Abahlali BaseMjondolo University

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= University of Abahlali BaseMjondolo

URL = http://abahlali.org/university-of-abahlali-basemjondolo/



"Abahlali has been an intellectually serious project from the beginning. Among the banners painted in Kennedy Road while people were singing against the army who were occupying the settlement the night before the second big march on Councillor Baig back in 2005 was a key slogan – the "University of Kennedy Road". After that a "University of Foreman Road" was declared when Foreman Road attempted to march on Mayor Obed Mlaba in defiance of an illegal march ban, and were beaten back with severe police violence, and then a "University of Abahlali baseMjondolo". When Abahlali marched, (entirely peacefully and to put a reasoned position) into the University of the state under this banner in late 2006 a number of 'left' intellectuals, in the precise manner of the state, declared them criminal in the national press! At that moment it was clear that competing elites in the state and the institutionalised left were united on the position that the poor should not think their own politics and that doing so, no matter how calmly, peacefully and rationally, rendered the movement 'out of order' and even criminal. Abahlali's intellectual project is founded on the decision that "when order means the silence of the poor then it is good to be out of order".


"2005 in Durban, South Africa, where some of the inhabitants of the tin-roofed shacks of the city created a blockade on Kennedy Road to protest the sale of land originally promised to the poor for building homes, but subsequently offered to a commercial developer. The efforts of those living in these shacks have grown into “Abahlali baseMjondolo,” the shack-dwellers movement.

What’s unusual about this social movement is that they’ve created their own university as a space for the creation of knowledge about survival, hope and transformation, where the shack dwellers themselves are the scholars, the professors and the teachers. They create and share knowledge through song, ‘live action debates’ and discussions, and document this knowledge in a web-based archive.

In each of these two stories, knowledge is central. Knowledge is the star of each drama. Knowledge is dynamic, and actively engaged with social, political and cultural change. The Mpambo Multiversity’s mother-tongue scholars are stimulating an unprecedented reawakening of Afrikan spiritual knowledge and sharing in Uganda. The shack dwellers of Durban and beyond have taken the word ‘university’ as their own, and turned the hierarchies of knowledge upside down in the service of justice for the poor.

These innovators have facilitated various ways of creating, sharing and accessing knowledge that are not part of the western canon, which is seen as inadequate. The contexts, conditions and politics of knowledge in these cases called for an opening outwards of comfortable assumptions about whose knowledge counts, and how life and knowledge are related to each other.

We use the term “knowledge democracy” to refer to this process of opening-up. Knowledge democracy acknowledges the existence of multiple epistemologies or ways of knowing, including organic, spiritual and land-based systems, frameworks arising from social movements, and the knowledge of marginalized and excluded people everywhere - or what is sometimes referred to as “subaltern knowledge.”

In this approach, knowledge is both created and represented in multiple forms including text, images, numbers, stories, music, drama, poetry, ceremony, meditation and more. Also explicit is the conviction that knowledge is a powerful tool for taking action to deepen democracy and struggle more effectively for a fairer and healthier world. Knowledge democracy intentionally links the values of democracy in action to the processes of creating and using knowledge." (https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/budd-hall-rajesh-tandon/no-more-enclosures-knowledge-democracy-and-social-transformat)

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