» Archive for: April, 2012

Abahlali’s New York speech

Category: News

25 Apr 2012

This is how we do it’

On 21 April 2012 Comrade Mzwakhe Mdlalose, of the Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement of slum dwellers of South African delivered this speech at The Foundry Theater, New York City.
I wish to thank The Foundry Theatre for giving me this opportunity to share
Abahlali‘s gift and contribution to our world. I also wish to take this
opportunity to thank Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA, (the Shack dwellers
Movement), the movement that has entrusted me with its mandate to share with
you how shack dwellers in post-apartheid South Africa have struggled to survive
neoliberalism which is a very modern kind of new apartheid. In this new form of
apartheid we are still divided into those that count and those that do not,
those who can live in the cities and those that cannot, those that are allowed
to speak and those that are not, those that must burn and those that are safe.

I am honoured to be among comrades from all around the world. I know that I
will learn many important lessons from all the comrades here. For years NGOs
and academics would represent the struggles of poor people in South Africa at
international forums. It has been a long struggle for us to get to the point
where we can represent ourselves in these spaces. We wish to be very clear that
some of the NGOs and academics have resisted our demand that we be able to
think and to speak for ourselves with as much hatred for our humanity as the
state. Some of them want to be our bosses and not our comrades. Some of them
have tried to destroy what they cannot control using some of the same tactics
as the state. They have presented us as criminals. As people that can’t think
for ourselves. As people who are being used. We draw a clear line between those
who are willing to struggle with the poor, to become part of us, to think with
us, and those that insist on their right to think and speak for the poor. We
are not looking for new bosses in the name of our own freedom. We draw a clear
line between that part of the left that thinks that it has a right to rule the
oppressed and that part of the left, that, however they were born into this
world, works with the oppressed day after day, and year after year, to build
the power of the oppressed.

Abahlali was formed out of anger, hunger and frustration. It developed out of a
road blockade in Durban in March 2005 in which 14 comrades were arrested and
charged with Public Violence. This road blockade was organized in a settlement
called Kennedy Road. At this time none of us knew what the future entailed for
the shack dwellers in Kennedy Road who refused to be excluded from the fruits
of our new democracy and from development. A democracy that has come to serve
the interest of the few while the majority of South Africans continue to live
in deep poverty. The first thing the movement did after it was formed was to
define itself before someone else could define us. It was already clear that we
were seen as the people who do not count in our own society. It was very clear
that the state and the NGOs wanted to define us. We realized that the shack
dwellers are presented as people who are helpless and useless. As people that
need an NGO intervention or an academic who will give us a good education in
politics and even provide us with a political direction. We refused this. We
defined ourselves by a process of discussing our situation and coming to our
own conclusions about who we are, what we need and how we can struggle for it.

We mobilized shack dwellers and poor communities around a common goal and
understanding. We started advocating for land and housing in our cities,
pushing for the upgrading of informal settlements and against forced eviction.
We are still pushing for the right to the city for the poor. We stage protest
marches. We petition, we picket outside state or municipal offices and yes we
hold candle light vigils etc. We also engage in direct action. We connect
ourselves to electricity. We occupy land. The state has proven to the people of
South Africa that the only language that they understand is protests. We have
to force them to accept our humanity. Without organisation and protest there is
no progress. That is why we have adopted the ”No land, No house No vote”
campaign. This is to put pressure on the authorities to listen to our plight
and take us seriously. But it is also because we don’t want to give our power
away to politicians that use the people as ladders. We want to keep our power
for ourselves. We want to build our own power from the ground up.

We believe that our struggle is our school. This is why we have created the
University of Abahlali baseMjondolo. This is our own political school where we
learn from one another. We learn from our meetings, at our all night camps that
we hold on every quarter year. We learn from the streets during protests and we
learn from the court rooms. But most importantly we have learnt from the old
and young women and men. Our meetings are the center of our movement. This is
where we discuss and think together. We talk things through until we come to a
common understanding. Comrades from America are often shocked at how long our
meetings are and at how many meetings we have. But the meetings are the
foundation of our strength.

We have made alliances with those few NGOs that are willing to engage us as
comrades rather than children. We hold paralegal workshops in collaboration
with legal NGOs such as Socio Economic Right Institute of South Africa (SERI)
and other partners but we also hold political schools that help us become who
we are.

