His father returned

His father returned

Goods stolen
we bite the hand
that feeds
(same old story)

His father returned
whatever his son
brought home
from his (and others)
ransacking expedition

A ransacking expedition
they bit the hand
that helps others
in their time of need

His father returned
items his druggie son
(same old story)
took without permission
from the Gift of the Givers

His father returned
as many others did
from the community
and the surrounds

one wishes others
would do so too
from wherever

and from whoever
they have liberated
worldly goods
and the like

His father returned

SAFM radio’s Beyond the Headlines presenter – and many others – express disbelief at the ransacking of the Gift of the Givers’ office (Tuesday afternoon, 11 January 2023).

 

(By David Kapp)

Image Credit: Radio 947)

As 2022 ends, around the world, mass evictions threaten all that is human

“Housing should not be a privilege”. After years in shelters and on the streets, 41-year-old Dwayne Seifforth and his nine-year-old daughter D’Kota-Holidae Seifforth live in an apartment in Harlem, in upper Manhattan. Having a stable and decent place to live has made all the difference. Mr. Seifforth moved from working part-time and living on food stamps to a full-time job. His daughter went to school and settled in. Unbeknownst to them and their neighbors, the landlord’s ownership of the building was tenuous, at best, and now they face eviction, through no fault of their own. “Housing should not be a privilege”. It’s a sentiment expressed around the world, and, sadly, with increasing frequency, given the rise this year in mass evictions. Consider just the last month or so, 2022.

In the United Kingdom, November ended with the revelation that, in the depths of the pandemic and its economic and existential hardships, housing associations, home to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable tenants, had secretly lobbied the government to let them charge more rent. At the same time, the typical salary for a housing association executive was around £300,000 a year, close to $400,000. At the same time, Michael Gove, the `levelling up’ secretary, reported that `at least’ tens of thousands of rental properties across the UK were unsafe, due to lack of maintenance. One minister’s “lack of maintenance” is a thousand landlords’ refusal to maintain. Meanwhile, end of the year reports showed that no-fault eviction notices rose 76% in the past year. 48,000 households in England alone were served with no-fault eviction notices.

In Canada, evictions marked the end of the calendar year. Quebec’s non-urban areas saw a marked increase in “renovictions”, forced evictions under the pretense of renovation. Non-urban Quebecois renovictions rose 43% in the past year and look to continue rising. The Coalition of Housing Committees and Tenants Associations of Quebec describes the situation as “alarming”. In metropolitan Quebec, evictions rose from 1,041 in 2021 to 2,256 in 2022, a 154% increase, again in the midst of a pandemic and its hardships.

For the state of Assam, in northeast India, in December, the state went on an eviction spree, and this in a state that has used mass evictions often since May, 2021, when the BJP assumed power. These eviction campaigns have targeted `encroachers’, who are almost Muslim. At the time of the last census, Assam’s population was around 27 million, of whom around 19 million were Hindu and 11 million were Muslim. From May 2021 to September 2022, 4,449 families have been evicted, almost all Muslims of Bengali origin, most of whom have lived in the area for generations. In November, 562 families were evicted from one site, without notice. In the first week of December, 70 families were evicted. On December 19, another 302 families were evicted. On December 26, 40 families were evicted from one site. On December 28, another eviction drive was announced, in Guwahati, Assam’s most populous city. Repeatedly, the government and its supporters have boasted that there was no resistance to the evictions.

Finally, on December 17, a group of people identifying themselves as part of or related to Operation Dudula, an anti-immigrant group in South Africa, invaded a derelict building in the New Doornfontein neighborhood of Johannesburg and evicted over 300 people, almost all migrants. Included among those cast out were more than 60 people living with disabilities, most of whom were blind, and over 200 women and children. As in Assam, the purpose was to remove `encroachers’ who were somehow `foreign’.

That’s the end of 2022, along with mass evictions of slum dwellers in Nigeria, villagers and small shop owners in Cambodia, Afghan refugees in Greece, long term residents in Mexico forced out to `welcome’ the new remote workers from the United States and Europe, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, and especially Jerusalem, and, in the United States, from Connecticut to Oklahoma to Missouri to California to Oregon, and beyond and between, eviction filings and evictions are surging, often to record heights. When it comes to access to decent, stable, and affordable housing, the world map is one of violence, devastation and existential crisis.

