Tuesday, October 28, 2014


 "Land grabs, abductions, rapes, murders and the destruction of the Tamil identity" 


By Subry Govender


                                            (Mr Kana Nirmalan, British Tamils Forum)

A leading Sri Lankan human rights activist, who has just visited South Africa, says the very existence of the Tamil people in the island country is under "serious threat" through land grabs, abductions, rapes, murders and the destruction of the Tamil identity by the current Government of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Sinhala military.
Mr Kana Nirmalan, International Relations Co-Ordinator of the  British Tamils Forum, was a guest of the Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka, a body that was established by the late South African Cabinet Minister, Roy Padaychie.
The writer spoke to Mr Nirmalan when he visited the historical Mount Edgecombe Mariammen Temple, north of Durban.
Mr Nirmalan is one the Tamil leaders in the Diaspora  promoting the cause of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka through the BTF, the Global Tamil Forum(GTF), the US-based Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam(TGTE), the French-based International Council for Eelam Tamils(ICET), the Canadian Tamil Forum and other organisations in Tamil Nadu, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Mr Nirmalan said the  true agenda of the Sri Lankan state was to eventually rid the island of all the Tamil people. 


                                                        PROGROMS SINCE 1948

"The Sinhala State," he said, "regardless of the government in power has continued its programme of ethnic cleansing since 1948". 
"The repeated pogroms against Tamil people in 1958, 1961, 1963, 1977, 1981, 1983 and the genocidal massacre in Mullivaikkal in 2008/09 are part of the same agenda of ethnic cleansing by the Sri Lankan state. 
"After the end of the war, the Sri Lankan state has stationed 15 of its 20 military bases in the north and east of the island. "The purpose is to terrorise the people to leave the island and to deter those who were displaced, from returning to their land. 
"Since the end of the war in May 2009, the Sri Lankan regime has enacted laws that prevent people from returning to their ancestral homes. Many Tamil people had sought sanctuary in far-away countries when they fled repeated pogroms and persecution. They had hoped to return to the country at the end of the war. But the Sri Lankan regime is preventing this by the new laws. Its military has also murdered many who had returned to reclaim their land - a clear signal to the Tamils abroad to stay away from their own land," he said.


                                                     TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE

Mr Nirmalan said they interacted very closely with the Tamil National Alliance(TNA), which received the massive support of Tamils in the North of the island to form a provincial government. But they had found that the TNA was operating under extremely difficult circumstances. 
"They are not free to express the wishes of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. TNA MPs enjoy a certain degree of life security due to their high profile but their grass roots activists do not have this. They are hunted down by the Sri Lankan state's white van death squads. 
"We understand the constraints under which they work, and we articulate freely their thoughts and aspirations which they are unable to do within Sri Lanka without risking their own lives", he said.
Mr Nirmalan said the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora wanted to appeal to the international community to take urgent steps "to save Tamils from extinction in Sri Lanka".
"A just and honorable solution which guarantees Tamil people their right to life, their right to their own land and their right to determine how they are governed is the yearning of the Tamil people. The Tamil people feel that India, our closest neighbour should make a drastic change to its foreign policy with regards to Sri Lanka, not only to protect the Tamil people but also for her own security, which is threatened by incursion by her adversaries into Sri Lanka," he said.
Mr Nirmalan said Tamils in Sri Lanka had always been inspired by Nelson Mandela and the South African struggles for "freedom from apartheid".


                                        UNITED NATIONS INVESTIGATION

"The New Free South Africa should recognise the freedom struggle of the Tamil people. The pronouncement by the Sri Lankan state that it is seeking the assistance of South Africa on a Truth and Reconciliation model is a ploy to buy even more time to complete its programme of decimating the Tamil homeland and complete its agenda of ridding the island, of Tamil people. 
"The South African government with the rest of the international community should look beyond the rhetoric of the Sri Lankan state and see what is happening on the ground in the Tamil people's Homeland. Land grabs, abductions, rape, murder and destruction of Tamil identity are the realities faced by the Tamil people on the ground. Giving more time to the Sri Lankan state will have irreversible consequences for the Tamil people's very existence in the island," he said.
The Tamils in Sri Lanka supported the United Nations Human Rights Commission(UNHRC) investigation into the human rights violations as the only way forward for establishing the truth and to bring about reconciliation.



The Tamils also wanted an opportunity to decide their own future through a referendum, similar to the one held in Scotland recently.
"Tamils have articulated their political wish to be an independent nation at the Vaddukkottai resolution in 1976. They have repeatedly voted for parties which stood for the right to self-determination, whenever possible. Referendums held among the diaspora have shown that Tamils all over the world desire a nation of their own in order to protect their identity and to prevent annihilation through the continuing genocide in Sri Lanka. Tamil people should be given the opportunity to freely express their wish in a referendum conducted with international supervision," he said.
He said they would continue with their peaceful struggles until the Tamil people attain their freedom.
"Faced with a Sinhala nation that is hell bent on destroying the Tamil nation, we have no other choice for our survival but to continue with our peaceful struggles." - ends

Monday, October 27, 2014



By Subry Govender
 (Zwelike Sisulu, Juby Mayet and other struggle journalists protesting the banning of the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) and 17 other organisations on October 19 1977)

Thirty seven years ago on October 19 1977, South Africans experienced one of the most devastating attacks on the freedom of the media in the country.
The homes and offices of journalists were raided and searched; editors and journalists were banned, detained and house-arrested; the Union of Black Journalists (UBJ) and 17 other anti-apartheid organisations were banned  and several newspapers were prohibited from continuing their publications. This attack and assault on media freedom - termed "Black Wednesday" - is being observed once again as South Africans celebrate 20 years of media freedom after the attainment of freedom and democracy in 1994. But fears are being expressed that media freedom is not guaranteed in the new South Africa against the background that  the Protection of Information Bill (or Secrecy Bill) is just awaiting the signature of President Jacob Zuma to become law. Subry Govender reflects on the media and asks the question whether there's any fears about media freedom in the future. Subry spoke to some senior journalists about whether there's any threat to media freedom.


 (UBJ officials at a hotel in Wentworth, Durban, shortly before the UBJ was banned on October 19 1977)


Ever since the attainment of the new, non-racial and democratic order in South Africa 20 years ago,  South Africans have enjoyed and experienced the growth of one of the freest media environments in the world. This is evidenced in both the radio and television sectors and also in the print media.
But concern is now being expressed that the media freedom that is prevalent today faces a serious threat with the Government almost poised to sign into law the Protection of the Information Bill,  referred to as the "Secrecy Bill".
The Bill only needs to be signed by President Jacob Zuma.
While the Government says it needs the legislation to prohibit the publication of sensitive information,  media practitioners, non-government human rights organisations and opposition parties believe that the latest move is mainly meant to stop the publication of corruption and other excesses within Government.


(Mr Desmond D'sa, senior official of Right To Know and chairperson of the Southern Durban Environmental Alliance)

"Despite the rhetoric coming out of the President's Office that we have one of the freest media in the world, the danger of the Protection of Information Bill spells disaster for that freedom," says Mr Desmond D'sa, a senior leader of the Right To Know organisation.
The organisation was established in 2010 after the Government first introduced the Protection of Information Bill in parliament. The Right to Know organisation is one of several human rights rights groups that is highlighting concerns about the threat to media freedom in the country.
I caught up with Mr D'sa, who is also chairperson of the Southern Durban Environmental Alliance, at his conjested office in Wentworth, south of Durban.
He claims that currently there's an onslaught against the freedom of the media in the new non-racial and democratic South Africa.
"It's clear," he said,  "that the present draconian laws that have been introduced by Government will be a complete diversion and obstruction to the democratic process that we have achieved in 1994".
"Every citizen in the country should be the guardian of our constitution and should challenge this draconian measure by a democratic Government. We have to ensure that all the clauses in the constitution relating to media freedom are protected and journalists are protected. We must ensure that this Bill is not signed into law and that this Bill is scrapped."


