Terror & Torture

From Peter Bills at The Sunday Independent (SA):

The nightmare occurred far back in 1963, but Albie Sachs readily concedes: “I haven’t got over the mental scars. Solitary confinement and sleep deprivation remain as deeply embedded scars in my soul.

“Sometimes when I am walking on a high bridge I feel, like, a tug to topple over. It just evokes the memory of walking from or to the interrogation cell (during a spell of 168 days in solitary confinement). There was always that feeling of whether I should throw myself over the balcony…”

Albert Louis (Albie) Sachs, now 73, confesses he is surprised that such thoughts continue to surface. But, as he says, that shows how deep they went. In his words, there is a certain sadness deep down.

This extraordinary man, a living testimony to the belief that the human spirit can overcome all adversity, was blown up in his car by agents of the South African apartheid regime while working as a law professor in Maputo, the Mozambique capital, in 1988. He lost his right arm and was blinded in one eye. That he survived not just to exist but also to make so full a contribution to the life of a new, altogether better South Africa is a triumph for which this country should be grateful.

Judge Sachs of the South African Constitutional Court offers an appropriately calm, sober analysis of his own survival, his subsequent life and the contribution he continues to make to South African society. The day he took the oath of office as a judge in the new South Africa, he thought not of himself and his own incredible deliverance, but of those who had not made it through the dark times.

“I thought of those who were close to me, people like Looksmart Solwandle, Elija Loza, Ruth First and so many others. People I was very close to who were tortured to death.”

Read the rest here

Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, by Albie Sachs

Ruth First, 1925 – 1982

One Hundred Seventeen Days, by Ruth First, Foreward by Albie Sachs

Ruth First, by Chris van Wyk at Google Books

Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country, by Gillian Slovo

From a review of Slovo’s book at Salon:

Hours after Joe Slovo died, Nelson Mandela came to comfort Gillian and her sisters and share a personal pain. Gillian writes, “He told us how one day when he had gone to hug his grown-up daughter, she had flinched away from him and burst out, ‘You are the father to all our people, but you have never had the time to be a father to me.’ He let that last sentence hover before speaking again. This, he said, was his greatest, perhaps his only regret: The fact that his children, and the children of his comrades, had been the ones to pay the price of their parents’ commitment.”

Coming to terms with her parents has been Gillian Slovo’s lifelong quest. Some years ago, Shawn Slovo asked the same questions in her screenplay for “A World Apart,” in which Barbara Hershey played Ruth First. Now Gillian’s book goes over the same painful ground.

It was a strange, tense, difficult life. With the security net tightening around the family during the early ’60s, Slovo writes, “secrecy drifted over every section of our lives. It reached such a pitch that my mother no longer made even the most innocent arrangements by telephone.”

Even in exile, both parents drifted in and out of the house on clandestine missions. Still, their daughters asked no questions. “I think there was a side of me that didn’t want to know, or didn’t want to ask,” Slovo said. “It was part of the way we lived our lives that we didn’t ask. The secrecy was necessary, because to reveal those secrets was to risk people’s lives.”

The three girls were abandoned for long periods to their grandparents, servants, friends — anyone who happened not to be in jail or on the run. Many times, Slovo writes, they felt they were being tossed on a stormy sea with no life raft and little idea of what to expect next.

Recalling a moment when she watched her parents walking on the beach, their heads close together “not out of affection … but so that no one, not even their daughter, could hear about my father’s secret work,” Slovo writes, “Is this what happens, I thought then, that the webs of secrecy enmesh all of life, shrouding not only the details of the military operations that my father had organized, but also the way we feel towards each other? I never found a way of asking her.”

Yet the children were always aware that with a revolution erupting around them, to demand their parents’ attention seemed petty and spoiled. When Robyn was 11, she launched a campaign “to try and get Ruth to be like other mothers, to be there at breakfast and at supper too.” Needless to say, it failed miserably. “Even as children we carried internal scales of justice which we used to weigh up … the needs of the impoverished masses against ours,” Slovo writes. “How could we win? We knew enough about what our parents were doing to realize that we couldn’t ask them to make another choice. But could we also find a way to hush those inner voices which cried out for safety, security, normality — all those things our white school friends had?”

