Category Archives: journalism & technology
Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:
Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth. The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed.
For more than two hundred years, we have.
Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free. We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.
Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce; schools and colleges to train our workers.
Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.
Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.
Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise; our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, are constants in our character.
But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias. No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.
This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience. A decade of war is now ending. An economic recovery has begun. America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention. My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it – so long as we seize it together.
For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship. We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.
We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time. We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens with the skills they need to work harder, learn more, and reach higher. But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed.
We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war. Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty. The knowledge of their sacrifice will keep us forever vigilant against those who would do us harm. But we are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well.
We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear. America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation. We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.
It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.
That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride.
They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope.
You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.
Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.
Thank you, God Bless you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Loyiso Nongxa;
Director of the Wits School of journalism, Professor Anton Harber;
The family of the late Anton Hammerl;
Members of the Ruth First Committee;
The Community of the University of Witwatersrand;
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am humbled by your invitation to join the list of luminaries who have delivered the Ruth First memorial Lecture before me.
I also wish to thank the Wits School of Journalism for creating this public platform, so that our nation can continue to have a free interchange of different views and draw lessons from our past to chart a way forward.
Before proceeding, I would like to acknowledge the presence of the family of the late South African photographer, Mr Anton Hammerl. It is probably ironic that Ruth First, the person whose life we are honouring tonight, wrote about the Libyan Revolution and its possible pitfalls! Then, 29 years after her murder at the hands of an illegitimate regime, a South African journalist (Hammerl) is killed in the “Second Revolution” in Libya.
Ruth First was such a remarkable human being who made a lasting impression in almost all areas in which she immersed herself.
Such was her commitment to and level of brilliance in her work that I dare say it will take volumes to capture her life and its meaning for us today.
Because the present is but the synthesis of the contradictory forces of the past, learning to reflect on our past helps inoculate us, as far as possible, from the malady of repeating past follies.
So it is all the more advisable to pay heed to the generation that shaped the character and value system of the struggle for justice based on morally commendable claims as we build a people-centred democracy. There could be no sufficient understanding of modern day South Africa and hence the future we are constructing if such understanding does not proceed from the historical consciousness set off by earlier generations.
In this connection, a peek into Ruth First’s biography affords us an opportunity to grasp the permissive conditions from which she emerged to become a titan of our struggle for justice and democracy.
Ruth First was a communist born to communist parents. Her parents were Marxists who became active in the formation and life of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), later the South African Communist Party (SACP).
Continuing with the family tradition, Ruth First joined the CPSA, which was beginning to forge tentative but steady ties with the African National Congress, the South African Indian Congress, the African People’s Organisation and the trade unions. This turn of events signalled the beginning of the CPSA’s long and tested commitment to the fight against national oppression.
So, at an earlier stage in her life as a young white South African woman, Ruth First would have developed a clear if nascent conception of the race/class nexus in the developing South African capitalism. Her grasp of national oppression would have been enhanced by her own family background. Her parents had come from Eastern Europe, a region reeling under the noxious conditions of religious and ethnic persecutions.
This made it possible for Ruth First to develop a heightened sense of justice. Her developing moral universe was thus based on the concerns of international solidarity and exalted humanism. In consequence, coming from an activist family predisposed her to cultivate a sophisticated understanding of the historical process as it unfolded in South Africa, manifested in this symbiotic relationship between race and class.
It is worth remembering that like all key leaders within the Congress Alliance, Ruth First’s thought processes occurred within the ideological parameters of her political home, the SACP. She was first and foremost a communist who saw, read, and comprehended external reality in Marxist categories.
Be that as it may, being part of a collective did not mean forgoing her individuality; at any rate, her rugged, independent intellectualism could not countenance the culture of conformism and parrotry.
This made it possible for Ruth First to flourish as a thinker, a researcher, a writer and an activist, contributing to the intellectual growth of the organisations she served, just as these organisations created the social milieu propitious for her development. This and other exceptional qualities that Ruth First possessed should inspire us to take a leaf from her copybook today.
For the purpose of focusing our discussion I would like to direct us to the question: what is the meaning of Ruth First’s thoughts in post-apartheid South Africa and post-colonial Africa?
I hope this way of framing the focus of this address will help us identify some of the lessons we can learn from her life with the view to advancing her vision in the present tense.
Since Ruth First’s life was versatile, I will therefore attempt to identify at least three areas which seem relevant to her contribution. These are:
· Post-apartheid democracy;
· Journalism and Academic work; and
In whatever we do, our strategic goal as a nation is the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist, just and prosperous society. This is no mere rhetoric. This vision galvanised the life of Ruth First and her contemporaries in the struggle. It remains the political framework guiding all our efforts in post-apartheid South Africa.
In keeping with this vision, post-apartheid South Africa has brought about meaningful changes in the lives of many South Africans who had been previously excluded from the benefits of the South African nation-state. While the many difficulties we still confront cannot be underplayed, there is universal acknowledgement that South Africa today is better than it was before 1994.
Such is the importance of the relationship between the quality of life and democracy that if we fail the first time in this regard there is virtually no chance of recovery. Without palpable, material changes in the everyday lives of the people, democracy is reduced to a pro-forma status. In substance, we cannot claim to be free when we are only enjoying freedom to vote but not freedom from poverty or the freedom to educate our children and to also extend effective health services to our families; in sum, to create a better life for all South Africans.
A passing glance at history shows that conditions of socio-economic stagnation breed social malaise and discontent. In itself, poverty is antithetical to social cohesion and has the propensity to tear the social fabric apart, creating feelings of insecurity and marginalisation, especially among national groups and the poorest of the poor.
Scarcity of resources leads to social fissures based on a subjective understanding of social conditions, in turn impacting negatively on the process of mobilising our people behind a common vision of equality and justice. As a result, a nation with such a brittle historical identity as South Africa can ill-afford to neglect growing the economy to address the basic needs of its people while working to deepen common national consciousness.
Conditions of want in societies with a history of fragile social relations are bound to undermine the process of social cohesion, which is often manifested in perceptions of racism, feelings of group marginalisation and pronounced ethnic consciousness. Our case in South Africa is not made any easier by the fact that we are still nursing wounds from the past as a people. As you know it is easier for wounds to hurt than to heal.
In this regard, and given our aforementioned strategic goal, I am disposed to admit that government could have used national symbols more effectively than it has been doing till now in weaving this fabric of social cohesion. At a symbolic level, the enthusiasm with which the people of a country accept and react to national symbols constitutes a useful barometer of how united a country is in its diversity. Going by the experience of the last 17 years, one would be hard put concluding that at this level we have hit the mark.
Nevertheless, even though a room for improvement still exists, from its side, government remains amenable to partnerships that seek to assist in building a united country driven by the values of solidarity and progressive humanism; a society with a clear understanding of the history that has shaped its present character.
And yet if unity of our people is pivotal, the pestilence of corruption menacing the soul of our democracy is a life and death matter on which our future depends. I would contend that after racism, corruption is the second most serious malady staring humanity in the face today. Corruption is cancerous; it eats away at the vitals of society, since it ultimately chokes off key societal institutions.
With this concern in mind government has over time put together a battery of anti-corruption systems. However, in the end it is up to individual members of society occupying positions of trust to heed their conscience. No matter how effective the laws of the land are the fight against corruption boils down to the individual’s sense of right and wrong.
It follows that we need a conscious intervention at the level of education to enable our nation to appreciate the devastation corruption is causing in the long term. We may need to begin exploring creative ways of introducing subjects related to ethics into our school curriculum very early in the development of the learner.
In the end corruption is not a matter of government alone; it concerns all of us, since it affects society at large. It takes political leaders, the media, business leaders, civil society, public intellectuals, academics and communities to identify the root causes of corruption and to mount a sustained struggle to liquidate it from society’s system of thought.
Once again we know that during her lifetime, Ruth First fired consistent broadsides at all defaulters on principles. We know that she rejected the creeping Stalinism of the 20th century with the same gusto that she castigated corrupt, autocratic post-colonial African states. Her forthrightness, eloquence and ability to research issues of social concern with the object of identifying appropriate remedial action would have made a notable difference to the quality of our public discourse on challenges such as the insidious culture of corruption.
Ruth First spent her life fighting censorship. She had envisaged a South Africa where freedom of expression was as essential as the air we breathe. Today’s democratic South Africa stands as a monument to her quest for this noble goal. Accordingly we must commit never to betray these ideals, now or in the future.
South Africa is a constitutional democracy, based on the principle of separation of powers. As you know, the principle of separation of powers means that the legislators make the laws which the executive implements and the courts interpret. As a constitutional democracy, South Africa has as one of its pillars the principle of judicial review.
All her life Ruth First steadfastly held on to the notion that the people are the prime movers of history and therefore believed in their ability to change their own conditions.
So she clearly understood that people are not just passive recipients. She viewed organisations, institutions, leadership and publications as raising agents and not a substitute for the people in the course of the struggle.
Therefore she played the role of an organiser in the media context, using media space to empower ordinary people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In addition to her journalistic prowess Ruth First is also known for her exceptional academic work. She was an engaged, empirical and activist intellectual both as a journalist and as an academic. Opposed to ivory tower academia, she carried out research with the intention of making a difference in the lives of the people.