 (Ms Jo Anne Adams, KZN Director of the Right To Know)

The provincial director of the Right To Know in KwaZulu-Natal, Ms Jo Anne Adams, who is based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, said if the Bill was signed into law, they would challenge it in the Constitutional Court.
"We will challenge it all the way to the Constitutional Court because it will trample the freedom of speech that we enjoy today," she said.
Ms Adams charged that in addition to the Protection of Information Bill, media freedom in the new democratic South Africa was being trampled by newspaper owners who dictate to journalists as to how they should carry out their work.
"I don't think that too much has changed. The media has taken on a different face, there's things like 'subshine news'. How many journalists go into communities and find out how they are living and how certain things are affecting their daily lives.
"I have not seen any articles in newspapers recently questioning why so many people are living in informal settlements and why is it taking so long for them to receive RDP houses. The fact that the people don't have water and electricity are some of the concerns that journalists should be reflecting in their newspapers regularly. But because these newspapers are closely aligned to the powers that be, they don't allow journalists to carry out their work dutifully."


(Ms Judy Sandison, senior official of SANEF)


The South African National Editors Forum (or SANEF) is one of the journalist organisations that has been in the forefront of the struggles against the threat to media freedom. It has held numerous meetings with the Government and ministers to ensure that the hard-fought freedom of the media is not circumscribed in any way.
Ms Judy Sandison,  a veteran journalist who has been both a radio and television reporter and editor for the past 40 years,  is a senior executive member of SANEF. She said despite the fact that there were grooming a new group of committed journalists, they were concerned at moves by the Government to circumscribe the media.
"It is a serious concern for SANEF," she said.
"We have held many meetings with with the various Ministers of Justice over the years. We have had some changes after meetings with various government ministries in relation to the secrecy bill. Some changes were made but we are still not happy with it, it's very restrictive."


(Mr Nhlanganipho Zulu, Head of SABC News in KZN)


Mr Nhlangonipho Zulu, 58,  is a senior journalist who said he had experienced the oppression of the media prior to 1994. Zulu is now the Regional Editor of the state SABC broadcaster in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.
He said journalists currently experienced serious problems in obtaining sensitive government information. This would be aggravated once the secrecy bill was signed into law by the President.
"The most worry we have as journalists is that information is often difficult to get because it is restricted," he said.
"Issues of corruption and many more other things where that is rife and you would find a situation whereby you may not neccessarily be able to pubish things without confrontation with powers that be."



                                                            (MR DENNIS PATHER)


One of the senior journalists who has been in the profession for more than 40 years as editor of several mainline newspapers is Dennis Pather of Durban. After working for publications such as the Leader and Graphic, Pather joined the Daily News late in the 1970s. He thereafter became editor of today's Post newspaper, the Daily News and the Sunday Tribune. He says the media since 1994 has been generally free compared to many other countries in the world. According to Pather, mainline newspapers have generally done a magnificent job to expose all kinds of corruption in government and the private sector. But he's now concerned that certain print media companies are becoming too closely attached to the Government and the secrecy bill will make life difficult for journalists.

                         "WE HAVE A LOT TO FEAR"

"If we want an open and transparent media we cannot have restrictions that are going to affect the free flow of information," he told me in an interview.
He added: "Newspapers are now going to be afraid of talking to certain sources because they have the sword of democles hanging over their heads. So I think we have a lot to fear and if we can fight this new secrecy bill as strongly as we fought apartheid, then I think we would be doing our duty."


(UBJ executive officials, Rashid Seria, Mike Norton (late), Ms Juby Mayet, empty space for Joe Thloloe who was in detention at that time, Charles Nqakula, Subry Govender, and Philip Mthimkulu)


Many South Africans, including scores of journalists,  have sacrificed a great deal in their quest not only for a free society but also for a free and unbridled media. Many of these people are hoping that South Africa will not descend to the same situation as other countries on the continent and other parts of the world where the ruling regimes restrict media freedom.
They say any threat to a free media will be a direct threat to the democracy that South Africans enjoy today.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tamil SriLankans in exile in South Africa


                                          (Mr Pregs Padaychee, secretary of the Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice with Mr Kana Nirmalan of the British Tamils Forum at the Mount Edgecombe Mariammen Temple on Sunday, Oct 19 2014. Mr Nirmalan is visiting South Africa to promote the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils)

