Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Quote of the day

"At present, the rights of corporations are well developed and expanding, at the expense of the rights of the public. While the corporation has been legislated to personhood, the everyday citizen has been reduced to a voiceless peasant in a corporate kingdom. Reversing this means recoding the system in favor of direct democracy". (Source: Adbusters)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Wangari Maathai

Irin reports that Kenyan Professor Wangari Maathai, who won last year's Nobel Peace Prize,is to head a new African Union (AU) body aimed at bringing "people power" to Africans. Maathai was elected president of the newly launched Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) by its civil-society organisation members. The body aims to bridge the gap between African governments and institutions, and the 830 million people on the continent, by giving them a proper voice in decision-making.

Irin says that "Along with the Pan-African Parliament and the Court of Justice, ECOSOCC is one of the new structures intended to make the 53-nation AU more transparent and accountable". We'll have to see what happens, but Maathai has proved to be a powerful force in radically improving the environment. She has also shown herself to be a tough operator, risking her life to stand up to her opponents. This could be a really positive development.

Earth

A new report by 1,360 experts in 95 countries says that humans are damaging the planet at an unprecedented rate and raising risks of abrupt collapses in nature that could spur disease, deforestation or "dead zones" in the seas.

Not exactly news, but its kind of scary that some of the world’s most richest and powerful government’s do not seem to be even a little bit worried. According to this report, over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable time in human history. Apparently, more land was changed to cropland since 1945, than in the 18th and 19th centuries combined. The study suggests that big changes in consumption, better education, new technology and higher prices for exploiting ecosystems could halt the damage.

This brings to mind a poignant quote from
U.Thant circa 1970: “As we watch the sun go down, evening after evening, through the smog across the poisoned waters of our native earth, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we really wish some future universal historian on another planet to say about us: "With all their genius and with all their skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas," or, "They went on playing politics until their world collapsed around them."

New SA Blog

Aragorn - yup, it's his real name - has started a blog. I'm sure that vicar in a tutu will be constantly provocative and full of lots of great counter culture stuff.

African women in art


"Loud Silence" by Zambian artist Anawana Haloba

A particular influence on Haloba is the effect of marginalisation on women living in poverty, and how they might be part of the living world. She uses her body as a medium to display thoughts which she terms 'mind noises' with an intention to make a statement and be heard.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Cooling off

Apparently one of the outcomes to emerge from this week’s National Anti-Corruption Summit is that government could soon enact legislation to enforce a cooling off period for public servants who quit the state sector to go into business. Personally I think that this is a dumb ass idea.

Let’s say they decide to have a cooling off period, I can’t see them making it longer than a year or two. So, what’s to stop someone from handing out a government contract in their department on the condition that pay back comes later - when their cooling off period has expired, they can then go take up their fat cat CEO position in the company.

In my opinion these suggestions are nothing more than a PR exercise, so that government is seen to be doing something, but back at the ranch it’s nothing short of a meaningless gesture.

If government really meant business they should rather think about passing legislation that prevents government officials from working for any company, or subsidiary thereof, that has the slightest profit making relationship with said officials’ department at national, provincial and local level. I suppose you would also have to take into account when contracts were awarded so that this correlates with the time that the official worked in the department and possibly even includes a certain time period after the official has left public office.

Pan African Parliament

Starting next week in South Africa is the third sitting of the Pan African Parliament (PAP). On the agenda, other than housekeeping and administrative issues, are the following items:

Peace and Security in Africa: (i) Darfur (ii) Report by African Union


Consideration and Approval of the 2005 PAP Work Plan

Report on the implementation of NEPAD's African Peer Review Mechanism

Towards Achieving UN Millennium development goals in Africa

Debate and resolutions on the reform of the UN Security Council

Resolving communication and transport problems in Africa

Special report by the Committee on Rural Economy, Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment.

