Anglican Church honours Abahlali leader

Paul Trewhela
18 December 2009

Bishop Rubin Phillip's citation of Holy Nativity award to S'bu Zikode

The Christian churches in South Africa, and in particular the Anglican Church under the guidance of Bishop Rubin Phillip, have confirmed their courageous and principled stand in defence of human rights by the award by the Diocese of the Natal Anglican Church of the Order of the Holy Nativity to S'bu Zikode, the elected president of the shackdwellers' movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM).

"Jondolo" is a term for a shack. "Abahlali" are the residents who have no option except to live in one. 

In the week before Christmas 2009, the Natal Anglican Church has given a lead to the whole of South Africa in the basic matters of defence of life, of the right to decent housing, and of respect for law and the Constitution.

The award of the Order of the Holy Nativity at this time looks to the contemporary reality of the birth of Jesus in a shack. Given the repression currently suffered by members of AbM in KwaZulu-Natal and the fate of S'bu Zikode and his family, it anticipates also, though, a recollection of the tradition of Christian martyrdom in the founding centuries of the faith. A deeply significant statement has been made, with resonance beyond the church into everyday civil and political life. 

This award by the Diocese of the Natal Anglican Church is clear evidence of a new politics in South Africa which nevertheless remains far beneath the radar - not merely of the government, as Amnesty International has acknowledged - but of the opposition political parties, the press, and almost the whole of The Great and the Good whose opinions hover over South Africa like a great cloud, fixed in place for the past 20 years.

To its huge credit, and drawing upon a long spiritual tradition, the Anglican Church in KwaZulu-Natal has broken with a bad consensus in the public domain, to give witness beside the weak and downtrodden, in disdain of the conventional political correctness.

S'bu Zikode was forced to go into hiding when a killer squad attached to local ANC political authorities attacked the AbM residents at Kennedy Road in Durban on the nights of 26 and 27 September, his family was forced to flee and his house in the settlement was wrecked by the wreckers..

In a memorable statement, "We are the Third Force" (here), he wrote:

"Those in power are blind to our suffering. This is because they have not seen what we see, they have not felt what we are feeling every second, every day. My appeal is that leaders who are concerned about peoples' lives must come and stay at least one week in the jondolos. They must feel the mud. They must share 6 toilets with 6 000 people. They must dispose of their own refuse while living next to the dump. They must come with us while we look for work. They must chase away the rats and keep the children from knocking the candles. They must care for the sick when there are long queues for the tap. They must have a turn to explain to the children why they can't attend the Technical College down the hill. They must be there when we bury our children who have passed on in the fires, from diarrhoea or AIDS."

The citation by the Diocese of the Natal Anglican Church of the award of the Order of the Holy Nativity to S'bu Zikode appears below.

At a time of mass immersion in the pleasures of the moment, it speaks of deeper matters.




Whereas by resolution of Diocesan Council in the year of our Lord 2003 the Order of the Holy Nativity was authorised for Distinguished Lay Service to the Diocese of Natal.

And whereas the name of our beloved in Christ, SIBUSISO ZIKODE, has been submitted to us by Citation for such recognition.

We, Rubin, by Divine Permission, Bishop of Natal, do by those present confer the aforesaid honour upon him on the following grounds:

S'bu Zikode was born in 1975 in Loskop near Estcourt in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. He has become known to tens of thousands of shack-dwellers in South Africa, as well as admirers around the world, as the elected president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack-dwellers movement. That movement, and the style and content of Zikode's leadership within it, has been a beacon of dignity and hope in the ongoing struggle for genuine freedom and transformation in our country.

Zikode not only leads by listening and by taking action, he is also an extraordinary wordsmith capable of capturing and sharing the heart of a militant but quite beautiful and salvific poetics of struggle. We quite deliberately rely on his own words throughout this citation for he and Abahlali baseMjondolo have consistently made it plain that the poor can and should speak for themselves.

Zikode and his family first moved into a shack in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban because the rental was affordable and the location was close to work and schools. "Life was much better because we could live close to work and schools at an affordable cost. But I told myself that this was not yet an acceptable life. ... It was not acceptable for human beings to live like that and so I committed myself to change things".

A key to Zikode's involvement in that process of change was a thorough democratisation of the local development structure, the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), which had been in control of the settlement until then. "We mobilised the young people. We started with youth activities, like clean up campaigns, and then when the people were mobilised, we struggled to force that there must be elections, that there must be democracy".

In the early years of this democratised KRDC, Zikode and his colleagues worked with the local and regional party political structures of the ANC and the City of Durban to try and address the challenges the community faced. But the repeated lies and failed promises built up, and disappointment led to reflection and a commitment to taking action on the people's own terms. The Kennedy Road settlement made newspaper headlines in 2005 when they blockaded a major road nearby after yet another promise of better housing turned out to be a betrayal. That event also marked the decisive break from party politics to establishing a new politics of autonomous, grassroots action and reflection.

Zikode himself comments on how that day of the blockade felt: "It was good. ... It was difficult to turn against our comrades in the ANC but we weren't attacking them personally. We wanted to make them aware that all these meetings of the ANC - the BEC meetings, the Branch General Meetings, they were all a waste of time. In fact they were further oppressing us in a number of ways. ... It had become clear that the only space for the poor in the ANC was as voters - there was no politics of the poor in the ANC. The road blockade was the beginning of a politics of the poor".

And out of that politics of the poor )emerged Abahlali baseMjondolo:

"I had no idea that a movement would be formed, no idea. And I didn't know what form would be taken by the politics of the poor that became possible after the road blockade. Most people think that this was planned - that a group of people sat down and decided to establish a movement. You know, how the NGOs work. ... But all we knew was that we had decided to make the break. To accept that we were on our own and to insist that the people could not be ladders any more; that the new politics had to be led by poor people and to be for poor people; that nothing could be decided for us without us.

"The road blockade was the start. We didn't know what would come next. After the blockade we discussed things and then we decided on a second step. That's how it went, that's how it grew. We learnt as we went. It is still like that now. We discuss things until we have decided on the next step and then we take it. ... In the party you make compromises for some bigger picture but in the end all what is real is the suffering of the people right in front of you. In fact it had become a shame. To say that ‘enough is enough' is to walk away from that shame. Instead of the party telling the community what to do, the community was now deciding what to do on its own".

And this approach has shaped the movement's understanding of its politics - which it refers to as a 'living politics' - and its leadership style. At their heart, both flow from a common sense understanding that "everyone is equal, that everyone matters, that the world must be shared":

"Our movement is formed by different people, all poor people but some with different beliefs, different religious backgrounds. But the reality is that most people start with the belief that we are all created in the image of God, and that was the earliest understanding of the spirit of humanity in the movement. Here in the settlements we come from many places, we speak many languages. Therefore we are forced to ensure that the spirit of humanity is for everyone. We are forced to ensure that it is universal.

"There are all kinds of unfamiliar words that some of us are now using to explain this but it is actually very simple. From this it follows that we can not allow division, degradation - any form that keeps us apart. On this point we have to be completely inflexible. On this point we do not negotiate. If we give up this point we will have given up on our movement". 

This universality of equality, implied throughout the scriptures from Genesis' account of our creation in the image of God to Revelation's promise of a new heaven and a new earth, is the singular mark of genuine democracy and is the heartbeat of every genuine struggle for freedom and justice. In recognising S'bu Zikode and in conferring the aforesaid honour on him, we join ourselves with that struggle.

Our decision to confer the Order of the Holy Nativity on Zikode was made before September 2009 when the Kennedy Road settlement was attacked by armed vigilantes, and AbM was violently ejected with the connivance and support of police and local ANC leaders. These attacks have placed acute pressures on the movement and its politics. We have spoken out publicly against these developments and will continue to denounce them and to support Abahlali.

It is our hope that this award helps to strengthen Zikode and the shackdwellers' movement - for we have seen before, in the history of struggle in South Africa, that concerted violent attacks on people's politics and movements can result in a certain sclerosis of decent, open and democratic politics. It is vital, not just for Abahlali itself, but for all of us concerned with the project of transformation and true democracy, that its 'living politics' is kept living, defended in principal and established in practice..

We give thanks for this dedicated servant of the people and servant of the Lord.

Given under our hand and seal on this Sixteenth Day of December in the year of our Lord Two Thousand and Nine in the Fifteenth Year of our Consecration.


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 responses to this article

Kennedy Road beneath whose radar?
The Kennedy Road, Durban, shack settlement has been studied more than any other, especially by the Centre for Civil Society in Durban led by Adam Habib and then by Patrick Bond. Richard Pithouse wrote a book about it some years ago (and sent me a copy . .more

by Domza on December 19 2009, 06:44
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ANC power
Guys, it ain't gonna happen. The ANC resented the power of Abahlali, particularly when the movement won a few court orders. ANC cadres moved in and decimated the Abahlali leadership, either killing them or making them run for their lives. SAPS had been . .more

by cedric on December 19 2009, 08:52
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Shame there's no evidence, Cedric
There is no evidence for your lurid scenario.

Nor can the holy Bishop Rubin Phillip do better than the following allegation: "AbM was violently ejected with the connivance and support of police and local ANC leaders." No evidence is given to back . .more

by Domza on December 19 2009, 10:03
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@ Domza
Readers can study here the Stalinist approach to *justice* of Dominic Tweedie (*Domza*) and his colleagues in the SACP and the ANC, who have brought this heritage into the legal system in South Africa.

As Cedric points out above, and as . .more

by Paul Trewhela on December 19 2009, 14:13
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No trial?
I'm not quite sure where you are going with this. Are you saying that there should not be any trial?

by Domza on December 19 2009, 15:24
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@ Domza: the maladministration of justice
For the Kennedy Road 13, the sooner they go to trial, the better. Let the state show the poverty of its evidence.

