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Sothern Africa 2

And, by the way, if I may just jump sideways, a more—even a more painful case, was going to become more so as we move on in history, would be Algeria, where there were real democratic forces emanating from the liberation movement, from the FLN at that time, that the West just turned their backs on, because these people were socialists. The [inaudible] defining line in Africa, unfortunately, for a long time, during a civil war and even after there was, was not whether you were being dictatorial or not, whether you were socialist or not, and the West would do anything possible to prevent a real indigenous socialist-inspired government to come to power, any case.
 

In the case of Somalia, then it deteriorated into internal civil war. Somalia is essentially—and that, under most circumstances, would be an interesting thing to look at—is made up of tribal allegiances and regional allegiances. And one could imagine that if one had some kind of a federal system, you would have a lot of local autonomy. In any event, there has not been a stable government ever since.
 

When it was established a little bit more than ten years ago, the United States imagined, you’ll remember, the notion that al-Qaeda was established in the Sudan and to some extent in Somalia, as well, to bring down that government. They used Ethiopia as a proxy agent to do so. Ethiopia duly invaded Somalia, overthrew the religious council government and has not been able to keep the country down ever since. And, of course, you’ve had literally running fights going on all the time. Mogadishu is not governed at all. I mean, it depends on who’s got the most arms and what kind of a bit of territory that you could control.
 

And I think what happens on the coast, these people—and it’s important to remember, the livelihood of people on the African coast have been destroyed entirely. You know, you have it on the west coast, this huge, massive outflow, people desperately trying to get into Europe in these small skiffs, in cayucos and in [inaudible] who make it to the Canary Islands. These are fisher folk, mostly. These are people who used to be able to live from the sea. The seas have been emptied by foreign fleets, just fishing, dragging, whatever the words are, out of the sea—China, particularly, Taiwan, to a large extent, Spain, etc.
 

The same thing happened on the east coast. These pirates are people who, under other circumstances, ten years ago, fifteen years ago, would have been fisher people. So they had the skills for going to sea and, you know, going out to these big boats. I believe that they claim, to some extent, that there’s no reason why Somalia should not be getting some of the benefits of these huge tankers and others going up and down their coast. If it had been a duly established state, you would have had a customs department that would have been able to gather some money, as most countries do, for boats going through their territory waters or docking in their ports, etc. So there’s a kind of a strange, wild attempt by individuals or individual small organizations to actually make these tankers and these others pay.
 

What one sees also, I think—and this is a very interesting configuration—that in all of the world now—and I think what happened in India a few days ago is another indication of a similar phenomenon—it is possible for small organizations of highly motivated and well-armed people to move in under the radar screen and really wreak havoc and cause chaos for the countries concerned and for the international community. The West, Western influence, and their client states in other parts of the world are going to have to face a kind of a generalized guerrilla warfare against them more and more so.
 

I think people are—people have been pushed beyond the limit of tolerance and of acceptation. People know what’s happening in the world. They know that they are poor as compared to those who are living better off. People know that their rights are being taken away. Very early on in the book of Barack Obama, in the Dreams from My Father, he identifies this very clearly, that when people are pushed, particularly younger people, are pushed to the outer regions of being normal citizens with normal rights, there’s a kind of a nihilism that takes over. There’s a kind of despair. You take your refuge in whatever certainty you can find. It may be religious. It may be ideological. But the fact is that people know that they can disrupt the big machinery, the globalized world. Mind you, Wall Street is doing its best to disrupt it anyway, just by imploding, as it were.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The difference is they’re being helped. They’re being bailed out.

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Exactly, they’re being bailed out.

 

AMY GOODMAN: At all costs.

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: And they are not the—yes, and there’s talk of fixing the system and not of recognizing the fact that the system is the problem.

 

AMY GOODMAN: China in Africa. I could have said China in the United States, considering how powerful China is for this country—

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

 

AMY GOODMAN: —without people knowing it. But what is its presence in Africa?

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: It is significant. In fact, it is enormous. In a country like Angola, you probably have close to a million Chinese people there. China has been instrumental or has, over a very short period, over the last five to ten years, become a real presence in Africa. And in the first phase, it seems to be very much bolstering the regimes in place. There’s no political agenda, it would seem. It seems to be very much a way of assuring the access, again, to oil, particularly, which is why they are so close to the Sudan and which is why it’s a problem when it comes to Darfur. They seem to be rebuilding presidential palaces. They also seem to be involved in rebuilding essential infrastructure, like railroads and roads and things like that. It’s a curious return after the 1960s, when China was very present in a number of African countries at the time of Mao, but when it had real ideological and political contents. The railroad, for instance, from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka—I remember I was there at the time—was built by Chinese laborers. It was, you know, the railroad of peace. It was within a context of the competition between the Soviet Union and China, also between the West and the socialist bloc. But at the moment, it does not have that connotation.
 

I know that Western powers are very nervous about China, because China is obviously a huge competitor for African markets. And it is true that in the case of Dakar, which is where I live most of the time, it is a problem. For instance, the small traders in Dakar, about a year ago, went on a general strike to complain or to protest against the fact that nearly all the products you buy in the streets now in Dakar are Chinese-made products, not necessarily adapted to African needs. You see thousands of young men walking up and down the streets of Dakar trying to flog, you know, watches and plastic this and plastic that, that are cheap, that are affordable.
 

And, you know, the consumerist madness that’s taken over the world, this is what globalization is about. It’s the infection, spreading the addiction to consumerism, be it in terms of information, be it in terms of what you think you can afford to buy, etc., trying to be part of the world in that way, trying to wear the same jeans as everybody else does.
 

But, so China is visibly physically present in terms of its produce, and that is a problem, because it’s pushing out of the market the African—the nascent African economies. In the case of South Africa, you have on the sidewalks literally people, hawkers in the streets of Johannesburg, Chinese people and African people fighting one another for sidewalk space. So it is a pressure.
 

The bigger one, of China acquiring the support or the good will of African governments by huge investments, apparently with no strings attached, in the case of Nigeria, for instance, certainly in the case of Angola, in the case of South Africa, as well. All the South African ministers—all the African ministers of foreign affairs went for a meeting in Beijing to meet with their Chinese counterparts. China has an enormous institute working in trying to analyze and study African markets and African development, etc., something that no Western power has, by the way. The Chinese diplomats speak African languages. You know, this is something that’s happening right at the moment.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Breyten Breytenbach, Susan Rice—

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

 

AMY GOODMAN: —the incoming UN ambassador, and the Vice President-to-be—

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

 

AMY GOODMAN: —Joseph Biden, both want military—have in the past called for military intervention in Darfur. What are your thoughts about that?

 

BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: I don’t think—I don’t think it is a good idea for American military intervention anywhere in the world. I think it’s counterproductive. I think it—even if it may be well-intentioned, as it would be in the case of Darfur, because I’m not sure that it could be related to very direct American interest, although Sudan is a very big player in the African continent. But I would not think that American military intervention, be it in Afghanistan or anywhere in Africa or anywhere in Latin America, is something that should be on the agenda at all.
 

I think that America needs to learn two things, if I may say so. And I know that one should not say these things, because this is a huge and a complex society. If we could break the syndrome of addiction—of addiction, of being addicted to eternal progress, to be addicted to the notion of borrowing, of being able to spend yourself out of any hole, of being addicted to this notion that America is paradise on earth and everybody who is powerful enough to be able to buy into that has the right to actually do so—that would be a wonderful gift, I think, to the rest of us. I think we need to revisit this whole notion of globalization. We have to look at it very carefully. We have to see that this has nothing to do with the good will to the world. This has to do with the expansion of international capitalism. And I think we really have to see to that. That is the crisis. That is the essential crisis.
 

Second one is, I think the United States has to come to the point where it recognizes it does not have a messianic role in the rest of the world. This is not—this is counterproductive. What’s happened in Iraq is totally counterproductive. You cannot impose democracy anywhere.
 

Now, to return to Darfur, obviously, it’s a desperate situation there. I would say that I would use whatever influence I have and whatever means I can put at the disposal of African initiatives to try and bring peace there. This is something that has to happen. It is possible. It’s a long and a complicated process, because Africa feels very defensive towards the rest of the world. So you cannot force them to take notice of what’s happening there. But we know. And I think there’s enough people who know that. And you can do that, by the way, by strengthening civil society organizations who are really very heavily concerned about what’s happening on the continent.
 

If I may step back for a minute, there’s a big picture that’s emerging in Africa. Africa is rapidly moving to the point where we’re going to have to reconsider the viability of the nation-state concept, when it comes to the African continent, because governments are falling apart. These are plundering elites, as in the case of Zimbabwe, and as is the case with Senegal, for that matter, who use the notion of sovereignty, of national sovereignty and of national independence to be able to plunder and pillage their own people. African armies don’t fight one another; they fight the civilian population.
 

But you have—parallel to that, you have developing a network, a continental network of civil society organizations, women’s organizations, children’s organizations, the youth, cultural organizations, human rights organizations. Those really, to a large extent, now produce very essential services. One should invest in these organizations. That’s the way it should happen. But, of course, it’s a complicated thing, because you are then denying this club, this very well fed, comfortable club, international club of rulers recognizing one another. And I think that is the road to follow.
 

I think that the possible solution is going to be a long-term one, when it comes to Sudan, when it comes to Darfur—how do you strengthen the possibility of civil society organizations to be involved, to be active, to be on the ground, African organizations? Give them the means. Give them the support to be actually doing so. And if you can twist people’s arms politically, do that, as well. But intervening militarily is disastrous. It’s disastrous. It will not do any [inaudible]. And this is literally a case where the collateral damage far outweighs whatever good could possibly come from it.

 

 

AMY GOODMAN: Breyten Breytenbach, the well-known South African poet, activist, painter. This is Democracy Now! If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. Back in a minute.

 

[break]

 

AMY GOODMAN: South African singer Miriam Makeba, and we’ll hear a speech she gave at the United Nations in 1963 in a moment, but first we return to Breyten Breytenbach, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report, the exiled South African poet and anti-apartheid activist. I spoke to him when he was in New York earlier this month.

 

    AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking on a day when there are funerals for two Palestinian teenagers; where Gaza is under siege; where the head of the UN General Assembly, the Nicaraguan Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, has called for sanctions against Israel for the siege of Gaza, and where he compared South Africa, apartheid South Africa—

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: —to Israel—

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: —and what it’s doing in the Occupied Territories. You’ve warned against, at least in the past, that kind of comparison. Why?

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: For the simple reason that I think that we owe it to ourselves to see things as they are. If we’re going to be effective in our means of opposing injustice—and what is happening in the Occupied Territories is a massive injustice—I think this is probably, I would imagine, probably the most important, although it’s not the largest, maybe not the most consequential one in terms of loss of human life, and maybe not even in terms of the danger of regional conflagration, but this is the essential problem that the world has to face, the Palestinian-Israeli problem, the one of the Occupied Territories, the one of state terrorism, you know, the one of the extinction of the Palestinian people, because this is where it’s heading. This is literally a disappearance of a people. And I do think that this is the core issue that informs nearly everything else that happens in the Middle East.
     

    I think if you can find some kind of solution there, if you can find a way out there, if you had the moral imagination—and, by the way, I would plead for a one-state solution and not for a two-state solution. I do think that we’ve seen the means, the moral means of the parties concerned, as has happened elsewhere in the world, as has happened in South Africa, to be able to live together, even if it’s a very complicated thing and even if you’re going to have to gerrymander all kinds of structures to be able to do so, federal, whatever the case may be. But you have to do that. You cannot have this attrition going on. You cannot have this ongoing warfare with its strain of racism and cruelty and indifference and alienation, etc., including the alienation brought about to the young Israeli people who are involved in that.
     

    I was there. I happened to go there. I was lucky to spend a few days there. And people asked me the question, “Does this remind you of apartheid?” And, of course, it is. The premises are very much the same. You have essentially economic exploitation. Now, this is about stealing. This is about stealing land. This is about stealing means. This is about exploiting people. That’s the backdrop to it. And then racism. These are the two essential ingredients that we had in South Africa, as well. And then, to think that you can solve it by segregation and by having, you know, second-class citizens—in other words, some people have less rights than the other people have—these are the ingredients of what apartheid was. So, in that sense, yes, it is.
     

