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Urgent message from South Africa: Free Ayanda Kota

January 12, 2012
Ayanda Kota, Occupy South Africa activist and Chair of the Grahamstown, South Africa Unemployed Peoples’ Movement led protesters demanding proper sanitation into the Makana Municipal Building in Grahamstown, where they emptied the buckets that the government distributes to shack dwellers as a substitute for toilets, saying, “This is not our shit!”
Ayanda Kota, chairperson of the Grahamstown, South Africa, Unemployed Peoples’ Movement, has been brutally beaten and arrested by the police. On Monday, Jan. 8, 2012, he had published “ANC centenary a display of elite power,” republished below.

Wuyi Jacobs and I were going to talk to him about the African National Congress (ANC) centenary for WBAI AfrobeatRadio, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, but now he’s in jail and injured, though there’s no word yet on how badly. I spoke to him briefly for KPFA on Nov. 13, 2011, about Occupy South Africa:

KPFA Weekend News, Nov. 13, 2011

And on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, KPFA Weekend News broadcast a critical report on the ANC centenary with his help:

KPFA Weekend News, Jan. 8, 2011

Voices like Ayanda Kota’s speak loudly and clearly, even from a great distance. I hate to imagine that he might suffer the same fate as South Africa’s Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid leader and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, who died in 1977 at age 31 in police custody, or like that of Andries Tatane, a mathematics teacher, activist and community newspaper publisher who collapsed and died April 13, 2011, after the police beat and shot him in the chest with rubber bullets during a protest about the lack of basic services in his community.

This is the statement issued by the Grahamstown Unemployed People’s Movement on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. – Ann Garrison

Ayanda Kota assaulted in the Grahamstown, South Africa, police station – under arrest

by Xola Mali

About 40 minutes ago Ayanda Kota was seriously assaulted by a group of police officers in the Grahamstown police station. He was dragged, bleeding from at least two wounds, and with his clothes torn from his body, to the holding cells.

In the South African town of Ficksburg during a march of over 4,000 people demanding decent housing, access to water and electricity, and jobs, Andries Tatane, math teacher, activist and community newspaper publisher, husband and father, was murdered by six police officers on April 13, 2011. They attacked him when he asked why they were firing a water cannon at an elderly person who clearly was not a threat. The video images of the police smashing his body with batons and repeatedly firing rubber bullets into his chest shocked the nation. In 2010 alone 1,769 people died as a result of police action or in police custody.
For some months he has been under open police surveillance and at times has been threatened and insulted by the police. The police have been watching his mother’s house and have searched it looking for him. Their behavior has been very rude, threatening and aggressive. Today Ayanda was summoned to the police station.

He popped out of a meeting organized by Masifunde and the Rural People’s Movement with his 6-year-old son and a comrade. He was called to the police station because a lecturer at Rhodes, who has publicly engaged in strange and aggressive behavior on a number of occasions, laid a charge of theft against Ayanda after he misplaced a book that she had loaned him. Ayanda did not steal the book – he mislaid it. This is something that happens all the time to people who share books.

Perhaps another comrade picked it up and forgot to return it. Perhaps it was left in a taxi. These things happen. Ayanda has made it quite clear that he is willing to replace the book.

As soon as Ayanda met Constable Zulu, the officer who had summoned him to the station, Constable Zulu said that he was taking him straight to the cells. Ayanda said that he wanted to show the officer text messages on his cellphone to the lecturer at Rhodes offering to replace the book, but the officer insisted that Ayanda was going straight to the cells.

Ayanda then asked to be able to take his son home first. At that point Constable Zulu lunged at Ayanda very aggressively. Ayanda raised his arm in an instinctive gesture of defense following which Zulu began to assault him with blows to the head. Three or four other police offices then joined the assault. Ayanda was on the floor for most of the duration of the assault, which went on for some minutes.

This happened in the presence of his 6-year-old son, who of course was traumatized. The assault was brutal, entirely unnecessary and accompanied by, in Constable Zulu’s case, an obvious sadistic delight. A police secretary who witnessed it all burst into tears. One of the police officers made a sarcastic remark about Ayanda being the newsmaker of the year in the local paper.

This was plainly no ordinary arrest. This is a bogus charge that most certainly does not justify arrest. There was nothing to justify the assault. This is a simple attempt on the part of the police to misuse a ridiculous charge laid by someone well known for strange and erratic behavior in order to intimidate an activist and the movement that he represents.

The police are not here to protect society. They are here to protect the ruling party from popular dissent. This is not an isolated incident. Poor people’s movements have been constantly subject to this sort of behavior at the hands of the police for many years now.

This was plainly no ordinary arrest. This is a simple attempt to intimidate an activist and the movement that he represents. The police are here to protect the ruling party from popular dissent.

