The office of the South African Shack-dwellers movement, known as Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), was broken in on May 15. The members arrived at the office, in the Diakonia Center in central Durban, on the morning of May 16 to find that it had been broken in the previous night. An external hard-drive and the internal hard drives of two computers were stolen, along with the keys to the safe.
However, the cash in the safe, and “other easily saleable items, like our microwave, television, cameras and mobile sound system were not taken,” the AbM said in a statement, adding, “It was clear that the thieves were looking for information, not money.”
The stolen hard-drives contain spreadsheets listing out the names, age, phone number, passport number and other details of its 55,000 members. Having already lost of many of their members and leaders to the bullets of gunmen hired allegedly by people in the government, the AbM now fears that this data could be used to target more of them.
Details about the its different branches across the country, as well as its correspondences with progressive organizations around the world, are also now in the hands of the burglars. The AbM believes that “this break-in was the work of intelligence”. “We can’t be certain about the motivation for the break-in but our immediate suspicion is that it is linked to our opposition, to the.. mayor of Durban [Zandile Gumede],” it said.
Last year, S’bu Zikode, the founder of the movement, had to go underground for safety after a plot to assassinate him was discovered. The suspects that the police had zeroed in on were working in the office of Gumede. However, with the backing of the ANC government, she has been able to prevent the police from questioning her so far.
“The KwaZulu-Natal police have been scared of the mayor,” AbM said in a statement, on May 15, on the arrest of the mayor on corruption charges. The police have been seeking an appointment with the mayor since October last year to record her statement in connection to the assassination plot, but so far, they have not got a chance.
The movement’s relationship with the government has been tense from the beginning, given the challenge it poses through its mode of direct action. It occupies unused lands over which, using the muscle and materials that can be mustered from among its members, it builds communities with shacks, toilets, roads, schools, churches and even creches, to house the urban poor. The urban poor have been abandoned at the outskirts of the cities with no supply of running water or electricity, and no access to economic opportunities in the urban centers.
The AbM stated that under Gumede’s administration, “illegal and violent evictions became a daily occurrence.” “In seven communities that were illegally and violently evicted under her leadership, people now live with disabilities as a result of attacks by the police and other unknown gangsters,” it added. Armored vehicles, costing a total of R 28 million (USD 1.9 million) were purchased under her administration to “oppress the poor while people remain homeless.”
Welcoming her arrest on the charges of corruption and money laundering, amounting to R 208 million (USD 14.5 million), the AbM said, “Some of this money was meant to provide water and sanitation to shack settlements.”
Mentioning a few cases of possible instances of corruption, the AbM pointed out that a massive R 25 million (USD 1.74 million) was spent under her watch to rent 800 portable toilets. “It was under her leadership that the Public Protector found that each government shack in the Kennedy Road transit camps was built at a cost of R 35,000 (USD 2,437) when the normal cost is R 5,000 (USD 348).” The AbM also expressed its hope that the other cases filed against the mayor will also be investigated.
Gumede, however, was released on a bail amount of R 50,000 (USD 3,481) after her first appearance in court on May 15. While the bail conditions state that she should not interfere with the witnesses, the AbM has expressed concern about the safety of its members, saying, “We know that the mayor is a dangerous person.. surrounded by dangerous people. The media has in the past reported that she is also implicated in murder cases.”
The data about the organization and all its members was stolen the night after the above statement was released. However, the AbM stated, “We will not be intimidated. We have nothing to hide. The struggle continues.” It has called on the ANC to immediately fire Gumede from mayor’s position.