Published on 23 June 2005
Translations available in: Español (original) . français .

Re-enchanting the World

by Gustavo MARIN
Associated Central Topics: Governance, Human Rights, and responsibility .
Associated General Topics: Cross-cultural . Culture . Ethics .

Reflection and Proposals on Globalisation

Latin American Meeting on Culture, Ethics and Responsibility
Santiago, January 17 2005

Paper by Gustavo Marin•,
at a Latin American Meeting
On Culture, Ethics and Responsibility [1]
Santiago, January 17 2005

Fifty years ago, in 1955, Nelson Mandela and those who were in the liberation movement with him held the Congress of the People in Kliptown, a poor neighbourhood located in Cape City. About 3000 South African people attended and there they wrote down the Freedom Charter. At the beginning of the Charter they stated: We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people…
Mandela and his fellow activists were being followed and harassed by the apartheid regime’s agents. However the sad contradiction was that the attempt to kill Mandela was performed by militants of Black Awareness, one of the groups present at the Kliptown meeting. What they could not tolerate was the first article of the Freedom Charter, which stated that South Africa not only belonged to Black but also to Whites.

Regardless of the pressure to withdraw from this inclusive position and restrict the Charter statement to black South Africans, Mandela stuck to that statement. He remained 27 years as a prisoner of the apartheid ruled by whites, yet today the first article of South African Constitution says the same thing as Mandela’s original statement.

I chose to begin my paper quoting the first article of Freedom Charter, written 50 years ago, because it shows us many lessons for us nowadays.

The first lesson is that South Africa, dominated by the apartheid regime belonged to everyone, that it belongs to whites too. That was the decisive statement about societies being plural, multicultural and diverse as a basis for unity.

The second lesson shows us the genius of the strategy carried through by Mandela and his followers: this recalling of diversity made it possible to isolate, neutralize and defeat apartheid, by using civil and armed struggle which was sustained until Mandela’s electoral victory only 10 years ago in 1994.

Mandela and his followers were aware that under the apartheid regime, blacks were considered as inferior to whites to the extent of being held in contempt by the white regime and treated inhumanely. Those who were the dominators could not be compared with the dominated, because of their perceived inequality, in the sense that whites and blacks were not considered as being of the same order. A parallel in our current societies might be that one cannot compare or equate an Intruder and the Intruded; nor is someone who tortures comparable with someone who is tortured.

Mandela and those who shared the struggle to bring down apartheid may not have envisaged working together with the dominators who had created the apartheid regime, but when they stated that South Africa belonged to everybody, including whites, they began to cut down the branch on which the apartheid regime had been sitting.

Stating that diversity and plurality are the ground for unity is a very revolutionary and freedom loving assertion, which can set in motion a powerful social movement in order to change society and its political regime.

In this first article of Freedom Charter, the inclusive statement of diverse peoples all belonging to South Africa is given the first place because Mandela and other leaders thought unity was the greatest priority: they were aware when diversity is pushed to the extreme points, society can become dislocated and divided into separate trenches which can be the bases for nationalistic and fundamentalist ideas. There can be groups claiming that a single people or group or nation or party has been chosen to impose its will over others.

This Charter was written by more than 3000 people in a poor neighbourhood in South Africa. It is called a Freedom Charter because when human beings face domination, their first wish is to search for freedom from oppression.

Today at the beginning of the 21st Century, countries beyond South Africa, as well as fellow human beings throughout the world keep on struggling for justice and freedom. They are again caught between the sword and the wall, or to say it in more modern terms, between a tank and the wall.

In this era the struggle has taken a new dimension - it is shaped by neo-liberal globalization. The kind of globalization we are living today, ruled by an imperial power, is unbearable. That feeling is experienced not only on behalf of those impoverished youth in Arabian and Muslim countries who form groups which then become engaged in making attacks; the feeling is also on behalf of every woman and man just wanting to be free.

This new face of the Empire is hegemonized by conservative American people. We know it is an empire nurtured from technological change, jumping from crisis to crisis. The casualties generated by the empire are greater than people dying from seaquakes and other natural cataclysms. Poverty, social exclusion, and new illnesses are killing more children and people than those caused by natural disasters.

We know this is an empire whose notion of politic action is making war.

But we must not hide another typical feature of the phase in which we are living: Islamic groups keep on preparing and making attacks. These attacks happen mainly in the United States, Europe, Arabian countries and some Asian countries. But globalization may push the wave of attacks to all regions in the world.

