Monday, December 25, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

International Journal of Transitional Justice

Call for Papers – Submission Deadline – February 1, 2007

The International Journal of Transitional Justice is now accepting submissions for its second issue to be published July 2007.

For further information see the journal’s website www.ijtj.oxfordjournals.org or contact the editorial team directly at ijtj@csvr.org.za.

About the International Journal of Transitional Justice

The International Journal of Transitional Justice is a forthcoming Oxford University Press journal which will be launched in March 2007. It is intended to provide an analytical bridge between intellectual and practitioner, and facilitate sustained interaction across the range of disciplines encompassed by the topic of transitional justice.

IJTJ publishes high quality, refereed articles in the rapidly evolving field of transitional justice; that is the study of those strategies employed by states, civil society bodies and international institutions to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses and to effect social reconstruction in the wake of widespread violence.

The journal is envisioned as a central site from which to house and build upon the array of research and writing currently available in this field. The journal encourages analysis and study of current and innovative approaches to transitional justice and welcomes papers that explore such questions as the appropriateness of the reconciliation paradigm for transitional justice, the relationship of truth-seeking and legal justice to reconciliation, the choices and timing of transitional justice mechanisms and methods to evaluate their success. Topics covered will include (but are not limited to): truth commissions, universal jurisdiction, post-conflict social reconstruction, victim and perpetrator studies, international and domestic prosecutions, institutional transformation, vetting, memorialization, reparations and ex-combatant reintegration.

South based submissions are particularly encouraged as are practitioner pieces. In addition to traditional length articles, the journal will feature shorter pieces in the ‘Notes from the Field’ section. This section will house new research from the field, reflections from practice, responses to previous articles, and discussion pieces.

IJTJ is housed at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Johannesburg, South Africa in partnership with the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley. It will be published three times a year and will target an international readership including academics, research institutions, national and international policy makers, development professionals and civil society practitioners.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ba Humbug to Christmas cynics

For 12 months now, I have been trying to think of something interesting to say about Christmas. This has proved no straightforward task. Currently, like at the end of most years, I feel exhausted and am struggling to say something out of the ordinary on any subject, let alone remember all the witty things I thought up about Christmas in March. On top of this, Christmas is much the same each year, making it almost impossible to say anything original about it.

One option would be to spend the rest of this article complaining about Christmas, cataloguing all the things that make the silly season excruciating.

But we are all familiar with the list, including overbearing family members, cold stringy turkey, uncontrollable shopping, incessant Christmas jingles and, of course, flatulence-inducing Brussels sprouts. But that would be too easy and the last thing I would want to be is one of those people who pretend that they hate Christmas but really love it because they can spend a few weeks rattling on about how much they hate it.

A second option would be to get serious about the subject and throw myself into the debate about whether Christmas is politically offensive to people from non-Christian faiths. Better still, I could become a campaigner for a secular world carrying out acts of sabotage on Christmas trees in shopping malls. Or, perhaps, I could swing to the other extreme and become a Christmas freak decorating the garden with a 30-ft model of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other paraphernalia. Public responses to such actions would give me lots to write about. But, sadly, I have bigger fish to fry, not to mention a turkey to baste. Besides, I feel unmoved by the political-correctness discussion about Christmas, whether from pro-Christmas zealots or those who find it disconcerting. I am tired of people going out of their way to be offended.
Then again I could abandon any concern about the meaning of Christmas and throw myself headlong into the commercialism of it. Christmas would make the perfect time to write about new products on the market from Robosapiens to buying goats for friends that then get donated to poor people in Africa. I could even make a list of all the things I want from Father Christmas. But I don’t need anything more. So this year I will say what I don’t want. So what I don’t want for Christmas this year is any more bombs a-dropping, the subtlety of Robert Mugabe, Jacob Zuma’s legal bill, a voucher for a polonium-laced sushi bar in London, and poultry of any description in pear trees or any other foliage.

That said, I fear that complaining about Christmas, exploring its political significance or shopping myself silly will not move me any closer towards finding an attention-grabbing angle on Christmas. However, when I shared my woes with my wife, she reminded me of a simple fact: people like Christmas precisely because it is the same. Christmas provides continuity from one year to the next. It is a constant across one’s entire life. As WJ Cameron said, “There has been only one Christmas – the rest are anniversaries”.

So I guess those of us who celebrate Christmas are stuck in an unending tinsel-laced time loop, for better or for worse.

To deal with this, I have decided, drawing on the immortal words of Monty Python, that, although we might all be individuals, I am not. So bring out the reindeer, sleighs bells, mistletoe, carol singers, babies in mangers, donkeys, lowing cattle, school nativity plays, credit cards, wise men with weird gifts, Christmas pudding with hazardous coins in it, terrified turkeys and, of course, as many Santas with polyester beards a person can find, because, if you cannot beat them, join them.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 15 December 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Stern warning about environmental disaster

If you are feeling upbeat about life, I have the medicine: read a copy of the Stern Report. The report, commissioned by the UK government and written by Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, focuses on the potential impact of climate change. It is gloomy reading. In short, we are destroying the planet and dramatic climate change is on the way. Stern concludes that “the scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response”.

A small increase of 2 oC when living in the freezing northern hemisphere might seem like a blessing, but it is no laughing matter. According to Stern, carbon emissions have already pushed up global temperatures by half a degree. If no action is taken, there is a 75% chance that global temperatures will rise by between 2 oC and 3 oC over the next 50 years. There is a 50% chance they could rise 5 oC.

Nicholas Stern
Credit CIAT / CC BY-SA
This might be great for sunbathing in some parts of the world, but in others the consequences will be dire. Climate change will affect access to water, food production, health and the environment, with hundreds of millions of people suffering hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding. Poorer countries will disproportionally feel these effects. By the middle of the century, 200-million people may become permanently displaced owing to rising sea levels, floods and droughts. Melting glaciers could increase the risk of flood to small islands and cities like Tokyo, New York, Cairo and London. Around 15% to 40% of species will potentially face extinction after only 2 oC of warming, not to mention ocean acidification, which will destroy marine ecosystems and many fish stocks, and so the report goes on. Stern also weighs up the economic impact. He notes that extreme weather could reduce global GDP by up to 1%. A 2 oC to 3 oC rise in temperatures could reduce global economic output by 3%, and a 5 oC temperature rise could mean up to 10% of global output being lost. The worse-case scenario is a 20% fall in global consumption for every person.

Of course, scientists have known all this for some time, but, typically, humans only take notice of something when it bashes down their own door. Even when this happens, we spend much time thinking of someone else to blame. Rich countries like to argue that it is poor, developing countries that are poisoning the atmosphere with their drive toward development and less sophisticated technologies. Developing countries, in turn, argue that it is the industrialised countries that are to blame, with their mass consumption and production. And you and I do little because we suffer from the delusion that our own consumption of fuels or recycling of waste is a drop in the proverbially acidifying ocean. So the cycle continues.

Stern is unequivocal that all are at fault and all have a role to play in averting catastrophe. Consumer demand for heavily polluting goods and services must be curtailed, global energy supply needs to be more efficient and reduced, deforestation reversed, and cleaner energy and transport technology promoted. These might sound like grand ideas beyond individual reach and the responsibility of governments, but charity, or, in this case, saving the planet, starts at home. So here comes the lecture: ditch the petrol-guzzling car and try walking somewhere, for a change, splash out a few extra bucks on energy-efficient appliances, recycle your waste, turn off lights and do not leave electrical appliances on standby, shower instead of bath and, while you're at it, get one of those little wind-up chargers for your cellphone and get winding. Being an ecowarrior is no longer the preserve of a few nutters on the fringe; it is a necessity.

*To download the Stern Report click here.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 6 December 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fear in Gaza by Barbara Weyerman, OPSI

The latest invasion of the Israeli defence forces IDF in the Gaza Strip ended with the massacre of the Al-Athamna family. A few days before the 8 November, when seven shells hit their house and killed 19 of them, “a tank entered the garden, destroying hothouses, trees, pipes and a generator, until it hit a wall. The soldiers made a hole in the wall and entered the house, gathered all the family members and sent the women to a room on the first floor. The men were put in the kitchen and bathroom. The soldiers collected all the cell phones, and with leashed dogs, searched all the rooms on all four floors. They called out the names of all the family members….After two hours, the soldiers left. They returned three days later through the hole in the wall. They again gathered all the family members, counted them, searched and left after three hours. ‘They knew very well who was in the house, how many children, how many women. They knew very well there were no terrorists and no arms in this house,’ said Majdi”, one of the surviving family members. (Amira Hass in Ha’aretz, 13.11.2006). – During the 9-day long invasion of Beit Hanun, altogether 80 Palestinians were killed and hundreds were wounded by the IDF. David Becker and I arrived a day before the invasion started. We came to work with the team of the Women’s Empowerment Project of the Gaza Community Mental Health Project (GCMHP). This was our 7th visit; we had been training WEP staff twice a year in the psychosocial approach since 2004, when we began by working with the team on an accompanied self-evaluation of their program for the support of women affected by domestic violence (see publications:“Overcoming fragmentation – linking counselling and income generation”). This time, we spent many hours talking to the team members about their experiences of the preceding few months. Four hundred people have been killed since late June 2006, when the IDF intensified its operations in the Gaza Strip. These attacks were hardly noticed because of the media focus on Lebanon. One of the team members mourned her fourth brother; he had been killed by gunfire from a helicopter a month before. The women talked about other close friends and neighbours they had lost. They said it was even more difficult to lose someone in the internal clashes between Fatah and Hamas than at the hands of the Israeli army. “If he is killed by the Israeli, he is a martyr, if he is killed by a Palestinian, the life is lost for nothing.” To make it worse, every death calls for another death in revenge. Families are divided, brothers are on different sides, and everybody is armed. But the women’s worst fears are of the Israeli operations. Six women had recently received a call that their house would be exploded. Such calls, they said, are made by IDF 15 minutes before the house is destroyed. However, none of the staff’s houses was blown up. Nowadays, they said, it is very hard to know whether a call is real or if it is made by other Palestinians to terrorize people. One woman described how struck by panic she was when she received such a warning, unable to move or speak. “My hair stood up straight from my head, fear is the worst feeling - no words can describe it.” Others reported not being able to sleep for nights after such a call. One woman said she and her children sleep in the same room: if the Israelis attack from the sea, she moves to the back of the house, if the neighbour receives a call that his house might be destroyed, she moves to the front of the house. The children cling to her. When one of them wants to go to the toilet, she has to accompany him or her; but then the other children are scared to stay in the room alone and come along too. All the women described how the children cling to them and wet their bed. Each staff member has had experience with bed-wetting children. Even though or because everybody recognizes bed-wetting as a symptom of fear and sadness, it is considered shameful. When talking about their children, the fragmentation and disintegration of structure becomes evident. Adults can't really protect and calm their children as they are themselves too scared and too vulnerable. One woman said she didn't have the words to speak to her children about the killing of five people they recently witnessed. Another staff member described how she panicked when she saw her daughter coming back from the market, covered in blood. The girl stood next to a man who was shot in his head by another Palestinian. One woman described how she and her family were locked into their house for many hours, during another attack on their neighbourhood. A tank was positioned just outside their house. They heard the sounds of gunfire and soldiers conducting searches. Her husband, a political ex-prisoner, was terrified. As soon as the tank left, he shouted at his children; he was agitated and aggressive. “I told him to stop it, it is not the children, it is your fear,” she said. The staff members hardly mention such experiences when they talk about their clients, women who seek advice and support because they suffer from domestic violence. And yet, there is a clear connection between the deteriorating political and economic situation, the lack of perspectives, the decades of occupation and the daily experience of humiliation and powerlessness for men who try to defend their honor where they still can – in the family. The growing conservatism and the control of and restrictions against women in Gaza. WEP works to supports victims of violence and supports campaigns towards changing discriminatory laws that condone and perpetuate such violence. For additional background on violence against women in Gaza see the Human Rights Watch Report: A Question of Security. Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls http://hrw.org/reports/2006/opt1106/

Author: Barbara Weyerman, 22/11/2006

Friday, November 3, 2006

Airport security: enough to turn one to drink

Recently, when I checked into the newly renamed George Best Belfast City Airport, I was asked if I was carrying any liquids. I found myself gagging as I suppressed a giggle. Attempts at humour in airports these days are enough to leave you sun-tanning in an orange jumpsuit in Guantanamo Bay. Further, my snigger was in bad taste. Not everyone would see the funny side of the question, least of all the footballing legend George Best, who had a serious drink problem. Security these days is, of course, no laughing matter. There are genuine threats. To this end, I do not mind security procedures. But I want them to be logical, make me feel safer and minimise disruption. But, frankly, security officials at some airports seem to be making procedures up as they go along.

When travelling to the US recently with my wife and child, we had to taste six jars of baby food and four baby bottles at Belfast International Airport prior tov departure. Our child’s teething gel was confiscated, his nappy rash lotion, and my wife’s hand cream, presumably a precaution against passengers making a bomb as a desperate measure to cope with a cranky child on a long-haul flight. On the way back, the US authorities let the teething gel, baby food, nappy rash lotion and hand cream through without a word, but refused to allow us to take the sterilised water through in the baby’s bottles. However, they were appeased when we mixed the powered formula into the bottles, although no tasting was required. When my wife explained that we had been able to carry the water through on the way there, the security guard replied: “This is the US”, as if we did not know that. I know that different jurisdictions probably have different rules. But, surely, if someone knew what was going on, there would be uniformity. Could the same security officials who thought there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq be those deciding what is hazardous on aeroplanes? Alternatively, the plan is to make the procedures so confusing that they leave would-be bombers so perplexed that they choose another mode of transport.

I know I should not make light of this important issue, and people have suffered as a result of security failures and misdirected acts of aggression, but questions have to be asked. According to airport authorities, the new security procedures have put an enormous weight on their shoulders, thus creating the mayhem.

The UK government, in turn, asks commuters for patience because it is the nasty terrorists who are the problem, not security officials. They revel in pointing out that the 9/11 attacks preceded the Iraq war. But other airports, such as those in Germany or Spain, countries which do not have troops in Iraq, are not in turmoil.

So there is a dual problem. Firstly, there is the denial in the UK that the Iraq invasion is related to the security situation at airports. Secondly, from my travels through a number of airports, there is ample evidence that suggests that no-one knows what he or she is doing. Cumulatively, this makes me feel a lot more insecure than before.

I understand this is a difficult time. But, as with this entire debacle of this so-called and amorphous ‘war on terror’, something is amiss and this involves ordinary people. Indiscriminate acts of terror against civilians, failure to listen to ordinary people opposed to the Iraq war, bombing civilians in Iraq who bear no relation to the original ‘war on terror’, and now forcing people through chaotic security systems, all add up to the same thing – we mere mortals are cannon fodder. We are caught in the cross-fire between a bunch of men who think they are all-powerful. It really winds me up and now I really need a drink.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 3 November 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Overcoming Fragmentation

Barbara Weyermann from OPSI has just published the article "Overcoming Fragmentation: Links between Income Generation and Psychosocial Counseling in Gaza". Summary: armed conflict and violence affect women psychologically, socially and almost always economically. Support programs, however, often address these dimensions separately: women attend skills trainings to improve their economic situation and counseling sessions to deal with their traumas. Consequently, women are often unable to convert their skills into income or to improve their psychosocial situation. This paper presents the findings of a guided self-evaluation by a Palestinian non-governmental organization (NGO) in 2004, which both highlighted the insufficiencies of this fragmented approach and developed solutions to better serve the organization’s program participants. To download visit OPSI.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where are the men in the battle for equality?

In the song There is a War, by Leonard Cohen, there are the lines: “There is a war...between the man and the woman. There is a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” These words capture the essence of research colleagues and I carried out over the last two years on gender and security in a number of countries in transition. As part of the study, we looked at whether the security of women has increased or decreased since 1994 in South Africa. Security includes, according to the United Nations, not only freedom from fear, but also freedom from need or want. So security is tied up with economic and social security, not just protecting yourself from physical harm.

If we think about the security of women in this broad sense, South Africa has made advances with greater representation of women in government and business. Disturbingly, however, our research found that many men think that women have advanced disproportionately. These men argue that the so-called war between men and women Cohen speaks of was over years ago. Some think the victors (women) are now taking their revenge on men and excluding them, making men the new victims. But statistical evidence shows this view is desperately mistaken. It is true that 30% of parliamentarians are now women, positioning South Africa eighth in the world in terms of gender equality in government. This means the country jumped 133 places in world rankings from 1994. A greater number of women are also now moving into managerial positions. But the changes are still miles off 50:50 representation. In the business field, for example, 80% of senior management positions are held by men.

So the war is hardly over and inequality exists on a massive scale. But where does this leave the men in our society who feel they are the victims of the transition? On one level, we have to take their views seriously and listen to what they have to say because some men may have lost their jobs since 1994. But, on the other level, we cannot back away from an agenda that wants equal representation of women. Surely, if we want South Africa to be everything it can be, we must harness the potential of all citizens, regardless of gender or race for that matter.

But furthering this agenda can have devastating consequences. Many of the women and some of the men we interviewed believe that the frustration some men are feeling at being challenged by women in the workplace, or being usurped as the breadwinner in a home, is causing them to act violently towards women. This goes some way towards explaining the high levels of domestic violence in South Africa. At least 50% of women report experiencing domestic violence, whether psychological, physical or financial. This is sickeningly high.

