from Louis in Johannesburg: South African (SA) socio/political dynamics-an anthropologist view

September 20.

“Those who were seen dancing, were thought to be insane, by those who couldn’t hear the music.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

During the Democratic Alliance (DA) reign of Mmusi Maimane, Gwen Ngwenya was appointed in 2019 head of policy. Her nonracial policy pronouncements went unheard by the party leadership at the time. Fast forward to September 2020, her policy emerges once more from the DA national convention to an aggressive chorus of condemnation from mainstream media and various members of the commentariat. 

A few voices that criticize Gwen Ngwenya also consider that she may in future be seen as a thought leader: the first person to apply critical thinking to the issue of non-racialist policy. ‘Racist’ being used in a pejorative sense and ‘racialist’ being used in an anthropological sense. At least the current DA leadership seem to be listening.

https://www.da.org.za/why-the-da/values-and-principles

The ruling party in South Africa have yet to reach what may be called “their Magna Carta moment”. England reached this moment in 1215 and laid the foundations for the rule of law and protection of property rights from the vagaries of tribal chiefs and kings. The Charter of the Forest of 1217 a companion document protected the rights of commoners to plant crops for family sustenance, gather fuel and graze their cattle. It was never meant as a basis for possessing large tracks of land as basis for wealth. These foundational documents provide the basis where the spirit and the letter of the constitution hold citizens to account through a process of self-regulation, as well as the rule of law through independent judges and the courts. In South Africa we have a way to go to catch up to England of 1215 and 1217? When we look back from 2040, we may mark this moment as the watershed that took us away from a relativist world of politics and policy implementation to an analytical, evidence-based world of policy.

As the Nationalist Party copied its colonial masters so the ANC alliance has emulated the Nationalist Party government insofar as race-based policies are concerned. No new thinking in sight. So much for ANC non-racialism. One of the ANC founding documents, the Freedom Charter from Kliptown, Soweto in 1955, speaks clearly of non-racialism, non-sexist and a country that belongs to all who live in it. However, the current crop of ANC leaders choose to emulate the apartheid racist policies including racial classification.

A well-known SA industrialist once said, in all revolutions there is damage, in the South African revolution the damage has been to the quality of thinking. We seem to have sunk into a morass of relativist thinking where critical thinking is almost entirely lacking. Even main-stream journalists seem to be in an echo chamber where they pass ignorance around as analysis and insight.

Past President Zuma continues to ask these same journalists “Tell me what have I done wrong?”

What he means is that he has not been found guilty in any court of law of any crime. I think he with many others believe, notwithstanding allegations based on investigations that they are complying with the rule of law, huh?

All of this when critical race theory and a firestorm of cancel culture in the USA the UK and elsewhere in the west, fueled by non-liberal thinking threatens to undermine western democratic foundations. It reminds me of how Mao used the Red Guards to remove any traditional cultural reminders which were in accordance with Maoist philosophy holding society back, so-doing opening the way for the great leap forward.

IMHO Gwen Ngwenya’s non-racial policy offers us the first glimpse of principle-based policy where what may be called radical non-racialism, is central. (Policy Document available on request – health warning 58-page document!). As the beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us there is no African version of principles and values. This may be confusing to many. Ngwenya’s policy document goes unrecognised by mainstream media as thought leadership, for now. So what’s new? Galileo, Darwin, Martin Luther King Junior, van Zyl-Slabbert and Smuts. These visionaries, ahead of their times, had to endure emotional criticism from “those who could not hear the music.”

Classical liberalism reflected in the metrics of The Heritage Foundation, The Fraser institute and the Cato Institute has an undeniable association with wealth creation.

“Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanisation and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America (Wikipedia  2020).

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: beyond the looting

August 1. As the funds that may be stolen are exhausted, the looting intensifies and becomes desperate. The ransacking of the VBS bank, which housed the life savings of the poor collapsed under the weight of theft, is one indicator of this desperation. The EFF, allegedly involved, has suffered reputational damage as a result. Hopefully, voters will punish them at the forthcoming municipal elections in 2021.The good news is that this looting will stop soon as funds dry up completely. The IMF Covid19 relief fund once it has been plundered will enable the IMF to refuse to provide any further funding. Technology now assists with software that can trace all banking transactions. In the hands of competent journalists transfers into the accounts of politicians and their trusted family members and other surrogates can be traced and published.

