by Alex Knight, Interactivist
This Halloween season, there is no book I could recommend more highly than Silvia Federici’s brilliant Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation (Autonomedia 2004), which tells the dark saga of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe for more than 200 years.
In uncovering this forgotten history, Federici exposes the origins of capitalism in the heightened oppression of workers (represented by Shakespeare’s character Caliban), and most strikingly, in the brutal subjugation of women. She also brings to light the enormous and colorful European peasant movements that fought against the injustices of their time, connecting their defeat to the imposition of a new patriarchal order that divided male from female workers. Today, as more and more people question the usefulness of a capitalist system that has thrown the world into crisis, Caliban and the Witch stands out as essential reading for unmasking the shocking violence and inequality that capitalism has relied upon from its very creation.
Who Were the Witches?
Parents putting a pointed hat on their young son or daughter before Trick-or-Treating might never pause to wonder this question, seeing witches as just another cartoonish Halloween icon like Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula. But deep within our ritual lies a hidden history that can tell us important truths about our world, as the legacy of past events continues to affect us 500 years later. In this book, Silvia Federici takes us back in time to show how the mysterious figure of the witch is key to understanding the creation of capitalism, the profit-motivated economic system that now reigns over the entire planet.
During the 15th – 17th centuries the fear of witches was ever-present in Europe and Colonial America, so much so that if a woman was accused of witchcraft she could face the cruellest of torture until confession was given, or even be executed based on suspicion alone. There was often no evidence whatsoever. The author recounts, “for more than two centuries, in several European countries, hundreds of thousands of women were tried, tortured, burned alive or hanged, accused of having sold body and soul to the devil and, by magical means, murdered scores of children, sucked their blood, made potions with their flesh, caused the death of their neighbors, destroyed cattle and crops, raised storms, and performed many other abominations” (169). In other words, just about anything bad that might or might not have happened was blamed on witches during that time. So where did this tidal wave of hysteria come from that took the lives so many poor women, most of whom had almost certainly never flown on broomsticks or stirred eye-of-newt into large black cauldrons?
Caliban underscores that the persecution of witches was not just some error of ignorant peasants, but in fact the deliberate policy of Church and State, the very ruling class of society. To put this in perspective, today witchcraft would be a far-fetched cause for alarm, but the fear of hidden terrorists who could strike at any moment because they “hate our freedom” is widespread. Not surprising, since politicians and the media have been drilling this frightening message into people’s heads for years, even though terrorism is a much less likely cause of death than, say, lack of health care.1 And just as the panic over terrorism has enabled today’s powers-that-be to attempt to remake the Middle East, this book makes the case that the powers-that-were of Medieval Europe exploited or invented the fear of witches to remake European society towards a social paradigm that met their interests.
Interestingly, a major component of both of these crusades was the use of so-called “shock and awe” tactics to astound the population with “spectacular displays of force,” which help to soften up resistance to drastic or unpopular reforms.2 In the case of the Witch Hunt, shock therapy was applied through the witch burnings – spectacles of such stupefying violence that they apparently paralyzed whole villages and regions into accepting fundamental restructuring of medieval society.3 Federici describes a typical witch burning as, “an important public event, which all the members of the community had to attend, including the children of the witches, especially their daughters who, in some cases, would be whipped in front of the stake on which they could see their mother burning alive” (186).
The book argues that these gruesome executions not only punished “witches” but graphically demonstrated the repercussions for any kind of disobedience to the clergy or nobility. In particular, the witch burnings were meant to terrify women into accepting “a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources” (170). Federici puts forward that up until the 16th century, though living in a sexist society, European women retained significant economic independence from men that they typically do not under capitalism, where gender roles are more distinguished. She goes on, “If we also take into account that in medieval society collective relations prevailed over familial ones, and most of the tasks that female serfs performed (washing, spinning, harvesting, and tending to animals on the commons) were done in cooperation with other women, we then realize… [this] was a source of power and protection for women. It was the basis for an intense female sociality and solidarity that enabled women to stand up to men.” But the Witch Hunt initiated a period where women were forced to become what she calls “servants of the male work force” (115) – excluded from receiving a wage, they were confined to the unpaid labor of raising children, caring for the elderly and sick, nurturing their husbands or partners, and maintaining the home. In Federici’s words, this was the “housewifization of women,” the reduction to a second-class status where women became totally dependent on the income of men (27).
