“We are here today to say to the government and whoever is responsible for the Human Rights Commission, there are injustices that have been occurring and no one seems to be willing to assist the poor communities. We feel that the officials and the people we voted for are not paying attention to the poor,” said Buhle Zuma, a member of the Poor Flat Dwellers Movement in Bonela, Durban.
He placed his protest banner under his arm and adjusted the yellow whistle cord around his neck.
Zuma was there to take part in the march in Durban on Human Rights Day that called for an end to human rights violations in KwaZulu-Natal.
More than 2 000 people marched from Park King Dinuzulu to Durban City Hall to present a memorandum containing their demands to the municipality.
Organised by the Coalition of the Poor – which is made up of the Active Citizens Movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Market Users Committee, Ubunye bamaHostela, the Poor Flat Dwellers Association, Right 2 Know, the African Solidarity Network, the Congolese Solidarity Campaign and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance – the marchers demanded proper housing and an end to racism and discrimination against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They also demanded an end to the criminalisation of activists.
“To the government of the ANC, if they are not taking us seriously, we will mobilise the youth and everybody in this province, we will withdraw our votes,” said Zuma.
Bonela resident Mzamo Mzimela, an unemployed 28-year-old, said he was participating in the march because he fears losing the place he has called home for more than 25 years. “We are faced with a dilemma where we have people [from property management companies] who came to our suburb and they were demanding levies,” he said.
He added that two companies are demanding high levies from residents in Bonela. “The body corporates have never been active, ever since we came here in the early 1990s, and yet they are demanding huge amounts of levies. Some individual houses, you find that some of their levies are over R100 000,” he said.
Mzimela has been living with his sister since his parents died. His grandfather bought the house as a home for family members who want to study or work in Durban. He claimed that although his grandfather’s house is paid off, management companies have summoned them in the past.
“They keep coming and demanding more money and more levies. We are sick of that, they can’t do that. They are not doing anything for us, they are not renovating our homes. We maintain our own homes, so they cannot demand levies.
“And they took out loans on our behalf and now they want us to pay those loans,” Mzimela added.
He claims that when they refused to pay back these loans, they were threatened with eviction.
“That’s not legal, to take out a loan on someone’s behalf without their acknowledgement. They threatened us. They want to take our homes.”
Not a municipal issue
Mzimela said they have informed the eThekwini Municipality about the issue, but were told that the municipality cannot assist in conflicts that concern private property management companies.
“We are saying that we cannot celebrate Human Rights Day and say all is well, because all is not well. We want the government of KwaZulu-Natal to open their eyes and listen to us,” said Ben Madokwe of the Active Citizens Movement while walking in front of a crowd booming out struggle songs about the power of abahlali(residents).
Using elaborate hand gestures, he said there have been no consequences for corrupt activities going on in the municipality.
Last year, City Press reported that the Hawks investigated eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede for corruption and fraud, for allegedly awarding tenders to those who had helped her political career.
Madokwe raised his index finger and said, “We are saying no to corruption and mismanagement of power.”
Ubunye bamaHostela chair Vusi Zweni said the march was about concerns they raised with the municipality nine years ago. “We wrote a letter to the public protector, [and] the minister, [detailing the] poor living conditions, poor housing and overcrowding in hostels.
“There is no one who is prepared to sort it out. Some of the other things are done in a political way, they are not doing it in a way that is done to serve the community in general.”
Zweni said the public protector has forced the municipality to work with them, but the municipality has begun pulling away.
Among those attending the march was Abahlali baseMjondolo leader S’bu Zikode. Dressed in black and red Abahlali regalia, Zikode reminded the crowd of the importance of unity.
“If we need change, we need to put aside our selfishness and the idea that we can work alone. We have to hold hands for the government to hear and respect us,” he said.
Zikode, whose life has been threatened and who has been incarcerated and seriously assaulted by the police in the past, called for an end to the killing of abahlali.
“Today, our rights must be respected … We are saying the killings of all activists must be investigated.”