Powerful powerlessness and what I learnt about leadership

On Friday, 17 August 2012, I attended what was essentially an opportunity to celebrate the work of Ruth First, but also a colloquium on inequality, where I expected to walk away with a better understanding of and answer to what is considered to be South Africa’s foremost challenge. Instead, I felt that the speakers were finding it difficult to address the topic of inequality within the framework of Ruth First’s writings, as well as addressing the subtheme to which they were allocated.

At the same time, flickering amongst the audience, some of whom were glued to their mobile phones, was an awful awareness that South Africa had just been witness to a national tragedy. A level of outrage about the Lonmin mines killings was voiced by some of the commentators and some of the speakers themselves condemned the shootings. Some asked what Ruth First would have said, but the answer is difficult to know. Some speakers tried to voice an opinion on what Ruth First would have thought of democratic South Africa in general, but twitter followers berated such attempts.

However, the more I learnt about the former activist and journalist, the more I wished to have grown up during a time when I may have been intimately influenced by her thinking and her work. Learning more about Ruth First made me realise the dearth of people like her that currently exist in South Africa. It was apt them that the issue of leadership arose, as well as the question of, “who has the power?” The issue was also raised about critical journalism and learning from the past. All of these topics are central to the tragedy which permeated the room. The questions which have arisen in the media since the Lonmin killings are questions of power, leadership and accountability. Perhaps the biggest question is “how could this happen and why wasn’t something done to prevent it?”

Speakers at the colloquium asked the bigger questions. Njabulo Ndebele struck at the heart of leadership shortages with his illuminating answers to why democratic South Africa has perpetuated all of those things which were fought against during the struggle. People fought against violence and racism; yet, both of these exist strongly today. He suggests that since 1994, no one has claimed the problems and embraced them as problems which they are responsible for by virtue of their office. None of these problems have been subjected to a visionary mandate; instead government has shown the people how to govern through demonstrations.

He asks why powerful people demonstrate when they have the power to change things, perpetuating what he calls a “powerful powerlessness”. The abandonment of the social vision and the lack of rationality within the public is leading us to become “victims of our own actions”. While this discussion does not immediately allow us insight into why inequality exists and what can be done about it, it does speak to accountability and the implications of non-rational leadership.

Joel Netshitenzhe and Kate Phillips explored inequality probingly, seeking answers to the problems which have more practical implications. Joel Netshitenzhe suggested that an activist state as an instrument of redistribution is necessary and that good quality public services can reduce non-economic inequality. Kate Phillips suggested that “right to work” programmes (public employment programmes), such as those found in India, can contribute to reduced inequality, at the same time that broader strategies are implemented; strategies which may take a while to show improvements. The importance of these public employment programmes is that it mobilises people within communities to undertake activities to improve their local environments.

A fascinating anti-neoliberal (or perhaps pro-socialist) theme ran through some of the discussions. It was even suggested that democratic South Africa was defeated by global capitalism. One audience member mentioned that alternatives are available in systems like solidarity economies and eco-socialism. But perhaps the raison d’etre for such a theme is to get the audience thinking about new ways of approaching the economic system and perhaps an attempt to find a solution to inequality which is slightly more radical. I accept such a point; considering how endemic and systemic inequality has become. Perhaps we need to start thinking in different ways about politics, the role of the state and our economic systems in order to really deal with inequality in a way which sees universal and powerful results.

While I don’t have the intellectual capacity or knowledge to make any further comments on this, the idea of “changing the whole” (my words) was interesting for me while considering further the reality of leadership of this country and the role models that currently exist. Maybe all it really takes to fight inequality is someone with vision, a powerful intellectual mind, who thinks less in dollars, than in humanist terms. A leader would accept responsibility for poor decisions and bad deeds and accept South Africa’s problems as their duty to overcome. More than that, it would take someone who is willing to apologise to the miners for what has happened and condemn the killings. While NGO’s mobilise around the tragedy, I ponder on the actions which government will take. I challenge them to lead. I challenge them to lead differently; to be diligent, forceful and visionary.

By: Claire Martens

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.


Launch of the Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development

The latest Africa Economic Outlook has recently been released and shows growth trends in Africa to be encouraging. South Africa is certainly running with the pack in this regard. That South Africa is both a destination for investment, as well as a source of investment, formed part of the discussion about international investment trends during the Launch of the Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development, which took place at the Chalsty Centre, at the University of the Witwatersrand, on the 26 July 2012. Speakers were James Zhan from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Stephen Gelb, Professor of Economics at the University of Johannesburg and the South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr Rob Davies.

The fact that developing countries are now entering the investment sphere as potential investors, and the fact that sub-Saharan Africa is now a significant investment destination, shows that the South and East are becoming noteworthy economic players. What was most interesting about the discussion was the “new” role of government (which favours regulation and protectionism) and that fact that not all investment is good for a country. The example of Wallmart entering South Africa was briefly mentioned here. This suggests that if a government is given more of a role in regulating investment, then government has some responsibility in insuring that growth in a country is not contrary to the laws and principles, as well as other policies, which already exist in the respective country. In South Africa, the Constitution should play a central role in guiding the principles of investment, whilst economic targets like skills development, technological transfer and enterprise development, as suggested by Stephen Gelb, can be factored into any investment treaties.

But what is the role of the Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development? As Stephen Gelb noted, investment inputs and outputs in South Africa have always been measured within a short-term framework and have focussed too heavily on quantitative values, leading to unwarranted worries; some of which recently sparked debates about nationalisation. He was talking of the 2010 slump which saw our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) drop by 70%. As he points out, we have recovered sufficiently now to understand that South Africa was not in the sort of danger which was predicted. For this reason, he feels that the Framework is necessary to guide our thinking, ensure that we understand long-term trends and locate our debates within the international sphere.

I was impressed by a number of aspects of the Framework. Firstly, the Framework contains a number of values and principles for investors and host countries; suggesting regulation, cooperation, fairness and inclusive growth and so on. Furthermore, the Framework introduces sustainable development thinking into policy. While a definition of sustainable development is not given, it does suggest that social and environmental concerns are flagged. The Framework is considered a guide, to be used voluntarily by governments when framing their investment policies, using the expertise and experience from a number of well-respected specialists; including Dr Rob Davies. Most importantly, the Framework is a living document for those who use it, inviting commentary and suggestions.

Going back to the Africa Economic Outlook, it is suggested that youth unemployment will lead to more instability in Africa; with poor quality education to blame for excluding the youth from economic opportunities. While education has the greatest share of our national budget, South African’s are well aware of its continued failings. Should it be then that Government looks at new ways to invest in education, youth development and employment – all of which is crucial for future generations.
What are your thoughts on the Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development? Do you agree that the state should play a more active role in the investment flows? What do you think should be the focus areas for investment?

The Urgency of Rights

By: Claire Martens

Photo by Benny Gool

In the area of Carolina, the community’s water supply was polluted by mine acid drainage, which leaked into the water system after a particularly heavy rainfall. That was in January this year. The temporary measures which were implemented in the town to ensure water supply were not adequate to the point where an intervention was deemed necessary. Lawyers for Human Rights and the Legal Resources Centre argued that, by failing to supply the minimum standard for basic water supply*, the government was in contravention of the right to access water, as found in the Constitution. The court upheld this argument, much to the pleasure of the Legal Resources Centre; but more particularly, the community of Carolina.

It is easy to see that having access to water is a basic and urgent need. Truthfully, the municipality did not pollute the water, because it was the run-off from the mines which contributed to the problem, but it did fail to adequately deal with the effects. Instead of holding the mines accountable for the crisis, and to avoid a drawn-out court case, the LRC decided that the interests of the community were paramount and much more urgent. Meeting those urgent needs required the LRC to compel the government to do something, and fast. The Minister of Water Affairs criticised the LRC for launching what was called, “an attack on the State”.

At much the same time, the Deputy Minister of Education lambasted NGO’s for resorting to legal action against the Department of Education and accused them of being sensationalist. This was in response to earlier cases instigated in the Eastern Cape. Ironically then, the Minister of Basic Education, in a recent case launched in Grahamstown, felt that the lack of teachers at schools was not an urgent matter. When I heard this, I immediately began to consider what it means to have an “urgent right” and which rights within the Constitution could be considered as such. In fact, I began to wonder if it really matters whether a right is urgent or not; surely all rights are urgent in a country such as South Africa, which is struggling with massive inequality and poverty.

In the education matter, the LRC felt that the Minister was being contemptuous in her manner and approach to the matter. She was certainly not taking an empathetic attitude to the children who are affected by the educational deficiencies. The fact that many children, perhaps thousands, have struggled for six months without a teacher has not seemed to feature in her sympathies. Does it matter which level of state, or which government department, is supposed to be addressing this problem, when the problem is clear-cut, even if no one can agree on its urgency? Is the lack of fulfilment of rights not a matter of urgency, then, but rather a matter of government departments taking responsibility for giving effect to the rights in the Constitution? Whether or not the matter is “urgent” in a strict legal sense, the fact that children have been without a teacher for six months should be treated as extremely urgent by a Minister whose task it is to ensure that children in this country are educated.

The LRC were able, in the Caroline case, to convince the court that the right to access water was an issue that needed to be addressed urgently and, furthermore, addressed by the local government in question. However, even after the victory in the Carolina case, the residents are still waiting for water. The government bodies have denied that they are responsible for rectifying this urgent situation and have now appealed this decision. Countering their denial, Caroline Mathews gives a strong argument for government’s accountability in the water crisis. Furthermore, there have also been some commentators pushing for government employees to take responsibility for their failures, much like Nelson Mandela did in the past, and not continue shifting the blame elsewhere. The matter is not then, about urgency, but about action.  In an ideal world, then, the Minster of Basic education would respond because the interests of the children are important, and she has the power to do something about it; not because it’s in her job description.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.

*The minimum standard for water supply:

(a) the provision of appropriate education in respect of effective water use; and

(b) a minimum quantity of potable water of 25 litres per person per day or 6 kilolitres per household per month-

(i) at a minimum flow rate of not less than 10 litres per minute;

(ii) within 200 metres of a household; and

(iii) with an effectiveness such that no consumer is without a supply for more than seven full days in any year.

Hate crimes: a priority?

By: Claire Martens (writing in her personal capacity)

In some parts of Africa, being gay is not acceptable or even lawful. In fact, it is also seen as “un-African”. In order to escape persecution, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex (LGBTI) individuals are seeking shelter under our all-embracing and progressive legal system in South Africa, little knowing that what the law says, and what happens on the ground, can be the difference between life and death.

Every few weeks, the media informs us of another crime committed against an LGBTI person; corrective rape, torture, mutilation and murder. These are only the extreme crimes; the reek of discrimination proliferates everywhere. LGBTI people enter South Africa as asylum seekers, applying for asylum based on the fact that being gay can mean jail, and even death, in some countries. But applicants are sometimes rejected because they have been unable to prove themselves to be gay. While the concept of proving oneself gay is a whole other debate, the issue itself is where such remarks emanate from. It is not that Home Affairs officials do not understand that sexual orientation is protected in this country, or are not aware of application procedures; instead, there seems to be a lack of understanding and acceptance of the LGBTI community. The result is that the manifestations of discrimination have real and vastly detrimental outcomes for those seeking asylum.

This double persecution experienced by LGBTI asylum seekers is just a drop in the pond. The serious crimes get more coverage, of course, and have recently sparked debate on introducing “priority crimes” to the justice system. Commentators have called crimes committed against LGBTI persons, because they extend from both prejudice and the need to inflict serious physical and emotional harm on the victim, “hate crimes”. The victims of hate crimes often come from marginalised groups and are discriminated against based on some aspect of their person. The term “hate” is misleading because a crime can be committed out of ignorance, jealousy or because of peer pressure. Sometimes the crimes are committed out of fear.

Some may question the importance of labelling a crime as a “hate crime”. Some are of the belief that there is a good reason to label something a hate crime, if the label can serve a purpose such as exposing the existence of the crime, defining the emotions behind the crime and as such, indicating the way of addressing it – through tackling the issue of discrimination. Victim Empowerment SA has called for people, who think they have been victims of hate crime, to report it as such.

“The reason that it is important to report that you think you have been a victim of a hate crime is because it is an indicator of a community problem that needs to be addressed more broadly than your perpetrator, and thus your reporting could contribute to a response from the government/police after identifying the prevalence of violence against a particular group.”

A recent press release by South African National AIDS Council’s Women Sector (SANACWS) indicates that there has been a recent lobby to implement hate crime legislation in this country. Some commentators have asked for farm murders to be included in this. Even though I doubt that people in general have reported themselves as victims of hate crime, there is enough media coverage of LGBTI persons being victims of crime based on their sexual preferences, that we cannot ignore that discrimination exists and that something needs to be done to address it; and soon.

One solution which has been suggested as a way of addressing the problem is to make hate crime a priority crime. The term “priority crime” is not new to South Africa. The specialised unit of the Hawks was set up to deal with organised crime, economic crime, corruption, and other serious crimes. Perhaps “other serious crimes” could refer to crimes committed against LGBTI persons.

Perhaps labelling hate crime a priority crime is a concomitant concern to the previous one noted; that there is a need to legislate for hate crimes. Hate crimes could then be legislated as priority crimes. However, even if we are able to introduce legislation into this country which addresses hate crimes, how do you prove it is a hate crime, what kind of punishments would be suggested and would the legislation address the issue of discrimination? Is the issue not more to do with changing social mores than it is about punishing people for their beliefs; as detrimental as the manifestations of those beliefs are? Will labelling a crime committed against LGBTI people a hate crime, and making it a priority, make a difference?

For more on lobbying for hate crimes: http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2012-06-27-sas-gay-hate-crimes-an-epidemic-of-violence-less-recognised


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Realising Rights bloggers, and those providing comments, are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Legal Resources Centre. The Legal Resources Centre is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the bloggers.