Pambazuka News

Abahlali baseMjondolo's 'Kennedy 12': Trial developments

Lucy Bamforth

2010-07-15, Issue 490

With Abahlali baseMjondolo's 'Kennedy 12' due to go to court this week, Lucy Bamforth summarises the background to the case, the accusations against the movement's members and the stalling of the trial.

Amid local, national and international condemnation from human rights groups and religious leaders, the court case against a group of Abahlali baseMjondolo residents originally known as the 'Kennedy 13' was slated to begin in Durban, South Africa, on Monday.

What happened instead was just the opposite: Instead of the beginnings of a trial, the court room remained empty of both the accused attackers and key witnesses, prompting the court magistrate to delay the trial to 29 November and reiterate the right to fair and speedy trial proceedings.

The good news is that the five remaining jailed members of the Kennedy 12, a group of 12 Abahlali baseMjondolo residents charged in connection with the attack, were brought to court the next day and released on bail. The other seven members were released on bail in November last year.

On 26 September 2009 a group of about 40 armed men entered the settlement where many of Abahlali baseMjondolo reside and began violently attacking residents' homes, leaving two dead and forcing others to leave their homes for fear of their safety. The name 'Kennedy 12' refers to a group of supporters of Abahlali baseMjondolo and its leaders who were arrested in connection with the attacks, and had lost their homes as a result. Seven of those 12 were released in November, but the remaining five were, until Tuesday, being held without sufficient evidence against them.

Abahlali baseMjondolo says that the attacks were sanctioned by the ANC (African National Congress) in an attempt to intimidate the settlement from continuing to criticise the government, as they have done in the past through constitutional challenges and the exposure of corrupt ANC politicians. The ANC has disputed these claims, and Abahlali baseMjondolo seems to have a right to be suspicious: There were numerous court delays and claims from a government minister that the settlement had been liberated from the hands of the (elected) Abahlali baseMjondolo Chairperson S’bu Zikode, the person who spearheaded the many marches and legal proceedings against the local ANC leadership.

Abahlali baseMjondolo has released a series of statements about the way the police and local government have handled the case (links for which appear at the end of this article), as well as the many calls local and international activists have made to release the Kennedy 12.

Justice on trial: A statement at the commencement of the trial of the Kennedy 12
The Kennedy 12 go to trial today
The Kennedy 12 case postponed - the jailed comrades to be released


* Lucy Bamforth is a recent journalism and history graduate from Carleton University.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.

There are 6 comments on this article.

Bohmke is a slandered and anyone that takes the trouble to look at AbM's actual statements can see that for themselves.

1. A central thrust of Bohmke's piece is that AbM and its academic and clerical supporters engaged in a conspiracy to first hide that people died in the attacks at all, to give the deliberately false impression that the dead were AbM comrades, and then grudgingly and surreptitiously concede it much laterbut still trying to hide that those who died were not AbM 'victims'. He is wrong but it is not an honest mistake. When it suits him, Bohmke pays scrupulous attention to timing, but to make this 'argument', he quotes press releases and doesn't date them giving the reader the impression there are long time lags between them; or he makes straight-out false claims about what was in KRDC and ABM statements and then 'references' these false claims by footnotes to non-KRDC or AbM sources.

To illustrate Bohmke's method here:
* on the last full paragraph of pg 5 of his piece he says "According to Abahlali and Kennedy Road reports ... Abahlali members had been murdered". (And note that he footnotes the last allegation to something NOT written by KRDC or Abahlali and to be found NOT on the movement's website.)
* toward the bottom of pg 7, Bohmke says: "Then a particularly significant change of version crept in. Bit by bit after the arrests, Abahlali and its supporters began alluding to the fact that some of the ANC attackers may also have been killed during the violence but, of course, in self-defense". (And note that this paragraph comes after Bohmke has been describing events covering a period of days and weeks after the attacks had happened immediately prior to this paragraph.)

