The Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA) would like to respond to the statement issued by the eThekwini Municipality on Media Reports of a Racial Slur at Early Morning Market Meeting

11 August 2009

The Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA) would like to respond to the statement issued by the eThekwini Municipality regarding the racialist and ethnic undertones that the party and other organizations involved in the Early Morning Market Support Group detected from the statements of the eThekwini Municipality and Obed Mlaba in particular at the meeting to discuss the Early Morning Market closure at the International Convention Centre. We hereby wish to respond to the statement from the municipality, paragraph by paragraph:

Media reports accusing the eThekwini Municipality Management and the Mayor, Cllr Obed Mlaba in particular for using racial slur at a meeting to discuss the Early Morning Market closure at the International Convention Centre are incorrect. The Municipality would like to place on record that at no stage did the Mayor or Council Officials make racial remarks in any way at the meeting in question. Our assessment is that this is the work of peddlers who are desperately trying to politicise the Early Morning Market issue to accomplish their own agendas.

By portraying the support for the Early Morning Market hawkers and protestation against the racialist undertones of Obed Mlaba’s statements as the work of peddlers, the eThekwini Municipality Management once again resorts to name-calling and third-force myths. In a democracy it is not a felony for individuals and collectives that are part of organised civil society to articulate their solidarity and engage in advocacy and activism in support of marginalised sectors of society and subaltern voices such as that of the hawkers and poor people eking out a living on the fringes of the marketplace. It is bizarre to accuse people of politicising the Warwick precinct issue when they raise alarm about the threat of the proposed mall resulting in the displacement, disenfranchisement, disempowerment and marginalization of the people on the fringes of the economy.

Access to economic activities and amenities that enable one to tap into commercial opportunities is in itself a political issue. There is no guarantee that every single hawker and small trader currently selling at the Warwick precinct shall have a trading space in the mall that is earmarked to be built there. There is no way that hawkers, small traders and small shopkeepers are going to be able to compete on an equal footing with big and established businesses at this proposed mall. It is not a secret that Big Capital, particularly the large commercial cartels and superstores normally dominate the market at the malls. As long as this is the case, the Warwick project is tantamount the dislodgment and disarticulation of the marginalised people trying to eke out a living in the so-called second economy to clear the way for the rich who already are raking in millions in the formal economy. It is therefore absurd to accuse people of politicizing an initiative that is essentially political. Building a mall at the Warwick precinct is a politico-economic act that will affect the livelihood and socio-economic wellbeing of hundreds of hawkers and small traders whose businesses are likely to disappear, as malls are known to be exclusive enclaves and sanctuaries of established business and Big Capital.

There are some reports that claim that the Municipality rented a crowd to fill the hall. This is very disturbing as members of the public, business people, community leaders, Durban Chamber of Commerce and SANCO Regional Office attended the meeting. More than 99 % people who were in attendance supported the Warwick precinct development. While racial remarks are raised in the media articles, it is interesting to note that there is nowhere in these reports wherein the Mayor or any other Municipal Official is directly quoted using racial connotations.

The rent-a-crowd claim is based on the utterances of the people who attended the event as they arrived on the scene. The theme that ran like a thread in their conversation was that they were there to sort the Indians who stood in the way of a development project that would benefit "Africans." These sentiments were consolidated by some of the remarks made by the eThekwini Municipality Management, especially the assertion that "Indians" had their opportunities under Apartheid and benefited from the system, now it was time to seize the opportunities for "Africans." The racial undertones of this was particularly worrying for the Socialist Party of Azania and the broader Black Consciousness Movement which has fought so hard against the division of the Black people of indigenous descent and Black people of Asian descent along ethnic and tribal lines. There is just no way that we could not raise our voice against the racialization of a problem that affects people on the basis of their socioeconomic position rather than ethnic identity.

These articles also accuse the Mayor of addressing the meeting in isiZulu. We find this strange, as is iZulu is one of the official languages in South Africa and it is widely spoken in the City. The use of the language was not meant to exclude any race group in the meeting. The meeting was delivered in both isiZulu and English; except for the opening by the Mayor due to the meeting starting late and he had to rush to another engagement.

SOPA and all the organizations that support the Early Morning Market small traders and hawkers have no problem with speaking in IsiZulu. In fact we support and encourage that the speeches in this province be in IsiZulu in entirety as long as there is translation for people who do not speak or understand the language. But in this case, the speakers chose do de tour into IsiZulu every time they made a statement that somehow amounted to evoking anti-Indian sentiments.

We view the publication of this information as misleading in the extreme and only aimed at sowing divisions amongst our residents. We call upon media houses to refuse to be used as platforms for any misinformation campaign.

Coming from a high political office – and coupled with labelling people with different views as peddlers and sewers of division and dissent- the call to the "media houses to refuse to be used as platforms for any misinformation campaign" is a very delicate call for censorship. This statement need to be understood in the context in which there is already a tendency by the public broadcaster(which is currently operating as the state mouthpiece) and many publications in the corporate media to side-line the voices of the social movements and political parties on the left. When one also considers the SABC debacle where there was an alleged list of commentators who were blacklisted this last paragraph of the municipality ammounts to a censorship instruction, though said subtly. In short, this is a subtle but crude inversion on the right of the media houses to decide for themselves what information is worth of publishing and what constitutes misinformation.

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