Tag Archives: Politics

Red Flags, Red Berets and the Ballot Coup: Free Education and the Wits SRC Election

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(Photo: Delwyn Verasamy, Mail and Guardian)

Wits is alive with the tumultuous energy of struggle song, while political regalia dots the campus with patches of yellow, and patches of red. With the SRC election less than a week away, the campus which birthed Fees Must Fall last October is set to elect its next set of student representatives. At this crucial juncture in South African student history, this year’s SRC election is far more significant than a mere exercise in political posturing. Its outcome will shape the future of the student movement and the strategy that will be implemented in the battle for free education. This year’s election, therefore, demands the undivided attention of us all.

Three parties are set to face off next week. The incumbent party, holding thirteen out of fifteen seats in the current SRC, is the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – a coalition of the ANC Youth League, SASCO, the Young Communists League and the Muslim Students Association. They are being challenged by the Wits EFF Students’ Command and Project W. No party in the field is perfect. However, this should not render them equally ineffectual in the eyes of the student body. Some are better, some are worse, and others are, if we are to be honest, an embarrassment.

To get the embarrassment out of the way, let’s deal with Project W. Project W is a cynical experiment in solipsism, built upon the fallacious notion that a university’s SRC can be apolitical in a political world. Their stunning refusal to engage the complexities of the socio-political space is matched only by their masochistic impulse to lead with this idea of an apolitical campus when publicly squaring off with their opponents. The party patronises students by assuming that we are equally incapable and unwilling to tackle political complexity. Given the role of politics on campus – and indeed, the role of campuses in politics – over the decades, Project W is as ahistorical as they are apolitical. Their neutrality in political situations of moral urgency serves to bolster oppressive power structures and inflate the confidence of the ruling class. Engaging the country’s socio-politics is crucial, extraordinarily so in the context of the movement for free education. Project W is hence extraordinarily irrelevant, even by their own standards. Their conspicuous absence during Fees Must Fall is a sobering reminder that, were they to win this election, their line will jeopardise the future of the student movement. Project W is a galaxy of fallacies that aggregated from a cloud of delusion and apathy. They are a non-option.

The choice is hence between the PYA and the Wits EFF. The EFFSC has abandoned its distaste for the official political space (a distaste that one may argue is justified, given that their party was collectively punished last year and barred from running) and is now a serious contender. The campaign they have implemented balances Bikoist ideology with the consideration of basic issues that directly impact students. (It is noteworthy that this exposes another flaw in the Project W line, for one needn’t be apolitical to aid students in graduating). Echoing the process which drafted the Freedom Charter – amongst the most radical leftist documents in our nation’s history – the EFF has crowd-sourced their election manifesto, compiling it from the suggestions of the students whom they wish to represent. The party’s propensity for political disruption, a core tenet of effective protest, is indubitable – something indispensible in a battle against a system that stifles momentum through bureaucracy and delay. The EFF has therefore built a base from which they hope to claim the majority of the SRC from the PYA. Come next week, the Fighters’ Student Command is hoping to execute a Ballot Coup.

What, then, justifies the urgency of ousting the old guard? The incumbent PYA is aligned with the ANC, and hence a contradiction lies at the core of their organisational identity. Luthuli House provides the party with funding, support, and the occasional order to pacify student populations and halt protests. At times, it seems the PYA has inherited the arrogance of its parent organisation. When the Wits council debated the overhaul of IT infrastructure on campus, a project that will cost over half a billion rand, this SRC supported the move without consulting the student body, failing to account for the fact that it’s absurd to spend a nine-digit figure on improving wifi access on a campus where students don’t have accommodation or food. Moreover, red flags must be raised over the PYA’s decision to halt the university shut down last year before an insourcing commitment had been won. When a party intends to exploit the pain of exploited workers, only to dispose of them afterwards, students must respond in kind and dispose of that party. The workers are not a periphery concern – betraying them is inexcusable.

All of that said, I do not wish to discredit everything the Alliance has achieved. Nor am I implying that there aren’t committed comrades within the PYA who are invaluable to the student movement. It is possible to be more nuanced.  Yes, the PYA-led SRC played a crucial role in halting this year’s fee increase, galvanising students and driving free education to the top of the agenda. However, the PYA-led SRC was also crucial in the dissolution of student unity and the obstruction of that very agenda. The breakdown of trust between a university’s SRC and its students crippled last year’s movement for free education and squandered the momentum that we had gathered. We cannot allow for this to be repeated.

The SRC is the sole body with an official popular mandate. Tremendous legitimacy is lent to the movement if its leadership is elected by students, for students. However, we cannot have an SRC led by a PYA that can prioritise its partisan alliances over workers and the cry for free education. We should not accept an SRC that implores students to celebrate a non-increase within a broken status quo, while refusing to address the core of the problem because it involves confronting their superiors at Luthuli House. To allow the ANC to speak through a PYA SRC is to allow the establishment to dictate the terms of a movement that was forged in opposition to its failures. 

Soon, it will become necessary to indict the ANC government and hold it accountable in a concrete way. At the moment, it seems the PYA would rather pander to xenophobia and punish innocent immigrant shopkeepers than do so.  We cannot allow the SRC to be turned into a fundraising office while the structural inequality is left unaddressed. Last year’s failures are proof that we cannot trust the ANC to march on itself. Moving forward, we need a student leadership that is not tied to the agenda of the ruling party. What is needed now is student unity – a unity that is difficult to forge while this conflict of interest is alive within our elected structures. The PYA can be part of the new SRC, but if it’s unity we want, it is best if they do not lead it. If they do, we need to disabuse them of their loyalty to their parent party, or organise beyond the official. However, achieving either of these will be no easy task. Ideally, we need an alternative.

At this election, therefore, I will cast my vote in favour of the party with the largest base among workers, a party that didn’t evaporate after the marginal concession of a 0% increase was won. It is also the party whose iconoclasm has animated our national politics and that is unafraid to articulate the rage of the black child against an ANC that is corrupt and failing to redress inequality. When I walk into that voting booth, I shall strike my pen across the boxes next to the red berets.

The reason for doing so is simple: if the EFF wins a majority in the SRC, effectively counterbalanced by a smaller contingent of PYA members, we will place ourselves within a dispensation wherein student unity can be rebuilt without the risk of the ruling party completely derailing it. The ANC is not the only threat to the forging of a united student front, but it is quite possibly the greatest one we face. If we overcome it, we can prompt a surge in momentum that will once again transform us into a formidable force – a force that must prise open the doors of higher education, with urgency.

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Rebellion and the Rock of Imperial Rome

Kaipha stirred. The clattering of shackles had roused him from the restlessness of his sleep. Peering through half-opened eyes, he saw the faceless figures of his fellow inmates, the pale yellow stars upon their shoulders barely visible, as the sun rose on the concentration camp that sat on the outskirts of Rome 1. Ordinarily, they would be floating in the limbo between sleep and wakefulness, dreading a return to another day of bondage. But that morning was different. Dread had been washed from their eyes by a torrent of new hope. Whatever the day before him held, Kaipha knew that it would either end with him as a free man, or a corpse. He knew too that these men, his comrades, had entrusted him with a sacred duty. Swiftly, he gathered himself and walked to the barred doors at the entrance to their cell. The men eagerly awaited the signal from their leader. It came. The guards were changing shifts. The time for emancipation had arrived.

A group of around ten skin-draped skeletons now assembled in the centre of their small cell. Regardless of their frail bodies, a strength of will radiated from their huddle – a strength derived from rage. They were not always slaves, although their former lives were ones of serfdom. Memories of oppression by the Roman occupiers – and some of their fellow Jews who colluded with Rome to preserve the occupation – fuelled this rage.  It verbally manifested now, in outbursts of the Aramaic that was the tongue of almost every Judean in first century Palestine. Upon every emphatic syllable hung the phantom of a failed revolution, ready to be resurrected. As the survivors of the mass-slaughter of their people in Jerusalem, the men were intent on bringing justice to Emperor Vespasian, who, by the hand of his son, had razed their Sacred Temple 2. However, they first needed to shatter their shackles.

