Who we are

Saturday, November 19, 2005

We are the nation's ‘Third Force'

Published in The Star, November 9, 2005
By s’buZikode

The shack dwellers' movement that has given hope to thousands of people in Durban has always been accused of being part of the Third Force. In newspapers and all kinds of meetings, this is said over and over again.

Money has even been wasted on investigating the “Third Force”.

We need to address this question of the Third Force, so that people are no longer confused.

Government officials, politicians and intellectuals who speak about the Third Force have no idea what they are talking about. They are too high to really feel what those on the ground feel.

They want to talk for the people and about the people, but they need to learn to allow us to talk about our lives and our struggles.Let us get something clear. There definitely is a Third Force. The question is: What is it, and who is part of it?

Well, I myself am the Third Force. The Third Force is all the pain and suffering that the poor are subjected to every second of our lives.Shack dwellers have many things to say about the Third Force. It is time for us to speak out and say: “This is who we are, this is where we are and this is how we live.

The life that we are living makes our communities the Third Force. Most of us are not working, and spend our days struggling for small money. Aids is worse in shack settlements than anywhere else. Without proper houses, water, electricity, refuse removal and toilets, all kinds of diseases breed.The causes are clearly visible and every man in the street can understand.

Our bodies itch every day because of the insects. If it is raining, everything gets wet – blankets and floors. If it is hot the mosquitoes and flies are always there. There is no holiday in the shacks. Evenings are always a challenge. The night is supposed to be for relaxing and getting rest. But it does not happen like that in the shack settlements. People stay awake worrying about their lives, watching huge rats running across small babies. Some are forced to sleep under bridges when it rains because their floors are so wet, and the rain comes right into their houses.

Those in power are blind to our suffering. This is because they have not seen what we see, they have not felt what we feel every second, every day. My appeal is for leaders who are concerned about people's lives to come and spend a week in the settlements.They must feel the mud. They must share six toilets with 6 000 people. They must dispose of their own refuse while living next to dumps. They must come with us while we look for work. They must chase away the rats and keep the children from knocking over the candles. They must care for the sick when there are long queues for taps. They must explain to the children why they cannot 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-related illnesses.For us the most important struggle is to be recognised as human beings.

During the struggle prior to 1994 there were only two levels, two classes – the rich and the poor. Now after the election there are three classes – the poor, the middle class and the rich. The poor have been isolated from the middle class. We are becoming poorer and the rest are becoming richer. We are on our own. We are completely on our own.

Our President Thabo Mbeki speaks politics, our premiers Ndebele, Shilowa and Rasool, and many mayors speak politics. But who will speak about the genuine issues that affect the people every day – water, electricity, education, land, housing?We thought local government would minimise politics and focus on what the people need, but it all becomes politics.Our municipality members do not listen to us when we speak to them in isiZulu. We tried English. Now we realise that they won't understood isiXhosa or Sesotho either.

The only language they understand is when we put thousands of people on the street. We have seen the results of this, and we have been encouraged. It works very well. It is the only tool we have to emancipate our people. Why should we stop it?We have matured in our suffering. We had a programme to find a way forward. Our programme was to continue with the peaceful negotiations with the authorities that first started 10 years ago. But our first plan was undermined. We were lied to. So we had to come up with an alternative plan.

We have learnt from experience that when you try to achieve what you want, what is legitimate, by peaceful negotiations, by humbleness, by respecting those in authority, your plea becomes criminal. You will be deceived for more than 10 years, you will be fooled and undermined. This is why we have resorted to the streets. When we stand in our thousands, we are taken seriously.

We are aware of the strategies police use to demoralise and threaten the poor. We don't mind them building more jails for us and hiring more security if they are not prepared to listen to what we are saying.It is important for every shack dweller to know we are aware of what is happening in Alexandra in Johannesburg, in Port Elizabeth, in Cape Town. We know our struggle is not alone. We have solidarity.

Our movement is a kind of social tool by which the community hopes to get quicker results. It has nothing to do with politics or parties. Our members are part of various political organisations. We are a non-political movement, and will finish our job when land, housing, electricity and basic services are won and poverty is eliminated. We stand united until our people have achieved what is wanted. Until that happens, we will never stop.The community has realised that voting for parties has not brought any change to us – especially at local government level.

We have seen some important changes at national level, but at local level whoever wins the elections will be challenged by us. We have been betrayed by elected councillors, and we have decided not to vote.We are driven by the Third Force, the suffering of the poor. Our betrayers are the Second Force. The First Force was our struggle against apartheid. The Third Force will stop when the Fourth Force comes. The Fourth Force is land, housing, water, electricity, health care, education and work. We ask for what is basic, not what is luxurious.

This is the struggle of the poor. The time has come for the poor to show themselves that we can be poor in life but not in mind.Time has been a good teacher. People have realised many things. We have learnt from the past, and suffered alone. We have learnt that we are not supposed to live under these conditions.

