Women & the Covid-19 Crisis in South Africa

Abahlali baseMjondolo General Assembly, undated
Abahlali baseMjondolo General Assembly, undated

These two statements from the women's organisation in Abahlali baseMjondolo, the largest popular movement to have emerged in post-apartheid South Africa, give a searing account of the experience of impoverished black women during the Covid-19 crisis in South Africa.

Submitted by red jack on May 10, 2020

Wednesday, 1 April 2020
Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League Statement

Sekwanele! Enough is enough!

We as the Women’s League of Abahlali baseMjondolo see the need to express our pain and fear, and our deep disappointment and anger at the eThekwini municipality. We need to issue a clear warning that we will not continue to accept oppression.

Abahlali as a movement teaches respect. Men must respect women. People of different generations must respect each other. People who are born in different countries and people from different provinces must respect each other. We have struggled for years in our movement to ensure that poor people are treated with respect. In this crisis caused by the coronavirus we have respected the President’s call to stay indoors even though this is very difficult when there are many people living in one shack, and even though this is very difficult when we don’t get paid when we don’t work.

It has been promised by national government that there will be no evictions during the lockdown. But by day five of the lockdown the eThekwini Municipality had already attacked us, violently, and unlawfully, three times. They destroyed our homes and left many people injured. It is very sad and unjustifiable what they are continuing to do to us as impoverished people. They are undermining us and rendering our rights useless even during this time of darkness, not only in our country but even globally. Is this happening because we are not counted as human? Is this happening because we do not count as citizens of this country? Is this happening because we do not have rights as shack dwellers?

Sizokuthola nini ukuphumula ezweni lethu uma sihlukumezwa kanje?

How are we going to be indoors while our houses are being demolished? Some of us we are single parents who not working. We can’t afford to buy more building material after the securities, armed men sent by the government, have broken and burnt it.

As women we have been denied the right to housing. Even when we build our own houses they are destroyed. Housing is not possible without land and we are denied the right to land. We have been oppressed by the Kings in our rural areas. You are denied access to land if you are a single mother. We have moved to the city and now we are still facing the same oppression from the eThekwini Municipality.

It is really so sad for a single mother and her children to be chased away from their homes at this very hard time. It is such a humiliation. What must a mother say to her children? It is such an embarrassment to our government. What happened to the ‘women empowerment’ that the President of the party in power promised us at the beginning of the year? It is clear to us that this ‘women empowerment’ is not for us. When we work to empower ourselves securities are sent to attack us.

We are afraid of the coronavirus, but there is no virus worse than not having a place to stay. There is no virus worse than armed men attacking and destroying your home. There is no virus worse than armed men shooting at your family, including children and old people. There is no virus worse than having to sleep outside, where there is always the fear of rape. There is no virus worse than our children waking up at night crying and shouting in fear.

We say that enough is enough. The struggle for land and dignity in the cities goes back more than a hundred years. Our struggle to occupy land, build homes and defend our dignity was the struggle of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union. It was the struggle of the United Democratic Front. We do not want this struggle to also be the struggle of our children. It is enough.

We have buried our children and husbands as a result of these violent evictions. Right now, some of our men are in hospital, or at home with serious injuries. The brutality of the SAPS, municipal security, private security, the Red Ants and the Anti Land Invasion Unit has taken too many lives and left too many people injured. The blood of too many innocent people has been spilt. It is enough.

Ukubekezela kwethu sekuphelile. Isibindi sethu siqinile.

Our movement organises the oppressed and projects the voice of the voiceless, the voice of the landless and homeless people of our country. Since it was established in 2005 we have been invited to a variety of different meetings by the departments of housing and land affairs, as well as municipalities, regarding the issues of land distribution and evictions. We have been to many meetings but not even one of those meetings has helped us with resolutions of the eviction situation we are facing. Why are we still invited to those meetings if our ideas and views are not going to be taken to consideration? It is enough.

After fifteen years of struggle we continue to face unending evictions, relocations, the demolition of our vital belongings, the demolition of our houses, threats to our members and leaders, and killings. It is enough.

Now in this crisis, as we speak, we don’t know how to make sure that we stay safe from the coronavirus. Some of us don’t have even food to put on the table because we’re self-employed. Those of us who are street vendors are already devastated by the lockdown. Now we’re stressed about where we are going to rebuild our children’s homes. We are stressed that when we do rebuild the securities will return to attack us again and destroy our homes again. It is enough.

As the Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League we will hold the government responsible for anyone who will die because of the coronavirus since we told our children to stay indoors and to wash their hands. But where are they going to practice this hygiene if they are homeless? We built homes for our children. It was the municipality that destroyed them. It is enough.

The Government is always saying that he is worried about Gender Based Violence but he sends armed men to attack us and leave women and children homeless and destitute. If there is any rape or murder of a women or a child who has been made homeless in these attacks we will hold the government responsible since he doesn’t care about our safety. He is even sending the SANDF to victimise impoverished people across the country. It is enough.

As Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League we think that this 21 day shutdown has been implemented with a top down approach. Why we were not told on time to prepare ourselves? Why were we not included in decision making so that our suggestions could be included in the planning? The government is always deciding for us like we can’t think for ourselves. It is enough.

It is not right that blood must still be shed for the land that our fathers and mothers fought for so that we could live without fear. For how long are we going to live with fear and tears in our only homes? This is a war against the poor. It is enough. We will act.

How many lives must we lose during evictions? How many husbands must we lose? How many children must we lose? Each and every human life counts as a human life. Rich or poor a human is a human.

Senzeni na?

When the President says that “our people should remain indoors” but our homes are destroyed it becomes clear to us that we are not classified as people of this nation. When the President addresses the nation he speaks as if the role of the government is to protect its citizens yet the same government is the cause of harm and despair for its citizens. The way we are treated as women during evictions is so humiliating, disgusting and devastating.

Women have too much work on their shoulders. If you are a women you have to go to work after work because you take care of your family and do cooking and chores. But in these communities who are currently facing these illegal evictions you also have to figure out how are you going to rebuild your children’s home. On top of that when these illegal evictions occur the securities abuse us and our children like nobody’s business. There is always sexual harassment and assault. They beat us up very badly. They don’t care whether you’re carrying a baby or not. As a result of this brutality some of us end up finding it very difficult to receive grant money because our Sassa cards are being destroyed along with all our other belongings. Some of us are defaulting on our treatment because our medication and clinic cards are destroyed so our health is at risk. Some of us experience miscarriages. Sometimes we even lose our partners.

We as the Abahlali Women’s League call upon the President to end his silence on the attacks on our movement, and all the other abuse from the police and the army against poor people across the country, including three murders. He must give us the answers. When will this violence and abuse stop? How are those of us who have been evicted going to spend 21 days without shelter? Where do they really want us to go at this critical time? We have complied with the request of the President of the country. However, if the eThekwini Municipality can’t respect us we won’t tolerate their disrespect. We will act.

Enough is enough bomama! This is our time to show our government that we stand for our children. We are fighting power to survive in the world.

Yonk’ indawo umzabalazo uyasivumela.

Wathint’ abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo


Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686
Zanele Mtshali 062 437 9077
Zandile Nsibande 073 611 8279

Thursday 23 April 2020
Abahlali baseMjondolo Women’s League Statement

Why this Suffering?

Blood is running like a river through our homes. We are under constant attack from Calvin & Family Security, the police, and the eThekwini Municipality. Sometimes the army is also there during attacks. Our children are beyond traumatized when they see their only homes being demolished. They are full of fear and anxiety when they see their parents being brutally attacked and hunted with live ammunition like wild animals.

When our homes are destroyed we are made more vulnerable to coronavirus and rape. Our phones and money are also stolen during these evictions. How are we supposed to care for our children when we have to sleep in the bushes and live with no money and no phones to call for help?

The Azania land occupation has now faced more than 40 evictions since February 2019. After they were evicted last week 29 women were accused of contravening the lockdown, arrested and taken to KwaKito. Their crime was to sleep on open ground after their homes had been destroyed by Calvin & Family Security. Some had to leave children as young as two years old. This is so humiliating and sad.

In 2018 one of the officers at KwaKito, Phumlani Ndlovu, was convicted of murder after he killed Nqobile Nzuza, a 17-year-old girl, in 2013. Women in our movement have been assaulted at KwaKito and tortured with rubber tubes put over their heads and their faces pushed into water again and again.

Yesterday eKhenana was evicted in a violent attack in which live ammunition was fired at unarmed people running for their lives. In February 2019, after 30 evictions, eKhenana was granted an interdict by the Durban High Court. The community is still protected by that interdict. If you are poor and black you do not count to the law.

The government says that we are criminals because we occupy land. We occupy land because we don’t have money to pay rent and we are tired of the abuse that we receive from government men. We need land for living. We build homes for our children and cultivate the land to feed our families. We are proud of all the new land that we have opened to build new communities.

The government never says that the men that come to evict us, in violation of the Constitution, the law, court interdicts, and lockdown regulations, are criminals. These men insult us, beat us, sexually harass us, steal our money and our phones, and shoot at us with live ammunition. If we try and report these attacks to the police we are threatened and chased out of the police station.

We as the Women’s League of Abahlali we want to know why does our government send armed men to attack us for building homes and cultivating land but no one from private security, the anti-land invasion unit, the police or the army is ever arrested for attacking and abusing us?

President Ramaphosa, Minister Sisulu, Premier Zikalala and Mayor Kaunda are all silent when we are attacked. They have all failed to protect us. It is clear that just as we do not count to the law we also do not count to the government as citizens. In fact, we do not count to them as human beings.

We as women of Abahlali baseMjondolo we have faced eviction, arrest, assault, torture and assassination from the ANC government since our movement was formed in 2005. We have buried our husbands and our children because of the violence of the ANC who are amabhunu amnyama.

Senzeni na?

We, as the women of Abahlali, we appeal to the women of the world to be in solidarity with us and to join us in the struggle to put an end to this abuse and brutally by the government of South Africa. We shout with hope. We need to stop the flow of blood running like a river through our homes. We need to be allowed to grow our children in peace. We need to abolish evictions.

Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686
Zanele Mtshali 062 437 9077
Agnes Zoko 078 065 3403
OJ Majola 063 181 997