Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement
10 March 2011
Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement of Solidarity with the Haitian People
When we began our struggle in 2005 we said that struggle was a school. We declared that each settlement was not just a land occupation that had been organised under apartheid and that now had to defend itself against a democratically elected state aiming to drive the poor out of the cities. We declared that each settlement was also a community and, when it was democratised and people were freely discussing their lives and struggles together and as equals, it was also a kind of popular university.
We have learnt many lessons in the school of our struggle. Some of these lessons have been bitter. We always knew that we were the people that did not count. But when we started our struggle we thought that if we could raise our voices loudly enough, that if we could go over the BECs and Ward Councillors, that national government would hear our voices. But we learnt that the politicians at all levels took our request to be heard and our demand for dignity as criminal. We learnt that it was not just the Yakoob Baigs of this world that will not allow poor people to be part of the discussions that shape our society. We learnt that it was also Nigel Gumede, John Mchunu and Willies Mchunu. We leant, by their silence, that the hatred of an independent politics of the poor goes to the very top of this society.
We learnt that when you are a poor person your attempts to speak for yourself, to participate in decision making and to be a citizen rather than a ‘beneficiary’ of development that never comes or, if it does, may take you to a transit camp, is taken as criminal. We learnt that a simple request to be heard and to be taken seriously will be answered with insults, lies, rubber bullets, jail and torture. We learnt that there are many forces in civil society that, just like the politicians, want followers and not comrades and are very frightened of the idea of the poor organising the poor. We learnt that civil society is often much more connected to the state than to the people. Almost everywhere our modest demands, our demands for our basic needs to be met, our demands to be treated as human beings, to be treated with dignity, were received with contempt, insults and violence.
In our university we discussed our own situation. We discussed the history of the struggles of the poor in Durban. We discussed housing policy. We discussed how best to organise ourselves. We also discussed the struggles of the poor in other countries – in Zimbabwe, in India, in Brazil and in Haiti.
It was immediately clear to us that the Haitian people have been denied democracy. They have been denied the right to elect their own leaders and to shape their own future. This denial of their right to democracy has come from the Haitian elites, from the American state, from the governments of France and Britain and from some of the big NGOs that are tied to elites in Haiti and in America and Europe. It is clear that all of these elites are agreed that the Haitian people can only be allowed to have democracy for as long as they vote for their own oppression. When they vote for their own dignity their right to democracy is immediately removed and it is removed with violence.
Our right to democracy has also been removed with violence. We have learnt that it is common for democracy to be denied as soon as poor people want to participate in a democracy as equals, as people that think and that count like all other people, rather than just as followers of some or other politician or party.
In 2007 and 2008 we organised a day of solidarity with Haiti. We watched videos sent to us by the Haitian Action Committee and we discussed those videos. In 2008 we were able to have long discussions with Jacques Depelchin who has spent time with Fanmi Lavalas, the Haitian movement, and with Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa. In 2009 some of our comrades stayed with Peter Hallward in London. Peter Hallward wrote a book on Haiti called Damming the Flood and that book is in our library. It is one of the books that we were able to save during the attack on our movement in September 2009. In that book there is an interview with Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We have discussed that interview in depth. We were also able to save copies of Aristide’s own books like In the Parish of the Poor.
We have talked about liberation theology and why it is that some of the churches are more able to recognise the equal humanity of the poor than some parts of civil society. We concluded that it is because civil society usually sees the poor as ignorant and in need of top down education while some churches see that every person has a spark of the divine fire burning inside them and so they see the poor as human beings that are oppressed and who should be joined in a struggle for justice.
We invited Aristide to meet with us more than once but we were told that he has not been allowed to talk politics here in South Africa. But we have read his words and they are pure Abahlalism. It is a politic of dignity. He says that “Everything comes back, in the end, to the simple principle that tout moun se moun – every person is indeed a person, every person is capable of thinking things through for themselves.” This is also our politic.
The Haitian government has given Jean-Bertrand Aristide a visa to return home. It is being said that it is the government of our own country that is now denying him the right to return home. If this is true that would make the government of South Africa the ally of the elites in Haiti, in America and in Europe that are denying the Haitian people the right to democracy.
We noted the silence of our government when the people of Tunisia, then Egypt and then Libya took to the streets of their countries to demand dignity and freedom. We have noted the silence of our government when popular protest here in South Africa is banned, put down with police violence and protesters are tortured and even killed. We have noted how when our government does speak about the struggles of the poor it speaks to show them as violent, short minded and a result of the people being used by cunning agitators with evil intentions. We have noted that our government is unable to understand that people cannot forever accept that they must live, like pigs in mud, with fire, with rape, with hunger, with leaders that are imposed from the top down and without hope. We have noted the silence of our government in the face of our demand for an independent enquiry into the armed attack on our movement in September 2009 and the ongoing intimidation of our members in the Kennedy Road settlement which has included violence and death threats and resulted in more than forty families being driven for their homes.
Almost a year ago we marched on Jacob Zuma. We took our demands, in our thousands, to his office. The response has been silence, a year of silence. We are under no illusions about this government. Nevertheless we, once again, address ourselves to this government, a government that, what ever its flaws, remains an elected government. Our demands are clear and they are just.
1. Allow Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return home and issue a statement of unequivocal support for the Haitian people to freely elect their own leaders and to shape their own future.
2. Ensure that all the people that were driven from Kennedy Road by the local ANC can return in safety and issue a statement of unequivocal support for all South Africans to be able to organise and to mobilise independently of the ANC if that is their choice. Institute an independent enquiry into the attack on Kennedy Road.
3. Organise an independent enquiry into how the police are responding to popular protest in South Africa with a particular focus on the killing of protesters.
We call on the poor people’s movements, trade unions, progressive churches and those parts of civil society that understand that democracy is not a debate between experts but that it is a free and open discussion between all people to join with us in support of these demands. We will organise a small demonstration in support of the right of the Haitian people to govern themselves. Details will be announced soon.
For further information and comment please contact:
S’bu Zikode, Abahlali baseMjondolo President:083 547 0474
Mnikelo Ndabankulu, Abahlali baseMjondolo Spokesperson: 081 309 5485
Bandile Mdlalose, Abahlali baseMjondolo General Secretary: 071 424 2815