Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What's at stake in South Africa's new finance minister's first budget

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There’s a great deal hanging on South Africa’s 2017 medium term budget policy statement. Three factors are at play: there is political turmoil around the governing African National Congress, the country’s economy is performing poorly and this is the first budgetary statement from the new Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. The Conversation Africa’s Sibonelo Radebe asked Jannie Rossouw to layout his expectations.

What keeps you up at night in relation to this medium term budget?

The single most worrying factor is the lack of economic growth South Africa faces. Growth has slowed down significantly in recent years and the economy flirted with recession after shrinking during the last quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year. The economy did bounce back into positive growth during the second quarter but the outlook remains unimpressive. Only 0.5% growth is expected for 2017 and less than 2% over the medium term.

Owing to this lack of growth, unemployment is on the increase – it now stands at a staggering 27% – while government revenue is under pressure. It also implies that the government’s burden on the economy (for instance total government debt as percentage of gross domestic product, orDebt/GDP ratio) will increase.

Government’s debt to GDP ratio is currently budgeted to level out around 50%. This is to be welcomed because any increase in the ratio increases the interest burden.

But if slow growth and revenue shortfalls persist, government debt will increase. The debt to GDP ratio will be on its way to 65% of GDP in the medium term.

And should the combination of low growth and growing government expenditure continue after the period of this medium term statement (2017/18 - 2020/21), the debt/GDP ratio might be on its way to 100%. This projection really stresses one of the most worrying factors that has to be addressed in this statement: Limiting the level of government debt before it reaches this level.

In other countries where this level has been exceeded, severe adjustments had to be forced on their economies. Take the Irish Republic case. Remuneration levels and employment numbers in the civil service had to be cut dramatically to deal with the Irish government debt crisis.

There is a new finance minister in place and he comes with shifting political dynamics. How do you rate him and what do you expect from him?

It is difficult to rate the new minster, given that he’s only been in the job since April and the fact that he has not yet tabled his first budgetary statement. The only statement against which his performance can really be assessed is the 14-point plan he announced in July 2017.

We’ll be watching the medium term statement for his report back on progress in implementing it.

But Gigaba comes with worrying political dynamics, including accusations that he is party to corruption.

And its difficult to separate him from the history of bad policy options of the African National Congress which has delivered the prevailing lacklustre economic performance. The fiscal crisis facing South Africa is a direct result of these policies.

How significant is the medium term budget policy statement?

It’s very important as it provides an overview of government’s plans for expenditure and for raising revenue over the next three years. A three year view is significant because it provides insight into planned government expenditure and indicates expected tax increases that South African taxpayers have to face. It also informs decisions of the credit rating agencies about South Africa’s fiscal stability.

The statement forms the basis of the annual budget of government revenue and expenditure that is tabled in Parliament in February each year.

The statement is the first formal opportunity after the tabling of the annual budget where the government reports on the actual performance of revenue raised in comparison to budgeted revenue and of actual expenditure in comparison to budgeted expenditure.

This reporting by government gives an early indication of expectations for the main budget in February. For instance, if government revenue is underperforming, the expectation is that taxes will be increased the following February. Indeed a tax increase might materialise in this medium term statement.

What in you view will be key focus areas in this medium term statement?

As South Africa’s economic growth is currently lower than the forecast used for the 2017/18 fiscal year, tax collection has come under pressure. A revenue shortfall is expected for this fiscal year. The medium term statement is when the size of the shortfall will be formally disclosed.

Given expectations of a substantial shortfall, South Africans should brace themselves for substantial tax increases in the main budget in February 2018. The fiscal crisis might even be so serious that the government might decide to divert from previous practice and announce tax increases in this medium term statement.

Like any other government in the world, it raises revenue through taxes and use this revenue to fund its expenditure. If revenue exceeds expenditure, the difference must be borrowed, which adds to the level of government debt, or expenditure must be cut.

One of the biggest budgetary headaches is the ailing state owned enterprises. What should be done?

The ConversationGovernment is really throwing good money after bad by using public money to bailout ailing state owned enterprises. I have said a long time ago that South African Airways should simply be given away. This is a much cheaper option for the taxpayer instead of never ending bailouts. The South African government should reassess its holding of state owned enterprises and close, sell or give away those that are no longer financially viable. Such action will remove a large financial burden on the South African taxpayer.

