Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Christians under attack in the Middle East

17 January 2012

Rhoda Kadalie asks why Ronnie Kasrils & Co. are so mute on the matter

Christians are under attack in the Middle East. Now Nigeria has also entered the fray with Islamic militants, Boko Haram, fanning the flames of ethno-religious conflict. Detonating bombs at church sites in Abuja, over the past Christmas holidays, killing and injuring hundreds of Christians, they are doing their damndest to create an Islamic state. In their mission, they continued with bomb and gun attacks at Christians in the North Eastern Yobe and Borno states recently.

In Egypt, 21 Coptic Christians died in a bomb blast as worshippers emerged from the New Year's Mass in Alexandria, Saturday Dec 31st. Although the Minister of the Interior blamed the blast on Al Qaeda, local citizens blamed Militant Muslim groups for inciting religious violence. With the Muslim Brotherhood firmly in control, Egypt's Arab Spring is set to become the Winter of Discontent for Christians and those yearning for a truly democratic state.

In a country of 80 million people, 90% Muslims and 8% Christians, the majority feels threatened by a few Christians who wish to worship freely. The newly elected Military Council and their military courts have allegedly convicted more civilians than were convicted under dictator, Hosni Mubarak, over the past 30 years.

Leader in the pack, Iran has set the precedent for persecuting Christians, having had extensive experience with the Bahai's and the Kurds. For some years the Iranian authorities have been arresting those suspected of evangelising and converting people from Islam to Christianity. Targeting religious holidays for maximum effect, both Egypt and Iran are escalating the conflict by terrorising bloggers, prohibiting the distribution of Bibles and the attendance of mass in Farsi. With only 1% of Iranians classified Christian, Iran is increasingly making their lives a living hell in the country of their birth driving many of them out. The ineffectual United Nations claims that about half of the Christian population has fled the country.

With the 2008 Bill that mandates "that all male apostates be put to death and all female apostates be imprisoned for life", the survival prospects of Christians are slim. Worse, Ayatollah Khamenei declared house churches a threat to Iran's national security and one of its governors called missionaries a "cultural invasion of the enemy."

Ditto Iraq. The numbers of Christians have declined from around 10% in the middle of the 20th century to 5% around 2000, to 3% (800 000) in 2008. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled to surrounding countries and the entire Jewish population has left. Tolerance of Christians is dwindling in a country where Christians have lived for more than 2000 years.

The terrorist bloodbath that killed 62 Christians and wounded 60 on October 2010 at the Our Lady of Deliverance Catholic Church in Baghdad was a continuation of the Jihadi's mission to "exterminate Iraqi Christians" described as an "obscene nest of the polytheists [infidels]".

The international human rights community is conspicuously silent about this genocide. Anything remotely smacking of criticism against Muslims propels the Obama administration, the European Union, the United Nations, the Global Elders, and the Left into action.

Not so with Christians and the question is why. This same group does not hesitate to single out Israel for condemnation and when one country is singled out for censure, as is routinely done then the only explanation can be anti-Semitism. Otherwise how do we explain the double standards? 

When Syria's Bashar Al Asad declared war against his own citizens killing thousands, the Russell Tribunal gathered in Cape Town to judge whether or not Israel is an apartheid state. Just as Jimmy Kruger was left unmoved by Steve Biko's brutal death, so the atrocities in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria leave the world's human rights watchdogs cold and mute.

They simply cannot deal with a situation that contradicts their "West versus East" human rights template. Their imperialism paradigm cannot deal with human rights atrocities emanating from post-colonial and Arab countries.

The Global Elders are eerily silent, not to speak of our self-appointed human rights gate-keepers - Zwelinzima Vavi, Zackie Achmat, Ronnie Kasrils, Yasmin Sooka, Archbishop Tutu, Professors Steven Friedman, Farid Esack, Andrew Nash, Judge Dennis Davis, and others.

The tyrannical suppression of the freedom of expression, religion and association of Christians in Muslim countries has escaped their censure. This sanitised form of anti-Semitism feeds into the bipolar view of the "West against the Rest". Like Turkey, they will come to regret what they wished for. It no longer has any influence over its former ally, Syria, as it butchers its civilians!

