Unveiling Democracy: It’s A Mirage

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I’m here watching as the brilliant pallet of hopeful colours democracy once painted for us in vivid penetrating hues of bright reds, warm oranges, sunny yellows, soft airy blues which so mesmerized the eye that some of us had to squint just to see the picture clearly;  begins to fade.

The dazzling ideal which democracy once hung in front of our eyes is grey now no longer black or white.  Bold or striking in crisp sparkling white or deep saturated blacks – the colours have bled into each other so much that while we are too petrified to pronounce the words describing what this image is fading into – we know for sure that it is not what we once hoped for. It is not about freedom, equality or justice.

The grey clouds in our democratic winter accomplished something remarkable – they have removed the illusions and pretences which we are so desperate to cling to.

It is about money

The tragic election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States has done us, the global public, a favour. In Trump, the true nature of the political system which has been governing our lives has been unveiled in all its raw-callousness.

American prof of Linguistics Noam Chomsky spoke about the construction of a  political system which is  “moving towards a real articulated expression of contempt for the general population,” 30 years ago. In the interview on dissent and democracy in 1988, Chomsky observed a trend in which the political system run by the elite including the intellegencia – increasingly operates without public participation, “where elections have been almost removed from the point where the public takes them seriously as involving a matter of choice.”

In the interview, Chomsky describes a system which we are all too familiar with  by now: A political figure (democratic or republican/ liberal or conservative/ right-wing or left-wing) who represents something, is supported by certain interests, has certain commitments comes before us  produces and says things which the polls  and his advisers tell him  will increase his chances of gaining office; after which he will dispense with everything he has said before to gain office and then proceed with his own commitments,  interests and what is demanded of him by those who supported him and those who provided him with resources. Chomsky noted that while this has always been true  what is interesting now is the extent to which it is recognized to be the “democratic system.”

The election of Donald Trump has caused an uproar among the ruling elite precisely because he has let the cat out of the bag; the political system exists only to protect privilege and power at all costs. Not only has he revealed that the ruling class does not care at all about the so-called ” people” or “general public” –  he has made it clear that it is not in the interest of power for the public to be well-informed, empowered or participate meaningfully in the decisions or choices that government makes. They don’t want that; dissent is a crisis for democracy and since they can’t force people through violent means to do what they want, they have employed sophisticated ways to control what people think; through media propaganda and coercion by pure charm: saying everything we want to hear and then doing the opposite.

While democracies who have bought into the American political ideology of Democratic Capitalism are still pretending that the public has a “choice” – Donald Trump has pulled the hat out of the rabbit.

Even as our politicians continue to say one thing and do something else, we can no longer pretend that the ruling party or opposition parties in our parliaments are there to serve the interests of the public. We cannot pretend that the newly elected president of the ruling ANC in South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is representing the publics’ interest. No matter what he says in eloquent well-crafted speeches. He is only representing the interests of a privileged class the private sector of which he is a high-ranking member.

It is not a conspiracy

We know now from the events of Marikana where at least 34 striking miners were killed in order for Lonmin to continue production – whose side Ramaphosa is on. We know that he ordered government officials to end the strike by any means necessary. We know whose interests the police served when they opened fire. We know whose interests Ramaphosa will serve once he is sworn into office in 2019. We can’t pretend that he has not been obvious about it. We also know from the incidents surrounding the publication of his sex-scandal story who the mass media in this country will support.

Patrons of Power

The elite class including the media exists to serve the interests of power. Chomsky observed  that in this deck’ If you want to be an expert or part of the specialized class you have to be able to serve the interests of objective power – that’s an institutional role that has to be played and if you do it, if you’re able to articulate the interests of people with power, you’re in ‘

The same applies to journalism -if you want to be a journalist he said,  you have to accord the needs of the institution; imbibe its culture and values. Mass media are major corporations (monopolies)  and like any other business, they have to make a profit.  It doesn’t matter what you say to the people, as long as there’s a profit at the end of the day. In this context then the primary function of mass media is to mobilize public support for the special interest of the dominant class.

The role of the government in a capitalist democracy then is also similar; to make laws which protect the property rights and interests of a minority who own and control natural resources, industry and transport.

So, while we continue to live under an economic system where a few private individuals control the means of production and distribution of an entire country – democracy will remain what it has always been. Just a Mirage.

