African Women Stand their Ground Against Big Coal

Every day Sonto Mabina walks past the dam to get to work. The dam is close to her house. No fence or wall prevents children from playing in the potentially toxic water, or stops the water from overflowing and flooding her house and the community.

For the past week, women from mining communities in South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe have been meeting in Johannesburg to share their experiences, strengthen their networks, map and take the way forward. They have been brought together by WoMin, African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction. They have had enough of environmental devastation, corporate predation, and State violence. They are sick and tired of living and dying in communities and households where everyone is tired, sick, and dying. And they have had enough of being ignored or silenced. They come together to say, Now is the time! They come together to make NOW the time.

In an hour long interview this week, Samantha Hargreaves, Regional Coordinator of WoMin; Nhlanhla Mgomezulu, Coordinator of the Highveld Environment Justice Network; and Susan Chilala, Secretary of the Rural Women’s Assembly, in Zambia, laid out the program. Generally, the women are calling on the State to divert its massive investments in the infrastructure of fossil fuel extraction into alternatives, particularly solar, wind, tidal, and thermal, all plentiful in the Southern African Development Community, SADC, region. All of the countries are already investing great sums of money to make mines happen. The women say: Make something else happen; something sustainable and renewable that will meet the challenge of growing consumption in growing economies.

This diversion would mean that the State would have to reconsider its comfortable relationship with those few who make huge profits at the expense of the many. This would also mean, the women said pointedly, that politicians, such as Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa, would have to address their complicity as shareholders and leaders in the mineral extractives sector.

The majority of the interview describes the impact of coal mining on local communities. Susan Chilala explained that coal mining attacks women small scale farmers most viciously. She described the impact of coal mining on farming and food security. She talked about the impact on women when their space is taken over by an industry that is so deeply male dominated, from top to bottom.

Nhlanhla Mgomezulu described the impact on women in the South African Highveld: “We women are the ones who suffer most.” Women suffer as individuals, in that their own health is endangered by poisoned water, air, and land, but they suffer even more as principal caregivers of the community. When the children are sick, women work more intensively. When the men return from the mines with asthma, kidney failure, tuberculosis, injuries and more, women are work more intensively. And this labor is `free’ and it’s 30 hours a day, 8 days a week, for life. If that’s not slavery … what is?

Last year, Greeenpeace published a report, which looked at Witbank, in Mpumulanga, in which they found that Witbank has the dirtiest air in the world. This is the gift of coal as a mainstay of `development’: “Sonto Mabina … works at a small tuck shop that’s just a short walk from her home in an informal settlement over the train tracks outside Witbank, in Mpumalanga. She’s lived here for 25 years, arriving well before the three coal washeries that now surround her house … Sonto Mabina, or Katerina as she likes to be called, lives with her husband, Andries. Their house has no electricity or water and Katerina uses a coal stove to cook their suppers, the black plumes of smoke clouding their home. A municipal truck brings water once a week, but most say it’s too polluted to drink. If you can afford to, you buy bottled water in this area of the country; if not, you boil it like Sonto does and you hope for the best. `Dust is my main problem,’ she says. `Every time my child goes to the hospital it’s because of the dust. The doctors say his chest is full of it. The doctors asked me where I lived and I told them. My other child also has problems with his nose because it is always running – the dust affects him too.’ It’s an everyday problem here.”

The women who have gathered in Johannesburg are saying NO to that everyday. They are engaging in a public dialogue, breaking down barriers, transforming isolation into community, teaching as they learn, and they are demanding a better present. Not a better future, a better present. They have lived too long with politicians and others ignoring them. They are demanding that the State take climate change, the environment, community health and wellbeing, and women seriously. African women are standing their ground and more. They are organizing and on the move. The time is now!

 

(Photo Credit: Mujahid Safodien / Greenpeace)

African women smallholder farmers haunt the G8 … and The Guardian

In 2012, the G8 launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which, controversially, gave agribusiness a seat at the African farming table, right next to governments and aid donors. Agribusiness had always been there, but now the arrangements of hand holding and pocket filling would be formalized. Despite promises of the `new’, transparency around the arrangements did not increase. If anything, the world of African food security and nutrition transactions became murkier.

This week The Guardian ran a series of articles on the New Alliance. Many see the Alliance as colonialism with a neoliberal face. First, the aid processes become increasingly privatized and imbedded into the workings, and failings, of markets. Second, the contractual and policy decisions are not only made behind closed doors, they’re made in settings that prohibit any direct involvement of smallholder farmers. Neither the Alliance nor The Guardian seems to care that smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are overwhelmingly women. What’s not new here? Millions of women workers rendered invisible … again.

Ten African countries signed agreements that `open’ them to greater foreign direct investment. The countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania. The national commitments involve land and water; seeds; tax; finance; infrastructure; food security or nutrition; and other. Ten countries signed 209 commitments. Of those ten countries, only Benin made any commitments to women, and those two commitments are, at best, vague: “Design and set up a gender-based information and communication system to prompt behavioural change in the agricultural and rural sector.” “Improve how gender is addressed when designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating projects/programmes and activities in the agricultural sector.” As of yet, the progress on these is listed as “Unknown.”

