Category “Journalism”

Country Focus: South Africa

In Ruckus [Vol. 7, Iss. 3, December 2003]

In memory of my grandfather, Pieter Christiaan Harnmeijer.

“Some black guy just threw cookies all over me! Now is that dialogue!?”

A dispute in a South African bakery? Nothing quite so exotic – just an exclamation from one of UW’s good ol’ College Republicans during their highly controversial anti-affirmative action cookie sale last month. In case you missed Ruckus’ coverage, the Republicans sold cookies outside the UW HUB with pricing determined by their customer’s skin-color. The show ended in chaos, with angry students ripping up the stall and cops coming out of nowhere. Questions of race run deep, and run everywhere: from 25c cookies for Pacific Islanders on the HUB lawn and boats of sinking Indonesian immigrants in Australia to outbursts of violence against Han Chinese in Singapore.

One country whose mere mention instantly evokes images of racism – even to people who haven’t been there – is South Africa. In April 1994, Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) became the first democratically elected party in South Africa’s history. This marked the end of 46 years of white minority rule, or “apartheid”, under the National Party. People of all colors celebrated and sang in all combinations of South Africa’s 14 national languages. The world looked with anticipation towards the unfolding “Rainbow Nation”. Here was a country endowed with the infrastructure, expertise and resources needed to show the world that Africa exists and matters.

Today, almost ten years later, feelings are mixed about South Africa’s future. The years shortly preceding and following majority-rule saw many white families evacuate to commonwealth countries such as England and Australia, taking their wealth and government-subsidized education with them. Today, many South African graduate students prefer to see their future in Europe or America rather than taking part in building the new nation.

Crime is through the roof. Cape Town recently attained the dubious distinction of overtaking Johannesburg as the city with the highest murder rates per capita in the world. About ten women get raped in South Africa in the time it takes you to read this article – the highest per capita incidence in the world. South Africa also has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Unemployment is massive. “At least [under Apartheid] we had a job. How much is freedom worth without a job?” one of my black friends even said.

South Africa remains one of the richest countries in Africa, thanks mainly to two major discoveries. In 1867 an African shepherd found the first Kimberley diamond. The British Colonial Secretary predicted correctly that “on this rock the future success of South Africa will be built.” In 1886 the first sample of gold-bearing conglomerate was found in the Witwatersrand, now the world’s largest source of gold. Ownership of these resources was the indirect cause of the gruesome 1899-1902 Boer War that pitted the British empire against local settlers of mostly Dutch descent known as ‘Boers’ or ‘Afrikaners’. Tens of thousands of Boer women and children died as concentration camps made their historical debut onto the list of civilization’s advancements.

Affirmative Action

The Affirmative Action schemes implemented and proposed in the US would be described as mild at best when compared to South Africa’s. Want to get into medical school? Very, very hard if you’re a white male. This is bad news for the university, whose degree inevitably loses international standing. Affirmative action has been widely implemented with mixed success in almost every aspect of South African society – from business and industry to the national cricket team.

It’s easy to criticize such policies as unfair or even racist. And they would be, if the world represented a level playing field. But consider the alternative by taking a look at neighboring Zimbabwe, where no such policies were implemented.

Transform yourself, if you will, into the life of a freedom fighter returning home from a ruthless and bloody civil war to an independent Zimbabwe in 1980. Little has changed, and little is to change for almost 20 years. The government has changed color, but businesses and wealth remain largely in the hands of a small and secular group of whites. Until recently, white citizens in Zimbabwe have enjoyed one of the highest living standards in the world. Swimming pools, tennis courts, gardeners and cleaning maids were the status quo in white neighborhoods until President Robert Mugabe’s government commenced its internationally criticized land-reclamation scheme in the late 90s.

The fact is, racism is everywhere. Fancy P.C.-lingo is certainly not going to solve the problem, if it doesn’t make matters worse. The way people talk is not going to change socioeconomic statistics. The University of Washington recently proudly announced that the enrollment of “underrepresented freshman” increased by 12.31%. Sounds good, until you realize that the total number amounts to a mere 447 students, out of a student body of 39136. The army seems to having much better luck with affirmative action, with over 38% of US troops presently in Iraq comprised of ethnic minorities.

