I am writing in reply to the email (and attached letter) you sent the legal department at the Wikimedia Foundation on the 6 August 2018 (and copying me in on) in my capacity as the organising chairperson of Wikimania 2018.
It is with great regret that I learnt of your removal from Wikimania 2018 in Cape Town. You have been an editor on Wikipedia for many years now and have attended Wikimedia ZA events in the past which is why Wikimedia ZA granted you a complementary ticket to attend Wikimania 2018. The the best of my knowledge you are correct that you did not attend WikiIndaba in Tunisia; James was mistakenly referring to another individual based upon incorrect information given to him.
A few points on how Wikimania is run. Hosting a Wikimania is a group effort between the local organising team (of which I am a member), the Wikimedia Foundation host team (who assist in many of the more practical aspects of hosting Wikimania), and the Wikimedia community broadly (who host the individual events, workshops and presentations that make up the conference).
Community derived events which makes up the vast majority of events at Wikimania were hosted by community members who applied to host them or present. Their applications were passed by the program committee. The program committee is made up of a group of volunteer Wikipedia community members whose responsibility it is to select presentations that will be hosted during the main conference. Public announcements (advertised both through mailing lists and banner adds on Wikipedia) were made over the course of a month this year during which any community member could apply to give a presentation or host an event during the main conference.
The program committee sought to select events based on their fit to the theme of bridging knowledge gaps. You refer to the absence of any event dealing ‘apartheid memory’. If someone had made an application to host an event or presentation talking about that then the program committee would have seriously considered accepting such a presentation. However to the best of my knowledge no one made any such applications. Therefore there were no discussions on that subject. In the future I would suggest applying to give such a presentation if you hope to see one happening. Be bold (but not abrasive).
Some events were large full day or multiple day events. Such events could only be hosted during the pre-conference due to logistical reasons. The Decolonising the Internet event was one such event.
DAVID ROBERT LEWIS
PO Box 4398
6 August 2018,
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
1 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
per email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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’. Continue reading
SEVERAL pieces on the right-wing political site Politicsweb, a local news platform run by James Myburgh, demonstrates the narrow racialism of its multifarious contributors. The site purports to carry opinions from across the political spectrum, but has a seemingly limitless abundance of polemic and commentary from the likes of RW Johnson and the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald,
First off there’s a familiar conservative spokesperson opining on the subject of the Ashwin Willemse incident ‘On racism, real and imagined: “Can a disagreement between sports broadcasters really qualify as news?” asks RW Johnson who then proceeds to denigrate the standing of the Equality Court, (in the process casting aspersions against its status in terms of the Equality Act): “Him and his lawyers are now proceeding to the Equality Court (the name has an Orwellian ring),” writes Johnson.
While our justice system if far from perfect, the Equality Court is a shining light in this regard. Rather it is conservatives who must be taken to task for dangerous double-speak, bigoted opinion that essentially denies that Willemse has access to any rights in terms of his own opinion on the matter. As the liberal mantra often restated by conservatives goes, ‘we believe in the audi rule so long as only one side to the dispute is heard.’
Andrew Donaldson, forever a lapdog of the effete rich and trendy wealthy, finds the time to wade in with a pathetic Cry racism piece that although erudite, willfully proceeds to miss the point entirely by cynically misstating the Equality case: “shoehorning the controversy within a racial context will restore moral order and present the readily outraged with a familiar, comforting paradigm’ that of Cry Wolf? No Mr Donaldson, this isn’t about racism per se, but rather apartheid denial, the rotting carcass of quotas and the sell-by-date of former apartheid-era darlings, a corporation with anything but a sterling history of opposing racism.
With all the tact of a charging hippopotamus, the grandson of Verwoerd and Oranie spokesperson, Wynand Boshoff’s ‘Ashwin, actually we know what you mean’ delivers a thinly disguised hatchet job, attempting to deflect attention away from Naas Botha and thus Afrikanerdom in general. Deploying the tired and anachronistic ‘blame it on the British’ schtick that is so often used by former members of the Nationalist party to ingratitude themselves with the ruling ANC whilst also affecting a crushing blow to us English-speakers.
It is not terribly surprising then to find South Africa’s own Walter Mitty, one Andrew Kenny delivering an equally destructive blow to the English language. Having affected a mid-life career change from failed nuclear pundit to “contracted columnist to the Institute of Race Relations” Kenny’s vivid imagination proceeds to shower us with bizarre details verging on the fantastical, “I know nothing about rugby” he says before embarking upon a sorry attempt at the nitpicking obfuscation for which he is perhaps renowned. The result is a failed piece of political bumph posing-as-commentary which merely demonstrates that Kenny has zero credentials and course-work when it comes to the social and political sciences.
