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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Just The Basics (view video through link below)

I waned to share an e-mail I received yesterday with you all. It is from a good friend and mentor of mine, David Jenkins '05, and it gives a glimpse of the work he is doing in South Africa to help bring basics such as electricity and water--things we in the U.S. and at Harvard seem to waste en masse--to a population lacking it due to the government's privatization of those industries (once privatized, the prices became too costly for many people to afford these basic utilities). It is a reminder to people like myself that the struggle we are engaged in is global and systematic and cannot be isolated by region or event as well as how, as David said in a later private e-mail, "The police protect wealth not people".


Dear Friends,

I know that I've been terrible about updating people on what's happening with me here in South Africa; I've been working on a blog with lots of details that is slow on going up. I've been seeing some very cool stuff, and will hopefully update everyone soon, one way or another. Still, I had
an experience yesterday that was at once frightening and developmental, and since the footage I was shooting is now online, I thought I would drop this quick note to a group of friends. (more in expanded post)

Some background: In Soweto, one of the groups I've been working with is called the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee [SECC], which is a social movement that formed five years ago in response to the privatization of the government's electricity services, which left most poor people unable to afford electricity. Right now the SECC struggle focuses on the same issue with the privatization of water, and the tactic in each struggle is to simply reconnect (repeatedly if necessary) water and electricity for free (illegally) for people who need it. I will attach a version of a short article that I co-wrote for the SECC newsletter, which explains the seriousness of the water issue (mind you, it is in SECC language).

Yesterday afternoon I was called by a member of SECC, who let me know that a confrontation had arisen between, on the one side, the electric company (Eskom) and the police, and, on the other side, a group of community members and activists from the SECC. Eskom—whose (domestic) shareholders fill the ranks of the ruling ANC—had decided that in the run-up to the local election, they would disconnect the electricity connection from Trevor Ngwane, the lead SECC organizer's house; Trevor and four other SECC members are for the first time contesting seats against the ANC in the local government election, so it seemed ironic that the company would choose now, after five years, to forcefully disconnect. I was asked to transport people
and film what was happening, which I did. When I arrived, the Eskom employees had already been to the house twice—once without the correct paperwork, and once, they decided, without enough police protection.

You know, I have always been trying to think about issues of social justice in terms of the larger theoretical and political issues at stake, but sometimes it feels contradictory; i.e. only slightly-relevant or elusive theoretical stances on issues of obvious basic living—like people's right to quality food, shelter, work, and education. However, when the police open fire on people for demonstrating—loudly, but non-violently demonstrating,—when you film them aiming guns and firing rubber bullets at people who are begging them to stop, when they shove and hit elderly dissenters, when they perform "crowd control" by firing into people's homes, and—I guess this is what I'm feeling the most—when you look up from filming all this and realize that you are the one on the opposite end of a shotgun barrel that is firing rubber bullets… That's when all that theory hits home in a deep way. That's when you see once and for all, without a shadow of doubt, that the police—working public security for a private corporation and the political party that constitutes at least part of that corporation—is nothing more than a mechanism of repression, to stop dissent, to maintain unlivable conditions that make other people lots of money, and not, by any means, to serve and protect.

On this Indymedia South Africa link-- http://southafrica.indymedia.org/ --is a very edited 1.3 minute take from the footage I shot yesterday. It leaves out a lot: the demonstration that followed the disconnection, people bleeding and being taken to the hospital, people in solidarity supporting one another after the police left; and I should note that I also didn't catch on tape the worst of it. But at least it gives a feel. Peace everyone, and in case you're worried, don't be; I'm in good hands.



At 7:28 PM, Blogger Jersey Slugger said...

I would like to add, to those of you who don't know, these sorts of things occur in the U.S. as well. I don't want you all to feel so detached from the actions of these police in South Africa but understand that if PSE&G or some other U.S. company raised electricity prices to something too high for you to afford, you would not simply sit around in the dark cooking everything on an open flame YOU started. You'd do what you have to do to regain electricity. Then police would come. As would nightsticks. And rubber bullets...


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