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22nd April 2024

March 2024

Dear Comrades, on March 21, 1960, police officers in the Vaal township opened fire on a group of people peacefully protesting oppressive laws. Sixty‐nine protestors were killed. The anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre is remembered around the world on March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as this video explains.

South Africa declared this day as Human Rights Day and the whole month we commit to understanding our oppressions and exploitations and, with others, to find ways to overcome our situation. We suffer historic oppressions (check our racism article, and the letter from the president), the legacies of apartheid capitalism as well as the missed opportunities (as contained in the section From the Ground). The promises of the government appear in the comment as well as the terrain that cries out for digital justice and equity. Of course, our leaders have always seen our liberation as integral to the struggles of the continent and the world, and thus Palestine and Congo feature in the bulletin. Our resources remain informative. Embedded in all these struggles is the need to organise ourselves and rebuild the movements that would work inclusively for equality and justice. 

Read, Enjoy, Discuss and Pass it On.

· COMMENT ·

There is a lot going on and the election is front and centre in all our minds. Poverty, inequality violence against women, must all be on our minds. How have we fared in this long battle to overcome the legacies of colonialism, apartheid? Has our last 30 years been an advance or a time of stangnancy? 

What about opposition groups that ignore in their manifestoes and advocacy questions of racism and nation building? They rightfully talk of jobs but will these be without dignity, without trade unions? And will they support a living wage? Also we must be aware of false promises.

It must be said that whilst we put all the blame on the government, we have to admit the weakness of the progressive movement, in particular the mass organising and unifying voice and power of the democratic trade unions.   

The promises of our liberation struggles and some of which are contained in the constitution will not be realised if we are not organised and united. Narandran Jody Kollapen Constitutional Court Justice reminded us of our aspirations and our shortcomings in his address to the 18th Annual Human Rights Lecture Realising Socio-Economic Rights in an Unequal Society at Stellenbosch’s law faculty event. 

In a wide ranging talk, he touched on the role of the constitution,  the courts and socio economic rights. Dealing with history, he said: “Today, no one can explain the longevity of apartheid. In time, future generations will ask… how could a society with a history such as ours, armed with the Constitution that we have and acutely aware of the dire consequences inequality and poverty hold for our future, have allowed poverty and inequality to endure for so long?”

Socio-economic rights were included in the foundational document so that people could have the dignity and human resources to participate in daily life. All rights must speak to each other, Kollapan reminds us. “For example, housing programmes in their conception and execution must have regard to groups that have been marginalised and excluded. What is delivered must cater adequately and equally for such needs, such as those living with disabilities, new and different notions of the family, single parents and the interests and the equality rights of the LGBTQI community.”

The judge was insistent that human rights is not just a thing that can be owned / possessed or used only by the rich and powerful. “Overcoming poverty and inequality is not just a matter of statistics or of balancing our hopes and fears. The reality we must confront is that our ability to address inequality and poverty will determine the sustainability of our democracy. We cannot offer the hope of the Constitution but demonstrate an inability to convert its promise to reality.”

The only advice we can give: talk in community, with families and friends and think of how we can be better. We have to organise and social media is not a substitute for that. Nothing has been conceded without a demand. This is a time to keep politicians to account. We – collectively – must demand progress for the poorest and most marginalised. Those who advocate for the wealthy and powerful are not our friends.

By Hassen Lorgat

ARTICLES

Racism Remains the Issue

This year marks 30 years of our transition from apartheid South Africa, and activists are rightfully debating the contribution of the various ANC administrations towards dismantling racial capitalism. Firstly, let me be bold and state the victory of progressive forces in 1994 is historic and marks a break with official racism, known as apartheid. As COSATU said in their position paper to the 2001 UN Conference against Racism and Xenophobia, that 1994 marked a turning point in the struggle against racism and social exclusion and that this historic milestone does not only reflect the determination of South Africans to get rid of discrimination, instead the determination of the whole of humanity. 

Secondly, the jury is still out whether this was the mission or whether the mission was to eradicate racial discrimination only, whilst keeping the ills of the racialised capitalist system in place. Thirdly, there is a fallacy to blame all the shortcomings on government… where have the civil society organisations been, particularly the unions that have championed so much during the 1980s leading up to the democratic breakthrough?

The ANC-led administrations have much blame at their door but, as Frederick Douglas has famously said that Power concedes Nothing without a demand, it begs the question: what have we been demanding and with what power? Frankly speaking, we have had erudite pockets of small protests on a range of issues from corruption, green energy, some strikes around wages, against violence against women, housing – but nothing on the scale of intensity as well as sustainability that we enjoyed in our resistance during those heydays against apartheid.

Have we matched the small conservative, largely white groups like Afriforum, Solidarity, the Brenthurst Foundation, the Democratic Alliance, and others in their sustained advocacy against radical socio-economic justice from below transformation? Based on a dubious methodology and small sample, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) proclaimed to the world on a billboard that RACISM IS NOT THE PROBLEM. In their discourse upon their science, they raise issues of unemployment, crime, and so on as if these do not have their genesis from colonial apartheid rule. This is not to excuse the missteps and failures of those at the helm today but to exonerate your privileged self from the problem, let alone the solution, is rich indeed. How land reform and transformation has been handled since 1994 is clearly a failure and has been marked by stop-start interventions and a serious lack of commitment and political will. I believe that racism, or more specifically racial capitalism, remains the issue and the fact that many of us are not on board in this fight leaves the fields to racist neo-liberals to occupy.

Similarly, in an SABC interview with L Manas, DA John Steunheuzen responded that “one person’s genocide is another person’s freedom fighting.” He then proceeded to list issues of corruption, jobs, and so on… as the problems of the society.

It is as if history does not matter anymore. Nor the truth. Let me explain how the legacies and smell of racism lurks in our society with reference to our history and particularly the mining sector, which I will discuss below. Racism predates the advent of capitalism and reproduces itself in the smaller, warm, and cosy spheres of our private lives and in the institutions of state, the media, the police as well as the private sector. It began not by accident but deliberately imposed itself on societies the world over. Racism is intergenerational and crosses epochs – slavery, colonialism, neo and post colonialism and imperialism.

We need to understand history to have the conversations and find ways to become anti racist individuals inhabiting an anti racist community and wider society. If we are not pro-actively organised, we leave the field for white supremacists of all types.  

Regulation and democratic shortcomings
For us working in mining affected communities sometimes far away from the cities, the law and the constitution as we know it is hard to implement or to get the powers that be to adhere to.

Often communities complain that the bosses and the government ignore them, when they complain of air, dust and other pollution due to tailings and other mining waste. Thus regulation is weak and as a result the voices are tired of being ignored. This has not changed since the time of the advent of mining in the late 1800s.

During those colonial periods acts such as the Masters and Servants act of (1856) in the colonies served to favour the racialised employer against the workers who were strongly discouraged to form or join combinations / later trade unions.  The racialised grid was set for an apartheid future. It particularly supported the bosses as workers could not sell their labour freely and move from job to job. Thus labour was in abundance – a captive labour force. In later years, these laws informed the influx control legislation and the Pass Laws, which particularly black African workers had to endure and resist.

What is worse is that the mining sector played a significant role in the formalisation and legislation of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid, the system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination, was deeply intertwined with economic interests, particularly in industries like mining.

When mining began, people from many parts of the world flocked to see these gems and take them home with them. It was the first gold rush. 

Apartheid stole our land
From early on the profitability of the mines relied on cheap labour from South Africans and those in the subregion, including Mozambique, Malawi and other countries.

British imperialist and later apartheid used taxation and other laws to ensure cheap labour was available on a sustained basis. The Natives Land Act of 1913 and subsequent legislation forcibly removed black South Africans from their land and confined them to designated reserves, which were often economically unviable. It also restricted black people from buying or occupying land except as employees of a white master. It opened the door for white ownership of 87 percent of land, leaving black people with the remaining scraps. This dispossession of land was driven in part by the desire to provide a cheap and easily exploitable labour force for the mining industry.

It also meant denying African workers full trade union rights and controlling their freedom of movement and speech and the right to organise. Africans had to pass laws to enable them to work or be at a particular place.

This iniquitous ownership of land by racial elite (white) and the fragmentation, and thus control of black workers, laid the basis for apartheid. The mining sector used the racist law of the land and the mining chambers influenced apartheid in return to do their bidding. These were two sides of the same coin. 

Enter the CORPORATIONS
South Africa was a classic case of racialised monopoly capitalism. After the Nats introduced apartheid rule with their so-called whites only election win in 1948, they allowed corporations who would play ball to flourish.

By the late 1950s, Anglo American produced all of South Africa’s diamonds, 30% percent of its gold, 44% of its coal and more than half of Northern Rhodesia’s copper, today’s Zambia (Sampson, A1987:57). Oppenheimer’s empire wielded political and institutional influence and power. In its own mines, Anglo American Corporation imposed a rigid segregation through the compound system that they introduced for black living. 

Cheap labour as a form of control
The mining industry was a powerhouse under apartheid and, at one stage, contributed greatly to GDP. 

During 1970, the share of mining activities contributed 21% to the country’s GDP whilst it employed some 660 000 workers from the country and the neighbouring areas.

Colonial and apartheid laws ensured that cheap migrant labour supply was on tap and, as they were housed into compounds, that made surveillance and control of labour unrest or dissent an easy task. These workers were initially pooled from Southern Africa, which it is said was in 1970 close to 70% of black miners in gold were foreigners from Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, from the sub region (Berman, Jk, 2017). 

With such power, it is obvious that the bosses lobbied and influenced the government in line with their interests. The bosses favoured the differential rights of white workers, the economy, taxation and whatnot. Whilst some of the corporate leaders may have been uncomfortable with the bad press apartheid was getting, it took them a long time to voice their opposition to apartheid because they profited on cheap labour.

