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  • Morgan Tsvangirai remembered: brave, heroic, flawed

    By Tony | February 16, 2018

    Morgan Tsvangirai was brave, to many heroic, and a great human rights defender, he also had flaws.

    Morgan Tsvangirai was a miner who became a trade union leader who challenged the economic policies of Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zanu PF in the mid-1990s. The economic policies he challenged was the economic structural adjustment programme pushed on Zimbabwe by the IMF which was causing increasing hardship, reducing employment, weakening public services. Morgan Tsvangirai’s opposition to these policies led him to become increasingly critical of the authoritarian rule of Robert Mugabe who made no secret of his wish for Zimbabwe to be a one party state and for the president to have greater powers. Tsvangirai became a leader of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) a civil society body comprising trade unions, churches and ngos which argued for a more citizens rights based constitution and against proposals for a more centralised and controlling state. Out of the NCA a new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) emerged and Morgan Tsvangirai became its life-long leader.

    Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC was the biggest political challenge Mugabe and Zanu PF had faced since independence in 1980. Tsvangirai was badly beaten, arrested, harassed, and attempts were made on his life. He remained steadfast in his support for human rights, a more inclusive, open, fairer Zimbabwe. He was almost certainly deprived of being President of Zimbabwe by electoral fraud, if not in 2002 then in 2008.

    The first round of the 2008 presidential election showed he had a commanding, many thought decisive lead but the announcement of the result was mysteriously delayed for over a week. It was eventually announced Tsvangirai had 48% and Mugabe 43% meaning there would have to be a run-off. Zimbabwe then experienced its worst violence since the massacres in the mid-1980s. The MDC was not allowed to organise or campaign, there were killings, disappearances, arrests and harassment. Tsvangirai felt he had no option but to withdraw leaving Mugabe as the sole candidate.

    Regional mediation by Thabo Mbeki, then president of South Africa, led to the formation of an inclusive government in 2009 with Tsvangirai as Prime Minister and Mugabe as President. Zanu PF used the period 2008-2013 to regroup, re-organise and in government Tsvangirai and other MDC ministers found the institutions of the state were so politicised in support of Zanu PF they lacked real power.

    In 2006 MDC witnessed its first major split. Many blamed Tsvangirai for this saying he initially showed no leadership on a key issue and it was only when the MDC conference decided its position did he come out against and say he would not accept it. He took a majority of members with him and hence the MDC he led became MDC T (the T is for Tsvangirai). Without that split a united MDC may have won the 2008 election so decisively it could not have been stolen from it.  After the MDC lost quite heavily in 2013 Tsvangirai would not countenance stepping aside and further splits occurred. The opposition to Zanu PF became more fragmented and its main challenge became its internal politics.

    In the past year however the three main MDC groupings signed a unity pact and agreed Tsvangirai would be their candidate for President. It was clear though that he was seriously ill. He had cancer but claimed his treatment was working. He was convinced he was the only one who could defeat Mugabe and even after Mugabe was forced from office Tsvangirai thought he was the only one who stood a chance of winning against Zanu PF. He had charismatic appeal especially to youth in urban areas. They admired his bravery, his courage, his willingness to take on Mugabe. In his last few months he would not allow the MDC to discuss and agree on a successor. There is a real risk that the MDC (T) will split into competing factions.

    Morgan Tsvangirai will be remembered, celebrated, for his leadership on human rights, against corrupt and authoritarian rule, for a more inclusive Zimbabwe. There will though also be questions about his leadership style and the unanswerable what if, the MDC had not split? The elections had not been rigged?

    Morgan Tsvangirai changed Zimbabwe. He changed its politics. He refused to accept authoritarian rule. He gave Zimbabweans hope and courage.

    Morgan Tsvangirai born 10 March 1952 died 14 February 2018.