By Subry Govender

Tamils who escaped from Sri Lanka after suffering human rights violations and are now resident in South Africa have been asked to contact Tamil Diaspora organisations to relate their oppression at the hands of the authorities in the Indian Ocean island country.
Mr Pregs Padaychee, secretary of the Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka, made the call this week on behalf of several Tamil Diaspora organisations.
"Organisations such as the British Tamil Forum and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eeelam(TGTE)  in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, Canada and Australia are collecting statements from those who have suffered human rights violations for submission to the UN Human Rights Commission(UNHRC). The UNHRC is investigating the violations that have taken place before and after the end of the civil war in 2009," said Mr Padaychee.

                                 United Nations Human Rights Commission

"Since the end of the civil war, thousands of Tamils have fled Sri Lanka after being targeted by the security and other agencies. They were given refuge in many countries around the world and some of these people have settled in South Africa.
"We want those in South Africa to submit their statements which will then be handed over to the UNHCR special committee. You know the special committee was appointed by our own Dr Navi Pillay, when she was the UN Human Rights Commissioner.
"It's imperative that those in South Africa make their submissions because this will help the Special Committee members in their investigations," he said.
The Special Committee members are currently conducting their investigations from outside Sri Lanka because the Government of the President Mahindra Rajapakse has refused to allow the committee members to enter the country.
The UNHCR decided late last year to institute the investigations following reports that between 70 000 to 100 000 Tamils were butchered during the final stages of the civil war in 2009.


The Tamil Diaspora organisations claim that this genocide is still continuing in the Tamil homelands of the North and East of the country through colonisation by the military, disappearances of activists, arrests, detentions, killings and rapes.
The Tamils in Sri Lanka want the international community to create an opportunity for them to decide their own future through a referendum.
They would like to have the same opportunity that was recently granted to the people of Scotland to decide whether they wanted indpendence or remain part of the United Kingdom.


They also want those responsible for the genocide to be brought before the International Court of Justice to face charges of human rights violations. The Tamils say that if the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, can be hauled before the ICC, then why are those who have been responsible for the slaughter of more than 100 000 Tamils should not be tried before the ICC.
(Sri Lankan Tamils in South Africa who want to make their statements should contact: tamilstatements@gmail.com or subrygovender@gmail.com)

Thursday, October 16, 2014




                 "Not what we give, But what we share, For the Gift Without the Giver, is bare."

                                (The head office of the Gift of the Givers in Pietermaritzburg)


One of the international relief organisations that arrived to offer assistance after the collapse of a building at the Church of All Nations in Lagos early last month was the South Africa-based - Gift of the Givers. Founded in 1992,  the Gift of the Givers has over the past 22 years delivered more than R1-2 billion of humanitarian assistance to millions of people in 41 countries during times of major disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, conflicts and wars. The organisation carries out its work by emphasising that in the service of humanity there is no race, religion, class, culture, political affiliation or geographical boundary. The Gift of the Givers has just published a book, "Imtiaz Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers. A Mercy to All", about the organisation's humanitarian service over the past 22 years. I visited  the headquarters of the organisation in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg early in October on an assignment for Radio Deutsche Welle (Voice of Germany). The special report was for the "Making A Difference" slot.


               (Dr Imtiaz Sooliman and fellow workers preparing for the mission to Somalia in early                            October 2014)    

When I arrived at the head offices and warehouse of the Gift of the Givers in the city of Pietermariztburg, about 120km west of the coastal city of Durban,  I found the staff busy preparing for another foreign humanitarian mission. This time the founder and chairman of the organisation, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, and his staff were hard at work, packing non-perishable and tinned food stuffs for delivery to Somalia where the people are not only caught up in an unending civil war but also face starvation because of a devastating drought.
"We do stockpile specific items for when a disaster comes, then we have goods on standby and we can move very fast," Dr Sooliman told me.
"Somalia at the moment, we are sending ten containers of aid and its predomoinantly food because there's a famine there. Six containers of rice, two containers of biscuits, and a very special high energy protein supplement that Gift of the Givers, we ourselves have designed that food.
"It's ready to eat, you don't cook it, you just stir it,  you don't need water to mix and people can eat it immediately."