Her conception of the role of a university in society leaves us today with some notable tasks. An obvious one among these is the dire need for the African university to be at the heart of African development by leading the charge in the continental efforts to seek African solutions to African problems, while contributing to new forms of knowledge systems. That is the legacy that Ruth First has bequeathed to us and posterity. .
Her academic and journalistic endeavours reflected her political orientation. A prolific writer, some of her works include:
· 117 Days-an account of her imprisonment in South Africa;
· South West Africa – a study of colonial oppression by Germany and South Africa;
· The Barrel of the Gun – a study of military rule and political power in Africa;
· Libya – a profile of colonel Gaddafi and his objectives;
· Black Gold, the Mozambican miner – a study of the lives of Mozambican migrant labourers in South Africa.
In addition she assisted with other works, such as Kenyan leader Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru, Nelson Mandela’s No Easy Walk to Freedom, Govan Mbeki’s Peasant Revolt and also co-authored South African Connection and Olive Shreiner.
Beyond being an academic Ruth First was also a teacher, she dedicated part of her life to teaching so as to empower others.
As her colleague at Eduardo Mondlane University Bridgette O’ Laughlin said in testimony at the TRC:
“In Mozambique (they) started work at seven thirty, Ruth was religious, she got into that car at seven thirty she was at the centre…. She didn’t have much time… Occasionally (they) went to the beach…She wrote the Olive Schreiner book, she wrote most of Black Gold, she learnt Portuguese and did lectures in Portuguese, prepared teaching….she continued to say that besides this she had little time for anything else.”
Again we are inclined to use Ruth First’s labour of love approach to teaching and her other qualities not only as a way of benchmarking our teachers today but also, as a source of inspiration. We need the selflessness and commitment of Ruth First in putting the interests of our country before anything else. We continue to remind our teachers that they are expected to be in class, on time, everyday, teaching at least seven hours a day.
Inversely, Ruth First and her generation epitomised the ideal teacher; self-motivated and always eager to impart knowledge or to help learners find knowledge themselves.
She valued the inherently transformative impact of education on human development and growth. Similarly, education will play a catalytic role in changing the lives of ordinary South Africans if all of us join hands and launch ourselves into the task of educating society. In this task, one expects our teacher unions to take the lead, equally inspired by these ideals.
Strengthening democracy presupposes an informed citizen with the ability to make sense of their world, to penetrate the interplay of political dynamics and be able to understand the democratic process and their place in it. We know by now that freedom, human rights, democracy and development are better guaranteed in an educated society.
We should remember that at the time she was killed, the most potent weapon in Ruth First’s armoury was ideas and her urge to use them so that they bear on social life. As it later turned out, Ruth First’s death was a cold, calculated murder motivated by the perceived effects of her thoughts on intellectual and political centres in Southern Africa.
As her husband and comrade, Joe Slovo, said: they knew that the whole thrust of her teaching tended to counter some creeping illusions and wishful thinking about PW Botha; that he might be ready to retreat from the essence of apartheid towards a policy of true reform….’ He goes on to say ‘And Ruth was not working in an ivory-tower; the students at the Centre were cadres from the Party and the government, and the dynamism and vigour at the Centre were beginning to influence researchers and scholars from other institutions of learning in Southern Africa.’
Those who work with ideas today face a similarly weighty task of helping bring about positive changes in the lives of people through the medium of a pen. It remains an indictment of historical proportions that despite our democratic space today our public discourse is still bedevilled by the poverty of ideas. Again I think Ruth First would have had a few choice words for this situation.
In substance, South Africa’s foreign policy today is not inconsistent with the internationalism of Ruth First. Although the changing geo-political make-up of the world has imposed certain imperatives both on our country and our continent since Ruth First’s demise, the character of our foreign policy remains consistent with the progressive vision of the world that Ruth First heartily embraced.
In this regard, the preface of the White Paper on South Africa’s Foreign Policy, entitled ‘Building a Better World’, The Philosophy of Ubuntu, says:
‘This philosophy translates into an approach to international relations that respects all nations, peoples, and cultures. It recognises that it is in our national interest to promote and support the positive development of others. Similarly, national security would therefore depend on the centrality of human security as a universal goal, based on the principle of Batho Pele (putting people first). In the modern world of globalisation, a constant element is and has to be our common humanity. We therefore champion collaboration, cooperation and building partnerships over conflict.
This recognition of our interconnectedness and interdependency, and the infusion of Ubuntu into the South African identity, shapes our foreign policy.
