December 31, 2008


Filed under: testimonies — newritings @ 5:26 pm

Remembering those whom we love but have sadly departed can be very therapeutic as it enlivens their souls and spirit of how they lived. Khalil Gibran, whose 125th birthday was celebrated this year almost 8 decades after his death in the United States of America, scribed in the first stanza of On Death

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

This September 08 marked one year of the death of Peter Moonsammy. This humble man: Papa, uncle Peter, toppie, peter pickles, dad… and the various other names he was fondly called, was remembered by many in the family and friends. The Star newspaper, in an article (“I hope to embrace you warmly, for the good you’ve done”) which we will soon reproduce here, touched on his life as it related to Nelson Mandela. Also in this blog, we run a tribute by his daughter Roshnie and granddaughter Devs.

fernandoFernando Cárcamo

It is now also about 5 months that an equally loving and affable man, family friend, “a brother” to my partner’s father and mother, died tragically from the mountains of Benasque, which he loved. I remember how he teased me of my fear of heights but when we climbed, a few days before his death, how he literally asked me to “walk in his footsteps” as he skilfully guided me on Congost de Mont-Rebei. My partner Marta (and her brother Jordi), who cut their teeth climbing from an early age with her parents (and Fernando), climbed comfortably with Leila, then about 3-month old. Even on that trip, we touched on issues of the world, and the studies that he had undertaken at university. He talked so incessantly (to comfort me in the main) that his wife had to tease him to give me a break! He was passionate about history, and told me about the church in his hometown (Zaragoza) which has not fully come to terms with its Muslim past. In fact when visiting it (on the day of his cremation), I could confirm Fernando’s insights, but that discussion is for another space and time. Nevertheless, my mind now drifts back to our holiday in Benasque and a smiling and jocular man, whom I can see now talking to all, learning and sharing from people, laughing.

When Marta received the call from her folks of his sudden passing, it was too much for her to bear. With the passing of time, the pain is slightly less though, but still there for the family, particularly his wife and children, his dad and mum, friends from the mountain club and the university, and his son’s handball team that he coached, and our family but all are agreed that Fernando lived life to the fullest. Everyday was to be enjoyed and it was the main reason why he took early retirement from his job, and then truly started living, learning, and recreating. Fernando touched many during his life and he did achieve a lot, and we all know that he had many mountains to climb; but for what he had reached we are eternally grateful to have shared some of it with him. For me, it was all too brief, but even that was worthwhile. (Marta had told me of him for years when we first met… but even that was brief!)

In closing I will go back to the poet, although I am not fully sure what Gibran means in his final stanza but it appears to speak to us about our beloved friend and comrade Fernando…

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.

And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

Fernando is survived by his wife Nicole and children Ana and Guillermo.


Tributes to Peter Moonsammy

Filed under: testimonies — newritings @ 1:51 pm

Roshnie Moonsammy, writes about her dad Peter Moonsammy. She is the founder and director of Southern Africa Arts Exchange which hosts amongst other programmes, the Urban Voices, an exposure of international poetry, music and theatre- focusing on African voice on the continent and in the Diaspora.

We will all miss my dad.

He was the most selfless person that I have known and will ever know. Whilst selflessness sounds like a good virtue, it had its problems especially as it affected him. My dad would never stop for minute and think about himself and his needs.

Whilst it may sound clichéd to say that he was such a good person – as everyone will tell you – he truly was a Good person and had a lot to give. He was never boring, as you may know that some good people can be boring, no edge to them, but he was not one of those.

He was always doing things and quietly making things happen for both his family and the community at large, and sharing this with us. He was always engaging us on life and its many challenges, which in turn educated us, gave us – his children a sense of intellectual, critical thinking and substantial values of how we can live our lives with other people in the world. I will always feel an enormous pride and strength because of the teaching, and values our dad instilled within us.

My dad, although from humble working class beginnings, lived a very rich life in both ideas and life experiences, from which he learnt mainly, but not exclusively from talking and engaging people from across a wide spectrum (class etc) from all over the world. I guess that was nature of the Iyer/Joseph household.

