Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dear Art (Ljubljana)

www.mg-lj.si

29 November 2012 – 10 February 2013
Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Maistrova 3
, Ljubljana

Press conference: Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 11 a.m.
Opening: Thursday, 29 November 2012 at 8 p.m

Mounira Al Solh & Bassam Ramlawi, Halil Altindere, Rossella Biscotti, Chto Delat, Every Man is a Curator / Jeder Mensch ist ein Kurator. An archive as a tool, Fokus grupa (Iva Kovač & Elvis Krstulović), Siniša Ilić, Sanja Iveković, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Janez Janša, Lutz Krüger, Marina Naprushkina, Hila Peleg in collaboration with Tirdad Zolghadr & Anton Vidokle, Cesare Pietroiusti, Public Library (Luka Prinčič, Marcell Mars, Tomislav Medak, Vuk Ćosić), Greg Sholette, Mladen Stilinović, Wendelien Van Oldenborgh

Curated by What, How and for Whom/WHW

“Dear art,” Mladen Stilinović wrote in 1999, “I am writing you a love letter to cheer you up and encourage you to come and visit me some time”. Always acutely aware of his own complicity and involvement, in his address to art Stilinović intimates a set of troubled, poetic, enigmatic and modest observations on the standing of art in the contemporary world, its reception and distribution. But he also questions the value of art, which far too often is translated exclusively in monetary terms, or as he puts it: “quick manipulation, quick money, quick oblivion”.

As in several previous shows curated by WHW, “Dear Art” takes its title from a work by Mladen Stilinović, and once again its wager is set on the “classical” exhibition format. Amidst the disillusionment created by the persistent feeling of failure (coming from the fact that attempts for a radical reconfiguration of art and cultural production in general always become almost immediately spectacularized), “Dear Art” insists on the obstinate repetition of what has become the curatorial method. Obsessed with the interconnectedness of art and politics and plagued by the nature of art’s “inefficiency,” it attempts to ask necessary questions: Why do we still need art, and what is it that we expect to get from art today? What is its promise, and what do we promise it in return? And what happens when this promise is broken, betrayed, and just plain exhausted?

“Dear Art” approaches questions of the artist’s autonomy and art’s necessity through works that deliberately blur the relationship between engagement, self-referentiality and aesthetics. Engaged with a range of contradictory, heterogeneous methods that affirm endurance, endure indecisiveness, face misunderstandings and reassert allegiances, the works included address the ways in which misunderstanding, confusion, regret, possession, appreciation and devaluation, support and solidarity play out in contemporary art practice, and in defining one’s practice in relation to discussions on reconfiguring the field of art and its relationship to the political.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, with texts by Mladen Stilinović, WHW and Stephen Wright, which is available for download in the attachment bellow.

The project is supported by:
Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport of Slovenia
City Office for Culture, Education and Sport – City of Zagreb
Ministry of Culture of Croatia
ERSTE Foundation

Dear Art booklet.pdf

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Russia: Reading Aloud in Public Is Illegal (Protest against the Torture of Russian Prisoners)

On November 26, a protest against the torture of Russian prisoners took place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service in Moscow. The protest was occasioned by the conflict in penal colony № 6 in Kopeisk. Police detained more than ten people during the protest.

This is how the protest was announced on Facebook:

On November 26 at 6:00 p.m, a protest against torture in Russian prisons will take place outside the headquarters of the Federal Penitentiary Service at Zhitnaya 14.

We protest against torture in Russian prisons and support the inmates in Kopeisk, who spoke out against bullying, extortion and sexual abuse. During the protest, we will be reading prisoners’ stories of torture and humiliation aloud. We are convinced that the public should be aware of what is actually going on in Russian prisons. And not just be aware, but try and stop this nightmare.

At penal colony no. 6 in Kopeisk in the Chelyabinsk region, more than a thousand prisoners have for several days refused to go inside in protest against torture and beatings. Silently, lined up, they stand in the cold for several hours. They refuse to eat, believing that it is better to die than to continue to suffer torture, humiliation and blackmail.
A group of convicts seized the guard tower in the industrial area of the colony and hung up a banner with the message “People, help us!” Riot police were deployed to the colony; they attacked prisoners’ relatives who had gathered outside the prison gates. People were beaten bloody and the windows of their cars were smashed. Among the victims was human rights activist Oksana Trufanova. “I heard [the command] ‘Beat!’ and the relatives were attacked by men in black masks and uniforms wielding clubs,” she said in an interview. “Everyone fled, but [the riot police] ran many people down. Personally, I was hit on the head and pushed to the ground. I told them I was a human rights activist, but they told me rudely, using obscene language, to keep quiet or I’d get another whacking.”

