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As there are different authors for the articles on this blog, each article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bokamoso Leadership Forum.

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22 March 2010

Dicing with death in South African townships: “jub jub” and ambivalent hegemonic masculinities among black South African youth

By: Gcobani Qambela (a Graduate student at Rhodes University, reading Joint Honours in Anthropology and Politics and International Studies)

Monday the 8th of March 2010 is not a date that will easily be forgotten in the history of South Africa. This is the day that four teenage boys tragically lost their lives on their way back from school in Soweto, South Africa's largest township. The four boys were hit by a mini-cooper after a drag race went horribly wrong causing a crash on one of Soweto's busiest roads and killing the boys instantly.

One of the drivers of the two mini-coopers involved in the deadly dice is allegedly infamous South African rapper-turned-gospel star Molemo Maarohanye, more popularly known as "Jub-Jub." Shock and anger immediately gripped the nation mourning the loss of four young lives, with two more young lives still in critical condition at the Baragwanath hospital in Johannesburg at the time of publication of this paper.

The focal point of the South African media has ever since then been on the trial of Maarohanye, following each and every protest and outcry resulting out of the catastrophic drag race. The media reports have however largely channeled all the focus on the consequences of the accident and hardly any regard has been dedicated to uprooting the cause of the accident.

By "cause" I am not referring to the material causes of the accident (i.e. the level of intoxication, driving on the wrong side of the road, driving above the prescribed speed limit, etc). When I talk of "causes" I am referring to the cultural rearing that allowed Maarohanye and his friend to drag race in broad daylight in a very busy township street and not practice any form of self-restraint.

This paper argues that drag racing in South African townships amongst black male youth is a convoluted phenomenon with a very long and complex history that is inextricably linked with the black male’s assertion of masculinity.

While acknowledging that the two drivers were no doubt reckless in their conduct and that the law ought to takes its course, the paper argues that the two drivers were victims of cultural norms accumulated (consciously or unconsciously) through time.

I contend that while it might seem logical to shun upon “Jub Jub” for the crash, I argue that this serves no one any good, especially the youth in South African townships. I contend that to move forward and prevent another disastrous accident like this one from occurring, black South African male youth in South Africa’s townships need to reconstruct their perceptions of masculinity and do away with ambivalent and hegemonic masculinities that are no longer in line with the boni mores of South African society.

The connection between high risk behaviors such as drag racing among black males in South Africa’s townships as a performance of masculinity is still a largely unexplored area in both academe and the media in South Africa. Most of the studies undertaken focus primarily on high risk behavior among male youth related to sex, HIV/Aids and gender violence.

Drag racing became popular in most of South Africa’s townships in the mid-1970’s and has since formed an essential part of the assertion of masculinity by most male township youth. The young men partaking in drag racing want to show off their masculinity, both to other men and females. They want to be seen as dangerous and “cool” by the society for which they ’perform’ their masculinity for. Young men who master this dangerous race are treated with respect by their community, and with much admiration by most youth and are often allowed entry into territories that are normally reserved for “men“ only.

Drag racing in most South African townships is thus not merely as simplistic as two young men racing irresponsibly, but there is also an important and critical cultural dynamic involved in partaking in the race which media reports have failed to take into account.

The only peculiar thing about “Jub-Jub’s” accident is that it involved an infamous personality in the South African entertainment industry. There have been countless other reports in the past of South African township youth who kill many people while drag racing (especially on Matriculation farewell parties towards the end of each year) and yet no proper research has been done to uncover the causes as to why drag racing persists despite its highly fatal nature.

While it is tragic that it had to take four young lives and an infamous celebrity to bring the drag racing practice in South African townships to the fore. I conclude that this awful accident should allow South African youth in the townships a chance to reflect on whether this ambivalent race should still be continued in South African townships or not, even though it is no longer in line with contemporary South African mores which now place the utmost importance on human life.

“Jub Jub”, I thus contend, was a victim of his socialization in South African townships. He is a victim of the principles collected from his childhood and youth in Soweto that to be a “man” one must be able to engage in high risk and dangerous activities like drag racing. While I do believe that he and his friend should be punished accordingly as the law provisions for the consequences of their masculine performance.

It is still important that we keep in mind that what happened was an accident and that his intention was not to kill those four young boys; but rather like most township youth he was engaged in an highly dangerous and deadly act of masculine performance that is perfectly acceptable in most South African townships.

Male South African youth in South Africa’s townships thus need to reflect on the practices that they use to constitute their masculinity and determine whether or not such practices have any place at all in present day South Africa. The South African Department of Social Development needs to play a key role in informing the youth in South Africa’s townships about alternative ways of asserting masculinity in non harmful ways.
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16 March 2010

Jos Massacre, the Biafra question and tolerance

BY: Damilola Daramola

Life as a graduate student can often insulate you from things going on in the world at large. Although the question a student is trying to answer deals with solving real-world problems, the lens that a graduate student looks through is often so narrowed that one might forget the big picture. As such a student forgets that the point of research is not to memorize quotes or analyze essays, but to provide steps to a solution that makes the world a better place. Sometimes it takes an unfortunate event to jolt us back to the reason why we are educating ourselves.

The happenings of March 7th in Jos (Plateau State of Nigeria) which ended the lives of between 300 – 500 people and injured almost twice as many has been that event for me (New York Times Article). A group of muslim men attacked the town of Dogo Na Hawa and began killing and butchering the villagers. Houses were set on fire to smoke out people and as they started fleeing, they were cut down. The motivation for these men was the attacks that occurred in January 2010. At that time, a group of Christian men and been involved in similar clashes with the Muslims suffering most of the death toll. It’s hard to pin point when all this fighting began, but clashes in Jos have been happening as far back as when I was a student in secondary school at the age of 14, perhaps even before then. At that time, the reports were classified as religious clashes and people grumbled about how Muslims can be extreme and the conversation stopped after the violence was stopped. There are some who believe that Muslims are nothing more than a violent religios group, but there are extremists within both Christianity and Islam. The Bible and any Christian will tell you that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life (John 14:6 & John 3:16). On the other hand, you have Muslims also saying that Islam is the path to finding God and the jihad is mentioned as the process of spreading principles of Islam: “Fight those who believe not in Allah . . . until they pay the tax in acknowledgement of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (Quran 9:29) Although only a well-versed Christian or Muslim can explain the context for these passages, history shows us that extremists have also used these texts to taint the names of these two religions. Therefore a place like Jos where both religions exist creates a volatile situation in the wrong hands.

In the conversations I have had with other Nigerians about this recent massacre, there have been numerous suggestions of separation/secession as the solution. This was the same idea that the Eastern region of Nigeria had when secession was being planned to form the country of Biafra in 1967 (resulting in Civil War). Some have strengthened the argument stating that Nigeria is just an idea by the colonial masters who made up boundaries and therefore as Nigerians, we should be able to divide along the lines of ethnicity. Yet I remember when there were similar clashes between the Ife and Modakeke in Osun State who are of the same Yoruba ethnic group. In a country where there are more than 100 different languages, it’s easy to see that even if Nigeria were to separate along the dividing rivers i.e. North, East and West, divisions still exist within these areas and there is no guarantee that clashes like this will cease. The diversity of Nigeria, along ethnic lines, shows that more than ever the conversations we should have as a people should center on tolerance as opposed to separation and the first step to tolerance is education and awareness. There are few programs that focus on teaching our history and I want to use my experience in boarding school as a reference point. Out of a graduating class of about 400 people, less than 30 people had to learn history and even then the purpose of learning was to pass an examination as opposed to learning in order to know the fabric of the nation. It’s no wonder that if you ask Nigerians today about the Civil War (also known as the Biafran War), most of those who are aware are the Ibos who were directly affected by the terrors of the time and have heard firsthand accounts from family members. A similar scenario plays out in the United States where mostly blacks are aware of the real civil struggles and that knowledge drops sharply when you go outside of the race. The phrase “Those who don’t remember the past are apt to repeat it” is clearly showing that the events that led to the secession of Biafra can emerge again.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on March 10th, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo mentioned that the crisis goes past religion and is based on ethnicity, social and economic factors (Obasanjo Interview). One cannot separate the fact that religion plays a major part in the day-to-day activities of most Nigerians. In most rural areas where poverty is rampant, the hope that religion offers is often a salve for the current situation of individuals. Therefore people are apt to place more trust in their religious leaders than belief in themselves and their abilities to change their situation. Therefore if one combines the words of an extremist religious leader with the mutual distrust among ethnic groups, it is only a matter of time before simple disagreements blow up into massacres. If education about tolerance is going to begin, it has to begin in places of worship because that is where most of the illiterate population can be found. This can then be extended to the schools where young minds are being cultivated. If I understand my neighbor as a person and value their life and way of thinking (irrespective of religion and ethnicity), there is no reason why we cannot co-exist together.

I realize that this article raises many issues (religion, ethnocentricity, colonialism and education) that cannot be covered in 1000 words, but I am hoping that the dialogue that ensues can attempt to tackle these issues as they are not just peculiar to Nigeria, but to the continent as a whole. Is our problem the different languages we speak, the social separation that exists between different ethnic groups or the thought that we cannot co-exist as a nation because of the divisions that the colonial masters have created?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
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02 March 2010

When watchdog turns cheerleader: The case of Malawi’s media policy reform

By Fletcher Ziwoya Scripps College of Communication-Ohio University

           In 1962, Jurgen Habermas, a German sociologist, wrote about a virtual community in the name of “public sphere” capable of shaping political power and policy. The Frankfurt School student was well ahead of his time and today his claims have been vindicated by the emergence of a non-state force that has wrenched power from world governments. The emergence of private media and corresponding technologies, such as the internet, has substantially changed how politics is conducted both at local and international levels. This article posits that where the media is allowed to flourish, it becomes a formidable tool in democracy consolidation, and the opposite is also true.
            Malawi has had its share of press muzzling in spite of claims on the contrary. This paper discusses the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority’s (MACRA) modus operandi in the light of national, regional and international statues safeguarding freedom of information.
On 1st August, 1998 the Malawi government announced the initiation of a process to reform the media policy in the country. Malawi purported, inter alia, to liberalize the market and allow private sector participation in the provision of telecommunication services. The media policy reform initiative gave birth to the Malawi Communications Act of 1998 aimed at regulating the broadcasting sector. More than a decade after the media policy reform statement was issued leading to the enactment of the Communications Act, the Malawi government and MACRA are regulating the media in complete disregard for both local and international laws.
            Malawi’s constitutional stipulations demand that any media policy reform initiative should not have increasing information services as the only end product but rather, should allow these services to be as accessible and as free as possible. At regional level, treaties and declarations that guarantee people’s basic rights, including freedom of expression and access to information, include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights also known as the African Charter. The international statue that binds Malawi is contained in the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution 59(I) of 1946.
            The polemics of freedom versus rights and the merits/demerits of media regulation are different issues altogether and is beyond the scope of this article. What is fundamental in both international law and most national constitutions is the recognition that when freedom of expression or access to information is restricted, it must be an exception rather than a norm. What has been typical in most Africa countries, however, is the arbitrary tight control of information and reluctance by governments to be criticized in the media.
            More than a decade after MACRA was instituted in Malawi, it is still under fire from both individuals and institutions for its pro-government bias and its restrictions on private media. One of the earliest examples of MACRA’s interference in freedom of information was when the regulator threatened to revoke broadcasting licenses of community radios for carrying news bulletins on their networks. On June 13th 2002, MACRA wrote the Malawi Institute of Journalism 90.3 FM that it risked losing its license if it continued airing editorial comments and bulletins on its airwaves. MACRA’s pronouncements were in stark contradiction to the provisions of the laws of the land that sought to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information. MACRA’s conduct only four years after its inception was an absolute antithesis to the ideals for which it was created in the first place.
            In a turn of tables, five years after MACRA’s proclamations, the United Democratic Front (UDF) now in the opposition, was given a dose of its own medicine when in April of 2007, MACRA gave a directive banning all private radio stations from conducting live outside broadcasting without the regulatory authority’s permission. The context to the situation is that Malawi’s former President, Bakili Muluzi, in power during the media policy reform process in 1998 sought to bounce back into politics as a possible presidential candidate of his party. As shareholder in one of the commercial radio stations in the country, he wanted his political rallies covered live on the commercial station much to the chagrin of MACRA.
            By restricting the performance and content of private stations, MACRA is not only failing to uphold the people’s basic right to information but it is also compromising its independent status. About regulatory bodies, the international law states that these bodies should be independent so as to avoid undue influence on their operations and to facilitate the much needed public sphere in a nascent democracy. MACRA’s compromised independence stems from, among other things, government direct control in areas such as the appointment of its members and the chairman. Unlike the situation in some African countries where the President appoints councilors to the regulatory authority upon recommendation by parliament after a public participation in the nomination process and a publication of shortlisted candidates, it is the prerogative of the Malawi President to appoint members of MACRA.
            This article is not an attempt to advocate for a free for all media in African countries. Un-regulated media would surely be like a runaway train, which would end up being more dangerous than useful to society. Justifications for regulating frequency allocation, conduct and quality of media houses and trading practices become obvious in this era of market economy. The questions that should guide this effort, though, should be; how should the media be regulated?; under what authority should the media be regulated?; to what end should the media be regulated? Whatever countries decide to do when it comes to information control, one thing is clear and that is the fact that, with the advent of a plethora of media choices such as the internet, TV-cellular phones, billboards and broadcast yourself possibilities, the age of public broadcast monopoly is but extinct. The sooner African governments realized this, the better for their political survival.
            Realizing the fact that information and communication is no longer the ambit of governments, there is all the more reason for permitting channels that will promote the fundamental democratic right of the citizenry. Justification for media regulation has been reduced to four rationales: 1) for effective communication; 2) to ensure diversity, both political and cultural; 3) for economic reasons and; 4) towards an effective public service (sustenance of a healthy public sphere).
            In short, for Malawi and other African countries to achieve robust media, there is a need for deliberate and genuine promotion of media pluralism, and the upholding of high professional standards for regulating bodies. History has proven that a fettered media ceases to fulfill its fourth estate role as a watchdog and turns into a cheerleader.
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