Category: Activism

Our 14 point action plan

1) Fire No 1 and pay back the money

2) Cut back on five hour lunch sessions, R1bn wagyu steaks for No 2

3) Dump the Gupta Raj and the British East India Company kickbacks.

4) Reduce size of cabinet to pre-Zuma levels

5) Break up SOEs into smaller units, sell SAA.

6) Dump Eskom and introduce an Energy Commons

7) Introduce a Social Wage for all (including Basic Income Grant)

8) Household responsibility to provide home economics

9) Income equalisation for periodic work

10) Rent Stabilisation for those renting

11) Compulsory Civics classes for young scholars and new immigrants

12) Adopt David Robert Lewis’ Electronic Freedom Charter

13) Celebrate the Earth Rights we got into the Constitution

14) Hire competent staff at finance ministry

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Competing visions for a new South Africa

TWO parties, each with contradictory and competing visions for South Africa’s future, hold centre stage. In the one corner, the African National Congress with its legacy of struggle against apartheid and nation building, that has increasingly come under the spotlight with revelations of corruption and state capture, and the failing economic policies and antics of its president Jacob Zuma

In the other corner, the Democratic Alliance, an opposition political formation with market friendly policies, but hampered by a troubling legacy, fraught because of its historic support from white capital versus the emergence of black capital under the ruling party, and yet presenting a different vision of reconciliation, inclusion, and equal opportunity.

So far as DA leader Mmusi Maimane is concerned, the struggle is about keeping the reconciliation project alive while creating an open and inclusive society in line with a constitutional vision that is the antithesis of the creeping totalitarianism and authoritarianism of the current administration.

Over the past months, the ANC has diverted itself from the proud nation-building of past administrations, towards an increasingly tribal vision of a society not unlike the Bantustans of the apartheid-era. A country defined by race, where domination of one group by another is the order of the day, and where expropriation of land without compensation is matched by the growth of state and tribal authorities.

And yet within the ANC itself, there exist competing visions to what has been broadly condemned by the investment community as “Zumanomics”, an unworkable recipe for economic disaster.  Thus a lively debate on so-called ‘radical economic transformation’ has ensued at the party’s organising conference.

So far as ANC NEC member and Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa is concerned, “South Africans should focus less on the colour of monopoly capital and rather focus on contesting monopoly capital in all its forms”

“We shouldn’t be aspiring to change white monopoly capital to black monopoly capital. The uncompetitive nature of monopoly capital makes us raise an issue of contestation, whether it will be black or white,” Mthethwa told reporters during a media briefing this week.

It was party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa who thus also articulated a view that is in direct contrast to the DA faction under Helen Zille and seemingly the ANC under Zuma. According to Kodwa, “the new South Africa creates a clean break from our ugly past giving birth to a new nation with new prescripts. South Africa is not an improved version of the past or a case of taking our better past forward, South Africa is a new nation.”

Can the DA match its own rhetoric and the propaganda of the ruling party, with a victory at the polls? The alliance has seen major victories during the past general election in several of South Africa’s metro’s including Johannesburg, and Nelson Mandela Bay. As the ANC moves to reduce its opposition to the left, it invariably risks losing the middle ground, where the most votes in the next election are bound to reside.

Thus as the party erodes the opposition EFF base, whose red shirts are now ironically being deployed in support of the DA — the ANC policy conference and its adoption of far-left language, risks reducing the party’s central mandate as articulated by the NDP and will come as a blow to those arguing for moderation.

All good news so far as the DA is concerned.

What Happens When Billionaires Own Journalism?

KOOS BEKKER is a very rich South African. He effectively controls a massive portion of South African news and media. In many ways, he can be considered the Rupert Murdoch of Africa. He has a net worth of roughly $1.6 billion and is the chairman of Naspers, which controls or owns outlets such as the South African Huffington Post.

Rupert Murdoch is an apt comparison; he’s not the only billionaire who has a huge stake in journalism. The owners also aren’t exclusively in news media, and to many, their news outlets are a side project, a way to project power or simply something to have (like a car or an extra mansion).

