Perfect day

Perfect day

it is
with a young author
all of 11-year’s old
on my morning radio


she bubbling away
enthusiastic is she
about writing
and reading too


(World Book Day
has passed virtually)


A tad later
another is on
she somewhat 
longer in the game


Perfect day
is her first 
choice of music


a song surely 
to bring cheer 
to humanity


surely not
what with we all
held to ransom 
by a virus


one that has exposed
the planet’s cracks
for all to gasp at
and then to act on


A Perfect day


Two authors and a Lou Reed song on Michelle Constant’s show get this going, on South Africa’s Lockdown Day 31.

(Image Credit: “Joy” by John Von Wicht: Smithsonian Museums) (Video Credit: YouTube / Eagle Rock)

South Africa’s Covid-19 economic stimulus plan: A chance to rethink or same old same old?

South Africa’s Covid-19 economic stimulus plan contains several of the features of a solid emergency plan, albeit cobbled together under the most unusual circumstances, at least on the surface. At 10% of GDP, far higher than Italy, Spain or the United Kingdom, it is one the largest stimulus packages in the world. To put this into further perspective the United States has committed 11% of its GDP to keeping the lights of its economy on.

President Ramaphosa’s announcement arrives at a time that global economic markets are haemorrhaging, a sad necessity of withdrawing large percentages of the working population from public spaces. Like so many components of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are presented with ongoing trade-offs and dilemmas all of which lead to their own paths of landmines. The largest fork in the road globally has been the cost of closing down the economy whilst livelihoods are increasingly precarious, many communities are restless, some families are starving to death. For countries in the Global South such as South Africa with lower welfare, this is all the more complicated by the uneven pace of dispensing relief to small businesses who employ the largest chunk of the employed workforce. The effort has been further hampered by the disgraceful diversion of food parcels to economically vulnerable communities by parts of the very state machinery that should be distributing relief.

That said, the plan offers clusters of intervention, many of which sound encouragingly social welfarist. It is not dissimilar to the basic income grant suggested by social policy analysts and formulated by several NGOS post 1994. As long ago as 2004, a coalition of NGOs, faith-based organisations and unions across SADC formulated well-researched funding models to finance this. They suggested that the Basic Income Grant (BIG) was affordable, particularly for South Africa, and noted that the political and economic history of South Africa would otherwise consistently reproduce the toxicity of racist and race based social and economic outcomes. These have produced the intergenerational, structural flaws in South Africa’s economy which no amount of foreign direct investment and market orthodox approaches of the past 22 years have resolved.

The proposals suggested a financing menu of diverse local taxes and strongly suggested that a universal grant would be part of a developmental social compact. So while painful, the Corona virus and the measures suggested by the President  might be bringing us closer to the recognition that structural deficits need to be addressed by investing into developing key sectors of the economy, enabling workers to remain in the economy and by cushioning those who are not able to participate in that economy.

Part of this compact is the R200 billion loan scheme to provide companies with relief to remain operational and to pay salaries. At a time when almost a third of the workforce have either been retrenched or are uncertain of their post lockdown future, a R50billion grant has been introduced to augment existing grants for a six-month period. Significantly, relief will be offered to people who are out of the current benefits matrix and receive neither Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits nor social grants.

The R100 billion grant to small businesses includes spazas and those often bypassed and ‘informalised’ by conventional market policy. These horizon industries, including chisa nyamas,   are largely bootstrap businesses that play a significant role in job creation,  community welfare and even a space to report domestic violence. They act as a meeting place for many, and the intimacy of the relationships represents an important part of community welfare in ways that larger supermarkets cannot replicate. During this virus, with limited transport, these outlets are the closest retailers. R70 billion in the proposal represents a tax respite for such businesses, including on skills development levies.

