February 25, 2009

Football for Press Freedom

Filed under: media release — newritings @ 11:34 pm

The other day we went to the exhibition Football for Press Freedom and we think it is a very creative way that the Reporters without Borders have tried to raise concern about the hazardous conditions journalists are working under worldwide. The 2008 data on world press freedom is a cause for serious action by all who cherish freedom of speech and related democratic freedoms:

Baquba, Irak, 2005, photo by Ali Yussef

Baquba, Irak, 2005, photo by Ali Yussef

World press freedom. 2008 in figures:
61 reporters killed
673 reporters arrested
929 reporters attacked or threatened with violence
29 reporters kidnapped
353 media censored

In relation to the Internet:
1 blogger killed
59 bloggers arrested
45 Internet users attacked
1,740 websites shut down or blocked

As the head of the Spanish section of Reporters without Borders Maria Dolors Masana said that “without press freedom there is no freedom, so any action that helps spread that view is very important. The Football for Press Freedom exhibition is a good example of doing just that.”

The exhibition is organised by the Palau Robert in Barcelona and Reporters without Borders with the collaboration of the news agency Agence France-Presse, and can be visited from 3 February to 22 March 2009.

I really think this exhibition must come to South Africa in time for the 2010 World Cup…

PS. The photo above is  one of the 35 pictures on exhibition. For a few more, click here…


Voiceless in Zimbabwe: Mugabe is no friend of those who love peace and justice

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 10:46 pm

To comrades and friends

The views of the comrades from the Harlem Forum on Zimbabwe, in the posting “Pro-Mugabe anti-imperialists blather on” by Patrick Bond, (22 February 09) has reference. For a fuller report of what Harlem Forums views on Zimbabwe go to

Father of Zimbabwean nationalism
Father of Zimbabwean nationalism

To recollect briefly, Bond posted a message to a few mailing lists and added that he loudly disagrees with these voices and asks us how we can counter the MDC’s sellout to imperialism and the “SA sub imperialism – be countered by genuine anti-imperialist grassroots forces.” The posting included names of various activists who have undoubtedly contributed immensely to the struggle of Black people and Pan African solidarity.

The names listed included  amongst others

–Dr. James McIntosh, Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People -Monica Moorehead, International Action Center

-Atty. Malik Zulu Shabazz, New Black Panther Party

-Chaka Cousins, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party

The list also included the well known Imamu Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones), revolutionary poet who continues to do great work as poet, playwright and activist. As a poet in 1969, Baraka wrote a poem BLACK ART, a snippet which follows below:

Poems are bullshit unless they are
teeth or trees or lemons piled
on a step
. . . We want poems
like fists beating niggers out of Jocks
or dagger poems in the slimy bellies
of the owner-jews. Black poems to
smear on girdlemamma mulatto bitches
whose brains are red jelly stuck
between ‘lizabeth taylor’s toes. Stinking
Whores! We want “poems that kill.”
Assassin poems. Poems that shoot
guns. Poems that wrestle cops to alleys
and take their weapons leaving them dead
with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland.
. . . We want a black poem. And a
Black World.
Let the world be a Black Poem
And Let All Black People Speak This Poem
or LOUD [15]

I want to state that whilst we recognize the contribution of these comrades,I believe they have it seriously WRONG on Mugabe and ZANU PF, although some of their criticisms of the so called white farmers (before Mugabe’s opportunist attack of them) are not necessarily to be rejected. Most of them are correct. The question for us in the African social movement is this: have we failed to convince other Pan Africanists (or have we even begun to engage them?) that the former revolutionary (revolutionaries) has (have) turned dictator (s)? Anyway, a more difficult challenge we face by those who support Mugabe – Zanu PF (both inside and outside the region) because they see him as a genuine anti –imperialist, who is getting a bad press. It is this belief that blinds them of the reality and thus serves to justify (conscious or otherwise) the mass murder of the people in Matabeleland 20 years ago when about 20 000 people (see compiled in 1997 by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace 1997). Most were Ndebele speaking and members or supporters of PF ZAPU then led by the father of Zimbabwean liberation Joshua Nkomu. The killings were led by North Korean Five Brigade and called Operation Gukurahundi, (1982 -1987) which in Shona means ‘the first rains of the season which wash away all the chaff’ – thereby ending any perceived resistance two years after independence in 1980, lasting for 5 years. But in truth, whilst the Operation stopped, others reemerged, moving people from their homes, starving others and providing food aid only to members and allies of his party.

The repression clearly was upped when Comrade Bob, was set to loose – and subsequently stole the Zimbabwe parliamentary elections of 2000. The official records now reflect that the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change, won 57 of the 120 elected seats. Zanu PF won 63 seats. Many differ, however, it is clear this saw the rebirth of a new Mugabe…consistently repressive…and shrewd political manoeuverer ….

