Opinion

  • VAT Increase Hits Poor The Hardest. Cosatu Knows It, Will It Embark on Anti-VAT Campaign of 1991?

    By Pinky Khoabane

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    IT doesn’t matter which way you want to look at yesterday’s budget speech, it simply does nothing for the poor. The increase in value added tax (VAT) from 14% to 15%, the first in democratic South Africa, and the increase in fuel levy, wipe out the gains the poor would have made in the increases in social grants.

    Ahead of the budget speech, labour union COSATU, warned against increases in VAT and income tax for the middle class and the poor. “Cosatu expects government not to throw the working and middle classes under the bus with VAT and income tax hikes,” it said in a pre-budget statement.

    Well, government has, without having heeded the various discussions on how to best balance the budget shortfall. Suggestions have included increasing the number of basic goods which have been zero rated, increasing corporate income tax and introducing a wealth tax. And the protectors of the wealthy, who include the media, have already come out to minimise the impact of a VAT increase on the poor while ignoring completely the fact that taxation of the rich has been extremely low.

    Newspaper headlines will scream that the increase in VAT was made to pay for free education. The fact is free education for the poor is an absolute necessity in this unequal society of ours and the money to pay for it could have been found elsewhere.

    Minister Malusi Gigaba, in presenting his budget speech yesterday, said a VAT increase wasn’t meant to hurt the poor. Well it will and he knows it.

    A report titled “Lifting the lid on VAT” by Gilad Isaacs published in a Wits University newsletter shows, clearly, how an increase in VAT harms the poor and lower income earners. Furthermore, it shows the low levels of taxation on the rich. “Despite wealth inequality in South Africa being extreme – the top 10% of South Africans hold at least 90-95% of its wealth, while the top 1% holds 50% or more of its wealth – taxation on wealth, or income from wealth held, is low. This includes direct taxation on assets (such as property), income from holding assets (such as capital gains) and inheritance,” the article reads.

    The author argues that VAT is a regressive tax. “VAT – charged on most goods and services at a rate of 14% – is levied irrespective of how much somebody earns, making it a regressive tax. In fact, taxes on goods (VAT plus excise duty) hit the poor hardest. The lowest earning 10% spend 13.8% of their disposable income on these taxes compared to 12.6% of the highest earning 10%.

    “The Davis Tax Committee admits that raising the VAT rate would increase inequality. It would also make basic goods more expensive and necessitate a proportional increase in social grants and wages in order to maintain the buying power of the poor and workers,” the article says.

    Although the wealthy pay higher taxes in South Africa, this does not go far enough in comparison to other developing countries. “… the share of revenue from personal income tax (PIT) fell from 43% in 1999 to 30% in 2007. This is despite strong growth in the number of PIT taxpayers and significant wage growth amongst higher-income earners. It is largely due to falling PIT rates and strong corporate profits, and the consistently high share of VAT. The significant decrease in the tax rate for the highest earners is shown in Table 2 – their tax rate fell from 45% in 1990 to 41% in 2016 (in the two decades prior to democracy it averaged 51%)”.

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    “South Africa has no annual “net wealth tax” that would tax the total value of wealth held in a given year.

    Considering that large amounts of wealth were accumulated under apartheid, that this wealth is passed between generations, and that black earners have less assets to begin with and must support a higher number of dependents, these low taxes on wealth are indefensible and perpetuate inequality”.

    Read the full report here http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/in-their-own-words/2018/2018-02/lifting-the-lid-on-a-vat-increase.html

    Will the COSATU of today wage an anti-VAT Campaign as it did on 5 November 1991? At the time, the labour movement called a two-day nation-wide strike to demonstrate its opposition to government’s intention to impose VAT on basic food stuffs, healthcare and essential services.

    “Cosatu will not support any attempt by government to balance budget shortfalls and deficits upon the backs of struggling workers. Workers are not the ones who have looted Eskom, SAA and the state.”

    “Any increase in taxes on the poor will further condemn them to hunger and stifle economic growth. Government must remember workers are voters and they are tired.”

    We wait and see what form this opposition to the increase in taxes will take.

    Here’s the full article Lifting The Lid On A Vat Increase

    http://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/in-their-own-words/2018/2018-02/lifting-the-lid-on-a-vat-increase.html

  • From Jamaica’s Marcus Garvey Came An African Vision Of Freedom

    By Jordan Friedman via USA TODAY

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    Black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the ‘Provisional President of Africa’ during a parade up Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City, in August 1922, during the opening day exercises of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World.
    (Photo: AP)

    Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chair of the Africology and African American studies department at Temple University in Philadelphia, describes Marcus Garvey as probably “the most significant African political genius that has ever lived.”

    “He infused the idea of black self-sufficiency in all of the societies and communities in the black world —the idea of ‘you can organize and create institutions that fight for your own liberation,’” Asante says. He says Garvey is also responsible for symbols such as the red, green and black Pan-African flag.

    Experts say Garvey’s philosophies of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism – movements that called for people of African descent to unify and establish an independent nation in Africa – helped pave the way for the civil rights movement. Garvey’s quest for black self-reliance, they say, would be felt for generations.

    “He infused the idea of black self-sufficiency in all of the societies and communities in the black world — the idea of, you can organize and create institutions that fight for your own liberation.”

    Garvey, who was born in Jamaica in 1887, believed that white society would never treat black people equally. He founded the anti-colonial Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League in Jamaica in 1914. The organization is commonly known by the abbreviation UNIA.

    The association created a societal model of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism through political, economic and social means, says Robert Hill, a research professor of history at UCLA and a Garvey expert. The UNIA also established the Universal African Legion, a paramilitary group, as well as the Black Cross Nurses, a group modeled after the Red Cross that provided health care to black communities. Garvey also established the Black Star Line steamship company, which transported passengers and goods to Africa.

    The organizations moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood when Garvey immigrated to America in 1916.

    Marcus Garvey’s ideas on Pan-Africanism and black nationalism
    Marcus Garvey’s ideas on Pan-Africanism and black nationalism were precursors to the U.S. civil rights movement. (Photo: Library of Congress)

    Garvey was also a journalist and publisher who shared his ideas by creating the Negro World newspaper in 1918. The publication served as the voice for the UNIA, with circulation reaching all the way to Africa.

    After the move to Harlem, Garvey’s movement swelled. By the early 1920s, the UNIA had more than 700 branches in 38 states. At the peak of the movement, Hill says, Garvey had a following in the hundreds of thousands.

    Asante says Garvey took inspiration from such figures as Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, who sought to improve education for African Americans; the leaders of the Haitian Revolution, including Toussaint L’Ouverture and Henri Christophe; and the maroons, escaped slaves who established free communities in Jamaica.

    Still, Garvey was a target of criticism, including from black leaders in the USA, says Rupert Lewis, professor emeritus in political thought at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Lewis says some believed that Garvey’s ideas for resettlement were utopian and financially impractical.

    After World War I, the FBI closely followed Garvey. On its website, the FBI acknowledges seeking to “deport him as an undesirable alien.” In 1922, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in connection with a stock sold to keep his Black Star Line from bankruptcy. After serving three years of his sentence, Garvey was released and deported to Jamaica.

    Garvey’s movement waned in the USA after his deportation, but his influence remains, historians say.

    “If you go on the streets of Jamaica, there are lots of images of Garvey on the walls,” Lewis says, adding that Garvey, who died in 1940, is commonly mentioned in the country’s music.

    Hill of UCLA says the Rastafari movement, a religion dating back to the 1930s and practiced throughout the Caribbean, reflects Garvey’s influence.

    Even Martin Luther King Jr. described Garvey as the “first man of color in the history of the United States to lead and develop a mass movement.”

    “You could claim that Garvey is the father of African independence,” Hill says. “I’d be willing to make that claim, and he’s regarded as such by many, many people in Africa.”

  • A Letter To My Son About Consent

    By Finn Wightman

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    Read the letter below


    I bumped into this letter on the Internet some years ago but it was to touch me for a very long time – and it still remains relevant today. I immediately got in touch with the author, a British woman who I refer to as my sister from across the seas.

    Each day when I read about rape, I think back at this letter and how we can all guide our children into adulthood which includes among others, talking about sex, making them understand consent and rape and its consequences.

    In recent weeks, my daughter, a drama student at Wits University, together with fellow 2nd-year students, put up a performance on the impact of rape on families. This play has been selected to go to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

    She’s now writing a play on the misconceptions and myths about rape. And when she told me, I immediately thought about this letter and asked her to read it. She was inspired and moved, and asked if I could get in touch with the author for permission to use the letter in her upcoming play. Wightman has agreed and I thought to republish this letter here, for all of us to read and be motivated to tackle the issue of rape.


    Dear D,

    I’m writing this letter after watching the parents in the Steubenville Rape Trial crying over their son as he was found guilty of rape. I’ll be completely honest with you; I can’t say that I found much pity in my heart for their pain. Instead I found myself thinking, ‘yes, you should be crying. Your son treated that girl like a toy, a rag, a nothing. You raised a boy that lacked even the most basic compassion for that girl as a fellow human being.’ I’m imagining your face right now, thinking ‘okay mom, not quite sure why you’re telling me this…’ Yep, brace yourself; mom’s got a bee in her bonnet. Just bear with me and carry on reading.

    You see, somehow this crying couple’s son and his friends were convinced they had a right to do as they pleased – either because they were brought up believing themselves to be above the rules, or because they were so lacking in common decency that they had no concept of how to treat other people. Whichever it was, the parents and coaches of Steubenville failed their sons and contributed to a culture where a girl was treated in the most heartless and disgraceful way for these boys amusement. The horrible truth is that as long as parents anywhere allow their boys to think that their wants are more important than other people’s rights this will continue to happen. I’m writing this letter to you because I don’t want to fail you in the same way. I love you too much to leave these things unsaid.

    I need you to know that writing this doesn’t mean that I think you would act like these boys did. Discussing the potential for bad behaviour doesn’t mean I think it’s inevitable, or even likely. It just means I need to know (for both our sakes) that I taught you what sexual freedoms and responsibilities really mean. Educating you about proper consent doesn’t mean I see you as a potential sexual predator, any more than my educating you about the safe use of matches presumed you were a potential arsonist. This is about safety; your safety and the safety of any potential sexual partner.

    I want you to consider a scenario. Imagine an average weekend when you’re staying at your mate’s house. You’ve had a good day laughing and joking with a group of people, some of whom you know and a couple of friends-of-friends. You’ve had a couple of drinks, laughed at stuff on the internet, played x-box for hours and then gradually drifted into various stages of getting comfortable, shedding some of your clothes and sleeping.

    Now imagine waking up to discover a man on top of you, having obviously had some kind of sex with you. I know that’s a shocking thought. Something you’ve probably never considered, even though male victims make up 8% of reported rapes. Imagine your shock, your disgust and your anger. Now imagine everyone telling you that it’s your fault.

    Would you feel that the fact that ‘you didn’t say no’ while it was happening made it okay? Or that the fact you were drunk or partly clothed or sleeping in public meant you’d put yourself at risk and were ‘asking for it? Would the fact that you’d spent some time together, been friendly, or accepted his offer of a drink, mean you were ‘sending out signals’ to him? Would the fact that you made a sexual joke earlier in the evening mean you were ‘up for it’? Would the fact that he heard you’d had sex with one of his friends, or relatives, be an acceptable reason? How about if you were walking home alone at night? Would you be actively putting yourself in danger and ‘partly responsible’ if a stranger dragged you into an alley and sexually assaulted you? If you accepted an invite to a friend’s house and he pinned you down on the sofa, would you be to blame for being alone with him?
    I’m convinced your answer to each of those would be a loud and vehement ‘no’ – quite rightly.

    So ask yourself this: if every single situation remained the same – except this time you’re female – does that make it acceptable? The answer, of course, is still no. No, nothing changes the lack of consent in these scenarios. Every one of those situations is sexual assault; no ifs, no buts, no maybes, and no excuses. Consent cannot be assumed, forced or taken. EVER. Consent is always, and only, something that is willingly given.

    So let’s be absolutely perfectly clear: Sexual acts that take place without consent are rape, and the only thing that means yes is the word yes.

    Not saying no does not mean yes.
    Not fighting you off does not mean yes.
    Not being awake does not mean yes.
    Not being sober does not mean yes.
    No type of clothing – or absence of clothing – means yes.
    No amount of previous partners means yes.

    Accepting a drink does not mean yes. Going out to dinner does not mean yes. Accepting a lift home in your car does not mean yes, and neither does an invitation in for coffee. Sitting next to you on the sofa does not mean yes. A gasp, sigh or returned caress does not mean yes. Erect flesh is not a yes – cold, fear, and even death can all cause the body to mimic the signs of sexual arousal. A yes to a kiss does not mean you can assume a yes to anything else. Never assume. Let me repeat that: NEVER ASSUME.

    Resist the dangerous temptation to hope a kiss will just drift into something more without talking about it. Understand that ‘trying it on’ or ‘pushing your luck’ or imagining you’re correctly ‘reading the signs’ are all just polite euphemisms for being willing to risk committing a sexual assault in the hope that your feelings are reciprocated. Seriously, don’t. Every single woman I know can reel off experiences with this. Don’t be that guy.

