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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Parly rule 53a is a sign of the times


Julius Malema speaks to reporter Jan Jan Joubert after being ejected
It was only a matter of time before the new parliamentary rule book would be thrown at Julius Malema. Rule 53A was, after all, designed specifically with the former darling of Jacob Zuma in mind.
Yet when the EFF’s “commander in chief” was physically ejected from the National Assembly by newly appointed “bouncers” on Wednesday, it was somewhat unexpected.
Perhaps it was because it was “happy hour”, around 6pm. The parliamentary sitting was about to wrap up. It had opened three hours earlier with rather hum drum, defensive oral replies from a visibly overworked Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. This was followed by equally average answers from the ministers in the economics cluster.
The sitting dragged on with a tedious bombardment of motions without notice. The EFF repeatedly objected each one, unless they were the proposers. This is a new trick that the cocky 6percent party has adopted as an up yours to the ANC and opposition parties who approved the new rules to eject unruly MPs in July.
By this time, Ramaphosa had long since vacated the house. The MPs benches were half empty. All but one journalist had abandoned the gallery, some retreating to their dingy offices at 100 Plein St to file while keeping half an eye on the live television parliamentary broadcast. Others had gathered in the Old Assembly for light relief, a send-off of the parliamentary rugby world cup squad, hosted by the country’s deputy president.
It was then that presiding officer Grace Boroto switched to unfinished business. She revisited the session of August 13, where Malema had referred to Ramaphosa as a murderer. Boroto ruled – quite rightly – that his comment was unparliamentary and told him to retract. Instead, Malema repeated that Ramaphosa was a murdererer, adding that he “must rot in jail”.
It was obvious what was going to happen next. Reporter Jan Gerber captures it on video
Parliamentary staff and journalists dashed to the National Assembly. Wily reporter Charl du Plessis switched on his cellphone video camera as he found his way to the Serjeant-At-Arms, Regina Mohlomi, who till recently had performed a ceremonial role. Now she was issuing urgent instructions to former SAPS officers to enter the house and remove Malema. Charl's video
“Do you know what Malema looks like,” she asked the enthusiastic officers, hired especially to deal with disruptive MPs in terms of Rule 53A.
The giant doors opened and the officers moved in swiftly. They yanked out the EFF leader, flanked by his loyal sidekicks.
Issued with a five- day suspension letter, Malema is barred from the precinct until Wednesday. The ANC issued a statement welcoming the decision. The EFF challenged it. The DA, while backing the new rules, called for a review, saying that Boroto escalated the tension and did not need to resort to rule 53A, which was reserved for “gross disruptions”.
While controversy rages over Rule 53A, it is only a matter of time before it will be invoked again.
But the necessity of having Rule 53A in the first place is a symptom of more serious underlying issues. The circus that has characterised the fifth parliament is moving into an even more contested phase - the precinct becoming more secretive and militarised, the democratic space narrowing and the schisms widening.
What is going on in parliament is a microcosm of what is happening nationally. Attitudes are hardening. Desperation, divisiveness and disrespect are growing, Intolerance and mistrust are deepening.
At the root of the decline is a vacuum in strong leadership and authority that can be trusted. Amid the dirty scrum, there is a dearth of leaders with the interests of the country, not their fiefdoms, at heart.
That a proud and quite remarkable multiparty institution –a place to parle, which means to talk – is at risk of being eroded of everything it has stood for since 1994 is a crying shame.

* This article first appeared in Media 24 publications between 11 and 13 September.

Julius Malema speaks to reporters after being ejected. Pic Janet Heard

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Public interest is our lodestar

In the trenches and long-gone mahogany rows of the fourth estate, I have worked with anarchists, social democrats, neoliberals, centre-right conservatives, socialists, radical leftists and journalists of other ideological bents and quirks.
There have also been unethical fellows I would rather forget – notably crime reporter Craig Kotze, whom we suspected was a police spy in The Star newsroom in the late 1980s, and who confirmed as much later.
Extremes notwithstanding, a newsroom of journalists who represent the country’s diversity and don’t necessarily share the same world view is worth cherishing.
A clash of ideas and ideologies ignites a newsroom. It keeps journalists on their toes. It encourages balance – a sought-after and elusive quality.
Another must-have is a fired-up team that values its role as the fourth estate, with a news editor on a mission to get the best stories – good or bad. The news editor is not in place as a cheerleader for sunshine journalism or to slavishly execute the boss’ agenda – or that of their sources.
The goal is to seek the truth without fear or favour, encouraging reporters to generate their own ideas and yes, dammit, to dig in places that the rich and powerful hope to conceal.
Thanks to the ANC, the development of this culture of journalism was encouraged and South Africa has enjoyed 21 years of media freedom in a self-regulatory environment under a press code of conduct that is guided by the country’s Bill of Rights.
Certainly, “the media” don’t do enough to speak for the marginalised and there has been some cowboy journalism and abuse, but the recently strengthened ombudsman is in place to expose those who let the side down.
Yet, instead of nurturing this system amid a punishing climate of cost-cutting and shrinking newsrooms, there has been a lockdown of intolerance by the state, the threat of a media appeals tribunal ever-present.
And now, “the media” has been faced with an assault not only from government, but from within its own ranks. If nothing else, this gives the lie to the tired finger-pointing misconception that “the media” is a homogenous oppositional bully.
There is a patronising tone to this “big media debate” – cheered on by media-bashing politicians. An ugly divisiveness is building, putting pressure on journalists to make an artificial choice between being “for us or against us” in the name of patriotism and the “national interest” – the very same argument the Nats used to justify the draconian curbs on the media during apartheid.
Co-option is not peculiar to South Africa – it is everywhere. In an article on The Conversation website about the Australian media’s treatment of the Edward Snowden revelations, Deakin University Associate Professor Martin Hirst warns that when the media starts to put “national interest” before “public interest”, it is time to be worried. Hirst points out that when an Australian newspaper defended its government’s right to keep secrets from its people, it betrayed its fourth estate principles.
The guidelines that govern these principles are outlined in the soon-to-be-revised South African code of ethics for print and online media. The code enforces transparent, accountable journalism in a transformed and inclusive environment. When unethical rogues or amateurs transgress it, the concomitant consequences are publicly exposed.
Despite all the ideological differences within “the media”, there is surely a commonality – rallying around the craft’s code of ethics, safeguarding independence and putting public interest first.
This article first appeared in Media 24 titles and websites. 

Zuma must act in interests of Marikana victims

Even if you have no hidden agenda, it is quite a feat to accurately and comprehensively summarise an intricate report of a commission of inquiry that extended over a few years.
So it is perhaps no surprise that more than a month after President Jacob Zuma read out his short summarised version of the 646-page Farlam report on the Marikana massacre, new revelations continue to emerge.
But had retired Judge Ian Farlam been mandated to deliver the findings himself, as would be the case in a court judgment, we may have got off to a slightly less contested start. Gaps and misinterpretations have arisen from Zuma’s summation, thus aggravating understandable anger, especially that the executive had been let off the hook.
One of the crucial gems buried in the fine print is the commission’s finding that the “McCann principle” is part of our law, despite the SA Police Service’s contention that it is not. The McCann principle, according to the commission, “requires the planners of policing operations, where force may possibly be used, to plan and command the operations in such a way as to minimise the risk that lethal force will be used.”
It is this critical principle that the commission found had “been breached” due to the “defective nature” of the plan that was carried out and which led to the deaths of 34 miners on August 16 three years ago. This plan was prepared “in haste” without the benefit of input from the Public Order Police unit. It was not approved by the full Joint Operational Committee and not subjected to a challenge process. “It carried with it a substantially heightened risk of bloodshed,” the commission found.
The upshot of this finding, according to Accountability Now director Paul Hoffman who shone a light on its significance and other fundamental aspects in an article last week, is that a breach of the McCann principle is a sufficient basis for civil liability. In effect, the state would have no valid defence “to the merits of claims for damages arising out of the killing or injuring of miners in Marikana”.
Hoffman advises the state to accept civil liability and tender reasonable damages to victims without delay.
If not, we will be faced with protracted and costly legal battles and unacceptable extended pain and suffering for the families and victims of those killed and injured at Marikana.
Zuma described events at Marikana as a “horrendous tragedy”. Yet he has come under fire for a sluggish start, with apparent inaction so far over the recommendations that he himself outlined in his June 25 summary. Besides dealing with these, he also needs to act on his blindspots. He should do the right thing by accepting civil liability on behalf of the state and fast-track the process of compensating the hundreds of victims who are currently agonisingly preparing civil law suits against the state. 
Another blindspot is the fact that the commission had not cleared the executive entirely. The commission had an open finding regarding police minister Nathi Mthethwa and was unable to find positively in his favour due to lack of evidence.  The report points to a mysteriously missing memory stick and Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega being “distinctly evasive and unhelpful” during attempts to get her to answer questions about the role Mthethwa played .
These revelations, which arise from a close reading of the report, are likely to be welcomed by the commissioners, who have been dodging bullets of a different kind in the past month. Unsatisfying as the outcome may be, their task was to delve, not to be arbitrators or prosecutors. It is up to Zuma to urgently pick up where they left off in the interests of the families - and the public.
This article first appeared in Media 24 print and online titles. City Press




Sunday, August 2, 2015

When good journalism defeats bad leadership

Live tweets of Omar Al-Bashir’s presidential plane taking off from Waterkloof airforce base were a memorable jaw-dropping moment on social media. They were posted around the same time as government lawyers were assuring a panel of judges that the Sudanese president was still in the country in compliance with a court order.
Well-connected Media 24 reporter Erika Gibson had teamed up with plane spotters at various places early on Monday morning. Relying on Gibson’s insider wherewithal as a specialist military reporter, photographer Alet Pretorius was dispatched to Fort Klapperkop “with a lens the size of a cannon” to a little hill on the other side of the highway from the infamous base. Gibson kept tabs “on the right people at the right spots” from her home, coordinating the operation the modern way - with her cell-phone. Their eyes transfixed on activity at the infamous airstrip, the rest of the media were far away, crammed into a court room in Pretoria.
The Monday morning tweets of Al-Bashir’s convoy and his great escape spread around the globe. They made a mockery of the government, which finally admitted about four hours later that the Sudanese President had left the country.
This modern media moment summed up the principles of old fashioned journalism – specialist reporting, not following the crowd and breaking a leg to be in the right place when the shit hits the fan. Sometimes this means taking costly chances, like going on a fishing expedition and risking coming home without a big catch.
These principles ought to be ring-fenced as newsrooms across the globe shrink under the ever-watchful eye of powerful bean-counters who are concerned about profit margins over all else. As newsrooms have contracted and specialist reporters have become rarer, so too has there been a proliferation of public relations companies and masters of spin. In the US, there are about three PR agents to every journalist, and they are “better equipped and better financed”, according to a recent report in the Guardian.
Hoping to inveigle their way into the vacuum, PRs are in the business of setting selective agendas and putting a gloss over impropriety. That is why pesky reporters need to be on the scene to observe for themselves, to seek balance and counter the sophisticated spin that can land up as a very distorted first draft of history.
Old-fashioned journalistic principles also need to be nurtured at parliament, a hotbed of activity these days. This means covering the rowdy parliamentary sittings from the upstairs gallery, not the parliamentary television channel in Johannesburg.  It means taking the oversight work of portfolio committee meetings seriously, though with 25 portfolio committees sitting at any one time, journalists are forced to make agonising choices about what to cover and what to overlook.
A sizeable team from parliamentary communication services offer a media service. But judging from many of the releases they bash out, you could be misled into believing that these multi-party meetings are harmonious affairs when in fact robust dissent is usually the order of the day. Their reports are generally rubberstamped by committee chairs, hence they reflect the views of the ANC majority, not the committee per se.
Perhaps this is why the DA – which operates a relentless 24-hour PR machine – often send their own scribes to committee meetings to “cover” events and put their own spin on proceedings. The ANC has recently stepped up its media game, though their releases are all too often just another version of the parliamentary communication service releases.
All these services have a role, but they cannot perform a watchdog role to ensure that those in power are held accountable. They cannot replace the real deal - actual bums on reporters’ seats at committee meetings, which are the engine rooms of parliament and play a crucial oversight role to those in power.
In the same way, news teams should not be held back from taking the time out to dig for dirt and to drift off from the pack, just as Gibson - and Pretorius - did so splendidly this week.
And on Mediaonline: http://themediaonline.co.za/2015/06/when-good-journalism-defeats-bad-leadership/


The house that Zuma built

Nathi Nhleko shows a video of the fire pool to the media
President Jacob Zuma is right. There is an obsession with Nkandla Nkandla Nkandla. Discussing “the house of one man” as he puts it, has become tedious. It is a distraction from the myriad challenges that hammer the lives of millions of South Africans on a daily basis.
There has been no escaping Nkandla since the start of the fifth parliament over a year ago. The Nkandla lexicon sneaks into everything from the energy crisis and poor service delivery to meaningful debates about job creation and combatting corruption. It is the elephant in the room in both houses of parliament and even committee rooms. Over the past few weeks it has filtered into debates on the government departments’ crucial budget votes. 
Nkandla has split parliament in two – with the 62% majority party having a tough time deflecting the relentless – and sometimes infantile - attacks on their president.
Nkandla has been a trigger for the deterioration of parliamentary behaviour in the past year, with mutual disrespect and unhealthy anger building between the ANC and opposition benches. Last week, for instance, the house was rescued from chaos with the announcement of a 15-minute “comfort break” after DA chief whip John Steenhuisen accused deputy Trade & Industry Minister Mzwandile Masina of mouthing to DA MPs the words: “I will f***you up.”  Nkandla was not the spark, but the row over “the house of one man” has helped to breed this rough pub-like culture of foul mouths and rude finger gestures in parliament.
It is now 14 months since the ever-patient public protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma had unduly benefitted from the R246m upgrades to his private home. So like many Nkandla-fatigued, yet ever-optimistic South Africans, I was looking forward to a breakthrough in the impasse last week.
Here was a golden opportunity for police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko to determine an amount that Zuma owed for non-security features at Nkandla. A gesture would probably satisfy former ANC MP Ben Turok who warned months ago that the country was “sick to death” of Nkandla and accused his party of a lack of wisdom on the way it had handled the controversy. “I would say fair is fair.  … I would say, come on be a sport, pay something,” was his advice to Zuma.
Nhleko had an opportunity to put the embarrassing Nkandla scandal to rest, so that our multi-party parliament could get down to the serious business of building democracy together and tackling the growing jobs crisis which was brought into sharp focus last week.
Anticipation built up ahead of the 7pm Wednesday press briefing, with two reminder notices being issued to the media (like journalists would forget). The hype increased when the briefing was abruptly postponed for 24 hours, only to be shifted forward the following morning to 1.30pm.
Minutes before, news leaked on Twitter that Nhleko had determined that Zuma did not have to pay back a cent. The full farce of the 50-page Nhleko report unfolded in the Zuma-owes-Zero press conference, which included Wikipedia references and amateur damage control video demonstrations to the gentle backing track of the Neapolitan “O Sole Mio”.
Of course, Nhleko’s “f*** you” to the public protector, his announcement that the questionable features at Nkandla were actually security features and that more money needed to be spent to complete security at Zuma’s home should not have taken anyone by surprise. It was na├»ve to expect anything different from a Minister who had been tasked by his own boss to investigate the liability of - his own boss. 
Now, thanks to Nhleko’s whitewash, we can be assured of yet another season of Nkandla obsession in the house of chaos with the #paybackthemoney hashtag continuing to trend.
This article was first published in Media 24 publications on 31 May 2015http://www.news24.com/Opinions/The-house-that-Zuma-built-20150530

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A tea party that I will never forget