Feeling frustrated or challenged by social developments cannot justify violence. This means that, although we must seek to understand the challenges some men are feeling and address their economic hardships too, we cannot pander to violence as a justifiable reaction to the advancement of one sector of society.

So the war between men and women rages, but the time has come for new alliances. Men need to stand up and be counted. This means not only speaking out about violence against women, but also addressing some of the root causes of it. Inequality is one of these. It is not enough, my fellow brothers, to be horrified at domestic violence or shake your head knowingly next time some awful statistics hit the headline. We have to begin to actively promote gender equality. So let us stop pretending it is someone else’s problem and be man enough to bring this war to an end.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 20 October 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Political Apologies and Reparations: Working papers

The website on Political Apologies and Reparations maintained by Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann at Wilfrid Laurier University invites submissions for its working papers series. Please see the Submission Guidelines on the website: http://political-apologies.wlu.ca. Papers should be submitted to political-apologies@wlu.ca.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Sport and politics uncomfortable bedfellows

Oddly, it was the old chestnut of whether sport and politics mix that came to mind while watching the golf Ryder Cup recently. This was not because the Ryder Cup is particularly political, but because it appears so apolitical. The two world super economic powers, the EU and US, competing is presented as a jolly good struggle going back for decades. On one level, it is simply that, yet on another the tournament is laden with symbols. The ostentatious economic power driving the event, the lack of racial diversity on the course (sorry, Tiger) and in the stands, George Bush Snr relaxing and taking in the action, and that it is one place where people can chant “USA! USA!” these days without starting a riot, all belies a wider context in which the event took place.

2006 Ryder Cup K Club Dublin
Credit: Vivienne Smith
Of course, one would not want to turn such events into political footballs. The tournament’s acontextual and trouble-free environment is exactly what makes it easy watching. But it does beg the question – how closely should sport and politics be related? The Olympic Charter opposes political abuse of sport and athletes, a point with which most of us would agree. Take, for example, the recent Formula One Grand Prix in Turkey. The Turkish government abused the occasion politically. Mehmet Ali Talat, who presented the winner’s trophy, was introduced as the “President of the Northern Turkish Republic of Cyprus”. This was a piece of political theatre, as it is only Turkey that recognises the northern part of Cyprus as a separate entity. The result was a $5-million fine by the sports governing body.

The tricky issue, however, is not about the political abuse of sport, but whether political abuse can be prevented by sport. The most notable case was the sporting boycott against South Africa, aimed at ending apartheid. The South African case set a precedent, and it continues to throw up complications today.

Arguably, the South African sports boycott was made easier because apartheid was declared a crime against humanity. But where do sports boycotts stand in relation to other types of abuses and actions? Should the US have been prevented from playing in the Ryder Cup because its government is engaged in an illegal war in Iraq? Should there be a sports boycott, as many lobby groups profess, against Israel because of its treatment of the Palestinians? I do not want to get into the validity of such cases, as I will upset someone and I am not very fast over 100m, but the cases clearly demonstrate the intricacy of the relationship between sport and politics. The mere mention of these examples is, no doubt, enough to make some people spitting mad. Perhaps, the real question then is: why does the issue of sport and politics evoke such an emotive reaction? One reason is that sport is a way of taking refuge from the world of politics. Sport pretends there is no wider context. The sports arena is allegedly an uncomplicated place, where the best person wins. But the best person does not always win: socioeconomic status, political conditions and equality of opportunity, not to mention drugs, can all influence your chance of success. Sports have also always been mixed with nationalist fervour. They can also be used to cement political projects. Think of the impact of Nelson Mandela’s donning the Springbok rugby jersey in the early 1990s. So, believing that sport is unrelated to politics is about as unrealistic as thinking Tiger Woods is going to miss a six-inch putt. The so-called gap between sport and politics is a false distinction.

The question, therefore, is not whether sport and politics are linked, but how we can discuss them in a rational way. Or is looking for a constructive and unemotive approach to the sport and politics debate as dim-witted as attempting the pole vault with a matchstick?

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 6 October 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The times they are not a-changin’

The musician Burt Bacharach wrote a song, probably at the time I was entering this world, called Knowing When to Leave. It contains the clich├ęd lines, “Go while the going is good. Knowing when to leave may be the smartest thing anyone can learn...Sail when the wind starts to blow.” Simple advice, but many people pay no attention to the wind, and sometimes even miss a hurricane when it is blowing in their face. Take, for example, Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister – the writing has been on the wall for months that his time is up, but he insists on dragging out his Premiership for as long as possible. Seemingly, he wants to hit the magical ten-year mark next year before throwing in the towel. It reminds me of lying in bed in the morning trying to kid yourself that five more minutes in bed will make all the difference.

What is it about leaving that is so hard? Love and passion are the most difficult things for humans to walk away from. But hanging in there for such noble endeavours is always excusable, even if it is downright stupid at times. But Tony no longer loves his people – how could he, they do not love him? That said, in the words of Dan Quayle, “This isn’t a man who is leaving with his head between his legs.” Power also has a hold over us mortals. I do not need to rattle off a list of dictators addicted to power to make the point. But what is it that makes people like Robert Mugabe think that being in power for over 25 years is good for him or his country? Perhaps, however, it is not leaving that is the problem but, rather, the anxiety that change provokes that causes people to stay put. Change hurts. As Saul Alinsky, the American community activist, wrote, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.” The result is that most people do not like things to change. Being in a rut seems preferable to ploughing through a new field, even if it offers a better harvest.

Yet some people seek change. Recently, the European Space Agency completed its three-year mission to study the moon by deliberately crashing the Smart-1 orbiter into the lunar surface. They assured the world that progress is being made in understanding the surface of the moon. They say their research will pave the way for a moon colony.

The mission sparked a debate about whether such science was worth the bother, given the poverty on earth. Such critics have a point. But, at the same time, there is something about a moon colony I find enticing. It conjures up images of Star Trek, the sci-fi TV series that has now been running since 1966, a mere three years longer than Libyan leader Gaddafi has been in power. What is it about this show that makes it so appealing? The answer is simple. Unlike what those that cling to power can offer, and even if Star Trek is light years from reality, it is filled with promise. The line “to boldly go where no man (sic) has gone before” is the most tantalising line ever.

Right now, however, it feels like the promise of a new world has been lost somewhere between the Iraqi desert and the recently wrecked space probe now polluting the moon. If change was needed, now is the time. As science-fiction writer, Alvin Toffler, notes, “Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.” So now I am raising money for a one-way rocket ride to the moon for Blair, George W Bush – the dictators of the world – and all those who think killing civilians enhances their cause. Donations are welcome.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 15 September 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, September 1, 2006

Exporting hope or foolish dreams?

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has been exporting many things to other African countries it never exported before. South Africa’s DStv dominates the airwaves across the continent. It is not unusual to meet Africans thousands of miles away from Johannesburg who have an intimate knowledge of Egoli, the South African soap opera. Security companies run by South Africans are major players in the private security market. On an unsavoury note, South African mercenaries can also be found peddling the destructive skills they learned during apartheid. At the same time, South Africa is also exporting another commodity which stands in stark contrast to this, namely the promise of a peaceful transition. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is core to this. The concept is a benchmark of how to build peace in many countries. Liberia is one of the more recent recruits to the methodology, following Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.

Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, from where I write this article, has suffered terribly over the last few decades. Civil war which started in 1989 has devastated the place. Locals refer to the various bouts of fighting as World War I, II and III, and they are not far wrong. It is estimated that over 200 000 people died, out of a population of just over three-million.

Monrovia still carries the scars. Ruined and bullet-marked buildings dominate the capital.

A high number of war-disabled people are visible on the streets. The average life expectancy is just over 40. There is no mains water or electricity. This has been the case since 1990, when Charles Taylor’s rebels knocked out the electricity plant. When he became President in 1997, he vowed to restore it but, instead, more war followed. Taylor, who lost power in 2003, is now awaiting trial in the Hague for a list of offences that could stretch from Cape Town to Cairo. Since the end of Taylor’s reign, there has been some progress. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman head of State in Africa, was democratically elected in January. Reconciliation is high on the agenda and the South African model is the talk of the town. Liberian truth commissioners visited South Africa recently and are now beginning their own TRC.

But what is it about the South African model that is so alluring? The answer, despite the problems South Africa still faces, is that it offers hope.

When you drive through the streets of Monrovia, as someone not worried about where your next meal might come from, over potholes and past children playing in squalor, you, invariably, wonder what makes people continue each day. The answer is simple – they have no choice. Families must be fed. But, despite daily struggles, people also care about the bigger picture. There are over 30 newspapers and dozens of radio stations. Talk shows are dominated by discussions about hope for the future. The country wants its dignity back. The image of South Africa is of a country that achieved political peace through creating a common vision through compromise. We can debate for eternity whether this has been realised or not, but the basics are undeniable. A route was taken post 1994 that circumvented cycles of retribution. Cycles of retribution destroyed Liberia.

