Monday, April 27, 2009

Freedom Day, Number 11, and Squatters

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa. The purpose of this public holiday is to commemorate the anniversary of our first non-racial national election in 1994.

I suspect that quite a few folks paused today to think about 1994 and the course of democracy, warts and all, that have us standing on the eve of the Jacob Zuma presidency.

My day started with a neighbour lady stopping by to inform me that "illegal squatters" had begun to build shacks on a large tract of municipal land just up the street from number 11.

I stepped into our pot-holed street and looked to where hurried figures could be seen clearing wild veld grass. The neighbour lady joined me shaking her head and throwing her arms up in the air.

She blamed the "lawlessness" of the squatters on the African National Congress and its leader, Zuma.

"They think they can do anything now that Zuma is going to be the president. This is not right. What will happen to us? They will come into our houses and steal from us and kill us and no-one will care. Our houses will be worth nothing now that we have shanties right on our doorsteps ... " she complained loudly.

Somewhere in-between her words I glanced up at number 11. I thought of my late father and the years he spent working to pay for the roof, electricity, water, and the array of ownership issues that befall a house and home over 38 years.

When my dad moved us into number 11 I was just 7 years old. My first everything is framed by number 11. When I think about South Africa and my politics it flows from from number 11.

But as much as number 11 means to me it does not obscure the homeless despair that brought hundreds of poor folk to a dusty piece of unoccupied land for no other reason than erecting makeshift homes.

I watched the neighbour lady walk from me toward an assembled group of other concerned neighbours. She must have detected my indifference.

Still, I understand. Our shabby neighbourhood is falling to pieces. Most of the folks who lived here when we were a designated coloured neighborhood have sold their ugly houses and moved to Joburg or Cape Town.

New alien faces have appeared speaking languages not known to any South African of any period after white folks arrived and put fences around the land where they dug for diamonds.

Somali, Ethiopian, Nigerian, and other-African families have moved in seeking new beginnings inside of old memories that are all but faded.

To see white people now you have to travel across town to the areas where malls and movie theatres stand adjacent to American fastfood places.

There you will find pale skin white folks and dark skin white folks immersed in the religion of capitalism and its inherent alienation.

This is a new dispossession of a special kind.

Up the street from number 11 the old dispossession plays itself out against a new political reality that is hardly any friendlier than the white landlords of old.

Zuma and his captains of industry will not allow informal settlements to grow too visible. To do so would be bad for investment plus we are posed to host the soccer world cup next year.

The neighbour lady will be ok.

For at least the next two or three months the squatters will live in their shacks until a court order returns them to nowhere.

The neighbour lady will feel relieved until the next time.

The ebb and flow of resistance against the oppression of apartheid dispossession will continue because it must. New waves of squatters will reappear from time to time unless their dispossession is addressed directly and permanently.

Their freedom and ours is predicated on the justice of repossession. What that will look like is the essence of democratic governance.

None of us in Mzansi can be free until all of us are free.

For me this day of rememberance is also about seeking balance. Even though I do not just want to rubbish the angst represented by the neighbour lady it is important for us to seek a considered detachment toward collective freedom.


Picture Credit


Anonymous said...

good blog, thank you.
am wondering what you mean by a 'considered detachment toward collective freedom'? do you mean no freedom in our lifetime...have read it a few times and am not sure.

Ridwan said...

Hello Sista:

Thank you for reading and for commenting. Your thoughts are important to me and I often wonder what you would think when I write here.

That sentence should be more clearly stated.

I think we can achieve heightened freedom in our lifetime. I am pointing at the selfish (liberal) emphasis on individuality and the concern with all things that explain freedom/rights in individual terms.

So the sentence should read: "a considered detachment as we seek to inspire/move toward collective freedom."

I trust you are well Niteflyer.

Peace to you,

Dade said...

An outstanding piece, Ridwan. Very, very informative. And obviously heartfelt.

So much to think about...

My best wishes to you and to all of South Africa in this time of your painful transition.

Anonymous said...

hey, ...and ditto re your thoughts & wondering what you'd think ;)

what 'home' means to you and how it's so bound up with memory, with people (loved and not) and 'pot-holed' streets, contrasted with the brutality of your new neighbours' reality of shacking-up home on an open veld in an unknown space; i liked that.

Not the messed-up reality of the situation, but just that you do it, point it out how you do.

i guess i'm understanding the 'detachment' as honouring what something (home for instance) can mean for oneself and at the same time being conscious enough to care that it's not like that for ones neighbour.

and then grappling with how we move toward a 'higher freedom' together, without violent discord.


i’ve been a recluse of late & been wrestling with my own unconsciousness. eish i see change around the corner, again :)

Ridwan said...

Gracias Dade. I trust you are well brother and watching Obama's next 100 days of course.

I am enjoying your travel posts very much. :)

**Niteflyer I am with you on non-violent change and moving toward 'higher freedom'.

I wish you well my sista as 'you turn the corner again' and thank you kindly for your input.

Peace to you both,

GiGi - The Shy Giraffe said...

hello ridwan, you know i been snooping around your blog reading up on your posts, but i have to be honest i can't really comment on the topic as i'm not well verse (to put it mildly.. hee hee).

i hope you have been well and in good spirit always =:O)

Ridwan said...

Hey there sista Gigi it is wonderful to hear from you here.

I know you have a birthday coming up this month! You must be excited.

How is moms doing? I trust all is well in veggie land too :)

Thank you for looking in on me and I must add that I agree we only need a handful of friends ... love your post today.

So, happy May Day sista ... you be good and I will Holla back at your spot too.

Peace Gigi,