Wikimedia spindoctor on failed Decolonisation Conference

READERS may be aware of the circumstances surrounding the hosting of an exclusive “Decolonising the Internet” conference in Cape Town.

A conference so exclusive that that it was not simply a well-funded invitation-only event, in the run-up to Wikimania Cape Town, but one which bizarrely excluded anti-apartheid activists — in the process failing miserably to include the very same persons referred to in its bold statements, cynically referring to ‘representivity, inclusivity, the marginalised and the local (see my letter to Douglas Scott, and my complaint to Wikimania).

The organisers still persist in claiming they were promoting “newly created alliances and networks, [working] together towards more diversity and inclusion in the experience of internet design, architecture, content, and governance” while further proclaiming: “We intend to dramatically change the way the internet represents the majority of the world.”

Exactly how this will ever be achieved by hosting closed door sessions dominated by ‘privileged white persons’ from the global North is still a mystery.

What the organizers did accomplish was some skilled (read manipulated) agenda-setting and box-ticking for the main programme’s half-baked keynote delivered by Dr Sean Jacobs, who parachuted in from New York to deliver an uneven address on the subject while claiming that Wikimania had done its homework on apartheid memory.

Witness Jake Orlowitz a Wikimania volunteer being interviewed by a clueless volunteer who ends her interview by stating:  “you did all my work for me, I don’t even have to ask any follow up questions”.

The podcast is a nothing less than a puff piece for the closed-door fiasco, in which local activists were not informed by organisers that the event was being co-located by Wikimania, on an international programme held in Cape Town, which will be remembered for its failure to include a single session on apartheid memory. 

Ditto Rhodes Must Fall.

Attendees were then bussed to Robben Island, and sites in D6 and local townships, without bothering to create a safe space for the very persons affected by apartheid separate development, and the latest round of academic exclusions on the nation’s campuses, nor given any other opportunity to air their views on the subject.

Orlowitz, much like so many megaphoned and amplified ‘male allies’ in the global women’s movement, proceeds to hog a debate on issues to do with developing world invisibility and ‘your’e not welcome’ implicit race bias, acknowledges its a ‘middle class hobby’, touches on issues to do with representation, in an 11 minute podcast published by ‘WhoseKnowledge‘ the apparent backers of the pre-conference.

Startling in that the obviously ‘white privileged male’  without a hint of irony, goes on to say ‘Wikipedia [is] struggling with inclusion’, ‘consistantly white men from the global North who do well .., and often who don’t see a problem’, “it’s not me, I’m not a part of it”.

Orlowitz claims his role is one of ‘using his privilege to raise awareness’ then bizarrely proceeds to speak on behalf of ‘folks who were born native and privileged’ as well as those who are ‘excluded from the system [but] ‘who carry so much knowledge’, before admitting, “I don’t even know what is missing”.

A point of view which rubbishes claims made by a member of the local Wikimedia Chapter, that the event was limited to ‘indigenes’.

Strangely Orlowitz calls systemic Wikimedia bias merely a ‘meme’; while claiming the decolonising pre-conference was inclusive of diversity and marginalised persons, but does not make any cogent argument for why the conference was closed.

That organisers wants to reproduce this closed model surrounding an online site famed for its apparent openness, is risible.

WhoseKnowledge is clearly one of many opportunistic organisations possessed of politically-correct do-gooder-speak, with all the resources but without the right model. Reverting to a previous era of closed and proprietary debate, is what is at fault here.

I therefore have no hesitation as a publisher and anti-apartheid activist, affected by Wikipedia deletions of apartheid memory, in once again rejecting the WhoseKnowledge organisation on the basis of ‘nothing about us, without us

SEE: James Alexander, you’re out

Wikimedia: James Alexander, You’re out!

THE over-eager and misguided official who banned me from Wikimania Cape Town for allegedly ‘disrupting a pre-event on ‘Decolonising the Internet’ and also for ‘disrupting an event in Tunisia’, (both events which I never attended) is no longer at Wikimedia. According to users of website Wikipediocracy, which among other things, aims to “to inoculate the unsuspecting public against the torrent of misinformation, defamation, and general nonsense that issues forth from one of the world’s most frequently visited websites”, Alexander has left Wikimedia without so much as a farewell.

