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DJ Focus bringing African innovation to MIT...

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Recent Posts

Reformers and Peacemakers, Nobel Women

Oct 24, 11 Reformers and Peacemakers, Nobel Women

Posted by in International

Liberia’s first woman president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee and youth activist Tawakkul Karman are the first women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since 2004. These three women were chosen for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. It seems the overarching theme attached to 2011’s prize was that of women’s rights and activism. In this regard, the Nobel committee was spot on. Democracy and lasting peace can only be realized if women’s needs and concerns are recognized in conjunction with the expansion of women’s aspirations and skills to their fullest potential. Until women are formally educated and can earn a living wage, they will not be able to take their rightful place in influencing development at all levels of society. However, having been criticized for imposing a political agenda on continuing events rather than capturing a moment of hope, the Nobel committee has received flack for their choice of winners.  I have no problem with this perceived political agenda, as long as that agenda arises from support of particular issues and is not just blanket coverage for the sake of granting women the Nobel peace prize. In a blanket coverage stance, the committee seems to have arbitrarily thrown the prize at three women, all in the name of merely supporting women’s interests. By doing so, they have diluted the standing of the Nobel peace prize. What the committee really needed to do was pick a particularly pertinent issue and stick with it or adopt a more representative approach. Over the last year and from their list of possible winners, the Nobel committee could have picked out three issues within the context of women’s rights and activism: The Arab Spring, Liberian women peacemakers and a decade of conflict in Afghanistan. But instead of focusing on one issue, the Nobel committee picked out two issues, Liberia receiving more emphasis than the Arab Spring while ignoring Afghanistan altogether. As part of a focused approach, the...

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Saffer craving passport and boerie

Oct 17, 11 Saffer craving passport and boerie

Posted by in International

Article 21 of the South African Constitution is not such a tricky provision to understand. It says pretty clearly that as a citizen of the country, I am entitled to a passport. It also says that I am allowed to leave the country and re-enter the country. So I am pretty confident that I am allowed to reside outside of South Africa, and the government has a duty to promote my right to come home when I wish, and specifically, to actually give me the passport I am entitled to. Sadly, I am but one of many expatriate South Africans being denied the rights of my citizenship. While I applied for a new passport some 11 months ago from my local embassy, neither Home Affairs nor the embassy itself is at any pains to actually provide me with one. A friend of mine in a similar situation (whose business promoting trade between Europe and South Africa has been severely hampered by the failure to supply her with a passport for many months) shared in my frustration recently when telling me how she was told by the consulate that they were rather stretched and really couldn’t establish constructive communication with Home Affairs on the issue. However, she was privy to overhear consulate staff’s dedication to the activity of locating the correct innards to craft some boerewors for an upcoming event. Apparently boerewors and parties fall within the priorities of our representatives abroad, but not so much the protection of citizens. And while we are in no shortage of incompetent government departments to moan about, nor violations of rights to be indignant about, this one is a painful reminder to me of just how ambitious our governments institutional incompetence is – stretching continents to annoy, limit and frustrate the lives of citizens. As a patriotic expatriate who longs for home, I must admit that there is something all too familiar in the experience of such attitudes. In conversations with folk at home, one often encounters this...

