This is the email I sent out yesterday:
I WAS BANNED ON BLACK WEDNESDAY
Today, I awoke to find out that I had been banned by Politicsweb.
Being banned on “Black Wednesday” is more than a little ironic. The centre-right political site, which carries commentary from political parties and commentators, but more often than not, right-wing screeds from the likes of RW Johnson, who once referred to black persons as ‘baboons and monkeys’ on the London Review of Books Blog, and who was subsequently labeled a racist by 73 prominent writers and academics, has banned me from participating in online discussion because of my views on #FeesMustFall.
Following a Cabinet decision, taken on 18 October 1977, the apartheid government, by proclamation under the Internal Security Act, “declared 19 organisations unlawful and apprehended around 70 leading Africans. A number of people were placed under restriction, including Donald Woods who was editor-in-chief at the Daily Dispatch. It also closed down the daily newspaper ‘The World’ and its associated ‘Weekend World’. The actions provoked worldwide shock and protest.”
It is an opportune moment to remember that journalists always run the risk of raising the ire of politicians everywhere and that the fourth estate is under serious threat from growing electronic surveillance, decreasing profitability, rapid changes in the public’s media habits (with the resulting loss of influence), and that South Africa has a unique history when it comes to press censorship.
As a simple banned person, one of hundreds of students banned en masse by the apartheid government during the student revolt of 1987, and who subsequently joined the armed struggle and its organs of struggle the anti-apartheid press, I believe that I have a unique position to comment on the student revolts of our time.
Given the justice system’s contempt for the TRC Act and the constitution, I believe the fallists are completely entitled to be engaging in acts of civil disobedience. Allowing apartheid denial to go unpunished and its perpetrators to escape justice, has resulted in the absurd situation where its victims are unable to seek redress. If some 6000 members of Khulumani are sitting without legal representation, and I myself do not possess an attorney at state expense in a TRC-related case, what hope is there for future acts of reconciliation and the next generation? The generation of today has an important message for the nation’s adults who have forgotten the teargas and rubber bullets of the past.
Insurrection against the apartheid government was always the modus operandi of the struggle press. It is titles such as South, New Nation and Grassroots which carried the banner of defiance and which alongside the Rand Daily Mail, Daily Dispatch and Weekend World need to be remembered and treasured. It is a crying shame that the press of today have turned into nothing more than sycophants of neoliberalism, and that Politicsweb, one of the few online spaces to not close down its comments section, has seen fit to ban me on Black Wednesday.
BUYERS of South African defence industry products last year include sales to countries involved in conflict, in turn the country received weapons and military hardware from nations also involved in conflict zones. The recent wave of student unrest has seen locally produced Nyala APC become a common sight on campuses throughout the country and elsewhere — the issue of the creeping militarisation of education and society in general, is now a problematic raised by students opposed to the use of violence as a means of solving anything.
In the Middle East where the Iraqi government has been fighting Islamist rebels since the fall of Saddam Hussein in the early 2000s, South African sales of combat vehicles to the value of over R160 million and missile launchers were worth just on R44 million. Big spending countries included Saudi Arabia‚ buying around R125 million worth of our vehicles‚ transponders and software — the Saudis are currently in a major war with the Houthis in Yemen and received 100 RSA-made vehicles.
According to a City Press report, South African Police have been deploying water cannons for riot control, imported and produced by Israel, a conflict state involved in an ongoing dispute and competing claims over land. The resulting displacement of peoples has resulted in several Intifadas as well as the Gaza War.
A National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) 2015 report tabled in Parliament earlier this year details arms sales to conflict nations such as Azerbaijan, Burundi, Kenya and Nigeria. South Africa exported R2.7 billion worth of arms last year.The department of defence issued 899 export permits to 53 countries and 649 import permits‚ with a total import value of just over R165 million, were issued.
Azerbaijan which is involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (an ethnic conflict between the Republic of Armenia and Azerbaijan), bought armoured combat vehicles worth R26.6 million, R16.1 million worth of “heavy weapons” as well as “warning equipment” worth R37.2 million.