Globally, the common theme is fear. In India, for example, the government assured the world that everything was fine because there was no resistance. According to residents, the reason there was no resistance was years of police violence against those who protested.  Ajooba Khatoon, whose house was demolished, explained, “We did not resist them because there were hundreds of policemen. The police had already instilled a sense of fear among us since their arrival on December 13. We were not allowed to step outside on the eviction day.” Across the United Kingdom, renters live with dangerous conditions because they are fearful of revenge evictions if they speak up. In South Africa, one of the survivors of the eviction in Johannesburg, Lazarus Chinhara, explained, “‘We are not scared of deportation or anything. If we remain quiet, we will become prisoners of conscience.” Tadiwa Dzafunwa added, “I don’t know if we will ever recover from this”.

Around the world and around the corner, neighbors are living with histories of State violence, perpetrated by landlords with the assistance of the police. Thinking of the residents’ and the world’s silence at the evictions in Assam, Moumita Alam wrote, “The silence around eviction however can be attributed to the history of violence that has marked the fate of the protestors …. If every protest begets dead bodies to be buried in silence, ‘peace’ of the burial ground shrouds our memory.” If we silently accept the forced disappearances of neighbors, the web of trauma thickens and tightens as the corpses pile up. What threatens all that is human is the cooperative architecture of violence, silence, and trauma of eviction. I don’t know if we will ever recover from this. Housing should not be a privilege.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Image Credit 1: Next City)     (Photo Image Credit 2: LibCom)

Ireland and South Africa reject the `natural’ inevitability of eviction

“Yet many of these issues, I found, could not really be thought through, and some of them, I believe, cannot even be focused unless we are conscious of the words as elements of the problems.”         Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

The weather in the United States these days is terrible. Virginia and the Bay Area, in California, are threatened by tsunamis, while Hennepin County, in Minnesota, faces the prospect of monsoon. These are not meteorological events. They are eviction tsunamis and monsoons. While the figures of speech portray the intense destructiveness of the eviction situation, from coast to coast, they also provide a bit of an alibi, in that they naturalize the precipitous rise in eviction across the United States and beyond. Evictions are not natural events, they are created by humans, individually and in corporations. Likewise, skyrocketing rents and rates of eviction are not natural events; they too are created by individual landlords and, often, by corporate landlords. To the same degree that climate change is created by human action and especially `economic development’, so is eviction. Recently, Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court, separately, rejected the `natural’ inevitability of eviction and chose to promote the right to decent housing as a fundamental element of human dignity and the right to dignity.

In September, with winter approaching, Scotland temporarily froze rents and halted evictions. At the same time, in Ireland, with an equally bitter winter approaching, a third of renters reported they spend 50% or more of their income on rent. Rents in Ireland are “doubling, tripling”, according to Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice. In October, the Irish government decided to follow Scotland’s example and halted all evictions between November and March of next year. While landlords have claimed they are being `forced out’ of the market, tenants and their allies welcome the respite. Everyone recognizes that a five-month halt to evictions will not resolve the severe affordable housing shortage in Ireland, at least it will provide a momentary respite and a modest recognition of the humanity and dignity of those most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, in the case of Rycloff-Beleggings (Pty) Ltd v Ntombekhaya Bonkolo and Others, the Johannesburg High Court ruled that a group of working people’s access to work and right to dignity had to be considered when adjudicating an eviction notice. The case involves waste reclaimers who have been living on an `undevbeloped’ stretch of farmland that lies between a residential complex and a business park in the Midrand section of Johannesburg. In 2018, the owners of the land, Rycloff-Beleggings, decided they wanted to `develop’ the land, and so issued eviction notices. The city offered a site with no possibility of developing waste reclamation economies, and so, in May 2019, the residents sued, demanding to either stay put or be placed somewhere where they could continue to work. On October 4, Judge Greg Wright agreed and gave the city until March 2023 to find appropriate site for the community. Anything else “would leave them at risk of not being able to maintain their dignity and care for their children.  It would be unfair and therefore unconstitutional to uphold the other parties’ rights while the reclaimers go hungry. Furthermore, the rights of children are paramount in cases involving children such as the present one.” If people are on the land, it is not `undeveloped’. If people live in a neighborhood, it too is not undeveloped.

At one level, both Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court chose to respect  the “indivisibility of all human rights”. While the Irish protections only last through the winter and the South African decision is only one court, the examples are illustrative. First, evictions can be stopped. Second, every human being and every community of human beings has the right to dignity. Third, eviction is not a natural, inevitable event. We can stop evictions. Finally, many descriptions and analysis of the housing crisis focus on large numbers, but we must also remember that every eviction is a housing crisis, and every housing crisis is an affront and an assault on all human rights. Scotland, Ireland, and the Johannesburg High Court acted in the name and service of human dignity and decency. Who will follow their example?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic credit: The Irish Times)

 

In South Africa, Hope Gloria Mashilo and Tshebeletso Seremane said NO! to the subjugation of women workers … and won!

Tshebeletso Seremane

Hope Gloria Mashilo and Tshebeletso Seremane used to work, as executives, at the South African Revenue Service, SARS. Mashilo began working at SARS in 2005, and by 2015 she had attained the position of Executive: Workplace Wellness, where she addressed employee assistance programs, occupational health, extended sick leave and chronic diseases. Seremane began working at SARS in 2009, as Executive: Integrity and Organisational Culture. Seremane was effectively the in-house person in charge of ethical conduct and culture. According to Seremane, at first SARS valued integrity. All that changed, again according to Seremane, in 2014, with the arrival of a new Commissioner, Tim Moyane, and of the now disgraced Bain & Company, who were hired to facilitate processes at SARS. Within a month of Moyane’s arrival, the new Commissioner and his friends at Bain announced a new restructuring plan. That’s when integrity left the building, and Hope Gloria Mashilo and Tshebeletso Seremane began worrying about the institution as well as their own positions and well-being. With good reason, as it turned out.

Moyane and Bain’s `restructuring’ was “unveiled” in August 2015. Soon after, many executives discovered their jobs no longer existed and they were re-assigned to ill defined, lower positions. Many, including Mashilo and Seremane, were informed they were now “Domain Specialists”, an undefined job which basically involved turning on a computer, sitting, then turning off the computer. To be clear, people continued to receive salaries as well as benefits and bonuses. Mashilo and Seremane, separately, thought this was, first, wrong and then suspicious.

Mashilo wrote a letter, entitled “Breaking the Silence”, addressed to Malusi Gigaba, then Minister of Finance, and Yunus Carrim, chairperson of the Standing Committee on Finance, with Moyane copied. Mashilo described her own personal trials as well as the illegal appointment of Bain and the spectral situation of “Domain Specialists”. Under South African whistleblower protection laws, the author of this letter should have been protected. Nevertheless, soon after Hope Gloria Mashilo was fired and escorted out of the building.

While Tshebeletso Seremane never wrote a letter, she refused to accept the indignity and illegality of the downgrading and of the “Domain Specialists” position. She too was fired and escorted off campus. Seremane has said the that dismissal had “broken her”. Her marriage fell apart as did other parts of her life.

Hope Gloria Mashilo and Tshebeletso Seremane decided to confront the indignity and illegality of their dismissals. They sued SARS, demanding re-instatement. On August 22, acting Labour Court Judge Smanga Sethene decided in favor of Mashilo and Seremane. His judgement begins: “History narrates that in human tragedies, wars and skirmishes, women are always burdened with sufferings and hardships. The burden of womanhood is a daily struggle encountered by women in all walks of life. Courts should not be meek and gentle when confronted with instances that have all the traits of any attempt to keep women subjugated in any form at workplaces. This case captures the hardships endured by two single mothers and senior executives during the infamous `restructuring’ of the South African Revenue Services (SARS) by Bain & Company (South Africa) during the tenure of Commissioner Thomas Swabedi Moyane … Their main sin was to question the integrity of the 2015 “restructuring” sponsored by Mr Moyane with Bain as a service provider”.

The decision concludes, “The injustice visited upon Ms Mashilo and Ms Seremane deserves the unwavering protection of this court. This court cannot consort with any corrupt activity at workplaces calculated to circumvent any provision of the Labour Relations Act. This court cannot consort with anyone who trampels upon women to exploit their vulnerability at workplaces. If this court were to turn a blind eye on what occurred at SARS during Mr Moyane’s `restructuring’, it would be failing in its constitutional obligations … This court shoulders the responsibility to ease the burden of womanhood at workplaces. It is in the interest of justice and the rule of law for this court to order the current Commissioner of SARS, Mr Kieswetter to welcome Ms Mashilo and Ms Seremane24 back … effective from 1 September 2022.”

