The apolitical Abahlali baseMjondolo is considering backing a political party for the first time since 2006, but their clout comes at a price.
For the first time since 2006, the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, is not staging a "no land, no house, no vote" campaign as it has done for several editions of UnFreedom Day – an unofficial South African holiday – that it commemorates each year on April 28.
A few days before this year's event at the Siyanda informal settlement in KwaMashu, Durban, Abahlali launched a talk shop that invited political parties to give presentations on why they should get Abahlali's vote instead.
The event, according to spokesperson Mnikelo Ndabankulu, was somewhat of a success, drawing the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Democratic Alliance (DA), National Freedom Party (NFP) and the Workers and Socialist Party.
"We want members of Abahlali to vote for any party as long as it isn't the ANC, but still remain apolitical as an organisation," said Ndabankulu. "We want an organisation that will help us get houses because with the ANC, it's been 20 years of waiting while houses are sold to nurses and teachers – people connected to the ANC – keeping the poor in desperation."
Ndabankulu said the organisation's legal team had been collecting evidence of long-term residents in areas such as Cato Crest, which included anything from car log books to clinic cards and proof of banking details.
Votes with strings
A vote from Abahlali, though, comes with a cost, including a 10-point proposition submitted to interested political parties. The propositions include the promise to actively and seriously oppose all forms of state repression, the promise to oppose all evictions and the guarantee that the party they support with a bloc vote will ensure shack settlements receive services while residents wait for formal housing.
While the provincial government drew an impressive crowd to the Moses Mabhida Stadium – a movement called the Struggle of a Special Task was quietly christened by residents of Chris Hani, an informal settlement in eNtsimbini in nearby Mayville. Here, members of the Durban police's land invasion unit allegedly shot and injured two residents with rubber bullets during an eviction.
Residents claim the unit – which allegedly carried out the eviction and demolition of about 30 shacks – had no court order granting the eviction. The unit tore down an isolated section of Chris Hani. The event's master of ceremonies said the organisation would fight "pick and choose" service delivery and the reality of people being evicted and languishing for months on end in transit camps.
"According to the Municipal Systems Act, whenever a project is being established, it needs a ward committee, members of the public, expertise, municipal officials, councillors and trade unions involved, but you never see that happening in local projects. In Cornubia [a housing development north of Durban], the project is not happening as it has been promised. It is not people from the transit camps that are getting the houses but people from the townships," said Mthokozisi Mhlophe.
Cebani Vezi, a resident of the Chris Hani section of eNtsimbini, says their shacks have been demolished more than 12 times since being built in June last year, making it no different to Marikana, a section of Cato Crest that has suffered a similar fate. He says demolitions were carried out pretty much the same way, with aggression and disdain for their property and groceries. "I don't even have an ID to vote with because I lost it during that commotion," says Vezi. "Sakhile Cele, one of the people who got shot, was asking them for a court order when they opened fire at close range."
Most of the residents that spoke to the Mail & Guardian said they had lived in Durban for more than a decade, explaining that while houses were on their agenda, they would also welcome being left alone as they had already settled in the area after being unable to afford the rent of nearby back yards.
The puzzling thing about the Chris Hani area, which lies along the banks of a rivulet, is that only a section of it suffers repeated demolitions while the rest of the settlement remains undisturbed. Residents believe this is because the land invasion unit is concerned about safety owing to the number of people living on the land.
Ndabankulu said Abahlali was helping members of Struggle of a Special Task with solidarity in case residents wanted to "exercise their democratic right to protest" as well as with access to pro bono legal assistance.