Even now the authorities are trying to convince us that nothing has happened, and that journalists have exaggerated the scale of the protests. That is why it is so important not to let them hush up this outrage.
We demand:

–  An objective investigation of all allegations of torture and extortion in the colony, and an open trial of Federal Penitentiary Service employees implicated in them.
– The punishment of Interior Ministry officers who employed violence against family members and human rights activists gathered outside colony no. 6.

______

 Why the prisoners “rioted”:

Olga Belousova, the sister of one of the inmates, was allowed inside Penal Colony No. 6 along with two other relatives. As a witness, she was able to speak to the press about the situation there.

“There were 60 people in the room; all were standing quietly,” Belousova said. “I told them that we support them and came to make sure that everything is fine, and that we want to make their voices heard outside the colony.”

The complaints, which were mainly communicated by the prisoners, include enormous extortions, inappropriate use of force and numerous other humiliations, Belousova says.

“They don’t touch those who give them money, but against those who can’t they use force to make their relatives pay,” she added.

Former convict Mikhail Ermuraky believes that this system of exploitation was a main reason for the riot.  

His mother said her son was tortured multiple times, sometimes even including with sexual abuse.

“They start beating those who don’t want to pay,” said Ermuraky in a recent interview with the RIA Novosti news agency.

The father of another convict, who spent three months in colony No.6, told Russia’s Dozhd television that he has twice paid off prison staff.

“Every month… If you don’t bring money, there will be problems,” a man who wasn’t named told Dozhd.

Payments in prison are typically euphemized as “voluntary contributions.” Local human rights ombudsman Aleksey Sevastianov has noted complaints from relatives that such “contributions” can sometimes reach up to 200,000 rubles – more than $6,400. For comparison, the average Russian’s annual income is just over $10,000.

For convicts, such sums are impossible to pay – roughly half the prisoners in the colony are not employed. Those who do have jobs in the prison are paid extremely little – less than 100 rubles, or just over $2, per month. Such a wage is not enough even to buy food in a convenience store in the territory, where prices are said to be higher than in the town.

The head of the detention facility met with inmates’ relatives after the uprising, assuring them that he is willing to abolish “the system of contributions.” However, relatives now fear that this change could bring retaliation from the prison staff.

When asked if such a system could be considered as criminal corruption, human rights ombudsman Sevastianov agreed that it is illegal, and should be investigated.

He explained that with the scheme working in the facility, relatives wire money to a bank account given by the colony’s administration. Thus, for example, millions of rubles sent by convicts’ families were spent to build a new church on the territory.

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Emergency INDEX 2012 (call for submissions)

emergencyindex.com

Every year, Emergency INDEX invites authors to document performances they made in the previous year. By including performances regardless of their country of origin, their genre, aims, or popularity, INDEX is the only print publication of its kind, revealing a breathtaking variety of practices used in performance work as it actually exists today. For readers, INDEX offers a cutting edge view of performance as it is used in dance, theater, music, visual art, political activism, scientific research, poetry, advertising, terrorism, and other disciplines. For artists, INDEX provides an opportunity to document the most important aspects of new work, without the need for spin or salesmanship. For anyone interested in contemporary performance, INDEX is required reading.

Emergency Index 2011 is in stores now, documenting nearly 250 performance works made in 27 countries during the year. It is also available directly from UGLY DUCKLING PRESSESPD, and now available in the United Kingdom through UNBOUND.

SUBMISSIONS ARE NOW BEING ACCEPTED FOR EMERGENCY INDEX 2012.
DEADLINE: 11:59 PM DECEMBER 31, 2012

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“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity

column.global-labour-university.org

“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity
Anna Wolańska

Like Russian politics, labour relations in Russia are rife with contradictions.

On the one hand, Vladimir Putin addressed the International Labour Conference in 2011 and marched with the trade unions in a 2012 May Day demonstration, portraying himself as a supporter of progressive labour legislation and the notion of social partnership. Russia has an established system of tripartism: no social issue can be decided on without being discussed by the country’s permanent tripartite commission.

