“I have only come to know what my rights are and what they mean through this organisation”

On Sunday 26 November, shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo launched a branch in Cato Manor, aimed at assisting and protecting residents of the uMkhumbane informal settlement. A few residents spoke to the Daily Vox about the change they hope to see with the newly launched branch.

Sthembiso Khoza, 54, unemployed, Cato Manor
The organisation has been of great help to us when we had lost all hope. Having our own branch will make things easier for us, especially since we will have our own elected members who will look out for our needs and complaints. Seeing the branch being launched gave me hope; we’ve been living under dire conditions for quite some time now. I foresee change in this community and I hope there will be peace.

Abahlali baseMjondolo deputy president, Mzwakhe Mdlalose said the launch was a success after a long struggle.

“We have successfully launched the branch in Cato Manor after blood was shed and lives lost. The municipality continuously evicted people in a violent and most brutal manner. But we are glad that there were no hindrances during the launch,” he said.

Lulama Yekisa, 55, Cato Manor
We’ve endured victimisation since our arrival in this place. Having been part of Abahlali baseMjondolo has helped us a lot as a community, they have brought change already. They helped us through trying times when our councillors and the municipality, the people we trusted turned against us. It is the same organisation that is fighting tirelessly for our rights and dignity. Having our own branch is the beginning of the great things.

In the past few months, Cato Manor informal settlement shack dwellers in Blinkbonnie road have faced violent evictions from the municipality and the city’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit. This saw many people’s structures razed and people being beaten and shot at. Mlungisi Mokoena, 18, was allegedly shot in August for defying the police and land invasion unit when they wanted to demolish his home.

Siphenathi Zoko, 23, unemployed, Cato Manor
If the organisation was a political party, which it isn’t, that would be my first time to vote. I have only come to know what my rights are and what they mean through this organisation. I have been able to work together with my fellow youth in development of each other with the help from the organisation. Now that we have a branch too, I am happy as this means we will continue to work tirelessly with our leaders to fight for our rights. A number of young people are now able to create their own jobs through programmes provided by the organisation.

Abahlali baseMjondolo spokesperson, Thembani Ngongoma said people had been faced with many challenges around joining the organisation before the actual launch due to a number of reasons including intimidation from the municipality.

“We have finally been able to launch our branch in a satisfactory way. We launched different wings including women and youth leadership. Challenges facing women can’t be the same as those affecting men, that’s why we had to launch different wings,” he said.

Sinenhlanhla Myeza, 26, unemployed, Cato Manor
We will now be able to have our own people from our branch who will fight for us. Abahlali have been doing a great job in fighting for our rights as the people of this community but having people on the ground will make things even better. We won’t have to make calls whenever we face problems such as evictions, our leaders will be ready and willing to fight. I was overjoyed on Sunday seeing many branches coming to celebrate our victory with us. I am looking forward to unity and greater things.

Mxoleleni Biyela, 33, temporary worker, Cato Manor
I believe that this is the beginning of our everyday struggle. We are now armed with our own weapon, our elected leaders within our community. We’ve had a really tough time with all the repression that we have faced. We will finally be able to have a backup that will be available all day, everyday since they are within the community. We are really grateful to the organisation.