On Ethnic Discrimination

June 7, 2009

So I’ve been following the story about Indian students studying in Australia being beaten up regularly over the last few weeks, by the local Australians and I’m wondering what the deal is here. Some Australian guy commented that actually its “poor” Australian youth beating up poor Indian students. Huh?

I’m reminded of the xenophobic attacks that went on here in SA, last year, and I tried hard to understand, whether it was poverty that was driving those attacks (given that it was largely black / African people attacking and killing other black / African people) or whether it was ethnicism / nationalism.  It was even more outrageous, when some SA men started saying that people of other nationalities deserved being treated like that, because they are stealing jobs and women from the local men. Huh again? I think that must have been the most shameful point in our post-apartheid history as a society.

Why can’t people just get along ? Sigh !


On Remembering…

December 16, 2008

Memory. Its a powerful aspect of the human condition. The idea that human beings remember, recall, reminisce or reflect on past events, so that they can either savour them or not forget things that will help them to not repeat mistakes. Sadly the latter is something we don’t seem to do very well, while the former is one we sometimes take for granted.

This post is inspired by many recent events happening around me. But perhaps the catalyst is a film I watched recently, called Amu, which documents the story of  the 1984 riots and massacre in Delhi. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed, by Hindu nationalists in a revenge attack for the assasination of Indira Gandhi, whose bodyguard was a Sikh. When the film first came out (2005), there were attempts to suppress it, more particularly by Indian officials, with the argument being made that it is better  to forget such things that  only bring about unpleasantness. Forget ? How convenient.  Its the same argument that gets made by American officials who would be happier if the world forgot about their role in Vietnam and Iraq or the Isreali government, trying to cover up Sabra and Shattilla (amongst dozens of other massacres) or the Saudis wanting us to forget the murder of innocent schoolgirls because of the actions of their police officers. And then theres the whole legacy of European colonialism, slavery, genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere, and of course apartheid.

These are the atrocities that have been committed by human beings against their own kind. How they get justified through the writing of history is truly an education. Slavery and colonialism have been  justified as the white man “civilising” the savages and beasts of the new world, and bringing “God” to the dark continent. In all of these acts of brutality, God gets implicated a lot of the time. I reckon He’s not too pleased about being blamed for things that humans do, in His name. We need to remember that its people carrying out these violent acts. No where does it say in any of the religious texts that God sanctions the killing of innocents.  

And then there are cases where remembering becomes a reason to kill. A history of persecution and genocide as in the case of the Jewish community has indirectly led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over 6o years, by Israeli fundamentalists who, afraid that they will be “wiped out”, continue to kill people whose own birthright has been stolen from them. Let us remember that it was the Romans that drove the Jews out of Palestine in 70AD and Christian Germans who killed them ruthlessly in the second world war.  The price though gets paid by people who had nothing to do with the historical persecution of the Jewish community, but they are constructed as the ‘enemy’.

When we remember what has passed, it is important to do so without the coloured lens of tribalism, religious affiliations, nationalist sentiments and emotional clutter. While these things give context to our memory, it is important that the truth does not get distorted because of our occasional inability to see the trees from the forests and vice versa.

Remembering is perhaps both a gift and a curse. Either way, we should not forget (excuse the weak attempt at a pun here) the responsibilities that come with it.

Yes we (absolutely, most definitely, damn well) can

November 5, 2008

My faith in the human spirit has been restored. Although only time will tell what is yet to unfold, something profound has happened today, with Barack Obama becoming the first black president of the United States.

That is in itself a victory.

Can a Muslim American ever become president of the US ?

November 3, 2008

On the eve of what is probably going to be one of the most momentous political elections of this decade (if not this century), viz the US Presidential elections, I am asking a somewhat dodgy question : )

Dodgy because it is perhaps a question that acts like the bogeyman of international politics…ooh….scary stuff. This issue has plagued Barack Obama, because his middle name happens to be Hussein, and his father was a Muslim. So ? And so what if he was a Muslim, which he actually isn’t ? Does that somehow make him less qualified, less suitable, less viable, less competent to hold this office?

I think that most of America, despite being so diverse is really not able to deal with difference as much as it may claim to. Deep seated doubts, suspicions and unfounded fears continue to plague the American electorate and its psyche, around the issue of the race and religion of their Presidential candidates. Black people, Muslims, Latinos, etc are seen as suspect, because of all the stereotypes associated with these communities. What I fail to understand however is, why don’t questions about people who are of the Christian or Jewish or any other faith, who commit atrocities, get raised?  After all it was White Christians who colonised much of the developing world and established slavery. It was also White Christians who dropped nuclear bombs on innocent people (albeit in a war situation), and invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9 /11. Should we not then be asking whether a White Christian is a suitable candidate for the highest office in the US? But clearly because white Christian males have been in charge for so long, the possibility of any one of another race / religion  taking over, scares the hell out of some white folk. Some people would rather have a rabidly anti-feminist type like Sarah Palin, in the white house, just because she’s white,…than a black man who would do everything to give his daughters and other’s daughters all the opportunities, that they deserve.

I’m hoping Americans can get past these insecurities and make the right decision, not just for themselves but others in the rest of the world. We in Africa would like to be able to respect America once again as that example of all that is hope and promise. Please don’t let us down again.

Its Election Time …..again

October 20, 2008

Election fever is in the air…if its not the US elections that everyone’s buzzing about, then here in South Africa, early campaigning has started in earnest, with the (now split) ANC carrying out “outreach” programmes in various communities, in the buildup to next year’s presidential elections.

