March for 'the total decommodification of land' in Durban, South Africa

Abahlali baseMjondolo outside the Durban City Hall - 24 February 2019
Abahlali baseMjondolo outside the Durban City Hall - 24 February 2019

Today, Abahlali baseMjondolo, from a base on more than seventy ongoing land occupations, and with a membership in good standing approaching 80 000, organised a major march in Durban against control over the allocation and management of land by the state and capital. The march follows promises of a new top down land reform programme by the ruling African National Congress, which is split between neoliberal and kleptocratic factions.

Submitted by red jack on February 24, 2020

Monday, 24 February 2020

Abahlali submission to the Ad hoc Committee on the Amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Handed over to the Chairperson, Honourable Dr. Mathole Mosthekga

Constitutionalise the Right to Land!

We, members and supporters of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA, street traders, hostel dwellers and workers in South Africa are democrats committed to the flourishing of this country. We speak for ourselves and direct our own struggle. We have no hidden agenda. We have been mobilised by our own suffering and our hopes for a better future. It is time to take seriously that access to land is a serious problem in our country, that land was stolen from our ancestors and continues to be allocated and managed in the interests of elites and private profit, and that all this has impoverished us, and continues to impoverish us. It is time to take seriously that housing in Durban is a mess that has not just terrorised our communities but made us homeless. It is time to take seriously that raising questions about land and housing has led to us being murdered with impunity. In municipalities like eThekwini we have been murdered in broad day light.

Abahlali has, since its formation in 2005, called for the right to well-located land and decent housing for all in our cities. In our first legal march in 2005 we called for the expropriation of land from below. We specifically targeted Moreland, the largest private land owner in Durban which had close links to the then Mayor, Obed Mlaba.

From the beginning our movement rejected the idea that land should be turned into a commodity, something to be bought and sold. We insisted that land should be distributed on the basis of human need and we affirmed the need for grassroots urban planning, and for the bottom up and democratic management of land. We insisted that women must be full and equal participants in all decisions relating to the allocation and management of land. However the state was prepared to put the commercial value of land before its social value. Profit was put before human needs. Lies were put before the truth. When there was land reform it was captured by the elite. Our suffering became a way for people in the ruling party to become rich.

It is not just that the state has failed to provide land for us. The state has also tried to violently remove us from the bits of land that we have been living on. Our movement has had to struggle against violent and unlawful evictions in our cities. We have resisted against the Red Ants of the City of Johannesburg. We have resisted against the Land Invasion Unit of the City of Durban and, yes, we have resisted against the Law Enforcement of the City of Cape Town. Many of us have terrible scars. Some of us have lost our lives in these struggles. We have been lied to, arrested, beaten, tortured in police custody, assaulted, and slandered in the media.

As a result of the state and the ruling party using violence to prevent us from accessing land we have had to undertake a programme of land reform from below. We have organised numerous successful land occupations. At the moment we have more than seventy branches on active land occupations. When we have insisted that the social value of land must come before its commercial value this has not just been empty words. We have made this a reality, through struggle. Our movement has paid a very high price for standing firm for the position that land, wealth and power should be shared. Many of our comrades have lost their lives in the struggle for land, and it is a fact that cannot be denied that for impoverished black people the price for land continues to be paid in blood. In our meetings it is common to hear people saying “umhlaba noma ukufa”.

The inequality, impoverishment and unemployment that we face today are as a result of the failure of the state to return land to the people. It is a disgrace that the black majority government has, over twenty five years in power, failed to redress the oppression of the past and to break with the capitalist system for distributing and managing land. The collapse of the economy today cannot be avoided unless the state takes a radical shift towards a fair distribution of all kinds of wealth, power and opportunity in the economy, including land. This is also urgent in the rural areas. The inequalities and poverty that exist in rural South Africa today will continue for as long as the land remains in the hands of the white commercial farmers and those traditional leaders that are corrupt and authoritarian. They will continue for as long as some traditional leaders are corrupt and bought by the rich, including mining companies, at the expense of the communities. They will continue for as long as the government’s limited land reform programme continues to be captured by the elites.

