For nine years our movement has boycotted elections. We have been clear that no political party represents the interests of the poor and that it was necessary for us to build our own power in order to present our own needs and demands to society. In these nine years we have won many victories but most of us remain in shacks. Twenty years of shack life is a disgrace in a democracy.
Corruption is also a disgrace. In Durban you get nothing without a membership card for the ANC. All development goes through the councillors and their ward committees and ANC branch executive committees. Development is there to make ANC leaders rich and to control the rest of us by only making it available to ANC members. Development is not for the people. This kind of corruption is a disgrace in a democracy.
But an even bigger disgrace is the repression that we have faced from the ANC, its members, its leaders and its assassins. They have banned our marches; attacked our marches; arrested us on trumped up charges; assaulted us in detention; used armed men to drive us from our homes with police support; used death threats, attacks in our homes and torture in police stations to intimidate people to manufacture evidence against us; detained us for months and months while we wait for a trial that gets thrown out of court because there is no evidence against us; used their anti-land invasion unit to evict us for political reasons and beaten and shot us in our communities. Senior members of the ANC and the Municipality have made public death threats against us. Two activists were assassinated in Cato Crest last year and another, an unarmed teenage girl, was executed by the police.
We cannot go on with this level of repression. As everyone knows we are not the only people who face this kind of repression. We all know about Andries Tatane and all the others murdered by the police on protests. We all know about the Marikana Massacre.
In Durban court orders are just ignored by the Municipality and so the courts cannot protect us. Mostly the media and civil society tend to agree that because we are poor and black we are automatically violent and criminal and too stupid to think our own politics and so we do not get that much protection from the media and civil society either. We have some valued comrades on the left among the middle classes but mostly this left just wants to bus us into its meetings so that it can look credible without having any interest at all in our struggles, our ideas or our safety. NUMSA asked us to support their march in Durban but they have not shown any concern to support us when we face repression. The EFF also asked us to support their march in Durban but, like NUMSA, they have not supported us when we face repression. So far our experience of both these organisations is that they are operating like the left NGOs – we are treated as if our only role is to provide the large numbers of people that they need to be bussed in to justify their politics.
Because we cannot carry on like this we took a decision to vote against the ANC. We did not want to split our vote. We decided to collectivise our vote in order to make it stronger. Our main priority was that the ANC must be removed from office. We knew that this will not happen in this election but we were still clear that if we can weaken the ANC then we must do that. Also we knew that if we collectivise our vote all the political parties will know that there is a large bloc of votes that will be available at the next election for the party that does the best job in opposing repression and takes the best position on shack settlements.
We decided that all political parties except the ANC would be invited to make a presentation to the movement. Some of our members did not want to invite the DA to make a presentation as they are known to represent the rich and, in Cape Town, they are no different to the ANC when it comes to illegal and violent evictions. However we debated this at length and decided to invite them to make a presentation on the grounds that the removal of the ANC was our first priority and the weakening of the ANC was our second priority.
The DA, EFF, NFP and WASP all accepted the invitation to make a presentation to our members at the Diakonia Centre on 25 April and they all came and made their presentations.
The delegates to that meeting then returned to their branches to discuss the presentations there. We met again on 2 May and held a general meeting. At this meeting the general leadership did not vote as their role was to facilitate the meeting. The rest of the delegates voted and the results were as follows:
2 – undecided
2 – WASP
16 – EFF
26 – NFP
146 – DA
The DA and the EFF returned to witness the voting. WASP did not return. The NFP arrived three hours late with lots of car, bodyguards and their senior people. But by that time we were already dispersing.
The whole meeting was recorded on video and this video can be made available. Even those who were very disappointed with the results agree that it was a highly democratic process. The collective discipline of a democratic organisation requires that we all accept this outcome. Of course this decision is only for this election and it does not bind our members in Cape Town. When the next election comes we will again decide whether or not to vote and, if so, which party to vote for.
The main reason why the majority of the delegates supported the DA was because they wanted to have the strongest possible opposition to the ANC to put the maximum pressure on the ANC and to prevent it from doing what it pleases – which includes murdering us. We negotiated a legal agreement with DA which commits them to support some of our more basic demands. We hope that they will stand up for these issues and that they, and all other parties, will realise that if they want the support of the shack dwellers they will have to support us rather than see us as a problem to be eradicated or forcibly removed from the cities and taken to the human dumping grounds.
We will vote, as one bloc, for the DA tomorrow. We will not take membership of the party, we do not endorse its policies and we will continue to insist that no one can hold a position as an elected leader in our movement if they join a political party. We do not love or trust the DA. Already they are telling lies about our choice and we are not surprised. We have made a purely tactical choice. We will certainly continue to organise against all and any attacks on the poor in Cape Town by the DA government there.
One of the lies that is being told is that the DA are saying that we have endorsed them for this election in the Western Cape. This is not true. Our Western Cape branch has endorsed our decision to make a tactical vote for the DA in KwaZulu-Natal. Our Western Cape branch has not decided to make any collective vote for any party in this election.