So whether the view of South Africa abroad is rose-tinted or not, it is hard to dismiss some lessons. Of course, part of me wants to run out on to the streets of Monrovia and proselytise about the dangers of importing goods from another country that is still in the throws of change. But, as I write, frantically hoping the generator won’t run out of fuel and crash my laptop that is probably worth more than many people’s yearly income, I just don’t have the heart. And, after all, surely hope and the virtues of a compromised peace are not the worst things to be selling.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 1 September 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Get rich or die trying

In the US and Canada, each State has a slogan under the number plate of cars registered in it. For example, Washington, DC, plates have the phrase ‘Taxation without representation’ on them, making reference to the State’s lack of voting representation in Congress. Nova Scotia plates have the less political ‘Canada’s Ocean Playground’ emblazoned on them. On a recent trip to South Africa, this got me wondering what might be an appropriate slogan for Gauteng, where Johannesburg is located. After a short drive through the city, the answer was clear: ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it’. Desperate poverty sits uncomfortably next to excessive and unabashed wealth. South Africa is now 120th out of 177 countries on the UN index that measures the rich-poor gap. It has dropped some 30 places since 1995. Yet, as Abraham McLaughlin, of the Christian Science Monitor, reported recently, nearly 7% of all new cars bought in the country are BMWs. This makes it the second-highest per-new-car sales of BMWs in the world, fractionally behind Germany’s 8%. Car sales in South Africa increased by 25% last year, the biggest increase in the world. But is this not a good thing? On some level, it reflects the rapid economic growth in the country, which is getting close to 5%, according to some sources. Wealth is slowly deracialising. Life is booming for those who can get a seat on the gravy train. Johannesburg is going through a second gold rush. At the same time, this has led, according to President Thabo Mbeki, to wanton consumerism. At the fourth annual Nelson Mandela Lecture recently, he noted: “The demons embedded in our society, that stalk us at every minute, seem always to beckon each one of us towards a realisable dream and nightmare . . . with every passing second, they advise, with rhythmic and hypnotic regularity, ‘Get rich! Get rich! Get rich!’ And, thus, it has come about that many of us accept that our common natural instinct to escape from poverty is but the other side of the same coin on whose reverse side is written the words, ‘At all costs, get rich!’” South Africa is not the only place in the world where consumerism is all-encompassing, but it specialises in pretension. As a friend mentioned to me, life is measured by the three Cs – car, credit card and cellphone. It is a national obsession.

Although the term ‘conspicuous consumption’, coined in 1899, is somewhat outdated, it seems alive and well in the not-so-new South Africa. The term, according to Wikipedia, is used to describe lavish spending on goods acquired mainly for displaying wealth as a form of social status. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman sees consumerism as even more insidious. He talks of a ‘consumerist syndrome’. Gratification has to be immediate and consumerism is all-pervasive in our relationships, attitudes, thoughts and visions of happiness. This is typified by the way liberation is sought through the power of ‘things’. It may sound melodramatic, but has liberation in South Africa been commodified? Of course, I do not bemoan people’s success or regret that more people are sharing in the profit pie. Economic growth is needed. I am also not laying the blame for consumerism with the government, or the rising black elite. It is much more pervasive than that. Ostentation knows no racial or class boundaries in South Africa. But it has its cost.

As Mbeki notes, the ‘get rich’ mantra is doing something to the essence of humanity in the country. Rampant consumerism and the ‘get rich or die trying’ mentality are great bedfellows. Violent and white-collar crimes are the natural extension of this. At the risk of sounding like a conservative moralist, Mbeki is right when he calls for an RDP, or reconstruction and development programme, of the soul for all South Africans. Luxury cars, flashy houses and cellphones can never be enough.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 18 August 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, July 28, 2006

How to perform the perfect headbutt

Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt in the soccer World Cup final has become a global Rorschach test – in other words, a tool for people the world over to read anything they want into the incident.

Zinedine Zidane World Cup 1998
Credit Allez Les Bleus / CC0
There are those who see the headbutt as just deserts for excessive verbal abuse, while others see it as unacceptable. I have even read articles praising Zidane for his stand against racism. In another piece, the author felt the retaliation was analogous to a justified jihad against the West because Westerners are constantly provoking Muslims, forcing them to react even when they do not want to.

At the risk of starting an international incident, or simply dismissing such writing as codswallop, there are three major problems with this punditry. Firstly, no one knows what was said in the exchange between the two players. Based on lip readers’ interpretations, the UK Independent reported Zidane’s sister was called a prostitute, the Times claimed Zidane was called a “son of a terrorist whore”, and the BBC suggested that Zindane’s family was wished an “ugly death”. The only thing this proves is that lip reading is not an exact science.

Secondly, even if Materazzi unleashed the mother of all insults, we should not forget it is only a game. Sledging, for better or worse, is part of it. Racism, if this was the cause of the Zidane incident, should have no place on the pitch, but smashing someone to the ground is hardly going to stop it. A man of Zidane’s stature making a statement after the game or starting a campaign would have had much more impact.

Thirdly, I take exception to such a poorly executed headbutt getting such coverage. According to Wikipedia, a headbutt is a strike with the head, typically involving the use of robust parts of the cranium. An effective headbutt, it adds, involves striking a sensitive area with a less sensitive area, for example, landing one’s forehead on your opponent’s nose. Connoisseurs of the art of headbutting probably see Zidane’s striking of Materazzi’s chest as a lame attempt to do damage. The ideal headbutt is infinitely more devastating.

So this is my advice on how to perform the perfect headbutt. If you want to hit a sensitive area, bomb and kill a few hundred civilians in retaliation for two soldiers being taken hostage. Or, perhaps, Materazzi, in retaliation for the use of overwhelming force against him, could run into the crowd and kick a few spectators to death to even the score. To add fuel to the fire, the US and the UK, aka the self-appointed so-called neutral line judges, could raise their flags, complaining that Materazzi and Zidane had nothing to do with it anyway. Everyone knows, or so they claim while wiping the blood of Iraqi civilians from their hands, that it was the goalkeepers of Iranian and Syrian extraction who were offside. Fifa, the world watchdog, could, in turn, spend weeks discussing another resolution about headbutting, while the pitch erupts into anarchy.

That said, these global headbutters extraordinaire would do well to remember that Brad Parker, from Defend University, which specialises in self-defence, is no fan of the headbutt. He warns it can damage the offender as much as the victim.

Headbutting can result in the brain bouncing off the inside of the skull, causing a ‘coup contra coup’ injury as the brain hits the front of the skull, then rebounding off the back. How long will it take before the headbutters of this world realise this simple fact: what goes around comes around and pulverising your opponent hardly resolves differences. In an act of defiance to all this aggression, I am resorting to peaceful protest. I have printed a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Headbutt racism out of football!’ on it and am going to chant ‘Fight fire with fire’ at the next match I attend. I’m sure that will change everything.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 28 July 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Desperately seeking Bill Gates, South African-style

Last month, the second-richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, gave the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, $31-billion. But this was no ordinary investment. Buffett was not investing in Microsoft but, rather, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which works to reduce inequities, largely through funding health and education work the world over. The result was that the world's largest charity doubled its value and the foundation is now worth an estimated $60-billion.

At the same time, I was in New York attending the launch of a more modest philanthropic cause, namely the launch of the Foundations for Peace Network. The network brings together funding organisations from across the globe. Members include foundations from South Africa, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Bangladesh and India. The reach of the organisation is impressive, the core idea behind it significant. The network wants to ensure more funding for peacebuilding work and for this funding to be distributed by indigenous agencies like themselves rather than international organisations.

This sounds like a simple idea, but it is a novel one. The philanthropy of international foundations cannot be scoffed at, but there are criticisms of some international donors. The writer and activist, Arundhati Roy, argues that international funding can turn people into dependent victims and blunt political resistance rather than contribute to change. In addition, some foundations are criticised for not challenging those with resources locally, such as the business community, to contribute to development.