The facts are that:

The first statement from AbM about the attacks said "Some people were killed. We can't yet say exactly how many. Some are saying that three people are dead. Some are saying that five people are dead. Some people are also very seriously injured." (indeed that "Emergency press release" from the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC), was titled "Abahlali baseMjondolo Attacked in Kennedy Road – People Have Been Killed". In my email inbox that release is date stamped: Sun, 27 Sep 2009 13:28:03 +0200. The same statement also said at the end: "Things are still confused. If there are any errors in this statement we will correct them when we can talk to everyone safely and send out a more detailed statement".

The second statement, headed "UPDATED Emergency Press Release: Abahlali baseMjondolo Attacked in Kennedy Road – People Have Been Killed" was released later the same day (Sun, 27 Sep 2009 17:58:50 +0200). That statement explicitly says: "As far as we know two of the attackers were killed when people managed to take their bush knives off them. This was self defense." That second statement had a heading before the actual text that said: "This press statement has been updated. Please use this version from now on."

So it is surely at minimum dishonest to suggest that AbM was trying to hide what Bohmke tries to convince his readers they were? The "significant change of version [that] crept in Bit by bit" (as in Bohmke's version) was released on the same day as the first 'version'!; and it was labelled clearly that it was an update and should be used instead of the first one at the time! In Bohmke's piece, when this updated press release is quoted by him (which is immediately after his statement that this 'new version' 'crept in' 'bit by bit') he doesn't date it - of course not because if he did, his readers might see through the wool he is trying to pull over their eyes here.

2. Bohmke attacks Bishop Rubin and, by selectively taking a few lines from the Bishop's public statements and putting them into the distorted picture he has created (as above), sets the Bishop up as (a) almost part of a conspiracy to distract people's attention away from the deaths that occurred; (b) part of the conspiracy to belatedly sneak in a new 'version' admitting that those who died were not AbM comrade victims; and (c) heartless in his lack of concern for those who did die.

To illustrate Bohmke's method here:
* After dishonestly creating (as described above) the impression that the movement and its supporters only acknowledged, much later and 'bit by bit', that those who died might have included the non-AbM attackers, Bohmke turns on the Bishop. Bohmke introduces this part of his attack (on p 8) as follows: "In a statement that dealt with the deaths in Kennedy Road...". The statement from Bishop Rubin that he goes on to selectively quote and discuss in that paragraph is the firststatement from the Bishop. It was written (as detailed below) on the Monday after the information about the attacks had been released by Abahlali. As before, Bohmke significantly does not date the statement because, as before, that would give his readers information he cannot afford them to have. In other words what is important is that it is not credible to paint that statement from the Bishop as part of a 'new version' of events and facts that 'crept in' 'bit by bit' - it was the Bishop's version from the very beginning!

* In the rest of that paragraph, Bohmke takes special care to create a very unfavourable impression of what the Bishop said in the statement. In Bohmke's version, the Bishop's concern for the dead is "remarkably glib for a man of the cloth". In Bohmke's version, the Bishop "accepted Abahlali's averments and conceded that some 'among the dead' may have been the ANC 'militia'" (pg 8). Obviously this language is intended to strengthen the twin ideas that (a) the Bishop is more-or-less a propagandist for the movement (he 'accepts their averments') and (b) the Bishop had had to change his position to accept the 'new version' of events and 'concede' that the dead were not AbM comrades or victims. (Note that the Bishop did not say 'ANC militia' as Bohmke insinuates - he spoke of the "militia that launched the attack".) Obviously, since this was the first statement he made on the issue, the Bishop has never changed his position, added a 'new version' of events, or 'conceded' anything.

* Bohmke ends this section saying: "He [i.e. Bishop Rubin] did not say where he got all this information". As is clear by now, the Bishop's information about the deaths came from Abahlali and the Kennedy Road Development Committee itself and he had all of that information by the Sunday evening! But it is necessary for Bohmke to throw in this 'question' precisely to sustain the uncomfortable idea for his readers that he has falsely and deliberately created by now - i.e., as discussed above, that this information about the deaths was hidden for a time and then surreptitiously allowed to creep in 'bit by bit' by Abahlali and its supporters much later on.

Again these cannot be mistaken for honest mistakes on Bohmke's part. The facts are as follows:
* The Bishop's first statement on the matter opens with the following: "I was torn with anguish". It is hardly 'glib'!
* That statement was written on Monday, 28th September (i.e., the very morning after information about the attacks had come out) and released to the public the following day, on Tuesday, 29th.
It explicitly says: "my condolences go out to all those have lost people whom they love and on whom they depend. It seems that some among the militia that launched the attack on the elected leadership of the settlement may also be among the dead. If, as may well be the case, the militia has been exploited by local elites determined to roll back the development of a vibrant popular democracy then we will pray for their own healing and for a turn away from violence and lies and towards life and truth".


Here's a much better report. More accurate and without Bohmke's agenda. As I understand it, it is part of a much larger doctoral dissertation that includes interviewing over 100 residents of Kennedy Road.,6,684,4,0


concerned states that "In the report, Bohmke lambastes Abahlali for not commenting directly on the deaths of the two Kennedy Road residents. But it would be highly inappropriate for AbM to do this pending the criminal case."

Yet as Bohmke points out, and as both the AbM website makes abundantly clear, AbM has repeatedly commented on the deaths in Kennedy Road, providing several different narratives of the events of the night in question. It is on the basis of that reporting that signatures were solicited for a petition in support of AbM. The truth needs to come out, and while I accept that Bohmke's interest in this case is partisan, that does not wholly negate the fact that he reports words of community members and makes a valuable factual contribution to the debate.

For those who have not read it, Heinrich Bohmke's report is at:

Peter van Heusden

Bohmke's article that is doing the rounds is nothing more than a vicious personal attack on personalities dressed up as an academic paper. What have the likes of Bohmke and the white SA left done that is anywhere near comparable to the gains made by Abahlali in publicising the conditions of shackdwellers. Sweet FA, to be frank. Why does Bohmke devote so much energy to circulating a piece that is reminiscent the worst instances of Stalinism. Such denunciation should be labelled for what it is: Stalinist propaganda!

Bina Ndamu

I too have read Heinrich Bohmke's entire report.

At face value, one could be very sympathetic to Bohmke's general argument: that we must be self-critical in our role as outside supporters of social movements and that we must not be naive to think that everything a movement say is the god-given truth and we must therefore engage critically with these movements. Making such an argument is fair and just.

Unfortunately, that's as far as I can go in terms of agreement. In reality, the report is part of a long-line of sectarian writings of personal hatred by Bohmke and some other Centre for Civil Society academics for certain members and supporters of Abahlali baseMjondolo.

Since AbM refused to work with CCS a few years ago, there has been a proliferation of works by Bohmke and the like attacking both AbM and its academic supporters.

Even worse, Bohmke's research involved him knowingly interviewing and recording the words state witnesses. As the case is 'sub judice', Bohmke's actions have therefore interfered with due process in a serious criminal case. As a lawyer, Bohmke should know better.

In the report, Bohmke lambastes Abahlali for not commenting directly on the deaths of the two Kennedy Road residents. But it would be highly inappropriate for AbM to do this pending the criminal case. AbM has therefore, quite responsibly, focused on other aspects of the violence rather than the actual deaths.

If Bohmke bothered to speak to AbM about this, he would know why AbM has purposefully taken this approach.

Finally, if AbM was trying to deny the truth or create myths, then why would they call for an independent commission of inquiry?

Bohmke vindictive academic work is the real myth making.


This case is an example of myth making. Pambazuka should obtain a copy of the detailed report by Heinrich Bohmke who, based on direct interviews with the people concerned, finds that the true story is almost the exact opposite of what is being portrayed by sympathetic western academics and "intellectuals".

There seems to be a deep need amongst certain sections of this community to create heroes to promote their own ideas about the iniquities of African governments and parties. Not to say that all is well in the political sphere but we need to address real issues, not convenient fabrications.