We are all here because he was there – Remembering Sivanandan

The following is a transcript of MRN Chair Wayne Farah’s speech at an event celebrating the legacy of anti-racist intellectual and activist A. Sivanandan. The event, organised by the Institute of Race Relations, was filmed in full and is available to watch at the bottom of this post. 

“Thank you everyone at the Institute of Race Relations who have brought us all here because he was there.

What to say about a man who made sense of every case, every cause, and every campaign that has defined me? 

Because as Siva taught – who you are is defined by what you do, and who you and what you transpire in the course of struggle. Siva was my unfailing guide to the terrain and methods of struggle. 

They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this as in so many ways Siva was the exception that proved the rule.

My overriding memory of my first meeting with Siva, is how nervous and prepared I was for serious scrutiny, but not his caustic wit and dry humour, that left me relived to get out of the room before I wet myself laughing.  It also left me with little job to do with a housing association – more of which later.

I also remember hesitantly making my way to one of the institutes infamous Christmas parties, dreading the well-deserved telling off for a now forgotten indiscretion that I knew was coming. Wayne you bugger where have you been boomed Siva, as I entered the room. A swift embrace, a genuine welcome, the telling off reserved for a quitter moment. That was Siva, a man who could tell you off, set you straight, and lift you up, all at once.

Then there was Siva the star, whose reputation and solidarity could make things happen. Once when I was trying to organise a commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act I was getting little support. Siva has agreed to be the key note speaker, was all I had to say to win the support of those I needed to make it happen.

But above all I will remember Siva the orator.

I first heard him deliver one of his inimitable speeches on 11 November 1989. The east is dissolving in to the West, he declared. Technology is unleashing “new circuits of imperialism” that will create new migrants and refugees and give rise to new “racisms” and modes of state repression he prophesised. So we have to get ready for the next phase of the struggle and we old immigrants must find new ways to build solidarity with the new immigrants he demanded. 

I remembered those words years later when I went to talk with him about creating the Migrants Rights Network. As always his testing and probing forced us to refine our thinking. MRN a small part of his legacy, because it built unashamedly on his analysis of the nexus of immigration control and institutional racism, that foresaw the “hostile environment”.

In conclusion, I just want to say something about that little job with the housing association. Siva introduced me to Arhag, the African Refugee Housing Action Group to help them secure there first to 2 short life properties in the local authority where I worked. Today, in accordance with Siva’s demand for self-help and self-organisation and solidarity, we provide over 900 hundred homes to migrants and refugees from across the globe. In December, we will open a new independent, self-financed community hub that will provide a home for a range of migrant community organisations and services.

Jenny, and all at the institute, we hope you will join us in honouring Siva at the launch of the hub, and work with us to name a development in his honour. So that alongside the Sivanandan institute of race relations we can create a solid memorial that will not melt in to air.  

Thank You”

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