A Report Back on the US National Tour: Building Living Solidarity among Movements to End Poverty and Ensure Dignity for All

January 2011

A Report Back on the US National Tour: Building Living Solidarity among Movements to End Poverty and Ensure Dignity for All.

The invitation to visit the US came after the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI) invited Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA to participate in a series of leadership building seminars in the US. I was honored by Abahlali when the general meeting decided to send me into the USA. The aim of the visit was to learn, to share our experiences with other struggling organizations, to express our solidarity with other struggling organizations and individuals and to contribute in leadership building in the US.

Although my first contact was with NESRI, Picture The Homeless, the Poverty Initiative, Sleeping Giant and Abahlali friends, particularly Kerry Chance, Toussaint Losier and Richard Ballard in Chicago and Raj Patel and Nunu Kidane in San Francisco. But during my visit I had met many friends, Institutions, organizations and general public. I received and enjoyed comradely hospitality from friends and families who welcomed me in the comfort of their homes. Some of these friends were Kerry Chance, Toussaint Losier, J R Fleming and Richard Ballard while in Chicago. In Ithaca, there were Alicia Swords, Tim and Liz Theoharis and little Sophia. In New York City Darya Marchenkova, Jean Rice, Owen Rodgers, Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza. In Philadelphia it was Desi Burnette and Carmen Cuadrado.In Los Angeles was Debora Burton , Becky Dennison, Thelmy Perez and Davin Corona. In Maywood Leonardo Vilchis and Elda. And in San Francisco it was Jennifer Friedenbach, Jamie Spector, Nunu Kidane and Raj Patel, Mini Kahlon and little Jahan just to mention the few.

As this was a national tour my first stop was in Chicago where I was hosted by the Chicago Anti Eviction Campaign folks who took me around their neighborhoods. I was welcomed by the Central District Organizing Project (Gary IN) and South Austin Community Coalition. They showed me many homes that had been foreclosure as well as empty buildings and policing blue lights (these are cameras placed on the street corners as surveillance mechanism) in some of the poor black neighborhoods. They also took me to Whittier Parent Committee, the School where I met a Chicago Latinas women group who were busy sewing as part of their craft work. They narrated their story about the occupation La Casita (The Little House), a building on the ground of the Whittier Elementary School, for over a month saving it from demolition by the Chicago Public School (CPS) after a serious confrontation with the police. Las mamas (the mothers) continue to negotiate with Ron Huberman, the CEO of CPS, for what the La Casita is really worth. It is already used as a Library for the children, and for other activities like GED, English and Sewing classes. I was immediately reminded of the strength of the women in our communities and movements. Without the strength of our women our oppressors would have crushed us long ago.

I was also hosted by the University of Chicago, co-hosted by the African Studies Workshop, the Human Rights Workshop and the Human Rights Program of the University of Chicago with Dr. Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor of History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the College. The public talk was attended by many students, some from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and alumni. On my first Sunday I attended a mass prayer in the Back of the Yards Church with Duff Morton, Jeff Frank a lawyer and friend of MST. The service was attended by about eight hundreds congregants who prayed for Abahlali. I was touched and deeply honored by this and carried the strength of this honor with me through out my tour. I also visited Cabrin Green, and spoke to some residents there and was blessed by the strategic conversation I had with Padre Melo, a Jesuit priest and resistance leader from Honduras.I had some Radio interviews in studio with WVON, WBEZ ‘’Worldwide’’ Radio and Black Agenda Report.

Ithaca was my second stop, and I was invited to give a public talk at Ithaca College and Cornell University. In both these institutions I noted the presence of students, alumni and professors. I met young activists from Action Reflection Circle (ARC), a grassroots organization working for social and economic justice. I cannot forget how late I and members of the ARC had to discuss some of the challenges faced by this organization in making change and serving justice. The high level of commitment from ARC is a hope for many of us to realize Housing as a Human Right for all. Meanwhile in Tompkins County, 1 in 3 families struggle to afford adequate housing.