PAP is an expensive exercise. As one of the South African taxpayers helping to fund PAP, I wouldn’t mind paying the money if we got concrete results in terms of entrenching democracy and the rule of law in countries that refuse to conform. But it’s difficult to trust in leaders who lack legitimacy. How can you have a situation in a supposedly democratic regional parliament when many of the countries sitting on the parliament pay no attention to fundamental democratic principals in their own backyards? Are we then supposed to take this Parliament seriously? South Africa is a regional super power, yet for some reason which no-one can really fathom, our government does nothing about Zimbabwe or Swaziland. The AU Peer Review Mechanism is a good idea, but what’s the point when it’s voluntary and not compulsory?

Those are the negative views that I have, yet on the other hand there is a nagging feeling inside of me that says don’t be so quick to write PAP off as just another talk shop. I mean, surely something positive must emerge. It is the beginning of putting structures in place for something that could one day become a powerful and meaningful institution. I think also possibly in terms of discussions around poverty eradication and development PAP could already be in the process of making a meaningful contribution.

Reality for Men


How about a little truth in advertising?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

FGM

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or female circumcision, is probably one of the most devastating of the traditional customs still affecting women in the world today. It can be hard to cover such a difficult topic sensitively and without sensationalising the issue. I hope I have managed to focus on FGM and shed some light on the issues in an ethical manner. If I haven't succeeded in doing so, I apologise, but I feel that this is an important issue that needs to be brought out into the open. This unfortunate practise is still widely carried out in certain parts of the world, especially in Africa. One of the trends in global FGM today is the progressive lowering of the age at which girls undergo the procedure. The issue was recently highlighted at a sub-regional conference in Djibouti.

Some communities carry out FGM for religious reasons, believing that their faith requires it, this is particularly true of Muslims who adhere to the practice. Although the purpose of FGM is to mark the transition from childhood to womanhood, ultimately the practice aims to reduce a woman’s sexual desire, so that she will keep her virginity until marriage. The more extensive procedure, involving stitching of the vagina, has the same aim, but reducing the size of the vagina is also intended to increase the husband’s enjoyment of the sexual act. There are various methods and extremes in the ways that FGM is carried out, the
descriptions are graphic and heartbreaking.

Health risks and problems caused by FGM are numerous and sometimes even deadly. Immediate effects can include bleeding and often haemorrhaging, sometimes leading to death. Also, damage to other organs, resulting from the lack of surgical expertise of the person performing the procedure, and the aggressive resistance of the patient when anaesthesia is not used. Infections, including tetanus and septicaemia can occur, through using unsterilised or poorly disinfected equipment.

Longer term effects can include chronic infections of the bladder and vagina, sometimes urine and menstrual blood can only leave the body drop by drop - the build-up inside the abdomen and fluid retention often cause infections and inflammation that can lead to infertility. Also dysmenorrhoea, or extremely painful menstruation, excessive scar tissue at the site of the operation, the formation of cysts on the stitch line, childbirth obstruction, and an increased risk of HIV infection.

As if these physical problems are not bad enough, the psychological effects can also be devastating. Women are often so traumatized that they can only associate their genitals with pain and possible death from childbirth. Also, the idea of sexual intercourse as a pleasurable activity is inconceivable for most of them.

Right: Twelve-year old girls from a Maasai community in Kenya. The traditional rite of FGM among the Maasai is performed between the ages of 12 and 14.

FGM is a cruel and sexist practice that helps to keep women subservient and disempowered. As a religious practice it enshrines and promotes the male domination of women. Sadly however, women are also involved in perpetuating FGM – but they seem to have no choice but to comply - if they don’t their daughters will be considered unmarriageable. In communities where FGM is practiced, no eligible man would consider marrying a girl who has not undergone the procedure, so FGM makes a woman culturally and socially acceptable. Also, in these communities women have few options open to them other than being a wife and mother, so there is great pressure to conform.

FGM is most widely practised on the African continent. It is found among more than half the communities in sub-Saharan African countries and in at least 26 out of 43 countries. The prevalence ranges from 98 percent in Somalia to 5 percent in the DRC. FGM is practiced in Nigeria, Djibouti, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and the Gambia. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have the lowest rate. It is also indigenous to some Middle-Eastern countries to lesser or greater extent, including Egypt, the Republic of Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. It also occurs in parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. FGM is also increasingly found in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia, owing to the large immigrant communities living in those parts of the world.

In Africa, thirteen countries have responded to the problem of FGM by implementing legislation against it: According to "Center for Reproductive Rights" there are 16 countries with criminal legislation against FGM. There have been reports of prosecutions or arrests in cases involving FGM in various African countries, including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and Sierra Leone. Ten industrialised countries that receive immigrants from countries where FGM is carried out have also passed specific laws criminalising the practiced.

According to IRIN, the UN news agency, “FGM is a practice that violates the basic human rights of women and girls and seriously compromises their health. Nevertheless, among communities that practise FGM it is a highly valued tradition, making eradication difficult. Nevertheless, there are also success stories. As individuals become better informed about the negative impacts of FGM, there has been a reduction in the practice and today there are few communities in which 100 percent of girls and women are circumcised.” Source:
Irin web report on FGM


RESOURCES

NGO's:

  • The Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project
  • Promotion of initiatives to end Female Genital Mutilation
  • GAMS


  • In Sierra Leone: "When the president's wife sponsors the circumcision of 1,500 young girls to win votes for her husband, you know you've got a problem persuading ordinary people and the government that female genital mutilation (FGM) is a bad idea. And when the woman who is now Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Women's Affairs, threatens to "sew up the mouths" of those who preach against FGM, you realise that you are facing a really big uphill struggle." (Irin)

    A personal testimony from Nigeria: "I got the first experience of this when I was as young as eight years. Just behind my father’s house in the village I heard a voice of a young girl shouting desperately for help inside a closed door. Out of curiosity and desire to render help I dashed out of my father’s house and stole into the building where the save-my-soul cry was coming from. I peeped through the keyhole. To the greatest surprise and shock of my life I saw for the first time in my life one of the evils women inflict upon
    themselves. " (
    Okumephuna Chinwe Celestine)

    Books: There is a growing body of literature around the subject of FGM. It includes "Dying for my Daughter" by Baba Jallo from The Gambia, and tells of his struggle to save his daughter from the practice. More books can be found on the FGCENP NGO website)

    Tuesday, March 22, 2005

    Corruption in SA

    One of the big news stories in South Africa today is the National Anti-Corruption Summit taking place today and tomorrow. This is all about evaluating government's anti-corruption strategies and charting the way forward. So how bad is corruption in South Africa?

    Transparency International (TI) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) released a new corruption survey yesterday. The report finds that South Africa has made tremendous progress in addressing corruption in the ten short years since the end of corrupt apartheid-era rule. South Africa has developed an advanced framework of law, strategy and institutions with a mandate to combat corruption. The report notes the creation of new specialised anti-corruption institutions with a constitutional remit to support democracy. South Africa has developed a bold new piece of anti-corruption law in the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act, which complements existing legislation that promotes an open accountable democracy. However, according to Transparency South Africa's Hassen Lorgat, although political will to tackle corruption exists, the implementation of anti-corruption measures still presents a serious challenge.

    The report also stresses that corruption poses a major challenge at provincial and local government level, negatively affecting the capacity of the public sector to deliver services to the poor. According to the report, 'at a national level, almost R2 billion was lost in 2003 to corruption in social welfare, [and] the labour ministry may have lost as much as R1 billion.' The study also states that corruption and fraud in the private sector may cost the economy as much as R50 billion.

    Unfortunately one of the biggest corruption busting institutions, the Scorpions is currently under threat. Let's hope they are kept as an independent body and not brought under the police.

    Here's a compilation of other interesting corruption stats:

    A comparison between the 1998 and 2003 national victims of crime surveys suggests that the rate of corruption has almost tripled from 2% to 5.6%. (Source: Institute for Security Studies National Victims of Crime Survey).

    In 2004, South Africa scored 4.6 out of a total of 10 points in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The CPI score relates to perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts and ranges between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt). This put South Africa at number 44 with the two most corruptly perceived countries ranking 145. (Source:CPI 2004).

    While half of South Africans felt in 1997 that "all" or "most" national government officials were involved in corruption, just one fifth held this opinion in October/November 2004.(Source:Afrobarometer Survey by Idasa).

    Where half felt "all" or "most" MPs were corrupt as recently as 2000, just one quarter (24 percent) think so in 2004. (Source:Afrobarometer Survey by Idasa).

    In 2004, 36 percent of South Africans did, however, feel that "all" or "most" police are corrupt. However, the survey shows public perceptions of corruption are at far higher levels than their actual experience with corruption. (Source:Afrobarometer Survey by Idasa).

    About one in 10 South Africans say that they had to "pay a bribe, give a gift, or do a favour" for a government official in the past year to get an official document or permit (11 percent), avoid a problem with the police (10 percent), or get a household service such as water or electricity (nine percent). (Source:Afrobarometer Survey by Idasa).

    Many analysts say that people's perceptions of corruption are a lot worse than the reality. However, the corruption at provincial and local government level is extremely worrying - it affects service delivery and long-term stability. No excuses, and no justification - government needs to clamp down and take the problem seriously.

    Going back to the ISS report, it makes some interesting and controversial recommendations. Such as investigating crimes of corruption under apartheid so that plundered wealth can be returned to the South Africa's people. The last decade of apartheid rule, as the corrupt system was interminal decline, provided the perfect environment for large-scale corruption. The lack of transparency, sanctions busting and secret defence and oil funds were excellent conduits for grand corruption. According to the report while this should not detract from the tasks ahead, anti-corruption agencies should investigate the reclamation of such stolen assets. My question is would the money go back to South Africa's people in the form of service delivery or would it go into some corrupt politician's back pocket as pay back.

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    Capitalism, globalisation, privatisation etc

    There are two main opposing views concerning the best ways to promote development. One view holds forth that unfettered global capitalism is the god to be worshipped, everything should be privatised, and the US and other multilateral institutions are a benign as opposed to harmful force promoting development and democracy throughout the world. Except of course for the United Nations - they're just a bunch of wankers who don't know their arse from their elbow. Oh and... fuck the poor.

    The other view states that privatisation and globalisation in its current form is the mammon of our times. It's a bunch of double standards and all the multilateral institutions want to do is screw the poor so that the rich can get richer. Except for the United Nations which will be okay with a bit of reform and tweaking here and there...oh, I don't know, maybe by giving developing countries more decision making powers, and possibly to throw in a bit of transparency on the side. Transnationals actually rule the world and first world democracy is a thin veneer covering up greed and hypocracy.

    That's putting it simplistically, but nevertheless. My political leaning falls somewhere in the middle, with a distinct leaning towards the latter of the two opinions. Just call me a cynic. I believe in capitalism as opposed to communism, but I also think that the social democratic model (not sure if I'm using the correct political terminology) of some of the Scandanavian countries might be a better system than pure outright capitalism - especially for the developing world. Perhaps in America and Canada, and the stronger European nations capitalism and privatisation are acceptable to an extent because most people can afford to pay for basic services. However in Africa, for example, where there is such a degree of widespread poverty, I think the government has to play a stronger role in subsidising development and stimulating the economy. I mean, how long can people wait for the trickle down effect to trickle down? Especially when there are so many factors in place to impede the trickling. Even in the US and Europe a certain basic amount of wealth hasn't trickled down to the bottom and it probably never will.

    Privatisation was introduced to Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, usually as part of structural adjustment programmes - in return for loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, African countries were forced to implement neo-liberal economic policies, which included privatisation. So basically, do it our way, even if it's not the best solution to your problems, or no money. African countries were told by the IMF and World Bank that privatisation would lead to greater efficiency, better productivity and better service delivery. It was further assumed that privatisation would generate wealth, which would eventually trickle down to everybody. Hmmm....

