Kennedy olive branch a sham

The hatchet job on Durban’s Kennedy Road informal settlement continued this week with an alleged “healing process” by the KwaZulu-Natal government.

Its stated purpose was to effect reconciliation in Kennedy Road, home to about 7000 people, after last week’s violence that left two confirmed deaths, displaced several hundred and destroyed the homes of Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM) president Sbu Zikode and other ABM members, who were forced into hiding.

On Sunday the KwaZulu-Natal department of safety and security held successive meetings for stakeholders, the community and religious leaders.

Most of the church group, such as Rubin Phillip, Anglican bishop of KwaZulu-Natal and chairperson of the province’s Christian Council, refused to attend in solidarity with ABM, which boycotted the event.

Fearing for their lives, and that the ANC would stage-manage the public meeting, Zikode and other ABM leaders kept well away from the venue, where, a week earlier, an armed mob threatened members of their youth league.

The ABM also protested that, as elected community leaders and victims of a purge, they could not be expected to sit side by side with attackers driven by hatred, lawlessness and political intolerance.

The Mail & Guardian conducted a survey of the 88 people who signed the attendance register at the “stakeholders” meeting. Nineteen were provincial government representatives, 12 from the municipality and eight from the police. After subtracting media and representatives of other community policing forums and clusters, the register reflected 14 ANC members, seven South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) members and seven people claiming to be “residents” of Kennedy Road.

Telephone calls confirmed most of those claiming to be ordinary Kennedy Road residents or inhabitants with ANC affiliations were in fact from other areas, such as the Puntan’s Hill, Sydenham Heights and the Foreman Road settlement.

Many of the outsiders were given prime time at the community meeting.

One alleged that an award-winning Mfene (Pondo dance) group from Kennedy Road had instigated the attacks. Isabel Mbuyisa, a “resident/leader” according the register, but in reality an ANC member from Sydenham Heights, alleged that the dance group was a front for political mobilisation.

Mbuyisa also railed against alleged corruption in the ABM, whereas ordinary residents talked of unemployment, health concerns and crime.

The meeting was an exercise in speaking with forked tongues, with government leaders talking left and others rather using anti-democratic-tipped boots to kick heads in.

Provincial safety and security minister Willies Mchunu emphasised the need to “resolve the matter through non-violent means .. As government we are not against any person or organisation in the settlement. If they want to participate in any activity critical of government, we accept that.” Freedom of association, movement and thought were guaranteed at Kennedy Road because “that is what we fought for”.

eThekwini councillor and chairperson of the municipality’s housing committee Nigel Gumede said that Kennedy Road “should have been developed a long time ago” and blamed ABM for inhabitants still living in squalor.

He said the social movement had opposed government’s housing efforts and was anti-development, as continued deprivation guaranteed funding from academics and NGOs.

Gumede said “one of the many obstacles” that had stopped government delivering houses to residents was ABM’s Constitutional Court case against the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act.

He added a dash of tribal hatred, saying that “in our [presumably Zulu] culture, this [Mfene] dance is associated with muthi” (witchcraft) and needed to be investigated.

It was obvious that local and provincial government officials, many in ANC colours, were there to extend the party’s influence in the settlement.

Contrary to the municipality’s policy, since 2002, of not electrifying shack settlements, Gumede promised electricity to Kennedy Road residents “within three weeks”.

New houses, especially in the long-mooted Cornubia development, have also been promised to residents and the provincial department of social development will be consulted about delivering food parcels to the area.

Meanwhile, ABM leaders remain in hiding under growing threat to themselves and their families. Their office at Kennedy Road was evacuated after warnings last week that it would be ransacked. The movement now holds meetings in secret.

ABM has called for the “immediate restoration of democracy in Kennedy Road”, “a genuinely independent and credible investigation” into the attacks and “genuine and safe negotiation on the way forward between the ANC and ABM”. It has also urged Zuma to visit the area and address the crisis.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi

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