Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “human rights”

Land expropriation without compensation

Oh the irony!

President Cyril Ramaphosa is handing out title deeds to land which he wants to empower the government to expropriate without compensation. Ramaphosa hands out title deeds in Tembisa during Thuma Mina campaign – The Citizen:

He said through handing over title deeds, the government was giving people their dignity back, giving them a store of wealth and empowering them economically.

“A house is the most important asset that one can own,” Ramaphosa said.

He urged title deed holders to treat their certificates as valuable assets, adding that title deeds would be handed out throughout the country.

How can he do this with a straight face — tell people that these certificates are “valuable assets”, when his own government is planning to remove all value from them? The government giving with one hand while it takes with the other.

President Cyril Ramaphosa handing out title deeds (The Citizen)

President Ramaphosa chaired the commission which drew up the Constitution, including the restrictions on expropriating land without compensation. He, of all people, ought to have known what that clause was there for — because previous governments of the National Party had expropriated land without compensation, or with derisory compensation, to be able to move people around in its ethnic cleansing programme.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president he said “Never again”, but it seems that those who have followed him thought he meant again and again. And removing that clause in the constitution will open the way to all kinds of abuses — abuses that we thought we would never have to suffer again.

The relevant section of the Bill of Rights reads:

2. Property may be expropriated only in terms of law of general application ­

a. for a public purpose or in the public interest; and

b. subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.

I believe a great deal of thought was given to that, and I was aware of many instances of abuse under the previous National Party government that had led to that clause being inserted into the Bill of Rights.

Among those abuses were the removal of people from Khumaloville to Hobsland. There was a black farming community at Khumaloville, where people had title to the land, and had two acre plots. The National Party government expropriated the land and offered the people half-acre plots at Hobsland in exchange. They were offered compensation of R42 for their two acres, and were given the opportunity of buying a further half acre at Hobsland for R55. At Hobsland they would also be subject to restrictions on their farming activities.

That was in the 1960s, under the programme of “Blackspot Removals”, and such things occurred all over the country.

Another instance, not concerned specifically with compensation, but rather with the abuses of expropriation, happened in the 1970s, not, this time, in the name of Blackspot Removals, but rather in the name of “Homeland Consolidation”.

A number of sugar farms between Eshowe and Empangeni in Zululand were expropriated from white farmers to be added to the KwaZulu “homeland”. One of the farmers, Guy Chennells, proposed that he stay on his farm for a couple of years, and share his skills and experience with the incoming black farmers, to enable them to make a go of running the farm. This was rejected by the National Party government, and a few years later the reason for the rejection became apparent — there were no black farmers. The farm, now owned by the government, was occupied and profitably farmed by a National Party functionary at a purely nominal rental, who was in no hurry to move out and thus consolidate the “Homeland”.

We are familiar with such corruption in our own day, as we see similar activities in state-owned enterprises such as Eskom. But they were less well known in the old days, not because they didn’t happen, but because back then we didn’t have a free press that could report them. If journalists knew of such things they were too scared to report them, and in the case of the few bolder exceptions, their stories were often spiked, because the shareholders in the newspaper firms were afraid.

Cyril Ramaphosa gives assurances that “land expropriation without compensation” will take place in an orderly and responsible manner, and of course when he is handing out title deeds to people he isn’t planning to immediately take them away again. But what he is planning to do is to remove the protection that would prevent anyone else from taking them away, as Julius Malema of the EFF is already promising (or threatening) to do if his party comes to power.

So Cyril Ramaphosa reminds me of B.J. Vorster who, whenever he proposed legislation that would grant him and his police extraordinary powers, would always reassure the public that these powers would not be abused and would be used responsibly, and that “the innocent had nothing to fear.” And in a way Cyril Ramaphosa is doing the same thing, saying, in effect, “don’t trust the constitution, trust me.”. .

And I’m reminded of this every Sunday in church when we sing

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men,
in whom there is no salvation.
when his breath departs he returns to his earth;
on that very day his plans perish


Land: expropriation without compensation

Parliament has just voted to re-examine the clause in the constitution that prohibits arbitrary deprivation of property.

This was introduced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was also the one who oversaw the drafting of the constitution in the first place, so he should know what he’s doing.

I have certain misgivings about this, because the arbitrary deprivation of property that that clause in the constitution prohibits was one of the features of the National Party government from 1948 to 1994, and that is the kind of behaviour that that clause of the constitution is explicitly designed to prohibit.

In the ethnic cleansing that took place under the apartheid policy of the National Party government, thousands of people were arbitrarily deprived of property with little or no compensation. Part of the intention of this clause in the constitution has also been to allow the government to make restitution for those who were arbitrarily deprived of property in the past, and that process has been slow and cumbersome and badly managed. Changing the constitution on this point, we are told, bill improve this process. But will it?

Back in the 1960s I was a member of the Liberal Party, which was hated by the National Party because of this very issue. The NP regime expropriated land owned by people who belonged to the “wrong” ethnic group for a particular area, and wanted to do so with little or no compensation. The Liberal Party opposed this policy and helped many people who were so deprived to take cases to court to obtain better compensation. This, of course, made the ethnic cleansing exercise more expensive, and thus slowed it down.

One example was Khumalosville in Natal, where black people lived on two-acre plots where they kept a few cattle. Khumalosville was declared a “white” area, so the people who lived there were forced to move to Hobsland. They were offered R42.00 in compensation for their two acres in Khumalosville, and were given a “free” half-acre plot in Hobsland, with the option of buying an additional half acre for R110.00. But even if they did pay the extra to have half the land they had previously owned, the smaller plots would not support the same number of animals.

Twenty-two years after the present constitution came into force, have the people of Hobland had restitution of their land in Khumalosville? I have no idea, and many of them are probably dead by now, and their descendants have probably moved away, and no longer have the animals nor the desire to keep them. Expropriation without compensation will not help them, but it will facilitate the kind of abuse that they suffered under the National Party regime.

Of course the ANC will not do this, and we must trust them not to do that kind of thing even when they want to give themselves the power to do so. But nine years under the Zuptas have shown that no government can be trusted. Put not your trust in princes nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them.



Memories of Pete Seeger

The news of the death of Pete Seeger was not surprising, but was sad nonetheless. since he was one of the first singers I ever became a fan of, though at first I never even knew his name.

When I was younger we lived on a smallholding at Sunningdale, just outside Johannesburg (the bit where we lived it has now been absorbed by the megalopolis, and has another name). Because it was outside the municipal area, there was no mains electricity or water, and so any music and records we played  we heard on an old wind-up gramophone. My parents had about 10 records, and the only ones I can remember were Ravel’s Bolero on a 12″ 78 record, and two 10″ ones with songs — Rum and Coca-Cola by the Andrews Sisters, and Old Paint by The Weavers.

I used to ride horses a lot in those days, and when I was about 11 or 12 years old I used to ride around singing Old Paint because I knew it was about a horse, even though I didn’t understand some of the words, like couleesdraw and hoolihan. I didn’t know then that Pete Seeger was one of the Weavers, but ten years later I certainly did, when I was a student in the 1960s, and in a way his were the songs that shaped our generation.

My mother worked for SARRAL, the South African Recording Rights Association, which kept track of musicians’ royalties, and then she was headhunted by Teal Records, who wanted her to sort out their copyright department, which was a mess. They used to get all sorts of samples from overseas record distributers, and Teal would decide whether to import them, or, if they were likely to be popular, to press and distribute them locally.

seegerMy mother picked up quite a lot of these samples, especially the ones that weren’t distibuted in South Africa. Pete Seeger’s We shall overcome album was one that was not distributed, not because Teal thought it wouldn’t sell, but because the Publications Control Board immediately banned it. My mother nicked the sample copy and brought it home.  By that time we lived in Johannesburg, had mains electricity, and so had upgraded our wind-up gramophone to an electric one that could play LPs.

And we played it so much that it almost wore out.

And thirty-five years years later, when our kids were about the same age as I was when I used to sing Old Paint they had most of the songs on the record word perfect, right down to the accent — “what was going on in Birmingham, with the daags….” and breaking into I ain’t scared of your jail ’cause I want my freedom, I want my freedom now.

Pete Seeger taught us to express our desire for freedom in song. May his memory be eternal!

Cherie’s Place » The Hermann Rorschach Google Doodle

Today Google celebrates the 129th birthday of Rorschach, the Swiss Freudian psychiatrist best known for his inkblot test where people are asked what they see in the inkblot that is shown to them.

via Cherie\’s Place » The Hermann Rorschach Google Doodle.

Well, it was yesterday, actually, but I found it rather interesting.

RorschachSo what does it make you think of?

It took me back 50 years to the passing of the 90-day detention Act, and clearly depicts two Special Branch men taking someone in for 90 days.



Christian martyrs in the 21st century

I’ve seen claims on some web sites and postings on Facebook and other social media sites of huge numbers of Christian martyrs in the 21st century, usually without anything to substantiate the numbers claimed.

Now it seems that someone has investigated the claimed figures: BBC Statistics Programme Disputes “100,000 Christian Martyrs Each Year” Claim Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion:

John Allen, author of The Global War on Christians, explained that martyrdom referred to “a situation of witness”. A martyr is not just someone who is killed for holding Christian beliefs; it can be someone who is killed because their beliefs prompt them to acts of moral courage that put them in danger. Allen gives the example of a woman killed in Congo for persuading young people not to join to militias, which is fair enough – but it’s difficult to see how this can be extrapolated to all Christian victims of the war.

According to Bartholomew’s article, the inflated figures are arrived at by counting all Christian war casualties as martyrs, in such conflicts as the Congo civil war.

It’s not just the inflated figures that disturb me, however, but it’s rather the whinging attitude that seems to lie behind them.

Butovo Martyrs

Butovo Martyrs

There were probably more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other century in history. That was because there were ideologies like Bolshevism that promoted atheism, and persecuted not only Christians, but Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as well. Many Christians died in such events as the Butovo Massacres, and the Russian Orthodox Church has been going through the historical records and documenting as many instances as possible. Closer to home there were the martyrs of Epinga in Namibia, whose story both state and church tried to suppress.

Many Christians have died as martyrs in the current civil war in Syria, and in other 21st-century conflicts in the region, xso there have been many Christian martyrs in the 21st century, though probably not as many as some have claimed.

I can think of two good reasons for publicising martyrdom, one secular and the other eternal.

The secular reason is that it draws attention to the need for freedom of religion protected by law.

In South Africa we now have freedom of religion protected by law. Before 1994 we did not, and many Christians were persecuted for their faith, both in South Africa itself and in South African-ruled Namibia. The Epinga martyrs were one instance of this.

Chinese Martyrs

Chinese Martyrs

One of the things that arises from this is that the response to instances of violent death can show what values really motivate people.

A couple of months ago there was a terrorist occupation of a shopping mall in Kenya. In the same week there were also the bombing of a Christian church in Pakistan, and violent attacks on travellers in Nigeria. The Western media chose to hype the first incident and play down the others, barely mentioning them at all, in spite of the fact that more people were killed in those incidents than in the attack on the Kenyan shopping mall.

One is tempted to say that this was because the attack on the shopping mall was an attack on the established religion of the West — Mammonism. People tend to give more prominence to the things that interest them.

But Christians are no exception to this tendency, it seems. Christians complained about the bombing of Christian churches in Kosovo, but a number of mosques were also bombed there. A policy of religious freedom benefits all,

From the secular point of view, then violence against people because of their religious views, or any other characteristic, is seen as a bad thing. In some countries it has created a new legal category — the “hate crime”. And, if they are fair, such laws should cover xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism and Christianophobia equally. And I think it is right that Christians should point out the evil of such acts of violence and other human rights abuses.

But in the light of eternity, Christians have a different approach.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad:
for great is your reward in heaven.

In the light of that, Christian whinging about persecution, whether actual or merely perceived, seems inappropriate. Perhaps a more excellent way can be found here: Redeeming the past: a journey from freedom fighter to healer | Khanya

Human Rights Day, and Twitter’s birthday

Today is  Human Rights Day, and the 53rd anniversary of  the Sharpeville massacre, which it was instituted to commemorate. We’ve remembered it for many years, and officially commemorated it for nearly 20 years, but this time it is somewhat different.

Sharpeville Massacre 21 March 1960

Sharpeville Massacre 21 March 1960

Ten years ago I was at a commemoration of Human Rights Day in St Alban’s Anglican Cathedral in Pretoria. It was a special thanksgiving service for the completion of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the handing in of their final report on gross human rights violations in the apartheid era. Speaking at that service, Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the commission and Anglican bishop, said that we had come a long way since then.

This is what I wrote in my diary ten years ago:

Friday 21 March 2003
Val and I went to a special service in the Anglican cathedral in Pretoria, to mark the close of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We went to Mamelodi to fetch Johannah and Thabitha Ramohlale.

Most of the commissioners were there, and several massed choirs sang. Several of the victims of the human rights abuses investigated by the commission were there too, as were some of the perpetrators. Perhaps the most moving thing was when Anglican priest Michael Lapsley sprinkled holy water on the congregation, in silence, using his artificial hands, because his hands were blown off by a letter bomb sent to him by the security police.

There were also the survivors of the Trust Feeds massacre, where 11 members of a family were killed. They were accompanied by Brian Mitchell, who led the police who had killed them, and is now working on projects to help the community.

Hanging from the pulpit, unremarked, was an embroidered banner, showing a stylised white person and a stylised black person embracing in a gesture of reconciliation. It had been given by Cecil Kerr about 20 years ago, a gift from a group in Northern Ireland that had been working for reconciliation there. And as they passed on their vision for reconciliation, perhaps we in South Africa can pass on ours.

Today is a public holiday, known as Human Rights Day, and it is 43 years since 69 people were killed outside Sharpeville police station where they were protesting against the pass laws. As Bishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, we have come a long way since then.

Marikana Massacre 2012

Marikana Massacre 2012

But this year, following the Marikana Massacre, the thought that we have come a long way since then sounds a bit hollow. We’ve slipped back a long way since that commemoration ten years ago.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that on the radio government people do not speak about the Marikana Massacre, but the Marikana “tragedy”.

And then on Twitter, there is this rather strange tweet from Zwelinzima Vavi (@Zwelinzima1), the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu):

DA continues its campaign to appropriate struggle history and symbols. Was lying wreaths in Sharpeville this morning

Now I hold no brief for the DA (Democratic Alliance, an opposition party). But when one recalls that the people who were killed at Sharpeville were there because of a protest campaign organised by the Pan African Congress, does that mean that only PAC supporters can commemorate Sharpeville? While Cosatu is not a political party, it is in alliance with the ANC, and the ANC opposed the PAC’s anti-pass campaign back in 1960. Today the PAC commands the support of only about 1% of the South African electroate. Are only those 1% allowed to commemorate Sharpeville? Or is it something for all South Africans to remember? Perhaps such sectional thinking is why the way we have come from Sharpeville seems to be growing shorter. Zwelinzima Vavi is one of the people I follow on Twitter because I think he speaks a lot of good sense. But on this occasion I think he fluffed it.

Speaking of Twitter, it is also Twitter’s 7th birthday today, and I see that I joined it on 14 April 2007, nearly 6 years ago. It has probably come a long way since then too, and here’s an interesting article about it.


Thought crime

Back in the bad old days of apartheid we had all sorts of repressive laws in South Africa. There was detention without trial, a long list of banned books and films and laws restricting press freedom. The democracies of the world, including the UK, rightly criticised us for these things, and eventually we repented and abandoned them and opted for a free society.

But now those democracies seem to be adopting the evil ways that we discarded back in 1994. Hat-tip to The Ergosphere for this example:

Just seen on the Telegraph: a story about a woman convicted of a crime for downloading a banned magazine that promotes Islamicist terror. Her story, which the judge believed: she wanted to see what had convinced her brothers (both convicted terrorists) to become terrorists. She was given a short jail sentence, just a month after the time she has spent awaiting trial.

I have a problem with this. Thought crime is NOT crime. Acting on what she read would almost certainly have been criminal, but reading it? I’ve downloaded and read a bunch of terror material, starting with the Turner Diaries and Mein Kampf. I had no interest in becoming a Nazi: quite the contrary. I was merely interested in these documents that convinced people to support Hitler and led to the Holocaust. I wanted to understand what could cause people to do such things.

