The Anglican Church in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province has awarded its Order of the Holy Nativity to the head of a shack-dwellers' movement for being a "beacon of dignity and hope" – writes Munyaradzi Makoni.
The Bishop of Natal, Rubin Phillip, who is also the chairperson of KwaZulu-Natal Council of Christian Churches, lauded S'bu Zikode for his exemplary fight for shack-dwellers, despite attacks intended to evict the residents of a settlement called Kennedy Road in Durban.
Zikode is the elected president of the shack-dwellers' movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo or AbM, as it is known. "Abahlali" is the isiZulu language word for residents who have no option except to live in a shack.
Bishop Philip announced a week before Christmas that Zikode had demonstrated that the poor can and must speak for themselves, adding that the Order of the Holy Nativity - given in defence of human rights - reflects the contemporary reality of Jesus' birth in a shack, mirroring the suffering currently experienced by inhabitants of informal settlements.
"The award is a way of recognising the good work Abahlali is doing through its leader S'bu Zikode," Bishop Phillip said.
Zikode, who leads the shack-dwellers movement, was forced to go into hiding when a vigilante mob linked to local politicians from the ruling African National Congress attacked the inhabitants at Kennedy Road on 26 and 27 September 2009 forcing him to flee.
The shack-dwellers first broke away from supporting the ANC in 2005 when they demonstrated for better delivery of promised services. To gain attention they turned to grassroots activism as ANC supporters did during the apartheid era. This annoyed the local ANC leadership.
Zikode, who is the first non-Anglican to win the award since it started in 2003, gained national attention in September when he said, "My appeal is that leaders who are concerned about peoples' lives must come and stay at least one week in the 'jondolos' [shacks].
"They must feel the mud. They must share six toilets with 6,000 people," Zikoe wrote in an article in Johannesburg's Star newspaper. "They must dispose of their own refuse while living next to the dump."
Zikode said in the article, "During the struggle prior to 1994 there were only two levels, two classes - the rich and the poor. Now, after the election, there are three classes - the poor, the middle class and the rich. The poor have been isolated from the middle class. We are becoming poorer and the rest are becoming richer. We are on our own. We are completely on our own."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]