Thursday, 9 August 2012

Open letter to the African National Congress Youth League

To whom it may concern,

There was a time, generations ago, when an armed struggle was necessary in South Africa.

There was a time such a resistance was honorable; and throwing stones and burning tyres were symbolic yet tangible attempts at defiance against the heavy-handed, armed riot police of a racist government.

Not too long ago, we were the victims of our own skins - being oppressed for being too dark, too African, or just too ethnic.

This was the time when the ANC called for revolution against the oppressors. Our leaders, like Steve Biko, Moses Mabhida and countless, un-celebrated mothers and fathers, inspired selfless bravery in the face of brutality;  hope in the face of despair. And at the heart of this was a youth league that energised the noble ideals of the African National Congress.

But that resistance was just a means to an end, not a way of life.

I live in the Western Cape. And for the longest time I remained hopeful that one day, the ANC would come and democratically wrest power away from the current ruling opposition.
Not because of political or ethnic considerations but because like so many here, I want to live alongside our fellow countrymen under a rule of law, by a party who still bears the scars of a struggle that gave us that opportunity. The right to live, love and prosper with whomsoever we chose to do so without fear or prejudice.

Yet today I pen this letter, feeling dejected and betrayed and largely confused by the actions of a youth league  that threatened to turn our city into a war zone.

After 18 years of freedom, the youth league still sees the tactics used against the Apartheid regime as applicable today. And that saddens me deeply.

I am 27, Muslim and “Coloured” but most importantly I am South African. I am also the grandson of a man imprisoned for dissent against the old-regime and the son of parents who both rioted in the 70’s with this very youth league against racist oppression.

Yet today, I feel far removed from this once honorable movement. Instead, you find a man increasingly at odds with your actions.

What shame, pain and embarrassment for those who have to witness a legacy that is feted the world over – tarnished, neglected and preyed upon by a youth wing that openly expressed a desire to have vandals and criminals in their ranks.

Today’s unrest spoke volumes of what the league has disintegrated into: a home for hateful incitement, racist name-calling, hooliganism and unbridled anarchy.

Youth League, answer this: Are we not a nation built on respect and diversity? Where is the respect for those who do not share your political views? Where is that diversity that the ANC embraced once upon a time when they stood side by side with the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation, and the South African Congress of Democrats in 1955?

Does our proud history of united action mean nothing to you?

Also, why do you decry racism so fervently elsewhere when yet there is almost no racial diversity within your own leadership?  We are all different, but equal. I state the obvious because I hope in text, it will imprint a change or at least flicker a moment a self-reflection.

I know all too well that there is an economic battle being waged in homes all across South Africa, with the poor finding no respite. Poverty is something we need to confront earnestly, together.

I agree that there is an over-representation of white males in positions of power within the private sector, but why should employees that are not in positions of power have to suffer for this? This is a battle that is best taken up with the executives of the corporations.

Yes, multi-nationals get disproportionately high profits on the backs of our own natural resources, but this is something we must confront with thought and consideration.

Unhinged militancy and incitement do nothing to build the bridges we need for resolving our nation’s many social problems. And they do even less in resurrecting our fading dreams of a better South Africa for all. All you are doing, in light of your planned actions, is burning bridges to the ground.

I turn my back on your gangster mentality, because there is no place for it in our society. And as a league of comrades, not a gang of thugs – we should be leaders with an example of our own. An example that honors the blood that have been spilt in Soweto, Rivonia, Vlakplaas, District Six and all those uncelebrated places where people have struggled for a better life.

There is an open forum for public discussion and debate: a platform that was built by YOUR predecessors at the ANC. I look at the life of Chief Luthuli and wonder:  Is this the legacy he envisaged?
He was a noble man that was known to be intolerant of hatred, he led 10 million people in non-violent protest, and he fought every day of his political and educational career for educational equality and a better life for all.

Today, as you spread anarchy, resentment and continue the cycle of hatred in our streets; his values seem completely at odds with the ones you express.

Youth League, I challenge you:
·    To see the educated and informed will of the people as more important for a peaceful society than gaining political points and power.
·    To admit and address that there exist cultural exclusivity and superiority (racism) within your organisation, effectively barring other minorities of previously disadvantaged backgrounds from full participation and membership.
·    To address the militarism and hateful incitement that does nothing for the social cohesion of a diverse constituency.
·    To recognise that through your calls to militarism and hooliganism, you are directly responsible for the destruction or theft of public and private property, the injury and trauma of innocent non-participants, the exacerbation of economic disparity by disrupting small and entrepreneurial business, and sowing mistrust and suspicion between people on the basis of race. I remind you, intimidation and violence against a civilian population for a political or ideological cause constitutes domestic terrorism.
·    To acknowledge that the problems that South Africa is facing cannot be addressed by the militarism and armed struggle that you continuously propagate both implicitly and explicitly.
My heart broke a little today when you turned your back on the legacy of the ANC.

Today, I no longer believe that the ANC holds the future of this country.

Your colossal contribution to our past will always be respected and appreciated, but if your future leaders continue on this poisonous path, then I can no longer cast my ballot for you.