But what likelihood is there that the real murderers and house wreckers of 26/27 September will be brought to . .more

by Paul Trewhela on December 19 2009, 17:10
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stalinism of SACP/ANC aint so different from apartheid gov
Well, I find it interesting that instead of condemning the attacks, Domza rationalises that Kennedy was controlled by NGOs and academics and therefore logical that Abahlali would attack itself on the 26th of Sept (the same logic used by the ANC government . .more

by From Below on December 19 2009, 21:47
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Well no, I just suggested that people might do well to read Ashwin's Wolpe lecture because it is about the relationships that better-off people set up around the crises of the poor. For example, Ashwin asks a very good question: Who is feeding . .more

by Domza on December 19 2009, 23:00
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An old story
Will Domza take up this requirement for due process - rather than the old familiar detention without trial - in his ANC branch and his SACP branch?

And how energetically?

Ah, yes: *the slow way the law works is reprehensible, no . .more

by Paul Trewhela on December 20 2009, 11:35
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A huge story
I know more about this story now than I did this morning. It is a huge story. It is a Pulitzer-prize-potential story. At the middle of it there is a terrible bloody murder. Around that horrible moment of screams and sobs and stink and blood in the night, . .more

by Domza on December 20 2009, 22:29
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kennedy road
There will be more Kennedy Roads, especially after the media attention on 2010 moves on and the local government elections loom. Domza hows the proaganda is already in place to preemptively justify it. The Church will have it's work cut out.

by witbooi on December 21 2009, 09:46
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Intruiging debate by Domza et al! Thanks for stimulating my interest in what is clearly a very cutting edge issue. Vans, Autos, Kombis.....Desai (2006)? will do.

by CM on December 21 2009, 10:46
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Not my fight....
I cannot tell you how happy I am that this is not my fight.

by JVR on December 22 2009, 04:37
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The one who would deserve his stereotype is the one who willingly embraces it, like you do.

What you "cannot tell us" is that you are more than happy that this is not your fight. You are always liable to be happy when others are . .more

by Domza on December 22 2009, 06:23
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From a Commie?

A commie telling me to be a member of the human race and celebrate Christmas?

Now let me see:

Here in the days before Christmas (A CHRISTIAN HOLYDAY, MR DOMZA), I note that ANC supporters have (1) shot and killed Mr Renier . .more

by JVR on December 23 2009, 20:10
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Same false accusation
You blame the ANC for murders. So what's the difference between you and Bishop Phillip, Amnesty International, Steven Friedman and Martin Legassick?

by Domza on December 24 2009, 07:01
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How did the Western Left came to this low point?
The Murderers, Domza, in case you have not noticed, came with the ANC.

They arrived here, from outer space as far as I am concerned, first infiltrating with the ANC in the 1980s, and thereafter coming openly in 1994, protected by the Regime, to . .more

by JVR on December 25 2009, 00:58
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Happy Christmas
Morning, JVR.

The murder of Mthokozisi Ndlovu and Ndumiso Mnguni was 'not your fight', you said. You walked by on the other side, because you could see that these murders had nothing to do with the ANC, and did not fit your purpose, you . .more

by Domza on December 25 2009, 07:08
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Pontius Pilate, Domza.
Intellectual Honesty Domza?

I thought that Marxist Literary Analysis is masterful in undermining that concept, at least insofar as that theory provided the means whereby "truth" can be framed in a way suitable to achieve political and social . .more

by JVR on December 26 2009, 00:49
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The sensitivity to feel anguished when a man is murdered
The following are words of a Southern-hemisphere, rugby-playing, white-settler boy called Che Guevara:

Now, companeros, I want to share my opinion as a national leader of the ORI(4) on what a Young Communist should be, to see if we all . .more

by Domza on December 26 2009, 06:43
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No mercy, because he had none...
Now now Domza....

Che, as is well known, took great pleasure in personally executing his victims - he was a sociopath par excellence. Even Castro understood him for what he was, thus his little excursion to meet fate in Bolivia.

For . .more

by JVR on December 26 2009, 19:40
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Oh. and one more thing....
... I am not a settler boy.

I was born, bred, and can recall, only Africa, 15 generations already.

by JVR on December 27 2009, 01:51
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And oh ya, I keep on forgetting to mention this to you, Domza...
... the inconvenient fact that Communism, is with Socialism and Capitalism, a Western Ideology that will not survive the decadence and untergang of the West.

As the Western powers die and dismantle under the self-inflicted wounds of their . .more

by JVR on December 27 2009, 06:19
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Theological accuracy
"The award of the Order of the Holy Nativity at this time looks to the contemporary reality of the birth of Jesus in a shack."

Jesus was not born in a shack. He was born in a stable. Reading the accounts of his life in the Bible suggest that He . .more

by Terence C on January 04 2010, 12:55
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