12 March 2009
Maureen Mnisi, with comrades Kajola, Lekhtho & Maas – in Maureen’s home in the Protea South settlement, November 2008
Leader of Landless People’s Movement (LPM) Fears for her Life and Children: Calls for Solidarity and Advice from all Comrades
As a single mother of five and a prominent activist who has come under threat by the police, government and now even the middle-class in her own community, Maureen Msisi asks for solidarity and advice to give her more courage to push forward the struggle of the poor. This is not the first time that Maureen’s life and family has been in danger because of her campaigns for the interests of poor people. In 1995, Maureen formed the branch of the ANC in Protea South hoping it would bring about a change that would better our lives. But members of the local civic at the time felt that she was challenging their power and they responded violently by attacking her. She was shot in the back and stabbed 3 times with a machete, breaking her leg and scarring her neck and hand. Almost 15 years into our new democracy, she continues struggling for the same changes in the lives of her people in Protea South, but now under the banner of the LPM. Today, she fears that if she continues on with the struggle, her life and her children’s futures will be in danger.
On the 1st March 2009, Maureen, and 7 others, were arrested and charged with public violence, assault GBH, intimidation, and unlawful gathering, and it will soon be made clear to the public that they are innocent of all charges. The LPM in Protea South views these arrests as a method by the local government councilor to suppress any activism that undermines the government’s plans to remove all informal settlements from Protea South to a far away place called Doorenkop.
Now that Maureen and the seven other comrades are going to court on the 25th March, the people in the bond houses in Protea South, the middle-class, are taking an additional step to ensure that Maureen does not remain in her community. They are signing a petition to say that she must be removed because she is promoting violence, only represents foreigners, and is blocking development in the area. The petition will submitted on the 25th March at Protea Magistrate Court as a piece of evidence to ensure that she is proven guilty. It is believed that this will assist the middle-class bond house owners because the informal settlements will go away, the bond houses will remain, and their property values will go up. The people in the bond houses seem to think that if our leader no longer lives in Protea South, the demands of the people to remain there will disappear and that people will live peacefully in Protea South
But in reality, if Maureen is forced to leave Protea South, this will not stop the people from organising and fighting for their right to choose whether or not they want to stay or go to Doorenkop and it will not stop the government from neglecting other basic demands that are made by the poor in Protea South. If Maureen is forced to leave, the government, the police, and the community, including those who own bond houses, will be in danger because chaos and aggression will win our people over.
The truth of the matter is that Maureen has been at the forefront of maintaining peace and stability at a time when Protea South has been bordering on the edge of war. Maureen was responsible for stopping community members from attacking each other and burning each other’s shacks after a conflict on the 1st March when Community Policing Forum (CPF) members started to sing with the local government councilor while the LPM community were reading their memorandum. She convinced the community members that fighting another poor person weakens the struggle and strengthens the government’s system. After this, members of the community left Protea South to destroy the transit shack camps across the road, which are intended to accommodate people before they move to houses in Doorenkop. When the local government councilor of Protea South learned about this, even she achnowledged Maureen’s power to maintain peace in her community when she called Maureen, who was in her home at the time and did not know about the incident, to stop this destruction.
Yesterday we had an urgent executive LPM meeting in Protea South to address the petition that was being made by the people living in the bond houses. Some members suggested that we call a mass meeting in Protea South to explain the truth that lies behind the petition against Maureen. But Maureen felt that if we call a mass meeting, it will create further divisions and also a war between the informal settlement and bond houses of Protea South. While the people living in the bond houses want the informal settlement to be removed, those in the informal settlements have actually been living there since the 1980s. The people living in bond houses are now claming the land as their own, based on the fact that they own property, when in fact we arrived here first. Like our current government, they have made it a matter of who has money and who doesn’t because the informal settlement, those who are poor and landless, are now being asked to leave. By claiming that Maureen only represents foreigners and is promoting violence, the owners of the bond houses hope to suppress our basic demands.
To achieve our demands without spilling blood in Protea South, the LPM has begun to create a counter petition which depicts the truth. The truth is that since 1995, Maureen has risked her life, and even been attacked, in order to represent the interests of the people living in Protea South. She continues to do so up until today as she remains committed to her people’s futures, despite the threats that she, and her family, are faced with. Her commitments, both as an activist and as a single parent of 5, have placed her in a situation that puts great pressure on her as an individual, and it is taking all of her strength to keep her morale high. She is calling upon all comrades to display solidarity with her if possible and wants to know if there is some advice or assistance she can get from comrades to make her more encouraged in this tough time.Written by Bongani Xezwi (071-043-2221), youth organiser of LPM Protea South Branch and eldest son of Maureen Msisi Help from Luke Sinwell, Researcher and Activist, University of Johannesburg Words of advice or solidarity can be sent to: Maureen at: 082-337-4514
Or emailed to: LSinwell@yahoo.com