So, it is my belief that the supposed anti imperialist credentials is part of the problem which I will discuss hereunder. Mugabe and ZANU PF anti Imperialist? As suggested that various people with good reputations inside the ANC are blinded by the claims of Mugabe of being a victim of Bush – Blair imperialism, and from that position (which is true to a great extent) they go on to affirm him as an anti imperialist leader, the Chavez of Africa and the like. Nothing can be further from the truth. If you are a victim of British and US imperialism (which to a great extend is true) how does it tally with your repression of your own people?

But during and after the Matabele killings, Mugabe was seen and played a role in Sout Africa´s breaking free from Apartheid. As a leader of the Frontline States, who writing in Foreign Affairs journal (winter 1987-88) tried to convince a US government ( and some of the public?) that their blind observance of constructive engagement was support for Apartheid- If we recall at that time, the new South African looked far away with Reagan in the white house and Thatcher in number 10 Downing street…they faced the charm and intellect of the man (leaving aside for the moment – his killings of Matabeleland) it is true his role was vital for the freedom of South Africa, and the the sub-region generally in the fight against white rule.

anti imperialist?
anti imperialist?

Then Mugabe argued of his countries progressive policies thus:“ In Zimbabwe we have totally rejected any aid or investment from any quarter that seeks to change, influence or modify the policies that we have enunciated based on our perceptions of Zimbabwe´s national interests. For us this is a matter of principle.” He further argued that “We are not militarily at war with apartheid, but apartheid is at war with us. And militarily, economically and socially we are paying an enormous price. “

On making the case for sanctions upon South Africa Mugabe argued forcefully (p325) that they are meant to raise the costs of “apartheid both economically and psychologically” and then he dealt with the argument that sanctions will hurt Blacks most, … and wait for it…Mugabe quotes the then Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu whom he said put the position “most eloquently” thus:

For goodness sake, let people not use us as an alibi for not doing the things they know they ought to. We are suffering now, and this kind of suffering seems to be going on and on and on. If additional suffering is going to put a terminus to our suffering then we will accept it.

The second argument Mugabe wrote, for not considering sanctions was its impact on neighbouring states, to which he said simply: “But we are already suffering, as I have clearly illustrated earlier, and if additional suffering is necessary, we are also ready to pay the price.”

The third excuse according to President Mugabe for not imposing sanctions was that they simply did not work, Rhodesia being a good example of such failure. He begged to differ, adding that no regime could give formal recognition to the Smith regime as long as UN sanctions remained intact. “They worked in limited, but important and costly ways. Rhodesia was forced to sell its products at below-market prices and buy its imports at a premium.”

Concluding remarks On imperialism:

What are the essentials of anti imperialist politics? For many, anti imperialism is a virtue on its own, a badge of progressiveness, that explains much. If it helps, let our comrades know that in the history of anti imperialism, (broadly defined) there have been rightwing anti imperialist too. Historically, the concept anti-imperialism has been used to include opposition to wars that colonized people and territory, and it is understandable that it resonates well with progressive people the world over who helped to fight colonialism etc. Later Marxists tended to emphasise economic exploitation relying heavily on Lenin (imperialism – the highest stage of capitalism), may have been speaking about today´s globalization. ( For those interested there are tombs of materials available which will explain further the concentration of production and capital, free-market dominance and foreign control, monopoly capitalism etc etc – but the simple point I suggest is that these concepts and this one in particular is an insufficient basis to build political support for a leader or a party. There are other is progressive theories and analytical tools within the progressive movement to to explain our reality and approaches to struggles.

Our anti imperialist comrades need to look through a wider spectrum, including the basic one: does the rulers lead with the consent of the people? Today, for me at least, the concept does not explain everything especially when when refers to the role of states (albeit much weakened roles. Take China for example, its external policies were guided by the strategy, Mao made famous. (still widely used) “that my enemies enemy is my friend” which moved far away from a principle of genuine and principled anti imperialism. Currently, Mugabe poses as the anti imperialist, but at home represses his own people, hides known dictator from Ethiopia, and much more.

ON the way forward in Zimbabwe

It has been said that Mugabe´s peace with the MDC is to get the funds flowing again, consolidate the economy and all its inequalities, and then or simultaneously hope to undermine those who are his partners. The MDC fears he will try an NKOMO but he is old and weakened, even inside his own party. I have also read that we have called the deal a sellout largely (though not exclusively on ) on the objective economic factors. What equally requires discussion is the existing state of fear, imposed by years of repression, and its consequent “weakened” popular movement. There is a large body of study that reflects on the impact of repression on a peoples aspirations for liberation. At this moment, clearly the people want the violence to stop and some basic human freedoms restored, and …as much as we want more, this the movement inside the country and their leaders must determine. However, I think the sanctions that Tutu spoke off, in the case of SA and comrades have asked for in the case of Zimbabwe must be kept until a climate of fear and terror is replaced by free and open debate about the best options available for a Zimbabwe committed to equality, justice a nationally and people- own and participatory, just economy, ecology, …society is constructed. The same TUTU To end, Mugabe has quoted Tutu before, and I will end with him too. Tutu has the day before Christmas last year said that Mugabe could face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for his violent suppression of opposition members adding: “I have to say that I am deeply, deeply distressed that we should be found not on the side of the ones who are suffering,” Tutu told the BBC. “We have betrayed our legacy, how much more suffering is going to make us say, ‘No, we have given Mr. Mugabe enough time’,” he said. Tutu said that he is ashamed of South Africa’s handling of the Zimbabwe issue at the U.N. Security Council, where China and Russia in July vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that proposed worldwide sanctions against Mugabe and 13 officials. All I can say is that Mugabe changed (for the worst) and not Tutu. Bishop Tutu remains true to his and our beliefs.

Hassen Lorgat

PS. Other opponents and scholars of Mugabe and Zanu PF point out that Mugabe was always like that…

February 22, 2009

Saying it with comics: Girls Matter

Filed under: interview — newritings @ 10:47 pm



This week we interview the illustrator Myriam of a new comic about gender empowerment entitled “La Cenicienta que no quería comer perdices”- literally translated to mean “The Cinderella that did not want to eat the partridges”. Translation by Marta Garrich. Unfortunately, the book is currently available only in Spanish. In solidarity. H

Tell us a bit about yourselves. Who are you and how did you come about doing this work?

We are a team of two Nunila and Myriam. Nunila is an underground storyteller, known in occupied houses and suburbs in the Basque Country and Catalonia, whilst I, Myriam Cameros, work as a mural artist, drawing in walls, etc., and I have also worked as a graffitist (grafittiartist) and other alternative projects, although I have also collaborated with clothes brands, press… and so on.

What influenced you? What were you guys aiming at when you started this project?

A few of our friends have experienced gender violence and we know its negative consequences (to self-esteem, disempowerment, etc). So we set out to achieve one main goal and that was to get children get rid of concepts such as “I’m nothing without you”, which, in the main, puts one’s own happiness into the hands of  someone else.  Through this project, we thought we could make a contribution towards shortening the path to self-discovery and confidence.

Tell us a bit more about the book, how long has  it been in the making?

Answer: The writing and drawing was the easy part. When it was completed, it lay waiting in the closet for 4 long years, completed. We went knocking on doors of various publishing houses looking for a publisher – but with no success. Then one day we thought, why not publish it ourselves? It was a logical conclusion, since we did not have the financial means nor publisher. We then started by sending email to our closest friends, asking them to  join us in our endeavour. We were offering them the opportunity to buy a set of ten books for 100 Euros (payments in advance!). This was a great  success as we had never expected that soon after sending our mail we would be getting such favourable responses from countries like Morocco, Chile, various parts of Spain, etc. who all wrote to us, supporting our project and seeking to buy  the book.

What also surprised us was the response from the publishing houses, who after seeing what was happenning online, now wanted to talk to us.  We have not responded yet, but for now, what we can confirm is that this first edition is done solely by us—maybe we will see later on…

Where can we keep intouch with what you are doing on this and other projects?

The following are our blogs where we keep track of the stage of the adventure:

Finally, what can you tell us about the experience of publishing the book, about how you thought of sending that first email to your friends, about the unexpected responses (Here we must add that be love the fact that, different from what seems to be a progressive social marketing strategy. Let us explain, generally speaking in traditional online marketing, by various agencies one will find the authors or publishers only make available one song or a few seconds of it. In the case of a book, similarly, some pages or chapters. In contrast you s have chosen to circulate the book itself, with such great feedback… to us, it is a proof that other  ways of working and learning, apart from the fact that the quality of your work has convinced many that wish to have that pdf in a book format at home…)(yes!“another world is possible”),

Answer: Hahahhahaha (laughter) Probably the best marketing strategy for us to be honest is to have no marketing strategy. We simply wished to introduce into the marketplace a “product” (if you like) that we thought necessary and needed in schools, homes, etc. and since no big bosses provided support… self-publishing looked like the only way out. We thought that this is how the book will reach most people: those who cannot afford to buy it, who will read it on the web, via blogs like this one, or via email (pdf version) – in some way it belongs also to them … and secondly, those who can pay for the book, will have it in the book format, and thus, it too, belongs to them, in another format. So at the end of the day it belongs to all. In future, we hope to build on this and hopefully with the resources work on a new project (a new book on racism), without having to constantly think about the rent.

