Archives for September 2012

The incandescent women of Marikana


The women of Marikana are marching tomorrow, Saturday, September 22. They have had enough, more than enough, and, as one reporter notes, they are beyond angry. They are incandescent with rage.

They will march as they have marched before, to create a space in which they will be heard, to create a space in which State violence against women, against poor working women, against poor working women’s communities, will end. They will march for peace, they will march for justice, they will march for the incandescent power of their own voices, stories, visions, songs, lives.

Paulina Masuhlo, also known as Pauline Masuthle, will not march with the women. It will be the first time she does not march with them. In the past month, Paulina Masuhlo was often the public face of the women of Marikana. She led the first women’s march after the Marikana massacre.

Masuhlo was an ANC Councillor. She took her job seriously. When the massacre broke out, she met with women in Nkaneng, a cluster of shacks close to Wonderkop. Masuhlo was meeting with women in Nkaneng, when the police swooped down and through the informal settlement. According to eyewitnesses, the police fired rubber bullets, indiscriminately and without provocation. It’s called `a police operation.’ Masuhlo was shot. She died in hospital on Wednesday. The ANC is `shocked’. Others find it `ironic’ that she was shot by the government she represents.

Masuhlo was shot because she was a woman talking with women in Marikana, where everyone is suspect.

This Saturday the women of Marikana will march. Testimony after testimony by Marikana women reveals the fear they live in, they swim and breathe in, as women in Marikana. That same testimony expresses the courage, commitment and organization it takes to tell one’s story … if one is a woman living in Marikana.

Tomorrow the women of Marikana will march, and perhaps incandescent rage will light a path away from death and murder, will light a path to justice.


(Photo Credit: Greg Marinovich/Daily Maverick)


by Ari Sitas

The digital images fold as the TV screen tires
The cops, rifles in cabinet, past their third beer are edging towards bed
The night is quiet as the smelter has been closed,
the only music is of the wind on razor wire
the ears are too shut to hear the ancestral thuds on goatskin
humanity has somehow died in Marikana
who said what to whom remains a detailed trifle
the fury of the day has to congeal, the blood has to congeal
I reverse the footage bringing the miners back to life
in vain, the footage surges back and the first bullet
reappears and the next and the next and the next
and I reverse the footage in vain, again and again in vain

The image of the man in the green shroud endures
Who wove the blanket and what was his name?
There are no subtitles under the clump of bodies, no names
stapled on their unformed skull
A mist of ignorance also endures, a winter fog
woven into the fabric of the kill
The loom endures too, the weaver is asleep
The land of the high winds will receive the man naked
The earth will eat the stitch back to a thread
What will remain is the image and I in vain
Reversing him back to life to lead the hill to song
In vain, the footage surges back
another Mpondo, another Nquza Hill, another Wonder Hill
the shooting quietens: another anthill

My love, did I not gift you a necklace with a wondrous bird
pure royal platinum to mark our bond?- was it not the work of the
most reckless angel of craft and ingenuity? Was it not pretty?
Didn’t the bird have an enticing beak of orange with green tint?
Throw it away quickly, tonight it will turn nasty and gouge
a shaft into your slender neck
And it will hurt because our metals are the hardest- gold, pig iron, manganese
yes, platinum
Humanity has somehow died in Marikana

What is that uMzimu staring back at us tonight?
Darken the mirrors
Switch off the moon
Asphalt the lakes
At dawn, the driveway to the Master’s mansion
Is aflame with flower, so radiant from the superphosphates
of bone
of surplus oxygen and cash,
such flames, such a raw sun
such mourning by the shacks that squat in sulphur’s bracken
and I wait for the storm, the torrent, the lava of restitution
the avenger spirits that blunt the helicopter blades in vain

these also endure: the game and trout fishing of their elective chores
the auctions of diamond, art and share
the prized stallions of their dreams
their supple fingers fingering oriental skins and their silver crystals
counting the scalps of politicians in their vault

