Breaking the Cycle of Violence – A Call for Action

Talk delivered by SHUAIB MANJRA at the Claremont Main Road Mosque, 22 February 2013.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have taught the following:

“The believer with the most complete faith is the one with the best character and the one with the best character is he who treats women with dignity and honour” (reported by Abu Hurayra and recorded in the hadith collection of Tirmidhi)

On the basis of this hadith we conclude that in Islam the level of the believer’s faith is evaluated by his/her ethical conduct and the highest form of virtuosity is affirming the full dignity and honour of women.


South Africa reacted with shock, disgust and disbelief at the brutal violation of 17 year old Anene Booysen. She was raped and brutality murdered in Bredasdorp a few weeks ago.

Her murder was overshadowed in the last week by the case of South Africa’s celebrity Paralympiam Oscar Pistorius’s – who allegedly senselessly murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp –  an act which also left our country aghast.

One was a crime against an innocent girl, largely unknown to the perpetrators or known to some. The other was a crime against a woman who shared an intimate space with the alleged perpetrator. The two cases that I cite involve people that come from different races and different classes. The common denominator in both cases was a crime against women. More importantly they were an exercise in power. An expression of hubris that knows no boundaries – boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion or educational level are immaterial.

Both cases are little different in their intent, brutality and the factors which contribute to such violence.

It was the brutality and insanity of the violence perpetrated that shocked. It was a demonstration of a lack of humanity of the perpetrators. An inhumanity that tears at the soul of each and every one of us. Even in the country which has become accustomed to violence and rape, we were brutalised by these gratuitous acts of violence. It was the representation of a moral vacuum.

Our hearts go out to the survivors of this brutaliy – Anene Booysen’s family and friends. Reeva Steenkamp’s family is also in our thoughts. We feel for them, but can never experience their pain.

These events are tragedies. But the greater tragedy lies in the fact that these are not unusual occurrences – but are simply emblematic of a broader societal problem. This is a daily occurrence in many parts of our country – not least of all in the poor working class townships that are a blot on our country. They remain hidden except in the vilest cases.

But there comes a time when society stands up and says this is enough. Jyoti Singh’s brutalisation and murder   represented such a moment in India. India is another country where violence against women is endemic and structural and given legitimacy through culture and religion. The public reaction to Jyoti’s death in India was dramatic with even the Prime Minister present at the airport to receive her body. The public reaction in South Africa was more muted – where at best there were statements condemning the episode. Thousands of UCT students who this week marched against violence against women are to be commended. Aneen Booysen’s murder must represent that moment for us in South Africa.

The knee-jerk response of most of us was to call for increased and improved policing, harsher sentencing and even the death-penalty. These measures are necessary for both their punitive and deterrence value  – but they largely serve to address the consequences of the actions.  We cannot deal with this moral morass, these levels of endemic violence simply through harsher punitive sanctions. We should be asking another question; a more fundamental question: how can this be prevented? What are the underlying causes of such violence. However in addressing the structural causes of such violence we must not detract from personal complicity. And in apportioning personal blame we cannot ignore societal influence. Such actions ultimately are formed by a complex matrix of individual and societal influences.

Unless we begin to address these – the scourge of violence against women will continue unabated. In fact it will only get worse.


The structural causes violence in our country are stark and inter-related. Evaluating them gives us a sense of the enormity of the problem and puts to bed any notion of short-term solutions or easy remedies. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities


The first and most important cause of such violence is the way we are socialised –  the way our attitudes and behaviours towards women are shaped in our formative years. Our children learn what they see and what they experience. If our society casts women as inferior, as weak, as objectives, as possessions, as servants – then our children grow up accepting such attitudes. Our boys grown up with such attitudes and our girls grow up accepting such attitudes. In short we do what we learn, what we see and what we experience.  These attitudes are replicated through generations.


The second major cause is attributable to the cycle of violence where those who are victims of violence or even witnesses to violence are more likely to become violent themselves. This is termed intergenerational violence. Such behaviour may manifest through anger issues, criminal behaviour, domestic violence, etc.  Violence becomes a learnt behaviour, which is taught through society:  such violence may be represented by physical violence, emotional, or sexual violence. Children learn that this type of behaviour is normal and may re-enact such behaviour. Problems are managed through violence, which also serves a disciplining role.

In short violence is a learnt behaviour that is passed on through generations unless the cycle is broken.


Thirdly, we are ‘multiply wounded country’. This simply means that we are wounded in different ways and that this wounding is widespread.  This is a term that was first used by Nicaraguan psychologist Martha Cabrera who worked in Nicaragua, a country as wounded as ours,  through her organisation Citizen’s Movement for Social Change.

Our multiple woundedness as a country comes from our experiences of colonialism, apartheid, dislocation, victimisation, racism, patriarchy, marginalization, economic exploitation, violence, torture and other forms of disempowerment that reduces the majority of our population to the level of sub-alterns. We thus carry the weight of this scarring as individuals, families, cultures and communities. This continues through generations.

The effects of this past sits hidden in our souls and the very fabric of our daily existence,  terrorising us with the actions of rapists, murderers, domestic violence, school violence, alcohol abuse, police violence, road rage, taxi conflicts, violence by striking workers and interpersonal violence.

We have not adequately dealt with this scarring of the past. Reconciliation in our country has benefitted the powerful, not the powerless.

We lack the emotional vocabulary to express our feelings and have normalised the abnormal behaviour that comes from these scars – the behaviour of violence that lauds the policy of ‘shoot to kill’,  a return to the death penalty. Or a view that believes it is okay to beat a woman now and then.


The over-arching need to create a dominant masculine identity among our men has resulted in a notion that masculinity means power. And that power needs to be exercised to demonstrate masculinity – that power is most often demonstrated through physical aggression.  Compounding this, when men are traumatised, the dominant way they express their pain is through violence and aggression.

This masculine identity is reinforced through sports clubs, gangs, parental prodding and insults. Don’t be a sissy is one such insult. So sports club may be a solution – they could also become a problem if they over-emphasise a negative masculine identity. How often have we heard of members of sports clubs gang raping women.

While this masculinity is problematic, this problem is compounded where this identity is challenged. Currently in many communities this masculine identity is in crisis.  Men are frequently not the bread-winners and don’t occupy the traditional roles, thus emasculating men. Furthermore boys often have no male role models because of absent fathers. A large part of our communities consist of single parent families. Boys frequently find their masculine identity being formed outside the home where violence becomes a legitimate response in human interaction.


In areas such as Bredasdorp where the violence against Anene Booysen occurred over 50% of the population is unemployment. Unemployment creates a crisis of identity – where there is a feeling of a lack of self-worth, of a sense of time that whiles away, of a sense of hopelessness. In a traditional society it robs a man of sense of supporting his family.

Unemployment eats away at one’s soul – since we all find meaning in productive work. It destroys the morale and leads people to other forms of escape – drugs, alcohol, etc.


These remain a scourge of our society and are major contributors to violent behaviour.

South African drinkers rank amongst the top  five heaviest drinkers in the world with approximately 45% of drinkers classified as risky drinkers – with the risk particularly high in the Western Cape. Alcohol abuse is a major contributor to homicide. SA as a country has among the highest homicide rate in the world. Alcohol is major problem amongst those who carry out homicide, as well as the victims. Trauma consumes one third of our provinces health budget.

While this has been recognised as a problem – little is done to address it.


Last but not least – we face a profound moral crisis in our country. Even the President of this country hides behind the veneer of culture and tradition to demonstrate a lack of respect for women. We have a crisis of leadership. A culture of legalised looting.  A lack of respect for law. Every disregard for law inspires other violations of the law. Everyone begins to act with a sense of impunity.

We also need to recognise that each one of these perpetrators come from a community. Each one of these perpetrators is a son, a father, a husband or a brother. And each one of the victims is a sister, daughter, wife or mother. Each  one of them comes from a community made up of families, social clubs, religious institutions and schools. All these institutions have failed both perpetrator and victim.

So in summary the structural cause of such violence emanate from our SOCIALISATION, it is perpetuated through GENERATIONS. The over-emphasis of an aggressively MASCULINE IDENTITY plays a role in such violence. Other contributors include UNEMPLOYMENT, DRUGS, ALCOHOL and GANGSTERISM. All of these are contributed to, and are indicative of a PROFOUND MORAL CRISIS. We also need to recognise the MULTIPLE WOUNDEDNESS of our society.

These problems have no simple solutions. And don’t be fooled by those who offer such simple solutions. The rhetoric of politicians, the preaching of the clergy, the marches of the activists and the selflessness of the NGOs are not sufficient to address this profound crisis. We need to all work together and declare a STATE OF EMERGENCY in this country. We need every resource to work towards rebuilding the shattered fabric of this society. We may not feel it in the surburbs, the evidence in the townships abound.


Against this background of the multiple causes of violence we could become disempowered. We all do not have the tools to change these historical injustices. I do not have the answers. All I do is echo and add to some very practical suggestions by  Carol Bower, former head of Rapcan.

  • Ask better questions and use these to educate and inform ourselves and our actions

Do not ask what we can do to stop this – as this couches the narrative of us (good people) against them (bad people). Rather we should be asking the question ‘what is it that we are doing that creates the possibility for these things to happen”. How do we as a society contribute to such violence?  Why is it that our sons, brothers or fathers can commit such acts? For example how do we construct gender and gender roles and the unequal power relations that characterise such roles.

Why is it that rape happens? How is it linked more broadly to violence? We need to understand why rape is  not about sex or lust but more about power and control. So to focus on women’s dress does not address the issue.

  • Raise our kids differently

We need to raise our kids with self discipline, the ability to make sensible decisions and live as free and equitable human beings that respect the rights of all others. Don’t allow them to become abusers or victims of abuse.

We need to teach our children that violence is not a tolerable response. That men and women are equally deserving of respect and trust and equally contribute to society without these genders determing strength or power.

Teach them the Quranic essence that both men and women were created from the same spirit (nafsiw waahidah) – deserving of equal respect.

  • Develop intolerance for certain behaviours

Do not tolerate attitudes or behaviours that create the environment for a sexist society to exist. Do not tolerate sexist jokes; harassment or violence against women.

Provide support to those who are abused and counsel them to seek help without fear.

Religious communities should declare a zero tolerance for abuse and violence. Whether this related to paedophilia in the Catholic Church; or where a Saudi celebrity preacher violently rapes, tortures and kills his five-year-old daughter and then is released by paying blood money, or the case of a Jewish Rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement who likened sexual molestation to diarrhoea and has said victims of sexual abuse ‘should get over it’.

We should develop a zero-tolerance for Imams, Shaykhs and Moulana’s who abuse their power against women and children.

  • Provide support to organisations delivering services to survivor of rape and violence

I believe that in the absence of adequate social services in our country, the NGOs are the glue that hold our society together. Without them millions of people will be left to drown in the sea of neglect. Just recently Rape Crisis, the Saartjie Baartman Centre and the Trauma Centre for Survivor of Violence and Torture faced imminent closure because of a lack of funding. These organisations play a critical role in supporting our communities and turning victims into survivors. They counsel abused women and men, they introduce violence prevention programmes in schools and many other interventions that seek to reduce the levels of violence in our society. We need to support all of them. Without them we will all be poorer.

We need to support them financially, with our time and our power to get government to allocate funding to such valuable institutions.

  • Interrogate religious texts

Cultural and religious traditions play in socialising and legitimising human behaviour. These are consequences of religiously sanctioned gender roles – when one gender is seen as more powerful than the other. It creates a culture of patriarchy which is essentially a power construction. We need to critically examine religious texts within the broader spirit our of faith to ensure that the dignity of all human beings is equally affirmed.


Are issue that demand action both by civil society and the state.

In conclusion our country faces a profound moral crisis.  It is not sufficient to bemoan politicians. Rather we all need to believe in our own power to change this society. And societies change through individual change. Deep within each one of us we need to rekindle a spirit of equality, fairness, justice and respect for all people. We need to specifically focus on respect for women in our communities.  We all need to invest in rekindling the morality that our society so desperately needs. The immorality of corruption, of poverty, of homelessness, of sexual violence are all inter-linked. Thus this struggle is a long and difficult one. I repeat that we should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.

As Gandhi said – we must become the change we want to see in the world.

The Quran says: ‘Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change themselves’. (13 : 11)

This is a long and difficult road …. but this is one journey we must begin …. and we must begin NOW. We should not be lulled in seeking tidy, simple solutions to complex, untidy realities.


Reflections on the 21st Anniversary of our Democratic Elections

Talk delivered at the Claremont Main Road Mosque on the occasion of the 21st Anniversary of the first democratic elections

With a landmark 21st anniversary of our 1994 watershed democratic elections upon us, I want to use this opportunity to reflect on this critical conjuncture of our history.

South Africa undergoes periodic paroxysms of serious debate around transformation when a signal event occurs or a dramatic eye-catching one. The rest of the time this debate simmers in the background by the malcontents – and rightly so. This current paroxysm has been initiated around the statue of Cecil John Rhodes and to a lesser extent the inclusion of Vernon Philander in the Protea’s Team that lost their World Cup semi-final match to New Zealand. Then of course we have the current outbreak of xenophobic violence. Common to all these is the issue of marginalization and exclusion.

After reading the thousands of words written on this issue and the question of transformation, one thing is patently clear: that transformation means different things to different people. Or, as Lewis Carroll put it in Alice through the Looking Glass – ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean’.

So Xolela Mangcu thinks it’s race that is the fundamental issue, in response to others who think that class has been missing in this debate. Others think that the economy is the fundamental question; others think that land is of primary consideration. And then there are others who think that if we create an open and equal opportunity society the consequences of the past will right themselves automatically.

Historically the idea of transformation emerged as a response to the inadequacy of the binary opposition of reform versus revolution in the post-1990 conjuncture. Revolution would have seen the old system destroyed and a radically new system replacing it; reform would have seen an adaptation of the existing order to accommodate the demands of the majority of South Africans. Thus the notion of ‘transformation’ is the outcome of a negotiated compromise settlement at Codesa which ensured South Africa’s stable transition to democracy. Transformation within this context was the weapon meant to ensured that a compromised political transition translated into a broader and more fundamental social change in this interregnum, where to use the words of Antonio Gramsci –‘the old has not yet died and the new had not yet been born’. This is a delicate time in the history of any nation in transition where there is a contest for hegemony by the old and the new – where the new want a stake in the system, or to transform the system, and the old want to preserve their power and privilege and the status quo. Of course one can never predict the outcome of this struggle or that of transformation. There is always the danger – one which Gramsci called transformismo – which roughly equates to the cooption of threatening ideas in a particular social context, in order to create consensus and maintain the dominance of the hegemonic group. Put another way the leading class in society absorbs, translates and articulates the demands of some of the dominated sectors in order to better defuse them. In Gramsci’s analysis the formation of a new ruling class through transformism ‘involved the gradual but continuous absorption … of the active elements … from antagonistic groups’ in a process whereby ‘the absorption of the enemy’s elites means their decapitation’. This meant that the new system gave the ruling elite a stake in the new system in what passed for transformation. Some would call this necessary to maintain stability, as happened in Italy where the leftist radicals were coopted into government and which informed Gramsci’s analysis. Jeff Rudin puts this in the context of our debates around transformation at UCT:

‘Collegial governance has, on balance, reinforced rather than undone white domination and it has sheltered racist attitudes and practices. Many black staff and students find the university to be a hostile space in which a degree of mutilation of the self is part of the price that has to be paid to keep going’.

Transformation is thus both a process and an outcome to ensure that society fundamentally changes the way in which it operates in order to grant the majority (or disempowered) population an equal stake in the system. Of course what this system constitutes requires another critical discussion. Democracy is one aspect of this change – but democracy here refers to democratizing all spheres of social life and an empowerment of those hitherto disempowered; not the democracy that actually disempowers.

This is where the liberal notion of ‘equal opportunity society’ falls flat. One cannot simply take a society with a long history of racial discrimination, marginalization and dispossession, and the next day expect them to compete on an equal footing with those who have had access to the best education, finances, health services, resources, networks and experiences. That power relations reproduce themselves is axiomatic. Historical resources are used by the dominant class to enter, entrench, extend and perpetuate their positions of power and privilege, consequently keeping the weak and marginalised out of this circle of privilege. Poverty similarly reproduces itself through unemployment, poor housing and health care, poor education, lack of role models and networks. This cycle, as is historically evident, is reproduced through generations benefiting a particular class and/or race – where the rich become wealthier and remain largely white, and the poor become poorer and remain largely black. This has been scientifically confirmed in Thomas Piketty’s landmark published study, Capital in the 21st Century.  It takes a momentous committment and process to change this vicious cycle of exclusion so that all members of society have equal access to resources and, importantly, realise their full potential. Trickle-down economics will not make a dent in the transformation process.

Apartheid was no simple racism or separate development that can be righted in a short space of time.  It was social engineering on a grostesque scale. Apartheid was a form of racial capitalism that simply treated black people as cheap labour and nurtured them as ‘hewers of wood and carriers of water’ – this was the biblical phrase used by Hendrick Verwoerd to describe black people . It was a form of capitalism that used legislation including the poll tax to force black people off their subsistence farms, forced them to engage in wage-labour, and dislocated males and females from their families through pass laws. Men and women saw their families once or twice a year: fracturing families, destroying traditional family relationships, child-rearing, African traditional life and decimating local economies. Starvation wages and illnesses associated with mining were the lot of the miners eking out a pitiful existence on the margins of urban localities– and who were simply dumped back to their homes when they were too ill to continue working. Marikana in its dastardly form was a picnic compared to the lot of mineworkers and other workers over centuries.

Transformation in this context requires reverse social engineering to level the playing fields so that those who are excluded are included, those who are denied opportunities are given them, and those whose access has been blocked are given first access. This assumes critical proportions in a society as unequal as ours. Our societies are variously divided into the pre-modern and post-modern, rural and urban, the employed and unemployed, black and white, rich and poor. Within this context the tools of transformation that we seem to rely on are Black Economic Empowerment, Employment Equity, preferential university admission and quotas in sports teams. Unfortunately these mostly benefit the already privileged.

We would be mistaken to think that those born into privilege or those who have acquired it (some through their own enterprise) are going to relinquish it easily. Of course none would question the legitimacy of transformation, but few would be willing to give up their privilege or at least share it. As Steven Friedman writes about the Rhodes Statue – and here may I remind you that Friedman is not speaking about the right wing elements, but rather about liberals:

But the controversy is really about something deeper — the racial denialism of a strong strand of South African liberalism. Black students and academics are angry because, 20 years after the end of apartheid, they remain second-class citizens on most campuses: black academics remain a small fraction of teaching staff, while the writings of black thinkers are relegated to the margins. Most students are black but the world in which they study is distinctly white. This shows how deep-rooted the attitudes that underpinned apartheid are — and it points a finger at a form of liberalism that has washed its hands of racism while continuing to practise it. It is no accident that the protests are happening on the campuses of English-speaking “liberal” universities, which have long claimed to be victims of racism: it is precisely at those institutions that race is kept alive by denying it’.

So transformation importantly requires an acknowledgment of the black experience, black hurt, its pain, its consequences and its reproduction and the exclusion of its culture, values and history in our discourse. Without that transformation would remain superficial and not address the core issues that cause periodic ructions in our communities. Having said that, we need to remember that fundamentally there will be no substantive transformation unless socio-economic transformation occurs. It is ultimately about the economy.

This brings me to the second point regarding transformation, which is that by purely focusing on race, we miss the dimension of class and power. This is important because the GINI coefficient demonstrates that South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies on the planet. BEE has created the enrichment of a few not the empowerment of the majority. Capital has granted access to those in political power in order to leverage some privilege rather than empower ordinary workers, foremost amongst them their own labour force. How much more effect BEE would be if it compelled employers to grant some stake in their business to their own workers. Creating black millionaires and billionaires through BEE simply entrenches the existing class and power structure without addressing the upliftment of the majority of black people. These black capitalists are simply absorbed into the system doing little to empower other black people as predicted by Gramsci’s transformismo. Cyril Ramaphosa and Marikana are a case in point – where he seemingly played a role in the massacre of striking workers. Show me one beneficiary of BEE that has changed the nature of power relations, of labour relations or bucked the system (unless they have been personally aggreived).

