We remember: Send a message of solidarity to the widows of Marikana


(Photo Credit: Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick)

On Women’s Day and every day, I dream of this movement

Here’s to the old ones, the visionaries of our movement! Here’s to their fighting spirit, their vision, their example, which has gotten us this far…!

And mostly, here’s to the young ones, who must now shape a new vision. Who must fight for a qualitatively different future, outside of the imaginative premises and boxes of the “old us” who simply carry too much baggage, are simply too compromised to be capable of dreaming beyond the confines of our locations and vested interests, who grapple too many competing interests to legitimately hold the radical vision their future requires. A future where young women refuse to shoulder society’s blame for its own moral decay, who are fearless in defending their interests and the land that is their lives and bodies, who refuse to be instrumentalised in service of some political and partisan or social or economic agenda, who are uncompromising in their demand for a just status quo.

I dream of this movement, envisioned, crafted and led by and for young women, revolting for their non-conformity, revolting against this rotten status quo!!! I am inspired by Kwezilomso Mbandazayo’s vision… We are the ones we have been waiting for!


Poem for South African Women
by June Jordan

Commemoration of the 40,000 women and children who,
August 9, 1956, presented themselves in bodily protest against
the “dompass” in the capital of apartheid. Presented at The
United Nations, August 9, 1978.

Our own shadows disappear as the feet of thousands
by the tens of thousands pound the fallow land
into new dust that
rising like a marvelous pollen will be
even as the first woman whispering
imagination to the trees around her made
for righteous fruit
from such deliberate defense of life
as no other still
will claim inferior to any other safety
in the world

The whispers too they
intimate to the inmost ear of every spirit
now aroused they
carousing in ferocious affirmation
of all peaceable and loving amplitude
sound a certainly unbounded heat
from a baptismal smoke where yes
there will be fire

And the babies cease alarm as mothers
raising arms
and heart high as the stars so far unseen
nevertheless hurl into the universe
a moving force
irreversible as light years
traveling to the open

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for!

(From Passion (1980) and from Directed by Desire. The Collected Poems of June Jordan. Copyright 2005 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate Trust)


(Photo Credits: http://www.grocotts.co.za // http://www.apogeejournal.org)

South Africa built a special hell for asylum seekers: Refugee Reception Offices

A report released yesterday in Johannesburg reveals “shocking levels of corruption and serial abuse” at South African refugee centers. Of the five Refugee Reception Offices, Marabastad, in Pretoria, wins the Most Corrupt Award … again. The report, while dismaying, is no shock.

According to the report’s introduction, “Established in 1998, South Africa’s asylum system was designed to identify those individuals in need of protection in accordance with the country’s international obligations and democratic character.” By 1998, the South African government had traded in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, or RDP, for the Growth, Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, strategy, which traded any promise of social justice for something called “growth.” Asylum seekers and refugees didn’t fall into the GEAR strategy, and so by the time South Africa decided it was time for asylum, it was already too late: “The current state of affairs is the product of a deliberate government choice to avoid addressing fundamental issues in the asylum system.”

Here’s Marabastad in 2008: “Asylum applicants at Marabastad have taken to sleeping outside the office, in the hope that this will improve their chances of getting inside. There are regularly between eighty and three hundred people sleeping outside. At night armed criminals visit the site. Incidents of theft are common. There have been several reports of rape. There is no shelter in the vicinity of the office and people often endure rain and very cold conditions. Many women sleep with babies by their side. On some occasions the police have visited during the night and arrested asylum seekers or extorted them for bribes. Fights about places in the queue are common, sometimes degenerating into the throwing of bricks and stones and leading to several cases of hospitalisation. On at least one occasion metropolitan officials arrived in the morning to clear all temporary shelters, bedding, and belongings of people gathered outside the office.” In 2011, “the conditions at Marabastad … still are, to most objective onlookers, appalling.”

