On Monday, the Ekurhuleni metro police department (EMPD) attacked the Phumula Mqashi Land Occupation area in Tembisa in South Africa’s East Rand. The area is occupied by the Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), a movement of poor shack dwellers campaigning against eviction and for public housing.
According to a press release by AbM, 266 shacks were burnt and several people were beaten up. The EPMD used tear gas and rubber bullets on people, including the elderly and pregnant women. One person was brutalized after the police forcibly removed his clothes and beat him up viciously.
“This is a war on the poor. We will not turn back and we will continue to occupy the land. There is no future behind us. The future lies in front of us and our courage will take us there,” the statement said.
The Phumula Mqashi land occupation has been targeted and attacked regularly by the EPMD since its establishment on February 13 and most recently on July 6. The EPMD has repeatedly burned shacks and possessions belonging to the people.
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On Monday, apart from setting the shacks on fire, the police also burned people’s essential property, like mattresses, clothes etc. They even destroyed things belonging to children, including their school items.
A lawyer representing the Phumula Mqashi land occupation had given a letter to the EPMD prior to the attack stating that these extremely violent, high-handed acts were illegal but the raids continued.
The movement has been facing numerous threats across the country. AbM’s general secretary has been receiving death threats on a regular basis from the ruling African National Congress members in eThekewini. The shack dwellers in the eThekewini municipality in Durban have also been subjected to repressive and inhumane treatment. On July 17, two AbM members were seriously injured after being shot with live ammunition by the police during a protest.
People in both localities have resolved to resist the violence in full strength until it forces the authorities to come to the negotiating table.
Abahlali baseMjondolo, whose members are also known as Red Shirts, was founded in 2005, as a way to organize the people living in urban slums to defend themselves against home demolitions, evictions, violence and state repression. The movement also advocates for providing public housing for poor people.