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Pithouse, Richard  (2005) Obedience Doesn't Pay: inside the new revolt. Centre for Civil Society : -.

Last Saturday 14 people were arrested on charges of public violence after 750 people from the Kennedy Road Informal Settlement in Claire Estate blockaded Umgeni Road with burning tyres for four hours. On the following Monday, Human Rights Day, 1 200 people tried to march to the Sydenham police station to demand that that either the Kennedy Road 14 be released or else the entire community be arrested because "If they are criminal then we are all criminal". The march was dispersed with dogs and tear gas.

The Kennedy Road 14, including 2 young teenagers were denied bail at a brief court hearing on Tuesday and remain incarcerated. Although it no longer looks like occupied Palestine, the settlement remains under police surveillance.

This is clearly one of the biggest and most militant protests to have shaken Durban in the post-apartheid era. But these events are not unique to Durban. Similar revolts have occurred in cities and towns across the country in recent months, most infamously in Harrismith where 17 year old Teboho Mkonza was murdered by the police. Most elites argue that the new outbreaks of defiance reveal that something is wrong with the defiant. Certainly conditions in the Kennedy Road settlement are degraded. The umjondolos cling to the side of a steep hill squeezed between the Bisasar Road dump and the big barricaded houses of Claire Estate and tumble down to the ugly big box stores of Springfield Park. Many of the children have the emaciated limbs and bloated bellies which indicate that poverty has been written into the future of their bodies. Everyone seems to have someone who is desperately sick. But looking over Springfield Park and through the valley cut by the Umgeni, you can see the sea sparkling in the sun. Hadedas take wing at dusk and when night has fallen an isicathimiya group sings with abundantly delicate grace, from a hall with broken windows and peeling paint, "We are going to heaven, all of us we are going to heaven." For the immaculately dressed and avuncular Mr. Ndlovu "Sometimes it is just so beautiful here. They think this place is too good for us. They want it for the rich."

Elected and respected community representative S'bu Zikode is a former Boy Scout now working at the Petro-Port on the road to Gateway. He remembers the Scout Law and the Scout Promise. He is a quiet, conservative man who breaks off the conversation to comfort, with a rare tenderness, a clearly malnourished child crying for her jailed mother. Nonhlanhla Mzobe, equally elected and respected, is a generous woman with a sincere warmth. Together and working with others on various committees they collect food for orphans, arrange care for the sick and take all of the meetings and procedures that democracy offers them with the utmost seriousness. They are not cynical about the promises from the people that approach them respectfully. On the contrary. The pre-school building under the community hall is in such a poor state that it can't be used. But the World Bank has promised to send 50 of their children to study engineering in Uganda in return for their support for a controversial project to generate electricity by burning the methane produced from the dump. They accept these promises in good faith. Yet they have come to share the deep suspicion in their community towards people who speak for them or of them without speaking to them. It is even feared that the food brought to them in the name of charity may be poisoned and that legal aid lawyers will work for the state which they now believe to be a weapon of the rich. They preferred to represent themselves in court.

Bureaucracy herds, insults, exhausts and defeats the poor at every turn and the courts prove to be no exception. On Tuesday, after returning home without the people taken by the police, Zikode and Mzobe explain, in the accusing glare of the white police lights singling them out in the blue dusk, that the immediate cause of the protest is clear. People have consistently been promised over some years that a small piece of land in nearby Elf Road would be made available for the development of housing. The promise was repeated as recently as 16 February in a meeting with Metro officials and the local councillor, They were participating in ongoing discussions about the development of this housing when suddenly, without any warning or explanation, bulldozers began excavating the land. A few people went to see what was happening and were shocked to be told that a brick factory was being built by Greystone, a private company, on the land. They explained their concerns to the people working on the site and work stopped. But the next day it continued and "the men from the brickyard came with the police, an army, to ask who had stopped the work."

"So", as Zikode explains, "on Saturday morning the people wake us. They take us there to find out what is happening. When you lead people you don't tell them what to do. You listen. The people tell you what to do. We couldn't stop it. If we tried the people would say 'You guys are selling us'. So we go. A meeting was set up with the owner of the factory and the local councillor, but they didn't come. There was no Greystone, no councillor, no minister, nobody. There was no fighting but the people blocked the road. Then the police came. Then the counsellor phoned. He told the police 'These people are criminals, arrest them'. We were bitten by the dogs, punched and beaten. The Indian police I can definitely tell you that they have this racism. They told us that our shacks all need fire."

"We have no land. Most of us have no jobs. We are just rotting here. When the police come they make fools of us. We can't control the people - they get angry. They burnt tyres and mattresses in the road. They say we have committed public violence but against which public? If we are not the public then who is the public and who are we? Sutcliffe talks to the Tribune about us but he doesn't speak to us. All they do is send the police every time we ask to talk. It is a war. They are attacking us. What do you do when the man you have elected to represent you calls you criminal when you ask him to keep his promises? He has still not come here. We are not fighting. We want to be listened to. We want someone to tell us what is going on."

Mzobe becomes very emotional. "My granny came here from Inanda dam. People were coming from all over to wash for the Indians. My mother schooled us by picking the cardboard from the dump. I was four years old when she came. Now my child is 15 years old. All this time living in the shack and working so hard. We are fighting no one. We are just trying to live but they say we are the criminals. We haven't got no problem if they build just some few houses that can't fit everyone. But they must just try." The anger springs from many sources though. Zikode, like many others, simply feels betrayed. "The poor", he says, "gets more poor and the rich gets richer. And this is the government that we voted for." Many people in the community make the point that the meagre public resources there - the community hall, and so on - are all in steadily worsening conditions. Other key issues on which attempts to seek official support to move forward have been rebuffed are the lack of the municipal rubbish bags that would allow people to keep their community clean and the failure to erect speedbumps on the road that has claimed a number of children - one just a month ago. There is also unhappiness about the pitiful condition of the tiny number of toilets - Mzobe estimates that there are 5 working portable toilets for 1 500 families.

And then there is the dump. Environmentalists in Claire Estate and elsewhere oppose the World Bank's project on the ground that the dump is causing high rates of cancer, that it smells and looks terrible and that its location in a formerly Indian suburb is an ongoing legacy of apartheid racism. Moreover the Bank plans to use the dump in its highly controversial project to create a market in which carbon emissions can be globally traded. In the squatter settlement there is pervasive and often highly racialised hostility to environmentalists. For some it is simply due to the fact that dump provides a livelihood. But over and over again the point is made that while the World Bank has come and explained what it is doing while the environmentalists have not. Mzobe complains that "We invite them to the presentation here in the hall so that we can be together. They didn't come. They have their meetings in places we can't go to. They don't invite us but they always represent us."

This is a revolt of obedient and faithful citizens. These are people who have done everything asked of them. They participate in every available consultative process. They care for their sick and dutifully call what they are doing 'home based care'. Many have, as so many well paid academic consultants recommend, given up on finding work to become entrepreneurs in the informal economy. This means collecting cardboard, plastic or metal for sale to recyclers. They accept that 'delivery' will be slow and that they must take responsibility for their own welfare. They are the model poor - straight out of the World Bank text books. They revolt not because they have believed and done everything asked of them and they are still poor. They revolt because the moment when they asked that their faith not be spurned is the moment their aspirations for dignity become criminal. They have entered the tunnel of the discovery of their betrayal.

A view of the dump

The land promised to residents now being cleared for a brick factory

Children whose mothers are in jail

Community Centre

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