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South Africa: A fading rainbow?

Democracy is not an easy thing to do. It is not something that can be implemented over night nor does the ability to vote mean that things will immediately turn out for the better. For democracy to work, institutions need to be in place and civil society must work together to grow something organically.

Notions of idealism have often ignored the fundamentals of rationalism and pragmatism. In effect, just because something may seem right, it doesn’t mean it is going to work. To a large extent, this forms the building blocks of modern Conservatism and many of the views of the 18th century politician Edmund Burke. Societies don’t become something overnight, they evolve through history and culture. The lessons of revolution and visionary leaders have often led to mass murder and the brutality of totalitarian regimes.

The problem with democracy is that when it is in place, citizens expect results immediately. Yet, when things don’t, old habits often die hard. One only has to look at Russia. Western critics of the current Russian leadership may have some salient points regarding Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian style, yet let us remember that democracy as we know it has never existed there at all. Before Stalin and Lenin, Russia was ruled by hereditary Tsars. Authoritarianism and the security blanket of socialism are the systems that Russians know; it may be some time before the framework of democracy beds-in.

The same can be said of South Africa. The pressure for the country to flourish remains intense, almost on the verge of burdensome. The peaceful legacy of Nelson Mandela’s leadership was a platform for countries overcoming long legacies of discrimination to aspire to, any step backward is deemed a desecration of Mandela’s legacy

The current crisis involving the South Africa questions not only the stability of the economy, but the essence of its democracy. The shooting and subsequent killings of protesting miners at a platinum mine near Rustenburg asks not only questions of the police, but questions about politics and society.

Since 16 August, South Africa’s platinum mines have become inoperable. Mass demonstrations by several unions have prevented workers returning to the pits and have put future operations in doubt. The protests have continued to gain momentum and not just in Rustenburg, miners from across the country have joined in wild-cat strikes. The return of the banished former ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema has only stoked the fire further.

Malema is no stranger to controversy. A fierce critic of South Africa’s current leadership, Malema has openly stated his admiration and friendship of Zimbabwe’s ageing tyrant Robert Mugabe, discredited the Government of Botswana and called for the South African mining sector to be renationalised. The 31-year-old raised headlines initially for singing the infamous ‘Shoot the Boer’ at ANC rallies, Boer being the white farmers who settled in South Africa in the 17th and 18th century, now a looser term for white South Africans. In April 2012, Malema was finally banned for calling President Zuma a dictator. Yet, it does not appear to have curtailed his opinions. Malema this week was talking to the South African army, in what has been perceived as a threat to national security.

Whilst Malema’s rhetoric can be deemed as absurd and opportunistic, to what extent does it echo with many of the workers in South Africa’s mining community? Since the end of Apartheid, are they materially better off? Life expectancy has dropped to 52 years old, over a tenth of the population is living with HIV, on top of poor educational standards, crime remains an inherent problem with high murder and violent crime rates. Figures also put the unemployment rate at 25%, though many believe it to be around 40%. Has freedom from Apartheid brought opportunity? For the masses living in black townships, how many would argue that much has changed?

Whilst many poor black South Africans have suffered, the political elite have prospered. 100 years since the ANC was born, to what extent does it really represent its constituents? Why has it introduced a secrecy law that critics believe to be akin to Apartheid-era politics. Why were the miners in Rustenburg arrested under an obscure Apartheid law?

South Africa has struggled like any country whilst it attempted to re-emerge from its bleak past. South Africa is held up as a beacon because what was enshrined in its constitution made it the world’s most equal society. Yet the strikes and gaps in wealth tell another story. A new black elite has managed to develop from the seeds of freedom. From what should have been an opportunity for liberation and new beginnings has led to greed, corruption and a failure of the masses. Whilst the miners may return to work this week, what remains is a seriously inequal society and the fault lines that will only become wider.