South Africa therefore accords central importance to our immediate African neighbourhood and continent; working with countries of the South to address shared challenges of underdevelopment; promoting global equity and social justice; working with countries of the North to develop a true and effective partnership for a better world; and doing our part to strengthen the multilateral system’.
In addition to this humanism, we are also driven by the reality that South Africa cannot make headway in terms of development surrounded by conditions of under-development, which, as it turns out, constitute a dead weight on the development of the whole region.
We should also emphasise that South Africa’s foreign policy is not a government possession; it is a policy for all South Africans. What follows from this view is that, as Ruth First did, South Africans of different backgrounds have to interact with the rest of our region on business and social levels.
The free movement of people, goods and services in our region is the goal we want to see achieved, because at the end, a strong regional economy will provide us with the opportunity to attract much needed direct foreign investment so that ultimately we are able to improve the quality of our people’s lives.
On the international front, much still needs to be done in terms of transforming the institutions of global governance. The recent examples of Libya and Coire d’Voire point to challenges of unequal global power relations and how the developed North continues to ignore the yearnings of the rest of humanity in the developing South, with impunity.
Notwithstanding this scarred global political landscape, we will, together with the nations of the South, and using such vehicles as BRICS, continue to press for reform of the global institutions of governance and raise up the voice of the downtrodden South, and in this way strive to achieve an equal, peaceful and better world that Ruth First envisaged.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On a different note, history has taught us that even the most glorious liberation forces are no exception to what in most former liberation movements across the world have come to be known as ‘the sins of incumbency’.
It is easier to mobilise the masses of oppressed people behind a common vision than to hold them to higher ethical standards once the goal has been reached. This is a challenge that has faced all post-colonial societies over the years.
The humanist vision that held us together under the rubric of social justice can very easily deteriorate into individualism, greed and selfishness that go against the grain of our ideals as a people.
Ruth First saw this deformity of principle playing itself out in some post-colonial nations on the African continent and spoke out against it with a rare clarity of mind.
But she also understood that the creation of national states on the African continent was an outside imposition often not reflective of local realities. Present day African states did not evolve as socio-historical entities defined by internally coherent subjective consciousness.
Unlike European nation states, they were designed from outside to suit external interests. In Africa ethnic communities were separated by this contrived political process, leading up to unmanageable post-colonial socio-political difficulties.
Post-colonial Africa suffered this congenital affliction, which, in turn, shaped the nature of African political relations. The notion of a one party state is an offshoot of this reality. In many cases the political leadership took the decision to impose a one-party state with the stated aim of managing the complex poly-ethnic dynamics.
As you know a one party state has a limited life-span, invariably marked by civil wars, revolutions or other forms of social upheavals. The situation in Libya and many other African countries today typifies this history.
This is a perspective that is often ignored outside the academic environment in trying to make sense of modern day Africa and its unique difficulties.
In conclusion, I am convinced that this legacy that Ruth First has left us, is imperishable. It also throws up a number of lessons.
First, the killing of Ruth First was ‘an act of ultimate censorship’, to cite the memorable words of Ronald Segal. And yet ideas do not cease to exist just because their thinker is no more. In fact ideas attuned to the needs of the age tend to assume a life of their own.
Ruth First’s ideas are immortal because they come out of and speak to the human condition. Her empirical orientation meant that she would focus her research on the material conditions of the oppressed. We recall here her investigation into Namibian conditions (then South West Africa), the series of reports exposing these conditions to international and national readers which galvanised international pressure on South Africa to give up its control of Namibia. All along she was doing all this work in service of a vision, which ultimately materialised when Namibia attained freedom as a sovereign state.
The life of Ruth First reminds one of the words of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary, that ‘if you tremble with indignation at every injustice, you are a comrade of mine’. Not only did Ruth First quake with anger at the injustices visited on fellow humanity, she made an effort to change them.
Secondly, our social background should not prevent us from criticising others with the aim to correct or build.
Her social provenance as a white woman on a continent under European colonialism did not limit nor inhibit her desire to speak her mind, all along bolstered by the primacy of principle. She would not be silenced, and for that earned the respect of all her comrades, including those from African nations to which she had made a contribution.
Thirdly, basic humanistic precepts should prevail on us to volitionally acknowledge that colonialism and apartheid have wrought damage to our nation at all levels.
If we accept the history of our present conditions we may be well-disposed to accept that some conscious action is needed to undo the damage we have suffered. More than anything admitting to mistakes of the past promotes a climate of reconciliation and helps us move on.
Fourthly, no government is perfect; mistakes will always happen. Accepting criticism and conceding to our errors without imputing evil motives to those committed South Africans who point out our mistakes with the best interests of our nation at heart should be as normal as voting for any party we choose.