“Alexander came to the forefront for two issues during the 2018 Wikimania in South Africa” wrote a Wikipediocracy forum user “when, exercising his authority, he forbade one volunteer event helper to continue his work as reported in our August 2018 Special Report, and withdrew the registration of a South African newsman and anti-apartheid activist from the conference for reasons that were later confirmed to be partly incorrect as documented in YouTube (from 26:51) and had him ejected from the venue.”

see this thread 

and also this one on Wikipedia Sucks

In saying the reasons for my exclusion were partly incorrect, (and not true) the user fails to disclose the sequence of events which makes the entire episode Wikimedia’s own fault.

Piece lampooning Alexander’s departure

In my own response to the thread, I thus posted:

1. Responded to Douglas Scott of Wikimania … wikimania/

2. Documented the entire incident on video … 8-recoded/

‘Not only is Mr James Alexander dead wrong about Tunis, but he is 100% wrong about every other purported fact regarding the matter and the initial complaint made at Wikimania Cape Town.

Please read my initial complaint and watch the video.’ … oundation/

3. For the record, given the circumstances I can only welcome the apparent dismissal of Mr Alexander from Wikimania Foundation, and demand that the Foundation deal more adequitely with incidents of racism and exclusion on the basis of opposition to apartheid.

This is why I am damn well complaining…

Heavens, for the life of me, it would appear that the Independent Group and Media24 have deleted every article I have ever written for these two mainstream publishers, and the same goes for all of my writing done during the Struggle, under force majeur force majeure, in a State of Emergency and surrounding by sanctions, for the alternative press.

Of course this is not altogether true, and the problem is a lot more complex than a simple google search or query on flikr. Most SA publications were not actively online prior to 2001.  Hard thought it may be to comprehend in an era where the net is taken for granted, there was a time when there was no internet, at least in the way we conceive of it now, as the www.

South Africa has also been relatively slow to adopt the web in the same way as the USA and other place and is barely progressing towards Web 2.0. There is still only one Broadband Telco, and three mobile operators and the barriers to entry have meant ordinary South Africans have very little connectivity where it counts most, on the Superinformation Highway, and not down some back alley.

Most of the information available to the outside world is therefore hopelessly inadequate, biased and one-sided. Since my critics have greater bandwidth than me, they have prevailed by drowing out the signals that create a picture of who I am. I don’t intend to swamp them with appeals to correct the record. No what I am going to do is lobby Jimmy Swales, and the Creative Commons, to rectify the tragedy of South Africa’s alternative press.

Let’s get the South Press Archive online. Let’s make the Vrye Weekblad available to net-surfers. Let’s put Grassroots back where it belongs. Then you be the judge.

There are bout three years of contributions to the Cape Times which for all intents and purpsoses do not exist. Can one really draw an impression based upon the racist views of a white minority?  Would you trust the manufacturers of apartheid with the truth?
For those of you unable to access my “notable” writing, here are some links to current work available online.


Refuting Gaia

Opposing Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy – Money hungry swindlers

Design Indaba


SA Art Times

Here is the link to the sad and tragically misinformed discussion about my wikipedia page deletion, that’s the deletion of the David Robert Lewis page.

An earlier posting about Wikipedia Apartheid Denialism

Wikipedia – home to white supremacists and the Christian rightwing

Wikipedia anonymity breeding racism?
Wikipedia anonymity breeding racism?

WIKIPEDIA, the online encyclopaedia has become a haven of neo-conservative tinkering and revision of history under apartheid. A recent internet debate (archived here), shows the mindset of a generation which has grown up without direct knowledge of the apartheid system yet hankering after a period in which a minority white government ruled over a black majority denied the franchise.

A controversial article about an incident of unrest, equivalent in scope and political fallout to the 1960s Kent State shootings, at the prestigious University of Cape Town, during the 1987 State of Emergency was narrowly voted out, after right-wingers gained the upper hand, deleting the piece as being “not significant enough to warrant an article.” Despite criticism of systemic bias by two contributors, one of whom confirmed “accusations of censorship at the time”, the view that the incident was “just another storm in a students’ teacup to protest a military cross-border raid” has prevailed.

During the state of emergency South Africa’s press were under orders restraining their ability to cover an incident in which 500 students, black and white, staged a protest and were shot at by police on campus. 6 students were injured by buckshot. It was the first time since 1972 that police had used gunfire to quell a student disturbance on a predominantly white campus. Dozens of police with tear gas, guns, whips and attack dogs stormed a protest march against forced conscription, the war in Angola, cross-border raids by the SADF into neighbouring states, the continued detention without trial of student leaders, the banning of the African National Congress and continued incarceration of Nelson Mandela, to name a few of the grievances of the time.

