Is South African Gearing Up for a Race War?

Reaping Divine Justice: South African Farmers Brace for Race War and Land Expropriation Debate

RT (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns proposed constitutional changes by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa that would allow the ANC government to expropriate white farmers’ land without compensation. Twenty-five years after the fall of Apartheid, 35,000 white families and businesses own 80% of South African land.* Meanwhile the Black majority suffers from 30% unemployment (50% in youths under 25), accompanied by high levels of homelessness, malnutrition and lack of clean drinking water. In fact, several studies reveal that Black Africans are now worse off economically than they were under Apartheid.

The highly religious Afrikaans farming community are arming themselves to the teeth for civil war. They anticipate that with Ramaphosa’s recent reelection, the ANC government will try to confiscate their land by force, as occurred in neighboring Zimbabwe.

The extreme racism revealed by some of their comments is mind blowing. They have no shame whatsoever in expressing their belief that God created them to fulfill a role superior because Black South Africans “lack a civilized way of life” and are “incapable of managing their own farms.”

The only serious drawback of this documentary is its failure to examine the role played by  white and foreign  owners of South Africa’s rich diamond, gold and platinum mines. These mine owners are notorious for their mistreatment of their Black workforce (which can include killing them when they strike for better wages and working conditions – see Police Fire Teargas at Miners and South Africa Miners on Strike)

There was a shortlived campaign by the ANC’s youth wing in 2011-2012 to nationalize South Africa’s mines. It was quickly sniffed out by President Jacob Zuma’s notoriously corrupt administration.**

The main argument South African economists used to oppose nationalization was that it would ruin the South African economy. They claimed the government would suck out all the profits, leading to a loss of productivity. I don’t buy it. It implies letting foreign investors suck out all the mining profits (thus systematically impoverishing the Black population) isn’t ruining the economy.

Ramaphosa purposely delayed his proposed constitutional changes pending the May 8, 2019 election results. He has now been reelected. At this point, homeless Black Africans have been peaceably squatting on large white and foreign land holdings, where they build shacks and grow small amounts of food. Thus far, the courts have sided with the landowners, but evictions are on hold pending an appeal.


*According to the New York Times, companies and trusts own the largest share of South Africa’s land (much of it acquired since the end of Apartheid). There are also a large number of white farmers with 50-year leases to farm on public land.

**In February 2018, the ANC forced former president Jacob Zuma to resign (replacing him with Ramaphosa). A clear pattern was emerging of Zuma and other ANC leaders accepting bribes and kickbacks from domestic and foreign businesses.

 

 

The New Women’s Movement to Reclaim the Commons

Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons

by Sylvia Federici

PM Press (2019)

Book Review

This book is a collection of essays about capitalism’s continuing seizure and privatization of the “commons” and growing women’s movements in Africa, Latin America and Asia to resist enclosure and reclaim privatized land.

Federici divides her book into two parts. The Part One (“On the New Enclosures”) essays describe the original 15-17th century enclosure laws that drove my European ancestors off common lands they had farmed communally for more than 1,000 years. This process (which Marx refers to as “primitive accumulation”) laid the groundwork for capitalism in two important ways: 1) it allowed the accumulation of capital (ie land) to finance the industrial revolution and 2) it forced landless peasants into factories.

Part One goes on to explore how the World Bank and IMF continues to expel drive third world peoples from their communal lands, creating the largest mass migration of refugees in history. I was quite surprised to learn that communal land ownership survives intact throughout much of Africa and that women produce 80% of the continent’s food via subsistence farming.

This section also features excellent essays on the role the Chinese government has played in driving their peasant population off their communal lands – and the role of microcredit in inflicting debt on rural populations that were previously immune to the forces of globalization.

In Part Two “On the Commons,” Federici details numerous examples of third world women’s movements that are reclaiming the commons via such strategies as squatting on privatized land, urban gardening (growing crops on privatized land), time banks, savings pools, and programs to collectively undertake shopping, cooking and care of street children.

This section also offers an excellent critique of Marx’s failure to acknowledge the essential role under capitalism of the unpaid work of women and colonized peoples – nor of the degradation of the “commons” known as the environment.

The book’s final essay warns of the seductive nature of Internet technology and role it plays in distracting people from genuine face-to-face interaction that brings about real change.

Work Sucks: The Case for Quitting Your Job

The Great Everything and the Nothing

The Oumun Group (2016)

Film Review

The Great Everything and the Nothing is a semi-satirical documentary elucidating the philosophy of the Oomun Group. The latter is a loosely knit organization in the UK which advocates the formation of a new society devoid of the corrupting influence of government and money. The film is cleverly constructed by interspersing clips of group members doing random interviews on the street with those of Prince Charles, John Lennon, Ricky Gervais and other comic figures.

The video is divided into 5 parts:

Part 1 is the trailer.

Part 2 asks why human beings have created a system causing “shitloads” of unnecessary suffering. It proceeds to propose an alternative system based on self-governance.