    The word yes is the only 100% unambiguous yes.

    So, how do you get to yes? You ask. Really, it’s that simple. Ask the question, hear the answer, and respond accordingly. Even if it’s not the answer you were hoping for. Especially if it’s not the answer you were hoping for. That’s the difference between two people enjoying sex together, and one person sexually assaulting the other. The only reliable invitations to sex are clear, unambiguous, and verbal. If asking and affirming seem too embarrassing to contemplate, then maybe you just aren’t ready for sex with another person.

    There’s only one person you should ever consider having unquestioning, silent sex with: yourself. That’s also the only person that might possibly ‘owe you’ an orgasm.

    I know, all this sounds like such a list of rules and obligations for something that’s meant to be ‘natural’. Too much effort, even – well that’s tough. The world should not be treated like a sexual all-you-can-eat buffet where you can just help yourself. That’s exactly the attitude that has those boys (quite rightly) sitting in a cell. Sex that involves anyone beyond yourself is never just about your desire. If you imagine that your desires ever allow you to coerce another person into fulfilling your sexual need, then you have to ask yourself if you are willing to personally face the consequences of that view. We’re right back to that scenario where some stranger decides to use your body to fulfill their sexual desires, regardless of your feelings. Or you end up in a cell. Think about what that mindset means for the female relatives that you love. Should they be ‘fair game’ to any person attracted to them – like some commodity? That’s the rape-culture mindset, right there. It’s why I’m taking the time to put my thoughts on to paper; because the best lesson I can teach you is the ability to recognise that your choices have consequences, for you and the people you involve in your decisions.

    So far, so negative… but there are real personal benefits to consent. Consensual sex is glorious. Verbal communication is hot. Listening to your partner and verbalising what you want will make you better in bed, and more responsive to each other’s needs. Talking about your desires and fantasies is far more likely to lead to them happening than hoping you’re dating a psychic. I’m sure your cringing at me now, but if you got this far there’s chocolate in the fridge, help yourself to it. Yes, this is a test.

    You might not think it now, but making sure the sex you are involved in always involves complete consent will be the best gift you can give your future self. You’ll never look at yourself in the mirror and wonder if you pushed someone to doing something they weren’t ready for. You’ll never be the hypocrite that lectures their child while hiding a guilty secret. You won’t be burdened with regret at the harm you personally caused someone. You’ll never look a woman who has been abused in the face and know you’re a part of what caused her hurt. Most of all, you’ll be a leader not a follower. You’ll never be that boy in court; instead you’ll be part of a better consciousness that will make the world a safer place for everyone.

    You’ll be the man I already see in you.

    With love, always, Mum xxx

    Rape Crisis https://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/

    https://www.nacosa.org.za

    This article was first published in https://someviewsfromabroad.blogspot.co.za/2013/03/a-letter-to-my-son-about-consent.html

     

  • Zuma Is Gone & Leaves Behind The Woke Generation

    (FILES) In this file photo taken on August 08, 2017 South African President Jacob Zuma gestures as he addresses supporters outside the South African Parliament in Cape Town after surviving a Motion of No confidence. South Africa postponed the State of the Nation address on February 6, 2018 parliament speaker Baleka Mbete announced. / AFP PHOTO / PIETER BAUERMEISTER

    FORMER President Jacob Zuma finally left office last night in what has been a painful four or five years, with the last year perhaps being the most excruciating. Frankly, it was just too painful to watch and the last month-and-a-half even more so.

    The Sunday Independent’s Editor Steve Motale, when he was still at the Citizen, penned an apology to Zuma in which he spoke of the machinations by the media against the former president. They never liked him from the onset, he said. He had not gone to formal school and had come into office with allegations of corruption anyway.

    The media and elite’s hatred for Zuma endeared him to the rank and file, some of whom were inspired by the uneducated man from Nkandla who rose to become the president of the country.

    Having been fired by former President Thabo Mbeki as the deputy president in 2005,  Zuma clawed his way back into politics to beat Mbeki in Polokwane in what was a brutal defeat from which Mbeki people never recovered.

    Leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) have always been in the back pocket of one businessman or another. While former presidents Nelson Mandela and Mbeki aligned themselves with white monopoly capitalists in the form of the Oppenheimer and Rupert families, Zuma went with the Indians; his former financial advisor Shabir Schaik who, through a dubious parole, currently serves his sentence for corruption & fraud outside prison; and the Gupta family.

    Apart from the litany of allegations of corruption against him, most of which are currently in the courts, Zuma’s administration has delivered some small consolation for the poor; the world’s largest roll-out of antiretrovirals and recently, free education. After 24 years in power, this is all the ANC could deliver to its people. The inequality gap is stifling, with the rich getting richer and the poor struggling to put bread on the table. Corruption is rife and it’s not only committed in the corridors of the public sector as many would like us to believe, but the private sector too.

    But what for me has been the success of the Zuma era is a change in the way we view the world today. Due to his foreign policy, shunning the Western financial hegemony and looking to the Eastern bloc through Brics, Zuma has managed to move a section of very vocal people towards challenging the status quo. We’ve heard them demand a free, quality and decolonized education. They called for radical economic emancipation, the state bank an a review of the mandate of the South African Reserve Bank. They got all of those at the ANC’s national conference in December.

    He has inadvertently spearheaded an alternative voice for the people, within which there’s a rise in black consciousness – awareness for and pride in blackness. He leaves behind the Woke Generation which will vigorously demand the implementation of the progressive policies accepted at the last ANC national conference.

  • Immunity For Jacob Zuma? What Of Equality Before The Law & De Klerk?

    By Pinky Khoabane

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    SA President Jacob Zuma (left) ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa (right) – the headache facing the ANC

    THERE has been much speculation about the secret negotiations taking place between South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa. This right here is a major headache for the ANC – the term of office of the ANC president ending before that of the president of the Republic and thereby creating two centres of power and conflict between the state president and the party president. This is really messy business; Ramaphosa is the deputy president of the country and answers to Zuma in government but Zuma is his subordinate at ANC headquarters, Luthuli House. But power resides at Luthuli House as we’ve witnessed in recent decisions taken by Ramaphosa such as those taken at power utility Eskom.

    The ANC has struggled to manage this transition since former President Thabo Mbeki lost power to the current president. Such was the friction between the two men that Mbeki had to be recalled in 20 September 2008 with about nine months left in his second term. The reason given for the recall at the time, was the implications of Judge Chris Nicholson’s ruling that Mbeki may have been involved in a political conspiracy against Zuma. A unanimous Supreme Court of Appeal judgement dismissed the Nicholson Zuma judgement.

