Black Looks: 12th January, 2010

Tuesday 12th January 2010 began like all other weekdays in the Dol house hold.  The children, all in their teens,  woke at 5.30am and in the half sleep readied themselves quietly and left for school in the truck. By the time they reached the main road at the bottom of the steep hill they were wide awake.  Much later Rea and her husband Bato woke and they too readied themselves with Rea giving instructions and answering the never ending phone calls all the way to the school which at 9am was in full swing.  600 children K-12 children the youngest 3 years and the oldest 20+. For so many children, the school, in the which is housed in the former home of a Tontons Macoute, is a small space.  The front compound is just large enough to kick a ball around. The space is shared with Rea’s truck and the three or four women traders selling ice pops and sweets.  At the rear there is another smaller play area and what was once a swimming pool now filled with packed dirt.    The building is on two floors with most of the classrooms upstairs arranged in a maze of large and small rooms, all open to the elements and each other.  On the ground floor there are the staff rooms, the main office and a large temporary extension which houses the kindergarten classes.
The constant low buzz of 600 children reaches a crescendo at 11am when the school breaks in relays for lunch of beans and rice.  For many this is their one meal of the day.   The lunch is cooked by four women who arrive at the school at 5am. The beans are left to soak overnight and then cooked in a stew with vegetables in huge pots along with the rice.   The whole feeding process is takes about an hour from start to finish.  The children line up, youngest first, to wash their hands then turn left and pick up a spoon and plate. The food itself is eaten in about 10 minutes. Those not in line or eating play screech, jump and teachers shout instructions and beware anyone who gets in the way of the whole process.  Rea is on constant call to visitors and students with various requests, dealing with mishaps, arguments and enquires.   Most days she leaves the school between 3 and 3.30 pm.  On the 12th January she was late, very late and being late no doubt saved her life.
SOPUDEP school is in the Morne Lazarre area of Petion Ville which was hit badly by the earthquake.  However  the damage to the school building was  minimal relative to other buildings in the area as only the font wall collapsed.   There are three streets by the school.  On the left and right and along the front.  To the right and along the front, buildings collapsed.  As Rea and her eldest daughter, Tamara felt the tremors which only lasted 35 seconds, the houses opposite the school began to crumble and the front wall of the school collapsed onto the street below.  They heard cries and screams in the distance and ran onto the road where they immediately  saw five people crushed to death from the collapsed school wall.   As they walked to the corner to make a left turn more homes were collapsed. There was dust and debris everywhere.  The road by the school is unpaved and narrow running along a very steep hillside. To the right the houses were all large homes built into the the hillside. Most of these  collapsed so the road was unappeasable by foot or by car.  They turned back and took the road to the left which ran down the hillside and was in tact.
By the time they reached the bottom of that hill and hit the main road, 40 minutes or so had passed.  They walked holding on to each other. All around them were fallen buildings, the injured, the dead, people crying, bleeding. There was panic everywhere.  Vehicles abandoned as traffic built up and hundreds of thousands of the living tried to figure out what had just happened as thousands and thousands more lay dead and injured.
Rea kept trying to get through on the phone but the lines were also dead. They had no idea if the other children who left earlier on the tap tap buses had arrived safely or even if their own house was standing.  They walked fast at times running the 10 kilometers through the horror and panic of the streets. They did not stop. Pennier is a long walk from Petion Ville on a good day and this was a day of terror that would stretch out into months ahead.
As they turned into the steep narrow  lane which led to their  home, their hearts pounded.  There were collapsed houses here too.   The lane is cobbled and uneven, not an easy walk and very steep.  They climbed but you cannot see the house until you are actually in front of it. They walked as fast as they could. People were walking and running in both directions it was hard to fathom out what was going on.  Eventually they reached their home which was still standing.   As they entered everyone rushed to greet them collapsing and crying and just holding on to each other in shock and relief that they were all alive.  In the next 24 hours they would learn that  200,000 people were dead and millions injured and homeless.  24 of her students and two teachers were also dead.  Many were injured and lost family members – they were all  traumatized. Everyone at the school was affected by the earthquake.  By the end next day  there were 63 people camped at the home of Rea Dol and Jean Jacques Bataille and the long road to  recovery began.  Initially it was hard to know what to do beyond tend to those who had begun to gather  for medical care, safety and solace at the house.   The next day she got a  gallon of Betadine disinfectant and some gauze and went out into the street and started to clean wounds, spoke to people and tried to give comfort to survivors.  The recovery work had begun.
Sokari Ekine
Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Lookswww.blacklooks.org/. This post originally appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2013/01/12th-january-2010/.