The passion of their proclamations died down as Kaipha gave them another signal from the cell door. As the sound of the Roman soldier’s heavy boots on the cobblestone outside became louder, the leader dropped back to join his men. The soldier soon appeared at the door of their cage, muttering about his disgust at these lestai – the common derogatory label given to the Jewish people who refused to be tamed by the sword of Rome. Literally, it meant ‘bandit’ – one intent on taking up arms against the occupying state. With this premonition lingering upon his lips, he swung the door open and entered to commence with the humiliation of his subject-people. “Today,” he thought, “I am Vespasian.”

As was the case when they stood in the ruins of the Sacred City decades before, the lestai were ordered to present themselves as livestock before the imperial state. After stripping them naked and reasserting Rome’s dominion, the guard would lead the slaves off to slowly break their backs erecting grand edifices in the capital city. As the soldier approached the men, Kaipha swore that he would break that routine. He slowly nodded at an older man praying in the corner of the spartan room. Without warning, the man murmuring Hezekiah’s Prayer 3 charged at the tormenting soldier, impaling himself upon the legionnaire’s spear. Seizing upon the shock of the disarmed guard, Kaipha led the other men forward to gag the soldier and unleash their pent-up rage, savoring blow by blow, upon this symbol of their oppression. A few moments later, the legionnaire’s blood oozed onto the floor to mix with that of the martyr he had deemed subhuman. Kaipha had stabbed Vespasian – and the tyrant was slowly dying.

The group now moved quickly towards the outside of their hellish jail. Strangely, they encountered no resistance as they ran through the dimly-lit corridors towards freedom. Any rational mind would have questioned this anomaly, but the mind of a zealot has a strained relationship with reason. The mind of one overwhelmed by war and new-found freedom has discarded it almost entirely. A large wooden door now stood between them and the outside world. They burst into the sunlight, unprepared for what they would then encounter…

A battalion of heavily-armed soldiers now confronted the ragtag group of rebels. After a long moment of dreadful anticipation, Kaipha made his move. The insurgent leader moved towards the front of the group, ostensibly to beg the Roman masters to spare their lives. However, as he walked towards the commander of an army that had murdered his family and burnt his home, he was embraced as a brother. Without hesitation, the rest of the group was then brutally murdered, staring into the hard, indifferent eyes of the leader who had betrayed them for a place among the aristocracy.

Rome had lost a soldier to the Plot of Kaipha, but in the calculus of power, it was a price well worth paying. As the story of Kaipha the Traitor spread in the concentration camps and Diaspora, mistrust was deepened within a people who once dared to challenge the tyranny of Rome. Under the weight of this maddening mistrust, solidarity crumbled. For generations, liberation 4 would fail to advance beyond the whispers of those too crippled by fear of betrayal to raise their voices. Vespasian was alive – and Kaipha was the rock upon which he built a psychological occupation.

 

Raees Noorbhai

 

Notes

1 It is a well-documented historical fact that the Roman Empire forced captured citizens of conquered nations into slavery. Indeed, this cruel practice of systematic servitude was tragically common during antiquity. The sacking of Judea during the Jewish Revolt of the first century was no exception to this norm. However, the use of concentration camps to house slaves is, to my knowledge, undocumented. This, as well as other details concerning the historical context in which the story is written and the plot-line of the story itself, is the product of artistic license. It would also be unbecoming of me to not acknowledge the substantial contribution made by Reza Aslan’s work, Zealot, to my understanding of the politics of the period in which I set this story.

2 In early 70 AD, after a brutal crackdown in Galilee, Titus, the son of Vespasian, besieged Jerusalem. For more than 6 torturous months, infighting and the siege led to starvation and widespread death. When the Romans breached the weakened defenses, they were merciless. Scores of Jerusalem’s people were murdered and the city was razed and plundered, along with its Second Temple, seen as sacred by the Jews of Judea. Those who survived stood humiliated in the ruins of Jerusalem and were taken as slaves by the Romans.

3 Hezekiah’s Prayer refers to an incident in that anthology of mythology popularly known as the Hebrew Bible, where Hezekiah, King of Judah, beseeches the god of Israel to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians.