February 13, 2009

Let’s Inspect Dimona

Filed under: opinion article,testimonies — newritings @ 10:14 pm

The current issue of ADBUSTERS Endgame Strategies has an interesting piece on Dimona, which inspired this posting as it takes the words out of my mouth. The only thing I will add is a bit of a history of the man behind most of our knowledge on Dimona, the “banned” Modechai Vanunu.

published in the Guardian, UK
Published in the Guardian, UK

Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison, including more than 11 years in solitary confinement. He was released from prison in 2004, and apartheid styled repression, his freedom of association and right to freely express himself was severely curtailed. On his blog, Vanunu’s poem “I am your spy” tells us a bit of his story and vision, written when he was in Ashkelon Prison, 1987. The poem is very Brectian, and start with his modest role…

I am the clerk, the technician,
the mechanic, the driver.
They said, Do this, do that, don’t look left or right,
don’t read the text. Don’t look at the whole machine. You
are only responsible for this one bolt. For this one rubber-stamp.
This is your only concern. Don’t bother with what is above you.
Don’t try to think for us. Go on, drive. Keep going. On, on

But clearly he wanted to know the full picture of what was being built, and then as he later said: his conscience took over…

I have no choice. I’m a little man, a citizen, one of the people,
but I’ll do what I have to. I’ve heard the voice of my conscience
and there’s nowhere to hide.
The world is small, small for Big Brother.
I’m on your mission. I’m doing my duty.
Take it from me.

Come and see for yourselves. Lighten my burden. Stop the train.
Get off the train.
The next stop — nuclear disaster.
The next book, the next machine.
No. There is no such thing.

Finding Dimona

Vanunu says that “Dimona should be open to international inspections, should be shut down because it is past its age, beyond 25-30 years, it is now 40 years working. If the U.S. is looking for nuclear weapons in the Middle East, or a nuclear factory, it is here in Israel.”

And this is where Adbusters comes in

Adbusters are advocating for an international inspection of this nuclear facility.

The text reads:

Let’s Inspect Dimona

“ For three decades Israel has refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect its highty sensitive nuclear weapons facility at Dimona – in total defiance of UN Security Council resolutions. Israel has adamantly refused to participate in nuclear nonproliferation while demanding that other countries, most notably Iran, do.

The way to nuclear free Middle East is to eradicate double standards. Israel cannot threaten military action against Iranian nuclear facilities whilst demanding the right to maintain its own. The international community can no longer afford to allow Israel to act with impunity.

It is time to reconcile policy in the Middle East. Israel must be held accountable.”

dimona1Adbusters touches on the nub of the problem the double standards: one set of principles and standards for the rich and powerful (don’t go to the colour issue), and the other for the rest. To overcome the Apartheid logic and practice within global multilateral institutions, and within many civil society groups and individuals, we have to return to the source: human rights are indivisible and equally applicable to all. What’s good for Saddam or Amina must be equally be good for Menachim, Tom, Jane, Golda or whomsoever. Then, and only then, will the resolutions passed at high levels of these institutions be implemented with the urgency and integrity that we must expect of those who hold entrusted power in our name. Afterall, aren’t they em-powered by us – we the people?

Cabral: National Liberation and Culture

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article,testimonies — newritings @ 11:35 am

Due to various requests by some friends, digitally deprived with low bandwith, etc. to search the web all day long, we publish Cabral’s brilliant essay on culture and national liberation. Is national liberation still part of the discourse in a globalised-internationalised world? Is culture still relevant, or have we all been MacDonalised, or Coco-lonised? I think it is good that we are thinking and talking about African intellectuals and their contribution to socialist theory and practice. This I find missing in many discussions I participate in with some of my Northern comrades. Intellectuals from the Global South, from yester year, such as Walter Rodney, Paolo Freire,  Fanon and others show that there were strong voices out there. The struggles in Africa and the South were not like some B-grade Tarzan movie where the stars were white. But what of the women intellectuals? We must revist this theme again soon. It is a sore… women intellectuals were there, but they were written out of herstory- which we must redress. Urgently. Now back to Cabral.

This text was originally delivered on February 20, 1970 as part of the Eduardo Mondlane (1) Memorial Lecture Series at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, under the auspices of The Program of Eastern African Studies. The translation from the French is by Maureen Webster.

When Goebbels, the brain behind Nazi propaganda, heard culture being discussed, he brought out his revolver. That shows that the Nazis, who were and are the most tragic expression of imperialism and of its thirst for domination–even if they were all degenerates like Hitler, had a clear idea of the value of culture as a factor of resistance to foreign domination.

History teaches us that, in certain circumstances, it is very easy for the foreigner to impose his domination on a people. But it also teaches us that, whatever may be the material aspects of this domination, it can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned. Implantation of foreign domination can be assured definitively only by physical liquidation of a significant part of the dominated population.

In fact, to take up arms to dominate a people is, above all, to take up arms to destroy, or at least to neutralize, to paralyze, its cultural life. For, with a strong indigenous cultural life, foreign domination cannot be sure of its perpetuation. At any moment, depending on internal and external factors determining the evolution of the society in question, cultural resistance (indestructible) may take on new forms (political, economic, armed) in order fully to contest foreign domination.

The ideal for foreign domination, whether imperialist or not, would be to choose:

  • either to liquidate practically all the population of the dominated country, thereby eliminating the possibilities for cultural resistance;
  • or to succeed in imposing itself without damage to the culture of the dominated people–that is, to harmonize economic and political domination of these people with their cultural personality.

To read the full text, go to page 2.

February 11, 2009

Cabral: Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories…

Filed under: manifesto,testimonies — newritings @ 12:36 pm

Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories (1965), by Amilcar Cabral, is a gem of revolutionary sayings. Often quoted by many South Africans and activists worldwide, but rarely read in its entirety. For this reason, we have typed it up, dusted it off the shelves and reproduced here for your study.

I read this essay first from Revolutionary Thought in the Twentieth Century which was compiled and edited by Ben Turok, and it remains a personal and political inspiration. Cabral was a revolutionary leader of PAIGC in the movement in Guinea-Bissau. As an Agronomist he used his access to learn and develop strategies for national liberation.

Cabral ironically (or is it more correct to say polemically (?)) says that we are not fighting for ideas, but for material goods, and to live better and in peace — words loaded in ideas not only in the head but for the heart and soul, the stomach and the full being. The “ideas” embedded in his famous lines, revolutionary quotable quotes if you like, is what many who strive for justice truly commit to when they do battle against coporate greed, and unaccountable governments everyday.

Read, think, and act diligently in pursuit for justice and a better life, and as Cabral would say: “Nothing of this is incompatible with the joy of living, or with love for life and its amusements, or with confidence in the future and in our work…”

stamp_amilcar_cabral1 Tell No Lies, Claim No Easy Victories

Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .

We should recognize as a matter of conscience that there have been many faults and errors in our action whether political or military: an important number of things we should have done we have not done at the right times, or not done at all.

In various regions – and indeed everywhere in a general sense – political work among the people and among our armed forces has not been done appropriately: responsible workers have not carried or have not been able to carry through the work of mobilization, formation and political organization defined by the party leadership. Here and there, even among responsible workers, there has been a marked tendency to let things slide … and even a certain demobilization, which has not been fought and eliminated …

On the military plane, many plans and objectives established by the Party leadership have not been achieved. With the means we have, we could do much more and better. Some responsible workers have misunderstood the functions of the army and guerilla forces, have not made good co-ordination between these two and, in certain cases, have allowed themselves to be influenced by preoccupation with the defense of our positions, ignoring the fact that, for us, attack is the best means of defence…

And with all this as a proof of insufficient political work among our armed forces, there has appeared a certain attitude of ‘militarism’, which has caused some fighters and even some leaders to forget the fact that we are armed militants and not militarists. This tendency must be urgently fought and eliminated within the army. . .

If ten men go to a rice-field and do the day’s work of eight, there’s no reason to be satisfied. It’s the same in battle. Ten men fight like eight; that’s not enough … One can always do more. Some people get used to the war, and once you get used to a thing it’s the end: you get a bullet up the spout of your gun and you walk around. You hear the motor’ on the river and you don’t use the bazooka that you have, so the Portuguese boats pass unharmed. Let me repeat: one can do more. We have to throw the Portuguese out …

… Create schools and spread education in all liberated areas. Select young people between 14 and 20, those who have at least completed their fourth year, for further training. Oppose without violence all prejudicial customs, the negative aspects of the beliefs and traditions of our people.  Oblige every responsible and educated member of our Party to work daily for the improvement of their cultural formation …

Oppose among the young, especially those over 20, the mania for leaving the country so as to study elsewhere, the blind ambition to acquire a degree, the complex of inferiority and the mistaken idea which leads to the belief that those who study or take courses will thereby become privileged in our country tomorrow … But also oppose any ill will towards those who study or wish to study – the complex that students will be parasites or future saboteurs of the Party … – militants for action and support of our fighters …

Develop political work in our armed forces, whether regular or guerilla, wherever they may be. Hold frequent meetings. Demand serious political work from political commissars. Start political committees, formed by the political commissar and commander of each unit in the regular army.

Oppose tendencies to militarism and make each fighter an exemplary militant of our Party.

Educate ourselves; educate other people, the population in general, to fight fear and ignorance, to eliminate little by little the subjection to nature and natural forces which our economy has not yet mastered. Convince little by little, in particular the militants of the Party, that we shall end by con­quering the fear of nature, and that man is the strongest force in nature.

Demand from responsible Party members that they dedicate themselves seriously to study, that they interest themselves in the things and problems of our daily life and struggle in their fundamental and essential aspect, and not simply in their appearance … Learn from life, learn from our people; Learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.

Responsible members must take life seriously, conscious of their responsibilities, thoughtful about carrying them out, and with a comradeship, based on work and duty done … Nothing of this is incompatible with the joy of living, or with love for life and its amusements, or with confidence in the future and in our work…

Reinforce political work and propaganda within the enemy’s armed forces; Write posters, pamphlets, and letters. Draw slogans on the roads. Establish cautious links with enemy personnel who want to contact us. Act audaciously and with great initiative in this way … Do everything possible to help enemy soldiers to desert. Assure them of security so as to encourage their desertion.

