poem by Hassen Lorgat
July 27, 2013
February 27 2012
By Mosibudi Mangena
VISIONARY: Dr Abu Asvat
THE story of Dr Abu Asvat is just as tragic as it is heroic and inspirational. It is the story of a man who unreservedly committed himself to the struggle of his people for freedom; who steadfastly defied the oppressor; who devoted all his energies, talents and professional skills to the service of the poor, but who was apparently murdered by either the very poor he worked so hard for or by elements of the liberation struggle gone mad.
Murder by the oppressive regime, while no less painful, would be less surprising since that was its routine business. All praise must go to the Abu Asvat Institute for Nation Building for keeping his memory alive; for doing things in the community that were close to his heart and by organising this lecture which will, hopefully, help us all to concentrate our minds on one of our truly heroic sons.
Asvat had a big “problem” – his tolerance level for injustice was too low. He simply could not countenance inhumanity towards other human beings. That was the mark of the man, and that characteristic coloured his life and work.
He was fired from his post as a doctor at Coronation Hospital shortly after his return back home from Pakistan where he had completed his medical studies. This was the punishment for daring to challenge the racist practices of the authorities at the hospital; for objecting to their contemptuous and disdainful treatment of blacks.
Suddenly, there he was, in 1972, in the street, unemployed.
This sacking was an amazing boon to the poor in the informal settlements of Chicken Farm and Kliptown, as well as the neighbouring townships of Mofolo South, Dlamini, Rockville and Chiawelo. His brother, Dr Ebrahim Asvat, with whom Abu had studied medicine in Pakistan, gave the jobless doctor a surgery at Chicken Farm to run.
si Robert sobukwe
VISIONARY: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe
Abu’s empathy, solidarity and generosity shone bright in these communities. His modest consulting rooms were almost always full of patients, including those who were too poor to pay for his services. He turned away no one who needed medical care. These communities paid him back not in material things – of which they had little – but with the love they harboured for him in their hearts.
He opened a crèche for the children of these informal settlements and a soup kitchen to feed those who could not afford a meal for themselves. He bonded with these communities, not so much as a doctor but as one of their own, to such and extent that four years later, in 1976, when the June 16 uprisings broke out, his credentials as the people’s doctor were all set. Those shot and injured by the bullets of the regime flocked to his surgery, secure in the knowledge that they would be treated with empathy, sympathy, support and safety.
Ironically, it was his revolutionary activism, accessibility and solidarity with the poor that might have made it easier for his enemies to plot against him. Prior to his murder on January 27, 1989, a few attempts were made on his life and limb.
According to Elinor Sisulu’s book Walter & Albertina Sisulu, In Our Lifetime, and an essay by Jon Soske entitled The Life and Death of Dr Abu Baker ‘Hurley’ Asvat, 23 February 1943 to 27 January 1989, the most probable reason for his murder was his medical examination of the teenage activist Stompie Seipei; his finding that the boy was not sexually abused at the Methodist Church, as alleged; and his insistence that the boy be taken to hospital for the treatment of injuries inflicted by his torturers. This was of course at that time in our history when some crazy and bizarre things were being done in the name of our struggle for freedom.
Azapo never believed that Zakhele Mbatha and Thulani Dlamini, who are doing time in prison for Abu’s murder, carried out this sordid act for money. It just did not add up. We were convinced, from the beginning, that he was assassinated, if not by the regime, then by the madness that characterised our politics at the time. But as often happened in our country then, some crimes are never solved or they leave us with unanswered questions.
The people of Soweto were not the only ones to be touched by the work and energy of Abu Asvat. His collaboration with Dr Yusuf Veriava to compile the Community Health Awareness Project (Chap) manual for Azapo was one of the most brilliant non-state medical interventions ever made in our country, the likes of which are still to be equalled.
Dr Mamphela Ramphele ran the Zanemphelo clinic at Zinyoka village in the Eastern Cape and another at Lenyenye Township in Tzaneen, where she was restricted to under a banning order, but the concept and modus operandi were different. As the secretary of health in Azapo, Abu used Chap as an instrument to deliver preventative health services to communities in diverse areas of our country, especially poor rural settlements.
Chap reached communities in rural Limpopo and Free State, doing simple diagnoses of ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, malnutrition in children, advising people on what to do to improve their health and referring others to clinics and hospitals for follow-up treatment.
Abu bought a caravan, stocked it with medicines, and with the help of volunteers such as Jenny Tissong, Ruwaida Hallim, Thandi Myeza and others, visited communities all over the place preaching good health and advising people how to look after themselves. By all accounts, they were a formidable lot that worked incredible hours. Doctors, nurses and other health professionals in other parts of the country were so inspired by his work that they started their own initiatives under the Chap banner.
To Abu, health was the very essence of humanity, freedom and social wellbeing. It was not an additional thing you can choose to have or do without. Without health, you have nothing. That is why every liberation speech is linked to freedom from hunger, ignorance and disease.
That is why it is so distressing and acutely painful that today, after the attainment of political freedom and the control of public health facilities by a democratically elected government, and the allocation of huge amounts of money to the health budget, our people, especially the poor, are subjected, by us, to what one can rightly describe as a murderous health system.
We read, see and hear, almost on a daily basis, about the needless deaths of our people in our hospitals; babies dying in their mothers’ wombs or in delivery wards; babies being needlessly brain-damaged during birth; the lack of linen, gloves and food in our facilities; filthy hospitals; broken equipment that is not being serviced; the non-payment of medical suppliers, leading to chronic shortages of medicines and other essentials; the non-payment of bills at the National Health Laboratory Service, resulting in their inability to process specimens to enable doctors to make accurate diagnoses or the closure of these laboratories; the flight of health professionals from public health due to sheer stress and exhaustion; and the long patient queues at our hospitals for very little satisfaction.
The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are plain and obvious for all to see: we have become a society overtaken by rampant greed that is strongly assisted by the deliberate employment of ill-qualified people to run our health facilities, aided and abetted by civil servants of the same poor calibre in the relevant government departments.
We should weep every time the auditor-general tells us that financial management and controls in certain departments are a mere rumour – and he does tell us this sorry tale very often indeed.
The most important consideration for appointments in many cases is not qualifications and competence, but how well connected the candidate is in terms of political affiliation, family and business circles. This then facilitates the looting of public resources through the awarding of tenders to those who are equally connected – but usually not capable of delivering on their mandate – and the spoils are shared in the dark. The result is the near collapse of the public health system.
Until we insist on the appointment of suitably qualified and competent people to manage our health affairs and hold those we appoint accountable, our hospitals will continue to be death traps for our people, especially our poor and working class compatriots. There are no consequences for dereliction of duty, negligence and incompetence in our public service. But to do that, we have to stop discriminating against fellow citizens on any grounds whatsoever in our employment practices. How do you hold an employee accountable for incompetence when competence was not a consideration for appointment in the first place?
Abu Asvat and Albertina Sisulu were from two different worlds. Sisulu was a woman, older, a pensioner, Christian and a member of the UDF, while Abu was male, younger, a Muslim and a member of Azapo. At the time, members of the two organisations were engaged in a ferocious internecine struggle that had seen many a house burnt down and many a comrade killed and buried.
The two were brought together by their common South African patriotism, medical professionalism and their passion for service to the poor and vulnerable in our society. They resisted objections, especially from their respective and warring political organisations, to end their partnership. And they were, indeed, by all accounts, a great team that was well loved by those they served.
It seems Asvat and Sisulu were well ahead of their time. It would appear that even today, almost 18 years after the attainment of democracy, we have still not evolved to the stage where they were. It seems we still rank political affiliation above service to the citizens. This might explain, at least in part, why the sterling contribution Abu made to the struggle and the wellbeing of our people does not occupy the pride of place in his country.
Sisulu and Abu understood that any religion, ideology or creed that prevents people from acting in just, humane and kind ways towards one another and fellow humans needs to be re-examined. Abu took the tenets of Black Consciousness to heart and understood its teachings as an emphatic affirmation of the inherent humanity, dignity, equality and worth of all people, regardless of their material endowments.