To discuss the further development of tripartism and socially-responsible responses to the global crisis, the Russian government will host a major international conference on decent work in Moscow on 11–12 December 2012. Around 800 delegates are expected to attend, including prime ministers, government officials, trade unionists and representatives of employers’ associations from 80 countries.

Speaking in Geneva at a joint briefing with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder during the last session of the ILO Governing Body, Russian Federation Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection Lyubov Yeltsova invited all ILO member states to take part in the conference. She emphasised the importance Russia attaches to cooperation in furthering international labour and social standards, the protection of individual and collective rights, and the interests of workers. As she put it, “the concept of decent work makes it possible to seek solutions to key challenges facing the international community, such as job creation, poverty reduction, social stability and globalization, on a just basis.”

On the other hand, on the same day that the Deputy Minister declared her commitment to the principles and ideals of social justice, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association issued its report on a complaint from Russian and international trade unions. The complaint, filed with the ILO in 2011, is brimming with facts that paint a picture at odds with the official one: constantly increasing pressure on trade union activists, harassment and persecution, threats of physical violence, repressive rulings against trade union organisers by local courts, and a ban on distributing trade union leaflets and educational materials for workers. This is all happening in parallel with the destruction of the social welfare system in a country where wages are shamefully low for a developed European nation.

The complaint submitted to the ILO describes, among other cases, the story of independent trade union activist Valentin Urusov (born 1974). Trade unionists in Russia and around the world have been campaigning for his release for several years. His story is not only an example of determination and sacrifice, but also a vivid illustration of the true relations between capital and labour in today’s Russia, where the largest employers are colluding with corrupt government officials to purposefully and methodically destroy the seeds of the new trade union movement, while Kremlin officials speak about social partnership.

Valentin Urusov

Urusov worked as an electrical fitter at an ore-processing mill owned by the diamond mining company Alrosa in the town of Udachny (Sakha Republic). An intelligent, persuasive leader, Urusov chaired the Profsvoboda trade union that was founded there and led the protest actions organised by workers.

Profsvoboda was founded in Udachny in June 2008. In mid-August of the same year, dissatisfied with low pay and working conditions, workers in the repair shops at one division of Alrosa announced a hunger strike, formal notice of which was received and registered by management.

The company’s director signed an order establishing a reconciliation commission to resolve the issue of workers’ pay. Profsvoboda was supposed to represent workers on this commission, and the following day it suspended strike actions. Despite its promises, however, Alrosa made no effort to conduct real negotiations, unleashing instead a crackdown against trade union activists. In response, workers began preparations for a large-scale protest rally.

On 3 September 2008, Urusov was detained on suspicion of narcotics possession. However, his arrest suspiciously coincided with preparations for the protest rally by Alrosa workers, a rally he himself was involved in organising. Equally “coincidentally,” the company’s deputy director of economic security was present as an official witness (such witnesses are a formality required under Russian law during police searches) when the drugs were allegedly found on Urusov’s person.

In a statement submitted by his lawyer, Urusov describes his arrest as a kidnapping accompanied by beatings and threats. According to him, the men who arrested him forced him to write a statement, confessing that the packet of drugs they themselves had planted on him actually belonged to him; they threatened to kill Urusov if he refused. Moreover, they demanded that Urusov confess that his deputy in the trade union had given the packet to him. A plan had been sprung to completely eviscerate the union’s leadership. Urusov, however, refused to give false testimony against his comrade.

“The charges against Urusov are based on the testimony of law enforcement officers and biased witnesses,” Urusov’s lawyer recounted. “The signature on the protocol documenting the confiscation of the packet of narcotics was obtained through humiliation and threats. Urusov was taken to the woods, where shots were fired near his head, and he was beaten with batons and told he should get ready to die.”

On 26 December 2008, the Mirninsky District Court (city of Udachny) sentenced Urusov to six years’ imprisonment. On 12 May 2009, however, the Sakha Republic Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Urusov was freed in the courtroom. Ludmilla Alexeyeva and Lev Ponomarev, well-known human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group, stood as surety for Urusov.

However, after a retrial on 26 June 2009, the Mirninsky District Court again sentenced Urusov to imprisonment, reducing the sentence only by a year.

