The Restoration of our Human Dignity is not Negotiable
Talk given by S’bu Zikode at the Mzala Nxumalo Centre conference on ‘The Future of the Left, South Africa in a Global Context’, 10 June 2017
I would like to thank the Mzala Nxumalo Centre for inviting us to speak at this conference. I only received this invitation because of the movement that I am part of so I would also like to thank Abahlali baseMjondolo for entrusting me with this responsibility to represent our views.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has about thirty five thousands members in 38 branches in KZN, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Gauteng. In July this year we will be launching our first branch in Mpumalanga province, in Vukuzakhe Township. Our members are fundamentally committed to the struggle for land, housing and dignity. We have occupied and held land across this city. Some of our members have been arrested, assaulted, slandered, tortured and murdered in the this struggle.
The struggle for land is a struggle to put the social value of land before its commerical value. For this reason our struggle is clearly an anti-capitalist struggle. And when we take dignity seriously it quickly becomes clear that building a society in keeping with human dignity requires that wealth and land must be shared fairly and equally, and managed democratically.
For this reason we have always been clear that our struggle is a struggle from the left. This is clearly explained to new members. We have valuable relationships with radical comrades around the world, and movements like MST in Brazil. We are interested in building a living communism, a communism that emerges from the lives and struggles of the oppressed, and that can be used to build the power of the oppressed. Where ever possible we are committed to building alliances, based on autonomy and mutual respect, with other organisations struggling to build a more just world. Our members are already working with different organisation on common programmes. For instance in KwaNdengezi our members worked closely with members of the SACP to ensure that two criminal councillors, responsible for assassinations, were arrested, charged, prosecuted and jailed.
Where ever different radical organisations have common objectives we must find ways to work together. Impoverishment is killing our people. The councillors are killing our people. It is vital that we work together and build effective alliances for change. For this reason we welcome the initative of this conference.
Building a society where there are an equal opportunities, and a fair distribution of land, wealth and gains for everyone is never an easy task. We are confronted with a very tough task of struggling to achieve a society of Ubuntu when Ubuntu is not done to ask. We are confronted with a very tough task of having to redirect anger to where it should best serve the interests of the impoverished and the working class. In this dilemma sometimes we have to question our own strategies and tactics employed to deal with the evils of inequality and injustices. As we reflect on how we can achieve this goal the forces that are meant to keep the status quo will try to keep us apart and to divide us. It is not just the the politicians that try to divide us. Some NGOs and academics perform the same role.
We have faced serious repression since our movement was founded in 2005. That repression has come from the ruling party, from the police and from local gangsters. It has often hidden itself behind the prejudices that exist in this society against people who are black and impoverished. No leftist will be surprised by any of this. However we have also faced serious attacks from people in universities and NGOs who find their power to be threatened by the self organisation of impoverished people. Sometimes these attacks have aligned themselves very closely to state repression. They have always been racist and dishonest. There is a serious problem of racism, corruption, authoritarianism and power hunger among some of the leftists in universties and NGOs.
We are also confronted by regressive forces who are blinded by the love of black capital. It is fundamentally wrong to think that black oppression is normal and therefore should be welcomed. Oppression remains oppression irrespective of who oppress us. Landlessness, evictions and assassinations remain evil even if they are perpetuated by black leaders. We are not struggling to ensure that our oppressors are changed from white people to black people. We are struggling to end our oppression.
If the left cannot heal itself, if it cannot be honest, and if it cannot learn to understand that oppressed people have a right to organise themseles, think for themselves and take their own decisions, then defeat, and the continued devastation of our people, are inevitable.
Another tough task is to help some politicians to remember that lies cannot be accepted in our society. Last week I attended the Provincial Summit on Social Cohesion and moral regeneration organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Premier’s office and Provincial government. The summit was attended by high profile government officials, cabinet ministers, civil society and other groups and individuals. In the summit almost everyone who spoke referred to and based their presentation to people ‘on the ground’, rural communities and people in the townships and shack settlements. We are made to believe that the so called ‘smart people’’ (rich people), people who dress in suits and ties, can be exempted from the moral regeneration project, suggesting that just because they have money and dress smart they are holy. Our humanity seems to be judged by class and socio economic status. So, our task has been to go out and help ‘those people’ and the nation in building a better society. Nobody says we must begin with councillors, mayors, and politicians in general, who continue to lie and ignore the plight of the oppressed. These people promote lies and when you ask them to account then they tell you “intombi ishelwa ngamanga” (honesty is not a best policy when proposing a girl). How can the people who violently evict impoverished peopke, including children, and leave them homeless be trusted with anything? How did we even begin this conversation without addressing socio-economic inequalities and the organised disrespect for the impoverished?
Abahlali have refused to accept oppression in the name of new democratic society. We have refused oppression in the name of a better life for all. We have refused oppression even when we have had our homes destroyed in the name of law and order. We have refused oppression even in the name of a new so called ‘caring mayor’. And yes, we have refused oppression even in the face of death. We have lost comrades in our struggle. Recently we have lost baby Jayden Khoza at the hands of the police. The harmless and the innocents have suffered injustice and paid the ultimate price for being impoverished. How can we trust people who kill us?
We continue to build the power of the impoverished from below. We continue to educate ourselves on how we can achieve the kind of society we envision. We also continue to educate the state, policy makers, NGOs and the society at large on ubuhlali. We continue to educate all the experts that the struggle we are engaged in is not just about the so called ‘service delivery’ but the full restoration of our human dignity. It is about reclaiming our well-being of Ubuntu. For the left of today the struggle should be built on the basis that defines our Ubuntu. The living politic becomes critical, it becomes the foundation of all politic hence we have to start from where we are, with what we have. In doing this we must be guided by strong principles and values of ubuhlali. In this we must acknowledge that freedom without land is meaningless, freedom without real democracy is fake.