Staff Keep Their Cool in Home Affairs Hell

Staff Keep Their Cool in Home Affairs Hell

Under the watchful and ever-lazy eye of Jacob Zuma, they toil. His mug beams down upon them along with the unknown (to me at least) Fatima Chohan who serves as the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

It is not for the faint-hearted being a Home Affairs employee.  Their place of work is usually hot, stuffy and packed with bodies all radiating heat and irritation. They would be forgiven for being lethargic, lacking passion and over-shooting their breaks. But none of this is true – not where we visit at any rate.

If there is indeed a hell I imagine it will be just like Home Affairs. The place has all the characteristics of Dante’s Inferno; it is mercilessly hot, one glimpses eternity and it is utterly devoid of all soul. Now, it is bad enough going to such a place once every decade or so to renew a passport or replace a stolen ID, but just imagine the torture of working there every day of your life!

In the case of the Home Affairs office we visit, we learn that you must get there no later than 5:00am if you wish to secure a place in the queue. Now this is early – especially If you are renewing your 6-year-old child’s passport too.  Even then, by the time you get into the waiting hall itself – a largish room with metal seats –  it is well after 8:00am.

The staff are in place and waiting for the onslaught; several hundred people all in various stages of physical and mental breakdown and emotional despair. By the way, this breakdown includes severe dehydration because there are no toilets for public use at Home Affairs Kwa-Dukuza. Consequently, nobody drinks anything even in the searing heat. By the time we get our work done it is well after 11:00am. So, we have neither drunk nor peed for 6 odd hours since leaving home. For others this must be 10 hours at least. It is inhumane and needs urgent addressing.

I wonder how long a Home Affairs worker lasts in their job? To have to deal with people in these conditions day in and day out must take its toll in a big way. They are getting it from all sides.

By the way, if you are moneyed you can avoid the whole queuing annoyance altogether. What we noticed is that well off folk pay someone else to queue for them. Then they pull up in their SUV’s just before 8:00am and dismiss the hot and hapless person queuing for them and take their place, slipping them a few bucks for their efforts. We saw this happen many times. Suffice to say it doesn’t breed very good camaraderie between classes.

After the information guy and the photo/fingerprints gent, we deal with 3 people who are at the business end of the applications. I am guessing that these are the employees that take the brunt of people’s wrath because they are the ones that must inform you that despite your gruelling 6-hour wait you will have to come back because you have forgotten something vital like a certified copy of your deceased father’s underpants. However, this is when the excellence really kicks in.

We complete our daughter’s application in double quick time and are then passed efficiently to another person because the first person’s computer is suddenly on a go slow. Even this is a surprise. Surely at Home Affairs they just wait out the go slow? No. They make a plan. The second person is all over my application. It is complete in about 5 minutes flat. But then it comes: “Do you have R140 on you?”. I respond suspiciously by saying we have paid online and demand to know why he needs more money? “Because I see you haven’t done your photocard ID yet Sir, and we have all your information here for your passport application. If you can pay the amount, I can get my Supervisor to authorise it here and now.”

The Supervisor – a friendly lady who takes real flack when dealing with the people in the queue – does not hesitate to assist. Within 5 minutes I have been e-mailed proof of application for both my passport and my ID. I thank him most sincerely: “This is Home Affairs and we are doing our best” he replies humbly.

I want to publicly honour the staff of the Kwa-Dukuza Home Affairs office in particular Nkosinathi Ngwane, Nirasha Gopee and Supervisor Suraifa Abdool. Like so many people in our country, they go above and beyond to serve the citizens of our nation. Next time you find yourself in Home Affairs, join the queue with all the rest of us and remember to thank those people whose hot and thankless job it is to man the gates of hell.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter

 

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers – Part 2

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers – Part 2

I recently wrote a post about the incidents of rocks being thrown off bridges on the North Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal.