UPM will try to visit Ayanda in the holding cells and will mobilize to get him medical attention tonight and to support him in court tomorrow. The movement is currently looking for a lawyer. Of course civil and criminal charges will be laid against Constable Zulu and all the other police officers who joined this assault.

Xola Mali, spokesperson for the Unemployed People’s Movement, can be reached at 072 299 5253.

ANC centenary a display of elite power

by Ayanda Kota, Unemployed People’s Movement

Ayanda Kota speaks during the COP 17 climate change conference in December in Durban, South Africa, on his One Million Climate Jobs Campaign.
The centenary celebrations of the African National Congress (ANC) are being used to persuade the people that a movement that has betrayed the people is our government, a government that obeys the people, instead of a government of the elites, for the elites and by the elites. It is a hugely expensive spectacular designed to drug us against our own oppression and disempowerment.

In his “Communist Manifesto,” Karl Marx wrote: “Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class … The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the affairs of the bourgeoisie.” Here Marx is referring to the ability of the bourgeois to translate economic power into state power, thus reducing our governments to mere managers acting in the interests of capital and not the people.

This has happened to governments around the world. But here our politicians are not mere managers. They are, like in Russia or India, a predatory elite with their own class interests and they support capital and repress the people as long as they can get their own share.

Since 1994 there hasn’t been a reorganization of the economy. The commanding heights of the economy continue to reside in the hands of a tiny elite, most of which is white. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Most young people have never worked.

Anyone can see that there is an excessive amount of poverty in South Africa. There are shacks everywhere. In fact, poverty reigns supreme in our country. Every year Jacob Zuma promises to create new jobs and every year unemployment grows.

The commanding heights of the economy continue to reside in the hands of a tiny elite, most of which is white. Unemployment is skyrocketing. Most young people have never worked.

If things were getting better, even if they were getting better slowly, people might be willing to be patient. But things are getting worse every year. Poverty and inequality are getting worse. The government is increasingly criminalizing poverty instead of treating it as a political problem. When people try to organize, they are always presented as a third force being used to undermine democracy and bring back racism.

But it is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratize the economy. It is the ANC that has failed to develop any plans to democratize the media. It is the ANC that disciplines the people for the bourgeoisie – a role that they are very comfortable to play! It is the ANC that follows the line of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is our local leaders who taking the leap from their old bosses, stealing from us, treating us with contempt, acting like the former colonial government and oppressing us.

During the struggle, our leaders embodied the aspirations of the people. But once they took state power, they didn’t need us any more. We were sent home. We are only called out to vote or attend rallies. But all the time our people are evicted from farms, paving the way for animals, as farms are turned into game reserves under the pretext of tourism.

It is our local leaders who taking the leap from their old bosses, stealing from us, treating us with contempt, acting like the former colonial government and oppressing us.

Our people are evicted from cities. Our people are denied decent education. The party has become a mixture of what Marx would call an instrument of power in the hands of bourgeoisie and what Fanon would call a means of private advancement.

Biko wrote: “This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist Black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist Black society, Black middle class, would be very effective … South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.”

We, as the unemployed, belong to the 70 percent that Biko was talking about. We were happy to see the end of apartheid and we will always fight racism wherever we see it. But we are not free. There has only been freedom for the 30 percent. How can a person be free with no work, no house and no hope for their life?

R100 million is being spent on the celebration – spent to entertain elites, through playing golf and drinking the most expensive whiskey. Golf players are even receiving massages from young women sponsored by SAB (South African Breweries).

How can a person be free with no work, no house and no hope for their life?

This is not a people’s celebration. We are absent! How some of us wish that all that money could have been used to build houses, create employment, build sport facilities or schools for kids who continue to learn under trees! Biko was right. As the world celebrates with the ANC today, they put across a pretty convincing picture of freedom while everywhere people are broken by the burdens of poverty.

Community activists Xola Mali, spokesperson for the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement (UPM), Ntombentsha Budaza, UPM deputy chairperson, Nombulelo Yami, member of the Women’s Social Forum, and Ayanda Kota, UPM chairperson, tell the press outside the courthouse in March 2011 that they expect the charges against them of “public violence” will be dismissed. After further postponements designed, the activists believe, to prevent them from organizing prior to the April 29 municipal election, all charges were eventually dropped in August.
In his “Wretched of the Earth,” in the chapter called “The Pitfalls of the National Consciousness,” Frantz Fanon wrote:

“The leader pacifies the people. For years on end after independence has been won, we see him, incapable of urging on the people to a concrete task, unable really to open the future to them or of flinging them into the path of national reconstruction, that is to say, of their own reconstruction; we see him reassessing the history of independence and recalling the sacred unity of the struggle for liberation. The leader, because he refuses to break up the national bourgeoisie, asks the people to fall back into the past and to become drunk on the remembrance of the epoch which led up to independence. The leader, seen objectively, brings the people to a halt and persists in either expelling them from history or preventing them from taking root in it. During the struggle for liberation the leader awakened the people and promised them a forward march, heroic and unmitigated. Today, he uses every means to put them to sleep, and three or four times a year asks them to remember the colonial period and to look back on the long way they have come since then.”

