September 30, 2004

The last Straw?

One little story that's caused quite a fuss in the UK is British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw's controversial handshake with Mugabe at the UN last week. What is interesting is how the media has portrayed the incident. The BBC reports that Straw didn't really recognise the pariah president, but later justified the handshake on the grounds of being courteous. Meanwhile The Guardian has jumped on Straw's "political faux pas". They quote Straw as saying that he didn't recognise Mugabe because "It was quite dark in that corner...". Doesn't look so dark to me - unless he was referring to all the president's aides.

The best bit is when a former senior diplomat explains that "there are a lot of people and quite a lot of them are black, and it's quite difficult to sort them out"!! But then again, all those darkies look the same, don't they...

I tend to believe the BBC's version, but the blatant bias of The Guardian certainly makes an amusing read.

P.S Check out the guy in the background having a good chuckle.

September 28, 2004

Jake stays on

Glad to see Jake White getting the vote of confidence to coach the Boks to the 2007 World Cup. Lets just hope that the media, South African rugby fans and SARFU are willing to stick by him throught the tough times as well.

September 27, 2004

The racialisation of language

Issues of race infuse South African society. Race remains both an informant and determinant of culture, history, politics, spatial patterns and social relations in our country. Thus it is difficult to avoid the use of racial classifications when talking or writing about South Africa; in fact, it is often very useful. I have often justified the use of the terms ‘white’, ‘black’, and ‘coloured’, as have many other academics, because they maintain relevance even today. This view draws authority from the way that members of these socially constructed groups will self-identify with one of these terms. But does the use of these terms perpetuate racial discourse and divisions in South Africa?

I would argue that it is still necessary, in some cases to refer to these classifications, but one has to be careful, and aware, of how you use them. For example, I think it is pragmatic to talk of ‘black townships’, the ‘coloured vote’ or ‘white guilt’. Speaking of the ‘formerly-black townships’, the ‘so-called coloured vote’ or ‘aparthied-oppressors-and-their-apathetic-beneficiaries guilt’ gets a bit clumsy – others may disagree. However, there are some obvious, as well as subtle, ways in which these terms betray some underlying prejudices in South African society. For example, I don’t believe it is necessary to say “I have this black colleague, Steve, who can help you”. To me the insertion of the word ‘black’ indicates, firstly, that the speaker believes it is an anomaly that his/her colleague is black, and secondly, that if the persons name does not immediately allude to their race then it is necessary to clarify this. Similarly if someone says “There was this white cop waiting at my car”, it would, in my opinion, betray some prejudices (or favouritism) toward white policemen because of their race.

I don’t think I can generalise my observations to be able to say when it is, or is not, ok to make racial references. All I am trying to say is that I think one needs to be aware of how often we, and others, still use racialised language, even when it is not necessary. It is something to watch out for – and, if you feel strongly enough about it, to correct. I think as South African society starts to normalise we will hear a lot less of this language, and only feel the need to use it in reference to past injustices. To be sure, racial language will never disappear from speech and print in South Africa, but one needs to think about whether its use is pragmatic and necessary, or whether one is simply perpetuating a social evil out of habit.

September 23, 2004


Zim's Johnathan Moyo is always good for a laugh. If only the issues he was talking absolute s@%t about weren't so deadly serious. He just gets worse and worse.

September 22, 2004

Floor crossing continued

I went to the IEC website today to check out the results from the rescent floor crossing period. I know that za blogger and Farrel have commented on it, but I thought I'd add my own brief comments.

The biggest winners were obviously the ANC with a net gain of 332 seats. The next best winners were the IDs with a gain of 39 seats and the DA with 23. The Freedon Front + (whatever the plus is for) gained 15 of the most right wing NNP members, but the others are inconsequential. However, for me the most interesting thing is to note who took the biggest hits. The Next-to-Nothing Party (NNP) obviously lost all of its 290 seats, but following them is the UDM with a net loss of 53 seats. What does this mean? Is Bantu Holomisa now losing serious favour with his party leaders? He has always been a bit of an autocrat, but I really was quite partial to their leftist ideas and the way they have made a gutsy fight of the political landscape in the Eastern Cape. For me this is a bit of a loss.

