Abahlali baseMjondolo members outside the public works building in Mayville, Durban, in 2017, during the sitting of the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal. File picture: African News Agency/ANA

Durban - Informal settlements and their thousands of marginalised citizens in South Africa’s major metros will be key battlegrounds in next week’s general election, despite being considered voting blocs for the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

According to polling analyst Dawie Scholtz, informal settlements are “enormously important to the ANC”.

“These are typically the areas that vote ANC by the largest margin. The contest between the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the ANC in these areas in urban KZN will be critical to the [election] outcome,” Scholtz told the African News Agency (ANA). 

But one of the country’s most visible and vocal shack dweller movements, Durban-based Abahlali baseMjondolo, is adamant that it will not be urging its members to vote for any particular party, as it had done in the past. Instead, any vote but one for the ANC would be encouraged.

S’bu Zikode, founder and president of the movement, told ANA he had received “daily” telephone calls and emails from political parties “asking for appointments to lobby us to vote for them and nothing else”.

Abahlali baseMjondolo members outside the Durban High Court in March 2019, in solidarity with slain escort Siam Lee. Lee's alleged killer was appearing inside. File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)


Abahlali is also active in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Western Cape, where it – often violently - defends the occupation rights of shack dwellers.

It is also highly litigious, considering its impoverished membership. In KZN, it has about six pending court cases. “They have to do with evictions, damages claims for violence committed against Abahlali members and for political violence, including intimidation,” said Zikode.

Abahlali baseMjondolo members preparing to march to Durban City Hall during a protest in 2018. File picture: African News Agency/ANA


He said parties trying to woo the shack dwellers included new kids on the block such as the African Transformation Movement - a coalition of African messianic churches - and the GOOD party, founded by former Democratic Alliance (DA) member and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.

“Political parties see shack dwellers as voting banks and nothing else. They think we will just easily donate our power to them so that they can exploit and kill us, just like the ANC councillors are doing here in Durban,” said Zikode.

A view inside the crowded pathways of one of Durban's many informal settlements. File picture: Bongani Mbatha /African News Agency (ANA)


In 2014, the organisation’s KwaNdengezi chairperson, Thuli Ndlovu, was gunned down in her home after blowing the whistle on corrupt ANC eThekwini councillors Mduduzi Ngcobo and Velile Lutsheku. They were found to be allocating houses to people who were not from the area. The councillors hired a hitman to deal with Ndlovu. All three were eventually sentenced to life although charges had initially been dropped.

Abahlali made headlines during the 2014 general election when it openly supported the Democratic Alliance in that national election, but urged its members not to join the party.

This time round, said Zikode, members were being encouraged to vote for any party but the ANC. The movement also no longer claims apolitical status. Instead, Zikode calls it “a political social movement”. 

“The challenges facing South Africa are as a result of the current dominant economic system of capitalism. However we are independent from any political party. We want to keep our autonomy.

“Yes, a strategic move to endorse the DA in 2014 came from the history of repression by the ANC and therefore the move was tactical to strengthen the opposition with an aim to [oust] the ANC or weaken it. This has worked for us and we do not regret having taken that decision, although we were widely criticised by those who never liked us in the first place,” said Zikode.  

“We have also agreed that Abahlali will not vote for [our] graves or a party that kills us like that of the ruling ANC, whose councillors are threatening us and found guilty by the court of law. So, voting for them is like digging our own grave.

 “We are not surprised that [the ANC] are ashamed to campaign in our communities. They have never in the first place represented the interests of the poor, other than successfully lying and breaking promises,” said Zikode.

Abahlali has been involved in several violent clashes with eThekwini’s land invasion unit and police in the past months, and has openly criticised sitting mayor Zandile Gumede, labelling her a “murderer” and “criminal”. This follows the death of some of its members during “violent and forced evictions” at illegally erected informal settlements on municipal land.  

The groups largest settlements in the city area are eKukhanyeni (Ward 15) and New City (Ward 14). “Both settlements are 100% Abahlali affiliated. At least 8 000 people live in each of these settlements,” said Zikode. The group claims overall membership of above 35,000 in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

eThekwini Municipality has over 569 informal settlements (about 238 000 households), and according to the province’s human settlements department, it would take more than R42 billion “excluding inflation, and excluding any improvements to the current housing typology” to provide shelter for the households.

African News Agency (ANA)