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Occupy Umlazi: Hesitant Steps Towards Political Ideology

by China Ngubane, Published in Politikon

In Umlazi we leared a variety of lessons from weeks of protest marred by state violence, followed by a Ward Committee election won by the Occupy movement. The ebb and flow of ideology is one such lesson: it is a necessary part of moving from local to global, to address both deep problems and the politicians who sustain them.
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A township movement prepares to 'Occupy'
Umlazi’s unrest won’t be solved by intimidation

China Ngubane 2 July 2012

It is a time when local police brutality is a national scandal, with more than 50 extra-judicial executions (including many innocent bystanders) traced to a hit squad operating from the Cato Manor station. It is also a time when service delivery protests forced South African President Jacob Zuma to proclaim the need for ‘radical’ changes at last week’s African National Congress policy conference so as to redress blatant economic injustice – though this appears to be merely career-lengthening rhetoric.

So it is time for a South Durban community in the huge Umlazi township to stand up bravely in spite of extreme intimidation by the cops and ruling party.

Facing down police harassment and threats from people they claim are ruling-party political thugs, residents of Umlazi’s Ward 88 continue to demand that the eThekwini Municipal leadership dismiss Councillor Nomzamo Mkhize. She has long failed to respond to constituent demands, including that she hold a public meeting to discuss community problems.

Located in the vicinity of the Mangosuthu University of Technology, Ward 88 is like hundreds of other township settlements where poor people suffer. Members of the local Crisis Committee claim Mkhize works selectively with her friends, causing division and failing to deliver basic services. She ignores popular calls for return of land to the people, including the old airport nearby which is slated for development as a new shipping port at an exorbitant cost of more than R100 billion.

The Ward 88 community further demands respect for women’s rights in a township notorious for patriarchy and rape, and an end to discrimination, xenophobia, tribalism, racism, internecine political warfare and economic injustice.

When asking nicely doesn’t work, the activists hit the streets. For almost two weeks, they have periodically occupied the Mangosuthu Highway, occasionally burning tires, that symbol of resistance that dates back decades. Last week, in response to a sit-in occupation at Mkhize’s office across the highway from the municipal court and police station, the cops evicted Ward 88 activists and arrested 18.

The police initially used tear gas against 3000 protesters, but later, at midnight, people believed to be the ruling party’s thugs went searching for leaders with guns and live ammunition. Two people, Mkanyi Simelani and Noxolo Mkwayi, were shot and hospitalised.

I have spent many hours in Umlazi investigating these problems, and it is hard to dispute community arguments that violence by the police and politicians is a crude attempt to intimidate people from further non-violent protest.

The arrests were meant to lock up leaders and foil the community’s plans to occupy Mkhize’s office tomorrow. According to the Crisis Committee, “Ward 88 community activists have been threatened by a group known to be the Councillor’s hit squad. But we have had enough of the struggle of the poor being politicized. It is high time we unite for justice.”

The group statement continues, “We have lived years in poverty, silenced by law; we will use our power outside court for our voices to be heard. It’s time the government takes the people seriously.”

Just as Zuma finally comprehended popular anger and called for a ‘second transition’ to deliver economic freedom, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial ruling-party leadership belatedly noticed Umlazi’s anger, agreeing to have a meeting in Ward 88 last Saturday. But Zakhele residents arrived to find only the ANC Branch Executive Committee, not even the Mayor and other officials who have received memoranda at various protests.

Because of Umlazi’s notorious housing corruption, residents demand that lead municipal housing manager Nigel Gumede explain the housing situation. Willies Mchunu was requested to come, to discuss violence by the police and the local political mafia. This meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

If they still cannot get inside, make their voices heard and achieve a dramatic change in their circumstances, the Ward 88 community has another strategy. They have been preparing ground near the Councillor’s office for the kind of Occupation we have seen spring up in cities across the world.

In downtown New York last September, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ idea sparked a movement of idealistic youth fed up with corrupt politicians, banks and corporations. In January, an ‘Occupy Nigeria’ movement linking poor, working and middle-class people succeeded in reversing a petrol price hike that the International Monetary Fund and its local allies had imposed.

