Friday, February 17, 2006

Is South Africa becoming boring?

This year, perhaps because I like punishment, I spent considerable time poring over the 7 800 words of South African President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation address. It was not reading it, however, that was punishing, rather its central message. The text itself is a good read, filled with quotes from Shakespeare, the poet Ingrid Jonker, and a liberal smattering of the prophet Isaiah. Mbeki is eloquent and his speeches are often interesting. But what I missed this time round was the challenge and the controversy. The core message was just a little too mainstream for my anarchic brain. Remember Mbeki’s comment in 1998 that South Africa consists of two nations, one white and rich, the other black and poor. Now that got the nation talking. His challenges about ongoing racism at the national conference on racism, in 2000, and at other times too, have had similar effects. Mbeki’s message these days, if his State of the Nation speech is anything to go by, is a lot blander. He seems to think, while acknowledging challenges like corruption and poverty, that South Africa is a nation of patriots shaking off the past and happily working together in partnership on board the slow gravy train to transformation. Using Mbeki’s own words, “yesterday was another country” and South Africa is entering an “age of hope”. He feels “the years of freedom have been very good for business” and business need not fear for its financial wellbeing, as long as it is helping grow the economy. In fact, the word ‘growth’ is used a whopping 19 times in his State of the Nation speech. Mbeki also spends much time in his speech thanking the world, its brother and its former roommates for their contribution to the new South Africa, from ‘Bollywood’ actor Anil Kapoor to the millions who have tried to make a go of things since 1994. The only ones to get a lambasting are Bafana Bafana, who are singled out because they “did nothing to advertise our strengths as a winning nation” in the African Cup of Nations. Again, hardly a controversial statement, since 99% of South Africans probably agree.

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 management 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?

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

INCORE Summer School

INCORE is running its annual Summer School in June this year. Myself and Wilhelm Verwoerd will be running a week long course on "Reconciliation in Societies Coming Out of Conflict". There are also courses on The Management of Peace Processes
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

In Memory of Duma Joshua Kumalo

Duma Joshua Kumalo passed away in his sleep at a hotel outside Johannesburg, South Africa on 3 February 2006. Duma was one of the founding members of the Khulumani Victim Support Group and is best-known internationally as one of the “Sharpeville Six”. He, with five others, was accused under the problematic "common purpose" legislation in 1984 of killing a local councillor. Duma was at home at the time of the killing. He spent 8 years in jail and 3 of these on death row. He received a stay of execution only hours before he was to be put to death. The trauma of this experience must have been immense, but Duma came through it and was quick to remind people that he was a survivor and not a victim.

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.

Friday, February 3, 2006

Reasons to be cheerful

According to Dr Arnall, of the University of Cardiff, January 24 is the most depressing day of the year, if you live in the northern hemisphere. He supports his claim, not by speculation or anecdote, but through science, and he has an equation to prove it. His model breaks down as: (W + (D-d)) x TQ divided by M x NA, where W is weather, ) debt, ) monthly salary, T time since Christmas, Q time since failed quit attempt, M low motivational levels and NA the need to take action. If the science makes no sense to you, what he is saying is that, by January 24, if you live in the northern hemisphere, the fun of Christmas has worn off, credit-card bills are coming in, the days are cold and dark, and all those resolutions you made for the new year have been broken. In other words, you're sitting around feeling sorry for yourself because you're fat, broke, living in a rainy dreary climate and probably smoking too much.

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.

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