A selection of op-eds and articles

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Police brutality is government policy

Mail & Guardian 12 July 2020

The cases of brutal enforcement of the Covid-19 lockdown wasn’t the work of a few bad apples but was rather part of an unofficial policy of police violence. The directive was, as the minister in charge of the South African Police Service (SAPS) said 20 years ago: “When we visit criminals we will not treat them with kid gloves … We will unleash the police force on them.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele didn’t give that directive — it was Steve Tshwete, a former safety and security minister. In 1999, he launched “a war on crime” when he said: “We are going to deal with criminals in the same way that a bulldog deals with a bull … We are going to give them hell.”

But the police were already giving people hell back then. And they never stopped.

The Brixton murder and robbery unit tortured Lucy Themba, 54, and Charlotte Pharamela, 24, in June 1996 with beatings, suffocation and electric shocks. Siphiwe Zide, 16, died in police custody on April 10 2000 in Barkly East: the police drove their van over his head. Thabo Mabaso, a journalist, went to Gugulethu police station to report a minor traffic accident on June 27 1998: the police assaulted him so badly that he lost an eye.

First beaten by soldiers of the South African National Defence Force in his Soweto home on September 5 1998 and then transferred to the police station in Germiston, Zweli Kenneth Ndlozi, 22, was found dead in his cell on September 7. A forensic pathologist examined his badly injured body, which appeared to have cigarette burns, and declared the cause of death to be “consistent with hanging — torture not excluded”.

David Bruce, then a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said in a 2002 report on police brutality that, from April 1998 to March 1999, the Independent Complaints Directorate (now the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, Ipid) recorded “1 051 cases of deaths as a result of police action, 468 cases of attempted murder and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, 128 cases of torture and 736 cases of common assault”.

Two decades later, not much has changed. A 2019 Viewfinder exposé in the GroundUp news site into police violence revealed that between April 2012 and March 2019 Ipid recorded 42 365 criminal complaints. The claims against the police were serious: murder and death in custody.

And Ipid’s budget was slashed.

With just 531 criminal convictions from the 42 365 complaints, either South Africans are going out of their way to tell a whole bunch of outrageous lies or the state isn’t all that interested in doing something about police brutality.

In 2015, the police minister, Nathi Nhleko, unlawfully suspended Ipid head Robert McBride. Why? McBride had been trying to make the directorate function. According to McBride’s recent testimony at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture, police crime intelligence officers moved into Ipid during his 18-month suspension.

Police ministers don’t talk about how, according to the World Economic Forum, South Africa ranks 121 out of 144 countries in terms of police reliability.

Nor do they talk about implementing police reform as per the National Development Plan, which calls for a demilitarised and professional force. Without such, crime rates will not decrease.

Instead, and as they have done for the past 20 years, ministers just keep on endorsing violence and the police keep on obliging. In a 2017 speech to Parliament, police minister Fikile Mbalula said: “We must declare war against crime. We must declare crime as domestic terrorism.” In 2008, deputy safety and security minister Susan Shabangu told the police: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or the community. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility.”

Echoing Tshwete’s instruction to police members in 2000 that criminals are “subhumans”, the deputy police minister in 2015, Maggie Sotyu, instructed the police to: “Treat heinous criminals as outcasts, who must neither have place in the society nor peace in their cells! They must be treated as cockroaches!”

Nazis called Jews cockroaches during World War II. Hutus called Tutsis cockroaches during the Rwandan genocide. The Hong Kong police are calling pro-democracy protesters cockroaches. The philosopher David Livingstone Smith recently pointed out in The Washington Post that “this sort of derogatory language can lead to a deeper kind of genuine dehumanisation. You call people cockroaches a lot, you start thinking that they are subhuman.”

And where does President Cyril Ramaphosa sit in all of this? He brought shoot-to-kill Cele back from the wilderness. Mbalula is his transport minister; Sotyu is the deputy minister of arts, culture and sport, and her boss, Nathi Mthethwa, was police minister when mineworkers were killed in 2012 at Marikana. Their law enforcement strategy is well-known: the police must beat and kill those it sees as criminals.

Just one cabinet reshuffle, a mere flick of a pen, is required to bring in politicians committed to police reform. If Ramaphosa doesn’t do that, then he can only but be in agreement with an unofficial policy of police violence in a lost war on crime.