And now, in 2015, Marabastad is the most corrupt, and this in South Africa, which had one of the highest asylum and refugee rejection rates in the world last year, rejecting between 90% and 100% of all asylum applications processed from Mozambique, Lesotho, Malawi, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Burundi and Uganda. South Africa is the land where all roads lead to rejection.

To the toxic brew of incompetence, underfunding, and xenophobic and sexist violence, yesterday’s report adds corruption. One has to pay to play, and many are the ways: pay to cross the border, move up the line, renew a permit, pay spurious fines, avoid arrest, and generally improve `service.’

Women figure in this variously. First, the researchers interviewed mostly men because there were more men than women outside the reception centers and because “women were generally less willing to participate.”

Second, in discussing the Department of Home Affairs, or DHA, tepid response to corruption, the report tells a story, “In July 2014, an asylum seeker told Lawyers for Human Rights that a refugee status determination officer (RSDO) at the Marabastad refugee reception office had asked her for R2500 in exchange for refugee status. LHR contacted the counter-corruption unit, which agreed to set up a sting operation.” What followed was a nightmare of bungling and general lack of concern on the part of the DHA, so that, in the end, all the weight falls on the most vulnerable and least able: “Asylum seekers must be willing to come forward, despite fear of reprisals, and must be able to provide … details. The DHA does not target the wider processes outside of these individual complaints.”

Finally, one asylum seeker in Cape Town reports: “People ask for money. Officials don’t help you or tell you what is happening. They play on their phones. Security guards ask for money but not openly. It is a previously made deal. Then they grab the people and take them to the front of the queue. Never women. People from Zim only get a one month extension and other people from other countries get 3 to 6 months.”

Never women.


(Photo Credit: Kristy Siegfried / IRIN)

The Mymensingh and Khayelitsha “stampedes” were planned massacres of women

In this 2011 file photo, women mourn over their relative who died in a stampede triggered by a fire scare at a garment factory in Dhaka.

In the past two weeks, “stampedes” took the lives of at least 33 people, 31 women and two children, in South Africa and Bangladesh. Yet again, the death toll among adults was exclusively, 100% women, and yet again the world will look on the pile of women’s corpses in shock and amazement, as we did in September 2009, when women were killed in stampedes in Indonesia, India, Pakistan and South Africa; or in January 2012 when women were killed in stampedes in Pakistan and South Africa. Each time, despite the gender of the dead and of the event, the fact of this being an assault on women is erased.

Today, in the northern Bangladeshi city, Mymensingh, hundreds of “poor and emaciated” women gathered outside a garment factory owner’s home to pick up free clothing. Someone fell, others fell, and then the rush ensued. Thus far, 25 bodies have been recovered, 23 women, two children. Fifty women have been sent to hospital. A scan of the world’s headlines on this event shows one headline that acknowledges this salient gender feature: “Bangladesh stampede leaves 22 women and child dead”. The rest either cite a number – “Stampede at Bangladesh clothes handout kills 23” – or refer to the clothes giveaway – “23 Zakat cloth seekers killed in Mymensingh stampede” – or mention people – “25 People Killed in Bangladesh Stampede”. Only one, that I’ve found, acknowledges the women. Why? What is so terrifying about saying 23, or however many, women were killed?

In Khayelitsha, in South Africa, two weeks ago, a gunshot at Osi’s Tavern provoked a rush from the tavern. It was 3 in the morning, and the tavern was crowded. It had only one exit, one staircase. The staircase collapsed. Six women were killed on the spot. Two women were killed on their to hospital. The women’s ages ranged from 15 and 23.

In some ways, two seemingly different events end up with the same morbid mathematics of gender: women were killed.

There was no stampede in Mymensingh today, and there was no stampede in Khayelitsha last month. There was a massacre of women. Say it. Women were killed. Now the State steps in, once the women’s corpses have piled up sufficiently, and claims to act, but it will never acknowledge the simple truth. There was no accident. There was indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of women, a massacre, and it was always part of the plan.


