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  • Joel Joffe, 12 May 1932-18 June 2017. An appreciation.

    By ACTSA | June 21, 2017

    Joel Joffe was the person who put together the legal team to defend Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in the Rivonia trial, 1963/64. He met regularly with Nelson Mandela and others in prison and in the cells below the courtroom. It was Joel who received the handwritten note from Nelson Mandela of the speech he intended to make from the dock. When Joel and the others read what Nelson Mandela intended to say at the end of his speech they advised he should take out the last sentence as if found guilty they would face the death penalty.

    “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

    Mandela insisted it remain. It was Joel’s responsibility to get the speech typed which he did and returned to meet with Nelson Mandela the next day in his cell. Joel had instructed the typist to not include the final sentence.   Mandela read the typed speech carefully then asked Joel for a pen and with it put the final sentence back into the speech.

    As Joel recounted it was his task, together with the other members of the defence team, to try and get the accused acquitted but given that the evidence against them was strong so the real objective was to avoid the death penalty. However Nelson Mandela and his co-accused decided to use the trial to put apartheid itself on trial. He paid tribute throughout his life to their courage and integrity and that it continued to inspire him.

    Immediately prior to the trial Joel and his wife Vanetta had planned to leave apartheid South Africa and emigrate to Australia with their two young daughters. Despite the fact their luggage had been shipped ahead, Joel needed no persuading to put those plans on hold and bring together a powerful defence team to advise and support Mandela and his eight co-accused. Following the trial and sentence of life imprisonment it was clear that Joel and his family needed to leave South Africa. They planned to resume their emigration to Australia. However, given his role in defending Nelson Mandela and his co-accused he was told he was no longer welcome and Australia’s loss became the UK’s gain when Joel arrived.

    Joel became a successful businessman in the UK and he was a co-founder of Allied Dunbar Company, which had an ethical policy long before they were common. He became chair of Oxfam and was made a life peer in 2000.  He established the Joffe Charitable Trust focussing on the relief of poverty and human rights in the developing world.

    ACTSA is proud that Joel supported ACTSA’s work on women’s rights in Swaziland, human rights in Swaziland and the campaign for decent compensation and health care for ex-mineworkers across southern Africa who have silicosis.

    Joel was bright with a sharp and incisive mind. He put his values and principles into action. He championed human rights and dignity for all, supported programmes that reduced poverty, and was a passionate advocate for justice. He had a good sense of humour and demonstrated humility. Joel never pushed himself into the spotlight but it found him because of his essential qualities of a being a good human being who cared about others, he fought injustice and helped change the course of history for the better.

    We will miss him but we celebrate his life and many achievements.

    When I heard Joel had died I felt sad because I would never enjoy his company again but sadness quickly gave way to thanks and appreciation. I am glad and fortunate to have known Joel. He was a decent, sincere, honest, principled man who made a real and lasting difference in the UK and in South Africa.

    Hamba Kahle, Joel

    (Hamba Kahle is a Xhosa expression broadly translated in this context as farewell)

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    Violence against LGBT+ Community in South Africa continues

    By Robyn | June 13, 2017

    In South Africa there has been continued outcry from activists in the LGBT+ community against the authorities in light of continued attacks on LGBTI people – in particular lesbian and bi women. In the last month two openly lesbian women, Nonkie Smous and Lerato Moloi were murdered in Kroostad and Naledi respectively, within 2 weeks of one another. The murders have been widely reported as hate crimes motivated by the women’s sexual orientation. Although the South African constitution is the first in the world to protect people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, there is a disparity between the law and attitudes of many citizens. A recent hate crime study by OUT LGBT Well-Being and the Love not Hate campaign found that 41% of LGBT people in South Africa knew someone who has been murdered due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

    Furthermore the same study found that 88% of LGBT people who had experienced one or more incidents of discrimination in the past 24 months said they had not reported any of the incidents to the police. Key reasons cited included judging the offence as not serious enough, reasons related to the police/justice system, and fears of repercussions from the offender/members of the community.

