From `service delivery’ to #FeesMustFall, protests target decades of neoliberal austerity

According to Ivor Chipkin, the FeesMustFall movement runs the risk of being coopted by the politicians and business people around Jacob Zuma who are stripping state owned enterprises like Eskom to the tune of billions. This after some student activists called for protests targeting the National Treasury and academic Kelly Gillespie pointed to the role of the treasury in making higher education unaffordable for the majority of Blacks.

Chipkin provides no evidence that there is a real danger that the student movements will inadvertently support the looting of the state, which seems to be the project holding the Zuma group together. In fact, he can only make his point by ignoring the politics of the FeesMustFall movement, which on the whole is diametrically opposed to that of both the Zuma and the Gordhan group. Chipkin’s political agenda is not so much that he seriously believes the students are about to support Zuma; he wants FeesMustFall to support the Gordhan group, even if only by not targeting National Treasury with criticisms and protests.

In order to support his political point, Chipkin argues that the National Treasury has not had a policy of neo-liberal austerity over the last 16 years. But the evidence he provides is as weak as his political framing of no possibilities outside of either Zuma or Gordhan.

To review the evidence, we need an idea of what ‘neo-liberal austerity’ is. Is a simple rise in spending on ‘social protection’, even a doubling over a thirteen-year period, proof enough that there is no neo-liberal austerity? This is what Chipkin suggests, but it is simplistic.

Cutting social welfare spending has been a burning ambition of neo-liberal treasuries everywhere. They have not always succeeded, because they had to contend with the balance of forces. Where there was strong resistance to such cuts, all they could do was keep this kind of expenditure as low as possible. In these cases, it does not mean they are no longer neo-liberal; it means they are neo-liberals who are not getting their own way one hundred percent.

The political essence of neo-liberalism is using the state to create the conditions for maximum wealth transfer from everyone else to the richest elite among business corporations. This is exactly what the ANC has been doing over the last two decades. This is precisely why the elite among the capitalist class is showing Gordhan so much love. From water to land to minerals to investment to monetary matters and agriculture, the ANC’s policies have included privatization, deregulation, commodification and all the other building blocks of neoliberal politics around the world. These long words all mean the same thing – state policies that protect and create opportunities for giant business corporations to make profits at the expense of everyone and everything else.

It is laughable to argue that in the middle of this general neo-liberal approach of the ANC, the treasury stands as the lone exception. Yes, expenditure on social grants has risen (though not in Gordhan’s last budget where it dropped in real terms). But these rises were never driven by what the actual needs for poverty relief and eradication were. It was carefully framed to be affordable while the tax regime leaves the wealth of the big corporates untouched and growing. A treasury that was pro-poor and against neo-liberal austerity would not have dropped taxes on these billionaire corporates as Gordhan and his predecessors have done. Instead they would have taxed them heavily not only on profit but also on accumulated wealth, which is the only way to seriously move towards ending poverty and inequality.

Research by Nandi Vanqa-Mgijima and Christopher Webb of the International Labour Research and Information Group (Ilrig) further exposes the claim that social grants is a sign that there is not a regime of neo-liberal austerity at the treasury. They explain how the payment and distribution has been outsourced to a company listed on the stock exchanges of Johannesburg and New York. Furthermore, all along the chain of the distribution and spending of the grants, micro-lenders and giant supermarkets are set up to make profit at the expense of the poor grant beneficiaries. Undoubtedly grant recipients have benefited, but the neo-liberal manner in which the grants have been distributed have benefited the usual shareholders and creditors for whom neo-liberalism is designed.

Quoting percentage increases in spending on social protection allows talk of ‘more than double’ and ‘well above inflation’, which has the sound of opulence rather than austerity. But the word austere means having no comforts or luxuries. To suggest a child grant of R350 per month means there is no austerity is fucking sick. The thing is that the grants started from such a scandalously low base, that even these large percentage increases still leave grant recipients in poverty. If this is not neo-liberal austerity, then the concept has no meaning.

Finally, Chipkin’s own account of the situation in higher education reveals that the treasury has deployed a strategy that is quite common for neo-liberal treasuries and has been used by Trevor Manuel with regard to local government. This is the strategy of ‘unfunded mandates’. An explosive increase in the number of tertiary students, without a corresponding increase in funding, pressured universities to raise the extra funding through fee increases and corporate funding that further subordinate knowledge production to neo-liberalism. The one is a direct consequence of the other and confirms the neo-liberal orientation of treasury beyond doubt.