The meerkat paces through the scent of blood
I want it to pace through the scent of blood,
she is the mascot, the living totem
of the mine’s deep rock,
the one who guards the clans from the night’s devil
she is there as the restless ghosts of ancestors
by the rock-face
feeding her sinew and pap

goading her on:
the women who have loved the dead alive
the homesteads that have earned their sweat and glands
impassive nature that has heard their songs
the miners of our daily wealth that still defy
the harsh landscape of new furies
the meerkat endures-
torn certainties of class endure
the weaver also endures: there-
green blankets of our shrouded dreams
humanity has died in Marikana

The strike is over
The dead must return
to work

*(after a tough two weeks and seeing Pitika’s miner sculpture with the green corrugated iron blanket)

Ari Sitas


(Photo Credit:

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.

Over two years ago, we wrote about `seclusion rooms’. These are solitary confinement spaces in schools across the United States. More often than not, they’re closets or utility rooms, anything small and tight with a lock on the outside. That is not seclusion. That is torture.

And of course, `of course’, the subjects of this practice are overwhelmingly children living with disabilities. Children like Jonathan King, who, at 13, hanged himself in a Georgia seclusion room. Or the 12-year-old girl living with autism, or the seven-year-old girl living with autism and bipolar disorder.

Or, as described in yesterday’s New York Times, Rose, who, in kindergarten, was locked into seclusion rooms for hours … at five years of age. Her `problem’? Rose had `speech and language delays’. For which she was thrown into a closed, dark space for an hour or so at a time.

Rose’s father reports she was deeply traumatized. The school system, in Lexington, Massachusetts, has agreed, or been forced by a lawsuit settlement, to pay for Rose’s treatment.

Seclusion rooms, screaming rooms, school based solitary confinement can be found in Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Florida, Ohio. Georgia banned seclusion rooms … `thanks’ to Jonathan King. How many children? How many children must suffer? How many children must then be given `the gift’ of post-traumatic treatment? For how long?

While this issue addresses all children, and all people, it strikes at the heart of citizenship for those living with disabilities. Billions of dollars of profit are generated every year from the care provided for those living with disabilities. Those who care for those living with disabilities are overworked, underpaid, and always under-esteemed. Billions are stolen from their labor and lives.

At the same time that billions of dollars of profit are generated, there isn’t enough money to provide decent, humane treatment? No. This is the production of vulnerability writ large on small bodies. In the United Kingdom, Ellen Clifford, of Disabled People Against the Cuts, DPAC, knows this lesson all too well. In Nigeria, Patience Ogolo, of Advocacy for Women with Disabilities Initiative, AWWDI, does as well. So does Marsha M. Linehan, a psychologist at the University of Washington who, as an adolescent, suffered and barely survived seclusion rooms. Only now, many decades later, can she finally share the stories of her life in the cells.

These women know that the State that treats any group as disposable is worse than a failed or a rogue state. It’s criminal.

The claim of State poverty as an alibi for physical, emotional and psychological harm against people living with disabilities is a crime. The suggestion that there isn’t enough money or resources is a lie and a crime. And the lie and the crime are framed within a political economy of vulnerability, in which it is presumed that the vulnerable cannot speak or act for themselves.

They can, and they do. And they know that the question of who lives and who dies has been taken over by the question of who lives well and who lives in hell, under constant attack.

End the war on children living with disabilities. End it now.


(Image Credit: Ward Zwart / New York Times)


The European Union, France and the attacks on the Roma: who’s next?

Members of the Roma community in a camp in Lyons, 2010

Members of the Roma community in a camp in Lyons, 2010

When, in 2007, the European Union opened its membership to Eastern European countries, it only left the door ajar. As Renault or other European corporations had welcomed the entrance of Eastern European countries into the Union, seeing the potential for reserve of cheap labor, the promise of a “we stand together European citizenry” of these new members did not apply to the Roma, who are European citizens. In eight European Countries including France, the Roma have been under work restrictions, with only 150 types of work or “métiers” opened to them. Moreover, an employer who would like to hire a Roma would have to pay a monthly 700€ (about $900) flat tax on salary, a huge deterrence to employment.

