Abahlali baseMjondolo means 'people who live in shacks' in Zulu. It is a movement of the militant poor which began in Durban, South Africa in 2005. The grassroots organisation formed around a protest against the sale of vacant land promised to those living in a nearby informal settlement. The movement grew rapidly from its inception and although it is mostly based in and around Durban, it claims to have mobilised tens of thousands of people and is considered to be the largest movement of the poor in post-apartheid South Africa. Although its main focus is to organise actions against local government, in recent years its members have also begun to set up projects in the settlements such as crèches, gardens and working collectives.
Their campaigns deal directly with the living conditions of the urban poor, demanding essential services and the basic right to a home in the city. The motivations behind the group's actions are rooted in the particular politics of South Africa. The shack-dwellers voted overwhelmingly for the ANC and its promise of providing adequate housing for the vast majority of black South Africans living in extreme poverty. Despite taking part in a myriad of public participation processes, they felt that they were still sold-out to the developers and were instead arrested for protesting.
Abahlali question the effectiveness of local struggles being led by foreign NGOs, academics or donors, advocating instead an approach where people act for themselves. To that end they are slowly building up a network of solidarity with like-minded associations and others in similar situations through an exchange of knowledge and experiences. Spatial agency here starts with the lived experience of the poor; Abahlali state that they want to talk about politics in the places where the poor live, at times that are suitable for them and in a manner that can include them. They see themselves as a knowledge-based as well as an action-based movement; one of the early banners proclaimed a University of Kennedy Road. Most of the intellectual work occurs in meetings and discussions, sometimes through song, continuing an oral tradition of debate. Abahlali view this as a building up of theory from below. The day-to-day running of the organisation is also seen as an analytical exercise where the techniques of collective decision making are continually refined and there is a meticulous system of record keeping.
Zikode, S'bu, "We are the Third Force." http://www.abahlali.org/node/17
Bryant, J., "Towards Delivery and Dignity: Community Struggle
from Kennedy Road1." Journal of Asian and African Studies,
Gibson, N. C., "Zabalaza, Unfinished Struggles against Apartheid: The Shackdwellers' Movement in Durban." Socialism and Democracy, 21(3)(2007): 60-96.
Patel, Raj, "A Short Course in Politics at the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo." Journal of Asian and African Studies, 43(1)(2008): 95-112.
Pithouse, Richard, "Thinking Resistance in the Shanty Town." Mute: Culture and Politics After the Net, (August 25, 2006) http://www.metamute.org/en/Thinking-Resistance-in-the-Shanty-Town.
HIC-HLRN, "Statement on the attacks on Abahlali baseMjondolo in Kennedy Road, Durban." Habitat International Coalition http://www.hic-net.org/document.php?pid=3243.
'Our struggle is thought in action and it is thought from the
ground at the University of Abahlali baseMjondolo. We define
ourselves and our struggle.'
- S'bu Zikode, October 2006; http://www.abahlali.org/node/237
'As much as all debates are good, fighting only by talking does
not take us much further. Sometimes we need to strengthen our
muscles for an action debate, that is a living debate that does not
only end on theories.'
- S'bu Zikode, 24 September 2007; http://www.abahlali.org/node/237
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