I flew to New York City my third stop where I was welcomed by leaders and staff from NESRI, PTH, Poverty Initiative and Sleeping Giant. I had an opportunity to meet with the young and energetic Darya Marchenkova who worked tirelessly in organizing the whole trip in such a successful manner. This was not an easy work but she managed to put together a very tight schedule for me, trying to satisfy everyone. The biggest salute goes to her. The comrades from PTH, Jean Rice and Owen Rodgers,took me around their neighborhoods in West Harlem, showing me the vacant buildings, homes foreclosure. I was also shown some big building bought and owned by the Colombia University. I was told how wealthy that University had become. The comrades took me to their offices for some discussion and reflection. Their office was a hope and a home for so many homeless folks. I was satisfied by the manner in which the issues of homelessness were taken so seriously. Abahlali notes with high respect how PTH and many organizations had protested at the South African Embassy in New York in solidarity with us in South Africa when we were under attacked by the state.

I had an opportunity to participate in the protest in solidarity with restaurant workers in New York. I also had an opportunity of meeting Domestic Workers United. These mothers were amazing. I was inspired by how their fight for the rights of domestic workers has grown from strength to strength for the past ten years. I was honored to be part of their ten year anniversary. Their work inspired me as it reminded me of my own mama who for the rest of her life worked as a domestic worker without any organization that protected the interests of domestic workers.

I had an opportunity of having a strategic conversation with Rob Robinson and Max Ramou from Take Back the Land. Take Back the Land has put forward a proposal for a future working relationship with Abahlali which is still in discussion.

I also had an opportunity to participate in the Poverty Initiative Scholarship Program in the Theological Seminar. This is an annual scholarship program that draws hundreds of leaders from around the country. The 2009 seminar was held in West Virginia and attended by Rev. Mavuso from the Rural Network and Mazwi Nzimande from Abahlali in South Africa. The Poverty Scholars Program is coordinated by Willie Baptist. The first day of my participation was a lifelong learning. Willie Baptist spoke on Re-Igniting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Poor People’s Campaign: Uniting Leaders, Uniting the Poor, Abolishing Poverty. The First Step: Uniting Leaders-So As To Unite the Poor-Across Color Lines. The global perspective, theory, linking and solidarity were highly informative and led to excellent discussions. On the other side a powerful view on Political Economy was shared and facilitated by Chris.

I have always begun my presentations by a Sneak Peek of the film Dear Mandela and here in New York this was facilitated by Christopher Nizza of Sleeping Giant, one of the film makers. The video helped US audience to create their own understanding of the context of South Africa’s shanty towns. I was introduced by Christopher Nizza. I talked about what Abahlali are and what our movement stands for. I elaborated on how we organise. I spoke more about how each member is encouraged to take Abahlali membership with families, friends and neighbors. That, the emphasis is more of promoting collectivity as opposed to individualism. That when Abahlali launch a new branch we promote independence and empower communities. We insist that, the movement will not struggle for its members but that it will struggle with its members. Our Executive Committee or office will not do anything for communities but it will always respond to a request to struggle with them. Whether there is an eviction, threats, protest or even negotiations with the state. We are clear that the role of the movement is to support each community to struggle for itself. We are also clear that the struggle is not in our offices but in the communities. The office exists to support the communities not the other way around. That is why an individual may not cope on his or her own. Each branch and each community needs others to support their course. One depends on the other. As each grows stronger we all grow stronger. Here we say 'talk to us and not for us' and we say there is 'nothing for us without us'. Everyone knows that we say it to the government and to the regressive NGOs. But what many people don’t understand is that we also say it with in the movement. We teach each branch that they must say it to their leadership at all levels. To lead with honor is to lead by honoring. To lead is to inspire self confidence and to share resources and skills and networks so that leadership and obedience can be the same thing. This is the politic of dignity. It starts and ends with reality that everyone thinks.