So what are the solutions for this? This is where the Foundations for Peace Network provides some pointers. At its core is the belief that donor money should be coming not only from the international community and channelled by local funders, but that local sources should also provide funding. In South Africa, this is a radical concept because, let's face it, there is limited home-grown grant making for good causes. Many companies have corporate social responsibility programmes, but these are generally small and are not seen as essential to business. Larger domestic foundations in South Africa also tend to be supported from outside the country. For example, Themba Lesizwe, which supports organisations helping victims of violence, distributed R22-million (about $3-million) last year in South Africa. But almost all this money came from the European Union and the Irish government, with no domestic support. There are local funds that get support from some domestic corporations. In the 2004 financial year, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund committed R34-million (about $5-million) to 82 organisations. The Business Trust, which aims to reduce unemployment and build capacity, has mobilised R1,2-billion from companies operating in South Africa since 1999. That is roughly the equivalent of R28-million a year. Although this is a start, given the wealth of the large corporations in South Africa, it is also an embarrassment. I imagine that when the Buffett-Gates charity monopoly was announced all sorts of charitable causes in South Africa licked their lips. But, instead of simply looking to foreign donors, is it not time for South Africans to take the lead in their own country? Even at an expedient level, surely South Africa's largest corporations realise that investing in the social environment is necessary to ensure economic stability and help South Africa shake off its 'developing nation' label.

Bill Gates has vowed to give away 95% of his $46-billion fortune before he dies, and Buffett about the same. This begs the question: where are the South African equivalents of Gates and Buffett? Perhaps the superrich would all do well to remember Buffett's maxim: A very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing. Or even more challenging, the words of Andrew Carnegie: The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.

For more information on Foundations for Peace Network.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 14 July 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Toolkit: Gender, Conflict Transformation & the Psychosocial Approach

In May 2006 David Becker and Barbara Weyermann from the Office of Psychosocial Issues or OPSI, a group I helped co-found and am a consultant to, completed the Toolkit: Gender, Conflict Transformation & the Psychosocial Approach. This was a major project undertaken for the Swiss Development Corporation. In developing the toolkit it was acknowledged that the literature on the issue of trauma is extensive, but at the same time is confusing and contradictory, and that a brief introduction into the subject matter of psychosocial work in the context of international cooperation does not yet exist. This toolkit aims to bridge that gap. It explains to both the staff of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) at the central office and the co-ordination offices and to the partner organisations how relevant the psychosocial way of thinking is for work in conflict and post-conflict areas. It also shows how regular development and relief activities can be adjusted in order to support the emotional and social recovery of the population. The toolkit does not, however, intend to replace psychological textbooks or manuals on gender and conflict transformation, or different areas and sectors of intervention, from HIV/AIDS to water and sanitation, but aims to convey a way of thinking and make suggestions as to how it can be put into practice. To read more about the toolkit and download it either in German or English, click here.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Ideas for a Museum to the Conflict in and about Northern Ireland

WANTED: IDEAS ON A MUSEUM TO THE CONFLICT IN AND ABOUT NORTHERN IRELAND

Healing Through Remembering (HTR) has issued an Open Call for Ideas on what form a Living Memorial Museum to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland should take – and as part of the project there will be a 7 public art-based workshops across Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Great Britain.

The LMM sub group are looking for a range of imaginative ideas and want to hear from adults and children alike.

There are plenty of options to think about. Should a museum be in a new building or an existing one? Should it be in one building or should it tour a number of places and sites? Maybe it shouldn’t be a building at all - maybe a virtual space on the internet or something organic like a forest.

Submissions to the Open Call for Ideas can be written, be a photograph, a drawing, a sketch or a painting. Photographs of models are also welcome, but at this stage not models themselves because of a limit on display space. Multi-media submissions such as DVDs or CD-ROMs are also welcome.

The public workshops will include information about HTR and its work, and artists will be there to help people create their vision of the museum – this can include various art forms, visual and written.

Workshop dates and venues as follows:

18 Jul, The Clinton Centre, Enniskillen 2-5pm
28 Jul, The Border Arts Centre, Dundalk 11am-2pm
8 Aug, Imperial War Museum, London 2-5pm
12 Aug, St. Patrick's Trian, Armagh 11am-2pm
24 Aug, Irish Film Institute,Dublin 2-5pm
7 Sept, Waterfront Hall, Belfast 2-5pm
16Sept, The Junction, Derry/LondonDerry 11am-2pm

As spaces at the workshops are limited early booking is advised. Places can be reserved by emailing callforideas@healingthroughremembering.org or calling +44 (0)28 9023 8844. Full information on the Open Call for Ideas may be obtained from the project organiser, Emma McClintock, at Healing Through Remembering, Alexander House, 17A Ormeau Avenue, Belfast, BT2 8HD. T: 028 9023 8844.

HTR has been supported in the project by The Border Arts Centre, the Imperial War Museum London, the University of Ulster and Interface, the university’s Centre for Research in Art, Technologies and Design.

The closing date for receipt of submissions is 30 September 2006.

A selection of the submissions received will be chosen to form an exhibition in late 2006/early 2007.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Toolkit: The Psychosocial Approach

In May 2006 OPSI completed the Toolkit: Gender, Conflict Transformation & the Psychosocial Approach. This was a major project undertaken for the Swiss Development Corporation. In developing the toolkit it was acknowledged that the literature on the issue of trauma is extensive, but at the same time is confusing and contradictory, and that a brief introduction into the subject matter of psychosocial work in the context of international cooperation does not yet exist. This toolkit aims to bridge that gap. It explains to both the staff of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) at the central office and the co-ordination offices and to the partner organisations how relevant the psychosocial way of thinking is for work in conflict and post-conflict areas. It also shows how regular development and relief activities can be adjusted in order to support the emotional and social recovery of the population. The toolkit does not, however, intend to replace psychological textbooks or manuals on gender and conflict transformation, or different areas and sectors of intervention, from HIV/AIDS to water and sanitation, but aims to convey a way of thinking and make suggestions as to how it can be put into practice. To read more about the toolkit and download it either in German or English, click here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Always take the weather with you

What would we do without the weather? When unsure what to speak about or write about, for that matter, there’s always the weather. When conversation dries up, you can seek safety in a discussion about a climatic disaster. As singer Tom Waits says, “strangers talk about the weather”.

Before I moved to the northern hemisphere, I never knew the significance of the weather or that it could be such a large part of daily discussion. People talk about it all the time. But it is not only strangers who use it to break the ice. Everyone spends time analysing the weather and, after enduring a few winters here, I know why. The weather is so foul you are forced to consider its impact. Of course, it is not all dreadful. On the odd day in July, the sun can shine and temperatures can occasionally sneak up to 25 ?C. These days are generally marked by two occurrences. Firstly, the streets are transformed into a riot of colour that ranges from transparent white flesh through to sunburned lobster-red flesh. Secondly, good weather is greeted with a flurry of capitalist zeal. People rush out to buy new braais or barbecues, along with matching garden furniture and other garden knickknacks from gnomes to cheap Japanese water features.

These two phenomena can easily be explained. The former is about relative deprivation. The latter is the product of what psychologists call interval reinforcement. Behavioural psychologists can get a pigeon to peck a disc when rewarded with food. Interestingly, you can get a pigeon to peck consistently either by rewarding and reinforcing its behaviour after a standard number of pecks, or by only occasionally rewarding it at average variable intervals. The potential reward is enough to get the creature to peck unrewarded, no matter how irregular or limited the reward is. This is why gamblers gamble, and why having the odd warm day can get people to buy a ton of outdoor equipment that will invariably rust in the rain for the rest of the year. In fact, the more you think about it, the world works like this all the time. We vote for politicians who only occasionally carry through their promises. We buy lottery tickets because someone wins every now and then. Despite such rewards being largely erratic, we con ourselves into believing that they are predictable. We even invent things to make us feel the world is explainable. When it comes to weather, it is the TV forecast that is the technology that leads us down this path of compulsive behaviour.

There are two types of people in the world – those that watch the forecast and those that do not. Watching the weather forecast in the northern hemisphere is as pointless as taking water skis with you on a camel safari in the Sahara. The forecast varies largely between dull, rainy and grey, and rainy, grey and dull. Forecasting warm days is equally as pointless, as it only leads to irrational social behaviour, as I explained. Of course, the forecast can be helpful in predicting major disasters but, on a day-to-day basis, it is reality TV for the clinically inane and groundlessly optimistic. I think we should return to the good old days when weather watching actually involved nature and an interaction with the world beyond plastic graphically-represented clouds

 So this is what I have learnt in these northern climes: if cows are lying down in a field, it is going to rain; if swallows are flying backwards, there is a fierce wind, and if your cat bolts across your garden seemingly being pelted with golf balls, it is probably hailing. More importantly, you just have to take the weather as it comes while paying heed to the wise words of Billy Connolly: there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 23 June 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Buying the football dream

As the soccer World Cup invades our TV screens, there is only one topic worth discussing at this moment in time, and that is, of course, football.

Over a billion people will tune into the tournament, driving nonfootball fans crazy as the worldwide soccer fiesta sucks up airtime and drives people, well, largely men, to levels of hysteria. The International Association of Football Federations, or FIFA, estimates that there are over 200-million active soccer players in the world. The World Cup will reveal that there are even more football aficionados keen to bellow their advice at television sets whenever the opportunity arises.