The treatment that we subject our people to in our hospitals and clinics is not just a mechanical, ethical and perhaps legal thing; it also speaks about our humanity. When we steal from the sick, either by stealing the money meant to make women give birth in safety, or resources allocated for the cleaning of hospitals, or give friends and our connections tenders they cannot execute properly, we are exhibiting our colours – we are demonstrating our lost moral compass.
Abu Asvat did not have a lot of money, but he had a heart, compassion and the will to serve. Those in charge of Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital have money counted in billions of rand. If only they could just have a heart.
Asvat did not only run up and down fighting the West Rand Administration Board for their forced removal of poor people and the destruction of their dwellings; he did not only wake up priests in the middle of the night to request that they accommodate the homeless in their churches; he did not only lead meetings of the People’s Education Committee; he did not only attend to patients at his surgery; he did not only drive to far-away places with his caravan to attend to the health needs of the poor; no, Abu also loved cricket.
He did not only play the sport, he led a cricket club, got involved in its administration and in cricket politics at provincial and national levels. He was elected honorary president of the Transvaal Cricket Board, which was affiliated to the South African Council of Sport – a body that maintained that normal sport was impossible in a racist society. Sacos protected the dignity of black sportspeople at the same time as it conscientised them about the unjustness of the socio-economic conditions of their people.
Through sport, Abu sought to build well rounded, worthy, socially and politically conscious young people. He was indeed building the nation, even under those difficult circumstances. And one question that immediately comes to mind is: where did he get the time? Did his wife and children ever see him?
The Abu Asvat Institute for Nation Building is continuing his legacy by, inter alia, organising a cricket tournament every year where our young have an opportunity to showcase their skills, interact with one another and, hopefully, be nurtured into better adulthood.
Considering that the ills of our society in education, health, housing, poverty and so on have not been healed by the advent of democracy – they might even be worse in certain instances – how would it be if more of us could consider picking up the cudgels and getting involved in communities to attend to the deficits we see in the health care, education and other aspects of the lives of our people?
If that were to happen, wherever he is, Dr Abu Asvat would smile with pride.
This is an edited version of an inaugural Abu Asvat Memorial Lecture by Mosibudi Mangena delivered yesterday in Joburg
May 8, 2011
An open letter to the Press Ombudsman
Mail: PO Box 47221, PARKLANDS, 2121
Street: St Davids’s Park, 2nd Floor, 7 St Davids Place, Parktown, JOHANNESBURG
Tel: (011) 484 3618 / 3612
Fax: (011) 484 3619
Mr Joe Thloloe
Mail: PO Box 47221, PARKLANDS, 2121
Street: St Davids’s Park, 2nd Floor, 7 St Davids Place, Parktown, JOHANNESBURG
Tel: (011) 484 3618 / 3612
Fax: (011) 484 3619
Hi bra Joe
Hope this email finds you in good health. As discussed this morning, I have penned a few sentences to get the ball rolling.
Yours for a free and responsive media
Ps. FC Barcelona plays Shaktar Donetsk tomorrow night (Tuesday 12 April 2011) and we hope to read about our team!
The small matter of a c
This morning I called a friend and comrade, the Press Ombudsman Joe Tholoe, to ask him if there was a forum where the public could engage with the fourth estate on matters of concern to the broader public. Since football is more than a game, I proceeded to tell him that I was asked to call and complain to him on behalf of the FC Barcelona’s official supporters club in South Africa known as Mzansi Penya Barcelonista. The complaints in the main evolves about the fact that our media seemingly continues to be trapped in old colonial loyalties when it comes to football, covering the English Premier League, and granting scant coverage to Spanish football league despite their players being the reigning Football World Cup champs. BBVA Spanish Football League popularly known as La Liga, however, cannot be ignored when it comes to watching and reading about the UEFA Champions League, which has thrown up some problems of how some teams are reported/covered.
And this brings me to how journalists report on FC Barcelona, popularly known as Barça. Yet for some strange reasons news editors persist in calling the team Barca, with the hard sound of k, pronounced as Barka. In my letter to one of the newspapers, seeking to get another view to an obviously pro Arsenal Carlos Amato, during February 2011, I suggested to the editor / senior that the paper considers using the Catalan ç, Needless to say, the response was not published, as was the case of many of others who wrote in. One of those “unpublished writers” informed me that Amato replied to him,bilaterally, thereby missing a great opportunity to engage the public on matters of mutual concern. In my case, the reply I got included a firm “but we don’t do sedillas here.”
From then onwards I scanned a range of our newspapers and from City Press, Mail and Guardian, Citizen, to Sunday Times – all have fuelled public ignorance on this as these examples reveal:
The Citizen newspaper,
Saturday 9 april 2011
Real, Barca prepared for possibilities
The New Age,
25 Feb, 2011 “Bruised Barca face tough Mallorca test”
Barca do haka to promote rugby match
Page 26, March 2, 2011
Barca and Madrid wait on Messi, Ronaldo injuries
Apr 1, 2011 9:21 AM | By Paul Logothetis, Sapa-AP
Mon Apr 11 12:56:06 SAST 2011
Barca clashes overshadow Real’s encounter with Bilbao
08-Apr-2011 | Reuters
United to play Barca on pre-season tour
March 29 2011
Messi the key to Barca success
Mail and Guardian
United, Barcelona close in on last four
Chris Wright, Paris, France – April 07 2011 07:40
The heading uses the club’s full name but the same mistake is included, thus:
“The only downside for Barca came when Iniesta earned a yellow card, which means he will miss the second leg through suspension.”
As I was beginning to despair, one weekend, over coffee, I spotted it. For the first time ever in a South African newspaper: the cedilla. Wow, on a closer look from a Rosebank Cofee shop, I found that it was the Weekend Argus (IOL group) headline which used this: “Villareal could be a tough test for Barça” (April 2, 2011, page 25)
My excitement, however, was limited when I went to their website only to find a repeat of the old error suggesting that what I saw was either an apparition or simply an aberration as I found: Barca lose key defenders – 7 Mar 2011… of La liga with a 1-0 win over Zaragoza at the weekend and now they turn their ….
This all could be remedied if all editors simply got with the programme: we are living in a global village, and the use of a cedilla is not undermining of the English language. If, however, it is too much of a cultural bridge to cross, I suggest that our editors think of using an S, as many other newspapers are actually doing. Ole, an Argentinian sports paper does this as you can see:
“En Barsa, Messi tiene a jugadores de su nivel”http://www.ole.com.ar/mundial/argentina/Barsa-Messi-jugadores-nivel_0_277772330.html
Simply meaning: At Barsa – Messi has players of his level
If the editors think we are wrong – go and test the word with your readers: then return and tell me if we are barca-ing up the wrong tree.
PS. The response to the article to which I refer above….
Another point on the great FC Barcelona
Carlos Amato’s Barca need a klap (17 Feb) prompted me to reply
I am a South African, and cannot separate politics and sport. And as South African too, I love sport that is beautifully played, and it is these two reasons that brought me to FC Barcelona. They are a team that is socially engaged, and true to their roots, and today still serve as a symbol of their town, state and people. Organising under the theme Més que un Club, more than a club, and subjecting their leadership to deep, daily public scrutiny and praise (depending how the team is doing) is something very rarely seen in SA.
