This is a statement released at the weekend by Thapelo Mohapi, Mqapheli Bonono and Nomusa Sizani of Abahlali baseMjondolo and Marvin Govender of the Phoenix Residents Association.
The situation in Durban is very serious. The politicians and the people around them are actively trying to divide people and to turn people against each other so that they can continue with their looting. As usual they are trying to divide the poor.
Social media is being used to call for violence, to call for war. False information is being circulated with the aim of generating fear and anger.
The politicians and their cronies are attempting to brew and encourage a very, very dangerous politics that is building fear and anger with the aim of dividing people along lines of nationality of origin, ethnicity and race. Poor people are also being isolated and criminalised. The politicians are trying to make us look at our own neighbours as enemies. They are doing this so that they can keep looting the money that should be for land, housing, healthcare, education and so on. They are doing this so that they can keep looting from the us, the people, and keep destroying our lives and our children’s future.
People in and close to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal have a long history of open prejudice to amaMpondo. They have often tried to blame amaMpondo and other isiXhosa speaking people for poverty in the province. They have often said that people in Durban do not have houses because people from the Eastern Cape have moved here. Now in this crisis all this ethnic prejudice and hostility is being brought to the fore. People are saying that they are ‘100% Zulu’, calling amaMpondo and amaXhosa terrible names and saying that amaMpondo and other isiXhosa speaking people do not belong in the province. We are worried that this could escalate into the kind of ethnic attacks that we saw in 2009, or even an ethnic war.
Like national borders the borders of the old ‘bantustans’ were imposed by colonialism. We all know that before colonialism people moved freely across the land that is now divided by these colonial borders. Now the ANC is acting in a way that returns to the oppressive politics of the apartheid system by saying that if you speak isiXhosa you should be living in the Eastern Cape.
Many of our older members survived the war between Inkatha and the UDF. We know what war means, and what damage it does. We have always had members and leaders from different ethnic groups in our movement. Right now, we have senior leaders who come to us as gifts from amaMpondo and abeSotho. This has always been our politic and it will always remain our politic.
The ANC also has a long of history from xenophobia running from its local branches right up to its cabinet ministers. The state is highly xenophobic. Not long-ago people saying that they were MK veterans were attacking migrants on the streets in Durban. Now in this crisis xenophobia is also being actively encouraged. We will give one example. On 14 July the Briardene settlement in Durban North burnt to the ground after a nearby electricity sub-station was sabotaged. Help for the residents, who lost everything, has come from other branches of our movement, Humanitarian Development Alliance SA (HUDA SA), Muslims for Humanity, Doctors without Borders and the Amadiba Crisis Committee.
We have seen the usual opportunism by the ANC and the DA in Briardene. Both parties have told people that they provided the tent that was actually provided by Doctors without Borders. Now that the ANC is coming to provide building materials (something that they now do after fires as a direct gain from our struggle) they are saying that they will not provide building materials to ‘foreign nationals’. Briardene has long established residents from countries like Mozambique and Malawi, and our movement there, as everywhere, welcomes members without regard for the country in which they were born. A person born in Mozambique has served as the chairperson there. When the ANC says that people who it does not consider to be South African are not entitled to support after a disaster it is not only being inhuman, it is also actively and deliberately creating divisions between residents.
There is even xenophobia within the ANC. When Zandile Gumede was removed as the mayor of Durban due to massive corruption her supporters, who are also Zuma’s supporters, said that the current mayor of Durban Mxolisi Kaunda is not a South African because his name is Kaunda. He continues to be undermined on this basis.
We are trying to deal with the issue of xenophobia in Briardene by working together to raise money from collecting scrap metal so make sure that everyone, without regard for where they were born, has access to building materials. But the ANC is insisting that they will not allow residents who they call ‘foreign nationals’ to rebuild. However, we are worried that in this crisis there could be more xenophobic violence, most likely encouraged by the local ANC branches.
Indian people are also being called terrible names, threatened and told that they must go back to India. This is ridiculous and outrageous. How can a person who has never been to India be told that they must go back to India? This must be rejected as strongly as we reject the dangerous politics of those who say that people must go back to the provinces and countries where they were born.
We all know that when people started taking food on Sunday evening on 11 July people of all ethnicities, nationalities and races participated. We also know that when the riots changed into all out destruction, dangerous criminals used them for their own purposes and there were all kinds of sabotage everyone was frightened and communities across the city organised themselves to defend themselves. Sometimes communities of different nationalities, ethnicities and races worked together. But we also know that in many cases Africans were targeted. This happened to Mqapheli Bonono, our Deputy President, in Clare Estate when Indian and coloured people were allowed through a checkpoint while African people were stopped and questioned and made to show receipts for any goods in their cars. Borders were being made in the city, and now the ANC and their cronies are trying to keep those borders by keeping people divided.
Long before the current crisis we worked with the Phoenix Residents Association to fight against brutal evictions that were being carried out by securities belonging to Jay Singh who was involved in a lot of shady deals. There are African and Indian comrades in the Phoenix Residents Association.
We do not know exactly what happened Phoenix during the riots. It does not seem that anyone knows the whole story for sure. There are all kinds of rumours and it is very important not to accept or circulate unconfirmed rumours. But it is clear that there were murders. We are being told that some people were killed by securities. We are also told that gangsters in the area, gangsters involved in the selling of drugs and known to be very violent, committed some of these murders. These gangsters have a close relationship with the police. All the residents of Phoenix, African and Indian, fear these gangsters and want them to be dealt with. The African and Indian people that we work with in Phoenix all want the murders to be urgently investigated and prosecuted. A whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of these gangsters.
