Abahlali baseMjondolo – Fundraiser for the Shack Dwellers Movement

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na nDaoine - We thrive in each others' shelter.


Féach thios, an blag ó Leas-Stiúrthóir ar chláracha ar an PPR, Seán Brady atá ag scríobh fán gluaiseacht shóisialta Abahlali BaseMonjolo san Afraic Theas. Labhraíonn sé fán Rúnaí Ginearálta ar an ghluaiseacht, Thapelo Mohapi atá le feiceáil san fhísean thíos agus é ag caint sa Ghaelionad thiar in 2018. Tá Thapelo agus an gluaiseacht faoi ionsaí anois agus an Afraic Theas i ngéarchéim fá lathair agus tá dlúthpháirtíocht s’againn ag teastáil.

Read below this excellent blog by PPR Assistant director of programmes, Seán Brady, who writes about the South African Shack Dwellers movement, Abahlali BaseMonjolo,. He speaks about meeting their General Secretary Thapelo Mohapi who is also speaking in the video below during his visit to Glór na Móna in 2018. Thapelo and his movement are under attack at present as the crisis in South Africa escalates and are in dire need of our solidarity.


Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na nDaoine – We thrive in each others’ shelter.

I first heard of Abahlali baseMjondolo (The Shack Dwellers Movement) from my friend and comrade of many misadventures – Feargal MacIonnrachtaigh. He’s been going on about Frantz Fanon for as long as I can remember. When I was a teenager at Coláiste Feirste, not fully grasping the transformative nature of my Irish language immersive education, MacIonnrachtaigh somehow had time to be a Gealt (maniac) with me and bury his head in books I will never finish to understand the connections between post-colonial struggles for rights, language, land, hope and dignity.


Our school was forged from a cultural revival based on self-help in the areas of greatest poverty during our brutal conflict. The state sought to criminalise Irish language campaigners and paramilitaries were bombing and shooting at teachers as they built schools, homes and industries from nothing. It amazes me how our parents and volunteers sustained these places of hope and nourishment under such pressure. But maybe there’s no greater therapy in the face of tragedy than building something beautiful in its place.


Abahlali’s story is forged in a similar inspiring struggle.


In 2016 Feargal was corresponding with Nigel Gibson – the author of ‘Fanonian Practices in South Africa – From Steve Biko to Abahlali baseMjondolo’, when I told him I was going to South Africa to learn about the freedom struggle. He ordered me to connect with Abahlali, saying something like -‘these guys are putting Fanon into practice’, and I duly obeyed.


For those interested in freedom and justice, it is worth exploring the Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon’s writings on people, culture and power and the striking similarities between Ireland’s history, the African continent and the global south in general. Or pick up Feargal’s book; Language, Resistance and Revival – which I brought to South Africa to share with Thapelo Mohapi, General Secretary of Abahlali, on my travels.


I first met Thapelo on a street in Durban after a hectic trip from Cape Town, where amongst other things I had the opportunity to hear S’bu Zikode speak in a room with Bernadette McAliskey, Desmond Tutu and one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, Opal Tometi. I’m shamelessly name dropping here to give a sense of how it felt – saturated in powerful ideas and personalities in the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha, where hundreds of thousands of people are still living in informal settlements.


When I first saw Thapelo he was dressed in a magnificent blue traditional African robe, but every time since in his jeans and Steve Biko or Abahlali shirts. We headed straight to one of the many regular Abahlali democratic forums where hundreds of women, children and men were discussing the priorities of the day. It was powerful to soak up the wisdom of people who were building power from a base which consisted of strategic land occupations made from tiny, make shift shacks. I was even afforded the liberty of capturing a photo with the Dream Dearg logo against a backdrop of the powerful red shirts of Abahlali activists.


But let me not trivialise or romanticise life in the informal settlements of the world, where globally, the United Nations estimate that over one billion of our fellow human beings live. Imagine what the impact of Covid-19 and climate change looks like in these communities. Irish people haven’t witnessed poverty on this scale since An Gorta Mór.


