Friday, 12 September 2014

Marikana helps us see and understand South Africa, warts and all

While the media and the commission engage in an anatomy of the Marikana tragedy, Marikana itself has become a lens to help us understand key aspects of South African life.
There are many positive things about SA; however, there is also its shadow side. Marikana shows us the way in which our system – otherwise known for its stable and middle income standing with potential – is flawed and ailing.
First: Marikana brings to the fore the matter of popular violence. This violence close to the surface and very frequently bursts forth when the cracks of inequality widen. Far too many strikes turn violent. Many service delivery protests end with burning of facilities or with senseless attacks on hawkers. What are the roots of such violence? Does it lie in SA history of apartheid’s violence and brutality? Or is linked to the Frantz Fanon’s necessary violence of the oppressed who at some point lash out in a quest for freedom?
Second: Marikana shows us how clunky and unfit for purpose our labour relations system has become. It is not wise to be generally dismissive of our labour relations regime, however. That would give ammunition to conservative bosses who would like to reverse labour relations gains and close the space for trade union activity.

It is much better to clarify that the labour system weakened because it has been hollowed out by weak unions and the conduct of employers. Employers have skilfully utilised the labour relations system. They have complied; they have often outmanoeuvred unions. But what they have failed to see is that unless the labour dispensation delivers real and meaningful outcomes – as well as positive life changes – to unionised workers, workers will ultimately undermine and reject the system itself.
Third: Marikana raises the issue of policing and policing systems. The first aspect of recent police violence is accountability. In the Marikana case, after such a heavy human cost, the system was reluctant to hold anyone accountable. Why? And how did that impact on South Africans’ sense that they live in democracy with institutions that hold everyone accountable?

The other aspect is that the country has been found wanting as far as appropriate public policing is concerned. After 1994, government disbanded much of its capacity for public order policing. This was clearly a mistake. However, under our constitutional democracy, simply bringing back the old public policing capacities will not suffice.

Instead, what is needed are specially trained public order officers who are led by seniors skilled at communication (listening and negotiations), and who posses deep understandings of culture, history and social issues. Marikana, as well as the Andries Tatane killing forces us to grasp certain realities. But the processes of learning and change are slow.
Fourth: Marikana puts the spotlight on geographical marginalisation within South Africa. Of the miners that died, only two were from the Marikana area in the North West. Most hailed from the poverty-ridden Eastern Cape. But while the miners from the Eastern Cape have a foothold in the economy and can use union organisation to advance their cause, the people from Marikana appear to have slipped off the edge. Their youth are unemployed and find it hard to secure jobs on the mines. The people live in cracked houses and inhale polluted air, all side effects of the mining. These communities of North West live among the mines, but taste little of the benefit. 
Fifth: Marikana exposes a deeply problematic side to BEE. In sectors such as mining, BEE makes alliances with elites to contain, ‘manage’ and minimise societal commitments, to lull the regulators to sleep. Empowerment is good and necessary – what is perverse is when it is done in a way designed to dodge the demand to properly engage with local communities. As Bench Marks has shown in its report on the platinum industry, parts of big business, sheltered by BEE and political connections, renege on their commitments in terms of housing and the environment.

Marikana shows that while big business can pat itself on the back for astute manoeuvres to externalise social and environmental costs, in the end there will be conflict, instability and possibly violence. Some commentators have drawn parallels between the conduct of mine owners here and, for example, companies such as Shell in resource-rich countries to our north. There deals are made with chiefs and other elites, while communities are marginalised. In the case of the Ogoni people, it culminated in an uprising and finally the death of activist Ken Saro-Wiwe.
Sixth: Marikana raises questions about the role of the media. The latter does sterling work on public sector corruption. But to the extent that it misses the excesses of capitalism, it is a one-eyed campaigner for justice.
The media sometimes does allow voices to raise non-mainstream issues in its commentary pages, but its news pages and exposes seldom shine a light on the darker corners of capitalism. Mining bosses in the platinum industry have for years given themselves generous bonuses while apparently failing to lift workers living standards through, for example, consistent above-inflation wage increases. Where was the mainstream media?

In recent years, in an arc stretching from North West through Northern Province and Mpumalanga, the mining industry is making lucrative connections between land, elites and new mining in moves that have excluded community interests and fuelled community protest. There has been the odd story about individual community protest, but no fuller expose of this trend.
There is no hiding from the horror of Marikana. It raises fundamental questions about the transition. It poses uncomfortable questions to capitalists as well as beneficiaries of the transition who only embrace its blessings but forget about its shortcomings

This piece appeared in the print media on 22 August 2014.
Frank Meintjies

Friday, 15 August 2014

No to hate & 'othering' – Jewish voices in SA take a stand on Gaza atrocities

There have been interesting developments within the Jewish community in South Africa, sparked by the conflict in Gaza. There is a major cleavage in that community with a majority supporting the Israeli Defence Force and a smaller number voicing human rights concerns about Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Initially it appeared that the Jewish community was one solid block behind the nature and ferocity of military action by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza. It seemed as if Jews in SA, with hardly any exceptions, supported the official Israeli strategy – in response to Hamas rockets – to rain bombs on Palestinians in Gaza, targeting homes, community centres and schools.  
But then, in the week leading up to 25 July, alternative voices appeared – those speaking out against the atrocities and asserting: “not in our name”. Newspapers carried the story of comedian Deep Fried Man who joined with others at a meeting in Johannesburg to take a stand. Recently Jewish Voices for a Just Peace was formed.
When the mainstream Jewish community called a demonstration in Huddle Park on 3 August, other Jews, despite threats and intimidation, mounted a counterdemonstration. Recently, more than 2000 people signed a petition in support of Josh Broomberg who expressed support for Palestinians and who – on human rights grounds – distanced himself from the actions of the IDF in Gaza.
There are interesting features of the response of mainstream South African Jews. What is astonishing is the level of support for a strategy that involves collateral damage as a central and desired outcome. It appears to be enthusiastic support rather than reluctant support for such annihilation. My sense of surprise is rooted in our own experience of armed struggle. The ANC, faced with a repressive regime, adopted a stance of reluctant use of violence in its struggle to end apartheid. In this regard, the ANC strategy of violence involved attacks on military installations, certain infrastructure such as power stations and military premises. They specifically did not sanction attacks on the broader population that, through voting and benefits, formed part of the dominant group.
How is it that people can be insensate to the killing and maiming – on such a scale – of children and other civilians? According to Leanne Stillerman, the roots of such attitudes lie in a process known as “othering”.  In a recent article in the South African media entitled Settlers, terrorists and the process of Othering, she wondered about the roots of empathy and asked: “Do some instances of human suffering evoke our sympathies while others are overlooked; do we engage in a kind of selective empathy on the basis of either our identification with or distance from the victims in question?”
Stillerman noted that “the Hebrew word for cruelty contains within it the word ‘strange’ ”

“It is the sense of estrangement from the other that allows our hearts to harden, and unspeakable cruelty becomes our reality,” she wrote.
It also worth reflecting on the demonstrations called in support of Israel such as the Huddle Park demonstration. Such a move, given the civilian deaths and destruction of basic community facilities, seems inappropriate. It seemed like encouraging the Israeli Defence Force to continue or exceed its past efforts that involved targeting homes, schools and community centres. Instead of calling for restraint, this segment of South African Jews appeared to be building a wall of blind solidarity behind the soldiers waging war on civilians.

The apartheid regime carried out horrific attacks, ones in which women and children were killed, in places such as Cassinga (1978), Maseru (1982) and Sharpeville. Even though many in the white community were fully behind these military actions of their leaders, I cannot recall groups from that community holding rallies in support of such violent action.
For the right wing, it is always different, but given our history, the question for South African Jews is this: What is an appropriate response if soldiers, even if acting in your interest, are operating on the borderline of self-defence and crimes against humanity, in the grey area between legality and illegality?
The other aspect I marvel at on the part of mainstream and conservative Jews in South Africa is the level of intolerance and suppression of alternative views within its own community. Deep Fried Man was called a self-hating Jew. Death threats and condemnation were heaped on Josh Broomburg, the school boy who expressed his human rights stand in social media. At the Huddle Park demonstrations, a man threatened to kill counter-demonstrators. Eventually, after police were called and spoke to the man, he drove off in a fit of pique. Such intolerance undermines the democratic culture we are trying to build in South Africa.
The conservative majority cannot reasonably insist that adherence to the Jewish faith is synonymous with support for any government in Israel, no matter how right wing or hawkish.
The fanatically pro-Israel group cannot be forced to give up its enthusiastic support for Israel and to ditch the view that a Zionist government should have the right to do whatever it wants as long as it frames its actions as self-defence. However, they should consider a number of issues. All religions seek to occupy the moral high ground, but members of such religions undermine their religions when they support terror. They should consider that whenever you dehumanise others, for whatever reasons, you dehumanise yourself.

They should also consider that one of the dangers for anyone fighting an opponent accused of evil deeds is that you become the mirror image of the phenomenon, person or conduct you oppose. Instead of representing an alternative or the opposite, you become the same.
It is in this context that the conflict and tension over Gaza within the South African Jewish community is a positive development. It demonstrates diversity. It shows multiple storylines within that community. It encourages debate and reflection rather than unthinking reaction. It shows that South African Jews have been enriched by the struggle against apartheid. It paves the way for even stronger views to emerge from the South African Jewish community in favour of long-term solutions based on equality, justice and human  rights in the Middle East.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Growth in low-fee private schools undermines our system of rights

Privatisation of schooling in South Africa is on the up - and it’s a worrying trend. Private or independent schools were always part of the landscape; around 1994 there were just over 500 registered schools, but this number has ballooned to more than 5 times that number in 2012.
We are currently in a new phase of growth with the emergence of low-fee private schools in recent times. The new push to provide ‘private education for the poor’ is deeply troubling from a number of angles.
With regard to the policy aspect, the move towards ‘private schools for the poor’ actually threatens rather than strengthens the right to an education. Looking at the trend in developing countries, Keith Lewin of Sussex University has noted that markets cannot deliver rights, paying school fees is inappropriate for households below the poverty line, and that modern social democracies have a social contract with their citizens to promote public goods.
Clearly, once we go the route of private education, we undermine the notion of education as a right; we decrease the force or mass of citizens monitoring for improvement, quality and proper fulfilment of mandates by governments. Those left in the system constitute a smaller number and, in the case of rural areas and poor settlements, the voices that are marginalised by a combination of race and class realities.
There are the psychosocial impacts in the community. If the trend continues (and if this kind of stratification continues to deepen), those parents who cannot send their kids to these schools are left with feelings of guilt. This is an unfair guilt, especially given that education is a right. Monash Univerity’s Joel Windle says that socially disadvantaged families pay a moral price in the form of guilt for not sending their children to private schools, which the processes of marketization elevate to normative status. 
Learners will also be affected. Those who have stayed in public schools, unable to pay the fee, may be left with feelings of inferiority and lower self-esteem which in turn will undermine their sense of future. The further danger is that many learners will wind up being left in schools lacking a good social mix, a problem that plagues so many South African schools on the upper end, but will now effect schools in poor communities too.
There are also concerns around gender. Thirteen organisations, including some from South Africa, have made submissions to the United Nations alleging that school privatisation will have an adverse affect on girls. When cash-strapped parents must choose which child to send to school, they will generally opt to send boys because they believe boys will earn more in the labour market. Among the 13 were Section 27 and Equal Education. For now there are more girls in private schools than boys in South Africa, but the concerned organisations know that in many developing countries more boys are enrolled in schools than girls and are worried about how privatisation will worsen this.
Privatisation in education is a wider issue, but concerned experts locally have their eye firmly on the mushrooming of the low-fee schools on the SA scene. These schools are quickly changing the game.
In these schools, parents pay just over half of what one would normally pay per pupil in a Model C school.
Many parents are drawn to these low-fee private schools because of problems in public education. One of the attractions is the smaller classes and another, perhaps, is the lower teacher absenteeism. Although the quality of education in these schools is uneven and many government officials see them as fly-by-night, parents believe these schools deliver better results.
According to educationist Jane Hofmeyr, there were 70 000 learners in schools which charged fees below R12 000 a year in 2013 in Gauteng.
The Centre for Development and Education (CDE) has generated useful information about the fast rise of these schools. Zooming in to 6 areas – two in Gauteng (Braamfontein and Daveyton), two in Limpopo and two in rural Eastern Cape – its 2010 study found 117 schools in abandoned factories, shacks and former office buildings. In supplementary research, CDE also found some low-fee private primary schools in Diepsloot and Soweto, with private high schools also planned for these areas.
CDE reports that almost a quarter of the private schools are unregistered and therefore technically illegal. The teachers in these schools are generally less qualified than public sector teachers. Some are run by lone entrepreneurs but others are part of chains like the one started by Johannesburg-based MBA graduates who are chuffed about their “sustainable financial model for low-fee private schools in South Africa”.
Although CDE is positive about these developments, in South Africa we (along with educational experts) should worry about the latest phase of ‘buying out’ of the public education system. The issue should not be directed to parents, most of whom are trying to do their best for their children in a difficult situation. But we have to address ourselves to policymakers and to the community as a whole; to exhort them to actively work against this new trend and to instead agitate for improvement in the quality and appeal of public school education.
We should collectively strive for less privatisaton in education, not more. Privatisation cuts across the constitutional commitment to education as a basic right. It runs counter to the Freedom Charter’s notion of education for all. It flies in the face of the South African Schools Act which regards “equity” as a supreme value.