The team is owned by its members which is a rare thing in SA too. Going to the Nou Camp is a family outing because you are likely to sit next to young women, a grandfather with a grandson on his lap. How many teams are owned by communities or trusts in SA? None. And what is more, most of them care very little about the fans, seeing them simply as bums on seats. Our journalists do not tell us this story as they churn out week in and week out, scores and spurious analysis on the matches which do not educate the fans-readers. Amato is a good journalist, but I think he misreads Barça. The Barça style of playing is empowering as it gives hope to smaller humans and must give hope to our more skillful South African players, men and women. Watching recently Banyana Banyana vs Nigeria in the East Rand, I was struck by how, if they learned to play like FC Barcelona’s method, they would do much better. Passing the ball around, playing for each other, and when the ball is lost, like a brakkie, two, three players will surround a much bigger player and steal the ball from him. This team, and their method, has allowed the likes of Xavi , Messi, Iniesta -“all shorties”- to making the short list for being the world’s best players. Also, if Amato looks closely, as Guardiola explained in a training course of Spanish FA coaches, there is method in their madness. They pass, pass, seemingly without risk and before you know it, other players are in place… and it’s a goal! On Sunday night, 20 February, Guardiola marked his 100th game in charge. The score sheet? In the 100 games in charge of FC Barcelona he has broken most records, in particular after last night’s victory over Athletic Bilbao, they have scored a massive 276 goals conceding only 71 goals against -less than one a game. Can such a team be boring?
Ps . can you please use the Catalan ç?
Hassen Lorgat is a social activist, and lived in Barcelona for two years upto 2009. He is a member of the official supporters club of FC Barcelona in South Africa, Mzansi Penya Barcelonista, on Facebook and blogosphere
April 21, 2011
will lick my wounds and go and rest. tomorrow is another day, and next week another match. may those who love beauty and poetry win
March 2, 2011
The conscious forgetting of those who helped make the struggle for a more just and democratic South Africa, has been the proverbial elephant in the game park of our politics. The big five will include celebrating Madiba, and praying that he lives forever. Yet we choose to forget some of those close to him (women especially) and, worse, those in the struggle that had different approaches, values and inspirations to him and the ruling ANC. But last night some attempt was made to put an end to the silence. Professor Bonner, Wits Professor,and former free-lance educator with FOSATU (Federation of South African Trade Unions), lambasted those who were in effect “air-brushing our struggle history.”
Bonner was speaking on Thursday evening, 17 February 2011, at the Museum Africa at the launch of The Future is in the hands of the Workers, A History of Fosatu, by Michele Friedman, part of the Wits University’s Historical Papers Labour Archive Project. His sentiments, similar to the Forward written for the book, are simple: “in one sense,” he writes, “FOSATU itself is now history. In another sense, however, it is not, since it has been almost wholly forgotten by trade unionists, political activists and the wider South African public. This may partly be due to the fact that is many achievements were accomplished in the short span of six years, and have in a sense been absorbed into COSATU. Beyond that, however, has been the active down-playing of the role of this internal struggle in the ANC’s version of the road to freedom. With the exception of the exhibition from which this book emerged, the 30th anniversary of the forming of FOSATU was totally un-commemorated or remarked upon. Much of the same was true of the 25th anniversary of the UDF a few years before. The compilers of this book, hope that the story it tells will help to redress this pervasive neglect.”
The opinion held by many is that in the early years of our democracy, the exiles or the those who were involved in the underground struggle, have “squeezed out” – in many ways – the internal struggle people. This has not been just for government positions, but also displayed its culture of doing politics, in particular its commitment to mass participatory democracy, non racism, etc. as championed by the trade unions, the UDF, and other formations like the South African Council on Sport (SACOS), by replacing it with elitist politics, managerialism and the dominant re-racialising project of today. Bonner spoke of the so-called ‘black on black violence’ which weakened most civil society formations outside the unions, which grew resilient and in the midst of the Emergencies, led to the formation of COSATU.
The 1990’s ideological set back for the left by market way of doing and thinking, however, was not solely at the realm of ideas. The squeeze was financial as well. We can all recall the former GS of COSATU, deployed to the ANC in the first non racial government, calling on foreign governments to shift funding from CSOs to a non racial democratic government. This was understandable, as civil society organisations, especially the so-called service delivery NGOs, are not meant as competitor to an inclusive, democratic and accountable government. However, there is a tension in the roles of governments, especially those whose economies and budgets are not geared to genuine sustainable development, like the one the ANC inherited. Over the years, the economic crisis has added to the difficulties of a transformation which would meet basic needs of our people, overcoming the crass inequalities of wealth and power, and building caring communities where violence against women, hunger, and poverty is no more. These complex issues of necessity require consent, true, but at the same time allowing for serious debate and dissension. Killing of much needed resources for critical campaigning CSOs committed to human rights weakened our body politic. Those social movements (new or old) and others proposing alternative development paths and ways of doing politics (outside the dominant Congress Movement), were effected by this squeeze, which continues to this day. Today, some complain of repression by the state’s repressive agencies when they protest in the shack dwellers movements or against privatisation or evictions.
But how widespread are these concerns?
Before exploring this, let me point out that a separate piece has yet to be written on how women, of all political persuasions, have been written out of history at home and elsewhere. Suffice to say that I am pleased and baffled when I pass the various hospitals in Gauteng, only to see that they – the caring professions – commemorate women. From Helen Joseph (old JG Strijdom) down via Corrie, where Rahima Moosa (Old Coronation Hospital for women and children) is located. Some activists I know complain and ask what must other political parties/ tendencies/ movements do to be immortalized by the heritage and road agencies? I will take this up later with regards to Dr Abu Asvat.
Start with Mbeki. It looks like ¨this administration¨ (ANC) has difficulty remembering and truly recognizing the good, the bad and the ugly of the man and his legacy. On official gatherings, when patriotism is called for, some of our leaders hark to a period when Madiba was president, and jump right back into the present Zuma led administration. All the bad of the past decade is placed on the shoulders of only one man, with little discussion of the complicity of the party (ANC) and its Alliance partners under the rule of Mbeki. Did not the ANC and the Alliance Partners agree in all those NEC meetings on the Mbeki programmes, which government implemented? Was our beloved Madiba bullied into saying that GEAR was non negotiable, to the chagrin of a Shilowa, then General Secretary of COSATU?
A friend from Barcelona who recently visited the Apartheid Museum, ironically after she received from us a copy of Mandela for Beginners by us, to assist her in her orientation, came back with a simple concern: “there is almost nothing or very little about Robert Sobukwe. Why?,” she asked.
The various currents of the Black Consciousness movement complain too, about being written out of history. Let me take the case of the Abu Asvat Institute, who have been campaigning to have the road that links Soweto and Lenasia (Link Road) renamed after the late doctor murdered by two gunmen on 27 January 1989. This Lenasia resident was killed while working at his surgery in Rockville, Soweto. The Institute believes that the link road if renamed Abu Asvat Boulevard will help literally build bridges, and recognize the contribution of a man who lived in both communities and is a true symbol of nation building. Their efforts have apparently been resisted by the local branch of the ANC.
Many, who played non racial sports, lament why the South African Council of Sport is rarely mentioned today in many of our discourses on sport. Hassan Howa and his other comrades worked under the organizing slogan: There can be No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society, and working with SANROC and the Anti Apartheid Movement, internationally, effectively killed-off racist sport. That some of its key leaders were from the Unity Movement may have something to do with it, but why the silence and absence from debates even in the media and talk shows?
In some cases we can suggest that poor or inapt record keeping (archiving) is to blame, but I do not think so. It has more to do with political will and selective memory syndrome where close friends and party comrades in the right faction or tendency are recognized. Let me go back to the discussion about the trade union movement whose record keeping like those of our sports movement is or was impeccable.
Two punches for the union movement
There appears to be a political carelessness, and a lack of attention to detail in as far as paying a debt and respect to those who built the movement. I have a feeling that some of the connected ex-leaders (maybe active still in some Alliance structure) will be remembered, because it is also convenient as it is easy…but who will remember Baba K, Petrus Pheko and others (including our unionist-returned astrophysicist Dr Bernie Fanaroff) who taught many of us, basic organizing skills in the Metal and Allied Workers Union which became NUMSA? Asking some comrades at the book launch about these organizers, I was told that Baba K is back in Swaziland, some 90 odd years now. Is he on a pension? Did our former union, and COSATU at large, try to ensure that he and those like him get a struggle pension? Or is and other former unionists on union pensions ?
My second point is that we have inherited a culture of politics that believes the oft stated tradition of magnanimity towards politics opponents – adversaries outside and inside our parties. I will illustrate this by talking of the ANC and the unions and in particular, two of the unions I used to work for, NUMSA and COSATU.
In the case of unions, simply put, they do not know how to separate historical contributions of comrades with the later political choices that some of their leaders made. The cases are numerous – in the case of NUMSA, they removed the name of Moses Mayekiso whom they had named the building after, and in the case of SADTU, a researcher recently told me that the archives of the Educators Voice, that I worked on, under the leadership of Willy Madisha (and Solly Mabusela ex-Assistant General Secretary, and to a lesser extent ex- General Secretary Thulas Nxesi), are no longer available to the members, public and researchers. It begs the question:How does COSATU, and by implication the whole union movement, FEDUSA, NACTU etc deal with the memory or legacy issues of those who have contributed but fell out with the current leadership? Many of us remember the strong leadership provided by Mbazima Shilowa, or Sam as he was called, during his stint as General Secretary, famously lambasting GEAR, when it was hastily introduced, but later defending it (as ANC premier in Gauteng). The same question must be asked about how the ANC views UDF stalwarts Lekota, Shilowa in the failed marriage. Quislings? Cockroaches, etc. I hear some saying; how history records them will be different, but the parties and unions cannot simply whitewash, airbrush or whatever, those who differed, and even paid the price for their presumed bad choices.
We have a long way to go towards burying Stalin and his legacy if we want a truer reflection of our history of struggle. For those who do not know that: airbrushing people out of history effectively, in both graphic and through other means, is not the domain of socialist – communist countries, but it was Stalin who appeared to have perfected the art. A cursory glance at various websites will attest how, for instance, one celebrated photo of Lenin giving his famous speech to Soviet fighters in Moscow (5 May, 1920), where both Leon Trotsky and Lev Kemenev were also photographed in the front, was later altered, excluding both former comrades from the picture.
In other pictures, a group of people were removed after they fell out of favour or killed, leaving only the supreme leader in the picture. This is not what we want if we are to learn from history. Only the truth will free us, lies and falsifications have a limited shelf-life.
POSTSCRIPT (added on March 18, 2011) - It reminds me so much of Brecht’s celebrated poem, a worker reading history which was so loved by activists – some amongst those who choose to forget where they came from. For those who do not know the poem, it opens with…
“Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?”
and ends with…
“Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?
Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?
So many particulars.
So many questions.”
January 7, 2011
by Audre Lorde
From Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press Feminist Series (1984)
I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference within the lives of American
women: difference of race, sexuality, class, and age. The absence of these considerations weakens any feminist discussion of the personal and the political.
It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel at this conference where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this conference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable. To read this program is to assume that lesbian and Black women have nothing to say about existentialism, the erotic, women’s culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms when even the two Black women who did present here were literally found at the last hour? What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.
The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the consciousness of Third World women leaves a serious gap within this conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a paper on material relationships between women, I was conscious of an either/or model of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowledge as a Black lesbian. In this paper there was no examination of mutuality between women, no systems of shared support, no interdependence as exists between lesbians and women-identified women. Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women “who attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the results,” as this paper states.
For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.
Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.
Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters.
Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.
As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.
Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.
Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white American feminist theory need not deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism?
In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
Why weren’t other women of Color found to participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me considered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of Black feminists? And although the Black panelist’s paper ends on an important and powerful connection of love between women, what about interracial cooperation between feminists who don’t love each other?
In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us — white and Black — when it is key to our survival as a movement?
Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.
Simone de Beauvoir once said: “It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that we must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.”
Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.
Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That ís the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image! What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well.
- Caliban, in Aime Cesaire’s “The Tempest”
The other day, I looked out for what Transparency International was saying officially about Wikileaks, and was not surprised. I found nothing.
I did look wider on the net and found Transparency Russia begging for Wikileaks to reveal something about their country…but truly speaking I l have lamented the paucity of debate and any real interest in some parts of the world. Where there has been some discussion, it has been about what can be called nitpicking or the fall-outs about the exposures, the lies and half truths of so called US intelligence. I think what Wikileaks signifies is a far greater problem, we have less control over our own lives, and states and governments have amassed too much information about peoples, individuals and their organizations. Little wonder corporations like Mastercard and Amazon, can at wink and a nod, jump sky high to undermine a civil society organization like Wikileaks when the US government says so. How different is this from Google buckling to China to control the internet? Where are those groups now that protested Google’s actions? Why are we not launching any campaigns against Mastercard and Amazon?
I also checked out South African newspapers and found them lacking in coverage on what WIkileaks has to offer. Why? Is it the tabloidization of our papers? Or is it the fear of US or other governmental retaliation?
For now I think we must talk about solidarity with WIkleaks, Julian Assange and many other activists. In this regards I want us to support on particular US soldier who really needs our support. He has mine. This young man must be protected by the Geneva conventions as he was a combatant in a war, real and with wider moral implications: a war of truth and justice against greed, and injustice. He is truly a prisoner of conscience. I really hope that civil society groups mobiise around people like young Bradley Manning, because we if do not fight to keep our space open, the ruling classes will close in on us, as they are doing already. justice in on our side, but we must organise to ensure that the people win back our freedoms that have been increasingly privatised…This is what one journal wrote about him:The 22 year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks has never been convicted of that crime, and yet he has spent seven months in solitary confinement under horrific conditions.
Manning has spent the last five months detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia—before that he spent two months in a military jail in Kuwait, all the while facing conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and even torture. Manning was charged with the unauthorized use and disclosure of U.S. classified information.¨
Now, I want to end by listing some discussions that have taken place over the last few weeks on an alternative media list.
a) The first article was by Mark Weinberg of the Right to Know Campaign and moderator of the group.
Sent: 13 December 2010 07:21 AM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars
Right2Know Statement: what Wikileaks teaches us about SA’s Secrecy Bill
Thursday, 09 December 2010 14:34http://www.r2k.org.za/updates/94-right2know-statement-what-wikileaks-teaches-us-about-sas-secrecy-bill
Make fewer secrets, less often…
The leaking of secret diplomatic correspondence by Wikileaks serves as a warning to all who wish to hide information from the public. As the South African Parliament considers passing the draconian Protection of Information Bill (POIB), they should stop and consider the lesson of Wikileaks: Technological developments with a democratic impulse have forever undermined the ability of states to keep secrets as they have in the past
The keeping of secrets is a precarious business requiring increasing human and financial resources. The POIB will have significant financial implications for all spheres of government that the current Bill does not cater for.
As the Right2Know Campaign fights the battle against the Secrecy Bill that would shroud our society in darkness, we take note of another Wikileaks lesson: Governments which mire themselves in secrecy can quickly become enemies to their own people. There can be no doubt that publishing much of the information on Wikileaks is in the public interest even if it is not in the interests of governments. It is for this reason that we continue to demand that the scope and definitions of South Africa ‘s Secrecy Bill must be narrow in their remit.
The US government and their allies have attempted to frame these leaks as a criminal act. The Right2Know Campaign firmly believes that an institution like Wikileaks is an inevitable response to a system that is overcome by dark and embarrassing secrets. If governments wish to condemn Wikileaks to oblivion, they can best do so by making fewer secrets, less often. In short, they can adopt the sort of open and transparent governance demanded by the South African constitution.
The Right2Know Campaign draws inspiration from the courage and dedication of the team that built and maintains the Wikileaks service. As long as there are people like them committed to exposing the wrongdoing of governments and businesses, no securocratic laws can stop the free flow of information.
Mobile: +27 74 1036704
Tel: +27 21 447 5770
Fax: +27 21 447 5884
B) This was then followed by an email from me, calling for some action in support of wikileaks
Sent: Monday, December 13, 2010 6:52 PM
To: mark weinberg; Mashilo M. Boloka
Subject: Re: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
I really think we must have a small demonstration to show our support for the struggles waged on our behalf globally as exemplified by the attacks on wikileaks.
i heard there were protests in many capitals but joburg was not mentioned. if not a demo, then a simple statement of solidarity
I hope I have not missed any emails where this was suggested.
C. Two emails later follow asking for the relevance of the wikileaks struggle to the freedom of expression struggles in South Africa. They are dated 15 December, and read thus:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: miércoles, 15 de diciembre de 2010 07:05 a.m.
Subject: Fwd: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
I tend to agree with you. Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him? I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.
>>> “Phelisa Nkomo” 12/14/2010 3:17 AM >>>
At the risk of sounding ignorant, why should we support this? I would rather appear ignorant than pretend to understand. How does this undermines media freedom? Please help
Ms Phelisa Nkomo
National Advocacy Programme Manager
Tel 021 686 6952
Mobile 072 613 3577
No 3 Caledonian Str,
Mowbray, Cape Town
Making Human Rights Real
D, Ann Eveleth is a wide ranging reply to Arko-Cobbah and Phelisa, touches on US hegemony and role of the media and civil society organizations:
. From: Ann Eveleth
To: A Arko-Cobbah ; email@example.com
Sent: Wed, December 15, 2010 5:38:20 PM
Subject: RE: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Dear Phelisa, Albert and others in SA’s “alternative” media community,
Firstly, I thought you might find this link interesting, and maybe it will answer some of your questions about “why”, Phelisa. http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/15/john_pilger_journalists_must_support_julian
Secondly, in answer to your question Albert: “Are we saying that if one violates the law by leaking and distributing, world-wide, classified documents, possibly, obtained through espionage to court, perhaps, cheap popularity, do we have to clap for him?”
1) Which laws have Wikileaks violated? Even the entire U$ InJustice Department is still scratching its head after 2 weeks trying to find a law they can use to charge Assange with violating (and I want to separate the question of Wikileaks from the other charges of sexual misconduct which have not even yet been brought against Assange in Sweden, of which I am personally very suspicious there is a strong link to U$ efforts to get hold of him, but which none of us can know until that matter plays out). There is a basic principle in law that if a reasonable person could not have known that such a law existed banning their actions, they could not be held accountable for breaking it. While ignorance of the law is not by itself a defence, there has to be a limitation on this to the extent that if even an entire department of government cannot find such a law, no ordinary person can be expected to know about said law.
2) It is the first and most important job of “journalists” to uncover and expose injustices that the powerful seek to hide from the rest of us. Real journalism has a long-forgotten history of seeking out such information as the powerful governments and corporations would like to remain hidden. Perhaps it is because we have been forced to lower our expectations of journalism so far, for so long, that most of us have forgotten that this real journalism once existed. To suggest that journalists are bound to obey the dictates of the powerful when they claim a particular piece of information is “classified”, and to respect such “classification” is to define the role of journalists in a highly constrained role as mere public relations puppets of the elite. That IS, in fact, what most journalist today DO, but this does not mean that it has anything to do with journalism.
3) What is “Espionage”, except the failure of a person so convicted to obey the dictates of narrow nationalist “patriotism”, or the mandate to see the protection of the interests of one nationally defined set of elites against other peoples in the world as the highest principle, overriding questions of justice and humanity. From everything I have seen, there is little chance the U$ government will succeed in convicting Assange, an Australian citizen, with failure to obey Amerikkkan patriotism. (Despite the calls for assassination, execution, etc such intellectual scions as Sarah Palin, who have castigated him as being “Un-American”, lol!) They may, however, succeed in convicting U$ Army Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have copied the material from military servers, with espionage. But there are 2 questions involved in even this possibility – the first, yes, as a member of the U$ security forces, he was legally responsible to the notion that he should be so patriotic as to not share the information. The second, however, is the question of justice – there are many, many, many members of the US armed forced who have been drawn into the illegal U$ occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan who have developed outrage over being used by their government for such actions – there are entire organisations of them now, like Veterans Against the Wars, etc. In rejecting these unjust actions, they have chosen to align themselves to a greater humanity beyond mere patriotism to the U$. If Manning’s actions prove to have been so inspired, should the response of those who seek justice in the world be to condemn him, or to celebrate his courage? Put another way, should those few white SAfricans who resisted conscription into the apartheid army be considered traitors, or heroes?
4) Is Wikileaks as an organisation, seeking mere “cheap popularity”? Is Assange? Who knows? I am personally so fundamentally opposed to individuals seeking their own “Coca Cola Pop Star” status by feeding off (and consuming) the energy of those battling the system that I could say it has come to redefine my beliefs about what change is/is not possible through our struggles in response to that prominent challenge, and I certainly watch Assange as an individual with scepticism simply for the fact that he has gained this sort of celebrity status. BUT, I also know that sometimes people do gain this kind of status not because they have sought it, but simply because what they are actually DOING has propelled them onto the historical stage at a particular moment, in the course of battle. I reckon it will be some time before we have enough evidence to truly judge Assange’s character in light of this question. But, this is NOT about Assange, nor any other single individual. It is about Wikileaks, and about journalism, and about imperialism, and about “official secrets”, and about Internet Freedom. What we do know is that
a) Wikileaks has provided the world with an unprecedented glimpse into the world of U$ diplomacy/spying operations around the world, following on earlier provisions of vast amounts of information about current, highly controversial, U$ military occupations;
b) by doing so through the internet, Wikileaks has opened new possibilities for the encouragement of Whistleblowers (these are the good guys who see injustice and want it to be known) to know that their information can get out, even if the mainstream corporate media outlets (ie, those who are NOT “alternative” media) refuse to publish,
c) Wikileaks has reinvigorated the very idea that real journalism – ie, digging for the truth and getting it out even if it will not help one’s career among the elites – can still, or possibly once again, exist; d) Wikileaks has demonstrated that the internet offers more and more of us who are not part of the elite power structures, the chance to engage in the wide dissemination of information;
e) Wikileaks has inadvertently cast a huge spotlight on the way this new medium of information sharing is indeed still controlled by these very corporate interests that the idea of “alternative media” seeks to circumvent;
f) the current “cyberwar” related to this last exposure has now put the question to all of us who are concerned with questions of freedom of expression (and not the narrow protection of elite journalism) as to how will we respond to this new form of corporate domination now, and into the future? Because if we do not respond NOW, it will likely be too late very soon, and we will have played our part in meekly accepting that access to information into the coming CENTURIES will be controlled by corporate entities that will never be subject to democratic accountability.
5) Albert: “I hope you see this to be entirely different from our fight against media restrictions being contemplated by our government.” ???? If you think having the SA Govt control your access to information is a bad thing, at least you can potentially vote them out of office (or find other ways to get them out). If you let these political questions of what can and cannot be published be settled by the likes of Amazon, Paypal, Microsoft, Apple, Halliburton.well, then I am not sure what you actually mean by “alternative” media? And let’s not forget that behind these corporate controllers of the so-called “information superhighway” right now stands the U$ government. So are you saying “let’s protect our turf from control by the SA Govt, but let the U$ government and its corporate sponsors make all the decisions for us about what we can and cannot publish? Not to mention how this has even been extended into a question of controlling what people can and cannot READ, with all those who work for the U$ government in its various departments, and even university students, being warned that they may lose and/or not get jobs if they are found to have read or discussed the wikileaks material in the privacy of their own homes. If you are not worried about that, I am worried about what it would take for you to be worried…
VIVA WIKILEAKS VIVA!!!
