Real Human Freedom Not Fake Human Rights

ZACF Human Rights Day Statement

South Africa is said to have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. It enshrines the rights of every person, of every background, from workers and immigrants to women and homosexuals. As such you would think that, especially for people from oppressed groups, South Africa would be a safe haven.

But if you look a bit closer you will surely see that, despite all the rights we hold on paper, people living in South Africa are far from guaranteed a safe and enjoyable existence. Our so-called human rights, as enshrined by the constitution and gloated over by politicians, are violated on a daily basis.

Workers have the right to strike, but only if they first warn their bosses of their intentions and after they have exhausted all other avenues for addressing their concerns. Workers who decide to strike without first giving their boss a chance to hire scab labour, and even when they do – as we have recently witnessed with the excessive use of force by the SAPS on striking Samwu workers in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole (137 of whom were arrested and held over night after being shot at without warning) – are likely to be arrested, fired or violently attacked.

Workers do not have the right to decide what they produce and how they distribute it, and in what quantities, because everything that a worker produces belongs to his or her boss – the owners of the factories and machines, those to whom the workers sell their labour for a wage in order to survive. In the constitution workers do not have the right to take over the factories and occupy the land, in order to produce the goods they need to survive, because that would be violating another sacred right, the property rights of the bosses and land-owners.

Under capitalism, the economic system of the world, people are allowed by law to own, buy and sell private property. Those who can afford to buy property, be it a piece of farm land or a factory and its machines, very often use this property to enrich themselves from the labour of those who have no property, and thus have no choice but to work for a wage under the direction of those who have property. In this way the group of people who own private property – and it is a relatively small group – exploit the labour of those who do not own private property – a much larger group. They get rich through the labour of the poor, simply for having already been rich enough to buy property in the first place; and their right to exploit the workers and poor is protected by the same constitution which protects the rights of the workers not be be exploited! Ironic, isn’t it?

Similarly, the equal rights of women with men are written into the constitution and upheld by law, but, as recent events – such as that at Noord street – have once again shown, so too are these rights violated on a daily basis. Women in South Africa are not treated as the equals of men, they are harassed, abused, raped and degraded by virtue of the fact that they were born women. It matters very little to a woman who is beaten by her husband, or raped by a taxi driver, whether or not this is allowed under the constitution. What she cares about is not being raped, not being beaten. This is a security that cannot be guaranteed to her under the present capitalist system, because the same system that defends the rights of the bosses to exploit the workers, also relies on the patriarchal oppression of women by men, in order to keep the poor and working class divided from itself, thus unable to find the strength to challenge the system which protects the rights of the propertie d classes at the expense of the workers, poor and oppressed minorities.

We anarchist communists believe that constitutional human rights mean next to nothing as long as we are living in a world which thrives on the violent exploitation of the masses by a ruling minority, a system in which the majority of the population – the workers and poor – are divided from each other by means of sexism, racism, nationalism and religion. We believe that, as long as we live under the threat of starvation and imprisonment, oppression and exploitation, our human rights will never be safe. It is impossible for the workers and poor, for women and oppressed minorities to live in dignity under capitalism. As long as there is a price on our labour, as long as we are under threat of attack because of our identifies, and as long as we live under threat of unemployment, hunger and disease, our rights to live with dignity and free from violence will never be realised.

Under such circumstances, in which we find ourselves today – as many of us did under Apartheid – the only way to live with dignity is to take up the fight against the system of capitalism, the system which defends the profits and property of the rich and powerful at the expense of the human rights of the exploited and oppressed. The only way to live with dignity is for us to live and struggle for a new system; a new world in which we are no longer divided, where there is no private property, and where we are all workers and in which we all have control over what we produce and how it is distributed, according to the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. A world in which, because we are all workers, and we all work for the benefit of our fellow human beings, we treat each other with the respect that each one of us deserves.

Capitalism cannot guarantee human rights for all, only real human freedom can guarantee and protect our rights, rights which are safeguarded by our belonging to an international community of free workers, not by writing them onto paper. If we had real freedom, there would be no need for the phony rights of the bourgeois constitutions of South Africa and other so-called democracies.

We are supposed to have the freedom of choice, but the only choice we have under capitalism is either to be exploited and oppressed, or to organise and resist. Anarchist communists have chosen to organise and resist, to fight for a better future, and in so doing to live and die with dignity. Join us.

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front
March, 2008

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