The Guardian reported on Malawian smallholder farmers being kept in the dark on Malawi’s commitments; on Tanzanian smallholder farmers’ concerns that the new alliance will only turn them into cheap labor for the new, large farming corporations; and on Ghanaian smallholder farmers’ mixed reactions. The Guardian doesn’t mention or quote any women smallholder farmers.

Women comprise as much as 80% of African subsistence farmers. In Burkina Faso, gardeners and smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly women. From palm oil production in Benin to cocoa production in Ghana to general smallholder production in Tanzania, women predominate in numbers but not in access to resources or control. In Malawi, women make up almost 70% of the full time farmer population. Every major multinational agency has issued a report on the centrality of women in agriculture to any food security agenda. Repeatedly, reports demonstrate that women constitute the majority of smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and yet have little to no access to land tenure or to State or international assistance. Those reports also suggest that extension services automatically look to men as `change agents.’

Women farmers are a majority of the adult farming population. They are not part of the picture. They are the picture. They are not part of the story. They are the story. When you see the picture, when you read the story, if you don’t see and read about women farmers, write to the authors and tell them, “No women farmers, no justice.”

 

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org)

Where are the women of rural Mozambique?

In an otherwise informative article this past Sunday, the New York Times reported on a rural Mozambique without women. Reporting on the “rural poor…left behind”, and pushed around, by multinational mining and natural gas companies and by the national government, the Times mentioned not a single Mozambican woman. In the accompanying slide show, there’s a slide of “people gathered by a river to bathe, play and wash their dishes”. The `people’ are, not surprisingly, all women and girls. Another slide shows, and names, Beatriz Jose, condemned to living in a tent, thanks to the dismal housing provided by the mining companies. And that’s pretty much it.

Where are the women of rural Mozambique? On the farms and in the countryside of Mozambique, the women are everywhere. Study after study has described the relentless feminization of poverty in rural Mozambique. As one study, conducted for the Mozambican government, explains, “The majority of agricultural workers in Mozambique are women and an increasing number of households are being headed by females.” Eighty percent of Mozambique’s population is rural, and 80% percent of rural workers are women. An exceptionally high number of those rural women workers are divorced, separated or widowed. That means a very large numbers of households are headed by single women. The feminization of poverty has been accompanied by the feminization of household headship. At the same time, women farmers have organized into cooperatives and cooperative associations, such as MuGeDe – Mulher, Genero e Desenvolvimento (Women, Gender and Development).

Thanks to labor migration of men, to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and to women’s organizing on the ground, the lives of women in rural households and in the fields has been constantly changing in Mozambique. Personal and structural, or sectoral, vulnerability has intensified at the same time that women’s formal and informal organizing has intensified. It takes real work to write about rural Mozambique and avoid any mention of women.

And that’s precisely what The New York Times did this weekend.

 

(Photo Credit: UK Department for International Development)

They are neither mules nor witches. They are women.

Janice Bronwyn Linden

Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser. Janice Bronwyn Linden. Sixteen elderly women, unnamed.

On Monday, Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was beheaded by the Saudi Arabian government. The charge was witchcraft and sorcery.

On Monday, Janice Bronwyn Linden was executed, by lethal injection, by the Chinese government. The charge was drug smuggling, of being a `mule.’

On Monday, it was reported that, in one district of one province in Mozambique, from January to November of this year, sixteen elderly women had been accused of witchcraft and then were murdered.

Witches. Mules.

Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser was arrested in 2009. She was in her sixties. The charge was that she engaged in unorthodox healing methods. She charged people as much as $800 a session for … the claim of a cure. There is no way of knowing if this was, indeed, a fraud or if Nasser believed in her methods. She was never given the chance to explain. Instead, she was deemed “a danger to Islam”, and that was that.

Janice Bronwyn Linden was a thirty-five year old South African woman, from KwaZulu Natal, who was arrested in 2008 for smuggling three kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. The South African government tried to intervene, tried to appeal to the Chinese government for clemency. As is the practice in China, Linden was not informed of her impending execution until the morning of the day she was to die. Her family is distraught and despondent. South Africa, at least according to discussions in online forums and newspapers, is divided as to the execution. Many feel Linden deserved her fate. Why? She was a mule. She smuggled drugs into China. She should have known better. She `chose’ her path. She was a mule.

In Mozambique, in the district of Marromeu in the province of Sofala, women elders are under attack. A group of women elders, mulheres da terceira idade, women of the third stage, explained that when young men encounter failure, in work, in school, in life, they blame the elder women, they charge them with witchcraft, and then, filled with righteous indignation, they murder them. The women asked: “Estas situações estão a ser frequentes na nossa sociedade . Será que possuir 50 anos de idade deve constituir motivo para a idosa ser considerada feiticeira e condenada à morte?” “These situations are becoming common in our society. Is being old sufficient reason for being considered a witch and being condemned to death?”

Witches. Mules. These are terms that legitimate the murder of women. And they are terms of the current period, our period. They are the names of what is becoming common in our society. The real story is not crime but women’s power and audacity, “the struggle between orthodox men of the Establishment and an unorthodox woman making claims on forms of social power and authority. Ms. Nasir was low on the social hierarchy but making claims to high status by virtue of magical gifts. She posed not so much a danger to Islam as a danger to the authority of the clerics.”

The real crime is the witch-hunt. Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser. Janice Bronwyn Linden. The sixteen women elders. They are neither witches nor mules. They are women. Remember that.

 

(Photo Credit: South Africa History On Line)