Mhambi has been redeployed.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Principled and brave Ivan Toms dies

Sometimes brave and principled individuals can make a difference. This week Dr. Ivan Toms died. He is one of those people we seem to have to such a dearth of in today's South Africa.

Ivan Toms shot to prominence when he agreed to be the public face of resistance to conscription at a time when it was very critical for the SADF. He very publicly refused to go to the SADF and went on a hunger strike. Ivan Toms, against the advice of ECC organisers, was also openly gay. And for this he was pilloried as much as for his objection to military service.

Toms had done time on the Namibian Angolan border as a medic. But it was upon his return to South Africa, when violence erupted in the townships and he witnessed troops involved in this violence that Toms decided not to serve in the army again.

On 3 March 1988, Toms was sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment of which he served nine months in Pollsmoor Prison as a 'criminal' prisoner, after which he was released on bail.

At the time of his sentence the Judge said although he had no option but to follow the law and sentence Toms:

“You are not a criminal. Our jails are there for people who are a menace to society – you are not a menace to society. In fact you are just the opposite, you have always been an asset to society in the services you have rendered.”

According to Richard Steele another ex conscientious objector:

Further to the finding that Ivan died due to infection with meningococcal meningitis:- Some pieces of the puzzle may be that Ivan had his spleen removed some years after his ECC fast, due to the damage incurred during the fast. According to the medical literature on meningitis, lack of a spleen can be a risk factor for the rapid progress of meningitis. Another risk factor may have been the fact that he had recently completed the Argus cycle race. Such a strenuous event can deplete the immune system and make one vulnerable to infection.

I once spoke to Toms to get an interview with him for a documentary on the Border War. He was humble and although helpful, felt that other ex members of the ECC also deserved credit and gave me their details.

Read a good summary of some of Ivan Toms achievements here.

Or try to get hold of the Eat my Call Up documentary by Naashon Zalk to see an intimate portrait of Ivan Toms.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cuito Cuanavale - background to a battle

Recently progressive politician Van Zyl Slabbert pleaded with South Africans “not to fall for an invented history”. This included what he called the myth that Cuban and Angolan forces had defeated the South African Defence Force (SADF) at the Angolan battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

Underlining its resonance just this week the president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma and a delegation from the South African parliament is visiting Quito Canavale.

Why is Cuito Cuanavale seen as so incredibly important and the site of so much argument? It is said the battle which commenced in September 1987 was the largest land battle in Africa since World War 2. Is that it? What exactly transpired there, and what was at stake then and is now?

Slabbert claims that South Africa’s struggle past was being selectively used to establish a racially exclusive Africanism as “the new dominant ideology”. And the debate over Cuito is part of this trend.

A massive argument now rages about who actually won at Cuito. Right after the incident Fidel Castro had already achieved several media coups with his claim that Cuban forces had secured major victory for the Angolans over the racist apartheid army.

South African generals deny this claim to this day by pointing to its low casualty rate (just over 20) compared to the Cubans and Angolan MPLA. And they claim that its army never intended to take Cuito Cuanavale.

Several assumptions and points of departure in the argument about Cuito Cuanavale are however misguided.

One glaring mistake that is often made in the debate about Cuito is not mentioning the role of Unita on whose side South Africa fought. Another is not explaining the background and what lead to it. More specifically:

  • the spectacular South African military victories up until then,

  • the change in weaponry,

  • the pressures on both South Africa and Cuba,

  • the Nationalist's aversion to taking casualties.

Why Cuito Cuanavale

Cuito Cuanavale is a town a few hundred kilometers inside Angola and towards the vast countries east. It is a gateway of sorts to the whole South eastern region. It was also importantly barely within range of South African fighter planes.

It is situated on the banks of a river and had been a centre from which Angola's MPLA had launched attacks on Mavinga in south east Angola for a number of years.

Each season starting 1984 when the rains allowed them they struck out south east along the Lomba river.

The actual target was Jamba, Unita's bush head quarters. This south east of Angola was sparsely populated by the ethnic group loyal to Unita, with nothing much else but bush. On the South African side of the Namibian border there was not much else either, except the base of crack SADF units like 32 Batallion.

Jamba, a magnet for trouble

Many SADF personnel including Jan Breytenbach the maverick head of 32 battalion had for some time questioned the wisdom of setting up a formal fiefdom by Unita at Jamba.

It would encourage just these kinds of large conventional attacks by the MPLA it was thought. It presented a prize target, and if taken would be a massive propaganda coup. It was argued that it would be much better if the movement remained as a guerrilla army.

As apartheid South Africa suffered from an international arms embargo it wanted to avoid conventional warfare. On paper the Russian backed MPLA had superior weaponry in many areas, not to mention its tank capability.

The Russian military loved these large formal troop movements, and actively encouraged the MPLA to attack in this way. The Cubans on the other hand, who also had a strong presence in Angola, and had so heroically and audaciously helped the MPLA in 1975 begged to differ. They thought the Russian strategy to be ill conceived.

The Angolans often fled in the face of South Africa attacks, and so landed Unita with valuable Russian military hardware.

