October 09, 2009 Edition 1 – The Mercury
SOME describe him as a Robin Hood of the shack dwellers and others see him as “a silent striker”.
Either way, S’bu Zikode has emerged as an influential figure both locally and internationally through his Abahlali baseMjondolo movement and has come a long way from his days as a boy scout.
Born in 1975 and raised by a single parent, Zikode this week said he remained strong after the demolishing of his home during the Kennedy Road mob attacks that claimed two lives last month.
Zikode is no stranger to poverty, having grown up in a poor home in Estcourt, but even then his goals were high.
“I had set my goals from a very young age with the belief that if I work hard I would become what I wanted to be, a lawyer,” he said.
In 1997 Zikode enrolled to study law at the then University of Durban Westville, but although that was the beginning of his dream he had to drop out after three months because he could not afford to pay his fees.
“I had to make a very difficult decision that would affect me for my whole life, but I had no choice but to leave the university and start looking for a job in Durban.”
He found a job as a petrol attendant. But being paid only R200 a week, and with a rent bill of R600 a month for a flat in Springfield which he shared with a friend, Zikode realised it was time for change.
“When I realised that I was only working to pay my rent I started looking for a much cheaper place to stay. A friend suggested that I rent a shack in Kennedy Road for only R80 a month.
“I never thought I would end up living in a shack, but when I realised that I could do a whole lot more with the rest of my wages I took the offer.”
In 2000 Zikode became a formal shack dweller and his passion for justice made him question the living conditions of people at Kennedy Road.
“I could not sit and watch people living in such a setting. When I got there, there were no toilets and people used to use the bush. There were only five standpipes for the entire settlement.
“Children were playing in exposed sewerage and eating worms which they had mistaken for rice. I could not just sit and watch.”
When he was elected as chairman of the Kennedy Road Concerned Residents in 2001, Zikode also joined the local ANC branch and became a deputy chairman of the Kennedy executive committee.
“The only discussions at the ANC local meetings were about positions. We would sit there the whole time talking about who we needed to push for a certain position. It was only about scheming and back stabbing.”
Local ANC branch executive chairman Jackson Gumede, who is known as Zikode’s nemesis, said the two of them got along and respected each other until a fallout.
Now Gumede describes Zikode as a man who deceives people and stops them from accessing development and a chance to a better life.
During his time with the ruling party Zikode said not once did ward councillor Yacoob Baig visit the settlement. Zikode left the ANC in 2004 after a fallout with the members of the committee.
Zikode said he would never forget the disappointment on people’s faces when shack dwellers realised that a business man was building a private project on a site they believed had been reserved for them by the city.
According to Zikode this led to the birth of the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement.