March 25, 2009

Will Israel be Brought to Book?

Filed under: interview,media release,Uncategorized — newritings @ 2:59 pm

Follow up on the T-shirt story I think the piece in The Guardian talks of growing evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, in an article by Seumas Milne, 23 March 2009. The journalist writes of Clancy Chassay’s three films which is investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip. Milne says the” films provide compelling testimony of Israel ‘s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.”

Importantly, he points out that now that journalists and civil society organisations, human rights NGOs are allowed back into Gaza “doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.” The article is very informative and I will quote it at length:
“They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent”, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for [8] an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza . In the case of Israel , the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.

Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently [9], any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment [10] now faced by Sudan ‘s leaders over Darfur . Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel ‘s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza , the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?


March 24, 2009


Filed under: interview,manifesto,opinion article,Uncategorized — newritings @ 11:51 pm

In the foreword to the book, the then chairperson of the G77, and Prime Minister of Jamaica P.J Patterson wrote that the” founding fathers of the Group of 77 in their first declaration in June 1964 stated that “the developing countries have a strong conviction that there is a vital need to maintain, and further strengthen, this unity in the years ahead.” That unity and solidarity has withstood the test of time, despite momentous challenges and changing political and economic circumstances. The Group of 77 has risen to the challenge of change and responded without losing sight of its mission and clear vision of the need to create a more fair and equitable international economic order.

Indeed, it is remarkable that with a diverse membership comprising 132 Member States and without a formal constitution or rules of procedure it has managed to endure through the world’s political and economic turbulences and remain true to its original mission. The history of the Group of 77 is identified by landmark achievements in every aspect of the United Nations system. The last two summits of the Group of 77 have redefined the mission of the Group and revitalized its commitment to meet the latest challenges from globalization and liberalization. It is, therefore, a commendable undertaking to document the path the Group of 77 has taken through action, determination and intellectual activity throughout four decades of action. The unique experience of the Group of 77 can only be shared if the relevant documentation, reflecting its achievements in various reports, declarations, agreements, resolutions and decisions are shared with the public at large. This valuable publication is particularly timely, following the Group’s Second South Summit in June 2005.

It is widely acknowledged that the publication was made possible because of “the institutional memory of Mourad Ahmia and his dedication, devotion and commitment to the cause of the Group he has served with distinction for more than 15 years…”

documenting reform

documenting reform

Not just another T-shirt story

Filed under: Uncategorized — newritings @ 10:20 pm
moral high ground?

moral high ground?

International media agencies were reporting this week, about the hate that is deep within Israeli military machine. No I am not talking of the testimonies from eye witnesses and in some cases participants of the cold blooded killing of unarmed, civilians, including women and children. This time it is a story about t-shirt designs made for soldiers that make light of shooting pregnant Palestinian mothers and children and include images of dead babies and destroyed mosques.

The t-shirts were printed for Israeli soldiers at the end of periods of deployment or training courses according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The one that particularly galls me is the one apparently for a platoon of Israeli snipers shooting a pregnant women, (see picture) with snipers aim to kill, and the caption reading: “1 shot 2 kills”.

The other T-shirt shows a child with gun in the line of fire, and the caption reads: “The smaller, the harder”

Haaretz talks about a third T-shirt which shows an Israeli soldier bombing a mosque and the caption reads: “Only God forgives”.

Yet another hateful slogan “Better use Durex” is meant to mock a Gazan mother who is weeping over her dead babys grave, who is now also within the snipers target.

These expressions of hate are but one challenge that Palestinians face after the war on Gaza. The borders are still closed and efforts to reconstruct the worlds biggest prison (Gaza) is being consciously delayed. The blockade is also an act of hate, spite and racism.

Meanwhile the Israeli Defence Force, has said that the T-shirts were done by private citizens, and were not “in accordance with IDF values and are simply tasteless. This type of humour is unacceptable and should be condemned”. The blockade, and the repression and deniel of rights however, continue, without condemnation. These soldiers were merely putting in creative (albeit repressive) artform, what they were instructed to do during the war. This story will unfold sooner rather than later. This is just not about the T-shirts but the hate that is being preached by the IDF that beats deep in the hearts of the young men and women they train to kill.

