South Africa’s shack dwellers’ movement to protest theft of COVID-19 funds in KwaZulu-Natal

The shack dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, will hold a rally in Durban protesting the theft of COVID-19 funds. Almost R2 billion has been lost in the KwaZulu-Natal province alone

October 18, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
An Abahlali baseMjondolo rally. File Photo

On Monday, October 19, South Africa’s shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM), will be holding a march in Durban city to protest the theft of hundreds of millions of COVID-19 funds in the KwaZulu-Natal. The province has been identified as the second most corrupt province in the country.

George Bonono, the chairperson of AbM’s Kwazulu-Natal province, told Peoples Dispatch that an estimated R2 billion (USD 120 million) has been lost from the KwaZulu-Natal province alone.

Members of Abahlali, which has been at the forefront of the struggle for housing rights in the country, are set to assemble at the King Dinuzulu Park at 9 a.m and march to the Durban City Hall. Here they intend to submit a memorandum to the province’s premier, Sihle Zikalala, and to Sipho Hlomuka, a member of its Executive Council.

The memorandum demands not only speedy investigation and arrests of the culprits, but also the recovery of the stolen funds and its redistribution to the people for whose protection the money was originally allocated.

Abahlali also demands the rehabilitation of families illegally evicted from their settlements during the pandemic, compensation for the demolition of their shacks and prosecution of authorities involved in these demolitions.

Members of this movement, which advances housing rights by occupying unused lands and building shacks to house the urban poor, have been at the receiving end of these demolitions since its founding in 2005.

During the lockdown, despite a moratorium against evictions, the notorious eThekwini municipality has been carrying out violent demolitions using private security companies whose personnel have often opened fire, injuring many.

Most often, the building materials – sheets of tarpaulin and corrugated metal – are burnt after demolitions to prevent the shack dwellers from rebuilding. Many families have been left on the roadside, from where they have been arrested for violating the ‘stay-home orders’.

It is these shack dwellers who are also the worst affected by the theft of funds, because they are the section of the population most vulnerable to the pandemic.

Proper physical distancing is not possible in these settlements where entire families are packed in one-room shacks, rows of which are packed together. The prescribed hygiene practices are beyond the reach of the shack dwellers whose entire settlements share only few communal water pipes, most of which are connected by the dwellers themselves.

While communities face such dire and dangerous circumstances of existence, eThekwini’s Water and Sanitation Unit is being investigated for tenders frauds, where upto R700 million (USD 42 million) has been allegedly stolen through overpriced tenders and undelivered goods.

“It is a well-known fact that former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede is alleged to have corrupted almost R430 million rand from a Durban Solid Waste tender.. It exposes our communities to greater health danger.. (and) denies.. the right to life. The act of corruption in the middle of pandemic should be viewed as an attempted murder and the culprits should be charged as such,” Abahlali said in its statement.

Funds allocated to KwaZulu-Natal Department of Social Development for food relief have allegedly been stolen to the tune of R25 million. “It is reported that this money was meant to provide food relief to about 88,000 people in distress, and yet only 1,026 people benefited,” the statement adds.