Thapelo and his generation have been discarded by the ruling party – the African National Congress (ANC), who have turned Nelson Mandela’s dreams into a nightmare. Like the tragic story of many a freedom struggle, the original mission was supplanted by an obsession with power for the sake of having power.


Abahlali, however, are an inspirational movement from below who are transforming their oppressive reality with an uncannily similar ethos to the Irish language activists of the 60’s who said:‘Na habair é déan é’ (Don’t say it – Do it)


For more than a decade Abahlali have occupied land to build communities in the rubble of South Africa’s broken promises – with carers and farmers and electricians and joiners and plumbers and educators and organisers – they act where they stand, they wait for permission from no one, they transform their world and hold power to account in the process.


When I visited Abahlali everyone I met reminded me of the people who set up our schools, youth clubs and community centres – the people who rebuilt Bombay Street after the pogroms – when others called them mad for re-building burned homes at an ‘interface’, or establishing schools and streets to bring the Irish Language back to life – they did it anyway, inspiring everyone who followed in their footsteps.


A few years later Thapelo came to stay with us in Belfast. We walked around Bombay Street and the peace walls reflecting on amazing people who give everything they have, when they have very little, to fix the broken bits of the world – people, who despite hardship and tragedy can imagine the positive potential of every space and manufacture it into being with any tools and resources they can put their hands on.


Abahlali call this Ubuhlalism – a living politics.


The cost of this prefigurative activism has been huge. Life in the shacks is often brutal and many activists have been targeted and killed by both state and private security forces in South Africa. Think about that for a second – black, homeless South Africans being killed for speaking up for housing rights twenty years after Apartheid formally ended. It’s a stark warning, if ever one was needed, that achieving political power and achieving freedom are not the same thing. If political representation is not measured in how it improves the lives of the people you represent it has no purpose other than serving egos and selfish agendas. The purpose of political power should be to act to deliver and protect human rights.


The benefits of the Abahlali movement on the other hand are widespread – not only for the people in the movement who are carving out a more humane and cooperative economic reality for themselves – but also the teenagers from Clonard Monastery Youth Group who travelled to South Africa last year and met Thapelo and Ntombi Sambu – another long time human rights campaigner from Kayelitshya involved with the fantastic land justice organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi, or Féile an Phobail who hosted Thapelo and Zelda Holtzman from the Tshisimani Centre in community meetings in Belfast a few years before. You can hear both of these brilliant human rights campaigners speak again soon as part of Glór na Móna’s series of talks this August. I can still hear the Féile women’s singing group belting out the South African national anthem with the hairs standing up on the back of everyone’s neck in Glór na Móna the last time we were there together.


And of course, the #BuildHomesNow campaigners who have been taking part in international exchanges with Thapelo and other South African land justice campaigners. We are forever grateful for the solidarity shown to us by our friends in South Africa, which has been invaluable in shaping our campaigns for human rights and land justice at home. Now Abahlali need our solidarity in return.


My heart sank when got the message from Thapelo a few days ago; ‘Comrade, how are you? My house that you were in when you visited South Africa is no more. There was a fire which gutted all of the shacks in my area’.


The homes that people have been forced to build on the side of the road, which I was welcomed into with open arms on my first visit, have now been destroyed by fires in the most recent period of civil unrest following the imprisonment of South Africa’s corrupt former President, Jacob Zuma. Families are mourning, homeless and hungry.


We have started a whip round and raised a few hundred quid to help so far. Please donate whatever you can. All monies raised will be sent directly to Abahlali to sustain and defend their movement. If you know anyone with influence in South Africa – ask them to take action in support of Abahlali baseMjondolo.


Ná habair é, déan é, le bhur dtoil.


To donate or fo further information contact Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh on /or call/text at 07841101630


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