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Friday, 23 March 2018

Ownership Of Land Is Viewed Through The Lens Of Amnesia

This fails to address the continued legacies of the past while re-centring settlerhood as the lens to view the present.


Race, Place and Land Reform
Appearing in headlines across the globe have been calls for the Australian government to rescue downtrodden white South African farmers fleeing an imagined genocide by fast-tracking visa processes. As I have alluded to previously, race continues to reassert itself in shaping our political prioritisation as well as popular discussion.
The perceived dislocation of white comfort from the centre of society is framed by reactionaries in fatalistic terms while little is discussed popularly of systemic violence against communities of colour. Michael Bueckert correctly frames the deployment of white-genocide mythologies by reactionaries elsewhere as reflective not of realities in South Africa but racist anxieties in the face of migration domestically.
The dissemination of this hysteria has only been encouraged following the announcement that attempts will be made to create a constitutional provision enabling expropriation of land without compensation. The aim is to correct historical dispossession. This has fostered a white reaction of feeling placelessor lacking an economic or cultural space to occupy if such restitutions were to be implemented.
Coming to the forefront now are the fault lines of Rainbowism, chiefly that the concept created a situation in which "...the symbolic nation may 'belong' to all, but its land does not." Land reform and other forms of equity-building are necessary to combat extraordinary rates of inequity. Amid continued inequity, racial anxieties and resulting myths take to the forefront while the violence of poverty is sidelined and normalised.
Little attention has been paid to Lumko Mkhethwa, a five-year-old who lost her life after falling into a pit latrine toilet just years after the tragic and entirely preventable death of Michael Komape, who faced the same fate. This is an opportunity for South Africa to reassert itself as a moral leader if a new understanding of inclusion is crafted and the recognition of all life as valuable instilled.
Reactions to the recent calls for appropriation without compensation often invoke selective understandings of land rights, as property rights for the properties are emphasised while the right to property is minimised; those with the least recourse, such as evicted rural women or farm workers, receive little international attention. Accordingly, claims or ownership of land is viewed through the lens of amnesia. Present arrangements are conceived of as just and not to be touched; the past is just that, pastand we ought to move forward.
This fails to address the continued legacies of the past while recentring settlerhood as the lens through which to view the present. Unfortunately, this story is transnational. In my country of birth, Canada, amnesias persist in our treating of stolen land as unceded territory.
Understandably, dispossession and the rendering of it invisible or undeserving of reparation is incredibly painful for those directly confronted by its continued legacies. Niigaan Sinclair highlights the pain and frustration of reconciliation without extensive land reform or reparations as well as the depth of settler apologetics:
"He says sorry for everything. That he regrets things have turned out this way. That he hopes your people and his people can reconcile. That a new relationship is possible.
You ask for your home back. To share at the very least.
'I'm not that sorry,' he says, walking away."
Implementation and Compromise
Steven Friedman correctly argues that the salience and polarisation surrounding the land debate is less about the Constitution and more about defining and realising dignity and equality one generation into democracy. Friedman shares the concern that elites will come together to craft a compromise that alleviates immediate political pressure but ultimately fails to address historic inequity.
In this vein, mechanisms ought to be created to prevent schemes that formally recognise reparative land distribution while ignoring the spirit of equity. For instance, oversight must be applied to ensure the beneficiaries of redistributed land hold it not simply in name and practice, that those who might attempt to coerce or bribe beneficiaries into serving as owner in name only be held accountable.
If the result of current calls for land reform is a compromise negotiated by and for elites, one must ask to what extent the most excluded, such as farmworkers, are able to shape and benefit from whatever procedures emerge.
Another potential issue may be the emergence of speculation and consolidation. In a context of polarisation with the prospect for expedited white flight, the issue of artificially decreased farm prices and consolidation emerges. The present would be an ideal time for elite opportunists to capitalise on instability in the pursuit of further enrichment.

An Opportunity for Redefinition
As land reform (and the fault lines of Rainbowism) continues to dominate national dialogue (while its worst elements filter internationally), now is an ideal time for South Africa to re-emerge as a global leader. Inequity and injustice, though more acute in some places, know no boundaries. Beginning by consulting the most excluded, larger issues of fairness, belonging and dignity may be redefined.
This requires the mobilisation of legitimate grievances against inequity and corruption towards a cultural and social innovation that in recognising the common value of all life places the last, first.
This demands exhaustive creative multitasking, an ability to both recognise the persistence of race in organising present economic, representational and moral inequities while beginning to imagine a world beyond race.