Thinking Through Lesbian Rape: The silence is deafening, crippling and deadly!

June 2012: raped, mutilated, shot, killed and murdered

Phumeza Nkolozi

Thapelo Makhutle

Sasha Lee Gordon

Sana Supa

Hendrieeta Thapelo Morifi

May 2012 Geneva

Navi Pillay spoke loudly against Hate Crimes in South Africa and Africa.

February 2012 Present on Hate Crimes in South Africa at CSW55

Minister  of Women, children and people with disabilities Ms.Lulu Xingwana

Minister of Correctional Services Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula

Minister of Social Development Ms Bathabile Dlamini

Deputy Minister of Police Ms Maggie Sotyu

2011 stoned, stabbed and murdered Noxolo Magwaza

2010 raped, murdered and raped again: Nontsikelelo Tyatyeka;

2010-raped, strangled and living Milicent Gaika

2009 beaten to a pulp and later died Girly Nkosi

2008 raped, stabbed and murdered

Eudy Simelane…list continues…

 

Why are our Women leaders silent…when children are being killed like animals in South Africa?

As I write this article, the silence of women, mothers, and women ministers is deafening.  I feel crippled and my bones are no longer strong to stand and I ask for mothers of South Africa and women to stand and fight now to end this massacre.

The list above is nothing to celebrate after Youth Day events on June 16th -celebrating the memories and strength of resisting oppression that lead to the Sharpeville massacre. The above list of youth who have lost lives in the same month we celebrate many youngsters, by year and women we are counting on to take this agenda on and stop killing your children and you to be here and fight for lives of women you know and do not event know.

How could we have celebrated Youth Day when there is again a massacre! Where are the  women loving women, lesbians and gay men in my country to stand and stop this gendercide?  Who is writing about us and telling the world we are being killed? We need to take stock and action as see fit to be the ones to make a change. Our sisters, mothers, aunts, lovers and women are being raped, murdered, raped again and savagely cut under the gaze of the world.

Ms. Lulu Xingwana in February 2012 she presented at CSW55 on taking action on LGBTI issues of hate crime. Three months later we have bodies of LGBTI people-killed brutally- and No word Ms Minister! The time isnow!

What has happened to women leaders in our country who have not shed a tear or been seen or heard to condemn these crimes? As many mothers cry for their murdered and watch brutally severed bodies- that are not even recognizable many appear to console and give sympathies.

So we wait for the next one and then the next and go for after tears drinks and wait for the next.

It that how we are living, by the gun so to speak?

How many lesbians, women who love women and gender-free people are in line? What are we doing? This is a war declared on our bodies and we Must Stand together and there is not time to shine as individuals. We work together or divided we are falling. Fast into the dust.

Just this past Sunday, we marched in Paris with many women who had the opportunity to be in France from South Africa, at that time bodies were found, women shot, raped and I fear that the silence of our women leaders is serving our deaths. We are in danger with no choice to life.

We marched in solidarity with the world and all people who know of humanity-mothers, fathers, and brothers. Muholi  also remarked that the march was for all  LGBTI individuals who can’t because of homophobia, lesbophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, xenophobia… all the phobia that are there to be. We made a mark and our presence was clearly heartfelt by those who were there and yet the reality back home is just too scary to imagine, she said.

Muholi said, “Rape has made us powerless, though we threw our hands in the air and said ‘Amandla’ it is a pity that power we supposed to claim is imaginary as we continue to lose our LGBT people along the way”. Muholi, who brought her all women football team Thokozani to participate the Foot for Love Games said she was feeling destroyed inside at the silence of women ministers in particular, those stood in at the Commission on the Status of Women to protect our rights to life. We are worthy women too!

“They read newspapers and none of them have said a word. It is disheartening and I feel crashed at the thought of families who are going through this pain”, she said. And yes we all hear it and it is time that we stand and speak to our mothers and save lives that are falling so fast to dust as we weep and mourn for another life lost.

Mothers, mothers who is protecting your children when they  are being attacked and raped and no voice speak to say enough! The men, who are allowed to rape, kill and rape at will -as they please at their pleasure. Is this the freedom we talk about?

We cannot be silenced any longer and those in power that we all vested for you to represent us Stand Up! I am standing! Are you?

This is not JUST to brutally take lives as though they are free for taking! We will not be silenced and-if you choose to remain silent and unheard- then you have blood on your hands! Justice must prevail for all and I call you, you and you to end violence.

Glenda Muzenda

This post first appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2012/07/thinking-through-lesbian-rape-the-silence-is-deafening-crippling-and-deadly/. Thanks to Glenda and to Sokari Ekine for this collaboration.

Black Looks: Nature aint rigid

Nature aint rigid

Spanning the world
From Africa to Asia;
From Europe to utopit
Anywhere you go
In gender identity
There are no absolutes
In gender identity
There are only relatives
Forcing absolutes
Upsets the balance
Of nature – relativity
Brings equilibrium

this is…

Its natural from birth i was told
Botherwise; only aged three or four

Frontier identity gender the is this –
One are genderqueer + transgender
You be to fought be to have wars if
Knot a to up adds this all

I was a man
I am now a woman
I was a woman
I am now a man
I was seen as both
I am neither…
You are a man, a mob says
You are a woman, a mob says
I am a woman, i insist
I am not a man but some insist
Now both I am
Now neither am i
I am everybody
I am not everybody
I stand at the cusp
Of both and neither
And so when you
Say you know all
All you know is
Y o u r s e l v e s

Y o u r s e l v e s
Is know you all
Know you say you when
So and neither and both of
Cusp the at i
Everybody not am i
Everybody am i
Neither am i
Now both am i
Man a not am i
Woman a am i
Neither am i
Both now am i
Woman a am i
Man a not am i

Four or three aged only
Botherwise; told was i
Birth from natural its

So you told me?
Man a not am i
Woman a are you
Woman a not am i
Man a are you
Woman a am i
Man a are you
Woman a am i

Equilibrum brings
Relativity -nature of
Balance the upsets
Absolutes forcing
Relatives only are there
Identity gender in
Absolutes no are there
Identity gender in
Go you anywhere
(?) Utopia to Europe from
Asia to Africa from
all this adds up to a
Knot if wars have to
Be fought to be you
Transgender + genderqueer
Are one – this is the gender
Identity frontier

Is this

Cos

Nature aint rigid

Mia Nikasimo (c) October 2011

This post first appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2011/11/nature-aint-rigid/. As ever, thanks to Mia and to Sokari Ekine for this collaboration.

Black Looks: In Haiti, toilets are a human right: From poo to compost in 6 months

I met Sasha Kramer the co-founder of SOIL [Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods] one Sunday afternoon at a Haitian family wedding party high up on the top of a hill in Pernier district of Port-au-Prince.    About 20 of us piled into the flat bed truck and drove up and up at some points the road was so steep and so full of rocks and holes I feared those in the back would fall off.  Sasha and her colleague Nick were already there and later Nick would give a “best man” speech in fluent Kreyol, which was pretty impressive.  As in most Haitian gatherings there was a great deal of singing – I always wonder why hymns always sound so much better when sung in one of the many African languages or in Black churches! This is a whole other story so I will leave it aside for now.

