Editor’s Note: As the worldwide economic meltdown continues, it’s becoming clear that the fight against foreclosures is not simply an American issue; it is a global issue. And as US activists come to terms with the human consequences of the crisis, there is much to be learned from activists elsewhere who have been grappling with these issues for years.
The following open letter to US activists is a response to Ben Ehrenreich’s “Foreclosure Fightback,” published February 9 in The Nation. It is a letter of support and solidarity from a group of South African activists who have considerable experience fighting for the rights of the poor and dispossessed in post-apartheid South Africa.
The Nation welcomes responses from community activists around the world about your efforts to fight foreclosure and protect the most vulnerable from economic disaster. Use the e-form at the bottom of this page to tell your story. We’ll publish as many of your responses as possible in our ongoing “Tell The Nation” series.
To: All poor Americans and their communities in resistance
The privatization of land–a public resource for all that has now become a false commodity–was the original sin, the original cause of this financial crisis. With the privatization of land comes the dispossession of people from their land which was held in common by communities. With the privatization of land comes the privatization of everything else, because once land can be bought and sold, almost anything else can eventually be bought and sold.
As the poor of South Africa, we know this because we live it. Colonialism and apartheid dispossessed us of our land and gave it to whites to be bought and sold for profit. When apartheid as a systematic racial instrument ended in 1994, we did not get our land back. Some blacks are now able to own land as long as they have the money to do so. But as the poor living in council homes, renting flats or living in the shacks, we became even more vulnerable to the property market.
It is chilling to hear many people today speak with nostalgia about how it was better during apartheid–as if it was not apartheid that stole their land in the first place. But, in an obscure way, it makes sense. Back then in the cities there was less competition for land and housing. Because many of us were kept in the bantustans by a combination of force and economic compulsion (such as subsidized rural factories), the informal settlements in the cities were smaller and land less scarce.
But in the new South Africa (what some call post-apartheid South Africa and others call neoliberal South Africa), the elite have decided it is every man–or woman or multinational company–for him or herself. And thus, the poor end up fighting with the rich as well as with themselves. The elite use their wealth and their connections to all South African political parties in the pursuit of profit. There is very little regulation of this, and where there is regulation, corrupt and authoritarian government officials get around it in a heartbeat. People say that we have the best constitution in the world–but what kind of constitution enshrines the pursuit of profit above anything else? They claim it was written for us. That may be. But it obviously was not written by us–the poor.