March 23, 2009

put a lid on it…

Filed under: opinion article — newritings @ 11:09 pm

dressed up, condom lives

dressed up, condom lives

Pope Benedict´s recent visit to Cameroon and Angola (March 2009) saw him hit the limelight for all the wrong or is it his Right reasons. I am talking of his controversial views on contraceptives which I say unashamedly, he must be condom-ned, in a manner that is deserving´ of a person of his rank. The Pope has again highlighted his views that condoms will not solve the HIV epidemic and abstinence and fidelity were his panacea to this deadly virus.

It easy for him to preach this, as a celibate priest, but it is wrong for him to say this in a continent dying from various illnesses and diseases  such as HIV-Aids.(I do not exclude the  legacy of colonialism, imperialism including our own mis-rule.)  It is reported that about 67% of the world’s 32.9m people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Various governments including Germany, the Netherlands, and France and a few others criticized openly, what the Pope was saying, The Socialist government of Spain, supposedly Catholic (Europe is officially Catholic dominated!) in a parallel move responded by showing their opposition, announced that it was delivering 1 million condoms to Africa. (This is a very small (symbolic) number and it is known that  condoms are not re-usable.) The HSRC of South Africa, once reported that condom distribution has increased from 267 million in 2001 to 346 million in 2004, and despite the increases (modest) the use of condoms by many men is still subject to many ignorant prejudices where some men believe that “love without the glove” is the only way to have sex. On the other extreme is the male myth that unprotected sex with infants will cue Aids. It does not cure HIV-Aids infecton. It is paedophilia and the views against condoms do not help.

Talking of paedophilia, it is worth pointing out that this current controversy has ignited debate about  is or  has been wrong inside the Catholic church for a long time. Let me try to explain. In response to the African No Condom  Crusade, various commentators have challenged the chuch´s legitimacy to deal  intelligently and justly with matters that deal with sexuality and womens rights.

The excommunicating bishop...gods law above the constitution

The excommunicating bishop...gods law above the constitution

One  commentator asked if any rapist or paedophile priest has ever been excomunicated for their sin-crime – abuse of children? This clearly was a reference to Brazilian     Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho who excommunicated the doctors who performed an abortion on a 9 year old child who was raped apparently by her step father. The girl it has been reported was expecting twins and the sexual abuse had apparently been going on since the girl was 6  years old. It is a legitimate question to ask: did the church excommunicate the perpetrator?

This act outraged many in civil society, in particular womens groups who have been pushing toe change the abortion law in Brazil which make abortion illegal. The president Lula too was angered and is on record for saying that the doctors were more correct than the church: “As a Christian and a Catholic, I find it deeply lamentable that a bishop of the Catholic Church has such a conservative attitude,” “In this case, the medical profession was more right than the church,”

The Episcopalian writes in his blog that the Archbishop Don Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Recife excommunicated all except the perpetrator:_the doctor, the child’s mother and the medical team involved in the procedure. The stepfather was not excommunicated for reasons which are illogical to me, but is gospel according to the wise Bishop who explains it thus:  “A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life.” Furthermore, the child was not excommunicated, because Catholic Church law exempts minors from excommunication.

Equally stupid, was the almost simultaneous announcement to the  NO Condom speech was the campaign initiated by the Bishops of Spain , with the message  that the rights of the child, humans- took second place to those of the enviroment., and other animal life. This false dichotomy ignores the first principle of not the bible but the Earth Summit, 1992, which said that humans are part of the environment and must live happily together thus:Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.

This quote may be a useful key towards concluding and let me start by talking of the humble condom, which I think the Spanish word for it better explains what we are talking about: In the Spanish language where it has two words, used interchangeably: preservativo , and condón, and as is common in the latin languages where a gender (or a neuter in some cases) is ascribed to a word, this word take the male form.

So the Bishops in Spain must realize that both the flora and fauna and human matter to ensure that we live better on this shared earth. However, where the rubber really rubs partriach´s up the wrong way is their denial of the right for women to negotiate whether they want to have sex, with whom, how etc.

