Q&A with Mia Couto

LETTER TO ZUMA: Mia Couto, a revered Mozambican writer, wrote an open letter to  Zuma concerning the xenophobic attacks.

LETTER TO ZUMA: Mia Couto, a revered Mozambican writer, wrote an open letter to Zuma concerning the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

What motivated you to write an open letter to Jacob Zuma?

It was the news that arrived from our Mozambican compatriots who were subjected to the persecutions in Durban and in other cities. I, my brothers and my family had, in that week, created a cultural foundation. And we thought that we couldn’t stay indifferent to what was happening.

As a Mozambican and a writer, what do you think should/can be done in order to remedy the situation?

I think that it does not only depend on the actions of government. That action is decisive and above all, governments can’t find scapegoats as an excuse for not taking on their responsibilities towards those who are the poorest, from one side or the other side of the border. But other things also need to be done.

South Africans have a stereotypical image of Mozambicans. They are simply “work force”. They aren’t people who produce thought, sentiments and art. That would be the responsibility of Mozambique: to make known the richness of culture and diversity of Mozambicans. So that the South Africans can know them better. We can only like what we know. And even while we are neighbours, we still don’t know a lot about each other.

In your letter you mention that feelings of solidarity and the remembrance of a shared history should be recreated. Why and how do you think this should be done?

After my letter had been published I found out that among the youth that commented with me about this issue, many were completely unaware of how much Mozambique supported, with much sacrifice, the fight against apartheid. It’s sad how history is lost so quickly. The past to stay alive needs to be recreated.

What do you think of Zuma’s response to your open letter?

It was a surprise. I never imagined that a president would respond to a simple writer be him foreigner or national. I am sure that he wasn’t exactly talking to me. But he wanted to speak to others and explain the internal reasons that create xenophobic feelings. Over this part of the letter I would prefer not to comment.

Do you think enough has been done by the South African government to prevent the persecutions of Mozambicans?

Like I said in the letter, our view in Mozambique is that what was done was little and late. Also, I think that those who encourage these phenomenons of violence can’t be left unpunished.

Do you think that the long term and short term measures that Zuma mentioned on implementing in his letter will help to resolve the issues that triggered the attacks?

There is no country in the world where the large social crisis don’t search for a culprit that is always the “other”, being that other from another religion, race or nationality.
What governments should do is to work so as to protect all citizens that live legally in their country, so that they live without fear and with the right to have hope and belief in their future.

Nkandla: More than ‘a very expensive house’

Nkandla is much more than just a story about a very, very expensive house, according to investigative journalist Sam Sole, one of the members of the Mail & Guardian’s amaBhungane team.

Sole, Lionel Faull and Craig McKunne, three of the journalists who helped uncover and develop the “creation of a presidential palace” in 2012, spoke on Monday at the annual Power Reporting conference about their work on the story dating back to 2009.

Nkandla documents ‘repeated gumpf’

The team spent weeks compiling the data they had received, after months of filing and pushing for the promotion of access to information act (PAIA). After being turned down and appealing several times, they were eventually handed 42 lever arch files, containing 12 000 pages of documents, which they had to copy through a single scanner. The team, comprising of 8 people, split the workload and spent an entire weekend scanning.

Sole said that the team did not know how long they had to deal with the information provided. “We got an exclusive, but in a story that is embarrassing to government, they [the government] tend to make press statements and spoil the exclusive.”

Faull explained that a lot of the information was duplicated. “It was repeated ‘gumpf’, a tactic to slow us down and make it hard.”

The use of data journalism, combined with extensive probing and investigation revealed how much Zuma should have paid for the three private houses he started to build at the time of security upgrades (R19.5 million in total), as well as the fact that he would never have been able to afford it. It also allowed the team to create an “Nkandla phonebook”, which led them to useful contacts, some of whom were willing to speak.

The delegates who attended the session were from predominantly from other African countries and found the team’s investigation “impressive”, considering the amount of work it took to get the information.

There are very few investigative journalists around the continent, according to Panic Malawo Chifulya of the Zambia Daily Mail. “It is too risky,” she told Wits Vuvuzela. “We are all just all-rounders, covering a bit of everything.”

One of her colleagues, Rebecca Chileshe, explained that no editor would ever allow their journalists to conduct such an in-depth investigation, because they would “be the ones to lose their jobs”.

Chileshe spoke of a story she had done, which, if published, would embarrass the Zambian government. Her newspaper refused to publish the story and in the end, it was picked up by a smaller, private media house. According to her, this is one of many examples where stories have been swept under the carpet out of fear.

Margaret Samulela, of the same newspaper, also explained that such large legal costs would make it impossible to do the same type of story in Zambia and other such countries. “But this is happening in our country, it’s just that journalists aren’t able to investigate,” she said.

Madonsela: Zuma gave incorrect information

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and Wits VC Professor Adam Habib

THULI TALKS: Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and Wits VC Professor Adam Habib speak about the Nkandla report at Wits earlier today. Photo: Luke Matthews

Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela likened the current state of affairs in South Africa to the story of Animal Farm at a panel discussion at Wits earlier today.

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others,” she said in reference to the Nkandla report, released yesterday.

[pullquote]“Public power should always be exercised within the confines of the law and the public interest.”[/pullquote]

George Orwell’s celebrated novel about a society of animals who are, after getting rid of the humans, left to their own devices is itself a piece of political commentary. The plot of the book was used by Madonsela to demonstrate corruption and an abuse of power in the South African government.

She went on to speak of the critical role of the South African Constitution particularly in the practices of political office bearers and public servants. “Public power should always be exercised within the confines of the law and the public interest.”

Asked by an audience member whether she felt threatened after the release of the report, Madonsela said, “I don’t feel threatened … the state as a state has not attacked me. Most of the time, people in government listen and want to do the right thing.”

A chicken run, an expensives cattle kraal, a fire pool and a two-storey house overlooking an amphitheatre labelled a ‘visitor’s centre,’  were just some of the “security needs” approved and built by Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya and a team assigned to the Nkandla estate. 

WITS NKANDLA PANEL: Professor Steven Friedman,  Vice Chancellor Adam Habib and Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela. Photo: Tendai Dube

WITS NKANDLA PANEL: Professor Steven Friedman, Wits vice chancellor Professor Adam Habib and Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela. Photo: Tendai Dube

When asked if she found ethical violations in her investigation, Madonsela responded by saying: “He [Zuma] did give parliament incorrect information, but explained this in a believable manner and so I made a finding in his favour.”

According to Madonsela, “everything (at Nkandla) was done cowboy-style. If the person upstairs wants it, then the law and budget doesn’t matter.”

Madonsela is a Wits graduate, earning her LLB degree from the institution in 1990.

Click here to view the Public Protector’s full report

Right2Know campaign gets loud

Protesters sang out against the proposed 'Secrecy Bill' outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters sang out against the proposed ‘Secrecy Bill’ outside of Luthuli House. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know campaign members protested outside Albert Luthuli House today against President Jacob Zuma signing the Secrecy Bill.

About 10 protesters dressed in their red and black Right2Know campaign shirts, held banners and posters that shot down the Protection of State Information Bill which President Zuma has yet to sign.[pullquote align=”right”]This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it![/pullquote]

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Dan McKinley, Right2Know spokesperson outlined the reason for the protest. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

“It is there on his desk. We ask you Zuma to listen to the people and do away with the Secrecy Bill!” said Dale McKinley, spokesperson for Right2Know in Gauteng.

He said the bill would bring South Africa down and take the country back to the oppressive apartheid-type regime which censored media and whistle blowers.

“This is a bad bill for South Africa, send it back to parliament and scrap it!” he added.

Whistle blowers in a crisis

McKinley said there is the crisis of whistle blowers who are “dying out, being stopped, fired and killed” for exposing corruption. One banner read: “Exposing corruption is not a crime”.

“Do the right thing and pass legislation which protects whistle blowers in the country”, said McKinley, appealing to Zuma who visits Luthuli House on Mondays.


Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Protesters wore masks to conceal their identities in fear of being victimised if identified. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Right2Know (R2K) celebrated their third anniversary last week. They have been campaigning against the Secrecy Bill since 2010, persistently challenging the government’s decisions around this Bill.

National Key Points act

McKinley said Right2Know also opposes the National Key Points act which conceals expenditure like in the case of Nkandla.

