My arrest and subsequent assault by the police sparked debate in the public domain, particular on the left. However my concern is with the statement issued by Claudia Martinez Mullen after I was arrested and assaulted. She accuses me of being a thief, she says that there is no democracy in UPM and that there has been misappropriation of UPM funds. She also says that UPM members have intimidated members of the Women’s Social Forum to stop working with her.
I had thought that in her response Claudia Martinez Mullen would respond to the allegations of theft. I was wrong, it was not enough for her to put me behind bars. In her article she continued with her vicious attack on my personal integrity.
This has placed a cloud over my head. My response is warranted. I know that it can’t be forever cloudy. I shall know the colour of the sky. The rays of the sun will push through the dark cloud.
On the Allegation of Theft
In February 2010 Claudia insisted that I read the three books in question. This was after conversation in which she maintained that I cannot subscribe to nationalism and still be a Marxist-Leninist. I’ve never said I am a Marxist-Leninist. In her words, she said that I must stop this fantasy about Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko. On her insistence I took the three books.
When we started our movement we had no money of our own. After some of us were arrested in February 2011 Claudia promised to help with the legal costs. She then tried to misuse our dependence on her money to force us to accept her political line. She said that she wouldn’t pay the lawyer if we didn’t do what she told us to do. She told us that we must stop working with comrades whose ideas she disagreed with. She was very hostile to anyone that had ideas that were different to hers and especially to anyone that spoke about Fanon and Biko or anyone who thought that the movement’s members should take important decisions for the movement in open mass meetings rather than experts in Marxism-Leninism taking decisions for the movement.
In May 2011, on the eve of the local government elections, Claudia insisted that the UPM must support small parties in meetings held at Rhodes University, Phaphamani and eThembeni. That view was not supported in discussions in these meetings. Again she questioned the political line of the UPM. She again said that UPM was not a Marxist Leninist movement. She was very angry and she did not accept the decision. There was a time when she insisted that UPM must have a campaign against World Bank and IMF. We decided not to do this because our members wanted to address issues facing their lives, like toilets and rape. Again she was very angry and did not accept the decision.
The elections were in May 2011. In June 2011 Claudia demanded her books back. I looked for the books. I looked everywhere for the books. I asked all my friends and comrades if they had perhaps borrowed them. I did not find them. These books were not stolen. They were mislaid. As an activist one has to move around a lot, especially when there are death threats and your home is being watched and your family harassed. I am sorry that the books were mislaid but it was not done on purpose.
I then offered to compensate Claudia for the books. I asked her to let me know the titles so that I could replace them. This she refused, citing that the books were sentimental to her. In July I received a call from the Grahamstown Police Station saying that Claudia has accused me of theft. I told the police that I had offered to replace the books. In August I sent Claudia an sms offering to replace the books. I still have this sms.
If Claudia spoke to comrades to intervene as she claims, whom did she speak to? If I stole books from her house, this is a serious offence! I mean she should have spoken to one or two comrades about the theft. But she spoke to no one. She only became angry about the books when it became clear to her that the members of the UPM would take decisions about the movement’s political choices and that we would not accept instruction from her. She never raised the issue of the books before she became enraged after we didn’t accept her line on the local government elections.
I joined the struggle at the tender age of 14 years. I have never stolen from my comrades and I have never stolen from anyone for that matter. I do not have a criminal record. Many comrades have hosted me in their homes. I have never taken something that does not belong to me.
Claudia Martinez Mullen always boasted to us about her 30 years of struggle credentials. Claudia Martinez Mullen perceived her role in UPM to be an intellectual with struggle credentials who was going to dictate terms to us. When her views were not accepted she would always get angry. After a long experience of this we realised that we were not being offered solidarity. We were being told to accept the total domination of a middle class white person over our movement in the name of Marxist-Leninism.
On Democracy in UPM
UPM was only formed in August 2009 in Grahamstown. An interim structure was elected. In June 2010 a formal structure was elected with 2 years term of office. I am still leading the structure that was elected in 2010. Our term of office has not expired. The next election is scheduled for March this year. It is just no true to say that the leadership is unelected.
