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“Ninety-five per cent of the poor were black,” says Patrick, sipping his drink, “and another four

per cent were ‘coloured,’  mixed race. Only 1 per cent of the poor were white or Indian. The wealthiest

5 per cent of the population – white, of course – were consuming more than the bottom 85 per cent put together.”

 

 

One No, Many Yeses 

A Journey to the Heart of the Global Resistance Movement

 

By Paul Kingsnorth

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A Shattered Dream

By Paul Kingsnorth

"The ANC bought into a very one-sided Faustian pact.”

 

Bearing pickaxes and pliers, the poor of South Africa are learning that if they want to rebuild their nation they will have to do it for themselves. A young man in a red T-shirt bearing the legend “Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee” is hauling himself up a telegraph pole in a Soweto suburb. When he gets to the top, he reaches into a leather bag slung around his shoulder and pulls out a pair of pliers and a knife. He spends a couple of minutes doing something technical to the wires, then lowers himself down.

He makes his way over to an electricity meter on the side of a nearby house, and swings a pickaxe at it. It splinters and tears away from the wall. Using a knife, and a bin bag for insulation, he makes some adjustments to a jumble of wires sticking out of the wall. Then he stands up, dusts himself down and approaches the house owner -- an old woman who has been watching anxiously from her doorway.

“You now have electricity,” he says, grandly. He flicks the woman’s light switch, and her tiny front room floods with light for the first time in weeks.

She begins to sniff, gratefully. “Now I’ll be able to drink tea in the morning, instead of water,” she says. “Oh thank you!”

The man is one of dozens of illegal “reconnectors” who roam Soweto restoring the electricity of people who have been cut off for non-payment of their bills. He is part of “Operation Khanyisa” (“operation light-up”) – a campaign of resistance to the steadily rising cost of basic utilities that is hitting the poor in South Africa’s townships. Collectively, Soweto owes state electricity company Eskom almost a billion rand (about $80m) in unpaid bills. But Soweto has 70 per cent unemployment, and most people simply cannot afford to pay.

Eskom’s response is to cut them off by the thousands. The Sowetans’ response is to reconnect themselves.

The man in the red T-shirt says the government promised the poor free electricity before the last election, but hasn’t delivered. He is not alone in feeling angry; across Soweto, people say their bills are rising and rising; they blame the government. Reconnection is dangerous, difficult and illegal, but the people say they have no choice; they are desperate.

The Sowetans are right: their electricity bills are rising. They are rising because Eskom is being prepared for privatisation, and the South African government (on the World Bank’s advice) will not subsidise prices for the poor blacks in places like this. These are the poor blacks whom the ANC was supposed to liberate; the poor blacks who thought when Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, and apartheid finally dissolved, that their country was finally in their hands.

Something is happening in South Africa; something that was never meant to be part of the post-apartheid landscape. Electricity and water cut-offs, evictions, rent hikes – all have been rising since the ANC came to power. The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing, and the poor have been getting poorer. And in South Africa, 95 per cent of the poor are black. Across the country, discontent is spreading. People are beginning to talk of a “war on the poor” – a war led by the ANC government. Some are saying that they are actually worse off now than they were under apartheid. It seems almost impossible to believe. Yet the claims continue to be made, and are growing louder. What on earth is happening to the Rainbow Nation, and why?

The Name's Bond

If there is one man who can begin to explain, it is Patrick Bond. A Johannesburg academic and veteran anti-apartheid campaigner, Bond helped Mandela’s ANC government draft its economic policies before it came to power in 1994. He used to be an insider; now he is a bitter critic of what he claims the government has become. He has kindly agreed to show me around and put me up for the duration of my stay in South Africa, despite having never met me before. 

“Phone me when you get into Jo’burg,” he told me. So I do. Patrick lives in a Johannesburg suburb called Kensington, which – like most overwhelmingly white suburbs in South Africa – is defined by big gates, loud dogs and armed-response signs. On the evening of my first full day in the country I find myself sitting in Patrick’s kitchen, which looks out over the city.

Patrick has poured us both large gin and tonics, and is telling me his version of South Africa’s story since apartheid ended.

In 1994 the first democratic election in South Africa’s history swept the ANC to power. It inherited a shattered country: economic growth stalled at just over 1 per cent, unemployment between 20 and 30 per cent, inflation at 10 per cent. More significantly, society was polarised in an almost unique way.

“Ninety-five per cent of the poor were black,” says Patrick, sipping his drink, “and another four per cent were ‘coloured,’  mixed race. Only 1 per cent of the poor were white or Indian. The wealthiest 5 per cent of the population – white, of course – were consuming more than the bottom 85 per cent put together.”

