On rape by deception and state-sanctioned racism

As submitted to The Daily Maverick.

Most social interactions are likely to involve some measure of deception. This could range from feigning interest, or pretending to know more about the topic under discussion than you actually do, to calculated deception involving beliefs, character, or motivation. Many of these lesser deceptions are perhaps not even considered dishonest, but merely part of the everyday bargaining between our own multiple identities (which could vary according to context) and the identities of others.

Some more serious sorts of deception are of course legally actionable, and in many cases involve clear moral wrongs. One example of this is painfully fresh in many people’s memories, and involves entrusting financial investments to people who in the end misrepresented the extent to which they had the client’s best interest at heart.

But what to make of “rape by deception”, and in particular the case of Saber Kushour, recently sentenced to 18 months in prison for this “crime”? (The scare-quotes are of course not intended to indicate that rape is not a crime, or that it shouldn’t be, but rather to indicate that it’s not yet clear whether Kushour is guilty of rape at all.)

Mandela’s autopsy

As submitted to The Daily Maverick.

Yiull Damaso’s painting of an imagined autopsy of Nelson Mandela has provoked outrage similar to that generated by Zapiro’s recent Mohammed cartoon. The outrage is similar in its severity, and unfortunately also similar in its knee-jerk thoughtlessness. Most troubling, the similarities extend to having to hear yet another argument in favour of the censoring of free expression on the grounds of cultural or religious sensibilities.

The painting, adapted from Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp”, shows a deceased Mandela being autopsied by Nkosi Johnson, while FW de Klerk, Helen Zille, Desmond Tutu and others look on. It is, of course, the portrayal of Mandela as deceased that is causing most of the consternation, on the grounds that this portrayal consists, variously, of witchcraft, disrespect, a violation of dignity, and a “insult and an affront to values of our society” – at least according to ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.

As with the Zapiro cartoon, we can and certainly should ask whether images like these are in unacceptably bad taste. If they are, we should say so, and hope that we can persuade artists of the legitimacy of our point of view. Having fewer offensive artworks in our purview would no doubt make for a more comfortable life. But one person – or one group, no matter how large – does not have the authority to define what counts as unacceptable and what doesn’t, except within their own cultural universe.

Africa is not a country: football and nationhood

As submitted to The Daily Maverick.

In the minutes before Ghana took on the USA in the first round of 16 game, a friend and I were discussing where our support lay. She wanted Ghana to win, and I expressed a preference for a USA victory. I wanted the American team to win on grounds of their footballing culture, in that the approach the USA has taken to professional football of late seemed a better example of what the South African team and football administrators should aspire to.

I can understand why South Africans, and Africans in general, like the idea of one of “our” teams doing well. But it doesn’t quite make sense for me, as a football fan, to support teams simply because they represent an African nation, because there is much about Africa that is difficult to support. From female genital mutilation in Egypt and homophobia in Malawi, to assorted human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, there are things about this continent that clearly expose a fundamental divide between Africa as a collective concept, and the sort of world I’d prefer to live in.

As an example of African football, Ghana is of course also a complicated example, given that only one of their squad of 23 actually plays football in Ghana. When the vast majority of the national team lives and works outside of the nation reflected on the covers of their passports, to what extent does it still make sense to think of them as representatives of Africa?

Is freedom of the press that important?

The original text of my most recent column for The Daily Maverick:

As Opinionista Sipho Hlongwane reminded us on World Press Freedom Day, not only is the extent of press freedom a matter for debate, but much also still needs to be done in terms of bringing the benefits of a free press to most South Africans. This is not simply a matter of what goes unreported, or even of the potential stifling of a free press via intimidation of journalists or other forms of political interference. These are important concerns, but ones which presume an interest – as well as the ability – on the part of South Africans to equally engage with the issues discussed.

Our concerns should go deeper, in that for a developing country such as ours, the focus should perhaps more appropriately be on whether most South Africans have anything to say at all.

The honest Swazi nation

The Doctor and I are in Swaziland, attending the wedding of two good friends. It’s my second visit here, and it is no less alien to city-slickers the second time around. Mbabane, the capital city, has a “CBD” that seems to stretch out over many kilometers, encompassing such attractions as the “Mediterranean Restaurant” as well as derelict houses aplenty. And driving involves the skillful avoidance of a fair number of mangy dogs and cows. Everything looks like it needs a paint-job.

The future of South African tertiary education?

The original text of this article in The Daily Maverick.

A Higher Education summit hosted by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, is taking place at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on April 22 and 23. Much of the focus at the summit will be on “transformation”, one of the more flexible words you’ll encounter while working at a South African university. This is saying a lot, especially since many departments – at my university at least – still seem completely enamoured by the liberating brew of postmodernism, which of course allows for infinite lexical flexibility.

Perhaps this is simply another example of political correctness gone awry – we all know that transformation relates primarily to race, but to explicitly say so may be impolitic, in that colour-blindness is a virtue that we’re all meant to be aspiring to, even in cases where economic inequalities premised on race persist. Instead, transformation becomes code for various social issues, and allows us to collapse concerns around equity, throughput, policies on wheelchair ramps, and whatever else does not currently have its own committee under one handy banner.