It’s noteworthy that the liberation mentioned here is not a departure from the problematic politics of religion. The occupation that the Jewish people rose up against was certainly oppressive, but the state which the revolt aimed to establish would almost certainly spawn a new oppression – through its implementation of religious law and exclusion of those who did not belong to the dominant faith. Of course, this does not justify the occupation, but the short story is not a defense of the Revolt’s ideals either. Put simply: had it succeeded, the Revolt would’ve placed itself in the cross-hairs of a revolution birthed by the gentile cry for equality.

Reckless, Ineffective and Irresponsible-The Tea Party’s Efforts to Defund Obamacare

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Earlier this week, Ted Cruz-the senator from Texas and Tea Party favourite-occupied the floor of the US Senate for 21 hours in a pseudo-filibuster to defiantly reaffirm his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Following the passing of a bill by the House of Representatives which defunds President Obama’s signature legislation, the Democratic Senate is poised to jettison the defunding clause and move the amended budget back to the GOP-controlled House for approval. Tensions are now running high, for failure to pass a continuing resolution by October 1st will result in an almost complete government shut-down.

This is not the first time the partisan divide has threatened the United States economy with a meltdown, as memories of the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ and subsequent sequestration linger in our minds. This time, the centre of the rift is Obamacare-with the far-right wing faction of the GOP willing to hold the US economy hostage to ensure their demands are met to scrap the act which will provide healthcare to millions of yet-uninsured Americans. Preceding the current stalemate, the Republican House voted no less than 42 times to defund the law, with the Senate subsequently shooting down their attempts every single time. In the extremely unlikely eventuality that even the Democratic Senate voted against Obamacare-President Obama has (unsurprisingly) promised to veto the legislation. Therefore, Republicans in Congress are repeatedly engaging in behavior which they know to be futile. As a result, an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of a Congress which has far surpassed in inaction Truman’s famed “Do Nothing Congress“.

The lack of public support goes further, as the majority of Americans do not believe that the stubborn attempts of Cruz, Lee et al. should hinder a process as sacrosanct as passing a budget. Relatively moderate Republican veterans, including Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, wary of the prospect of losing public credibility have hence derided Cruz’s uncompromising campaign to defund Obamacare-even going as far as calling the tactic a publicity stunt in light of Cruz’s obvious presidential ambitions. Despite the rare outrage from some of their fellow Republicans, as well as the fact that Obamacare will not lose a great portion of its funding (due to mandatory spending) in the case of a government shutdown, the Tea Party persists in their campaign. However, the passing of the continuing resolution is not the only bargaining chip the GOP is willing to use to achieve their ambitions.

Raising the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling is a measure which will allow the United States to continue financing existing debts (and does not mandate additional spending) and hence failure to do so will result in a historically unprecedented credit default. A sovereign debt crisis may follow, which will quickly spiral out of control, affecting much of the rest of the world in a likely new economic crisis. For most of American history, the prospect of increasing the borrowing limit was considered too important to be sabotaged by partisan divisions. Even Ronald Reagan, a demigod-like figure to conservatives, reached across the aisle to the liberal speaker of the house Tip O’Neill to avoid the dreaded prospect of defaulting on credit-all in all Reagan raised the debt ceiling 18 times during his presidency. Regardless of this, the current GOP insists upon utilizing the measure to finance a conservative agenda and have attached provisions to the bill for everything ranging from the Keystone XL pipeline to relaxing regulations and restructuring the tax code. Once again, the public is firmly against risking default to defund the healthcare bill, with 7 in 10 Americans preferring an agreement which they would otherwise view as less than ideal to a disastrous credit default.