To the Cubans the Angolans would be much better served if they also followed a guerrilla strategy. And if they were to strike with conventional power, they thought a strike down the south west would be much more effective than the south east.

This is because South Africa presented more targets in this area, one of which was the Calueque hydro electric dam. It supplied much of Northern Namibia's electricity and was built with South African money. There were also many settlements and the odd town on this side of the Namibian border.

But since 76, the Russian opinion held more sway with the MPLA. In September 1984 one of the first large attacks by the MPLA from Cuito Canavale towards Mavinga took place. It was stopped in its tracks.

The SADF supporting Unita - primarily with their Mirage fighter airplanes - destroyed the advancing MPLA columns. The MPLA was pursued, but importantly not all the way back to Quito itself.

Much the same would happen the next year in September 1985 when the MPLA backed by the Russians attempted exactly the same. Their columns were disrupted, they were pursued, but Quito was not attacked.

The question has to be asked why Quito Cuanavale was not attacked as it tells us much of what transpired later.

The pressure mounts

If the South Africans were enjoying military success outside of the country, inside South Africa the situation had changed dramatically. Swart September 84, which began in, Sharpeville caused riots throughout the country. In 1985 more than 30,000 SADF soldiers would be deployed to quell the riots inside the country. This drew heavily on the resources of the SADF.

The country was also being crippled by economic sanctions. The occupation of Namibia was gobbling up a large proportion of the South African budget. And increasingly white soldiers were not showing up for compulsory military service.

Earlier on in the conflict the Nationalist Government indicated to its military that it was risk averse. Risk averse in the sense that it thought the white voting public in the Republic would not tolerate much by way of white casualties.

This is probably the main reason why the SADF had not sent large numbers of ground forces to destroy Cuito Cuanavale. It was just not prepared to take that political risk.

Instead it fell back on the services of the South African air force and mainly black guerrilla units like 32 Battalion to defend Unita's Jamba when needed.

In Namibia the conflict against Swapo's Plan army had been contained but at great financial cost. Swapo, starved of resources had been an exceptionally brave opponent. Although Swapo fighters crossing the border on foot were almost always captured or killed, they just kept coming.

1986 saw much the same pattern of conflict emerge. But a few other changes was afoot. The South African government's arms project had began to deliver. The South Africans now had some of the best long range canons in the world. In two more years time they would also see the fruition of even more sophisticated weaponry.

The Cold War winds down

But the world was changing as well. Come 1987 the Russians had already indicated to the Cubans that they were interested in some negotiated peace. The Soviet Union was in retreat. So too was Cuba and its economy suffering come 1987. The treat of diminished Soviet economic support loomed large for Cuba. Internally there was much talk of dissent to the Castro regime.

PW Botha had already started a tentative secret process to talk to Mandela, while the Russians, Americans, Cubans, Angolans and South Africans had started tentative talks about ending the conflict.

It is here where to me it seems two fierce characters, PW Botha and Fidel Castro, and their inflated egos took the decisions that would shape what transpired at the now mythical accounts of Quito Cuanavale. One of them would do better than the other. A victory of sorts was on the cards.

Afrikaner vs Cuban the irony of Cuito Cuanavale

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama makes nuanced, complicated, risky race speech

Barack Obama delivered on Tuesday the kind of speech rarely seen in Western politics. It sounded heartfelt, and certainly treaded on dangerous ground for his candidacy. Because it was nuanced, sophisticated and eschewed shallow sound bytes.

Said Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post.

Most people, of course, aren't sitting around watching speeches on morning cable. They will form impressions of the speech from the TV coverage and the newspaper headlines. In short, a long, discursive rumination about race will be sliced and diced by our sound-bite culture.

I don't know whether this defuses the Wright problem or not. Obama seemed absolutely determined not to disavow him, and that won't help him politically, no matter what the chattering classes say.

And the New York Times said:

"The speech violated several conventions of campaign discourse -- for one, the injunction that all politicians must speak about racial and ethnic groups in upbeat stereotypes.

Presidential politics usually requires candidates to either wholly adopt or reject positions and people. Mr. Obama did neither with his pastor, rejecting his most divisive statements but also filling in the picture of Mr. Wright and his church... He admitted that his pastor is both a divisive figure and an inspiring one."

Obama claimed that he could not disown his ex black pastor Mr. Wright, who caused the furore by lambasting a racist and corrupt America, like he could not disown his white grandmother. She once confessed a fear of black men to him and made derogatory remarks on more than one occasion he said.

The reason he could not reject them is Obama said, because they are all part of him and of America. Because these racial views is the reality for many black and white Americans outside of polite company. It can't be wished away.

Sjoe, Mhambi wonders if any South African politician will have this ability to see the anger and fears of all sides any time soon? A bit like mister Mandela.

Let's hope this complicated honesty has not sunk Obama, who increasingly seems like a rare political animal. Principled, brave and intelligent. One I increasingly like.

If the USA still elects Obama, South Africa will seem light years behind with its crippling racial politics.

Obama's ex pastor and church say they campaign for black self determination. Obama still defends the reverend Mr. Wright saying he has always treated whites with respect. Sounds a bit like Afrikaners defending Karel Boshof.

