The politics of penises: Myths about transgender people Audrey Mbugua

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Many of these outsiders are familiar with dispossession, marginalisation and poverty, as bad, or worse than locals have experienced. Now they are pitted against already desperate people, in a situation that fundamentally revolves around the realities of economic survival. Desperate locals and outsiders compete in crowded proximity. Locals are (perhaps justifiably) aggrieved that their perceived entitlement to a better life in post democracy South Africa is being threatened by outsiders. The inevitable result is social volatility and violent reprisal, presented as xenophobia.

But what we are dealing with is not xenophobia but is the consequence of poverty and the lack of progressive economic transformation since 1994. Just as service delivery protests are about the continued inability of authorities to meet the requirements and demands of the most marginalised sections of society, we can make an equally strong case that these sporadic outbreaks of ‘xenophobia’ are simply another aspect of the same problem.

A close examination of purported xenophobic outbreaks of violence shines the spotlight on some of our most intractable problems, that of economic marginalisation. We must realise that the problem lies not with ‘them’ but with us. Equally, this is where the solution lies. It is just as well that government statements have indicated that our leadership has now realised that these tensions are more due to economic realities than to xenophobia. Now leadership must take action and lead in addressing these insights.

For the poor, very little has really changed since 1994. The education system has languished. The job market has stagnated or contracted, even for matriculants. Economic activity has recently diminished; wages paid for unskilled labourers remain low. Much of this is because of our slavish pursuit of same neoliberal economic policies that we inherited, waiting for the trickle down effect to take place. We may as well wait for Godot.

The consequence of all of this is that the most marginalised sectors of our society, will seek the closest available scapegoat to blame for their situation. Immigrants fit the bill, rendered prominent through their perceived successes and vulnerable through failure of civil servants like the police to protect their constitutional right for equal treatment before the law.

Reassurances from the SA Police Services head, Nathi Mthethwa, that his officers will not tolerate any xenophobic violence are to be welcomed. Formation of a Cabinet task team to deal with this threat is also constructive. But are these approaches sufficiently nuanced? Does calling the problem xenophobia deal with the nub of the matter? Does sending in the army solve a systemic economic problem?

We can use our intelligence services to stay on top of potential hotspots. But if we do not change how we provide services to the poorest of the poor, then eruptions around ‘service delivery’ and ‘xenophobic violence’ will become indistinguishable in their results – social dislocation and spiralling violence.

We must also deal with the major problem of alleged police indifference to, and even collusion with, xenophobic outbreaks. In 2008 the police were accused of standing back and not properly protecting immigrants. If high level leadership within SAPS has not firmly informed officers of their constitutional obligation to serve all residents, whether local or immigrant, then any reassurances from the heads of police ring hollow.

We need to balance the rights of foreigners against perceptions of locals who also struggle to access state services, like adequate policing, health and social services. There is a real danger of exacerbating tensions if immigrants are perceived as having superior service access to locals and if the police are seen to take their side.

We have neglected the poorest sectors of our society for far too long. We must face the uncomfortable reality that ‘service delivery protests,’ supposed ‘xenophobia’ and even crime are just different aspects of the same problem – that of poverty, exclusion from power, access to services and lack of economic reform. These remain the most pressing issues faced by the most marginalised sectors of society – the poor and immigrants alike.

Unless we deal with these issues we are simply putting an imaginary lid on a pressure cooker that will blow, with unpredictable results for everyone. Permitting one sector to be portrayed and victimised as the ‘other’ is setting ourselves up for social instability and unrest, to the detriment of all.

Unequal societies are unhealthy societies. A failure to bridge this apparently yawning canyon of unmet expectations will inevitably trap us in cycles of violence against a faceless ‘other’ who dwell amongst us, be they rich, or foreign, or middle class, or from a different tribe or of a different colour.

We have faced this chasm before. Never again can we allow the concept of ‘the other’ to tear our social fabric apart. The World Cup let us rediscover and share our common humanity and our Africanness in unimaginable ways. It has equally demonstrated our ability to meet goals at planning and completing complex infrastructure projects on time.

We must build on the success of the World Cup by setting more equitable service delivery goals. We need to urgently and meaningfully address the dismal situation of the poorest, most marginalised sectors of society. We don’t need only handouts but must provide hands up. We have achieved much but have much more yet to achieve.


