Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Shack fightback: Bandile Mdlalose on Abahlali baseMjondolo

Bandile Mdlalose talks to Lorna Stephenson about Abahlali baseMjondolo, a radical poor people’s movement in South Africa

December 30, 2011
5 min read

Bandile Mdlalose. Photo: World Development Movement

Bandile Mdlalose is the general secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement, in South Africa. Politically active ‘since she was born’, Bandile, now 24, became involved in Abahlali in 2008 before becoming secretary in 2010. She describes the organisation’s role as ‘to fight, protect, promote and advance the dignity of the poor in South Africa’.

Abahlali is a grass-roots organisation, which protests about the lack of housing for poor people through a variety of means. These range from mobilising quickly to stop shack evictions to taking the government to court – and winning – on its plans to demolish shack settlements and push residents into ‘transit camps’, supposedly in aid of the UN’s millennium development goal of developing all informal settlements by 2014. Abahlali works with the Landless People’s Movement, the Rural Network and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in the Poor People’s Alliance, a network of radical poor people’s movements.

When did Abahlali baseMjondolo start and what prompted it?

It started in 2005 in a settlement called Kennedy Road. The people in the Kennedy Road shack settlement have been promised things so many times – that they will build houses, service delivery for the community – and eventually they felt enough was enough. The community mobilised themselves and decided to protest. A number of people were arrested.

They were asked ‘What organisation are you from?’ The community decided to organise itself and create a name – Abahlali baseMjondolo, which is the Zulu word for ‘shack residents’. After that other shack dweller communities decided to join in. Now we have become very big.

What is it like to live in one of the shack settlements?

We are used to it – but it’s never nice. We don’t have an alternative – we are forced to live in it. Sometimes when it rains the water flows inside. When it’s hot we are unable to breathe because of the small windows. We have no water or electricity, just an empty shelter. We light candles for light and to light the stoves but if there’s a lot of wind we always fear because it could burn down any time. A lot of people have died in shack fires but there’s nothing we can do, and the government always shifts the blame back to the people.

What are the main goals of the movement?

Our main goal is land and housing. We believe land is a gift from God, so it should be shared equally – it does not need to be privatised. Within that, there are little things we are achieving. We have managed to create our own space, having our own movement and speaking for ourselves, acting for ourselves, without someone speaking for us. We are managing to protest by trying to implement the constitution that the government has documented but not implemented.

How do you organise?

Firstly, we are a membership-based organisation. It’s a different approach to other organisations. We believe that we must work with communities, we must educate them on their rights, we must let them do things for themselves, rather than having someone else doing things for them. We also work with young people.

We have a one-year calendar that keeps our organisation sustainable and active. On 27 April, South Africa has Freedom Day. We say ‘We are still not free, we still live in the slums’, so we always have ‘Unfreedom Day’. Even on Human Rights Day we always have a protest because we don’t have any human rights. Rather than celebrating human rights, we are questioning, or we are sending memorandums. We have meetings every month but we emphasise that communities should have their own meetings. The struggles are in the communities, not in our head office.

Do you see Abahlali as continuing in the tradition of the anti-apartheid struggle?

It’s nothing new, we’re just starting off where Steve Biko has left, where all those comrades have left: Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King. The apartheid system is still there. The only change is from a white government to a black government. The only thing I could say has changed is the constitution. If you say to people ‘Apartheid is still there’, they will say ‘You can organise for yourselves, you can speak for yourself, we can walk with a white person’, but is that enough? Is that really what other comrades died for? Is that what Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for?

Mandela once wrote that it’s a long way to freedom. I still hear that there is freedom but I’ve not seen the light of freedom. That’s why we always hold the government against their own constitution because, yes, it’s a beautiful constitution and it accommodates everyone, but the constitution can’t work for itself – it needs someone to make sure it works.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences


6