Struggle…

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.”

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A new title?

5 May 2006

Ok, so apparently the title of this blog (the pontificating platform bit) is stupid. So what should it be?

In other news, I just discovered that when I archived my copy of “Voices of a Distant Star” to CD, I somehow saved the wrong version – a version with only French subtitles. Now I’m kinda sad because I wanted to give a copy to a friend (well, swap actually, for a copy of “Dollars and White Pipes”, which I keep seeing only half of (long story there)). Anyway, Voices is one of the few anime films I’ve seen that I really loved (ok, I haven’t seen a lot of anime, but some, like “Metropolis”, just seems a bit forced to me). Oh, another good one was “Spirited Away”. Quite chilling, that one.

In case anyone’s wondering about the high link content of this blog posting, I’m writing this with a newly discovered Firefox extension, Performancing (now, how post-modern is that name? hehe…). Performancing opens a blogging window in the bottom half of your browser window, allowing you to easily copy and paste content from browser to blog. You can even drag and drop images. Very intuitive – that is, once I figured out which button to click to launch it. (Its the PFF SB ICONone). So now my browser is a bit of a kitchen sink – I’ve got FoxyTunes to control my music player, ScrapBook to save web pages (helluva useful for research) and more and more and more. 😉

Anyway, enough for now. Been having a fascinated extended conversation with Rebecca (and obliquely, Ahmed) about power and community (or the lack thereof) and how for transformation to happen in our country / society it is vital that women’s struggles over their very private (but ubiquitous) oppression succeed. And how if JZ wins his rape case (which I suspect he will – we’ll see on Monday), he will set this task backwards as every man will imagine themselves a little-JZ, i.e. a version of this grandstanding arrogant prick, albeit it on a smaller scale. Oh, and I was listening to New Model Army (“All of This”) but now its Fairlight Children.

A trivial blog

27 April 2006

I’ve been wasting far too much time recently playing Mount and Blade, a shareware game oriented around medieval combat. Well, combat as well as travelling around the world, trading, a few quests, etc. Its as-yet unfinished and apparently created by a mere two people in Turkey, but my hours wasted are testimony to how playable it is.
One of the main attractions is that the interface works very cleanly. Combat, which involves everything from bows and arrows to lances (on horseback) to swords to crossbows, is a fun combination of simple (essentially gesture based) commands and complex possibilities (especially since most combat takes place out in the open, with lots of room to manuevre).
The game is lacking in storyline, and multi-player (which doesn’t exist) would be helluva fun, but I (and many many other people on the Internet) can’t wait for future developments. Until then I’ll keep playing the beta I’ve got.

my new banner

10 March 2006

Ok, so its Friday night, I’ve been sick the whole week. I thought I was getting better today, so I went to work, but meanwhile Rebecca got sick last night with vomiting and stuff, so…. work was really stressful, don’t have a proper work environment set up yet, RSI‘s playing up, the tracker queue is a mile long, etc etc.And tomorrow is the women’s empowerment workshop I’ve helped organise in Vrygrond, which is a source of considerable stress since people have this annoying habit of saying they’re coming to a workshop and then not pitching up….So… its Friday night. I’m not going anywhere, because of all these worries, to which a lack of money is added. So, what to do? Besides covert La Haine into a VCD, I decided, while chatting to my online friend Shan that I should exercise my Photoshop skills a bit. So that’s where the new banner comes from.Some of the source artwork is Zapatista murals from Oventic, courtesy of UK Indymedia. I guess they express the vision of the world I currently relate to, with that slogan “por la humanidad” (for humanity – against neo-liberalism)… and moving to the right hand side of the banner its mostly South African stuff. A mural from the Community Arts Project in Cape Town, an 80s May Day poster, part of an artwork by Norman Catherine and the postcard about Jenny Curtis Schoon that Sue Williamson did. The South African art is part of my memory from ‘Resistance Art in South Africa’, the book I bought (to my parents’ horror) with the book vouchers I won in matric (1990). Yeah, I guess the right-hand side of the banner is where I came from in a sense…

And I picked the photo of Jenny Curtis Schoon because she and her daughter were blown up by a parcel bomb sent by the South African government in 1984. Marius Schoon, Jenny’s widower, was one of those who fought long and hard against the ‘amnesty’ deal of the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation, which traded confessions for amnesty from prosecution (as it is, almost none of the Apartheid state’s murderers have been prosecuted anyway) and in the process let Jenny’s murderer off the hook. I guess being a father these days makes me relate so much more to this story of a family whose relationship of love and hope was so literally blown apart. Aluta continua….

Birth of a new blog

9 March 2006

Years (yes, literally years) ago I created a blog for myself in a fit of enthusiasm. It was hosted on a machine called cybernetics, which was run by a friend of mine (Jaco) and located within the network of the Western Cape Schools Network – i.e. dependant on several chains of friendship that had built up over the years. Since then, Jaco moved to the UK, my connection to the WCSN has become rather more tenuous than it was then…. and anyway, I’m an awful writer. Its not that I can’t write well – its just that writing is not natural for me, and anyway, I’ve got the attention span of a flea when it comes to ‘projects’ like this.Over the years I’ve acquired a ‘secret’ blog on Livejournal which is somehow linked to my ‘online’ identity. I’m a secretive sort in some ways – I get rather freaked out and embarassed at how much you can discover about me with a Google search, so when I introduce myself online I tend to use pseudonyms, etc. Its all a bit silly sometimes, but hey…Anyway, eventually cybernetics was switched off due to a server room reorganisation, and after a while, I got David at WCSN to put my pieces of cybernetics online elsewhere… the main thing I was looking for was my daughter’s website and gallery which is about the only thing online I update on a semi-regular basis. I’ve now re-hosted all that content on ‘leftside’, the FreeBSD server that acts as my mailserver, firewall and all-round fiddling-with machine. I had a look at the traffic coming into that machine, and noticed that one of the most-requested URLs was the one for this blog. Hmm. Wow. So… in the interest of search engine optimisation, I decided I better fix the blog up again. This involved moving from MovableType to WordPress simply because WordPress is open source (and thus damn easy to install from FreeBSD’s ports collection) while MovableType, er, isn’t.So here it is! Peter’s Pontification Platform, reborn! I might even blog in it once in a blue moon.