This article first appeared in Die Burger.

Who is our Money Going to?

3 January 2012

Last month, the South African Revenue Services (SARS) demanded that I pay an extra R17 000 in taxes. I resent it deeply given our politicians’ ravenous feeding at the trough and the endless deluge of corruption. Luxurious presidential and ministerial houses, lavish lifestyles, expensive cars, exorbitant salaries and undeserving perks that go with public life have become customary. Julius Malema epitomises this lifestyle. Never having done an honest day’s work in his life, he owns a farm, is building a mansion for over R6 million in Sandton, and he has a whopping bank balance. Bankrolled by some of the ANC’s elite, his other sources of wealth must surely come from our taxes via the procurement process.

I have written to the Treasury asking them to give me a valid reason why I should pay in this amount given that a sizeable portion of the national budget goes into the private pockets of connected individuals. I need an explanation from the Minister of Finance why I need to comply with this demand.

SA is a developing nation and despite an increase in tax collection (R599bn in 2009/10, an R8.4bn increase on the previous year), government has been everything but prudent with the management of the country’s financial assets. Total tax revenue is made up of personal income tax (R205,2 billion), value-added tax (VAT) (R147,9 billion) and company income tax (R134,9 billion). In other words, individuals are heavily taxed vis a vis companies and vis a vis the appalling services we get in return. In the meantime, government is living it up and we are simply failing to keep government consumption at affordable levels. The widespread abuse of power, greed, corruption, misappropriation and mismanagement of tax revenues fly in the face of our constitutional obligations which demand accountability, transparency and public scrutiny.

The fights around public office are so vicious because ANC members know that in running the country they have ownership and control of the economy for their own gain. It is this entitlement that will run SA into the ground. Billions wasted on the arms deal, millions on the travel scandal, hundreds of millions on Bheki Cele’s Police Headquarters, not to speak of the investigation of 20 SABC employees accused of R2.7bn in tender and procurement rigging, leave us reeling just to comprehend it all. Then there is the building of 33 police stations to the value of R330 million without going through due process and the allegations that police officers were involved in their construction. The Department of Public Works itself is a nest of vipers and many of their officials have their hands in the cookie jar.

Chapter 13 of the Constitution spells out very clearly the role of the Treasury and its obligation to “ensure both transparency and expenditure control.” The Treasury may also “stop the transfer of funds to an organ of state if that organ of state commits a serious or persistent material breach of those measures.” Government is in breach of its own Constitution for supporting organs of state that have literally stolen and misappropriated state funds. Instead of an equitable, efficient, and well accounted for tax system meant to achieve economic growth and the development of the poor, the Treasury remains a cash cow for the deployed cadres who will milk it until it is dry.

“Throw Them All Out” is a book my daughter sent me for Christmas. It details how American “politicians and their friends get rich off insider stock tips, land deals, and cronyism that would send the rest of us to prison.” Similarly, our deployed cadres belong in jail. Few would be left to govern!

A Christmas Story of Hope

20 December 2011

Recently I interviewed 15 young people for a website administrator’s post.  All except one had an interesting story and were highly employable. My selection committee found it difficult to let go of the three short-listed candidates. I approached a funder asking whether they would sponsor the three to work as a website team and so create jobs for young people to avail their services to upgrade the websites of NGOs. They turned down my request, but then I sat with the three candidates.

Although I had no funding to employ them, I would not let go of them. Each brought a different expertise and talent to website management but one in particular was extremely fascinating. Not very polished in the interview, we were sceptical about his qualifications until we put a computer in front of him. A working class township boy with basic education in web development, he astounded us with his understanding of website construction.

Irresponsibly, I employed these three in the hope of finding funding for them. A week later, Gary called me to his desk to show me how he had upgraded one of the sites of a popular bus company. I asked him why a bus company and his response was “coz I love busses and all my life I travelled by bus.” “All my life I have been fascinated by the history of the company, how they operate, who the drivers, inspectors, and regulators are and I desperately would like to work there. But every time I go to the depot to show them what I can do, they chase me away.”