Burundi, where president Pierre Nkurunziza recently extended his term by another five years and where civil war is raging, bought armoured combat vehicles valued at R44 million from South African suppliers. The selling point is that they are battle tested, by a country which has had its fair share of massacres. South Africa’s military has been involved in several African conflicts, including a fiasco in the Central African Republic and Lesotho.
In addition to armoured combat vehicles worth some R65 million, South Africa also sold R1.28 million worth of artillery, R9.7 million worth of bombs and ammunition valued at R31.8 million to Nigeria, which is currently battling Boko Haram.
In 2014, South Africa’s defence industry exported 326 armoured vehicles (mainly armoured personnel carriers) to nearly two dozen countries, as well as four mine detection vehicles to Iraq. The biggest buyers were Burkina Faso (31 vehicles), Guinea (32 vehicles), Niger (21 vehicles), Senegal (39 vehicles) and the United Arab Emirates (26). These vehicles sales amounted to more than R810 million in 2014.
IN AN admittedly hard-hitting piece, former anti-apartheid activist Jay Naidoo tackles issues of good governance, which he says is our right, not a privilege.
“Our demands for fundamental liberties, encompassing human, labour, gender, sexual orientation, community and land rights” he says “are met by political elites’ concerted push to strangle citizen action through laws, policies, financial restrictions, intimidation and outright violence.”
Typically, Naidoo, like so many activists drawn into the fold of the African National Congress — a party formation which has failed miserably to transform South Africa into an exemplar of good governance — resorts to homilies on the simplistic return to the “rule of law”. The self-same mantra deployed by the security establishment and party insiders targeting students, unleashing violence which he notably criticises, as does commentator Eusebius McKaiser, who warns of the abuse of state security against overzealous students.
Coming twenty years in the aftermath and the anniversary year of the signing into law of the foundation document of the nation — our Bill of Rights — the ‘rule of law’ is anything but. Rather law, and by that I don’t mean all law, has turned into the ‘law of rules’, and thus constitutionalism, has produced nothing more valuable than legal contortionism — a byzantine, professional and well-heeled legal bureaucracy dependent on a superabundance of legal fees, has acted to deny us ordinary citizens our rights — impinging on access to the law, whilst also curbing fundamental freedoms, such as the right to assembly.
As I write this, and speaking as an active participant in the 1987 student revolt against apartheid, I have yet to receive any recognition from Minister Michael Masutha of my right to an attorney at state expense in a TRC-related case (EC19/2015). I therefore have no hesitation in endorsing the campus unrest, reminiscent as it is of the spirit of 1987.
Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” explains why civil disobedience is sometimes necessary to bring light to an unjust law. Similarly, our founder, Nelson Mandela advocated civil disobedience against the unjust laws of the apartheid state. He would probably look on in horror at the growing militarisation of our nation’s campuses, and unlike Naidoo, exhort students to continue their protest action.
So no Mr Naidoo, your easy prescriptions and reliance on NGO statistics are better left to former apartheid functionaries. After twenty years of abuse, we really don’t want your ‘rule of law’, any more than an alcoholic desires a hangover, and surely not each and every law out there.
What we do want, rather and better formulated here, is a citizen’s law. A common legal dispensation which distances itself from the apartheid codex and racist decrees of the past. A common law which recognises that the Bill of Rights is not some ‘carrot on a stick’, nor a two decade long entitlement programme for legal professionals.
And certainly not a mere document serving the sole purpose of cappuccino drinking, robed solicitors earning inflated fees at the Cape bar, nor a get rich quick scheme for portly barristers paying off their third mortgages on holiday homes at Plettenberg Bay, while dining fatuously on sushi and kobe beef, reading De Rebus in the Mall. No Mr Naidoo, the Bill of Rights should rather be considered the very beginning of our law.
