On September 30th, Abahlali baseMjondolo (Abahlali) was engaged in protesting the demolition of over 100 homes and the forced evictions of families from the Cato Crest informal settlement. The settlement, where an estimated 500 people gathered for the protest, is located about seven kilometers from the city center of Durban in the South African province KwaZuluNatal. It is our understanding from Abahlali and various news sources that the Cato Manor police responded with such force that a 17-year-old girl who was part of the protest – Nqobile Nzuza – was shot and killed. Additionally, two other women appear to have been injured by gunshots. When the General Secretary of Abahlali, Bandile Mdlalose, arrived at the scene to extend her condolences to the Nzuza family, she was immediately arrested. Abahlali reports that this is the third death the movement has experienced in the last year as a result of taking solidarity actions with families resisting forced displacement from Cato Crest. Residents are also under continuous threats and face serious beatings by the police (see abahlali.org).
Abahlali is a poor people’s human rights organization led by thousands of South Africa’s shack-dwellers. Abahlali works to protect and fulfill shack-dwellers’ rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, freedom from forced eviction, and participation in public decision-making. The movement seeks to ensure that post-apartheid South Africa protects communities from abuse, using a range of strategies from mass mobilizations to legal strategies seeking to enforce the South African constitution’s protection of social and economic rights to achieve their goals. Abahlali are calling on supporters of human rights in South Africa and around the world to show global solidarity with their struggle for the recognition of universal housing rights – a right codified in the South African constitution – and freedom from forced evictions in the face of escalating and ongoing state repression.
As human rights organizations that work on economic and social rights in the United States, including the human right to housing, we are gravely concerned at the accounts of violence against Abahlali members and supporters and wholeheartedly stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in struggle.
Many of our organizations and our allies throughout the United States have had the honor and privilege to meet with the incredible representatives of Abahlali. In November 2010, S’bu Zikode, the then-president of Abahlali, visited the United States as part of a six-city tour. During his trip, Mr. Zikode was welcomed with warmth, respect and admiration by over 30 grassroots organizations, including many of our partners and allies. He was also recognized and hosted at several distinguished universities and legal organizations, such as the University of Chicago, Cornell University, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. In September 2012, we were thrilled again to receive two inspiring youth leaders of Abahlali, Zodwa Nsibande and Mnikelo Ndabankulu, for a month-long U.S. screening tour of the award-winning documentary Dear Mandela, which features the movement’s struggle for basic human rights in the face of repressive forces, and which was supported by international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. Mr. Zikode was forced in 2009 to go into hiding due to threats of assassination; his shack in Kennedy Road was destroyed the same year. Despite this history, Abahlali reports that on October 6th a newspaper recklessly published a photo of Mr. Zikode’s home, along with his address, placing him in further danger.
We wholeheartedly support Abahlali’s call on the South African government to put an end to the threats, arrests, arbitrary detentions and violence that Abahlali members and supporters have faced since the origins of their movement in 2005. We support the call for justice for Ms. Mdlalose, as well as other members and supporters of Abahlali, whose unyielding commitment to securing and upholding human rights for all people serves as an inspiration to human rights activists around the world.
October 7th was World Habitat Day: a day designated by the United Nations to bringing global awareness to the human right to adequate housing. An estimated one billion people lack adequate housing around the world, many of whom have little to no security of tenure and face the constant threat of forced eviction. “Forced evictions” are defined by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as “the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”
Ms. Mdlalose was finally released on bail on the 7th, but the situation for her, others in Abahlali and the residents of Cato Crest remains perilous. We urge human rights organizations, and everyone concerned with economic and social rights and the right to protest to respond to Abahlali’s call and stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Africa’s shack-dwellers’ movement (see this open letter of solidarity published on October 2nd in the Mail & Guardian by Professor Noam Chomsky of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with other notable academics). Abahlali members and supporters courageously face repressive state action regularly. They are now under violent attack as they struggle to end poverty, seek to ensure fundamental human needs are met, and work to make human rights a reality for all people everywhere.
Human rights defenders everywhere must stand with them.
Updated post: original dated October 7th, 2013.