We should take serious note of the uneven quality of privatised schools at grassroots level, as well as the impacts on poor households and poor communities, including the fuelling of intra-community inequality around what should be an equal right for all children. Most of all we should be wary of any undermining of basic rights – of parental actions that  are well meant but have perilous outcomes and that chip away at a key part of South Africa’s rights framework.

 Frank Meintjies

Saturday, 2 August 2014

TRC: follow-up action needed to advance accountability and justice

The debate and charged discussion around reconciliation will not go away. As South Africans we are celebrated worldwide for our attempts at reconciliation using the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other measures, but we have left so many key aspects hanging.

The process is incomplete from a number of angles. The first is that the government has failed to implement most of the recommendations of the TRC, as the organisation, Khulumani, continues to point out.

The government has paid reparations to victims, it has undertaken some memorialisation work, but many recommendations have been relegated to file 13. One of these was a proposal for a once-off wealth tax levied against business and industry. Sampie Terreblanche has argued that group relations in South Africa would have been more harmonious if the government had adopted such a wealth tax.

The second reason is that the government has so far failed to prosecute those perpetrators of gross violations who did not apply for amnesty or were refused amnesty. Such prosecutions will surface further details about what really happened in the darkest corners of the apartheid system.

The third reason is that the TRC process did not allow for examination of structural aspects of apartheid. At the time of its sitting, the late Neville Alexander called on the commission – without success – to hold hearings on issues such as land and education.

All the signs are that we will benefit, even today, from hearings into the migrant labour systems or if we had held hearings to forge a deeper understanding of the devastation caused by bantu education.

A fourth area of incompleteness relates to the problem of victims, including those who testified at the commission. Khulumani argues that the government has paid the reparations amount – R30000 – to less than a quarter of those who should receive them.

“The victims’ suffering remains unalleviated as they continue to lobby the government to open the list and to broaden community reparations. Tragically, many families are obliged to pay for their own investigations to uncover the truth of the fate and whereabouts of loved ones,” says Yasmin Sooka of the Foundation for Human Rights.

A woefully understaffed missing persons task force has only scratched the surface in following up on missing persons reported to the TRC. Through locating burial sites, forensic work and exhumations, less than one fifth out of 600 cases have been resolved.

With these concerns as a backdrop there have been calls to revisit the TRC.

At a panel discussion at the Durban Film Festival, the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation called for the TRC to be “reopened” and Abba Omar, writing in The New Age in July last year, called for a second phase of the TRC.

“The reality is that there is much of our past which still needs to be confronted, so much suspicion of people who may have been part of the apartheid system which remains unresolved, so many families and communities still carrying so many wounds,” Omar wrote.

“I believe that the core result of such a process would be a better healed nation, where we don’t walk around with the feeling that those who served apartheid have not only got away with it but continue to thrive in the new South Africa.”

While I am sympathetic to such calls – a reopening of TRC would certainly lead to better lever of healing and closure – I don’t have much hope that such calls will succeed. There is no political will. As Alex Boraine implied at the Durban panel discussion this Monday, the government has over the years shown little interest in the kinds of issues raised here – it does not want to proceed with a process of “accountability” for the past and surfacing the truth. In the nineties it took the view that it was dealing with all these issues in the main through the redress contained in the RDP programme.

However, we need to continue to create spaces to discuss “reconciliation” in South Africa, including gaps and what has been achieved.

Institutions that promote dialogue, universities and public bodies should create platforms for open and informed discussion of reconciliation.

The government, donors and other institutions should provide sufficient funding for programmes that promote analysis and dialogue on racism and how it continues to operate in South Africa today. This should be accompanied by incentives for major institutions such as universities, schools, professional bodies and media institutions to run awareness or change programmes to address racism.

Interest groups should continue to lobby the government to seriously review the TRC recommendations with a view to implementing more of the TRC’s recommendations.

The government should be encouraged to appoint a joint committee made up of senior officials of the Department of Justice and, for example, specialists like Yasmin Sooka and Dumisa Ntsebeza to advise on the way forward.

There have been several initiatives by individuals or small groups in the white community to set up special funds to assist with redress. Recently these initiatives have sought to mobilise contributions from beneficiaries of apartheid as well as what Sooka calls “beneficiaries of the transition”. The government has usually ignored such moves.

The government should engage with and formally support such initiatives, especially if they could address relevant priorities such as the need to combat gender violence or critical developmental needs such as, for example, support for communities benefitting from land restitution.

For now, lack of political will or wider institutional support means there is no critical mass at an institutional level in favour of a big bang such as the TRC Phase II. But there is wide enough agreement that there is unfinished business to explore a range ways to continue discussions and positive action about accountability, truth and reconciliation.

