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 In 1955, Turok stood trial for treason, but the charges were later withdrawn.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)