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    Hugh Masekela 1939 – 2018, A great musician and great man

    By Tony | January 23, 2018

    Hugh Masekela was a great musician. He wrote and performed wonderful and inspiring music. He entertained millions. He was also respected and liked by millions for his music and his humanity. Hugh Masekela typified the best of South Africans. He refused to be classed as inferior to white South Africans. He rejected that the apartheid regime tried to deny him and a majority of South Africans citizenship of their own country. He fought against apartheid through his music, through his rejection of racism and through his support for a democratic non-racist and non-sexist South Africa. His music gave pleasure not only to millions of South Africans but millions more around the world. He also gave a voice to those denied it, to the black southern Africans migrating to work in the mines of South Africa, to those living in Soweto and through his work and example showed a different, better, inclusive and more equal South Africa is not desirable but achievable.

    Hugh Masekela was given his first trumpet by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston who later became the President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and ACTSA’s founding patron. Hugh never forgot this and one of the last times I saw him perform was in London at St James Piccadilly where Archbishop Trevor once lived and in a benefit for the Trevor Huddleston Foundation. Hugh gave a virtuoso performance. I was glad I was there on the evening and now looking back I am even gladder I went.  It was a wonderful concert. I also saw him perform that year in Glasgow to mark International Mandela Day which was fitting as Glasgow was the first city in the world to award Nelson Mandela Freedom of the City.

    The news of Hugh’s death is a sad one but we give thanks for the gift of Hugh Masekela. He was a great musician, performer and great man. He has enriched the lives of millions. He will be missed, most of all by his family but also by many others but he will not be forgotten, his life, values and his music will continue to be celebrated.

    Topics: Features, News | 1 Comment »

    Dos Santos family under fire in Angola’s big business: A new path for Angola?

    By Robyn | January 12, 2018

    Since taking presidency in September 2017 President João Lourenço has made several high-level dismissals at a number of state-owned businesses. The most high profile of these saw the removal of his predecessor’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, from her position as head of state owned oil company Sonangol in November. Ms dos Santos had been at the helm of the state owned oil company since June 2016, after being appointed to the role by presidential decree by her father. The dismissal came as a surprise to many, seemingly including Dos Santos herself as she stated to UK newspaper the Financial Terms that she intended to see out her five year term as President of the board at Sonangol less than a month earlier. She has been replaced by Carlos Saturnino, former Secretary of State for Oil. Dos Santos is regularly cited as the richest woman in Africa, but is generally unpopular in Angola, seen to have gained wealth via her father’s nepotism. Critics of the Dos Santos family’s extensive sphere of influence have praised the move as a bold indication that Mr Lourenço plans to carve out his own path as President. Indeed, her removal was not the only dismissal to effect the former president’s circle of familial influence.

    Lourenço also closed down government communications department GRECIMA, which held lucrative contracts with an enterprise co-owned by Welwitschia dos Santos, another of the former president’s daughters. The business interests of Jose Filomeno dos Santos have similarly come under fire, as the new administration suspended a contract with food testing laboratory Bromangol, a business associated with the eldest dos Santos son. At present Jose Filomeno dos Santos remains head of Angola’s sovereign wealth fund, although Mr Lourenço has suggested this may be subject to change pending the results of an external enquiry into the fund’s performance and governance.

    Given that President Lourenço was seemingly chosen and anointed by his predecessor some critics posited the Dos Santos dynasty would remain untouched by the new President. Consequently the unexpected redistribution of power has been welcomed by many Angolans, and is seen to represent a commitment to campaign promises to tackle corruption and cronyism. However, others are sceptical about the reshuffling of power positions, suggesting this is simply the prelude to the establishment of new patronage networks.  Only time will tell to what extent Lourenço’s actions signal commitment to development or an exercise to consolidate power.

    Topics: Features, News | No Comments »

    Zimbabwe: Coup, Uphold Rights, Improve the economy

    By Tony | November 16, 2017

    What has happened in Zimbabwe is a coup. It may turn out to be a coup many welcome as the least worst option but it is nevertheless is a coup. The perpetrators have stated it is not a coup but it looks, feels and sounds like a coup. The military have acted in their view to protect and preserve public order but that is the reason perpetrators of coups give for their intervention. The trigger seems to have been the statement by Zanu PF that the head of the army General Constantino Chiwenga’s comments following the dismissal by President Mugabe of his Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa were tantamount to treason. The army seems to have acted in a form of preventative action to stop Chiwenga being dismissed. The army says the president and his family are safe and being protected. This raises the question protected from who? His own family? The so-called criminal elements around him? The security service?