The same rising fury and creative protest capacity appear to make Zakheleni residents and their allies like the Abahlali baseMjondolo shackdwellers movement and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance fearless against even Durban’s fascistic cops and a ruling party that in Umlazi believes it must act like some kind of paramilitary.

But after last week’s attacks, a peaceful ‘Occupy Umlazi’ is an event many hope can return power to the people.

China Ngubane is a Dennis Brutus Community Scholar at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society and is active in the Democratic Left Front and Right2Know.

China Ngubane 5 July 2012

The July 4 meeting intended for Umlazi Community and government officials was not a success. Ward 88 Community Crisis Committee with AbM alliance were welcomed by ANC Regional, Zonal and Branch Executive Committee representatives at Nkonkoni Primary School.

Government officials - including the Mayor and Ward 88 Councillor - did not pitch up, so the Community Crisis Committee therefore requested the meeting to be called off and to be reconvened once government officials dare to attend and listen to people. Despite efforts by party members to ‘middle men’ the issues, Community representatives did not shift from their position, they clearly restated their demands and concerns: Nomzamo must go, police brutality, violence by ANC supporters, poor service delivery and housing issues. This meeting did not end with a goodbye, it was more of a war room, community members felt threatened and unsafe and they left.

Ward 88 members acknowledged their endless efforts to meet Government officials in vein. The community will continue to occupy uMlazi. Members of the community will meet today at Zakheleni Crech from 11am. A film screening on Occupy Wall Street, and of Dear Mandela will be followed by a strategic discussion, press conference and the community will proceed to occupy the Councillor’s office.

A tent has been secured, however there is still a huge call for solidarity and support, i.e. mobile toilets, people will spend much time praying for a better society.

Noxolo Mkanyi, shot on both legs, is battling with pains at eMshiyeni Hospital; reports say she is not receiving adequate treatment, adding that doctors simply come and go without attending to her. Her legs are swelling and painful, community members are pleading for immediate medical support. For assistance please call Thembeka at 0721943055.


Dear Comrades,
I trust this this email finds you well,
I have been tasked by the Umlazi comrades to kindly ask for your hand. On Wednesday they will be meeting with the ANC Region, All oficials who have been recieving memorandums, Chairperson of housing potfolio and infrustructure commintiie Nigel Gumede, Safety and communtiy Liason office Willies Mchunu in Umlazi as a meeting to find solutions towards the struggle of Umlazi and aslo seeking for the unanswered questions of servic delivery which have been what the comrades from Umlazi have been occupying for this past weeks.

As part of the community struggle and strategies to stregnthen their power to be heard by all parts of the world and also sending a mesage of unhappiness, the community have deiced that if the meeting of Wednesday is not fruitful and does not have any answers to what the community seeks for, they'll go back into strike and occupation.

From Saturday they have been cleaninghte place when the occupation will be taking place which is located right next to the councilors office, however they need your assistance in tent and mobile toilets.

So on behalf of umlazi community we hereby wish to reuqest your hand in assisting us with a tent and mobile toilet as we will be occupying Wednesday night if meetings does not have tangable solutions.

Many Thanks,
Ms. Bandile Mdlalose
Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement S.A(Secretary General)
Office : 031 304 6420
Fax : 031 304 6436
Mobile: 071 424 2815


Huge Police Raid on Bheki Buthelezi's Shack
Update on Repression & Resistance in the Zakheleni Shack Settlement, Ward 88, Umlazi, Durban 30 July 2012

At around 4:00 a.m. this morning a group of around 50 heavily armed police officers arrived at Bheki Buthelezi's shack in the Zakheleni shack settlement in Umlazi and demanded to search it. When confronted with the fact that they did not have a warrant they retired and then returned at around 4:50 with a document stating that they had a warrant to search the entire settlement. But they only searched Bheki's shack. They found nothing. During the search a helicopter with a search light hovered over the settlement. Ten activists, all of whom have become leaders in the rebellion in Ward 88, and all of whom have been warned that the police and local party leaders after after them, slipped away during the police raid and are now in hiding.

A plain clothes officer with the fifty or so uniformed officers quietly advised a group of young men to flee the settlement and return to their rural homes as things were going to get dangerous for the residents. As they left the settlement the police said that they would be back to continue their search. After the police had left shots were fired in the settlement. It is not clear who fired the shots and with what purpose but it would not be unreasonable to suspect that the shots were fired by the same armed men that supported the police attack on Tuesday.

