Dodgy timeshare sales companies sink even lower

Link:  South African blogger sued for defamation by time share company

I do not have a good view of timeshare sales companies.  We were contacted by one of these companies a while ago - they said we had entered a competition and had won a digital camera.  The digital camera turned out to be a piece of junk but we did agree to buy 21 days at a nature reserve just outside of Warmbaths on the Settlers Road that almost seemed too good to be true.  Of course it was too good to be true.  Without detracting too much from this story, the sales company went under during the first months of our contract and we were not able to place bookings for a good couple of months.  The reserve counted our contract as starting on the day we signed with the sales company and managed to steal four days off us by taking advantage of this administrative nightmare.

Unfortunately, this was not QVC and I can't submit an affidavit to help Donn Edwards from Insights and Rants.  He is being sued by QVC, a South African timeshare company, because he blogged about them using the marketing scam of telling him he had won a car to get him to attend a presentation on timeshare.  I was surprised to note that there are in fact laws against this and that the Timeshare Institute of Southern Africa has a code of conduct. 

He also alleged that QVC and the company it had employed to market its product had violated the Timeshare Institute of Southern Africa's code of conduct by not clearly stating in their fax to his wife that the presentation they were to attend as competition finalists was for any other purpose; that none of the gifts or prizes, or the names of previous winners, were on display at the venue as required by the code; and that the telesales person had not made it clear that the purpose of the contact was to sell timeshare.
From article.

I'm not too sure how it works in other countries but in South Africa, these companies are constantly phoning up trying to trick people into attending presentations; these presentations always use hard sell practices and take place in a stressful and rushed environment; you are always encouraged to put huge sums of money upfront onto a credit card and to pay it off over 3 years; and the administration companies selling the packages on behalf of the destinations often go under leaving a mess behind them.  We were lucky not to lose all our money but we still got burnt.

Given that they are sharks and the South African public already knows this, what on earth would possess QVC to enter into such a high profile case such as this?  Do they think we will suddenly look at their efforts as proof that they are in the right?  If so, they are sorely deluded.  I think the Timeshare Institute of Southern Africa must dedicate more resources into shutting down these hard selling techniques. 

If it is so hard to sell timeshare using legitimate techniques, is it not possible that perhaps the product itself is flawed?

Before you see all of your future possible beach holidays running down the drain, it is possible to sign up with QVC and RCI direct without getting tied in to one destination or going through a middle-man (these are the people that usually contact you).  However, there are usually two important aspects of your interaction at these sales presentations that should be considered (they are all slightly different of course but bear with me):  in order to truly get you to buy in (and to pay for the car / digital camera etc) you are asked to commit to an immediate and expensive buy in.  Once you add up the interest that you pay on that amount over the three years, plus the fact that people often don't make bookings due to the administrative red tape, you can see that you are paying way over the odds and they are laughing all the way to the bank.  In addition to this, some companies then ask for an annual administrative fee on top of this lump sum, usually payable after your first year.  It just doesn't make financial sense.

At the end of the day, nothing in life is free.  Think of all the gimmicks and sales presentations that go with a timeshare deal; think of the 'prizes', the commissions given to the telesales agent and the spotty young kid hard-selling at the presentation; think of the websites, advertising, administrative staff and all that goes into a timeshare offering.  Then think of the interest rate on your credit card.  After all of that, someone still gets a tidy profit.  You pay for all of this.  Like I said, it seems to me like the product is flawed and perhaps should be removed from the market altogether.  Believe me - if you do your sums correctly you will see that it is simply cheaper to go into a reputable travel agent and pick up one of their specials, or do a web search of reputable lodges or bed and breakfasts in the area.  As long as you are reading reviews and doing your research, you can cut out all of the rubbish and save yourself serious money.

As for Donn Edwards and blogger freedom - companies need to understand that simply reporting our experiences and whether they were positive or negative is not defamation.  The whole world market is moving towards honesty and legitimacy in the sales and advertising of goods and services.  If you start the ball rolling and sue someone for defamation, you need to ensure that your actions are 100% beyond reproach.  Calling someone up and telling them they have won a car so that you can hard-sell a deeply flawed product and encourage them to put it on their credit card without giving them proper debt counselling is not beyond reproach.

If you'd like to read more blogger's views on this matter, visit these posts:
Walter Pike
Chris M
Get Closure
Guy McLaren
Of Relevance

Mbeki resignation

Link: ANC forces South African President Mbeki to resign

This is simply too much to digest right at this moment. Basically, when Judge Chris Nicholson acquitted Zuma of corruption charges on 12 September 2008, he made mention that Mbeki and the justice minister had colluded with the prosecutors in the case. It was on the basis of this political interference that he threw the case out.