This summer, despite the recent formation of a French socialist government, which includes a few Europe Ecology ministers, under the presidency of François Hollande, the policies of removal of Roma camps from some sites in France, a practice started by Sarkozy and opposed at the time by one François Hollande, have been reenacted under the aegis of Manuel Valls, the minister of the interior.

These removals triggered a series of criticism, including from other members of the government such as Cecile Duflot (Europe Ecology) who pointed out the counterproductive nature of such actions that push already stigmatized population toward more precariousness.

Martine Aubry, socialist mayor of Lille, one of the cities where Roma were evicted, was reported to be furious at M. Valls for having engaged in this action without any consultation with her or her administration.  She also emphasized that it was a serious breach in the work that her city has done to welcome the Roma. This work included construction of camps, with three more being built when the police dislodged the Roma from unofficial sites.

M.Valls claimed that the camps were unauthorized and therefore unlawful, adding that the law of the republic had to prevail. However, the laws have consistently ignored the reality of life for the Roma community and have targeted them as scapegoats by describing a surge of Roma population that would occur if they were to be `unleashed’.

The `surge’ of Roma in France amounts to 15 000 people. That number has remained stable for years despite the politics of expulsions, according to anthropologist Martin Oliviera, a member of the European Observatory Urban-Rom who works in a suburb of Paris. He adds that the Roma are not nomadic, as the cliché supports. He emphasized that their vocation is not to gush, or spill, westward “as if Europe was slanted.”

The politics of exclusion, on the other hand, are slanted. They are part of a capitalist framework that has evolved to a new neo liberal order that plays out to build (or to generate) the “vulnerable” that becomes the “filthy” as the politics of exclusion grows, and the French socialists are themselves entangled in this. The impediments to living and working for the Roma are in place. Unquestionably, various critics forced the government to make a gesture: the tax on salary was removed and the number of Métiers authorized increased. But it is too little and will not produce the real support that the Roma need.

So now, many are being rendered vulnerable under the same framework. Many are in the streets with no sense of belonging. This is not about charity for the Roma. It is about living in resistance to an order that we have allowed to be ours.


(Photo Credit: Libération / Jeff Pachoud / AFP)


Vagina Dialogues – How Will Africa Answer?

On Wednesday I heard the voice, and saw the face of courage. It was embodied in a young woman called Aminatta*. At the age of four, Aminatta’s maternal uncle raped her. At six, he asked her to open his zip, remove his trousers, then again raped her. He convinced her later that it was not rape, she had opened the zip and removed his trousers even though it was at his bidding. When Aminatta turned 12, her uncle would send invitations for her through her mother to come and visit during the holidays. Her constant refusals were met with yells from her mother for this man who was trying to be her father figure, ‘this brother of mine who has done so much for you and loves you like his own.’ At his house, while his wife was at work and his children were in their private school, Aminatta’s uncle would get her to watch pornographic movies and re-enact what she saw in the movies on him. Years later, Aminatta found out that 24 of her cousins had also been raped by this man. When Aminatta suggested pressing charges, her whole family thought that she was insane. ‘He is a breadwinner,’ an aunt said to her. ‘He is the man of the house’ her granny quipped, ‘what would happen to the family if Aminatta and any of her twenty four cousins pressed charges?’

Aminatta is alive; Aminatta survived; but Aminatta has never got justice.

It occurred to me that I know many Aminatta’s. Aminatta is the fourteen year old young woman at a school workshop in South Africa who has two children by the school teacher. Her mother has turned down many any activist’s help to press charges against this man for statutory rape because he looks after his children, he buys the family groceries, and if he goes to prison the R200 per child the South African Social Welfare grants per child per month will not be enough to sustain the whole family.