‘Hurt, pain & Ashwin Willemse‘ deploys a scurrilous and appalling comparison between the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, (perhaps to assert a vivid fantasy life in which Kenny recently acquired a moral position on non-proliferation?), to the aforementioned Supersport incident, before proceeding to freely mix metaphors and borrowing heavily from a Nixon-era public administration pundit:
“The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low” is a saying attributed to one Wallace Sayre. It is thus rephrased as Sayre’s Law, which was all really just another patronising putdown to the students of the University of Berkeley and the victims of the Kent State massacre, and grist to the mill, for a decade of revolt which gave the world free love, women’s rights and equality. Enough to ruffle the feathers of today’s youth and our modern generation of die-hard de-colonialists?
To cap it all, there is also a strange statement released by the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald “Minister of Sport and DA leader must apologise” absurdly blaming the Minister of Sport and the leader of the DA, for the incident. Apartheid collaborators are racists, full-stop. Instead Groenewald wants a fantasy-world where “people must refrain from attributing incidents where people of different races are involved to racism,” begging the question, what happens when racism isn’t about race per se but rather structural racism? The two apartheid darlings Mallet and Botha turned into on-air monuments, the post-apartheid wing, Willemse, forever in the studio shadows.
The Freedom Front shows its metal, providing uncritical support for the discredited Naspers-Multichoice and its pathetic inhouse finding on the matter, arguably, all the result of extra-judicial privileges founded upon race, and despite the matter being sub judice. The outcome of the labour proceeding in which Willemse was not represented, has been rejected by the former Springbok, as too should any similar proceedings not meeting standards of due process. There has yet to be an official inquiry into the role of sports administrators during apartheid in terms of the TRC Act, which allows the Minister of Justice to appoint special inquiries subsequent to the winding up of the first commission.
RESISTANCE to war has a long and noble history. From pacifists during the Anglo-Boer War, objectors to WW1 and WW2, conscripts against the Vietnam War and South Africa’s own Border War, the names and faces of those who have chosen the difficult path of combating militarism and state-sponsored aggression, number in their thousands.
When dissent is quashed by political expediency the nuances and cadence of individual struggle against war is lost. The evolution of the ‘just-war thesis’ and ‘holy war’ by either side to the conflict in the Middle East provides a case in point, as does resistance to the promotion of war as a solution.
During 1987, ANC stalwart, then SRC president Cameron Dugmore, stood on a podium alongside 23 white conscripts from UCT opposed to military conscription during apartheid. The initial group of conscientious objectors, included Christian pacifists as well as then president of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), Jonathan Handler. Signicantly Handler opposed the Border War on the basis of a defense of Israel.
The result was that I relinquished my membership of SAUJS. At the time, Israel was involved in a war with Lebanon, which in many respects was reminiscent of our own border war. It is a position which I have since regretted, (see below). Instead of joining Handler in his “just war thesis”, which was little more than a promotion of Zionism, and thus a moral justification for his later joining the Israeli Defense Force, and with Dugmore rubber-stamping Handler’s participation, I took the difficult path of involvement in South Africa’s armed struggle, crossing the colour line and embracing the culture of resistance and rebellion.
The creation of the environmental justice movement in the aftermath of the banning of the ECC, and my work for Grassroots, South Press, Sached/New Nation form a body of work and deserve a chapter on their own. However the lesson drawn from this experience is that the Middle East problem is not as easily reducible to a binary struggle between black and white, right and wrong. Providing a rubber stamp to either of the parties to the conflict, in my case, my open support for the Palestinians, has resulted in the dilemma of today.
Faced with a difficult and unenviable predicament, I chose a very different approach, that of civil disobedience. Lodging a public objection to Handler’s participation on the platform and Dugmore’s acquiescence, (and without access to all the facts) would have merely playing into the hands of the Botha government and its securocrats. It also risked an embarrassing side-show, in a vulnerable moment. Nevertheless we exchanged words during the media briefing session. For Michael Rautenbach, this was sign that I was ‘simply not ready for the big time’.
