Tag Archives: South Africa

Learning from Mandela

Published December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela is inextricably linked to the emergence of post-apartheid South Africa. Although he long withdrew from active politics after a one-term presidency (1994-99), he remained his country’s moral conscience in terms of domestic issues, and a principled defender of human rights internationally.

But despite the numerous biographies published so far – and with many more likely to appear – as well as his own 15-million-copies-sold autobiography, with a movie version soon due for release, we are still lacking a full understanding of why Mandela has emerged as a truly global icon. Bitterly opposed ideological foes all praise Mandela. From the Iranian regime to the Israeli prime minister, from Cuba’s Castro to the Bush administration, Mandela has been unequivocally endorsed. When the savvy former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer was asked by Der Spiegel in 2006 to name the international personalities who had most impressed him most during his time in office, the interviewer expected him to mention Bill Clinton. Not so: Fischer insisted on Mandela and Pope Paul II.

Yet Mandela is not a Churchill, Martin Luther King or Obama-style charismatic leader or populist ideologue in the Castro mold who mesmerized masses. His model was Gandhi, although with less philosophical depth and austerity in fashionable clothes .Mandela resisted the personality cult some wanted to develop around him in South Africa, because that would “reduce followers to blind sheep” instead of critically engaged citizens. Mandela himself always rejected the idea of hierarchical leadership and had subjected himself consciously to the ‘organizational discipline’ and collective decision-making of the African National Congress, sometimes to the point of personal humiliation when he inveighed against his successor’s HIV/Aids denialism.

Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mandela’s glowing reputation is much greater abroad than among his own ranks at home. In the United States, Hollywood celebrities, rockstars and corporate executives paid heavily to have their pictures taken with the obliging visitor, although the US conceded to official contacts with the “terrorist” ANC only in 1988. Thus Mandela became indispensable as the unabashed fundraiser for the ANC during the 1990s. Since few would dare to turn down Mandela’s often vaguely worded requests for contributions, he could act as the generous benefactor to many worthy – but also unworthy – causes, including a problematic contribution of SAR 1m ($ 100.000) to a financially troubled Jacob Zuma , a few days after he was sacked as ANC deputy-president in 2005. At the same time the many hangers-on exploited the Mandela name, including his trusted personal lawyer who sold forged ‘Mandela’ paintings.

Internationally, Mandela’s iconic status impacted beyond South Africa’s borders. He pressed the warring factions into a power-sharing constitution in Burundi, although the civil war did not cease. Before his retirement, he continued to lead by example, whether on AIDS education or as the lone critic of a Nigerian military dictatorship when nobody dared to follow him. In contrast, his successor, Thabo Mbeki, supported the Nigerian military strongman Sani Abacha after the execution of the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Mandela also intervened successfully in the long simmering Lockerbie bombing crisis, by sending his chief of staff to work out a deal with Ghaddhafi in Libya.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mandela considered it the “great moral problem of our times” and pronounced that “our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. However, unlike Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who together with many ANC activists, advocates boycotts and sanctions of Israel, Mandela shied away from the apartheid analogy. In 1999, he made a low-key stopover in Israel after his presidency, and once remarked that many countries had invited him for an official visit, but not Israel after his release in 1990. In light of Mandela’s basic solidarity with Palestinian self-determination, that caused no surprise. While he resented the military and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and the apartheid regime, Mandela also paid tribute to the involvement of many South African Jews in the anti-apartheid struggle. On his only Middle East excursion as “a private person” Mandela visited Iran, Syria and Gaza and was received everywhere as if he were a serving president. However, he was mistaken in hoping that he could act as a peace broker in similar ways as he had demonstrated in South Africa.

Why a leader appeals to followers is a useful route for assessment. Followers often project subconscious desires onto romanticized leaders. Mandela has been mythologized and made into a magician, from triggering rugby victories (as portrayed in the Hollywood film Invictus) to preventing racial wars. When The Economist (in October 2012) editorializes about a Mandela “whose extraordinary magnanimity helped avert a racial bloodbath”, it implies that without him blacks would have slaughtered whites. However, all things considered, there was relatively little racially motivated violence against whites by the black majority. It was the potentially dangerous white right-wing that was appeased by Mandela’s conciliatory gestures. Former racists could absolve themselves by praising Mandela as the savior and reconciler of the country. Above all, Mandela calmed the deadly interparty animosities between the ANC and Inkatha by practicing inclusiveness and preaching forgiveness. He appointed controversial Inkatha Chief Buthelezi as his minister of Home Affairs.

Mandela’s historic contribution lies in his willingness to risk starting negotiations with his adversary, when such initiatives were unpopular among his own comrades. Alleviating simultaneously white fears about black revenge, and black suspicion of collaboration, was no easy task. Mandela grasped the historical moment as a true leader. Even without a Mandela, the transition from racial minority rule to a universal franchise would have happened sooner or later. Mandela hugely facilitated this process by his realistic assessment of the political forces at play. While the “insurrectionists” in his ANC exhorted the slogan that “you cannot win at the negotiating table what you have not won at the battlefield,” Mandela persuaded the movement that neither side could win at the battlefield, unless you risk destroying the country in a drawn out civil war. In this stalemate only negotiations with the opponents promised a solution. One can learn from this insight that demonizing a hated enemy as evil is counterproductive to peaceful coexistence. Evil begs to be eliminated. However, if you have to live with a collective enemy in the same country elimination or retribution is no option for reconciliation. The enemy has to be redefined as a political adversary. Only a freely negotiated political compromise guarantees peace.

In these negotiations during these difficult four years after his release from 27 years of incarceration, Mandela proved no sellout, as his divorced wife Winnie has falsely suggested. His relationship with his white counterpart of the initial power-sharing arrangement, F.W.de Klerk, was always tense. Yet in crucial moments Mandela also assisted de Klerk when peace was at stake. When the popular leader of the ANC military wing (MK) and Communist Party chair, Chris Hani, was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic on Easter 1993, the country teetered at the brink of mass violence. At the request of de Klerk, Mandela went on TV and calmed the country down by pointing out that it was an Afrikaner woman who gave the police the decisive tip for arresting the assassins.

It was common knowledge that Thabo Mbeki was not Mandela’s first choice as his successor in 1998. Mandela’s choice would have been Cyril Ramaphosa, the popular leader of the National Union of Mine Workers and ANC chief negotiator with the Afrikaner nationalists, later turned billionaire businessman, and finally elected ANC vice-president by an overwhelming margin in December 2012. Mandela subsequently praised Mbeki as “the best president South Africa ever had.” In turn, Mbeki basked in Mandela’s glory, but simultaneously resented operating in his shadow. Insiders knew about their policy differences and private spats to the extent that an annoyed President Mbeki at one stage would not even take phone calls from his predecessor for several weeks. It was also reported that a retired Mandela conducted sensitive conversations in his garden, because he suspected his residence had been bugged.

Mandela’s example of engaging in open-ended negotiations without preconditions should inspire political leaders of other intractable ethnic conflicts around the world. A Mandela on both sides of the Syrian civil war or the Israeli-Palestinian strife would not guarantee a solution, because historical conditions differ. Yet at least both sides could truly claim to have exhausted all avenues of pragmatic compromise instead of letting a conflict simmer without hope. Are millions of lives lost in intractable wars worth the insistence on a socialist revolution or the capitulation of an ethnic adversary in a stalemate?

Copyright © Heribert Adam 2013

Nelson Mandela died the evening of December 5, 2013, age 95, after an extended illness.

Heribert Adam is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and a Fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS). His new book, with Kogila Moodley, is Imagined Liberation. E-mail: adam@sfu.ca

 Further reading:
Heribert Adam’s site at Simon Fraser University: http://www.socanth.sfu.ca/people/heribert_adam
Behind Houghton Walls: a poem published by F&O about Nelson Mandela’s last days. By Iain T. Benson.
Facts and Opinions’ Frontlines roundup about Nelson Mandela’s death December 5.

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Jail allegedly used drugs, shocks to control inmates

The story  of a year-long investigation by Ruth Hopkins of the Wits Justice Project is hard. It is, in fact, downright ugly. And to anyone at all familiar with human history, the allegations that prisoners were controlled by forced drug injections and electrical shocks are a must-read, if only because there’s truth in the motto: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Excerpt from the story in Dispatches:

A South African prison, run by the beleaguered multinational private security company G4S, allegedly forcibly injected inmates with antipsychotic medication and used electroshocks to subdue and control prisoners.

Prisoners, warders and health care workers said that involuntary medication was regularly practised at the Mangaung Correctional Centre near Bloemfontein. The company, G4S, denies any acts of assault or torture.

The allegations are according to at least 35 sources – prisoners as well as security guards, prison and health officials – and based on medical records seen by reliable sources, legal documents and video footage shot inside the prison.

A 12-month-long investigation into the prison has uncovered video footage shot inside the prison hospital that shows prisoners being given medication against their will, as well as the use of electroshocks and assaults on prisoners.

The medication causes memory loss, muscle rigidity and other serious, potentially life-threatening side effects, and by law is only meant to be used under strictly controlled circumstances. But these drugs have been used at the prison up to five times a week, sometimes on inmates who show no sign of being psychotic.

Letters from prisoners tipped off the Wits Justice Project about conditions at Mangaung prison …

Log in to read Hopkins’ story, Private prison operator accused of using electric shocks and drugs, available to monthly subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions.




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What has gone so horribly wrong with South Africa’s police?

By Ruth Hopkins
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa  October 17,2013

Steven Mothao was walking back home from a piece job on August 10, 2010, through Fordsburg in Joburg. Out of nowhere, three police officers appeared and pushed him against a wall.

While onlookers gawked, the police officers slammed Mothao into a police van. He was detained in a police cell for 22 hours. For the first 14, he wasn’t offered a glass of water. Then Mothao was out on the street again.

The police officers never identified themselves, they did not have an arrest warrant, and they did not inform Mothao of the reasons for his arrest. He sued the Minister of Police for damages and was awarded R150 000 in March.

Since 34 striking miners were shot and killed in Marikana in August last year, South African police have been in the spotlight and at the heart of a debate that has the nation grappling for an answer to the question: what has gone so horribly wrong? 

Seminars on police brutality were organized and opinion pieces penned. Public interest naturally gravitated to high-profile cases such as Marikana, the police killing of taxi driver Macia, and the corrupt Cato Manor police squad.

Thomas Kadi had a similar ordeal to Mothao when he worked as a security guard for Protea Coin in Roodepoort in 2007. A few days after some pipes and other building material were stolen, Kadi’s boss and two police officers arrested him. They took him to Roodepoort police station, where he spent three days in custody.

F&O Hopkins

Selwyn Afrikander at the place where he was arrested. Photo by Ruth Hopkins © 2013

After his release he found no charges had been brought against him. There was no arrest warrant and no evidence against him.

The Wits Law Clinic helped him sue the minister. He was awarded R120 000. Despite Kadi being innocent, he was fired, and as a result could not complete the course in criminal justice he was following after work. Ironically, Kadi hoped to qualify as a paralegal so he could help people exercise their rights during criminal trials. His wife divorced him and he now lives in a shack.

Kadi describes the three nights he spent in the cell as “terrible.” “There were people crying, sometimes there were 12 men in the cell and you have no privacy whatsoever. Some are coughing and you know there’s a chance you could get TB. It’s dirty and smelly in there. The blankets… are full of bugs.”

Ekurhuleni metro police clerk Selwyn Afrikander was not only unlawfully arrested, but beaten too.

The 23-year-old was arrested in April while he and a friend were returning home from a bar one Saturday night. As they walked through a dark street in Kempton Park to Afrikander’s house, they were ambushed by police officers. Two police officers grabbed them and pushed them into a van.

“I showed my mother the bruises and cuts on my back and she cried.”

“They drove us to the police station and brought us to a room. They cuffed us, they took their sjamboks out and beat us for about an hour.” The two officers put a plastic bag around Afrikander’s friend’s head and continued beating him.

“They were yelling at us: ‘Boesman, you have robbed people, tell us who you have robbed.’”

Eventually the cops let the two men go. As in Mothao’s and Kadi’s cases, there were no warrants for their arrests, the officers never identified themselves and did not bring any charges against them, as is legally required.

When the two men exited the van outside Afrikander’s house the officers assured them they would arrest them again if a coloured person was ever a suspect in Kempton Park.

“I showed my mother the bruises and cuts on my back and she cried,” said Afrikander.

The experience has left him angry. “I don’t trust them (police) and I will never trust an officer again. Whenever I see a police van, my heart pumps harder. I can’t communicate effectively at times anymore, because I have these flashbacks of what happened.

“These two officers are both still on duty. I see them walking the streets in my neighbourhood. I wonder if they will get away with this and if not, who is going to be their next victim.”

Unlike most people who are arrested unlawfully, Afrikander was acutely aware of his rights. The morning after he was beaten up, he went to the police station to file a complaint.

He then visited a hospital, where a doctor tended to his injuries and filled in a J88 form, a standard form that generates medical evidence for someone who has experienced assault.

Afrikander contacted the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to report the crime and to initiate an internal investigation into the assault. His lawyer started a civil suit on his behalf, claiming damages for the unlawful arrest and assault.

No disciplinary measures have been taken against the two officers.

Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa recently acknowledged that there were many civil claims against the police for unlawful arrests. He said hardly any internal charges of misconduct or criminal procedures had been instituted.

Since 2009, the payments for civil claims against the police has doubled. In the past four years, R137.2 million was awarded in damages for unlawful arrests. In addition, civil claims amounting to R800 000 for assaults have been lodged against the police.

The taxpayer is footing the bill for the damages caused by reckless policing, while the officers and their superiors often get off scot-free.

Mass police recruitment and a declared War on Crime

The reasons for this surge in damages for unlawful police conduct are complex. The police have grown more than 50 percent since 2002. This mass recruitment drive has placed pressure on policing systems. Police training, for example, was shortened from two years to one. Recently the minister increased the length to two years again, but in the meantime, thousands of officers were improperly trained. Oversight, supervision and disciplinary mechanisms have been neglected in the push to accommodate new officers.

This mass recruitment was accompanied by managerial tough talk. Consecutive police ministers and commissioners have declared a war on crime. In 2010, Mthethwa said: “Criminals have defined themselves as outcasts in the community and as such they must be treated. To be where we are, we have waged many battles and will fight many more.”

Disgraced police commissioner Bheki Cele encouraged police officers to “shoot to kill” and worry about the consequences later. This belligerent approach, combined with a rapidly expanding force, has produced overzealous police officials who act first and think later. 

David Mkhwanazi is another citizen who suffered collateral damage from this approach. The former salesman for a car dealership in Orange Farm was running to catch a train in the Joburg suburb of Ennerdale in 2006 when the police arrested him.

They said he was part of a gang of 10 criminals who had just robbed and murdered an owner of a brick company and were visiting a sangoma to “cleanse” their weapons of fingerprints.

In custody, Mkhwanazi mistakenly signed a document he thought was a bail application – it turned out to be a confession.

The ensuing murder trial was marred by delays. It took six years before he could testify he had nothing to do with the crime. The judge released him for a lack of compelling evidence against him.

He swears he will never trust an officer again.

Mkhwanazi returned to his family in Orange Farm, but he is unemployed, estranged from his wife and daughter and finds it hard to imagine a future. “I am angry with the police and the system, but I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford a lawyer,” he said. He swears he will never trust an officer again.

Illegitimate arrests of citizens will erode the relationship between the men and women in blue and the community they are supposed to serve, said Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division of the Institute for Security Studies, at an Institute conference on crime reduction.

“Evidence supports the hypothesis that the less respectful police are towards suspects and citizens, the less people will comply with the law.” Newham presented some worrying statistics. Since 2002, police brutality cases, registered by Ipid, have risen by 313 percent, which translates into a staggering average of five cases a day.

Unsurprisingly, a survey on the image of the police revealed only 41 percent of the population has any trust in the police force while 35 percent admit they are scared of the police.

Two sisters from Benoni, who want to remain anonymous because their civil case against a police officer has not yet been finalised, have gone from trusting the police to being frightened at the sight of a uniform.

“My father was a policeman, we grew up in that kind of environment. I always defended the police, but now I fear them,” the older sister said.

The siblings were at a nightclub in Brakpan in January 2010, when about 15 police officers entered the club, ordered everyone outside and arrested 30 people. The younger sister was herded outside with others and made to stand against the wall.

When her sibling came looking for her, a policeman grabbed her and started hitting her. “He pushed me to the floor, pulled my hair and started kicking me,” she said. She told the officer he was hurting her, but this just egged him on. “He tightened the handcuffs and asked me if I felt the pain.”

Everyone was then pushed into the vehicle, where the abuse continued. “The officer claimed I had used bad language. When I denied that, he punched me in the face several times. When my sister told him to stop hitting me, he punched her in the face too.”

The sisters were detained in a cell for eight hours, then released. They never learnt why they were arrested and there was no warrant or charge sheet. They reported the abusive police officer at the police station, but nothing happened. A few weeks later, they received a letter which stated the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had decided not to prosecute. “But I highly doubt they sent the report to the NPA.”

The sisters regularly see the policeman doing his rounds in the neighbourhood. Other members of the community have told them that the officer has not changed his ways, he has beaten up other people, but no disciplinary measures have been taken against him.

This blatant impunity for criminal acts seems to be a general trend: in the past five years, 11 880 criminal cases have been opened with Ipid, but only 129 of these cases led to convictions.

Moreover, 1 448 serving police officers have a criminal record, including for murder rape and assault.

Internal disciplinary procedures do not seem to yield any satisfying results as the most likely outcome – one in five hearings – finalised in 2011/2012 was “not guilty”, whereas one in three resulted in “no sanction” against the accused officer.

The Department of Police was approached for a response to this article, but it declined.

 Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hopkins

Facts and Opinions contributor Ruth Hopkins is a senior journalist with the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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