Sasha arrived in Haiti in 2004 working for a Human Rights organisation. Two years later she and her friend Sarah Brownell founded SOIL and started putting up toilets in Cap Haitian in the north of the country.  We think about the right to food, water and shelter but most often forget the sanitation – what goes in must come out – there is no way to avoid it.  And Haiti along with water supplies desperately needs a sanitation system starting with collection of market waste which following SOIL’s vision could be turned into compost for farmers.

After the earthquake Sasha came down to Port-au-Prince to help out and met Rea Dol and began helping out with the emergency food distribution along with Rea’s family, friends and neighbours. Everyone worked day and night buying food, packaging it into plastic bags and distributing to anyone in need. Shortly after the earthquake SOIL were approached by Oxfam and asked to build 200 toilets in the camps across the city. There were moments of panic as they did not feel they were ready but recognising the desperate need managed to gather together a team in PAP and began building the toilets.

The philosophy behind SOIL which they describe as  ”liberation ecology” is

dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. We believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources. SOIL promotes integrated approaches to the problems of poverty, poor public health, agricultural productivity, and environmental destruction. We attempt to nurture collective creativity through developing collaborative relationships between community organizations in Haiti and academics and activists internationally Empowering communities, building the soil, nourishing the grassroots.

Toilets too are a human right.

The toilets are pretty cool – much needed in Haiti and we could do with some in Nigeria, other parts of the global south and rural areas everywhere.  There had been some problems with the one in the school – getting the kids to put the loo paper in a separate bucket rather than the toilet was frustrating but then with no running water, having to buy water and carry buckets to flush the toilet the compost still remained a better option

The toilets are based on a compost system starting with the poo and ending up with fertilizer for growing food.  First the toilet which consists of two compartments, one for urine and the other for poo placed exactly where you would sit or stand up.

Next to the toilet is a bucket full of wood shavings and one for the toilet paper. After use, you take a handful of shavings and sprinkle over the poo. This continues until the barrel is full.  Instructions on how to use the loo are written on the door.

It is then removed through a side door, sealed and left for 6 months while it ferments nicely towards becoming compost and used to fertilizer gardens and farms.  Eventually the hope is that a complete “waste collection and transport system” will be built including a treatment plant using garden and market waste, tested to meet standards and sold at a low cost to farmers across the country.

The one I used which was near a small church and presumably used by visitors was extremely clean with absolutely no smell, no bugs, nothing and outside was a tap to wash your hands, though to be on the safe side in the time of cholera  people should try and use a sanitizer as well.

PS: If you are thinking about an organisation to donate to in Haiti then SOIL is one to consider – will write more on a couple of other transformational actions taking place.

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: www.blacklooks.org/. This post originally appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2011/01/right-to-toilets-from-poo-to-compost-in-6-months/. Thanks as ever to Sokari for her work and labor and for her sharing spirit.

(Photo Credit: SOIL)

Black Looks: Women’s movement building and creating community in Haiti

Thousands of words have been written about Haiti in the past 12 months covering everything from the NGOisation of the country, the politics of humanitarian aid, endless questions and discussion on what happened to the $ millions donated by individuals and countries, the horrendous conditions in the camps where some 1.2 million IDP are forced to live and particularly for women and children hundreds of whom have been raped, trafficked to the Dominican Republic and forced into prostitution to survive.  In addition to the earthquake, Haitians have had to live through another devastating hurricane and now cholera which as of today has affected 30,000 people.  And to add to the frustration and anger, an election which by all independent accounts was fraudulent and farcical.    As I write, protests calling for the annulment of the elections are planned this afternoon.   If one is to judge from the many radio phone-ins, people are angry and concerned that the the much hated Preval will announce  his preferred candidate, Jude Celestine as the new leader despite the fact that so far the majority votes appear to be for “Micky” Matterly and Madam Manigat – but all of this can change in a moment.  For women organising in the community the elections are a distraction.   If the Preval candidate is declared the winner then there will be more violence.  If Matterly is declared the winner, it is

