Tag Archives: Race

The Malikane Proposals

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Much dust has been raised over increasingly louder calls for more economic equality in South Africa. If a country’s wealth is concentrated in a few hands, it is almost inevitable that those who feel left behind would some day make bold their misgivings. The growing disenchantment amongst the mostly poor black but majority population with the stranglehold of so-called “white monopoly capital” should not be trifled with in any way. The resentment runs deep. Christopher Malikane, whose brightness and erudition is well-known at Wits University where he is an associate professor of economics, has proposed what some may consider radical views over how to resolve entrenched racial inequalities in South Africa. Prof Malikane proposes that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), which is privately owned, be nationalised. He also wants banks and mines to be state-owned. And like an increasing number of black South Africans not as radical, Prof Malikane wants currently white-owned land to be expropriated without compensation. Were he not an obviously close adviser to new finance minister Malusi Gigaba, scant attention would probably be paid him. After all, his current views are not significantly different from those he has long held, most recently before his current position, as an adviser to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one of the partners in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party tripartite alliance that also includes the South African Communist Party. Prof Malikane is entitled to his views. Those who disagree with him should simply offer theirs.

Time for a new deal
True, Jacob Zuma’s newfound economic radicalism smacks of desperation by a beleaguered politician with limited options. There is no gainsaying that his populist motives are writ large. Still, Nelson Mandela’s magnanimity to the white minority population has over the years proved to be costlier for black South Africans and the pace of economic progress slower for an increasingly antsy majority than even he probably ever envisaged. The need for a new deal can hardly be refuted. But what shape should this deal take? Better still, what would be an ideal compromise? If Prof Malikane’s proposals are taken as one extreme and that of the ANC hitherto another, is it so out of the realm of possibilities that a negotiated middle ground could still be reached? And quite frankly, it would be disingenuous of white South Africans to think that the current economic configuration is sustainable. But the argument could also be made that so was apartheid. And look how long that lasted? An anomaly could endure long enough that when change does eventually come, it may not matter much. With distortions and divisions already entrenched then, it would be too late for the type of negotiated and accommodative change that also does not destroy. This is why all views, no matter how extreme they may seem, should at the very least be heard. Truth be told, without some push now, current inequalities would deepen further and the economic apartheid that has persisted since 1994 would further endure. Ordinarily, black leaders should have the foresight to recognize this exigency and not be only enthused about it when their political survival depended on it. In any case, wondering about the motives of politicians is needless. So irrespective of the likely ulterior motives behind Mr Zuma’s “radical economic transformation” what should matter at this time is that finally a proper debate can be had on the issue.

Learn from past mistakes
Should land be expropriated without compensation? But what is compensation really? Besides, value already accrued to current beneficiaries of the land could easily be justified as enough compensation. Better still, is a scenario not possible where land though expropriated could be leased to the clearly more skilled white farmer with some technical arrangement for skills transfer to blacks in the mix? To use the minerals sector as an analogy: with extractive industry economics in favour of beneficiation, of what use have extracted minerals sold in their primary form been to owner African governments? The same applies to land. And examples abound of land transferred to unskilled black South Africans that have proved to be less than productive. Zimbabwe is not so far off that the potential pitfalls of a land “re-grab” which does not address the intricacies that govern the creation of wealth are not so palpable. Owning land is not enough. It is hard to argue against the nationalisation of the SARB, however. A central bank should be owned by its government. But it would most definitely be counterproductive to do the same for commercial banks. Besides, what should matter more should be how to ensure that every South African, whether black or white, has access to capital, possesses the requisite skill to acquire it and ensure its efficient allocation. Bear in mind, much of the capital that drives the South African economy is foreign. Thus, taking over local banks would hardly alter the configuration of global finance nor inoculate the economy against its reach. So it behoves policymakers and their eggheads to ensure South Africa remains friendly to global capital even as they strive to ensure opportunities abound for all.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/the-malikane-proposals/

Who will save South Africa?

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Angst against Jacob Zuma, the embattled South African president who faced perhaps the strongest show of displeasure from a cross-section of South Africans since the last local government elections this past week, potentially overshadows what should be the real object of ongoing agitations. President Zuma is able to entrench himself despite popular opposition because of the way the electoral process is structured in South Africa. What needs to change is the system that vests too much power in the ruling party. Since members of parliament (MPs) elect the president, who themselves owe their positions to the benevolence of those in control of their party structures, self-preservation takes greater precedence to such ‘isms’ as heroism and patriotism. And even as some senior African National Congress (ANC) cadres have found it convenient to be brave now, their silence under the cloak of party solidarity hitherto allowed Mr Zuma to permeate the key joints of the party to the point where now, only Mr Zuma can remove himself. Or time.

Besides, the few ANC grandees that did decide to be heroic lately, underwhelmed spectacularly shortly afterwards: In the aftermath of Mr Zuma’s recent and widely unpopular cabinet reshuffle that saw the back of respected and erstwhile finance minister Pravin Gordhan, three of the top six members of the the ANC criticized Mr Zuma publicly, raising hopes they might finally make concrete moves to rein him in. In a meeting afterwards, it is reported Mr Zuma won the day. It was particularly pitiable to see Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general with his tail between his legs after much remonstrations only shortly before. Mr Mantashe made some attempts at redeeming himself: that Brian Molefe (disgraced former chief executive of state power utility Eskom) was not made finance minister, Mr Zuma’s preferred choice for the post, is proof that some consultations did take place, he asserted. His gripe had been that Mr Zuma’s picks for his new cabinet did not emanate from the party’s due-process. If only Mr Zuma’s political genius could be put to a noble cause, you wonder. Imagine a man of Mr Zuma’s talents having Nelson Mandela’s heart and courage and Thabo Mbeki’s intellectualism. That would be something now, wouldn’t it?

That said, there are racist motivations behind some of the ongoing anti-Zuma sentiments. From Helen Zille’s (former chair of the white-dominated opposition Democratic Alliance party) views on the purported benefits of colonialism to black South Africans – which by the way is surreptitiously shared by some of her contemporaries – to the not so covert attribution of the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure to black leadership, racism remains rife in the so-called rainbow nation. A white South African judge, it was revealed recently, apparently believes black men are animals, who rape at will and procreate without any sense of responsibility: likely is the case she stretched the law to the extent that she could whenever a case involving a black man came before her. So ultra-leftist parties like Black First Land First (BLF) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which argue, like Mr Zuma and his ANC party now conveniently do, about the need to right the wrongs of past injustices are not entirely on opportunistic grounds. Still, the newfound black economic radicalism is beginning to prove costly.

Leverage lost
Fearing further erosion of governance and likely fiscal deterioration after Mr Zuma’s latest actions, rating agencies S&P Global and Fitch last week downgraded South Africa’s credit rating to junk status. Middle-class South Africans with mortgages to pay and car payments to make know the implications of the downgrades on their wallets. Poor South Africans, however, could not care less. Explanations such as how higher debt costs constitute an opportunity cost to the funding of pro-poor programmes is hard to fathom by a section of society that mostly looks to monthly welfare payments from the government. Since that won’t stop, it is hard for them to understand what the hoopla is all about. The narrative from Mr Zuma’s camp, however, resonates more with them. Argument such as “white monopoly capital” trying to blackmail poor Mr Zuma is one they can easily identify with. Unsurprisingly, Mr Zuma’s inner circle feels quite relieved.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/will-save-south-africa/

Itinerant Nigerians

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

It is almost always true that when abroad and you sight a black man, it is well worth taking the risk that the person is Nigerian. You’d be surer if in response to polite entreaties, the passerby is deliberately snubbish. It depends on the setting though. Wait long enough, there would soon be the occasional irritation, the response to which would almost definitely confirm his origins. One out of every five blacks on planet earth is Nigerian. And no matter how much he feigns the perfect British or American accent, his archetypal Nigerian mannerisms are hard to conceal. Some argue we travel a lot because of our chaotic situation back home. Not necessarily. Yes, a lot seek the good life. Most are just curious. But a lot really travel just to show off. Take away the pictures of them at popular foreign landmarks, showing how ‘they are enjoying life,” some Nigerians might consider the trips a waste of money. Even the uber wealthy ones want to show how much ‘jollofing’ they are doing, posting pictures of themselves in their first or business class plane cabins or seats on social media. And these are the ‘small boys’. Big boys fly their private jets, with our stolen foreign exchange neatly tucked in their luggage it turns out – pictures of their vanity never include those for sure. You’d think with that much wealth they wouldn’t need the phony gratifications that soon pour afterwards. Nigerians are very curious and vain cats. We want to know: Where is it? What is it? What do they do there? Who runs things? (That curiosity, unfortunately, has not extended to science, innovation and progress. And it is not because of a lack of capacity for hard work. We are rarely slothful. In that vanity that we all seem to share perhaps lie the answer to our continued suffering, well-hidden under forced but outwardly believable smiles.)

Act, not bicker
So, imagine the anxiety of itinerant Nigerians when the nightmarish campaign promises of now American president, Donald Trump – especially on immigration – began to become reality. In the typical Nigerian fashion, our officials – when they are not busy behaving like we don’t exist – took to bickering over jurisdiction. The presidential adviser (‘senior special assistant’) on foreign affairs and the diaspora, the ever dynamic Abike Dabiri-Erewa – whose long-earned reputation for candour and palpable compassion from her days as a government-employed journalist is well-known – in her characteristic way, took to her first constituency, the media, advising Nigerians to re-consider non-essential travel to America, after a number of Nigerians were detained upon arrival at American airports and subsequently returned; even as they had valid visas.

You would think the Nigerian foreign minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, a meek personality, would be a little pleased. He was not amused. Ordinarily, there is usually a power-play of sorts between presidential advisers and ministers. In most cases, the advisers prevail; because they often have the mandate of the chief of staff, who functionally acts for the president in most administrations. One does not know if Mrs Dabiri-Erewa consulted Mr Onyeama before going on air about her concerns. Bear in mind, the American incidents came not too long after the most recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians by South Africans. Considering how slow the wheel of governance turns in the public service, I would not be surprised at all if what actually transpired was that the no-nonsense Mrs Dabiri-Erewa finally lost her patience. And quite frankly, she is a more credible figure. After spending an entire career exposing untruths, advice coming from her is instantly credible. By his own admission to a local radio station, Mr Onyeama did not have a conference with her before his ministry issued a counter-advisory asking Nigerians to ignore her advice. The stakes are much too high for such pettiness. Mr Onyeama is a gentleman. But leadership requires dynamism as well.

Between getting an American visa, purchasing a ticket and so on, a Nigerian would have parted with at least a million naira (more than US$3,000), never mind the unbelievable stress in between. And upon getting to the American airport, the Nigerian typically has to endure myriad questions by security officials. With the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant stance, however, this scrutiny has taken on gargantuan proportions. So is the Nigerian better served by being told to travel only just to be served the bitterness of the many indignities Africans tend to endure at foreign airports? Or is it better to wait till one is sure all that toil ahead of the trip would not come to naught at just the time when one was beginning to sing praises? Surely it makes more sense for Mr Onyeama to focus on addressing the latter concern.

Give more than hope
There are numerous tales of woe by Nigerians, who upon reaching a foreign airport, are made to go through all sorts of screening. And this scrutiny is even more enhanced in Asian airports. Some candour here though. It is said Asians have difficulty differentiating African faces, hence why if you land in a Chinese airport, say, they single out Africans for more ‘enlightening’ pictures. At least that was my experience at the Shanghai airport some years back. Most Nigerians would ordinarily bear this (not that we are left with much of a choice) – as did I – if at the end of it all, with their documents deemed valid, they are allowed to go about their legitimate business. The uncertainty that comes with the possibility that even after all these, one may be ‘returned’ is hard to imagine.

Could it be that Mr Onyeama, a blue-passported minister, has so soon forgotten the experience of what it feels like to be a Nigerian abroad? Perhaps it is true then that not until our leaders compulsorily experience our daily challenges, they might not be more sensitive to our plight: our undeservedly pampered government officials must now ply the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, after the forced closure of the Abuja international airport for repairs. Needless to say, the road has become virtually anew overnight. Regardless of what motivates Mrs Dabiri-Erewa, the passion with which she does her duty is refreshing. Undeterred, she gave South African politicians covertly encouraging xenophobic attacks against Nigerians a piece of her mind only this past weekend. Stars just shine. Those who can’t bear the glare should shut their eyes.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/itinerant-nigerians/

Stage is set

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

As has become the tradition days before his budget statements, at least for the last two, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan has yet again been made to feel uncertain about his future. This time, it might not be a ruse. Brian Molefe, the disgraced former Eskom chief executive, it has been announced, would become a member of parliament; after erstwhile occupant of the seat he takes over, Abram Mudau, “stepped down voluntarily” for health reasons – he probably had little choice in the matter: it is alleged powers that be in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party instructed him to resign. Others suggest it was only a matter of the date (30 January): asking officials to sign undated resignation letters at the outset of their appointments is common practice. Some party stalwarts from the Hartbeespoort branch in North West Province that Mr Molefe supposedly belongs to, and would represent in parliament, have raised a ruckus. No matter. In the greater scheme of things, the manner of Mr Mudau’s exit is irrelevant: he is out and Mr Molefe is in. And clearly, a great deal of effort was deployed towards the enterprise. Just so the intent is not misconstrued – as if that were not all too palpable already, Mr Molefe’s swearing-in has been scheduled for 22 February: budget day.

Cometh the scandal
So last week, the Competition Commission ruled that a couple of local and foreign banks colluded to rig trading of the rand. Almost immediately, the ANC and South African president Jacob Zuma condemned, in probably the strongest tone ever from either of them, what are largely white-led financial institutions. As if sensing the vehement response was a barely veiled swipe at its chief, the Treasury came out with a similarly aggressive rebuke of the banks’ misdemeanour. Did both sides hear themselves loud and clear? You would think they did. Apparently, one side didn’t think so. Njabulo Nzuza, the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary, was unequivocal in his remarks to TV network eNCA: “our government deployee [Mr Gordhan], since arriving at Treasury, has not made sure there is restructuring…we want a different kind of calibre cadre that would dismantle the approach of protecting banks in South Africa”. The matter should not be trifled with, however. Market manipulation is wrong and especially costly when it involves a country’s currency. So, erring banks should indeed have their day at the Competition Tribunal. Still, it is too late to depoliticize the issue: Zuma loyalists have an axe to grind with the banks.

Man in place
There are worries Mr Molefe, should he get the post, might not be as stringent as the likely outgoing finance minister, Mr Gordhan – albeit one wouldn’t place too strong a bet on his ouster just yet: he has proved to be as hard a man as his principal. Still, Mr Zuma’s newfound zeal for “radical economic transformation” rests a great deal on having a ‘comrade’ at Treasury; especially as Mr Gordhan has thus far proved to be an effective bulwark against the type of populist measures that Mr Zuma’s imminent economic radicalism must necessarily put in place. If one were to be objective though, the type of working relationship that currently exists between both men is ordinarily not desirable: Mr Gordhan can literally do whatever he likes. With myriad corruption scandals plaguing the Zuma administration, however, the situation can hardly be described as ordinary. Fears about a potential plunder of the treasury in the hands of a pliant Zuma minister are not misplaced. And almost all of the potential candidates that Mr Zuma might tip to replace Mr Gordhan would probably struggle to command the type of palpable clout that the incumbent currently enjoys with rating agencies and influential market participants. But these considerations pale in comparison with Mr Zuma’s widely-believed existential goal of seizing total control of government and the ANC before party leadership elections in December. Mr Gordhan is in the way. And time is really now Mr Zuma’s most potent enemy – he has probably just six months to consolidate power. Things may move very quickly indeed. And the budget? A narrower deficit of 3.2 percent of GDP, say, for the 2017/18 fiscal year (starts 1 April) could be targeted – 3.4 percent is estimated for 2016/17 – analysts suggest. To achieve this, it is expected that taxes on income, alcohol and tobacco could be raised. Higher fuel levy and value added tax are also probable, it is believed. But with Mr Gordhan already being nudged out the door, the budget statement may be no more than a nice speech.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria column (Tuesdays). See link viz. https://www.businessdayonline.com/stage-is-set/

Yes, I’m with her

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Americans go to the polls today (8 November), most of them that is; some already cast their ballots in early voting. The campaigns ahead of the election have perhaps been the most vicious and uninspiring in recent American history. There is currently a wave of populism sweeping through some western democracies. From the anti-immigrant sentiment that underpinned the decision of Britons to leave the European Union to the growing clout of similarly inclined politicians in France and elsewhere, isolationist rhetoric is winning the day, posing a significant threat to years of progress on global multilateralism, inclusion and integration. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the two leading American presidential candidates, are bipolar opposites, in the most extreme of ways. As wife to an American president, senator and then secretary of state, Mrs Clinton, the Democratic Party nominee, has contributed to the shaping of global geopolitics for much of the past two decades. Her main opponent, the Republican Mr Trump, a billionaire whose wealth derives from tapping the vanity of Americans, is not similarly experienced. But considering how he has broken almost every rule and convention in American politics and still emerged the Republican Party flagbearer, underestimating him was a huge mistake. But even as a potential Trump presidency is no longer farfetched, Mr Trump, an unashamed bully, would irrespective of the outcome of the election come to exemplify that ugly side of ‘Americanness’ for some time to come. Still, the election is Mrs Clinton’s to lose. But will she win?

Beware of closet Trumpistas
Mr Trump is racist, rude, and disrespectful of women. And he ran a very dirty campaign. Both sides did actually. But it could be argued that with Mrs Clinton’s vast political experience and clout, it would have been almost impossible for Mr Trump to gain an edge over her with a clean one. So to that extent, there is some sanity in his madness. And considering how almost just as much Americans who might vote for Mrs Clinton would do so for Mr Trump, his rhetoric, reprehensible as it is, clearly resonates with not a few of them. Yes, even the educated ones, who for fear of backlash may not voice their support in public and in polls by the media, but may gladly do so in the privacy of the voter polling booth: closet Trumpistas may account for more than the margin of error in the lead Mrs Clinton had in media polls.

Some hitherto undecided voters also pitched their tents in Mr Trump’s camp in the week to election day. That is, before the country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reckoned Mrs Clinton did not commit a crime after all by using a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. After clearing Mrs Clinton of any wrongdoing initially, the FBI revealed about a week to the election that it was examining newly discovered emails on a third party’s computer. The revelation proved to be costly for the potential first female American president: angst was that her carelessness could have caused state secrets to be stolen or glimpsed by unauthorised parties. Although it is not all too clear how much of that support she has regained after the FBI clearance just two days to the vote, the renewed suspicions may not have mellowed quickly enough for her to regain lost ground. Regardless, concerns raised by some leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan about her inexcusable negligence – she had to have known her error – on the email issue are not entirely without merit: Mrs Clinton did put American national security at risk.

Which of them is best for Africa?
Mrs Clinton, definitely. The Democrats are typically pro-black and pro-Africa. About sixteen years ago, Mrs Clinton’s husband signed the ‘African Growth and Opportunity Act,’ a deliberate and well-considered legislation that has proved to be better for African trade than the European Union’s ‘Economic Partnership Agreements,’ say. Similar Africa-friendly policies – ‘Power Africa’ and ‘Young African Leaders Initiative’ – by outgoing President Barack Obama, another Democrat, would likely be continued and probably enhanced under Mrs Clinton. Mr Trump’s anti-immigrant stance on the other hand, is very unnerving to African greener pasture-seekers in America, whose remittances are a major source of support back home. Not that Republicans are generally averse to the best interests of Africans or African-Americans. For instance, George W. Bush, the 43rd American president, appointed exemplary African-Americans, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, to the secretaryship of state, probably the most visible public office after the country’s presidency. Mr Trump is an unusual candidate, however. His barely veiled white supremacist rhetoric is hardly just that: fears are it might become policy should he get elected. Even so, there is a risk Mrs Clinton may be complacent about the continent: Africa was barely mentioned during the campaign, if at all.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays); http://www.businessdayonline.com/category/analysis/columnist/rafiq-raji/

Africans can judge themselves

By Rafiq Raji, PhD 

Unfair system makes easy prey of Africans
At least three African countries have announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). South Africa and Burundi would almost certainly be out by October next year. Many are likely to follow. Their reason? The ICC unfairly targets Africans. Established in 2002 to prosecute genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the ICC could as well relocate to Africa instead of its current wintry abode in the Netherlands. All but one – relates to allegations of war crimes in the 2008 Georgian armed conflict – of the ten cases currently being investigated by the ICC are related to African states. For a United Nations (UN) body, it is almost ludicrous that two permanent members of the UN Security Council do not subscribe to the court. China never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC. The United States decided not to ratify the treaty in 2002, after having signed it two years earlier. The case of America, that supposed bastion of democracy and justice, is particularly shameful. Even as it has not subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the court, America, or any of the other three members of the Security Council, can block any case from being referred to the ICC. The United States would almost certainly stop any attempt to prosecute Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Palestine. And under the current geopolitical order, it is very unlikely that Russia would allow the prosecution of the Syrian Assad regime, under whose watch that country has been virtually decimated. Not that that couldn’t change if the Russian regime suddenly rearranged its priorities, like its ever-scheming leader, Vladimir Putin, is wont to do.

Justice for all
If the ICC is to become legitimate, all members of the UN must be subject to its jurisdiction. Else, no African country has any business being a party to it. The ICC’s African tilt thus far certainly feeds the derogatory notion that Africans could not be trusted to dispense justice for themselves. Worse still, western exceptionalists are able to point to Africans’ longstanding mistrust of their ‘big men.’ And there might be some merit to that supposition, when you look at how justice is perpetually subverted in a lot of African countries. Ironically, the judiciary is probably the most credible institution left standing in most of them. Relatively, that is. For even as it was well known that judicial officers were similarly engaged in a myriad of corrupt activities, they at least went about their indiscretions with some sense of shame. And most of the corrupt ones tried to avoid ostentation. Not all of them it turns out. Considering how they had been largely left alone, the seeming impunity made some of them careless: Nigerian judges currently have a credibility problem, after raids on the homes of some very senior ones amongst them revealed they may have been living above their means. About a year ago, Ghanaian judges were actually caught on video by an investigative journalist demanding for bribe and sex, leading to the dismissal of at least twenty judges and magistrates. Still, judicial corruption is not peculiar to African countries, albeit it is more rampant. The South African system is probably as robust as it can get though. Regardless, Africans have demonstrated they can rise up to the cause of justice when needed: in May 2016, with support from the African Union, former Chadian dictator, Hissene Habre, was successfully prosecuted in Senegal for crimes ranging from torture to slavery during his almost a decade rule.

Empower the African court
At the core of the flawed state of the ICC is equity and equality. Is it a coincidence that most cases at the ICC are on African countries? Surely it is not the only continent where such atrocities have been committed. I am still personally distraught watching how Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, a sitting African head of state, was made to go through the indignity of a trial on live international television. If that is not reminiscent of colonialism, I don’t know what is. Although the charges against him were eventually dropped, Mr Kenyatta has the unenviable record of being the first head of state to be so tried. I agree that victims of the violence during the elections that heralded his emergence deserve justice. But still, heads of states are treated with respect not because of who they are but because they embody the sovereignty of a people. Yes, most leave much to be desired. Even so, some pretensions matter: everyone deserves a certain level of dignity. I have heard arguments about the motive of the Zuma-led South African government in seeking to exit the ICC at this time. Critics of the South African move have suggested that given the country’s stature, it may have unwittingly provided cover for some not so well-regarded African leaders – ‘elected dictators’ – to now make similar moves. The Gambia proved the point all too quickly, announcing its withdrawal shortly after. No matter. There is an opportunity in the growing anti-ICC sentiment: the mandate of the AU’s African Court of Justice and Human Rights should be expanded.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays).

#FeesMustFall protesters must negotiate

By Rafiq Raji, PhD

Quality higher education cannot be free
Students at South African universities have been engaged in protests, sometimes violent, over the past two weeks or so. Why? They want free education, an escalation from earlier demands that ranged from a freeze in school fees to a reduction. Earlier agitations seem meek now with the benefit of hindsight. Security personnel reacted forcefully when the protests turned violent, firing rubber bullets and on one campus, throwing stones at students. Their heavyhandedness has been criticized. And rightly so. Still, how is it that destroying the very facilities needed for the education you are fighting for benefits you? I am glad all sides are admonishing restraint. More fundamentally, it is important to note that the grievances expressed are genuinely felt. It is true that university school fees are out of the reach of most students. And some poor students who manage to afford the fees – with government assistance in any case – end up struggling to survive, with negative consequences for their studies. When the protests turn violent however, they diminish the prospects that these genuine agitations might force authorities to increase the necessary consideration for poor students. At the beginning of the year, South African president, Jacob Zuma, set up a commission headed by a highly respected former judge, to consider the feasibility of fee-free education. With its report only due in 2017, students have become impatient. Considering the many demands on the fiscus, expectant students may be in for a major disappointment. There is just no way the authorities could provide free education for all South Africans. But for the poor? Those are worth considering at least. Mr Zuma has called a stakeholders’ meeting for this week (3 October).

Poor should be able to go to varsity if they qualify 
There should not be any South African who is not able to enjoy the privilege of quality higher education just because he or she is poor. That is, those that manage to gain university admission in the first place. True, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is designed to do just that. That is, provide financial aid to poor students who are able to secure a place. It is well known that students rig this process in any case: some students identify a poorer relative as their guardian so as to qualify for the government-backed student financial aid scheme. Still, it is often overlooked that the major problem is actually not so much the high fees, but that many South Africans, the black and poor ones especially, cannot get into varsity. And sometimes the ones that manage to get in struggle to cope tremendously. Not just financially, but academically. A wholesome approach is required.

Mobilize student majority that wants a negotiated solution
Students at my alma mater, Wits University, voted overwhelmingly – via an SMS poll conducted by the authorities – for classes to resume this week; after about two weeks of intermittent protests that turned violent, forcing authorities to stop classes. This is evidence the majority desire a negotiated and peaceful resolution to the crisis. Classes which resume this week would put that to test. Even so, the major issue that is not enjoying the attention it deserves is university funding. Higher institutions currently get funding from government (grossly inadequate), grants, higher fees from executive programmes and foreign students, and so on. Regardless, they have proved insufficient. There is a need for increased government funding certainly. Treasury officials would be quick to say they are trying to bring down the fiscal deficit. Students would argue that it is not so much increased spending that is required as it is a re-arrangement of priorities. Government officials are probably overpaid some would argue. Some planned capital expenditure are needless in any case, the proposed nuclear build for instance. More importantly, if the authorities are determined to find a solution, they would find a way. But to think they could quell with force what is really a long-brewing agitation would be a mistake. Firstly though, student representatives have a responsibility to mobilize what seems like the majority of students who want a negotiated solution. And they must not allow the few errant ones amongst them inclined towards violence jeopardize the future of thousands of innocent students.