Experts, however, believe it is not advice, whether ill-informed or fuelled by alcohol, or even raw talent, that determines your nation’s chance of success in the World Cup but, rather, economics. The World Cup and Economics Report 2006, compiled by Goldman Sachs, argues that wealthier nations are generally better footballing nations. Six of the G7 countries are now ranked in the FIFA Top 20. The US and Japan are now both in the Top 20, despite being slow off the mark when it comes to football. That said, the report does make some caveats, noting that, globally, a pure economic analysis does not always hold true. Factors such as the number of males between 16 and 35 and the size of a country might be equally good predictors. Brazil shows that size does matter. Nigeria shows that a little cash might help. The report notes, however, that, regionally, economics certainly does seem to be linked with more successful footballing nations. In Europe, the largest economies have continually spawned more victorious teams.

A broad economic analysis might help explain South Africa’s rather dismal rating of 53rd in the world, but it fails to explain how it is only ranked tenth in Africa, despite being one of the richest countries on the continent. I do not wish to get into the intricacies of football politics in South Africa, as I value my limbs but, clearly, the country is not reaching its potential.

So is money the problem? If the economy soared, would South Africa’s footballing prowess increase? When the World Cup comes to South Africa in 2010, the country would have spent about R15- billion fixing up stadiums, roads and airports. But an estimated R21-billion will come back into the economy. Some R13-billion will be generated in direct spending and approximately 159 000 new jobs will be created, says consulting firm Grant Thornton. If there is any truth in correlation between economics and footballing success, then this should give some, albeit short-term, impetus to South Africa’s 2010 prospects. But, of course, life is not like that and football, like most things, is not science. When I was six years old, I had my greatest football triumph. As I attempted a blistering kick towards the goal, my boot managed to loosen itself from my foot and take off aimlessly through the air. The ball went nowhere, but a gaggle of boys rushed enthusiastically after my boot, none- theless. Needless to say, it was a great disappointment for them to discover my scuffed boot rather than a ball when the dust had cleared. Strangely, however, when the boys ran off to chase my boot, I was left alone with the ball. If I had been less concerned about dirtying my sock, I probably could have scored. So I see two options. Either you place a bet on one of the wealthy nations this year, win and then invest that in a developing nation to make soccer more interesting. Or take a flutter on Ghana or maybe Iran because unlike money that can trap people behind impenetrable class barriers or condemn countries to the bottom of the football barrel, you never can rule out luck, or at very least the hand of God.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 9 June 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (GTRC) released its final report on 25 May 2006. According to ICTJ, "The Commission—a grassroots, democratic initiative and the first of its kind in the United States—found that the Greensboro Police Department had been negligent, had recklessly disregarded public safety, and had contributed to official attempts to deceive the public about the tragic events of November 3, 1979". To read the full report visit the GTRC Website.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The meaning of money

There is something about money I do not get. I understand bartering. Two people exchange things that have roughly equal value. But modern money as a concept makes little sense. Milton Friedman, in Money Mischief, writes that money, as we know it, has no intrinsic value and what gives it value is that it is used for exchange. He goes on to say that the value is what we attribute to it, and all money is ‘credit’ money, a contractual IOU for an incomplete exchange. As Aristotle said, the value of money is “derived not from nature, but from law”.

So money is made by the meaning we give it yet, at the same time, it apparently makes the world go around. If you do not have it, your life can be miserable. Nevertheless, money or, to be precise, currency, which is the physical embodiment of the idea of money, cannot buy happiness – only a new iPod or a fridge. But the more money one is talking about the less concrete the notion gets. Bill Gates, for example, is apparently worth $27-billion, but he does not have $27-billion dollars in the same way a person has 1 000 cattle.

He is a rich man with jets and houses but, mainly, he has more IOUs than the rest of us. His bank does not have a vault with $27- billion crisp $100 bills in it, ready for Bill to dive into whenever the urge takes him.

Governments have enormous amounts of unseen money. At a government level, finance is based on promises and IOUs. It is about shuffling budgets of virtual money and meeting obligations. These obligations boil down to where they want to commit make- believe dosh. These choices can have tragic and visible consequences.

Money means different things to different people. I recall working with a community group in South Africa and discussing a grant to support people around the truth commission. One community member commented: “We have been thinking that we don’t want to use the money for that – rather, we want to share the grant out between us.” The group would have preferred an instant R500 each rather than a long-term, less tangible benefit. Money as a thing, or at least the objects R500 could buy when you are poor, was more important. The man had a point, but the donor would have seen it differently. Donor and grantee had conflicting desired outcomes. But what determines these outcomes? Who controls these fantasy purse strings? A recent report in the UK claimed that lack of resources in the security services led to the London bombings last year. But at the same time the country spends £3-billion a year on the occupation of Iraq. The US government finds $100-billion a year for its Iraq folly. When the amounts of money get this astronomical, the meaning of the money becomes even more ephemeral. The only way to make sense of it is to break figures down into numbers we think we can compute. My calculations go like this: the UK and US governments are spending roughly $110-billion a year in Iraq. This is five times the gross domestic product (GDP) of Mozambique and is the equivalent of about 20% of the annual GDP of South Africa.

But even more staggering is that the money invested in making this war is more than the Iraqi GDP, estimated at $97-billion in 2005. Does this incredible statistic make sense to anyone? I once met a businessperson who told me he owed his bank half a million pounds, or R5-million. I remember thinking he was the only person I knew who was rich enough to be half a million pounds in debt. Does that make sense to anyone? Answers on a postcard, please.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 26 May 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, May 12, 2006

And now for the good news...

I am not one to complain (well, not too much), but writing this column can be depressing. This is because it demands a constant vigilance of the news, and newspapers are gloomy. The adage that bad news sells is true. So I was delighted to stumble across the website South Africa: The Good News. The site is dedicated to highlighting good-news stories and is littered with helpful headings, such as ‘Good-news crime stories’. This section, which cheered me up by its mere paradoxical title, highlights areas in which crime has decreased. Overall, the site features stories written from a positive perspective. For example, one article, in the spirit of seeing the glass half-full, points out that South Africa is considered the third-least corrupt country in Africa. Now, is that not a better way of talking about corruption than saying that South Africa is 46th in the world on a corruption-perception index, or asking why we are not the least-corrupt country in Africa? The site also got me thinking about statistics and how they have become little tools of terror rather than ways of quelling fears. We have all become accustomed to hearing statistics being used to highlight things to worry about, even though most of the time we have no idea what statistics really mean. The media, food manufacturers and scientists bombard us with them all the time, usually to scare us into buying something.

For example, according to the National Safety Council, you have a 1 in 22-million chance of dying from the melting of your nightwear, but only a 1 in 95-million chance of dying of a snake bite in the US. So, realistically, the chances of being fried alive in your pyjamas are slim and the chances of being bitten by a deadly snake even more remote. Even so, I suspect that someone in the world is rushing out to buy flame-retardant pyjamas and knee-high snake-proof boots just to be sure.

Sadly, pessimism is everywhere. Psychologist Martin Seligman has criticised academia by noting that, in the last three decades, journals published 46 000 psychological papers on depression and only 400 on joy. Optimism has little hope of flourishing in a world where disasters are the lifeblood of the media. This is exemplified by the BBC’s recent decision to describe headline news items each day as their ‘top stories’. The ‘top stories’ caption appears in red letters at the bottom of the screen, lest there be any doubt that bombings, starvation, civil unrest and political repression are anything less than ‘top’. Peter Ustinov said that the point of living and of being an optimist is to be foolish enough to believe the best is yet to come. This discouraging view of optimism dominates the planet, even though, according to some experts, optimism is good for you. Vatche Bertekian, a stress-management specialist, notes that optimism increases your immune system’s ability to fight off diseases.

If you need help, you can even hire, through feedyouroptimism.com, speakers referred to as ‘professional optimists’ to cheer you up and show you the optimistic way to health and happiness.

Then again, optimists, according to some psychologists, are more prone to risk-taking behaviour, as they always expect things to work out for the better. In other words, you might be so carefree and unfazed by the consequences of your actions that you end up driving too fast, wrapping your car around a tree, thereby bringing your happy little world to a premature end.

It seems you just can’t win. Pessimism is too depressing, and optimism’s apparent health benefits are offset by its tendency to make us a little too laid back about danger. So remember the words of British comedian Bill Bailey next time someone asks you if you are an optimist – just answer: “I hope so!”

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 12 May 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Are you calling me chicken?

A dead swan was recently found about a mile from our house in a nearby lake. The poor creature had the misfortune, first, of dying and, second, of dying at the same time as another swan in Fife, in Scotland, several hundred miles away. The swan in Fife died of bird flu. So, suddenly, the swan down the road from our house found itself the posthumous centre of attention as tests ensued. The situation, however, proved an anticlimax when the swan was found to have died of natural causes. This was cold comfort to the swan and, no doubt, bad news for media people, who were getting excited about the furore. Needless to say, it was a relief for people across the island of Ireland.

