Monday, December 25, 2006
Sunday, December 24, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 15 December 2006.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
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?
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 6 October 2006.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 18 August 2006.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
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
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
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, see www.foundationsforpeace.org
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 14 July 2006.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 28 July 2006.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 26 May 2006.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Monday, July 10, 2006
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 email@example.com 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.
Thursday, July 6, 2006
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!”
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, May 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 12 May 2006.
Saturday, July 1, 2006
Friday, June 16, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 9 June 2006.
Monday, June 5, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 28 April 2006.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Monday, May 22, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 14 April 2006.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
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?
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 31 March 2006.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
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.
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.
Friday, April 21, 2006
For more information and application forms, click here.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
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.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 17 March 2006.
Monday, April 3, 2006
Okay, I exaggerate slightly, but the message is clear. The harbingers of this rubbish play on people’s goodwill and guilt, presumably for no other reason than to see how long the letter takes to get back to them. But such letters also suck you in and I too have succumbed to the odd email promising the end to world hunger at the press of a button. So why do they work? One answer is that they promote ‘slacktivism’, a term derived from merging the words ‘slacker’ and ‘activism. Slacktivism, according to Barbara Mikkelson, cofounder of Snopes.com, a website that debunks urban legends, “is the search for the ultimate feel-good that derives from having come to society’s rescue without actually getting one’s hands dirty, volunteering any of one’s time, or opening one’s wallet”. In other words, getting a big return on a small investment. Consequently, these goodwill emails (laden with threats) keep trundling on for the same reason as pyramid schemes: we want something for nothing and to have the added benefit of feeling good about getting it.
There are, however, different levels of slacktivism. There are those who are serial slacktivists, that is, they sign and forward any old petition blissfully unaware that most governments or corporations will just ignore unverified correspondence. The only beneficiary is the sender, who is left with a warm glow for his or her self-righteous, yet minimal, efforts. Then there are also those who use the Internet and chain emails to drum up support for their cause, which is translated into genuine lobbying in the halls of government. A constant barrage of information, which is factual rather than threatening and based on genuine case studies, could arguably swing public opinion. But to achieve this, the garbage that is circulated on the Internet should be filtered, and this starts with you and me. I am all for a little slacktivism, but it should move beyond simply forwarding heart-wrenching emails. Let’s think before forwarding every email and use the time we spend worrying that bad luck will befall us if we don’t, as well as the time wasted congratulating ourselves on the five seconds we donated to a good cause while pressing the forward button, being a lot more selective and a little more action-oriented. And, if any of you needs lessons on just how to do this, just drop me an email and we can go for a cappuccino and discuss it.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 3 March 2006.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
Where has Mbeki the controversial gone? Although some parties criticised Mbeki for skirting issues concerning Aids, crime and corruption, they all, from the SACP to Tony Leon, liked the focus on the economy.
This I find worrying rather than encouraging. Have Mbeki’s years of being beaten by the local and international press, if he vaguely challenges the wealthy, muzzled him, or is South Africa becoming a boring middle-of-the-road sort of place, where fiscal man-agement and interest rates are hot topics of discussion? If I can put this another way: if we substituted the words ‘Bafana Bafana’ for the England football team (who also have a knack for falling from footballing grace given half a chance), there is something decidedly Tony Blair about Mbeki’s speech.
The standard New Labour mantra works in a similar fashion: sycophantic praise for various people, excessive mention of public–private partnership and a barrage of statistics to drive home how good the ruling party has been for the country, the economy and, largely, the middle class.
That said, I do not doubt the achievements of the ANC government, given the social problems facing South Africa, and it is great that South Africa has a literate president, unlike some superpowers. But I think a good president challenges the population. Mbeki has excelled at this over the years. I know some of you reading this probably dislike him intensely for that but, as they say, you have to break eggs to make an omelette. If the president is not going to cause a hullabaloo from time to time, and particularly challenge the wealthy and the complacent, then who will?
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 17 February 2006.
Monday, March 20, 2006
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.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
The recent BBC series Facing the Truth, which brought victims of political violence face to face with perpetrators, has got people talking.The dialogues, facilitated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are a stark reminder of the suffering caused by the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. It is sobering to think that the cases featured are a fragment of the thousands of stories that need to be told.
The programmes were a bold move and may have helped individual victims. They provide some hope for the future, along with the work of organisations that have fostered similar dialogues over the years, albeit behind closed doors. But we also have to ask what other messages such programmes convey and what else might need to be done to reckon with the past.
Although the programmes are not a truth commission but a dialogue, 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 Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There are profound differences, however. The South African commission’s primary focus was on outlining the causes, nature and extent of the conflict through victim and perpetrator testimony. This testimony took place in separate victim and amnesty or perpetrator hearings. Although most amnesty hearings took place publicly, only approximately 2,000 of the 21,000 victims who gave statements to the commission gave testimony in public.
When perpetrators applied for amnesty in exchange for speaking the truth, victims or their lawyers could question perpetrators as to the veracity of their statements but this was not billed as a meeting or as necessarily reconciliatory. The South African commission was not primarily about victims meeting perpetrators and nowhere in its legal mandate does it say it was.
The BBC programmes, presented by veteran Irish reporter Fergal Keane, have now created this myth. Victim-offender meetings did happen on occasion as a result but largely outside the remit of the commission. In addition, such meetings and the commission itself were part of a more extensive political process. This leaves one wondering: Is Northern Ireland trying to walk before it can crawl or are high-profile encounters needed to move the process forward?
Given the stalled peace process, the programmes might get people to re-engage with resolving the conflict. The courage shown by participants 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, rather than wider society, to reconcile as the first step to change, thus burdening victims with another liability. Some victims could feel pressured to forgive, or perpetrators compelled into expressing remorse they don’t really feel, especially on television.
The programmes’ focus is the stories of those directly affected by or acting in the conflict. There is no context provided or debate about the causes. There was no questioning of the statements given by offenders, thus allowing them to define the truth. Truth commissions traditionally question and try to reach forensic truth. 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 sympathising with victims, important as that is. It demands that everyone across society recognises their own capacity for wrongdoing at the same time.
In the project Healing Through Remembering, a five-year-old initiative that brings together over 80 people from different political perspectives each month to wrestle with questions about the past, the issue of considering one’s own role in the past is discussed under the rubric of “reflection”. Reflecting on the past, not merely remembering it, necessitates that we consider not only victims’ suffering but also how we all supported or fuelled the conflict through direct action, our attitudes or our failure to act.
Resolving conflict requires reflection and public debate on levels of complicity and guilt, not only recognition of the hurt caused or confessions from direct actors. This process should be supported by public acknowledgment of hurts inflicted. This leaves no one untouched, and all institutions need to examine their role in the past — among others, paramilitaries, the governments, churches, the judiciary, political parties, the education system and the media.
The view of Healing Through Remembering is that there are no quick fixes and no one is neutral in protracted political conflict. A range of interrelated options for dealing with the past are required, such as a living memorial museum, a day of reflection, a network of commemoration projects, and collective storytelling. For truth recovery, an informed debate is necessary, evidenced by the misperceptions created by the recent programmes. To this end, Healing Through Remembering will shortly be launching five detailed options for truth recovery for public discussion. There is no doubt that the BBC programmes have stimulated debate on dealing with the past. Questions, however, remain as to whether the focus on victims and offenders, as in the first major media intervention on this issue, has not confounded the reconciliation discussion. It certainly has confused many as to what really happened in South Africa. A more complicated, nuanced and reflexive debate about the past is needed, with a healthy and functional political context and, of course, the media have a role in this. But in the long run, this will demand something more subtle than eerie music and darkly lit forums where victims and perpetrators meet in the glare of the camera, no matter how moving or personally transformative such meetings might be.
Dr Brandon Hamber is a conflict-transformation expert from South Africa living in Belfast and a consultant to the cross-community project Healing Through Remembering. His views do not necessarily reflect those of all the members of the project. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the www.brandonhamber.com for more information
Copyright Dr Brandon Hamber, Published in the Daily Ireland 14/03/2006
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Of course, if you live in the southern hemisphere, then certain parts of the equation are defunct, particularly the weather. In fact, the condition of 'seasonal affective disorder', or SAD, as it is fittingly known, a type of depression that follows the seasons, is more common the farther north you go. Of course, you can still be fat, broke and too hot in the summer in South Africa but, scientifically speaking, South Africans should be happy people with all the sunshine.
However, the World Database of Happiness (yes, it does exist) rates South Africa as 'a middle-of-range' place when it comes to happiness. South Africa scores 5,5 on the happiness scale, along with Kenya, Lebanon and South Korea. Denmark and Switzerland are allegedly happy places, scoring over 8. Ireland and the UK score in the high range, with 7,6 and 7,1 respectively. Zimbabwe and Moldova are among the unhappiest places on earth.
Having said that, the database also highlights inequality in responses between those reporting high and those reporting low levels of happiness. South Africa has a high inequality score, meaning that, although South Africans are, on average, moderately happy, some people are clearly much happier than others. This is not surprising, given the disparities in the country. That said, I am not convinced by the science of happiness and I take issue with Arnall's equation, because it is not culturally and contextually relevant. So let me help him out.
If he wanted an equation for happiness in Northern Ireland, it would have to go something like this: (W + (D-d)) x TQ divided by M x NA, where W is the weather (of course), D downtime of the political institutions, d monthly salary paid to politicians for not participating in the downed political institutions, T time spent complaining that someone else has got more political concessions than you, Q time passed since blaming someone else for all your problems, M low motivational levels, owing to excessive intake of chips and Guinness and NA the time wasted watching too much reality TV.
And for South Africa, happiness could be measured as (W + (D-d)) x TQ divided by M x NA, where (W) is wealth (meaning having your basic needs met, not being affluent, because we all know money cannot buy happiness), D political downtime since the last corruption scandal or the firing of a Deputy President, d monthly salary spent on replacing stolen goods, T time wasted filling in insurance forms, Q time spent braaing on the weekends, M low motivational levels, owing to losing to Australia at cricket or rugby or watching Bafana Bafana crash out of a major soccer tournament, and NA time wasted believing everything you read in newspapers and magazines.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, February 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 3 February 2006.
Monday, February 20, 2006
The controversy surrounding Kennedy is a familiar one in politics. Remember the attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton? The issue was not that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, but that he initially denied having “sexual relations with that woman”.
Machiavelli says that governments have different rules to individuals when it comes to honesty. From a Machiavellian perspective, one wants politicians who can tell lies. Telling lies can, in some circumstances, protect the interests of the State and its citizens. This distasteful truth is offset by democracy. Democracy demands a bond of trust between citizens and the State. You must trust your political leaders enough to know they will lie or keep secrets, only if absolutely necessary and to defend life. If they lie to the electorate for other reasons, they should be held accountable.
However, lying is a tricky business, and a government’s access to power often means that it can shape how a ‘lie’ is understood. According to the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, a lie is a declarative statement to another person, that one believes to be false, made with the intention that the other person may believe that statement to be true. In other words, lies, by definition, involve active deception. Politicians seldom own up to any form of deception. Take, for example, what I would call the recently invented ‘honest lie’ introduced during the Iraq war scandal. When Tony Blair claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that they posed a “serious and current threat” and was subsequently proved to be wrong, he said it was the fault of the intelligence services. He claims he believed the information presented to him and, as such, had not lied. He sincerely, or so he says, told the nation what he thought was true. He told a sincere lie.
But is that different from the situation with Kennedy? When asked publicly if he was an alcoholic, he said no. What we know about alcoholism is that it is common for those afflicted to fail to recognise their condition. In this sense, perhaps, he equally lied in all sincerity. But is it only the sincerity of a lie that matters, and not its consequences? The sincerity of a lie seldom matters to the victims of it. This is undoubtedly the case for the colleagues who had to cover for Kennedy when he was allegedly too drunk to perform his public duties or to Iraqi civilians and allied soldiers killed as a result of alleged misinformation.
Clearly, individuals are treated differently to governments. If an individual acts against another in ‘preemptive self-defence’, having been misinformed about the level of threat, she or he must face the law and pay the price. If a politician, on the other hand, causes the death of thousands based on misinformation about the level of threat, it is apparently entirely excusable. Unlike active deception, incompetent deception is seemingly completely forgivable when it comes to politicians.
If one man’s inability to be honest about his fondness for a tipple is enough to topple him and cost him his political career, then another man’s failure to ensure that information used to end the lives of thousands is accurate, no matter how sincerely he believed it was, should be equally damning.
Brandon Hamber writes the column "Look South": an analysis of trends in global political, social and cultural life and its relevance to South Africa on Polity. Copyright Brandon Hamber, January 2006. "Look South" Column published on Polity on 20 January 2006.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Evaluation, and Impact Assessment of Peacebuilding Programmes. Our course will present an overview of the concept of reconciliation in societies coming out of conflict. Different theoretical and practical definitions of reconciliation will be explored. The relevance of the term in societies grappling to deal with a legacy of human rights violations will be critically examined. The course will investigate how the concept relates to and influences practical reconciliation work and its relationship to political transformation and transitional justice. The course will draw on the international learning of academics, policy-makers and practitioners, as well as the facilitators own experience. The course will combine both traditional lectures, guest speakers involved in reconciliation oriented work in Northern Ireland, and an interactive case study based approach. Discussions and group activities will be key aspects to the course design and delivery. To read more about the course click here and if you interested in the Summer School more broadly click here. The deadline for signing up for any of the courses is 10 March 2006.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
Duma came close to losing his life during the fateful “Sharpeville Six” ordeal as we know. In fact, when he returned to his cell after receiving the news that he was not going to be executed, his final meal was waiting for him. He ate the meal, but has subsequently said that something inside him died that day. Although this may in part be true, Duma’s experience also lit a fire inside his heart. Duma came out of jail determined to have his name cleared. This was his only plea to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other government bodies. His wish was never granted. None of this however deterred Duma from his struggle for justice both for himself and for others. He tirelessly helped fellow survivors of apartheid violence.
Duma spoke internationally many times about his experience. He contributed in immeasurable ways to the growth and popularity of Khulumani as an organisation in South Africa and overseas. He was a strong advocate against the death penalty and supported Amnesty International on several occasions in this regard. He also told his story through the play The Story I am About to Tell, as well as through other film and theatre productions. In all his endeavours, and throughout his time in jail, he was supported by his wife Betty. Betty was his rock. Duma also has two sons. My thoughts are with them and Betty at this time.
Personally, Duma was one of the most warm-hearted people I have known. His smile and sense of humour was legendary. I could spend hours talking of my experiences with Duma in South Africa and abroad. People still speak of Duma in Derry in Northern Ireland. His large frame etched in my mind as he ambled about the town speaking with passers-by and always grinning. We spent much time, perhaps too much time, in small Irish pubs as he regaled the locals with stories and song long into the night. If you met Duma once you remembered him. Across the globe people often ask me about him. My heart will be heavy now as I have to pass on the sad news that the great tree has fallen.
Duma loved life despite all the hardships it had thrown at him. He was fighter. In light of this it is not surprising that it is the spirit of Muhammad Ali that comes to mind when I think of Bra Duma. Duma, you inspired people from inside the darkness of your cell and shook the world; you inspired people whilst quietly assisting Khulumani members with their problems; you inspired people across the globe when your voice boomed out on the world stage as you spoke of your experience; and you inspired people with your honesty, grit and charm under the theatre lights.
Duma Joshua Kumalo may have lost some fights in his life but he won a much bigger war. Muhammad Ali’s words are a fitting tribute to him: “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, I will miss your hearty laugh, your generosity of spirit, your courage to always fight for what was right and your burning desire for justice. You were a champion of a man. Hamba Kahle.
Brandon Hamber (8 February 2006)
A small fund to assist the family with the funeral arrangements has been set up, if any of you would like to contribute please email me.