“Freedom Day is for rich people.” Shackdwellers protest in Durban

Residents of informal settlements march to city hall

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

26 April 2023

People, mostly members of Abahlali Base Mjondolo, march to Durban City Hall on Thursday. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Hundreds of residents of informal settlements in Durban marched on Thursday to the eThekwini city hall, demanding better policing and the resignation of Minister of Police Bheki Cele.

Mostly members of Abahlali Base Mjondolo, the marchers say activists are being assassinated and murdered by izinkabi (hit men) and accuse Cele and the police of dragging their feet arresting those responsible.

Abahlali Base Mjondolo President Sbu Zikode said four of the organisation’s members were murdered in Durban in six months last year. Zikode said one member was killed by masked police officers and the other three were murdered by the izinkabi.

He said they called Cele to inform him of what is happening in Durban and he promised to come but never did.

“Cele only acts when a rich person is murdered, he does not care about us poor people. Today we call on the President to fire him. It’s time for him to retire,” he said.

Zikode said that on Freedom Day shackdwellers were not free.

“We are not free because our homes are attacked and destroyed by the state. We are not free because we are denied the right to well-located urban land and thereby our right to a place in the cities. We are not free because we are forced into government shacks (so called ‘transit camps’) and left to rot there. We are not free because our attempts to build autonomous and democratic communities … are repressed with violence from the state and the ruling party, including murder,” said Zikode.

The march was also joined by other organisations and activists from other provinces.

Kenneth Matlawa from the Housing Assembly said residents in informal settlements throughout the country are not free.

“Tomorrow is Freedom Day to rich people, but to us it’s a normal day as we continue to live in an inhuman environment. We are here because we are also fighting the same battle that is fought by KwaZulu-Natal residents. If we do not take action we will continue not being free,” he said.

Desmond Dsa of the South Durban Community Environment Alliance said the government had failed to improve the lives of poor people in Durban.

“Towards elections we will see them going door to door to our shacks, making all sorts of promises that they are not going to keep,” he said.

Sonke Gender Justice, Right to Know, Intlungu Yase Matyotyombeni (Cape Town), Indibano Yabahlali (Cape Town), Reclaim the City (Cape Town), Ndifuna Ukwazi, and a some eThekwini taxi associations also took part in the march.

Abahlali Base Mjondolo general secretary Thapelo Mohapi people said are being evicted almost every day in their homes in Durban and nothing has been done. “We demand land, dignity and freedom,” he said

Sizeka Dlamini, a vendor in Wale Street, says vendors are trying to get the municipality to drop the price of permits, currently at R1,000 a year. “Having to spend R1 000 before you even buy a stock is expensive. And they don’t want to drop the price. Now we get harassed by the City metro police who take our things and demand R600,” she said.

The marchers handed over a memorandum to Reggie Cele, from the office of eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda. Cele promised to deliver the memorandum to the relevant people. Zikode said they have seven days to respond.