Vice-chancellors now find themselves in a similar position to mayors. In the Manuel era funding for municipalities were cut by 90% at the same time that their service delivery responsibilities were increased manifold. Hence we had the ‘service delivery’ protests similar to the FeesMustFall protests, both ultimately caused by neo-liberal austerity policed by the treasury.

It is these community protests that won the increases in social spending, just as the student protests has already won increases in higher education spending. Both are up against the neo-liberal regime of the ANC, of which both Gordhan and Zuma are part. FeesMustFall is completely correct in targeting them both.

 

(Photo Credit 1: City Press / Ndileka Lujabe) (Photo Credit 2: Time / Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters)

Supporting Gordhan against Zuma weakens the resistance politics of the poor

A sense that there is a crisis at the highest levels of government has taken hold in South Africa. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations, known as the Hawks, has instructed Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance, to make a warning statement on allegations of illegal spying and corruption against him relating to his time as tax commissioner. Gordhan’s refusal to comply, plus his stand-off with senior leaders of some state owned enterprises, have led even Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to speak of a state at war with itself as he declared his support for Gordhan.

The finance minister is enjoying an outpouring of support, especially from the business sector and academics and journalists aligned to it. Their positions are all presented as ultimately a concern for the poor, who they say will suffer even more should Gordhan be defeated by his enemies. Even some in civil society have now taken this position, although they disagree with the economic policies Gordhan and his fellow neoliberal capitalists stand for.

Supporting Pravin Gordhan in the belief that the poor are better off with him rather than his ANC rivals in charge of the finance ministry is based on a mistaken theory. Perhaps the cruellest tyranny of politics is that no amount of sincerity, passion and effort can deliver desired results if the political framework does not support those results.

Maybe Gordhan is a better person than whoever might replace him. And let’s say a neoliberal capitalist system based on the rule of law, which Gordhan is debatably seen to represent, is better than a neoliberal capitalist system without the rule of law, which the so-called patronage politicians in the ANC fighting against Gordhan are seen to represent. But the amount of resources going to the poor is not determined by the ethical character of the rulers, nor by the presence or absence of the rule of law. All three of these factors are the result of the relative strength of the resistance politics of the poor. Supporting Gordhan against Zuma subordinates the resistance politics of the poor to the factional battles of the ANC and thereby weakens it.

This resistance politics of the poor is ultimately based on two broad tactics known as direct action. The first is where poor people simply take resources denied to them, for example through occupying land for residential or agricultural purposes or through poaching. The second tactic is to disrupt the wealth and comforts of the elites until they concede needed resources to the poor, for example through strikes, road blockages and office occupations. Both of these are high risk options usually forbidden by law and almost always repressed by force, and therefore there are a number of other tactics such as marches, demonstrations, negotiations and media interventions, which are often in effect threats to employ direct action and, importantly, processes of building up the necessary support for it.

How does supporting Gordhan weaken resistance politics? Because this support is framed as supporting the rule of law and the power of the ANC. The rule of law is an idea through which the ruling class legitimises their power. It does not exist in reality, although it influences reality, sometimes in ways that benefit the poor. The ruling class does not seriously operate within the law, least of all the faction that Gordhan is part of, even as they use the law to present their power as just and fair. It is precisely the power of the ANC legitimised by the rule of law that has enforced neo-liberal capitalism and led to explosive growth of poverty and inequality.

The struggle for more resources for the poor is essentially a struggle to build the politics of resistance against elite power. Aligning with one elite faction against another on the basis of a framework supportive of elite power as a whole just consolidates the position of the ruling class. Those concerned that Gordhan’s defeat will mean less resources and freedoms for the poor should step up direct actions and deepen the exposure of the power of the ANC and the so-called rule of law as sources of domination and exploitation of the poor.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Roar Magazine) (Photo Credit 2: Right 2 Know Campaign)

Whether they vote or not, the excluded, oppressed and routinely killed are NOT stupid!

 


If previous trends continue, millions of people will choose not to vote on 3 August in the local elections across South Africa. According to Eusebius McKaiser people abstain from voting because they either think voting will not make a difference, or they think it will implicate them morally in a system they do not agree with. These reasons are ‘stupid’, according to McKaiser.

