Land Expropriation: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Land Expropriation: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

“No one is going to lose his or her house. No one is going to lose his or her flat. No one is going to lose his or her factory or industry.” EFF Leader Julius Malema.

Calm is needed around the issue of expropriation of land without compensation. We run the risk of this becoming the most polarising issue of our post-1994 democracy and it really needn’t be. In fact, I would suggest that this issue could – if we view it slightly differently – become one that further unifies us South Africans and strengthens the bonds that have developed between us over the past two decades.

The reason I say this is because most people I speak to or listen to on radio agree on so many of the fundamentals around the issue of land expropriation: They agree that imbalances in land ownership are still a major stumbling block to the realisation of the dream of a fair and equal, democratic society; they agree that land that was unfairly stripped from black people, needs to be returned; they agree that progress in terms of land redistribution has been slow to the point of near non-existent. So, unless we harbour prejudices aside from the actual issue at hand – redress of the wrongs of the past concerning land ownership – we are largely in agreement that things need to change. How often does that happen, especially with such an explosive issue as land?

It is at this point in the land expropriation without compensation conversation that fear kicks in: What will happen to my land? What will happen to the economy (or put another way, my savings, my pension)? And to justify my fear (as if fear needed justifying) I turn to tried and trusted arguments: Look what happened in Zimbabwe; It is a disaster when unqualified people are given land they do not know how to farm.

But these arguments and questions are futile and unhelpful for the very reason that they elicit more fear and bring about further polarization. More useful (if more difficult) questions will guide us back to productive solutions and ultimately, unity – even if we disagree on how things finally get done: How do we empower our people with land in a responsible manner? How do we put our differences aside to make this happen? What needs to be done to ensure that expropriation, or rather redistribution, benefits the recipients and the economy at large? What needs to happen to allay the fears of all current land-owners? How do we ensure food security?

This issue needs to be handled with such levels of care and sensitivity. That sensitivity should begin with us – the citizens – and how we think of and speak about this issue.

But land redistribution (lets be cautious of the language we use to describe this) should happen, and will happen whatever we think and whatever we fear. We must acknowledge the deep pain around this issue and be open to the possibilities that it represents.

“Thuma Mina – Send Me” President Ramaphosa’s Brilliant Plea

“Thuma Mina – Send Me” President Ramaphosa’s Brilliant Plea

“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around, when they triumph over poverty. I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS. I wanna lend a hand
I wanna be there for the alcoholic. I wanna be there for the drug addict. I wanna be there for the victims of violence and abuse. I wanna lend a hand.
Send me.” From “Thuma Mina” by Hugh Masekela, as quoted by Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address.

Much has now been written about President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, but I want to focus in on the above quote. Its use was a tactical master-stroke and very far from fluffy or sentimental. These words were chosen deliberately and are indicative of where our new President is taking this nation and what he expects from both himself and us. 

With this quote, Ramaphosa sent two very clear messages. Firstly, he let us know something of the man he is and what his main purpose will be; that he is a man-of-the-people in a very real sense; a man who would direct his energy towards the alleviation of the pain of the oppressed, the down-trodden, the sick and the poor of our country. This was a stinging indictment of his predecessor; it was a brutal poetic slap-down of our last “man-of-the-people” President; the one who gleefully, irresponsibly, heartlessly accepted this title whilst singing and dancing and chortling and raping us.

The second thing the President did by quoting these lines is that he inspired us to join him in his mission to help “turn it around”. “Thuma mina” – “Send me”, was his version of the Obama campaign cry, “Yes We Can” in which the former US President brilliantly commissioned both himself and his fellow citizens in these 3 simple words. In an unusually personal piece by Huffington Post SA Editor-at-large Ferial Haffajee she said: “Suddenly, I want to lend a hand, to be sent. I haven’t felt that for the past decade.” This response is surely what Ramaphosa was aiming for – the mobilization of our people – and has surely been said (or at least felt) by many across the country.