Frank Meintjies. This article was first published in the press on 25 July 2014.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Mandela Day: followership, alienation and longer-term solutions to exclusion

Nelson Mandela Day represents as good a time as any to discuss the idea of good followership. We often emphasize the need for good leadership; we seldom give attention to the need for a good quality of ‘following’ in human affairs.
Some may take a critical view of the notion of followership. They may argue that writing about it in this way is elitist and accepts that some are lower in a pecking order. But followership is a reality of life – everyone plays the role of follower at one time or another. Many people play both roles; they may be a leader at the office, but a follower at a family or community meeting – or vice versa.

Followers may not realise it, but they are pivotal for attaining above average performance by organisations, associations, companies or departments. In the workplace, good followership takes the individual beyond the sense of simply “bringing one’s body to work” and operating only from a sense of duty. Through a sense of followership, employees connect to leaders and the vision that has been set.

In democratic organisations, good followership is even more important. It means taking responsibility for the people we have nominated and elected to lead us. In this regard a good follower holds the leaders to account; asks for information and report-back; assists with implementation, and; supports elected leaders in their role.
Good followership is linked to the idea of civic activism. There are many who only frame active citizenship in terms of confrontational activity.  True, it does include challenge and questioning. But it also involves notions of co-operation, community organisation and self-reliance. These notions were embedded in Ghandi’s notions of ‘passive resistance’ as well as in Julius Nyerere’s ideas of self reliance as part of the process of rebuilding in the years following independence. They were also picked up in South Africa through the core messages preached by the Black People’s Convention and in the work on co-operatives by the Serowe Brigades in Botswana.
Mandela Day can therefore be seen part of the process of combating passivity, and awakening us to our contribution to society. Even if there was redistribution and effective service delivery, no developing country government has the kind of war chest that can address all development needs on its own. There will always be shortfalls rooted in historical realities or global imbalances. Thus, even while demanding greater justice and fairer redistribution, it makes no sense to encourage people to sit back and expect government to solve all their problems.  In areas such as health and education, true community development addresses immediate issues (awareness raising, prevention work, effective parent involvement) while maintaining pressure on the public sector to resolve the larger issues.
This year’s Mandela Day will see the usual wide range of activities. As usual, it aims to get the widest number of people involved. It seeks to draw people out of isolation and into community-ness. Importantly in South Africa, it aims to get people to combat alienation and to connect beyond the divides.

As far as possible, those taking part should avoid making their Mandela Day contribution from a distance. They should seek to do their Mandela Day activity together with members of under-resourced communities. They should talk to those being assisted and listen to their stories, dreams and frustrations. In this way, we will break down the problem of “othering” and the lack of human connection that blocks shared solutions to problems of social deprivation and exclusion.
This year, the spectrum of Mandela Day activities includes work in these areas:

§  Finding a connection to the work of charities focusing on vulnerable groups.

§  Education, including involvement with organisations that promote libraries and reading.

§  Gender violence; one of the biker groups taking part will use the day to give practical support to organisations opposed to violence against women and girls

§  Environment; President Jacob Zuma has called for a focus on local area clean-up campaigns and many government departments will this a big push.

§  Health interventions: each year, some Mandela Day initiatives – whether by government or private sector professionals – focus on taking health services to marginalised groups.

§  Youth work; engaging young people though leadership development initiatives or practical assistance for budding entrepreneurs,
If you are part of our society’s better off, the challenge this Mandela Day is to do one’s 'act of kindness' in a way that does not entrench the status quo or leaves you more complacent about deeper problems. Taking part should widen possibilities for awareness, true engagement and longer-term solutions to Mzansi’s social problems. In doing so, we practice good followership and good citizenship and, in turn, take South Africa a big step forward.



Friday, 4 July 2014

Lessons from the 2014 strike on the platinum belt

(It's too early to determine the full significance and impact of the 2014 platinum belt strike. This article, which appeared in the media on 4 July 2014, explores some of the issues and should be read alongside other assessments, especially those that seek to grapple with the root causes of the rise in militant industrial action.)

The strike on the platinum belt has ended and it’s time to extract some lessons for broader society.
A key question that arises is whether the mine owners believe they could have handled things better. At least one mine executive was asked in a radio interview why they did not offer the R1000 a month basic minimum wage earlier, instead of refusing to budge from R800 over many months. The response was that that was now “water under the bridge” and that looking ahead was all that mattered.
Last week Implats spokesperson Johan Theron conceded that the settlement was good for workers and “not unworkable for us”, quelling fears that it was unaffordable for companies.
The lengthy strike confirms the wider problems with regard to labour relations in South Africa. Compared to the early nineties, today there is arguably less labour relations expertise in corporations. Labour relations professionals have generally been replaced by so-called ‘talent managers’.  Furthermore, virtually no business schools provides specialist labour relations programmes in the mould of those presented by Loet Douwes Dekker, an academic who challenged business professionals to think out of the box when engaging with labour.
The AMCU strike also underscores the grim assessment of two labour relations experts. Sakhela Buhlungu last year called for a commission of inquiry into the labour relations system. He noted that employers and unions more frequently used force rather than persuasion to get their way. And Eddie Webster remarked that the labour market in many ways resembled the situation that existed in the mid-seventies. Key features, he says, are high unemployment, a low-wage economy and heightened adversarialism.

The strike brought suffering to affected communities, eroding social capital. At the same time, it rekindled solidarity between civil society organisation and labour. The Gift of the Givers and stepped in to provide relief in the communities impoverished by the long strike. Other organisations also organised solidarity activities. The question for the future is: what if service delivery protestors unite with strikers in one of the South Africa’s key production nodes. The result would be a “perfect storm,” no doubt fuelled by inequality and extreme poverty.
The strike became a dilemma to some role-players: The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and COSATU struggled to formulate a response. In the end, COSATU remained largely silent even though champions of free enterprise used the strike to demonise demands for meaningful wage increases and to call for a reduction of union rights. NUM missed the opportunity to support fellow mineworkers by, for example, contributing to the strike support fund. In the end, NUM broke its silence to join government in calling for an end to the strike.

The ANC had a two-sided response. Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi did very well to intervene, forcing parties to get back to the table to discuss solutions. On the other hand, the ANC's Gwede Mantashe stirred a hornet’s nest when, incredibly, he blamed the strike on “foreign forces” who were intent on weakening South Africa’s economy.
With the strike ended, where do we as a society go from here? What will be the ripple effect in the labour relations system?

There is talk of measures to restrict the space for trade unions to embark on strike action. Spokespersons for big business favour changes to the labour relations act to control strike action. And some in government agree, although indications are that trying to putting a lid on union activism at a time of heightened inequality may exacerbate rather than diminish conflict.
In the wake of the strike, government is also applying pressure to the two bodies aimed at encouraging co-operation between social partners. Through Ramatlhodi, government has suggested that the National Economic Development and Labour Council as well as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration should share the blame for the length of the strike. The accusation does not seem fair, but a review of these bodies may lead to new powers that allow them to investigate the split over time between wages and profits in key sectors.
Unions are emboldened for the period ahead. AMCU believes the strike has effectively highlighted the dismal wages and living conditions in the mining sector. It is confident about playing a key role in securing more fundamental changes in the years ahead. Learning from the strike, more trade unions are now starting to refer to actual rand values rather than simply percentage points in framing their wage demands. By doing so, they get the public to understand how wages have stagnated and that, in many cases, a ‘double digit’ increase translates into little more than R200 a month.
It is not clear what lessons the captains of industry have learnt from the strike. So far one concession is that, as specialist lawyer Johan Olivier put it, companies should “show sensitivity when financially rewarding executives while refusing double digit increases to workers”.
For their part, the police forces will need to continue to build on their capacity to deal with violence and crowd management issues that flow from strikes. They need to maintain a fine balance – prevent violence while respecting workers right to organise. Apart from equipment and relevant policing skills, the police service also need highly skilled interlocutors who can interpret the workers responses, concerns and perceptions in times of crisis. 
If we can address fundamental issues raised by the strike – poor labour relations and the need to increase wages and share wealth at a faster rate – we may yet come to see the 2014 miners’ strike as beneficial rather than damaging to South Africa.

Frank Meintjies

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Michael Coetzee - an activist who was 'the best of the best'

Michael Coetzee’s passing away brings with it a profound sense of loss but also a reminder of the organising style of this gentle but highly effective activist. Coetzee has since 2002 served Parliament, first as deputy secretary but more recently as secretary. But, for me, what stands out most is his striking contribution during the heady eighties and his powerful expression of leadership in those times.
In the eighties, when the struggle was at its boldest and most wide-ranging, people like Coetzee were the salt of the struggle and the vital middle layer that made the struggle so resilient, rooted and effective. They did so by providing information to communities and making links between the local level and larger processes. They built support for non-racialism not just through strident rhetoric but on the basis of community organisation. They helped build the appeal and popularity of leaders of the mass democratic movement; because communities knew and trusted such activists, community members were willing to accept these leaders whom they did not know but had been rapidly elevated to national leadership roles. In short (in a country riven by divisions and unevenness and for communities caught between the past and future) such activists helped to stitch together the struggle.
Michael (or Mikey as he was known to friends) was at one level easy-going and humorous. But he could switch in minutes and engage reflectively on serious matters. He had an astute analytical sense. He could effortlessly link local popular struggles occurring in the eighties to events like June 16, to the vision of ANC’s founders, to the "pillars" of the liberation struggle, to anti-colonial struggles and to global systems of oppression and exploitation.
Activists like Michael knew (almost instinctively) how to build a movement. At a certain point, they were too young to be formal leaders; or they generally did not see themselves in figurehead roles. But they were leaders in so many other ways; they were the walking evidence of a leader-filled movement. They could be sent anywhere with very little apart from a contact name and, relying on their initiative, they would make their way and begin organising. In so many ways, Michael was the best of the best. For him, the overriding and yet simple and obvious goal was to advance the movement for freedom He was a prime example of activists who are driven by a clear mission, who are skilled social change practitioners, who rise above hidden agendas and who maintain a selfless commitment to the end.
Speaking to others (who knew him) after his passing away on 13 June 2014, it is clear that Michael is remembered with respect and veneration. I recall my own moments of engagement with him over the years. In discussion, he always provided insight, wisdom and a clear exposition about possible ways to go forward. But the start and the end of meeting would always be ‘real’ at a human level; moments in which to find a shared sense of belonging. In this regard, Michael always exuded warmth and a genuine welcome. A reminder that, despite painful realities and many aspects to the contrary, the struggle was also a place of friendships and profound human connection. 
Michael leaves behind his wife Bridgette, his son Matthew and his mother Bertha and siblings Alexandra and Reggie. And he also leaves a compelling legacy of selflessness and activism as well as pockets of comrades/colleagues/friends who honour him for the life he led.

Frank Meintjies

Friday, 6 June 2014

New Ministry of Women should use astute strategies to drive fundamental shifts

The launch of the Ministry of Women in South Africa may be a welcome change – a streamlined ministry may be just the right thing for a country groaning under the weight of sexism and gender violence.

But to get the Ministry working as a high performance unit will first require that we – both the public and those who will work in it – get over prejudices and inferiority complexes about a gender ministry.
A Ministry of Women is regarded as one of the most marginal ministries, vying for bottom spot with Arts and Culture. Why should this be so? True, these Ministries are not the ones who influence economic policy or command huge budgets. But the gender ministry, insofar as it seeks to reverse the oppression of women and girls, addresses the needs of more than half the population. And Arts and Culture – amid the trauma, dehumanisation and alienation that haunts our dreams – has the potential to help us find the soul within us.

Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu could do a lot worse than adopt the Kader Asmal approach. The late minister took the Ministry of Water Affairs, then seen as marginal, and made it a star department. He simply tackled his job with vigour; concentrated on outcomes and ensured his top officials built a department with capacity for focused delivery. The Ministry regularly received an A in end-of-year newspaper assessments.
The minister of this new portfolio has immense opportunity to make a difference on critical issues. I propose several strategies.
The new ministry should approach gender as a crosscutting issue. In this regard, it does not require a huge staff complement and a budget running into billions. It can use the crowbar effect – using innovative strategies and minimal resource to bring about great shifts. It can work with other Departments to help them use their much larger budgets in a manner that advances gender equality and better addresses the needs of women and girls.
The ministry can, for example, intervene by using gender planning, a method pioneered by Caroline Moser. It can require that all government departments submit all major plans to this Ministry for assessment from a gender perspective.

Using a gender lens to evaluate a plan means assessing whether the plan, when referring to stakeholders or beneficiaries, clearly spells out whether women or men will have most of the action. It calls for terms like community, entrepreneurs, beneficiaries and the poor to be broken down to clarify what percentage of men and women are included in these target groups. Once such information is known the principals in each department – the Ministers, Directors-general and others – can better assess whether such plans comply with our constitution and truly advance equality or improve the position of women in society.
Gender planning does not try to dictate to other line departments. It offers itself as a resource. The idea is to work more intensively with willing departments, while keeping an open line of communication with others.  Working in this way gains traction through the success stories and role models that show how proper accounting can change the position of women, propelling them into the forefront of socio economic development.

Apart from assessment of plans, the Department of Women can initiate studies into selective areas of public life. For example, it can:

§  assess the work of the prosecuting authority in relation to gender violence cases, examining aspects such as success rates and relevant capacity.

§  commission studies into the media and how women are portrayed, paving the way for constructive recommendations.

§  probe the situation in, for example, the mining sector and examine whether there are specific impacts on women and girls and call for gender-aware social changes.

§  launch a review of the current position and ongoing grievances of women who testified at the Truth Commission and who maintain that government has reneged on commitments made to them. 
It can also hold public hearings on specific gender issues, for example the rise in violence against women and girls, raising awareness and seeking solutions from interested and affected persons. Such studies and hearings can be undertaken in partnership with the Gender Commission.

Decisive and strategically effective gender work that empowers women can be undertaken with a lean staff complement. Capacity can be sourced in, as government often does with legal teams and auditing firms. In this regard, the Gender Ministry can complement its own staffing capacity by using gender specialists based at universities or in other parts of civil society.
Doing gender work in government will have setbacks – and in this case may or may not receive backing from the big men in the Presidency who may be uninterested or otherwise occupied. But it is not impossible. A great advantage is that most departments claim to properly address the needs of women and girls and to reverse marginalisation. The problem is that the reality of non achievement is often masked behind planning systems that don’t allow them to face up to what is and what is not achieved. A good place to start, therefore, is to offer to help a few line departments do gender work more effectively and with demonstrable impact.

Frank Meintjies
This article appeared in The New Age on 6 June 2014.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The elections show an unabating demand for change

The 2014 national and provincial elections can reasonably be dubbed an election for change.
Over ten million people came out and voted for the ANC precisely because it argued that it would do better and “redouble” its efforts to ensure a better life for citizens. A smaller but important number voted for the EFF, the newcomer encroaching on the ANC’s turf and which is making waves with its agitational style and radical ideas for South Africa. The DA also did well and showed a gain in black voters – and that is because it has made internal changes and has done more to acknowledge the need for redress.

So although huge numbers voted to return the ANC to power, these people are not voting for continuation of the status quo. Undoubtedly, the mass of voters want more done to overcome poverty and inequality. They believe the ANC when it promises ‘change from within’, so to speak. They want it to lead the change and trust it to take the country to higher levels of achievement.

Going forward – and in addressing the need for sustained change – the ANC should focus on three things. The first is service delivery. Although there has been life-changing delivery to millions of people in the last twenty years, developmental problems are huge and grow if they are not addressed. About 20 million live in poverty and 10 million of those are ultra poor. There are huge flashes of impatience in informal settlements, on the edges of townships, in rural areas and in decaying urban cores.

Sometimes the burning issue is water, at other times it is housing, sanitation, space for informal business, a cry for better hospitals and concern with the costs of higher education. On some of these issues, such as hospitals, the ANC has a good policy and a plan; the expectation from the masses is that the ANC move faster on such issues. In other cases government machinery, for example dysfunctional local government systems, poses a huge obstacle.

The second issue is the matter of clean government. People from all walks of life, whisper or complain about the waste, misuse and plundering of government funds. It is not only people in suburbs. Key leaders within the ANC have also raised the alarm, calling for stronger measures to stem what they see as a rising tide of corrupt practices.

The third critical issue relates to job creation and the economy. Much of what government can do about job creation will follow form effective governance. If government uses its resources well and delivers through a capable state, more investors will be attracted to South Africa and jobs will be created. In addition, the ANC has a few interesting initiatives including the planned campaign to encourage local buying and more focused government support for small business. The ANC can also take ideas and proposals from opposition parties.

Regarding economic transformation, the ANC itself has set big targets around this. At Polokwane and Mangaung, there was talk of “the second phase of the transition” – the need to ensure greater participation of black people in the economy. At one level, the drive is to ensure that more black people should operate at higher levels in the economy. They should have significant influence, for example at shareholder level, senior management level and in major new government–business initiatives linked to industrialisation. At another level, economic freedom means that significantly more black people must begin to benefit from jobs with good wages as well as from employee share ownership schemes. A critical issue here is the need for government to meet and negotiate with big business, captains of industry and other power holders in the economy. Business must share in a vision, a clear plan and some concrete commitments regarding economic transformation. Millions of South Africans would like to see government use the carrot and stick more effectively to change the structures of the economy.

The voting process has the strongest connection with Parliament. Anyone who is keen on following up on the elections (of tracking the work of their representatives) should keep their eye on this body which is charged with making laws and ensuring the executive implements them. Our Parliament(s) should become more vibrant with the entry of EFF and a fresh crop of representatives from ANC, DA and other parties. A major priority for the ANC must be to get a better – more balanced – relationship between Parliament and the executive. Parliament should not just be a conveyer belt for executive thinking and explanations. ANC comrades in parliament should, on behalf of us all, ask their comrades in the executives all the pertinent and tough questions they need to ask about programmes, budgets, setbacks as well as performance against planned results.  