One of the stories least reported has been the one about Haitians organising for themselves, particularly stories presented within a framework of feminist organising and movement building.   This is one woman’s story of how she, her family and the people in the various communities in which she works, came together collectively to care for each other’s needs and how that struggle has become the foundation of a new movement  of the poor for  change in education and the material lives of women and men – a struggle for dignity.   Their personal and collective humanitarian response was completely off the radar of NGOs, international institutions and the Haitian government.  Even Save The Children, whose office is located right next to the school did nothing to help SOPUDEP.      However ultimately this was an aside for Rea.   What was important was that those who needed help of whatever kind, received it and beyond that the struggle for dignity and self-determination for the poor people of Haiti.

A mere five minutes passed between the death of one one of the school teachers and the life given to Rea and her teenage daughter – on of three children.

“I was in the school when it happened and I cannot describe the horror around me. The school was empty and did not fall, but the neighbourhood collapsed. Five people were crushed to death just meters from me when one of the outer walls of the school grounds collapsed. My first responsibility was to my family, so I had to get home, but the streets were chaotic. People were panicking and screaming. I had to run home ten kilometers through those streets to find my family. The phones weren’t working. It was horrible.”

Once it was established Rea’s family were all safe – a house just five minutes walk from Rea’s own home collapsed – she set about caring for the many in her community and where ever she was needed.   Everyone was in shock but there was no time to think about what had happened as people were injured.   Many people – students, families knowing about her community work, flocked to Rea’s home and at one point there were some 60 people in her home.  People feared to sleep indoors so they removed all the mattresses, blankets, pillows, whatever they could find and spread them outside.  It was January and freezing cold during the night but anything was preferable to being inside.  Rea said it took her months before she stopped waking up with nightmares of being crushed.  Even now one wakes up and gives thanks that you made it through the night.  I too find myself staring at the ceiling every night and wondering which part would collapse first and how I would get out.

The first day after the quake, Rea went to the shop were she usually bought the school supplies and asked if they would give her credit as she needed to buy food. They told her to take whatever she needed and not to worry.  As much food as possible was collected and everyone in the house, the children, students, guests neighbours, set about making food packs. They worked all night making the packs which they then distributed to anyone on the streets during the day.  As donations from friends of SOPUDEP and organisations such as the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund (HERF), the Haiti Action Committee, Sawatzky Family Foundation (SFF) began to arrive, Rea was able to buy more food and medical supplies and continue the distribution.    Food which was only being given to women and mostly bags of rice were available for those prepared to queue for up to 4 hours.   Rea said she did not have the time to queue for 25lbs of rice and preferred to go and buy it with whatever money she had to hand.   Besides, fights often broke out with people tired and hungry and everyone trying to push their way forward.  The military would then beat the women and children.    In total food and water were distributed to 31 centers by Rea’s team.

In addition to financial donations, SOPUDEP received a lot of medical supplies which were taken to the various mobile clinics which had been set up in camps and other locations.    Though the number of recipients decreased over time, the food collection and distribution last for three months.   At a point in time Rea realised this dependency created out of a crisis could not continue.   They would forever be in a state of oppression and remain in the clutches of NGOs, beggars in their own land.

No one ever knew when money would arrive which meant any kind of systematic planning was impossible. It was like waiting for the tooth fairy to arrive and besides what humanitarian aid was being distributed was not reaching Rea’s community.  It was all too ad hoc to be sustainable.

The next money she received was a sum of $3000 and she began to think of another way.  Instead of buying  food but she would deposit the money in the bank and start a small micro-credit-saving programme. It took courage and was a huge risk because people were hungry but determined to create some degree of sustainability and stability, in a moment she made up her mind.     A meeting was called and the idea  put to the 21 women with whom she had been working over the past months and though there were doubts  they trusted Rea.   The Micro-Credit scheme “Fanm SOPUDEP AN AKSYON” [SOPUDEP Women in Action] begun with $3000 and 21 women.