But for this quote not to become a distant, feel good memory; for it to become part of the essence of who we are and how we operate as a nation in the post-Zuma dispensation, we need to spend some time with it and ask what it means for us. For Haffajee and her colleagues in the media former Editor-in-Chief of the Mail and Guardian Anton Harber hit the nail on the head in response to Haffajee’s article: “The best way you can lend a hand is to continue to be a vigilant, active, critical citizen and journo.” For our new President, we all have our views on what this should mean for him.

But for the ordinary man-in-the-street, what do we do to “lend a hand”? In the quote Ramaphosa talks to several key issues that affect people daily: poverty (and by implication it’s parent’s unemployment, inequality and poor or nonexistent education); health issues (including the destructive scourge of addiction) and violence and abuse (crime). What can we do to help ensure a better life for our people in these complex and overwhelming areas? What questions should we be asking of ourselves if we want to say with our President: “I want to lend a hand, send me”?

Before we go to some possible questions, let’s be clear that “me” may include individual actions and that is good and necessary. But let us not discount me in relation to others. It’s all about working together in some form of small “community” grouping – whatever that looks like for you – to help turn things around bit-by-bit. You may already have a group that exists for other purposes – from church home groups to book clubs to a running group – you may want to start a group.

The point-of-departure for this “lending and sending” type of work, is dialogue. The basis of this dialogue should be to come together in these small groups and ask good questions that will spark new seeds of creativity and passion in us. As Albert Einstein famously said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Here are some questions that might help the dialogue:

As a community/neigbourhood/district, what challenges do we face? Which area of challenge would we like to help in? What gifts, talents and resources do we have in this group (or could we mobilise) that could be useful? How could we begin doing the necessary work using the resources we have?

If you would like assistance, training or resources to help get started, local NGO the Democracy Development Program (DDP) is hosting a workshop called “Send Me”. For more information contact info@ddp.org.za and use “Send Me” in the subject line or call 031 304 9305.

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.

Losing Hope for South Africa?

Losing Hope for South Africa?

In his best-selling book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl describes how the smoking of cigarettes came to denote a loss of hope in concentration camp prisoners.

Given the lack of even the most basic necessities in World War 2 camps like Auschwitz which Frankl endured, cigarettes were a luxury reserved for the SS captors and the “capos” – SS appointed prisoners who headed up labour squads.

Being this scarce, cigarettes became part of camp currency and prisoners could be rewarded with a few sticks for performing especially taxing or unsavory tasks. But the prisoners didn’t smoke the cigarettes; they would use them to buy soup or a mouthful of bread to sustain their lives. Cigarettes of themselves had no use beyond a means by which to barter for life-giving items. So, when one witnessed a fellow prisoner smoking, it was an ominous sign. You knew that all hope had been lost and it was only a matter of time.

You see hope is not a nice-to-have. It is essential to our well-being and even survival. We simply must have something to believe in; a purpose or faith in the broadest sense. Some call it a “why” we live. Frankl quotes Nietzsche who said: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.

I think we can all understand why a prisoner in a World War 2 concentration camp would lose hope and smoke their cigarettes. But what about us? How quickly and easily do we lose hope? The answer to this question recently came at me in the form of a good many responses to a column I wrote about the great hope that can be found in South Africa right now. Many people just didn’t want to hear it. One person’s words were particularly startling: “If you are still hopeful about this country then I feel sorry for you.”

Now let’s be blunt here; we are not comparing our loss of hope to hope that finally slips from our grasp like the smoke rising from the gas ovens that we have witnessed for months and even years. This is quite simply the hope that is given up because we – and I include myself in this – don’t get our way. As soon as things get too hot in the kitchen (i.e. we are downgraded to junk status, our political party doesn’t win, our political party doesn’t look like it used to, we get the wrong Councillore, our President doesn’t get arrested on our timeframe, we discover that corruption goes beyond us paying cops the odd bribe, our roads get potholes, our currency devalues, our pension is eroded  etc.), we threaten to leave; we refuse to vote; we engage in anarchic and disruptive violence like the flinging of poo; we kill one another; we turn on our country and her people by engaging in negativity and racism. In Frankl’s terms, we sit down, light our cigarette and declare that all hope is lost. Really?