We agree that it is urgent that all the murders that happened in Phoenix should be quickly investigated and prosecutions carried out according to the evidence. Wherever there is racism this must be acknowledged and directly dealt with. The state must be pushed to do this work as effectively and as soon as is possible. But because the police in Phoenix are closely connected to the gangsters operating in the township police must be brought in from elsewhere to investigate these murders, preferably from outside the province.
But this idea that all Indians are racist is not true and the attempt to build anger and divide people with the aim of starting a war between Indians and Africans is very, very dangerous. Our spokesperson, Thapelo Mohapi, lived in the Bhambayi settlement in Inanda when he was a child. His family were made refugees during the war between Inkatha and the UDF. They were taken in and given shelter in the homes of ordinary working-class Indian people in Phoenix.
When our movement started in 2005 Raj Patel and Fazel Khan, both academics, played a very important role in supporting the day to day organisation required to build a movement. They humbled themselves and worked within the democratic structures of our movement to support the oppressed to build their own power. They are both deeply respected in our movement. Bishop Rubin Phillip has journeyed with us since 2005. He is our Bishop, a man who is loved and respected in our movement. In the early years of our movement Shamitha Naidoo was a powerful leader in our movement. We remain close to her. We always work to build unity between the struggles of the oppressed and work closely with people like Verushka Memdutt from the Market Users Committee. Internationally we have comrades like Firoze Manji from Kenya and Vijay Prashad from India. All these people are of Indian descent and we stand with them proudly as comrades in the struggle to humanize the world.
There has always been unity in struggle in our movement, and this was the same in the struggles against apartheid. Everybody knows the history of the black consciousness movement, the trade union movement, the UDF and other organisations. Indian people were tortured, jailed and killed in the struggle. Their blood is part of the river of blood that watered the tree of the freedom, a tree that the gangsters in the ANC are now trying to cut down so that they can burn the wood.
Criminalising the poor
There is another important point that we need to make at this time. The police are under pressure to make arrests and as usual they are targeting the poor. This is not something new. We are always treated as criminals. For more than twenty-five years the police have raided shack settlements, stolen money and taken any electronic goods that they can find if a receipt cannot be produced. They then show this to the world as recovered ‘stolen property’. But now the harassment and criminalisation are much worse than usual. In fact, the abuse that we are now suffering is extreme. No middle-class person has the police or soldiers kick their door down, insult them, assault them and take anything that they don’t have a receipt for. On Tuesday our Deputy President and National Spokesperson were stopped by the police near the Foreman Road settlement in Clare Estate while taking milk to people in need. They were threatened, insulted and the milk was dropped on the ground. Treating all poor people as criminals is another way of making one part of society an enemy to others, another way of dividing people.
It is not radical to turn the people against each other. It is an inhuman, dangerous and completely reactionary politics that all people with any humanity in their hearts must reject. We have had enough of the politic of blood. If the political gangsters are successful in turning the poor against each other we will be oppressed for ever.
We condemn all and every attempt to create and escalate division between the people whether this is on the lines of ethnicity, xenophobia, race or class. We cannot allow the politicians and the people that receive tenders in exchange for kickbacks to turn neighbours against neighbours and communities against communities. Everyone who lives in South Africa is now part of us. Everyone who lives in Durban is now part of us. Every person is a person and must be welcomed and treated as a person no matter where they were born, where their ancestors were from and what language they speak. Poor people must not be criminalised.
Our movement will always remain open to all. We will always insist that a comrade is a comrade and a neighbour is a neighbour. We are very clear that our members must, at all costs, work to prevent people from fighting among themselves.
It is a principle of abahlalism that we must always oppose all forms of racism everywhere because every person everywhere in the world is a person and must be respected as a person. It is also a principle of abahlalism that we do not recognise a person by the race that the system of oppression placed them into. When we are dealing with attempts to incite xenophobia and create ethnic divisions we say that a neighbour is a neighbour and a comrade is a comrade. We say the same when the politicians and their friends are trying to divide us along the lines of the races into which oppression placed us. We treat every human being with dignity and respect. It is the forces of oppression that continue to divide us, keep us poor and vandalise our human dignity.
We are committed to work with all progressive forces and all people of good faith to build solidarity in this crisis via unity in action. Solidarity means opposing all forms of racism and building unity among the people. We are committed to work with all progressive forces and to struggle together against all the looters who are destroying our society, whether they are politicians or capitalists. We are committed to work with all progressive forces to build popular democratic power from below so that we can build a just peace, a socialist peace in which there are no more poor people in a rich country.
We also need to note that our movement has now been a victim of the circulation of fake news for the second time. The first time an agent provocateur changed one of our statements to make it anti-Muslim and then circulated it. We issued a statement to correct this fabrication. Now there is another statement, also circulating widely, that says that a meeting will be held at the Right2Know offices on Monday to launch a new movement that will “ensure justice was done in Phoenix and that ZUMA (former President Jacob ZUMA) was released immediately”. The name of our movement is mentioned, but we know nothing about this meeting and would not attend any meeting of this kind. We are not and have never been supporters of Zuma and have made repeatedly made our positions on both factions of the ANC clear.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.