Until students return to classes, until citizens themselves are returned to the legal system, as equal partners, fully emancipated and possessed of equal rights, and until the role of lay assessors is expanded, there will be calls to either reform the judiciary, or remove its stifling and overbearing colonial influence from society altogether. One has merely to examine South Africa’s corrupt proxy judge system in which any sizeable law firm is able to dish up an attorney to act on the bench in favour of his or her client, to realise that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, to use a bardic phrase.
In its special hearings into the role of the legal community the TRC found: “part of the reason for the longevity of apartheid was the superficial adherence to ‘rule by law’ by the National Party (NP), whose leaders craved the aura of legitimacy that ‘the law’ bestowed on their harsh injustice.”
The crisis of legitimacy in which South Africa’s legal institutions find themselves today, where ordinary citizens are for the most part excluded, disempowered, often ignored, is both a tragedy and a farce, with the result that law libraries burn on a regular basis, while persons such as Naidoo resort to the self-same platitudes and pseudo-scientific aphorisms associated with the apartheid regime.
Now is the time to revisit our nation’s foundation stone, the Bill of Rights and its democratic values. To reboot the TRC process, to put an end to impunity and to examine the struggle record, and to free students from the scourge of fees once and for all. It is not the time for ideological dissertations that lead nowhere except back to PW Botha, BJ Vorster and HF Verwoerd.
DURING the struggle I was active on campus. Following the campus unrest at UCT, similar in many respects to the current youth revolt against the system, I enrolled in a course in environmental geoscience whilst also studying politics. It became clear the way forward was to ‘politicise ecology and ecologise politics’, in fact this was the slogan of a small reading circle and green group back then, by the innocuous sounding name of Cape Town Ecology Group (CTEG).
CTEG went on to co-host the very first National Conference on Environment and Development, held at UWC in 1991, in conjunction with Ebrahim Rasool’s World Council on Religion and Peace.
Following the tumultuous year of 1988, and the terrible month of August in which the End Conscription Campaign, along with its duel campaigns against the war on the border, and alternative community service in the township, was banned, there arose, another green group by the name of Earthlife Africa. Initially a club from Wits had met the very same month in Yeoville, following the debacle, with the key person being Peter Lukey. At the invitation of fellow CTEG member Alfrieda Strauss, I attended a hastily convened meeting of several lefties and war resisters in a commune in Observatory, where Peter was in attendance. He had come down to Cape Town hoping to launch the movement nationally, and though aware of the activities of CTEG, wanted to take the campaign to a different level.
It was thus that I found myself traveling in my volksie to Dal Josaphat to attend the inaugural congress of ELA the very next year, and the birth of an environmental justice movement, drawn from conservation groups, botanical societies and the ragtag remnants of the ECC, and whose members were predominantly white bearded males, all well-educated, middle class and armed with degrees, mostly from the natural and social sciences. ELA provided an outlet for banned individuals, and a cover for NUSAS affiliates and persons struggling under the whip of the security branch.
I had just launched the first edition of Kagenna Magazine, which was to become an eco-anarchist zine and was still then a bit of a campus rag, and had embarked on a furious letter writing campaign around the globe, calling for an end to apartheid, imploring publishers for assistance in my publishing project and networking on a variety of pressing issues. The artsy cover of our first issue designed by Nat Tardrew would inspire the ELA logo, I still remember the brief: We want to create the ‘Coca Cola of Environmentalism’, something which will catch the public eye and thrive! Needless to say we ended up with a sixties inspired brand which as I write this, has gone through at least one revision.
During a break in one of the Dal Jasophat sessions, we set about drafting the constitution of the Earthlife movement and formerly adopting the name.
Henk Coetzee and myself sat outdoors under the trees with a rather bemused Peter, pondering where to begin the epic. I opened a copy of the magazine I was plugging, and showed them both a page outlining the principles of the German Green Party. We used the document as a template, and arrived at a few key phrases. One, included the unleashing of human potential, which I thought would prevent the movement from turning into a mere political talkshop or pressure group. I am still proud of my small contribution, but saddened that despite the auspicious origins of the ELA constitution, the movement seems to have become exactly what I had predicted and feared.