Similarly much of the concern around the Rhode statue and the ructions at UCT and elsewhere are largely, but not exclusively middle-class concerns. Black academics want promotion, students want access and privileges. Of serious concern is exclusion of black students as a result of not being able to afford the fees. Working people and the unemployed, who are stared down by Rhodes from his perch care less whether his statue falls or remains. Killing and removing the dead is easy – hence UCT’s easy capitulation on the removal of Rhodes statue. More difficult is to challenge and eradicate the ideas of Rhodes which are very much alive at UCT – of racism, liberalism, of privilege and workers exploitation. Symbolism does not translate into substantive transformation. Will promoting black staff and students at UCT make for a better society or a society that cares for its poor and really disadvantaged or like BEE just create a stake for them in the existing power system. Thus Xolela Mangcu is fundamentally wrong in simply invoking race as the most important arbiter in this conflict. As Jeff Rudin says of those obsessed only with race:

Colour-coding access to scarce resources is the main hallmark of the new, post-Apartheid, non-racial South Africa. This colour-coded access to wealth and/or promotion is, of course, enormously important to those who benefit, many of whom are not without legitimate grievances. But for everyone else – the vast majority of South Africans – it makes not a jot of difference, for as long as the class structure of South African capitalism remains untouched. Creating black billionaires and millionaires through BEE further entrenches this class structure. Similarly, making university staff all black is plainly important to the people concerned but, in itself, does nothing to promote the interests of everyone else that’s left behind in the inequality that makes our country a world-beater.

So far – with all too few exceptions in some universities – there’s precious little to show that black staff are any more disposed to promoting the radical societal changes required by workers – who still suffer the legacy of Rhodes’ cheap labour policies and practices – the unemployed and the other battalions of the increasingly restless poor and disadvantaged.

Economic transformation is fundamental. Racial desegration will not bring about economic transformation. But economic transformation will go a long way in desegregation and bringing about substantive social transformation.

My third point is that transformation requires a fundamental restructuring of how power is constituted in our society. We cannot simply reproduce the apartheid power relations with black faces. We need a fundamental shift in how power is exercised and diffused throughout society. Currently we have a ruling party instead of a serving party:  A party that operates as a democratic dictatorship (or democratic centralism) instead of a model of participatory democracy. Majoritarianism has been falsely equated with democracy. While acknowledging the merits of the proportional representation system we currently have, the major problem is that no individual is accountable to his or her constituency or the public– but is rather beholden to the party and all of its policies. These parties are in turn beholden to its funders where such funders are hidden from the public. We thus need to support the current campaign for transparency in political party funding, which all the parties currently oppose. Our current power elites have simply fitted into the model of the past with all the trappings of privilege. We expected better. Even the Trade Union leadership, currently consumed in its own battles is oblivious to the dire circumstances that people in Khayalitsha daily confront, for example – with no access to santitation, high crime rates and poor policing, poor schooling and poor amenities. Those in power are far removed from people’s daily realities. Our ruling party spends more time defending the President than serving the nation. In doing this they could destroy all the institutions that protect our functioning democracy: SCOPA, the Public Protector, the NPA, the Hawks, the judiciary,  SAPS and the Intelligence Agencies. Through cadre deployment and corruption we have seen the destruction of Eskom, SAA, the municipalities and a host of other institutions where corruptions seems to be the norm with no firm visible action taken against perpetrators. Political cover is given to the guilty – the Amigos case just one such example. We also currently view with alarm the decimation of COSATU.

This new form of power has avoided any degree of political accountability by using its power as the majority party and through the use of a simple obfuscatory mechanism called The Commission of Inquiry or what Dale McKinley sarcastically calls the Omission of Inquiry. He further states:

“Amongst its many other attributes, South Africa could arguably be called the Commission capital of the world. While there is no official list of how many Commissions of Inquiry there have been in the 20 years since 1994, suffice to say that the numbers are impressive. In the last 14 years alone there have been no less than 10 national-level, high profile Commissions of Inquiry – five of which have yet to run their course – accompanied by scores of others emanating from the executives and departments at national, provincial and municipal levels. What is a great deal more in doubt though is whether all these Commissions have achieved anything other than to soak up large amounts of public monies, to control and manipulate public opinion and attention, to avoid political accountability and individual responsibility, to cover-up criminal behaviour, and generally act as vehicles for doing little to nothing?”

 The findings of these Commission’s are presented to the President and executive, who more often than attempt to conceal their findings through invoking state security legislation or use it to fight political battles. These commissions include the Khampepe Commission into the 2002 Zimbabwean elections; 2004 Hefer Commission – set up to investigate allegations of spying against the then head of the National Director of Public Prosecutions; the Khampepe Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) in 2006. The 2006 Matthews Commission on Intelligence; the  Seriti (Arms Deal) Commission which has racked up a bill of over R300 million rand with a limited mandate in order to protect state employees; finally there is the Farlam (Marikana) Commission of Inquiry into the 2012 massacre of striking miners – the report therefrom is currently sitting with the President.

As Terry Crawford-Browne has noted “Commissions of Inquiry have traditionally become places to park a hot potato until it gets cold.”

The one Commission of Inquiry which did achieve some success was the Inquiry into Policing in Khayaletsha – which was forced by civil society actors including the SJC and Ndifuna Ukhwazi. Interestingly this Commission was opposed in court by the Minister of Police when established by Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. There have been notable successes out this Commission because it was independent and initiated and monitored by Social Movements, but much more has to be achieved. This is an example of grass roots activism and democracy.

But the public is not easily fooled. South Africa has an extremely high rate of social protests that take place on a daily basis, which remain largely unreported until they affect functionality or more affluent areas. They are largely based on local issues – lack of service delivery, non-performance by local officials, crime and corruption. It is only a matter of time where this rebellion of the marginalised becomes an organic crisis and becomes more organised, more political, more widespread and more coordinated – where we begin to see a move such as the Occupy Movement or the Arab Spring which may give rise to new political formations or exploited by existing ones such as the EFF or the United Front. We have seen such protest movement remove traditional liberation movements around the world – where sentimentality gives way to disillusionment and common interests.

As Abraham Lincoln famously remarked: you can fool some of the people some of the time; all of the people some of the time; but not all of the people all of the time. That time will surely come if this government continues to ignore the poor and marginalized – a time where popular rebellion by the marginalized will engulf this country on an unprecedented scale – far worse than the high number of civil protests that we currently have.

Talking about the poor and marginalized brings me to the next point regarding transformation and that is the burning issue of xenophobia.  We have witness the most dastardly acts against people from other countries who have come to ours for various reasons – as political, social or economic refugees. These people would rather die or drown in oceans than stay in their home countries – so dire is their lot. These are acts of criminality driven by a hatred termed xenophobia. We have targeted people simply because they are different to us (or more successful). Nothing can justify such attacks against innocent people earning an honest living who come to our shores out of desperation. But these attacks don’t occur in a vacuum. They result from discontent among people regarding their lot and rather than blame those responsible lay lazy blame on outsiders. Such thinking is fuelled by those in power: be it the Zulu King or Ministers in Government who either inspire such attacks or create a veneer of justification for them. In fact the Khayalithsa Commission of Inquiry into Policing heard that crime against business owned by foreigners was twice that of local shop owners and that police stood by as Somali, Zimbabwean and other foreign owned shops were attacked and looted – pointing to a complicity by the police force.  That foreigners are succeeding in business on our shores is due to our failure to create entrepreneurs or skills for people to succeed where others can. We should not begrudge the other, but rather aspire to their successes and learn from them. Most of these people came to our shores with very little but have succeed through hard-work and establishing networks for mutual benefit. There is no reason why we cannot do the same. I will give you simple case: my helper at home spoke about a Somali trader in her area who she used to purchase from. She described him as one of the kindest people she knew. She had numerous burglaries in her house and he used to voluntarily come and fix her gate and other broken items without cost. When he was attacked she showed some sympathy but  laughed about it –  not the outrage one would expect in such circumstances. This was because regardless of how good he was, he was of the ‘other’. This ‘othering’ creates a banality in our evil. It robs our country of a civility. Xenophobia is world-wide phenomenon, it’s just that with our experience of apartheid we expect better.

This ‘othering’ and consequent demonization is a historical phenonemenon with catastrophic consequences. Frightening is that those who have been victims become its perpetrators. But more importantly there is an ever closing circle of ‘othering’. As UCT Social Anthropology Professor Francis B Nyamnjoh writes:

this diminishing circles of inclusion dictates that the next amakwerekwere, foreigners or strangers, is always one layer below the obvious one’.

Today it is the foreigners, tomorrow it could be Indians and Coloureds, then it could be gays and lesbians, then it could be the disabled, then women …. This hierarchy of race, class and ‘othering’ continues to close down on those who are more vulnerable, as if the dehumanization must be a continuing cycle: that because I am dehumanized, I must similarly act in an inhumane way towards others below me in the social hierarchy. This ‘diminishing circle of inclusion’ is poetically and presciently captured by one of Hitler’s victims, Pastor Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

Professor Nyamnhoh invokes the Nando add which was banned by the SABC to demonstrate our common history:

The ad starts with black Africans illegally crossing a barbed-wire border fence into South Africa. There is a voiceover and each time the voice calls out a name, the group of people who represent that particular identity are transformed into a cloud of smoke, as follows: You know what is wrong with South Africa: all you foreigners. You must all go back to where you came from – you Cameroonians, Congolese, Pakistanis, Somalis, Ghanaians and Kenyans. And of course you Nigerians and you Europeans. Let’s not forget you Indians and Chinese. Even you Afrikaners. Back to Swaziland you Swazis, Lesotho you Sothos, Vendas, Zulus, everybody. In the end, only one person is left standing, a San man who, armed with a bow and arrow and ready to explore the wilderness, confronts the voiceover with these words: “I’m not going anywhere. You found us here.” The ad concludes with the voiceover saying: “Real South Africans love diversity.”

