A statement from Church leadership in support of Abahlali baseMjondolo’s challenging the KZN Slums Act in the Constitutional Court on 14 May 2009.
As church leaders in South Africa we support the shackdweller movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, as it takes the struggle for the safety, dignity and equality of the poor to the Constitutional Court. We know that many people join Abahlali “because they do not want to be evicted from the cities where they already have some access to work, education, health care, libraries, sport facilities and so on. The struggle for the right to the city, for democratic cities for all, is therefore at the centre of [Abahlali's] struggle.”1
As church leaders, we affirm that, “Every person is created in the image of God and is loved by God. Our social policies and practices must strive to reflect that. … Any approach to social problems that seeks to create the impression of progress by simply sweeping the oppressed out of the cities must be vigorously opposed. If this happens it will be our duty as church leaders to, once again, stand before the bulldozers”2.
Today, we stand with the movement at the Constitutional Court to denounce the KZN Slums Act which has been widely condemned as a return to apartheid legislation. This concern has been expressed by a large number of organisations and individuals beginning with Abahlali baseMjondolo and then including the churches and the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing at the United Nations, as well as the Geneva-based Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), Slum Dwellers International (SDI), South African Council of Churches (SACC), Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC): Land and Agrarian Reform Initiative, Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (PACSA), KwaZulu Natal Christian Council (KZNCC), Diakonia Council of Churches, Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET), Ujamaa Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research (UKZN), and the Church Land Programme (CLP).
Abahlali have said of this odious piece of legislation that it is “a clear attack on the poor. It is an attempt to give legal support to the transit camps and to evictions and to criminalise our movements. It is an attempt to turn the forgotten people into the deliberately excluded and deliberately oppressed people. We cannot accept this”3. We too cannot accept this. It is our sincere hope that the learned judges of the Constitutional Court will also not accept that there is any place for this law in our constitutional dispensation which holds out the promise of dignity, equality and humanity for all.
Although the Slums Act is a provincial one for now, we are well aware of concerted efforts to extend and replicate it across other provinces. This makes it, even more so, a matter of national concern that it be rejected by all right-thinking and caring South Africans. “There is no doubt that we collectively face a massive challenge to make sure that everyone has decent housing. … But treating shack settlements as an abomination to be moved out-of-sight, and treating shack-dwellers and the poor as stupid and criminal, is wrong in principle and counter-productive in practice. The creativity, intelligence, and struggles of the poor are the greatest resource for overcoming the challenges put before us all. Indeed we need to recognise that shack settlements, imperfect as they are, have been an effective means of providing housing for the urban poor. Working with people in a respectful way should be the basis for a proper partnership that begins to change our cities to more just, equal and shared spaces where shalom reigns”4.
At this point it has been confirmed that the following Church leaders will be in attendance at the Constitutional Court tomorrow, with additional participants and statements expected during the course of the day:
Bishop Rubin Phillip – Diocese of Natal, Anglican Church of Southern Africa;
Anglican Liaison Bishop for Land Matters;
Chairperson of the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council.
Rev. Phumzile Zondi-Mabizela – CEO of the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council.
Bishop Paul Verryn - Bishop: Central District, Methodist Church of Southern Africa;
Minister: Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg.
Rev. Dean Desmond Lesejane – Dean: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa;
Director: Ecumenical Service for Socio Economic Transformation.
Rev. Canon Luke Pato - Director: Justice, Reconciliation and Healing, South African Council of Churches.
Rev. Solomuzi Mabuza – Minister: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa;
Programme Officer: Ujamaa Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research, University of KwaZulu Natal.
Rev. Thulani Ndlazi – Minister: United Congregational Church of Southern Africa.
Mr. David Ntseng - Programme Manager: Church Land Programme.
Mr. Graham Philpott - Director: Church Land Programme.
Statement released on 13 May 2009, by: Rev. Phumzile Zondi-Mabizela, KZN Christian Council
G. Philpott, Church Land Programme.