It would be great if this election leads to a renewal of parliament – if this body led the drive for greater accountability.

In recent times, parliament has been upstaged by the courts (in handling of the textbook saga, for example) and the Public Protector. But Parliament can claw back its place as the leading body as far as protecting the interests of all South Africans are concerned. There are enough people within the ANC who are bold, who care and who have strong values to ensure a system of greater accountability. The electorate certainly believes so.

Frank Meintjies
This piece was first published in The New Age on 16 May 2013 under the headline: "ANC must start delivering".

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Support Mathunjwa as he battles anti-strike propaganda and bias

It is time to rally in support of Joseph Mathunjwa, head of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Workers Union (Amcu). He is no angel – such beings are very hard to find in our vexed, messy and conflict-ridden set-up. But Mathunjwa is leading a strike for a legitimate cause. It is actions such as the Amcu strike on the platinum belt that seek to fundamentally change the cheap the labour system that so much of capitalism in South Africa is so hooked on.

The union started off by demanding a monthly basic wage of R12500. The union has – contrary to propaganda – not stuck rigidly to this demand. It has compromised and its revised demand is that the R12500 basic wage be reached in a few years time.

The hard-headed, intransigent and over-confident employers ignored this shift for a long time. In their most recent response, the employers have made an offer which effectively shifts the goalposts – they agree to provide R12500 demand by 2017 - but including all allowances. This is the opposite of good faith negotiations. All along, the wage negotiations focused on the cash component – it is disingenuous to pretend to agree to meet the unions’s demand – but to do so by counting allowances already enjoyed by workers as part of the offer.

The union held a briefing on 5 May 2014 in Johannesburg. It argued that mine bosses have not been open and transparent about what they can afford. They have in fact miscalculated the number of miners, Amcu argued, and downplayed the resources available for employee remuneration. Amcu provided information that showed that mining companies can afford the R12 500 basic salary. “There is money to pay the workers. They can afford it. The amount budgeted for wages can in fact meet the demand,” Mathunjwa said.  

Sadly, some media representatives have joined the bullying tactics used against Amcu. In interviews, they have often been blatantly unfair to Mathunjwa and Amcu. In the presence of the management representatives, they often asked him questions such as: “When will you call off the strike?”, “Are you aware that workers are suffering?” and (in one case) “Are you still earning a salary?”. They also constantly remind Mathunjwa (not management) that the strike has led to losses of R23 billion in revenues and wages. They follow up this type of interrogation with sweetheart questions to the management spokesperson, often encouraging the latter to blame the union and to wax lyrical about the strike’s damage to South Africa.

Some sections of the media are more interested in ending the strike than finding the truth and attaining a just and sustainable outcome.

If one follows this shallow perspective on labour matters on the part of some media representatives, every strike in a major company is “damaging to South Africa”.

Apparently, the furthest thing from the minds of some in the media is the need to end huge income disparities that fuel conflict in our society. Or the need to engage with the reality that increased investment (something a strike-less society is said to ensure) often leads to jobless growth and a widening of the gap between haves and have-nots.

Journalists interviewing representatives of mining companies seldom ask them:

·       Whether wage increases for workers over the last 20 years have merely kept pace with inflation or significantly increased household income and improved workers’ lives?

·       What companies’ long term plans were to increase workers wages and benefits, and to end other evils associated with mining?

·       To what extent employers have actually moved from their initial position in the wage talks?

·       Details about revenue and expected profits.

·       Information about shareholder profits at different points in the last twenty years.

·       To discuss comparisons regarding remuneration for the same or similar mining jobs in other countries such as Australia.

The struggle for a living wage on South Africa’s platinum belt is an important one. How it is settled can take South Africa forward and, in a small way, transform things to ensure that more people share in the country’s mineral wealth. The employers and the unions are engaging each other in a robust manner, and thousands of workers are sacrificing to advance their interests. Other role-players such as the media and government should either back off or step in to ensure, firstly, that “truth” prevails about the realities facing workers and management and, secondly, that a fair fact-based settlement is reached.

Frank Meintjies

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Ben Turok exits parliament with honour

Veteran ANC leader Ben Turok recently announced his retirement from Parliament. This decision comes after a long and consistent role in progressive politics.
Why an article focusing on Turok and the milepost he has reached? There are more flamboyant characters saying farewell to the hallowed halls of parliament and its green benches. Unlike notable figures such as Kgalema Motlanthe and Trevor Manual, Turok has continually functioned in more behind-the-scenes roles. His exit is also interesting because it comes when the ANC faces stronger opposition to its left, when left-leaning views such as those held by Turok are sorely needed inside the broad church that is the ANC.
Born in Latvia, Turok arrived as a child in SA in the 1930s. He went on to train as a land surveyor and was drawn towards politics. In his mid-twenties, he joined the Congress of Democrats (COD) in the Western Cape in 1953, becoming a full time organiser. In 1955, Turok stood trial for treason, but the charges were later withdrawn. In the fifties, Turok worked as a trade unionist, was as a national official of COD and partook in the drafting of the Freedom Charter. As an MK operative, Turok was arrested in 1962 for sabotage and subsequently served three years in prison before going into exile.
Despite this longer history, it is his work in recent times when he has served “in both political and academic capacities for the ANC” that captures attention. Turok made a salient contribution to fostering a culture of debate and reasoned discussion on policy in the ANC in the last 20 years.

