SAHRC UNREST HEARING: Ground was fertile for uprising, shack dweller president says
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DURBAN - President of Abahlali baseMjondolo, S’bu Zikode, said on Monday that the atmosphere in the country and particularly KwaZulu-Natal was fertile ground for an uprising as undignified living conditions that mainly poor black people face and a history of violence in informal settlements at the command of state leaders contributed to the July unrest.
Zikode was testifying before the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) at its hearing into the causes and effects of the July unrest.
Zikode, who represents the views of around 100,000 members in the shack dweller movement, said the unrest was a political act just as much as it was criminal. He said the level of greed and corruption at state level contributed to the events that unfolded in July during which more than 350 lives were lost in what was believed to be an orchestrated attack.
Zikode said that leadership in the province had failed its people and stepped back during the chaos and violence instead of stepping up.
“For far too long politicians have used the police and military to handle issues surrounding citizens living in informal settlements, which often ends in violence,” Zikode said.
Although many are of the view that the riots and looting started after the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma, Zikode said many people were hungry, saw an opportunity and did not act in support of Zuma.
He said shack dwellers saw “credible people in society acting”, referring to some politicians inside the ANC and the working class, and joined in on the mass looting of businesses.
Zikode said that when arrogant politicians engage with people at informal settlements, they do so with condescension and belittle them, which is why the country is in a state where property is valued over human life.
He said the disappearance of state officials and the police during the unrest was, in some ways, an act of support for the large-scale looting that took place.
“We agree with the view that the unrest was planned at a very high political level. For instance, I tried to contact the premier of this province, who would not answer my call or even my WhatsApp. I did so because I got news that the deputy chief justice (Raymond Zondo) was going to be attacked.
“I thought as a citizen, I have a duty as well to assist, only to find that there was a leadership vacuum. Nobody existed, nobody wanted to take responsibility over anything.
“It was clear that a certain faction of the ANC that is not just angry over the arrest of the former president but what was unfolding within the party, which also involved people at the regional level,” Zikode said, adding that things started taking a turn for the worse in Durban after former mayor Zandile Gumede was removed from power.
“The poor in this country are ruled with violence. We are taught violence. For instance, in eThekwini, the Western Cape and Ekurhuleni, when it comes to evictions, we are engaged by the state and public sectors with violence. We were poor when Zuma was president, we are still poor,” he said.
“On July 13, while the province burnt down and citizens were gunned down or hacked to death, Premier (Sihle) Zikalala said it would be nice to see Zuma released from prison. He said the violent protest and looting were destroying Zuma’s legacy.”
Despite visiting Zuma shortly before the former president handed himself over to the police, Zikalala told the commission last week the provincial government had little to act on and relied on social media posts and a pamphlet for information.