Read the rest here

Torture, Law and War: what are the moral and legal boundaries on the use of coercion in interrogation?”  a Conference sponsored by the Faculty of Law at the University of Chicago – there’s audio of the conference at the site

Mama Africa

Oh this makes me very sad:

makeba11101ROME – The 76-year-old anti-apartheid activist collapsed on stage as she sang at the concert in the town of Castel Volturno, near Naples, where mafia hit men gunned down a group of African immigrants in September.

The event was organized to show solidarity with an Italian investigative journalist, Roberto Saviano, who has had death threats from mobsters for a book he wrote exposing the criminal empire of the Naples-based Camorra mafia.

Makeba was on stage when she was heard to say “I don’t feel well,” Italian media reported, before collapsing.

She was rushed to the private Pineta Grande Clinic in Castel Volturno, where she later died.

Her death caused deep shock and grief in her homeland. “It’s a monumental loss not only to South African society in general but for humanity,” said Sandile Memela, a spokesman for South Africa’s Arts and Culture Ministry.

Tributes poured in on morning radio talk shows for the woman who wooed the world with her sultry voice and who was exiled from her homeland for more than three decades.

Makeba first came to international prominence when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959.

In 1960, when she tried to fly home for her mother’s funeral, she discovered her passport had been revoked. She then spent more than three decades in exile, living in the United States and Guinea.

In 1963, when she appeared before the UN Special Committee on Apartheid to call for an international boycott on South Africa, the government responded by banning her records, including hits like Pata Pata, The Click Song (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa), and Malaika.

In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba.

She only returned to her homeland with the crumbling of apartheid in the early 1990s.

“It was like a revival,” she said. “My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried.”

Makeba had performed for half an hour at the concert on Sunday evening for Saviano, whose best-selling book, Gomorrah, was made into a gritty film which is currently showing in British cinemas.

Al Jazzera:

The Graceland Concert:  Soweto Blues –

BBC & Nelson Mandela

SA Woman for UN Human Rights Chief

The US tried to block the nomination of Navanethem Pillay for UN Human Rights chief because of her views on contraception, abortion and Israel.  The US lost:

One of South Africa’s leading female jurists who won acclaim defending apartheid opponents was nominated Thursday to serve as the next United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

Navanethem Pillay was formally put forward for the job by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who cited her “outstanding credentials in human rights and justice.” Pillay, who holds a Harvard Law School degree, serves as an appeals chamber judge with the Dutch-based International Criminal Court, where she has been since 2003. Pillay, who is in her mid-60s, is of Tamil descent.

Her selection now goes to the General Assembly for consideration where she is likely to be approved at a plenary meeting next Monday, U.N. officials and diplomats said. The world body previously elected Pillay as a judge to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1995. She became that court’s president in 1999.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, said Pillay will occupy a very important position.

“She has to be the voice for human rights, focus on the violations of human rights, speak clearly and focus world attention on the egregious violations of human rights that unfortunately still take place in many places around the world,” he said. “We look forward to working with her.”

In 1967, Pillay became the first woman to establish a law practice in South Africa’s Natal Province, where she defended apartheid opponents. She also became the first woman of color to serve on her country’s High Court, whose divisions hear both civil and criminal cases.

She also co-founded Equality Now, a New York-based international women’s rights organization.

During the selection process some nations, including the United States, had expressed reservations about Pillay, including her support for women’s access to abortion, contraception and other reproductive freedoms, and how she might handle next year’s follow up to the 2001 U.N. World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, which drew controversy due to anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli stands.

If confirmed to the job, Pillay will take over the fast-growing U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Geneva, Switzerland. During the coming year, the office will have almost 1,000 employees and budget approaching $120 million.

She would succeed Louise Arbour, a former Supreme Court judge in Canada, who stepped down at the end of June. Pillay won out over two other finalists for the job, Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist Hila Jilani and Argentine human rights lawyer Juan Mendez.

I wonder how Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador, talks about human rights violations without choking on George W. Bush’s crimes.

AIDS Grandmothers

Debra Black reporting from Swaziland and South Africa

From Debra Black at The Star:

“… freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
– Nelson Mandela

MANZINI, SWAZILAND-Dressed in colourful sarongs, shirts and headscarves, about 1,500 women, mostly rural grandmothers, march along the city streets waving signs that proclaim: “Grandmothers, the Heart of the Nation” and “Grandmothers and Their Unpaid Work.” As they parade out of Jubilee Park following a marching band, the women, some with walking sticks and others carrying babies on their back, sing in Swazi: “We are tired of men beating women in Swaziland.” They raise their fists and punch the air, shouting: Phezukomkhono – “We are moving forward.”