Naspers and Ties to Censorship

Corporations and the extremely wealthy, as a general rule, do not care much about censorship. In fact, the only thing most of them will oppose is a lack of profits. For example, Naspers was complicit in the apartheid regime, and the Afrikaans press was used to keep the oppressive regime in place. They’ve apologized for their actions, but this only occurred far after apartheid turned out to be the losing side. In other words: when it was profitable and politically expedient to do so.

Naspers, having many interests that get in the way of the truth and holding ties to many companies and countries that can prove to be a competing influence (as opposed to the public good), is the perfect example of this.

To go into more detail, Naspers owns Media24, a media group that states it’s interested in freedom of the press and other media freedoms. Yet that comes into conflict with the fact that Naspers’ largest stake is in Tencent, a Chinese tech and social media company who enforces social media censorship by the Chinese government.

This raises a major concern: Do Naspers’ Chinese ties and Koos Becker’s business interests compromise the integrity of South African news? It would be easy for such a company to keep a few unfavorable stories quiet.

Media Consolidation

Even just fifty years ago it would be considered possible for a new startup, with some capital and resolve, to break into the news and media business and hope to succeed.

Now, given the equipment that is needed and the poor returns in general of the newspaper business (or the entire news industry), along with the fast-paced nature of online news, journalism is a rich man’s game, and that isn’t a good thing. In America, for example, 90 percent of their media is controlled by six companies. South Africa’s situation is hardly different.

These barriers to entry remove variety from the press, eliminating competition and lowering the standards of news for people. People will either get compromised or poorly-formed journalism or nothing at all. Unfortunately, there are few examples showing there’s a better way.

Voices Get Silenced

If the press isn’t free from corporate interests, it’s hardly different from government control. It’s merely serving a different entity with different priorities. Larger entities tied to power won’t report on threats to that power to avoid giving them their justified attention and public interest. When was the last time you heard about the Shack Dweller’s movement and their protests on a major station?

Individual voices and good journalists also get regularly silenced when they try to make the difference. Desmond Cole and the Toronto Star is merely one example of this outside of South Africa. Others accuse the media, including News24, of not showing good news whatsoever and inciting violence amongst the people.

People Fighting Back

The situation looks grim, but people can and will fight back against the oligarchic control of information perfectly encapsulated by Naspers’ actions. Billionaires, try as they might, do not have control of reality.

Citizen journalism has become a trend with the advent of social media and information technology. A video at a scene cannot be so easily denied as false, and a trending topic or a viral post cannot be so easily ignored by the media elites if they want to keep credibility with the public. While it’s not perfect and certainly does not meet the standards of independent professionals, its mere existence is a threat to corporate control and a step forward.

Other people continue to expose the truth while hiding from the limelight (and the wrath of those companies). People will cover their tracks and use tools such as online proxies to stay anonymous as they bring us the truth about conglomerates, from inside or without. Without people like this willing to fight back, there’s no telling what the state of the news media would be today.

Conclusion

This problem will not go away on its own, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. People need to know what is happening and how the billionaires are controlling them to feel the anger to fight back. There are more protagonists out there besides Naspers, and even if one person is taken out of the news arena, more will appear,  blocking genuine change in the way things are done or avoiding a viable alternative. There is a chance to change the flow of information, and South Africans can’t afford to miss out.

Do you happen to know anything else about Naspers or have a story you would like to share? Are you concerned about the growing consolidations of private media and the news? What else do you think they’re hiding? Please leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts.

Zille and all that Mmusi Jazz

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A ploy to raise the stakes in bid for Presidency?

IT WAS inevitable that the opposition Democratic Alliance would arrive at its own Rubicon. The saga involving party stalwart Helen Zille, what she said or didn’t say, what was meant or not meant, the affectations of white liberal insiders, the embarrassing grand old colonial edifice and all its past glories, suddenly rendered impotent by a growing and vocal group of black entrepreneurs to its left and the irony of a conservative Afrikaner establishment to its right. Let’s just say that the old model of opposition politics no longer holds.

While cavalier, Mmusi Maimane was certainly reading the mood of the electorate, setting the stage for the 2019 general election, and his run for President in standing firmly against superiority, class attitudes and snobbery within his own party. Admittedly with this type of populism, it is all about political demeanour, perceptions and the will of the masses on the ground.

