Friday, December 10, 2004

All I want for Christmas is…spam

If Christmas is a time for giving then why am I doing so much receiving? Since the beginning of December my email has been under a seasonal spam siege and I know I am not alone.

It is estimated that at least 60% of all email traffic is unsolicited. Most email users are plagued by adverts for cheap medication, bargain jewellery, unwanted links to pornography and products guaranteed to enlarge our most intimate body parts.

Bill Gates, the most spammed person in the world, gets four-million spam messages a day. He has a department dedicated to sifting his email for legitimate messages. Gates is also worth $46-billion and the richest man in the world. Clearly there must be a correlation between the amount of spam you get and your wealth.

In fact, Gates gets as many spam messages a day as there are Internet users in the whole of South Africa. This is currently estimated at 3 523 000 or 7,4% of the population according to World Wide Worx. South Africa is relatively advanced compared to the rest of Africa, though. South African Internet users make up 36% of total users in Africa which is close to 13 million.

In Africa as a whole only 1,4% of the population have access to the Internet. Compare this to the 35 million users in the UK, where 60% of the population utilise the web.

So spam is among the many things most Africans will not be getting this Christmas.

But have we really grasped the full weight of the technological problem facing Africa?

In 1965 Gordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, made his famous observation that the rate of technological development doubles every two years. This translates to an average performance improvement in the technology industry as a whole of 1% a week.

In real terms Moore's Law means that 'we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century…it will be more like 20 000 years of progress at today's rate,' says Ray Kurzweil CEO of

Access and use of information technologies in Africa is increasing but at the same time developed countries continue to outpace this growth. This means that as an African on this upward technological spiral you will always be playing catch-up. It is like being in an ever-accelerating car that continues to fall further behind because those ahead are accelerating even faster.

Africa has other problems. Infrastructural capacity, literacy and high-quality education and health care are prerequisites to technological advancement. There are only 14-million phone lines on the continent. And who needs a computer when you are starving?

But technology itself can be helpful in building effective infrastructure, governance and service provision. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) sees information and communication technology as central to reducing poverty, overcoming geographic isolation and promoting distance learning and health education.

Projects such as HealthNet use global communications in 150 countries to link up health professionals. Burn surgeons in Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda now share information on reconstructive surgery techniques.

Microsoft South Africa has agreed to donate software to all 32 000 State schools in perpetuity (of course many will have to get computers first, with 19 000 schools still without sufficient facilities).

But despite these developments, as I sit bombarded by spam and taking my speedy broadband connection for granted, I am overwhelmed by the fear that Africa may never draw level with its developed counterparts.

I think we underestimate the gravity of this.

Do you know if you type the word 'poverty' into the Google Search Engine you get 20-million hits? If you type in the word 'spam' you get 45-million. Those of us who make up the information superhighway seem to be perturbed about the wrong thing.

The time has come to get the situation into perspective.

As for me and my little world, my personal commitment this Christmas is to only complain about things of real substance and get my own priorities straight.

I know spam is a real problem. It amounts to an amazing $1 934 per employee per year in terms of lost productivity according to Nucleus Research. But, frankly, I am only too happy to be suffering from such a 'First World' complaint as too much spam.

To celebrate I am going to buy my wife a genuine Rolex watch for £15, splash out on a bucket of Viagra for my granddad and wait for my Christmas millions to arrive from Idi Amin's second cousin who has promised they will be deposited as soon as I hand over my bank details. Remember, Christmas comes but once a year, but poverty, like spam, is for life.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 10 December 2004 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Chile: Torture Was State Policy

A Chilean presidential commission has provided an overwhelming indictment of the military dictatorship’s systematic use of torture, Human Rights Watch said today. In a report released last night, the commission collected testimony from thousands of torture victims who had never previously reported the abuse they had suffered. "After years of denial, Chile has finally acknowledged its legacy of torture," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "This presidential commission has upheld the right of thousands of victims to reparation and moral recognition." Among its dramatic findings, the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture appointed by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos found that 94 percent of the people detained in the aftermath of the coup reported having been tortured. One of the most common methods of torture, reported in more than a third of the cases, was the application of electrical shocks. To read the full statement, click here.

Friday, December 3, 2004

Mugabe bowls the world for a duck

England's November and December 2004 cricket tour to Zimbabwe has been receiving extensive coverage in the British press. Last week nearly 60 000 words were printed on it in the London-based tabloids alone.

The whole matter has been a fiasco to say the least with particularly the South African and British governments flailing about the issues with no clear direction being given.

The South African government is deathly quiet. The British government is prevaricating about taking firm action. The various cricket authorities seem to be ducking the issue and pointing the finger at each other.

But, given the desperate situation in Zimbabwe, the time has come for some leadership on this matter at the highest governmental level.

The British government say they are opposed to the tour, given Zimbabwe's track record on human rights. But they claim that they risk being sued if they forcibly prevent it. They also say in a democratic country they cannot tell sports bodies what to do. They divert attention from their own dithering by blaming the International Cricket Board for not taking a moral stance by calling a halt to the tour and for threatening to impose stiff penalties on England if they fail to appear.