As a minority is the US I have allot of sympathy for black Americans. It's interesting that how in the US, if you have some black blood, your considered black by the majority of the population. And in South Africa, if you have some non black blood, you are considered not African.

Obama would have been considered coloured (mixed race) in South Africa and not black enough to become president.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Apartheid morality, one for Afrikaners and one for the rest

Thank goodness for people like Rhoda Kadalie. As an Afrikaner I was outraged by the abusive Reitz video made at the Free State University. So was many other Afrikaners and Afrikaner organisations.

But simmering all week was a nagging feeling that the way this has been criticised from certain quarters is so disproportionate when compared to other incidents. This hypocrisy in itself reeked to me of prejudice. Some commentators like Michael Trapido have spotted the same.

The reaction of celebrity South African society and the international media is unquestionably disproportionate when compared to other incidents in this country, and now it seems some organisations like Cosatu and the ANC are trying to make political capital from it.

I don't for a moment think lambasting these students for arrogant racist abuse and taking strong disciplinary action against them is unwarranted. Neither don't I think the University management at the UFS should take stock of how they deal with racism and change its structures if it must. But can we have similar for all abuse suffered by different groups in this country, on campuses and off it?

And, yesterday Rhoda Kadalie said exactly that in a hard hitting article Video uproar betrays culture of double standards.

Take violence against women at our Universities says Kadalie.

"...we forget that sexual violence and rape are prevalent and covered up on so many campuses. Ask me, I know about sexual violations at so-called progressive universities, where student leaders were involved in the sexual harassment and rape of fellow students. These campuses were not billed as “campuses of rape”, and whole campuses are not painted with the same brush because of those who routinely perpetrate such acts of violence against female students at only one."

What is Rhoda referring to? To these reports of rape at a Durban campus? Perhaps, who knows, because besides this report very little else was written about this particular incident or any others. It certainly did not reach the Sowetan, The Star, Die Beeld, The Sunday Times etc.

Perhaps because it has a female editor The Mail and Guardian gave a UKZN lecturer Lubna Nadvi the opportunity to write a further article on the rapes at the UKZN campus.

For her trouble the newspaper got a stinging rebuke from the university management including the deputy dean, Professor Nceba Gqaleni accusing Nadvi of racism. Incredibly the report was attacked because there had been none before on other similar incidents:

“A number of African students have died or been mugged in residences.”

And there had been no media coverage he said.

Ferial Haffajee, the Mail and Guardian editor sprang to Lubna Nadvi's defence:

“A number of African students have died or been mugged in residences.” The writers throw in this statement as evidence of Nadvi’s alleged ­racism and charge that she only cared when an American student was raped, not because it is deeply shocking that places of learning have become places of horror.

Shocking yes, but still the story barely registered at home or abroad.

But shocking events ignored is par for he course it seems. Kadalie goes on and lists racism and abuse by black South Africans that go unreported or that spectacularly fails to rack up the column inches:

Equally, at many predominantly black universities, racial segregation at residences is the order of the day, but nobody speaks about that because it is assumed here that freedom of association is a right . Do you remember the coloured man who moved into Khayelitsha and was hounded out by blacks for daring to go and live in a black area?

You probably don't remember it, but there was a report of the coloured man's whose house was stoned by a crowd of 400 people.

But this of course is small fry compared to the xenophobia foreign blacks encounter in this country and often pay for with their lives. Kadalie again:

And how many hundreds of Somalis in Western Cape have been killed by other black people for simply being successful business people? Where are the headlines about this? Where is the Human Rights Commission when it comes to taking up these plights?

Here is one account of the suffering of Somalis at the hands of Xhosa's in Masiphumelele Visoek.

Kadalie is however wrong. The killings of Somalis is a country wide phenomena and not limited to the Cape. Attacks on Somalis have been recorded in Knysna, Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Diepsloot in Gauteng and Khutsong in the Free State, among others.

The first death was in 1997. Jacob van Garderen the new director of Lawyers for Human Rights have been dealing with cases of Somalis killed in Parys in the Free Sate as well. There have been no news reports of these killings in Parys whatsoever.

In October 2006 as many as 40 Somalis were killed in one month, and all we have to show for it is this article by Pearly Joubert. Where is the international media?

I could list more instances of abuse where the international media peculiarly let South Africa off the hook. Compare this to what happens elsewhere. Russia is regularly in the news when racist attacks take place where individuals are hurt or killed. In another article the BBC follows up on a Amnesty International report that as many as 28 people could have been killed in Russian racist attacks during 2005.

When a polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, recently was tazered to death by police in Canada the world was aghast.

When Adonis Musati, a young Zimbabwean asylum seeker died of hunger, a few meters away from the department of home affairs on the glitzy Cape Town foreshore, after he had queued there for days, there was barely a whimper. It did not register internationally.

Very recently The Sunday Times commissioned research from Plus 94 Research on racism in this country. Futhi Ntshingila reported on the front page of the Sunday Times that most black South Africans experience other black South Africans as most racist.

The poll found that Indians were the most likely recipients of racial hostility from Africans, with three out of four Indian respondents claiming first-hand experience of this.