But for Claudia Martinez Mullen to say she raised the issue of leadership with me is true. She volunteered to fill one the portfolios that she said was dormant. She insisted that her 30 years of struggle credentials and her knowledge of Marxism-Leninism would help in building the movement. She did not suggest that there should be an election to replace the person in the portfolio that she thought was dormant.
On Misappropriation of Funds
The UPM was formed only in August 2009. We did not have funding. We worked full-time without pay. We took money from our families when we first formed UPM. UPM was built through personal and emotional sacrifices. In the beginning we were completely on our own. It’s only late in 2010 when we had progressive lecturers at Rhodes University supporting, us like Fred Hendricks, Richard Pithouse, Pedro Tabensky, Jane Duncan and Kirk Helliker. They gave us access to the internet and made inputs on issues when we requested them to do so. None of these lecturers ever tried to control the movement. This is solidarity and not domination. We had AIDC coming on board with much help as well including some financial support for specific actions. We never had huge sums of money at the bank. In fact after sometime our bank account became inactive. We only received funding from the Rosa Luxenburg Foundation in August last year. This money is held by an NGO called Masifunde. We have to apply for funds from them and every cent has to be accounted for with receipts. This is all audited. There have never been any complaints about how this money has been handled from Masifunde, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the auditors or our members. We all remain poor.
What misappropriation of funds is Claudia Mullen Martinez talking about? For Claudia Martinez Mullen to say she raised the matter with me is not true. I don’t know why she would lie. I don’t know why she would distract the debate of “theft” and the police assault and attack to a debate about my personal integrity. She is not doing this for the first time. Late last year she met me in the office of the head of Sociology department. She yelled at me, sweared at me, calling me names like “criminal”, “thief”, “lumpen”, and “idiot”. I never responded. I just kept quiet. The Head of Sociology Department, Dr. Kirk Helliker, intervened and ask her to stop. I am not the only person to have been treated like this by Claudia on the Rhodes campus. Other lecturers, students and workers have all been treated in exactly the same way. This is well known in Grahamstown.
On the Allegation that UPM Intimidated Members of the Women’s Social Forum to Force them to Stop Working with Claudia
This claim is a complete fabrication. The Women’s Social Forum came to support me in court because they chose to. They made their own decision, based on their own experiences, to stop working with Claudia. We do not speak for the Women’s Social Forum though and anyone who wants to follow up Claudia’s claim should speak directly to the Women’s Social Forum. However I do note that just as there is a long history of white people showing black people who have disobeyed them as thieves and as authoritarians there is also a long history of white people claiming that black people that don’t obey them have been intimidated into disobedience. These claims were frequently made against the movements of the people under apartheid.
I have been through this thorny road and I continue to survive. I have been called many names by the ANC and the ANC Youth League. I have been called an ultra-leftist and an AWB –DA sponsored member. I have been called a pawn of white capital. I have been accused of getting close to R14 million from Pedro Tabensky by the ANC Youth League. I have been arrested only for the charges to be dropped later. I have received death threats through faceless calls, police refusing to take my case and just dismissing the public death threats made against me by the ANC Youth League. When the ANC Youth League disrupted our meetings, the police were there. They did nothing. Compared to all this Claudia Martinez Mullen is not doing any harm. I will surely continue to weather the storm.
I hold no grudges against Claudia Martinez Mullen. Of course no democratic movement can work with someone like her. And of course she is not the only academic or NGO person that has tried to slander movements of the poor for the crime of not accepting their authority. We are not the first movement to suffer this kind of sectarian attack and we won’t be the last. But we are clear that she is not the real enemy. She is just distraction from the real struggles for a just and equal society in which the dignity of all people is respected.
I will never stop reading Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon. I cut my political teeth in the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). I Write What I Like was the first political book I possessed. I am a proponent of Black Consciousness Philosophy.
Friday, 20 January 2012