(Photo Credit: Reuters / http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

In South Africa workers say NO to the dictatorship of debt

Jeffrey Haarhoff, Bulelani Mehlomakhulu, Angeline Arrison, Lisinda Bailey discuss the case

The dictatorship of debt takes many shapes, and Greece is not the only one to say NO! to predators this week. In a landmark case in South Africa, decided in the Western Cape High Court today, 15 low wage workers – cleaners, security guards, farm workers – took on the “micro loan” system of fast money, slow torture and death in life … and won!

Late last year, fifteen people in and around Stellenbosch, in the wine country of the Western Cape, approached the University of Stellenbosch’s Legal Aid Clinic, LAC, and asked for help. They explained that each had taken out a so-called micro loan, and found that at some point [a] the interest soared and [b] their salaries were “attached” by means of emolument attachment orders also known as EAOs or garnishee orders. While the fifteen basically wanted to get out of an impossible and unjust situation, the lawyers at LAC saw that the whole system was in violation of South Africa’s Constitution, and so, in November, they went to court.

As Lisinda Bailey, one of the applicants, explained, “I had to make monthly payments of R2,600 which was more than I can afford. As the only person working in my house, I struggled every month.” Angeline Arrison told a similar tale. Two years ago, she took out a loan of 2000 rand. Now half of her 4200 rand salary is seized every month, and she still owes and she still owes over 3000 rand. Others tell the same stories … and worse: already over indebted, trying to figure out how to organize and lighten the load, while retaining some semblance of dignity.

The fifteen also had the backing of Wendy Appelbaum, one of the wealthiest women on the African continent, a leading philanthropist and the owner of DeMorgenzon, a wine estate in Stellenbosch: “I became aware of the plight of one of my workers, from whom we were legally obliged to deduct most of his salary on behalf of loan sharks. I immediately addressed his circumstances, but discovered how widespread the abuse of garnishee orders had become. I was outraged and decided to intervene on behalf of the helpless and voiceless victims, and have played a convening and facilitating role.” Appelbaum took the fifteen to the Legal Aid Clinic.

The South African Human Rights Commission joined as a friend of the court, and has also taken up the public policy issue of garnishee orders. As SAHRC Commissioner Mohamed Shafie Ameermia explained, “We must knock on Parliament’s doors very seriously to say the house is on fire out there. We need to advocate and champion proper legislation, close the loopholes and gaps in the existing legislation so that at least poor people have the right to live decent lives.”

The fifteen – cleaners, security guards, farm and seasonal workers, evenly divided among women and men, uniformly vulnerable – and their lawyers argued that the credit providers and their lawyers obtained the orders illegally, often by going to distant courts, and that, further, the process was improper because the orders were issued by court clerks and not by magistrates or judges. For those who owed, there was no day in court in this process, only fog and mirrors.

Today, Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai agreed: “The right of access to courts is fundamental to the rule of law in a constitutional state. The … respondents are obtaining judgments and EAOs against the applicants in courts far removed from their homes and places of work and in places which they could not hope to reach, the right to approach the courts was seriously jeopardised, if not effectively denied. This violation of the rights of debtors to access courts and enjoy the protection of the law was the product of the … respondents’ forum shopping for courts which would entertain their applications for judgments and the issuing of EAOs … This is the most disturbing feature of the debt collecting processes employed by the micro-lenders … The absence of judicial supervision and the consequences of the execution process infringes several of the debtors’ constitutional rights … The attachment of an excessive portion of a debtor’s earnings infringes on the right of the debtor and her family to dignity, as well as their rights to access to healthcare, food, education and housing.”

As Wendy Applebaum put it, “It’s a David and Goliath scenario here where their human rights and dignity have been taken away.” And David and Davida said NO! to predatory debt, to debt that consumes body and soul, to debt structures that crush human dignity, and today they won. From Syntagma Square to Stellenbosch, thus far it’s been a good week for the Great Refusal.