“Do you know that I know the boss of that company?” said I, and would you like me to meet with him?”  “Whatttt?” responded Gary incredulously. And so, to help him achieve his dream, I contacted the boss and immediately got an appointment. Needless to say, Gary was in heaven.

Sitting around the boardroom with the head honchos of the company Gary plied his wares showing them how he could reconstruct, upgrade and improve the site and work out a better client interface for the company. He was so excited that I needed to rein him in at one point when he said “you see you come to work by car so you do not know what your services are like.” “I know because I am part of a family of commuters who meet every day at the bus stop, we sit at the back of the bus and we are known as the kombuis, where we gossip and trade stories. Even if we are a few minutes late, the driver will wait for us and every year we collect a sum of money as a Christmas box for the driver.”

“Wie sou kon dink dat so a bus-bevokte laaitie van die Cape Flats sulke bree kennis van die company sou he?” the boss and I commented. “Gee hierdie kind ‘n drie maande kontrak en dan  sien ons watter diens hy vir ons kan lewer.”

Had I not employed this young man and had I not tried to create opportunities for him, he would be at home (one of the high unemployment statistics for youth between the ages of 15-24), in an area on the Cape Flats that has no internet connectivity. One of Cape Town’s renowned patrons of the arts, donated money for a laptop for Gary; another funder donated a small amount to employ Gary and the world is his oyster.

Government and the private sector should not underestimate the ability of NGOs to create jobs. They need to support us generously.

Die ANC maak bruin mense weer slawe

7 December 2011

Die skulppuin en visvangtoestelle van die Khoisan, wat duisende jare lank uit die see geleef het, is steeds oral aan die Kaapse kus te vinde. Opeenvolgende geslagte van hul afstammelinge het op dieselfde manier ’n bestaan gemaak.

Dié leefwyse word toenemend bedreig. Die direksies van die blinklyf-ondernemings wat die leeue-aandeel van die beskikbare viskwotas verorber, is topswaar gelaai met die ANC se bekende “Groot Groentes” – ’n beskrywing wat deur die Kongolese gebruik word vir Afrika-politici wat lustig soos varke by die trog vreet.

Die ANC se werkwyse in hierdie opsig is meedoënloos. In ’n onlangse onthulling deur die Sunday ­Times, onder die opskrif “Skuitlose ANC-winkelier kry viskwota vir twee ton”, is berig: “’n Senior ANC-politikus is in die spervuur vir hulpverlening aan ’n partylid om ’n kwota vir twee ton kreef te bekom, hoewel sy nie eens ’n visserskuit besit nie. Maria Brown, wat in ’n tuinhuisie in Darling woon, het die kwota ingepalm met die hulp van Maxwell Moss, voormalige ANC-LP en tans die party se hoof van transformasie in die Wes-Kaap. Die kwota is vroeër toegeken aan altesame 197 vissermanne en -vroue.”

Dit was nie verrassend dat amptenare van die departement van landbou, bosbou en visserye dié toedrag van sake verdedig het eerder as om hul loopbaan in die gedrang te bring nie. Me. Shaheen Moolla, gewese direkteur van mariene en kusbestuur, beskou egter dié toekenning in ’n ander lig: “Dit is absoluut skandalig. Dis ’n kwessie van watter vark eerste by die trog is.” (Sunday Times, 14November)

Maar dit is nie net die bruin mense wat op die see uitvaar wie se bestaan deur die ANC bedreig word nie – ook die bestaan van diegene wat die vis verwerk, word bedreig. Me. Lumka Yengeni, voormalige voorsitter van die arbeidsportefeuljekomitee, het in Oktober teen die bestuurders van Weskus-visfabrieke en vakbondlede uitgevaar en hulle van rassisme beskuldig omdat hulle meer bruin as swart vroue aanstel – ongeag die feit dat dit die demografiese werklikheid van die omgewing weerspieël.

