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A Fight Within the Congress of South African Trade Unions

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(NNPA) The crisis that has rocked the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) over the last year has frequently been portrayed as revolving around a scandal involving the organization’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. The principal leader of the largest labor federation in South Africa, Vavi was accused of conducting an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the organization. Although Vavi publicly apologized on several occasions, he was suspended for several months, only to have been recently reinstated by an act of a South African court.

The Vavi case, however, is not the main cause of the COSATU crisis. The underlying causes go back to the early days of Nelson Mandela’s administration and the decision of his government to embark on economic policies that were contrary to those originally promised by the African National Congress in its fight with the apartheid regime. The ANC had advanced the need for the nationalization of key industries and the establishment of major social development programs.

.In 1996 the government suddenly reversed course and instituted a new economic program called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Despite the name, it was a program that conformed to the sorts of economic biases very common in the 1990s (and today), including privatization, downsizing, and elimination of trade barriers. South African workers were hurt very badly by this change and a struggle began to emerge within COSATU over how the labor unions should respond to anti-worker policies that their allies–the ANC–were advancing.

Over the last several years, General Secretary Vavi has become an outspoken critic of the ANC-led government of Jacob Zuma, particularly on matters of economic policy. Events became more intense when striking miners from a union that was not affiliated with COSATU, were gunned down at the Marikana mines in 2012. The horror of this act sent shock waves throughout South Africa, including but not limited to COSATU. Several unions that have been affiliated with COSATU began to raise questions about not only what had happened, but also the role of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM, a COSATU affiliate) in the tragedy.

As criticisms of the Zuma administration heightened, and as Vavi seemed to be a leading critic, a lineup within COSATU emerged that included unions that saw themselves as defenders of the ANC and the alliance that has existed between the ANC and COSATU. In that context, the allegations against Vavi have little to do with the actual facts of the incident. Vavi apologized repeatedly for inappropriate conduct, yet the anti-Vavi forces in COSATU saw this as their chance to remove him from the scene and to consolidate COSATU as an uncritical ally of the Zuma administration and the ANC.

While it is the case that Vavi has been, at least for now, restored to office and the ANC is helping to facilitate discussions between Vavi and his detractors, the focus on the individual misses the larger situation. To what extent will COSATU see itself as reaching out to the growing chorus of social movements critical of the ANC’s economic policies, or will COSATU reject such critics and hold fast to its relationship to the ANC? This will not be answered through one action or decision but we shall see it play out over the coming months of struggle.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Yes, "Apartheid" Describes Israel

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I was struck by how quickly Secretary of State John Kerry backed down when he was chastised by anti-Palestinian critics for suggesting that Israel might be on the road to becoming an apartheid state. What was so unusual about such a statement? Israeli media commentators, including some political officials, use that term to either describe the current situation or to warn of impending disaster. Here in the U.S, however, we have to fret over using such a term because it, allegedly, might offend someone.

If I am critical of anything, it is precisely that Kerry did back down, added to the fact that Israel is not on the road to becoming an apartheid state: it is already such a state.Apartheid is a term that was both used by the White South Africans to describe their system of racial separation and oppression from 1948-1994, as well as an officially recognized term by the United Nations that describes the broader system of racial suppression that can exist in any country and is not restricted to South Africa. As a result, the term “apartheid,” describing a system of racial categorization and suppression, can and should be applied to what we have seen unfold in Israel since its founding, quite ironically, in 1948.

Palestinian land has been seized, allegedly for security reasons, never to be returned. Palestinian refugees have been refused the internationally right of return to the homes and land that they left in the midst of the 1948-49 war. An educational system exists in Israel in which there is a differential in the resources available for Jewish Israelis vs. Palestinian citizens of Israel. And, of course, the Israelis continue an illegal occupation of Palestinian territory that commenced in 1967 whereby the Palestinians have only nominal control of a portion of their own land.

​ Secretary of State Kerry, out of apparent frustration with the antics of the Israeli side in negotiations, correctly noted that if/when negotiations break down, the permanent occupation of the West Bank along with Israel’s policies towards its own Palestinian citizens, will shatter any idea that Israel exists as an alleged democratic state. Kerry was, more than likely, trying to appeal to the Israeli establishment to awaken and smell the coffee. Instead, opponents of Palestinian justice threw the coffee in Kerry’s face.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. This past January he led an African American fact-finding delegation to Israel and Palestine. Subsequent to the trip he wrote “Traveling through Palestine While Black” athttp://www.alternet.org/world/traveling-through-palestine-while-black-firsthand-look-slow-moving-annexation.

Donald Sterling Controversy Shows Complexity of Racism; America Likes it Simple

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April 2014 was a great month to be a Sociology professor.

During the latter part of April, America was reacting to the alleged racist comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The topic dominated every pocket of the country, including social media, where I debated friends whose viewpoints starkly contrasted my own. A friend questioned on Facebook if the Clippers’ united stand against Sterling was worthwhile given how far the team had come for the playoffs. It seemed like a given that the Clippers’ opposition to racism and the outcry from fans who wanted swift action against Sterling were nothing but great indicators of how America has progressed with race relations. I called it a “teachable moment” for America about rebuking racism and bigotry.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And about that “teachable moment” I suggested to my friend? Well, America missed the mark – and so did I. I prefaced how great this controversy must have been for Sociology professors because this issue can be endlessly dissected. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. If there was a sliding scale for accused racists, Sterling would probably be on it. Sterling’s comments did not make him the blatant, Jim Crow racist. His girlfriend, Ms. Stiviano, who recorded Sterling’s alleged racist remarks, is of black and Hispanic descent. Sterling and Staviano appeared to have a problematic relationship and he requested she not bring anyone black to basketball games and to not be seen with them on her Instagram account. However, allegedly sleeping with blacks wasn’t an issue, if she wanted. Sterling was also a friend to influential African-Americans, including reportedly with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was outraged by Sterling’s comments. Sterling was also due for honor with a humanitarian award by the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. (Yes, quite distressing indeed). Do all of these factors suggest Sterling fits the mold of a racist?

The “teachable moment” here is that racism and people we label as racist is more complex than ever. Racism in America is not black and white, as much as it may seem African-Americans are disproportionately affected. The killing of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, drew as much ire and claims of racism as it would if Zimmerman was a white American. America remains wedged in this idea that racism is a white man calling a black man the “N-word” or when a black person is denied a job or housing because of the color of his or her skin.

Blacks are quite familiar with people of different races smiling to their faces as they shake their hands only to wipe them off in disgust later. Sterling’s alleged comments brought to mind an incident when I was 17 and I overheard my uncle speaking outside to a small group of family and friends, saying “I may work with white people, but I would never trust a white person. Ever!” Would I peg my uncle a racist? Before that day, no. Even now it’s hard to fathom him as a racist because he harbors no malice for whites. It doesn’t mean my uncle didn't deserve the racist label, but it illustrates the gray areas of racism.

Racism today can be harder to pinpoint and therefore, harder to combat when it rears its head. For this reason, I often find myself concerned for young black boys and girls growing up today who mayfall victim to ugly, racial stereotypes. Harsh judgments and critiques about their character may ensue because new code words are used to mock them -- or the context of controversial yet accepted words like “ghetto” could be used against them by children Hispanic, Asian, and white kids who have inherited the idea that blacks are ostracized by their own doing.

Far be it for me to steal a great moment in American history, when America was gloriously united and racists kept their mouths shut. But now that we’re done patting ourselves on the back, let’s remain vigilant against racism with an understanding that the dynamics of racism have shifted and we have to be as open-minded about who the real racists are and why they earn that title.

Corey Arvin is Associate Editor of Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com.

Kardashian Gossip and iPhone 6 Rumors Abound, But 276 Kidnapped Nigerian Girls Barely Makes Waves #BringBackOurGirls

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Take a deep breath, this isn’t going to be another “journalism is in the toilet” soapbox. That’s not to say our industry is without problems. Dedicated readers and newsroom veterans alike are more than aware that journalism has seen its share of rough patches in the U.S. with declining circulations and declining advertising revenue often blamed on the internet’s rising star.

Online journalism is here to stay and it carries exponential influence. It’s exciting to watch the internet unfold and venture into new forms of visual storytelling and build on its strength of breaking imminent news, which newspapers could never do. The internet has become a place where young, aspiring journalists, including bloggers, can hone their skills and become literary rock stars without a single job interview or to ever step into a newsroom. I am grateful the internet can preserve the industry and reach readers like never before.

But like a bright young man wasting his potential in school in exchange for being the class clown to earn a cheap laugh, I take issue with the industry straying so far from its core principles just to be a flash in the pan. The slow coverage of the 223 girls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria made my blood boil with each day that passed. (Reportedly, more than 300 girls were kidnapped and 53 escaped, dropping the total number of missing girls to 276.) I would search the web to no satisfaction for updates and take several expletive breaks as I tried to comprehend just #WTF is happening! In the midst of this crisis, on days when I simply wanted to check my email and see what news would brush past me as I clicked toward my destination, I was utterly disappointed. Increasingly, I find myself more inundated with rotten and temporary “news” headlines virtually devoid of any redeeming substance than I do about the contemporary issues that are shaping our world.

This latest egregious mistake in journalism has left me longing to see the internet evolve to its next stage as quickly as possible. My personal disgust for the suppressed information about the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria cannot be masked, nor my contempt for the editors who make strategic decisions everyday about how and where content is placed, but couldn’t find room for 276 valuable lives. In suburban white America, it would only take 275 less kidnappings in one town to galvanize our nation or possibly earn a sidebar in a nationally-syndicated newspaper. We’ve seen this before.

More than two weeks have passed since the story first broke of 276 girls kidnapped from their all-girl school. The story was submerged and remained that way until recently. I asked myself, “submerged under what … and why?” The Los Angeles Clippers and Donald Sterling controversy came days later. Could America only handle one major black controversy at a time? And if so, if I dare to parallel these two stories, why do harmful words matter more than harmful actions? Nigerians are known for their familiarity and admiration of Western culture. I’ve never met a Nigerian who didn’t pride him or herself on understanding the West. These abducted girls deserve an answer as to why they didn’t matter to us when their situation was so timely. Only now has their story begun to permeate the news circuit.

The urgency of the plight of these young women is real. Their fates are unknown. Their families worry and do what they can to pressure Nigerian officials to do more to recover their children. Dozens of Nigerians are trying to move boulders and we treat them as if they are alone. As leaders in the world community and citizens, Americans have immeasurable power in persuading – if not forcing – international authorities to do right by their people. If my counterparts in internet news have forgotten that the Net (network) is intended to connect, then it is in readers’ hands to wake them up. Their power to change and to turn the boulders in Nigeria into mere rocks is real.

News editors are not solely to blame if readers realize that they are equally powerful. Truth-be-told, as much as news stories can be humanizing and educational, journalism is a profit-driven industry with a voracious appetite right now – and it’s simply trying to eat like any corporation. When international tragedies strike like it did with 276 innocent Nigerian girls, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and humanity to click, post, and text the stories that really matter. Readers have to let editors know what matters the most rather than continue to allow the powers that be turn it the other way.

Until then, I foresee more Kardashians in online “news”, iPhone rumors will again be recycled … and I will mentally regurgitate. Perhaps I shouldn’t wait and instead look for the obvious silver lining. I hear there’s a “scandalous” new #selfie of James Franco. How’s that for substance?

Corey Arvin is Associate Editor of Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com.

Television’s New 'Carl Sagan'

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As someone who was a fan of the original Cosmos series, hosted by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, I was excited to see what Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson would do with the concept. If you never watched Sagan’s PBS series in the 1980s, it was an introduction to the universe. It was an attempt – successful I might add – to make science not only interesting by accessible.

Tyson, an African American scientist who has become a familiar face to many, is a worthy heir to Sagan. Working with the former executive producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Brannon Braga, Tyson tackles some of the most important issues of science – and life – such as the age of the universe and planet Earth, but also the struggles that have taken place throughout history against ignorance, prejudice and superstition.

He and the series are very respectful of different religious views and introduce a broader sense of the history of science than we normally receive. By way of example, early in the series he acknowledges the immense contributions to science made in the Muslim world, a fact that is often dismissed by those who wish to suggest that the Muslim world has offered little.

One of the most unusual features of the series is to note which station is broadcasting it: Fox, on Sunday evenings (and National Geographic on Mondays). The messages coming across from Cosmos are antithetical to most of what one associates with the Fox network. Tyson is prepared, for example, to openly and respectfully challenge those religious fundamentalists who claim that the Earth is between 5,000-6,000 years old, whereas the actual age is around 4.5 billion years. He also helped the viewer understand that in the process of studying the age of the Earth, scientists were also able to uncover the danger of lead in the environment which ultimately led to its removal from fuels. These are not tidbits that one would expect on a Fox series and I keep wondering how long the series will air.

Tyson was quite open in acknowledging his deep admiration of the late Carl Sagan. In fact, as a teen-ager, Tyson met Sagan and spent time with him on one day in Ithaca, N.Y. Tyson understands, as did Sagan, that science is too important to leave with the scientists. In fact, science can be explained in a way that is comprehensible to the larger public. In making it comprehensible, Tyson – like Sagan before him – have placed a mighty instrument into the hands of the public. It is through that instrument that the everyday person can not only grasp many of the challenges facing humanity, but they can also be part of creating the answers in order to save the planet.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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