The things I love

ELECTIONS 2014: CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISM

By Rod Morgan

A recent article in the media asks the question: ’What does activism in South Africa look like?’ and follows up with a challenge to all our citizens,

‘Democratic South Africa has been born out of activism: citizens standing up against a government they found unjust, from small acts of dissent, to a life of exile or imprisonment and sometimes death, but what does activism mean in election year 2014?

 

‘It is determined mainly by the class interests of the activists and can be divided roughly according to the niches they represent: poor communities taking on what they see as an uncaring state; progressive-leaning Civil Rights Organizations  (CSO’s) forcing the state, often through the courts, to provide what the Constitution promises; activists who organize around special interests e.g. the environment or women’s rights; and middle class activists who focus their efforts on issues such as crime and violence or language, culture and animal rights.

One of the major challenges is the dominance of the ruling party. In formal dealings with all levels of government, submissions are invited, but this engagement is just going through the motions and fails to seriously take people’s concerns on board. Herein lays the great divide: party politics is about power and activism is about principles. Both are necessary but, unfortunately, party politics have overwhelmed the conversation on almost every issue.

‘The most vivid memory of activism in apartheid South Africa was protest, most notably promoted by the United Democratic Front’s un-governability campaign of the 1980s. The problem is that post-apartheid theme persists, to the point where activism is considered synonymous with service delivery protests and forcing the state to fulfill its function.’

 

Following the first democratic elections in 1994, the political demands of broader society were seen to have been met and consequently social society activism went into decline. The wisdom of hindsight tells us that this was a mistake as successive governments have found it impossible to meet the expectations of the electorate, more particularly those on the margins. They, in turn, act out their frustrations in violent protest.

The problem here is that there is no deep level of community organization, political education and navigation of the democratic system that is needed to achieve a positive outcome.

 

This brings us more or less up to date. What is clear is that CSOs are again needed to play their traditional role of holding government and big business to account. Democracy can only be strong when social society is vigilant and engaged.

Democracy is based on the principle of citizens having rights and privileges but also equal and opposite duties and obligations. Every citizen has a duty to be vigilant and engaged as his/her contribution to fulfilling the second part of this equation.

So how do citizens get involved?

Well, there is an enormous list of organizations to choose from, tailor made to meet every type of interest or concern:

  • Africa Centre for Biosafety: campaigns against the genetic engineering, privatization, industrialization, and corporate control of Africa’s food systems.
  • Afesis-corplan: campaigns to achieve good governance, land access and local government development, working with ward committees and municipal officials.
  • Amnesty International: campaigns for internationally recognized human rights.
  • Centre for Environmental Rights: provides legal and related support to environmental CSOs and communities.
  • Children’s Rights Centre: campaigns to defend, advance and realize all the constitutional and human rights of children.
  • Civicus: assist CSO’s to create engaged and informed citizens and build the values and principles needed for collective actions.
  • Cooperative and Policy Alternatives Centre: campaigns to advance grass roots development through the establishment of cooperatives in poor communities.
  • Corruption Watch: campaigns to raise awareness of corruption and mobilize public action.

These are the first few CSOs appearing on a very long list of organizations committed to maintaining the checks-and-balances in a functioning democratic society. Others, in greater detail, will be the subject for another day. 

ELECTIONS 2014: CIVIL SOCIETY: THE ROLE IN SHAPING OUR DEMOCRACY

By: Rod Morgan

 

The key to an orderly society is to have structures in place that deal with people’s general needs and can respond quickly in times of crisis.

In the period before the Industrial Revolution, agriculture was the main activity and the majority of the world’s population lived on the land.

 

Life in the cities was never good but did benefit from the fact that urban populations were relatively small. Hence the overcrowding and squalor that came later during the celebrated “free trade period” of the 1840s through to the 1930s was not present. In Britain, the world’s most powerful nation of the time, the Industrial Revolution opened up a great gulf between business owners and the ever swelling ranks of industrial workers. By the 1890s as much as a third of the population of London was living below the level of bare subsistence. State sponsored social services were absolutely minimal.

