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Kampung Berembang Struggle : The Story of Malaysian Unity

Kampung Berembang receiving their keys to their new house in Berembang Indah from the Selangor Menteri Besar on 18/7/2012 at 3pm was the email from a fellow comrade who said that the Chairperson of the Berembang committee has sent a sms inviting us. This message immediately stirred my memories on the various fights and confrontations we had in Kampung Berembang since end of 2006 -2007 to defend the houses of the urban settlers there. A struggle and fight that united various people from different backgrounds and ethnicities to defend the houses of the poor and oppressed.
Kampung Berembang, an urban settler village located in Ampang , where most of the residents are from the Malay ethnicity. Until then though we have known that the Malaysian government oppresses all poor people no matter what race , but it  was my first experience seeing people from the Malay community being evicted with such cruelty. The first eviction exercise happened on the 17 November 2006, right after Friday prayers and UMNO General Assembly. The irony was most of the villagers are strong UMNO supporters. But even that did not stop the BN State nor federal government from demolishing the houses.  The people however were clear; though they were supporters and members but they did not allow the party they support to violate their rights. The people from the village defended the Kampung with all they had, and we from JERIT with residents from Kampung Papan , and other villages stood with the people to stop the demolishment. The confrontation was so strong and intense that the Majlis Perbandaran Ampang Jaya could only break 1 and a half house from 3pm – 6pm. The authorities gave up and left, but we knew they will be back on Monday.
Smses were sent out to get as many people to come from all over the country to come help defend the houses of the poor people of Kampung Berembang. It was an era before Facebook or Twitter.  Anyway why the struggle to stop the eviction, what was the demand of the people ? The demand of the Kampung Berembang folks was minimum, own house, flats also okay, but no transit house. The state government was supposed to build low cost flats in a nearby project called Berembang Indah. However, the developer was not moving on that project as the land in Ampang was too lucrative to waste it with low cost houses. Thus houses were not ready for people to buy and the state government with the developer Acmar International, decided to evict the people of that land and send them to PPR houses in Puchong which are temporary rental houses. Residents were against this idea as they will only move if Berembang Indah flats were ready.
On the 20th November 2006, many people from all walks of life came to defend Kampung Berembang. Members of JERIT, PSM, DEMA and FNB, from PAS, PKR, PERMAS, KOMAS, SUARAM and many other groups and also urban settlers from different villages came to defend Kampung Berembang. Even comrades from Perak and Penang came down to fight the eviction.  It was a tensed situation from morning as about 10am MPAJ officers marched in and the villagers and the activists had a direct clash with the MPAJ officers to stop them from moving in. In that clash about 3 JERIT activists were arrested with a few villagers. The fight put up by the people, activists and youngsters was so intense that MPAJ retreated and there was negotiation with the developer’s lawyer and also PKNS lawyer. But the developer was so adamant to break the houses and the BN Selangor government was fully with them. But the people even the kids of the village refused to budge as they were adamant in stopping the eviction. At last the developer had no choice, but to bring in the police, FRU and many were arrested from JERIT, PSM, DEMA, FNB , Kampung Papan and also the residents before MPAJ could tear down all the houses.
In the police station the situation was so inspiring, cause the police were confused, how come in the demolition of a Malay Kampung, many people from Indian and Chinese ethnicity were arrested. This was really a time where I felt truly Malaysian as people from different ethnicities united to defend the poor people’s house no matter which ethnic the belonged to. The unity of the oppressed class was so clear in Kampung Berembang.
Back  to the demolition, after the MPAJ demolished the houses, people erected tent like structures to continue to defend their village and the right to their own housing. An immediate protest was also held in SUK against the demolition. I still remember it was raining heavily, but the villagers, activists and many normal people who cannot stand the injustice in Kampung Berembang stood strong and demanded an answer from the state government for the cruelty. However, all we got was an officer collecting the memorandum and nothing else from the state government. This was a clear indication for the people, it is their struggle and they have to fight it. The state is with the developer.
Few days after the demolition, as people started erecting their tents and rebuilding the houses, MPAJ and the developer came again. This time it was to demolish the surau where many of the children and women were taking shelter. This was so cruel and was unimaginable as police and FRU entered the Surau with shoes hitting the kids and women forcing them to leave the Surau so that is can demolished. Many would think only temples were demolished in this country, but again Kampung Berembang was an example, doesn’t matter temple or Surau, once the capitalist want the land, anything can be demolished. During this demolishing process also many people were arrested , before they could demolish the surau.  The people always put up a strong resistance before any demolition. The surau was demolished, and the developer thought the people will leave.
But nope, the developer and the state government might have won the battle but the war was far from over. The villagers rebuilt their house and constantly fought the developers and authorities. People leafleted in the whole of Selangor and Kampung Berembang became a national issue. In the kampong, youths, women and even kids were becoming more aware of their rights and were becoming politically conscious of their rights.  Constant confrontation took place with Acmar International, MPAJ, police and even gangsters but the spirit of the people was very strong
 Then came March 2007, where the last fight for Berembang happened, where after many police reports and actions, the MPAJ backed out and this time Acmar International came with gangsters , police and RELA. The fight was intense, and the people did not give up, but the machines and authorities were more powerful and yes the houses were demolished and the developer fenced up the land erecting barriers around it. The people were locked out of their land. Many thought the struggle of Kampung Berembang is over as the dust has settled after the demolition. But the villagers thought otherwise. They camped outside the land and decided to build houses and stay there until their demands for permanent housing was met.
This strong spirit from the people was amazing and many groups and concerned people continued to support the Berembang struggle. The people were also politically educated in this whole process, and elections came and went in 2008, the BN state government fell and was replaced by the Pakatan Rakyat. Yes, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, where the Pakatan Rakyat government promised to build their houses in Berembang Indah.
However, that did not happen immediately as there was many glitches and resistance by the developer Acmar International. However the people’s strong spirit and constant push to the state government has enabled the house to be finally ready and yes they got their keys on 19/7/2012. Many people who already left the Kampung before the fight also got their keys, but I guess the people who fought and camped outside the land for the past 5 years can be proud that their fight enabled the Berembang Indah flats to be completed.
As I attended the function of the handing over the keys, I could see the old makciks were smiling happily and feel relieved that finally their house is ready. Villagers young and old as they see us from JERIT remember us and the look in their eyes shows that they are glad that finally their struggle bore fruit.  One of them hugged me and I could feel her happiness and gratitude as we were with them all along their struggle. Another villager blessed me and the youngsters were happy to see us and kept on asking why the other JERIT, DEMA and FNB members were not there. Many people still remembered all the names who were there fighting alongside with them though we are not from the same race or religion but they treat us like a family member.  Arul from PSM was so popular even the youngsters who were kids then were competing to take photos with him.
The feeling that day was relieve and happiness for me. I was glad it was over for them. They do not need to stay in camps and temporary houses below the electricity line anymore as their new house that they fought so hard was ready. The struggle of Kampung Berembang has reached the last chapter with a happy ending. But the thoughts about the fight and memories about the struggle are still fresh in mind. This community and many communities during the struggle of Kampung Berembang learned a great lesson that in the time of need and struggle, no matter what race or religion you belong to, people will unite to assist another poor community to defend their rights.  For many new activists today BERSIH showed them the unity of Malaysia, but for me the  struggle and memories in Kampung Berembang is the one that reiterated the believe that we can unite despite our different background as we build a better Malaysia and world as only the poor and oppressed will understand the importance and meaning of unity.

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