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Fair Trade February 25, 2009

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, Cape Town, Politics, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Here’s another story I wrote for The Big Issue.

A Fair Share

Having been a certifiable chocoholic for decades I nearly choked on a bite of my favourite bar of nougat, sugar, chocolate, caramel and glucose wrapped in more chocolate while reading the following passage in an article by US investigative journalist Christian Parenti published in Fortune magazine this February: “Children still work in cocoa production, regularly miss school, perform dangerous tasks and suffer injury and sickness. […] From 2002 to 2004, Ivory Coast was gripped by civil war. As militias and renegade soldiers killed and raped their way across the lush interior, income from cocoa exports helped fuel the fighting. Like diamonds and timber, cocoa became a so-called conflict resource. “Blood chocolate” was providing fast cash for armed groups and creating misery for common people.”

And there I was munching my chocolate bar blissfully unaware that there was a lot more to it than just a glass and a half of milk. It turns out that 70 percent of the world’s cocoa beans, the raw material for chocolate, are cultivated by small farmers in West Africa, 40 percent of them in Ivory Coast alone. The UN’s International Labour Organisation has estimated that between 100 000 and 200 000 children, some of them under the age of ten, are working in the Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry. What’s more shocking are allegations that as many as six percent of these kids could be victims of slavery and human trafficking.

In response to a public outcry over these revelations, the international chocolate industry agreed in 2001 to abide by a voluntary protocol which committed it to help end the “worst forms of child labour” in cocoa production. Parenti, who visited Ivory Coast to investigate the situation first hand, discovered that very little visible progress has been made on the ground. He found poor living and working conditions in cocoa-growing villages most of which lack schools, clinics, electricity and running water. He observed continued widespread child labour in cocoa production “everywhere” and expressed disbelieve at the fact that the International Cocoa Initiative, the organisation established by the chocolate industry to facilitate certification of child-labour-free cocoa has only a single staff member in the country. An independent report by Tulane University commissioned by the US Department of Labor confirms that although West African governments have taken some initial steps to deal with child labour, conditions remain bad. According to Parenti, the underlying problem is pervasive poverty among small cocoa farmers, many of them deeply indebted to international cocoa buyers, which forces them to “employ” their own children to make ends meet.

And it’s not just cocoa – much of the trade between the industrialised world and developing countries operates this way. Just about all of the profits and benefits that are supposed to be trickling down from the buyer at the top to the producer at the bottom dry up somewhere along the lengthy chain of middlemen and intermediaries. What’s left are a few fantastically powerful multinational corporations which amass astronomical profits every year while millions of poor farmers barely manage to eke out a life worth living.

The global cocoa trade, for instance, is controlled by large companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, who buy cocoa from local merchants (who themselves buy it from small farmers) and sell it on to the big chocolate manufacturers including Cadbury, Mars, Nestlé, and Hershey. In an interview on the US radio show Democracy Now! Parenti charged that these companies are only interested in “making as much money as they possibly can off of the people of Cote d’Ivoire. And if that forces independent farmers to take their children out of school […] and exploit them and work them, so be it.” To a large extent international trade in the 21st Century represent the re-packaged modern-day equivalent of incredibly unequal power relationships that have been in existence since colonial times through which the so-called developed world extracts valuable resources and human labour from the global South.

There are alternatives to this mode of exchange between producer and consumer, however. One of them is represented by the global fair trade movement, which has made significant strides in providing more just and equitable trade relationships around the world and is gradually making an impact in South Africa as well.

As the name suggests, fair trade guarantees farmers and producers, particularly those in developing countries, a fair price for their products regardless of world market fluctuations. It also promotes sustainability and self-sufficiency among vulnerable small producers and encourages them to become stakeholders in their own cooperative organisations, advocates adherence to environmental and social standards and encourages community development.

A first attempt to bring fair trade goods to North America and Europe was made in the 1940s and 50s when various non-governmental organisations and religious groups started to sell mostly handcrafted items from Africa, Latin America and Asia at fundraisers, protest rallies and church fairs. In the 1960’s efforts became more formalised as fair trade goods were made available through a growing number of so-called “World Shops” or “Third World Shops” in Western Europe as well as Oxfam stores in the UK. In the 1980s there was a significant shift away from handicrafts, which were often seen as mere charity buys, to fair trade agricultural commodities, especially tea and coffee, but also cocoa, rice, dried fruits, sugar, nuts and spices. Once official fair trade certification initiatives were established sales started to take off.