Aminatta is my Zimbabwean cousin who was raped by her father so that he could cleanse himself of AIDS because she was a virgin. His daughter would later give birth to her brother. The whole village knew about it, but no-one did anything about it because he was not only the oldest man in the family but also the sole breadwinner. And what would have happened to his two wives and eight children if he went to prison?

Aminatta is the young girl in Samburu whose mother may know the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation but who will ensure her daughter gets the cut because she does not want to be ostracized by her community or get chased away by her husband. Aminatta is the girl who will be married off at the age of twelve to a fifty year old man who has three other wives because he has enough cattle to give to her father.

It is because of the Aminatta I met on Wednesday and the many Aminatta’s on this continent, that the launch of V- African Summit: Africa Rising in Nairobi this week was an idea worth it’s time. With activists from 28 African countries, the summit also had playwright and activist Eve Ensler. Ensler is the brains behind V-Day initiatives through her Vagina Monologues, and the Monologues as many know, have been staged worldwide for the last 15 years to raise funds to curb violence against women and children.

But it may also be because of Aminatta and the many Aminatta’s that, if V-African Summit is to succeed, violence against women and children will need to stop being something that happens among gender activists at hotels but needs to go into the public domain. Africa will have to examine the socio-economic conditions that allow Aminatta’s mother and women like her to see her child being violated but ignore it because if the perpetrator of violence goes, there will be no-one to look after the family. Africa will have to question utterances by leaders like South African President Zuma that imply a woman is incomplete when she is without a man and therefore may force women into marriages because it is what is expected of a woman. Africa will have to hold accountable women leaders like Zimbabwean Vice President Joyce Mujuru when she states that she knew her husband was sleeping with other women but she was married to him and she would advise her daughter to stay too, despite the dangers, under similar circumstances. African women will have to explain to our daughters why we tell them to go back to their women-bashing, emotionally abusive husbands. We will have to explain to our sons why we allow them to mistreat their women but complain about being mistreated by their fathers.

That day is coming soon because the V-Day movement, if a look at other countries and continents where it has been is an indication, seems to reach out to the grassroots in a way most movements do not.

And when that day comes, it will be interesting to hear Africa’s answer.


(This was originally posted at Zukiswa Wanner. Thanks to Zukiswa for permission to cross-post, and for her collaborative work and labour.)

Hamba Kahle Sister Bernard Ncube

Sister Bernard Ncube

Sister Bernard Ncube
died on August 31 – the last day of Women’s Month in South Africa. I am overcome with sadness although I know that she lived a full and rich life. I got to know Sister Bernie in 1995 when I volunteered as her aide in Parliament. A mutual friend introduced us, thinking I might be helpful to her in her new position in Parliament and the Constitutional Assembly. It was the heady first year of the new ANC-led Parliament under the historic leadership of President Nelson Mandela. The ANC bench was filled with heroes of the struggle like Sister Bernie whose years in prison or exile were not far behind them. They served side by side with poets, journalists, academics – intellectuals who had been the voice of the liberation movement.

Sister Bernie and her comrades had vision and conviction but not necessarily much experience legislating. As a lobbyist for a social justice organization in the US, I suppose the thought was I could instruct her in the legislative process, but for the nearly six months I worked in Sister Bernie’s high ceilinged office in the Victoria Building, I was the learner. She was the one who taught.

She explained how the church tried several times to excommunicate her for being, variously: anti-white, anti-male, anti-church. This came after I asked how she was able to continue in her Catholic order given her views on abortion, and other issues. Sister Bernie laughed and told me she countered every accusation leveled at her with words from scripture, completely confounding her detractors. She also explained that she had seen too many women in hospitals bleed to death from botched, illegal abortions. She could not continue to support a policy that quite simply endangered women’s lives. And that’s what this tiny nun, with her white habit on her head, told the Parliamentary committee considering liberalization of the harsh, Apartheid-era anti-abortion laws.

Just as she cared about women, so too did she love children. Her dream was to build a child care center near where she grew up that would offer comprehensive services for young children, their mothers, and grandmothers in a totally secure environment. I don’t know if the center was ever built, but I know that she had plans over which she pored and studied with great enthusiasm.

