Thursday, June 28, 2012

Bought and Sold by Benjamin Zephaniah

Smart big awards and prize money
Is killing off black poetry
It's not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art.
The lure of meeting royalty
And touching high society
Is damping creativity and eating at our heart.
The ancestors would turn in graves
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies,
The empire strikes back and waves
When they have done what they've been told
They get their OBEs.

Don't take my word, go check the verse
Cause every laureate gets worse
A family that you cannot fault as muse will mess your mind,
And yeah, you may fatten your purse
And surely they will check you first when subjects need to be amused
With paid for prose and rhymes.

Take your prize, now write more,
Fuck the truth
Now you're an actor do not fault your benefactor
Write, publish and review,
You look like a dreadlocks Rasta,
You look like a ghetto blaster,
But you can't diss your paymaster
And bite the hand that feeds you.

What happened to the verse of fire
Cursing cool the empire
What happened to the soul rebel that Marley had in mind,
This bloodstained, stolen empire rewards you and you conspire,
(Yes Marley said that time will tell)
Now look they've gone and joined.

We keep getting this beating
It's bad history repeating
It reminds me of those capitalists that say
'Look you have a choice,'
It's sick and self-defeating if our dispossessed keep weeping
And we give these awards meaning
But we end up with no voice.

  • Source: Too Black, Too Strong. Published by Bloodaxe Books (2001)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Call for Inquiry into Prehen Ancient Woodland Planning

Below I post an open letter calling for the support to prevent destruction of Prehen Woods.

Dear friends


Prehen Historical and Environmental Society has asked the Stormont Committee for the Environment to conduct an inquiry into the transparency, equality and accountability of the Planning Service, due to concerns caused by our experience relating to the development at Prehen Ancient Woodland.

The Environment Committee is meeting on Thursday 28 June at Stormont, and our case is being considered at the meeting.

We are therefore asking for as many of you as possible to email Anna Lo, Chair of the Environment Committee, in support of our call for an inquiry.

I am attaching a sample letter which you can use or adapt. We would be delighted if you would sign your name to it, and email it immediately to and copy to (Clerk of the Environment Committee) as the papers are being compiled for the Committee on Monday.

I am also attaching details of the Prehen case for your information, which exemplifies the failings in the planning process.

Many thanks and kind regards

George Mc Laughlin Prehen Historical and Environmental Society


  • Summary of events to date concerning the Prehen Woods, click here
  • Sample letter to send to Anna Lo, click here
  • Join the Facebook Campaign, click here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Putting the Presidential pickle in perspective

I was 17 when I personally first encountered censorship. I produced a school play in the late 1980s which reached the finals of a play festival in Johannesburg.

Unbeknown to me, the play I selected, Egoli, by Matsemela Manaka, was banned. The play focused on the hardships under apartheid of two mineworkers, played by black friends at my integrated school. At the time, I was politically naïve. To me, the play simply represented suffering and was an interesting story.

After we had reached the final, which meant the play would be shown to a large audience, I was informed we could not perform it, as it was banned. Our English teacher was then hauled before a censor board. We miraculously received permission to put the play on one more time only. We performed the play and came second. I believe we lost because of the play's political content, but I am biased.

My story is minor compared with the censorship many artists experienced under apartheid. Dozens fled the country because the State disapproved of their art. Some were killed. Yet my story also highlights how the apartheid State tried to regulate all aspects of life, even trivially involving itself with a schoolboy.

But South Africa has changed. The Constitution protects artistic expression. The African National Congress (ANC) was instrumental in achieving this. However, given its approach to the furore over Brett Murray's painting, The Spear, many are asking if the party is now rolling back these freedoms.

Murray's painting is distasteful and, no doubt, President Jacob Zuma and his family felt offended. But does this justify mobilising State and political party resources to deal with the President's feelings? If Zuma felt affronted, he could have sued for defamation. Instead, he turned the matter into a national issue.