    Why are the perpetrators desperate for this not to be seen as a coup? Because if it is a coup then Zimbabwe should automatically be suspended from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and SADC would be challenged to intervene to uphold the constitution. SADC is desperate not to intervene in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe military equally don’t want external involvement, and wish to be seen as in some way upholding the constitutional proprieties.

    Some say it is not a coup as Mugabe remains Head of State, that it is more about internal infighting in Zanu PF. The military action is certainly intended to influence and decide the leadership of Zanu PF but first this will involve Mugabe rescinding his decision to dismiss Emerson Mnangagwa as vice president of the country and reinstating him.

    If the coup succeeds – and it seems to have met limited opposition in the country and internationally, concern has been expressed but it has not been condemned – then the expectation is that Emerson Mnangagwa will resume as vice president of the country. He would then be in effect in charge of government and Robert Mugabe may, after a short time, resign allowing the vice president to take over.

    Prior to the coup Zanu PF was due to hold a congress in December. Until the coup it was expected this would remove Mnangagwa as vice president of the party and elect Grace Mugabe to that position. It is unclear if the congress will go ahead and if it does, and the coup has succeeded then Robert Mugabe may “retire” leaving Mnangagwa to be elected as president of the party.

    Zimbabwe is due to hold national elections for parliament and president in 2018. If it does not then it will be in breach of its constitution. Given the turmoil in Zimbabwe some are calling for a government of national unity or transitional government for several years.

    While many well welcome the demise of Mugabe, if Zimbabwe continues to be ruled in an authoritarian manner in which the institutions of the state are used to serve and promote one party, Zanu PF, then the suffering of the Zimbabwean people is likely to continue. Ordinary Zimbabweans are and have been suffering in part because the ruling party has been unable to deal with the succession to Mugabe and military leaders have been unwilling to countenance any party other than Zanu PF running Zimbabwe.

    In the immediate aftermath of the coup human rights and essential freedoms need to be protected. Zimbabwe may need a period of a national unity government based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. During this period getting the economy working to create decent jobs should be of great importance, but ultimately the priority must be for the Zimbabwean people to determine their own future government through free, fair, peaceful and democratic elections.

    Disclaimer: This is a blog and does not necessarily represent any agreed view by ACTSA.

    Topics: Features, News | No Comments »

    Are the mining companies trying to escape on the cheap?

    By Campaigns | October 9, 2017

    ACTSA’s position has always been that the the settlement reached in March 2016 on behalf of 4365 ex-gold mineworkers in regard to legal actions against Anglo American and AngloGold Ashanti should be seen as a benchmark and not just a landmark. We continue to assert that the broad terms of any settlement of the ongoing class action should be at least as good as the terms of the March 2016 settlement.

    The six mining companies have now announced the amounts that they have set aside in relation to a possible settlement of the class action. We have calculated that the total of these provisions is approximately $371.2 million. How would this compare to the terms of the March 2016 settlement?

    The settlement reached in March 2016 saw R464 million, which at the time was $30.1 million, paid into a trust for distribution. While not all ex-gold mineworkers will receive the same amount (assuming that claimants with silicosis can prove they worked on Anglo American or AngloGold mines for at least two years, payments depend on the extent of their illness and their age), this equates to $6896 per person.

    Importantly, a further amount was paid to assist the trust to enable payment of statutory compensation to claimants who qualify for it, and Anglo American and AngloGold also agreed to fund the running costs of the trust and all medical evaluations. Moreover, relatives of deceased ex-gold mineworkers who meet the criteria are included in this settlement.

    On the surface, it would appear that the $371.2 million total set aside by the mining companies could compensate 53,828 ex-gold mineworkers – if the $6896 per person figure is a benchmark. Yet, as we outlined in our recent briefing paper Coughing Up, estimates of ex-gold mineworkers with silicosis run into the hundreds of thousands. For example, in 2005 the Government of South Africa’s Department of Labour estimated 480,000 cases of silicosis among ex-gold mineworkers in Southern Africa. A 2010 study estimated there were 288,000 cases of compensable silicosis in South Africa. As a result, paid occupational lung disease compensation for gold mineworkers has been estimated to run into the billions of US dollars. Experts agree that many ex-gold mineworkers with silicosis in Southern Africa have already died but are there no more than 53,828 of them still alive?

    Yet on closer examination the situation is even worse than at first suspected. ACTSA has learnt that it is likely that the $371.2 million figure is inclusive of all other costs. As noted above, under the March 2016 settlement, costs relating to implementing the settlement (including providing medicals, distributing funds and supporting payment of statutory compensation to those who qualify) were treated separately and are borne by the mining companies. Moreover, in this case there are likely to be significant costs incurred due to locating ex-gold mineworkers with silicosis, as many have gone back to their homes in rural areas of South Africa or in surrounding countries. Finally, it is not clear if relatives of deceased ex-gold mineworkers with silicosis will be eligible to receive any compensation under any settlement of the class action.

    All in all, it looks like the mining companies are looking for a bargain as they look to close the book on their appalling treatment of their former employees. Can we stop them from escaping on the cheap?

    Sunit Bagree is ACTSA’s Senior Campaigns Officer

    Topics: Features | No Comments »

    Public Statement on AngloGold Ashanti and Gold Mineworkers with Silicosis and Tuberculosis in Southern Africa

    By Campaigns | July 26, 2017

    In April 2017, Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) published the briefing paper Coughing Up. The paper argues that AngloGold Ashanti and other companies in the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group (OLDWG) not only made huge profits from apartheid gold, but in doing so they completely neglected the health and safety of black mineworkers, leading to so many of them developing the diseases silicosis and tuberculosis (TB).

    A settlement reached in March 2016 with AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American South Africa, while welcome and positive, is limited to 4,365 claimants. It is not a comprehensive industry-wide settlement. A class action filed in the High Court of South Africa in December 2012 and certified in May 2016 seeks to achieve an industry-wide compensation scheme. However, the OLDWG companies are appealing all aspects of the class action certification.

    ACTSA, in solidarity with a range of South African civil society organisations, has campaigned for justice for Southern African gold mineworkers with silicosis and TB since 2012. We call on AngloGold Ashanti and the other mining companies to urgently provide proper medical screening, decent financial compensation and healthcare, and adequate support for all ex- and current mineworkers suffering from silicosis and TB. To this end, we call on AngloGold Ashanti to answer the following questions.

    1) Why are AngloGold Ashanti and other OLDWG companies appealing all aspects of the class action certification?

    2) Do you believe that the broad terms of any settlement of the class action should be at least as good as the terms of the March 2016 settlement?

    3) When was the last time you met with the legal representatives of the mineworkers that brought the class action?

    4) Will you commit to meeting regularly, at least quarterly, with the legal representatives of the mineworkers bringing the class action, as well as with the National Union of Mineworkers (South Africa), in order to bring about a comprehensive industry-wide settlement that is fair to ill mineworkers?

    5) In terms of implementing the March 2016 settlement, Anglo American stated (at its AGM on 24 April) that 700 of the 4,365 claimants had been paid out. Is this also your understanding and how many claimants have been assessed so far?

    6) Would it be possible to receive more regular (e.g. quarterly) and detailed updates regarding the implementation of the March 2016 settlement?

    Download this statement 

    Topics: Features, News from ACTSA | No Comments »

    Mandela Day 18 July

    By Tony | July 17, 2017

    Mandela Day 18 July 2017

    What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela was born 99 years ago on18 July 1918.

    The UN General Assembly agreed the 18 July be designated Mandela Day.

    The proposal is that those inspired by Nelson Mandela’s values, commitment and service do something on Mandela Day and/or other days to help bring about a better, fairer, more just world in which poverty and inequality is reduced and the rights and dignity of all upheld. You decide what to do. You can tell others or not what you are doing.

    If you are inspired by Nelson Mandela do something to reduce poverty and help make a better world

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    Angola has a long way to go on human rights

    By ACTSA | December 12, 2016

    10 December was Human Rights Day. ACTSA’s Senior Campaigns Officer Sunit Bagree argues that Angola has a long way to go to improve human rights in the country.

    According to this year’s Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), Angola has improved in terms of participation and human rights over the past decade. Despite this, however, only Swaziland performs worse than Angola among Southern African nations. Indeed, there’s still a great deal to be concerned about when considering civil and political rights in Angola. If one also assesses economic and social rights in the oil-rich country, the picture doesn’t improve.

    When it comes to human rights, much of the international attention this year has focused on the 17 youth activists who, in June 2015, attended a meeting to discuss politics and governance concerns only to be arrested and charged with preparatory acts of rebellion and criminal conspiracy. In a trial that attracted widespread criticism both domestically and internationally, these activists were sentenced in March to terms of between two and eight-and-a-half years. Three months later they were released from prison into house arrest, and in September they were granted amnesty by the Supreme Court. However, all but one of the 17 activists reject the amnesty, saying that they want their convictions overturned.

    But this case, while undoubtedly important, is only one example of repression in Angola. For instance, this year has witnessed allegations of a wave of extra-judicial killings in the capital, Luanda, by state organisations, in particular the Criminal Investigation Service (SIC). One report, by the journalist and human rights defender Rafael Marques de Morais, claims that over 100 extra-judicial shootings took place from April to September alone. According to de Morais, government sources have said that this is the direct result of pressure from the Interior Minister on the SIC to crack down on crime.

    There are also real fears that five new laws relating to the media, known as the Social Communication Legislative Package, will seriously restrict the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch has argued that the laws provide ‘the government and ruling party expansive power to interfere with the work of journalists, and potentially to prevent reporting on corruption or human rights abuses’. The new laws, which were rushed through the National Assembly in November, give officials the power to raid the home or office of any person or organisation suspected of publishing information, even if this information is only published online (e.g. a social media post). Many journalists already engage in self-censorship, and this is only likely to increase as a consequence of the new laws.

    As for economic and social rights, drastic budget cuts (due to the sharp fall in the price of oil) over the past 15 months have resulted in outbreaks of diseases, shortages of essential medicines and huge increases in the price of basic food items. More broadly, the country’s leadership has largely failed to diversify the economy, and at the same time it has allowed corruption to thrive. Thus the strong economic growth experienced by Angola since the end of the war in 2002 hasn’t had a significant impact on the living standards of the vast majority of its citizens. Poverty and unemployment remained stubbornly high in the boom years. And some social indicators have been simply shocking for a long period of time, such as the country’s under-five mortality rate, which is actually now the worst in the world.

    In March, President José Eduardo dos Santos announced that he will step down from public office in 2018 after almost four decades in power. Some believe the President will not do this, especially if he thinks his interests will not be protected should he retire from public life. Others believe that his advancing age (he will turn 76 in 2018) and recent manoeuvring of close family members into key positions (two of his sons are on the central committee of the ruling MPLA and his daughter heads the state oil firm Sonangol) suggest that he will finally step down.

    Angola will hold national elections in 2017. Most expect the ruling Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA) to win. It won the last election in 2012 with 72% of the vote. If President dos Santos is re-elected as President by the National Assembly (the President is not directly elected) will he step down in 2018? If so, his successor’s commitment to inclusive institutions and the full spectrum of human rights will go a long way in determining whether all Angolans can be genuinely free and achieve their potential.

    Topics: Features, News, News from ACTSA | No Comments »

    40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising

    By ACTSA | June 14, 2016

    Wednesday 16 June 1976 changed South Africa.

    Thousands of youth, mainly secondary school children left their schools to protest against apartheid, which was white supremacy, institutionalised discrimination against black South Africans, denying them their rights. The protest had Read the rest of this entry »

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    We will not forget Itai Dzamara

    By ACTSA | December 8, 2015

    Human Rights Day will be celebrated on 10 December, as it has been every year since 1950. In a sad irony, this year, the day before will mark 9 months since the enforced disappearance of Zimbabwean human rights activist Itai Dzamara.

    Dzamara was at a barbershop in Harare when Read the rest of this entry »

    Topics: Features, News, News from ACTSA | No Comments »

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