||Wolpe Lectures & Reviews January - June 2005
|Critical Capacities: Facing the Challenges of Intellectual Development in Africa
Amina Mama's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 23 June 2005, Durban
The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Naomi Klein's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 14 June 2005, Durban
Is there any future in the past? A critique of the Freedom Charter in the era of neoliberalism.
Console Tleane's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal May 26 2005
Democracy and the importance of criticism, dissent and public dialogue
William Mervin Gumede's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 18 April 2005, Durban
Keeping it in their pants: Politicians, men and sexual assault in South Africa
Charlene Smith's Wolpe Memorial Lecture
Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal 17 March 2005
Critical Capacities: Facing the Challenges of Intellectual Development in Africa
Amina Mama's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 23 June 2005, Durban
The lecture will present a critical analysis of the challenges that have
inspired and constrained African intellectual development in the changing
postcolonial context of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. African
intellectual identities have been hard to articulate and institutionalise
within formal educational institutions reluctant to move beyond the
universalising premises of the scholarly paradigms developed in
post-industrial capitalist contexts.
These include particular globally hegemonic organisations of power and
knowledge - intellectual regimes that have constrained the emergence of
African-focused intellectual culture within the formal structures of African
universities and which are currently being propagated through the
globalisation of higher education policy in a manner insensitive to the
meaning and impact of higher education reform in African contexts. African
intellectuals have responded to the situation in a variety of creative ways,
both within and outside African universities in a manner that offers useful
insights and strategies for the future.
The present scenario underscores the need for the establishment of strong,
creative, intellectually productive institutions equipped to address
continental knowledge needs in a manner grounded in the political and
cultural aspirations of Africa's diverse societies. This requires African
intellectuals responsive to the challenges of democratisation, gender
equality and social justice.
Why intellectual development?
Intellectual development is a key aspect of cultural development, one worthy
of critical attention at the present time. This is especially so in view of
the fact that Africa is not only one of the most underdeveloped continents,
but it now also has the most fragile and under-capacitated higher education sector in the world. 
Leading international development thinkers now acknowledge that Africa will have to think its way out of its current predicament, and even those who once dismissed the need for universities in Africa now show renewed
interest. The question of African intellectual development is indeed
critical to the future development prospects of the region.
I will argue that the unfulfilled promise of African intellectual
development has been a key factor perpetuating Africa's underdevelopment.
Yet it is to intellectual development that we must once again turn in a
collective effort to reverse the underdevelopment of the continent.
This will require the reclaiming and strengthening of African intellectual work for the pursuit of African interests. I shall further argue that the community of critical intellectuals -notably feminist intellectuals - have consistently pursued alternative approaches to knowledge-building, both within and beyond the academic establishment, in a manner that illustrates the potential for critical intellectual work to advance liberatory agendas for development, democratisation and social justice.
The complexities of the postcolonial era have generated new African
intellectual identities that are contradictory in their diversity,
peripatetic, multiply-constituted and cosmopolitan, located in
epistemologies that are likely to owe as much to Africa's social movements,
civil societies and independent research communities and networks as they
owe to the formal academic establishments.
The generation of African intellectuals in which I would locate myself
includes those who have survived the iron grids of military rule, the
traumas of numerous civil wars and conflicts, the failures of modernisation,
the continued dependency and underdevelopment of the region, and have
resisted the continuous undermining and disparagement of African
intellectual and conceptual capacities, both at home and abroad. They are a
resilient lot, whose commitment deserves to be commended.
However the point to emphasise is not so much their resilience, as the importance of the critical dispositions arising out of postcolonial experience, and thecritical role that such intellectuals have to play in the future survival and well-being of the worlds' most impoverished and beleaguered continent. Africa's critical intellectuals are not neutral, with abstract academic identities determined solely by the dictates of a formal, disciplinary, academic training which in claiming universality, denies its own specificity.
Rather they engage positively with the challenges of the particular vantage point afforded by being located on the African continent and informed by the historical experience of the region.
Decades after decolonisation, and the civil rights, workers and women's
movements of the 1960's, anti-imperialist, nationalist and international
feminist challenges have profoundly challenged the intellectual hegemonies
of yesteryear. As a result, it is no longer acceptable for those working in
the humanities (arts and social sciences) to masquerade as 'identity-less'
observers, amoral, asexual beings who exist 'outside' their society. Such
claims suggest a schizoid split between theory and the context in which it
exists, something that is an anathema to today's more reflexive
intellectuals, and unacceptable within the epistemologies that guide their
work. The world's leading natural scientists are also questioning the
supremacy of science over other kinds of knowledge, and acknowledging the
importance of other levels of truth and meaning. 
Despite a broader developmental condition that has constrained the African
higher education establishment, Africa's more critical intellectuals have
contributed significantly to the emergence of the alternative theories,
analyses and methodologies that have been forged in the crucible of the
epistemological, socio-political, cultural and economic conditions of the
postcoloniality, a challenging environment if ever there was one.
During colonial times, the idea of a modern, African university was first
put forward as a liberatory project  .
When flag independence was achieved, national universities were considered as essential to nationhood a national anthem, or a national army. These days we nostalgically remind ourselves how the Zambians responded in the 1960's. As Kenneth Kaunda, observed at his installation as the first Chancellor:
The university of Zambia is our own University in a very real sense. The
story of how the people of this country responded to enthusiasticaly to my
appeal for support is a very thrilling one. Humble folk in every corner of
our nation - illiterate villagers, barefooted school children, prison
inmates and even lepers - gave freely and willingly everything they could,
often in the form of fish or maize or chickens, The reason for this
extraordinary response was that our people see in the university the hope of a better and fuller life for their children and grand-children (President Kaunda, at the Chancellors Installation Banquet, July 12 1966, cited in
Ajayi, Goma and Johnson, 1996 p1).
The independence of so many African nations gave rise to the establishment of hundreds of tertiary institutions. From no more than a handful of colonial colleges, the sector grew to over 300 universities in the 54 nations, and even larger numbers of technical and training colleges. African tertiary enrollment figures has grown from a few thousand in the 1960's, to
somewhere between 4-5 million at the present time (Teferra and Altbach
2003). However impressive this might seem, Africa still has the weakest
higher education system in the world. The gross tertiary enrolment rate
amounts to just 3% of the eligible age group, by far the lowest in the world
and the demand continues to surge past the available provision.
Since political independence, African intellectuals have also developed
scholarly ethics that privilege engagement and responsibility over
abstraction and irresponsibility, ethics that define freedom not so much in
terms of liberal individualism, but in terms of the collective interests of
African people whose struggles demand the freedom to challenges all the
legacies of oppression  . Much work has been undertaken to highlight the
perils of state repression and censorship and, more recently, to challenge
the abstract tyranny of 'market forces' manifesting through global policy
dictates ( African Watch 1991, Diouf and Mamdani 1994, Mkandawire 1996,
Today very few would dispute the essential role of higher education to
African development and democratisation. Indeed there is currently a renewal of interest in African universities being reformed so as to facilitate Africa's participation in globalisation, the global economy and the global
village. This seems strange to some of us. Most Africans understand their
history as one of extensive involvement with the rest of the world, albeit
an involvement on highly unfavourable terms. I refer to immeasurable costs, the loss of lives, the destruction of cultures, the expropriation of natural resources, accumulation of huge debts, and the mortgaging of future prospects.
II The Landscape
The Academic Establishment
There is always a little thought even in the most stupid institutions Foucault (1989:155). The late Ruth First observed that the modern institutions of governance established in colonial Africa were invented at a time when militaristic regimes ruled not so much by the people or for the people, but despite the people. (First 1970). There is little doubt that a prominent feature of post-colonial governments too - half of whom were military dictatorships by the 1970's - has been their proclivity for ruling despite the people.
Colonial regimes began as military and economic conquest, followed by
military rule. The emphasis was on the army and the establishment of an
administrative bureaucracy, with relatively little expenditure afforded to
public services, to health, welfare or education. Taxation revenues were
sent to London, Paris and other colonial capitals, with local expenditure
kept to the bare minimum and dedicated to the imperial agenda of ensuring
maximum use of cheap local labour and the efficient extraction of the raw
materials needed for their burgeoning industries. The colonial regimes did
not view the education of Africans as a profitable investment, and some even viewed it as a direct threat to their supremacy.
Only during the later stages were a select number of secondary schools and colonial colleges set up to sustain the colonial enterprise by training African men for the lower echelons of the male civil service. Given the almost exclusively male staffing of the colonial state, even less was provided for women, and what there was carried out the domestication of African women - a process designed to produce housewives suited to supporting husbands recruited into the colonial service  .
Since flag independence, basic education for the majority has formed the
bulk of Africa's expenditure and emphasis. However, it has always been
understood that decolonisation and nation-building required higher levels of
intellectual capacity. If ordinary people valued it as a route to a better
life, the African leaders and intellectuals of the nationalist era shared an
understanding of education as having a key role to play in the great tasks
of nationalism, namely decolonisation and national sovereignty, national
development, democratisation and regional co-operation (Mkandawire 2000:2). In other words the African University is not so much a colonial edifice as a post-colonial one, in the sense that it owes its existence to the ending of colonialism  .
The higher education institutions established at independence were strongly
associated with the establishment and reproduction of the nation state, and
concerned with their continental and national relevance in a way that
distinguished them from the earlier Western models of the 'ivory tower'.
They pursued indigenisation, massification and the diversification of access
in their efforts to address the challenges of national development, but they
did so in the context of unforeseen constraints.
The failures of the grand nationalist visions of development are strongly
implicated in the deterioration of the post-independence national political
consensus. Growing schisms emerged between increasingly autocratic states and their increasingly educated and restive populations. Governments
tightened their control over the academies to the extent that they ceased to
be key sites for the production of grand visions, critical theories and
analyses of development, turning instead to the delivery of technical
expertise and policy-bound studies (Allen 1986, Sall 2003).
One might say that the far-reaching visions of African intellectuals have
been sabotaged by two main factors. The first is national and refers to the
limits placed on development by authoritarian regimes. The second is
international and refers to the increasingly stringent global economic dogma
that has displaced more ambitious and holistic visions of development since
the 'Lost Decade' of the 1980's. Structural adjustment and neoliberal
reforms have required massive cuts in all services to the people, but
specifically constrained public spending on higher education in ways that
have undermined the early progress.
Ironically, these two aspects - political authoritarianism and economic austerity are not unconnected, but rather mutually enforcing, as the late Claude Ake cogently argued (Ake 1998, 2000). In Nigeria for example, it took a return to military dictatorship to impose structural adjustment programmes on a highly resistant populace, and for a long time locally discredited military dictators were propped up and condoned by international financial institutions. Viewing African governments through the narrow lens of debt-repayments, and from the great distance that separated Washington from African people, these institutions regarded the supreme military councils as highly efficient ruling bodies - and militarily speaking perhaps this was true.
The long-term costs of such truncated vision have been devastating, even to those who formerly supported the atrocious regimes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin, Siyad Barre, Sani Abacha and their kind. We now have a long and tragic record of evidence on this kind of 'efficiency' - the killing of opponents, the corruption, the increasingly uncivil features of traumatised civil societies, the banalities of primitive accumulation - all the worst excesses of militarised masculinity run amok.
In the worst cases, even the national army's monopoly on weapons, and the use of force has given way to more invidious and dispersed forms of militarism the entrenchment of warlordism, gangsterism, genocide and the concomitant normalisation of perversities such as sexual violence. The responsibility for the development that has produced these conditions must be shared. They have been possible through the numerous military and financial deals that have secured foreign loans and investments that have filled the pockets of these so-called leaders, leaving our economies in ruins. Meanwhile Africa's people are still expected to pay off these enormous debts by foregoing the basic public services that might
have mitigated their debilitating poverty.
In the 1980's the international financial institutions had the effrontery to suggest that Africa did not need universities  . This provoked such outrage that the position was soon modified towards a redirection of African higher education, summed up as a return to the developmental logic of the independent state, but without its ambition or vision (Mamdani 1996: 3).
Indeed the kind of 'relevance' now being called for speaks not of responsiveness to development or to regional and national agendas, but rather responsiveness to the labour needs of the global market. 'Diversification' no longer refers to greater social inclusivity, but to privatisation, and 'access' no longer means access to education for marginalised groups but access to the education 'market' by would-be service
The motivations for this reduction and redirection need to be questioned.
The world market in higher education now exceeds 30 billion dollars, and the U.S.A.'s free trade advocates are arguing for the complete opening up of higher education 'services' that would see regulation left to the General
Agreements on Trade and Services, a move that would perpetuate the USA's
global domination of this lucrative market (Altbach 2003).
Needless to say Africa will be hardly be able to compete successfully on such an uneven playing field. Analysts have noted that by the mid-1990's, the African region was spending over 4 million dollars on 100,000 expatriate technical advisers, and the continent was displaying such extensive 'development failure' that many governments abandoned any pretence of sovereignty  .
'Relevance' 'diversity' and 'access' have been redefined to articulate the interests of different and more powerful stakeholders.
Beyond the Academy
The 1970's saw the emergence of several independent regional scholarly
associations and networks that sought to re-assert and sustain a regional
intellectual agenda.. Perhaps the most significant of these are the Council
for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) formed in 1973, and the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD) formed in 1977.
Both are autonomous Pan-African networks which reaffirm intellectual traditions that challenge imperial legacies encourage inter-disciplinary research and value independent publication  .
As the established academic institutions deteriorated, these independent networks only gained in importance, ensuring the survival of a vibrant intellectual culture closely attuned to the challenges facing Africans at all levels of their diverse and complex societies  .
The most influential of these bodies, CODESRIA, pursues the intellectual
priorities collectively identified by the social science community at the
General Assembly held every three years for this purpose. Key areas have
included development economics and structural adjustment, the military and militarism, social and civil society movements, identity and ethnic politics, democratisation and governance studies, indigenous knowledge, academic freedom, higher education reform and, and since the 1980's gender studies  .
Among the various postcolonial developments that have informed African scholarship, feminism has perhaps been one of the most interesting. Not only has it grown in the context of constraint and decline, but whereas independent African scholarship appears to have begun in African universities and subsequently migrated out of them, gender studies seems to have begun by activists who had left the universities but now shows signs of migrating back into them  .
Gender and women's studies has grown into a transdisciplinary field that has gained ground across Africa in recent years. This can be seen in the growing pool of publications covering a wide range of disciplines and fields, and in the corpus of methodologies designed to challenge both androcentrism in knowledge production and gender oppression in society. A small but growing pool of feminist-inspired scholars and researchers now works in and beyond universities. Their activities epitomise the key commitments of African intellectualism: a focus on continental challenges, a willingness to work across the disciplines, a strong sense of social responsibility (particularly towards women's liberation) and an insistence on maintaining
the engagement between theory and practice.
Most of those working in gender and women's studies do so in a manner that is motivated by a deeply-felt commitment to gender activism as a key route to effecting democratisation and social justice  .
Let me sum up this part of my discussion with a question. Would African people respond as they did in the 1960s if they were called upon to contribute to the university? The present situation is one in which African communities might still be likely to scrape their resources together to send a child for higher education. However they would probably be more desperate, more humble in their aspirations. Instead of dreaming that their children could become doctors, teachers, senior government officials, or university professors, they are more likely be seeking some quick training in whatever practical skills seem most likely to assist him or her to migrate to Europe or North America, in the sad hope that he or she might send some foreign exchange home to alleviate their extreme poverty, to pay their basic food
and medical bills.