F) on the 17 December I reply thus: >>> hassen lorgat 12/17/2010 10:46 AM >>>
I think the comrade Evelyn hit the nail on the head and I thank her for contributing. There are many reasons for supporting WIkiLeaks namely
a) Governments have far too many secrets which they keep away from us, the people who elected them. I am not surprised that many governments led by the only global super power are truly pissed off because they indiscreet comments made in the shadows have been exposed. And it must be exposed if our votes, and democracies are to hold any sway.
b) some governments – imperial powers like the world?s only superpower the USA has way too much power and information on other countries and their own citizens. how do you think they got it? throught rule of law or asking nicely? think again, bribery, corruption, force, torture all. National media must have an agenda that takes people (at the centre of development, and in our case Africa and South Africa)As a brief aside I argued in response to cde Cronin?(No left cover needed) that when we have repressive media laws and practices within our nation state (whatever is left of it) it merely empowers external media agencies. I said that ?One unintended consequence of the bill, if it goes through, will be that media agencies with global links will run exposés of our body politic and thus the likes of the BBC, will once again be seen as authoritative, as the onerous obligations placed on national journalists will not apply to someone far away receiving confidential information.? this brings me to my third point
c) That media and media is globally owned and controlled. The Wiki projects and philosophies are aimed at empowering activists and world citizens to fight back and have real voice.
d) we must then see Wikileaks as a whistleblower, leaking, or making transparent what the powerful are saying about others (friends and foe alike) to maintain their hold of power. Ann Eveleth is correct to say, that these Leaks must encourage other whistleblowers (who by the way in SA have had a torrid time, which will be made worse by restrictive media laws and actions by the powerful on cartoonists , writers, and ordinary folk who want to keep those in power on their toes. THis power, that is being exposed is the same POWER that maintains and sustains poverty and inequality. It is our task to use information, political organising and other organisational skills to fight for a more just society, here and internationally.
The cables are believed to include withering US assessments of Mr Brown’s personality and prospects of staying in power.
They may also show the low regard of the White House for Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with America. Nor does David Cameron escape from criticism.
Mr Mandela, who stepped down as President in 1999, condemned George Bush over the Iraq War, suggesting the US President had ignored the United Nations’ calls for restraint because the then Secretary-General Kofi Annan was black.
He also called Tony Blair the ‘foreign minister of the United States’ for supporting Mr Bush over Iraq.
G) on the same day this reply is received from Arko-Cobbah:
From: A Arko-Cobbah
Sent: Fri, December 17, 2010 1:55:36 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: RE: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks and wars and the need for some protest
Eveleth, Hassen etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not against Wikileads per se. My concern is that there are certain leaks, which if not handled with care, especially, with regard to the timing of their leaks, can do more harm than good. A typical example is the comment made by our International Affairs minister about ” the crazy old man”. Whereas one can concede that to be an apt description of Comrade (is it Foe?) Mugabe, the entire world, led by South Africa, is literally pleading with the crazy old man to relinquish power because of the so many years of adversity that Zimbabwe has faced. He is the problem, arguably, one may say. It is also known that there is nothing the world can do to free Zimbabwe from his grips apart from diplomacy. Any other option will worsen the situation. Imagine South Africa going back to the crazy old man to plead for sanity to prevail after styling him crazy. Diplomacy, by definition, means skills and tact in dealing with people which, by implication, may even include manipulation and… The world was able to get Charles Taylor to relinquish power had he not been made to believe that he would be protected. The Prime Minister of Zim is on record of assuring the crazy old man of exit package, including being free from persecution for human rights abuses, if he would relinquish power. I wonder how South Africa will approach the crazy old man to plead with him again. Meanwhile the people of Zim keep on suffering, perhaps, until the world sing Mugabe’s Requiem and no one knows when. Much as we enjoy reading those leaks (and I enjoy them so much) as they ridicule America’s hegemonic ambitions, we should also be wary as to the harm they may cause in terms of human suffering and diplomacy. Every student of Rights to Access of Information legislation knows that not “every” information should be put in the public domain, at least, not at the inopportune time. That is my stance! Who ever said democracy is not complicated?
H) O n 21 December, a quiet activist time in SA, I reply to the group pointing out interalia how El Pais in Spain is dedicating pages to the Leaks whilst SA papers are scant in comparison:
—– Forwarded Message —-
From: hassen lorgat
To: A Arko-Cobbah ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Tue, December 21, 2010 4:05:09 PM
Subject: [Alternative Media] On Wikileaks…our media are they interested?
I think Prof S Zunes (WikiLeaks Cables on Western Sahara Show Role of Ideology in State Department, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-zunes/wikileaks-cables-on-weste_b_792862.html) makes some good points regarding Wikileaks in the above story. for one, these are not surprising, for scholars of struggle, and those participating in them, and they not necessarily correct. Importantly, he argues that ¨Over the years, as part of my academic research, I have spent many hours at the National Archives poring over diplomatic cables of the kind recently released by WikiLeaks. The only difference is that rather than being released after a 30+ year waiting period — when the principals involved are presumably dead or in retirement and the countries in question have very different governments in power — the WikiLeaks are a lot more recent, more relevant and, in some cases, more embarrassing as a result.¨
The question for me, is to see how we use the current information for our struggles, learning and organising but equally importantly making sure that governments do not have too much information on people, individuals and groups.
Secondly, I want to know why are media are not covering these exposures, fully. El Pais, dedicates at least 5 of its front pages to the dominance of the USA and its attempts at keeping its global influence by hook or by crook. If we contrast this with our media, how much coverages do we get? about whom, our neighbours or what is says about Malema, Madiba etc. There is more to the leaks than that. THe other day 20 Dec, the said paper had a leak about a Mossad chief Amos Yadlin, saying that ¨we will be happy if Hamas takes Gaza¨, which coincided with government views to treat Gaza as a hostile territory. That was 2007. It begs the question are we interested? is our media interested? are they covering up or not covering?
January 4, 2011
I found this tribute written in a magazine I use to write for. I thought I will share it with you. If you want to write to the Abu Asvat Institute, contact the Secretary Mr Jerry Waja: email@example.com
LEARN and TEACH, number 1, 1989
Tribute of Dr Asvat.
A great man is dead. Murdered. Shot dead in cold blood.His name was Dr Abu-Baker Asvat — and his death has left a great pain and sadness in the hearts of all who knew him. It is not often that you find somebody who believes that his people come first, above everything. Above politics. Above money. Above himself, even. Dr Asvat was one such person. He gave his whole life to the care of his people — the sick, the disabled, the homeless, the squatters, and the poor.
Dr Asvat — known as Abu to his friends — was a true doctor. Often, he gave medical treatment to his patients for free. Sometimes, he dug deep into his own pockets to help poor people with food and accommodation. Always, he gave his time — at all hours of the night and day.
“A TRAGIC LOSS”
Dr Asvat was murdered by an unknown gunman on 27 January this year. He was killed while working at his surgery in Rockville, Soweto.
Immediately, messages of grief started to pour in.
The National Medical and Dental Association (Namda) wrote: “His assassination is a tragic loss to all the people of South Africa.” The Health Workers’ Association (HWA) said: “South Africa has lost a true son of the soil. But through his death, a new commitment will be born among all health workers.”
At a memorial service in Soweto, the President of COSATU, Elijah Barayi said: “Dr Asvat’s memory will live on in the minds of the people. Dr Asvat cared for our families and our children. Acts of violence like his murder will not destroy our wish to be free.”
But even sadder were the words of the doctor’s patients. One patient said: “Dr Asvat could not hurt a fly. He was like a father to the hundreds of people he served.”
Another old pensioner added: “The killers thought they were killing the doctor, but they did not know that they were really killing a people that is already down on its knees. His death has left us dead too.”
WITH LOVE AND CARE
Dr Asvat’s long-time friend and nurse, Ma Albertina Sisulu, also wept. But she could not talk about her grief — she is a banned person and newspapers cannot report her words.
For many years, Ma Sisulu and Dr Asvat worked together nursing the sick and the needy and giving comfort to the poor. Some people thought this was a strange friendship because Dr Asvat and Ma Sisulu belonged to different political organisations.
Dr Asvat was a member of the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO). Albertina Sisulu is one of the presidents of the United Democratic Front (UDF). But their different political beliefs did not matter to them. For them, the most important thing was to serve the community in the way they knew best — with generous love and care.
Ma Sisulu was at the clinic when the doctor was murdered. She was the first person to rush to his side after the shooting.
It was not the first attack on the doctor’s life. Two years ago, two knifemen tried to kill him. The doctor fought off his attackers and he was cut on the mouth. A few months later, he was attacked again, this time by a right-wing gunman. Luckily, the doctor was able to stop him.