The second major fork in the plan is in the distribution of all this to various stakeholders. To be fully effective, cash transfers and relief subsidies must reach their intended targets including indigent communities, people in the parallel or ‘informal’ sector, and women who largely run household economics and are placed at the helm of social reproduction. They must also represent value for money. The modalities of transfer funds are risk-filled not least because the State itself has often been unreliable and corrupt. The perceptions around cash transfer programmes are often tainted with misinformation, poverty shaming and the idea that social grants or income support are for ‘free loading’ or ‘lazy’ social delinquents and ‘welfare queens’ rather than a recognition that these grants can enhance human capital and social engagement. It is also a form of risk sharing which potentially minimises the ongoing risk of huge parts of the population falling out of the social and economic compact, absent from the market economy. There is little evidence to support the view that child maintenance grants result in dependency.  This is the moment to reframe a socio-economic inclusiveness that is not biased towards corporates. If 2008 taught us nothing else, it’s that we cannot privilege companies over workers and families.

The strained and compromised SASSA machinery would require far greater capacity to minimise risk and maximise fast delivery. Conditional cash transfers linked to particular goods like school uniform, services like medical access or specific food items at listed outlets have often worked better than unconditional transfers in other developing economies to avert the flaws in the systems. The sustainability of these transfers and subsidies was debated as soon as the President mentioned the 6-month time horizon. Most economies, sectors, companies and families will still be on the difficult road to recovery beyond November 2020 and probably into the next 24 to 60 months.  

All this comes at a cost and herein is the final fork in the road, the IMF. The IMF presents a departure from South Africa’s correct historical aversion to securing their assistance. The IMF works on capital account liberalisation, removing barriers to flows of capital; and fiscal consolidation, or austerity. Structural conditions, or Structural Benchmarks (SBs), involve economic actions that require legislation and critical policy changes.

In 2008, in 21 countries over two decades, researchers demonstrated that IMF programme conditionalities help produce worsening health outcomes. Whilst this Corona inspired compact is an opportunity to rethink our economic model, it is crucial to appreciate that this moment is partly a manifestation of historical neglect and a market orthodox model. The solution in form of IMF and World Bank funding models may in fact lead to even more indebtedness and invidious conditionalities in future. A full cycle of market led, corporatist potential disaster. The real pandemic.

(Image Credit: Medialternatives)

There shall be

There shall be

There’s a Manifesto
There’s a Party Political
There’s a Charter and 
a Statement too 
of some intent

There shall be
the usual smoke
come election-time
(and no doubt after)

Plenty for all
All for plenty
in the many
Lands of Plenty

Plenty of material 
for PhDs and movies
cartoonists and satirists 
and even for comedians
to stand up

Plenty now dressed
in their appropriate
Aims and Objectives
(no red carpet here)

from this stage
to every other stageist
in this phase or that
in this queue or that

There shall be
no walking of dogs
says a talking hat
(face on straight)

But
There shall be
Post-COVID-19
Elections 
and the beyond

There shall be
Plenty for All
to remember 
here and beyond

Dogs walking or not

Lockdown Day 5 went by, with a weekend Zapiro cartoon (Daily Maverick 4 April).

(Photo Credit: The South African)

State power in the time of Corona: To protect and serve … whom?

At the time of writing, nearly half the world has closed down or is waking up to an unfamiliar world of  encroachments on physical mobility in ways not seen since the War of  1914 to 1918. Covid-19 has exposed existing fault lines in public health care provision and in  public health crisis in both the global South and the global North. The realities of socioeconomic exclusion have exposed ongoing inertia in public service provision and the rescinding role of the State in those provisions. Race, gender and class have been foregrounded in this time of crisis.  Whilst the Corona virus offers a critical moment to rethink and reframe the social compact between state, citizens and residents, it is also a dangerous and alarming time of enforced mass  enclosure. This is not the first time that humanity has been here though the scale and reach are unprecedented

Following Hurricane Katrina, many people sought to answer the question of whether its social effects and the government response to the country’s biggest natural disaster had more to do with race or with class. Media images broadcast from Louisiana showed nearly all those left behind to suffer and die were Black Americans—it looked a race, gender and class issue because it was. A few years later during Hurricane Sandy, it was clear that the US had learnt nothing from the traumatic upheaval wrought by Katrina. In this instance, it appears that nearly all might be left behind, but that the social  binaries of race based poverty and gender would endure, starkly. 