Not only was the SAUJS involvement untenable, but as a 19-year-old enrolled in law-school, the problem did not lead itself to any immediate legal answers, save for hoping that it would all somehow pan out and that history would be the better judge. An outright objection against the “just war thesis” and the use of ‘holy war’ instead of simple resistance, would also have required a Phd essay written with all the gusto necessary to balance the complexity of the struggle itself, solidarity amongst comrades, campus spies, security police paranoia, my call-up papers and the lack of engagement by ECC leadership.
With no support for my nascent position from either SAUJS nor ECC’s Dugmore and the merry bunch of Christian fanatics who were assured of a place in heaven with emotional guidance from the Church, and with Atheists then in the minority within the ECC itself, I took my struggle against the system and my membership card elsewhere. Burning my call-up papers, I declined to participate, and instead sent the state ‘a postcard from exile’. My arrival at an outright rejection of war was much later than anticipated, and only after an encounter with the international peace movement following the democratic elections.
It is a period which has come to haunt me in recent years, the difficulties following the banning of the ECC and SWAPO solidarity committee, not because I have been cross-examined by a racist bigot acting for a racist company, in an unfair legal proceeding without the aid of an attorney, on my involvement in some of the details — This whilst also being subjected to a religious inquisition of my secular identity. But because the paranoia surrounding BDS in its current form, and its supporters from the far-right in Fatah and Hamas, combined with Zionist intransigence and lack of public debate, have all moved to close down what little dissent and individual freedom remains.
There are many robust claims made by either parties to the conflict in the Middle East. The result though is invariably the same — the silencing of individual right to dissent, the removal of civil liberties, the abolition of the right to freedom from religion, the right to not be constrained by the religious views of others, the very essence of freedom of religion. Theist, Non-Theist, Atheist. For my part, the conflict is one of injustice vs injustice, a terrible ‘battle between monsters and maniacs’, whether blood on the streets of Tel Aviv, Ramallah, or Gaza, and neighbouring Syria, while the public all too readily reach out for religious texts, as easily as weapons of war.
South Africa for all intents and purposes is a secular country. We pride ourselves in our Constitution which ostensibly guarantees religious and cultural rights, and we like to think we are an exception and there is somehow continuity with our secular struggle and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East. This remains to be seen.
To date there has been no proof that we are special, except propaganda and lies. The short-circuiting of debate. The sheer religiosity of those involved. The astonishing willingness to resort to bloodshed. It is time to face up to facts and to stop the rubber-stamping and handing out of blank cheques to activists on either side, preaching the exact opposite of truth. There is another path, another way out of the conflict, besides advocacy of hatred, bloodshed and eternal war.
The very essence of secularism, according to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rules. “A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature—what ought to be in morals—selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”
Secularism is firmly based upon enlightenment values, the right not to be subjected to religious persecution by the state nor any religious authority or otherwise. Secular values are the ‘We, the People’ values enshrined by our Constitution which are remarkable absent when it comes to the Middle East. To date there is no Freedom Charter for Palestinians and Israelis.
If South Africans are to contribute to justice and a peaceful solution, it must be because we are also willing to defend our constitution, our own history of secularism and opposition to war in all its forms, our nation’s own war resisters over the ages, and thus our nation’s core values in the non-aligned movement.
Unlike many politico’s, we must urge seekers of peace, to do this with the courage to avoid rubber-stamping the “just war thesis” and ‘religious war’ come what may, and whatever the consequences. To avoid providing wholesale support for any of the belligerent parties to the conflict over the final status of Jerusalem, whatever the ends and means, and no matter the outcome, and without at very least, measuring the results against our own conscience, free-will and opinion.
[Note: John Stremlau believes South Africa has a vital role to play. It certainly doesn’t if its media is closing down debate and opinion within our own borders]
Significant departures from the political “truth” associated with the Jerusalem conflict
1. East Jerusalem is the Capital of Palestine
Under International Law, and the Corpus Separatum, the City of Jerusalem was to be an independent enclave. It was Jordan which occupied East Jerusalem 1946-1967, and subsequently Israel occupied Jerusalem 1967-current.
2. There is a map showing how Israel has displaced Palestinians
The map ignores the 1920 San Remo Conference which partitioned a former empire, and the later division of British Mandate Palestine and French Mandate Syria, which created TransJordan aka Hashemite Palestine and Syria (arguably, Syrian Palestine) in 1946-1948. It must be remembered that the Ottomans, supported Hitler and the Kaiser, and thus Germany in both world wars. The map cynically ignores the 1949 Armistice line and the displacement of Arab Jews from Arab countries and their loss of land, some 100 000 square km of deeded property confiscated by Arab states. The map thus ignores the reality that part of British Mandate occupied by Jordan and Egypt was ethnically cleansed with no Jewish population left. Jewish inhabitants of communities like Gush Etzion, Hebron and Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem were absorbed by the new State of Israel. The map also fails in its lack of comparison to Greece and Turkey and India/Pakistan, two examples where populations have been separated according to religion and ethnicity and involving population swaps. Sudan was recently partitioned between the north Arab half and the south African half. Ireland remains separated between the Protestant north and Catholic south.
3. Palestinians and Jews, each form a distinct race and the conflict is thus like apartheid.
Nations are not races. While ethnicity plays a part, there is no science to back up either claim. The infamous 1975 UN resolution 3379 ‘equating zionism with racism‘ was overturned by an overwhelming majority of nations in 1991. The same assertion was voted out of the final text of the controversial 2001 Durban Conference on Racism and the text reaffirmed at Durban II. A highly flawed 2017 UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report examining the policies of Israel within the context of a UN definition of apartheid, admits the error of race, proceeds to supply ”reasons for the error of comparison” and states, there is ‘no single, authoritative, global definition of any race’ at the same time that it attributes race characteristics to Jews for the purposes of analysis. The same category error appears in an equally flawed 2009 local HSRC report written around the time of Durban II. While the policies of Israel are reprehensible and morally indefensible, their root cause is not race, (a loaded term) but rather the confluence of religion and nationality and in particular, religious schism which results in nationality on the basis of religion, a fact common to many Middle Eastern countries.
4. Arab Israelis do not possess the vote.
They are allowed to vote in the Knesset, however Arabs living in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority do not. This is a major and significant human rights issue. No physical wall was ever built by the apartheid state. Bantustan leaders were puppets of Pretoria at best. None of the bantustans ever waged war against the central government. If the PA is not an apartheid bantustan except in metaphor, what is it? Like South Africa’s North West province, it must be seen as a de facto internal province caught up in armed insurrection against the central government, the Israeli state. A position of statelessness, pacification and occupation. The same goes for Gaza, arguably, a subsidiary or satellite of both Egypt, Israel and Iran. How can this be solved? A plurinational, overlapping state solution, and involving neighbours Egypt and Jordan, would do a lot to resolve friction while ensuring independence and the maintenance of human rights. Reasonable accommodation of differences in faith and religious outlook is a prerequisite. Keep an open mind.
5. The conflict has nothing to do with religion.
The conflict surrounding the final status of Jerusalem has been ongoing for centuries, involves different versions of monotheism dating back to the crusades, and predates the creation of the modern state of Israel. The worst part of it. We must not allow it to become a binary conflict and permanent war around race, ethnicity and religion.
6. The majority Arab Palestinians were displaced in 1948 by a white minority, and the result is the Nakba or catastrophe.
Focusing on the 700 000 displaced persons, removed from the Jewish side of Palestine under UN mandate, adding them to some 250 000 Arabs who had chosen to move to the Arab Palestine half, and forgetting that some 850,000 Arab Jews were displaced and dispossessed from Arab countries such as Iraq and Yemen at the same time, results in Nakba inflation. An inflation which also ignores the return of hundreds of thousands of black Ethiopian Jews. Forcible transfer of populations was a factor of the Ottoman and Persian Empires. See Farhud Day, a commemoration of the dispossession of Baghdad Jews.
7. Israel is the result of the Balfour Declaration, a colonial enterprise at best.
The country unilaterally declared its independence during the war of 1948, and the situation under Benjamin Netanyahu is similar to UDI in Rhodesia. Aside from the internal friction between black Mizrahi and white Ashkenazi and Separdhi Jews, this is the one similarity with the white regime of Ian Smith, that one must accept. The Belfour view also ignores the earlier Sykes–Picot Agreement and the later Weizmann Faisal Agreement, and is used to argue the disaster of colonialism, while ignoring the tragedy of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
8. Hamas and Fatah are the equivalent of the ANC and PAC during the struggle.
While all three parties are for the most part, nationalistic, the ANC is the only secular party which has until now, consistently supported civil rights for all persons in the region. The other parties raising the Pan Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies, are mostly theocratic, and only nationalistic insomuch as Arab autonomy in the region is concerned. Fatah is nominally secular insofar as divergence within Islam is concerned and thus tolerates other groups, (see Dhimmitude). Embarrassingly, Hamas was forced in 2017 to amend its charter advocating death for all Jews, to death for only Zionist Jews, to bring its objectives more in line with the Fatah Movement which supports the borders of 1967. More importantly, the ANC had an end-game strategy involving compromises, no such strategy is evident amongst the Palestinians. It was the National Party which opposed LGBTIQ++ rights, and supported the death penalty, not the ANC. No Gay Pride for Gaza, ditto Palestinian feminist group Aswat, based only in Haifa. There is thus a qualitative difference between these two struggles, one backed by the Freedom Charter, the other by religious texts and history books associated with previous Empires. The result is Injustice v Injustice.
