A continuing legacy of struggle

From the Daily Maverick

JULIAN BROWN

07 DEC 2013 10:11 (SOUTH AFRICA)

The deaths of great men and women are public affairs. It is easy to imagine being asked, in some future year, “Where were you when Nelson Mandela died?” Where I was, was a pitiful reminder of the ongoing struggle for liberation.

I am writing this on Friday morning, a cold and grey morning after. I don’t know how a reader might answer the question – whether you were listening to the radio, or watching the television; whether you were alone, or with family, or with friends – but I do know where I was last night, at a quarter to midnight.

The lobby of the Johannesburg Central Police Station is not a welcoming place at any time – but the hours around midnight are particularly bleak. The light is harsh and medicinal. The uniformed men behind the counter are tired, disinterested, and suspicious. A woman in a blood-stained shirt rests her head against her forearms while she waits for someone to notice her, to speak to her. Earlier, a man collapsed and lay there, writhing, un-noticed and un-aided.

I was there with my husband, and with a dozen of his colleagues. We were there because Nomzamo Zondo, an attorney at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), had been arrested that afternoon while trying to enforce a new order of the Constitutional Court. That order had been handed down at 14.30 in the afternoon, and interdicted the Johannesburg police from interfering with about two thousand of the city’s informal traders. These traders had won the right to return to their stalls, and resume trading until further notice.

At about 17.00, Nomzamo was called to the corner of Hoek and De Villiers Streets, in the Joburg CBD. Officers of the Johannesburg Municipal Police Division (JMPD) were harassing traders who had heard of the court victory and set up their stalls. Once there, Nomzamo tried to tell the JMPD officers about the court’s order.

Then they arrested her.

The afternoon’s euphoria collapsed in an evening of disillusion. The Constitutional Court’s decision to dismiss the city of Johannesburg’s cynical arguments about the ‘convenience’ of removing traders from the city’s streets – regardless of the personal costs – represented a victory for compassion and common-sense. It proved that our system could work: that everyone can get representation and can be vindicated. It proved that people’s rights must trump the city’s convenience in the new South Africa – and that the exercise of political and administrative power would not be allowed to proceed untrammelled.

And then, about two hours later, Nomzamo was arrested trying to enforce it.

The arresting officers showed an absolute disdain for the Court’s ruling. They told her that the JMPD ‘does not take orders from civilians.’

Perhaps they meant that they did not take orders from her. Perhaps they meant that they would not take orders from the Constitutional Court itself. I don’t know.

Nor does anyone else.

Last, night, the JPMD’s spokesman told the media: “As for today’s court ruling, the JMPD will be advised by the legal department of Johannesburg.” Which seems to imply that he and the police imagine that there may be an available option other than immediate compliance.

He also admitted that the JMPD had been sent in force to disrupt informal trading, and that they had used rubber bullets to dislodge the traders.

He told the media that Nomzamo had been arrested because she had been “inciting traders to act against officers.”

He could give no details of how she had been doing so. Neither could the police at Johannesburg Central – the old John Vorster Square. In the hours that followed, lawyers remonstrated with the cops to little effect. Nomzamo was held in a back office, her wrists cut and bruised from handcuffs. She had one shoe on – the other had come off as the police had wrestled her into the back of their vehicle.

She was refused police bail, which meant that she had to apply for prosecutorial bail – which could only be discussed once she had been charged, and if a prosecutor was willing to come out in the evening. For hours, the police could not identify an investigating officer; nor could they say what she would be charged with. Maybe this is not unusual – but it is surprising for an attorney to be arrested in the course of her duties, refused access to her own lawyers for hours, to have bail denied and delayed, and for charges to be so slowly drawn up.

Around about 22:00 we were told that Nomzamo would be charged with Public Violence and with Malicious Damage to Property. No one could give us the specifics of the charges – what violence? What property? – perhaps because there were no such specifics to give. Regardless, charging her meant that the system could resume and – over the next two hours – a R500 bail was negotiated.

Just before midnight, Nomzamo walked out the station – shaken, tired, cut and bruised around her wrists, and missing one of her shoes.

After she left, as we were waiting for a taxi to take us from the police station back to our own home, the news of Mandela’s death came through.

It’s hard not to think about legacies in moments like this – and hard not to ask what has become of Mandela’s legacy, two decades after he became South Africa’s first black president.

Nomzamo’s ordeal – mild as it may have been, in comparison to many others’ – was pointless, a brute exercise of the police’s power to intimidate those who challenge them. Hundreds of men and women without Nomzamo’s access to lawyers, to activists, and to the media are arrested on equally specious charges.

Johannesburg’s informal traders are back on the street this morning. Already, rumours of police harassment are spreading. I can’t believe that much time will pass before the next arrests, and the ones after that; the next court case, and the one after that; the next attempt to force the city and its police forces to obey the law – to respect ‘civilians’ and civilian authority, to respect the rights of Johannesburg’s poor citizens as much as the rights of its richer ones.

Nomzamo appeared at the Magistrate’s Court in the morning, and all charges against her were dropped because they had no prospects of success.

If we want to look for Mandela’s legacy, we cannot simply look at what has been achieved – because, for all of the massive changes since 1994, we simply have not succeeded in creating a just society in which the state serves all its citizens.

Instead, we have look at people like Nomzamo and the traders she represents. These are people who have dedicated their lives to struggle – whether it is the struggle to help, support, and represent South Africa’s poor or whether its is the struggle for personal dignity, self-respect, and recognition.

This is Mandela’s legacy. A legacy of struggle – public and personal, political and private. The state he once led still, often, fails to live up to his ideals and his example. But that doesn’t mean that we should accept its failures as normal, unremarkable, and inevitable. Neither does it mean that we should despair in the face of the state’s failures – its violence, its corruption, its recalcitrance.

It means that we have to embrace Mandela’s life of struggle as our legacy. We have to continue to fight for our own dignity, and for the dignities of others. We can no longer rely on the distant figure of Madiba to reassure us of our country’s successes, and to remind us of the ideals on which our South Africa was founded.

It means that we have to act and struggle for ourselves, now.

When someone asks me, ten years from now, where I was when Mandela died, I hope that my answer will not be, “Watching the police abuse their power,” but, instead: “Watching someone else pick up the struggle where Mandela left off.”DM

Julian Brown is a lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Full article at http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-12-07-a-continuing-legacy-of-struggle/#.UqRCC2QW1k5

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Joburg traders threaten to bring down CBD

From SABC:

24 October 2013

“Johannesburg inner city traders have warned that they will bring the city to a stand-still if their demands to be allowed to trade in the CBD are not addressed on Thursday.

Hundreds of informal traders are marching to the office of Joburg Mayor Parks Tau where they will deliver a memorandum of demands. The inner city traders say they have had enough and want to return to the streets to continue to sell their goods.

They say they were surprised this week when metro police started confiscating their goods. Many say they were not warned about the city’s planned clean-up.  Some say they have lost stock of about R2 000 and have no idea how they are going to feed their children.

The traders are made up of South Africans and foreign nationals from various street traders’ organizations. Members of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters are also there to lend support.”

Read more at http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/6de8dd0041926432b3c8bb67fae09582/Joburg-traders-threaten-t

City of Joburg to respond to traders’ grievances

From SABC:

25 October 2013

“The City of Johannesburg is expected to meet with the leadership of the inner city street traders on Thursday to try and respond to their grievances, but also to outline the city’s plans to properly accommodate them.

Hundreds of Johannesburg street traders marched to the Joburg Metro council yesterday to demand that they be allowed to continue to sell on the streets.

This after the city embarked on a clean-up campaign where traders were evicted from the streets and their goods confiscated as part of reorganizing the city’s space and relieve congestion on the city’s pavements…”

Read more at http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/a6766280419463ddb66abf67fae09582/City-of-Joburg-to-respond-to-traders’-grievances

The scouring of Jo’burg’s inner city

From Mail and Guardian:

“25 OCT 2013 00:00 NIREN TOLSIMANQOBA NXUMALO

High-handed evictions in Jo’burg’s inner city have condemned the street traders and their families to penury.

Standing on the corner of Kerk and Joubert streets in Johannesburg’s inner city on Tuesday morning this week, Mandla Mabaso said he was ready to die.

“I’m going to toyi-toyi [against the evictions of inner-city informal traders] and I hope I die,” said the street cobbler, tears forming in his eyes. “It is better that I die than see my children suffer.”