Jannie Rossouw, Head of School of Economic & Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Ahmed Timol inquest: why uncovering apartheid crimes remains so important

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Former policeman Joao Rodrigues giving evidence at the Timol Inquest.
Anthony Schultz/Mail & Guardian

The recent, reopened inquest into the death of teacher and anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Timol, was different in many ways from a traditional court case. Instead of the standard adversarial criminal trial, which is associated with an acrimonious standoff between opposing parties, the state and the representative of the Timol family, Advocate Howard Varney, seemed to agree on the importance of arriving at the truth about Timol’s death.

Timol was 29 when he was arrested on 22 October 1971. After being interrogated and tortured by the feared security branch of the police, he died on 27 October 1971. Magistrate JL de Villiers, who presided over the inquest that followed his death, found that Timol had committed suicide.

The reopened inquest in the North Gauteng High Court nearly 50 years later was intensely symbolic. The atmosphere in the court was heavy with history. At times the testimony of witnesses reminded one of funeral-like memorialisation. It was clear that the case was not only about Timol’s death but about the dozens of victims who died at John Vorster Square, the notorious Johannesburg security branch headquarters, and more broadly, the countless victims of apartheid crimes.

Throughout the hearings Judge Billy Mothle heard compelling testimony from witnesses such as Timol’s friend and fellow detainee Salim Essop. Essop testified of brutal torture including electric shock treatments and attempts to suffocate detainees.

In concluding his deliberations after hearing the evidence, Judge Billy Mothle found that Timol was either pushed from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square or from the rooftop of the building.

The ruling has been seen as a vindication of the tireless efforts on the part of Timol’s family and friends to have the apartheid security force’s lies and misrepresentation of the young activist’s final days overturned.

Truth and reconciliation

The Timol case resurrects many of the questions South Africa raised during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and in its direct aftermath. In many ways, the Timol case can be understood as a continuation of the work of the commission: the reopening of an inquest can be a way of establishing the truth of apartheid era atrocities.

In some ways, court proceedings are more efficient and powerful than hearings of the TRC kind. Courts have the power to subpoena witnesses and to declare lying witnesses in contempt of court. In addition, their judgments form formal precedent for future decisions. Court cases are also infused with a certain weight and formal authority.

One of the most serious criticisms of the design of the TRC was that it had the power to grant amnesty under certain conditions. While the conditional amnesty model was lauded as innovative and reconciliation-building, over two decades later it’s clear that there were crucial gaps in the amnesty scheme.

Firstly, the truth uncovered by the amnesty hearings was a selective truth in the sense that many apartheid victims didn’t have the means to travel to the sites of the hearing to testify. Secondly, many former perpetrators didn’t apply for amnesty. Many must have made a calculated guess that they were unlikely to be prosecuted if they did not apply for amnesty.

And there have been less than a handful of prosecutions post TRC. This arguably makes a mockery of the amnesty scheme. Also, the National Prosecuting Authority’s Priority Crimes Litigation Unit has been exceedingly passive. It’s this unit that failed to follow up on important cases such as the Wouter Basson case. Dubbed “Dr Death” in the media, Basson was the head of the apartheid government’s chemical and biological warfare programme. When the Constitutional Court gave the prosecuting authority the go ahead to prosecute, it failed to follow up.

In light of the poor, lacklustre track record of the state over the past 20 years, there’s little reason for optimism that all apartheid era inquests will be reopened. There can be no doubt that reopening inquests is an important way of discovering the truth about the past and setting the historical record straight.

Many cases will be obstructed by the fact that witnesses and accused would have died in the decades since the killings.

Even if witnesses are alive their memories often fail them as might have been the case with Joao “Jan” Rodrigues in the Timol inquest.

Banality of evil

Rodrigues was one of the policemen present at the time of Timol’s killing and is accused of helping to hide the evidence of his killing.

When testifying at the Timol hearings, Rodrigues (78) was completely uncooperative and continuously claimed that he could not remember the events of October 1971. Watching from the public gallery, I found Rodrigues the most interesting of the witnesses. He was interesting precisely because he was ordinary and reminded me of philosopher Hannah Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil” in “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil” – her account of Nazi officer, Adolf Eichmann, who Arendt thought willingly did his part to organise the Holocaust but in a non-ideological combination of careerism and obedience.

Rodrigues’s testimony is representative of the denial of a whole generation of white South Africans. He did not show a slither of remorse. His body language conveyed a certain irritation and annoyance at the fact that he was hauled from the daze of retirement into the spotlight of a prominent and inconvenient court appearance. He conveyed that he was somehow being victimised by a process he found strange and unnecessary.

