Address by S’bu Zikode to the People’s BRICS meeting in Brasilia, 12 November 2019
Thank you Programme Director. May I take this opportunity to thank the International Secretariat for creating this space for us. I see this space as an instrument full of possibilities and hope for a better world, a world that we want and for which we are all prepared to fight. May I also thank all comrades from Pan Africa Today who have always counted us, the uncounted, in this difficult journey for a world we want, a world in which we all live like human beings.
In recent years we have had a close and important relationship with the MST, the movement of the landless here in Brazil, and many of our comrades have travelled to Brazil to spend time with the MST, and to participate in the MST political school. Our struggles to put the social value of land before its commercial value have much in common. We deeply appreciate the solidarity from the MST and our movement shares in your joy at the release of Lula.
The shack dwellers of South Africa have been subject to the brutal forces of capitalism and political gangsterism that have taken over our public institutions and cities. The result has been impoverishment, rule by violence, exclusion from the cities and a system that murders those who stand up for their human dignity, and for justice. Those of us who are still here have been lucky to survive this system.
When our struggle began fifteen years ago those who are paid to claim to represent us in the ruling party and in NGOs (‘civil society’) treated our movement as some kind of criminal conspiracy. As a democratic formation we learnt how difficult and painful it is to be struggling on your own. We faced and survived severe repression on our own. In the blood and fire of this repression we took a deliberate decision to work with labour movements and other progressive and democratic formations in South Africa, and everywhere in the world where we can build solidarity. We have had to identify potential comrades, and possibilities for solidarity, nationally, regionally and internationally.
We understand the danger of being a referee and a player in the struggle like we are facing. We understand the danger of wanting to be the only voice in the struggle of the working class. We also understand the danger of wanting to be the only hero in the time where internationalism is necessary. But capitalism is a global force. Imperialism is a global force. There can be no advancement for the impoverished majority of the world if our struggle is not also global. We seek to build solidarity in humility, a living solidarity in which an injury to one is an injury to all.
We know how it feels to be living under the shadow of death, not knowing if one will still be alive when the sun sets each evening and shines each morning. But we also know that while living under these pressures we need to keep the wider world in mind, and to continue to link our struggles and share ideas.
It took us a very long time to understand the politic of frustration and marginalisation from the general public and sometimes from families. We built our movement on a politic of listening and this politic can also help us to build international solidarity.
Our movement and our different struggles were built with conscious and deliberate action. We did not just grow out of nowhere. Building strong movements sometimes require us to engage in an out of order politic. It requires us to be humane and gentle. It requires us to begin to practise to live the kind of world we want. It requires us to swallow our pride so that our future generations can live better. At the same time it requires us to stand very firm against evil forces that are determined to keep us in the shadow of poverty. It is for this reason that we cannot be soft when the system is not soft on us. We have been able to build our communities and movements across our own nations. Now is the time to build global solidarity across cities, provinces, regions and states. There is no better time than this. The world is witnessing brutal forms of exploitation accompanied by violent dispossession both in rural and urban areas.
The indigenous people, the impoverished and the working class suffer the most. There is no doubt that our diverse struggles are all facing common global forces and interests that often gain from the impoverishment and dispossession of others. Just as the economic monster is globalising, we must unite and build a global resistance. Lula must know that he will always have a home in our land occupations, whether they are in Sao Paulo or Durban. Bolsonaro must know that he will face resistance in the streets from Brasilia to Pretoria.
In order to build unity and international solidarity we will have to be very honest about ourselves with a clear examination of both our strength and our weaknesses. We must organise with great humility to be taken seriously and be listened to. The deep value of ubuntu must be used to destroy the commodification of social services and land. Our praxis must reflect the values of ubuntu which points directly to the society we want. We must be able to master and speak the language of the indigenous people and the people we serve. International solidarity can be successful when it is backed by the real struggles of the people on the ground. A people to people solidarity can be genuine and can break the walls of distance and languages.
For example, a few years ago Abahlali used to have days of solidarity with comrades from Haiti through video and deep discussion on their struggles and challenges. By the time we were done we all felt to have been to Haiti and felt deeply connected to their struggle. We have done similar solidarity work with our comrades from the DRC through our alliance work with the Congolese Solidarity Campaign. We have also built solidarity with comrades in Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Turkey, and, of course, Brazil. Our experience shows that it very possible for all of us to connect one way or the other with our diverse struggles against capitalism.
Internationalism is likely to succeed when we can practically connect our struggles nationally, regional and internationally. We must share programmes of action in our respective regions and nations. We must develop systemic solidarity mechanism with a special focus on people to people solidarity. We must question the morality of profit amid deepening inequalities and poverty. We must insists on our rights and freedom and not development goals that favour market driven agendas. We must demand substantive equality. Land, wealth and power must be shared. We need to build a living communism rooted in the lives and struggles of the oppressed.
When it comes to building international solidarity the use of language that is far removed from the people on the ground is a serious cause for concern. We need to build a common language of struggle that can connect a land occupation in Sao Paulo to a land occupation in Durban, and a road blockade in South Africa to a road blockade in Haiti. In the past another serious problem was that all the opportunities for building international solidarity were captured and monopolised by NGOs. Popular movements were excluded. Now, as life becomes harder and oppression becomes more and more brutal, it is vital that we build and sustain direct forms of solidarity between popular struggles and movements.