Deepest regrets

Kamal Salasa

Friday, 20 July 2012

Feminism: the amusing to the sober

I had an interesting discussion about feminism a few days ago from a very smart lady that happens to be both feminist and Muslim. For those of you confused about how a woman can be both those things, it is entirely possible, and more and more women are redefining the way they perceive their role in modern society. This discussion I was having was way too short for my liking: it was more of an abstract of the topic from her point of view, but it got me questioning my own perceptions of gender roles in society. I have always had a hazy idea of what these roles should entail, and I have always acknowledged that a lot of my preconceptions in this regard stems from an immensely patriarchal view. Come to think of it, the society in which I live is a beautiful blend of cultures and ideologies that have two very strong commonalities threading through all of them. That is an inexplicable emotional attachment to the geography of our beautiful city, and an overwhelming tradition of patriarchy.

She sent me some literature to read through, but I have chosen to document my views before my education starts, to chronicle my change of perceptions in all things “girl-power”. Please do not judge me if you find my views too traditional or too progressive, I always try to take a middle path where there is no clear winner.

In terms of equality between men and women, there are two types that I can differentiate. The one is absolute equality, where men and women share complete equality in everything; from salaries to child-nurturing to changing tyres. Then there is relative equality, where both objective and subjective means are utilised to ascertain equality relative to characteristics inherent to the respective genders. My view is that patriarchy stems from a place meant to engender equality at a very relative level, while with modern advances eliminating the need for traditionally gender-specific duties, the feminine role has tended more and more towards absolute equality. Let me explain using an analogy. When we lived in harmony with nature in our mud huts, the men would go out and hunt for bokkies (the animal kind) so that there could be food on the fire for his family. He would protect the house against wild animals and child-molesters. And he would have his wounds tended to by his partner after a hard day out. The woman would gather berries and tend to the kids, and kept the clay plates in a condition that was clean enough to ensure the health of her family. Now this is a case study in relative equality. Men are generally stronger and more adept at violence, so they naturally gravitate towards the role of protector and provider. Women are physically suited for children and tend to be less dominant, so they take up the role of nurturer and mother. Would it be in the best interest of equality to have expected the woman to hunt a buffalo and protect her house against a hungry lion? I think the wise Aristotle said it best: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”.

That said, however, we do not live in a world where men have that clear directive of protecting and providing. ADT does the protecting and providing is now common ground. (By the way, some police stations are themselves clients of ADT. Worthy of a collective WTF.) Nurturing is left to babysitters and masseuses, so traditional roles no longer find a comfortable niche within society. That harmonisation between man and woman has taken on a far more personal and individual dynamic, such that the workings of these relationships have become as customised as an app-ridden cellphone.The social constructs of the past is being dismantled very quickly, and so should our views on traditional gender roles.  That said, I do not believe absolute equality can be achieved (at least until we all become androgenous beings that procreate through test tubes), and I suspect most people prefer it that way.

Another element on my views on gender roles is that often, the nature of the male is not sufficiently understood by the female, and vice-versa. I can only speak from a male point of view, but I do not think that women understand the strong natural magnetics that draw men into a certain way of thinking. It has been scientifically proven that men and women are wired differently, yet curiously, women expect a certain sophistication of thought, emotion, and behaviour found in themselves that men oftentimes fail to achieve. It is often mused about anecdotally, but never really integrated into holistic perceptions. Women woefully underestimate the power of their femininity over men. They don’t quite get how magnetic, intoxicating and even hypnotic their aroma, voice or smile can be. Men have the ability to conceal it, and have generally progressed enough to keep things socially appropriate, but those primal pangs are still there. This hidden nature extends far beyond the sexual. Men have inexplicable urges to dominate, compete, experiment, conquer and claim. Most men have these urges under control. However, too many do not, and this causes a huge problem.

In matters of equality, I think these masculine traits are what caused the need for an uprising of feminism. Abuses of this nature by men have caused women to become subjugated and abused, and this is unacceptable in modern times. As far as we have come as a country in the recognition of women’s rights, the facts on the ground tell a completely different story. South Africa has one of the highest instances of domestic violence against women in the world. In terms of employment, women are still under-represented in the workforce, despite making up the overwhelming majority of single parents with custody of children; and what is worse, they earn less than men for doing exactly the same job. The rape, prostitution, slavery and exploitation of our women by animalistic men still speaks volumes for how far we have to progress in women’s rights in a suffocatingly patriarchal society. And the saddest thing of all: most men believe that the fight for women’s rights is a feminist thing that should be taken up by women only. It is a great irony that feminism is bound to fail without the direct participation of men. We men need to be taught to be masters over our own barbarism: women are not property, or tools, or entertainment.
To a large degree, I think the debate about what kind of equality is most applicable in today’s society is irrelevant. First, we need to establish SOME kind of equality. As things stand, women are extremely vulnerable, and men need to stand with them in changing both our legislation and our cultures to facilitate a safe environment for our women to excel. We should be marching in the streets, joining feminist movements, and educating our young girls in an objective critical fashion.