    Some of the negative effects of privatisation have included:

    Privatisation led to the loss of over 60 000 jobs in Zambia and several hundred thousand workers were retrenched in Ghana. Privatisation has also caused an increase to the price of services. In Zambia, a privatised bus company dramatically increased the bus fares and closed down unprofitable - mostly rural - bus routes. As a result many Zambians now walk many kilometres to their workplaces and schools because they can no longer afford the bus fares or because the buses no longer service the areas where they live. In Nigeria the prices for Kerosene increased by 6 000% between 1985 and 1995. Postal and telecommunications services increased their prices by 2 500 - 5 000% during that period while electricity prices increased by 883%. In Ghana the introduction of cost recovery programmes were part of privatisation and resulted in increased fees for health and education services. As a result, they became unaffordable for the poor. In Zimbabwe, privatisation also led to retrenchments and increased prices for services. The Cotton Company of Zimbabwe, for example, reduced its workforce from 3 000 to 500 after privatisation. (Source: Labour Resource and Research Institute/Namibia)

    There are now ten major corporate players delivering services to more than 200 million customers in 150 countries. The water industry’s annual profits of around US $1 trillion exceed those of the pharmaceutical industry and equal 40 per cent of those of the oil sector. Developing countries are giving in to pressure from the World Bank and IMF to abandon their public water delivery systems and to contract with the water giants in order to be eligible for debt relief.

    The privatisation of water has been accompanied by large profits, higher prices, cut-offs to customers who cannot pay, lack of transparency, reduced water quality, bribery and corruption. Trade agreements are robbing governments of their control over domestic water supplies: with water now classified as a good, global trade institutions give transnational corporations unprecedented access to the freshwater resources of signatory countries. The WTO opens the door to the commercial export of water by prohibiting the use of export controls of any ‘good for any purpose’. This opens the door for quotas or bans on the export of water that have been imposed for environmental reasons to be challenged as a form of protectionism.(Source)

    To deny people the basic human human right of access to clean and safe water, and to deny people the dignity that electricity provides, just because they can't afford to pay for it goes beyond cruel and unreasonable. I realise that poverty has always existed, it's probably part of the human social condition, and it would be utopian to believe that it could ever be completely eradicated. However, you can call me naive, or you can call me idealistic, but I can't help feeling that there is something terribly, terribly wrong with a world that has such incredible disparity between rich and poor. As far as I see it, the American style capitalism dominating the present day system of globalisation is doing nothing to improve the desperate lives of the poor.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    Propaganda

    The SABC news comes in for a lot of criticism (well deserved in my opinion) for being a government mouthpeice. According to a recent survey the SABC news gives a huge percentage of its coverage to government activities, and showing the government in a positive light, especially in comparison to eTV news. It's interesting to see that George W Bush is also trying to use TV news as a weapon of propaganda. Reuters reports:

    President Bush said on Wednesday that the U.S. government's practice of sending packaged news stories to local television stations was legal and he had no plans to cease it. His defense of the packages, which are designed to look like television news segments, came after they were deemed a form of covert propaganda by the Government Accountability Office watchdog agency. GAO, an arm of Congress, said this ran counter to appropriation laws and was a misuse of federal funds. Among the packages the GAO looked at was one produced by the Health and Human Services Department to promote the Medicare prescription drug law. The story included a paid actor who narrated the piece in a similar style to the way a television reporter would. "The entire story package was developed with appropriated funds but appears to be an independent news story," the agency said. It added that some stations were airing such pieces without a disclaimer saying they were produced by the government. (More)
    According to Bush, there's nothing wrong with this as long as the news inserts are based on fact. Well, when it comes to promoting political agendas, "fact" is often a matter of opinion. As far as I'm concerned, if an insert on TV news is produced by government I would want to know about it - especially if public funds are being used to further party political aims. I can just imagine Tony Leon turning purple and jumping up and down if the ANC had to be caught doing something similar.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2005

    It takes two to tango

    I find the whole topic of corruption extremely fascinating. One of the aspects of global corruption that bothers me is the way in which western countries, and white people- yes I am generalising - come down so hard on black people and African countries for being corrupt when they so often indulge in corrupt practices themselves. Take the latest example of Hallibuton in the US.


    A Halliburton Co. unit is facing new questions from Pentagon auditors about bills for supplying fuel to the U.S. military in Iraq as part of a no-bid contract to rebuild the country's oil infrastructure, according to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday. The newspaper reports that this new scrutiny comes after other inquiries about the billions the company has billed the military for services rendered in Iraq. A Justice Department probe is examining if the government showed favoritism when awarding the company the oilfield contracts.

    A Halliburton spokeswoman quoted by the Journal stated that the company is cooperating with the Army to prove it carried out its tasks "at a fair and reasonable cost given the circumstances." Also, the Journal cites Halliburton officials who deny overcharging the government. The amount in question is part of a larger contract worth $875 million, according to a BBC News report.

    Previous Pentagon audits have stated that it may have overcharged the government $61 million from May through September 2003 for shipments of gasoline, kerosene and other fuels. But this audit looks at a longer period and auditors had more time to pore over the company's procurement paperwork. In addition to these issues, the Justice Department has launched an open civil-fraud inquiry to determine if Halliburton overcharged for the fuel shipments, while federal investigators are examining if the Pentagon showed improper favoritism when granting Halliburton the oilfield reconstruction contract.(source)

    Hallibuton has also been acused of bribing officials in Nigeria relating to oil contracts. Human beings in positions of power have been corrupt since time immemorial. I think the only thing that prevents corruption is when countries have strong democratic institutions in place to act as a barrier. These elements obviously don't exist in many African countries, hence the widespread corruption - but who's more to blame the briber or the bribee? Western democracies have had two or three hundred years to mature slowly over time without foreign interference in national policies to the extent that we've seen meddling in African politics by outsiders over the past 100 years.

    The west also had time to industrialise and grow their markets to maturity without having to contend with the negative effects of globalisation like trade discrimination. Neither did they have to contend with massive poverty, conflict, colonialisation and AIDS. Colonialism brought with it bribery and corruption, African countries only started gaining independence in the 1960's giving round about 50 or 60 years to right the wrongs of the past - but the foreign interference still continued, and the Cold War had a further negative impact on the continent in the years that followed independence.

    Of course, ultimately it's up to African leaders to sort out the corruption aspect and look after their citizens, but to write the continents problems off purely as a result of corruption without taking into consideration the role of all the other mitigating factors is unfair and biased in my opinion. At the same time, enough is enough, it's high time for African leaders to take a stand and fight the scourge of corruption - too many of them have only been too happy to benefit, and if Africans don't put a stop to it themselves, the west sure as hell isn't going to.

    However, one of the points I'm trying to make is that I think it's wrong that Africa gets the entire bad rap for being corrupt while the western countries retain the complete moral high ground. In the meantime they are helping to perpetuate the rotten system as their multinationals continue to pay bribes, particularly in the billion dollar World Bank development projects such as the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

    Monday, March 14, 2005

    Moving

    My apologies for the lack of updates over the past week or so - I am in the process of that most horrible of all torture activities known as moving house. The cat has been making a pest of itself by insisting on parking off in which ever box I am trying to pack. The dog has gone into hibernation under a desk in a misguided attempt to avoid the chaos, I only wish I could do the same.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    Abortion update

    The US has so far failed to push abortion rights back into the 1950's.

    Under intense global pressure, the United States dropped its demand that a new U.N. declaration on women's equality make clear there is no international right to abortion. But Washington continued to insist the document must not "create any new international human rights" -- which opponents say could also mean abortion.
    U.S. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey announced the changes at a closed-door meeting on Thursday, telling reporters afterward that abortion policy should be determined at the national not global level. But there appeared to be no support even for a watered-down amendment. In one speech after another, delegates from the European Union, the African Union and the Mercosur trading bloc in South America insisted on leaving the declaration untouched. As it now stands, the text simply reaffirms the U.N. blueprint for achieving equality of the sexes, which was adopted at a 1995 conference in Beijing. (
    More)

    Tuesday, March 01, 2005

    Gun Amnesty

    I'm battling to think of a suitably sarcastic coment to go with this publicity stunt.

    As the Mail & Guardian reports "Firearms handed in to police in three provinces in the first two weeks of a three-month amnesty period were mostly legal weapons." Did they really think that criminals would be lining up in droves to hand in their weapons?

    The 10 000 guns handed in so far are a drop in the ocean considering these stats - in 2001 a total of 23 519 firearms were lost or stolen, an average of 64 guns a day. These figures, particularly those for firearm losses are known to be an understatement, as many people do not report firearm thefts or losses for fear of prosecution.

    Even if the number does increase substantially by the end of the amnesty period I doubt it will make a real dent in the number of unlicensed guns floating around the country. In 2000 the Minister for Safety & Security estimated that there were between 500 000 and 1 million unlicensed firearms in South Africa - bearing in mind that government is probably under-reporting. (Source)

    Abortion-my right to choose

    As far as I'm concerned the right to abortion should be an international human rights issue. It's nobody's business but my mine to decide what I can or cannot do with my own body. I also don't see why I should have to base my right to abortion on somebody else's belief in an archaic religious code - no disrespect intended. And that's why I resent the US's stance on abortion at the current Beijing + 10 international gender conference. A two-week review at the United Nations on the status of women worldwide is being overshadowed by a U.S. demand that the review's final language include a statement that abortion is not a human right that should be guaranteed to all women.

    The United States accused advocacy groups of trying to use a landmark U.N. effort to achieve equality for women to promote a pro-abortion agenda, embroiling a high-level meeting in a debate participants had hoped to avoid. Human rights and women's groups have voiced concern the Bush administration is rolling back on U.S. support for the platform of action adopted at the 1995 U.N. women's conference in Beijing. But U.S. Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, speaking Monday as a two-week review of the 150-page document got under way, said the United States is not seeking ``in any way'' to reopen negotiations on the platform. What Washington wants, she said, is an amendment to the meeting's proposed final declaration stating that the commitment to ``reproductive health services'' is not a guarantee of the right to abortion. (NYT-subscription only)

    Operating with impunity

    It's quite interesting to see how well some western corporations behave when operating outside of their own countries.

    The British government has been accused of failing to take action over the 18 UK companies accused of involvement in the systematic looting of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the years up to and including 2002. A new parliamentary report, which was released on February 7, said that despite the seriousness of the charges levelled against 85 Western companies, several of whom were British, only a junior official in the Department of Trade and Industry had been charged following the allegations London had been asked to investigate the charges following a report by a UN panel of experts in 2002. It said that high level political, military and business networks were pillaging gold, diamonds, timber and coltan (a metal found in mobile phones) from Congo. The amount of the looting was staggering with around $5 billion worth of assets being stolen, the report said.

    The looting went specifically against the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rules, which forbid "either directly or indirectly, or through negligence" helping to prolong the conflict in the DRC by engaging in unlawful economic activities there.
    But the UN Security Council, which examined the findings, left it up to individual states to conduct their own investigations. Now, nearly three years later, the UK parliament's all party group on the Congo says the British government's response to the issue has been inadequate and had made "little progress in examining and resolving the allegations."


    The Observer newspaper said that the unnamed companies which have been accused say they do not understand the charges against them and have not been given an opportunity to respond. Pressure groups in the UK and some MPs are calling for an inquiry into the issue. (Source)


    And, the companies are unamed, not exactly what I'd call democratic transparency....or does that criticism only apply to African governments?