Wikimania 2018 purported to “Decolonise the Internet” instead it created exclusion, elitism and supported racism.
COMPLAINT WIKIMANIA CAPE TOWN
While I appreciate the trouble you have taken to respond to me, in particular your acknowledgement of my contributions to the community over the past years, your unsupported assertions are both unwarranted and unsubstantiated. I therefore respond to your email received on 10 August 2018, in point form.
1. The first I became aware of the aforementioned ‘Decolonising the Internet’ co-located Event (“”Event”) was when I viewed the conference programme several days before the main conference on 17 July 2018. It is clear from the main programme that the keynote delivered by Dr Jacbs was not merely co-located but also linked to the pre-conference topic.
2. While the attached WhoseKnowledge website page has a blue box at the bottom of the page, showing that the event was “an invite-only conference”, this was after some 1000 words, describing ‘the first ever conference about centering marginalized knowledge online” claiming “to build more awareness, allies, and joint action plans” while convening “marginalized community organizers, technologists, scholars, artists, and Wikimedians” and also apparently creating “newly created alliances and networks, [working] together towards more diversity and inclusion in the experience of internet design, architecture, content, and governance” and further proclaiming: “We intend to dramatically change the way the internet represents the majority of the world.”
3. It thus seems a bit odd that this statement should be followed by an exclusivity arrangement whereby the event was held in Cape Town, with absolutely no attempt by the organisers to engage with local Wikimedians. I therefore did not receive the barest forewarning that the event was to occur in the run-up to Wikimania CT. It is also not immediately apparent from the statement as to exactly how the ‘colocated conference’ aimed to be inclusive. Nevertheless I blogged about it on Medialternatives.com, emailed a request for admission to the organisers, which included tweeting this request to some of the speakers, (one of whom acknowledged my tweet) and then requested admission from the organiser in person.
4. As an anti-apartheid activist, and veteran of the struggle for freedom and democracy, I wholly concur with the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us” and reject any inferences which may be drawn in regard to SC support for the matter, of the closed door event. The organisers should know better than to host an event in South Africa, a country with a specific and painful history and where principles of openness and transparency are paramount, and then to embark upon a course of action leading into the main event (“Main Event”) that is at odds with the values suggested by the founding statement. This smacks of wanting to manipulate the opportunity, in other words, proclaiming ‘inclusivity of marginalised persons’ at an event held in South Africa, but when confronted with the reality, the tragic legacy of apartheid and separate development, looking the other way to exclusivity.
5. That I met with the organiser of the ‘Decolonising’ event without incident is now common cause, and notwithstanding the allegations contained in the earlier James Alexander email, which you have also acknowledged in writing, is a troubling case of mistaken identity. What is disputed is the manner and circumstances of the refusal of admission, (I have yet to receive a satisfactory reason aside from “it was closed” ) and thus reject the further reason given by another SC member, that it was because apparently ‘I was not indigenous’, as many non-indigenes attended. For the record, I am legally black and accepted as a Khoisan by the Khoisan National Assembly.
6. With regards to preparation of the main conference programme. My User Talk Page reflects three notices in this regard. A 9 May 2018 ‘Wikimania scholarship application for SA and SADC” (for which I was grateful), the second a 20 May 2018 Wikipedia Capacity Building Workshop ‘hosting Asaf Bartov from the Wikimedia Foundation for 5 days where he will be conducting a series of Capacity Building Workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town” and a 20 June 2018 ‘Application for WikiIndaba Steering Committee Open.’
7. To say the one ‘capacity building’ event ‘Wiki Loves Monuments’ which I attended in 2012 was inadequate for the purpose, or that its sequel this year, barely two months before Wikimania CT, and six years later, was a case of ‘too little too late’, is putting it mildy. I would have thought that a National Wikimania, rather than one or two local events would have been a strict requirement before hosting a conference of this size, magnitude, scope and importance.
8. The result is more than simply a lost opportunity. It is a massive embarrassment for the local community, if not those who arrived on our shores. To expect me to have to remind the National Steering Committee that the tragedy of apartheid, an ongoing and prescient saga whose effects are far from over, is the single most important topic defining us as South Africans is beneath contempt and must be rejected as unreasonable, given the circumstances.
9. Nevertheless I appreciate the time, energy and effort spent on finally hosting Wikimania. Had it not been for my work-load, I might have made myself available for the single round of capacity building this year, and would have certainly volunteered for the SC. However giving us all 5 days forewarning for the capacity building workshop, and then two days notice of the SC election, is surely beneath the pale of reasonableness and scheduling?
