The shack dwellers' movement expressed opposition to violence against women and migrants and called on the state to stop neglecting impoverished communities.
The shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which now organises in five provinces, held its Heritage Day Celebration rally at the Vusumuzi shack settlement in Tembisa, Ekurhuleni, to condemn violence against migrants, women and children.
Abahlali's president, S'bu Zikode, addressed more than a thousand people, some of whom had travelled to the rally from KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. He said the movement had gathered during a difficult time, characterised by the killing of women and children, high levels of unemployment and general government neglect.
"There's always confusion when people are unemployed. It's a time of anger and poverty," Zikode said. "We're sitting underneath a bomb that can explode at any time." He added that anger is being directed towards the wrong people.
Killing of women is a state of emergency
"It's directed to our children, what have they done? It's directed to the most vulnerable groups in society: women. What have they done? It's directed to our gogos who've given birth to our mothers, what have they done?" Zikode asked the sea of red at the rally.
"It's wrong and unacceptable to raise your hand to children and women. If you ever do such, it means you're a failure and a coward. It means that your brain has reached its maximum capacity and hence it resorts to violence."
Abahlali's former women's league chairperson Zandile Nsibande said violence against women is deeply ingrained in patriarchy and cultural practices that contribute to the oppression of women.
"A lot of women are unable to report violence because they are financially dependent on the very same men who claim to be loving them, yet at the same time they're being emotionally and sexually abused. As women, we are faced with a conundrum. After being raped and abused, we resort to reporting to police stations where police officers will ask us: 'Did you enjoy being raped and abused?'" Nsibande claims some police officers suggest the complainant ought to converse with her abusive husband as a means of reconciliation instead of laying assault charges.
Nsibande is also a community facilitator for LifeLine Durban, which offers counselling for trauma, abuse and violence. She said: "At the age of 10, I saw my mother being beaten. She slept in the house for two weeks while unable to go to see a doctor."
Nsibande did not have the power to protect her mother. When she became an adult, she committed to stopping violence against women.
Zikode agreed with the seriousness of the situation, saying at the rally: "The killing of women is a state of emergency. If you're killing women, you're basically killing a nation. Where do we come from as a nation? We are constantly living under the state of emergency."
This is Afrophobia, not xenophobia
Speakers at the podium condemned the recent attacks on migrants. "The violence is directed to our brothers and sisters from other African countries," said one of the speakers. "This is Afrophobia, because it's violence and abuse suffered by Africans from other Africans."
The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party's general secretary and Numsa's (the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) Gauteng regional secretary, Motebang Oupa Ralake, echoed Zikode's sentiment on the recent attacks. Ralake added that capitalism fuels the oppression of women and maintains the violence perpetrated against nationals from other African countries.
"Xenophobia is capitalistic in nature. The bourgeois of this country is behind xenophobia. That's why xenophobia is only about black people, not white people ... They are dividing black people, so that they can remain inferior, oppressed and exploited," Ralake claimed.
He added: "Patriarchy is still working because women who do the same job as men get paid less. When men knock off from work in the evening, along with women, you find that a man who's a chef at work, cooks delicious food but when he arrives at home, he'd just sit and watch television and read newspapers while expecting his wife to do everything, yet she's just arrived home and is equally tired. Why fathers can't wash the dishes? Why fathers can't bathe their babies? That's patriarchy, and it's embedded in capitalism. We want to crush and destroy capitalism with all of its roots."
State violence against poor people
Zikode challenged the attendees at the rally such as the izinduna, grassroots activists and community leaders. "When will we ever come together to rally against violence of the state and its organs? Shack dwellers are human beings, and they deserve respect and dignity."
After the rally, Zikode said: "We need to come together to have a very serious discussion about the violence perpetrated by the state to shack dwellers and rural communities. Homeless and landless [communities] are often brutalised by the state and its organs. The municipality's structures such as the anti-land invasion unit in Durban, law enforcement in Cape Town and, of course, the red ants in Gauteng, no one is condemning this violence."
He said in three months 30 babies of shack dwellers across KwaZulu-Natal died in shack fires. "Their fault is that they were given birth by shack dwellers who could not put them in decent housing. They are burnt to ashes, and the state is silent about it.
"By denying communities basic services such as water and sanitation, access to roads and other forms of crucial services, to us that is violence."