In May 2010, the police officer in charge of Urusov’s arrest, Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, was himself arrested and convicted of fraud and abuse of power. He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles (US$80 000) from Alrosa. This money was disbursed to Rudov shortly after he arrested Urusov.

All these circumstances have convinced Russian and foreign human rights groups that his employer, Alrosa, had fabricated the case against Urusov. Trade unions launched a campaign of solidarity with Urusov. Public protests and other actions have been mounted on his behalf, not only in Russia, but also internationally. An appeal in support of Urusov’s release was signed by dozens of European intellectuals, public figures, and the International Trade Union Confederation while the website LabourStart conducted an email campaign.

The report of the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association also questions Urusov’s sentence. The Committee asks the Russian government to indicate whether, during the investigation and trial, evidence relating to the persecution of Urusov for trade union activities was examined and analysed. It requests that the government launch a new investigation and take steps to ensure the trade union leader’s early release.

In addition, in its final conclusions the Committee mentions the inclusion of trade union leaflets in the Russian federal list of “extremist” materials. The Committee believes that the inclusion of publications with union slogans in the list of extremist materials significantly impedes the right of unions to express their views. As emphasised in the Committee’s conclusions, this is an unacceptable restriction on trade union activities and a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of association. The Committee recalls that the right to express one’s opinion, including criticism of the government’s economic and social policy, is a key element of trade union rights.

In fact, the leaflets in question contained only the most basic information about the opportunities available for workers when they form trade unions and touched on the threats posed by the spread of agency labour and other forms of precarious employment. The declaration of such texts as “extremist” is a clear attempt to render illegal all forms of trade union organising. The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association recommends that the Russian government take all necessary measures to remove trade union leaflets from the list of extremist materials as soon as possible. The government should also provide assurance that this situation will not happen again.

Despite the fact that the opinions rendered by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association are only recommendations, the Russian government should pay heed to them. First, the body has repeatedly proved its impartiality when dealing with issues relating to freedom of association. Secondly, Urusov’s release and the implementation of the ILO’s other recommendations would serve as convincing proof that the concept of decent work really is part of the Russian government’s priorities. Such actions would be evidence that the eloquent declarations of its commitment to social partnership are not just a smokescreen concealing contempt for the principles of freedom of association and trade union organising, principles that form the basis of the ILO.

Anna Wolańska is the international secretary of NSZZ “Solidarność” and a member of the governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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Protest at Russian Embassy, London (Thursday, November 29)

socialistresistance.org

Protest at Russian embassy – defend democracy activists

Free Russian democracy activists!

Free all members of Pussy Riot!

End the Repression!

London Protest:  Thursday 29 November, 6pm, opposite Russian Embassy, north side of Bayswater Road, corner of Ossington St  (Notting Hill Gate or Queensway tubes. Download the flyer here and sign up on Facebook.

Supported by Andrew Burgin, Ken Loach, John McDonnell MP, Derek Wall, Anticapitalist Initiative, Independent Socialist Network and Socialist Resistance

‘The continued oppressive treatment of dissidents makes a mockery of the pretence that Putin’s Russia is a tolerant and democratic country. I support the call for the immediate release of those imprisoned for political engagement. The true patriots are those who fight to end injustice and oppression in their homeland’.
—Ken Loach

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Saturday Night Russian Pin-Ups

Natalia Pereverzeva, Russian Miss Earth candidate:

But my Russia—it is also my poor, long-suffering country, mercilessly torn to pieces by greedy, dishonest, unbelieving people.

My Russia—it is a great artery, from which the ‘chosen’ few people are draining away its wealth. My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from a sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on.

When we seriously begin to take care of our country, it will blossom and shine brightly.

_________

Alexandra Dukhanina, Russian political prisoner:

Alexandra Dukhanina is a 19-year-old woman, an anarchist and a vegetarian. She has been under house arrest without the right to correspondence for nearly six months. Dukhanina was arrested in connection with the so-called mass disturbances on May 6 in Moscow.

To find more about the crackdown against democracy activists in Russia and how you can show your solidarity with Alexandra and others swept up in the Putinist police state’s dragnet, go here or here.

A solidarity demonstration is scheduled for Thursday, November 29, 6 p.m., outside the Russian Embassy in London. More details here and here.

