On June 3, 2010 when I became the general secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA, I vowed to die where Abahlali members died, writes Bandile Mdlalose
I vowed to protect my country. I vowed to be loyal to the poorest of the poor. I vowed to uphold the constitution of South Africa in a sign of respect for all those who fought for this country.
I vowed to take forward the struggle for land and housing in the cities, to make sure that land, cities, wealth and power are shared.
Upon my vows I stand firm, committed to implementing them.
No judgment, imprisonment or bullet will silence me while we, the poor, are being oppressed by those whose daily bread is the poverty and blood of the poor.
I refuse to be silenced by any judgement by those who never gave themselves enough time to understand how it is to live in poverty.
I refuse to allow the silence to take control.
The price of silence keeps me going because the price of silence is oppression, suffering, wasted lives and death.
The price of rebellion is less than the price of silence.
When I was intimidated in Cato Crest on September 17, 2013 by S’bu Sithole, who was at the community liaison office of Cato Crest, no law, judge or police protected us.
Instead of the SAPS protecting us, they chose to protect the municipality and support the ANC members in Cato Crest.
When I was arrested on Monday, September 30, for being in solidarity with the family whose child was killed by police, it was a way to silence me and others who were protesting against the killing of Nqobile Nzuza, 17.
No one has been arrested for the killing of Nqobile, or for the murder of Nkululeko Gwala or that of Thembinkosi Nyathi.
Yet people protesting against murder are beaten and I was arrested.
I refuse to keep quiet and sell out the people who really fought hard for me to have the constitutional right of freedom of expression.
I refuse to keep quiet and sell out the people who are being evicted, beaten, shot and murdered in Cato Crest.
When I was held at the Cato Manor police station I was isolated from other woman prisoners because it was said I would corrupt their minds.
Basically they feared that I would open the other prisoners’ minds to reality.
I was kept in a cell with no water.
It was smelly and had dirty blankets.
They kept bringing in food which I did not eat because I suspected it might be poisoned to finish me off.
When they opposed bail on Tuesday I was not worried about myself, about going to prison for the first time. But I was worried about the reasons behind it.
I was worried that the municipality would continue demolishing houses in Cato Crest without respecting the constitution, the law and the orders of the court.
I was worried that the police would continue to violate people’s rights to stage a peaceful protest and would attack them so it would be called a violent protest in the media.
My seven days in prison gave me time to think. I did not have enough time to think previously as I was too busy.
I had to sit back and ask myself: “Why did I join this movement?”
I had a chance to back off, but once something is inside you, once you live it, once it is injected inside you no one else can stop it.
Ubuhlali runs in my veins.
I am unable to distance myself from it any more.
I don’t need ubuhlali, but my life needs it. It is what I live and breathe and what I am proud of.
I had some time to think of how I can strengthen this struggle and this activism and I realised that I needed to do what I was doing before I was arrested, 10 times more.
There is no turning back now.
I have to fight much harder with the truth and for the truth than before.
When I came into the dock I was not alone.
No one is alone in this movement.
Evictions, beatings, arrests and murder are not suffered alone if you are in this movement. This makes us strong.
And as repression gets worse it drives more people into the movement. It makes us stronger and stronger.
When I was locked inside there were road blockades around the city every day.
So many poor people have decided that enough is enough. The politicians won’t stop us now.
I wish to thank all Abahlali members for their solidarity, as well as everyone else who has been with us in solidarity with our struggle as we face repression. This includes War on Want, the Dear Mandela crew, Amnesty International and the solidarity that we have received from New York, Rio, London and Harare.
I wish to thank all the famous intellectuals who have signed statements in solidarity with us.
I also which to thank the Socio-economics Rights Institute, the Church Land Programme, the Diakonia Council of Churches, the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council, my family Amanyanda Amahle, friends from Facebook, Twitter and all those who believed in me, supported me and stood by me through this experiential time.
It is true that learning is a lifelong experience.
No judgment will keep me quiet. I will speak and continue to mobilise outside Westville Prison and inside Westville Prison.
It is their choice as to where they prefer me to organise.
A luta continua – Amandla Awethu Ngenkani!
* Mdlalose is general secretary of Abahlali baseMjondolo