Activist David Webster stopped to chat while I was sitting on the pavement with a journalist colleague Jo-anne Collinge. We had been hanging around after a tea party arranged for families of detainees had been rudely interrupted in Braamfontein. Armed security police, in heavy gear, had stormed the hall soon after proceedings had begun. The low-key tea party had been declared an illegal gathering under State of Emergency regulations. The hall was cleared out, rows of teacups and saucers left untouched, neatly lined up on the table.
A rookie reporter, this was the first time I had met Webster. He was annoyed, agitated and showing strain. He complained about the irritation of yet another heavy-handed disruption of a tea party that he had helped organise with the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee. On a personal level, he was also fed up with being harassed by security operatives who were monitoring his every move (details which were later partially documented in the Hiemstra Commission that investigated apartheid-era spy rings).
Now, 26 years on, I have been reminded of our conversation while reading the activist handbook, Big Brother Exposed, by the Right2Know Campaign http://bigbrother.r2k.org.za/. Scandals involving surveillance of high-ranking politicians and even some journalists have been uncovered in recent years. But the handbook reveals anecdotal evidence that, 21 years into the new SA, state security agents are increasingly monitoring grassroots activists and organisations, including R2K, National Union of Metalworkers of SA, United Front and Abahlali baseMjondolo. Suspicious phone calls, attempts to recruit informers, phones being bugged and cars with no number plates parked outside activists’ homes are recorded. In one case, a State Security Agency (SSA) official tried to recruit a local government employee to spy on United Front activist Brian Ashley who they said “wants regime change”. Attempts were also made to recruit Bhayisa Miya, a leader of the Thembelihle Crisis Committee, under the pretext of looking for criminals and in the interests of “national security”. Miya was offered R40 000 for information on community leaders “that are causing problems”.
R2K also raises a red flag about Crime Intelligence’s increasing involvement in the policing of protest actions in the form of information-gathering which have no clear limits or guidelines. Extra funds have been spent on surveillance equipment such as long-range “listening devices” without public debate or buy-in.
Surveillance is necessary for the genuine interests of national security – ie to fight crime, clamp down on xenophobia and as pointed out by R2K, to tackle the worrying trend of political assassinations. But when sinister intelligence-gathering activities are used to serve an ulterior political agenda, it is unconstitutional and a misallocation of much-needed crime-fighting resources. It sows distrust and paranoia and impinges on the freedom to campaign.
We are a very long way off from the dirty tricks unleashed on activists by shady security operatives who killed and maimed in the name apartheid. The SSA has also been quick to respond to the R2K handbook by requesting complainants to come forward so claims can be investigated.
But the rise of the securocrats is cause for concern, brought into sharp focus with the notorious “accidental” signal jamming incident at parliament in February. So R2K should be commended for interrogating the intent and tactics employed to monitor activists. The country is on a dangerous trajectory – with dire consequences - if abuses and manipulation are overlooked and constitutional rights trampled on.
I never got the privilege of meeting Webster again after our first interaction. Shortly afterwards, on Workers Day in May 1989, the 44-year old university lecturer was gunned down outside his Troyeville home, a few hundred metres from where I lived.David Webster remembered



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Monday, March 30, 2015

IEC can't afford another wobble

Political connections are hard to wriggle out of.
Raenette Taljaard may have been reminded of this 6 months ago when ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe accused her of having a “clear political affiliation” to the Democratic Alliance in her position as an IEC commissioner.
Mantashe targeted her in his row with DA leader Helen Zille, who had claimed the IEC was in danger of becoming “another ruling party lapdog” in the buildup to the 2016 municipal elections.
Mantashe’s exact words to Zille were:  “The attempt to link the IEC to the ANC is disingenuous. …The irony is that the only Commissioner in the IEC with clear politician affiliation is Raenette Taljaard, a former DA MP and former CEO of the Helen Suzman Foundation.”
It did not matter that Taljaard had meticulously safeguarded the non-partisan nature of her job as part-time commissioner. It did not matter that she had left the DA after quitting as an MP 10 years earlier, or that she had resigned as CEO of the Helen Suzman Foundation more than two years before taking up her part-time post at the IEC.