There was a time when this meant sending their sons to the university, later it meant sending them to the army. These days it is more likely to mean sending sons and daughters out onto the marketplace to acquire entrepreneurial skills and personal connections.
Perhaps, with the advances in democratisation, and the somewhat revised position of international financial institutions, there is an opportunity to retrieve African universities to advance African agendas in the contemporary global arena. Having discussed the constraints placed on the academic establishment, and the mobilisation of alternative scholarly networks, let us now consider the intellectual identities and methodologies that might best be mobilised to this end.
Challenges of Identity
If the best of Africa's intellectuals have identified with the goals of
regional and national development and committed themselves to an ethic of
regional pride and social responsibility towards Africa's diverse peoples,
then we have seen how this kind of intellectual identity has become more
precarious over the years, how it has been increasingly deprived of
institutional support. Critical thinkers have been driven out of African
universities often by colleagues who defined 'responsibility' and
'relevance' as obedient service to government, no matter how distant from
popular interests government had become  .
The campuses became strife-ridden, and in many countries critical intellectuals were targeted for surveillance and repression. As the late Claude Ake noted the responses were not always those of flight into exile or intellectual militancy: Some of us co-operated opportunistically with vice-chancellors and other state officials to break students and other colleagues who tried to resist the assault on the universities. Some of us who joined government became zealots of the assault on the universities, wreaking reckless vengeance on former colleagues for largely trivial long-held grievances.
When we finally got round to rallying in defence of our institutions and our freedoms, our defence, if it can be dignified with such nomenclature, was unimaginative, fitful and perfunctory (Ake 1994: 21).
Others have been no less critical of the inability of the intellectual community to withstand these challenges, drawing our attention to those who served despotic regimes, or pursued destructive impulses within civil society agendas - who became what Bourdieu (1998: 92) describes as 'negative intellectuals'  . The fact is that many paid - and some are still paying - a high price for pursuing more critical directions (Diouf and Mamdani 1994)  .
Nor were the campuses comfortable places for the growing number of women who found their way into universities  . Indeed the growing contradiction between the growing numbers of highly educated women and the persistence of feudal and conservative gender politics is one of the factors leading to a deepening gender consciousness among women and men  .
By the early 1990's it was already apparent that self censorship presented particular challenges, and at that time, the engagement or lack of engagement with gender contradictions presented an illustration of this tendency (Imam and Mama 1994).
The pressures on academics to self-censor their work have intensified as the increasing financial dependency of African researchers on consultancies and unequal partnerships has grown over the years. Maintaining intellectual integrity - and loyalty to regional, socially responsible and critical intellectual agendas is likely to become more difficult with globalisation, and the concomitant commodification of higher education (Zeleza 2003).
African intellectuals of both genders have become increasingly divided and
fragmented, finding their institutional positions first politically and then
economically precarious, and now increasingly subject to new technologies of professional regulation and surveillance  .
Within this scenario gender studies has grown, not so much because of the feminist challenges that the term implies, but because over 20 years of feminist intervention into the international development industry have
created a space for particular kinds of gender discourse, referred to elsewhere as the development nexus  .
Women in Development, Gender and Development, Gender Mainstreaming have become such buzz-words that even the most conservative of vice-chancellors is willing to accommodate the presence of something to do with gender on the campus, not least because it sounds as if it might attract some funds.
Africa's postcolonial intellectuals may generally have complicated identities, but those who are feminists perhaps especially so, given a critical consciousness born out of the contradictions between decades of politically correct constitutional and policy reforms, and the lived reality of persisting inequalities and injustices.
Under these circumstances, feminist identities survive in a state of subalterity, perhaps with a degree of discretion, in interstices of male-dominated institutions. Their survival depends on carefully navigating these spaces, on the performative pragmatism required to retain space within what are after all public establishments
 . At the same time, they remain vulnerable, attracting suspicion and
hostility. They also continuously risk being compromised by the pragmatic
terms on which they have secured marginal spaces within overwhelmingly
Challenges of Epistemology
Epistemologies, like identities, have emerged in challenging and changing
contexts. I will not dwell long on the epistemologies of the colonial era,
for these have been competently dealt with already  .
However it is in the aftermath of colonialism, and in the context of continuing inequalities in the global politics of knowledge production that post-colonial epistemologies have emerged. They therefore derive from a body of work
rooted in colonial contexts, and which owes much to anti-imperialist, nationalist, feminist and post-independence politics. As such post-colonial thought inherently critical, focusing on:
forces of oppression and coercive domination that operate in the
contemporary world: the politics of anti-colonialism and neocolonialism,
race, gender , nationalisms, class and ethnicities define its
postcolonial theory's intellectual commitment will always be to
seek to develop new forms of engaged theoretical work that contributes to
the creation of dynamic ideological and social transformation.its
constitutes directed intellectual production that seeks to articulate itself
with different forms of emancipatory politics.(Young 2001:11)
Postcolonial and feminist epistemologies are in other words therefore critical and activist, committed to political, social and cultural transformation of the societies in which they are located. Given the conditions under which they have emerged, they are also internationalist, demanding transnational engagements with the conditions of globalisation, and transdisciplinary, sustained engagements with social phenomena.
Feminist epistemologies do not seek to propound grand, universal theories, so much as to develop more discrete grounded approaches to conceptualisation that will in the end develop qualified generalisations and theorisations that are targeted, partial and particular.
Considering the dominant organisation of knowledge into science and the humanities (arts and social sciences) and the official privileging of the natural sciences and positivist modes of social science over the humanities, such approaches have found little space in resource-starved African universities, relying on continental and transnational networks, including
transnational feminist networks  .
African perspectives remind us that this is an organisation of knowledge
that has been deeply complicit in imperialism, and financed through
capitalist expansionism and military interests. It has long been argued that
the disciplines lack intellectual justification, given the interconnected
nature of social, political and cultural life. Nonetheless the irrefutable
Western dominance of the world's educational systems has seen this
particular organisation of knowledge and its accompanying methodologies
internationalised and exported, effectively globalised  .
It has also been absolutist, with 'truth' and 'knowledge' emerging as universal discursive regimes intolerant of alternative epistemologies and world views, and which has subjected the colonised world to epistemic violence - the denigration of non-Western philosophies and their displacement by discursive regimes that re-invent Africa and the Orient. 
In African contexts the hierarchies of knowledge production have also coincided with an era of militarism. However African militarism has not fuelled an industrial revolution. Instead, in the context of economic and political underdevelopment and dependency it has played out with consequences that warrant our careful and critical attention. Science and scientific cultures do not exist in a vacuum, and its technological manifestations and applications are deeply mediated by politics and
identities, including those of gender.
Remaining alert to the human consequences of technological advance is an essential aspect of cultural development. It is clear that postcolonial and feminist readings of scientific development have much to offer. They remind us that the most pressing challenges of our times require more than purely scientific responses - consider the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the widespread abuse of women, genocide, the multiple social and cultural consequences of conflict, or the deeply gendered politics of today's war-making machines.
Epistemological changes are subversive by definition: they do not fit into pre-established canons or paradigms  . The same might be said of social changes. Neither can be 'engineered' in quite the way that positivistic epistemology assumes. This is because of the complexity and unpredictability of human beings and social processes, and the influence of identities, cultures and human agency - all of them gendered - on even the most scientifically planned policy frameworks.
Because of the ongoing nature of these cultural, institutional and
methodological challenges, I have no intention of concluding this
discussion. The matter of intellectual development deserves to be kept open, in view of the enormous challenges already endured, and those that we still face.
Let me end by suggesting that Africa's intellectuals, by virtue of their difficult and complicated postcolonial experience are in some ways uniquely positioned to engage critically with the contemporary challenges of global development.
I have further suggested that the postcolonial and feminist epistemologies currently shaping African thought have much to contribute to the re-positioning and reactivation of the critical capacities likely to contribute to the future revitalisation and development of a regionally-focused and organic intellectual culture.
Whether this can best pursued within or beyond the academic establishment remains to be seen. Cultural identity is a fundamental condition for autonomy, and development co-operation
A Review of Professor Amina Mama’s Wolpe Lecture
Sindisiwe Mbandlwa 26 September 2005
Africa is in the process of change in terms of leadership positions for women; Professor Amina Mama is a good example of this change, as a black feminist leader in Africa. She is in a leadership in the University of Cape Town, which, like all South African universities, still has racial and gender imbalance. She is a Chair in Gender Studies and a Director of the African Gender Institute. Not just a face in the boardroom, she is part of the decision-making which we need to clap for as women. Mama has written many books focusing on gender critique, power, race and subjectivity issues.
Professor Mama gave a Wolpe lecture looking at this topic: Critical Capacities Facing the Challenges of Intellectual Development. She started her talk by posing a question to the floor without expecting an answer. The question was: Why do we need intellectual development in Africa? She raised a proposition pertaining to development co-operation, which was originally offered by Prince Claus. This was that the object of development co-operation is to help the recipient countries to achieve greater independence (in particular, economic independence), in light of the realization that the achievement of political independence alone means very little. This raised two questions for me, which I believe many of us have. The first:
Can African countries be economically independent? The second: Will the colonial countries let African countries be independent? The reason for this second question is the fact that African economic independence would mean (for colonial countries) loss of control over Africans and, therefore, loss of profit. It seems as if what many people in civil society are saying is true. They say the poor get poorer and the rich get richer; but at the same time the rich people act as if they are helping out the poor, which in reality is not the case. I personally believe ‘once a capitalist always a capitalist’, and what I mean by this is that capitalists only think for themselves; they learn to become greedy and selfish. Mama believes that an awareness of our own customary identity and past is a fundamental condition for sustainable autonomous development. I don’t think that will do any good for Africans, especially in civil society. Looking at myself, I really don’t see how my culture can give me what I want – education and a better job. Instead, since I am in KwaZulu-Natal, the culture says I must go for virginity testing; it says I am not allowed to say no to a man, because I am a woman. It says I don’t need education, but I need a man to look after me. Meaning that I am so fragile in such a way that I don’t even know what is good for me – but a man next door does.
Professor Mama also emphasized that , looking at the past decade, she could confidently say that intellectual development is a key aspect of cultural development, one worthy of critical attention at the present time. Africa is not only one of the most underdeveloped continents, but it also has the most fragile and under-c apacitated education sector in the world.
But a question arises: Who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment? Professor Mama argued that the unfulfilled promise of African intellectual development has been a key factor perpetuating Africa’s underdevelopment. Yet it is in intellectual development that we must once again turn in a collective effort to reverse the underdevelopment of our continent. What does this mean? It means this will require the reclaiming and strengthening of African intellectuals, who will work for the pursuit of African interests.
We must also bear in mind that colonial capitalists have always viewed African education as a threat to their supremacy. I believe, as an African, that it is so sad that most Africans didn’t get a chance for a better education. This raises another question. When you look at the rate of young adults that are at home because there is no money to further their studies, and the fact that many of us didn’t have enough resources to better our marks to distinctions or exemptions in secondary school, does that mean we must be left behind? Or, should I say, that we don’t deserve a better education, a better life? Amazingly, even those young people who are lucky enough to be at universities are eventually kicked out because they can’t afford to maintain their university fees for more than a year. And even those who have access to bursaries are studying under difficult situations because they are always threatened by the challenge of poverty at home. This poverty plays a critical, negative role in our education. There is nothing so difficult as going to school with an empty stomach.
The main reason behind crime is poverty. And many of those who cannot do crime end their lives instead, simply because they cannot take it. This is so sad because maybe the family is relying on this person who is studying, hoping one day s/he will finish and get a better job; all these hopes end when they find out that s/he is dead or in jail. Can you imagine the disappointment in their faces? And this takes us to the issue of sugar daddies. Poverty forces people to do a lot of things, and so people should understand this before being judgmental of other people. You cannot hang around with certain people whom you are not in the same material class with. That leads to having a sugar daddy who, of course, demands certain things from you; most of these young girls with sugar daddies end up with unwanted pregnancies, and the spread of different infections, including HIV, takes place. I also believe that this leads to unsafe abortions, which contribute to the high number of dying women in South Africa. I think that as we are looking at access to universities for all we should also look at strategies of poverty eradication within institutions and civil society. The reason I include civil society is because it is where poverty starts.
It is very disturbing as a woman to know that in everything that is of benefit women are always put aside. Women are expected to be care givers -- nothing more and nothing less. It is dis-heartening to know that people, in general, view women as housewives and baby-making machines.
If we talk about intellectual development, I think we should also look beyond the academy because this is not about academics or non-academics. I know that most people like me have never heard about this African scholarship, and that goes to show that the information that people need is not accessible to them. I believe that if valuable information (like this African scholarship) is available to the public, that alone can make Africa a better information distributor. I say this because, in thinking about my own situation, if this information was available when I matriculated, maybe by now I would been doing my 4th year at university.
The question that came to mind when I heard about African scholarship was: How can a person get hold of this scholarship , or how can we make this information accessible to people who really need it?
In past years, it was very sad that universities were not place s for women to further their studies, but instead were places to go and find a man. In African countries, power dynamics play a vital role. If you are a woman of high caliber, males don’ t mess with you most of the time. But at the same time, one wonders about the academic women – who, of course, claim that they are fighting for the sisters at the grassroots level.
It seem s as if we have lost our focus – the goal to rescue other women in the dump. I am not saying people shouldn’t smoke, but you find women these days smoking with males; but women end up fighting each other because they are busy complaining that ‘so and so didn’t compliment me this morning, but instead he complimented that “bitch”’. I am sorry for my language, but it’s true. As I look at that, I feel like women’s minds have been programmed in such a way that even if we are educated we still have that mentality that we cannot cope without males. Women are faced with many challenges, because if you don’t want a man of your standard, you are faced with the man who does everything in the name of “culture”; if you decide to go for a man who is as educated as you, you are faced with insecurities. What can we women do to claim back our uniqueness from the hands of man?
Knowledge is power and without knowledge we cannot go anywhere. Still, many of us fail to share knowledge with others. I am saying this because many of us are blaming our president for not spending time talking about HIV/AIDS, but at the same time, respected activists only mention HIV/AIDS in passing. I believe that in our days we are all affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, so all of us should give ourselves a time to talk about it, raising awareness in our society. We cannot deny that there are other people who still believe that they will never get infected because they are educated or they are rich. So, hearing different people talk about the pandemic helps to save many lives. I believe that there are many students who have left the institutions because of HIV/AIDS, so I think it is necessary and relevant to spend time on this issue. Gendered violence should also be focused on, since it plays a role in the spread of HIV/AIDS. We have seen students experiencing violence in many educational institutions. What makes it painful is that many institutions don’t have a gender policy in place, and they don’t see it as a serious case. I think this also goes together with safety and security within campuses. This goes with the question of Risk Management Services (RMS): What are they doing about violence within the campuses and student residences?
In closing, I would like to offer this question: Who qualifies to be an intellectual? Most of us get confused when we are talking about the intellectuals and their critics. Most people think that they are intellectuals because they are well-educated, and there is a divide set up: academics versus the civil society activists. Academics should work hand-in-hand with civil society since most of them are part of civil society. That’s called giving back to the community. We owe our continent the seed of knowledge; not just knowledge without action, but implementing ideas and empowering one another. I believe that one hand washes the other. All i n all, I think we should break down the walls that separate the academics and civil society. That will give us an equal voice. In the end, we are all intellectuals – regardless of our education. It is not about education, but about our daily life. We need to look within and awaken the intellectual that is within us.
