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Wolpe Lectures & Reviews January - June 2007

Ben Cashdan, Walden Bello & others 28 June 2007

The rise of the disciplinary university Jane Duncan 17 May 2007

Making Real the Right to Housing”
Miloon Kothari 19 April 2007

Regaining our Tongues: The Challenges of Writing in Indigenous Languages Ngugi wa Thiong'o 23 March 2007

Fatima Meer Activism for Democracy 22 February 2007


Ben Cashdan, Walden Bello & others

A documentary by Ben Cashdan, Redi Direko and Meril Rasmussen

The film SABC did not want you to see - about South Africa’s president, technocratic management and political paranoia

Join the filmmakers, plus discussion panelists: Walden Bello, Moema Miranda and Virginia Setshedi

Thursday, 28 June, 5:30-7:30pm, Ocean Conference Centre, 121 Marine Parade
View Poster for the film

‘The public have been denied the opportunity to see an independent and
professional portrait of their president and denied the opportunity to
make up their own minds.’

- International Federation of Journalists general secretary Aidan White,
May 2006

This is the world premiere of the film that the SA Broadcasting
Corporation banned in 2006. Although the SABC will show MBEKI
UNAUTHORISED at some point in edited form in the future, the CCS Wolpe
Lecture series invites a Durban audience to ‘the Director’s Cut’ on June
28, preceded by a discussion on political leadership in the early 21st

From Brazil to South Africa to Asia and many points in between,
political leaders of middle-income countries are combining ‘neoliberal’
(free-market) economic strategies with technocratic managerialism and a
political populism that often amounts to mere leftwing posturing. South
Africa is a case in point, as this documentary shows.

Lead filmmaker Ben Cashdan will discuss the film and show additional
clips starting at 6:40pm. From 5:30 pm, to discuss the phenomenon of
technocratic but paranoid political leadership under conditions of
neoliberalism, we are fortunate to welcome Walden Bello (Focus on the
Global South, Manila) and Moema Miranda (IBASE, Rio), along with leading
South African civil society activist Virginia Setshedi (FXI, Joburg)

Wolpe Lecture: “The rise of the disciplinary university” by Jane Duncan
17 May 2007 Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Click here to read this in Zulu

Introduction: a free speech code for Universities?
Recently, the University of KwaZulu-Natal has been a flashpoint for
controversies around academic freedom, with disciplinary action having
been taken against two academics for a number of alleged misconducts,
including speaking to the media. A case has also arisen at Fort Hare
University, involving a law professor who is being disciplined for
criticizing the University administration in his lectures, at
conferences, in private conversations and in the media. These academics
are accused of bringing their respective institutions into disrepute,
including by lying to the media, and defaming University managers. A
member of the support staff of the Tshwane University of Technology is
being charged with the apartheid era offence of immorality, for
distributing sexually explicit photographs to some of his friends. A
disciplinary case is also being heard at Wits University, where students
are being charged for bringing the institution into disrepute for
criticizing the lack of freedom of expression on campus, in the media.

These are not the only problems. Laws, rules and regulations are being
developed that have a direct and potentially negative impact on academic
freedom; not much attention has been paid to these as they do not
originate from the Ministry of Education, but from other spheres of

We should be very concerned about these developments. If freedom of
expression is compromised unduly, then the academic project will be
compromised. Given the controversies that the above mentioned cases have
generated – between University staff and managers, and even amongst
academics themselves - these cases also suggest that the University
community is becoming increasingly divided over what can and cannot be
said in University contexts. It is necessary to debate the implications
of these cases, as freedom of expression is a precondition for the
academic project itself.

While I will deal with all these cases in detail, the fact that they
have arisen suggest a growing disciplinary culture in Universities that
places greater controls on academics and students on the basis of what
they say. I believe that these disciplinaries are indications of a
systemic shift in the academic freedom climate.

My thesis about the systemic nature of academic censorship – which I
will argue - leads me to certain conclusions and recommendations, which
I will raise upfront.

There is a need for an audit of all subsidiary legislation at University
level. This audit should cover Universities' conditions of service,
rules governing student activities on campus and all rules and by-laws
impacting on academic freedom on campus. The purpose is to test their
constitutionality, as there are growing indications that there are
problems with a number of these subsidiary rules.

Student, academic and worker organisations based on campus should
consider advocating for a freedom of expression code, similar to the one
adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1994.

In terms of this code:
  • 'On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden.

  • No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it
    may not be expressed'.[1]

  • The code then goes on to state that it may be tempting to proscribe
    racial or ethnic slurs, sexist epithets, or homophobic insults…, [but]
    this speech - however repugnant - almost always express ideas’.[2] The
    code goes on to state: 'Indeed, by proscribing any ideas, a University
    sets an example that profoundly disservices its academic mission'.[3]

    The code concludes:
    'Institutions should adopt and invoke a range of measures that penalize
    conduct and behaviour, rather than speech—such as rules against defacing
    property, physical intimidation or harassment, or disruption of campus
    activities. All members of the campus community should be made aware of
    such rules, and administrators should be ready to use them in preference
    to speech-directed sanctions'.[4]

    Such a code would compliment, and elaborate on the Kampala Declaration
    on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility[5], which sets out the
    procedures for disciplining of staff based on democratic means of
    self-government by academics, and entrenches the basic principle of free
    speech. The Declaration is crucial for redefining social role of
    intellectuals, as part of the broader struggles for freedom and social
    justice: after all, social relevance is the most effective bulwark
    against interference in academic freedom. However, the Declaration does
    not codify standards for the protection of free expression, including
    standards for dealing with what one could term 'bad speech'.

    While I am wary about the effectiveness of advocating technical
    solutions to political problems, if developed in an open and
    consultative fashion, the code should become an organizing tool as well.
    The process of debate that leads up the development of such a code
    should provoke academics and students to think deeply, and challenge one
    another’s assumptions, about what constitutes acceptable and
    unacceptable speech. It is important that these standards are defined by
    knowledge workers, and not managers, as is the case at the moment. The
    code should also define what administrative actions could be considered
    academic freedom violations. It should pronounce on whether
    administrators should be allowed to use University money (public funds)
    for instituting defamation actions against their own staff. These
    debates are already taking place in forums like the Change@UKZN list;
    so, to convert these debates into a movement towards an academic freedom
    code of charter is a logical progression.

    However, the development of such a code should not just involve
    academics and students; it must involve the very communities that the
    University claims to serve. While not being prescriptive, it should set
    standards for the relationships between intellectuals and social
    movements, to ensure that intellectuals do not control movements, while
    at the same time ensuring that they have the right to critical distance.
    Such a code must include the voices of those who are researched, and
    should set expectations from that University. It should state what
    communities want out of that University. Why is this important in a free
    speech code? At the end of the day, the most effective antidotes against
    attacks on academic freedom are social engagement and relevance. Also,
    real misconduct is less likely to arise in an institution that has a
    purpose that everyone identifies with, an institution that is vision and
    mission-driven, rather than driven by the need to control. As scholars
    of Poststructuralist theory will tell us, disciplinary cultures tend to
    produce delinquency.

    The development of such a code raises the tricky question of
    enforcement. Campus based and off-campus organizations need to debate
    the pros and cons of establishing an academic self-regulatory structure
    that takes up the challenge of Article 26 of the Kampala Declaration,
    which states the following:

    'It is incumbent on the African intellectual community to form its own
    organizations to monitor and publicise violations of the rights and
    freedoms stipulated herein'.[6]

    This self-regulatory structure would adjudicate on violations of the
    code, and impose sanctions where necessary. Sanctions would include
    censure of institutions or individuals for failing to adhere to the
    principles of academic freedom.

    This body would effectively become the Press Ombudsman of academia.
    There are real dangers in the establishment of such a structure, but
    there are real possibilities too. What needs to be debated is whether
    the dangers outweigh the possibilities.

    Its establishment will mean that Universities will strip out misconduct
    cases on the basis of what people say, from the disciplinary process,
    which should be reserved for bad deeds, not bad words. This will also
    allow academics to engage in a process of peer review, and judge the
    speech of other academics on the grounds of ethical principles, rather
    than according to managerialist criteria concerned primarily with the
    reputation of their institutions. Academic institutions that do violate
    the academic freedom of their academics will be blacklisted, and members
    will be strongly discouraged from taking up positions at such institutions.

    It may be argued that the above mentioned suggestion is an overreaction
    to recent incidents, and that the disciplinaries mentioned above are
    isolated incidents; therefore one should not extrapolate the emergence
    of a trend from them. This is a naïve argument, for the reasons that I
    will set out below. There are several macro-trends in the labour,
    academic and general free speech environments that need to be
    appreciated to see why the disciplinaries mentioned above are signs of a
    more general shift in climate.

    First trend: the managerial restructuring of labour
    The upward trend of labour cases relating to the freedom of expression
    of staff at Universities mirrors the upward trend in freedom of
    expression-related labour cases generally: the first macro-trend.

    The advent of democracy held out hopes that a freedom of
    expression-friendly labour dispensation would be introduced. In fact,
    one of the first cases the Constitutional Court dealt with in 1994
    concerned the freedom of association and expression of members of the
    South African National Defence Force's (SANDF), who up to that point had
    been prohibited from forming their own unions and engaging in public
    protest. This prohibition was contained in the SANDF's Military
    Discipline Code. In this judgment striking down this prohibition, the
    Court noted that the speech of employees who criticize their employers
    is constitutionally protected: the Court argued that '…a culture of
    Constitutionality can hardly succeed if the Constitution is not applied
    daily in our Courts, from the highest to the lowest, as well as at the

    In spite of the Constitutional Court judgment, and in spite of other
    court judgments protecting the right to freedom of expression in the
    workplace, a growing number of employers are reviving apartheid-style
    tactics to silence their employees' critical voices, in a bid to protect
    their public reputations.

    The rise of workplace censorship could be linked to what Sandile
    Buhlungu and Eddie Webster refer to as 'the new workplace
    authoritarianism' linked to the pressures on industries to become
    globally competitive. Workplaces are restructured, leading to core
    workers being shifted into the non-core zone, effectively casting them
    out of the formal economy.[8] In the process, working conditions have
    declined for many workers, leading to worker resistance.

    It is telling that some of the criticisms that employers attempt to
    stifle involve declining working conditions flowing from the
    restructuring of workplaces. Casualisation of labour has made the
    control of workers' voices easier, as workers may be forced to practice
    self-censorship fearing that their contracts may not be renewed. But
    there are those who speak out, in the process facing the wrath of their
    employers. Non-unionised workers and members of trade unions operating
    outside of the established federations are especially vulnerable to attack.

