DAVID ROBERT LEWIS
PO Box 4398
6 August 2018,
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
1 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
per email: [email protected]
COMPLAINT REGARDING WIKIMANIA CAPE TOWN
In addition to my role as an independent researcher at Medialternatives.com, I am an anti-apartheid activist, journalist and Wikipedia editor. My work for South Africa’s struggle press, including Grassroots, New Nation and South Press, all titles banned by the racist regime, refers, as does my decade of contributions to Wikipedia.
I write this letter to object in the strongest possible terms to the failure of the recent Wikimania Cape Town event to include any session on ‘apartheid memory’ and also the blatant exclusion of anti-apartheid activists such as myself from deliberations.
Furthermore, I challenge the manner in which the only working session on ‘anti-apartheid activism’ was not on the main conference per se, but rather arrived at by an invitation-only, closed-door ‘Preconference Event’ with the misleading title of ‘Decolonising the Internet’.
It is clear this was done so that the theme was effectively circumscribed and controlled by officials, who wished to avoid the embarrassment of Silicon Valley neo-colonialism, and also so that Dr Sean Jacobs could deliver a keynote, in a conference otherwise devoid of any link to the epic history of struggle within my own country. Doing this most certainly gave the topic short thrift on the important issues at stake, while allowing your foundation to myopically claim that the ‘box had been ticked’.
I thus only caught Dr Jacobs’ address outside the conference via Youtube (see below). While Dr Jacobs may be applauded for alluding to some details of the history of “Information Warfare” during apartheid, (surely my own part in alerting USA media to the role played by information technology in bolstering the corrupt regime, and which became the Khulumani case against IBM refers?), the address introduced a well-known fallacy which needs to be dealt with here.
The history of South Africa is most certainly not the culmination of ‘black history month’, resulting in a ‘black nation’. Rather our nation’s journey from the ‘multiracialism’ of the Freedom Charter to the ‘non-racialism’ of the Constitution is assuredly demonstrated by the historical ‘walk to freedom’ of our nation’s founder, Nelson Mandela. It was Mandela who embraced the Unity Movement’s ideal of a single stream of humanity during his incarceration on Robben Island — the self-same ‘common humanity’ referred to by US president Barack Obama in his recent address.
To reiterate, the rainbow nation is not about the colour of one’s skin, but rather the colour of one’s rights. As a person effectively reclassified several times, according to apartheid-era race categories, the organisers should know better than to host a conference in South Africa that introduces ‘racism of a special type’, while closing down any discourse on non-racialism. Doing this tragically removed any opportunity to debate prescient and significant issues related to apartheid memory and thus Wikipedia in its current format.
Doing this further denied activists such as myself any leg-room to raise important issues to do with the allocation of resources inter alia, lack of anti-apartheid online digital assets; problems with access to local archives not yet digitised; lack of online records prior to Y2K; historical problems with censorship, bannings and lack of inclusion and the takedown of anti-apartheid material (eg. Student Revolts of 1987; torture and detention of activists; banning of organizations during the state of Emergency).
Hosting closed-door sessions of special invite-only guests parachuted in for the occasion while black youths languish in the townships, is the exact opposite of the egalitarian and liberal values to which your foundation subscribes and purports to support. It is an insult and gross injustice to those in my own country who fought against apartheid, and who have volunteered their free time and provided gratis labour on the understanding that Wikipedia is an ‘inclusive and open community.’
It is therefore alarming to find, that not only was I barred from the so-called ‘Decolonising the Internet’ pre-conference, (and despite my making a substantial contribution to the subject matter; also as the organizer of the world’s first hacktivist event in San Francisco during November 1994, an event recorded by Radio Free Berkeley and The Well), but, that I was subsequently deregistered and removed from the main conference in Cape Town. This without being given any opportunity to make representations in the matter, and following my complaining about the ‘lack of engagement by organisers’ and ‘scant regard for human dignity’ when it comes to the significant contribution of the anti-apartheid movement.