The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Naomi Klein's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 14 June 2005, Durban>
Last summer, in the lull of the August media doze, the Bush Administration's doctrine of preventive war took a major leap forward. On August 5, 2004, the White House created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization, headed by former US Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual. Its mandate is to draw up elaborate post-conflict plans for up to twenty-five countries that are not, as of yet, in conflict. According to Pascual, it will also be able to coordinate three full-scale reconstruction operations in different countries at the same time, each lasting five to seven years.
Fittingly, a government devoted to perpetual pre-emptive deconstruction now has a standing office of perpetual pre-emptive reconstruction.
Gone are the days of waiting for wars to break out and then drawing up ad hoc plans to pick up the pieces. In close cooperation with the National Intelligence Council, Pascual's office keeps high risk countries on a watch list and assembles rapid-response teams ready to engage in prewar planning and to mobilize and deploy quickly after a conflict has gone down. The teams are made up of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks--some, Pascual told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in October, will have pre-completed contracts to rebuild countries that are not yet broken. Doing this paperwork in advance could cut off three to six months in your response time.
The plans Pascual's teams have been drawing up in his little-known office in the State Department are about changing the very social fabric of a nation, he told CSIS. The office's mandate is not to rebuild any old states, you see, but to create democratic and market-oriented ones. So, for instance (and he was just pulling this example out of his hat, no doubt), his fast-acting reconstructors might help sell off state-owned enterprises that created a nonviable economy. Sometimes rebuilding, he explained, means tearing apart the old.
Few ideologues can resist the allure of a blank slate--that was colonialism's seductive promise: discovering wide-open new lands where utopia seemed possible. But colonialism is dead, or so we are told; there are no new places to discover, no terra nullius (there never was), no more blank pages on which, as Mao once said, the newest and most beautiful words can be written. There is, however, plenty of destruction--countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God). And where there is destruction there is reconstruction, a chance to grab hold of the terrible barrenness, as a UN official recently described the devastation in Aceh, and fill it with the most perfect, beautiful plans.
We used to have vulgar colonialism, says Shalmali Guttal, a Bangalore-based researcher with Focus on the Global South. Now we have sophisticated colonialism, and they call it 'reconstruction.'
It certainly seems that ever-larger portions of the globe are under active reconstruction: being rebuilt by a parallel government made up of a familiar cast of for-profit consulting firms, engineering companies, mega-NGOs, government and UN aid agencies and international financial institutions. And from the people living in these reconstruction sites--Iraq to Aceh, Afghanistan to Haiti--a similar chorus of complaints can be heard. The work is far too slow, if it is happening at all. Foreign consultants live high on cost-plus expense accounts and thousand- dollar-a-day salaries, while locals are shut out of much-needed jobs, training and decision-making. Expert democracy builders lecture governments on the importance of transparency and good governance, yet most contractors and NGOs refuse to open their books to those same governments, let alone give them control over how their aid money is spent.
Three months after the tsunami hit Aceh, the New York Times ran a distressing story reporting that almost nothing seems to have been done to begin repairs and rebuilding. The dispatch could easily have come from Iraq, where, as the Los Angeles Times just reported, all of Bechtel's allegedly rebuilt water plants have started to break down, one more in an endless litany of reconstruction screw-ups. It could also have come from Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai recently blasted corrupt, wasteful and unaccountable foreign contractors for squandering the precious resources that Afghanistan received in aid. Or from Sri Lanka, where 600,000 people who lost their homes in the tsunami are still languishing in temporary camps. One hundred days after the giant waves hit, Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement in Negombo, Sri Lanka, sent out a desperate e-mail to colleagues around the world. The funds received for the benefit of the victims are directed to the benefit of the privileged few, not to the real victims, he wrote. Our voices are not heard and not allowed to be voiced.
But if the reconstruction industry is stunningly inept at rebuilding, that may be because rebuilding is not its primary purpose. According to Guttal, It's not reconstruction at all--it's about reshaping everything. If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them. Kumara, in another e-mail, warns that Sri Lanka is now facing a second tsunami of corporate globalization and militarization, potentially even more devastating than the first. We see this as a plan of action amidst the tsunami crisis to hand over the sea and the coast to foreign corporations and tourism, with military assistance from the US Marines.
As Deputy Defense Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz designed and oversaw a strikingly similar project in Iraq: The fires were still burning in Baghdad when US occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country's state-owned companies would be privatized. Some have pointed to this track record to argue that Wolfowitz is unfit to lead the World Bank; in fact, nothing could have prepared him better for his new job. In Iraq, Wolfowitz was just doing what the World Bank is already doing in virtually every war-torn and disaster-struck country in the world--albeit with fewer bureaucratic niceties and more ideological bravado.
Post-conflict countries now receive 20-25 percent of the World Bank's total lending, up from 16 percent in 1998--itself an 800 percent increase since 1980, according to a Congressional Research Service study. Rapid response to wars and natural disasters has traditionally been the domain of United Nations agencies, which worked with NGOs to provide emergency aid, build temporary housing and the like. But now reconstruction work has been revealed as a tremendously lucrative industry, too important to be left to the do-gooders at the UN. So today it is the World Bank, already devoted to the principle of poverty-alleviation through profit-making, that leads the charge.
And there is no doubt that there are profits to be made in the reconstruction business. There are massive engineering and supplies contracts ($10 billion to Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan alone); democracy building has exploded into a $2 billion industry; and times have never been better for public-sector consultants--the private firms that advise governments on selling off their assets, often running government services themselves as subcontractors. (Bearing Point, the favored of these firms in the United States, reported that the revenues for its public services division had quadrupled in just five years, and the profits are huge: $342 million in 2002--a profit margin of 35 percent.)
But shattered countries are attractive to the World Bank for another reason: They take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars--even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury.
Even better from the bank's perspective, many war-ravaged countries are in states of limited sovereignty: They are considered too unstable and unskilled to manage the aid money pouring in, so it is often put in a trust fund managed by the World Bank. This is the case in East Timor, where the bank doles out money to the government as long as it shows it is spending responsibly. Apparently, this means slashing public-sector jobs (Timor's government is half the size it was under Indonesian occupation) but lavishing aid money on foreign consultants the bank insists the government hire (researcher Ben Moxham writes, In one government department, a single international consultant earns in one month the same as his twenty Timorese colleagues earn together in an entire year).
In Afghanistan, where the World Bank also administers the country's aid through a trust fund, it has already managed to privatize healthcare by refusing to give funds to the Ministry of Health to build hospitals. Instead it funnels money directly to NGOs, which are running their own private health clinics on three-year contracts. It has also mandated an increased role for the private sector in the water system, telecommunications, oil, gas and mining and directed the government to withdraw from the electricity sector and leave it to foreign private investors. These profound transformations of Afghan society were never debated or reported on, because few outside the bank know they took place: The changes were buried deep in a technical annex attached to a grant providing emergency aid to Afghanistan's war-torn infrastructure--two years before the country had an elected government.
It has been much the same story in Haiti, following the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In exchange for a $61 million loan, the bank is requiring public-private partnership and governance in the education and health sectors, according to bank documents--i.e., private companies running schools and hospitals. Roger Noriega, US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has made it clear that the Bush Administration shares these goals. We will also encourage the government of Haiti to move forward, at the appropriate time, with restructuring and privatization of some public sector enterprises, he told the American Enterprise Institute on April 14, 2004.
These are extraordinarily controversial plans in a country with a powerful socialist base, and the bank admits that this is precisely why it is pushing them now, with Haiti under what approaches military rule. The Transitional Government provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms...that may be hard for a future government to undo, the bank notes in its Economic Governance Reform Operation Project agreement. For Haitians, this is a particularly bitter irony: Many blame multilateral institutions, including the World Bank, for deepening the political crisis that led to Aristide's ouster by withholding hundreds of millions in promised loans. At the time, the Inter-American Development Bank, under pressure from the State Department, claimed Haiti was insufficiently democratic to receive the money, pointing to minor irregularities in a legislative election. But now that Aristide is out, the World Bank is openly celebrating the perks of operating in a democracy-free zone.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing shock therapy on countries in various states of shock for at least three decades, most notably after Latin America's military coups and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yet many observers say that today's disaster capitalism really hit its stride with Hurricane Mitch. For a week in October 1998, Mitch parked itself over Central America, swallowing villages whole and killing more than 9,000. Already impoverished countries were desperate for reconstruction aid--and it came, but with strings attached. In the two months after Mitch struck, with the country still knee-deep in rubble, corpses and mud, the Honduran congress initiated what the Financial Times called speed sell-offs after the storm. It passed laws allowing the privatization of airports, seaports and highways and fast-tracked plans to privatize the state telephone company, the national electric company and parts of the water sector.
It overturned land-reform laws and made it easier for foreigners to buy and sell property. It was much the same in neighboring countries: In the same two months, Guatemala announced plans to sell off its phone system, and Nicaragua did likewise, along with its electric company and its petroleum sector.
All of the privatization plans were pushed aggressively by the usual suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund had thrown their weight behind the [telecom] sale, making it a condition for release of roughly $47 million in aid annually over three years and linking it to about $4.4 billion in foreign-debt relief for Nicaragua.
Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them may strain public finances and suggest that governments consider privatization (yes, they have only one idea). For certain investments, notes the bank's tsunami-response plan, it may be appropriate to utilize private financing.
As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money.
In January Condoleezza Rice sparked a small controversy by describing the tsunami as a wonderful opportunity that has paid great dividends for us. Many were horrified at the idea of treating a massive human tragedy as a chance to seek advantage. But, if anything, Rice was understating the case. A group calling itself Thailand Tsunami Survivors and Supporters says that for businessmen-politicians, the tsunami was the answer to their prayers, since it literally wiped these coastal areas clean of the communities which had previously stood in the way of their plans for resorts, hotels, casinos and shrimp farms. To them, all these coastal areas are now open land!
Disaster, it seems, is the new terra nullius.
Naomi Klein is the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (Picador) and, most recently, Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate (Picador).
Is there any future in the past? A critique of the Freedom Charter in the era of neoliberalism.
Console Tleane's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal May 26 2005
I would like to thank the CCS for inviting me to deliver this lecture tonight. It is my hope that I will do some justice to the legacy of Harold Wolpe and to the stature of the series itself.
The title of my paper tonight suggests that I will first try to take the audience through the origins of the Freedom Charter. In so doing an attempt will be made to offer a critical examination of the evolution of the Charter in a given historical epoch. I will then trace the treatment of the Charter in the hands of different political players and how such treatment turned into a process on its own and greatly shaped the political landscape of the country, and the shape and texture of the liberation struggle, and the liberation movement, throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and all the way through to the beginning of the 1990s.
An important autobiographical note
Let me break with academic tradition and give a brief autobiographical background. Being asked to deliver this lecture has evoked two sets of emotions inside me. Firstly, I was not sure whether to accept an invitation to deliver the Harold Wolpe lecture.
As someone who follows with keen interest most of the activities hosted by the CCS I have noted the calibre of people who deliver these lectures, and I was not sure whether I fit the quality required of such guests. Related to that is the fact that Harold Wolpe was indeed a highly respected intellectual and being invited to give a lecture named after him is rather daunting for me.
The second emotion invoked by the invitation is that, for me, talking about the Freedom Charter does not only raise certain fundamental questions – it also raises memories of a painful history.
Growing up in the early 1980s I was one of those young people who fought battles around the Freedom Charter. I belong to a generation whose interaction with the Freedom Charter meant possible death. Yes, I belong to a generation of young people whose hero, Sipho Mngomezulu, was killed, burnt, and on the morning of his funeral had his coffin burnt. Why? Because he dared question the Congress movement, the custodian of the Freedom Charter.
I come from a generation that can tell how Mandla Seleoane, Salim Vally, Makoma Lekalakala, Jennifer Kalaote, and many others got involved in bitter struggles within the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa and other unions over whether it was wise for the union movement to adopt the Charter or any of the documents within the liberation movement, notably the Azanian Manifesto. It is now history that battles to prevent the division of the working class movement along ideological lines were lost.
It is partly for the above reasons (and experiences) that some of us have not talked openly and loudly about the perceived rising intolerance and repression of dissent. Just like the political turn that we have seen and continue to observe, the rising ‘repression’ is not new to some of us. The neoliberal turn that has been imposed on the country by the Congress movement serves only to prove the thesis that we held onto in the 1980s when talks about possible negotiations were mooted. We warned then that the consequence of that route was going to be an elite pact of/between Afrikaner and African bourgeois nationalisms. Unfortunately, in politics there is no room for the “we said it” or “we told you so” self-glorification.
Given the climate under which the Charter was imposed, and some of the methods used, are we now surprised that the tendencies of the 1980s, the intolerance visited upon some sections of the liberation movement, such as the Black Consciousness Movement, are now being visited upon the social movements, except that now the might of the state is being used?
This is my background. I thought that I should be open and honest about this so that we can also start appreciating the Freedom Charter not only as a historical document (a text) but also as a highly contested political intervention; how it affected many people; and how it was contested - contests that at times could mean death. In addition to being a text, and an intervention, the Charter was very much a biographed process.
It is my contention that like most discussions, it is impossible to apply the so-called distantiation approach when analysing the South African political scene, and history. For those interested in some of the above events (background) I refer you to Rian Malan’s book My Traitor’s Heart.
In addition to this being a Harold Wolpe lecture I also want to dedicate my talk tonight to those who died during the internecine violence of the 1980s, some because of arguments and disagreements around/over the Charter.
I would like to thank the CCS for inviting me to deliver this lecture tonight. It is my hope that I will do some justice to the legacy of Harold Wolpe and to the stature of the series itself.
The title of my paper tonight suggests that I will first try to take the audience through the origins of the Freedom Charter. In so doing an attempt will be made to offer a critical examination of the evolution of the Charter in a given historical epoch. I will then trace the treatment of the Charter in the hands of different political players and how such treatment turned into a process on its own and greatly shaped the political landscape of the country, and the shape and texture of the liberation struggle, and the liberation movement, throughout the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s and all the way through to the beginning of the 1990s.
Today, as we gather in this hall, there is talk about the Freedom Charter both within ruling alliance structures (and therefore government itself) and structures and movements outside the Alliance. It is also important to note that not all political formations to the left of the ruling alliance are concerned with this debate.
For those engaged in it, the discussion on the Charter is motivated by two reasons. In the first place, as part of the 50th anniversary of the Charter, the Alliance is seeking to demonstrate that government programmes are informed and inspired by the spirit of the Charter.
On the other hand, there is a growing call from particularly the social movements that a return to the basic tenets of the Charter will usher in a different discourse, a discourse that will challenge and hopefully even unseat the current sweep, and grip, of/by neoliberalism on the political and economic systems of the country.
While both the Alliance and social movements are increasingly growing far apart from one another the above suggest that there is an agreement that South Africa is under the firm grip of neoliberalism and that there must therefore be an alternative.
The Alliance realizes that there is a crisis and therefore invoking the Charter might ameliorate the extent of the crisis and therefore mediate people’s responses to the crisis. So, in tonight’s lecture, I will try to answer the question: is there any future in the past? Is the Freedom Charter an alternative?
The best way to address the above questions is to briefly examine the context within which the Charter is being celebrated (its fifty years of existence), and gradually resorted to as perhaps a possible alternative macro framework that can rescue this country.