It is breathtakingly arrogant to judge people stupid without knowledge of their goals, and, unlike McKaiser, I do not presume to know the goals of the millions who will not be voting. It is however necessary to say that it is not at all stupid to refrain from doing something you believe will not change anything. To do or not do something for moral reasons, even if it affects you materially in bad ways, only seems stupid to people who believe material self-interest should always be the only or main motivation for political actions.

Perhaps it is more important to remember that there are good practical reasons to abstain from voting for an important group among those who are staying away from the polls. In their case we have a good idea of what their goals are, because they have been articulating it since at least the elections of 2004. I am referring to the various social movements and protest groups that have arisen against the neoliberal capitalist approach of the state and taking positions like ‘no land, no vote’ or ‘no housing, no vote.’ Examples of these movements include the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

While the early post-2000 social movements have become much weakened or defunct, their line of thinking has continued to find resonance. The latest group to take it up powerfully is organizing under the hashtag #IamSpoilingMyBallotWithMyBlood in the Cape Town township of Bonteheuwel. This campaign is led by a group of activists mainly associated with the Joint Peace Forum. They are resisting the waves of gang violence that killed thousands of Bonteheuwel residents with the complicity of the police and politicians of all stripes.

The most important idea behind the actions of these activists is that the system oppresses them to such a degree that they need to build movements as alternative sources of power capable of fighting the system as a whole. This does not mean voting and working within the system is morally wrong or does not make any difference. It means that the changes possible within the system still leave people trapped in the hellhole Bonteheuwel has become. It is also based on the calculation that whoever is in power of those on offer, people are better off when they have strong grassroots movements.

Far from being stupid, the decision to refrain from voting serves this movement building agenda perfectly. As we learned from boycotting the tricameral parliament and other Apartheid institutions, building effective liberation movements require foregoing the marginal benefits of working within the system, in favor of the more important benefits of drawing a clear line between oppressor and oppressed. McKaiser cannot see this, because his watered down liberalism tells him we have the best possible form of democracy. Those excluded, oppressed and killed routinely, beg to differ. It’s stupid to think of them as stupid.

(This series is about the unbreakable link between means and ends in politics – the tyranny of politics.)

 

(Image Credit: IOL)

 

Professor Jansen, do you want ‘concomitant action’? #RhodesMustFall

With unbelievable insensitivity Jonathan Jansen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, has labeled a section of the protesting students as gangsters. This comes only three years after the Marikana massacre, when a similar criminalisation of protesting workers by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa played a role in creating conditions for the police to kill thirty-four mineworkers in a single incident. The consequences of criminalising protestors have either passed over Prof. Jansen’s head, or he actually does not mind the killing of black protestors as much as he minds a school girl laughing at what she perceives as her white teacher’s overreaction to the death of a dog.

Jansen put forward this libelous label on 9 October this year when he delivered the inaugural Stephen Ellis Memorial Lecture at the Netherlands Embassy in Pretoria. After starting off with the story of the black school girl laughing at her white teacher Jansen displays great determination to paint some of the protesting students as callous balls of undirected anger which culminates in the following tirade:

“There is no ideology or memory or history here, only a hodge podge of pro-black/anti-white sentiment on the tip of an angry tongue that finds expression in the lashing out at public gatherings and memorial lectures, in newspaper columns of especially the Sunday Independent though with more balance in City Press, and in the occasional book production.

It is an anger that is particularly vicious of its critics. In its milder forms of dismissal the critics are old, representing a bygone generation that simply by virtue of age is out of touch and irrelevant to the struggles of youth. They should allow the space for political articulation to be occupied by those who really know, the newly angry young activists. In its harsher version, the older critics of the new anger are trounced as everything from right-wing reactionaries to white-loving establishment figures who have done nothing to advance black professors in the academy or decolonise the curriculum or change institutional cultures.”

This is just one of the many untruths about the protesting students that Jansen managed to cram his lecture with, even while being forced to concede that the aims, methods and outcomes of the protests were just. Before I untangle this small sample of professorial lies, let me note Jansen’s basic trick. He speaks about a group of students, particularly the #‎RhodesMustFall movement at UCT, who have expressed searing anger at the everyday racism at former white and English universities, who have put forward radical critiques of whiteness and who have drawn on thinkers such as Franz Fanon and Cornell West. He also speaks about a group of students who have used violent and intolerant methods to suppress people they disagree with. Without a grain of evidence, he speaks of these two groups as one group. He is thereby able to taint his ideological opponents with the label of gangsterism. Jansen’s main beef with the #RhodesMustFall movement is not any particular action of theirs, but the fact that they have radically broken with his mainstream mix of conservatism with small dashes of liberalism.

Now let us look at the above somewhat randomly selected paragraphs. One might disagree with the ideology and memory of the #RhodesMustFall students, but to say they do not have these things is simply not true. They have a fairly well-defined ideology and view of history, which could be described as Black Consciousness combined with anti-imperialism, feminism and, to a lesser degree, socialism. Their ‘anti-white’ sentiment has been clearly explained and motivated. They hate ‘whiteness’ as the embodiment of racism and privilege. Maybe the professor thinks this is not enough reason to hate, but then he should explain why. He does not like the angry tone of the students, but an angry tone does not invalidate an argument professor, even if it upsets some white people.

It is also not true that the #RhodesMustFall activists have dismissed critics simply based on their age. In fact, it could be argued the student movements have been very respectful of black academics at these institutions, many of whom do not share the radical politics of the students but are intent on using this moment for their own purposes. There have been many reading and discussion groups where older people have been invited to share their thoughts with the students, and even when the older academics were critical of the students the engagements were respectful and constructive. Yes, students have accused some of their detractors of being rightwing reactionaries, but that does not mean they were wrong. Are there no rightwing reactionaries on university campuses? Or is this one just hitting too close to the bone, Professor?

You complain about ‘violence’ but you are helping to set up the students as targets for state violence.

 

(Photo Credit: Ra’eesa Pather / The Daily Vox)

This city is a monster created through the violent fusion of enemy organisms

 

This city is a monster created through the violent fusion of enemy organisms, kept together, kind of, by the fear of the even worse. An inward shameful rage is its most permanent emotional state. It is fabled for beauty, but to see it requires a blindness of the moral kind. It is not a good thing, this city.

I was born here, grew up here and will die here. I am one of its products and makers, but I scream for its destruction, as my Khoi forebears have done at the time of its beginning. The stories I tell are nothing but this scream in words.

There is the mountain and then to its immediate south, the sea, with the city squeezed in between into the shape of a wedge of cheese. The sea has water and fish and beaches with sand. There are rocks and plants on the mountain, and often, clouds. In summer the sun shines hotly and the wind blows hard from the South-East. Winters are colder with lots of rain, interspersed with mild, sunny, windless days. North of the mountain are flat, sandy lands, unprotected from the winds. To its South-West a rocky peninsula juts into the sea, forming part of the coasts of two bays. In one of them is an island.

Seven teenage girls crammed into a room by themselves are never quiet. Shrill yells and laughs are hardly muffled by the closed door of my daughter’s room. I can only guess at the objects of their alternating outrage, derision and amusement. It is a happy guessing game as pleasure in each other overlays every alternation. They continue through the night in unwitting mockery of what they call a sleep-over.

Before six the morning L. storms out of her room and announces they are going for a jog. B. tries to intervene. Isn’t it still dark? But you are still in pajamas? I thought you hated exercise? Be careful, I call after the girls as they run out into the mist. They will never be careful these girls, not when the streets are empty and still, and they are queens of a city that for all anyone could tell they alone inhabited, which would have been just wonderful.

 

(Photo Credit: Alexcpt Photography / YouTube)

 

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen

The dishonesty of the liberalism of Gareth van Onselen must be exposed. He writes that ‘the ANC is sick’, but he is unwilling and unable to see the role his beloved liberal ideology played in the ANC’s increasing dissoluteness, conservatism and authoritarianism.

For Van Onselen the ANC’s ‘sickness’ can be seen in it ‘losing support, wracked by infighting, held hostage by division, a slave to an economically regressive mind-set, unable to organise internal conferences and denuded of talent as thinkers and an older generation desert it in the face of contemporary demagoguery.’ He also mocks Jacob Zuma’s turn towards traditionalism and religion. He does not ask why this is happening to the ANC right now.

Why, at this particular point, is the ANC – divided along unprincipled, tenderpreneurial lines – turning back to its Stalinist authoritarianism of the 1960s to the 1980s and its traditionalism of the 1910s to the 1950s? This is the question the Van Onselens cannot confront.

The rise of tenderpreneurialism, traditionalism and authoritarianism are good reasons to be worried, but we do not live under a traditionalist or Stalinist authoritarian political system. We are living under a liberal, constitutional political system. It is the effects of South Africa’s liberal, constitutional framework that is directly responsible for what is happening to the ANC.

In the 1990s the ANC adopted liberal constitutionalism and specifically South Africa’s constitution. It did not completely abandon its previous ideological postures but blended it with liberal constitutionalism in ways that often lacked consistency. However, its commitment to writing, promoting and implementing the constitution during this period cannot be doubted. What was the effect of this?

South Africa’s constitution was carefully designed to protect the basic structures of capital. By doing that, by protecting wealth, it inevitably protected the main means through which it is generated – cheap and unpaid black labour. By acceding to capital’s demands for liberalising the economy, the ANC oversaw the intensification of South Africa’s structural racism. White wealth and its opposite pole, black poverty, grew to make South Africa the most unequal society in the world.

South Africa’s constitution was never designed to cure the main sickness of Apartheid and actually made it worse. The ANC was now confronted with rampant inequality and explosive growth in the tensions and resistance this engendered. At the same time, the neo-liberalisation of the state-business nexus had completely embroiled it in corruption, tenderpreneurialism and factional conflicts based on it. It is under these pressures, that are a direct result of the liberal constitutional regime, that the ANC started looking back to its past for possible solutions to the multiple crises it was confronted with.

It is not possible to understand the ANC’s return to Stalinist authoritarianism and traditionalist conservatism without understanding it as the outcome of its turn to a liberal constitutionalism that prioritised the interests of white wealth. For people like Van Onselen the ANC’s sickness appear out of nowhere, because he needs to deny the oppressive nature of our liberal constitution. The constitution contained its own demise. It ostensibly sets out to protect the wealth of the rich and the rights of the poor. This cannot be done. The ANC is realising that. It is therefore, to some degree, abandoning the pretence of protecting the rights of the poor.

Yes, the ANC is morally sick. But so is South Africa’s liberal constitutionalism and so are its promoters such as Van Onselen.

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Rex Features) (Image Credit: Roar Magazine)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 4

The lesson for the makers of the Egyptian Women’s Charter is that the South African charter came up short not for what it contained but for what it left out.  In capitalist societies such as Egypt and South Africa, the state concentrates power among few, capital concentrates wealth, and both these institutions play a crucial role in maintaining the patriarchal power of men over women, to the extent of nullifying legal victories as we have seen in South Africa. Historically the socialist movement fought to end capital as an institution, and anarchism fought to end the state, while feminism or women’s movements veered between taking on these struggles and maintaining neutrality. The South African Women’s Charter stayed silent on whether capital and the state are compatible with the liberation of women. The present role of these institutions in imposing increasing misery on women arguably indicates that such a silence in the Egyptian Women’s Charter would be a mistake.

Inserting into the Women’s Charter a commitment to struggle against capital and the state would not necessarily spell the end for these institutions in Egypt, and neither would it necessarily have done so in South Africa in 1994. However, this is precisely where the South African experience speaks the loudest. When the demands of the Women’s Charter became part of South African law and policy from 1994 onwards, the Women’s National Coalition disbanded and its leading members took up positions in political parties and the state. When from 1996 the neo-liberal onslaught came, there was no national women’s movement to oppose it. Up to today South Africa has no national women’s movement, which is part of the reason for the confidence behind the reassertion of patriarchy. So no, a declaration in a charter will not end capital and the state, and yes, such a declaration might scare of those activists with a strong attachment to capital and the state, but it will provide a rallying point for a women’s movement that cannot be neutralized by paper concessions. It is in such a women’s movement, and not in capitalist laws and policies, that women in Egypt will find the best protection against the marginalization the men in charge of the state and business surely have planned for them.

Egypt today, being in a transitional phase, offers vast scope for a women’s movement not just to mobilize political pressure against patriarchy and its supporting institutions, but to launch direct actions and take over significant resources to dedicate to the liberation of women. With the police discredited and the military nervous about antagonizing the people, an action to take over, for example, a hotel owned by a multi-national or by the elite of the Mubarak era and use it as a women’s shelter, communal kitchen or feminist school has more chance of succeeding than at any other time in the recent past. It is such direct actions that will enable the Egypt women activists to transcend the dependence on the state that has proved so terribly costly for their South African counterparts. Of course women activists have to be prepared politically to take such actions. A giant step in such preparation would be to place the necessity for direct actions in a prime spot within the Egyptian Women’s Charter.

 

(This post originally appeared here: http://permanentrebel.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-womens-charters-in-egypt-and_14.html. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)

(Photo Credit: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 3

South Africa’s constitution receives a lot of praise for enshrining human rights. A big part of the reason is its commitment to achieve gender equality by eliminating discrimination against women in the present as well as the effects of such discrimination in the past. This aspect of the constitution, plus the associated laws, policies and institutions making up the National Gender Policy Framework and the National Gender Machinery testify to the great success of the Women’s National Coalition. There is nothing in this coalition’s Women’s Charter that was not inserted in either the constitution or the laws and policies designed to carry it out. A hundred percent success therefore. Why, then, are women’s social conditions deteriorating?

According to the diagnostic overview of the National Planning Commission – a presidentially appointed commission under the leadership of Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Planning, whose task is to develop a long term development plan for the country – the reasons are ‘cultural “norms” and patriarchy’, ‘social fragmentation and passive citizenry’, and unemployment and a lack of access to an enabling social wage, which combine to undermine the aspiration of the constitution towards “Healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”. In this diagnosis the problems of women are getting worse in spite, not because of the constitution. Government is not alone in having this view; it is in fact a near universal consensus.

A critical look, however, reveals the central responsibility of South Africa’s constitutional order for the worsening oppression of women here. For a start, take the three reasons put forward by the National Planning Commission. Cultural norms that underwrite patriarchy all depend for reproduction on institutions such as churches, traditional (tribal) leadership and families. None of these institutions were created in South Africa through free association. Christianity was imposed through violent dispossession and racist indoctrination. The current traditional leaders are the political heirs, not of Shaka and Hintsa, but of the chiefs that administered the violently imposed Bantustan system that was rejected over and over by black liberation movements. Families that teach women and children to submit to patriarchal authority also impose themselves through violence, abuse and the capacity to deny care, particularly when challenged; the wife/daughter that obeys out of fear and the one that gets beaten are both victims of this. The constitution ostensibly protects the victims of patriarchy, but it also protects these institutions, which are patriarchy’s perpetrators, and are much richer and more powerful than their victims.

What are the causes of social fragmentation and the alleged passivity among citizens? Certainly the way the political system is structured plays the major role. The state carefully assigns a particular status to every individual in the territory of South Africa. This status determines the relationship of this individual to the state as a whole – this one is a president, that one a prisoner, that one a police officer on duty, that one an ordinary citizen, and that one an undocumented immigrant. Everyone gets a position in a strictly constitutionally designated hierarchy where power is concentrated at the top. The competition and conflict that this concentration of power engenders is responsible for a major part of the social fragmentation in South Africa and other societies with a similar political structure. It also induces the alleged passivity, because people are not really passive politically, they are (sometimes) pacified by repression or by the frustration of being ignored or fobbed off. The power that South Africa’s political elite uses for socially fragmenting competition for more power, and to repress, ignore and fob off those of lower political status is given to them by none other than the constitution.

Growing unemployment, poverty and economic inequality are probably among the most acute of all the reasons fuelling the worsening position of women. A large part of the power of churches, chiefs and family heads flow from the fact that women have to submit to misery or face destitution. It is not possible to envisage the liberation of women without a radical redistribution of society’s wealth that would give black women control over most of it, and that would deny patriarchal institutions any of it. The constitution, of course, is dead set against such a redistribution. Instead it protects the property rights of the rich and facilitates neo-liberal policies that take even more from the poor to give to the rich, with devastating consequences for women.

The constitution and the gender laws and policies contain everything the makers of the Women’s Charter asked for, but it also contains and protects the cultural, political and economic institutions that destroy the hopes of this charter. It is like serving the women of South Africa a meal, full of delicious and nutritious ingredients, liberally sprinkled with poison.

 

(This post originally appeared here: http://permanentrebel.blogspot.com/2011/09/making-womens-charters-in-egypt-and.html. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 2

 


August is Women’s Month in South Africa. The biggest non-scandal that escaped mention in both the Women’s Day speeches of the president and the deputy president is not simply the oppressive social conditions imposed on women, but the fact that it is getting worse. The Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre to End Violence Against Women reports that this year, while gender based violence rises steadily, just 8% of monitored police stations complied with their obligations under the Domestic Violence Act. In 2007 compliance had stood at 57%. Maternal deaths during childbirth now stand at 625 per 100,000 – four times the number it was at in 1990; during the same period the much poorer Sub-Saharan African region as a whole reduced maternal mortality rates by a quarter!

Two recent comprehensive assessments of gender inequality bear out this picture. The United Nations Committee on the   Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) had its 48thsession from 17 January to 4 February this year. Three organisations – People Opposing Women Abuse, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and the Western Cape Network on Violence Against Women – together submitted a shadow report on the implementation of CEDAW. The authors of the report assess South Africa’s performance by systematically measuring the social position of women against all the articles of CEDAW using the latest data. Their findings cannot be ignored, except by presidents and deputies with selfish agendas. On legal equality the shadow report says, ‘Whilst the State has embedded the right to gender equality in the Constitution, the legislature and executive have failed to fully honour their resultant constitutional obligations.’ But the main failure is with regard to the central demand of the Women’s Charter for real, effective equality. The report laments that ‘there is a systemic failure to effectively translate these laws into meaningful change in women’s lives.’ It then identifies a strong trend towards ‘a consistent failure to move effectively from de jure to de facto enjoyment and realisation of the rights in question.’

The second comprehensive assessment was released last year by the statutory Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) as a report entitled ‘What gets measured, gets done’ – A gendered review of South Africa’s implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be more difficult to ignore watchdog bodies appointed by the constitution rather than civil society ones, but so far the government has done so with ease. Their motivation must be that, if anything, the CGE report is even more scathing than that of the three civil society groups. After documenting in detail how spectacularly South Africa is failing to come even close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women, the commissioner overseeing this review writes, ‘Despite Constitutional guarantees underpinned by groundbreaking legislative provisions, and gains on the front of political representation, access to equality and justice, and freedom from discrimination remain a pipe dream for the majority of women.’ Both the stipulations of CEDAW and the Millennium Development Goals are much more moderate than the demands of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality and the manner in which this society is not making progress on achieving the first two means it is moving away rather than towards effective equality.

So, yes, this is where South Africa is at. For the majority of women, freedom, justice, equality or just some peace is a ‘pipe dream,’ which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as an ‘illusory or fantastic plan, hope or story.’ Why?

 

(This post originally appeared here. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)

(Photo Credit: Commission for Gender Equality)

Making Women’s Charters in Egypt and South Africa – part 1

On the 4th of June this year Egypt’s first National Convention of Women took place. Women (and some men who support them) were gathering to make their voices heard. After playing a leading role in the January 25th revolution that ended the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, they were worried about the signs that the process of transition to a new constitutional system would sideline them. The Alliance for Arab Women and the Egyptian Women Coalitions therefore embarked on a process of drafting a Women’s Charter that spells out the things the women of Egypt need to see in the country’s new constitution. The process included discussions in 27 of Egypt’s governorates and a signature campaign that collected half a million signatures by June.

The process and content of the Egyptian Women’s Charter shows a striking similarity to that of the Women’s Charter for Effective Equality adopted by the National Convention of the Women’s National Coalition in February, 1994 in South Africa. The South African Charter came out of similarly motivated concerns, was drafted through public discussions, supported by millions of signatures and spelt out what women needed in the constitution South Africa was in the process of creating.

The similarity of the two Charter processes allow for the drawing of useful lessons for Egyptian ‘charterists’ from the earlier South African experiences and specifically from the outcomes of the South African charter. What is the situation for women in South Africa today? What does this say about the success of the Women’s Charter? What lessons can the supporters of the Egyptian Women’s Charter learn from the experiences of their South African counterparts?

(This post appeared originally here: http://permanentrebel.blogspot.com/2011/08/making-womens-charters-in-egypt-and.html. Thanks to Ronald for the collaboration!)

(Photo Credit: PeaceWomen)