Photo of Alexandra Dukhanina by Rustam Adagamov

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Dear Mandela, or, The Politic of Human Dignity

www.dearmandela.com

When their shantytowns are threatened with mass eviction, three ‘young lions’ of South Africa’s new generation rise from the shacks and take their government to the highest court in the land, putting the promises of democracy to the test.

UPCOMING SCREENINGS

23 November 2012 – Wuppertal, GERMANY
19:00 – Autonomes Zentrum,
Markomannenstr. 3, 42105 Wuppertal
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

26 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
15:00. University of Gothenburg, School of Global Studies (organized by the Gothenburg Centre of Globalization and Development)
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

26 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
18:30. Hammarkullen Folkets Hus, Gothenburg
(organized by the Centre for Urban Studies at University of Gothenburg and Folkets Hus)
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

27 November 2012 – Gothenburg, GERMANY
18:00 at Vårvindens Youth Centre in Biskopsgården, Daggdroppegatan 3, Gothenburg
*Q&A with Abahlali members
TJ Ngongoma & Mzwakhe Mdlalose

5 December, 2012 – New Jersey, USA
12:00pm – 3:00pm. Rutgers University
*Q&A with filmmaker Dara Kell & Omotayo Jolaosho
http://ruevents.rutgers.edu/events/displayEvent.html?eventId=74042

TAKE ACTION

5 things you can do right now:

1. SIGN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL’S PETITION TO STOP FORCED EVICTIONS IN AFRICA: http://www.amnesty.org/en/end-forced-evictions

2. HOST A SCREENING OF DEAR MANDELA
To request a community screening kit, please contact us at sleepinggiantfilms@gmail.com.

3. LEARN MORE ABOUT ABAHLALI BASEMJONDOLO
Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Shack Dwellers Movement of South Africa, has a fantastic website with a rich library of articles and readings. Please visit them at http://abahlali.org/

4. DOCUMENT EVICTIONS
Our partner WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. They have created guides for video advocacy—learn more and get involved with their work here: http://www.witness.org/training

5. BUILD THE MOVEMENT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
Dear Mandela is about a social movement in South Africa, but there are similar movements all around the world. Here are just a few of the organizations in our network that you can get involved with or support:

IN THE UNITED STATES:

THE CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. http://ccrjustice.org/

POVERTY INITIATIVE at Union Theological Seminary:
The Poverty Initiative’s mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor. http://www.povertyinitiative.org/

PICTURE THE HOMELESS is an organization founded on the principle that in order to end homelessness, people who are homeless must become an organized, effective voice for systemic change. We have a track record of developing leadership among homeless people to impact policies and systems that affect their lives and our efforts have created space for homeless people, and their agenda, within the broader social justice movement. http://picturethehomeless.org/

The Media Mobilizing Project (MMP) exists to build the media and communications infrastructure for a movement to end poverty, led by poor and working people, united across color lines. http://mediamobilizing.org/

NATIONAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RIGHTS INITIATIVE:
In partnership with communities, NESRI works to build a broad movement for economic & social rights, including health, housing, education and work with dignity. Based on the principle that fundamental human needs create human rights obligations on the part of government and the private sector, NESRI advocates for public policies that guarantee the universal and equitable fulfillment of these rights in the United States. http://nesri.org/

IN SOUTH AFRICA:

SOCIO-ECONOMIC RIGHTS INSTITUTE OF SOUTH AFRICA (SERI) is a non-profit organization providing professional, dedicated and expert socio-economic rights assistance to individuals, communities and social movements in South Africa. SERI conducts research, engages with government, advocates for policy and legal reform, facilitates civil society coordination and mobilization, and litigates in the public interest. http://seri-sa.org/index.php

IN THE UNITED KINGDOM:

WAR ON WANT is a brilliant voice for ending forced evictions and fighting poverty. They work in partnership with grassroots organizations around the world, and have for years supported Abahlali baseMjondolo in South Africa. To get involved, visit http://www.waronwant.org/

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL:
Amnesty International has a campaign dedicated to ending forced evictions in Africa. Learn more at: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=11180#map

_____

The Politic of Human Dignity
Presented by Lindela Figlan at the Anarchist Bookfair, London, 24 October 2012

The meaning of dignity is often misunderstood. Many people only think of dignity in relation to the economic status of those who are better off. This is understood to mean that a person with no money is taken as a person whose life and voice does not count and is therefore a person with no dignity. It is also understood that a person with money does count and is therefore a person with dignity. But no amount of money can buy dignity.

