15th Apr2013

Legacy of the Iron Lady

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Daniel Mpala looks at the legacy of Margaret Thatcher.

legacyMargaret Thatcher died on the 08th of March 2013 at the age of 87 and she will be laid to rest this Wednesday. Even in the wake of her death, she’s still generating as much controversy as she did during her prime.  There have been all sorts of mixed reactions to her death, with her death being cause for elation; riots, demonstrations and impromptu celebratory street parties (Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, London), tributes, reflection and even a chart topping song (Ding Dong The Witch is Dead). It is rather peculiar for someone’s death to incite such a spectrum of emotions as hers did. This got me curious and led me to do a great deal of reading on her life, her political career and personality.  Most people my age, (I was born in 1991 a few months shorty after she left office) are keen to know about the legacy she left, particularly from a Southern African perspective.

The daughter of a grocer, Maggie as she is affectionately known in England, ascended through the political and social strata to become the first and only female Prime Minister in 1979, an office that she held for 11 years. She is remarked for her wit and intelligence (she was a chemist and lawyer by profession), assertiveness, stubborn nature and for being outspoken. She is credited to have been a hard worker, rumoured to have slept for only 4hrs a day during the time she was Prime Minister. In her tenure as Prime Minister she implemented crucial educational reforms; she introduced poll tax (single flat rate per capita tax on adults- this was later on abolished; embarked on a Rent to buy scheme which sought to get council tenants to buy homes by having them sold at a discount; a champion of free markets and trade, she also embarked on extensive privatisation and battled and reined in the powerful labour unions ; she was also instrumental in helping to bring about the end of the Cold War.  In 1982 during her term in office, the UK fought the 74 day Falklands War with Argentina which is arguably one of the best defining moments of her leadership. Her time in office was however fraught with riots and protests due to the animosity she garnered amongst many.

And what of her legacy in Southern Africa, in South Africa and Zimbabwe?  What legacy does she leave behind here? Should her death be marked by the same vitriol as seen online and on the streets of Belfast, London, Bristol and Glasgow?  Or should her life be celebrated? In South Africa, her interaction with the ANC pre -1994 was fairly awkward at first, with her describing the ANC as a “typical terrorist organisation” Even up to this day elements within the current British parliament acknowledge that her stance on apartheid was wrong and misguided.  Thatcher defied international pressure to impose economic sanctions on South Africa as other international countries were doing at the time and in-line with the American policy of disinvestment. This might have pro-longed apartheid. Speculation is rife that her husband’s business interests might have been a motive for this. Vehement in her refusal to impose these sanctions, she is said to have argued that economic sanctions would help little but harden attitudes, that apartheid was more a sin against economic liberalism than humanity.  Instead she believed sanctions would adversely affect black people more, hurt British business interests as well as the other African countries.  Although her relationship with apartheid presidents Botha and De Klerk raised a few questions, she seemed to help black South African political activists, a case of note being Mandela, where her influence was instrumental in his release from jail. Thatcher also provided security for ANC activists in the U.K during apartheid. However her tolerance for the apartheid government and her placing precedence on “British jobs over African lives and pennies over principles” might have been behind the ANC’s initial decisions not to allow Mandela to meet with her as it was still angry about Thatcher’s handling apartheid.  These two later met. In response to her death, the ANC said in a carefully worded statement that, “The ANC was on the receiving end of her policy in terms of refusing to recognize the ANC as the representatives of South Africans and her failure to isolate apartheid after it had been described as a crime against humanity, however we acknowledge that she was one of the strong leaders in Britain and Europe to an extent that some of her policies dominate discourse in the public service structures of the world. Long after her passing on, her impact will still be felt and her views a subject of discussion.” The relationship between the ANC and Thatcher was clearly uneasy and difficult. One might be forgiven to think that they never really saw eye to eye, but, nonetheless, the ANC seems to sympathise for her loss. Conversely, not everyone within the ANC seems to bear the same sentiments. Pallo Jordan, an ANC stalwart who was at one time part of an envoy to the U.K, was a bit less sympathetic of her passing. On talk Radio 702, he said of Thatcher’s death, “ Many lives were lost (as a result of the apartheid regime.) I don’t think it’s a great loss to the world. I say good riddance”.

Up north, in Zimbabwe, prominent politician and Zapu leader Dumiso  Dabengwa is said to have hinted that Thatcher’s government knew of the Gukurahundi massacres of 20 000 civilians that took place there after independence  between 1982 and 1987 and never did anything about it. She however was key in negotiating a ceasefire that led to Zimbabwe’s independence after she managed to advise the belligerents to sign a peace settlement, ending years of civil war. What is unusual is the odd, intimate relationship that has recently come to light with the de-classification of a number of letters between Thatcher and Mugabe. These letters suggest that Thatcher was compassionate and supportive of Mugabe . Thatcher’s government also had pledged to give Mugabe’s government £75million in addition to the £30million it had already handed over to coup Zimbabwe land redistribution on condition that there would not be any farm invasions.   Then again, Margaret Thatcher and Robert Mugabe had not always been top mates. As with Mandela, Thatcher at one time called Mugabe and his party terrorists. In  response to  Baron Carrington who had suggested she meet leaders of the Patriotic Front , she wrote that,  “No – please do not meet leaders of the ‘Patriotic Front’. I have never done business with terrorists until they become Prime Ministers! MT”.  Relations between the two later warmed up after Mugabe became Prime Minister. Mugabe even visited her at 10 Downing Street numerous times, in meetings where they supposedly spoke “ informally and like old friends”.  In response to her death, ZANU PF national chairman Simon Khaya Moyo said she was a mature leader and a better negotiating partner.

It is thus clear that Margaret Thatcher left quite a legacy, She is a role model for most women as she proved that women do indeed have what it takes to lead a country. However the question remains, how does one remember or view the legacy of someone who seemingly tolerated apartheid and ignored massacres? Someone who placed emphasis on economic interests over human rights? Should we be reminiscing in grief at her passing or instead take to the streets and celebrate?  It really is confusing isn’t it? On the one hand there’s so much she did for South Africa and Zimbabwe yet again on the other there are a lot more evils she turned a blind eye to.  How are you going to remember Margaret Thatcher?

21st Oct2011

Topics in Media and Cultural Studies Roundtable: 26 October 2011

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The Department of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand invites you to the last roundtable this academic year in the Topics in Media and Cultural Studies series. Please join us this Wednesday 26 October 2011 between 14.15-16.00 hrs in CB8 (Central Block, Wits East Campus).

The following speakers will give papers:

Last Moyo

Participation, Citizenship and Pirate Radio as Empowerment: The Case of Radio Dialogue in Zimbabwe

Ashleigh Tim

Gaming Ideologies: The Representation of the American/Al-Qaeda and Iraqi Conflict in Army of Two

Enquiries: janeske.botes@wits.ac.za or 011 717 4161

05th Apr2011

Libya’s role in the emergence of an assertive revolutionary discourse on Zimbabwe

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Nhamo Taiona* discusses how recent events in North Africa have been reported in the Zimbabwean press

While the perpetration of violence against innocent civilians in the run-up to national elections is not new in Zimbabwe, what is new and interesting is the emergence of a revolutionary discourse in the midst of fear and repression. Zimbabweans have generally conducted themselves as peace-loving citizens. This is why inspite of unprecedented economic difficulties faced over the past years, they have remained calm and resilient. The beginning of uprisings in the Middle-East and North Africa might have started contemplations of uprisings in Zimbabwe, but it was not until Libya that the spirit of rebellion began to find a clear and assertive expression. Stories about politically motivated violence in a leading weekly newspaper, The Zimbabwean, for the period between 3 and 30 March 2011, illustrate a close relationship between incidents of violence and the desire on the part of ZANU-PF to create a state of fear in the nation, silence dissent and ultimately pre-empt the possibility of another Libya in Zimbabwe.

Using a combination of content and discourse analysis approaches, I established that 32% of stories in The Zimbabwean for the period under review were on politically motivated violence. Out of a total of 55 stories on violence, only one story was about the main opposition party MDC-T attacking ZANU-PF while the rest of the stories were about the latter harassing civilians, MDC-T legislatures and supporters, political activists, civil society, as well as journalists. I also established that 53% of the stories about political violence in Zimbabwe expressed the possibility of national uprisings in Zimbabwe, similar to the ongoing Libyan revolution. These particular stories contain a counter-violence discourse, calling for urgent mass mobilization – Libyan-style – to topple the Mugabe regime.

