Friday, 22 April 2016

How Justice Fails

At the university apparently still called Rhodes over the last week, there have been some disturbing events. A group of students published a list of 11 names of alleged rapists, and attempted to ferret them out of university residences. Protesters also invaded lectures and barricaded streets.

When vigilante justice arises, it is usually a consequence of the failure of regular justice. So you need to track back to the point of failure to stop it from happening.

Rape is notoriously hard to prosecute; this is true also in South Africa despite progressive legislation.

Where does this leave the victim, who is in a weak position versus the perpetrator? Do you report it to the police, undergo an invasive investigation, then find the perpetrator not only walks free but is able to threaten you?

Whether it is rape, sexual harassment or abuse of a position of power, there is an enormous amount of hypocrisy in our society. Remember Bill Clinton? His behaviour was at very least abuse of power, expecting sexual favours from people who looked up to him as president. And this was dismissed at the time as a right wing plot to discredit him (spot the irony: it was Clinton who pushed the Democrats well to the right of centre).

Then there is the mysterious case of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn whose rape case was not prosecuted, yet the alleged victim was given a massive out of court settlement. This too was alleged to be a “political conspiracy”. Rape is not a civil matter; in the not too distant past, in this country and in many others it attracted the death penalty. Who ever heard of an out of court settlement for a serious crime?

To South Africa: in 2006, then-deputy president Jacob Zuma was tried for rape. The case has all the hallmarks of a person of power crushing a vulnerable accuser. Even if he was not guilty of rape (as claimed by the judge), he was at very least seriously abusing his position and his attitudes to women were revealed to be deeply problematic.

So what did those at the progressive end of politics, the natural home of feminism, do? They rallied around him. Every formation of the ANC including the Women’s League and Youth League supported him, as did the Communist Party. Cosatu’s support was the weakest, with a statement that the law must take its course, but even they did not break with him once his attitudes were a matter of public record and joined the rest of the alliance in welcoming his acquittal. Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi was also accused of rape in 2013, a charge that was reduced to sexual harassment, But what was most bizarre about this was how Cosatu claimed they were considering pursuing a rape charge against him. Excuse me? Aren’t criminal charges a police matter? Why is the organization involved in any way?

Once again, a rape or sexual harassment charge is framed as a political vendetta rather than something that must be dealt with in the strongest terms as a matter of course.

We cannot excuse EFF leader Julius Malema from this malaise; when he took control of the ANC Youth League 2 years after the Zuma trial, he backed the Zuma version of events.

With this sort of thing happening at the apex of progressive politics in South Africa, why is anyone surprised that there is a rape culture amidst a general culture of patriarchy? Where is the leadership? Answer: at the core of the problem.

Back home, a student today told me that one of the 11 on the notorious list was well known for his predatory attitudes by his fellow residence inmates. Why did they not call him to account? If you know someone is like this and say nothing (or worse, encourage this behaviour), you are complicit.

So what is to be done?

The real problem is that post-apartheid, we did not reconfigure civil society and interpersonal relationships to fit a new progressive democratic order. We have a great constitution, generally good laws and excellent public institutions – on paper. But these things do not work the way they are designed.

What is really needed is a new social compact, and one that is built from the ground up, not top down. One that is based on a new discovery of each other, that each person is entitled to self-worth and being treated as of equal value by all, that no one should be denied their dignity and that we do not build ourselves by tearing others down.

Ultimately we must change the apex power structure – but it will not help to replace those at the top with others who found their way there by the same logic. A grassroots campaign to establish the new normal – that predatory behaviour is not acceptable, that you do not define a person by their availability for sex, that everyone is entitled to physical and emotional integrity will make it impossible for those at the top to behave like self-serving jerks because they will be out of step with the rest of society.

We can start today. Whenever we hear someone talking up predatory behaviour, making light of rape, belittling someone else – or generally behaving as if any of this sort of behaviour is acceptable – call them to account. “Normal” is established as much by peer pressure as anything else. We can do it.

We can define the new normal.

Friday, 1 April 2016

South Africa adopts new currency

Tshwane, 1 April 2016 – The South African government today announced at a press conference that South Africa is to rename its currency. The rand will be replaced by the gupta, and the cent by the zuma. Treasury has produced a sample image of the new 200 gupta note to illustrate the changes. Present were President Zuma, representatives of Treasury, present and former Finance Ministers and representatives of the Gupta family.

The new 200 gupta note.
Says Treasury spokesperson, Norand Gupta, “The new currency reflects the economic and political reality of the new South Africa, whereas the rand is an apartheid currency and the cent is a colonial currency.” Asked when an example of the zuma coinage will be available, Gupta explained: “We are still trying to source a metal inexpensive enough that the coins will not cost more to make than they are worth.”

Former Finance Ministers Nhlanhla Nene and Des van Rooyen, asked for comment, responded respectively as follows: “No comment” and “I have no time to respond, I am changing my name to Gupta.”

Says current Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan: “I am keeping my mouth shut for now in the hope that I will get something named after me too, preferably not the national debt.”

Asked for comment, President Zuma referred questions to the Constitutional Court. “The Concourt knows all the answers. Me? I am just a con. I tried to be an icon, but got stuck after thinking too much about ‘I’.”

Spokesperson for the Gupta family Nkosazana Dlamini-Gupta, ended the press conference with the following statement: “This should once and for all show the ludicrousness of the allegations of so-called state capture. The Guptas are allowing our name to be used for the benefit of the South African people and not charging a cent for this.” Asked by a reporter why this is relevant because the cent is being discontinued, Dlamini-Gupta admitted: “Well, we are charging a royalty of one zuma for every gupta printed. But that is cheap at the price.”