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Abolish the army

Financial Mail 9 July 2020

The death of Collins Khosa has raised new questions about what purpose the army serves – other than to guzzle money SA doesn’t have.

When a corrupt, defunct, ill-disciplined and inherently violent institution is used to police a country, human rights abuses are inevitable. The death of Collins Khosa was the direct result of using the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to enforce civil regulations.

According to the auditor-general, R5.13bn out of the military’s R50bn budget in 2018 cannot be accounted for. Over the past five years, an unapproved R900m was spent on Cuban mechanics to fix vehicles manufactured in SA by Denel. And, in the past financial year, the generals spent R20.5m of public money on luxury cars.

To make it worse, sexual exploitation and abuse are also rife within the ranks. Last year, defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said she was “aware of the rampant cases of [these] incidents internally in deployment areas, as well as in the working environment. These are kept under wraps by the commanders.”

Defence expert Greg Mills estimates that only 10% of the SANDF’s 76,000 personnel are medically fit to be deployed. The average age at the SANDF is between 40 and 48. Expensive arms deal fighter planes, frigates and submarines are parked in hangars and docks because of a chronic lack of fuel. Much of the military’s equipment is obsolete or broken.

Military theorists have a solution: double the SANDF’s budget and reorganise combat services.

Writing in defenceWeb, Helmoed Römer Heitman argues the model for the SANDF should be “the German army between World War 1 and World War 2”.

I have a better idea: getting rid of the entire SANDF. It’s a better solution than spending money we don’t have on something we don’t need.

Instead, the SANDF’s budget could be spent on disaster management, emergency medical services and upgraded clinics and hospitals.

Ultimately, militaries are dedicated to one thing: slaughtering people. An army is an institution created, at great expense, to commit immoral and heinous acts that have no place in the modern world. The 100% guaranteed way for a country to prevent its army from killing and assaulting children — war always falls heaviest on civilians — is not to have an army.

Moral philosophy has moved on from the old ethic, popular around the 8th century BCE, that virtue consists of glory in war.

One of philosophy’s true heavyweights was rather sceptical of war. In the 4th century BCE, Aristotle argued that only defensive wars are just. In our geopolitical situation, this is irrelevant anyway: no-one is going to invade us, not even hyper-expansionary Lesotho.

The truth is that the real threat to our safety is not from external forces, but from each other. We don’t need Rooivalk attack helicopters; we need social workers, detectives, prosecutors, a working prison system and a functioning economy.

The SANDF is collapsing and unless we invest heavily — for which there are zero funds — there’s no hope for it. Better to sell off the Gripens, give the troops early retirement and save money. Militaries don’t create wealth, they consume it.

As for peacekeeping, we no longer have the aircraft to deploy troops and equipment north of the border. Nor do we have the ability to reinforce our troops. The 2013 debacle in the Central African Republic resulted in the fall of the Bozize government and soldiers coming home in coffins.

Contrary to government propaganda, the SANDF hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory on peacekeeping missions. Allegations of and convictions on sex crimes have dogged the army’s mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for decades. In a 2015 article entitled “An Army of Sex Pests”, The Times reported that the SANDF was the worst offender of gender-based violence of all the peacekeeping forces in the DRC. And this happened in a country where mass rape was used as a weapon of war.

About R27m worth of military hardware went missing during the SANDF’s 2006 deployment in Burundi. Some of the weapons ended up in the hands of the FNL Phalipe-Hutu rebels who were attacking the largest city, Bujumbura, at the time.

If we’re brave enough to imagine it, there could be a different role for SA on the continent, and one that doesn’t involve hurting children (as our soldiers were convicted of in the DRC).

Civilian populations in war zones or suffering from natural disasters need doctors, water specialists, food aid and emergency services.

Let’s provide that rather, there and at home.

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In just two months we have veered towards tyranny

Sunday Times 24 May 2020

One year ago, we voted in a free and fair election in a progressive and open country. For all of their faults, the executive and legislative branches were committed to not just preserving liberty but enhancing it. And politicians were governing as democrats. Times have changed.

Not only did it mark liberation from a totalitarian regime, the 1994 election was both an irrevocable mandate for a democratic state and a watershed in humanity’s quest for liberty. The first written record of the word “freedom”, in ancient Sumerian cuneiform, dates to 2300 BCE when people in what is now Iraq were revolting against a tyrannical regime.