Finish the academic year no matter what
If you have ever experienced the anxiety and toil of a student on the final lap of his academic ‘odyssey’ you would know the terrible anguish some are going through at the moment. It would be a great injustice to them if they are forced to cough out more resources for programmes they had been relieved to think were finally about to be concluded. I don’t even want to imagine the troubles that international students and the part-time ones are experiencing at the moment. Apart from the higher fees they pay, they often have to stay at expensive ‘bed and breakfasts (B&Bs)’ for the duration of their stays. The longer these protests continue, the higher their expenses, a lot of which now they didn’t budget for. Some would probably be stuck or need to borrow money to stay longer in the hope that classes would resume. Some would simply return home so as not to run the risk of being stranded or having no money for upkeep, an untoward experience one would not even wish for an enemy. Bottomline, it is in the interest of everyone for calmer heads to prevail. What is going on at the moment is not in anyone’s interest. Parents and guardians have made fervent appeals for the academic year to be concluded as planned. They should probably start with their wards.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column (Tuesdays). See link viz. http://www.businessdayonline.com/en/fees-must-fall-protesters-must-negotiate/

Blackness: the fictional musings of “I”. #Race #Racism #Culture #Africa

By Rafiq Raji

black-pete-dutch

Steve Biko once wrote: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation – being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”. I think it is both. Of course, the mental attitude you adopt has nothing to do with your race. It is an individual choice. I’m at a fast-food restaurant in Oxford, England and a group of white kids are present as well without parental supervision. They were likely aged 6-8 years. Happy kids, I must say. The type of happiness that makes you leap before you look. The type of happiness typical of kids. After a while, one of the bolder kids shifts towards my side of the bench and asks: “Can I take a picture with you?” The last time I got asked that question was in China. I declined, of course. But then it struck me the white kid was not being entirely mischievous. White folks might not like to admit it, but there are characteristics, cultures and mannerisms of black people that they admire and like. That said, anyone who does not see how Black Pete is racist is simply being ludicrous. How is the idea that to secure a license for buffoonery you need to become black – by painting yourself black – not racist? The Dutch contemporaries of those young Britons are likely going to imbibe the subtle association of blackness with silliness that Black Pete inevitably – irrespective of wit – represents. I also can understand why whites are likely irritated by the very high sensitivity of blacks to even the slightest racist hint in any of the multitude of human expressions. An analogy could help. If one were to ask you the name of the cleaner at your office, it is very unlikely you’d be able to tell his or her name. It is not that you don’t respect them; it is simply that you don’t consider them threatening enough to want to know more about them. So if they were to throw an insult at you, the likelihood you’ll be offended is very low. To be offended, you’d have to think yourself beneath in status to your antagonist. It is akin to the conscious empathy a wealthy person summons up when relating with less-endowed beings. The English – such experienced people, the English – have a fine word for that human condition. They call it condescension. Racial intercourse is no different. If you think about it, cries about racism – laudable though they are – are actually an acceptance of inferiority. And you just wait to see how the behaviour of your white liberal friend changes as you ascend in the world.

However, there are developments that leave room for optimism. Blackness is increasingly being seen from the prism of culture. “Black culture has become like Starbucks, located on every corner in every major city and available to everyone who wants in”1. I got a glimpse of that during the first London Notting Hill Carnival I attended a year ago. It is also a significant part of the logic – I think – behind why “Beats by Dre” is a huge success. Apple in my view bought into what was already a remarkable and inevitable phenomenon; the colour blindness of music and popular culture. For the sake of argument, let us consider the following scenario. Imagine “Beats” without “by Dre”. I doubt very much that if Dr Dre were not a black MC and producer of repute that Beats by Dre would be the success it is today. What is not acknowledged as much – at least not overtly – is how Dr Dre’s “street credibility” is an underpinning factor for the popularity of his brand. But of course, the brand and its eco-system would not be a success as well if its bass-biased headphones were not filling a hitherto longrunning gap in that industry. Blackness as culture is thus proving a more powerful way to increase racial harmony than all the media and legal campaigns against racism. It must be said though that this type of blackness has its roots in stereotyping. However, it may form the foundation for a concept of blackness that transcends skin colour; which is a good thing. A key example is Eminem, a hip-hop artist. Eminem is white but exhibits more blackness than many a black person you’d come across. Black people don’t think Eminem is any less a hip-hop artist than white people think of Pharrel or Rihanna as pop and/or R&B singers. The stereotypical conception of blackness usually stops at physical or artistic prowess. The parochialism notwithstanding, white insecurities underpinning this conception of blackness becomes writ large when for instance there are media reports of a black man’s infidelity to a white wife as in the case of Tiger Woods or suspicion of violence or crime by a black man towards a white wife as was the case with OJ Simpson. This extends to sports as well. The Williams sisters and Tiger Woods are anomalies as far as white folks are concerned. Their dominance of the mostly white sports of tennis and golf remain a challenge to their stereotypical conception of blackness. And as far as music is concerned, well, a lot of conservative white folks don’t consider hip-hop to be music in the real sense. And yes, classical music is still largely white-dominated. The underlying factors may be more economic than racial, however.