The sentiment was most obvious in Durban and academic and activist Ashwin Desai said this was not surprising. “You tend to compare yourself with somebody across the road from you. Therefore the conflict between Africans and Indians happens ironically in places where they live next to each other,” he said.

A scintillating story and controversial to boot, but well researched and including some excellent commentary and analysis from the likes of Professor Adam Habib, Dan Ncayiyana, activist Ashwin Desai and Professor Charles Villa-Vicencio.

I challenge you to try and saddle up Google and find the original story on the Sunday Times website or any follow ups by any other media organisation. The only reference to the original story is to be found on a sad right wing website, where it has been copied and pasted wholesale.

Why do we suffer from this two faced reporting? Why this hypocritical public gushing and regurgitating on the one hand and conspiracy of silence on the other? The world and we have our South African narrative fixed and we won't let facts get in the way of our emotional reaction.

For lack of a better word I will call it apartheid reporting, because that is exactly what it is. There are two sets or moral codes operating in South Africa.

The consequences of these lopsided reactions is to encourage Afrikaner denialists of racism. Because agreeing is seen as giving carte blance for the rising new wave of prejudice, sweeping all in 'transformative' path.

Should we condemn Reitz less? No. But lets take up the cudgels elsewhere where people are abused and killed. This is after all about human rights and not persecution, right?

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Stellenbosch police raid pictures emerge on facebook

Facebook is proving to be an interesting template for people to organise themselves around issues.

The Facebook group in response to the raids in Stellenbosch is proving to be a great place for victims to share information, resources, pictures and videos.

A few journalists also have joined the group as its a great source for stories.

This is a picture of Louis Joubert, who incidentally is a 1st Dan in Karate, but he says on Facebook, "daar is nie veel wat jy kan doen as jy op die grond le nie, veral na 'n sarsie pepperspray."

You can't do much if your lying on the floor with peper spray in your face.

He told Mhambi today:

"i was kicked in the face about 4 times while lying
on the floor."

Where's the M & G?
What Mhambi finds rather strange is that the Mail and Guardian has not covered this story at all.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Police raids in Stellenbosch and Johannesburg

I just got a message from Adriaan Pelzer of the band Nul on Facebook. Apparently this weekend the police violently raided three music venues.

In one incident Afrikaans folk singer Bacshus Nel's equipment was 'confiscated' at the Bohemian in Johannesburg, where a protesting band supporter was allegedly called a "white pig" by Metro police.

I just messaged Lizelle Smit who attended the gig, she said it was "...soos in die 90's. Kon dit nie glo nie." Like in the 90's I could not believe it.

According to Smit the incident was relatively calm until the police took Bacchus Nel - who is blind - instruments. The crowd reacted in protest.

But the incident was not nearly as violent as what transpired in Stellenbosch.

In the Bohemia in Stellenbosch police raided military style. You can watch for yourself what transpired. One cop can be seen firing a shotgun wildly into the air, apparently oblivious that the bar has an upstairs area.

It was captured on the venue's CCTV cameras.

There was also a raid on the Mystic Boer where a video is available but we are still trying to get hold of a video of that.

There is a Facebook group about these incidents of police brutality.

Also read a Beeld report about one of the incidents.

Update Nel has got all his equipment back.

This video was made by Cape Town based Afrikaans paper Die Burger and contains allegations of police assault on the student bar patrons. And of police confiscating mobile cameras when students took pictures of the police to identify them.

And The Independent reports that The Springbok bar was also raided.

One student, who asked to remain anonymous, had a blue eye and several bruises on his face, after being kicked four times in the face, allegedly by a police officer, after he and his friends were ordered to lie on the ground in the pool room in Die Mystic Boer.

"They told us to stop drinking and smoking. My friend lit up a cigarette and they slapped him in the face. I yelled: "Dude, what the f**k are you doing to my friend? That's when they hit me and kicked me four times in the face. Then they sprayed mace or pepper spray in my eyes." Niel Bekker, a journalism graduate and son of Koos Bekker, the chief executive of Naspers, said he saw a man from the Netherlands who had been invited to speak at the Woordfees and his Belgian friend confront the police.

The Belgian man and his girlfriend, who tried to intervene, were knocked against a wall.

He also saw how a girl, who was having an asthma attack and who tried to use her phone, was hit with a baton. Stefan Sessa, the marketing manager at Cia Media, also at Die Mystic Boer, said police hit him and threw him to the ground. Johan Blom, who was at Springbok Pub with his friends, said a police officer shouted at everyone to "put away your f**king phones" and when he asked her why she was swearing at him, he had pepper spray sprayed into his eyes.

"I had to rely on my friend to lead me home, because I was blinded." Bevan Williams, who was also in the Springbok Pub, said his doctor confirmed his eardrum had ruptured when a police officer hit him after he tried to take a picture of him.


While the investigation into the controversial police raids on mainly student night spots in Stellenbosch at the weekend was handed over to the Independent Complaints Directorate on Tuesday, the news of two European writers caught up in the raids raised international attention.

Acclaimed author Breyten Breytenbach, in an open letter in Die Burger on Tuesday, apologised to the two authors for how "our pigs in bulletproof vests" treated them.

Flemish poet Dirk van Bastelaere and Dutch author Tommy Wieringa, speakers at the annual Woordfees cultural festival, were among those allegedly manhandled.


Mhambi reckons this was an example of standard SAPS behaviour and not that far removed from the 'ordinary' police raid on a shebeen in the townships. But white middelclass kids ain't use to this kind of thing.

It does not make it right of course.


The incident's Facebook group has been mobilizing students to file complaints.

"Guys and girls, PLEASE leave the race issue out of this!!! There were white, black, coloured cops and costomers/students involved!!!!!! This is not a racial thing, its a human rights issue. Its not black vs white, its police vs public! PLEASE focus on the topic.

Please come into Bohemia or Mystics and give them your account of what happened or yoo can follow these steps:

First thing would be for the guys to open criminal cases.

If you were hit or kicked - Assault
Pepper Sprayed - Assault GBH
Woman searched by males - Indecent Assault
Phone damaged - Malicious Injury to Property

If you were assaulted first go to the nearest police station and get a J88, it's a form that a doctor needs to complete in order to note the injuries that you sustained. This is very important as it can also be used in any future civil claims.

After that type out your statement and go open your case at the police station.

Lodge a formal complaint with the Independant Complaints Directorate (

Getting charged with Assault is nothing for a policeman. Having the ICD all over your ass, is hell."

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

BBC radio on the arms deal and Zuma

Listen to quite a good BBC radio documentary on that arms deal, and Jacob Zuma. It includes interviews with Andrew Feinstein (ANC whistle blower), Gavid Woods (former head of the parliamentary watchdog of public accounts, Scopa) Beki Jacob (ANC intelligence), Same Sole (journalist), Rear Admiral Chris Bennet (SA navy), Patricia de Lille (Leader of the ID), Richard Young (Arms tender).

corvette SA navy
Originally uploaded by nic777.

It also includes a good explanation of how Zuma first supported and then turned against the investigation into the deal.

And this turning of Zuma by French arms company Tales would never have come to light if it was not for a fortuitous moment and an encrypted fax fell into the lap of investigators via a spurned secretary.

Oh, and theres some great singing as well.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

It's time to peg the Rand low like China

One of the last remaining shoe factories in Cape Town.

Just the other day I was musing with friends why South Africa has not decided to peg its currency at a lower rate, so our manufacturing and services could blossom.

I have of late taken a keen interest in shoe manufacturing, as my girlfriend is a shoe maker. We have investigated manufacturing a range in Cape Town's dwindling shoe factories.

Besides the now growing skills and equipment shortage there is one startling fact that illustrates the South African problem. The average Indian factory worker gets paid about $24's per month. Compare that to a South African factory worker that gets $100 per month or higher.

In yesterday's business day Michael Power argues strongly for just the remedy we were talking about. Pegging the Rand low for the sake of being competitive.

My essential view — which I have doggedly maintained for more than a decade — is that the rand remains structurally overvalued. The main reason I give is that the rand’s current trading range is trapped in the straitjacket of what works for SA’s first economy. But, at this elevated rate, the overvalued rand prevents the second economy from having even the remotest of chances of working, literally and metaphorically.

Let’s start with the basics. SA is living way beyond its means; we have a current account deficit of 7,8% of gross domestic product (GDP). To balance our national books, we need inflows of foreign capital of about R3bn a week, or R600m a working day. Those economists who say it is “natural for a successful developing country to run external deficits and so import capital” need to read pretty much any post-1980 book on real-world economics. Even at the risk of generalising, no, it is not natural to run a deficit if you want to be successful. The emerging economies that have grown most — essentially the east Asian Tigers and now the waking dragon that is China — have been the ones that have put export-led growth first by adopting a hyper-competitive currency; this puts current account surpluses at the centre of their development strategy.

I feel sorry for those economists who simply cannot accept that the “developing countries run deficits” piece of conventional economic wisdom is precisely wrong. Sure, occasionally when global liquidity is abundant you can run deficits and get away with it. But, to paraphrase Warren Buffett, when the tide goes out, then you see who has been swimming naked. And boy, did that tide go out! And sure enough, now everyone can see that SA dispensed with its (no doubt Chinese-made) swimming trunks years ago.

It is time to catch a wake-up, SA. Is this roller coaster we are riding going to be the way we continue to run our economy for ever and a day? Is our economic development plan to become little more than a case of surfing the ebb and flow of the credit cycle, while all the time being subject to the capricious kindness of strangers and their capital?

Will we ever remain little more than a slave to America’s unhealthy rhythms? Must we wait for the planets to align in our favour again, enjoy the party that follows, only to rue the hangover that follows thereafter? And worst of all, by far worst of all, are we in the first economy going to continue to avoid addressing the plight of those trapped in the second economy, unemployable in today’s global economy given today’s rand’s exchange rate? And do we practise this last denial by turning a blind eye to the economically disenfranchised, buying off our consciences with the equivalent of an annual 3% of GDP transfer by way of social grants for 12,7-million people? (If you answer “yes” to the latter, shame on you.)

So now it is my turn to play a game with you, dear reader. Think carefully before you answer this question. I offer you the following choice. Do we build SA’s economy by sticking with the “First Economy First” approach and go with a strong rand? Or do we do what east Asia did and adopt a “Second Economy First” approach, using a more competitive and so much weaker rand? You know which option I would go for.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Motherland Azania

Motherland Azania
Originally uploaded by Wildebeast1.

It's weekend and time for more South African photography. This is a nice little Polaroid of non other but myself in Cape Town.

Polaroid recently announced that it will stop manufacturing this amazing film format. A format that flattens space and does magic to colour. So buy some film soon and stock up.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Are Afrikaners the planet's worst racists?

Imagine you are walking down the streets of London, Amsterdam or New York. You randomly ask passers by, name a place, person or people that most strike you as racist. Chances are* that a number of them will say, South Africa, white South Africa, the Boers, or "that chap with the beard and the horse".

(* Provided those you ask are not African immigrants or Asian).

To many in the Western world, white South Africa, and Afrikaners in particular are associated with racism par excellence.

David Goldblatt

Johannes van der Linde, farmer and major in the local army reserve, with his head labourer 'Ou Sam'. In the manner of respectful indirect address used in Afrikaans as between a parent and child, van der Linde asked, 'Old Sam, does the Baas swear at you?' To which the reply was, 'No Baas, the Baas does not swear at me.' Near Bloemfontein, Free State, 1965.

The policy of apartheid, western reaction against colonialism, and continued media coverage of racist behaviour of Afrikaners have over decades cemented this belief amongst Westerners in particular - Afrikaners are racist to the core.

I will examine the negative media coverage of Afrikaners in the Western media in some detail in another post, but today I want to explore the extent and nature of Afrikaner racism.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Afrikaners are deeply racist, and that some of this racism is in a very ugly way. But I will argue, that they are not more racist than the English or indeed other South Africans considering their particular context.

I will argue that the kind of racism amongst Afrikaners is a very particular kind of racism, but also that the kind of racism Afrikaners are prone to are changing.

Afrikaner racism & intimacy with black South Africa

Celebrated jewish South African photographer David Goldblatt recognized and captured the peculiar nature of the racism of Afrikaners in the 1960's.

Goldblatt had grown up on the West Rand town of Randfontein in the 1940's:

"At school, Afrikaans was a compulsory subject that I disliked intensely; it was a harsh language, like the people who spoke it. It is ironic that my mother sent me to Krugersdorp High only after I experienced serious incidents of anti-Semitism and even sadism, first at Pretoria Boys High and then at Marist Brothers in Johannesburg, both English-medium schools. I was happy at Krugersdorp High, also an English-medium school. I finished high school in 1948, the same year the National Party came into power. I remember on their election poster outside my father's shop in the main street of Randfontein a caricatured Hoggenheimer, the archetypal Jewish capitalist. Besides the swart gevaar, Jewish capitalists were the ultimate evil in the eyes of the party.

In my father's shop, serving Afrikaners, I found, almost in spite of myself, that I liked many of them and, to my surprise, that I was beginning to enjoy the language. There was a warm straightforwardness and an earthiness in many of these people that was richly and idiomatically expressed in their speech. And, although I have never advanced beyond being able to speak a sort of kombuistaal, I delighted in our conversations. Yet, withal, I was very aware that not only were most of these people Nationalists, strong supporters of the Party and its policies, but that many were racist in their very blood. Although anti-Semitism was now seldom overt, they made no secret of their attitude to blacks, who at best were children in need of guidance and correction, at worst sub-human. I was much troubled by the contradictory feelings of liking, revulsion and fear that these Afrikaner encounters aroused in me and felt the need somehow to come closer to these lives and to probe their meaning for me. I wanted to do this with the camera."

David Goldblatt -
Making a coffin for the body of a neighbour's servant whose family could not afford to buy one, Bootha Plots, Randfontein, Transvaal (Gauteng), 1962.

Goldblatt was onto something - the peculiarity of Afrikaner racism.

Kinds of racism

Racism is a one size fits all word to describe many kinds of behaviour of one group to another. Often these concepts overlap. The form racism takes often has dramatically different results.

There is something like competitive racism. The racism where two groups compete over resources or cultural hedgemony. Like the Kikuyus and Luo's in Kenya today. Or the Turks and Greeks in Cyprus.

There is chauvinistic racism where one group perceives themselves to be superior to another group. This is often how most people interpret the term racism. The Nazi's treatment of the Gypsies can be used as an example of chauvinistic racism.

Theres is the flip side to chauvinistic racism, this is where one group sees themselves as having been oppressed and inferior to another group - the inferior racist. The Hutus in Rwanda and their resentment towards and genocide of Tutsis spring to mind as an example.

And then there is paternalistic racism. It is a racism where the racist sees the other as inferiors in need of guidance. It's a peculiar racism, because it militates against separation, and often is combined with intimacy between the parties. Quite often the two groups in question are dependent on each other.

Goldblatt again:

"I had begun to use the camera long before this in a socially conscious way. And so I began to explore working-class Afrikaner life in our district. I drove out to the kleinhoewes around the town. I would stop and ask people if I might do some portraits of them or spend time with them while they went about whatever they were doing. In this way I became intimate with some of the qualities of everyday Afrikaner life in these places, and with some of its deeply embedded contradictions.

An old man sits for me. A black child comes and stands next to him, looking at me with curiosity. The man turns and says to the child, 'Ja, wat maak jy hier, jou swart vuilgoed?' (Yes, what are you doing here, you black rubbish?), the insult meant and yet said with affection. How is this possible? I don't know. But the contradiction was eloquent of much that I found in the relationship between rural and working-class Afrikaners and blacks: an often comfortable, affectionate, even physical intimacy seldom seen in the 'liberal' circles in which I moved, and yet, simultaneously, a deep contempt and fear of blacks."

David Goldblatt
The farmer's son with his nursemaid, on the farm Heimweeberg, near Nietverdiend in the Marico Bushveld, Transvaal (North-West Province), 1964.

Comfortable, affectionate, physically intimate but also deep contempt and fear

Afrikaner racism is often misconstrued to be similar to that found in the West, say to the Klu Clux Clan, or France's National Front.

Superficial western reporting clearly demonstrate this misinterpretation of Afrikaner racism. Just last week the Red Star Coven blog recorded an instance of this:

"I just watched the episode of Tropic of Capricorn that deals with South Africa. It was on TV last week, but I missed it.

The programme includes a visit to Louis Trichardt (I think it's still called that - I know there was some kind of mix up about name changes recently). The 'journalist' - who's name I didn't bother to catch - walks through the streets of the town and wonders at the fact that there are so few white faces around, playing spot the Boer - "look, there's one, coming out of the bank with money". He choses to misinterpret his Black guide's explanation and muses "under apartheid this would have been different. You wouldn't have seen Black faces on the streets".

What horseshit. Even in the darkest days of apartheid, the town centres - the streets and pavements - were thoroughly multiracial.

Recently a colleague of mine misinterpreted an event in South Africa as being outrageously racist, while it was actually a more benign paternal racism he witnessed.

When foreigners visit South Africa they expect to see racism they know well. Recently a prominent left wing activist and academic sociologist Kim Scipes visited South Africa. In an article comparing Venezuela and South Africa he said:

"What I saw -- and remember, I only saw a tiny bit of the country -- surprised me. There was much less racial tension than I had expected to find. There was almost none among the political activists that I met. It was somewhat mind-boggling as an American white male to be hugged by blacks after they had been only told I was a "comrade," but it happened a couple of times. And even when it didn't, it seemed to take almost no time at all to create bonds solid enough for deep and critical conversation about the current situation. Among the general public, too, whether on the street or in a few malls that I ended up visiting, the level of overt racial tension was amazingly low (at least to my eye, though the blacks in the same situations might notice what I didn't. Nevertheless, while this was my first trip to South Africa, I have lived most of my adult life in multiracial, if not people of color-dominated, areas in the US, in both African-American and Latino communities, so I have some experience on which to make these observations.) "

Even when mining and industrialisation had taken a firm root in South Africa and black and white South Africans flocked to the cities from the country side, Afrikaners, were the primary interface between white and black South Africa.

As the working class to wealthy South Africa, they were the nurses, the policemen, the railwaymen.

In a recent documentary about Eugene Terblanche and the far right Afrikaner Weerstand's Beweging (AWB), His Big White Self, director Nick Broomfield ends the movie on a positive note. This ending, is a great narrative device for the director, because it shows that the characters have gone through some transformation. At the very least they have realised that they have to fit into the new South Africa and are working to better the lives of blacks.

Broomfield shows former AWB member JP, an ambulance driver picking up black patients, while Anita, also a former AWB member, is nursing black kids in a hospital. The problem is of course that Anita and JP has always done exactly this as working class Afrikaners under apartheid.

I recently travelled to the little rural town of Trompsburg in the Free State. In the local hotel many a racist remark was made about the government's competence. The town's water supply was off that day. But one of the racists told me:

"Spare a thought for the (black) township, they have not had water for a month. My daugther who teaches at the coloured school has been transporting water to the pupils using our mobile farm tank."

The much publicized and very recent racist video by University students at the Free Sate University is yet another case in point of this peculiar Afrikaner racism. It is clear from the casual interaction that the university cleaners and staff knew and trusted the students. The workers were not coerced into making it. There is a strange familiarity between them. The young students arrogance and their sense of entitlement to mastership is a given for them.

Even the condemnations by many Afrikaans pundits included the oft expressed indignation that these boys were brought up by women like those in the video.

Why do Afrikaners loath and fear and still live among blacks?

What can explain this peculiar kind of racism?

It is the Afrikaner's context that gave them this attitude.

Afrikaners lives are integrated with black South Africa to the extent that they are dependent on them.

It is precisely this intimacy and everyday interaction with black Africans and black culture in particular that has helped drive the fear and loathing.

Goldblatt explains how on his travels, he discovered Afrikaners and how they colonised South Africa even in the remotest places:

"Travelling through vast, sparsely populated parts of the country with my camera became a major part of my life at that time. I think that our landscape is an essential ingredient in any attempt at understanding not just the Afrikaner but all of us here. We have shaped the land and the land has shaped us. Often the land was unforgivingly harsh. Yet, the harsher the landscape the stronger the Afrikaners' sense of belonging seemed to be."