(Photo Credit: Masixole Feni / GroundUp.org.za)

In South Africa, the forced sterilization of HIV positive women is part of the plan

In March of this year, we wrote: “In South Africa this week, 48 women living with HIV and AIDS responded to the indignity and abuse of forced sterilization. Represented by Her Rights Initiative, Oxfam, and the Women’s Legal Centre, 48 women who had suffered forced sterilization in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal came forward and lodged a formal complaint. These 48 `cases’ were from 1986 to 2014. These 48 women are the tip of a rumbling volcano.” Yesterday, the volcano rumbled, as a report indicated that, of 6719 HIV positive women interviewed, 498 said they had been forcibly sterilized. “It is the largest number of reported forced sterilisation cases ever uncovered in the country.”

The report, The People Living With HIV Stigma Index: South Africa 2014, noted, under Sexual Reproductive Health: “Of concern is that 7% of respondents reported that they were forced to be sterilized. In addition, 37% of the respondents said that access to ARV treatment was conditional on use of contraceptives.” Sindisiwe Blose, a research project manager and a member of the Treatment Action Campaign, elaborated, “We heard from people living with HIV who had refused marriage due to stigma, had avoided work promotion, or had been coerced into undergoing sterilization. Behind the figures lies a depth of suffering that struggles to be addressed.”

Close to 500 women forcibly sterilized doesn’t just happen. In this instance, the incidents were distributed all over, with the hotspots in three provinces: Eden, in the Western Cape, accounted for 22%; Buffalo City, in the Eastern Cape, 20%; and Sedibeng, in Gauteng, 19%.

Sethembiso Mthembu, of Her Rights Initiative, responded to the numbers: “The data of 498 cases basically confirms the practice is widespread. It is systematic. It is not a few rotten apples.” The Women’s Legal Centre also described the sterilization as systemic, with Jody-Lee Fredericks, of the Centre, adding, “This is horrific.”

The horrific this is the banality of the policy. As Helen Rees of the Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute recently explained, the biggest concern right now is young women, ages 15 to 24, and women sex workers. Many of the young women who are “placed in this situation” are poor, vulnerable and “prey to sexual exploitation.” In other words, none of this is surprising.

Yesterday, Nkhensani Mavasa, the Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign, addressed the opening session of the South Africa Aids Conference 2015. She spoke of a new denialism among the leadership of the nation, and she warned, “If you choose to ignore the crisis in the healthcare system, this crisis that is a fact of our daily lives, you may, like those other denialists in the past, end up on the wrong side of history.”

The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of that new denialism. In the complaint filed in March, 48 women and their supporters rejected the double stigma of being HIV positive and being unable to have children. They also rejected the third stigma of having failed the nation-State. Women who are HIV positive are viewed as failed citizens. That’s why they can be treated this way, despite Constitutional and legal protections to the contrary. The Department of Health says forced sterilization is not department policy, but it is practiced, in the open, regularly. The forced sterilization of HIV positive women is an integral part of State violence against women, and it is never accidental or incidental. It is part of the plan.


(Photo Credit: The Star / Chris Collingridge)

If I ever do (become a writer)

If I ever do (become a writer)
If I ever do become a writer
one Isabel Pritchard pens
a letter to her 8C teacher
at Oaklands High 1992
(thanking her for having 
faith in her promising 
to dedicate her first book to her)
Yet another bit of history
unearthed in our household
in between and betwixt Africa 
and Youth Months
If I ever do become a writer
for that is what I wish to be
a dreamer too she says
(sounds like teacher’s 
John Lennon influence)
When she writes she feels
as if she is giving a part
of herself away
(did she follow her passion 
her dream in some way 
educating and encouraging) 
She stops herself
(I will have to end it
says she dramatically)
before her letter turns
into a novel 
Ending with something 
her tea-drinkingly English
teacher quoted
Hold fast to dreams
for if dreams die
life is a broken-winged bird
which cannot fly
Did she stop herself
Did she hold fast and fly
A “Dear Miss” letter surfaces in the Kapp household, circa end-May into June 2015.

