Shack dwellers movement’s leader goes underground following threats

S’bu Zikode of the Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa has been forced to hide without access to cellphones and no contact with his family, as have other members of the organization

August 21, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
The movement has faced massive police police and state repression over the years. Photo: Abahlali baseMjondolo

Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), the South African Shack Dwellers’ movement against evictions and in favor of public housing, released a press statement on Monday, stating that its President, S’bu Zikode, was under imminent threat of assassination, because of which he had been forced to go underground, with no access to cellphones and no contact with his family. Additional security measures have been put in place for several others under threat as well.

The statement said that the mayor of the eThekwini municipality, Zandile Gumede, had made extremely unsavory, undemocratic comments on June 12, accusing the AbM of being a ‘third force’, effectively insinuating that the AbM resorted to undemocratic, unlawful and violent means. The AbM reiterated that their movement was fully democratic, and that the various positions in the movement were subject to elections. Furthermore, all leaders were subject to the right of recall, and all important decisions were taken by open assemblies, the organization said.

As per the statement, the chief whip of the municipality, Nelly Nyanisa, had made false, defamatory allegations against the AbM president, accusing him of wanting to make the city ‘ungovernable’, and threatening that the ANC (African National Congress) would ‘deal’ with the AbM.

The organization noted that the subtle threat of violence by the chief whip had given tacit approval to ward councillors from the ANC to threaten and attack the AbM. No senior leader of the ANC had yet disowned or condemned these false, inflammatory statements, even though AbM had received credible information from inside the ANC itself and from the police of threats of assassination and violence, the statement noted.

The press statement went on to say that the AbM had already written two letters to the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the police minister, requesting them to take immediate corrective action in view of the threats of violence and assassination, and the ongoing murder of AbM leaders, but the movement had still not received any reply from their respective offices.

The AbM has been the target of constant and increasing threats, intimidation, and acts of violence, including telephonic death threats, in Durban. AbM continues to face extreme repression since 2009. These include armed attacks on AbM leaders’ homes, arrests and detention on false charges, torture, assault, death threats and assassinations.

For instance, on July 30, the Ekurhuleni metro police department (EMPD) attacked the Phumula Mqashi Land Occupation area in Tembisa in South Africa’s East Rand, burning 266 shacks and beating up many of the shack dwellers, including the elderly and pregnant women. Police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets, and in one case, stripped a person of his clothes and beat him black and blue.

In its statement, AbM reiterated its resolve to survive and overcome this cycle of state and political repression, as it strives for a world in which the dignity of each and every human being is respected.