Activists from across the globe have joined South Africa’s shack dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in demanding the immediate release of activists Mqapheli Bonono, Siniko Miya, and Maphiwe Gasa and the dropping of all charges against them. Since May 4, the movement has been condemning what they believe to be a politically motivated farce aimed to attack their movement.
The three have been charged with ‘conspiracy to commit murder’ and police allege that in a public meeting organized by the movement, they had discussed plans to assassinate witnesses to a murder. The movement has already pointed out the glaring inconsistencies in the accusations including the incorrect dates of when police say the meeting happened and the contents of said meeting.
Yesterday Thursday May 13, a bail hearing was held in the Magistrates Court in Durban and Bonono and Miya were denied bail. Gasa, who has a sick 16-month-old baby and had not previously been in custody, was denied bail and taken into custody. The court said that bail was denied on the grounds that the matter will be moved to another court on Monday May 17, but the movement highlighted that even the police did not oppose the bail, but the prosecutor still refused to grant it. In the meantime, they were all shifted to the notoriously violent and corrupt Westville Prison.
In a statement released on May 13, Abahlali commented on the motive behind these lengthy legal processes: “These kinds of delaying tactics keep people in prison for no reason, consume our resources, time and energy and force us to redirect the focus of our organising to solidarity work. The personal cost for the people in detention and their families is very high. The forces of repression know very well that the costs of transport to and from court, days away from work or jobs lost, lawyers and support for incarcerated people place huge stress on poor people, their families and organizations. People who cannot afford these things are quickly ground into destruction by the system.”
During the court proceedings, large solidarity protests were held outside the Durban court itself as well as the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, the Magistrate’s Court in Tembisa, the Magistrates Court in Cape Town and the South African Embassy in London. In the Magistrates Court of Durban, AbM reported that 600 of their members had gathered to mobilize support for their comrades. Additionally, people from the Coalition of the Poor which includes street traders, flat dwellers, hostel dwellers, residents of south Durban, a sex workers’ organization, representatives from feminist and environmental organizations, Numsa, Saftu, the Amadiba Crisis Committee and more joined them.
Supporters of Abahlali baseMjondolo have launched an international campaign to put pressure on the South African government to end its witch hunt of activists and release the three AbM leaders.