She loved her family – her parents whom I met in Soweto once when the two of us were in Johannesburg for a large conference with religious leaders on the Constitution – her siblings and their children and was very proud of their successes.

In the end, it may have been true that Sister Bernard wasn’t initially sure about the legislative jargon and technicalities as a brand new Parliamentarian who’d had no orientation or preparation whatsoever. But it was also true that she needed no tutoring or introduction to the issues. She was passionate about doing the right thing — about making sure that she effectively spoke up for women, children, non-violence, and equality. She wasn’t a firebrand who made long impassioned speeches or sought the limelight — she was far too humble for that — but she spoke up for her causes and worked behind the scenes. Although she was a loyal ANC member when I met her, she was candid about her frustration with the politics and posturing that slowed down the process of building a new South Africa and implementing the ideals of the RDP. She preferred serving her assigned constituency, interacting directly with real people and problems. It was no surprise to me that she became mayor of the West Rand municipality in Johannesburg in 2002.

The South African news media and President Zuma took note of Sister Bernard Ncube’s passing and, many miles away, I sat at my computer and cried, remembering a remarkable woman who taught so much.


(Photo Credit: SABC)

Not On Our Land: Land Recovery Kicks Off in Honduras

Vallecito, Honduras

Carla Garcia
Introduction by Beverly Bell and Lauren Elliott

In what many indigenous people call a “second coming of Columbus,” globalization and its twin offspring of resource exploitation and mega development threaten the survival of indigenous and small-farming communities all over our world. But as widespread as the threat is the response by organized peoples. The strategies for stopping the destruction of their land, claiming their rights to it, and protecting their way of life are diverse – land occupations, protests, and legal claims. Though movements are challenged at every step and are still on the defensive, victories in their own communities dot the world map. Meanwhile, they are gathering strength through cross-border alliances.

In Honduras, 300 leaders of the Afro-Indigenous Garífuna people are saying, “Not on our land.” On Monday, they and their allies around the world launched the Land Recovery Campaign in the village of Vallecito which, with 2,500 acres, is the largest single landholding of the Garífuna people. There, they are occupying land that has been taken from them to build mega-tourism projects.

“In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land,” says Carla Garcia, a human rights organizer with the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras, OFRANEH.

In 2009, the Honduran elite backed a military coup d’état in an effort to suppress the strengthening grassroots movements for land reform and indigenous sovereignty. The US government went on to tacitly support the coup regime even though WikiLeak documents show it knew the coup was illegal and unconstitutional. [i] Since the coup, developers have been emboldened to take land from small-farming and indigenous communities. When communities have peacefully resisted these land grabs, they’ve faced intimidation and assassinations. Just this month, the Garífuna community of Trujillo awakened one morning to find their fresh-water lagoon – their main water source – poisoned, with all the life of the lagoon floating dead at the surface.

Just this morning OFRANEH wrote to their international allies about the ongoing intimidation in Vallecito,where their Defense of the Land campaign is underway.

“Another long night of machine gun fire and armed men entering the Garífuna camp in Vallecito… Despite owning titles to six cooperatives, the Garifunas is unable to exercise their right to this property…”

Below, Carla Garcia speaks about the ongoing land struggle in the Garífuna communities. An open conference call with Carla and OFRANEH’s president Miriam Miranda from the occupation in Vallecito will take place on Wednesday, August 29 at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. To get information on joining this call or to offer financial support to OFRANEH, contact Stephen Bartlett of Agricultural Missions at or (502) 896-9171. Please consider calling Honduran government officials and asking them to ensure the safety of the campaign participants – in the past two days international pressure has proven essential.

For 215 years we have lived in harmony with the environment. We know that without land we have no future.

