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On 26 September 2009, it was reported that a violent group chanting ethnic, pro-ANC and threatening slogans attacked an Abahlali baseMjondolo Youth Meeting (AbM-YL) in the Kennedy Road informal settlement. The resulting violence left 2 people dead and hundreds or thousands displaced. Threatened with death, leadership of the AbM movement in Kennedy Road went into hiding.[1][2] Twelve members of the movement were arrested and charge with public violence and murder. Following the attack there was a controversial trial which was postponed many times amidst claims of political interference by ANC officials and framing by police[3][4][5] and eventually thrown out of court.


Attack on Kennedy Road Informal SettlementEdit

On 26 September 2009, it was reported that at about 23:30 a group of about 40 people entered the Kennedy Road informal settlement wielding guns and knives and attacked an Abahlali baseMjondolo youth meeting.[1] The attackers chanted ethnic[6] and pro-ANC slogans, demolished residents' homes and threatened to kill named individuals associated with Abahlali baseMjondolo.[2] The attack was witnessed by the makers of the award-winning film 'Dear Mandela'.[7] At about 5 a.m. the next morning two people were killed. Many others were injured and displaced in conflict.[8] According to an Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM) press statement issued on 27 September 2009 "As far as we know two of the attackers were killed when people managed to take their bush knives off them. This was self defence."[9] The next day, reports indicate that, in the presence of police, a number of homes of AbM members were demolished by the same mob and hundreds or thousands fled the settlement.[2][10]

Claims of ANC complicity and involvementEdit

It was reported by members of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement that the attackers were affiliated with the local branch of the African National Congress[11] and that the attack was carefully planned and sanctioned by the local police.[12][13] However this has been denied by the ANC and the police who blame a 'forum' associated with Abahlali baseMjondolo for the violence.[14] However academic research confirms that the attackers did self identify as ANC members and that ANC leaders at Municipal and Provincial level later provided public sanction for the attack.[2]

The Mail & Guardian newspaper described the attack on Kennedy Road as a "hatchet job"[15] and reported that "Two weeks earlier, eThekwini (Durban) regional chairperson John Mchunu, addressing the ANC's regional general council, had specifically condemned the ABM for trying to divide the tripartite alliance" and that an ANC source had confirmed there "was a battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Kennedy Road ... There is a political twist to this thing."[16] The Mercury newspaper later reported that "The chairperson of the ANC's biggest and most influential region in KwaZulu-Natal, John Mchunu, has been awarded tenders [in housing construction] worth at least R40-million by the eThekwini municipality."[17] Abahlali baseMjondolo claims to have been at the "forefront of exposing local government corruption, especially in the allocation of housing."[18]

The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Safety and Security held meetings for stakeholders after the attack however these were condemned as unrepresentative by church leaders, AbM representatives and a survey by the Mail and Guardian Newspaper which described them as "a sham".[19] AbM said that they are victims of a 'purge' and that they refused to sit side by side with their attackers and have called for an independent investigation into the attacks[19] that should "in the interests of justice and truth, carefully and fairly investigate the actions of everyone, including the local and provincial ANC, the police, the intelligence services, the prosecutors, the courts and our movement, its various sub-committees and our supporters."[20]

Following the attack AbM and the KRDC, democratically elected structures,[2] were removed from the settlement[2] and the provincial government replaced these structures with an unelected ANC affiliated Community Policing Forum.[2] According to the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa it seems that the attacks "were orchestrated by the local branch of the ANC, with police complicity and most likely with provincial ANC endorsement."[21]

It has been suggested that the ethnic aspect of the attacks are linked to the use of ethnic mobilisation by Jacob Zuma.[6] It has also been suggested that the successful challenge by Abahlali baseMjondolo to the so-called 'Slums Act' in the Constitutional Court was a factor in the attacks.[22]

Human rights violationsEdit

The attacks garnered national and international condemnation with some people labelling the events a 'coup'.[23][24][25] Churches also issued statements of condemnation.[26]

A number of well known intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky, expressed concern about the attacks[27] and Human Rights Watch,[28] the Centre for the Study of Democracy,[29] The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights[30] and Amnesty International[31] supported the call for an independent commission of inquiry into the attacks. The government ignored this call.[32]

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions in Geneva issued a statement that expressed "grave concern about reports of organized intimidation and threats to members of advocacy group, Abahlali baseMjondolo."[33][34]

The Kennedy 12 court caseEdit

Following the attacks at Kennedy Road, 13 members of Abahlali baseMjondolo were arrested. No members of the mob that attacked the AbM meeting were arrested. The case of one of the defendants was withdrawn while the other 12 defendants had their bail applications postponed for a number of months and the trial postponed for over a year resulting in claims of political interference.[35] The remaining 5 defendants were refused bail for a total of 10 months until the magistrate condemned the prosecutor and police's recurring delays.[36] Churches, academics and human rights organisations expressed considerable concerns about the legal process of the Kennedy 12 trialists.[4][37][38][39] The New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders to ask her to investigate the attacks on Abahlali baseMjondolo and the consequent legal process.[40]Amnesty International expressed concern about the legal process.[41]

The Kennedy 12 trial was compared to other civil rights trials and Paul Trewhela has underlined the importance of the political nature of the trial[42] saying that "The AbM trial in Durban/eThekwini is now the most graphic faultline in the struggle to preserve democratic freedoms in South Africa"[3]

On 18 July 2011, the case against the 12 accused members of Abahlali baseMjondolo was thrown out of court without the defence having to give any evidence.[43] The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa issued a statement saying that the "charges were based on evidence which now appears almost certainly to have been manufactured" and that the Magistrate had described the state witnesses as "“belligerent”, “unreliable” and “dishonest”.[44] The organisation also noted that one witness had reported being tortured by the police and that another had reported death threats and an assault by ANC members.[45] Amnesty International noted that the court had found that "police had directed some witnesses to point out members of Abahlali-linked organizations at the identification parade".[46]

