Friday, April 13, 2012

The Mandela Factor

Nelson Mandela is renown across the world as a symbol of fight for justice, equality, democracy and human resilience in the face of adversity and suffering. But while his saint-like international reputation has been an inspiration to millions of people around the world, his popular name has been a target of publicity seekers and opportunistic businessmen.

From international events to the tiniest backyard garage everyone is trying to grab a chunk of the lucrative Mandela legacy. Even an official retirement from the limelight in 2004 at the age of 86 and a plea to be left alone could not hold back the thousands of fortune hunters, fame seekers and outright gold diggers who want to use the Mandela name to advance their cause.

“One of the things that made me long to be back in prison was that I had so little opportunity for reading, thinking and quiet reflection after my release,” Mandela once reminisced the quiet and reflective years he spent incarcerated at Robben Island.

This apparently improbable words are quiet appropriate given that during his public years there was an endless stream of prominent personalities flocking down south just to shake hands or hug the antiapartheid hero, with cameras rolling of course. But even after retirement Mr. Mandela would find the absolute piece that he was craving elusive since merchants of capitalism were busy peddling their wares through his hallowed name. Numerous paraphernalia ranging from caps, t-shirts and gold coins bearing the image or purported signature of this famous man were popping up everywhere.

In a bid to stop this unwarranted exploitation Mandela hired the services of experts to copyright and protect his legacy. Led by renowned copyright lawyer Don MacRobert and George Bizo, the advocate who represented Mandela during the Rivonia Treason Trial, the team oversaw the copyrighting of the names Nelson Mandela, Madiba, Rolihlahla and his well known prison number 46664.

“We don’t mind a Kennedy-ised Mandela,” MacRoberts told The Daily Telegraph back in 2004. “You see Kennedy museums and Kennedy streets all over America and that’s fine. What we are fighting against is the commercial, profit-making side. We don’t want a Disney-fied Mandela”.

Besides the smalltime entrepreneurs trying to make a fortune, organizations too have been blamed for subjecting the frail old man to unnecessary pressures. After Sepp Blatter and FIFA pulled Mandela out of the South African World Cup bidding committee for the reason that his presence would tip the scales in his homelands favour, the football high command was at it again in the final day of the actual event in July.
Despite the 92-year-old’s deep grief for the death of his great-granddaughter he lost just before the tournament, family objections, his failing health and a ban on public appearances Mandela surprisingly showed up for the final game. Although many hailed this as the most befitting end to the historic event a section of South African media claimed “FIFA literary commandeered Mandela to the pitch”.

However Yiull Damaso, a Johannesburg based artist took the unwarranted exploitation of the Mandela legacy to a whole new level when he depicted the elderly leader as a corpse on an autopsy table. The artwork by the controversial Damaso is a parody of the famous 17th- century masterpiece The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Dutch painter Rembrandt.

In what many critics called a desperate sensationalist move to attract unwarranted attention, the artist substituted the original characters with renowned personalities in the South African society. In the unfinished painting that was displayed in Johannesburg’s Hyde Park shopping centre Nkosi Johnson, an Aids activist who died aged 12, takes the place of the surgeon with a pair of scissors in the original painting. The dead Mandela substitutes the naked cadaver which historians agree was a convicted criminal since they were the only people allowed to be autopsied at the time the original was done.

While Rembrandt included doctors as spectators Damaso’s version boasts of famous onlookers like South African President Jacob Zuma, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, past heads of state Thabo Mbeki and FW de Klerk and Hellen Zille, the Premier of the Western Cape.

When confronted by critics Damaso, who had previously landed in trouble for another depiction of Mandela in dreadlocks a decade ago, was categorically unapologetic.
“The eventual passing of Mr. Mandela is something that we will have to face, as individuals, as a nation,” he explained. “They told me that his image was copyrighted. But how can you copyright the image of a public figure.”

But the unconventional artist seems to have achieved his objective since the huge publicity the issue generated greatly raised his profile as an artist. However there was a huge fusillade of condemnation for both Damaso with the depiction of a dead Mandela being compared to witchcraft by the ruling party.

“In African society it is a foreign act of ubuthakathi (bewitch) to kill a living person and this so-called work of art…is also racist,” said ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu. “It goes further by violating Tat’uMandela’s dignity by stripping him naked in the glare of curious onlookers, some of whom have seen their apartheid ideals die before them”.

Adding that Mandela was an international icon who should be cherished and respected Mthembu said the painting was in bad taste, disrespectful, an insult and an affront to values of “our society”. But the 41 year-old artist retaliated by saying that he was using the painting to convey a political argument and labeled his critics as people scared of the inevitable future.

“The idea just popped up in my mind,” Damaso told the Mail and Guardian. “We have Nelson Mandela, one of the great leaders of our time, and the politicians around him are trying to find what makes him a great man. Nkosi Johnson, the only one in the painting who’s no longer alive, is trying to show them that Mandela is just a man. So they should stop searching and get on with building the country”.

Even after members of the Mandela family, who were still grieving the loss of a loved one, complained of being distraught after seeing the image the artist was still unrelenting.

‘I knew the family would not be happy but I hope they will listen to my side of the story and my huge admiration for Nelson Mandela,” he explained. “The death of Nelson Mandela is something we’re going to have to face not only as a family but all of us as individuals and as a nation”.

Even the Mail and Guardian, the wide circulating Southern African newspaper that broke the story and reproduced the painting in their front page, and the ultramodern shopping mall that accommodated the artwork were not spared the bashing.

‘Why would a newspaper including the Mail and Guardian put to prominence this work of rubbish in their publication? Why would a respected public space ad business site, Hyde Park, be the home for the creation of such insulting work to our icon, our leaders and all of us?” asked a statement from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) headquarters.

But the Yuell Damaso issue is not the first time that the Mandela legacy has locked horns with the world of fine art. There was a huge legal storm back in 2005 when Mandela’s former lawyer and confidante Ismail Ayob and art promoter Ross Calder were sued for exploiting the old man’s name through an art scheme dubbed Touch of Mandela. The duo were said to have ripped millions of dollars through the sale of lithographs entitled “My Robben Island” with a purportedly original signature by Mandela.

“We will go after anyone who misuses Mr. Mandela’s name and image,” vowed MacRobert during the Ayob case. “There are many people out there using Mandela’s name, and it’s enough. It must stop”.

Lawyers had to contend with a numerous list of offenders before they could instill some form of sanity in the whole issue. From a man in Sydney said to have registered the internet domain name and enlisting Interpol to clump down swindlers soliciting money through a to a vehicle repair outfit trading by Nelson Mandela Panel Beaters, the battle to safeguard one of the most revered legacies in recent history has not been easy.

However the most sensational was a clothing line company that wanted to trade under Mandela’s popular prison number 46664 forcing MacRoberts to turn to script a poetic verse to back his legal argument. Asked to estimate how much the Mandela brand is worth experts explained that it was not possible to place a realistic commercial value according to the normal methodologies.

“Assuming he was a commercial entity,” MacRoberts told the BBC in 2005. “You could rank him alongside Coca Cola and Microsoft”.

According to Interbrand Corporation’s latest table of the world’s most valuable brands (Best Global Brands 2010) Coca Cola, the world’s number one brand is worth more than $70 million.

The Mandela touch is so magical that even the high and mighty cannot resist its alluring aroma in a bid to sanitize their image and boost their political fortunes. In his recent book Straight Speaking for Africa Congo-Brazzaville President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is said to have falsely claimed that Mandela wrote the forward which describes the Central African strongman who came to power after winning a bloody civil war “as one of our great African leaders”. When the Nelson Mandela Foundation revealed that a request for Madiba to pen the forward had actually been turned down, Brazzaville went ballistics.

“Mandela’s name does not belong to the foundation but to the entire continent,” one of the country’s presidential advisers told the BBC adding that it should not be “treated as a brand”.

The ANC, a party whose ideologies the antiapartheid icon spent an entire lifetime defending, has in several occasions been accused of evoking the Mandela magic to save its dwindling political fortunes. The old man was ferried in a golf cart to the last presidential campaign rally at the Coca Cola Park stadium in 2009 where he urged supporters to vote for Jacob Zuma, now president. The ruling party was facing a stiff challenge from the breakaway Congress of the People (COPE).

Some Mandela family members have also been sucked into this vortex of trying exploit the retired leader’s name for materialistic gains. While one grandson was accused of trying to evict a cousin from her home in order to turn it into a Mandela tourist centre there have been claims, which were vehemently denied, that another relative has signed a multimillion-rand deal with the South African Broadcasting Corporation for exclusive rights to Mandela’s funeral.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), which is the official custodian of the Madiba legacy, is said to be bombarded by at least 4000 requests per month for the living legend’s signature, endorsements, interview, message of support or public appearance. Apart from NMF there are several other trusts that were established to raise funds for various charities whose efforts, according to some commentators, have had some unfortunate consequences.

“Even the most legitimate of organizations, with the laudable of motives, have financial goals to meet,” observed one analyst who requested anonymity. “And so the Mandela name has become a fundraising machine-a ‘Madiba Inc’-and this has sucked in opportunists and ‘chancers’”.

The long walk to freedom for the antiapartheid icon, it seems, is still far from over.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bleeding and Burning South Sudan

The video footage shows an unnamed patient groaning in pain as he lay sprawled on a bare bed in the crowded Juba Hospital ward. His left leg and shoulder are swathed in white bandages through which blotches of fresh blood seeps from the underlying wounds.

Like all the other patients in this ward the injured man is a victim of the recent upsurge of tribal violence in the neighbouring state of Jonglei.

“They came at dawn and opened fire randomly on the fleeing people, killing women, children and the elderly then they burned the houses,” Yien Tap, another patient with less severe wounds explains. “Even those who fled were followed in the bush. We survived by hiding”.

The 25 year-old is lucky to be alive after a gang of Murle warriors descended on his village, killing more than fifty people and abducting many more as they drove away thousands of cattle.

The attack he is talking about is part of a series of raids that have defined the ongoing tribal conflict in Jonglei pitting the dominant Lou Nuer against the Murle. Reportedly fueled by quest for pasturelands, cattle rustling, overpriced dowry demands, local politics and ethnic animosity the clashes have already claimed thousands of lives according to some officials and left many more wallowing in internally displaced peoples’ camps.

The chaos came to a peak in January when more than 6000 armed Nuer tribesmen, called White Army, marched through Murleland in a scotched-earth operation that left in its wake a trail of blood, burned villages and thousands of homeless people. Vowing “to wipe out the entire Murle tribe from the face of the earth as the only solution to guarantee long-term security of Nuer’s cattle” according to a Juba-based blogger, the gun-wielding multitude climaxed its murderous march in the town of Pibor, where unconfirmed number of civilians were brutally butchered.

Pibor County Commissioner Joshua Konyi claimed that the invasion left more than 3000 people dead but UN and GoSS officials said the figures were unconfirmed and may be inflated. Aid agencies says more than 60,000 are in urgent need of help after being rendered homeless in a region where UN and government centers are far and wide between miles of bandit-infested barren wilderness.

The 800-strong combined force of UN and government soldiers holed up in the dusty town could nothing more than warning residents to flee their homes. Inaccessibility of this state which is the size of Bangladesh, late deployment of troops from Juba and reluctance to intervene in a historical tribal conflict have been cited as the reasons why authorities were unable to stop the advance of the deadly column.

The Nuer were revenging against a spate of attacks waged against their villages by their Murle rivals late last year where dozens of people, mostly women and children, were killed or abducted. Nuer Youth in Diaspora (NYD), a group claiming to represent members of the community abroad, endorsed the revenge attacks claiming it was a justified act of self-defense.

“It should be recalled that the right of self-defense, which includes preemptive attack strike, is a right that could also be exercised by communities in absence of a functional government that guarantees security,” the NYD said in a statement to the South Sudan News Agency (SSNA). “Unfortunately, a functional government does not exist in South Sudan and different tribes in the South live in Hobbesian anarchy in which men live without a common power to keep them safe”.

The Lou Nuer blames their woes on the government of President Salvar Kiir which conducted a disarmament operation against them in 2006, in which more than 300 are said to have died, and failing to do the same to the Murle who have since then have been taking the advantage to mount cattle raids and children abductions.

“The Nuer community in USA, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia must raise funds for the White Army to defend properties and cattle of Nuer civilians,” the NYD resolved. “The money shall be used to purchase firearms and ammunition from Ethiopia…the Nuer and Dinka youth must raise a force of 50,000 White Army to fully protect their properties and villages”.

These sentiments were backed by the of Historical Society Association, a group that oversees the community’s religious heritage, whose chairman declared the Murle have committed a sacrilege by attacking the holy city of Wec Deang. The shrine is the birthplace of Prophet Ngundeng, a religious legend of the Lou Nuer people. Stories are told of how the holy man killed British soldiers with a swipe of his divine rod when they tried to attack the holy place in 1902.

“They first attacked Dengjok Payam and killed over 30 civilians and took over 20,00 heads of cattle …on January 14, 2012, the Murle fighters attacked Prophet Ngundeng’s Bieh (Pyramid) and killed innocent civilians,” complained the Society’s chairman and the prophet’s grandson Gai Ngundeng. “All Nuer officials, politicians, students, soldiers, youth, doctors, lawyers and White Army have to fight Murle youth and to bring them to justice for attacking the holy city of Wech Deang”.

Media and aid agencies reports indicates that the animosity between the two tribes is so fierce that even in Juba Hospital where most of the injured are nursing their wounds, the Nuer are housed in different wards from the Murle with police officers placed at the door to take care of any eventualities. According to United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the conflict has displaced more than 50,000 people, a situation aggravated further by the fact that recent fighting in the main Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states has pushed 75,000 Sudanese refugees to cross over into South Sudan’s Unity and Upper Nile states.

With UN-backed peace talks having collapsed last December, there are no signs of lasting peace in the foreseeable future.

But the Nuer-Murle conflict is just one of the numerous internal feuds that are currently afflicting the infant state that declared independence barely six months ago. Throughout the history of the region, conflicts have been the norm rather than the odd. From wars pitting tribes fighting for pasturelands to Africans fighting against Arab domination, South Sudan is one of the continent’s oldest battlefields.
Although the formation of South Sudan Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1983 created a unified front through which a consisted war of independence from the north was waged, the movement also experienced breakups and revolts throughout the 22 year-old
civil war.

But the peculiarity of this conflict scenario is the fact that many rebel groups and armed militia have emerged and flourished after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and the 2010 general elections, key milestones in the realization of freedom that have claimed millions of lives in the last 50 years.
The SPLM has pointed fingers at Khartoum but many observers tends to differ, accusing the movement of planting the seeds of discord through failure to deliver its pre-independence promises like provision of services, creation of employment and particularly the inability to address negative ethnicity.

“Minority tribes who joined the SPLA in their thousands found themselves left out in the movement’s leadership and participated only as cannon porters and nothing else,” complains an anonymous writer to the SSNA who goes on to claim the root cause of current tribal hostilities has been abated by the current regime. “It took Col. John Garang and his henchmen nearly three years to create fictitious titles like the one known as “Alternate Members” of Politico Military High Command to accommodate few non-Dinka like Galario Ornyang, James Wani Igga… and Dr. Riek Machar in the SPLA leadership’s hierarchy”.

With his name withheld by SSNA for “security reasons”, this author launches a scathing attack on the SPLM government which he blames for the high number of rebel movements that have been popping up in every corner of the new country in recent times.

“The Political Bureau (PB) which is the highest political organ of the ruling SPLM is actually a rubber stamp used by one ethnic group (Dinka) to dominate others by using their numbers to impose decisions on others,” he alleges. “There is no fairness in it… Even the so-called “deputies” used to wonder when decisions are passed and announced publicly. This is also applied to the Council of Ministers which is being chaired by H.E President Salvar Kiir himself”.

The discontent stirred by the apparent dissatisfaction with the Juba-based administration has led to the emergence of several rebel groups in recent times, the most prominent being South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) and South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), who are said to be in the process of forging a united fighting alliance. The two group’s newfound friendship is said to have bee triggered by the killing of SSDA leader Gen. George Athor Deng in December by the government forces along the Uganda-South Sudan border.

The 49 year-old Athor was a former member of the SPLA high command who revolted after losing the race for Jonglei governorship during the 2010 general elections.
“Another Athor will emerge tomorrow unless real progress is made in providing political and economic opportunities that feel marginalized in the process of independence,” explained John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project that operates in South Sudan. “The South Sudan government, with international support, must address inter-communal divisions within the South”.

Achievement of development and service provision remains a tall order for the SPLM government partly because of the unresolved oil revenue sharing formula with Khartoum. The South Sudan government recently claimed that the north has stolen more than two million barrels of her oil worth $200 million.

Although the secession handed more than three quarters of the oil reserves to South Sudan, the country has no refinery or export infrastructure to exploit this important natural resource hence it relies heavily on the north to exploit this vital resource. This has been a source of numerous wrangles with Juba accusing Hassan al-Bashir government of hiding some of the oil revenue and President Salvar Kiir waening it might lead to a full-scale war.

Another big pebble in the SPLM shoe is Lam Akol, who led a breakup from the movement in 1991 in conjunction with Dr. Riek Machar, and his Shilluk tribe that hails from the Upper Nile state. Although after the early nineties rebellion Akol came back to the ruling party where he was appointed minister of foreign affairs after the signing of the CPA IN 2005, he reneged again to form the SPLM-Democratic Change through which he vied against Salvar Kiir in the last general elections.

However, violence erupted between the SPLM and the Shilluk when the ruling party refused to accept the victory of four SPLM-DC parliamentary candidates from the community in 2010 general elections. Under the command of a former prison warder called Captain Olonyi, the community has been conducting a series of raids and banditry incidents against government troops stationed in the Nile region.

Human rights groups have cited incidents of summary executions, rape, destruction of property and looting all of which have been denied by the national army. These incidences coupled with traditional Dinka-Shilluk land disputes make the Upper Nile regions one of the most volatile in South Sudan.

Other militia and rebel leaders that remains a huge thorn in the SPLM regime includes Gatluak Gai, Gabriel Tang Gatwich Chan who is reportedly under house arrest in Juba, Bapiny Monituel, Paulino Monitiep and Gordon Kong.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

African National Congress

In January the central South African city of Mangaung, known as Bloemfontein in Afrikaans, came to life as 46 former and current heads of states, distinguished guests and thousands of ordinary people converged in its conference halls and streets to celebrate the hundredth birthday bash of the oldest political party in the continent, the African National Congress (ANC).

The city, whose name means “a place of cheetahs” in Sesotho, was drowned in dance, feasting and speeches as presidents and other dignitaries recited praises and love for the party of Nelson Mandela. Apart from the numerous historical milestones and martyrs that marks the ANC’s journey of a hundred years, the gathering also provided an opportunity to review achievements in the delivery of services to the people.
“The ANC, a disciplined force of the left with bias toward the poor, is also a broad church that is home to all,” President Jacob Zuma said of the 1.2 million-member party in a speech broadcast to the nation on Sunday. “It’s members and support base comprises nationalists, Marxists, Africanists, workers, capitalists, women, men, youth, rural, urban, rich and poor”.

But under these festivities and merry making that is expected to continue throughout the year, critics claims acrimony, backstabbing and corruption festers through the systems of the giant party with the intensity of a contagious disease. The intensity of this internal discontent will be tested during the 53rd National Delegates Conference at the same venue in December where the party will pick its presidential flag bearer for the 2014 elections.

However, despite the purported internal fissures the ANC remains one of the most organized party in Africa, boasting of a support base that its peers in Kenya and other country’s can only envy. Unlike many liberation movements like KANU and ZANU-PF which lost their national appeal after independence, the ANC has managed to change with the times and win three post apartheid elections with a huge majority.
The party’s grassroots presence across the nine South African provinces has remained strong cutting across all ethnic, racial and religious groups. With fanatical members like Chief Whip Mathole Motshekga claiming that “the ANC has a responsibility to rule until Jesus pays us another visit”, being a successful politician in South Africa more often than not means being a member of this monolithic party.

The ruling party has 264 seats in the national assembly which is more than double the number held by the opposition. But figures in the last general elections offered a glimmer of hope to the opposition in a democracy where the essence of single party rule dominates but in name. Many were quick to claim the tiny percentage ANC lost to the opposition was an indication of a population whose faith in the ruling party wearing.

“South Africans have become less and less happy with the ANC,” Radio Netherlands reported after the 2008 polls. “While the majority of the people still live in poverty, the ANC officials are seen as squanderers driving luxury cars, living in mansions and eating sushi. Many local politicians are corrupt and, according to South Africans, just want to fill their own pockets”.

This observation was vindicated by an annual survey published by South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) which indicated that the ANC has lost a sizeable number of ward seats to Democratic Alliance, whose support is strongest among white South Africans.

“Between the last local government elections in 2006, and up until August 2010, the ANC managed to hold 306 ward seats, gain 17, and lose 55, giving it an overall loss of 38 seats,” the survey said. “By contrast, the DA retained 61 seats, gained 29, and lost only five, resulting in an overall gain of 24 seats”.

Although the ANC controls major cities across the country DA, whose leader Helen Zille is the Premier of the Western Cape, controls Cape Town. But party stalwarts and sympathizers have dismissed these reports as exaggeration citing the “landslide” victory during the local government elections in May last year where the ANC garnered 62 percent of the national vote.

“Attempts by some writers and analysts to pour cold water on the overall performance of the ANC are strange indeed,” opined Sandile Zungu, spokesman of the Black Business Council, in the Times Live. “Clutching at the decline of three percentage points and trying stir the pot with false headlines such as “ANC is left shaken”…was mischievous attempts aimed at inciting the membership of the ANC to bay for the blood of their senior leadership”.

However, Zungu admits that the party lost its influence in its traditional strongholds like Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape Province. This apparent loss of support from a section of the majority black electorate who once looked up to the ANC as their only vehicle to a political salvation is being blamed on infighting, corruption and greed that critics claim is deeply entrenched in the party’s machinery.

Before his ascending to the presidency Jacob Zuma was charged with several cases of corruption which led to his dismissal as both the national vice-president and the party’s deputy leader, with his long time business associate Schabir Shaikh being handed a 15 years jail term. Schabir served a mere 28 months of the term before being released on “medical grounds” while Zuma was reinstated after charges against him were dropped.

Currently several provincial leaders are contending graft charges in court which have triggered the party to launch a series of facing corruption awareness seminars across the country. But some members have claimed that a clique of powerful party leaders, dubbed the “Alex Mafia”, is using the anti-corruption war to settle political scores.

“Although the organization’s struggle for liberty was supposed to have ended with the 1994 election that defeated apartheid, rampant unemployment, income distribution as skewed as anywhere on earth, catastrophic corruption, plummeting education and healthcare, and lingering racial tensions have cast shadows that lengthen with each passing year,” noted Heidi Holland, author of 100 Years of Struggle: Mandela’s ANC which was published to coincide with the centenary celebrations. “Clearly, the ANC’s struggle to deliver “a better life for all” is going to take longer than 100 years.

The battle for supremacy between former and current presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma respectively saw the party experience one of the most devastating internal conflicts in its history, culminating with the forced resignation of Mbeki and the formation of a breakaway splinter group Congress of the People (COPE). This was followed by another equally stormy conflict between President Zuma and youth leader Julius Malema which ended with the latter being hounded out of the party by the Disciplinary Committee.

But even opponents agree that despite all these apparent shortcomings, the ANC has managed to achieve one of the best development records in sub-Saharan that includes overseeing the continent’s biggest economy.

“The ANC’s success in office outweigh their failures in the eyes of the majority of citizens, most of whom still vote for the party in regular, well-organized elections,” Holland notes. “Apart from the ascendancy of black rule having purged South Africans of the pain and indignity of apartheid, the government has provided welfare benefits for 15 million people, cut its murder rate dramatically over recent years, almost eradicated severe malnutrition among the under-fives, increased primary school enrolment to nearly 100 percent and established the world’s biggest antiretroviral treatment program for HIV/Aids patients”.

But the journey has been long and treacherous since a grouping of chiefs, people’s representatives, church organizations and other groups congregated in Bloemfontein in 1912 to form a vehicle through which Africans could fight for their rights and freedoms. Among the ANC founding fathers were John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka and Sol Plaatje.

The ANC adopted the philosophy of national inclusion where people from all races and political views were accommodated as long as they shared the common goal of eradicating apartheid. This did not go down well with radical black supremacists leading to the formation of the breakaway Pan African Congress (PAC).

Although the liberation movement at that time advocated for non-violence resistance against white modeled along what Gandhi has done in India the Sharpville Massacre of 1960, where 69 Africans were shot dead by police during a protest against the restrictive pass laws, pushed the ANC to adopt violence as part of its resistance methods.

Umhonto we Sizwe (MK) or “Spear of the Nation” was formed with Nelson Mandela, who missed the celebrations due to old age, as its first leader. At the beginning of the violent resistance Mandela and seven other high profile ANC figures were condemned to a life of imprisonment in the infamous Rivonia Trials, thrusting the anti-apartheid struggle in the hands of radical individuals like Steve Biko, Chris Hani and Hendrick Musi.

Through a consisted campaign of bombings, sabotage and targeted assassinations the MK and its allies embarked on a campaign of making the townships ungovernable where apartheid collaborators were arraigned in kangaroo courts or summarily executed by “necklacing”, which entailed setting them on fire using car tires. With ANC banned, intrigues of the cold joined the conflict with MK getting the backing of USSR and Cuba to wage a guerilla war against apartheid which, combined with the school children uprisings of the 70s and 80s which claimed more than 600 lives, ushered in what had been termed as a decade of violence.

The ANC and its leaders were branded terrorists by the apartheid regime and hosts of other nations like USA and the United Kingdom, a tag that Washington maintained against them until 2008. The escalation of violence and the bite of sanctions slapped by the international community led to the capitulation of the apartheid regime and eventual freedom in 1994.

Kwazulu-Natal, one of the most volatile regions during the struggle, has always been the hardest nut for the ANC to crack because of the presence of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Being an apartheid sympathizer, IFP was always a thorn in the flesh of ANC during the struggle which was manifested in the numerous bloody conflicts between the supporters of the two parties.

But perhaps as a sign of the rising fortunes of the ANC in recent years, the party has been ruling the province since the 2004 general elections. This partly credited to ANC Imvuselelo (Revival) campaigns and the influence of Jacob Zuma who hails from the region.

However, if the current trends of infighting and balkanization of the party into competing cliques continues, experts warns, the ANC will find it hard to avoid going the way of its peers like KANU and Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP. Even the opposition seems to have sensed such a possibility for they have started talking of a future ruled by coalitions.

“What many people and analysts forget is that when we say we believe we will be a party of government in 2019, which we believe we can, we are not saying that we will achieve the 50 plus one majority,” explained DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko. “We are saying we can push the ANC below the 50 plus one percent majority and that will give us the opportunity to form a coalition government with other opposition parties”.

But ANC spokesman Keith Khoza dismisses Mazibuko’s claims as daydreaming, saying she represents “a minority of black people who are comfortable with white rule or domination”.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Adolf Hitler once described African American athlete Jesse Owens as among “people whose antecedents came from the jungle…primitive…and their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites …hence should be excluded from future (Olympics) games”.
This is just one example of racial prejudice, a vice that have afflicted the human society for centuries with Africans being the biggest victims due to their uniquely dark skin. European colonialists in the 1600s are said to have referred to African women as “the sexy part of the bible” in a bid to justify their sexual exploitation during the transatlantic slave trade that claimed more than 15 million lives.
Racism against African people was further reinforced by the fact that in popular culture black is associated with everything evil while good is denoted in white. Angels and heaven are depicted as being brightly coloured while the devil and his kingdom are portrayed as tailed black beings.
However, recent scientific findings have shuttered these prejudices with the findings indicating that until 100,000 years ago all human beings were black. According to this theory, Europeans and Asians lost the dark pigmentation after the great “Out of Africa” emigration, a period of huge human exodus from Africa to other parts of the world.
“The migration of humans from the region of origin which is East Africa to other parts of the world is the course of the diverse skin complexions that grace the world today,” explained Dr. Nina Jablonski, a professor of biological anthropology at Pennsylvania University in the USA and expert in the evolution of the human skin. “This emigration was not rapid but it was a gradual process through time as our ancestors sought food and other social and physical needs in distant lands”.
Dr. Jablonski was in the country a few weeks ago where she delivered a talk at the National Museums of Kenya explaining scientifically why there are skin colour variations not only among people of different continents but also regions and countries.
According to supporters of the Darwinian theory of the origin of mankind, skin colour is the most visible product and evidence that modern man developed through several stages of evolution. This skin colour evolvement, experts say, was in tandem with the loss of excessive bodily hair to enhance the cooling mechanism. Unlike humans, apes usually have a problem in cooling due to their natural fur coat. Mammal brains are particularly venerable to the heat with a change of five or six degrees being able to induce a heatstroke.
“Due to their skin being covered by far chimpanzees, gorillas and other primates have a big problem in keeping cool given the fact that they lose heat by sweating,” the American scholar explains. “In the evolution process humans, with a bigger brains, lost their bodily hair which drastically increased the surface area for heat regulation through evaporation ”.
This, scientists say, happened between 4.5 million and two million years ago when early humans moved from the rain forests to the East African savanna where they had to cope with exposure to the sun as they hunted and gathered. Rapid dispensation of heat through sweating was nature’s easiest way of dealing with this new challenge.
“The more they could sweat, the longer they could forage before the heat forced them back into the shade,” explains Gina Kirchweger in the American scientific journal Discover. “The more they could forage, the better their chances of having healthy offspring and of passing on their sweat glands to future generations”.
Today an average human being has an average of two million sweat glands spread across the entire body which explain why he is one of the most ventilated overland creatures.
The exposed skin is said to have grown darker as the underlying tissues tried to form a barrier against the destructive tendencies of Ultraviolet B (UV-B) radiation. During the homo erectus era, around 1.2 million years ago, ancestors of modern man had the skin characteristics of Africans which are dominated by melanin-induced dark pigmentation.
Scientists say that all human beings remained black for 1.1 million years until the scenario changed between 70,000 and 100,000 years ago when the dark skinned humans started migrating to the low UV zones in the northern hemisphere. The less intense sunlight and cold climates led to the development of heavy clothing which means the skin was more often than not covered, said to be one of the factors leading to the development of light skin complexions among the native inhabitants of Europe, Asia and the Americas.
According to one scientific text, “as population began to migrate, the evolutionary constraint keeping skin dark decreased proportionally to the distance North a population migrated…and as northern populations experienced positive selection for lighter skin due to the increased production of Vitamin D from sunlight the genes for darker skin disappeared from these populations”.
After the so-called “Out of Africa” migration scientists claim that the lighter skin complexions might have also been accelerated by diet. As food sources rich in Vitamin D like game meat, fish and some plants dwindled the skin colour lightened to enhance the production of high volumes of the vital vitamin from a limited solar source.
Africans and other dark skinned people, with layers of melanin blocking the absorption of UV rays have a limited ability to synthesis Vitamin D from their skin. For this reasons some scientists have concluded that African Americans and other dark skinned people living in low UV zones like Europe and America are disadvantaged vitamin D-wise hence have to use supplements and food sources. However, some scientific studies have disputed these claims saying the hindrance caused by melanin is minimal.
On the other hand when light skinned Europeans and Americans travel to Africa they need to apply layers of sunscreen when lying in sunny beaches since exposure to the intensive tropical sun rays can lead to skin damage and ailments like skin cancer. Under exposure to equal intensities of sunshine, light skinned people are ten times likely to die from skin cancer than dark skinned people. 
“People of colour have more protective natural sunscreen in the form of melanin in their skin, hence it takes a longer time for them to make vitamin D from available sunlight,” the American scientist explains. “If they live in low UV areas and stay indoors most of the time, it is even more of a potential liability because they have almost no chance to make vitamin D in their skin”.
Among many furred animals hair is used to express emotions like anger and fear. But during the evolution process, Dr. Jablonski claims, human beings developed numerous facial muscles through which they could easily express their moods hence excessive bodily hair was no longer needed. The only thick coat of hair spared was that on the scalp which is supposed to control the cooling of the brain.
“And since colours have evolved independently of other human traits all human beings are the same under the skin, which makes classification of races according to skin colour biologically nonsensical,” she notes.
During the preparation for a lecture in Australia ten years ago Dr. Jablonski stumbled on a study that examined the effects of UV rays on folate, a member of the vitamin complex. The study indicated that when light skinned people are exposed to the sun for an hour they might lose up to half the body’s folate which can lead to various complications to the individual or his offspring.
The dark skin among people in hot areas like Africa might have developed as nature’s way of protecting the loss of the vital folate from the body. Therefore, according to the American skin colour evolution expert, vitamins and exposure to the UV rays are the two principle reasons why the world is home to diverse races.
“The understanding of the evolutionary basis of skin pigmentation, and particularly appreciation of the fact that the same kinds of dark and light pigmentation have evolved many times in human history is very important for fighting racism,” Dr. Jablonski explains. “Many racists beliefs sprang from erroneous notions that colour was essentially to moral character and that dark pigmentation was similar to that of the devil and demonic forces, while light pigmentation was associated with the white luminance of God”.
She goes on to say that skin colour evolution knowledge will expose such theories as damaging falsehoods and help the world understand that skin pigmentation is not in any way related to traits like intelligence or behaviour.
“In other words, understanding the biology behind skin colour lays bare the blatant falsehoods underpinning much of the racists’ ideology,” Dr. Jablonski concludes. 

