And thank you to everyone who came out this evening. This is an important meeting, in a sense, a major beginning. And I’m happy to see that so many people who are already involved in the campaign against G4S are present this evening as well. You inspire us to continue to work.
I was first asked to participate in this meeting, highlighting the importance of boycotting the transnational security corporation G4S. I could not have known that this meeting would coincide with the death and memorialization of Nelson Mandela. And as I reflect on the legacies of struggle we associate with Mandela, I cannot help but recall the struggles that helped to forge the victory of his freedom, and thus the arena on which South African apartheid was dismantled.
And as a result, I remember Ruth First and Joe Slovo, and I remember Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki, and Oliver Thambo and Chris Hani and so many others who are no longer with us. In keeping with Mandela’s insistence of always locating himself within a context of collective struggle, it is fitting, I think, to evoke the names of others who played such an important role in the destruction of apartheid.
And while it is moving to witness the unanimous and continued outpouring of praise for Nelson Mandela, I think we should also question the meaning of this sanctification.
I know that he himself would have insisted on not being elevated to a kind of secular sainthood, as a single individual, but would have always claimed space for his comrades in the struggle, and in this way would have seriously challenged the process of sanctification. He was indeed extraordinary, but as an individual he was especially remarkable because he railed against the individualism that would have singled him out at the expense of those who are always at his side.
And I think that his profound individuality resided precisely in his critical refusal to embrace the individualism that is such a central ideological component of neoliberalism. And so therefore I want to take the opportunity to thank the countless numbers of people here in the UK, including the many then-exiled members of the ANC and the South African communist party who built a really powerful and exemplary anti-apartheid movement in this country.
Having traveled here on numerous occasions during the 1970s and 1980s to participate in a whole number of anti-apartheid events, I thank the women and men who were as unwavering in their commitment to freedom as was Nelson Mandela. And I’d like to say that participation in these solidarity movements here in the UK was so central to my own political formation, perhaps even more central than the movements that saved my life.
And so as I mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, I offer my deep gratitude to all of those who kept the anti-apartheid struggle alive for so many decades, for all the decades that it took to finally rid the world of apartheid. And I would like to evoke the spirit of the South African constitution and its opposition to racism and anti-Semitism, as well as to sexism and homophobia.
This is the context within which I would like to join with you once more to intensify campaigns against another regime of apartheid, and in solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people. As Nelson Mandela said, we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.
Mandela’s political development took place within the context of an internationalism that always urged us to make connections among freedom struggles, between the black struggle in the southern United States and the African liberation movements, for example, conducted by of course the ANC in South Africa but also the MPLA in Angola, and Swapo in Namibia and Frelimo in Mozambique and PAIGC in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde. And those solidarities were not only among people of African descent, but with Asian and Latin American struggles as well, ongoing solidarity with the Cuban revolution. And of course solidarity with the people who were struggling against US military aggression in Vietnam.
And so, almost a half century later, we have inherited the legacies of those solidarities, however well or badly specific struggles may have tuned out, the solidarities were what produced hope and inspiration. And helped to create real conditions to move forward.
So now we’re confronted with the task of assisting our sisters and brothers in Palestine, as they battle against Israeli apartheid. Their struggles have many similarities with those against South African apartheid. One of the most salient being the ideological condemnation of their freedom efforts under the rubrick of terrorism. And I understand that evidence is being made available that indicates that historical collaboration between the CIA — well, we knew the CIA collaborated with the South African apartheid regime — but it appears that it was a CIA agent who gave South African authorities the location of Nelson Mandela’s whereabouts in 1962, and that led directly to his capture and imprisonment.
And it wasn’t until the year 2008 — that’s like five years ago, right? — that his name was taken off of the “terrorist watch list.” When George W. Bush — maybe you remember him — signed a bill that finally removed him and other members of the ANC from the list … in other words, when Mandela visited the US on several occasions after his release in 1990, he was still on the terrorist list, and there had to be — the requirement that he was banned from the US had to be expressly waived.
The point that I’m making is that for a very long time, he and his comrades shared the same status as numerous Palestinians today. And as the US explicitly collaborated with the South African apartheid government, it supported and continues to support the Israeli occupation of Palestine, currently in the form of over $8.5 million a day in military aid. The occupation would not be possible without the collaboration of the US government. And that is one of the messages we need to send to Barack Obama.
It is an honor to participate in this meeting, especially as one of the members of the International Political Prisoners’ Committee that was just recently formed in Cape Town, and also as a member of the jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.