Among the international organisations that promote, facilitate and coordinate fair trade are the International Fair Trade Association, the Fair Trade Federation and Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO). There are currently a number of different labelling systems in use for identifying certified fair trade items, but the most widespread is FLO’s international Fairtrade certification mark which already boasts a 50 percent consumer recognition level in the UK.

Goods that carry the Fairtrade label have been grown, harvested, manufactured, transported and traded in accordance with fair trade principle. This doesn’t just involve a fair price paid to the producer, but also ensures adherence to decent working conditions as defined by the conventions of the UN’s International Labour Organisation (no child or slave labour, a safe workplace, the right to unionise etc.), adherence to the UN’s charter of human rights, as well as a commitment to protecting the environment, social development and developing sustainable long-term trading relationships. In South Africa, fair trade is also linked to broad-based black economic empowerment initiatives.

According to FLO, worldwide fair trade certified sales amounted to approximately 2.3 billion Euros in 2007 – a 47 percent increase over the previous year and almost 70 times more than ten years ago. This included over 230 000 tons of bananas, 5740 litres of wine and 237 405 cut flowers. The biggest buyers of fair trade goods live in the USA (730.8 million Euros) and the UK (704.3 million Euros). In 2007 FLO recognised 632 Fairtrade certified producer organisations worldwide, up from 224 in 2001, representing about 1.5 million workers and farmers.

Although there are now more than 50 producer organisations certified by FLO in South Africa, fair trade has had a very low profile here until recently. Fair Trade South Africa (FTSA; www.fairtrade.org.za) aims to change this situation by raising awareness among local businesses and consumers and developing marketing opportunities for South African fair trade producers and traders. Having received funding from Europe and moved into their new offices in Observatory, they hope that South African consumers will soon have access to a substantial range of fair trade products from around the world.

FTSA has initiated Fairtrade Label South Africa as an associate member of FLO with the purpose of helping to establish and popularise the FLO’s Fairtrade label on our retail shelves. At the recent FTSA AGM and conference held at the Sustainability Institute near Stellenbosch, the first batch of locally labelled Fairtrade products was launched. These include products from African Terroir wines, Home of Origin Wine and the Bean There Coffee Company.

The Heiveld Cooperative which sells organic rooibos tea to overseas markets is one of the local fair trade success stories. “There is a huge difference from when we sold to the large farmers,” explains board member Lionel Louw. “In the past the link between buyer and seller was missing – the buyer just gave whatever price they wanted. It wasn’t related to our standard of living.” Guaranteed premium fair trade prices for their produce have meant that the small farmers that comprise the cooperative based in Niewoudtville in the Cederberg have become independent of wholesalers and neighbouring white farmers and have been able to buy their own equipment such as a tea chopping machine and a processing facility. The members of the cooperative are also working on sustainable harvesting and land use strategies and are busy establishing their own organic seedling nursery.

Tourism represents another fair trade growth area. Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA; http://www.fairtourismsa.org.za) is a non-profit organisation that awards a label to businesses in the hospitality industry that are committed to fair trade principles such as fair wages and working conditions, fair purchasing and respect for human rights and the environment. FTTSA accredited businesses include, among others, the Cape Grace, Daddy Long Legs and Spier hotels and Stormsriver Adventures on the Garden Route. The Vineyard Hotel & Spa in Newlands has recently decided to switch all of its coffees to the fair trade Puro brand imported by Belgian coffee roasters Miko Coffee. According to Pascale Hoare, Group Training and Marketing Manager for Miko Coffee South Africa, for every kilogram of Puro sold, R15.00 goes to Fairtrade and R3.00 is donated to the World Land Trust’s Rainforest Fund. The company is also busy establishing a tree planting initiative at South African schools.

Some local businesses are taking their commitment to more equitable trading relationships even further. “We believe deeply in the principles of fair trade,” says David Donde, founder of Origin Coffee Roasting in De Waterkant, “and we think we can do even better.” Origin prides itself in selling so-called relationship coffee bought from individual farmers with whom they have established a direct relationship. For the excellent quality coffee they expect from “their” producers, Origin are prepared to pay a premium price. “In recent times, for instance, the world market price has been about US$1.30 per pound”, explains Donde. “We have never paid as little as US$5.00 per pound ourselves.”

Jonathan Robinson of the Bean There Coffee Company who have just launched Ethiopian and Rwandan fair trade coffee brands on the local market says that they combine strict adherence to fair trade principles with a direct and personal relationship with the coffee growers. “Yes, we want to pay a fair price and ensure that our coffee is produced in an ethically and environmentally sound manner. But we also want to meet the small-scale farmers who grow it in person and find out what they need to improve their lives and what we can do to help them.”

The next time you sip at a cup of tea or coffee or nibble at a slab of chocolate, give some thought to what’s gone into it. It’s high time that we start to genuinely care not only about what we consume, but also about the people who produce it. Supporting fair trade wherever we can is a first step in the right direction.

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BAP February 23, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life.
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Just a little bit more musical nostalgia. This is BAP, the most successful German band in Germany. I used to listen to them all the time when I was a kid. Wolfgang Niedecken was my hero. Unfortunately we left Germany before I was old enough to see them live… They sing in Kölsch – the dialect of Cologne – so if you don’t understand anything be comforted by the fact that I only understand about half of it myself.

Kristalnaach. A reminder that “the night of broken glass” is, unfortunately, not just a thing of the past.

Wellenreiter. With subtitles… in high German.

Verdamp lang her (2001)

The bike I need February 19, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Sustainable Living.
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This is what I need, although cornering might be a little tricky. The other potential issue is that you can’t really shop at the supermarket from which you’ve “liberated” the trolley. Here are instructions on how to make one.

The Cart Bike

The Cart Bike

Cape Town TV February 16, 2009

Posted by Andreas in activism, Cape Town, Life, Society, South Africa.
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I wrote this for The Big Issue a while ago.

Democratising the Box

Have you heard of Cape Town TV?”

That’s how I’ve taken to start many conversations of late. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about: Cape Town TV, or CTV for short, is a brand-new, community owned and controlled television station that started broadcasting 24 hours a day at the beginning of September. It’s local, it’s free and all you need to pick it up is a TV and an aerial – no satellite dish or decoder required. What’s perhaps most exciting about this initiative is that for the very first time it provides ordinary Capetonians like you and me as well as even the most cash-strapped civil society organisation with democratic access to the television airwaves.

It might seem odd to hear someone like myself wax lyrical about TV. Let’s be honest, it’s not an institution with a very good public image and not one that progressives have had much reason to champion in the past. Parents have been warning their children for decades that too much TV will give them “square eyes”. Doctors have blamed it for our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the growing epidemic of obesity among the general public. Educationalists charge that it is dumbing down our youth and some observers believe that it is leading to an ever more pervasive Americanisation of our culture and language.

Encapsulating the nightly experience of many a trapped TV addict, Bruce Springsteen lamented the boredom of surfing “57 Channels and nothin’ on” and in 1980’s Apartheid South Africa the late Afrikaans singer Johannes Kerkorrel implored his audience to “Sit dit af, sit dit af” (Afrikaans: “Switch it off, switch it off”) because he could no longer endure the ever present image of the finger-wagging state president PW Botha on his TV screen. Similar sentiments are expressed today by Cape Town ska-reggae band The Rudimentals when they insist that “TV is bad for you”.

But is this necessarily so? Does all TV have to be boring, reactionary and bad for you by definition? Imagine a TV channel that concentrates on covering local events and issues. A channel that allows you, as an individual citizen or as a member of an organisation, to report directly and as an active participant on what is happening in your own neighbourhood or your area of interest. A channel that lets its audience help to decide what they want to watch and what they find important, entertaining and educational. A channel that is an effective community-building and communication tool. It might be difficult to imagine, but these sorts of community television stations exist all over the world from North America and Korea to China, Australia, Fiji and Europe. And now we finally have one right here in Cape Town.

South Africans have only ever experienced TV as either a state run affair or as a commercial enterprise and with the SABC being increasingly operated along conventional business-for-profit lines, the difference between the two keeps diminishing all the time. The majority of the news covered on South African TV channels is heavily biased towards international and national issues to the severe disadvantage of local and community reporting and more and more of the content seems to be determined by commercial considerations.

The same is of course true for other countries. Fully aware of the power of television, authoritarian governments such as those of China and Burma place a high premium on tight control of the airwaves. But even in so-called democratic societies many TV stations are under the sway of influential political or financial lobbies. Many observers have argued that the democratic process was substantially compromised when several TV news networks prematurely announced unconfirmed results of the 2000 US presidential elections, for instance. In 2002 commercial television stations in Venezuela which are owned almost exclusively by a wealthy elite played a very influential part in a failed coup attempt on the country’s democratically elected populist president Hugo Chavez. An Irish film crew who found themselves in the thick of the action tellingly entitled their documentary feature on the events “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

In contrast to these trends in commercial and state-controlled television broadcasting, the promise of community TV channels such as CTV is that they can use this potent technology to genuinely empower ordinary people rather than to continue to exclude them from the public discourse on the most important debates of our time. “Rather than being a means for delivering audiences to advertisers, which is what commercial and even public television services have increasingly become, the basic idea behind community TV stations is for them to be an effective communications vehicle for local communities”, says Mike Aldridge, CTV’s Broadcast Manager.

