by Mashumi Figlan, Abahlali baseMjondolo
Really, it is a shame
South Africans are facing tough times. It is a time when there is no humanity, a time when no one in government is interested to listen to your story if you are a poor person. There are good thinkers in this country, but if their ideologies are coming from the bottom up, from poor communities, no one is prepared to listen carefully.
A good example is what took place in the Kennedy Road shack settlement on the night of 26 September 2009. An armed group of people decided to get rid of the KRDC (Kennedy Road Development Committee), elected community leaders, and the movement of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road.
I was one of the victims. They came to my shack banging, trying to break my door. They were calling me “imPondo,” saying “We are here to kill you, ImPondo.” They were saying also that Abahlali President S’bu Zikode imposed the amaPondo over amaZulu.
After the attacks, an Honorable MEC said that the armed people were trying to deliver themselves from autocratic rule under Abahlali. After the attacks, a politician from the eThekwini Housing Department said that people from Eastern Cape in Kennedy Road are doing a tribal dance known as imfene, and that he only knows imfene in this province as associated with witchcraft.
Politicians are always encouraging people to go back to their roots, to be proud of what they are, to celebrate the day of heritage. But, surprisingly, the very same politicians use hate speech, like when they say a dance by people from the Eastern Cape is associated with witchcraft.
I want to know why these people decided (if we were wrong, autocratic or oppressive) to take law into their own hands. I’m always asking myself that question.
In other cases of this nature, if people decided to take law into their own hands, government intervenes to help those who are displaced. But, in this case, we are still displaced and exiled in our own country, a country that we fought for. Even the police, in this case, decided not to worry themselves about the attacks.
The government always discourages people from taking the law into their own hands. But, in this case, we just heard those in power encouraging the actions of armed people.
Instead of discouraging the armed people from taking the law into their own hands, discouraging them from destroying our homes, and taking our belongings, the politicians said that the armed people were trying to deliver themselves from the autocratic rule of Kennedy leaders. There was not even one word from the government condemning their actions.
Why? Whose country is this? Does this country belong to criminals? If so, where do the people belong?
The poor people in Kennedy were organized by means of democratic structures with the purpose of engaging the government. We were not organised by means of carrying weapons, threatening others, and destroying their homes and belongings. Is there anything wrong with poor people being involved in their own futures? Is there also anything wrong if poor people are organizing themselves in the name of humanity?
Now the Kennedy 5, members of Abahlali who committed no crime, are still behind bars. It looks like their case will take a very long time. The Magistrate admitted that there was a political interference, and that worries me. I want to know what about those who destroyed our homes and stole our belongings: why are they not behind bars?
I also was disappointed on the 17 Feb 2010 when I visited the Sydenham Police Station to open a case about what happened that night of the Kennedy attacks. I first went to CR Swart to open a case, and they instructed me to go to my nearest police station, the Sydenham Police station. I told the policemen at CR Swart that my aim was to avoid going to the Sydenham police because the situation was so tense, and I was not sure of my safety.
When I arrived at the Sydenham Police Station, I noticed that not even one officer was wearing a name tag, and that worried me a lot because it is not good to talk to somebody you don’t know. Then a police officer asked, “Can I help you?” I came closer, and I told him what I was there for. Then he asked me where I have been all this time, and I told him. Then he said, “My man, I see you are here to play and I got no time to play.” At the time, he was shouting and everyone was staring at me and laughing.
I was so disappointed and many questions came to my mind. Where did the people who destroyed our shacks get their mandate? The police know that we lost everything, but there is no one behind bars for doing something so unaccepted.
Is it yet uhuru, or is it not yet? How can anyone survive like this? Why in your own country are you treated as an animal? Why are we still in hiding if our government is still democratic? Academics, church leaders and many in countries overseas urge our government to intervene and to make sure that those who are displaced feel protected, but no one in government listens.
Whose country is this? The aim of Abahlali is not to take over power, but to make sure that this country is for everyone and also that everyone feels as part and parcel of this country.
I’ve been thinking about my child, and the children of all those who are displaced. I’ve been thinking about how to keep them together and make sure that what happened to their parents is not something to be underestimated. What happened is something which we all must roll-up our sleeves and fight. We must all fight for a pure democracy in this country, where everyone is counted as a human being.
It is a shame also when the politicians are asking why there are always violent protests in this beautiful country. But how can the people not get furious? How can they not protest if they are hungry and noticing that those who are supposed to help them are helping themselves?
Some say the reason there are so many so-called ‘service delivery protests’ is because some within the political parties are spoon-feeding the protesters because they want to be nominated in the next municipal election. The government is always saying that someone is telling the people to riot against their councillors, and the reason why they are doing it is that they want to take over as councillors.
That is naive thinking: Do they think poor people don’t see that either there is no service delivery or else it is the wrong king of delivery, a delivery that oppresses us? Do they think that poor people don’t know how to separate something good from something bad? It is an insult to think there are people spoon-feeding the poor. Do the poor need somebody to tell them about their suffering?
Please, come on, the poor know their problems without any help from anyone. So let us tell you what we need you to do. Now is the time to stop a top-down system and make sure that each and everyone can decide his or her own future. It is our lives and we are the masters of what we are.
One day we will see a difference between those who broke the law and those who were the victims of the system. We all know that the time is slowly coming where this country will belong to all those who live on it. Once that time comes, everybody will experience a difference between petty democracy and a true democracy. I believe that one day this country will be a pure democratic country as long the power always remains with the people. But at the moment these people in power are carrying two flags: a flag of dictatorship and a fake democratic flag.
Ayatya amaxhalanga, amahlungulu abukele!!!
BAHLALI MANYANANI, ELUMANYANWENI KUKHO UMVUZO.
Lindela S. Figlan: vice president and also a member of ABM.