Sinking deep into the abyss: South Africa’s neoliberal plunge
There can be no debate as to the fact that the country is in a deep crisis. Capital is in crisis. The level of decay is reaching immeasurable proportions. Some have singled out despair within certain sections of the population as carrying the seeds of a serious national security implosion. For instance, it is estimated that 60% of adult South African under the age of 30 have never had a job. A sizeable number of these young people have university or technikon qualifications, and yet they cannot find employment. As we all know, and as some theoreticians would argue, these are the most radical of all strata in the society, the lumpenproletariat, those who have nothing to spare in a revolutionary upsurge, for they own nothing and have never owned anything.
The above crisis is simply a demonstration of the extent to which the ruling class in this country has plunged the economy into the most extreme of neoliberal prescriptions. Just last week, the ruling African National Congress released discussion documents that propagate the deregulation of the ‘labour market’. Already, and not surprisingly, even the ANC’s own allies have come out against these disturbing policy formulations.
A critical look at the above policies reveals that they complete the circle for a self-imposed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme under the Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy. Just in the past few weeks, the ruling party (as government) demonstrated that indeed the plunge continues by introducing, or giving a hint to introduce, more austerity measures with regards to public spending.
Some of the most outrageous and frightening policy suggestions include: the rationalization of students at tertiary institutions under the guise of weeding out repeated failures out of the system, who are said to waist the country’s resources; and, the proposed health care system whereby private medical aid will be expanded thus crowding out more people out of the health care system and pushing them into the expensive and exclusionary private health sector.
It is possible to take just a few of the infamous ESAPs conditionalities and assess the extent to which they have been met or are being met by the South African government. The answer to the quantitative indicators “ACHIEVED” or “FULLY ACHIEVED” is an affirmative one in the following conditionalities: corporatisation (e.g. Eskom, Transnet, SABC etc) and privatization (e.g. Telkom, Aventura Resorts etc) of public companies; introduction of cost recovery measures for social goods (e.g. prepaid water and electricity system); relaxation of trade barriers so that import goods can enter the country under minimum conditions and cheaper rates; and, introduction of austerity measures for public spending.
As stated above, there is now a plan to deregulate the labour market by introducing the so-called dual system which will lead to young people being paid lesser and holding causal jobs, as if the current exploitation (underpayment) and casualisation of labour are not enough.
We are now also bombarded with misguided messages that the rand needs to be devalued (another conditionality) in order to attract foreign direct investment. One wonders if by FDI the Ruling Alliance would give the example of the criminals called Barclays Bank, which is about to buy a majority stake in the Absa Bank. But perhaps what is more disturbing for some of us is the fact that Cosatu is agreeing to some of these nonsensical suggestions.
It is possible to conclude, from the above and many other examples and analysis documented elsewhere, that the imperialist project has ‘succeeded’ in South Africa. Indeed, the discomfort that some of us had in the early 1980s when talk of negotiations were mooted, that such talks were only going to benefit the imperialist project and its local lackeys, has been proven correct.
All indications are that the above project is likely to take the country even further down, to the deepest and darkest abyss. Frantic attempts by the Ruling Alliance to devise intervention measures that do not address the fundamental problem in this country, which is the policy choice (neoliberalism) made in 1996, and even earlier, are not going to help.
The question that we need to address tonight and beyond is the following: if we agree that we are gathered here because of the collective concern about the direction that has been adopted in this country, do we then think that the Freedom Charter provides some of the answers that we are looking for?
To answer the above question let us turn our attention to the Charter itself, its evolution to be more precise.
Back to the source: The Origins of the Freedom Charter?
Let’s state the known. The Freedom Charter was adopted on the 26th June 1955, in Kliptown. It contains what its supporters would later regard as progressive alternatives for a free South Africa. A deeper look into history, and indeed an analysis of the Charter, suggest and indicate that the build-up to the Charter was formulated long before 1955. Let us delve briefly into that history, and its significance.
In a paper titled South Africa: a socio-political analysis Mandla Seleoane examines the history of the liberation movement. I found this paper useful for the purposes of this lecture. In that paper, Seleoane arrives at a considered conclusion that the political settlement which was in the offing could be traced to the philosophy and content of the ANC since in its inception, including the adoption of the Freedom Charter.
Another important document raises crucial questions about the origins of the Charter. Produced by the Azanian Labour Monitoring Group (ALMG) the document, titled The Freedom Charter and trade unions in South Africa gave a critical working class perspective on the Charter.
According to the ALMG, the first steps towards the Freedom Charter began in 1954 in Sophiatown. Professor ZK Matthews was instrumental in this initiative. Organizations that were involved in the initiative were: the ANC (representing Africans); the Coloured People’s Organisation; the South African Indian Congress; and the Congress of Democrats (representing whites). So, the meeting was going to take place along racial lines – representing as it were the “four nations” of South Africa.
The following year, on the 26 June 1555, the Freedom Charter was adopted by about 3000 people who attended the gathering in Kliptown. While the essence of the Charter remains what makes it attractive, two unsettling issues remain unanswered to this day.
Quoting former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli, the ALMG draws our attention to sections in his book, Let my people go, where he (Luthuli) says that even the Nationalist Party was invited to the gathering. Why on earth did the organizers invite the NP defeats all logic. No, it does not! A critical reading of the Charter, as the ALMG continues to argue, and as we shall try to demonstrate here, might explain why. Perhaps the Nationalist Party (calling itself the New National Party) was belatedly honouring this invitation when it adopted the Charter before it dissolved recently!
The second unanswered question is who drafted the Charter. To support its argument the ALMG draws our attention to Luthuli’s words where he says that the Kliptown meeting “approved” the “broad proposals” that were later adopted. This, as the Group argues, suggests that there is no clarity about who drafted the Charter. For its part, the ANC argues that the Charter was a process of lengthy consultation throughout the country, a point that the ALMG acknowledges. But still, the explanation by the ANC does not say who drafted the Charter, and, it does not refute the allegation that there is no clarity on who drafted the Charter.
There are two other important consequences that arose after the 1955 Kliptown meeting. Firstly, the Charter divided the ANC. The Africanists, who grew from the ranks of the then radical Youth League, opposed the Charter. Those who supported the Charter came to be known as the Charterists, a name that still persists in certain quarters to this day.
The Charter was not adopted by the ANC at its 1955 convention due largely to opposition from the Africanists. It was only adopted at the April 1956 conference, where the Charterists were accused of “packing the conference with non-ANC members who voted without a roll call of actual ANC members.” Some have even gone to the extent of alleging that Nelson Mandela was intrumental in subsequent purges of those who were opposed to the Charter.
The second consequence of the Charter’s ‘adoption’ by the ANC is that it eventually led to a split. Africanists, some of who as a result of the purges, detached to found the Pan-Africanist Congress in 1959.
After providing an analysis of the Charter, which it concludes is not a bad document, the ALMG poses a pertinent question: why was it necessary to come up with a new document while there was already another document within the broad liberation movement, the Non-European Unity Movement’s 1944 Ten Point Programme?
While claiming to be Trotskyist in orientation the NEUM’s document was very much social democratic. A point-for-point comparison with the Charter reveals similarities.
Unable to find any reason why the Charter was drafted even with the existence of the Ten Point Programme the authors of the ALMG document arrive at the conclusion that it might as well be that the authors of the Freedom Charter wanted to draw a division between the supporters of the Ten Point Programme and those who support the Charter. Whatever the reason, from the very beginning the Charter failed to advance unity amongst the opponents of apartheid.
From the 1950s, throughout the exile years (1960 till the 1980s), there was very little heard about the Freedom Charter. In fact, during these intervening years the Charter is almost unheard of; it is a ‘dead document’. The next time that the Charter reemerges is in 1985. Before going into that discussion let is turn our attention to an analysis of the Charter.
Contesting the Charter
Having outlined a brief history of the Charter, which is littered with disagreements, purges, splits and later, as we shall demonstrate, violence, let us now attempt an analysis of the Charter.
A reading of the Charter produces at least two categories of possible interpretations. The first comprise of what can broadly be seen as appealing (some will say progressive) sections in the Charter. The second would be the ambiguous and also problematic sections. We will start with the appealing sections, and end with the problematic.
What needs to be noted throughout the document though is that the Charter is a highly contradictory text. Its inherent contradictions stem from the fact that it seeks to appease all classes within the society. In the same way that the radical nationalist critique will hold that the Charter is ahistorical in its treatment of inequality in South Africa by failing or deliberately ignoring the reality of colonial conquest, a working class reading of the Charter exposes it to contain classical bourgeoisie democratic demands. Some have noted that:
According to Mandela, the Charter is a programme for the unification of people across on a democratic basis, not a socialist document for the unity of the working class only.
Mandela’s understanding of nationalization is seen as a means of creating wealth-generating opportunities for an indigenous bourgeoisie, rather than any form of concession to socialism. Yet, the Charter still continued to have a sense of appeal for certain sections within the liberation movement. What made the Charter appealing?
Some appealing sections in the Charter
The sections of the Charter that are appealing are surely the sections that those who argue that the ANC has moved away from its struggle history would argue need to be used in order to raise demands for a move away from the current neoliberal macro economic and political framework. The term appealing is used deliberately here. While some might want to argue that these are/were progressive demands it is my contention that they should be seen more as appealing to emotions than as concrete programmatic demands.
Under this category one can cluster the sections that deal with the right to “(enjoyment of) equal human rights”, “work and security”, “learning and culture”, and “houses, security and comfort”.
At face value these sections make for appealing demands. Broadly speaking, the demands in these sections can be said to be social democratic, akin to the advancements made mainly in Scandinavian countries. Another way of looking at these demands is by trying to understand certain sections of South African left politics as influenced by the Communist International (Comintern), after it came under the misguided and dictatorial influence of Joseph Stalin, which eventually led to its degeneration.
In dealing with the situation of colonies and semi-colonies the Comintern developed an erroneous analysis that posited that the working class in most colonies and semi-colonies was still under-developed and therefore there was a need to have a different understanding of the South African situation.
Examined from the perspective of a heavy Comintern influence at the time of the adoption of the Freedom Charter and throughout the years of exile, up until now, it is possible to argue that the SACP’s theory of Colonialism of a Special Type, and therefore its application – the Two-Stage Theory – might have shaped some of the provisions in the Charter. This translated into a belief, and practice, whereby what was conceived to be the primary goal of the liberation struggle was the achievement of a narrow nationalist goal, that is, the attainment of civil liberties for black people in general without attaching any class analysis to such struggle, or arguing that the struggle for socialism should be waged after independence. Logically, this meant that the struggle, as Mandela would confirm, was so that the black petty bourgeoisie would ascend into power firstly before the struggle for socialism could be waged.
It is possible, when using the above tools of analysis, to conclude that the Charter then fails to give any content to a possible class struggle. Just to buttress the point: it is erroneous to argue that South Africa, even during the 1950s, was not ready for a socialist revolution. The discovery of gold and diamond, the creation of the sugar plantations in Natal, and many other industrial developments, created the objective conditions for a strong proletarian movement.
The rise in strength of the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU), the launching of Sactu in 1955, some of the labour strikes, the creation of townships as labour compounds, the creation of the migrant labour system, and the importation of labour from neighbouring countries and India, and to some extent China, all demonstrate that conditions have long been ripe for a working class struggle in South Africa. Those who drafted the Charter failed to recognize these developments, and therefore failed to come out with a progressive reading of the objective material conditions. So, the Charter fails the test as a potential working class ‘oriented’ programme. Does it pass as a nationalist project?
Some ambiguous and problematic sections of the Charter
The most ambiguous section in the Charter is its preamble, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. This is not only ahistorical, it is illogical. The very claim that the country belongs to all removes all claim to struggle itself. It is illogical to wage a struggle, call it a national liberation struggle, and yet deny or ignore the simple question about the very existence of the conquerors and the conquered, of the victors and the vanquished.
The struggle in South Africa was not simply for equality between human beings. Nor was it simply, as others within our ranks want to argue, only about class. Failure on the side of certain sections of the liberation movement, especially the left, has led to a false analysis of the South African question where class has been privileged over race. It must be stated that this is an inverse of the same mistake committed by nationalists, who deny the existence of class. In the South African situation, then and now, race and class became intertwined as capitalistic development took a racial form and combined, wherein class became mediated through race.
The Charter fails to recognize the simple fact that one of the primary pillars in the liberation struggle was the struggle for land. Black people had been robbed off their land and therefore, through struggle, the fundamental question of land recon quest had to be addressed. To therefore argue that the land (South Africa) belongs to all those who live in it is ahistorical. Of course, the land project needs to be rescued from a narrow nationalist programme, which has the inherent pitfalls already noted above, that is, failure to realize that there were always classes within the black community. So, a radical nationalist agenda would be useful when approaching the land question.
With the inherent limitations of the nationalist programme in mind, the Charter fails the test for a radical national project. Such a project would, even not as clear as we might want it to be, take into account the existence of class. The best traditions of the radical nationalist project can be found within sections of the Black Consciousness Movement, especially towards the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In the same way that it fails the working-class orientation test, the Charter fails the radical nationalist project. We can therefore conclude that the Charter remains a bourgeoisie democratic platform.
Having tried to analyze the Charter as a text, let us go back to how it then became ‘popular’.
The Charter bounces back: 1985 and the aftermath
We have already established that the Freedom Charter was imposed on the Congress movement. This was accompanied by splits and accomplished through purges and suppression of dissent. But that did not end in the 1950s.
Throughout the exile years, or for many years after the 1960 bannings, there was very little heard about the Charter. In fact, we can say without any fear of contradiction that the Charter was almost dead.
The next time, after the 1950s, and perhaps during the Treason Trial, that we hear of the Charter is in 1985 when it turned thirty (30). This was two years after the United Democratic Front was launched, and the year in which (December 1985) Cosatu was launched.
The Charter was adopted by Cosatu after systematic suppression of those opposed to it. In its paper The Freedom Charter and trade unions in South Africa, referred to earlier, the Azanian Labour Monitoring Group (ALMG) deals with the manner in which the Charter was imposed upon union after union within Cosatu. Unions that were involved in struggles against the adoption of the Charter, as it was viewed not to cater for the interests of the working class were Mawu and Ccawusa. In fact, instead of uniting the working class the Charter brought about divisions.
It was not only within unions that the Charter brought strife. Within the ANC debates started to rage about the relevance of the Charter. A grouping calling itself the Marxist Workers Tendency released a document that, while broadly not rejecting the Charter, raised some critical questions.
As in the 1950s criticism leveled against the Charter was not tolerated. Not only were those seen as competitors against the Congress movement targeted, others within the Alliance, yet critical of the Charter, found themselves at the receiving end of intolerance. In December 1986 fifteen trade unionists regarded as workerists received a letter that warned them against pursuing their arguments against what they (the workerists) perceived as reformist positions advanced by the Charterists. The letter is worth quoting at some length. It read:
Despite several serious warnings to some of your reformist and Trotskyist collaborators, you still persist in spreading reactionary syndicalism workers ideologies to confuse and divert the spontaneous mass worker resistance into accepting fraudulent ‘reforms’ instead of a revolutionary transformation of South Africa. The fact that you talk endlessly about the leading role of the working class to overthrow capitalism proves that you are only armchair revolutionaries who in practice reject all forms of disciplined revolutionary organization.
It seems Stalin was a bit learned when compared to the writer of this letter. Note the embarrassing contradictions. Those who promote the “leading role of the working class to overthrow capitalism” are termed “reactionary” and “armchair revolutionaries”. Any resemblance to the recent labeling of some activists as “ultra-leftists”, “peace time revolutionaries”? Or, perhaps the writer/s were sincere; “overthrow of capitalism” has never been on the radar of some leaders of the liberation movement.
One of the people to receive the letter is someone I grew up under, Mandla Seleoane, then education officer within Ccawusa. Granted, the letter might have been the work of the apartheid regime, the so-called third force. Or, it might be that because Seleoane was a non-ANC member. But was it correct to deal with members of the other organizations like that?
Anyone disputing the fact that the ANC did order the liquidation of those critical of its programmes, including the Freedom Charter, should at least read an article by one Mzala or be reminded about a Radio Freedom broadcast that called for the BCM to be liquidated. The Kabwe Conference talked about the Trotskyists needing to be combated. Real combat took place, literally!
We should therefore not be surprised that a number of movements and activists are experiencing what some term repression. The seeds of that repression started a long time ago. Only now it has assumed state power.
The other important connection that we need to bring in is how the conflict between the BCM and UDF was linked to the Charter, and its use by imperialism. In 1985 United States Senator Edward Kennedy visited the country to promote negotiations. That was a year after the idea of a National Convention, which finds its roots in the Black Sash, was mooted. The BCM opposed idea.
Kennedy’s visit revived the idea of the National Convention. The conflict started at Regina Mundi, Soweto, after Kennedy was prevented from speaking by BCM activists. The internecine violence that followed the BCM’s active objection to Kennedy’s visit, which, as we said, became intricately linked to the politics of the Freedom Charter and negotiations, tore the black working class community apart. Five years later, the negotiations started.
The Charter is realized: The negotiated settlement
A number of books, articles and reports have been produced by many scholars on the nature of the negotiated settlement which started with the visit to Lusaka by groups of Afrikaner businesspeople and was kick-started after the release of political prisoners and the unbanning of the liberation movement.
A commonly held view, and a correct one for that, is that the Nationalist Party facilitated the negotiations because of, amongst other reasons, the economic crisis that was faced by the country, and the inability by white business to trade with other businesses outside the country and thereby enter the global economy.
While the above and many other reasons, including the revolutionary upsurge inside the country, and both economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, played a major and decisive role in the settlement, another factor is largely ignored by scholars – the politics of the Freedom Charter.
We have already demonstrated in the preceding sections that the Charter was based on liberal notions. What is more important is that the Charter failed, and still fails, to clearly articulate the true nature of the South African problem, which is colonial conquest, translated later into racial capitalism, and now multi-racial elite pacting and plunder. Of course, white capital remains dominant.
The Charter failed, and still fails, to articulate the simple fact that black people were robbed off their land and any settlement would have to address the land question, with the best model being reconquest, that is, expropriation of all land and its nationalization, with the aim ultimately of socialising it.
The Charter failed, and still fails, to address the race/class question, which, as some of us contend, could best be addressed through a clear working class-led struggle.
The political basis for negotiations, at least from one section of the liberation movement (the ANC and its allies), can be said to date back to the ANC’s founding in 1912. While it went through different stages of organizational expression, the ANC has always been a party of negotiations. Take for instance the following lame plea by Dr A.B, Xuma, ANC General Secreatary, in his 1942 letter to General Jan Smuts:
… we are anxious not to embarrass the government… We humbly and respectfully request the Prime Minister to receive a deputation from the ANC and CNTU (Council of Non-European Trade Unions) … to assist you toward settlement of recent strikes and prevention of future strikes.
Some may disagree with this assertion by pointing us to the direction of Umkhonto we Sizwe’s (MK) Manifesto, the Morogoro Declaration, the Kabwe Declaration and many other pronouncements that gave the impression that what the ANC sought to achieve was complete takeover of power.
What we need to understand about the ANC is that it has always managed to communicate varied messages, at times contradictory. Even at a popular level, which is illustrative, these dual messages were prevalent. We
Democracy and the importance of criticism, dissent and public dialogue
William Mervin Gumede's Wolpe Lecture, University of KwaZulu Natal, 18 April 2005, Durban
Amartya Sen , when making the case for democracy as a universal value, suggests three characteristics of the democratic process. One, an intrinsic value, in the form of social and political participation in decision-making. To be barred from such participation is a major deprivation. Secondly, he sees an instrumental value in democracy, as it offers people a hearing and helps direct political attention to their claims and needs. This is done through communicating people’s demands effectively to political leaders. Thirdly, he posits that democracy has a constructive value, where its necessary dialogue allows citizens to learn from each other and thus helps society to develop. The constructive impact of democracy depends on the quality of dialogue that citizens engage in among themselves and with the agencies of the state, and together form society’s values and priorities.
Public Participation in Decision-making
Ten years into democracy many South Africans increasingly worry that public participation in policy making and identifying priorities have plunged dramatically. The South African constitution, commits the country to open and democratic forms of governance. Moreover, the democratic constitution commits the country to both a representative and participatory democracy – on all levels, national, provincial and local. Participation in democratic life is critical for a number of reasons. Involvement in political and economic decision-making gives the participants a stake in the system. Indeed, it has the effect of transforming an individual from a mere recipient of government decisions to a player, however modest the role may be, in the formulation and evaluation of these decisions.
The struggle of many new democracies has been to reconcile effective policy formulation with democratic norms of political participation. Indeed, the particular patterns of public decision-making that emerge within formal constitutional parameters not only affect the sustainability of the democracy; they also help define the quality of the democracy. Typically pressures brought to bear on newly democratised countries – for open economies and sound finance – increasingly meant that governments are restricting key economic policies to experts and insulating key public institutions, such as central banks, fiscal authorities and finance ministries from democratic scrutiny. National authorities increasingly become more responsive to financial markets than to their fledgling democratic institutions, such as legislatures, and to their citizens. But the core issues of economic policy reform – fiscal stability, debt repayment, privatization, and liberalization – often require hard choices as they affect social groups, communities and institutions differently. It is never obvious that there is only one right way of approaching these issues or that technocrats are better placed than anyone else to make the right choices.
The particular patterns of public decision-making that emerge within formal constitutional parameters not only affect the sustainability of democracy, they also help to define the quality of democracy. In a recent study of the democratic transition in five Andean countries (Bolivia, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela), Franscisco Gutierrez Sarin shows how early optimism for democracy gave way to a general weakening of democratic institutions. He argues that although none of them has slipped into open dictatorships, all these countries have seen a gradual installation of a strong presidential executive, “over which controls have been weakened; weaker parliamentary organisations; and traditional parties supplanted by anti-political outsiders.” If citizens believe that newly democratic institutions are being ignored or downgraded in the making of decisions in their lives, they may seek solutions outside of these institutions. This may in the end have negative consequences for political stability and economic development on the whole.
South Africa’s first democratic government, in 1994, used as its policy platform, the welfarist Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), which in the new democratic spirit of the times, asserted: “Democracy requires that all South Africans have access to power and the right to exercise that power”. The RDP was drawn up after ANC leaders barnstormed the whole country for more than a year, asking ordinary citizens about their concerns, and cobbling them into a policy document. However, since then, ordinary South Africans are increasingly feeling anxious – shown in repeated national surveys - about not being part of the new democratic deal. Indeed, the challenge has been how to make the new South African democracy a participatory one – or how to secure the active involvement of citizens in the policymaking processes on all levels.
For some, things already went downhill when Nelson Mandela’s government adopted the market friendly Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR) in 1996, to replace the RDP. As the then former deputy president Thabo Mbeki argued, the RDP did not inspire market confidence, as it was seen by investors as too welfarist. The GEAR policy was drawn up largely by a carefully selected group of economists and under great secrecy, before released, as ‘non-negotiable’, to quote Mandela. The GEAR policy was not debated in parliament or any other representative institution. Some ANC leaders and MPs who questioned the policy were often portrayed as ‘loony’. The end result is that GEAR does not have the same kind of grassroots ‘ownership’ – Mbeki called it ‘Biblical’ - the RDP had. Gear is now seen, rightly or wrongly as ‘against’ the ‘people’.
Moreover, the alarm bells are sounding at that fact that major policies in the new democracy are increasingly drawn up by the select few – similar to the way in which GEAR was drawn up. It is now a widespread perception that parliament is simply ignored on economic policy, that it has become a rubberstamp. Policies are decided elsewhere. Public and civil society participation in policy-making has been greatly reduced. Not surprisingly, such policies have been fiercely resisted at grassroots level, making their implementation at times very costly.
Since 1999, the restructured Presidency has increasingly taken on a more dominant role in the policy-making process in post-apartheid SA. The style of the President, seen by his strategists and himself as that of a CEO and Chairperson running SA Limited, has significant implications for policy-making, and for opening up policy-making to the democratic process. As CEO, Mbeki tightly controls policy-making processes in Cabinet, government and the ANC.
At the same time new centres of influence on policy-making – outside the elected representative system – have been established. Key among them is the presidential working groups: big business, black business, trade union, agriculture, international investment advisory council, and international IT council. Significant policies had their genesis or were fleshed out in these presidential groups and were presented to Parliament and the public as fait accompli.
In democracies, parliaments are expected to provide platforms for articulating citizens’ choices, scrutinising government policies, and providing legitimacy for policy outcomes – even if they prove to be wrong. Instead, South Africa’s Parliament has been increasingly sidelined from policymaking. Indeed, it is increasingly labelled a ‘lame-duck’ and a ‘rubber-stamp’.
The following are some examples of key policies insulated from democratic decision-making:
The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) – the Mbeki-led attempt to lead a renewal in Africa’s social, economic and development fortunes – was not discussed widely. It has run into a wall of opposition from civil society groups within South Africa and elsewhere on the continent.
Neither was trade policy broadly canvassed. For example, Parliament was never involved in the decision to lift South Africa’s tariff barriers faster than even the Word Trade Organisation (WTO) demands – causing widespread economic pain.
The agriculture presidential working group put together a strategic plan that aimed to contribute to growth and make a dent in rural poverty within the next three years. The agriculture department, AgriSA and the National African Farmers' Union, drafted the plan and set up a permanent joint committee to implement it as the new strategic plan for SA farming. The fact that only “an elite few” had been consulting in drawing up the agriculture and land reform blueprints sparked widespread condemnation.
The Growth and Development Summit, scheduled in mid 2003, and one of the democracy’s major economic events, was agreed upon at a joint sitting of the big business, black business, trade union and agriculture working groups. The summit aimed to cobble together a consensus between business, labour and government, similar to the post-second war Western European pacts in the Netherlands or Ireland, which agreed on a common development path for the country. However, Parliament was not consulted and many groups in society – including opposition parties – felt excluded.
In 1998, the Presidential Jobs Summit, aimed at cutting high unemployment levels, faltered on the back of complaints that only a few people were included in drawing up the policies.
Another significant new policy making forum – outside democratic institutions – was the Millennium Labour Council (MLC), formed in 2000 by organised business and labour to reach agreements over contentious labour policies. In 2001, trade unions and organised business leaders agreed on key labour legislation in secluded negotiations at the MLC.
Government’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), aimed at bringing blacks into the commanding heights of the economy, and was never broadly canvassed. As a result, it was opposed from potential beneficiaries, who accused it of being elitist and only benefiting the well-connected few, while in white circles it was viewed with deep suspicion. However, BEE has been a case where sufficient public disquiet forced government to rethink and take it to the drawing board to refine policies to make it much broader. For example, the draft Minerals and Energy Bill, shrouded in secrecy, was leaked in 2002, slashing the share prices of many local mining companies. The whole BEE policy process was rethought, although not sufficiently and broadly enough. Trade union groups have started to galvanise opposition to BEE, with some groups even trying to block BEE transactions in court.
But policy choices cannot be settled merely by the pronouncements of those in authority. The official argument, as argued by Essop Pahad, minister in the presidency, and a close associate of Mbeki, in defence of this is often that government must govern, and cannot waste time debating policy choices. The implication is that consulting with the masses will only bog down policies and delay their implementation.
The tendency to centralise policy-making in the Presidency has been justified by arguing that more centralised policy co-ordination and monitoring would smooth implementation of policies. The oft-repeated saying is: government must govern, whilst the dominant argument in government circles since 1999 has been based on ‘delivery’. The implication is – wrongly - that consultation would slow down the policy-making and implementation process. Furthermore, it assumes, to stretch Sen’s argument a bit, and to take a leaf from Steven Friedman, that citizens place a ‘purely instrumental value’ on democracy, and that ‘delivering’ goods and services – at the expense of consultation and participation, can buy the loyalty of citizens.
Indeed, the implication is, to paraphrase both Sen and Friedman, that if some democratic considerations, for example in our case the right to influence policy or participation in policymaking, is compromised in the process, citizens satisfaction with their new-found material gains, will compensate adequately for their loss in the democratic participation stakes. Putting it differently, as Sen argues, poor people are interested, in bread, not democracy – of which there is little empirical evidence defending this fallacious thesis. Taking the argument further, Sen describes how policymakers in such cases often places the emphasis on ‘cultural values´, whereby, ‘Asian values’, or in our case `African values´ to falsely claim that these communities are more sceptical towards democracy, because they prefer ´discipline´, not political freedom.
The Turkish political economist, Dani Rodrik, in his groundbreaking research across developing countries, shows to the contrary, democracy is not only compatible with growth and poverty reduction, but may be crucial to both. Thus, the challenge lies not in ‘delivering’, at the expense of democratic participation, but in broadening democratic participation. Indeed, in South Africa, inclusive policy-making might be, as Rodrik argues, ‘a pre-condition of economic growth and sustainable development’, rather than an obstacle to delivery.
Disgruntled citizens, feeling alienated from the policy-making processes, are increasingly using illegal methods to make their voices heard. There has been a rise in civil society protests in South Africa. Many, feeling excluded from the insulated policy-making processes, have taken their grievances to the streets. Post-apartheid’s most visible social movement, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), has embarked on civil disobedience to pressure government to make AIDS drugs available to sufferers. Other new mushrooming social movements prefer to use illegal methods to fight the debilitating effects – retrenchments, increase service tariffs - of privatisation policies. For example, members of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), illegally switch on the electricity of township dwellers that have seen their power cut because of non-payment, following rates increases set out in GEAR. President Mbeki and many government leaders have been caught off-guard by the seemingly random and spontaneous protests by local communities frustrated by the snail’s pace of service delivery and often-indifferent local representatives, sweeping the country.
Deliberative democracy strengthens citizen’s voices in governance by including people of all races, classes, ages and geographies in deliberations that directly affect public decisions. Thus, citizens influence, and can see the result of their influence, on the policy and resource decisions that impact their daily lives and future. Another way of looking at it is that deliberative democracy requires ´political decisions based on some trade-off of consensus decision-making and representative democracy that involves an extensive effort to include marginalised, isolated, ignored groups in decisions, and to extensively document dissent, grounds for dissent, and future predictions of consequences of actions. It focuses as much on the process as the results´.
Habermas puts deliberation at the centre of the decision-making process. It seems that the importance of open dialogue is often underestimated in South Africa. Democracy requires deliberation for a number of reasons. First, discussing public issues helps citizens to form opinions where they might otherwise have none. Second, it offers democratic leaders better insight into public concerns than elections do. For example, did voters choose representatives because of their views on redistribution, or because of the weaknesses or irrelevance of the opposition? Leaders must listen to public discourse. Thirdly, public discourse provides a way of getting governments or people to justify their views or positions, so that the views can be sorted between the better ones and the worst.
Conducting a dialogue within society is not easy. Moreover, the larger and more diverse a society, the more difficult it becomes to hold such public dialogue. The corollary is that the larger and more diverse the society, the great the need for deliberative dialogue. But is crucial in working out the kind of values that is important in our new democracy. For one, public dialogue is important in helping society identifying its priorities and needs. Even the conceptualisation or the comprehension of what is a need may require extensive public dialogue and debate. Often, sectors that are excluded cannot take part in the public dialogue, since those who are marginal or voiceless, are also often misrepresented. This can happen either because they are invisible, because they do not have the power, or access to power, or because their images are distorted. They could also assume a position of silence, as a way of being resilient and protecting themselves from those more powerful.
South Africa’s public policy dialogue has increasingly descended into a ritual of labelling and name-calling. Moreover, crucial economic, social and development debates are often conducted via the extremes of ‘us’ against ‘them’. From the government’s perspective, if you are critical of aspects of government’s economic reforms, you are likely to be labelled ‘ultra-left’, ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘rightwing’. But criticisms are one form of participation, and a very visible one at that. Demonstrations are a form of criticism. Indeed, criticisms have positive elements in that it can lead to a review of unpopular decisions and it can influence the tenor of future decisions.
The responses of governments to the suffering of people often depend on the pressure that is put on them. The great Indian economist Amartya Sen makes the example of how criticisms, open public debates and dissent play such a crucial role in preventing economic disasters such as famines or social unrest. So, freedom of expression and discussion, are not only crucial in pinpointing economic and social needs, but are also important in deciding on what needs should have priority; and what demands should attention be paid to. Obviously, criticisms can also have its downside, when simply the loudest voice or the richest voices receive political attention.
In South Africa, because of the high levels of inequality and unequal access to key public forums, important opinions are easily shutout because those holding such opinions are too poor to influence party leaders or access institutions such as the media or Parliament. We have turned into a one policy state. In the end, the ‘marginalised’ feel it appealing to use extreme actions to get their voices heard, risking even further alienation from the centres of power. All too frequent the bottled-up frustration of those ignored, soon reaches fed-up levels, and then spills into violence. Ignored, and no way of influencing policies, the impoverished’ bottled-up frustration spill into violence.
The role of the Media
Though the press can do great harm, it can also enhance public justice and promote economic and social development. At the most basic level, the press, and free speech in general, play a crucial role in communication between citizens themselves and their government. It also has a protective function in a democracy, by giving voice to the vulnerable, disadvantaged and neglected issues. The rulers of a nation are often insulated, in their own lives, from the misery of the common people. They can live through a national calamity without sharing the fate of the victims. If, however, they face public criticism in the media, they might have a strong incentive to take action or deal with the problems of the poor and vulnerable. The press also has a role in disseminating knowledge and allowing critical scrutiny – not only specialised reporting, but just informing people on what’s happening. Moreover, informed and unregimented formation of values requires openness of communication and argument. New, priorities and values emerge through public discourse, and it spread through public discussion. Are the South African media up to the task? With exceptions, we are witnessing the implosion of journalism. This is largely the result of the concentration of the production and dissemination of both news and entertainment, often amalgated into infotainment and the tab iodisation of the media. Public fears remain that the government exercise undue influence on the public broadcasting system.
Freedom of expression and independent journalism are among the pillars of a democracy. The scope for freedom of speech determines the public area for democratic exchange. “This public information space ... is still the vitally important as it provides the life force for, but may also set the limits of, democracy” . Freedom of expression should not only encompass a negative freedom from censorship and coercion, but also involve positive measures to promote equal and effective participation in decision-making through transparency and open government. It is in the nature of hierarchical power structures to become opaque and foster internal secrecy while seeking transparency from others in order to exercise maximum control .
The Importance of Dissent
Pity the ordinary or to use that wonderful euphemism – the grassroots – and middle ranking ANC member still willing to risk publicly criticizing the president, government or the party. The ugly and patently misguided unleashing by the ANC leadership of the full wrath of the ANC’s arsenal on such political ‘heavies’ - the moral icon archbishop Desmond Tutu and Coast leaders Zwelinzima Vavi and Willie Madisha – leaders with huge mass support compared to the ordinary grassroots supporter or sympathiser, for really mildly criticizing government has done the job. Alarm bells should be ringing, if critics in a free society are portrayed as disloyal, unpatriotic or enemies of the state.
Obviously, in political organisations bonded by affection, friendship and solidarity, such as the ANC, members are often unwilling to be critical for fear that this will prove disruptive and violate the organisation´s internal norms. Dissenters might well cause tension but, importantly, they are also likely to improve the performance of the ANC and its policies. For many in the ANC, however, the rewards for conformity involve salaries, benefits and advancement. Indeed, to dissent means not only material hardship and marginalisation, but loss of valued friendships and a warm supportive network. Moreover, public criticisms are portrayed as giving ammunition to ´reactionaries´, ´forces opposed to transformation´, disgruntled expatriate whites, or racists wanting to see a black government fail. Heeding internal criticism of government weakness is more constructive than wasting time and energy on such worries.
Differently, others argue that the government has not yet had enough time to prove itself.
Not surprisingly many bite their tongue rather than risk all this. But self-censorship is a serious social and political malaise and the cost to society is immense. Freedom of speech is a meaningless right if group pressure demands conformity, but the real victims are those who are deprived of information and views they need. Already large numbers of black and progressive white intellectuals in South Africa have, to all intents, withdrawn from public debate, and society is the poorer for their silence. The greater danger is a decline in intellectual self-reflection, both within the state and among its critics, about what is actually happening on the ground. This happened in India and ultimately led to the backsliding of another once great liberation movement, the Indian Congress Party.
Institutions have a better chance of success if their leaders are subject to scrutiny and if their actions are continually monitored and reviewed. Moreover, leaders who explain themselves and can be questioned instead of merely issuing dictates and introducing policies that are beyond criticism are far more likely to be followed than those who discourage dissent and crush debate are. Irving Janis developed the notion of ‘groupthink’ in the early 1970s and 1980s to describe the kind of decision-making that predictably leads to social blunders and policy failures. So, for example, when US president Lyndon Johnson and his advisors escalated the Vietnam War, it was because the leading group stifled dissent and tried to enforce consensus. A different case has been the recent sexual harassment scandals in the Catholic church. Often, victims and witnesses refrained from bringing deeply traumatic incidents into the open – at great personal costs, because they feared bring the institution of the church and religion into disrepute.
Organisations susceptible to groupthink pressure their members into uniformity and self-censorship, thus creating the illusion of unanimity. This is fostered by direct pressure on any members who argue against the group’s stereotypes, illusions and commitments. Increasingly, there is an eroding of internal democracy within the ANC. The case in opposition parties, for example the Democratic Alliance and Inkatha Freedom Party, are most probably even worse. But a case can be made for political parties´ internal workings to reflect the democratic ethos and constitution, since they are subsidized through the public purse. Obviously, party leadership must have some powers of intervention, for example if it wants to push women leadership to the top or bring some geographic representativity to the leadership.
Worryingly many ANC leaders even mimic the smallest mannerism of Mbeki. We see mini-me´s, often verging on cult worship of the leader. South Africa must have a political culture that encourages disagreement and does not penalise those who depart from the prevailing orthodoxy.
Moreover, in a culture of silence and fear, there is the very real risk that leaders will not receive the information they require to make good decisions. When members of the ANC feel free to differ from the president or the party leaders, society is likely to hear a wider range of opinions, and better decisions may result. Policy errors are most likely to occur when people are rewarded for conformity.
A system of free expression and dissent protects against false confidence and the inevitable mistakes of planners in both the private and public arenas. If there had been more openness and discussion for example on government’s market friendly economic policy, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (Gear), opposition – and the it’s cost to society might have been lower. Indeed, the economic and political cost to society of muzzling dissenting voices is huge. A lack of public criticisms, dialogue and dissent are deadly, it costs lives. If more senior ANC leaders had questioned Mbeki and the government’s controversial Aids policies and costly theorising around the pandemic, anti-retroviral drugs might have been made available at state hospitals much earlier, thousands of lives might have been saved and the devastating social consequences of the AIDS pandemic might have been ameliorated.
Gumede is Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Public & Development Management, Witwatersrand University. He is the author of the bestselling Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, Zebra Press www.struik.co.za. His book Democracy, Transformation and the Media is published later this year.
Dalicebo's review of William Gumede's lecture
Dalicebo Mthiyane 17 February 2006
A month and a few days have passed since William Mervin Gumede presented a talk titled “Democracy and the importance of criticism, dissent and open public debate” at the third Harold Wolpe Memorial lecture of 2005 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
The High Court recently stopped the publication of a story, which according to the Sunday Times “exposed how Imvume Management obtained an advance payment of R15-million from state oil company PetroSA in December 2003…the advance was meant for oil condensate Imvume supplied to PetoSA; however R11-million of it was then paid into ANC coffers.” The report said that “when Imvume later defaulted on payment to its foreign supplier, Glencore, PetroSA stepped in and paid up, meaning that state money was effectively used to fund the ANC.”
Over that period a number of events have taken place that the make one question the government’s tolerance for criticism. Tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades have been used to disperse crowds who have taken to the streets to protest against the poor service delivery of basic services such as water and sanitation and poor housing.
And how does the government respond to the protests? The government sends out the National Intelligence Agency to investigate whether the riots could “pose a threat to the state.” This investigation was probably launched in response to the increasingly alarming number of dissatisfied residents who feel that service delivery is moving at a snail’s pace, in different informal settlements around the country in Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape and parts of the Western Cape.
Gumede started his talk by stating that many people are worried that public participation in policy making has plunged dramatically. The Constitution of the country commits the country to open and democratic forms of governance. Public participation is important for a number of reasons. Apart from political, social, and economic reform, participation can transform an individual to a proper player in the system. One of the main problems that threatens the newly found democracies like the South African one is intolerance for criticism. The authorities have shown this by reacting as they have in the previously mentioned events.
I think that the government should take the opportunity that they have now to look deeper in their various departments in terms of service delivery progress. At a time when the country’s citizens celebrate eleven years of democracy, it is shocking to find that there are people who are still living with improper sanitation and water services. Most of us remember the cholera outbreak that took the lives of plenty of poor people who live in the rural areas and others who have settled informally on the outskirts of major cities. The main cause of this outbreak, according to reports, was the fact that people could not afford to pay for water. Water was cut off and people had to depend on unclean water. A sanitation system that is not proper is not only a health issue (as if we do not have enough of those) but also the deprivation of the right to dignity which is also purported by the Constitution.
Dignity is chucked out of the window at Q section in Khayelitsha where residents go as far as cleaning the human waste that is piled around a toilet in order to earn the right to use the facility. Informal settlements house the poorest of the poor. Children move around as they please in these congested areas and this puts them and other residents at risk of contracting illnesses that might be brought about by the conditions they live in.
When the people decide to protest against the slow pace of service delivery, they are arrested or shot at with rubber bullets or sprayed with tear gas. One would think that apartheid is still the system of ruling South Africa due to the images of burning tyres on the streets and people hustled into police vehicles for voicing their opinions. The constitution also lays out the right for citizens to protest but people still get arrested when they try to exercise their power.
As a liberation movement, the ANC did not have an economic policy and when it rose to power, under Mandela’s leadership, it adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme better known as the RDP. This programme was later scrapped after some time and another strategy dubbed the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (commonly referred to as GEAR) was implemented. Quoting President Mbeki, Gumede mentioned that “the RDP does not inspire market confidence” and that is the most probable reason for the adoption of GEAR, which caused an outcry since the people did not know who was responsible for drafting the policy.
Gumede does mention in his book that the policy was drawn up by a carefully selected group of economists who share the President’s economic views. Furthermore, the ruling party was subjected to immense pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions which are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The World Trade Organisation has played its part in applying pressure so that the country opens up its markets. This has led to the country speeding up the process of lifting tariffs at a pace exceedingly higher than that required by the World Trade Organisation.
Parliament has also been ignored on matters of economic policy as policies are drawn by select groups. This is dangerous as it has the potential to undermine, if it has not already, the authority of state institutions such as Parliament. The Presidency has also been restructured into what Gumede described as South Africa Limited, a structure which Mbeki presides over as the chairman and chief executive officer assisted by the Pahad brothers amongst others. One of the President’s loyalists is the director of the Communications Department, Joel Netshitenzhe, who has gone as far as questioning the actions of COSATU, the trade union partner in the tripartite alliance. COSATU has threatened on a number of occasions to strike against what they felt were policies that had a negative impact on their members.
In a question directed to COSATU, Netshitenzhe asked “how can you engage in a political strike against the government which is your ally… if you engage in political strike against government it means you want to bring down government…” This clearly shows that the government does not like any form of criticism which has the potential to influence political decisions. Gumede reinforced the idea of the importance of freedom of expression. If COSATU was unhappy about issues, such as privatisation, that affect their constituency, then it has a right to voice its opinion. Gumede stated that freedom of expression is not only crucial in pinpointing the economic and social needs but also important in deciding the priorities and what demands need attention. Government should not wait till the people resort to measures which can be viewed as illegal.
The media has its role to play in this young democracy but that cannot happen if labels such as unpatriotic, rightwing or sell out pop up as soon as someone or an organisation speaks out. The South African media is in a crisis as there are many outstanding things that have to be sorted out. The pre-publication ban of the Mail& Guardian story can also serve as an illustration of the challenges that the media has to deal with in this democracy. The public service broadcaster needs a greater amount of autonomy if freedom of expression and pluralism is to be achieved. We cannot be constantly fed positive images even when things are not that great for fear of being labelled. The media has the potential to raise issues that are affecting people and can create the much-needed platform for South Africans to debate and actually work toward solutions that can prevent the scenes that we have been seeing in the past few weeks.
The points that were mentioned by Gumede at the Wolpe lecture were just a few that the author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC looks at in much more detail in his book. The book is fifteen chapters of an in-depth analysis of Thabo Mbeki and gives one insight about the events that have shaped our country’s present situation. Having read the book before the lecture, everything makes sense and hopefully the book will encourage public debate on matters of importance. Instead of probing the actions of disgruntled citizens, the government should devote that energy to solving the problem at hand because it seems as if people will not stop protesting until there is some sign that their concerns are also the concern of the government.
Keeping it in their pants: Politicians, men and sexual assault in South Africa
Charlene Smith's Wolpe Memorial Lecture
Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal 17 March 2005
Sanbonani. Thank you to Professor Patrick Bond and his colleagues for inviting me; my great appreciation to Helen Poonen, Princess Nhlangulela, Mandisa Mbali, Mandisi Majavu and Amanda Alexander for your assistance.
My thanks to the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust for making this and other reflections possible to interrogate and hopefully enrich our political democracy.
At the launch of the Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust in 1997, political scientist Dan O’Meara reflected that “the new South Africa cries out for the kind of rigorous critical analysis to which Harold subjected the old, apartheid South Africa.”
I believe that we are less critical now because we believe we have achieved freedom, and are loathe to heed the warnings echoing around us. We don’t want our dream shattered. But it would be unrealistic to imagine that after a past of such oppression and exploitation that we would emerge perfect and create an ideal system overnight. I’ve just come from a workshop of political scientists and economists sponsored by the Human Sciences Research Council. In paper after paper, concerns were expressed about centralization of power, and of people fearing to speak out,
We have a great debt to those who died for the freedoms we now take for granted. It is our duty to protect liberty.