The ANC were correct to raise in their submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission the issue of the Maximum Wage Policy which for years laid the basis for racial hierarchies to profit at the expense of the fellow workers of a different pigmentation. In “1897, the mining houses agreed among themselves not to pay more than a “maximum average” wage, thus ensuring that any labour shortages would not result in higher wages. This agreement remained in force until the mid-1970s. Its net effect, in the context of the other measures described above, was that the average real wage paid to black workers in the mining industry remained lower in 1969 than it had been in 1889 (Wilson, 1972, p46).” [The ANC submission to the TRC]

Two ways of keeping wages down was: 
a. The denial of union rights, and
b. The control of workers through compound labour accommodation.

The denial of union rights
Denial of black worker trade union rights was an obvious tool. It took black workers some 70 years of struggle to obtain formal trade union rights. The white mine workers were coopeted after the 1922 mine workers strikes. Giving white workers, even formalised, weakened trade union rights whilst denying to black workers was another tool of divide and rule.

The systems of carolling workers could not happen without the repression and control of workers. A united, anti racist working class was a threat to the system so divisions on the basis of race were very critical for the bosses and the government. These divisions were codified in racist laws on wages and occupation. The Job Reservation Act restricted black workers’ job categories and industries and prevented them from competing for higher-paying positions. 

Also, as indicated, the influx control laws, racialised ghettos, and the imposition of pass laws controlled the movement of black workers.

The control of workers through compound labour accommodation
Another way that they skimmed on paying black workers a living wage was to undermine their social wage through the provision of poor quality, single sex hostels and compounds. 

Most of the compounds were often overcrowded, poorly maintained, and offered minimal amenities for ablution and or recreation. These compounds were originally, or especially, introduced ostensibly for black living but it was “especially devised to prevent diamond smuggling with the help of elaborate inspections (Sampson, A, 1987:48). These inspections from various sources were de-humanising as they were stripped stark naked and intruding searches in mouth, toes, hair, nose and so on were undertaken – “white men would never submit to such a process”, as Lord Randolph Churchill observed (ibid). 

The workers living in compounds were easy to organise but unity with workers living in residential areas was a challenge. It is undeniable that apartheid laws and policies reinforced the idea of black labour control and hard labour, which they hoped would keep them away from thinking of politics and revolution. It is undeniable these dwellings enhanced structurally tribal / ethnic tensions, often resulting in interworking class conflicts.

Using compounds to house black migrants from the bantustans of those from the neighbouring countries helped to suppress wages and control the workers. These were essential features of an apartheid society which is slowly being eradicated… but very slowly. Thus, the bosses and government knew what they were doing to advance racial capitalism.

Other apartheid laws 
Other apartheid laws assisted the profitability of the sector. Take a look at laws such as: the Population Registration Act which forced so-called races to register as per race, the Group Areas Act (circa 1950s) and the Pass Laws and later the Bantu Homelands Citizenship Act of 1970 which declared that all Africans were citizens of “homelands,” rather than of South Africa itself. This was a measure aimed at eradicating white South Africa of all its African citizens. With all these, black Africans (including those registered coloured and indian) were kept in their place to serve the privileged few in the settler community. They collectively reinforced the apartheid regime’s control over the working class and enabled their systematic oppression and exploitation of black workers in South Africa.

After work in a racialised workplace, workers of all colours had to find their own way home in racialised transport to apartheid ghettos in line with the laws outlined above. The majority of the migrant labourers stayed in ethnicised / tribal compounds under the control of a headman. These were males-only hostels. It speaks to control of humans as workers and undermines their agency to join unions and fight for their rights.

Overall, the compounds, trade union restrictions, and wage suppression tactics were all part of a systematic effort to maintain the racial hierarchy and economic exploitation under apartheid. But this did not mean that there was no resistance. Sporadic so-called illegal strikes took place in the mines which eventually culminated in the mass strikes of 1973 and the subsequent consciousness about trade unionism. The growth and development of political rights and consciousness after Frelimo came to power in 1975 spurned on the need for the bosses and the government to see the light but undoubtedly the mass students’ unrest nationally in 1976 made it clear that apartheid was on its last legs as a formal system of rule.

We have made some modest changes in eating into the beast of racism but there is a long march ahead towards welding ourselves into a progressive nation, living in solidarity with its neighbours and the international community. 

By Hassen Lorgat

President Cyril Ramaphosa: National Conference on 30 Years of Human Rights in South Africa
18 March 2024
[extract]

Our commitment to advancing the human rights of our people should motivate us to address the challenges that many of our people face such as poverty and unemployment. To quote Madiba’s words: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity: it is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” 

The social protection measures we have put in place to lift our people out of poverty have made a tremendous difference over the past thirty years. However much more still needs to be done. The social protection measures we have put in place go far beyond the provision of grants for the elderly, children, people with disabilities and military veterans. It goes beyond the work of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which provides income support for unemployed workers, or the Compensation Fund, which supports those involved in workplace accidents. 

