The politics of penises: Myths about transgender people Audrey Mbugua

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As South Africa was hosting the World Cup Abahlali warned that it will not benefit the poorest of the poor in our land. We warned that it would make the poor, poorer and more vulnerable. Leading up to the World Cup there were more evictions and pending court cases in different parts of the country. Poor street traders had their belongings confiscated as they had no permits to sell in restricted zones and the taxi industry suffered the impoundment of their taxis. Stopping the rush to celebrate the World Cup by raising all these questions and condemning these attacks on the poor as immoral and illegitimate has been a slap on the authorities’ faces. Although the fact is that all these huge soccer stadiums, hotels and other projects were built by the poorest of the poor they remained outside their benefit. The South African government has overspent its budget in building a ‘world class country’ and could not match and balance such expenditure with social needs such housing and the provision of the most basic services. The amount that has been spent for the World Cup could have built at least one million homes for the poor. Although we acknowledge the efforts that have been put into this event we still feel that such effort could have been used to bring basic services and infrastructure to the poor. If that had been the case then the shack dwellers would not have been affected by these ongoing fires every time.
The truth about the attack on our movement has always been firm and not changing at any stage. We cannot make public comment on matters that are sub judice but our demand for an independent commission of inquiry that will bring the whole story into the light remains unchanged. The Kennedy 5, part of those who are already serving their life sentence in and out of the jails, have now been released from Westville prison. They had already been serving ten months of their punishment without any evidence of guilt being brought to the court and without the court saying anything about their illegal detention. The South African Constitution says there shall be no detention without trial and that a person cannot be detained for more than 24 hours without a proper bail hearing. The fact that, up until the release of the Kennedy 5, this trial was being conducted as a political trial outside of the rule of law even though it was taking place in a court of law tells us something very important about the position of the poor in post apartheid South Africa. Those who have handed a life sentence down to us always want to exclude us from fair and equal access to the courts and the rule of law. When they fail to achieve this through the commodification of the legal system they are willing to actively undermine the system from above.
The movement insists that the people shall govern; this is what the famous Freedom Charter says. Abahlali holds onto that. The strength and the autonomy of the movement compels us all to strive for a just world, a world that is free, a world that is fair and a world that looks after all its creations. We remain convinced that the land and the wealth of this world must be shared fairly and equally. We remain convinced that every person in this world has the same right to contribute to all discussions and decision making about their own future. For us all to succeed we have to be humble but firm in what we believe is right. We have to resist all our jailers, be they in the state, the party or the regressive left, and to take our place as equals in all the discussions.
We also know that the South African government still wants to look good in the eyes of the international communities and that they fear disgrace and shame. They want to show the world Soccer City but hide eTwatwa, Blikkiesdorp, Westville Prison, the red ants and the shack fires all around the country. We wish to thank all the international activists and organisations who have raised their concern against the repression that we have faced, including those that have organised protests against the South African diplomats in their respective countries.
We hope South Africa will become one of the world’s caring countries. We hope that one day our society will be an inspiration rather than a shock to you. As Abahlali we have committed ourselves to achieving this goal. But right now we are serving a life sentence and fighting all those who are trying to keep us imprisoned in our poverty, all those who demand that we know our place – our place in the cities and our place in the discussions. We have recognised our own humanity and the power of our struggle to force the full recognition of our humanity. Therefore we remain determined to continue to refuse to know our place.
* Compiled by Zodwa Nsibande and S’bu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo Movement SA.

* Abahlali baseMjondolo, together with with Landless People's Movement (Gauteng), the Rural Network (KwaZulu-Natal) and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, is part of the Poor People's Alliance, a national network of democratic membership based poor people's movements.

* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Abahlali baseMjondolo: Full and independent enquiry vital

Rubin Phillip

2010-07-28, Issue 492

cc Inkani

Backed by strong support both domestically and from abroad, the South African shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo continues to push for a full and independent enquiry into the violence suffered by the Kennedy Road settlement in September 2009, writes Bishop Rubin Phillip.Over the past months we have continued to receive strong support for our intention to convene an independent commission of enquiry into the awful violence that was visited on the shack settlement of Kennedy Road in September 2009. Only such an enquiry will really help us all to sift truth from lies and establish a full picture of the events and their ongoing aftermath, as well as the full context and implications of what has happened. From community organisations and senior church leadership in this country, to community-based organisations in London and justice groups in congregations in Scotland, to senior international figures in the churches and the human rights scene, we have been moved and encouraged by their commitment to and active interest in finding the truth. These developments, together with the extraordinary support and wise counsel of many we are working with on the matter, keep us resolute and confident, confident not only that the commission process will happen but that when it does, it will deliver an outcome of unquestionable integrity. The necessary groundwork to facilitate the commission's work is under way.

Those of us who have followed the events closely and with a genuine concern for truth and justice know of course that there is a related court process unfolding. We have repeatedly and publicly expressed our deep alarm at the narrow and selective focus of that case and the blatant party political overtones, as well as the flagrant breaches of fair process in its conduct thus far. Nonetheless we have been careful not to infringe either the legal rights of the accused in the matter nor the necessary protections that apply to a matter that is sub judice. For the same reason, it is clear that no commission can begin hearing and evaluating evidence until that case finally comes to a conclusion.
Regrettably in this interregnum some, whose objective is to undermine and attack the shackdwellers' movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, show no respect for these niceties and have indeed abused them to advance their own destructive agenda. Heinrich Bohmke's attack on our good friend and world-renowned historian Jeff Guy in an article carried by the Sunday Tribune (18 July 2010) is one recent example. That newspaper article draws on a longer piece that Bohmke has written – and had widely circulated – where I too come under sustained and dishonest attack. We have had meetings with counsel as well as the leadership of Abahlali baseMjondolo about the matter. We have considered the attacks from Bohmke and rejected them. It would be incorrect to engage in contesting the specifics. Firstly, key elements of the matter are sub judice. Secondly, Bohmke's intention has nothing to do with genuinely seeking truth and justice and we find no common ground with him in these tasks. Finally, the findings of a full and independent enquiry will provide us all with a sound basis of knowledge and truth.
We would like to conclude by reminding everyone that it was Abahlali baseMjondolo that first called for the full and independent commission of enquiry into these attacks. They said such an enquiry should: ‘in the interests of justice and truth, carefully and fairly investigate the actions of everyone, including the local and provincial ANC [African National Congress], the police, the intelligence services, the prosecutors, the courts and our movement, its various sub-committees and our supporters’.
* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Leave new oil in the soil in Africa

Oilwatch Africa

2010-07-29, Issue 492

cc fsgm

Throughout the continent, ‘oil has correlated with imperial subjugation, local authoritarianism and flagrant human rights abuses’, writes Oilwatch Africa. Citing examples of the devastating consequences a growing global hunger for energy has had for communities and ecosytems in oil-bearing regions, the advocacy group calls for the world to start weaning itself from its ‘addiction to oil’ by ‘investing more in renewable energy, energy efficiency, better public transportation and small decentralised energy projects.’Throughout Africa, oil has correlated with imperial subjugation, local authoritarianism and flagrant human rights abuses. It is now no longer in doubt that there are absolutely no guarantees that extractive activities are safe. One accident could jeopardise an entire ecosystem. It has been common knowledge in many oil-bearing communities in Africa that the discovery of oil in a local community is akin to a declaration of full-fledged war on such a community.