Where is our resilience, our much-praised South African spirit and work ethic? Where is our willingness to fight for what we believe in as so many before us have done? How can we expect anything to change if we are not willing to do the changing? If we don’t change it, guess who gladly will: the corrupt and the criminal – to suit their greedy needs.

How do we even begin doing this when all around us is doom and gloom? According to Frankl the only freedom that camp prisoners had left was the freedom to choose the attitude that they had to any given situation.  And of course, this is ultimately true for all of us: what attitude will I adopt in this situation – in South Africa nearing the end of 2017? Will I choose to give up hope, or to grab every hope I can and make the absolute most of life in this incredible country? And having adopted a positive attitude, what actions can I take to better the situation for me and mine and for us all? Positive actions – however small – are catalysts for hope to grow. And as hope grows so our desire to do more hopeful stuff follows.

For all humanity the learning is clear: if people like Frankl and millions of others could find hope in the worst possible conditions, then we can all do it.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

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

 

Welcome Home to the Turmoil and Hope

Welcome Home to the Turmoil and Hope

A letter to my sister who is about to return to South Africa having lived in Britain for the past 4 years:

Dear M,

I hope you are well and surviving that UK weather. I wish you could send some rain to the Western Cape. The drought down there is horrific.

What do you make of what’s happening in Zim? If you had told me last week that in a matter of days Mugabe would still be alive but out of power, I would have laughed at you. It gives me such hope for South Africa, though we must do it peacefully and democratically (and preferably in less than 37 years!)   

Your decision to come home is such a great one – not that I am biased! It’s a very exciting time to be in South Africa, though it’s not for the faint-hearted.  So, as you make plans to come back home for good, I wanted to give you my thoughts on the “state of our nation”.

From all you will have heard and read, things will appear significantly worse in South Africa. To some extent they are. But you should know that the most important difference between where we are now and where we were say last month or even last year, is that the rot is pouring out into the open in a way that it has never done before. This is thanks to people like Jacques Pauw who wrote The President’s Keepers, NGO amaBhungane and The Daily Maverick who exposed #GuptaLeaks, Adriaan Basson and Pieter Du Toit who wrote Enemy of The People. The list of people bravely exposing Zuma, the Guptas and the stench of corruption and state capture is long and growing.

New revelations emerge daily and whilst this is extremely angering and even frightening for many of us, it is good. The exposure of the sheer magnitude of criminality within government, our state-owned enterprises and institutions like the State Security Agency is the necessary bursting of a boil that has been festering under the surface of this nation for too long. We naively believed that Nkandlagate and revelations of the looting of State Owned Enterprises represented giddying high points in corruption and the capturing of the presidency and the state. But we now know that they are individual cases of a plague that has swept our country. We now know that abuse of power and sheer greed run right into the heart of the democratic apparatus of our state.

So, I’m not saying things are good. They aren’t. They are appalling.  But ironically, the fact that we know they are so appalling should give us a sense of hope; a sense that we are better off now than we were yesterday. For without knowledge of the enemy we are fighting, how can we possibly win? And every day we learn more and this must inform our fight.

Which brings me to my second point. Time and again history has shown us that it only takes a handful of good men and women to turn the tide on evil and we have more than a handful. There are so many people in this country (and indeed outside the country) who are risking everything to expose corruption and lead in ways that honour the legacy of our democracy’s founders. I mentioned Jacques Pauw et al but there are dozens of people who are speaking out daily. This extends from our often-fearless press, to individuals like Pravin Gordhan, Advocate Thuli Madonsela, Zwelenzima Vavi, Makhosi Khoza, David Lewis and his team at Corruption Watch, Sipho Pityana, Vytjie Mentor, Lord Peter Hain to opposition parties, civil society groups and NGO’s to the man and woman on the street. I think of the many police I have interacted with who will not solicit a bride. I think of the many friends and family members we have who will not pay a bribe or a kick-back.

