Over the last few days, several organisations have banded together in a supposed show of solidarity with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), its leaders and certain informal traders in the Inner City.
This follows claims of incitement to violence against a certain SERI leader, and informal traders doing business along De Villiers Street, alleged against ActionSA MMC for Economic Development, Cllr Nkuli Mbundu.
It is imperative to note that the facts of these events do not support the claims made by SERI. On 27 July Nkuli Mbundu shared a SERI press statement on twitter in order to communicate the City of Johannesburg’s position on the matter. He was in fact doing so to challenge falsehoods communicated by SERI relating to a legal case against the City of Johannesburg. The press statement, produced and placed onto social media by SERI, included the names and contact numbers of their personnel on the press statement.
It was therefore SERI that put the names and contact numbers of their personnel out on twitter and not Nkuli Mbundu. Representatives of SERI made various media appearances and made remarks that many people did not like and, consequently, the contact details on twitter made it possible for people to send messages and threats which are deeply regrettable.
ActionSA does not support any person being threatened or intimidated for the exercise of their constitutionally enshrined freedoms. That being said, it was in fact SERI that put their contact details out on social media and it was SERI that conducted this interview, these two events and any connection between them do not arise from Mbundu or ActionSA.
Any claim that Mbundu shared the statement with the intention to do anything other than speak on behalf of the City of Johannesburg government, of which he is an MMC, is false, malicious and without foundation.
I know all too well what Mbundu is experiencing. Any time a politician seeks to address the challenge of illegal immigration or, in this case, people trading without licenses because they are undocumented foreign nationals, SERI and other organisations come together to attack that politician. It happened to me in 2016 and it is happening to Mbundu now in 2022. In this particular case, the attack against Mbundu has nothing to do with sharing of press statements with contact information, but it has everything to do with SERI and other organisations being opposed to the work that Mbundu is performing around the implementation of the City’s newly approved informal trading policy.
Earlier this year the City of Johannesburg approved an informal trading policy that has been heralded by many, including by informal traders who reasonably expect to see their business environment regulated. Included in this by-law, was a provision that for a person to operate an informal trade, they had to comply with provisions in the by-law, including that they need to be South African citizens, permanent residents or documented foreign nationals in accordance with the Immigration Act 13 of 2002. This was based on national legislation and is, therefore, premised on the commitment to the rule of law upon which ActionSA, the multi-party coalition agreement and every public representative has sworn an oath to uphold.
The truth is that SERI, and other organisations who have jumped onto the bandwagon, are not fans of this policy and its premise on national legislation. They are entirely within their rights to hold these views and to express them and ActionSA will fight for their rights to do so as the Constitution of our country grants as a right to all South Africans. However, when SERI tries to tackle policies and laws they do not like under false claims of victimisation and intimidation, ActionSA will call them out for it using the very same Constitutional freedom entitling us to do so. I would urge SERI that their issue is not with Mbundu, ActionSA or the City of Johannesburg. Their issues lie with national legislation and they should take their concerns to the National Assembly.
Of great disappointment was the manner in which Mayor Phalatse not only failed to stand by Mbundu as her MMC of Economic Development but, through her spokesperson, sought to adopt SERI’s position against Mbundu. ActionSA will take this matter to the national coalition structures because Mayor Phalatse and the DA are bound to a signed coalition agreement which is premised on a commitment to the rule of law and a commitment to address illegal immigration. With the above in mind, it must be understood that Mbundu has acted correctly and within his Council-approved mandate to implement the informal trading by-law.
ActionSA has a track record of holding its public representatives to account for any failure to live up to the values that have produced our organisation. We are, however, equally committed to defending our public representatives when they do what is based on the law and our values, the coalition and ActionSA, and receive undue criticism for it.
The work of fixing South Africa will not always be popular. It will often attract criticism both warranted and unwarranted. However, ActionSA will continue to do what is right because it is actions that will fix South Africa and not words.