On Sunday 28 April, the day after Freedom Day, shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo held its UnFreedom Day rally on the Springfield campus of Thekwini TVET College in Durban to “mourn what was supposed to be freedom”.
“There’s no real freedom. There’s fake freedom,” Abahlali president S’busiso Zikode told the sea of red, made up of thousands of people who had come from rural areas, hostels and shack settlements in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Freedom Day commemorates the first democratic election held in South Africa in 1994, and the end of the apartheid era. Abahlali started UnFreedom Day to highlight that the poor are still not free.
Members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the South African Federation of Trade Unions, the newly launched Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, the Coalition of the Homeless, Ubunye bamaHostela, the Market Users’ Committee and other organisations attended the rally.
“We have no reason to celebrate Freedom Day except mourning for it. We have no reason to celebrate when we are poor and without land … We know that political parties only remember us during the election period,” said Zikode. “We are unashamed to publicly say that the ANC is a killer and is dangerous to our society … it has killed our people.”
Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim, who agreed with Zikode, said: “I am delegated by metalworkers to highlight a few things: as a people fighting for freedom, we agree resolutely with Abahlali that there’s no freedom in South Africa. And freedom will be brought by the workers, unemployed people, and we will do this through umzabalazo (struggle).”
‘Neglected by the government’
Themba Shiba, 65, was among the thousands of people at the UnFreedom Day rally. The father of 13 went blind after an attack in 1978. He said about eight people beat him in Pongola, where he used to work. He suffered severe head trauma and lost his vision.
He now lives at the Enduduzweni Centre for the Disabled in Umlazi, the only township in South Africa with its own vehicle registration plate identifier. Shiba travelled the 23km from Umlazi, southwest of Durban, to remind people that “disabled people like us are neglected by the government”.
“There’s a lot of us [at the centre]. We used to live there and work there. But right now, we are no longer working because the workshops we had have been closed and the stipends we used to receive to feed our families have been terminated by the government. They [the government] said we must only earn our disability pension,” said Shiba.
He claimed that the government threatened them with eviction from the centre. “We stayed there forcefully after the government tried to evict us. They said we must go back to our homes and we’ve refused. How can we go back to our homes when we live and work in the centre? Even now, the case is still in court,” he said.
News publication GroundUp reported in November that the centre had been without electricity for two weeks and residents were forced to cook meals on an open fire.
Shiba said, “Life was not only hard for me, but to all of us at Enduduzweni. We went to nearby forests to fetch firewood even though some of us are blind. We could have been bitten by snakes in the forests. Since we had no electricity, we cooked food on the floor.”
‘Hunting’ disabled people
Musa Nzuza, 40, who had been listening attentively to the speakers at the rally, said: “I am not living with a disability. I am disabled. We don’t get employed,” he said. “In rural areas, schools for disabled people are not available. And even in circumstances where it happens that you finally get to be educated, they will tell you that they can’t hire you because you are above the required age, which is 18 to 35.
“How will I finish school and succeed in life on time when I am in and out of hospitals and getting delayed with my life and my studies? Sometimes, when you’re disabled, you have to stay in hospitals for months due to unforeseeable health complications.”
He said disabled people are neglected and forgotten throughout the year, but because it’s election time, “they will hunt and find us because they want us to vote for them”.
“Cyril Ramaphosa, since he became president, he’s never spoken about us as disabled people,” Nzuza said. “Freedom is little, but in terms of human rights, it’s not there at all for people like us.
“Other people, including taxi drivers, are beginning to understand disabled people, but government employees mistreat us a lot,” he said, adding that disabled people in shack settlements are shot at and expected to run away during land evictions.
‘Vote for the left’
South Africans are scheduled to go to the polls on 8 May. Zikode said, “We haven’t yet decided who to vote for, but it’s clear that we will vote for the left. We are tired of donating our votes to the ANC.”
“The current government does not represent the interests of the poor and we are very clear about that. We’ve got concrete evidence that we have no government … We have to work harder to build our own government. We will never vote for the same people killing us.
“Voting for the ANC is like digging your own grave. Am I lying?” Zikode asked. The crowd answered, “No!”
Zikode said: “There’s no helicopter that will come to deliver freedom for us. We will have to fight for it. We’ve started to liberate ourselves through land occupations … Thank you, ANC! You’ve taken us from eGibhithe [Egypt] to nowhere in the middle of the desert.”