The not-so-big-myth of female bonding: it exists

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness.” Jane Austen, Persuasion

If you are a feminist who wonders whether we will ever get to feminist utopia, please watch the finalists in this year’s American Idols…  Likewise, if you are aren’t sure what exactly feminists want, these last rounds of American Idols might help you understand. Getting a fair shot at the game, making the best of your talents, being judged on merit, without the extra stumbling block of fighting labels and stereotypes. Yes American Idols a bit frivolous for the serious business of feminism (joke) but indulge me on this one.

Uniquely this year’s American Idol top five is an incredible group of young women, who blow you away with their tear-jerkingly supreme and unaffected mastery of their art. One judge said its one of the best top five ever. It’s easy to see how.

We must watch this show because these are greatly talented singers, but this only became a mission for me (rather than entertainment) when Idols host, the personable Ryan Seacrest, elatedly reported, “they all get along!” suggesting that somehow, this was an unusual occurrence, contrary to the way women usually behave.

Mr Seacrest seemed genuinely pleased about the harmony shared among this unique all female groups of contestants. But would he, (or his scriptwriters) ever have made such a remark if all the final contenders were men? Probably not, because its taken for granted that men are “good sports,” who are better able to handle competition.

Women, on the other hand? No. And most certainly not where five women are competing against each other for the most lucrative singing award in the world.

We must be clear: the narrative of women’s  perpetual hostility to each other is a patriarchal (ie. male supremacist) fabrication, but popular opinion has never tried to shake the stereotype. The American Idols 2013 finals should be used by all to counter the misogynist propaganda machine about how women relate to each other. A propaganda machine that would have us believe that friendship and collaboration between competing women is exceptional, not the norm.

But the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend. Charlotte Bronte (Shirley)

Women are stereotyped as bitchy, combative and ruthless. Hell hath no fury etc etc. The glaring paradox of course is that while gendered mythology presents malehood as a realm of back-slapping camaraderie, the same male race has distinguished itself as supremely warmongering species that has perpetratrated of violence in every sphere of human existence. We live happily with that paradox when it comes to men. Justifiably so. It wouldn’t be fair to paint all men with the same brush, right?

Yet somehow, even though they are not typically known to drop bombs on their rivals, fire machine guns at random groups of schoolchildren or pillage and burn down villages, it is women who are vilified for having a collective affliction of the “PhD” (pull her down) syndrome. Women–not sexism, discrimination, or oppression–are their own worst enemies. (That women are as guilty as men of perpetuating this myth merely proves how entrenched the lie is.)

The female proneness to quarrelsomeness and discord is reflected in (his)tory, which suggests that no civilisation has survived unscathed from the strife sown by women from Eve, to Cleopatra to Marie Antoinette to–yes, well–Margaret Thatcher. Patriarchy still justifies women’s marginalisation by peddling the idea that women are tempestuous creatures, who, if left untamed, will spiral into Katrina’s and Sandy’s, unleashing untold destruction on humanity. “Il y a une femme dans toutes les affaires ; aussitôt qu’on me fait un rapport, je dis  ‘Cherchez la femme!’wrote Alexandre Dumas. Loosely translated, where men do bad things, you will find a woman at the bottom of it.

Unlike Mr Seacrest (as a stand-in for popular media), I don’t find it at all remarkable that this group of young women get along. After all, if we cared to look at everyday reality in schools, churches, hospitals, families or offices, that’s how women live their lives. Show me a successful social institution and I will show you a group of women working collaboratively. Solidarity, not conflict, is the overwhelming truth of our existence. It has to be, otherwise we would still be gagged and bound by the chains of patriarchy, unable to compete for  million dollar Idols prizes at all.

So apart from their great singing talent, Candice, Amber, Janelle, Kree and Angie are to there to be held up as an example that sisterhood is the rule not the exception in women’s relationships. We don’t ALL get along. Why should we? Some women, like some men, are very nasty pieces of work, after all. But there is such a thing as female bonding, and woman power will always be greater than the sum of its parts.


(Written after watching Episode 12/28 25 April the sing-out. Congratulations to the winner Candice Glover who really brought me to tears

Girls behaving badly or a serious case of womb envy?

rampheleIt is a little celebrated achievement, but according to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap 2012 Report, South Africa is in the top ten countries in the world for women’s political participation . At seventh place, that puts us higher than any of our BRICS counterparts on this score (yes!!!). And even though one female minister doth not equality make, it is impressive that five out of the nine provincial premiers are women, and that South African women have (successfully) headed some of the country’s most powerful institutions. They have also made their mark internationally, with iconic figures such as Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights Commissioner (famous for making rape a war crime in international law), and Dr. Nkosazana Zuma at the head of the African Union flying our nation’s flag.

The rapidly changing the balance of forces between men and women in politics is surely one of  the radically different features of the second millennium where South Africa has blazed a trail. Women’s presence in top positions is almost a mundane event in almost every sphere, carrying with them some hope of a better politics and better leadership. But it is true, even a devout feminist like myself will admit, that female leaders are not always the paragons we would like them to be. And in South Africa, where there is an open and lively media, we are not expected to treat our women leaders’ missteps and delinquency any differently from their male counterparts. But we do … not just differently, but actually worse.

Recently our (female) National Police Commissioner, having had a rather bad run in the press due to a series of internationally reported incidents of police brutality (including the August 16 Marikana massacre) complained that her predecessors had never been attacked in the media in the manner she had been, and asked if the criticisms of her were in fact part of “veiled gender debate.” Of course, being police commissioner under these circumstances meant that her comments were met with scorn and derision for playing “the gender card”. I suppose, under the circumstances, jumping to her defence was not a number one priority for the feminist movement.

But thanks to the Daily Maverick’s weekly iMaverick (iM) magazine (“the intelligent magazine for intelligent people”) since last week, I am now fully with Phiyega on her remarks. IMaverick has in the course of this short year, featured three covers of women leaders who have either fallen afoul of public opinion and/or been the centre of big news. Thanks to almost abusive captions, and the rapidity with which they followed each other, the cover pages illustrate beyond doubt (to me) an absolute unbalanced treatment of women leaders regardless of their misdeeds, never mind achievements.

