In South Africa again

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Hi There,

I’m going to resume my Steve trips blog because I’m once again in South Africa for a 2 ½ month stint. This is to engage again with the Orlando West group I’ve worked with for 2 years to be with them when they launch a Heritage walk along one of the 16 June 1976 Protest March routes. I also want get a sense of what’s happening here to the people I know, about the current South African situation and to be here in Soweto for the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto uprising.

Soweto Uprising Heritage Walking Tours

I’ve been in Soweto since 11 April and my main involvement has been with the Orlando West group, Antoinette Sithole and Xolisile Mkhize in preparing to launch their Heritage walks. Antoinette is the main guide and also the sister of Hector Pietersen who was one of the first students shot by police on 16 June 1976. This factor is very much a unique selling point for the walks. She’s also very well known locally as a seasoned guide for school trip groups to the Hector Pietersen Museum in Orlando West. Additionally she’s known worldwide for the iconic photo of her running alongside Hector after he’d been shot. Locally and internationally she’s one of the most familiar representatives of the Soweto uprising which has given her the chance to meet local and world leaders. Xolisile is the business manager who has taken the primary role in having the Heritage Walks Company registered, worked on setting up the Website, preparing publicity for the Indaba Tourism Convention in Durban, negotiating a funded Exhibition stand there and making travel arrangements for Antoinette and her to be there. Xolisile’s mother Mamatsi has been involved in the planning and once the walks start she’ll manage the catering arrangements as the Walks include a light Township lunch.
The Heritage Walks Website is now live. In the last week I accompanied Antoinette and Xolisile to Durban where they attended the Indaba Tourism Convention (the largest Tourism event in Africa) from 6-9 May. What was exciting and reassuring for them was that visitors to the stand who were interested in the concept were very positive about prospects for the walk. A Marketing event for interested Companies will take place next week, led by Antoinette speaking about her being on the 16 June 1976 Protest March, speaking with locals on the way who were there on the day and describing events that took place as the walk proceeds. The aim of the walk will be to give a sense of how it felt to be there then. Once the Marketing event has taken place the Company will be ready to take bookings and Tourism Day on 26 September 2016 will officially launch the Walks.
What pleases me about the establishment of the Walks is that it proved that the idea I had 2 years ago about establishing a Heritage Walk was well grounded and can work for the group now involved in running the Company. I’ll also be able to end my direct involvement with the South African Company and shift my role to taking bookings in the UK for the Walks. I think that the Walks will significantly increase the Tourism footprint in Soweto. They’ll take visitors from their buses onto the streets in a safe way to gain direct insight into the Soweto Uprising and allow them to relate directly to people who were involved on the day. The Walks will also add to local incomes through 90% of all income from them going to the group organizing the Tours, which is about as close as I can think to be an example of community based tourism and add to tour opportunities locally.

My Soweto family

The people in the 2 households on Xorile Street in Orlando West are Mamatsi, her youngest child Xolisile, her partner Ismael and their 3 children Disetso, Katlego and Sanele. Mamatsi’s oldest child Tandi has a room in her backyard. Additionally Mamatsi has a grandson Jabulani who’s lived with her since early childhood. She has 2 foster children, Nellie and Augushle, Angela, an older child she fostered still lives at home and the oldest fostered child Julia who has a 1 year old child Zintle and lives independently. In another back room she has an old friend Maggie, her partner, Maggie’s daughter and granddaughter living. Mamatsi’s pension, her income as a foster carer and Xolisile’s family allowance come to around R10000 (£500) a month for 7 children and 4 adults.
Compared to my last trip the extended family situation is more challenging because their income has reduced further compared to their outgoings? Despite of this they remain impossibly optimistic, like many South Africans who believe that ‘things can only get better’ which for me as an outsider is impossibility. For me being here re-connects me to the anger I felt when I lived in South Africa because in my view so little has changed for a significant majority of South Africans.
I am however in a totally different place now, sharing life with previously oppressed citizens which have made it hard to relate to my previous contemporaries. The family are so poor and sometimes their diet is reduced through their situation. Their physical and emotional hunger can make me feel uncomfortable at times because I choose to live with them and am privileged to do so. It pains me that I can’t solve their problems because my resources aren’t sufficient. As an old style socialist the situation here shows how dangerous liberal economics is and in the end unless there’s a huge change of mind-set by the rich elite here the only solution I can envisage for my friends is to take part in joint social action here to topple this evil system. At its most basic the tax system must start to redistribute wealth significantly, education funding shift to low achieving township Schools, an independent anti-corruption police force needs to be established to investigate and if appropriate charge high profile citizens, the land rights commission must become more prominent in land restitution across the whole country and private health care needs to have a high tax attached to it in order to better resource the National Health Service.