There were more questions about how we organize especial how we build leadership among young people. This was in reference to Zama Ndlovu, Mazwi Nzimande and Mnikelo Ndabankulu whose leadership role is clearly shown in the Dear Mandela film. Our movement began with many young people taking a leadership role so this was never something that we had to struggle to achieve. But it may be something that we will have to struggle to defend as our movement continues to grow, to win victories and to be seen to be successful and more older people who already have some power in their communities enter the movement. But in response to the question I explain that the struggle of Abahlali is thought from the ground, it is thought in action i.e. through the collective discussion of the experience of the oppression, community solidarity, protests, meetings, various campaigns, library, and camps. I explained that our living politic does not start with theory or a struggle bureaucracy and then impose these on living struggles in a top down way. I explained that our living politic does not require experts in struggle and that it moves from the experience of ordinary people and is discussed and developed in their languages and in their communities. I explained that our living politic starts from the reality of human equality with the aim of forcing the realization of this reality in the material and political world and so it welcomes and respects everyone irrespective of age. I explained that it aims to enable everyone to be an expert in their own struggle and to have the same right as everyone else to shape the struggle. The idea of the camp was found to be very interesting for the participants. For Abahlali our camps are about commitment in action as they run from 6 pm to 6 am. They are part of our popular education work which is part of the University of Abahlali that aims at building our own cadres. They give us an opportunity to be together while we discuss important issues with the collectivity, slowness, respect and care that is needed for such discussions.
I explained that, there was a need to stimulate and encourage the culture of learning within the movement. I also explained that, with the support of our comrades in the universities, we could send some shack students to the University of KwaZulu/Natal to study computer literacy training and that this has helped expose shack dwellers to the formal institutions. Not to mention the two year program, the Certificate in Education Participatory Development offered by the University of KwaZulu/Natal Pietermaritzburg campass. I explained that some delegates to this course also participate in Living Learning Sessions. These sessions were created to reflect on the theoretical work studied at the University and to ensure that it stayed in a living conversation with the praxis at the community level.

While in New York City, I had an opportunity to meet with staff and management from the Centre for Constitutional Rights and the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice. Here the commitment to issues of human rights was such that already there was a draft proposal on the way forward in solidarity with the victims of the Kennedy Road attack. In taking the matter up the CCR has already sent a letter to the U.N Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders. Abahlali believe that this will be very useful for the movement especially the victims of the September 2009 attack. I also raised the matter of the appeal for support of the establishment of the Independent Commission of the Independent Inquiry into the attack under the leadership of Bishop Rubin Phillip of the Anglican Church here in Durban. The Kennedy 12 trial began on the 29 November 2010 and, after the first week of the trial, we are confident that the truth will emerge in the combined weight of the two processes of the trial of Kennedy 12 and then the Independent Inquiry into the attack.

I was invited to speak at the City University of New York Graduate Centre’s Center for Place, Culture and Politics with Professor David Harvey. This platform was very important for Abahlali to be able to address our academics friends, learn from their wisdom, warn and help them to understand their role in movements or struggling communities. They are part of us, but sometimes some of them do not see it that way. There are still a few of them who think that it is their duty to do the thinking for the poor. They think that there are above us and apart from us. They look at the ugliness of our material poverty and think that we also suffer the very same ugliness in spiritual and intellectual poverty. They do not recognize that we are also people that think. This is why the slogan ‘We are poor not stupid’ was developed. This slogan is aimed directly at the regressive universities. Academics skills are so needed to confront the power of neoliberal policies and the systems that produce injustices in our world. But we cannot accept the authority of those academics that demand the right to dictate to our movement from outside our living politic, those academics who think they can buy our movement by making deals with individuals. In this discussion I alluded to participants how some academics use their skills to assume the right to talk for us without assuming the duty and the risks that come from talking to us and struggling with us. They have been able to get away with this because they have monopolized email networks, publishing and the ability to travel around the world. But we are now invading and occupying these spaces.

Philadelphia, was my fourth stop, I was hosted by the Media Mobilizing Project an organization that exists to unleash the powerful combination of communications, media making and organizing. I had found this very interesting as community organizations can not rely on main stream media. The organizations that work with MMP are lucky to have their stories and activities told in their own media. Unlike in South Africa we do not have this privilege as we have to fight for all kinds of propaganda reported by both the state and corporate controlled media. The MMP also organized a public event in the United Methodist Church at which I spoke. The leaders took me for a tour in their neigbhoods. I saw that more buildings were empty, industrial buildings were empty too. Some homes remained under threat of foreclosure. I was also taken to some historic museum including the Liberty Bell. My salute goes to Desi Burnette and Carmen Cuadrado of the MMP for such organizing and leadership wisdom. You went beyond your call. Thank you.

I had some conversation with leaders of United Taxi Workers, working to unite all taxi workers in order to fight for fair working conditions. Theses militant workers seek to organize the taxi industry across color lines.

Back in New York City, I attended a leadership meeting of the Movement for Justice in El Barrio. This is Mexican immigrant-led multi-issue organization fighting for justice in East Harlem. The organization describes itself as the sister organization of the Zapatista Movement. They have two short videos:’’ The Struggle of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land of San Salvador, Mexico’’ and ‘’Our Mutual Fight for Justice’’. Their activism was more informed by the reality of our world and their democratic practice. I noted that one of their membership requirements was that one does not belong to any political party or participate in any party political system. A lot was shared with me about the fact that land is not for sale – it is to be loved, occupied and cultivated to produce food. Here a lot was shared about politicians and the state political system whereas with most other movements discussions had been more about the banks and sheriffs. We discussed how the politicians always take the side of the big companies, banks and corporate which all unite against the poor people. What really struck me was when they said that party political system is destroying their culture. For me, this was a real fight in war, not what we mistakenly call as repression in Mexico.