And of course I’d like to thank War on Want for sponsoring this meeting. And SOAS, and particularly the progressive element here for making it possible for us to be here this evening.
This evening’s gathering specifically focuses on the importance on expanding the BDS movement — the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has been crafted in accordance of the powerful movement of the anti-apartheid movement with respect to South Africa.
While there are numerous trans-national corporations which have been identified as targets of the boycott — Veolia, for example, and I know you know Veolia pretty well here — there’s SodaStream, and and Ahava, and Caterpillar, and Boeing and Hewlett-Packard, and I could go on and on but I’ll stop there, and I will also say that G4S is especially important because it participates blatantly, directly, openly in the maintenance and reproduction of repressive apparatuses in Palestine. We’re talking about prisons and checkpoints and the apartheid wall.
G4S represents the growing insistence on what is called “security” under the neoliberal state. And of course Gina presented a critique of that notion of security by suggesting that feminist alternatives may be helpful as we attempt to re-conceptualize what security should mean. The ideologies of security represented by G4S bolster not only the privatization of security but the privatization of imprisonment, the privatization of warfare as well, the privatization of health care and the privatization of education.
G4S is responsible for the repressive treatment of political prisoners inside Israel, and through the organization Addameer, which is directed by Sahar Francis, who’s absolutely amazing, and some of you may have had the opportunity to hear her. But she travels all over the country and she and her organization, Addameer, provide us with information about what is happening both inside the prisons and outside.
We’ve learned about the terrifying universe of torture and imprisonment that is faced by so many Palestinians, but we’ve also learned about their spirit of resistance, we’ve learned about their hunger strikes and other forms of resistance that continue to take place behind the walls.
I think that Rafeef may have pointed out that G4S is the third-largest private corporation in the world. What is the first? What is the largest private corporation in the world? It’s Wal-Mart. And the number two is FoxConn, which produces devices like iPads, et cetera, et cetera. So I was looking at the website of G4S. It’s really interesting to look at their self-representation. And they point out all of the things they protect. And among all of the objects of their protection are rock stars and sports stars, and people and property. I’m reading directly from their website: “from insuring that travelers have a safe and pleasant experience at ports and airports around the world … to secure detention and escorting of people who are not lawfully entitled to remain in a country.”
They tell you exactly what they’re doing. And again I’m quoting: “in more ways than you might realize … G4S is securing your world.” And we might add: in more ways that we might realize, G4S has insinuated itself into our lives under the guise of security and the security state, from the ways that Palestinians experience political incarceration and torture to racist technologies of separation and apartheid, from the wall in Israel to prison-like schools and the wall along the US-Mexico border.
G4S-Israel has brought sophisticated technologies of control to HaSharon prison, which includes children among its detainees, and Dimona prison, which incarcerates women as well, but let’s look for a moment at the extent to which G4S is also involved in the what we might call the larger prison industrial complex. And I’m not referring to its involvement in prisons — it runs and owns and operates private prisons all over the world, and if I still have time later I’ll talk about that, but I’m actually talking about schools.
In the US, schools, particularly in poor communities, in poor communities of color, are so thoroughly entangled in this prison industrial complex that sometimes we have a hard time distinguishing between schools and jails. Schools look like jails, and they use the same technologies of detection and they use oftentimes the same law enforcement officials. We have elementary schools in the US whose halls are actually patrolled by armed officers.
And as a matter of fact, a recent trend has been to arm the teachers. Particularly by school districts that cannot afford G4S. So if they cannot afford private security, then they teach their teachers how to shoot and give them guns. I kid you not.
If you look at a website that is entitled “great schools,” and you look up a school in Florida that’s called the Central Pasco Girls’ Academy in Land-o-Lakes, Florida, you will only learn that it’s a small alternative public school. But if you look at the “facilities” page of the G4S website, you will discover this entry: Central Pasco Girls’ Academy serves moderate risk females aged 13-18 who have been assessed as needing intensive mental health services. And they go on to write about the way in which they use “gender-responsive services.” And that they address sexual abuse and substance abuse, et cetera.
Now, the reach of the prison industrial complex is far beyond the prison itself. And in that context, we might also think about other ways in which a firm like G4S is complicit with other aspects of Israel’s system of apartheid. And the fact that it provides equipment and services to the checkpoints. And it provides services that refer to part of the route of the illegal wall, and so forth and so on. And it’s interesting that we see G4S along the wall in Israel, but we also see G4S providing transportation for deportees — and I’ll talk about the UK in a moment — but I’m referring now to the transportation services that are used to usher undocumented immigrants from the US to Mexico, thus colluding with the repressive immigration legislation and the practices inside the US.