Hello world!

9 March 2006

I only made this blog to point to my daughter’s website. Btw. her nickname is Sqoo!

Ok, so I wrote an email to aut-op-sy this morning setting down my thoughts on struggles over income in South Africa. A bit of background on that: autonomists for a long time have put the demand for ‘citizenship income’, i.e. income that is delinked from wage labour, as one of their central planks. The struggles in South Africa haven’t been ones waged by autonomists, but potentially they put the same question on the table – how do we afford to live? And not just to live, but to live ‘as humans’ (remember the classic comment from Cecilia and others in Tafelsig in 2001: “We are not animals”). In another language, this is posing the demand for “zoe” (i.e. a full life) against the reality of “bios” (i.e. bare life). Put yet another way, we cannot cease to be workers (i.e. governed by the capitalist demand for ever more labour) without re-organising income so that it exists apart from wage labour. Secondly, if we have such non-wage income, we don’t want it to be administered by the state (which is, after all, a moment of alienation and a collective capitalist), so we need to create a non-fucked-up non-state public sphere.

On to the email:

Reading Virno’s comments about the importance of creating non-state public spheres led to some thoughs (how unusual! acclaim all my friends ;)). First, a bit of background:

The ‘community’ struggles in South Africa from 1999 onwards have largely been around protecting sources of non-wage income. One aspect of this is the struggle against the commodification of goods such as water, electricity and housing. These struggles have erupted largely in areas where historically these goods have been available (council rental housing, unmetered or non-prepaid water and electricity provision to households), and have taken the form of defending practices (non-payments, forms of ‘self reduction’, illegal connections, reinstatement after eviction) that are crucial to particular life strategies in these townships.

These struggles erupted at a time when wage struggles across both the private and public sectors were suffering terribles defeats. In a way it seems like they beat ‘us’ in the workplaces, and the socio-economic effects of that erupted in the ‘communities’ (i.e. poor townships, the historic ‘labour dormitories’ created by Apartheid city planning). Those of us looking to a form of struggle beyond the valorisation of the worker-identify saw something positive in this shift – the struggle was now no longer about a wage, but rather about income. And income is something that is potentially not tied to productivity deals and others mechanisms of capitalist ‘equivalence’.

Recently, there have been a wave of struggles – mostly below the radar screen – that have demanded ‘service delivery’. These struggles have included road blockades, land invasions and the occupation of empty housing. These struggles can be understood as a new front in the campaign over income. Very often the people involved in these struggles are people who have been living in backyards, paying rent to do so, etc. In other words, by demanding housing from the state, they are demanding a form of income…

Ok, one more thing on these struggles over non-wage forms of income: they are mostly targetted at the state. Now, if we understand the state as a collective capitalist, i.e. enforcing the rule of the social relation called capital, then its not so difficult to understand the state’s response to these income demands: the state attempts to restrain and restructure income demands within the needs of capital – i.e. it sure as hell wants (in Harry Cleaver’s words) income to be “money as command”. That’s why they’re building houses, but in typical “labour dormitory” style, why they are providing water, but through pre-paid meters, etc etc.

Ok, so… I think this little summary of struggles over income in South Africa naturally leads into the question of non-state public spaces. My understanding is that certain of these have been crucial as the breeding ground for these struggles – specifically, the “street” (rather than the neighbourhood) is a crucial unit of social interaction and sharing (of both information and material goods), and it is out of this collectivity, as well as friendship and family networks, that the collective struggles over income in the post-1999 period have been built. As Thiago pointed out recently, however, just because something is a non-state public space doesn’t mean that its not pathological… and again, as Thiago has pointed out, theorists for capital haven’t ignored the way that non-state public spheres can be harnessed in capital’s interest – the magical ability of the poor to survive on next to nothing is something that fascinates capitalists in our age of infinite flexibility. 😉

So… I guess what I’m saying is that these two goals (maybe two fists?), the creation of a non-state public sphere, and the demands for sources of income besides the wage, are not necessarily linked. In fact, linking the two seems to me to be kind of fitting together two pieces of a puzzle, without which liberation is impossible. Especially, since, as John Ross says about the Zapatistas: “we have to understand that creating autonomy is a fiction unless you have some way of financing it”. Certain experiments in combining these two fists exist, such as the Zapatista autonomous areas in Chiapas, and (from what I hear) some of the piquetero experiments in Argentina. I’m not sure exactly where I want to end up with this comment, but I have a feeling that studying these two struggles is a worthwhile enterprise, maybe a way of keeping a focus on what is necessary for autonomy (or exodus) today.

Peter
P.S. I’ve had various thoughts related to this – e.g. how the private household, and the family, is managed (also through gender) to atomize and make safe for capital the use of income. Just not had enough time to finish thinking these things through, yet.