Headings like “The right to rebellion”, “The beginning of an end” and “As Zim prepares to burn we say goodbye to Mugabe” express a determination to remove Mugabe. Pictures of Zimbabweans in the diaspora holding anti-Mugabe placards boldly inscribed ‘Mugdafi’ clearly illustrate the possibility of Mugabe meeting the same fate as his long-time friend and ally Gaddafi. The anti-Mugabe stories are dismissive of his regime, with the most resolute stance coming from the diaspora, especially London. The following defiant headlines emanate from London “After you take Gaddafi out come for Robert Mugabe”, ”Political defiance vital”, “Mugabe’s army must be given the same medicine as Gaddafi army”, and “The mock hanging of Mugabe in London a victory for the people of Zimbabwe”.

It seems as if Zimbabweans in the diaspora are more capable of expressing themselves without fear of repression than Zimbabweans residing in Zimbabwe who are subjected to fear and terror. If the stories of widespread violence in The Zimbabwean are anything to go by, one can safely conclude that the small number of Zimbabweans who dared to sign the recent call for a million signatures to march against Mugabe was not caused by reluctance on the part of Zimbabweans or reliance on social media as an instrument for mass mobilization, but rather by FEAR! In the meantime we wait and see whether the revolutionary discourse will continue, and if so, how it is going to be affected by developments in Libya where rebellions are still underway with Gaddafi’s army continuing to shoot anti-government protestors and civilians.

*Please note that the author is writing under a pseudonym.

22nd Mar2011

Topics in Media and Cultural Studies Roundtable: 23 March 2011

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The Department of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand invites you for its first roundtable this year in the Topics in Media and Cultural Studies series. Please join us tomorrow afternoon 23 March between 14.15-16.00 hrs in CB8 (Central Block, Wits East Campus).

The following speakers will present papers:

Dr Sarah Chiumbu

Exploring mobile phone practices in social movements in South Africa – The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign

Mr Wellington Radu

Zimbabwe in the media: The coverage of the talks about the Zimbabwean ‘unity’ government in the Mail & Guardian, 2007-2009.

For further information, please contact Dr Dina Ligaga, email: Dina.Ligaga@wits.ac.za, phone: +27 11 7174112

19th Nov2010

My ‘sour pop’ experience

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Born and raised in Zimbabwe, international student and global citizen Charity Hutete speaks to Fezani Khumalo about her experience at Wits. Charity holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Applied Economics. She is currently completing her Honours degree in Development Studies.

My time at Wits can be likened to a sour pop. The experience has been sweet and pleasurable for the most part while the not-so-sweet and somewhat bitter aspects of this journey have added flavour to the full experience.

The Sweet Stuff

Undoubtedly, the highlight of my Wits career has been the many brilliant personalities I have encountered over the last four years and the resulting friendships, fun incidents and activities. I have enjoyed working through my list of ‘places to go’ and ‘things to do’ in Johannesburg. From clubbing my way through the city, shopping widely, visiting theme parks, throwing impromptu braais to the six to eight hours spent at the postgraduate pub each week, I’m impressed I’ve managed to squeeze in time to get two degrees. Not bad ha? I must say I do love the people at Wits.

The Not-So-Sweet-Stuff

As an international student I have to pay the full tuition fees at registration which always results in panic and sleeplessness nights mulling over any possible ways to beat the system. Wits’ unending hidden costs and expenses often infringe on my freedoms, my freedom to party, shop and do other more worthy and exciting stuff with my limited spare cash. Like I said, this isn’t altogether bad because it has taught me to be very creative and find ways of entertaining myself with only R50. Wits’ admin also frustrates me. Being sent to a hundred-and-one offices, only to be given an ambiguous answer to my inquiry always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Bile rises up my throat as I think about this wasted time that I will never get back. Time I could have spent doing more fun stuff like lazing on the Great Hall stairs or watching Grey’s Anatomy in the computer labs. Again, even Wits’ malfunctioning admin isn’t irredeemable, I’ve made a lot of good friends standing in the fees and financial aid queues and I must have dropped a few kilos with all the walking.

08th Nov2010

Are ICTs new tools for democracy in Africa? The case of Zimbabwe and Swaziland

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Both the colonial and postcolonial order in Africa saw an intensification of hostile political regimes. This became even more evident in the latter period. After colonization many political regimes in Africa sustained the colonial legacy of exclusive politics further under the pretext of decolonization. Looking at the current political landscape in Africa, it appears that issues of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law still remain a challenge in foreseeing a democratic Africa.

Paying  close attention to Southern Africa, it shows that even though some regimes have democratized, many governments in the region still adopt a kind of exclusive and hostile politics. Zimbabwe and Swaziland validate this point. Global institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and others have used neoliberal policies to enforce the culture of democratic politics in Africa.  In response to this, countries like South Africa were able to democratize and break away from the racial politics of apartheid. However, both Swaziland and Zimbabwe took a move that is in contrast to the neoliberal ideology of the contemporary global order.

Nonetheless, the public resistance to the 2008 general elections of Zimbabwe and the emergence of democratic movements in Swaziland indicate a move away from exclusive politics through initiatives propagated by members of civil society. Throughout these moves, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become crucial means to foster democratic politics and raise public debates on issues central to democratic governance thus includes issues such as elections, human rights and rule of law.  These issues are not normally debated in public spaces in Swaziland and Zimbabwe given the existence of judiciary laws that threaten the freedom of expression on the account of securing public order.

Following these cases, it becomes evident that ICTs do not only foster democracy alone but they provide and protect fundamental liberties such as the freedom of speech which is mostly endangered by authoritarian leaders. The politics of internet resistance is normally a response to a curtailed media environment that is viewed biased in the coverage of political news while subject to censorship. In overriding these concerns, the internet has provided a gateway through which civil society can resist and challenge the dominant discourse of the ruling party.

Through blogging and citizen journalism, many Zimbabweans have been able to challenge the rhetoric of the ruling party Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and to denounce its forms of governance. To most who have an interest in political news on Zimbabwe, the website Kubatana has become a source for civil society information and has provided platforms for online participation in political debates. In Swaziland democratic movements have relied on the use of social media such as Facebook to raise discourses that challenge the Kingdom. This has yielded positive effects in promoting freedom of speech and the right to dissent.

But the challenge remains that not everyone in Zimbabwe and Swaziland has access to computer technologies and networks in order to participate in the online forums that carry political debates.  Apart from physical access, illiteracy, unemployment and poverty hinder a progressive usage of ICTs to promote democracy in Africa but this does not deny ICTs an ability to promote alternative politics and democracy.

Isaac Themba Mnguni

Note: This article draws on my Honours research report submitted to the Department of Media Studies, University of the Witwatersrand in November 2010.

04th Oct2010

The use of new media as alternative media: the case of Zimbabwe

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Themba Mnguni shares some initial ideas about his ongoing research on the role of new media in Zimbabwe.

My research looks at the use of new media as alternative media in the specific context of Zimbabwe. Studies conducted so far on the subject enthusiastically celebrate the ability of technology to resist repression from the government. Scholars have hailed the ability of new media to disseminate information and mobilize the public. Most relevantly, social media have become a dominant force used by civil society to resist domination; as such has proven successful with the case of Facebook in Egypt and Twitter in Iran. This indicates that new media provide tools in which members of the public can escape state propaganda and censorship. Therefore new media contribute to a democratic discourse as it allows dissent and participation. It is with this regard that one hears of concepts such as cyber-activism and e-democracy.

Looking at sub-Saharan Africa, one sees a challenge with regard to the use of new media to enforce and promote democracy and to counterbalance the hegemonic media. However, one needs to take into account the socio-economic tortures faced by the region and not neglect the impact yielded by the digital divide. The case of Zimbabwe goes to indicate that one cannot celebrate the abilities of new media in promoting democracy and counterbalancing state media reports in Zimbabwe, given that the issue of access and affordability of new media technologies remains in question. However, in enjoying the minimal benefits or effects of new media, civil society in Zimbabwe has relied on the use of short message service (SMS) to derive an alternative platform for communication, participation and dissent. And those that are economically favoured have extended their participation in the online forums provided by civil society organizations such as Kubatana, a local NGO of Zimbabwe aimed at promoting human rights through the use of ICT.

But of challenge to this study is that the alternative forums that are online remain exclusive to those who have means to access computer technologies. Therefore a question that this research engages with is whether new media technologies are significant tools to be considered as alternative media in Africa, using Zimbabwe as a case study. The truth of the matter is that question remains to be answered by my research as it unfolds. Any comments on my initial ideas are very welcome!

29th Sep2010

SLLS Research Seminar: Last Moyo on blogging in Zimbabwe, 7 October 2010

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Please join us next Thursday 7 October 2010 for a seminar in the School of Literature and Language Studies, University of the Witwatersrand by Dr Last Moyo on blogging in Zimbabwe. All welcome!

29th Sep2010

Topics in Media and Cultural Studies Roundtable: 5 October 2010

by admin
Please join us next Tuesday for a roundtable discussion with Wendy Willems and Shepherd Mpofu on new media in Zimbabwe. All welcome!
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