This morning two meetings were held. The first meeting was supposed to be between community representatives and the regional ANC structure. However in the end the ANC actually sent the local BEC. The BEC tried to sweet talk the Zakheleni representatives into stopping the protests but the Zakheleni representatives insisted on their right to protest and on the significance and legitimacy of the issues that lead to the protests in the first place – water, electricity, housing and the authoritarianism of the ward councillor and local ANC structure.

The Zakheleni representatives demanded a meeting with the Mayor, all the officials that have received memoranda at various protests but have never responded as well as Nigel Gumede (to discuss the housing situation in the settlement) and Willies Mchunu (to discuss the violence from the police and local ANC supporters). This meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The second meeting held today was a mass meeting in the Zakheleni settlement. This meeting discussed the repression and strategies to keep the pressure up.

For more information please contact:

Bheki Buthelezi, Unemployed People's Movement: 072 639 8993
Bandile Mdlalose, Abahlali baseMjondolo: 071 424 2815
China Ngubane, Right to Know Campaign: 072 651 9790

Umlazi uprising faces bullets, arrests
Mail & Guardian 29 July 2012

Tension is mounting southwest of Durban in Umlazi's ward 88, where activists say the police are randomly arresting people and firing live ammunition.

Community activist Bheki Buthelezi says the residents are concerned about poor service delivery, not politics. (Rogan Ward)

Their right to protest has been violated, they say.

“We are not free in Umlazi. The police are arresting and shooting people with real bullets.

People are in hospital as we speak,” a 34-year-old woman, who belongs to the ward 88 crisis committee, told the Mail & Guardian.

The woman said she did not want to be named because she feared for her life. “The police here are working with the councillors,” she said.

“We are protesting because we wanted the councillor to step down because she doesn’t deliver. She doesn’t respect us. Even if we call her, she doesn’t come to meet us.”

Bheki Buthelezi of the Unemployed People’s Movement, who is also a member of the ward 88 crisis committee, was one of 19 people arrested last weekend on charges of intimidation or public violence.

“We were going to meet on Saturday afternoon to formalise a programme to occupy the councillor’s office. But on Saturday morning the police arrested me without having a case against me,” he said.

Struck off the roll
“I was later released on R500 bail and told to appear in the magistrate’s court, but there was no magistrate there. I was told my case had been struck off the roll because there was no evidence against me and that the bail would be refunded.”

Buthelezi said service delivery protests in the area dated back to August last year.

“On June 8 we marched, demanding that the councillor, Nomzamo Mkhize, step down because she works with only certain people belonging to her camp. We handed a memorandum over to the manager of the office of the speaker in the eThekwini municipality and we gave it seven days to respond.”

He said that when they did not receive a response, community members gathered again and decided to occupy the councillor’s office.

“There were youth who were pushing to burn tyres on the street, but we said this was not the answer; we needed to find an alternative by formulating our own programme to see our ward being developed.”

Buthelezi said the police were called in when the protesters arrived at Mkhize’s office on Wednesday afternoon.

“We then moved back to the ground where we usually meet. We heard that some people wanted to burn her office, but we took a resolution not to do so.

“About 3500 of us gathered to go to protect the office. On our way there we encountered the police, who began to shoot at people randomly. One person was shot in the leg and taken to hospital. Others were shot in their homes.

“We submitted our demands directly to the people who are supposed to respond to us, but they did not do so. They used the police to shoot people and arrest them.”

Buthelezi, who is a member of the Black Consciousness Party (BCP), insisted that the protests were not politically motivated.

“We are doing this as residents, not political parties. There are four political parties in the ward — the ANC, BCP, National Freedom Party and Inkatha Freedom Party — and we have all come together to raise issues of unemployment, housing, the landless and informal settlements.”

Issues of tenders
However, Mkhize disagreed with Buthelezi’s comments.

“I talk to every person in my ward. Some of these protesters are interested in issues of tenders, others are politically motivated,” the councillor said.

“There is service delivery in this area, but there are nominees who did not become councillors, so this is politically motivated.”