Part 3 outlines the various crises (debt, climate, energy, food, etc) that presently confront humankind. The first half of Part 3 is excerpted from the film Money as Debt and explains how private banks create money out of thin air (ends at 13:00).

Part 4 focuses on the food and energy crises, exploring various technological innovations that could potentially resolve these crises in a society unfettered by government or money.  Specific innovations include aeroponic food production, distributed energy and the use of hemp and cannabis to replace timber, plastics, paper, leather and the poisons used in cancer chemotherapy.

Part 5 advances the premise that politicians who make war and torture people are mentally ill and should be required to undergo psychiatric treatment (in a secure facility where they can’t hurt anyone). The filmmakers believe all human beings are capable of “grotesque” actions of this nature. They also maintain that people are soft wired for engagement, belonging and attachment, needs which are easily manipulated to create phony empathy based on religion and nationalism. They assert this systematic manipulation has created a “veil” between us and reality that allows us to accept barbarism such as war, homelessness and malnutrition.

This final section also explains how the Ouman Group proposes for our current society to transition to one based on self government. Above all, they advocate for people to quit jobs that suck to actively explore other ways of meeting their basic needs (eg squatting and producing their own food and water).

Opting Out of “Market Society”

East of Bridgeway

By N8 (2015)

Film Review

East of Bridgeway is about an off-the-grid “anchor out” community of about 50 families living on boats in Sausalito Harbor and their ongoing harassment by authorities.

While boat owners are technically squatting, there’s no federal law prohibiting off shore anchorage and state and local laws are too vague to be enforceable.

Because they can’t legally evict them, Sausalito City Council periodically harasses boat owners (especially if their numbers start to exceed 50) by hiring a legal contractor to impound and crush some of their boats. At other times, the Sausalito police and Marin County sheriff set up check points to accost owners as they row out to their boats. Or they call in the Coast Guard who demand to board residents’ boats to make sure they have life vests.

Residents view Coast Guard boardings as illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Coast Guard maintains that maritime law grants them the right to board any vessel (without a warrant) in open water. However this viewpoint clearly contradicts a Supreme Court ruling in a Florida case that limits this right to vessels involved in international trade or transport.

The filmmaker intersperses snapshots of the close knit “anchor out” community with heated Sausalito City Council meetings and a TED talk on the transformation of American democracy to a “market society,” in which everything is up for sale and so-called market values dominate every aspect of life.

It’s clear that the Sausalito “anchor out” community is consciously resisting this transformation. In their view, they’re simply demanding the freedom to be themselves. One community member states this quite eloquently when he observes that liberty lies in the hearts of men and women – that it can’t be protected by the Constitution or the courts if it dies in the human heart.

 

Britain’s Squatters Movement

Give Us Space

Directed by Claudia Tomas (2015)

Film Review

Give us Space is about the grassroots movement which has formed in response to the British housing crisis. It features fascinating interviews with squatters and other housing activists. All are extremely critical of Conservative policies that make it virtually impossible for working people to find affordable housing in London.

In addition to the current recession, which has driven down wages, the mortgage/foreclosure crisis and the government sell-off of subsidized housing, British workers also confront skyrocketing house prices and rents due to speculation by foreign buyers (who purchase homes they don’t intend to live in as assets).

As one activist points out, Asian countries charge foreign buyers a 15% tax to discourage speculation in their property market. In Britain, in contrast, the government actively encourages developers to market their property to foreign buyers.

For me the most interesting part of the film was the history of Britain’s squatters movement, which first began after World War II. At the time, there were insufficient homes to accommodate soldiers returning from the front.

In 1946, squatting in vacant buildings was so widespread that the government permitted local councils to charge squatters rent.

The movement experienced a resurgence in the late sixties with the release of the Ken Loach film Cathy Come Home and again following the 2008 economic downturn.

Squatting 101

squatting

(Another post based on my research for A Rebel Comes of Age – with specific advice on how to stop your bank from foreclosing on you. A new ruling in US bankruptcy court means that roughly half the foreclosures which have occurred since 2008 are illegal.)

Squatting is becoming increasingly common with the worsening recession and continuing foreclosures and evictions. The foreclosure crisis has many US cities with whole blocks and neighborhoods of abandoned homes (which are quickly stripped of their plumbing and electrical fixtures). The problem turns out to be extremely expensive, both due to plummeting property values and tax take and higher crime rates and demand for (police and fire) services (see). Thus it’s no surprise that the city of San Diego recently sued Bank of America to stop foreclosures in their city. Prior to their recent bankruptcy proceedings, Detroit was paying people to move into abandoned homes.

The simplest form of squatting is remaining in your home when the bank or mortgage company tries to foreclose on your property. Owing to the recent scandal over illegal foreclosures, mortgagees who miss payments now have a range of legal options they can pursue (see * below).

Grassroots Remedies

Take Back the Land is a Miami-based social justice groups formed in 2006 with local action groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Madison, Toledo, Portland, Rochester, Washington DC, Atlanta and other cities. Where they can use legal means, these local groups often organize “live-ins,” moving dozens of community activists into foreclosed homes to block evictions. In several cities, Take Back the Land activists work to rehouse homeless families in abandoned foreclosed homes. Volunteers break into the houses, clean, paint, make repairs and change the locks. Then they help move homeless families into them. More often than not, getting off the streets enables homeless parents to keep and find jobs, making it possible to pay rent and move into their own place.