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Dalai Drama

Oct 03, 11 Dalai Drama

Posted by in Politics

The hand-wringing delays on securing a South African visa for the Dalai Lama has drawn sharp criticism from several principled circles, invoking impromptu vigils outside parliament and banner-clad protests demanding his approval forthwith. And if principles were the only deciding factor in accepting the Dalai Lama’s application I would agree fully. But they’re not, and the South African government would be foolish to think otherwise. Instead they are faced with a three-pronged problem here. Firstly, the principles of our constitution demand that an innocent citizen of another country should be allowed into South Africa, barring any criminal or diplomatic issues, secondly is the diplomatic relations-cost which will be incurred, and finally the economic consequences which could be brought to bear. He is one man; he wants to come to South Africa. It should not be an issue. But that diplomatic issue is a large one, and cannot be ignored based on the implicit holiness of moral imperative. If we allow the Dalai Lama into SA, we will suffer a negative political cost with or relations with China. Tibet has zero political and economic utility to South Africa. Absolutely nothing of notable worth goes to Tibet or comes from it, excepting perhaps a bevy of ‘enlightened’ backpackers returning from the mountainous region, brimful with spirituality and righteousness. But in terms of putting food on the tables of South Africans, it does nothing. The government would be foolish to heedlessly approve a visa for the Dalai Lama in the face of an understandable outrage by the Chinese government. Aside from the fact that they are our biggest trade partner now, we just had a delegation in China securing business and trade deals which will be of benefit to both countries. Allowing the Dalai Lama entry into our country would give the Chinese an excuse to reconsider any of these negotiated deals which may seem unpalatable under a new, less diplomatically-rosy light. The government cannot blithely ignore such larger issues for the sake of principles. It sounds...

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Goats on a plane – Santaco Airlines and Government

Sep 19, 11 Goats on a plane – Santaco Airlines and Government

Posted by in Politics

The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) is taking on a whole new market: air travel. South Africa will soon have a new wholly black-owned, low-cost, commercial airline. Zuma has hailed the new airline as “a practical example of economic and social emancipation”. Others have also welcomed the idea of affordable air travel for the majority. There are some (DA) concerns about the airworthiness of the chosen operator, but on the whole, the enterprise seems set to go ahead. The first interesting thing about Santaco Airlines is the choice of routes. From the start, the taxi industry has said that the airline is intended to cater for those passengers who currently travel their long-distance taxi routes. The first routes of the airline will be between Lanseria, Johannesburg and Bhisho. Assuming the decision to launch this route has been based on market research and not just on wishful thinking, and it seems prudent to assume that at this point, this move suggests that travel between the Eastern Cape and Gauteng is popular enough, and popular enough with enough people who have money, to support the huge commercial expense of setting up an airline. The volume of people is important – a few wealthy people would justify more expensive SA Express routes to the area; a very low-cost airline requires volume to break even. This raises some interesting questions about the socio-economic status of those from the ‘poorest province in the country’. The Eastern Cape spends a lot of time painting itself (and being painted) as a province falling apart because people are so poor. Apparently there are enough people in the province who can afford basic airfares (or at least enough going home for the holidays) to justify the cost of an airline. Perhaps broad economic development is starting to happen for at least some of the people in the Eastern Cape? Bhisho and Lanseria are an interesting choice for another reason: they are not ACSA airports. There was lots of talk around the World...

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Scarred But Not Damaged

Sep 15, 11 Scarred But Not Damaged

Posted by in Culture

Every young woman I have spoken to has a story – stories of coercive circumstances; harassment, sexual propositions and overtures; emergency contraception; sexual abuse; controlling behaviour or intimidation.  I am not writing on behalf of all victims or survivors of sexual assault, harassment or gender-based violence (GBV). Nor am I writing about the all-encompassing normative power of GBV legislation for victims or survivors. In fact, I say ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ with a degree of caution because of their doubtful connotations of strength and weakness. Quite simply, for my tenth African Scene piece, I’m going to turn my analysis of gender relations inward and share my own story with you. A story which began with a guy I considered a friend. A person I trusted who threatened to break my pelvis in an act of sexual violence and ruin sex for me forever because I did not give him what he wanted, when he wanted it. And, in my lawyerly mind, I found it liberating to locate my experience squarely within the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 (DVA). This legal framework (for all of its procedural flaws) has incredible value as a normative touchstone in reminding me that a threat of physical and sexual violence against any women is inherently wrong and therefore, allowing me to work through my own internalized self-blaming GBV myths. But how could someone within my circle of friends – someone I thought was the teddy bear of the bunch – threaten me? For me, this question was founded on a myth of two extremes. On one side, women were only supposed to be harmed by nameless strangers. While on the opposite side, ‘domestic violence’ only occurred in the context of a ‘home’ or ‘family’ environment. There could be no grey area. Nonetheless, the DVA makes provision for grey areas by sanctioning a broad list of people who could qualify as abusers, ranging from someone with whom you’ve shared a residence to a person you’ve had any kind of romantic relationship...

