/ 23 April 2024

Shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali BaseMjondolo backs EFF for 2024 elections

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File photo: Members of shack-dwellers' movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, protest the alleged theft of hundreds of millions of COVID-19 funds in KwaZulu-Natal on October 19, 2020 in Durban.(Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Abahlali BaseMjondolo, the mass based movement organising residents of informal settlements, has decided to back the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the 29 May national and provincial elections.

The decision is a boost for the Red Berets as Abahlali has more than 120 000 signed up members in the Durban area alone — and has expanded its footprint to informal settlements and farms around KwaZulu-Natal since it was launched in 2005.

The movement initially boycotted elections, but backed the Democratic Alliance in 2014, hoping that this would benefit its members living in shack settlements around the city.

It threw its support behind the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party (SWRP) in the 2019 national and provincial poll, but shifted this time around after a consultation process among its members.

Abahlali also invited political parties, including the EFF, Rise Mzansi and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), to present their manifestos at a general assembly last month, after which the final decision to go with Julius Malema’s party was taken.

Abahlali founder and president S’bu Zikode announced the decision to back the EFF at an “Unfreedom Day” rally held in Durban at the weekend, saying the informal settlement residents were “lending” the party their votes.

Zikode said that it was “not a permanent arrangement” and there was “no guarantee” that Abahlali’s members would automatically vote for the EFF in future elections as the decision would be reviewed ahead of the local government poll in 2026.

Abahlali secretary general Thapelo Mohapi told the Mail & Guardian that the decision was taken after a “very extensive” consultative process from branch level upwards that reviewed its previous “tactical decisions” to boycott elections — and to later back the DA and SWRP.

The decision had been informed by this and an assessment of what progress had been made in the past 30 years to address the needs of those living in South Africa’s shacklands, Mohapi said.

“Thirty years down the line we continue to be burned to death because we are living in shacks. Thirty years into democracy we continue to be denied the basic services guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.

The EFF’s manifesto had addressed a number of the 20 demands put forward by Abahlali in its founding documents — including land, housing, education and health — which had also swayed the decision of Abahlali’s members.

Mohapi said Abahlali believed that backing the EFF, with which it was ideologically aligned, would help dislodge the governing party.

“What we actually want is to remove the ANC from power,” he said. “We are living like pigs. We are sick and tired of the ANC.”

In Durban, where ANC leaders have labelled Abahlali as a “third force”, a number of the movement’s leaders and members have been assassinated in ongoing conflicts in Cato Manor, Kennedy Road and KwaNdengezi.

Last year ANC member Khaya Ngubane was convicted of murder for the shooting of Abahlali eKanana leader Ayanda Ngila.

Mohapi said the ANC had failed to address the issues of the poor and that the sacrifices of ANC leaders like Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani had been “betrayed” by state capture and the diversion of millions of rands earmarked for service provision “to benefit themselves and their families”.

He said Abahlali members were “totally opposed” to corruption, which was why they had not chosen to back Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party.

The decision to back the EFF was “not imposed by the leadership” but “was taken by our people on the ground,” he said.

EFF KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Mongezi Twala welcomed the development, saying that the two were “not far apart” ideologically on a number of issues because both supported policies which were pro-poor.

The EFF’s stance on land and on dealing with corruption appeared to have resonated with the membership of Abahlali, as had its position on housing and the genocide by Israel against the people Palestine, Twala said.

“Their members are the ones who voted to say we must vote for the EFF. They backed the DA before, but as soon as it got into power it failed to deal with their 20 demands. If you look at the policies of the EFF,  you can locate Abahlali Basemjondolo’s demands there,” Twala said.

“We are not far apart.’

Twala said Abahlali had “numbers” throughout the province in both cities and farms. 

“eThekwini alone has over 600 informal settlements. There are informal settlements in every part of this province. We are humbled by this and we are not going to betray the support that Abahlali Basemjondolo is giving us,” Twala said.