A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: South Africa

Freedom Next Time

What you need to know about humans is that they are dicks. And if you give them any power their dickness prevails over everything else.

That beautifully succinct phrase comes from a review on Good Reads and is an understandable frame of mind to find yourself in after reading this book. Reading it ten years after publication, it’s almost surreal how little has changed in the intervening period, how the wheels of progress continue to grind on the gears of conservatism. In Freedom Next Time John Pilger surveys the state of peoples suffering under the weight of ignorance, ill-will, apathy and condescension in various theatres of the world, turning the spotlight in turn on Palestine, India, Afghanistan, South Africa and the Chagos Islands.

The Chagos Islands is a pretty clear-cut test, and one which our western democratic system will likely fail miserably. In the dying days of empire, the British government swapped a conveniently located group of rocks in the Indian Ocean for a few bits of military hardware from the Americans. The people living there were forcibly evicted and will never be allowed to return to the place of their birth, never mind that their removal constitutes a crime against humanity. As Pilger attests, this buck will be passed back and forth, the Brits blaming the Yanks, the Yanks blaming the Brits, while the case is shuttled often enough through the courts until everyone affected by the travesty is tidily dead. Maybe in the middle of this century we’ll see an official apology to the victims’ descendants, similar to the likes given to victims of slavery and oppression elsewhere in the world. But the political establishment doesn’t give a rat’s arse, and those individual politicians who might are far too lightweight to go tilting at such windmills.

At least with the Chagos Islands, the case of moral virtue is clear and it is merely the duplicity of realpolitik which means that justice will never be served to the islanders. In covering Palestine, however, Pilger covers an area of the world which can only get worse until it gets better. The social equation underlying the political facts is a simple one, even if it remains unwritten: Jews > Arabs. Big mon Trump’s recent declaration of support for the occupying forces is just the latest embodiment of this, and indeed a rare case of someone being up front about reality. A two-state solution is a nice sound bite to be throwing around, the ‘peace process’ a wonderful phrase to pay lip-service to, but Palestine will presumably remain a problem zone until it is eventually eradicated, almost like Kosovo in reverse.

The more interesting chapters are also the less clear cut, more contestable issues, where Pilger investigates the lot of people left behind by political and economic change in South Africa and India. He points blame at the ANC for selling out the anti-apartheid movement and abandoning some of its core principles in cosying up to vested interests. However it’s hard to imagine how his occasional purported alternatives would have brought about more prosperity than the current situation. Similarly his chapter on India shines a beam to highlight the transparency of India’s booming economy, though the overall picture here is murkier than elsewhere, and there’s certainly been more positive change in this part of the world in the past decade than elsewhere, even if the problem of poverty remains a massively significant burden.

Obviously the style of this collection is journalistic and as such suffers from those usual pitfalls. Chapters are padded with random exemplary introductions, events highlighted which don’t necessarily have any bearing on the case at hand and indeed over time start to lose relevance and punch. But in particular, as Pilger has his agenda to pursue, the narrative isn’t drawn as broadly as it could be. Whilst happy interviewing the politicians and the victims of their policies, he does little to examine the opinions of the pillocks who put those politicians in power, which would have been of particular interest for example in the Palestinian conflict or the missed chances of the ANC.

Despite its advancing age, Freedom Next Time remains a worthwhile read since the political situation in many of these regions has barely evolved. The basic working principle which Pilger highlights time and again is that simple human trait, where political representation fails to defend the rights and interests of the downtrodden, whether it be through ignorance, apathy or occasional sheer malice. The book greatly attests to the prevalence of dickness in human nature.

Knowing Your History

There are plenty of videos like these, usually decrying the stupidity of Americans, but as anyone who’s actually considered it knows, you could do the same anywhere in the world with similar results. Only yesterday I saw a number of Germans being interviewed, who believed that the sun revolves around the Earth, and even a couple that thought the sun is so hot because it is being shined upon by so many planets.

Yet this little viral video series actually has an aim, aside from simply highlighting blissful ignorance for cheap laughs, being to get more young people to visit the South African Apartheid Museum. As their motto goes, “a history forgotten is a history lost.” But it also says a lot about the influence of US culture around the world, and how surprisingly gesticulatory answering questions in South Africa can be!

Click for the full series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

[Via African Politics Portal]

Dick Dastardly’s DSL

Interesting little snippet about the current state of South African Internet services. Designed simply to show up the state of South Africa’s Internet options, the test pitted a pigeon against a connection delivered by their largest provider. The pigeon managed to deliver 4GB of data 60 miles in little over an hour, and it took the company another hour to upload the data (one can only assume they were for some reason using an old USB 1.o/1.1 connection). In this time, just 4% of the data had been transferred via ADSL. Humbling though this message might be, I really wonder if services in the UK would fare much better? At a rough estimate, in the total amount of time it took the pigeon, my own connection might have managed around 5% of the total. The average business connection would probably have achieved twice that, but either way, the pigeon method wins hands down. Having said that, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any alternative pigeon networks set up in the UK just yet. ‘Packet loss’ due to hawk attacks would be monumental.

[Via African Politics Portal]

Update 5th October, 2010: Twelve months after this little stunt in South Africa, a similar experiment was repeated in rural Yorkshire. This time 24% of a 300MB video clip had been uploaded by the time the pigeons had covered the 75 miles to Skegness.

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