Lastly, if we are to make anything at all from the life of Ruth First, and if we are to learn lessons that can serve our current needs, we need to learn to appreciate her in totality, the inter-connection between her politics, her activism as well as her journalism and academic orientation.
After all it was this unique combination that equipped her with the strategic orientation that enabled her to better appreciate the particulars and universals of human experience, and to act accordingly.
As the American Civil Rights leader and the universal icon of freedom, Dr Martin Luther King, would say, ‘…when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of nobodyness – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait’! None of our people should be expected to wait.
I thank you
1. First, Ruth (1965) 117 Days;
2. Building a Better World: The Diplomacy of Ubuntu, (2011)Government White Paper;
4. Sechaba (Obituary of Ruth First), 1982;
5. The African Communist, 1982.
Quite often when you read newspapers, listen to radio and watch television in the West you learn how poor Africans are and how corrupt African leaders are. But you will never watch, read or hear anything in these media outlets about the role being played by Western banking institutions; property development and estate companies; the big corporations; and the western political and business elite in promoting corruption in Africa. When it comes to Africa and the developing world the Western media pretend to be doing a good job only when there is an embarrassing story or a scandal that undermines their credibility as the watchdog of the state.
It is not uncommon to see poverty stricken Africans in poor living conditions being shown in documentaries, movies, and television screens in the West but the same documentaries and movies are always silent on the role play by the institutions in the West. Bribery as we all know involves a giver and a taker but it is always the taker who is reported in media. In many instances as we shall soon see bribes are offered in order to secure contracts, secure official favour or to induce officials in order to influence the out come of a government decision. In other instances people become corrupt because of the existence of favouring conditions as can be seen in most western countries with their banking secrecy laws.
The media in the west tend to ignore the role of western institutions for many reasons. One main reason why they would like to show the poverty level in Africa but refuse to show the role played by the western banking, property, multinational corporations is the fear of loosing revenue through adverts. Many of the media outlets survive through advertisements from the property, banking and multinational corporations so while would they want to incur their wrath? Another reason is that the editors, programme directors and the other bigshots in the media are themselves shareholders of these banks and property companies so why would they want to jeopardise the source of their own wealth? The enthusiasm with which CNN, BBC, ABC, CBS, ITN, SKYNEWS and other television producers portray Africa as poor and least developed; the same cannot be said about the way they report on the role played by the Western banking and other institutions. They fail to tell the world that the looted funds that make Africans poor are indeed sitting in Europe, America, Australia, New Zealand and the offshore Islands controlled by the West. They fail to tell the world that Africa would be a different place if all the stolen monies are returned, but would they ever raise a voice in support of such a laudable idea? Why would the media change the way they report when for centuries they have been the source of all the misinformation and misrepresentation of anything unwestern?
Corruption is rife in Africa because there are banking institutions in Europe especially Switzerland, France, Jersey Island, Britain, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria, US and many others who accept money from African leaders without questioning the source of the money. According to the UN around $148 billion are stolen from the continent by the political leaders, the business elite and civil servants every year with collusion and connivance of banking industries in Europe and North America.
Even though it is a common knowledge western banks are acting as safe havens for looted funds from Africa, very little attention is received from the western media to expose them. The media tend to focus their energies on the corrupt leaders with little or no mention at all as to where the monies they have stolen are being kept. There has not been any concrete effort to expose the banks that collude and connive with these corrupt leaders who are impoverishing the people. No effort has been made by the political elite in Europe and America to force the banks to return these stolen monies to the poorest of the poor because they are often the shareholders and beneficiaries of profits made by these banks. They talk about corruption because it is embarrassing to them but they have no agenda to fight it as that would mean no fat dividends for them and no cheap credits for their citizens.
Even the Pope knows that the monies stolen are in Europe and America as is seen below. Within five years of his reign (1993-98) Sani Abacha of Nigeria according to official figures was able to stash four billion dollars and between 12 and 16 billion dollars in unofficial terms. After his death in 1998, investigators in Nigeria, Europe and America stumbled on over 130 bank accounts in abroad where some of the money stolen was kept.
