ZACF Statement on the Armed Attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo
in Kennedy Road Informal Settlement
The Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) notes with disgust the attacks on the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) affiliated Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) by a heavily armed gang near the AbM office in Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban, KwaZulu Natal. We hereby extend our sympathy and solidarity to all those who have fallen victim to these cowardly attacks, and call for both national and international mobilisation and solidarity in their defence.
The attacks took place at about 11h30 on the night of Saturday 26 September, and carried on with impunity for at least 23 hours. Although police are claiming two people died, it has been confirmed by AbM that at least four people have been killed: three during the attacks and another died later in hospital. It is reported that the houses of around 30 AbM members were burnt or destroyed by the mob, which was shouting things like “The AmaMpondo are taking over Kennedy. Kennedy is for the AmaZulu” while carrying out the attacks. Hundreds, if not thousands of Kennedy Road residents have fled the community, some seeking refuge at nearby churches.
The political rivalry in KwaZulu Natal has exploited ethnic sentiment and tensions that emerged during the Jacob Zuma election campaign, and we believe that the African National Congress (ANC) in and around Kennedy Road, and probably elsewhere, is using ethnicity to mobilise local residents against popular social movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo. It seems clear to us that the popularly elected committee in the Kennedy Road settlement, and the social work they have been doing is perceived by local political leaders from the ANC to be a threat to political and property interests, and they are thus bent on destroying AbM.
It is not clear to us exactly how far up in the ANC the orchestration or tolerance of these attacks goes, but what is now unquestionable is the fact that the attacks were pre-planned; it appears highly likely that the police had knowledge of the attacks beforehand. The way in which AbM members’ shacks were systematically targeted for destruction; the fact that when the police did finally appear on the scene they immediately arrested eight members of the KRDC yet did not arrest any of the perpetrators of the attacks; and that the only people the police took statements from were the attackers – not their victims – lead us to conclude that police and political complicity in these attacks is now beyond question. Senior ANC leaders were even present in the Kennedy Road Community Hall on Sunday morning, while the armed gang continued to burn and demolish the homes of the elected Kennedy Road leadership.
The ANC and the state have their own story to tell about the attack. They imply that it was perpetrated by AbM members themselves, and that the police are now moving in to “liberate” Kennedy Road. But after the announcement was made by the provincial police minister and police commissioner on Monday 28 September, the cops departed, leaving the area to be patrolled by bands of armed men who banned AbM from the area on pain of death.
And what was this “liberation” that the state claimed to bring to Kennedy Road? An end to democratically determined curfews! The big complaint made by high state officials is that “a structure simple known as The Forum” imposed an “illegal curfew”. Indeed, the KRDC required shebeens to close by 10pm. Would these officials want shebeens operating all night in their own neighbourhoods, right next to their own homes? And we should note that alcohol abuse is a serious problem in many shack settlements, leading to such deadly results as shack fires and violence against women. In any case, the KRDC is a democratic body: if residents wanted the curfew abolished, they could have done so democratically.
If the state is worried about the curfew at all, we suspect that this democracy is precisely what they object to. The state claims for itself the authority to regulate alcohol consumption and everything else. They cannot allow working class communities to run their own lives on their own initiative, lest people start wondering why they need the state at all. This working class self-activity is one of the things they hate about Abahlali.
But we believe the curfew question is merely an excuse. To quote activist Richard Pithouse, “given that AbM has been subject to constant intelligence and police attention for 4 years its laughable that the only ‘crime’ that the state has now found AbM guilty of is that a sub-comittee of an elected local sub-committe in one settlement decided to set closing times on bars”. The ethnically based murderous attack has nothing to do with curfews, and a lot to do with state strategies to divide the working class and suppress our movements.
The coordinated manner in which these attacks were carried out, and the complicity of the police, are reminiscent of the dark years of the 1980s, when the apartheid regime manipulated ethnic divisions within the popular classes in order to ferment so-called black-on-black violence and turn the anti-apartheid movement on itself, thus destabilising it. The tactics used are very similar, and the murders in Kennedy Road recall the apartheid state-sponsored terror of the 1980s. Similarly, the failure of the state to intervene in these attacks and prevent further bloodshed, protect the belongings of Kennedy Road residents or apprehend the perpetrators of the attacks recalls the way in which the state failed to intervene during the xenophobic pogroms of 2008, despite being warned by intelligence about the high probability of such attacks months before they took place.
What was warned against, in fact, by Abahlali baseMjondolo in their statement  after the xenophobic pogroms in 2008 has come true, and they have been the unfortunate victims of their own prediction: the xenophobic violence of the pogroms has turned into intra-South African violence, as ethnic sentiments have been manipulated by the class enemy to attack and attempt to smash working class movements. The state, by its complicity in these attacks, together with local ANC leaders are exploiting the ethnic politics fostered by the Jacob Zuma election campaign to do their dirty work. There is an upsurge in chauvinistic violence in South Africa, much of which is directed towards the poor and working poor and, as the attacks in Kennedy Road have shown, the enemies of the working class are manipulating the chauvinistic attitudes embraced and fostered by Jacob Zuma and directing them against the popular movements of the poor.
The history of class struggle shows that these attacks on popular movements are no surprise. The state is an organ of the ruling class, and will violently defend its power when challenged. Working class movements cannot rely on the state to defend them against such attacks as the one in Kennedy Road: the state is the attacker!
Many popular movements have understood this. During the 1980s the working class and poor in South Africa found ways to deal with the violence being orchestrated against their movements and communities. They formed street committees, block watches and self-defence units to keep their enemies at bay and to defend themselves from attack.
Although popular self-defence of the Kennedy Road residents would be preferable, we understand that this is not viable when their attackers are supported by the police, while the KRDC is unarmed and lacks training in self-defence. We therefore understand why they would call for immediate state intervention to prevent any further attacks, but would like to raise a word of caution for our comrades in Kennedy Road settlement to consider. By calling for police or military intervention the KRDC is talking about inviting the forces of repression into the heartland of a working class social movement that is hated by the class enemy. Even if they offer some short-term defence against the vigilantes and the local police, this would also place our comrades from the KRDC under far closer surveillance. In the slightly longer term, any military or police presence would be a severe obstacle to further resistance. This is a problem, not just in theory and in the medium to long term, but in practice and pretty immediately. And if, indeed, these attacks were planned or supported at high levels, any further repressive presence is a recipe for disaster. As it is not yet known how far up in government and the ANC the support or involvement in these attacks goes, there can be no guarantee than any outside police force or the military will be neutral. They are, after all, sworn to follow orders and protect the interests of the state, and if high levels of the ANC and/ or government support the attacks in Kennedy Road, we can never be sure that so-called neutral forces will not behave in the same was as the Sydenham Police.
We cannot say what would be better for members of the KRDC and their families, but raise this concern nonetheless so that they may consider the possible implications of their decision to call in the police or military beforehand. In the end, however, the decision is up to them. We hope they will find a decision that can both protect their families and members from any immediate threat without putting the movement under undue pressure in the future.
We do think, though, that there are a few tactics that AbM could adopt in the present. Looking to the experience of working class communities in other countries, we could propose that they adopt some of the tactics of the CopWatch  initiatives in the United States as a means to beginning to develop the capacity for self-defence. One such method could be for community activists to begin a programme of counter-intelligence by collecting evidence, carrying out surveillance and building profiles on people who harass or threaten KRDC and AbM members, or associate with people who have made themselves known to be enemies of the KRDC, AbM and thus the working class and poor.
Members of Abahlali could also monitor the actions of the police and military, if they are indeed deployed, who they associate with and how they treat AbM members and behave towards them. Police who mistreat AbM members or are known to associate with enemies of the KRDC and AbM could be put under pressure to leave the community by means of popular protest and mobilisation. If the police are called in to secure the peace in Kennedy Road, however, we support the demand of the KRDC that the Sydenham Police not be tasked with this, given their long history of anti-AbM activity, which includes illegal arrest and torture.
We support the community’s demands for:
- Right to return to the settlement
- Right to free political activity in the settlement
- No more politically biased policing
- Full investigation into the role of the ANC in the attacks and the banning of AbM from the settlements
We call on all social movements, activists and revolutionaries to mobilise in support and defence of the Kennedy Road Development Committee and Abahlali baseMjondolo. We call on our comrades worldwide to organise solidarity demonstrations; release statements of solidarity with Abahlali baseMjondolo and the terrorised residents of Kennedy Road; phone, send emails and faxes to the South African embassies in your country and to the head of the South African Police Service and demand the immediate release of the eight KRDC members arrested. We also appeal to our comrades everywhere to help to raise funds to help the members of the KRDC who had their homes destroyed and possessions stolen begin to rebuild their lives.
Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front
- Unyawo Alunampumulo: Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement on the Xenophobic Attacks in Johannesburg
- See, for example, http://www.copwatchla.org/
Video Update from the Attack on Abahlali at Kennedy Road
by Abahlali baseMjondolo – AbM (30.09.2009)
New video has been put together from the scene at Kennedy Road. Eyewitnesses to the menacing mob on Saturday night directly contradict both the official ANC story that ‘Abahlali-connected people’ perpetrated the attack and the ridiculous comment by Ward Councilor Yakoob Baig that the community is ‘terrified of Abahlali’. The slightest scrutiny reveals that in fact Abahlali was the target of the vicious 36 hours plus of deadly mob violence.
In the 3 days since at least 4 people have been killed, many injured and over 1,000 have been displaced from the settlement under threats of violence. Their safe return has no secure guarantee and has not even been addressed by the ANC or police. The ANC’s persistent support and connection to the actual attackers proves that the government is at a minimum complicit in the violence. At the moment no member of the armed mob these witnesses were threatened by has been arrested while 8 unarmed members of the Kennedy Road safety committee, which was protecting Abahlali members that night, are in police custody facing possible murder charges.
Abahlali President S’bu Zikode and Vice President Lindela Figlan remain refugees, unable to return to their homes at Kennedy Road while the armed mob holding death threats over their heads roams free to terrorize the remaining residents at the settlement. In fact anyone with even the most cursory connection to Abahlali, for example the ladies who cook for children in the creche near the Abahlali office are being threatened and forced to leave. Please watch this video as it is an important counter to the blatant lies being peddled by the ANC and swallowed whole by much of the South African media.
You can watch on YouTube here