Feminism therefore isn’t really feminism. Feminism is social evolution. And we all need to be involved.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

While I was Painting

I am in the process of renovating my lounge. Ok not me specifically, because I apparently bring my safety officer habits with me; so my dad has taken command of the ship and is directing the hard grafting work. I have been reassigned to the very manly task of choosing colour concepts and décor. I am allowed to paint on the odd occasion, but the grinder and the skill-saw are firmly off-limits. Apparently “real men” don’t require all the safety apparel specifically mandated in the user-manual. In fact, “real men” don’t even need to read the user manual at all. Pfft.
Painting: an opportunity to daydream

This colonisation of my lounge has affected a bit of a media-blackout for me, so I have not been as up-to-date with newsworthy happenings as I usually am. It has, however, given me time to think and philosophise about many things. I’ve had musings about life and death, relationships, XX-chromosome-related insanity, ideology and even the supernatural; all while watching the tips of my paintbrush streak an uneven layer of rich chocolate-coloured paint over the wall. Some quite profound notions formed in my head, and if I had a slightly better memory than a mentally-challenged goldfish, I would relate them to you now. Unfortunately, most of them fluttered off like monarch butterflies on their long journey to their breeding ground. Something did stick though, thankfully, and that is what I thought I would share with you.

Some will say typical VW. Me, I say, typical VW.
Last year, I made a few resolutions. Since the year 2011 was speeding to an end and the promise of 2012 loomed ever more prominently, I, like many many people the world over, decided to change a few things. Some things were big, some were just minor adjustments. But they represented something that we all need pretty regularly: a fresh start. We need to clear out the cobwebbed clutter in the closets of our minds and take up a fresh perspective. Why, you may ask, is he thinking about this kind of thing in the middle of the year? Well that’s exactly the point. Why restrict one’s self to renewal but once a year? I find the more often I reaffirm resolutions, the more natural and consequential the achievements of those resolutions become. For example: if my resolution was to clean my room every day after I wake up, and I fail after a week, the overwhelming sense I would get for the rest of the year is failure, followed by apathy. At least until the next year comes along. But if I get continuous opportunities to reaffirm, then if I fail after a week, the next month is an opportunity to try again. Perhaps last a bit longer than a week. And so it goes until I actually achieve my resolution at the end of the year. I always pictured the analogy of an old car on a cold winter’s morning. You lean forward as you swing the ignition, but often, the car just chokes a bit before it dies. If at this point, you gave up and resolved to try again the next day, you will more than likely get the same result, and thus literally get nowhere in life. If, however, you take a deep breath, then try again; the car is still unlikely to respond, but it may choke a tiny bit longer. If you keep at it, there is strong likelihood that the car will roar into life, and then all the roads open up for you. Unless you forgot to fill up with petrol. But let us not ruin a perfectly good metaphor.

I am lucky, many of my resolutions are spiritual in nature, and I have an opportunity to reaffirm them five times a day. Dividing your time into smaller chunks of opportunities to realign yourself with your dreams, desires, goals and ambitions must be one of the most effective ways of not getting lost in a world so full of distraction. To make sure you stay true to yourself and your principles. To find that satisfaction of seeing everything you work for inch ever closer to your grasp..

And then I painted over the white skirting. Dammit.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Egyptian Christians and the ANC Policy Conference

The new Egyptian president, Mohammed Mursi.
Amidst the global wave of right-wing-perpetuated Islamophobia, the Western world looked on in sheer horror as Mohammed Mursi was declared the victor in the Egyptian presidential election. The leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, won a run-off election against Ahmed Shafik, a prime minister from the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood: The cloak-and-dagger organisation that allegedly terrorised the Egyptian Coptic Christian population for decades. The organisation set on turning the Egypt into an Islamist state run on full blown Sharia law, relegating the rights of women to slave status, demanding tax from non-Muslims, financially and spiritually supporting a global terrorist war against the infidels, and generally degrading the rule of law to a mixture of the worst elements of anarchy and tyranny. These are the unfounded bigoted views of many in the West, and possibly within elements of the Egyptian secularists and lefties as well. In some ways, it helps to explain why so many Egyptians reverted to the remnant of the same government they overthrew: they saw him as possibly the lesser of the two evils after their candidates lost the election.
Muslim Brotherhood of the scary people?

But when the dust settled, Mursi was the man left standing. Mursi: a man so atypical of Islamist stereotypes; a well-groomed man with a PhD in engineering from the University of Southern California. Far from the images we have been bombarded with as representations of the Muslim Brotherhood, he presents the image of a concerned old uncle that will buy you sweets and tell you everything is going to be okay.

So the question on many people’s minds is: what now for the ideological minorities, or more specifically, the vulnerable Coptic Christian minority? They comprise 10% of the Egyptian population, and have an unfortunate history of being targeted for abuse. Do the Muslim Brotherhood show any signs of hostility towards their spiritual cousins? Perhaps an analysis of recent correspondence and actions by Mohammed Mursi will shed some light on the issue.

Mursi got the "scales of Justice" symbol. Guy with the axe, unlucky.
One of the first things Mursi did after winning the election was resign from his post as the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, thus symbolically removing himself from his role as an agent of a religious entity. He was vocal in calling himself an agent of the revolution instead, a president for all Egyptians. I think this gesture is sufficient to allay fears of a Saudi-Arabia-esque Islamist takeover. He has also insisted on presiding over a democratically elected parliament, with all groups within Egyptian society being fairly represented. He has pledged to appoint a female Vice-President, despite having previously argued against allowing women to becoming national leaders. He has also pledged to elect a Christian Vice-President, an unmistakable gesture of goodwill and unity. The Coptic Church has, in turn, pledged allegiance to him, and are looking forward to working with him to achieve a more tolerant, socially cohesive society.

So things look ready to improve under Dr Mursi, provided the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) gives him his presidential powers. Because in Egypt, it is the military that holds both the presidential and parliamentary powers, relegating any elected officials to nothing but ceremonial authority. The people of Egypt have voted; it is time for the military to take its place as the protectors, and not the rulers of the Egyptian people.


Irony: "selfless People's Struggle" from fatcat ANC leadership
The ANC policy conference at Gallagher Estate has so far produced one significant outcome and one important discussion point: the rejection of the complete nationalisation of the mines, and the discussion over the proposed youth wage subsidies.

I do not agree with the nationalisation of our mines. But, admittedly, my rejection stems from our government’s incapacity to handle such an undertaking, rather than a rejection of the principle itself. The mineral wealth of a country is not an enterprise of man. It can be viewed as a natural wealth inherent to the location, and all that is required in the way of enterprise is its extraction. Thus the wealth derived from these mineral resources should benefit the land from which it came, and the extraction process should be seen as a service, and appropriately compensated as such. By way of analogy: Ted buys a new house. On the property, there stands a banana tree. Ted does not know much about bananas, so he enlists the assistance of the local banana picker to help him get the bananas off the tree. Question: once the bananas are picked, who do they belong to? In principle, the bananas belong to Ted. The banana picker has every right to demand compensation for his service, but he cannot claim the bananas as his own. Do you see the connection?

In terms of the youth wage subsidies, COSATU is still vehemently opposed to its implementation. For a detailed rationale for their non-acceptance, see .
The new ANC struggle song: Love the One You're With
Personally, I find their doom-and-gloom attitude distasteful. Empirical camouflage, economic jargon and bitter sarcasm look to be the basis of their defense; and their lack of willingness to provide viable alternatives stenches up the entire premise of their opposition. The case studies on both sides provide ample evidence of both the successes and failures of similar ventures in other countries, and predictably, the unique circumstances played a deciding role in whether or not the strategy of employment subsidies worked. One thing COSATU does get right though: the businesses that are profiting from the work of its employees need to pull up their socks in terms of improving the conditions of work. The current economic dispensation is only going to worsen the divide between the desperately poor and the superfluously rich. I think the subsidy has its merits, and if implemented, should be very carefully analysed and structured for our unique South African climate.

Till next time..

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Reflections on a Week Off

Here's a retrospective post from last week. Be warned! No politics and a bit of Islamic spirituality, so if this isn't your kinda thing, look away:

I blog reluctantly today. I look out the window and see a calm blue ocean, above which the sun slowly rouses from its night time respite. I inspire that crisp salty air, and I try to imbibe that spirit of inspiration that will carry me through a regrettably unenthusiastic post.

It truly is a beautiful day today. What makes it even more beautiful is that there are no distractions to prevent me from reflecting on it. To look at the morning sky in all its contrasting hues and feel the innate wonder of its simple perfection is awe-inspiring. I honestly cannot help but feel intimidated by the majesty of the nature out here. It’s like Nature softly whispering in my ear: you may sometimes feel big, but you are nothing more than a cog in the magnificent clock of life.  I think these instances of unpretentious humility are of the many that drive me to be a committed theist. To feel that the most raw of emotions are attached to vulnerability and not to self-glorification reminds me of the nature the Creator has instilled in me. It is one of the truest, most natural of His paths to see that we are in fact meek beings very much dependent on the environment that we live in.

I am no religious scholar, nor am I a preacher or theological authority. In fact, I view my faith as a deeply personal issue that I keep in treasured confidence with Him. After all, who can ever know the contents of another’s heart? I do not presume to impose my beliefs on other people. I do, however, believe that wisdom is a universal thing; thus when it is felt, it is prudent to share it. Therefore, in the spirit of the reflective nature of my week off work, I thought I would share with you some thoughts that were expressed on a holy night at a religious institution recently. They relate to two instances within Prophetic tradition that have to do with one’s self and one’s relationship with the outside. Whether you believe in the authenticity of religion or not, one cannot deny that it comprises perhaps the most comprehensive compendia of ancient wisdom currently available today. It thus makes sense to extract what we can from it, with the purpose of understanding ourselves better.

The first relation describes the Prophet (s) sitting on his own under a tree after an unsuccessful mission of delivering the Message of God to the people of a certain city. I may be a bit hazy on details, forgive me if I paraphrase a bit. The Prophet (s) had been mocked and abused out of the city, and now sat before God in the aftermath of his failure. He expressed his uncertainty that he was the right person to deliver the Message, that he felt so small in the face of this huge task. He begged for forgiveness for his own weakness in failing to achieve the end for which he was sent. Two of many important lessons should be highlighted from this audible expression of the Prophet’s (s) apprehension (that was overheard by an approaching man). Firstly, he doubted his own worthiness and ability to carry the Message. This reveals the level of humility and humanity that he personified: he was a man, and he knew it. He needed reassurance and reinforcement, like all people do, and he sought it from God. His humility belied the veneration and extreme esteem in which his followers held him; they loved him so much they were happy to lay down everything they had for him. The second lesson of this story, and perhaps the more pertinent, was that he looked to himself first as the source of inadequacy. How easy it is to place blame on circumstance or other people. How difficult it is to accept that we are too often the source of our own misgivings. Of course I am guilty of this myself, and vanity and ego are the root causes of refusing to accept guilt, incompetence or fault. Ironic then that this ego and this vanity becomes the root cause of my unhappiness, since true happiness is based on progression through acceptance.

