Category Archives: The Human as Waste

From Marikana to ‘Maritzburg: Our Country is Disgracing Itself

2 January 2012
Unemployed Peoples’ Movement Press Statement

From Marikana to ‘Maritzburg: Our Country is Disgracing Itself

During the Christmas break we received the most shocking news from KwaZulu-Natal. The provincial traffic department in that province advertised 90 positions for trainee traffic officers. More than 150 000 people applied. Most of them were aged between the ages of 18 and 20. On Christmas Day 34 000 people received text messages saying that they had been short listed for these jobs. They were divided into two groups and asked to report to the Harry Gwala Stadium on the 27th and 28th of December. They were not told what to expect on arrival. When the thousands of hopeful and excited young people arrived at the stadium they were told that they had to perform a fitness test – running four kilometers. They weather was very hot and no water or medical care was provided. Many of these young people had already traveled long distances to reach the stadium. Many of them were not properly dressed for a 4 kilometer run in the heat. On the first day hundreds of people collapsed and six died. A seventh person committed suicide. On the second day the so-called fitness test was repeated. By Sunday 230 people were in hospital.

This is not an isolated case. There have been many cases where thousands of young people have turned up for a handful of jobs. There was the case of the National Youth Development Agency in East London. There was the case of Transnet in Bloemfontein.

The politicians are calling the loss of seven young people in Pietermaritzburg a tragedy. They also called the massacre at Marikana a tragedy and the murder of Andries Tatane a tragedy. This is not a tragedy. It is a disgrace. It is an outrage.

It is a disgrace that so many young people have no jobs or income or access to education. It is an outrage that people who are desperate for jobs are treated in such an inhuman manner. If the apartheid government had done this it would have been an international scandal. There would have been protests around the world. It is very clear to us that we are held in contempt by the politicians that say that they are representing us and carrying out the second transition in the national democratic revolution on our behalf. We are not human beings to them. We are just ladders to them. They are predators becoming rich and powerful in the name of our suffering and struggle. They are the real counter-revolutionaries.

The lives of people who are poor and black count for nothing in this country. They count for nothing to the capitalists, to the politicians and even to some of the media. It is our duty to insist that the lives of all people must count. People must be held accountable for the outrage in Pietermaritzburg. We fully support the call for the resignation of the MEC for Transport in the province, Willies Mchunu. He was discredited in 2009 for his role in supporting the armed attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo by ANC supporters. We reject the statement by the South African Communist Party in support of Mchunu with all the contempt that it deserves. The SACP are nothing but apologists for oppression.

Frantz Fanon wrote that: “A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society, a society to be replaced.” Our society is not viable. It must be replaced.

Our mission for the new year is to keep working to unite all the struggles – in the shacks, on the mines and on the farms – into a revolutionary mass movement of the working class and the poor that can change this society from below. We are also determined to ensure that this is the year in which the NGOs learn to respect the autonomy of our movements and to understand that their role is to support the struggles of the working class and the poor and not to lead our struggles on our behalf. We will not be bussed into NGO meetings over which we have no control and where we are treated with no respect. Solidarity is not the same thing as manipulation and domination.

Ayanda Kota 078 625 6462
Asanda Ncwadi 071 010 5441

Rolling Stone: Senzeni Na?

Senzeni Na?

by Chris Rodrigues

By the time you read these words, the miners of Marikana will have long crossed the river Styx. Contemplate dear reader: These men with dirt in their pockets, their ears ringing with the noise of exploding lead, the holes through their bodies.

Imagine some nocturnal body of water. And a boat, with such passengers, steered by a ferryman with a sure stroke. In this version, Charon, as the Greeks knew him, doesn’t require silver coins. And even if he did, he wouldn’t ask anything of these rock-drill operators who, long before they were mown down, had already begun sacrificing limbs and lungs.

Perhaps this river guide, as he places a blanket over their shoulders, quotes passages from Bertolt Brecht:

“You who will emerge from the flood/ In which we have gone under/ Remember/ When you speak of our failings/ The dark time too/ Which you have escaped”.

“And yet we know: Hatred, even of meanness/ Contorts the features./ Anger, even against injustice/ Makes the voice hoarse. Oh, we/ Who wanted to prepare the ground for friendliness/ Could not ourselves be friendly”.

These men are aware that they trouble so many more people now than when living with asbestos and bilharzia – they were faceless and unregarded. They are informed that the same company that point-blank refused to meet them has since offered – via one its shareholders – to pay for their funerals. When they were alive they knew that a sweetheart union had sent them up shit creek and at this moment in time – travelling down another wretched river – they couldn’t care less about future promises.

In this expanse these illiterate subterranean figures are, in the phraseology of Abahlali baseMjondolo, “professors of their own suffering”. They can draft PhD’s on the political economy of death. They can riff better than any broker about the price of platinum. They can wax like lawyers about police statements.