The strategic attack of the church (and some of the leaders of the other faiths too) are fighting a battle of what they see as lost ground “internationally” where gay rights to marriage has been enshrined in law as well as the right to and “abortion on demand” and the provisions of condoms is but a means towards their end…

This is where many religions fail women, they deny them their fundamental reproductive rights – and here I repeat, the Pope is not alone, and is joined by many other political mis-leaders including the former President Bush. On HIV the former president Thabo Mbeki too was criticized for questioning the link between the HI-Virus and Aids, as the debate deflected on what was needed to save lives.

An earlier visit to Africa - same line

An earlier visit to Africa - same line

March 17, 2009

Lack of money is not the problem

Filed under: interview — newritings @ 10:06 pm

This is an old, short piece which I wrote whilst working with the national NGO coalition in South Africa. It appeared in another journal, in 2007, and I wondered given the current phase of capitalisms crisis and the fear that Africa and the Global South are being marginalised, whether  this is still relevant. Anyhow, you be the judge.


Had the rich countries lived up to promises they made in the 1970s, many of the new development financing initiatives might not be necessary today, writes Hassen Lorgat of the South African NGO Coalition, Sangoco.

Voices from the Global South must be heard

Voices from the Global South must be heard

The recent conference in Oslo on the mobilisation of resources for development considered technical approaches towards establishing a global architecture for raising financing for Aids, malaria and tuberculosis treatment, as well as meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals.

When considering the deliberations of the meeting, it is important to bear in mind that these are modest goals that could easily have been reached if, as the Mexican Ambassador at the conference reminded delegates, “all developed countries had delivered on their 40 year old commitment of giving 0.7 per cent of Gross National Product towards development aid”.

Indeed, new efforts at raising development financing must not displace older commitments. In October 1970, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 2626, the International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade. Through that resolution, developed countries agreed to increase their resource flows to developing countries to a level equivalent to 1 per cent of their GNI and that a minimum of 0.7 per cent of GNI should be made up of official development assistance. They agreed to work to reach these goals by 1975. It goes without saying that these resources were to be new money and not taken out of existing ODA.

The proliferation of efforts towards mobilising new resources for development – GAVI, the digital solidarity fund, the air passenger levy, the regulation of tax havens and the currency development tax levy – would not be necessary if countries complied with their commitments. The real issue is not the shortage of funds for development, but rather structural inequality and unjust distribution of resources and power.

The MDGs are a set of time-bound targets for drastically reducing extreme poverty around the world, and for substantial improvements in health and education. At the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, 189 countries, the largest gathering of heads of states ever, endorsed the goals and committed themselves to their achievement by 2015. Since that time, organisations across the globe have convened and collaborated on campaigns to raise awareness of the critical importance of the goals, and to compel world leaders to fulfil their promises of additional quality funding, trade reform and debt cancellation to achieve the goals.

The new funding mechanisms are vital initiatives that may well have far reaching implications for development if they really are new money (and not taken from ODA budgets).

The tax on aviation, which today represents 3 per cent of global CO2 emissions – “the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases globally” – will be nationally implemented but internationally coordinated. Initially, four countries launched the levy: France, Chile, Côte d’Ivoire and Mauritius, with another 16 committed to implementing the levy. Many of these countries are expected to get parliamentary endorsement for the levy this year. All resources raised will be pooled into UNITAID, whose mission is to scale up access to treatment for HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis.

According to President Lula and President Chirac, who launched the levy, “a tax on foreign exchange transactions is technically feasible”. The Stop Poverty Coalition has shown that levying the currency transaction tax at a rate of just half a basis point (one hundredth of 1 per cent) would not disrupt markets, and it would not make financial sense to evade them. It has been suggested that even at the lowest rates proposed, large revenue can be generated: USD 20 million per annum from Chile, USD 30 million from Brazil, USD 220 million from Norway, over USD 2 billion from the United Kingdom. Euro transactions alone would generate USD 4.3 billion a year.

Yet mobilisation of new funds is not a purely technical task. It must go hand in hand with changing the structures and systems that give rise to poverty and inequality. We must work simultaneously at the global level, and particularly at the national and local levels. Only by working this way can we ensure action for justice and accountability from those who hold power.