He sees this advert ‘as articulating an idea of identity and belonging in South Africa that is both conscious and cognisant of the histories of mobilities of peoples that have made South Africa possible, and that remains open to new and ongoing mobilities. capturing the spirit of our nation’.

These xenophobic attacks are not only against foreigners, rather they attack all we stand for as a rainbow nation, including the notion of inclusion The justification provided for these acts of xenophobia are vacuous. Firstly foreigners make up only 4% of our workforce. Secondly those are targeted are black foreigners not white foreigners (or what we rather call expats) – not that, that would be acceptable. Secondly, the challenge to local businesses in the townships come from the monopolies and big supermarket chains, not the Somali or Nigerian businessmen who are only small time traders – yet are targeted. The point I am emphasising is that xenophobia feeds on the already marginalized.

The issues I have raised today, including the need for transformation in dealing with race, economic disparity, the constitution of power and xenophobia point to a South Africa where we are struggling to find and adhere to a common set of values and to forge a shared sense of national identity. Instead of maturely engaging, debating and discussing around our painful, complex, and uncomfortable past seeking genuine transformation, we use this past as an excuse to mask our current failures, corruption and incompetence.

We have failed to include the majority in this new dispensation – who continue to feel dispossessed, marginalized and alienated. As a result of this sense of frustration and despair, despite our peaceful transition to democracy violence is part and parcel of who we have become. As Barney Mthomboti puts it:

 We are a damaged society. Violence is part of our DNA. We resort to violence at the slightest provocation — in our homes, at work and in the streets. People are killed for a cellphone or a few coins in their pockets. Women are abused and murdered by their partners. We resort to violence as an alcoholic turns to booze for solace. And we’ve learnt to justify it. When people commit crime, we say it’s because they are poor. A form of redistribution, I guess.

 In conclusion I quote extensively  Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela since I cannot put the challenges before us more eloquently than him when he spoke at the Universities graduation ceremony a few weeks ago describing those who were running our country ‘as people of questionable moral and ethical character’. He says:

‘The noble qualities and values of personal integrity‚ honesty‚ humility‚ compassion‚ respect for each other‚ fairness‚ forgiveness‚ empathy‚ selfless dedication and willingness to put others first‚ that were so beautifully exemplified by President Nelson Mandela‚ have given way to venality‚ a complete lack of integrity‚ moral decadence‚ profligacy‚ rampant corruption‚ deceit‚ and duplicity.”

He continued:  “SA had lost its moral compass by voting in people who have no sense of the difference between right and wrong‚ just and unjust‚ fair and unfair‚ ethical and unethical to positions of significance‚ power and influence. We have become a society in which obscene and unbridled opulence exists alongside debilitating poverty and deprivation; a society that relentlessly promotes a culture of untrammelled greed and conspicuous consumption above the public and common good; a culture that judges one’s worth by the amount of personal wealth amassed.”

 “South Africa had become a society where far too many people were mired in desperate daily routines of survival‚ while at the same time‚ crass materialism and vulgar and ostentatious displays of personal wealth had become fashion statements for the political elite.

 Speaking directly to the 2015 graduates he said: I urge you to go out and make a difference in a society characterised by incertitude‚ cynicism and despair. My appeal to you is that you become an active‚ engaged and concerned citizen who takes a special interest in and concern for those who are living in the social and economic margins of our society. We cannot fail them; we dare not fail them.”

 This is also our challenge.

I end with a prayer for peace, justice, reconciliation, hope and freedom; a prayer I hope all of you recognize:

Lord bless Africa May her glory be lifted high Hear our petitions Lord bless us, your children

Lord we ask You to protect our nation Intervene and end all conflicts Protect us, protect our nation Protect South Africa

Out of the blue of our heavens Out of the depths of our seas Over our everlasting mountains Where the echoing crags resound

Sounds the call to come together, And united we shall stand, Let us live and strive for freedom, In South Africa our land.

 To those who have no recognised it, I remind you that this is our beautiful national anthem to which we do violence every single day.

Shuaib Manjra, Cape Town, 24th April 2014

Some reflections on the Charlie Hebdo saga

Having read and engaged significantly on the Charlie Hebdo killings and its commentary and consequence over the last few weeks, I had various ideas floating around in my head which I tried to make sense of. Writing permits me to organise these thoughts a bit more coherently. Some of course are more coherent than others. Some are original and others simply reflected from others who perhaps have articulated them better than I can…

‘It has nothing to do with Islam’, is a constant refrain of those seeking to distance themselves from the dastardly massacre that claimed the lives of journalists, policemen and civilians in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris. Of course the good intention underlying this disavowal stems from the belief that Islam cannot condone, let alone motivate such murder and mayhem. The truth is that the killers sought inspiration from some form of Islam for these acts. They considered this avenging the Prophet’s honour. More importantly however is that many scholars – traditional and radical – will support capital punishment against anyone who insults the Prophet Muhammad. There is evidence from numerous sources that at least some of those who lampooned the Prophet during his lifetime and later were put to death. Of course our lack of appreciation of the entire circumstances around these episodes does not permit us to use this as precedent; also because some of these people were forgiven by the Prophet himself.  Modern sensibilities also preclude us meting out such classical forms of punishment. It is worth remembering that the Prophet historically played a role as statesman, the political leader of a nascent community, as well as a spiritual and religious leader. Disaggregating these roles will allow us a greater understanding of the Prophetic precedents that are applicable to a religious community.  Nowhere does the Quran permit killing for such as crime.  That notwithstanding we need to recognise and challenge this dangerous strain within Islam which combines fundamentalism and violence and is responsible for the most heinous crimes – Boko Haram and ISIS being contemporary examples. Similarly Judaism cannot disown Zionism, nor can Christian fundamentalism be disowned by its parent. They may be aberrations but their source of inspiration and legitimacy derives from the parent religion, its tradition and scriptures.  Islam, and indeed all religions and secular entities have this extremist violent strain within it. The Kharijites, who are the forerunners of this violent fundamentalist strand, came to the fore soon after the death of the Prophet and have sustained themselves on the margins of Muslim society ever since. The Kharijite’s disavowal of any forms of interpretation fossilised their religious belief in a literalist, harsh and fundamentalist mode and wrought untold damage to the early Muslim communities – brutally killing those it disagreed with.  Three of the four righteous guided Caliphs were murdered. This danger within Islam needs to be challenged lest they proliferate and threaten the very body of Muslim society. In fact the violent threat of this group is most evident within Muslim societies, only occasionally threatening those without.

The Charlie Hebdo killers according to most sources were confessional but not observant Muslims. Their radicalisation did not stem primarily from religion but rather from politics; or more specifically from imperial hubris in Muslim lands. The gross atrocities, torture and physical violence unleashed in Iraq and elsewhere radicalised the Kouachi brothers – who were then ensnared by radical Islamist ideologues who are quick to exploit this anger, crisis of identity and political injustice into a comfortable world of absolutes. In a court deposition in 2007, Chérif Kouachi, the younger of the brothers was explicit about this blowback: “I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television on what was going on over there. I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.” Mahmood Mamdani’s calls it ‘calculated acts of political violence driven by the incoherent allegiances of damaged and dangerous young men’. In essence this was a result of secular politics dressed in a religious garb. France has long been a key player in this imperialist network including in its violent colonial history in Algeria and elsewhere. This has further fed this resentment and radicalisation.  When the Algerians – where the Kouachi brother trace their heritage –  freely expressed themselves in a national election in 1990, a French backed military junta overthrew the elected representatives: a continuation of its epistemic violence,  to use Foucault and Gayatri Spivak. France also backed the military intervention in Libya and Mali not too long ago.

The marginalisation and discrimination that Muslims, Africans and other immigrants experience in France and its banlieues, has seen frequent outbreaks of violent resistance – where disaffiliation frequently turns into defiance. Muslims represent an underclass in French society – constituting about 10% of the population but nowhere close to that in representation in the centres of power. The Kouachi brothers, like millions of others were alienated youth living on the margins of society: unemployed and from minority communities. Their communities are past victims of colonialism in their mother countries and present victims of racism in the imperial centres which colonised them. They remain outsiders both in the centre and the periphery of colonial enterprise. Thus the violence of these brothers against civilians was a reaction to imperial violence against civilians. In this case their targets were those who functioned as the ideological arm of imperialism – who mocked the underclass without an appreciation of their context, history and sensitivities – no different to the orientalism project. Jean Baudrillard captures the irony when he wrote: ‘Those who deplore the ideological bankruptcy of the West should recall that ‘God smiles at those he sees denouncing evils of which they are the cause’”.

Freedom of expression, and its subset freedom of the media, which has been fetishised through the Je Suis Charlie campaign is not a sacred tenet as it has been recently constructed and paraded:  it is simply an instrument of power relations, which is contingent and not absolute even in the most liberal societies like France.  Such freedoms are constrained through the power of coercion by Capital, the political establishment, civil actors or in the name of national security or secularity.  In other cases such freedoms are constrained through custom, morality, civility, etiquette or a civil compact to sustain social harmony.  Libel, defamation, discrimination, sedition and blasphemy laws enshrined in many countries have a similar intent. The foundational principle of any society should be  respect for human dignity and civility which actually gave rise to the notion of freedom of speech and therefore precedes it. Freedom of speech has always existed throughout history for the powerful. The victory of freedom of speech is when it becomes accessible to the powerless – not to become its victims. As communities developed, plural citizenship became a reality and civility became an indispensable element to harmonise the community. In fact some freedoms were sacrificed so that humans could live in harmony – which is the story and history of civilisation. Thus can freedom of speech be held with the same regard  as its extreme forms of mockery, insult,  racism, slander and bigotry that causes disharmony and mocks what many hold sacred. And should freedom of speech by the powerful be more sacred than the dignity of citizens, particularly the underclass. Should Muslims be part of the social compact and players in what constitutes acceptable standards of public discourse, or do they require more social standing and economic and political power to assert their rights.