The theory – and I do state in the piece that it is a theory – put forward in the piece is that systemic social injustices – i.e. poverty, unemployment and inequality – prevalent in one area compared with untold wealth in neighbouring suburbs, may be creating a fertile seedbed for resentment which can in turn lead to violence. The piece upset and angered some people. I want to sincerely apologise for this because my intention is always to provoke dialogue and promote an alternative narrative, but never to cause anger and resentment. So, let me try to clarify my position.

Rock throwing is a heinous criminal act which I denounce totally. Instances of damage to property due to rock throwing are unacceptable; deaths caused by this act are tragic and criminal and the perpetrators must face the full might of the law.  Is there any excuse for violence? None whatsoever. Are there reasons for it? I argue that there are. As there are with all major crimes.

Now clearly not all people afflicted by poverty, unemployment and inequality will get onto a bridge and throw a rock at a passing vehicle. But some might. Is resentment and bitterness a justification for crime and violence? Absolutely not. Perpetrators of crime and violence should face the full wrath of the law.

But as a society, we have a responsibility – whilst we are bringing these criminals to book – to be analysing every possible root cause of such violent acts. We have a responsibility to seek out ways that we can create a healthy societal context in which violence is not perpetrated in the first place. For example, research tells us that hurt people, hurt people.  This does not mean that people who hurt others shouldn’t face the full might of the law – they should. But as a society we must seek out and apply the necessary healing treatments to create an atmosphere of peace and non-violence.

This will always involve some form of dialogue and the asking of the right (and usually difficult) questions. We dismiss this thinking as bunny hugging/liberal etc at our peril for in our dismissal of the need for social healing, we in turn contribute to the atmosphere of violence and further polarise society. I am delighted that they have apprehended suspects. Now let’s work together to understand why people act violently so we can act together to prevent further violence.

I am aware that many of us – me included – don’t want to believe that poverty is itself a form of violence. When humans are told that houses they were promised 10 years ago will not materialize because a zoo is being built, this is a form of violence against those people; it makes them sub-human. And often people respond to violence with violence. Again, I am in no way condoning this. But until we recognize poverty as a form of violence we will always vilify “the other” (rock throwers, violent protesters etc.) and exonerate ourselves.

I have come to the painful realization that for me to enjoy the privileged life I do, someone (probably many someone’s) necessarily must go without. That is the real and painful truth of inequality and it tears societies apart as was stated just this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Finally, we can and should put cages over bridges. We must catch criminals. But for this not to be a case of kicking the can down the road, we must engage communities to get necessary insights into why violence happens in the first place – and then put actions in place to prevent or at least diminish the chances of recurrence.

For those interested, I am putting together a team that is going to go in and engage local community members on this issue of rock throwing and other forms of violence on the North Coast. Mail me justin@peaceagency.org.za if you would like to get involved.

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers

In the Shoes of the Rock Throwers

Here on the North Coast of the East Coast of South Africa we are driving scared. This is because people stand on bridges over highways and throw rocks onto cars. This terrifying experience has happened to half a dozen motorists over the past month, and lives – some of them children – have been tragically lost. Meaningless, senseless violence. Or is it?

This stretch of the N2 highway (between Tongaat and Salt Rock) forms a psychological boundary if not exact, between some of the greatest “haves” and the most impoverished “have nots” in South Africa. On one side of the highway we have opulent houses, malls and luxury housing estates. On the other side of the highway, the picture is often very different. Here poverty is on display in all its brutality and people often live in corrugated iron shacks. Our domestic worker recounted the story of a recent violent protest in her neighbourhood of Shakaskraal in which people who live in such shacks took to the streets because the houses they had been promised 10 years ago, had not materialised. 10 years is a life time to wait for a house when you are living in such dire circumstances.

When they asked why their houses would not be built, they were told that the land that had been allocated for housing was no longer available as it was now going to be used to build – wait for it – a zoo.

Now, many of these people work in houses and businesses – on the plush side of the N2. I wonder: if I lived in abject poverty on that side and people lived in multi-million Rand houses on the other side – a stone’s throw away from me- and I was told the land I had waited for for 10 years had been given over to build a zoo, if I wouldn’t feel a little, I don’t know, pissed off. Would I feel violence welling up inside me? I would. No question. I might even take my pain and anger out on those with big homes and fancy cars. This might involve throwing rocks off bridges – or worse.

Now of course this is just a theory. But, whilst we build cages over our bridges, we need to make serious efforts to build emotional, social and psychological bridges between people – off which rocks cannot be thrown.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

The Great Matric Lie: A Glimmer in the Darkness

The Great Matric Lie: A Glimmer in the Darkness

“Dear South Africans, why are we so gullible?  Here goes Minister Angie Motshekga once again leading you by the nose.” Former University of Free State Vice-chancellor Prof Jonathan Jansen responding to the release of the 2017 Matric results.

Each year at this time, we the public face up to the spectacle that has become the announcement of the Matric results; a proxy for the state of basic education in the Republic. It’s become a bit of sport. Forget the boxing day test match; its more like the Matric results tennis match with the Minister serving up ever more creative ways to spin the announcement of the Matric results, and commentators and education gurus like Prof Jansen and Stellenbosch University academic and educational economist Nic Spaull replying with winning returns to prove that she is smoking her socks. It would be rather entertaining were it not for the fact that it’s our children’s lives – and de facto the future of our country – that they are talking about.

The devil is in the detail. The Minister tells us that the Matric class of 2017 achieved a 75.1% pass rate. This is true. However, the specialists will reply that this is a desperate attempt to cover up the reality of education in South Africa; there is a crisis of epidemic proportions in our basic education system and we aren’t fixing it quickly or decisively enough to deal with the knock-on consequences including unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is not stretching the point to say that the story behind the Matric results is the story of how and why we are failing to deal with this triad of evils in this country.  This is why Prof Jansen is quoted as saying: “Any government that prides itself on the few that succeed and ignores the many that fall out of the school system has clearly lost its moral bearings.”  He is prompted to make this statement by the fact that over 50% of children who start Grade 1 will not reach Matric; over 645 000 pupils drop out between Grades 1 and 12. What happens to these children? And just as terrifying is the fact that 50% of those who qualify for university will drop out before completing their higher education.

What is causing this crisis and what can we do about it? Time and time again it is proved that schools that have strong, passionate, disciplined and principled leadership succeed often in the face of overwhelming hardship. You would be literally blown away if you were to hear the stories of school Principals I have sat and spoken with who defy all odds to produce astonishing results from their kids. But here’s the challenge – how do we create such leaders?

The answers may not be ones that we want to hear because it may require something of us: We need to acknowledge that the government does not have the answer here. It is failing. Period. This means that – whilst we must hold government to account – we the citizens of this country must step up in the interests of our children and our nation at large.

There are a number of ways we can do this, but I would like to focus on one in this column because it has been proved to be instrumental in fundamentally altering the future of schools and children in our country. It is simple: partner a business leader with a school Principal for a period of 1 year. This hands-on and very simple leadership development approach has been proven both locally and internationally as one of the most effective ways to transform schools and hence the basic education system.

In South Africa, the NGO Partners for Possibility is acknowledged to be a leading light globally in this field. Since its launch in 2010, 684 business leaders across the full range of industries and business sizes, have partnered with school Principals for a year. This leadership development exercise at the top of a school has impacted 20 520 teachers and over 547 200 learners nationwide. This extraordinary impact has led to Partners for Possibility being a strong contender for listing in the prestigious “Top 500 NGO’s in the World” ranking due to be announced next week.  

I want to go at this thing hard because it is a remarkable program that changes lives – and not only the lives of the Principals, teachers and children it impacts, but also the lives of the business partners. If you are a school principal or teacher reading this; if you are a business person who wishes to play a significant role in our country and in children’s lives by using your skills in business, then Partners for Possibility should be top of your new year’s resolution list. (And incidentally, it is not a huge commitment in terms of time.)

Partners for Possibility has information sessions coming up in Durban on the 25th January and in Pietermaritzburg on the 26th of January. For details contact Diane@Symphonia.net.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.

Mass Action Against Zuma United SA Citizens

Mass Action Against Zuma United SA Citizens

“My sole aim was to ensure that my self-respect as a proud South African is restored, and that one way of restoring that was to ensure that the people responsible for large-scale thievery and exploitation are held to account.” Suzanne Daniels – Eskom whistle-blower.

Suzanne Daniels is one of the collective honored by the Daily Maverick in their 2017 Person(s) of the Year. The publication used her story and her face – along with Trillian whistle-blowers Bianca Goodson and Mosilo Mothepu – to honour the many brave South Africans who risked everything to expose corruption in 2017.  Some of these whistle-blowers will likely never be known publicly – like the #Guptaleaks whistle-blowers. Many are still fighting their own battles legal, emotional and physical.

It is because of citizens like this – brave and passionate about what is right – that 2017 was without doubt the most important year in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. Without them we would be none-the-wiser about the breadth and depth of corruption in South Africa. The journalists and editors who exposed the stories must take major credit too, but the real risk will always be to the whistle-blowers.

This begs the question: Did 2017 and the torrent of putrid, rank evil that spewed forth over the course of the year, just happen, or had the right context been created for a year that would end somewhat poetically with Jacob Zuma’s demise as ANC President?

Sometime ago, I wrote an article in which I considered what I think is Jacob Zuma’s greatest legacy: for the first time since the early days of democracy, we unified in our disgust for what Jacob Zuma himself and those associated with him, were doing. We forgot our differences racial, political and economic and we took to the streets in our numbers, united against a man – and indeed a system –  that we knew would wreck our country if we did not act together to stop it. We heeded the battle cry of people like Pravin Gordhan to do what we could to stop the rot.

Whistle-blowers spoke but also writers wrote, lawyers built cases, the public prayed, marched, phoned into radio stations, wrote letters to the papers and excreted all over social media. 2017 saw anger rise in unprecedented ways; we had had enough and mass social action was the result.

This was the context, created by none other than Zuma himself: He forced us out of our comfort-zones, off our backsides and into the arena; he caused us to reevaluate our psychological relationship with leadership; he made us participants in the building (saving?) of our democracy; he forced us to grow up beyond our 23 year oldness and accept that unless the citizens of a democracy work between elections – do more than just bitch and moan – then we cannot expect a different outcome to the one we have just got from him. Zuma caused us to come together and mobilise around a common goal, barriers that had previously existed between us were broken down: We were united against him. Hundreds of thousands, millions of us. I wonder if he knows the gift he gave us?

And now Cyril Ramaphosa. The clear risk we face is complacency; a return to our pre-2017 safe, happy, inactive selves who believe that the bad guy(s) is gone so we don’t have to act anymore. There are two facts here: at the time of writing this, the bad guy(s) were not gone. Secondly, when they are gone there will be more bad guys. That’s life. Ramaphosa cannot save or build South Africa. Only South African’s doing their bit however small, can do that. People love to outsource their citizenry to leaders in high office. But globally that game is up and the “small people” the whistle-blowers, marchers, bloggers, activists, #’ers, talkers etc. – these are the people who are changing the world.

We have about 18 months until the 2019 National elections. That election will be our rite of passage into democratic adulthood – if we make it so.  We need to redouble our efforts as the citizen population during this time. We must put the screws on those who are destroying our nation in a way that makes 2017 pale. We must turn the volume up further on corruption and state capture. We must do this even if it is painful; even if our own friends, colleagues or loved ones are involved. We should hit the streets again and demand that Zuma be removed from office and tried for his crimes and we must do the same for everyone who has propped up the system of corruption that has brought our country into such disrepute. We must use this time to heap pressure on the ruling party so as to force a radical re-examination of itself – for the sake of the country and all who live in it and regardless of political affiliation.

We have a golden moment in time now given to us by virtue of us being between regimes and less than two years away from national elections. Let’s not waste it by taking our foot off the gas.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter.