Thursday, December 6, 2012

South Africa: Activists arrested for supporting striking farmworkers

This article was written by Helga Jansen-Daugbjerg. She is a member of the Rita Edwards Branch of the New Women’s Movement.  Please send messages of support or inquire about donations or other solidarity actions you can take by contacting them here:

Mercia Andrews and Denia Jansen are among more than twenty people arrested this week for their role in supporting striking farm workers in the countryside of the wealthy Western Cape Province. Both women are long-time activists in the land and agrarian sector and have been at the forefront of supporting the work of the farm worker strike committees.  They were arrested and charged irrationally with intimidation and incitement to violence.

Are we months away from our world-class stadiums holding those who oppose a regime bent on breaking its bond with its people? Four years ago, my words would have had a ring of the overly-dramatic. A year ago the, workings of state, albeit ineffectual, served as a placebo against the realities facing us. South Africa is a country at a cross-roads for whom destiny now calls. Change must come.

2012 will certainly be remembered as a year of revolt by the poor who have nothing left to lose, and for repression by a state more out of touch with its people than ever before. The Farm Worker revolt is no different to the Marikana miners awaiting death on the mountain, or school children left illiterate by a system that deserted them before they were even conceived.  An echo from the past rings in every burning farm, in every witnessed killing of a Marikana miner, in every child who will repeat the poverty and anger of her parents 20 years from now - unless irrefutable change happens in South Africa.
The change that must take place is beyond the tragi-comedy of Manguang and the ANC. Beyond the Animal-Farm-like characters of those who believe that leadership is a god-given place at the trough. It is even beyond the reality of those of us living this moment. Change must take place for the clichéd ‘future of South Africa’. We are the ancestors our descendants will mock and rail against for not doing what should have been done – bringing about the change.

It is no small irony that the poor work in the most economically successful industries in our country.

Twenty-two years ago descendants of slaves worked the wine and fruit farms of the Western Cape, and migrants came from all over Southern Africa to dig up the minerals. Nothing has changed in their lives except the extreme levels of poverty – and if we do not act, nothing will change.

News of the arrests of those supporting the striking farm workers were met by activists in the close-knit NGO community in Cape Town with a numbing finality. It is as if we have been expecting this - first the Marikana Massacre and now the Farm Worker Strike repression. While Mercia Andrews and Denia Jansen, and the many others arrested this week will have their day in court in January 2013, having spent a night in jail, the reality of the arrests can only mean one thing – we are in the thick of a dark and hard period in our country. 

Like the struggle against the inhumanity of apartheid, the struggle against the inhuman system of inequality requires all our energies. It is being led by those for whom restitution and dignity are the first prize. For the rest of us, we must heed their struggle in the name of change. Change, like a storm, will wreak destruction and pain and loss. But this too will pass and mark the time for a change we can be proud of, for it is of our making.

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