The constant push for liberty has marked the flow of history and has often been paid for in blood, as in SA. Our constitution is a particularly remarkable addition to this history.

What the constitution drives for is an individual’s freedom to determine his or her own life, without interference from the state – philosophers call this “negative liberty”. Neither the state nor society can impose any other life on you. If you want to spend your life studying beetles, you can. If you want to drink yourself into an early grave, you can do that too. Your choice alone.

Read the rest here

Centuries before the colonisers came, Christianity and Islam seeded a rich and ancient lineage in Africa

Sunday Times, 22 December 2019

Every so often, a strange notion about religion in Africa comes forth: simply put, it is the idea that neither Christianity nor Islam are African. The thinking is that colonialists and Arabs brought these religions to Africa, converted Africans and thus mentally enslaved them with foreign ideas. Only by returning to ‘traditional’ African belief systems can Africans be free.

To be frank, much is downright wrong with this notion. Even if this view of history is correct—in other words, even if we grant the notion for the sake of argument—it is highly insulting and quite rude. Africa has roughly 500 million Christians and 400 million Muslims. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Christians and 63% of Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa favour making laws reflecting Biblical codes and sharia respectively. So 900 million people are psychologically colonised?

However, neither slurs nor bad manners are illegal. They are, in fact, the hallmarks of free speech. Crass insults can also be true but not in this case.

Many early Christian communities and pivotally important thinkers, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), for the development of Christianity came out of North Africa. And not just North Africa: for example, the Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) sent a delegation to the Council of Florence in 1441.

Read the rest here

Forget the market or the state, we’ll save ourselves from this ruin

Sunday Times, 05 January 2020

At the end of 2019 and like a gambler with the mortgage on the line and a wavering floozy on his arm, government threw frenzied dice down the long craps table that public policy has become. Sport is to be nationalised. Minister Nathi Mthethwa has decreed that he will be the commissar of cricket, rugby, football and jukskei.

Worst idea since VAR.

There are two commodities that are always in fashion: oil and guns. Yet government has managed to screw up both PetroSA and Denel. Those state owned enterprises could only be more mismanaged if Denel was ordered to shell the PetroSA refinery at Mossel Bay.

Read the rest here

A society addled by political delusions, from white power to washing clean the ANC

Sunday Times, 10 November 2019

Unless you count Johnnie Walker Blue and Moët by the truckload, our politicians’ delusions don’t seem to be the product of sustained drug abuse. Although, it kinda looks that way. The South Africa they talk about isn’t the one that we live in.

No one has ever suggested that Queen Victoria and her lads over at the Institute for Race Relations were suffering from cocaine psychosis. Instead, Zille and friends were just talking amongst themselves, passing around dirty copies of Hayek, and convincing each other that they were right. In the process, they somehow lost sight of the fact that white people only account for about 8% of the population.

Then reality intruded on their 19th century dream. The DA’s black leadership quite rightly said stuff this and so went the fairly decent chance of the DA transforming itself into an inclusive middle class party based on liberal centrism. Gone for decades.

Well done, Helen. You and your chaps have managed to become more tactically inept than Ole Solskjær’s Manchester United.

All that said, the DA’s travails are a mere sideshow. It’s not running the country and, as illustrated above, has no chance to do so in the foreseeable future. The ANC’s delusions are a more serious matter because they affect us all and will do so for a generation.

The ANC’s primary delusion is that if it passes a law or creates a new policy, then this law or policy will somehow become reality. Put another way, it’s the pathological notion that to legislate something is to make it so.

Read the rest here.

Instead of politics we have endless attempts to manipulate political reality

Sunday Times, 18 October 2019

South Africa’s politicians are gaslighting the nation. Misdirection, contradictions and lies are being used to manipulate the country’s reality towards a very narrow type of politics and away from the real issues of our time.

There was never a “rogue unit” at SARS. Yet for the revolutionaries in red, those sons of the soil, the rogue unit was a such a threat to the principles of fair taxation that the judiciary’s time and resources must be used to punish the unit’s fictitious masterminds. The EFF views Pravin Gordhan as a rebooted version of Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984.