But of course, it was here, in the UK, where one of the most egregious acts of repression took place in the course of the transportation of an undocumented person. The last time I was in London, which actually wasn’t that long ago, it was in October, and I had the opportunity to meet with Deborah Coles, who is a director at Inquest, and she told me about the case of Jimmy Mubenga, the inquest that happened last summer. And she explained how he had died, and this technique that was used by G4S employees to prevent his voice from being heard as he was being deported on a British Airways plane. And apparently he was handcuffed behind his back, he had his seatbelt on, and he was pushed by G4S people against the seat in front of him in what they called a “karaoke carpet,” that is to say he would have to sing into the carpet of the seat in front of him.
It’s incredible, isn’t it, that they have this term for this form — apparently it was not supposed to be legal, but they were using it anyway — and he was restrained in that way for something like 40 minutes, and no one intervened. And of course by the time there was an attempt to give him first aid, he was dead.
And I think this egregious treatment of undocumented immigrants from the US to the UK compels us to make connections with Palestinians who are transformed into immigrants, into undocumented immigrants, on their own land. On their own land. And companies like G4S provide the technical means of carrying out this process.
And then of course G4S is involved in the operation of prisons all over the world, including South Africa. And the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU, recently spoke out against G4S which runs a correctional center in the free state. Apparently, the occasion was the firing of something like 300 members of the police union because they went on strike. And let me read a brief passage from the COSATU statement: “G4S’ modus operandi is indicative of two of the most worrying aspects of neoliberal capitalism and Israeli apartheid — the ideology of ‘security’ and the increasing privatization of what have been traditionally state-run sectors. Security in this context does not imply security for everyone. But rather, when one looks at the major clients of G4S security, banks, governments, corporations, et cetera, it becomes evident that when G4S says it is ‘securing your world,’ as the company’s slogan goes, it is referring to a world of exploitation, repression, occupation and racism.”
When I traveled to Palestine two years ago, and Gina pointed out that it was with a delegation of indigenous and women of color scholar-activists, it was actually the first trip, the first visit to Palestine for all of us. And most of us had been involved for many years in Palestine solidarity work. But we were all totally shocked by the blatant nature of the repression associated with settler-colonialism. The Israeli military made no attempt to conceal or even mitigate the character of the violence they were charged with inflicting on Palestinian people.
Gun-carrying military men and women were everywhere. And some of them looked like they were only 13 years old. I know, when you get older, they look younger. But these were really young people walking around with huge guns. It was — I experienced it as a kind of nightmare. How can this be possible? The wall, the concrete and the razor wire everywhere conveyed the impression that we were in prison. We were already in prison. And of course, as far as Palestinians were concerned, one mis-step and that person could be arrested and hauled off to prison. From an open-air prison to a closed prison.
G4S, it seems to me, represents these carceral trajectories that are so obvious in Palestine, but that increasingly characterize the profit-driven moves of transnational corporations associated with the rise of mass incarceration in the US and in the world.
In the US, there are some 2.5 million people in our country’s jails and prisons and military prisons, and jails in Indian country, and immigrant detention centers — on any given day, that is to say, there are 2.5 million people, approximately. It’s a daily census, so it doesn’t reflect the numbers of people who go through the system every week, or every month, or every year.
The majority of those people are people of color. The fastest-growing sector consists of women, women of color. Many prisoners are queer, and trans — as a matter of fact, trans people of color are the group most likely to be arrested and imprisoned. Racism provides the fuel for the maintenance, reproduction and expansion of the prison industrial complex. And so, if we say, as we do, abolish the prison industrial complex, we should also say abolish apartheid. And end the occupation of Palestine.
When we have, in the States, described the segregation in occupied Palestine, that so clearly mirrors the historical apartheid of racism in the southern United States of America, especially when we talk about this to black people, the response is often “why hasn’t anyone told us about this before? Why hasn’t anyone told us about the signs in occupied Palestine? And about the segregated express auto-highways? Why hasn’t anyone told us this before?”
And so, just as we say “never again” with the respect to the fascism that produced the Holocaust, we should also say “never again” with respect to apartheid, in the southern US. But that means, first and foremost, that we will have to expand and deepen our solidarities with the people of Palestine. People of all genders and sexualities. People inside and outside prison walls. Inside and outside the apartheid wall.
Boycott G4S, support BDS, and finally, Palestine will be free. Thank you.