Appropriate relief

Judge Mothle stated that the perpetrators are dead. This raises the question of appropriate relief – a question which is still unclear. But punishment of perpetrators is not the primary relief sought by victims of state sponsored atrocities.

The ConversationIt is good and right that the Timol case gives hope to the families of murdered apartheid activists and that victims will be encouraged to come forward to reopen inquests. But it’s important that families should be warned of the significant resource obstacles the state faces and the selective nature of prosecutions. There is only one thing worse than living in hope: hope that is continuously frustrated.

Mia Swart, Professor of International Law, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Using the South African army to fight crime is a bad idea: here's why

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South Africa’s police minister, Fikile Mbalula, has stirred controversy by calling for the involvement of the country’s military in fighting crime. Although there might be short term gains from deploying the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in crime-ridden urban areas of the country, there are several reasons why it should be discouraged.

An obvious reason is that, tactically, militaries are not trained to do community protection and fighting crime in urban communities. They aren’t taught and trained how to apply police and law enforcement rules when it comes to the use of minimum force, or how to follow the proper procedures during an arrest.

Moreover, soldiers are generically trained to use machine guns, not pistols. Also, military doctrine and command structures are not suited to deployments in urban areas and especially to fight gangsterism. In short, armies are basically geared to fight external enemies.

Mexico is a case in point from a South African perspective. A decade ago the country’s military was brought in to fight drug cartels - a role its leadership is now questioning. The Mexican Defence Minister Salvador Cienfuegos recently pointed out that their responsibilities in fighting crime doesn’t correspond with their training.

We didn’t study how to chase criminals.

South Africa can learn from the Mexican experience. There are no short cuts to fighting crime, and instead of looking to the SANDF for quick fixes, the South African government should be focused on building a more effective and functional police and crime intelligence service. In simplified terms: the South African Police Service (SAPS) and related law enforcement agencies should improve their institutional capabilities and get the job of crime prevention and fighting done more efficiently. Beyond the fact that it wouldn’t be desirable to use the military in anti-crime efforts in Cape Town and Gauteng, there is also the hard reality that South Africa’s defence force is in a weakened and parlous state in several respects.

Three reasons why it shouldn’t do the job

There are at least three important reasons why the South African National Defence Force shouldn’t be deployed to fight crime in urban communities.

The first is that the country’s defence force is in an increasingly critical state of degeneration. There has been a continuous decline in military spending over the past few decades. In real terms, the defence budget was cut by half between 1989 and 1997. Until 2010 expenditure was pinned at about 1,6% of GDP - which is between 6% and 7% of total government expenditure). Over the past seven years it has levelled out at 1.2% to 1.1% of GDP.

It’s not surprise that the recently adopted Defence Review (2015) found that:

The Defence Force is in a critical state of decline … Left unchecked, and at present funding levels, this decline will severely compromise and further fragment the defence capability. It is clear that certain defence capabilities, if not addressed now, will be lost in the very near future. The longer this prevails, the greater the effort, time and cost will be to restore the Defence Force.

The second reason is that the military is ill-equipped to be called on to fight crime is that it’s been criticised for being unable to meet its current responsibilities,
including being able to fulfil its responsibilities as a peacekeeping force on the continent. In fact South Africa’s participation in continental peacekeeping operations of both the United Nations and the African Union has decreased notably. It’s participation has reached the lowest level since the early 2000s following the recent withdrawal of its soldiers from Darfur, Sudan.

Helmoed-Römer Heitman, one of South Africa’s most authoritative defence analysts contends that:

[t]he reality is that the state of readiness [of the South African National Defence Force] is appalling: The South African National Defence Force is in no way capable of handling anything but the most minor crisis.

The third reason is that, despite insufficient funding, the SANDF has had to take on extra responsibilities over the last seven years. Since 2010 it has taken back the border protection function (and related crime fighting along the borders) from the police and begun patrolling the country’s borders. It is now deployed along the seven provinces that have landward borders with surrounding countries. Tasks range from stopping people attempting to enter South Africa illegally to confiscating contraband, mainly cigarettes and liquor and dagga (marijuana). Since 2011 the SANDF also had to take up the task of assisting the Kruger National Park’s rangers in preventing rhino poaching.

Weak police force is the issue

There is, however, a much bigger issue at stake - the functionality of the SAPS. This is in fact the main issue. The current budget allocation favours public order and safety (earmarked for the police) over defence and state security (partially earmarked for the military). The 2017/18 allocation to the police portfolio was R93bn while the defence portfolio got R53bn.

