ABAHLALI: LINDIWE’S UNTOLD STORY

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It is arguably one of the largest shack dweller’s movements in the country. The movement started small on the pavements of Kennedy road in the very early  2000 ‘s with a handful of families left without a roof over their heads – having been evicted overnight. Back then, the shack dwellers’ corrugated iron sheets which they used to construct their homes were mauled down, crushed like newspaper while their household goods and furniture were tossed out like used toilet paper. The men and women whose homes had been demolished protested blocking Kenny road until council officials could address them, but their voices are nothing compared to the thunder which is taking over the streets these days.

Abahlali Basemojondolo are organized and over the past eleven years or more they have been relentlessly defending their right to shelter through land occupation using “inkani” despite constant harassment, assault and arrest by the city’s police or security officials employed by the City Improvement Districts (CID’s).

The City Improvement Districts are private-public partnerships created in the early 90’s to meet the needs of cities which were buckling under the pressure of high rates of urbanisation after 1994. The city’s infrastructure was stretched to the limit – which meant that existing tax regimes could not ensure adequate service delivery.

To solve this problem property owners realized that they needed to mobilise local resources such as tax and levies to supplement municipal services. CID’s are comprised of 51 percent of property owners representing 51 percent of the property value, who enter into a service level agreement with the council which collect levies on the behalf of property owners. These CID’s are divided into two main categories: improvement districts which address crime and grime and competitive nodes called management districts which focused on place marketing.

CID’s would then have highly visible patrol officers who would among other things deter and prevent crime. Cleaning and maintaining the area including washing side-walks, cutting grass and trees, dealing with homeless people, Youth and sweeping out inappropriate social behaviour.

This cleaning up process also included cleaning up high jacked buildings occupied by people considered to be illegal tenants in inner cities, moving homeless people out of the cities, and removing or demolishing shacks erected on private or public owned land leaving thousands of people without shelter. Back in 2007 Abahali marched as they often did to the city, demanding that the city mayor at the time Obed Mlaba engage with Abahlalibasemjondolo to secure some land and provide them with basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. They were repeatedly met with silence -the mayor along with his second in command was too busy to meet with them. Almost a decade later the trend has not changed.

Presidential hopeful and current minister of Human Settlements Lindiwe Sisulu, who is serving for the second time in the housing department since democracy recently stated that despite the government having built more than four million homes since the early 90’s – it was still not enough to meet the country’s needs. She noted that there is still a large number of informal settlements and backyard shanties which still need to be eradicated.

In her recent open interview as a presidential candidate for the ANC, Lindiwe Sisulu emphasised the need for a woman president to take over the reigns of government. She spoke about increasing transparency and accountability within the ANC, but she did not mention with any great detail the one story which could make a difference in the country going forward. The  Land question; How does she plan to resolve the question of land tenure, or create an environment conducive to constructive dialogue on the issue? What will she do differently as the country’s president which she couldn’t do as a minister of human settlements?

What is to be done with the increasing number of homeless and unemployed people including street traders who are being swept out of sight to make way for pristine world-class cities, with no land on which to build a home? Despite comments about more housing being needed, opening up a new bank for low-cost housing loans, allocating more than 600million to urban development projects in the country’s metropolitan areas. Her most assertive response to the question of landlessness recently has been to address the needs of property owners: “Property owners have a responsibility to ensure that their properties are guarded when they see illegal occupations taking place they must act immediately and report it to law enforcement agencies. I will be meeting with property owners to indicate my views about this, municipalities and law enforcement agencies must take action immediately when cases of illegal occupations have been reported” she said in an interview with a local newspaper.

Those who support her candidacy say she is the most radical social democrat within the ANC, who is introducing practical pro-poor policies. Meanwhile, Abahalibasemjondolo are no longer waiting or requesting permission to occupy the land. They are doing it, despite constant evictions, demolitions and state-sponsored violence. The movement is growing. The mood South African right brings to mind the famous opening line in Charles Dickens famous novel – A tale of  Two Cities – where he wrote about the poverty and opulence which preceded the French revolution in the 1800’s.