Federici goes on to show how female sexuality, which was seen as a source of women’s potential power over men, became an object of suspicion and came under sharp attack by the authorities. The assault manifested in new laws that took away women’s control over the reproductive process, such as the banning of birth control measures, the replacement of midwives with male doctors, and the outlawing of abortion and infanticide.4 Federici calls this an attempt to turn the female body into “a machine for the reproduction of labor,” such that women’s only purpose in life was supposedly to produce children (144). But we also learn that this was just one component of a broader move by Church and State to ban all forms of sexuality that were considered “non-productive.” For example, “homosexuality, sex between young and old, sex between people of different classes, anal coitus, coitus from behind, nudity, and dances. Also proscribed was the public, collective sexuality that had prevailed in the Middle Ages, as in the Spring festivals of pagan origins that, in the 16th-century, were still celebrated all over Europe” (194). To this end, the Witch Hunt targeted not only female sexuality but homosexuality and gender non-conformity as well, helping to craft the patriarchal sexual boundaries that define our society to this day.
Capitalism - Born in Flames
What separates Caliban from other works exploring the “witch” phenomenon is that this book puts the persecution of witches into the context of the development of capitalism. For Silvia Federici, it’s no accident that “the witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, [or] the beginning of the slave trade” (164). She instructs that all of these seemingly unrelated tragedies were initiated by the same European ruling elite at the very moment that capitalism was in formation, the late 15th through 17th centuries. Contrary to “laissez-faire” orthodoxy which holds that capitalism functions best without state intervention, Federici posits that it was precisely the state violence of these campaigns that laid the foundation for capitalist economics.
Thankfully for the reader, who may not be very familiar with the history of this era, Federici outlines these events in clear and accessible language. She focuses on the Land Enclosures in particular because their significance has been largely lost in time. Many of us will not remember that during Europe’s Middle Ages even the lowliest of serfs had their own plot of land with which they could use for just about any purpose. Federici adds, “With the use of land also came the use of the ‘commons’ – meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures – that provided crucial resources for the peasant economy (wood for fuel, timber for building, fishponds, grazing grounds for animals) and fostered community cohesion and cooperation” (24). This access to land acted as a buffer, providing security for peasants who otherwise were mostly subject to the whim of their “Lord.” Not only could they grow their own food, or hunt in the relatively plentiful forests which were still standing in that era, but connection to the commons also gave peasants territory with which to organize resistance movements and alternative economies outside the control of their masters.
The Enclosures were a process by which this land was taken away – closed off by the State and typically handed over to entrepreneurs to pursue a profit in sheep or cow herding, or large-scale agriculture. Instead of being used for subsistence as it had been, the land’s bounty was sold off to fledgling national and international markets. A new class of profit-motivated landowners emerged, known as “gentry,” but the underside of this development was the trauma experienced by the evicted peasants. In the author’s words, “As soon as they lost access to land, all workers were plunged into a dependence unknown in medieval times, as their landless condition gave employers the power to cut their pay and lengthen the working-day” (72). For Federici, then, the chief creation of the Enclosures was a property-less, landless working class, a “proletariat” who were left with little option but to work for a wage in order to survive; wage labor being one of the defining features of capitalism.
Cut off from their traditional soil, many communities scattered across the countryside to find new homesteads. But the State countered with the so-called “Bloody Laws”, which made it legal to capture wandering “vagabonds” and force them to work for a wage, or put them to death. Federici tells the result: “What followed was the absolute impoverishment of the European working class… Evidence is the change that occurred in the workers’ diets. Meat disappeared from their tables, except for a few scraps of lard, and so did beer and wine, salt and olive oil” (77). Although European workers typically labored for longer hours under their new capitalist employers, living standards were reduced sharply throughout the 16th century, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that earnings returned to the level they had been before the Enclosures.5
According to Federici, the witch hunts played a key role in facilitating this process by driving a sexist wedge into the working class that “undermined class solidarity,” making it more difficult for communities to resist displacement (48). And while women were faced with the threat of horrific torture and death if they did not conform to new submissive gender roles, men were in effect bribed with the promise of obedient wives and new access to women’s bodies. The author cites that “Another aspect of the divisive sexual politics to diffuse workers’ protest was the institutionalization of prostitution, implemented through the opening of municipal brothels soon proliferating throughout Europe” (49). And in addition to prostitution, a legalization of sexual violence provided further sanction for the exploitation of women’s bodies. She explains, “In France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class” (47).