Over the last nine years we have protected our autonomy from NGOs very carefully even though we do work with some NGOs. Now that we feel that it is necessary for our safety and our ability to continue to organise to use our numbers to make deals with political parties we will protect our autonomy from political parties in the same way.
Our politics puts people first. We cannot do nothing but wait for socialism to come one day in the far distant future. Our children are dying from diarrhoea right now, our old people and disabled people are dying in shack fires right now, we are being evicted and disconnected right now and we are being beaten and shot during evictions and disconnections right now. We been repressed, and even murdered, right now. We have to act to do what we can to make our members’ lives better right now. We have to act to protect our ability to organise and to sustain our living politics right now. This does not mean that we have given up on our vision of a world where land, cities, wealth and power are shared fairly. We call this a living communism and we remain committed to it. But we also remain committed to the human beings that we are now and to our families, neighbours and comrades. We will make what deals we have to make to protect our politics and improve our members’ lives right now but we will not give up on our political vision. We represent thousands of people who live in shack settlements. Those people who sit in university offices and NGO offices only represent themselves. Their children are safe. Their lives are not at risk. They are free to put ideology before people because they are not accountable to oppressed people and because they are not themselves oppressed people. But the fact that we do not enjoy that freedom does not mean that we have given up our politics. It means that we are searching for a practical way forward in a difficult and dangerous struggle.
The new Abahlali electoral position has offered us a lot to learn about. There is a lot to learn about party politics and its dirty campaigning tactics. There is a lot to learn about the deeper politics of our time. And, yes, there is a lot to learn about who cares and doesn’t care about the struggles of the poor and the working class.
Ideology and principle are vital but if they both fail to house the homeless and rescue the repressed and recognise the humanity of the inhumanized then the oppressed are not doing any harm to anyone in trying to emancipate ourselves by taking practical action now to keep people safe and to make their lives better while always keeping a bigger vision of freedom and justice in mind.
We share a sadness that we have had to make this decision. Very few people outside the movement have been witness to what we’ve been going through in the hands of the ANC. We do not have words to explain the pain many of us have gone through. We do not have words to explain our pain of twenty years of shack life and all the state repression that has come to us when we stood up for our humanity. Last year we came to the ceiling of hopelessness. It was clear that we are people that can be freely killed. The stress that this created led to some intense internal conflicts. We knew that we could not carry on with our old politics. Our new position has enabled us to rethink our struggle. It may not be the perfect way but it brought a robust discussion about us that was seriously trying to find ways of creating a new hope from no hope.
We are not surprised at the way some people on the so called left have reacted on our position. We are not surprised at the usual lies from the usual people on the internet. Many people and organisations on the left do not accept that we have the right to think our own struggle and to make our own decisions. They think that because they are on the left they have the right to tell us what to do. We do not accept this. These people see our decision as stupid and as a sell-out while they are nowhere to be seen in our times of great difficulty. It makes us to think that such people enjoy our suffering or even benefit from it. Why will people who claim to be in our support judge us instead of contacting us to first understand our decision? It may be a wrong decision but the reality is that we cannot deceive ourselves purposefully on our pain. Why should we be made to struggle in a way that is only designed to try and impress other people simple because they say that they are on the left? We will never do this. Our members must live in shacks and they must try and survive repression. Their organisation is theirs and it will be directed by their decisions. We have never compromised on this and for this we have always been attacked by the regressive left that only want us to take their money so that in exchange we can arrange for people to be bussed into their meetings. This is not emancipation. It is another kind of oppression.
Is the left doing enough to care about our struggle? Or do they see our struggles as projects from which they can prove and debate their findings and analysis rather than as a struggle to genuinely confront the forces of darkness? Our decision aims at trying to keep the space open for us to liberate ourselves by making a tactical move. We do not love the DA or agree with its policies. Why do people who failed to condemn the ANC attacks on us get so angry with us when we try to punish the ANC by making a tactical vote for its enemy? Maybe for these people it is better for us to be oppressed by the ANC than the DA. For us it is better not to be oppressed. Some of the left is just like some of the development NGOs and some of the state. They want to experiment on us, to use us for their own projects. We say no. On this there is no compromise. We continue to say ‘talk to us, not for us’ and ‘think with us not for us’.
Our position remains honouring those who have supported and who continue to support us. Since we all don’t know the answers in this struggle to humanise the world we will keep hunting and trying. Sometimes we will make wrong decisions but at least we offer debate and learning for ourselves and all our friends and comrades.
The ANC are a serious threat to society and to right of the poor to organise freely in this society. They must be removed from office and until we can remove them we must do all that we can to weaken them.
For further information and comment please contact:
Mnikelo Ndabankulu on 081 263 3462
Zodwa Nsibande on 082 902 2960
Thembani Ngongoma on 084 613 9772
Nono Majola on 074 803 1986