I was surprised when I heard Rea had started a Micro-Credit scheme as there were so many negative reports on schemes which rather than enhance and empower women, ended up impoverishing them even more.   So I was interested to find out more about the SOPUDEP scheme, whether it was working and why it worked and I will write about this later after meeting with the various women’s group.

Rea’s philosophy is that each individual has to take responsibility for themselves and the notion of something for free is neither healthy nor sustainable.   Both the school and the women’s project are framed within the idea of personal and collective responsibility.   Education in Haiti must be available for all and everyone encouraged to attend and no one is turned away from SOPUDEP because they cannot pay.   However everyone is asked to try to contribute something when they can, even if it is 5 gouds or helping in the school somehow [$1=40Gds appx].    The school operates two sessions – the main one in the morning and an afternoon session for those who have never attended schools both older children and adults.

The elections are a distraction.    Leaders have the power to bring change but no one believes any leader will do anything for the poor.  Everyone I asked about Aristide wanted him back because they believed he was one leader who could change their lives for the better.  Right now the only way is for communities to reach out to each other and create alliances which is what SOPUDEP is beginning to do.  Rea’s vision is one I share.  We cannot fix Haiti, but we can fix our community and help others fix theirs.  Eventually as all these communities build alliances amongst themselves, they will become strong and then maybe begin to fix Haiti.

Since the earthquake there has been an increase in the awarness that communities have to help each other and work together.  People are not only more determined to improve their lives and that of their community, they truly believe it is possible.  Two more schools for the poor have come under the umbrella of SOPUDEP.   One in Bobin with 250 students, children and adults and one in  Boucan Lapli with about 60 children.   The main school which started in 2002 with 182 children from Petion-Ville presently has 486 students.

I have spent two days at the school with the freedom to roam.  I came across a class whose teacher was absent and I ended up teaching English for 45 minutes followed by the students giving me a lesson in Kreyol.   Now I have been asked by them  to teach the same class for the next couple of weeks till they break uap for holidays.  The school is truly like  family. Since the Micro-credit scheme, parents and school staff have all been encouraged to open savings account.   The children are continuously greeting and kissing Madam Rea. Her office which she shares with the accountant / office manager, Billy Bataille, is a constant hive of activity with women coming to deposit their repayments, students wanting things fixed or asking advice from Madam Rea or Billy.  Outside the office, women clean beans and rice in preparation for tomorrow’s food – the door is always open. Yesterday Rea opened a suitcase of books she had bought with donations from a partner school in the US.  She now has some 15,000 books [mostly in French so more Kreyol and English books are needed] which have to be indexed and will form the school library.   A volunteer teacher from the US has promised to take on the task.

SOPUDEP nevertheless faces many challenges.   The building survived the earthquake but remains in disrepair.  All the external walls of the compound collapsed along with most of the surrounding buildings with the exception of the Save The Children building.  The building housing the school dates back to the Duvallier days and was always structurally superior to others in the neighbourhood.   All the classrooms are open to the elments as there are no windows.  There is no water and since the earthquake, no electricity.   Recenly a group of NGOs met to discuss how to  control the spread of cholera within the country’s 22,000 schools.  The idea is to hold training sessions for district heads and some school directors on precautions to take.  Many schools are already doing this but a more coordinated effort would improve the situation.  However as Rea pointed out, we can do all we can in the schools but what happens when the children return to their homes where they are reliant on standpipes and no santitary facilities?  The majority of people are unemployed yet there is masses of rubbish and rubble to clear – the solution seems quite simple really.

