Jacques Depelchin on the Attack on Abahlali baseMjondolo

In Cities, Tearing Ourselves Apart on October 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

In solidarity with Abahlali base Mjondolo (AbM) 1

Dear Friends, Foes and all those in between,

Before May 2008, we only knew of Abahlalibase Mjondolo. (AbM), then in May 2008, we met members of AbahalalibaseMjondolo, at the Kennedy Road Settlement. Each one spoke, expressing in various ways the meaning of emancipatory politics; and then, the next day, we met again with S’bu Zikode, the President of AbM.

After he described the situation in which they were living, we asked what was the way out. “Healing” he responded.

Given the coordinated attacks against the Kennedy Road Settlement of the AbM, given the silence from the authorities, given what the AbM have gone through before. Questions arise. These are questions, not affirmations, not speculation, not insinuations.

The questions are posed for those who have been silenced, arrested, killed. All in the name of an agenda which has deep roots in African history, spelled out over and over, like mantras:

Do not stand up against might
You might suffer irreparable damage
Justice is meant to sustain might
Ignoring this can lead to carnage
The poorest of the poorest have no rights
Other than paying homage
To the richest of the richest


What is the point of having the best Constitution of the world if it is powerless against police abuse, against politically organized crime, against justice turned on its head?

What is the point of having heroes and heroines in the past who stood up against injustices if the same heroes and heroines, now, in power, now hand in hand with the richest of the richest (RoR), pretend not to have heard about the injustices because they have only listened to the media owned by the RoR.

Why is it so hard for the heroes and heroines of the past to listen to the voices of their conscience? Why is it so hard to admit that it is time to move from truth and reconciliation commissions to healing?

To the Foes:
Remember not so long ago, the powerful described those who fought for justice as terrorists, criminals. Some among you, it is certain, do hear a voice telling them that what they are doing against the AbM is criminal.

You have been told the AbM are criminals. Think a bit, is it a crime to say, as the AbM keep saying: “we are poor, we deserve respect, we deserve to be treated with justice and dignity, we deserve access to electricity and water”?

Or is their biggest crime to have refused to go along with politics as defined by the party in power. Why should someone go a long with politics of self-annihilation?

Is it a crime to disagree with politics which state that you (the AbM) do not count, unless you submit to the dictates of the party in power. Else, you shall be hunted down till you submit.

(To be continued until the poorest of the poorest are treated with justice, respect and dignity)

Jacques Depelchin

In solidarity with Abahlalibase Mjondolo (AbM) 2

Dearest Friends,

Warmest greetings to all.

In times like these you must be like the person on a not well traveled road who has had a serious breakdown and is wondering when help will appear. Changes in the wind sound like some car/hope in the distance.

Your road is not well traveled, at least not by those who should be traveling it all the time. Who wants to be with the poor? Yet, listen to those who have spoken and not just people like S’bu Zikode, it is difficult not to ask oneself why, in a post-Apartheid country such creative thinking on something as urgent as eradicating poverty is not being tapped.

Of course AbahlalibaseMjondolo is not the name of a mineral to be mined regardless of what the mineral itself thinks. You do know you are a gem, but for people who have decided that only they know how to eradicate poverty, your persistent pursuit of emancipatory politics, at the minimum, makes them uncomfortable. At worse, it will lead those who are convinced that only they know to resort to the methods they have used over the years: harassment of all kinds and, now, killing so as to terrorize you into silence.

How should those of us who are far, but in solidarity with you, act in times like these? I keep searching for answers. The currently predominant system is so predatory that it shall feed on anyone on its path. Just look at how the US, the richest country on the Planet, is finding it impossible to provide its citizens with a decent health care system.

Your situation in South Africa, that of those without medical care insurance in the US may sound to any observer as very far apart. It is easier to see how close you are to other poorest of the poorest (PoP) in Haiti, Gaza, the Niger Delta, favellas in Rio de Janeiro, the Dallits in India, etc., but while many PoPs are born into poverty, it is also the result of a process which is intimately part of the predatory system and mindset. When McNamara went to the World Bank, he promised that he would wipe poverty in 10 years. How did someone who had just participated in almost reducing an entire country –Vietnam– to ashes, how did such a person think he could wipe out poverty? Unless the poor could be wiped out altogether. Ten years later McNamara had, just as he did for Vietnam, to concede defeat.


