Monday, 31 January 2011

Revising history to excuse the present

By Robin Hind

One recent example is Operation House Number, an attempt to give addresses to informal settlement dwelling, in order to make it easier for the emergency services to locate individuals rapidly.

In announcing this the South African Broadcasting Corporation stated, in its 19.00h news bulletin on 25th January, that the absence of house numbers and street names had arisen because of apartheid as people tried to protect themselves from the security forces by anonymity.

Let us leave aside a dismissal of this ludicrous statement (because those with knowledgeable perspective to argue otherwise will meet the blank wall of inflexible assertion). However, a reality which is impossible to deny is that seventeen years have passed since apartheid was abolished, effectively a whole generation, but no attempt was made in that time by the residents to identify their house number . Why? There can be no other explanation than indolence, inertia, civic incapability, and the assumption that some superior group would eventually do this for these communities. It might then be justifiably wondered if these were not the true reasons why the problem had arisen in the first instance, totally unrelated to apartheid.

Such is the glaring irrationality that one wonders if the temerity of misinformation should not be tempered with embarrassment. However, it seems that this is not the case, perhaps because state organizations in South Africa, such as the South African Broadcasting Corporation, lack the insight and comprehension capabilities to be embarrassed.

The continued obsession with disinformation in South Africa (and the national disharmony which it causes) over-rides all reason and any desire for societal reconciliation

Friday, 14 January 2011

A special kind of stupidity

RW Johnson on the South African govt's draft Land Tenure Security Bill

It is with a tremendous sense of déjà vu that I read the documents on PoliticsWeb on Land tenure Security. It is just over twelve years ago that Lawrie Schlemmer and I carried out the first - and as far as I know, the only - full-scale survey of farmer and farmworker attitudes in KwaZulu-Natal. (Those were the days, now sadly long gone, when the Helen Suzman Foundation was doing research projects.)

The extraordinary truth was that although a great deal was written about the rights and wrongs of the rural situation, no one had ever interviewed a properly representative sample of farmworkers. Typically the agrarian radicals who produced most of the literature had not spent time on farms (which they regarded as enemy territory) and the farmworkers they interviewed were, literally, sacked or evicted or ex-farmworkers whom they found at rural bus stops and taxi ranks - by definition an atypical and biased sample.

The people who did such research had hardly entered a farm or met a farmer but they got awards for their research. Welcome to the wonderful and dysfunctional world of academic South Africa. Have a look sometime at what passes for research into rural South Africa. It's often just straightforwardly embarrassing, with agrarian radicals pressing hard for land reform which never actually works.

Even more remarkably, such folk would often organize conferences about "rural livelihoods" and the like - omitting farmers. When the farmers asked if they could attend they were treated almost as if they didn't legitimately exist. Conference resolutions would be drawn up without taking them into account and would be pushed through by large, whipped majorities, usually insisting on all manner of ideological objectives which the farmers thought either impossible, fantastical or objectionable and often all three.

Judging by AgriSA's walk out from a recent such conference, such tactics continue. The key to all such research and all such politicking was a workerist approach which simply assumed that the employers were, so to speak, foreign devils and then assumed, against all empirical evidence, that if you removed the farmers you got something called land reform. What you actually got was chaos and starvation. At very best, the farmers were regarded as a necessary evil.

What this disregarded was the simple fact which Ministers of Agriculture round the world have all realised long ago, which is that you can only bring about change in commercial agriculture by working with and through farmers. Even if the Minister sends in farm inspectors, the farmers are, after all, the people in charge on the farm for at least 99% of the time. The farms are their property and the workers their employees. They are driven, very powerfully, by the exigencies of the climate, the seasons and the market. Those are forces that they absolutely have to obey and reckon with. It is extremely difficult for any outside agency to make much of a dent in that.

The KZN Agricultural Union - KwaNalu - was the only fully integrated, multiracial farming organization in South Africa. Mandela had regarded its formation as so important that he personally attended its inauguration (and danced at it). It had a majority of small black farmers and a large number of Indian sugar farmers as well as the province's main white commercial farmers.

Nonetheless, KwaNalu felt frustrated by the current situation and invited us to do the research. They were model clients - fascinated by what we had to tell them but utterly non-interfering in our research or analysis. We published our full results in a publication doubtless still available from the HSF: RW Johnson and Lawrence Schlemmer: Farmers and Farmworkers in KwaZulu-Natal. Employment Conditions, Labour Tenancy, Land reform, attitudes and relationships (HSF, December 1998, 98pp plus questionnaires).

We actually went onto all the farms and to ensure we got truthful responses we made sure that farmers and workers were interviewed out of sight and earshot of one another and by someone from their own language group. The results were then tabulated and analyzed by us, out of the reach of either farmers or farmworkers.

The results were extremely interesting and showed a far more harmonious situation than one might have divined from any of the radical agrarians' publications. On the whole farmers and farmworkers got on pretty well with one another and working conditions and wages were also much better than generally believed.

One reason this was so was that many farms were examples of what one might call working paternalism. For the farmer was first port of call for workers in need. Many received extra food from the farmer, or were provided with TV rooms on the farm, or had their children's school fees paid or were given interest-free loans or got lifts from the farmer into and out of the nearest town.

Once you added in all these small payments in kind, you realised that overall, farm wages were not uncompetitive and that farmworkers on a flourishing farm, where they had often worked all their lives, often had a greater sense of job security than most industrial workers.

Quite often the workers' schoolchildren, back on the farm during vacations, would ask for and get small farm jobs - painting a fence, washing a car, mowing a lawn - which provided them with pocket money. We were careful to ask the workers very closely about farmers who hit or abused them but the results were vanishingly small.

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Thanks to JP

The Arrogance of Reflected Power

Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is demanding an apology from two police officers who pulled over her car on the M1 highway because it was weaving recklessly through traffic at 150km/h.

"Who the fuck do you think you are," she repeatedly yelled at him and his colleagues, Warrant Officer Jannie Odendaal said on Tuesday.

"I didn't recognise her since she had white powder all over her face and looked much older than when I'd last seen her."

Odendaal, a member of the Gauteng police flying squad, said the occupants of the vehicle refused to identify themselves.

"I've been working my arse off in the police for 19 years and now I have to apologise to her for doing my job," said Odendaal.

A general in the office of the Gauteng chief of police, Lieutenant General Mzwandile Petros, told Odendaal that he would accompany them to Madikizela-Mandela so they can apologise.

Petros apologetic

Petros would then apologise on behalf of the police.

"I don't know if I still belong in the police if this is the way they treat me.

"It looks like they're accepting Ms Madikizela-Mandela's word above my own," said Odendaal.

At about 09:50 on December 30 2010, Odendaal and his colleague - who doesn't want to be identified or discuss the events - pulled over a silver Audi A6 at the Jan Smuts Avenue off ramp on the M1 north.

On orders from Petros, they were pulling over and searching vehicles.

According to Odendaal they had already noticed and followed the Audi at the Xavier Road off ramp.

"We decided to pull over the Audi and switched on our sirens and lights," Odendaal said.

The car, which has tinted windows, only stopped about 5km further.


"A man jumped out and yelled: 'Who the hell do you think you are to want to search this vehicle, we are not in the era of apartheid any more'," Odendaal said.

The man appeared to be one of Madikizela-Mandela's bodyguards. He bumped Odendaal against the chest, according to Odendaal.

"I fetched a taser from our vehicle to scare him off. He then said they are accompanying Ms Madikizela-Mandela and they're very late."

Odendaal's colleague insisted that he wanted to identify Madikizela-Mandela himself, but the man refused.

Odendaal says he and his colleagues were in full police uniform.

Madikizela-Mandela got out, yelled at them, and instructed her bodyguard and driver to drive on.

According to Odendaal they logged the incident, but no complaint was laid because they felt "nothing would come of it since it's Madikizela-Mandela".


Last week they were informed that Madikizela-Mandela, her bodyguard and driver had submitted three complaints against them.

Odendaal says he was initially willing to swallow his pride and apologise, but has since changed his mind.

He and his colleague were transferred to other departments in the police on Friday until an internal investigation can be completed.

"We were asked to write a report and did so. We had to go to the provincial office where a general said Madikizela-Mandela would withdraw the complaints against us if we apologise to her."

Colonel Neville Malila, police spokesperson, said on Tuesday that a complaint of pointing a firearm and intimidation is being investigated against Odendaal and his colleague.

An internal investigation is also underway.

He said the bodyguards submitted these complaints. According to him the two policemen didn't speak to Petros and the case is considered sub judice.


Related article

Mama Whetu is officially above the Law

From Dina