She said that she had been forced to ask the police to intervene. “What can I say when they march at night, coming towards my home? I had no choice.”

Mkhize said she would meet the protesters soon. “We will talk to the very same people who are toyi-toying and ask them what the problem is.

“When they marched, they gave their memorandum to the office of the speaker, which, to date, has not passed it on to me, so I don’t know what’s in it.”

DLF 27 June 2012

On Tuesday at 10am this week Ward 88 Community gathered to occupy the Municipal Offices where members designed a program and commissioned committees as police were observing. “Police were present; police understood that we were not fighting and that we were not to destroy but to seek response from our Ward Councillor in a peaceful way”.

Eight committee members were called aside by the Senior Police Officer and were told that the gathering was unlawful, they were given ten minutes to vacate and that there was no formal appointment made with Councillor.

Members of the community did not take time to leave. People then went for a meeting at Emhlabeni grounds. In the way to the meeting there were circulating threats about intensions to burn the office of the Councillor and dearth to ward 88 protesters. This was believed to be a third force, linked to some Police investing and monitoring members of the community.

The meeting noted the risk of not protecting the Councillor’s Offices and decided to avoid unintended circumstances by occupying the office for the whole night. The community took its way back to the Offices of the Councillor. As they drew closer police opened live bullets to the mob of over 3 000 people. Three were short on the sport; Mkanyi Simelani and Noxolo Mkanyi were rushed to hospital and one disappeared; whereabouts not known till now, police did not even use teargas bus only live bullets. It became a cat and mouse game, several people including women were bruised, injured and some lost their cell phones, it was sad that about twenty single side shoes were left on the sin as people were running for their lives.

Police went further to arrest four people; Ngqondo Vezi, Bonginkosi Mnchunu, Khumbulani Nzimande and Themba Mdama. The four appeared in court today and were released on R100 bail each for public violence, their case will continue on the 17th of July 2012, 08h30 at UMlazi Magistrate Court.

At twelve midnight a group of people (3rd force) were moving around threatening people and imposing curfew. According to community members the 3rd force warned that there is a list of people that they are hunting for including Bongani Zungu a former Ward 88 aspiring Councillor candidate. They found only Mr Zungu’s wife and a six month old baby; they fired live shorts at the door (pics attached). They then proceeded next door where they banged the door, took a cell phone lying on the bed where a 19 year Nosihle Mhlongo and a six year old boy, Nkule were sleeping, they went further to shoot Simelani Mkanyi (see pics) who was sleeping on the next bed. Simelani had two live shorts on one leg and one short on the other leg. It is fortunate that the suspects are known and also the remains of live shorts were discovered.

The community in response to Lt-Col Vincent Mdunge denying shooting unarmed protesters was frustrating. This was however expected as some police are known to be working with the 3rd force and the call was for media to come on the ground to avoid misinformation.

Cdes lets stand together and fight together!
The enermy is one and we are 99

Noxolo Mkwayi was shot in her bed

Bheki Buthelezi with Noxolo Mkwayi's traumatized child - he is 6 years old

A bullet hole in Mr Zungu's house

Casing from a live round found inside a shack

Simelani Mkanyi in hospital on 29 June 2012

Bullet and casing

Injury caused by rubber bullet

More Pictures

The Democratic Left Front (DLF) 27 June 2012

The Democratic Left Front (DLF) joins the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) and Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) in condemning the South African Police Services for their callous act of shooting unarmed community activists in Umlazi earlier this evening. This shooting was not even triggered by any provocation of the police or any public violence whatsoever. The police shot three comrades of the UPM with live rounds as the community were dispersing from a mass community meeting. Even more worrying is that two of the injured comrades are missing. This raises serious concern about their security and well-being. The UPM has admirably sought emergency medical treatment for the one injured comrade who could be located.

An estimated 2,000 people had gathered at the local hall to discuss an intended peaceful occupation of the local ANC councillor’s office as part of the ongoing community struggles and demands for service delivery, jobs and access to land. Clearly, this is a case of sustained state repression against community protests and is a violation of basic rights to freedoms of assembly, speech and association.

