South Africa and its ‘Staggering Economy’

South Africa’s ‘Rainbow nation’, defined by its generational struggle for racial equality, has one of the  highest inequality rates in the world.  South Africa is unfortunately a country in which violence and state dysfunction continues to grow, and over many years these conditions have produced imminent mass unrest. 

Jacob Zuma has been described as both a tyrant and a saviour, but his supporters and detractors agree on one thing: he is a political survivor. Since apartheid, South Africa has done everything it could to move on from its turbulent and violent past, presenting an example of viable, if not successful, political transition. Leading that process in 1994 was the former president Nelson Mandela and his party the ANC. More than twenty years later, the ANC remains in power, currently on its fifth consecutive election victory, led by their second term President, Jacob Zuma. However, during this election cycle, South Africa was confronted with a governance crisis and a stagnating economy, with Zuma at the centre of it all. 

Although Zuma is known to have been involved in corruption in the past, including money laundering and racketeering stemming from a $2.5 billion (£1.98bn) in 1999, as well as accusations of raping a family friend in 2005 (albeit acquitted a year later), harming the reputation of the ANC and himself, it is his current activities which have done serious damage to South Africa to which his corruption nonetheless translates today. 

It was not the poverty, violence in the streets or rising unemployment that triggered the worst unrest in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Rather, it was the imprisonment of Jacob Zuma on July 7th, 2021 that unleashed mayhem in South Africa’s two most popular provinces, Gauteng and Zuma’s hometown, KwaZulu-Natal. Lootings, violence, and the burning of vehicles, buildings and shopping centres, has left over one billion rand worth of damage and destruction. Protests, clashes with the police, vigilante attacks and stampedes have killed more than 330 people and the army, 25,000 South African National Defense Force soldiers being deployed by South Africa’s current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to quell the violence to afflicted areas, the largest deployment of troops since the advent of democracy in 1994.

Reports suggest that attacks on the streets were part of an effort to sabotage the economy, and destabilise South Africa’s democracy, raising a bigger question: were the riots politically motivated action taken by defenders of  Zuma? As Ramaphosa has said, “…the events of the past week were nothing less than a deliberate, coordinated and well-planned attack…”. Alternatively, the riots may have been the expression of outrage at insufficient punishments imposed on Zuma. 

On the 29th of June, the constitutional court issued a fifteen-month prison sentence to Zuma for failing to provide evidence of his innocence to numerous corruption scandals during his presidency. To which, many of those scandals are closely related to the two brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta who own one of the largest enterprises in Johannesburg, Oakbay Investments Ltd – which range from mining to real-estate to news and media. Their relationship with Zuma has caused issues over the years and is without doubt, complicated. Reports suggest that the relationship between the Gupta brothers and Zuma was more business than personal; Zuma would finance them with state funds in exchange for positive representation through Gupta’s media outlets. Therefore, anything close to the truth would be kept hidden and the world would be none-the-wiser until it’s too late. 

However, systemic economic corruption has always been a concern for South Africa particularly among politicians and businessmen, fat-cats, who draw their wealth from state funds, whilst neglecting a staggering economic crisis. The combination of mass unemployment and rises in the cost of living has resulted in citizens, young and old, being forced into starvation. So as the wealthy drain state funds and line their pockets, the impoverished suffer, having food taken out of their hands with opportunities for work few and far between. 

A notable example of such corruption is Gavin Watson, also known as the Kingpin of Bribes, who became headline news in 2019 for bribing officials. The testimony of four whistleblowers showed that Watson’s company, Bosasa (notably, prison services) garnered state contracts worth $140 million dollars between 2000 and 2016; all former Bosasa executives were paid around $5 million dollars in bribes. The whistleblowers alleged an operation that generated cash through money laundering and then distributed it to buy influence, secure contracts and prevent prosecutions. Transactions were described as cash stuffed into Louis Vuitton bags as gifts and handed over in monthly installments on the side of the highway. Unsurprisingly, Zuma was also at the centre of this scheme, playing a role in Watson’s case during investigations in 2007. Officials have gone as far as confirming that Watson paid Zuma a fee to stop the prosecution of his company and himself. Even Ramaphosa, elected on the promise of being a voice of reason and sweeping away systemic corruption, also accepted a fee from Watson to help with his campaign strategy. 

Moreover, this corruption expresses itself in a nation that is still deeply affected by its recent colonial past, amplifying the consequences of injustice along racial lines. So as African resources are developed and sold ostensibly to give greater share to the Black population, the economy remains overwhelmingly in the control of White owners. 
The evidence presented here shows how easy it is to manipulate the system. Just like Watson, his colleagues, former and current Presidents, and the Gupta Brothers, have all abused the system to the exclusive benefit of themselves and ‘have captured the organs of the state to do so’.

Policy Brief Issue 3: May 2021

Afghanistan Peace talks: addressing concerns over women’s rights and justice

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It’s the fact that…

Sign at Women’s March 2019, Kuala Lumpur.

Taken from

It’s the fact that…

It’s the fact that growing up I was repeatedly told “Don’t talk to strange men”, “Don’t walk home alone at night”, “Don’t take the same road from and to school”, “Don’t leave your drink out of your sight when you are out”, “Don’t walk alone with your headphones on” “Don’t…”, “Don’t…”, “Don’t…”

It’s the fact that when I do walk alone I always overthink it. I am always afraid, I see everyone as a threat. I think of all the possible escape routes or the ninja moves I’ll use to defend myself, I call my friends, I share my location, I put my keys around my fingers, I wear my trainers so I can run, I hide my hair under my hoodie, I cross the road so I won’t be catcalled, I am doing my best to be invisible.

It’s the fact that I have to do all this in the first place. Why do I have to do all this? Why?

It’s the fact that I can’t enjoy walking alone, especially at night, because I drown in anxiety, my heart beats out of my chest louder than the footsteps behind me. My palms sweat and my mouth dries.

It’s the fact that I have to feel like this in the first place. Why do I have to feel like this? Why?

It’s the fact that I know there is an invisible fear lurking around the corner, just a thread away from becoming a reality.

It’s the fact that if my fear leaves its corner I will be blamed for it. “What were you wearing?”, “How much did you drink?”, “Why were you walking alone?” … “Oh honey, it happens all the time.”

It’s the fact that society always tells me how to dress, how much I am allowed to drink, how and where to walk, how to behave in public, how to have fun…how to exist.

It’s the fact that just like that my freedom is being taken away from me.

It’s the fact that I sometimes wonder if I could ever be free. Am I free? Is any woman ever, really free?

It’s the fact that I feel defeated.

And I am sick of it…

Will Lula De Silva’s Return to Politics Stop the World’s Most Dangerous Man?

On 10 March 2021, many Brazilians felt a ray of hope when ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula De Silva’s corruption charges were quashed by a Supreme Court judge on the technicality that Lula was tried by a court which did not have jurisdiction. Brazil has been in turmoil since the COVID-19 outbreak due to the actions of a fascist dictator. The Lula judgment opens the way for him to challenge President Jair Bolsonaro. With a divided Workers Party (Partido dos trabalhadores) it was difficult for someone to pose a real challenge to the incumbent President. 

Why is Jair Bolsonaro one of the world’s most dangerous men

On 1 January 2019, many political analysts in Brazil and around the world believed that the country would experience democratic backsliding under Bolsonaro. His Vice-President Hamilton Mourao had always flirted with fascism by praising Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, claiming the military coup prevented a communist takeover. Bolsonaro and Mourao had strong support from the evangelical community, especially the Pentecostal Church, which believed that Bolsonaro was the only person who could save them from the PT’s socially liberal policies. The common people had lost trust in the Worker’s Party due to their various corruption scandals. They wanted a change in leadership at the national level. Little did they know their actions would have dangerous consequences.

One of the crucial issues which Latin America is facing right now is the annihilation of the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s greatest allies in combating climate change. Indeed, it covers 9 separate states in Latin America and its massive collection of flora absorbs 5% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Additionally, it is crucial in controlling greenhouse gas emissions across Latin America. Since 2019, the fires which rampaged through these rainforests have led to a worrying decrease in carbon absorption. This immense reduction of the forest could have disastrous consequences such as aggravating the global climate crisis. The long-term effects of these fires coupled with deforestation would also lead to social and economic instability across the whole region. 

In August 2020, Bolsonaro dismissed the Amazon fires as a “lie”. His persistent denials of the situation have prevented foreign governments and NGOs from finding a solution to the crisis. He claims that domestic and international environment advisors are violating Brazil’s sovereignty in their efforts to preserve the region. 

Investors are pledging to withdraw 2 trillion USD worth of economic aid from Brazil in response to the constant repression and denial of the Amazon crisis, which could result in a complete disaster. The destruction of the Amazon would imply a huge setback in tackling the global climate crisis. 

In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic Bolsonaro’s denial of science and dismissiveness towards health experts has led Brazil down a dangerous path.  He discarded mask-wearing and lockdown restrictions, as it was more important for him to keep the economy going. But Brazil has one of the highest Covid death tolls in the world. During most of the pandemic Bolsonaro also rejected purchasing vaccinations, even claiming that he wouldn’t get one himself as “the Pfizer vaccine might turn people into crocodiles”. But his view on vaccines has taken a U turn with Lula’s return to politics. He now embraces the vaccines claiming that they are the weapon out of this crisis. This illustrates that Lula’s presence in the opposition has him threatened.

Can Lula save the country from anti-intellectualism?

Despite Lula being a strong opposition candidate in the upcoming elections, he still remains a polarizing figure in Brazil. The Brazilian evangelical community and the traditional conservatives are against the old-fashioned left wing of Brazil, and Lula also lacks favour among political centrists. The analogous situation would be Donald Trump facing off against Bernie Sanders in the US Presidential Election. 

Lula’s annulled conviction could still be challenged in another court as he has not been cleared of any wrongdoing yet. The key to his possible presidential run would be addressing the ongoing pandemic, making people trust in science and facts about the threat of this virus. He needs to move the people away from the alternate reality Bolsonaro created. With the rate infection still increasing in the country and Bolsonaro’s refusal to impose restrictions, this could be the wiggle room Lula needs to truly contend. He should also reach out to the Amazon indigenous communities who are struggling to survive with their homes burning in wildfires. 

Hence, preservation of the rainforests and getting the pandemic under control should be Brazil’s top priority. Only time will tell if Lula can be a messiah for the Brazilians who have suffered multiple crises over the past two years. Lula’s return to politics could be Bolsonaro’s Kryptonite. Lula undoubtedly will face many hurdles before next year’s election. If he chooses to serve the needs of the people over money and power, he stands an excellent chance of victory in 2022.

SOAS university director under attack for using the ‘N-Word’

On 11th March 2021, SOAS Director Adam Habib was under attack for using the ‘N-word’ in an online conference call with students. This all began with Habib responding to a series of questions over the lack of funding for African Studies at SOAS and the cancellation of the BA African Studies. The students also spoke about lecturers casually using the N-word in class without any serious consequences and the need more broadly to address race and race related issues throughout the School. In response, Habib, to an uncomfortable degree, expressed racial slurs, specifically the ‘N-word’. Two students in the meeting told Habib they found it unacceptable for him to use the N-word, while another male Black student told Habib that without having lived the experience of a Black person, he cannot use that word. Habib then proceeded to defend himself and explain why it was ‘okay’ for him to use the word, arguing he “comes from a part of the world where we actually do use the word”. 

Habib is South African of Indian descent, which he believes makes him the ‘exception’ arguing that his use of the term should be acceptable because he fought against aparthied and believes this affords him a degree of immunity.  Of course, Habib’s personal origins do nothing to change the history of the term, created and used by colonial masters to subordinate Black people. Habib did apologise once he realised the offence caused in the online meeting but followed that with a 17-tweet thread defending his use of the term in an attempt to justify himself and avoid ‘misinterpretation’, explaining that “the context matters”. Students fired back with responses and criticism of his defence which spread rapidly on social media. 

Following this incident, the same evening the SOAS Student Union Dead Philosophers Society released a statement, calling what happened in the meeting “unacceptable”.The Student Union stated that SOAS must address “institutional racism” as this is not the first time that racist language has been used by staff at SOAS and demanded Habib’s resignation, launching the hashtag #FireHabib. The Art & the African Mind group also released a statement:  “infuriatingly insulting and hurtful, we do not care for or want an apology, we are calling for Adam Habib’s dismissal in 31 days”.  

South Africa’s left wing political party Economic Freedom Fighters then went on to say that Habib’s attempt to ‘normalise’ the N-word by saying ‘where he is from’ people use it every day is, “a blatant and filthy lie”. Meanwhile Helen Zille weighed in supporting Habib using the N-word, commenting that this is a “textbook study of cancel culture”. Habib also claimed that the online footage of the offensive meeting had been cropped so as to misinterpret his comments, going on to say, “the question is that after this apology, some are still politicizing the issue. What is their agenda…?” which others read as an effort in self-victimisation. 

On reflection with friends and colleagues, it seems clear that the racial and historical implications of the N-word make it racist no matter its ‘context’. Of course, Habib can’t exactly be accused of ‘ignorance’; after all, how can an educated Professor, Director of one of the most prestigious Universities with one of the most diverse campuses, be unaware of the word’s history and weight? More shocking was the timing of Habib’s use and defence of the word in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Now it should be made clear that I, being of Bangladeshi descent, am hardly the appropriate candidate to opine on the use and history of that particular term. Still, it remains the case that the use, interpretation and intentions of the term have seen enormous change over the course of history. It would be short-sighted to ignore the possibility that this variation also applies geographically so that how the term is used and what it is understood to mean may vary from one nation to another (to say nothing of the particular racial history of South Africa). Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that Professors have a means of discussing these issues at their disposal that will not offend, insult or harm their students regardless of ‘contextual ambiguities’, even if only to avoid the accusation of ‘closet racism’. Although SOAS has now reacted to the incident, with Habib stepping aside pending further investigations on this matter, the bigger question now is, how will SOAS respond to show that it can satisfactorily navigate this issue and support the Black community and students at SOAS?

The ICC Probe into the Situation in Palestine: A long-awaited inquiry or an attack on Israel?

After years of deliberations over whether the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction in the Palestinian Territories, chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has announced the opening of alleged investigations into war crimes committed in the territories on 3 March 2021. This follows the ruling on 5 February 2021 that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to the territories occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967. With the opening of the investigation, the ICC will now look into alleged crimes committed by both the Israeli Army and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas since 13 June 2014. This move by the ICC represents a major development in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

What does the ICC investigate?

Following Bensouda’s announcement, the ICC can now exercise its jurisdiction in the “Situation in Palestine”, which encompasses Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The priorities of the investigations are still to be announced due to the ICC’s limited resources and operational challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. The investigations will include the 2014 Gaza War, the 2018 Gaza border clashes, as well as the illegal settlement-building by the Israeli government in the West Bank (the latter is described by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “build[ing] a house in [Israel’s] eternal capital of Jerusalem”). The investigations promise to contribute to ending “a long cycle of violence and insecurity” for victims of crimes on all sides.

Controversies about the ICC jurisdiction

While the ICC will not limit its investigations to either party to the conflict, Bensouda’s decision has been subject to harsh criticism. Given that Israel is not party to the ICC, some commentators have argued, the ICC does not have jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes. Israel and its close ally, the US, – neither signatories to the ICC Statute – oppose the ICC probe. However, the Palestinian Authority has been accepted as an ICC signatory in 2015, a decision that implied recognising that the Palestinian Territories fulfill all functions of a state. On this basis, the ICC has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the territories occupied by Israel. Both the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip welcome the investigations. 

ICC probe as an “act of antisemitism”?

Much of the current discourse about the ICC investigations in Palestine is influenced by Israel’s reaction. Not only did Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashekanzi, call the ICC’s move “morally and legally bankrupt”, but Prime Minister Netanyahu also condemned the probe as an attack on Israel. Referring to the origins of the International Criminal Court, established to prevent a repeat of the Holocaust, Netanyahu claims that the institution has now turned against the Jewish state, calling the opening of the investigations “undiluted antisemitism”. This allegation ignores the fact that the ICC will not only probe war crimes committed by the Israeli Army and implies equating the Israeli government with Judaism.

Netanyahu’s claim sparked further media discussions around victims becoming perpetrators”, referring to Jewish victims of the Holocaust who now might become perpetrators of war crimes. This discussion is again based on a dangerous misconception. Putting in context victims of the extermination of Jewish people during the Holocaust and perpetrators of the Israeli Army is not only inappropriate, but also wrong. 

Will the ICC’s investigations have an impact?

Despite these dangerous discussions around the ICC’s investigations, let us consider the possible impact of the probe. One major difficulty Bensouda will face is getting access to the territory to pursue her investigations. It seems unlikely that Israel will cooperate and give free access to the territory. In June 2021, however, Bensouda’s successor as ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan will continue the investigation but will not be beholden to Bensouda’s decisions. His stance will bring Israel’s cooperation up to debate again, depending on which crimes he will lie the focus on. 

If, in any case, the ICC Prosecution identifies suspects responsible for war crimes, the judges can issue sealed international arrest warrants to help the authorities arrest those who are charged.

While critics say that the ICC’s involvement will lead to further polarisation around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supporters see this as a vital new ingredient in addressing the longstanding conflict and as a chance to bring justice to those who have been denied for too long.