Melanin, produced by cells known as melanocytes, is a substance that gives the skin its colour and acts as a natural sunscreen against destructive solar rays. The more melanin there is in the skin the darker the complexion and vice versa. Excessive solar radiation causes DNA damage to the skin against which the body reacts by releasing more melanin, which darkens the complexion. This explains the dark skin among populations in Africa and other tropical regions and why some Europeans acquire a tan when exposed to the sun.
Similar skin colours are said to have evolved independently multiple times under similar environmental conditions which explains why although African people are black, the shades of their skins vary greatly across the continent. There are those like South Sudanese who are jet black while others like the Southern Africa Bushmen and Ethiopians are light skinned.
Scientific says that skin colour variation, the difference between the lightest and the darkest shades, is highest in sub-Saharan African populations with reflectance values ranging from 19 to 46 compared to those in Europe and East Asia at 62 to 69 and 50 to 59 respectively.
Prejudice and popular culture mostly spread by Western media has reinforced the fallacy that the beauty of a woman is defined by the colour of her skin, and most often than not the lighter the complexion the better. In Europe before the Industrial Revolution pale skin was preferred since it was a sign of high-class people who spent most of their time indoors. Tanned skin was a trait of lower labourer class who spent the better part of the day toiling under the sun.
But today Western culture glorifies tanned skin as a symbol of holidaying in exotic destinations, sportiness and good health that comes with wealth and higher social status. Many credit this turn around to the trendsetting French fashion designer Coco Chanel, founder of the famous fashion label Chanel, for making tanned skin look cool in her publicity adverts in the 20s and 30s.
Colonization brought in a prejudice against everything African from culture, language, religion and skin. In a quest to look like their masters’ wives and daughters dark skinned African women would use bleaching agents to lighten their skins and hands. Although the trend have slowed down in recent years as many purport to adhere to the creed of “black is beautiful”, light skinned females are still worshipped in society today, proved by the fact that most winning models, popular presenters and other female pacesetters in African countries are of light complexion.
However, long before the coming of Europeans to Africa light skinned women were idolized among some communities. Research has also established that even in the African American community light skinned women score high among men than their dark skinned counterparts. The same thing applies in Asian countries like Japan, India, South Korea and Vietnam where being pale associated with high social standing since ancient times.
For these reasons, skin whitening products sales across the world grew from $43 billion in 2008 to more than $90 billion in 2010.