 

To the extent that they were present at all, social services were provided by the Church and philanthropic/ charitable organizations such as the Salvation Army who stepping in to assist in the worst situations. They did good work but there were big gaps in the social security network and life for the poor was very tough.   

The terrible experiences of the first half of the 20th century: two world wars and the Great Depression of 1929-1933 overwhelmed anything these volunteer-based organizations could provide. On the positive side, these events were the catalyst for the substantial changes in the quality of life of ordinary citizens that subsequently took place.

Enter the Welfare State. When push came to pull, the state had to step in to provide the very wide range of social services that were being demanded. They are common-place today…covering everything from education, health, unemployment through to child care and disability grants.

Fuelled by a progressive Bill of Rights that is enshrined in the Constitutions of most first world and developing countries, this list of benefits has become longer and longer and longer. Interestingly, as the burden falling on the state has increased, so space has been created for the return of the religious groups and volunteer civil society organizations to play their traditional role alongside the state.

 

Of course, the above historical pattern has not been confined to Europe. Here in South Africa, missionary organizations and charities provided material support to rural populations in education, health and other social services. The number of schools they built ran into four figures and their many hospitals performed to the highest standard.

After something of a decline during the second half of the 20th century, civil society organizations are back in very large numbers with NGOs/NPOs (non-governmental organizations/ not-for-profit organizations) providing specific services over the full spectrum of needs and challenges.    

Unfortunately, civil society organizations are not always welcomed because governments often see them as unelected (often international) bodies muscling in on their turf. SAs initial blocking of foreign HIV-Aids assistance that came with strings attached represents a good example here. Transparency and a clear agenda on the part of the NGO/ NPO is the name of the game. This would apply in particular whenever there is sensitivity on the issue of the state’s capacity to effectively raise standards or eliminate poverty, or there is a suspicion that the initiative being taken is designed to benefit foreign economic interests.

 

For the most part, civil society organizations exist to hold both big business and government to account by ensuring their every action complies with the law. Perhaps it is this enormous responsibility that has given birth to the myriad civil society organizations that are in existence in South Africa today, estimated to be in the region of 25000.

But that will be the subject for a future discussion.

CCS seminar on student rights to expression: 20 March 2014

ALL ARE WELCOME to a Centre for Civil Society seminar

UKZN student woes and freedom of expression

PRESENTERS: Lukhona Mnguni, Molaudi Sekake and Lesiba Seshoka (invited)
DATE: Thursday, 20 March
TIME: 12:30-2pm
VENUE: CCS Seminar Room, 6th floor of Memorial Tower Building, UKZN
Howard College Campus

TOPIC:
The right to education is well enshrined in the South African
Constitution. So is the right to expression. What happens when the
first right is denied to low-income students, and in defense of that
right, so too is the second? Four UKZN masters students – Lukhona
Mnguni, Mnikeni Phakathi, Siyabonga Khumalo and Thembani Khumalo –
made allegations in open letter of 23 February:
http://voices.news24.com/lukhona-mnguni/2014/02/dear-vice-chancellor-ukzn-prof-makgoba/
UKZN authorities argue this was a ‘grossly inaccurate’ critique of the
university’s affordability and personal safety. These problems are
considered widespread at campuses and in society, and indeed, 11
universities were sites of student protests this year because of
National Student Financial Aid Scheme shortfalls. The core problems
will be reviewed, as well as the resulting controversy over the
students’ exercise of their freedom of expression.

SPEAKERS:
* Lukhona Mnguni, a frequent public commentator, is a UKZN masters
student and one of four leaders now in a disciplinary process for
criticising the university;
* Molaudi Sekake is a CCS Brutus Scholar and UKZN honours student; and
* Lesiba Seshoka (invited) is director of UKZN Corporate Relations,
responsible for building the reputation, image and brand for the
university. He was previously spokesperson for the National Union of
Mineworkers.