    More and more companies are also accusing unions and employees of
    defamation. Some employers also claim that the contract of employment
    requires the employee to honour a fiduciary duty to the employer, which
    includes a duty to be loyal to the company and to protect the integrity
    of the company brand. Employers who make this argument are, in effect,
    arguing that the employment contract allows them to contract the
    employee out of their Constitutional rights.

    Employers also seem to be oblivious to the fact that political speech
    must receive the highest protection. Speech about working conditions all
    too often crosses into the terrain of political speech. Yet such speech
    is also under threat. With respect to freedom of expression, the
    conditions of service of many companies may date back to apartheid,
    thereby binding employees to archaic definitions of misconduct. In the
    process, apartheid-style repression of workers rights is reinforcing new
    forms of managerial repression.

    Nowhere is this disciplinary culture more apparent than in the
    commercial and catering sector, where superexploitation abounds. On 8
    November 2005, Royal Ascot Superspar employee and member of the Congress
    of South African Workers' Unions (Cosawu), Vusi Sibeko, was suspended
    for gross misconduct. The misconduct related to an article that he had
    written for Izwi la Basebenzi¸ a periodical published by the Democratic
    Socialist Movement. Sibeko had, in the article, accused the Spar store
    of bad labour practices and of not paying workers the minimum wage as
    determined by the Department of Labour. Spar argued that the article
    defamed the company and instilled a negative attitude in workers towards
    the company. He was subsequently dismissed.

    Sibeko appeared before a conciliation hearing of the Commission for
    Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on the 23 January 2006.
    Super Spar, however, was not present. The matter went to arbitration at
    the end of February 2006. The CCMA found Sibeko's dismissal to be unfair
    as it violated his Constitutional right to freedom of expression. In his
    judgement, CCMA commissioner Sowaybo Flowers noted the following:

    'Historically, workers had used the workplace as a battleground to fight
    discrimination, authoritarianism and oppression, and the workplace is
    the place where the culture of apartheid and racism were crushed.
    Workers contributed much to the labour laws as we know them today. Many
    lost their lives in the process. There cannot be any possible reason why
    now, after democracy has been obtained, that freedom of expression would
    be denied'.[9]

    Unfortunately, Spar has decided to appeal the case to the Labour Court.

    Apart from the Sibeko case mentioned above, there are other recent cases
    of free speech infringements in private sector institutions. For
    instance, Faizel Katkodia, an employee at Standard Bank, was called to a
    disciplinary hearing for sending out emails critical of the state of
    Israel to his private mailing list using the bank’s internet resources.
    He has been charged for using the bank’s internet resources in violation
    of bank policy of bringing the bank into disrepute.

    In the public service, a specific set of considerations applies. In
    spite of the fact that it is practically impossible to defame state
    institutions, a growing number of employees are being disciplined for
    criticizing the state institutions they work for. In these cases,
    management is often conflated with the institution itself; so criticism
    of the management is, by definition, criticism of the institution, and
    therefore an expression of disloyalty to the institution. In reality,
    criticism of management could be an expression of profound loyalty to
    the notion of public service, in that workers are willing to risk
    disciplinary action to raise a debate about the state of the public service.

    Many of these criticisms revolve around cutbacks to the public service,
    and the impact on service delivery of the commercialization or
    corporatisation of these services. This change in the nature of public
    services is leading to these services becoming 'brands', like private
    companies: hence workers who criticize these services, especially in the
    media, are accused of damaging the brand. The application of managerial
    practices in the public service centralizes power in the hands of a few
    managers, which also creates a hostile climate for free expression at
    the workplace.

    Gags in the health and education sectors have also become increasingly
    commonplace. The problem has even gone right up to the highest office in
    South Africa. Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva is a former director in the Office
    of the Rights of the Child (ORC), based in the presidency and reporting
    to Minister Essop Pahad. In June 2003, Mkhwanazi-Xaluva was dismissed by
    the Presidency for, she claims, having blown the whistle on sexual
    harassment by a consultant to the ORC who, she says, was a friend of Pahad.

    The matter was referred to the General Public Service Sectoral
    Bargaining Council, which reinstated her in November 2003. She was
    dismissed again for interviews she had given to the media regarding her
    initial dismissal. Once again, the matter went to the General Public
    Service Sectoral Bargaining Council in February 2006. Mkhwanazi-Xaluva
    won the case in the Bargaining Council. The Presidency has since
    appealed to the Labour Court, and Pahad has argued in papers that her
    statements about him are defamatory, and that she should be disallowed
    from working for the state ever again.[10]

    The closest parallel to what is starting to emerge in Universities is
    taking place at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
    Possibly the most widely publicized incident of disciplinary action
    against an employee involved SAFM anchor John Perlman, who was given a
    verbal warning for bringing the South African Broadcasting Corporation
    (SABC) into disrepute. Perlman clashed with the SABC's spokesperson
    Kaizer Kganyago on air by confirming the existence of a blacklist of
    political commentators, despite the SABC's protestations to the
    contrary; in the process, he merely fulfilled his ethical obligation to
    speak the truth and debunk the SABC’s ‘spin’ on the matter.

    So, there is an emerging trend towards employers acting against
    employees who criticise them, which flows from the corporate managerial
    restructuring of labour, which intensified in the late 1990’s.

    Second trend: the corporatisation of academia
    The second trend relates to shifts in the nature of academic
    institutions, as the pressures of globalisation push Universities
    towards full corporatisation. One of the consequences of the
    proletarianisation of the professoriate is that the labour relations
    dispensation that applies in broader society - with all its recent
    problems - is being imported into Universities.

    Until recently, South African Universities have escaped the
    international trend towards full corporatisation. However, declining
    budgets from the late 1990’s onwards forced Universities to find ways of
    supplementing their budgets to attract private funding, leading to an
    emphasis on income-generating postgraduate research (often at the
    expense of teaching).

    When research is driven by private sector and donor power, research
    focussing on poor people or motivated by pressing social problems
    becomes marginalised. As Rhodes University Sociology Professor Jimmy
    Adesina has stated, ‘the idea that you can sit down and write about
    something because it is important is becoming more and more alien’.[11]

    When a University is corporatised, power becomes ‘sucked up’ to the top,
    and is often centralized in the person of the Vice Chancellor. The
    University becomes a brand in the commercial sense. Substantial notions
    accountability to the academic project are replaced by narrow notions of
    accountability to administrators and managers; in fact, in the
    entrepreneurial University model, management IS the University.
    Criticism of the management amounts to criticism of the University, and
    therefore damage to the brand. Disciplinary measures against those who
    bring the brand into disrepute becomes an essential part of brand

    A concrete expression of this redistribution of power relates to the
    roles of Deans. Many Universities have replaced elected Deans with
    appointed Deans, often disempowering the ability of Faculty Boards to
    ensure accountability to the academics in the faculty. Another
    often-noted feature of the corporatised University is that Senate
    becomes marginalized in favour of an increasingly powerful executive
    management;[12] Senate decisions may even be overruled without
    consultation, purely on financial grounds. Corporatised Universities are
    also hostile places for students from working class backgrounds, who are
    often excluded for financial reasons. As the University becomes more
    market-driven, it may also loses its moorings in the very community it
    claims to serve.

    The disciplinary process also becomes increasingly technicised, and in
    the process is taken out of the hands of academics and placed in the
    hands of managers and external lawyers. As corporatised Universities are
    driven to protect their brands, they will be tempted to prioritise the
    right to reputation over their right to freedom of expression; this is
    an inevitable consequence of corporatisation.

    In the process, the principle of peer review is thrown out the window,
    as articulated in the Kampala Declaration, which makes it clear that
    discipline should be effected by a democratically elected body of the
    academic community. The reason for vesting disciplinary action in the
    hands of academics is clear: academics are best placed to judge their
    peers, and are also best placed to consider the seriousness of their
    wrongdoings against an academic’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.

    These mitigating factors are important to consider, given that a narrow
    interpretation of misconduct will trip many academics up. As Jimmy
    Adesina has noted, ‘If you want to find dirt on people you will find it
    if you look hard enough. The value of that person to society – their
    change agency value – recedes into the background as a consideration.
    What they did wrong is the issue’. However, in the affected
    institutions, an often-expressed sentiment amongst staff is that the
    standards of conduct that apply to ordinary academics simply do not
    apply to top management.

    Third trend: state steering of academia and progressive competitiveness
    This brings me to my third point: the role of government policy in
    bringing pressures to bear on academic freedom. It is wrong to attribute
    the current pressures on academic freedom to corporatisation alone, as
    some of the recent contributors to the debate on academic freedom have
    suggested.[13] This view is captured by Roger Southall and Julian
    Cobbing, when they state:

    ‘Whereas previously, under apartheid, the principal threat to freedom
    was external to the ‘liberal University’ in the form of government
    pressure upon individual institutions and individuals to conform to
    state ideology and rubrics, the new threat is primarily internal, with
    academics becoming increasingly intolerant of robust internal dissent.
    We identify this as expressive of a shift away from “colonial
    liberalism” towards corporate authoritarianism’.[14]

    This view fails to take into account the complex relationship between
    external and internal factors in shaping the academic freedom
    environment. It also fails to take into account recent
    government-initiated developments in higher education, as well as in the
    general free speech environment.

    In 2001, the Ministry of Education adopted a more interventionist
    approach, where its earlier consultative approach was replaced by a
    centralized policy of steering Universities towards certain goals. The
    National Plan for Higher Education in South Africa[15] is based on the
    acceptance that the pressures of globalization require a change in the
    nature of academic institutions to assist in the drive for global
    competitiveness; to this end, the Ministry required Universities to
    increase their research outputs and to encourage innovation.

    To this end, the Plan involved increasing the number of enrolments in
    business, commerce and science, engineering and technology, and
    increasing enrolments in career-orientated programmes. Universities must
    ‘deliver’ graduates capable of meeting the high skill/high wage demands
    of the service orientated economy, while also de-racialising to address
    the skewed legacy of apartheid-era higher education. The Ministry stated
    that autonomy cannot be used as an excuse not to transform, and that it
    will intervene if necessary to ensure that national development goals
    are met.

    In spite of the Ministry’s protestations that Humanities must not suffer
    as a consequence of this shift in priorities, whole art departments have
    been closed down. Universities are at a loss as to how to demonstrate
    ‘outputs’ in the narrow technicist sense in music, art and drama; as a
    result, marginalization becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy, as these
    disciplines are unable to generate income.

    The Plan recognizes the commercial potential of University research
    output, and calls for more postgraduate students to further University
    based research agendas. In the conclusion, the authors argue that ‘if
    the higher education system is to become a key engine for reconstruction
    and development, it is imperative that it is restructured to enable it
    to fulfill this critical role. This requires a single minded sense of
    purpose and mission by all the constituencies in higher
    education…[italics mine]’.[16]

    And therein lies the problem; there can be no single minded approach in
    a situation where the development model itself if contested. If this
    single-mindedness is imposed from above, it will be resisted by critical
    minds. The imposition of a single-minded purpose based on the oxymoronic
    notion of progressive competitiveness has generated its own
    contradictions, and hence its own opposition. State sanctioned
    managerialism dictates a single-minded response: disciplinary action.
    This should not be taken to mean that all staff are innocents and all
    managers wrong, but the disciplinary turn in Universities is a symptom
    of a growing crisis of legitimacy of the state’s transformation project.

    The Ministry’s restructuring of higher education paved the way for a
    peculiar variation on the international corporatised model. Termed
    ‘transformative managerialism’ by Tembile Kulati and Teboho Moja[17],
    University managers have been strengthened to drive transformation from
    the top, in line with policy pressures or market principles. This brand
    of ‘transformation’ involves addressing the legacy of apartheid by
    creating equity of access to higher education, while responding to the
    pressures of globalization to create a high skill/ high wage, globally
    competitive service economy. These are deeply conflicting projects, and
    Vice Chancellors are ultimately responsible for managing these conflict.

    As different sections of the University community become conscious of
    these conflicts, express them, and then fight them out, the logic of
    corporatisation drives managers to act against those who sharpen the

    Government policy is impacting on academic freedom in even more direct
    ways, but because they do not come from the expected source of pressure
    – namely the Department of Education – they are hardly factored into the
    current academic freedom debate.

    Fourth trend: freedom of expression and neo-conservatism
    The rise of post-9/11 neo-conservatism is also starting to have an
    impact on the free speech of academics, marking the fourth trend
    affecting the academic freedom climate (although it is closely related
    to the third trend). In an attempt to increase control, some managers
    are blending still unreformed apartheid era labour regimes with new
    post-9/11 surveillance regimes, to produce a new post-apartheid
    University model: the University as panopticon. Changes in the regimes
    of surveillance outside the University are coinciding, and
    complimenting, changes to the regimes of surveillance inside the University.

    Neo-conservatism is extremely hostile to controversial forms of speech,
    which it considers to be subversive of patriotic goals: in the United
    States, such thinking has also led to growing clampdowns on academics
    critical of how the Bush Administration is prosecuting the war against
    terror. The AAUP’s freedom of expression code has proved to be an
    important bulwark against these incursions.

    In South Africa, aspects of neo-conservative thinking are becoming
    increasingly apparent, and are impacting negatively on freedom of
    expression. For instance, a firm of attorneys (Richard Buys Attorneys)
    has developed a template for electronic communications policies[18]
    which bans huge swathes of internet content, using the one of the
    post-9/11 laws promulgated in South Africa recently, the Regulation of
    Interception of Communications Act (Rica), as justification. The fact
    that Rica is being implemented in the absence of Privacy legislation is
    already a problem, but already there are signs that institutions are
    using the gap that Rica presents them with to introduce electronic
    communications policies that are even more restrictive than the actual

    Users are forbidden from distributing ‘illegal content’, which the
    Policy defines as e-mails that are ‘pornographic, oppressive, racist,
    sexist, defamatory against any user or third party, offensive to any
    group, a violation of a User’s or a third party’s privacy, identity or
    personality, copyright infringement, malicious codes such as viruses and
    Trojan Horses, and content containing any personal information of user’s
    or third parties without their consent’.[19]

    If this template was used to develop Electronic Communications Policies
    at academic institutions, the academic project would grind to a halt.
    Medical students using the internet to research sexually transmitted
    diseases, or a sociology lecturer researching the social effects of
    pornography, will be guilty of trading in ‘illegal content’. So would
    the English lecturer e-mailing lecture notes to his students about Lady
    Chatterley’s Lover. Campus based Palestinian student organisations
    should forget about distributing advocacy material on the Israeli
    occupation of Palestinian land. Politics lecturers researching the
    prevalence of racism and sexism will also fall foul of the policy.

    Yet in spite of the sheer stupidity of this template, the UKZN has based
    its draft Electronic Communications Policy on it[20], and in March 2006
    the Tshwane University of Technology developed a policy using the same
    template.[21] It is unclear how far this template has spread: hence the
    need for the audit, mentioned earlier. In terms of both policies,
    University e-mail users must adhere to certain rules, and will be
    disciplined for failing to do so. Yet the UKZN’s draft policy has a
    particularly problematic aspect, in that students and staff are deemed
    to have given consent to have their e-mails monitored when they commence
    studies or employment[22], which violates the requirement of the Act for
    users to give prior written consent.

    Users are referred to Schedules 1, 2, 6, 7 and 11 of the Film and
    Publications Act for a definition of pornographic content, in spite of
    the fact that Schedule 11 was repealed in 2004. Interestingly, the
    policy does not recognise the exemption in Schedule 5 of the Act’s
    schedules, which exempts technical, professional, educational,
    scientific, documentary, literary or artistic publications. So if these
    policies are adopted unchanged, it will mean that the UKZN and TUT do
    not recognize exemptions for academic speech, in spite of their being
    academic institutions.

    This erosion of the protected status of academic speech is taking place
    on another front, in the form of the controversial Film and Publications
    Amendment Bill. While this Bill has received much bad press lately for
    its attempts to subject the media to pre-publication censorship, what is
    not being debated is the pre- and post-publication censorship that it
    will subject academics to.

    The Film and Publications Act of 1996 distinguished between publications
    and films: with the former being free for distribution unless someone
    complains. The latter must be submitted to the Film and Publications
    Board for classification, based on the premise that film is a more
    pervasive medium than publications and therefore must be more tightly
    controlled. So the written word is ‘innocent until proven guilt’. As
    mentioned earlier, artistic and academic speech that falls within the ‘extremely naughty’ XX and X18 classifications are exempted. Also, films and publications that contain forms of expression that do not receive constitutional protection in s.16(2) of the constitution – namely propaganda for war, incitement for imminent violence and hate speech – are prohibited, and offenders face up to five years in jail. However, artistic and academic speech are exempted from this offense.

    However, the Amendment Bill seeks to change these arrangements. It states that:

    ‘Any person who, for distribution or exhibition in the Republic, creates, produces, publishes or advertises any publication that contains visual presentations, descriptions or representations of or amounting to—

    (a) sexual conduct;

    (b) propaganda for war;

    (c) incitement to imminent violence; or

    (d) the advocacy of hatred based on any identifiable group characteristic,

    shall submit in the prescribed manner such publication for examination and classification to the classification office before such publication is distributed, exhibited, offered or advertised for distribution or exhibition’.[23]

    This means that writers will be required to police themselves and submit publications for classification to the Board if they may fall foul of the above categories. This applies to academics too. While the exemptions still stand, the grounds for exemption have been narrowed. Academics need to decide how they feel about submitting publications on controversial matters to the Board - which is controlled by the Department of Home Affairs - for the Board to decide whether to exempt these publications or not, as this is the import of the Bill. It would appear that the academic speech for exemptions for child abuse, propaganda for war and incitement to imminent violence have disappeared entirely, and the exemption now applies only to the clearly unconstitutional definition of hate speech. In addition, the scope for prohibited publications in these categories has been broadened. So now, publications that merely describe child abuse or propaganda for war will be prohibited, which is bad news for political scientists studying the invasion of Iraq, for instance, or media effects scholars studying the effects of pornography on audiences. Academic speech which falls into the XX category should now be classified as X18, which requires publishers to confine their publications to adult shops or to place them in plastic wrappers. Clearly, this is an untenable arrangement for academic journals.

    The developments around interception legislation, and how it is being interpreted, and the Film and Publications Bill, strongly suggest that the spaces for controversial academic speech are being narrowed. While the government is not responsible for the restrictive way in which Rica is being interpreted, it should be noted that both Rica and the Film and Publications Act have been amended to reduce the space for controversial speech over time. Hardly had Rica been promulgated, than an amendment Bill was introduced to make it possible for the government to monitor pre-paid cell phone users. Each successive amendment may see the bar for academic speech being lowered even further. The Film and Publications Act was amended in 1999 and again in 2004, so the current Bill will be the third amendment in ten years. Each successive amended has restricted speech slightly more than the previous one, under the guise of fighting the scourge of child pornography. It should not surprise academics if the next amendment removes exemptions for academic speech entirely. Yet academics and students have been largely silent on these developments.

    Review of the Center for Civil Society’s (CCS) Harold Wolpe Lecture titled: “Making Real the Right to Housing” by Miloon Kothari, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur, 19 April 2007
    By Simon Mapadimeng.

    CCS lectures are a major attraction for communities in and around the Greater eThekwini Municipality Metropolitan area. CCS has, from its inception, has been centrally concerned with issues of pressing concern to community struggles. Like other preceding lectures, this one also had one of the key basic service questions, housing, as its main theme.

    The scene was set for the lecture by the screening of an episode of the SABC TV documentary, Special Assignment. This episode focused on the issue of forced evictions in Chatsworth, a historically Indian township located on the southern side of Durban. It was also about water cut-offs and evictions of the members of the community from government or public houses by the police. It highlighted the collective struggles and resistance by communities to the evictions and cut- offs and showed the profound importance of the issue of housing rights.

    Before starting his lecture, Miloon Kothari remarked on how glad he was to be in South Africa, a country whose liberation struggles has inspired more other struggles around the world. What caught his eye whilst in Durban was the street named after the world renowned struggle icon, Mahatma Gandhi, who distinguished himself through a non-violent leadership approach to struggles against apartheid and colonial domination in both South Africa and India. He then introduced himself, and indicated that the UN Human Rights Council, to which he was appointed as Special Rapporteur, is the highest decision making structure within the UN on Human Rights (HR) issues, tasked with ensuring that the HR of all are protected and guarding against all forms of discriminations. The UN Human Rights Council could thus be no better place for Kothari to be given that he is a well recognized economic, social and cultural rights activist. His visit to SA was on the basis of a fact finding mission to make some observations about housing and land situation with the view to reporting back to the UN Human Rights Council.

    He saw his CCS Harold Wolpe lecture as an opportunity for him to share his personal assessment of global scenario on housing and land rights as well as preliminary observations he has made in SA on the same issues. He indicated the gravity of the global housing question, with about one and half of the world population having no access to “adequate housing” and over hundred million people being homeless. However the weakness in his lecture lies in his failure to explain or outline what for the UN and/or even for him constitutes ‘adequate housing?’ It is important to clarify this as one is left to speculate what this concept really means or what he means by it. Could it be that by this concept he is referring to just having a shelter or just four walls full round wall around, or a roof over one’s head? Does he refer to a house with the right number of rooms to accommodate the entire family or household members? That is, a house with kitchen, bed rooms, sitting room, entertainment room, etc. What exactly does this mean? What would be considered an acceptable housing unit or structure?