    But back to this much talked about issue of negotiations, with some saying the discussions are about immunity for the President. Since the first National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this year, it’s been reported that Zuma had made several demands if he’s to step down. They allegedly range between demands for security for his family and immunity for himself. Stemming from that has been the debate of whether he could be granted such immunity. Ramaphosa was recently quoted in the media as saying that immunity from prosecution for Zuma was not what they’d been discussing in the transition negotiations. But as we’ve seen in the past week, fake news has been the order of the day as those getting impatient with ANC’s tackling of the matter have gone on propaganda overdrive. The matter persists despite Ramaphosa’s denials.

    I’m not au fait with the law but if indeed the negotiations involve immunity,  I wondered if Ramaphosa could negotiate a deal outside the courts. The idea of resolving disputes outside courts is often done and the question is whether such a deal stands before the law.

    Then there’s the presidential pardon which used to allow the president to make the decision alone and could not be questioned about it. However, a constitutional court judgement in the case between President of the Republic of South Africa and another (department of correctional services) v Hugo http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/1997/4.html confirms that any decision by the president to pardon anyone should abide by the Constitution and could be reviewed by a court.

    In short, John Phillip Hugo, a prisoner who, on 6 December, 1991, commenced serving an effective sentence of fifteen and a half years challenged a presidential pardon of a certain category of prisoners. The category of direct relevance to Hugo’s case was “all mothers in prison on 10 May 1994, with minor children under the age of twelve (12) years”.

    Some nine years prior to his incarceration, Hugo married and a child was born of that marriage on 11 December 1982. The respondent’s wife died in 1987.

    The judgement read: “It is common cause that the respondent would have qualified for remission, but for the fact that he was the father (and not the mother) of his son who was under the age of twelve years at the relevant date.

    “The respondent alleged that the Presidential Act was in violation of the provisions of section 8(1) and (2) of the interim Constitution in as much as it unfairly discriminated against him on the ground of sex or gender and indirectly against his son in terms of section 8(2) because his incarcerated parent was not a female.

    “The application was upheld, the court finding that the Presidential Act discriminated against the respondent and his son on the ground of gender”.

    I refer to the Hugo case because I wondered if other prisoners wouldn’t or couldn’t appeal the presidential pardon if one were given to the current president, apart from which prosecution must be made before a pardon is given. Then of course is the noble idea of equality before the law even though it’s not applied in reality: If Zuma why not me?

    Equality Before The Law

    Zuma faces several charges of corruption – 18 charges and at times we hear they are 783. But what about all the apartheid operatives like the last apartheid president F W De Klerk who led a system declared a crime against humanity? We know the brutal massacres against Blacks perpetrated by De Klerk’s government.When does he stand trial for his atrocities? And when are the same South Africans calling so vehemently for Zuma’s head going to do the same for De Klerk?

    Zuma must face the law like any other citizen and so should De Klerk and all others who have been implicated in wrong-doing.

  • South Africa in The 60s & 70s: Stories of Fun, Joy & Humiliation During The Dark Days Of Apartheid

    Despite the brutal humiliation of apartheid, it could not suppress the vibrant culture which developed in the townships writes Greg Alexander Mashaba

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    Two weeks ago I attended together with my brother Juba the funeral of the father of a close family friend. The funeral service which was held at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Protea North, Soweto was that of Daniel Rammuki Moketeli, who was affectionately known as “Bra Mocke”. Sad and solemn events as funerals invariably are, the event was punctuated by eruptions of laughter as speakers recounted their experiences with Bra Mocke.

    By way of introduction, Bra Mocke, an avid sportsman, was specifically brought to Johannesburg from Thaba Nchu in 1967, to play for an amateur football club, Army Rockets. He played football with legends like former Kaizer Chiefs star Ryder Mofokeng. Mofokeng himself gave a moving eulogy of Bra Mocke, relating how they played football under the most humiliating conditions. Amongst the incidents related, by yet another speaker, was how they had to travel to Westnoria in the far western Transvaal , sitting in the back of a truck to play against another amateur club based there. During the game, Bra Mocke had humiliated their opponents with his ball-juggling skills. This resulted in a mini riot involving both players and spectators.

    Like millions of his black compatriots all over South Africa, Bra Mocke was denied access to all the social amenities which were however built in abundance for our white oppressors. He played soccer on a dusty field, without the luxury of wearing proper football boots. In sharp contrast to that, our white oppressors had access to state of the art facilities. Even white school children had beautiful and well-constructed football and rugby fields within their school premises. The notorious Reservation of Separate Amenities Act was specifically enacted to ensure that the best amenities available, the football and rugby fields, the parks etc were reserved only for use by white people. The only time a black person could access such facility was strictly only as a cleaner or a gardner .The sick irony this policy is portrayed in a scene from one of the Irishman , Dave Allen’s comedies, wherein a Catholic priest walks into a chapel and finds a young black man polishing the floor. The conversation which ensued between the two was more or less along the following lines:

    Priest: “What are you doing here? You know that you are not supposed to come into this chapel!”.

    Black cleaner: “ I am very sorry Father but I am only polishing the floor…”

    Priest : “ Ok, but remember, I must not catch you praying! “

    The architect of apartheid , Hendrick Verwoed was unambiguous in describing the fate of the Africans : “…the white man, therefore , not only has an undoubted stake in – and a right to the land which developed into a modern industrial state from denuded grassland and empty valleys and mountains. But – according to all principles of morality- it was his, is his , and must remain his”.

    I am relating this particular story of Bra Mocke because it is my intention herein to bring back to mind, to those of us who were around then (very young as we were), and to inform the generations which come after ours, of the vibrant culture, lifestyle, and attitudes which informed the way of life of our people during that particular period. The story of Bra Mocke tells us how a simple young man was prepared to leave his ancestral family seat and travel to the big metropolitan area which is Johannesburg, far from friends and family, simply for the love of football. He endured the humiliation of travelling long distances sitting on the back of a truck to play a rival football club simply because he loved the sport. There was no remuneration of any kind . Money, flashy cars, and so-called celebrity status did not feature at all in the equation. Selfless sacrifice for love of both community and the country informed the attitudes of that generation.

    The brutal system of apartheid could not suppress the vibrant culture which developed in the townships which were situated around all major metropolitan areas. We had great musical legends such as Simon Nkabinde “Mahlathini”, Mahotela Queens, the Dark City Sisters, Izintombi Zomgqashiyo, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, Hansford Mthembu , Mpharanyana and The Cannibals, Babsy Mlangeni, The Movers, The Beaters, Isibaya Esikhulu and many others.

    The visits to my paternal grandmother’s place in Rockville were particularly a revelation of the high level of sophistication of our people. You see my dear comrades and you, our beloved readers, my grandmother Lydia Bandes operated a sophisticated sheebeen situated in Makupso Street, Rockville. It was frequented by prominent figures such as Casey Motsisi, Can Themba, renowned reporter Bob Mafuna, Reggie Mbhele etc. Those high-end clients were accommodated in the lounge and they drank spirituous alcohol such as brandy and gin. They normally conversed in English. In the kitchen, Ouma ( as our grandmother was affectionately known), accommodated the ambulance and bus drivers . Among these were people like Ntate Letsapa who had apparently served in the Afrika Corps during the Second World War. People like Ntate Letsapa generally consumed beer. A third group of patrons, the poor working class had to sit on benches and stools outside, under Ouma’s grapevine. This last group was generaly-speaking served only traditional beer, umqombhothi. Young as I was, this sensitised me at an early age, of the nature of class structure, a reality even amongst Africans. But another reason for serving spirituous alcohol only to Ouma’s more sophisticated clients was simply because Africans needed to have a special permit in order to buy and consume spirituous alcohol. Whether one got such permit depended on the applicant’s level of education . Thus my father being a school principal had such licence even though he himself did not drink alcohol. He used his permit to buy spirituous alcohol for those of his friends and relatives who did not satisfy the legal criteria.

    Visitors to Ouma’s place often drove those long convertibles such as the Chevrolet Impala ( which was dubbed “six mabone “ because of the six rear lights), the Biscayne (which my father also once owned), the Plymoth etc. They dressed in the finest linen and stepped out in the most expensive of shoes. My dad himself bought most of his clothes from Hepworths, which was renowned as one of the best gentlemen’s outfitters in South Africa.

    Despite this level of sophistication, the isolation from the rest of the world which came about as result of the policy of apartheid had the effect of sowing the seeds of ignorance in the psyche of the suppressed black masses . The fact that black people in general and Africans in particular were regarded as being inferior to their white oppressors simply by virtue of their race and cultural beliefs made some of our people to lack pride in their African identity. One manifestation of such ignorance was the rampant use of skin-lightening creams by Africans. The radio broadcasts on Radio Bantu, the station which was meant to cater for Africans, were often punctuated by advertisement of such skin-lightening creams like Ambi, Karoo, Aviva and many others. A lot of our poor African compatriots were severely disfigured as a direct result of use of such creams.

    Being light-skinned was associated with being beautiful. That is probably how an old wedding song which was sung in the African townships as the bride emerged called on all to come see the beautiful bride, a bride whose beauty made her look like a coloured ( ie a person of mixed race). The lyrics in SeSotho were more or less as follows:

    “Tswang, tswang, tswang le mmone. Ngwana o tshwana le le-coloured! “

    It was largely due to the campaign by our comrades in the Black Conscious Movement and the Pan African Congress that our people were gradually discouraged from singing this song.

    Another manifestation of ignorance was the use by the oppressed themselves of racist and derogatory terms such as “ i Kula” (ie “coolie”) and “i bossman”, the latter being the derogatory term used to insult compatriots of mixed race. As I recounted in one my articles on the question of the coloured people in South Africa, some of our coloured people themselves believed that they were racially superior to their African compatriots.

    Years later after our family had settled in Swaziland, we were dismayed to hear one of our South African compatriots using a racist and derogatory term during an interview which was screened on Swaziland television. That interview followed the conclusion of a big musical concert held at Somhlolo National Stadium which had featured many prominent musicians from both South Africa and abroad. Upon being asked to give his assessment of the festival, this compatriot, resplendent in his permed afro and bell-bottomed trousers, remarked: “Asibafuni laba bebekhona….next time sifuna balethe ama negroe afana nabo Diana Ross…(!)” (i.e. “we were not impressed with the line-up of artists….next time they must bring negroes like Diana Ross…..”).

    I had already joined the ANC and was always at pains to impress upon our Swazi hosts the fact that we were politically and socially more advanced. This compatriot who spoke on Swaziland television exposed the falsity of such claims. It really was a very embarrassing episode.

    Before moving to Swaziland, my father had acquired a post as principal of Lindile Secondary School, situated in Wesselton, Ermelo, about a hundred kilometres or so from our traditional family seat of Witbank (present-day Emalahleni). The conditions were particularly harsh there, more so because we lived in those infamous “matchbox” houses. Unlike the “matchbox” houses in Soweto which were made of face brick, those in Ermelo were made from a mixture of cement and ash. Thus on a cold or a rainy day the occupants would be exposed to the strong odour of ash. Small wonder my elder bother Martin and myself would a few years later develop asthma.

    Apart from bearing daily insults and threats from our white oppressors, two historical factors remain a grim reminder of the tough conditions under which we lived in Ermelo.

    The first was the yearly walk on Republic Day, 31 May, when we were forced to walk in straight lines to the ground adjacent to the community hall in Wesselton where we were given small bottles of Coca Cola, one bun and a packet of sweets. Although we despised the holiday which marked the establishment of the racist apartheid republic, we grudgingly looked forward to sitting on the grass in tight formations and consuming the refreshments we had been given, under the watchful eye of dozens of police. Coca Cola was a luxury which most of us could not afford to buy. Attendance, from what I can remember, was compulsory. We choked on those buns and Coca Cola largely because we consumed them in fear of the dreaded squads of policemen who monitored us from the backs of trucks and lorries.

    The second major event (and that is strictly from my own personal experience), was the outbreak of a terrible skin disease. That skin disease spread virtually through all of the African townships in South Africa. The major symptom was very intense and severe itching all over the body. Temporary relief could only come about as a result of one rapidly scratching oneself all over the body. For that reason , the epidemic was called “ lekker krap” in the townships. There was even a song about “lekker krap”. I am personally not sure what the cause of this epidemic was. However it seems to have come in the wake of a prolonged draught which had in turn led to the scarcity of white maize. The racist authorities then rolled out yellowish mealie meal. It was largely believed that the epidemic was caused by a chemical which was to be found in the yellow mealie meal. It was also largely believed that the racist authorities had put that chemical in the mealie meal so that African males would loose their virility, suffer erectile dysfunction, and our women counterparts would become barren. The logic followed was that this would cut down the size of the African population. Whether that thesis bears any credence is of no consequence to myself, suffice to say that I bore intense pain and suffering as result of that epidemic. Even after we moved across the border to Swaziland, I still regularly suffered from the effects of that disease. Thus to this day, the lower part of both of my legs still bears scars of that illness.

    As for the notorious architect and implementer of the policy of apartheid Hendrick Verwoed, he met his fate when he was stabbed to death while giving a speech in the racist parliament. His killer was Dimitri Tsafendas, an assistant in parliament whose duty was to serve tea and water to our racist oppressors while they discussed strategies of enforcing their barbaric system upon us. Although I had not even started my primary school education, I remember very well how the townships erupted in celebration at news of the death of Verwoed. In our own home it was my dad, though a devout Catholic, who correctly led us in the celebration of the death of Verwoed. As in the case of “lekker krap”, a song on the stabbing of Verwoed spread like wildfire in the townships. A new phrase also arose whereby the act of stabbing was called “ukuTsafenda “ ( ie “to Tsafenda”). Thus if someone threatened one with a knife, instead of saying “ I will stab you”, the new threat was “ Ngizoku Tsafenda”, ( ie I will Tsafenda you!).

    There are many stories to be told of life under apartheid. Some are stories of joy and celebration while others tell of humiliation. Indeed every black South African can write volumes regarding their own personal experiences. I wrote these few pages as a way of getting other compatriots to do the same. We owe it to future generations to preserve our history , with all its humiliation, joys and suffering.

  • The Measure Of A Democracy Is Defending The Rights Of Those You Despise – MultiChoice/ANN7

    By Pinky Khoabane

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    LET’s get the lies out of the way so that we can address the real dangers of monopolies, monopoly power, censorship and the powerlessness of the ruling ANC government against monopolies, that are playing-out in the decision by Multichoice not to renew its contract with ANN7 when it expires in August 2018.

    The satellite television provider announced yesterday that ANN7 would be removed from DSTV’s platform following a public outcry by those who despise the Guptas and by extension, the television channel that they once owned.

    Multichoice has given no clear reasons for its decision except for a great deal of waffle about “mistakes” that were made, “due diligence” that wasn’t done and “in light of the ongoing controversies it won’t be appropriate to renew ANN7’s current contract when it ends in August”. What these controversies are is not clear. It’s not clear whether they relate to allegations of state capture by the Guptas or allegations that Multichoice paid ANN7 R25m and the SABC over R100m to influence government’s digital migration policy in favour of Multichoice and to maintain its monopoly power in the pay-tv sector.

    Firstly, we need to place in context the calls to shut down ANN7. They don’t emanate from last year’s allegations of corruption against the Guptas. The battle started when news broke that people of a darker skin  shade and who were aligned to the ANC, were entering the media industry.

    We have to understand what the media industry is – it is a battleground for shaping people’s views on life. The media is a tool through which the powerful decide what and how we must think about the world. In protecting their turf, media employ a combination of tactics, including straightforward propaganda and scare mongering.

    The narrative that we should be afraid of the Gupta family, which owned The New Age and ANN7, and the Sekunjalo consortium, led by Dr Iqbal Survé, which bought the Independent Group, started before these two groups opened doors to the public. The plethora of allegations of corruption against Gupta-linked companies have not helped dispel the narrative that the Guptas are dangerous people who need to be shut down.

    The decision by Multichoice comes in the week where on one hand, we heard shocking allegations of the Gupta’s influence on government tenders and cabinet reshuffles and on the other, how Steinhoff manipulated their financial reports resulting in, among others, the government’s pension fund losing R20 billion in one month. I’m yet to hear calls of a shut-down of Steinhoff and the companies linked to its former Chairman Christo Wiese or the many Rupert-linked companies that have been exposed for anti-competitive behaviour by the Competition Commission. There’s no outrage because commercial media, which serve the interests of capitalists, presents this crime as “collusion” which is “private” and unlike that committed by the public sector, should really go unpunished as it doesn’t affect citizens. What they omit to tell citizens is how price fixing – on bread and everything else – has a direct bearing on their purse strings and their livelihoods.

    It has been reported that there are several complaints lodged against the Guptas and that the criminal justice system is moving swiftly to deal with the allegations of corruption levelled against them. Steinhoff also announced it had reported its former CEO Markus Jooste to the Hawks. These developments are welcomed. If there are crimes committed let these people face the music.

    Some sections of the public  including some journalists called for the removal of ANN7 from the DSTV platform long before information of the amount paid by Multichoice to ANN7 surfaced. The allegations of corruption by the Guptas, apparently contained in the so-called GuptaLeaks, laid the perfect foundation for the public’s demand to have ANN7 removed from the DSTV bouquet and threats to cancel subscriptions if this wasn’t done.

    An anchor on Radio702 justified Multichoice’s decision on the grounds that ANN7 was established purely for propaganda purposes by those who wanted to loot the state. This anchor would like us to believe it was never about the diversity of voices, pluralism or the maintenance of a healthy democracy.

    There’s also talk that ANN7 benefitted from the proceeds of crime as justification for the shut down.

    Contrast this call to the deafening silence to Naspers’ historical links to apartheid, from which it did not only benefit politically but profited financially too. It did not only benefit from advertising revenue from the Nationalist Party government but it also benefitted from printing the apartheid government’s text books. Ironically, the same applies today – with the help of brothers of some of the comrades in cabinet – a printing company linked to Naspers is raking-in millions in printing text books for democratic SA.

    In the 1980’s Naspers was awarded the rights to start SA’s first pay tv MNET which would launch it into the trillion rand business that it is today. Its wealth stems from what its former chairman Ton Voslo described as “complicity in a morally indefensible political regime”.

    But these facts accompanied by allegations of Multichoice’s influence on government policy so as to entrench its dominance in the industry seemingly don’t matter in the context of state capture, corruption and crime. Multichoice made the mistake of not heeding early, the calls to shut down ANN7. We would not know about the million rand payments and allegations of corruption now levelled against it.

    Glaring, is the hypocrisy of those who claim to protect the Bill of Rights, which includes the right to freedom of speech, media freedom and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, which means the rights of those who despise ANN7 are equal to the rights of those who love the television channel.

    There are many of these protectors of our rights, starting with the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and other NGOs which have mounted massive campaigns in the past years in the protection of the Constitution. These advocates of democracy are however, highly selective; choosing their campaigns carefully – for or against – depending on the political agenda of those for whom they will march for or against. SANEF has released a rather meek response to this issue having turned a blind eye in the past, to threats to journalists that the media industry doesn’t like.

    The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) it must be said, were quick to defend ANN7’s right to air at the initial stages of the call to have the news channel removed from the bouquet of offerings by DSTV, but I did not see their response to the latest decision by Multichoice.

    Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    DSTV subscribers have a choice to whatever channels they wish and they can exercise that choice and not watch ANN7. Similarly, those who want to watch ANN7 should be allowed the freedom to do so.