For all the racket resonating from the GOP, one would assume that the proposed legislation would be calamitous for the American public-something Cruz attempts to convince the public of at every possible opportunity-even resorting to a Nazi comparison which was misinformed at the very least. Although the Affordable Care Act is flawed and contains significant loopholes, it will most definitely provide millions with affordable health insurance and hence 56 percent of the US public believes it should be made workable by Congress instead of resorting to a shut-down of government in opposition. Ironically, Cruz has run on the slogan “Make Washington Listen”-while the only faction within DC not listening to the voice of the people is Cruz’s far-right.  The contradictions don’t end there, as Cruz contends that Obamacare is costing American jobs, while ignoring the scores of Americans who would fall victim to involuntary furlough should his tactic yield a shutdown. Furthermore, Cruz has no alternative for provisions made in the Affordable Care Act for those with pre-existing conditions, deferring to “a booming economy” as the alternative while giving no specifics. However, it seems like even Cruz acknowledges that the American people will come to appreciate Obamacare, as he elucidated his belief that Americans will become “addicted to the subsidies” to the extent that they will not allow the program to become undone.

The US economy and in fact the world as a whole, has finally begun to recover from the disastrous recession of 2008 and is not prepared to endure another as a result of partisan squabbling. Yes, pluralism is intrinsic to democracy and hence differing opinions are nothing but natural to the system. Nevertheless, when an inevitable impasse arises, a spirit of rationality and compromise must often emerge. Therefore, to self-inflict damage upon one’s own country and derail its economy, simply because one does not get one’s way, is an irresponsible tactic characteristic of a party which puts their own interests far above those of the people they claim to represent.

Changing Our Attitude Towards Immigration

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emblazoned upon the plaque which sits at the foot of Lady Liberty, this extract from a sonnet by Emma Lazarus was an invitation to the world, embodying the beating heart of a self-identifying nation of immigrants. Fast-forward more than a century and Nina Davuluri, a woman born in the city housing the world-famous statue is crowned Miss America, leading to racist backlash from the more geographically and factually-challenged members of the social network community. Framed against the backdrop of the ongoing Immigration reform debate in both chambers of Congress, the bigoted response highlights a more disturbing trend which transcends American politics-an animosity towards immigrants which periodically emerges on our news-feeds.

Within the borders of my South African homeland, xenophobic attacks are not uncommon, coming into the national spotlight as foreign-owned shops are burnt and looted. Impregnated deep within the psyche of many, seems to be the tendency to find a scapegoat-simply because it is easier than confronting the often complex causality or difficult truths behind importunate problems. This same phenomenon is one we see too often, as the blame is shifted to immigrants on issues ranging from inflated crime rates to deflated employment prospects. The attackers house a mentality devoid of empathy, failing to see the reality that immigrants from the rest of the African continent seek refuge here not because they have nefarious plans to harm our country through criminal syndicates, but because the conditions in their own countries have often become unbearable. They look to their adopted country as a burning, undying flame of hope and we betray who we are as human beings, beyond our national identities, if we suffocate that flame.

Irrational scapegoating, in order to be effective, is coupled with a fear-mongering campaign to carve out perceived differences, portraying the immigrant as dangerous and often inferior to the local population. This campaign culminates, in extreme cases, in the establishment of viciously racist far-right parties, such as the Golden Dawn party infamous for their Neo-Nazi presence in Greek politics. By dehumanizing the immigrant, they attempt to convince the populace that their violence and mistreatment is somehow excusable. As problems compound domestically, this idea that the ‘inferior foreigners’ are at the root of problems becomes incredibly dangerous, potentially leading to tragic displays of inhumanity.

Ideologically, there is a certain irony present in anti-immigrant sentiment, especially from those within the United States, stemming from a convoluted understanding of the concept of immigration and its presence in the history of most. Almost all Americans, even the most ardent anti-immigrant members of the Tea Party, are not ancestrally indigenous to the land that is now the United States. They can live and prosper within the US often because their forefathers were given the chance to build a better life there. In reality, most of the human population, if they trace their lineage back far enough, will stumble upon an ancestor who was indeed an immigrant to the land their kindred now occupies. The opportunity they were given is the opportunity we must give to those who house those common hopes and dreams for prosperity.