The other notable loser was the PAC with a net loss of 19 seats. This may not look a lot, but it has got to be a significant amount of the total PAC local governmnet representation - yet another indication that the political left just hasn't got it together. The PAC has become a bit of a joke and are loosing credibility fast. The IFP lost 17 seats which I suspect is but mere opportunism on the part of a couple of the councillors in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

All in all I agreee with za blogger that it is time for a reassessment of the floor-crossing legislation as it does make a bit of a mockery of representative democracy.

As an aside, one very surprising comment on the website was:

"Ten applications did not comply with the requirements for floor-crossing. Of these, eight did not meeting the 10 percent requirement; for one no confirmation of acceptance was received whilst another applied to cross outside of the window period for floor-crossing...These councillors will lose their seats. The PR vacancies will be filled by the party while for the ward vacancies by-elections will be held."

This just boggles the mind. What councillor, in their right mind, would give up their job (and for many it is their only source of income) simply because they were too stupid to find out when the window period expired?! But then again, I suppose I have never really had too high a regard for professional politicians.

September 21, 2004

Violent crime decreases in the Western Cape

This can only be good news, but I'm still very conerned about how much capacity the police have for controlling gang violence on the flats. This is a complex issue without a single, identifiable root cause. Poverty is up there with the main ones, but there are other factors like drugs, location and spatial form, poor education levels and political marginalisation. These all feed back on each other into one big, nasty mess of gangs, drugs and violence. I believe a solution is a long time coming.

September 19, 2004

Who would have thought...

...that Fanta was a Nazi creation?!!

September 16, 2004

Painful transitions

It was hard to leave Cape Town. Very Hard.

Of course this was mostly because I was leaving my amazing, incredible, beautiful fiance for another two months, but also because I just love the place. It is so much a part of me now. Oxford will be my temporary host for the next two months - for the last time - but never my home. So much of the novelty the excitement and the inspiration that I felt when I first arrived here two years ago has gone. It still is a beautiful city, filled with history, wonders and stimulation. But I would trade it any day for the rawness, the dust, the difficult challenges and the tearful victories of spirit that I know in Africa.

My heart is in South Africa. My home.

Yes! NjaloNjalo enters the 21st Century!

Well, I finally got around to re-doing my blog - new template, permalinks, site feeds, a personal profile (with email address), and much more to come. Apologies to all those who posted comments on my site - they disappeared with the new template and I'm not capable of getting them back. The changes are due to the pleasure of free broadband in my bedroom. It is amazing what difference 10Mb/sec does for your enthusiasm as opposed to 36kb/sec (if I'm lucky) on a Telkom dialup.

You'll also notice that I've updated my blogroll. It was a sad goodbye to Andrew and Murray at Southern Cross - such a pity since they were the ones who first got me started. What happened to you guys? Added to the list are Isangqa, Jo'blog (both well worth a visit) and Mike Golby at YBLOG ZA (who I've been reading for a while but never got around to adding).

While I'm pretending to be a techie I'll also mention that I've just discovered the wonders of Mozilla's Firefox browser - very cool. For years I had been Bill Gate's dream 'cluless consumer' and used Internet Explorer by default, not knowing its shortcomings because I didn't know what else was out there (and not being hardcore enough to do the Linux thing). What I enjoy about Firefox is that multipe webpages can be opened in tabs along the top of the screen (even as a multiple homepage), so no more tripping down to the botton of the screen every time you want to switch windows as with IE. Check it out if you're fed up with IE.

September 15, 2004

S’bu vs the SABC

There was some bizarre mud-slinging taking place between the SABC and the ANC on Monday. Premier of KwaZulu Natal, S’bu Ndebele publicly accused the SABC of political bias in its reporting (“that must not go on!”), while the SABC lowered themselves by bothering to respond to this with a blunt rejection aired on their 8pm news broadcast on SABC 3. As I recall, it was not so long ago that opposition parties were claiming that the SABC was overwhelmingly biased towards the ruling party and that by appointing former Department of Labour spokesperson Snuki Zikalala head of SABC news, it destroyed all attempts at being impartial. Thus it seems strange to me that the ANC is attacking at this time. Some possible explanations…

1) Ndebele just wants some air time and he knows that if he slags off the SABC he will be guaranteed to get it.

2) There are some personal issues between himself and the SABC that are driving this outburst and he hopes to score some underhand points by it.