***

http://www.mg.co.za

University culture silences outspoken students, says Sasco

17 Mar 2014 06:19 Victoria John

It is not surprising that four students faced disciplinary charges for
speaking out about their university’s problems, says the SA Students’
Congress.

The reaction to four University of KwaZulu-Natal students who faced
disciplinary charges after they spoke out about the problems at the
institution is common, said the South African Students’ Congress
(Sasco).

“This has happened at many universities before. It’s their culture.
Look at their reaction to some of the protests that have happened.
Look at what happened at the University of Johannesburg [UJ],” Sasco
general secretary Luzuko Buku said on Friday.

Masters students Lukhona Mnguni, Mnikeni Phakathi, Thembani Khumalo
and Siyabonga Khumalo, were slapped with disciplinary charges after
they wrote an open letter to vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba about
high tuition fees and poor security on campus, among others.

Protests over a shortage of funds from the National Student Financial
Aid Scheme (NSFAS) erupted at 11 universities in January this year.
Twenty UJ students were suspended from the university and were
arrested for disrupting administrative and registration activities,
according to the university. Students denied this, saying they were
only protesting peacefully.

“[UKZN’s] reaction [to the students speaking out] is out of order. We
will try to engage the vice-chancellor in the hopes that he comes to
his senses,” Buku said. “Universities should be places where freedom
of expression is protected.”

Mnguni said the university proposed using a mediation process instead
of disciplinary action to address the incident.

“We met on Wednesday and spoke for five hours. It was exhausting to
try to agree on the technicalities of the mediation process, but there
was no tangible outcome.”

Discussion agreement
The separate parties agreed to discuss on their own the technicalities
and reconvene the discussions at a later stage.

UKZN’s laying of charges against the students were a “direct
infringement on freedom of expression and academic freedom”, he said.

“But I was not surprised when the university laid these charges … It
had happened before in their history.”

Relieved, nevertheless, that the charges were replaced with a
mediation process, Mnguni said he and the other three students would
continue on their road to “social justice”.

The open letter, published on February 23 on News24.com, appealed to
UKZN to extend the February 21 registration date to March 30 so
parents getting paid their salaries a few days before then could pay
the registration fees.

Mnguni said the university did not concede and many students who did
not get NSFAS loans and were unable to pay their fees went home.

The open letter was an attempt to force the university to address its
“systematic and chronic problems”, and it detailed the long-term
“failure of management to make a case for more funds is being deferred
to be the responsibility of students through exorbitant increases in
fees”, it said.

‘Deposed’
Students had also almost been “deposed [of] their constitutional right
to protest”.

“Students in Howard College Campus, this year, have demonstrated with
maturity and conviction, remaining disciplined and peaceful, yet your
management descended with ‘the full might of the law’ as one of your
executive directors … put it,” the letter said.

It described the “poor security presence even in known crime hotspots
… some female students even experience attempted rapes in the
library”.

Mnguni said he heard about infringements of freedom of expression at
other universities too.

“As students we talk to each other. There’s always one thing that
strikes me about these conversations and that is that freedom of
expression problems always come up,” he said.

“If a learner challenges a lecturer in the classroom, they face some
form of victimisation. Maybe they are not passed well, or given the
run around by lecturers for meetings … If this happens in the
classroom, then how much will you speak out to the university?”

Pleading
The letter pleaded with university management to “descend from your
high-rise offices and talk to students on the ground”.

“This form of dialogue is well promoted by our UKZN transformation
charter, which lies dormant if [it is] not actively implemented.”

The KwaZulu-Natal branch of the Right2Know campaign said on Sunday
that the charges laid against the students were “unjust and
unconstitutional”.

“Freedom of expression is a right that belongs to all, regardless of
which space they occupy in our country … In the university space,
this right should be upheld most highly in order to groom passionate,
critical, outspoken and upright thinkers [who] will take our nation
forward.”

