Monday, 22 October 2012

Land is at the Heart of our Struggle

by Lindela 'Mashumi' Figlan, Abahlali baseMjondolo

Yes I have to be bold and proud to be a South African. But I’m not proud because our lovely country belongs to the wrong hands. Our struggle began with the question of land and land remains at the centre of our struggle today.

In the old days the people in this country were so united. Even those who were not interested in politics they ended up in politics. This unity came from the fact that they were crying for the land of their forefathers that had been confiscated by those who thought the land was supposed to be under their authority. The people's land had been stolen, fenced and sold.

The land issue is really serious and it is really dangerous. When the minority government were pressurised on the land issue they often decided to shoot and kill our fathers and mothers. Some they died on the streets because of the struggle for land. Some their limbs were amputated because of the struggle for land. Some they lost their eyes because of the struggle for land. There were so many struggles for land. There was the war of the heads in 1906. There was the struggle of the women of Cato Manor in 1956. There was the battle on Ngquza Hill in 1960.

When Mandela returned and then became President there were so many speculations among the people. They were expecting the government to do miracles about the land issue. But up to now they are still crying the very same tears they have been crying before. People are still crying for land in the rural areas and in the cities. People are still struggling for a place in their country. That struggle remains serious and it remains dangerous.

When our movement was first formed one of Inkosi Bhambatha's grandson's joined our struggle. He was living in the Jadhu Place settlement. One man whose mother was in Cato Manor in 1956 also joined our struggle. He was living in the Arnett Drive settlement. My own father was on Ngquza Hill in 1960. I was living in the Burnwood Road settlement. All of the settlements that joined our movement were founded by land occupations. In some settlements people had been defending those occupations by resisting evictions for twenty years or more. The history for the struggle for land was a living history inside our movement. When we formed the Poor People's Alliance we aimed to unite the rural and urban land struggles.

The land struggle is not the only struggle. People are also struggling for houses, for better wages, for good schooling and against the councillors, BECs and unions that are controlling the people. But the land struggle is the foundation of many other struggles. This is why we say 'Land & Freedom!'; 'Land & Housing!' and 'Land, Justice & Dignity'.

People are still being evicted in rural areas. The government is trying to strengthen the power of the chiefs in the rural areas. The bantustans remain bantustans. And people are still being evicted from the cities. They are being left homeless or dumped in the transit camps.

And struggle remains dangerous. If you join the struggle you will face violence from party members and the police. We can loose our lives if we are not careful. After the attack on Kennedy Road in 2009, the murder of Andries Tatane in 2011 and the Marikana Massacre in 2012 is there anyone who can still say that they will get shocked if what happened before 1994 can happen again now?

Our government is a capitalist government. It is a government for the rich. It is making some people very rich and it is slowly changing the colour of the people who are rich. It is always saying that there is a problem with the colour of the people that are rich but it never says that there is a problem which is that the rich, all of them together, have too much land, too much money and too much power.

On my way of understanding, I won’t feel shocked if more of us are killed in the struggle for land. Now that the government is loosing the confidence of the people in the cities and on the mines it has decided to use violence to silence us and to intimidate us. This government wants to defend the system that is making them and their families rich while everybody else is suffering.

When the Kennedy attack happened in 2009 it was so clear that the government was supposed to take that attack very seriously because most of the people who most lost their homes regarded it as an attack to those who were not born in this province. Instead they were arrested while they were running away from those who were shouting “PHANTSI NGAMAMPONDO”. The government did nothing to stop this. When the headlines on the papers came as “ETHNIC TENSSION BOILS OVER IN KENNEDY” they quickly tried to stop those headlines. But those who came to my shack made it clear that those from other provinces must go back. The government said that the problem was just that we were 'criminals'. Even now we are still suffering with nowhere to stay while the government is not even trying to meet us half way.

Andries Tatane died the same way that the people were dying before 1994. He was not the only person to be killed like this but the whole world saw this murder on TV. We were promised that after 1994 everybody will freely practise their rights without being intimidated by the police. But the police in South Africa are still behaving the very same way as they were behaving before 1994. We were busy blaming the government of those days for how the police behaved towards the people while on the other side this government is doing the very same way. Some of us made the mistake of blaming the apartheid government because their colour was not the same as ours. But really it is about humanity. People tend to forget that we were not really against anyone’s colour but that in fact we are against the system that they were using. That system is commonly understood to be the same to the present one.

The Marikana Massacre was the most terrifying one. When our President gave a speech about this massacre he sung a song called “SENZENI NA” before he delivered his speech. That song we used to sing it even before 1994. But even now we are still singing the same song. Why? When that song continues there are words that are said which say that “OUR SIN IS OUR COLOUR”. Are we still sinned even to the government that we fought for? There must be something very, very wrong.

If the government cannot recognise our humanity than we have to recognise our humanity for ourselves. Please let’s make sure that even under threatening conditions like these lets go forward to claim what belong to the people. Now is the time for all those of us who are landless to show that really mean to fight for land in the rural areas and in the cities. With land we can start to be counted as citizens of this country.

Land has to be distributed according to social need and not according to who has money.

We need to fight jointly to make sure that we defeat this demon which is embracing our country. But if those who are suffering are not showing anything, how will other people know that they are supposed to join the struggle and to support us? Every land occupation is a small step towards making this a country for all who live in it and breaking the power of money over land.