Thus, while I believe a small and modest initiative by a “coalition of the willing” is useful in building multilateral action at the global level for a just world, the sparse attendance of some of the main actors from the South – the government of South Africa, for example, Brazilian civil society organisations, and representatives of the Technical Group of the Initiative on Hunger and Poverty Human Development is worrying. Sustainable development means acting today for future generations and putting people first. Any measures that result in undermining people’s autonomy and right to determine their own destiny must be opposed. Development means “acting with people” and not simply “for people”. Thus the participation of Southern governments and NGOs must be integral to the processes and the resolution of these fundamental challenges of our epoch.

First published in Development Today, DT_2/2007 February 13, 2007

March 15, 2009

your laughter

Filed under: manifesto,poetry,some of my favorite things — newritings @ 5:44 pm

On 22nd April 2009, South Africans go to the polls to vote and the climate of debate (in some quarters) is one of resignation, and even fear. One new-age pamphleteer emailed (bulk) a missive about why he won’t vote for a certain political party for the first time since the 1994’s “pyrrhic victory”. This unfortunate description comes from a clearly disappointed party member, and whilst this is not the space where I will engage the debate, suffice it to say, that the reason we engage in struggles with the working people and the poor, (the oppressed, if you like) is to rid us of exploitation and oppression and in its place build a more joyous, just and democratic society. This society we seek is one that work is but one of our activities that must contribute to our happiness, and where laughter, measured in decibels or on the Richter scale, will be our measure of our true well-being. Che was correct: revolutionaries must be guided by a true spirit of love. Fear in everyday life will have no space even in the shadows of the men with guns or machetes.

I have deliberately stayed away from ideological language which often obfuscates real meaning and thinking of what we are trying to say. I am reminded of the old joke that hails back to the  days of the Soviet Union, where a comrade was explaining the difference between a capitalist and a communist society.

“A capitalist society”, he said, “was a society where there is exploitation of people by people, and a communist society is the opposite of that”. There you have it. If we simply rely on big ideological terms or systems without getting to heart of peoples lives and daily politics, we could be talking past each other. We must build a society that changes values and relations between people fundamentally. It must make us better human beings – that related to each other in  the  true spirit of ubuntu. In a word, our social relations must bring out our innate humanity. And this will hopefully combat the excessive competitiveness, greed and waste,  resulting in more relaxed, happier people. So let’s start today or if you began yesterday or a while longer – continue.————-H———–

Let Me Say

Let Me SayAnd laugh today and every day.

Your laughter

Take bread away from me, if you wish,
take air away, but
do not take from me your laughter.

Do not take away the rose,
the lance flower that you pluck,
the water that suddenly
bursts forth in joy,
the sudden wave
of silver born in you.

My struggle is harsh and I come back
with eyes tired
at times from having seen
the unchanging earth,
but when your laughter enters
it rises to the sky seeking me
and it opens for me all
the doors of life.

My love, in the darkest
hour your laughter
opens, and if suddenly
you see my blood staining
the stones of the street,
laugh , because your laughter
will be for my hands
like a fresh sword.

Next to the sea in the autumn,
your laughter must raise
its foamy cascade,
and in the spring, love,
I want your laughter like
the flower I was waiting for,
the blue flower, the rose
of my echoing country.

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

Poem by Pablo Neruda

sharing is caring?

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article — newritings @ 12:27 pm

raising a child

raising a child

“You know this Camu,” his aunt tells me some  thousand kilometers from where I am  currently, “he is very astute”. She said that she wanted to call me with him in attendance to  complain, as he was threatening to take all his video-dvds from her home (where he spends a lot of time) thereby depriving the other kids, her daughter amongst them from watching them. He replied that No, it does not mean that he is not sharing by taking his movies home as he “ will bring a DvD daily to her home for them to watch”, adding that there is not only one way of sharing.