Given the centuries of slavery, colonization, apartheid, is it not becoming more and more obvious that the system which claims to bring happiness to all, be examined more seriously and be considered as the principal source of poverty?

Could it be that the global PoPs have become the new enslaved, colonized, to be dispensed with by any means necessary? Could it be that a few heads, in South Africa, have decided that the best way to deal with recalcitrant poor is to physically get rid of them?

The pertinence of these questions should be obvious to anyone who has read about how the poor have been treated at every major socio-economic transition in the history of human kind, but, in particular, in the history of Africa.

From slavery to post-slavery in the US, for example, especially in the Southern part of the country, laws were passed to ensure that the slaves did not think that they were free to do whatever they wanted to do. One of the results? The emergence of the prison industrial complex which, preferentially, incarcerates the African American population.

You have stated who you are and how you want to be treated, no differently to any other citizen in South Africa. The Richest of the Richest (RoR) do not like to be crossed. Especially if and when they are caught wrong footed, as has been the case in relation to your treatment.

Sooner or later, even the RoRs will thank you for having sounded the alarm. Can we all join in making this alarm louder and louder till your voices are heard and not distorted.

(To be continued)

Jacques Depelchin

In solidarity with Abahlalibase Mjondolo (AbM) 3

Dearest Friends,

I am still trying to understand the logic behind the destruction, the killings. One of the things which stands out is that what is happening in South Africa against the poorest of the poorest (PoPs) is also happening everywhere, not just in Africa. It is a new form of enslavement, updated, but still enslavement. No longer under a slave owner, but under an anonymous system. As under Atlantic, capitalist slavery, the slave (read the PoPs) must keep quiet, must not complain, must pretend that he/she is not a person, but a piece of property. Under capitalism, everyone is supposed to be free, but at a very high cost.

Under slavery, the French went out of their way (under Louis XIV) to actually pass a law, known as The Black Code. It functioned from 1685 through 1848. It had 60 articles which explained, in detail, how the slave must be treated. Article 43 read as follows: Call on our officers to sue criminally the masters or commanders who will have killed a slave under their power or their direct control, and to punish the murder according to the atrocity of the circumstances…. Louis Sala-Molins (the author of Le Code Noir ou le calvaire de Canaan) comments the article by pointing out how this article was completely ignored, and how the masters’ imagination for punishment could go to extremes. He provides detailed descriptions by the slave owners themselves who resorted to torture to death as a way of punishing the slaves, so as to terrorize the others into silent submission.

These details are usually not known by the public at large, but if every single African were to have Le Code Noir as a bed side book, maybe people might begin to understand that slavery was indeed a Crime Against Humanity. Maybe people will then begin to see the connections between the PoPs of today and the PoPs (slaves) of the past; and that from that past to this present, the most predatory system ever invented, has used all the weapons at its disposal to create a mindset which accepts it as the most effective (read profitable to very few) way of organizing human relations. If everyone were to read Le Code Noir as a sacred book, sacred because it contains information which, most of the time, is kept out of reach of the average person, and is distilled in certain environments by intellectual experts (priests).

Article 42 specifically prohibited the slave owners from torturing or mutilating the slaves… But the reality as Sala-Molins shows was different. The judicial liberalism toward masters who might have tortured their slaves, later evolved into the economic liberalism of today. In the process it generated poverty on an unimaginable scale; because the managers of the system under which slavery was born never saw any reason to change their ways along the path to globalization.

The masters of the PoPs are behaving today like the slave masters of the past. They want the poor to keep quiet and accept the way in which the masters are planning to cope with poverty and the PoPs. As with “discovery” so with the end of slavery: “abolition”. Things/people can only be discovered, and/or abolished by the Richest of the Richest (RoRs), according to their will and timing. The masters did not like what the Africans did in Santo Domingo, when for 13 years (1791-1804) they fought for an end of what the slaves knew to be a Crime Against Humanity. The descendants have been made to suffer the consequences of an emancipatory act which went way beyond the 1789 French Revolution. They went too far, so said the former slave masters of the narrative which must always be dominant.

