Dear Friends , there is so much happening now, and the year has just truly finished its first quarter. This edition will not do justice to all that we and the wider social justice movement are engaged in but we hope will keep you in touch to seek more information, more knowledge. We touch on the burning issue of poverty and inequality and, related to this, the great analogue switch off – which we believe will leave about 14 million without free to air television. Alongside public service radio, TV is a public good critical to informing and educating (as well as entertaining) the public.
About half of us South Africans are living in poverty according to Stats SA, and indeed have become poorer during the Covid pandemic. Whilst most of us have become poorer, we have also used our time to document our experiences as the Community Monitors have done here.
Finally, we are thrilled to present here the two part podcast on the Slapp Suits Teach-In held in February 2022.
Keep reading and reaching out to others.
There seems to be a rush to take decisions at the top that will show that the country and its leaders are delivering. Social delivery is good but it is being done without including the people. This is evident in the unilateral setting of the switch off from analogue to digital for the end of March 2022. Elsewhere, regulatory bodies take decisions without consulting and talking with the poorest simply, because it is time consuming and the poor “are not organized.” We believe that social delivery cannot be done without participatory democracy.
As a result of this, we in the Bench Marks Foundation are increasing our focused work on delivering to the people we work with. With them and not only for them. We realize that we must redouble our efforts especially in the light of the recent World Bank report on South Africa that confirmed that the country is characterised by “high wealth inequality and economic polarisation (particularly across labour markets).” Wealth inequality is higher than income inequality, with estimates showing that the top 10% of the population hold 71% of its wealth, whereas the bottom 60% hold only 7% percent. This compares with 50% and 13% respectively for member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Further to this, wage inequality inflated by more than 10 percent between 1995 and 2015 when the Gini coefficient for wages rose from 58 to 69.
“We know from this report that inherited circumstances over which an individual has little or no control drive overall inequality, and that despite Sacu (Southern Africa Customs Union) countries undertaking some of the most re-distributive spending’s in the world, particularly on education and health, inequality remains extremely high,” said World Bank director for Sacu Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly.
There is much to do in the country before we can become more just, and land reform, education and health outcomes must improve and so on. Importantly, this must be done in the words of the RDP by “linking democracy, development and a people-centered approach, we are paving the way for a new democratic order.”
We will play our role, and we are. Popular education, organization and movement building and advocacy will remain our major tools of resistance but we are increasingly exploring ways of continuing litigation with those we work with. This means choosing our battles wisely and working in alliance with other groups. Change happens when we work in coalition with like-minded groups. The luxury of individual CSO groups going it alone is long gone: we have no choice but to work on mutually agreed goals with others on a principled basis.
Deputy Director Bench Marks Foundation
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK…
To commemorate World Water Day, the Department of Water and Sanitation has committed to enhance its efforts to explore the use of groundwater as an alternative water source to ensure water security in communities affected by water supply challenges. This comes as the global community observes World Water Day on 22 March 2022, themed: “Groundwater – making the invisible, visible.”
According to the Department, more than 50% of available groundwater is being utilized in five Water Management Areas (WMAs) across the country, with the highest utilisation happening in Limpopo.
The Department said groundwater is acknowledged as a national asset and an integral part of South Africa’s water resources which has helped to reduce the backlog for domestic water supply in different parts of the country.
“Groundwater contamination occurs when man made products such as petrol, oil and other harmful substances get into groundwater supplies and cause it to become unsafe and unfit for human use. Sources of groundwater contamination include septic systems, waste sites and pesticides, amongst other things,” he said.
Deteriorating groundwater quality may have severe health impacts on health and livelihoods in communities using polluted groundwater without treatment. Maswuma gave an assurance that the Department will not hesitate to take strict measures against those who pollute the resource.
The monitoring of groundwater pollution is done collaboratively with several other government departments such as the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy as well as the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, alongside private partnerships.