Though often hampered by  resource constraints, most African countries have a better track record of deploying state support and resources to deal with the upheavals of disease and the aftermath of war. The Ebola virus, the ongoing HIV/AIDs pandemic and malaria have provided lessons in the folly of denial, the importance of protecting health workers, of accessible and low-cost medication, robust public education, and open and consistent communication. So much of what seems like basic sense has been found wanting in the handling of Covid -19.  The news that British Prime Minister   Boris Johnson has tested positive after robust handshaking  whilst we have been advised to keep a distance and wash our hands shows a reckless leadership deficit during a defining moment.

The last forty years of globalisation as market orthodoxy has commodified health care. The globalisation of trade is  central  to  health services that have become a tradeable commodity  in an era in which many States have disinvested from health services altogether. Like education, access to water and electricity,  health provision  has been a casualty of structurally  adjusted States and the curve between the global South and the North has been exposed during this crisis as the UK and the US, often considered to be ‘developed’, have again been found weak and unprepared for a health trauma of this scale. The prescripts and onerous impacts of conditional aid and state disinvestment in social provision  have long been felt by African and Latin American countries. 

Globally, states are all experiencing the impacts and limits to free market logic. Though  characterised by many as the great equaliser, a time when States are equally fragile across the global north and global south, the true genesis of this global devastation is northern capitalism and demobilised  States. Structural adjustment as a project has evolved and is a continuing mantra of the  International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Both  recently unveiled their market driven response of emergency loans targeting developing countries  primarily in the Global South. The depleted  health and sanitation systems in many  countries  is testimony to the devastating success of neoliberal globalisation in immobilising national  state capacities.  

Following structural adjustment programmes, most health care and essential services – including water, energy, education – may be removed from state purview for cost recovery  arrangements. In this scenario private companies invest their funds in return for state guaranteed monopolies and price control, further dispossessing and excluding vulnerable communities. Public Private Partnerships – which are essentially polite privatisation – have existed for centuries,  thriving even more when States are weakened. These have also  become the easy allies of disaster capitalism as seen in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy where education and energy supplies were privatised, monetised and removed from the domain of public good.  

Despite decades of state neglect, social apartheid and various global traumas, consensu has formed on closing down public movement and curbing personal freedoms to address the War called Corona. The introduction of “lockdowns” with no tangible provision for social safety nets has posed significant risks to workers in the parallel economy, internally displaced persons, the working poor, fragile urban communities and other marginalised sectors. 

Notwithstanding  outsourcing their most fundamental functions to the private sector and ignoring their duty to distribute social and economic benefits to the most vulnerable in society, States are now  calling on us to trust them as they invoke martial law. This has  resulted in the largest shutdown of the last century. Unlike the two European wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) the impact of this situation is not localised to a few European nations, the Soviet Union, Australia,  Japan and the United States. Globalisation has transmitted both the disease and uniform approaches to problem solving. 

Students of civil liberties, human rights and social cohesion have opined on the politics of enclosure in times of war and peace.  Even during enclosed times, States exhibit inherent biases and weaknesses that maintain privilege for corporate and masculinised interests.  South Africa has lived through public control  in living memory, and distrust of the State and state security is still embedded in social discourses. Like many other  countries, the spectre of securitisation of human mobility sits badly, particularly as we still recall the dehumanising policing of colonial Apartheid exemplified by the Sharpeville Massacre, Soweto Uprising and Uitenhage massacres among many.  Troublingly, the Marikana Massacre  and the violence against the #FeesMustFall activists illustrates that the State can be a brutal  personality regardless of the supposedly progressive underpinnings of the Government in power.