Suárez’s ‘hand of God’ save raises ethical issues

Mphutlane wa Bofelo

2010-07-08, Issue 489

cc Warrenski

Cheating in global sporting arenas such as the World Cup not only brings down the ‘beautiful game’, it also sends negative shock waves to the world’s spectators who lay witness to the prevail of deceit, writes Mphutlane wa Bofelo. The values of society will lose their gravity as notoriously deliberate offences on the field are attributed to the divine ‘hand of God’ with little or no retribution, warns Bofelo.Luis Suárez’s so-called ‘hand of God’ save has once again brought into public discourse the extent to which competitive and highly commercialised sport – with its emphasis on winning at all costs – can be consistent with the principles of fairness, the ideal of sportsmen and sportswomen as positive role-models and the goal of using sports to promote values and ethics that build society. Though the official mantra of the football world-body, FIFA is ‘fair-play’ and football has been dubbed ‘the beautiful game’, several on and off the pitch antics and shenanigans has led to some critics referring to soccer as ‘a gentlemen’s sport played by rogues’. In a world in which lack of ethics and values and decline of decent etiquette ravage all spheres of life, a game such as football which puts emphasis on self-discipline, team-spirit, sportsmanship and fairness could play a critical role with regard to the promotion of a society based on sound values.

The popularity and mass appeal of football and the iconic status of some of the footballers make it much positioned to play this critical role of entrenching positive societal values. One way by which the game can play a role in this is to make an honourable and sound moral character to be one of the benchmarks of a great footballer rather than attributing greatness only to guts and muscles. But is it possible to do this while at the same time promoting the notion that a goal by any means is laudable, as long as one is cunning or fortunate enough not to get a booking? What if the ‘any means’ becomes an undetected physical attack which might go to the extent of causing an injury that jeopardises the health and football career of a fellow footballer?
Just as Diego Maradona exclaimed that his goal against England on 22 June 1986 was scored with ‘a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God’, Suárez boasted: ‘I was sent off but in the end it was worth it. I did what I had to do.’ His coach, Oscar Tabarez also came to his defence: ‘The player reacted instinctively and was thrown out of the match.’ It is one thing to instinctively, deliberately commit a foul or break the rules in an impulsive move to score or save a goal, and another matter altogether to feel good and boast about it or justify it. Human decency requires that even if at the instinctive and impulsive level you did something underhand to win in a sports game you should at least show some remorse rather than justify and celebrate the fact that you deliberately flouted the roles in a game that is grounded on the notion of fair play.
Confessing about his hand of evil goal Maradona later said, ‘I was waiting for my team mates to embrace me, and no one came … I told them, “Come hug me, or the referee isn't going to allow it”. In other words, his fellow players saw that he scored the goal with a hand and did not celebrate the goal, and he invited them to join in the deceit by celebrating with him what their eyes and conscience told them was not a legitimate goal. The message that our children who adore and worship footballers and other sports personalities get out of this is not only that the wrong means justifies the ends but also that it is cool to support the use of underhand methods by your colleagues, as long as the whole team benefit from it.
If this ‘winning at all cost’ and ‘end justifies the means’ logic and culture is exported to other areas of our lives – politics, sports, the arts, business etc – then we will be breeding the nation of shrewd, unscrupulous, charlatan and corrupt politicians, sportsmen, artists and businessmen; a society in which lying, vote-rigging, plagiarism, bribery and nepotism are the norm rather than an aberration. In fact we are already living in that society. This situation promises to be uglier if a senior person such as a coach is going to justify such a behaviour and practice from his players. Why do we bother to punish young boys who provide false ages to play in certain leagues or sportsmen and sportswomen who use steroids and various performance-enhancing drugs if we have already had public endorsement of a win at all cost, by any means, at whatever expense? As FIFA spokesperson Pekka Odriozola promises that the FIFA disciplinary committee will look into the incident and make a decision, it would seem that harmonising the ethos of competition, commercial gain, prestige and status-seeking with that of fairness, fellowship and honesty in commercial sport will remain a weighty challenge.
* Mphutlane wa Bofelo is a cultural worker and social critic.

* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.

South African soccer: For money or the game?

Dale T. McKinley

2010-07-08, Issue 489

cc Coda

As South Africa's World Cup begins to near its end, questions continue to be asked about the tournament's legacy for the country. Highly critical of the self-serving tendencies of South Africa's soccer elite, Dale T. McKinley laments the long-term neglect of the game's developmental and social potential. Once a genuine 'people's game' in the country, soccer has, as with so much, been entirely subsumed by rapacious commercial interests, McKinley writes.The sun has almost set on the soccer World Cup and its seeming suspension of our South African 'normalcy'. No doubt, many will try their best to continue to bask in its positively proclaimed 'developmental legacy', but, as sure as the sun will rise on the morning after, so too will the reality of that ‘normalcy’ bite us like an unhappy dog. Nowhere will this be more apparent than in the world of South African soccer itself.

It is an unfortunate fact of our early 21st century existence – whether in South Africa or anywhere else on the globe – that major sports such as soccer, just like almost everything else, have become dominated by the need to make, and accumulate, capital and power. Instead of soccer being seen and treated as a necessary and basic recreational or social need and as an integral component of people’s overall socio-economic development, we now have a situation where both participation and progress is moulded and ultimately determined by the degree to which these serve individual and commercial interests.
Historically, and particularly in relation to South Africa's past, the beauty of the game of soccer was directly linked to it being, at the most fundamental level, the 'people's game', not a game of commercial prostitution mostly dominated by self-interested bureaucrats, wannabe soccer kingpins and prima donna players. And yet, that is precisely what a large part of South African soccer has become, the trailing exhaust fumes of Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) and its elitist coterie aside.
It didn’t have to be this way though. The seemingly long-forgotten Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) acknowledged apartheid’s 'distortion of sport and recreation in our society [through its] enforced segregation and gross neglect of providing facilities for the majority of South Africa’s people [which] has denied millions of people and particularly our youth the right to a normal and healthy life'. It went on to rightfully point out that such facilities should be made 'available to all South African communities' and that 'sport and recreation should cut across all developmental programmes and be accessible and affordable for all South Africans [with] particular attention paid to the provision of facilities at schools and in communities where there are large concentrations of unemployed youth'. Yet, in the 16 years since, these fine words have, for the most part, remained in the realm of stated principles and proposed policy when it comes to addressing the recognised development needs of soccer.
There are two main and interconnected reasons for this, on the one hand, a lack of political will on the part of the government to make the national sport a public concern by actively transforming – through institutional and fiscal support and policy intervention – the developmental deficit, infrastructural needs and material inequalities that afflict soccer at the grassroots level. And on the other hand there is the institutionalisation of a top-down, bureaucratic and self-serving approach (within the context of a commodified, market-driven sports philosophy) to the actual development and running/management of the ‘people's game’.
When sustained and meaningful public financial, institutional and strategic support/guidance for soccer (i.e., its democratisation and socialisation) was most needed to overcome the entrenched legacies of apartheid engineering, government pursued neoliberal macro-economic policies that effectively made it a non-player by ensuring national grants and subsidies to local municipalities and city councils were drastically decreased. In practical terms this meant that public resources (both human and material) available at the local level for sports such as soccer were virtually wiped off the map – the ‘people’s’ sport was effectively privatised (or, at the very least, ghettoised).
Decrepit infrastructure at the municipal level and public schools could not be adequately addressed and training programmes for community and school coaches were left in the hands of volunteers. The provision of basic soccer equipment and grassroots development programmes for the legions of township and school-going youth players had to rely, for the most part, on individuals, sympathetic community groups and hoped-for support from the private sector. In turn, this produced a situation in which SAFA (South African Football Association – a fully incorporated private body) became the prime source for addressing the massive organisational and developmental needs of the game. Not surprisingly, it has failed miserably.
Whether it is the sad state of community and school-level infrastructure, the pathetic financial and human resource allocations to grassroots development or the fact that it more recently took SAFA over two years to replace its former director of development with a new ‘technical director’ (present men’s under-20 national coach Serame Letsoaka), the facts speak for themselves. When appointing Letsoaka in early 2009, SAFA noted that he would be responsible for 'the development of football in the country … coming up with development plans and programmes [and] embarking on full-scale grassroots football development'. How else can one read this other than confirmation of the historic and ongoing dominance of a cynical, self-serving soccer elite?
The by-now widespread public perception that those at the apex of South African soccer officialdom are little more than a group of money-grubbing, power-mongering egoists is not without cause. SAFA continues to spend huge amounts of its time, energy and resources on glitzy public relations exercises, administrative functions, internal power struggles and outrageous salaries and perks for its top bureaucrats, officialdom and national coaching staff. In the words of ex-PSL (Premier Soccer League) CEO Trevor Phillips: 'SAFA’s preoccupation has been navel-gazing … 80% of funds spent by SAFA go toward administrative costs … I thought 2010 would be a catalyst but SAFA is endemically corrupt and institutionally incompetent.'
Indeed, many of the same faces have remained at the helm, in various positions, ever since the early 1990s and sponsorship deals have seen those individuals receiving huge payouts. Further, it is certainly no secret that a tidy sum of the billions in public expenditure on World Cup stadia as well as the expected hundreds of millions due to the local organising committee have benefited, or will soon end up in the pockets of, those who reside at the top of South Africa’s soccer world. Like most of it international counterparts, South African soccer has largely become a hostage to the accumulative demands of corporate capitalism as well as an attitude and practice in which self-interested individualism, personal and institutional power, accumulation of money and rewarding of incompetence hold centre stage.
One of the most repeated slogans on numerous television and radio soccer programmes – 'for the love of the game' – paradoxically captures the crisis within which South African soccer finds itself. Simply put, those who have the privilege of being in charge appear to have forgotten the very purpose of why they are there. The much-loved (now deceased) South African soccer star, Pule ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, put it best: 'Soccer in South Africa needs to go back to where it was … the love of the game needs to be restored, especially in the administration. Soccer fans want to see us serve much better than we do today. The challenge is not how much money I leave behind when I die but to leave a legacy for my children and the youth of this country.'
On or off the field, what is needed is radical change, a return to a collective discipline, motivation, pride and passion that is at the heart of a progressive society and the game of soccer itself.
* Dale T. McKinley is an independent writer, researcher, lecturer and political activist based in Johannesburg.