Abahlali have produced a new politic that we call a Living Politic. It is a
living politic because it is understood by the old and the young, the educated
and the uneducated. It is the politic that speaks to the fact that we have no
water or electricity in the shacks or that it has become too expensive while in
fact, as Mnikelo Ndabankulu from Abahlali puts it, “our lives need these
services”. Everyone can see the justice of this politic. Everyone can own
this politic together. This is the politic that drives us. This politic rejects
the party political system that encourages a top down development approach that
is sometimes against the will of the people. It is the politic that carried us
in 2009 when the state backed gang attacked us in Kennedy Road and drove many
of us, including myself, from our homes.

It is very clear that South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the
world and that the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. We
believe that the problems that we confront are political and not technical. We
believe that we should build the power of the poor from below. We also believe
that freedom and equality can only be achieved when the poor themselves take
charge and lead themselves in their own lives.

The movement has won many victories including the victory against the ‘Slums
Act’ which was a piece of legislation that was aiming at bulldozing all shacks
in the province without the safe guards that all the policies and national
legislation provides. It was a war on the poor. The Constitutional Court found
this legislation invalid and inconsistent with the constitution. We have
stopped most of the evictions that our shack communities are facing in our
cities. We have won a struggle against the criminalization of activists by the
state e.g. in the case of the Kennedy 12. We have successfully protected our
space for our living politic and we have made our own international

However Abahlali is not a perfect movement and we have many challenges as well.
Some come from inside and some come from outside. Repression has damaged our
movement. Some of our members who were displaced by the violent attack in
Kennedy Road in 2009 remain homeless. The state still refuses to provide
services needed by our communities or even to listen for that matter. Shack
fires, floods, crimes and diseases caused by neglect of the state and its
agencies continue. There is still no political will from our government to
oppose the corruption in governance, the politicization of service delivery or
an economic system that continues to make some us poor and others rich.

We were supposed to be quiet, to be good boys and girls, while others discussed
our lives for us. We have, despite serious resistance from the state and some
NGOs, succeeded in taking our place in the world as people that think and have
a right to participate in all discussions. However we have a very, very long
way to go before we are strong enough to stop this very modern apartheid that
continues to divide us into rich and poor, people that count and people that
don’t count, people that must burn and people that can be safe, people that
are allowed to think and to speak and people that are supposed to be silent in
the dark corners. But we know that we are not alone. People are struggling all
over South Africa. People are struggling all over the world. Together we are


Poetry and Power

Category: Interesting Websites

19 Apr 2012


Poetic politics

Suheir Hammad is a Palestinian poet, who lives in Brooklyn.  A powerful poem of hers, hauntingly called “First Writing Since”, is about the impact of 9/11, and forms the basis for a mini-film we’d like to share with you.  What can we learn from this about the effects of violence, whether state violence or terrorism, on people’s lives?  What can we learn about how to organise struggles for peace?  We thought you would find this an interesting and provoking, as well as thought-provoking.


For Suheir Hammad’s poem, here is the Vimeo link (thanks to Dubravka Zarkov for sharing this link).





Crime and Punishment debate

Category: News

12 Apr 2012


Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of DRC – the first ICC conviction

This blog will bring out current news related to the Conflict and Peace Studies specialisation taught at ISS.  For regular updates of events and seminars see News and Events on the ISS website.

Recently in the first ever ICC (International Criminal Court) verdict in The Hague, Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate in hostilities (judgement delivered:  14 March 2012).

Will his conviction prevent future violence against civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo?  What about similar violence elsewhere? Do you think this kind of criminal prosecution can prevent future war crimes?   Have your say in the comment box below!

Meanwhile inthe Charles Taylor case tried in The Hague, by the Special Court For Sierra Leone, the formally found the former President “criminally responsible” of aiding and abetting in the commission of war crimes in both Sierra Leone and neighbouring Liberia.  Human Rights Watch pointed out that he was the first former head of state to face judgment in an international court on war crimes charges since judges in Nuremberg convicted Karl Dönitz (who briefly led Germany following the suicide of Adolf Hitler).

On the Charles Taylor case, see article and film at The Guardian:


For the Lubanga case, video and audio (English version)

YouTube (for viewing)
Audio (mpeg3) for download
Video (mpeg4) for download

Charles Taylor Verdict: Victory or Setback for International Criminal Justice?

For an interesting report on this question in light of the recent verdict, see several sites with different perspectives, including the judgement summary on the Special Court for Sierra Leone website, Charles Taylor defence website and this comment from a Legal Blogsite.  For a more critical perspective, see this commentary from the Africa Legal Aid site.


International Institute of Social Studies

Conflict and Peace Studies is a specialization within the Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies MA Major in Development Studies. This blog provides a platform for discussion for researchers, students and others interested in this field of studies. The blog is administered by the Conflict and Peace Studies teaching team.

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