From recent events in Cato Crest, Durban, it seems that government representatives do not understand the distinction between their roles as elected officials who are supposed to serve all community members and the narrow political interests of their own party. On the night of 26 June, local housing activist Nkululeko Gwala was shot dead. He had apparently been collecting information about corruption in housing allocation which he had planned to release to the media. His death followed a meeting in Cato Crest addressed by the eThekwini mayor, James Nxumalo, and the ANC’s eThekwini Regional Chairperson, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo (who is also MEC for Health in KZN). In his speech to those gathered Dhlomo reportedly boasted that the area was a ‘Gedleyihlekisa ‘ [Zuma/ANC] one, and said that Gwala should be removed to his home at Inchanga. Dhlomo has since denied allegations that his speech was tantamount to inciting listeners to harm Gwala, but he has failed to explain why he, as ANC regional chair, attended what was supposed to be a community – as opposed to party political – meeting. His presence, and his reported speech, at this meeting sends out a strong message that the area is ANC territory and that other parties (including civil society organisations) should not be involved in local issues. It seems that the notion of ‘no go’ areas, which led to so much bloodshed in this province, is still alive and well. The implications for truly free and fair elections in 2014 are ominous.
Background to the death of Nkululeko Gwala
In March 2013 there were new bush clearing operations next to Cato Crest, a shack settlement in which formal housing is being built. These operations appear to have been part of a broader move by many city shack dwellers, dissatisfied with the municipality’s allocation of houses, to invade private and municipal land. On 13 March the house and office of the councillor for Ward 101 (Cato Crest) was stoned by an armed mob after he had pleaded with them to stop the land clearing and building. He and his family left the area. The land invaders reportedly included people whose shacks had been demolished when formal housing was built, who had not been given new houses, as well as those who had been making money from letting out the demolished shacks. The municipality obtained an interdict against the invaders. According to the shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (which was not involved in these invasions), well organised syndicates were taking advantage of the poor, who, despite being promised houses, saw them allocated elsewhere. Some of these people had been living in ‘transit camps’ for years.
On the night of Friday 15 March, the president of the Cato Crest Residents Association, Thembinkosi Qumbelo, was shot dead after visiting a local tavern. Qumbelo was an ANC member, and did not belong to Abahlali. He had been trying to persuade the municipality to allocate houses to shack dwellers whose homes had been demolished. Another committee member of the Residents Association had been shot and injured, at his Cato Crest home, the day before Qumbelo was killed.
Shortly after these events eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo addressed a community meeting, and called for the shack dwellers to elect a committee of ten people with whom the municipality could work on housing issues. Nxumalo warned political parties to stay out of issues relating to land invasions.
Central to all these events were continuing allegations of nepotism (political and family connections) and bribery in the awarding of houses, raising questions about whether or not housing lists, on which persons applying for houses names appeared in the order of their application, existed. Following an article in the Sunday Tribune on 28 April, which, citing various sources as saying that such lists did not exist, the municipality ‘clarified’ the situation. Housing lists had been done away with because they were ‘discriminatory’ and ‘raised expectations’. The municipality now had database showing ‘how many families live in informal settlements’, Various criteria were laid down for eligibility for what are termed ‘Green field’ projects, which were advertised in Metro publications. In the case of the upgrading of informal settlements, beneficiaries would be informed by their councillor or Development Committee. The municipality denied that councillors were involved in the allocation of housing.
On 23 May, persons living in nearby Ward 30 (Dunbar/Bonela area) took to the streets, blocking roads with burning tyres and rocks, demanding the removal of their councillor, Zanele Ndzoyiya, alleging that her election had been rigged (she was one of eleven councillors in KZN investigated by the ANC for irregular nomination). The site of some of the protest, Vusi Mzimela (Bellair) Road runs between Bonela and Cato Crest. While in the same general vicinity, the reasons for the protests in the two areas differed.
Cato Crest residents too continued with protest action, blocking a nearby road on 24 June. Ward 101 councillor Ngiba told protesters he would meet with four representatives, of whom Nkululeko Gwala, who had recently joined Abahlali, was one. According to a statement issued by Abahlali, they stressed that they wanted to meet with the ward committee, and not with political party representatives. The meeting was arranged for Tuesday morning 25 June. When the four housing activists arrived they found ANC and SACP representatives present. When they protested the ANC representatives reportedly said that. ‘this was ANC land and that the housing project was an ANC project, and that they would make all the decisions in the area about the project’. Nkululeko Gwala walked out and the other three remained. They were allegedly told that the ANC would not accept Gwala’s disrespect, and threats were made.
On that same Tuesday night there was further protest in the Dunbar area, and the offices of Councillors Ndzoyiya and Ngiba were burnt down. According to Abahlali they do not have members in that area.
It was on the morning of Wednesday 26 June that a municipality car with a loud hailer called people to a meeting supposedly to ‘unite’ the community. It was this meeting that was addressed by Nxumalo and Dhlomo – despite Nxumalo’s earlier insistence (in March) that politicians should not involve themselves in such meetings. Gwala was accused, among other things, of being disrespectful, causing problems for the party (ANC) and bringing a new party into the area (presumably Abahlali, which boasts of having supporters from different parties).
From events leading up to Gwala’s death it seems that the ANC views Cato Crest as its exclusive territory – which lends credence to allegations that political patronage is dispensed through housing allocation. The lack of clarity about who qualifies for upgrading, with decisions apparently being taken by faceless municipal officials who liaise with councillors, also feeds perceptions of nepotism. Housing activists have fled the area, and a climate of fear, fuelled by rampant criminality, prevails in Cato Crest. An Ethopian shopkeeper, Dessia Bejego, was shot dead in broad daylight on 4 July. With a view to preventing further violence in Cato Crest and other contested shack areas (including Kennedy Road), and the promotion of multi party campaigning in the run up to the 2014 elections, KZN Monitor calls for
- Nonpartisan protection of shack dwellers by proactive policing, in line with the aims of Sector Policing
- The publication by the municipality of its data base of shack dwellers, so that residents can check if their correct details have been captured, and the criteria used for taking decisions about who qualifies for upgrading to formal housing
- Political party leaders to take immediate steps to end ‘no go’ areas, and to be held strictly accountable for doing so.