Jacana Broadsides

DSU Jacana Broadsides


 Scroll down for conversations and discussions about broader-than-literature issues.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Covid: Pockets of Kindness Amid Authoritarian Creep
Carien du Plessis

Of late the vuvuzelas have been dying down. When the lockdown started in March, in many leafy Johannesburg suburbs, every evening at seven, people would follow the European example of going out into their front garden and patios to make a noise, many with vuvuzelas. It was to show appreciation for health workers, but also to signal that we’re all apart but in this together. At the time our hospitals were still empty, our hopes full.

We have since become fatigued, gatvol and out of breath. South Africa has entered the top 10 worldwide for the number of confirmed infections, but instead of pulling together to fight this, there is fear, anger and political bickering.

Epidemiologists predicted the surge and we now know that South Africa doesn’t have any secret powers to escape the pandemic. There’s disappointment that the immense sacrifices people made by staying home so that the health department could prepare for the surge did not fully pay off.

Some impressive field hospitals were prepared, such as in Cape Town’s International Convention Centre and Johannesburg’s Nasrec. Non-invasive ventilators have just recently gone into production locally, with   the aim to make 10 000. Such large-scale production of medical equipment here in South Africa is new. And these are positives.

After a disappointingly slow start, Covid-19 testing was stepped up and is now surpassing 30 000 tests a day, despite challenges. We need testing to open up the economy, but, for now, the long waiting times for results in the public sector – it can be up to 10 days – render the testing moot, given the way in which the virus spreads.

Stories of avoidable healthcare failures are heartbreaking, like that of 54-year-old Lungelwa Sindiswa Ndabeni, who had Covid-19-related complications and waited for two days to get a bed in Mthatha General Hospital. When she needed a ventilator, the ICU ward was full. The oxygen she got in the ward was not enough to keep her alive. Her family couldn’t help wondering if she could have been saved with proper medical care.

Recently, Eastern Cape officials told parliamentarians that Mthatha’s field hospital will only be ready by October – far too late for the current surge and to save another Lungelwa. The plan was to convert airport hangars into temporary hospitals, but some in the province seem to have been dragging their feet on this to create an emergency and to force the provincial government to rent expensive marquee tents instead. It’s certainly easy to blame government. Its failures are well-documented despite some good intentions: from the more innocuous, such as confusing messages and regulations, to the more deadly brutality by law enforcement officers, to the downright unforgivable inability to get money and food to the poor.

But there are also big failures in the system that we’re all party to. When the lockdown started, there was talk about how this pandemic would hit the reset button and how the world would emerge a better place – a lot fairer, more forgiving and caring. The haves would look out for the have-nots. The reality is that the lockdown put all of us in our own echo chambers: chattering classes would whine about technicalities online (such as not being able to buy tipple) while the poor were too worried about affording food than to contemplate buying data bundles so that they could tweet about their empty stomachs.

We are divided even in our suffering. The new normal is not so new. Our previous inequalities could be getting deeper. Ordinary people like 53-year-old Thandi Thabede, who attempted to go out into the Soweto streets in the early lockdown days to sell atchaar so she could buy food, is an example of this. She was bundled into a police van because she didn’t print out and fill in the requisite forms to  allow her to  trade. Meanwhile big grocery stores like Woolworths and Checkers could not keep up with stocking their shelves with toilet paper and long-life foodstuffs as the financially stable settled for panic buying therapy.  The new middle classes in Africa have also been suffering, as businesses folded and people were laid off. There were reports from Kenya of street trade from car boots as people who previously had jobs now have to sell eggs and vegetables to survive. Many are only one paycheck away from being broke. The New York Times recently reported that, in Colombia, gains to narrow the gap between rich and poor were lost in the lockdown as more and more people are falling back into poverty. It’s happening here as well.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. There have been beautiful stories about organisations and individuals helping those in need, even as the government in the early weeks tried to prevent anyone not authorised to distribute food parcels. Extreme conditions also have a way of showing up pockets of extreme kindness. Not so long ago, a loved one ended up in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19. That evening, at seven, we stood on the stoep as usual to make our noise for the doctors and nurses who were risking their health to nurse people like him back to health. For the first time in what seemed like many nights, a chorus of vuvuzelas responded out of the dark.
Tuesday, 14 July 2020

A Wound that Won’t Heal
Philippa Garson

New York (14 July 2020) As the US grapples with the momentous societal upheaval unleashed by the George Floyd ‘last straw’ incident of police brutality and murder, preceded – and followed – by many more ‘last straws’, some serious reflection is underway here. It does seem as if Floyd’s brutal killing has marked a pivotal ‘before’ and ‘after’ moment in history that may herald some real changes – at least on the level of policing.

Some have even floated the idea of a South African-style truth and reconciliation process; a few politicians are now talking seriously about reparations for slavery, 400 years after the fact. Of course, as election time draws closer here, it’s too convenient a moment to convey such sentiments.

But it’s clear that this country has not really begun to get to grips with its brutal history, let alone its systematic and ongoing marginalisation of black people, in every sphere of society. Perhaps for the first time ever, ordinary whites are being asked to interrogate their own bias, to ask themselves whether, with their silence, they are contributing to the status quo.

But as Americans inch towards a process hundreds of years overdue, and perhaps look towards South Africa’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), they should be mindful of some of its shortcomings. For the TRC to have righted the wrongs of decades of apartheid (and centuries of colonialism) or solve the bigger questions of unequal wealth and poverty would have been too much to ask. And it must be acknowledged that the TRC did achieve a great deal, including shining a light on apartheid’s injustices and providing a platform for its victims to be heard. Nevertheless, it was the culmination of a political compromise that allowed top perpetrators to walk away. And the lack of closure around this still festers like an open wound that just won’t heal.

How is it that known killers of activists continue to evade justice; that those who stoked a dirty war to subvert democracy, which lead to thousands of deaths, by and large got off scot-free; that the 300 cases referred by the TRC to the National Prosecuting Authority were never investigated; that attempts to do so continue to be stonewalled?

One has to wonder what tone-deaf impulse motivated the American Bar Association (ABA) to ask former apartheid-era South African president F.W. de Klerk to address a virtual event on the rule of law and racism in July. Activist outrage compelled the ABA to hurriedly withdraw its invitation in late June, but the gesture illustrates that pervasive myths about ‘De Klerk the peacemaker’ still circulate in global circles. And it also highlights South Africa’s own lack of resolution or clarity about the very key question of De Klerk’s role in third force efforts to sabotage democracy.

Many people here are unaware that the path to democracy after Mandela’s release in 1990 was anything but a miraculous extension of his walk to freedom. It’s not like Americans don’t know about apartheid. They learn (a bit) about it at school. Many are only too keenly aware of the uncomfortable parallels in their own society.

Granted, many South Africans are equally unaware about this bloody period in our history, where hardly a week or month went by without a train massacre, a  shebeen slaying, an  attack on  a  night vigil. Either they were ignorant, safely ensconced in the suburbs or elsewhere; or they’ve chosen to forget. Or perhaps they were too young. It was 30 years ago after all. Certainly there has been no desire on the part of many ‘struggle’ history authors to delve too deeply into this time.

But for others who lost relatives, property, their sense of safety during the turbulent years from 1990–94 that claimed over 14,000 lives, amnesia is not really an option. The damaging legacy of this unofficial war lives on and on.

Once again, it was the poorest who paid the ultimate price in the intense last-mile fight for the country. Gunned down in their shacks, in hostels, on trains, in villages, they died in the thousands, living in fragile makeshift homes easily penetrated by bullets and devoured by fire. Police dockets got lost, people were cowed by fear and investigations into murders were quashed or left unfinished during this chaotic time.

As the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress (ANC) slugged it out in a vicious turf war that was fuelled and stoked by state security forces, practised both in divide-and-rule strategies and in riding roughshod over black life, the casualties mounted.

The desire of the apartheid government to stop the ANC’s rise to power, or at least dent its support base, led to its backing – with both arms and assassins – of Chief Gatsha Buthelezi’s Inkatha. The ANC, which never properly suspended its armed struggle, responded in kind and the killing got underway. As negotiations towards democracy teetered along in a drunken, entwined dance with ‘political violence’, the actual victims, the brutalised, the dead and the survivors were forgotten, totted up in media reports as nameless numbers.

Not only is there a lack of recognition of the terrible sacrifice that so many people paid in this fierce and final fight for democracy but a lack of closure around what really happened. Yes, we know quite a lot about the shenanigans that went down: that the military trained assassins for Buthelezi in the mid-1980s who were unleashed on the hot spots; that De Klerk was at the very State Security Council meeting where it was decided to equip Buthelezi with a killing squad; that the military continued its covert operations long after the Civil Co-operation Bureau was shut down; that Eugene De Kock and his henchmen, with clear sanction from those in the highest echelons of the security forces, supplied weapons to Inkatha.

But there is so much more that we don’t know. The TRC did not do justice to the 1990s conflict, and those generals who, at the very least, knew what was happening under their watch, walked free.

For whatever reasons, some clear and others opaque, the newly elected ANC quashed further enquiries, and all these years later, continues to do so, fudging any progress towards resolution and closure. And while it does so, De Klerk can keep spinning the myth of his own ‘heroic’ role in delivering democracy to the country. We’ll probably never know half the truth – let alone the full truth – and the ongoing evasion of attempts to do so by the government is the ultimate betrayal to its people. One hopes for a better outcome if a process of truth-telling and reconciliation ever comes to the US, but it seems unlikely that it will do much to shift the status quo.