In consultation with the community, the UPM and AbM, the DLF will seek legal advice and consider appropriate legal action as part of defensive measures whilst. The DLF calls on the Umlazi Ward 88 community, the UPM and AbM to remain united in their struggles for a decent life, and not to be intimated by police repression. Such sustained disciplined mass struggles are the ultimate key to win community demands as well as expose and defeat police repression.


Bheki Buthelezi (UPM & DLF) – 072 639 9893
Mazibuko K. Jara (DLF) – 083 651 0271
Athish Kirun (DLF) – 078 257 3764
Ayanda Kota (UPM & DLF) - 078 625 6462
Mnikelo Ndabankulu (AbM) - 081 309 5485
China Ngubane (DLF & Right to Know Campaign) – 072 651 9790

China Ngubane 25 June 2012

It is clear that the arrest of the 18 was politically engineered; the arrestees clearly stated that they don’t know the reason why they were arrested. As the magistrate asked them why they were arrested they said they had no idea and that they were having drinks with friends where police simply came and arrest them. The 18 were released on free bail with the understanding that the accused were innocent, not involved in any violence, poor and unemployed.

However surprisingly today there were only fourteen of the 18 left in custody and the four were presumably freed through the back door which remains a big question and suspicion of political fabrication against the innocent.

Ward 88 community is under threat for fighting for their rights and speaking the truth, Nomzasmos puppets intimidated the community in front of the police. This raises a question of why they were not arrested because Bheki was arrested for intimidation with no evidence and no witness. Police did not take action, instead they just observed as Ward 88 members were being threatened. The Ward 88 community also fears to go back to enter their homes as they were told that they be killed, and this was all in front of police.

Supporter of the court case were provoked saying they were bussed from Uganda and Emhlabeni areas. There were also racist utterances against supporting organisations and even photographers.

The Ward 88 community however believes that these are few ANC people trying to create division in the community.

The matter of the 18 was adjourned to the 16thof July at 8:30 in R court.

We call for solidarity to all human right organization to support the community of ward 88 to fight for their rights and also justice to take place.

Ward 88 members said they have had enough of the struggle of the poor being politicized into ANC games, it is high time we unit for justice and peace. We have lived years in poverty, silenced by law; we will use our power outside court for our voices to be heard. It’s time the government takes the people serious.

Finally Bheki has approached the state prosecutor and they have returned his docket back to the police station. The prosecutor was not satisfied and struck his case of the role. However if the police find more information they will submit his docket back to court and issue a summons for his arrest. The prosecutor has ordered Bheki for his bail slip to refund him. This process was an attempt to lock Bheki, silence the community and sabotage the plans to occupy the Municipal Offices.


The Democratic Left Front (DLF) calls for solidarity with Bheki Buthelezi and 18 others, some of whom are members of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), when they appear at 09h00 at the Umlazi Magistrate’s Court. Buthelezi will face charges of intimidation. The others were arrested around 11pm on Saturday evening ostensibly on charges of public violence. Some of the 18 have been involved in community protests over service delivery while others have not. Buthelezi was released from police custody on Saturday evening after sustained community occupation and pressure on the Umlazi Police Station Commander. Abahlali BaseMijondolo, the South Durban Community Environment Alliance, the KZN Right To Know Campaign, the Clairwood Community Forum, the Durban Social Forum and the DLF will all join the 19 comrades and the local community at the court this morning.

All these charges relate to sustained mass action by the community of Section S in Umlazi (Ward 88, eThekwini Municipality). This community has suffered for more than 6 years at the hands of unaccountable ANC councilors and a local municipality that has failed to deliver services and provide employment through local economic development. On more than three occasions, the community has demanded that the municipality must recall councillor Nomzamo Mkhize as she has not fulfilled her duties including a failure to call a single ward meeting to discuss community issues. Instead, she has worked on a factional basis selecting who to meet with in the community and she has ignored several community calls and requests for meetings. The municipality has failed to provide electricity, water, sanitation, housing and paving. The community has also demanded that the municipality must call a ward general meeting where it must be transparent about, and allow for bottom-up community participation in the municipal budget and development plans. The community has also demanded that the old Airport space be allocated for food sovereignty and housing. The community has done everything to ensure that these demands are heard. But at every instance the local municipality has equivocated and responded with increasing repression. It was at this point that the community decided on the peaceful occupation of local municipal offices that the police were activated to arrest Buthelezi first and then the other 18 activists. What more must the community do to live decently as promised by the South African Constitution?

