Category Archives: Shack Dwellers

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)

Stand Shoulder to Shoulder with the People of Haiti

–When asked “How are they surviving?” Haitian journalist Wadner Pierre responded, “Well, they’re all sharing. That’s what we do. That’s the way Haitians are.” (January 16)

–“The city has seen little violence, despite persistent fears that shortages of food, water and shelter will spark unrest.” (January 21)

–Photograph of a white female US Navy medic cradling and feeding a dehydrated Haitian child. (January 21)

I thank my local newspaper, the Contra Costa Times, for including the above images in its coverage of the disastrous January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. These images are vital because they reflect our true human nature that is too often clouded by a pernicious deep structure.

In 2005, upon first hearing about hurricane Katrina on radio newscasts I thought in my head how tragic it was. But when I saw pictures of Katrina, showing how aid and rescue efforts had been needlessly slow to reach poor, African American neighborhoods amid unrealized fears of widespread looting and unrest, my heart was gripped with terror. I felt a visceral pain when faced with the reality that the deep structure of racism on which my nation was founded still persists, despite the abolition of slavery, passage of the Civil Rights Act, and the awakening consciousness of so many people of all races that we truly are equal.

This deep structure is built on the notion that poor people of African descent are less than human, to be exploited economically in good times and to be feared in times of crisis. It is a structure designed to protect the wealth of a few, at the expense of our common humanity.

After the earthquake struck Haiti, my heart was again gripped with terror to see more evidence of this deep structure: When I heard that the US response prioritized “security” over urgent humanitarian assistance; when I read that the US military took control of the Port-au-Prince airport and turned away airplanes carrying medical field hospitals; when I saw that donations of water, food and supplies were not reaching many affected areas at all and some only after thousands who survived the initial quake had needlessly died of infection and dehydration.

The deep structure of racism has infected much of the media that shapes people’s consciousness, but as our eyes and hearts are opened, the outpouring of solidarity at a basic human level emerges. As soon as we get to know people of different races and circumstances on a personal level, the deep structure already begins to crumble. I see people in my home town of Richmond, California breaking down the deep structure every day by seeing their neighbors as brothers and sisters, challenging the negative stereotypes of our city that this structure perpetuates. Ever since I was a teenager and first sensed the existence of this structure, I, a white woman, have been working on breaking it down within myself.

People all over the world are giving generously without hesitation to support those suffering in Haiti, and aid workers are rushing there to help. That’s what people do. It’s human nature. I suspect that individual soldiers, as evidenced from the photograph mentioned above, would rather care for people immediately than be ordered to guard shipments of supplies bottle-necked at the airport. Long before the earthquake, I learned about hundreds of people-to-people partnerships between local groups in the US and Haiti to collaborate on schools, clinics, and other constructive projects. Cuban doctors who have been in Haiti for years are joining Haitian doctors round the clock treating earthquake victims with minimal supplies (though the US military has turned away additional Cuban doctors who want to come). Everyone I know who travels to Haiti and becomes personally acquainted with Haitians and their invincible spirit invariably falls in love with them, as did I.

The earthquake is very personal for me because I first started to learn about Haiti and her history shortly before the political earthquake of the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat in which the US helped topple the vastly popular and democratically elected government of the Lavalas party, kidnapping President Aristide and banishing him from the Western Hemisphere. I visited Haiti twice since the coup and have many friends there who are struggling under UN military occupation to maintain strong networks to dismantle the deep structure of racism, asserting their dignity as human beings who care for their communities.

A tiny segment of Haiti’s population is fabulously wealthy, while the vast majority are desperately poor. Ever since the poor had the nerve to stand up for themselves and break the shackles of slavery and colonialism 206 years ago, the US government has colluded with the wealthy few to maintain this gross inequality, most recently taking the form of ensuring an abundant pool of cheap labor for offshore assembly plants.

Under the leadership of twice elected President Aristide, Haiti moved in the direction of improving the lives of the poor. Since the coup, he remains exiled in South Africa, ready to return home but not allowed to by the US controlled Haitian government. Why is Aristide so often demonized by media pundits? Is it because he challenges the Haitian elite’s contempt for the common people and invites them to stand shoulder to shoulder with blacks rather than get down on their knees with the whites? Is it because he calls for everyone to have a place at the table, including poor, rich, black, brown and white?

Now more than ever, the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake beckons us to further dismantle the deep structure of racism that violates humanity, and stand shoulder to shoulder with our Haitian sisters and brothers. To this end we must insist that delivery of vital earthquake aid be accelerated, that Haiti’s foreign debt be cancelled and Haitians given the wherewithal to rebuild their own country on their own terms, that foreign military occupiers be removed, that the election ban on Haiti’s popular Lavalas party be lifted and that Aristide be allowed to return.

It’s time for the wealthy to get in touch with their true human nature and do a better job of sharing the resources of the earth. We must build new structures that join us together in embracing the Haitian motto “tout moun se moun”–Haitian Kreyol for “every person is a human being”.

Marilyn Langlois
Board member, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund
Member, Haiti Action Committee
www.haitiaction.net, www.haitisolidarity.net
Jan. 22, 2010

Statement from Dr Jean-Bertrand Aristide

Former President of Haiti
15 January 2010

We thank all the true friends of Haiti, in particular the Government and the people of South Africa for their solidarity with the victims of Haiti.

The concrete action undertaken by Rescue South Africa and Gift of the Givers is a clear expression of ubuntu. Ubuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. As we all know, many people remain buried under tons of ruble and debris waiting to be rescued. When we think of their suffering, we feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death.

To symbolize this readiness we have decided to meet not just anywhere, but here, in the shadow of the Oliver Tambo International Airport. As far as we are concerned, we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity. Friends from around the world have confirmed their willingness to organize an airplane carrying medical supplies, emergency needs and ourselves.

While we cannot wait to be with our sisters and brothers in Haiti, we share the anguish of all Haitians in the Diaspora who are desperate to reach family and loved ones.

Soufrans youn nan nou se soufrans nou tout.
L’Union fait la force. Kouraj! Kenbe! Kenbe!
Youn soutni lòt nan lespri Mèm Amou an.

Our love to the nation now labeled the poorest of the western hemisphere. However, the spirit of ubuntu that once led Haiti to emerge as the first independent Black nation in 1804; helped Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador attain liberty; and inspired our forefathers to shed their blood for the United States’ independence, cannot die. Today this spirit of solidarity must and will empower all of us to rebuild Haiti.

Ukwanda kwaliwa umthakathi.
Thank you.