Monday, June 27, 2011

Professor Kader Asmal leaves a void that will be difficult to fill

By Marimuthu Subramoney
(aka Subry Govender)

Another great South African who spoke out strongly and without any fear till his last moments to protect the struggle principles and values that the ANC and others had fought and died for is no longer with us.
Professor Kader Asmal, who was born and went to school in KwaDukuza(formerly Stanger), passed away at the age of 76 in Cape Town on Wednesday, June 22. His death follows that of veteran women leader, Mrs Albertina Sisulu, who passed away on June 2 at the age of 92.
Professor Asmal, who was not a practising religionist, was cremated in Cape Town on Saturday, June 25, in a private family ceremony. The ANC has decided to honour him by holding two memorials - one in Cape Town and one in Johannesburg - after the official state ceremony in Cape Town on Thursday, June 30.
Professor Asmal, who served as Minister of Water Affairs and Minister of Education under the presidency of Mr Nelson Mandela and Mr Thabo Mbeki respectively since 1994, will be remembered as one the fearless leaders who expressed his views vociferously against any measures that threatened the non-racial and democratic constitution of the country. He also refused to be cowed down by the likes of a Julius Malema.
Only a week before his death, the former Minister chastised his organisation, the ANC, for wanting to rush through parliament the Protection of Information Bill, which he described as a measure that was so deeply flawed that it could not be fixed. He called for the bill to be scrapped. This is what he said:
"My fear or anxiety is that if the bill is forced through the ad hoc committee, people whose judgement I trust will lose faith in the democratic process."
Just over a year ago he did not mince any words when he described Julius Malema, who was re-elected leader of the ANC Youth League a fortnight ago, as a "lightning rod" who was using bullying and intimidation tactics to promote his "personal position, access and wealth".
He said: "This is corruption of the most corrosive kind and must be tackled at root. I fear we are observing our constitutional order being chiselled away to the point where we risk losing sight of the founding principles and practices of our democracy. One can see it and hear it."
And when Malema displayed his boorish attitude against a BBC reporter, Jonah Fish, during a press conference at Luthuli House in Johannesburg a few years ago, Professor Asmal wrote to the reporter apologising for the manner in which he was treated by the ANC Youth League leader.
When the elite crime busting unit, Scorpions, was scrapped after President Thabo Mbeki was forced to step down after the rantings by Malema, Professor Asmal resigned as a member of parliament after saying that he would not want to part of a process where the fight against corruption was being compromised. The Scorpions was done away with because the Zuma faction in the ANC saw the unit as being used by Mbeki to target Zuma.
Zuma was sacked as Deputy President by President Mbeki after the Durban High Court had ruled in a finding against Schabir Shaik that Shaik had paid Zuma more than R1,4-million in return for political favours and government contracts. But the Zuma faction members got their own back at the ANC's conference in Polokwane in 2007 when they ousted Mbeki as leader of the ANC.
The Scorpions was done away with when Kgalema Motlanthe served as President after Mbeki stepped down early in 2008.
When resigning as member of parliament, Professor Asmal said he saw the dissolution of the Scorpions as an attack on the constitution of the country.
Professor Asmal also did not pull any punches at a time when former President Mbeki failed to take a constructive stance in the fight against HIV-AIDs. It's understood that at a number of Cabinet meetings, Professor Asmal differed with Mbeki and spoke his mind. It was because of this that Mbeki declined to appoint Professor Asmal to a cabinet position after the third democratic elections in 2004.
Professor Asmal was not only giant in terms of promoting the values and principles of the struggle but was also an intellectual giant who gave his fellow ministers a lesson or two in how they should be handling their ministries.
Said former colleague, Essop Pahad: "He was an intellectual giant who taught many of us so much. Right until the end he remained the moral compass of both the ANC and our country on key social and moral issues."
Professor Asmal became politically conscious while still at school in Stanger and after he came under the influence of ANC stalwart and the country's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Albert Luthuli. After he matriculated, he qualified as a teacher at the former Sringfield College of Education. He taught for four years and at the same time studied for his BA at Unisa. He left the country in 1959 and studied at the London School of Economics, King’s Inns, Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn, London, where he graduated as a barrister-at-law.
During his life in exile, Professor Asmal played a very important role in the anti-apartheid struggles. He was a founder member of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1960, founder and chairperson of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, from 1964 to 1990, rapporteur of UN International conferences on apartheid, Havana, Cuba in 1976; Lagos, Nigeria in 1977, and Paris, France in 1986. He was a founder and chairperson of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties from 1976 to 1991 and legal advisor to the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee(SANROC).
He was an influential member of the ANC team that negotiated the transition from white minority rule to the non-racial democratic society during the Codesa talks in 1992 and 1993. He has been a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC from 1991 to 2007. At the time of his death, he was a senior law lecturer at the University of Cape Town and served as chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Museum Council.
The former Stanger lad was a "moral compass" in more ways than one and an INSPIRATION to all South Africans.
In one of his final interviews just before his death he said he was influenced by Dr Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Yusuf Dadoo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, among others.
"Despite the negatives there was hope. The country should take into account that there was the marginalised, the poor, and the deprived. Leaders should work to uplift their lives, instead of trying to enrich those who are already in comfortable positions. We ignore the disadvantaged at our own peril."
It's hoped that Professor Asmal's life will be a lesson for many of the current lot of politicians who claim to be working for a better life for all South Africans. Professor Asmal leaves a void that will be very difficult to fill, especially at a time when most former activists don't have the guts to stand up to the Malemas and others who want to trample the NON-RACIAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY that came into being in April 1994 after decades of struggle and sacrifice. - Subry Govender, Chief Editor.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

South Africa on the Zimbabwe route if Julius Malema has his way

By Marimuthu Subramoney
(aka Subry Govender)

At a time when South Africans were observing the 35th anniversary of the June 16 uprisings by the youth of Soweto, the country was awash with the political rhetoric emanating from the ANC Youth League conference in Johannesburg.
The ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, who was re-elected president of the League, and some of his fellow leaders gave the impression that they were not the followers of the Oliver Tambos, Walter Sisulus and the Nelson Mandelas but instead the followers of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
One of the women leaders set the tone for a "Mugabe" atmosphere when she shouted: "Viva Julius Malema, Viva", "Viva the ANC, Viva", "Viva nationalisation of mines, Viva", "Viva land confiscation, Viva", "Viva transfer of economic power,Viva" and "Viva Africa for Africans, Viva".
Then came the saviour of the "black majority", Julius Malema, when he also followed the "Mugabe" line in his address by demanding that the Government must take radical steps to transfer the economy from the white minority to the black majority.
He made his demands in the presence of President Jacob Zuma.
After the woman leader and Malema captured the attention of the delegates, the conference, on the final day on Sunday, adopted Malema's demands without any dissension. These include:
* The expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation;
* The nationalisation of the country's mines;
* The nationalisation of banks; and
* The radical transfer of the economy into the hands of the black majority.
There's nothing wrong in a non-racial and democratic society like ours that role players have their say about the manner in which they would like the country to transform.
But what's of concern is that some of the actions and the talk at the Youth conference poses a direct challenge to the non-racial and democratic principles and ideals that many people had fought and died for. The demands about nationalisation and the confiscation of land without compensation are also worrying when one takes into account what has happened to the economy of Zimbabwe after Mugabe chased out the farmers and grabbed control of the economy.
Does Malema and his bunch of cronies want South Africa to descend and deteriorate to that level as well?
Nationalisation has not worked in any country in the world and it will not work in South Africa as well.
For example, immediately after India gained its independence in 1947, the new leaders, including the first Prime Minister Jahawarlall Nehru, introduced a number of nationalisation measures in an attempt at what they saw as a panacea to overcome the poverty of the teeming masses.
Some of the measures included a number of state-run factories and hotels. After some time these institutions deteriorated to such an extent that the Government had to re-think its policies and instead promote the privatisation of state institutions and a free economy. It was because of these measures over the past 20 years that India has grown today to become one of the world's biggest industrial and economic powers.
In our instance, it's become a matter of urgency that President Zuma and other leaders must take Malema and the other "youth league" bright sparks by the scruff of their collars and make it clear that we cannot repeat the mistakes of countries that adopted "nationalisation" policies. They must also inform Malema and his "loud mouths" that South Africa belongs "to all who live in it" and that no one should be made to feel that they are not part of the non-racial society.
Malema's diatribe will only serve to drive out millions more out of the country and prevent foreign nationals from investing in our country. We need foreign investors for the creation of much-needed jobs, to fight poverty and to promote the well-being of all South Africans.
Already many South Africans are having doubts about the future of our country if the types of Malema and his fellow "leaders" have their way. They say that in 10 to 15 years South Africa will be reduced to another "Zimbabwe" if the likes of Malema are not wrapped around the knuckles by President Zuma, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, and other leaders.
Most people want to know why is Malema not being stopped in his tracks? They believe that Malema and the other "motor mouth" youth leaders will disappear into the sunset if they are told in no uncertain terms to mind their words and watch their steps.
One of those who has spoken out is veteran ANC leader, Ben Turok, who has warned that Malema's "demagogy" is a threat to the "non-racial" principles of the ANC.
Said Turok: "This demagogy constitutes the greatest threat, not just to our electoral performance, but also to our hard-won democratic achievements as a country in general. On top of these tendencies come the crude references to race by a few senior personalities in the movement and government. These tend to reinforce the perception that we are moving away from an African majority non-racial society towards a Black Republic."
- Subry Govender, Chief Editor