Zuma and his supporters have always claimed that there was a mass conspiracy to discredit him and today they have openly accused Mbeki of using the country's law enforcement system to undermine Zuma's chances of succeeding him as president. They have called for his resignation and he has apparently given it.

The New York Times mentions that an acting president will now be added from Parliament and that as Zuma is not a member of parliament he is ineligible at this stage to serve as stand-in president (he was relieved of his duties in June 2005 following corruption charges being levied against him). He can still be voted in during the next elections.

On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know

Never again Rwanda

In 1994, in 100 days between April and July, genocide was committed in Rwanda. 800,000 people of Tutsi and moderate Hutu origin were slaughtered in an organised and systematic attempt to wipe out the Tutsi race. The world stood by and nothing was done to halt this carnage, even though ample warning was given in the months leading up to the genocide. Four months before the outbreak of the genocide, Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire of the UN warned of major stockpiling of weapons and the mobilisation of forces to exterminate the Tutsis. His hands were tied by political apathy and UN red tape. The genocide broke out on 6 April 1994 and the world refused to admit that a genocide was occurring. By the time the international media began to focus on Rwanda, they were calling the events ethnic warfare and they were focusing on fleeing Hutu refugees and calling them the victims.

Many times since World War II we have said "never again" and time and time again it happens again. What continues to haunt me is my own ignorance back in 1994. I cannot remember what happened on 6 April 1994, but I remember that on 27 April 1994 I stood for hours and hours to vote in South Africa's first democratic election. I remember casting my vote and then bursting out in tears as I digested the magnitude of the change we were bringing about. I turned 21 in May and I started my first part-time student job around that time. We had our June exams and then holidays in July. We got back to university in August to find that they had changed the Sociology curriculum. There had been a genocide in Rwanda and I had barely noticed.

I'm old enough now and wiser and I can promise that I will never suffer such ignorance again. I will do everything I can to open people's minds up to these atrocities and to put a human face on war and suffering.

I picked up my first book on the Rwandan genocide about a year ago and it has been a whirlwind year of book after book on the subject. I have often remarked how I sometimes feel like I cannot read anymore. The books have made me feel physically ill at times but then I find I am filled with such energy as I read about the amazing people who survived and overcame the cruellest and most evil treatment a person can encounter. The most recent book that I have read was Into The Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak. Below are several quotes that I have taken from the book. I would both like to encourage people to read this brilliant and moving book and I'd like to express how it touched me too.

A genocide is not an especially murderous or cruel war. It's a planned extermination. At the end of a war, survivors feel a strong need to bear witness; after a genocide, on the contrary, the survivors strangely long for silence. - Jean Hatzfeld, author

I read that a lot throughout this book. I wonder what it must have been like after World War II. Did the survivors of the concentration camps also cover themselves in a shroud of silence? Maybe that is why the "Never Forget" movement began - maybe people had to make a concerted effort to break the silence, to escape the need to just blank out the events and keep quiet.

The day that the killing began in Nyamata, in the street of the big market, we ran to the parish church. A large crowd had already assembled there, because when massacres begin it is Rwandan custom to take refuge in houses of God - Cassius Niyonsaba age 12

"...because when massacres begin it is Rwandan custom...". This really made me put my own existence into perspective. I live in a world where I have not had to adopt a custom in case of massacres. In South Africa, we lived in a violent society where it was custom to have bars on our windows and six-foot high walls with electric fences and gates. This was normal to us but then behind all of that security we were protecting a superb standard of living. But to have to live to protect yourself against repeated massacres? That is a human rights violation in itself.

But we no longer celebrate birthday, because this pains us too much, and it costs too much money. We never row, not even once by chance, because we cannot find a how or a why. - Jeanette Ayinkamiye age 17

Imagine never arguing. Everyone rows! But I understand that - it is almost like a luxury that you simply cannot afford when you are living at the edge of survival.

[On the killing in the church in Ntarama] Very early on, I felt a blow. I collapsed between some benches, pandemonium all around. When I woke up, I checked to see that I was not dying. - Francine Niyitegeka age 25

Isn't that just the sheer epitome of Life? To be so surprised to be alive that it takes a process of self-examination to prove to yourself that you are, in fact, still alive. I can't explain it but it seems that there is so much more to the experience of life than we can ever conceive.

