We must stand with the people of Greece in their fight against austerity

We are in the midst of a crisis caused by the rich. The great economic challenge of our time is ending their power to punish the rest of us for a crisis we did not cause. Austerity is the mechanism they use and the place that has borne the brunt of austerity more than anywhere is Greece.

We know austerity is doomed to fail, but in that failure it will only extend the economic pain felt by the most vulnerable people in society. All around Europe we must stand with the people of Greece in their fight against austerity, for a decent future and for democracy.

The election of an anti-austerity SYRIZA led government in January was a clear signal that the people of Greece have rejected austerity. Greece’s creditors, represented by the so-called Institutions – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – are trying to subvert that democracy. Their actions have been counterproductive and destructive. After 5 and a half years of brutal austerity Greek debt is higher, while the Greek people have suffered untold harm.

As a democratic party and a party opposed to austerity the Scottish Greens stand with the people of Greece. As Co-Convener of the Scottish Greens I stand in solidarity with my SYRIZA and Ecologist Greens comrades in the Greek Government as they lead Europe’s opposition to austerity. We call on the Scottish and UK Governments to intervene with the Institutions to secure the substantial restructuring of Greece’s debts and an end to austerity.

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Remembering Mandela: Edinburgh Council meeting today

Today, the City of Edinburgh Council remembered Nelson Mandela. In addition to a motion seeking an appropriate memorial to Mandela in the city, after a moment’s silence, each political group was invited to contribute some thoughts. Here is what I said.

So much has been said about Mandela in the last seven days, but I would like to say a few words here today as a fellow South African.

Mandela was truly a remarkable man. We have heard much about his grace, magnetism, personal sacrifice. He has become the personification of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Had it not been for him, it is possible that the transition to majority rule in South Africa would have been very, very bloody. Had it not been for him, it is possible that the role of reconciliation in South Africa’s politics, and indeed global politics, would have been much diminished.

And, in many, much smaller ways, his political actions highlighted a deep commitment to justice and fairness. His first proper job was as a nightwatchman at a mine but he was fired when they discovered he’d runaway from home to escape an arranged marriage. He was branded the Black Pimpernel by the South African media when he defied orders not to travel around the country of his birth, doing so disguised as a chauffeur.

In prison he was elected to a four man “High Organ” which must have had some influence as they were able to get the Commander of Robbin Island reassigned for overuse of violence against the prisoners.

A few years prior to his release Mandela had rejected an offer of release as it came with the condition that he have a “cooling off period” outside the country; he was not prepared to leave his country. And he was the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize and the first recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.

All of these show personal strength in the face of adversity, a commitment to his people, his country, and his beliefs, and I think a devious cheekiness which certainly served him well in his role as a global statesman.

So, a great man, certainly.

However, he himself rejected the deification of him, as a person, as the single figure responsible for the development of the new South Africa. He understood that the narrative of the great statesman depoliticised the struggle to which he devoted so much of his life. It is much easier to focus on the great personal characteristics of one man than it is to stare inequality and injustice in the face.

It also undermines the work of millions of others, across the world, who stood with him, fought with him, against oppression and for liberation. It is incredible to me that the rest of the anti-apartheid movement has been so utterly forgotten – when Denis Goldberg spoke at the Edinburgh World Justice Festival earlier this year, he did so to an audience of less than one hundred people.

So, let us remember a more complete legacy of Mandela, his human fallibility, his role as a soldier, his role as a radical.

Let us remember, too, that, during his time in government he did not fulfil all of the revolutionary promises to his people, and to hold him as infallible would be an insult to one of the principles he fought so hard for, that of human equality. It is clear that there is still so much to be done in that beautiful country.

His message, that we collectively have the power to make change in our society, should be what we take from his life. That real democracy and real equality are the bedrock of a truly fair society. That injustice of all kinds, whether based in racism, poverty or any form of oppression is something that we cannot tolerate and must oppose.

I want to end with a quote, not from Mandela, but from his great friend and fellow activist, Chris Hani, who, when asked whether or not he was looking forward to being in the new government in the new South Africa (which he never saw, being assassinated in 1993), replied:

“The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody, of course, would like to have a good job, a good salary, and that sort of thing. But for me, that is not the be-all of a struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle – and we must accept that the struggle is always continuing – under different conditions, whether within parliament or outside parliament, we shall begin to tackle the real problems of the country. And the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet, or a key minister, but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our people.”

Colleagues, we still have much to do. Our struggle certainly continues.

But for now, hamba kahle Madiba. Amandlha!

Nelson Mandela: freedom fighter, peace activist, trouble maker, icon

Yesterday, we received the news that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died peacefully in his sleep. Much has and will be written about the impact this man has had on South Africa, the continent of Africa, and the rest of the world. I will never be as eloquent as others, and so I won’t try to be. What I do hope is that the city I now choose to call home will have the courage to do something it should have done decades ago, and give this great man a fitting tribute. I have circulated the following to all the party groups on the Council, as an emergency motion for next week’s full council meeting. As a South African citizen, I hope Scotland’s capital will honour Mandela, his life, work and memory.

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EMERGENCY MOTION – NELSON MANDELA

Council

Notes the death, last week, of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, freedom fighter and first president of post-apartheid South Africa;

Reaffirms the respect and high esteem the City has for him and his dedication to peace and reconciliation, declared 16 years ago when he was granted the Freedom of the City;

Agrees to commemorate the life of this remarkable man by renaming Festival Square “Nelson Mandela Square”, a fitting tribute being the site of the African Woman and Child statue, a symbol of support for the anti-apartheid struggle, and the site of many anti-apartheid protests in the past.

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A response to the Westgate attack

A good friend of mine, who lives in Edinburgh and does community research in Cameroon, wrote this in response to the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre. It pretty much sums up the utter despair I feel about so much in the world, yet paradoxically, also captures perfectly the (almost) perpetual hope of a better world that motivates me every day. Thank you, Justin, for your eloquence. And for all those many, many lives touched by this tragedy, I hope that your grief and anger will, in time, give way to peace.

There was an attack at Westgate, a shopping centre in Nairobi, at the weekend, and many people were killed including Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet.

The attack was part of the war of terror that kills so many extraordinary ordinary people, and bolsters the power of those ‘on both sides’ who want to wield power over the rest of us.

How can we feel what is happening without becoming caught in their game of blame and revenge?

How can we feel the pain and anger and allow that to become a searing love that cuts through the lies and denies them their game?

Because there are so much more serious games – like the laughter of children and elders’ twinkling eyes, and burning hope and honesty and the foolishness of the wise who know they have no answers but hold the questions so close to the earth that it suddenly unexpectedly blossoms into poetry, plans and action – defiant true love.

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How to take the world seriously, with a pinch of hope.

There is enough pain anyway in just the normal course of living and dying, without these people causing more pain to try and hide from their own.

How can we take the causes and consequences of their actions seriously without allowing them to make us take sides and so make us part of their game of impotence, rage and the silencing of others – whether by drone or suicide attack?

Beneath it all there is a different war, a war against the warring being wrought on people and planet. It is easy to miss, but it is there in every everyday act of kindness, and it cannot be defeated because in the end there is only death and life and the mystery that breathes them through our being.

ACROSS A NEW DAWN by Kofi Awoonor

Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin

*

But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn

*

We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree

http://m.us.wsj.com/articles/BL-SEB-77177
From “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014