Or, my favourite conspiracy theory:

3) The ANC is quite comfortable with its tight alliance with the ANC and wants to create a cunning little diversion by claiming that the SABC is biased the other way.

…but that would be a little too cunning for them, now, wouldn’t it?

September 11, 2004

Housing policy response

Farrel made some insightful comments on my previous post. My response was too long to put in the comments box, so here it is:

You’re right on both counts, Farrel. This does amount to some degree of social engineering, and I don’t entirely agree with the mass relocation of people, particularly in a South African context. I am a firm supporter of in-situ upgrading of informal settlements. However, it is a bit like the argument for affirmative action where some form of intervention is necessary, otherwise apartheid spatial patterns - placing the poor furthest from services and employment - are perpetuated.

The issue of developers buying the cheap property has been one that has plagued the national housing department with all its RDP housing, hence they brought in the law which prohibited the sale of RDP houses to anyone except the state within the first 8 years of occupation. Of course this did not stop the practice and people just sold illegally out of desperation. State rental is one option, but the state is quite averse to this because of the difficulty of collecting rent from the very poor. One innovative option is rental to a community structure who then rent it to the residents and maintain control of so-called ‘downward raiding’. Surprisingly, land reform in urban housing projects is very much a secondary agenda – it seems to have far more political currency in the rural areas.

September 05, 2004

The great integrated housing debate

In their characteristic sensationalist style, the Sunday Times splashed “Low-cost houses for elite suburbs” on its front page today. No doubt many people are going to comment on this (with housing markets being right-winger’s pet point of polemic), so I thought I’d get my two-cents’ with in early.

This is not a new idea at all. The whole ‘compact city’ debate and the need to address the spatial atrocities of apartheid have been discussed in academic circles, particularly amongst planners, architects and urban geographers, for over 10 years. The idea of integrating cities and bringing the poor closer to jobs and services has even been written into every piece of national and local post-apartheid piece of legislation to date. The only problem is that nobody has stopped to think what the physical and political consequences of this type of policy might be – until now. The reason it has surfaced into the realm of public debate is that the ANC now has the political clout to think about taking this highly controversial step.

For me it is essentially an ideological debate. It is a question of how much power the market has versus the power of the state to ensure social justice. The property market typifies everything that capitalism stands for, and as such will be defended to the death by those with interests vested in it (including almost all of middle-and upper-class South Africa). This is pitted against the need to address the social inequality in South Africa and to provide a decent roof over the heads of all of its citizens. In order to do this, the state needs to intervene (in the case of South Africa, quite significantly) to make sure that the priorities of the market do not dominate the needs of the poor. It has been shown quite clearly, by academics like David Harvey, that the free market is inherently hostile towards the poor and will locate them as far away from the city centre as possible.

This brings us to the question of human rights. Dr Marie Huchzermeyer, a housing researcher at Wits (quoted in the Sunday Times), has argued elsewhere that it in South Africa, the rights to the protection of private property is treated as an absolute right, while the right to housing is a qualified right. In other words, one has the right to adequate housing, so long as this does not infringe on anyone else’s private property. In South Africa this type of logic is applied by all NIMBYs (Not-In-My-Backyarders) who protest at the thought of having low-income housing built next to their property because it will lower their property value. What right does the state have to deprive them of the potential value of their assets?

The problem here is the way that different people interpret the concept of ‘property’, and here it is useful to use Thabo Mbeki’s concept of a ‘first’ and ‘second’ economy. Those in the ‘first economy’ treat property as an investment first and a home second (if at all), while those in the ‘second economy’ need housing to serve their shelter needs. Perhaps more important than this, though, is the need to be close to services and employment opportunities. If you want to argue that the need to protect an investment is more important than the need for access to a livelihood, I’m afraid you’re on morally shaky ground. The problem in South Africa is that separatist mentality apartheid spatial divisions helped to cement the perception of the sanctity of the property market – one was secure in the belief that the value of property could not decrease because all the ‘unsavouries’ would be kept well away.

There is a lot of bullshit out there about how people of different income groups will not be able to ‘get on’ because of cultural differences, how the poor will automatically ‘degrade the environment’ (a classic NIMBY argument), or how crime levels will inevitably increase. Two very comprehensive studies on the impacts of informal settlements on the surrounding ‘white’ neighbourhoods in Cape Town (Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay and Marconi Beam in Milnerton) showed that there was no correlation between the presence of the settlements and the levels of crime, and that there was a slight decrease in property prices. The most pertinent point, however, is that this decrease in property prices is totally inconsequential compared to the increase in quality of life for the people living in the informal settlement because of their location and access to services. Too often this side of the equation is ignored.

This having been said, the market remains a very powerful force and the ANC has yet to tackle it head on with the sort of interventions speculated about in the Sunday Times. My impression is that it will take a very cautious approach to this because of the fights it will inevitably cause and the messages it sends to international investors. The reality, unfortunately, is that the majority of new low-income housing will continue to be built on the outskirts of cities. Not even the reams progressive legislation and the heaps of pro-poor, near-socialist rhetoric of the ANC are powerful enough to take on market forces and the power of NIMBY. My only hope is that the government will have the political balls to push through the interventions that really count. By this I mean vacant sites like those of Youngsfiled, Wingfield, Ysterplaat, Culemborg and District Six in Cape Town which, if used properly and innovatively, could have a huge impact on the dynamics and equity of the city. If not, and they are pawned off to greedy developers, then they will have failed in the project of urban reconstruction in our dysfunctional cities.

Ryterwacht – a case in point

It is coincidental, but amusing that this debate (above) follows after the screening of a very shocking but interesting edition of Special Assignment on SABC 3 this past week. It covered the racial riots in the poor white suburb of Ryterwacht in Cape Town when a group of black learners from Khayelitsha occupied a vacant high school in 1995. The reaction of the Ryterwacht community was absolutely disgusting. I, along with many other people I spoke to, couldn’t believe that this sort of thing actually happened. However, after thinking about it, if that event had to take place today in any one of a number of highly conservative communities in South Africa, you would probably see the same sort of violently racist reaction. I guess I just live in quite a protected environment and have had limited exposure to these sorts of extreme views.

Just watch what happens now with the talk of locating poor communities adjacent to richer ones - the racist language will be replaced by economic language, but the sentiment remains the same.

Joburg and about

Apologies for the lack of blogging for the last 2 weeks. I spent a week doing research in Joburg and have been madly busy with my thesis since then. I only have a week left in South Africa, so this is likely to be my last burst of posting until I am settled in Oxford again.

Firstly, a note about Joburg: I don’t know the city well at all and it was nice to drive around and get to know the place a bit better. I was particularly impressed by Wits University. I had always arrogantly and ignorantly assumed that UCT had an incomparably beautiful campus – ivy-covered buildings, pseudo-classical architecture and an amazing view over the Cape Flats. I must now humbly submit that Wits is right up there. Besides the striking similarity between the facades of the main halls of the two university, Wits has a number of very appealing buildings, good facilities and an even better vibe. The student recreation centre, The Matrix, is ten times better than the equivalent at UCT, with loads more shops and facilities and a very appealing atmosphere, complete with live music. From the short time I was there I have no grounds to compare the two universities academically, but Wits definitely made a very positive impression on me. I will be back.

Another highlight in Joburg was a visit to the Constitution Hill complex. Although not yet complete, the tour around the old fort, the ‘number four’ ‘black’ prison and the new Constitutional Court is truly world-class. The multi-media interactive exhibition does an amazing job of mixing the horrific brutality of historical fact with the positive growth that has occurred in our country. For those interested in architecture and/or South African culture, the new Constitutional Court building is something truly revolutionary. It is the most symbolic building I have ever been in – experiencing it nearly brought me to tears. Without being clichéd or gaudy, it is functional, yet uniquely South African. It is what I believe a modern, African building should look like. It is a definite ‘must-see’ for anyone visiting Joburg. BlueIQ is doing some really positive things in Joburg – good on them. I desperately wanted to visit the Apartheid Museum as well, but the intricacies of the M1 off-ramps thwarted my efforts to get there and I ran out of time.

Two other random outsider’s observations from my short visit are:
Crime really does dominate people’s lives in Joburg. It is a difficult issue to come to grips with, and I don’t have any good ideas, but it is sad to see so many people living in fear.
I was amazed by the huge amounts of open space around the city – Joburg still has so much room to grow, particularly in the Midrand area. My impression is that it is going to get a helluva lot bigger before anyone starts getting distressed about urban sprawl. It is going to take tough policing of the urban edge to prevent this growth.