We’ve taken care of our surroundings and now our region is really desirable. Economically powerful men and women want to build [what we call] ‘industry without smokestacks,’ the tourist industry, here. Our titles say that Garífuna land is nontransferable because it is common land. It doesn’t belong to any one person. So through deceit and fraud, [developers have] acquired Garífuna land for tourism development, but it’s not development that’s benefiting the surrounding community.

OFRANEH has been working principally with land issues for more than 30 years. Today we’re well-organized. We struggle, we fight, we write letters and try to tell people about our struggle. Even during the coup d’état, OFRANEH never stopped protesting.

But the coup taught us a big lesson. It taught us to fear. If they could do that to the president, what could they do to us? But we also learned that fear won’t get us anywhere, and now people are back to protesting, fighting for their rights, stronger than ever.

But there is so much maneuvering… They [the government and developers] try to weaken us from one side and then the other but we’re going to keep fighting.

We have a problem with the Charter City, which is going to be inside Garífuna land. They say that region is sparsely populated, but there are about 20,000 of us living there. Twenty thousand Garífunas would have to leave and find somewhere else to live, only coming back when the Charter City is built to see if they can work there. There is one community with many elderly people who wouldn’t be able to work in the Charter City.

There was a project to build a dock for cruise ships supported by the government. The president even came to inaugurate it. They chose to develop in Rio Negro, where the land was titled individually. The people were pressured to sell their plots, told that if they didn’t, tourism and development would never come to their community. They were paid a small amount for their land and promised jobs and 10% of the profits of the dock after it was built. [Then, the developers] fenced off the beach and wouldn’t let the community of Rio Negro access it. For a community that lives off fishing and the ocean, not having access to the beach is a huge problem in terms of basic subsistence. Today, the dock project hasn’t even started. This is an example of problems the whole Garífuna community is facing.

The government is also taking away our right to be Garífunas. It’s a great way for the government to keep taking our land, by making us disappear as a people with a culture. They want to categorize us as “African-descent.” We reject the term because we have our indigenous mother. We’re Afro-Indigenous. We’re Garífuna.

Nobody is going to give up here. In each community we have Defense of the Land Committees. And through community radio, people can now open their eyes and see what’s happening in their communities. Through the radio we’re saying, “We’re against those that sell their land, we’re against those that buy land. We are starting international proceedings [against those taking our land].” Before it was very difficult to communicate this to everyone.

Last year we started legal proceedings against Randy Jorgensen [one of the major developers on Garífuna land] because his purchase of Garífuna lands has no legal basis. We’re also prosecuting the Garífuna people and community leaders that sell their land. We don’t want them to go to jail, but we do want them to learn their lesson and for our children and young people to learn that we have to take care of our land.

But we have many deficiencies because we don’t have enough money to do everything. Our poverty marks the difference between us and our aggressors. We are forced to struggle precisely because we’re poor. The government has money, foreign investors have money. We have our mission: we’re from the people, with the people, for the people and any organization that doesn’t have that mission is not one with whom we relate.

Well, we know the people of the United States have the same cultural value that we do: open doors, where everyone can live in communion and solidarity. However, just like we have people in our communities that are undesirable, so too does the US. There are people there with a lot of money, to whom destroying a community or a way of life matters very little. And we know, even as we go to the US to make international demands against Washington, that the people of the US can help us. We need you to tell people that we’re having problems. And not just us; this is happening to all the African and Indigenous communities of Latin America. Don’t stay quiet.

The Garífuna community is very strong, always. In strength, [indigenous] men and women left [their original land in] Orinoco because of fights with other tribes and went to San Vicente [where the Garífuna people originated] to survive. In strength, our African men escaped from their slave ships and came to San Vicente. In strength, the Garífuna community fought the French and the English. In strength, the Garífuna community in Honduras fought to defend the country against invasion and, in strength, the Garífuna community fights today to defend our land.


Many thanks to Tim Burke for volunteering his time to transcribe and translate this and many other interviews.

This was first published at Other Worlds. Thanks to Beverly Bell and Lauren Elliott of permission to cross-post and for their collaborative work and labor.

(Photo Credit: Other Worlds)