In the absence of national leadership and any sign of embarrassment at being caught, thieving will probably continue until all taxpayer’s money has been exhausted. In the face of these dire circumstances, I remain an optimist. The unrecognised work of faith-based organisations such as Caritas, Gift of the Givers and church groups such as the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) provide a basis for trusting the decency of the average South African. Survey after survey demonstrate their priorities for a job, education for their children and decent healthcare. Building trust and cohesion between races in the middle levels of society is the result of the selfless work by the average citizen taking care of their neighbour, also faith-based organisations and churches.

Caritas strives for a world where the voices of the poor are heard and acted upon, where each person is free to flourish and live in peace and dignity and where our natural environment given by God is managed responsibly and sustainably in the interests of the entire human family. While many councillors and other ANC office bearers shamelessly steal food parcels destined for the poor, these organisations ensure that parcels in their hands reach their destination. Selfish politicians, and others that should know better, call for schools to remain closed, forgetting that children receive meals at schools. They now have to find a daily meal in other ways.

I woke up this morning to the Muezzin in the Turkish Mosque in Midrand, calling the Muslim faithful to prayers at dawn. It was the first time I had heard the Muezzin’s call to prayer. The cold morning air and a favourable breeze as well as the absence of traffic noise because of Covid19 curfew probably enabled this experience. The Mosque is situated approximately ten kilometres away on the other side of the massive granite dome midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. I was both surprised and elated. The additional volume from the Muezzin’s public address system was probably part of the EID celebration. Eid Al-Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In 2020, that date falls on July 31.

I was immediately transported back to Istanbul where I lodged for a month in Sultan Ahmed, the oldest part of Istanbul. I was in lodgings in the shadow of the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, in the vicinity of the Hagia Sophia once the largest Christian church building in the world. Built in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of the imperial capital of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church, except during the Latin Empire from 1204 to 1261, when it became the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral. In 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque. In 1935 the secular Turkish Republic established it as a museum. In March 2020, it re-opened as a mosque. I learnt on my month-long stay in Istanbul to value and look forward to the richness of the Muezzin’s call to prayer as part of my soundscape. I was also reminded of working in Mali where we would pause our workshops during the day for prayers of the faithful by our Muslim participants. Praying the Angelus came to mind but few people observe that ritual these days.  

In Midrand where I have lived since 1980, we are the beneficiaries of a number of unique churches, namely, St Saviours an Anglican Church just down the street, the Russian Orthodox church across the valley and the Turkish Mosque close by. More about the former two churches in a future diary entry.

Nizamiye mosque in Midrand, South Africa

The construction of the magnificent, authentic Turkish Mosque in Midrand is the consequence of USA regulation or should I say over-regulation and perhaps prejudice against another Muslim place of worship on their soil. “Uncle Ali” first attempted to find a site for his dream mosque and Islamic School in the USA. When this failed, he approached the South African Government and specifically the Midrand Municipality.

The only stipulation from the Midrand local authority was that if “Uncle Ali” built the Mosque in Midrand it would be open to all who wished to visit it. Informal sources assert that “Uncle Ali” invested nearly one Billion Rand, constructing a scaled-down version of a Turkish mosque designed by one of the finest Islamic Architects. “Uncle Ali”, as he is affectionately known, personally supervised its construction and the Islamic School next to it from his caravan parked close by. The Islamic school boasts a number of its pupils graduating with distinctions in ten subjects when only seven passes are required for admission to universities in SA.

The Imam provided me with a personal tour of these magnificent buildings, resplendent with imported ceramic tiles, paintings and other internal adornments, honouring Allah. Shining marble floors, convenient foot-baths and suspended lights complement the spiritual atmosphere and Muslim ritual. Four Minarets and a copper-clad dome stand out on the horizon announcing the presence of an important Islamic place of worship and the presence of a community of the faithful who worship in this Mosque. Ironically, the Muslim-owned Mia property on which this mosque is built was situated far out of town in 1934. As Johannesburg and Pretoria have become one metropolis this Muslim community now finds itself at the confluence of two cities.

Testimony to the spiritual diversity of Midrand it has been constructed in a corner of a vast Muslim-owned, 2000 hectare property straddling the Juskei River which is being developed into a R30bn multi-purpose zone. The four floodlit minarets subtly shift colour against the night sky, hypnotically changing from luminous green to cobalt blue. The physical beauty is accompanied by active, positive community engagement. The Islamic Gift of the Givers Foundation is the largest disaster response non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent. The essence of its presence is to bring hope and restore dignity to the most vulnerable. It has played an important part in providing material relief in the form of food, blankets and shelter amongst the poorest of the poor during the Covid19 lockdown. At times it has been the only lifeline between ISIS captives in Mali, Central African Republic. Nigeria and other African states and their families.

South African School kids protesting during Apartheid

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Our Escape to the cinema to see – Escape from Pretoria.

Mail & Guardian, South African newspaper during apartheid years

July 12. Last night we went to the cinema. It felt like a special treat; I cannot recall the last time. And it was an occasion, more than we had realised. Newly introduced rules in our state allow a larger audience. Our tickets had to be bought online, with specific seats allocated such that there were empty seats either side of us. Sanitizer bottles had been placed at the entrance. The Palace Nova cinemas made an event of last night: they premiered two locally produced films and invited our Premier, Steven Marshall, and our Adelaide Mayor. We listened to speeches, an interview with one of the actors and a videoed message from Francis Annan, the director.

The film was Escape from Pretoria, filmed in our historic Adelaide Gaol, in local streets (converted to ‘Cape Town’) and briefly in the countryside of South Australia. It is based on real events that took place in 1978-9 in apartheid South Africa. The star actor is the bespectacled Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Daniel portrayed Tim Jenkins and most of the film takes place in the gaol.

Tim is the cousin of a good friend of mine and we met him during the filming of Escape from Pretoria and he showed us a copy of the wooden keys that he made in the prison workshop and, with two other prisoners, used to escape the high security prison in Pretoria. It is a fascinating story; unfortunately, Tim’s eponymous book is unavailable but the film is out there.

You can watch Tim Jenkins talking about his work for the ANC in this YouTube program: The Vula Connection. One of the speakers is Ronnie Kasrils, whom South Africans will recognise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29vrvKsKXPI

Back to the film. The events portrayed took place 42 years ago when it seemed apartheid would be impossible to dislodge. After meeting with the ANC in London, Tim and his friend, Stephen Lee, set about making small contraptions, called parcel bombs, (they never hurt anyone) that distributed leaflets in various Cape Town and Johannesburg streets. The leaflets promoted the ideas of the then-banned ANC. The two men continued this activism for two years before their arrest. They were found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 12 and 8 years respectively.

Although you know from the title that they suceeded in escaping, the film is an impressive display of determination and ingenuity. To make the wooden keys from observation of the keyholes and the guard’s keyrings, from trial and error while under surveillance, is beyond impressive. Eventually, over 18 months, they made keys for every gate, storage cupboard and locker they could find. There were 10 doors between them and freedom and they had to negotiate past the night-time guard.

I found it interesting to see how they portrayed Tim Jenkin’s cell. Totally bare at first, but as time went on it became a personalised space: drawings, books, family photos.

There were two little jarring aspects to the movie. Firstly, the South African accent is hard to copy unless you are a Trevor Noah, and some attempts were curiously odd. Secondly, Pretoria is famous for its jacaranda trees, so is Adelaide. There was a lack of sense of place in the film, but maybe that is only seen by an ex-South African.

It was a treat to see a movie on the big screen. A treat to forget about Covid-19 threatening the world outside. Escape from Pretoria is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking film about a time when we lived in South Africa: about a society dominated by a racist regime, about fortitude in the face of oppression. How easy it is for a society to travel down that same racist path and how few are brave enough to stand up against it. That we should never forget.

from Louis in Johannesburg: Fracture Lines …

It has become a truism that Covid19 has exposed many of the fracture lines and contradictions in South African society. The inequality across SA society has become much more visible and prominent. There are stark provincial differences in dealing with the crisis. Ideologues persist in shunning the private sector, which at the same time are providing a far more efficient basis for testing services to stem the pandemic tide. Prevention measures remain better than cure.

There can be no mistaking a capable state with a clear strategy, leadership that takes a stand for their strategic priorities and relentless delivery of quality services. In Gauteng province where I live, we have gone in the last few weeks, from the expectation of a massive wave of infections to the reality of infection levels that may well overwhelm the medical facilities available.

The stated intent by the ANC government of “flattening the curve” was to buy time to expand medical facilities such as testing and tracking as well as increasing beds available for those in most in need of intensive care. The official reason given was “to save lives” This government mantra reminds me of the  mini-speech/presentation delivered on take-off about “the unlikely event of an emergency landing etc.” The best part is the “life-jacket under your seat” part, especially in the event of an emergency sea landing. With large jet engines hanging off the wings which will be the first to touch the water surface in an emergency landing, does this not cause the aircraft to cartwheel out of control killing all on board! Safety regulations being what they are, they shall be obeyed even if they do not make sense. Politicians being what they are, they must be seen to be doing their best even if their leadership does not make sense. In defence of political leadership, much has yet to be understood about the behaviour of the Covid19 virus. A curious comparative African statistic  on 4th of July 2020 raises many questions.