As one of the persons caught up in the resulting 14 day melee, I went from being a law student to a political activist overnight. The entire campus was involved, classes were shut down. There were sit-ins, and teach-ins. Helicopters circled overhead. Teargas covered the plaza and Jameson steps. A South African breweries truck was torched. Traffic snarled up De Waal drive for miles. A pregnant woman was whipped by a sjambok wielding policeman in the library. Rubber bullets were also used.

The event signalled a turning point in the history of the otherwise liberal establishment. Students were radicalized. I went from being an idealist, to an ideologue, caught up with the political discourse of an era which had more resonance with similar student uprisings in the Paris Sorbonne of 1968 than Cape Town of today, needless to say, much of what happened was undocumented, underground and under siege.

Wikipedia editors (protected by anonymity of the internet) chose instead to perpetuate the suppression of the event, merging one citation, taken from the article, with the UCT campus main page, thus deleting the piece in full, and prolonging a reign of censorship. Nothing was done by the academic institution to mark the twentieth anniversary of the student uprising last year, and even the SRC has forgotten that it had once been the site of barricades. As the originator of the piece dismissed as a “poorly-referenced rant, written mostly in first-person or as a memoir, of student unrest” one has to admit criticism that there is currently little or no access to online references that can affirm the existence of government-sponsored censorship during the state of emergency.

For example, a news clipping taken from the Cape Times (and available from the South African library) begins: “Large parts of the University of Cape Town campus were at times uninhabitable yesterday afternoon and some lectures were disrupted as a result of actions by certain people which may not be reported in terms of state-of-emergency press censorship,” is not available online.

While the foreign press referred to cross-border raids by the SADF as the cause, local newspapers told another story: “An hour confrontation between the people who may not be identified and about 150 – 200 students followed a lunch time meeting attended by about 700 students, called to protest at the deaths and firing of SA Railway’s and Harbour’s Workers Union (SARHWU) on Wednesday.”

Most news references from the period have yet to be digitized and made available to the public.

The existence of secondary source material apparently taken from the foreign press such as the Boston Globe is problematic since access to what one could call primary sources are restricted by a subscription fee. The mainly republican-lead US press, following the lead of the Cape Times and other liberal newspapers played down the event which lead to the announcement of the unbanning of political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela. A period which ushered in the transition to democracy.

Just how out of kilter with popular opinion the press were can be seen by a report in the The Los Angeles Times which refers to the University as a “white school“. College is also frequently used to describe the ivy-league institution, reducing the world class university in stature somewhat. Attempts to diminish the impact of the event have largely been successful. Personal testimonials have yet to be collected. Those who can say they were there, are now approaching middle age or in their mid-forties. Most have have either immigrated, died from neglect, or been quietly forgotten.

The initial head-count of 500 students engaged in revolt which quicky expanded to at least 1500 over the ensuing weeks has been reduced by the logic of redneck journalists such as John Battersby (the New York Times’ correspondent who in a masterful manipulation of the facts, reported about the event second-hand) to “about 350”, and this figure is now officially estimated at no more than 15 persons engaged in illegal activities.

Hopefully history will prove Wikipedia wrong. As more black students gain access to the internet, questions will be asked. What happened to the 5000-plus students who were affected by the 1987 UCT uprising? How did this impact on their academic careers? Were the instigators ever re-integrated into society or simply marginalized? Were the victims of the resulting unrest compensated by civil society for the wrongs perpetrated by callous policemen who chose to see every student as a communist, a “kaffir-lover” or a MK sympathizer?

Were the government spies and apartheid agents ever brought to book? Were the detainees released? How many people actually died defending an unjust system, and how many causalities were there in the conflict? Did anybody bother to mention those still locked up in psychiatric wards for refusing the draft, or the innocent bystanders still without limbs, simply because politicians sent an entire country to war?

* google list of sources

* New York Times downplays Kent-State-like story, reducing conflict to historical footnote.

NOTE: This is not the first time my work has been the subject of rightwing revisionism. A year ago an entire posting on this blog was deleted without permission by my hosts at the time, Amagama/ Blogmark, an online site associated with the Mail and Guardian but operated by Media24. It concerned a review of a book on the Border War. I have yet to receive compensation for the material, licenced under the creative commons which has not been returned, despite promises by senior management.