John Pilger on South Africa: Honouring the 'unbreakable promise'

March 28, 2008 -- Fourteen years after South Africa's first democratic elections and the fall of racial apartheid, John Pilger describes, in an address at Rhodes University, the dream and reality of the new South Africa and the responsibility of its new elite. (See video clips of John Pilger's visit here.)


By John Pilger

On my wall in London is a photograph I have never grown tired of looking at. Indeed, I always find it thrilling to behold. You might even say it helps keep me going. It is a picture of a lone woman standing between two armoured vehicles, the notorious ‘hippos’, as they rolled into Soweto. Her arms are raised. Her fists are clenched. Her thin body is both beckoning and defiant of the enemy. It was May Day 1985 and the uprising against apartheid had begun.

The fine chronicler of apartheid, Paul Weinberg, took that photograph. He described crouching in a ditch at the roadside as the hippos entered Soweto. People were being shot with rubber bullets and real bullets. “I looked around,” he said, “and there in the ditch next to me was this bird-like woman, who suddenly pulled out a bottle of gin, took a swig, then went over the top and marched straight into the moving line of vehicles. It was the one of the bravest things I’ve seen.”

Paul’s photograph brings to mind one of my favourite quotations. “The struggle of people against power,” wrote Milan Kundera, “ is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Moments such as that woman’s bravery ought to be unforgettable, for they symbolise all the great movements of resistance to oppression: in South Africa, the Freedom Charter, Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial, the heroism of Steve Biko, the women who somehow kept their children alive on freezing hillsides in places like Dimbaza where they had been removed and declared redundant, and beyond, the Jews who rose against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Palestinians who just the other day smashed down the walls of their prison in Gaza.

Unforgettable? For some, yes. But there are those who prefer we celebrate a system of organised forgetting: of unbridled freedom for the few and obedience for the many; of socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor. They prefer that the demonstrable power of ordinary people is committed to what George Orwell called the memory hole. You may ask how we can possibly forget when we live in an information age?

The answer to that is another question: Who are “we”? Unlike you and me, most human beings have never used a computer and never owned a telephone. And those of us who are technologically blessed often confuse information with media, and corporate training with knowledge. These are probably the most powerful illusions of our times. We even have a new vocabulary, in which noble concepts have been corporatised and given deceptive, perverse, even opposite meanings.

“Democracy” is now the free market – a concept itself berefet of freedom. “Reform” is now the denial of reform. “Economics” is the relegation of most human endeavour to material value, a bottom line. Alternative models that relate to the needs of the majority of humanity end up in the memory hole. And “governance” – so fashionable these days - means an economic system approved in Washington, Brussels and Davos. “Foreign policy” is service to the dominant power. Conquest is “humanitarian intervention”. Invasion is “nation-building”.

Every day, we breathe the hot air of these pseudo ideas with their pseudo truths and pseudo experts. They set the limits of public debate within the most advanced societies. They determine who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. They manipulate our compassion and our anger and make many of us feel there is nothing we can do. Take the “war on terror”. This is an entirely bogus idea that actually means a war of terror. Its aim is to convince people in the rich world that we all must live in an enduring state of fear: that Muslim fanatics are threatening our civilisation.

In fact, the opposite is true. The threat to our societies comes not from Al Qaeda but from the terrorism of powerful states. Ask the people of Iraq, who in five years ago have seen the physical and social destruction of their country. President Bush calls this “nation-building”. Ask the people of Afghanistan, who have been bombed back into the arms of the Taliban - this is known in the West as a “good war”. Or the people of Gaza, who are denied water, food, medicines and hope by the forces of so-called civilisation. The list is long and the arithmetic simple. The greatest number of victims of this war of terror are not Westerners, but Muslims: from Iraq to Palestine, to the refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria and beyond.

We are constantly told that September 11th 2001 was a day that changed the world and - according to John McCain - justifies a 100-year war against America’s perceived enemies. And yet, while the world mourned the deaths of 3000 innocent Americans, the UN routinely reported that the mortality rate of children dead from the effects of extreme poverty had not changed. The figure for September 11th 2001 was more than 36,000 children. That is the figure every day. It has not changed. It is not news.

The difference between the two tragedies is that the people who died in the Twin Towers in New York were worthy victims, and the thousands of children who die every day are unworthy victims. That is how many of us are programmed to perceive the world. Or so the programmers hope. In the information age, these children are expendable. In South Africa, they are the children of the evicted and dispossessed, children carrying water home from a contaminated dam. They are not the children in the gated estates with names like Tuscany. They are not covered by the theories of GEAR or NEPAD or any of the other acronyms of power given respectability by journalism and scholarship.

It seems to me vital that young people today equip themselves with an understanding of how this often subliminal propaganda works in modern societies – liberal societies: societies with proud constitutions and freedom of speech, like South Africa. For it says that freedom from poverty - the essence of true democracy - is a freedom too far.

In South Africa, new graduates have, it seems to me, both a special obligation and an advantage. The advantage they have is that the past is still vividly present. Only last month, the National Institute for Occupational Health revealed that in the last six years deadly silicosis had almost doubled among South Africa’s gold miners. There are huge profits in this industry. Many of the miners are abandoned and die in their 40s – their families too poor to afford a burial.

Why is there still no proper prevention and compensation? And although Desmond Tutu pleaded with them, not one company boss in any of the apartheid-propping industries ever sought an amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They were that confident that for things to change on the surface, things would remain the same.

For young graduates these days, there is a temptation to set themselves apart from the conditions I have described and from the world some have come from. As members of a new privileged elite, they have an obligation, I believe, to forge the vital link with the genius of everyday life and the resourcefulness and resilience of ordinary people. This will allow them, in whatever way you choose, to finish the job begun by Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko and the brave woman in the photograph. In a nutshell, it means standing by one's compatriots in order to bring true freedom to South Africa.

Those who led the struggle against racial apartheid often said no. They dissented. They caused trouble. They took risks. They put people first. And they were the best that people can be. Above all, they had a social and political imagination that unaccountable power always fears. And they had courage. It is this imagination and courage that opens up real debate with real information and allows ordinary people to reclaim their confidence to demand their human and democratic rights.

Oscar Wilde wrote: “Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue”. I read the other day that the South African police calculated that the number of protests across the country had doubled in just two years to more than 10,000 every year. That may be the highest rate of dissent in the world. That's something to be proud of - just as the Freedom Charter remains something to be proud of. Let me remind you how it begins: “We, the people of South Africa, declare that our country belongs to everyone...”. And that, as Nelson Mandela once said, was the “unbreakable promise”. Isn't it time the promise was kept?

This is edited version of an address in March 2008 by John Pilger to graduating students at Rhodes University, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in literature.

Click here to read the citation that accompanied the honorary doctorate. Visit


A debate that took place in South Africa's Weekly Mail and Guardian after Pilger's visit to South Africa in March.


Apartheid: Dead or alive?

Cosmas Desmond: POINT 15 April 2008 11:59
Also read Ferial Haffajee's Counterpoint to this article

If apartheid had died, we would have an African country where African values, customs and languages prevail; a country in which the latent talent of black 10- to 15-year-olds is exploited to ensure they represent their provinces and their country at cricket and rugby, ahead of convicted murderers, as happened in Mpumalanga and Limpopo recently.

We would have a country in which women and children exercise their right to freedom of movement without fear of being molested, raped or even killed.

Through the prism of values, opportunities and power relations, South Africa is essentially a white country geographically tagged on to the toe-end of the African continent. The ANC government apes its predecessors in everything from protocol to policy. At the opening of Parliament, we still have a "Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod".

We have a president who pays lip service to the African philosophy of ubuntu, which is the polar opposite of Thatcherism. He once invited us to call him a "Thatcherite".

Apartheid meant unequal distribution of land and we still have it.

This is despite an early ANC resolution that "the redistribution of land is the absolute imperative in our condition, the fundamental national demand. It will have to be done, even if it involves some economic cost."

But there was no sign of that resolve when they entrenched the right to private ownership of property in the Constitution, thus ratifying the existing inequity.

Since 1994, more people (more than one million more people) have been evicted from white farms than have won land claims. And whites, with the support of our ultraliberal Constitution, still lay claim to the ownership of about 60-million hectares of land that was originally stolen from the indigenous population.

At this pace it will take about 200 years before we have a proper and just redistribution of land. And only then will I be happy to concede that apartheid is dead.

Rural people, under apartheid, were dumped where they are because they were "superfluous" to the needs of the white economy. And they still are. Government's priority is to support the big corporate farmers, who produce most of what the country needs, and to develop a group of prosperous, black commercial farmers to go with Mbeki's black, capitalist middle class. So the rural poor are, to all intent and purpose, still the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.

While we focus on racism at inter-personal and social levels, this is short-sighted. Apartheid was always more about economics and class than it was about mental attitudes, prejudice and skin colour. It is deeply institutional and serves the ends of exploitation. The problem (or the "challenge" in new South Africa-speak) is that it is still so. Policies have reinforced this.

Where, for example, the government has built so-called "houses", it has done so in the former black areas. There has been no attempt to intersperse them in the former white areas.

This means apartheid has not died: it has had a makeover and bought some new clothes.

Big business was quite happy to cede political power to the ANC, provided they retained control of the economy. And they won and continue to win. They have yet to stop laughing all the way to the bank -- even if it is offshore.

We have bought into the mythology of reconciliation and miracle, that Madiba's selflessness and policies of reaching out were the right ones. I do not agree.

As the Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah, writing of the last years of Kwame Nkrumah's rule, said: "Those who be our leaders, they also had the white man for their masters, and they also feared the masters, but after the fear, what was at the bottom of their beings was not the hate and anger we knew in our despair.

"What they felt was love. What they felt for their white masters and our white masters was gratitude and faith. There is something so terrible in watching a black man trying at all points to be the dark ghost of a European, and that is what we were seeing in those days."

After coming to South Africa in 1959 I lived, often illegally, and worked in otherwise exclusively African areas where I experienced ubuntu, as Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela has described it, in action: "The warmth of a people who have little to offer one another materially but the warmth of ordinary kinship -- ubuntu."

Where do we see that now? Instead, we have each man -- and the occasional token woman -- for himself. Apartheid is not dead and ubuntu is being strangled.

Cosmas Desmond is the author of The Discarded People


Apartheid: Dead or alive?
Ferial Haffajee: COUNTERPOINT 15 April 2008 11:59
Also read Cosmas Desmond's Point to this article

For great intellectuals and analysts of our time, I always find it worryingly simplistic when people like Cosmas Desmond, journalist John Pilger and economist and activist Patrick Bond revert to the easy language of apartheid to describe where our nation finds itself.

Bond's work through the 21st century has focused on South Africa's capitulation through its ties to global apartheid and what he believes is the country's slavish following of the precepts of market fundamentalism. Its people are, therefore, still in apartheid chains.

Pilger's thesis is that "Apartheid did not die", reflected in the chapter on South Africa in his book Freedom Next Time. Desmond, who spent most of his life fighting apartheid, follows the same line for the reasons he outlines in his accompanying piece. And so, when great thinkers set these narratives, the shorthand -- of black and white, of good and bad, of sell-out, capitulation and failure -- is followed by generations of activists.

Its only harvest is to keep us from the honest answers and the hardest analyses. It is sound-bite activism, good to raise a "Viva!".

Too often it is the easy jargon of a defeated left that could not secure a socialist order from an ANC which, under President Thabo Mbeki, reverted to a nationalist, capitalist stripe.

Of course the statistics will correspond with the narrative. In real terms household incomes have come down. Our Gini coefficient, the measure of the wealth gap, is now the highest in the world, an ignominious honour that we spend far too little time understanding and fighting.

Our children are less bright in the freedom years, our schools possibly worse than they were under the dead hand of Bantustan administrators. Our public hospitals are so bad that not a single provincial minister of health uses them.

Awful, all of it. The reasons for this are more complex than a simple pretence that the change of power did not happen in 1994.

Consider the other statistics: a budget surplus, social spending that meets every global standard of development and a grants system that keeps the wolf from the doors of entire communities.

To revert to simplistic analysis is to eschew accountability from the democratically elected government or to understand freedom and its constraints.

Ideological defeat is just one small answer.

I'm not terribly sure that the country would have been better off had we adopted socialism, erected higher tariff barriers and nationalised the fulcrum industries.

But the biggest narrative we avoid when we revert to the language of apartheid is the growing realisation that our government cannot govern, a point which Bond rebuts by saying that public services are now suffering through years of under-funding because of post-apartheid policies.

It's a fair analysis to make 15 years on. Oh, sure, fiscal management is sound and the South African Revenue Services has squeezed record-breaking revenues from a slowing economy. But to what end? We might spend more on education and health than Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian revolution, but for what when public systems are on the brink of collapse? How could a state that cannot handle a relatively simple public portfolio run a complex economy?

We dabble around and experiment with an outcomes-based education ill suited to the nuts-and-bolts needs of the next generation, we fart about with national pledges that most learners cannot read.

The public health system is collapsing, yielding super-profits for the private sector, where care standards are still good.

Government is failing to govern.

The analysis of neo-apartheid also discounts the stranglehold of old interests on land and housing policies. Every time government says "expropriation", the nay-sayers answer "Zimbabwe". Every attempt at integrating low-cost housing into established suburbs is met with a wall of resistance. You saw this last week with the release of an expropriation Bill.

Perhaps government is weak-willed in taking on these old interests, perhaps it is caught in the log-jam of compromise politics, but it is too easy to revert to neo-apartheid philosophy without considering where power is now located.

Ultimately, the analysis feeds scapegoat politics. Look no further than our northern border to see why. Painted into a corner, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe uses a similar language to mask his own failings. "It wasn't me; it was colonialism."

Colonialism did not die, is his easy excuse.

The case against class apartheid

by Patrick Bond

Ferial Haffajee's tough opening proposition when interviewing John Pilger at UKZN's Time of the Writer on March 30 - “Apartheid did die!”, she insisted ( - recalls her own critique of the independent left. Ferial's May 2004 Harold Wolpe lecture at the Centre for Civil Society was reprinted in the M&G, and rebuttals carried on for weeks.

Then and now, left critics worry that socio-economic conditions for most people continue deteriorating, notwithstanding a world-historic political victory against apartheid which no one denies.

In contrast, SA's corporate profit rate rose to ninth highest in the world by 2001, after decades of decline due to manufacturing overproduction, sanctions and labour pressure.

Official data tell us that class apartheid, born in April 1994 with features that include durable racism and patriarchy, is now a malevolent juvenile delinquent:

income inequality rose to a world-leading Gini coefficient level of 0.72 by 2006, in spite of a slight increase in social spending (worth only 3% of GDP more than in 1994);

the official unemployment rate doubled from 16% in 1994 to around 32% by the early 2000s, before falling to 26% - but by counting those who gave up looking for work, the realistic rate is closer to 40%;

in spite of several million people getting access to new housing, their “Unos”, “smarties” or “kennels” are smaller than apartheid-era matchboxes, are located further away from jobs and community amenities, are constructed with less durable building materials and have lower-quality municipal services;

tiny token amounts of free water and electricity are provided to many, yet their overall price has risen dramatically, leading to millions suffering disconnections each year because they cannot afford the second consumption block;

AIDS and the degenerating healthcare system have caused a dramatic decline in life expectancy, from 65 at the time of liberation to around 50 today, while education remains crippled by low quality schools and excessive cost recovery, leading a third of learners to drop out by Grade 5;

ecological conditions have worsened, according to government's own commissioned “Environmental Outlook” report, and SA's CO2 emissions per unit of GDP per person are 20 times higher than even that Great Climate Satan, the US (even before the rush of new coal-fired plants); and

the high crime rate – so obvious as corruption penetrates the top of government, the police and army - was accompanied by a residential arms race that left working-class and poor households most vulnerable to dramatically increased robberies, house-breaks, car theft and other petty crime, as well as epidemic levels of rape and other violent crimes.

Meanwhile, thanks to the policies of Thabo Mbeki, Trevor Manuel and Alec Erwin, our economic future appears sabotaged:

instead of “macroeconomic stability”, exchange control liberalisation fostered white capital flight and left SA so vulnerable that the Rand crashed by more than a quarter in 1996, 1998, 2001, and 2006, the worst record of any major currency;

the outflow of profits and dividends to big SA firms' new overseas financial HQs is one of two crucial reasons (along with excessive trade liberalisation) that SA's current account deficit has soared to amongst the highest in the world – 8.1% of GDP this quarter - and is now a critical threat;

disguised by superficial GDP growth, SA has a net negative per person rate of national wealth accumulation, due to nonrenewable resource depletion (according to even the World Bank);

finance has boomed while as a percent of national output, manufacturing declined; and

instead of being reinvested in plant and equipment, corporate profits were spirited abroad or sought returns in the Joburg Stock Exchange (which rose 50% during the first half of the 2000s) and speculative real estate, as the property boom raised house prices by 200% from 1997-2004, in comparison to just 60% in the US just prior to its burst housing bubble.

Our post-apartheid economy is parasitical, slow-growth, high-poverty, unemployment-ridden, ever more unequal, capital-flight-prone, volatile, vulnerable and elite-oriented.

Results include temporarily-restored profitability for crony capitalists, the emergence of a few black billionaires, and a conspicuous consumption binge by a what is now a dangerously credit-saturated petit-bourgeoisie.

So, like racial apartheid two decades ago, the chains of class apartheid have growing cracks and, with enough pressure from below, can also be broken.

To be sure, not all the 10,000 social protests that the police have recorded each year since 2005 reflect this critique. But enough do, that the ANC's next ruling crew will have to seriously intensify repression, if they want merely to polish the chains of class apartheid, as Jacob Zuma recently promised in Davos and to the men from Citibank.

Regrettably, Ferial, class apartheid thrives.

(Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society.)




The Kliptown Concerned Residents (KCR) hosted a People’s Inspection in Kliptown on the 06th February 2008 to explore the living conditions of the community. Government officials failed to attend the meeting claiming that they were never notified about the inspection. It is clear that the situation in Kliptown is taken for granted by the government officials hence there is no urgency in resolving the matter. This situation is depositing anger on daily basis to the residents and pots are boiling.

The blame for the death of a Kliptown resident (from cholera) because of contaminated water can be fully placed on the ANC government and its neo-liberal development in the area where markets have been opened in Kliptown for tourists but the poor have been forgotten. It is premature for Johannesburg Water (JW) to declare that the water in the area is safe for drinking yet no meaningful studies haven’t been conducted.

Millions were spent to develop the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication without consultation with the residents but the Greater Kliptown Development Forum (GKDF) was aware of the development. KCR has stated on numerous occasions that the community is still using a bucket system and there are insufficient community taps in the area and yet our demands and protests were seen as the work of a third force who have a political agenda against the government.

But now that people are dying in the area, there is a huge public outcry when the daily conditions are ignored by the elected representatives. The KCR has declared Kliptown as a danger zone for people to reside in and a speedy intervention is needed by the government. Kliptown is a tourist destination and that seems to have become the priority of the government.

KCR calls for an immediate public consultation meeting with the relevant department in resolving the human crisis in Kliptown. Temperatures are boiling in the community and the situation will be out of control soon if the situation is ignored.

For further information please call Sipho Jantjies @ 073 8961 353 or Sello Tladi @ 083 8591 654 or Silumko Radebe @ 011 333 8334 or 072 1737 268


Coalition Against Water Privatization

Press statement-18 April 2008


Cholera claims a woman's life in Kliptown

The Coalition plans pickets of Johannesburg Water's festival next week


Johannesburg, Soweto- The Coalition Against Water Privatization (CAWP) together with Kliptown Concern Residents (KCR) visited the family that lost its mother because of cholera. One of two confirmed cases of cholera in Kliptown, Kelebogile Malefane's death has seen the Gauteng Department of Health spring into an awareness campaign in Kliptown to try contain the outbreak. While it is a shock to everyone in the community to lose one of its members, it should not be a surprise while the government's neglect of pleas for emergency intervention to combat the social and environmental crisis makes it fully responsible for her death.

All over Kliptown there are posters and field workers from different local clinics in Soweto warning people about the threat of cholera infection. Residents live in fear as they wonder who is next. In a mass meeting called by the ward councillor, Mandla Mtshali, the community's directed its anger at the government for its failure to deliver on its promises.

The ward councillor together with nurses advised people to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating and on best practices in the preparation of food to avoid contamination. These lectures on personal hygiene only raised tensions as the residents lambasted the African National Congress (ANC) ward councillor for failing to deliver. Realizing that things might not go well in the meeting, one of the nurses stood up and told residents not to fear anymore. The woman told the meeting that a few communal taps were checked as well as the bucket toilets and none evidenced cholera. The only bacterial threat found, she said, was E-coli which can 'only' lead to diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

Despite all efforts undertaken by the poor residents of Kliptown to get its attention, the City continues to turn a blind eye. So many marches, people's inspections and invitations sent to Amos Masondo to come and witness the living conditions have gone by unanswered that it's no use counting. The lesson is clear that quiet restraint wins no concessions from those in power and more direct action is needed. The CAWP is calling on the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, Department of Health and Johannesburg Water to immediately act on the crisis in Kliptown. Without water and sanitation more people will continue to fall ill in this community.

Johannesburg Water holds a festival

Johannesburg Water is holding a weeklong festival next week at Elkah Cricket Stadium, Rockville Soweto. The Coalition Against Water Privatisation will be staging pickets at the festival on the 21st, 24th and 26th of April. All pickets will start at 09H00.

For more information please contact the Coalition Against Water Privatisation:
Patra Sindane (Organizer) @ 073 052 7005 0R 078 064 3897

Anti Privatisation Forum
123 Pritchard Street (cnr Mooi)
6th floor Vogas House, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 333-8334 Fax: (011) 333-8365



Delft-Symphony Pavement dwellers building a new world - one child at a time

Greetings from the pavement of Delft-Symphony:

Over the past month, the Delft-Symphony Pavement Dwellers and their elected Anti-Eviction Campaign leadership have been working hand-in-hand to improve the lives of residents. While it may be an exaggeration to assume (as was reported recently in the Cape Argus) that we live here on the pavement in harmony all the time, there does exist a strong sense of camaraderie among residents and a common vision of the type of world we are fighting for.

What are we fighting for? We are fighting for housing; not only for ourselves but for everyone living in South Africa. We recognize that South Africa is a financially rich country that now has 3 billionaires according to the Forbes list and countless millionaires. This is a country that can easily afford to build decent housing for all and fulfil its constitutional mandate. We believe that the government is violating the constitution and our human rights by refusing to spend more than 2% of its budget on housing.

Still, we are not only fighting for houses, we are also fighting for ownership of the housing process. If it is true that 'the people shall govern', then how can we sit by and allow a few elitist government officials and their haughty friends in Thubelisha Homes define the process for us? Yet the government believes that we are stupid; that we cannot think for ourselves; that we cannot design our own communities or construct our own houses. We denounce this arrogance and snobbery by Lindiwe Sisulu and her friends. But, we are not just fighting for houses and for ownership of the housing process; even more significantly, we are fighting for a better world for ourselves, our children and for every single person living in South Africa.

The privatisation and corporatisation of our country is building a new Apartheid that ghettoises the poor in new suburban townships where bread and electricity prices shoot through the roof and where a multi-billion Rand train project in Gauteng is creating a transportation system accessible only to tourists and the wealthy. And so, while fighting for our right to housing, we, the Pavement Dwellers of Delft-Symphony, begin (slowly and without government support) to create this new world that we are fighting for. And we begin, first and foremost, with our children.

We have recently set up a community crèche on the pavement. With the eventual arrival of a container, we expect the crèche to become a defining fixture of our community. But this is only one of the projects we have created for our children. For the past few weeks, we have been running a unique 'pavement camp' for kids on school holiday. This has included our soccer and netball clinics, collecting the kids for discussions on life and life-skills, and preparing for the upcoming Symphony Way Fashion Show. Everything has been run by the community and coordinated by the new Delft-Symphony Children's Committee.

This is proof, once again, that we are not stupid; that we can think; that we can design our own communities, construct our own houses, and build a new world for our children. And we will do so without being commanded by the so-called experts in government who do not understand the human consequences of forced removals and the povertization of the population caused by persistent anti-poor economic policies.

For comment, please call
076-186-1408 or

The pavement in the desert on the other side of Cape Town International Airport,
The Delft-Symphony Anti-Eviction Campaign


Videos: John Pilger on Apartheid, Local and Global

April 23rd, 2008 by Sharlene

John PilgerNew Rulers of the WorldFreedom Next TimeJournalist John Pilger attended the 2008 Time of the Writer, where he gave a Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture in association with the Centre for Civil Society during the festival’s closing session, which was simply entitled “An Evening with John Pilger”.

The entire session was recorded and is streamed at Here, we bring you three good-quality clips from the talk:

In the first clip, Pilger reminisces about his stint as a journalist in South Africa in the 1960s, describing a “struggle photograph” he keeps over his desk in the UK.

In the second, Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee challenges Pilger’s assertion that “apartheid did not die” (using his own reportage from the 60s); and in the third, writer and Centre for Civil Society Director Patrick Bond poses a question that leads to a discussion of US power and global apartheid:


Video: Clip from John Pilger’s opening remarks


Video: Ferial Haffajee challenges John Pilger


Video: Patrick Bond and John Pilger on US power


The Attack on Latin American Democracy
April 25th 2008, by John Pilger - New Statesman

Beyond the sound and fury of its conquest of Iraq and campaign against Iran, the world's dominant power is waging a largely unreported war on another continent - Latin America. Using proxies, Washington aims to restore and reinforce the political control of a privileged group calling itself middle-class, to shift the responsibility for massacres and drug trafficking away from the psychotic regime in Colombia and its mafiosi, and to extinguish hopes raised among Latin America's impoverished majority by the reform governments of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In Colombia, the main battleground, the class nature of the war is distorted by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the Farc, whose own resort to kidnapping and the drugs trade has provided an instrument with which to smear those who have distinguished Latin America's epic history of rebellion by opposing the proto-fascism of George W Bush's regime. "You don't fight terror with terror," said President Hugo Chávez as US warplanes bombed to death thousands of civilians in Afghanistan following the 11 September 2001 attacks. Thereafter, he was a marked man. Yet, as every poll has shown, he spoke for the great majority of human beings who have grasped that the "war on terror" is a crusade of domination. Almost alone among national leaders standing up to Bush, Chávez was declared an enemy and his plans for a functioning social democracy independent of the United States a threat to Washington's grip on Latin America. "Even worse," wrote the Latin America specialist James Petras, "Chávez's nationalist policies represented an alternative in Latin America at a time (2000-2003) when mass insurrections, popular uprisings and the collapse of pro-US client rulers (Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia) were constant front-page news."

It is impossible to underestimate the threat of this alternative as perceived by the "middle classes" in countries which have an abundance of privilege and poverty. In Venezuela, their "grotesque fantasies of being ruled by a 'brutal communist dictator'", to quote Petras, are reminiscent of the paranoia of the white population that backed South Africa's apartheid regime. Like in South Africa, racism in Venezuela is rampant, with the poor ignored, despised or patronised, and a Caracas shock jock allowed casually to dismiss Chávez, who is of mixed race, as a "monkey". This fatuous venom has come not only from the super-rich behind their walls in suburbs called Country Club, but from the pretenders to their ranks in middle-level management, journalism, public relations, the arts, education and the other professions, who identify vicariously with all things American. Journalists in broadcasting and the press have played a crucial role - acknowledged by one of the generals and bankers who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Chávez in 2002. "We couldn't have done it without them," he said. "The media were our secret weapon."

Many of these people regard themselves as liberals, and have the ear of foreign journalists who like to describe themselves as being "on the left". This is not surprising. When Chávez was first elected in 1998, Venezuela was not an archetypical Latin American tyranny, but a liberal democracy with certain freedoms, run by and for its elite, which had plundered the oil revenue and let crumbs fall to the invisible millions in the barrios. A pact between the two main parties, known as puntofijismo, resembled the convergence of new Labour and the Tories in Britain and Republicans and Democrats in the US. For them, the idea of popular sovereignty was anathema, and still is.

Take higher education. At the taxpayer-funded elite "public" Venezuelan Central University, more than 90 per cent of the students come from the upper and "middle" classes. These and other elite students have been infiltrated by CIA-linked groups and, in defending their privilege, have been lauded by foreign liberals.

With Colombia as its front line, the war on democracy in Latin America has Chávez as its main target. It is not difficult to understand why. One of Chávez's first acts was to revitalise the oil producers' organisation Opec and force the oil price to record levels. At the same time he reduced the price of oil for the poorest countries in the Caribbean region and central America, and used Venezuela's new wealth to pay off debt, notably Argentina's, and, in effect, expelled the International Monetary Fund from a continent over which it once ruled. He has cut poverty by half - while GDP has risen dramatically. Above all, he gave poor people the confidence to believe that their lives would improve.

The irony is that, unlike Fidel Castro in Cuba, he presented no real threat to the well-off, who have grown richer under his presidency. What he has demonstrated is that a social democracy can prosper and reach out to its poor with genuine welfare, and without the extremes of "neo liberalism" - a decidedly unradical notion once embraced by the British Labour Party. Those ordinary Vene zuelans who abstained during last year's constitutional referendum were protesting that a "moderate" social democracy was not enough while the bureaucrats remained corrupt and the sewers overflowed.

Across the border in Colombia, the US has made Venezuela's neighbour the Israel of Latin America. Under "Plan Colombia", more than $6bn in arms, planes, special forces, mercenaries and logistics have been showered on some of the most murderous people on earth: the inheritors of Pinochet's Chile and the other juntas that terrorised Latin America for a generation, their various gestapos trained at the School of the Americas in Georgia. "We not only taught them how to torture," a former American trainer told me, "we taught them how to kill, murder, eliminate." That remains true of Colombia, where government-inspired mass terror has been documented by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and many others. In a study of 31,656 extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances between 1996 and 2006, the Colombian Commission of Jurists found that 46 per cent had been murdered by right-wing death squads and 14 per cent by Farc guerrillas. The para militaries were responsible for most of the three million victims of internal displacement. This misery is a product of Plan Colombia's pseudo "war on drugs", whose real purpose has been to eliminate the Farc. To that goal has now been added a war of attrition on the new popular democracies, especially Venezuela.

US special forces "advise" the Colombian military to cross the border into Venezuela and murder and kidnap its citizens and infiltrate paramilitaries, and so test the loyalty of the Venezuelan armed forces. The model is the CIA-run Contra campaign in Honduras in the 1980s that brought down the reformist government in Nicaragua. The defeat of the Farc is now seen as a prelude to an all-out attack on Venezuela if the Vene zuelan elite - reinvigorated by its narrow referendum victory last year - broadens its base in state and local government elections in November.

America's man and Colombia's Pinochet is President Álvaro Uribe. In 1991, a declassified report by the US Defence Intelligence Agency revealed the then Senator Uribe as having "worked for the Medellín Cartel" as a "close personal friend" of the cartel's drugs baron, Pablo Escobar. To date, 62 of his political allies have been investigated for close collaboration with paramilitaries. A feature of his rule has been the fate of journalists who have illuminated his shadows. Last year, four leading journalists received death threats after criticising Uribe. Since 2002, at least 31 journalists have been assassinated in Colombia. Uribe's other habit is smearing trade unions and human rights workers as "collaborators with the Farc". This marks them. Colombia's death squads, wrote Jenny Pearce, author of the acclaimed Under the Eagle: US Intervention in Central America and the Caribbean (1982), "are increasingly active, confident that the president has been so successful in rallying the country against the Farc that little attention will shift to their atrocities".

Uribe was personally championed by Tony Blair, reflecting Britain's long-standing, mostly secret role in Latin America. "Counter-insurgency assistance" to the Colombian military, up to its neck in death-squad alliances, includes training by the SAS of units such as the High Mountain Battalions, condemned repeatedly for atrocities. On 8 March, Colombian officers were invited by the Foreign Office to a "counter-insurgency seminar" at the Wilton Park conference centre in southern England. Rarely has the Foreign Office so brazenly paraded the killers it mentors.

The western media's role follows earlier models, such as the campaigns that cleared the way for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the credibility given to lies about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The softening-up for an attack on Venezuela is well under way, with the repetition of similar lies and smears.

Cocaine trail

On 3 February, the Observer devoted two pages to claims that Chávez was colluding in the Colombian drugs trade. Similarly to the paper's notorious bogus scares linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, the Observer's headline read, "Revealed: Chávez role in cocaine trail to Europe". Allegations were unsubstantiated; hearsay uncorroborated. No source was identified. Indeed, the reporter, clearly trying to cover himself, wrote: "No source I spoke to accused Chávez himself of having a direct role in Colombia's giant drug trafficking business."

In fact, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that Venezuela is fully participating in international anti-drugs programmes and in 2005 seized the third-highest amount of cocaine in the world. Even the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has referred to "Venezuela's tre mendous co-operation".

The drugs smear has recently been reinforced with reports that Chávez has an "increasingly public alliance [with] the Farc" (see "Dangerous liaisons", New Statesman, 14 April). Again, there is "no evidence", says the secretary general of the Organisation of American States. At Uribe's request, and backed by the French government, Chávez played a mediating role in seeking the release of hostages held by the Farc. On 1 March, the negotiations were betrayed by Uribe who, with US logistical assistance, fired missiles at a camp in Ecuador, killing Raú Reyes, the Farc's highest-level negotiator. An "email" recovered from Reyes's laptop is said by the Colombian military to show that the Farc has received $300m from Chávez. The allegation is fake. The actual document refers only to Chávez in relation to the hostage exchange. And on 14 April, Chávez angrily criticised the Farc. "If I were a guerrilla," he said, "I wouldn't have the need to hold a woman, a man who aren't soldiers. Free the civilians!"

However, these fantasies have lethal purpose. On 10 March, the Bush administration announced that it had begun the process of placing Venezuela's popular democracy on a list of "terrorist states", along with North Korea, Syria, Cuba, Sudan and Iran, the last of which is currently awaiting attack by the world's leading terrorist state.


Le Monde diplomatique, May 2008

'The world cup will be our chance to make our voices heard'

Whose South Africa?

South Africa will host the World Cup in 2010 so construction – and corruption – is booming. But almost none of the building or the money can be accessed by the poor who live in shantytowns without proper water, sanitation or electricity. These inequalities could be a major issue in the 2009 presidential election.
By Philippe Rivière

"All people shall have the right to live where they choose,
be decently housed, and to bring up their families
in comfort and security."

(Article 9 of the Freedom Charter adopted
by the Congress of the People at Kliptown
on 26 June 1955.)

There's a house for sale for $125 just two kilometres from the beach at False Bay, in Khayelitsha, a township east of Cape Town, between Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope. The downside is that it is in the QQ section, an informal settlement on marshy land beneath the high-tension cables of Eskom, South Africa's public electricity utility. Despite a ban, the area is covered with wooden shacks with corrugated iron roofs, the homes of hundreds of thousands of urban poor.

More than 20 years after QQ was squatted, its 600 families still have no sanitation and rely on eight taps for drinking water. An anarchic tangle of electricity cables, hidden beneath tarmac, connects the shantytown to metered supplies in the adjoining legal settlement. Fatal fires are frequent. Anything that can be let out is for hire, even a key to the latrines. Not far from Mzonke Poni's home, a branch from the main supply cable is concealed in a corner, behind a pile of boxes: he has lived in QQ with his mother for more than six years and hopes to avoid being cut off during the next police raid.

"We've got our own Waterfront," says Poni. QQ has appropriated the name of Cape Town's smart district because, for four months of the year, winter rains flood all the shacks on low ground. Some residents have raised the soil by a few centimetres to buy themselves enough time to move chairs, television and personal effects to the home of a neighbour or family member.

QQ is in Western Cape province, where half-a-million people are waiting for homes. Wave after wave of young workers flood into the shantytowns, most of them from the rural districts of Eastern Cape. To stay, they need the approval of the local residents'committee, which gives priority to couples with young children. Although, or maybe because, life is so precarious, there is a strong sense of community in these areas (1). So it came as a shock when the authorities decided to clear them out, district by district, without any preliminary consultation.

After a fire at Joe Slovo, another informal settlement beneath the flightpath of Cape Town airport, the victims were rehoused in new buildings further east, in the Delft area. But people who had not been affected by the fire began to be forcibly relocated. Mzwanele Zulu, a community leader, said: "We wrote to officials from the town council to the president's office, but nobody would give us any explanation. We refused to be moved by force, we're close to transport and work here." The inhabitants decided to block the nearby N2 highway. The reaction was immediate: "The police fired [rubber bullets], then arrested us for incitement to violence." The residents' groups went to court over the evictions from Joe Slovo (2), but it was too late to save the school they had set up in a shabby building.

Rumours and dirty tricks

It is late morning in Delft and there is a palpable tension. A woman trying to get to the town hall climbs into our car and asks: "Do you think it's right, giving new houses to young people, when we've been on the waiting list for years?" From a Mercedes, touring streets of newly built houses, a megaphone tells residents to disobey the security guards who are watching the area and who have started an unauthorised census whose final purpose is unknown. The courts upheld the status quo in a dispute between the constructors, Thubelisa Homes, and the squatters who occupied the houses before they were even finished. The housing minister, Lindiwe Sisulu (3), had visited on 16 December 2007 and handed over the keys to families evicted from Joe Slovo, forgetting that a third of the dwellings had been promised to Delft residents.

At Delft town hall, two women claim the same house. "It happens increasingly frequently," explains Pam Bukes, secretary of the anti-eviction committee. "You can't blame her [one of the women] for trying it on, but I'm sure she isn't on any of our lists."Inter-community tensions are rife. Most of Delft's population is of mixed race (as defined under apartheid) and votes for the Democratic Alliance (DA). They suspect the African National Congress (ANC) of inciting young blacks from outside to try to force their way in. Martin Legassick, an historian and activist closely involved in the residents' committees, said: "The place is alive with rumours and dirty tricks, it's no wonder people are worked up. But bear in mind that the blacks were never able to register for the housing lists." When something is in short supply, legality goes out the window.

A man of 83 symbolises the seriousness of the problem. He pays out most of his pension to rent a shack in a backyard. As DA councillor Frank Martin, an adviser to Cape Town mayor Helen Zille, points out: "He's been on the waiting list for more than 20 years. People keep asking me about the risk of violence. The only way to calm things down is to apply the same rules to everybody. Sometimes it's difficult to deal with the authorities – on Christmas Eve they took advantage of the fact that we'd all gone to demonstrate at the courthouse and sent in the security forces to clear the houses. People want a roof, water, sanitation and local employment. The government is playing with fire by ignoring people's basic needs. It spends only 1.5% of the budget on housing, compared with 5% to 7% in similar countries."

Parallel economies

Since South Africa embraced neo-liberalism (open frontiers, economic liberalisation), the huge inequalities that already existed have increased. There are now two parallel economies that never touch; 60% of the population, mostly black and poorly educated, earn less than $450 a month; 2.2% make more than $3,500 a month and enjoy western lifestyles. Unequal land ownership, one of the legacies of apartheid – in 1994, 75% of the population lived on just 13% of the land – contributed to the rural exodus into the townships.

Half live in poverty. According to the United Nations, the current welfare system has only a limited effect on individual poverty and inequality (4). The majority are economically vulnerable and feel the full impact of rising housing costs. "South Africaexperienced a significant increase in housing prices from 2000 to 2004-05. It is estimated that house prices increased by 92% in contrast with an average increase of workers' income estimated at 8.3%."

The 2.7m homes built with the aid of government subsidies have not been enough to solve the crisis. Demand is rising by more than 200,000 units a year according to the housing ministry: on top of the rural exodus there is a sociological transformation related to political liberalisation, which is reducing the average size of households. There are now some 12.5m households in South Africa, 5m of them in urban areas. According to Legassick, 11% of households live in shacks and 12% in traditional huts; 56% depend entirely upon the government for their housing.

The poorest are being excluded from urban centres. Sometimes they are evicted by subterfuge, lured by the promise of a real house, sometimes under threat of violence. The UN's special rapporteur blamed the police and a private company, Wozani Security, known as the Red Ants because of their capacity to send 500 men, dressed in red, to empty a building of its inhabitants in a few hours (5).

Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of President Thabo Mbeki, is a specialist on the area, deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs and chairman of the South African subsidiary of the Dutch producer of TV reality shows, Endemol.

He said: "South Africa has much in common with post-colonial Algeria. Our economy depends upon mineral extraction. There was a wide sociological gap between grassroots activists and the leaders of the struggle [against apartheid]. The latter did very well out of it, because they took over the state. They and their children now make up the ranks of the emerging middle class. They were lucky enough to get an education; they [ought to have formed] the base of a dynamic private sector in a country where cheap education under apartheid created a huge human resources problem. [Instead] the government spawned an enormous bureaucracy which was spectacularly successful in feeding off these resources, without creating work for the wider population."

He recalled how in 1991 in Algeria the mismatch between the poverty of the population and the wealth of the privileged members of the political class encouraged the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front. The government's refusal to accept the result of the ballot plunged the country into civil war.

A living saint

Things aren't that bad in South Africa. But in a country where 4.2 million struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day, there is resentment of the new rich. The ANC's image in the shantytowns had been tarnished to the point where even Nelson Mandela is no longer immune from sarcasm: "He's a living saint... who has privatised water." The neo-liberal policies that he introduced and his successor Thabo Mbeki continued have not yielded the anticipated levels of foreign investment, but have caused social damage. The Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) programmes, supposed to open up economic opportunity (capital, participation in management) to blacks, have encouraged corruption rather than integrating the long-excluded mass of the population into the economic system.

As early as 2005 the ANC deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, stated: "It is the banks that have been the primary beneficiaries of this type of private-sector-led BEE... It should not be (and it is not) the objective of the democratic movement to support or advance such multiple, narrow-based empowerments... Genuine empowerment must focus on the black entrepreneurs who build viable and sustainable businesses [and] will be able to empower others in turn, and will be able to reap full advantage from the new vistas of opportunity that emerge as we integrate the second economy into the first" (6).

"Overall the BEE is crony capitalism," confirmed Moeletsi Mbeki. "Most of these so-called business leaders are agents of white capital, hand in glove with the state; they aren't entrepreneurs. Our country is undergoing very rapid de-industrialisation under the joint influence of its lack of entrepreneurial ability and Asian competition. Whole sectors are being undermined: 80% of the footwear bought in South Africa during the 1980s was home-produced. Now 80% is imported, mostly from China. Our mineral resources are enough to allow the government to maintain a welfare state, however limited; but they aren't enough to support economic development. There is a danger of catastrophe if world prices fall."

People may question ANC policies, but with 65% of the vote at every election it retains its hegemony. Real opposition to Thabo Mbeki has emerged inside the party, where a leftist coalition from the Communist Party and the Cosatu trade union federation secured the leadership for Jacob Zuma at the ANC national conference in Polokwane in December 2007. If he survives his forthcoming trial on corruption charges, Zuma should become South Africa's third president in 2009 (7).

But few observers expect a real change of policy. "The ANC has done nothing for us," an activist said. "Jacob Zuma's people have been part of the government for 13 years, so they won't change anything either." On the ground, on the margins of a system that has let them down, social movements of extraordinary vitality, such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum and Abahlali baseMjondolo (8), are beginning to cohere into national networks and are not afraid to speak out or take to the streets.

In November 2005 police opened fire on 2,000 residents from the Foreman Road settlement, marching on the town hall in Durban. Two demonstrators were wounded and 45 arrested. The same week, in Pretoria, 500 people sacked the home of a member of the municipal council. Confrontations have continued. According to official interior ministry figures, demonstrations about the provision of basic services have increased from an annual average of 6,000 in 2004-05, to around 10,000. In February 2008 police fired on a peaceful meeting in Delft. On 10 March 500 residents of Klaarwater, in Durban, set up barricades and called for the removal of an ANC councillor who had failed to keep his electoral promises over services.

Returning from a recent mission to South Africa, the UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Miloon Kothari, complained that "there appears to be insufficient meaningful consultation between all levels of government, civil society organisations and affected individuals and communities". More than $8bn has been budgeted for the building and upgrading of infrastructure for the football World Cup in 2010, including 10 stadiums and a high-speed train. Kothari warned: "Reconverting Johannesburg into a world-class city is already increasing housing prices and increased demand for construction materials has led to a foreseeable shortage of cement" (9). At his house in Orange Farm, a run-down district 40km south of Johannesburg, Richard "Bricks" Mokolo, a former footballer and a spokesman for the Anti-Privatisation Forum, predicted: "The World Cup will be our chance to make our voices heard."

Translated by Donald Hounam

(1) See Steven Otter, Khayelitsha, uMlungu in a township, Penguin Books SA, Johannesburg, October 2007. He describes the shantytown where he lived as the only white in a black neighbourhood while he studied journalism.

(2) On 10 March 2008 the Cape Town High Court ordered their removal to temporary accommodation in Delft.

(3) His office did not respond to our requests for an interview.

(4) South Africa Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme, New York, 2003.

(5) See Jean-Christophe Servant, "Johannesburg, un urbanisme sous pression", video report for Géo.

(6) Kgalema Motlanthe, "Collective effort needed to achieve fundamental change", ANC Today, vol 5, n° 4, 4-10 March 2005.

(7) See Johann Rossouw, "This is break point for the ANC", and Aoife Kavanagh, "Jacob Zuma: president or prisoner?", Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2008.

(8) See the video documentary Dear Mandela.

(9) "Mission to South Africa", UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/7/16/Add3, New York, 29 February 2008.