SOUTH AFRICA

South African shack dwellers: “The police are attacking us”

A group of Durban shack dwellers say that local police attacked, abused, and intimidated residents on Friday night. It's the third alleged police-related attack in two months. But why would authorities target a group of shack dwellers? Read more and see their photos...

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Image by posted by MrUmhlangarocks on YouTube.

A group of Durban shack dwellers say that local police attacked, abused, and intimidated residents on Friday night. It's the third alleged police-related attack in two months. But why would authorities target a group of shack dwellers?

Our Observer says that the November 13 attack is part of a mission to get rid of an increasingly powerful shack dwellers' rights group which is critical of ruling party ANC. Just two months ago the police failed to react to fatal clashes (see video below) in the neighbouring shantytown of Kennedy Road - which is also home to the movement. Activists condemned the violence as "coordinated" and the police as "complicit", in an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, which received over 1,250 signatures.

Since then, 32 "Abahlali baseMjondolo" movement members have been arrested, including 13 on Friday night (released on Monday). The group says it is "under attack" from the police. FRANCE 24 contacted the South African Police Service; they are yet to reply.

After the September attack

Short video filmed and posted by MrUmhlangarocks 29 September 2009.

“The group challenges the control of the ANC in that area”

Steven Friedman is a professor of democracy at Johannesburg University. He's calling for a commission of enquiry into violence against shack dwellers

This is an escalation of a situation which began in 2004. Up until now however, there have been lots of allegations, but there's never been evidence of involvement from senior politicians. Now, the provincial minister of community safety has said that Abahlali baseMjondolo members are making residents' lives a misery and ordered a ‘task force' to get rid of them. This incident is quite clearly part of that mission.

It's not that the ANC are scared of Abahlali beating them in an election - they just don't like the fact that the group challenges the control of the ANC in that area. Local political power holders (usually from the ANC) tend to monopolise areas and expect to have complete control.

The Abahlali movement is sceptical of the leading party and the electoral process, and they don't like the local ANC councillor. They successfully took the government to court and managed to strike off a part of the Slums Act, which prevents the authorities from being able to demolish their homes.

If Abahlali's allegations are true, then there is a serious problem with democracy in our country."

“The police always make their arrests on Fridays as people can be held until the courts reopen”

S'bu Zikode is president of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement. He was born and has lived his whole life on the Kennedy settlement, 10 km from Pemary. He gave his account along with three Pemary residents.

Three Sydenham police officers arrived at Pemary Ridge at around 8pm on Friday night. They went to a woman's tuck shop and proceeded to kick down the front door. They then arrested her for having bottles of beer in her shop.

They tore through the settlement, kicking down doors, issuing beatings with fists, batons, and even household items. The police shot, at random, with live ammunition, within close range of people and their homes. They assaulted both women and men. One man was told by police officers that ‘This is to teach you people a lesson'.

Many women in the settlement began to form a barricade in the street at the top of the settlement. The women put stones and a log in the street, and then tires, and set the barricade alight. Later, the police forced some of the people they arrested to remove the smouldering remnants of the barricade with their bare hands. The police then returned and continued the attack with 15 other officers. Thirteen people were arrested.

At 11:30pm, residents called an ambulance. The ambulance arrived at around 12:30am and took one man, who suffered head injuries (below) to hospital.

The police always make their arrests on Fridays or on public holidays as it is difficult to get a lawyer at these times and people can be held (and sometimes assaulted in detention) until the courts reopen. The police systematically abuse their powers to arrest and detain people as a form of intimidation. They routinely arrest and detain people when they know very well that they have no evidence against them and will not be able to go to trial."