Willies Mchunu and the attack on Kennedy Road

Paul Trewhela says acquittal of the ABM members was a rebuke to the ANC in KZN

A few days ago, when I wrote on Politicsweb ("The ANC and the failing of democratic governance", 26 August) about US consular criticism of the attack in September 2009 on the shackdwellers' organisation Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) at Kennedy Road in Durban/eThekwini, there was a valuable response from a reader. Replying to a previous comment by another reader, Domza, this person's comment stated:

"Domza's Stalinist, party, the SACP, is deeply implicated in the attack on AbM. It was Willies Mchunu, SACP central committee member, that called the attack the 'liberation' of the settlement, organised the ANC take over, announced that AbM was summarily 'disbanded' and then set up the task team that organised the failed frame-up of the Kennedy 12."

This was a factual comment.

The acquittal on 18 July this year of all "Kennedy 12" members of Abahlali baseMjondolo who had been charged with public violence, assault and murder was by implication a rebuke to the ANC provincial government of KwaZulu-Natal.

This can be seen in light of a statement issued on 28 September 2009 - immediately after the attack on the settlement at Kennedy Road, resulting in the deaths of two people - by the Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government, which is headed by the member of the provincial executive, Willies Mchunu. The statement declared: "Criminals, who are holding the Kennedy Road residents hostage, must be arrested without delay".

Some 21 months after the arrest of the Kennedy 12, the court found that they were not "criminals", as Mchunu's department had stated, and that they had not held the residents of Kennedy Road "hostage".

Mchunu's official statement further alleged that the ANC provincial government was acting to "liberate" residents at Kennedy Road "from the clutches of a structure simply known as The Forum", and that "The Forum apparently has links with the chairperson of Abantu Basemjondolo, Sbu Zikode".

This official statement involved a blunt accusation. It accused Abahlali baseMjondolo and its chairperson, S'bu Zikode, of being "criminals" responsible for holding residents at Kennedy Road "hostage", and by implication it accused them of responsibility for the attacks on 26/27 September 2009 and the resultant deaths. Issued by the South African Government Information service, this statement declared in its opening sentence: "The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has moved swiftly to liberate a Durban community (Kennedy Road)...", continuing that a KZN provincial government team had ordered that "The Forum has no official standing, and shall disband."

The following month, in an article published under his own name, Willies Mchunu accused a critic of having "peddled lies, titillation and gossip" concerning this statement by his department. ("The Kennedy Road Informal Settlement controversy: the ANC side of the story", The Witness, 20 October 2009)

A citation at the bottom of his article states: "Willies Mchunu (MPL) is the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison. He is also the provincial deputy chairperson of the African National Congress".

This "ANC side of the story" issued personally by Mchunu stated that "we as government" had issued orders to "set up a special police task team to hunt down the criminals who were involved in the incidents that occurred", further characterised by Mchunu as "criminal attacks".

This brief CV however did not add that, as well as being a former speaker of the Legislature in KZN, Mchunu is also a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party. He is indeed a former chairman of the SACP in KZN.

This is especially interesting, because of firsthand revelations of thuggish behaviour at the most senior levels in the SACP in KZN by a veteran former member of the party and of the ANC who is also a former political prisoner. 

In her resignation statement from the SACP and ANC, issued in Durban on 15 November 2008, Stephanie Kemp - a former member of the Provincial Working Committee of the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal, a veteran member of the ANC and a member of the SACP since 1962 - provided a horrific glimpse into the internal milieu at the head of the ANC and the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal. When Ms Kemp was sent to prison in 1964 following conviction for sabotage as a member of the National Committee for Liberation/African Resistance Movement in the Cape Town area, she was in contact also with the commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the Western Cape at the time, Fred Carneson.

Her resignation letter provides an extraordinary insight into the governing political culture in the ANC and SACP in KZN. The former wife of the ANC veteran and Constitutional Court judge, Albie Sachs, and the subject of his book Stephanie on Trial (Harvil Press, London, 1968), Ms Kemp writes of "strident" language at the head of the SACP and the ANC in the province prior to her resignation, of "stirring up hatred", "hate speech", "horrifying crass rudeness" in which "populist rudeness replaced any notion of discussion", "increasingly violent" language, an "increasingly worrying climate of divisive hatred", a "violent and anarchic culture", "vindictive rhetoric against the justice system" and a "dangerous leadership apparently intent on plunging our country into violence and thuggery and a clear threat to our democracy and reckless disregard of South Africa's national interests".

She concludes with a grim prophecy: "Images of Rwanda, east DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], Kenya and Zimbabwe loom large. Zanufication seems well underway."

The assault on Abahlali baseMjondolo at Kennedy Road on 26/27 September 2009 followed less than a year after these warning words. "Zanufication seems well under way," indeed.

Stephanie Kemp's s brave response to this rising crescendo of violent rhetoric in the SACP and the ANC in KZN has not received the attention it deserves, despite her position as an informed and reliable firsthand witness.

It is very striking how remarks by the magistrate, Sharon Marks, in dismissing all charges against the Kennedy 12 - an act which demanded a very high degree of judicial and personal integrity - bring to mind the climate of aggression described by Stephanie Kemp.

As reported by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) on 18 July, "Magistrate Sharon Marks today dismissed all of the charges against the activists after she labelled the state's witnesses "belligerent", "unreliable" and "dishonest". Magistrate Marks found that, while she had no doubt that violence had taken place in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in late September 2009, there was no evidence that the Abahlali activists had been responsible. She expressed disquiet that police identity parade witnesses had been coached to point out members of an Imfene dance group closely associated with Abahlali - rather than anyone who had been seen perpetrating any of the violence".

Here Magistrate Marks put her finger on a crucial feature of the entire episode - gross ethnic chauvinism (in other words, racism) on the part of the attackers, in violation both of the Constitution and the founding principle of the ANC. All the accused are isiXhosa-speakers, all are amaMpondo. The Imfene dance is an Mpondo cultural tradition. All the attackers - including the two men killed in the fracas - were isiZulu-speakers, yet not a single isiZulu-speaker was ever arrested. No isiZulu-speaking person has been charged with any offence relating to the affair. The entire criminal investigation and forensic process, lasting nearly two years, and dismissed with such damning finality by Magistrate Marks, bore the marks of a brutal drive for tribalist hegemony carried out by the ANC provincial government in KwaZulu-Natal, with Willies Mchunu its foremost official.

It was a short step from the increasingly violent rhetoric of 2008, as reported by Stephanie Kemp ("They are cockroaches - we kill cockroaches") to the violent attack at Kennedy Road in 2009, with its reported Zulu tribalist threat: "The amaMpondo are taking over Kennedy, Kennedy is for the amaZulu".

Stephanie Kemp's letter of resignation should be borne in mind when examining the political and ideological background of senior office-bearers in the SACP and the ANC in KZN, in particular Willies Mchunu.

An official CV published by the KwaZulu-Natal government provides an indication of Mchunu's previous political formation when it states: "ANC Underground Structures Member (1980)."

An earlier article on the political culture of the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal covering that period of the 1980s can be found here. This was the preparatory period for Mchunu's subsequent assumption of state office. My article, first published in July 2007 - two years before the tribalist attack at Kennedy Road - stressed the malign heritage in KZN of one man in particular during the 1980s: the late Harry Gwala (1920-1995), probably the most "strident", "divisive" and "violent" Stalinist in South African history.

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