There has been a dawn of democracy for the poor. No one else would have told us – not our elected leaders nor any officials – what we were entitled to. Even the Freedom Charter is only good in theory. It has nothing to do with the ordinary lives of the poor. It doesn't help us. It is the thinking of the masses of the people that matters.

Our country is rich. More airports are being built, stadiums renovated, more money is floating around, even being lent to Robert Mugabe. But when you ask for what is basic, you are told there is no money. It is clear there is no money for the poor. The money is for the rich.

We now say “enough is enough”. We all agree something must be done.

nS'bu Zikode is the elected chairperson of the Abahlali base mjondolo (shack dwellers) movement which currently includes 14 settlements in Durban, and will march on Mayor Obed Mlaba's offices next Monday.

Monday, October 31, 2005

May '04 or October '05 - what's the difference?!

We were in Bangalore for a week and spent the weekend in a retreat centre ran by Jesuit priests - a new, interesting, silent and wonderful experience! New and interesting, since we've never done anything like it before. Silent, because trainees at the centre are required to go through 30 days of absolute silence which we joined for two days. They ran out of calendars for their rooms and started recycling 2004 calendars. Brilliant innovation in the heart of India's IT capital!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Join Operation Hope for Zimbabwe!

Upsetting pictures of violence and suffering from Zimbabwe have so many times in the past few years led to feelings of sadness and helplessness. A post by Hermann on Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe made me realise that we have no choice but to act. Doing nothing makes us accomplices of the evil deeds of Mugabe and his government.

And, to my surprise, there is much we can do - from anywhere in the world! Please join us in doing whatever we can to support those suffering and also help Zimbabwe return to the democratic, stable country it once was. Here is a list of things you can do...

Leave a comment or e-mail me at arnies@ananzi.co.za if you have any ideas of how we can do more or would like me to e-mail you the html with all the links above to use in your blog or e-mail to your friends!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Education in South Africa

The South African Human Rights Commission held hearings on the right to basic education last week. Their findings will be published in December, but the expert views presented to them were not very positive...

A recent study tested the reading and maths ability of grade 6 pupils. Only 65% of pupils in former Model C schools (mainly in white areas) was on standard. Shocking? It gets worse: the number for former 'blacks only' schools: 0,1%! Worse, the majority of children attend these 'former' black schools!

We all know that a good quality education is an essential first step in avoiding poverty. I used to blame the teachers for the situation - until I met some through a church volunteer programme. The teachers were extremely dedicated to their students, all desperate for help and exhausted from years of fighting a lonely battle against lack of resources and training. The programme, Ikusasa Phambili, provides tutoring to students from four schools in slum communities. 120 students spent Saturday mornings being tutored by volunteers. Words can not describe the difference this makes in the lives of both studens and volunteers.

The only way out of this crises situation is for more and more volunteers to become involved with a school in a poor area - strengthening committed teachers and providing resources required. A few hours can make a massive difference!

Monday, October 17, 2005

What is a Christian?

We left South Africa exactly a year ago, in search of a way to make the dream we have of working for the poor and marginalised in our country possible. We learnt more than we ever thought we would, had many great experiences and met even more wonderful people.

The greatest of all, though, is the way in which our understanding of what it means to be Christian grew. And, trust us, following Jesus is much more exciting than most people think! Read this short article - Mike Todd explains it much better than we would ever be able to... three extracts that will hopefully encourage you to have a look!

"So here I am, no longer young but not quite old, and I'm just discovering that there's more to being a follower of Jesus than saying the Sinner's Prayer. Or less to it, depending on your perspective. It turns out that in order to qualify as a follower, I need to actually try to, well… follow him. Why didn't someone tell me this 20 or 30 years ago?"

"Jesus came to put an end to religion as a means of salvation or identification, and to teach us what life in his upside-down Kingdom looks like. So, what did we do? We made a religion out of him..."

"We're not supposed to love others because we're Christians and it's a good idea. The loving others is what makes us followers of Jesus!"

Monday, October 10, 2005

Two boys sharing crutches

Thursday, October 06, 2005

We love Johannesburg!

Johannesburg is the 85th best city to live in! The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked 127 cities worldwide, using indicators grouped into five categories: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. "The survey gives a rating of 0%-100% and judges a city with a lower score to be the more attractive destination. A rating of 20% is where real problems are seen to begin - anything over 50% places severe restrictions on lifestyle."

Johannesburg and Pretoria both got 39%, while Cape Town wasn't included (I did say it was a survey of cities not towns, didn't I?). Vancouver came first, London tenth and Mumbai 115th.

The newspapers in Mumbai was very upset with being among the worst cities and tried to cheer us up with results from another survey on the front pages today: Even though they live in the worst cities in the world, Indians are the fourth happiest people in the world (behind Australia, USA and Egypt). Their list showed South Africans to be in position 26 out of 30 with only Hungary, Russia and Turkey more unhappy.

Whatever, there's no place we'd rather call home!

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