Afterwards, Dr Asvat said: “It was the closest I have come to looking at death in the face. But it will not stop me from serving the community.”
A FAMILY MAN
Serving the community is something that Dr Asvat had been doing for a long time. After he got his degree in medicine in Pakistan, he came back home to Vrededorp where he worked as a doctor. When the government destroyed Vrededorp fifteen years ago, he moved his clinic to Rockville.
In 1979, he joined AZAPO. He became the Secretary of Health for this organisation. He was also a founder member of the Health Workers Association (HWA).
But Dr Asvat was not only interested in health matters. He was the chairperson of the People’s Education Committee in Lenasia. He was also president of the Crescents Cricket Club and vicepresident of the Cricket Association of the Transvaal.
With so much to do, Dr Asvat still found time to be a family man. He was married and had three children. As Namda wrote: “Abu was a family man committed to his community and people, a man who gave his life for the poor and the have-nots of this land.” Dr Asvat’s good work was rewarded when the Indicator newspaper chose him as the winner of their Human Rights Award in 1988. The Star newspaper nominated him for The Star of the Community1 award in 1988.
UNITED IN GRIEF
Dr Abu-Baker Asvat was laid to rest at Avalon cemetery, under a bridge between Lenasia and Soweto. Six thousand people from all corners of the country and all walks of life came to pay their respects.
Together, Muslims and non-Muslims, nuns and priests, nurses and doctors, blacks and whites, AZAPO and UDF members, COSATU and NACTU officials, bowed their heads in tribute to this great man. They were united in grief and sorrow.
Even in death, Dr Asvat brought people together. He was a bridge-builder— and the finest tribute we can pay him would be to build on the foundations that he so bravely and lovingly laid.
grief— sadness or sorrow
commitment — a person with commitment believes strongly in something and works hard for it
generous — a generous person is somebody who gives a lot
a founder member — one of the first members to start an organisation
Gaele Sobott November 2010
I didn’t sit down one day and say I am going to write for this or that reason. Why I write is probably a lifetime process. Little bits of the answer are always changing. I need to go back to my earliest writing, actually I think it is more about stories. I’ve always loved listening to and reading stories.
I was born in Yallourn, Victoria, Australia – an open-cut, brown-coal mine. The town was built especially by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria to house their employees. My father drove Euclid trucks. He was a member of the Eureka Youth League and a union delegate on the labour council. We travelled a lot. My parents moved from town to town looking for work and better opportunities. I think I was five when my father started explaining Communism and Capitalism to me. It was during one long trip from Yarram to Melbourne, we’d got as far as Traralgon when Father Christmas drove by in a horse and cart and threw some lollies into the car. I don’t know which were more delicious those sweets or those big words I was rolling around in my mouth.
My parents always emphasised not only the importance of education but that everyone had a right to it. My father read books to me every night before I went to sleep. The Triantiwontigongolope by C.J. Dennis was one of my favourite poems. He’d recite poems by Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson – a young drover drowning in a flooded river, second class passengers waiting on a railway platform. He also made up stories about three kangaroos, Hoppy Skippy and Jumpy. I absolutely devoured fairy tales. I read every fairy tale in the local library and then searched for more. My German grandmother delighted in telling me stories from Der Struwelpeter, particularly the one about Little Suck-a-Thumb. As I sat thumb in mouth she would whisper watch out for the tailor with his giant scissors! He’s coming to cut off your thumbs! She’d tell me about the tricks that Max und Moritz got up to. There was a rebelliousness about those boys that appealed and I loved the way they taunted the tailor. Schneider, schneider, meck, meck meck! (It seems Germans have a thing about tailors?). She would tell me about her time in the orphanage, about the Black Forest, about the adventures of the little church mouse that sat framed in a glass cabinet amongst her crockery. There was an intriguing darkness and an almost grotesque humour to her stories. I did the rounds of all the church denominations. There were only Christian churches around country Victoria in those days. I loved the Bible stories and they gave out free books. My father wasn’t too keen on God but I went anyway. As I got older he plied me with books of short stories by Gorky and John Steinbeck. He gave me Grapes of Wrath, Frank Hardy’s Power without Glory, Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and a little yellow hard-cover book about Paul Robeson in Peeksville. I was too young to understand the full implications of these works but they did well and truly satisfy and develop my love of stories that expressed the pain of oppression and the gritty reality of everyday lives. This was reinforced by the records my parents played; Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson songs, Tennessee Ernie Ford Sixteen Tons, about life in the mines Johnny Cash, Bitter Tears. I was particularly touched by Paul Robeson’s rendition of traditional spirituals which moved me at a very basic emotional level beyond the language of books.
I thrived on the stories that surrounded me. My uncles talked amongst each other about the depression years, hardship in the bush, work, life in inner city Melbourne. One was an ambulance man during WWII in New Guinea and was very much against war. He was awarded bravery medals which he dismissed as rubbish! One uncle deserted from the army up in Queensland. Towards the end of his life he found it more comfortable to walk backwards. One uncle was an SP bookie and always on the run from one thing or another. Neighbours, farmers, my mother talking to people when she was shopping, the stories just kept flowing in. It was almost as if I was an invisible presence floating sponge-like absorbing and collecting personal testimonies as to what life was about. Every piece I collected was a highly-prized jewel.
My first writing consisted of my personal thoughts and emotional reactions to the events around me. I always had a pad or exercise book that I kept in my bedroom. I took notes gleaned from other people’s conversations and wrote vignettes of real and imagined characters. I also drew sketches and cartoons of people. I never kept a diary. I still have an aversion to writing the day-to-day personal details of my own life. At school I loved writing English and History essays especially when we had the choice of writing in the first-person narrative. I got pleasure from imaging the characters, their voice, their circumstances and their historical and social context. I wrote for the school magazine. In the seventies I was reading books of all kinds but The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee were the two I treasured. I think travel has influenced my writing greatly in varied ways. I went to Greece in 1976 where I lived for two years. I’d write short pieces based on what Greek friends told me and my experiences with them. Some had been imprisoned for their activities against the Regime of the Colonels and only just released. They taught me a lot about Greek politics and culture. Wherever we went there were always animated discussions. They were particularly into the Rebetika revival of the time. Apart from the lyrics, the music had it’s own emotive story to tell. In 1978 I followed my parents to Botswana. There I met and married the father of my two eldest children and became a citizen of the country. This was one of the most formative periods of my writing and my life. I hungrily absorbed the oral traditions; the myths and proverbs that were so much a part of everyday life. I learnt through osmosis by going to weddings, funerals, barbecues, working, partying, having children, making friends, visiting relatives in South Africa. I was a white woman married to a black man during the Apartheid era so there were many interesting and sometimes challenging personal experiences but more importantly it was a time of huge political change with the Rhodesian army making incursions into Botswana in the north, Internal Settlement and eventual independence of Zimbabwe. The resistance to Apartheid was growing and becoming more and more effective but also the response of the South African regime was more and more brutal. It was impossible to live in Botswana then and not be part of that change; not to respond to the harsh injustices going on around me.
I found African literature for the first time in the Botswana Book Centre. Bessie Head’s Collector of Treasures and Mhudi by Sol Plaatje. I immersed myself in these books. Mhudi remains one of my favourites. Staffrider was first published in 1978. The magazine had a non-racial, non-elitist publishing policy. Writers who weren’t getting the chance to publish under Apartheid were published. It was the kind of writing I loved. There was this sense of knowing the characters, walking with them through their day-to-day existence, learning about their lives. I was also really impressed by the lino prints especially those by Bongiwe Dhlomo. I sent Staffrider a story called The Hill based on the tales I’d heard about the lovers who went up Kgale hill and disappeared. It was published in 1985. That was one of the major highlights of my writing life. Staffrider gave me the encouragement I needed to become a published writer. Then the South Africa Apartheid regime began its attacks on Gaborone. In response I wrote a short story called Hide them Under the Bed. It was published in Staffrider in 1986. I still feel a need to write more about these events. I haven’t written it out of my system yet.
