Durban - When he decided 15 years ago that Durban’s shack dwellers would no longer be the city’s forgotten people, cast aside by politicians and city officials to live in abject poverty without running water, ablution facilities and electricity - Sbu Zikode had no idea the obstacles he would face.
The president of Abahlali baseMjondolo - the shack dwellers movement - has been a constant thorn in the side of eThekwini Municipality and has over the years led thousands of people on marches through the city centre calling for decent housing.
This constant pressure he has put on the city, often shining the light on ineptitude or corruption has seen his members being killed, their shacks torn down and meant that he has had to go into hiding several times amid threats of assassinations.
Now Zikode’s work on behalf of the city poorest and most marginalised has garnered international recognition after he was awarded the Per Anger Prize for 2021- the Swedish Government’s international prize for human rights and democracy.
The prize from the Swedish Government will be awarded by The Living History Forum on April 21.
Zikode who plans to receive the award at the Swedish embassy in Pretoria - due to Covid-19 travel restrictions - said he was humbled by the award.
“I would have never imagined that the people of South Africa’s shanty towns would ever get an award like this,” Zikode said on Tuesday.
“The award is recognition of the courage shown and the ideal of a better future by the people the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement. This is not my award alone, it belongs to the people to the people of Abahlali and the fallen fallen heroes who have lost their lives during the course of the struggle for a better life,” he said.
A shack dweller himself 15 years ago, Zikode has grown the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement to about 82 000 members.
Three years ago he went into hiding after threats were made to his life. He did not take the threats lightly as 18 people belonging to his organisation have been killed over the years.
While he was happy to receive the recognition for the work they had done, Zikode said there was still a long way to go.
“Our people still live in very bad conditions. This award is for them, to continue with the struggle and for all those who sacrificed their lives because of the struggle,” he said.
The Per Anger Prize is the Swedish Government’s international prize for human rights and democracy.
The prize was established in 2004 in recognition of diplomat Per Anger’s efforts during the Second World War, when he saved Hungarian Jews from the Holocaust.
The Living History Forum is commissioned by the Swedish Government to award the annual prize.
The nominating committee’s selection of the recipient for 2021 has been carried out by nine internationally acknowledged organisations with wide-ranging contacts: Afrikagrupperna, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, Diakonia, Individuell Människohjälp (IM), the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, Save the Children, Act Church of Sweden, and We Effect.
This year’s prizewinner was nominated by the organisation Afrikagrupperna.