The witch trials were the final assault, which all but obliterated the integrity of peasant communities by fostering mutual suspicion and fear. Amidst deteriorating conditions, neighbors were encouraged to turn against one another, so that any insult or annoyance became grounds for an accusation of witchcraft. As the terror spread, a new era was forged in the flames of the witch burnings. Surveying the damage, Silvia Federici concludes that “the persecution of the witches, in Europe as in the New World, was as important as colonization and the expropriation of the European peasantry from its land were for the development of capitalism” (12).
A Forgotten Revolution
Federici maintains that it didn’t have to turn out this way. “Capitalism was not the only possible response to the crisis of feudal power. Throughout Europe, vast communalistic social movements and rebellions against feudalism had offered the promise of a new egalitarian society built on social equality and cooperation” (61).
Caliban’s most inspiring chapters make visible an enormous continent-wide series of poor people’s movements that nearly toppled Church and State at the end of the Middle Ages. These peasant movements of the 13th – 16th centuries were often labelled “heretical” for challenging the religious power of the Vatican, but as the book details they aimed for a much broader transformation of feudal society. The so-called “heretics” often “denounced social hierarchies, private property and the accumulation of wealth, and disseminated among the people a new, revolutionary conception of society that, for the first time in the Middle Ages, redefined every aspect of daily life (work, property, sexual reproduction, and the position of women), posing the question of emancipation in truly universal terms” (33). Silvia Federici shows us how the heretical movements took many forms, from the vegetarian and anti-war Cathars of southern France to the communistic and anti-nobility Taborites of Bohemia, but were united in the call for the elimination of social inequality. Many put forth the argument that it was anti-Christian for the clergy and nobility to live in opulence while so many suffered from lack of adequate food, housing or medical attention.
Another common thread weaving the European peasant movements together was the leadership of women. Federici describes that, “[Heretical women] had the same rights as men, and could enjoy a social life and mobility that nowhere else was available to them in the Middle Ages… Not surprisingly, women are present in the history of heresy as in no other aspect of medieval life.” (38). Some heretical sects, like the Cathars, discouraged marriage and emphasized birth control – advocating a sexual liberation which directly challenged the Church’s moral authority.
The gender politics of peasant movements proved to be a strength, and they attracted a wide following that undercut the power of a feudal system which was already in crisis. Federici explains how the movements became increasingly revolutionary as they grew in size. “In the course of this process, the political horizon and the organizational dimensions of the peasant and artisan struggle broadened. Entire regions revolted, forming assemblies and recruiting armies. At times, the peasants organized in bands, attacking the castles of the lords, and destroying the archives where the written marks of their servitude were kept” (45). In the 1420s and 30s, the Taborites fought to liberate all of Bohemia, beating back several Crusades of 100,000+ men organized by the Vatican (54-55). The uprisings became contagious, so much so that in the crucial period of 1350-1500, unprecedented concessions were made including the doubling of wages, reduction in prices and rents, and a shorter working day. In the words of Silvia Federici, “the feudal economy was doomed” (62).
The author documents that the initial reaction by elites was to institute the “Holy Inquisition,” a brutal campaign of state repression that included torturing and even burning heretics to death. But as time went on, ruling class strategy shifted from targeting heretics in general to specifically targeting female community leaders. The Inquisition morphed into the Witch Hunt. Soon, simple meetings of peasant women were stigmatized as possible “Sabbats,” where women were supposedly seduced by the devil to become witches, but as Federici clarifies, it was the rebellious politics and non-conforming gender relations of such gatherings which were demonized (177). Strong, defiant women were murdered by the tens of thousands, and along with them the Witch Hunt also destroyed “a whole world of female practices, collective relations, and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe, and the condition for their resistance in the struggle against feudalism” (103).