    Citizens have the right to hear all sides of every issue and to make their own judgments about those issues without interference or limitations from anyone.

    Citizens have a right to speak, publish, read and view what they wish, worship (or not worship) as they wish, associate with whomever they choose, and demonstrate against what they perceive to be wrong doing. This they must do within the law – South Africans can speak and publish whatever they wish for as long as it does not constitute hate speech and those demonstrations are peaceful and do not cause harm to anyone.

    Censorship has no place in a democracy

    When Multichoice decides that we cannot watch ANN7 because a section of its subscribers object to it, we are treading on very shaky ground.

    The American Library Association describes censorship thus: “Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups, or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous. It is no more complicated than someone saying, ‘Don’t let anyone read this book, or buy that magazine, or view that film, because I object to it!’ Censors try to use the power of the state to impose their view of what is truthful and appropriate, or offensive and objectionable, on everyone else”.

    This case has once again exposed the ANC ruling party’s failure to address and enforce that media in this country is transformed and diversified to include the broader spectrum of our society and diverse voices. The ruling party has failed to address the issue of monopolies – having dilly-dallied since the advent of democracy, the ANC of today even struggles to accept that white monopoly exists. Fortunately, in the face of these denials, monopoly power always rears its head in the form of cases such as the Multichoice decision to shut down ANN7 and the many incidents of anti-competitive behaviour by monopolies as exposed by the Competition Commission.

    Here’s the complete statement by MultiChoice https://www.multichoice.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/31/multichoice-statement-31january2018.pdf?platform=hootsuite

  • THE THABO MBEKI FOUNDATION PAYS HOMAGE TO JAZZ LEGEND HUGH MASEKELA

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    It is with a profound sense of shock and disbelief that the Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, its Board of Trustees and the rest of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation Team learnt of the passing away of Jazz Legend and struggle activist Hugh Masekela.
    It is all the more tragic for former President Mbeki because only on Sunday the 21st January, he had expressed the desire to go and visit Bra Hugh after he was told by comrade Wally Serote that Bra Hugh was in a critical condition.
    Bra Hugh Masekela was born in Witbank on the 4th April 1939. His talent was discovered and launched by another anti-apartheid veteran Archbishop Father Trevor Huddleston who bought him his first trumpet. Bra Hugh mastered the instrument and joined with other youth to form the Huddleston Jazz Band.
    During his illustrious career he played with other Jazz Greats both local and international, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Early Mabuza, Miriam Makeba and others too numerous to mention.
    One of the greatest travesties of racism in South Africa is that our country produced some of the greatest, well known and internationally acclaimed stars in the field of music, literature, the arts and humanities but were not recognised and celebrated in the country of their birth simply because they happened to be Black.
    It is not difficult to understand the twisted logic and pseudo-scientific rationale for this despicable attitude. The talent that was expressed by these giants served to disprove the superiority of the white race and this was intolerable to the racist regime.
    Consequently, the people of South Africa were deprived of the privilege to enjoy these artists and the great talent as many left the country to find fame and recognition in foreign countries.
    Little did the demagogues and racist bigots realise that the very act of suppression and intolerance reinforced resentment and acted as a motive force that strengthened the resolve to intensify the struggle. The life and times of Bra Hugh Masekela once again bears testimony to the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of oppression and injustice.
    Bra Hugh Masekela got his opportunity in 1959 when he joined Todd Matshikiza’s all African jazz opera King Kong. Masekela, including Miriam Makeba left with the musical to perform in London in 1961.
    Throughout his life in exile, Bra Hugh never forgot his roots and he used his trumpet and his musical talent to highlight the plight and suffering of the Black people under apartheid.
    Most notable among his compositions that expressed his nostalgia and his longing for home are as well as exposing the injustices visited upon the Black majority are “Stimela” (which is a tribute to migrant labourers who travelled from Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho Botswana, Swaziland, and the Hinterlands of South and Central Africa, to work in the Gold mines of South Africa.) “Home Is Where The Music Is” “Union Of South Africa” “Vasco Da Gama – Colonial Man” “Grazing In The Grass.” He also did a rendition of “Khawuleza Mama, Nanga Amapolisa” and many more.
    It is an undeniable fact that the younger generation that grew up in the period of the 1960’s and the 1970’s being fed on this spiritually and culturally nourishing diet of Masekela’s music became conscientised and militant. The music of Masekela and his fellow musicians struck a chord that resonated with the growing anger, the militancy and the resolve that racism, oppression and subjugation was an unnatural state for the human conditions.
    In time to come when South African History is written from a cultural perspective, some accolades will be reserved for Hugh Masekela, Willie Kgositsile, Ray Phiri, Miriam Makeba, Thandi Klaasen, Brenda Fassie and others for the critical role they played in highlighting and condemning the crime against humanity through their music.
    One can say without fear of contradiction that Bra Hugh will receive a warm and melodious welcome in the here-after, that the skies and the heavens will thunder with the sounds of trumpets, trombones, saxophones accompanied by the powerful voices of the Miriam Makeba’s singing “WELCOME DEAR BROTHER AND SON OF THE SOIL, YOURS WAS A LIFE LIVED TO THE FULLEST IN THE SERVICE OF YOUR PEOPLE AND COUNTRY.”
    The Patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation as well as the Board of Trustees wish to convey their heartfelt condolences to the family, fellow musicians and friends of Bra Hugh during this sad period.
    The South African people in their entirety surely mourn together with the family at this sad loss.
  • Tony Leon’s Company Secured R680,000 From DA-Run City & Changed Legislation To Benefit Client: Height Of State Capture

    By Pinky Khoabane

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    Tony Leon

    LANGUAGE is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used for good and evil, to denigrate and praise. It can be used to manage our thinking. And this is clearly demonstrated in the way that commercial media report on issues. In his well known book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, published in 1988 and co-authored with Edward Herman, Noam Chomsky argues that the media “serve, and propagandise on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them”. What is represented as state capture for those the media deem as rogue elements is lobbying for their masters and the powerful who own or who prop-up media institutions through advertising. Corruption by the rich white monopoly capitalists is collusion or price fixing while similar acts by those deemed as operating outside the “establishment” is just plain corruption?

    It is therefore not a coincidence that former Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon’s communications company which has netted a cool R658 000 contract from the DA-run City of Cape Town has not made major headlines or being met by the usual public outcries reserved for “thieves”. Leon, together with Nick Clelland, a former director of strategic communications for the Western Cape government, are partners in the firm that is providing crisis communications service to the City of Capetown for the drought. The City said Resolve Communications was sub-contracted to offer the service from November last year until February. And so this puts it at around R220,000 per month.