How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Intervention remains a word that causes many diplomats to gasp. To what extent does intervention become an occupation and is there a point where intervention goes beyond a point of feasibility? Politicians have learnt to live with the consequences amidst the tides of history of whether to intervene within a country’s affairs. The demise of the Somali state was exacerbated by the White House’s decision to remove US troops after the failed ‘Black Hawk Down’ mission. The UN’s inertia in 1994 only led to greater intensity of killings in Rwanda. Yet, politicians know all too well of the risks that military action can ensue. The toxic-effect of the US-led invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the on-going stalemate in Afghanistan continue to poison the well of intention.

For over 18 months, the battle between the Assad regime and anti-government rebels has turned Syria into a warzone. Only recently Syria could be described as one of the most stable nations in the region, yet today it has the capacity to create an all out war in the Middle East. The reports of mass artillery bombardments in the cities of Homs and Aleppo, plus the massacres of women and children is creating a humanitarian disaster. With estimates of over 25,000 deaths, possibly more, is a foreign-led intervention an ideal proposition for the situation or is it bound to make the situation worse?
So far, the diplomatic efforts have produced little. Syria’s historically strongest ally, Russia, has continuously refused to back sanctions at the UN. A Libyan-style intervention or arming of opposition forces is deemed impossible. Yet what other solutions remain? The West’s idea that Russia could offer Assad and his inner circle political immunity in Moscow was voted down too. To what extent are we prepared to turn a blind eye to justice in the interest of peace and the deaths of fewer? Do we reach a threshold where justice becomes immaterial?

Will he stay or will he go?

Syria has not signed the International Criminal Court’s treaty and therefore as things stand, Assad can face no international court. However; it is true of anti-government troops as well. They may say they are killing in the name of freedom, but no one can deny the massacres that have taken place on either side. The original protests that led to children having their fingernails removed have led to torture and summary executions. What they may perceive as ‘natural justice’ on the battlefield cannot be translated as humanly dignified. The country is systematically combusting, as are the rules that most humans would see as sacred.
From a diplomatic perspective, is it simple to purely blame Russia for blocking resolutions? Whilst no one can ignore the atrocities, who’s not to say that on previous occasions other countries, particularly in the West, have protected their own interests. There is a degree of old-school Cold War politics. One could argue why Sri Lanka or Israel haven’t had any of their politicians in the dock, these instances on paper show clear breaches of human rights or crimes against humanity, yet impunity remains the watch word. There are crimes and no one likes to see criminals to evade justice, but Syria and Assad wouldn’t be the first to escape the net.
This war, as things stand, has more to come, and who knows how long for. The fact Kofi Annan left his job as peace envoy shows how difficult it is to overcome. If Assad already knows what could wait, then who is not to say he will go out in glory as Gadaffi tried. Who’s not to say that a quarter of a million more people may die through chemical weapons? Then again, if he is brought to justice then how does one prove the atrocities? There are very few journalists and do they have any proof? Not all news coming out of the country can be verified.
Be sure, Assad is resolute but is weak. The question is what do you do about it?

Murder City: New Orleans, no longer the Mardi Gras?

Once upon a time the southern US city of New Orleans, at the mouth of the Mississippi river, was a place famed for its jazz and bohemian culture. The world famous Bourbon Street and French Quarter were home to musical greats such as Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Professor Longhair. Mardi Gras, the yearly carnival celebrated everything historical and unique about the Big Easy. But no longer is the city famed for its gumbo and Cajun and Creole mix.

Most people remember the devastation in 2005 caused by Hurricane Katrina. A storm so powerful that it breached the city’s ageing levees and flooded 80 per cent of the municipal. In some places, the water reached above 15 feet, destroying all houses and businesses. It is estimated that around 1,464 people lost their lives as a result of Katrina.

French Quarter (travelgrove.com)

Restoring the old city has been no easy feat. Not only have engineers had to fix the levees and demolish storm-affected buildings. Politicians have had to deal with the difficulties of a disparate population (evacuated to different states during Katrina), a housing shortage and most notoriously the rise in civil disobedience. New Orleans is now bearer of the unfortunate title ‘Murder City’.

The USA still has one of the highest homicide rates in the developed world at 4.8 per 100,000 people. In New Orleans, the homicide rate is ten times higher than the national rate. Last year 199 people were murdered, meaning that for every 1,700 citizens, one of them became a victim. The problem appears to be getting worse. Hitherto, there have been 45 more victims than this time last year. A recent poll among New Orleans residents reflects these numbers. Crime is now deemed to be the biggest problem according to 62 per cent of the poll, ahead of issues like education and housing.

The HBO drama ‘Treme’ set after Katrina tries to reflect this. Ordinary citizens try to resume their lives, but are hampered by maladministration and the ever increasing, fear of crime. The Mayor of New Orleans recently stated on the record that it had become “the single most important issue facing our city”.

Homicide in America is in decline, particularly since the peaks of the 1980s. In fact, 2011 was the first year since 1965 that homicide did not make the country’s top 15 list of ways to die according to the National Centre for Health Statistics. Cities notorious with crime, the likes of Baltimore, Washington D.C and Detroit have made steady improvements, whereas New Orleans has bucked the trend.

Similar to the streets of south Chicago, the patterns of violence are not necessarily gang or drug related. Residents have voiced the ‘ordinariness’ nature of the killings. The New Orleans Police Superintendent called it “uncommon endings to very common fights”. Guns are being used to resolve traffic disputes. At the end of 2011, stray bullets ended the lives of two toddlers.

Crime scene (nola.com)

The statistics do not lie. In New Orleans murder is the number one cause of death among black males age 16-24. A Federal survey showed that almost 87 per cent of victims were male and 91.5 per cent were black. Ninety per cent were killed with firearms. Forty per cent were in their 20s, 13.5 per cent their teens.

For a city that has dealt with so much in the past ten years, it makes the violence seem unimaginable. In the years after Katrina, the murder rate actually came down. Why then the sudden spike in deaths? Local organisations put it down to the lack of education and employment opportunities. It can often be put down to sheer boredom. Living in tough neighbourhoods, where prospects are low and crime is high; the cycle of violence is sustained and pervasive. Carrying a gun is necessary for protection and commands respect. One community activist claimed that youngsters only respected and listened to him because he had a murder to his name. It is unsurprising to learn that trust in the police is non-existent and inevitably witnesses rarely see anything or come forward.

All around neighbourhoods in New Orleans lasting tributes are being made to the spiralling number of deaths. One company sells customised clothing that prints pictures of the dead for friends and family. Perhaps more vividly, one website tags the ever increasing locations of the murders. One church has a created a memorial that lists the names of the fallen, akin to any war monument.

Seven years after Katrina, the rebuilding of New Orleans will have to continue.

Dirty money in sport.

Today was an important day in the world of sport. Southwark Crown Court in London found the former Pakistani cricket captain Salman Butt and fast-bowler Mohammad Asif guilty of plotting to bowl deliberate no-balls in the 2010 Lord’s Test as part of a spot-fixing plot. Another player, teenager Mohammad Amir had already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to cheat and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments before the trial. The trio who had already received sporting bans from their sports may also receive prison sentences for the duplicity. Though many cricketing administrators will see this as justice, it only opens further questions of how pervasive and corrupt the game and sport as a whole is.

If you do not already know the story or have not seen the footage of the players’ misdemeanours then it is simple to explain. The News of the World (NOTW) and the ‘Fake Sheikh’ (a notorious undercover tabloid reporter) met with the UK based sports agent, Mazhar Majeed and recording him boasting that he could arrange Pakistan players to rig games for money. Majeed was paid £150,000 by the newspaper and in return Amir and Asif, following instructions from the captain Butt, bowled no-balls (an illegitimate delivery) at specific timings through the game. With foresight of the deliveries any individual could make a fortune through the vast, yet illegal; betting industry in South East Asia. Anyone watching the game may have been surprised by the errors, though it probably would have been deemed to be an aberration, yet the newspaper headlines and undercover footage led the Police to the same banknotes found in the player’s hotel rooms.