*Please note this piece first appeared in Huffington Post South Africa

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Imagined Displacement vs Real Displacement

The logic of white supremacy is in full view in Australia as failures to recognise or take reparative action towards founding genocide persists, the human rights of Manus Island detainees have been denied, while demands are made to resettle those fleeing a mythical white genocide.


The identification with white genocide by settler communities is correctly framed by Michael Bueckert as less about the context in South Africa and more about domestic anxieties. As countries in the Global North struggle to craft genuinely inclusive societies amid continued migration from the Global South, these anxieties mirror sentiments from white South Africa. Privately, an observer chalked up apartheid amnesia, nostalgia and the like as being rooted in a concern around instability, and the recognition that the future of South Africa both will and ought to be black. 
Though indefensible, such anxieties and nostalgia reflect a lack of imagination, leadership, and most importantly empathy. Similarly, European, Australian and North American xenophobic reactions reflect a fear of de-centring, of no longer occupying a core or exceptional position. Lacking popular leadership with the capacity to tap into the visceral nature of these fears, we find ourselves with large segments of our societies accepting and acting upon demonstrably false truths; white genocide is mythical (and those who peddle it are reprehensible) though the fear of being shifted to the political, intellectual, moral or representational periphery feels true for its adherents.
Just as indigenous peoples have been conceived of as removableproblems, Australia continues to deny the human rights of the denizens of Manus Island while the European Union persists with its outsourcingof migrants; out of sight, out of mind. In this way, as Bueckert correctly highlighted, the ostensible plight of white farmers in South Africa is less about tangible realities and more about conceiving of black and brown people as swarming their land.

Notions of sharing are absent as any step towards diversity is understood as an existential threat. Accordingly, no longer singularly to occupy the centrality of a society is understood as to disappear, to become extinctIn the reactionary mind of the settler, the presence of Manus Island detainees in Australia would hasten the ostensible loss of Australia; a perceived loss in which the white South African farmers are viewed as fleeing from in their homeland.
Partially to blame for this xenophobia is the tacit or implicit acceptance of its premises by centrist leadership. For instance, there has been a swap negotiated between Australia and the United States wherein a select few from Manus Island have been settled in America and Latin American applications have been taken to Australia. By accommodating rather than rejecting local variants of racism, we have allowed xenophobia to continue to function institutionally. A meaningful anti-racist politics demands we fight this bigotry both at home and abroad. Living together must not be rendered technical. 
Alternatives towards these politics of fragility require moral and intellectual recognition of the interwoven nature of our fates as poignantly charged by Henning Melber ... “[d]ecolonisation (especially when including the mindset) requires engagement by the descendants of those involved on all sides”. 
In practice this demands policies reflecting an extensive sense of community and responsibility in the realms of taxation, housing, education, health and labour. Silencing this myth relies upon an acceptance by its proponents that the vast majority of them have more to gain and little to lose in joining the community at-large. 

Lethal, Silenced Threats
Amid the hysteria surrounding white genocide, strikingly little attention is provided towards a deeper, more immediate threat to social cohesion, that of political violence; turning our attention to South Africa’s second most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal, a province wracked with a legacy of apartheid political violence between the African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a Zulu nationalist party. 
Through the lens of neoliberal accommodation, this conflict is largely out of sight historically while relegated to the past; there was violence, the transition dealt with this, the problem was solved. Though these structures and their violent underpinnings, particularly that of the IFP, have been ingrained into the New South Africa specifically by legislation such as the Ingonyama Trust Act. Passed days before the historic 1994 election, the Act stipulates that land which previously administrated as the KwaZulu homeland was to be regulated as a Trust led by the Zulu King. 
The Act was passed in order to ensure IFP participation in the 1994 elections; it was a result of violent extortion rather than community consultation. Following recent attempts by traditional leadership to encourage residents of Trust land to convert their Permissions to Occupy into long-term leases – effectively transforming land rights into long-term leases – the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change recommended the disbandment of the Trust. 
Knowing no shame, the King has asked all Zulus (including those surviving from social grants) to donate R5. Publically, the king contends that this will support a nonviolent legal route to be taken to protect the trust and the power it reflects, though one must ask, what calibre is a promise from a man previously implicated in xenophobic violence?
Garnering additional concern is that this conflict is arising during a period ripe with conditions for uncontained political violence. During the past few years we have witnessed political assassinations of both partisanand non-partisan nature. Within this context, attention both nationally and internationally ought to be paid to the situation developing in KwaZulu-Natal in order to prevent either of these conflicts from spilling into a much larger violent conflict. As one long-time activist reminded me, the violence of the late apartheid period “began with the [communal] taxis.”