Mamphela Ramphele, in her final speech as vice chancellor at the University of Cape Town in 1999, warned that today white academics fear speaking out lest they be considered racist, and black academics are silent for fear of being seen as sell-outs to the cause of liberation.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his Nelson Mandela lecture in November last year observed: “It seems sycophancy is coming into its own. I would have wished to see far more open debate for instance on the HIV/AIDS views of the President in the ANC. Truth cannot suffer from being challenged … none of us is infallible … that is why we are a democracy and not a dictatorship… We should not … want to pull rank and demand an uncritical, sycophantic, obsequious conformity.” We all know the terrible lashing Archbishop Tutu received from the president and the African National Congress for daring to suggest that democratic leaders are there to respond to the will of their people, and not to call citizens into the headmaster’s office on a Friday and flay them for daring to disagree.
In October 2004, President Thabo Mbeki lambasted those who write about sexual assault. He criticised UNAIDS deputy executive director, Kathleen Cravero, for saying: Most of the women and girls… in Asia (and) in Africa, don't have the option to abstain (from sex) when they want to. Women who are victims of violence are in no position to negotiate anything, never mind faithfulness and condom use. Mbeki wrote: “Clearly, the views (are)… that African men… are violent sexual predators.”
This was followed by an angry exchange in parliament where he falsely accused me of writing that black men are: “rampant sexual beasts, unable to control our urges, unable to keep our legs crossed, unable to keep it in our pants.” In his Friday letter he confirmed that the real author was “African American Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Dr Edward Rhymes.” Mbeki was putting words in my mouth which I do not believe and would never utter.
Mbeki’s views are not dissimilar to those of the late Steve Tshwete and Penuell Maduna, who told a CBS 60 Minutes TV crew a few years ago: “They say that there is a rape every 26 seconds in SA, but we’ve been standing here for more than 26 seconds and I haven’t seen anyone raped, have you…?”
When the most powerful men in the nation show such a lack of concern for women and when, as in the instance of Mbeki, they spring to the defence of abusive men and rapists, then how are we ever going to get violent crime, especially that directed against women, and HIV under control?
According to UNAIDS in 2003, two thirds more young women are HIV infected here than their male peers. UNAIDS, WHO, Amnesty International and Unicef point to the high rates of sexual assault in this country, and to the difficulty women have in negotiating safe sex.
In his talk at the UKZN Hivan project at McCord Hospital yesterday, Harvard’s pioneering HIV clinician, Paul Farmer, spoke of how “gender inequality” bedevils the capacity of “young girls to be faithful or abstain. We have to be respectful,” he said, “of how poverty robs young people of choices.” Not just poverty; violence robs women of choices – although I will speak later of how poverty fuels violence. Even when politicians speak from public platforms about two economies, they remain firmly rooted in the first economy as they whisk past the poor in siren-blaring cavalcades.
This curious contempt for women and children by SA’s leaders – and I am not saying male leaders because there is a disgraceful silence from women in power - displayed itself on July 24, 2003. That day, our cabinet struck out section 21 of the draft Sexual Offences legislation, which would have provided1 for counseling for rape survivors, treatment to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV. Cabinet did not likewise censorsection 22, however, which provides for the medical care of rapists including the very expensive costs of rehabilitation of narcotics or alcohol addictions.2
Cabinet’s act profoundly discriminated against women and is unconstitutional. The constitution enshrines the right not to be refused emergency medical treatment as reaffirmed by the Constitutional Court in terms of section 27 (3), in the Soobramoney case where the court said medical treatment was obligatory in the case “of a sudden catastrophe such as an accident or assault.”3
This was reaffirmed by the Constitutional Court judgement with regard to the Minister of Health and Others vs Treatment Action Campaign and others (2002), which ruled in favour of treatment for HIV+ pregnant women to protect their babies from HIV infection. The court found that the treatment was affordable and could save the life of a child.
Rape contravenes two more constitutional rights - those to safety and privacy.
Professor Ames Dhai of the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine points out that there are twice as many rape survivors at risk of seroconversion to HIV as babies born in SA, and yet there is little support for PEP for rape survivors. Is it because of residual stigma against those raped?, she muses.
In Gauteng, PEP has been given to 20 000 rape survivors since 2003, notwithstanding limited rollout, according to the MEC for Health. The national Department of Health gives either a three day or seven day starter pack of PEP and then tells the rape survivor to come back for follow up meds. This ignores the gross poverty in our country and the fact that most rape survivors cannot afford the bus or taxi fare to do this – a woman who does not take the full 28 day treatment is not adequately protected against HIV – why is the full 28 day supply not given immediately?
This is policy that ignores poverty.
Let’s reflect on SA’s rape statistics.
* The Cape Town NGO Rape Crisis estimates that a rape happens every 26 seconds.
* Around 52 000 rapes are reported to police each year, of which 40% are children.
* In 1999, Unisa estimated that the real rate of rapes was 1m a year, and the SA Law Commission estimated there are 1,69m rapes a year.
* The National Prosecuting Authority reports that 50% of the cases before courts are rape; in Durban and Mdantsane, it is 60% of the cases.
* The NPA estimates 7% of those cases result in convictions while SA Law Commission research in 2003 indicated that rape convictions rates were 5%.4
* The Medical Research Council last year released research that showed a woman is killed every six hours by her intimate partner.
Home is the most dangerous place in the world for a woman or child.
What are we to say of a political leadership that is so contemptuous of the harm so many women and children experience?
Why are most of the 4 000 women’s organizations in SA so silent about women and HIV?
Why is there such energy in AIDS battles by NGOs to help pregnant mothers, and access treatment for all, but such silence with regard to preventative HIV treatment for rape survivors? Is it because of the double stigma rape survivors experience, as Ames Dhai asks, or is it because even AIDS activism follows an essentially male agenda and even assistance to pregnant women happens because those women are carrying the offspring of men?
The most extensive research study in the world into HIV and rape took place in Johannesburg from 2000 to 2002.5 It showed that 40% of those raped will become HIV+ if they do not receive timely post exposure prophylaxis. The cost of such medication is 60c for an HIV test, usually a finger-prick test which requires no lab work, and around R100 for 28 days of PEP.
Rhoda Kadalie wrote in her Business Day column last year: “Maybe we black women should start telling the president most black men treat black women badly, as borne out by the startling evidence of domestic violence, default on maintenance, sexual offences and the criminal courts of the land. Maybe we should tell the president … men do not accept ‘NO’ for an answer, and many think women are their property.”
Addressing Mbeki, she asked: “Why do you not trumpet the promotion of safe sex, antiretroviral medicines and sympathy for those infected with HIV? …Why do you not condemn men for infecting multiples of women at the same time?”
A UKZN anthropologist, Professor Suzanne Leclerc Madlala, notes: “South Africa meets many of the criteria for what some researchers have categorised as rape-prone societies… (in such) societies … where women's domestic, sexual, and reproductive services have long been traded … through elaborate bridewealth exchanges between men, the social ideology of ownership of a woman's person resonates… the rape of a woman (is) commonly viewed… as a violation against male property. Punishment for the violator (is) usually … a fine to cover 'damages', paid to the owner of that property. The damage … was not so much a perception of violation of a girl's body, psyche or personal dignity, but rather violation of a man's property, one with a well calculated and socially determined exchange value…”6
And so we have situations where many rape cases don’t get to court because families will accept as little as R50 compensation from the rapist. Supt Nico Snyman of Meadowlands police station in Soweto, says that 90% of rape in that community is to girls aged younger than 12. He says they arrest perhaps 70% of rapists, but less than a fifth of cases get to court because families accept compensation and the child or woman raped is pressured not to testify.
Now, let me pose a question, which is at the epicenter of the HIV and sexual violence pandemic. I was in the Northern Cape in January and a young AIDS counselor provided this dilemma: in 2004 her 28-year-old brother made four women pregnant. She said: “As soon as a girlfriend falls pregnant he leaves her. How can I encourage him to practice safe sex?”
Her dilemma was put to a hall full of AIDS educators and young people. They looked blank. Someone finally advised: “She should tell her parents and get them to talk to him.”
But another asked: “What if her father says this is what men do, that he is just sowing his wild oats?”
My additional question is how do we help him to respect himself and women?
Maybe President Mbeki is correct when he raises the issue of South African men – but of all races - not being able to keep it in their pants. Perhaps it would help if he urged all men to show sexual restraint and to display respect toward their own bodies and those of women.
Such leadership is imperative. A report released at the end of January 2005 by South Africa’s Medical Research Council noted that AIDS saw South Africa’s death rate rise 43 percent in the five years to 2001. It said official statistics understate AIDS deaths by as much as two-thirds. Last year we buried 400 000 people because of AIDS.
There is a false sense that freedom can be attained on a day, that democracy rests at the ballot. But freedom is a work in eternal progress, it is always under threat by those who wish to manage through fear or delusion; and so democracy, the child of freedom, never grows up … it has always to be nurtured, to be loved, to be protected, to be encouraged to think and behave in new ways.
O’Meara noted: “mere theorising for the sake of theorising (is) futile and self indulgent… a luxury available only to those with tenured posts and enough to eat. In the words of the famous thesis on Feuerbach, the point was — and remains — to change the world.”
Imaginative, constructive change is imperative in a globalised world where the lunatics appear to have taken over the asylum. Some of the lunacy coming out of the United States is almost hallucinatory.
American journalist Bill Moyers, on accepting an award at Harvard University late last year, reflected on the difficulties journalists have to “pierce the ideology that governs official policy today.” He was speaking about the USA, but it could have been South Africa. He commented: “One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power.” 7
Democracy across the world is in danger. We are seeing the most serious assault on the rights of women in the history of humankind. Rape is the fastest growing crime in the world today and the one least likely to result in an effective prosecution.
The trafficking of women and children is now more profitable than drugs with a million women and children trafficked a year, mostly into sexual slavery according to the International Organisation on Migrancy. Belarus “exports” some 10 000 women and children a year, and Germany imports some 50 000 sex slaves a year, according to the IOM.
South Africa imports around 800 trafficked Thai women and around 1 000 Mozambican women each year. We have no laws to stop such trade.
In Belarus 18 months ago I interviewed 14-year-old Julia who had been trafficked to Russia the year before. She was sold – virgins fetch premium rates – to a group of 40 Moldovian builders in Moscow. On the first night, 15 of them raped her. By the time she escaped 8 months later, she had HIV, hepatitis C, a range of other infections and was a second grade alcoholic. In Durban you have seen recent reports of trafficked children – are you all going to just sit and listen but do nothing?
These acts demonstrate a belief that the woman is not an individual, neither the sanctity of her spirit nor her body is respected: she is a possession, an Other, less than human.
Women are not only being attacked physically but in the roll back of our rights.
In the USA, abortion rights are under threat. The US Department of Justice in its first ever sexual assault protocol failed to include emergency contraception.8 The risk of pregnancy after rape is less than 5 percent - but the vulnerable group is large. Of 333 000 rapes reported in the USA in 1998, 25 000 resulted in pregnancies - of which 22 000 could have been prevented.9 The Republican government won’t give money to AIDS researchers who wish to research male to male sex, or give assistance to sexworkers. loveLife is experiencing funding problems because the US government won’t give money to organizations that discuss masturbation.
The State of Alabama this week announced that it would no longer fund antiretroviral medication for those with AIDS. I can imagine a new excuse emerging in Pretoria now: why should African governments give ARVs if American states refuse to extend this health right?
The USA’s disrespect for human rights is good news for those who seek to deny human rights everywhere. China, as an example, recently told the US State Department to go to hell when it complained about human rights abuses in China. The Beijing government asked, ‘what about Guatanamo Bay, what about Abu Ghraib?”
Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who wrote about death squad killer Eugene de Kock in her book, A Human Being Died that Night, indirectly spoke of such dangerous schoolyard politics. She wrote: “This is a trick most perpetrators use, especially those sponsored by a powerful government, to try to make their actions understandable by saying, ‘What my people have done, yours have done too…’ Typically, the perpetrator starts off with rationalization, to convince himself of the legitimacy of his acts, then he begins to communicate his rationalisation to others. At this point it is no longer a rationalisation but a ‘truth’ that releases the perpetrator from any sense of guilt he may still feel about his evil deeds. If the enemy is doing the same thing he is engaged in, he can’t be that bad.”10
As we return to early Victorian attitudes that sex and sexuality are wicked and shameful, women can anticipate that attacks against them will increase, for after all woman is Eve, the seductress, the temptress, and the mechanism (for her human integrity is not respected) by which men are led astray or vanquished.
HIV and AIDS bring another dimension to sexuality and denial. The cure lies less in whether we will find a pill or a vaccine than in remedying human behaviour. The National Institutes for Health in the USA have said that even if we find a vaccine, if human behaviour is not reformed we could render such an antidote redundant.
In Africa, AIDS we hear regrettable views such as those from the 2004 Nobel peace prize winner Wangair Maathai, that AIDS is a creation of US scientists to hold down the population of black Africans. Some try to deny it exists, as President Mbeki did. Others just ignore it, as Swaziland’s King Mswati 3 does, buying expensive cars and a jet, while life expectancy is 27 years old in his nation due to AIDS. The king, who is due to marry his 13th wife, a pregnant 17-year-old, chooses his new brides from reed dances where virgins are encouraged to display their fulsomeness before him. He and some South African leaders encourage virginity testing claiming it is traditional – despite the scepticism of many who claim it encourages virgin rape in those who believe they can cleanse themselves by having sex with a virgin.
It is highly likely that virginity testing contravenes international statutes against sexual violence. The World Report on Violence and Health (2002), as an example includes in its definition of sexual violence acts of violence against women’s sexuality such as female genital mutilation and social virginity inspections.11 And the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA; 2004) definition includes “harmful traditional practices which cannot be overlooked nor justified on the grounds of tradition, culture or social conformity.12
In June 2000, I wrote in the Washington Post words that five years later still annoy the President: the key to a reduction in this pandemic is a change in … attitudes towards women. In Africa, even if we develop a vaccine or distribute billions of condoms and the continent is already awash in latex, unless we begin working on male attitudes towards women - and that requires looking at the role of culture, tradition and religion - we will get nowhere…”
I wrote: AIDS is Thabo Mbeki's Achilles heel - the man who would lead Africa from the misery of economic poverty will, if his policies continue, presides over graves… But tell that to chief undertaker Mbeki.
Since then Mbeki has lambasted newspaper editors who use my articles, his director-general Frank Chikane has tried to persuade people as diverse as the vice chancellor of this university and Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop to deny I had interviewed them and to deny the accuracy of what I wrote. Both refused. At one stage the president and Smuts Ngonyama said I was leading the media conspiracy against Mbeki.
We may not have leadership against sexual assault at the top, but we have it in the streets. There are attempts to change being forged within men’s groups across South Africa. Toward the end of a conference on masculinity in Cape Town a few weeks ago, a man admitted how as a young man he and his friends would drink, then rape women. It is only now that he has realised the devastation he has wrought and is trying to remedy his behaviour.
Recently a young man who had raped a woman asked me for help. He wrote in an email last week: “I cannot sleep well at night; I have visions of her when she was screaming… I read your book and it touched my heart. I vowed from there never to rape again. I am struggling at the moment but I am positive that I will get help from (those I referred him to).” 13 There are many organisations that help women who are raped. But there is pathetically little support for men who have harmed women and who want to stop. We need to extend our love and support to those men who choose to respect women and to reject harmful behaviour.
In SA, 75% of rape is gang rape, according to Groote Schuur rape clinic. In Johannesburg, a major study found that 60% of rape was gang rape. Gang rapists are not motivated by the person they violate, they get off on watching each other. I debriefed a traumatized filmmaker last week who had returned from the DRC; he interviewed a 19 year old woman who 18 months before was pregnant and had been raped by 49 soldiers, one after the other. Can you imagine being number 49, swimming in the ejaculation of 48 men before you? The personal degradation of these soldiers is unimaginable. After they raped her they shot her in the stomach, killing her baby and destroying her chances of ever being pregnant again.
