The Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) Movement is now in it’s second year and is the “largest organisation of militant poor in South Africa” . It is based in and around the port city of Durban and involves 30 settlements. Last year they started their website with weekly reports from the settlements and articles written by members and in February this year Abahlali published the first edition of their newspaper, IZWI LABAMPOFU! Voice of the Poor, written in Zulu and English.
The Abahlali baseMjondolo is an example of how communities can organise and challenge the oppression and marginalisation they face on a daily basis. Although the aim of the movement is “Land and Housing in the City” by democratising the settlements and politicising the movement they have firstly asserted the right to speak and act for themselves. Secondly they been able to mobilize themselves to gain access to health and support for people living with HIV and AIDS, electricity, water, schools, adult education as well as prevent the local government from carrying out evictions. Thirdly they have begun to build links with shack dwellers in other countries such as Zimbabwe, Kenya and Haiti and recently took part in the Day of Solidarity with Haiti. Finally they have fought and continue to fight against the criminalisation of the poor, of people with HIV/AIDS, and of the homeless.
In South Africa everyone will say that life is not fair for the poor. Even the rich will say that what they are doing is for the poor. They will even say this when they are just finding more and more excuses to give more of the country’s money to themselves to build all these very expensive things that they have seen in those few rich countries on TV. They want to have those things here so that they can feel themselves to be ‘world class’. Meanwhile our children, who, like the children in Haiti and Kenya and Zimbabwe are never on TV, are burning in shack fires and dying from diarrhoea around the corner.
Privatisation of Electricity
The struggle against the privatisation of electricity in South Africa continues. You have a situation where the majority poor residential customers are made to subsidise richer consumers and industry For example in Soweto residents are charged 28 cents per kilowatt/hour and rural residents pay 48 cents per kilowatt/hour. On the other hand residents in Sandton pay a mere 16 cents and industry/big business pay ONLY 7 cents (2002 figures but I understand there has been little change).
On Tuesday residents of BayView Flats refused entry to local government contractors who came to install pre-paid electricity meters. The residents had not even been consulted by the Municipality about the installations and anyway as one spokesperson stated:
We cannot afford to pay for electricity. The meters have only R5 credit. It’s the middle of the month. When that R5 runs out what are we suppose to do for the rest of the month?”
Later on in the afternoon the municipality disconnected 10 blocks of flats with 36 families despite many of these having paid their electricity bills. Over 200 residents then left the flats and went to the home of the local councillor and demanded to speak to him. Whether due to shame having been voted in on a promise to support the people, Councillor Palan did not appear but residents had their electricity reconnected later in the evening. [Souce: Center for Civil Society]
Links: Women in the Aftermath of Operation Murambatsvina (Zimbabawe)