Sibethiwe! Land And Black Peoples Liberation today
(This talk is dedicated to Oarena Golebane a Magogodi, who was born on the 15 June 2007- may he grow to become a soldier of the Azanian Revolution)
Comrade President Nkosi Molala The Leadership of the BPC The Members and guardians of BPC and by extension the Azanian Revolution Guests and comrades. When comrade Molala invited me, he also assured me that the BPC practises the act of critical engagement and therefore I have cart-blanche on my talk. Cde Molala your assurance gave me great hope and joy, because I know that not all components of the BCM have been able to sustain this practise, of critical engagement, reflection and speaking our minds. I intend to just do that- to engage this congress in a frank talk, because as I believe, Black Consciousness (BC) is more of a philosophy that an ideology. This opens up our movement to continuous contestations, innovations and new truths. BC is a living philosophy of black liberation.
Cdes, this congress coincides with two critical moments in the life of black liberation. Firstly, the bicentenary of the official abolishment of slavery by Britain. Secondly, the 31 commemoration of June 16 uprising in our country.
Slavery didn’t End.
We know that slavery has been abolished in the books of slave owners and their agents, but slavery never really ceased to exist for the majority of black people in the world. To day in the USA Blacks make up 45% of the prison population, yet they only make up 12% of the total U.S. population. Furthermore, blacks constitute 41% of people on death row and 35% of those executed between 1977 and 2001.
A new study in England shows that the black male youth is less involved in criminal activity. They are victims of violent crime and yet they are likely to be imprisoned and accused of these acts. To be black is to be accused! Others have spoken about how slavery has mutated into the prison industrial complex, which is basically the same thing by another name. Prisons in the USA are money making machines, and they are instruments of snuffing out black resistance.
Mumia Abu Jamal
We black revolutionaries, are duty bound to remember Mumia Abu Jamal who has been on the death row now for well over 25 years, for the crime of speaking up against the racist white supremacist USA. Mumia remains a symbol of black resistance and the unquestionable truth the USA remains a white supremacist hell hole, Condelica Rice and Colin Powel, not withstanding. I will argue that in fact in modern times, white supremacy needs some melanin, just enough enough melanin to legitimize itself. It is for this reason I argue that South Africa is also a white supremacist country, a black led government not withstanding. That’s why I laugh when I hear some of the BC organizations have now opened membership to white people. I’m still to be convinced of the revolutionary cogency of this move.
June 16 and Monumentalisation of Black Resistance
Cde President, as I’m sure this congress will reflect on the meaning June 16 to day. I just want to say that June 16 has become a weapon against remembering. This project of dis-remembering is of course run by those who manage the neo-colonial state today. This magnificent event (June 16 Uprising), which glows in its beauty as a shining example of the elegance of resistance in the face of the horror and ugliness of oppression, is being reduced to a symbol of mindless celebration as our youth is prevented from thinking and remembering. Our youth is discouraged from thinking just in case they ask, but who was Tsietsi Mashinini and Khotso Seatlholo actually? Perhaps even more importantly, our youth may be driven to ask who killed Tsietsi? I’m not talking now here about these individuals per se, but more about what they represented- a moment when black liberation seemed possible. We see that every year its more Hector Peterson, the victim, who is valorized instead of the young black angry fist that rose against the monster of Apartheid and said ya basta!
I’m also wary Cde President, of the monumentalisation of the black resistance. The history of our struggle does not need to be frozen in statues, in street names who continue the one-way movement of wealth created by the hard labour of our people. Black resistance for liberation lives in the everyday struggles of our people as they confront the monster of neo-apartheid. Our Bikos, Mashininis, Seatlholos, Tiros, Mthuli ka Shezis live in the many squatter camps of our country, where millions are still trapped, in the inner cities facing squalor and threats of eviction by Red Ants everyday, these martyrs of the Azanian revolution live in the burning tires, in the blocked roads in our prison and township shebeens.
We must guard against turning BCM into an organ of fighting to remember the past whilst forgetting to act in the now!
I have titled my talk, Sibethiwe! Land And Black Peoples Liberation today. Cde President, We blacks are defeated, sibethiwe! Refenstwe! Retlhotswe! Basingobile! va hi hlurile! – I like the Afrikaans version better though, ons is gedonderd! I came to this position after being persuaded in a somewhat traumatic but sobering ritual I forced myself to perform by a cde Skura, with whom I was at the Wits branch of Azasco in the 90s. I met this comrade recently in Durban at the inaugural lecture of the Strini Moodley Trust. This Cde said to me – whenever thinking black people meet they need to say to each other sibethiwe! as sign of recognition that the more than 300 years of our resistance against white racism didn’t end with victory in 1994, but rather with a resounding defeat! he said I needed to say this to myself as a cathartic act, which can lead to either salvation or resignation, but at least it deals with the “manufactured illusion of liberation” (Ndebele, 1991). I personally find that such a categorical statement to have a sobering effect. It means we have to recognize that the practice of black liberation needs to start all over again, with all the effort such may take. It does means also that we need to understand how 1994, subverted the prospects of ending the world and bringing into life another world.
