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Nelson Mandela: Peace at Last

17 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: Peace at Last

By Gwynne Dyer

The Catholic Church consecrates saints with less pomp and sentimentality than was lavished on Nelson Mandela during the week-long media orgy that we have just been through. We haven’t seen such a ridiculous spectacle since…oh, since the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy three weeks ago. But at least the Kennedy orgy was over a lot faster – and nobody compared him to Gandhi or Christ.

Pity the poor journalists who had to grind out endless stories about what was hardly a news event at all – 95-year-old man dies after lengthy illness – and inevitably ended up sounding like sycophants and fools. True, the world needed (or at least wanted) a political icon of perfect virtue, but the beatification of Nelson Mandela took much too long.

The problem was that everybody in the media knew well in advance that Mandela was dying, and had time to invest millions in preparing to “cover” the event. Hotel rooms and telecom facilities were booked, crews and anchors were deployed, and the expense had to be justified by round-the-clock, wall-to-wall coverage of funeral orations, vox pop interviews, and talking heads.

And of course all the world’s politicians showed up for the greatest photo op of the decade, including many who had condemned Mandela as a terrorist before he pulled off a peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule in South Africa. But now that the babble of rhetoric has died down and just before the myth takes over completely, let us talk honestly about who he was and what he accomplished.

Mandela understood that South Africans needed an icon, not a mere mortal man, as the founding hero of their new democracy, but he had a strong sense of irony. It would have got plenty of exercise as he watched the local politicos and the foreign dignitaries strew metaphorical flowers on his grave.

The man whom they buried at Qunu on Sunday was arrested by the white minority regime in 1963, probably on a tip from the US Central Intelligence Agency. He was the head of the African National Congress’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), at the time, and continued to back its campaign of sabotage, bombing and attacks on military and police targets throughout his 27 years in prison.

If the South African Communist Party is to be believed, he was a member of its central committee at the time of his arrest. It was a different time, when US President Ronald Reagan could declare that the apartheid regime was “essential to the Free World,” and the ANC’s main international supporters were the Soviet Union and Cuba. Mandela might have ended up as a man of violence if he had not gone to prison.

Instead, in prison, he had the time to develop his ideas about reconciliation and persuade the other ANC leaders who were also confined to Robben Island of their value. By the time he came out of prison in 1990, he had become the man that everybody knew they could trust – including the whites.

During the next four years, when he and F.W. De Klerk, the last white president, negotiated the transfer of power from the white minority to the black majority, he really was the indispensable man. His commitment to reconciliation was so visible and genuine that whites were willing to do what had once seemed inconceivable: to hand over power before they absolutely had to.

If you want to know what South Africa would have looked like if the whites had clung to power down to the last ditch, look at Syria today. But it was not only Mandela who saved the country from that fate: they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to both Mandela and De Klerk, because the miracle could not have happened if De Klerk had not had the will and the skill to lead his own Afrikaner tribe out of power.

Then, after the first free election in 1994, Mandela became the president, and frankly he wasn’t very good at it. He had no executive experience, nor much aptitude for it.

Thabo Mbeki did most of the hard administrative work behind the scenes during Mandela’s presidency (1994-1999), while Mandela greeted visiting celebrities, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and solicited donations for various causes that included, unfortunately, his own extensive family. He was not personally corrupt, but he was involved in a few dubious deals, and he tolerated corruption in others.

But he did his country one last big favour: he retired at the end of his first term rather than clinging to power. He was already 81 years old at that time, but lesser men (Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for instance) have not let that stop them. And he even had a few good years left to enjoy his family before age began to drag him down.

He was not a saint; he was just a man. But he was the right man at the right time.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 12. (“Pity…long”; and “Thabo…others”)

 

 

 

Rape is an African Problem

15 September 2013

Rape is an African Problem

By Gwynne Dyer

Last May, with considerable trepidation, I wrote an article about what seemed to be extraordinarily high rates of rape in Africa. The original data came from a study by South Africa’s Medical Research Council in 2009 which found that more than a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – admitted that they had committed rape. Almost half of those men had raped two or three women or girls. One in thirteen had raped at least ten victims.

Over the next couple of years, I ran across a couple of other less detailed studies suggesting that the problem was not just South African. A report from the eastern Congo in 2012 said that over a third of the men interviewed – 34 percent – had committed rape, and an older report from Tanzania found that 20 percent of the women interviewed said they had been raped (although only one-tenth as many rapes were reported to the police).

So I wrote a piece called “An African Iceberg” in which I said that this was a phenomenon that needed urgent investigation continent-wide – but it did occur to me to wonder if there were similar icebergs in other developing countries. The only figures that were available for developing countries elsewhere were official ones, and those normally only record the number of women who tell the police they have been raped. Most don’t.

Women are reluctant to report rape in any society, and in traditional societies much more so. The South African study was the only one that had adopted the strategy of asking men directly. Maybe if the same sort of study were done in other continents, I thought, it would return equally horrifying figures. And lo! Somebody else had the same thought, and the resources to do something about it.

The new report, conducted under the auspices of four United Nations agencies cooperating as “Partners for Prevention”, was published last week in the online version of “The Lancet Global Health”, a respected British medical journal. The study was undertaken quite specifically to learn if the South African figures were duplicated in developing countries outside Africa. .

The researchers chose six countries in the Asia-Pacific region: China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. As in the South African study, the word “rape” was not used in the questionnaire. The 10,178 men interviewed were asked if they had ever “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

There were further questions about forcing a wife or girlfriend to have sex (which is also rape), about gang rape, and about raping males, but for simplicity’s sake let us stick with the questions about what the researchers called “single perpetrator rape” of a woman who was neither wife nor girlfriend. The answers varied from country to country, but the overall picture was clear. Africa (or at least South Africa) is all alone out there.

In most of the Asian countries involved in the study, between 2 and 4 percent of the men interviewed said that they had raped a “non-partner” woman. That falls into the same range that prevails, one suspects, in most developed countries (although their reported cases of rape are much lower).

There were some local peculiarities, like the fact that in rural Bangladesh men are more likely to get raped than women. China came in surprisingly high, with 6 percent of the men interviewed admitting to rape, but that may be related to the growing surplus of males in a society where the gender ratio has become very skewed: there are 99 large Chinese cities where more than125 boys are born for every 100 girls.

But Papua New Guinea was right up there with South Africa: 26.6 percent of the men interviewed had committed “single perpetrator rape” of a non-partner woman. And the other numbers were just as startling: 14 percent of PNG men had participated in a gang rape, and 7.7 percent had raped a man or boy. So Asia as a whole is quite different from Africa on this count – but PNG is practically identical.

What is so special about Papua New Guinea? It is a country with an extravagantly large number of different tribes and languages. It is an extremely violent country, where most people live in extreme poverty. It is a place where the law is enforced only sporadically, and often corruptly. And it is a place where traditional tribal values, patriarchal to the core, reign virtually unchallenged among a large part of the population. Remind you of anywhere?

Well, you already suspected that this was at the root of it, didn’t you? You just didn’t want to say so, for fear of being accused of being racist, anti-African or something of that sort.

But it does need to be said, loudly and repeatedly. Women and girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence in Africa than almost anywhere else, and the only way to change that is to change the behaviour of African men. By persuasion if possible, but also by enforcing the law.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 9. (“Over…police”; and “There…girls”)

Mandela’s Legacy

13 June 2013

Mandela’s Legacy

By Gwynne Dyer

As I write this Nelson Mandela is still with us. He may even still be living at the end of this year. But this is his fourth hospitalisation in six months, and the prognosis for 94-year-old men with persistent lung infections is not good. How will South Africa do without him?

Wrong question, actually. In practice, South Africa has been doing without him for more than a decade already – but psychologically, it is just now getting to grips with the reality that he will soon be gone entirely.

For all its many faults and failures, post-apartheid South Africa is a miracle that few expected to happen. Although Mandela retired from the presidency in 1999, fourteen years later he is still seen as the man who made the magic work, and somehow the guarantor that it will go on working. If only in some vague and formless way, a great many people fear that his death will remove that safety net.

Just in the past two weeks, however, the tone of the discussion has begun to change. On hearing that Nelson Mandela had been admitted to hospital yet again, Andrew Mlangeni, one of his dearest friends and once a fellow-prisoner on Robben Island, said simply: “It’s time to let him go. The family must release him, so that God may have his own way with him…Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.”

That one comment opened the floodgates, for it had a strong resonance in traditional African culture, which holds that a very sick person cannot die until his family “releases” him. They have to give him “permission” to die, by reassuring him that his loved ones will be fine when he’s gone. So South Africans must now accept that they can get along without Nelson Mandela, and then he will be free to go.

It’s not that everybody really believes in this tradition, but it frames the conversation in more positive and less distressing way. People can argue about whether or not South Africa is doing as well as it should, but they can at least agree that Mandela got the country safely through the most dangerous phase of the transition, and that they can carry on with the job of building a just and democratic society without him.

Except for President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, of course. Mugabe has always deeply resented the fact that Nelson Mandela is revered as the father of his nation while he himself is seen as a vicious tyrant who has ruined his country. So he seized the opportunity of a recent high-profile interview on South African television to accuse Mandela of having failed in his duty to South Africa’s black majority: he had been too soft on the whites.

What would have particularly annoyed Mandela, if he was well enough to watch the show, was that the interviewer was Dali Tambo, the son of his oldest and most trusted ally, the late Oliver Tambo. As young lawyers, the two men co-founded South Africa’s first black-run legal office in 1952, and when Tambo became the president-in-exile of the African National Congress he made Mandela’s release from prison its highest priority.

Dali Tambo is another kettle of fish: a flamboyant man who has traded on his family name to forge a career as a TV interviewer. He has his own soft-focus interview show, “People of the South,” and recently he persuaded Robert Mugabe to give him a two-hour interview. In the course of it,

Mugabe dismissed Mandela as “too much of a saint.”

“Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of blacks,” the Zimbabwean dictator said. “That’s being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint.”

Nonsense. What Nelson Mandela and his white negotiating partner, F.W. De Klerk, were trying to avoid in the early 1990s was a South African civil war that would have killed millions and lasted for a very long time. The 20 percent white minority were heavily armed, and they had nowhere else to go. Their families, for the most part, had been in South Africa for at least a century.

Therefore, a settlement that gave South Africa a peaceful (and hopefully prosperous) democratic future had to be one in which the whites still had a future. So you either make the kind of deal that Mandela and De Klerk made, in which nobody loses too much, or you submit to a future that would make the current civil war in Syria look like a tea party.

And by the way, Mugabe was making his remarks in a country whose economy has been so devastated by his “tougher” approach that fully one-quarter of the population has fled abroad in search of work, mostly to South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, talking about Mandela’s inevitable death, said last week: “The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running: a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered.” That is still some distance away, but Mandela has laid the foundations. He was the right man for the job: a saint who also understood realpolitik.

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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 8, 9 and 13. (“What would…saint”; and “And by…Africa”)

 

 

An African Iceberg?

22 May 2013

An African Iceberg?

By Gwynne Dyer

Keeping a file of random clippings is an old-fashioned thing to do, but sometimes it offers you unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a connection that you don’t even want to see. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it?

In June, 2009, South Africa’s Medical Research Council published a report which said that over a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – have raped somebody. Almost half of those men admitted to raping two or three women or girls. One in thirteen of the self-confessed rapists said they had raped at least ten victims.

The numbers are astonishing and horrifying, but on the assumption that at least a few of the interviewees were ashamed, or were afraid that their admission might later be used against them, those numbers are probably low. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where the study was conducted, are among South Africa’s poorer provinces, but there is no self-evident link between poverty and rape.

The study was a model of statistical rigour. It used a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groups and income levels in both rural and urban areas. Half of the men interviewed were under 25 years old; 70 percent of the rapists had forced a woman or girl into sex for the first time when they were under 20.

The researchers were not even trying to count South Africa’s rapists. The study was called “Understanding Men’s Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Violence and HIV in South Africa,” and it was really investigating the linkage, if any, between sexual violence and the spread of HIV. It turned out there was none – but that the actual amount of rape going on is completely off the scale even for an extremely violent society like South Africa.

I found another report claiming that 40 percent of South African women can expect to be raped during their lives, but I had nothing to add to the discussion so I just filed the information away. Then last November I saw a report in The Guardian about a study carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in which 34 percent of the men interviewed – over a third – admitted to rape.

That’s a war zone, of course, and it may not be representative of the Congo as a whole. But I did begin to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, and I came across a study in the African Journal of Reproductive Health dating back to 2000, in which 20 percent of a thousand women interviewed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (hardly a war zone) said they had been raped. Only one-tenth of those rapes were reported to the police.

And early this month came a report from the Rwanda government’s Gender Monitoring Office that a survey of more than 2,000 schoolchildren across the country revealed that 43 percent of them were aware of other pupils being raped. Teachers were allegedly among the chief offenders.

“If teachers are responsible for the problems of teenage pregnancies, that is a serious problem as they’re supposed to protect them,” said Education Minister Vincent Biruta. But Katherine Nichol, who works at Plan Rwanda, an NGO that promotes girls’ education in rural areas, was willing to go a little further. “We only know the tip of the iceberg of this issue here in Rwanda,” she said.

That’s the question, really. Are these reports just anomalies and exceptions? After all, South Africa is very violent, the eastern Congo is a war zone, Rwandans have been traumatised by the genocide of 1994, and Tanzania is – well, maybe just an anomaly. Or are they the tip of a continent-wide iceberg?

Rapes happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and it’s especially bad in war zones. There was practically no German woman left unraped in the eastern parts of the country when the Soviet army swept in in 1944-45.

Armies seem to have a special problem with sexual violence even when there isn’t a war. Last year, there were 26,000 reported cases of sexual violence against women in the US military – and the Pentagon believes up to 80% of sexual assaults go unreported. Indeed, a female soldier in the US military is more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by one of her own colleagues than injured in battle.

But the subject today is Africa, and the few statistics available suggest that there is an astoundingly high number of rapes in several widely separated countries. So what is needed now is more and better statistics.

Is the proportion of rapists among the male population in the western Congo (which is more or less at peace) much lower than in the East, or not?

Are Kenya’s official rape statistics (over 300 women per week) accurate, or should they be multiplied by ten to account for non-reporting, as in Tanzania?

Are the true numbers for rapes different in Muslim countries in Africa (all the ones mentioned above are predominantly Christian), or are they really the same?

Nobody will win a popularity contest by gathering these statistics, but hundreds of millions of African women have the right to know the answer. And when the scale and nature of the problem is clear, there needs to be urgent, decisive action.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 5 and 12. (“The numbers…rape”; “The researchers…Africa”; and “Armies…battle”)