9. Israel supported the apartheid regime until the bitter end.
While Israel was slow to act on sanctions against South Africa, and collaborated with the regime on nuclear weapons, it severed such ties in 1987. “There is no room for discrimination, whether it’s called apartheid or any other name”, then foreign minister Shimon Peres said in the New York Times. “We repeat that we express our denunciation of the system of apartheid. The Jewish outlook is that every man was born in the image of God and created equal.” The assertopm ignores the role played by Western countries such as Thatcher’s Britain in supporting apartheid, or the fact that Zionists stood trial in South Africa for opposing apartheid, it also avoids the actual commonality, pariah status, in many ways similar to the position of Taiwan today. In many respects the Palestinian cause shares common ground, not with the South African struggle but rather with the Anglo Boer War, “one of the great liberal and left-wing causes of the late 19th century.” Ignoring obvious chauvinism, Afrikaners were seen “as stout peasant farmers, standing up to the might of British imperialism. Across the world, funds were raised for the Boer cause.”
10. We must choose sides, since standing on the fence is tantamount to support for apartheid
During the anti-apartheid struggle where the issues were black and white, standing on the fence was inappropriate. The opposite is true in the Middle East. Declining to support religious conflict, withdrawing from waging war in the name of religion, supporting freedom for all people, defending secularism and seeking to uphold civil rights in our own country, alongside the victories of the non-aligned movement when it comes to the current East-West brinkmanship and Super-power hegemony, is the only peaceful path forward. Nelson Mandela was perhaps the best spokesperson for this position.
We are all hostages to this ongoing conflict. The time to stand up for secular rights and freedoms, non-alignment and world peace, is now.
EARTHLIFE Africa (ELA), the environmental organisation started by ‘four bearded white men’ during the 1980s, in the aftermath of the banning of the End Conscription Campaign, transformed itself into a national movement headed by women, in the process winning awards.
One black woman in particular, ELA national director Makoma Lekalakala has been named co-winner of the prestigious Goldman Award alongside Liz McDaid of SAFCEI, a Southern African multi-faith institute addressing environmental injustice.
The pair received global accolades for building a powerful coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. This is the first time that a director of Earthlife Africa has received the award.
ELA, alongside SAFCEI, has a long and illustrious history of grassroots activism and coalition-building on environmental justice issues.
From the early days of the environmental alliance with workers affected by mercury poisoning (Thor Chemicals) and asbestos, (both well-known international cases), to several coalitions which evolved around various nuclear deals — the now mothballed R10bn PBMR programme and subsequent programmes — Earthlife Africa has always sought to mobilise issues affecting the earth, human health and human habitat.
The connection between ‘earth rights and human rights’ was a crucial dimension of the broad campaign to include ‘ecological sustainable development’ in South Africa’s constitution. A key element of our democracy.
Defending article 24 via a broad-based environmental justice movement has been a key to the success of the organisation and its latest coalition with SAFCEI.
It would therefore be in remiss if we failed to recognise earlier precursors, the Nuclear Energy Cost the Earth Campaign (NECTEC), which teamed up with the community of Kommegas and Richtersveld, as well as workers in Atlantis opposed to Koeberg and Nuclear One. ELA Cape Town under Maya Aberman made extensive submissions to Parliament.
While the later emergence of the anti-nuclear umbrella organisation known as CANE, which aside from the communities of Eastern Cape (Thyspunt) and Overberg (Bantamsklip), in many respects, dissipated anti-nuclear activism on the ground, failing to draw experience from previous epochs of anti-nuclear activism.
NECTEC as a non-racial campaign can be seen as a precursor to later coalitions which evolved around national health insurance. In this instance, ELA teamed up with People’s Health Movement, and Section 27 to promote universal health coverage.
The latest round of coalition-making under the auspices of Makoma and McDaid, has certainly brought home success and international attention.
We wish ELA and SAFCEI well in the future.