Operating out of a room on the campus of AFDA, the South African School of Motion Picture and Live Performance in Observatory and with access to a production studio at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the small but dedicated team of staff, interns and volunteers has been performing miracles in getting the channel on air. Their achievement is particularly impressive when one compares their shoestring budget with the many millions of rands their conventional counterparts have at their disposal. “We all feel that what we are doing is good for society and none of us are in it for the money”, explains Aldridge.

CTV only really owns a couple of computers. Everything else is either donated or borrowed”, he says. One of the computers – the technical heart of the station – uses cutting edge broadcasting technology in the form of content scheduling software developed and donated by a local company called Isenzo. The innovative system connects CTV to the internet and allows it to broadcast web content including Flash animations, streaming video and websites.

Aldridge laments the lack of government support for community TV initiatives in South Africa. Beyond the seed funding it received from the Media Development and Diversity Agency, an organisation established by an Act of Parliament in 2002, CTV, which is a non-profit organisation, has to rely on donations, sponsorships and advertising to finance its operations.

In stark contrast, the so called public-access TV stations in the USA and Canada’s community channels are supported by legislation which requires cable television companies to give a percentage of their profits to community television projects. This has largely freed North American community TV stations from the pressures of trying to attract wealthy advertisers and has led to a blossoming and vibrant network of local TV channels all across the continent.

In the past the Independent Broadcasting Authority of South Africa and its successor, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, only granted one-month special events licences for community television broadcasts. In 1995 Greater Durban Television was the first South African community channel to go on air temporarily, followed by several other month-long broadcasts in Cape Town, Grahamstown, Durban and Johannesburg. Soweto Community Television, also known as Soweto TV, was the first local station to broadcast on a daily basis, starting on 1 July 2007 and is now available on DStv.

Despite the ongoing challenge to secure sufficient funding to ensure continuing operation, CTV has decided to limit advertising to no more than eight minutes per hour, focusing predominantly on providing Cape Town based small and medium enterprises with the opportunity to reach its potential viewership of between 1 and 2 million people at affordable costs. No ads targeted at children, sexist, racists, xenophobic, sectarian or culturally demeaning ads or ads for gambling or tobacco will be accepted and certain products, including alcoholic beverages, will not be advertised during prime time.

Aldridge envisages the channel becoming a tool for positive social development as well as a source of alternative information that is not dominated by commercial interests. Membership in CTV is open to any non-profit organisation in the greater Cape Town area and to ensure that the station is truly owned and controlled by the local community, elected representatives from various sectors, including education, arts and culture, labour and sports hold positions on its management board.

CTV aims to provide entertaining, informative and educational content produced in-house, as well as by outside sources and through production partnerships with established and emerging filmmakers and NGOs. In the long run the idea is to also establish a decentralised network of accredited video journalists around Cape Town who will be able to file reports and content items on the internet for subsequent broadcast on the channel.

Aldridge identifies three main pillars on which CTV’s operations rest. The first is a solid commitment to public access which allows citizens and local organisations to become involved in shaping the policies and content of the channel. The second is to become an effective bridge of communication between government and Capetonians that provides government departments with a platform to talk directly to citizens while at the same time affording civil society the space to engage the state in debate. The final pillar is education. CTV has established relationships with several tertiary institutions, including AFDA, the University of Cape Town, UWC, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and CityVarsity that will give students the opportunity to produce content material for broadcast and allow them to develop practical experience to enable them to make the transition from university or college to the media industry.

In the case of CTV then, it is surely time to convert popular calls to “turn off the TV” into an encouragement to “become the TV”. If you or your organisation are interested in getting involved as an advertiser, partner, intern or volunteer, particularly if you already have video production skills and experience or if you are a producer or film maker, get in touch with CTV via their website (www.capetowntv.org), by email (info@capetowntv.org) or by calling them on 021 448 0448.

Tuning In

The CTV signal is broadcast from a transmitter station atop Tygerberg hill and anyone who has a clear line of sight of it and an antenna facing in that direction should be able to pick it up. No satellite dish or decoder is required. The signal is found on the UHF band and is located between e.tv and SABC3. Use your TV’s automatic or manual search function (either on the TV set itself or via the remote control) to search the UHF band and store the CTV channel once you have located it. It may help to consult your TV’s operating manual.

Anyone living in the Cape Flats, the City Bowl, the Southern Suburbs all the way to Simon’s Town and most of the Northern Suburbs should be able to watch CTV on their TV for free. Until CTV is able to afford the rental costs for additional transmitters the signal will unfortunately not reach you if you are in areas such as Hout Bay, Camps Bay, Noordhoek, Kommetjie, Scarborough, Ocean View, Llandudno, Malmesbury, Stellenbosch and Paarl.

Spliff revival February 13, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life.
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Was hit by a case of nostalgia for the New German Wave the other night. I know most of it was pretty lamentable stuff, musically, but there were some real classics as well. Besides, the vague memories of parties in someone’s parent’s garage in Pretoria with home-made disco balls, sweet alcohol and schoolboy crushes lend themselves to self-indulgent wallowing…

One of my favourite bands at the time (not sure they’d be formally considered part of the “movement”) was Spliff. For a while they morphed into the Nina Hagen Band, of course, but before and after that they were Spliff. I quite liked “Sirius” and always though “Das Blech” was really funny, but here are clips of three of their other masterpieces:

Deja vu from a 1982 public TV show – to their credit they didn’t go in for the lip-syncing that was popular on TV in those days. The lyrics are classic “…das Wasser riecht nach Gift. Ein toter Vogel kommt vorbei und stirbt… Wir sind die letzten von hundertzehn. Wir warten bis die Zeit vergeht…” A comment on enironmental armageddon well before the idea became trendy??

Herzlichen Gluckwunsch (1983). Possibly the best opening line ever: “Irgendwo im Keller, mitten in Berlin, sitzt ein kleiner Junge und warted auf Benzin”.

One more, just for the cross-cultural fun of it. Carbonara (1982).

Bill Hicks on advertising and marketing February 12, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, Work.
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Gotta love Bill Hicks – tells the truth and is funny at the same time.

Anti-Eviction Campaign mass meeting tear-gassed and leaders arrested February 10, 2009

Posted by Andreas in activism, Cape Town, Politics, Press Release, Society, South Africa.
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Gugulethu Anti-Eviction Campaign Press Statement
Sunday 8 February, 2009

Earlier today, Gugulethu SAPS burst into an Anti-Eviction Campaign mass meeting, tear-gassed and beat residents, and then arrested two AEC leaders, Mncedisi Twalo and Mbulelo Zuba.

The background to the incident is that AEC members from Gugulethu, Nyanga, Langa and Mannenberg were holding their weekly meeting at the Gugulethu Sports Complex. The complex is a community centre and is the one place that is always open and accessible to community members. Every single Sunday at 14h00, AEC members hold mass meetings to discuss housing and other social-welfare related issues that are important to township residents.

Today, there were about 1,000 people at the meeting to discuss community issues. This was also the final day of voter registration by the IEC. According to Nomthandazo Nciyabo, a local resident, the AEC held their meeting in one hall while the IEC held their registration drive in the other hall in the complex. However, local ANC councillor Belinda Landingwe, ANC Provincial Chairperson Mcebisi Skwatsha, and about 50 ANC members were present at the Independent Electoral Commission registration. Some residents claim that the reason the ANC bigwigs were present was not only to help register potential ANC supporters, but also to prevent non-ANC voters from registering.  There seems to be teeth to the claim the the IEC is controlled by the ANC.

Still, the AEC went about its mass meeting which had nothing to do with the presence of the IEC. However, at about 16h00, scores of police suddenly arrived and disrupted the AEC meeting. According to Nomthandazo, police attempted to lock residents inside the hall and then proceeded to spray tear gas at the hundreds of men, women and children who were present. Community members ran for their lives leaving behind purses, cell phones and even ID books which are now nowhere to be found. Many residents were beaten with police batons, including Nomthandazo’s 9 year old boy who now has a big lump on his back..

Residents insist that they overheard Landingwe, the ANC councillor, calling the police. This, they explain, is the reason the police came to terrorise residents and immediately arrest AEC leaders Mncedisi Twalo and Mbulelo Zuba. According to Nomthandazo, they had severely beaten Mncedisi before arresting him and Mbulelo. This is not the first time local politicians have used the police to intimidate residents. In fact, it is widely known that Landingwe has a grudge against Mncedisi and other residents for their persistent activism.