History has always proved the adage that “good will ultimately triumph over evil” and South Africa will be no exception. This is simply because the good men and women of our time are taking a stand big or small. They are resisting the temptation to join the feeding frenzy and exposing lies and deception whenever they can, and hope remains.

My honest belief is that you are coming back at a very good and very necessary time. There is no doubt that it is a time of hope, rebuilding and restoring; it is time for a new struggle that involves all of us. As the good book puts it: “I (God) will restore the years that the locusts have eaten.” The image of locusts is spot on. If I was a cartoonist I would draw Zuma, the Guptas and all the rest of them as locusts destroying everything in their path. But ultimately – like every other plague in history – the locusts will not prevail.

I began this letter by saying that South Africa is not for the faint-hearted. But South Africa also isn’t for the complacent, the lazy or the negative right now either. If you aren’t willing to actively participate in a better future, then you will probably be over-whelmed by the scale of the rot and want to jump ship. It is only when people make the decision to remain hopeful and seriously invest in a nation – time, energy and money – and stand up for their ethics and values, that they become a positive and active contributor to the solution.

I hope this gives you some perspective. We can’t wait to have you home.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. 

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

Holocaust & apartheid: same side of the same coin

Holocaust & apartheid: same side of the same coin

Recently, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos wrote an important piece on the controversy surrounding the old South African flag that was hung in a Sea Point bar.

He was clear; the old South African flag should be destroyed for good along with other relics of apartheid such as the inclusion of Die Stem in the national anthem.

De Vos stopped just short of comparing the old South African flag with the familiar red Nazi flag with its chilling black swastika. I must admit that I understand why he steers clear of this association. However, as I consider it more, it seems that it would be justified on the basis that both images represent the beliefs of one group of people who believed they were superior to another group of people and acted on that belief.

So why do we skirt this comparison when debating apartheid and its iconography? Perhaps it is out of a deep and justified respect for the millions that lost their lives during the holocaust. Perhaps we conclude that fewer black people died during apartheid than during the holocaust and therefore the link between these two criminal regimes is unjustified (does fewer lives lost make evil less evil?). Perhaps as a white South African I just can’t stomach the link.

But such a link needs to be made and discussed simply because we hold the holocaust up as an ultimate low point in humanity’s recent history (as we undoubtedly must).  Yet if we hold it so lightly that it becomes an event beyond compare, then we run the risk of using it to lessen and even dismiss other evils and our complicity – silent or active – therein.

Of course, at this point we must question why the world knows much more about the holocaust than, say, the 1994 Rwanda genocide that saw eight hundred thousand people slaughtered in just 100 days. African genocide and other human rights atrocities on the continent go comparatively unremembered and un-immortalised in art, film and literature. And coming back home, was the Jewish life lost during the holocaust more valuable than the black life lost during apartheid? Was the displacement of the Jewish family during the holocaust more wicked than the displacement of the Black South African family? Was the physical and psychological torture of the Jewish person ‘eviller’ than the torture of the Black person?

If we put ourselves into the shoes of either oppressed person – the Jewish holocaust victim or the black apartheid victim – the answer must surely be ‘no’. This is because we have brought both atrocities down to their most basic level; individual human pain and suffering. Now, evil is evil .

Now things take on a different perspective: I dare not avoid the comparison in case I diminish people’s suffering – in this case, our own people. Now the comparison becomes useful and even necessary if we are to begin the process of taking full responsibility – at the soul level, not just the head level. Because let’s face it, Germany has not built itself up from post-world war nothingness into a great powerhouse by asking: can’t we just move on from all that holocaust business? They face their demons – with humility and dignity – through the many museums and memorials they themselves have erected – on the sites of the concentration camps themselves – so that they never allow themselves to forget what they did and their capacity for evil. We have not done that yet because we still don’t truly believe that what we did was evil; not holocaust evil anyway.

Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency

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