The protest was supposed to be carried out in front of Luthuli House but members were told today the ANC headquarters is a National Key Point and cannot be protested in front of.

“That is why we aren’t standing on the other side of the road. Today we were told Luthuli House is a National Key Point,” said McKinley.

They stood across the road on the corner of President and Sauer Street.

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Siphiwe Segodi lead the small crowd that had gathered in song and dance. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa


Protesters danced and repeated chants, singing: “Down with the Secrecy Bill. Down! Down!”; “Down with Zuma. Down! Down!”; “Forward with Right2Know. Forward! Forward!”

Some of them wore white masks to cover their faces. A woman who led the singing said: “You must hide yourself. The baboons in there will see us!” – referring to members of parliament inside Luthuli House.

Devereaux Morkle from the South African Press Association said to one of her colleagues: “I would also wear a mask if I was taking part in this protest.”

The Spy Bill

The campaign also opposes the government’s intentions of adopting the Spy Bill which could threaten the privacy of citizens via cell phone tapping.

“We demand good governance”; “Power to the people and not the Secrecy Bill” and “Defend our whistle blowers” were some of the phrases painted on signs held by the protesters.


Empty Promises Platform

South Africans are still waiting for tangible promises from their president. With each year’s State of the Nation Address, there is hope that things will change for the best.

As we go to print, the President Jacob Zuma will most likely be in the midst of his 2012 address, but let’s reflect on the previous years:

The State of the Nation Address provides the president with a platform to communicate with the Parliament – and, as importantly, with the people of South Africa.

Opposition parties have criticised Zuma for making empty promises every year. Even though he failed to keep his promise of making 2011 “the year of jobs”, our president does keep some of his promises.

In his address at the ANC’s 99th anniversary celebration in Polokwane last year, Zuma introduced a scheme which entailed students having their NSFAS (National Students Financial Aid Scheme) loans converted into a bursary that wouldn’t need to be repaid.

Yes, he kept his promise as most  students that passed all their courses didn’t have to repay their loans in their final year.

Education is the key to success; government should therefore ensure that our children get quality education. Pupils worked hard to pass their matric but they couldn’t enrol at most universities as there was limited space.

The example of the the mother of a prospective University of Johannesburg student who died in a stampede that saw 20 other people injured is symbolic of the limited access to higher education.

The State of the Nation Address coincides with that part of the academic calendar when first years are still finding their feet at varsity.

These students will soon be looking for employment but their chances of finding it are still slim. Unemployment is still a problem in South Africa; our president must ensure that he puts job creation strategies in place.

Converting a loan into a bursary is pointless if a graduate is unable to find employment after leaving the university.


Malema supporters turn on Zuma

SUPPORTERS of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema demonstrated their frustration towards President Jacob Zuma and the ANC in central Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Malema, along with other ANCYL leaders, has been charged with sowing division in the ANC and bringing the party into disrepute. The crowd gathered outside Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters, to support Malema during his disciplinary hearing.

Rubbish bins were set alight and signs and T-shirts bearing Zuma’s face were burnt or torn to pieces that morning. Zuma, along with ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, appeared to be the target of anger for the crowd.

Several shops and companies closed their doors, with the First National Bank (FNB) across from Luthuli House bringing down its steel shutters.

Police reacted by blocking the crowd from approaching Luthuli House with barbed wire and riot police stood between the crowd and the building. The supporters then gathered in front of the wire with a large banner which said “hands off our youth league president”.

They also waved smaller signs which said, “No Malema, no ANC. The people shall govern” and “Zuma a Polokwane disaster”.  At one stage, they also began chanting Thabo Mbeki’s name, another apparent sign of the crowd’s unhappiness with the Zuma leadership.

Kagiso Mokubung, the ANCYL branch secretary in the Northern Cape, said he is “100% JuJu”.

He said the ANC should believe in the “autonomic structure of the youth league”.

Mokubung believes that Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula will take the top job in the ANC in 2012.

Outside Luthuli House, Mantashe said: “When you open the window to bring in fresh air, and mosquitoes also come in, you take responsibility for both the fresh air and the mosquitoes.”

Mokubung said Mantashe “must get his story straight” and either commit fully to the ANC or the communist party. Mantashe holds senior positions in both organisations.


Photos: Brendan Roane