* This article was originally published by the South African Civil Society Information Service.

* Please send comments to or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Speaking truth on behalf of Ethiopian women

Alemayehu G. Mariam

2010-07-08, Issue 489


It was in part Ethiopian opposition leader and activist Birtukan Midekssa’s campaign for women’s rights that led to her imprisonment by the Zenawi government, writes Alemayehu G. Mariam. Highlighting the challenges Ethiopian women continue to face, Mariam looks to Midekssa’s legacy for a vision of a better Ethiopia, in which women’s rights are recognised and in which women play a vital role in the country’s history.WOMEN IN THE ‘PRESENT COUNTRY OF ETHIOPIA’

Birtukan Midekssa, Ethiopia's foremost political prisoner and first woman political party leader in Ethiopian history, enjoyed talking about an allegorical ‘future country of Ethiopia’ that would become an African oasis of democracy and a bastion of human rights and the rule of law in the continent. In Birtukan's ‘future Ethiopia’ women and men would live not only as equals under the law, but also work together to create a progressive and compassionate society in which women are free from domestic violence and sexual exploitation, have access to adequate health and maternal care and are provided education to free them from culturally-enforced ignorance, submissiveness and subjugation. But if the situation of women in the ‘present country of Ethiopia’ is any indication, Birtukan's ‘future country’ is in deep, deep trouble.
Article 35 of the Ethiopian Constitution (1995) guarantees women not only full equality but also preferential treatment ‘in the political, economic and social fields both within public and private organizations.’ Women are provided sweeping constitutional protections from ‘all laws, stereotyped ideas and customs which oppress women or otherwise adversely affect their physical and mental well-being.’ They have guaranteed property rights and ‘the right of access to education and information on family planning’ to ‘prevent health hazards resulting from child birth.’ Article 34 secures matrimonial contractual rights for ‘women attaining the legal age of marriage.’ It mandates that ‘marriage shall be based on the free and full consent of the intending spouses.’ Even before the rights of women were ‘constitutionalized’ in 1995, the ruling dictatorship of Meles Zenawi took the lead by issuing a National Policy on Women in 1993 with the aim ‘to institutionalize the political, economical, and social rights of women by creating an appropriate structure in government offices and institutions so that the public policies and interventions are gender-sensitive and can ensure equitable development for all Ethiopian men and women.’ After a lapse of seventeen years, the evidence on the status of women in Ethiopia society is horrifying and shocking to the conscience.
The 2000 US State Department Human Rights Country Report on Ethiopia[2] described the status of women in appallingly disheartening terms:
‘The Constitution provides for the equality of women; however, these provisions often are not applied in practice. Furthermore, these provisions often are in conflict with the 1960 Civil Code and the 1957 Penal Code, both of which still are in force. The 1960 Civil Code is based on a monarchical constitution that treated women as if they were children or disabled. Discriminatory regulations in the civil code include recognizing the husband as the legal head of the family and designating him as the sole guardian of children over five years old. Domestic violence is not considered a serious justification under the law to obtain a divorce. Irrespective of the number of years the marriage has existed, the number of children raised and the joint property, the woman is entitled to only 3 months' financial support should the relationship end. However, a husband has no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family and, as a result, women and children sometimes are abandoned when there is a problem in the marriage. All land belongs to the State; however, land reforms enacted in March 1997 stipulate that women may obtain government leases to land. Discrimination is most acute in rural areas, where 85 per cent of the population lives. In urban areas women have fewer employment opportunities than men do and the jobs available do not provide equal pay for equal work. As a result of changes in the Labor Law in 1998, thousands of women traveled to the Middle East as industrial and domestic workers. There were credible reports that female workers were abused and even killed in these positions.’
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