The Department said many of South Africa’s indigenous communities rely on groundwater for their survival, while many towns, approximately 320 towns, also depend on groundwater as a sole source of supply in conjunction with surface water. It also expressed that the protection of the resource is significant to help achieve equitable water for all by 2030 and beyond.
Statement issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GROUPS CELEBRATE A LANDMARK JUDGEMENT
On 18 March 2022, environmental justice groups celebrated a landmark judgement by Judge Collis recognising air pollution as a violation of Constitutional rights, a major victory for environmental justice groups groundWork, Vukani Environmental Justice Movement in Action (Vukani) and wider civil society internationally. The groups, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) as attorneys, first launched the landmark #DeadlyAir litigation in 2019, demanding that the government clean up the toxic air in the Mpumalanga Highveld.
In addition, Judge Collis found for the applicants and ordered the government to pass regulations to implement and enforce the Highveld Priority Area Air Quality Management Plan, which is aimed at cleaning up the air on the Highveld to meet health-based air quality standards. Judge Collis found that Environment Minister Barbara Creecy has a legal duty to pass these regulations, and that she has “unreasonably delayed” in preparing and initiating regulations to give effect to the Highveld Plan.
In her judgement, she stated: “If air quality fails to meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“National Standards”), it is a prima facie violation of the right. When failure to meet air quality standards persists over a long period of time, there is a greater likelihood that the health, well-being, and human rights of the people subjected to that air are being threatened and infringed upon.” Read more
THE GREAT ANALOGUE SWITCH OFF
You, President Ramaphosa, announced that the migration to digital broadcast should be completed by 31 March 2022. We recognize that migrating from analogue to digital brings with it benefits such as greater coverage, better privacy, more capacity, access to data application improved voice over quality, and so on, but this cannot be at the expense of the people and democratic participation. In addition, we are concerned that people who are poor and out of the information and knowledge loop are being left behind and will suffer greater injustices. Together with the Peoples Media Consortium that represents other non governmental bodies including trade unions we have formed the platform to SAVE FREE TV.
We ask you to read and address these concerns which we have dubbed the four lies. Please join us in asking your Minister to stop this unconstitutional act.
Four lies the government is telling about the Broadcast Digital Migration
Statement issued by the SaveFreeTV campaign, 13 March 2022
On 8 March the #SaveFreeTV issued a statement demanding that the government delay the disconnection of millions of people’s analogue TV reception. Later the same day the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) responded in a statement full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.
Here we set the record straight on the four most notable lies that the DCDT is telling South Africa about the Broadcast Digital Migration (BDM):
Truth #1: The analogue signal has not been completely switched off in any province
The DCDT claims that analogue TV signals have been successfully switched off in the Free State, Northern Cape, North West, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo (as the Communications Minister has also repeatedly claimed). In fact, only SABC transmissions were cut off while eTV kept broadcasting. This resulted in eTV’s viewership increasing by 40% in the Free State alone.
Truth #2: The government ‘awareness campaign’ has failed and needs more time
The DCDT claims it has undertaken an effective communication and awareness campaign giving audiences “ample opportunity” to migrate. The fact that millions of people have not migrated and the low number of applications for subsidies set-top-boxes speak to the actual ‘effectiveness’ of the government ‘awareness campaign’.
In reality, BDM communications efforts have been limited to things like a ticker line on SABC TV channels and an SMS and social media campaign. These efforts have failed to entice audiences with what digital TV has to offer in terms of content and channels and motivate people to migrate to DTT (not just to pay-TV). Furthermore, funding that was promised by the government to community TV stations in November last year to support local campaigns to assist in the migration process has still not been disbursed.
Truth #3: Government’s TV migration process serves Multichoice/DSTV and undermines the public interest
The DCDT claims 10.5 million households have “self-migrated” to digital TV. We assume it is referring to people that have moved onto pay-TV (primarily MultiChoice/DSTV). This is no cause for celebration as it has only served to entrench the MultiChoice monopoly while the cost of pay-TV is out of reach to the majority of South Africans. Government is out-of-touch with what is happening in communities and speaking purely from a position of privilege ignores those who cannot afford pay-TV.
For over a decade the government’s handling of digital migration has amounted to a massive privatisation of the communications system. The planned analogue switch-off could be a critical nail in the coffin of public broadcasting as those that can afford it will continue to abandon public TV services (SABC & community TV) and move to private companies like MultiChoice, OVHD and Netflix. Government is pushing viewers to migrate to any digital service rather than specifically to DTT, meaning that the pay-TV platforms will benefit from the lack of digital reception devices in the market at the expense of free-to-air channels on the DTT platform.
This will further entrench inequality in South Africa between those spoiled for choice and those left without any TV access at all. This rolls back the basic rights to free expression and access to information that the Constitution mandates the government to “progressively realise”.
Although at present SABC and community TV channels are available on DSTV, there is no guarantee that MultiChoice will continue to carry the community channels since there is no must-carry, must-pay provision for these free-to-air broadcasters on the dominant pay-TV provider.
MultiChoice faces allegations of corrupting the Zuma administration (here, here & here) – but why isn’t Communications Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni putting the people’s interests ahead of MultiChoice?
Truth #4: A democratic government should welcome public participation
The DCDT accuses #SaveFreeTV of alleging a “looming blackout” and other so-called “non-facts”. The DCDT statement aggressively dismisses the concerns of the campaign as baseless and mischievous, and to be treated with contempt.
Nowhere in our statement have we mentioned a “looming blackout”. All the figures quoted are based on those available from the Broadcasting Research Council (BRC) through the measurements of A.C. Neilson which measures television audiences in terms of ‘television households’ and not Statistics SA figures. The BRC figures are the standard which broadcasters and advertisers use to measure television audiences.
The #SaveFreeTV figures for TV viewers affected by the BDM are arrived at as follows: According to the BRC some 36% of TV households in SA are dependent on analogue TV signals, which equates to roughly 5.7 million free-to-air TV households that will be affected by the ASO. According to Statistics SA the average household occupancy is 2.51 people, so multiplying 5.7 households by 2.51 household members gives us a figure of over 14 million free-to-air TV viewers.
While MultiChoice and OVHD report receiving thousands of new applications every day, the roll-out of DTT reception equipment is proceeding very slowly. Of the 1.5 million DTT decoders that the government had manufactured, less than half (616,871) have actually been installed countrywide. In Gauteng the figure is only 115 decoders, and in the Western Cape it is only 62 (figures from DCDT report to parliament on the BDM, February 2022).
At the start of the BDM in 2008 the government estimated that some five million households would qualify for these decoders; this was later reduced to three million following lackadaisical uptake in the Free State, the second province after Northern Cape to have the SABC analogue transmissions switched off. Even if all of the existing stocks of government decoders are installed, that still leaves some 4,2 million households that have to either sign on to pay-TV platforms, buy a new digital TV set with integrated DTT tuner or find a local or imported grey-market (not SABS approved) DTT decoder.
It is unacceptable that a democratic government would adopt this belligerent tone when engaging with citizens who are deeply concerned about the future of free-to-air TV and the impact its loss will have on the majority of our people. The #SaveFreeTV campaign, along with the free-to-air broadcasters, merely wishes for a digital migration that is handled in a responsible and effective manner which preserves free-to-air television and which prepares the majority of this audience to opt for DTT reception rather than pay-TV services; and that this is done in a way which ensures that millions of South Africans are not left behind by a premature ASO. These aims do not deserve the contemptuous and dismissive response that the DCDT has opted for.
Both elected politicians and government officials are servants of the people and should conduct themselves as such. The Constitution and Administrative Justice Act oblige the government to engage in meaningful consultation with those affected by its decrees and legislation. The Communications Ministry is falling desperately short in these legal commitments.
The #SaveFreeTV campaign wants to see the speedy conclusion of the digital migration project. But this cannot be done at the expense of millions of South Africans and the future of free-to-air TV.
We expect the government to engage us constructively to find a solution to the looming crisis. The arrogant dismissiveness expressed in the DCDT statement does not serve South Africa.
THE MEET - UP
A meeting place to learn about organisations, networks, movements and people resisting injustices and whom we work with.
Jamie Kneen: MiningWatch staff saying farewell to Ugo (centre): Sahsa Kazakova, Val Croft, Jamie Kneen, Ugo Lapointe, Rodrigue Turgeon, Kirsten Francescone, Catherine Coumans
MINING WATCH CANADA
MiningWatch Canada first connected with Bench Marks Foundation around the 2013 Alternative Mining Indaba as part of deepening our work in Africa and shifting possibilities for collaboration due to changes in civil society capacity in areas we had previously been working, in West and East Africa. Canadian mining interests are active across the continent, and we had also previously been supporting Zambian organisations around the impacts of Canadian mining companies’ activities there. We were interested in building relationships in the region, and connecting the dots around specific mining projects and conflicts, but also the policies that facilitate exploitative and destructive mining practices, and the dynamics that drive them. We discovered that Bench Marks was deeply involved, doing incisive, thoughtfully-constructed, work on the ground, linking on-the-ground research and community organising and capacity building.
As a small organisation (currently 6 staff), MiningWatch’s approach is to work in coalitions and networks of trusted partners to support mining-affected communities, and to bring their voices to the fore as the ones who suffer the impacts of government and corporate decisions – and also to change the conditions and structures that perpetuate abuse. In the African context, this also means a strong focus on the economic and governance conditions that allow promises to take the place of real change, and justify expanded and intensified mining in the face of overwhelming evidence that it will produce wealth only for a few, while deepening inequality and ecological breakdown. We work to repair the harms that mining has done and continues to do, and to get changes implemented to make mining safer and more equitable while also ensuring that democratic engagement and the self-determination of peoples is strengthened, and communities are able to exercise the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
4 Florence Street, Suite 210
Ottawa, ON K2P 0W7 Canada
My phone/text etc. +1 (613) 569-3439
Jamie Kneen, March 2022
UPCOMING EVENTS AND MEETINGS
The People’s Media Consortium (PMC) aims to contribute to the promotion and protection of human, democratic and labour rights by strengthening the media and organising capacity of poor communities and unemployed/vulnerable workers in South Africa to take up their own interests through democratic mass media interventions.
We develop democratic community based alternative mass media platforms and gain access to mainstream media platforms and audiences such as the public broadcaster, the SABC and community radio and TV channels.
We contribute towards raising awareness and build strong democratic organizations within local communities in which women play a central role based on principles of unity, independence, democracy and non-discrimination and ensure greater impact for the NGO partners’ developmental work..” Read more here.
On 10 March we held a Peoples Assembly to demand the government #SaveFreeTV and unite civil society behind a campaign to delay the switch-off on Analogue TV on 31 March. You can revisit the Assembly here.
With the world’s focus on Ukraine, we cannot forget other crises around the globe, especially as the economic impacts of the Russian invasion are being felt far and wide, and with the gap between humanitarian funding and soaring emergency aid needs already at record levels. Here are eight (among many) conflicts and crises – listed in no particular order – that are also happening right now, and that also deserve your attention.
Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, suffered a setback on Wednesday [09/03/2022] in his effort to rush through a law that would allow mining on indigenous reservations, which he had argued was necessary because Brazil needed fertilizer supplies. Party whips in the lower house of Congress did not agree to rush to a vote, amid concerns that voters might be angered in an election year, and Speaker Arthur Lira said a working group would be set up to study the bill and report back in 30 days.The government’s chief whip had gathered enough signatures to fast-track the bill known as PL 191/2020, which means that it can be put to a full vote without committee hearings. Read more.
— Check this quick news clip on the issue.
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.
**Source of the photograph used in this edition of the bulletin header image: World Bank Report
Copyright © 2022 Bench Marks Foundation, All rights reserved.
i loved the newsletter, but then again I am biased as I am part of the team producing it. Just joking. Please do write in and join the debate