South Africa: Population 59,312,107 Total deaths 2,952, Full lockdown, Unemployment rate 30.1%, GDP Growth -7.2% in 2020.

Tanzania: Population: 59,727,695, Total deaths 21, No lockdown, Unemployment rate: 1.98%, GDP Growth 2.5% in 2020.

The Democratic Party-run Western Cape Province is the only province that has done this. The eight other Provinces seem to have postponed the inevitable tsunami and squandered the time created by lockdown by a lack of implementation, leaving very few options. It is emerging that lives lost through the loss of jobs may be substantial; some estimates place the economic consequences at R1.2 Trillion and counting. Testing by the government takes at least six days to obtain results. My Covid19 test took six hours in a private sector facility. The ANC Government insists on working separately from the private sector while it is clear where efficiencies lie. An ideological bias towards a statist policy creates a manifest learning disability. ANC politicians continuously refer to expected surges trying to create the impression that they are in control, while the opposite is true. Professor Alex van den Heever of the Wits School of governance said recently that the government now needs to seriously change tack and begin to do its job-rather then just pretending. The Western Cape’s response to Covid19 should be recognised and replicated because it represents best practice.

I’m not holding my breath. There seems to be a deep inability to learn within the ANC government. Other examples exist but are ignored. Much yet to be desired for evidence based policy and modern government.

Cape Town was the first Metro to conduct a full virtual council sitting where it passed an adjusted budget with an R3 billion social support package. This was made possible by the City’s history of responsible, clean financial management. It offered the most comprehensive services to homeless people of any metro during the initial hard lockdown providing temporary emergency facilities housing 2,000 people: providing meals, shelter, blankets, sanitation and psychosocial services including assistance with getting identity documentation and registering for social programmes.

President Ramaphosa, who has recently been compared to Churchill, admonished the population not to stigmatise of people testing positive for Covid19. He commanded that it “must stop.” Stigmatisation seems to be a throwback to one of the responses to HIV/Aids infection. A kind of denial of existence. In his defence, he has prioritised the lack of capability in government. However, a general lack of follow-through by government, now also in the case of flattening the curve tactics. The time between early lockdown and exponential infections seems to have been squandered in all provices where the ANC rules.

Capability can be seen and appreciated in Japanese industries, during the quality revolution stretching from the1940s to the 1980s. In Singapore, the government scenario planning unit anticipated, amongst other dynamics, a viral attack and prepared plans accordingly. More recently, China has demonstrated its capability to build medical facilities at a breath-taking pace. The capability of these government organisations is unmistakable. This capability has taken years of steady investment to build.

Guest contribution: From Christopher Merrett in Pietermaritzburg: a creeping coup in South Africa?

a casspir (mine-protected armoured personnel carrier)

April 26, 2020. Sharp Thoughts. South Africa is currently run by big fat people with guns and an attitude to match. Seeing pictures of a casspir entering a Cape Town township, an entire wedding arrested in KwaZulu-Natal, and heavily armed troops storming into Alexandra (allegedly killing Collins Khosa on his property on 10 April and assaulting people in the street and forcing them to do humiliating physical exercises) brought back haunting and disturbing memories of the emergency years of the apartheid-era. Judging by the broadcast traffic report there are numerous roadblocks. Ten thousand people have reportedly been arrested in KwaZulu-Natal alone.

Using the armed forces to police civilians is always an extremely bad idea. Soldiers are trained in aggression and to kill, not to ensure co-operation from citizens. They have no policing skills and sooner or later, by the very order of things, someone will die. High-ranking army officers appearing before the parliamentary joint standing committee on defence justified the potentially murderous behaviour of their troops on the grounds that they were ‘provoked’ by people ‘insulting’ their commander-in-chief (i.e., the president of South Africa). This would apparently ‘not be tolerated’. It is clearly news to them that provocation is not a crime, nor is insulting the president unless a charge is laid and the courts find otherwise; but parliament acted in its customary limp-wristed fashion and issued no rebuke. 

Soldiers instinctively look for an enemy and in the case of South Africa there they are: legions of increasingly hungry, angry and demonstrative people. The government evaded responsibility for the Marikana massacre of miners in August 2012, but the consequences of another bloodbath, this time in a busy township or crowded informal settlement rather than among some remote koppies, will be dire.

From the very outset the ANC government has treated a global public health threat in a militaristic way. The term ‘state of disaster’ is a misnomer: there is no disaster – yet – especially in comparison with other ongoing calamities like the murder rate, road fatalities, and deaths from HIV/AIDS and TB. This is no war, but a military approach suits the ANC’s collective psyche. Command centres, whatever they might be, resonate with the idea of a ruling party issuing orders, not an accountable government. They also tap into a tradition of so-called centralised democracy in which a group of chosen cadres debate an issue and then instruct everyone else on the non-negotiable ‘line’. Similarly, there are echoes of armed struggle when power issued from the barrel of a gun.

This may sound fanciful, and maybe is, but there is a sense that a coup is underway in South Africa: strange things have happened before under cover of public health emergencies when the citizenry is faced with an existential threat and there are ruthless authoritarians looking for opportunities. Minister of Defence, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, described Khosa’s death as no more than ‘unfortunate’. This is an alleged murder of a civilian on his property but the case has been referred to the military ombudsman. The family has courageously gone to Constitutional Court to establish their rights to due process as citizens of a democracy. 

There is an air of enduring paternalism about the ANC; the phrase ‘our people’ being a big giveaway when describing the citizenry. The party has many members of intelligence and ability, but the factionalism and patronage that are now its essential nature do not favour the thoughtful and rational. They nurture and promote limited people with loud voices and a predisposition to command rather than reason, plan and explain. The ANC approached this looming crisis with a clear desire to appear tough and muscular and in some senses this seems to have worked. Many South Africans are still under the illusion that they are ahead of the world and that life will soon get back to normal rather than the reality that an epidemic is soon to descend. It is an unfortunate consequence also of a nation that basks in sporting metaphor rather than a more cerebral approach to problems. This will not be another Rugby World Cup victory.

South Africa has all the fine trappings of democracy; but it is dysfunctional. The institutions designed to protect it have either never performed adequately (for instance, parliament) or have been deliberately hollowed out to allow free rein for racketeers and looters. If the rule of law were in operation, many of those in government would be behind bars wearing orange outfits. Damaged and compromised public institutions and an economy already on the edge of a cliff before anyone had heard of Covid-19 have now been joined by draconian regulations (there is nothing more severe than being told you cannot earn a living by other people on big fat salaries) enforced by authoritarian security forces.

If it were not already the case, this is a recipe for violent upheaval. Even if that is avoided, there are serious concerns about the most basic of future freedoms. We are currently told that authoritarian measures are required for our collective good, to save lives (although intelligent commentators are increasingly vocal about saving livelihoods as well). A staged relaxation of regulations is planned from 1 May that may include provincial and regional variations, but this could last many months. And just as we as individuals are getting used to new modes of behaviour that will become the norm in future, the ANC is also becoming comfortable with new autocratic methods of government. Fortunately, the judiciary is one of few national institutions that remain largely uncompromised, but civil society organisations and the Constitutional Court are going to need to be very alert and active in defence of democracy in future. Economic decline means that the ANC presides over an increasingly failed state and it will search desperately for means to maintain power. Covid-19 has handed it an authoritarian opportunity on a plate.

Suspicions about this have been further raised by the news that 73,000 more defence force personnel are to be deployed (or employed as the government likes to describe it) until 26 June, making over 75,000 in all. Many of these are medical, engineering, transport and logistical staff, but a large number will join those already in full combat gear and moving around our streets with R5 assault rifles. It is now clear that this extra deployment did not correctly follow parliamentary procedure by first involving the presiding officers and is presumably unconstitutional.

Cyril Ramaphosa is the reasonable face of the ANC. Even within his party it is reckoned that but for him it might have lost the 2019 general election, largely through abstentions. He is now saddled with a Cabinet that is a state of disaster in itself. Given the bleak national outlook on all fronts why does he not demonstrate that he is a true leader of South Africa? There is already anecdotal evidence that the presidency and some government departments are open to ideas beyond the stale ideology of the ANC that all too frequently reeks of eastern Europe circa 1970 and is totally disengaged from the present-day realities and needs of South Africa. Why does he not assemble a high-profile advisory council (no, not another command centre) of the intelligent and competent from opposition political parties, civil society and the professions to encourage a free flow of ideas that could feed into government decision making? 

A war-like approach will neither defeat the virus, nor preserve a viable nation. The old mantras of the ANC look more and more flimsy in an increasingly volatile situation and Ramaphosa now has a virus-created gap to introduce new approaches and attitudes. Or will he allow the camouflage-coloured minds of his Cabinet hawks and the security cluster to steer the country into an authoritarian future?