“It was the best of the times, It was the worst of times, It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of, incredulity, It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it t was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisier authorities insisted on its being received for good and for evil in the superlative degree of comparison only”

 

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POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

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Take a trip to Nairobi, Kenya and you will find a country at war with itself where political contest continues to be a zero-sum game. Next to them in Kampala Uganda even the right to protest is under threat so, citizens and politicians wear red headbands instead.Or you can go across to Togo over Benin in the west and find multitudes of people protesting 50 years of autocratic rule or fly a take a short flight to Nigeria to find a country divided with a people still seeking cessation – Biafra calls. Next door to them in Cameroon hundreds have died in protest against a controlling government. If you like, drift placidly down to Zimbabwe where citizens have resigned themselves to their fate – President Robert Mugabe for life. Or glance up to South Sudan where millions cross the border daily seeking refuge from a hailstorm of bullets flooding their homes. Let your eyes settle for a moment in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been in the grip of a low-level civil war since King Leopold the second of Belgium declared it his personal property. The landscape is littered with people who are in pain displaced in their own countries because even though the lights are on – there is no one home. There’s no one to listen. There is no compassion or empathy. No sense of duty except, the duty to explicitly self-enrich at the expense of all others. Greed is killing people.

Everything seems set in stone until…

Someone comes along who does something remarkable. His name. Jose Pepe Mujica. Ironically described by the media as the poorest president in the world. In an interview with Al-Jazeera’s’ Lucia Newman in 2013, the 82-year-old former president who served  Uruguay between from 2010 and 2015 …. sips bitter tea, in a small living room barely large enough to fit a TV crew and decorated with shelves full of books which he shares with his wife and a three-legged dog. He speaks like somebody we know

“No. I’m not a poor president,” he said. “Poor are those who describe me as poor. My definition of poor is those who need too much because those who need too much are never satisfied. I am frugal, not poor”

Which means he’s economical about how he spends his money, giving  90 percent of his salary back into public service.

“Frugal with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what’s necessary. Not too tied down to material things. Why? so that I can have free time. For what? to do what I like.Freedom is having time to live. Living Frugally is a philosophy of life but I’m not poor. I have a way of life that doesn’t change because I’m president.

I earn more than I need even if it’s not enough for others. My wife is a senator and she has to contribute a lot to her party. But her salary is enough for us to live. And we still have a bit left over which we put in the bank just in case. I contribute to my political group and projects like housing for unmarried mothers. For me, it’s not a sacrifice it’s a duty.”

He explains

“I don’t oppose consumption. I am against waste.  We have to produce food for the hungry, roofs for those who need a home. Build schools for those who don’t have schools. We have to solve the water problem now. If every powerful person has three, four, five cars and needs 400sq meters to live and a house on the beach and an aeroplane to get here and there… then there isn’t enough for everyone. What does modern science tell us? It tells us indisputable facts. If the current world population aspired to consume like the average American. We would need three planet earth(s). Which means that if we continue tossing out things. Naturally, a great part of humanity will never have anything. They are doomed.”

Mujica only has one car, a 1980s beetle golf. When asked why he hasn’t tried to change the status quo or how his fellow countrymen live,  he doesn’t beat about the bush.

“Because if I tried to impose my way of living on the rest they’d kill me. They’d kill me I know it. But allow me the freedom to express myself. Because we complain about global warming while we assault nature by producing so much waste. We are mortgaging the future of the next generations. I can’t fix this as a government, I am a prisoner of this myself. What I’m pointing out is where we are heading. True there is extraordinary waste here. There are houses only used 20 days a year in Punta del Est. Luxurious houses while other’s don’t even have a shack to sleep at night. It’s crazy unjust. I oppose that world, but I am a prisoner of that world.”

The former Marxist guerrilla fighter is against re-election. For him, a president in a republic is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is neither a King nor a God. He is especially not – a witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant and as such he must leave and be replaced. Mujica believes the ideal way for a president to live is like the vast majority of the people whom he is attempting to serve and represent.

“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay to help the most vulnerable and leave behind a political way of thinking a way of looking at a future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight a common good for progress. Life slips by, the way to continue it is for others to continue your work.”

 

Once in a while, something so surprisingly beautiful happens.Just when you think you are going to fall into an endless tunnel of nothingness suspended in space and time, you blink and there it is. A, way.

The question is, will you choose it?

 

THE EFF: AND ITS LANGUAGE GAME

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It is rather unfortunate that the newest political party in South Africa chose to name itself the Economic Freedom Fighters because instead of it articulating that it is a political party which stands for economic freedom for the majority of the country’s citizens it sounds as if they are a political party fighting (against) economic freedom.

The difference here is analogous to a recent incident involving a tweet by US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. After a long day of making speeches and meeting with heads of state at the United Nations’ General assembly, Ivanka Tweeted: “Cuddling with my little nephew Luke…the best part after an otherwise incredible day”. Media personality and celebrity Chrissy Teigen didn’t waste time correcting Ivanka’s grammar and syntax. “otherwise makes it sound like you didn’t like hangin’ with this baby” she reacted to the tweet, later adding that “overall, is the word.” Twitter fell in love with Chrissy Tiegens’ comments who has been outspoken about her hatred for Trump, promptly crowning her Twitter’s Grammar Police in Chief.

The sentence construction is wrong because ‘otherwise’ in this context is an adverb that means in other respects or apart from that’. Even though most people would agree that Ivanka wrote the exact opposite of what she actually meant, she would not be forgiven for it because she represents Donald Trump – a man a section of American people and parts of the world love to hate.

Obviously, this is the kind of mistake that would be understated had Ivanka been president Obama’s daughter – and in the larger scheme of things it does nothing to change the status quo in the United States government. Donald Trump remains president. Tiegen interestingly is also an admirer of Ivanka Trump. She said as much in a Glamour magazine interview last year saying she thinks Ivanka should run for office.’I think Ivanka seems like an incredibly wonderful businesswoman and mother. She has enviable poise and grace in a very difficult situation”

While the party’s inclusion of the word “fighter” is unfortunate – it was no mistake, it was a strategic and deliberate choice for them. The word holds symbolic meaning both for the party’s commander-in-chief Julius Malema who is fighting back against the man and political party which made him and a growing number of black South Africans disillusioned with the ANC who are seeking a new political home. It hearkens to an epoch which animated and motivated thousands of African black people across the country’s townships to take to the streets in an effort to overthrow the Apartheid government only to discover that the system still stands in post-Apartheid South Africa. It calls on ghosts who lie restless in a cemetery of a stunted revolution.

In this context, Julius Malema behaves much like the one eyed-character of Raletloana in the popular 1980’s South African drama series Lesilo Rula, who blew on a horn calling on the ghost of Lesilo to arise from its’ grave and attack his opponents whenever his words failed him. Fighter triggers the widely repressed belief in the psyche of black South Africans that the war was not won in 1994 and that it somehow continues on albeit in a different form. The word fighter, like otherwise, diminishes the objectives of the political party to achieve Economic Freedom overall.

Much like the overall uniforms, the party’s MPs wore in parliament when they were sworn in for the first time – did nothing to advocate for improved working conditions or the enforcement of a minimum wage for thousands of the country’s domestic and mine workers. All we’ve heard since the EFF was elected to parliament is Zuma, Zuma, Zuma.

Julius Malema rose to the top by using fear; the fear of violence and death as a weapon against his competition. He shouted from podiums that he will kill for Zuma and sang struggle songs saying “Kill the boer “or “Dubula’bhunu” which captured the imagination of all South Africans black and white for different and opposing reasons including the media which loved to hate him.

Now recently he and his fellow fighters who have become media darlings, caused a stir in parliament for calling President Jacob Zuma, Duduzane’s Father, claiming that Zuma is not their president. When reproached for using Duduzane’s Father as a pejorative he countered that in his culture calling a man by his son’s name is, in fact, a sign of respect. Which is true when you are visiting him in his domestic abode and not so much when addressing a head of state at the national assembly.

The EFFs haggling in parliament has been canonized in a house song called “ UbabakaDuduzane” featuring a variety of South African dance moves including that of President Jacob Zuma dancing outside the ANC’s headquarters in 2009 – following a victory at the polls, which Julius Malema and co. helped him win.

All of this makes the EFF look like a party which is employed to dramatically over-react in a play they did not write. While Malema and his supporters seem to challenge traditional or orthodox political thought, on one hand, they do so by deliberately manipulating language using context transcending narratives where it suits them and employing genealogical contexts when it is expedient for them, on the other. They are shape-shifting composites of multiple ideas becoming other while producing something which is continuously metamorphosing: pandering to power structures while simultaneously throwing them off.They pose in red and black academic gowns celebrating their academic achievements – while simultaneously attacking the very foundations of the education they want to make “fashionable.” Unlike Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara whose ideology they used as a red carpet on their way to claim their seats in parliament, they are not upright.

Julius Malema and his fighters are in parliament not to empower but to get their own back much like the Sicarios; zealots of Jerusalem who hunted the Romans for invading their homeland. They are agents provocateurs captured by a power unknown to us which is using them as bait or as a distraction in the real takeover taking place in the country. Their motives and overall objectives so far seem to advocate for the opposite of economic freedom, for all.

APOCALYPSE: LET ME EAT FIRST

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In the 2008 documentary film Behind the Rainbow by Egyptian-French filmmaker, Jihan El Tahri President Jacob Zuma told a story which has stayed with me for nine years. The story was about his arrest in Swaziland while working as the ANC underground coordinator in 1975.  At the time, the ANC wanted to train military operatives whom they planned to inject back into South Africa to conduct missions. The Swazi authorities did not want the ANC to conduct military activities on their soil, so they kept the ANC house under close surveillance. President Jacob Zuma recounted the story which gives us an insight into how he behaves under pressure. “I saw a car parked and shortly thereafter the police came in. When the police say, come to the police station you are not likely to come back.” He said, raising his hands up in mock surrender.  ‘So, I said Let me eat first, so we ate and that’s how we were arrested”

This short story defined the character of President Jacob Zuma for me, cementing him in my mind as a man who holds his ground tenaciously regardless of the apocalypse surrounding him.

The ancient Greeks defined the word apocalypse, not as a foreboding word spelling doom, disaster or the end of the world as we have come to understand it in Biblical terms. The word apocalypse in Greek literally means the uncovering, a disclosure of knowledge or revelation. Lifting the veil on that which was formerly hidden.

Interpreted in this way, this word then gives us a framework within which to understand and describe what is happening politically in South Africa today. We are going through an apocalypse of gigantic proportions which brings to light each week all the different ways in which the political elite, government officials, state agencies and corporate South Africa have colluded in corrupt practices since 1994.

And President Jacob Zuma who is currently at the centre of this storm is bidding his time, hanging on quietly to ensure that his wives, children, extended family and friends are well taken care of before he is forced to leave the table. He will eat first despite the vultures which are surrounding his camp waiting to pluck at the dead flesh of his controversial presidency.

As much as most of South Africa and some members of the ANC are desperate to get President Jacob Zuma out of government with immediate effect – we would all be remiss to focus only on him as the source of the fungus clogging up systems in government – because he is very clearly not the only one. White monopoly capital is as real and true as the insidious nature of the friendship between the Gupta’s and the president. We should never forget that it was indeed former president Nelson Mandela himself who ordered his “boys” in the ANC not to upset the ship in the order for the negotiated settlement go ahead as planned with all the compromises that had been made.

Former president Thabo Mbeki said a much in an interview he gave in Behind The Rainbow, “we put ourselves in the shoes of the other side, we said to ourselves if we were the National Party we would be reluctant to lose power and therefore we would fight against change…. because they’d be fearful.  These black people who they’ve always defined in a particular way; terrorists, communists all these terrible things you’d be fearful of them taking over. So, we said well, to address that fear we said let’s offer them the sunset clauses to say you will not lose power completely. And it meant not only retaining some of them in cabinet it also meant retaining people in the public service”

While this may have been a great negotiating tactic for the ANC at the time the unintended consequences meant that the structures of apartheid both in government and in the corporate sector were not entirely dismantled

When President Nelson Mandela went on a tour in Europe he told the corporate world in Paris France that he had the labour unions under his control and a large number of state enterprises which were open for business – for private-public partnerships which became the new buzzwords of our new democracy.

Thabo Mbeki said pleasing the west was paramount in their decision-making at the time “we had to take into account the international setting what we do here could turn a significant part of the world against us which would not be right. If we hadn’t done that I

20 years on the violence they feared would tipple the ship is now eating away at the very fabric of our society, from our bedrooms to the streets and it is threatening to unravel the delicate stitches weaving the country together.

If we all understand that much of what is happening in the country economically is a result of decisions made 20, 30, 40 years ago. We can also see that the new information which is coming to light is important to help us steer the ship in a completely new direction, one which is more aligned with the values and principles inscribed in the constitution and the bill of rights.

Changing course might not seem easy but it is our best alternative to continuing down this path. Perhaps this time we can apply our minds more rigorously to the real options we have available; which of the political parties contesting the elections are the embodiment of our highest ideals?

What we decide to do now will be critical to the future of South Africa. It is important for us to know what is happening and who the real players are behind the faces in parliament.

Perhaps then we can have a chance to elect leaders who are sober, courageous and pragmatic enough to stand for what is right with as much passion and tenacity as President Jacob Zuma and the ANC are at the dinner table.

Change is taking place and we need to be wide awake to it. We need to make sure that it’s a change we can believe in and support with our actions, lest we cross the Rubicon.

 

MONEY: MIND LAUNDERING

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“In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognising the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.” – BR Ambedkar, leader of India’s “Untouchables”, 1949

There’s an old story that’s been passed around in some circles here, where I live. It’s about an old woman who, upon learning that freedom had descended in South Africa, left her home in a predominantly black township and headed towards the tree-lined cool mansions in a whites-only neighbourhood and stood outside her dream house, waiting. The old woman had been convinced that, with democracy, black South Africans who had been previously excluded from sharing in the wealth of the country, would automatically gain access to it. For her, this meant that she could have her pick of her dream house and move in – just like that.

In the period leading up to the elections of 1994, part of the ANC election campaign included promises to provide free housing, free education, free electricity and free water. It is said that this woman camped outside the house for days – waiting for the occupants of her house to leave – until someone had to explain to her that that’s not how democracy or freedom works.

The occupants of this house were not moving out. They owned the house. Even if they were willing to sell, she would have to find the money to buy the house and pay for its upkeep, including amenities such as water and electricity. To get that house she would have to work and earn enough money to qualify for a loan to buy it. Democracy meant that she was free to move and live anywhere in the country – but at her own cost.

In many ways, I think that there are many South Africans who are still camping outside their dream homes – waiting for the occupants to come out so they can move in. Like the old woman, they seem to have never gotten the memo.

Nothing is free

In her book, Money From Nothing: Indebtedness and Aspiration in South Africa, Deborah James notes that the novel economic policies adopted by the new democratic dispensation – which was a surprising deviation from the Marxist-leaning ANC – had unintended consequences. She says statistics showed a significant rate of indebtedness in the population.
“As consumers, new aspirations were unleashed. It began to appear that the freedom to exercise political choice was being paralleled, even outstripped, by the freedom to engage in conspicuous consumption.”

Since the creation of the black middle-class seemed difficult to achieve without credit – people were getting in over their heads and this trend has not abated.
Data released in 2016 by the debt managing firm, Debt Rescue, shows that South African men and women have now become almost equal in the R1.64 trillion debt they collectively owe to creditors.
CEO, Neil Roets, said the group’s in-house statistics showed that men made up 49% of the indebted consumers, while women came in first, making up 51%.

I did not join the revolution to be poor

Even the government has not been immune to this trend. In an article published in 2015, Budgeting In The Real World, Michael Sachs of the National Treasury notes that despite increased government spending in the public sector, growth in South Africa remained sluggish. “The economy has grown slowly for six years. If the National Treasury’s projections are correct, we face another three years of slow growth. Despite massive additions to spending on social services, economic growth has remained sluggish. Instead of promoting faster growth, it is likely that public spending is now contributing to a widening current account deficit, entrenching our dependence on foreign savings.”

Not only are individuals over-indebted, so is the State, which is now being forced to rely on foreign loans to meet domestic needs. The overstretched middle class will have to face the reality of having to pay even higher taxes in order to help government bridge the shortfall. We have become slaves to debt.

What this comes down to is: instead of more money we need more creative thinking around our current problems. Instead of more money-laundering schemes, we need more mind-laundering strategies.

Because even if that old woman’s dream had come true – even if the occupants of the house vacated and said, ‘here’s the house; you can have it’ – she would still need to find a way to maintain the house in the leafy suburbs. She would need money to pay for goods and services and, in the end, without any means of generating an income, she will end up being poorer than she was before.

We need to count the cost

Back in 1992, African-American writer and academic, bell hooks, raised an issue among black intellectuals and professionals which I think is one we need to ask ourselves collectively, particularly in black communities who are afflicted with the burden of addictions and a myriad other psychological diseases brought on by a breakdown in the support systems within our communities. “The question for me then is how do we share resources within diverse black communities… For me, dealing with addicts in the family – the concrete questions of co-dependency to what extent do we share our resources to enable (continued drug use), to what extent do we share resources in the interest of allowing people to redeem their lives?”  What models of responsibility do we have in cases where people are trying to figure out how to share resources without further disabling those who have made progress?

How do we talk about the redistribution of resources without talking about what we are all willing to give up? I don’t believe that we can convince masses of other people to give up some of their resources if we don’t.
The answer, it seems, does not lie in more money, but in what we do with it.

“The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” 
― Steve Biko

 

SO MUCH MATERIAL: TOO LITTLE TIME

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations” George Orwell.

Last weekend’s publication of a scandalous story which revealed that South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is alleged to have been nicknamed cupcake by one of his mistresses – has left the country’s journalists and editors accusing each other of taking sides in the current power struggles ravaging the ruling party ANC ahead of its  54th National elective conference in December.

“I must admit that I am terribly disappointed in Ramaphosa, just one affair? What kind of presidential contender has one affair? “Cyril Ramaphosa the story that couldn’t.”

“South Africans don’t care about their leader sexual lives” “No lethal blow to Ramaphosa’ Campaign Over sex scandal, yet” “Cyril’s sex ‘scandal’ a damp squib.” “Nobody Cares About The Ramaphosa Sex Scandal” Some accused the editor of being a drama queen lacking in journalistic ethics after he complained of receiving death threats following the stories’ publication.

With twitter having cooled off from posting cupcake memes the editor in question published an opinion piece midweek explaining his actions while also accusing his colleagues in the media of pressuring him to reveal his sources vowing to stand for truth. The Mail and Guardian which published his position warned journalists to manage their biases.

“Power is being contested here. And whenever power is being contested, it is ugly. It is therefore imperative that all of us who work in the media to remember what happened in the run-up to Polokwane. Journalists and publications chose sides, they were proxies for factional battles and they were betrayed.” The editorial concluded that “We are journalists. But we are not freedom fighters. Noble though our work is, we must abandon our self-righteous zeal. Truth, justice, puppies and rainbows are sure to follow if we’re able to report the news as we ought.”

In theory ethical journalism is supposed to be about constrained expression, not free expression. It is supposed to be about professionals who impose self-restraint based upon the respect for others and an attachment to ethical principles. But this can only be done in an environment free from pressure and intimidation – which is why journalists should have a vested interest in defending and promoting high standards of human rights, which includes, in this case, the right for the editor in question to publish the story instead of attacking him.

Make no mistake.

The current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is a very powerful man. He not only has deep roots within the ANC and government, but he has amassed an immense amount of wealth and influence in the business sector since the advent of democracy.  He is a man well versed in almost all sectors of South African society.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of his character lies not in his alleged extra-marital affairs which he dismissed as “dirty-war-tricks” employed to damage his campaign for the presidency but his role leading up to the 2012 Marikana massacre in which 34 Lonmin mine workers were killed by South African police.  Ramaphosa who was the director of Lonmin at the time used his influence to order the police minister to deploy close to 800 policemen to the Koppie in Marikana and later persuaded them to end these “dastardly acts.”  He was calling striking mine workers cowards who lacked courage.

These are known public facts.  In May this year, the Deputy President apologised for his role in the Marikana Massacre saying it was an unfortunate use of language. Unfortunate words from someone who is a lawyer, a skilled negotiator, drafter of the country’s constitution, a businessman, a labour union specialist who at some point in his illustrious career represented the rights and aspirations of mine workers in South Africa. It’s his about turn from negotiating a peaceful settlement to putting pressure on government officials to do something which caused a huge blood stain on the very democracy he helped to build – which worries me.

He lacked restraint.

This image of Deputy President is more troubling to me.  I wonder about his motivations and whose’s interests he is serving or will serve once he becomes President. This alleged sex-scandal only serves to corroborate what we already know, Ramaphosa is a man, like President Zuma, who lacks restraint.  He just goes about it in a way which is more discreet and acceptable to the majority of South Africans. It is what he is capable of doing behind closed doors as illustrated in the Marikana massacre which makes this sordid story about his alleged sexual-exploits, ultimately relevant.

The attacks against the editor in question who was granted leave this week due to stress and trauma suffered as a result of publishing the story only serves to make us forget about history. To divert attention from what matters.

The failure by most South African journalists and editors to defend the editor in question’s right to publish the story without fear or intimidation is also troubling. This year has not been easy for the journalism fraternity and while journalists came out in full support for Journalists standing up against censorship at the SABC. Their silence on the rights for the editor in question to publish a story revealing the hidden character of a man who is in the running for the highest office in the land,  even after the editor has complained of harassment and death threats – is disturbing.

What is this story about?

As with the recent saga of Bell Pottinger, we know that there are many ways to manipulate the media and or public opinion. One of them is complete censorship and suppressing of information. The other is releasing an avalanche of information some of which is misleading, false, true or useless aimed at keeping said target preoccupied with sifting the sheep from the goats. Perhaps the editor in question and his colleagues may have been the victims of a Phishing attack or suggestio falci – a case of having too much information with little time to make sense of it. Time is currency in Journalism and unfortunately, it may have worked against him this time around.  But he still has the editorial right to publish information without fear or intimidation even if we don’t agree with its contents or deem it to be a “good” story.  None of us are beyond reproach in this business.

If President Jacob Zuma and his supporters are capable of engaging in nefarious activities to hold on to power and influence – what makes us think that the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters are not when history tells us otherwise?

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
― George Orwell

 

TJOVITJO: I’M SORRY, WHAT?

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The recent exchange between ‘the people’s bae’ South African Member of Parliament and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (PhD) and a candidate for the SABC board  Rachel Kalidass, got me thinking about the politics of representation, race and class in the country.

During the interview ‘the people’s bae‘ leaned into his mic and asked, ‘what do you think about Tjovitjo?” The respondent Kalidass, a chartered accountant and former SABC board member evidently flustered by his question, batted her eyes lids behind clear thin glasses and then answered the MP with her own question “I’m sorry, what?”