Saturday, June 11, 2011

New media proposals before parliament are against the freedom of the media that struggle journalists and the ANC fought for

By Marimuthu Subramoney
(aka Subry Govender)

"Freedom of the media, which is the essence of democracy, will flourish in our country. We will feel deprived if we had a press that does not consider itself independent and free to criticise the action of public figures." These noble and gallant words were expressed by no less a leader than former President and former leader of the ANC, Nelson Mandela, when addressing local and foreign journalists in Johannesburg only a few days before the country's first democratic elections on April 27 1994.
Mandela added: "We need a Government that puts people first. The ANC will strive for an open society. Democracy means more than just a vote, it means vigorous debate. People must be free to express their views without fear, including criticising the Government of the day."
The independent and free media that Mandela talked about was enshrined in our new constiion when the ANC was elected to power 17 years ago. South Africans had been assured that the new democracy will promote the growth of a free, unhibited and vibrant media.
It would be unlike the media of the apartheid era when scores of progressives journalists had to pay a heavy price in the struggles for a free media. Former Defence Minister, Charles Nqakula; Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe; former SABC CEO Zwelike Sisulu; Mathatha Tseudu; Juby Mayet; Philip Mthimkulu and the writer were just some of the scores of media people who had been jailed, banned and house-arrested, harrassed and intimidated and denied passports between the 1970s and late 1980s for fighting for media freedom.
For most of the past 17 years there's no doubt whatsoever that we as journalists have enjoyed the privilege of operating without any restrictions, curbs or threats.
But over the past few years some ruling members and politicians have tried to "stifle" the media with threats and other forms of intimidation.
Some of the new politicians even used to telephone editors and journalists to influence them to cover their progammes and speeches. They wanted journalists to be their "PROs".
Some of the politicians did not take kindly to the reportage of the widespread corruption which unfortunately has become part and parcel of our new South African democracy. One politician in the Eastern Cape recently even called on people to burn down a local newspaper because he saw the newspaper as not being supportive of the ruling party.
Therefore, the new measures, the Protection of Information Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal, that the Government and the ruling ANC are now trying to push through parliament with undue haste have come as no surprise.
But for "struggle" leaders like Mandela and others, the new moves will not only be a surprise but also a painful and shocking development.
At this period it is worth recalling the high regard in which Mandela and others had held the media in. Only a day after he was released from prison on February 11, 1990, Mandela addressed the media at the home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town. He not only acknowledged the role the media played in his freedom and that of others but also congratulated them for their work.
"I want to assure you," he said, "that I am absolutely excited to be out".
He went on: "I am also excited to have the opportunity of addressing you because throughout these difficult years in prison the press, both local and foreign, had been a brick to us.
"I think it was the intention of the Government that we should be forgotten and that their leaders - leaders of the homelands and the bantustans and all those who work within Government structures - should be built up and that we should be forgotten.
"It was the press that kept the memory of those who had been in prison for offences which they had committed in the course of their political activities. It was the press that never forgot us and therefore we are indebted to you and I am happy to be here this morning with you."
Over the next few years during his travels around the country and to many parts of the world, Mandela ensured that he always maintained a cordial relationship with journalists and regularly engaged in jovial exchanges. He never forgot to compliment the media whenever the need arose.
"Being followed around by competent journalists and asked questions all the time keeps us on our toes," he once told journalists at a media briefing in Johannesburg.
But at the same time he also stood his ground when he disagreed with questions posed by journalists. He always did this without ever trying to give the impression that he wanted journalists to "toe the line" and stop asking awkward and difficult questions.
"Journalists have threatened that they are going to ask me awkward questions and I hope there are very good journalists who would protect me," he said once in early 1994.
"As foreign correspondents you will experience from your own perspective the difficulties of transition to a democratic South Africa. We have just three months before South Africa's first democratic elections. The future hold many exciting prospects for South Africa."
Now with Mandela and other leaders out of the way, there are some, not the majority, who pay very little value to a free and unbridled media in a democracy.
These elements must be reminded that a free, unfettered, courageous and vibrant media is the only guarantor of the continuation of our new hard-fought and earned non-racial democracy.
Therefore, despite the freedom of the media being guaranteed in our constitution, journalists must take up the cudgels and not stop until the powers that be remove the new Protection of the Information Bill and the ANC discards the Media Appeals Tribunal. There could be discussions about the Media Appeals Tribunal but we cannot allow a statutory tribunal that is going to be made up of government-appointed "party hacks" and other "hangers on". The campaign against the two measures must continue even if journalists have to go to jail once again in defence of the "freedom of the media" that Nelson Mandela talked about after being released in 1990 from nearly three decades of imprisonment.
South Africans must realise that at one time after Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980 that country also enjoyed freedom of the press. But after President Robert Mugabe began to interfere and made the media a "mouthpiece" of his regime, one could see what has happened to the media there.
The measures now being promoted by the Government and the ANC may be the start of our media also travelling that route and becoming a "pliant" and "toothless" institution.
One is compelled to ask the question: What are some of the leaders and officials of the ruling ANC and the Government afraid of? We are not at war with any country nor anyone intending to attack our country for our gold and diamonds!
We are only at war with widescale fraud, corruption, thievery and other misdeeds at local, provincial and national government levels. The ANC and the Government must realise that if we don't expose these misdeeds then we will only be violating the freedom of expression and freedom of the media that all of us, including the ANC, fought for and won. Why should socially-conscious journalists be sent to lengthy jail terms if they expose corruption and other misdeeds committed by elected political leaders and government officials? The proposed new media regulations now before parliament will, once it becomes law, allow the Government not only to hide official corruption but also to jail courageous journalists who are not prepared to "toe the line". - Subry Govender, Chief Editor

Councillors should be held accountable

By Marimuthu Subramoney
(aka Subry Govender)

Now that the 2011 Local Government elections have been finalised and dusted, the real work begins. But whether the elected and PR councillors will deliver is another matter altogether.
In our interaction with ratepayers and residents prior to the elections, we have found that their concerns vary from area to area. For those living in informal settlements their main concerns revolve around provision of decent housing and facilities such as electricity, sanitation, proper roads, health care, proper schools, refuse removal and lack of sports grounds.
For those in townships and well-endowed suburbs their concerns are mainly about the upgrading of CBDs in towns such as Tongaat and Verulam, maintenance of sports grounds and open spaces, clean streets and verges, a clean environment, and tackling the high crime rate.
Soon after the election results were announced, President Jacob Zuma informed the successful elected councillors that they would have to commit themselves to uplifting the lives of people and attending to the civic and social problems in their wards and councils.
He warned that those who fail in their duties would be flushed out.
"Councillors must be accountable," he stressed.
The elected and PR councillors in the major Metros such as eThekwini, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town are paid huge salaries and perks. For instance in eThekwini, councillors are reported to earn as much as R350 000 a year. In any language, this salary is way too extravagant and excessive for many of the councillors when compared to the amount of work they really carry out on behalf of the people.
Except for a few committed councillors, for most their cosy work is not only about earning "easy money" but also to enrich themselves, their families and friends through tenders and other means. For them the concerns and problems of the people they are supposed to represent at local government level take second place. For them they have not heard of evils such as corruption, fraud, bribery, thievery and nepotism.
One of the councillors who appears to have some conscience is unfortunately not situated in our region. He is Mr Tony Ehrenreich, the secretary of Coastu in the Western Cape who stood as the ANC's mayoral candidate in Cape Town. Asked about his dual role as a trade union leader and councillor, he had this to say:
"I will not accept my councillor's salary in the traditional manner. As long as I'm still in Cosatu I will put the salary in a trust fund and use it to advance workers."
Although Ehrenreich did not say that he would not accept any salary as a councillor, the fact that he would not accept "two salaries" at the same time is an indication of his commitment to serving the people.
The fiery leader also appeared to know his priorities as a councillor, unlike the leeches we find in eThekwini and other municipalities. He made it clear that the rates collected should be used to address the needs of Cape Town's entire population. He would especially work to promote the concerns of the poor.
"We want to make sure we raise our points that the budget doesn't reject the urgent needs of poor communities."
Oh, how I wish we had the quality of an Ehrenreich in eThekwini. Let's sincerely hope the Tony Ehrenreichs are not a dying breed.
For those in our midst who don't qualify as a "Tony Ehrenreich", let's hope that they will at least try to be clean, honest, sincere and committed to serving the people in their wards. If not, they should be "flushed out" as promised by President Zuma. - Subry Govender, Chief Editor