10. Providing local Wikipedians very little in the way of support and an effective zero notice for topic submissions is however, what I do find to be risible. Claiming that ‘banner ads were placed’, and/or conveyed via the mailing list, is simply not good enough, and raises the question, what is the use of posting notices on our User Talk Page? And further, why no local marketing campaign via radio and print media? Why no outreach to schools etc?
11. With regard to the allegations that I have in any way abused the ‘safe space policy’ by photographing and/or videoing guests and attendees outside the venue AT A CO-LOCATED EVENT without their permission, or that it was necessary for me to register as a journalist and to gain permission in order to accomplish same, I once again refute the allegations and point you to our Bill of Rights, enshrining press freedom.
12. Further, in regard to the allegation of intimidation, I intend to provide you with my short video documentary, available in due course, (and pending final rendering) where you will find quite the opposite, and assert, that yes I too felt uncomfortable and intimidated, at being on the outside of the event, given the importance of the issues at hand, and no, I refuse to apologise for this making anyone else feel uncomfortable.
13. I hereby reserve all my rights to continue raising these and other important issues affecting both Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation in public and as needs be.
David Robert Lewis
021 788 3119
082 425 1454
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.
IT is easy to dismiss Donald Trump’s tweeting on ‘white genocide’ and ‘land expropriation’ as simply the result of alt-right post-truth exaggeration. A deflection of the global attention from more pressing US domestic issues. Less apparent is the impact the twitter-lead spat will have on cooling relations between the two countries, and amidst rising tensions between the BRICS bloc, and the USA over China, and also relations with EU and Turkey.
Trump has for some months now, threatened to pull out of AGOA, a trade pact formulated under Mandela involving South Africa, the AU and the US.
In a statement President Ramaphosa responded: “This is no land grab; nor is it an assault on the private ownership of property. The ANC has been clear that its land reform programme should not undermine future investment in the economy or damage agricultural production and food security. The proposals will not erode property rights, but will instead ensure that the rights of all South Africans, and not just those who currently own land, are strengthened. SA has learnt from the experiences of other countries, both from what has worked and what has not, and will not make the same mistakes that others have made.”
Both Congress and the Senate have recently shown cause to question what the US is getting in return for Africa’s unfettered access to US markets. The last round of trade wars, however saw cheap poultry being dumped on local markets to the detriment of the South African industry, with the country coming off second best.
It is therefore important to remember( in the same week that saw the demise of UN secretary-general Kofi Anan), that South African politics, often loud and boisterous, has tendered towards moderation and pragmatism at the end of the day, and that the ANC has a legacy of support for multilateral international organizations. South Africa a former British colony, still has strong ties to the Commonwealth.
In this respect, the country, one of the G20, has one foot in the first-world and another foot in the developing world, an unenviable consequence of defeating apartheid and not simply the result of a troubled colonial past. Pragmatic consensus-building and alliance-making based upon political realties may be the only path forward.
It would be a shame if the democratic order were to be upset by ideologues on either side of the Atlantic.
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’.
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.
THREE decades of online communication, and an ongoing electronic struggle and yet our country South Africa, is desperately lagging behind the West when it comes to the dissemination of knowledge and information technology.
Compounding this problem is neo-colonialism, hegemony, the ‘loudhailer on steroids’ issuing forth from Northern Countries, dominating the wires and fibre optic cables and literally flooding our computer screens with trivia about an emerging global culture, one which to paraphrase Brian Eno, “is incomplete without Africa”.
Billed as the “first ever conference about centering marginalized knowledge online”, Whose Knowledge decolonizing the Internet“ is a pre-conference in the runup to this years Wikimania, which is being held in Cape Town later this week.
“51% of the world is online today,” say the organisers “but the Internet doesn’t represent our diversity.”
“The knowledge of marginalized communities is the knowledge of the majority of the world. Yet most online public knowledge still skews towards white, male, and global North knowledge. It is a hidden crisis of our times.”
The organisers plan to “convene marginalized community organizers, technologists, scholars, artists, and Wikimedians in the first conference of its kind.”
“The change we hope to create: With these newly created alliances and networks, we will work together towards more diversity and inclusion in the experience of internet design, architecture, content, and governance. We intend to dramatically change the way the internet represents the majority of the world.”
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.