For elite European nobles and clergy, the Witch Hunt succeeded in stifling a working class revolution that had increasingly threatened their rule. Even more, Silvia Federici puts forward that the Witch Hunt facilitated the rise of a new, capitalist social paradigm – based on large-scale economic production for profit and the displacement of peasants from their lands into the burgeoning urban workforce. In time, this capitalist system would dominate all of Europe and be dispersed through conquistadors’ “guns, germs and steel” to every corner of the globe, destroying countless ancient civilizations and cultures in the process.6 Federici’s analysis is that, “Capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle – possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us the immense destruction of lives and the environment that has marked the advance of capitalist relations worldwide” (22). How might things be different if the forgotten revolution had won?
Conclusion - Rediscovering the Magic of Truth-Telling
“Day by day, it’s worse for my people, especially for the women. And that’s why, because of all of these main reasons, we say this is the mockery of democracy and mockery of War on Terror.” – Malalai Joya, Afghan democracy activist, 2009
Caliban and the Witch is a book that challenges many important myths about the world we live in. First and foremost among these is the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, started out as a “progressive” development that liberated workers and improved the conditions of women, people of color and other oppressed groups. Silvia Federici has done impressive work to take us back to the very foundations of the capitalist system in late-medieval Europe to uncover a secret history of land dispossession and impoverishment, gender and sexual terror, and brutal colonization of non-Europeans. This terrible legacy leads her to the profound conclusion that the system is “necessarily committed to racism and sexism,” and most strongly, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years” (17).
It’s been said that we can measure a society by how it treats its women. This book provides compelling documentation to suggest that capitalism is and has always been a male dominated system, which reduces opportunities and security for women as well as marginalizing those who don’t fit within narrow gender boundaries. In particular, it uses the story of the Witch Hunt to illuminate the inner workings of capitalism to show the restraining, silencing, and demonizing of female sexual power built into it.7 Responding to our question that started this essay, Silvia Federici writes, “The witch was not only the midwife, the woman who avoided maternity, or the beggar who eked out a living by stealing some wood or butter from her neighbors. She was also the loose, promiscuous woman – the prostitute or adulteress, and generally, the woman who exercised her sexuality outside the bonds of marriage and procreation… The witch was also the rebel woman who talked back, argued, swore, and did not cry under torture” (184). In other words, the witches were those women who in one way or another resisted the establishment of an unjust social order – the mechanical exploitation of capitalism. The witches represented a whole world that Europe’s new masters were anxious to destroy: a world with strong female leadership, a world rooted in local communities and knowledge, a world alive with magical possibilities, a world in revolt.
We need not despair for the world that has been lost. Indeed, it is still with us today in the struggles of people everywhere organizing for justice. Today from Afghanistan we can hear the clarion voice of Malalai Joya, a courageous woman who was expelled from the Afghan parliament in 2007 for speaking out against the U.S.-installed warlords who now rule her country. She appeared recently on Democracy Now! saying, “Now my people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies: from the sky, occupation forces bombing and killing innocent civilians… [and] on the ground, Taliban and these warlords together continue to deliver fascism against our people.”8 Joya risks her life to make these comments, but her words carry the sparkling truth that is so necessary to end the insanity of war and occupation in the Middle East. Those who are summoned to action by her call do so in the immortal spirit of the “heretics” and “witches” who resisted capitalism and feudalism before it, carrying forward a movement that is wide as the Earth and old as time.
November 5, 2009
1 – Harvard University researchers released a study on Sept. 17, 2009 showing that approximately 45,000 Americans die unnecessarily from lack of medical coverage every year, unfortunately many times more than the number killed on September 11, 2001. See this article for more on the Harvard study: http://www.reuters.com/article/healthNews/idUSTRE58G6W520090917
2 – “Shock and Awe”, Wikipedia. Online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_and_awe. Accessed Nov. 2, 2009.
3 – This “shock therapy” strategy is examined in detailed case studies by Naomi Klein in the excellent The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Metropolitan Books 2007. For example she offers that the US-led devastation of Iraq’s social infrastructure, including destruction of hospitals, food and water systems traumatized the Iraqi people such that they could not prevent the highly unpopular privatization of the country’s oil wealth.
4 – for more on the Witch Hunt’s effect on the male domination of reproduction and medicine, see Barbara Ehrenreich’s Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, The Feminist Press at CUNY 1972, pamphlet.
