Just as Durban Scouts aims to bring readers a certain perspective on life in this city, so too does the website of Abahlali baseMjondolo (www.abahlali.org). The similarities are striking: both sites use the Drupal system to create content, they have similar layout, and both present users with dated entries and the ability to comment, much like a blog.
However, the story these two websites tell of life in Durban could not be more polarised. On Abahlali, it would be common to find an article detailing the deaths of tens of people in a raging shack fire; whereas on Durban Scouts you're more likely to find a review of the latest in local music happenings. Two tales that seem worlds apart, but are ultimately bound by a common future in this city.
It is the story of South Africa, the story of Durban; and the Internet is the great leveler that provides a platform for both versions of the truth and the freedom to express opinions.
Abahlali baseMjondolo or "people who live in shacks", is a single organisational body that represents many of the shack communities including Kennedy Road, Clare Estate and Motala Heights. Their aim is to eradicate poverty, and provide humane living conditions for the poorest of Durban's citizens.
Their website is littered with accusations against the municipality, claims of brutality and oppression. I urge you to go read up, it's all there in frightening detail.
The Ethekwini councilors, and notably our street-renaming friend Mike Sutcliffe, are not ones to just sit back and take a mud pie in the face without returning fire. On Durban city's official site (durban.gov.za) you will find articles and press releases that toss countless accusations straight back at Abahlali. For example, read the following:
http://www.durban.gov.za/ article 1
http://www.durban.gov.za/ article 2
It's not my place take sides, especially because my knowledge of the history and politics is limited only to the opposing viewpoints presented by the two factions. How on earth does anyone jump in the middle and choose? It's just worth noting that there are two sides to every story, and throughout all this hair-pulling, the problem remains unsolved.
There has even been a documentary produced called "Breyani and the Councillor", it's available on YouTube and interestingly uses one of Bed On Bricks' songs "It's Funny" as a theme song (see what I mean about overlap). Here is part one, and underneath the links to the next parts in the series:
Now here's something to frighten you (even more): apparently conservative white South Africans and ex-Rhodesians are not the only ones who think we are treading in Zimbabwe's footsteps. An opinion that I find quite shocking comes from Beatrice Ngwenya of the Combined Harare Residents Association, a similar organisation to Abahlali, but based in Zimbabwe. She met with them recently and had the following to say (source):
In Zimbabwe we can't have more than 4 or 5 people meeting. The police will stop us. We are very much urging Abahlali to make use of this opportunity while the government still allows them to meet and to organise. This opportunity will not last for ever. It must be used now."
They were profoundly affected by the slum clearance operation in Harare dubbed "Operation Murambatsvina", which left thousands homeless. Could a similar operation ever happen in Durban? Is the government planning on eradicating squatter camps before the World Cup in 2010? What lengths would they go to to achieve this goal?
Congratulations though, to whomever is in charge of the Abahlali online campaign. It's a comprehensive guide with hours of relevant, thought-provoking material, that proves the Internet is an incredibly empowering platform indeed.