Secularity is the ostensible motivation for the ban on Muslim women wearing the nikab (or face covering). Regardless of its legitimacy in Islamic Law or it being anathema to liberal sensitivities, some women prefer this mode of expressing their modesty. It is a matter of freedom of choice and freedom of expression. To ban it is simply outrageous and illiberal and gives lie to the notion of freedom of expression. Furthermore France has its own censorship: When Nicholas Sarkozy was Interior Minister in 2005 he ordered 25 000 copies of his wife’s biography pulped because it revealed details of their private life. In the same year Frances Catholic Church won a court injunction to ban a fashion advertisement based on Leonardo da  Vinci’s ‘Last Supper on the grounds that it was ‘a gratuitous  … act of intrusion on peoples innermost beliefs’.  Also in that year Le Monde was found guilty of “racist defamation” against Israel and the Jewish people. France’s legislation banning Holocaust denial is another inexplicable paradox. The prosecution of the comedian Dioudienne on charges of anti-Semitism further demonstrates the limits of freedom of speech. Charlie Hebdo itself dismissed an employee for what it suggested was anti-Semitism – a limit of the freedom it espouses. The subjects here were the powerful Jewish community which exerted its power to censor. More importantly however is that such censorship is contingent on appreciating Europe’s violent history against Jews, and the indignity victims of the Holocaust would suffer as a result of its denial.   Three years before the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006, it rejected ones offering a light-hearted take on the resurrection of Christ for fear they would “provoke an outcry”. Its editor wrote to cartoonist Zieler saying that ‘I don’t think that Jylland Posten’s readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore I will not use them’. In other words mocking Judeo-Christian symbols requires circumspection, but Muslims are fair game. The USA and the UK have both invoked laws limiting freedom of expression or the media both during times of war or peacetime. Beyond this, self-censorship by the media is the norm in these countries.  In the USA University staff have been dismissed or denied tenure because of their criticism of Israel: Norman Finkelstein and Steven Salata are cases in point.  There is no uproar or public campaign around these individuals because they represent the underclass or at least speak for them. The case of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange is another demonstration on the limits of freedom of expression. In the UK the publication of the findings of the Chilcot Commission is eagerly awaited to hold Blair and his acolytes criminally responsible for an illegal military invasion. Few seem to be extolling the virtue of freedom of access to such information.  Essentially where the powerful exert a limit on this freedom it becomes the norm. On the other had freedom of expression becomes a weapon to continue to assault the underclass and oppressed – those who have no recourse.  But those that espouse liberalism have also targeted and killed journalists – the USA did it in Iraq and Israel in Gaza.  Let us also remember the Western allies in Egypt where the military junta has imprisoned journalists from Al-Jazeera and has banned public protests; or Saudi Arabia where freedom of expression is a distant dream. Such censorship is perhaps not all done in the name of religion – a sign that modernity has moved sanctity from the sacred to the secular: nationalism has become the new religion.

Context is always important. Invoking freedom of speech without considering a historical and social context often results in insult and injury to victims. Considering historical contexts, would it be appropriate for Germans to mock Jews, the British to mock the Irish, The Turks to mock the Armenians, or the White community in South Africa to mock black people? This would not constitute neutral commentary – it represents a blow-back to the past and the continuation of that hubris and mindset. It’s worse if that injustice continues without redress. It’s pissing on your victims. In these cases entities which as a group oppressed, colonized and massacred the indigenes in history have lost the right to mock their victims – whether in satire or otherwise. The pain of these communities remains raw. In the case of Algerians they remain discriminated against, alienated and are pushed to the margins of society. It is like shooting at an ambulance.

The framing of the Charlie Hebdo saga as one between civilised norms and barbarism is misleading. It is wrong because it posits the western paradigm as one of ideas versus Eastern (or Middle-Eastern) violence. “They don’t like us because of our values” is a frequent refrain. It is true but for another reason: that the West was built on a foundation and value of violence to which it also owes its economic success – genocide (of the first nations), slavery, colonialism and imperialism.  Someone  has recently argued that there would be no ‘civilisation’ without the instrument of violence. So to be preached about violence from the West is rather rich in irony.  It is also ironic because western barbarism in Iraq and Afghanistan was responsible for, and continues to be the trigger for the radicalisation of essentially secular youth.  This radicalisation is a reaction to a gross injustice which renders its victims powerless – they have no recourse in law or in international instruments or institutions. Western violence has been more brutal than the Islamist violence in numbers of innocent civilians killed in its ‘war on terror’. One would expect better with the sophisticated weapons employed.  The victims of the ‘war on terror’ are the silent victims – victims of state terror variously ignored as ‘collateral damage’.  Nobody remembers such victims. The American victims of 9/11 are more important than those killed by Americans in its imperial excursions.  The dumping of oil in the Gulf of Mexico is more heinous than if it is done in Nigeria. We memorialise the deaths of Westerners and relegate those of the marginalised.  It’s about the value we place on human life. Memorial cartoons have hyperbolised the conflict as between Western civilised ideas and uncivilised violence: note the imagery of the pen and the gun. This of course is bullshit. Ask the innocent victims of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Palestine about this Western civility and use of ideas.  Ask the Americans why they murdered Anwar-al-Awlaki and his son in Yemen rather than arresting him and charging him for whatever crime he had committed? South Africa’s eminent philosopher Loyiso Gola put’s it eloquently:  “Stop killing people whose views you don’t agree with – that is America’s job!” This is not about values and certainly the western arsenal that results in its domination is certainly not based on ideas, but superior weaponry: power using the notion of freedom to extend itself. Gary Younge quotes Steve Biko in demonstrating this hypocrisy where Muslims are being vilified twice – once as the subjects of the original cartoons and then again for having the temerity to protest them: ‘Not only are whites kicking us; they are telling us how to react being kicked’. Another irony not taken up by the liberal media is where the Parisian Jews killed in the attack on a kosher supermarket were taken to Israel for burial:  dead Jews are allowed to migrate to Israel and be buried on occupied land, while indigenous Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed! How’s that for another political gripe.

Another important question is whether Charlie Hebdo actually espouses and achieves a progressive political agenda. They have variously been described as leftists or ultra-leftists and defended against the charge of racism. The critical question is how the work of Charlie Hebdo and similar publications contributes to a progressive political and social agenda, aside from its claim to represent an absolute freedom of expression. Even this distinction is dubious as previously demonstrated.  It simply demonstrates hubris: ‘that we will because we can’.  Of course the minority extremists of all ilk should be challenged – but in doing so, should we do violence to a moderate majority? Could other forms of criticism achieve a more progressive outcome rather than infantile caricature and mockery? Zapiro is an example of a cartoonist who espouses a progressive agenda and uses his considerable skills to ‘afflict the comfortable’. Satire should check the powerful and not further hurt the powerless. There is nothing courageous to use your freedom to satirise, mock and ridicule the beliefs of the weakest sections of the community – who have no means of defence, except perhaps violence.

To be clear – there is no justification in killing: whether it is the journalists of Charlie Hebdo or the victims of imperial terror.  All victims of terror – state or otherwise – should be treated with equal dignity and their loss mourned globally. Freedom of speech is essential but not sacred – human dignity and civility trumps it.  Laws of censorship are not the solution since they are used by the powerful to promote their own agenda; rather a civil compact achieves more desirable outcomes. Critique is the lifeblood of any society if it is to progress. Critique should be sacralised not insult in the guise of free speech.

Shuaib Manjra

23 January 2015

The Open Mosque Saga: Progressive Politics or Neo-colonial Posturing

Progressive Politics and Neo-Colonial Posturing: The Open Mosque Saga

The notion of an ‘Open Mosque’ is an alluring idea: such a mosque which is inclusive, non-discriminatory and embracing of human diversity naturally resonates with us as Muslims, feminists and proponents of human rights. There is little to argue against it. In fact many are disingenuously falling over themselves to claim their mosques as ‘open spaces’. In reality the vast majority of mosques are male-centred and controlled by a small coterie of individuals without democratic participation. Women are absent from their leadership ranks, even if they are able to attend – more often than not in some relegated space.

The saga of the Open Mosque in Cape Town has raised a number of critical points of reflection and learning for people engaged in progressive politics. If nothing else it has forced an important conversation. The media trumpeted this initiative of Dr. Taj Hargey, who claims to have founded “South Africa’s first Quran-centric, gender-equal and non-sectarian Islamic house of God.” However, Hargey’s claims are simply wrong. The Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town and the Masjid al-Islam in Brixton, Johannesburg are two examples of well-established mosques that have actively and communally fostered gender-egalitarian and non-sectarian ethics in their governance, membership and ritual practices, while the “Taking Islam to the People” initiative in KwaZulu-Natal is based on a similar ethos. These initiatives were built through inclusive community engagement over a prolonged period, buttressed with theological engagements and empowering activism. Importantly, these institutions are also sites of progressive politics and social justice. Sadly these mosques remain a small minority.

Hargey, as visiting revolutionary keen to rescue unthinking South African Muslims from religious leaders, might have had a slightly different view if he had consulted local communities of Muslims who have worked hard and long in collaborative consultation to develop egalitarian institutions. The least he would have realised is that Muslim women do more than just make ‘samoosas’ – (and as one Muslim women sharply noted, making samoosas was what paid for her children’s schooling). He could also have fought his unresolved battles with the clergy on a different terrain.

Taj Hargey’s method, manner and politics of engagement are deeply problematic. The feminist approach utilising an “intersectional” lens suggests that when examining any one form of inequality we need to simultaneously focus on how other social hierarchies intersect with that and dynamically create unique convergences of compounding inequalities that need to be understood holistically. Thus gender or sexuality is presented as an element of human identity that cannot be understood in isolation but becomes meaningful in relation to other social relations of power. There is a deeper ethical impact of an intersectional approach to politics and identity: it allows us to carefully assess the integrity of our political positions. It questions our consistency regarding justice and human dignity across multiple socio-political hierarchies, and importantly, whether our ideals of democracy, representation and inclusiveness are consistently reflected in the ways in which we practice our politics including through processes of consultation, communal debate and public engagement. Grappling with some of these questions assists us to refine progressively more comprehensive and inclusive visions of justice and human equality. Through this lens, Hargey’s ‘progressive’ stance on gender and more ambivalently, on sexual diversity, becomes more complicated.

Questioning Hargey’s problematic past may or may not be helpful, as would engaging why he continually represents himself as an Oxford academic when he clearly is not, as this may be seen as playing the man. What cannot be denied is that credibility is a sine qua non for any progressive endeavour.
In the UK, where he lives, Hargey launched a campaign to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa which he refers to as “an archaic tribal piece of cloth.” If he was genuinely committed to women’s rights, he would support the freedom of Muslim women to make their own judgements and choices on all matters concerning their person, including how they dress. Hargey’s political lobbying against the burqa is not only in direct contradiction to the principle of women’s freedom, but is also allied with the politics of right-wing, anti-immigration and Islamophobic British and European groups. In this Hargey’s gender politics inadvertently reinforces regressive and authoritarian political agendas, which have severe consequences for the very people he claims to empower.

Another example of Hargey’s compromised position is evident in his approach to homosexuality. On the one hand he claims that his mosque will be inclusive of sexual diversity while on the other hand, an official statement on the open mosque website states that it is not a gay organization, that it rejects “with contempt the unsubstantiated charges… of (being) connected with people who are gay” and threatens legal proceedings against anyone “defaming, libelling and smearing us as gay or homosexual”. For someone who is gay-friendly or an ally to people who are categorised as LGBTI, why is it contemptible to be associated with them? On this very visit to South Africa, Mr Hargey, was an invited and funded speaker to the annual international retreat organized by The Inner Circle (TIC), an important grassroots Muslim organization also based in Wynberg, which provides support to Muslims who experience marginalization based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet the director of TIC only heard about Hargey’s new mosque on social media the week before its launch. So the very constituency that he claims to be inclusive of had no clue about the so-called “progressive” new mosque. In another act of profound disrespect Hargey was so busy opening his mosque that he failed to fulfil part of his speaking commitments at the retreat without apology.

In this regard, it is crucial to ask where in Hargey’s purportedly democratic vision of inclusivity is there any evidence of consultation with heterosexual women and queer communities, those marginalized Muslim constituencies that he claims to represent. Hargey’s very loud presence in the media is starkly contrasted with a complete lack of any public support from the gay, lesbian, and women’s groups for his project. This lack of support is demonstrated by the extremely poor attendance at his mosque. This lack of public support is not due to fear since these activist groups have publicly operated for many years.

This heterosexual Muslim man flying in from the heart of empire appears to have very little appetite for democratic consultation and debate with South African constituencies. Feminists are quite familiar with this mode of engagement: men who speak for women, or a straight man who speaks for all queer people, claiming to be their saviour, assuming to know their realities without engaging, consulting, listening or involving them in the process of representation or social change. They rightly describe it as patriarchal, patronizing and neo-colonial. Perhaps Taj Hargey is not quite the feminist revolutionary saviour of women and gay people he claims to be. He would do well to listen carefully before he speaks, to develop a deep respect and consultative approach for the communities in which he wishes to work, and to refrain from sensationalist sound bites that sound superficially progressive but are in fact disrespectful, dismissive, degrading and disempowering. The Arabic word Adab, meaning etiquette, is relevant here. Hargey would do well to cultivate at least some of this central Muslim virtue.

Sa’diyya Shaikh
Shuaib Manjra

Dr Sa’diyya Shaikh is Associate Professor in Religious Studies at UCT and the author of ‘Sufi Narratives of Intimacy: Ibn Arabi, Gender and Sexuality’ (UNC Press, 2012).

Dr Shuaib Manjra is a social activist

The unusual case of Mr Daryl Impey

By Shuaib Manjra

Daryl Impey’s exoneration on doping charges brought relief to many cycling fans, not least because the sport needs redemption. With South Africa desperately in need of sporting heroes, Impey was a consistent performer in an unforgiving sport where few seconds divide those bathed in glory and those whose names history will not record. Impey’s legacy, as the first African to wear the famed yellow jersey in last year’s Tour de France, will be imprinted in history, bringing glory to himself and his country. Sadly his opportunity to improve on that feat, or at least repeat it in this year’s Tour was lost because of his adverse analytical finding, or what in common parlance is called a ‘positive test’. Impey tested positive for Probenecid, a substance on the Prohibited List in sport, just before this year’s Tour de France where he was to ride for team Orica-Greenedge.

Probenecid is not performance enhancing, but is prohibited in sport because it is considered a masking agent – where it could potentially mask the presence of other performance enhancing substances such as anabolic steroids or erythropoietin. While Probenecid has been described as a diuretic, it actually is a ‘uricosuric’ drug that increases the urinary excretion of uric acid, which causes gout. But Probenecid’s masking properties are assumed because of another property that it possesses: it acts to reduce the renal excretion of some drugs by competing for receptors in the kidney. Thus less of the active drug would be excreted in the kidney thereby increasing its concentration in the plasma. This would have dual benefits for those using certain performance enhancing drugs – it would increase the plasma concentration of the drug, enhancing its effects, and at the same time reduce its excretion in the urine thus avoiding detection in urine base doping control tests.

In the clinical context Probenecid can increase the blood concentration of some antibiotics, antivirals and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in order to reduce the required dosage of such drugs. This proved particularly useful during World War II when there was a dire shortage of Penicillin, which was rapidly excreted via the kidneys thereby reducing its active life in the plasma. In fact so dire was the need to save the lives of injured soldiers that the urine of those using Penicillin was collected to isolate the drug and re-use it. Thus Probenecid proved critical in prolonging the effect of Penicillin by reducing renal excretion. Probenecid is rarely used today because of the abundance of synthetically produced Penicillin and the availability of superior drugs to treat gout.

So the case against Impey was predicated on the belief that he had used the drug to mask a prohibited substance.

The procedure in the case of a positive test is that Impey would be given the right to have his B sample tested – which is split from the ‘A’ sample at collection. Should this confirm the positive test then Impey either accepts the charge and sanction attendant to committing an Anti-Doping Rule Violation or appears before an independent tribunal to plead his defence. He would have the right to full legal and expert representation – which is the path he chose.

Impey’s defence was simple – that he was the victim of contamination, which is not an unusual defence. In fact it is the predominant defence now used by athletes who test positive, in order to invoke the escape clause provided in the World Anti-Doping Code which is ‘no fault’ or ‘no significant fault’ thereby avoiding sanction or receiving a reduced sanction respectively. Essentially this means that the athlete tested positive through no fault of their own. Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador claimed in his defence that the anabolic steroid Clenbuterol found in his urine was a contaminant from meat that he had consumed. His defence was rejected and he was given a two-year suspension. Frank Schleck,, who came third behind his brother Andy in the 2011 Tour de France, claimed that the diuretic Xipamide found in his urine was due to a contaminated product that he had consumed. His sanction was reduced by half because of the ‘no-significant fault’ clause and consequently he only served a one year ban. Impey’s defence was however novel –he claimed that he tested positive because the empty gelatin capsule that he purchased from a pharmacy was contaminated by Probenecid, which the pharmacist had dispensed to a patient two hours prior to Impey. Both products were dispensed using the same pill-counter, as confirmed in evidence by the pharmacist.

This is highly unusual for a number of reasons. Probenecid is a rarely used drug nowadays; in fact few pharmacies even stock it. Furthermore, for contamination to occur an uncoated version of the drug must be used in order to produce residue, or the drug must be cut or crushed. This is also rare. What are the chances of Impey being the person who attends the pharmacy after the patient who was dispensed the rarely used Probenecid, in a rare uncoated form? So the first issue is that all these factors had to line up against Impey.

Furthermore it seems that the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) had his ‘A’ sample retested – which again is highly unusual. Procedurally confidence in the laboratory results allows an agency to accept the results of the ‘A’ sample and upon request by the athlete have the ‘B’ sample tested. ‘A’ samples are only retested should additional tests be required such as in the case of a Testosterone: Epi-testosterone ratio where the sample is sent to a laboratory in Cologne, Germany. Retesting the ‘A’ sample possibly showed doubt by SAIDS in the result, the initial laboratory procedure or they wanted to be doubly sure because of the high profile nature of this case. Regardless, it did cause a significant delay in this case being brought before a Tribunal. This additional test on the ‘A’ sample is unusual.

This begs another question: Probenecid as a masking agent does not completely block the presence of the active drug in the urine specimen. With currently available sophisticated tests it is highly unlikely that residues of the active drug cannot be identified in urine concomitantly with the masking agent – thus proving the case of doping rather than simply relying on evidence of the presence of the masking agent. SAIDS could have directed the retesting of the ‘A’ sample on attempting to detect a performance enhancing substance rather than a simple confirmation of the presence of Probenecid.

Most intriguing however is the suggestion being made by some that SAIDS had accepted Impey’s defence without a challenge before a Tribunal. When a case is brought before a Tribunal the prosecution and defence present their case, including leading evidence and cross examining all material witnesses, including scientific experts. The Tribunal, consisting of legal and scientific experts, eventually adjudicates the claims based on a balance of probabilities, as in a civil case, and makes a determination. In Impey’s case there was none of this, since SAIDS accepted Impey’s defence without allowing the Tribunal to hear argument. This again is highly unusual.

So why did SAIDS capitulate on this case so easily, or so it seems? The first is that the defence was so overwhelmingly convincing that the prosecution felt they had no case. Alternatively they felt that the chances of convincing the Tribunal seemed remote, and rather than go through a lengthy and costly process, SAIDS would rather, in a sense, accept the defence and be done with the case. The counter argument would be: rather than SAIDS making the decision not to challenge the defence, why not leave it up to an expert, independent Tribunal to make a reasoned decision after all the evidence is presented before them. This would seem more objective and fair.

The alternative scenario is a more disconcerting one, with some evidence to support it – including the retesting of the ‘A’ sample. This scenario is that there were serious procedural flaws in SAIDS case which they did not want to expose at a Tribunal, particularly if Impey had world-class experts defending his case. These could be procedural flaws in the laboratory testing process – which has allowed athletes such as Gert Thuys to be exonerated. Alternately it could be related to the significant delay in this case costing Impey dearly since he missed the Tour de France and the Vuelta. Other procedural flaws could relate to the doping control process, where the Doping Control Officers may not have strictly complied with the International Standard for Testing, bringing into doubt the validity of the results. Comrades marathon winner Ludwick Mamabolo walked free after, a Tribunal found fourteen irregularities in the doping control process.

If such procedural flaws were exposed in Impey’s case it would be rather embarrassing to SAIDS, who already have suffered reputational damage in the case of Mamabolo. This fear would have forced SAIDS into a cynical calculus – either expose the Institute to further reputational damage or allow an athlete to walk free –without a formal Tribunal which potentially could have publicly exposed such flaws in SAIDS processes. Of course the athlete could have potentially walked free anyway if the process was seriously flawed. This conjecture may never be proven since although the UCI and WADA have a right to appeal, they are unlikely to do so with a seriously flawed process. Alternately it may play out in the courts should Impey wish to sue SAIDS for loss of earnings and damage to his personal and professional reputation. This could be a great risk to SAIDS’s future credibility.

Published in GroundUp (2 September 2014)

Response to the Chief Rabbi on Gaza

Karl Marx famously opined that ‘religion is the opiate of the masses’. He was influenced by his observation of religious authority, which more often than not, served as instruments of tyranny, while attempting to soothe the masses with niceties to accept their worldly state, promising a utopia in the afterworld. Such religious authority not only provides a veneer of morality to temporal power but also serves to corrupt religion itself. Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein gives credence to this with his article ( In calling for civility in debate and invoking the notion of a rainbow nation he attempts to create a veneer of moral authority. One can never argue against the rationality of civil debate and the rainbow nation. Both are noble in themselves. But civility in debate should not mask the underlying violence in such discourse.

The Chief Rabbi supports violence by being a cheerleader for Israel’s massacre of Palestinians. He compounds this violent discourse in blaming the victims for their own deaths, by invoking the tired myth of human shields. Despite claiming so, these are not simply his own views; he is uncritically echoing the Israeli propaganda narrative. One may ask: were the four boys killed while playing football on the beach human shields; were the five children killed on a playground human shields; were the seven children killed playing on a swing-set human shields; was the Christian woman killed a human shield; was the bombed home for disabled children inhabited by human shields; were those in a UN shelter human shields or were those lying sick in hospital human shields? Is the bombing of mosques, churches and hospitals justified? Such justification of Israeli violence betrays the Chief Rabbi’s agenda – which is to create a veneer of morality for such violence in the interest of the Occupation. The massacre of civilians can never be justified. Also sadly nowhere does he display an iota of compassion for those innocents killed – and there are over 1000 of them. The truth is that civilian casualties are part of Israel’s collective punishment and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli lawmaker spoke frankly when she called Palestinians “little snakes” and declared that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” – legitimating civilians as targets.

The Rabbi’s chief concern is not justice or human rights but about good manners while justifying killing. His care and concern is limited to Israelis or Jews more broadly. Underlying such a parochial concern is a racist discourse which views Jewish life as more sacred than Palestinian life or non-Jewish life. Just listen to the Chief Rabbi’s speech at the memorial service for the three murdered Israeli teenagers from an illegal settlement and you will find it dripping with racism and Islamophobia. No platitudes or even sympathy for Palestinian victims.

The Rabbi also disingenuously inverts the narrative thereby manufacturing victimhood, when he speaks of defenseless people of the southern towns of Israel. He perhaps missed the memo from the IDF which states that these ‘defenceless people’ have early warning systems, bombs shelters and the Iron Dome to protect them. Palestinians are caged in by Israel in an area 11km by 40 km and truly defenceless – at the mercy of the most sophisticated bombs available.

Needless to say, nowhere does the Rabbi attempt to get to the root cause of the conflict – which is the Israeli occupation and the siege of Palestinian lands rendering them serfs in the land of their birth. The tunnels are built as a lifeline for a besieged population – or would the Rabbi rather that the population starves to death. Those of us who struggled against Apartheid remember that our rainbow nation was constructed out of a struggle against a colonial enterprise; the Palestinian struggle is no less. We remember all too starkly the Apartheid government’s frequent attacks on innocent civilians in the neighbouring countries in the name of fighting terrorism.

One of our great freedom fighters, Ahmed Kathrada, recently condemned the Chief Rabbi on his bullying tactics. After personalizing his initial attack on the ANC’s Deputy Secretary General Jessie Duarte, the Rabbi then turned his ire on the Deputy Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Obed Bapela. The latter was called by the Rabbi and asked to dissociate himself from the ANC statement on Gaza and further demanded that it be removed from the ANC website. When Minister Bapela refused the Rabbi threatened that there would be “consequences” for the ANC. Such bullying by the Zionist lobby is not isolated; just ask editors at newspapers, radio and television stations. So it is rich irony when the Rabbi says “lets banish the bullying and the intimidation …’ while he and his constituency bully anyone willing to speak out against Israel’s gross human rights abuses. Just ask Judge Richard Goldstone. The Chief Rabbi did not stop there – he challenged the ANC to a public debate. The ANC did not respond to what it probably considered grandstanding. However Open Shuhada Street and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign took up the challenge of a debate and allowed the Chief Rabbi to choose between Professor Steven Friedman and Zackie Achmat to debate the contents of the ANC statement. The Rabbi baulked at the offer providing a cowardly reason.

South Africans, appreciating the value of international solidarity from our own struggle, are known to stand up for human rights all over the world. Palestine is one such case. One can only agree with the Rabbi that this should not create conflict between communities in our beloved country. But how do we as a country deal with South African Jews who are enlisting in the Israeli army to fight in Gaza and are financially supporting Israel’s war effort, including through Magen David Adom (MDA), thereby bringing this conflict to our shores and being party to war crimes.

Rabbi, let us move beyond the pious platitudes and give effect to the ideas of Nelson Mandela and the notion of a rainbow nation – which you so glibly invoke. Here is my challenge to you: let us hold hands and call for the establishment of a rainbow nation in Israel and Palestine, and do away with religious, ethnic and racial hatred. Let us support a unitary secular democracy for all of Israel and Palestine, with equal rights and opportunity for all its people – Jews, Palestinians and others living within its borders, including African migrants. After all it is the home of all three Abrahamic faiths. This would be faithful to this legacy – and not simply using it as a smokescreen for racism and religious bigotry. Would you baulk at this challenge as well?

A Rebuttal of Helen Zille’s: ‘Looking at the Middle East through the Lens of Gandhi’

Dear Helen

I’m glad you had the opportunity to get out of bed and listen to Ela Gandhi speaking on peace-building. I heard her that same evening and found her inspiring. At least we had the opportunity to do so, as nearly two million people in Gaza cannot even sleep because of the fighter jets overhead and the indiscriminate bombings of civilians. Hundreds of these children will never get out of their beds again – thanks to Israeli bombs and missiles, and those who create a moral veneer for such massacres to occur. Or those who remain silent. Therefore I read your article on the DA website ( SA Today: Looking at the Middle-East through the lens of Gandhi) with a sense of incredulity. Rarely have I seen such contradictions in the same article, although much of the obfuscation evident is commonplace. It is difficult to know where to start but I’ll take a stab nonetheless.

On a very principled basis you quite rightly take issue with the organisation that calls itself the ‘Islamic State’ (or ISIS), who have massacred thousands in the service of their radical and violent fundamentalist ideology. Their victims are Sunnis, Shias and Christians. You have again rightly taken a principled issue with Sudan in the case of Miriam Ibrahim and her conversion. In the past you have taken what you called a principled position regarding Zimbabwe. These are all commendable. But when your article came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict your principles became orphaned, as if there are no principled issues involved in this conflict. I could quote to you Marx’s famous critique on the liberal position which goes ‘those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others”. That was Groucho, not Karl! You claim some neutral position as if there is virtue in neutrality, while claiming that you are being forced to choose sides. Helen, nobody is forced into taking sides in this conflict or the debate around it; what is expected is upholding principles, values and justice – even liberal ones that you and your party claim to represent. Of course any neutral position favours the dominant party, so in effect one can never be neutral. During the struggle against Apartheid neutrality meant serving the interests of that ideology. That is why John F Kennedy’s words resound (in a quote also attributed to Dante Alighieri): ‘the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality’. However, I contend that you are not neutral. Your bias permeates your entire discourse on this issue. Let me illustrate that this is not a glib contention.

The first is when you invoke the tired refrain regarding Israel’s existential threat by quoting Tony Leon who quotes the Zionist Orientalist Bernard Lewis. Now demonstrate to me where that existential threat exists. Let’s be reasonable Helen, and not dramatic. Perhaps you think that the existential threat comes from the Arab or Islamic world. Let’s look at the facts: Egypt is ruled by an Israeli friendly dictator whose army is effectively neutered. They cannot even control a rebellion in the Sinai. Jordan is client regime, as is Lebanon (with the exception of Hizbollah). Libya and Iraq do not have an army to speak of and are engaged in a brutal civil war as a result of imperial interventions. Syria finds itself in a similar situation, which has also dragged in Hizbollah. In fact Hizbollah is fighting the ‘Islamic State’ (or ISIS). Iran has been neutralized through sanctions and a clamp on its civilian nuclear programme. Saudi Arabia and the other states are effectively dictatorial and corrupt client regimes of the West. Would this threat come from Hamas? Highly unlikely since all Hamas has are some rudimentary rockets that barely cause any damage and are rarely lethal.But even if there is a military threat, Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world, with the backing and support of the most powerful army in the world, the USA, who provide them the latest intelligence and weaponry. It is highly unlikely that they would allow Israel’s existence to be threatened. Remember that Israel is also has an enormous arsenal of nuclear weapons. So can we please dispose of the notion of an existential threat to Israel? It simply does not exist, except as a useful propaganda tool.

Helen, your statement in defence of Israel that ‘there is no compromise between existing and non-existing’, is pure hysteria. In fact let us take that one step further Helen. Israel already exists; Palestine does not. That small detail seems to evade you, but the reality is exactly the opposite of what you argue. How is that for an inversion of reality?

Your next slip shows when you state ‘on the basis of an acceptance by Hamas of Israel’s right to exist I believe that Israel should end its occupation of all Palestinian territories based on the 1967 borders; that Jerusalem should be a shared capital of both an Israeli and Palestinian state; that Hamas should stop digging tunnels to attack Israel; that Israel should end the siege and blockade of Gaza, withdraw its settlements from the West Bank and recognize the Palestinian unity government’. Helen I’m not sure you realize how ridiculous this sounds. Firstly, you put preconditions on Palestinians, but not on Israel – how patronizing of you. Nowhere do you qualify your position regarding Israel’s acceptance of Palestine. What about Israel recognizing Hamas? Secondly, there is a Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank and is equally representative of the Palestinian people, who have recognized Israel. That has not brought them much joy in any peace negotiations, except making them look like useful idiots, while Israel continues to establish facts on the ground. Third, you invoke the tired narrative of recognizing Israel’s right to exist. What does the right to exist mean? What gives any state the right to exist? Did Apartheid South Africa have the right to exist? Furthermore, if Israel demands a right to exist – which Israel is this and where are its borders? Israel has not defined its borders because it is an expansionist state. So how do you recognize an entity that is not defined? Moreover, Israel wants recognition as a Jewish State which means that the Palestinians who live within its borders become second-class citizens. Recognising Israel as a Jewish State would be a betrayal of all the non-Jews living within its ‘borders’ including the twenty percent Palestinian population. Does your liberal standing support such ethnic states which are not defined by citizenship or residency but by ethnicity or religion? Could we accept a state that grants Jews anywhere in the world citizenship but not those who have been displaced or expelled from that same land? Neither Palestinians, nor we, should ever recognize ethnic or religiously exclusive states. And the by the way, what does Jerusalem as a ‘shared capital’ mean? International law recognizes East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory notwithstanding Israel’s annexation. One more thing, do you want the tunnels to disappear so that you can finally starve Palestinians to death? If these tunnels have existed for so long why they have not been used to attack Israeli? Simply because they have served as a lifeline to Palestinians living in Gaza for the duration of the blockade by allowing access to essential supplies. Helen one more observation on this point: International Law does not set any condition on the status of the Occupation, on Jerusalem, on the siege of Gaza and the settlements. What gives you the right to do so, except some imperial hubris?

Another slip Helen is when you state ‘and as mutual trust grows and suicide bombs cease, the West Bank barrier (referred to as an “apartheid wall” by the Palestinians, and a “security fence” by the Israelis) should come down’. For God’s sake, there have not been suicide bombings for years because strategically Palestinians realized that internationally it was doing their cause more harm than good. But more importantly the apartheid wall breaches International Law (refer to the International Court of Justice ruling) and should come down without pre-conditions. If security was a concern, Helen, why did Israel not build it on their 1967 borders, rather than use this wall to steal more Palestinian land, further besiege Palestinians and set them apart from their land, their farms, their schools and jobs?

I hope you get my drift Helen. I’m sorry that your position is both embarrassing and untenable.

Among all of these slips I’ll make one concession to you, and that holds if I read you correctly when you state, ‘and ideally, as confidence returns, all Middle East refugees – including the Christians from Mosul, the Shia from Tikrit, and the Palestinians from Israel – should be able to return to their homes and live in peace and freedom’ I take this to mean that you support the return of all Palestinian refugees to their historical land within Israel and elsewhere. That is a wonderful gesture on your part and a key demand of Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel. Palestinians displaced from what is now Israel have a right of return. It is just like our exiles had the right to return.
Okay, I will make a second concession. Your statement that ‘none of us believes that events in the Middle East should be allowed to undermine our historic project of demonstrating that a one-State solution is possible in historically divided societies’ is heart-warming and opens up the idea of a one-state solution in Palestine/Israel where all communities live side by side in harmony and peace, equal in rights and opportunities, in a secular democracy. That is a wonderful concept that we should all be embracing and promoting. We did it in South Africa. We cannot continue to argue on the basis of ethnicity, religion, race or culture. Such parochial notions only promote exceptionalism which in turns promotes tyranny. Another practical reason to promote the one-State solution is that Israel has largely destroyed the notion of a two-State solution with its illegal settlements, from which it refuses to withdraw. If you care to look at a recent map of settlements Helen, it would make the Apartheid government’s Bantustan policy look progressive. Go back and look at the map of Palestine since 1948 and you will graphically see what compromises the Palestinians have made. They now suffer from compromise fatigue.

Helen you run the risk of framing this conflict in religious terms by using religious parlance, when you say: ‘if the descendants of two brothers, Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac, cannot solve their differences, who on earth can be expected to?’. I may be assuming too much here, however we need to be clear that this is not a religious conflict. Of course reactionary political ideologies are cast in the garb of religion, as was Apartheid, but we should not be fooled by this. Thus I am intrigued by your statement of consensus from the DA caucus that notes ‘none of us will have any truck with fundamentalism of any kind’. I wonder whether you would cast the right wing, racist and violent Zionist regime of Benjamin Netanyahu as fundamentalist. Or Zionism itself! Not unlike the ‘Islamic State’ which you unreservedly condemned, successive Israeli regimes have massacred 1000’s in the service of their radical and violent fundamentalist ideology. Coming back to the conflict in the Middle-East I reiterate that this is not a religious conflict. Most Jews are not even Semitic, they are European – so I’m not sure whether they are really children of Isaac. But I digress. Rather this is a conflict born of colonialism where an indigenous population was displaced by a European settler community – culminating in the division of their land in 1948 without their consent. This dispossession continued in 1967 with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip through a war of aggression by Israel. In breach of international law this occupation expanded through the building of settlements. It continues to dispossess Palestinians of their land on a daily basis. It makes Zimbabwe look like a picnic. I speak about Zimbabwe since your party was extremely vociferous on the issue. I now begin to wonder whether your grievance was driven by the fact that whites were being dispossessed. Now Helen, don’t glibly believe me on the historical facts I cite, nor believe Zionist propagandists – go and check out historically documented records for a real history. The Zionists have a propaganda sheet they all troll from – I’ll send you a copy if you are interested. We learnt to our own peril that the National Party propaganda was foul; and we should similarly be wary of Zionist propaganda.

Helen, you are right in that you ‘have a limited knowledge of the Middle East and have never been there’. Those of us who have can attest to a state worse than Apartheid. And many of us have personally experienced Apartheid. That is why the ANC takes such a principled position on the conflict. Contrary to your position they realize that this is an asymmetrical struggle – between the colonized and the colonizer; between a powerful military and a volunteer resistance force; between those who serve the interests of the imperial power and those who simply seek freedom, justice and the ability to choose their own destiny. You simply cannot equate the two – you cannot even attempt a moral equivalence. Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and under siege have a right to struggle against their oppression – just as the liberation movements in South Africa had the right to do so. Your party and its precursors chose to work within the confines of a system that stymied every opportunity for change. The ANC did not submit to ridiculous preconditions prior to negotiations; why should Palestinians. The Israeli regime is no different to that Apartheid regime. Peaceful protests, in the Gandhian mould, are brutally suppressed by the Israeli regime. Go and read the stories of peace activists such as Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall who were murdered by Israeli forces while engaging in peaceful protest: one crushed by a bulldozer and the other shot in the head. The Popular Resistance Committees on the West Bank face violence on a weekly basis while peacefully protesting. They estimate that there is a child killed every 3-4 days on average by Israeli forces. Israel is violent regime that was founded on violence, extended through violence and sustains itself through violence. This violence is the instrument used in its dual strategy of dispossessing Palestinians of their land and ethnic cleansing. Helen as I said don’t believe me – go and read a recently published work by a former Israeli soldier and now academic at King’s College, Ahron Bregman: Cursed Victory – a history of Israel and the Occupied Territories (Allen Lane, 2014).
On the recent events in Gaza, Helen, there is no space for equivocation. Israel’s propaganda, which you quote in the service of your attempted neutrality, is transparently false. The truth that we see before us is that Israel either willfully targets civilians or civilian infrastructures or displays a wanton disregard for Palestinian civilian life. How would you otherwise explain children murdered while playing on a playground or on the beach or on swings; or targeting hospitals, or a home for the disabled or homes of political leaders and a power station; or the death of a Christian woman. Israel claims that its missiles are launched with pin-point accuracy. This simply means that they hit the targets they intend to. So they intend to murder children. The notion of human shields is pure nonsense. Gaza is 40 km in length and 5 km (12 km at some point) in width, and home to 1.8 million people, mainly refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing. Calculate that with the Western Cape in mind. Where do you expect people to hide? The assault on Gaza is collective punishment. It was Israel which frequently violated the 2012 truce agreement that has led to the current crisis.
Helen, for once don’t pander to your right wing constituency or your funders – stand up for the truth. The truth of course is not always palatable to your party. This is demonstrated when any agency rules against the ANC government you are quick to capitalize on the issue – for example, Nkandla-gate. However when the Human Rights Commission ruled against your government, in the case brought by the Social Justice Coalition on the violation of human rights of communities in the provision of toilets, your party sought to question the integrity of the report. I know that you have a huge task in providing adequate sanitation, housing and other services to poor communities. But since you have entered the discussion on the Middle-East you have to do so in a more informed and substantive way than you have. I’m sure you will agree with me that while claiming to be neutral your discourse is anything but neutral – it is instead loaded against Palestinians. Helen, if we allow the situation to continue then WB Yeats prescient sentiments will define us: ‘The best lack all conviction; and the worst are filled with passionate intensity’.
Shuaib Manjra, Cape Town (
Open Shuhada Street