Professor Rozena Maart

Rozena Maart’s Open Letter to the German Association of American Studies.

 An Open Letter to the German Association of American Studies, also known as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Amerikastudien 

Date: 7th June 2020 

Re: Your recently posted statement on racism 

I shall forego the expected formalities in my open letter to you; these are generally reserved as a means of courtesy to the person or persons whom one is addressing. Since I do not know any of your Executive and Advisory board members who may or may not have penned the statement on racism unashamedly exhibited on your website where an image of Abraham Lincoln sits boldly, I see no need to address you in a manner fitting an expected cordial exchange. There will be no cordial exchange. You disgust me, and I will tell you why, exactly. 

Let me start by saying that I am writing to you from Durban, South Africa. I came upon your statement on racism as I was perusing the internet to ascertain how scholarly associations are addressing the current global protests against racism, police brutality, most of which are also organised around the broader movement of #Blacklivesmatter. 

I am appalled, sickened and repulsed that an association that has, on record, more than one thousand (1000) members participating in, what you broadly call American Studies, has the gall, the absolute nerve, the audacity, to offer its members, scholars who work in the area of American Studies, the global community of scholar-cum-activists who draw on American Studies, and the world at large, four sentences of crude, dissociative, out of touch crumbs clothed as words! This is your official position on racism, murder and the killing of Black people, Indigenous people and people of colour around the world where protests have emerged in support of recent events in the United States but also to draw attention to similar acts of injustice in their own countries? Your statement, composed of four sentences, which reeks of a gross lack of historical, ethical and social responsibility, let alone intellectual integrity, is nothing but a slight of hand, a dismissal, a cowardly passive-aggressive gesture of your own complicity as members of this advisory and executive board of the very racism you can barely speak of, hence the four flimsy lines parading as sentences. 

Let me restate your words to you here, in blue: 

The German Association for American Studies (GAAS) notes with concern the resurgence of racism and racially motivated violence in the United States, and also in Germany and Europe. 

Let me say from the outset, firstly: American Studies, in my view, means all of the Americas not only the United, States, which you seem to be prioritising but which none the less, you seem to know little about. Secondly, there is no resurgence! What we have witnessed around the globe, and I do not wish to focus on one killing, is a continued onslaught of the killing of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour in the United States, the rest of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Germany and many parts of Europe, let alone and around the world, for centuries! Have you not paid attention to the protests of racism that Germans of African-American descent have staged for decades in your country which is also their country? Which resurgence? Wake up and smell the blood dripping on your streets above your fancy coffeehouses. 

We consider it one of the most basic civil rights to publicly protest a citizen’s death at the hands of a police officer. 

You do? Why are you telling your members this? You call this a statement? This is the second sentence in your statement, and here you lecture, offer permission for the brutalised and humiliated to protest. 

Peaceful protests are the political and cultural backbone of any democracy that is worth its name. 

Are kidding me? Again: is this seriously all you could come up with as a group of educated people, calling yourselves “advisory” and “executive”? You are so completely and utterly ill-advised on all grounds that it is embarrassing, mind-blowingly disgraceful, and yet, you state this as though you are speaking to your ilk in a manner and tone as if there is an agreed upon code of etiquette: speak down to the natives and the Blacks and show them how to behave! I can think of several profanities that would be suited to hurl at you for forcefully forgetting, for your foggy memories, and your feeble, I repeat, feeble, announcement of how to address the current world crisis on racism and police brutality. 

We support peaceful demands to address the injustice that is racism, and we urge governments to respond to those demands by taking strong measures against racism in the name of democratic civil society. 

First you start with a declaration: you tell us who you are and note your ‘concern’ with the ‘resurgence’. Then, you continue with your consideration – how noble of you – wherein you speak of basic civil rights and how to proceed in the face of racism, murder and police brutality. Thereafter, you move to instruction – telling people how to address systemic, structural and institutionalised racism, which has led to murder and genocide. Last but not least, you offer you conditional support – how terribly sweet of you! You instruct on peace, urging protestors to act in a manner that has historically not borne any results except more racist attacks and more brutalities, then you urge governments to respond in the name of democracy! 

Have you forgotten about the atrocities of the First Reich in Namibia, between 1904 and 1908 where Germany sought out an African country as testing ground for what you would later inflict upon Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s? And, before you throw your textbooks at me that stink of colonial amnesia, do not tell me that it only happened in the 1940s! Germany started and is responsible for the first genocide of the twentieth century and yet you lecture us on peace! Remember, how millions of Nama and Herero people were massacred despite the inaccurate numbers noted on wikipedia, at the hands of your forefathers, the monetary value of which were inserted back into Germany for your benefit, and whose African skulls were held as trophies for gleeful photo opportunities to parade the delights of your conquest! Have you not learnt anything from Karl Jaspers, on Metaphysical Guilt? You write of “racially motivated violence” like inept, politically unaware, ignorant and arrogant neo-colonials, whose violence is not only strongly embedded in your passive aggressive four sentenced execution of a false consciousness beaming with White pride – what I call the violence of the colonial letter – but one that forgets that your careers are based on the very acts of violence that are committed upon the bodies of Indigenous people, Black people and people of colour, toward which you show no dignity whatsoever. There is toilet paper that is stronger and weightier than what you offer your members. 

Let me tell you a little bit about your history and why you have no business telling protestors against racism and police brutality to be peaceful, let alone how to dismantle systems of oppression: it speaks volumes about your lack of agency: 

Remember, how Germany colonised the Americas between 1528 and 1546? I speak here of Venezuela, St Thomas, Crab Island, Trinidad and Tobago, Southern Brazil and Guiana, among others? Four thousand (4000) enslaved Africans were brought to those regions, by force, with violence I might add by your forefathers and foremothers, which you are now against, to work on the sugar plantations they established to shove money into Germany and grow its early empire building mechanisms. When these acts of usurpation, enslavement and occupation, all with violence threaded through each and every act, brought financial benefits, more Germans were brought in to occupy Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Paraguay and Chiapas Mexico? The position you put forward as scholars from Germany leaves the imagination little to offer; since I find your position so offensive I have allowed myself the mental picture of you as the Lady Macbeths of Europe: constantly washing your hands, believing that it is clean. 

Remember, how during the 1670s, Germany continued to usurp, violate, massacre and kill Indigenous people and Black people in the United States after “winning over” from the British, in other words, murdering as secondary usurpers, in Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia, among others, setting up homes like you would later do in Namibia, remaining completely composed and distant from the very crimes you committed, with calmness, and with raised noses just in case you could smell the blood of the very violence you now seem to suggest is not the proper road to democracy? Can you still smell the blood of the massacres you committed and as such, feel compelled to tell the colonised and the oppressed not to fight back against regimes who continuously seek to dehumanise us? 

Remember, how in 1884, your forefathers sat around tables at the Berlin conference, and with papers filled with sweet little special requests from their wives and lovers in the Fatherland, as they made decisions about which African countries they should usurp, violate, enslave, massacre, kill and maim, for land, minerals, and the prospect of a better life for people like you who know serve on scholarly American Studies Executive and Advisory boards, telling colonised and oppressed people not to be violent towards colonisers, racists and regimes who are violent towards us? Oh, and least I forget: what were the rewards for your efforts? Namibia, East Africa, the Cameroon, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, the South Pacific! Where you invited by people from the abovenamed countries to come over and violate us, usurp our land, kill us, massacre us, take our wealth . . . I mean usurpers and colonisers did not come to Africa because we were poor – you were. We were rich, and you usurped, killed and maimed around the world, accumulating our wealth as you went along. Good heavens, at one-point Germany had histories of violence, usurpation and enslavement in twenty-two (22) countries where you had massacred and murdered in order to control and take charge of the humanity of others in order to give yourselves one. Where is your record of peacefully protesting your own poverty of mind, soul and stomach? Where? 

So, remove your pathetic four-sentenced statement and get a grip! If you cannot write something substantial that speaks to centuries of oppression, usurpation, racism and police brutality then don’t write it at all. You’ve made your position very clear – you are group of spineless, motionless, educated people who have no education whatsoever except contempt for oppressed people who are now fighting, in the best way we can, against regimes of violence, which much like the violence of thought you uphold, we have to fight! You are completely ill-equipped to serve the scholarly community of American Studies and have no business calling yourselves advisors and executives of an association purporting to study the Americas. You have betrayed hundreds and thousands of scholars who have put decades of good, critical, solid work into American Studies in Germany, and in other parts of the world, and to which I have only one demand – that you resign from the Executive and Advisory Board immediately. 

Rozena Maart, 

Durban, South Africa 

Ex political prisoners say human rights abuses and racism a Covid-19 scourge.

EX-ROBBEN ISLAND EMPOWERMENT FORUM (ERIEF)

PRESS STATEMENT (May 05, 2020)

The Impact of Neglect and COVID-19 0n Robben Island Ex-Political Prisoners.

Workers

The working class of the world is accustomed to the annual public celebrations of May Day. It is a day that is associated with, and celebrates the international workers’ struggles and victories against economic andsocial injustices of a brutal capitalist system. Every year on May 1st the working class takes to the streets and public squares to celebrate May Day. But sadly, the 2020 May Day was celebrated very differently from the usual celebrations to which people around the world have become accustomed, thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak around the world.

Government shutdowns or lockdown restrictions of movements, social activity and gatherings imposed on the citizens amidst fears of the COVID-19 pandemic spread, have dampened and muted the long anticipated celebrations. Workers around the globe have been forced to quietly celebrate May Day in the privacy of their homes.

Not only has the outbreak of the COVID-19 caused a lot of uncertainty and instability for the exploited working class across the globe, but its negative impact on required radical socio-economic transformation as envisaged and propagated in programmes of national liberation in various Underdeveloped Countries, will be felt long after the restrictions have been lifted.

Genuine programmes of national liberation propagated and advanced during the national liberation struggle have long been abandoned by various governments in favour of neoliberal policies. The Covid 19 pandemic has worsened increasing unemployment, job insecurity, and mass poverty. For the many already poverty-stricken families the heightened levels of insecurity spurred on by anticipation of a bleak future and exacerbated hardships have also  heightened people’s stress and depression levels, impacting their mental health.

For South Africans the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions also meant that they would not be able to take to the streets to celebrate in their usual way the historical  27th April Annual Freedom Day Celebrations – which are immediately followed by May Day celebrations in the same week this year.

We want to encourage workers around the world to stay focused on the agenda for justice for all workers, despite the lockdown, so that we may continue with the program for national and international worker’s emancipation.

International Racism And Human Rights Violations.

We have witnessed on a daily basis on our TV screens, politicians and religious leaders, assisted by an international army of celebrities across the globe, on COVID-19 awareness campaigns of a grand scale. At the same time we also note with a great deal of concern, that at the height of this pandemic there has been a marked increase in racial stereo-typing and brutal human rights violations directed against indigenous African people in both their native and foreign countries.

We also saw disturbing images of African people undeniably being singled out for indiscriminate random testing and isolation after being stigmatised by Chinese nationals as the source and carriers of the virus to China. Their rights were violated when they were unlawfully and forcibly denied access to, and evicted from their residencies and food stores/outlets, as well as separated from their Chinese spouses. What is even more disturbing is they were also barred from access to sanitation and bathrooms, as well as access to safe environments. This effectively rendering them more vulnerable to the potential risk of exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic and more racial abuse.

Prior to the well publicised COVID-19 outbreak in China, we had also heard allegations of a number of other racially-inspired random attacks by Chinese criminal gangs targeting people and students from Africa. Not much seems to have been done by the Chinese authorities to stem out this rising trend. Sadly, there also seems to be very little protest by African government leaders about this.

When representative African embassies in China were alerted to the problem and asked to intervene they played hide and seek or pleaded lockdown restrictions and passed the buck to the Chinese authorities who simply pleaded ignorance, and chased the Africans away from the police precincts to which they had been referred. The Africans were forced to sleep in unprotected open spaces with no access to sanitation, water and toilet facilities.

ERIEF, an association representing hundreds of South African liberation struggle veterans and former political prisoners, understands and appreciates the historical relationship the indigenous African peoples’ liberation struggle movements have had with China, preceding the very significant bilateral trade relations between African countries and the  People’s Republic Of China.

However, on this 2020 May Day, when we are reminded of the lives and the hardship still endured by the workers of the global community at the hands of corporate giants, we are equally shocked, disappointed and saddened by the knowledge that in this day and age such racist sentiments and acts against African people seem to flourish with impunity in China.

That said, we now call upon the Chinese authorities to take immediate corrective measures and swift action against its Chinese nationals who are involved and guilty in the said racist-inspired abuses and attacks of African people in China.

Human Rights abuses in South Africa

 ERIEF also wants to bring to the immediate attention of the South African people that such racial stereotyping of African people as seen in countries such as China appears to be reinforced by some African state leaders. The South African government’s dehumanising attitude towards the reported brutality meted out against the African majority who are still confined to a life of hardship and abject poverty, is noted with alarm. This systemic violence takes place in apartheid created over crowded townships and shackland squatter camps that still exist in a so-called liberated South Africa.

The government imposed COVID-19 restrictions and social distance regulations that the police and the army have been deployed to enforce have been a challenge to observe for the African people condemned to the misery and squalid living conditions of these townships due to the very problem of the apartheid infrastructure that the current government has done little to reverse.

Consequently, South Africans have witnessed scenes reminiscent of the olden days when the apartheid regime had deployed its army of soldiers and state sponsored brutality in almost all the African townships that were in the grips of revolt against its white rule. However, as it has always been, in the traditionally minority white areas and other minority communities there is a much more relaxed approach in the application of these restrictions.

This is in stark contrast to the townships where in the course of enforcing the restrictions numerous cases of abuse and brutality have been reported. It is alarming to us that a total number of five (5) innocent people have died in quick succession after being brutally assaulted and left unattended to by both the police and soldiers patrolling the township streets.

It is of grave concern to the  ERIEF that many people participating in the global awareness campaign, especially the African government and religious leaders, have chosen to turn a blind eye to these injustices being committed in the name of COVID-19 and in favour of western-foreign aid whose sole purpose is, unfortunately, to re entrench the syndrome of Africa’s dependency on the west.

Neglected ex political prisoners.

For the liberation struggle veterans, who a few days ago quietly celebrated Freedom Day on 27th, April, followed by the May Day celebrations, the outbreak of the COVID-19 has also brought into sharp focus the reminder of the impoverished social circumstances experienced by thousands of marginalised former political prisoners.  ERIEF notes that, despite the South African government’s COVID-19 provisions for a national relief fund, there has been no formalised social relief provision to cater to the desperate needs of the marginalised majority of ex-political prisoners.

ERIEF is distressed by the thought that a significant number of the marginalised liberation struggle veterans, including the elderly, sickly and homeless, together with their families, may be the victims of the reported brutality of police and army’s COVID-19 enforcement in the townships.

 ERIEF wants to remind all South Africans that racism and racial stereotypes that are manifested in several countries constitute an affront to human dignity as well as the values and goals of the national liberation struggle and the authentic program of liberation. Similarly, the reported acts of violence and the brutality from certain elements of the Security forces in our country should not only be condemned, but the perpetrators should face the full might of the law.

The Covid 19 virus and its associated lockdown restrictions and regulations have, yet again, revealed to us of the high levels of social and economic inequalities in our country. These are manifested in squalid living conditions in African townships where access to water and sanitation and other basic needs facilities are either absent or inadequate.

ERIEF calls upon African governments to speak out and condemn racism and all forms of injustice meted out against African people. National and economic sovereignty and socio-economic development of the majority of the population in Africa should never be compromised in favour of Western -based foreign aid and its complex conditionalities.

Makana Trust

Furthermore, ERIEF is very disturbed by the heartless attitude of the  Ex-Political Prisoners Associations (EPPA),  Makana Trust and  Makana Investment Corporation leadership which, instead of addressing all ex-political prisoners and their dependents’s welfare during this time of difficulty, it chose to assume a state responsibility and function of paying the full salaries of the employees of a government institution while thousands of the marginalised ex-political prisoners and their families are left to fend off for themselves.

This is in direct violation of the overall objective of the EPPA and Makana Trust, as well as in contradiction to both entities’ stated constitutions and laws governing a trust in South Africa. It does not make sense that entities such as Makana Trust and the EPPA that have a long history of pleading poverty whenever called upon to assist its  distressed founding members and rightful beneficiaries, the ex-political prisoners and their dependents, are now dishing out bailout funds to a government institution at the expense of the poverty-stricken ex-political prisoners. This is an unforgivable betrayal to all the marginalised ex-political prisoners in South Africa.

Call for justice.

As we call upon the South African government, civil society organizations, workers unions, community and religious leaders to immediately address this injustice and the overall shameful social circumstances of the liberation struggle veterans and their dependents, we wish to also remind the government of the veterans’ life and limb sacrifices that contributed towards the realisation of what is being, both  27th April and May Day, celebrated by millions of South Africans on these historically significant days in their lives.

South Africans need to know and appreciate that as they celebrate the 27th April Freedom Day and May Day annually, the majority of the liberation struggle veterans, the  real foot soldiers of the liberations struggle who made the life sacrifices for these freedoms to be realised and celebrated, are now unemployed, poverty-stricken and some even homeless. Something needs to be done about this sorry state of affair.

ERIEF wants to also take, on behalf of all its member liberation struggle veterans, this opportunity to express its sadness and heartfelt condolences to the loved ones and family of  Cde Denis Goldberg at the news of his passing away on Wednesday 29, April 2020.

As we bid our farewell to and salute  Cde Denis Goldberg’s contribution and sacrifice in the service of the liberation struggle for justice; equality; freedom; democracy and peace we must also spare a thought for the many marginalised liberation struggle veterans and strengthen our resolve to address the dire and shameful social circumstances of all liberation struggle veterans indiscriminately.

Salute, Cde Denis, Hamba Kahle Qabane, lala ngoxolo!

EX-ROBBEN ISLAND EMPOWERMENT FORUM

May 05, 2020

Contacts:

Sipho Singiswa: 071 870 3303

Mojalefa Vinqi: 064 630 7233

Group Pic: Robben Island Museum.

Copyright: Creative Commons.