In 2013 South Africa was listed as having the 11th biggest police force in the world and it gets almost 48% of the total allocation of the overall defence, public order and safety account At the same time, this does not mean that the SAPS is without shortcomings and constraints. According to UN statistics, South Africa is in the lower-middle end of policing ratios compared to other countries in the world.

The ConversationStill, the police get a sizeable chunk of the country’s budget and it can be expected to deliver a better service to the South African public. The country has unacceptably high crime levels. But, the political solution to crime in the relevant areas of Cape Town and Gauteng does not lie in deploying the army. The relevant political leaders would do the country’s citizens a favour if they focused on fixing the police service and strengthening crime intelligence, and stopped pursuing unhelpful ideas like using the army to fight crime.

Theo Neethling, Professor and Head: Political Studies and Governance in the Humanities Faculty, University of the Free State

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Can Zuma untie Gordian knot after failing to quash corruption charges?

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South Africa’s president faces a difficult time ahead, following the loss of his bid to escape justice.

The Supreme Court of South Africa’s rejection of President Jacob Zuma’s appeal against an earlier judgment that he face 783 criminal charges has renewed uncertainty about his future.

The earlier High Court ruling had found that the 2009 decision by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to withdraw the charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering against Zuma was irrational.

The judgment forms part of three milestones in Zuma’s recent history dominated by corruption, unethical conduct and his ability to avoid criminal charges. These were, firstly, the Schabir Shaik case in which Zuma’s financial advisor was convicted of corruption as a result of his relationship with him. The second was the Nkandla case that involved the use of public funds on lavish renovations to Zuma’s private homestead. The Constitutional Court found that Zuma had acted illegally and in a way that was inconsistent with the Constitution.

The third is the latest case, known as the “spy tapes” case. This involved intercepted discussions in 2007 between the then National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka and Leonard McCarthy (head of the then elite crime-fighting unit, the Scorpions) about the timing of Zuma’s indictment. Mokotedi Mpshe, who succeeded Ngcuka in an acting capacity, withdrew the charges in 2009, arguing that these discussions showed the charges were politicised.

The “spy tapes” saga returned with the application by the opposition Democratic Alliance to be given a copy of the tapes Mpshe used to exonerate Zuma. It was followed by another application for a judicial review of Mpshe’s decision. The High Court subsequently declared Mpshe’s decision irrational. This view has now been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal.


A number of factors are going to complicate Zuma’s options after this judgment. The first is that, unlike most other states, the South African legal system does not include presidential immunity or amnesty.

The second factor is about timing. Zuma’s term as president of the governing African National Congress ends in December when the party is due to elect a new leader. He will at that point lose most of his political power and will therefore be less able to protect himself by co-opting key figures in the criminal justice system.

It’s against this background that his preference for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him is part of his strategy to avoid being convicted during his retirement.

Implications of the judgment

The implications of the Appeal Court judgment for a Zuma counter-strategy are important. The first one is that the relevance of the spy tapes has been removed. The fact that the Court concluded that the motive for charging a suspect is irrelevant and that procedural questions can only be settled by the trial court, removed the contextual arguments of political misappropriation of judicial processes and also important discretionary options from the NPA.

The second one is that the judgment made it impossible for the National Director of Public Prosecutions to review his own decisions and that only a trial court could do it. Again, it limits the NPA’s discretion.

The third one is that the Supreme Court of Appeal raised serious concerns about the NPA’s integrity in 2009, the quality of its legal interpretations and the serious internal differences of opinion. This will become a major test of the NPA’s credibility.

The fourth implication is that the rationality principle has been reinforced. The final decision taken by the National Direct of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams will be subjected to the same test.

The Supreme Court of Appeal did not spell out in any detail what steps the NPA should take next. Two interpretations have emerged: the one is to take the process back to 2009 and that the charges must be reinstated by the NPA. The second one is that the matter should be considered anew by the NPA. This would have to include Zuma’s insistence that he makes presentations before he can be indicted.

The scene is therefore set for legal game-playing. What’s clear is that the decision about Zuma’s indictment will not be finalised and implemented any time soon.

Implications of a Zuma trial

What are the implications of a Zuma court case in the near future?