Nadat sy ure laat vir ’n byeenkoms opgedaag het, het Yengeni geweier om ’n vakbondlid die kans te gee om op haar woede-uitbars­ting te reageer. “Moenie praat nie, hou jou smoel,” het sy hom toegesnou. In antwoord op die vraag of sy ’n lys van haar besware kan verskaf, was haar reaksie dat sy nie daar is om “liefdesbriefies” te skryf nie. In ’n latere brief aan die Weekend Argus het Yengeni gesê haar optrede is geregverdig omdat arbeidswette ras as maatstaf vir indiensneming gebruik.

Ook in Oktober is Yengeni se punt met wrede duidelikheid tuisgebring deur die departement van korrektiewe dienste. Luidens ’n berig van Llewellyn Prince in Rapport van 23 Oktober (“Wit, bruin en Indiër benadeel”) het die kommissaris van korrektiewe dienste, mnr. Tom Moyane, instruksies gegee dat die diensstaat saamgestel moet wees uit 79,3% swart werknemers, 9,3% wittes, 8% bruines en 2,5% Indiërs. In ’n brief aan die provinsiale hoofde van die departement het Moyane dit duidelik gemaak dat hulle die gevolge sal dra indien die beleid nie deurgevoer word nie. In die Wes-Kaap is die praktiese gevolg hiervan dat geen bruin mens in die huidige boekjaar aangestel of bevorder mag word nie. Bruin mense word andermaal tot ’n laer stand verneder – slawe wie se stand in die lewe nie deur verdienste, potensiaal, vermoë of toewyding bepaal word nie, maar deur velkleur. Vir die apartheidsregime was bruin mense te donker; vir die ANC is hulle nie donker genoeg nie.

 Dit is die party wat maar te gretig is om die edikte van Julius Malema toe te pas, soos dat “minderhede” weggehou moet word van die “ekonomiese bondels” – ’n eufemisme vir die trog!

Dit is geen wonder nie dat bruin mense reageer met die enigste mag wat hulle in ’n de facto-eenpartystaat het – die geskooldes emigreer toenemend en ontneem die land broodnodige vaardighede. Ander reageer by die stembus. Bruin mense moet ligloop vir politici wat voor die plaaslike verkiesing geskenke aandra, maar hulle agterna die rug toekeer.

En, terloops, sal die minister van finansies, mnr. Pravin Gordhan, asseblief verduidelik hoekom die voorsitter van die Nasionale Jeugontwikkelingsagentskap R1,8 miljoen verdien, en hoekom R29 miljoen geoormerk is vir ’n konferensie vir ’n klomp halfgeletterdes sodat hulle op belastingbetalers se koste kan fuif eerder as om te sorg dat hulle geskool word? Met daardie geld kan minstens 500000 werksgeleenthede geskep word. Is daar ’n grootbaas wat bereid is om die ANC-regering aan te vat omdat hy belastingbetalers se geld gebruik om die party te bevorder?

- Die Burger

The thing about Politics

6 December 2011

I am frequently asked why I do not consider going into politics. My stock response is that I have seen far too many of my friends ruined by politics. Perfectly nice people prior to 1994 have become arrogant, pompous, self-serving and narcissistic. Politicians across the spectrum, except for a few, are a horrible lot. One such friend, Yolanda Botha, received a damning editorial in the Argus (30 November 2011) for lying under oath that she had vested interests in a business company that received R50 million contract from the Northern Cape Department of Social Development and in return her house was refurbished at a cost of R1.2m. Worse, she retains her position as chair of Parliament’s Social Development - wait for it - oversight panel, which adds R180 000 to her already exorbitant salary of R800 000.

Botha was a nice woman and one wonders whether there are anymore honourable ANC politicians left. The height of cynicism is the Speaker’s reprimand which yet again reinforces the culture of impunity that has left political corpses strewn all over the place - likeable men and women like Winnie Mandela, Jackie Selebi, Bheki Cele, Mac Maharaj, Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka, Judge Hlophe, Baleka Mbete, Allan Boesak, and Tony Yengeni, to name a few. More generally, the ANC has destroyed swathes of people who should have been in senior positions today to give direction and guidance to aspirant young people. 

Instead young, inexperienced, untrained and incompetent people are governing us and their role models are those at the highest levels of government, even in the judiciary, have been crooks.