In the evening, we were four families to group together in my house in Cyugaro. There were no mats or mattresses to roll out on the floor because the interahamwe had stolen them. We would exchange a little conversation, above all about the details of that day, or some words of comfort. We did not argue. We teased no one; we did not mock the women who had been raped, because all the women expected to be raped. We were all fleeing from the same death, we suffered the same fate. - Jean-Baptiste Munyankore age 60

There is little I can say about this, but once again - what a gross human atrocity - "all women expected to be raped".

The killers worked in the swamps from nine to four, half past four, as the sun would have it. Sometimes, if it rained to much, they came later in the morning. They came in columns, announcing their arrival with songs and whistles. They beat drums, they sounded very cheerful to be going killing for an entire day. - Angelique Mukamanzi age 25

This goes to show just how systematic and organised the genocide was. These men worked from nine to four each day. They whistled on their way to work each morning, did their day's work and made sure they were safely home again by sundown. Absolutely chilling.

To listen to them, I deduce that in time people will not remember the genocide in the same way. For example, a neighbouring woman talks of how her maman died in the church; then, two years later, she explains that her maman died in the marsh. For me, there is no lie. The girl had an acceptable reason to wish for her mother's death to have taken place in the church. Perhaps because she abandoned her running full stretch through the marsh and was ashamed. Perhaps because it relieved her of an all too painful sorrow; to persuade herself that her maman in this way suffered less, one fatal blow on the first day. Then time offered the girl a little peace, so she could remember the truth, and she accepted it. - Angelique Mukamanzi age 25

I found this really touching and I can understand this process of the truth coming out. I have my own personal experience of trauma and not being able to remember the details of that trauma for quite some time (I was in a bank robbery in 1998 and could not remember the gun being pointed at me).

In the end, there were only us sprinters left. We had begun as five or six thousand; one month later when the inkotanyi arrived, there were twenty of us alive. That's the arithmetic. If the inkotanyi had lingered on the road one week more, our exact number would be zero. - Innocent Rwililiza age 38

The inkotanyi was the name that was given to the approaching RPF soldiers who defeated the interahamwe (the organised Hutu killers) and eventually took over government of the country. Chilling - I have read time and time again from Tutsis that they honestly believe the Hutus thought there would be no survivors, that they would kill each and every single Tutsi.

I have read that after each genocide historians explain that this will be the last. Because no one could again allow such an infamy. That is an amazing joke. Those responsible for the Rwandan genocide are not poor ignorant farmers, no more than they are ferocious and drunken interhamwe - they are educated people. They are the professors, the politicians and the journalists who expatriated themselves to Europe... Hardly any of them killed with their own hands, but they sent people to the hills to do the job. - Innocent Rwililiza age 38

Just imagine. Your highly educated, sophisticated neighbour decides overnight that you are the enemy and that you and your kin need to be wiped off the face of the Earth. It happened and it can happen again.

Married to a Tutsi woman, he tried to save her as well as several of his friends. Among Hutu villagers, he was the powerless witness to the killings in the church and the marshes. Since then, he has quit farming to dedicate himself entirely to the memory of the victims. Indifferent to the heat, he lives wrapped up in an anorak and nods his head, as he tirelessly repeats: "How was it possible, how was it possible?" You first think that this is a question addressed to the person he's talking to; then you realise it's addressed to himself. - Jean Hatzfeld, author

Some people's lives are so broken, so fractured and there is just nothing that can be done to relieve that. Is there a point at which a person is too old or they have seen too much or they are just too shattered to be healed? This is the face of human tragedy.

... there is no word in Kinyarwandan to describe the crimes of the killers of a genocide, a word whose meaning can outdo the wickedness, the ferocity and the category of actual feelings. - Claudine Kayitesi age 21

...and nor should there have needed to be such a word.

The criminals did not bury their victims, because the great numbers put them off. They preferred to get the job of killing done, without the additional fatigue of wiping away the traces. These people were so sure that they would get rid of all Tutsis that they concluded that no one would ever come and interfere with their business in Rwanda. - Claudine Kayitesi age 21

Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.

Adolescents suffer more than others from not understanding. They cannot admit that the interahamwe wanted to put an end to them without any prior threat or argument. Without a care, adolescents arrived at the doors of life and machete blows stopped them from entering. They have been in the why of it ever since. - Sylvie Umubyeyi age 34

The task of healing children's minds and moving towards reconciliation must have seemed insurmountable at times.

[On international reporting of Huti refugees fleeing the RPF forces] On the television screens, the reporters said: "Those who have not been killed are the people now fleeing on the long roads to the camps," and in the end they completely forgot the survivors of the Tutsi massacres. - Sylvie Umubyeyi age 34

While the international media was focusing on Hutu refugees, Tutsi survivors were still hiding in the marshes and refusing to come out, refusing to believe that it was all finally over. The Hutu refugees were made up of killers escaping prosecution and Hutu families fleeing the country to escape possible reprisals.

Because if you dwell too long in fear of genocide, you lose hope. You lose what you have managed to salvage of life. You run the risk of being contaminated by another madness. When, in calm moments, I think about the genocide I think about it so as to know where to put it in my life, but I can find no place. I simply mean that it is beyond the human. - Sylvie Umubyeyi age 34

Where does one put such trauma and unimaginable evil? Human being were not made to bear such atrocities.

Below is a list of the books I have read so far on this topic. An excellent (although discontinued) blog to read on current life in Rwanda is Morgan in Africa.

Future books on my reading list include:

Image credit: “Never Again - With Display of Skulls of Victims - Courtyard of Genocide Memorial Church - Karongi (Kibuye) - Western Rwanda – 02” by Adam Jones. Licensed through Creative Commons (source)

France accused in Rwanda genocide

Link:  Rwanda has accused France of playing an active role in the genocide of 1994

The Rwandan government set up an independent commission of inquiry into the Rwandan genocide.  In November last year they submitted a 500-page report in which the government of France was accused of arming and training Hutu militia as well as stalling in the investigations that followed.  This document has now been released to the public and France are yet to issue a formal reply.

In turn, in 2006 a French judge implicated President Paul Kagame in the shooting down of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana's planeon 6 April 1994.  This event is widely considered to have sparked off the genocide.

In fact, nobody knows for sure who downed the plane and President Paul Kagame himself subscribes to the view that it may have been Hutu extremists who then blamed the event on Tutsi rebels (the Rwandan Patriotic Front).  This view is used by proponents of the theory that the genocide was actually planned in advance by Hutu extremists (including Habyarimana's own family) to regain political power lost during the Aruba peace accord and other concessions granted in the three years leading up to the genocide.  (Sources for this include MI6 and books I have read on the genocide have alluded to this fact, including Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey).


Link:  Father dies after supermarket 'queue rage' attack

To quote one of my favourite sites, this is indeed a reason to blow up the world.  Perhaps it is the fact that my own father is of a similar age (62) but the fact that an older man can go to the local shops and be beaten to death for allegedly skipping the queue is just appalling.  I specifically find the fact that this man was summonsed from outside of the shop (from his car or even his home, perhaps?) and used lethal force to punish a man who may or may not have queue-jumped, cruel and excessive behaviour.

Right now I hope his lady friend is contemplating a life without her male counterpart and I hope she is embarking on the long process of grieving and mourning that inevitably accompanies the realisation that someone you love is not dying or terminally ill, but that they are going to prison for the rest of their days.  I hope those feelings have a strong guilt component because were she not such a fine, upstanding pillar of the thug community, he may not have committed the crime.

For his part, the alleged perpetrator Tony Virasami can rot in jail until death is a welcome escape in 25 or so years time.

And for the family of Kevin Tripp... my Dad is lovely and vibrant and an inspiration to me.  To think that some scum of the earth could take him from me... well, you have all my thoughts and sympathy.

Antigua Honeymoon Murder

Link:  Antigua Honeymoon Murder: Couple to be Buried Together

This story really breaks my heart.  It is probably because I am married and I have been one half of a honeymoon couple on holiday in a foreign and exotic country.  From a deeply personal point of view, I am almost glad that Ben did not wake up from his coma.  The last thing this couple knew was love and happiness and the promise of a long and beautiful life together.

Of course, the reality is that nothing is more precious than life.  My own instructions (to my family's chagrin) are to keep me alive if I ever fall into a coma.  Life is that precious and people often wake up after years in a coma.  Of course, in my romantic mind I don't think I imagined being shot in the head by an intruder.

Link:  Antigua murder: British government faces row over death penalty for shooting

It's interesting that the British government is involved in a row now over the death penalty.  The death penalty is not legal in the UK and as this was a crime committed against British nationals, they feel justified in asking that the death penalty not be imposed in this case.

I believe in the authority of the state (my radical cousin would be very disappointed in me).  I also believe that you need to respect the laws of the country in which you reside.  There are of course channels for changing laws, such as voting and lobbying, but I accept the right of the British government to outlaw capital punishment.  I do not, however, respect their right to approach a sovereign state and request that they act outside of the charter of their own set of laws and guidelines.  If you commit murder in Antigua, you stand the risk of being sentenced to death for the crime you commit.  It really shouldn't even be considered whether the victim of your crime is Antiguan or a foreign national.