    Frankly, theirs is to cover-up the ineptitude of former mayor of Capetown and now Premier of Western Cape Helen Zille, who knew of the infrastructural problems and was warned long ago that there was a water crisis looming. The spin has gone into overdrive and it has very little to do with “changing behaviour” in times of water shortages. It is about who to blame. The Cape Town water crisis was for a long time blamed on the ANC, the Department of Water and Sanitation at national level and is now blamed on the current mayor, De Lille.

    If the buzzwords conflict of interest that we’ve heard so much about are ringing in your head, quickly abandon them because there is no such thing in this case. This is Leon, former DA leader and former employee of the Western Cape Clelland, simply doing honest business. And anyway, the tender wasn’t directly given to their company, “they are just sub-contractors” according to an explanation given by the City Of Cape Town.

    Imagine the uproar if say, a former ANC president and a former government spokesperson were to form a company and offer their services to to a government department! The DA with commercial media in tow, would have that tender and the major service provider turned upside-down.

    We would know everything about those involved: their relationships even if they pre-dated the tender; their social meetings; and speculation that they may have been speaking about the tender even if “there no proof”, would run rife.

    Among the services Leon’s company offers are lobbying and advocacy, reputation management and strategic management. Their website reads: “WE INFLUENCE GOVERNMENT POLICY, AT ALL LEVELS, TO ALIGN WITH YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS,” “WE CHANGE PEOPLE’S MINDS ABOUT YOU”.
    WE TAKE YOUR ISSUE TO THE HEART OF THE PUBLIC DEBATE. WE ARE AT YOUR SIDE THROUGHOUT THE MEDIA STORM”. In simple terms this company captures the state through influencing policies and laws and the way the public thinks about what they have done for their clients.

    Gloating about their successes, they mention a client “a major player in their industry – faced an uncertain future with the introduction of new legislation the effect of which would have completely destroyed their future business prospects.” They intervened through among others, media statements, training industry association members for parliamentary submissions, “leveraged an independent report citing the massive potential economic benefits of the industry to South Africa with a prominent headline story with a major business newspaper and, thereafter, other selected South African financial media”. They “advised and counselled the client on the tactics and thereafter the process of negotiation with the Government to re-draft the relevant regulations. Ultimately assisted our client to re-negotiate the legislation to their satisfaction”.

    If this is NOT State Capture, I dont know what is!

     

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle

    By Cornel West Via The Guardian www.theguardian.com

    The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: his view of black America is narrow and dangerously misleading

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    ‘Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history.’ Photograph: Robin Platzer/Robin Platzer/Twin Images

    Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power, a book about Barack Obama’s presidency and the tenacity of white supremacy, has captured the attention of many of us. One crucial question is why now in this moment has his apolitical pessimism gained such wide acceptance?

    Coates and I come from a great tradition of the black freedom struggle. He represents the neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fightback invisible. This wing reaps the benefits of the neoliberal establishment that rewards silences on issues such as Wall Street greed or Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and people.

    The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: any analysis or vision of our world that omits the centrality of Wall Street power, US military policies, and the complex dynamics of class, gender, and sexuality in black America is too narrow and dangerously misleading. So it is with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ worldview.

    Coates rightly highlights the vicious legacy of white supremacy – past and present. He sees it everywhere and ever reminds us of its plundering effects. Unfortunately, he hardly keeps track of our fightback, and never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.

    In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance”. For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.

    When he honestly asks: “How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you?”, the answer should be clear: they claim you because you are silent on what is a threat to their order (especially Wall Street and war). You defy them when you threaten that order.

    Coates tries to justify his “defiance” by an appeal to “black atheism, to a disbelief in dreams and moral appeal”. He not only has “no expectations of white people at all”, but for him, if freedom means anything at all it is “this defiance”.

    Note that his perception of white people is tribal and his conception of freedom is neoliberal. Racial groups are homogeneous and freedom is individualistic in his world. Classes don’t exist and empires are nonexistent.

    This presidency, he writes, “opened a market” for a new wave of black pundits, intellectuals, writers and journalists – one that Coates himself has benefited from. And his own literary “dreams” of success were facilitated by a black neoliberal president who ruled for eight years – an example of “Black respectability, good Negro government.”

    Coates reveals his preoccupation with white acceptance when he writes with genuine euphoria: “As I watched Barack Obama’s star shoot across the political sky … I had never seen so many white people cheer on a black man who was neither an athlete nor an entertainer. And it seemed that they loved him for this, and I thought in those days … that they might love me too.”

    There is no doubt that the marketing of Coates – like the marketing of anyone – warrants suspicion. Does the profiteering of fatalism about white supremacy and pessimism of black freedom fit well in an age of Trump – an age of neo-fascism, US style?

    Coates wisely invokes the bleak worldview of the late great Derrick Bell. But Bell reveled in black fightback, rejoiced in black resistance and risked his life and career based on his love for black people and justice. Needless to say, the greatest truth-teller about white supremacy in the 20th century – Malcolm X – was also deeply pessimistic about America. Yet his pessimism was neither cheap nor abstract – it was earned, soaked in blood and tears of love for black people and justice.

    Unfortunately, Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history. He reveals this when he writes: “Ossie Davis famously eulogized Malcolm X as ‘our living, Black manhood’ and ‘our own Black shining prince.’ Only one man today could bear those twin honorifics: Barack Obama.”

    This gross misunderstanding of who Malcolm X was – the greatest prophetic voice against the American Empire – and who Barack Obama is – the first black head of the American Empire – speaks volumes about Coates’ neoliberal view of the world.

    Coates praises Obama as a “deeply moral human being” while remaining silent on the 563 drone strikes, the assassination of US citizens with no trial, the 26,171 bombs dropped on five Muslim-majority countries in 2016 and the 550 Palestinian children killed with US supported planes in 51 days, etc. He calls Obama “one of the greatest presidents in American history,” who for “eight years … walked on ice and never fell.”

    It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty. For example, there is no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect.

    The disagreements between Coates and I are substantive and serious. It would be wrong to construe my quest for truth and justice as motivated by pettiness. Must every serious critique be reduced to a vicious takedown or an ugly act of hatred? Can we not acknowledge that there are deep disagreements among us with our very lives and destinies at stake? Is it even possible to downplay career moves and personal insecurities in order to highlight our clashing and conflicting ways of viewing the cold and cruel world we inhabit?

    I stand with those like Robin DG Kelley, Gerald Horne, Imani Perry and Barbara Ransby who represent the radical wing of the black freedom struggle. We refuse to disconnect white supremacy from the realities of class, empire, and other forms of domination – be it ecological, sexual, or others.

    The same cannot be said for Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    Cornel West is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University. He is the author of Race Matters 

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