Money can buy many things. With money you can live in a house that will not be demolished without warning, that does not leak in the rain, that has water, toilets and electricity. With money you can even give your children their own rooms. With money you can buy your children education and know that if they fall sick or meet with an accident they well be well looked after.

But money does not buy dignity because to be a person with dignity you must recognise the dignity of others. No person is a complete person on their own, that is without others. In isiZulu we say “umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu”. This means that a person is a person because of other people. Rich people are always demanding that other people show respect to them just because they are rich. They are always forcing us to show respect to them. The politicians are the same. But there is no dignity in forcing other people to show respect to you. There is dignity in respecting the humanity of others and in being respected back.

As poor people we do not live in dignified conditions. In fact when it rains we live like pigs in the mud. Our shacks are always burning. We do not have toilets. We are disrespected by politicians and, when we have work, we are disrespected at work. Security guards and domestic workers are often treated as if we are not fully human. Sometimes we are also disrespected by NGOs, academics and other people that think that they have a right to lead the struggles of the poor and who get very angry when we explain that for us solidarity must be based on talking to us and not for us and thinking and deciding with us and not for us.

But poor as we are we achieve our own dignity. Some people achieve dignity in their churches. Some achieve dignity through culture, in something like a choir. And we achieve dignity in the togetherness of our struggle. Our struggle is a space of dignity. Here we can express our suffering, we can think together and we can support each other. Our struggle is also a tool to fight for a world in which our dignity, and the dignity of all people, is recognised. Our struggle gives us dignity now and it also aims to create a work in which land, wealth and political power are shared amongst the people.

S’bu Zikode first called this a living communism, a communism that is fully in the hands of the people. Therefore our struggle is based on the idea that defending our dignity now is the best way to create a world that respects everyone’s dignity in the future.

Our struggle is a living politic. It is a politic that everyone can understand and which is owned and shaped by the people. It is rooted in our lives as we live them everyday. We do not see politics as something that should be left to political experts or dominated by political experts.

Before Abahlali baseMjondolo was formed the shack dwellers in South Africa were considered by government and some other people in our society, people in NGOs, universities and the media, to be the undeserving poor. This claim came as the result of the perception that the poor are lazy, uneducated and people who do not think and therefore do not count the same as other human beings.

The general public, civil society and the media could not defend the poor against this indignity. The media had little or nothing to report on anything that surrounds shack dwellers, be it good or bad, that considered us as human beings or citizens. We were mostly seen as a threat to society – as a problem to be controlled. When shacks were on fire radios and televisions would not air or broadcast this. On the other side the state would refuse any provision of basic services to the shack settlements or to engage us as citizens. We were always considered as people who cannot think for ourselves. Someone from somewhere else would always be hired and paid to think for us, to represent us and to take decisions on our behalf. This was the state mentality towards the poor. It was also the mentality of most NGOs and of most of civil society. It has also been the mentality of what we have called the regressive left – that part of the left that thinks that its job is to think for the poor rather than with the poor and that tries by all means, including calling us criminals and supporting state propaganda and repression, to ruin what it cannot rule.

The rights that we have on paper were always refused in reality. This included our rights as citizens, our rights to the cities and our rights to respect and dignity. Whenever we asked for our rights to be respected, for our humanity to be recognised, we were presented as troublemakers, as people that were being used by others, or as criminals. Our request to participate in the discussions about our own lives was taken as a threat. It is important that everyone understands that in this regard civil society and the left was often no different to the state.

Abahlali has been organising and mobilising to build the power of the poor from below. We do not organise people. We organise ourselves. When people want to join our movement we explain that they must organise ourselves and that we will struggle with them and not for them. We ask them to think about this seriously, to discuss it with their neighbours and, if they accept that we will only struggle with them and not for them, then we welcome them into the movement. It can take a long time to join our movement. You must understand it well and you must be serious.

We do not support any political parties or vote in elections. Politicians are always using the people’s suffering and struggles as ladders to build their own power. We have therefore decided that we will not keep on giving our power away. We build our own power in our communities and encourage people to also build their own power where they work, study and pray. Where possible we govern our own communities ourselves.