The Anti-Eviction Campaign has not heard from Mncedisi since his phone was confiscated at the Gugulethu police station. The families of both activists are extremely worried about their well-being but look forward to their court appearance tomorrow morning in Athlone to set the record straight. Residents will also be there to support their fellow comrades.

For more information about the incident, contact Nomthandazo Nciyabo at 072-3272-813 (isiXhosa only) or contact Thelma Twalo (Mncedisi’s Aunt) at 021-6372-403.

For comment on party politics, police repression and how it effects communities struggling for change, contact Ashraf Cassiem at 076-1861-408

Gugulethu AEC Press Update
Monday 9 February, 2009

Today, Mncedisi Twalo and Mbulelo Zuba appeared in Athlone Magistrate Court on charges relating to obstructing IEC voter registration.  They have now been released on 500 Rand bail and the case has been postponed until the 10th of March.  They have told us that they spent almost 24 hours without food and water – Gugulethu police seemed to be punishing the two leaders.

Unfortunately, we cannot quote the two activists due to the pending trial.  However, as residents, we would like make clear the following facts:

  1. The AEC and the IEC in Gugulethu were and are on amicable terms. We had negotiated with the IEC on the shared use of the Sports Complex and everything was peaceful.  IEC officials present at the complex will agree that residents did not obstruct any registration from taking place.  To confirm this, contact Pule (number below) and he will connect you with an IEC official who was present the entire time.
  2. ANC provincial chairperson Mcebisi Skwatsha and councillor Belinda Landingwe called the police and told them to attack residents during their meetings.  They also told police to arrest Mncedisi and Mbulelo.
  3. Police came and immediately attacked residents without warning. Thousands of residents were present, many were tear gassed, others were beaten (including a 9 year old child).
  4. Residents lost phones, IDs, purses and the AEC committee lost over 2,000 Rand which they had been collecting to buy T-shirts for residents.  We think that the money and items became spoils of war divided among police officers.

Residents are angry and claim that their right to freedom of expression, freedom to meet, and freedom not to vote, have been infringed upon.  They feel intimidated by the ANC and the police and they demand an investigation take place as to the ANC’s illegal actions against non-ANC residents in Gugulethu.

For more information, contact Pule at 073 6448 919 and Lenox at 073 4684 902.

For legal comment, contact Ashraf at 076 1861 408.

Real Life Aliens: The Not-So-Secret-Seven February 9, 2009

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I wrote this for obrigado:

Real Life Aliens: The Not-So-Secret-Seven

If you’ve ever looked at certain celebrities and thought “you can’t be for real!!”, you may not have been too far off the mark. We have it on good authority that the following stars are not just off their heads, but literally from off the planet.

Riaan Cruywagen: He used to channel a news reading bunny, his hair piece is the latest in extraterrestrial hi-tech fashion and his cultivated death-warmed-up look is beyond the ken of earthly medicine.

Keith Richards: Schnarfing your own father’s ashes is just not the done thing in this part of the solar system.

Patricia Lewis: It’s a known fact that producers of German erotic thrillers don’t cast Earthlings on principle.

Michael Jackson: Unlike Jared Leto, who’s trying very hard to appear alien, Michael has managed to fool millions into believing that he is humanoid for decades.

John Voigt: One look at the man should make it patently obvious that there is no way for him to have fathered Angelina Jolie without very substantial assistance from an unthinkably advanced civilisation.

Ozzy Osbourne: He bites the heads off doves and bats and converses in an incomprehensible language, recently identified as closely related to a dialect spoken in the neighbourhood of Lupus Major.

Donatella Versace: The lips, the nose, the cellulite, the skimpy bikinis – you’ve always known there’s something seriously odd about her… now you know why.

Steve Buscemi: Used his freaky alien eyes to hypnotise the Coen Brothers into casting him in more of their movies than John Turturro.

Mickey Rourke: Oh, Mickey used to be so fine, but after 9 1/2 weeks, no hair implant or face lift on Earth had the power to stem his otherworldly rate of bodily decay.

Helena Bonham Carter: Her dress sense is a clue, but it’s the state of her hair that’s the dead give-away: she’s permanently primed for transmissions from her home planet.

Susan Shabangu: She graduated with honours from the Judge Dredd “Shoot-First-Ask-Questions-After-The-Autopsy” Police Academy in a galaxy far, far away.

Alienation – The Extraterrestrials and You February 5, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, South Africa, Southern Africa.
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I wrote this story for obrigado a while ago (it appeared in the mag slightly edited):

Alienation – The Extraterrestrials and You

Aliens have been among us for tens of thousands of years – ever since our hominid ancestors figured out how to lie on their backs to stare at starry summer night skies. “The simple act of looking up at an uninterrupted view of the sky triggers an automatic reaction in our brains”, says Cristo Louw, the Founder and National Director of SAUFOR (South Africa’s UFO Resource). “Not only do we physically see things from a wider, 180-degree perspective, but it opens the mind and allows us to think differently about some of the big questions, like “Where do we come from?” and “What is our place in the world?”.

Louw started SAUFOR, which currently boasts about 650 members, to collect reports of ETs and UFOs in South Africa. “It’s not my job to tell people what to think or believe”, he says, “I simply collect information to enable people to make up their own minds”. Approximately 70 000 UFO sightings are reported around the world every year, but Louw points out that studies have shown that as many as 90 percent of all sightings are never officially recorded as most people don’t feel free to talk about their experiences, even with members of their own families.

He estimates that in South Africa, encounters with aliens are reported about two or three times a week. Most of these are sightings of “balls of light” and spacecraft of various types, including triangular, saucer- and cigar-shaped vessels as well as larger motherships. Although less frequent, direct contacts with ETs and abductions also occur.

In 1965, two police officers, John Lockem and Koos de Klerk, saw a disk-shaped craft take off from the Pretoria-Bronkhorstspruit road in a pool of flames that left a circle of burning tarmac. In 1989, a South African Air Force Mirage is reported to have shot down a UFO near the Botswana border. In 1996, a glowing, disc-shaped UFO evaded pursuit by Col. Fred Viljoen in his police helicopter in the sky above the Pretoria.

In June 2004, Roshnie Naidu and her husband Shrirama filmed a “massive ball of light, much brighter than the sun” that pulsated in the sky outside their home in Phoenix near Durban, for about three hours. On 20 May 2006, numerous eyewitnesses saw a UFO crash into the sea just off Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal. An extensive sea and air search mission found no signs of wreckage.

Cynthia Hind, Africa coordinator for the worldwide organisation MUFON (Mutual UFO Network), has documented sightings in Zimbabwe, her home country, as well as Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and Kenya. In 1951, for example, commercial airplane pilot Captain Jack Bichnell as well as his crew and passengers witnessed a metallic, bullet-shaped vessel suspended motionless near Mt Kilimanjaro for more than 15 minutes. Hind also interviewed 62 schoolchildren, who in September 1994 saw a small, pale-faced man with a long scrawny neck, huge eyes and long hair emerge from his spaceship that had landed in their schoolyard in Ruwa near Harare.

Two remarkably detailed accounts of long-term human-alien relationships stand out in the annals of South African UFO and ET research. One was a truly long-distance love affair; the other a tale of intergalactic communication.

In 1959, Elizabeth Klarer was whisked away by her alien lover Akon to his home planet Meton in the Alpha Centauri system where she gave birth to their son Ayling. Akon had watched Elizabeth, whom he believed to be the reincarnation of a former soul mate, like a guardian angel all her life. Before she turned ten he had used his spaceship on two occasions to save her from certain death, once by intercepting a meteor hurtling towards Elizabeth and on the other time by diverting a tornado twisting its way towards her.

Elizabeth, who grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal and studied music and art in Florence and meteorology at Oxford University, described Akon as “the most beautiful man” she had ever seen. He had fair skin, long white hair, grey eyes and wore a shiny, tight-fitting one-piece suit and on rare occasions a matching headpiece with slits for the mouth and eyes. Elizabeth spent nine blissful years on Meton (the equivalent of four Earth months), revelling in its advanced, peaceful and utterly utopian civilisation before having to return to Earth because Meton’s planetary vibrations didn’t agree with her.

Although she remained in regular telepathic contact with Akon, Elizabeth never saw him or Ayling in the flesh again before she died of breast cancer in 1994 at the age of 84. Her story is told in her book Beyond the Light Barrier, an unfinished manuscript called The Gravity Files and a chapter in Lauren Beukes’ Maverick: Extraordinary Women from South Africa’s Past.

In 1960 Edwin W., another KwaZulu-Natal resident, befriended a new work colleague who turned out to be Valdar from the planet Koldas in the Confederation of Twelve Planets. When Valdar returned to outer space he left Edwin with a modified radio through which he and other aliens, Wy-Ora, Kashendo, Taylanz and Vax Noah among them, transmitted messages to Edwin and a close-knit group around him called “Q” Base for nearly 20 years. In 1974 Confederation scientists invented a new method of telepathic transmission using Edwin as a medium that allowed two-way communication.

The Kaldasian messages kept Edwin and friends up to speed on cosmic affairs and provided much information about the alien’s advanced society. Earthlings may be comforted by the fact that the ETs, too, believe in an infinite, all powerful being, usually referred to as the “Divine One” with a son whose birthday is celebrated during the festival of Nixi Yacandi and that they have put in place an emergency evacuation plan for Earth, dubbed “Operation Fireball”, that will allow willing Terrestrians to be “resettled on another planet with similar environmental conditions”.

After years of perseverance, UFO researcher Carl van Vlierden gained access to transcripts and tape recordings of the transmissions and was eventually allowed to participate in the activities of “Q” Base himself. According to Cristo Louw, van Vlierden fled South Africa for Canada when the pressure on him became too intense after the publications of his books UFO Contact from Planet Koldas and The Twelve Planets Speak!, but Edwin is still believed to live in the Durban area.

Are these just the deluded ravings of assorted weirdoes who’ve gone off the chart on the whacko scale? Perhaps, but cynics will point out that millions of people around the globe have unflinching faith in one or other deity in the absence of any physical proof. Is God an alien? If we define aliens as powerful, higher beings who are not of this world, the question may be less blasphemous than it appears at first.

But why isn’t there more concrete evidence? Where are the museum displays of spaceship wreckage and ETs in formaldehyde? Believers like Louw have long known of a massive international conspiracy to cover up all traces. According to them, many of the supposed marvels of modern science, including lasers, integrated circuit boards, fibre optics and Velcro®, are in fact examples pirated alien technology.

If the right people do it, of course, the search for life elsewhere passes as hard science. For years, multi-disciplinary international SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) programs have received funding from governments and private sources to survey the sky with radio telescopes in the hope of detecting transmissions from other planets. The SETI League shows DIY enthusiasts how to convert satellite TV dishes into research-grade radio telescopes and anyone with an internet connection can enlist their computer in the effort by signing up for SETI@home. In 1973, Professor Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA and Nobel Prize winning biologist, proposed that the seeds of life on Earth may have been purposefully spread by an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation in a process evocatively called “directed panspermia”.

And if you can’t find them, join them. The prospect of establishing permanent human colonies on Mars and the Moon may make the transition from science fiction (see for example Kim Stanley Robinson’s masterful Mars Trilogy) to reality sooner than you may think. No less a scientific icon than Stephen Hawking has called for massive investments towards that end as an insurance policy against the extinction of humanity on its home planet.

Most people today slot neatly into either of two X-Files categories when it comes to extraterrestrial life: the unbelieving, or at best perpetually sceptical “Scullys” who demand hard, scientific evidence, and the passionately convinced “Mulders”, ever ready to trust their own intuition and other people’s experiences. But do we really have to look to the stars to realise how truly strange and alien our world has become? A world in which Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, our most celebrated chefs, serve us deconstructivist delicacies of molecular gastronomy like foamed beetroot, bacon-and-egg ice cream and snail porridge, in which in vitro meat is laboratory-grown far from the rump of a cow or the breast of a chicken; a world of which we claim to be the most advanced inhabitants even as we poison it with carbon dioxide and styrofoam hamburger boxes. Who then are the real alien freaks around here?

Chris Jordan: Picturing the American way of life February 4, 2009

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Environment, Life, Society, Sustainable Living.
1 comment so far

Just came across the amazing work of US photographer Chris Jordan. He has found brilliant ways of depicting the modern, First World way of life from mass consumption to mass incarceration. Check out the examples below (with text from his website) and go to www.chrisjordan.com for much more.

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Cell Phones, 2007 60x100" Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

Detail at actual size

Detail at actual size

Prison Uniforms, 2007 10x23 feet in six vertical panels  Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

Prison Uniforms, 2007 10x23 feet in six vertical panels Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

Detail at actual size

Detail at actual size

Barbie Dolls, 2008 60x80"  Depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006.

Barbie Dolls, 2008 60x80" Depicts 32,000 Barbies, equal to the number of elective breast augmentation surgeries performed monthly in the US in 2006.

Detail at actual print size

Detail at actual print size