I accept that the painting may represent a deep-seated racism to some, and many whites still fail to acknowledge the pain caused by apartheid. But, if these are the concerns of the President and the ANC, they should foster national debate on the subject in a sensible and considered way, leading from the front. Instead, as emotions erupted over the painting, the President and the ANC chose to fan the flames.

>The President lectured Murray on his lack of responsibility in exercising his right to expression. However, in my book, the President, who is, after all, the most powerful person in the country, showed a lack of responsibility in dramatically intensifying a volatile situation before calling for debate and understanding.

Over the ten days following the controversy, the ANC released 12 press statements – half these were about the painting. This points to an increasingly self- obsessed party that is losing sight of real issues.

A confident party and a confident President would not concern themselves with a picture hanging in a gallery frequented by a handful of patrons. The ANC and the President chose to make the painting an issue.

Meanwhile, in Syria over 100 people died in a single massacre, many of them children. The ANC, with strong connections to China and Russia, could have used the energies expended on caw-cawing about a painting to help put pressure on Syria, not to mention addressing pressing local issues such as poverty. Instead, the ANC focused on a fictitious representation of the President's penis.

So, like the censors that sought me out over 20 years ago, the ruling elite in South Africa run the risk of trying to micromanage society, vainly believing they can get everyone to think like them.

I hope The Spear debacle is not part of such a trend. However, the President's attempts to censor a painting and calls by senior ANC figures to destroy it point to a party that may be on a precipice. If they step over it, it is only a matter of time before they will be chasing schoolboys around for drawing the President's genitals on a toilet wall.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 8 June 2012 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

MSc. in Applied Peace and Conflict Studies

In case there are any of you out there still considering a masters programme for next year I wanted to recommend our new MSc. at INCORE. In 2012 Ulster will celebrate 25 years of masters level provision in peace and conflict studies by launching the newly designed MSc. in Applied Peace and Conflict Studies. Building on the previous MA in Peace and Conflict Studies, this internationally renowned programme, now based at INCORE (International Conflict Research Institute), has been re-structured to offer cutting-edge provision including a focus on comparative lesson learning from Northern Ireland; new technologies and peace; psychosocial approaches; development; and evaluation in conflict zones. The restructuring is timely and reinforces Ulster's position as a leader in terms of provision in the area. For more information.

Truth Commissions Online Resources

General Databases

Truth Commissions.Org
USIP Truth Commission Database

Country Specific Truth Commission Final Reports

Mental Health in post-Agreement Northern Ireland

Gallagher, E., Hamber , B., & Joy, E. (2012). Perspectives and Possibilities: Mental Health in post-Agreement Northern Ireland. Shared Space: A research journal on peace, conflict and community relations in Northern Ireland, 13, pp.63-78 [Download]

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Zuma's Presidential Pardons Process Unconstitutional

Please see below a press statement released this morning by the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ).


Almost 150 criminals, racist killers and those responsible for mass atrocities committed during and immediately after apartheid have been recommended for special pardon in a deeply flawed and unconstitutional process headed by President Jacob Zuma, the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ) warned today.

The Coalition asserts that President Zuma would be acting inconsistently with the values and principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as well as a recent decision of South Africa’s Constitutional Court which confirmed that the disclosure of truth was an essential precondition of the process.

The Coalition advised President Zuma, through its attorneys, the Legal Resources Centre, that no pardon may be lawfully issued on the back of the special pardons process which eschewed the exposure of the full truth of apartheid era crimes as well as crimes committed well into South Africa’s constitutional democracy. The special pardons process has condoned the concealing of the identities of senior politicians and security officers who authorised the murders of anti-apartheid activists.

In a move to “promote national reconciliation and unity” and deal with the “unfinished business” of the TRC, former President Thabo Mbeki set up a Special Dispensation process in 2007 to pardon political perpetrators who had not participated in the TRC amnesty process. He also extended the process to those whose crimes were committed after apartheid up to 16 June 1999. A body named the Reference Group (RG), made up of representatives from the 15 political parties in parliament, was tasked with reviewing applications and making recommendations. Pardon applicants were required to disclose the truth and show that their crimes were politically motivated.