Over at Luthuli House, the great economic question of our time, the one issue that must be debated, is changing the ownership of the Reserve Bank. For once the Reserve Bank is no longer privately owned, then it will be able to do exactly what it is doing now: setting interest rates and issuing coins and banknotes. Economic policy is no longer about the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services: it is a cudgel in ugly factional disputes about who gets a ministerial sports car. Implementation of actual economic policy is irrelevant.

The Public Protector has launched into a holy war against President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of a wider messianic struggle within the ruling party. Instead of investigations into corruption within municipalities, Busisiwe Mkhwebane distracts with affidavits, dubious claims originating from secret sources, and outright lies.

The politicians have managed to manipulate and destabilise the notion that politics is about societal problems and issues. Instead, individual vendettas have become the topics of ordinary conversation and the media documents these spats one Facebook post at a time. And this brand of politics suits the elites just fine.

Read the rest here

Amid a fog of deception, what if Malema is not lying?

Business Day, 23 March 2018

Politicians lie. Except when they don’t, and our problem is that it is extremely hard to separate the truth from their falsehoods. Our politics is a swirling post-truth fog where nothing is quite what it seems.

Of course, we all tell lies and more often than we readily admit. Little white lies such as look at what the Easter Bunny brought you. Bigger lies such as I’m the perfect candidate for this job, stacks of experience. People do misrepresent themselves, sometimes out of shame, sometimes for fun, sometimes to get laid.

Politicians, however, are in a league of their own. They actively and knowingly create a world of smoke and mirrors to hide their real political agendas. A New Dawn? Please, the new cabinet is basically the old cabinet and the parliamentary benches are depressingly the same. Mining will be a sunrise industry? South Africa’s mineral reserves are declining and any future mines will be highly mechanised.

Either Patricia de Lille is a crook or the DA’s old guard, probably headquartered in Stellenbosch, doesn’t want a coloured mayor. Who knows. As for De Lille herself, the Pan African Congress to the Independent Democrats to the Democratic Alliance…shrug. The only thing that seems to be reasonable certain is that the DA can’t, despite statements to the contrary, keep its own house and Helen Zille in order.

Election manifestos declare that each and every social ill will be solved. They are filled with promises that crime will disappear, poverty will be eradicated, hospitals will function and jobs will fall like manna from heaven. But these manifestos belong in the fantasy section of Exclusive Books.

Post-2019, gangsters will continue to sling tik, Eskom will roll over debt until the sun goes supernova, and Bafana Bafana will lose; quite possibly to an under-9 team from Guam.

Read the rest here

Leninism looms large over ANC’s self-destruction

Business Day, 04 September 2017

Wreckers, spies, saboteurs, diversionists…the hunt is on within the African National Congress. The 8th of August 2017 motion of no confidence marked the start of a long purge. The ANC will root out those MPs who voted against President Zuma, those comrades who forgot that they are Members of the Party and not Members of Parliament.

The Counter-Revolutionary Rightist Bloc will be eradicated. The show trials have already begun.

On the 17th of August 2017, the ANC dismissed MP Makhosi Khosa from her job as the chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal will continue to grind her out in a disciplinary process.

The Hawks are back to circling around Pravin Gordhan, more vultures than hawks, I think. This time, they are going to drag Jabu Moleketi and Trevor Manuel into the proceedings. Jimmy Manyi must be pleased.

In 2016, Manyi opened a case with the Public Protector against Manuel, Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene over Eskom’s loss of R100bn. The case has nothing to do with Eskom and everything to do with Manuel’s 2011 open letter, in which he called Manyi, “…a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd.”

Does the Economic Freedom Fighter’s Floyd Shivambu remember his 2011 remarks about that letter? Back when he was in the Youth League, Shivambu said, “We now do not know who Trevor Manuel represents, because his remarks falls squarely into the political agenda of right-wing political forces opposed to the ANC.”

One must also appreciate the irony of Derek Hanekom’s impending fate. In 2012, Hanekom spearheaded the ANC’s purge of Shivambu, Sindiso Magaqa and Julius Malema. Magaqa’s crime was to insult Malusi Gigaba. Live by the long knife, Comrade Hanekom, die by it.

