Durban - Endorsing the DA before the elections has caused division in one of the largest shack dwellers’ movements, with three of its top brass deciding to abandon ship rather than “betray the people”.
The former Abahlali baseMjondolo office-bearers - spokesman Mnikelo Ndabankulu, vice-president Lindela Figlan and general secretary Bandile Mdlalose - said they were ready to take instruction from shack dwellers on whether to establish another social movement free of the “autocracy” of founding and recently re-elected president S’bu Zikode.
Ndabankulu and Figlan, who were founding members, resigned last week. Zikode said the organisation had yet to receive their letters of resignation.
Mdlalose was dismissed last month after being accused of bringing Abahlali into disrepute by pocketing membership fees.
Shortly before the general elections on May 7, Abahlali announced it would endorse the DA in the national and provincial polls. This meant abandoning its No Land, No House, No Vote campaign.
Figlan said this went against what the organisation stood for and chose not to vote.
Zikode said Figlan’s absence was no surprise. “He was not active for the past year and made no contribution. He could not object when the issue was discussed because he did not attended meetings anyway.”
Figlan said: “I stand by what we have been saying for years; that voting someone into government just gives them power to oppress and exploit us.
“It’s not like I hate the DA, but I think we should have remained politically neutral.”
Figlan said this was the last straw in a movement in which relations were strained.
Ndabankulu was suspended for his part in the faction, but reinstated after members protested.
Reluctant to come across as “opposing everything” or to fuel tensions, he had not objected to backing the DA, he said.
Zikode, however, said Ndabankulu had insisted the agreement with the DA be signed on his home turf at the Foreman Road informal settlement.
“For him to now change and distance himself from the decision shows he cannot be trusted,” said Zikode. Mdlalose said the voting process to select which party to support for the election had been flawed and undemocratic.
About 200 members participated in the meeting a week before the elections. An overwhelming 134 of them voted for the DA, followed by 23 who voted for the National Freedom Party. The Economic Freedom Fighters, which had been thought to be the most probable favourites, received only 16 votes.
Mdlalose said there were only between 1 000 and 2 000 paid-up members, in contrast with the 27 000 claimed by Abahlali.
“How can you say you have 27 000 members, then make such a big decision with only 200 people voting?”
As part of the executive, she had negotiated previously with the DA, which had been wooing Abahlali for two years, Mdlalose said.
“Why did they ask the people to decide just a week before the elections?” she said.
Zikode disputed this, saying the voting issue had been on the agenda of Abahlali meetings for more than six months, despite the general meeting to vote being held closer to the elections. He said notices had been sent to the branches and the leadership could not be blamed for people not attending. He reiterated that the endorsement was based on an agreement with the DA that was legally binding.
“Our decision may be wrong, but it’s all in an effort to get out of the poverty we are living in under the ANC. If the DA fails us, we will take them to court for breach (of contract) and do what we did to the ANC to them,” said Zikode.
Mdlalose called this the collapse of a “proud organisation” under the “remote-control” leadership of Zikode.
“Through the authoritarian and crony nature of his leadership, the movement has become a one-man show. He is a dictator whose self-interest will destroy the movement,” said Mdlalose.
Zikode said despite this, he was proud to have produced leaders like Mdlalose and Ndabankulu.
“It was my selfless contribution to build young cadres like them. I have saved families and homes from the land invasion unit, including Bandile’s own home. I have gone to court to defend shack dwellers, I have nothing to regret. If I was authoritarian, why did they stay in the movement so long? If there was no democracy, how were they able to travel all over the world to represent Abahlali?
“I think then that my remote-control leadership is good because it has allowed them to have a mouth to say all these things and command an ear in newspapers.”
Zikode said the movement would continue to fight for the rights of shack dwellers and because they could not reach everyone, they would welcome the formation of another movement.
“There is not competition in helping people,” Zikode said. He believed the trio were out to ruin the reputation of the movement.
Figlan said a meeting to receive a mandate from the shack dwellers had been set up for a time and place he would not disclose.
“If they are satisfied with Abahlali-DA then they will tell us and we will not start an organisation,” Ndabankulu said.
At the Abahlali general meeting in March, Ndabankulu had not been nominated because his branch had not renewed its membership and was not eligible to attend, said Zikode.
At that meeting Figlan lost the presidency to Zikode and Mdlalose was re-elected as secretary-general before her dismissal.
She had been the movement’s secretary-general since 2010.
She has filed a complaint with the CCMA about unfair dismissal.