Abahlali baseMjondolo Press Statement
Friday, 17 April 2009
In January 2008 John Minto, a militant anti-apartheid activist from New Zealand, shocked the ANC by announcing, in an open letter to Thabo Mbeki, that he would refuse, on principle, to accept an award from the ANC. John stated clearly that:
Receiving an award would inevitably associate myself and the movement here with ANC government policies. At one time this may have been a source of pride but it would now be a source of personal embarrassment which I am not prepared to endure.
John’s open letter to Thabo Mbeki is online at: http://abahlali.org/node/3248
Abahlali were deeply impressed by John’s decision, a decision which very few people would take for the benefit of shack dwellers, the poor and all those who were meant to benefit from the struggle waged by the Halt All Racist Tours movement against apartheid South Africa. We salute that struggle as we salute John’s refusal to accept an award from a small black elite who only enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.
The question of honour is very important. While so many rush to be honoured by a system of oppression, often as a reward for silence or complicity, John took a clear position that such honour is in fact shame. We have often said that our struggle has to put the last first. At the very practical level this means that the needs of those who suffer the most must be given the most urgent priority – we need toilets, and houses and clinics before stadiums. It is a kind of madness to build an unnecessary stadium in a city where children still die from diarrhoea and in shack fires.
But the need to turn the world upside down so that it stops being mad is not only a question of practical priorities. We also need to turn the meaning of honour upside down. Sometimes there is real honour in being arrested, beaten, being fired from your job or slandered. Sometimes there is real honour in earning the respect of the most humble people, the forgotten people, those who do not count in the eyes of the system. This was true when people like John stood up to apartheid. It is still true now.
John Minto recognised that it would be a shame to be honoured by the same ANC that has betrayed the poor. We appreciate and recognise his initiative in denying the award from the ANC in solidarity with the poor and with the struggles of the poor. In Cape Town he has already been welcomed and honoured by the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. He spent a night on the pavement with the shack dweller’s of Symphony Way who are facing eviction to one of the notorious ‘transit camps’. In Durban he will be welcomed and honoured by Abahlali baseMjondolo. We are told that in Johannesburg he will be welcomed and honoured by the Anti-Privatisation Forum.
In this world we must all make choices. Sometimes those choices are hard. Sometimes they carry a heavy price. John has made a clear choice. He has a clear position on which side he is on in the struggle for a world where honour and shame are turned the right way round.
John will attend the regular Abahlali Saturday meeting in the Kennedy Road settlement at 12:00 noon. This meeting, like all of our meetings, is open to all, including the media.
(Our comrades who are not in Durban and cannot attend this meeting might like to know that at 2:00 p.m. on the same day Abahlali baseMjondolo will be featured in an Irish radio programme. It can be heard online at http://www.rte.ie/radio1/saturdayview/)
For more information and comment on John Minto’s visit to Abahlali baseMjondolo please contact:S’bu Zikode: 083 547 0474
Zodwa Nsibande: 082 830 2707
Short Bio on John Minto:
John Minto is visiting to South Africa for two weeks from 12 to 26 April.
John is a political activist who was spokesperson for HART – the New Zealand Anti-Apartheid Movement during the 1980s and was the public face of the campaign to stop the 1981 Springbok tour to New Zealand. (He was arrested numerous times during the protests and has a medium-sized criminal record!)
Early last year there was public controversy when he wrote a letter to Thabo Mbeki rejecting a nomination for the Companion of OR Tambo Award as he said the anti-apartheid campaign was not waged simply to enrich a few black millionaires but to bring economic and social change to benefit all South Africans (M&G article).
He is very critical of the economic policies of the ANC, in particular it’s reliance on free-market strategies which wherever they have been applied bring wealth to the few at the expense of the many.
After completing a physics degree John trained as a high school teacher and has taught most of the last 25 years. However he currently works for Unite Union – a trade union for low-paid workers in New Zealand. He is a spokesperson for Global Peace and Justice Auckland and the Quality Public Education Coalition.
It is John’s first visit to South Africa. The main purpose of the visit is to see first hand the development of post-apartheid South Africa and meet with groups struggling for a better deal under ANC policies. For example he will visit groups such as Abahlali baseMjondolo (the Durban-based shack-dwellers movement), Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, the Anti-Privatisation Forum and meet with union representatives and activists in Ditsela (Development Institute for Training, Support and Education for Labour). He will address two university-based seminars – in Durban and East London.
He will also be meeting with South African activists from the sports boycott era. John is 55 years old with two teenage boys and lives in Auckland.