Our social protection measures include spending up to 60 percent of the country’s budget on a significant social wage, expended on health care services, free water and electricity for the indigent, fee-free schools, public housing, school nutrition, early childhood development and expanded financial support for students. These measures have contributed significantly to fulfilling the most basic human right of all, namely the right to dignity.  

Certainly we know that social protection is no substitute for decent work. It is our role as government, working in partnership with business, labour and civil society to create an enabling environment for more jobs and opportunities to be created, allowing our people to fulfil their potential and improve their lives. 

We also know that our progress continues to be hindered by delays and lack of diligence on the part of government entities in fulfilling their constitutional obligations. We continue to be plagued by poor service delivery, especially in our municipalities. Corruption deprives citizens of the fulfilment of their rights. 

Whilst we are rightfully proud of how far our constitutional, rights-based order has come, we know that much still has to be done to fulfil the promise of the full enjoyment of the basic human rights of all our people. The creation of employment for our people and promoting the rights that are enshrined in our Constitution are necessary to improve lives and lift millions out of poverty and despair. We are duty-bound, not just as government but as all who have a stake in the future progress and prosperity of this great country, to work harder, sparing neither strength nor courage to fulfil the basic human rights of our people. 

The South Africa of today is a vastly different place to what it was thirty years ago. The fundamental freedoms that were denied to so many, including the heroes who lost their lives at Sharpeville, are enjoyed by South Africans today. We have expanded access to basic services and education, improved our nation’s health outcomes, and provided opportunities where there once were none. All this progress has been anchored in our deep and abiding commitment to the protection and advancement of human rights as espoused in our Constitution. 

This Constitution, this birth certificate of a new nation, will continue to be our lodestar as we work even harder. Our people expect no less, and our people deserve no less. As we look ahead, we need to determine what steps must be taken to give greater meaning to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We need to continue to contribute towards building a culture of human rights globally, which is our moral obligation as a country emerging from such a bitter past. 

I wish this Conference all the best in its deliberations. It is our expectation that it will come up with tangible resolutions that will further foster respect for and promotion of our hard-won human rights. 
I thank you.

Issued by The Presidency, 18 March 2024

A feminist approach? Talk but where is the proof?

The word has been spread far and wide, but what about the practice? The AMI, for instance, included in its theme the words a feminist approach. But what is a feminist approach? In this manual, Oxfam provides some clues. Read this and let us debate in the future about whether your community organisation or small youth club is feminist or has indeed adopted a gender justice approach.

A feminist approach:
• Takes a rights-based, transformative approach to eliminating poverty. Gender, power and wealth inequalities exacerbate each other and as a result, women and girls make up the majority of living in poverty, and poverty affects women, men, boys and girls differently. Policy, campaigns, advocacy and influencing with a feminist approach recognizes this and responds to it.

• Means making sure that any research or strategy development reflects the reality that poverty affects men and women differently.

• Ensures that a gender analysis is at the core of influencing objectives and tactics, and not just an add-on or afterthought.

• Is not “instrumentalist”, framing women’s issues in service of another goal (economic growth, etc). Instead, the issues women face should be framed in terms of the importance of women’s rights and backed up by international commitments.

• Means basing your advocacy in the legal standards defined by Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which relates to oxfam’s rights-based approach.

• Puts strong partnerships with women’s rights advocates and their organisations/networks at its heart.

• Requires making sure your team has the time, capacity, knowledge, budget and resources to integrate gender from start to finish. Staff must be held accountable for their commitments to integrate gender.

• Isn’t just about including women and girls: it’s about ensuring that women and men’s specific needs and experiences are understood and accounted for.

• Requires an examination of the way people’s intersecting identities (class, gender, race, ability, etc) impact the ways that they have power and privilege, and the ways they face marginalisation and discrimination.

• Ensures that no one is left behind and the poorest and most marginalised, men, women, boys and girls, are given an equal voice and opportunity to shape the future.

DIGITAL BITES: If digital rights as part of our communication rights and thus fundamental to our human rights, why are we not taking these rights seriously?

Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry

This is a big question as communications in the internet era is a fast moving train. Let us take a look at what has transpired over the last few weeks. The Competition Commission convened public hearings for investigation into Google, Facebook, and Apple. The first public hearings – to give it its full name – for the Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry was held on 4 to 22 March 2024 at the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition campus in Pretoria. These meetings were both in person and online and were chaired by James Hodge assisted by Paula Fray, a member of the inquiry’s panel. The inquiry aimed to address what they called the imbalances and competition issues in the media and digital platforms market, including disparities between South African media publishers and large platforms like Apple, Facebook, and Google. In addition they agreed to investigate: 

Incorporation of Constitutional interpretation into the inquiry

  • The impact of mis- and disinformation
  • The emphasis on radio and TV broadcast news media (especially the public broadcaster)
  • The measurement of news and its benefit to search and social media platforms
  • Revenue share arrangements between news media and digital platforms
  • The role and importance of transparency in platforms and Advertising Technology (Adtech) markets

Despite these competition hearings streamed live on YouTube and Facebook pages, very few of us bothered to tune in. Many groups (stakeholders) submitted submissions. We await their findings.