While in there I had a pleasure of meeting Raul Zibechi of Uruguay in Manhattan. In a conversation with him on a strategic questions I was personally interested on how older movements have survived state repression. He had some interesting light to shine on how the state goes beyond direct repression at the hands of police but also initiates and helps the drug lords and criminal networks to rule our neighborhoods. Raul explained that in the battle that arises while movements try to deal with this the state finds its opportunity to jail leaders or even kill them. This reminded me of the current situation in our beloveable Kennedy Road Settlement, that once became a hope for many. This was an activist who has experienced all these kinds of movement organizing and failing.

Los Angeles was my fifth stop and was I hosted by the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). Here leaders took me for a Downtown community tour. Here a lot was said about the police deployment and brutality on the poor. There was a lot of unusual behavior, as members of the LA CAN had to patrol the streets of LA Downtown to guard for the police abuse on the poor with cameras and note books, to take notes and photos of any abuse by the Police Department. It was sad how poor pedestrians get tickets, just like motorists, especial taxi drivers in South Africa, who are subjected to similar daily harassment from Metro Police. Here pedestrians get arrested just for crossing robots or even just for what they call as loitering. Here you are advice to always carry your identity book, failing which you will remain in jail until your identity is confirmed. On our evening walk people were sleeping on the pavements, some right on the cement. This was a shock for me in the city known for producing super stars in the world. In this situation, the work of LA CAN is so crucial. Seeing that their offices are so full of community members who come for legal advices and help of various issues associated with homelessness, including how the sheriff conducts his/her business in carrying out evictions, was a wonderful experience.

In LA, I met the Los Angeles Right to Housing Collective Community with Union de Vecino in Maywood. Here at the community and leadership meeting with elderly people some people were touched by the Sneak Peek of Dear Mandela in to tears. They explained about their struggle and its challenges that included police harassment, contaminated water, documentations as most members are immigrants from Mexico and their successes included closing down the police department and successful mobilizing to put up their own mayor of this city. Here, I had emphasized the importance of working together, the strength and unity that come with it. Here I wish to salute the style of organizing to a point of beating the majority of the city by able to put your own mayor and close the corrupt Police Department and replace it with a cooperating and an understanding sheriff. Again it was clear and true that, "the people united will never be defeated".

The City of San Francisco was my sixth stop, I met the Coalition on Homelessness, SF in Turk Street. Jennifer, the Executive Director and Jamie Spector of the San Francisco Community Land Trust took me around this neighborhood of the Tenderloin. Poverty, homelessness, use of drugs, police harassment and mental desperation were the signs of the day. This was a moment of many questions to my mind. A community sense was all there. People could still smile and greet at us as we walked pass with these local leaders who have become hope and homes for this neighborhood. On the other side of the road there was a long queue of men, women and children queuing for food from a neighboring church. When I walked in the offices of this organization a hope was restored. There was a grand welcoming as I put my feet in that hall. Clapping of hands and smiling faces carrying a lot of love and surprise. When glancing up there, there was a big banner written: Coalition on Homelessness, SF has a pleasure of Welcoming Mr S’bu. Zikode. A short program was set up. More families joined and this was another family moment, a moment of Thanksgiving. We all ate and shared and more families came with more food, mind you in South Africa this day is not celebrated. Jamie Spector then took me to China Town in the offices of the San Francisco Community Land Trust where she works and met with her director Fred Lambright. We had a strategic dialogue and shared our work. This was my first contact with an organization that talks about land in the US thus far.

I had a Public Event with Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and Sarah Short of the Housing Rights Committee San Francisco in Bayanihan Center. This was the last public event and was attended by Anti-Apartheid Activists, Kiilu Nyasha (former Panther)the Palestinians citizens, IDEX, Bay Area pan-African allies Berkeley, media, students, families and senior citizens. While in the Bay Area, I had an opportunity to be interviewed by Walter Turner on the KPFA-Africa Today. In Oakland I had a conversation with some folks including a representative of Onyx Foundation that supports the Abahlali library with books from C.L.R James. In New Field Foundation, I had some discussions with Sarah Hobson the Executive Director.

In the City of Richmond, I had an opportunity of meeting Gayle McLaughlin, the Mayor and Marilyn Langlois and Nicole Valentino who are both Community Advocates and Rev. Phillip Lawson of the Interfaith Program Director of East Bay Housing Organizations. I was very honored by the Mayor’s welcoming after managing to secure that meeting in two days. I was moved by Mayor McLaughlin when she alluded how at the recommendation of Richmond’s Human Rights and Human Relations Commissions their City passed a resolution last year declaring Richmond, California to be a Human Rights City and adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the guiding principle. I also mentioned in the meeting that I have tried to meet my own black Mayor of my City in Durban for at least five years to no success. The question has always been who the "hell are you that you think you can meet the mayor". I was so grateful to learn that other mayors can treat us as human beings. The Richmond Mayor had offered to write a letter to Mayor Obed Mlaba of Durban, South Africa to raise concerns I had raised in the meeting. I am happy to announce that, that letter was written and sent on the 8 December 2010. In that letter Mayor McLaughlin also acknowledged the fact that, Richmond, California also has issues of poverty and homelessness but that it is a high priority for them to seek ways to empower communities to assure good jobs and a decent life for all. Although I have not heard of any response or acknowledgement of that letter from Durban Abahlali salute Mayor McLaughlin for taking this matter forward. On the other side Rev. Phillip Lawson was going to mobilize Inter Religion Conference and raise these issues of Human Rights in South Africa.

It is worth noting the Public Talk I have had with various Universities that included the University of California Los Angeles, coordinated by UCLA Law School Public Interest Program, University of Southern California, sponsored by Partnership for Equitable LA. There were a number of mainstream media interviews including the Grit TV, Al Jazeera TV, KPFA’s flagship intellectual programme, "Against the Grain", WBEZ, etc.

Noted in all my talks there were many Abahlali friends and that some of them had to drive miles to come to my talks. I wish to acknowledge these friends with high respect. I have not forgotten how some of them would help victims of shack fires in Kennedy Road Settlement while in South Africa conducting their research as students and how some connected Abahlali with some food distributing NGOs. There were also important intellectual friends like Nigel Gibson who also travelled miles to meet with me in New York.

Here are my Reflections:

Many people I have met in the US seemed to believe that everything is ok in South Africa since the release of Nelson Mandela. They have good reasons to believe this such as that: the country fought so hard to end apartheid, that the country is led by black majority so all or many blacks must be happy, the Rainbow Nation, the Government of National Unity proclaimed by Nelson Mandela, the most progressive constitution in the world and obviously South Africa’s successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup. Although people were deeply disturbed by learning from my presentation about the conditions of poverty, homelessness, state repression and attack the unwillingness of the state to engage with the poor also viewed from Dear Mandela video cleared any doubt. Noted also were activists who were part of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in many of my talks.

There were many people who were supporting, following and keeping almost up to date with the struggle of Abahlali. Some had already met Rev. Mavuso of the Rural Network and Mazwi of Abahlali in West Virginia so an interest was developed from there. I am convinced that Abahlali will continue receiving support from many organizations, Abahlali friends and people from the general public that I have met. We urge all our movements to offer the same support to the movements in the US too.

There were some ordinary residents who believed that issues of homelessness, unemployment and poverty were issues of only big corporates. The general thinking was that only the banks, the Universities such Colombia University and big companies that should answer for poverty. There was little or nothing said about the role of the state in this regard. This was very worrying for the nation to think that this has nothing to do with politic or political economy. For us oppression is a system and it’s not just about one corporate. It is the system that allows an organization like Colombia University to do the damage that is doing to society. Of course people have to mobilize against accessible targets. It is not possible to march against capitalism but it is easy to march against Colombia University. But while it is important to keep this reality in mind it is important to keep the bigger issues in mind too. I have thought that the state has been very smart to depoliticize its citizens. The danger of such thinking is that the state may not take responsibility not just for delivering services to its citizens but also for encouraging active citizens’ participation in the decision making.

I have advised that in South Africa comrades are very responsible not to allow any vacant buildings or vacant well located lands that could easily house the homeless. I have explained that we do not invade lands but occupy them. I explained that even with some basic services such as water and electricity, we often do not wait for city officials to deliver these services but that we connect these services for and by ourselves. This voluntarily and self-organization has played a significant role in serving our people’s lives. Poor shack dwellers are often killed in shack fires because cities would not provide electricity and enough water. We have refused to be burnt in the shack fires just as we refuse to vacate the lands of our ancestors. It will not just be politically immature to have homeless people in homeful cities but immoral.

Sometimes I had the feeling that there has been a lack of community sense in the US with the result that people do not talk to each other especial on issues of socio-economic rights. It is not only the rich that live in gated communities. There are many kinds of walls and gates and gated communities that make it difficult to have community meetings and they depoliticize poverty. They lead to individual behavior that can be very damaging as some people may blame themselves and think it is their own fault not to have access to all kinds of socio-economic amenities. There are many people who are involved in different struggles who see themselves as supporters of these struggles rather than seeing themselves as directly affected by injustices. They see themselves as being completely detached from the daily realities of life. I had the feeling that building bigger movements in the US will require a much bigger sense of community.

There are so many organic intellectuals with great global perspectives in the cities I have visited. There are many ordinary people who have good analysis of our world. There were many people who talked to me about building a global movement. This is great idea but that it may not be easily achieved. My response was motivating this idea but insisting on the practical realities that must be considered. It is the reality that we need to build our struggles in the cities and nationally before becoming global. For me global solidarity can only work when we are able to organize, locally and nationally, with real effectiveness. While we are thinking big we should be walking on the ground and doing small things that can really be achieved. When you build a house you are aware that you need a roof but you start with the foundation and not with the roof. Right now we should be supporting each other when and how we can build and protect the better world where we live. Our struggles have always been in communication. The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, the great rural and shack dwellers’ movement, the Abahlalis of the 1920's, was partially influenced by American sailors who came to our ports. In our own time the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign was partially influenced by the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign from Cape Town. Picture the Homeless in New York has adopted and adapted the Abahlali Slogan "Talk to us, not for us". All that I learnt from the US struggles on this tour will become part of Abahlali. We need to keep this communication and solidarity alive while we build the foundation of our struggle in all our cities in both our countries. If we can succeed with that then we can start with the walls. If we start by trying to raise a roof across the oceans it will just collapse.

Abahlali's living politic explains this much easily. It explains that a struggle must be owned and shaped in thought and in action by ordinary men and women. It explains that every struggle must start from the ordinary lives of people and recognize the logic that if people do not have homes they need homes, if people do not have water they need water. And of course we have to continually discuss the bigger meaning of our struggle.

Comrades were very keen to understand how Abahlali organizes and how we sustain our struggle. They especial wanted to know how it is possible for us to have a membership of thousands. Here I talked about promoting collectivism against individualism. During protests, the number of marchers does not seem to border anyone in the US, while in SA the number of marchers does count. Our numbers in unity are our strength and with that we are taken seriously. A few hundreds of us are not taken seriously. I explained that commitment to us means that, sometimes we do not have to sleep and that we should have all night camps running from 6 pm to 6 am. But this amazed people and raised serious questions to those who claim to be committed to struggles of justice and social change. They may not be committed enough.

Some comrades in the US have a deep faith in Obama, just like the faith that some South Africans have in Jacob Zuma (SA. State president). They expect changes to come from the top. Some of us also celebrated the election of Obama in South Africa. But we know that while the system can use colour to lock some people out and to divide them, the system at its heart knows no colour. It knows only money and power. Perhaps the next film that Dara and Chris make should be called Dear Obama. If people that elected Obama had remained united and mobilized as a movement after his election then they could be a real organized force against some of the pressures that have confronted Obama in office – pressures from the corporates and from right wing. If there was a real movement to guide Obama from below then maybe things would have been different. We have learnt the hard way that changing the people at the top of the system is not the way to build a just society. Justice will only come from popular political empowerment. Humanizing the world is a bottom up process and not a top down process. It is good to have disciplined allies at the top but power has to be built at the bottom of society and the direction has to be given from below.

It has become clear to many of us that poverty and homelessness are not natural but political. Anything that is political can be challenged by the committed will of the people in action. So, we all have power to end all forms of inequality and injustices in our cities. It is our duty to God and to our countries that requires us to strive for what we believe is fair and just for all.

On behalf of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA I thank everyone in the US and promise to offer the same hospitality in South Africa to all the comrades from the US.

S’bu. Zikode, Durban, South Africa, 12 January 2011.