Abahlali: War against the poor continues in Durban

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On Saturday the Kennedy Road settlement was attacked by a group of 40 heavily armed men. They destroyed 15 homes belonging to members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee [KRDC] including that of S’bu Zikode. Some people were killed including two of the attackers. The police were called but never came until Sunday morning when they arrested 8 KRDC members but non of the armed gang. It is a clear and a no brainier that the police by failing to respond to the call for help, are at the very least complicit, in these attacks. Below was the scene on the Sunday morning at Kennedy Road…..

There are now senior ANC leaders in the Kennedy Road Community Hall. In their presence the homes of the elected Kennedy Road leadership continue to be demolished and burnt by the same small group of well armed people who have been carrying out attacks with impunity for 23 straight hours. None of the people that launched the surprise, unprovoked and heavily armed attack on the KRDC last night have been arrested and yet most of the KRDC is locked up in the Sydenham Police station (including those who were publicly performing the imfene dance in Claremont at the time of the attack).

The police are currently on the scene and are doing nothing to stop the destruction. These are the same police who have, over the years, attacked a number of peaceful and legal marches with swift, shocking (and very effective) brutality.

Below is a more detailed explanation of the situation as of today – See Abahlali site for future updates

1. On Saturday night members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee were subject to a surprise attack by a group of about 40 armed men chanting anti Mpondo slogans. The police failed to intervene. People were killed. Later on that night all key AbM leaders were subject to attack. Everyone’s houses (and businesses in two cases where people had shops) were destroyed. This mob (now known as ‘the Zulu mob’ in the settlement) has direct connections to the local ANC who had promised, two weeks ago, to turn the AbM office into an ANC office.

2. The police arrived in the morning and arrested 8 people all (as far as we know – we’ll only be sure who has been arrested when they appear in court this morning) are members of the KRDC – the same people who were attacked. Among the arrested are people who were performing a dance at a public event elsewhere in the city on Saturday night. Attacks and threats continued unimpeded in the presence of the police. Calls for help were ignored.

3. Thousands have fled the settlement and some individuals, all key AbM activists, are in hiding as they have been told that they will be killed. Some Xhosa and Pondo people organised themselves against ‘the Zulu mob’ – this was independent of AbM or the KRDC which are mulit-ethnic organisations.There may well have been counter violence from this quarter. If so it may well be accurate to characerise it as defensive.

4. On Monday morning a huge police presence descended on the settlement as the local ANC coucillor and the provoncial MEC for Safety and Security arrived (proving that it is easy to get the police there when the state wants them there). They spoke in the hall and offered a clear endorsement of the fact that AbM has been driven out of the settlement. Some of their statements have been recorded. They began, bizarely, to claim that the KRDC had launched the attacks – this is a total fabrication which they will not be able to sustain as there were many witnesses on the scene – including some who are independent of local politics. They have also denied the ethnic character of the first attack.

5. After the politicians left so did the police. The settlement was left in the hands of groups of armed men – many not know to the residents. They trashed the AbM office and banned, on the pain of death, all AbM activists and supporters as well as media from entering the settlement.

6. The spin is now that AbM has been driven out of Kennedy Road because the KRDC implemented a curfew. The KRDC did, indeed, implement a rule that shebeens (bars) must close at 10 in the evening and that they could not continue to run 24 hours a day as before. Given the links between alchohol and violence (including violence against women) – and also shack fires (of which there were 9 in the settlement last year) this is not an unreasonable measure. But even if one takes the view that it is unacceptable to place limits on 24 hour bars and their loud music that hardly justifies killing, destroying people’s homes, and ending the right of individuals and the movement to be in the settlement. In fact given that AbM has been subject to constant intelligence and police attention for 4 years its laughable that the only ‘crime’ that the state has now found AbM guilty of is that a sub-comittee of an elected local sub-committe in one settlement decided to set closing times on bars. If people didn’t like it they could have voted new people on to the KRDC – the next election was set for November. A further irony is that the Saftey committee was in fact set up in alliance with supportive local cops during the thaw in the relations with the state that began in late 2007, picked up some momentum last year and has now been decisively ended. Local cops attended its launch and many of its meetings. There is nothing unusual about this. The state actively asks communities to set up these sorts of structures to liase with the police. And doing so had meant that, for the first time, shack dwellers could, via relations with supportive local police officers actually get help with all kinds of things from the police.

The attached statement from the provincial government and the police speaks for itself. It makes no pretence at political neutrality. Suddenly a closing time on a bar is a restriction of a basic democratic right while violently hounding people and an organisation (one elected to represent the residents of the settlement) out of a settlement is ‘liberation’. We are in a situation of grave crisis. This is not just about Kennedy Road or Abahlali baseMjondolo. It is about democracy in South Africa.

We are all rushing between all kinds of pressures. More careful and detailed information will come when it can. There are still people sleeping on the streets, people in hiding, people in prison and so on. Please forgive any omissions or errors in this rushed note.

We need clear statements and actions of support that are clear about the political character of what has happened and what is happening.

AbM will issue a detailed and full statement when that’s possible. In some respects we still don’t full information – e.g. about who is in prison, exactly how many people have died and who they all were.

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