Since the unbanning, Turok has been a campaigner for a stronger stance on economic transformation within the broad forum that is the ANC. In the early nineties, using his Institute for African Alternatives, he worked to set up local development forums. These forums were mechanisms for increasing power from below, inviting communities to set their own development priorities. But these structures were abandoned – we all forsook them. We took “the line” that centralised political mobilisation was needed for the 1994 elections and that, thereafter, ward committees should be used to discuss local development needs.
Turok has continued to promote ideas, thinking and debate through his journal, New Agenda. The journal provided information about democracy, explored continental issues, carried union leader interviews, and looked more closely at strategies such as beneficiation and industrialisation. These debates helped to sustain democracy. They continued to highlight the difference between economic growth – an increase in economic output – and development, which Turok says means “an improvement in the human condition”.
However, New Agenda remained within defined parameters. It broadly tracked alliance debates. However, it gave little space to radical voices beyond the alliance camp, those heretical and provocative voices that could have warned leaders and officials of dangerous future scenarios that they would rather not think about. It also did not sufficiently showcase struggles on the ground nor properly analyse the role of civil society activism in driving policy change.
Turok has reflected deeply on how the ANC, at the point of transition, adopted a “conservative” approach to economy change. He has noted that although this was not what the country needed, he could see that there were reasons this position was adopted. He told the Financial Mail: "It was a very tense time. Our grip on power seemed provisional. One had to take into account the environment, which included the fact that the Soviet Union had told the ANC that it would not continue helping it."  
He has held on to his basic criticism over the years. He argued in the African Communist last December that “the ANC government has been rather cautious in the implementation of economic policies and has pursued orthodox economic policies. This has led to stalling in some key sectors of the economy”.

Turok remains a critic of the 1996 Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy, a policy which reduced the budget deficit but which failed to generate jobs. Referring to Gear, Turok argued that the ANC had two strands: “the one was a progressive agenda of redistribution; the other focused on budget austerity and macro-economic stabilisation, and the latter won out.”

Turok’s departure from parliament is not without controversy – but certainly with his integrity intact. He received a grilling from fellow ANC parliamentarians after he chaired a committee that found Dina Pule guilty of breaching the code of conduct for MPs. Last November, the ANC also rebuked Turok after he walked out of parliament to avoid voting for the Protection of State Information Bill.

It is an irony that, as the old stalwart bows out, tired and bruised, Dina Pule has made it back on to the ANC’s electoral list. A sign of changing times, generational shifts as well as a change in culture as the ANC completes the change from movement to party in power.

Although he steps out of formal politics, Turok has not thrown in the towel. Indications are that, through his writing, he will continue to engage us on the need for progressive economic policy that will help South Africa overcome inequality and unemployment.

Frank Meintjies

Saturday, 8 March 2014

OP trial sparks discussion of 'Intimate Partner Violence'

The Oscar Pistorius trial provides the opportunity to highlight the issue of intimate partner violence. It again highlights the need for greater public awareness of this issue, its prevalence and how it takes place.
Setting out his defence at the trial on Monday, 3 Mar 2014, Pistorius argued that he was in a loving relationship with Reeva Steenkamp. If his defence team understood anything about intimate partner violence (IPV), it would have realised that, on its own, a loving relationship provides no clue one way or another. His legal team would have known that most instances of domestic violence occurred in the context of intimacy, love and closeness.
Most people are familiar with terms like violence against women and girls (VAWG) and domestic violence. These terms have relevance – both gender organisations and international media reports have drawn attention to the fact that this case takes place against a backdrop of high levels of gender violence South Africa. The beauty about the lesser known IPV is that it zooms in to violence within the love relationship.
IPV is rooted in macho culture. According to Soul City’s Sue Goldstein, this culture includes the sense, on the part of men, that they “own” the woman in their lives. 

 In my own social circles, I know a few women who have been beaten up by someone who in every sense was their nearest and dearest. The violent attack came as they shared a home – and, indeed, the love relationship continued on both sides of the rage, the anger and the bruises.
Society’s anger against itself often expressed itself as violence against women. This violence does not just manifest in the alleys or the streets or public places; it lives in the home. This location of crime (in the form of attacks on women) in the home usually confounds those with moral and legal authority and interferes with their duty to protect women. Religious leaders, the police and others in the justice system would like to maintain the fantasy of the home and intimate relationships as a refuge against badness and harm.
Thus, within a patriarchal society – and as gender justice organisations point out – IPV creates many challenges for the criminal justice system. When faced with this kind of unjust action, many otherwise good policemen seem unable to do their work. Often, for such officials, their lack of knowledge of IPV goes together with a lack of will and motivation to act against the man. That is because they too are often infected by the idea that it is a man’s right to control and discipline “his” women.
Ours is also not just an ordinary patriarchal society. It has endured dislocation, instability, racial conflict and deep levels of alienation. On all sides and affecting people from any and every level of society, there is dehumanisation.
Where does this anger and madness go? How does it manifest? We don’t have all the answers to such questions, but it is true that much of this anger is expressed in our society as violence against women. In out patriarchal society, the national trauma manifests as attacks on women, in turn causing new cycles of trauma and social dysfunction.  
Let’s take a look at some IPV statistics. Researcher Lisa Vetten found, in 1995, that “every 6 days, a woman in Gauteng would be killed by her intimate male partner”. Vetten was also involved in a 1999 study – by the Medical Research Council and two other bodies – which found that approximately half of all women died at the hands of their intimate partners. Ten years later a third study showed a decline in the killing of women. But alas, the main decline was in killings by strangers, friends and acquaintances; by comparison, there was only a negligible drop in the rate of killing by lovers, partners and husbands remained constant. This means, as Vetten said recently: “The most common way women are killed is by the hands of an intimate male partner.”
The Pistorius story again throws the spotlight on South Africa’s gun culture. Gun Free South Africa has long called on South Africans to give up their love of guns. It has pointed out that guns are four times more likely to be used against the gun-owners themselves than in successful self-defence. There is also evidence that shows how guns in the home play a role in teen suicides. And from a gender justice perspective, when easy availability of guns mixes with a macho culture, it heightens the dangers faced by women.

In the middle of the voyeurism, the media frenzy and the highly-publicised legal sparring, we should remember that, on the fateful night, a woman died needlessly. We should remember that guns in the home often end up shedding the blood of those they are meant to protect. We should grasp the truth about intimate femicide in South Africa.
Even if Pistorius’s version of what happened on Valentine’s Day 2013 triumphs and the lesson related to IPV is ultimately lessened, the urgent and cautionary lesson about our obsession with guns will remain.

Frank Meintjies
(This article first appeared in The New Age newspaper on 7 March 2014)