On Human Rights Day, 21 March 2023, over 70 activists from mining communities across the country gathered in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape to commemorate the life of fallen human rights defenders including Sikhosiphi Bazooka Rhadebe, Chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee who was assassinated on 22 March 2016 for leading those opposing titanium mining in the area. In this gathering, they reaffirmed their commitment to struggle for the Right to Say No. This commitment has been collectively expressed through a People’s Declaration to advance the Right to Say No.
The People’s Declaration
Today on Human Rights Day, we communities of South Africa gather here in Sigidi village in Umgungundlovu to attend the Amadiba Crisis Committee (ACC) and Right to Say No rally, together with other mining-affected communities, fishers, small-scale farmers and other rural and urban communities to commemorate our fallen heroes and advance the Right to Say No.
The crisis we face
We meet at a time when our country is gripped by the deepest crisis since 1994. It is a social, economic and ecological crisis. The social fabric in our communities is being torn apart. The mass of people cannot provide for themselves and their children. The environment is polluted, critical infrastructure for water and sanitation is collapsing, and we now live in a climate crisis. All this is making our lives unbearable.
In this terrible situation, we have been abandoned by the government and political elite. They are more interested in making money for themselves than fulfilling their democratic mandate of a better life for all.
We have come to Sigidi in the knowledge that it is only by uniting our communities and the workers of this country in bonds of solidarity that we can start to pave our way out of this crisis.
On Human Rights Day, we are reminded by the words of Steve Biko and the actions of ACC’s late chairperson Bazooka Radebe that “we are our own liberators.”
Our rural communities bear the brunt of an economic system and ideology we have come to know as “Extractivism”. This system that is driven by both transnational corporations and the new world rulers plunder our natural resources and dispossess us, leaving waste and destruction in its wake. Their methods are more mining, more deforestation, more plundering of the oceans for fish, more industrial agriculture and mono-cropping, more drilling for oil and gas in the sea and on the land, more secret and corrupt business deals and more profits, sent off abroad after a small portion has filled the pockets of local “partners”.
Accompanying this is more violence against women, assassination of activists and state repression of resisting communities.
Our rights are rooted in our law and in our struggles
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 21 October 1986 explicitly requires of states to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of communities to their economic, social and cultural development and a healthy environment. Our movement stands in solidarity with our allies on our continent and globally against the plundering of our resources for the benefit of transnational corporations. They get extractivist licenses from our governments and our municipalities to build often unwanted infrastructure on our community land and mine our lands.
This year we will launch our communities’ own law from below for mining and development on our lands that will honour the Right to Say No. Seven years ago our comrade and defender of our rights Bazooka Radebe was slain. Bazooka’s assassins and their accomplices are still running free, but not for long.
At the third commemoration of his death, we adopted the First Sigidi Declaration, when we committed to defend our land and our mining, water and marine resources. We are celebrating our successful defences, and have today adopted an offensive programme of action to assert our rights to development and to plan, negotiate and fight for our own futures in our villages and fields, in our regions and even in the courts.
Right to Say No
We, the rural communities at the front line of this assault have come together in the commemoration of fallen heroes in South Africa, Africa and in the whole world to assert our Right to Say No.
For us, the Right to Say No is more than a resistance strategy. It provides a vision of an alternative path. It is rooted in our everyday practice of producing food for need, not for profit, without destroying nature on which our lives and the future of our children depend.
In this way, it gives expression to our desire for a Just Transition from Below, which to us is much more than an ‘energy transition’. For us, it is a transition from unemployment, landlessness, violence, abject poverty in all corners of the society and the glaring inequality of lives lived in South Africa. It entails the creation of millions of decent jobs and livelihoods. For example, in rehabilitating the land damaged by mining and other forms of Extractivism, thousands of jobs can be found and lay the basis for food sovereignty. It entails making all the care for children and the elderly currently burdening women into a collective and community responsibility, in which all men have full role to play.
Such a program is possible if we gather our strength to reverse budget cuts and austerity, stand in solidarity with workers who want a living wage and organise all communities affected by corporate grabbing of natural resources into a national force for economic and environmental security.
Our communities sent us here with the expectation that we will return with a program of action to give hope to our people. And we are proud to announce we are united in this program of action that includes the following:
- Going to our people to share information of the new extractivist threats that our people face such as “green hydrogen” and mining for so-called “green minerals”.
- Campaigning for the Right to Say No to become law;
- Campaigning for a massive public works program of land rehabilitation;
- Stopping the frenzy of new coal and other mining application until the destruction created has been repaired and nature restored;
- Mobilising our communities to establish Extractivist free zones;
- Rallying in the defence of the 2018 Baleni Right to Say No Judgment and to have the Constitutional Court affirm it;
- Demanding that the anti-democratic Traditional Khoisan and Leadership Act is withdrawn and the bribing of traditional leaders, as happened under apartheid, is stopped;
- Organise our communities against violence and criminality, stopping our communities from falling apart through self-help where the state is failing and forging bonds of solidarity,
- Putting it to the political class and government officials that there is no development if it is not coming from the people who should have the final say over all projects.
This programme of action constitutes the first steps of a community and worker alliance for a Just Transition from Below.