As South African President Jacob Zuma visits London today, members of the Abahlali Solidarity UK campaign will hold a protest at 10 Downing Street to demonstrate against the repression of South African shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM).
AbM activists were attacked on September 26 and 27, 2009, at the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban , South Africa. Two nights of violence by masked armed men that caused Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip to say democracy itself was ‘under attack’ in South Africa.
‘Once again people have been beaten, had their homes destroyed, been driven from their community…for their political views and practices… The militia that has driven the AbM leaders and hundreds of families out of the settlement is a profound disgrace to our democracy’
Bishop Rubin Phillip, 29 September 2009
The attacks came while Abahlali baseMjondolo was challenging the state government’s proposed “Slums Act”, shortly after the attacks AbM won a ruling which deemed the state law unconstitutional. Shortly after the attacks, many shack dwellers fled or went missing and two attackers died at Kennedy Road. The police arrested thirteen members of AbM despite some not being present during the attacks on suspicion of involvement in the two deaths. One has been released completely; five remain in prison without charge, while seven have been released on bail. In November 2009 another AbM settlement was attacked by local police and innocent dwellers were beaten, shot at and arrested, only for all charges to be dropped two days later.
There have been international calls across academia and civil society organisations for a public inquiry into Kennedy Road . In December 2009, Amnesty International produced a report into the attacks citing further human right abuses in the failure of the South African authorities to investigate. There is increasing pressure on the South African authorities to make a public statement, to date they have refused calling it “just a criminal matter”.
Five months since the attacks, the democratically elected leadership of AbM with their spouses and children, are all in hiding. President Zuma has signally failed not only to condemn the attacks, but also failed to heed the call and order a judicial investigation into who was responsible for the violence in Kennedy Road, and the role of the Sydenham police.
Today’s demonstration will call on President Zuma to order an impartial judicial investigation as a matter of urgency. Activists will also urge him to guarantee to AbM members and leaders the same rights to security, safety, freedom of expression and freedom of political expression that the Constitution guarantees all South Africa ’s citizens.
Seb Klier, an Abahlali Solidarity UK campaigner said
“The shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo represents part of a grassroots movement of the poor who have been abandoned by official bodies in South Africa, but are organising themselves to counter poverty and injustice. The ongoing repression and criminalisation of Abahlali baseMjondolo which is a peaceful and democratic movement is an affront to basic human and democratic rights – it’s now time for President Jacob Zuma to explain how his government will begin to address this shameful episode.”