Monday, July 25, 2011

Statement on Killings in Norway

This Open Letter was sent to the Christian Council of Norway and the People of Norway on 25 July 2011.

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ and to all the people of Norway, I cannot be silent in the face of the horror and brutality of the bombing in Oslo and mass murder of young people in Norway.

I feel saddened and shocked by this outrageous lack of regard for human life and more angered by stories emerging about the justification for such violence. I trust that firm and tough legal action will be taken against Anders Behring Breivik.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I send our prayers and condolences to the family members of those who died and those who were injured and to the faithful in Norway at this tragic time. We realise that this eruption of violence has shaken you as a nation to your very core. We hope that you will know that the thoughts and prayers of the world are with you and that you will find consolation and strengthen from this.

For all of us who are people of faith – whatever our tradition – these horrific events must serve as a tragic reminder of our need to continue to witness against intolerance and violence and of our parallel commitment to assist in the building of peace-filled and inclusive communities and nations.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cape Town Must Set an Example on Sanitation

The following article was published in the Cape Times on 7 July 2011. It can be found at www.capetimes.co.za/city-must-set-example-on-sanitation-1.1095150

City must set example on sanitation

Last Thursday, I joined other Western Cape religious leaders on a “walk of witness” through parts of Khayelitsha to look at sanitation conditions, and the dangers they pose, not only directly to health, but also to people’s safety. I arrived straight from the memorial service for Professor Kader Asmal, and the juxtaposition was almost overwhelming: from the pristine City Hall auditorium, where we were welcomed with a bottle of water under every seat, to Khayelitsha, with its mud and stench of sewage, lacking the very basics of clean water and sanitation. After celebrating Asmal’s life, and the improvements that were achieved through his dedication, it was a shocking reminder of the challenges that remain and the dire situations in which far too many South Africans still live.

Our tour through RR and Taiwan sections was led by the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), a local community movement which has for the past two years been campaigning for improved access to clean and safe sanitation services for some half a million Capetonians without access to basic sanitation. It is not easy to grasp such vast numbers, but it is even harder to imagine the impact of seeing and hearing first-hand how the absence of these fundamental services affects residents daily.

The run-up to the recent local government elections saw an explosion of dissatisfaction with the state of municipal service delivery. The unenclosed toilets in Makhaza and Rammulotsi came to symbolise how municipalities across the country and across political parties are failing to uphold residents’ rights to safety, health and dignity. They also prompted wider questions about how our country engages with, and delivers to, society’s most vulnerable. With the elections behind us, sanitation no longer occupies the headlines, but it continues to dominate the lives of the millions of South Africans who continue to live without it.

This particular walk followed an earlier visit last August. I was shocked to see that many of the problems we witnessed then remain unattended to, almost a year later. A toilet which was blocked at the time of my first visit, not only remains blocked but is now in utter disrepair. The community has placed a heavy piece of concrete in front of the door to prevent it being used. Where one toilet can be shared between 60 and more people, it is shocking that those which exist can remain out of order for over a year.

Despite the terrible condition these toilets are often in, many residents would nonetheless rather use a blocked toilet than walk to a functioning one further from home, because of the dangers involved. The shocking truth is that for many, relieving oneself can be a life- threatening activity. We heard how residents are petrified of using the toilet at night, preferring to hold out until sunrise. It is hard to imagine telling toddlers that they must wait until morning to use the toilet, but this is the reality for many.

The fear is justified. Residents are frequently attacked while going to use toilets. SJC member Makhosandile Qezo has no toilet near his home. Instead, he must relieve himself in a desolate field between Lansdowne Road and the N2 highway. One morning last year, he was stabbed in the face while his trousers were around his ankles. Another young SJC member – 14-year-old Zanele – escaped an attack while relieving herself in the same field, but she was hit by a car on the busy Lansdowne Road and was seriously injured as she ran away. Women and children are frequently assaulted and raped.

The health risks of filthy toilets and water sources are also appalling. It is hard to find one family not afflicted by waterborne illnesses such as diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, worms, and severe rashes. When walking around Taiwan informal settlement, I noticed that the bank of chemical toilets on the community’s outskirts was surrounded by waste of every sort. Even at a distance, the stench was unbearable. Several of our party found ourselves battling with sinus headaches after our brief visit.

The provision of sanitation facilities for informal settlements that are in line with national norms and standards will take many years, and requires detailed planning. The city cannot do this successfully on its own. Alongside making the provision of clean and safe sanitation facilities for informal settlements a priority, it must call for public consultation through which experts and stakeholders can plan together. Residents and local authorities working co-operatively is always the best way to achieve effective, lasting results. In the interim there are tangible steps that can be taken to ensure that the existing infrastructure is utilised to its maximum potential.

At present, the city constructs toilets and standpipes, which then become the community’s “responsibility”. But it is completely unrealistic to expect a toilet that is shared, perhaps by over 100 people, to be properly maintained without state assistance. It is critical that the city budgets for and provides regular janitors for existing facilities. It is also unacceptable for the few toilets that do exist to remain in disrepair for months or even years, as we saw last week. Where I live, it takes less than 48 hours for sewerage faults to be repaired. The same level of service is unquestionably the right of those living in our poorer communities.

One lesson we learnt from the unenclosed toilet saga was how quickly delivery fails when there is a lack of meaningful engagement between communities and government. Civil society organisations and the religious community are uniquely placed to facilitate this process. For this reason, today we will join a meeting between the SJC and the mayor of Cape Town. This meeting follows an SJC protest, in which I participated, which was held on Freedom Day, April 27. Approximately 2 500 people symbolically queued behind a toilet outside Cape Town’s Civic Centre to illustrate how, 17 years to the day after we first queued to vote, far too many people still continue to wait for access to basic sanitation. A memorandum, signed by more than 10,000 people and 25 organisations, was handed over.

Mayor Patricia de Lille must be commended for agreeing to meet to discuss this important issue. I want to assure De Lille that I and the broader faith-based community will lend our support to attempts to bring various stakeholders around the table, to work together to ensure the progressive realisation of every person’s right to use a clean and safe toilet. Let us set an example in the City of Cape Town – a city which proudly encourages participation and values the rights of all inhabitants – that can be replicated in municipalities across the country.

Our problems are great, but we must make the needs of the neediest the highest priority of the whole nation, and every part of society. The solutions are neither quick nor easy. Effective consultation and communication, openness, honesty, transparency and trust, are necessary to ease our difficult journey forwards. Let us talk the talk and walk the walk together.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Archbishop joins new Press Freedom Commission

At the nomination of the South African Council of Churches, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has agreed to serve as a Commissioner on the Press Freedom Commission launched today at the initiative of Print Media South Africa (PMSA) and South African National Editors Forum (SANEF). The PFC will be chaired by Justice Pius Langa, and, over the next 6 to 8 months is tasked with reviewing various forms of regulation and best practice, in relation to the print media. Dr Makgoba will serve as representative of the faith communities.

Further details of the Commission can be found at http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2011/07/07/press-freedom-commission-launched

Dr Makgoba has previously supported the Right to Know Campaign in its opposition to the Protection of Information Bill. Below is an article by him published in the Cape Times on 31 August 2010 (slightly amended).

‘The Truth will Set Us Free’

The Protection of Information Bill now before Parliament and the ANC’s proposed Media Appeals Tribunal threaten to undermine the family of rights – ranging from freedom of expression, to political rights, to freedom of religion – to which we as South Africans subscribed when our elected representatives adopted our Constitution in 1996.

The truth, so the Gospel assures Christians, will set us free. Yet what is notable about the Protection of Information Bill as it currently stands is that it seeks to punish not lies or incorrect information about what our government doing in our name, but rather truthful information based on official documents.

No one contests the need for the Government to keep secret strictly-defined categories of information, the disclosure of which could threaten our national security – for example, troop movements at a time of conflict. But that is not what this Bill is about – as the General Council of the Bar has pointed out, the quite separate Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 already protects information which “genuinely requires protection from disclosure” and can legitimately be withheld in terms of the Constitution.

No, what the new Bill seeks to do is to give large numbers of government officials the power to classify information as "confidential", "secret", or "top secret" under the rubric that it would contravene a vaguely-defined “national interest.” Even commercial information could be declared secret, which – following media exposes of the activities of “tenderpreneurs” – invites the question: why?

President Zuma has told us that the Media Appeals Tribunal “is meant to protect South Africans, rich or poor, black or white, rural or urban.” He also says that professions such as architects, doctors, engineers and lawyers have mechanisms similar to what the ANC is proposing.

Yet there is a fundamental difference between those professions and the writing and printing of information and opinions in a democracy – the latter is protected by Section 16 of the Constitution. This states that: “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes (a) freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to impart information or ideas; (c) freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.”

Those rights are not limited to journalists – we all have them and we are all subject to the same limitations on them. One of those limitations is imposed on us by the Constitution, which prohibits narrowly-defined categories of speech and writing, such as propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence or certain types of hate speech. Another limitation is imposed on us by the law against slander and defamation.

Apart from those kinds of restrictions, we all have the right to think, to say and to write what we like, and to print our views. Similarly, under Section 19 of the Constitution, every citizen has political rights, which include the right to campaign for a political party or cause. And under Section 15 of the Constitution, “everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.” That is the right which guarantees us freedom of worship, and – again apart from those tightly-defined limitations – to say what we like from the pulpits of our churches and in our mosques, temples and synagogues.

The Constitution and the law do not require those of us who write, proclaim and publish our views – whether journalists or not – to get both sides of the story. Nor do they require politicians to present the views of their opponents, nor preachers to advocate the ideas of other denominations or faiths.

The fact that journalists have adopted a code of conduct in which they commit themselves to getting both sides of a story, and to basing their comments upon the facts, is admirable, but it is not a requirement of the Constitution or the law. It is, rather, the product of pressure from governments over 50 years, of the recognition by journalists that large, established newspapers have more power than small-circulation printed works, and of the desire of many journalists to hold themselves to higher standards in their publications than average members of the public.

What is a Media Appeals Tribunal meant to do to journalists that the law and their own self-regulation does not do already? Just as in other areas of our democracy, the pressure of public opinion can be brought to bear on popular institutions. Journalists acknowledge that they make mistakes, and that apologies and retractions do not have as much visibility and force as breaking news stories Their acknowledgement was reflected by the prominent front-page apology to Matthews Phosa and the ANC in last Sunday’s City Press.

Would a Media Appeals Tribunal fine journalists? Jail them? Ban them from writing, for a period or forever? What about church journalists or religious communicators? Why should they be permitted freedoms other journalists do not have?

As preachers, we exercise a right to speak out prophetically in sermons, in pastoral letters read to tens of thousands of people in churches across the country on Sundays, and in church media. Neither the Constitution nor the law require religious institutions to subject their clergy to codes of conduct. If the Government is going to act against journalists who subscribe to a code of conduct, why not against preachers, who don’t? Will our communication also be gagged and our utterances criminalised if we reveal information or express the kinds of opinion which have made the ruling party so angry with the media?

Tamper with press freedom, and you tamper with the freedom of every citizen to receive and impart information and ideas. Tamper with freedom of expression, and you tamper with political rights. Tamper with the rights of religious institutions – including the rights of Christian churches to proclaim the Gospel as they see fit, in the pulpit or in print – and you destroy freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

Our freedoms are indivisible. We cannot draw a line around press freedom, restricting the rights of journalists, without limiting the rights of all of us.