                      (Office workers at the Gift of the Givers head office in Pietermaritzburg)

I found the head offices of the organisation  just as busy,  with staff members engrossed in interacting with sponsors, donors, companies and government officials about their relief work.

The Gift of the Givers disaster relief organisation was founded more than 20 years ago after Sooliman,  who had just graduated as a medical doctor,  was advised by a spiritual teacher during a visit to Turkey to become involved in humanitarian work on a full-time basis. The organisation was founded on the philosophy :

                                 "Best among people are those who benefit Mankind".

Dr Sooliman said he found trip to Turkey "a very spiritual experience".
"I was instructed," he said, "to form the organisation by a spiritual Sufi teacher in Instanbul".
"It was 6th August 1992, he just looked at me and said: 'my son in your soul I see someone who likes to help people. I'm instructing you, I'm not asking you, you will serve all people of all races, of all colours, of all classes, of all cultures, of all religions of any geographical locations and of any politicial affiliations, and you will serve them unconditionally and this is your mission for the rest of your life'."


                    (Dr Imtiaz Sooliman busy at work at his office in central Pietermaritzburg)

The  Gift of the Givers is funded exclusively from donations by well-wishers and members of the public in South Africa and other parts of the world.
Dr Sooliman said one of their first overseas missions was to Bosnia to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to people affected by a civil war in the early 1990s.
"Our first project at that time was the civil war in Bosnia and you know, I call and I just make announcements in the public. People start rallying to me and we made history because we built the world's first containerised mobile hospital that got world-wide attention which we took into Bosnia. And over a period of 22 years from a disaster response agency we have 21 different categories of projects."
The projects include community educational outreach programme, internship for psychology and social work students, workshops for learners, community and organisations in lifeskills and continuous development programmes for volunteer counsellors.
Since the Bosnia mission,  the Gift of the Givers has  over the past 22 years,  embarked on relief missions during earthquakes, devastating floods, tsunamis and during times of civil conflicts to countries such as Congo, Uganda, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Phillipines, Haiti and the Middle East.
More recently,  the Gift of the Givers has been lauded for its humanitarian missions to the dangerous war zones of Gaza and Syria.


   (Dr Johnny De Beer of Balito who travelled with the Gift of the Givers to Northern Syria on the            border with Turkey)

One of the medical professionals who was part of the Gift of the Givers missions to several countries is 42-year-old Dr Johnny De Beer of Durban. Dr De Beer,  who is of German descent, told me in an interview at his offices in Ballito, north of Durban, that he had readily joined the missions to disaster and conflict-afflicted countries because of the tremendous humanitarian work being carried out by the Gift of the Givers.  He found his trip to North Syria, on the border near Turkey,   most disturbing - especially the trauma and suffering inflicted on children.
"The problem is that it's a lot worse than people expect," he said.
"When you are there you suddenly realise it's not the soldiers you see shouting on the TV, there's families. "And when you have children yourself it becomes quite emotional when you are there. You see these little children, how their lives have changed and opportunities just snatched away from them, and many of them actually maimed by war.
"They have to go through life with this physical and as well as mental disability because of the conflict and that is very emotioonal when you are there. You realise that all your efforts is just a drop in the bucket and what they actually need is for this problem to be resolved."
In Gaza,  where hundreds of people were killed and widescale damage caused during Israeli air raids,  the Gift of the Givers was allowed to send ten medical professionals to the region via Egypt after a delay of more than a month. The medical professionals were appalled at the widescale destruction, deaths and injuries suffered by the people of Gaza.


                     (Dr Haroon Patel of Durban who assisted during a mission to the GAZA)

Dr Haroon Patel,  a Urologist , also of Durban,  was a member of this mission. He and other members of the mission arrived a day after a ceasefire was signed. He said he was amazed at the spirit of the people despite the destruction around them.
"You know," he said, "the one thing coming from our background we have a fairly comfortable life in this country".
"And you go there and they make do. I mean just to give you some examples when we operate in theatre, suddenly the lights would go out completely, completely dark and all you would see are the monitors that function there.
"This is the way they live from day to day, at any one time power would suddenly disappear completely. The residents there have six hours of electricity for the day. Everything they get is restricted, there's really nothing."


