Thursday, September 07, 2006

Don't tell Mama!

A press release from Abahlali baseMjondolo, the tough squatter organization based in Durban, South Africa, notes that they have been warned not to talk with the press (so much for freedom of speech.) And they face a catch 22: the municipality says it cannot fund its plan to help squatter communities because of lack of funding from the province, but provincial officials say the squatters must work things out with the municipality.

I agree with Abahlali: democracy is about government officials being loyal to the people.

Here's the press release:

On Thursday last week Abahlali baseMjondolo announced that we would use the Promotion of Access to Information Act to compel the eThekwini Municipality to disclose its plans for shack dwellers to shack dwellers. The next day we received a sudden invitation to attend a meeting with the office of the provincial MEC for housing at 3:00 pm today.

We took time away from our work and made ourselves available for this meeting. We hoped that we would finally get answers to our basic questions about what future the government is planning for us when we are told that the slums will be cleared by 2010. We would like to register our profound disappointment and disgust at the way in which this meeting was conducted by Mxolisi Nkosi, the HOD in the Dept. He behaved like an Inkosi berating his subjects in front of his councillors. There was no democracy in the meeting. We were not allowed to speak and when we insisted that this was our right we were threatened. Mr. Jaguja, a respected member of his community, of Abahlali and the Methodist church was insulted by Lennox Mabaso and told to 'shut his mouth' when he tried to speak. The purpose of this meeting was for us to be told to know our place. Nkosi said that he had been getting phone calls from the media and
instructed us to stop speaking to the media. We will not be intimidated. We will keep speaking to the media.

Nkosi then instructed us, making much use of complicated English words that we don't understand, that from now on the province would not be dealing with our matters. He insisted that Abahlali must go back to the Municipality and that the councillors are the route to communicate with the Municipality. We have tried this for years. The councillor system failed us and then the Mayor failed us. Recently Mike Sutcliffe told a researcher from England that his 'slum clearance' programme would not meet its 2010 target because of a lack of funding from the provincial government. Now the provincial government tells us to back to the city!

Nkosi is trying to make the councillors as Gods above the people. We will not accept this. As citizens of a democracy we have a right to stand together, make our selves strong and demand answers directly from government. We will not be sent back to the control of lying and corrupt councillors who take their orders from above and not from below. In some of our settlements our councillors have even tried to intimidate us with armed threats. We have no choice. We will now go back to the streets in our thousands. And we want to make it very clear that it is Nkosi and not some third force that will be making us march.

On Monday and Tuesday we will be protesting because we have been denied access to the housing summit that is happening at the IEC in Durban. We are the ones who need houses but we are denied access to the conference. The rich will be there in numbers to speak the language of house prices and to demand that the poor are relocated to keep prices high. No one will be there to speak for the poor and for putting people before the profits of the rich.

The government talks about Breaking New Ground and says that upgrades are better than relocation because they keep the people near the city where there is work, schools, healthcare and so on. The government's own policy states that relocations make the poor much poorer. But the city and the province want to push the poor out of the city. They are in the pockets of the rich. This is not the democracy that we and our ancestors fought for. There is no justice in this.

We will keep struggling and we will keep talking to the media. Our ancestors were not silenced by Shepstone and McKenzie. Our parents were not silenced by Botha and Buthelezi. We were not silenced by De Klerk. We were not silenced by Sutcliffe when he tried to ban our marches. We will not be silenced by Nkosi. On the question of our right to speak to the media the struggles against apartheid have already won us a victory that we will defend. In this case the law is on our side. We will defend our right to speak.

Democracy is not about us being loyal to Nkosi. Democracy is about Nkosi being loyal to the citizens of this province.

3 comments:

Philippe de Rougemont said...

Sad sad news from SA ! And a confirmation of other stories heard recently from South Africans.

I was speaking with someone from the Cape who told me the ANC was losing its inner democracy since M'beki became president. This person had personnally gained from the end of apartheid, not living in a twonship anymore etc. But he was still deceived and told me: "Discussions between factions inside the ANC are seldom and when they happen, they do not change the top-down approach".

Other example, a Black environmental NGO campaigner telling me that only 3 ANC members of Parliament in SA reallly know the issue of nuclear power plants (versus energy efficiency and renewables), all the other MPs follow the political line given by the minister responsble for energy planning.

Add to this what recently happened to the shack dwellers movement in Durban and you get a sad image of SA politics.

Is this what the south africans have been fighting for ?
Morality: it is hard to fight for freedom, but it is also hard using freedom once you get it.

Good luck, endurance and imagination for the shackdwellers movement !

Heiko Imke said...

The government talks about Breaking New Ground and says that upgrades are better than relocation because they keep the people near the city where there is work, schools, healthcare and so on. The government's own policy states that relocations make the poor much poorer

rn said...

Yes, indeed, to Philippe and Heiko. Relocations are often disastrous for the very people they're supposed to help.