The maximum sentence for cheating is two years in jail and an unlimited fine, while accepting payments carries a maximum sentence of seven years and an unlimited fine. Unfortunately for cricket, this was not a new story. In the 1990s many players were wrongly accused of match-fixing including England’s most capped test player Alec Stewart, whereas others including the former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin and Pakistani captain Saleem Malik were both found guilty. The most famous case was that of Hansie Cronje, the South African captain who had led the country out of its sporting wilderness and made it one of the world’s most dominant and competitive teams. Cronje was a national hero and yet a chance find Delhi police implicated him receiving money to help fix matches. Most famously a test match between England and South Africa at Centurion Park in 2000, after a rain delayed match, Cronje forfeited an innings to see whether England could chase down the target and achieve an improbable result. Some saw it as an act of great sportsmanship, yet we now know that Cronje received £5000 and a leather jacket in return for inducing a result. The world of cricket was aghast at the news and Cronje, who would later die in a plane crash, became a fallen figure and national disgrace.

Both incidents were chance findings and tip offs. It is more than likely that the ICC would have been unable to detect these crimes without third party investigations. This is where the problem lies; the cricketers were guilty of accepting corrupt payments from unregulated bookmakers. In the West, suspicions would be raised immediately if someone bet £100,000 on a no-ball, as one statistician said the probability of calling a no-ball is around is 1.5 million to one, yet in South East Asia where gambling is illegal, who is there to police it? Some arguments have been put forward that these men were not cheating, nor influencing the result, they were simply making a bit of pocket money from a game that is not necessarily well-paid. Yet, the court heard that Butt was asked to rig the results of One-Day Internationals, a request which he says he declined. Like all cheats, there is always a complicity to break the rules; spot-fixing is just as bad taking sport enhancing drugs, who is not to say they would move onto rigging contests?

The problem for sport, not just cricket is that we just don’t know how to solve the problem and this case has simply highlighted the problem. Who is there to monitor football matches that aren’t televised or to question double faults in tennis? Sport today is about winning and money, but how much of that money is dirty?


Stranded on death row.

The British public is apparently demanding a Parliamentary vote on whether the Government should reintroduce Capital Punishment. It is over 50 years since Parliament abolished the bill and in the nineties the final crimes of high treason and piracy were erased from the legal manuscripts that deemed that the United Kingdom is not a place where criminals are put to death. Yet, is there a moral or financial argument to be made? Or is this purely a piece of political populism that will be contrived to stimulate an apocryphal public debate.

 This all stems from the Government’s willingness to open politics to the floor of the people and enhance their contributions through online petitions. The subjects are vetted to prevent insensible debates arising, but any e-petition that exceeds 100,000 signatures must be debated within Westminster and secure a Parliamentary discussion and vote. So would it be realistic to bring back the noose on British soil?

It was Immanuel Kant who said that in a civilised state, it had a right to punish the individual; the death penalty was a moral imperative. In fact, it was a duty; but not to be done with emotion. It is a way to celebrate human dignity, by executing people society is saying you are the responsible agent, you chose to do what you do and you deserve to die for it. We will not look at you as a means to deter others. Your actions are ends in themselves. Only purely evil things are from an evil will. Kant makes a good argument, yet society has moved into an era where punishment is a time to rehabilitate the guilty, not to kill them. It is deemed that liberal democracies do not put prisoners to death. The word punishment derives from the word ‘pain’ but most people think this would be a step backwards. 

Is it an effective deterrent? It is still used across Asia and the Middle East, and most notoriously America. In the US, 33 states still have the death penalty, yet a third don’t use it and another third of prisoners who are sentenced to death never see an electric chair or gas chamber. Perhaps it is unsurprising to learn that half of the US’s executions happen in Texas. People sent to death, often spend years on death row challenging the decision. The death penalty does not necessarily create a cheaper and cleaner method of justice.