This incisive and tactical response is the motivation for this small input. I am not going to veer into the difficult field of delineating the different forms of sharing but rather look more fundamentally how we can teach children to share, in a world where greed and my-opia dominates our television screens, our personal relations in family and between friends and foes. In preparing for this piece I researched the net, and must confess that I was a bit disturbed-shocked that some who speak and write on this subject like Jane Clark, Teaching Children to Share, who shamelessly assert the view that “Children have an inborn tendency to be selfish.” She then goes on the add other pointers such as “Ownership is a Biblical concept. Forced sharing of everything one owns is socialism. God recognized and gave clear guidelines in the Bible (especially the Old Testament) about property and property rights. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” ~ Jesus (Matthew 20:15).” And again, “Forced love is not love. Sharing against your will gains no reward in Heaven, and may create resentment toward the one being “shared” with. Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; appropriately called “the golden rule”.

Whilst some of the advice that she proffers is not necessarily bad, they are however based on assumptions that take as their starting point that humans do not cooperate, we are fundamentally greedy, as we are programmed that way. And from that slippery slope the daily advertisements that sell everything and the Big Brother shows and other dumping down stuff from the silly box, including the logic of privatization and deregulation of public services set out to make crass inequality and greed natural, thus we are obliged to accept the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, and with disastrous social costs. These ideas take as their basic assumption that people (hence children) are innately selfish. This message is reinforced by the advertising system, which reinforces the dominant values of consumerism, and at one extreme, greed and personal acquisition. I do not agree with this, and believe that we are as one author put it, i think, wired to do good and as we grow up, we are socialized into the dominant values of our society which supplicates to the greed – growth consumerist god. In some ways, it looks wrong to use the word socialized, and maybe is squeezed out of us –is probably better word. Thus, one will easily find, generally speaking that emulate good and sharing behaviour at homes or households where cooperative behaviour and a culture of sharing, solidarity is the culture. It is widely believed that children growing up in a vibrant home and community, where community values and participation is- are likely to nurture healthy and sharing children.

Having said this, it is worth pointing out that personal possession of toys or as in the case of collecting DVDs is not necessarily a bad thing as they can teach values of respecting their things (and those of others), and exchanging them for other DVDs which he has done. (What I lament is that our some of public services sometimes function at a level lower than that of the private sector, and often things public have been so run down and under-resourced that children grow up thinking of them – as some politicians intended – as being second rate. This is tragic as it undermines the important experience of going to public libraries, and other public services whieh imbed the values of sharing and caring.) At the start of this discussion I opened with Camu´s excuse-reason that there are different ways of sharing and maybe I must tell you that we (6 year old Camu and I), initiated a dialogue (between us only!) of starting a public informal DVD library where those children (poor, as he calls them) without the means to buy can come and borrow them, hopefully becoming a fully-fledged library. (This idea he was receptive to, but has not taken off …yet). In addition, we keep talking to the children (ours and broader) about childhood poverty, where kids do not have three meals, do not celebrate birthdays, or do not have photographs of them growing up and so on, but we are not sure yet whether these exhortations to higher values, or “preaching” works with little ones in the short term. Maybe they will remember some of the lessons later…

To end, there are number of sites where techniques of creating values of sharing are espoused and they are worth exploring. They usually talk about how to begin sharing and many take the assumption that children do not share, and then talk of encouraging sharing, rewarding good behaviour etc etc – and that is not to say that I am knocking the advice although I am not in agreement on the fundamental assumption. One of the guidelines I read, is very instructive and goes like this: Tell your little one, that by not sharing may mean that her-his friends will not want to share with him-her either. In many civilizations as is evident in Africa too, but less so in the urban areas, we believe (d) that it takes a community to rear a child, but I fear that this fundamental belief and practice has been under pressure (social, economic and political) for many decades and may be fading in some parts. However, this value is worth (re)-discovering, as it was plants sharing at a village  level (macro), which grows, impacting on the household level  (micro). Whilst trying to do this, I must tell you that when children know that you value helping others, sharing, solidarity – call it what you may – they too will do it and also come back satisfied as this grows on adults and children alike, as it will make them happy to feel appreciated and loved but more important all of them are likely to see results in diverse and unexpected ways. I can still see him smiling proudly when he hears his mother talk about how he washed the car, watered the garden, washed the dog, helped a kid at school…


We have received two responses from the aunt in question and the mother. They write:

The mum writes:

Very young children do not have a sense of possession, and then gradually they develop this; and usually by around 4 years – you can insist on sharing.