Violence in South Africa: a look at interpersonal violence in the early 1990s

The statistics were appalling.  In 1990, in 9 short weeks, 800 people were killed in intense violence in townships across the East Rand of the then Transvaal province of South Africa.  In 2008, this sort of occurrence has made international headline news.  Apart from the occasional incident making headlines however, in 1990 all you could find were small isolated paragraphs deep in the inner pages of the nation's newspapers, tallying up how many people had died over the past weekend.  The press presented a united opinion on the matter - this was "'black-on-black' (Xhosa-Zulu) violence rooted in inherent forces of ethnic or 'tribal' identity".In the 1991 there was a national scandal called "Inkathagate" in which it was discovered that the government was funneling funds into Inkatha Freedom Party in a bid to block the ANC.  Two senior ministers (Magnus Malan and Adriaan Vlok) lost their jobs over the scandal.  Conspiracy theorists declared that a "third force" was at play and that Inkathagate proved that Inkatha soldiers were being trained to carry out attacks on ANC supporters in order to "create" an atmosphere of tribal tension and destabilise the government.Sound familiar?

What were the facts then about township violence at the end of the Apartheid era?  What relevance does this have in 2008?

It is so easy for us, as outsiders, to take a look at interpersonal or group violence and wrap it up with a neat label -   'xenophobia', 'racism', 'tribal conflict', 'ethnic violence'.  By making such a sweeping generalisation, it enables the observer to efficiently categorise and process an unthinkable act thereby belying the need for further analysis and intervention.   In reality, patterns of violence tend to follow a pattern whereby a set of underlying social and political conditions lay the ground for violence which is then triggered by one or more specific events.  Sometimes it is possible to identify those specific events but the surrounding conditions are certainly easier to pinpoint.

Social conditions in South African townships

As part of the Apartheid regime, black South Africans (and indeed Indian and coloured South Africans) were rounded up and forced to live in separate areas from those in which white people lived.  These areas became known as 'townships' and consisted of row upon row of little box houses.  Townships were specifically designed so that they could easily be contained should there be a political uprising and there was often only one road giving access to the township. 

There were three main participants in the violence that took place in the violence in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  They were the township dwellers, the hostel residents and the inhabitants of informal settlements.  If you've ever visited an informal settlement, you would marvel at the ingenuity of people as they fabricate homes for themselves out of corrugated iron, cardboard, plastics and other scrap materials.  Having visited informal settlements in the early 1990's though, I am merely appalled that 15 years after the end of Apartheid, the amount of people living in these conditions has not diminished but has in fact exploded with new settlements all around major centres.  In 1991, Phola Park was one such settlement.  There was one water tap for use by 40,000 people; no sanitation and no refuse removal.  Our job when we visited was to dig a huge hole and create a makeshift landfill in which to put the mountain of garbage present on the site.  There was simply nowhere else to put it.  Today I am aware of the ecological disaster such an ad hoc landfill could create but back then we were just trying to prevent children from playing in the garbage.  Phola Park itself burnt down to the ground on one occasion due to an incident of violence with the neighbouring township of Thokoza.  In fact, the East Rand of Johannesburg was one of the hardest hit areas in terms of these conflicts.

The purpose of the description above is to provide an idea of the conditions in which the inhabitants of informal settlements find themselves.  They are the poorest, most dispossessed of the urban dwellers yet have often flooded into the city centres from even worse conditions elsewhere.  Towards the end of the Apartheid-era, the relaxation of influx control meant that many people were flooding in from the arid and poverty-stricken homelands; today, many of the inhabitants of informal settlements are refugees from Zimbabwe or Mozambicans or Malawians seeking their fortune.

At the end of Apartheid, the process of reform undertook to upgrade urban areas.  However, this process concentrated on private housing and private residents.  Essentially, the government embarked on a process of selective upgrading that resulted in the accentuation of divisions between the "haves" and the "have nots".  The existing residents of townships and members of established communities benefited from the upgrading process whereas the inhabitants of informal settlements received nothing and conditions in the hostels only worsened.

Hostels have made the news quite a lot in recent days.  These huge structures once housed thousands of migrant workers in cramped and appalling conditions.  The hostels were single-sex institutions housing mainly men.  They were overcrowded, there was no privacy and conditions were unhygienic to say the least.  There were no recreational facilities and far from their wives and families, the men turned to drugs, alcohol and prostitutes to pass the time.  While this is of course a generalisation, it does describe the atmosphere of frustration that abounded and the need to escape or act out that can often accompany these feelings.  (It is often stated that aggression is a common way of dealing with frustration and violence has been linked to aggression2).

Compounding these social conditions were the often acrimonious relationships between the various key parties.  Spatially, both hostels and informal settlements were situated on the edge of formal townships.  Hostels residents were seen as immoral wanderers due to their separation from their family units as well as their choice of recreational activity.  Both hostel residents and informal settlers were treated as outsiders and they were never integrated into community structures.  There was mutual resentment between all parties as they competed for scarce resources (most importantly jobs). Especially important in view of the selective upgrading process was that informal settlements were located on valuable land that was wanted by the formal township communities for the purpose of building new houses and infrastructure.

The following topics will be further discussed in this matter:

Crisis of leadership

Political factors

Culture and life in South Africa

Group Dynamics

  1. Ruiters, Greg and Taylor, Rupert (1990) "Organise - or Die", Work In Progress (no 70/71).
  2. Lauer, Robert H. (1989). Social Problems and the Quality of Life, (Iowa: WM. C. Brown).

I read the news today, oh boy

Sometimes I close my book while I'm on the train, I look out of the window and I think I've had enough now.  Enough of murder, genocide, rape and injustice.  It's not that I actually want to stop reading, it's just that sometimes the weight of horrors I could never have imagined in my wildest nightmares gets too much to bear.  And I need to sit and process the knowledge.

My interest in political history and injustice started in university, 15 years ago (in fact I am busy transcribing and updating a paper I wrote back then on interpersonal violence in South Africa).  But in recent times this interest has snowballed and I can't get enough of true-life accounts of war and genocide, mostly in Africa.

I'm reading this book at the moment:

The Bone Woman
by Clea Koff

Read more about this book...

Clea Koff is a forensic anthropologist who has worked on mass graves in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo investigating war crimes.  I think the book-closing moment was in her description of the bone evidence of a man who was beaten to death and how he tried to defend himself; this was compared to the earlier account of many people in a church in Kibuye who exhibited no defence wounds at all and who all had sharp- or blunt-force trauma to their heads.  (The author could not understand why they hadn't tried to defend themselves but I know many people only survived by playing dead and I think this is what happened here).  Anyway, the beating victim's story many my stomach turn.

This morning she began to tell the story of an investigation they were to begin into the matter of 8,000 missing men and boys from Srebrenica who had left on foot to go to Tuzla and had never made it.  What I read began to sink in - 8,000 human beings were murdered in one event - and I turned green.  I still cannot fathom it.  I can imagine monsters rounding up 4,000 people in a church and killing for days, only breaking to eat and sleep (only because I read about it in this book).  I can imagine train loads of human beings taken to death camps and killed day after day during the holocaust (because I have read so many books about it).  I just have a problem imagining 8,000 people (4 times the size of my high school) being murdered in one occasion.  With no living witnesses (one presumes as the men were up to that point regarded as 'missing' not murdered or presumed murdered, and there was no event to tie them to yet).

This is why I do it.  I might feel my eyes spontaneously fill with tears and elicit stares from my fellow train travellers, but this is why I ravenously devour any book on genocide and injustice.  It is because I need to know and I need to tell others and we need to stop it happening.

Xenophobia in South Africa

Link:  The Times' Flames of Hate

I never imagined I would have to add my own beloved country onto the list of countries I covered in my campaign to chronicle political violence and war in Africa.

Zimbabwe - a modern history

It's hard to imagine that Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) was once seen as the land of hope and prosperity.  People streamed into the country to take advantage of the fertile land and mild climate.  It really was the modern day Utopia.  Unfortunately, the reality of the matter is that this was a country built up on racism and right-wing ideals and scores of people were kept in conditions of poverty and disenfranchisement in order to bolster the more than comfortable lifestyles of the Haves.

It had to end.  In fact, it was a situation waiting to erupt and erupt it did in the form of the Bush War.  But how did a (successful) fight for freedom lead to the political violence and ethnic cleansing that are happening today?  Zimbabwe has becomes one of the poorest countries in the world and people are starving in this supposed land of milk and honey.  In 1991, the Zimbabwe Dollar was almost 1-to-1 with the South African Rand.  Today, Zim$1,000,000.00 gets you about R260.00 which gets you approximately two compact discs.  Well, you'd need 50 times that in order to buy a loaf of bread according to this article.

Did all of that happen because of the cruelty of the right wing settler farmers?  Did it happen as the male working class was obliterated in the Bush War?  Or is a particularly strong, despotic leader really responsible for the Zimbabwe we all know and love today?

I'll look at Zimbabwe's history briefly from the 17th and then a little more in depth for the 20th and 21st centuries.

Eight Days

Link:  How long can you ignore a screaming baby?

Merely days ago I was wondering what type of person it takes to sit in your lounge watching TV while your child lies locked up in the next room, starving to death.  This pondering was based on an actual event and much of the musing in that post was triggered by this story and this story.

Well, whatever I was wondering about then barely compares to the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach after reading this article.  This puts a whole different spin on motive and reason.  On the one hand you have an ignorant, selfish b***h of a mother but on the other hand... my naive little mind is having to acknowledge the reality of deep, severe malice.  Hatred, vitriol, cruelty and evil-hearted intentions.

In this article the authors cites Ania Wilczynski's research into parent's who kill their children and notes that she:

"identified 11 reasons why parents kill, including revenge, jealousy and rejection. However the most common reason is an effort to discipline". 

I'm going to take some blogging license here and really generalise, but from what I've heard, read and experienced about abused children, they are usually children afraid of their own shadows.

I think its because I'm clumsy
I try not to talk too loud
Maybe its because I'm crazy
I try not to act too proud - Suzanne Vega, Luka

Abused children are often obsessed with keeping the balance, not upsetting the parent(s) and being quiet or invisible.  To write this off as primarily disciplinary in nature or to give any credence to a parent's claims or justification that it began as discipline, is a huge disservice to children.  It sets the fight against child abuse back 40 years. 

Children are helpless, innocent and fragile.  Humans look after their children for over 10 years because a child would most likely not survive out in the wild alone.  Sure there are feral children, but for every feral child there are probably 10 or 100 that have died of starvation or exposure.  Our duty towards children is to protect them, to nurture them and to love them unconditionally.  Believe it or not, love is actually necessary for the human child.  In babies' homes for very young orphans, volunteers are called in to simply hold the babies.  Human babies struggle to thrive without milk, warmth and human contact.  You just need to read any one of Torey Hayden's books to see the miraculous effect that a little love and guidance can have on a damaged child.

My rather drawn out point is that we are the adults.  We are here to protect the children, we are not here to abuse them.  There is no excuse for abuse and "discipline" simply does not describe a campaign of methodical neglect, malice and violence. 

I ask one more time.  How do you sit in the next room while your child is in the next room (or closet) starving to death?

And finally, because I'm turning 35 this year, I'm going to exercise my right to post really sad Whitney Houston lyrics from my youth (sad as in... wow, how could I?)

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be - Whitney Houston, Greatest Love of All

Children Are Our Future

Link:  Digging deep at Haut de la Garenne

This story is just emerging but I expect that over the days and weeks to come, we'll come to know the full horror of it.  In a nutshell, police began to investigate a children's home on the island of Jersey in 2006.  There were investigating allegations of child sexual and physical abuse which were detailed here.  I'm not certain why there was a huge gap in time between police finding out about the abuse in 2006 and then the news getting hold of it in December 2007.  I'll be charitable and say that must be the "covert" investigations that the police were purportedly undertaking.  I'm not usually  a critic of the police but I have to admit that in this case, it feels like a couple of kids abused in the 60s, 70s and 80s simply wasn't a priority for them.

Something changed.  A couple of days ago the police received a tip off and it lead them to discover human remains in the house.  A child's remains to be precise.  Now they are breaking into rooms and digging into cellars and there are definite panic stations.

Now of course, many people are drumming up the courage to contact police to tell them of their own abuse.  Based on several reports of a basement area, the police have begun, as I said, to dig into the bricked up cellars and underground rooms and this is where my mind slammed on the brakes.  I am fully aware that my imagination is running riot, but I am envisaging an underground torture chamber and I cannot reconcile that with the fact that this place was a children's home.

"A nation's progress can be judged by how they treat their animals." -Gandhi

This quotation has been used by many people over the years to pass comment on the treatment of children, the poor, the workers and so on.  I reckon that animals are treated better than many children today.  The biggest love in my life (after Le Husband) is my dogs and cats and animal abuse sickens me but that simply pales when you hear about what people do to babies and children.

Take a quick look at this list over at Bonnie's Blog of Crime.  Bonnie focuses mainly on US cases but how about the UK?  Victoria Climbie (deceased), unnamed child, Jessica Randall (deceased), Ryan Hawkins (deceased), Baby Duncan, Hugo Wang (deceased), Jade Hart (deceased), Aaron Gilbert (deceased), Ainlee Walker (deceased), and Kimberley Baker (deceased).

All of the questions regarding how this happens and how come the schools, social workers and family do nothing to stop it are relevant; but I wonder what it is that switches in a human being's brain to allow them to commit such cruelty?  I am aware that those people who are sexually or physically abused often grow up to do the same themselves, I know that people often feel so powerless in their lives that they will take out their rage and fury on any unwitting victim, I know that parenthood can be so frustrating sometimes and that a screaming baby or child can send one over the edge; but how on Earth do you sit and knit or watch TV or converse with your spouse / parent / friend while your child starves to death in the next room?  The next room which you have locked. 

I am quite sure it is not a short process, starving to death, and a child must cry and scream and bang to be let out.  Unless you have beaten them into submission and they die alone and afraid.  Like I said, I know there are psychosocial factors that lead a person to abuse another being, be it physical, emotional or sexual abuse; but has the time not come when we, as a postmodern, enlightened society admit that some acts are acts of pure evil and criminality.  If these acts exist, would this not mean that such criminals could not be rehabilitated because rehabilitation in itself suggests that there was once a state of normalcy and functioning?  In other words, if an act is purely criminal and the possibility exists that the perpetrator is therefore purely criminal, is it not then impossible to "rehabilitate"? 

"Rehabilitation means; To restore to useful life, as through therapy and education" - Wikipedia

You can't restore an object to a state it did not previously occupy.  There are other words for what you can do, with altogether different definitions.

I wonder what this means for the death penalty argument?  I would definitely need to reassess my reasoning regarding criminal acts and evil people before I entered into such an argument.

More on Africa

mysehnsucht, this is basically an answer to your last post, but I was hesitant to clog up your comments page with my rambling stream of consciousness!!

A co-worker gave me some perspective last week. In the time since I left school, I partied, travelled the world, got an education (somehow), got a job and got married. I made lot of mistakes, not all of which I regret. In the early 90's, his family was forced off their farm in Zimbabwe and they fled to UK with nothing. They literally had the clothes on their backs and a handful of photographs and trinkets that they were able to put in their pockets. I can't imagine anything worse than losing your history like that and I think that I was brought up to believe that because of the holocaust. The past 15 years involved my colleague never taking a wrong step, because to do so would have jeopardised the livelihood of his entire family. No parties, little education and a focus on survival.

It's hard to explain why I link this to mysehnsucht's post but I'm actually agreeing with what she said. You miss the South Africa you grew up in and that is the most profound statement because my colleague can long for Zim if he wants but he knows he's basically longing for Rhodesia.

The thing is - he is so completely like us - he looks and sounds like a South African cricket player. All of that happened to someone just like you and I.

South African's are so desperately telling themselves that what happened in Zim won't happen in SA. Even if they say it and fear it, they can't quite imagine the people coming over the horizon to kick them out of their gated suburbs.

But what we're really doing is longing for, believing in and defending a country that simply doesn't exist anymore.

Development in Zimbabwe and Mozambique once compared to South Africa. Now, Mozambique is often listed as the poorest country in the world and they have ethnic cleansing and rape camps in Zimbabwe.
Rwanda was very, very similar to South Africa in 1994. Beautiful cities with modern architecture surrounded by slums and then rural areas. And then in 3 months genocide took 800,000 lives. The fastest genocide in history. (Or if I may completely misquote the US, "it's possible that some acts of genocide might have occurred".

Except that what happened in Rwanda and what's happening in Zimbabwe (and Mozambique) was ignored by the world. No one cared. Planet Earth just loves to ignore this kind of stuff and then get all self-righteous and hold war crimes trials.

A history of engendered hate and the oppression of one class of people by another in order to promote the luxury of the elite few; a country desperately impoverished and looking to believe in any politician who promises a solution; a populist appeal to the masses, promises of retribution and incitations to mass action; a general atmosphere of lawlessness and a complete disregard for human life; a disenfranchised, uneducated and impoverished youth; a government rife with rumours of corruption and scandal; and finally, evidence of incredible wealth in the midst of hunger, homelessness, poverty and hopelessness. Those are factors that have been central to the wars, genocides and mass murders in Africa (and the Balkans and Germany for that matter). Those are factors that are currently very present and very real in South Africa at the moment. It's like a ticking bomb.

My standpoint is not to convince my friends to leave SA, not to convince people it's worse than anywhere else on Earth, not to be a hate- or fear-monger, not to be paranoid or closed-minded and generally not to be politically conservative, naive or vague.

My standpoint and purpose is to constantly remind myself (and my poor long-suffering friends' list) that it can happen to South Africa, to continue to read up on African history and to familiarise myself with the social, political and historical reasons behind war and genocide and finally, to continue to talk about my findings and research and to be of use both on a personal and social level if it ever does happen.