As with slavery, so with poverty, eradication of poverty can only be carried out by those who know what it means to be poor. As in Santo Domingo/Haiti, so in Durban. Then the Africans said enough is enough. The PoPs of Durban are saying to poverty and those who get rich by its maintenance: enough is enough. Those who have considered themselves in charge of history have never liked it when the poor, the slaves, the colonized, the marginalized, the Wretched of the Earth, say and do away with what they see, know as the source of their unbearable suffering. The minimum one can do is to support them.

(To be continued)

Jacques Depelchin

Solidarity with AbM (4)

Dearest Friends,

Like many people in South Africa and around the world, I am still stunned by what has been done to the people living at the Kennedy Road Settlement in Durban.

From 2005, AbM seems to have managed to overcome many obstacles, but, or so it seems, it has not been able (yet) to overcome the biggest one, namely appearing to be giving a lesson in emancipatory politics to the ANC.

Since assuming power, it seems that there are members of the ANC who seem to have forgotten the role played by ALL the people, but especially, the poorest of the poorest, in propelling the ANC to power. This forgetting could have lethal consequences, not just for the PoPs, but also for every citizen in South Africa and beyond. In the history of emancipatory politics, from slavery to today, the enslaved, the colonized, by definition, must never ever free themselves. Should they try and, worst of all, succeed, those in power shall quickly “put them back into their place”. In retribution, more often than not, this trespassing act, or so considered by those in power was followed by the most severe of punishments, preceded, if necessary, by torture. Since 2005, AbM has been giving lessons on emancipatory politics to a party in power which, directly or indirectly, claims to be the only one to know how to bring about emancipatory politics. Other historical examples are too numerous to list, but let us start with one of the most notorious:

Toussaint-L’Ouverture and the Africans of Santo Domingo of which AbM could claim to be a descendant since the poor of today are being treated like the slaves of the past. The sin of Toussaint and his comrade in arms was to succeed where the slave masters insisted they could not possibly do. For the slave masters, by definition, enslaved Africans could not possibly organize their own emancipation. For them, such a feat required the kind of intellect and organizational skills which the enslaved could simply not have, by virtue of being Africans and enslaved.

From the available information, it seems that the greatest sin of AbM has been to outsmart the ruling party in an area (politics) in which it considered itself unbeatable, unchallengeable. The behavior of the party clearly shows that some within the ANC felt that AbM had to be put back in its place. Ever since 2005, various methods have been tried and they have all failed. AbM and its leadership became more popular as some within the ANC became more agitated at not being able to outperform AbM in an arena the ANC considered to be its own turf. And to make matters worse, the AbM outdid the ANC using politics in a way the ANC has systematic failed to do, i.e. consult with the people all the time, not just at election time, and, all the time respond to the needs of the people, while treating them with the respect due to equals.

In Haiti, the success of the Africans was followed by withering punishment, individual and collective, and still unfolding to this day. It was crucial for the French state (and its allies) to do everything for Haiti never to be a functional state. As Peter Hallward showed in his book, the Africans were forced to pay compensation to those who lost their property (slaves and plantations). The payment took place from 1825 through 1946. When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide pointed out that that compensation money had to be restituted, France balked at paying back what had been calculated to amount to 20 billion Euros. Meanwhile, France had passed the Law Taubira, making slavery a Crime Against Humanity, but stipulating, at the same time, that such a recognition did not imply reparations. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide insisted that restitution was not reparation.

Those who have vowed to continue the fight started by the Africans more than 200 years ago are still being harassed and tortured as demonstrated by the current military occupation of Haiti by the UN, and the kidnapping of people like Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine simply because they keep calling for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (Pierre-Antoine was “disappeared” in Port-Au-Prince in August 2007).

Other examples are the Native Americans in all of the Americas, but, in particular, in the US. For having resisted the occupation and then the stealing of their land, the Native Americans have paid, and continue to pay a price difficult to imagine for anyone who has not visited any of the Reservations to which they have been restricted.

For now, let me stop here and bring out more examples later on.

Again dear members of AbahlalibaseMjondolo we shall never thank you enough for standing up for those of us who do not have your courage. Thank you for spelling out patiently, non violently, persistently the principles of emancipatory politics. Thank you for your prescriptions on the South African State. Thank you for your fidelity to humanity.

In solidarity,

Jacques Depelchin


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