The email correspondence received on 19 July 2018, and signed by James Alexander Operations Manager for Trust & Safety at the Wikimedia Foundation (see attached and my response) thus beggars belief. Not only are Mr James’ claims dishonest and devoid of any truth, but the letter itself promotes a gross fraud inter alia, by alleging that I have ‘misbehaved at WikiIndaba in Tunis’, (I can categorically state I have not been out of my own country for several years), and that I also allegedly disrupted the aforementioned ‘Decolonising the Internet’ preconference.
Since I was not admitted to either of these events held under the auspice of the Wikimedia Foundation, I categorically reject and refute this statement.
I also further challenge and protest the manner in which Wikimania organizers and officials sought to restrict my rights as a journalist, constraining and impinging upon my professional duties, and thus my right to record the movement of delegates outside of the City conference venue. I hereby lodge my objection in the strongest terms to the blatant attempt to censor the press by restricting or impinging upon the interviewing of several delegates and also the blatant attempt to gag and affect same on any video material thus privately taken and/or taken during the course of my duties.
I should not have to explain to you that South Africa is a constitutional democracy whose Bill of Rights enshrines the right to press freedom as well as freedom of association, and that your Foundation’s host country, the USA claims to accord similar rights to its own press, a right that is sadly under threat and being eroded by the current Trump administration.
Given the above circumstances, I believe that I am entitled to demand a reasonable explanation, and also an apology from your foundation
David Robert Lewis
+27+21 788 3119
+27+82 425 1454
Cc Wikimedia ZA
Dear Mr. Lewis,
My name is James Alexander, I am the Operations Manager for Trust & Safety at the Wikimedia Foundation.
I am writing to tell you that we have decided to cancel your registration to Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town for tomorrow (Friday), Saturday and Sunday. If you choose to try and attend anyway you will be asked to leave.
I realize that this may seem a bit abrupt however we received complaints from attendees feeling uncomfortable about your behavior at the Decolonizimg the Internet conference earlier this week in addition to concerns about your behavior at WikiIndaba in Tunis earlier this year. As I am sure you understand we need to take the safety and comfort of our attendees as a paramount concern and the decision has been made that at this time your attendance would disrupt that too much. I am sorry that this message came to you so close to the actual event as it did but unfortunately we were not able to fully understand the situation until today.
As always please let me know if there is any questions and I appreciate your understanding.
Manager, Trust & Safety
Manager, Trust & Safety (Operations)
RE Cancelation of registration to Wikimania 2018 DRL2
My name is David Robert Lewis, an independent researcher at Medialternatives.com.
As an anti-apartheid activist and journalist at several banned publications taken off the shelves by the apartheid state, I object to your blatantly dishonest and false accusations.
I therefore refute the allegations that I have in any way disrupted the Tunis Conference, since I have not traveled out of my country for several years.
Secondly I refute any allegation that I attended the so-called “Decolonising the Internet” Pre-Conference in Cape Town, since I was not admitted to the event, but was rather subjected to contempt by Anasuyas of WhoseKnowledge.org.
Instead of making space for my concerns about the obliteration and deletion of apartheid memory, in particular the deletion of inter alia, pages on Student Unrest on UCT campus, Apartheid Death Squads, Apartheid Dirty Tricks, bannings of journalists and torture of editors by the regime, and/or my concerns surrounding lack of anti-apartheid digital assets and digitization of archives, she proceeded to dispute my credentials, telling me that she would ‘only communicate with me when she got back to India’.
I therefore left the venue quite hurt and upset and proceeded to film some delegates entering and leaving the conference venue.
I interviewed a delegate from Brazil, a delegate from Mexico and latin America and was accosted by a Wikimedia Foundation official who instead of upholding my rights as a citizen, proceeded to attack my standing as a member of the press in public.
I had to inform her that South Africa has a free press and also that the preamble to our constitution compels citizens and non-citizens alike, to respect those who fought during the struggle for freedom.
I therefore once again, provide you with an opportunity to correct your course of action, to restore my credentials at the conference and to make space for apartheid memory.