I am not opposed to the centenary celebration of the ANC. But if the ANC was a progressive movement, they would have organized a celebration in a way that includes the people and supports us to build our power. They could have, for instance, asked people to meet all over the country, discuss how far we have come and how far we still have to go and draw up demands for a new freedom charter for the new era.

If the ANC was a progressive movement, they would have organized a celebration in a way that includes the people and supports us to build our power.

But this celebration is just a spectacle that we are supposed to watch on TV. It is exactly what Fanon talks about. It is designed to keep us drunk on the memory of the past struggle, so that we must stop struggling and remain in the caves.

Ayanda Kota, in his earlier activist days, holds a photo of Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and author of “I Write What I Like,” who died in police custody in 1977, at age 31.
In a recent protest in Bloemfontein, police were there in numbers to flush the demonstrators. This has happened in many other demonstrations. The message is very clear: “Go back to your caves!” It is backed up by state violence. As Fanon says, a party that can’t marry national consciousness with social consciousness will disintegrate; nothing will be left but the shell of a party – the name, the emblem and the motto.

He says: “The living party, which ought to make possible the free exchange of ideas which have been elaborated according to the real needs of the mass of the people, has been transformed into a trade union of individual interests.”

This is exactly what the party has become. Institutions such as parliament and local municipalities have been severely compromised because of individual interests. Corruption is rampant. The Protection of Information Bill (Secrecy Bill) is another illustration of how the selfish interests of individuals have taken over the party.

A true liberation movement would never have killed Andries Tatane, attacked and jailed activists of social movements. It would never send people to lull – it would encourage people to continue organizing and mobilizing against injustices and oppression.

Progressive leaders would know that they cannot substitute themselves for the will of the people. A progressive party would never help the government in holding the people down through fascist attacks on the media by the likes of Nceba Faku, Blade Nzimande and Julius Malema, to mention but a few. A democratic party would never engage in attacks on protests as we saw most recently with the ANC and ANCYL (ANC Youth League) fascism against the Democratic Left Front in Durban during the COP17 (17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change) conference.

A true liberation movement would never have killed Andries Tatane; it would encourage people to continue organizing and mobilizing against injustices and oppression.

In the Congo, in Nigeria and across the Arab world people are deserting celebrations of the flag and political leaders as if they really do represent the nation. Some are turning to a politics of religious or ethnic chauvinism. Others are turning to the politics of mass democratic rebellion or a democracy that is truly owned by the people. This is a free exchange of ideas backed up with popular force.

We are also seeing this in Europe and North America. Latin America has been in rebellion for many years. Across South Africa more and more people are deserting the party that spends so much money to keep them drunk on the memory of the past struggle, their own struggle, the same struggle that the ruling party has privatized and betrayed. There are occupations, road blockades and protests and the message is loud and clear: Sekwanele! Genoeg! Enough!

The only way to truly honor the struggles of the past is to stand up for what is right now. The struggle continues and will continue until we are all free.

Ayanda Kota is chairperson of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Grahamstown, South Africa. He can be reached at 078 625 6462. This story was published Jan. 8 on Anarkismo.


On Jan. 13, Grocott’s Mail Online reported that Ayanda Kota had just been charged with theft, resisting arrest and assault on the police arresting him and released on bail and that his trial will begin on Feb. 29. Grocott’s Mail also reported that he appeared to be in pain during his court hearing.

Outside the Grahamstown magistrate’s court Jan. 13, Unemployed Peoples Movement leader Ayanda Kota demonstrated today how he was attacked by police yesterday. His aunt, Ntombizodwa Kota, and fellow UPM member Sithe Mbiso watch with concern. – Photo: Desiree Schirlinger
According to Rhodes University lecturer Richard Pithouse, who witnessed the police attack: “When Ayanda was on the ground being beaten by the police, one of them said, ‘Come and see the newsmaker of the year now.’ It looked like they [the police] were enjoying the attack – it was plainly about vengeance and intimidation, and the charges are completely bogus,” he added.

Kota was named Grocott’s Mail Newsmaker of the Year for 2011 on Dec. 19. Grocott’s Mail is South Africa’s oldest independent newspaper.

To learn more

South Africa on the global Occupy map by Ann Garrison, an interview with Ayanda Kota

Taking Back South Africa! 2011: Worldwide Revolution on Facebook

CNN: Andries Tatane dies following police beating, an excellent report; unfortunately, reposting is prohibited, so watch it on YouTube

South African Day of Rage- Will you be there-… by windsofchangersa


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