The new war procedures carried out by Imperialist countries is not only the strategy of unpredictable attacks: these strategies are even more insidious because they extend to being entwined with mafia networks involving drugs, children, women and men migrating by millions in search of better horizons for their everyday lives.

Amongst large and small cities in all continents there are true social wars which are a permanent proof of social exclusion. Social wars are evidence of severe social and economic disparities; they are testimony to disadvantage which boils over in disruption to life in society.

How can we get out of being between the tank and the wall?

When in 1955 the Freedom Charter appeared, the so called Cold War was starting. For decades, the conflicts between Cold War’s Great Powers dominated the world stage and provided clear borders, the parameters of international conflict. For decades also, words similar to the Freedom Charter were the inspiration for liberation movements in Africa, Asia, Latin America and movements born in Europe and the States in solidarity with the people of the South. .

Berlin’s wall fell in 1989. Most of all Mandela’s victory in 1994 gave enormous inspiration and made us think for a while that world governance through the United Nations would make it possible for different countries to have their conflicts regulated thanks to multilateral agreements. Today we have learned that unilateralism and the logic of war continue to prevail There’s a feeling of despondence that the so long wished for United Nations’ reforms will probably be useless. Besides that, those reforms will not be adequate to meet the real challenges of world governance and they will stand far behind meeting the real needs of nations and peoples.

History has taught us that Empires fall and that after the rise there is a fall. But also history teaches us that many years and even centuries may go by until an Empire falls.

But nowadays a different dimension of activity and thought has emerged. It is neither a tank nor a wall, but it is between them. It is coming from civil society, or better, social movements created by the possibilities of the globalized context and in response to neo-liberal globalization. These are opening new trends, new visions, new alliances, which have in mind responsibility for the earth, the solidarity of peoples as well as the fall of the Empire. Political parties and social unions will keep on doing their job, and the systems of representation will keep on supporting many parties and religious institutions. But the new globalization requires new ways of working to give expression to the new social movements.

Among these new ways, citizens alliances and various social forums, including the World Social Forum are indeed important parts of another type of globalization.

I will close by talking about three features of these new alliances and forums.

a) First, they are building a new social and political geometry. Something big may belong along with something small, and the last can come in first. For instance, the Chilean Social Forum is one of the most recent events of that type. Methods used in this forum are based on the learnings and experiences taken from the first Porto Alegre Forum in 2001; learnings and experiences about taking proposals that arise from every grass roots group. Those who go last can be the first. The idea of vanguard is clearly obsolete.

b) The second feature present in citizens alliances and social forums is their search for transversality and their attempts to take account of complexity. Today we already know that our neighbour also has good ideas, and we know that in order to get stronger, we must support and reinforce each other, and step out of isolated compartments. We know being plural makes unity stronger. It is fine to be specialized in an issue, but only the whole, all the different entrepreneurs standing together makes social movements powerful.

In Porto Alegre there will be more than 2500 activities, self-made and involving 11 issues or themes, which range from sharing of resources to world governance. The issues, themes and activities include art, mass media, diversity, human rights, solidarity economics, ethics, social struggles and peace. This World Social Forum and the next ones (afterwards the Forum will be located in other regions, in Morocco, in Venezuela, then somewhere in Africa beyond southern Sahara, and someday in China) will have to be able to answer the questions about how we will make it possible to build "another possible world", how we will be able to build a new globalization, a globalization that is built to a human scale, and is measured by regard for life and the earth.

c) the third feature of these alliances and forum is the awareness of how unpredictable the future is. Latin Americans already know Machado’s poem sang by Joan Manuel Serrat "There is not a way for a walker, you make your way when you walk". We citizens of the world are aware that intercultural dialogue needs time. Words have different meanings for every people, and the same words are different for different generations of the same people.

We can not predict the future, but our adventure is full of meaning. Living in this time we have no certainties about when the Empire will come to an end. Surely whatever comes afterwards will be different to everything we are thinking about now. But those of us who keep on walking in search of a humanized globalization are also assuming the responsibility of re-enchanting the world.

We are doing it not just because we believe in a romantic dream. We are sure the dream we share will be realized someday. This is the same feeling Mandela had that day in June 1955 when he and his friends were writing the Freedom Charter. They were sure some day they would be able to knock down the system of apartheid. Mandela was voted for by South African people in 1994. It only took them 40 years. He was chosen by South Africans, Blacks and Whites.

Thank you.

[1] organized by The Latin American Network of Popular Theatre with the support of the University Silva Henriquez and the Corporation AYUN


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