June 25, 2004

Hi Bye

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. Work has been pretty hectic and I’m now off to Durban and East London (EL rocks!) for two weeks. I’ll try and post from there, but don’t expect too much.

Catcha lata.

June 19, 2004

Stupid White People

Last week, Fodder provided this link to the website of some very stupid white people. I went to the site and my blood boiled. There is very little in the world that ticks me off as much as racist White Africans who get enjoyment out of slagging off their country and continent (or former country as is often the case). If they hate the place and the people so much, why don’t they just not associate themselves with it? – a solution that I think everyone would prefer as they are an embarrassment to our country. All I can say to those stupid white people is “Bugger off and stay there, we don’t want you”.

June 13, 2004

Land redistribution and the US black diaspora

A couple of days ago, Rethabile linked to an article on land redistribution in South Africa written in American back rights magazine, "Black America Today". I’ve had a look at it and have a couple of comments. At first glance it looks pretty outrageous – it seems that South Africa is doing terribly badly on the issue of land redistribution and is on the brink of Zimbabwe-style land invasions.

I had a closer look at the numbers and, surprisingly enough, they seem to be correct. They have, however, been presented in a very biased and misleading way. Firstly, the land that they are talking about is only that land that is disputed and has claims against it. The South African government has been very cautious with its land distribution policy. There is provision in the law for expropriating private farmland, but it is rarely used for fear of causing panic in the agricultural sector and in the South African economy as a whole. The government has up until now operated on a "willing buyer, willing seller" basis. They have only expropriated land in the most contentious of cases – only around 2% of the cases thus far. As the article rightly says, "The enforced selling law is only expected to be used in about 5 to 10 percent of claims..".

As far as the later statistics go, they talk about the government promising to redistribute 30% of farmland (as opposed to all land). It is not clear whether the 2% that has been handed over is all land, or just the contested farmland. The fact that 90% of the contested farmland (again this is not clear) is still owned by whites is a bit misleading as well. It is not due to failure of the redistribution programme, but rather the way in which the system works. Apartheid resulted in 100% of farmland being owned by whites or the (white) state. When it came to addressing this, blacks who had been forced off their land were given the option of submitting a land claim or a claim for compensation. It is my understanding that many people opted for compensation as it is far easier to resolve.

The South African government is well aware of the contribution that commercial farming makes to the economy and the food security of the country; they are understandably reluctant to disrupt this. At the same time they are making a concerted effort to right the wrongs of Apartheid through the Land Claims Commission. The allegations that this is happening slowly may be justified and groups like the Landless Peoples’ Movement are putting sustained pressure on the government to deliver on their promises. I think most would agree that this cautious approach has been wise given the instability caused by event sin Zimbabwe and Namibia.

What then is the purpose of the article? To me it seems to claim that justice is being done in South(ern) Africa by asserting the rights of blacks over the evil and selfish whites (or am I just being a bit too defensive?). This may be true, but I think it is forcing the issue. This kind of racially confrontational propaganda disturbs me. There are numerous cases of a racially confrontational spin put on the article, such as "Landless Blacks" being able to claim "White-owned farmland". This is the case in Zimbabwe, but not is South Africa, where the truth is that dispossessed blacks are able to claim back their rightful property or compensation from whoever might own the land at the time. The fact that the owners are likely to be white is irrelevant in my opinion. I get the impression that the Black civil rights movement in the States has long drawn on South Africa for examples of racial inequity during apartheid and then racial justice through the liberation of our country. This was evident in Don King’s sickening display of gushing praise on Madiba during his recent visit here. Fortunately Madiba had little time for it.

I think what I am trying to say is that I dislike the paternalistic claims that high-profile members of the American black diaspora make on any issues that affect blacks elsewhere in the world. These are very complicated issues which require a certain level of historical understanding to analyse. They have plenty racial and historical issues of their own to sort out – why stick their noses into ours?

June 06, 2004

Environmentalism and destruction in Pondoland

Even before the advent of the khaki-clad Kortbroek becoming the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, there was much debate over two environmental hot potatoes in the Eastern Cape: the mining of the Pondoland dunes and the realignment of the N2 between Umtata and Port St Johns. I’d like to add my two cents worth on these issues.

