Do hostel dwellers’ lives count?
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Killings at Glebelands show how civil silence and indifference mirror state injustice, writes Vanessa Burger.
Our country’s battered human rights record was dealt another blow on the evening of March 22, when anti-mining activist and Amadiba Crisis Committee chairman, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe, was gunned down.
The struggle of the Xolobeni community against the mining of mineral sands has been well documented over the years and the plight of the community and the Amadiba Crisis Committee’s principled opposition in the face of divide-and-rule tactics, constant intimidation and dirty tricks has been an inspiration, especially to the poor, mostly rural communities who battle to gain access to their rights, protect their interests and make their voices heard.
The committee’s David and Goliath-type struggle against big mining and their politically connected friends, suspected use of police in the community’s persecution and the modus operandi of the hit itself, were disturbingly similar to the nearly 60 political assassinations and unrelenting carnage that has plunged the Glebelands Hostel community into a state of crisis for the past two years.
Familiar too, was the reported existence of a hit list, allegedly including Rhadebe’s name at the top.
At Glebelands, a second hit list is in circulation, believed to contain 21 names – surely the survivors of the first hit list.
The only person to provide a description of the hit list was Thulani Kati, who saw it clutched by the officer who “tubed” him in October 2014.
Kati was assassinated last April. He described the list as a double column of handwritten names that covered both sides of a foolscap page.
There are 31 lines on a sheet of foolscap sheet.
As 58 people have now been killed, it would seem the target – give or take a few – has been met.
Fifty-eight assassinations, killed mostly by a bullet to the brain, just like Rhadebe.
In two years there have been no convictions and overwhelming circumstantial evidence points to police and high-level political complicity.
Within hours of Rhadebe’s killing, the Right2Know Campaign issued a strongly worded condemnation which all progressive civil society organisations were urged to endorse.
Over 150 local and international organisations did.
A support fund and Twitter account was set up, meetings convened for further solidarity action and the public was urged to write in protest to the mining minister – e-mail groups buzzed with outrage.
Parallels in rising state oppression were drawn between recent attacks on the Helen Suzman Foundation offices and shack-dwellers movement Abahlali baseMjondolo.
Yet Glebelands, where almost double the number have been killed than died in Marikana (which generated international condemnation, support campaigns and a national – albeit sham – inquiry) seems to remain a mostly silent stain on our national consciousness.
For me, the most depressing aspect to this has not been Rhadebe’s assassination itself, or the 58 killed in the Glebelands.
Certainly, the heartless, cynical cruelty wrought by those in positions of power on those with the least means of defending themselves, is horrific and must be fought to our last breath.
But the country has a proud tradition of struggle against the iron fist of mindless, hate-filled authority and its greedy corporate henchmen.
What I am struggling to come to terms with, however, is civil society’s response to this latest tragedy.
Where was all this solidarity and outrage when victim number 58 was gunned down exactly a week before Rhadebe’s murder – two days after the police brutally tortured – tubed (suffocated with a plastic bag to the point of asphyxiation) the brother of another Glebelands man shot in the head, allegedly by a police officer in November last year?
Indeed, the systematic persecution of the anti-mining lobby worldwide is an international outrage.
Our hearts go out to Rhadebe’s family, the Amadiba community and all impoverished communities who take a brave stand against the violence and greed of our vampire state.
Rhadebe’s family, especially his son, will never recover from what they saw and will fear the police for the rest of their lives. Another community has been damaged. Many Glebelands residents who hail from the Mbizana area stand in solidarity with the Xolobeni community’s loss and mourned Rhadebe’s killing as “another sad day for us all”.
Glebelands should know how it feels, having buried 58 comrades in carbon-copy hits.
Glebelands – 58; Xolobeni – 1, and 150 organisations vent their anguish. For me, these harsh statistics raise very painful questions.
The extermination of 58 Glebelands breadwinners and the violent mass evictions of mainly vulnerable women and children have left vast swathes of the Eastern Cape and southern KwaZulu-Natal deeply traumatised and destitute, in addition to the tens of thousands of Glebelands residents directly affected.
But the crisis in our own backyard seems to have scarcely registered on civil society’s outrage barometer.
The few concerned individuals who have commented occasionally on the Glebelands situation have mostly limited their criticism to service delivery issues, NOT the killings, NOT the rapes, NOT the forced evictions, NOT the socio-economic impact, and certainly NOT the community’s collective pain.
I do not understand this.
Is it because Rhadebe was well-known to most of the civil groups that endorsed R2K’s spontaneous solidarity drive, while the majority of Glebelands’ dead were just faceless, often nameless, hostel corpses?
Is it because the Xolobeni struggle has received wider, more coherent, long term media coverage while the eThekwini Municipality and ANC leaders’ obfuscation has resulted in the ongoing hostel violence being portrayed, disingenuously, as “faction fighting”, “The selling of beds” or “political”.
These flimsy justifications for state- orchestrated violence have as much relevance to the Glebelands’ struggle as the racist terminology – “black-on-black” violence – used to whitewash the early ’90s political killings in KwaZulu-Natal.
Is it easier (and currently seemingly more politically glamorous) to condemn big mining ventures, than to take a direct stand against the ruling party – the still much-beloved ANC – as the Glebelands community was forced to do when it passed a vote of no confidence in the branch executive committee in 2012?
Is it because there are many environmental organisations, yet precious few actively involved with human rights?
This may sound cynical, but at a time when the country has fallen prey to state capture on a scale never before experienced, is this tragedy perhaps seen as an opportunity by some organisations that appear to be struggling to remain relevant and thus justify their continued existence to international funders by mouthing off about injustice?
Is it because Rhadebe’s death offers a safe and convenient “clicktivist” outlet to moral outrage – to be seen to be doing something – while the Glebelands crisis needs actual hands-on, practical and material solutions, and a lot of dangerous hard work?
Is it because a few poorly resourced individuals and not an officially recognised organisation have assisted the hostel violence victims?
Do individuals no longer have a role to play on the fiercely contested social justice terrain, dominated by territorial civic groups who appear to spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources attracting and appeasing funders as opposed to actually working among the communities they claim to serve?
The racial/class profile of most of the 150 organisations that have so far endorsed the Right2Know Amadiba Solidarity Campaign also cannot be ignored – mostly middle-to-upper class whitey groups with little real grassroots representation. Do poor black anonymous hostel dwellers lives really count in the scheme of anything?
They certainly don’t matter to our government – it would seem these lives matter little to mainstream civil society too.
I am trying hard to understand why some “causes” generate so much hype when other, far more insidious horrors are ignored and allowed to spread until the monster engulfs us all; then, the same merry bunch of “clicktivists” seem genuinely surprised and hurt when things go horribly wrong and grass roots rage explodes in their faces.
Yes, one state-sponsored assassination is indeed an outrage, but 58 is genocide – or ethnic cleansing.
As we see a disturbing rise in so-called Zulu nationalism, a Glebelands community leader who watched in disbelief as the moral storm over the Amadiba killing grew on Facebook: “Maybe no one wants to help us because our struggle is different. This is the province of the president (Jacob Zuma) and most of the people being killed are from another province, another tribe.”
The victims of the Glebelands violence have consistently struggled to access and enforce their rights.
The Legal Resources Centre, after initially agreeing to represent those whose violent evictions by politically connected thugs has covertly and consistently been permitted by municipal officials, suddenly dropped the case on the grounds that the issues were “political” and therefore “the LRC cannot be seen to be supporting any political parties…”
Since when did human rights abuses, by whoever, become legally acceptable?
It must also be noted that the reason for their persecution is solely because they have, for the past four years, raised service delivery concerns, voiced dissatisfaction with their ward councillor and had the temerity to ask difficult questions about suspected corruption and tender procurement. Indifference permits monstrous injustice to go unchecked.
It doesn’t act, it allows, and that is where its power lies. Civil silence in the face of suffering and gross injustice can break hearts and crush communities.
* Vanessa Burger is an independent community activist for human rights & social justice
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.