It’s not real  

We are free to the extent to which our freedom serves (profits) the interests of those with power.  That’s the reality.

 

 

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Coconut: Soothing oil for growing Afros

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I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. It is the story of our lives. It is our story, told in our own words as we feel it every day. It is boring. It is plain. It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell – Coconut (2007), Kopano Matlwa

Done.

Within a few hours of picking up the book from a family friends’ impressive bookshelves, it was all over. I didn’t understand why I had been so resistant to reading it when all those years ago,  I stood hiding behind bookshelves listening to Kopano Matlwa; a precocious medical student then and now qualified medical doctor, health activist, Oxford Scholar and  author of three successful manuscripts (Spilt Milk, 2010 and Period Pain 2017) answer questions about her debut novel, Coconut (2007) which had also scooped the  European prize for  literature in 2008.

It was interesting.

Her audience at the time, composed mostly of white people with some highlights, including myself.  I can’t remember everything that was being said. But I do remember watching myself watch her sitting there, a young woman just like me who had achieved more with her life than I had in my entire my lifetime. Was it jealousy? Envy? Bring her down syndrome? “It’s a day in the life of a black school girl, it takes place in a day,” she said shyly. I wanted to ask a question but I had not read the book so I let the moment pass and continued to inhale the intoxicating smell of new books. I may not be a writer nor a published author but I can, at the very least, read.

It took me a decade, 10 years to be precise to finally read the book which peaked at me from other people’s shelves as if to ask, and me? Yes, yes she’s a gifted writer I would say each time her name came up in conversation about new reads. But I had no idea what was between the books’ covers. Now  I understand why it took me so long to read it from cover to cover in just four hours.

Coconut.

The title of the book rubbed me up the wrong way. I couldn’t get past it even though the cover clearly said; A Novel.  But now that I’ve read every word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter and all its parts – since I have gone through it. I get it.

I was a victim of words; language meant a lot to me.

I had been called a coconut ( a derogatory term used to describe black-African people who could speak English fluently – i.e black on outside and white on the inside) for so long that by the time Matlwa came out shining in all her brilliance I couldn’t bring myself to purchase or read the insult. It was too much, I didn’t want to relive the experience. The word Coconut had taunted, haunted, bullied, sneered, laughed, humiliated me at every turn. She wants to be white they whispered in front of me, who do you think you are, trying to be better than us eh? they shouted behind my back.

Instead, I drifted to the academic section at the Boekehuis and picked out a much lighter read than what Matlwa offered, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952).

It’s been a rough ride.

Today most (aspirational – middle class) South Africans appreciate that fluency in English(the imperial language) does not mean that the speaker desires to be white nor does it make the person more or less African or more or less intelligent.  Neither does it make them a nice, good, evil or a bad person or vice versa for African language speakers. All these appendages depend on the speaker’s individual character and their motives for speaking or not speaking said language notwithstanding the power structures or systems governing society.

A language is a tool (a means to an end, not an end in itself). It can be used for just about anything under the sun if one has the power and influence to lubricate its application. I have spoken Afrikaans with white English-speaking South Africans in the Middle-East just so that the Arabic-French- English-speaking taxi driver would not hear what we were saying.   In school, we invented code languages so that we could confuse others but understand each other just for the fun of it. We pretended not to understand others so we could hear them speak freely in languages we were fluent in. So we could see or know the man behind the mask.

Obvious. ly

The more languages a person cultivates the better. Words are only as powerful as the value you place on them regardless of where they come from – of course, life is easier if one can use and understand the dominant syntax (power and ideology).  But what you believe  ( i.e hold dear, value or love: the philosophy you live by ) is more important than anything else.

So, I am happy to finally put this delightful, sometimes funny and discomforting story about being a black African in the world today along with its long list of relatives including but not limited to race and identity to bed.

Besides, coconut oil is all the rage for growing  Afros, naturally.

Read it if you can.

 

CLASS WARFARE: WHEN A LITTLE MEANS A LOT

It’s the little of the littlest things that get to you in a time of war. Like today, the 8th of November 2017 is my cousin’s 44th birthday. She was hoping to get out of her house for some fresh air. “Ngibone abantu,” she said over the phone. But she’s trapped in her house because there’s a minibus #taxistrike. The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) is protesting against the government over a litany of grievances which include but are not limited to matters related to taxi route operations, provisions in the National Transport Land Act, the controversial Taxi Recapitalization Programme, compensation for operating licenses and  taxi subsidies.

The minibus taxi is a 40 billion rand industry in South Africa which employs more than 600 thousand people who transport close to 15 million commuters a day. Commuters like my cousin who relies on minibus taxis to run their lives. “ We tried got a lift with someone but we couldn’t go any further because there were no taxis to take us where I wanted to go”

This year has not been an easy one for my cousin and I understand why today of all days she would want to be out of her house and be far away from the place which has become a constant reminder of the new gaping hole in her heart.

Her 14-year-old son whom she affectionately called her “husband” is not home or in School. It will be the first time today in 14 years that she celebrates her birthday without him. He will never grow old enough to sit for his final school exams like hundreds of Matric students who have been left in the lurch and forced to take alternative transport because of today’s strike.

He won’t be there because he died on a train. While train surfing one afternoon in June. His first time riding on top in instead of staff riding. “I used to wonder why his takkies got worn off so quickly,” she told me. “ I used to ask him why were his shoes like this, soccer, he would answer,” She said she wondered what kind of soccer obliterates the soles of his shoes to paper,  what kind of soccer makes shoes like this? “Kanti, he was train surfing” She had no idea of his extramural activities and his love for speed. “he was such a beautiful, obedient child”

So, she won’t be taking a train today or in the near future. She has to wait until Saturday to celebrate her new life when the strike is over. Because unlike two of my friends, taking a cab, a meter taxi, Uber or Taxify is not an option for her.

But life is not so simple for my friends either both of them single working mothers who live on the other side of town. They too are trapped between warring factions. They are forced to do business as if they were criminals.

This after drivers for Uber and the Estonian start-up Taxify operating in Johannesburg and Pretoria faced threats and protest from regular taxi operators who accuse the app-based drivers of poaching customers with cheaper fares.

Three cars were torched and Uber and Taxify drivers are being constantly harassed by maxi-cab drivers blocking them for picking up customers at airports and shopping centres around Johannesburg.

My friends insist on using Uber and Taxify because they are better more efficient options to the lack-lustre service provided by meter cab drivers over the years. They are often notoriously late, old and rickety and regularly overcharge their customers.

Now they have to hide or wait for hours just to get from A to B. To run errands, take kids to school, get groceries, while pregnant. The story of moving in Post Apartheid South Africa for them is not just about going from A to B. It’s also about power and gender.

It infringes on the women’s personal safety when maxi-cab drivers threaten them, stopping them from taking a ride of their choice. Hating them for being women who speak out, who want to exercise their right to choose. ” who do you think you are” they say “I don’t take instructions from a woman” they insist.  Today South African women, like in the past, once again have to ask for permission to live.

To move and breathe in a bit of fresh air.

It’s the little things that get to you in a time of war.

It’s the little things that ignite a fury.

It’s the littlest of things.

 

CLASS WARFARE – WHEN A LITTLE MEANS A LOT

It’s the little of the littlest things that get to you in a time of war. Like today, the 8th of November 2017 is my cousin’s 44th birthday. She was hoping to get out of her house for some fresh air. “Ngibone abantu,” she said over the phone. But she’s trapped in her house because there’s a minibus #taxistrike. The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) is protesting against the government over a litany of grievances which include but are not limited to matters related to taxi route operations, provisions in the National Transport Land Act, the controversial Taxi Recapitalization Programme, compensation for operating licenses and the taxi subsidies.

The minibus taxi is a 40 billion rand industry in South Africa which employs more than 600 thousand people who transport close to 15 million commuters a day. Commuters like my cousin who relies on minibus taxis to run their lives. “ We tried got a lift with someone but we couldn’t go any further because there were no taxis to take us where I wanted to go”

This year has not been an easy one for my cousin and I understand why today of all days she would want to be out of her house and be far away from the place which has become a constant reminder of the new gaping hole in her heart.

Her 14-year-old son whom she affectionately called her “husband” is not home or in School. It will be the first time today in 14 years that she celebrates her birthday without him. He will never grow old enough to sit for his final school exams like hundreds of Matric students who have been left in the lurch and forced to take alternative transport because of today’s strike.