The banks that received Abacha’s stolen funds are: Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, ANZ, London Branch; Bank Len, Zurich; Bankers Trust Company, London; Bankers Trust Company, Frankfurt; Bankers Trust Company, New York; Banque Barring Brothers, Geneva; Bank in Liechtenstein A. G. Vaduz; Barclays Bank, New York; Barclays Bank, London; Banque Edouard Constant, General; Banque Nationale De Paris, Geneva; Banque Nationale De Paris, London; Banque Nationale De Paris, Basle; Citibank N. A. London; Citibank N. A. New York; Citibank N. A. Luxembourg; Citibank Zurich; Credit Lyonnais , New York; Credit Suisse , New York; Credit Suisse, General; Credit Suisse, Zurich; Deutche Morgan Grenfell, Jersey; FIBI Bank (Schweiz) A. G. Zurich; First Bank of Boston , London; Goldman Sachs and Company, Zurich; Gothard Bank, Geneva; LGT Liechtenstein Bank, Vaduz; Liechtenstein Landesbank, Vaduz; M. M. Warburg and Company, Luxembourg; M. M. Warburg and Company,Zurich; M. M. Warburg and Company, Hamburg; Merrill Lynch Bank, New York; Merrill Lynch Bank, Geneva; Midland Bank, London; National Westminister Bank, London; Paribus, London; Paribus, Geneva; Royal Bank of Scotland , Leeds; Standard Bank London Limited, London; UBS AG, Zurich; UBS AG, Geneva; Union Bancaire Privee, Geneva; Union Bancaire Privee, London; London Branch; Verwaltungs Und Private Bank A. G., Vaduz; and ANZ, New York; ANZ, Frankfurt. Source: Tell Magazine, October 7, 2002.
On February 2009, a French court had Omar Bongo’s 9 bank accounts containing several millions of Euros frozen. In confirming the court’s decision lawyer Jean-Philippe Le Bail said, “This concerns Crédit Lyonnais, in which the president of Gabon has two current accounts, two savings accounts and a share account, and BNP, in which he has two checking accounts, a savings account and a share account”.
These are the banks whose shady dealings with the political and business elite in Africa continue to impoverish African countries but which for profits sake the media refuse to tell the world about. The banks know these corrupt leaders have stolen the money yet they pretend not to know until there is a scandal before they begin to act as if they are responsible institutions. Most of the above named banks have also been implicated for receiving billions of dollars of looted funds from the lates Mobutu of Zaire; Lansana Conte of Guinea; Eyadema of Togo; and a number of dictators and tyrants such as Omar Bongo of Gabon; Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea; Dos Santos of Angola; Denis Sassou- Nguesso of Congo; Paul Biya of Cameroon; Arap Moi of Kenya; Jerry Rawlings of Ghana; Ibrahim Babadjinda of Nigeria and a number of sitting and ex-presidents in Africa yet western media are silent about where the funds are being kept.
According to a 110 page report prepared by international risk consultancy firm Kroll, Arap Moi and his family have banked £1 billion in 28 countries including Britain but the media in the west will not expose the banks involved.
Apart from the banking sector, the property sector in Europe, America and Australia have also colluded and connived with the political and business elite in Africa to impoverish the people. It has been revealed that several African leaders have bought properties in Europe and America using the monies stolen from their poor countries. It is on record that Mobutu of DRC (Zaire)bought several villas in France, Switzerland, Belgium and many European Countries. Yet again the companies selling the villas have been kept secrete. They will not be exposed by the media. Why would they? According to AFP a French police investigation has established that Bongo and his family own at least 33 luxury properties in France, including a villa located at Rue de la Baume, near the Elysée Palace, in Paris bought in 2007 for 18.8 million Euros. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been spotted greeting Bongo in this villa bought with funds looted from Gabon. However, other investigations have uncovered that he and his family have at least 59 properties, several bonds and stocks in France alone. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was embarrassed when it was revealed that Bongo’s government paid his consultancy firm a staggering 2.64 million Euros for advice on health policy drawn up by Kouchner before he took office. It has recently come to light that Arap Moi of Kenya and his family bought several multimillion pound properties in London, New York, South Africa including 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia and bank accounts containing hundreds of millions of pounds. While majority of Kenyans live in slums and in rural areas, with little roofing on their heads and lacking water and other basic necessities of life, Moi’s family live in a £4m home in Surrey and £2m flat in Knightsbridge yet the media will not expose the estate companies involved.
Another area often ignored by the western media is the role play by western companies and corporations in encouraging corruption, bribery and thievery in Africa. It is very common for western companies looking for lucrative contracts to pay bribes and kickbacks to induce officials into awarding them contracts. For example on 17th September 2002, a Canadian firm called Acres International was convicted by a High Court in Lesotho for paying $260,000 bribe to secure an $8 billion dam contract. In 2002 Halliburton a company once controlled by Dick Cheney former US Vice President, Harliburton, was accused of establishing $180m flush fund with the intent of using it to bribe Nigeria officials in order to secure a $10 billion Liquefied Gas Plant contract in Nigeria. Achair Partners a Swiss company and Progresso an Italian company have been accused of bribing Somalia Transition Government officials in order to secure contracts to deposit highly toxic industrial waste in the waters of Somalia. Such corrupt practices by western companies seeking contracts in Africa are one of the reasons why poverty and diseases are rife in the continent.
