Last week, the New York Times reported that in the last two years about ninety politicians within South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (A.N.C.), have been assassinated by one another in an “all-or-nothing fight over money, turf and power.” This is a devastating legacy for the party of Nelson Mandela and an important lesson on the ability of profit and power to co-opt and domesticate our struggles for freedom.
And yet, what most observers have missed is that there is a parallel war being waged by South Africa’s ruling elite, this one against the poor, who total over fifty percent of the population, and in particular against the poorest, who live in the 3,000 informal settlements and shack dwellings scattered on city outskirts throughout the country. Since the fall of apartheid, utilities have been denied to these shack dwellers, shacks have been razed, settlements have been attacked, and many who have resisted have been killed or threatened with death.
Emerging out of these embattled communities is Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), South Africa’s 50,000-person strong shack dwellers movement, which has organized since 2005 to advance the interests of those dispossessed of even the most basic human right to a home. The Kairos Center was recently honored to host S’bu Zikode, one of the founders of AbM, at a time of heightened government violence that has forced him and other movement leaders underground. Zikode joined Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis in an important conversation to discuss the visions, strategies and points of connection of AbM and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Zikode and Theoharis reminded us that at the core of every poor people’s movement there must be found a “living politics” — a politics that speaks to the everyday realities and aspirations of the people. This is a politics that is uninterested in hollow rhetoric or ideology and which has no patience for institutions that attempt to dictate the terms of freedom. This is a politics that distributes people electricity and water through informal “people’s connections” when the government refuses to; a politics that occupies empty houses and land when there is more than enough to go around; a politics that takes the streets and centers of public life when everything else has been denied; a politics that teaches that we honor the divine by the way we build community in this life; and a politics that sees through lines of division and recognizes that the strength of poor people lies in their unity and numbers.
Their conversation can be found below.
As we write this, Abahlali baseMjondolo members and allies in Cape Town, Durban and Joburg are marching to demand an end to the killing of Abahlali activists. Please join the Kairos Center on Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 11:30am as we come together in front of the South African Consulate in New York City to help amplify Abahlali baseMjondolo and to shed light on the violence and repression being carried out on our sisters and brothers in struggle.
The demands of the shackdwellers are land and dignity. In the past 13 years they have fought for these fundamental rights and built an organization of over 50,000 members in nearly 50 branches across South Africa. The network of grassroots and religious leaders that make up the Kairos Center stand with Abahlali. The struggle of the poor in the US is inseparable from the poor in South Africa and across the world.
Solidarity Action with Abahlali baseMjondolo in NYC
Where: South African Consulate General, 333 E 38th St, New York, NY 10016
When: Tuesday, October 9th, 11:30am-1:30pm