Poverty strips one of the legitimacy to call oneself a “human”. There isn’t anything worse than being poor or being Black in a capitalist society, now imagine being both.
The relationship between business and human rights in South Africa is not a contemporary relation. It draws back from the colonisation of the natives through the creation of racial capitalism. The idea was that Black people were not human enough, to firstly participate in the economy of the country and secondly, to be economically viable. As a result, major economic decisions and policy changes were made on behalf of Black and poor people, without their consent and without their consultation.
The president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, S’bu Zikode aptly said, “Everyone wants to talk about the poor, but no one wants to talk to the poor.”
Consultation is the backbone of our constitutional democracy; I always find it weird every time I have to refer to the 1996 Constitution as “our constitution” as it is not a Constitution for Black people.
Several studies and publications discuss the Constitution’s shortfall and failures of being a “just Constitution.” When the Constitution was negotiated, the National Party sent out a referendum to their white populace requesting them to represent them in the CODESA negotiations.
The ANC in turn assumedly appointed itself as the supreme spokesperson for the Black people and went on to represent them without their concern. The result of these negotiations was, as the PAC rightfully pointed out, profit before people and the protection of business over the poor and marginalised people.
This has led to the perpetuation of white supremacy and anti-blackness, that Black and poor people cannot talk for themselves, they must be spoken for, decided for and negotiated for.
In the case concerning the Traditional and Khoi-San leadership Act, the Constitutional Court reiterated that public consultation is an important pillar of our constitutional dispensation, and as such, people who are affected by a bill must be afforded sufficient time and opportunity to make representations and inputs during that legislative process.
In Maledu, the same principle was enunciated. However, today the portfolio committee on Mineral Resources and Energy is doing what they call “public consultation” through a mimic of a process where they transport their own members into the venues to accept a bill they do not even understand while the majority of the people remain absent and rejected.
In contemporary South Africa, business thrives as the present-day coloniser. Business continues to reject Black people in favour of white people and particularly white man, thus rejecting the idea of the equality that their Constitution had envisaged.
Business continues to put profit above the lives of Black people. We saw it in Marikana when they gunned down Black people in broad daylight in front of the media—the whole world was watching!
To date, no one has been held accountable, business continues in their profit driven quest while families of the Marikana 34 remain in their squalor.
In contemporary South Africa, mining companies continue to extract resources and profits in communities that are homes of Black people, and where these people experience the worst forms of conditions due to these mining companies.
Yet, these poor communities do not benefit anything from these mines. Bear in mind that these companies are obliged by the law to firstly mitigate their impacts on the lives and livelihoods of the people who are mostly affected by their activities. Only in a Banana and capitalist Replubic like South Africa, where business thrives above human rights. These companies continue to unabatedly violate the dignity of our people and break various other laws without any consequence.
In a place called Mapela, in Limpopo province, a mine called Mokgalakwena Mine does blasting and unfortunately or fortunate they did this while we were in the area. The blasting is so scary to the extent that it feels like an earthquake. Within two minutes after the blasting, the entire area was encased in smoke to the point that you can’t even see anything.
There have been several attempts to raise this issue with the mine, but they remain disinterested. Why are they doing this? Because they have expensive lawyers to represent them against these poor communities if any legal issue is to be raised.
Business, together with its allies, corporate law firms and profit driven firms alike, have proven why S’bu Zikode spoke about the need for “Radical lawyers” in contemporary SA. Zikode said that these are lawyers who are going to use their degrees to change society. The playing field is not level, the poor have very few avenues to explore when their rights are violated.
That said, maybe we should borrow from Joseph Mathunjwa, in his address to the Marikana protesters the day before the massacre, he said: “Comrades, these people do not care about you, to them you are just a number. They will kill you today and replace you tomorrow, and nothing will happen to you.”
And this is a clear indication of the relationship between the poor communities and businesses.
Patriarchy and misogyny continue unabated, supported and promoted by institutions and systems of oppression. Women continue to suffer at the hands of men, South Africa remains the epicentre of femicide across the world.
Is this the democracy we fought for?
Is this what they call freedom?
For years now we have marched to the DMRE, mines and parliament in an attempt to get them to listen to marginalised and affected communities, engage with them and include them in key decision-making processes.
But our cries fell on deaf ears.
However, all they do is to come out with their fancy suits and accept memorandums for the sake of publicity. But the truth is that these people never listen to us. These people do not care about us.
So, we will not deliver this memorandum to them today. We will not relegate this march today to a mere memorandum handing over. However, this is the true state of our nation. We continue to be exploited by mines as mining affected communities, women continue to be excluded and disbarred from participating in key decision-making processes as an equal stakeholder.
Poverty is at its peak highest.
We demand change. We demand to be listened to and we demand free prior and informed consent. We demand for the complete overhaul of the MPRDA.
In essence, all we are demanding for is inclusion. Is that too much to ask, especially when these bills allow mining companies to unconscionably scar our lands with shovels and tippers, leaving our lands exposed and barren.