Through donations, SOPUDEP has purchased a piece of land in Delmas 83 and have so far managed to build the fencing wall. It will take six months to build but all that depends on how quick they can raise the money needed to complete the project.  I find it sad that an organisation like SOPUDEP which is real and which has a history has to rely on small donations from international friends and parents to survive.  If they are not deserving of more sustained support then I wonder who is.

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: www.blacklooks.org/. This post appeared originally here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2010/12/women’s-movement-building-and-creating-community-in-haiti/

Black Looks: Kimpa Vita – a profile of courage

Today, July 2nd, is the anniversary of the death of Kimpa Vita who together with her baby (Kembo Dianzenza va Kintete) and her boyfriend, were burned to death on July 2nd 1706 by the Catholic church. I only just found out about Kimpa Vita – there is so much of our African and Diaspora history that is unknown to the majority of African people. Who was Kimpa Vita? Information is scarce but Kimpa Vita is one of a long line of courageous politicised Queens of the Kongo (parts of present day Angola and Congo) who fought against slavery and colonialists as early as the 15th century. Women such as Ndona Nzinga, Ndona Mafuta and Ndona Dondwa. The importance of Kimpa Vita is that she fought against slavery and exposed the racism and misogyny of the Catholic Church and also incorporated traditional religions with Christianity.

Beatrice Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in the kingdom of Kongo. In 1704, at the age of 20 years, she started her non-violent mission of the liberation and the restoration of the kingdom, destroyed by the Portuguese. She fought all the forms of slavery, from those of the local practices to those linked to the European domination. She adapted Christianity to the African realities, teaching people that there are also Black saints in paradise, contradicting the Catholic priests who taught that there should ONLY be WHITE SAINTS. She led thousands of people to rebuild and to repopulate Mbanza Kongo, the capital, whereas King Pedro IV, imposed by the Catholic Church, had taken refuge in the mountains. That is a rare phenomenon, in a social context where the women were supposed to be submissive to the men.

Today she is remembered in “Kanda commune, northern Zaire Province” of Angola

I would really be interested in finding out more about these African Queens so if any one knows anything please do leave a comment.

(Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: http://www.blacklooks.org/. This post appeared originally there.)

(Image credit: diasporicroots.tumblr.com)

Black Looks: Yarlswood refuses xmas for imprisoned children

December 15th, 2009 

I heard on Sunday morning of an asylum seeker who was picked up yesterday and sent to Yarlswood women and children’s detention center. I have visited and met some of the women in Yarlswood and personally know two women, a young Nigerian lesbian and a young Ugandan woman both deported last year to Lagos and this year to Kampala – two cities where neither has lived or has family. The Ugandan woman had spent 5 years within the legal process of seeking asylum on the basis of sexual assault. Every few weeks asylum seekers have to check in with the police. As the date nears one becomes more and more anxious wondering if this will be the time they decide to physically grab you and send you to Yarlswood and 24 hours later on a plane.

Once again, the papers are full of reports about children being placed in Yarlswood which is run by a private security company SERCO. The horror of Yarlswood is that it is a prison yet no one imprisoned there has committed a crime. Still they are locked up, harassed, subject to body searches, abuse and sexual assault by guards, and wait for the moment they will be physically restrained en route to Gatwick or Heathrow and forced on to a plane. The latest story centers on SERCO refusing to allow two Anglican pastors from bringing Christmas presents for the children.

The Mothers’ Campaign of the All African Women’s group are mothers who have had to flee to the UK. The mothers had to make the very difficult decision to leave their children behind because they felt they would be safer without them. They have launched a petition for family reunion which they plan to submit on Mothers Day in March 2010. You can sign here. .

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: http://www.blacklooks.org/ . This post appeared originally at http://www.blacklooks.org/2009/12/yarlswood_refuses_xmas_for_imprisoned_children.html

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers?

In the Congo, who are the plunderers? Sokari Ekine posed this question earlier this week, after having seen Grand Theft Congo. It’s a good question.