    Such clarification is not only conceptually necessary but it is also particularly important in the South African context, given the wide variety of housing structures that governments, both during the apartheid (match-boxes in the former black townships) and in the post-apartheid period (the so called low-cost houses and popularly known as the RDP houses), have put up for people. These descriptive terms occurred because of the controversial nature of these housing units. For instance, more often than not, in the every day public discourse, there is a perception that the apartheid match-boxes i.e. houses in the black townships are of better quality than the RDP houses built by the post-apartheid government, with the latter seen as generally inadequate for normal family life. It should be noted that such perception is developed out of criticism of this inadequate houses and that the comparison made does not necessarily legitimise the apartheid created black townships and their inadequate infrastructures including housing units (or match-boxes). Interestingly, the term match-box was developed in the light of dissatisfaction with the inadequate nature of the houses built by the apartheid government. Most of these houses are overcrowded and small in size. So, what this suggests is that both regimes i.e. the apartheid and post-apartheid, built inadequate houses for people. Hence, the persistence of the chronic housing problem in the country.

    In the lecture, Kothari focused on two key aspects a) the main causes of the housing problems or what he sees as the major global trends defining the housing problems and b) his proposed way-forward on how this problem can be resolved or tackled, as well as the opportunities and challenges to finding solutions to the problems.

    The first main factor and/or trend he mentioned is that of rapid economic globalization characterized by commodification and privatisation of basic services and human rights, resulting in a situation whereby social services such as housing are not seen as basic rights. This can, he argues, can be seen from the following: i) the installation of water meters, ii) too much emphasis laid on cutting down costs, iii) outsourcing of social services resulting in non-accountability to people who are recipients of such services, and iv) the vision of creating world class cities in the light of the need to host world events such as the 2010 FIFA Soccer World cup and ICC Cricket World Cup.

    Closely linked to the above factor or trend are, according to Kothari, forced evictions or what in SA are notoriously known as forced removals. These evictions occur surprisingly not only in authoritarian countries but also in democratic countries. The evictions, driven by projects development and market considerations, result in serious violations of human rights and deepened poverty and inequalities. In Cambodia, for instance, Kothari found that the government was involved in land grabbing (e.g. government buildings) selling to private developers, in the process forcing people off the land. This phenomenon, he argues, is on increase in the world. Other examples of land grabbings he cites include Operation Murambatsvina (translated as sweep away the garbage) in Zimbabwe which has left large numbers of people homeless and Operation Makeover in Mumbai, India, conducted by authorities between November 2004 and February 2005 whereby up to 400 000 slum residents were evicted. In Nigeria, between 2003 and 2004, the so-called the Abuja Master Plan led to forced evictions and relocations of up to 800 000 people, often left without alternative viable means and access to livelihood. In the US, in the state of Chicago, he argues, thousands of public housing units were removed with the majority of victims affected being the African Americans in the area.

    In all these cases, Kothari finds a total disregard for fundamental human rights. Communities affected were not given any prior notice or warnings nor were they consulted and allowed to participate in the decision making processes that have serious implications for their lives. Also characterizing evictions by municipalities is the use of excessive force and violence over the people being evicted when they try to resist and demand consultations. In Zimbabwe, for example, he argues that defenders of human rights are beaten up and subjected to harassments. He notes that in some countries, anti-terrorism legislations and policies are used by authorities to legitimize arrest of activists.

    The resulting social impact of evictions is severe for the evicted. The evictions leave them with little or no socio-economic rights in a state of landless and homelessness. They increase vulnerability to poverty as the evicted people and communities lose out on their livelihoods sources and experience breakdowns in family and kinship ties. Women, in particular, became the most vulnerable, especially to acts of violence, insecurity, poverty, and disease. In some situations, when men or husbands die, he finds that women face the dangers of exploitation due to property ownership relations which tend to favour men over women. He noted that in some countries, there is a gap between the recognition of women’s rights and implementation of those rights. Hence a culture of lip-service about women being legally protected from violence and abuse.

    Kothari identified the neglect of rural areas as a factor in the housing problem. He argues that rural areas are being ignored with an eye to the global phenomenon of rapid urbanisation. The urban areas are seen as a priority for housing and land provision. Kothari’s point is highly relevant to the SA situation whereby there has always been an urban-bias in development policies which benefited mainly the urban areas, especially in terms of infrastructural development such as the roads, communication system, and public transport facilities. To this day, there are still inequities between the urban and the rural areas.

    Today, this approach is likely to be perpetuated by the research reports with policy implications such as the 2006 Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) . For CDE, as mentioned in this report, the majority of South Africans and especially the economically active sections of the population do not see their future attached to land in rural areas. According to this report, SA is no longer highly rural as 60% of its population is urbanized. It argues that prosperity for people lies in the cities where employment opportunities exist. It states that land demand is mainly in urban and peri-urban areas and that only few in rural areas need land for farming purposes. The report claims that high on the list of priority demands are urban jobs and houses as opposed to land in rural areas, which explain the reasons for land invasions in urban areas.

    The danger with this perspective though as I have argued elsewhere before , is of perpetuation of the inherited problem of an urban bias in development policies. This could remain so despite the post-apartheid government policy and development approach which seeks to strike a balance between the rural and urban development. This is clearly represented in the government’s Urban Renewal Programme and the Integrated Rural Development Strategy which aim at developing infrastructure in both rural and urban areas. Not only is this perspective problematic in terms of the dangers of promoting and perpetuating urban bias in policies, but also fails to take into account the realities of today in SA i.e. that the urban economy, which has increased in capital intensity as the report rightly points out, has grown through job shedding. It has led to job-less growth. Part of this has been, and contrary to the report’s claims about increasing urbanisation, massive retrenchments of workers. A significant number of the retrenched workers returned to their permanent rural homesteads. Most research in SA has shown that the urban labour force has and continues to be largely rural migrants while not negating the fact that other workers live in historically black townships. This suggests that housing and land questions in rural SA, just as in the urban areas, remain crucial and need equal and urgent attention. Perhaps even more dangerous about the perspective led by the CDE and the likes is that they fail to realise that the urban problems such as increasing crime, poverty, slum conditions or informal settlements, prostitution and homelessness are directly linked to the failure to strike a balance between urban and rural development due to urban bias.

    Notwithstanding the devastating impact of evictions that have aggravated the housing and land problems, Kothari however notes a disturbing silence and lack of collective action and protest to challenge land speculations and government-led land evictions under market pressures. As he pointed out, there has not been any expressed anger about the evictions as could be seen in the cases of Cambodia, and also recently in Zimbabwe where no solidarity with the Zimbabweans was shown by South Africa government and other African states. He made a particular mention to South Africa’s policy of quiet diplomacy which he found to be disturbing in view of the serious violations of human rights violations in the neighboring state.

    Kothari however did not leave the audience with pessimism and a sense of total gloom. He highlighted some promising signs and developments aimed at challenging this situation and defending human rights including the right to land and adequate housing. He, for instance, acknowledged that there is around the world today, the emergence of social movements whose main approach is human rights. Prominent in this development is the World Social Forum (WSF) which works across sectors and which he sees as a positive development for forging global solidarity and needs to be consolidated and supported. He also believes that human rights organisations and activists should use the existing space and instruments such as human rights principles as enshrined in most countries’ national constitutions and of course also in the UN statutes to advance the struggle for defense of the human rights. He advocated a global collective effort towards achieving a consensus on human rights whereby principles such as non-discrimination and self-determination are closely guarded and protected. Further, he emphasized as vital, the need to greatly use community-based consultative and participatory approach whereby communities and their members are given an opportunity to influence and shape the outcome of decisions around policy development, implementation and monitoring. Linked to this is the need to provide people with enhanced access to information in order to encourage informed interventions and participation.

    Most importantly, he believes that involvement and participation should not occur at the expense of active mobilisation of communities to challenge, protest and resist forced evictions, and that this could still be done in a peaceful way highlighting the plight of the masses in the face of neo-liberal marketisation of life. This is what Issa Shivji (2005) has labeled “markets in poverty, ignorance and disease” advocated by the promoters of globalisation such as the World Trade Organisation and multinational corporations. Kothari concluded with a poem by an Indian poet to emphasis his concluding point. Its central message is that communities and all those committed to human rights across the globe should stand up and speak out against neo-liberal capitalism and come together in a collective effort to resist it.

    On the whole, the Wolpe lecture was a very powerful and well timed initiative by someone with a genuine interest and concern about the plight of the poor and the marginalized under the overwhelming forces of neo-liberal capitalism. My sense is that the UN could grow powerfully as an institution with socio-political activists of Kothari’s caliber.

    1 Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) 2005. “Land Reform in South Africa – a 21st Century Perspective”, Research Report no.14.

    2 Refer to my paper titled “The land redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) sub-programme: opportunity for or constraint to land redistribution, rural economic development and poverty alleviation?” in Transformation, 52, 2005.

    3 See for instance Moodie, D. (with Vivienne Ndatshe). 1994. Going for Gold: Men, Mines Migrants. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press; Sitas, A. 1996. “The New Tribalism: Hostels and Violence.” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 22, No. 22; Bonnin, D. 1999. ‘We Went to Arm Ourselves at the Fields of Suffering’: Traditions, Experiences and Grassroots Intellectuals in the Making of Class. Labour, Capital and Society, 32:1; Mapadimeng, MS. 2007. “Ubuntu/Botho Culture - A Path to Improved Performance and Socio-Economic Development in Post-apartheid SA: Beyond Rhetoric.” a PhD Thesis, University of Kwazulu-Natal, Durban.

    Miloon Kothari was appointed in September 2000 by the UN Commission on Human Rights as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. His mandate involves reporting annually on the status worldwide of the realization of the rights related to adequate housing and identifying practical solutions and good practices towards this end. An architect by training, he has extensive experience in the areas of housing and land rights. Mr. Kothari is also the coordinator of the South Asian Regional Programme of the Habitat International Coalition’s Housing and Land Rights Network and a founding member of the International NGO Committee on Human Rights in Trade and Investment. He is a member since 2005 of the Leadership Council of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Mr. Kothari spoke with Horst Rutsch of the UN Chronicle in early 2006.

    Interview with Miloon Kothari
    On the mandate as Rapporteur on adequate housing My mandate is very broad and includes such issues as access to water and electricity, sanitation, land rights, forced evictions and displacement due to development and disasters, and post-conflict and ethnic-conflict situations. There has also been a very strong focus in the mandate on women’s rights to housing, land, property and inheritance, as well as a very strong human rights perspective, building on the recognition of the right to adequate housing in numerous international human rights instruments and reaffirmed in the Habitat Agenda. The attempt is to project the human right to housing, both in terms of analyzing the situation on the ground and proposing solutions, and what steps Governments should take to recognize this human right, including the need for it to be realized without discrimination. If I were to make an overall assessment of my work for the UN, including through eight country missions and seven regional consultations on women and housing and land, as well as participation at major international conferences
    and quite a bit of research and writing, is that the situation is worse than it was five years ago. The right to housing has been receiving increased attention, but the situation on the ground is getting worse as the number of people living in adverse conditions continues to grow.