It was then simply a bright, abundantly virtuous post-ECC green moment. The first time that the academic theories being discussed at CTEG, on campus and in other circles were actually being implemented. Lukey and I had initially wanted to start a branch of Greenpeace, and having written to both groups, one in the UK and another in Europe, we had both received word back: Don’t join us, start your own movement.
Although I had thus issued forth in the collective birth of Lukey’s child, and a grouping which would soon spread like wild fungi and fynbos, I retreated back home, to my commune squat in the relatively luxury of Tamboerskloof, to continue writing for South Press and Grassroots, and Kagenna.
The Cape Town Ecology Group, not to be outdone, proceeded with its political agenda. I guess having freethinkers such as Karen Rolfes, author Michael Cope and Julia Martin as a conduit for funding meant that CTEG took the initiative in what would soon become a launchpad for the later series of environmental conferences based on justice.
Kagenna on the other hand, was the recipient of bootleg copies of tapes and books, and assorted literature which made their way into the country, despite the special branch, via Sheila Fugard and Samten de Wet. We feasted on Whole Earth Review, Buddhist magazines, Pagan faire, and the occasional New York Times. The postbox overflowing as Jay Scott delivered and played postman. He would also help me to write a letter from London excusing my inability to attend the draft and my seat on the troop train which had already been booked by the apartheid military command.
Kagenna itself was a pastiche, a bricolage of photocopied, appropriated, copyleft samizdat. The first issues were produced at all night publication parties, followed by underground music and theatre art events, exhibitions, live performances where crowds of hippies, students, anarchists, freaks, politicos, rebels, queers, lefties from across the colour line, mixed despite the Group Areas Act and security legislation.
So alongside an eclectic line up of black township jazz and white rock, there would be an environmentally themed art exhibition, people dressing up, raging against the system in the best possible way and thus ‘politicise ecology and ecologise politics’ became “socialise ecology and ecologise society”. The aim here was to mix and blend the youth culture, provoke the political culture and emerging environmental justice movement in order to create sustainability of a broader and wider environmental narrative.
During this frenetic period I found myself writing essays and articles for what turned into a series of environmental supplements for South Press. Not to be outdone by the surge in output, the Weekly Mail, whose Eddie Koch was also writing on environmental justice and Bev Geach issued forth its Green Pages, and despite John Yeld’s often meek contributions to the Argus, a veritable catalogue of eco-organisations, across the spectrum found themselves under the spotlight,as South Africa experienced a green uprising of sorts.
Every conservation group was turned inside out. The wildlife society became the wildlife and environment society. Environment was no longer simply about saving trees, but included humans. My critique of irritating white conservationists and the save the rhinos and penguins brigade, and thus also by implication, Earthlife Africa, was having mixed results. On the one hand, it brought a new political frisson into play, the earlier phases of environmentalism, in other words conservationism, acted as bedrock for new offshoots under the rubric of the Greens. At the same time, the resulting politics, provided cover for radical political activism.
It certainly made the anti-apartheid movement seem less threatening and more agreeable, as common ground was found from left to right. The farmers and boers, could now talk to the comrades about agrarian reform, without having an anti-Marxist cadenza. The commies could pave the way to ecosocialism, not with bulldozers and barricades, but by saving water, growing organic food and recycling campaigns.
A recurring theme of all of my writing from this period, linking apartheid and the environment, was the introduction of the concept of ‘ecological sustainable development’, which followed from the Brundtland Commission. I had ordered a book called ‘Our Common Future’ from a catalogue put out by David Philip Publishers. I proceeded to publish a review. This was soon followed by essays and articles and an entire supplement geared towards the concept. Calling the late Barney Desai of the PAC for comment I received word that policy would soon be forthcoming, likewise Trevor Manual of the ANC issued forth as South carried the general theme alongside the release of political prisoners and unbanning of organisations.