Our movement has had series of careful discussions, involving large numbers of people, about the Constitution and the Eighteenth Amendment Bill, Expropriation of Land without Compensation. The Ad hoc Committee on the Amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 has been mandated with this task and has called on all South Africans to submit their proposals.

We agree to the ‘expropriation of land without compensation’ proposal. However, we do not agree that land must be taken from white elites and be given to black elites. This will have not make a fundamental change to the deep inequalities and oppression that exist in this country. We cannot trust the ANC, or any of the political parties in parliament, to ensure that land is distributed to the people on a fair and democratic basis. There is no party in parliament that represents the interests of the impoverished, that refuses corruption, that is committed to revolutionary democracy, and is willing to be led from below.

Abahlali’s position is that land should be seen as a public good and not as private property and as a commodity. Land should be made a ‘right’ and not a form of property. We also do not agree that the state must own the land on behalf of the people because the state itself in its current form cannot be trusted. Land must be distributed to the people, and managed, on a democratic basis, from below.

Eighteen of our comrades have been killed as a direct result in their participation for the struggles to insist that land must be shared on an equal basis amongst those who live on it or work it. Those who claim to be custodians of our laws have been implicated in the murders of our comrades. Two ANC councillors have been found guilty of the murder of one of our leaders by a court of law and are serving life imprisonment. This is another reason why we want our communities to have direct and collective ownership of land, and to be able to manage land through their own democratic structures.

Abahlali is well aware that laws on paper often mean little or nothing for people in reality. We understand that laws can change for the better and that the oppressed can remain oppressed. For this reason, while we oppose bad laws, like the Slums Act, and support good laws, we remain highly aware that oppression can only be effectively opposed when the oppressed are organised to build their own democratic power from below. Building our own democratic power is the most important way for us to advance our struggle.

However, Abahlali supports the motion to Amend Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996. Section 25 in its current form has been one of the drivers behind the inequalities, impoverishment and unemployment that has terrorised this country. However, this support is not in any way to agree with what many politicians and parties are proposing. The preamble should explicitly make land a ‘right’ to be enjoyed by all and not property that may be bought and sold. We note, also, that Section 26 of the Constitution guarantees the right to Housing however, that right becomes impossible without the right to land. These proposals must apply to all land both in urban and rural areas, and to residential, agriculture and commercial land.

For too long the right of women to land has been denied for many reasons. We call on the full realisation of the right of all women to access and manage land, just like their male counter parts, and without any conditions imposed. We oppose all forces that use the language of culture to justify patriarchy and we oppose all forms of patriarchy, where ever we encounter them.

Furthermore, if a new law is passed it must also make all evictions illegal, commit the state to supporting land occupations with the development of infrastructure and abolish all the armed units set up in the big cities like (“odiliza”) to attack land occupations.

Abahlali has resolved that we will engage in a mass action to have our position and our submission clear, clean and loud instead of making an online submission by one technical individual. Our members have demanded that they want to be involved in this strategic submission given that land is their life and, too often, their death. We have resolved that today, 24 February, a few days before the closing date for submissions, we march here in our numbers to collectively submit our proposals. We have asked for the Chairperson of the Ad hoc Committee on the Amendment of Section 25, Dr Mathole Motshekga to come and receive our submission.

We know that there is a long road ahead of us and that we need to intensify our political strategies through ongoing organisation, discussion and mobilisation, including rolling mass action. Today’s action takes place in Durban but we continue to work to build popular democratic power in other provinces where we have branches, including the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

We are also aware that this struggle will not end here today, or in parliament, but in people’s day to day struggles and realities. This may mean that, Section 25 or no Section 25, the “people shall govern’’.

Delivered by: ………………………………………………………………..


On the: ……………….February 2020 at Durban City Hall

Received by: …………………………………………………………………


On the…………………February 2020 at Durban City Hall