On Human Rights Day, 21 March 2022, hundreds of land activists and community members from six provinces in South Africa gathered in Xolobeni, a community on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of land activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe, who was murdered by still “unknown” assassins in 2016. Radebe was the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) and was at the forefront of the struggle to defend land and life against the greed of extractive capital.
Although the perpetrators of the crime committed against Radebe are not yet known because the police are deliberately not investigating the case, it is known that extractivism is often a militarised process, and the use of violence to intimidate and murder its opponents is a common practice. The intimidation and assassination of leaders of grassroots movements are aimed at discouraging us and slowing down our struggle against extractivism and capitalism.
However, the death of Radebe has not deterred us from vigorously opposing extractivism in Xolobeni and elsewhere. On the contrary, our struggles have intensified, not only in Xolobeni but throughout the country.
But to what do we say NO?
In Xolobeni, as in other communities threatened and affected by the unbridled extraction of mineral and energy resources, we are fighting for the right to say “no” to extractivism. Extractivism in the narrow sense refers to those activities that take and extract natural resources in large quantities, which in South Africa is done by exporting primary commodities. This not only relates to the practices of big mining, it also includes industrial agriculture for exports that result in soil degradation and the overfishing of the oceans.
Unlike in other parts of the country where mining and industrial agriculture already exist, the ACC has managed to resist the introduction of mining into the area for many years. In Xolobeni, we won a lawsuit against Australian mining company Mineral Commodities (MRC), which coveted access to what is said to be the world’s 10th largest deposit of ilmenite, the primary ore of titanium.
We said no to MRC because we fear what is already happening in other parts of the country, such as Mpumalanga, where mining companies have done a lot of damage, wreaking havoc in the lives and futures of thousands of people in the communities where they operate. Intensive coal mining in Mpumalanga, with little benefit to the local population, has led to irreversible pollution of the environment and negatively affected crop production. Similarly, MRC operations would destroy our biodiversity and bring poverty to Xolobeni and the Wild Coast.
Apart from these destructive and exclusionary elements of extractivism, we say no to a model of development that is part of an historical pattern of capitalist development within which it emerges, develops and manifests itself as a social and historical phenomenon. As some have already explained, extractivism is not the mere exploitation of natural resources for profit and revenue.
Rather, it is characterised by nature playing a central role in the domestic pattern of surplus value production, which leads to the generation of profit. This simultaneously creates, strengthens and reproduces an economic system that is externally dependent and porous, since it relies on trade. Our government and the ANC elite support this model because it is necessary for the accumulation of wealth for the domestic bourgeoisie, among other reasons. However, we cannot understand extractivism outside the global accumulation process and the development of global capitalism.
Our struggle in Xolobeni is not separate from the struggles of the communities in seven of South Africa’s provinces that were represented at Xolobeni to honour the memory of Radebe and all other heroes and sheroes who have fallen and continue to be murdered in SA and the world. They represent a national imperative to reject and overcome a model that has been reproduced in all historical regimes and eras in our country, namely colonialism, apartheid and now neoliberalism.
Locally, we are also part of the Right to Say No campaign, which in turn is part of the Global Campaign to Reclaim Peoples Sovereignty, Dismantle Corporate Power and Stop Impunity (known as the Global Campaign), which is led by and involves social movements and progressive non-governmental organisations from around the world. The Global Campaign is currently focusing its work on influencing a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations, like MRC, in international human rights law.
This process has been going on for seven years at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, and our government (through the South African mission) has so far intervened very positively and done everything possible to keep the process on track.
Our struggle and our approach are internationalist, because it is not enough to fight extractivism at home if it exists and persists elsewhere. Extractivism is a threat to the sustainability, life and dignity of people everywhere.
What do we say YES to?
There is no simple answer to this question, but by and large, our struggle is an anti-capitalist struggle for a post-capitalist society. Throughout history and in different parts of the world there have been and still are alternatives to capitalism (sometimes referred to as alternative development or alternatives to development).
As Amadiba Crisis Committee and the Right to Say No campaign, we believe that a post-capitalist society will be built on the basis of people’s real and material conditions. We are inspired, for example, by agroecology, ecotourism and socially owned renewable energy production – that is, alternatives that focus on community and people.
We reject extractivism and instead call for the development of models and paradigms in which the needs of people and nature are not trampled on as a result of the greed for profit. DM/MC