Complicity: White Victims, Black Violence
Suffering at Manus Island is muted, founding genocides invisible and political violence normalised while a mythical white genocide persists to take to the forefront of much international dialogue. The anxieties of imagined displacement take precedence over real displacement. White supremacy dictates that we privilege our attention and energy towards a fictitious genocide while the conditions for a rise in armed conflict are ignored.
The disparity in attention paid to these two issues reflects competing valuations of life; the death of a white farmer is a tragedy while violence against black communities is an impersonalised trend. Though reactionaries overtly recognise themselves in the murdered farmer and not in the victims of political violence, we too are culpable. Just as centrists have appeased racist anxieties in order to facilitate settlement arrangements, we have appeased racist elements by failing to elevate genuine risks to black life.
As both consumers and producers of media, we are complicit in continuing to allow whiteness to dominate our discourse and, perhaps, imaginations. If we are to find ways to live together rather than simply tolerate each other, our focus ought to shift towards a deeper analysis of the challenges underpinning our direct communities and those elsewhere. Part of this requires a sidelining and mitigation of the frivolous, with a refined focus in developing policies and societies which foster cohesion and togetherness.
Too often we find solace in the accessibility and ease of the immediately recognisable or the familiar; we lose track of the factual as the ties that fundamentally bind us together are often muddled or weakened.
Indeed, we find ourselves within a crisis of empathy and imagination.

*First appeared in Daily Maverick

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Mining in Kyrgyzstan: Unearthing Solidarity

Amongst some scholars a falsehood persists centred on a static, insular and perhaps vacuous, Central Asia; a region mysteriously extricated from global processes and politics.
In this worldview, Central Asia remains categorized simultaneously as intransigently stuck between the Soviet experience and the 21st century. Indeed, Central Asia and its communities are presented as remarkably operating external to globalization, similar to the ways in which indigenous peoples are often framed as existing outside of modernity. We ought to consider this through the lenses of extractive processes.
Other observers note the revival or development of a so-called new Great Game or geopolitical scramble for influence as well as access to the region’s wealth and markets. Kyrgyzstan has experienced a growth of Turkish investment, owes 50%of its national debt to China while previously hosting both American and Russian military installations. A single Canadian-based company, Centerra Gold, operates the Kumtor gold mine which has contributed as much as 6 percent  of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The Kumtor mine has an extensive history of accidents as well as flagrant contravention of regulation including operation without appropriate licenses for waste disposal. At present, the mine extracts gold beneath the Davydov and Lysi glaciers. This practice both risks damaging the glacial ice sheets while local communities have reported losses in nearby fish populations.
All of this is occurring within a context wherein access to information related to mining activities and the sector more generally, is limited; a few years ago a tape emerged wherein local activists allegedly attempted to extort the company for a pay-off. The veracity of this tape is unclear, though many Kyrgyz have shared with me that while the details of back-door corruption to ensure stability may not be fully clear, the perception is that such deals exist.  If the tape is authentic then it reflects corruption by local leadership similar to co-opted unions, if fake, it may have been designed to delegitimize organic protests. These suspicions are credible as there is a history of deep-seated corruption in the sector.
Unfortunately, the mine’s poor record of environmental stewardship may lead to international ramifications. The waters from Kumtor feed the Naryn River later to become the Syr Darya in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan heavily relies on its agricultural sector (including the use of forced labour in cotton production) and has previously warned that disruptions to its access to water could lead to a violent confrontation. This is not unusual; many observers consider environmental devastation, growing demand and an increasingly unpredictable climate as key elements behind future wars. Globally, we face a cocktail of population growth, increased demands for freshwater, ecological disaster and a natural world thrown out of the patterns we have grown accustomed to. The threat Kumtor poses to Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers may be a precipice in regional conflict amidst these global risk factors.
Local activists face intimidation, a familiar story from Standing Rock to Xolobeni and Chihuahua. Meanwhile, much of the profits from Kumtor flow overseas with little-to-no knowledge outside of the region of the mine’s existence. Amidst this, local communities echo concerns of those elsewhere, how will the site be maintained following the mines closure? To which one Bishkek resident proclaimed “no one will care.”
Globally, the extraction industry operates on sites hidden from scrutiny, disproportionately directly affecting the lives of those considered disposable or of little value, their pain, cultural, environment and material destruction deemed the cost of industrial progress. Unsurprisingly, this process devalues and displaces the lives of the poor, of traditional and indigenous communities, of people of colour; those lamentably but ostensibly, normatively, left behind, pushed out of the frame. Few consumers of Kumtor’s gold may be able to place Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan on a map but all of our fates are tied together. When the resources have been depleted, when further conflict has been sowed, capital will move to the next frontier and it will be closer to home.
If we are to build an empathic and compassionate society, we must recognize the material ties that weave through Central Asia to the rest of the globe and extend these ties into meaningful solidarity; sites of both extraction and accumulation ought to be considered and challenged in practice.
Like the rest of us, Central Asia and Central Asians cannot simply step outside of the yoke of globalized capital, rising securitization and ecological catastrophe, however mutual recognition, identification and resistance efforts may play some role in articulating an alternative, just and common vision.
*This piece was first published by rabble.ca 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Settler Amnesia in the Age of Canada 150

Will much-hyped birthday bring consequential action, or more nausea-inducing revisionism?

After almost two months, the premier of South Africa’s Western Cape finally apologized for a set of tweets alluding to positive aspects of colonialism.

These sentiments would ring familiar to many Canadians as the two nations share a common history of pass laws and legalized racial separations. Canadian policy served as a guide for the architects of apartheid. Moreover, the arrogance and narcissism demonstrated by the delayed apology is reflective of a malady that is very much alive in both countries, settler amnesia.

Sanitizing history
Premier Zille’s tweets sanitized the violence of colonial dispossession by employing a progressive or linear understanding of history. Colonialism brought innovative technology thus justifying the horrors of the colonial project. This worldview lacks imagination for the past and present. Such perspectives not only hide the shared horrors of the past but also the contributions of Indigenous and African people.
Zille’s delayed apology demonstrates an intransigence, a refusal to hear out other worldviews or experiences. In Canada, denial persists even after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One does not have to look very far. In the reaches of high-level government power, we have a Senator who recently felt the need to highlight the “good deeds” of the residential school system, while others feel the need to defend residential schools as providing comparable or better treatment for Indigenous students than for those not in the schools.
Denialism comes in many forms
Similarly, we have all heard calls that the past is the past and so Indigenous folks ought to simply get over it — it* being the horrors of dispossession, residential schools and the ongoing violence of the settler state. All of these narratives simply accept the inevitability and permanence of the Canadian state as well as the dispossession of Indigenous communities.
This inability to accept the immoralities undergirding our nation’s very existence shields us from accepting the emotional and tangible responsibility required to build a truly inclusive society. It also enables settler society to continue to set the national agenda.
Another seemingly innocent form of denialism came to the forefront during the recent so-called appropriation prize scandal. Following criticism of Hal Niedzviecki’s proposal for a prize, and his resignation as editor of the magazine that published it, individuals from leading media outlets pledged to support the prize under the auspices of free speech. While Niedzviecki and his supporters ought to have the right to suggest (and even offer) such a prize, the rhetoric in defense of the prize wreaked of an arrogance and narcissism; complaints of racism and insensitivity were belittled by a community accustomed to being right, to setting common norms.
The lessons from this episode are two-fold. First, settler-hood conditions us to sideline competing opinions as we are used to occupying the center. Second, as Eusebius McKaiserrecently argued, complaints of racism, like sexism, ought to be acknowledged at face value. Outside of the courts, legal standards need not apply to such grievances due to the pervasive nature of racism and misogyny in our society.
This common amnesia and refusal to come to term with our nations’ colonial pasts is actually an implicit admission. Deep down, settler communities know that, to put it mildly, something is not kosher. As settlers we must come to terms with our own historical and contemporary dominance, or privilege we enjoy in society. We have two options: we can follow a path of honest engagement, introspection and consequential action guided by humility or we can further try to sweep the very-much-alive past under the carpet through nausea-inducing revisionism.
The first option is one of expanded community and dialogue, requiring patience, the valuation of the pain and experiences of others, and an understanding that not everything needs to revolve around settler-hood. Fundamentally, this is a path to maturity, to adulthood. The second route is one of stubbornness, an unwillingness to accept alternatives, an inability to pause and listen, and a fundamental aversion and incapacity to adapt to a meaningfully transformative society.
As Canada 150 approaches, it’s high-time settler society pursues a coming-of-age.

****Please note this piece first appeared in Ricochet

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Progress and Making the Native Disappear in South Africa

In the name of modernity and capital expansion, indigenous peoples across the globe have been slaughtered, dispossessed and made to be invisible. Through the writing out of history or blotting out of popular culture, indigenous people are often relegated to a state of pre-modernity or tradition; this continues to underpin policy.

We have seen this narrative countless times as manifest destiny, the empty-land myth and the like; gross human rights violations justified as the price of Progress. In this way, Progress is considered through the lens of the inevitability of capital. Some proponents of this notion of Progress may claim to lament the cultural, familial and economic attack on local communities. If taken at face value, such sentiments speak less to personal immorality but rather point to a crisis of imagination. Progress is bestowed with inevitability, simply pitted against Tradition, leaving little room for intellectual alternatives. Lacking options, proponents remedy Progress by painting it as ethical advancement while distancing it from its colonial origins. Extraction industry apologetics demonstrate this trend through buzzwords such as energy independence or exaggerated claims of job creation.

In an act of colonial continuity, the government of South Africa is incessantly trying to put forward the Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Bill. Amongst other issues, the Bill would increase the authority of Traditional Leadership in the nation's former Bantustans including the ability to unilaterally enter their communities into agreements with third parties. This would sanction an existing reality in many communities wherein Traditional Leadership personally benefits from extorting or at least preventing community resistance against the arrival of extraction or tourism industries. As I have covered before,Traditional Leadership has sold land that is not theirs to sell, while others have acquiesced to the intimidation of their community members. In this way, the Bill would further institutionalize Traditional Leadership and rural patronage as a fulcrum for capitalist exploitation.

The proposed legislation is the next descendent in a long line of rural patronage used to manage and exploit the nation's black majority. The Bill would directly affect roughly 18 million people . While it would be unfair to paint every Traditional Leader with the same brush, we must question their histories and relationship to the title. Many contemporary Traditional Leaders do not fit into the great lineage of anti-colonial resistance embodied by Chief Albert Luthuli or King Langalibelele but rather fall into a line of collaboration. For instance, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini legitimized Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), armed by the regime, the IFP engaged in a ravenous civil war with the African National Congress across today's KwaZulu-Natal and the townships of Gauteng. It should be noted that Zwelithini also faces accusations of stoking the xenophobic violence plaguing the nation.

During the transition process, the IFP harnessed its ability to withhold peace by threatening to boycott the 1994 election. In exchange for their participation, the IFP was awarded a major concession and pre-cursor to the TKLB, the Ingonyama Trust Act. Passed days before the historic election, the Act stipulates that much of the land belonging to the former KwaZulu homeland is to be administered by the Zulu King. As I have argued before, the nature of the relationship between the national state and citizens on this land has remained largely unchanged since the colonial era. The Traditional Khoi-San Leadership Bill would further reify these borders and this relationship.

Considering the magnitude in terms of those directly affected by the Bill, there has been relatively little coverage of it. This falls into a long pattern of externalizing the experiences as well as plight of rural communities. Further, as I have noted before, much of the popular discourse surrounding rural people taking place outside of rural areas often frames these folks and by extension their communities within two stereotypes. The first label is stupid or lazy while the second is rural people as the proverbial gate-keepers of tradition, seemingly left-behind by modernity. A consultation process mired in inadequacies speaks to the first perception as rural people are to be spoken to, never heard, to be led rather than to lead. The relative silence in major English language media speaks to the perceived irrelevance of rural matters.

Much like its colonial forbearers, the Traditional Khoisan Leadership Bill is a tool to overlook the experiences, ambitions, opinions and indeed, dignity, of rural black South Africans. If enacted, this Bill will further empower corrupted Traditional Leadership while capital freely exploits the local soil. Progress is often understood as innovation, the easing of life. For capital this Bill effectively solves the problem or removes the barrier of rural people and their ability to politically participate, resist exploitation and direct their own destiny.

Please note this piece was first published by the Hampton Institute