Earlier that morning, Mabaso had kept R13 for the taxi fare he needed to get from his home in Soweto to Johannesburg’s city centre where he fixes shoes from 7.30am until seven at night. Mabaso had given the rest of his money to his wife to take their two children, Sicelo (5) and Ntombizodwa (5), to the local crèche…”

                                                      Better to die: A long-time cobbler, Mandla Mabaso. (Madelene Cronjé)

Read more at: http://mg.co.za/article/2013-10-24-the-scouring-of-joburgs-inner-city/

Mayor Tau goes on the Inner City walkabout

From The City of Johannesburg:
“Mayor Tau goes on the Inner City walkabout
8 October 2013
The City of Johannesburg Mayor, Councillor Mpho Parks Tau, today went on a walkabout of the Inner City of Johannesburg to inspect the work by a multi-disciplinary team undertaken as part of the “Mayoral Clean Sweep”- Inner City Initiative.
The initiative came about following numerous site visits to the area by the Member of the Mayoral Committee responsible for Development Planning  Clr Ros Greeff, which highlighted the need for a bolder effort to deal with lawlessness that exacerbate challenges experienced in the Inner City.
Some of these challenges include the following:
•Illegal Trading Illegal dumping and littering
•Land and building invasions and other By-law contraventions
•Illegal connection of infrastructure including theft of electricity
•Lack of a sense of Civic Pride and ownership
The Inner City clean sweep initiative is supported by Public Safety/JMPD through the Region F’s integrated safety and security plan. It involves other government departments and entities such as Johannesburg Roads Agency, City Power, Pikitup, Joburg Water, Environment, Health and Johannesburg Property Company.
The overall clean sweep strategy aims to restore the Joburg Inner City, maintaining renewed standards and strengthen By-Law enforcement.
The Executive Mayor, Councillor Mpho Parks Tau said that the operation will continue until order is restored in the Inner City. “This is not one of those campaigns allocated a timeframe. The teams will be here every day until this area becomes what we want it to be,” he said.
As Joburg continues its journey towards 2040 a well governed and liveable city is a priority.
The well governed city is one whose environment is not only habitable and safe but conducive for growth and development for all its inhabitants, businesses, residents, investors and all relevant stakeholders.
All stakeholders are encouraged to work with the City and actively engage with its programmes such as the current Clean Sweep initiative and many other initiatives.
“The City of Johannesburg believes that it is well on track to realising the aspirations of the Joburg 2040 – Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) by empowering communities to actively participate in determining the development priorities,” concluded Mayor Tau.”

Read more: http://www.joburg.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8816:mayor-tau-goes-on-the-inner-city-walkabout-&catid=88:news-update&Itemid=266#ixzz2ij4mYUhO

PRESS STATEMENT: SERI CONDEMNS THE CRACK DOWN ON INFORMAL TRADERS IN INNER CITY JOHANNESBURG

PRESS STATEMENT 23 October 2013

SERI CONDEMNS THE CRACK DOWN ON INFORMAL TRADERS IN INNER CITY JOHANNESBURG

SERI notes with concern the sustained crack-down on informal traders that has taken place since 10 October under the auspices of a “clean up” initiative of the Mayor of the City of Johannesburg. Since this date, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD), in conjunction with officials from the South African Revenue Services (SARS), have conducted raids in the inner city. During these operations, officials forced thousands of informal traders to vacate their trading posts and prevented them from trading by threatening them, demolishing their stalls, confiscating and impounding goods (without following legally prescribed procedures such as setting up inventories of goods confiscated) and physically assaulting informal traders (including reports of informal traders being beaten with sticks and whipped).

The operation underway is in no way a “clean up” of the inner city and does not comply with the City of Johannesburg’s existing economic, spatial or urban management policies or by-laws. The City has regularly indicated that it recognises informal trade as a key economic activity which creates livelihood opportunities.

In practice, however, the City has threatened the essential livelihood opportunities and dignity of informal traders by these operations. These actions should be viewed as part of a comprehensive campaign on the part of the City aimed at driving the inner city poor from Johannesburg and should be condemned in the strongest terms.

Stuart Wilson, SERI’s Executive Director said: “The City’s lawless and vicious conduct is nothing less than a war on the poor. There is nothing World Class about a City that treats its most vulnerable citizens in this way.”

Contact:

Livingstone Mantanga, Chairperson of the South African National Traders’ Retail Alliance (SANTRA): 083 476 3782
Edmund Elias, spokesperson of SANTRA: 072 157 2481
Kate Tissington, senior researcher at SERI: kate@seri-sa.org 011 356 5862 / 072 220 9125

 

SERI Press release 23 October Final