21 February 2018

Africa: Struggles of Landless People's Movements and Political Killings

opinion

From this side of the Atlantic, with conviction and solidarity, the Landless People's Movement of Namibia supports the popular struggles carried out by the grassroots landless people's movements against big capital and agribusiness.

At every juncture in our history, whether it be in Brazil, Bolivia, the Philippines, Namibia or South Africa, the daily struggles remain the same. The struggle for plots, land to plough, affordable housing, food, potable water and sanitation are critical variables for our daily existence.

Global struggles of the landless working people, peasants and indigenous communities are at the apex of a world revolution for food sovereignty and space to live. More often than not, greedy land barons, bureaucrats and neo-liberals are at the forefront of conniving with thugs to murder leaders of the landless peoples' movements in urban centres and rural areas.

Most recently on 29 January 2018, comrade Marcio Mattos, leader of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) and political reference in the state of Bahia, Brazil was shot three times in front of his son at home in the Boa Suerte settlement in the Chapada Diamantina region.

In South Africa, Philela Gilwa (23) was one of the leaders of the Ses'khona People's Rights Movement in Khayelitsa, Cape Town, and chairman of the Pan-Africanist Students Movement of Azania at the Free State University, where he was expelled during the #feesmustfall protest. But he was due to return to the university. He was killed by seven men with knives, on Saturday, 15 July 2017, while walking in Mandela Park, on his way from a friend's birthday party.

They had earlier occupied land with his group. His comrade, Thulani Zondani (35), was stabbed to death on Sunday, 16 July 2017. In May 2017, one of their own, Ras Mosses Moziah Zuma died in almost similar fashion. After Zuma died, Gilwa had assembled his team, and taken over the leadership of the Zwelethu Community for Land Campaign. He led a fierce struggle with the forces who infiltrated the Zwelethu project, forces suspected to be behind the killing of Zuma.

In South Africa, political assassinations are almost a monthly occurrence. Violence and urban land struggles are dubbed twins in urban land narratives. Gilwa, in the tradition of the gallant Zuma, put his life on the line for a noble cause, the return of the land to its rightful owners - the African indigenous majority.

And he paid the supreme price for it- with his life. These were part of the young boys' collective which got active in the #feesmustfall movement, and at the same time were also active in the land struggles. Struggles can get ugly and nasty in Africa.

In Kenya, the populist member of parliament Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, who campaigned for the restitution of land to Kenyans, preached an economic nationalism, and vilified corruption and social inequalities, was assassinated in 1975 with the evident complicity of the political police, if not of state house.

Both Mattos and Gilwa may have been taken physically, but their spirits shall never die. Let us continue to educate, agitate, mobilise and liberate our people from myth-making and false narratives of the former liberation movements.

In Namibia, we too are faced with similar challenges. We have a total population of 2,4 million, much smaller than Cape Town, which stands at about 4 million. Namibia has a staggering housing backlog of 300 000 units, whereas Cape Town has between 360 000 and 400 000.

In Namibia, the housing backlog might take 300 years to eradicate, whereas in Cape Town it is predicted to take about 75 years. In 2013, it was estimated that 30% of Windhoek's population live in shacks.

We have elite land grabbing and favouritism in the land distribution process. Indigenous peoples and peasants, who lost land through successive colonial intervals of imperial Germany and apartheid South Africa, are still landless, almost 28 years after so-called independence.

Many of our people live in squalid conditions. Mismanagement and corruption are the order of the day. This depicts epic failure. We are now descending into real Africa, the Africa of corruption.

"I Chop, You Chop" was the name of a political party in Nigeria in 1978, which aroused the ire of the Obasanjo government.

"When good people in any country cease their vigilance and the struggle, then evil men prevail", Pearl S Buck.

Just last Friday, during the meeting with a European Union delegation, President Hage Geingob tried to put landlessness and imagined chaos that might emanate in a foreseeable future to Bernadus Swartbooi and the LPM in a move to gain monetary favours from the EU. Let it be clear that Namibia's bankruptcy and economic mismanagement should not be blamed on the LPM, or Swartbooi, as Geingob himself was the first Prime Minister in the nascent stages of our democracy.

He must, therefore, not use our movement to try to depict us as lawless and rowdy people, but rather take his time to explain to the world how Swapo and himself has bankrupted this country in all these years. In the final analysis, he must accept that he is unfit to govern. He depicts schizophrenic signs of a paranoid, authoritarian, failed African head of state.

*Henny H. Seibeb is the chief strategist and deputy leader of the Landless People's Movement

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