July unrest: 'There was a leadership vacuum' - leader of shack dwellers movement tells SAHRC

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Abahlali baseMjondolo leader, Sbu Zikode.
Abahlali baseMjondolo leader, Sbu Zikode.
Thuli Dlamini, Gallo Images, Times Live
  • Abahlali baseMjondolo leader S'bu Zikode criticised Sihle Zikalala and other authorities for a perceived lack of action during the July unrest.
  • He said Zikalala was yet to get back to him after he tried to contact the premier during the unrest.
  • Zikode said that, as the leader of the country's biggest shack dweller movement, he had a lot of information Zikalala could have used.

The head of Abahlali baseMjondolo, S'bu Zikode, has criticised KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala and leaders in the province. He alleges they did little in the early days of the July unrest to curb the looting and social unrest.

Zikode, who represents a 100 000 strong shack dwellers movement, told the SA Human Rights Commission's (SAHRC) hearings at the Gateway Hotel in Umhlanga, Durban, he believed the unrest had been planned "at a high political level".

The hearing, led by SAHRC commissioners André Gaum, Chris Nissen and Philile Ntuli, is probing the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, which claimed over 340 lives.

GRAPHIC | #UnrestSA: Counting the cost of rioting and looting

Zikode said that, during the tumultuous period of the July unrest, he attempted to call Zikalala to warn him about a security threat against Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, but could not get hold of Zikalala.

He said that, up to Monday, when he gave his account of the unrest to the SAHRC, he was yet to be contacted by Zikalala. 

Zikode said he had received sensitive messages about a pending attack on the KZN home of Zondo, but "didn't want to give it to anyone".

"The police, for example, it had become clear they were colluding with what was happening. The only person I could speak to was the premier. I thought, as a citizen, I have a duty to respond to the threat, only to find that there was a leadership vacuum. No one wanted to take responsibility."

He said it was disappointing that Zikalala, who appeared before the commission last week, had still, months later, failed to get in touch with him.

"The failure of the premier, who must have been too high to descend to the ground to give an ear to shack dwellers, points out that those who pretend to be custodians of our democracy care less. You may have missed a call today or tomorrow because you are busy, I can understand, but until today [months later], I have not received a call."

Zikode said Zikalala did a lot in front of the cameras at the SAHRC, saying:

But you come here in front of cameras, and pretend to care about this province and country, and her people, and you still do not bother to follow up with those who have information. You simply do not care, but you take an oath to the public to protect lives.

He said the shack dwellers movement had a lot of good information that Zikalala and the KZN leadership could have used.

"We live in the community and speak to ordinary people, whether they belong to political parties, and we know what is happening in the ruling party and are aware of the factions. Some of our members are members of the political parties, so we get information."

Zikode said they believed a higher level of planning was involved in the July unrest - and that they were aware of threats doing the rounds in the event of Zuma being arrested.

READ | July unrest: KZN police commissioner didn't want to work with army, Mapisa-Nqakula

"That is what made us think it was higher level. Everything happened step by step from the time of the expulsion of the mayor, Zandile Gumede, who had close ties with Zuma, and one way or another needed to stand in solidarity.

"The first thing they needed to do was that the key people, like the former mayor here, did not lose power and positions. The fact that her faction failed, and the mayor found herself expelled, meant that Zuma would be vulnerable because his allies were no longer strong."

He said there were also messages directly related to sabotage.

"There were messages saying, 'let's not use the regalia of ANC because we will be easily identified'. It was clear it was a certain faction of the ANC, not just angry about the arrest of the former president, but also what unfolded at regional levels, like the case of the mayor."

The commission continues. 

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