Later I would become critical of the manner in which all of this environmentalism equated with business as usual and a reiteration of race and class privilege. Yet, looking back at this period, it is without any doubt a broad campaign for environmental justice which clearly resulted in the inclusion of Earth rights in our Constitution. A document which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
THE AGE of Enlightenment eroded the power of kings, birthed modern democracy and produced a political model known as the social contract. Typically the theory in moral and political philosophy addresses ‘questions of the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual’.
Social contract arguments ‘posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of the ruler or magistrate (or to the decision of a majority), in exchange for protection of their remaining rights.’
It is during times of unrest and social turmoil that the issue of the social contract is most visible, and especially on the question of the relationship between natural and legal rights.
The burning of two law libraries, at Howard College and UKZN coming after similar incidents on campuses at Wits and elsewhere, has shone the light on the legitimacy of such institutions. It is no coincidence that while students are demanding #FeesMustFall, there are several post-Marikana challenges, each one stemming from the narrative of state capture and closure of the democratic ideals of freedom and civil liberties.
As I write this, I find myself in the invidious position of being embroiled for the past 18 months, and a decade long respectively, in post-TRC litigation against the Minister of Justice and a well-known apartheid media company. Despite statutes guaranteeing access to legal representation at state expense in appropriate cases, I am still battling to gain the right to an attorney. The reason for this is because our Minister Michael Masutha in his sageness, has failed to promulgate the regulations referred to in several acts.
It is not for lack of rights that we have ended up with a breakdown of the democratic narrative. It is because of the stark failure of authority to uphold the very ideals which gave birth to our democracy.
Openness, transparency, fairness and accountability. It was only a short while ago, at least in geological time, that the ruling party was hailing emancipation and the birth of the nation’s democratic institutions. Now in the very same year of the twentieth anniversary of the signing into law of our constitution and Bill of Rights, (founder Nelson Mandela put his pen to the final paper on 18 December 1996) there is very little to be said about this formation document, except to plead that it is ring-fenced by legal professionals, in an arrangement which is clearly out of the reach of ordinary citizens, a noble document pended as if merely an elegant afterthought, bolted haphazardly onto the colonial legacy and legal canon, inherited from the past regime.
Thus whilst commentators such as Franny Rabkin of Business Day were bemoaning the loss of our sacred law libraries and battling to understand the motivations behind the several acts of campus arson, I found myself unable to condemn these essentially cowardly acts.
If the legal profession could not find the wherewithal to defend the TRC Final Report, nor to protect Constitutional values such as secularism, then it was surely asking a lot for the public to defend the law libraries of the self-same legal profession — one that was painfully ignoring all the evidence and trashing the findings presented by the commission into gross violations under apartheid — presumably in order to maintain race and class privilege?
“Since the incident,” Rabkin says, “I have read both justifications and condemnations. I accept that the burning of the library was, in a way, a rational step. In the weeks of struggle leading up to the incident, the demands of the students were all but ignored by the public.”
“And this was not just about fees. What seemed to have triggered the burning was a report that a student had been raped by a policeman — the very people the Constitution entrusts to protect us. It certainly warranted our immediate and urgent attention. But, we mostly did not pay attention, until the library was burned.”
Scholasticism is “the system of theology and philosophy taught in medieval European universities, based on Aristotelian logic and the writings of the early Christian Fathers and emphasizing tradition and dogma”. It resulted in a ‘narrow-minded insistence on traditional doctrine’.
The very same logical fault is at the heart of our legal system. Take the cab rule, in which junior attorneys are expected to defer to their more esteemed senior colleagues in the advocates profession, (a modern version of droit du seigneur, right of the lord), and ask yourself, is it fair to expect a layperson to defend the TRC Final Report without formal legal assistance?
Until South Africa truly has a legal system that admits the human rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and upholds this foundation document as the alpha and omega, there will be those who reject the “Western values” of the imported Roman Dutch system and who wish to burn law libraries. Until a greater role is given to lay assessors — giving affect to citizen’s rights as jurors, and especially findings on questions of fact — for instance the problem of apartheid denial, did apartheid really happen? — one cannot help but sympathise with the arsonists and insurrectionists.