When my children were at primary school in Gaborone I realised they were reading books from England with English contexts relevant to English people. In 1986 Halley’s Comet was passing over Botswana. I went to a parents-teachers evening at the school and was both saddened and angered to see the teacher, an English woman, had put a big banner up across the front of the classroom. It read, ‘ The Bushmen don’t know what Halley’s Comet is but we do!’ I wanted to apologise to all the peoples, all the civilisations who have observed and named this comet over the ages, hundreds and hundreds of years before that Englishman called Halley. I decided to write children’s stories relevant to Botswana. The first story I wrote, The Magic Pool, drew on general mythology associated with rivers and water holes and was published by Heinemann Junior African Writers Series. I published more children’s books with them and other publishers including Baobab Press in Zimbabwe. I enrolled for an arts degree at the University of Botswana. That’s where I really learnt not only about African literature and history, and Shakespeare for that matter, but also about rigour. I gained a solid understanding of the principles of research, of analytical and literary crafting skills. It was about this time that I began to read books by women writers. Any woman writer I could find. I read heaps. The University library had the journals of Anais Nin so I read every one of those and I read all of Alice Walker’s books. I loved her. I loved Toni Morrison too. Then I did a Ph.D. on twentieth century black South African women writers. This also affected what and how I write. Meeting these women writers whom I absolutely admired, interviewing them, discussing their writing and their thoughts on life was fantastic. Their courage, their humour, their ability to survive the pain of Apartheid and live and create with dignity has created a lasting impression on me. Juby Mayet, Fatima Dike, Jayapraga Reddy, Miriam Tladi, Gladys Thomas, Nise Malange, Ellen Kutswayo, Gcina Mhlope and so many more. I also learnt from reading the works (translated into English) of early women writers who published in their own languages particularly Lota Kakaza ‘s Intyatyambo Yomzi (1913) and uThandiwe wa kwa Gcaleka (1914), Violet Dube’s Wozanazo:Izindaba Zika Phoshozwayo (1935), Natalie Nxumalo’s, Ubude Abuphangwa (1936). I liked the way Kakaza and Nxumalo used (Xhosa and Zulu) myths, idioms and proverbs in what are largely autobiographical works. I also learnt from Dube’s short stories which successfully transport Zulu oral tales into written form while, as I read it, also occasionally making tongue-in-cheek allegoric commentaries. I published a collection of short stories, Colour Me Blue, with Heinemann African Writers Series in 1995 which reflects my understanding of oral traditions, the history and everyday life in Botswana and South Africa during the 1980s and early 90s.
My life has taken many twists and turns. I lived in England, France, spent time in Algeria and now live in Australia. Even though I have always sought out oral tales, myths, legends, proverbs, idioms, I am not an oral story teller. I am a writer. I enjoy the distance, the time to craft, the protection from immediacy that writing provides. I am constantly observing, listening, watching. I write to translate the musicality of language onto the page to represent characters and communities through the colloquialisms, the swear words, the idioms, myths but also through their actions. I write to represent the way people relate to each other and to the world we live in. There is a lot to celebrate about human beings including humour, compassion, versatility and ingenuity and there is a lot to celebrate in the natural world we inhabit. I write to fight injustice. I write because I believe in the power of the metaphor and imagination to bring about positive change. I write because I enjoy writing.
My latest book, My Longest Round: The Life Story of Wally Carr is a biographical account of the Australian and Commonwealth champion Aboriginal boxer who held over twelve titles, from featherweight to heavyweight. He fought the 15 rounders and over 101 professional bouts. This book took me on an amazing journey in understanding humanity: Aboriginal, rural, working-class urban, boxing and sporting, male and so much more of what it is that makes a community in Australia. I wrote this book because I believed Wally had not received the recognition due to him, because I wanted to contribute to the fight against the injustices perpetuated against Aboriginal people in Australia and because Wally had a story to tell! Nothing pleases me more than telling a story that should be told and isn’t being told.
September 22, 2010
(Not Liverpool…this is serious. Read on.)
Two people drown every day in South Africa and most of them are under 14, yet the Johannesburg Metro Council is closing at least 3 pools in Lenasia and two outside the township but also serving working class communities (Rhodes Park and Murray Park).
The official reason given is there is no budget, but the cost of death in social terms does not add up. In addition, the pool in Lenasia, the Greyville Pool, has served this community well. It has taught many of the Lenasia community the basics of survival. Take the two sisters Kali Naidoo and Roshnie Moonsammy, clinical psychologist and Urban Voices Festival director respectively, who said the closure was a “shame, and a blundering disgrace… I learnt to swim and took it more seriously than learning to become a driver,” says Ms Moonsammy amidst laughter. It is true that she does not drive and thus, does not have to mediate her way through the traffic as we do, but she’s proud to say that she can swim to save her life and was keen to take up lessons to save her children’s lives, three years ago, when she heard that the pool was closed due to structural defects.
Terry Jeevanantham, Secretary of FC Barcelona supporters club and a former Bluebells United Player, has evoked memories of the Bells resistance against apartheid’s control over the Lenasia football grounds, because his team was playing in the non racial anti apartheid league. “The JCC then used their control of playing facilities to keep out non racial sport and give support for the white controlled football association of South Africa,” he said. “We resisted, and organised an international campaign to isolate Apartheid sport. Nationally we built up coalitions and we had our community, cultural activist, the bard of liberation Omar Mattera and progressive councillors like Selma Browde to thank for their support.”
For Terry, it appears that today’s officials in the renamed Joburg Metro have forgotten the contribution of this community to democracy and the fight for non racialism in sports. He should know as his family was one of the first five families that settled in the then Lenz farm, that became Lenasia.
“It’s illogical,” says musician and treasurer of Mzansi Penya Barcelonista, Gus Poonan, “why they would want to close pools in Black areas, if the Metro has a campaign called learn to swim. How can children learn to swim without a pool, and living 100 of kms from the sea?” he asked rhetorically. To back them up, campaigners to keep the pool open say that learning to swim is not only for recreation but a life skill or a life saving skill. During 2007, Swimming SA reported 652 drowning deaths, of which 44% were children under the age of 14. In addition, 144 children were four years old or younger. They also reported that if one excluded pedestrian deaths (transport related) deaths due to drowning was the leading cause.
FC Barcelona supporters got involved in the pool issue as part of their objectives to generalise the right to play for all children, and are negotiating to rehabilitate the park adjacent to the swimming pool. Last weekend, its principal officers visited the site and spoke to residents who advised them to start by campaigning for the reopening of a swimming pool that has been closed for 3 swimming summers – pools traditionally open here on 1 September.
The Greyville pool served as a training ground for many of our swimmers in the area as it was the only pool and we remain unconvinced that the reasons for closure is a lack of funds to repair some apparent damage to the pool. Many residents are saying that if the Metro Council can get funds millions of rands to bring beauty queens to Joburg, and to show off about being a world class city, why not show off to your own ratepayers by providing quality services? Lenasia, with a population of about 350 000 residents, has currently only two functioning pools.
What is more, it served one of the most depressed communities of Lenasia, who lack basic recreational facilities, and now have been dealt another blow. But they will not be cowed and have joined forces with various other sports and cultural organisations including the leading role played by Mzansi Penya Barcelonista (FC Barcelona’s supporters in South Africa), who approached individuals and organisations such as Atlantis swimming club, Dolphins swimming club, the Abu Asvat Institute and a range of other sporting codes and non governmental organisations to form Save Our Pool Campaign. The campaign has written to the Mayor Amos Masondo and, at the time of writing, has not yet received a reply. A mass protest is planned for 3 October, outside the pool area, in Greyville, Lenasia.
All sports loving fans are asked to write to the mayor to keep the pool open. If you love good sports, you love FCB
The Executive Mayor
Mr Amos Masondo
fax 27 11 339 5704
PLEASE copy us when emailing the mayor: firstname.lastname@example.org
(writer is the chair of Mzansi Penya Barcelonista, and pics by Marta Garrich, adviser to the penya)