That national student movements such as SASCO found themselves weighing in on the subject, meant the DA, an alliance if ever there was one, was suddenly finding itself cast into the national spotlight. Provincialism of the kind articulated by Zille and her followers had no place. And hence while some bemoaned the outcome, a tragic fait accompli, it was inevitable that the party would find itself at a cross-roads, with a choice of futures. Can the DA ever hope to govern the nation, without creating tensions amongst its provincial partners?

It was no less than Douglas Gibson who first characterised the problem, Zille was past her sell-by-date. Thus Tony Leon soon found himself publicly praising Maimane for taking tough action against Helen over the colonialism tweets. While the prevarications and equivocations by the premier went from bad to worse. That the Cape Town lady was deploying the politics of World War 2 in her defence, admittedly of an Asian economic model merely made her arguments seem antiquated.

This was not a society gone racially mad but a case of corrective action, a necessary medicament arising from the furore surrounding a simple online tweet, and requiring a better perspective, than the past fiasco which had been a case of not growing up, or too much too soon —  the party head-hunted struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele mid-flight, in the last general election was unable to broker an effective alliance with its grass-roots ticket and thus a broad coalition of partners that could have produced a major victory for moderate black voters and their allies in the civil service and SOEs.

If the party is to have any hope of winning the next general election, it has to move forward under its current leadership. There are a number of caveats. Can the social wage be protected if not by social democrats? Whereto the provinces versus the national vote? Is there a way of saving the Western Cape’s unique character, given that the DA is an alliance, which has done remarkably well in South Africa’s metros? Where to Mmusi from here?

It was thus apt, that Zille announced her suspension today, with a tweet “DA has suspended me. They have agreed I can share my reasons why I should not have been suspended. Here they are:

Screenshot from 2017-06-08 18-51-45

Only time will tell whether or not this emerging political formation, untrammelled by the corruption within the current Zuma administration, and unhindered by the ideological baggage of the far-left, will pull through to its destiny in a future national cabinet. My bet is surely on Maimane for president, and come the next election, anything but the current Mafiosi state of Jacob Zuma.

The new labour struggle: less work, same pay, and basic income for all

SINCE the 19th century May 1 has been International Worker’s Day, chosen by organised labour to celebrate the contribution of workers around the world. But it’s frequently forgotten that the day actually celebrates a particular achievement of the labour movement: being able to do less work. Not better paid or decent work, but shorter working hours.

May 1 initially commemorated the 1886 Haymarket affair, where Chicago workers were striking for a radical and dangerous proposal: the eight-hour work day. This idea was so incendiary that the protests turned violent; both police and protesters died in the conflict.

Today more and more people around the world are facing precarity, casualisation, inequality and unemployment. It’s time to pursue a new agenda for a new global labour movement – or rather, to update the old agenda of the 19th century: less working time and more money for all, in the form of shorter work days and a universal basic income.

What happened to the struggle?

An eight-hour work day and weekends off were far from the norm for most full-time workers before the early 20th century. They usually worked 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week. It took a protracted, often violent organised labour struggle in the face of strenuous opposition to change that.

Forty-hour work weeks were finally legislated around the world less than a century ago. This seemed like just the beginning. The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that thanks to technology, within a century we’d all stop worrying about subsistence. We’d work 15 hours a week, just enough to keep us from getting bored.

In some ways he was right. Technological advancement has exceeded his wildest dreams; productivity and output per worker has soared. But this has proven to be our problem rather than a source of liberation.

As productivity grew and each worker could produce ever more output, we consumed more and more stuff so that full time, 40-hour-a-week employment could stay stable. Now we’ve reached our limits, with climate change, pollution, deforestation and extinction spiralling out of control. We can’t afford to keep consuming ever more.

We’ve also moved into a different phase of automation, a “fourth industrial revolution” where artificial intelligence and machine learning can do the work of accountants, lawyers and other professionals.

The logical solution would be to enjoy such automation by working less (while the amount of stuff produced remains the same with machines’ help). Instead, those of us lucky enough to be formally employed still work nominally 40-hour weeks (in reality too often working far more) while ever more people can’t find any steady employment.

The fruits of soaring productivity growth and the wealth generated by automation are not being redistributed via rising salaries or shorter working hours. Instead they are captured by a tiny global elite. The richest 1% now has more wealth than the rest of the world put together. Yet there isn’t a mass organised struggle explicitly calling for a redistribution of wealth and work.

It’s time to revive a very old labour ideal. Industrial Workers of the World/www.iww.org

Instead, in places as varied as South Africa, the US and Europe increasingly frustrated, alienated populations faced with the rise of precarious work and wage stagnation point their finger at foreigners and immigrants. Their calls are not for redistribution, but for isolation and xenophobic exclusion.

South Africa is a prime example of this contradiction. It’s the most unequal major country in the world, with staggering wealth and unemployment rates. It has experienced years of deindustrialisation and jobless growth.

South Africa is experiencing the sorts of contradictions that follow in automation’s wake. Factory and even service jobs are being automated, and CEOs earn 541 times the average income. Meanwhile, people desperate for a wage resort to what anthropologist David Graeber terms “bullshit jobs” like pumping other people’s petrol or watching their parked cars.

South Africa’s inequality isn’t just a matter of income or wealth. It’s also a matter of working hours – some people have too many, some none at all.

From labour to leisure

An obvious solution would be to cut back on the standard work week so that demand for labour goes up.

Education institutions would have to scramble to fill some of the demand for skilled workers. But the pressure might be a good thing. It would push the school system to produce well-equipped graduates, and provide new solutions to problems such as the university fee crisis, spurring greater urgency for the state or private sector to underwrite higher education programmes.

This would also decrease inequality. The only way to keep wages the same while hiring more people is for wealth to get spread out: for the highest earners and others who capture the fruits of corporate profits (i.e., shareholders) to get less so workers get more.

Shortening working hours has also been linked with a host of other social goods like better health outcomes, less impact on the environment, higher gender equity, and increased happiness and productivity.

Labour must also be decommodified more broadly. Then even those unable to sell their labour in a rapidly automating world would reap some of automation’s fruits.

The simplest proposal to achieve this is the universal basic income guarantee: the idea that everyone gets enough cash every month to cover essential living costs, no matter what. It’s a redistributory measure. If you earn enough to not need it, you give it back to the communal pot when paying your taxes.

If that aspect is taken into account, the proposal is surprisingly affordable. It could also end poverty, stem inequality, enable work that isn’t valued by capitalist markets (such as care work or the arts), and empower workers to bargain for better conditions without the fear of starvation or homelessness.

What we need are shorter working hours and a universal basic income. In other words, a leisure movement – not a labour movement.

Radical, and attainable

Such a call is both radical and attainable. It’s attainable because it simply spreads out the gains from productivity growth. It’s radical because we live with the cultural ramifications of centuries of labour scarcity, when everyone had to work as much as possible to produce enough goods to go around. That’s not the case anymore, yet the old mentality remains: hard workers are morally superior, and laziness is unquestioningly a character flaw, a moral failing.

This is a default assumption not only among the middle and upper classes, but as my own and others’ recent research in South Africa and Namibia shows, among the unemployed poor as well.

This proposal is also radical because it challenges the unopposed accumulation of wealth amongst a small elite. It will certainly be opposed by the very wealthy. But then, so were calls for a 40-hour work week.

Via: The Conversation

Rachel Dysphoria, the Dolezal visit to South Africa

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Disorder or Non-Conformity?

CONTROVERSIAL advocate of ‘racial fluidity’ and ‘trans-racialism’  is to visit South Africa according to the BBC, to promote her biography, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World . The arrival of Rachel Dolezal is bound to kick up a storm in the ongoing debate being waged between non-racialists and multi-racialists. The latest round has seen non-racialists being accused of hiding behind a smokescreen of privilege, effectively using the idea to escape responsibility for past injustices.

Non-racialism is the result of successive ideological developments within South African politics, beginning with Robert Sobukwe’s claim at his treason trial: “There is only one race, the human race” and “multiracialism is racism multiplied”; This was followed by Steve Biko’s historic 1971 statement: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation — being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

The ANC, once a champion of multiracialism, adopted the non-racial agenda after Nelson Mandela was converted to the cause on Robben Island. According to Mandela, ‘race was to be rendered immaterial’, ‘all persons were to enjoy equality before the law’. That the current administration gives such nuances of non-racialism and equality lip-service (both ideas enshrined in the country’s constitution) can be seen in the abundance of one ethnic group in the latest cabinet, all given preferential treatment under the current Kwazula-Natal focused administration of Jacob Zuma — this while race classification issues and the legacy of apartheid continue to dog the regime.

This writer is currently under sanctions by a local court for denying his appointed ‘race category’, following an offensive race-testing probe by an apartheid media firm. Remarkably, critics of Dolezal, appear to judge her case on the basis of special criteria (see below), in the same way that a special clause, known as the Sobukwe clause was added to legislation in order to justify the founder of the PAC’s continued incarceration. It should be remembered the apartheid regime insisted on the existence of discrete racial categories and thus racial bias in a system supported by scientific racism. There is no scientific basis for the assertion that race exists as anything more than an informal taxonomy.

Critics of non-racialism often confuse issues of class exploitation and poverty. While South Africa is an example of a tragic ‘confluence of race and class’, in which persons labelled black are more likely to be poor, (and dramatically so) there is no direct correlation as such, which would make this a universal rule. As science shows, adaptive traits such as hair and skin colour are not indicative of a separation between the species, there is thus no direct correlation between one’s genes and one’s physical appearance, and being wealthy and being poor. In other words historic racism is not the same as institutional racism. Blackness is not the result of a preponderance of African ancestry, if this were so, Native Americans for instance, would be white.

Attempts to define people according to physical features and anatomy have invariably resulted in discrimination.  One should thus not mistake the impact of past exploitation on the basis of race criteria, for normality, and in so doing, assert that race criteria is or should be the norm. The ‘racial wealth gap’ is not overcome by resorting to more racism.

That the strange idea persists can be seen by a recent comment this week: “Race is real the way maths is real. It’s something humans created that can be used to our detriment or to our advantage.” The assertion without any evidence, was made by a reporter associated with The Citizen in an online debate on social media on Friday, following the breaking of the Dolezal story, and is consistent with the position of Media24. One can only respond: “There is no ‘maths of race’. The only persons making such statements have been discredited eugenicists.

Another participant in the discussion, was even harsher in her use of irony: “Please come to South Africa and enjoy the full experience which the majority of black woman endure. There are plenty of overworked maid jobs with below the breadline pay …” The various criticisms of Dolezal, that she is effectively ‘trading off the misery of others’, is ‘passing herself off’ as something which she is not, and is ‘guilty of cultural appropriation’, need to be seen within the context of similar criticisms of Mother Teresa and others. The criticism has no basis nor place in human rights law. Cultural appropriation (in whatever form) is a factor of life in a polyglot, globalised society, one remarkably difference from the former colonial empire, based as it was on ideals of racial purity and for which cross-pollination itself was anathema. That Dolezal herself is breaking taboos within the so-called white community from which she sprung, is hardly remarked upon by opinion-makers slamming her membership of the NAACP.

That body presentation and identity issues are par for the course in the 21st Century can be seen by the fact that nobody would think the unthinkable and slam albino model Thandi Hopa for not having enough melanin, and trading off the resulting racial dysphoria. Instead in Rachel’s case, her attempts to deal with her ‘black experience’ , resulted in an obscene racial witch-hunt, and highly public race-probe based upon discredited apartheid race science. Doleza says that “challenging the construct of race is at the core of evolving human consciousness”

Dolezal has an adopted black brother Izaiah , and a black child from a black man. To put this in a nut-shell, Rachel isn’t “pretending to be black”, her life is not a parody as in ‘blackface’, but rather the result of attempting to deal with her existence, in particular her troubling relationship with her brother Ezra. The mix of reactions around the globe is certainly unprecedented, and indicative of a new far-right discourse which has entered the mainstream.

It will be interesting to see how Dolezal presents herself to an audience remarkably different from the one which pilloried her femininity and for which her latest biography is her considered response. Medialternatives therefore takes this opportunity to unreservedly welcome Rachel to South Africa.

Medialternatives has followed the Dolezal story and you can read previous postings here.