My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one!

 


There’s an uprising, once again, in Pondoland, on the eastern coast of South Africa, and, as before, it concerns the violence brought on local populations by the State and its international partners, all in the name of `development’ and national improvement. This time the “resistance is distinguished by the prominence of women.”

Nonhle Mbuthuma has grown up in the struggle for a decent and better life, and for a State where one can’t say, “There’s too much `democracy’ in this democracy.” Her story goes back a ways.

From 1960 to 1962, the `peasants’ of Pondoland waged a mighty revolt against the Bantu Authorities Act and, more generally, against the ravages of apartheid on rural populations. Almost immediately after the Mpondo Revolt, Govan Mbeki researched, wrote and published South Africa: The Peasants’ Revolt, which showed the centrality of peasant and rural struggles to the national aspirations for emancipation and justice. Mbeki ended the chapter “Resistance and Rebellion” prophetically: “The Pondos paid dearly for their failure to ensure the safety and security of their forces at the height of the struggle. And in this they were not alone. Zululand and Zeerust suffered similarly, although on a smaller scale. But the people do not bear sufferings, such as they bore when the army occupied the Transkei, without becoming steeled in their determination to regroup, re-examine their methods of struggle, develop new ones, and retain the spirit that seeks forever for freedom.”

That was 1964. Forty years later, in 2004, mining companies began applying for permission to mine in the Mgungundlovu area of Amadiba Tribal Adminstrative Area in Pondoland. The area, also known as Xolobeni, boasts the second highest diversity of flora in South Africa, one of 26 places on earth with such a rich concentration of species. It’s commonly described as gorgeous, pristine and heavenly.

Local residents have been involved in developing eco-tourist sites, but the prospect of mining threatens everything. At first, people thought the mines could bring jobs and services, but discussions with other communities and the behavior of mining corporations soon disabused many of that notion. And so, in 2007, residents formed the Amadiba Crisis Committee.

The State claims the mines are good for business, even though this particular mine will only be open for 25 years, and then the agricultural and environmental economies will just have to work it out … again. Good for whose business?

The Committee argues for the environment, due process, Constitutional rights, respect for the graves of the elders, sustainable economic development. From the Committee’s inception to today, Nonhle Mbuthuma has been a leader. Throughout, Mbuthuma has taught that the Constitution protects everyone, and especially rural people because of their histories of struggle.

In 2009, Nonhle Mbuthuma made clear that an assault on the land is an assault on the people’s history: “Asilufuni Uphuhliso lwenu! [We don’t want your development!] […] If this mining takes place and the government issues a licence in this area, there will be war. There will be an uprising as it was in the [last] Mpondo Revolt.”

And this is today: “My forefathers died for this land. If I’m going to die, I’ll not be the first one.”

The Pondo Uprising continues to cast more than a long shadow across South Africa and beyond. It lives, inspired and informed by young women, like Nonhle Mbuthuma, who carry it forward and retain the spirit that seeks forever freedom.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / Nzamo Dlamini) (Video Credit: Ryley Grunenwald / Vimeo)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.