So I decided to sacrifice a Sunday afternoon (which I normally spend doing things, I’d rather not mention on this blog : ), and go along to one such “outreach” meeting. Having sworn to never align myself to any party political agenda, this meeting was a reminder for me, about why I had decided to take such a position, in the first place. The audience was “treated” to a visit down memory lane, to be reminded about the ANC’s great legacy. I nodded at the bits about the party leadership up till 1996…pretty much everything that has happened within the ANC since then, has for me, left much to be desired. Let me not be misunderstood however….the ruling party has brought a level of political stability to South Africa, that is, compared to other African nations, impressive and worthy of being praised. However it has also been the party, under who’s leadership, there is now a greater gap between rich and poor, more HIV infections, and greater levels of poverty and crime.

So the ANC tries to, at this outreach meeting, convince those attending, that it still has the interests of ALL at heart. I don’t doubt this…I’m just wondering though, how committed the party is, to showing this in some substantive way, like actually rejecting its neoliberal agenda, and refocusing its efforts on addressing the concerns of the poor masses, those people who have consistently voted the party into power, since 1994. I have however yet to see this really happening, since the Polokwane conference last year.  

Hmmm….I wait with bated breath…after all election fever is in the air. Anything can happen.

On Powell and Obama

October 19, 2008

Well….it had to  happen….eventually. Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, a man who once had presidential ambitions has given his blessing and endorsement to Barack Obama, as his preferred candidate for US president. Now, lets not dwell on the obvious, ie, that it is inevitable for one black man to support another black man, etc. I’ve always maintained that Powell, despite his stupidity in having made the case for going to war at the UN, some years ago, is a pretty smart guy. You gotta be, to survive in the cutthroat space of US politics. His downfall however came, when he backed the wrong horse, viz, one GW Bush, and stood by him, for all that time. I guess, some realization eventually dawned, when he realized the error of his ways.  

The intriguing question is, why is it that Powell, after sort of being out of the picture for all this time, decides to make a public declaration of support for Obama. And he is supposed to be a Republican for heaven’s sake. I can just imagine McCain having an ulcer just thinking about this latest development. We can assume that Palin, doesn’t have much of an opinion about it. She probably reckons…aw shucks, John, dontcha worry yourself silly about none of that. We got Gawd and all dem good Christian folk on our side.

But it is something to ponder over. Is Powell looking to re-enter mainstream politics, or is it that he is trying to make peace with his conscience, supporting a man who will try and bring back US troops, from a place they should never have gone to in the first place? I think that clearly he has had to live with himself and his mistakes for all this time, and perhaps it helps him deal with it to offer support for a man (and lets leave out the black man tag on this) who might help in redeeming his tarnished legacy.

Whatever the reason, it is no doubt a coup for Obama, and for the broader anti-war campaign. Getting the Kennedy’s support was already a major boost, other prominent democrats was a bonus, and now Powell. The signs look good for Obama. Lets just hope there is no terrorist bomb that goes off in the week before the elections, which makes the US electorate jittery. The  consequences of this, are just too horrendous to contemplate.

Of Spats, Splits and Suspensions : Where to now for the ANC ?

October 13, 2008

The news that members of the ANC such as Terror Lekota are being “suspended”, by the ANC’s executive, is, given the recent shenanigans of the so called “lefty” ANC, really quite laughable. It raises all kinds of questions about the moral and ethical fabric  of the ANC structures, which seem to have been  seriously denuded, over the last few weeks. In fact the signs were there from Polokwane, which signalled the beginning of the demise, not because a new leadership structure was elected, but because the emphasis of the changing of the guard was around bringing into power a man who was effectively someone who would, it was assumed, pay back the favors of political support he had recieved, once in office. Of course this practice is nothing new in politics, what was surprising however was that it was taking place amongst the successors of struggle stalwarts such as Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Sisulu and others, who would most definitely not have condoned the decisions that have been taken by the current leadership.

The question now arises : what next for a party that is basically lurching from one crisis to another? Spats and splits amongst ANC factions have happened before, but with suspensions taking place, does this mean that there are now some members who have the “legitimate” right to speak for the ANC and others who don’t? How do we understand the new dynamics of what is going on?

It would appear that the ANC is actually going through not just a political crisis but an existential one as well. The foundations on which it was established have seemingly been replaced by self-serving narrow interests and agendas, where the point of struggle is now no longer about striving towards social justice, equality and non-racialism, but the goal has become “geared” towards advancing crony capitalism, factionalism and sharing the spoils of elite pacting.

Of course this tendency was alive and well  under Mbeki’s regime too, so for the new leadership to claim that it will change the way things were done, is rich. What has happened at Polokwane, is that those that were out of the “inner” circle, have now become part of it, and they will simply take forward the established modus operandi, couched in some fancy lefty rhetoric.  More old wine with new bottles, showing a crack here and there.

As for the rest of us, well we can only try and not become bilious at these mercenary tactics playing themselves out. I think it might actually be good for a new party to come out of the ANC split, because this will illustrate to the new ANC vanguard that while they might consider themselves as the only game in town, there are those who will not tolerate being told that they no longer “belong”. They will despite their own shortcomings, find new political life, and may even become a better option for the masses, than the mother body. While I am not holding my breath, that this may actually happen, I hope I am pleasantly surprised.