The second relation describes the manner in which the Prophet (s) handled the power that was granted to him according to Islamic tradition. After the incident at Taif, in which its residents rejected and ridiculed him, the angels asked him if he wished to have city buried under a crumbling mountain. His response was, quite simply, magnanimous. He refused to allow a catastrophe to be cast upon the population of Taif, citing that they were ignorant of his position and his Message, and then he expressed hope that from that city fair-minded wisdom would eventually arise. He forgave, made excuses for and then prayed for the people that physically and ruthlessly hurt him, humiliated him and expelled him.  What is particularly astounding to me in this relation is the unbridled optimism and faith displayed in the goodness of humanity. People can do the worst of things, and those things may have a direct effect on me, but this does not make them horrible people. Sometimes, the only thing that is required to dig through all the negativity is time and knowledge. To make excuses for people is to “walk a mile in their shoes”, and we all know that this is something that all major systems of both belief and disbelief urge us to do. Condemnation is the antithesis of understanding and tolerance, and it is obvious which the correct attitude to adopt is.

So yes, my blog post this week was unusually spiritual and reflective, but it was my week off. Next post is back to politics. Egypt just had their election, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi is the new president. Does that mean the Coptic Christian minority is under threat? Also, the ANC policy conference is currently being held at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. I’ll share some highlights and how some of the decisions may affect you.

Till next time then.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Job Market Perspective: Personal Experience of a Young(ish) Employee

The hallowed halls of academia always inspire a deep sense of reverence and respect for those who appreciate the value of knowledge. Institutions of learning are so much more than training grounds for monetary accumulation, or a gateway to stability and security in society. It is the place where knowledge is born, where scholarly discourse rears critical thought, where the very intellectual fabric of society is threaded. If only I had realised this during my tenure as a full-time student, I would never have left. Unfortunately, I thought a qualification in tertiary education was enough as a means to get by. Who wants anything more out of life anyway, right?
So now I am part of the world of the employed, and I know many people are getting their running shoes ready to join this world of chasing the cheese. Instead of discouraging them, I’ve decided to help out instead. Provide a bit of perspective on how to view your newly acquired degree or diploma in the context of the job market. You see, I keep my ear close to the door of the boss, so I have a fair idea of what is desired. So if you are completing your studies and looking to get into the job market, here’s some advice. Not so much of practical value, but more philosophical perspective.
When I first received my degree certificate, I saw a ticket into the exclusive world of employment. All that was required of me was to redeem my prize at any jobs outlet, and I would have a nice cushy start to my career in no time. This fantastical image pulled me through the melancholic soul-destroying funk of working at an outbound call-center, so when I received that certificate, it was like an emancipation from slavery, a hearty slap on the back from the hand of opportunity. Yes, I was excited and ready to face the working world, bright-eyed and naïve, energetic and enthusiastic. A year later, all I had found was a minimum wage substitute teachers post. Not at all what I had studied, but good enough to stop me twiddling my thumbs and dying of hunger. That year had taken the gleam off the working world entirely. The frustration of looking for a job had taken its toll on my naturally energetic and positive attitude. Teaching made me anxious and self-conscious, so my enthusiasm had waned. This is the period in which I learned the most about how really difficult it is for a young person to find employment. So I revamped my CV, changed my perspective and decided that this is where I start over.
The first thing to go was my reliance on my degree. I became a marketer of myself. After all, employers look for people, not a list of qualifications and competencies. So I focussed on my personal strengths, my own ambitions and my passions. Then I substantiated them with instances and examples from my own life. For example, “I am approachable and I communicate well” is substantiated by feedback I got from my time as a call-center agent. My perspective on a degree changed from being a ticket into the world of employment, to just a ticket to see someone that could possibly help me become employed. Nothing more than fulfilling a prerequisite, like getting a 50% class mark. All it does is get you into the exam, it doesn’t mean you have passed the subject.
Second to go was my arrogance and my stubbornness to find work in the field I studied. I asked myself some serious questions. If the boss made me do filing or cleaning or making coffee for a year, would I be dejected, insulted and angry? Or would I view it as an opportunity to gain a reputation for myself as being reliable and trustworthy? I adopted the latter attitude; I would be willing to do what it takes to grow my reputation from the very bottom. Money is a product of value, and growing my own value became my priority. Working in jobs that I may not have studied for also became useful, I made it one of those instances in my CV that showed I was willing to learn new things and I was able to gain competency in a short period.
Thirdly, I threw away the notion I had carried that companies should take me as I am. That mantra is for relationships, not for the people that could possibly provide you with a livelihood. I decided that I would let it be known that I had ambitions to continuously progress. Learning new competencies, taking up courses part time: whatever made me more versatile and able without interfering with my primary work. I decided on progression as a mantra for my life, which happened to spill into my profession. After all, it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to stay in a single entry-level job for the rest of their professional life. Take initiative to speed up this process.
Finally, I applied passion. This was the hardest thing to do, because I am in all honesty not passionate about my job. I realised that my passion actually lies elsewhere. So I had to be creative. To me, fields of knowledge are all interlinked; and the higher up the chain you go, the more blurry the lines between disciplines become. For example, if you are an engineer, you may decide to work on water-systems for the rest of your career. But if you have ambition, you will need some managerial capabilities as well. Then if you get to the top, or have your own business, you have to become competent at the laws and legislation regulating the business you are in. Truly successful people are able to remove the segmentation of fields of knowledge, and view knowledge as an interlinked whole. So I have managed to connect and justify my passion within the scope of what I am doing by viewing my job as fulfilling one necessary aspect to fulfilling my passion, the aspect of technical ability.
I sincerely hope my musings on the value of perspective in the job market finds some resonance. The searches for employment and the progression within employment are huge mental barriers that cause apprehension and unhappiness in many people. My experiences are by no means comprehensive or authoritative, but they have helped me. If your experiences taught you anything, share it here, so we can all benefit. Otherwise, have an awesome weekJ.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Racist Supremacism ALIVE: The Spear and the Sudanese

I have to admit, I am pretty sick of hearing about The Spear. It’s an old story now. I devoted a small passage to my perspective on it two weeks ago in this blog, expressing that it was in bad taste, much like Madonna raising a machine gun at a concert in Israel and calling for peace. It isn’t illegal and the right to freedom of expression is being exercised, but it is distasteful and insensitive in the context of occupation and settler violence that has plagued the region. My complaint, however, had nothing explicitly to do with racism. So when Gwede Mantashe spat out the race card at the protest rally, I was disturbed. Racism in South Africa is a complex issue with a helluva lot of baggage, and the word should never be thrown around too loosely. Is The Spear racist? Or was the ANC just bitter over hurt egos?

According to the Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, “black men have been portrayed negatively through images in the media and have since struggled to define themselves contrary to images” such as the brute, uncivilised tribesman, and intellectually inferior. “These racist images are meant to demean the Black man’s image. Take the Brute for example: innately savage, destructive, physically strong, hyper-sexual, and criminal”. These were the pretexts under which black men and women have been kept in slavery and bondage in places like the Caribbean, the US and South Africa. I highlight the hyper-sexual part for the reason that it was probably this element of racist caricature that is most easily identified in The Spear.
Simple equation on why The Spear is racist.
The second element of The Spear is the contemporary, iconic manner in which Jacob Zuma is portrayed. Similar to recent portraits of revolutionaries like Che Guevara, dramatic contrasts and bold colours paint an almost heroic picture of the subject. In the case of The Spear, however, this is “visual sarcasm”, satire. The painting basically says: The ANC sees Zuma as an iconic revolutionary, but Zuma must be exposed for what he truly is, a brute in a suit. This is all good and well, but the problem with exposing his phallus for this purpose is that it feeds into an ancient, colonialist stereotype that black men have suffered through internationally for centuries. That black men are amoral brutes that are sexually hyper-active and have no self-control. The artist may not have intended for the painting to be racist (they say you should never judge the painter, only the painting); in fact, some even argue that JZ actually coincidentally fits that stereotype. But considering our own painful past, the fact that the painter is white, and the Goodman Gallery is owned by white people; good judgment should have won out. Surely they should have known that the pain caused to millions of black people due to their racial stereotyping and discrimination would cause them to become justifiably angry? I think it lacked a bit of cultural sensitivity.

Keeping to this blog’s “racism” theme, black Sudanese immigrants in Israel are being socially persecuted because they are “stealing jobs, increasing the crime rate and threatening Zionist nationalism” (the crime rate within the refugee community is actually lower than that in the general population). I hope with all my heart you are as disgusted with this as I am. The Knesset, or Israeli parliament, is considering methods of extraction of these refugees (sounds like ethnic cleansing to me) by different methods, including deporting them back to their war-torn country. The refugees themselves call this trip back home “the trip of death” because the chances of survival through it are slim. Israelis have taken to the streets, torching apartments (attempted lynching?), beating up refugees and sacking their shops. And all this in Tel Aviv, supposedly the most tolerant democratic city in all of the Middle East. Yeah. Sure.

I don’t think it’s an inherently evil thing to categorise people into races. Our minds are naturally conditioned to categorise. In fact, we even do it to ourselves, whether culturally, religiously, or socially. The problem comes in when we bring in a supremacist element to our categories. Once we start thinking “I am better than you because I am..”, we automatically switch on that narcissist that stems from our own insecurities. Race categorisation only becomes racism when there is supremacism involved, and if this influences the way we treat people, then we are part of the problem. Supremacism is an ancient evil that we will never completely defeat, but if we can base our treatment of people as a function of their individuality and not of their race, we can push it to the fringes of our society, where it belongs.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why I rant about economic issues

Today's blog post will be aggressive and detailed, but I think it's very important in terms of understanding the world view from which I write. So for this once, I will stash away my snide comments and sarcasm, and address the issue of economic disparity with the seriousness it deserves.

I've always believed that the most important function of a state is to look after the best interests of its people. To ensure that human rights are always respected, that service delivery is fast and efficient and that society is generally safe and pleasant. Economic growth, foreign direct investments and the like are only the means to this end. It really saddens me when state becomes a business, prioritising wealth over the well-being of its people. Natural and obvious consequences of this the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. The benefit of our great natural resources are benefiting South Africans in a very superficial way: some of people get to work in very dangerous conditions under the guise of "job creation", and some privileged elite get to see their names on the list of board of directors. Other than that, we do not benefit in any meaningful way, since the vast profits all go offshore.

I will quote liberally from an article on the subject of whether or not our social and economic rights under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (like your right to access to medical care, a decent standard of living, proper housing, etc.) will ever get the wings they need to be realised in our country.

Firstly, let us acknowledge the effect of corruption:

According to the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, corruption costs South Africans about 20% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country14. South Africa’s nominal GDP estimate for the year 2010 was R2,7 trillion15. This figure is truly frightening in the face of all the problems that require urgent redress according to the NDP. In fact, since the formation of the first democratically elected government, only a very small percentage of the previously disadvantaged have prospered from the opportunities that were unleashed. Unfortunately, these few have either been the exception to the rule; or more commonly, they have been politically connected or the beneficiaries of nepotism16. The domestic term coined for this group is the “Black Elite”17.

Further, it has been found that 42% of executive public officials are in positions of potential conflict of interest18. Tenders for public contracts are regularly granted through unethical means19; the news of recent scandals involving alleged corruption of officials being is now met with depressing familiarity. For example, in relation to the right to an “adequate standard of living” including “clothing and housing” as outlined in Article 11 of the ICESCR, 1 910 public officials were arrested and R44 million was recovered after an audit task team found these officials to be benefitting fraudulently from housing subsidies20. There are many other such cases of corruption contributing directly or indirectly to the contravention of the socio-economic rights as outlined in the ICESCR21,22,23.

Government corruption is therefore a major obstacle to the realisation of full socio-economic rights for all citizens. As Patricia Carrier notes: “Corruption impedes a state’s ability to use its available resources to progressively achieve the full realization of [socio-economic] rights because national resources are instead diverted into the pockets of public officials, or because development aid is mismanaged, misused or misappropriated”24, 25.

So that's a brief on corruption, but this is definitely not the only thing stopping us achieving what we deserve. Big multinational corporations also present an issue in terms of intellectual property protection, putting protection of their money before protection of human life:

Pharmaceutical companies may hold the right to financially benefit from their innovation in developing life-saving medicines, but the price of these medicines set by the companies may make them unavailable to people that require them and who also hold the right to those life-saving medicines29.  This inherent conflict within these articles, and subsequently with international instruments derived from them30,(refering to international "copyright"rules)  make the proper implementation of these rights problematic. One could even go so far as to argue that the conflict within the document itself makes it a barrier to its own implementation, because there exists an element of mutual exclusivity between the rights contained in it.

So big companies exploit the fact that they too have rights, even if those rights clash directly with my rights and your rights. Then there's the way the world treats poor or developing countries:

Perhaps the most daunting barrier to the realisation of the socio-economic rights guaranteed in the ICESCR is the global economy that is in place. Rajesh Makwana, in the introduction to his article advocating the decommissioning of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), remarks: “Within the competitive global framework, developing countries are left with little choice other than to comply with the neoliberal agenda. As a result of these countries are often left with crippling debt and a fragile economy. Meanwhile foreign investors and multinational corporations gain control of a significant portion of the world’s resources, finance, services, technology and knowledge. Whilst these multinationals report record profits, around 50 000 people die each day from poverty”. This is the modus operandi of the IMF and World Bank; institutions that have been specifically set up to preserve the economic stability of the countries affected by World War II, countries that are now overwhelmingly considered developed countries. For an underdeveloped or developing state to acquire funding from the IMF, the IMF insists on some economic reforms, typically to make these economies more conducive to Keynesian free market dynamics. These structural adjustments, known as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP), typically include measures like reducing social spending, government budgets, programs and subsidies for basic goods, eliminating foreign ownership restrictions, increasing interest rates, eliminating import tariffs, and switching from subsistence farming to export economies. These have devastating effects on the state’s ability to provide elementary socio-economic rights, since the state’s power to protect the rights of its constituency is diminished by the preconditions of the loan. South Africa has long been indebted to the IMF, and this includes an estimated Apartheid-incurred debt of US$18 billion. No formal SAP was enforced on South Africa post-Apartheid, but this was largely because of voluntary anticipatory policy adjustments, possibly for appeasement of the money-lenders and investors. These appeasement policies were mainly attributed to the then Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, and his apparent friendliness to the policies and philosophies of the private sector earned him a reputation for representing the interests of business over that of the working class.

As long as the fate of South Africa’s economy is effectively controlled by private domestic and foreign corporate interests, it is naïve to believe that socio-economic rights will gain any priority. This is the least domestically manageable of all the barriers mentioned, and is thus the most daunting.

So there you go. A lot to process in one blog, but at least you get the idea of where I'm coming from. If you need my sources and references, ask. Otherwise, enjoy the rainy weather.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Lion and the Spear

Julius Malema. Very few names in contemporary South African politics provoke a more polarised response from the ordinary people. On the one hand, he induces sneering criticism and relentless ridicule. On the other, he is venerated as a political martyr and a revolutionary for the people. So which is it?

Julius is well-known for putting his foot in his mouth. While you pause and amuse yourself with that image, consider the phrase for just a second: "Put his foot in his mouth". If I were to directly translate that into isiXhosa, my Xhosa friends would think Julius was flexible and taut because it would be taken literally, which is obviously not the case. My point is that we cannot judge Julius's linguistic faux pas by English standards. There is a rich figurative imagery in isiXhosa that English-speakers will never quite grasp. We should be trying to decipher his message, rather than his dubious presentation.

I think the problem with Julius's "revolutionary" rhetoric is that he does not fit the image of a revolutionary. Che Guevara, Mahatma Gandhi and Malcolm X looked like they were engaged in struggle for their very survival. Even with his military cap, Julius looks engaged in a struggle to the front of a buffet queue. Leads one to think: what could he possibly want to revolt against? What is it that gets his throat grumbling louder than his stomach? In an interview I saw a while ago, a subdued Julius explained himself candidly. Yesterday, the struggle was against Apartheid: a struggle against overt oppression and institutionalised racism perpetrated against the non-white population of South Africa. Today, there is another sinister threat to the people, economic slavery. With this I totally agree: as a developing nation, we are subject to a concerted effort by developed nations to maintain their own wealth. It is a simple principle of putting national and domestic corporations' interests first. While our economy has grown over the past decade, youth unemployment has reached 40%, with total unemployment at 25%. The statistics on poverty, homelessness, medical accessibility, the gap between rich and poor are all similarly disturbing. These numbers show that running our country like a business is not in the best interests of the people from whom government collects taxes. Is the role of tax not to provide utilities and services to the people? Why are they going into paying the interest on loans that were granted to the Apartheid government? All very legitimate concerns, and possibly partial explanations for revolutionary rhetoric. I would suggest that, although the methods employed and the behaviour displayed by Julius and the ANCYL are often abhorrent and disrespectful, one cannot help feeling that they are fighting a legitimate battle. A battle they will fail to win until they can properly communicate their ideas and ideals, until they seriously take up a stance against corruption and profiteering, until they become more inclusive, until they accept that perceived cultural superiority is no grounds for arrogance, and until they value educated debate over armed struggle. Julius is right to point out that the disparities in wealth in South Africa still run along racial lines, largely as a result of foreign ownership of our resources. He is not, however, the right man to lead a revolution against it.

So on to the story of the day. The Spear of the Nation by Brett Murray has a piece of art up at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. The artwork shows Jacob Zuma in a really cool pose, except that his "Spear of the Nation" is hanging out of his pants. I guess that in terms of artistic expression, it was an indictment on JZ's sexual virilty and raging heterosexuality. After all, the man does have four wives and some other special ladies in his life. He has also been charged with rape, corruption and cronyism. So surely this piece of satire is justified?

The short answer is: no. He has never been convicted of any of these crimes, and his customs allow him to marry more than one woman, like most customs around the world. Also, he is a popular president, despite what the media portrays. Just imagine the outrage if Helen Zille were painted in the same way, with her penis hanging out (DON'T get ideas). The political inuendo's would be obvious, but it would be in very bad taste. And no one wants to see it. I am in no way defending JZ; all I am saying is that political satire has always had a proud place in South African social commentary. Zapiro is a master of it. But when it sinks to this level, there must surely be resistance from decent people. It is the comedy equivalent of toilet humour. The boxing equivalent of a cheap shot. It is the rugby equivalent of Bryce Lawrence. We can do better than this people.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Debutant Strides In..

I must be honest, I am so often tempted to ridicule and chastise people that don't know anything that is happening in the world around them. Sit on my little thrown of smug self-righteousness that would undoubtedly alienate me from the same people I so wish to show the error of their ways. Much like a current affairs evangelist, if you will. So what I have endeavoured to do instead is to write a non-intrusive little blog outlining one or two major stories happening out there, because I truly believe that people are going to get seriously cut when the glass houses they have chosen to view the world through shatters on the impact of the stones of social justice and the high-pitched wail of revolution.

So let's start with things right here at home. The Democratic Alliance held a march this week to COSATU's house to demand that the union take up a supportive stance on the youth wage subsidy approved by Jacob Zuma to the tune of R5-billion. What is this youth wage subsidy? Well, my moocher friends, it's government's commitment to help companies out financially if they hire fresh young graduates. That means that this subsidy could actually get 400 000 of us jobs! I swear that Zille woman is like a black Oprah. However, COSATU contends that these employers would fire some of the current workforce to hire young blood, to benefit from these subsidies. So there is disagreement on the matter, and in true South African fashion, the folks at the DA took to the streets. But, alas, there was a twist in this tale. Everyone on the street protest circuit knows that COSATU owns the streets. It is their democracy after all. So when those doe-eyed, energetic young social activists took to the streets, they found themselves under attack. Physically under attack. Rubber bullets, stones, crates, "jou ma se" jibes: this street brawl had it all. Unfortunately, only one side came armed, so the whole affair was kind of a whitewash (very inappropriate pun, I do apologise). So a note to all that may disagree with COSATU: don't do it. South Africa isn't THAT kind of democracy.

Further abroad, this week marked the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, the day in 1948 the Zionist Apartheid (according to UN representatives) State of Israel was established. The diaspora (the forced scattering of a people from their homes) displaced over 700 000 Palestinians, and the descendents of these people are now estimated to number 4,2 million. In a darkly appropriate welcoming of this day, around 2000 Palestinians currently being held in Israeli prisons have been on a hunger strike for weeks now. They are demanding unreasonable things like the end of administrative detention (being held without charge, only on suspicion), family visits and access to decent health facilities. Terrorists if you ask me.

So that's the debut blog done. Feel free to comment, add some other news you think is important, or just vent about your ailing love-life and boring job. As long as you stay away from anything in the entertainment sphere.

Have an awesome weekend!