5 – “The high point of wages was immediately preceding the ‘long’ sixteenth century [roughly 1450], and the low point was at its end [roughly 1650]. The drop during the sixteenth century was immense.” Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World-System. Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, 1974. pg. 80.
6 – see Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, W.W. Norton Press 2005. Jared Diamond’s study of the rise of Europe focuses more on ecology than patriarchy, but is nonetheless useful for exposing the carnage of the colonization process.
7 – for a brilliant collection of insights into the many ways female sexuality is still under attack, see Friedman, Jaclyn & Jessica Valenti. Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. Seal Press 2008. My review of this book can also be found here: http://endofcapitalism.com/2009/05/17/review-of-yes-means-yes-visions-of...
8 – Democracy Now! October 28, 2009 broadcast. “A Woman Among Warlords: Afghan Democracy Activist Malalai Joya Defies Threats to Challenge US Occupation, Local Warlords.” Online at http://www.democracynow.org/2009/10/28/a_woman_among_warlords_afghan_dem... continue reading
Monday, 16 November 2009
by Alex Knight, Interactivist
Thursday, 12 November 2009
by Arundhati Roy, Interactivist
To justify enforcing a corporate land grab, the state needs an enemy — and it has chosen the Maoists
The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for
the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it's as though god had been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It's one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who
lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.
If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed, too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.
In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, "So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress." Some even say, "Let's face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country — Europe, the US, Australia — they all have a 'past'." Indeed they do. So why
In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in — the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.
Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single largest internal security threat" to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only "modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."
Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist party of India (Maoist) — CPI (Maoist) — one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The
Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian state. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People's War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had
tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, 1.5 million people attended their rally in Warangal.)
But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who
managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.
Not many "outsiders" have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine, didn't do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving,
totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India's caste-ridden society. His casual
approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.
Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department
personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.
If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have — their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to "develop" their region.
Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.
Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian state, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.
In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a
report called "Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas". It
said, "the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political
movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and
adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social
conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap
between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions.
Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force,
in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a
fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local
development." A very far cry from the "single-largest internal security
Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the
sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper
in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades
of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead
of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this
21st-century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a
completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage
about Maoist "terrorism". But they're only speaking to themselves.
The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching
(or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for
the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your
reply to ... They're out there. They're fighting. They believe they have
the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they
In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these
dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it
tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn't it,
that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared
to talk with Pakistan? It's prepared to talk to China. But when it comes
to waging war against the poor, it's playing hard.
It's not enough that special police with totemic names like Greyhounds,
Cobras and Scorpions are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It's
not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border
Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked
havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages.
It's not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the
"people's militia" that has killed and raped and burned its way through
the forests of Dantewada leaving 300,000 people homeless or on the run.
Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan border police and
tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade
headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air
base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these
decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen.
Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the
helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in
"self-defence", the very right that the government denies its poorest
Fire at whom? How will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist
from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will
adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now
count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets?
When I was in Dantewada, the superintendent of police showed me pictures
of 19 "Maoists" that "his boys" had killed. I asked him how I was supposed
to tell they were Maoists. He said, "See Ma'am, they have malaria
medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside."
What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know?
Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been
cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And
called Maoists, of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a
Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It
was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where
journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay
while they worked in the area.
Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon.
Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of
planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about "Islamist terrorism"
with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about "Red terrorism".
In the midst of this racket, at ground zero, the cordon of silence is
being inexorably tightened. The "Sri Lanka solution" could very well be on
the cards. It's not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a
European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes
committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against
the Tamil Tigers.
The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been
orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in
this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you
are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist "threat"
helps the state justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the
Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such
attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger
of the "war on terror", the state will use the opportunity to mop up the
hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military
operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers.
I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West
Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed.
Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner
Committee or the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities â€“ which is
a people's movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the
Maoists â€“ is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI
(Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held
without bail, is always called a "Maoist leader". We all know the story of
Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent
two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for
the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in
other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the
rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the
government wishes to acquire for "public purpose", will pick up pace.
Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to
get a hearing.
Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic
and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost
impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army,
a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become
like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We've seen it
happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the
"heartland" will be that it'll become obvious very quickly to the security
forces that they're only a little less wretched than the people they're
fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers
will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact,
it's already happening. Whether it's the security forces or the Maoists or
noncombatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this rich people's
war. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them
unaffected, they should think again. The resources it'll consume will
cripple the economy of this country.
Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a
series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide
and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil
rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around
us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political
thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I'm
sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying
the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity
and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists,
academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the
civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital
signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the
drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India's middle classes, a humane
heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the
Union home minister recently accused of creating an "intellectual climate"
that was conducive to "terrorism". If that charge was meant to frighten
people, it had the opposite effect.
The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the
radical left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as
Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right
to defend themselves against state violence. Many were uncomfortable about
Maoist violence, about the "people's courts" that delivered summary
justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed
struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they
expressed their discomfort, they knew that people's courts only existed
because India's courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that
the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first,
but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of
existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a
simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a
situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had
graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the state with
the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice PB Sawant
went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this
country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system.
Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights
activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He
mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu
mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the
Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.
People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand,
Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the
torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that they sometimes
seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the
mining companies. People described the often dubious, malign role being
played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering
corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and
Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people — anyone who was seen
to be a dissenter — were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said
that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and
join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability
to resettle even a fraction of the 50 million people who had been
displaced by "development" projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000
hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special
Economic Zones, India's onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what
brand of justice the supreme court was practising when it refused to
review the meaning of "public purpose" in the land acquisition act even
when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name
of "public purpose" to give to private corporations. They asked why when
the government says that "the writ of the state must run", it seems to
only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or
clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or
even being left alone and free from the fear of the police — anything
that would make people's lives a little easier. They asked why the "writ
of the state" could never be taken to mean justice.
There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these,
people were still debating the model of "development" that was being
thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model
is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists
agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to
An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had
come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world
he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a
Fabindia kurta, he couldn't help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one
point, he leaned across to me and said, "Someone should tell them not to
bother. They won't win this one. They have no idea what they're up
against. With the kind of money that's involved here, these companies can
buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own
NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They'll even buy
the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find
something better to do."
When people are being brutalised, what "better" thing is there for them to
do than to fight back? It's not as though anyone's offering them a choice,
unless it's to commit suicide, like some of the farmers caught in a spiral
of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the feeling that the Indian
establishment and its representatives in the media are far more
comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair
than with the idea of them fighting back?)
For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West
Bengal — some of them Maoists, many not — have managed to hold off the
big corporations. The question now is, how will Operation Green Hunt
change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people
It's true that, historically, mining companies have often won their
battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones
that make weapons, they probably have the most merciless past. They are
cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say, "Jaan denge par
jameen nahin denge" (We'll give away our lives, but never our land), it
probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They've
heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different
Right now in India, many of them are still in the first class arrivals
lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting
for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed — some as
far back as 2005 — to materialise into real money. But four years in a
first class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly
tolerant: the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic
practice: the (sometimes rigged) public hearings, the (sometimes fake)
environmental impact assessments, the (often purchased) clearances from
various ministries, the long drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy
is time-consuming. And time is money.
So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal,
soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the
Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial
value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is $2.27 trillion (more than
twice India's GDP). That was at 2004 prices. At today's prices it would be
about $4 trillion.
Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7%. Quite
often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances
are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have
already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the
mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the
keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it's
just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible.
From the corporation's point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of
the mountain. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free
That's just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the $4 trillion to
include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in
Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources,
including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble,
copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica,
fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways,
the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other
infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than
90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough
outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the
The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West
Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh
and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India's tribal people. The media
has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could
just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn't seem to
matter at all that the fifth schedule of the constitution provides
protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land.
It looks as though the clause is there only to make the constitution look
good — a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of
corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies
and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate
adivasi homelands — the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto,
BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.
There's an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We're talking
about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And
most of this is secret. It's not in the public domain. Somehow I don't
think that the plans afoot that would destroy one of the world's most
pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it,
will be discussed at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. Our
24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of
Maoist violence — and making them up when they run out of the real thing
— seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder
Perhaps it's because the development lobby to which they are so much in
thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth
dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does
not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But
even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes
into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10% comes to
the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get
jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking
work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other
countries' economies with our ecology.
When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not
always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the
wretched tribal special police officers in the "people's" militias — who
for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill
and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining
to begin — there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and
These people don't have to declare their interests, but they're allowed to
use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever
know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians,
which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers,
have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which
newspapers reporting the latest Maoist "atrocity", which TV channels
"reporting directly from ground zero" — or, more accurately, making it a
point not to report from ground zero, or even more accurately, lying
blatantly from ground zero — are stakeholders?
What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than
India's GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank
accounts? Where did the $2bn spent on the last general elections come
from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that politicians and
parties pay the media for the "high-end", "low-end" and "live"
pre-election "coverage packages" that P Sainath recently wrote about come
from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest,
shouting, "Why don't the Maoists stand for elections? Why don't they come
in to the mainstream?", do SMS the channel saying, "Because they can't
afford your rates.")
Too many questions about conflicts of interest and cronyism remain
unanswered. What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister,
P Chidambaram, the chief of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a
corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to
make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta — a
position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in
2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance
minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar
Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of
the Vedanta group?
What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a
case against Vedanta in the supreme court, citing its violations of
government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had
withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental
damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice
Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister
company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court
that he, too, had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite
to go ahead with the mining, despite the fact that the supreme court's own
expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and
that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the
lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice
Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the supreme
court's own committee.
What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal
ground-clearing operation disguised as a "spontaneous" people's militia in
Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with
the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in
Bastar was set up just around then?
What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on 12 October, the
mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel's steel project in Lohandiguda,
Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off
with massive security, with an audience of 50 tribal people brought in
from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public
hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated
the people of Bastar for their co-operation.)
What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime
minister began to call the Maoists the "single largest internal security
threat" (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go
after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the
The mining companies desperately need this "war". They will be the
beneficiaries if the impact of the violence drives out the people who have
so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them.
Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it'll simply swell the
ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.
Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West
Bengal, in an article called "The Phantom Enemy", argues that the "grisly
serial murders" that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic,
learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built
and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian
state, and that the Maoist "rampage" is a deliberate attempt on their part
to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian state which the Maoists
hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage,
Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed
into an insurrection.
This, of course, is the charge of "adventurism" that several currents of
the left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist
ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they
claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring
them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat
during the Naxalite uprising of the 60s and 70s in West Bengal. His views
cannot be summarily dismissed. But it's worth keeping in mind that the
adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that
predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being
manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them a
Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to
now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget — the
current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister's
visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there's a steel
factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people's anger has to do
with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of
the police and the Harmads, the armed militia of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.
Even if, for argument's sake, we don't ask what tens of thousands of
police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the
theory of Maoist "adventurism", it would still be only a very small part
of the picture.
The real problem is that the flagship of India's miraculous "growth" story
has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now,
as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and
as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home
to roost. All over the country, there's unrest, there are protests by
people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources,
refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it's beginning to
look as though the 10% growth rate and democracy are mutually
To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from
under the forest floor, to get 85% of India's people off their land and
into the cities (which is what Chidambaram says he'd like to see), India
has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify
that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They
are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu
fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why
the RSS has expressed open admiration for Chidambaram?)
It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the
Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the unlawful
activities act, the Chhattisgarh special public security act and Operation
Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand
Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether
or not Chidambaram goes ahead and "presses the button", I detect the
kernel of a coming state of emergency. (Here's a maths question: If it
takes 600,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many
will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of
Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist
leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.
In the meanwhile, will someone who's going to the climate change
conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question
worth asking: Can we leave the bauxite in the mountain?
by S'bu Zikode, Libcom
University of KwaZulu-Natal Forum Lecture
Thursday 22 October 2009
The Kennedy Road settlement, like all other Abahlali baseMjondolo settlements, has been embarking on a living politic.
This politic is a living politic because it talks about the realities of our democracy – a democracy that serves the interests of a minority while the majority our people continue to live and to die in inhuman conditions.
Our living politic talks about the fact that shack settlements have been denied life saving basic services such as water and sanitation. It talks about the fact that there is no road access, no refuse collection and no electricity. It talks about the fact that people’s lives need services like electricity.
