[DEBATE] : Activists killed in Durban (short version)
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Apr 15 08:50:49 BST 2009
(This was done two weeks ago but was held up in press ... so all the
dates need a 14-day subtraction)
Eye on Civil Society
South Durban initiative to commemorate our fallen heroes of social justice
April 15, 2009 Edition 1
Patrick Bond and Oliver Meth
There are special places dedicated to the memories of Mahatma Gandhi in
New Delhi, Martin Luther King in Memphis, Malcolm X at the Audubon
Ballroom in Harlem and South Africa's own Hector Pieterson in Orlando,
These and many other activists who fought and died for social justice
are commemorated at the site where they were killed.
Not so in Durban. While the ANC holds power, we can probably only expect
street signs to be raised for anti-apartheid fighters from the ruling
But memorials are also needed to recall the many community activists
killed while opposing post-apartheid state malevolence and corporate greed.
Last week, for example, the South Durban Community Environmental
Alliance lost a visionary leader, Ahmed Osman, who was gunned down on
his stoep. He was in the midst of fighting companies responsible for
toxic waste releases in Clairwood, as well as the municipality and
Department of Water Affairs and Forestry which, as usual, were shirking
their regulatory duty.
Osman was "a gentle giant", says alliance leader Desmond D'Sa, "a man
very humble, who for many was not only a strong comrade but a friend
standing firm to eradicate illegal polluting companies and the truckers
who have taken over community properties."
Just over a year ago, D'Sa, who has been a long-time activist and was
campaigning against Wentworth drug lords, nearly lost his life during a
firebombing of his flat.
And famed Umlazi traditional leader Mbongeleni Zondi, grandson of
Bhambatha Zondi who rebelled against Natal colonial officials in 1906,
was murdered in January, in a hailstorm of 50 AK-47 bullets.
These attacks remain mysteries to what D'Sa calls "lethargic" police,
but they are not limited to South Durban.
In New Germany, a leader of the SA National Civic Organisation, Jimmy
Mtolo, was shot on a Saturday morning last month by an assassin who came
into his office ostensibly seeking help with housing.
A warm, charismatic man who combined gentlemanly manners with the ideas
and passion of the old left (in the best sense of the term), Mtolo
faithfully attended UKZN's monthly Harold Wolpe lectures. Many remember
his insightful interventions and his fighting spirit. His daughter, ANC
Member of Parliament Ntombikayise Sibhidla, says the police haven't got
to the bottom of this hit either.
On the same day Osman was shot, UKZN officials allowed police on the
Howard College campus to suppress student protests over genuine
grievances, subsequently resolved at the end of the week through
Luckily, only rubber bullets were fired last Monday, but these can do
extreme damage, too, as at least 10 victims - including a blind student
- can testify. As UKZN SRC official Siya Nkwandwana testifies, "Several
students were badly injured. Some went to Addington Hospital this week,
because they cannot walk properly."
Unluckily for 22-year-old Unisa political science student Mthoko
Nkwanyana, who was protesting exclusions alongside 400 of his comrades
last August, police used tear- gas so aggressively that he died a few
metres from the Luthuli International Conference Centre.
Likewise, those of us at UKZN should never forget how municipal police
killed Michael Makhabane at the Westville campus in May 2001, during a
peaceful protest against financial exclusions of more than 500 students.
Another youth was killed in June 2004 in Phoenix, shot between the eyes
by security guards hired by the Durban municipality to disconnect
illegal electricity hookups.
According to Marcel King's brother Jonathan, "My mother was involved in
a confrontation with a security guard who had just hit her because she
had tried to climb on to the back of his van. Marcel tried to pull her
away but the guard cocked his gun and began firing."
In July 2007, civil society activist Sajida Khan, who fought against
municipal toxins, floating across Clare Road from Bisasar Road dump,
died after two bouts of cancer. Khan was known across the world not only
for her passionate albeit unsuccessful efforts to close the
apartheid-era landfill (Africa's largest), but also to halt the climate
change "carbon trading" gimmick she called "the privatisation of the air".
Before she died, Khan's protest intimidated the World Bank into
withdrawing its support for making Bisasar South Africa's largest Clean
Development Mechanism pilot, so she won a crucial battle, while losing
the war of life.
Last week Durban officials announced a "launch pad of a major branding
and marketing campaign" for the danger zone of South Durban. They call
it "an adventurous tourist initiative... Community members are urged to
provide the tourism forum, with digital pictures and interesting tourism
related material to be included in the production of a brochure."
Digital photos of Osman, Naidoo, Zondi and so many other victims of
South Durban pollution and violence can be e-mailed to Puven Akkiah, at
the Area Based Management Office: akkiahp at durban.gov.za
Why South Durban? Because it is "a microcosm of the Rainbow Nation, with
a fascinating history, diverse environments and great cultural
Patrick Bond and Oliver Meth, residents of the Bluff and Wentworth
respectively, are based at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society in Durban.
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