Courts should not be meek and gentle when confronted with instances that have all the traits of any attempt to keep women subjugated in any form at workplaces. In refusing to be meek and gentle, courts follow, and honor, the actions and lives of those women who refused, who said NO! to indignity, who seized the power that was, and is, already in their hands. Hope Gloria Mashilo and Tshebeletso Seremane said NO! and won, and their victory is a victory for women workers everywhere, for women everywhere.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: EWN)

Journeys have a way of evoking unexpected things

Sibongile Mtungwa

Journeys have a way of evoking unexpected things – emotions, memories, reflections, new and old doubts, questions and answers about possible pathways to the future. I’ve been meaning to write about this Mzantsi short left experience visiting one of KZN’s fiercest social justice leaders and community organisers, Sibongile Mtungwa. I’ve known about her work for a while, but for me, the “visit” did much to elucidate her intersectional feminist organising praxis. Her command of complex relationships and nuanced approach to disrupting power hierarchies in a largely traditional socio-cultural set up. Her nuanced feministing that comes so effortlessly that it may be easy to miss. Her everyday facilitation of a critical, if curious, intergenerational dialogue where culture, tradition and so called “modernity” collide into each other exploding into new spheres of imagination.

Her depth and breadth of knowledge on diverse issues and her ability to zone in on what it all means for women is beyond commendable.

As fascinating is her treatment of the politics of identity. In a world where one of neoliberalism’s colonising effects is its injection of a mortal fear in our imagination, that we are disappearing together with everything we once knew or were, identity often becomes the life boat we cling to, sometimes pathologically so, in navigating our way to survival. When it is not the life boat it becomes this perverted instrument for a neo-colonialism of a special type. Her “intersectional” feminist approach challenges and stretches mine, and that of many other feminists, with their tendency to be overly matter of fact and fail the task of recognising the bridges there are for traversing “cites of struggle”. That identities, including cultural identities, can be claimed and repurposed into resources from which to advance liberation, expanding our “decolonial” possibilities as opposed to new identity prisons that patriarchy and his friends prefer to fashion them as. The idea that the art of liberatory feministing, or what the “new” NGOism calls “Transformative Feminist Leadership”, is the ability to creatively and effectively hold contestation as dialogue between intersecting oppressions and possibilities for liberation. Imagine the possibilities for the restoration of “health” and wellness that such an approach can yield!

Leadership like this is only possible to be produced from communities that are rich in spirit, agency, self-knowledge and vision, even when everything exists around them to strangle that vision. And there are as many stranglers of vision in Harry Gwala District Municipality as leaders and vision are plentiful.

Sibongile has chosen for herself a spirituality that seems to ground her faith in, and commitment to the art of possibility. The work she does is a daily grind that can only be made light by that kind of grounded commitment. Those who have organised anywhere, and especially in rural South Africa know how isolated rural activists often are, and feel. Donors have many excuses for marginalising these organisation’s and the rural organising space. Oh it’s too far. The organisations are too small and local. The context is too complex. It’s not easy to reach. We’ve all heard the excuses. Donors don’t like journeying off the beaten path, it’s easier to fund mainstream social change with its mainstream actors and their glossy reports and simplistic narratives and roll-off the tongue (if often vapid) strategies. So despite years of experience, a proven track record and commanding vision, Sibongile’s organisation continues to shrink in capacity because if there are going to be casualties in this war of attrition in social justice it’s going to be those organisations at the cliff’s edge of the urban/rural divide. But she pushes on. Art of possibility. And from the plentiful fruits of her labour the future is birthing itself in the cracks that time has made on the shell of the old.

The girls whose leadership journey her work fosters are beautiful and hopeful and have found the song of their hearts. The old ones are puzzled and curious, if somewhat desperate to believe the past has not taken everything with it. They walk slowly towards the hills where the sounds of water beckon. The future has made its call to the past!

Sibongile is not a lone warrior because she knows that futures that are liveable for all are made possible through community effort. She is a representation of so many multi-generational feministars the world over who are as they say “flipping the script”!

Gazing into those hills, I couldn’t help but be reminded of mama Sizani Ngubane and how in some way her spirit lives in Sibongile and so many others working hard to ensure rural South Africa is not relegated to the country’s own forgotten wild west.

May those she walks with in this organising journey be strengthened by the knowledge their work is known beyond the hills, and it’s kind of philosophies has a name.

Among her many affiliations, Sibongile is a Tekano Fellow and member of the Atlantic fellows global community of leaders dedicated to the advancement of “fairer, healthier, more inclusive societies”.

Hers is an inspiring example of the transformative pedagogy of struggle the pursuit of equity and justice, from a health or any other angle, demands.

Sibongile has told snippets of her story whose contours as vast and deep as her home province. Check this snippet: https://tekano.org.za/tekano-fello/sibongile-mtungwa/

Niqine maqabane ase WLTP!

