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“NO YOU CAN’T OBAMA!” – AN INTERVIEW WITH THE NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF THE NOBAMA COALITION, COMRADE MBUYISENI NDLOZI

June 26, 2013 | UhuruSpirit

Comrade Mbuyeseni Ndlozi, the National Coordinator of the Nobama Campaign



Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America has embarked on his Africa Tour today. The trip will see him first travel to Senegal. From Senegal he will move to South Africa on Friday. Obama will then leave South Africa for Tanzania, where his trip will come to an end.

In South Africa, the Obama trip has generated quite a lot of dust. The government is apparently excited about it - seeing the visit as an opportunity to strengthen trade relations with the United States of America. But there are those who view the Obama visit as an anathema and are very ready to antagonize it.

The “No You Can’t Obama Coalition” otherwise known as the Nobama Coalition can best be described as one of the biggest coalitions to emerge in South Africa since the “miraculous” breakthrough in 1994. It includes progressive forces of various ideological persuasions, religious organizations, workers, young people, students and a variety of activists from the civil society community. It is their plan to pay America and President Obama in their coin during his stay in South Africa.

Here, we speak with Comrade Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, the national coordinator of the coalition for an update on the upcoming national protests against the Obama visit.

UhuruSpirit: Please, tell us about what you are doing presently, as well as your involvement in South Africa’s Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

Cde. Ndlozi: I am at the University of Witwatersrand. I am doing my doctoral studies in politics. I am currently the national campaigner in Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) against Israel. In the past, I have been active in the ANC Youth League. I am a member of the South African Students Congress (SASCO), and Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA). I have been active within the Students Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Witwatersrand and the post-graduate association.

UhuruSpirit: What are the Organizations involved in the Nobama Coalition?

Cde. Ndlozi: The organizations involved are South African Communist Party (SACP), National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU), National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Chemical Energy Paper Print and Wood Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU), Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA), South African Students’ Congress (SASCO), Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA), Palestine Solidarity (PS), World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), Workers International Vanguard Party (WIVL), Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and many others.

UhuruSpirit: When is Obama arriving in South Africa?

Cde. Ndlozi: He is expected to arrive on Friday, the 28 of June.

UhuruSpirit: Tell us about the Pretoria protest.

Cde. Ndlozi: We are marching on June 28 from Caledonian Sports Field in Pretoria to the United States of America embassy. We will converge at the Caledonian Sports Field at 10 am and depart at 11am and hopefully start our program at the embassy at 12:30.

UhuruSpirit: Barack Obama is America’s first Black President. One would have expected the people of South Africa to welcome him with celebrations since he will be visiting the country for the first time after his historic election in 2008. Why is he being received with so much antagonism?

Cde. Ndlozi: It has to do with the actions of the United States – their foreign policies. There are several issues that we are raising. The implication of the United States in the only remaining colony in Africa – Western Sahara; the exorbitant and extravagant support that the United States gives to the apartheid regime of Israel in its oppression of the Palestinian people; the Cuban 5 who are being illegally detained in the United States and also the baseless economic embargo on the people of Cuba; the refusal of the United States to sign the Kyoto protocol and thereby constituting a danger to our environment; militarization of international relations and actions of the United States companies that continue to guzzle, particularly, Africa’s resources.

These are questions that are central to the campaign and they are reasons why we have to antagonize Obama’s visit.

President Obama came into office after almost a decade of George Bush’s leadership, which had basically left the United States morally bankrupt in terms of its reputation in the world. The rise of Obama – the first African-American President – to the helm of American society was something that indeed began to shift our relationship with the United States in a sentimental way. Thus, the U.S. had an opportunity to redefine its moral reputation in the world. Also, President Obama came with a lot of promises of change in order to re-construct how the peoples of the world relate to the United States, which had been aggressive, bossy, and arrogant.

Obama had promised to end the wars in the Middle East and to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But there has been an escalation of instability and war, rather. The United States never welcomed the Arab Spring – what came to be known as the Democratic Movement. The first attitude of the United States to these movements was negative. But they later opportunistically exploited the same Arab Spring against their longtime enemy - Muammar Gaddafi. Today, Libya is in disarray. So, under Obama, we have seen that the United States seeming consistently to choose war, the escalation of drone attacks among others.

We got to raise these issues because as Africans the oppressed peoples of the world are our first friends.

UhuruSpirit: President Jacob Zuma recently said that Obama’s visit is good for South Africa. Do you agree with him?

Cde. Ndlozi: I think there is obviously something about the ways in which The United States trade policies. Of course, I think that from that perspective that the president is speaking from, you would have to say that it’s good because Obama is his guest. However, we believe that South Africa’s friendship with anyone in the world needs to be coordinated in terms of the values of our constitution – respect for human rights; freedom, justice and equality; non-sexism and non-racialism. But the United States is going all over the world undermining them! So we have got to, in the main, refuse the continuous usage of South Africa as a semi-imperialist power for global capital – especially Western capital – to wallop the continent.

Therefore, one of the objectives of this protest is to raise these concerns to our government.

UhuruSpirit: We understand that Ahmed Kathrada –an anti-apartheid icon – will be escorting Obama when he visits the Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent part of his 27 years in prison. Won’t that undermine what you are trying to achieve with the protests?

