A racy topic for Ruth First

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A race conversation is the order of the day at the 14th annual Ruth First Memorial Lecture at the Wits University Great Hall on Monday evening.

The lecture will feature commentators Eusebius McKaiser and Sisonke Msimang, and Vanguard Magazine founder Panashe Chigumadzi. Themed as “Race: Lived Experiences and Contemporary Conversations”,  this year’s lecture will also feature a performance by poet Lebo Mashile.

“The wave of transformation that has taken place is an important issue relevant to young people, the Wits student body. It’s going to cut deep,” said McKaiser.

Chigumadzi, the 2015 Ruth First Fellow, will deliver a talk on her research about what it means to be a “coconut” and the experiences of young black South Africans.

“The conversation is important because it hasn’t been had before. [People] are not willing to wait anymore, we need to deal with the legacy of apartheid in a very frank way,” said Chigumadzi.

“This year in particular [we] are looking for young black people. The emphasis on lived experiences and a clearer commitment to centring black people and black spaces.”

Msimang, who is also a Ruth First fellow, will be partnering with Mashile to perform Msimang’s text based research into the possibility of authentic interracial friendships.

“[My work] looks at friendship, directly engaging with middle class concerns in order to tease out race as an independent variable from class. I wanted to do this because too often we focus on race and class as intertwined – which is important – but sometimes it makes it hard to talk about race and racism – especially with well-intentioned whites,” said Msimang.

Ruth First was a journalist and anti-apartheid activist who was killed in exile by a parcel bomb on the August, 17 1982. First, a Wits graduate, was a member of the Communist Party who was imprisoned and held in isolation before going into exile in Mozambique, where she was assassinated by the apartheid government. First was a prolific writer whose probing investigative journalism exposed many of the harsh conditions under which the majority of South Africans lived. During her time, she was the editor-in-chief of the radical newspaper The Guardian –a paper which was subsequently banned by the state.

McKaiser said the Ruth First lecture was an important part of remembering and discussing South Africa’s history. First, herself, was an interesting historical figure whose work should not be forgotten.

“She, a white Jewish woman, understood what happened within the black community,” McKaiser said.

“We need to do more to commemorate women in this country.”

This year’s talks will feature a stream of discussions that will allow attendees to attend various topics and discussions.

Legislation needed to force political parties to disclose sources of funding

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen

Panelists from left to right: Sisonke Msimang, Prof Sithembile Mbele, Lance Greyling, Greg Solik and Susan Booysen speak at the Wits Club earlier today. Photo: Roxanne Joseph.

South Africans are “chasing a dream,” according to one of the panelists at a discussion hosted by the Right2Know campaign in conjunction with Wits Journalism earlier this today.

Susan Booysen, a researcher at Wits,was speaking at the Wits Club which focussed on the issue of transparency in party funding in the run-up to the national elections. The dream, according to Booysen, is the passing of legislation which will force political parties to fully disclose the sources of their funding.

The topic for the 5-person panel was “Is South African democracy becoming a one rand one vote democracy?” and each of the speakers addressed the issue of secrecy and sources of party funds. 

[pullquote]“If there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”[/pullquote]

“Money is inherent in our politics,” said Greg Solik, the coordinator of My Vote Counts. “Parties need lots of money to compete with the ANC (African National Congress).”

A fear that opposition parties’ hold, according to Lance Greyling of the DA (Democratic Alliance), is that “if there is transparency, donors feel they could be victimised by the ruling party, for supporting an opposition party.”

As it stands, political party funding is distributed proportionally and equitably. This means that 90% (of public funds) is distributed according to the number of seats a party has in parliament (the ANC receives 65.7%) and the remainder is split equally among all parties, whether or not it hold seats.

Parties are prohibited from using public funds for electoral campaigns, so they tend to rely heavily on private funding, according to Prof Sithembile Mbele, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

In 2003, a group of civil society organisations made use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to compel parties to disclose their spending but the case was dismissed by the Cape High Court.

The parties argued they are “private entities and therefore are not required to disclose their sources of funding,” according to Mbele. However, Judge Benjamin Griesel said: “It doesn’t mean despite the case [being unsuccessful], political parties should not, as a matter of principle be compelled to disclose the details of private donations made to their parties … they should be regulated in some way.”

Sisonke Msimang of Sonke Gender Justice spoke about the impact of disclosure at a community level. She stressed the importance of disclosure for a number of reasons including the principle that “secrecy is a bad thing” and it means we have “deeply compromised service delivery.”

She said some form of legislation would give journalists and civil society the tools to better understand sources of funding for parties.” This, she said, “is important in a democracy.”