And as for especially so called “feminist” donors, say thank you, you’re welcome! Fundani nazi and fund the work of women like her. Find Sibongile and fund their visionary feminist work here!

 

(By Siphokazi Mthathi)

(Photo credit: Siphokazi Mthathi / Facebook)

South Africa’s media landscape is a mess and this must change

South Africa’s media landscape is a mess, and this must change.

The horrible news that New Frame will be shutting down immediately because its only funder is pulling the entirety of its support in one swoop, underscores the vulnerability of not-for-profit news in South Africa.

I think this also underscores a massive structural problem in South African for-profit media which relies heavily on progressive, well-researched and investigative *free content* from non-profit media. This is especially the case with the Daily Maverick, an outlet that will publish dozens of articles a week from various non-profit news sites, will make tons of money off this free content, but will not pay a single cent back to the non-profit site in exchange for this content.

This form of crass exploitation by for-profit news in South Africa cannot continue.

Non-profit media in this country needs to come together and rethink this model. They cannot continue to rely on for-profit media for exposure while at the same time allowing the for-profit media to exploit their hard work. Some options that I think non-profit media in South Africa should consider:

Non-Profit Media Consortium. Forming a consortium (or association) which sets a minimum price that all for-profit outlets must pay if they are going to use non-profit content. This minimum price can be per article or per word. But there must be a minimum cost. GroundUp, Bhekisisa, amaBhungane, New Frame, AIAC, ViewFinder, and the list goes on, cannot continue to give free content to for-profit news. This is capitalist theft from the commons.

New Non-Profit News Website. Forming a collectively run or cooperatively owned non-profit news website to rival Daily Maverick, News24 and IOL and that is the primary or sole publisher of all non-profit media in the country. The purpose of this website would be to bring readers over from capitalist outlets like the Daily Maverick and starve these for-profit entities of the free content they rely on so heavily. Why should anyone go to DM for their news if GroundUp, Bhekisisa, amaBhungane, and the others, are all publishing in one collective place and Daily Maverick is stuck with its sub-par journalists like Stephen Grootes who can only write nonsense about Zuma and Ramaphosa?

Op-ed writers and other writers must be paid. In the past, newspapers used to pay people whose opinion pieces they publish. In this day, most op-eds are published without compensation. Again, the Daily Maverick is one of the worst perpetrators. It’s time the media stop exploiting the ideas and unpaid labour of intellectual workers. If the above consortium could also act as a union of sorts or a clearinghouse for opinion writers, they could negotiate with the for-profit media in order to ensure that Op-ed content is paid for. Or it could post the pieces directly on their own website. Those of us, especially those of us who are progressive, must stop publishing think pieces for free in places. If we work instead through such a consortium, not only would we be able to receive compensation, but we would ensure that we also retain the rights over our own ideas instead of giving them away for free to media moguls.

(By Jared Sacks)

Landmark cases: In South Africa, Karen Greyling said NO! to women being economically trapped in toxic marriages … and won!

In South Africa, Karen Greyling argued that any system, any Constitution, that leaves women economically trapped in toxic marriages is unconstitutional. On May 11, the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa agreed. Near the end of her 40-page decision, Judge Elmarie van der Schyff noted, “Aspects like the now abolished marital power and the man’s headship of the family are factors that contributed, and continues to play a significant role in the way some men, and even women themselves, regard the roles, and stature of women in society. Only those who go blindfolded through life can deny that gender equality has not yet been achieved in South Africa. In fact, the South African society still has a long way to go.” Karen Greyling said enough is enough. Beverly Clark, specialist family lawyer Beverley Clark of Clarks Attorneys, who agreed to take on the case, agreed. Judge Elmarie van der Schyff agreed as well. Now the case goes on to the Constitutional Court. Here is the story of a woman who said, no matter what the Constitution said, inequality is a violation of her rights and she demanded justice.

In March 1988, Karen and Barend Petrus Greyling were married “out of community of property, excluding the accrual system”. When it comes to assets and liabilities, and especially as pertains to divorce, South Africa has three marriage regimes: in community of property, where both parties share in liabilities and assets; out of community of property with accrual, where parties stipulate assets to be excluded, declare asset values, so that, in the case of divorce, only the accrued estate will be shared; and out of community of property, excluding the accrual system, in which each party has their own estate, and that’s that, no shared assets or liabilities. This third category was added in November 1984, with the enactment of the Matrimonial Property Act 88 of 1984.

In 1988, Karen Greyling was 22 years old. A little before the two married, Barend Greyling’s father announced the marriage would be no community property, no accrual. The lawyer presented the 22-year-old with a one-page contract, she signed, and the deal was done.

The couple lived in a rural area. They had three children. Karen Greyling took care of the children and of the house. Barend Greyling became a very successful, award-winning farmer. They were rich. Actually, he was rich. The relationship became toxic and abusive. In 2016, the couple separated. It was then that Karen Greyling, thirty years later, learned the meaning of “out of community of property, excluding the accrual system”. Other than a small inheritance from her mother, she had nothing.

Karen Greyling knew that was wrong. She searched for an attorney. Many turned her down, explaining the law was not on her side. Finally, Beverly Clark took on her case: “My client went to a number of attorneys who told her she didn’t have a case. Eventually she came to me in 2019, and I was keen to take this on because I have always thought the law was unfair. I have had so many clients where the woman got such an unfair deal. Many women who have been homemakers are trapped in unhappy or abusive marriages because they know they will walk away with nothing.”

Karen Greyling’s attorney argued, “The blanket deprivation of excluding spouses from the potential benefits of a just and equitable redistribution order constitutes unfair discrimination based on sex, gender, marital status, culture, race, and religion. As a result, it operates to trap predominantly women in harmful, and toxic relationships when they lack the financial means to survive outside of the marriage.” They argued that the law was unconstitutional. As Beverly Clark later explained, “This is not about bread and milk money. It’s about proper compensation and it’s about the courts being allowed to step in and exercise discretion to avoid unfairness.”

They took the case, finally, to the High Court, where Judge Elmarie van der Schyff agreed. Twenty five years of false promises and blindfolds threw women either into effectively forced marriages or deep poverty while denying their agency and contributions. As Judge van der Schyff noted, “The equality issue brought to the fore in this application is not solely attributable to race or gender or religion, but also to economic inequity.”

South Africa’s Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of its Constitution, begins its enumeration of rights with Equality: “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.” Equality is followed immediately by Human Dignity: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.” These are the first articulations of “everyone” in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In March 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of five women who had been excluded from inheritance on the basis of gender. In December 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of survivors, the majority of whom are women, excluded from inheritance on the basis of formal rituals. In May 2022, the High court rendered a landmark decision in favor of women seeking equality in marriage and divorce. Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

Devastation in Durban

12 April 2022: Flood-damaged homes in eNkanini shack settlement in Cato Crest, Durban.

The openly kleptocratic faction of the ANC has always had its strongest base in Durban. This is the city from which the late John Mchunu used his position as the regional chairperson of the party to organise the campaign that took Jacob Zuma to the presidency. In the Zuma years, the extent to which the country was run from Durban was significant.

It is here that the axe of day-to-day political repression falls hardest, and most frequently. Violence and the threat of violence have been normalised. In much of the city, automatic weapons are now an unremarked on and ordinary feature of political meetings.

Activists have their homes burnt, are beaten, tortured, arrested and jailed for long periods on farcically bogus charges and, all too often, murdered. The izinkabi, party thugs, the police and now elements in the prosecuting authority operate together to protect the political mafia that has captured the ANC and the City Hall.

That mafia has institutionalised itself in the city’s procurement policies and in the party’s structures in the wards where there is now formal accommodation for the “business forums” that seek to capture public money in the name of “radical economic transformation”.

The election of Zandile Gumede as the eThekwini regional chairperson of the ANC is a clear signal that, despite the party’s significant setback at the polls, its most brazen mafia – the radical economic transformation faction in Durban – are not beating any sort of strategic retreat.

The capture of governance by a mafia has many consequences, including the murder of activists. Another of those consequences is that money collected and allocated for social purposes – such as building and maintaining infrastructure, providing housing and so on – is appropriated for the private enrichment of a small, politically connected elite.

Every rand that goes into another McMansion in uMhlanga, or on another Italian sports car, is a rand taken away from building houses, or even the more modest work of making shack settlements a little safer and more liveable.

Lives made in mud

Durban’s hilly terrain means there is open land for impoverished people to occupy within the city, close to schools and opportunities for work. Here, shack settlements are not always on the urban periphery. But this terrain also means that large numbers of people often live together on steep slopes. Many settlements are alongside the streams that run through the valleys, streams that turn rapidly into torrents of angry water when heavy rain lands on hard surfaces without adequate drainage and rushes down slopes denuded of vegetation by the construction of shacks.

Even ordinary levels of rain turn these settlements into waterlogged places sitting on mud considerably higher than ankle-deep. It is standard for people’s homes to be full of water and mud, with water running under their beds. This is extremely uncomfortable. Residents often spend days with plastic bags tied over their shoes. Navigating steep slopes that have turned to thick mud is particularly dangerous for older people. Broken limbs are common.

The fact that the municipality has not bothered to pave paths and install basic drainage in the settlements is just one sign, among many, of the systemic contempt with which impoverished people are treated. Its failure to collect rubbish from these areas is another. And the drainage that does exist around shack settlements, built for the adjacent suburbs, gets blocked quickly when rain carries uncollected refuse into poorly maintained drainage systems.

The weather has not been an entirely natural phenomenon for a long time, since humans first began cutting down the vast forests that once covered much of Europe and North America. The scale of human impact on the weather and broader climate systems escalated rapidly with the onset of industrialisation driven by fossil fuels. But while the worsening climate crisis requires urgent attention, we cannot say that a particular municipality is responsible for the amount of rain that falls in its jurisdiction.

A politics of contempt

But the failure to make provision to keep people safe when the rain does come, to maintain existing infrastructure and to build new infrastructure, is the full and direct responsibility of those who allocate and oversee municipal expenditure.

In the same way that the tuberculosis epidemic and shack fires are a material expression of a politics of elite contempt, so too is much of the damage wreaked by floods. We can’t stop the rain, but we can prepare for it in a way that assumes the equal dignity and equal value of the lives of all residents.

But without a decisive political shift, the cycle of fire and flood will continue to shape the lives of impoverished people. Durban has by far the most extensive and impressive forms of popular organisation in the country. But while such organisation has defended much and won much, it has not acquired the strength to dislodge the political mafia that runs the city.

Nationally, it is on the Right that new forces are emerging and cohering on the terrain of electoral politics. As is common in much of the world, the deliberate incitement of and pandering to xenophobia has become a key technique for the Right to build political vehicles that exploit people’s suffering for electoral gains while aligning with the same forces that produce and sustain that suffering.

It is the Right that is currently best placed to profit from the decline in the standing and power of the ANC. Well-intentioned top-down initiatives, from non-governmental organisations to activists last rooted in popular organising in the 1980s, will not change this. Popular democratic power is always built from below. Right now the task of building mutually respectful alliances between the mass-based organisations of the Left, alliances rooted in practical forms of solidarity, could hardly be a more urgent starting point for the project to rebuild the Left as a national force.

This article was first published by New Frame.

(Photo Credit: Rogan Ward / New Frame)

In South Africa, the Court decides wealth cannot override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples

 

For the past few years, Amazon has said it’s building its new African headquarters in a neighborhood of Cape Town called Observatory. The site, known as the River Club site, is at the confluence of the Liesbeek and the Black Rivers. It’s a flood plain that had been zoned for Open Space and conservation. None of that mattered to Amazon and its partners, who proceeded to purchase property, permits and politicians, and three years ago began development of an urban park filled with ten-story buildings, the Two Rivers Urban Park, or TRUP. That flood plain is also sacred space for the indigenous Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples. On Friday, March 18, Western Cape Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath temporarily but fully stopped all development and construction on the site. Why? The developers failed to consult with the Goringhaicona Khoi and San First Nation peoples: “There had not been meaningful consultation with First Nation groups.” Some version of that statement figures repeatedly throughout the discussion and conclusion.

Judge Goliath’s conclusion begins, “The matter ultimately concerns the rights of indigenous peoples. The fact that the development has substantial economic, infrastructural and public benefits can never override the fundamental rights of First Nations Peoples. First Nations Peoples have a deep, sacred linkage to the development site through lineage, oral history, past history and narratives, indigenous knowledge systems, living heritage and collective memory. The TRUP site is therefore central to the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the First Nations Peoples. I am of the view that the fundamental right to culture and heritage of Indigenous Groups, more particularly the Khoi and San First Nations People, are under threat in the absence of proper consultation, and that the construction of the River Club development should stop immediately, pending compliance with the fundamental requirement. I am satisfied that the Applicants had established a prima facie right, and a reasonable apprehension of irreparable damage and imminent harm if an interim interdict is not granted. I am further satisfied that the balance of convenience favour the granting of an interim interdict, and is the only appropriate remedy in the circumstances. In my view, Applicants have shown, on the evidence and the law, compliance with all the requirements for interim relief … I am accordingly satisfied that it is constitutionally appropriate to grant an interim interdict.”

