13 May – at 9:00 in court 10. Abahlali members and other comrades will be in attendance.
In Gauteng comrades will gather at the Constitutional Court in Braamfontein at 9:00am.
In Cape Town comrades will gather at the magistrate’s court.
In London comrades will gather at the South African embassy.
In Durban contact:
Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686
Thapelo Mohapi: 0747744219
S’bu Zikode: 083 547 0474
In Gauteng contact:
Melitah Ngcobo: 078 132 8604
In Cape Town contact:
Sibusiso Xabangela: 061 883 4767
In London contact:
SJ Cooper-Knock: +44 7976 123985