If we move form this premise Cde President then we can see clearly why its possible, that with a vote in your name, green ID, and 13 years of this illusion of freedom, you can be told that after 50 years of toil, you deserve a thousand rand and a bag of milie meal, and be kicked out from the slave dwellings you had occupied as a bearers of slave labour, as reported in the Sowetan (07/06/2007).
“After 47 years of honest hard work, Molungu Moalodi’s retirement package was nothing more than a packet of tobacco and R1000.
This was how the 69-year-old man from Vlakkoppies farm, outside Mafikeng in North West was thanked for his years of faithful service by his boss.
He is furious with his “insulting retirement package,” after herding Koert Groblaar’s cattle for almost 50 years.
Yet Moloadi is better off. His 70-year-old wife, Dora, toiled for 33 years and was offered R50 on her last day at work.” This brings me to the theme of this congress:
Breaking the chains to free Black People from the scourge of Poverty, Hunger and Disease.
Cde President, my own position is that the scourge of poverty, hunger and disease are mere symptoms of the state of un-freedom black people find themselves in today. We have to understand why these scourges choose the black body. The example of ntatemoholo Moalodi shows that we are not poor because we are poor. The poor aren’t responsible for their poverty! My own father died a poor man and I have not seen a man who worked as hard as he did. Our people are poor because the whites and small fraction of a black petty bourgeois is rich. There remains a direct link between poverty and wealth in this country. The greatest source of the black condition today is that the historically evolved distribution of power which ensures who works, who takes profits and who is trapped in abject poverty has not been addressed.
It will be useful in this connection to recall how have arrived at the present reality. I argue that, what accounts for the black oppression in democracy is a historical evolved truth encapsulated a triple dispossession process;
We were dispossessed of our land
Dispossessed of our labour
Dispossessed of our African being
Rhodes the Rouge and his legacy Cecil John Rhodes the chief architect of this process in a moment of rare frankness makes the point that;
Every black man cannot have three acres and a cow or four morgen and a commonage right. We have to face the question and it must be brought home to them that in the future nine-tenths of them will have to spend their lives in daily labour (cited in Hendricks 2004:7).
Rhodes was not just a land thief, he was in a process of recreating a reality- Africans would cease to be producers in their own right, but would be reduced to servants of white interests. We be came workers in “daily labour”, but we also became more. Marx makes an important point about the transformative powers of capitalism;
Labor produces marvels for the rich, it produces palaces, but hovels for the worker. It replaces labor by machinery, but it casts some workers back into barbarous kinds of work and turns others into machines
[frank- black suffering and marx]
Cdes, we can’t face the possibility of black liberation without a quarrel with history. Marxists and liberals of the “history has happened” type need to answer the question, at whose expense? We know history does not end and to be free we need to remake the world and must have a confrontation with Rhodes and his agents in the present. What I find fascinating and troubling at the same time, is the fact that to day workers through their unions, even social movements and NGOs are simply fighting for the needs and rights Rhodes defined for Blacks. We want work! Work for whom? Is my question.
The service delivery protests are important and heroic acts against the tyranny of hunger, but they are at this stage nothing sort of animal level needs, to be housed, to shit in a toiled, have water and electricity. To be sure this are important demands, which we must fight for, but what they indicate is that our people remain less than human, and we are told they are free!
The legacy the three dispossessions processes have left us, can be summarised as follows:
South Africa/Occupied Azania is made out of a total of about 123 million hectares of land. After 13 years of a black government, we have a situation where about 4%, adding to the 13% of the Bantustan land has been redistributed back to black people, so this leaves about 65 000 whites and their corporations owning 80% of the land. I must hasten to say that in first decade of black management of the government about 1 million farm dwellers (workers and their families) have been evicted from their land. Furthermore, when you hear that 93% of the restitution claims are concluded, don’t be fooled. The SA land reform programme is a decoy to keep us busy and make us forget, but is not meant to deliver land to blacks.
Steve Biko following Frantz Fanon were worried about a liberation experience which does not liberate. Biko predicted
This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class would be very effective. South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs ( ibid, 1972: 44).
Alister Sparks in his Tomorrow another Country, relates how President Thabo Mbeki met with the leader of the Broederbond in 1986 in New York. The Broerderbonder chief actually said to him, it was possible to give blacks political power without changing anything in relation to the apartheid reality and the position of whites in South Africa. So the Nationalist did eventually awaken to the reality of a possible superfluous political settlement for blacks. That is why in another story last week the Sowetan’s poster shouted “Farmer Starves Family”, but our free nation was deaf to cries of hunger pangs of those families. We need to break the chains of oppression to deal with the humiliation of hunger, which leads to violent crime in our country. The preliminary conditions for freedom It seems to me that liberation can not be attained without confronting history. When we do confront history we will suddenly realise a language which speaks of theft, rogues, and is able to name the beneficiaries of the triple dispossession and call them to account. It’s this neo-marxism and talks of meaningless “Scientific Socialism”, which has denied us the means to see our suffering from a black postionality. We have been told a proletarian revolution struggle leads to freedom full stop. Biko questioned this quite powerfully (see unpublished interview conducted by Gail Gerhart):
[I]t is not only capitalism that is involved; it is also the whole gamut of white values systems, which have been adopted as standard by South Africa, both white and black so far. And that will need attention even in a post-revolutionary society. Values relating to all the fields: education, religion, culture and so on. So your problems are not solved completely when you alter the economic pattern, to a socialist pattern. You still don’t become what you ought to be. There is a lot of dust to be swept off, you know, from the kind of slate we got from white society (Gerhart interview, p.34).
I still find it strange that we have not heard of a movement or demand for reparations for black labour stolen over centuries to produce the wealth whites claim is theirs, and which gives them the power to manufacture schemes such as the BEE, and propagate lies like the so called black diamonds. There are many modern John Rhodes and their agents out there. ONLY that we seem eager to accept the role they give to us. They say if you earn R4000 a month you are middle class and we smile as we drive our bank owned shiny cars and suburban houses. We carry our maxed out credit cards with pride. The point of black liberation can not be about making it in the white world, but it has to be about bringing to an end that world so that the chains of oppression can be broken.
The second condition of our liberation is to take back our land. Note comrades I talk taking back. Any other scheme is a lie and waste of time. Ask Mugabe and ask Chavez in Venezuela and go talk to the MST in Brazil the only people who are doing meaningful land redistribution today. Cde I have looked at your 2004 election manifesto and think your land policy is not adequate. We have to be committed 100% to a land reclamation by people and not the state. The state must simple create conditions for this happen and provide legal support to entrench people’s actions. I’m for a people lead land redistribution process rather than a state led or a marker led process. We can discuss this later.
The most difficult question for me and I think we need some investigation and discussion on it is this? How de we reclaim our dispossessed being? Here I find the humanist call by Biko and supported by others not convincing. But I hasten to say I have no convincing proposition myself. For instance Biko argues that;
The first step therefore is to make the black man come to himself; to pump life into his empty shell; to infuse him with pride and dignity, to remind him of his complicity in the crime of allowing himself to be misused and therefore letting evil reign supreme in the country of his birth.
That for me is just a start, but certainly not the end. The end in sense must come from the very end of the world as Fanon argued. And I’m also thinking that the act of freedom as action starts us on the road not so much to humanity but to black liberation.
Black Unity as an act of Liberation This brings me to the most important and devastating truth. Our divisions as BCM have rendered us incapable to defend the lives and limbs of black people. Cdes, Im not a moralist or sentimental fool. Unity between Azapo, Sopa and BPC can not me a unity for unity’s sake. It has to be unit governed in the main by the principle of black liberation. We have to guard against fronts and alliences which can only lead to collective death. Think of the almost strategic tragedy of Mao and Kai-shek’s alliance- the communist were forced to run with bullets on their backs as they entered the long march. Its going to be a long march indeed.
It seem to me that working towards unity outside of the actual existing struggle is a waste of time. If our movements collectively continue to struggle in little corners, we are doomed to fail. We need to ask, where is the BCM (Azapo, Sopa, PBC), when the people of Khutsong say no! when the squatters camps are ignited with black rage, when our people are forcibly removed in great numbers during winter? When our people are sent to hospitals to die?
A proposal Cde I have a proposal to make to this congress. That BPC seriously discuss a process towards a platform for black struggle. Such a platform must be based first and foremost on the idea of unifying the struggles of our people on the ground. This means not to stop the burning tires but to link the flames to make them bigger. If you cant stomach that I think you have no role in the new Azanian revolution. Those who are worried about how they would explain to the president why their organisations are engaged in anarchy must also be excused. I hear people talking about being an alternative to the ANC when they are co managing the neo-colonial state with it? I find that hard to understand.
The second component of my proposal is that a conference of black people is called, to take stock of the black condition to day. Such a gathering must not be lead by the following comrades, Patrick Molala, Lybon Mabasa and Minister Mosibudi Mangena. A criteria for the conveners of such a conference should be;
1. Agreeable persons for all the factions
2. These must not be in senior position in government or business
3. Uncompromising figures of the Azanian revolution.
What must this conference seek to achieve?
1. Develop a common understanding of the state of black people in the country
2. Develop a common understanding of the causes of the same
3. Develop a minimum programme of action with clear principles (a revisiting of the Azanian Manifesto in a sense)
4. Develop Coordination strategy Who must be invited?
All organisations of fighting for black liberation Explicitly, the PAC, Azapo, BPC and Sopa All social movements Who must fund such a conference?
Thank you comrades and I wish a successful Congress!
The above was my keynote address given at the Black People’s Convention National Congress
Welkom in the Free State (SA) on June 16 2007.