 This stranglehold of impunity in the hallowed halls of the legislature must be smashed. Its seeds are deep and were sown with the start of the Arms Deal and entrenched by the Travel Scandal. The most sacred space where the country’s laws are made has been defiled and “moral regeneration” continues to elude a society desperately in need of a moral fabric that will inspire SA’s youth. Regrettably, when the morally degenerate occupies the levers of power, then we have no hope of addressing the challenges of health-care, housing, unemployment and poverty that the country. No wonder SA has declined on Transparency International’s corruption index from 54 in 2010 to 64 in 2011 – worse than Namibia, Rwanda, Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana.

Can we blame some of the cops for being corrupt? Can we blame Home Affairs officials for taking bribes? Can we blame some magistrates and prosecutors for taking chances? 
Political office and the entitlement that goes with it have destroyed wonderful people, many of whom were my friends; we belonged to the same political organisations; we worked at the same university; we frequented the same parties, and so on. Today many who now serve in government, universities, and on corporations view themselves as entitled and despise columnists especially when they become the objects of our critical pens. Those who enter politics as a first step towards wealth and those who have wound up their vested interests with political office and steal from the very poor they profess to serve, harbour resentments towards opinion-makers, so venomous, that one knows they are guilty. The problem is – the fallen still remains mighty. We, the citizens, should dislodge them. 

A pensioner friend of mine is starting the first act of defiance. She told me that she would refuse to pay in any tax demands over and above what she has already contributed this year.  She can no longer take the flagrant abuse of our taxes for personal enrichment and conspicuous consumption. I concur and will join her. Any takers? 

Lost Girls

19 November 2011

A silent epidemic of rape is devouring our young girls in the townships. Lost Girls in South Africa is a documentary currently on circuit, tracing the effects of rape on girl children, their mothers, their families, right through to the ineffectual responses of the police and the courts. Offenders are no longer just fathers, brothers, uncles, and brothers; they are much younger, many of them schoolboys in the neighbourhood, known to the girls. Life is a nightmare for thousands of girls as they grow up in informal settlements and the rural areas, the targets of men and boys who cannot keep their sexual urges under control.

One of the worst aspects of these stories is the collusion between the rapists and their mothers against the raped and their mothers. Exemplifying worst types of complicity, one cannot help but feel enraged at the gross incompetence of an emasculated state that does not care.  

Profiling the lives of Ntombi, Fuzeka, Gretchen and Nozuko, aged from 11 to 13, the documentary exposes the inner trauma suffered by girls, who lose their childhood and become old way before their time. The portrayal of the disruptive effects on their school life, on the relationships between mothers and fathers, and amongst neighbours is wrenching.

Ntombi’s rapists, who are virtually her neighbours, stalk and taunt her while released on bail, knowing full well that the criminal justice system is as futile as the police who routinely fail to maintain their grip on offenders. The terror in her eyes is palpable as she navigates her way from school, to her home, or run errands for her mother. Social workers and the police admit that they are powerless in executing their duties, blaming the courts as much as the courts blame their ineptitude.

Fuzeka who is sexually molested by her father is caught between her distraught mother who must act to stop the abuse but who knows that in doing so, she must leave her home for a shack with no running water and electricity. Happier under horrible conditions, her husband harasses them day and night and daily they have to run the gauntlet of a patriarch who could not cope with a wife who removed from him the source of his sexual terrorism. Fuzeka feels crushed as she has to deal with the guilt of separating her parents as well as tending to a mother riddled with AIDS.

Gretchen who claims that her father molests her while her mother goes out to work at night, seeks the custody of her school until a safe place is found for her. Denying the charges, the father blames his misdemeanours on drugs, refusing to take responsibility for any of his actions. iNozuko lives with the guilt of a father jailed for murdering her rapist. Carrying this burden denies her the space to mourn her own violation.

The most searing scenes in this movie are the predicament these girls face, having to juggle their own survival with dealing with the consequences of disclosing the sexual violations to their parents and the authorities. Robbed of the joy of being children, they are constantly thrown into situations where they are compelled to philosophise about the meaning of life, or whether death is not a better option. As a mother of a young woman, this documentary was hard to watch and it starkly exposed the destruction of the moral fabric of SA. A more appropriate title would be: How SA loses its Girls Every Day!