After a few rounds of clarification, Kalidass who is included in the final list of 12 names recommended to serve on the SABC board,  eventually answered that not only does she not know who or what Tjovitjo is she is, in fact, more inclined to watch SABC 3 which is a channel geared towards urban metropolitan South Africans – who are global citizens, well read, well-travelled and earn on average over 17 thousand rands a month (LSM 7-10). Tjovitjo is aired on SABC 1 which targets the often-rural peri urban working class South Africans, with some primary education and earn between one thousand and 6 thousand rand a month (LSM 1-6).

The question and her answer were laughed off by the parliamentary panel. But it got people on twitter tweeting on opposite lines of the fence. Some argued that she is not a board member of the SABC 3 channel only and should rather stay home while others countered that she can’t possibly be expected to know all programming on SABC’s numerous platforms.

Be that as it may. I sight this incident which is possibly innocuous in the context of everything else that’s happening both within government and at the SABC, because it speaks directly to what concerns me the most about the state of our nation.  The jarring,  growing and consistent disconnect between those who are elected to serve or work for the public’s interest and the actual public.

Kalidass and her colleagues are faced with a mammoth of task of restoring the  image, reputation and credibility of the public-state- broadcaster from a long history of scandals, mismanagement, corruption, undue political interference and censorship which led to the firing of its most controversial  Chief Operations Officer (COO) to date, Hlaudi Motsoeneng,  the purging of the SABC board, the firing of SABC8 journalists who blew the whistle against  increased censorship in the broadcaster’s news division. Censorship which later led to the untimely death of SABC8 journalist Suna Venter three months ago.

Viewed in this historical context, Tjovitjo a 26-part drama series about the lives of a group dancers amatjovitjo, who live in peri-urban-poverty-ridden-opportunity-less squatter camps who use dance as way to not only express their frustration with their lives but to overcome them – is the only good news story to have come out of the SABC in recent months. The drama series drew more than 5 million viewers for its first episode breaking the SABC’s own records since Yizo-Yizo, a popular youth drama series which aired in 1999-2004.

While watching episode three of the series it felt so real I cried real ones when one of the protagonists – a young unemployed school dropout and mother who pays for her child’s transportation to school with sexual favours – broke down crying saying, “I’m tired of this life, every day I must hustle, hustle, hustle for everything.” Her mother who sat quietly by responded: “don’t cry my child everyone is living this life.” Everyone must hustle.

Despite the positive reviews which praised the producers and actors for their brilliant artistry. I realized how exhausted I was by this seemingly never-ending story of black poverty. I began to think to myself  –  if I never see another inspirational story of South Africans dancing and singing their way through the dusty streets of some township, ghetto, crime ridden, corrupt, poverty-stricken, hungry smiling, disease laden squatter camp – it will be too soon. Too soon indeed.

Despite the many misgivings I may have about the stereotypes which persist in the series and questions of whether we are not in some ways continuing to monetize the anxieties and suffering of black people. I also know this:

TjoviTjo is about the 30 million South Africans who are currently living in poverty, the majority of whom are black (women) people who watch SABC1 for entertainment. It depicts in real and tangible terms what the government and the ruling party ANC have failed to do and still need to do. This is what Tjovitjo represents. The lived experiences of more than half of the country’s population.

Like Kalidass I myself am inclined towards the upwardly mobile educated lifestyle populated with people who are travelling the world and read books for leisure, who isn’t? Except that I have been there before. I have lived among those people who reside in the forgotten wastelands of our rainbow nation and together we met the glare of hopelessness in the eye and danced sePansula by candle light until midnight to while away the time. We danced, rehearsed every chance we could to stave off hunger or the desire to do something more damaging to our prospects. We danced against despair and we danced for survival.  I know how significant it is to shout or hear screams of tjovitjo!!! Amid whistles and claps of appreciation from friends as we fall into step together. So, I cannot afford not to know. I cannot afford to look away and as a public representative, neither can she. Because the only hope we all have of changing this particular story is to face it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try to understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

― Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living