But what still embitters them is their understanding that they would have to be reincarnated many times over to earn what the CEO of Lonmin did in one single year. Comparing their salary of R48 000 per annum with Ian Farmer’s (2011) earnings of R20, 358, 620 amounts to an, approximately, 424 years discrepancy. Taking a recent estimate of average male life expectancy in South Africa (49.81) and deducting just 18 childhood years from that would mean even if they worked every day of their adult life – they would have to do so over 13 unlucky lifetimes!

Such is the normalisation of this capitalist metaphysics that the rival union has been universally rebuked for wanting to reduce it to a ratio of 1 year: 4.26 life spans. No wonder these strikers then entrusted the magic realism of a sangoma, for nothing today needs to be more urgently remedied than “reality”.

In the old myth, Charon takes our souls to the kingdom of Hades where we appear before three tribunes who decide whether we are worthy of entry into the Elysian Fields – an altogether middle-class sounding quietus.

Instead, picture a black-sooted boatman accompanying these men to a hill on which is gathered – from across time – hundreds of thousands of spectres just like them – an infernal rabble. They are mostly young because the poor die first. Amongst them are French peasants and Haitian slaves. There are Russians with pitchforks and Spaniards with rifles. There are Naxalites and whole generations of South Africans. Yes, some with knobkerries, machetes and spears!

They are all reciting Brecht’s words in the hope that they reach the ears of the living:

“But you, when the time comes at last/ And man is a helper to man/ Think of us/ With forbearance”.

Sowetan: African lives cheap as ever

Sowetan Editorial: African lives cheap as ever

WERE South Africa the normal country that our Constitution envisages – where the right to life is paramount – a calamity of the proportions of Marikana would have led to drastic measures being taken by the government.

Failure to do so would lead to the resignation of the government.

But this is an abnormal country in which all the fancy laws are enacted and the Constitution is hailed as the best on earth. All the right noises are made and yet the value of human life, especially that of the African, continues to be meaningless.

That’s what Marikana means. It has raised this unmitigated crudeness as if to awaken us to the reality of the time bomb that has stopped ticking – it has exploded!

Indeed, the life of an African is expendable. We are trying to expose the full extent of the tragedy – with the hope that it will arouse enough outrage to stop such mayhem – by publishing an image of this nature on the front page, but we wonder whether there isn’t a numbness that comes with the death of an African.

It has happened in other parts of the world where wars reduced human beings to nothing more than physical particles. It has happened in this country before where the apartheid regime treated black people like objects.

It is continuing in a different guise now. Africans are pitted against each other over who is the rightful representative of workers. They are also fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of their own country. In the end the war claims the very poor African – again.

The economic problems do require a war. But, a different kind of war – a war of ideas. Not a war that dispenses with human life in as cheaply a manner as we have seen in Marikana.

It also calls into question the capacity of those who run the country. Something drastic must be done – lest we see a snowball effect of this massacre.

JWTC: Democracy as a Community Life

Democracy as a Community Life

by Achille Mbembe

What might be the conditions of a radical, future-oriented politics in contemporary South Africa? Interrogating the salience of wealth and property, race and difference as central idioms in the framing and naming of ongoing social struggles, Achille Mbembe investigates the possibility of reimagining democracy not only as a form of human mutuality and freedom, but also as a community of life.

Preliminary observations

During the last quarter of the twentieth century we have witnessed the development of modes of ethical reasoning which dealt with the difficult question: what is “the human” – or what remains of “the human” or even of “humanism” – in an age of violence, fear and torture; war, terror and vulnerability. Propelled by the repetition of violent events and human-made catastrophes and disasters, this critique has profoundly shifted the manner in which we used to define law and life, sovereignty and the political. It is now understood that if life itself has become the prime medium for exerting power, power in turn is fundamentally the capacity to control and redistribute the means of human survival and ecological sustainability. Continue reading

WISER Seminar: Thought Amidst Waste

Thought Amidst Waste
Conjunctural Notes on the Democratic Project in South Africa

Paper for the Wits Interdisciplinary Seminar in the Humanities, WISER, University of the Witwatersrand, 28 May 2012

by Richard Pithouse, Department of Politics & International Relations, Rhodes University, Grahamstown

the existence of suffering human beings, who think, and thinking human beings, who are oppressed, must inevitably become unpalatable and indigestible to the animal world of philistinism.
-Karl Marx, Cologne, 1843

In a recent essay Achille Mbembe argues that the rendering of human beings as waste by the interface of racism and capitalism in South Africa means that “for the democratic project to have any future at all, it should necessarily take the form of a conscious attempt to retrieve life and ‘the human’ from a history of waste”. He adds that “the concepts of ‘the human’, or of ‘humanism’, inherited from the West will not suffice. We will have to take seriously the anthropological embeddedness of such terms in long histories of “the human” as waste.”