I am of the opinion that this is a debate that doesn’t need to take place. There are arguments of what to do to the most heinous of criminals like Harold Shipman or Ian Huntley, but it is still demanding of a Government to ask members of a jury to send people to death. The debate should be why short term sentencing doesn’t work and what should be done to reform Britain’s prisons.

In the Police I trust.

The public sector and local government will be bracing itself for the forthcoming budget given by George Osborne. If the coalition government’s plans to wipe out the fiscal deficit within this Parliament are to materialise then savings bringing spending to around 40% of GDP will be the main target for Treasury officials. It is on these occasions that public services feel the pinch and try to demonstrate their worth and mitigate any government cuts. Perhaps the most difficult, particularly from the Conservative’s perspective, is a reduction to the policing budget. Tough crime and penal policies have always been part of a Tory’s diet and a cut in police numbers would appear to be contrary to party beliefs. Under Mrs Thatcher, police recruitment increased by around 30% and was vital in her battles against striking miners.

David Cameron met recently with the former Los Angeles Police Commissioner, William Bratton, to discuss crime and policing strategy. Bratton worked for the Boston Police Department (BPD), the New York Police Department (NYPD) and, until recently, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). In all three posts he has managed to reduce crime in cities notorious with high drug and violent crime rates. His experience and judgements are intelligible and his justifications would make any politician stupid to ignore him.

For many years New York was ravaged by violent organised crime syndicates that disrupted the lives of its population. Bratton’s ideas were based on a criminology paper by George Kelly and Ray Wilson called the ‘Broken Window Theory’. Kelly and Wilson placed a brand new car in a rough neighbourhood and left it for 24 hours, when they returned they found there had been no damage at all. The next time, they broke a window and again left it for 24 hours. When they returned they found the car had been vandalised to the extent that nothing was retrievable, even the tyres had been stolen. The theory was that if the Police were ignoring minor crimes, and targeting serious criminals, then these petty crooks will be undeterred by the law and eventually fall into a life of tougher crime.

The ‘Broken Window’ was evident in many cities across America in the 1970s. In New York police didn’t stop drinking on the streets, gambling, graffiti or the infamous squeegee men that cleaned car windows at traffic lights. Statistics found that of the three million people travelling on the subway each day, 200,000 people were evading the fare. Bratton set out his taskforce to root out such delinquency by finding the source and stopping it in its track. As he stated, by stopping people from drinking on the streets you are stopping a potential fight or stabbing later on in the evening.

People were very critical of this style of policing because evidence suggested that ‘zero-tolerance’ policing was pushing crime to outskirts of the city. It is also seen as very authoritarian and suspicious of human behaviour. As Bratton put it, this style of policing is in the wider interest of society. The Police did not have a good reputation within ethnic areas of cities, and the violence directed at people like Rodney King did not help ameliorate such relationships. He suggests that Police need to control the behaviour of society because crime itself is only caused by one thing; human nature. These are influenced by the economy, demographics and racism but it ultimately derives from the individual. By placing Police on the beat it was repairing relationships in places historically deemed as no-go areas. Cops on the dots not only created compassionate policing but it helped to stop the source of crime.

Ideological lines are always drawn involving crime and punishment. Liberals despise the thought of giving up certain liberties for the good of everyone, but these theories have shown that they have been effective in driving down all types of crime in cities with unhealthy pasts. Putting people in prison is in fact a good thing for society. It not only removes certain people from society but endorses a combination of policing and the criminal justice system i.e. juries.

This is the dilemma Mr Cameron has. Crime is known to rise during recessions, particularly low level, but by cutting Police numbers he could be doing more damage than he wishes. Policing has evolved immensely in terms of technology and statistics, but these alone will not see people stop their errant ways.

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