Tuesday, 27 April 2010

This Day In History: 27 April 1994

This is the article I posted for Freedom Day last year. I was going to do a brand new one and then realised that this basically says it all. I am still so proud of South Africa.

27 April is Freedom Day in South Africa and it is a public holiday held to commemorate 27 April 1994 when the first democratic general election was held in the country. This election marked the end of Apartheid where the National Party government was replaced by the government of the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela became president.

It was the first ever election in South Africa in which there was universal suffrage which means that all adult South Africans, regardless of race or gender, were allowed to vote.

Photo: AP

Most people today have heard about Apartheid but I wonder if everyone knows what it was like? Apartheid officially began in 1948 but certain laws dated to before that time and were vital parts of Apartheid legislation. The 1913 Native's Land Act prevented non-white people from owning land. Not only could they never own the land they lived on, they could be forcibly removed from any land that was deemed attractive for white settlement (see District 6). This law was enhanced in 1950 by the Group Areas Act which assigned different racial groups to different residential and business areas in urban areas. Hence, blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians in South Africa could not live together, could not own businesses in the same areas and only whites could own land.

The second piece of important pre-Apartheid legislation was released under the Jan Smuts government. It was called the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 and it deemed urban areas to be "white" areas and all black adult men had to carry passes at all times if they were in cities or urban areas. A statue of the lovely Jan Smuts now stands in parliament Square in London and he looks out over the square to where Nelson Mandela's statue now also stands. This law was also enhanced by the 1952 Pass Laws Act which made it compulsory for all blacks South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a pass book at all times. The book would stipulate where, when and for how long a person could remain in a specific urban area and it greatly restricted where black people could move or visit.

The final bit of despicable legislation I will talk about today was the 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act which prohibited interracial marriage in South Africa and the 1950 Immorality Act which prohibited all sexual relations between whites and non-whites. These laws were repealed by PJ Botha in 1985 but up to that time, people could be arrested and prosecuted if they were caught having sexual relations with a person of another race and black people often got stronger sentences than white people.

The Beginning of the End
In the early 1980's, international economic sanctions had begun to take their toll on Apartheid and that was the beginning of the end. Little by little President PJ Botha began to repeal laws and offer greater freedoms to the Indian population and to blacks and coloureds too. The separate and completely unequal policies and privileges offered to the different population groups under PJ Botha are quite complex and the topic of another post, but in 1989 PJ Botha had a stroke and FW de Klerk became president. He began a process of reform which culminated in the unbanning of the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress on 2 February 1990 and the release of Mandela on 11 February 1990.

A national referendum was held on 17 March 1992 in which white people voted whether they wanted to continue the process of reform started by FW de Klerk two years earlier. We knew what the stakes were and the basic question was really, "will this be the last whites-only election before universal suffrage is awarded and national elections are held"? 2.8 million people voted and the result was 68.73% "Yes".

The Road to the Elections
The next two years were emotional and tumultuous for our emerging rainbow nation. There was so much intimidation and violence going on around the elections that people were advised never to divulge who they were voting for. It was our right to keep our vote private. Many of the young, black females that I worked with were too scared to vote, even though we offered to drive them to the election stations and hide them in our cars. This was worrying - we needed every single vote. I still won't divulge who I voted for or what my preference was, but the important thing was to vote!

The Day
As the photo above shows, South Africans stood for hours and hours in queues that day to vote. I myself stood for four hours in a queue that ran the whole way around the northern Johannesburg suburb of Craighall. I got to the front of the queue and stood for several minutes in the booth. My hand was shaking so much that I was scared to try to write in case I spoiled my ballot. I cast my "x" on the regional and national papers, posted my ballots in the box and burst out crying. I was so overwhelmed and so acutely aware of the importance of what had come to pass that day. I was one of the 19,533,498 people who changed the course of world history that day.

The rest, as they say, is history. The ANC won 62.65% of the vote and Nelson Mandela became the first president of the New South Africa. At some stage I hope to elaborate on what it was like to live in Apartheid South Africa.


Sunday, 25 April 2010

Music review: Electric Cambodia

I was given a chance to review this amazing gem of an album a couple of months ago.  Though the music spoke of better times before the Khmer Rouge regime, I found it heartbreaking in a sense that all of this culture and art was lost and destroyed. 

Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia Few people were aware that Cambodia was an incredibly modern and cultural society before the murderous Khmer Rouge regime took over Cambodia in 1975.   “Before the Khmer Rouge, it was a crazy, booming society, socially and economically – it was very progressive,” says Senon Williams, bassist of the Los Angeles rock band Dengue Fever.  As American fever was sweeping through groups of young and hip teenagers, Cambodians adopted the sweeping, bass heavy Sixties rock and roll sounds and made it their own with Khmer lyrics and melodies.

Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia is an exciting new retrospective collection of Cambodian rock music from the late Sixties and early seventies and it features the unearthly and haunting sounds of musicians such as Dara Chom Chan, Pan Ron and Ros Serey Sothea.  It represents a golden era in Cambodian culture and music that was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. 

