31 July 2016


When I read this article, it occurred to me that, just as in Australia, apartheid in South Africa continues unabated, the only difference being that, instead of whites perpetrating injustice and cruelty on Blacks, Blacks - and whites do it now to blacks.


Fish rot from the head

Torture is routine practice in South Africa's police stations and prisons. A lineage of impunity, traced from apartheid, has meant de facto immunity for perpetrators. With South Africa celebrating its 'Human Rights Day' this weekend, the shocking reality behind its prison walls must be a central focus.
Last month was the 32nd anniversary of the death of celebrated South African struggle-hero Neil Aggett, who hanged himself in police custody after sixty-two hours of non-stop interrogation and torture on the tenth floor of Johannesburg’s John Vorster Square police station. Coincidentally, February was also the anniversary of the 1990 unbanning of the ANC, the organisation for whose ideals Aggett lived and died.

During the 1982 inquest into the then 28-year-old trade-unionist doctor’s death, testimonies by former detainees about torture at the hands of the police were heard for the first time in a South African court of law. Previously, political prisoners like Aggett and Steve Biko routinely endured torture at the hands of the police. Today, criminals suffer the same fate.

Twenty years after South Africa’s first democratic elections, legislative change and a new Constitution, torture and brutal assaults by police and prison officials continue. The “bad apple” paradigm - often employed to explain the excessive use of force - no longer suffices as allegations of torture become increasingly common place.

Take for example, the prison-wide orgy of violence at Port Elizabeth’s St Albans prison at the beginning of March in which 200 inmates claimed to have been subjected to mass-beatings and torture during a midnight search for cell-phones and other contraband. Inmates also said they were forced to lie naked on the floor in a long human chain with their noses in the anuses of the inmate in front of them.

Now, more than three decades after Aggett’s death, a long over-due official inquiry into his death has finally been opened. The investigation follows formal charges of culpable homicide laid by Brian Sandberg, co-ordinator of the Neil Aggett Support Group (NASG), against Aggett’s torturer-in-chief Lieutenant Stephen Whitehead, late last year along with a call for investigation and prosecution.

As a result, apartheid-era cop Whitehead looks set to become an unlikely poster-boy for combating the culture of impunity currently characterising South Africa’s prisons and police. “Neil’s story is bigger than him,” his old school-friend Sandberg explains. “It’s about police brutality and a State that acted with impunity and continues to do so … In re-igniting the memory of Neil, I’m trying to re-ignite the values he stood for. If he were alive today, these are the kind of issues he’d be fighting for.”

The torture never stopped

An entrenched culture of impunity with scant regard for consequence or culpability indicates that South Africa has learnt little from the lessons of the past: Not from the deaths of Aggett and Biko or Andries Tatane, Mido Macia, the 34 Marikana miners, the Groenpunt prison violence which left three inmates dead last year and the Mothutlung service delivery protests.

“Torture hasn’t suddenly reared its ugly head. It’s never stopped…,” Wits Law Clinic torture expert Professor Peter Jordi told the Wits Justice Project (WJP). “It was carried out at local police stations before and continues today…The police torture people all the time - in their homes, in police cells, in the veld, in cars…Torture is standard police investigation practice. These policemen are serial criminals. They have methods of investigation which are unlawful and for which they could be prosecuted but they never are…”
Whitehead, who never bothered to apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for amnesty from prosecution for his role in Aggett’s death, was no exception. Though the TRC report handed to government in 2003 held Whitehead directly responsible for the conditions that led to Aggett’s death, Whitehead has spent the intervening years as a successful businessman consulting to government on security issues.

 As a result, following publication of Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett by his cousin Beverley Naidoo late last year, Sandberg decided to form the NASG.  A loose coalition of family, friends and members of the Food and Allied Workers Union, members of the Khulumani Support Group and other NGOs, its aim is to obtain closure for those closest to Aggett, to champion restorative justice and to develop legacy projects and awareness of Aggett’s life work.

Meanwhile, government lethargy in the face of repeated reports of violence, assault, excessive use of force and torture seems indicative of an unwillingness to hold perpetrators accountable. This month’s mass-beatings at St Albans are an almost direct replication of a 2005 brutal mass-torture and beatings episode in the same prison. Yet, nine years later, Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Ministerial spokesman Logan Maistry says “the investigation into this case by the relevant agencies is at an advanced stage.”

De facto impunity

In 2009, frustrated St Albans inmate Bradley McCallum, after exhaustng all domestic legal options, lodged a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) in Geneva alleging gross human rights abuses, torture and other ill treatment by South African State officials. McCallum told the UNHRC how he had been shocked, beaten and raped by a warder with a baton and also forced to lie naked in a long human chain with his nose in the anus of the inmate lying in front of him.

After ignoring five requests by the UNHRC to respond to McCallum’s allegations, South Africa was found guilty of human rights violations. This month’s St Albans mass-beatings are likely to lead to the first prosecutions under South Africa’s new torture legislation – 'The Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act' promulgated last July.

The latest St Albans episode was probably not surprising - none of the 60 - 80 warders implicated in the 2005 McCallum case have been dismissed, according to McCallum’s lawyer Port Elizabeth-based Egon Oswald.

“A fish always rots from the head,” Sandberg notes tersely. “Torture and a lack of accountability are symptomatic of an arrogance that needs to be turned around. In ensuring that the interests of justice are served, we’re hoping this Government will demonstrate by its actions that it’s different to the Apartheid government.”

Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative (CSPRI) director Lukas Muntingh says that dismissal of DCS officials is a very rare sanction:  “In 2010/11, there wasn’t a single prosecution of a DCS official - despite thousands of complaints and a body of evidence telling us there is a serious problem.  Dismissal is an extremely rare occurrence within DCS and occurs in less than 1% of cases.”

According to Maistry, DCS does not keep records of the numbers of officials prosecuted in criminal cases and only records the number of officials who have been disciplined internally: “More than 3,000 correctional officials were charged with misconduct and corruption in the 2013/14 financial year. 250 were dismissed and demoted while 2,850 were subjected to misconduct and disciplinary proceedings.”

Muntingh says there has not been a single prosecution of a correctional official implicated in the death of a detainee in the last three years – though thousands of complaints have been recorded by DCS, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) and the South African Human Rights Commission.

“Though the legislative framework presents no major obstacles to holding state officials accountable for gross rights violations, officials are rarely prosecuted and convicted for assault, torture and actions resulting in the death of criminal suspects and prisoners. Prosecution is so rare that a situation of de facto impunity results.”

In May this year, the case of the first four 2005 St Albans’ plaintiffs - McCallum, Bafo Dhuru, Xolani Siko and Simphiwe Mbena – who are suing the Minister of Correctional Services for torture-related damages, will be heard in Port Elizabeth. “The department believes they did nothing wrong,” says Oswald, who is representing 231 survivors of the 2005 St Albans assaults.

“This case is more than just a simple damages claim which would only serve to put funds in the hands of the individual victim at the taxpayer’s expense,” Oswald says. “I want the St Albans human rights abuses to be brought to light, for individual perpetrators to be held accountable and for the system to be reformed so this type of atrocity will never happen again…

“I handle cases like this on an on-going basis. I’ve issued numerous demands against the Minister on behalf of alleged victims of torture. In addition to more than 100 St Albans’ inmates I’m representing as a result of this month’s episode, I’m also involved in other mass beatings cases like the one involving  15 St Albans claimants that occurred as recently as June last year. Torture, assaults and beatings continue unabated as organised searches often degenerate into beating slug-fests.”

Given recent events at St Albans, it appears that neither the Torture Act, nor the Constitutional obligation to promote and protect the human dignity of all prisoners, appear to have made a tad of difference to those entrusted with their care.

A legacy of apartheid?

To what extent is the legacy of apartheid to blame? During the apartheid-era, a culture of impunity prevailed and was essential to the functioning of both prisons and the police. As Muntingh points out, “both institutions were closed, secretive, conservative, resistant to change and unfamiliar with accounting for human rights violations. Impunity was necessary for their functioning.”

Not much appears to have changed in the intervening years. South Africa’s increasingly dubious human rights record seems indicative of an equal disregard by the former “darling” of the international human rights community for its venerated Constitution, its domestic law, and its international treaty obligations.

Though South Africa ratified the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) in 1998, which required the criminalisation of torture domestically, until July last year torture was not a crime in South Africa. In addition, South Africa signed the Optional Protocol to the UNCAT in 2006 but has not yet ratified the treaty.

Ratification would necessitate the establishment of a national preventive mechanism and oversight body authorised to conduct unannounced, and announced, visits to places of detention by independent national and international bodies. According to Muntingh, independent oversight has proved to be the most effective means of preventing torture and promoting transparency and accountability.

“The McCallum case is an example of a complete breakdown of internal and external oversight mechanisms,” he added. At present, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), South Africa’s under-staffed, under-resourced prison oversight body - viewed by many inmates as a “toothless dog”- has limited oversight powers.

“How can the organisation be truly independent if JICS salaries are paid by DCS whom their job is to oversee?” ponders one JICS source.  “JICS doesn’t have the financial resources, capacity or investigative skills to carry out its mandate effectively."

“Last year 93 inspections and 39 investigations were conducted by a small team of just five investigators who investigated complaints from 242 correctional centres with about 150,000 inmates. By definition, this means investigations have to be hit-and-run...”

As for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), the watchdog which has a legal duty to investigate crime and torture allegations involving the police, few allegations are thoroughly investigated and prosecutions and convictions of implicated officials are rare. Only one conviction was obtained in 217 deaths allegedly at the hands of the police, or in police custody investigated by IPID in Gauteng Province alone in 2011/12, notes Muntingh.

The recent appointment of Robert McBride as IPID head has done little to allay public concerns. McBride’s controversial history includes the 1986  bombing of a Durban restaurant in which three people were killed and 69 injured for which he received the death sentence, as well as more recent arrests for crimes involving gun-running, violence and drunken driving.

Though all prisoners have a Constitutional right to conditions of detention consistent with human dignity, there appears to be a vast difference between the Constitutional promise and the reality. “We can’t let this continue,” says Sandberg. “Torture is never acceptable. Perpetrators must be called to account. To combat impunity and heal apartheid’s deep wounds, government must be accountable and be seen to be accountable.” Neil Aggett’s family, friends, and all those who have endured torture at the hands of the South African state, deserve no less.
About the author
Carolyn Raphaely is a member of the Wits Justice Project (WJP) investigating miscarriages of justice related to the criminal justice system. The WJP is located in the department of journalism at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. 

30 July 2016


When white people set foot in Australia on 26 January 1788, the end game for the indigenous population began and as the time progressed, genocide proceeded apace and, although the end is in sight, Australian governments have some way to go to complete the job.

The difference between South African apartheid and Australian apartheid is the numbers involved with both countries' populations.

South African whites were always outnumbered by black populations but in Australia the genocidal activities of successive governments has assured that the indigenous population has been reduced to a fraction of all other population groups.

Fast forward to the 21st century and what do we have?

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - late 1980s

Federal Government Intervention in the Northern Territories - 2000 onwards - accepted by successive governments from the right and extreme right

Royal Commission into the incarceration practices of teenagers in the Northern Territory.

No progress - in fact moving backwards all the time - and why?

Ongoing genocide deliberately practised and supported by successive governments to ensure that human rights are denied the indigenous population of Australia. Follow the examples of the USA and Canada.

The programme that was put to air on the ABC programme on the night of Monday 24 July 2016 by 4 Corners with scenes of the incarceration and treatment of young teenagers in a notorious Northern Territory prison for juvenile offenders shocked Australians, many of whom have been aware for a long time about the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in our society, but has also shocked the world who are now able to see such horrors instantaneously due to modern technology -  and what will change after a new Royal Commission?

After the Deaths in Custody Royal Commission the incarceration rate of Aboriginal people incarcerated  has not only grown alarmingly but the deaths in custody have increased alarmingly.

One case that has not yet seen justice done was the frying to death of an Aboriginal in the back of a police van who was locked in the back of the van in 50 degree heat and not checked on a long drive from one place to another.

What was different about this death and one in South Africa in 1977 was that Steve Biko was beaten up and thrown into the back of a police van naked and driven from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria, a distance of some 800 km, so one froze to death the other fried to death.

Now we have the images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo replicated in Australia in the  Northern Territory - with teenagers!

22 July 2016


After 1994 our expectations were that the appalling South African Broadcasting Corporation would be transformed, and South Africa would have access to news that had been censored for so many years under the apartheid years.

Now in 2016 there is a new police state-type of censorship being reimposed by an upstart who believes he can do as he likes to run the SABC and control the journalists and staff who try to run a modern, up-to-date digital age organisation.

Wrong! Hlaudi Motsoeneng has other ideas. According to an article in the Daily Maverick on 21 JULY 2016, "Zwelinzima Vavi, who has publicly supported the dismissed workers, on Wednesday pointed the blame at Motsoeneng. 'Hlaudi Motsoeneng is a self-confessed President Jacob Zumas acolyte. He owes his position as the now de-facto head of the SABC to those, like him, who will do all that they can to be in the good books of No.1. If President Jacob Zuma is the deity, the god of patronage, then Hlaudi is his worshipping emperor,' he said. 'What is at stake here is not some small or insignificant workplace dispute. This is a test of strength that if allowed to go unchallenged will most definitely impcat on the future of our democracy.'"

The following report comes from the Sunday Times online in South Africa:

Hlaudi caves as SABC furore comes to a head


SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng. File photo.
Image by: ALON SKUY

The SABC has been forced to get off its high horse and comply with the Independent Communications Authority of SA's order that it desist from censoring the news.

The letter constituted a major about-face by Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC's COO, who last week said he would challenge Icasa's ruling in court.

Also yesterday, the SABC reached an out-of-court settlement with the Helen Suzman Foundation with regard to news censorship.

The Pretoria High Court yesterday interdicted the SABC from implementing its new policy on the televising of protest violence, pending a final determination.

ANC insiders said yesterday that the "mismanagement" of the corporation by Motsoeneng and the board were coming to an end.

"There is no more place to hide, and their actions will be exposed,'' said a senior ANC source. "We cannot be ruled by individuals who have no clue what it takes to run the SABC. The sooner this ends the better."

Yesterday, parliament added its voice, saying it was "deeply concerned" by the summary dismissal by the SABC this week of eight of its senior journalists.

Communications Minister Faith Muthambi has been summoned by parliament's communications oversight committee to report on August 23 on the status of all entities that report to her, including the SABC.

"Although we are not privy to the details of the cases, resignations and dismissals are a concern, especially in a country with high unemployment," said Humphrey Maxegwana, chairman of the parliamentary communications portfolio committee.

The committee had noted the Pretoria High Court's SABC judgment and hoped the corporation would comply with it.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said President Jacob Zuma should appoint a commission of inquiry into the SABC board's inability to perform its duties and the "unconstitutional" editorial policies being enforced by the leadership of the SABC.

Maimane said the commission should also look into allegations by former SABC executives that opposition political parties were deliberately cut out of news coverage.

"This request comes in the wake of a series of scandals, legal findings and public outrage against the SABC," said Maimane.

The SACP has also called for the immediate removal of Motsoeneng.

17 July 2016


Erdogan Had It Coming: the Turkish Coup Failed, But Another Will Succeed

deepspace | Shutterstock.com

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had it coming. The Turkish army was never going to remain compliant while the man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire turned his neighbours into enemies and his country into a mockery of itself. But it would be a grave mistake to assume two things: that the putting down of a military coup is a momentary matter after which the Turkish army will remain obedient to its sultan; and to regard at least 161 deaths and more than 2,839 detained in isolation from the collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East.

For the weekend’s events in Istanbul and Ankara are intimately related to the breakdown of frontiers and state-belief – the assumption that Middle East nations have permanent institutions and borders – that has inflicted such wounds across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the Arab world. Instability is now as contagious as corruption in the region, especially among its potentates and dictators, a class of autocrat of which Erdogan has been a member ever since he changed the constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds.

Needless to say, Washington’s first reaction was instructive. Turks must support their “democratically elected government”. The “democracy” bit was rather hard to swallow; even more painful to recall, however, was the very same government’s reaction to the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s “democratically elected” government in Egypt in 2013 – when Washington very definitely did not ask Egypt’s people to support Morsi and quickly gave its support to a military coup far more bloody than the attempted putsch in Turkey. Had the Turkish army been successful, be sure Erdogan would have been treated as dismissively as the unfortunate Morsi.

But what do you expect when Western nations prefer stability to freedom and dignity? That’s why they are prepared to accept Iran’s troops and loyal Iraqi militiaman joining in the battle against Isis – as well as the poor 700 missing Sunnis who “disappeared” after the recapture of Fallujah – and that’s why the “Assad must go” routine has been quietly dropped. Now that Bashar al-Assad has outlived David Cameron’s premiership – and will almost certainly outlast Obama’s presidency – the regime in Damascus will look with wondering eyes at the events in Turkey this weekend.

The victorious powers in the First World War destroyed the Ottoman Empire – which was one of the purposes of the 1914-18 conflict after the Sublime Porte made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany – and the ruins of that empire were then chopped into bits by the Allies and handed over to brutal kings, vicious colonels and dictators galore. Erdogan and the bulk of the army which has decided to maintain him in power – for now – fit into this same matrix of broken states.

The warning signs were there for Erdogan – and the West – to see, if only they had recalled the experience of Pakistan. Shamelessly used by the Americans to funnel missiles, guns and cash to the “mujahedin” who were fighting the Russians, Pakistan – another “bit” chopped off an empire (the Indian one) turned into a failed state, its cities torn apart with massive bombs, its own corrupt army and intelligence service cooperating with Russia’s enemies – including the Taliban – and then infiltrated by Islamists who would eventually threaten the state itself.

When Turkey began playing the same role for the US in Syria – sending weapons to the insurgents, its corrupt intelligence service cooperating with the Islamists, fighting the state power in Syria – it, too, took the path of a failed state, its cities torn apart by massive bombs, its countryside infiltrated by the Islamists. The only difference is that Turkey also relaunched a war on its Kurds in the south-east of the country where parts of Diyabakir are now as devastated as large areas of Homs or Aleppo. Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country. It’s one thing to say sorry to Putin and patch up relations with Benjamin Netanyahu; but when you can no longer trust your army, there are more serious matters to concentrate on.

Two thousand or so arrests are quite a coup for Erdogan – rather larger, in fact, than the coup the army planned for him. But they must be just a few of the thousands of men in the Turkish officer corps who believe the Sultan of Istanbul is destroying his country. It’s not just a case of reckoning the degree of horror which Nato and the EU will have felt at these events. The real question will be the degree to which his (momentary) success will embolden Erdogan to undertake more trials, imprison more journalists, close down more newspapers, kill more Kurds and, for that matter, go on denying the 1915 Armenian genocide.

For outsiders, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the degree of fear and almost racist disgust with which Turkey regards any form of Kurdish militancy; America, Russia, Europe – the West in general – has so desomaticised the word “terrorist” that we fail to comprehend the extent to which Turks call the Kurds “terrorists” and see them as a danger to the very existence of the Turkish state; which is just how they saw the Armenians in the First World War. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk may have been a good old secular autocrat admired even by Adolf Hitler, but his struggle to unify Turkey was caused by the very factions which have always haunted the Turkish heartland – along with dark (and rational) suspicions about the plotting of Western powers against the state.

All in all, then, a far more dramatic series of events have taken place in Turkey this weekend than may at first appear. From the frontier of the EU, through Turkey and Syria and Iraq and large parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and on to Libya and – dare one mention this after Nice? – Tunisia, there is now a trail of anarchy and failed states. Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot began the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment – with help from Arthur Balfour — but it continues to this day.

In this grim historical framework must we view the coup-that-wasn’t in Ankara. Stand by for another one in the months or years to come.
Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

10 July 2016


Satrap Guilt: Australia, Iraq and the Chilcot Inquiry

The release of the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry, examining the feeble reasons for launching a war against a sovereign state in 2003, did not merely land former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the soup. It suggested that other leaders should keep him in drowning company.

The most obvious culprit was the person who led it all, US President George W. Bush. The other was former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The 12 volumes and 2.6 million words do little to exonerate either.[1]

Evident in the apologetics over the Iraq War lie are notions of pure belief, detached from foundations of reason. There was no intention to deceive (this, being palpably untrue); there was a genuinely held sense that war was necessary. The show, in other words, was being run by fanatics.

The evidence (is there such a thing post-Iraq?), certainly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, was the overwhelming desire to rechart the Middle East and affect regime change in Iraq. Blair and Howard complied with the Bush agenda, neither ever keen to go too much into the detail.

The few times that greater inquiry took place, it was grim, as Blair’s own meditation on possible consequences shows. “Suppose it got militarily tricky… suppose Iraq suffered unexpected civilian casualties… suppose the Arab Street finally erupted.” The law of unintended consequences indeed.

Howard had little time to dwell on the idea of mendacity, claiming it had nothing to do with the deployment of troops to Iraq. Rather awkwardly, he resorted to a familiar tactic: blaming the intelligence community for getting it wrong. Never mind the actual decision maker who needed to see such intelligence in total context. “There was no lie. There were errors in intelligence, but there was no lie.”[2]

Ever the Pilate washing his hands, Howard cherry picked from the Chilcot Inquiry to add a bit more soap to his cleansing wash. One fact stood out for him: the lack of evidence suggesting that intelligence dossiers had been doctored, or sexed-up, as it was then termed.

“The joint intelligence committee, which is the broad equivalent in the United Kingdom of the Office of National assessments in Australia, accepted ownership of the dossier and agreed its content.”

This also shows the inability, or perhaps refusal, of Howard to have made his own decisions on the subject without further verifying what was, even then, a shoddy case. “I can’t put myself in Tony Blair’s mind. I have no reason to disbelieve what he’d said. I always found him a thoroughly honourable and honest person to deal with.”

Even by the standards of the day, such an assessment on Howard’s part was astonishing, relegating the Australian decision making process to the sovereign realm of Washington and London. It was sufficient to accept that the dossier was not unduly corrupted by the addition of improper material or that “Number 10 improperly influenced the text.”

For all that, there were Cassandras within Australia, and fellow traveller Britain, worried that too much certainty, spurred on by “belief”, was replacing genuine intelligence.

One such figure was Andrew Wilkie, now a returned independent member of the Australian parliament. Having been an intelligence officer within the Office of National Assessments and subsequent whistleblower on the dubious intelligence practices he bore witness to, the Tasmanian MP insisted that Australia needed its own variant of Chilcot.

“Until we have an effective inquiry into the invasion of Iraq… then people like John Howard and [former foreign minister] Alexander Downer and others won’t be properly scrutinised and held to account.”[3]
One crucial loss in this entire affair is evident. Instead of offering wise restraining counsel, holding back that “crazy man Bush,” as Paul McGeough described him, Howard and Blair applied the varnishing reassurance. “By not restraining the US president, each was an enabler in Washington’s worst ever foreign policy blunder.”[4]

They were more than that. Both became fellow buccaneers and adventurers, the very type of war makers scorned by the US Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, a key figure in the prosecution at the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1945. Never again, urged Jackson, should war be treated in a chivalric or romantic fashion.   Instead, it could be deemed conspiratorially murderous, a slight against civilization itself waged by bandits.

While the Chilcot Inquiry does not purport to generate legal implications (its greatest weakness), it sets the groundwork for potential legal proceedings that might be launched not merely in Britain, but participating countries. Lawyers representing former servicemen who died in the conflict are pouring over the details, wondering whether command responsibility can be discerned.

Wilkie insists on a specific international court, one that would compel the defendants to “try to prove their innocence because all of those people who do accuse them of war crimes I think make a pretty compelling case.”

Doing so in the International Criminal Court would be a difficult thing, given its limitations relative to the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal. But the crime against peace remains a burning issue, recognized as part of international law, and prosecutable locally. None of the leaders are out of the woods of judicial inquiry just yet.


[1] http://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/the-report/
[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-07/chilcot-inquiry-john-howard-responds/7577306
[3] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-07/wilkie-blames-bali-bombing-lindt-siege-on-iraq-war-involvement/7576480
[4] http://www.smh.com.au/world/chilcot-report-the-mindboggling-incompetence-of-bush-blair-and-howard-laid-bare-20160706-gq06hy.html

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

05 July 2016


 This article comes from the Daily Maverick and details how dictatorship is born and creeps up on a population without them being aware of what is going on. This needs to be nipped in the bud, but the other dictator in South Africa, its president, needs also to be removed now before it is too late. South Africa's governance has reached crisis levels and the people of South Africa who have suffered the consequences of Mbeki and AIDS during his presidency have gone even further backwards since the advent of Zuma.

Enough is enough!

His Master’s Voice: Why Hlaudi Motsoeneng is democratic SA’s biggest threat

Until this week, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the holder of all power at the public broadcaster, was being written off as a megalomaniac on his own frolic at the SABC. But the ANC has now shown its hand, coming out in defence of Motsoeneng’s total onslaught. Motsoeneng is moulding his own brand of political indoctrination out of the worst models of propaganda in history and taking media freedom hostage as he does so. This is no longer a laughing matter and society should not be looking away any more. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
At the Topography of Terror monument in Berlin, Germany, a sign at the entrance to the museum reads: “Berlin 1933-1945 Between Propaganda and Terror”. The sign is a reminder of the central role the propaganda machinery played in Nazi Germany’s era of persecution and terror. Adolf Hitler’s chief attack dog was Joseph Goebbels, who directed the propaganda machinery to acquire total power and control the minds of an entire nation. The reign of terror would not have been possible without effective indoctrination and complete control of every aspect of communications in Germany through the Second World War.

The problems at the SABC started long before the matric-less Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s rise to power. The SABC was a key instrument of apartheid South Africa’s machinery and with its size and reach, through 19 radio stations and now four television stations, the “public” broadcaster has continued to serve as a powerful political tool. During the democratic era, the SABC has been on a constant ebb and flow with financial crises and senior management coming and going. There have been phases in the past where censorship and editorial bias were prevalent, but they pale in comparison to the Era of Hlaudi, with a wholesale takeover of editorial policy and programming.

When it comes to survival tactics, it is only President Jacob Zuma who can rival Motsoeneng. Both are able to shake off scandals, adverse court rulings and damning Public Protector reports, and are somehow strengthened by them. Perhaps their common invincibility is the secret to their alliance. 

Motsoeneng was fired from the SABC in 2007 when he was a current affairs producer at Lesedi FM. He fought his way back into the public broadcaster despite a long drawn-out labour dispute that brought to light the fact that he misled the SABC about his qualifications.

 Motsoeneng was appointed as the general manager responsible for board and stakeholder relations in the group chief executive officer’s office in February 2011, a position that opened his path to the top job. In December 2011, he was seconded to act as chief operating officer and has been an unstoppable force since then.

In February 2014, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report, “When Governance and Ethics Fail”, which found that Motsoeneng was “unethical” and “dishonest” about claiming to have a matric certificate. She also found that his conduct was irregular and he was guilty of maladministration for improperly escalating people’s salaries. The remedial action prescribed by Madonsela was that the SABC board should take disciplinary action against Motsoeneng.

The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Madonsela’s report could not be ignored or second-guessed. The Constitutional Court judgment in the Nkandla matter removed all doubt about the standing of Public Protector reports, and even the president now has to comply with the remedial action prescribed in his case. While Zuma has agreed to pay back the money, Motsoeneng continues to dodge the rulings against him. He wriggled out of censure though a farcical SABC disciplinary hearing and was permanently appointed into the position of COO.

He has unchecked power, including over programming and news. Motsoeneng has gone from silly antics, such as ordering television news coverage of his colourful life, including a group of religious leaders praying over him and receiving a “bride” as a gift, to censoring news and suspending journalists. He has banned coverage of violent protest action and negative news about Zuma because he “deserves a certain degree of respect as president of the country”. The SABC has canned shows featuring the views of editors and analysts, and journalists at the broadcaster have become progressively constrained about what they can say and who they can interview.

Motsoeneng’s penchant for ludicrous statements and perspectives on journalism have escalated to bizarre levels in recent weeks. He told City Press recently that SABC employees were expected to “sing the song and talk the talk of the SABC”.

“If the SABC releases a statement, our employees can’t say ‘the SABC said this’; they must say ‘we are saying this or have decided on that’. They can’t report like other broadcasters when they are part of any SABC decision,” Motsoeneng told the paper. “I have been thinking maybe our employees should have uniforms so that they can understand unity,” he professed.

Speaking at a media briefing this week following the sudden resignation of acting group chief executive officer Jimi Matthews, Motsoeneng denied that his actions constituted censorship:
“I don’t even know what censorship is. What is this censorship thing? It is English so I don’t know it. There is no censorship here,” he said.

The SABC has now suspended six journalists who have expressed their concerns about the strict editorial stance of the broadcaster. At a staff meeting on Tuesday, Motsoeneng told SABC employees to comply with his rules or to leave the broadcaster. The Star reported that Motsoeneng said at the meeting:

“If you are at the SABC, there is leadership, and if the leadership says you must turn right, you must turn right. If you turn left, you must get off the bus.”

The paper quoted an employee as saying:

“He said he was going to charge people and discipline them. His tone was very harsh. He also said the three suspended journalists may survive the axe but those standing in solidarity with them may lose their jobs.”

Director of Media Monitoring Africa William Bird says many SABC staffers are worried about being victimised and the atmosphere of fear at the broadcaster is growing. He said editorial interference was increasing with journalists being told, for example, that that they were not allowed to broadcast any analysis of the spy tapes judgment against Zuma.

The skewed editorial positioning is particularly concerning during an election period as it is unashamedly intended to project the president and the ANC favourably. Until this week, the ANC could not be directly linked to Motsoeneng’s onslaught on the airwaves. It appeared that he and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi were on their own misguided mission to keep the favour of the president. But in reaction to Matthews’ resignation, ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said this week that the move was “opportunistic”. Kodwa was quoted by the SABC as saying that Matthews had allowed himself to be “used by those who… want to undermine the integrity of the public broadcaster”.

Matthews said in his resignation letter that there was a “corrosive atmosphere” at the SABC that had impacted negatively on his moral judgement and made him complicit in decisions he “was not proud of”.

“What is happening at the broadcaster is wrong and I can no longer be part of it,” he said. “I also wish to apologise to the many people who I’ve let down by remaining silent when my voice needed to be heard.”

Instead of being discerning about what Matthews and others have been saying about the chaos at the SABC, the ANC has opted to defend Motsoeneng’s reign of terror:

“I think clearly the intention is to add to the narrative that SABC is in disarray… he has allowed himself to be a tool to be used to attack the entire integrity of the SABC,” Kodwa said of Matthews.

Bird says the regression and assault on media freedom at the SABC has the sanction of Muthambi and the ANC. “It is astounding that the ANC has gone against its 100-year history of promoting media freedom,” Bird said.

A report by Media Monitoring Africa on media coverage of the 2016 local government elections shows that the ANC already enjoys the bulk of the voice, much higher than it did during the 2014 election campaign. The ANC now has 57% of the total media coverage compared to 38% in 2014. In comparison, the Democratic Alliance’s coverage dropped from 25% in 2014 to 16% now. The Economic Freedom Fighters’ coverage dropped from 13% to 11%. Bird said these percentages were largely affected by the SABC’s coverage patterns.

South African society has so far been largely tolerant of Motsoeneng’s antics and propaganda mission. In the context of a cycle of scandal and abuse of state institutions, the decay of the SABC is not out of the ordinary.

But through the power and resources of the public broadcaster, Motsoeneng has been allowed to infiltrate the homes and minds of millions of people around the country. He is able to do much more damage to a free and democratic society than any other state institution can by controlling access to information and people’s perspectives. Motsoeneng’s evasion of court rulings and legal procedures adds to the culture of impunity in our country. His assault on media freedom is an assault on the Constitution and the fundamentals of our democracy.

On Friday morning, the South African media fraternity begins a campaign to stand up to South Africa’s answer to Joseph Goebbels. Media freedom pickets will be held at the SABC headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg and the broadcaster’s offices in Sea Point, Cape Town. The pickets are acts of solidarity with journalists forced to comply with Motsoeneng’s ridiculous editorial policies and those who have been suspended for speaking out against them. These pickets will hopefully awaken society to the clear and present danger of accepting indoctrination in an era when democratic institutions are under siege and those in power seek to hide their scandals and leadership failures.

Motsoeneng is as conceited as he is dangerous. Left unchecked, it is not just the SABC that he will destroy. It should not be forgotten that Goebbels succeeded Hitler as Chancellor of Germany, if only for a day.

Motsoeneng’s ambitions and political backers have brought him this far. Left unchecked, the SABC is unlikely to be the end of the road for the invincible Mr Motsoeneng. After successfully penetrating our living rooms, our workspaces and our minds, the sky is the limit in terms of what Motsoeneng will do next. The onus is upon us, South Africans, to decide if we will let him. DM

Photo: Hlaudi Motsoeneng with his spirit guide, Joseph Goebbels.

01 July 2016


The First Amendment, BDS and Third-Party Candidates

It seems sometimes that, like Alice, we have all tumbled down a rabbit hole and entered a bizarre new universe. However, Mr. Carroll could never have invented anything as peculiar as what is seen in United States politics and governance.

For reasons that only politicians and the lobbies who own them can completely understand, Israel, that brutal, apartheid nation, comes first and foremost in what passes for the minds of elected officials. It is reported that New Jersey is the latest in a string of states that is passing anti-BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) laws. This, of course, will require endless hours of effort by some unfortunate bureaucrat to compile lists of organizations that support the boycott of Israel. Was it so long ago that other bureaucrats compiled lists of Communist ‘sympathizers’? We all know how well that turned out.

But anyway, why should politicians who bask in the largess of Israeli lobbies care about the First Amendment? That old thing! Let’s take a look at what is says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Supreme Court over the years has expanded this to include states; it isn’t just Congress that is so forbidden. In 1982, in the case of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) vs. Clairborne Hardware Co., the Court found that “the nonviolent elements of a boycott are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment”.

Now, what might the governing bodies of New Jersey, New York and nine other states that have passed anti-BDS legislation learn from this? The purpose of the BDS movement, as indicated on its webpage, is clear: in 2005, “Palestinian civil society called upon their counterparts and people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law”. It would appear that all of these actions fall into the ‘non-violent’ category that the Supreme Court says is protected by the First Amendment.

During the long, drawn out, bitter campaign for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, which was only a forerunner to what promises to be an unparalleled circus of a campaign between Tweedle-Dum (Republican Donald Trump) and Tweedle-Dee (Democrat Hillary Clinton), most of the candidates from both parties made the obligatory visit to the AIPAC (Apartheid Israel Political Affairs Committee) altar in Washington, D.C. in March of this year. There, they decried Palestinian resistance to the occupation, resistance that is sanctioned by the United Nations, and praised Israeli ‘restraint’, that only killed 500 innocent children in less than two months in the summer of 2014. They spoke of the strength of Israeli ‘democracy’, where there are separate laws for Jewish Israelis, and non-Jewish Israelis. They talked of Israel as the U.S.’s only ‘friend’ in the Middle East, a friendship that the U.S. purchases with more foreign aid than is given to all other countries combined. Such groveling by men and women who would ‘lead’ the United States is nothing less than repulsive to watch.

Fortunately, the U.S. voter isn’t limited to the two representatives of the Republicratic Party. Choices abound, although the corporate-owned media (fascism, anyone?) would have us all believe otherwise. The candidacy of Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) has been mentioned by this writer previously, but is worth noting again, as she is one of the third-party candidates who does not feel compelled to kiss the unholy ring of Israel.

A few phrases from the PSL webpage are telling:
* The “campaign stands in full solidarity with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign…”
* “The BDS movement demands that Israel: End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  It fights for an end to Israeli apartheid.”
We learn from this some important differences between Ms. La Riva and Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. First, unlike her rivals, Ms. La Riva respects human rights. Second, she recognizes and respects international law. She understands the role of boycotting in bringing about change. Unlike the Republican and Democratic candidates, she recognizes apartheid when she sees it. Finally, she supports worldwide efforts to bring justice to the Palestinians, after decades of oppression.

But Ms. La Riva doesn’t stop there; she fully exposes the elephant (or perhaps, the donkey) in the room:
“Both of the presumptive major capitalist party candidates, Trump and Clinton, have expressed full support for Israel, outrageously painting Israel as ‘victim’ and the Palestinians as ‘aggressor,’ in keeping with the Israeli narrative that is constantly regurgitated by the corporate media here.”
As Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi has said, “the Palestinians are the only people on earth required to guarantee the security of the occupier, while Israel is the only country that demands protection from its victims.” Ms. La Riva seems to recognize that odd fact, and is willing to do something about it.

It is unlikely that a third-party candidate will be victorious in the 2016 presidential election farce, where the major competitors are highly disliked by large swaths of the electorate, which will seek in vain to find the lesser of two evils. But this situation, where the 99% must choose between two members of the 1%, can begin to die this year, if increasing numbers of people decide to pull a lever for a candidate other than those of either the GOP or Democratic Party. If voters consider such things as human rights, international law, and justice, they will be unable to vote for Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. There are excellent alternatives, and Ms. La Riva is one of them.
Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).


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Preston, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm