Resist all degradations and divisions: An Interview with S'bu Zikode

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As we go to press the Kennedy Road settlement, where the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack-dweller's movement had its office, has come under violent attack from government supporters. In the presence of a passive police force and the local ANC councillor, the homes of 27 Abahlali leaders, including Zikode, were destroyed in a 24-hour rampage, leaving 2 dead and many wounded, and hundreds of people displaced. Many Abahlali activists are now in hiding; 21 have been arrested (but none of the attackers); and death threats issued against Zikode and other elected leaders in the movement including Mashumi Figlan and Zodwa Nsibande. The settlement remains under the control of armed government supporters who are backed by the police and continue to threaten remaining Abahlali activists with the demolition of their homes if they do not publicly renounce the organisation.
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   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Movement interviewVolume 1 (2): 22 - 47 (November 2009)    Zikode, Resist all degradations 22 Resist all degradations and divisions S'bu Zikode in interview with Richard Pithouse 1    As we go to press the Kennedy Road settlement, where the Abahlali baseMjondolo shack-dweller's movement had its office, has come under violent attack from government supporters. In the presence of a passive police forceand the local ANC councillor, the homes of 27 Abahlali leaders, including Zikode, were destroyed in a 24-hour rampage, leaving 2 dead and manywounded, and hundreds of people displaced. Many Abahlali activists are nowin hiding; 21 have been arrested (but none of the attackers); and death threatsissued against Zikode and other elected leaders in the movement including Mashumi Figlan and Zodwa Nsibande. The settlement remains under thecontrol of armed government supporters who are backed by the police and continue to threaten remaining Abahlali activists with the demolition of theirhomes if they do not publicly renounce the organisation. For updates and details on how you can support Abahlali, please seewww.abahlali.org 2   Tell me something about where you were born and who your family  were. I was born in a village called Loskop which is near the town called Estcourt. It isin the Natal Midlands. I was born in 1975. I have a twin sister, her name isThoko. We are now the last born. I have two other sisters. I also had a brother who passed away so I am the only son. And when we grew up, very early, at the age of 7 years, when Thoko and Istarted school, our parents separated. We grew up with mother who used to work as a domestic worker. She would mostly be at work and we would remain with her sister most of the days. We did not have mother close to us. She wouldcome once a month. And then we grew from different hands. When we weredoing primary school we went to more than four schools. My mother would beaway and it would be hard for her to support us so we grew up with differentfamilies. They were all good to us. When I look back I can see that that helped me a lot; learning at differentschools, living with different relatives.  Where was your mother working? 1 This interview took place at the Kennedy Road settlement on 25 January 2009. Zikode madesome minor edits and additions to the interview transcript on 8    April 2009 following which theexplanatory footnotes were added by Pithouse. Zikode made some final additions to thetranscript on 24 April 2009. 2 See also the discussion of Abahlali's emancipatory politics in Michael Neocosmos' articleelsewhere in this issue.   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Movement interviewVolume 1 (2): 22 - 47 (November 2009)    Zikode, Resist all degradations 23 In Estcourt, in town. From town to Loskop, today you are paying R9. Thedistance is 32 kilometres. She would come once a month. That must have been very difficult for the children. Ja, very difficult. Very difficult. How was she treated by the people she worked for? No, they were quite good people. Sometime we would visit her and I rememberthat they bought me a bike. They were good people. The problem is this system where so many women have no choice but to leave their homes and wash andclean for other families. When I was older they also found me a job. When I was at school they found mea job too. I was working with their boys as well, in one of the bottle stores,pushing trolleys. They’d call me over the weekends and I’d do some temporary  jobs. But you were well looked after by the wider family.  Yes, and when I was doing Standard Three I joined Boy Scouts. I had theopportunity to go on camps and other trainings and I learned a lot aboutmanhood. Scouting was about training future men, future citizens. I was lucky to be appointed as a leader and to have the opportunity to attend even moretrainings. I remember one of the trainings that I attended in Pietermaritzburg,Lexden 3 . I went to Lexden as well! Ey, you know! The Patrol Leaders’ Training Unit! There was a lot of growth andlearning. It was winter time. I can remember very vividly, it was difficult. And you had to decide whether to continue with this or to resign from being a Boy Scout. I remember when I returned back to the school and reported to theprincipal, because I would report directly to the principal who knew more aboutScouts, he laughed a lot and I knew that he knew exactly what was going tohappen. He asked me if I would still continue and I said ‘Ja’. A lot of lessons Ilearnt from there, from the hardship. It was preparing me for the worst to comeand I have seen it in recent years. I am sure that I was shaped and made to beable to face the challenges that we are now facing.But it wasn’t just the hardship at Lexden. It was also the focus on responsibility and involvement in the community. I remember the Scout Motto: ‘Be Prepared’. And there was also a Scout Promise; that you promise to do your duty to Godand to your country, to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout’sLaw. I was still young and fresh at that time. I learnt the Scout’s Law. A Scout’shonour is to be trusted, a Scout is loyal, a Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help 3 Lexden is a campsite where the Boy Scouts run two week leadership trainingprogrammes. In the 1980s and early 1990s it was run along the lines of a boot camp withphysical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, cold showers in the winter and so on.   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Movement interviewVolume 1 (2): 22 - 47 (November 2009)    Zikode, Resist all degradations 24 others, a Scout is a friend to all and a brother to every other Scout, a Scout trieshis best to do at least one good turn to somebody every day.The things that I do today, for me are something that grew up in myself; my understanding of society, the social context, what the expectations are and whatkind of society we are looking for.So there was no politics but leadership was in my veins. Even at the high schoollevel I was invited to start a Scout’s movement at my school, which I did becauseI was growing with other boys, and then there was also a demand from the girlsto start their movement. I only met the Girl Guides at the jamboree. The jamboree is a big event that brings all the Scouts and Guides together. It is onethe happiest days of your life as a young person to get to meet all differentpeople from different spaces. It’s like the WSF 4 ....(laughing).The Jamboree took place in Howick, at the Midmar dam. It was mostly outdooractivities and this is how I became interested in the outdoor environment. There was a lot about how the environment is a heritage to the cherished andprotected - to be enriched by our future generation - and I became very interested in plants and animals. After the jamboree we sought the assistance from other schools to form the GirlGuides. We had seen all these boys working together, learning skills that wereunknown in the community and the girls demanded the same. They had seentheir brothers growing and wanted the same pride. It really shaped me a lot. At the high school level I became more interested in ideas. I found that I couldgrasp things quickly and easily, especially in English and History. The teachers would often ask me to read ahead to prepare the lesson. I remember vividly how I was asked to learn about the Voortrekkers – how I learnt that to thedictionary. I had to analyse the meaning of each word all by myself ahead of others. I remember how I had to start by cutting this word Voortrekkers and tounderstand the word ‘voor’ and then ‘trekkers’. Doing all these analysis it slowly  became clear that we were learning about the Boers who travelled or came firstin Natal. But, still, I was lucky to be given this opportunity because I learnt how to analyse things on my own and then to share the ideas. History was really about remembering dates and I found that I had a good memory.Things were positive. I was still too young to understand the outside politics,even the family related stuff, what problems were at home. And I was fortunatein being able to finish high school, from Standard Six right through to Matric, inone high school. But in the primary school it was really difficult being circled inone family.  When you were growing up in Estcourt it was the time of thetransition with Mandela being released and the ANC being 4 The World Social Forum.   Interface : a journal for and about social movements Movement interviewVolume 1 (2): 22 - 47 (November 2009)    Zikode, Resist all degradations 25 unbanned. Did you think about politics much or was there muchpolitics happening around you? There was a lot of fighting, heavy fights. I remember my friend was shot just infront of me when we were together in a rural farm - you know these plantations where crops such as mealies 5 get planted and grow very high with grass in timeslike autumn. In summer, as the grass began to grow very high, there was thisfighting and shooting. Sometimes the army would boost the other side. Inpolitics and fighting I was not involved but in the area where I stayed there wasa strong presence of Inkatha 6 . And in the Zulu tradition we believe that you donot run away in times of war. This was also the culture of Inkatha. So whenthere is a gunshot they would quickly mobilise and everyone goes - every manand every boy. It’s compulsory. You were not asked whether you joined theparty or not but you had to defend your vicinity, your surroundings. So we wereinvolved in that way knowing that the fight was between Inkatha and the ANC.Mostly from the ANC side there would be soldiers hiding, and also shooting. You would think that you’d be fighting the other side only to find that you arefighting the army because the army would also be taking sides. They made itclear that they were not there to make peace. So, I mean, I was involved in that battle in the real fighting, in the life and blood of that time. The only way to freeoneself was that one would hide when one gets shot. When someone needed anambulance you could quickly assume that responsibility of facilitating first aidand calling or waiting for the ambulance to come. That could be a way out of the battle. At school there wasn’t much politics but I used to take part in the debates.Formal debates were mostly on politics but the idea was to learn to speak English - that was the whole point. But obviously the speeches that we wrote - Iremember that we often learnt more from Lucky Dube, from Mzwakhe Mbuli,and so a lot of our quotes were generated from their music and poetry. It had alot of politic. Although we were still young to understand the outside world aclear message would come. There was also the study of  Ubuntu 7  . It was learnt atschool at that time. But when we fought, when were involved in the fight, ourlives were completely independent from politics.Scouting was also a completely non-political movement, although there were alot of accusations from outside. People were calling us Gatsha’s sons 8 because you wear this khaki uniform which was nearly the same as the IFP uniform atthat time. But we did not balk because we had nothing to do with that. 5 Maize. 6 A Zulu nationalist movement that became complicit with apartheid.   7 Ubuntu is the word, in a number of South African languages, for humanism and a set of  beliefs and practices animated by a conception of humanism best known through the saying aperson is a person through other people. It has been put to a range of political uses. 8 Gatscha is a nickname, which became derogatory, for Mangosuthu Buthelezi, ZuluPrince and leader of Inkatha.  
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