Churches want justice

2009-11-25 00:00

BISHOP Rubin Phillip, one of the most respected Christian leaders and anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, last week published a landmark statement calling the court proceedings of the Kennedy 13 “a moral and legal outrage that amounts to detention without trial by means of delay”. He has also used the words “kangaroo court”, “political agenda” and “a travesty of justice” to describe the legal process.

He, like many others, has called for the immediate release of the Kennedy 13 and for an independent inquiry into the attacks. The leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches in KwaZulu-Natal, along with 40 other clergy, were present at the Durban Magistrates’ Court on November 18. They have now all united in support of the Kennedy 13 and have decided to set up their own inquiry because of the government’s refusal to do so.

This is a watershed moment in South Africa. For the first time since apartheid, the church has united in support of justice for the oppressed.

But the attacks are spreading. Last week, another Abahlali baseMjondolo-affiliated settlement was attacked. They were not attacked this time by an African National Congress-affiliated mob like the one which attacked Kennedy Road. This time they were attacked by Sydenham South African Police Service members. Police arrested 13 residents who were released days later­ after no evidence was presented in court. They beat and shot at other residents with live ammunition, injuring at least 15 people.

There is documented proof, statements, gory photographs and bullet holes in people’s shacks attesting to severe police brutality at Pemary Ridge Informal Settlement. Still not a single mainstream newspaper bothered to investigate the attacks. Not a single government official questioned the motives of the police.

It seems Kader Asmal’s opposition to the militarisation of the police has come too late. Police have already declared war on South Afri­ca’s poor.

Has the ANC forgotten its persecuted past when its members were arrested, beaten and tortured? Why then has it framed the Kennedy 13 for their association with Abahlali baseMjondolo and then protested to have bail postponed now for the sixth time? In six bail appearances, the prosecutor still has not presented the presiding magistrate with any evidence linking the murders in September to the Kennedy 13.

Yet there is plenty of evidence that the mob currently controlling Kennedy Road settlement attacked the Abahlali youth camp on September 26 and then proceeded to purge Kennedy Road of Abahlali leaders. All this while the Sydenham SAPS reportedly cheered them on.

I did not want to speak out again. After my last article calling for an independent inquiry into the Kennedy Road attacks, some intimidating individual called me saying he was from the “South African Secret Service” and was investigating my gender and nationality because of my article criticising MEC Willies Mchunu’s role in framing the Kennedy 13.

Although it was clearly a lie (if he was really from an intelligence agency, he would already know that I am male and was born in Johannesburg), it was nonetheless a bit nerve-racking.

But the intimidation against me is nothing compared to the serious death threats that others have received.

People close to the violence are afraid to speak up for fear of being targeted. Community workers from the outed Clare Estate­ Drop-in Centre (a children’s organisation that operated in Kennedy Road until the attacks) are terrified to even mention that they carry­ Abahlali membership cards. Shack dwellers, activists and even some clergy still live with the day-to-day fear that they will be targeted for supporting the movement.

Recently, family members of the accused Kennedy 13 have had to resort to asking the clergy to mobilise­ and guarantee them safe passage from drunk and belli­gerent ANC protesters at the Durban­ Magistrates’ Court because the police refused to protect them.

What is freedom of speech when your voice brings with it threats to your safety? What is freedom of association when you have to watch your back because of it?

The Kennedy 13. The Pemary Ridge 13. When intimidation through arrest, corruption and police brutality are being met with silence from the national government, you know our democracy is being perverted. The provincial ANC has ignored these problems for years.

How many more Abahlali members are going to be attacked, beaten and arrested before we acknowledge that something is truly rotten in the police state of eThekwini?

 

• Jared Sacks is the executive director of the Children of South Africa.

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