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The past cannot be fixed

Sep 05, 11 The past cannot be fixed

Posted by in News & Media, Politics

The recent debate over Tutu’s ‘white tax’ has an awful lot of people hot under the collar. I have no problem with people debating this and Richard Stupart’s thoughtful piece is a great contribution to the discussion. It’s an interesting philosophical question to bounce around the privileged coffee shops and wine-bars of Sandton and Stellenbosch. I do have a problem when it becomes the whole national dialogue. The current problem in South Africa is not Apartheid. Some, who like the issue for scoring political points or to raise public ire for the purposes of increasing their own fame and fortune, might pretend that it is. But it isn’t. The past was a contributor to the present, it is not the present. We live in a society where millions of people are born into a situation where their families have no capital and no way to build capital. They don’t own land, they don’t have houses, they don’t have savings, they don’t have jobs. Their income streams are informal or ‘social security net’ at best, non-existent at worst. 22% of South Africans survive below the poverty line. 12 million people in this country do not have access to regular, healthy food. 12 million of a population of 50 million. That is more than 1 in 5. Many have no income, no assets and no access to credit beyond the R200 a month social grant that makes them utterly dependent on, and at the mercy of, the state. Unemployment is even higher. We have a system that is set up in such a way that a ridiculously large proportion of the country is kept vulnerable and dependent. This cannot be sustained. We spend our time bickering about the past and arguing about which 50 people have a greater right to have control of the largest economic assets in the country. That isn’t what’s important. What is important is how we plan to continue to feed 50 million people with declining food production and rising food costs...

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Voluntary & direct

Aug 28, 11 Voluntary & direct

Posted by in Politics

Generally, I hate the white privilege debate in South Africa. Not because I feel it is unwarranted – god knows it exists, is immense, and increasingly needs addressing. I hate the debate because, for the most part, I wholly distrust the motivations of behind many of the most strident voices arguing in the arena.

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Best Shore: Johannesburg

Aug 22, 11 Best Shore: Johannesburg

Posted by in Economics

When last were you, when addressing a problem with your printer or shiny new Apple junk-Mac, patched through to a call-centre in Alexandra? Numerous of those dreaded service-related calls have resulted in me being patched through to scripted Indians, incomprehensible Filipinos, and angry Glaswegians, but never to a cheerful Durbanite or chatty Bloemfonteinian. While outsourcing services to remote, low-wage economies has become industry standard for many large companies, South Africa, despite appearing to be an ideal offshoring location, has lagged behind other developing nations in raking in foreign capital. The Indian model has been held up as an offshore example for over a decade. Booming in the late 90s, the IT sector in India has risen, to date, from below 1% to over 5% of GDP, in a country where only 7% of the population have access to the internet. The industry, which has created thousands of new jobs and drawn millions in foreign investment, contributes substantially to the sustained growth of this emerging market. Of the $30+ billion dollars of revenue generated by the services industry, about 75% is comprised of service “exports” to western-based multi-nationals. Both government and the private sector have made large investment in colleges, which take some of the brightest students from a mediocre schooling system and turn them into professionals who are able to communicate effectively in English, follow well-defined processes and convert designs into deliverables. Though not necessarily delivering a full spectrum of business services, these centres excel in delivering the core bulk of IT requirements, from maintenance to development. This allows large technology companies to pay below-the-market prices for human resources and provide cheaper IT solutions to newly budget-conscious foreign institutions. Part of the revenue generated from the vast amount of work offshored to India is ploughed back into the education system and used to strengthen infrastructure – investment which supports business and benefits the economy as a whole. South Africa, largely, has missed the wagon and hardly heard the band. While South Africa has established...

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