The way things roll

This is the way things roll in public office. You are vulnerable to finger-pointing, even if it is unfairly directed and especially in this politically charged.
Yet the ANC has chosen to use its majority vote in parliament to recommend the appointment of Vuma  Glen Mashinini, who is currently special projects advisor to the president, as an IEC commissioner. This puts Mashinini in line for the top job as chairperson. He got the thumbs up despite being widely regarded as an ally of Jacob Zuma. “So what?”. That was the vocal and irritated response from ANC MPs to the backlash from opposition parties in the National Assembly. The ANC pointed to Mashinini’s considerable experience as deputy chief electoral officer which would make him a tempting candidate. His more recent consultancy work in election services in other parts of Africa could also be useful, as long as there is no conflict of interest.
In his interview before a panel headed by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Mashinini reportedly said: “I am an adviser to the head of state, my role is professional and non-political.”
It may be true that Mashinini would prove to be a fine commissioner or even chairperson. But perception counts in public office and for the entire opposition, his link to Zuma is too close for comfort.
The IEC, with a previously umblemished record, recently wobbled during the controversy over a botched R320 million leasing deal which led to chairperson Pansy Tlakula’s resignation. The IEC, an institution tasked with ensuring the country’s elections are free, fair and transparent, cannot afford even a hint of scandal.
The controversy over Mashinini coincided with the resignation of Taljaard. The IEC was among those who paid tribute to her “unquestionable integrity”.  Her departure prompted speculation that she was walking away midway through a seven-year term in protest against Mashinini’s imminent appointment. She has insisted that the timing was coincidental. After 18 years in public office, she wants to focus on her academic work at UCT. The independently minded Taljaard appears to have no interest in being drawn into the divisive political storm. It could be, in part at least, that she would not want her past allegiances to be used as a cheap shot to detract from the real issues at stake.

The power of Number 1


The person with the power to make a difference is Number 1. The decision to accept or reject parliament’s recommendation rests with him. Zuma could still make use of Mashinini’s considerable skills, by retaining him in his office, but not the IEC. By doing so, he would shield the IEC from risk and would be putting South Africa first.

This article was previously published three weeks ago on: 

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Politics/Mashininis-link-to-Zuma-too-close-for-comfort-20150309






Monday, February 16, 2015

Entering a broken house: what now?

When President Jacob Zuma returns to the National Assembly tomorrow afternoon for a two-day debate about his State of the Nation Address, he will enter a broken house.
Hopefully he will not display indifference, as he did when he giggled on Thursday night after the chaos in the house that delayed his speech by an hour. The powers that be that night played a sinister hand. Their actions left a few MPs injured, #SONA2015 trending globally, many South Africans feeling heartbroken and accusations flying that our 20-year-old democracy was resorting to police state tactics.
Thursday night could have turned out differently if the signal had not been scrambled, if security officers – dressed in white shirts like waiters - had not been ordered in to remove persistent EFF MPs, if the Speaker had not ignored MPs questions on the identity of these shady officers and if Zuma had swallowed his pride and taken a quick question on Nkandla.   
In the protracted build-up to last Thursday, I initially felt some sympathy for Madam Speaker Baleka Mbete. She is tasked with maintaining order and decorum in the house. EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema and his fiery red army are in parliament not to be polite. They are agitators and disrupters, intent on challenging the rules of the house.
Although Mbete has been accused of shielding the president at previous sittings and he has a lot to answer for, SONA was not the time to be the anarchic Joker in the house. This was an annual occasion to address serious challenges in the country. It was one which traditionally has been viewed as a rather “festive, fun and lovely” affair, as journalist Katy Katopodis tweeted nostalgically the morning after.
In the days leading up to the big night, the extraordinary security strategy took shape - in secret. In three separate media briefings, presiding officers scrambled to find words when asked about security arrangements. In particular, when pesky journalists persisted with a straight-forward query - whether or not the Public Order Policing unit (the riot police which removed EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela on 13 November) would be deployed, parliamentary officials dodged the yes-or-no question.
Then, two hours before Zuma took the podium on Thursday, journalists got their backs up when they discovered that the communication signal had been scrambled, apparently with a jamming device. What followed was a major distraction with pleas and protest - and some reporters tweeting and filing updates from the digitally-enabled toilets.
It was heart-breaking to see efforts by respected parliamentary staff members to intervene come to nothing. Powerless to get the line unscrambled, they looked uncomfortable as they fielded complaints from the media. It was disheartening that objections to the jamming came from opposition benches, not the ANC, a party which had authored the constitution that trumpets the free flow of information. What then transpired after 7pm – with the signal unjammed - has been relayed around the world. It was an hour of mayhem that shamed South Africa.
This week Madam Speaker faces what seems to be a losing battle to pick up the pieces and bring order to the house. There is a backlash from the opposition, calls for her removal and multiple legal steps being taken against creeping censorship and heavy-handed security measures in parliament.
 Tomorrow MPs should be debating serious economic, political and social challenges in the country, some of which Zuma touched on in his speech on Thursday. But these issues have taken a backseat in the dysfunctional house. And South Africans will clear their diaries to watch the show.








