When Tahrir Square was occupied as part of the struggle against President Mubarak in Egypt, it became the iconic image of what was dubbed the ‘Arab Spring’. Inspired by events in the Middle East, when US activists set up tents in New York’s financial district it began the global phenomenon ‘Occupy’.
But one part of the movement has been consistently overlooked by international press, namely the groups that adopted the ‘Occupy’ moniker in sub-Saharan Africa. I asked Joe Hani, an activist with the ‘Taking Back South Africa’ online campaign (part of Occupy South Africa) to help shed light on the movement in his country.1
How did the Occupy movement in South Africa start?
It started with a loose coalition of organizations and organization members staging protests in different cities across South Africa on 15 October 2011 and thereafter. The organizations involved to my knowledge include Taking Back the Commons, Communities for Social Justice, the Unemployed People’s Movement, Students for Social Justice, the Democratic Left Front, September National Imbizo, the Zeitgeist Movement, Anonymous South Africa and the groups involved in Occupy COP17.
What are the achievements of the Occupy movement in South Africa so far?
In my opinion, the greatest achievement thus far of the groups involved in the Occupy South Africa idea was that they exposed both the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) simultaneously as two sides of the same corporate obedient anti-poor political party coin.
This was most clearly seen when the Unemployed People’s Movement and their leader Ayanda Kota were attacked by the ANC government in the Eastern Cape and the poor communities of Cape Town were attacked during Occupy Rondebosch Commons by the DA government in the Western Cape.
What was your view of the Occupy movements of the US and Europe?
Personally I give them my general support in so far as they attempt as a people’s movement to seriously challenge the entire political leadership and corporations behind them in their countries. I am in touch with some of the good people involved in the Greek uprising and the Real Democracy movement in Spain too.
Occupy South Africa, however, does not – and should not – attempt to simply imitate these groups, and we recognize that in South Africa we have our own unique dynamic and we move in accordance to our own challenges.
What challenges has Occupy South Africa faced?
The biggest challenge is the poor and the workers getting rid of the false socialist leeches who attach themselves to the people’s struggle when the opportunity becomes ripe while continuing their allegiances to the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) who are in fact the very South African government we are fighting.
I predicted in my last interview with ‘People vs Profit’ that the coming South African uprising will expose the false Left before it brings down the capitalists. This is what we saw earlier this month when striking miners were effectively massacred by a coalition of a transnational corporation (Lonmin), the ANC state police and NUMSA (COSATU) Trade Union. Then the SACP condemned the murdered workers and called them hooligans. Our challenge is to tell groups and individuals who have ambitions of somehow attaching themselves to the ANC that the ANC and COSATU leadership are enemies of the people and we regard them as such.
What’s next for Occupy in your country?
While Occupy South Africa should, I believe, forget too much debate and just get out on the streets and make noise, I also believe that ultimately the uprising in South Africa will not come from these organizations but rather from simple people like Andries Tatane and the Marikaan miners, who may not have been intellectuals but whose actions spoke louder than a thousand words.
I read a line of prose that says ‘It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees’. All groups should now join the uprising. Even groups that focus solely on social issues like crime should realize that social injustices will not be solved without solving economic injustices first.
I make this call in particular to largely White and Muslim groups. To the people of the script I also say that the Bible says that ‘The righteous care for justice for the poor but the wicked have no such concern’ and to the Muslims of the Cape Flats I say that Muhammad said: ‘None of you has complete faith when he goes to bed full while his neighbour (in Khayelitsha) goes hungry’. Let us all rise up and never look back.