Occupy, Resist, Develop

The year 2015, the tenth year of the existence of our movement, has almost come and gone. On the 3rd of October we gathered at the Curries Fountain Stadium to celebrate ten years of struggle. More than four thousand comrades participated in the celebration. We have survived years of serious repression – including arrests, assaults, torture, imprisonment, the destruction of our homes, slander and assassination. In these ten years we have won many victories in the struggle for land and dignity.

We are committed to putting the social value of land before its commercial value. We are committed to land reform from below. We have successfully occupied and held many new lands during the last ten years. This was the most difficult struggle to wage. It needed courage and inkani. It needed the ability to move from the land, into the streets and the courts. We are proud that we have been able to occupy land and build our own homes and develop our own communities for our own families.

Many of our comrades have paid a very high price for their commitment to this struggle. This is the year in which we commemorated all our comrades who have lost their lives in the struggle. The Annual Thuli Ndlovu Lecture was launched on the 24thSeptember in honour of this courageous, fearless and radical woman who, in the midst of death threats, continued with the struggle for the betterment of the people of KwaNdengezi and Abahlali in general. Thuli was a fighter, a strong woman who did not back down even when she was receiving death threats from the ANC local councillor. Thuli refused to be silenced by those who abuse the rights of the people. She was shot seven times.

Two ANC ward councillors (Mduduzi Ngcobo known as “Nqola” and Velile Lutyeku) were charged with murder and will be appearing at the Durban High Court on the 26th January for her death. This is the first time that those who oppress us have been held accountable for their actions.

The Thuli Ndlovu Lecture will held annually in honour of all our comrades who had fallen in the struggle for land, housing and human dignity. We call on all our members, progressive forces and all women’s rights organisations to come in numbers on the 26th of January to support Thuli’s family and Abahlali in the Durban High Court where the accused councillors will appear before the judge.

We have continued to struggle against xenophobia working closely with migrant organisations, including the Congolese Solidarity Campaign. We have worked hard to tie the struggles of oppressed South Africans and migrants together. We are proud that we have stood strong against xenophobia and that we have been willing to take real risks to stand with our comrades from other countries. We have also continued to take a clear and strong position in support of our LGBTI comrades.

Joining our movement is a serious commitment. It is a slow process and one that must be collectively undertaken. This year we have launched a number of new branches in Durban and Pietermaritzburg. We are also preparing to launch three new branches (Good Hope, Driefontain and Protea South) in Gauteng.

We do not only struggle to occupy land. We also struggle to occupy space in the media, in universities and in important debates. Land is often won and lost in local struggles but we also struggle for a just country and a just world. This year we have been able to meet with comrades in America, Brazil, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Norway and Zimbabwe. We were very pleased to be able to send one comrade to the MST political school for militants in Brazil.

We are very pleased that membership based grassroots organisations are slowly starting to be able to occupy a space in the international solidarity networks that used to be completely dominated by NGOs. We have also been able to win space in discussions from which we have previously been excluded. We were surprised but pleased to be able to participate in the South African Human Rights Commission’s National Hearing on Access to Land, Housing and Service Delivery. We are very pleased that we were part of this historic and strategic contribution to building democracy and our country for the better.

The struggle for land reform from below will continue in 2016. The struggle to build democratic people’s power from below will continue in 2016. But after careful discussion we have decided that our main focus in 2016 will be to improve the conditions on the lands that we have occupied and held.

We have occupied. We have resisted. Now is the time to develop.

Nelson Mandela said that “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”. We do not want our children to suffer the way we have suffered. It is better to die a martyr than to die in vain. It is better to die with dignity than to live in humiliation. As those who gathered in Kliptown for Congress of the People in 1955 said “THESE FREEDOMS WE WILL FIGHT FOR SIDE BY SIDE, THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES, UNTIL WE HAVE WON OUR LIBERTY”.

Abahlali baseMjondolo, or AbM, is a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa. It campaigns to improve the living conditions of poor people and to democratize society from below. The movement refuses party politics and boycotts elections. It's key demand is that the social value of urban land should take priority over its commercial value and it campaigns for the public expropriation of large privately owned landholdings. Read other articles by Abahlali baseMjondolo, or visit Abahlali baseMjondolo's website.