The developers tried everything, from creating tension among First Nations Peoples to claiming they had conducted an impartial consultative and review process. None of that worked in Judge Goliath’s court. What mattered was the evidence and, equally, that the dignity of the First Nations People be respected.

In 1510, on the site of the Two Rivers Urban Park, wherein River Club is located, a Portuguese party tried to steal cattle from the Goringhaicona Khoi. The Khoi repelled them. A larger Portuguese force returned, to `teach the Khoi’ a lesson. The Khoi warriors soundly defeated the Portuguese, killing 64 Europeans, including their leader and eleven captains: “This devastating defeat put pause to Portugal’s run of victories in Africa and Asia.” In 1659, on the same site, the First Khoi-Dutch War ended with a resounding defeat of the Khoi. This established the rule of the Dutch East India Company, and began centuries of dispossession, immiseration and enslavement for the Khoi Peoples.

From the first announcement of Amazon’s intention, representatives of the Khoi and San Peoples argued that these specific sites are “holders of memory”. On Friday, Judge Goliath agreed. Khoi, San and their allies are celebrating and preparing for the next stages. As Goringhaicona Khoi Khoin Indigenous Traditional Council Commissioner Tauriq Jenkins said, “We are celebrating at the epicentre of liberation and resistance in defence of our country. We welcome everyone who would like to join us as we acknowledge the halting of the current destruction on the site.” There is no reconstruction without consultation. Spread the word far and wide: Wealth and power cannot override fundamental rights.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: GroundUp / Marecia Damons) (Photo Credit 2: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency / Weekend Argus)

In South Africa, a victory for Jane Bwanya, the Constitution, and equality for all!

Jane Bwanya

South Africa’s Bill of Rights, Chapter 2 of its Constitution, begins its enumeration of rights with Equality: “Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.” Equality is followed immediately by Human Dignity: “Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.” These are the first articulations of “everyone” in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Last year, Jane Bwana, a domestic worker, a lifelong partner, a widow, challenged the meaning and substance of “everyone” … and on December 31, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled in her favor, and in favor of equality and Constitutional rights. This is the story of Jane Bwanya.

Jane Bwanya migrated from Zimbabwe to South Africa. In 2014, she was at a taxi rank in the posh Camps Bay neighborhood of Cape Town. She was on her way to send goods to her family in Zimbabwe. She was laden with various boxes and packages, when Anthony Ruch, a wealthy businessman, stopped and offered her a lift. She accepted the offer, and they never separated. Months later, at Ruch’s insistence, Jane Bwanya moved into his Camps Bay residence, although she continued to work as a domestic worker. Jane Bwanya and Anthony Ruch celebrated their relationship publicly, attending social functions together, identifying each in public as life partners. By October 2015, they said they were planning to get married. They were also planning to open a cleaning business together. In November 2015, Anthony Ruch proposed marriage to Jane Bwanya. Anthony Ruch sold property so as to pay for lobola and arranged for a trip to Zimbabwe, to meet the family and finalize arrangements. They planned to marry after the trip to Zimbabwe. That trip was planned for June 2016. On April 23, 2016, Anthony Ruch died. His will named his mother as his sole heir. His mother died in 2013.

Jane Bwanya filed two claims, one for maintenance the other for inheritance, as a permanent life partner. The executor of the estate rejected both claims, basically stating that the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act and the Intestate Succession Act did not allow for opposite-sex life partners, and so, with the help of the Women’s Legal Centre, Jane Bwanya sued, arguing that the exclusions were unconstitutional. And so, Jane Bwanya sued for, and in the name of, equality and dignity. Everyone.

Writing for the majority, Justice Mbuyiseli Russel Madlanga noted, the rights, equality and dignity of same-sex survivors had already been established. According to the court, according to the 2016 census, “3.2 million South African were cohabiting outside of marriage and that number was … increasing.” Throughout his opinion, Justice Madlanga insisted [a] that the Court had to look at the world as it is and [b] not accept arguments that “typify what is to be expected in a society that is dominated by men in virtually all areas of human endeavour.”  And with that, the Court ruled in favor of Jane Bwanya, declaring that the exclusion is “unfair discrimination” and ordering the Parliament to fix the language of the two acts within 18 months. That decision was delivered December 31, 2021. Happy new year!

In March 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of five women who had been excluded from inheritance on the basis of gender. In December 2021, the Constitutional Court rendered a landmark decision in favor of survivors, the majority of whom are women, excluded from inheritance on the basis of formal rituals. Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Times Live)