The South African government allegedly continues its so-called backdoor diplomacy with Zimbabwe, a strategy which is tantamount to implicit support.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has continually looked for a way out of the moral dilemma of playing in Zimbabwe given its dodgy human rights record. But they are yet to confront the issue head on.

For the World Cup match between Zimbabwe and England in 2003 they conveniently used the issue of team security as a way of abandoning the game. The Zimbabwean government almost gave the ECB another pretext for withdrawal this time round by banning a number of British journalists from entering the country.

But Mugabe is sharper than that. His government quickly overturned the ruling. Mugabe is a master of this sort of manipulation and the cricket is merely a helpful distraction for him from the real crisis in Zimbabwe.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates that 2,2-million rural Zimbabweans are in need of food aid. The security budget will increase from about US$16 million in 2004 to US$70-million in 2005. The economy is in freefall.

Human rights violations are undeniable. These are set to increase before the elections in 2005, especially because human rights groups will be prevented from monitoring such abuses under the Non-Government Organisation Bill. Given this and the general situation, cricket is a minor issue to most human rights organisations right now.

Mugabe is playing the world for a fool. He can get away with this because the South African and British governments who can do something decisive about the Zimbabwean situation both have their own reasons for not rocking the boat too much.

Mike Selvey, writing in the Guardian recently, noted that the inaction of the two governments at different moments in time is partly linked to other sporting events.

During the Cricket World Cup, South Africa, despite its power as host nation, did little to deal with the Zimbabwean question. This was because it feared losing Zimbabwe's and potentially other African nations' votes for its Soccer World Cup bid if it acted against Zimbabwe. With London's 2012 Olympic bid being launched recently, the British government is in a similar position.

Selvey concludes that for the South African and British governments the stakes attached to their various international sporting bids 'in financial and prestige terms' seems to be 'higher than a handful of morals'.

Given their colonial history in the region the British government also do not have a solid moral foundation to use as a platform for taking any resolute steps. They seem fearful of ongoing accusations by Mugabe of racism and of him dragging their exploits in Iraq into the mix.

The South African ANC government, on the other hand, seem to be wedded to the notion that they owe the Mugabe government something because of their support during the apartheid struggle. Who they really are indebted to, however, is not Mugabe but the Zimbabwean people who are better off without him.

But the reality is that the only way the British government is going to react decisively is if there is growing domestic and international pressure. This pressure should mount first from the Southern African region. Surely we would want to find a regional solution to the Zimbabwean situation, rather than relying on the British government to try and sort it out first?

The key to this is the ANC. If they begin to criticise Mugabe explicitly and robustly the floodgates could open. As a result, the domestic pressure on the British Government would become untenable, forcing them to get off the fence and take a firm stand supporting a boycott.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 3 December 2004 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Judge dismisses the so-called “apartheid lawsuits”


December 1, 2004

Judge dismisses the so-called “apartheid lawsuits”

On 29 November, 2004, Judge Sprizzo dismissed the so-called “apartheid lawsuits” brought to the New York Court under the US Alien Tort Claims Act.

The Khulumani Support Group is not deterred by the judgment made by Judge Sprizzo in dismissing the Khulumani Lawsuit along with the other so-called “apartheid lawsuits”.

In contrast to the broader lawsuits of the other parties, the Khulumani Lawsuit has a legal focus which is much more clearly defined. The Khulumani Lawsuit must be considered independently of these other lawsuits, and notice to appeal the judgment dismissing the lawsuit has been filed in a higher court in the USA.

Khulumani Support Group will shortly be commencing a national awareness campaign – “Say Yes to Redress” – on the Day of Reconciliation, 16 December 2004.

“We will never give up. Securing justice will be a long and arduous journey, but we will undertake it. This is just the beginning of the struggle for real justice.”

Khulumani will continue to be the voice for those South Africans living marginal existences, for those still searching for the remains of their children murdered by apartheid security forces; and for those left incapacitated in multiple ways by human rights violations.

On World AIDS Day 2004, Khulumani acknowledges that poverty and undernutrition are risk factors for the development of AIDS in those infected with HIV. It is befitting that we remember that the root causes of poverty in South Africa were part of a deliberate strategy by the apartheid government to keep the majority of the people of this country from developing their own voice. Khulumani means “speak out” and is the voice of over 44000 members.

Notes to editor:

Khulumani Support Group’s membership are direct and indirect victims of gross human rights violations committed during the apartheid era. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated that for reconciliation to take place, reparations and rehabilitation were needed. In the fifth year after the TRC handed in its report to government, reparations began to be paid out in the amount of R30 000,00 per identified victim.

The unheard voices of countless other victims have been ignored and instead, the process of amnesty has not only let many perpetrators completely off the hook; some of them have received handsome pension payouts and, ten years later are receiving treatment, paid for by the State, for post-traumatic stress disorder. The post-traumatic stress of being a victim appears to have been completely overlooked.

Issued by: Campaign Coordinator Khulumani International Lawsuit Campaign c/o Khulumani Support Group National Office 3rd Floor Heerengracht Building 87 de Korte Street Braamfontein 2017 Johannesburg Tel: +27-11-403-4098 / 4396 Fax: +27-11-403-0878 E-mail: Website: