Open Letter to the Mayor of Durban

Dear Mr. Nxumalo, Mayor of Durban, South Africa

I have been informed that you are trying to be helpful to the poor, by way of being charitable, and sensitizing richer people to donate whatever they can to improve the conditions under which the poor live. From what is being reported, it does seem that you are not interested in listening to what the poor themselves are saying with regard to deal with their living conditions.

I do have many questions, but the one that really dominates is the following: why is it so difficult for you (and others in your administration, in the justice system, locally and nationally, in your party, locally and nationally) to look at people who are protesting on the basis of values (like solidarity, for example) that most Africans, nay, most humans, are proud to share? Is it not possible to put aside what capitalism, colonialism, apartheid, slavery, drilled into our minds, and listen with the kind of care, love, compassion someone like Francis of Assisi once did as a way of reminding us what we do have in common. One does not have to be a former catholic believer to admire someone like Pope Francis giving examples of humility, compassion, generosity, recently embracing a disfigured person. Or have you so imbibed the concept of power as power only when exercised with impunity, that you do not see how closely you are reproducing what went on during apartheid?

In his novel, KMT –In the House of Life, subtitled, an epistemic novel, Ayi Kwei Armah has provided an enlightened response. In this novel, Ayi Kwei Armah tries to understand why Ancient Egyptian Civilization fell apart. In a nutshell, it boiled down to a struggle between two antagonistic understandings of how to advance knowledge (and humanity). On one side there were the keepers (using knowledge as a way of accumulating power) and the sharers (using knowledge as a way of promoting solidarity, and the continuing emancipation of humanity).

Mr. Mayor, have you ever entertained the idea that, given your position, you could play a significant role, not only in Durban, but beyond, toward a complete and total emancipation of humanity, from the predatory practices of capitalism? What has been missing in Africa, since the years of Independence? What has been missing in South Africa, since the end of Apartheid? In all these cases can one seriously talk about transition when those who most benefitted from the predatory liquidation of Africa organized themselves to carry on with the predatory system? The predators are keepers and reproducers of the knowledge that made them powerful and super rich. The residents of Kennedy Road, Cato Cress Manor are trying to make you understand their messages about sharing in solidarity, not through charity. The latter is a healing message, the former is a transaction aimed at keeping the poor poorer and the rich richer.

There is a world of difference between solidarity and charity.
The latter calls for silence
Acquiescence, submission
Acceptance of poverty
As something akin to predestination
Solidarity
Calls for audacity
In liquidating misery
Poverty
Forever everywhere
Not just in one corner of a territory

The poorest of the poor
Took to the streets because they had no other way
To be heard in their own voices
By themselves, for themselves

In today’s world dominated by violence
The voices from the poorest of the poorest
Are healing voices seeking
To heal wounds, visible and invisible

Mr. Mayor, it is easier to focus on the visible wounds, the ones everyone can see and understand, but the deepest wounds tend to be the ones that are invisible from the outside. Real healing means going as deep as possible in those hidden wounds, with the help of those who are vocal and those who have been so badly wounded that, more often than not, they would rather keep quiet.
There is one humanity, indivisible. In the end, each one of us will be asked, whatever our beliefs what did we do in order to heal that which appeared irreparably destroyed.

Jacques MF Depelchin
Researcher/teacher
Salvador-Bahia
Brazil
Hugh Le May Fellow Rhodes University (August-December 2012)

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