Local community and class struggles in South Africa pose challenges to revolutionaries

Protest and Repression in South Africa

from Counterpunch by PATRICK BOND, July 17, 2012

Durban, South Africa.

The recent surge of unconnected community protests across South Africa confirms the country’s profound social, economic and environmental contradictions. But if activists fall before a new hail of police bullets, or if they lack an overarching political strategy, won’t their demonstrations simply pop up and quickly fall back down again – deserving the curse-words ‘popcorn protests’ – as they run out of steam, or worse, get channelled by opportunists into a new round of xenophobic attacks?

It’s been a hot winter, and we’re just halfway through July (the Centre for Civil Society’s Social Protest Observatory keeps tabs: http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za). Consider evidence from just the past two weeks, for example, in Johannesburg’s distant Orange Farm township south of Soweto, where residents rose up against city councillors and national electricity officials because of the unaffordable $250 installation charged for hated prepayment (i.e. self-disconnection) meters, not to mention a 130% increase in electricity prices since 2008.

Nearby, in Boksburg’s Holomisa shack settlement, 50 activists were arrested after blocking roads with burning tyres. Likewise, in the port city of East London’s Egoli township, house allocation controversies led to a brief uprising, and down the coast, high-profile Port Elizabeth road barricade protests again broke out over failing services in Walmer township.

Near the Botswana border close to Northwest Province’s Morokweng village, a dozen residents angry about inadequate state services were arrested for arson, public violence and malicious damage to school property, following months of frustrated non-violent protest; while in the provincial capital of Mahikeng, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate began an investigation into a death on July 4: “The deceased was allegedly shot and run over by a police vehicle during a service delivery protest in the area.” Continue reading

“A Place in the City” — Documentary on South Africa’s Shack Dwellers Movement

on Jun 14, 2010

More than a decade after apartheid ended millions of South Africans still live in basic home-made shacks. We hear from the inhabitants as they eloquently argue their case for real citizenship rights.

The shack dwellers movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, began in 2005. Their slogan is ‘Talk to us, not about us.’ ‘It’s not that people like to live in shacks. No one will ever want to live in these conditions but they need to be close to their work’ explains S’bu Zikode, Abahlali’s elected leader. However, the group has not been welcomed by the ANC. They’ve been met with aggression rather than with negotiations. Police shot Mariet Kikine with six rubber bullets at a peaceful demonstration. ‘I’m not stopping to fight the government for my rights. Now they’ve made me brave.’ In the build-up to the 2010 soccer World Cup, Durban shack dwellers fear they will be bulldozed out of the city, or arrested. ‘This new legislation makes it a crime to build shacks or resist demolition and eviction.’ But the shack dwellers are determined not to give up.

South Africa: In Durban, its all about “Writing on the Wall”

Writing on the Wall

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

by Samora Chapman, images by Karen Logan

It was an icy Sunday morning. A handful of graffiti writers gathered to paint what everyone thought was a legal wall on Sydney Road, downtown Durban. The event had been organised weeks earlier and was openly publicized on various social networks. It wasn’t an ordinary graffiti jam. They were gathered to paint the name of a 17 year old kid, a comrade artist, Wesley Fischer aka Eiy5, who was hit by a steaming 18 wheeler truck and killed nearly five years ago.

You wouldn’t know any of this had you read the papers yesterday, although it was widely reported.

The Natal Mercury frontpage barked the headline: “Graffiti gang caught red-handed”

While Paul Kirk reported in the Citizen that: “Seven men, believed to be among South Africa’s most destructive and lawless graffiti vandals, were arrested in Durban yesterday – while allegedly in the middle of a vandalism spree.”

Durban Graffiti

The situation on the ground was a little different from the salacious and hysterical tone of these newspaper reports. Imagine a group of creative Durban youths, assembled on a sidewalk on a Sunday, sipping quarts, listening to beats, doing what they love, remembering a lost homey.

Suddenly a massive squadron of Metro cops and private investigators swoop and bundle them into the backs of police vans, while they were busy choosing the best colours to blend against the cold grey sky. Another fine example of Durban’s war on public art.

Truth is, no sane graffiti writer would stand in broad daylight in the middle of the industrial Durban downtown painting a piece illegally. Durban law enforcement has come down hard on illegal graffiti of late, and two of the artists are already on 5 year suspended sentences. It’s not like they’d risk jail to brazenly paint a wall in broad daylight. Instead this was a group of graffiti artists whose intention was to uplift a dilapidated, crime-ridden area with a graffiti mural, to honour a friend’s memory.

Durban Graffiti

The wall in question has been layered with paint for the past five years. It was legalised so long ago that any permission slip has long since been used as a mull-pad or crumpled up and drop kicked into an ally. Although the group had received permission from the wall’s owner previously, it now appears that the wall had been leased from the municipality and so permission was not the individual’s to give. The idea was, nonetheless, that this was a legal arrangement.

Furthermore, the majority of these writers are the older generation and are not the kids who are bombing the city at present. The kids who are bombing were dossing in their mom’s pad that Sunday morning, wrecked from being up all night getting loose with fat cap tags. I would know. The cats who were arrested were up at 8am doing a burner legal wall with full colours and sketchbooks in hand. Only to be accosted, harassed, humiliated and dragged off to the pits. Depicted as a gang in the media, and treated as flight risks.

They were not going on a city-wide orgy of destruction. It was not a covert, midnight “gang” operation and they are certainly not the most destructive and lawless graffiti vandals in the country. Continue reading

Ten years since the WCAR in Durban: Activists still press for an end to racism and xenophobia

July 29, 2011

DURBAN + 10 COALITION: A Peoples and NGO Initiative to Commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

To honor the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, and to continue the global fight against racism and xenophobia, a broad alliance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the United States and worldwide have joined together to form the Durban + 10 Coalition.

The Durban +10 Coalition strongly welcomes the UN General Assembly holding of a High Level meeting at the level of heads of state and government to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) on Thursday, September 22nd, 2011, with the theme “Victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: recognition, justice and development.”

The Durban + 10 Coalition unequivocally supports and embraces the advances embodied in the DDPA, and is dedicated to ensuring that the DDPA remains the cornerstone of the UN’s program to combat racism. We see the DDPA as central to pressuring the governments of the world to adopt and thoroughly implement national plans of action to eradicate racial discrimination, inequity, colonialism, xenophobia and related intolerances. We further stand opposed to the slander and sabotage against the DDPA and 10th anniversary spearheaded by the United States, Canada, Israel and several members of the European Union, particularly Italy, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic, to suppress the rights and demands of the many groups protected by the DDPA, including Migrants, Indigenous Peoples, African and African descendant peoples for restitution and reparations and those of the Palestinian people for self-determination. Continue reading