Amongst those recommended for pardon are apartheid era police minister, Adriaan Vlok, and police commissioner, Johann van der Merwe. They received suspended sentences for their role in the attempted murder by poisoning of former South African Council of Churches head, the Rev. Frank Chikane in the late 1980s. Vlok and Van der Merwe acknowledge that a death list had been drawn up but merely claim that they were passing on instructions. In their applications for pardon they do not disclose the names of the persons who gave such instructions nor do they disclose the identities of others on the death list.

Those recommended for special pardon include persons responsible for:

  • the killing of an entire family including a five-month old baby,
  • serial killings (one offender was convicted of 21 murders, another for 19 murders),
  • racist and brutal assaults on black protesters,
  • the bombing of a grocery store frequented by black people on Christmas eve 1996 resulting in 4 deaths and 67 serious injuries,
  • a cash-in-transit heist in 1998 claimed as “fund-raising” for the Pan African Congress’s 1999 election campaign, and
  • Kidnapping, armed robbery, arson, housebreaking, theft and unlawful possession of explosives".
Most of these incidents occurred well after 1994, when non-violent channels for political action were available to all South Africans. While leniency is afforded to called political offenders, victims’ pleas for justice and reparations have fallen on deaf ears.

The Special Pardons process is deeply offensive to all South Africans who made sacrifices for the liberation of South Africa. In denying South Africans the full truth it serves to undermine national reconciliation. Should President Zuma issue such pardons he will be violating the rule of law.

Background to the SACTJ

The SACTJ is an umbrella body of organizations working to advance the rights of victims of past conflicts and to hold the South African government accountable to its obligations. The member organisations are committed to helping secure the rights of victims of apartheid-era human rights violations and raising awareness about these rights. These organisations are Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC), Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), Khulumani Support Group (KSG), South African History Archives (SAHA) and Trauma Centre for the Survivors of Violence and Torture (TCSVT). The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) is a friend of the SACTJ.


Hugo van der Merwe, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation: 27-82-570-0744,

Catherine Kennedy, South African History Archives: / +27117171973 / +27726826240

Marjorie Jobson, Khulumani Support Group: +2782 268 0223 /

Shirley Gunn, Human Rights Media Centre, +2782 924 8268 /

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Banky's Jubilee Art Work

This is Banky's latest creating for the Jubilee. On his website,, he notes: "I painted this on the side of Poundland in North London. A shop which sells cheap jubilee merchandise, is located on the route of the Olympic torch relay and was caught using sweatshop labour two years ago. But I only discovered any of this afterwards - I just thought it was a nice coloured wall".

Passing of Professor John Darby

It is with great sadness I note the passing of Professor John Darby, the founding Director of INCORE. John was an inspiration and mentor and friend to me and many staff at INCORE, and his legacy and inspiration lives on in all that INCORE does and continues to do. He will be missed. My thoughts are with his family at this time. At his time of passing her was Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. John was an expert on comparative peace processes. He was the author and editor of many books, including “The Management of Peace Processes,” “Guns and Government,” “The Effects of Violence on Peace Processes,” “Contemporary Peacemaking,” “Violence and Reconstruction” and “Peacebuilding after Peace Accords.”

Friday, June 1, 2012

30th International Congress of Psychology

I will be at the 30th International Congress of Psychology between 22-27 July 2012. This year it is held in Cape Town, South Africa. I will be involved in several presentations.

On Monday 23 July 2012, I will hosting a symposium at 11am, entitled "From the individual to the collective: Exploring social transformation through psychosocial Interventions". This symposium will report on the findings of Trauma, Peacebuilding and Development project with various authors of the case studies speaking. I will also present, with with Dr Elizabeth Gallagher our research on "Youth, masculinity, the past, and conceptualisations of trauma in post-conflict Northern Ireland".

On the Tuesday the 24th I am part of a symposium focusing on the issue of reparations after violent conflict entitled "Surviving gross human rights violations - exploring survivors' experience of justice and reparation". I will give a paper at 4:30pm called "Healing political wounds: The role of macro interventions in assisting victims of political violence".