Our struggle started when we rejected the authority of the ward councillors and decided to represent ourselves. Today a new struggle is starting as workers on the mines reject the authority of the trade unions and represent themselves. We are hoping that the struggles in the shacks and on the mines and in other work places can come together. But struggle is very dangerous. As the poor, in the shacks and working in the mines, we are not allowed to think and act for ourselves. It is seen as criminal, even as treason.

We have learnt that this order is one that cannot respect our humanity. In fact this order is based on our exploitation and exclusion. This order is designed to oppress us. Therefore we have understood that, as Mnikelo Ndabankulu first said, it is good to be out of order. We are not loyal to this order. We are loyal to our human dignity and to the human dignity of others and when that requires us to be out of order we are prepared to be out of order.

We have dedicated a lot of our energy in building a University of Abahlali where we can discuss and learn together. Here we educate ourselves to refuse to be co-opted into a system that promotes the indignity of others. We educate ourselves to refuse to be shaken by the politic of fear created by the political parties and the police. In 2009 our movement was attacked in Kennedy Road and in Pemary Ridge. Many of us lost everything and had to flee. Some of us had to go underground. This attack was aimed at destroying our movement. A senior politician by the name of Willes Mchunu said that a decision had been taken to ‘disband’ our movement. However we are still here. We continue to exist and to struggle in the province where warlordism and assassination is the order of the day. We continue to try to make sure that the poor remain permanently organised and strong. This has helped us to build a strong voice for the movement. As a result of the power that we have built from the ground up we have been able to speak for ourselves in many spaces that were previously barred to us. For us it is important that, just as we occupy land in the cities, we must also occupy our own space in all discussions. This is the only way that we can take our struggle out of the shacks and into spaces from which the poor have been excluded. Of course this requires us to break the protocols that maintain power in certain circles by depriving others an equal chance to participate in these circles.

Today, as a result of our struggle and the struggles of other poor people, we see a slow shift away from seeing shack settlements as something to be bulldozed without any sense that there are human lives in these places. There is now recognition that there are human lives in the shacks. We have stopped evictions in many settlements. In some settlements we have won agreements to upgrade these settlements with proper services and houses instead of forcibly removing people to the human dumping grounds called transit camps. Basic services such as water and sanitation, refuse collection, road access, electricity etc which were being denied to us are now being rolled out. In Durban the eThekwini Municipality long had a policy that forbids electrification of any shack settlement in the city. The result of this is constant fires. Today this killer electricity policy is under review and a pilot project to roll electricity in some four settlements has begun. To survive day by day these services are needed and they are important steps on the road to winning material conditions that accord with human dignity. To talk about an equal and a just society without land, houses and services for all is bizarre. This progress has come through the years of struggle and the power of the organized poor. Of course we still have a very long road to go. And with state repression getting worse all the time that road is a dangerous one.

As repression gets worse solidarity becomes more and more important. We see the role of NGOs and progressive forces being to support and strengthen the work of what we call our amabhuto and the NGOs call social movements – to work with our movements in a way that respects our autonomy. We urge the NGOs to be responsive and to learn from those who are struggling about the best way to support them without assuming that we need to be given political direction or creating the dependency syndrome. In order to do so you will have to familiarise with the practices of the movements. War on Want and the Church Land Programme are some of the very few organisations that have demonstrated this culture over years. They have had to revisit their strategic planning and to remove the red tape that prevented them from being able to offer effective support when comrades are in jail and in need of lawyers, bail money or facing death threats and in need of safe homes. They have not wasted our time with donor requirements and protocols that sometimes undermine and compromise our struggles. They have never tried to impose their own agendas on our struggles. They have understood that the struggle for human dignity is often criminalised. They have understood that they oppressed have every right to lead their own struggles.

We know that here in Britain the working class and the poor are being made to pay the price for the greed of the rich. We know that you are under attack from a government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. We know that you are resisting. We are in solidarity with you and with your struggles. If there are ways that we can support you please let us know. You are all welcome to visit us in South Africa. There are some ways in which are struggles are very different. But we face a common enemy in the form of the system that is known as capitalism.

http://www.abahlali.org

Sekwanele!
No House! No Land! No Vote!
Everyone Counts

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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.

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Editor’s Note. Thanks to the Reclaiming Spaces mailing list and Mute Magazine for the heads-up, links to the videos, and the text of Mr. Figlan’s speech.

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Filed under activism, film and video, interviews, urban movements (right to the city)