Electric Cambodia

All of these artists lost their lives in what has been called the Cambodian genocide but their musical legacy can continue with this wonderful collection.  It is a musical legacy that was almost lost though and were it not for the older sister of Dengue Fever’s Cambodia-born lead vocalist Chhom Nimol, many of the songs would have remained unnamed and anonymous.  As it is, there is one song on the album where the artist has not been identified and another where the name of the song remains unknown.  This is a testament to the destruction of war time situations and regimes such as the Khmer Rouge that in the end, people are only left with incomplete and tattered snippets of their culture. 

The songs on Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia are unmistakeably Cambodian and while the sounds may not appeal to everybody, lovers of world music will appreciate the ethereal vocals of Pan Ron and Ros Serey Sothea and the Cambodian interpretation of Sixties music.  These are emotional and engaging songs that speak to the excitement, hope and innocence of the era in much the same way as Western songs of that time do. 

Ros Serey Sothea was Cambodia’s most famous, prolific singer of the time and the album features her songs “Flowers in the Pond” and “Shave Your Beard” among others.  Pan Ron’s “Don’t Speak” is a fine example of Sixties rock and roll music and you can imagine leagues of young Cambodians doing the twist to songs like this.  Her song “Snaeha” is a remake of the massive Cher hit “Bang Bang” and deserves mention too. 

The collection has been compiled by Los Angeles rock band Dengue Fever as a way of preserving the music and introducing their fans to the original versions of some of the songs that they had covered.  Proceeds from the sales of the album will benefit Cambodian Living Arts, which is a project of the non-profit Massachusetts-based Marion Institute devoted to supporting the revival of traditional Khmer performing arts and inspiring contemporary artistic expression.

The Khmer Rouge was a communist, Maoist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot. They set up a radical form of agrarian communism where city dwellers were forced to leave cities and work on farms. Their murderous regime resulted in genocide - between 850 000 and 1.5 million people died from execution, torture, forced work or starvation, representing between 20 to 25% of the total population.


Friday, 9 April 2010

Clare Allen: A manifesto for ending mental health stigma

Clare Allen (Photograph David Levene)

Clare Allen is my new hero. And if you read this article you may know why: A manifesto for ending mental health stigma. In it she states that the next government must repeal the law that stops her from standing for parliament on the grounds that she has previously been sectioned and she lists her manifesto for investing in well-being; overhauling the benefits system and giving more to carers.

I was disgusted when I came to this country. Suddenly my very private and chronic struggle became fair game as employers required you to fill in mental health questionnaires at first interviews. In South Africa, you can't be seen to have discriminated on candidates on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual preference, creed or religion; you can't ask questions regarding chronic or mental illnesses at interviews and you're not allowed to ask female candidates about their plans for child bearing.  There are strict equal opportunities laws and a move from affirmative action to Black Economic Empowerment. It is not always applied correctly but the Labour Guide is always there to give you free advice if you feel you have been discriminated against.

I had a wonderful interview shortly after I got to the UK. I had been told I had the job and we discussed my starting date. I was given a piece of paper to fill in before I left - a mental health questionnaire. I answered truthfully, listing my chronic but mild and manageable disorder and was later told by the agent that I was not a suitable fit for the position.

I realised then that I had come from a country where the constitution is based on a charter of human rights, where the questionnaire itself would have been illegal, never mind the decision reached on the basis of it. I never, ever mentioned the disorder again and in fact, this is probably the first time I am mentioning it publicly in the 30 months since I have been here.

Clare Allen is my hero because people like her fight for the rights of the mentally ill and they give them a voice, breaking the silence.

The excellent news and related to the above is that The Equality Bill (2010) was passed through Parliament yesterday and has made pre-employment questionnaires illegal.

“A key issue in the Act is the harmonisation and extension of discrimination law to cover age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief and, in many but not all instances, marriage and civil partnerships. ‘Disability related' discrimination will be replaced with a prohibition on discriminating against a disabled person by treating them unfavourably where that treatment is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Another new provision in the Act prohibits employers asking job applicants questions about their health and whether they have a disability, other than in specified circumstances (including whether the applicant will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned). Employers will still be entitled to screen applicants about health after making a job offer” - HRMagazine.co.uk.

Finally.  Welcome to the 21st Century Great Britain.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Julius Malema Lashes Out At BBC Journalist

This man really, really scares me in a way I can barely explain.  I believe that he is inciting racial tension, hatred and violence and agree with the Democratic Alliance that he is South Africa’s Mugabe. 

Just this weekend he was in Zimbabwe and stated that the South African government would soon start reclaiming white-owned farms.  That went swimmingly well in Zimbabwe with state-of-the-art agricultural equipment being left to rust while crops failed and citizens starved.  He continued to sing his hateful song “Kill The Boer” in Zimbabwe over the weekend.

This Guardian article is quite good and provides a partial transcript of the tirade above:  ANC's Julius Malema lashes out at 'misbehaving' BBC journalist

Malema then erupted, asking for a security guard to eject Fisher and telling him: "If you're not going to behave, you're [sic] going to call security to take you out. This is not a newsroom, this is a revolutionary house and you don't come here with that tendency.