At the time of writing, South Africans are required to carry Identity Books in case we are stopped by the police or army when going to buy  groceries or medical supplies. Once more, personhood is linked to a form of the much reviled Apartheid Passbook.  It is deeply unsettling, albeit necessary, that states are containing us to  control a warlike virus that might have been prevented had the same States not neglected  and commodified health care  so shamelessly. The same could be said of nearly every country battling the Corona pandemic.  

Whilst allowing already problematic Father States to lead us through very complex terrain, we recall that States are often inclined towards repression. Public order policing and martial law have often been the retreat of authoritarian regimes, evoking public safety, order and emergencies real or created to control citizens and residents . Late last year the Chilean government clamped down on high school protestors who demanded that the State provide  cost effective public transport. The escalating rage resulted in something resembling a nationwide, cross-issue movement against price increases, poor social services, and unemployment. It remains to be seen whether  the promise of a constitutional reform will quell public dissent. France has faced similar protests on public pension funds  and the retreat of the State in maternity clinics and postal services . Macron  effectively  ‘closed down’ France nearly two weeks ago. In the midst of their lockdown, thousands marched against him the day before local government elections. While States might have found the opportunity to indulge their regressive impulses during the time of Corona, not all of us are amnesiac about how we got here.  

(Photo Credit: Daily Maverick / EPA – EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

He said he didn’t know

He said he didn’t know

There are many
who are there
right here
out Africa-way

Knowing
knowingly
and not knowing

in denial
and denying

they are beyond too
on the rest
of Planet Earth

He said he didn’t know
the little enclave’s last
does as many have done
and many will continue to do

Might Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s
haunting Homeless
be a reminder
a little hint

that the system 
he oversaw
had been declared
a crime against humanity

some even have it
that it was 
an unfortunate past
a glitch on the horizon
of the planet’s timeline

like the Little Troubles
over in (Northern) Ireland
like the fall of Saigon
(and not the people’s struggles
against various imperialisms)

He said he didn’t know
notwithstanding the scars
the scarred and the scared
still

(Image Credit: African Activist Archive)

South Africa: “She bursts with pain and continues walking”

What is pain? This question underwrites a particular narrative that is part of what is called South Africa. Two articles yesterday suggested it’s time to pay attention, greater attention, any attention, to pain, to the pain people suffer and to the pain that engulfs people, individuals and communities, swallows them whole and then … continues walking?

Thirty years ago, February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of incarceration, hand in hand with his then partner Winnie Madikizela Mandela. He walked forth into the strong summer sun of Cape Town and addressed the nation and the world: “Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.” Mandela went on to greet, salute and pay tribute to all the various sectors and groups that had worked for and would continue to work for the liberation of South Africa and beyond. His tributes end with the invocation of pain: “I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else … My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far greater than my own.”

Women: apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else. Wife and family: Your pain and suffering was far greater than my own. What is that pain? 

On the same day this week that news outlets in South Africa were sharing Madiba’s speech, and reflecting on and remembering that fateful day, an article appeared with the headline, “South Africans describe the pain of unemployment”. The report distilled the findings of a study based in two South African townships, Orange Farm and Boipatong, both very near and very far from “the economic hub of Johannesburg.” In the original study, one “participant explained that unemployment brings `a black heart full of sorrow and pain; the heart is broken, angry, sore and sad.” This black heart full of sorrow and pain extends to the entire township: “They viewed their township environment as a filthy, painful, sad, and forgotten place with dilapidated infrastructure and resources.” In the shorter, more recent article, the authors tell the story of one of the participants, a woman, who, when “asked to depict what she associated with unemployment …, took a few minutes to think, and there, on the spot, she wrote this poem:

The dry lands filled
with sorrow and tears.
The cascade of showers
of death implemented by
unemployment.
The fatigue that has
impacted to the community
that is left flustered because
of unemployment.
The land filled with fake promises
by fake leaders.
The people who try to contrive
the pain of being unemployed.”

What is this pain?

South African poet Karen Press’s poem “Heart’s Hunger” speaks to that question:

“She dreams of an enormous mother beckoning her. 
She carries her father on her journey’s back.
Her stomach is filled with his bones.
She bursts with pain and continues walking.”

Across the country and across the decades, every day and day after day, she bursts with pain and continues walking, and we still have the State in which women are made to burst with pain and continue walking.

(Image Credit: Clementina Ceramics

Landmark cases: In South Africa, Agnes Sithole said NO! to the oppression of Black women elders … and won!

In South Africa, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole made history last month by insisting that [a] apartheid was really over and [b] as a Black woman elder, she has full and equal rights of every order: civil, legal, human and otherwise. In so doing, Agnes Sithole reminded everyone of the power of women’s insistence on their own dignity and the obligation of the State to recognize that dignity, formally and materially. Agnes Sithole’s individual story goes back almost 50 years, when she married Gideon Sithole. 

Almost 50 years ago, Agnes and Gideon Sithole entered into civil marriage. As two young Black South Africans, their marriage fell under the Black Administration Act of 1927, which specified that all Black marriages were considered out of community of property. That meant everything went exclusively to the man. Period. Gideon Sithole ran a business, which Agnes Sithole supported as a manager. She also has run her own successful clothing business. The money from Agnes Sithole’s business went to their four children’s education. The children are now adults, successful in their own rights, and “fiercely loving and protective of their mother”. She also raised four children and took care of … everything. She made the Sithole estate what it became. 

In 1984, the Matrimonial Property Act changed the marital property landscape for South Africans … except for Black South Africans, who were explicitly excluded from the new order. That meant that Agnes and Gideon remained under the rules of the 1927 Black Administration Act. In 1988, the government passed the Marriage and Matrimonial Property Amendment Act, which overturned conditions of the Black Administration Act for Black South Africans, but there was a catch. The State provided a two-year window in which change marital status from out of community property to community property. Gideon and Agnes Sithole had heard of earlier changes and assumed they were already in community property. They never filed for the change, and so Agnes Sithole remained under the jurisdiction of a 1927 law that specifically targeted Black South Africa women. About 400,000 Black South African women are in the same situation.

None of this mattered much, until, about two years ago, Gideon and Agnes Sithole’s marriage started falling apart. With the end in sight, Gideon Sithole threatened to sell their home and leave Agnes Sithole penniless. Much to Agnes Sithole’s surprise and dismay, according to the law, Gideon Sithole could actually do that, and she had no recourse. 

Agnes Sithole said NO! She said that apartheid was over, had to be over, and that she didn’t care what the State thought the law was, this was wrong, discriminatory, misogynist, racist, and evil. She decided that the specter that haunts South Africa cannot be apartheid, it must be the living mass of women, especially Black women, on the move, organizing, mobilizing, and setting things right. So, she sued.

On January 24, 2020, the Durban High Court agreed with Agnes Sithole, and her attorneys from the Legal Resources Centre, LRC, working with Geoff Budlender. Writing for the Court, KwaZulu Natal Deputy Judge President Isaac Madondo wrote, “The discrimination the impugned provisions perpetuate is so egregious that it should not be permitted to remain on our statute books by limiting the retrospective operation of the order or by suspending the order of invalidity to allow Parliament to rectify the error. The effect of the order is that all civil marriages are in community of property. The recognition of the equal worth and dignity of all black couples of a civil marriage is well overdue.” In response, LRC attorneys noted, “The default position for all other married couples in South Africa is in community of property – except for African couples married before 1988. The consequences of this discriminatory provision have remained to haunt older African women like Sithole.”

The consequences of this discriminatory provision haunt older African women, haunt Agnes Sithole, haunt South Africa … and beyond. The High Court decision must be approved by the Constitutional Court, and so, for now, Agnes Sithole “is relieved and overjoyed. She has celebrated with her children. She is now praying that the Constitutional Court application will go well” as do 400,000 African women elders in South Africa and their supporters. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: Legal Resources Centre)

His hands were up

His hands were up

His hands were up
He was reaching out

So remarks the presenter 
interviewing Section 27
on morning SAFM radio

His hands were up
five year-old Michael Komape’s 
he drowning in a pit toilet

(learners and teachers
forced to learn and teach
in the state we are in)

His hands were up
He was reaching out

Now there is justice
some 5 years later
his family awarded 
damages for emotional
shock and grief

A most appalling
and undignified death
says the judgement
(Supreme Court of Appeal)

The SAFM interview also
tells us of the insensitivity
and callousness of officialdom
in this regard

(have we lost our principles
along with so much else)

His hands were up
He was reaching out 

How many more

See “Michael Komape’s family awarded R1.4 million in damages by appeal court” (Franny Rabkin, Mail & Guardian, 18 December 2019), and “Komape family awarded R1.4 million for emotional shock and grief” (Ciaran Ryan, 18 December 2019 © 2019 GroundUp).

The Komape family was represented by public interest law firm SECTION27

(Image Credit: Daily Maverick)

South Africa confirms the rights of all children to education!

It’s the end of the year and decade, and we need some good news, right? As the United States continues to throw migrant children into the abyss of immigrant detention and India throws millions under the bus of lost citizenship, last week a court in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa came through. In a case concerning the rights of 37 undocumented children to attend school, the Judge President of the Eastern Cape Selby Mbenenge, writing for the Makhanda High Court, emphatically declared that the Constitution of South Africa enshrines the right of all children to access to education. Judge Mbenenge opened his decision: “Central to this application is the right to basic education enshrined, without any qualification, in section 29 of the Constitution … Education is a mighty tool in the hands of the possessor. Its efficacy depends largely on the bulwark that surrounds it – the right to education … In our constitutional dispensation basic education is a pivot of transformation.” Children matter, democracy matters, education matters, rights matter, the Constitution matters, courts matter, judges matter, decency matters, compassion matters, transformation matters … without any qualification. Amen.

Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? According to the Department of Basic Education, of the 998,433 undocumented children currently enrolled in public schools, 880,968 are South African citizens. A little over 88% of those children are South African. Of the 37 children represented in the Eastern Cape case, 23, or a bit more than 60%, are South African citizens. South African children born at home often don’t have birth certificates. There are other barriers. Eight of the children live in a safe house for abandoned and orphaned children. Their situation didn’t matter. Without proper papers, they were expelled. Who are the undocumented children of South Africa? Poor. Black. Vulnerable. But first, they are children.

The Makhanda High Court has said that children’s situation does not matter, because they are children and thus are due an education, and that obligation is without qualification. Section 29 of the Constitution of South Africa reads:

“Section 29 Education

 (1) Everyone has the right –

(a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and

(b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

(2) Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable. In order to ensure the effective access to, and implementation of, this right, the state must consider all reasonable educational alternatives, including single medium institutions, taking into account –

(a) equity;

(b) practicability; and

(c) the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.

(3) Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions that –

(a) do not discriminate on the basis of race;

(b) are registered with the state; and

(c) maintain standards that are not inferior to standards at comparable public educational institutions.”

Everyone means everyone. Tell that to the governments of the United States and India, and all those fortress nations in between and beyond. This is a victory for vulnerable children as it is a victory for inalienable rights without qualification. Transformation is still possible. 

(Photo credit: Daily Maverick)

Tell me why (Moody’s)

Tell me why (Moody’s)

Tell me why
we are to join
the dubious ranks 
of the downgraded

(I mean the country
has just been upgraded
to number 1 as it beat
England in a little game)

Tell me why
we seem to be 
your whipping boy
responsible for all
the ills of planet earth

We are not after all
bombing invading
or waging war 
against any country 

(we are only at war
with ourselves and
our women and children
not to mention those
who don’t look like us)

there is concern in Soweto
about Marathon runners’ safety
was the Ethiopian winner at risk
what with an politician waxing on 
about different cultures and races

and an amnesiac sports presenter 
says at the end that the rugby win 
was for the whole of Africa
(where has she been most recently)

Tell me why
Moody’s

is it the economy
stupid