Some of Camu’s behavior can also be explained by the fact that he is an only child and the relatively large age gap between him and his girl cousin, aged about 2 years. Also, he can only play with another child (close family friend -aged 4 years) for short periods without them getting to each other. I see you have indicated some of the things he promised to do but there is more news. There is another form of sharing he has indicated he would do: he said that he would share books with cousin, those that she is able to read, and will give a set of toys to the 4 year old family friend, because she has none. Inexplicably – he would not give her books.

The aunt writes:

You know I learnt a lot about understanding adult behaviour especially negative adult behaviour like self-centeredness , greed and selfishness by watching children grow, including Camu. However the bottom line is when I see this kind of bad behaviour in adults is because they have not fully developed from their childhood state of self-centeredness, feelings of insecurity and wanting material things and possessions to assist in making them feel secure. So I don’t think children are innately selfish , it is part of the development that the cling on to people and possessions as they explore their world and develop and how to protect themselves – and hopefully they develop to the next stage of development with some help from their siblings and elders.

March 13, 2009

Othello – black and white version of our humanity

Filed under: opinion article,testimonies — newritings @ 3:16 pm

Stage and movie actor Orson Welles puts on stage makeup for his part as Othello in the play Othello by Shakespeare at the St. James Theatre in London

Stage and movie actor Orson Welles puts on stage makeup for his part as Othello in the play Othello by Shakespeare at the St. James Theatre in London

And the winner for the best white actor impersonating a Black person goes to… Orson Wells in his 1952 black and white version of Othello. Jokes aside, I loved it, and must say it works for me, close to normal movie lengths, about one and half hours long, in black and white and what’s more – was a labour of love for Welles, who adapted, directed and starred in a leading role in the film. In addition, Wells poured in much of his own money in the project that took four years to make, in a few countries including Morocco (the Moor-land) and with an ever-changing cast.

What added to the drama of this movie in the early nineties was that it was lost and only recovered six years after Orson Welles’ death. Othello is now available on DVD, it has been restored, complete with a new soundtrack. (I got a copy from the public library… the way to go, man!)

Othello is based on a play William Shakespeare about a Moor, a highly respected general played by Wells, who promotes Cassio to be his personal lieutenant. In return, Iago, Cassio’s bitter rival and friend of Othello, enraged with jeolousy plots revenge. It is here where I find the colour of the Moor of no real importance in the reactions of Othello, and the others around him. It does not add or take away from the character who is a subject to manipulation, or bad faith. In Othello’s response there is no black way of responding or a white way – is there? As it transpires, Iago manipulates and enrages Othello, making him suspicious of his lovely and loyal wife Desdemona… ending tragically as like other great Shakespearean love stories.

March 10, 2009

Politics in sports

Filed under: interview,testimonies — newritings @ 1:58 pm

The reviews of John Carlin’s book Playing the enemy, which I have yet to read, are amazing. The Independent Book Review by Raymond Whitaker has a witty sub text: Mandela tries – and converts, which through rugby lingo, goes to the heart of the book. Whitaker says that “the photograph on the cover shows a moment that even those who have never been to South Africa, or witnessed a rugby match, would recognise as iconic. Nelson Mandela, the black revolutionary who emerged from 27 years in prison to become president, is handing the rugby World Cup to François Pienaar, a blonde giant who might have been chosen by Central Casting to represent white Afrikaner domination. Both men are wearing the Springbok rugby shirt, once a hated symbol of that domination.”

Then there is the  USA Today review by Bob Minzesheimer: “If you have any doubts about the political genius of Nelson Mandela, read John Carlin’s engrossing book inspired by a rugby game. When whites ruled South Africa, rugby — think football without helmets and pads — was their national sport, a secular religion and metaphor for apartheid’s brutality.”

