Posts Tagged 'protest'

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban, South Africa

Protest: Police stand by while thugs attack shackdwellers in Durban,  South Africa.

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.

One leaders kitchen after the attacks

One leader's kitchen after the attacks

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.)       

Please sign the open letter of protest to South African President Jacob Zuma. It reads:

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
Honors Program
Emerson College
PHONE: 617 824 8769

Raj Patel
Visiting Scholar
Center for African Studies
UC Berkeley
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 may have video footage
Richard Pithouse at


For some back ground on the shack dwellers’ organization see the 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.)

Read “From the South African Shackdwellers: We are the Third Force”

Also read “Struggle Is a School: The Rise of a Shack Dwellers’ Movement in Durban, South Africa”

Excerpts from Michael Parenti: Friendly Feudalism

Excerpts from Michael Parenti: Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth

January 2007

The complete essay

Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” (1)

Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” (2)

Secular leaders also did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. (3) Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” (4) In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they were bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine. (5) The monastic estates also conscripted children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. (6) The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. (7) Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location. (8)

As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.

One 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf, reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.” (9) Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture those who tried to flee. One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold. After his third failed escape, he was merciless beaten by the landlord’s men until blood poured from his nose and mouth. They then poured alcohol and caustic soda on his wounds to increase the pain, he claimed. (10)

The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery. (11)

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation–including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation–were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.” (12) Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. (13)

In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disemboweling. The exhibition presented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master’s cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away. (14)

Earlier visitors to Tibet commented on the theocratic despotism. In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them. . . . The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.” (14) As much as we might wish otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri La so enthusiastically nurtured by Buddhism’s western proselytes.


Finally, let it be said that if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free-market paradise, then this does not bode well for the Tibetans. China boasts a dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate and is emerging as one of the world’s greatest industrial powers. But with economic growth has come an ever deepening gulf between rich and poor. Most Chinese live close to the poverty level or well under it, while a small group of newly brooded capitalists profit hugely in collusion with shady officials. Regional bureaucrats milk the country dry, extorting graft from the populace and looting local treasuries. Land grabbing in cities and countryside by avaricious developers and corrupt officials at the expense of the populace are almost everyday occurrences. Tens of thousands of grassroot protests and disturbances have erupted across the country, usually to be met with unforgiving police force. Corruption is so prevalent, reaching into so many places, that even the normally complacent national leadership was forced to take notice and began moving against it in late 2006.

Workers in China who try to organize labor unions in the corporate dominated “business zones” risk losing their jobs or getting beaten and imprisoned. Millions of business zone workers toil twelve-hour days at subsistence wages. With the health care system now being privatized, free or affordable medical treatment is no longer available for millions. Men have tramped into the cities in search of work, leaving an increasingly impoverished countryside populated by women, children, and the elderly. The suicide rate has increased dramatically, especially among women. (15)


  1. · Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), 64.
  2. · See Gary Wilson’s report in Worker’s World, 6 February 1997.
  3. · Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 62 and 174.
  4. · As skeptically noted by Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, 9.
  5. · Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashì-Tsering, The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashì-Tsering (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1997).
  6. · Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 110.
  7. · Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 5 and passim.
  8. · Anna Louise Strong, Tibetan Interviews (Peking: New World Press, 1959), 15, 19-21, 24.
  9. · Quoted in Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25.
  10. · Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 31.
  11. · Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 175-176; and Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 25-26.
  12. · Gelder and Gelder, The Timely Rain, 113.
  13. · A. Tom Grunfeld, The Making of Modern Tibet rev. ed. (Armonk, N.Y. and London: 1996), 9 and 7-33 for a general discussion of feudal Tibet; see also Felix Greene, A Curtain of Ignorance (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961), 241-249; Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, 3-5; and Lopez, Prisoners of Shangri-La, passim.
  14. · Strong, Tibetan Interviews, 91-96
  15. See the PBS documentary, China from the Inside, January 2007,



RSS Gray Panthers in the News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 590 other followers

%d bloggers like this: