The poorest and most marginalized people in South Africa, the large number of homeless shackdwellers, have been been attacked again outside of Durban, South Africa, while police stood by and did nothing. This is the latest of many government-inspired and police-inspired attacks on South African shackdwellers, whose crime is demanding a decent life. Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma.
The most recent attack on residents of the informal Kennedy Road settlement occurred on September 27. A group of about 40 men heavily armed with guns, bush knives and even a sword attacked a meeting of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) in the Kennedy Road community hall. There was no warning and the attack was a complete surprise. The men who attacked were shouting: ‘The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu,” reminiscent of racist slogans of the Apartheid era. Some people were killed, many were very seriously injured. It was later discovered that they had destroyed 15 houses belonging to people on or connected to the KRDC. The police were called but they did not come. When the attack happened one officer from Crime Intelligence was there in plain clothes. The following morning, the police arrived and made eight arrests, only members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC). None of the perpetrators has been arrested. This is not the first time that this movement has been attacked. Read more of this report. Other reports say that later, senior ANC leaders and police were present and did nothing to prevent the same gang from demolishing and burning homes of the Kennedy Road leadership. Read more of this report. (More background information is below.)
We the undersigned are scholars, activists, supporters and veterans of the struggle for a free South Africa from around the world. We celebrated the end of apartheid with you, and have worked with you for the building of a genuinely democratic South Africa.
It is for this reason that we write to you with grave concern following recent events at the Kennedy Road Shack Settlement in Durban. Reports from the informal settlement of seven thousand people indicate that horrors reminiscent of Apartheid’s darkest years are currently being perpetrated – armed thugs have killed members of the freely elected local development committee and destroyed their houses, with slogans dripping with the language of ethnic cleansing, such as “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu”.
With these words of hate, members of the development committee have been hunted and, in at least one case, killed. What appalls us most about these attacks is that they appear to be happening with the support of local police and politicians. At the time of writing, reports indicate that local ANC branch executives and members of the Sydenham police force are in attendance, and doing nothing to halt the ongoing violence in the settlement. Further, it appears that members of the development committee, some of whom had been absent from the settlement during the attacks, have been targeted and arrested by the Sydenham police force.
Some of the signatories to this letter have personally experienced illegal political harassment by the Sydenham police in the past, and have witnessed their ruthless political intolerance towards the Abahlali baseMjondlo Shackdwellers Movement, of which the Kennedy Road Development Committee is a part. Many more of us have had the great pleasure of meeting leaders from the shackdwellers’ movement. All of us have been deeply impressed by the deep democratic and progressive commitments of the residents of Kennedy Road.
Under such circumstances, it is entirely inappropriate to rely on the Sydenham police to enforce the rule of law, and we appeal to your office to demand:
*an end to the violence in the shacks
*an end to arbitrary detention of innocent people
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the Sydenham police and the continued violence
*an independent and transparent enquiry into the relationship between the violence and senior members of the local ANC branch present at the scene
*the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for these horrific attacks
*full restitution to those harmed in the violence
*and an undertaking that these tragic events be not used as a pretext for further hardship enforced on South Africa’s poorest citizens.
We have witnessed the great promise of South African democracy, and we hope that you will bring the full force of your office to protect it in this dark hour. As once before, the world is watching South Africa, to see how democracy can triumph over fear.
Raj Patel, a long-time advocate and author of Stuffed and Starved writes:
Dear Members of the International Media
Like many of you, we fought and protested against the injustices of the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and celebrated the fall of that monstrous government in 1994. As South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup, we write to you in grief and horror at the return of some of the most horrific tactics of that era, directed at South Africa’s poorest citizens.
We have worked for years with shack dweller communities living in South Africa, communities of people too poor to live in townships, who have waited patiently for the South African government to bring the dividends of housing, water, education, healthcare, employment and food to them. They have waited in vain – with levels of human development that are now lower than in 1994, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world.
In response, some communities have organized to protest against their government, using the freedoms enshrined in one of the most open and supportive constitutions to be found in any modern democracy. For this, they have been punished.
On Sunday night, at one of the hubs for this civil society organizing, men from outside the settlement armed with knives, machetes and even a sword, descended on a shack community in Durban called “Kennedy Road”, a road named after the US president, and adjacent to a large municipal dump. These men chanted slogans of racial hatred – demanding that the Kennedy Road shack settlement be for Zulus only. This ethnic chauvinism is anathema to the shack settlements – in the xenophobia that swept South Africa earlier this year, the Kennedy Road shack settlement was free of these sorts of attacks.
The police were called, and when they finally arrived, they looked on as the attacks continued for several more hours. After the bloodbath, they moved in and arrested the community leaders.
On Monday morning a huge police presence descended on the settlement as the local ANC councillor and the provincial minister for Safety and Security arrived. They announced that the local organizers had been driven out of the settlement. After the politicians left so did the police. The settlement was left in the hands of groups of armed men.
The future for the poorest residents of South Africa is grim. Faced with an ethnic hatred engineered by the ANC, they have tried to produce a genuinely democratic politics. And they have been killed, arrested and made homeless.
International support is crucial in order to prevent further violence, and to ensure justice for the shack dwellers. In just 24 hours, hundreds of people from around the world have signed a petition to the South African President, Jacob Zuma, insisting that he take action (at the time of writing over 600 people had signed the petition) . We hope that you’ll be able to support this effort to bring international scrutiny to the South African government, to hold it to the great promise offered by the end of Apartheid, by signing the petition below, and by sharing this news with your colleagues. If you’d like to know more, contact details are below, and we’d also be happy to answer any questions.
Nigel C. Gibson
PHONE: 617 824 8769
Center for African Studies
CELL: 510 717 0953
Cc: Jacob Zuma, President South Africa; Sepp Blatter, President FIFA.
MEDIA CONTACTS IN SOUTH AFRICA (if you are calling from outside South
Africa, the international dialing code is +27, and the first 0 is
The following members of the Kennedy Road Development Committee may be
available for comment if they have not been arrested:
Mzwakhe Mdlalose: 072 132 8458
Anton Zamisa: 079 380 1759
Bheki Simelane: 078 598 9491
Nokutula Manyawo: 083 949 1379
Mnikelo Ndabankulu, the elected media liason person for Abahlali
baseMjondolo, 097450653. If you can’t get Mnikelo you can also try:
Louisa Motha 0781760088
Shamita Naidoo 0743157962
Mashumi Figlan 0725274600
Philani Zungu 0729629312
S’bu Zikode 0835470474
Other local contacts who might be useful:
Kerry Chance at firstname.lastname@example.org may have video footage
Richard Pithouse at email@example.com
For some back ground on the shack dwellers’ organization see the
Abahlali.org website and also:
Michael Vines, “Shantytown Dwellers in South Africa Protest Sluggish
Pace of Change,” New York Times, December 25, 2005.
“The View from the Shacks” The Economist, April 8, 2006
For statements about the attacks see:
“Democracy Under Attack: A Statement by Bishop Rubin,” available at
“The ANC Has Invaded Kennedy Road,” by S’bu Zikode (President of
Abahlali baseMjondolo) whose house was destroyed in the attack on the
shack settlement, available at
Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) Emergency Press Release,
Sunday 27 September 2009 available at
After decades of valiant resistance, the racist South African Apartheid regime was overthrown. Tragically, the new government left banks and international finance in control of the country, where, in John Pilger’s words,
“The US, the British and the World Bank made it clear that South Africa would be “welcomed into the global economy” on condition that its new government pursued orthodox, “neo-liberal” policies that favoured big business, foreign investors, deregulation, privatisation and, at best, offered a “trickle down” to the majority who were to be shut out of the economy.”
As a result, living conditions for most working-class blacks are actually worse, in terms of employment, opportunities for youth, access to electricity and water, and, most particularly, housing. As Raj Patel points out, South Africa has overtaken Brazil as the country with the widest gap between rich and poor, and now is the most unequal society in the world. Decent, affordable housing for all had been one of the highest hopes for the new government, but instead, vast shanty-towns have developed around major cities. In terms of services like employment, water, sanitation, and electricity, these shanty-towns are completely neglected by the African National Congress government. Instead, the ANC considers the shanty-town inhabitants a threat and has been trying to displace them for years. The shanty-town inhabitants have organized themselves into a new movement, The South African Shackdwellers’ Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo). As its website explained in mid-2006:
The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement began in Durban, South Africa, in early 2005. Although it is overwhelmingly located in and around the large port city of Durban it is, in terms of the numbers of people mobilised, the largest organisation of the militant poor in post-apartheid South Africa. …(It) grew quickly and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements. In the last year and a half the movement has suffered more than a hundred arrests, regular police assault and ongoing death threats and other forms of intimidation from local party goons. It has developed a sustained voice for shack dwellers in subaltern and elite publics and occupied and marched on the offices of local councillors, police stations, municipal offices, newspaper offices and the City Hall in actions that have put thousands of people on the streets. … The movement’s key demand is for ‘Land & Housing in the City’ but it has also successfully politicised and fought for an end to forced removals and for access to education and the provision of water, electricity, sanitation, health care and refuse removal as well as bottom up popular democracy. (Introduction to Abahlali baseMjondolo) (You can see photos and videos of their actions here.)