    But I would not—you know, I think it’s a shortcut that blunts our potential instruments at understanding the specificity of what’s happening, just to call it apartheid, in the same way as I always objected to people saying apartheid was a form of Nazism. Of course, it is in many ways, but, you know, it is trying to piggyback on an easy concept instead of doing the hard work of trying to dig into it and understand and make it clear what are the historical origins of this and in which way is it like that system that you compare it to and in which way is it different from it.
     

    I found that what I saw in the Occupied Territories, in some ways, worse than apartheid. There was an intimacy to the cruelty. There was a proximity, maybe because the territory is so much smaller. There was a kind of a wantonness in the destruction, you know? I saw the Sakakini Cultural Center, for instance, in Ramallah after it had been sacked by Israeli occupation forces, something which I don’t think we saw quite in the same way in South Africa.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: So what do you think has to be done? I mean, you have the lame-duck prime minister who’s been convicted on corruption charges—

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Yes.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: —now saying—Ehud Olmert saying that Israel should pull out of the Occupied Territories. But he is still the prime minister.

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Well, of course, he’s still the prime minister. But let us see what are the possible levers that could—the United States has never exercised pressure on the Israeli state. And we know that through direct and indirect subventions and forms of financial support, this is what makes it possible for the Israeli military regime to continue doing what it is doing there. I think one should start there. I think that it should be conditional. I really do think it should be conditional.
     

    One should start perhaps with the outer edges, which surely should be possible to do, to dismantle the settlements. This is illegal. By international law, this is illegal. The court in The Hague has declared it illegal. The United Nations has declared this illegal. Surely, it must be possible to do so. And surely, it must be possible to exert enough pressure on the Israeli government, whatever Israeli government there is, to dismantle it. These are their people. This is not something they should condone.
     

    What’s happening in Hebron at the moment, you have a few thousand people living in the heart of the city, surrounded by hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of Palestinian people, and the Israeli army protects these people who are squatting the land of the Palestinians. I mean, this is madness, utter madness.
     

    I think that has to be done, and again, partners have to be found. The progressive forces, and very often these would be forces from within civil society, need to be strengthened. There are wonderful attempts being made. There’s a richness of history of people from within Israel, for instance, working across the border, Israeli-Palestinian civil society organizations trying to help people to plant and to harvest and to survive, or something like that, you know, resisting the settlers, resisting the occupation army. These things need to be strengthened. That needs to be understood.
     

    But the essential thing, the essential moment here, I think, in history, is the recognition of the fact that Israel exists thanks to the support of the United States, not the international community as such, but the United States. The United States has, in one particular instance—it really has within its means to make a difference there. And if it were to do that, I think this would be the beginning of a whole new interaction with the Middle East, with the rest of the world. I think, you know, this is taking the sting out of bin Laden immediately, I would imagine. It’s very simplistic, what I’m saying, but I do think that’s part of it.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: My last question, Breyten Breytenbach, Barack Obama campaigned on the slogan of change. What change would you like to see America represent?

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Well, obviously, one would wish, first of all, for the necessary change to come about within this country, which I think people don’t know enough about from outside, the huge discrepancies, the huge numbers of people living below the poverty line, you know, the decay of so many communities, the schooling system, the justice system, the fact that there’s capital punishment, which is utterly completely obscene, utterly so, utterly so. The United States, together with China, with Iran and a few other rogue regimes are still practicing this horrifying, brutal and brutalization of all of society by executing people. So, one would like to see things like that.
     

    But then I would return to the changes, when you’re seen from outside, that I think are important. And I think perhaps some things will start moving in that direction. The mere notion or the mere wish to be more collegial and to be consulting with other people abroad and other governments abroad before doing things, that’s really a step in the right direction. But America has to—the change that has to come, it has to from within its own capacity, because it has the Constitution, it has the institutions that can make it possible, withdraw from where it is as a rogue state at the moment.
     

    You cannot have torture. You cannot have extraordinary rendition. You cannot have that, because not only are you doing it to the people concerned—and you’ve done it to them to such an extent that probably some people cannot be released from Guantanamo, because probably then the whole world will see that they’re zombies. They’ve been broken entirely. And how many of the people have even been able to be found guilty for anything?
     

