17 June 2006

I just finished watching Cry Freedom (1987) and despite it being after midnight, I can’t sleep. In part because of the intensity of that movie… and it is a seriously good movie, even despite the fact that there’s too much Donald Woods and not enough Steve Biko. I don’t know of any other films that cover Steve Biko’s life and work at all, so I guess we’ll have to settle with this one, eh?

I guess the other reason I’m feeling edgy is that its 30 years since 16 June 1976. Together with some young guys from Vrygrond and one of the women from Overcome (the land occupation next to Vrygrond) I helped organise a youth day thing. One part of my contribution was to make this poster – the original inspiration was a kind of record of deaths – from the thousands at Tlatelolco in 1521 and 1968 to the students of ’76 to Marcel King (Durban) and Teboho Mkhonza (Harrismith) in 2004 and Javier Santiago and Alexis Benhumea in Atenco just a month ago. The thing about this is that the more I dug, the more blood I seemed to find beneath the ‘soil’ of history. Again and again – from the peasant revolts of 14th century Europe to the witch trials to the bloody suppression of the Bhambada Rebellion 100 years ago, to the Dirty War in Argetina in the 70s… etc etc – those in power have drowned rebellion in blood.

And a sense of this terrible history fills me with fear because I know I can hardly say I have nothing to lose. It is possible for life to become a living hell.

And now… we have Zille in charge in Cape Town. I fear this DA administration might bring back the evictions, water cutoffs and other attacks that we saw in large numbers between 2000 and 2002 in Cape Town. In those years neoliberalism was visited on the poor of Cape Town in a million small scale tragedies – for that what these policies are, a million cuts that tear apart human life, reduce it to merely surviving, suck all joy out of it. We learnt a lot in those days – how to reconnect a water supply, how we to build up community organisations – and I’m hoping Zille and her crew won’t be stupid enough to re-start the war… but at the same time, I’m aware that they’ve learned – and one of the things they’ve learned is to repress in small doses. A cutoff here, a threat there. That way fear becomes part of everyday life, and its a diffuse fear, the kind that seldom brings people together precisely because of its randomness.

You see, all that ‘They’ – that is those on the side of power, on the side of oppression, the masters of exploitation – all they need to do is to force us back within ourselves, to ‘privatise’ our problems so that we twist ourselves into contortions to look for solutions. In other words, the arrow strikes inward, we look to change ourselves to ‘fit in’ with the rule of capital rather than looking to each other and finding better ways of living our lives.

What I fear is how well capitalism works as a form of rule, how often that fear succeeds. Biko said something about this during the Black Consciousness trial – something about how our job, as activists fighting for a better world, is to keep hope alive. Or as Walter Benjamin put it: “courage, humor, cunning and fortitude…. constantly call into question every victory, past and present, of the rulers.”