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What is going on in 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.

Boko Haram's Crime against the Future

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(NNPA) Will the parents of at least 276 Nigerian girls kidnapped more than a month ago by the terrorist gang, Boko Haram, ever see their daughters alive again?

That agonizing question has provoked intense diplomatic efforts involving the governments of the United States and several European and African countries, and an international, social-media-driven campaign to rescue the girls that include demands from some for the U.S. to, if necessary, take military action to get the girls back to their families.

There is a great deal to be said about what this terrible crime reveals about, and what it could mean for, Nigeria. But, first, it’s important – even though it offers no comfort—to put this horror in its global context: as yet more evidence that even amid the technological advancements of the 21st century, human beings’ capacity for brutality seems to be as great as ever.

Despite the conventional wisdom, this failing isn’t to be found just in Black Africa. Just last week, for example, the United Nations-appointed official seeking to end the civil war in Syria quit out of frustration, underscoring that the war there, which has cost the lives of 150,000 men, women and children, will continue. Statements from French and U.S. officials left little doubt that, despite agreeing last year to stop waging chemical warfare against his own people, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to do so in his campaign against rebel forces.

Further, a report issued last week stated that the worldwide conflicts of the last two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War have forced more than 33 million people to become refugees—and that last year the number of those displaced rose to record levels. Four million of the eight million people displaced by war in 2013 lived in Syria, according to the report of the Norwegian Refugee Council. The report also determined that nearly 500,000 people in Nigeria were displaced by conflict last year, largely the result of attacks by Boko Haram, which effectively controls the country’s northeastern region.

Considering that global context is important, even as the Nigerian parents’ agony and the concern of millions around the world grows with each passing day, because it forces us to consider that the girls may never be rescued.

Even if the Obama administration, Great Britain and France, the lead non-African actors in this, and Nigeria were so inclined, all the military and diplomatic public statements made thus far have ruled out a military rescue: because it’s not clear if all the girls are being kept in the same place; and because the Nigerian military, weakened by the country’s pervasive governmental corruption, would likely be untrustworthy in battle.

Boko Haram’s threat to Nigeria is also furthered by the fact that its neighbors—Benin, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad—have themselves not tried to stop Boko Haram from using their border areas as a refuge from the sporadic Nigerian attempts to hunt them. Trying to forge the countries into a military pact against Boko Haram—to prevent it from threatening to destabilize any one of them—is the reason they, along with officials from the U.S., the European Union, France, and Great Britain, met in Paris at the end of last week.

All this diplomatic maneuvering sounds very far away from doing anything that will end the terror those young Nigerian girls and their parents have been enduring these past five weeks. But the fact is, barring a surprise and unlikely military raid, the diplomatic option is the girls’ only chance of rescue.

But there is good that can come out of this terrible situation that the world’s governments and the social-media community can commit to right now. That is, as my colleague Julianne Malveaux recently suggested, to intensify governmental and private-sector efforts to “free” girls and women throughout Black Africa and the rest of the developing world; to put muscle and money behind the idea that education for girls and women is a human right as well as a necessity for the world’s future progress.

For Boko Haram’s crime has dramatized the fact that, especially in developing countries, the rights of girls and women to seek education is a crucial component not only to their individual and their countries’ futures but also of the future of progress in the 21st century. In that regard, Boko Haram’s kidnapping of these girls (as its recent massacre of male and female students at a school is a crime against the future of all the world.

This is a crime the world must put an end to. So: what’s the #hashtag that will bring that movement into being?

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

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.

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