On Artificial Intelligence

The Guardian ran an interesting article on Artificial Intelligence or AI for short. The headline tells it all:
AI tools get smarter, they’re growing more covertly racist, experts find

“Popular artificial intelligence tools are becoming more covertly racist as they advance,” says an alarming new report. A team of technology and linguistics researchers revealed this week that large language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini hold racist stereotypes about speakers of African American Vernacular English, or AAVE, an English dialect created and spoken by Black Americans.

These lead to disastrous consequences as some AI models were also significantly more likely to recommend the death penalty for hypothetical criminal defendants that used AAVE in their court statements.

What these commentators argued is not to stop groundbreaking research but that strong and compassionate regulation is called for. We, human beings, must not put AI tools and technologies in charge of hiring and recruiting, or whether someone has to go to jail or remain free

Free Internet is as important as keeping the lights on

On Human Rights Day 21 March 2024 at the Constitutional Court (and online), Friends of a Free Internet launched the campaign Stop Thief! It is a public awareness campaign to demand the government force cell companies to deliver the  internet access  that South Africa’s democracy and economy need to flourish. Listen to the podcast interview here 

The organisers chose March to launch the campaign because, in addition to it being Human Rights Month, it also marked the second anniversary of the historic ICASA spectrum auction when the government gave R14.4 billion worth of our national airwaves to the cell phone companies. It is also almost two years since Bench Marks Foundation joined over 100 other CSOs in support of Friends of a Free Internet.

The auction terms required MTN, Vodacom, Telkom and CellC to extend network coverage to 97% of the population, connect over 32,000 public buildings (like schools and clinics) to high-speed broadband, and make all the mobile content on nonprofit and government websites free to visit. 

Two years later, promises are unmet and data prices remain stubbornly high. South Africa has a long history of missed connectivity targets and cell phone companies opting to pay fines rather than expand network access. Without public pressure, the commitments made in the 2022 Spectrum Auction will become just more broken promises. 

For more information, contact campaign organiser Andrea Boesak at organiser@freeinternet.africa or +27 63 215 2713

PS. The launch was hosted by Khulumani Galela who are occupying the Court demanding reparations for survivors of Apartheid violence.

FROM THE GROUND

Photo: 2013 – the school has grown

The Bench Marks Foundation Community Monitoring School project has grown

The community monitors school project was established in 2009 – called Monitoring Action Project – working with ten participants from six different organisations coming from three provinces from South Africa. These provinces are Gauteng, North West Province and Limpopo, where the impacts of mining were severely felt by many communities. The project was set up to give support to communities to effectively monitor the bad conduct of corporations and government on poor and working class communities living near the mines.

The participants belonged to organisations such as Vaal Environmental Justice, Dilokong Development project, South African Council of Churches – Limpopo, ATOK Unemployment Forum, Luka Environmental Forum, and Ditsela. These organisations helped to shape the early mandates of the Monitoring School. 

From these humble beginnings the monitoring school has conducted many capacity building workshops and educational sessions that helped in the formation of hundreds of activists.  

Project origins
From its inception, the project aimed to educate activists around thinking and acting in the interest of justice. The methodology was centred around the key analytical tools: Observe, Analyse and Act. The activists were then sent into the field and they had to put into practice these skills. They undertook community research, producing their own advocacy reports to utilise when engaging corporations and governments around human rights violations and injustices that communities faced on a daily basis.

Fifteen years later, the School continues to work closely with community-based organisations to assist them (and learn from them) in developing their capacities to deal effectively with community problems. The work of the participants called monitors is published on the website communitymonitors.net and Action Voices publications.

In 2022, we began our evaluation of the project and learnt many things and, on the basis of this, attempted to introduce changes. The first changes that we made and implemented was to include facilitators from the activist – learner base to coordinate the groups of monitors in the school. This worked very well during the years 2022-2023.

During 2024 we continue to reflect on our work and it is clear that the School has grown in number and in knowledge.

We currently have 55 participants from 20 organisations registered to the programme. This is made up of a facilitation team of 15 (8 facilitators plus 7 support monitors personnel) working with the 40 monitors.

The majority of monitors are drawn from the following provinces: North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal. 

The facilitation team met in Magaliesburg from the 10 to 15 of March 2024 to plan how we would be working with the monitors during the rest of this year. We also had to consider how we would work in the wider subregion and how we could improve the programme. 

We were also reviewing the 2023 targeted investigations which, as the name suggests, is an indepth look at a particular area of concern to the community and the activists.

During 2023 we produced six targeted investigation reports, including the documentation of the phytoremediation in Snake Park – a post mining project by the Bench Marks and local community based organisation in Soweto. The reports, we believe, must be used by activists when they advocate for their rights. 

Using a gender lens in the movement was emphasised. We analysed whether gender was being successfully mainstreamed as well as tackling violence against women or gender based violence. How could advocacy be improved? What were our goals? We committed that this year we will have to work harder to improve basic research skills, including writing skills as well as general media and communication skills. 

The workshop group also had two fun team building activities. We designed beaded bracelets and took a morning hike at the Sable Ranch Hiking Trail.

Later the team applied the skills learnt. We began by creating Google Forms Surveys for quantitative data, and conducting interviews among ourselves for qualitative data. Since some of the facilitators wrote stories, those were collected and will be used to produce the 1st South African edition of Action Voices 2024, which is scheduled to come out at the end of April.

We also learnt through our outcome harvesting approach – which essentially is about collecting evidence of what we did and reflecting on it, to find out whether the interventions we made contributed to the changes we are witnessing. Group team discussions were great as they helped us to learn from each other. From the 2022 programme feedback we learnt that there is a need to develop and implement a stronger programmatic shift to problem solving and action by integrating the problem-solving approach into the work of the community monitoring school. 

A fruitful time 
The team left the training workshop with enthusiasm and a lot of work to do. We have outlined the 2024 targeted investigations and proposed issues to address (problems to be solved) with the various monitors in April. This meeting will also draft the programme of action for the rest of the year.

A few of the participants at the training workshop had this to say about their time together learning:

  • Zanele Matonsi, a Support Monitor from Sisonke Environmental Justice Network in Newcastle (KZN), said that “the workshop was very helpful to us, I learned so many things but the most important lesson was that we need to be consistent in whatever we do. Make sure we do a proper follow up on the story/stories and not leave any issues unresolved.”
  • John Mthembu, a Support Monitor from Vukani Environmental Movement in Emalahleni (Mpumalanga), said “the workshop was very much productive and one of a kind. The capacity building workshop we participated in was awesome and I believe as monitors and facilitators we will be able to write our own stories, design posters. We normally get charged a lot of money by graphic designers when we need posters. I will pass these skills to my team that I am working with as I believe in passing and sharing useful information with others.”
  • Victoria Makgoo, a facilitator for Sekhukhune monitors from Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network (Limpopo), said that “I found the workshop activities and exercises understandable. We do need a detailed manual with step by step approaches, to make a follow so we can’t miss anything. I have learnt how to create Google forms for surveys and the layout newsletters. I still need more lessons, however I am confident I will be able to apply the lessons to my daily work and design some posters for my hair and nails business.”
  • Rebecca Selomo, a Support Monitor from Mogalakwena Concerned and Affected Communities in Mokopane (Limpopo), said “I found the workshop very empowering, as I have learned or discovered new things I didn’t know. I will utilise the skills I have learned, especially targeted investigations. It will assist my organisation in having a focused and results driven advocacy programme, and it will definitely advance my work.”

By Olebogeng Motene

Photo: Nyakallong community members attending the workshop

Nyakallong community to form cooperatives

On a mission to assist the community of Nyakallong escape the clutches of poverty, the Bench Marks Foundation research team hosted a two-day workshop to educate participants on how to register and run cooperatives. Held from 8 to 9 March 2024, the workshop was one of three workshops that the Foundation has conducted in the area so far. The first skills audit workshop, which was held in May 2023 and included a survey, identified skills that people have in the area. The focus of the second workshop, held in November 2023, was to assist community members to organise themselves into economic units.

Lead researcher of the Bench Marks Foundation David van Wyk explained: “near-mine communities suffer high levels of unemployment. These levels of unemployment have increased since mines are being abandoned and closed all over the Free State and other provinces as well. Bench Marks Foundation is conducting a skills audit in some of these communities. The purpose of the skills audit is to identify skills, then secondly to begin organising people into economic units that address the issues of unemployment through the creation of cooperatives that belong to the members of the community. This can actually give them a meaningful opportunity to engage with the economy and to create an income and jobs for themselves.”

Already the participants are in the process of registering three cooperatives that will focus on hospitality, agriculture and construction. More workshops of this nature will be conducted in Jagersfontein, another near-mining community in the Free State. Furthermore, the facilitators emphasised the need for the community to understand their human rights as contained in the bill of rights, in the constitution of South Africa. Copies of the constitution will be provided in the next workshop to the participants

Apart from poverty, Nyakallong is among many near-mining communities that are ravaged by mine induced pollution. In 2019, the Department of Water and Sanitation found Harmony Gold guilty of illegally discharging wastewater into the local Voëlpan Dam. The discharge of waste resulted in flooding, causing community members to live in homes flooded by water contaminated with sewage and heavy metals.

By Nteboheng Phakisi-Portas (phd)

Photo: water crisis in South Africa. Courtesy of Greenpeace

Water challenges south of Marikana

Tharisa Mine operates just south of Marikana along the N4 Platinum highway. In order to commence its huge opencast operation, the mine had to move a rural farmworker community off the land. The mine constructed “silver city”, a township of tin shacks – not proper housing, but tin shacks. For any open cast mine to operate, a wellfield of boreholes is constructed to drop the water table so that the operations can be conducted in dry conditions in the pit. Tharisa pumps the water thus extracted into an old Aquarius shaft, and has punted this as a solution to South Africa’s water challenges. However, Aquarius is also pumping the water into water tanks that feed the relocated community with tap water. This is cheaper than providing the community with properly treated water from Magalies Water which supplies the Bojanala District with water.

The community has been complaining for years about the poor quality of the water. They have also been complaining that the mine expanded right up to the doorstep of the relocated community and that rocks from blasting fell on the houses and property. Just two weeks ago, the company introduced a slapp suit on activists in the community fighting for their constitutional rights to water and to a healthy and safe environment. The first sitting of this case happened on Tuesday, 12 March 2024, at the Mmabatho High Court in Mahikeng. The charge against the activists is that they are “hampering the business of the mine”.

How valid are the claims of the community that their untreated water is unsafe? A municipal official from Rustenburg came to the community and took samples from two sites and tested them in a laboratory. Bench Marks then took the readings and compared them to global health standards for clean water using indicators from the World Health Organisation and the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA.

The water analysis the Foundation did shows that the water being supplied to the people in Maditlhokwa is not in line with international standards and certainly is also in contravention of South African water laws, in particular the Water Services Act 108 of 1997 (Department of Water Affairs and Forestry, 1996. South African Water Quality Guidelines (second edition). Volume 1: Domestic Use). As such, the mine is in contravention of the law and should be criminally charged.

Following the testing of water at two points in the community, the local municipality has long ordered the mine to stop the flow of untreated water to the community. An instruction was issued to Tharisa but to no avail. On the 29th of February 2024, a meeting to resolve the issue was held among the mine personnel, councillor, and community members and it was agreed that Tharisa should stop supplying water that is not properly treated to the community. The mine has “promised” to attend to the issue.

By David Van Wyk

CHECKING IN: Palestine, genocide, international solidarity, and blood diamonds

Palestine, or more specifically the genocide in Palestine, is receiving more and more coverage but not enough in the right places. Some media houses, including social media platform owners, continue to censor and distort what the struggle is about.

This edition’s check in on Palestine has rich and sad offerings. From actions by the ICJ, the special rapporteur to civil society actions as well as a feature on blood diamonds. Mining is the core mandate of the Foundation and the organisation will be following up on this.

But we will be failing not to inform – those of our members who remain uninformed –  about the recent vote at the UN Security Council for a temporary ceasefire, for the month of Ramadan, which has not stopped the Israeli regime from killing women, men and children.

The UN special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese details the violations of rights of Palestinians before and since October 7. Albanese writes that “since it imposed the siege on Gaza in 2007, which tightened the closure imposed since 1993, Israel, the occupying power, has carried out five major assaults before the present one¨which is detailed and contained in the resource section…” Her conclusion is consistent to that of other bodies including the ICJ that there is a genocide in process.The context, facts and analysis presented in this report lead to the conclusion “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met. More broadly, they also indicate that Israel’s actions have been driven by a genocidal logic integral to its settler-colonial project in Palestine, signalling a tragedy foretold” .

In addition, the BDS Coalition here in South Africa hailed the ICJ’s most recent ruling on famine and starvation ruled that Israel is in breach of its orders. The Court imposed further binding provisional measures on the Israeli state due to the worsening situation in Gaza including famine and starvation.  As Judge Yusuf said in a separate opinion, “the alarm bell has now been sounded by the Court.  All the indicators of genocidal activities are flashing red in Gaza.” The SA BDS Coalition even noted that even the “infamous Judge Sebutinde has changed her position, voting in favour of provisional measures she previously opposed, leaving the Israeli Judge Barak isolated in his defence of the genocide against the Palestinian people.”  The BDS – which has immense support from the faith communities and the churches – reiterated their call for all businesses, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, cultural establishments, and sports bodies to sever ties with “genocidal Israel.  We call on trade unions to refuse to handle Israeli owned ships and goods, as their comrades in Belgium, Italy, Spain and elsewhere have done.”  

Other creative actions by South Africans are the actions of Simunye Women Workers Forum, a women labour advocacy group based in Johannesburg which called for an immediate end to the war, and freedom for Palestinian women.

South African women’s groups celebrated Women’s History Month marked from Friday, March 8, International Women’s Day, in a sombre mood with a moving nod to the besieged women of Gaza. Simunye appealed to the world to intervene to stop Israel’s genocidal war targeting vulnerable women and children in Gaza. The organisation also demanded the imposition of sanctions on Israel and the free movement of food trucks, instead of food being dropped by aeroplanes. They also dedicated International Women’s Day to the life and achievements of Fatima Bernawi, the first Palestinian woman to die in Israeli captivity.

The South African diamond industry and its complicity in genocide of Palestinians  is a must read. This is particularly the case given the country’s role at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) . One thing that is clear is that when it comes to diamonds, they are not the Palestinians’ best friend. Sean Clinton is a human rights activist from Ireland, who has written numerous articles critical of the double standards in the global jewellery industry. In an article in Amandla entitled Genocide in Gaza funded by the diamond industry, he writes:

De Beers and PIC support Israel diamond industry
Civil society must give credit to the South African government for taking a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. The carefully documented evidence of Israeli war crimes amounts to a plausible case of genocide according to the ICJ. This should have been enough evidence for international corporations with Israeli supply chains to immediately withdraw from Israel, just as they have from Russia. 

In response to a question I raised about De Beers and Forevermark at the 2019 Anglo American AGM, the chairman indicated that they would need to take the judgement of the international community into account. Despite the overwhelming evidence of genocide in Gaza, De Beers Group continues to underpin the Israeli economy through its business links to Israeli diamond industry. 

One of Anglo American’s biggest shareholders is South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC). During the 2019 AGM, questions were raised by shareholder-activists. The PIC has responsibility for the investment of South African workers’ pensions. Yet it continues investing in a company supporting the apartheid regime in Israel. Its continued investment in Anglo American is at variance with the South African government’s action to hold Israel to account for genocide in Gaza¨.  

Read more here: Genocide in Gaza funded by the diamond industry 

Photo by Mzi Velapi

Congolese in SA protest DRC plunder and genocide

The DRC is endowed with rich mineral deposits. According to Crux Investor report, the DRC holds over 70% of global cobalt reserves, boasts rich diamond deposits and has bountiful reserves of copper, tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.


Congolese nationals, activists and various organisations took to the streets of Cape Town on Saturday to highlight the genocide that is happening mainly in the eastern parts of the mineral-rich country in the centre of the continent. Congo has experienced intense war and conflict since 1996 which has links to the Rwandan genocide which lasted for three months and claimed close to a million lives. The Global Conflict Tracker estimates that about six million people have been killed since 1996 making it one of the deadliest conflicts in world history.

The protesters who spoke to Elitsha said that the geopolitical competition between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Uganda, and various non-state armed groups fuels the fighting. Congolese Civil Society of South Africa vice chairperson, Joe-Yves Salankang Sa Ngol, addressed the crowd gathered outside parliament: “The war is about the interests of so many countries, a coalition of rogue countries using transnational companies and some using puppet African leaders who play a role in facilitating the looting of Congolese minerals.”

South African-Congolese activist, Hannah Mutanda Kaniki said that they believe what is happening in the Congo is genocide because it is about ethnic cleansing and intent to kill Congolese. “A lot of people have been saying that what is happening in Congo is not genocide but this is genocidal action for economic gain. This is the same thing that we are seeing in Palestine. The Israelis and Zionists are in Palestine doing what they are doing not because they hate Palestinian people but want to gain the land that belongs to Palestinians. It is the same thing that is happening in Congo: the eradication, the rape, the use of violence against women, children and men is all used to pillage the mineral resources of Congolese people. A lot of people will argue that this is not genocide but it says that partial or complete discrimination of an ethnicity and the intent to kill qualifies as genocide. Congo meets four out of the five criteria for a genocide according to the United Nations description,” she said.

Read more here: Congolese in SA protest DRC plunder and genocide – Elitsha (elitshanews.org.za)

RESOURCES

💧 From 18-24 May 2024, Bali, Indonesia will host the 10th World Water Forum (WWF). This triennial event, convened by the corporate-driven World Water Council (WWC), brings together politicians, public agencies, academics, select civil society organizations, multilateral institutions and the private sector to address global water challenges. Marketed as a multi-stakeholder water governance space, the WWF is dominated by Northern donor countries, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and some of the world’s largest multinational corporations. These actors seek to pressure governments at all levels—especially in the South—to privatize water and sanitation systems and develop market-based solutions to intensifying global water crises including drought, scarcity and climate disasters, 90% of which are water related.

The accumulated evidence, however, overwhelmingly demonstrates that the market-based restructuring of the water sector exacerbates many of the pressing problems we are told it seeks to address. These reforms increase costs for households and public budgets while granting easier access to water-intensive and water polluting industries. Indeed, the WWF agenda threatens democratic control of water and equitable access for small farmers, rural communities, the urban poor and other marginalized and vulnerable populations. These threats are increasingly dire in the context of a world struggling to emerge from the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic amidst climate chaos, economic crisis and proliferating conflict. 

Despite the catastrophic risks this agenda entails, especially for the exploited and marginalized whose voices continue to be ignored and sidelined in global water governance spaces, the WWF continues to provide a platform for the world’s richest and mightiest water profiteers. But frontline water defenders and communities will not be silenced! Water justice movements from around the world will gather at the People’s Water Forum (PWF) 2024 in Bali, Indonesia from 21-23 May, to challenge the corporate capture of global water governance at the WWF, consolidate the global network of water justice movements and champion public and community water alternatives that can truly realize water justice for all.

Read the full PWF 2024 overview here.

Moses Cloete serves as the editor at large of this edition. Unless otherwise indicated the writing and presentation of the Bulletin is by Hassen Lorgat. Marta Garrich helped with additional editing and layout of the newsletter. Simo Gumede is responsible for the members and partners database management. Header Image: Ricardo Levin Morales illustration of Frederick Douglass quote.

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