For our family, EDUCATION was paramount, and there were very clear views about what it meant´. I am still sad that comics were frowned upon and to this day I (suffer) and cannot enjoy comics! But without comics we were happy and funny. We had an interesting house. Our house welcomed and received people of all walks of life, and colours from within the country and around the world.

Living with loving parents, a stable, a very strong grandmother – amah – all impacted profoundly on our lives. It gave us a deep sense of confidence and wisdom to face the world. I was brought up to be confident and not afraid to express a dissenting points of view in all aspects of life, personal and political – and not afraid to take on those in or with power.

And yes we did differ especially politically (I was active in the Black Consciousness youth movement in our area, whilst my father worked in the Congress Alliance organizations) but that did not change the relationship of love and trust between father and daughter. Our parents were strong but ensured that we were brought up in an environment to search and decide what was right for us by our own efforts! My dad did not want to control nor pry into our lives. We knew and learnt the lessons of our parents well: we had to behave, do well at school, be good, caring and progressive citizens, do not discriminate and exploit on grounds of race, class, gender, and far as possible avoid being in debt and try as far as possible paying cash for most things. I have touched on having a good education and to this I must add having a decent means of income -A JOB. That was my dad.

I remember when I was in standard 8 (the only one throughout my grade) I was not going on a geography excursion, because I thought it was too expensive. It was to cost my dad about – R5 or R7. And that my decision not my dad’s.

My childhood memories of my dad are enduring: always sharing whatever he had. If there was very little of something and he was eating, and we wanted it, he would give it to us – ignoring the anger of his mum and sister (our granny and late aunt violet). We were fortunate to have a set of consistent parents and a loving home and considering the times we are living in – that was a luxury.

I have fond memories since I was little of waiting for my dad to come home from work – past 10pm! You see my dad was a waiter and it was he who drove the other waiters to their homes after work and then come home to bring my sister and I a packet crisp or a chocolate… every night. I was proud of my dad and remember that when I was in grade 2 or standard 1 the teacher asked what do your parents do – I put up my hand and said “he is waiter /wine steward but he does not drink madam!” I guess unlike most Tamil waiters of his time this was a great feat and I was proud of it. I also remember times when he worked for PACKO, spice and pickles company, (Yes – some of my friends use to tease him and call him Peter Pickles) … but what I was going to say was when he worked at PACKO he he was held up and robbed, at the workplace, tied up and badly beaten. His face and eyes were swollen. However, when he got home he told us that “all I kept thinking was whether I was going to see your (Rosh) and Soobs´s birthdays.”

My dad and mum managed to achieve so much with very little – our house, education and our lives. My dad always told us interesting bedtime stories to my younger sister and I and I guess now a days developmental psychologists would place great value on this. I recall years ago when I was 13 or something and my dad went for a job interview at the new holiday inn at the airport, and one of the interesting questions the interviewing manager asked him was how could a waiter afford to have 2 children (Tony and Kalie) at university whilst this manager could not! He told him that some his kids also worked hard and got bursaries whilst others he just supported.

My dad continued to play a role in my life right through adulthood – he drove my friends around, entertained international artists in terms of my international cultural festival work – I always meet international artists and friends around the world and they always enquiring about my dad whom they too considered wonderful! He was very proud of all his children s achievements. In my work he went as far as to distribute my festival brochures and leaflets, was very upset when I was unfairly treated on the Arts Alive Project by the City of Jo’burg in the new South Africa. My dad and was always there for me and my brothers and sisters. When he departed, he knew his children were fighters in many ways and proud of what they have done with us.

His last few years, specifically the last 3 years were difficult years because our dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease that put a lot of stress on all of us but mostly on my mum. Looking at Alzheimer’s illness philosophically, I think it allowed my dad to the things he never dared when he was of so-called sound mind and body. (He spoke of people breaking into our house and of politics and political crooks and criminals…all!)

The burden on mum was heavy and she is worthy of many medals for taking care of him. But she was also stubborn and would not allow us to get outside help that would have made life easier for her. But what is done is done. He lived a rich life, had good children and a loving and strong wife- and they danced together for many years.