Before the election, the ANC had rolled out, to great fanfare, its proposed solution: the “Reconstruction and Development Programme” (RDP). The RDP, which Patrick helped write, was to be an ambitious programme of economic reconstruction and social improvement. “The first priority,” it stated, “is to begin to meet the basic needs of people – jobs, land, housing, water, electricity, telecommunications, transport, a clean and healthy environment, nutrition, healthcare and social welfare.”

This was to be achieved through programmes to “redistribute a substantial amount of land to landless people, build over one million houses, provide clean water and sanitation to all, electrify 2.5 million new homes and provide access for all to affordable healthcare and telecommunications.”

“The success of these programmes,” the ANC said, “is essential if we are to achieve peace and security for all.”

This was unequivocal stuff. It was also short-lived. By 1996, the RDP was dead, its most ambitious plans shelved, many of its targets (though not all) unmet, the ministry created to oversee its progress quietly closed. The ANC’s experiment in nation-building had lasted just two years. In its place came something altogether more unexpected – and very much more painful.

Emperor's New Gear

In 1996 the government unveiled a new economic programme -- the “Growth Employment and Redistribution” programme, or Gear. For many of the party’s erstwhile supporters, Gear was a nasty shock.

Unlike the RDP, which had been drawn up after long consultations with communities, NGOs, unions and others, Gear was designed by a cabal of 15 economists and launched on to the party, and the country, with no consultation.

“Two of the economists were from the World Bank,” explains Patrick, “and a lot of the rest were from big South African banks and conservative economic think-tanks.”

It showed.

In one fell swoop Gear publicly realigned the ANC’s entire economic approach. It moved the party from being a government of social democrats to being a government offering up the most unashamedly neo-liberal policy platform in Africa. Gear accepted that growth was more important than redistribution, and that widespread privatisation and foreign investment were necessary for that growth.

It tacitly accepted the impossibility, in a market-led world, of carrying out many of the government’s proposed social programmes -- including widespread land reform, public works schemes, state housebuilding projects and free utilities for the poor.

Rather than the language of national reconstruction, Gear talked the language of the markets – the language of “greater labour market flexibility”, “economic stability,” “sound fiscal policy,” “foreign direct investment,” and “strong export performance.”

Behind it all lay a familiar mantra: private capital would create the wealth, and a free market would distribute it.

“Gear is a capitulation to the markets,” says Patrick, now draining the last of his gin and tonic, “but also to established power within the country. Essentially, democracy arrived, and the ANC got into power and there was kind of a deal; the white businessmen said: ‘OK, you chaps can have the state, but you let us get our money out of here.’ In the meantime, you’ve got the World Bank sniffing around even before the ANC got into power; housing and infrastructure and land reform policies were influenced by the World Bank in the mid-1990s, which is why they failed. The ANC bought into a very one-sided Faustian pact.”

Whatever the ANC’s precise motivation, the results of this national realignment are now becoming clear. According to its opponents, almost a million jobs have been lost to Gear. South Africa’s unemployment rate is now estimated, conservatively, at 25 per cent; it may be as high as 40 per cent. Twenty-two million South Africans, in a population of 42 million, still live in absolute poverty, and the proportion of black South Africans living below the poverty line has increased dramatically since the ANC came to power from 50 per cent to 62 per cent.

Gear’s World Bank-approved policy of “cost recovery” has only exacerbated these problems. It has been estimated that close to 10 million South Africans have had their water cut off, 10 million have had their electricity cut off, and 2 million have been evicted from their homes as a direct result of this policy; all for non-payment of bills that most have no ability to pay – half the South African population gets by on around $2 a day.

In the townships and homelands today a feeling is beginning to grow that few, if any, had ever expected; a feeling that the ANC, the great liberator, is selling out its own people. If this is true the question is: “What are the people going to do about it?”

Growing Resistance

All over South Africa, there is growing grassroots resistance – the kind of community defiance exemplified by the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee and its roving gangs of red-shirted reconnectors. In townships all over the country anger is turning into action: electricity and water reconnectors, anti-privatisation forums, anti-eviction groups, “concerned residents” committees and more nebulous, unofficial stirrings of opposition to the on-the-ground results of the ANC’s market-led policies.

George Dor, head of the Johannesburg branch of the Alternative Information and Development Centre, is one of only a handful of people on the Johannesburg NGO scene trying to deal with a rapid growth of interest in this kind of opposition. The ANC itself, of course, is not happy about the work that people like Dor are doing. Not happy at all.

“The ANC’s attitude to what we do is interesting,” says Dor. “It’s basically: ‘Who are you? Civil society? What are you for? Why don’t you just close down? We led the struggle. We are the mass movement, and now we’re in government." Government has bred arrogance in them very quickly. They will always accuse everyone who even questions them of being "counter-revolutionary."

Resentment is starting to build against that. It is slow and still small, but at the same time much bigger than even a few years ago. Things are starting to develop. People are starting to understand and feel strongly about the issues – and the global issues “as they relate to what is happening on the ground here in South Africa.”

Old Left, New Left

To understand this resentment, and to see what the struggles that Patrick and Dor talk about actually mean to people’s lives, I travel to Durban. I am sitting in the back seat of a car, belting down a motorway. In the front seats are a pair of frighteningly effective and uncompromising activists with fire in their bellies and frustration in their hearts.

Ashwin Desai, a South African Indian, is a doctor, a writer, an activist, a community hero and an ANC hate-figure. Heinrich Bohmke is a lawyer, an activist, and an ex-ANC member, who is now as disillusioned with the party as anyone gets. Both were imprisoned by the apartheid regime, and both are seeking a new approach to political change in the country. They have been working for the past few years to help the people of the Durban townships resist eviction, cut-offs and destitution. Desai and Bohmke are street-fighters – literally and metaphorically. Both have strong opinions on, well, everything, which they are currently laying out for me at 70 miles an hour.

“I’m sick of the fucking left,” Bohmke says as he drives. He wears a sensible, tucked-in shirt and trousers and little rectangular glasses. He looks like a lawyer, and talks like a revolutionary.

“There are two lefts in South Africa,” he goes on. “One is old and bureaucratic and ossified, and the other is new and creative and still unformed. There’s all this intellectual Marxist shit, and then there’s people in communities doing things they need to do. But they don’t connect it to some great neo-liberal project, they just do it. I’ve stopped even referring to myself as ‘left’. It’s so patronising and disempowering, calling yourself ‘left’or "progressive". We need a new vocabulary.”

“Right!” says Desai. “And we need to connect up these struggles, connect them up nationally, and internationally, with all those other movements that are out there. It’s starting to happen, but it’s slow. Instead of always asking the state to give us what we deserve, we need some way of taking it. These people are angry, man. Guys are turning up with guns and throwing them out of  homes they can’t afford to pay for.”

“But it’s so hard in this country,” cuts in Bohmke. “˜People are so sick of struggling. And there’s still this great legacy of liberation to deal with.”

“There’s a lot of energy, you know,” says Desai, “but how do we harness it? How do we make sure that Cosatu (the trade union congress) or the ANC don’t harness it? Or some little bunch of fascists? You know organised labour won’t work with us -- they just won’t. They’ve got their little power base, and they’re going to defend it, whatever the consequences. They’re so fucking shortsighted. You know, during the racism conference we held a community march of the poor. We had 20,000 people on the streets. Next day, Cosatu holds its own march and gets about 9,000 people out. Next day, the ANC holds another one, and they get about 2,000 people.”

Bohmke changes gear determinedly. “But at least people are starting to break through the barrier of illegality,” he says. “They’ve given up expecting the government to do right by them. But then, you know, we have these leftie intellectuals in Jo’burg who are just waiting for Pretoria to have a change of heart and invite them in to sort out the economic programme. Whenever we mobilise for any sort of confrontation here it’s always: ‘Well, comrade, we support your struggle, but we’re worried about your analytical fucking framework and your tactics." Your tactics, man! People are dying, literally, and they’re worried about tactics.”

I’m suddenly glad that Patrick isn’t here.

“You’ve come at an interesting time,” says Ashwin. “We’re entering a new phase of political activism in this country. Hein and I, we both feel it’s time for new approaches. As a movement we need to start proposing things, getting out there, doing things ourselves. You know, Zapatista-style. Taking it back; communities doing it themselves, instead of always reacting to whatever shit the government gives them. A lot of activists here are stuck in old ways of reacting to injustice. We need some new ones, man, and fast.”

Source: Paul Kingsnorth, One No, Many Yeses (Simon and Schuster, 2003)

*   *   *   *   *

Paul Kingsnorth, a writer and campaigner, was born in 1972, in Worcester. Between 1991 and 1994, he studied history at Oxford University. At Oxford, he became  politicised and developed deep ecological concerns. In the first of the many road protests to define the British landscape (from West London to Bath), Kingsnorth was involved in the campaign to protect Twyford Down from the extension of the M3 motorway. He also, while at the university, represented the Green Party on the student union executive, and edited the student newspaper and a national magazine, Green Student.

On leaving university, Kingsnorth spent two months working on an orangutan rehabilitation project in Borneo, before starting work as a researcher and trainee writer at The Independent newspaper, where he remained just under a year before he left to work as a writer and campaigner for the London-based NGO EarthAction. Two years later he became a freelance journalist, and two years after that, in 1999, deputy editor of The Ecologist, the world’s longest-running green magazine.

In 2001 he left the staff of the magazine (for which he still writes a monthly column) to research and write One No, Many Yeses. In 2001, Kingsnorth  was nominated in the New Statesman  as one of Britain’s "Top Troublemakers." He lives in Oxford, on the river Thames.

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

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#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

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#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
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#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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update 3 April 2012

 

 

 

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