The Unforgettable Poor

Submitted by admin on Sat, 02/10/2018 - 13:37
Prashad with Abahali baseMjondolo (People of the Shacks) movement in Durban



Dear Friends,

In 1969, the Honduran poet Roberto Sosa published a book called Los Pobres. The title poem is haunting. It opens,

The poor are many
and so—
impossible to forget.

The poor are also impossible to forget because they lead their struggles for emancipation from the injustice of our social order.

Last week, I spent a little time with Abahali baseMjondolo (People of the Shacks) movement based in Durban (South Africa). They gave me a full sense of their philosophy of 'living politics'. It allowed me to better understand their movement, which I had read about thanks to the work of Richard Pithouse and others.

You can read my story on Abahali at Alternet here.

The story ends with these words,

I am walking away from the Abahali office. It is getting late. Hawkers wrap up their goods from the sidewalk. They are rushing to get on board the minibus taxis, many of which will head out towards places like Kennedy Road. I board a bus. We head off down Dr. Goonam Road - named after the brave Indian anti-apartheid activist and doctor Kesaveloo Goonam. In 1991, when Dr. Goonam returned to her native Durban from exile she told a reporter, ‘I hope that South Africa will become a true democracy. And I hope that means democracy not bureaucracy or autocracy.’

The light fades as we take a left onto a road named after the communist leader Joe Slovo. In half an hour we will get to Kennedy Road. These hawkers will go to their precarious homes. They will struggle to feed their children. It is unlikely that they themselves will be able to eat.


Embed from Getty Images


Meanwhile, South Africa faces a serious political crisis. The ANC, which partly led the struggle against the apartheid regime, has exhausted itself through a capitulation of its leadership to the capitalist order. Each of the political transitions after Mandela has faced this challenge of the surrender to what - in South Africa - is known as 'white monopoly capitalism'. The slogan was Mbeki must go. Now the slogan is Zuma must go. The inadequacies of the capitalist order are personalised, with each of the presidents (Mbeki, Zuma) made to stand in for the failures of the system.

The man who will ascend to the leadership of the country - Cyril Ramaphosa - has an even murkier history than both Mbeki and Zuma. He is associated the murder of the miners at Marikana. For more on Markiana and its aftermath, I highly recommend the remarkable journalism of Niren Tolsi and his colleague Paul Botes for the Mail & Guardian. You can read a great deal of their reporting here.

My 'Radical Journeys' column this week is on the political crisis in South Africa. It is a 500 word primer on the situation. You can read it here.


Rohingya - Reuters special report


The crisis in Myanmar continues, with the attacks on the Rohingya people in Rakhine State ongoing. Two brave Burmese journalists - Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo - led the reporting for a story on the massacre in Inn Din. The Burmese authorities arrested them in mid-December and have jailed these two reporters. They remain in prison.

Reuters has now published their harrowing and important story. You can read it here. This is a My Lai type story. It is well-reported and well-written. I hope that you will read it and share it. I hope too that the Burmese authorities read it. I hope that they will release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, both of whom deserve many awards for their work - not a jail sentence.

For background on the pogrom against the Rohingya, see my story from a month ago, which you could read here.


John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World - the introduction by P. Sainath


Really happy to let you know that our LeftWord Books edition of John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World is out. It is such a riveting read - one of the best accounts of the 1917 Soviet Revolution. The introduction to this edition is written by India's best journalist, P. Sainath. Sainath own classic book - Everybody Loves a Good Drought - is now out in a lovely 20th anniversary edition with a very fine foreword by Gopalkrishna Gandhi. In many ways, Sainath is the doppelgänger of Reed - two brave and honest journalists.

You can read an extract from Sainath's introduction to the Reed volume at our blog here. The book is available here. Highly recommend it!

Glad yesterday to see the athletes from the two Koreas march together under a joint flag. It is not only a statement against war but against imperialism. Very hopeful

Warmly, Vijay.