    But this cannot exist, not only because of what it does to the people, but because of what it does to the whole world, the international community. You’re introducing an agent of distinction of public international morals and of ethics. You know, this is poison. This is real poison. What has happened—what has happened—the breakdown of the Kyoto, for instance, Agreement is poison. The breakdown of the ban on mines, for instance, land mines and things like that, this is poison instilled, introduced, which gives license to all kinds of other people all over the world to just break the law, you know, and go in there and kill.
     

    So, America, by doing that, by becoming exemplary, by living up to its own ideals, by living up to its own better instincts, I think that is already a change that’s going to be so potent, so enormous, so strong.
     

    And then, I do think—there are two other things that I mentioned are going to be enormously important. It is not America’s duty to be the cop of the world. It cannot do so, because it’s not doing so for the right reasons. It has not been doing so for the right reasons. There’s no way you’re going to be able to convince anybody anywhere in the world that America went into Iraq to establish democracy. You know, this just doesn’t hold, so, neither, for that matter, if you go back in history, whether it was Nicaragua, or whether it was Grenada, etc., etc., or the stupid exclusion of Cuba. I mean, these horrific effects of trying to imagine you can impose your will—and it’s not even your will; it is your interest—on the rest of the world, that has to change, because if it does not change, we’re going to inherit a world that we have at the moment, one of ongoing warfare. We cannot have that. We cannot do that. You know, this is not an option.
     

    And the second one is, I think really, really, people are going to have to revisit this notion that capitalism is the solution for all of the world’s ails. It’s not working. It is not working. I mean, I think what we’ve seen now recently is a very graphic illustration of the complete disconnect between speculative fluff money based on nothing and what’s actually happening on the ground. It’s not linked to real products, not linked to real people. That connection has to be broken. That system of institutionalized greed has to be broken down, has to be seen.
     

    What comes in its place is going to be long and complex. One has to look at Sweden. One is going to have to look at Europe. One is going to have a look at Africa. There are other alternatives to this. The alternative is not communism and capitalism, for Pete’s sake. The alternative is democracy, as opposed to capitalism. And I think it can be done. I think it’s going to be complex. And I think one should, if Obama is headed that direction, and I wish and I pray that he is headed in that direction, and I hope he doesn’t depend on too many people whom he’s trying to make it work for him, who may not have the same agenda that he has, but if that is the case, I think he should be supported in all possible ways.

     

    AMY GOODMAN: Breyten Breytenbach, thanks so much for being with us.

     

    BREYTEN BREYTENBACH: Thank you. Thank you.

 

 

AMY GOODMAN: Breyten Breytenbach, exiled and jailed South African poet, writer, painter and anti-apartheid activist.
 

As we end today’s show with Miriam Makeba, one of Africa’s best-known singers, a champion of the fight against apartheid during three decades in exile. Miriam Makeba died at the age of seventy-six on November 9th. She had been in Italy for a concert. She was known as Mama Africa, was the first black South African musician to gain international fame.
 

This is an excerpt of a speech she gave at the United Nations in 1963. As a result of this public testimony against apartheid, her South African citizenship and right to return were revoked.

 

    MIRIAM MAKEBA: I ask you and all the leaders of the world, would you act differently? Would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the color of your skin is different to that of the rulers and if you were punished for even asking for equality? I appeal to you and to you, to all the countries of the world, to do everything you can to stop the coming tragedy. I appeal to you to save the lives of our leaders, to empty the prisons of all those who should never have been there.

 

 

AMY GOODMAN: The late, great South African singer Miriam Makeba, speaking out at the United Nations against apartheid in 1963. We close today’s broadcast with a song she performed in 1966. It’s called “Khawuleza.”

 

    MIRIAM MAKEBA: “Khawuleza.” “Khawuleza” is a South African song. It comes from the townships, locations, reservations, whichever, near the cities of South Africa, where all the black South Africans live. The children shout from the streets as they see police cars coming to raid their homes for one thing or another. They say, “Khawuleza, Mama!” which simply means, “Hurry, Mama! Please, please don’t let them catch you!”


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