Dad may you rest in peace and your spirit. Keep on dancing. We love you and we can sincerely say we were truly blessed to have a dad like you.

Peter’s granddaughter Devs wrote a tribute, which we reproduce below:

I am so sad that I am not with my family at the passing away of my beloved papa, Peter. I am with all of you in spirit and prayer.

I remember Papa once saying to me that he wished he had been more qualified, more professionally skilled to so that he would have been more able to give more value to his family and community. I told him then, what I am sharing with you now: that papa would always hold a very special place in my life – the way he was. The value of his kindness and support to me as his grand child has left a legacy that is immeasurable. Papa in his humble, loving way, showed me the value of social consciousness and respect for all humanity. Yes, at times, we had healthy debates but my papa was always open to my views as well. Even though we had a large generation difference in terms of years, I always found in papa, a grandfather, who was accessible, loving and so warm-hearted. Our special connection went beyond our age difference because I always found so much to learn from my grandfather. My time living with Hama and Papa was so memorable and one that I will always cherish. In my grandfather, I found a lively companion, a giving heart and a generous nature.

I have always been so proud of my grandfather, who has made such a wonderful difference in his own, unique, special way to our struggle for justice in our society. His was a knowledge that came from the hardship and joy of ife experience with a humility that far surpassed any formal qualifications.

I will miss my papa so much but know that I am so blessed to have had him in my life for this time. He will always live on in my heart and thoughts as I continue to navigate life, all the more wiser because of his guidance and unconditional love. May he be at peace and know that his life was of immense worth and contribution that will always continue on.

Om Shanti, my papa

love, Devs, always “YOUR Lady D”

December 30, 2008

Stop the killings, the wall, the bantustans – ALL

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 3:30 pm

As I write, bombs are falling on many innocent civilians. Most are unarmed and others poorly equipped with weapons that symbolise resistance but in effect are no match for the Made in the USA fighter planes and killer helicopters. The perpetrator, like the global elephant in the room, remains untouched by the world powers, whilst we in civil society are repulsed at such savagery. This firework seems to have the blessings of president George Bush and represents his last sanctioned farewell gift to Israel.  We are disappointed but not surprised. …and we do not hold out much hope for a fundamental change on Palestine either by the new president Obama when he takes office in January 2009.

For decades the Zionists’ project has tried to claim a monopoly of suffering, invoking in particular the genocide of 6 million Jewish people during World War 2. Now with every killing of any innocent Palestinian, world civil society watches as the moral high ground slips away. Those who have suffered oppression and exploitation must be held to higher moral accountability than oppressors, tyrants and cold-blooded killers. We who love justice, peace and solidarity must always and will always remember the death of innocent Jews, gays, gypsies and others by the Nazis and we must never forget the lessons from such brutal ethnic cleansing that the world promised “never again.” We must call on Israeli leaders to think hard about what they are doing.  They must think carefully whom are they emulating: oppressors or oppressed? The military power of Israel and complicity of global powers makes the answer clear to us: they are not emulating the values of compassion and justice cherished by the oppressed people over centuries.

The media tells us that over 350 Palestinians are dead and hundreds injured and about 6 Israeli citizens as a direct cause of Hamas related actions… and in my disgust that bites my gut, I have to think how we in South Africa turned away from violence towards a more normal society (with all our problems).  For Israel to turn the corner from violence and the politics of fear and terror, it must learn the lessons from South Africa and other countries that have overcome brutal repression and oppression: it must reject state sponsored violence (terror) and move away from policies that divide people. It also means putting an end to the Bantustan policies [1] it has pursued and is pursuing in land in the territories seized after 1967, which perfects the Apartheid racists’ dream, but in the land of the Palestinians. For Israel to turn the corner towards a society that values human decency and justice means that it must start by the simple, small step of recognising each and every person as  “human” attaching no greater value to one because of the colour of their skin, race or religion. That simple step takes courage to move away from the hate and bombs as we in South Africa have shown.

Earlier this year, in South Africa campaigners of  “Stop the Wall” issued a statement (below) saying there was no reason to celebrate in Israel’s supposed birthday, and further explored some pointers useful when thinking of the South African struggle as it relates to possible lessons for us seeking justice both oppressor and the oppressed in this region.

In Solidarity


[1] Bantustan is the term used to refer to any of 10 former territories that were designated by the white-dominated government of South Africa as pseudo-national homelands for the country’s black African (classified by the government as Bantu) population during the mid- to late 20th century. The Bantustans were a major administrative device for the exclusion of blacks from the South African political system under the policy of apartheid, or racial segregation. (Definition by the Britannica Online Encyclopedia)

We fought apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now!

We, South Africans who faced the might of an unjust and brutal apartheid machinery in South Africa and fought against it with all our strength, with the objective to live in a just, democratic society, refuse today to celebrate the existence of an Apartheid state in the Middle East. While Israel and its apologists around the world will, with pomp and ceremony, celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel this year, we who have lived with and struggled against oppression and colonialism will, instead, remember six decades of catastrophe for the Palestinian people. Some 60 years ago, 750,000 Palestinians were brutally expelled from their homeland, suffering persecution, massacres, and torture. They and their descendants remain refugees. This is no reason to celebrate.

When we think of the Sharpeville massacre of 1960,
we also remember the Deir Yassin massacre of 1948.

When we think of South Africa’s Bantustan policy,
we remember the bantustanisation of Palestine by the Israelis.

When we think of our heroes who languished on Robben Island and elsewhere,
we remember the 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails.

When we think of the massive land theft perpetrated against the people of South Africa,
we remember that the theft of Palestinian land continues with the building of illegal Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

When we think of the Group Areas Act and other such Apartheid legislation,
we remember that 93% of the land in Israel is reserved for Jewish use only.

When we think of Black people being systematically dispossessed in South Africa,
we remember that Israel uses ethnic and racial dispossession to strike at the heart of Palestinian life.

When we think of how the SADF troops persecuted our people in the townships,
we remember that attacks from tanks, fighter jets and helicopter gunships are the daily experience of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory.

When we think of the SADF attacks against our neighbouring states,
we remember that Israel deliberately destabilises the Middle East region and threatens international peace and security, with its powerful army and hundreds of nuclear warheads.

We who have fought against Apartheid and vowed not to allow it to happen again cannot allow Israel to continue perpetrating apartheid, colonialism and occupation against the indigenous people of Palestine.

We dare not allow Israel to continue violating international law with impunity.

We will not stand by while Israel continues to starve and bomb the people of Gaza.

We who fought all our lives for South Africa to be a state for all its people demand that millions of Palestinian refugees must be accorded the right to return to the homes from where they were expelled.

Apartheid was a gross violation of human rights. It was so in South Africa and it is so with regard to Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians!

December 28, 2008

Gaza massacres must spur us to action

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 9:33 pm

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 27 December 2008

Palestinians carry the body of a victim of an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

“I will play music and celebrate what the Israeli air force is doing.” Those were the words, spoken on Al Jazeera today by Ofer Shmerling, an Israeli civil defense official in the Sderot area adjacent to Gaza, as images of Israel’s latest massacres were broadcast around the world.

A short time earlier, US-supplied Israeli F-16 warplanes and Apache helicopters dropped over 100 bombs on dozens of locations in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip killing at least 195 persons and injuring hundreds more. Many of these locations were police stations located, like police stations the world over, in the middle of civilian areas. The US government was one of the first to offer its support for Israel’s attacks, and others will follow.

Read more

December 25, 2008

In fashion but still without a homeland

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 11:42 pm

Of scarves and people: the Palestinians

There she stood beautiful, perfect woman from Palestine. I have observed her during this year, here in Barcelona and since my arrival this mannequin draped enticingly in the Palestinian scarf, in front of a shop not far from La Rambla, reminded me of something simple: it is my second winter in Barcelona and I know that many people will again be wearing the Palestine scarves.

This kefiyeh for them is a warm and loving caress in the European winter, far away from the creators of this work of art, who, as I write, are engaged in a daily obstacle race within hells furnace – courtesy of the Israeli security noose, whose mission is to choke liberation from a lungs of mother Palestine.

