The US government: torturers with impunity

December 10, 2014

Governments never do anything without its cabinet or congress thinking about it carefully first. There is no acting upon impulse, and everything is done very strategically. This leaves me wondering why the United States would release a report tarnishing the reputation of one of its own institutions – and a major one at that.

One Tuesday December 10, the US government released a report detailing all the human rights abuses committed against “terror suspects” by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Now that the truth is out, what happens next? Is this going to cause another Twitter frenzy for the next few days and then be forgotten about? This is usually what happens. When South Africa’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela, found in a report that President Jacob Zuma spent public money on upgrading his private home, everyone was outraged. The same happened when Zuma’s “very ill” friends, Schabir Shaik and Jackie Selebi, were saved from their prison sentences by being released on medical parole. These incidents angered the public and the media were having a field day. But nothing came of it.

It’s not impossible to hold government officials to account, though not very likely. Some instances may call for a collective stand. Majority of the people in a country need to be prepared to take part in protest action, coupled with brilliant lawyers willing to take up the fight on behalf of the people.

Human rights organisations are often headed by attorneys. The release of the “torture report” has raised the ire of these organisations, upon which I am hoping they would act. Not only do they now have to keep a watchful eye over how the US deals with its terror suspects but they need to all stand together and fight hard to get the US to shut down its detention camps where mostly innocent people are accused of terrorism. It wouldn’t be surprising if they are all actually innocent.

Human rights organisations putting pressure on the US would be holding President Barack Obama to a promise he made when he was still running for the presidency in 2007. He promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay, a statement that probably got him many votes.

After his inauguration in January 2009 he promised it would close within one year. It’s still standing today and innocent people are still being tortured. Presidential candidates and political parties will say and do anything to get votes, and hardly ever do they stick the promises they make.

Sporadically there will be media reports about detainees being held without charge and being tortured for several years. Now and then a human rights watchdog would issue a statement about it. But these random actions will not yield any positive results. The organisations need the backing of the masses, and perhaps it’s by time they work on this strategically.

For how much longer will the US detain and torture people just because they have a Muslim name? Why should the US get away with wrongfully detaining Mamdouh Habib? He was arrested in Parkistan in 2001, taken to Egypt and tortured, and was then transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He was released without charge in 2005.

Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi was accused of being the bodyguard of Osama bin Laden and has a long list of alleged terror activities against his name. He was seen as a high risk and major threat to the US, and was among the first men to be held at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He is now eligible for release after his case came before the Periodic Review Board, which is conducting parole-style hearings for detainees. It goes without saying that he, too, is being tortured while being held at Guantanamo Bay. If he is eligible for release he can’t possibly be guilty of all the terror activities the US government accused him of.

As individuals or small groups, we are powerless against governments. They can do what they want with us and there is nothing that can be done about it. However, it is us that politicians and political parties need. Without our votes they wouldn’t be up there calling the shots. They tell us what we want to hear, it sounds good and we fall for it blindly. We vote for them and once they come into power they wreak havoc. What can we do about it single-handedly? Nothing.

It is time people realise that they have the power. They need to use it wisely to hold politicians to account for a better society.

Originally published on Voices.


Clinton booed at UWC

August 8, 2012

Students and activists totalling approximately 100 protested at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) on Wednesday where United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her speech on the strengthening of US-SA ties. Workers International Vanguard Party (WIVP) and Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) were among the organisations protesting against US imperialism and American involvement in Africa and South Africa.

Shaheed Mahomed of WIVP said it was a pity they never had shoes and tomatoes in their possession to throw towards Clinton. Clinton was touring seven African nations in 11 days, and during her Egypt trip in July her motorcade was pelted with tomatoes.

“We were outside the main hall picketing … when the students saw what was happening, a number of them joined the protest and some of them made their own placards,” said Mahomed. “We had 48 hours to mobilise this protest and we are happy that a statement was made that the people of South Africa reject US imperialism.”

While the youth were most times thought to be complacent about politics and social issues, Mahomed said South African youngsters should not be underestimated.

“The youth are very highly conscientised and they have access to social media where often they have links to activists on the ground in Palestine and all over the world and they get the news uncensored and direct,” said Mahomed. “Many of them said they will join the protest because Clinton is here for one thing – in the Middle East they took the wealth and oil and here they want to take everything.”

Meanwhile, US and SA officials have signed many agreements, some of which ensured that SA would be able to fight HIV and Aids more efficiently. On Wednesday morning a document was signed at the Delft-South clinic that was said to have marked a big transition in SA’s fight against HIV and Aids.

“SA will become the first country in Africa to plan, manage and pay for more of your own efforts to combat the epidemic while the US will continue to provide funding and technical support through our Pepfar programme,” said Clinton during her speech.

She indicated that “leaders” from American companies such as FedEx and Chevron were looking to expand their work in South Africa. “They met with their counterparts in the South African business community … nearly 200 representatives are looking to strengthen our ties commercially.”

A multi-million dollar public-private partnership to improve teacher quality would be launched that would bring together the two governments’ foundations and businesses. Grants would also be provided to disadvantaged South African students to be able to study in the US.

Clinton announced a global disease detection centre was established that would be led jointly by health experts from both SA and the US. A new programme was also established that aimed to assist judges and court systems more effectively to combat gender-based violence. On Wednesday afternoon an agreement with the City of Cape Town was signed that would provide high-speed internet access to Khayelitsha.

Clinton admitted that SA and the US have not always seen “eye to eye” on matters of safety and security, but encouraged SA to help stop Iran from continuing with its nuclear programme.

“The differences we have between us in these moments are over tactics, not principles and that should not obscure our many shared goals from supporting the political transition in Somalia to combating the piracy, from addressing the threat of terrorism and violent extremism,” said Clinton.

“SA has set the standard for the world in stopping nuclear proliferations … you can most convincingly make the case in giving up nuclear weapons as a sign of strength, not weakness and you can help ensure that any country that pursues nuclear programmes will invite more pressure and isolation. This means SA can play an even greater role on issues like curbing Iran’s pursued nuclear weapons or preventing nuclear materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.” VOC (Faatimah Hendricks)

Give, but give not in the name of man

July 18, 2012

We have an ailing public health system that provides the worst kind of service to the sick and elderly, a crumbling education system that sees thousands of children fall through the cracks every year and the masses remain living in squalor nearly two decades into South Africa’s hard-won democracy. Is this something that Tata Madiba is proud of after giving 67 years of his life for a better South Africa for all?

All this hype about giving 67 minutes of your time to charity in honour of former President Nelson Mandela irritates me to the core. Being part of the struggle and quashing the apartheid regime is a victory that young people like me would probably never fully comprehend and appreciate like those who were directly affected at the time would. I only heard about what life was like under PW Botha and Marais Viljoen. But today I see how the same people and their offspring continue to suffer, a future with possibilities a distance away.

The state of our nation is not any better now than it was during apartheid, save for the riddance of the “dom pas”. While the Group Areas Act no longer exists, people are still being evicted and deprived of their constitutional right to housing. While people of all races are now able to work anywhere they please, jobs have become a rare commodity. And while there is allowance for racial integration in schools, the quality of education has dwindled dramatically and learners in impoverished communities are taught in dilapidated facilities. Is this what Mandela fought for for 67 years?

It boggles the mind how blindly people idolise another human being. Mandela sacrificed a lot to free South Africa of racial oppression, yes, and for that I am eternally grateful. But he was NOT the only one. There were lots of other people who risked their lives and who spent many years in jail and in exile. Children are growing up thinking Mandela single-handedly fought against apartheid. They all know who he is, many of them do not know that Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years in jail. That’s nearly as much time as Mandela.

Do the young minds know that Denis Goldberg – a white apartheid activist – spent 22 years in jail? What about Govan Mbeki, the father of former President Thabo Mbeki? He, too, spent more than two decades incarcerated, fighting for racial equality. Their service to South Africans also extended beyond their time in prison.

Then we also have the leading women of South Africa who were the pillars of strength in their family and simultaneously for the rest of the nation. Albertina Sisulu was one of them, and her life was only celebrated after she had died.

So why is it that we decide to only celebrate the life of one man while he is alive and we forget about the rest until the day they die? The Mandela Day campaign encourages South Africans to do good and to give to those in need. But I don’t see why people only take this call to be generous seriously because they are told to do so in the name of another human being. We should aspire to do good our entire life long because we want to do it out of the goodness of our hearts and (for the religious ones out there) to please our Maker.

This article originally appeared here.

Dirco speaks on AU appointment

July 16, 2012

Today I briefly interviewed the deputy director-general for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), Clayson Monyela, on the appointment of South Africa’s Home Affairs minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the new head of the African Union (AU). Also up for the position was Gabon’s Jean Ping. Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to be appointed to this position.

Miles of Smiles for Gaza

April 8, 2012

A delegation of Egyptian, British and South African youth are in Gaza to deliver aid to the people there. I spoke to Muhammad Kallah who is leading the South African delegation. He said the first-timers in Gaza were shocked to see the conditions Palestinians are living in.

Passop marching for papers

March 22, 2012

People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (Passop) hosted a march today to protest against the slow process of granting asylum documentation by the South African Department of Home Affairs. About 100 immigrants marched to Parliament, making their voices heard and demanding that they be granted their papers. They also called for an end to the infringement upon their human rights. Recently immigration officials have been patrolling and stopping anyone they thought to be foreign and demanded to see their papers. The officials would then harass them if they can’t produce their papers on the spot.

Imizama Yethu housing scandal

March 5, 2012

There are so many housing scandals in the Western Cape. I came across “house-swapping” that was taking place in Imizama Yethu in Hout Bay. I went into the community and spoke to the people affected and local government officials.