South Africa now

What I’ve found here is a continuation of neo-liberal economic policies which make the richest 10% richer. 55% of the South African population are those who the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would call the strivers, the middle class, small shop owners, skilled workers and those on the edge of financial disaster as unskilled workers or in insecure jobs. Estimated long term unemployment is around 43%. The most striking statistic here for me is that 75% of young people between the age of 16-25 and 50% of 25-35% are unemployed. Mr Osborne would probably call this group shirkers, unemployed or unwaged for long periods of time with little prospect of ever being in secure work again.

In terms of chances to advance themselves statistics 75% of black senior managers in the private sector are white, in the public sector 75% of senior managers are black which suggests to me that inequality in South Africa hasn’t reduced significantly since majority rule in 1994. What has developed in South Africa since 1994 is a Cleptocracy which unites corrupt ANC politicians linked with large Companies and rich individuals creating opportunities for enriching themselves. In exchange for their largesse these Companies and individuals create economic advantage and there are suggestions they influence Government policies by having ANC politicians they favour being put into key Ministerial positions. Government tenders, purchase of equipment and out-sourcing of services have provided enrichment opportunities for all involved. Time however is running out for this elite because of civil society, private Media, the Courts and the Public Protector starting to challenge their privileges. My personal view is that the last phase of ANC majority rule is coming to an end with a President and those dependent on him going to extremes to obtain the last scraps before doors close.
South Africa has invented a new term here called ‘State capture’ to describe the Cleptocracy. Departments of state are directly involved in privatisation and demolition of the state in this process. Lest we feel the UK and other countries are protected from this corruption. In the UK I suggest we consider relationships between long established neo-liberal economic lobbying groups, the right wing press, other media and the Establishment with close links to the Conservative Party. Through their influence on government an alliance has been formed with key ministers and industry, all of which are focused on dismantling the Nation State as it exists. Like in South Africa handing over services through privatisation will end what remains of the welfare state. My view is that privatisation isn’t about efficiency but reducing the quality of public services. The process favours a financial sector and has allowed Banks which were directly responsible for the most recent global crisis through investment vehicles which known to be economically dangerous to once again re-establish them in funding the above policies.
It’s interesting here that in the last 1 ½ months the Judiciary has taken action to challenge political corruption. As I arrived here on 11 April a unanimous decision was made by the Constitutional Court that Mr Zuma needed to repay State financial support for building his official residence not required to enhance security. Additionally the Court found that he’d broken requirements in the South African Constitution for him in his Presidential role to show moral leadership. The President had another very bad day in Court on 29 April at the Johannesburg High Court with a verdict that the National Prosecution authority was incorrect in 2009 to end his trial for corruption which needs to be restarted. The question now is how long a further trial can be delayed and whether he can survive his whole Presidential term.
In order to end this post I want briefly to consider a comparison between South Africa and Brazil which both have Presidents facing impeachment or pressure to resign. The Brazilian President faces impeachment. This is because a coalition of Parliamentarians across all political Parties put their principles before the Parties they represent in supporting a motion to impeach their President. A similar motion in the South African parliament failed because ANC MP’s voted en bloc against it. What occurred in Brazil can’t happen here at present because corruption in the South African Parliament is so deeply embedded in the ANC. MP’s have to follow the Party to retain their privileged positions to benefit from continued corrupt payments. This factor makes impeachment impossible and requires civil society, other institutions of state and the non-state media to challenge corruption. In my view corruption isn’t limited to Parliament. Any lasting solution will need to engage with public opinion, linking with other institutions to end corruption in Provincial and City Councils. A Private Sector a Public Inquiry needs to be set up to consider the influence of Companies and rich individuals on State policies and all corrupt relationships with politicians.

Finally I’d like to inform you that Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, the most prominent Israeli critics of the countries policies are speaking on the same stage in London at London University on 25 May. For anyone interested in Palestine and Israeli issues this will be an interesting event.

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2 thoughts on “In South Africa again

  1. John Heywood

    Your comments fit with what Naomi Klein & Antony Lowenstein are saying, but moving the whole neo-liberal economics is quite a large task. John.

    • Hi John,
      I’m pleased that my views aboot South Africa are held by others who’re more famous than me! I’ve been thinking more recently about withdrawing from the society and world in which I live because I feel so alienated from it.
      Regards,

      Steve.

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