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Nobel laureate: Women and children still not in peace in Africa

By Azwihangwisi Mufamadi

The legal and political systems in the African continent have failed to guarantee the rights of women and children in the continent. This was said by Nobel laureate, women rights activists and Rhodes University honorary doctorate recipient, Leymah Gbowee.

Gbowee said that there is a tendency to think that since a country is not at war the rights of women and children are automatically guaranteed which is not always the case. Women continue to suffer even in a stable country like South Africa. “The statistics of rape and some of the things that women face in this country (South Africa) make you as a women’s right activist not just to lose sleep at night but to be very angry. People see the bodies of women as a battleground or a place for satisfaction or to vent their anger.”

In situations where harsh laws against those who perpetrate violence against women are proposed, those that hold positions of power thwart these efforts. “Liberia has one of the strongest rape laws in the continent. The sentence for rape is twelve years to life but once you are accused you have to go to prison until you are proven innocent. (But) lawyers and judges are the ones that came back and said this law is barbaric.”
Those in power continue to protect their professions whilst “women and children are the ones that feel pain the most”.

She added that the media plays a pivotal role in the way women are seen in this continent and by the rest of the world. “The way our media portrays us is what international media picks on. Everyday our media portrays us as weaklings, victims and people who suffer the worst.”

Gbowee said that the media has not done enough reporting on the women’s rights violations in Zimbabwe. “We have women’s right activists that get arrested at the will of the government. They are treated in whatever way that they are treated and you don’t hear a lot about some of these things.”

Women continue to fight irrespective of the atrocities and violence against them. “Even after they go through the process of rape, they pick themselves up, put on their clothes and move,” said Gbowee. “They are living, they are surviving, they are the strength of the continent.”

Even in terms of recognition, women do not receive enough recognition for their work. Men continue to lead the pack in terms of accolades while women’s contribution receive little acknowledgement. “Institutions are not looking hard for those kinds of women that should get recognition. People still see women’s role in community as basic,” said Gbowee. She said that women are ignored even at local level.

Gbowee also touched on xenophobia, which is a big issue in South Africa. She said that people who are from other continents get better treatment in the African countries than those who come from Africa. “If we have 10 000 Westerners moving into our continent, no one will have a problem with them. There will be no feeling of xenophobia and there will be no feeling that they are coming to take our jobs. If 10 000 black people come to this place, there would be protest that they are coming to take our jobs,” she said. She also blamed the law in failing to guarantee the safety of visitors.

Gbowee also singled out mentorship as an important initiative for shaping the lives of children in the continent. “On our continent we spend very little time looking at the needs of our boys and girls. Those of us who are seen global leaders get invitation faster to speaker in European and American countries faster than to talk to boys and girls in our places and local communities,” said Gbowee.
There is still a long way for Africa but the media has a role to play. She said that there must be a rule that the media must report more about the good things that African’s are doing.

Leymah Gbowee (Picture courtesy Adrian Frost)

Runaway graduate

By Mvuzo Ponono

You’ve seen the movie. The bride, for whatever reason, decides to ditch the groom at the last minute. The poor guy is left at the altar, with a sad face and sour party. Next scene the bride is running down the highway with half her dress in her hands, looking like a bewildered animal caught in lights.

That happened to me, well it sort of. To cut a long story short, I misread the graduation booklet and I went to the ceremony on the wrong day. Instead of the Friday with the Humanities faculty, I went on Saturday. It wouldn’t have been too bad if I’d been on my own but grad is a family event. I was there with the extended lot; grannies, aunt – everyone. As we always do, we got there just in time. So when I checked my name on the list my family was already inside and the doors were closed. Naturally, I didn’t appear but it was too late to relay the message to the troops. They were left to sit through a three hour ceremony where I didn’t appear.

I couldn’t take the sympathetic glances from the ushers so I left the monument. I sat on one of the concrete steps outside. I was in a three piece suite and I had my gown and hood on one hand. After half an hour of sitting there thinking about nothing, I decided to head to town, get a beer and maybe watch some rugby. I also needed to at least alert my parents to the situation. All my stuff, phone and all were left in the car.

I don’t think anyone has ever walked up to the monument via the main road; it’s a long, windy route. But of course, the picture of a graduate, in full gear, is too stark to ignore. The first guy to come across me stopped and offered a lift. All I had for the poor fellow was my story. He left me in town, at the corner by Debonairs. The Saturday sun was out and town was lazy and indifferent to my plight. Thankfully, I have a friend who lives in the area so I just decided to pay her a visit. The two gates that stand between her door were locked so I had to jump. Imagine that. Funny thing is that the land lady caught me and threatened to call High Tec. I offered her my story and all was well.

Luckily my friend was home and I go to make that call. My aunt actually answered her phone during the ceremony. I don’t know how she managed that. It was a confused interaction, but she got the gist. The ride back home was slightly sour but at least the bride hadn’t totally runaway. It was something close. We quickly got over the story because we had a community to celebrate with. We had to rush from Grahamstown to King Williams Town because a whole location was waiting for a ‘grad party’. The ceremony ended not being the end all because the actual grad was in the hearts of all of those back home.