Carry out political work among Africans who are still in enemy service” whether civilian or military. Persuade these brothers to change direction so as serve the Party within enemy ranks or desert with arms and ammunition to our units.

We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our Party life. Every responsible member must have the courage of his responsibilities, exacting from others a proper respect for his work and properly respecting the work of others. Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.

Claim no easy victories…

Amilcar Cabral

February 9, 2009

Rennaisance man from the horn of Africa

Filed under: interview,testimonies — newritings @ 10:10 pm

This interview was written in 2006 and posted in another blog.

The man whose music accompanies us in Jim Jarmusch‘s Broken Flowers is a Jazz practitioner and cultural educator from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Formed by Emperor Menelik in the 1880s, Addis, one of Africa’s leading cities, coincidentally means “New Flower“ and by 1910 already had 100000 inhabitants.


Meeting Mulatu Astatke, he could be easily pass off a South African from Lenasia or Bonteheuwel, but soon as he speaks you realise that he is a man not from any of our local townships. This “a man of Africa” hails from one of only two countries in the whole of Africa that was never colonised, the other being Liberia. In both jazz and traditional cultures, Ethiopia seems to remain guided by Emperor Menelik’s assertion in 1893 that “Ethiopia has need of no one; she stretches out her hand unto God.”

Mulatu Astatke, a maestro of Ethiopian Pop and Jazz, shot to prominence – again recently with concerts of his Either/Orchestra in the USA over the past year. Musically schooled in various genres he fuses Caribbean, Funk, Jazz, Latin and African sounds oozing out of his native Ethiopia. But it is the movie Broken Flowers that brought him outside fans, because he is known widely in his native land, where he began to make a name for himself some 37 years ago. He indulged and produced 3 albums Afro Latin, Soul 1 and 2, and Mulatu in Ethiopia. His first 45 record can be tracked back in the late sixties by Ethiopia Philips. But that was a long way ago, when playing in New York last year, he got a call to say that the director Jim Jarmusch wanted to come to his concert. They met after the concert and Mulatu gave him a CD, and the rest, as they say – is history.

Astatke’s fusion of Jazz and the Ethiopian fine tone scales is popularly known as Ethio-Jazz. The short vibraphone player is keen to have the African roots of Jazz reaffirmed. Jazz went from Africa to the USA and now re-inserted in our countries.

“In Africa, East does not know what North does and North does not know what South does: we have to share our musical experiences within Africa more. In the USA they all know that the home of Jazz is Africa, but we need to own this history”. His heyday in Ethiopia, which some writers regard as the heyday of Ethiopian pop-jazz, was late 1960’s to 1974. At home, instrumentally speaking on the piano, organ, vibes and percussion, he is highly regarded as a musical scholar, composer and arranger.

His dream of starting an African musical school, some six years ago, -“Africa Jazz Village”- to harness the roots of Jazz in Africa has been interrupted by his passion to spread the gospel of Jazz and its African roots, being a club owner, musical composer and arranger. “But the idea is still percolating”, he says, appealing to anyone in Joburg, Nairobi or Addis to come forward to house this African Jazz institute. “We need to house this project, somewhere in Africa, because the project is about working on the authentic music of Africa” He then breaks in and asks us : “do you know that in the Southern Ethiopia, the music sounds exactly like that from South Africa, the voice everything? I am doing further research on this and much more.” The Dereshe tribe, he enthuses, “play in their instruments in the diminishing scale. They are scientists in song, and created this music long before Charlie Parker even existed. This kind of thing is exceptional and must be further explored and explained.”

As an instrumentalist and Jazz educator, he runs a highly popular FM Radio show which not only fuses the music but also education and entertainment. He has also rubbed shoulders with the best. Trained at Berklee, he has played with many a famous person and ran his own big band. He remembers talking to Dizzy Gillespie about the music of Africa and began to advocate for greater authentic music to be appreciated.

Last November he spoke at the UN hosted World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Tunis on the subject of computer and culture. “Kofi Annan was there and they said that a PC will now cost 100 US dollars. So, it will now be available to all, but devoid of our culture.” There too, he was sharp and to the point. “I told them the idea of putting more computers in Africa and the Third World was good, but limited. What is clearly failing is the lack of education on music, theatre and the Arts in our schools. It is not compulsory in public schools which most of the children attend. It is not in their curriculum. It only really exists in private schools. So without the computer containing our culture, it will help little. A man without a culture – what is he? This lack of a cultural identity and appreciation is what is dragging us down. It is the same with musical instruments. Take Yamaha or Roland (keyboard instrument makers) or any other major instrument. We do not get the credit for creating the instruments – it is only Japan that gets it. So I told them to give us the money to introduce our culture back in our societies and then give us the computers. But you must put our label our brand on it, to get credit for creating instruments.”

He clearly feels strongly about Africa only being judged as having only contributed rhythm, song and dance – which he says is wrong. Mulatu tells us about his conversation with an Italian audience on Ethiopians having orchestras and symphonies for hundreds of years even before they had them. What is Mulatu’s prescription for our malady? Its simple and it goes like this: “culture is our identification, our roots, without it we are only talking of modernising. We must recapture it and, if taught properly, it will be good for us all. I tell the youth, know your culture and after you know it, it is up to you to see what you do with it. To recapture our culture we must start from our first days at school.”

Broken Flowers is not the end of the road for Mulatu but rather the beginning of sorts, and he now has two projects on the line, one for a French movie and the other involving the music project of an Ethiopian director from Los Angeles. It is time to go and the waiters want a photo with a composer and musician. We organise it and they are ecstatic, especially a day later when we give them their copies.

We bought his Assiyo Belle Ma in an Addis Music Store, with our particular favourite being Mulatu’s Mood, (maybe because it sounds a bit of Kaapse Jazz with a Robbie Jansen et al). Yet he is more famous for his LP of instrumental music, Ethiopiques Volume 4, to be found on the French label Buda Music. This creative blend of musical influences, aka known as Ethio-Jazz, has been boosted by the release of the movie Broken Flowers.

In Amharic, his mother tongue, Mulatu stands for “full thing”, which truly means “well rounded African for us.” That he has never visited nor played here is a shame. But he is willing to come, if invited.

February 5, 2009

Israeli propaganda tried (and failed) to use Mandela

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 3:43 pm

Yesterday, I learned from the newspaper Público, in Spain, of the Israeli propaganda machine formalizing its programme of using volunteers from Israel and jewish people generally worldwide to populate the internet and the blogsgosphere more generally. The article said that volunteers speaking a range of languages including Chinese have responded. Todate more than 700 Isrealis and jewish people have responded. The paper quotes llan Schutman, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and thus makes official what many of us have suspected for a while: that the Israeli strategy of communication is based on mis-information and propaganda, and not on speaking the truth.

Let me give you one example from a more traditional media source: the radio, albeit accessed by me via the internet (by the way, I am one of those who believe, with some evidence in a number of studies, that those who surf the net are increasingly listening to radio or music as well). It was the 31st of December of 2008 and the war on Gaza was intense, and the BBC World Service programme Have Your Say featured Mark Regev, “who speaks on behalf of the Israeli prime minister, answers your questions.” A number of callers put tough and honest questions to Regev, and I remember one who called from Jerusalem, contradicting Regev on his assertion that Israel had left the Gaza, etc. In a nutshell, the caller pointed out that the border control as well as airspace for example where not under the control of Palestinians (Hamas).



Another caller from Saudi Arabia called in making reference to the Israeli Bantustan policies which he said was similar to Apartheid South Africa. This caller, my namesake I think, really struck at the heart of the  matter and it was calmly and effectively made.

What seems to really upset Israeli citizens and government alike – and not to talk  of its  propagandists – is the assertion that Israel is an Apartheid state,  and the resultant call that a that  full scale boycott (cultural, trade, academic, etc) must be initiated, similar to that used by global civil society, against white  rule in Apartheid South Africa,. This, as we know it today, eventually forced the  racist rulers  to sit down and negotiate with the genuine leaders of the majority of South Africans. Needless to say Regev rejected the  Apartheid analogy and then as is his and his fellow travellers  trademark –  counter-attack – believing as he does the best form of defence is attack!  Regev tried… using his last trick: bring in Mandela on the side of the Israelis and, more specificially, the Zionists. It was a clever trick and suggests of things to come when our beloved Mandela is no more. Regev said the Apartheid analogy was not factual, and it went something like this: “I read the autobiography… as he was struggling in the underground, Mandela read the book of the early Zionists. It is a good book and everyone should read it…” This was a strategy of co-opting Nelson Mandela for the cause of Israel at the height of its repression, as it was executing the war in Gaza, which was killing hundreds of people. The strategy was cheap as it was effective. Used a book that many have not read, and took Madiba as your own. Not long ago, Zionists could be heard calling Madiba a Black Nazi, Jewish hater, terrorist, etc.

It erked me so that we took to looking up the reference in Mandela, NR, Long Walk to Freedom, and on page 326, (Abacus , Great Britain , 1995,) it reads: “I began in the only way I knew how, by reading and talking to experts. What I wanted to find out were the fundamental principles of starting a revolution. … Any and every source was of interest to me. I read the report of Blas Roca, the secretary general of the communist party of Cuba, about their years as an illegal organisation during the Batista regime. In Commando by Denys Reitz, I read of the unconventional guerrilla tactics of the Boer generals during the Anglo-Boer War, I read works by and about Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro… I read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.”  So this was not an endorsement of Israel’s aggression – far from it.

In addition, Mandela and the ANC are on record supporting those who stood by the South African anti apartheid struggle whether they are liked by some countries or not. A letter of Mandela written in response to Israeli ideologue and NEW YORK TIMES columnist, Thomas L Friedman. Friedman (stand in for Bush) was writing a highly insulting memo to the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in March 2001 which ended with these words: “Yasir, I’m not abandoning Mideast diplomacy. But I’m not going to indulge you the way Clinton did. If you want to reverse the outcome of the 1967 war, and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we will help you. If you want to reverse the outcome of the 1948 war, we will not help you. If you want to reverse the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which first supported a modern Jewish homeland in Palestine, we will oppose you. When you figure out what you’re about, give me a call.”

In reply, the Mandela Memo (March 28, 2001) ends with in similar vein: ” Thomas, I’m not abandoning Mideast diplomacy. But I’m ¨not going to indulge you the way your supporters do. If you want peace and democracy, I will support you. If you want formal apartheid, we will not support you. If you want to support racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing, we will oppose you. When you figure out what you’re about, give me a call.”

The memo is vintage Mandela and must be read fully but for purposes of this article I want to go to the references of Apartheid that Mandela makes thus:

Mandela and Arafat

Mandela and Arafat

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military occupation and Israel is not a country that was established “normally” and happened to occupy another country in 1967. Palestinians are not struggling for a “state” but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa. In the last few years, and especially during the reign of the Labour Party, Israel showed that it was not even willing to return what it occupied in 1967; that settlements remain, Jerusalem would be under exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and Palestinians would not have an independent state, but would be under Israeli economic domination with Israeli control of borders, land, air, water and sea. Israel was not thinking of a “state” but of “separation”. The valua of separation is measured in terms of the ability of Israel to keep the Jewish state Jewish, and not to have a Palestinian minority that could have the opportunity to become a majority at some time in the future. If this takes place, it would force Israel to either become a secular democratic or bi-national state, or to turn into a state of apartheid not only de facto, but also de jure. Thomas, if you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40 years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the population who openly declare themselves to be racist. This racism is of the nature of “I hate Arabs” and “I wish Arabs would be dead”. If you also follow the judicial system in Israel you will see there is discrimination against Palestinians, and if you further consider the 1967 occupied territories you will find there are already two judicial systems in operation that represent two different approaches to human life: one for Palestinian life and the other for Jewish life. Additionally there are two different approaches to property and to land. Palestinian property is not recognised as private property because it can be confiscated. As to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is an additional factor. The so-called “Palestinian autonomous areas” are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system. The Palestinian state cannot be the by-product of the Jewish state, just in order to keep the Jewish purity of Israel. Israel’s racial discrimination is daily life of most Palestinians. Since Israel is a Jewish state, Israeli Jews are able to accrue special rights which non-Jews cannot do. Palestinian Arabs have no place in a “Jewish” state. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children. The responses made by South Africa to human rights abuses emanating from the removal policies and apartheid policies respectively, shed light on what Israeli society must necessarily go through before one can speak of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to its apartheid policies.”

For the full letter click here.

To conclude, we have to be vigilant now more than ever. The formal notification that the disinformation will be shifted a gear upwards is cause for concern but not alarm. We have to work harder and smarter to unmask those who feed lies to the public and, as we have seen from the millions that marched against the violence unleashed on the Palestinians, the people are not easily duped. How do we fight? As Edgar Morin advises in another context not dissimilar to this one, we must fight “With words, intelligence and conscience. We know what principles we must respect: understanding others and recognizing their rights. There are periods, such as ours, in which very little dialogue is possible. I think we are entering a dark period.” And it starts but does not end with ethical and committed journalists like Jon Snow of Channel 4 as he showed in his interview with Mark Regev that all the old tactics of blaming others, associating with the so-called good guys (the Western nations) and blaming all the actions with the so-called bad nations, axis of evil, etc. do not work: watch this video “Mark Regev on the ropes” if you want any more proof. And again after the bombing of the UN food depot, etc. with Israeli government spokersperson Isaac Hetzog. The BBC interview with Mark Regev with Jeremy paxman on the UN school bombing too is worth seeing. He is again mixing up the memorized texts, and again found fumbling. Secondly, it is the role of every user of media to be critical and investigate sources, and read widely (internet, blogs, etc. books, newspapers, radio and television), and not be solely reliant on one media source and channel. Every activist for justice must be a media activist! Thirdly, this is a long and lonely struggle. Go On. Join with others who cherish the values of freedom, equality and solidarity. Meet and work with others, it’s not only easier but you may have fun along the way too. If Israeli propaganda controls the present, as Orwell would say, they will control the future. You can put a stop to that. It is remember that this struggle is not a one night  event but  a long arduos process and against an  adversary that whilst morally and ethically bankrupt is resourceful and resilient. Prepare for a long struggle…

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