Sunday, February 1, 2015

New year's resolutions to whites catches my eye

Fatigued by the shrill, predictable noise that has been ricocheting off the congested social media space this month, a Facebook post from my son’s Afrikaans teacher, still caught my jaded eye.
 “Can all my white friends please read this,” she appealed, linking to a post from a blogger, Sifiso Mazibuko, in which he offered some New Year’s resolutions for white South Africans. Unlike the disturbing rants from both sides of the seemingly widening racial divide, Mazibuko’s tone was gentle and conciliatory. Committed to a united country, it was a heart-felt wish for South Africans to not retreat but to reach out to each other. (click to the link to the article here)
He said there was a tendency for whites to believe that after 1994, we “were all automatically made equal” so we should put the past behind us. But it was easier for those who had not been the victims of discrimination to move on. It was his view that blacks had “come to the party”, that forgiveness and reconciliation had largely been one-sided.  The Springboks were adopted, Die Stem was melded into the national anthem, the National Party was included in government and perpetrators of violent atrocities given amnesty under the TRC.
Twenty years into democracy, Mazibuko’s 2015 resolutions are simple. Whites could: learn an indigenous language to connect with the “culture and the heart of the person”; support a PSL soccer team; stop telling black people to “just get over it”; and be empathetic, making an effort to acknowledge the pain of the past. “Then we can figure out a way forward together,” he said, ending with: “Ons vir jou Suid Afrika”.
Unlike so many posts that drive a wedge instead of building bridges, Mazibuko’s thoughtful piece, which tried to make sense of the growing frustration among black South Africans, did not trigger a finger-pointing exercise. What it did was get people to think about how much we have done to genuinely learn about cultures other than our own, and how much transformation had taken place within our own lives.
I discussed it with my family at the dinner table. Even though I was among the ’80s generation inspired by the struggle for a non-racial South Africa, I now risked becoming complacent. I was retreating into my comfort zone, not making an effort to cross barriers. I had always been outspoken about racist comments from white suburbia, but I now caught myself slipping towards passive protest: ignoring it but lamely moving away.
As a typical lazy English-speaking South African, I had only made a feeble attempt to learn more than a few phrases of Xhosa. I could get away with it. Everybody else was taking the trouble to master my home language.
But now, were my children at risk of also growing up where the conversation would stop shortly after introductory greetings?
These thoughts had bubbled up after my daughter Ella, who was about to start high school, had told me she was going to switch her second additional language choice from Xhosa to French. “Xhosa is so hard,” she said, after I asked why. I had given in to her, not wanting to force my will on her.
But In the car on her first day of school last week, I had a 15-minute window.  I reminded her of our dinner table conversation, where we resolved together to make more effort. Xhosa would enrich her life. Ella was silent. Just before we reached the school, she said, “Okay mom, I will stick with Xhosa.” And off she went.
If forcing one’s own agenda is bad parenting and Ella resents me later, I won’t resort to the South African blame game. I won’t point a finger at Mazibuko. But if Ella thanks me later, I will extend my gratitude to him.