Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “human rights”

Inside Quatro: ANC and Swapo prison camps

Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPOInside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO by Paul Trewhela
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s taken me nearly six years to read this book. It’s about prison camps run by the ANC and Swapo, mostly in Angola and Zambia, in which party dissidents were detained without trial, and sometimes tortured. The book consists mainly of essays reprinted from a publication called Searchlight South Africa edited by the author, Paul Trewhela, and his colleague Baruch Hirson, both of whom had been jailed for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.

The articles, it seemed to me, varied greatly in quality, and that was one reason it took me so long to read it. Another reason was that there seemed to be no way of verifying the claims that are made, and so I didn’t really feel competent to write a review — so let anyone reading this review beware.

Some of the articles seemed factual, and thus believable, while others seemed to be much more tendentuious. The title, too, is misleading. It is not the exile history of the ANC and Swapo — that has yet to be written, or maybe it has been, but I haven’t seen it. There were some things I knew a bit more about — churches in Namibia, for example — but Trewhela dealt with a period after I had been deported from Namibia, and so was out of touch. But again, it did seem to be very patchy and incomplete. In part that is because of the nature of the material.The articles were all topical articles in a magazine, and so could not really be expected to provide a comprehensive history.

I was initially put off be a couple of the early articles, which had “Stalinist” in almost every paragraph, to describe the ANC. Paul Trewhela had been a member of the South African Communist Party, which was inclined to be Stalinist. He left it and became a Trotskyist, and I had read somewhere that many of the American Neocons who had pushed the US into war in the early years of the century had originally been Trotskyists, and some of the early essays seemed to lend support to that thesis. They seemed to be the kind of thing the National Party government would say to try to discredit the ANC and Swapo as “communist”. So I put the book aside, and only picked it up occasionally to read another of the essays.

The later ones generally seem better than the earlier ones, but there is no way of determining how accurate they are without a great deal of historical research, and that is the kind of research that I would prefer to leave to others. I’m interested in writing about periods that I do know something about, where I have at least some first-hand knowledge.
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Underground People

Underground PeopleUnderground People by Lewis Nkosi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book, and it took me 100 pages to work out what period it was set in, but the interest and pace picked up as the story went along, and in the end I enjoyed it very much.

At first the descriptions seemed over the top, like one of those old TV sets where the colour and brightness levels were turned up too high. For example, “She was slim but strong, with long haunches like a well-bred horse, impressive in a solemn kind of way, shy yet provocatively earthy, painfully reticient but when drawn into converstion likely to unfold suddenly, as a quick responsive mountain flower after rain.”

It’s set in the dying days of the apartheid era (OK, I’ve given the game away, but it’s not really a spoiler, just a puzzle I had, trying to work out if it was set in the 1960s or the late 1980s). The National Liberation Movement sends Cornelius Molapo to his home ground of Tabanyane, to coordinate a local uprising with the national liberation struggle. To account for his disappearance they put around the story that he had been detained by the Security Police, which brings Anthony Ferguson, who works for an international human rights NGO, to South Africa to investigate his disappearance. For Ferguson, a South African expatriate who had been out of the country for 15 years, it was as much of a strange homecoming as going home to Tabanyane was for Cornelius Molapo.

There are many surprising twists in the plot, and eventually Anthony Ferguson comes face to face with Cornelius Molapo, in circumstances he could never have imagined.

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A couple of extra notes, not included in the Good Reads review.

One of the things that makes books by South African authors more interesting is that they are likely to be set in places one knows, and sometimes, as in this case, one may even have met the author. I met Lewis Nkosi when he spoke at a Progressive Party house meeting in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. It was in October 1960, just after the republican referendum, and he was asked to speak to the predominantly white audience on “The African and the republic”. He was then a journalist on Drum magazine, and said that Africans were not much interested in the republic question, as it would not make much difference to their oppression. I got to drive him to the meeting, and found him an interesting person to meet. Soon after that he left South Africa, and spend the next 30 years in exile, and perhaps that was why I found it hard to work out the time his book was set in — he may have been drawing on old memories in writing it.