More or less civic representation on the press council?

Max du Preez raises some issues about the composition of the proposed press council.

Journalists – to campaign or not to campaign: Abramjee v Dawes

Gill Moodie from Bizcommunity writes about the difference in opinion between Yusuf Abramjee of LeadSA (among other hats) and Nic Dawes of the Mail&Guardian on the role of journalists in campaigning on civic matters:

Kony Campaign – Students discuss the issues it raises

Prof Herman Wasserman, who leads the Mellon Media and Citizenship project at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, facilitated a discussion between MA students from the department on the issues raised by the Kony campaign. The campaign, which was launched earlier this year by the Invisible Children organisation aimed at highlighting the actions of the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony. The students, Azwi Mufamadi, Stephané Meintjes, Mvuzo Ponono and Leigh Raymond are all MA students at the School of Journalism and Media Studies and involved with the Media and Citizenship project. The recorded discussion is available at the link below, and the transcript follows.

Herman: I thought that it would be good to start just by giving a summary of what the Kony 2012 project is all about. It’s created a lot of debate on the internet, it’s attracted a lot of attention. I was wondering if anyone could give me just a quick summary of what the Kony 2012 show is all about.

Leigh: So I think it started with the Stop Kony campaign video, it was a call to action mostly directed towards students and young people. The idea was that this producer, I think his name is Jason Russel decided that there was a problem somewhere , made a video about it and contextualised it with the story of this boy that he met, that had been a part of, or been subjected to Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. So he launched this campaign called Kony 2012 and with it this thirty minute video that explains briefly the story, very superficially the story.

Herman: Why do you think the video attracted so much attention? Immediately it went around the world, it immediately became viral, shared on social networks, Twitter, Facebook. It was very difficult if not impossible to ignore it, why do you think it had such a strong appeal?

Azwi: I think it was the actual marketing of the video because they used quite a lot of celebrities who talked about it on Twitter, Facebook etc., etc. I think it was quite a cagey as well in the actual name of it ‘Kony 2012’, the minute you hear the name you start thinking ‘what is it all about’. It could be something interesting and everyone was talking about it.

Herman: Despite the criticism that it received many people also remarked on the quality of the editing, the whole way that it was put together, the whole package. Also the whole campaign, you know the bracelets, the t-shirts, the stickers everything. You think that that sort of tapped into pop culture, maybe youth culture at the moment. Did that appeal to you?

Stephane: I think it was very professionally done, because of the way in which it was done it was very appealing to young people because they suddenly felt, ‘ok, I can be part of something, even though I’m not in the situation I can now become part of it through watching the video or buying a bracelet,’ and I think that’s a very much a new popular thing where you always want to be part of something and if you can support a cause by putting your name on a petition or buying a bracelet you feel like you’ve done something to help.

Mvuso: I think it also struck a chord with like apathy. So when you watch the video you feel like you should be doing something. It really got down to very, very basic emotions because there was. Because I think the video is largely about groups, there’s always like a group of people, group of students, actively doing something, so I think you wanna be a part of that and it appeals to your part of ‘what are you doing?’. So I think that was very strong. And something else that grabbed me about it was the basic colours that it used, it used like Obama image and picture and things like that so it was almost like if you missed that wave of like popular action then this was another way for you to actually take part and get involved so. I dunno maybe it might have been manipulative but it really [brought] something powerful.

Herman: The way that it tapped into a global consciousness, with the notion of global citizenship almost that people felt that they were responsible to try and alleviate the problems that were raised in the video. But I don’t know if your familiar with the term ‘slactivism’, do you think that this is an example of ‘slacktivism’?

Leigh: I think especially amongst the youth and university students, we want to feel as though we’re politically involved and politically active, and I can’t speak for any other country but in South Africa we know that previous generations were involved in making this country a better place to be. So now we sort of grab on to any piece of political activism to try to make ourselves feel like we’re politically involved and we’re politically active. So yes, but it’s easier always to wear a t-shirt and put a poster up than to be as involved as any of the previous generations ever were. Yes I think this is definitely a perfect example of slactivism.

Azwi: And also, in terms of levels of involvement as well, if you think of it in terms of just buying a t-shirt, getting involved has just become more and more easier, than it would have been in the past. Where you had to physically go and get involved.

Herman: Where you were asked sometimes to actually put your life on the line, or your freedom on the line, now you can just click a mouse.

Stephane: The same also becomes quite funny that people will be very easy to jump to a cause outside their own country before they start looking at home. So yes, you’re going to go buy a kony 2012 bracelet, but at the same time there’s stuff that you could probably be doing, making a bigger difference in your own country or in your own home town. But it did work even though it is slactivism it achieved its goal, it did make him famous, as they said, and it did get people talking, so yes to a degree it is slactivism, but at the same time it did have a very big impact.

Herman: I’m interested in what you said about the South African youth, and the desire to make a difference, to become involved, did this appeal to, was this popular in your circles at Rhodes among students.

Stephane: I think there were very mixed feelings with the people I spoke to about it. Some people that actually came from Uganda were very against it, other people felt that it was quite a good thing because they never heard of Kony before and they want to know who he was.