At the outset, one has to look at whose interests are being served by these projects. In the case of the dune mining, it is unquestionable that the primary interests are those of the Australian consortium, Mineral resource Commodities, who have prospected there and now have a preferential lease in the area. In the case of the N2, interests are less easy to distinguish, but I suspect that the project is largely driven by the consortiums of consultants and contractors bidding for the project, accompanied by the Eastern Cape provincial government whom they have heavily lobbied with the prospect of “massive employment and a boost to the local economy” (whatever that means). In both cases the environmentalists and the proponents of the projects claim to have the interests of the locals at heart. This seeming contradiction means that either they are talking about different groups of locals, or else it is a case of “selective research”: I suspect the latter.

Say, for instance, one approached a rural umPondo and asked her/him whether he/she would like to preserve their culture and heritage and save their ancestral lands from destruction. No doubt they would say "yes". Approach the same umPondo, who has struggled to subsist off their land while the rest of the family fruitlessly seeks work in the cities, if they would like to see jobs, tourism and money in the area, they would say "bring it on". Hence the futile battle of words persists. I think far too much has been made of this type of simple perception without presenting the locals, and the general public, with a thorough and objective assessment of the benefits of each of the projects. It is disingenuous to claim that jobs, tourism and a “boost to the local economy” will result simply because the N2 has been rerouted. At the same time, one cannot claim to have the interests of the locals at heart when one refuses any development and traps them into poverty simply to retain the land in its “natural” (whatever that means) state.

Personally, I think that given a true, objective picture of what the costs and benefits of the projects are, the locals would probably choose to sacrifice some of their land for employment and some food in their stomachs. However, I do not claim to know this for sure – these people need to be asked. I am very sceptical of environmentalists who jump on their high horses over a couple of rare plant species when thousands of people are going hungry. For those of you who have been to the Wild Coast area, you will notice the vast amounts of unutilised land which, if used for a road or a dune mining operation, would hardly be missed. However, there needs to be a careful evaluation of how these projects should be undertaken to best serve the interests of the local population. There needs to be transparency in the process and representation from local groups. I am sick of people, politicians, businessmen and environmentalists alike, speaking on behalf of the "local people", when they have absolutely no say in the decisions that are made.

The reality of rape

I’ve just been reading an article in the Mail & Guardian about teenage abortion and rape in South Africa. It occurred to me that most of what you hear and read about rape refers to the horrors and atrocities faced by women. Discussions abound about the vulnerability of women and their rights to protection, as well as many of the commendable initiatives that have been put in place to provide support for rape victims. But none of this really addresses the real cause of rape.

Where is the comment on the culprits and the malaise that seems to have infected male sexual culture in this country? Why have no men in South Africa stood up and said to their own peers "This is not ok"? It seems to me that a fundamental step in addressing this social evil that is strangling our society would be a campaign aimed at re-awakening the consciences of those that think rape is acceptable. This could take the form of a simple, aggressive TV, radio and print campaign featuring men speaking out against other men. I imagined a blank set with a man, preferably someone respected and who can be identified with, saying something along the lines of:

"Men of South Africa, it is our responsibility, and well within our power to eliminate rape in this country. Those who rape are cowards and not fit to be called men, or even human beings. Respect your wives, girlfriends, and daughters: respect all women of South Africa. To rape, or abuse women in any other way is not cool; it is a crime - always. If you know of men who are cowardly enough to do this, speak out against them. Rape is evil, and it is tearing our country apart."

One has to ask why a campaign of this type has not been attempted before. Rape has yet to be cast and perceived by men, as an unforgivable sin, and I want to know why. Is it perhaps because it might make people believe that rape is more prevalent in South Africa than it actually is and that the country is populated by a disproportionate amount of rapists? I think it is too late for that – the truth hurts. Perhaps the public would find this kind of aggressive campaign offensive and uncomfortable, particularly for children. Is this not necessary? Another more ominous reason might be that it tackles some socio-cultural attitudes that have not yet been adequately questioned. Patriarchy and spousal abuse have been cultural norms in this country for far too long. It is only recently that the legislation was amended to include unconsenting sex with one’s spouse in the definition of rape.

I would hope that there is sufficient agreement amongst men around the unacceptability of rape in order to speak out forcibly and aggressively against it. There can be no questioning about rape, in any form, as an absolute abhorrence. This message has to be broadcast, loudly and publicly, by men to their peers and sons.

More political hot air this week from Laurence . I try as hard as I can not to make our blogs into boring, contrived ideological confrontations, but I can’t seem to let this go. Silence on the issue might make Laurence think that everyone shares his views.

Firstly, I think his take on the role of parliament is wrong. My experience of government structures is quite the opposite. A firm tradition has been established in South Africa where the executive takes orders from the politicians. I don’t believe that this should be the case as the politicians are many times out of their depth and make rash decisions, but this is how it is. Sure, the officials are responsible for drawing up legislation and advising politicians, but it is the latter who have the power to chop, change and veto their submissions. Officials know this and sculpt their humble contributions to parliament in order to please the politicians and increase the chances of them being passed. As for your desire to get rid of parliament and the executive, I don’t even think that warrants a response.

Secondly, I’d like to question the statement:

"If the DA's "base" had been more secure, and they were able to throw more resources into chasing after ANC votes, then it might have turned out differently."

What’s that all about?!! Is that an admission that money buys votes? Well, that sort of reasoning sounds a lot like the politics of a certain rich country up north…but then, again, the capitalist cronyism of the American political system has always been his ideal, hasn’t it? I wonder when he’ll come around to the realisation that some people actually vote according to their beliefs and for a party who will look after their interests, not because of who’s radio adverts are the most impressive. In South Africa, the ANC most closely represents the interests of the poor working class; thus they get a proportion of the vote that directly correlates to the proportion of the working class (I’m not saying that all these people vote for the ANC, just that the proportions are the same). The DA, on the other hand, represents the interests of a largely-white elite, and their proportion of the vote reflects that.

This has nothing to do with whether we have a on- two- or multi-party system. If it were a two party system and the DA got 40% of the votes, would that mean that more people’s interests were served by the DA? No, of course not. It just means that more people had fewer options. South Africa is one helluva diverse, divided, unequal society and it’s politics reflects that. Stop looking for all those sinister plots, led by the ANC, to topple the might and the righteousness of the DA.

June 01, 2004

Mud slinging as a national pastime

As Farrel has noted, the Ngcuka / Zuma affair is far from over and now Maduna and Mushwana have been brought into the fray. My impression (and I may be wrong on this) is that Ngcuka was actually doing a pretty good job. He was unafraid to take on sensitive and potentially damaging investigations and almost had the political clout to pull it off. It seems that Ngcuka and Maduna’s attack on Mushwana was based on the fact that Mushwana did not have the guts to defy Zuma’s malevolent authority, and that he sacrificed a thorough investigation for appeasing the powers that be. It surprises me however, that two men (Ngcuka and Maduna) who are so intimately aware of the law and the practice of defamation suits (Ngcuka is a veteran), should use such harsh language on national television. It was either an absolute last-ditch effort to retain moral superiority on the issue of the Zuma investigation, or they were just really, really pissed off and didn’t think of the consequences. Whatever the case may be, it is a sad indictment on the nature of the so-called “Chapter 9” institutions if the guy who is brave enough to take on the big men gets the boot and the “yes man” keeps his job.

A while ago I wrote about the allegation made by the The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria made against the South African government for witholding AIDS mony. If anyone wants to know the official party line on the matter, you can read it here. There is one particular part of Thabo Mbeki’s justification, under the heading of "Accepting goodwill should not make us subservient", that I find particularly telling:

"In his comments, Professor Feacham referred to the Global Fund grants voted
for South Africa as "our money", to emphasise the relationship between a
benefactor and a recipient of benefaction. In the comments he has since
denied, he emphasised the power of the benefactor to do in our country as it
pleases, and our helplessness to do anything in this regard, because of our

"It is true that we are poor and need the support of people of goodwill. It
is however also true that we would betray those who sacrificed for our
liberation, and corrupt our freedom, if we succumbed to the expectation of
some of those more richly endowed than ourselves, that our poverty should
condemn us to perpetual subservience. This we will not do."

This might help shed some light on the issue of how some people still can’t understand Mbeki’s hesitant view on AIDS. Mbeki is a fierce Africanist, even a pan-Africanist if you like, and thus will do almost anything (including denying one’s own citizens AIDS treatment) if it means defying the paternalistic patronage of the “First World”. This is a very strong undercurrent in all of Mbeki’s thinking and one that must no be underestimated.


Sorry for the non-existent blogging in the last couple of days - the research is hotting up (as hot as research in a government department can get). I've just updated my blogroll, including an interesting Kenyan blog. I'm just wondering what has happened to Andrew and Murray at Southern Cross; have the hallowed halls of Oxford finally swallowed you guys up?