"Don't come here with that white tendency. Not here. You can do it somewhere else. Not here. If you've got a tendency of undermining blacks, even where you work, you are in the wrong place. Here you are in the wrong place."

Fisher responded: "That's rubbish. That's absolute rubbish."

Malema continued: "You can go out. Rubbish is what you have covered in that trouser. That is rubbish. You are a small boy, you can't do anything."

Collecting his dictaphone and walking out, Fisher said: "I didn't come here to be insulted."

Malema bellowed after him: "Go out. Go out. Bastard! Go out. You bloody agent!" - guardian.co.uk

I will tell you why I care about this and what it means to me.  As divorced as I am from South African because of living in the UK, I feel as if I am watching a massacre or disaster in the making.  I believe that Julius Malema is breeding hatred, fear and intolerance in South Africa and I believe that more South Africans, of all colours, are going to die because of it. 

Life is cheap in South Africa.  South Africa has all the crimes and problems we have in “First World” countries but in South Africa, those crimes often turn lethal because the perpetrators are armed and they do not see their victims as human beings.  Yes, crimes are often committed along racial lines but it is the dehumanisation process that is the most problematic. 

The crime situation was already hurtling out of control in South Africa and I believe that this man, this one man, is doing so much harm and that he is making it harder for South Africans to reconcile and come together as one nation.


Monday, 5 April 2010

How To Tell People They Sound Racist

I need to take this to heart. I have a very old friend who I am going to need to part ways with because she is a racist and I find what she says horribly offensive.  She is one of my oldest friends but I just can’t abide by the poisonous filth that spews from her mouth anymore.


Saturday, 3 April 2010

Eugène Terre'Blanche murdered

Eugene Terreblanche murdered

Link: Eugene Terre'blanche murdered [News 24]

One of the most hated men in South Africa has been murdered on his farm in Ventersdorp this evening.  Eugène Terre'Blanche founded the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, a far right wing, paramilitary organisation in 1973.  Known as the AWB, the name means the ‘Afrikaner Resistance Movement’ but they are known in South Africa as racists and white supremacists.  The AWB has long since rallied for a separate state for white, Afrikaans Boers (farmers) and in fact, there is a town called Orania which is their attempt at a self-governing homeland.

I find this murder extremely problematic in light of the events of the past couple of weeks*.  The hyper-summarised version of events is that the leader of the African National Congress Youth League (the youth league of the ruling party) is a man called Julius Malema.  He is extremely controversial and a convicted hate mongerer.  In March 2010, Julius Malema sang a variation of the hateful and extremely offensive song “Kill The Boer” at a rally at a university campus. 

ANCYL president Julius Malema addressing the delegates during the conference held in Nasrec, Johannesburg. 29/06/08 Photo:Oupa Nkosi

It is important to note that the ANC is the ruling party of South Africa but lines had never been drawn strictly according to colour or race.  Yes, the ANC furthered the cause of black liberation and consciousness in the Apartheid years but as the ruling party of South Africa, the ANC is to promote the interests of all citizens regardless of age, gender, colour, race or creed. 

The fact that Julius Malema is singing such a song, a song that had previously been defined as hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission, is beyond wrong.  The debacle that followed is even more wrong.  From Wikipedia: 

“The Southern Gauteng High Court ruled on 26 March 2010 that Malema's song (which he had continued singing at public gatherings) was "unconstitutional and unlawful", and that any person singing it could face charges of incitement to murder, stating that the song called for the killing of the "farmer/white man", however, the ANC defended the song

The ANC announced it would appeal the ruling. The Northern Gauteng High Court, on 1 April 2010 then granted an interdict preventing Malema from uttering the words "shoot the boer", or from "uttering any song of a similar nature which incites violence" until the matter was heard by the Equality Court, to which the case was referred by the presiding judge” - Wikipedia

Some South Africans say that Malema has gone too far now and will begin to naturally lose supporters.  In other words, give him enough rope and he’ll hang himself.  I disagree.  In Rwanda, media outlets and radio stations called to people to “eliminate the cockroaches”; this man is calling on people to kill white South Africans, specifically farmers.  I categorically disagree with claims that the current crime wave in South Africa constitutes a genocide but I believe that this is a clear and unambiguous call to do just that.

So.  Back to the murder of the leader of the far-right wing AWB movement Eugène Terre'Blanche.  Initial police reports state that it is not politically motivated and that Terre’Blanche simply got into an argument with two farm labourers aged 16 and 21 who have already been arrested.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it is all as easy as that.  I think this is extremely bad timing.  At worst, it is a politically and racially motivated murder.  If not, it is still another farm murder and too many farmers have been killed on their farms.

Incidentally, the incident coincides with Julius Malema’s arrival in Harare, where he was given a heroes welcome by a Zanu-PF crowd singing “Kill The Boer” (see: Zanu-PF sings Malema song). 

Cry, The Beloved Country indeed.

*Admittedly, I have been trying my best to ignore those events as it can be difficult to follow homeland politics when you are an expat and living 5000 miles away.  In short, I find them too distressing to cover usually.

© A Passion to Understand

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