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I CAME to Durban from Cape Town a few days ago to meet up with the management of the Clare Estate Drop-in Centre (Cedic). The Cedic is a community-run organisation which operated in Kennedy Road by supporting hundreds of orphaned and other vulnerable children. However, after the recent attacks, the Cedic was ransacked, forced to close, and many of its staff members were run out of the community.
The Kennedy Road Development Committee, which is affiliated with the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) movement, was instrumental in the Cedic’s success by making sure its staff were accountable to the community through mass democratic public meetings. However, this became a liability for the Cedic when, during the recent attacks, a militia forced about 1 000 Abahlali members to flee the community. Many people associated with the Cedic left after threats were made on their lives and the lives of their families.
My own research on the attacks
While in Durban, I spoke to a volunteer from the Cedic who had not yet fled Kennedy Road. She has told me that because she is a member of Abahlali, she has personally been threatened by the ANC members who were installed as leaders in the settlement immediately after the attacks. She claims these leaders are also members of the recent militia attacks. She is afraid that, like other Abahlali members, her home could be destroyed in the next few days.
But she told me that she is unable to leave Kennedy since she has no family in Durban and she has no one else to turn to.
When I spoke with another staff member from the Cedic, she recounted a similar story. But I had to meet her away from Kennedy Road because she was afraid of associating herself with an outsider and thereby endangering her family. She also blamed the new Kennedy leadership who she says is controlled by the local shebeen owners and an ANC branch strongman named Jackson Gumede.
The liberation of Kennedy
It is against this backdrop, which I find has parallels with the recent military coup in Honduras, that MEC Willies Mchunu has claimed to have “liberated” Kennedy Road. The provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal has been going all out trying to pin the blame for the Kennedy Road militia attacks on a “criminal forum” which it says is connected to AbM president Sbu Zikode. But, no such forum has ever existed at Kennedy Road. Neither has there ever been a curfew at Kennedy in which community members were forced to stop cooking or watching television at 7 pm as a government press statement claims.
Instead of some elusive forum, the well-respected Kennedy Road Development Committee and the Safety and Security subcommittee have been mandated by the community with the support of the Sydenham Police to reduce crime. These committees have merely been carrying out decisions made by the vast majority of Kennedy Road’s residents who have demanded in recent mass community meetings that the illegal shebeens in the area close at 10 pm rather than go on for 24 hours straight. These committees, in which there are fresh elections every year, were the target of recent attacks.
I know myself that no sinister forum exists because while working with the Cedic, I have lived in Kennedy Road, attended many of its mass meetings, and seen the commitment of Abahlali baseMjondolo to democracy. I too have been forced to listen to music blaring at 3 am and have worried about night-time shack fires caused by drunk patrons.
But the community’s new liquor regulations have angered local shebeen owners who found common cause with powerful ANC branch members who resent the loss of the powerful Kennedy vote bank.
This is why the government immediately arrested eight members of Abahlali baseMjondolo a day or two after the attacks. This is why, this past weekend, they arrested another three members of the movement. This is why not a single shebeen owner or militia member has been arrested.
Mchunu is attempting to squash any chance that we will find out the truth. Despite refusing calls for an independent investigation into the attacks, he has set up a task team headed by ANC officials. So, while the provincial government has pulled all its strings, issued press statements and even has investigators to back it up, officials continue to attack Abahlali while holding “stakeholder” summits featuring the same ANC militia that was responsible for the attacks.
Based on all the evidence, I believe that the 11 arrested members of Abahlali are being framed.
But the tide may be turning. The new leaders of Kennedy Road are extremely unpopular in the settlement — not least because they are recognised as dictators who perpetrated the recent attacks. It seems that things might crack once again. It first happened in 2005 when the community rose up against Jackson Gumede and the local ANC councillor Yacoob Baig.
The community is likely to rebel again in the weeks to come. And let’s hope that the pending reversal of September’s coup is a peaceful one.
• Jared Sacks is the executive director of Children of South Africa (Chosa)