Inspirational University Lecturers: A Rare Breed, Indeed

8 November 2011

Last week I was privileged to launch the opening of a student photographic exhibition at UCT, entitled Imagining Our Worlds. It was a celebration of what is possible when lecturers inspire their students.

Five post-graduate students in Film and Media, with camera in hand, travelled around the Cape crossing race, class and cultural barriers to understand the world and underworld of the informal economy, others, captured the sub-cultures of those living on the margins, and another tried to portray “the traces of humanity and humans in a context of unbounded nature.”

Coloured, African and White, local and foreign, these students produced an aesthetically pleasing and erudite display of their work, often crossing over into the realms of ethnography, anthropology, and sociology. They all claimed that this course was the highlight of their academic experience at UCT, firstly because their teacher, Paul Weinberg, was the best they had during their entire learning experience. He taught them what he knew about his craft without indulging in theoretical hogwash. “Instructors like Paul are rare. He was committed to sharing his time and sharing himself. Class was like hanging out in a pub...just without booze...lots of laughs.” “He eschews theoretical bullshit; he is refreshing and much of his teaching is experienced-based. He teaches us what he knows, and he knows a helluva lot!”

Is that not how Oxford University’s tutorial system works? Personalised attention and tutelage?

When students are passionate and enthusiastic about their courses, then we should celebrate them; more importantly, we should celebrate the teacher who gets it right. Paul Weinberg is not only a renowned photographer, whose works everyone knows, but he is also an amazing teacher, who as a teacher occupies a role few have the privilege to witness. Two comments capture the essence of who he is: “He embraces all that is South African.” “His work has been against the traffic challenging stereotypes.” Weinberg jolted his students out of the straightjacket of political correctness; he got them to explore the world around them and view life “against the traffic” so to speak. As young adults they have become grounded in their identities – conscious of who they are through discovering the magic of photography. He taught this class to look beneath the surface; to capture the world upside down and on its side, as confirmed by William Allard in “The Photographic Essay”: “I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don't find photographing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges.

Peter-Jon Grove, born in Komaggas, reading a MA in Historical Studies, exhibited a photo-story called Hands and Feet. Asking the question “what is the physical cost of our professions and history upon our person” he portrays the hands and feet of a range of personalities in every nook and cranny of Cape Town. Grove discovers the “in-between worlds” inhabited by people and he reveals, starkly that “the labours ... we undertake leave their marks on us, on our body parts.”

Chiedza Mutizwa-Mangiza from Zimbabwe and Nairobi ventured into the hot-spot of racial tension, Ruyterwacht Caravan Park, capturing the lives of sixteen households of inter-marriage, “each representing a racial group that often sits outside the discourses on poverty.” Her goal was to portray “the changing racial dynamics of inequality in post-apartheid South Africa”, and the result is excellent!

Kayleigh Roos, “too young to understand what the word apartheid meant” revisited some of the places and events captured by iconic struggle photographers in black and white and juxtaposed her photographs with these “to preserve memory and [create] new memories for our generation and those to come.”

Candice Jansen set out to explore Retreat Road, her home ground. It is 3km in length, and as she claims, it is “a sounding board for the nostalgia of its past and aspirations for its future – Retreat Road is the heartbeat of Retreat.”  All her life she walked past those little shops, 134 in total, but it was only in choosing this as an area of exploration with her camera that her eyes opened to what lurks behind the informal economy: economic refugees, weird and wonderful examples of entrepreneurship; people who circumvent red tape, who beat the system, who make money, who make deals, who survive, who make an honest and dishonest living, who go to church and funerals, and so on. Powerfully, she demonstrates that “the goal is not to change your subjects, but for the subject to change the photographer.”

There are many lecturers in our universities who stifle students, who kill their spirit and who even feel threatened by students who ask questions. Weinberg reversed this for his students and succeeded in making his students see the world rather than just look at it.

"Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own." Nikos Kazantzakis