What does gang rape say about masculinity in the societies in which it prevails?
Like SA, Cambodia is such a society. Researcher Luke Bearup suggests a contributing factor was “the impact of second generation trauma that Cambodians suffered under the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime, and the ongoing challenges of persisting poverty and weak governance… nearly everyone has been impacted by the collective experience of trauma. Many parents, traumatized by the brutality of the DK regime, arguably have less emotional capacity to engage with their children. This potentially results in large numbers of young people who are unable to empathise with others.”
The devil spawn of violence remains with us, until it is deliberately eradicated.
Sgidi Sibeko, a co-ordinator with one of the groups of wonderful SA men, Men As Partners, said he was asked to reflect on the men who had been role models in his family: “I was blown away because I could not come up with a man as a positive role model…I said, I want to play a positive role.”
In South Africa and Cambodia, conflict and regimes that did not respect their people, witnessed a decline in self-respect among individuals. Both societies are post-conflict societies, battered not just in the visible signs of beleaguered economies, but more seriously in the way people see themselves and interact with others. Untreated post traumatic stress creates people more inclined to harm themselves and others.
The difficulties of survival and constant daily humiliations here caused families to break down and parents to become obsessed with survival. Mindful parenting was a luxury. And so generations of children have grown up without guidance, without role models and without a sense of personal pride. I believe the massive rise in evangelical churches across the continent is a symbol of people seeking a family, a place to belong, people who care.
A lack of self respect creates people more prone to indulge in high risk behaviour (hence South Africa’s high rate of HIV). Poor self esteem enhanced by joblessness develops generations more likely to harm others, through crime or interpersonal violence, especially if coupled with poverty. In South Africa, according to the HSRC, 57 percent of South Africans are impoverished. StatisticsSA reported in September 2004 that unemployment was still at 40 percent with 60 000 of the unemployed being university graduates.
According to Leclerc-Madlala, “A recent Unilever marketing study (in SA) ... found that while a lot of women were finding their power, some men were feeling disempowered and redundant… For some of our increasingly unemployed and living-for-today youth, coercing girls into sex is little more than an exciting and challenging pastime.”14
Men, too, are raped. In SA, however, male rape is not recognised in law despite the fact that Childline estimates that one in five boys under the age of 16 have been sexually violated. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s September, 2004 report on social conditions in South Africa alleged that some police officers beat, raped, tortured, and otherwise abused suspects and detainees… It reported that AIDS was the leading cause of natural death in SA prisons. In 2002, there were 1 087 deaths, 90 percent AIDS-related, an increase of “500 percent since 1995… Reports indicated that some detainees awaiting trial contracted HIV and AIDS through rape.” 15
How does one transform negative gender assumptions and behaviour? David Harrison of loveLife16 notes that “billboards, pamphlets and TV programmes rarely cause behaviour change – but one on one intervention does, that is what makes our youth centres so important.” Dean Peacock of Men Overcoming Violence reports the views of men trying to change negative sexual behaviour in Nicaragua.17 Edgar Amador, a participant, commented: “Men of all types need to change, not only because women have been mistreated by us, but because we have mistreated ourselves.”
Violence against women and children does not occur because men gain a sense of power when they harm a woman or a child.
Violence against women and children is increasing because those in power fail to act to prevent harm or punish those who harm.
Violence against women has no limits when presidents attack rape survivors and defend men who behave badly.
This is not personal, Mr President, it’s political.
We can remain silent and allow the conditions for violence to spread unhampered, or we can act and speak out, again and again and again, until the violence ends. We cannot afford to keep still or be silent.
The Talmud, which is Jewish religious philosophy, says:
“Whoever destroys a single life, destroys the entire world;
Whoever saves a single life, saves the world.”
Our goal needs to be nothing less than to save the world.
Historical evidence proves it. Analysis reveals and Predicts it.
Disgraceful silences”: Charlene Smith’s challenge to the South African women’s movement
A review of Charlene Smith's Wolpe Memorial Lecture
South Africa has one of the highest proportions of female parliamentarians and cabinet ministers in the world. Gender equality is inscribed in the country’s constitution. South African feminists have been successful in campaigned for a number of pieces of important law reform. Yet, as Charlene Smith argued in her Wolpe lecture in March, the country’s levels of sexual assault, violence against women and HIV infection are some of the highest in the world. As Smith also argued in the same lecture, powerful men in government have many times tried to underplay the extent of violence against women or implicitly defend rapists and abusive men by criticising women such as Smith who speak out on the issue as motivated by racism. Perhaps even harder to comprehend is what Smith referred to in her lecture as “the disgraceful silence from women in power” in response to government’s inadequate response to violence against women.
This review essay takes this ‘disgraceful silence’ by powerful women in government as point of departure for discussing the state of the South African women’s movement and why it appears to be fundamentally unable to respond effectively to violence against women. It takes women’s right to speak out against violence against women as axiomatic, but aims to problematise feminist alliances between women as inherently complicated by inequality and difference with the movement. Firstly, in unpacking difference and inequality in the feminist movement it discusses the impact of women moving into government and gender bureaucracies and the movement’s post-apartheid focus on pursuing “the politics of inclusion” in government and legal reform. While this strategy has led to some concrete improvements in the status of women (especially middle class women), it has largely been at the expense of a focus on the structural socio-economic determinants of gender, which could greatly benefit poor women. Secondly, it argues that women in government, like their male colleagues are keen to remain in power, which seems to often mean been seen to be obedient to powerful men in government.
I.Of maids and madams: The divided voices of feminism
From at least the early nineties there have been debates in South African feminist academia and activism over whether white feminists have the right to ‘speak for’ African feminists. For instance, in the feminist journal Agenda from this period there have been numerous articles discussing appropriate roles for white women in feminist movements. Susan Holland Mutter argued for a radical re-thinking of non-racialism which characterised anti-apartheid feminism (1995). Non-racialism did not allow for a recognition of structured racial inequality and facilitated a refusal on the part of some white feminists to confront racism and white privilege (Holland Mutter, 1995). Since then, both black and white progressive feminists have decided that there was a need to place differences and inequalities on the table and discuss them openly within the feminist movement.
In the same period, white feminists such as Jane Bennett and Michelle Friedman explored the difficulties white women can experience in facing their own whiteness by overcoming their defensiveness and in re-racialising themselves. (Bennet and Friedman, 1997). Black feminists such as Cheryl de la Rey argued that white feminists’ participation in anti-apartheid activism was not in itself any automatic exemption from racist attitudes or behaviour on their part (1997). This means that there can be no easy or automatic unity between white and black women, but that feminist alliances across differences (including class and sexual orientation) need to be consciously and dialogically formed on an ongoing basis.
These types of tensions in feminism can be traced to the history of the movement in South Africa. It is worth recounting that the white suffragette movement in early twentieth century South Africa only demanded the vote for white women. Historically, in the context of segregation the major form of ongoing and intimate contact between white and African women were in the madam/maid relationship. As Belinda Bezoli argued in an article in the 1980s white women’s access to maids decreased their gendered domestic oppression, helping to cement alliances between white men and white women and ensure white women’s widespread compliance with the apartheid system.
As South African feminists have rightly recognised for at least a decade now, there can be no easy united sisterhood. That being said, that does not preclude white feminists such as Charlene Smith from speaking out about violence against women and the need for the government to take more concrete steps to address the issue. It means that the movement needs to be consciously debate difference. These ongoing debates may explain the difficulty forming feminist alliances in South Africa given its ongoing history of racism. It also helps to explain this paper’s central problematic of why more prominent black South African feminists have not spoken out more vocally for a more vigorous government response to violence against women. Another explanation relates to what some feminist scholars have referred to as “the rise of the femocrat” whose work has focussed on legal reform and greater representation in government structures in post-apartheid South Africa a phenomenon this review essay will now turn to.
II Inclusion, exclusion and the femocracy
As Smith argued in her lecture, with a disgraceful silence from women in government, cabinet struck section 21 from the draft Sexual Offences legislation, which would have legally obliged government to provide rape counselling, and treatment to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
This indicates a further key weakness in the South African women’s movement in the post-apartheid era: its near total focus on inclusion by means such as greater representation in formal political institutions such as parliament, law reform (2005). More importantly, since the early 1990s it has done so to the exclusion of focussing on deeper transformation of socio-economic, structural determinants of gender equality (Hassim, 2005).
As stated in the introduction, it is a stark paradox that while there are so many women in government and important pieces of legal reform have taken place, South Africa also has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, an epidemic which is being driven by gender-based violence and sexism. Mbeki’s adoption of AIDS denialism held up the roll-out of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) for prevention of mother-to child transmission (PMTCT), post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and for chronic use as part of combination drug therapy (Heywood, 2005, Mbali, 2003). Yet very few women in government could speak out vocally and unequivocally on behalf of their women constituent’s right to access such HIV treatment. For many years, feminist AIDS activists were faced with the paradox, a black woman Health Minister opposing women’s right to access to ARVs for PMTCT, PEP and chronic use as part of combination drug therapy. Likewise, women in government have not spoken out for a more decisive response from government to violence against women.
There are three plausible explanations for this which relate to the role of women in government and the strategic direction of the feminist movement in post-apartheid South Africa. In her forthcoming essay on challenges facing the women’s movement in post-apartheid South Africa, Shireen Hassim argues that since the early 1990s it has focussed on an “inclusionary feminism” aimed at equal representation in branches of government such as parliament and the cabinet to great success (2005).
Amanda Gouws has also referred to the rise of the “femocrat”, or feminist in government in post-apartheid South Africa (1996). Drawing on international feminist literature, Gouws argues that this phenomenon has accompanied the institutionalisation of gender in structures such as the Commission for Gender Equality. In the post-apartheid era such femocrats face numerous dilemmas such as how to balance conflicting demands from their women constituencies, and those imposed budgetary constraints and male politicians and bureaucrats. To be even more direct, as Gouws argues women in government and bodies such as the Gender Commission are faced with the paradox that the state can be both a site of feminist contestation and implicated in patriarchy (1996).
In a similar vein, Hassim shows that professional NGOs largely made up of urban, middle class women have had high levels of intervention in government-led legal and policy debates and consultations (2005). In a positive sense, this focus has enabled several important and laudable pieces of legal reform for gender equality, which have in many important ways genuinely improved ordinary women’s lives. However, these middle class women in government and established NGOs have often been distanced from poor and marginalised women’s voices and insufficiently focussed on redistributive socio-economic policies and their effective implementation to benefit this constituency (Hassim, 2005).
Moreover, as Hassim goes on to argue, while some poor and marginalised women have joined new social movements, they overwhelmingly represented in the ranks of ordinary membership and are thinly represented in prominent leadership positions in such movements (2005). I would argue that women’s high representation in membership is partly as a result of the fact that the post-apartheid neoliberal economic policies as evidenced in Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy have disproportionately impacted on women’s livelihoods and have relied on women performing unpaid ‘women’s work’ (domestic labour such as care of the sick and fetching of water and firewood). Despite the possibilities of framing critiques of policies such as GEAR in explicitly feminist terms, I would argue as a consequence of women’s under-representation in visible leadership positions, these new social movements tend not to forward explicitly feminist agendas.
Women’s marginalisation and exclusion from leadership positions in new social movements also relates to their internal politics and the fact that they often lack explicit gender policies and strategies to implement them. For instance, WoMandla AIDS Coalition a new nationwide coalition of women AIDS activists has called upon civil society organisations in the AIDS sector, including social movements to
“…condemn sexism, tokenism, marginalization and the limited visibility of women in the AIDS field by developing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating progressive gender policies and programmes” (2005:p.2).
Over and above racial and class divisions within the women’s movement, the strategic decision by elite women in government to focus on political inclusion at the expense of a more transformatory, implementation-focussed agenda has meant that government has systematically failed to address poor women’s needs.
IV Femocratic silence as a political career strategy
At a more basic level, women politicians in government like their male colleagues are primarily concerned with staying in power and this involves being seen to be loyal, disciplined party members. In his new political biography of Mbeki, William Mervyn Gumede describes Health Minister Manto Tsabalala Msimang’s deep loyalty to Mbeki during the debacle surrounding Mbeki’s adoption of AIDS denialism (2005). Available evidence seems to suggest that the Health Minister’s adoption of denialism only a consequence of Mbeki’s adoption of the ideology. According to Edwin Cameron’s new autobiography Tsabalala Msimang, sent him a note congratulating his courage in publicly revealing his HIV status weeks before coming Health Minister (2005). To date, there has been no indication that she held these denialist beliefs prior to the president. While Gumede suggests that she was intellectually taken with Mbeki’s denialism as a ‘defense’ of African sexuality, knowledge and dignity, as a canny and experienced politician one can only speculate that her apparent adoption of denialism may have been equally, if not more based on strategic and career-orientated calculations (2005).
On the other hand, when women in government do speak up in favour of women’s rights the results are not always positive. Mark Heywood has recounted how parliament’s Joint Monitoring Committee on the Improvement of the Quality of Life and Status of Women issued a report with recommendations that women and girls had a right to access to HIV treatment and ARVs to prevent MTCT and seroconversion following sexual assault (2004). According to Heywood, Pregs Govender, a former ANC MP and chairperson of the same committee has argued that the report was well received by the ANC caucus in parliament but blocked by ANC leadership: for a feminist in government such as Govender consensus decision-making had given over to “group-think” (Heywood, 2004). Part of this relates to what William Mervyn Gumede characterised in his Wolpe Memorial Lecture (HTML link to lecture) as being a lack of internal democracy within the ANC.
There may be no easy answers to address what Smith characterises as ‘disgraceful silence’ of powerful South African women in government on government’s failures to adequately address violence against women. This essay has, however, tried to reflect on possible explanations for the phenomenon. Feminists such as Charlene Smith, Nawaaal El Sadaawi and Sindi Mbandlwa refuse to be silent and allow men to decide upon when and how it is appropriate for women to publicly discuss violence against women. However, as South African feminists have generally recognised, and as the second section of this paper has argued such feminist alliances are only possible based upon an open recognition and discussion of differences and inequalities within the feminist movement. This is as much a challenge for white feminists such as Smith as it is for the movement as a whole. Furthermore, this may increasingly be more of a challenge for other leaders in the women’s movement such as middle class black women in ‘professionalised’ civil society and women in government (as the third section of this paper has argued). However, this critique does not let new social movements “off the hook”; given that most of their members are women it is high time that they adopt an explicitly feminist agenda and act to ensure equal representation of women in visible leadership roles.
Lastly, the ‘disgraceful’ silence of powerful women in the women’s movement both in government and civil society relates to their adoption of elite politics and alienation from their poor women constituents. This has led to a femocratic decision to pursue ‘inclusion’ in government and equality before the law over socio-economic empowerment of poor women. While this strategy has led to important legal reforms, there are many women who are clearly being disproportionately socio-economically left behind. Furthermore, female politicians like their male colleagues are primarily concerned with staying in power and there are alarming indications that this may mean loyalty to powerful men in government at all costs. And the cost is high for millions of poor black women who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the impact of poverty, violence and AIDS. Post-apartheid South Africa shows that women in government do not necessarily pursue feminist agendas. Faced with this stark reality, feminist activists within the women’s movement who are in civil society must do more to force more women in government to speak out and strategise against violence against women.
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