Read the rest here

We should all be ashamed of our inequality and poverty

Daily Maverick, 26 October 2016

The news is getting surreal. The National Prosecuting Authority wants to throw Pravin Gordhan into jail, so Pravin exposes Gupta corruption. Students protest, buildings burn and universities have given up on holding exams, except for Stellenbosch University. All quiet on the winelands front. The police save us from the evils of a priest standing still. Zuma’s chief lackey, Des van Rooyen, interdicts Thuli’s report on state capture while the ANC praises her report on state capture.

The law of gravity is an instrument of Aryan repression. The ANCYL’s chairperson, Collen Maine, is now in the running for a Nobel Prize in economics: apparently, junk status would be great for the country. And the patriotic Russians over at Eskom lurch closer to procuring a trillion rand of nuclear power.

Drama, drama, drama.

I hope that the craft beer swilling folks at the Democratic Alliance have also tripped over into wonderland. I really do because the DA’s warning that the Department of Social Development won’t be ready to disburse social grants on April 1, 2017 is, well, I can’t think of a metaphor about how scary that is.

Seventeen million South Africans depend on social grants. That’s about a third of the entire population. Meagre old age pensions and foster care grants are the only things preventing our people from returning to the days of apartheid’s rickets and extended bellies. Yet we may not be able to pay social grants. How bad has it got if there is a shadow of a doubt about our welfare net?

Even if the odds are one in a hundred that we fail to pay granny’s lifeline in seven months from now, we should be worried. The country will burn if people aren’t paid their grants, and so it should. We don’t deserve peace if we, out of administrative incompetence, throw 17-million back into extreme poverty.

Hennie Lötter, a South African philosopher, has pointed out that, “Poverty has been called ‘the world’s most ruthless killer and the greatest cause of suffering on earth’.” The social grants scheme is one of the ANC’s finest policy decisions. But let’s not go overboard with the praise – helping out the poorest of us is no fantastic moral virtue, it is the very least we can do. We would have lost the remnants of our humanity if we hadn’t.

But we have somehow stopped talking about poverty. Or HIV/Aids for that matter. Poverty and HIV/Aids should be the headline news, every single day. We should be tweeting about the desperation in Bloemhof, Lindley and Zastron. And no, they aren’t obscure parts of Zamdela. Look ‘em up on Google Maps: I know you’re reading this on a smartphone that costs more than a war veteran’s grant, so no excuse. Especially since you got free wi-fi with your overpriced latte.

One of the reasons, I think, that we focus on everything but the daily hardships of the majority is that poverty seems so normal. South Africa’s inequality is omnipresent: there are the rich and there are the poor and that’s the way it has been and always will be. If so, then we have a horrendous collective failure of imagination.

To channel Norman Mailer, fug that. I’m gonna dream that within my lifetime South Africa will have 10% unemployment. I hope that all our kids will not only have enough to eat but can also go on a holiday: even if it is only a trip from the Cape Flats to the beach where they can smear ice cream all over their precious faces. Yes, some children in Manenberg have never gone to the beach.

We should all dream about the eradication of poverty, and to make that dream a reality we need to talk about poverty. All the time.

Another reason, I suspect, why the middle-class is obsessed with flights out of Waterkloof and Game of Thrones instead of foster care grants and shacks is that poverty rattles our conscience. We sit in cafés and throw down a couple of hundred rand. We can’t get our kids off the PlayStation, which is most annoying as we also want to save the galaxy one pixel at a time.

Very few of us would have domestic workers if they were paid a living wage of R8,000 a month. You’d have to carry your own golf clubs if our economic system functioned. Heck, the entire economy is based off cheap black labour in mines, farms and smelters. Our nearly 40% unemployment helps to lower wages: the poor have to fight each other for scarce jobs, bidding down their labour value while we reap the benefits.

The guilt of driving a new car while kids walk 10km to school in shoes that their parents bled for leads to weak and desperate justifications. We have jobs because we work hard: try working underground and you’ll see what hard work is. We had parents who invested in us: all over this country people are trying their level best just to keep their kids in school, off nyaope and away from violence.

If you think that black people are lazy, please emigrate to America and join Donald Trump.

We should all be ashamed of our inequality and poverty. Hiding away in gated communities and complaining about corruption won’t defeat poverty: we have to discuss it. As for the ANC, stop dazzling us with the soap opera of your factional battles. Get back to your desks and make this country what it should be: a country where, “Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres.”

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