The African National Congress (ANC) student rallies I attended in Cape Town remain amongst the most electrifyingpolitical experiences of my life. I was the only white person. Brightlycolored ANC flags filled the third class passenger wagons (largely ignored by Cape Town’s white citizens who travel mostly in first class). Posters of Nelson Mandela and shouts of “amandla!” – “freedom!” – filled the air. Students were instrumental both to the ANC and South Africa’s transition. Many paid with their lives, working for what the apartheid government was quick to brand a “terrorist organization”. Repression breeds revolution. It makes me wonder if we, in our mostly undeserved American comfort, have not let our freedom – real or imagined – tempt us into moral and political passivity…

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How Hippie is your Department?

In Ruckus [Vol. 7, Iss. 2, October 2003]

One university. A sample of three-thousand eight-hundred forty-five students. One war. One anti-war resolution. Fourteen different disciplines, from mathematics to drama. What will it be?

What was done: On February the 12th of this year, the UW’s Graduate Professional Student Senate (GPSS) officially voted to pass a resolution condemning US military action in Iraq. With this, the UW became one of almost 150 universities nationwide to have passed such resolutions. To push for further support, e-mails were sent out to students majoring in fourteen select disciplines, urging them to sign the UW Anti-war Resolution on-line (http://www.campus4peace.net/uwaw/supportres.html). Mathematics, Communication, American Ethnic Studies, Geography, combined Languages, Art, English, Education, Environmental Sciences, History, Drama, Anthropology, Comparative History of Ideas (CHID) and Classics were all hit. More e-mails would have been sent, but the boys at Campus Computing got wind of the operation and threatened to discontinue certain peoples’ MyUW accounts. So the thing was stopped.

How useful are the results? It’s important to realize the limitations of this study. Just because 10.4% of English and Education students signed the resolution, does not mean that only 10.4% of these students were against the war. What it does mean, however, is that 10.4% of these students cared about the matter enough to go on-line and spend time signing a resolution. So the results are useful in that they allow us to compare relative anti-war sentiment at the UW.

What the results were: Check out the charts. An average of 9.6% of students actively responded to the anti-war cry. Most studies had a response pretty close to this, with History, Drama, Anthropology and CHID distinctly towards the higher end. Students in Geography and American Ethnic Studies, on the other hand, weren’t too hot on signing up.

But there were outliers, too. Only 5.7% of Communication students signed, while mathematicians gave by far the lowest response: only 3.3%. At the other end of the spectrum were the students of Classics. Almost a third (32.4%) of the 37 students sampled came out against the war.

Ruckus analysis: Active anti-war sentiment on campus was, on the whole, low. This might come as a surprise, considering the common view of Seattle as a ‘liberal’ and ‘activist’ hangout. The vast majority of students seemed to have little time for extra-mural activities such as signing petitions. It’s not that students lacked an opinion (I mean, everyone has an opinion, right?). That leaves three options: (i) They didn’t care; (ii) They felt they couldn’t make a difference, anyway; or (iii) They were pro-war or undecided. Passivity was a nationwide phenomenon. Consider the fact that during most international days of protest more people walked out in Barcelona, Spain than in the entire US combined! Some protests saw 1.3 million people on the streets of Barcelona – a city with only 1.5 million citizens.

Conclusion: “The sixties”, as one piece of hate-mail I got said, “are not coming back”. Maybe true, until some moron in charge decides to impose the draft again. Ten-thousand years of civilization. Ten-thousand years of the same mistakes. The only thing that seems to have changed, thanks to technology, is the number of deaths for each screw-up. Descensus Averno facilis est.

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Edward W. Said 1935-2003

In Ruckus [Vol. 7, Iss. 2, October 2003]

“… it hardly needs saying that because the Middle East is now so identified with Great Power politics, oil economies, and the simple-minded dichotomy of freedom-loving, democratic Israel and evil, totalitarian, and terroristic Arabs, the chances of anything like a clear view of what one talks about in talking about the Near East are depressingly small.” – Edward Said, ‘Orientalism’ (1978)

Acclaimed literary critic. Intellectual. Stone-thrower. Anti-American. Peace activist. Renowned musicologist.

Said’s achievements are as diverse as people’s opinions of him. If you were one of the lucky ones who made it into UW’s packed Walker-Ames lecture last spring
(even people with tickets coming from as far as Port Angeles had to be turned back at the door) you’ll be well aware that controversy surrounded Said’s life and work.

The line of people waiting outside the Kane Auditorium was flanked by a row of pro-Israeli (or anti-Palestinian? One forgets.) demonstrators sporting large posters of a younger Said hurling stones, we imagine at some innocent US-engineered and -financed M1 Abraham™ tank on a routine ‘security’ operation. An aggressive half-page essay by three UW academics appeared in The Daily, criticizing the University for bestowing the prestigious invitation to an ‘anti-Semitic’.

Said was born November 1, 1935 in Jerusalem, spending most of his childhood in Cairo, except for several long stays in Palestine. He received his university education at Harvard and Princeton. He was a professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University at the time of his death.

Said’s 1978 book “Orientalism” made waves, and remains his most famous work. A thinly-masked criticism of past Anglo-French imperialism and current US neo-imperialism in the Near- (getting nearer-) East, it was also a groundbreaking look at western attitudes towards Islam.

Whatever your views on the Middle East crisis (err, I mean crises), and American involvement therein, it’s hard to deny that Said has had tremendous influence on both sides of the line. His pro-unity stance on Israel is perhaps too easily mistaken for anti-Zionism. Said was, and is, an inspiration to critical thought and analysis in a world that desperately needs both. The university’s decision to invite such an esteemed but controversial speaker at such a volatile time deserves nothing less than our admiration. Controversy, after all, is probably the unacknowledged driving force behind everything from civil liberties to democracy.

Edward Said died of leukemia at the age of 67 on Wednesday the 24th of September.

“If the knowledge of Orientalism has any meaning, it is in being a reminder of the seductive degradation of knowledge, of any knowledge, anywhere, at any time. Now perhaps more than before.” -Edward Said, 1978

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Country Focus: Colombia

In Ruckus [Vol. 7, Iss. 2, October 2003]

This month’s country focus is on Colombia. Yeah, yeah, I know you’re reading a progressive newspaper and I realize that you therefore belong to that small group of citizens who actually care about stuff and I understand that as a result you’ve probably already heard about Plan Colombia and how your government is spraying industrial quantities of herbicide – whose chemical constituents the State Department won’t even disclose – on peasants in rural Colombia, but

… but that’s peanuts compared to the new plan. Speaking of peanuts, don’t try to grow them in Colombia any time soon. Apparently unsatisfied with the ravages caused by Ultra Glyphosate™ (brought to us by the same company that gave us – or actually, gave Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and our Vets – the infamous Agent Orange. Stick with what you know, right?), the State Department has brilliantly conceived of an even more efficient way of pursuing an anti-drug campaign which it’s own analysts are even saying isn’t working. Mycoherbicide fusarium oxysporum formae specialis [f.sp.] erythroxyli. Quite a mouthful. Or rather not. Inevitably dubbed ‘Agent Green’ by opposition groups, Fusarium oxysporum is actually a virulent fungus engineered by the Montana-based Ag/Bio Con, Inc. So the plan is for high altitude drops of this stuff over Colombia to target coca, the raw material for cocaine.

There are a few pesky legal obstacles to overcome, however. Like the fact that the UN Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention technically classifies F.o. as a biological weapon. And the fact that spraying the stuff all over Colombia contradicts several clauses of the Geneva Convention. (These, by the way, are agreements that the US has actually decided to sign. Unlike the 1966 Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; certainprotocols of the 1989 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child; the 1997 Kyoto Global Warming Protocol, the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty; and the 2002 Rome Statute for the establishment of an International Criminal Court – to name just a few).

There’s more to Colombia than cocaine, of course. Like oil, for example. Los Angeles-based Occidental Oil has most of that covered. They got their pipelines covered, too. By US-trained right-wing paramilitaries, no less. Then there’s coal. Brought home to a light-switch near you courtesy of the Alabama-based Drummond mining company. They recently got into trouble for allegedly using Death Squads to polish off Colombian trade union leaders, according to an Asian edition of Time Magazine I picked up in Nepal. You see, one of the perks of being the Ruckus International Correspondent is that I actually get to read about this stuff – the story never appeared in the US edition of Time.

Final Fun Fact: Colombia is the third-highestrecipient of US ‘aid’. (What are the first two? Entries open now. Bonus points for telling us why. Send your answers in
to Ruckus by e-mail, post, or hand today. Winners to be announced next month.)

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