Groups of men gather on the sidewalk, yelling at the women to go home. “Return to the kitchen and cooking!” says one. Another shouts: “Go home, old women!”

The insults anger feminist Carole Holmes, a 62-year-old grandmother from Niagara-on-the-Lake, one of a delegation of 12 Canadian grandmothers travelling across sub-Saharan Africa with the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

In 2006, the foundation launched the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign, allowing Holmes to visit the projects the foundation funds and to take the stories of the African grandmothers and orphans that she meets back to Canada.


AIDS has triggered a viral genocide in this tiny, landlocked nation of about 1.1 million. And as in so many countries across Africa, the grandmothers bear the burden. They have watched their children die and thousands are caring for many of the 130,000 AIDS orphans, a number that is expected to grow to about 200,000 by 2010.

Twenty-six per cent of reproductive adults have it. Forty per cent of all pregnant women are HIV positive. And the prevalence rate in the overall population is about 19 per cent. A similar prevalence rate in Canada would translate into 6.2 million of our 33 million citizens. Life expectancy in Swaziland has dropped from 60 to 31 in a decade.

For the women of Swaziland, young and old, the despair is palpable. Happiness Nkomo, a 64-year-old grandmother, has lost three children to AIDS. She and her eight grandchildren live in a corrugated metal shack in a village near the Mozambique border. She is articulate and soft-spoken with an easy command of English.

She grows quiet and short of breath after she hears there are no AIDS orphans in Canada; no grandmothers who must care for dozens of children; no pandemic wiping out a nation. She seems to distrust what she has heard and then turns livid that in Swaziland there is only AIDS and death.

For information on how to help see the websites at the Stephen Lewis Foundation and grandmothers to grandmothers

Lawrence Hill Wins Commonwealth Prize

Toronto author Lawrence Hill has captured the main Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his novel The Book of Negroes.

Hill’s book tells the true story of a Malian woman’s journey from enslavement in Africa to bondage in South Carolina and finally back to Africa.

Hill was handed the prize on Monday in Cape Town, South Africa, where he’s attending a literary festival. Writer Lawrence Hill will get to meet the Queen after winning the main Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. (Lisa Sakulensky/HarperCollins Canada)

“It’s particularly good to receive the prize in South Africa,” Hill told the Guardian newspaper, “because its history mirrors my protagonist’s journey from oppression to liberation.”

The novel had already garnered the regional Commonwealth Writers’ prize for best book.

Hill, who will be getting a $19,300 Cdn award, says his story is now available in the U.S. under the title Someone Knows My Name. The title was altered “because the publishers thought ‘Negro’ was an incendiary term.”

The writer joins another African-Canadian author on the Commonwealth big winners’ list: Austin Clarke, whose novel The Polished Hoe won in 2003.

In earning the prize, Hill has also been invited to an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

“I think it should be fun, particularly because my leading character also meets the British monarch in England to appeal for the end of slavery,” noted Hill.


Women in South Africa

A book review from Irene D’Souza at Herizons:

Rozena Maart, author of The Writing Circle, offers a compelling new novel that explores the spiritual and cultural ramifications of violence against women in South Africa. Here, she goes into further depth about the issue.

HERIZONS: When did banal violence against South African women become normal?

Rozena Maart: My awareness of violence against women tems from my teenage years during the 1970s, when the African National Congress (ANC) had already been banned. I attended anti-apartheid meetings and gatherings, where women would often speak in hushed tones about the violence they experienced in their homes, on the street and within anti-apartheid and anti-capitalist organizations.

The term anti-capitalist organizations referred to trade unions and labour movements, mainly.Those organizations focused on how the development of capitalism in South Africa led to the exploitation of the masses under capitalist exploitation, as key to the process of apartheid. So, on an ideological front, one argued that the oppression of the masses by the apartheid regime gave rise to the violence by men toward women, and that although men were the perpetrators, it was because they were the target of the regime.

The anti-capitalist position was that the exploitation of black men emasculated them, belittled them and thus precipitated their violence against women. There was no understanding, or even the recognition of male domination, patriarchy or male privilege within all societies and how it functioned to put men in positions where their violence against women remained unquestioned.

more here