He won’t be there because he died on a train. While train surfing one afternoon in June. His first time riding on top in instead of staff riding. “I used to wonder why his takkies got worn off so quickly,” she told me. “ I used to ask him why were his shoes like this, soccer, he would answer,” She said she wondered what kind of soccer obliterates the soles of his shoes to paper,  what kind of soccer makes shoes like this? “Kanti, he was train surfing” She had no idea of his extramural activities and his love for speed. “he was such a beautiful, obedient child”

So, she won’t be taking a train today or in the near future. She has to wait until Saturday to celebrate her new life when the strike is over. Because unlike two of my friends, taking a cab, a meter taxi, Uber or Taxify is not an option for her.

But life is not so simple for my friends either both of them single working mothers who live on the other side of town. They too are trapped between warring factions. They are forced to do business as if they were criminals.

This after drivers for Uber and the Estonian start-up Taxify operating in Johannesburg and Pretoria faced threats and protest from regular taxi operators who accuse the app-based drivers of poaching customers with cheaper fares.

Three cars were torched and Uber and Taxify drivers are being constantly harassed by maxi-cab drivers blocking them for picking up customers at airports and shopping centres around Johannesburg.

My friends insist on using Uber and Taxify because they are better more efficient options to the lack-lustre service provided by meter cab drivers over the years. They are often notoriously late, old and rickety and often overcharge their customers.

Now they have to hide or wait for hours just to get from A to B. To run errands, take kids to school, get groceries, while pregnant. The story of moving in Post Apartheid South Africa for them is not just about going from A to B. It’s also about power and gender.

It infringes on the women’s personal safety when maxi-cab drivers threaten them, stopping them from taking a ride of their choice. Hating them for being women who speak out, who want to exercise their right to choose. ” who do you think you are” they say “I don’t take instructions from a woman” they insist.  Today South African women, like in the past, once again have to ask for permission to live.

To move and breathe in a bit of fresh air.

It’s the little things that get to you in a time of war.

It’s the little things that ignite a fury.

It’s the littlest of things.

THE LEADING SEX: DOES GENDER MATTER?

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The incoming president of the Business Woman Association of South Africa (BWASA) Happy Ralinala has challenged women to put their money where their mouth is and support at least one of the three women candidates running the presidential race of the African National Congress (ANC). Speaking at a leadership dialogue in Sandton, Johannesburg Ralinala said women hold the majority vote in elections and it is they who have the power to elect a female president – if they so choose. The former managing Executive of Private and Wealth Banking Africa at Barclays Africa Group Limited said women are the ones who put presidents in power because they are the majority but for some reason, they don’t choose well. “We are forever choosing wrong,” she said.

The three senior long-standing members of the ANC; Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the current minister of human settlements and stalwart daughter Lindiwe Sisulu have thrown their hats in the ring to contest the presidency amongst five men in the upcoming ANC Elective Conference in December. Makhosini Nkosi manager for Lindiwe Sisulu’s campaign said Sisulu like Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe is running solely on a gender-card. In an interview with Timeslive, he said, “Comrade Lindiwe Sisulu believes now is the time to elect a female president. She is of the view that the more female candidates there are the better. As far as we are concerned we are trying to get Lindiwe Sisulu elected president. That is the mandate of the branches that nominated her,” said Nkosi. According to recent polls, Sisulu has surpassed Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma with a 52 percent approval rating which has seen her being ear-marked as Cyril Ramaphosas’ deputy.  At the same time strongest candidate for president based on experience, Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma’s campaign has failed to take off due to her links to the president and the embattled Gupta family.

So, Happy Ralinala’s comments forced me to reflect on what it actually means to be a woman in politics today. It made me think about the countless women politicians who have repeatedly told me in interviews that once elected into political office women must, just like men, tow the party line since anything else would result in political suicide.

Their sentiments were echoed by one of the panellists at the leadership gathering who said that women often face obstacles in business because they don’t want to play by the existing rules. “ Someone put it very clear to me and said you know Lizzy if you are playing Soccer don’t come with Rugby rules because the Rugby rules won’t do you any good in Soccer. Women, women (we) believe in working hard, we don’t believe in getting sponsors from the corporate world. From the corporate world, one of the most important things is, find yourself a sponsor. Find yourself someone who at the table if no one else mentions your name, they are going to mention your name. Sometimes we think our work is good enough to talk for itself but in the corporate world, it’s the opposite. Those are the soccer rule games, and we want to come with rugby rules in the corporate world. You talk to lots of women and you ask them, who is your sponsor? Some of them don’t have sponsors and you know they start blinking, some of them confuse a sponsor with a coach. Finding a sponsor is someone who is at an influential position who can position you in the organizations. There comes a certain level where your growth is no longer about what you deliver, it’s about who knows you, who knows what you’re capable of and who can vouch for you. It gets to a point where you have to balance those two things of thinking your work will sell you versus getting other people to sell you” she said.

So where does that leave women? What about the case of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who has played by the rules of the party since she was elected into office in 1994 and has never violated party protocol. Not only was she nominated by the ANC women’s league which is infamous for repeatedly nominating male candidates for the ANC presidency in the past, her campaign has been endorsed by one of the most influential men in the country at the moment; President Jacob Zuma. Despite her excellent sportsmanship throughout the years, her presidential campaign has fallen in the shadows of scandals surrounding her sponsor’s camp. Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Ok. She chose the wrong sponsor, you say.

How about Lindiwe Sisulu who despite having broken protocol by launching her own campaign without the support or endorsement of the ANC women’s league – has been labelled an entitled and annoying candidate? What chance does she stand against the well-oiled machinery of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign? What does playing by the rules mean exactly? Does it mean that one ceases to be a woman when playing a pre-dominantly male game? How can you be a woman playing a man’s game and have that not be a game changer? Is the fact of being a woman in politics enough of a game-changer in and of itself?

Should it matter? Should women be judged by how well they play a man’s game since politics is a man’s game and men are political animals? Should women be playing a different game? Do women have a game of their own? Are there different standards for women in politics? Should we vote for one of the three candidates simply because they are women?

How about the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete who went against the grain and took a decision to welcome a  vote of no confidence against her own party leadership? Will her bold move help her realise her ambitions to one day become madam president? Who will sponsor her now?

Is it not the same rules in this political game of sponsorship and name-dropping which has led to the corruption we are witnessing from the upper and lower echelons of government and business? If we are playing by the same rules how will we ever change the status quo?

Since none of the opposition political parties have put forward a female candidate for leadership – will we be forced to vote for the ANC if we want to see a woman become president in 2019?

Why should it matter that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is endorsed by President Jacob Zuma? Why can’t she be judged on her own merits? Why can’t we vote for her because she deserves it, worked hard for it, played by the rules? None of the candidates who’ve raised their hands for the presidency are scandal-free. All of them to some degree have blood on their hands. Does it matter if their nails are painted with crimson red nail polish or not?

At this point in the game, I’m not sure what matters more. The type of underwear one puts on in the morning or the kinds of thoughts and ideas one dreams up at night. Is an idea’s merit dependent on the sexual organs of the person who conjures it up or not? But what I do know for sure is,  of the two – one is an incident of nature which for the most part can’t be helped and another is a choice.

So do we choose women because their gender made it impossible for them to make different choices? Or do we elect women because they made different choices period?

Who is more deserving of the presidency between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu? All of them are running on the gender-card in the same (slate) political party. Is being a woman more important than being ethical and principled? Why should we use these standards on women and not on men?  What qualifies men to be President? Is it because they are men or because they know how to play the game?

Happy Ralinala also noted that even though the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May is a woman,  she has not raised any gender-related issues during her tenure including how the Brexit saga affects women.  So then what does it mean to be a woman president? Should it mean anything?

In the US some women like actress Susan Sarandon who famously said “ I don’t vote with my vagina” turned their back on Hillary Clinton saying their vote was bigger than the two candidates contesting the 2016 elections. They refused to vote for the lesser of the two evils saying both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stood for Capitalism and Financial interests which are destroying the environment, even if their approaches are different. So should South African women vote with their vagina’s this time?

What do we do in this situation?

 

 

ABAHLALI: LINDIWE’S UNTOLD STORY

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You can listen to a podcast-radio version of this story here.

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”

 

THE EFF: AND ITS LANGUAGE GAME

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Click here to listen to the audio version of this article.

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.

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