Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report

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

Monday, May 22, 2006

You are either for him or against him

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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.