Colonisation was a violent process. Black tribes would not always let them in unopposed. If you live by the sword you die by the sword. Afrikaners have lived for long in mortal fear, deep in the country side, without state protection. They were scared of death at the hands of black marauders. Still, never did they travel without their black servants and slaves.

Does familiarity breed contempt?

But the violent nature of colonisation does not explain this fear completely either. Other continents were colonized in the same fashion, but has no comparable post-colonial history of violence and racism.

About one year ago the supposedly tolerant UK erupted with indignation when Jade Goody (a white English lass with a working class background) had a racist tirade against Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood star on Celebrity Big Brother.

The press initially crucified Goody, but after a week many commentators especially on the left, in papers like the Independent and the Guardian jumped to Goody's defence.

The basic argument was this. Goody is working class, lives in South London and is much more likely to have lived in a multi-cultural Britain than her liberal detractors in the broadsheet papers. She is the one with Jamaican neighbors, and a Pakistani shopkeeper, and has had to ride in buses where she might well be the only white.

The Guardian published a very long opinion piece ‘How racist is Britain’ by philosopher Julian Baggini, in which he defended Goody's attitude as prevelant amongst Britains and to be expected:

"But understanding is and will always be limited, not least because almost everyone - including, especially, the liberal middle classes who pride themselves on their openness - lives in a distinct social niche, largely cut off from whole sectors of society."
Afrikaners are not cut off from the whole of South African society. They are immersed in it.

Afrikaner fear and loathing of black African culture stem from their everyday close interaction with it.

To Afrikaners in contact with black Africa, African culture seemed then and seems now decidedly dangerous. Afrikaners see in African culture the antitheses of progress, they see greed and they see a lack of concern for life of others, even the lives of other Africans.

Are these extreme fears justified? Any student of African history can see that some of these fears are not unreasonable.

Does Afrikaner's particular racism excuse Afrikaner racism? No, it does not. But it does put it into context. Afrikaners are no different from the English with respect to their propensity to be racist, but they do live in a totally different society.

It helps one understand why even under the apartheid Nationalists (particularly Vorster and Botha) a massive transfer of wealth from whites to blacks took place through progressive taxation and social spending. Afrikaners saw their role as guardians of the interests of the inferior black South Africans. Compare this to Kenya: the Kikuyus have not done anything similar in respect of the less connected black tribes in that country.

This integration and dependence on black South Africa shows why, unlike other colonial examples, annihilation and genocide of the local population was never attempted by Afrikaners.

It also is the main reason apartheid proved to be unworkable. As FW De Klerk noted, try as they might, apartheid strategists could not unscramble the multi-cultural South African egg.

Does this mean Afrikaner racism is not chauvinistic, inferior or of a competing kind? Some Afrikaner racism clearly do fall within these categories, but in the past it has primarily been paternalistic.

Afrikaner racism is changing

Andries Bezuidenhout, a singer and sociologist has recently remarked that the nature of Afrikaner racism is changing.

Increasingly pushed out of the public service and with the loss of political power this is perhaps inevitable. They are in no position to be paternalistic, and they think - sometimes rightly - that they have ample reason to be resentful.

Where in the past they saw themselves as the providers of wealth, leadership and education, they are coming to see that they are now competing for resources, status and power.

Ironically it might come to be that the new South Africa, outside of the corporate boardrooms and consumer adds, could become less integrated than the old.

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Afrikaner groups come out against video

What was depicted in the video was “particularly bad” for those Afrikaners who were acutely aware of the apartheid past and were trying to “reinvent and re-imagine” themselves, Du Plessis said.

The Business day reports what Tim du Plessis editor of Rapport had to say about Afrikaner reaction:

“It was flashed all over the world, and everyone is thinking that all of us are responsible. Not all of us are the same,” he said.

It was indeed flashed all over the world. Mhambi spent this weekend in New York, and an Afrikaans friend of mine who works as an editor in Brooklyn was queried by her black colleagues about it. She was surprised that all of her black colleagues got to know about it, before she did. It demonstrated the how keenly this incident is felt by the global black community in particular.

Mhambi is therefore very pleased Afrikaner groups made a strong joint statement this weekend condemning the racist video made at Free State Universities Reitz hostel.

Eleven Afrikaans organisations issued a joint statement at the weekend condemning the video.

The incident, in which the students made workers at the university take part in “disgusting” initiation rites, was “unconditionally rejected”, the organisations said.

It was signed by the civil society lobby group AfriForum; the Afrikanerbond; the Afrikaanse Taal- en Kultuurvereniging (the Afrikaans Language and Culture Organisation); Dames Aktueel; Dames-kring; Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurorganisasies (the Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Organisations, or FAK); Regslui vir Afrikaans (Lawyers for Afrikaans); Rapportryers- beweging; trade union Solidarity, SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (the South African Academy for Science and Art) and the Voortrekkers, a youth organisation.

They denounced the incident as a misguided way to highlight legitimate concerns about decisions taken by the university’s management.

“Afrikaans students in SA have valid democratic goals.

These ambitions encompass the future of mother tongue education, unlimited access to academic institutions and the quality of education.

“Incidents such as this damage these strivings,” the organisations said.

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