Marta Garrich, friend, social scientist and collaborator on various projects, says that most of the young people wear the scarf “as a statement of solidarity with Palestinians in their just struggle against Israeli occupation – and in the process to keep warm.” Furthermore she observed that at least one shop called the scarves “arafats”, and as proof she brought me the stub and the relevant barcode presumably detailing price and item.  This is not surprising because it confirms my own experience of the “kuffiyeh,” “hatta” or  “yashmagh” as the Palestinian headgear has been popularised by many but for me particularly by the late Yassir Arafat. Arafat, it was said wore it, to represent the motherland – proportions and shape of the motherland.

It is reported that during the 1930s the keffiyeh took off as a symbol of Palestinian nationalism marking a close identity with the rural areas and the peasants rather than with the city folks who it is reported wore the fez.

Whilst in some senses party political rivals, it is true that images of Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled with the scarf too captured the imagination of many as it introduced them to the suffering of the Palestinians through dramatic hijacking of aeroplanes. (Photo of Leila can be found here)

Over the years it appears that the Keffiyehs were trend setters in many parts of the world, from the USA, Australia, Tokyo, to widely in Europe reaching a crescendo during the first Intifada.

My testimony is about them being worn in Barcelona, but I must confess I cannot scientifically put reasons why it is so enduring, outside the obvious beauty of the scarf and the fact that it is a good buy. Many people I have spoken to, do bear knowledge of the scarves’ Palestinian association as Marta indicated earlier. In fact, the popular name here of the scarf is “palestino”. In addition, I do know that the people of Catalunya and Barcelona city are generally speaking, well informed, and progressive people having a long history of struggle against injustices, in particular Francoist fascism. Today the land boasts one of the highest number of people who volunteer for good causes with many different non governmental organizations A couple of years ago, Fundació Pere Tarrés numbered the number of volunteers in Catalonia around 700.000, which ranks amongst the countries with most volunteers in the EU.

Yet I could not put my finger on it, why this love affair with the Palestinian scarf?: was it the people’s recognition of their own struggle for greater autonomy (or even independence?) seen through symbols of resistance of the Palestinians? Or was it simply chic? But then, why not wear other symbols then?

The Palestinian scarf is everywhere. I see at least 10 -15 a day, walking or taking the train, bus or simply gazing from a park bench. It is true… that the Palestinian kefiyeh is today a fashion icon, now in many colours although the black and white is by far the most popular and likely to remain so.

So, whilst some may wear it as a fashion statement, the aesthetic intrinsically talks to us, the wearer and the outside admirer, of the history of the people that it evolved from: the Palestinians – as talented and creative beings as well as unfree beings. For me, the very act of wearing the keffiyeh, will always speak “about” and “for” the people of Palestine and their legitimate struggle to be free. It is is also a daily reminder of what we all must do to enhance the struggle for freedom of Palestinians and for all those who suffer oppression and exploitation.

The struggle for justice in Palestine includes dealing with the human rights  of close to 4 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The millions of refugees, who were forced into exile, in violation of international law and resolutions of the United Nations and still denied the right to the land of their birth.

As I conclude this small posting, Gaza remains under siege, with some negotiations underway to get food and basic necessities into the enclave.


1. November 16, 2008 after seeing over 100 scarves in one week. 2. This is only being posted now in December during the holidays and the numbers are much higher.

December 24, 2008

Cartoonists of the world unite

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 1:10 pm

Cartoonists of the world unite – you  have nothing to lose but your pens…

That’s not what Marx said, I said so. The world and South Africans in particular got a pre Christmas gift in the form of ANC president Jacob Zuma suing Zapiro (real name Jonathan Shapiro) as well as the Sunday Times for R7m for a hard hitting – some say “below the belt” – cartoon published earlier this year.

The cartoon shows the ANC president – who was charged and acquitted on rape charges – unfastening his belt and getting ready to figuratively raping the justice sytem represented universally by Lady Justice. In the process, he is ably supported by alliance members: Malema, Mantashe , Vavi and Nzimande.

The ANC alliance members argue that the cartoon tried to show Zuma as a rapist but Zapiro says that the cartoon “showed Jacob Zuma, with the help of his political allies, threatening and intimidating the judiciary to try and manipulate the courts for him to be exonerated and escape going on trial [for corruption], thus paving the way for Zuma to become president.”

Zuma is claiming R7 million for injuries to his dignity and reputation. Meanwhile Al Jazeera reported that this latest case of the ANC president against Zapiro is his 14th against the media.

During September, when the cartoon came out, a number of emails did the rounds and one found me. It forced me to reply because it accused Zapiro of being a racist. This is what I wrote in reply on Tuesday, September 9, 2008:

The recent Zapiro cartoon on the rape of the justice system has caused a storm in South Africa with some saying that the  cartoonist has gone too far. The  Secretary General Gwede Mantashe has also allegedly labeled it “racist”. In reading his work and knowing him personally, I know him to be a principled and  decent human being committed to the cause of justice and the poor. I remember over the years, Zionist groups and later some Muslim organisations reacting badly to his opinions. I remember participating in a conference organised by Muslim Views, where he pointed out that he never sets out to cause enmity and hate amongst people, but  that  he will remain committed to speak his mind to those who hold power and influence. He seems to have touched many nerves. Cartoonists are the  mirror of any society – some days we love their work and others …we may just have to take it on the chin. What a great activist!

December 20, 2008

Old pirates yes they rob I

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 10:51 am

Piracy like prostitution is one of the oldest “professions” in the world, and like prostitution always results in someone or some groups winning and others losing. Bob Marley, in his Redemption Song, talks about being stolen by pirates and sold to merchant ships – a clear reference to slavery and its enduring legacy.

Fast forward to 2008, and the Gulf of Aden is said to be a hotbed of piracy, with each captured vessel fetching an average of $2m in ransom. (BBC).

The global media is now focused on the pirates holding the Sirius Star, a 330m Saudi super-tanker carrying 2mn barrels of crude. The pirates have demanded $25mn in ransom. This issue has got tongues wagging, as no country has been spared. Many a commentator has fingered Somalia as a key part of the problem. It is ungovernable they say. pirates-comic-strip1

The attached cartoon obviates the needs for words – but I cannot resist and say that the pirates have focused our minds and given us much food for thought about governance and sustainable development. The late Julius Mwalimu Nyerere has touched on this issue and its relation to Somalia late in 1998. The cartoon puts squarely on the agenda the question of genuine and interdependent sustainable development. You will see from this brief journey that not only is brute force used but creativity and intelligence which if applied towards the goals of national or regional egalitarian development and democracies will be rare success stories for a troubled continent like Africa. But this is not on the agenda. It is about small groups of people…

This year alone more than $120mn in ransom money has been paid out to the pirates, according to a UN envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould Abdallah. “They may have collected over $120mn (91.3mn euros) for this year, with total impunity,” he said to an international conference in Nairobi called to deal with the issue. “This unprecedented rise in piracy is threatening the very freedom and safety of maritime trade routes, affecting not only Somalia and the region, but also a large percentage of world trade,” he said. IN a period of just over two months, since October, about 32 ships have been attacked. (source AFP)

The conference highlighted that this is a matter of regional and global concern and requires concerted action. In addition, it was pointed out that only a fraction of the ransom money goes into Somalia, with other countries including the Kenya (Nairobi), Britain and Canada seeing much of the fruits.

It is true that Somalia has not had an inclusive and democratic government for 17 years and to survive the people have gone back to clans and rival armed groups all contesting for centralized state power.

The BBC reporters (Hunter and Ali…) point out the bonds of solidarity of purpose that exist among the pirates: “they are never seen fighting because the promise of money keeps them together.”

Robyn Hunter concludes that “given Somalia’s history of clan warfare this is quite a feat.”

In addition it would appear that the best intellectual resources of this society are being utilized for these operations:
* Ex-fishermen – the brains – of the operation because they have the local knowledge in particular of the sea
* Ex-militiamen- the muscle – having fought in various wars for the different warlords
* The technical experts – the computer geeks – who have expertise necessary for the pirates’ work including high tech equipment including GPS, satellite phones and military hardware.

Whilst the UN conference has heard that countries must “trace, track and freeze the assets and the backers of the pirates”, it may be easier to work towards a stable viable democracy in Somalia and the countries surrounding the path the ships use to carry their valuable cargo, ignoring the countries and regions alongside it.

The same can be said of the gas and pipelines that cut through regions of the world dying of hunger and disease (the South) to warm up and feed elites mainly in the North. This is untenable and unsustainable. Whilst local civil society activists in the unions and mass movements organize to make their voices heard, the terrorists and pirates “debate through action” or as they use to say in the past “propaganda by deed”, which, however painful it may be, must cause us to reflect on the causes of such exclusion and desperation. We have to seek solution to the rule of pirates in suits or those with guns and embed genuine participatory democracy that can put food on the table, provide decent shelter and also allow for space to dream, enjoy and be creative.

These ideas are neither radical nor new, as even the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a beautiful slogan, which if implemented can carve the path to liberation for us all and it reads: “Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.” It is for this reason that we must raise the debate around governance that is profound and goes beyond simple construction of institutions without the content that tackles poverty and inequality.

At the beginning we began with Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, marking them as trouble spots etc but way back in 1998, Mwalimu pointed an accusing finger at the NORTH for imposing their developing model – which they did not practice – on others. He argued that:

Today there is a call, emanating from the North, for the weakening of the State. In my view, Africa should ignore this call. Our States are so weak and anaemic already that it would almost amount to a crime to weaken them further. We have a duty to strengthen the African States in almost every aspect you can think of; one of the objectives of improving the governance of our countries is to strengthen the African State and thus enable it to serve the people of Africa better.

One result of weakening the State can be observed in Somalia. There are many potential Somalias in Africa if we heed the Northern call to weaken the State. In any case, dieting and other slimming exercises are appropriate for the opulent who over-eat, but very inappropriate for the emaciated and starving!

Incidentally, the world has changed indeed! The withering of the State used to be the ultimate objective of good Marxists. Today the weakening of the State is the immediate objective of free-marketeers!

In advocating a strong State, I am not advocating an overburdened State, nor a State with a bloated bureaucracy. To advocate for a strong State is to advocate for a State which, among other things, has power to act on behalf of the people in accordance with their wishes. And in a market economy, with its law of the jungle, we need a State that has the capacity to intervene on behalf of the weak.

No State is really strong unless its government has the full consent of at least the majority of its people; and it is difficult to envisage how that consent can be obtained outside democracy. So a call for a strong State is not a call for dictatorship either. Indeed all dictatorships are basically weak; because the means they apply in governance make them inherently unstable.

The key to a government’s effectiveness and its ability to lead the nation lies in a combination of three elements. First its closeness to its people, and its responsiveness to their needs and demands; in other words, democracy. Secondly, its ability to coordinate and bring into a democratic balance the many functional and often competing sectional institutions which groups of people have created to serve their particular interests. And thirdly, the efficiency of the institutions (official and unofficial) by means of which its decisions are made known and implemented throughout the country.

Need I say more? It’s a long road, which we must enjoin if we have to sing these songs of freedom.

PS. The latest news is that the UN Security Council has unanimously approved a US resolution allowing countries to pursue Somali pirates on land as well as at sea.

December 15, 2008

Golden boot award?

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 9:16 pm

Will Adidas, Nike, Puma and others or even FIFA give this journalist an award? Usually the golden boot award is given “for excellence in the world cup of football.” But why not this journalist who used the humble shoe to speak for those who are trampled upon?

Iraqi television journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, 29, the correspondent for an independent Iraqi television station who threw his black shoes at Bush at a farewell gathering on Sunday 14 December 2008, remains in Iraqi custody. The government apparently is not happy but many in the Arab street are proud of his action/s, and in some part of Iraq thousands have marched demanding his release. Throwing a shoe at someone is regarded as very insulting in these  communities as do the word “dog” which the journalist used against Bush: “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”. A number of Iraqis believe that it is not the way to treat a guest… even if he uninvitedly bombed the country into the past. The only question is can FIFA please come to the party? Give this man the golden boot award.

December 12, 2008

MWALIMU (Vol 1.3/4. – Third & Fourth Quarter 2008)

Filed under: Mwalimu (Vol 1.3/4. - Third & Fourth Quarter 2008) — newritings @ 11:11 pm


(The views expressed in the newsletter do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation)


This double edition of MWALIMU (3 and 4) covers a range of historic events internationally and at home: internationally, the USA elects its first Black president and at home the formation of new political party from within the traditions of the Congress movement. The crisis in Zimbabwe seems to be still a boil on the sub region and much move. Add to all this the various battles in court, which will put our judiciary at a serious challenge to maintain its integrity and independence, as the country gears up for a national election early in 2009.

The judiciary, whilst undergoing transformation (and still has to further do so), is one of the instruments of justice that is now put on the frontline of the transformation discourse. As long as it continues to live by principle, it will continue to hold the support of the overwhelming majority of South Africans and Africans.

Akere Muna, vice chairperson of TI, outlined some of the values of judicial integrity at the launch of the Global Report of 2007 focussing on judicial justice. For TI, Muna argued these were important:

Firstly, we need to ensure that judges are independent from outside temptations by setting up sufficient salaries and strengthening the prestige of the profession by giving adequate training.

Secondly, an objective and transparent process should be in place for the appointments of judges at all levels. This will ensure that the best quality of judges is selected and they are independent of any political issues. Judges should not be left feeling they “owe” their appointment to anyone.

Thirdly, judicial accountability can be strengthened by more effective mechanisms for detecting corruption in the judiciary – a strong disincentive for corrupt behaviour. Measures such as limiting judicial immunity, vigorous rules for investigating complaints and defining clear rights for judges in disciplinary proceedings – such as a code of conduct – will help deter and shed light on corrupt practices.

Lastly civil society has a role to play in keeping the judicial systems accountable.

In SA we have many of these principles in place although there is always room for improvement, as we are still a very young democracy.

With all this talk of court cases involving elites, we may miss the point that whilst the law must protect all people – equally -, it is also based on the values of equity. Thus fundamentally the laws and the institutions of government must look after the weakest and most vulnerable members of society and limit the power of elites to abuse their power. The cases covered here from various newspapers make for interesting reading and will be a feature of future discussions in these pages.

This edition also features quite prominently on the current financial crisis caused by those who have and wanted more. It is a financial crisis made by the rich but will invariously be felt by the poor and the working people. At the time of writing, the ILO projected that at least 20 million jobs globally will be lost and the working people are being asked again to assist in a bailout!

According to Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman (“Lest we forget“, International Herald Tribune), the crisis was a long time and it “suggests that we should be worrying about financial reform, above all regulating the “shadow banking system” at the heart of the current mess, sooner rather than later. For once the economy is on the road to recovery, the wheeler-dealers will be making easy money again — and will lobby hard against anyone who tries to limit their bottom lines.

Moreover, the success of recovery efforts will come to seem preordained, even though it wasn’t, and the urgency of action will be lost. So here’s my plea: even though the incoming administration’s agenda is already very full, it should not put off financial reform. The time to start preventing the next crisis is now.

Hassen Lorgat (coordinator and contributor)


[1] This edition of Mwalimu will be on T-SA website in January 2009.

Go to Contents of Mwalimu (Vol 1.3/4)


Filed under: Mwalimu (Vol 1.3/4. - Third & Fourth Quarter 2008) — newritings @ 9:30 pm

· Editorial

· Learning from each other:
The wisdom of Mwalimu
David versus the Goliaths
TI France, “get back our stolen assets”
T-SA, monitoring Transparency in Service Delivery in Africa

· The South African Update

· On the crisis:
UBUNTU Forum Statement on Financial Crisis
Transparency International: financial crisis a betrayal of public trust
Review of the Monterrey Consensus: Civil Society Declaration

· BPI 2008: Emerging economic giants show high levels of corporate bribery overseas

· Resources
Report back from the 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference
December 9: think of UNCAC
December 10: think of the UN… seriously

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