OPINION: State brutality against the poor continues in South Africa

BY UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE’S MOVEMENT AND STAFF AND STUDENTS OF RHODES UNIVERSITYmk2

More than a year since the Marikana Massacre and the unadulterated violence that the South African state permits against the poor continues.

This is a violence marked by poverty, the denial of responsibility on the part of politicians, and even death inflicted upon South Africa’s poor by the ruling elite who continue to parade a non-participatory and brutal system as if it were the democracy once promised.

Since early 2013 we have witnessed again, in KwaZulu Natal, the naked violence of the police in the destruction of shack settlements and the active silencing of those who protest against it.

In Kwazulu Natal the eThekwini municipality has illegally evicted people from their homes. They have employed the forces of the South African Police service (SAPs) and the Land Invasion Unit to illegally demolish shacks in which families live, rendering dozens of people homeless and bringing into the Cato Crest community extreme violence and intimidation, including murder. This is unacceptable. We cannot stand by and watch in silence.

The show of aggression by police in the destruction of homes patently disregards a court order with  the Durban High Court made on 22 August 2013 that all evictions would stop pending the final outcome of an application made by the municipality to the court.

With no legitimate court order to justify their behaviour and in defiance of a series of interdicts against their actions – the local municipality have openly ignored the High Court’s instructions. Particularly, the instruction to provide “temporary habitable dwellings that afford shelter, privacy and amenities at least equivalent to those destroyed”. Instead it has continued its attack on the shackdwellers and their livelihoods in Cato Crest.

Two activists – Thembinkosi Qumbelo and Nkululeko Gwala – have been killed. There have been no official investigations into these killings in spite of allegations that these activists were targeted for assassination.  The Land Invasion Unit and SAPs have also shot at protestors repeatedly at close range with live ammunition.  Nkosinathi Mngomezulu and Luleka Makhwenkwana have been hospitalised and on 30 September Nqobile Nzuza, a 17 year old student at Bonella High School, was shot dead by the Cato Manor police. Even though there are witnesses to the shooting, Nzuza’s alleged murderer continues to function as a police officer in the area.

Yet it is those who protest the murders of activists, those who demand not to be evicted from their homes, those who defend themselves against state-sponsored violence and those who struggle for land and housing who are portrayed time and again as the hooligans, as the inciters of lawlessness against the police who evict them.

Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), South Africa’s largest post-apartheid social movement has supported the rebuilding of demolished shacks and the establishment of “Marikana”, a resettlement on adjacent land named after the area where last year police shot dead 34 miners. Members of Abahlali believe that in any democratic society people should be able to decide where they live. Shacks should be upgraded where they are and people should not be forced to leave their homes and communities and to move to the outskirts of the city away from jobs, schools, hospitals and other key resources to which all people should have access. AbM are not affiliated to any political party or Non-governmental organisation.

In 2009, Abahlali won an historic victory in the Constitutional Court when they had section 16 of the Slums Act overturned. Because of AbM, an act that would have given provincial powers the ability to enforce mass evictions was declared illegal.  Their political significance to social justice was heralded by their branding and criminalisation within the ruling party. This continues today.

Bandile Mdlalose, General Secretary of AbM, was organising a (peaceful) march at the Cato Manor police station after the murder of Nqobile shortly before she was arrested. The police retaliated with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas. She was then arrested while standing on the pavement. The media reported it as a ‘violent’ protest; E News said protesters were ‘running amok’ while showing visuals of people running in terror from the police. Mdlalose was held for seven days before she was released on R5000 bail and ordered to stay out of Cato Crest.  There have also been constant allegations of assaults by the police, and death threats against activists. S’bu Zikode, President of AbM, is in fear of his life and has been forced to flee his home.

In a statement released on 7th October, AbM called on comrades in South Africa:

“To take urgent action in solidarity with us and against the repression we are facing. We call on all comrades to support our call for the authorities in Durban to cease their violent repression of our movement; to clearly condemn the violence of the police, the Land Invasions Unit, the party thugs and the assassins and negotiate rather than repress the organised poor; to act against those that have perpetrated this violence and embrace a democratic politic, a politic of negotiation.”

We cannot afford to be indifferent. What is happening in Cato Crest is not acceptable on any level; our silence and the silence of the media must stop implying that it is. We are here to say we are outraged.

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