According to Paul Trewhela "The scandal is that this political prosecution was ever instituted in the first place, and that it was dragged on, month after month, by magistrates, prosecution and police without a shred of reliable evidence - with plentiful evidence, rather, of manipulation and intimidation of witnesses by the police and local ANC structures."[42]

Abahlali baseMjondolo is currently suing the police for the failure to intervene in the attacks.[45]

Academic ResearchEdit

Video DocumentaryEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Report: Experiences of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, South Africa, by Malavika Vartak, Development Planning Unit of University College London
  2. ^ a b c d e f g The Work of violence:a timeline of armed attacks at Kennedy Road Archived 17 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Kerry Chance School of Development Studies Research Report, 83, July 2010.]
  3. ^ a b Undermining of the rule of law in Abahlali case, 8 Nov 2010
  4. ^ a b 'Produce the evidence’, demands Bishop Rubin Phillip Diakonia Council of Churches, 29 November 2009
  5. ^ Kennedy 12 Trial: Five Nil to Abahlali baseMjondolo m 3 December 2010
  6. ^ a b After the rainbow nation: Jacob Zuma, charismatic leadership and national identities in Post-Polokwane South Africa, Natascha Mueller-Hirth, Paper presented at 20th Annual ASEN Conference - Nation and Charisma, London, United Kingdom, 13/04/10 - 15/04/10
  7. ^ Homing in on the problem, Estelle Sinkings, The Witness, 25 April 2012
  8. ^ A Quiet Coup: South Africa’s largest social movement under attack as the World Cup Looms Toussaint Losier, Left Turn Magazine, June 2010
  9. ^ Kennedy Road Development Committee Attacked – People Have Been Killed, 27 September 2009
  10. ^ Video: Violent Mob Attacks at Kennedy Road Settlement Target Leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo, 29 December 2009
  11. ^ South Africa's shack-dwellers fight back, by Patrick Kingsely, The Guardian, 24 September 2012
  12. ^ "'Attackers associated with ANC'". News24.
  13. ^ "Joint Statement on the attacks on the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement in Durban". Professor John Dugard SC, et al. Archived from the original on 18 October 2013.
  14. ^ Ethnic Tensions Boil Over, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, 3 October 2009
  15. ^ Kennedy olive branch a sham Kennedy olive branch a sham, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, 11 October 2009
  16. ^ Ethnic Tension Boils Over, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, 3 October 2009
  17. ^ ANC chief's fat-cat deals By Wendy Jasson da Costa, The Mercury, 12 March 2010
  18. ^ Slum dwellers’ body wants Langa to lead attack probe WILSON JOHWA, Business Day, 2009/11/0
  19. ^ a b Kennedy olive branch a sham Mail & Guardian
  20. ^ The Kennedy 12 Go To Trial Today, AbM Press Statement
  22. ^ Marie Huchzermeyer, (2011).Cities with ‘Slums’: From Informal Settlement Eradication to a Right To The City In Africa University of Cape Town Press, Cape Town],
  23. ^ "Academics condemn attack on settlement". BusinessDay.
  24. ^ "Democracy's Everyday Death - The Country's Quiet Coup". AllAfrica.
  25. ^ "Statement in support of Abahlali baseMjondolo". Abahlali baseMjondolo.
  26. ^ South African Council of Churches Appalled by Violent Attacks Against Democracy Archived 6 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ Statement in support of Abahlali baseMjondolo[permanent dead link], by Noam Chomsky et al,9 October 2009
  28. ^ [1] Wilson Johwa, 'Slum dwellers’ body wants Langa to lead attack probe', Business Day, 5 November 2009
  29. ^ [2] Call for President to Establish a Commission of Inquiry into Violence Against Shackdwellers
  30. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2009.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Letter to President Jacob Zuma from the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Retrieved 18 December 2009. Failure to conduct impartial investigation into Kennedy Road violence is leading to further human rights abuses, Amnesty International, 16 December 2009
  32. ^ [3] Jonathan Steele, Why 2010 Could Be An Own Goal for the Rainbow Nation, The Guardian, 30 December 2009
  33. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 October 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Radio 786, 1 May 2010, Abahlali Stands Defended
  34. ^ South Africa: Attacks on housing rights activists must stop[permanent dead link], Centre on Housing Rights & Evictions, Geneva, 12 May 2010
  35. ^ Justice on Trial, 1 December 2010
  36. ^ The Kennedy 12 Case Postponed Until 29 November – the Five Jailed Comrades to be Released Tomorrow, 12 July 2010
  37. ^ Shack dwellers falsely arrested, says bishop, Kamini Padayachee, The Mercury, 19 November 2009
  38. ^ Justice delayed and denied for 12 Kennedy Road accused, Jeff Guy, The Mercury, 13 May 2010
  39. ^ Mercury: Hands off the shack dwellers, 12 July 2010
  40. ^ CCR Appeals to UN on Behalf of South African Shack Dwellers Movement, 1 December 2010
  41. ^ Amnesty International South Africa Report 2011
  42. ^ a b The ANC and the failing of democratic governance, Paul Trewhela, Politics Web, 27 August 2011
  43. ^ Press statement by the Unemployed Peoples Movement, 18 July 2011
  44. ^ "Kennedy 12" Acquitted
  45. ^ a b Abahlali baseMjondolo and 52 Others v Minister of Police and Others ('Kennedy Road'), Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, 27 September 2012
  46. ^ Amnesty International Annual Report 2012