Cde. Ndlozi: We have been approached by the Kathrada Foundation. We are in private talks at the moment to try and formulate an intelligent position on this matter. Ahmed Kathrada is our comrade. He is one of the Robben Islanders that put themselves out there on these important questions of international solidarity that we are raising. We will be taking a formal position on Friday around how to deal with the matter if indeed he will be taking Obama there. But obviously, the principle of our position is that we will have to reject that he should escort Obama to the Robben Island.

UhuruSpirit: Many people perceive and have even voiced out concerns that the Nobama Coalition is, in the main, a pro-Muslim group, whose aim is merely to embarrass Obama in South Africa. They say that Muslims in South Africa are behind these protests. How do you respond?

Cde. Ndlozi: Of course, there is validity to the suffering of Muslims in the world. The Muslims are not behind, they are in the forefront. We have to be able to affirm Muslim identity. Obama himself once attended a Muslim school and there is nothing wrong with that. If the United States was going around demonizing Christians, I believe Christians would be at the forefront. If the U.S. was going around demonizing Rastafarians, I think the Rastafarians would be in the forefront. The truth is that the so-called WAR ON TERROR has demonized the Muslim people. If you are a Muslim yourself, you will feel the weight of antagonism in the public platforms of the United States, where the War on Terror treats Muslim all the time with suspicion.

So, of course, it’s not Muslim qua Muslim. But at the forefront there are trade union movements as well. The United States type of trade policies has led the world into the economic crisis that we find ourselves in. We have got to be able to see that the big organizations that are at the forefront here are trade unions. It is not surprising that communists are also at the forefront, given the way the communist identity has continued to be demonized by the United States. In the past, communists were treated the same way that Muslims are treated today by the United States. Those at the forefront are the most affected by the various nefarious actions of the United States. Therefore, we won’t be apologizing that Muslims are concerned about the way they are demonized by the United States of America.

UhuruSpirit: We are bothered that the ANC does not feature in the list of those that are taking part in these protests. Didn’t you invite them?

Cde. Ndlozi: The ANC’s International Relations Sub-Committee, in particular, was invited. I think, probably, it’s an ambiguity that, as a government, President Obama is their guest. So I think that is the reason they don’t want to be completely out there. But the resolutions of Mangaung have spoken on these issues that we are raising and definitely we cannot doubt ANC’s support. Probably, they have chosen a board-room approach.

UhuruSpirit: Who are some of the “big speakers” that will be addressing the protests?

Cde. Ndlozi: The speaking list, at the moment, is something I can’t concretely and confidently speak on. But the two names that have definitely confirmed are the 2nd Deputy General Secretary of the SACP, Cde. Solly Afrika Mapaila, and the National Secretary of the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) Cde. Buti Manamela. We are still expecting a name from COSATU, NEHAWU, NUMSA and other organizations that are part of this campaign.

UhuruSpirit: Similar events are happening in Cape Town. I believe you are in touch with the people in Cape Town?

Cde. Ndlozi: Yes, we are in touch with comrades in Cape Town. We are having protests in Cape Town on Wednesday (26 June) and Thursday (27 June), from 12 noon to 14h00.

UhuruSpirit: The Muslim Lawyers Association (MLA) called for Obama to be arrested when he comes into South Africa. What do you think about that call since the MLA is one of the organizations in your coalition?

Cde. Ndlozi: Of course, that is the call of the coalition. We have to test it because there are those who don’t seem to be subjected to the statues that are governing international relations. Obama needs to be held responsible for the loss of innocent lives associated with the drone attacks. He cannot continue to hold people in Guantanamo Bay without charging them. He says they are dangerous, but he doesn’t have, as it were, any charges. It’s an assault on basic human freedoms, and I think that’s what the MLA’s case is about.

UhuruSpirit: The University of Johannesburg will also be conferring an honorary doctor of law degree on Obama when he is in South Africa. Tell us why you oppose that move?

Cde. Ndlozi: The significance of an honorary doctorate is to identify an individual who does not have a PhD, but has significantly contributed to the field in question. We are saying “No!” Obama’s administration has actually not advanced the rule of law. How is the United States subjected to the rule of law? There is no rule of law when it comes to the U.S. – it does as it pleases. So, we disagree, substantially. But we also disagree because we view this as a publicity stunt. Why doesn’t the University of Johannesburg go to Soweto, in its Soweto campus, and give honorary doctor of law to the heroes of 1976? Why doesn’t it give it to those people if it cares so much of honouring people that have made great contributions in the world? Perhaps, it is so desperate to prove to the rest of us that it is a post-racial university that it fetches someone at the helm of the United States society to feed into the symbolic value that people think Obama holds. We disagree on that. Lastly, we think it was not consulted enough. This is the basis upon which we disagree with this conferment.

UhuruSpirit: And what are you going to do about that?

Cde. Ndlozi: We will be demonstrating on Saturday, the 29th of June, at the Soweto Campus. Big demonstration … bigger that Pretoria!

UhuruSpirit: Obama will be awarded the Freedom of the City in Cape Town. Any plans to counter that? Cde. Ndlozi: Like I said before, we are also protests in Cape Town on Wednesday (June 26) and Thursday (June 27), from 12 noon to 14h00, to deal with the one in Cape Town.

UhuruSpirit: Thank Comrade Ndlozi for your time and good luck with the protests.

Cde. Ndlozi: Thank you.

For more information about Nobama Coalition protests, call the following people:

Lucian Segami (NEHAWU): 079 522 0098

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (BDS-SA): 073 133 3012

Richard Mamabolo (YCLSA): 079 670 0274

Shaheed Mahomed (WIVL) Cape Town: 082 202 0617



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