In the last few years, high energy demand has led to an upsurge in exploration and drilling of new oil wells both onshore and offshore in places where it would have been highly unprofitable to prospect for oil a few years ago. Nothing is sacred in this breathless search for new oil; pristine forests, sacred groves, ecologically fragile environments and even internationally recognised conservation sites are not spared the oily embrace. For many African communities their already desperate situation is compounded by the depleting oil reserves in easily accessible areas in the global north, the unending conflicts in the Middle East, the ongoing re-nationalisation of oil assets in South and Meso America, the reawakening of Russia, the huge appetite of China and the Asian Tigers and India for oil.
The desire to capture more oil reserves is driving exploration and development of oil and gas fields in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Puntland, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, the Comoros, Seychelles and the coast of Durban in South Africa.
The discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities often overwhelms the ruling elites in many countries in Africa and in their rush to begin production and access the windfall oil revenue, scant regard is paid to the social and environmental costs of oil extraction. Over the last half a century of oil exploration and development in Africa, aside from the elites, the vast majority of people have been left worse off by the negative impact of oil.
The Nigerian marine and coastal environment is very rich in biodiversity. The Niger Delta is the third largest wetland in the world and it contains 7,000 kilometres of Africa’s 9,000 kilometres of mangrove swamps. The Niger Delta is considered one of the ten most important wetlands in the world. Scientists in Nigeria posit that 60 per cent of the fish and seafoods caught in West Africa and around the Gulf of Guinea have their breeding areas in the mangroves of the Delta.[1]
The Niger Delta has been systematically and repeatedly destroyed, by years of oilspills, discharge of untreated toxic waste water into the sea, gas flaring and the reckless disposal of radioactive materials in the environment. This veritable breeding ground for the fishes and other sea foods that populate some of Africa’s oceans supports over 30 million people in the Niger Delta who depend on the environment for their livelihood, and millions more in West Africa. In a 2007 report compiled by the Nigerian Conservation foundation, WWF UK, representatives of government agencies in Nigeria, researchers and civil society groups such as Environmental Rights Action Nigeria, it was disclosed that as at 2006, over 1.5 million tons of crude oil had spilled into the Niger Delta environment. This is equivalent in volume to one Exxon Valdez spill a year for 50 years. Furthermore statistics from the department of petroleum resources in Nigeria shows that within a 30-year span (1970-2000) there had been over 7,000 recorded oil spills in the Niger Delta.[2]
The National oil spill detection and response agency (NOSDRA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have identified over 2,000 spill sites that need to be remediated. Some of these spills happened over 40 years ago. The Ebubu spill that occurred in 1970, has not been cleaned up and Shell, the company implicated in the disaster, is vigorously appealing a judgement of a federal high court which ordered it to pay US$40 million compensation as at 2001.[3]
As oil reserves dry up and access to new oil becomes difficult owing to the combination of factors already listed above, oil companies are moving to pristine, ecologically fragile and potential conflict areas to explore for oil. In the Gulf of Mexico, BP struck oil at a depth of seven kilometres from the surface of the water. It was hailed as yet another technological feat that will continue to keep oil flowing, until a little over a month ago when the oil platform exploded killing 11 people. This spill is attracting international attention and already the US president, under fire for not appearing tough enough on regulations, has announced the commencement of criminal and civil investigations and has promised to bring everyone involved in the making of this disaster to justice. This is despite the fact that over 20,000 people and 1,300 vessels have been mobilised to join the mitigation and cleanup effort.[4]
Exploration is at present ongoing in such ecologically fragile places like the Rift Valley and Lake Albert in Uganda, which along with Lake Victoria, is the source of the Nile. A spill around Lake Albert would affect all the countries that share the Nile up to Egypt. The dramatically increased revenues that Uganda is expected to rake in from these oil wells would not be sufficient to address a spill on the Nile caused by either equipment failure or rebel attacks given the tensions in the great lakes regions.
Greg Campbell, a freelance reporter, was in Nigeria in 2001; the following quotes from his article in ‘These Times’ magazine were his own description of the oil spill cleanup process he witnessed in Nigeria:
‘Shell the biggest operator in Nigeria…claims to adhere to the highest standards of practice in cleaning oil spills, but even a cursory visit to the Delta shows that those standards are far lower than in other countries… On the side of the highway leading to the town of Biseni, two separate 2 year old oil spills turn the jungle black… Chief Diekivie Ikiogha, the head of Bayelsa state Bureau of pollution and Environment says …we have a lot of spills; at this spot alone, we have had three spills. Even though Ikiogha is the government bureaucrat in charge of penalising Shell for the spill and signing off on the cleanup, he is also the contractor hired by Shell to do the cleanup… His cleanup operation consists of four shirtless men scooping oil from the surface of the polluted river with Frisbees… he claims that most of the oil had earlier been removed with absorbent foam and blankets.’[5]
The creative impulse of people in many oil rich countries in Africa has been replaced by a rent-seeking mentality; government and governance has become a zero sum game with power blocks and cliques employing foul and vile means to capture power and even viler means to retain their hold on power. Tens of thousands of lives continue to be lost to wars that have their origin steeped in the struggle to retain control over revenue from extractive activities. Corruption has been elevated to an art form and this has percolated down to ordinary people, with many exhibiting a gatekeeper mentality impeding the progress of very simple processes and procedures or making them nigh impossible to achieve until they have been bribed.
Many of these issues led to the mass mobilisation of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta in the early 1990s, calling for a cessation of oil activities on their land because it had made life intolerable. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the arrow head of that movement building process in Ogoni, was judicially murdered by the Nigerian state to silence an idea whose time had come. 20 years on, Ogoni people are as determined as they were in the 90s to keep their land free from the greedy and destructive clutches of oil business. The idea of leaving oil in the ground within the Yasuni forest was taken up in far away Ecuador by no less than the government of the country itself and is receiving widespread acceptance.
Oilwatch has been at the forefront of spreading this campaign ‘to leave new oil in the soil’. The spill in the Gulf of Mexico apart from reiterating the fact that with oil there are no guarantees, also speaks to the fact that we must with deliberate speed begin the difficult process of weaning ourselves from our addiction to oil. The world’s ecosystem is one and we have merely scratched the surface in understanding the intricate interconnectedness of nature at different levels. It is therefore short sighted to continue the reckless expansion of drilling around the world because in the long run the revenue we may earn today from oil extraction would not be sufficient to adequately return our environment to what it was before extraction when incidents like these occur.
The cleanup operation in the Gulf of Mexico according to BP has so far cost them US$1 billion and this may increase to US$5 billion ultimately. Analysts are expecting litigation cost to BP of US$20-50 billion.[6] But tragically there is no guarantee that even after expending this sum and more that the damage to the Gulf’s ecosystem can be reversed.
Insisting on first setting out clear alternative energy templates before extricating ourselves from oil dependency would be a tragic waste of time. Although the need for certainty about the financial, legal, scientific and political architecture required to drive the process of librating ourselves from this oily embrace is critical, it is pertinent to remember that the world has evolved to this point as a matter of necessity. This is a challenge that ought to set our creative and innovative juices flowing. The human race has surmounted greater obstacles than this and would continue to break new grounds in the future.
We must begin by acknowledging that the sensible use of our ecosystem has the capacity in the long-term to provide much more benefits and revenue than oil can ever provide. We must individually and consciously take up the responsibility of drastically reducing our use of oil and its by-products. We must also set up international tribunals that would try entities and individuals for their role in destroying the ecosystem. But more importantly we must begin to have the consciousness and think along the lines of building capacities within our communities to ensure as much as possible that the role of oil our energy matrix becomes inconsequential by investing more in renewable energy, energy efficiency, better public transportation and small decentralised energy projects. Our salvation in the final analysis lies in igniting powerful political movements through community-to-community interaction, CSO to CSO interaction, linkages with faith based groups, networking with CBOs and other civil society groups in the global South and global north to take actions that would bring about the change we desire.
* This article first appeared on Oilwatch Africa.

* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.

[1] ‘Niger Delta named the most polluted ecosystem’ (accessed June 1, 2010)

[2] Ibid

[3] ‘The killing fields: oil ravages the Niger Delta’ (accessed June 1, 2010) [4] ‘Attempts to Stop the Oil leak’

[5] ‘The killing fields: oil ravages the Niger Delta’ Op. Cit

[6] ‘BP shares recoup early losses despite U.S probe news’ (accessed June 3, 2010)


Bishop Tutu: Using moral methods for moral ends

Sokari Ekine

2010-07-29, Issue 492

cc Lewisham Heritage

Bishop Desmond Tutu, a book about four African women taken to Belgium to become commercial sex workers, a chance encounter with a ‘white Yoruba aunty’ on a train in London and Kenya’s revolt against tacky ‘traditional’ dance displays for tourists are among the topics talked about in this week’s round-up of the African blogosphere, compiled by Sokari Ekine.Tinyiko Sam Maluleke writes about the continent’s 2nd favourite elder, Bishop Desmond Tutu (Mandela being the first): Defender of human rights, storyteller, teacher, preacher, orator, debater – with a legendary sense of humour:

‘…inspired by his faith Tutu has always emphasized the need for the liberation struggle to be waged on moral principles, using moral methods for equally moral ends. For this reason he navigated the seemingly contradictory positions of supporting the liberation movements while condemning the use of violence in pursuit of liberation. Believing politics to be too important to be left to politicians, he has nevertheless eschewed becoming a politician himself.’
African Loft publishes an interview with Nigerian writer, Chika Unigwe. I had the pleasure in meeting Chikwa last year in London when she discussed and read from her most recent book, ‘Black Sister Street’. I only got as far as the first few pages as I gave my copy away to a friend, but it is on the top of my ‘to read’ list:
‘“Black Sisters’ Street” tells the story of four African women: Sisi, Efe, Ama and Joyce, who were taken to Belgium to work as commercial sex workers It talks about the transformation of these women in very realistic terms and paints an honest portrayal of these women who are considered as almost invisible in society.’
Canary Bird by Nigerian political activist, Kayode Ogunsami, is an excellent blog and I just wish he would update it more often. Here he writes about ‘A day with my white Yoruba aunty’ who he met on the train to Heathrow. The conversation started with the dreaded and tiresome ‘where are you originally from?’ Sigh!
‘I am originally from Yoruba Land in Africa until the British merged my ancestors with our African neighbours and made me Nigerian.’ To his surprise the white lady responded, ‘Oh you are Yoruba?’
‘My new “friend”, almost screaming, facing me, she stretched her hands forward, offering a hand shake. “I am Yoruba too, you are my brother. My name is Wendy, Wendy Omotayo.” That was when she switched from English to Yoruba - not my kind of Yoruba, but what we refer to as the “Ijinle” Yoruba.’
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