        (Gift of the Givers distributing food to the people of Kaya Sands in Johannesburg early in October 2014)

The Gift of the Givers has a permanent staff of 60 people and offices and warehouses in five major cities in South Africa. It also has offices and contractors in Malawi, Yemen, Gaza, Syria, Mauritania and Somali. It is often first on the scene during flood and other disasters within South Africa itself and has very good working relations with the South African Government. Said Dr Suleiman:
"We have excellent relations with the Government. We are sort of unofficially their partner when it comes to international disasters. You know first of all they would send out from International Relations people to handle all the political issues for us. Like, even for Gaza, they went out of the way. Secondly, they would say we will give you two or three military planes and you could load the planes with supplies. Sometimes we pay for the planes and load the supplies and still take the diplomats from the government, from the president's office or international relations office. They would travel with us on the missions if they want to do something special in those areas."
For its massive relief and humanitarian work over the past 22 years,  the Gift of the Givers has been recoginised and bestowed with more than 70 awards to date,  some of the awards from four Heads of State. South African President Jacob Zuma and former South African presidents,  F W de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela,  were some of the heads of state who have recoginised and commended the Gift of Givers for its stirling humanitarian work in South Africa and other parts of the world.
The Gift of the Givers is guided by a credo that reads:

"Not what we give, But what we share, For the Gift Without the Giver, is bare."

Monday, October 6, 2014


                                                ARE YOU A SOUTH AFRICAN?

 This is what I was asked when I went to the Home Affairs offices in Tongaat, north of Durban, today to apply for my Smart ID.
 I inturn asked the lady official at the counter, "what do you think?"
 "We have a lot of people who are Asians and Africans who come to apply for South African identity documents. That's why I have to ask you whether you are a South African?," said the official.
 I told her in no uncertain terms that I don't take lightly to be questioned about whether I am a South African or not?
 "You should know for yourself whether I am a South African or not through my identity document. We fought for this freedom of ours and you are now trying to question my South African identity," I informed her.
 I then asked her: "Would you question any other South Africans about their citizenship?"
 She then went onto say something about "Indians" and I hit back:
 "I am a South African, not an Indian."
 She looked at me puzzled and just said: "O'h".
 I know that the new South Africa is undergoing all kinds of education problems but I do sincerely hope that those who are employed in Government offices have a thorough and proper understanding of South Africa.

                                               Minister Malusi Gigaba

I went to the Home Affairs office in Tongaat on a day when Minister Malusi Gigaba was interviewed on SAFM for about an hour on the "good" work that is being done to improve service delivery. He went at extreme lengths to re-assure the people that his department is making tremendous progress in its service delivery/
But what we found in Tongaat was pathetic to say the least. When my wife and I arrived at the office at about 1pm, we found the place packed to capacity. There was no one around to tell us which line to follow or queue to apply for our new Smart ID card. I had to ask around and one of the security officials informed me that I should wait at one of desks where number tickets would be issued for one to get a photo taken and to follow the queue to the Smart ID counter.
The official manning the desk was not around and we had to wait for at least half-an-hour before someone came around to issue the tickets. From there we had to move to another line for the photos to be taken. But here the official concerned was struggling with the computer and we had to wait for at least an hour before the computer started operating once again.
Then it was another long wait - some people had been waiting from 10am. Many of the people in the queue were so frustrated that they preferred to leave and return another day.
The frustrations suffered by the people was mainly due to the fact that there were only two clerks attending to the people.
When my ticket number was called I inquired from one of the senior officials what was all the problem about.
"O'h we don't have enough people. The Government does not want us to employ more people," he said.
Poor Mr Gigaba! He must be really having a tough time trying to get his officials to deliver a decent and acceptable service to the people - the taxpayers who pay his salary and that of his officials. Don't forget we also pay for all the extravagant luxuries and other perks.