Furthermore, a distorted perception of privilege exists around the immigrant population. In most instances, immigrants from under-developed countries do not step into executive corporate positions (surprise surprise) or sit dormant waiting for government benefits. They are often willing to do the menial work the local population is not and make considerable contributions to the economy in other sectors as well. By giving these workers citizenship, they can become tax-paying members of the national community and enrich the economy. Moreover, the influx brings an ethnic and cultural diversity, yet a willingness to come together around the ideals upon which a country is built (after all, they must agree with something the country is doing if they are willing to pin their hopes on migrating there).This idea, that immigrants can be an asset to a nation, is one which is seemingly unfathomable to those who contend that their presence does nothing but weigh the rest of the country down.

Therefore, the next time you find yourself on the side of anti-immigrant rhetoric, remember: If the United States had closed their borders to even the most volatile Middle East, a certain Syrian-born man wouldn’t have fallen in love with Joanne Carole Schieble on the field of a Wisconsin Campus and Schieble wouldn’t have subsequently given birth to their son-Steven Paul Jobs.

Farewell Carlos Danger

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The results from the New York City Democratic Primary are in and progressive Bill de Blasio has been nominated to take on the Republican anti-kitten (yes) and fiscal conservative candidate Joe Lhota for the mayor of the Big Apple. Now, de Blasio is a bona fide liberal and I’m genuinely thrilled that he came out on top, but before the heated debate on Stop and Frisk and Wall Street regulations take center-stage, I thought I’d bid farewell to another candidate who had ensured there never was a dull moment in this mayoral race. Yes, I’m talking of course about Anthony Weiner.

Although Weiner ended up with a meager 4.9% of the vote, he actually led in the polls early on in the race. However, that was before the emergence of an epic alter-ego-the Mr Hyde to Weiner’s Dr Jekyll-Carlos Danger. Weiner was no stranger to a sex scandal and even entered the race with the shadow of his 2011 fall from grace hanging over him (In the off chance you’re unfamiliar with the sexting pictures that saw him resign from Congress-I strongly advise you NOT to Google them and take my word that they’re rather inappropriate). Nevertheless it seemed New York was ready to give him another chance. After all, he cleaned up his act after leaving Congress right? Wrong.

Up until earlier this year, the world’s most-appropriately named politician was sexting with various partners, including the now-infamous Sydney Leathers. To be fair-Weiner broke no laws and let’s not forget stupidity isn’t really a crime(if it was, Lhota would have the police stop and frisk you if they had a suspicion you spend your spare time watching Toddlers in Tiaras). New Yorkers however seemed less than impressed and Weiner’s once strong showing in the polls (I swear these puns aren’t on purpose) plummeted. However, the former Congressman did not resign, to the delight of those of us who saw him now as more our source of daily entertainment than a serious contender to become Bloomberg’s successor. To Weiner though, he still stood a firm chance: Carlos Danger would fight on. 

Weiner spent the days following the revelation urging the press not to focus on his personal affair-and the odd thing is, I somewhat agree. The personal lives of politicians should not take precedence over the issues facing the people they represent and it is for this reason I backed Eliot Spitzer, the former ‘Sheriff of Wall Street’, in his bid to become NYC comptroller, a bid he eventually lost to Scott Stringer by a small margin. However, personal issues become more relevant when they highlight the capability of a candidate to hold public office. In this case, Weiner’s string of apologies to the public, vowing to change and then not doing so is, in my opinion, the reason the residual trust between him and the New York City public was eroded.

Following a steady decline in the polls, as well as a mocking response about cat videos to a Buzzfeed question about Jon Stewart, whose show, under the custodianship of Jon Oliver, aired the hilarity of the campaign, Weiner 2013 ends up here-absorbing the crushing defeat from de Blasio. So, how did Weiner concede? Surely in a mature and reconciliatory manner which cleared up the tomfoolery of the last couple of months? Well of course not-that is not the Anthony Weiner way. He leads by example-why settle for telling the public what an “imperfect messenger” he’s been when he could just dash through a McDonalds, fleeing his ex-mistress turned amateur pornography actress to wave the press goodbye with a sincere display of his middle finger?

And so, for what it’s worth and regardless of the fact that I wholeheartedly back de Blasio for mayor, I’m surely not alone in saying: Farewell Carlos Danger-your outlandish campaign will be missed.

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