||The late poet-activist Dennis Brutus occasionally used ‘Seattle’, the name of a city in the northwestern United States, as a verb.
The point was to communicate his joy that in December 1999, the efforts of tens of thousands of civil society protesters outside the Seattle convention centre and a handful of patriotic African negotiators inside together scuppered the Millennium Round meeting of a stubborn ruling crew: the World Trade Organisation. Their pro-corporate free-trade agenda never recovered.
Although a decade later Brutus died, his verb-play signalling a democratic society rising against tyranny lives on if we consider the shaken ruling crews of Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Durban, each a product of scandal-ridden crony capitalism, and each impervious to popular demands that they quit before the prosecutors catch up. After Tunisia and Egypt, where Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak lost power in recent weeks, a growing cohort of now fragile dictatorships are experiencing a dose of ‘mubaraking’ by hordes of non-violent democrats.
Libya is the ripest regime to fall, but London’s generous military aid and the support of politicians like former Prime Minister Tony Blair, oil company BP, arms-deal facilitator Prince Andrew and London School of Economics (LSE) intellectuals seem to have emboldened Muammar Gaddafi and his family, leaving open the question of how many more hundreds – or thousands – the lunatic will kill on his way down.
British and South African weaponry is mainly being deployed against Libyans in the capital Tripoli, as Gaddafi’s army has defected nearly everywhere else. Muammar’s son Saif al-Gaddafi – who last week vowed to “fight to the last minute, until the last bullet” – was awarded a doctoral degree from the LSE and his foundation then gave £1.5 million to its Centre for Global Governance.
The Centre’s money-blinded director, LSE Professor David Held, remarked at the time: “It is a generous donation from an NGO committed to the promotion of civil society and the development of democracy.”
But to clear-sighted LSE students, that funding “was not obtained through legitimate enterprise but rather through 42 years of shameless exploitation and brutal oppression of the Libyan people,” as one put it, and so a sit-in ensued last week to demand that Held transfer the funding back to assist Gaddafi’s victims.
In the same spirit, several African civil society organizations and Archibishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu insisted on Friday that the African Union (AU) act against Gaddafi, on grounds that “Article 3 of the Constitutive Act of the AU lists the promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent as one of its key objectives. Despite this, the AU and African governments have been slow to react.”
Sorry, don’t expect peace promotion from Pretoria. Late last year, the Chairperson of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee, Minister Jeff Radebe, approved the sale of 100 South African sniper rifles and more than 50 000 rounds of ammunition to Gaddafi. Radebe may now have some serious bloodstains.
Looking eastward from Libya to Iraq, the US-installed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was protested by tens of thousands on Friday, a so-called ‘Day of Rage.’
According to Washington Post reporters, state security forces opened fire, killing 29 and arresting “300 prominent journalists, artists and lawyers who took part in nationwide demonstrations, in what some of them described as an operation to intimidate Baghdad intellectuals who hold sway over popular opinion.” Journalists were “handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.”
Iraqi protester demands “ranged from more electricity and jobs to ending corruption, reflecting a dissatisfaction with government that cuts across sectarian and class lines,” according to the Post. The day was “organized, at least in part, by middle-class, secular intellectuals,” against whom Maliki’s troops “fired water cannons, sound bombs and live bullets to disperse crowds.” Shades of Saddam.
Moving south and west, other democracy protests were waged in recent days by tens of thousands of activists in Gabon, Oman, Djibouti and Sudan, where on January 30, “students held Egypt-inspired demonstrations against proposed cuts to subsidies on petroleum products and sugar,” according to a Durban journalist serving al-Jazeera News’ courageous service, Azad Essa. In Ethiopia, Essa reports, police “detained the well-known journalist Eskinder Nega for ‘attempts to incite’ Egypt-style protests.”
Even harsher treatment was meted out by Robert Mugabe’s police to 46 Zimbabweans led by former Member of Parliament Munyaradzi Gwisai. The group was charged with ‘high treason’ (punishable by death) for showing Egyptian and Tunisian news clips at a February 19 meeting of the International Socialist Organisation.
As ten of the group were apparently tortured by Mugabe’s police and the dozen women arrested were transferred to the notorious Chikurubi maximum security prison, demands for their release grew louder, with South Africans chiming in at a Hillbrow, Johannesburg picket last Saturday.
At home, brave Zimbabweans’ support will emerge more publicly today at noon, when democracy activists gather in Harare Gardens to demand the prisoners’ release, Mugabe’s resignation, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, press freedom, fair elections and an end to the Zanu PF regime’s political violence which is currently resurgent in several hotspots from Mutare in the east to Harare to Gwanda in the west.
But Mugabe wants to hasten the same kind of unfree, unfair elections he has been ‘winning’ over the last decade, and has apparently amassed a war chest through illicit diamond sales to once again dominate the campaign. Last Tuesday, opposition Finance Minister Tendai Biti confronted Mugabe over the diversion of $300 million in revenues from the Marange diamond field, site of hundreds of civilian deaths by the armed forces a few years ago.
The Kimberley Process to identify ‘blood diamonds’ remains chaotic and corrupt, as self-interested South Africans and Israelis support diamond exports controlled by Mugabe’s generals. Reports Harare journalist Dumisani Muleya, “There are fears that the $300 million has either been stolen or was being kept secretly somewhere by Zanu PF ministers as a war chest for anticipated elections.”
Amnesty International representative Simeon Mawanza blames South African President Jacob Zuma and other regional leaders: “Their silence might be interpreted as being complicit in what we are seeing.”
More international solidarity for oppressed Zimbabweans is urgently needed, and from 12:30-2pm today in Durban, refugees Shepherd Zvavanhu and Percy Nhau lead a Centre for Civil Society public discussion on the situation in UKZN’s Memorial Tower Building, and at 5:30pm in Washington DC, a pro-democracy demonstration will be held at Zimbabwe’s embassy.
Back in Durban, City Manager Michael Sutcliffe’s regime appeared wounded when ruling party protector John Mchunu died late last year and may end because in recent days, the figurehead Mayor Obed Mlaba broke with the city manager and his officials over the R3.5 billion fast-track spending scandal. The ruling party seems to be backing Mlaba.
Sutcliffe has repeatedly defended corrupt municipal deals with the Mpisanes on ill-constructed housing and Remant Alton on failed bus privatization, and was reportedly as angry with the investigators who uncovered municipal financial mismanagement as Schabir Shaik was when discovered on the Papwa Sewgobin golf course by an intrepid Sunday Tribune journalist and photographer last Saturday.
The mubaraking of Muammar, Maliki, Mugabe and Michael is long overdue. But revolt is just as necessary in the country that long propped up so many dictatorships, the United States. On Saturday, all fifty US state capitals witnessed demonstrations held in solidarity with public sector workers in Wisconsin who are under attack by a hardline conservative governor. Even in the frigid weather and snow of the Wisconsin capital Madison, 70,000 people marched against the Republican leader’s attempt to end collective bargaining, in what is probably the most important US class struggle since the 1930s.
Revolution is still in the air and throughout, the most visionary television network has been al-Jazeera. Its director general Wadah Khanfar had an easy explanation for the network’s repeated scoops: “When opinions crowd and confusion prevails, set your sight on the route taken by the masses, for that is where the future lies.”
Patrick Bond is co-editor of the new Africa World Press book Zuma’s Own Goal.