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen

“One of the most liberal constitutions in the world”

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen must be exposed. He writes that ‘the ANC is sick’, but he is unwilling and unable to see the role his beloved liberal ideology played in the ANC’s increasing dissoluteness, conservatism and authoritarianism.

For Van Onselen the ANC’s ‘sickness’ can be seen in it ‘losing support, wracked by infighting, held hostage by division, a slave to an economically regressive mind-set, unable to organise internal conferences and denuded of talent as thinkers and an older generation desert it in the face of contemporary demagoguery.’ He also mocks Jacob Zuma’s turn towards traditionalism and religion. He does not ask why this is happening to the ANC right now.

Why, at this particular point, is the ANC – divided along unprincipled, tenderpreneurial lines – turning back to its Stalinist authoritarianism of the 1960s to the 1980s and its traditionalism of the 1910s to the 1950s? This is the question the Van Onselens cannot confront.

The rise of tenderpreneurialism, traditionalism and authoritarianism are good reasons to be worried, but we do not live under a traditionalist or Stalinist authoritarian political system. We are living under a liberal, constitutional political system. It is the effects of South Africa’s liberal, constitutional framework that is directly responsible for what is happening to the ANC.

In the 1990s the ANC adopted liberal constitutionalism and specifically South Africa’s constitution. It did not completely abandon its previous ideological postures but blended it with liberal constitutionalism in ways that often lacked consistency. However, its commitment to writing, promoting and implementing the constitution during this period cannot be doubted. What was the effect of this?

South Africa’s constitution was carefully designed to protect the basic structures of capital. By doing that, by protecting wealth, it inevitably protected the main means through which it is generated – cheap and unpaid black labour. By acceding to capital’s demands for liberalising the economy, the ANC oversaw the intensification of South Africa’s structural racism. White wealth and its opposite pole, black poverty, grew to make South Africa the most unequal society in the world.

South Africa’s constitution was never designed to cure the main sickness of Apartheid and actually made it worse. The ANC was now confronted with rampant inequality and explosive growth in the tensions and resistance this engendered. At the same time, the neo-liberalisation of the state-business nexus had completely embroiled it in corruption, tenderpreneurialism and factional conflicts based on it. It is under these pressures, that are a direct result of the liberal constitutional regime, that the ANC started looking back to its past for possible solutions to the multiple crises it was confronted with.

It is not possible to understand the ANC’s return to Stalinist authoritarianism and traditionalist conservatism without understanding it as the outcome of its turn to a liberal constitutionalism that prioritised the interests of white wealth. For people like Van Onselen the ANC’s sickness appear out of nowhere, because he needs to deny the oppressive nature of our liberal constitution. The constitution contained its own demise. It ostensibly sets out to protect the wealth of the rich and the rights of the poor. This cannot be done. The ANC is realising that. It is therefore, to some degree, abandoning the pretence of protecting the rights of the poor.

Yes, the ANC is morally sick. But so is South Africa’s liberal constitutionalism and so are its promoters such as Van Onselen.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rex Features) (Image Credit: Roar Magazine)

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)

21 already (on South Africa’s Freedom Day)

21 already (on South Africa’s Freedom Day)
21 already
you are
getting there
rather quickly
(might it have been
far too soon)
was the enticement
of international sport
(rugby and cricket chiefly)
much too much to resist
21 already
were we readied
for the occasion
and the great beyond
What have you celebrated
have you always had cause
to celebrate and rejoice
(are you selective 
in your remembrances)
21 already
(this coming of age)
does it seem times
are tougher now
in our rebuilding phase
(will we be reconstructing
forever and a day)
There are folks hankering
for a return to apartheid
corporal punishment
the death penalty and
keeping women and children
(and the other) in their place
(and quite nearby dogs howl
as a neighbouring child 
gets a mother’s loud beating
and a shutting-up)
21 already
would you do it
all over again
(Photo Credit: http://constitutionallyspeaking.co.za)