Hands-Off Approach by Police and Banks

For the most part neither city police nor the banks that own the homes interfere. In Miami, for example, the city takes the position that it’s the responsibility of the bank to initiate eviction proceedings. The banks who own the homes seem even less keen to eject squatter than the police. In most states, this requires initiation of formal eviction proceedings in court. Moreover banks know full well that perpetually vacant homes eventually become worthless, due to vandalism, and have to be demolished (at additional cost to the owner).

Meanwhile neighbors concerned about their property values are ecstatic to see foreclosed homes occupied and fixed up (even by squatters), as abandoned property is a magnet  for vandalism, prostitution, drug and gang activity and fires (see and)

In addition to the good work of Take Back the Land and affiliate groups, in many places homeless families are occupying foreclosed properties on their own.

The Law of Adverse Position

Things get really interesting when homeless families occupy abandoned property for five years or more (longer in some states) and attempt to claim title (ownership) under Adverse Possession laws claim title (ownership) under Adverse Possession laws. It has also opened up a lucrative market for ambitious entrepreneurs who fix up abandoned properties and rent them out to tenants. In December 2010 Mark Guerette, the owner of Saving Florida Homes, Inc pleaded no contest second degree fraud for renting out 100 foreclosed properties.

It turns out that Gurette notified all the banks who owned the vacant the homes that he was claiming them under adverse possession – and only received a response from two of them. Owing to the banks’ disinterest, the state of Florida couldn’t really charge him with trespassing. They could only charge him with fraud by finding tenants willing to testify that he had misled them. All his rental agreements included an addendum explaining that he was occupying the property via “adverse possession.” So he ended up with a slap on the wrist – two years probation and a court order not to file any “adverse possession” claims for two years.

The 1862 Homestead Act

The legal principle of “adverse possession” – the origin of the expression “possession is nine tenths of the law” – is recognized in most cultures. In the US, its basis in law dates back to the Homestead Act Abraham Lincoln signed into law in May 1862. The Act stipulated that anyone “improving” unoccupied land could fill out an application and file for a deed of title after five years. The law was abolished in 1976, except in Alaska which continued a state version of the Homestead Act until 1986.

Nevertheless common law and most states provide for a person to obtain land through use. For example, your neighbor puts a driveway between your homes to enable him to get to the rear of his property. In doing so he takes a strip of your property six feet wide. If you do nothing, your neighbor could end up owning that part of your property. In failing to challenge your neighbor with a lawsuit, you technically abandon the rights to your property. This is the foundation of adverse possession. One feature that makes squatting on foreclosure home so attractive is that it falls under civil law, rather than criminal, law. Unless you break in or damage the property in some way, the police can’t file criminal charges. Moreover the rightful homeowner has to go through a formal eviction, which can be very expensive, to get rid of squatters.

In Florida, Take Back the Land and individual squatters are utilizing an 1869 statute that says if a person takes a property (and pays property tax) and the owner does not claim the property for seven years, the squatter gets to keep the property. With the damage done to vacant homes by vandals, improving the property usually means fixing the fences, cutting the grass and repairing broken windows and doors. Requirements differ in other states, although all require you to occupy the property openly and make improvements to it. California, Nevada and Iowa are the most favorable states for squatting as they only require you to occupy property (and pay property tax) for five years before applying for a deed of title.

* Legal remedies against foreclosure:

1. MERS foreclosures

A US bankruptcy court and many states have ruled that roughly half of US mortgages are illegal and that tens of thousands of foreclosures have been fraudulently executed by Wells Fargo, J P Morgan Chase, Bank of America (and other banks), Fannie Mae.

Prior to the 2008 meltdown, mortgages were traded and changed hands so frequently that banks simply registered them with the Mortgage Electronic Recording Service (MERS), rather than executing a title transfer. State lending laws specify that only that actual owner of a mortgage can initiate foreclosure action. In many cases banks are filing fraudulent court documents alleging that they own the loans, when they are merely servicing them on behalf of the lender.

Home owners threatened with foreclosure need to immediately do a Securitization Audit to determine who actually owns the mortgage and deed (and is legally entitled to foreclose).

2. Predatory mortgage loans

Mortgagees victimized by predatory mortgage loans (tricked into accepting mortgages they can’t possibly repay) can request Forensic Loan Document Review. There are federal laws that protect against predatory lending, which you can use to force the bank to negotiate.

3. Fraudulent mortgage charges

Also Bank of America was caught in a related scam in which they were adding backdated insurance charges to mortgage payments to push mortgagees who missed payments into foreclosure. This means it’s essential to check your mortgage statement for unexplained charges.

4. Chapter 13 bankruptcy

Families may be able to save their homes from foreclosure by filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

photo credit: gruntzooki via photopin cc

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351