    There has been criticism from LGBT+ activists of the criminal justice system for its response to attacks against the LGBT+ community. In 2011 global outcry at the murder of several lesbians in South Africa led to a petition signed by over 170,000 people calling for the government to act. The government responded by announcing the creation of a National Task Team (NTT). The Task Team was charged with addressing Gender and Sexual orientation-based violence against LGBT+ people, particularly within the criminal justice system. However, in the last year just 1 of the 26 cases submitted to the Task Team has been successfully resolved. The Rapid Response Team, set up in 2014 to fast track LGBT+ cases has been similarly criticised for its lack of results. On the 9th May the Love Not Hate campaign launched their 5-Justice Denied Campaign which selected 5 outstanding cases of violence and/or discrimination against members of the LBGT+ community in order to highlight the lapses in the justice system where LGBT+ people are concerned.

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    Swaziland the most unequal country in the world

    By Robyn | June 8, 2017

    Researchers at the Brookings Institution, a major US think-tank, have published a new paper in which it is claimed that Swaziland is the most unequal country in the world in terms of income distribution.

    The research uses the Gini co-efficient, the most commonly used measure of inequality. But it employs an innovative method to adjust the Ginis for missing top incomes (a well-established problem faced by inequality researchers).

    In a report launched in early May, Oxfam argued that ‘high levels of inequality across Africa have prevented much of the benefits of recent growth from reaching the continent’s poorest people’.

    Recent years have witnessed the publication of a number of significant books on economic inequality. These include ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Piketty, ‘Inequality: What Can Be Done?’ by the late Tony Atkinson and ‘Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization’ by Branko Milanovic (whose work has influenced the Brookings researchers).

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    Justice for Silicosis Sufferers – ACTSA attend Anglo American AGM

    By Robyn | May 4, 2017

    At the Anglo American AGM on 24 April ACTSA pushed for urgent action to establish a comprehensive industry wide scheme for Southern Africa mineworkers who have silicosis to provide decent health care and compensation.

    ACTSA was represented by Director Tony Dykes and Senior Campaigns Officer Sunit Bagree who raised the apparent lack of action since the settlement covering 4,365 mineworkers in March 2016. ACTSA queried why Anglo American and other mining companies continued to appeal court decisions in South Africa and oppose the class action on behalf of 30,000 mineworkers, including contesting elements that were part of the settlement of March 2017.

    Questions were also put to the board by Peter Bailey, Chair of Health and Safety of the National Union Mineworkers of South Africa and Glen Mpufane, Director of Mining of IndustriALL, the global trade union federation.

    The Chief Executive of Anglo American seemed to accept the need to communicate better and hold more regular meetings with key stakeholders in South Africa in order to discuss an industry wide compensation scheme for those with silicosis. Anglo American continues to deny any liability for ex-gold mineworkers with silicosis.

    ACTSA’s participation was facilitated by the London Mining Network (LMN), of which ACTSA is a member. A full report of the questions and points raised at the AGM is on the LMN website. ACTSA has also published a briefing paper Coughing Up; Justice for Southern Africa gold mineworkers with silicosis and tuberculosis.

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    COSATU calls on President Zuma to resign

    By Tony | April 4, 2017

    4 April 2017

    COSATU calls on President Zuma to resign

    The Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU) the largest trade union federation in South Africa and part of tripartite alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and South African Communist Party (SACP) has post the cabinet reshuffle which was announced on 30 March and on which it was not consulted called on President Zuma to step down.

    “COSATU no longer believes that the president is the right person to unite and lead the movement, the Alliance and the country. We think that after all his undeniable contribution to both the movement and government, the time has arrived for him to step down and allow the country to be led forward by a new collective at a government level…

    “We are currently experiencing a period of deep divisions within the ANC and we believe that the president’s lack of constructive engagement has added to such divisions, which impacts negatively to governance. He has also failed to deal with some of the most incompetent ministers in his cabinet, proving that this cabinet reshuffle was not based on merit but on political loyalty.”

    For the full statement go to http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=12610

    The South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a strongly worded statement on 31 March on the cabinet reshuffle describing the President actions as reckless and the firing of competent Cabinet Ministers and the retention of incompetent ones as outrageous.

    “The Political Bureau of the SACP met in Gauteng today in the context of the deep crisis into which the reckless actions of President Zuma have once more plunged our ANC-led movement, our hard-won democratic institutions, and our country in general.

    The recall from an overseas trip of comrades Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas while on a promotional tour in South Africa’s interests, and now the firing of these comrades and other well-performing ministers is more than regrettable. It is frankly outrageous, particularly while the worst performers in cabinet continue to enjoy presidential protection and even, in some cases, promotion.”