For example, the most recent message from the Transformation Officer in my Faculty related to the “Executive Secretaries and Personal Assistants International Symposium”, which I had a difficult time relating to anything obviously to do with transformation. But then, perhaps I’m not transformed myself, or perhaps I’m simply insufficiently postmodern.

Playing the authenticity card

As published in The Daily Maverick

The nation’s favourite teddy-bear impersonator, Barry Ronge, recently wrote that “although Breyten Breytenbach has a point when he calls South Africa a ‘kleptocracy’, can we take someone seriously who doesn’t even live here?”

In response, we could perhaps ask whether we should take someone seriously if they think that the validity of someone’s point of view has anything to do with where they live.

The boer is dead (#uniteZA)

Following the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche on Saturday, plenty of good pieces discussing the relationship (or lack thereof) between the murder and Julius Malema’s constant singing of that charming folk-ditty “Kill the boer”. And while government officials on the scene were quick to insist that the murder had nothing to do with Malema’s singing of that song – that it was instead motivated by unpaid wages and general frustration towards a man who had a history of not treating his farm workers too well – we should also be wary of believing that simply because it’s a more comfortable explanation, and one which results in less worry for South Africa’s immediate future.

Because even if the workers were aggrieved at unpaid wages, or poor working conditions, it may still be the case that those frustrations were encouraged to reach boiling point via the “endorsement” for the the murder that they perceived Malema to be offering. It’s an easy answer to blame Malema, and it’s an easy answer to think he has no responsibility in this case.

And as usual, the easy answers are probably incomplete answers. As many others have argued, it’s a time for calm and sober reflection. As with the #speakZA campaign a couple of weeks ago, bloggers in SA have been rallying for calm, and for SA to not let the death of this horrible little man cause any unnecessary friction. Under the banner of #uniteZA, feel free to join by tweeting and/or blogging the message below:

South Africa stands at a crossroads – a time in which racial tensions run high and the world is focused on us. Neither the people of South Africa nor the country itself can afford to have negativity and irrational outbursts rule our daily lives.

To that end, UniteSA is an attempt to bring people from all corners of our nation together in a call for peace, calm and rational thought.

Various ministers have called for restraint as has President Zuma – certain organisations have chosen to use this time to push a political agenda and we appeal to them to allow the authorities the chance they need to resolve the issues.

We urge the people of South Africa to express faith in the police force and the justice system at this time.
We call upon the ANC to rein in Julius Malema appropriately and urge him to behave responsibly.
We call upon the AWB to continue to act responsibly after the tragic death of Eugene Terre’blanche
We call upon the National Government to plan for protection of farmers as they worry about their futures
We express our solidarity and empathy for those who have suffered because of crime and corruption in our country

We are far stronger united than we are apart.


Julius Malema is The Man

Originally published in The Daily Maverick.

Julius Malema likes to present himself as “working class”. He still identifies himself as a product of that class, despite the fact that the cost of his watch alone would equal the average annual income of roughly 20 working-class black South Africans.

How then are we to make sense of his self-proclaimed solidarity with people who struggle to feed themselves? South Africa remains a country of great inequalities and class distinctions linger. Are three houses and five cars required to escape the label of “working class”, instead of Malema’s two houses and three cars (according to reports)?

Bloggers for a free press (#SpeakZA)

Last week, shocking revelations concerning the activities of the ANC Youth League spokesperson Nyiko Floyd Shivambu came to the fore. According to a letter published in various news outlets, a complaint was laid by 19 political journalists with the Secretary General of the ANC, against Shivambu. This complaint letter detailed attempts by Shivambu to leak a dossier to certain journalists, purporting to expose the money laundering practices of Dumisani Lubisi, a journalist at the City Press. The letter also detailed the intimidation that followed when these journalists refused to publish these revelations.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the reprisals against journalists by Shivambu. His actions constitute a blatant attack on media freedom and a grave infringement on Constitutional rights. It is a disturbing step towards dictatorial rule in South Africa. We call on the ANC and the ANC Youth League to distance themselves from the actions of Shivambu. The media have, time and again, been a vital democratic safeguard by exposing the actions of individuals who have abused their positions of power for personal and political gain.

The press have played a vital role in the liberation struggle, operating under difficult and often dangerous conditions to document some of the most crucial moments in the struggle against apartheid. It is therefore distressing to note that certain people within the ruling party are willing to maliciously target journalists by invading their privacy and threatening their colleagues in a bid to silence them in their legitimate work.

We also note the breathtaking hubris displayed by Shivambu and the ANC Youth League President Julius Malema in their response to the letter of complaint. Shivambu and Malema clearly have no respect for the media and the rights afforded to the media by the Constitution of South Africa. Such a response serves only to reinforce the position that the motive for leaking the so-called dossier was not a legitimate concern, but an insolent effort to intimidate and bully a journalist who had exposed embarrassing information about the Youth League President. We urge the ANC as a whole to reaffirm its commitment to media freedom and other Constitutional rights we enjoy as a country.