It is a politic that talks about the fact that the intelligence of the majority has been denied while all decisions are taken by a minority.
It is a politic that says that everyone has been created in the image of God and that therefore we are all equal.
It is a politic that says that everyone in our society counts be they rich or poor and without regard to what language they speak or to where they or their ancestors were born.
It is a politic of truth that can be seen by anyone driving through Kennedy Road. Anyone can see that poverty, unemployment and hopelessness remain a challenge. It is a fact that cannot be denied that crime remains high and that ethnicity – the politic of some that is used to attack the politic of all – remains a challenge.
But the Kennedy Road Development Committee (KRDC) and Abahlali baseMjondolo have been working very hard to build a politic of all – a politic that does not divide the poor.
We have long opposed the criminalisation of all shack dwellers and demanded fair and supportive policing for shack dwellers. When the state stopped criminalising our movement and agreed to negotiate with us after the March on Mlaba in late 2007 we were able to begin negotiations with the Sydenham Police. We eventually developed a partnership to work against crime. This partnership was one of the fruits of our struggle.
All of these efforts of years have been turned into a party politic, a politic from the top down, a dirty politic, a politic full of fear, threats, arrests and death. Therefore what is happening in Kennedy Road is no longer a living politic that starts from the lives and thinking of ordinary people. Most people are confused and frightened. They cannot tell you who is the real enemy or why the poor must now fight the poor. It is a party politic.
The attack on our movement in Kennedy Road was planned at a very high political level. It was planned at a level that has the power to remote the South African Police Services. It was planned at a level that can send war lords to destroy our movement. It was planned at a level that has tax payers’ money to sponsor buses to bring our attackers to court to try and render our comrades accused of murder guilty before they go to trial – to demand that they must not be given bail and must be made to stay in Westville Prison even though no court has found them guilty of a crime.
The reasons for the attack on our movement are simple.
The politicians are trying to hide the simple truth of what has happened and what continues to happen. They are trying to blame those who were attacked by shifting the focus onto the KRDC, onto Abahlali and onto our offices.
The state itself does not talk about the dead people. It doesn’t talk anything about the people who have been displaced. It doesn’t talk anything about the people who have had their homes destroyed. It doesn’t talk anything about the whereabouts of our children, many of whom are schooling. It doesn't talk anything about the people who threatened with death for speaking the truth about their lives.
The Disaster Management unit in the City has not responded to this crisis because it has been instructed not to respond.
Our struggle was criminalised from 2006 until the end of 2007. But we did not give up. We stood firm confident that our struggle was grounded in the truth of our lives. After 2007 our movement became a platform for poor people to engage the state. We developed some good relationships including with the head of the Human Settlements Department in the provincial government. At our last meeting with her on the 27th of August a task team was set up to investigate the evidence that we had brought forward of misallocation, mismanagement and corruption in housing. As a result of this some high level officials are being investigated as we speak.
By constant struggle in and outside of the courts Abahlali baseMjondolo has successfully stopped most illegal evictions in the City. We insist that good land must be used to house the poor. Others insist that that same land must be used for the rich to become richer. Every time that we stop an eviction we make powerful enemies.
Abahlali baseMjondolo has taken the Provincial Department of Housing to the highest court of our land – to the Constitutional Court to challenge the already buried KwaZulu-Natal Slums Act. We know that this has angered most high profile officials and politicians.
The attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo is aimed at destroying our movement, its leadership, its membership and its head quarters in Kennedy Road. The aim is to replace our elected structures with a ‘comrade KRDC’ that will take its instruction from the party and not from the people – from the top and not from below.
I want to take this opportunity to express some words of gratitude to all of you that have given a moments’ silence to Kennedy Road. I want to thank all of you that have contributed to our struggle from the date when we first made our submission against the Slums Bill up until today. It has been a long journey from the shacks to the Constitutional Court and we have not walked the distance alone.
We have returned home from the Constitutional Court to a war on our movement and on our democracy. I want to thank all of you who have been collecting food hampers, making donations, organising protests and sending statements of solidarity.
I want to thank the Students for Law and Social Justice and all the students and academics around the country that have rallied to support our movement and to defend our democracy.
If the attack on our movement is not resisted there will be new attacks on other movements and other people. When you stand with us you also take a stand for your own future. continue reading