Grand Theft Congo tells the story of cassiterite, a mineral that serves as the base for tin. The value of cassiterite skyrocketed when the European Union outlawed lead and replaced lead with tin. Europe rises, and the eastern Congo sinks, literally. As Ekine notes, the minerals are mined by slave labor, but they are transported and purchased by a free market of local comptoirs, or trading houses, and distant corporations. Everyone turns a blind eye. But does this identify the plunderers? Who are the plunderers?

A recent Global Witness report, Faced with a gun, what can you do?: War and the militarisation of mining in eastern Congo, identifies seven military and other armed groups as those who are `plundering minerals’. These groups are a Rwandan Hutu armed group; Tutsi-led rebels backed by Rwanda; another group that allies with different sides at different times; various mai-mai groups in North and South Kivu, organized largely along ethnic lines; a Tutsi cadre; the Congolese national army; and demobilized combatants, especially former mai-mai. The mai-mai were originally local resistance forces opposed to the Rwandan invading armies and militias.

In this report, the term plunder is only used to describe the actions of regional military forces, Congolese or Rwandan. The report documents the comptoirs, or trading houses, that sell and export the minerals, through Rwanda and Burundi, to companies elsewhere, such as Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO), the world’s fifth-largest tin-producing company, owned by British metals giant Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC); British company Afrimex; and several Belgian companies such as Trademet and Traxys. These then sell their materials to electronics and other industries. These companies all contribute to the violence, but they are not described as plundering.  Why not?

The plunder of the Congo is presented as the Great Plunder, the Rape of the Congo. Some see the plundering as a system. Others argue that the plunder of natural resources can only take place in the context of super exploitation, forced labor, and carnage. For some, this carnage concerns sexual terrorism and militarized rape campaigns. Soldiers rape, commanders condone, women suffer, and the copper, diamonds, cassiterite, coltan keep on moving. And don’t forget the wood, the nickel, the land itself.

But what exactly does it mean, to plunder? “To rob (a place or person) of goods or valuables forcibly, typically in a time of war or civil disorder or in the course of a hostile incursion; to pillage, ransack; to rob systematically; to despoil.” Plunder is always military. In fact, it seems to have first appeared in English during either the Thirty Years’ War, when English soldiers were fighting in southern Germany, or earlier, when English soldiers were fighting in the Low Countries. It took root and effloresced in England during the English Civil War. Wars of empire or civil wars.

But the intricacies of plunder, and of the identity of the plunderers, go further. At its German or Dutch root, plunder meant “to rob of household furnishings.” Plundering involved the violent, militarized seizure of bed-clothes, clothing, baggage, rags, trash, everything. Plunder did not mean to take the most valuable but rather to ravage and ransack the most ordinary, the stuff of everyday life. Plundering is a violation of the most intimate, the trash and rags that comprise our days, that which we cherish most and which the market values least, and it always goes from house to house, from body to body.

The plunder of the Congo is the violent militarized seizure of the everyday, of the ordinary. Women. Men. Children. Forests. Land. Stuff. Even in the story of plunder, which should be their story, they have all been sacrificed to the story of markets, of mineral resources, armed forces, major corporations. They must be restored to the center of their own stories and the story of the Congo.

Who are the plunderers, and who are the restorers, the replenishers, the re-founders? There are the ones who are well known, such as conservationist René Ngongo who has worked with local growers to find ways of sustaining rather than devastating the rainforests of the Congo Basin and who has taken on the mining and logging industries. There’s Dr. Denis Mukwege, at Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, who has tended to survivors of sexual violence. Then there are the thousands, like the Director of Maison d’Écoute (Listening House), ‘whom I will call Rebecca Kamate”, local women and men whose names must be withheld, Congolese women and men who literally turn the swords that have been thrust into them into ploughshares. They are the ones “that have managed to maintain their integrity by not partaking in the plunder of the Congo”, and they too are numerous. Where is their story told, where is their documentary, where is their Congo?

(Photo Credit: International Committee of the Red Cross) (Image Credit: Panzi Hospital)