    On the problem of land speculation
    An overwhelming concern for me is the intense property and land speculation, and there appears to be no attempt by Governments to control this, which makes it very difficult for the poor to access affordable housing. It is even affecting the middle class, as you can see in New York City and in other cities worldwide. There is no control for this rampant land and property speculation. I have been on missions and have had discussions with ministers on why there was no affordable housing market and why Governments did not intervene and make sure that property prices and rentals were not out of the reach of the poor. The usual answer is that such intervention would destabilize the economy. I find that there is a preoccupation, almost an obsession, with economic parameters—looking at growth for the sake of growth, and all the criticism that you would have of a neo-liberal Washington consensus-type of approach, which I think has become deeply entrenched. It is also something that we find at national levels, where Governments are seeking to invest and gain returns through privatization of water, electricity and sanitation—rights and resources that are critical to make housing a human right. I think there is overwhelming evidence worldwide showing that this kind of approach does not meet the needs of the very poor. For example, I find that the housing finance system does not meet the needs of the bottom 20 per cent of the global population; it is geared towards the lower-middle and middle classes. When you get this kind of assessment, it is very clear that Governments, even of developing countries, can no longer make the excuse that they don’t have enough resources to provide or create conditions for everyone to have the right to housing or food. It is not just a question of not having the resources but also a step that can be taken by reorienting financing that is already available for housing. The second main area of concern related to property speculation is land grabbing.

    It’s a phenomenon wherein any means possible, including legislative, is used to confiscate or grab land. For example, this whole dogma of eminent domain, where you have a system that the State can effectively confiscate any land with its own opportunistic notion of public purpose, and the people affected do not have any legal means to challenge such acquisition, except to challenge the amount of compensation they would get. If this is done in a way where such actions contain a political element, particularly affecting religious minorities such as in Iran, certain communities are summarily dispossessed of their homes and lands. Another example are the kind of land concession given to foreign companies, for logging, etc., approved by the Government of Cambodia, which severely affects the housing and land rights of indigenous people. There is this element of discrimination, based on race, ethnicity or income levels that comes in, where particular groups are affected even more.

    On discrimination against vulnerable groups
    There are vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities, including women across the board. So you have a predatory, exploitative system that treats land, property and housing as a commodity, essentially something out there in the market. It does not give due recognition to the social dimensions of housing, land and property. These are essentially human rights closely tied to survival and livelihood, something that people depend on every day, and their access to these rights, regardless of the level of income and which class or religion they belong to, needs to be protected. But what we find is a situation where States, instead of assuming that responsibility in accordance with international
    instruments and their own constitutions, are withdrawing from their role as protector and guarantor. And because in many countries there are active land cartels, property developers and politicians who are very powerful and can influence States’ decisions, the Governments, in a sense, lose control of these areas, so land grabbing is becoming a global phenomenon. This is very disturbing.

    On forced evictions and involuntary displacements
    The third area which I have come across intensively is the situation of forced evictions: the involuntary displacement of thousands of people because of development and disaster related projects, and also due to conflicts. My main recommendation to the UN system is that much more emphasis must be given to people who are being displaced because of so-called development—by that I mean large dams and mining projects, infrastructure development, environmental and city beautification projects. I don’t know if you are familiar with the situation in May-June 2005 in Zimbabwe, where 700,000 people had been displaced within six weeks, and between November 2004 and March 2005 some 300,000 to 400,000 were displaced in a huge slum-clearance drive in Mumbai, India. If you look at the manner in which cities in developing countries have become the best-practice or are referred to as world-class cities such as Shanghai, they have developed, causing large-scale dislocations, especially of the elderly and the poor. These forced evictions have become really almost an epidemic—it is happening all over the world. One of my interventions, in my 2006 report to the Commission, is to propose a set of guidelines on steps that Governments need to take to minimize evictions, through simple steps like consultations with communities and exploration of alternatives—a range of different options that are usually not taken. There has to be careful assessment of what is to be done. Even from an economic perspective, most of the evictions do not make sense because, as experience in different parts of the world has shown, upgrading settlements where infrastructures have already existed for decades cost far less than relocating a huge number of people. In many cases, such as in Zimbabwe or Mumbai, most of those evicted become homeless, as they are not offered adequate resettlement or are taken away from the centre of the cities and resettled far away where there is no livelihood. They have no access to education for their children and no adequate water and sanitation. Governments do not have the capacity nor the interest or commitment to manage the resettlement.

    On the phenomenon of ‘urban and rural apartheid’
    Forced evictions are becoming more and more routine. The result of this is the creation of what I call “urban and rural apartheid”—the separation of the rich from the poor in cities and rural areas. More and more housing developments are being built only for the wealthy, and the poor are being evicted or forced to live in the ghettos. The kind of judicious master planning that is called for, with mixed-income land use as a principle, is happening less and less. This kind of “apartheid” is tragically being supported in many parts of the world by the judiciary, which should instead uphold human rights and impose justice, but instead is increasingly becoming part of the elite in societies that are anti-poor. This is very dangerous, as there is a conflict between human rights. For example, a court judgment for a city beautification calls for development that would lead to displacement of people, or for an industrial plant to be closed without any recourse to rehabilitating people who would lose their jobs and their homes, thus placing the right
    to safe environment over the right to housing and the right to work.

    On the increasing trend of homelessness
    The other phenomenon that is the theme in my report to the Commission on Human Rights in 2005 is homelessness. We find this happening across the world, including in developed countries like the United States, Canada and Australia, and even in countries with very vibrant economies. This increasing homelessness is very disturbing due to several factors. One is very closely linked to the over-reliance on the market for solutions.

    For example, in the current United States administration policy, there is a very direct attack on subsidies provided to low-income, mostly African-American communities, such as housing vouchers that will make it possible to rent. But then support for public housing is being withdrawn, and existing public housing dismantled, and the result is that people are forced out onto the street. There is also an increase in domestic violence. This is another area I am looking at: the link between violence against women and the right to housing. When you look at shelters around the world, we find gross inadequacies. There are, for example, some 10,000 homeless women in Delhi and only 1 per cent of them have access to shelter. There is also a system where people with mental or other disabilities are released from an institution without a corresponding system of re-housing, and so many of them end up on the streets. I find this really disturbing, as the poor are more and more stigmatized. For example, in the United States, if you are homeless, you can be treated as a criminal. In India, we have a law called the “Bombay Vagrancy and Prevention of Beggary Act”, which authorizes the police to pick up somebody and put them in jail. So, we are finding that it is not only a question of neglect of the poor, but we have moved into this very dangerous terrain where we are now beginning to see a systematic assault on the poor.

    On the vicious connection between inadequate housing and violence, particularly against women
    In a recent regional consultation in Washington, D.C. for the global UN study on women, housing and land, we heard the voices of women from the United States and Canada. Several testimonies were about the United States Government policy that leads to the separation of women and children. A single mother who cannot qualify and provide for adequate housing has her children taken away from her. So instead of the State supporting these women to acquire better housing, or giving them subsidies and better support, it takes away their children and put them in foster care. There are also many such cases in Canada, especially with indigenous people. If you look at statistics there, the indigenous women and young girls are proportionately much more prone to violence, including rape, on the city streets. And you have a situation in developing countries where people are forced to live in inadequate
    conditions, without privacy and with much more incidences of violence. So these are some areas of concern and the scale of the problems we are facing.

    On the silent crisis of housing as a global challenge
    Absolutely, I think that the crisis of housing and land is so severe that it needs much more global attention and requires to be firmly on the global agenda. The UN system needs to take a more careful look at it. There is a culture of silence, for example, when it comes to the struggle women are facing in terms of equal rights to land property, housing and inheritance. This culture of silence, whether at home or in the community, exists because the people in power—the partner, politicians and bureaucrats, etc.—are mostly men, and it is not in their interest to speak openly or admit that they are not allowing women the freedom to have their rights to property, or that there is such a high incidence and prevalence of domestic violence.

    There is a huge simmering crisis that is affecting millions of women worldwide and we are not giving this the attention it deserves. What we are trying to bring out in the Commission studies and reports is that there is not only a
    culture of silence but also of neglect in terms of cultures and traditions, where the dominance of customary traditions is such that it discriminates against women and treats them as much more inferior than men. In countries where there are strong traditions stemming from religion, whether Islamic or predominantly Christian, it is important for Governments to reconcile national and religious laws with international human rights obligations, and to ensure that there is no
    pre-eminence given to one specific interpretation of religious laws over women’s human rights. I saw this clearly in countries like Iran, where there is one specific interpretation of religious laws and the Koran that leads to discrimination against women in terms of their access to housing, land, property and inheritance.

    On the trend of claiming exception to international law
    It is the legal responsibility of States that have ratified international instruments to bring national laws in line and to demonstrate that they are implementing these laws. In my reports, we call for property inheritance and for recognition of women’s equal rights to housing, as well as for the implementation of constitutional provisions and national law. Around the world, you will find that there are more and more laws that recognize women’s rights, but there is a huge gap between recognition and implementation. We asked Governments to supply us with information on these issues and we get answers like: “We have this law”; “We are considering this policy”; “We have these administrative actions”. But there is very little information on how these laws, policies or actions have been implemented. If you listen to the voices of women from the field, you’ll find that there is very little implementation. People are not even aware that these laws exist. What dominates is customary practice or just neglect.

    On the link between property rights and HIV/AIDS
    In my last report on housing, we made a link between HIV/AIDS and property. It’s very common in countries in sub-Saharan Africa that if a woman’s husband died of HIV/AIDS or she herself has the disease , she is
    stigmatized and thrown out of the house by relatives, and nobody will
    rent her a place. Obviously, in such a situation there should be a
    policy or legal intervention that protects women's right to housing, or
    some positive developments with domestic violence legislation. For
    example, in India and Mongolia, the recent laws call for the man to be
    evicted. Also one of the major problems is that women have no choice but
    to continue to tolerate domestic violence, otherwise they will be
    homeless or be separated from their children. Therefore, we are
    encouraging legislation that protects women's right to housing and
    ensures that they have equal rights and privacy, as well as other steps
    that could be taken. I think there is this situation all over the world
    where women generally are essentially homeless. It doesn't matter what
    their income group is, because they don't have statutory rights in their
    homes. There is a move in legislation to recognize that, but women live
    with a constant insecurity. For example, testimonies of even upper-class
    and middle-class women reveal that they can be thrown out of the house
    and have nowhere to go. So there is no protective system, and for women
    living in poverty the consequences are much more serious.

    On the collaboration with other UN agencies
    One of the problems that we have in this work is that resources are very
    limited. As you know, it is an honorary position and we are not paid
    staff of the United Nations. The main reason for this is to maintain
    independence and so that we can even be critical of the work of the
    Organization. The support we get from the United Nations is for the
    missions and travel, and a full-time person assisting the Rapporteurs
    out of the High Commissioner's Office in Geneva. This kind of a
    situation places restrictions on how much we can do, how many places we
    can visit and how much research we can get done. Of course, we rely on
    civil society and the UN agencies, so occasionally there are situations
    where I work with UN-Habitat, the United Nations Development Fund for
    Women (UNIFEM) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); but it's
    not systematic. We have to take the initiative, in a sense. There is
    also a need for much more awareness and integration of the work of
    special rapporteurs across the UN system; right now, it is still very ad
    hoc. You will find some rapporteurs working very closely with UN
    agencies. What we find lacking, and where there is a great hope for
    improvement, is a closer working relationship on a consistent basis with
    the UN Secretariat in New York. There is definitely a disconnect between
    what happens in the human rights field in Geneva and the political level
    in New York. With the political, humanitarian and many other areas of
    the United Nations, I see hope for much more collaborative work. For
    example, on internally displaced persons following the tsunami disaster,
    we are closely working with the UN Office for the Coordination of
    Humanitarian Affairs and are in touch with different UN agencies
    involved. But again, that is not something that is built into within the
    UN system. This is an area that is being looked at very closely in the
    reform process of the Organization. I think the whole initiative to turn
    the Commission on Human Rights into the Human Rights Council is welcomed
    by the rapporteurs, as it will bring much more attention to human rights
    issues in general. I think the Secretary-General's initiative, which has
    led to a significant increase in the budget of the High Commissioner's
    Office, will increase the expertise and the capacity of the Office to
    support human rights work---this is very positive. But where I still
    find the biggest obstacle remaining is the reluctance of States, even UN
    agencies, to whole-heartedly and sincerely adopt the human rights
    approach and comply with international human rights instruments, which
    the UN Charter also calls for. In the last ten years, there was
    supposedly much more effort in mainstreaming human rights, but I don't
    see that happening so much in practice. I have found resistance within
    some UN agencies, with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),
    for example, and even the UN Habitat---I don't find a very open
    commitment to that. Also in the work of the special envoy on the
    tsunami, you don't find former United States President Bill Clinton
    telling an affected country that in a post-disaster situation one should
    be implementing human rights obligations. But that should be a clear and
    uncompromising message. When we don't do that, very often we gloss over
    some of the realities and don't notice the discrimination on the ground,
    because we don't look at the ground reality through the human rights
    lens. It's not something that is an add-on. These are obligations all of
    us, whether UN agencies and representatives or Member States, should
    have---a primary obligation that even the Secretary-General has
    consistently addressed. I find that hesitation, what I would call
    spinelessness, to hold Governments accountable to their own commitments
    very disturbing.

    Review of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wolpe Lecture: Regaining our Tongues: The Challenges of Writing in Indigenous Languages

    Regaining our Tongues: The Challenges of Writing in Indigenous Languages by Annsilla Nyar

    Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

    Can we reclaim our mother tongue languages?
    The Harold Wolpe lecture delivered by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, one of Africa's most celebrated writers, brought the emotive issue of language-and its centrality to issues of power and ideology- once more back to the table.

    Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s presentation at the Wolpe lecture was jointly hosted by the Center for Civil Society and the Center for Creative Arts as part of the Time of the Writer Festival. Howard College, one of the University of Kwa Zulu Natal’s oldest and most elegant buildings, was packed to capacity with those wanting to hear the critically acclaimed Kenyan writer share his thoughts about the possibilities for regaining and reclaiming African indigenous languages.

    The slight and softly spoken countenance of the speaker belied the revolutionary theme of his presentation. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has written formerly in English, producing such successful novels as Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat and Petals of Blood, which depict the conflict between Christianity, colonial education, and the oppression suffered his native Kikuyu and other Africans groups under colonialism. His passionate brand of Marxist political and literary activism saw him imprisoned without trial in 1978 in a maximum security prison by the Kenyan government. During his detention, he produced a memoir of his prison experience entitled Detained, which was written on prison issue toilet paper. Following his release from prison he went into self imposed exile in the United States to teach literature at several American universities. It was then that he renounced writing in English and turned to working exclusively in his regional native tongue of Gikuyu.

    Ngugi’s critique centred on the deterioration of mother tongue languages as the ideological legacy of colonialism. Colonial policy meant that the language of the colonizing nation was forced onto local people, often with a systematic prohibition of indigenous languages. In colonial Kenya English was used as the sole means of instruction in public school system. He sketched a portrait of language as a tool of colonialism and vividly described being humiliated and shamed for speaking his native tongue as part of his colonial schooling. He passionately advocated for the rejuvenation and development of African mother tongue languages.

    Ngugi wa Thiong’o captures the paradox of English vs indigenous languages in the world today. To some, English anywhere outside the mother tongue context, is an alien imposed concept. As the linear tongue of the colonial enterprise, it has become synonymous with racial cruelties and injustice and the denigration of local cultures. More so, as representative of something specifically Anglo American and Western, it has become a world language to the extent that Anglo-American Western culture has become hegemonic in the world.

    But then to others, while English may not be their mother tongue, it is nevertheless their language and an expression of their lived identity. In this view English has become a world language to the extent that it has become divested of any association with colonialism and its adjunct, Western culture. As Chinua Achebe, another major literary figure states, Is it right that a man should abandon his mother tongue for someone else's? It looks like a dreadful betrayal and produces a guilty feeling. But for me there is no other choice. I have been given the language and I intend to use it.

    Where do we place ourselves in this paradox? Ngugi’s presentation raised the important question of what happens to other mother tongues, but then it similarly raised other questions in the contexts of our own struggles with the prevailing cultural globalism.
    What, then, should become of the English language in former colonies? Is English, as Salman Rushdie says, a post-colonial anomaly, the bastard child of the Empire or has it actually evolved to fit the need of its speakers in the post-colonial world? Should it be rejected or embraced? Does writing in English suggest the betrayal of our mother tongues or does it represent the assumption of a new post-colonial identity?

    Not so long ago, language policy was the subject of intense and often bitter, debate in South Africa. The country adopted a multilingual language policy which gives official recognition to eleven languages, including English and Afrikaans and nine indigenous languages. But the celebrated new language freedoms and opportunities have not really translated into the envisioned linguistic equality for South Africans. African languages remain on the periphery of the academy in South Africa. While the education system purports to be multilingual, most educational institutions do not use the learner’s mother tongue as languages of learning and teaching. Parents and students prefer to be taught in English and most teachers are inadequately prepared. As one student pointed out to Ngugi, proficiency in English is a must for young job seekers. The globalised world of economic possibility is symbolised by English.

    One could almost feel the passion from youth in the room wanting to communicate this paradox to Ngugi and its centrality to their lives as young South Africans: the difference between what is practical and what is desirable.

    Faced with a barrage of questions regarding the technical aspects of the ideal of reclaiming mother tongue languages, Ngugi persisted to make his point in a stronger fashion: “The death of many languages should never be the condition for the life of a few .... A language for the world? A world of languages! The two concepts are not mutually exclusive, provided there is independence, equality, democracy, and peace among nations.” He called for a partnership amongst several key stakeholders: government in creating an enabling environment for linguistic development; writers and storytellers; publishers and readers.

    Ngugi’s Wolpe presentation was beautiful and extremely necessary. It is high time that this issue return to the national agenda. However, disappointingly, it failed to address the huge socio-political complexities of the language issue. Nor did it acknowledge the fact that this dilemma is not simply the province of Africa and its colonial past. It is very much a global issue. UNESCO estimates that half of the world’s 6000 to 7000 mother tongue languages are in danger of extinction. The challenges of immigration and integration in many Northern countries represent a serious threat to mother tongue languages.

    Take the Republican state of California in the United States. In 1998 California imposed English as the sole medium of instruction in all its public schools, effectively alienating mostly Spanish-speaking learners. It earned the anger of civil rights organizations in the US, a country where 3 to 4 million children speak English poorly or not at all.

    The paradox remains, and frustratingly so.

    Annsilla Nyar is a Research Fellow at the Center for Civil Society.

    Bio: World-acclaimed novelist, essayist, playwright, journalist, editor, academic and social activist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o was born in colonial Kenya in 1938, and was educated at Makerere University in Uganda and the University of Leeds, Britain.

    wa Thiong'o's early works such as the play The Black Hermit (1962) and novels Weep Not Child (1964), The River Between (1965) and A Grain of Wheat (1969) eloquently depict the conflicts of the transition from colonialism to post-colonialism and have as one of their major themes the Mau Mau War of Independence, the central historical episode in the making of modern Kenya. wa Thiong'o‘s writing reflected a strong, principled and uncensored political voice. It was a voice that made him a threat to the Kenyan government under the Moi dictatorship.

    Matters came to a head in 1977, when wa Thiong'o's (co-written) political plays The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) and novel Petals of Blood - where he boldly denounced the inequalities, injustices and the abuses of power rampant in neo-colonial Kenya - led to his arrest, and imprisonment without trial. In prison, wa Thiong'o made his famous decision to abandon English as his primary language of creative writing and committed himself to writing in Gikuyu, his mother tongue. Following that decision, he wrote, on prison toilet paper, the novel, Caitani Mutharabaini (1981) translated into English as Devil on the Cross. After Amnesty International named wa Thiong'o a Prisoner of Conscience, an international campaign secured his release a year later. However, the Moi dictatorship barred him from jobs at colleges and universities in the country. He resumed his writing and his activities in the theater and in so doing, continued to be an uncomfortable voice for the Moi dictatorship.

    In 1982, wa Thiong'o was forced into a twenty-two year long exile after receiving assassination threats from the dictatorship. During his exile, he lectured at many universities in London and the USA and also studied film in Sweden. His next Gikuyu novel, Matigari ma Njiruungi, was published in 1986. Thinking that the novel's protagonist was an actual person, Moi infamously issued a warrant for his arrest but on learning that the character was fictional, had the novel banned instead. Between 1986 and 1996, Matigari ma Njiruungi could not be sold in Kenyan bookshops. The dictatorship also had wa Thiong'o’s books removed from all educational institutions.

    wa Thiong'o has published numerous influential essay collections including Decolonising the Mind, Homecoming and Moving the Centre, and has edited various literary journals. He is a distinguished speaker and recipient of many honors including the 2001 Nonino International Prize for Literature and seven honorary doctorates. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's latest and much awaited novel, Murogo wa Kagogo (Wizard of the Crow) was published in 2006 and has been called “a masterpiece, the crowning achievement in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's career thus far.” It will be launched during Time of the Writer festival March 22 18h45 Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre Deck. On Human Rights Day 21 March wa Thiong'o will present The Pen in the Fight for Human Rights, a discussion with Bheki Peterson at 19h30 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. See for more festival information or 031 260 2506 or

    Ngugi wa Thiong'o
    Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan writer of Gikuyu descent, began a very
    successful career writing in English before turning to work almost
    entirely in his native Gikuyu. In his 1986 Decolonising the Mind, his
    farewell to English, Ngugi describes language as a way people have not
    only of describing the world, but of understanding themselves. For him,
    English in Africa is a cultural bomb that continues a process of
    erasing memories of pre-colonial cultures and history and as a way of
    installing the dominance of new, more insidious forms of colonialism.
    Writing in Gikuyu, then, is Ngugi's way not only of harkening back to
    Gikuyu traditions, but also of acknowledging and communicating their
    present. Ngugi is not concerned primarily with universality, though
    models of struggle can always move out and be translated for other
    cultures, but with preserving the specificity of his individual groups.
    In a general statement, Ngugi points out that language and culture are
    inseparable, and that therefore the loss of the former results in the
    loss of the latter:

    [A] specific culture is not transmitted through language in its
    universality, but in its particularity as the language of a specific
    community with a specific history. Written literature and orature are
    the main means by which a particular language transmits the images of
    the world contained in the culture it carries.
    Language as communication and as culture are then products of each
    other. . . . Language carries culture, and culture carries, particularly
    through orature and literature, the entire body of values by which we
    perceive ourselves and our place in the world. . . . Language is thus
    inseparable from ourselves as a community of human beings with a
    specific form and character, a specific history, a specific relationship
    to the world. (15-16)

    Aside from Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi has written several novels in
    English: Weep Not, Child, A Grain of Wheat, The River Between, and
    Petals of Blood, as well as a memoir of the time he spent detained by
    the Kenyan government-- Detained. Other works include his essays,
    collected in Homecoming, the short story collection, Secret Lives, and
    the plays The Black Hermit and The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (with Micere
    Mugo). Since turning to Gikuyu, Ngugi has written the play I Will Marry
    When I Want (with Ngugi wa Mirii) and the novels Devil on the Cross and

    Ngugi wa Thiong'o and the politics of language

    From: The Humanist | Date: 3/1/1993 | Author: Pelton, Theodore

    I am concerned with moving the
    centre . . . from its assumed
    location in the West to a multi-plicity
    of spheres in an the cultures
    of the world. {This} will
    contribute to the freeing of world cultures from the
    restrictive ways of nationahsm, class, race, and gender.
    In this sense I am an unrepentant universalist. For
    I believe that whlee retaining its roots in regional and
    national individuality, true humanism with its universal
    reaching out, can flower among the peoples of
    the earth . . . .
    - Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Moving the Centre:

    The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms
    The name Ngugi wa Thiong'o may be less recognizable to American
    audiences than those of Nobel Prize-winning African writers Nadine
    Gordimer and Wole Soyinka or even Nigerian novehst Chinua Achebe. And
    yet, the life and work of Ngugi provide an excellent starting point for
    people who wish to achieve some awareness of the many inter-related
    dilemmas - cultural, political, linguistic, developmental - that beset
    an entire continent of people and yet remain obscure even for the vast
    majority of educated Americans. In fact, Ngugi - the author of 19 books
    of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and children's literature - is as
    important today as any other single literary figure in understanding the
    problems of post, colonial Africa.

    Ngugi wa Thiong'o was born James Ngugi in 1938 in Limuru, Kenya. In
    1967, at the age of 29, Ngugi - already the author of three critically
    acclaimed novels - began an address to the Fifth General Assembly of the
    Presbyterian Church of East Africa by shocking his audience. I am not a
    man of the church, he stated. I am not even a Christian. Ngugi went
    on to censure the church for its role in the colonizing of his native
    land. At the end of the speech, a quavering old man approached the front
    of the auditorium, shaking a cane and denouncing Ngugi for blasphemy.
    And you are a Christian, the man rather absurdly insisted. Your name,
    James, is a Christian name. Perhaps as a result of this encounter, the
    next novel James Ngugi published bore his new Africanized name, Ngugi wa
    Thiong'o, formed by joining his mother's and father's family names. It
    is the name he has used ever since.

    Thus, to approach Ngugi the writer, one must also confront this
    carefully cultivated mythic presence. Ngugi sees himself not just as a
    writer but also as a revolutionary continuing the fight against Western
    imperialism - particularly the sophisticated form of economic imperialsm
    that, he argues, has replaced traditional colonialism in his country. In
    his first three novels, Weep Not, Child (1964), The River Between
    (1965), and A Grain of Wheat (1967), he set out to develop a national
    literature for Kenya in the immediate wake of that nation's liberation
    from British rule. Setting his novels' plots against such historic
    events as the Mau Mau uprising and the subsequent day of Kenyan
    independence (or Uhuru) in 1963, Ngugi sought to create and establish
    historical legends for a nation less than half a decade old.

    Ngugi was firm in his denunciation of any compromise with British
    colonialism - so much so, in fact, that his personality and radicalism
    have become as important to his stature among African writers as his
    works. Stories of Ngugi's fiery literary and political activism now form
    a kind of oral literature among students of contemporary African
    culture. Ngugi himself has launched a second career telling these
    stories in subsequent nonfiction books, as well as in lectures and
    readings across Europe and North America.

    One of the most famous of these stories concerns his experiences with
    the Kamiriithu theater project. Ngugi had been persuaded by the
    villagers in Kamiriithu, where he lived while teaching at the nearby
    University of Nairobi, to begin working with the local theater group on
    literacy projects. Since many of the villagers didn?t speak Enghsh - the
    language of the former colonial administration, in which Ngugi had
    written his first four novels - and since he had an interest in
    exploring the traditions of pre-colonial African expression, Ngugi
    decided to write and produce a play in his own regional language, Gikuyu.

    This was a bold initiative. Until 1970, theater in Kenya had been
    monopolized by the Kenyan National Theatre, a British-based company that
    produced largely Western plays, in English, with British actors. The
    Kenyan National Theatre had also altered the traditional space of
    African theater from a less formalized outdoor setting to a more formal
    and Westernized indoor one. Ngugi was interested in opening up the
    theater to the peasantry again; he wanted to make it not just an
    isolated aesthetic event for the cultural elite but part and parcel of
    the . . . daily and seasonal life of the community, as song and ritual
    had once been in the Kenyan countryside.

    The play which resulted from Ngugi's experiments with the Kamiriithu
    Theatre, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), was wildly
    popular. Drawing from the experiences of theater participants who had
    been involved in the events of the time depicted - one man who made fake
    guns for the play had actually made real guns for the rebels - Ngugi
    allowed the audience themselves to feel a vital part of the artistic
    creation. The Kenyan government, however, was not as enthusiastic; it
    withdrew the license that allowed the gathering at the theater. Ngugi
    was arrested at the end of 1977 and spent the whole of 1978 in a
    maximum security prison, detained without even the doubtful benefit of a
    trial, as he noted in his book Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of
    Language in African Literature. Later attempts by others to resurrect
    the theater led first to a government ban on theatrical activities in
    the area and later to the razing of the open-air theater itself.

    In cell 16 of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Ngugi began to write his
    fifth novel - and his first in Gikuyu. He had been raised as a speaker
    of the language despite attempts by the British colonial administration
    to install English as its language of instruction in Kenya (in the
    schools Ngugi attended, children were punished if they were caught
    speaking Gikuyu on the grounds). Until 1978, all of Ngugi's works had
    been written in English, but now he desired not the international
    audience English afforded but the local one reachable only through
    Gikuyu. This proved to be a formidable challenge; although British
    missionaries had developed a written form of the language in order to
    make the Bible more widely available to this audience, there was no
    formal literature written in Gikuyu, and native speakers were punished
    for attempts to write secular works in the language. By writing a novel,
    Ngugi was now stretching this written language system beyond any
    previous test, especially since it required him to standardize written
    Gikuyu and make it more accurately reflect the way native speakers
    practiced it.

    As it turned out, an even more immediate challenge for Ngugi was how to
    actuafly write a book in prison when he was denied access to writing
    paper except for the purpose of making a confession. Ngugi solved this
    problem by writing on toilet paper - a seemingly impossible undertaking,
    but as Ngugi explained in Decolonizing the Mind: Toilet paper at Kamiti
    was meant to punish prisoners. So it was very coarse. But what was bad
    for the body was good for the pen.

    This novel, Caitaani Mutharabainin (Devil on the Cross), was hugely
    popular, finding an audience even among the illiterate; it led, among
    other things, to the development of professional readers, who sat in
    bars and read aloud to the clientele until a key passage, at which point
    they would stop and make sure their glasses were refilled before they
    continued the story. But after selling as well as any Englis-language
    novel ever published in Kenya, Devil on the Cross was banned by the
    government. A subsequent novel written in Gikuyu, Matigari, was
    published in that language by Heinemann of London but was seized upon
    arrival in Kenya; in fact, Ngugi's translation of this novel into
    English is the only version legally available in Kenya today. Ngugi now
    lives in exile; he has taught at Yale University and Amherst College and
    was recently appointed professor of comparative literature and
    performance studies at New York University.

    Why, the reader may be wondering at this point, did Ngugi's work so
    consistently run afoul of the Kenyan government? Ngugi contends that it
    was his choice of Gikuyu, more than any other single factor, which led
    both to his imprisonment and to his subsequent exile. A reader
    unfamiliar with African literature might be puzzled by this. Why
    wouldn't the Kenyan authorities wish to permit literary works written in
    an indigenous African language? One would think that the government of
    an independent African state, nearly 30 years after Uhuru, would seek
    both to champion its own languages as evidence of its cultural
    independence from the West and to celebrate its successful struggle
    against tyranny - in this case, the Mau Mau uprising which began its
    guerrilla war against Britain in 1952.

    It is important to remember here that Kenya, like many other African
    states, is a nation whose boundaries were artificially drawn in Europe.
    Although the Kenyan government has never officially explained why Ngugi
    was detained, we can see in this an initial reason for its actions.
    Kenya relies upon English as a unifying force; the citizens of that
    country are in the paradoxical position of having as their only common
    language the one spoken by their former oppressors. Nor is this
    situation peculiar to Kenya; Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe has written
    of this problem in Africa in general, and in his article The Role of
    the Writer in a New Nation, published in a 1964 issue of Nigeria
    Magazine, he made clear his own opposition to the use of African
    languages for African literature:

    It is not that I underrate their importance. But since
    I am considering the role of the writer in building a
    new nation I wish to concentrate on those who write
    for the whole nation whose audience cuts across tribe
    or clan. And these, for good or ill, are writers in

    Achebe has since modified his position, saying that he admires those
    writers who use African languages for their works but remains adamant
    about the use of English in his own. And it is important to remember
    that Achebe's credentials as a champion of literary Africanicity are
    impeccable. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, is probably the
    best-known African novel in the United States, and one that consciously
    seeks to show, in Achebe's words, that African peoples did not hear of
    culture for the first time from Europeans; that their societies were not
    mindless but frequently had a philosophy of great depth and value and
    beauty, that they had poetry, and, above all, they had dignity.
    Moreover, Achebe's position on the use of European languages is more in
    keeping with the feelings of most African writers than Ngugi's.

    Thus, the issue of which language should be used to compose a truly
    African contemporary literature is murky at best. Ngugi steadfastly
    maintains that writing in African languages is a necessary step toward
    cultural identity and independence from centuries of European
    exploitation. But, as critic David Westley has noted, the problem is
    historically complex: as a strategy to maintain apartheid - by
    definition the separation of defined racial groups - south Africa for
    many years encouraged African,language manuscripts, under the theory
    that the resulting problems of communication would make it harder for
    various groups to band together and collectively protest government

    Of course, discussions of language alone neglect the all-important issue
    of class, an issue to which Ngugi continually returns. The masses of
    peasants and workers in Kenya are largely illiterate in English, and it
    is precisely these people from whom the government wishes to keep
    Ngugi's writings. The reason is a simple one: Ngugi is an explicit and
    unabashed Marxist, and his works recall the revolutionary spirit of the
    Mau Mau rebellion which convinced the English to relinquish control of

    A little history is necessary here. While the origins of the term are
    controversial, Mau Mau seems to have originally been a British term to
    describe the small bands of guerrillas which sought to resist the
    domination of British settlers in the 1950s. At that time, the Mau Maus
    did not constitute an actual national movement. The British settlers,
    however, grew increasingly worried about their tenuous hold on the
    country; only 1 percent of the population, they nonetheless controlled
    all the best farmland in Kenya. Taking advantage of a change in colonial
    administration, the settlers began spreading horror stories of a
    nationwide revolution in the offing. The authorities responded with a
    crackdown; gradually, however, the measures taken - illegal detentions,
    the razing of villages, and the imposition of a 24-hour curfew had the
    ironic effect of provoking more and more people, particularly Gikuyu, to
    join the guerrilla bands.

    Soon, the tiny force that the British tried to extinguish became a
    substantial guerrilla army (in Gikuyu, The Land and Freedom Army). The
    national state of emergency that was supposed to last several weeks
    lasted for seven years; for four of these years, the so-called Mau Mau
    rebels fought a guerrilla war against British rule. Eventually, the
    British defeated this army, killing its leader, Dedan Kimathi, and
    establishing prison camps to rehabilitate captured rebels. In their
    attempts to make these prisoners confess their allegiance to Mau Mau (a
    step in the rehabilitation process), prison officials practiced horrible
    tortures - twisting mens' testicles, punching prisoners into
    incoherence, sometimes whipping them to death. When the British
    government itself, thousands of miles away, learned what was being
    carried out in its name, it decided to follow a new policy in Kenya and
    readied the country for independence.

    However, the independence Britain had in mind was not the same as that
    which the Land and Freedom Army had fought for. If independence was to
    be granted, the British wished to yield control to a government they had
    themselves trained and installed - one that could be counted on to
    protect the landed interests in the nation. Thus, the colonial
    administration stepped down and a neocolonial administration -
    answerable not to the Kenyan people but to the economic interests that
    still retained actual control of the country - took its place. The
    Kenyan rebels returning from jail found, in the words of Anthony Howarth
    and David Koff in their 1973 documentary Black Man's Country, a nation
    that they had helped create, but which they had no place in.

    Ngugi asserts that the Kenyan goverrunent - and other neocolonial
    administrations like it in Africa - are fronts for U.S., led
    imperialism, a phrase he returns to again and again. He continually
    reminds us that the world is and always has been a linked unit, that the
    rich - be they nations or individuals - did not get that way on their
    own, but profited by the labor of the poor. Over the last 400 years,
    Ngugi said at a recent conference at Yale University, the developments
    in the West have not just been the result of internal social dynamics
    but also of the West's relationship with Africa, Asia, and South
    America. The so-called First World's privileged position did not come
    about simply by means of superior technical ingenuity or managerial
    skills (much as we like to laud ourselves for these things); it began
    with the stolen labor of slavery and continued with the enforced labor
    of colonial governments, working hand in hand with multinational

    In sum, Ngugi argues, if today a nation enjoys wealth - particularly
    great wealth, as we do in the United States - it is directly linked to
    exploitation somewhere else in the world. This is why the Kenyan
    government, acting as the proxy of Western investment, will not tolerate
    the widespread dissemination of a revolutionary message by a fiercely
    committed Marxist who is also national hero (in 1964, Ngugi published
    the first novel in English by an East African), through a populist
    medium like drama or through structures designed to empower workers
    (written literature read aloud to the illiterate). In Decolonizing the
    Mind, Ngugi describes a revealing example of the type of self-discovery
    which occurred during his rehearsals of Ngaahica Ndeenda:

    I remember for instance how one group who worked
    in a particular department at the nearby Bata shoe
    factory sat down to work out the process and quantity
    of their exploitation in order to explain it all to
    those of us who had never worked in a factory. Within
    a single day, they would make shoes to the value of
    all he monthly wages for the entire work force of
    three thousand. . . . For whom were they working for
    the other twenty-nine days? They calculated what
    of what they produced went to wear and tear of the
    machinery and for the repayment initial capital, and
    because the company had been there since 1938 they
    assumed that the initial investment had been repaid
    a long time ago. To whom did the rest go? To the
    owners in Canada.

    At a time when African governments do not wish to alienate large lender
    nations, such rhetoric represents a real threat to any neocolonialist
    regime. As Ngugi himself puts it:

    A writer who tries to communicate the message of
    revolutionary unity and hope in the languages of the
    people becomes a subversive character. It is then that
    writing in African languages becomes a subversive or
    treasonable offence with such a writer facing possibilities
    of prison, exile, or even death. For him there
    are no national accolades, no new year honors, only
    abuse and slander and innumerable lies from the
    mouths of the armed power of a ruling minority.

    Ngugi's ear of imprisonment seems to have a marked impact on his
    writing. As he notes in Detained: A Prison Writer's Diary, he found
    himself analyzing the purposes of detention itself:

    Political detention, not disregarding its punitive
    aspects, serves a deeper, exemplary ritual symbolism.
    If they can break such patriot, if they can make him
    come out of detention crying I am sorry for all my
    sins, such an unprincipled about-turn would confirm
    the wisdom of the ruling clique in its division of the
    populace into the passive innocent millions and the
    disgruntled subversive few. The confession and its
    corollary, Father, forgive us our sins, becomes a
    cleansing ritual for all the past and current repressive
    deeds of such neocolonial regime.

    But Ngugi abjured the cleansing ritual. He is determined to keep the
    past alive, and Detained i

    Wolpe Lecture: Taking up the cudgels to deepen democracy
    Fatima Meer February 22 2007

    Taking up the cudgels to deepen democracy In this excerpt from her Harold Wolpe Memorial lecture at the UKZN Centre for Civil Society, Prof Fatima Meer calls for a South African social forum

    Those who are ruling us have usurped power. They are incapable of
    establishing equality or democracy. Who, then, will establish this

    You will find two communities in the world today, divided against each
    other. One is the community of governments and the capitalists of the
    world, which met recently in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic

    The other community is civil society. But many of us in civil society
    have been converted into vote banks and consumers for the other community.

    Delivering his Budget speech, Trevor Manuel was ebullient as ever, and
    all we heard about were billions and billions of rands that we had
    helped to save. And then there was this pittance for those on social grants.

    There was so much self-congratulation in that house of parliament.

    We have hundreds of organisations throughout the country, maybe even
    thousands. What we lack is the co-ordination of these organisations, so
    that we can form a South African Social Forum to connect to the World
    Social Forum.

    South Africa is a microcosm of the world. Previously discrimination was
    based on colour, now it is based on class. The poor are blamed. There
    are all sorts of myths that radiate all over the place, because the
    media is not in our hands.

    It is up to us to liberate ourselves. They are not going to give it to
    us. As a young girl I learnt that freedom is not presented to you on a

    We have to struggle for it, we have to fight for it. You know those
    institutions which have usurped power in South Africa and the world: the
    United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the
    World Trade Organisation.

    All these organisations are structured to exploit us and the rest of the

    We lived throughout colonisation, a pernicious system. It transferred
    the resources of Africa, Latin America and Asia to Europe and North
    America. They transferred the populations they wanted, as slaves and
    indentured labourers.

    Replacing colonisation is a new form of domination, ravaging and
    destroying the world: globalisation.

    Those in charge cannot tolerate a moral order. They have broken the link
    in our two-dimensional humanity: body and soul, material and spirit.

    They have completely destroyed the idea of the spirit or soul. It does
    not consume, and they cannot profit through that part of humanity. They
    concentrate on science and technology, which they develop to increase
    their exploitation of our universe.

    The activism of civil society is not something that began recently. It
    started in the 19th century and, here in Durban, Mahatma Gandhi later
    developed the strategy of satyagraha, the struggle for truth.

    The challenge we face is enormous, and so we must establish a South
    African Social Forum, along the lines of the World Social Forum, which
    has already held so many successful summits and meetings, roughly 18 in
    other African countries.

    As far as the existing Social Movements Indaba network is concerned, I
    would hope they would partner with all our movements to form a social forum.

    Community organisations founded the last bastion of the fight against
    apartheid, the United Democratic Front.

    The Congress of the People was authored by similar organisations coming
    together, as was the Freedom Charter, which was the basis of our

    The challenges before us are enormous. If we accept the responsibility
    of organising democracy in our country, we have to work out solutions
    collectively. We have the intellectual capacity. More important, we are
    motivated. We as civil society are also the repository of the moral
    order. Together we will overcome.

     Tribute to Harold Wolpe plus links to selected seminar programmes
     A Tribute to Harold Wolpe 
     The Wolpe Trust 
     UKZN History Seminar Series 
     Articulations: A Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture Collection 
     WISER Seminar Series 
     Online Audio and Video Recordings: UC Berkeley Lectures and Events  
      Philosophy Seminars 

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