Abahlali baseMjondolo’s Deputy President arrested on trumped-up charges

May 14, 2021

Abahlali stands with Bonono

May 10, 2021
Abahlali baseMjondolo Statement excerpted (full statement here)

The arrest of our Deputy President, Mqapheli (George) Bonono, on trumped-up charges is related to the longstanding attempts by the ANC (African National Congress) to crush the eKhenena Occupation in Cato Manor, an occupation that is now a working commune run on a democratic basis with a co-operative managing the farming.

Mqapheli Bonono. Photo: Peoplesdispatch.org.

Many times when city authorities have failed to evict people despite repeated violence and unlawful attacks, they refuse to provide basic services and infrastructure as a punishment to communities that have occupied land for living. This community has defied the city, created its own commune, provided its own services and infrastructure and used the land to produce food. This has angered many in the ANC, including in the Provincial Committee. It has been decided that an effective way to attack the commune is to trump-up criminal charges to undermine and delegitimate the occupation.

MQAPHELI BONONO ARRESTED IN ATTEMPT TO BREAK THE COMMUNE

Bonono has played a significant role in supporting the occupation to become a remarkable space and for it to move towards democratic self-management, and develop a capacity for production and resist constant attacks.

The ANC sees eKhenena as a direct threat because it is a site of autonomy from their authority and networks of patronage and accumulation, and because it has effectively resisted repeated violent and illegal attempts to crush it. The commitment to not allow land to be bought and sold, or shacks to be rented, is also a threat to other local actors that try to profit from impoverishment. Some of these people have a dangerous capacity for violence and direct criminal connections are not unusual. Land to build a shack is sold from between R15 000 ($1,061) to R17 000 ($1,203), and land with a completed shack can sell for up to R22 000 ($1,557). A lot of money can be made this way. This is a key reason why opposition to autonomy and decommodification comes on horizontal as well as vertical axes.

The occupation was not organised in consultation with our movement. The people who occupied did so quickly, and in conditions of crisis, and had not worked out a clear system of self-management or a clear set of political commitments around which to organise the new occupation.

From the beginning the occupation faced regular state violence and repeated illegal evictions. The local ANC councillor Mzi Ngiba was usually present when the occupation was attacked, homes burnt and residents beaten, teargassed and shot at with rubber bullets and, at times, live ammunition. Many were seriously injured. On Nov. 8, 2019, Lando Tshazi was hospitalized after being shot with live ammunition during an attack by more than two hundred armed men from the Anti-Land Invasion Unit, private security and metro police. They arrived as if for a war. In eKhenena and elsewhere in Durban autonomous initiative by the oppressed has routinely been met with militarised force by the local state.

On Nov. 16 there was a brutal state attack on the nearby eNkanini land occupation. The attackers used a helicopter and brought police from as far away as Bloemfontein. As individual homes were raided numerous people were severely beaten by the police. Teargas was thrown into homes without regard for who was inside and many children were affected. Nonhlanhla Nzama, a resident in the occupation who was seven months pregnant, collapsed and was admitted to hospital for five days after inhaling the teargas. While she was in hospital her child was stillborn. The eNkanini occupation was targeted for this kind of militarised brutality because of its strong support for the eKhanana Occupation.

COMMUNE ATTACKED IN RETALIATION AFTER WINNING COURT CASE

After the eKhanana occupiers came the movement for support we worked with them to approach the court and on Feb. 13, 2019, the Durban High Court granted us an interdict against the eThekwini Municipality’s repeated violent and illegal attacks on the eKhenana Occupation.

Mr. Mkhize, the leader of the city’s notorious Land Invasion Unit went to eKhenana to continue his attack on the community. Mkhize went wild in anger at Abahlali winning in court and fired live ammunition at the community seriously injuring one person. This is not the first time that we have been violently attacked after winning in court. Mkhize was never suspended or disciplined for firing bullets at unarmed people.

There was a small group, around five people, who did not want to accept that land would not be bought and sold, and that shacks would not be built to be sold or rented. They wanted to profit from the occupation of the land. As a result of the failure of the branch to address this effectively it was shut down. The residents were advised to organise an assembly open to all to discuss the issues, to work to resolve them, and work towards relaunching the branch. The assembly was held and after the five were asked to leave the community. Women took the leading role in this process and were supported by male leaders.

COVID-19 EXPLOITED IN ATTEMPT TO CRUSH EKHENEA

When the national COVID-19 lockdown was imposed on March 27, 2020, there was a moratorium on evictions. However, during the initial hard lockdown eKhenena came under relentless violent attack from the state in violation of that moratorium. The lockdown was cynically exploited by the municipality to try and crush the occupation. Under lockdown it was difficult to gain legal support and for solidarity to be organised. Large meetings and all protests were temporarily illegal. But, due to extraordinary collective courage and determination–inkani–the residents held the land and the occupation survived the regular violent and illegal attacks.

On Oct. 5, 2020, the branch was relaunched, and a new committee elected. There was general commitment to all the principles that must be adhered to in Abahlali occupations. Since then the branch has made inspirational progress and developed an occupation into a commune, begun to use land for housing and production, and undertaken other initiatives–such as building a political school as a general resource.

The ANC have been very angry and humiliated by the eKhenena Occupation. They have tried to crush it with the armed force of the state, a counter occupation, and with violence. But this small occupation has survived everything, and has done amazing things and won world-wide respect for the commune it has developed. The ANC won’t rest until they have dealt with eKhenana, and that means dealing with Bonono as well as the residents on the occupation.

We stand with Bonono, and we do so with great pride. We will offer him our full solidarity until this frame-up is thrown out of court and he can return to his family, friends and comrades. He, his family, and our movement and its supporters deeply appreciate the wonderful solidarity that has been expressed by people and organisations all over the world.

–S’bu Zikode
–Thapelo Mohapi

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