Mvuso: I had to be pushed to actually watch the video because now it’s become a necessity, but in my circles, it’s not something I heard about or was discussed here at Rhodes. But at least I heard about it, I knew what was going on but I just didn’t have the or get the impetus to go out to get it or watch it. But when I went back home now for Easter in King William’s Town and East London it just, those bigger circles of people I know there, there was just no Kony, there was just nothing at all about Kony 2012.

Stephane: But does that not have something to do with also with access to digital platforms and Facebook was a very big driving force behind the campaign. That’s how I first saw it, I didn’t at first watch it and then I saw that everyone was commenting and then telling me, and these posters against it started coming out kind of ripping off the original posters and then you kind of feel you have to watch it. But in circles that there are digital forms of communication and there aren’t as abundant as here, I think obviously it wouldn’t have reached people.

Herman: I think the Kony video raises interesting issues around global citizenship, people feel that they have a responsibility towards the globe, towards people that they might not have immediate contact with but they have that sense of responsibility with, that they feel connected with through the internet and through new media. But I was wondering what connects communities in this country? I mean do you think that we can learn from this campaign and its success? Is a similar campaign possible in South Africa or do we have to think of other ways of mobilising? What do we see happening around us?

Mvuso: When it comes to getting issues out there and getting people involved, and getting people to act, I think we can learn from that because I think we suffer from a lot of apathy in South Africa people aren’t really getting involved in issues, we aren’t getting numbers behind an idea for example so there’s a lot to be learned from a video getting a hundred million hits and getting the American government to act on a foreign country. It can be criticised but I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned from the video.

Stephane: At the same time though in South Africa obviously maybe a video wouldn’t work as well as maybe if you did something else like a public service announcement on TV or something mobile that more people can access because internet isn’t available to all. But I think the concept as a large does work. By making it popular you are going to get the youth behind it because you’re making it exciting and something that they want to feel a part of and I think that that’s a very important thing because if they feel that it’s not actually got to do with them then they won’t participate as much as they probably could if it was you know, put it a different light and you know, aimed at them.

Leigh: I feel resistant to a kind of campaign that calls on a Western power to solve third world problems. In South Africa it might work to call people to solve our own problems, we tend to figure out ways to figure out solutions to our own problems. Generally people do prefer to do that rather than having a solution imposed upon them.

Herman: Yes I think that is one of the main points of criticism that also came out in the internet debates that this was again ‘white man’s burden’, the idea that a Western saviour that has to parachute in and save Africa from itself.

Stephane: But at the same, sorry, but at the same time, they’re a few years too late, if you think about it because I have this idea that America always arrives late to the game, and world war two is also an example, but just the fact that when this actually did happen, there wasn’t as much coverage on the actual plight of the Ugandan people and that’s why a lot of Ugandan students are also very cross because they had groups at home working to try to alleviate the problems created by the Lord’s Resistance Army. And now suddenly a year later, Kony isn’t even there anymore and now suddenly the troops are being sent in but a little too late, I mean there’s no point in sending them in now.

Herman: It makes one wonder if this isn’t all about Jason Russel himself and that’s also a suggestion that this is a whole show aimed at attracting attention to him. If you look at the film clip itself the inordinate amount of time spent on him and his son and that sort of adoration of him as the saviour. Probably just in closing I was wondering if you could suggest, if you think that there’s something that we could learn from this, to grab the attention of people, how to set the imagination going, even if we think of other ways of, we said that the internet might not be as viable in the South African context. But through mobile phones or some other means, what issue would you like to see or hear the youth get excited about.

Leigh: I’d like us getting more concerned about the impact that we’re having on the environment, and I’m not just stamping my green shoes here but do think that it’s a problem that, though it can also be criticised as a middle class problem, I do think that it’s one of those things that we can all relate to and so it might be worth talking about more.

Azwi: I’m thinking the political process, the whole voting and taking part in democratic participation because until the recent election we didn’t really see a lot of young people taking part in actions.

Mvuso: What grabbed me about the video is just small campaigns, and getting a number of people behind a campaign and making it big. I think there’s so many community engagement projects, so many community issues or organisations that maybe we can take this thing we use this marketing tactics and innovation and we could. We could advertise and get out there so I really did appreciate the kind of marketability or market tactics or advertising tactics that they used ‘cause I know with the townships, that the township project that I’ve been involved in, that sometimes it’s difficult to get an issue out there and get people to notice. So maybe that video can be shown to a lot of other young people in South Africa to say ‘this is what you can do with a bit of thought and a bit of imagination, your issues can get out there’.

Herman: Well thank-you, maybe that’s something for social movements in South Africa to consider, that marketing pays. But as we said that there are a lot of differences and issues around accessibility and platforms would have to be considered but it looks like the Kony 2012 video although we can criticise it for a lot of things, we can’t just ignore it and it does maybe tell us something about where activism and global campaigning is moving towards. So thank-you very much for participating in this discussion, one of the series of discussions that we’re posting up on our blog as part of the Mellon Humanities Focus Area on Media and Citizenship here at the School of Journalism and Media Studies here at Rhodes University.

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