IMaverick’s most recent cover is a close up of Riah Phiyega dramatically entitled “Disgrace” on its issue of 22 March after her testimony at the Marikana Commission of Enquiry. Prior to that on 8 March, dedicated to International Women’s Day, the magazine targeted the Minister of Women and Children with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana with the enjoinder “Leave Lulu” after she caused offence with impolitic comments about Afrikaner culture and its attitude to women and children (in fairness she also made comments about African culture, but no-one cared much about that). Just two weeks before, on 22 February 2013, household name Mamphele Ramphele, just after launching her new political party Agang, was awarded for her efforts with a sardonic “Disappointment.”

First of all I was startled by such a spate of headline coverage of women leaders in a magazine that has featured less than ten prominent women in its last one hundred issues. Have our male leaders been doing so well? But then, why such blanket hostility? Was my discomfort due to my Malawian distaste for uncivil language? My feminist defensiveness of women leaders? Maybe this was just the way iMaverick expressed its annoyance with our less than perfect public figureheads.


So I went through all iMaverick covers of this magazine from November 2011 (handily displayed across two pages of my iPad), and I confirmed absolutely that these three covers were exceptional in their nature. Not only because women feature so little on its covers, but because while many covers have been cheeky, derisive, or indignant, but this extremity of language in the legend is rare. And the past year, iMaverick have published one hundred editions with covering every political figure has been on the cover, often for some form of objectionable deed or another, but none has quite matched these three covers in the vehemence of the language used.

Yes, its difficult to have sympathy for Phiyega when one considers the horror that was Marikana. But consider this. Like Phiyega, Cyril Ramaphosa was plastered on iMaverick’s front page because of the unsavoury role ascribed to him in the same tragic event. As founder secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkers, his support for a harsh clampdown by police against striking mineworkers (revealed in emails where he labelled the strikers ‘criminals’) should surely have earned him strongly worded cover of the highest order for this double betrayal? Something like “Sellout” comes to mind? But no, for his sins, the magazine asked ponderously “Whatever Happened To The Hero?” I guess being a multi-billionaire earns one the right to light touch disapproval by the press.

So is there an unspoken media rule? You can get away with a couple of tads more bitchiness when the subject of your ire is on the lower half of the one-to-ten scale of the rich and powerful (as would be the case with black women)? After all, when your subjects are high up, but not quite high up enough, they are the perfect platform show your publication’s intrepid independence and righteous editorial refusal to be shackled by the constraints of political correctness. It’s not like they are real victims right? And fortunately, we know full well that criticism of these sub-elites are less likely to earn you a call from your advertisers, or assemble an angry mob blocking entry to your offices in the morning as you hurry in with your double shot latte.

But, hang on, some women in the storm of a scandal do enjoy a little ubuntu from the media. Helen Zille, the leader of the opposition, earned her place on the cover of iMaverick after she caused a twitter storm for calling people moving from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape “refugees.” The furore was exacerbated by her refusal to back down on what was generally agreed to be a major faux pas on her part. If we use the standard applied to Minister Xingwana for unfortunate utterances, shouldn’t Helen Zille have been told “Shut it Helen!”  For her foot-in-mouth sins, she got an indulgent “@Helenzille: A Year Of Tweeting Feverishly.” So at least Ms Zille shares the fortune of male counterparts of being on the right side of the iMaverick’s calculation of how far we push the boundaries in our treatment of high-profile figures.xingwana

South Africa is a country that has a healthy disrespect for its leaders—even women. That’s a good thing. But surely, in a society where black females face pervasive racism, sexism and violence from the youngest age, the media could counter this covering our black women leaders positively where they deserve it? But the media won’t do that, unless you are Thuli Madonsela (using iMaverick as a yardstick). On the other hand, might the use of excessively negative language towards women leaders contribute to our misogynistic climate? As a nation South Africa should be showing its pride in the absolutely outstanding achievement of being in the top ten in bringing so many women in leadership positions in such a short time in our democracy. Or do our media trivialise this achievement because … well, because it’s the ANC wot did it?

No one is saying we should treat our black women leaders with kid gloves, just because they are black women. Nor should our media ever pander to the conservative line that “we must respect our elders/those in authority” because we know that doesn’t take us anywhere. But discrimination, dear friends, is discrimination—we must not let people hide behind freedom of expression or freedom of opinion or i-maverick-ness to whitewash it.

Black women leaders really should play the gender card more often. I shall now line up to be the first to defend them.


Anene Booysens (1996-2013) RIP …. We failed you


“The entrenched culture of sexual violence which prevails in South Africa must end.”  … “It should not have taken this particularly atrocious case, involving rape, torture and murder, to underline the urgent need for a more thorough response across the spectrum of South African society to tackle the root causes of this pandemic of sexual violence.” Navi Pillay, UN Human Rights Commissioner

On the day Anene Booysens was laid to rest, I felt traumatized and outraged. But there was something else. I searched to put a finger on my discomfort, and realised that it was guilt. But why feel guilty? I realised that I felt guilty because, having followed the tragic rape case of “India’s Daughter” I–like many others–should have asked “how can we avoid this happening to a young women in South Africa”? We know that sexual violence is one of the most prevalent crimes in the country. So why, having been given a warning about how bad sexual violence can get, why didn’t do more in our power to take preventive measures?

Now, the country has been galvanised into action–by working collectively, we hope we can do more to save our daughters from the scourge of rape. This means a dialogue has to happen. It must go  must go wide and deep—with no “sacred cows”. This is my first contribution (and attempt to assuage my guilt!) to try to #stoprape

Undervaluing women’s contributions, suffering and voices

We live in societies where everything that is tagged “women’s affairs” is undervalued, trivialized, ridiculed or ignored. Women’s contributions in the domestic sphere–breastfeeding babies, cooking for the family, caring for the sick, tending vegetable gardens, making comfortable homes, praying for the bereaved–is neither counted as work nor considered part of the hallowed sphere which we call “the economy “or “the market”. These are all services the nation (the economy) can count on as freebies, or at least costing no more than some roses on Mother’s Day as adequate compensation. In the same way, the violations women suffer everyday are trivialized—these are lesser evils … misdemeanors really. The perpetrators are not real criminals, and even if women live in terror these are not issues of national security, like real terrorism. A spike in carjackings will cause national a national outcry, but rape? Barely a murmur. Till now, rape has barely ever occupied the columns of our high-minded “thought leaders” as a fundamental obstacle to our development and progress. How long has the women’s movement been talking about the scourge of sexual violence and rape only to be met by silence or dismissal because till today, these have not been “newsworthy”. That is the value we place on women’s voices. Ask activists and they will tell you about the loud “yawn”, the silent “there they go again” chorus when women speak about their rights. This constant trivialization of “women’s issues” in every aspect of life sends out the message to everyone that violating women is not a crime because “women’s affairs” are not national priorities, and crimes against women are misdemeanours rather than penal offenses. And that is why so many sexual crimes are unreported.

Defining the societal role of the state.

What should we look to the state to do and what is our private responsibility as citizens in solving the problem of sexual violence? In South Africa, we have a neoliberal state that is beholden to free market principles. Its general ideology of “non-intervention” has prevented it from conceptualizing its role outside the market and beyond the strict legal framework of the Constitution. By and large, the state in South Africa has forsaken its role to shape attitudes, values and communities. This has been left to cultural and religious institutions, or family or individuals—in the same way as the economy must be left to the market. The post-apartheid state has failed to put itself at the centre of forging dialogue on critical societal (non-economical) questions, never mind providing guidance on the same. In this discussion on how to prevent rape, we must put public institutions in the dock and talk about how to transform the state we are in from a colonially constructed machine built to facilitate extraction, maintain law and order and protect elite privileges (including male privilege) to a machine that is actually part of society it oversees: progressive in shaping a new society, and visionary about its role as an economic and social actor. The pandemic of rape manifests a failure to transform the state into an entity that is present, meaningful and relevant to people’s lived experiences. Sexual violence is not just about how parents raise their children; we must also understand violence, including sexual violence, as an indication of institutional dysfunction on a massive scale.

Inequality breeds violence

There is enough research to show that social problems are consistently worse in highly unequal societies than in highly egalitarian ones, regardless of their overall wealth. Violence—including interpersonal violence—and criminality are more prevalent in unequal societies. South Africa’s status of the most unequal country in the world correlates well with its horrific rape statistics. Because in our case, economic inequality is compounded by race, class and gender inequality, then we should expect that violence will be even more extreme. Egalitarian societies create a sense of solidarity and common destiny, which unequal societies do not do. More equal countries build institutions that enact redistributive policies so that  “social cohesion” is founded on a rights based framework, built from the ground. In post-apartheid South Africa, wealth—more than class or race or profession, authority or integrity—has come to define one’s status (and personhood). Economic inequality interacts with historical grievances to create a social powder keg. While exhorting “African values”  and “ubuntu”, our political elites have never dared tackle issues of redistributive justice—witness the tortoise like pace of land reform which leaves black people without any assets to build livelihood, the monopolies that still control almost every aspect of the South African economy, the appalling conditions of workers contrasted with aberrantly excessive displays of conspicuous consumption displayed by our struggle icons. The fact is that social dislocation, not social cohesion remains the overwhelming reality of South Africa today. The results will always manifest themselves in crises of one sort or another.

It’s a man’s world (and so it shall remain, nudge-nudge-wink-wink)

The idea that it is a man’s world runs deep in the national psyche and is a defining element in structuring power relations, defining privilege, and allocating resources. As women have gained more and more freedoms and access to spaces hitherto denied them, politicians know that they must tread delicately in containing the ire of their still impoverished male base. The solution has been to allow men to preserve their last bastion of male power—the household, family or clan. So it is for example that traditional and customary laws remain a no-go area for reform, however discriminatory they may be. Elite women will have access to high political positions, but the poorest women are denied rights to land. Public spaces remain dangerous for women because that way, the public space is a male domain. Women are violated at a taxi rank for wearing miniskirts, but no significant action is taken to secure their rights and freedoms in that space. (Logically, since men are the majority perpetrators of violence and crime, why are they not placed under curfew at 6 o’clock to make sure women can walk in public safely?). Male silence over rape and women’s abuse has largely been because of a consensus that men are hunters and women are prey. It gets worse. We are not just a patriarchal society, we are also an extremely phallocratic society. However little a man has, he still has his penis to remind him that he is part of a ruling class–the top 49 per cent as it were. Little wonder then that the penis has been a weapon of war since time immemorial. In addition to being a weapon of conquest, the penis enjoys the unquestioned rights and entitlements of a monarch whose needs and desires must be met with instant gratification. We are so bound in this thinking that we can only accept polygamy as a husband having multiple wives (polygyny) but never as a woman who has multiple husbands (polyandry). Why? Because in many respects, our society understands matrimony as a property relationship rather than an emotional one. An unfaithful woman should expect to pay for her  violation of penile pride with every type of violence. Without making concerted efforts to dismantle this “cult of masculinity” we will not address rape.

“But they are lying, to themselves and to you. Even if they have an entire culture to back them up, they are still lying. We must never forget that. There is a cult of masculinity, and there is a man box, and we can leave them. We can not only leave them. We can destroy them. We must. With all the world at stake, we must.”  (Derrick Jensen,

Being practical and empirical

When one hears discussions on the radio about rape and sexual violence, the generalisations are so immense that the problem seems intractable. 65,000 rapes were reported in South Africa last year, we know. But where are these rapes taking place? Who are the worst affected groups? Who are the perpetrators?  Surely this is as important as calculating how many rapes 65,000 makes in a day, in an hour, in a minute? Statistics are manipulated for dramatic effect in the media, who do not care to undertake a more detailed examination of the figures so that they we have a better understanding of the problem. So statistics numb us, instead of spurring us into action. Who can blame those (like me) who believe that the media has headlined sexual violence because of its commercial, sensationalist or ANC-bashing value? Or is that not their role? Likewise, South Africa’s public policy making tends to be based on more on high-sounding rhetoric, big ideas and manufactured sound bites, than it is based on well-researched data and lived realities on the ground (the National Development Plan is a case in point, but I will attack that in my next blog). I have listened to many government ministers on the radio, the only one I heard who seemed to know the facts and figures about his sector was our current Minister of Health, who could probably tell you the number of clinics in every province in South Africa. And then there is us, the general (phone-in) public, who never care to read, understand or question, but prefer to bombard the airwaves with solutions based on anecdotes, emotional reactions, personal prejudices and biases, offering up silver bullet solutions for a complex problem that has festered for too long. We will not be effective in this battle unless we take the time to read and understand. Otherwise this country wide campaign becomes one where we use use women’s bodies (once again) to promote personal agendas.

Navi Pillay (quoted above) has described sexual violence as a pandemic. An epidemic is an outbreak of a disease. A pandemic is an outbreak of a disease everywhere. And that is where we are at. Hopefully we will now open an honest dialogue on rape, sexual violence, women’s rights, sexism in every space of human activity—in politics, traditional institutions, bureaucracies, places of worship, schools, workplaces, families, sports fields, bars and beaches. Because we know that sexual violence is happening everywhere  and there can be no sacred cows.


Dedicated to all victims and survivors of sexual violence, and the brave sisters who have fought alongside them over the decades.

The struggle for women and girls’ equality continues. We shall fight and win.

Written in support of





“All stakeholders are to blame”… The wishy washy morality of the new black elite


“So, how to govern the poor has become one of the biggest moral dilemmas facing the nation’s democracy. Behind policy debates on welfare and service delivery, loom fundamental ethical choices that will determine the nature of the South African experiment with democracy—questions of how to right historical wrongs, what is the relationship between personal or collective injury and larger promises of equality…

And the urgency of these new moral dilemmas is such that for the democratic project to have any future at all it should necessarily take the form of a conscious attempt to retrieve life and the human from a history of waste.”

Achille Mbembe, June 2011,
African Studies Centre Annual Lecture, Oxford University (Transcribed from Podcast)


Thursday, 20 September 12

Dear Xolani,

Many thanks for an insightful Forum@8 with Cyril Ramaphosa today. I hope that your programme will continue its post-mortem of the Marikana tragedy, with particular focus on the mining industry and the fitness of the same industry as custodian of our valuable mineral resources.

Mr Ramaphosa came across as a most sympathetic, personable character, but unfortunately, as the embodiment of the new black business and political elite, he also showed the extent to which they have abandoned the poor of the country to fight their struggles against an unreconstructed white corporate South Africa. Its all very well for our elites to “understand and sympathize” with the plight of workers, but there was no sense during the interview that he–as the more progressive face of the new black super rich–has proactively and relentless used his influence and wealth to hold the mining industry accountable for ethical and socially responsible business practices.

When asked who is to blame, Mr Ramaphosa’s response that “all stakeholders are responsible” simply can not go unanswered. Lonmin is a company, and where things go belly-up in any company or organization, management and the board are expected to explain themselves. Lonmin’s management is, by all accounts, the best that money can buy. That is why their executives are so astronomically paid. So why should “all stakeholders” share the blame for the Marikana disaster, when the corporation’s decisions and policy are the sole purview of management and the board? Neither workers nor unions nor mining communities as far as we are aware form any part of Lonmin’s operational and financial executive structures. This phase (and it was just a phase) of the crisis at Marikana had been brewing for over a year, yet management, the board and shareholders failed to respond promptly enough to prevent its escalation. Surely this crisis is nothing if not a failure of corporate governance and management?

Lonmin left the situation to fester until the eleventh hour when it was clear that the longer the crisis/standoff continued, the more irreparable the damage to Lonmin’s long term reputation (and profitability). They might complain that the concessions made to miners has compromised the viability of the company. The reality is that to a much greater extent, Lonmin’s viability was already compromised by their inability to contain the escalation of worker/management conflict–to the point in fact where, rightly or wrongly, a de facto state of emergency had to be imposed to maintain some semblance of control. Management made the wage concessions it did, because the the Marikana disaster clearly sent out the message to the world is that South African mine bosses are not able to manage their socio-economic context and, in fact, are so unaware of their operating environment that they could not see the storm coming till it hit the shores. We scorecard the government on its performance, why don’t the mines get the same scrutiny?

Yes, every citizen has a responsibility to defend the Constitution and take a stand when our Bill of Rights is being violated. But each of us is called on to exercise these responsibilities within our realms of influence–where we have the power to make decisions, set policy, design strategy and define operational parameters. In this regard, not “all stakeholders” have equal power, and it is nonsensical to allocate equal blame to all the protagonists in the disaster. And despite his good nature, this is where Ramaphosa’s unwillingness to take an honest stand affects his credibility. As far back as 2009, the Department of Minerals’ impact assessment of the Mining Charter found industry noncompliance to be “shocking”. They spoke about a “gloomy” picture  which “urgently” needed to be addressed. Clearly the mining industry does not understand “gloomy”, “shocking” and “urgently” the way the rest of us might. “We are working on it” doesn’t cut it as a response.

Mr Ramaphosa also stated that the mining industry is one where transformation has been particularly difficult. This is a statement where the public must demand further explanation. This is is one of the richest, most powerful sectors in the economy, with access to capital, to the state resources (including it would appear the SANDF), to global institutions, to ostensibly the best brains that money can buy. In some ways, these corporations are even more powerful than governments, because the tentacles of their influence spread far and wide. As highlighted by Prof. Adam Habib in his comments on your programme today, South Africa is to platinum what Saudi Arabia is to oil, meaning that the sector also has an exceptionally dominant market position. So how is transformation more difficult for Lonmin than for anyone else? How does their two plus two equal minus three? The answer is simply that its priorities in terms of how it allocates resources are misplaced. Lonmin could for example have decided to defer expenditure on the new shaft to attend to better working and living conditions for workers first. Or to look at ways in which rising labour costs could be offset by other increases in productivity. Or to invest in training workers in other areas so that there could be a gradual process of lay-offs that would not leave workers high and dry but could direct them to other work sectors where there are skills gaps. Or aggressively develop projects to ensure better living conditions and alternative livelihoods for communities. Why do we blame workers rather than blaming the business for not being able to adapt to the changing constitutional environment? If mining is not able to adapt to a changing labour relations and legislative context, that is the fault of the mining bosses, not the unions and workers. It might be a difficult task, but the promise they make when they apply for mining concessions is that they are able to deliver the miracle of transformation.

The mining industry and the political elites have been able to get away with doing nothing (or the very very least possible) by mounting an arsenal of excuses as a smokescreen for having their cake and eating it. They would have us think that they are valiantly trying to keep this economy on its feet while being constantly undermined by inflexible labour legislation, the global investment climate, unreasonable worker demands, an incompetent (i.e.. African) state, any excuse will do. Any excuse rather than their failure to enact the bold thinking, self sacrifice and integrity it takes to sign up to a genuine transformation and social justice agenda. So armed with troops of smooth talking image consultants, flashy reports, knowledgeable “experts” and strategically dispensed political favours, they continue to externalise the human, environmental and social costs of their industry and direct the blame elsewhere (eg. to all stakeholders) to cover up a feudal business model that has no place in a modern South Africa.

As one Jesus Christ wisely stated a long time ago:

“And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.” (Matthew 2.22, King James version)

Well the bottles have burst and the wine has spilled. Marikana is the inevitable consequence of an apartheid business model trying to function in a rights-based dispensation where information shoots faster than lightning across the globe. What are citizens supposed to think when they hear our elites–who wield political, economic and military power–have no better response than to say they are looking into the problem yet change seems not to happen. How many reports are gathering dust “under consideration” as we lurch from one crisis to the next?  Why do we need yet more commissions and investigations when civil society and state watchdogs have produced report after report (based on solid research) pointing to the injustices and human rights violations perpetrated by the mining industry against workers and mining communities alike? How many people have warned about “the ticking time bomb” in one way or another without us seeing drastic and decisive action to address the root causes of problems. Yes it is “devastating” that forty six people died in the Marikana incidents; yet where is the devastation when in the first six months of 2012, there had already been 48 fatalities in mining, and a 29% increase in platinum fatalities.

Yes the warning signs have flashed and flashed like the blue lights on a VIP car down the highway. The Benchmarks Foundation report on the platinum industry showed unequivocally how the platinum belt is becoming the locus of social conflict due to a long list of long unattended grievances against the mining companies by communities and workers alike. Are these reports tabled in Lonmin board meetings? When has the Lonmin board decided to do their own investigation to verify whether the findings of such reports are true? Why are we not “devastated” when non-partisan organizations, academics and government departments point out the massive failings of the mining industry, including its excessively high mortality rates?

In his foreword to the BenchMarks report on CSR in the platinum sector (Policy Gap 6, 2012) Rt, Revd Dr Jo Seoka stated:

“Overall, we have seen very little improvement in the performance of the companies surveyed on corporate social responsibility. What we have seen, is a large increase in corporate advertising, large spreads in newspapers and billboards stating how responsible mining is, in particular by Anglo Platinum. Instead, all the companies reviewed here should respond to community concerns over jobs, health care and a safe and healthy environment.”

If there is anything that Marikana should teach Mr Ramaphosa and his class is that they have to reverse their complacency and wishy washy “we are working on it” approach to major national problems, have the courage to allocate blame where it is due, and use their position to force  the state to swiftly set in motion the wheels of its coercive machinery  to force corporations to comply with their constitutional obligations.  Yes the state is responsible for non-enforcement of mining regulations. Yes the unions are responsible for the breakdown in relationships with the workers. Yes, the media are responsible for not shining the spotlight more keenly on how mining companies trample over the rights of the poor. And so the list goes on. But it is each company’s management and board  that design company policy, strategy and business models. Marikana was the direct outcome of failed management and governance; that is where the blame lies primarily and that is where the buck must stop.

We must hope that Mr Ramaphosa’s “devastation” at the killings in Marikana will now translate into his forcing Lonmin to become an exemplary corporate citizen. His devastation must translate to taking a firm stand in favour of the much maligned workers so that the mining industry meets its century-old reparative debt for past and current atrocities. The amount of money invested into getting the best executives should be measured against their ability to make their companies and the mining sector a beacon for responsible, developmental, ethical, sustainable AND profitable mining. Some problems that are listed in the existing reports could be attended to in a day or two, some in a couple of months, because they require nothing more than a change in attitude and a reorganization of priorities. If Lonmin et al can not mine cost effectively without exploiting workers, violating community rights and polluting the environment, then we must as South Africa must consider whether we are granting mining concessions to deserving companies.

With thanks,
Nancy Kachingwe
(Member of the Alternative Mining Indaba. This letter reflects my personal views)

SA’s sputtering engine of growth – in need of reconditioning

There has been a great deal of wringing of hands about South Africa’s unemployment rates. Justifiably. And typically in a vibrant democracy, the blame for this appalling state of affairs is being slung around from all sides.  Of course, the government takes the bulk of the blame for all the usual catalogue of crimes governments are blamed for–spending too much, spending too little, spending on the wrong things, not spending on the right ones–particularly, very particularly the education system. But increasingly, it is  COSATU and its affiliates that have been heaped with the most opprobrium, coming in large part from the business establishment and the opposition. So it is that Ms. Lindiwe Mazibuko, spokesperson for the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, penned an opinion piece criticizing COSATU and its President one Zwelenzima Vavi thus:

“[..] one would be hard-pressed to find an organisation which has had a greater, and more detrimental, effect on public policy than his trade-union federation. It is no overstatement to say that Cosatu is the main roadblock to job creation and redress for millions of South Africans. It consistently vetoes government policy in education, labour and economic reform.”

She continued with an indignant defense of the unemployed poor, attacking COSATU’s campaign to ban labour brokering. “When Vavi cynically says that labour broking is like human trafficking,” she thundered, “he speaks with the callousness of one who has never asked a person in a badly paid job if they would be prepared to give it up if there was no alternative.”

Right. Fighting words indeed. But at least we know the Democratic Alliance feels that South Africa can not create alternatives beyond the current reality, so poorly paid workers than to accept their lot and struggle on.

This is the run of the mill bashing that COSATU receives. Nothing out of the ordinary, and COSATU can give as good as it gets. So probably my violent reaction to the piece (in the form of this blog) was based on the mounting irritation I have with the Democratic Alliance’s poverty of policy offerings, my general annoyance with all the politicking happening around such a serious problem as unemployment, oh and the very uncritical treatment the DA (and the status quo they protect) gets in our national press (do people read their documents?). I tweeted, but decided that was not enough. A more robust response is required to let off that steam. Its not very long, and not so well researched, but someone please join me in moving this thinking forward and open up this debate.

Firstly, its not COSATU’s role to create jobs. COSATU’s role is to make sure those in jobs are treated with dignity, fairness and equitably. And the more of them there are, the better for it no doubt. The prevailing neoliberal thinking tells us that governments are not supposed to create jobs–they shouldn’t intervene in the economy, they should be “facilitators”. Government (whisper “especially an ANC government”) can’t run business-they should outsource all their functions to the market, and help the market in the form of tenders and privatization. Only business can run business; the markets are best left to private actors to run, preferably with as little interference or regulation as possible. So it is that we have had to accept that the private sector (which in South Africa is vast, diversified and well resourced) is the engine of growth. It is the private sector that will create jobs which will grow the economy (which is why we must create an enabling business environment). By and large we have gone with this line of thinking for the past 18 years, tweaking things here and there, and our South African economy has creaked forward at 3% growth or so.

So we have let business be the engine of growth. Why then, are the workers–not our our private sector–being blamed not creating enough jobs? Business tells us they don’t have the right conditions to create jobs. True South Africa has tried to have the labour laws of a self respecting social democracy (in SA business speak “inflexible”), but SA business can count on so many other things that counterparts in Africa with far higher growth rates don’t enjoy. Good roads and infrastructure, electricity, some of the largest corporations in the global South, a “functional” financial system (it didn’t blow up during the financial crisis did it?), a constitutional democracy, freedom of the media, fairly stable property rights. The whole gamut. Okay our skills base is not that great,  but our literacy rates are ranked similar to Mauritius, Ghana or Kenya,  and definitely higher than Angola, Botswana and our great continental rival Nigeria, all of who seem to be managing ok if you use the orthodox economic measures. And we have some of the best universities on the continent to boot. Energy supplies are a problem, but not as much as if we were landlocked like Botwana or Zambia. We are as well if not better positioned geographically as any of our developing country counterparts, with coasts on both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. We have climatic conditions (apart from the odd crazy snowfall in parts) that are everything from quasi-desert to tropical to temperate. There aren’t that many engines of growth in Africa (or in Europe, where even if you have the skills base, you can’t afford the child care, swimming pool and private education) have it that good. So why is our engine of growth delivering only 2-3 per cent, when other people’s engines are managing to attain 6-8 per cent without all these advantages. Is not as if they haven’t all had political turmoil of one kind or another. Is it really just the unions?

No the problem is not our business sector. A publication “The New Divide” (new???) sponsored by Adcorp, the leading supporter of informalisation and casualisation today, offers up the question “Will high wages and lack of leadership create an unemployed majority.” A reading of the table of contents alone clearly shows whose high wages and whose lack of leadership is referred to. And its not our business sector. Surely this can’t go unchallenged?

Really we need to leave COSATU alone and start pointing fingers at our business sector. Businesses created jobs in Japan, China, Thailand and Korea–Japanese and Koreans were able to attain the highest standards of living. It is–to use a word that has become popular in our politics this last week–disingenuous to suggest that it is only government and the trade unions that are blocking our path to further job creation. Our businesses have had a head start, with a good century of being able to rely on slave labour (for which we did not ask reparations), pollute at will, and receiving form of state support including handing over vast amounts of land to “business.” So why can’t our businesses to do better than just hobble along at two percent?

The South African business establishment has been Houdini-like in managing to escape even a whiff of of responsibility for our current state of affairs. The ANC is busy speaking about employment equity and BEE, rather than to tell business (especially big business) to stop whinging, step up to the plate and start delivering. Our opposition party has told us we must resign ourselves to our structural inequalities and make it cheaper for employees to hire workers. When COSATU points out that “its the economy, stupid”, business, its supporters in government, international financial institutions and the opposition all say “no its not the economy, its the labour regulations.” Business has excelled only in beating COSATU and government in the art of controlling narratives and pointing fingers. We can’t even blame apartheid these days, because when we do, we are accused of ‘being stuck in the past’. So at the moment its labour regulations and strikes that are to blame for companies bad performance. Tomorrow it will be the universities and how they can’t produce “employable” (black) people, or the informal sector who are not paying taxes. Or the global economy and China. Or the price of oil and electricity. Or corruption and BEE. Oh and don’t forget crime. In fact business has realized that it doesn’t have to perform if they  just push the panic buttons and hysteria about everything that is wrong (pointing darkly to Zimbabwe as the example of what lies ahead), and cast themselves as the victim of a terribly difficult set of circumstances created by terribly difficult people who just don’t get it.

Back to the question of high wages and lack of leadership. Last year our CEOs awarded themselves a whopping 23.3% pay rise, while complaining that workers were asking for an extravagant 8-10% pay increase. There was a bit of a stink about it, but with all the Malema diversions it died down pretty quickly. There was no strident wailing from the white led opposition, and the media are rather preoccupied by laws on access to state information and changes to media laws. I am sure that someone asked the question about why our captains of industry, mining, finance felt they deserved a 23.3% raise for only delivering 2% growth? And creating negative employment? Business blaming COSATU for the state of unemployment is as rich as Mugabe blaming the British for ruining Zimbabwean economy (and even Mugabe has more credible points to his argument). The South African economy is pretty much run by the white establishment: rather than take responsibility, they have done little for 20 years other than vehemently protect their interests and find scapegoats to take the blame. Interestingly, we have managed to create just enough jobs to keep white unemployment at constant levels of under 10%–where COSATU fits in this picture would be interesting to find out.

SA Inc has failed to do what successful businesses in many other parts of the world have been able to do in a globalized, competitive environment. Innovate, work with the state, change management practices, shift paradigms, offer visions, open opportunities in new areas, bring in new technologies, think out of the box. Our banks have barely changed their banking and lending practices from since before apartheid. And yet there are millions of potential job creating businesses that could be supported, capitalized and grown to deliver goods and services and create jobs. Corporates are constantly fleecing the consumer and the state–our cellphone and internet rates are amongst the highest in the world. The mining sector continues to pollute the environment and destroy lives and miss commodity booms. Big SA business still get more out of South Africa than they put in. They should not be surprised that they have made themselves sitting ducks for pushes for nationalization. And that is not COSATU’s fault.

It’s not COSATU’s fault that business is so self absorbed and spoilt that they can’t think of the long term benefits of supporting an equality and transformation agenda 100%. The much lauded capital controls that protected us from the financial crisis were imposed despite big finance rather than with its support. And as for the myth that the private sector is more efficient–that is the biggest myth of all! The ANC for all its very bad faults, and real pre-apartheid disadvantages in learning about the art of governing–still managed to deliver a good World Cup! Some of the businesses we deal with still give us the service equivalent of a Soviet bureaucracy, and have failed to give the nation just one big World Cup like “wow” moment. Rather the biggest whingers have been those who have always had the most advantages.

So lets leave COSATU alone, and be honest about who is/isn’t doing their fair share for growth and employment. The workers taking home R5000, R10,000 R15,000 a month or the CEOs grossing 20-30 million rand? The blame game as to end and business must be put on the spot–for once.

Last week, at the invitation of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Studies, South Africa had the pleasure of hosting on of Africa’s best and brightest brains, a Malawian by the name of Prof.Thandika Mkandawire, who as the first Chair of African Development at the London School of Economics should know a thing or two. He spoke in a radio interview (SABC’s Forum@8) about social compacts and ways to get business, government and the workers to work together. Social compacts could only be successful on the basis of give and take between all parties, and government–if it has to–must drag by the hair those who refuse to play ball. And if they still won’t “come to the party” then we have to find ways to side step them and move on. But we the public need to accept that our antiquated, pampered, high maintenance/low speed engine of growth needs serious reconditioning in its practice and attitude if it is going to bring South Africa up to speed with our fast moving counterparts in Africa and the global South.

Otherwise, it really is time to look at other options.


Making sense of Julius Malema – “Power, seduction and the art of war”

(Written prior to Malema’s suspension, but I won’t change it for now!)

One of my big yawns is the back and forth between the Julius Malema bashers and worshippers especially when this is filling up my airwaves. Julius Malema (for those who don’t know) is the sitting (fighting, marching, swearing) President of the ANC Youth League, a powerful and traditionally vocal institution of the ruling ANC party, whose alumnae include greats such as Madiba himself.

Having said that, my friend Thandi and I spent a good deal of time mulling over Mr Malema. Rather than get embroiled in the emotional bashing and worshipping, we did a rapid appraisal of the state of Malema’s game using the international best seller “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. Greene has also authored the “33 Strategies of War” and “The Art of Seduction” and so is something of an authority on greatest manipulators, seducers and politicians of human times. Studying history and classics are not a complete waste of time. He says:

“Some play with power and lose it all by a fatal mistake. Some go too far or not far enough. Yet others make all the right moves and are able to draw power unto themselves with an almost superhuman dexterity.” R. Greene

Our first assessment was that that Julius has mastered Greene’s laws of power very well. Too well not to share! Here is a summary of what we thought (well I have elaborated from our initial conversation, so Thandi might want to add a disclaimer!

Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies (#2); Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky (#10); do not commit to anyone (#20); Pose as a friend, work as a spy (#14) 

From “we will kill for Zuma” to “Zuma out”, from Mbeki deposer to “Mbeki was the most intelligent leader we ever had” (or something like that) Malema is definitely not your most loyal of friends. Having said that, he has made sure he has courted friends in high places. Even his ‘revolutionary’ forays in Zimbabwe were to hang out with Zanu PF’s wealthy young Turks, many of whom were businessmen well before they joined politics.  Malema does not do ‘losers’ by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone who banks on his support on anything other than a quid-pro-quo basis should speak to Jacob Zuma first. Like the British Empire, this man does not have friends, he has interests. Law 20 (about working as a spy) is stretching it a bit, but I couldn’t help speculating that when Malema kicked out a BBC journalist from his press conference calling him a “bloody agent!” he knew more about espionage than we realized!

Conceal your intentions (#3); Assume formlessness (#48); Keep others in suspense, cultivate an air of unpredictability (#17); Play a sucker to catch a sucker—seem dumber than your mark (# 21)

Julius knows how to keep people guessing. There is no-one box to put him into. Julius has mastered the art of dissimulation. The media (who shape a lot of our thinking about JM) have underestimated him. Greene quotes one Arthur Schopenhauer: “and if a man is to be liked, he must really be inferior in point of intellect.” The media loves to crow over Julius’ “stupidity” but is this because he makes them feel superior? If so, it’s a big mistake. I have not read Fiona Forde’s book on Julius Malema (An Inconvenient Youth) so maybe that gives us more insights into the man. The DA want to be in government in 2019, but I think Julius has other ideas! He likes acting dumb so we dismiss that idea.

Court attention at all costs (# 6); Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following (# 27); Enter action with boldness (# 28); Create compelling spectacles (# 37); Stir up waters to catch fish (# 39)

If you have wondered why Malema rushes in where angels fear to tread, here is the answer. He is not a person to do things by half. The ANCYL economic freedom march was a strategic coup. I hate to admit I made the wrong call on this one, but my eyes stopped rolling in their tracks once I realized that they really were walking from Joburg CBD to Pretoria … all the way! Damn! Julius has managed to make himself larger than life … try visualizing him walking into your house unannounced. As for the boldness, this is his calling card—his appeal because of his no-holds-barred speaking style, like “if they ask you why you are marching tell them we are marching because we want to live like the whites?” Who cares if he is not always consistent? It’s all about timing!

Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim (#12); Concentrate your forces (#23); Recreate yourself (#25) Control the options: get others to play the cards you deal (#31); Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one (#34)

Julius Malema is changing his tactics–cleaning up his act, recreating himself. PR is becoming more of an issue for him. Observers have noted how he has ditched the Breitling watch which cartoonist Zapiro hilariously portrayed him with. I haven’t seen him in a suit since his disciplinary hearing began (not that I look that much). Having spent years being a rabble rouser, he is now the peacemaker, telling his supporters not to bash journalists (anymore) or burn T-shirts of President Zuma (even though they burned Mbeki Tshirts); sporting Mandela T-shirts (Nobel prize winner hint hint); almost not being able to attend sessions of his disciplinary hearing because he is sitting exams for his political science degree. Leading an 80km march where not so much as a window was broken. Oh hail St. Julius I presume? And if you wonder why he has picked on nationalization as an issue, its about Law 23 coincidentally explained thus: “You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper than by flitting from one shallow mine to another.” By championing the nationalization question, Malema has forced everyone to play the cards he has dealt. It doesn’t matter if people agree with you or not, what matters is that you are setting the terms of the debate.

“Never outshine the Master (#1) Always say less than necessary (#13) Know who you are dealing with—do not offend the wrong person (#19) “Plan all the way to the end (# 29) Do not go past the mark you aimed for: in victory, know when to stop (#47)

There are some laws where Malema could “lose it all by a fatal mistake”. Deposing one president might work, plotting to depose a second might be over-reaching yourself. All the good points Malema might make are alienated by the extreme language he uses. Is it so hard to think before he talks? Were I a Julius supporter, I might get worried that one day he will be hoist with his own petard.

Still Zuma might to do well to heed Law 15–“Crush your enemy totally”.

To read more from Robert Greene to to his blog





Thoughts of the death of a dictator …

Friday 21 October – Thoughts on The Death of a Dictator

Today has been full of the news of Muammar Gaddafi’s death. I checked on Twitter, listened to news, checked Facebook to find some new, meaningful analysis to this event. There was none. The usual noises came from the usual quarters, whether this is the human rights groups, the anti-imperialist left, the imperialist west, and commentators being interviewed on the international media. No one was asking any interesting questions. “What next after Gaddafi?” hardly qualifies. “Was he executed or caught in crossfire or shot trying to escape?”. The end was about as predictable as it could have been. Either (i) he would get caught and killed (ii) he would get caught and tried (iii) he would disappear, pop up here and there and then get killed or (iv) he would go to a friendly country for exile. Having vowed to fight to the death, Gaddafi invited the end he met. And to me, that is the end of that sorry chapter.

But I am not hearing any propositions that get me to sit up and listen. The toppling of a tyrant who held on to power for 40 years would in any other year have been a momentous event. But in 2011, there is nothing particularly extraordinary about the Gaddafi story. Africans have lived through this time and time again-men who hang on to power by force, and refuse to see the writing on the wall. Change never looks like it is about to happen—until it does. And life goes on. The new order sets in with the usual exhiliaration and speculation, disappointments and surprises. So I would not given this more than a couple of headlines—certainly not more time than the Occupy Wall Street movement, which really is  new news. After all, the man was already gone, if not dead.

‘What will this mean for the AU’? Probably not very much. A few adjustments here and there and the AU will continue, warts and all. The AU has pretty much established itself as an actor on the global and continental scene. Gaddafi’s exit may mean less money in the AU coffers, but I suspect on the part of some of the more earnest functionaries, there will be a sigh of relief to be done with the Gaddafi circus rolling into town each time there is a summit. Things will be quieter. More boring, but maybe more serious. The real work of regional integration has been plodding along, and I am not sure that Gaddafi had that much to do with any of it. Certainly, the killing of some 70 AU peacekeepers in Somalia reported today would, I imagine, present a much bigger headache for the AU than the death of long gone dictator. By now the AU has seen leaders come and go, and if it hasn’t figured out that nothing stays the same, well someone needs to haul them out of the 70s to the 21st century.

What about the rest of the continent? Will this be the African spring? Somehow (in some quarters) there is speculation that the rest of Africa will be caught up in a frenzy of revolution, ready to throw out the rest of the Big Men, the hegemons that have so long defined us as a continent. But the big men are pretty much a done and dusted story in Sub-Saharan Africa. The few who remain are anachronisms of their time. Did anyone notice the Zambian election? Yes, the one they had this year? Where a sitting President was defeated, handed over power and … the opposition took over? No war, no conflict, no fuss? Just a normal transition? Or Ghana where the same thing happened a couple of years ago? Or Mozambique and Tanzania and Namibia, where admittedly the same parties have been in power since independence but where heads of state step down after their constitutional terms are done and hand over to sucessor. You missed that? Sub-Saharan Africa has more than started its rocky, slow and painful road to democracy-one state and one regime at a time. As I see it, While the Arab Spring has been a boost for democracy in Africa, North Africa is catching up with the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. The real boost has been the challenge to the trend where sons, brothers and nephews of incumbents expected to be named as successors to the throne. For that I am supremely grateful to the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Moroccans.

Gaddafi’s death is part of a big change that is happening in the world. The post cold war order, driven by corporate rule, oil dictatorships, and the world of global finance is falling away. It seems that these changes have happened every 20-30 years since world war 2. First, the 60s and 70s, student uprisings and the end of colonial rule. Then in the 90’s the Berlin Wall, communism, apartheid, and one party rule in Africa all fell away; and now here we find ourselves in the noughties … Wall Street crashes, the Arab Spring happens, and even Rupert Murdoch does not get to escape  … and happily Occupy Wall Street emerges to finally hopefully set that very handsome first black President of theirs back on the straight and narrow.

So here we are, the pattern of generational change has set in. When Gill Scott Heron said the revolution will not be televised it will be LIVE’ he was prophetic in ways we did not imagine. As we said last year during the World Cup (FIFA are another bunch on the way out!) “Feel it, it is here.”





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