The reviewer, points out that “It’s easy to overestimate the political influence of sports, which often is fleeting, despite all the drama and emotion. Carlin avoids that.” A movie I believe may be in the offing, but I hope this book-movie provides space for debate and recognition for those who consistently campaigned through sports (as a part of people’s culture) against Apartheid policies in sports and in society. Here we must acknowledge the stirling work inside the country of the South African Council on Sports (SACOS) which enjoyed great international recognition fighting racial oppression and exploitation. Some of its top leaders include Hassan Howa, Frank Van der Horst, Colin Clarke, Mr. Don Kali, M.N. Pather, and M.Morgan, Norman Middleton, and thousands of others who denied themselves the chance to play and administer sports at the highest level possible nationally (if society was just) and at international levels because of Apartheid.

Campaigning under the slogan NO NORMAL SPORTS IN AN ABNORMAL SOCIETY, Howa lead the way to isolate South Africa from all the sports codes, politically and culturally.

Internationally they worked closely with SANROC (South African Non racial Olympic Committee) where Sam Ramsammy was a courageous leader. Others in the Anti Apartheid movement, played their role and very few remember that the poet Dennis Brutus was one of the early anti apartheid sports campaigners, having served a time in Robben Island as well. There are many others, women especially who were not in leadership, who played a role.

So when Carlin writes about the rugby he knows that many people will not necessarily celebrate the joy and miracles, etc. that Mandela symbolizes for some. (And here I am not talking of the usual racist antagonists, but critics from the left!). Carlin’s  interview with the late Strini Moodley attests to this community of critics, and for the importance of their views I  will reproduce a snippet here-under.

One comrade and leader of the sports movement that was particularly strong in our schools was the late Reggie Feldman (also a teacher and principal of a high school). I recall one day a radio presenter friend asked me to approach him for an interview on a radio station about his views, and he was reluctant, in fact refused to go on, because he believed that the media will not be free to hear his views. I respected him for his role in the struggle, although I did not understand and did not agree with him about not engaging the media, albeit biased.

Finally, I believe it was easier to campaign to isolate South African racist sport than to build a truly non racial sports movement and society. SACOS had its faults and its critics, about its tactics and even strategies, especially around the political programme of many of its leaders who were aligned to the Non European Unity Movement, but one thing is certain: they were the only expression of politcs (public) in some communities and used sports creatively as both expression of human potential and joy and a weapon against racism. I recall in a long school bus journey from Joburg to CapeTown to run in the school sports meeting. In the bus with us, was Mr. N. Rathinasamy, was the first president of SANROC and a founder member of SACOS. He was the president of the South African Senior Schools Sport Association for many years, sharing leadership in the schools sports movement with Mr. R.A. both, now late, and were school principals– talking to us, about non racism: there is no such a thing as races. There is only one race – the human race!

(excerpt of the interview I mentioned ealier)

Has Mandela crossed that boundary on occasion that you just marked out there?

I’d have to think about that. I can’t remember the occasion but I suspect there was a time when I thought now he’s wrong. I can’t remember the time. But there must have been instances where he did cross the barrier.

I want to gauge your response to a couple of incidents when Mandela made waves, mainly in particular the Rugby World Cup … when he turned up wearing Francois Pienaar’s jersey …

… I’m not a rugby fan, so I wasn’t watching, but somebody told me about it or I saw it subsequently on a news broadcast. And I thought, well, what can I say? At a time when the leader of the country needed to be embracing black people, and putting his heart out to black people for all they’d been through, here he was doing this — in a game which was closed to the black community, first of all, and which very few black people supported.

But then I thought well, here’s this old man … he’d do a thing like that. It didn’t surprise me. It didn’t shock me. I felt that, again, we are doing something that is sending the wrong signal to both white and black people, but it was done, and there was nothing more one could do or say about it. I had hoped that what would subsequently happen is to see some kind of reciprocation from the white community, and it just reinforced my belief and my analysis that rather than have it reciprocated, he eventually gets taken to court, and is forced to be subjected to the most harshest examination. Now, those two things just in my mind are so inconceivable, so mutually exclusive, the man bends over backwards to reconcile. Not just with the sport, but the people who love the sport, who are primarily white, and those same people then take him and place him in a court and subject him to cross examination over the same issue of rugby. I just think well, there they go. Slapping him in the face again. I wonder if he is going to learn a lesson from it.