***

http://voices.news24.com/lukhona-mnguni/2014/02/dear-vice-chancellor-ukzn-prof-makgoba/

Dear Vice-Chancellor of UKZN, Prof. Makgoba

Sunday, February 23, 2014

We, the undersigned writers of this letter, have agonised greatly
about the need for this open letter that we have finally decided to
send to your office. Some may see this as a bitter confrontation, we
see it as the ultimate exercise of freedom of expression that is
protected by our constitution and promoted by the University of
KwaZulu-Natal Transformation Charter. It is much easier to pen an open
letter to some abstract politician who might never read it. This one
is made difficult by the fact that we have all met you in different
capacities, yet we feel we have no other avenue but this one in order
to communicate the burning issues on hand.

We have taken time to study the conditions that we are faced with as
students and we regret to inform you that our University embodies a
demoralised morale within and amongst its members. The grievances are
many, the time and space for their discussion seem rather hostile and
it is hard to have negotiations take place. There is no easier
illustration of this than the reality that all five campuses of our
University are experiencing some forms of mass demonstration. This is
a clear indication of systematic and chronic problems that are being
unattended, which fester like a sore.

At this stage, it is important to indicate our credentials. We are
senior students in the University; we are all registered for Masters
Degrees within the College of Humanities in the Howard College Campus.
Amongst ourselves, we hold a wealth of leadership and academic
excellence that has been confirmed and conferred to us through various
means by the University. Our records of accomplishment show that at
all times we have put the interests of this University first and we
have never seek to cause harm to the image of the institution.
However, we wish to be clear that at all times most of our actions are
informed by the pursuit of social justice, which should be at the core
of our University’s agenda.

The road to social justice has always presented itself as a risky one,
coarse and undesirable. Anyone who commits to such journey must be
well equipped with both courage and conviction for that which they
advocate. The price to pay for this pursuit of justice is high even
though we are in a democratic era of our society. Where an injustice
is occurring, that becomes the site of struggle – at all times. It
saddens us that we have reached a point where we can say without any
fear of contradiction that today UKZN now represents a site of
struggle and we cannot be found acting indifferent at the face of
injustice meted out against the students by a management that you
lead.

By the time, you receive this letter it would be beyond 16:00, 21
February 2014, a time set as the cut-off for registration in our
institution. Yet, this will not water down the merits of our plea to
your office to consult with the relevant parties in order to extend
the registration deadline. There are parents who will be getting paid
on the 25th and 28th of February 2014, which will give them an
opportunity to raise some of the money their children are either owing
or need in order to register. Some students have managed to secure
loans or bank notices that will only clear in the next week. What
should happen to those students? Yes, we accept that registration
cannot be open perpetually; however, we believe there is merit in
extending the registration deadline to Monday, 3 March 2014.

Most students’ parents’ salaries have not increased substantially
enough to withstand the economic strains they suffer from increases
seen in the food, fuel and electricity industries. The economy of the
country has generally stagnated with the rand skyrocketing, yet our
Council found it prudent to raise tuition fees by 12% and residence
fees by 9% in both 2012 and 2013. These increases are themselves
unjust and out of touch with reality and they are party to the growing
number of students who are now owing the University. The external
factors of the economy, whereby some parents get retrenched due to the
disinvestment by some businesses in a bid to sustain profits cannot be
ignored by the management as your draw plans to present to Council.

We cannot afford to allow public institutions of higher learning to
gravitate towards being hubs of capital accumulation at the expense of
the students who hail from poor backgrounds. It is not our place to
remind you that many of our students are a product of quintile 1&2
schools, which automatically gives a context to their socioeconomic
realities. If the University continues to accept these students from
such schools, it must do so knowing that it commits to do everything
in its powers to raise funds for them. At times, students are told
that the University is now getting less and less funds from the
Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET). It is your duty,
with the support of the other 11 members of the Executive Management
Committee of UKZN, to fight for more funding for the institution.

Growingly, the failure of management to make a case for more funds is
being deferred to be the responsibility of students through exorbitant
increases in fees. This is an unsustainable path. The government can
afford to raise the budget of the DHET by R5-10 billion for purposes
of funding, but it will take the astuteness of managements from across
the different public Universities to make it a reality. Government has
committed over R900-billion on infrastructure development. It is
interesting how our Universities have not made a case to receive a
share of that money because Human Resource (in this instance, students
that are being educated and trained) is a form of infrastructure.
Infrastructure extends beyond skyscrapers and deep wells of water to
turn turbines – because eventually there must be work force, armed
with the knowledge and skills to execute the task of constructing and
that of operating the end product. You cannot exclude the need for
financial injection for the funding of students in this pursuit for
infrastructure development.

We write this letter to you at a time of growing uncertainty and
speculation in our University, as your post has been advertised. Like
any captain, parting with a ship he or she has captained for long, the
question of legacy becomes important. The reality is that it is the
memories that you leave us with that will form the legacy we formulate
about you. Usually it is said that first impressions last, yet in
after ten years at helm, possibly it is the last impressions that will
be remembered the most. Students currently have memories of fear,
indifference, and lack of sympathy, neglect and anger with the
management you lead.

Students have almost been deposed their constitutional right to
protest. The University has no desire to see protests in its
institutions, even peaceful protest. Students in Howard College
Campus, this year, have demonstrated with maturity and conviction,
remaining disciplined and peaceful, yet your management descended with
“the full might of the law” as one of your executive directors (an
individual who has a vast background with the necessity of protests
from his tenure in unions) put it. Our campuses are littered with
security guards clad in riot gear, which we view as nothing but a
paramilitary intended to store fear in the souls of students. This
costly exercise demonstrates the highest disdain our management has
for dialogue. Yet during normal times our campus has poor security
presence even in known crime hotspots, some female students even
experience attempted rapes in the library. Students are not monsters,
when they protest they simply seek an ear to be heard in a way that is
genuine, frank and willing to engage in good faith. In the midst of
this entire crisis, you have not found it worthy to go and talk to
students on the ground. You have insisted on engaging SRC members
albeit at a distance in most cases. Your absent presence has been
highly felt; the ship has hit an iceberg.

Over 2500 returning students face the might of the University by being
evicted mainly on the basis that they are financially needy. Amongst
those students – contrary to some media belief – there are students
who are academically performing, such as a Golden Key International
Honours Society member whom we are aware of. Such students are in the
top 15% of academic achievers, yet the University has no heart to hear
their case. Some students facing financial exclusion have represented
the University through various societies such as Enactus (which has
traveled to international conferences), political formations and
faith-based organisation. These are the cases and many others of
academically performing yet financially needy students we are fighting
for.

Instead of exploring many alternatives, your management has
successfully branded our struggles as offshoots of disgruntlement.
Management has almost nullified our struggle and painted it as a
farcical one in the media. However, many media houses have growingly
seen through this deception. As the writers of this letter we are
moved by many other injustices that occur in our campus. These present
themselves in the form of shoddy supervision for some postgraduate
students, the lack of proper tutoring, the inability to accommodate
the crowds of students you accept and some end up sitting on the
floor. We are disturbed by the manner in which academics are
overworked and underpaid, which affects the ability for them to ooze
excellence and mentor students properly. Our campus has turned into
one of complainers, nobody is happy – that is one sad reality, from
support staff to academics to students.

The choice that confronts your management Vice-Chancellor is a simple
one; agree on the extension of the extension of registration. Further
to that descend from your high rise offices and talk to students on
the ground. This form of dialogue is well promoted by our UKZN
Transformation Charter which lies dormant if not actively implemented.
There has to be contact between management and the general students.
Why has anyone of you not gone down to accept a memorandum in any of
the campuses that went on strike? Only self-righteousness and a degree
of arrogance – on the part of management – can make it seem as though
students are hooligans who use protest as a hobby to pass time. Why
are you not engaging students as you were able to do so? All campuses
have had strikes and we must proceed as though things are normal? It
cannot be. These strikes were not about peer pressure or inter-campus
solidarity; all campuses have issues that they want addressed.

Given that when the darling Medical School campus went on a serious
strike for the first time in a long time, the students there were not
arrested (even though there exists the so-called “court interdict”),
even though in a similar strike in Howard College on the 13 February
2014, six students were targeted and arrested. Interestingly, the
Magistrate dealing with their bail application found it baffling that
the six students were arrested to begin with and called the state’s
case shabby and not worthy of time in a court of law as it were. Our
management has managed to use the courts and police to intimidate and
silence us. Right now, our will is activated, we refuse to be
silenced. Our silence would be the greatest injustice beyond those
facing students.

We want to canvass other MECs to pledge money for fellow students just
as the MEC for Health cleared debt for 38 student doctors – this is
only possible if the registration deadline is extended. It is also
wrong of the MEC for Health to intervene only to rescue the doctors
and not the nursing students even though all these students fall under
the College of Health Sciences. There are about 30 nursing students
that face financial exclusion, yet the country faces a shortage of
nurses and excluding these students does a disservice to the
imperatives of the NHI and NDP (which you served in the committee that
produced it) to prioritise primary healthcare. Nurses are a cardinal
component of primary healthcare. You have further pledged as the
Vice-Chancellor bursaries of R3250 to students who do not owe but are
unable to pay for their registration. The problem with this pledge you
have made is that you made it within 48 hours of the registration
deadline – clearly with no seriousness to increase its reach to those
students who are in homes far away from Durban. Furthermore, you are
giving students a rope to hang themselves. If students are financially
needy, why do you not consider half bursaries? Where will they get the
rest of the fees? Are you deliberately creating debt for them? Why
have you not made provisions for the students who reside in residences
and do not have the R6000 needed for both tuition and residence
registration? Please do not defer dreams of students and future
leaders.

May you ponder on Langston Hughes questions: “What happens to a dream
deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a
sore- And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar
over- like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or
does it explode?”

Written by: Lukhona Mnguni, Mnikeni Phakathi, Siyabonga Khumalo and
Thembani Khumalo

ELECTIONS 2014: THE ROAD TO DEMOCRACY: A SHORT HISTORY

By: Rod Morgan

 

A state of tension has always existed between those who rule and those under authority. In earlier civilizations the autocratic rule of religious or royal elites left scant scope for challenging the relationship between rulers and their subjects. The pre-Christian era Greek civilization represents the major exception, providing a template for the development of progressive governance policies right up to the present time.

The achievement of a universal democracy has still some way to go but great strides have been made.

Looking back over the past millennium the “divine right of kings” was first challenged in 1215 when, on a small island in the Themes River, English king John signed the Magna Carta  which resulted in the crown ceding significant rights to the Church, barons and society in general. Concessions included:

1. the Church being allowed to choose its own officials

2. outlawing of the arbitrary punishment of ‘freemen’

3. the sovereign being denied the right to raise taxes without consultation and consent

This process was taken another step further at the beginning of the reign of William and Mary. In 1689 the rights and liberties of citizens was provided for by making Parliament supreme in all matters affecting religion and the law.

 

During the same period, the power of the Church was also under siege. Prime movers here were the great reformers: Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. Luther is best remembered for his 95 theses nailed to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517.

 

Fast forward to the close of the eighteenth century when 2 very significant breakthroughs in the move to full democracy occurred:

1.the American Declaration of Independence from Britain signed in 1776 after a      protracted war. This declaration included these famous words:

   We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal;

   that they are endowed by the Creator with inherent and inalienable rights,

   that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

2. the French Revolution that began in earnest in 1789 when a Paris mob stormed the Bastille.  This event gave the world a vision of democracy based on liberty, equality and fraternity.

 

The nineteenth century saw major improvements in the rights of the common man, most notably the abolition of slavery. In Britain, philanthropist William Wilberforce dedicated his life to the elimination of this inhuman practice and his efforts culminated in the Emancipation Act, signed into law in 1807. This law affected all British possessions at the time, including the Cape Colony.

On the other side of the Atlantic, an abolition society was formed in the northern states of America that became the driving force in the Civil War of 1861-1864 and, in turn, victory for the anti-slave states under Abraham Lincoln.

 

The twentieth century has undoubtedly been the scene of the greatest advances in the development of the democracy that is enjoyed in many parts of the world today. These changes were not primarily the benevolent acts of a more enlightened elite but rather were the product of 2 World Wars and the Great Depression of 1929-1933.

In this time the old world empires: British, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian have all ceased to exist. The Soviet Union (USSR) lasted a little longer, until 1989, but in the end it also succumbed to internal pressure.  South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 makes us one of the last in very long line of states in which billions of people have been freed up to manage their affairs in their own way.

Do they all follow a ‘democratic’ agenda? Obviously not. But that must be the subject for another day.    

 

Agenda Feminist Media: Feminist Dialogue

 

                         

 

This seminar may be attended via video conference in Pretoria, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. Details are indicated below.

INVITATION

 

Agenda Feminist Media and The Human Sciences Research Council invite you to a

 

Feminist Dialogue

“Who’s afraid of Feminism? The State of Gender Equality 20 years after the Democratic Transition”

 

Critical conversations on the state of democracy in South Africa, 20 years since 1994, have already begun, closely reflecting on the extent and nature of progress made, and shortcomings expressed in persistent inequality and poverty. Agenda Feminist Media Project (AFM) will contribute to this national critique in this feminist dialogue by bringing together a broad and diverse set of stakeholders to specifically cast a feminist eye on critical instances of gender inequality, discrimination and exclusion impacting on ordinary women in South Africa. The purpose of the AFM’s Feminist Dialogue parallels the broad objective of the Commission of Gender Equality’s (CGE) planned national summit on the status of gender equality in South Africa, on the occasion of 20 years of democracy that will take place in April. There are four critical issues for deliberation led by specialists within this sector who will (1) frame the key gender equality issues for consideration; (2) provide a critical review of frameworks and responses to the issues; and (3) propose a set of interventions that address:

  • Gender      based violence
  • Sexual      identity and orientation
  • Women’s      poverty and access to land and resources
  • Women’s      access to health rights and services, and sexual and reproductive health      rights and services in particular

 

Keynote Address:

Prof. Amanda Gouws (Commission for Gender Equality)

 

Speakers:

Sethembiso Mthembu (Her Rights Initiative – HRI)

Lisa Vetten (Gender Rights Activist)

Susan Nkomo (Feminist researcher and activist)

Nonhlanhla Mkhize (Durban Lesbian & Gay Community Centre)

 

Venues in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town (Videoconferencing facilities: see below)

Date: 24 March 2014

Time: 08H30 – 13H30   

 

Kindly RSVP by 20 March 2014

 

Cape Town : HSRC, 12th Floor, Plein Park Building (Opposite Revenue Office), Plein Street, Cape Town. Contact Jean Witten, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or JWitten@hsrc.ac.za

Durban :  First floor HSRC board room, 750 Francois Road, Ntuthuko Junction, Pods 5 and 6, Cato Manor, Contact Ridhwaan Khan, Tel (031) 242 5400, cell: 083 788 2786 or RKhan@hsrc.ac.za

Pretoria : HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Arlene Grossberg, Tel: (012) 302 2811, e-mail: acgrossberg@hsrc.ac.za

ELECTION 2014: EXERCISING CHECKS-AND-BALANCES ON STATE POWER

By: Rod Morgan

A date has been set for South Africa’s fifth democratic election: Wednesday 7th May. Those eligible to vote have been afforded opportunities to register and now are left to choose the party they think will best serve the interests of the public and the nation at large.

Exercising ones right to vote is important because the national system of proportional representation in parliament means that every vote counts.

At the same time you need to know that this is not the only option you have to influence government policy. The architects of our “new democracy” opted for a constitutional form of government meaning the State power is restricted by the judiciary (courts) and ultimately the constitutional Court (Concourt). State policy cannot be passed into law without full compliance with the constitution.

 

As ordinary citizens of South Africa we should take it upon ourselves to educate one another about the “system” in order to make informed decisions.

The Constitution provides a number of checks-and–balances on the exercise of State power that allow ordinary citizens to participate. Here they are:

Judiciary (courts). Citizens can initiate legal action wherever perceived infringements occur.

Parliament. Every 5 years, citizens can vote for the party of their choice.

Chapter 9 Institutions (Public Protector’s office; Human Rights Commission; Commission of Gender Equality; Auditor General’s office; Commission for the Promotion & Protection of the Rights of Culture, Religion & Language; etc.)       Citizens can lay complaints with these bodies whenever infringements occur.     Civil Society. Citizens can become activists in one or more of the hundreds of special interest action groups in existence in South Africa whose purpose is to ensure that the voices of the man-in-the-street are heard in a non-violent way.

The alternative, as we see in the endless service delivery protests around the country, is “the street becoming the space for deciding issues of governance, giving victory to those who beat the others into submission.”

Civil Society action is required whenever the state fails to deliver on the constitutional rights of citizens BUT, by the same token, the concept of democracy needs to be clearly understood otherwise protest soon degenerates into the type of chaos seen in the so-called Arab Spring (affecting Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and more recently in Syria, Ukraine and Thailand.

Democracy can only be strong where Civil Society is vigilant and engaged.

Some excellent examples of Civil Society fulfilling its true role should be familiar to all South Africans, namely:

United Democratic Front (UDF) that brought apartheid to its knees, and

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of Zackie Achmat fame that put paid to president Mbeki’s denial of HIV/AIDS.

In summary, this is an urgent call to all citizens to exercise their right to vote: it is the right thing to do and to all “chirpers” (armchair critics) to become politically engaged by joining in some form of Civil Society activism.  

 

ELECTION 2014: EXERCISING CHECKS-AND-BALANCES ON STATE POWER

A date has been set for South Africa’s fifth democratic election: Wednesday 7th May. Those eligible to vote have been afforded opportunities to register and now are left to choose the party they think will best serve the interests of the public and the nation at large.

Exercising ones right to vote is important because the national system of proportional representation in parliament means that every vote counts.

At the same time you need to know that this is not the only option you have to influence government policy. The architects of our “new democracy” opted for a constitutional form of government meaning the State power is restricted by the judiciary (courts) and ultimately the constitutional Court (Concourt). State policy cannot be passed into law without full compliance with the constitution.

 

As ordinary citizens of South Africa we should take it upon ourselves to educate one another about the “system” in order to make informed decisions.

The Constitution provides a number of checks-and–balances on the exercise of State power that allow ordinary citizens to participate. Here they are:

Judiciary (courts). Citizens can initiate legal action wherever perceived infringements occur.

Parliament. Every 5 years, citizens can vote for the party of their choice.

Chapter 9 Institutions (Public Protector’s office; Human Rights Commission; Commission of Gender Equality; Auditor General’s office; Commission for the Promotion & Protection of the Rights of Culture, Religion & Language; etc.)       Citizens can lay complaints with these bodies whenever infringements occur.     Civil Society. Citizens can become activists in one or more of the hundreds of special interest action groups in existence in South Africa whose purpose is to ensure that the voices of the man-in-the-street are heard in a non-violent way.

The alternative, as we see in the endless service delivery protests around the country, is “the street becoming the space for deciding issues of governance, giving victory to those who beat the others into submission.”

Civil Society action is required whenever the state fails to deliver on the constitutional rights of citizens BUT, by the same token, the concept of democracy needs to be clearly understood otherwise protest soon degenerates into the type of chaos seen in the so-called Arab Spring (affecting Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and more recently in Syria, Ukraine and Thailand.

Democracy can only be strong where Civil Society is vigilant and engaged.

Some excellent examples of Civil Society fulfilling its true role should be familiar to all South Africans, namely:

United Democratic Front (UDF) that brought apartheid to its knees, and

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) of Zackie Achmat fame that put paid to president Mbeki’s denial of HIV/AIDS.

In summary, this is an urgent call to all citizens to exercise their right to vote: it is the right thing to do and to all “chirpers” (armchair critics) to become politically engaged by joining in some form of Civil Society activism.