The catastrophic environmental damage being caused by Oil, mining and timber companies such as Shell, BP, Total, Elf, Texaco, Mittal, Anglo-America Corporation in Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Congo, DR. Congo, South Africa, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal do not make the news in the West. How often do we hear about the huge environmental price Africans are paying to satisfy the west insatiable appetite for energy and technology? Apart from the huge profits being made by these conglomerates which we often hear in the news, do we hear also their complete disregard for environmental rules; the pollution of rivers, lakes, streams, wells, and the environment?
In October 2002, after a three year investigation a UN Panel of Experts implicated Cabot Corporation (Boston), Eagle Wings Resources International, and George Forrest’s OM Group (Ohio) for arming rebel groups and collaborating with them to traffic from DR. Congo gold, diamond, timber and most importantly coltan (columbo-tantalite)-a precious ore essential to Sony playstations, laptop computers, and cell phones. Coltan is often spirited out of DRC to U.S., Swiss, Belgian, and German clients by Uganda and Rwanda army officers, rebel groups and through a network of criminal syndicates. In all 85 companies were implicated by the report. Except the wars and the stranded faces of hungry refugees, do these illegal activities by the corporations make the news in the Western media? Definitely not. Even when local journalists and writers document these for broadcast in the western media they refuse because it does not serve their interest in the wider scheme of things. These are the hypocrisy and the double standard of the western media. They want the world to know how poor Africans are but fail to tell the world that Africans are poor because Western banking institutions, property development companies, defence companies and defence contractors, oil, mining and technology corporations are major stakeholders in promoting Africa’s poverty and underdevelopment.
Corruption and bribery in Africa and indeed the developing world could be reduce tremendously if the media for once put aside the pick and choose journalism and attach the same importance to show the degree of involvement by western capitalist institutions in Europe, America and Japan and their role in keeping Africans poor.
June 17, 2009
By Lord Aikins Adusei (Modern Ghana)
I’m disappointed with the treatment Dr Snuki Zikalala has received despite his hard work which revolutionalised the SABC News from what it used to be.
I remember when he first joined SABC there was a lot of negative talk about his appointment
“The post was advertised and I went through an interviewing process about three weeks ago. I was chosen on merit, not because I’m an ANC lackey.”
Current and former employees who worked under Zikalala described his management style as “dictatorial” and said signs were that several resignations would be tendered as a result. Democratic Alliance communications spokesman Dene Smuts described Zikalala’s previous tenure at the SABC as “the lowest point in its post-1994 corporate life”. Veteran journalist and editor Allister Sparks said Zikalala’s appointment was a “retrogressive step” that harked back to the days when the SABC was under apartheid control.
Everyone was on his case not expecting him to perform but instead he disappointed them and changed what used to be Johannesburg News to South African news. He deployed journalists all over South Africa ensuring that they cover the real South African stories directly on the ground and not through telephones interviews with a snap shot (picture) of the interviewee on the back ground. There was a time when the weather channel was reported only in English and Afrikaans if reported in IsiXhosa it would be the same every day i.e. a voice over (no face) saying “kuzawuthi gqwagqwa ngamafu” every day no highs and lows or the speed of the wind etc.
He went further to set up bureaus around Africa and deployed journalists to cover those stories instead of buying them from CNN channels (you’d remember back in the days we used to have an over night CNN channel instead of SABC Africa now SABC International). International stories (including Africa) were sourced (at a price) I mean we would buy a story on Zimbabwe from CNN even though it was just next door to us.
Upon closer scrutiny it doesn’t take a genius to see that he had a plan with timelines and I’m sure part of it included having SABC International available as a subscription channel throughout the world (not just SA) thus ensuring that people abroad get the real stories from the people who know and have or are experiencing it rather than hearing it from CNN or BBC etc. which often portrayed Africa as the dark continent full of war, poverty, diseases and nothing positive.
It is this plan that the South African Broadcasting Channel failed to consider when deciding on his contract, it is this change that the media failed to report on when reflecting on his tenure at SABC.
Like Jacob Zuma people (academics and analysts especially) judged him by his qualifications i.e. where he obtained his Doctorate rather than on delivery.
Fare you well Dr Zikalala (some have noted your great contribution to SABC if not to SA).
Local Secondary school learners from disadvantaged sectors of the Grahamstown community are getting the opportunity to put cell phones to use in interactive journalism.
These 80 scholars are using their cellular phones to contribute to Grocott’s Mail (a Grahamstown community news paper). The project is three-fold meaning; the learners will provide opinion smses on stories published on Grocott’s Mail, mini-news stories around their communities and Japanese haiku poetry examples at the bottom.
The outreach project commenced on 2 August with workshops for the Rhodes students volunteers who were being sensitized to the project. This was followed with a series of workshops with the school learners that started on 9 August; where they were give basic skills of writing a news story, structuring your opinion and how to write a Japanese Haiku poetry.
This year (phase 1) layed the foundation of the project limiting it to text messages only. Phase 2 of the project next year will have multimedia content i.e. pictures, videos, audio and text and will also be uploaded to http://www.grocotts.co.za. The learners will be in their final year of secondary education (hopefully) and I hope they will go on to study Journalism and Media Studies in the future and become professional journalists.
This project is also a platform for the learners to express their opinions and tell their own stories from their own perspective.
This is not the end; I’m still researching how I can find a kind of Mxit system that will allow everyone to send mini-news stories, opinions etc. at a cheaper rate (so if you’re a guru in tech and got some ideas drop me an email email@example.com.
Some of the smses the learners sent:
These opinions were based on a story of a Local (Grahamstown) Municipal Councillor who had crashed a second car in less than 2 months, hired to him by the municipality.
Mancipality is jst wstng muny by rentng carz 4 da cancilor he cud hv jst usd da money 4 da poor 1z.Da cansilor wnt stp crshng bcz he knw hz nt gona pay.
UGCINELWENI!I thnk ths conclr mst b rmvd 4rm kla psitn,cz nxt tym it wnt b da cr bt hs own lyf n ada ppls lyf.So it mst b tkn in2 cnsidrtn rly!ITS DANGEROUS!
Mini-news sms stories:
In Joza, Maseti str. There was a sewage burts, the owner of the house was nt home,wen she came bck there were people 4rom the Municipality trying 2 cleane!
Teachers at Nombulelo high ar complainig, about corruption at school.This include learners who come 2 shool drunk. So the comunity got involved.
Japanese Haiku poetry:
Tension, so thick…u can almost cut it with a knife-then da teacher farts
LIFE.Life is like clock ;swings on bright golden chain;ticking very sofetly ;battery went off
Alwys evil,very protective,hate all guys(my mother-in-law)
Silky soft fabric,rip,tear and feel it, what a dirty shirt
The learners had an opportunity to share their experiences, sharing the stage with Dan Gillmor author of the book “We the Media” at Highway Africa Conference (the biggest gathering of journalists from around Africa and abroad.
This project has been made possible by funding from the United States-based Knight Foundation and Cape Town based Open Society Foundation. Cambridge University Press (Cape Town) also contributed by sponsoring the learners with bags, folders, pens and T-shirts.
Firstly a special thank you to my friends who have nominated me for the Trufm Youth Awards (Trufm is SABC’s only youth radio station based in Bisho, Eastern Cape). As you all might know by now that on 20th June 2008 I was awarded as a winner in the Media and Communications category at a ceremony held in East London. for more details catch me on Linda’s show (to listen online) next Wednesday.
Some of you have been reading my status updates about an exciting new outreach project (Cellphone Journalism) I’ll be embarking on with Grade 11 learners from Grahamstown’s historically disadvantaged Schools below are the details of the new ground breaking project.
The whole initiative is to “enable young people in Grahamstown to have fun messing around with cellphones in search of formulae to turn the gadgets into a serious platform for journalism.
The idea is to intervene in a context where most cellphone use is still for interpersonal business, rather than participation in mass communication.
Some South Africans use SMSs to vote for celebs or to contribute comments to tickers on television, but using cellphones to send and receive journalistic content regularly is far from mainstream.
As cellphones become more powerful and their screens get bigger, and as the mass media take on board the value of citizen journalism, so the South African public information circuit can extend across the digital divide.
Part of the Rhodes project is using cellphone power to cultivate citizen journalists among local high-school learners. This is a constituency too often bypassed by mainstream news.
An example emerged at recent Rhodes workshops with Grahamstown learners, dealing with the skills to write letters to newspaper editors about the government’s proposed school pledge. A topical subject, one may think — but none of the young people in the sessions had even heard about the controversial proposal.
Over the next year, the cellphone journalism project will offer 80 senior scholars a chance to be part of the information loop by getting targeted news feeds on their cellphones. The content will be about local politics, school news, sports and entertainment, and emanate in part from the Grocott’s Mail newspaper and Rhodes journalism students”.
The project kicks off with a simple sms and later (2009) will expand to multimedia (video, audio and pictures).
This is the first of its kind in South Africa if not Africa or even internationally.