Such persons assuredly follow in the footsteps of the student revolt of the 1980s, and 1970s — the tumultuous struggle of which activists such as myself and many others, were very much a part.
Providing South Africans with an option of a jury trial in TRC-related cases, or where appropriate in capital crimes and defamation cases, is one way of assuaging the central charge leveled against the current legal system, that it is out of touch and elitist. Now is the time for urgent reform and progress on the democratic project, and this means greater inclusion of citizens in the law.
It is not the time for defending the traditions inherited from apartheid.
RECENTLY the Wall Street Journal ran a series of articles, celebrating the country’s 250th birthday and dedicated to shaping the future . What would the America of 2026 be and how would the nation arrive there? Suggestions ranged from infrastructure investment, gender equality, taking charge of climate change, respect for nature, the rise of the millennials, rekindling the revolutionary spirit of 1776, deregulating the Internet, breaking government gridlock, and more competition.
We think South Africa could do a lot better than simply following America’s example. As our country reaches the 20th anniversary of the signing into law of our Bill of Rights in December by founder, Nelson Mandela, we invite readers to submit their proposals for a better future to Medialternatives. What will the next 20 years be like, what will it take to get there?
Below are a few suggestions with regard to reform.
Providing greater access to justice for ordinary citizens by capping legal expenses. Creating a more inclusive justice system by placing the Constitution as well as citizens interests as paramount — extending the role and practice of lay assessors –providing the option of a jury in capital crimes and defamation cases. Greater accommodation of the public interest through broader media access and reporting. Greater independence by ending the abuse by law firms of proxy judges i.e the acting judgeship system, and giving greater independence to civil institutions such as the public protector.
Putting a stop once and for all to the legacy of apartheid economics, monopolies and spatial development. This would entail chopping SOE behemoths into smaller, manageable units able to compete with each other. Creating an energy commons that allows for independent energy producers as well as smart grids. Ending Telkom’s home cable monopoly –allowing landline operators to compete, especially in the broadband sector. Allowing innovative commuter services and competition in rail transport. Selling ailing SAA and ending the annual bail-outs of the apartheid era airline.
Correcting the mistakes introduced by our proportional representation system, by making MPS more accountable to their constituency. This may entail a combined ward and roll system whereby MPs without sufficient local ballots are prevented from succeeding purely by the roll system. Tightening the rules around campaign funding, making MPs more accountable when it comes to disclosure of assets and implementing rules on state capture. It should be impossible for large corporates to exercise undue influence over the nation’s political representatives.
A nation which focuses on improving itself through free education, lifelong learning, youth empowerment, access to learning materials, language labs, computers and other tools, correspondence courses, video materials and study aids — all forming part of guaranteed access to education . Broadening education to include life skills, home economics and equivalent assistance for all households and citizens. Introducing civics classes to provide a sense of national belonging for all citizens, whilst promoting understanding, continuity and access to civil structures and institutions.
Placing distributionism at the centre of our social welfare system. The country should be run like a benevolent corporation responsible to its shareholders. The president is merely the chairman or cheerleader. Profits should be disbursed to all citizens on an annual or biannual basis. This could form part of an unconditional basic income (UBI) paid to each and every adult irrespective of race, class, colour or creed. Supported by a market economy that coexists alongside social welfare.
Improving public health provision. Raising the number of doctors per person to first-world levels. Providing benefits or incentives for citizens to access private healthcare, in a duel system. Taking a preventative and complementary medicine approach to solving some of South Africa’s health problems. Promoting sports, nutrition and access to recreational facilities. Providing open air gyms, holistic care that includes therapy such as yoga, martial arts and art.
Retrieving our earth rights, those groundbreaking environmental rights guaranteed in our constitution but diminished under successive ANC administrations. Returning the values of NEMA and other environmental legislation.Treating nature as infrastructure for future generations. Creating green urban zones, parks, nature facilities. Placing ecology at the heart of ecological sustainable development. Lowering climate footprint. Reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, repair. Providing bicycle share schemes, boosting EVs and lowering impact of industry on nature.