Is this British justice in the 21st century?

It reminds me of Pontius Pilate “having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him… I will therefore chastise him, and release him” (Luke 23:14, 16).

What was the “therefore” there for?

Is an abortion debate possible?

Abortion is one of the issues that I have generally avoided blogging about. The reason for this is, as the Opinionated Vicar, David Keen, puts it, that “the heat/light generation ratio is so dire”. The extreme bigotry of both “sides” in the abortion “debate” make it almost impossible to discuss.

And so a hat-tip to the same Opinionated Vicar for pointing me to Mehdi Hasan: Being Pro-Life Doesn’t Make Me Any Less Of A Lefty

What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists.

One of the biggest problems with the abortion debate is that it’s asymmetric: the two sides are talking at cross-purposes. The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman’s right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are “incommensurable”.

Another problem is that the debate forces people to choose sides: right against left, religious against secular. Some of us, however, refuse to be sliced and diced in such a simplistic and divisive manner. I consider abortion to be wrong because of, not in spite of, my progressive principles. That I am pro-life does not make me any less of a lefty.

And that made me recall how gobsmacked I was when I first saw pro-abortion views described as “liberal”. That was back in 1966, when I had recently arrived in Britain as a card-carrying Liberal, having just escaped being banned by the South African government by the skin of my teeth (I have a copy of the banning order was signed, but not delivered, because I had skipped the country and sought asylum in the UK). Back then terms like “pro-life” and “pro-choice” had not been invented, or if they had, I had never heard of them. My first reaction, at the age of 24, on hearing a pro-abortion policy being described as “liberal”, was as follows (from my diary from 4th February 1966; I had been in the UK for about 2 weeks had was staying with an Anglican priest, Canon Eric James, near Herne Hill in south London):

I woke up relatively early, and while eating breakfast discussed with Eric an article in yesterday’s “Sun” on the subject of abortion. The thing that struck me was that they spoke of the “liberal and enlightened practice of legal abortion” and “a human approach unaffected by moral attitudes” which sounded completely nonsensical.

As they put it the whole thing sounded to me like fascist piggery based fundamentally on the idea that if the existence of another person causes me inconvenience or discomfort then I am morally justified in trying to get rid of the other person. And here the fact that many of the people involved (in abortion) were married women who already had children would seem to indicate a certain amount of selfishness. And once having established the practice that it is all right to get rid of inconvenient individuals in some circumctances, then the way is open for doing it on others. If unwanted babies are to be disposed of in this manner, then why not euthanasia, which could rid society of the mental defective and the physically deformed, and possibly the old people who can no longer look after themselves and so become a burden on society.

The practice might be extended to social misfits as well — those who, while having no obvious physical or mental defects, nevertheless fail to adjust themselves to society. Political deviates would be the next on the list. Why, we’ll be back to the good old days when Jews were liquidated in the gas chambers.

Of course the good doctor in Aberdeen might say that in a liberal and enlightened country things couldn’t escalate like that — but do we live in a liberal and enlightened society? And of
course a humane approach must not be affected by moral attitudes.

How lovely for Mr Vorster, I am sure. We can embark at once on a humane and enlightened programme for all Bantu women who become pregnant. Humane, because most of them have starving children already, and another mouth to feed when there is not enough food as it is could cause them worry, and damage their mental and physical health and well-being. And the world will have cause to be grateful, because we are solving the problem of overpopulation by a liberal and enlightend practice of genocide. The foregoing, of
course, is an extensive exaggeration of what the article actually said. But such escalation would really be perilously easy. Perhaps there is something in human rights after all; if it were enshrined in law — the illiberal, unenlightened and inhumane idea that every human being from the moment of conception, had “an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

Some time later it occurred to me that they might be using “liberal” in the sense of “permissive”. Liberalising the abortion laws would make it easier for people to have abortions, just as liberalising the gun laws might make it easier for people to own and carry guns. So one might advocate “liberal” abortion laws or “liberal” gun laws, but advocating or opposing such laws might not be a reliable indication of whether or not one was liberal.

After that, however, the “debate” hotted up, and the heat/light generation ratio got worse. There was so much bigotry on both sides that it became almost impossible to discuss it. Here’s one example of “pro-choice” bigotry A General Query | Clarissa’s Blog

Dear woman-hating anti-choicers, please go away to those badly written websites with horrible spelling and ridiculously stupid arguments where creatures of your ilk graze, OK? This is a blog for people who have a fully developed adult brain. You are not going to like it here anyways.

Strangely enough, I haven’t taken the advice to go away, and actually do quite like it there, because not all the posts are as bad as that one.

And then from the other side of the argument, there is this, equally bigoted: EXPOSING LIBERALS: Libs claim Abortion isn’t Murder | Rise Up America Party

Liberals are on a never ending futile mission to justify the senseless slaughter of innocent children. They claim that Abortion just kills a clump of cells, not an actual human life. Yet pictures like these tell a very different. Liberals want to rationalize what can and will not ever be rationalized: that killing babies is not Murder.

Liberals: Responsible for the biggest holocaust of our modern times since Roe Vs Wade.

So having learnt from opposite extremes on the spectrum that I am a woman-hater who lacks an adult brain and that I am responsible for the biggest holocaust of modern times, what can I say?

As Mehdi Hasan put it in the piece quoted above, the two sides were simply talking past each other. ‘The pro-lifers speak about the right to life of the unborn baby; the pro-choicers speak about a woman’s right to choose. The moral arguments, as the Scottish philosopher Alasdair Macintyre has said, are “incommensurable”.’

They are not talking about apples and oranges, which at least are both edible fruit; they are talking about chalk and cheese.

As the sociologists Peter and Brigitte Berger put it:

The issue of abortion has galvanized more passion, on both sides, than any other issue in the area under consideration here. This should not be surprising, in view of what is at stake here. For the one side, what is at stake is the fundamental right of a woman to have control over her own body and her own life. On the other side, what is at stake is the very purpose of society in protecting the life of even its weakest member. Clearly, there is an enormous cognitive gulf between the two sides, in terms of the understanding of the nature of the human person: Is the fetus a person, yes or no?

This is a cognitive issue, logically prior to any discussion of norms, for the norms of each side, one may assume, would be readily acceptable to the other side, provided the cognitive issue were resolved: The most ardent pro-abortionist does not recommend infanticide in the exercise of a woman’s right to control her own life, which presupposes that an infant has a different status from a fetus; and the most fervent anti-abortionists do not dispute a woman’s rights over her own body, but what they do dispute is that a fetus is simply part of a woman’s body.

The language used in this debate over abortion has systematically obfuscated this fundamental cognitive divide. This is already apparent in the appellations used by each side to describe its own position: “Pro-choice” versus “pro-life.” Pro-abortionists demand a woman’s right to choose for herself – which only begs the question as to whether, in the case of an abortion, she is choosing only for herself and not also for another human being. Anti-abortionists claim to be defending human life – which presupposes agreement as to when the life of a human individual begins. Both appellations, of course, have powerful emotional connotations. “Choice” is one of the key concepts of modernity, as we have argued elsewhere. Being modern entails a vast expansion in choices and thus in the control of human beings over their own lives. Conversely, to be “anti-choice” suggests a deeply reactionary and obscurantist attitude – a suggestion used to the hilt in pro-abortion propaganda. And “life,” after all, is one of the most potent words in the language. One can hardly say anything worse of political antagonists than that they are “anti-life.” As part of the language battle in this area, it is noteworthy how carefully words are chosen by each side. Pro-abortionists will always use language that avoids suggesting a human status for the fetus; anti-abortionists will regularly say “child” instead of “fetus.” Anti-abortionists, by the logic of their own position, must, then, speak of “murder” to refer to abortion and, in view of the number of abortions now taking place in the United States (more than one million annually), of “genocide.” Little room for compromise would seem possible under these circumstances, and the debates over other family issues seem mild by comparison.

Unlike Mehdi Hasan, I don’t see the question as divorced from religion. Back in 1966, when I wrote the piece quoted above, I was anti-abortion for precisely the same reason I was anti-apartheid. And the argument of the pro-abortion lobby about a women having the right to control her own body sounded very similar to the apartheid-government’s stock response to any criticism of its policies from abroad, “We will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs.”

I was a Liberal, and joined the Liberal Party because I was a Christian. And the Liberal Party, it seemed to me, advocated political policies that were most in accord with Christian anthropology. That is not to say that the Liberal Party was a Christian party. Many of its members were Christian, but many were Hindus, Jews, Muslims, atheists or agnostics. They might have had a variety of reasons for supporting such policies at the mundane level, and it was at that level that we agreed.

On the question of taking the life of another Orthodox Christianity seems to approach the matter differently from Western Christianity, or from Western secular humanism. In Western thought there seems to be a strand of legalism — the notion that there can be a “just” war, or “justifiable” homicide. In Orthodoxy killing someone, whether in battle or by abortion, is always a sin that needs to be confessed. One cannot say, “I am a soldier obeying lawful orders, and therefore killing the enemy is not a sin, and is therefore justified.” And the same with abortion. Whether it is legally permitted or not, abortion is a sin and to be confessed. But the Church does not exist to punish sinners, but it is rather a hospital in which they can be healed. There is thus a distinction between what is “right” and what is “moral”. It coincides roughly with the distinction between “law” and “gospel”.
As a Liberal, I support the concept of human rights because if applied properly, it can help to mitigate the effects of human unlovingness and human sinfulness. Laws cannot force people to love one another, but they can mitigate the effects of human hatred. Justice is good, but Christians are called to go beyond justice to love. At its best, justice is congealed love.

This difference, between rights and morality, between the legal rights of a citizen and the calling of a Christian, has been well expressed here Second Terrace: Fire in the Theater: Rights and Christians:

An American citizen has many rights. A Christian has none — all he has are invitations to virtue, and the promise of beatitude.

An American has a right to bear arms. A Christian may make such a claim, but not as a Christian. I’m sure that a Christian can go hunting and can even keep something for the defense of his home (although that possibility is even less supported for a priest). But I am even surer that a Christian — as a Christian — cannot ever demand the right to possess and traffic in assault munitions.

An American has a right to terminate a fetus. A Christian does not.

An American has a right to engage in sexual activity outside the contours of a sacramentalized union of a man and woman. A Christian does not. He or she, whether we like it or not, is asked to surrender not only homosexual activity, but also heterosexual activity that is before or outside of traditional marriage. He is requested to devote himself to not only physical chastity, but also to the “chastity of the imagination” — a concept, I’m sure, is not the most popular of positions.

An American has the right to accumulate wealth, and to deny comfort to his neighbor and pollute the environment in the process of doing so. A Christian does not. Wealth is given to Christians, as St. Paul and the Prophets and the Fathers make painfully clear, solely for the sake of “kenotic” giving away. It was only the Reformation that made the idea of “wealth-protection” a Christian possibility.

And the rest of that post is worth reading too.

Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Namibian turning point – forty years ago today

Forty years ago today the World Court announced its judgement that South Africa’s rule of Namibia was illegal. It happened, most appropriately, on the Winter Solstice. Until then the nights had been longer than the days and getting longer. But thereafter, though the nights were still longer than the days, they were getting shorter.

It was to be another nineteen long years before the last South African troops crossed the southern border, and Namibia heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The longest night was still the longest night, but for the first time it gave real hope, hope that the dawn was getting ever closer. Nothing changed, yet everything had changed.

Here’s what I wrote in my diary at the time, for what it’s worth. Perhaps I should explain, by way of background, that I was at the time a self-supporting priest in the Anglican Church in Windhoek and worked at the Windhoek Advertiser as a proof reader, and that Deve de Beer (who also worked for the Anglican Church) and I were stringers for the Argus Africa News Service, which fed most of the evening newspapers in South Africa.

Monday 21 June 1971

I took Musrum up to Woodway to have its silencer fixed, and then Dave took me to work. I sent off stories to the Argus Africa News Service about the World Court verdict due to be given today. There was a surface calm, and apparent indifference, but people in high places appear to be worried. Die Suidwester had an editorial asking people to keep calm, and not to take hasty decisions, and Dirk
Mudge, the acting administrator, also made a plea for calm.

At lunch time I went to the court, and saw Chris Nicholson there. He said he had heard on the radio that the World Court had decided by 13 votes to 2 that South Africa had no right to be in South West, and thought it would be interesting to see who the 2 were. It would be a guide to the impartiality of the court. If they were British and French, it would show that national self-interest dominated the proceedings, rather than a real concern for justice.

We carried the story on the front page of the Advertiser, and Cowley wrote an editorial about Bantustan presidents or leaders going overseas to do a power of good to the homelands policy. Jimmy [Jimmy Simpson, the subesitor]was bitter about the World Court, and said it looked like his fishing would be over. When I asked him why, he said, “Well, with the United Nations taking over”. I don’t see why the United Nations will prohibit Jimmy from fishing, but he seemed convinced they will.

After work I went to the diocesan office and Dave was there; I went out to see Clemens Kapuuo, but was told he had gone to town, and on the way saw Johan Penderis walking back from rugby practice, and gave him a lift. I went out again later to try to find Clemens Kapuuo, calling at the diocesan office again. Abraham Hangula was there, and he asked what the verdict was and when I told him he beamed and shouted “Alleluia!” and then said “If the South African government leaves, then we can really preach the gospel.”

I gave Dina a lift to Katutura, and ran out of petrol. I asked her what she thought about the World Court decision, and she said she didn’t think. But she asked all sorts of questions, like what would South Africa do, what would happen if they pulled out, and would they really pull out. When I got to Clemens Kapuuo’s shop there was a group of men standing outside, Mbuende among them. Mbuende introduced me to the others, who were Herero councillors from Aminuis. One of them burst out “We are so glad about the World Court decision that our country is ours”, and there were great smiles all round. Mbuende said that Kapuuo was not at home, but had gone to Omaruru. I asked if any of the councillors was prepared to make a statement, but they all wanted to wait until Clemens came back.

I then asked him about a Mr Meroro, the chairman of Swapo, who had recently issued a press statement denying that he had said what the SABC had said he had said. Mbuende took me to see him – his shop was nearby – and he said he would not like to make any comment until he had spoken to his vice president in Walvis Bay. But he would say that he was very pleased with the decision. He seems quite a pleasant bloke – though
not a leader like Clemens Kapuuo. I took Mbuende back to the diocesan office to see the bishop, and arranged what was to happen about the Herero church conference, but the bishop and Dave had gone to see pastor Reeh. We spoke to Clive Whitford who said we could quote him as saying he was “overjoyed” by the World Court decision. He said I should attribute it to “a white professional man” and not to a “teacher”, since he and Chris Roering were the only teachers (white) in town who could possibly make such a remark.

I took Mbuende back to Katutura, and started writing stories for the Argus Africa News Service, which we went to put in the telegram box at the post office, and returned to listen to Vorster’s speech on the radio at 8:00, which was predictable enough. It was funny to hear a man who bends the law to suit his own purposes complaining that others were doing this. The fact that it was the British and French judges who dissented might lend credence to this, because it was their national self-interest that was at stake.

After the speech Meroro phoned, and said I should ring the acting president of Swapo at Walvis Bay, Nathaniel Mahuiriri, and he would give me a statement, and how he did. They seemed to be having a party at his house to celebrate the decision, and he asked loudly in Herero what they all thought of the judgement, and everyone clapped. He said he regarded the judgement of the World Court as the judgement of God, and that they did not hate whites, the whites must stay, but there must be no more
apartheid, no more homelands, only one homeland for all, one nation, one Namibia. He went on for half an hour, cataloguing his objections to the contract labour system, saying Vorster’s speech on the radio was hypocritical, and when I asked him what he thought of Clemens Kapuuo, he said Swapo respected him as an honest man who spoke for his people; unlike Ushona Shiimi who was a stooge, a puppet, a tape recorder, who repeated what he was told to say.

That, I thought, was true, but nobody in their right mind could take Ushona Shiimi seriously, or think he spoke on behalf of anyone but the South African government. I have not met a single Ambo who does not think Ushona Shiimi is a big joke. After the call ended, I wrote out his statement, or the relevant bits of it, and Dave wrote a description of Windhoek at lunch time, and then we dumped those in the telegram box too, and then went off to have a drink at the Berg Hotel to celebrate, and went home to bed.

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