But what was interesting about this incident was its ability to conjure up fear in an instant. If I am honest, I was also alarmed at my own rather selfish and out-of-proportion reaction. Firstly, I had concerns about whether our child would be safe if we went for a walk down by the river. Secondly, I envisaged another foot-and-mouth-style slaughter of all local birds and felt for the poor creatures, which would, surely, meet their end if bird flu was confirmed. And, finally, I found some space to spare a thought for the poultry farmers and the potential impact on their livelihood. Sadly, I think my reaction is not too dissimilar to many. It seems as if each new global fear is immediately internalised and individualised. In short, can I get it? Am I and my family safe? Immediately after the discovery of the dead swan in Fife, I heard people saying that they would no longer eat poultry, despite the media making it unequivocally clear that you cannot get bird flu this way, not to mention the fact that swan is hardly a staple food. This points to a paradox. There is increasing information from the media about issues such as bird flu, yet, at the same time, individuals continue to have unfounded fears. Why is this the case? One way to look at this is from the perspective of the information that is imparted. To be fair to the media in the UK and Ireland, both have attempted to run with the ‘don’t panic’ story about bird flu. Tony Blair and various scientists have been liberally quoted as saying the disease is not a threat to humans. Yet, at the same time, the media cannot resist highlighting the 100 human fatalities across the globe with as much of sensationalism as possible. They also take any opportunity to show photos of crowded chicken coops in Asian and African markets. Such images shown in a largely Western society invariably evoke stereotypical perceptions of foreigners as somehow dirty and primitive, feeding fears of ‘the other’ as the source of infectious disease. Another way to look at unrealistic fears like contracting bird flu in leafy suburbia, which you are as unlikely as getting as winning the lottery twice in one weekend, is that such fears are the luxury of those who are comfortable and do not have that much to worry about. Clearly, the starving villagers from Jos, in Nigeria, who were recently arrested for exhuming flu-infected and culled birds to eat had a very different hierarchy of concern.

In the final instance, the whole bird-flu issue probably teaches us more about ourselves than about risk. We cannot resist seeing the world from our own tiny vantage point. Those who are safest in the world continue to thrive on myths of external threats, such as criminals, foreigners, terrorists, strangers and disease, while the poor rifle through a pile of dead poultry looking for food, infected or not. So, why did the chicken cross the road? Hopefully, to help us open our eyes.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 28 April 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

On trial for planting trees

I received this from a friend and thought it worth posting. It is a letter from a peace activist who is going on trial for planting trees at the Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston.

Dear friends,

I would like to share some thoughts with you. I am in Oxford, England and tomorrow the Vine and fig tree planters, eight of us, are going to trial for planting some trees at Atomic Weapons Establishment Aldermaston. This weekend we have been preparing for both the trial and prison, doing role-plays and preparation. We have many supporters who have come from near (Oxford etc.) and far (Israel and Sweden).

Already in Sweden we have been assisted by very helpful police and lawyers to prepare for the trial. In January I received a dvd with video footage and camera pictures from the planting we did in August (see the beautiful pictures). It was all done by the police except some pictures that we planters took. We also got very detailed witness statements from police. When I read them I re-lived the planting through the eyes of the police which I found interesting. I would like you to have a taste of it, if you are interested. So I have taken bits and pieces of their statements, see below.

The whole trial process is new for me so I am a bit nervous about this. Though I am lucky to have very experienced people in the group who have been to many trials before. I can ask them about anything. At least I have done my best to try to prepare for the trial. They have told me that you could be allowed to have a final speech about your action. Tonight I have written down my ideas if you would be interested to look at it, below.

peace,
Martin

For more information click here.

Final speech, Newbury Magistrates Court, the xth of February, 2005 (Draft)

Your worship, friends, supports, thanks for letting me explain my actions in this courtroom today.

The tree planting at AWE Aldermaston on the 5th of August 2005 at AWE Aldermaston is not a spur of the moment thing for me. I have been working full time with peace issues for almost five years. I have been thinking, literally, thousands and thousands of hours on how to create peace in the world. For me the trial is not about a broken fence, it is about the world we want to create tomorrow.

What makes humans truly unique is our ability to imagine. It is our ability to see another future and to have visions of something better. With my planting of vine and fig trees at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment I wanted to create a small part of my vision for the planet. We, humanity, have the power to make peace happen. If we truly can se a peaceful future where no one has to be afraid, then we can feel secure enough to disarm.

When I was interviewed at Newbury Police Station the 5th of August 2005 I was asked by Detective Inspector Stackhouse if there wasn?t any easier and more legal means to draw attention to our cause. I answered that yes, there are certainly many ways to work for peace, both more easy and more legal. During my five years of work for peace I have used only legal means. I think this work is of great importance and value. But sometimes when you want to live your vision; lines are crossed and boundaries broken. That is what happened on the 5th of August 2005 at AWE Aldermaston. Our vision of a world of peace collided with the lack of vision and trust that some political leaders have. That is way we are in this courtroom today.

I could have stayed at home in Sweden and not have gone to this trial. I could have escaped my punishment. But I chose to answer your invitation to be a part of this exchange of thoughts in this trial. I am willing to take the consequences of my actions on the 5th of August 2005. If you want to send me to prison for my action of peace you are entitled to do so. I still face very little punishment compared to all human rights activists sitting in prison today. But you don?t have to send us to prison or to give us a fine. If you also, your worship, share the vision of peace, you can by declaring us not guilty be a part of making this vision of peace a reality. It would not be the first time a similar thing would happen in a courtroom.

So why did I decide to be a part of creating a garden in a research facility for nuclear weapons? The answer for me is that it is not enough to have a vision, it is not enough to think and speak beautiful words. Neither is it enough to do actions without thinking, to work without goals. If we truly want to change the world into something better, then vision and work has to be one.

That is what we tried to embody by planting a garden at the most deadly place we could find. I believe that a world without weapons is possible and although I am anxious about prison I am ready to accept to go there, because I want to be true to my calling. Thank you for listening.

Martin Smedjeback

Friday, April 21, 2006

ICTJ Fellowships

The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), invite applications for the Transitional Justice Fellowship Program, a funded, three-month residential fellowship program in Cape Town, South Africa, for approximately 12 professionals from select countries. Applications are invited from eligible individuals in any field, including (but not limited to) human rights advocacy, law, journalism, research, etc. Deadline for Applications: June 1, 2006. Dates for 2006 program: August 15-November 15, 2006
For more information and application forms, click here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

You are either for him or against him

There is nothing worse than seeing your own country denigrated in the foreign press. Sadly, this is what the blinkered supporters of Jacob Zuma, the former Deputy President of South Africa fired for alleged corruption and on trial for rape, are doing. Stories of his supporters protesting outside the court have been splashed all over the foreign media. It has been shocking to see supporters burning pictures of the woman who accuses Zuma and carrying placards reading ‘Zuma is being raped’. Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, claims she even heard teenage girls outside the court saying: “We are waiting for Zuma to rape us too – we want to be Zuma’s women.” Given that some 50 000 rapes are reported each year in South Africa, this must leave outsiders, and I hope the majority in the country too, wonder- ing just what is going on.

Of course, people have a right to support whoever they want, especially someone they see as having a significant role in liberating their country. I do not take issue with this. However, what is startling is how unequivocal and ferocious this support is. It seems like his supporters, to twist George Bush’s famous mantra, are saying: “You are either for him or against him.” If you do not support him, you are a political enemy and will be subjected to abuse. The fact that their aggressive protests will deter future rape survivors from bringing charges before the court in a country where one in nine cases of rape are reported seems of little consequence to them. The protestors’ actions highlight that there is still something deeply wrong within parts of South African society. The old apartheid mindset, which taught that the world was literally a black-and-white place, either all good or all bad, is alive and well. Further, if Zuma’s supporters have such unwavering conviction of his innocence, something neither they nor I have a clue about, then why not let the law run its course? The response, I imagine, most would give is that the charges are a political conspiracy to oust him as the next president. Do they seriously believe the entire legal system will conspire to deliver the exact verdict his enemies want? Sounds like paranoia to me, which is the flip side of the ‘You are either with us or against us’ mentality. Of course, Zuma’s supporters are not alone in this didactic thinking. Remember how Hansie Cronje was one day a hero and the next the pariah against all Afrikaners for fixing cricket matches. The inability of African leaders to condemn Robert Mugabe’s recent actions because of his past accomplishments as a liberation leader is another case in point, not to mention the way many whites use someone like Mugabe to make blanket assumptions about the draconian tendencies of all black politicians.

The ability to treat a situation with any subtlety seems to have died somewhere in our violent past. Is it not possible that someone can support a person politically or value his or her past actions, but, equally, be concerned about his or her current behaviour? It is time to shake off the past and grow up as a democracy. It might have been functional during apartheid times to see all those on your side as heroes and beyond reproach or all your enemies as evil, but the real world is just not like that. Surely, one can respect what Zuma has done as a politician but, at the same time, deplore the way he has let his supporters run wild in recent weeks, especially considering he is a former chairperson of the Moral Regeneration Campaign. Likewise, if he is found guilty, it will not erase his earlier contribution to helping the new South Africa on its way but, equally, his past achievements should not deter the law from taking its course.

This article was published on Polity prior to the conclusion of the case. Jacob Zuma was found not guilty.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 14 April 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Friday, March 31, 2006

What’s in a name?

Feudalism may be dead, but many still hanker after titles such as Lord, Lady, Earl or Countess, and if there is a need, there is a market. Websites promise such titles from $1 000 upwards, some reaching over $50 000. The benefits of such titles, according to the websites that flog them, include receiving upgrades when you travel, an enhanced profile and booming business as people clamber to work with and serve your esteemed royal self. That said, FakeTitles.com, run by Richard, the 7th Earl of Bradford, whose mission is to uncover fake titles, since his is real, points out that such offers are fraudulent and, frankly, just not cricket. A genuine title is passed down through generations of privilege and, quiet frankly, sir, cannot be bought.

For those of you interested, nonetheless, I have discovered three methods of attaining a title. The first is to buy the title ‘Lord of the Manor’. This is actually not a title, but a form of landownership. Boxer Chris Eubank, for example, bought the title Lord of the Manor of Brighton for a paltry £45 000. For his investment, he can refer to himself as Lord of the Manor of Brighton, although not Lord Eubank. Semantics aside, he is now entitled to 4 000 herring, three cows and a slave each year. His title, however, does not give him the right of the lord of an estate to deflower its virgins.

Secondly, you can buy a square foot of Scottish earth, name it what you like, and then refer to yourself as Laird (or Lord) of your said piece of land. FakeTitles.com claims that the average cost of a square foot of land being sold in this way on the Internet is $67, which seems reasonable to me. But the site warns that there are 43 560 square feet to the acre, which means that Internet scammers are making $2 918 520 per acre for largely useless land.

And, finally, the most controversial way to get a title is to make a large donation or loan to Tony Blair’s Labour Party. The British press is riddled with claims that Labour backers have allegedly been nominated by Labour officials for positions in the House of Lords. So nepotism is thriving in British politics as it is elsewhere, but what fascinates me is the lengths to which people will go to be associated with the monarchy, a system which has long been defunct. This demonstrates how ingrained in global consciousness the monarchy has become. Most people who fall for the fake-title Internet scams are American. Many seek to reconnect with their forefathers; others, I suspect, are fascinated with the monarchy and want a piece of the action. The British monarchy still has an allure for South Africans too; many can tell you all the details of the royal family. Royal trips to Canada, Kenya and Australia still draw huge crowds.

Are those from previous British colonies, not to mention the British public, who continue to fund the royals’ lavish lifestyles through their taxes, simply fixated with their past oppressors, or is there something comforting in the idea of being associated with tradition, no matter how exploitative? As a Canadian friend put it to me, “we are interested in the British royals because it tells us where we come from”. Either way, what is worrying about the frivolous debate over fake titles is that it suggests that titles such as Lord still carry power. One way to change this is reform, or to just scrap the monarchy and its legacy altogether. The other is to democratise and popularise such titles, making them meaningless. But, if the Internet sharks scare you and you are not loaded with cash, the easiest option is to officially change your name. Why not try Lord Vader, or better still become a musician of the ilk of Duke Ellington, or just call yourself Prince?

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 31 March 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Obituary: Duma Kumalo

Duma Joshua Kumalo, who has died aged 48, in Johannesburg, was best-known as one of South Africa's "Sharpeville Six". Along with five others, he was accused, in 1984, of killing a councillor. Duma was at home at the time of the killing, but he spent eight years in jail, and for four of these he was on death row. He received a stay of execution in 1988, hours before he was to die. In fact, when he returned to his cell after receiving the news of his reprieve, his final meal was waiting for him. He ate the meal, but said that something inside him died that day.

Duma's experience, however, also lit a fire inside his heart. He left jail in June 1991 determined to clear his name. This was his only plea to the Truth and Reconciliation commission, where he appeared in 1996. His wish was not granted, but it never deterred him from his struggle for justice.

Duma spoke internationally about his experience. He was a strong advocate against the death penalty and publicly supported Amnesty International. He also told his story through film and theatre. His play The Story I am About to Tell ran for five years in South Africa and internationally. It was last performed in 2001 at the International Conference Against Racism in Durban.

He also made He Left Quietly, with Yael Farber, which was commissioned by the House of World Cultures in Berlin for the drama festival, In Transit.

When I met Duma over 10 years ago I was working at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Johannesburg. He was unemployed and still reeling from his prison experience. I offered him a job in one of our workshops educating local communities about the truth commission. Duma went on to be one of the founding members of the Khulumani Victim Support Group, a self-help group for victims of apartheid violence. Duma exuded warmth, and his sense of humour was legendary: if you met him once, you remembered him. He loved life despite all the hardships it had thrown at him. Duma inspired people. He may have lost some fights in his life, but he won a much bigger war. Muhammad Ali's words are a fitting tribute: "The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before [you] dance under those lights." Duma, you were a champion of a man.

In all his endeavours, and throughout his time in jail, he was supported by his wife Betty, who survives him, along with their two sons, Lucky and George.

Copyright Brandon Hamber, Published in The Guardian, Monday March 20, 2006.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Exporting reconciliation or reality TV

For South Africans, tuning into the BBC recently was like turning on a time machine as viewers across the UK were exposed to Archbishop Desmond Tutu facilitating dialogue between victims and those that harmed them. This time, however, the focus was on the Northern Ireland conflict, and not South Africa, and it made for riveting television as victims came face to face with those that had killed. The series, entitled Facing the Truth, has received mixed reactions. The meetings were a bold move and they may have been helpful for individual victims. They provide some hope for the future. But we have to ask what other messages the programmes convey.

The programmes are not a truth commission but a dialogue, although the central idea leans heavily on the South African experience. It draws on the idea of publicly airing grievances as a way of addressing the past as championed by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). There are differences, however. The South African TRC’s primary focus was on outlining the causes, nature and extent of the conflict. It was not about victims meeting perpetrators, although this happened on occasion. Such meetings and the TRC were part of a more extensive political process. This has left me wondering: Is Northern Ireland trying to walk before it can crawl, or are high-profile encounters needed to move the process forward? Currently, the peace process in Northern Ireland is stalled. Given this context, the programmes might get people talking and re-engaged with resolving the conflict. The courage shown by participants in the programme can demonstrate what is possible, despite the dense fog of political dilly-dallying.

However, focusing on the victims can also inadvertently suggest that it is the responsibility of victims to reconcile, rather than wider society, as the first step to change, thus burdening victims with another liability. Some victims could feel pressured to forgive or perpetrators feel coerced into expressing remorse they don’t really feel. Airing the programmes in a political vacuum has other problems. The programmes’ focus is the stories of those directly affected or acting in the conflict. There is no context provided or debate about the causes of the conflict. Emotive television of this type also invariably draws one to the plight of the victims. This is important, but conflict resolution is not only about feeling the hurt of victims and sympathising with them. It demands that everyone across society recognise their own capacity for wrongdoing at the same time. Some in South Africa and Northern Ireland still feel self-righteous because they never acted violently. But political conflict is caused not merely by gunmen, but by political contexts that foster this behaviour. This does not exonerate indivi-dual responsibility or mean that all are equally responsible, but it demands that we ask how we supported the situation including tacit acceptance of violence, turning a blind eye to the pain of the other or through continuing to vote along ethnic, religious or racial lines. No one is uninvolved or neutral in protracted political conflict. Resolving conflict requires a public debate on levels of complicity and guilt, not only recognition of the hurt caused or confessions from direct actors. In South Africa we are still grappling with this.The media can foster this complicated debate, but this demands something more subtle than eerie music and darkly lit forums where victims and perpetrators meet. Let’s hope these programmes are a first step in this direction, or has Tutu’s noble desire to bring out the humanity of even hardened perpetrators intersected with TV producers’ ideas for lurid television leaving the international audience with a one-dimensional view of South Africa. The limited reconciliation achieved in South Africa was not a miracle nor was it only the cumulative product of important individual gestures. It was mainly the result of hard work and political compromise – a less attractive but important lesson worth exporting.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 17 March 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.