Mnikelo Ndabankulu

Mnikelo Ndabankulu is one of 12-million South Africans who “abahlali baseMjondolo” (“live in shack dwellings”), which often lack electricity, sanitation and refuse collection. In 2004 Ndabankulu migrated from the Eastern Cape to Durban in pursuit of a better life. Appalled by the squalor to which South Africa’s urban poor have been relegated, he cofounded the now national Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement (AbM). Today, as spokesperson for the movement, he works to hold government accountable for the promises they have made to the poor. Since its formation in 2005 AbM has mobilised communities into a force that insists on the right to a quality life for all. The organisation has achieved a number of epoch-shifting legal victories to date. The Constitutional Court victory against the KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act in 2009 was one of the most important of these. These successes have come with heavy consequences and Ndabankulu describes part of his job as providing protection and security for activists from police brutality and arbitrary arrest. Despite the violence employed to subjugate the movement, Ndabankulu does not view its actions as antagonistic towards the state. He explains the movement’s stance: “No matter how hard we fight against the government they are not our enemies. We don’t hate people. We hate oppressive actions and oppressive structures.” To build international solidarity around the movement Ndabankulu played one of the lead roles in a recent documentary, Dear Mandela. This role was recognised by Amnesty International’s Movies that Matter Foundation, which gave him the Golden Butterfly award for human rights — presented to him at The Hague. Ndabankulu, who sustains his activism by working at his brother’s tuck shop, has vowed that even when he can afford to he won’t move out of his shack unless his whole community gets houses. — Taryn Mackay