You say you are not a rugby man, but … you are a political man … the Springbok rugby team, the Springbok jersey–these were symbols of apartheid repression …


And there was Mandela wearing that jersey.

… if you want to know about the political aspect of it, I think Nelson simply demonstrated how he was caught in a time warp. Even though he was released from Robben Island, he was still living in the ’50s. It was a slap in the face for black people in terms of a political statement, that you take something like the Springbok emblem, and the Springbok rugby jersey on top of that, wear it, and black people must have felt appalled that this could be done. Politically, I think it was the worst thing that he could have done, in terms of representing black people. From the point of view of what everybody is now calling the rainbow nation, I suppose, ja. You know, who’s in the rainbow nation? What have we got, about 13% whites and add another five or six percent black people into that, and that’s your rainbow nation. Because at least 80% of people in this country don’t know the meaning of the word rainbow, because they’re still struggling to survive–living in poverty, homeless, jobless.

March 9, 2009

Some progressive/left views on the U.S. economic crisis

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article,some of my favorite things,testimonies — newritings @ 3:55 pm

karlmarxShenid Bhayroo, a South African citizen,  earned his Ph.D. from LSU in October, 2008 for his dissertation is “The Ownership of Online News: A Political Economy Analysis of http://www.Foxnews.Com and http://www.News.Yahoo.Com.”

In addition, he is an activist for justice in his field of work and in broader society. He also  blogs at

In solidarity


Friday night the Nation Magazine co-hosted a panel discusison on the economic crisis at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The panel, chaired by the Nation’s D.C. editor Chris Hayes, included; Joseph Stiglitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Jr, and Jeff Madrick. The session consisted of a five-minute presentation by each of the panelists, who then answered audience questions submitted on index cards. I am sure there are many such discussions all over the country, but I thought it useful to provide quick highlights of each of the presentations.

Joseph Stiglitz provided a brief explanation of the causes of the financial crisis in the U.S.: loose monetary policies, insufficient demand, and a transfer of money from spenders to non-spenders. The current crisis he argued is linked to the economic crisis of 1997/1998, which was mismanaged by the IMF and the World Bank.

Jeff Madrick attributed the cause of the crisis to the large-scale wage stagnation and wage decline in the United States. The U.S., he observes, is a low-wage society, and low wages result in more borrowing, which then creates more debt. Madrick noted that the Obama plan was not being implemented quick enough, that there was no need for tax cuts, and that housing was not adequately addressed. Interestingly, all the speakers were hesitant to criticize the Obama plan, stating that it is still early days and that Obama’s plan is a huge improvement on the previous regime’s handling of the economy.

Barbara Ehrenreich began by noting that 2008 – the year of the current crisis of U.S. capitalism was also the 160th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. American capitalism she began, has “left us with less than we had 100 years ago.” Our destiny has been determined by the “religion of market fundamentalism,” but the solution was not simply a matter of changing the means of ownership.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. focused on the recent history of popular resistance to wage decline (1970s) and the decline in living standards (1990s). Unfortunately, this resistance did not lead to large-scale struggle. In fact, Fletcher argued, organized labor has shown a “strategic “myopia” in its response to the financial crisis and the decline in living standards of its members.

The panel then answered questions from the audience with topics ranging from the U.S. auto industry bailout, to housing and credit rescue, to banking regulations, and middle class tax cuts. Cruiously absent from the questions and responses was mention of a working class – even progressives seem to talk about the U.S. class system as only consisting of the rich or wealthy class and the middle class. The panel responded from one of two broad positions: 1) how to improve the current capitalist market in order to make it more equitable and efficient or, 2) how the progressive left can use the current crisis in capitalism to create a new participatory democracy involving solidarity between the labor movement, the women’s movement, and other mass and civil society groups.

The global crisis of capitalism certainly presents an oppotunity for the creation of a coalition of the progresive left in the U.S. As Ehrenreich and Fletcher concede, the moment for “reimagining socialism” is is now, but there exists no plan on how to proceed.

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