Put on a black sash and occupy – we are the 99!

By Linda Stewart

As a young academic I was repeatedly warned not to become emotional or passionate about my research. I was told that academics should pursue their work objectively, that they should not write in the first person, and that every opinion should be supported by referencing other authorities on the matter. What a load of crap! It is impossible to separate who you are from what you do and what you believe in. Academics should also be allowed to dream, imagine and refigure … and so should our students.

And that is how the Occupy Movement romantically and instinctively captured my imagination. Finally, I thought, a space, to bypass politicians, institutions, and other social structures to voice your opinion and to listen to others. I saw a space to dream, to imagine, to listen, to share and to belong.

Again as an academic (fearful of allegations by others that I am going bonkers) I needed to rationalise my instincts and in what follows I share my (preliminary) thoughts on why I (and maybe you) NEED to occupy:

I firstly felt that OcccupySouthAfrica should connect and show solidarity to the Occupy movement mainly started by OccupyWallStreet. My research on socio-economic rights has repeatedly indicated that neo-liberalism perpetuates social and economic inequalities.

Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services, and without any attempt to justify them in terms of their effect on the production of goods and services; and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.

Around the world, neo-liberalism has been imposed by powerful financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank and has forced states, including South Africa to pursue free market systems where government does not interfere or does little interfering in the economic system of the country. For governments pursuing neo-liberalism, social measures (such as social grants and unemployment benefits) are almost meaningless. That’s why the National Planning Commission (NPC) mainly focuses on job creation to address poverty rather than other social measures.

Patel, The Value of Nothing (2010: 135) remarks

Despite the government having replaced the predations of apartheid with one of the most inclusive and progressive constitutions on earth, neoliberal capitalism has stalled the rights of ordinary people in South Africa.

I truly believe that we have a mandate to occupy! The South African Constitution has a transformative mandate which also requires engagement with the future that it will partly shape. Albertyn and Goldblatt (SAJHR, 1998, 249) describe the process of transformative constitutionalism as

… a complete reconstruction of the state and society, including a redistribution of power and resources along egalitarian lines. The challenge of achieving equality within this transformation project involves the eradication of systemic forms of domination and material disadvantage based on race, gender, class and other grounds of inequality. It also entails the development of opportunities which allow people to realise their full human potential within positive social relationships.

Neo-liberalism contradicts the transformative constitutional vision of our Constitution. If government refrains from or does little interfering with the free market system, social change will be hindered and substantive equality in terms of gender, race and socio-economic rights will never be achieved. Creating employment alone cannot solve the current social and economic inequalities in or country.

How do I occupy to say enough is enough! How do I occupy on behalf of people who have no food, for the mothers with HIV who cannot access anti-retroviral medicine especially in rural areas, the 80+ children sitting in one classroom with no access to books, the rape survivors, the refugees sleeping in front of the church, the women in rural areas who have to walk kilometres to fetch water?

For now I need to say, “Government, politicians, multi-nationals and corporations [the 1%]: You are raping my Constitution and I cry when I see you doing this! Be warned we (the women and the greater part of the 99%) of this country will again put on a black sash, speak out and occupy!” and to the 99%, I wish to say “I love you“.


2 thoughts on “Put on a black sash and occupy – we are the 99!”

  1. Agree with most of what you’re saying here.

    The rape metaphor you used, however, is part of the problem. Violent language is part of the problem and normalises violence.

    And no, researchers *should* be objective. There’s a long history of research that’s biased and in favour of the male default. That’s why we need to embrace objectivity.

    I’m not agreeing with ‘them’ that researchers should not be passionate about their work though…


  2. Thanks for pointing me to your writing. A lot of thought has gone into it. I have two comments:
    1. The not being passionate about your work, may it be research or maybe a sculpture you create holds some truth. One has to also focus on the monetary side of what you do. If not others will make you work and exploit your creations with little benefit to you.
    2. “eradication of systematic forms of domination based on race, gender, class…” The most important form of modern domination is economic domination. Economic domination by tools such as money markets, banks and financial institutions (put there by neoliberals) are the first things that has to be dismanteled.


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