South Africa and Zimbabwe – two countries with tangled destinies

“South Africa the land of milk and NO HANI” – a statement in yellow graffiti that remains a vivid memory from my early nineties youth.

It appeared on a blue-grey wall of a building at my alma mater – the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) – in the aftermath of the murder of South African Communist Party president Chris Hani. The killing of Hani on the 10th of April in 1993 coincided with my reaching the legal age of majority and, while I had just reached the age of 18, South Africa was about to endure a transition of its own.

On 13 April 1993, President Nelson Mandela addressed the nation calling for calm in the wake of the assassination and for the efforts toward a peaceful transition from apartheid rule to continue. The seminal speech was delivered in order to avert a descent into outright civil war when Chris Hani was gunned down in front of his Dawn Park home three days earlier. It was a turning point in our history because Mandela is reported to have used the threat of a destabilisation of the country to force the Nationalist government to agree to an election date which saw the people of this country released from decades of oppressive apartheid rule.

The transition triggered by the killing of Hani at the hand of Polish national Janusz Walus, also signified the international concerns that guided the nationalist government.

Revisiting my memory of the event was sparked by the news (in the past week) that Walus had been denied parole, after a legal challenge that would have seen an end to his prison sentence for the murder. In making his decision, Justice Minister Michael Masutha stated that Walus’ “clearly articulated state of mind presents a potential risk” as Walus continues to rationalise his action as one which was politically motivated – as a stand against the threat of Communism. The link between our past and our present reminds me that – as president Zuma recently described – while the political arrangements within our borders receive our primary attention, we must also consider the “balance of forces” that guide the invisible hand of history.

“It is said that the fall of apartheid was precipitated by a significant geopolitical shift in Western and Eastern Europe.  The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 spelled the end of Communist rule in Europe thus denuding the power block that the apartheid government so feared and vilified.  “Die Rooi Gevaar” had essentially been neutralised and its machinations had begun to be dismantled. This paved the way for negotiations which led to the unbanning of the ANC and other parties engaged in the struggle against apartheid.  It would appear that another seismic geopolitical shift is about to change the course of our history. Depending on how our ruling party deals with it.

“The situation in our country has moved to another level,” announced Zimbabwean Major General SB Moyo at 4am on 15 November 2017. The sight of Moyo – in military fatigues – on Zimbabwe’s public broadcaster led to a social media eruption about the news that tanks were spotted headed towards Zimbabwe’s capital.  Rumours of a coup abounded. The country stood at a knife’s edge. As the week drew on and more journalists were able to enter the country it emerged that there was to be a negotiated settlement where Robert Mugabe was to step down as President of Zimbabwe, in exchange for safe passage out of the country for him and his family. 

On Saturday 18 November, Zimbabwean citizens took to the streets, lined with military personal and tanks, in a peaceful march. We saw images of people who appeared elated.  They were jubilant at the prospect of getting out from under the yoke of Mugabe disastrous 37 year rule. The scenes were reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin wall.

A statement from ZANU PF central executive command said it had given President Mugabe an ultimatum, resign by midday 20 November or impeachment proceedings would be instituted. The defiant Mugabe addressed the nation on 19 November calling for new and old leadership to co-operate to ensure the stability of the country and put shoulder to the wheel in preparation for the agricultural season ahead. 

Mugabe described that the party would sort out what he described as a “mess/misunderstanding”, at the national congress scheduled for 12 – 17 December 2017. While South Africa and Zimbabwe share many commonalities – a border, post-liberation rule by a dominant liberation party and the possibility of their current leader being succeeded by the leaders (former) spouse, the two countries also have a common timeline for their next seismic shift.

During the same week that the ZANU PF is to hold its national conference, the African National Congress will also hold its own elective conference.  Will the impending fall of Mugabe spell changes for the political trajectory of the Zuma faction in South Africa?  The two country’s leading men appear to have been reading from the same script in the last 10 years.  Mugabe is said to have been preparing to install his wife, Grace as deputy president of ZANU PF, in order to ensure his continued grip on power.  President Zuma is rumoured to be facilitating the appointment of his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next leader of the ANC. The state of our politics inspires more questions than it provides answers for those in the cheap seats of our democracy.

Should the bloodless coup in Zimbabwe succeed, could this embolden the anti-Zuma faction inside the ANC to take more decisive action? Could we see a leader emerge from within those ranks who is astute enough to restore the nation’s trust in the ruling party and quell the inevitable fallout from the Zuma faction, as Mandela did with the nation when Chris Hani was killed?

There are darkening clouds on the horizon and the approaching storm is bound to wreak havoc, uprooting trees and tearing off roofs. But once it is over – for it surely will pass – could South Africa, and the region, emerge into a bright new day. In considering the future of these two nations, the multiple forces at play – of internal and broader origins – form part of an analysis that lends itself to wide speculation. One thing may however be certain for both South Africa – “The land of milk and no Hani” – and Zimbabwe, the former “breadbasket of Africa” – the situation has moved to another level.

First published in Polity on 20 November 2017

The private lives of politicians: When should we care?

Social media was all aflutter over the ‘assets’ of South African Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba last weekend. The explicit video was allegedly leaked as part of a blackmail ploy. The media code of ethics dictates that the media should not report on the private affairs of the public without their consent.  But people in the public eye often come under scrutiny and particularly politicians who are supposed to uphold the rule of law. Their lives seem to be fair game.

Two of the most prominent cases that come to mind and have been hotly debated in the media are those of Manto Tshabalala Msimang, the former Minister of Health in Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet and former United States President, Bill Clinton.

In the Manto Tshabalala Msimang case, the Sunday Times published details obtained from her medical records in August 2007, alleging that she has smuggled alcohol into a hospital while she was being treated for a shoulder injury and that the liver transplant she had undergone earlier that year was as a result of cirrhosis, an alcohol related degeneration of the liver.  Tshabalala Msimang lodged an urgent application against the Sunday Times to have her medical records returned to her.  The Johannesburg High Court ruled in her favour and ordered the newspaper to return the records and delete all copies from journalists’ laptops and computers as well as pay the costs of the case. 

Arguments for publishing were that she was that she was not fit for office, not only because she had smuggled alcohol into the hospital and had abused staff, but because her refusal to make anti-retroviral therapies available in the public health service is said to have resulted in the deaths of at least 400 000 people.  The major debate at the time was whether revealing her records was in the public interest and whether it was just interesting to the public. It has been hotly contested discussion in many media ethics classes on campuses across the country. But our Constitution prevailed. The right to privacy is protected in terms of the common law and section 14 of the Constitution of South Africa 1996.

Dr Kgosi Letlape, then chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) said at a South African Human Rights Commission hearing into the matter that hospital records may never be shared without the consent of the patient.

In Bill Clinton’s case, the lies he told about his affair with Monika Lewinsky led to his impeachment on 19 December 1998 by the House of Representatives on the grounds of perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice.

Unlike the other two cases which took place before the era of social media, Malusi’s antics were shared amongst thousands of South Africans before we could even debate the ethics of publishing such materials.  The media did however report on the reaction to the leak. eNCA placed Gigaba’s statement at the top of its news bulletin on Sunday evening. Here again we must ask the question, is it in the public interest or merely interesting to some sectors of our society?

It’s alleged that the video was meant for a woman, other than his wife. Therein lies the conundrum.  Should he resign from his position as a result of the leaking of the video? It depends on whether we hold our politicians to a higher moral standard than ordinary citizens.  If the private tape was intended for his partner, why should we care what a couple does in the relative privacy of their own homes and on their devices?  Unless the device was a government issued cell phone. Then it was an abuse of state resources. 

Sex and videotapes aside, the parliamentary committee on Home Affairs is conducting an investigating the allegations around the naturalisation of members of the Gupta family. Earlier this year, Minister Gigaba was found to have lied to the courts when he said he did not give permission to Nicky Oppenheimer’s company, Fireblade to operate a facility at the domestic terminal at OR Tambo International Airport. He is also heavily implicated in State Capture. For the harm that he has caused to the South African economy and to the people of this country, he should be removed from office. We should focus our energies on investigating the allegations that surround him, and ensuring that he accounts for those, rather than zooming in on his private parts.

First published in News24 on 4 November 2018

The Accidental Activist

When I joined SECTION27 all I wanted to do was write. Write about the issues that are dear to my heart, health and education. I had no idea that inside me there lay a closet activist and that by joining this amazing group of people I would unleash this version of myself into the world.


When we left for the 21st International AIDS Conference on 15 July 2016, I was confident that I knew exactly what I was in for.  I had attended the Tourism Indaba in the same venue many times before and was comfortable with the lay out of the venue.  What I wasn’t prepared for the sheer exhilaration of working with international NGO’s and activists to make the global AIDS community sit up and take note.

Because I had registered as media, I was able to attend a couple of sessions that involved celebrities and dignitaries but what made the most impact on me were the activists from across the global.  All of us came together with our different agendas but when it was time to act, we acted with one voice over each issue we chose to support.

Never before have I been exposed to such a diversity of voices speaking so passionately on so many issues that have the potential to change lives dramatically.

There was one message on which we all agreed.  There is no End of AIDS in sight. Not without a significant increase in funding which is drying up and not without the political will to focus interventions on vulnerable groups particularly young women.  I was incredibly inspired by the young women who work for SECTION27 who took the initiative to raise their issues at a session where the Minister of Health was speaking. Ntombi and Tina spearheaded the silent protest and caused waves that reverberated through the halls of the often staid conference and throughout the country.

On the first day of the conference I was struck by the stark difference in atmosphere between the Global Village and ICC where the plenary took place. Silence reverberated through the halls of the ICC. People in suits spoke in hushed tones and it appeared that the status quo would be maintained. I felt disheartened. I thought, that the people in suits would continue to negotiate deals for medicines that could save the lives of millions of poor people, without hearing from them.

As the week unfolded, my spirits were lifted. I realised that it was possible to shake things up and make an impact and we did.

We made an impact with our Gogo march even before the conference had begun. It was so inspirational to see this group of old women, from all over the world, come together for a common purpose.

We made an impact with our 5000+ person march. After months of mobilisation, the streets of Durban were teaming with activists. Images of the 2000 march that began to turn the tide of South Africa’s AIDS response played back in my mind as our voices bounced off the buildings and echoed through the streets.


We made an impact with our CHWs graveyard. People cried when our people lay on the floor depicting the bodies of community health workers and their patients who had died of neglect by the state.

We made an impact with our breast cancer action and made front page news.

Though I did not attend as many sessions as I would have liked and I did not write as much as I would have liked, I still learnt a great deal about advocacy, mobilisation and solidarity. I became an activist.


In search of ‘un duvet’


My love affair with France continues unabated.  I have been a Francophile since I was fifteen and still love all things French.  Even the rude man at the phone-shop didn’t tarnish the rose-coloured image I have of the French.  My sister is now settled in the quaint town of Fontainebleau.  It is a mere 64 kilometres from chic Paris and just 40 minutes by train.  Not even the incomprehensible lack of shopping facilities in this town will blunt my devotion.

On our first full day, we decided to go shopping.  We wanted – a duvet.  So we asked at the local supermarket (Monoprix).  They looked at us, baffled.  So we asked at the bank.  The lady, who was serving us, is used to dealing with foreigners and their strange requests so she made a call and found out where we could get this, wholly unnecessary item.  She gave us directions to the city of Melun.  Then we were to go to the front of the station – devant – you must go ‘devant’ – to speak to her sister, who worked at the kiosk in front of the station.  Her sister would tell us where to take the bus to the store, where we could find the duvet.

Puzzled, but resolute, we set off for Melun on the no 34 bus.  It was a plush coach with air conditioning, appropriately chic for the French countryside.  We pulled into what seemed to be a car park at the station and then proceeded to get horribly lost!  We went to cafe and started telling the story, again, haltingly in very bad French.  The man at the counter told us to go ‘devant la station’.  It turns out that you need to go through a tunnel to get the front of the station.  So, after wandering around for a bit, we found the tunnel and duly made our way to the front of the station.  We set about trying to find Maria, the sister of the lady from the bank, who would tell us which bus to take.  It had been about one and a half hours since we’d left the bank.

We approached the kiosk with trepidation as had been told that Maria spoke no English.  We asked the lady at the desk and she, in turn, asked her colleague, who also spoke no English but neither could tell us which bus to take.  A patron entered and fortunately, she spoke some English and she advised that we should ask the man at the information desk inside the station.

Undeterred, we approached the counter and began telling our sorry tale once more.  The man merely waved us away and said that he spoke no English but that his colleague would assist.  We launch immediately into the story we’d managed to piece together from the various sources.  He told us that the nearest place that sold a duvet was a train and a bus ride away.  He wrote the name, Carre Senart, on a piece of paper. We decided to press on as we had already come this far. 

We gratefully accepted our four tickets, one for the train going, one for the train returning, one for the bus going and one for the bus returning and ran onto the platform as the train was due to depart in two minutes.

One ten minute train ride later we arrived at Leissant Moissy and we made our way to the bus stop.  The next bus would be in 20 minutes so we settled in to wait.  Three buses departed from the opposite stop and ours had not arrived.  We began to feel concerned.  We agreed that if the bus had not arrived in the next 10 minutes we would head back.  Fortunately the bus arrived some 5 minutes later.  

I enthusiastically showed him the piece of paper and smiled expectantly.  He shook his head, pointed to the opposite stop and said ‘la bas’.  My heart sank to my knees at this point.  We had watched three buses pull away from this stop and we’d had no clue that we’d been sitting on the wrong side – facing the wrong direction!

Finally, we made it onto the bus that would take us to Carre Senart.  Off we set into the French country side, sprawling with trees and punctuated by the odd large factory-like building.  Not a likely place for a department store.  We passed three stops on route and came to what looked like a large retail park. 

We stepped off the bus and immediately into what seemed to a Vegas style casino area, resplendent with machines that trilled and whistled and had flashing lights.  We moved quickly through the children’s gaming area into the shopping centre.  Here was familiar territory.  In fact, it looked remarkably like Canal Walk Shopping Centre just outside Cape Town. 

We searched for home décor stores on the touch screen information panel, which was in English and out popped the names of three stores.  We wandered over to the first one, which looked like a high-priced, Mr Price store and began the search through the shelves.  Shelves and shelves of lovely home décor items but…. No duvet.  We approached the lady at the counter, fortunately she spoke English and she asked one of her colleagues to show us where the couellettes were kept.

The charming young shop assistant showed us some lovely throws and some heavy duty quilt-y things but…. No duvet.  We trudged to the next store.  No duvet.  At the next store.  No duvet and at the next one… no duvet.  At this point, I want to fall to my knees and call to the heavens.  Why, why, why!

Instead we decided to go to lunch.

On our way to lunch, we passed, what seemed to be a dry-cleaning store.  Lo and behold, inside the window display was a duvet.  It was not a dry-cleaning store but the only store in the entire retail park that seemed to stock actual duvets. What a relief.  We went inside and enquired about the different kinds.

They was single ones, three quarter ones, doubles and kings.  They had pillows and duvet covers and all sorts of wonderful accoutrement related to the blissful act of sleeping.  We spent a good half an hour just gazing at the variety available.

Finally, we selected one which we felt would suit our purposes and asked the price.  An astronomical 99 Euro on sale. We walked away in disgust.


No reason to celebrate Women’s Day

In the run up to Women’s Day this year, the Rhodes Gender Action Project organised a colloquium to discuss whether feminism, as a movement, still has a role to play in South African Society.  Points made by the speakers during these sessions had me wondering whether there was much to celebrate.

Two of the speakers, Siphokazi Magadla, a lecturer in the Politics department at Rhodes, and historian Nomalanga Mkhize made compelling arguments that convinced me that our celebrations are premature. Both painted a picture of South Africa women as second-class citizens.  Besides facing insidious discrimination in the workplace, they still suffer blatant chauvinism and violence in their own homes.

Although gender equality is enshrined in the South African constitution, and I concede that there have been strides made in many sectors in bringing about parity, there is still glaring lack of equality in important decision-making institutions.  Fourteen out of 34 government ministries are run by women, a good step in the right direction. The picture is different in the judiciary where there are only two female constitutional court judges.

In the media, a sector in which I have a particular interest, women are still paid far less than their male counter parts.  They are relegated to covering soft news stories and rarely get the chance to cover politics or business stories as revealed by the 2010 study conducted by the Global Media Monitoring Project.

The study, ‘Who makes the news?’, looked at the representation of men and women in the news media worldwide and its results exasperated me.  Only 24% of news stories were about women. Although a slight improvement from the 17% recorded in 1995, that’s not much for 15 years.  In a world where women make up more than half the population, this is a jarring statistic, particularly when most of the stories we see portray women as victims.  Where are the stories that depict women as role models and heroines?

Could it be because only 37% of newsmakers were women.  Meaning that not only are women’s stories rarely told but that there aren’t enough women to seek out our stories. Of even more concern was the fact that only 6% of stories highlighted the issues of gender equality.

Is it any wonder then that journalist Helen Moffett felt compelled to write an incendiary open letter to government telling them to call off Women’s Day celebrations.  The letter, posted on her blog, BooksLive, received huge support on social media networks. It lambasted the government for spending millions on an event and costing the economy an estimated R7 billion by having a public holiday.

I agree wholeheartedly with her.  Until we have equal representation in business and in the home, I see very little to celebrate. In my opinion, South Africa has a long way to go yet before we can pat ourselves on the back.