The DLF reiterates its call for the dropping of the charges against Buthelezi and the 18. The police have no evidence against any of them. In fact, the charges are instigated by repressive intentions given the sustained mass struggles in the community. The DLF calls on the South African Human Rights Commission to investigate the police violations of the rights to protest by using the arrest of community activists.

Bheki Buthelezi (UPM & DLF) – 072 639 9893
Mazibuko K. Jara (DLF) – 083 651 0271
Athish Kirun (DLF) – 078 257 3764
Ayanda Kota (UPM & DLF) - 078 625 6462
Mnikelo Ndabankulu (AbM) - 081 309 5485
China Ngubane (DLF & Right to Know Campaign) – 072 651 9790

Umlazi struggle up date
China Ngubane 23 June

Cde Bheki was released yesterday after being detained for about 12 hours on bail. This great success was because of unity solidarity and your support.

It is sad that Police came and arrested afresh 18 Ward 88 members yesterday night. They have been in the cells the whole night, the whole day today and they are still there.

Cde Bheki will be tried tomorrow at Umlazi Megerstrate Court and peharps with the other 18.

There is a huge call for your continuous support, legal assitance and solidarity as the accused are the marginalised, the unemployed, deprived of their basic rights.


The Democratic Left Front (DLF) calls on the South African Police Services to release Bheki Buthelezi with immediate effect. Buthelezi, a leader and activist of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) and the DLF, was arrested earlier this morning at his Umlazi home in Durban. The SAPS falsely accused him of intimidating the local ANC councilor. This follows Buthelezi’s role as a key leader and organiser of sustained struggles for service delivery and housing by the residents of Ward 88 in Umlazi. These struggles culminated in a community march held on 08 June 2012. In addition, the community had recently put forward demands for access to land for food gardens and other community development initiatives. During his arrest, the SAPS expressly told Buthelezi to withdraw from his activism against the ANC-led municipality. They also instructed him to block a mass meeting which was scheduled for this morning by Abahlali baseMijondolo (AbM). As a matter of principle, Buthelezi correctly refused to do so. He pointed out to the SAPS that the only way for the struggles and meetings to stop is through government meeting the needs and demands of the community.

The DLF expresses its full solidarity with the people of Ward 88 in Umlazi, the UPM and AbM as they now plan to visit the Umlazi Police Station and meet the Station Commander. The UPM and AbM are also organising legal representation for Buthelezi. The DLF calls on all progressive organisations and activists to condemn Buthelezi’s arrest and call for his release. Letters of protest may be sent to the Umlazi Police Station to the Station Commander: Brigadier M.E. Zondi at fax number: 031 918 8185, and via sms on 082 331 9650.

Buthelezi’s arrest is part of the state’s increasing use of repression and excessive force against social dissent and community protests. This is increasingly so as the neoliberal ANC state continues to fail to transform South Africa. It was the same repression that led the Durban ANC to collaborate with the SAPS to hound the AbM out of Kennedy Road. It was the same ANCYL members attacked DL and UPM activists at the international day of climate action during the COP17 conference in December 2011. This had been done earlier in August 2011 when the Operation Khanyisa Movement’s sole councilor in the City of Joburg and DLF activist, Simphiwe Zwane, was arrested for leading community struggles against poor service delivery in Thembelihle. At its most tragic, this sustained repression led to the killing of Andries Tatane by the SAPS during a protest in Meqheleng in April last year. All this reminiscent of the old apartheid police style tactics to suppress dissent and maintain social control. Taken as a whole, it is clear that there has been widespread intimidation of people wishing to take up their constitutional right to protest, and that this threatens our hard-won democracy. The DLF is extremely concerned about the sustained actions of Jacob Zuma’s ruling elite to enhance the coercive capacities of the state.

Mazibuko K. Jara (DLF) – 083 651 0271
Athish Kirun (DLF) – 078 257 3764
Ayanda Kota (UPM & DLF) - 078 625 6462
Mnikelo Ndabankulu (AbM) - 081 309 5485

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