It should also be said that in spite of the obvious resistance that ascending blacks face, if they are the real deal, the system works. That is why a Barack Obama can win presidential elections and a Tiger Woods (even though he is prouder of his Asian heritage) can win golf majors. Until Barack Obama, being cerebral and black was oxymoronic in popular contemplation. It probably still is. The idea of a “clever black” is not any less oxymoronic to some than say “bad leader” or “bad friend”. Leaders and friends cannot be bad. You are either a leader or not. You are either a friend or not. Clever black? What do you think? I sometimes would get on the London tube and decidedly read a supposedly intelligent book precisely for the purpose of observing the sighs, grunts and other types of passive-aggressive racist mannerisms by non-blacks on the train. As an African just come to the West, these are new experiences. It is tempting to then begin to “delete” all the good manners you were taught back home as you discover how tremendously shallow some of the people in these parts are. You see it everywhere: on the streets, public transportation, hotels, in the workplace, and wait for it, even faith centres. As a muslim, I still can’t understand how the concept of “shoulder-to-shoulder, toe-to-toe” in congregational prayer has become a selective endeavor depending on the race of your neighbour in mosques I prayed at in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and London. To get a better sense of this phenomenon, check out the following hashtag on Twitter: #BeingBlackAndMuslim. Al Jazeera’s The Stream also did an illuminating programme on the subject.

The white establishment is not entirely to blame for the anti-intellectualism in Africa or indeed black communities around the world. In an essay in the New South African Review, Xolela Mangcu mentions the South African President Zuma’s dismissal of black intellectuals as “clever blacks” who “don’t really count in the greater scheme of things”. Actually, I think the whole issue about race and intellectualism (or other serious pursuits) is more economic and political than it is social. When you are poor and live in dysfunctional neighbourhoods with few role models, learning how to play the piano is not likely to be a priority. And there have been studies done to determine cerebral capacity across the races. The obvious biases in these studies need not be reinforced here. If one were objective, however, the probable differentiating factor would likely not be racial but economic. And in any case, the African/black race is still a minority in the global population; albeit all races can trace their origins to Africa, to blackness! Martin Meredith’s “Born in Africa” is an astonishingly excellent book in this regard.

I’ve also often wondered about the concept of “reverse-racism”. It seems to me another attempt at white-black distinction. I also think blacks do not take enough responsibility for their culpability in the entrenchment of the “black” stereotype. It may surprise many to know that much of the progress that have been made towards eradicating racism in our societies have come more from non-blacks than blacks themselves. There is a victims’ complex and second-fiddle complacency you find hovering like a halo around most blacks. A pathetic resignation to a fate totally within their control to change. A kind of self-loathing much worse than faux pas racism. A racism of self. When there are blacks that manage to break away from this self-defeating psychology, you begin to hear expressions such as “assimilation”. The popular quip goes: “he succeeded because he assimilated” or “Oh see, one of his parents is white”. The Oxford Essential English Dictionary provides two definitions of racism, which when joined together is truly illuminating. Racism is “the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race” and the “discrimination against or hostility towards people of other races”. Surely, the definition is encompassing enough. So, what the heck is reverse racism? Both whites and blacks are culpable in the usage of that phrase, however.

I once overhead a frustrated white liberal saying: it never ends, does it? From the public outcry about Black Pete being racist to the supposed condescension of affirmative action, white liberals most certainly feel frustrated. I think it is no matter really. If it is any consolation, that frustration is colour-blind. What, when you observe the shallowness of say African football teams’ obsession with money on the altar of glory. Who does that? To want the money that badly means you don’t think you will win. The protagonist of the popular TV series “House of Cards” wondered aloud how one of his antagonists could hope to earn his respect if he didn’t know the difference between wealth and power. The character he was referring to was black. The line between fiction and reality becomes blurred when you hear such absurdities as an African national football team refusing to train because of money. How is it possible that they couldn’t understand that national glory trumps any potential pecuniary benefit. You can’t force confidence down the throat of a people, however. They have to find it themselves. As a black person and an African, I am very glad those teams did not win. They didn’t deserve to win and they didn’t. And that is just as well. Confidence as a collective is the key. And this is a journey each black person would have to embark on individually before the sum becomes a high-impacting collective force that changes attitudes. A racially harmonious world is possible. That is, race as culture.

 

Notes

  1. Toure S (2011) Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now. New York: Free Press.