One example of this is that in the book white people refer to black people as “natives”, but during the 1950s the politically-correct Afrikaans term became “Bantoe”, and among English speakers it became “African”, and remained so during the 1960s. In the 1970s “black” became more common, and “native” was seldom heard, and by the 1980s “native” seemed to have vanished completely.

I was sad to learn that Lewis Nkosi had died; you can read his obituary here.

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The facility: book review

The FacilityThe Facility by Simon Lelic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Kafka meets Orwell in contemporary England” says the blurb on the cover.

Well, not quite, but one can see how they arrive at the comparison. Simon Lelic simply extrapolates some trends in British society and politics into the near future, and the picture he gives is generally quite believable. All it needs is the detention-without-trial legislation that some British politicians desperately wanted, but didn’t get.

Franz Kafka and George Orwell wrote about dystopian futures in which there are extreme changes in every aspect of society. Simon Lelic writes about a society that is deceptively normal.

In that respect this book more closely resembles A Dry White Season by Andre Brink. For the first 50 pages of The Facility I thought it was about a Britain that resembled South Africa c1968, after the passing of the Terrorism Act. It was a Britain transformed into Vorster’s South Africa.

After the first 50 pages the plot is slightly different, and there are a few plot holes that make it fall short of Kafka, or Orwell, or Brink, but it is still a pretty good read. And scary, too. This is something that could happen, and something that some British politicians are on record as wanting to happen.

See, for example, here Notes from underground: The swing to fascism in the USA and the UK, when the British media lauded Tony Blair’s attempts to turn Britain into Vorster’s South Africa as “the moral high ground”. And The Facility shows how very easily that could happen.

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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
reports:

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.

Privacy

In my experience many people raise privacy issues in connection with web sites such as Facebook, or in genealogical research. But very few seem to be willing to discuss the underlying principles of the issues. In a recent blog post Matt Stone raises the same issues. Thinking biblically about privacy – Glocal Christianity:

I gather many believe privacy is a good thing; that it’s erosion is a bad thing. But of what basis do we found such beliefs? Is the foundation biblical, or merely cultural? How might we go about articulating a cross cultural ethic for instance?

I think that is quite important, because many people do not seem to regard privacy as an issue at all. It is simply not up for debate. They say “That’s private,” and for them that is the end of the discussion.

But as Matt Stone points out, it is an issue. It is debatable, because many people have different ideas about what is private and what is not, and how important privacy is. He asks if this is merely cultural, and I think that for most people it is. We each have our own ideas about what is private, and what is not; about information that we are willing to share with others and information that we do not wish to share. But because we rarely discuss these with other people, there is no common standard, and no shared understanding.

In our family history research we have come across relatives who are suspicious of the whole enterprise. They prefer the past to be forgotten, and rather resent our looking into matters that they think ought to have been buried and forgotten. This sometimes extends to things that one might regard as trivial. For example, when my father-in-law, Keith Greene, died in 1983, we wrote about it in a kind of open letter to friends and family members, and included a brief obituary, as a kind of appreciation for him. Among other things we included what we regarded as an amusing incident. He worked for a shipping firm, Rennies, in Durban, and travelled to Maputo in Mocambique once a month. Relations between apartheid South Africa and newly-independent Mocambique were not cordial, and Mocambique had many shortages, so he usually took a carload of groceries and things like toothpaste for people in the Rennies office in Maputo. On one trip they had two pigeons in a cage, and since the pigeons were livestock, and would have to be smuggled in, they stopped at a lay-by just before the border, and jettisoned the cage. But when they got to the border, they found it was closed for three days. They rushed back to the lay-by to get the cage again, but it was gone, and so they not only had to find a place to keep the pigeons, but also a car-load of frozen food, until the border re-opened.

We thought it was an amusing incident that threw light on life in South Africa, and its relations with Mocambique, but my mother-in-law was furious with us for putting it in the letter. “That’s private,” she said. End of discussion. She clearly drew the line between what was private and what could be shared with others in a different place from where we did. And we found that that was true of many of that generation.

On the other hand, I did draw the line somewhere. The letters were posted in addressed envelopes, and we intended that they should be read by the intended recipients, though we would not have minded if they had shown it to some of their friends. We did not intend to publish it a newspaper where it could be read by anyone. Nor did we intend that it should be intercepted by the Security Police and read by their functionaries, though we knew that that was a possibility. Since Keith Greene had died, he would not be making any more trips to Mocambique, so it did not matter if they knew that he once smuggled a couple of pigeons across the border.

On the other hand, I’ve been writing an article about the mentality of the Security Police in South Africa in the apartheid era, based on my own file, and their reports refer frequently to “a sensitive source”, and it is clear that this often refers to someone in the post office reading outgoing mail to foreign countries, which was illegal without a court order, but that did not deter the Security Police. Though we took it for granted that mail was intercepted and telephones tapped, we still regarded that as crossing the line, and as an invasion of privacy. So though we drew the line in a different place from my mother-in-law, we still drew the line somewhere, and if we had evidence of it happening today in the new democratic South Africa we would complain, probably to the Human Rights Commission.

A student friend of mine went to teach in the rural village of Postmasburg in the Northern Cape, and once in my travels I turned aside to visit her. She was amazed at the lack of privacy and the propensity for gossip. Everyone in town knew everyone else’s business, and the main souces of village gossip were the operators at the (manual) telephone exchange and the doctor’s receptionist.

A few years later, when we lived in a similar small town (Melmoth in Zululand) we discovered the same thing, except that an additional vector of gossip was the golf course. Local calls were free in those days, and if people were going out to dinner, they would call the exchange and let them know, and so calls would be put through to their dinner hosts. That was the equivalent of SMS, but considerably less private. And of course the party lines that went to the farms were notorious for people listening in.

So there are different privacy standards for rural areas and cities.

I think the idea of privacy is also very much linked to the modern worldview. The Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment encouraged the notion of the individual point of view, and perspective (based on a single viewpoint), and this notion also gave rise to the idea of privacy (see also Notes from underground: The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism).

I can’t recall that anyone has defined privacy, or expounded the principles on which it is based, or said how we should decide on the limits. And the Bible records the life of premodern societies, so I very much doubt if they had very much notion of “privacy”, so I don’t think we will find a “biblical” view of it, or succeed in defining it biblically.

Brit elections: the elephant in the room

I watched a couple of the televised debates between the three front-runners in the UK election, and I’ve read several British blog posts about the hustings in various constituencies, and one thing that has struck me is that they all seem to be silent about the elephant in the room — that the Labour Party, since it came to power in 1997, has led Britain into not one, but three imperialist wars.

Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats did, to his credit, make a passing reference to the fact that the war in Iraq was illegal, but he did not follow it up, and Gordon Brown and David Cameron did not respond to it.

As an Australian journalist notes, t r u t h o u t | Voting for War. Take Your Pick:

All three party leaders are warmongers. Nick Clegg the Liberal Democrats leader and darling of former Blair lovers says that as prime minister he will ‘participate’ in another invasion of a ‘failed state’ provided there is ‘the right equipment the right resources.’ His one condition is the standard genuflection toward a military now scandalized by a colonial cruelty of which the Baha Mousa case is but one of many.

For Clegg as for Gordon Brown and David Cameron the horrific weapons used by British forces such as clusters, depleted uranium and the Hellfire missile which sucks the air out of its victims lungs do not exist. The limbs of children in trees do not exist. This year alone Britain will spend £4 billion on the war in Afghanistan and that is what Brown and Cameron almost certainly intend to cut from the National Health Service.

One other thing that all three front-ronners studiously avoided mentioning, and none of the public questions mentioned either, was the Labour Party’s attempts to destroy civil liberties and turn Britain into a fascist police state. Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to introduce 90-day detention without trial.

In the 1960s, when South Africa introduced 90-day detention, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party imposed military sanctions, and cancelled an order for Buccaneer aircraft destined for the South African Air Force. Now the British media laud Blair’s and Brown’s attempts to turn Britain into a Vorsterstan as “taking the moral high ground”.

My, how the mighty have fallen!

Fighting for the right to dry clothes

I was amazed to discover that many people in the USA do not have the right to dry clothes.

Debate Follows Bills to Remove Clotheslines Bans – NYTimes.com:

Like the majority of the 60 million people who now live in the country’s roughly 300,000 private communities, Ms. Saylor was forbidden to dry her laundry outside because many people viewed it as an eyesore, not unlike storing junk cars in driveways, and a marker of poverty that lowers property values.

In the last year, however, state lawmakers in Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont have overridden these local rules with legislation protecting the right to hang laundry outdoors, citing environmental concerns since clothes dryers use at least 6 percent of all household electricity consumption.

Laws that stop people from drying clothes in their own backyards is surely big government gone mad, and must be one thing that liberals and conservatives (however defined) could agree to fight. For liberals it is an issue of human rights, the freedom to dry clothes. And for conservatives it can be seen as an issue of conserving a tradition thousands of years old.

I wonder who were the petty fascists who sought to introduce it in the first place?

Hat-tip to Notes from a Common-place Book: Fight For Your Right to Dry!, who also has some pretty good things to say about this particular piece of bureaucratic idiocy.

Tiananmen Square Is None of Your Business, Congress by Ron Paul

The US Congress recently debated a resolution condemning human rights abuses in China 20 years ago. At least one member of of their congress urges that they should be paying more attention to human rights abuses closer to home, and nearer to the present.

Tiananmen Square Is None of Your Business, Congress by Ron Paul:

While we certainly do not condone government suppression of individual rights and liberties wherever they may occur, why are we not investigating these abuses closer to home and within our jurisdiction? It seems the House is not interested in investigating allegations that US government officials and employees approved and practiced torture against detainees. Where is the Congressional investigation of the US-operated “secret prisons” overseas? What about the administration’s assertion of the right to detain individuals indefinitely without trial? It may be easier to point out the abuses and shortcomings of governments overseas than to address government abuses here at home, but we have the constitutional obligation to exercise our oversight authority in such matters. I strongly believe that addressing these current issues would be a better use of our time than once again condemning China for an event that took place some 20 years ago.

Hat-tip to A conservative blog for peace

Shell in court over alleged role in Nigeria executions

Shell in court over alleged role in Nigeria executions | The Observer:

Ken Saro-Wiwa swore that one day Shell, the oil giant, would answer for his death in a court of law. Next month, 14 years after his execution, the Nigerian environmental activist’s dying wish is to be fulfilled.

In a New York federal court, Shell and one of its senior executives are to face charges that in the early 1990s in Nigeria they were complicit in human rights abuses, including summary execution and torture.

The Anglo-Dutch company, if found liable, could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in damages. No multinational has ever been found guilty of human rights abuses, although two previous cases saw major claims settled outside court.

Hat-tip to The Poor Mouth: Shell in court over Saro-Wiwa execution

Cholera stretches Limpopo resources

The Times – Cholera stretching SA to breaking point:

MORE than 40 new cholera infections — half of them further than 100km from the disease’s South African epicentre, Musina — have prompted Limpopo health authorities to ask that outbreak sites be declared emergency areas.

The new cases of the water- borne disease were reported at the weekend. Twenty-one new cases were reported in remote areas along the Limpopo River, where thousands of Zimbabweans illegally cross into South Africa. Officials fear the outbreak will become unmanageable if there is no emergency intervention.

It has taken a long time for Zimbabwe’s infrastructure to collapse to this extent. The collapse has now reached, or passed, the point that Albania had reached ten years ago. And the South African government continues prop up the mad dictator who is destroying his country and his people.

Five years ago a group of Johannesburg church leaders criticised the state of human rights in Zimbabwe after hearing stories from Zimbabwean refugees, and were castigated by Frank Chikane and Cedric Mayson (two clergy advisers of the ANC government), for doing so, and likened to George Bush. At the same time Bishop Desmond Tutu made a much stronger statement, which was reported in the newspapers, but did not have much effect, since he was retired. But it was the kind of statement that the South African government could have made, but did not. The ANC could see through Ronald Reagan’s “constructive engagement” approach to P.W. Botha’s human rights abuses in South Africa in the 1980s, but 20 years later it had fallen into the same trap in the way it approached Mugabe’s human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Whether speaking out more strongly against Mugabe’s human rights abuses would have made a concrete difference is a moot point, but the “constructive engagement” policy certainly achieved nothing, and the cholera epidemic is just one consequence of that.

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