    For the full statement go to http://www.sacp.org.za

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    South Africa: President Zuma reshuffles cabinet, sacks Minister of Finance and his deputy

    By Tony | March 31, 2017

    South Africa: President Zuma reshuffles cabinet, sacks Minister of Finance and his deputy.

    31 March 2017

    President Zuma has made many changes to his cabinet. It is a controversial reshuffle and the main focus is that he has dismissed the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan and his Deputy Mcebisi Jonas. The new Finance Minister is Malusi Gigaba who was the Home Affairs minister and prior to that Minister for Public Enterprise. Those supportive of President Zuma support the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan arguing he was a block on speeding up transformation of the economy so it delivered more and more quickly to the poor and disadvantaged in South Africa. However many others say Pravin Gordhan has been dismissed as he challenged waste and corruption and in particularly refused the treasury providing guarantees on loans in connection with a proposed $100 billion nuclear power programme and $624million leasing facility for South African Airways. They believe these are deals that those with strong connections to the President want to happen as they stand to benefit financially. Pravin Gordhan was known to be critical of the role and influence of the Gupta family on leading members of the government and ANC and some see his removal as strengthening their influence. The Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has expressed concern at the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan but confirmed he would not resign from the cabinet. The General Secretary of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe said they were informed but not consulted on the changes and it felt as if the list of the changes had been drawn up elsewhere. He expressed concern that Ministers who were performing well had been dismissed and some who had not been kept in the cabinet.

    The cabinet reshuffle included many other changes with some ministers moving from one ministry to another.

    The reshuffle exposes widening rifts in the government and the ANC. A number of prominent veterans of the ANC including Rivonia trialist and close friend of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, who served more than 26 years in prison and died on 28 March have called on President Zuma to resign. A number of civil society groups including Save South Africa are planning marches and symbolic acts also calling on the President to step down.

    The immediate impact of the cabinet reshuffle was to reduce the value of the rand on world markets and increase the cost of South Africa borrowing.

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    Ahmed Kathrada dies

    By Tony | March 28, 2017

    28 March 2017

    The death of Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, known to many as Kathy, has been announced. He was one of the group along with Nelson Mandela known as the Rivonia trialists who were put on trial in 1963/1964 with charges that if found guilty they could face the death penalty. They were found guilty but sentenced to life imprisonment. Their lawyers believed that “Kathy” had strong grounds to appeal and that he would be acquitted. However the accused had decided whatever the sentence they would not appeal and also the lawyers did say if “Kathy” appealed the state may be able to reopen the cases of others and seek the death penalty. Ahmed Kathrada spent over 26 years in prison, 18 of these years on Robben Island.

    Ahmed Kathrada was last in London in January 2016 and he received the freedom of the City of London. He was a man of principle, integrity, courage with an unswerving commitment to democracy and overcoming racism. He served as Nelson Mandela’s parliamentary counsellor in the first democratic elected government and chaired the Robben Island Museum Council until 2006. He established the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation with the objective of deepening non-racialism, promoting the values, rights and principles enshrined in the Freedom Charter and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa; and a non–racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa.

    At Nelson Mandela’s funeral he said in a moving way tribute to his comrades who had died,” when Walter died (Walter Sisulu one his co-accused and the mentor of the group including Mandela) I lost a father with Nelson going I have lost a brother, I don’t know what to do.” In the last few years of his life he became increasingly critical of what was happening in the government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and was the first signature to a letter from ANC veterans to the leadership of the ANC calling for change.

     

    There are now two surviving Rivonia trialists Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg.

    Ahmed Kathrada born 21 August 1929 died 28 March 2017

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    South Africa: Victims of the Sharpeville Massacre Remembered on Human Rights Day

    By ACTSA | March 21, 2017

    On 21 March 1960, 69 black South Africans were killed by Read the rest of this entry »

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    International Women’s Day: Message from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions Womens Committee

    By ACTSA | March 9, 2017

    The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) Women’s Committee marked Read the rest of this entry »

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    International Women’s Day: Support the women of Southern Africa

    By ACTSA | March 7, 2017

    The theme for International Women’s Day on Wednesday 8 March is #BeBoldforChange.

    ACTSA believes that gender equality and  Read the rest of this entry »

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