Letter from Chomsky, Zizek, et al to Jacob Zuma,
President, Republic of South Africa

(An open letter published in the Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg,
in protest at the repression of Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban)

Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg), October 4, 2013


James Nxumalo, Mayor, eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa

Senzo Mchunu, Premier, KwaZulu-Natal

Jacob Zuma, President, Republic of South Africa

We are writing to you to express our grave concern at events unfolding in the Cato Crest shack settlement in Durban.

After an illegal eviction in Cato Crest by the eThekwini Municipality in March this year, shackdwellers occupied an adjacent piece of land. They named the settlement “Marikana”. Since then, two activists have been assassinated — Thembinkosi Qumbelo and Nkululeko Gwala. A third, Nkosinathi Mngomezulu, is in critical condition after being shot by the Land Invasions Unit. A number of activists have been seriously beaten by the police. Other activists, including Bandile Mdlalose and S’bu Zikode of the shack dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo who have been supporting the residents, have been threatened with death.

On September 30, 2013, Nqobile Nzuza, was shot dead by the Cato Manor police services. She was 17 years old, a student at Bonella High School. When the General Secretary of Abahlali Bandile Mdlalose arrived at Cato Crest to extend solidarity with the Nzuza family, she was immediately arrested.

This extends a pattern of lawlessness by the police and municipal authorities. As the General Council of the Bar, IM Semenya SC, has noted in an open letter:

“The residents have urgently approached the High Court on no less than five occasions, claiming that their eviction was unlawful. They have obtained three interim court interdicts, restraining the Durban Municipality from evicting them again without a court order, and have subsequently rebuilt their homes. However, on each occasion the Municipality’s land invasion unit has returned to the settlement and destroyed the residents’ homes once again.”

A number of ANC leaders have made dangerous and reprehensible statements that present those who were illegally driven off their land and had their homes illegally demolished in March as ethnic outsiders who should not be in Durban.

After Thembinkosi Qumbelo’s assassination, the local councillor’s office was burned down. This act of property damage by persons unknown has been used to justify murder, violence, destruction of activists’ homes and brazen political repression.

There is a well-documented history of illegal and violent repression of grassroots struggles in Durban that has included assassination, torture, driving people from their homes and arresting people on fabricated charges. This has done tremendous damage to democratic credentials of the City administration in Durban and the South African government in general.

We write to inform you that we are watching the situation in Cato Crest very closely and to urge you to move as fast as you can halt the violent attacks on activists and their homes, to fully investigate the assassinations and other incidents of violence and to commit to resolve the tensions in Cato Crest through democratic negotiations rather than the gross intimidation that is currently taking place.


Noam Chomsky, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Slavoj Zizek, Senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana

Judith Butler, Professor, Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley

Lewis Gordon, University of Connecticut and Mandela Visiting Professor (2014-2016), Rhodes University

V. Y. Mudimbe, Professor, Literature, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

John Holloway, Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico

William I. Robinson, Professor of Sociology and Global and International Studies, University of California at Santa Barbara

Staughton Lynd, Independent Scholar, Youngstown, Ohio

Gill Hart, Professor of Geography and Co-Chair of Development Studies University of California, Berkeley; Honorary Professor UKZN

David Szanton, Emeritus, Executive Director of International and Area Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Wendy Brown, Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley

Silvia Federici, Emerita Professor, Hofstra, University, Hempstead, New York

George Caffentzis, Emeritus Professor, University of Southern Maine, Portland, Maine

Jane Gordon, University of Connecticut and President-Elect of the Caribbean Philosophical Association

Faranak Miraftab, Professor and Director of PhD program, Dept of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign

Ananya Roy, Professor, City & Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

Andrej Grubacic, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Anthropology and Social Change, California Institute of Integral Studies

Peter Linebaugh, Professor, History Department, University of Toledo

Nigel Gibson, Emerson College, Boston

Raj Patel, Center for African Studies, University of California, Berkeley