The first is that having him in court would have a negative effect on government activities until 2019. This can’t be used as an excuse not to prosecute him – in any case this would amount to another irrelevant political motive which the Appeal Court has, in principle, disqualified. A power void would nevertheless cascade down the tiers of government.

The second possible implication is that, if summonsed, Zuma would have no choice but to resign of his own accord. If this happened, an Acting President would have to be appointed and a new President elected within 30 days. This could either be the new ANC President, due to be chosen at the party’s conference in December, or a caretaker president (as happened previously) until 2019.

The third possibility is that Zuma would be forced to resign in the same way that the governing ANC forced Thabo Mbeki out of presidency in 2008. Given its inherent potential to create instability and lead to splits in the ANC makes this the worst case scenario.

All three possible outcomes are not only detrimental to Zuma, but also to the ANC in general. Revelations that are bound to come out in any court case will seriously embarrass the ANC and will provide ample ammunition for the opposition in an election campaign. This would be true whether Zuma was still president or not.

This leaves presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa and the part of the ANC that is aligned to him with a conundrum. They have characterised themselves as being anti-corruption as well as striving for the moral renewal of the ANC. They would have to weigh this against the countervailing effects of having Zuma on trial.

The ConversationThe option of a political settlement can also not rescue the situation, because the case against President Zuma has become a moral litmus test for the ANC.

Dirk Kotze, Professor in Political Science, University of South Africa

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Life stories of significant South African women told through the prism of love

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Nelson Mandela and his comrade, anti-apartheid activist, Fatima Meer.
Indian Spice

South Africa’s apartheid social engineering, the post-1994 victory over racialised inequality and the subsequent recognition that the victory may have been Pyrrhic have elicited a vast literary response, including a fascinating body of personal responses in the form of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies.

These narratives have sought to memorialise significant lives that drove the anti-apartheid struggle, and often focused on documenting the times that created the people.

An emerging trend is one that foregrounds the family in the lives of activists, rather than the established paradigm of the autonomous national auto/biographical hero. Examples that signal this shift are Gillian Slovo’s “Every Secret Thing” (1997) and Elinor Sisulu’s “Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime” (2002).

These auto/biographies take the social microcosm of the family, both nuclear and extended, as the most important matrix out of which lives committed to social justice emerge. They are then placed within the broader context of the nation.

Eros at the heart

“Love in the Time of Treason: The Life Story of Ayesha Dawood” (2008) by Zubeida Jaffer and the autobiography, “Fatima Meer: Memories of Love and Struggle” (2017), acknowledge and recollect the households that created – and are created by – political activists – households which occupy a shifting space between private and public spheres. What sets these two life narratives in relief is the way in which they position eros at the heart of the narrative.

Cover of ‘The Life Story of Ayesha Dawood’.

Veteran journalist, Zubeida Jaffer, presents a portrait of an extraordinary person in decidedly ordinary, yet moving terms. Ayesha Dawood was a young woman in the little country town of Worcester near Cape Town in the 1950s when the first effects of apartheid were being felt. Despite a conservative, sheltered upbringing as the daughter of an Indian shopkeeper, Ayesha is drawn into various social protests and the trade union movement through her innate sense of justice.

Ayesha’s political involvement leads to her being arrested and tried at the Treason Trial of 1956 along with Nelson Mandela, and various other more high profile figures. She also subsequently is jailed and kept in solitary confinement for an extended period in a women’s prison in the nearby town of Paarl.

But contrary to expectation, the biography is not constructed around her activist experience. In fact, the biography does not even open with a focus on Ayesha. Instead, the story of her South African struggle experience begins with her future husband in India.

The narrative is constructed as a love story. It’s a love obstructed by numerous separations. Yusuf Mukadam falls in love with Ayesha at first sight in the village in India where she visits her grandmother. After her departure, despite no real contact with or commitment from her, Yusuf later joins the merchant navy as a cook. His sole purpose: to meet Ayesha again in Cape Town as part of a two-year voyage.

Yusuf sends a letter to inform her of his arrival. But the letter is never opened since Ayesha is in police custody at the time. Yusuf arrives in Cape Town and thinks he has been spurned when he is not met as arranged.

Some years later, back in India, he discovers why he didn’t get a response from the woman to whom he feels incontrovertibly and inexplicably bound. He then signs up for another voyage. This time he jumps ship in Durban and travels to Cape Town to meet and marry Ayesha, almost a decade after their first meeting.

Years into their marriage, after the birth of two children, Yusuf is arrested as an illegal immigrant. But the arrest is a pretext to blackmail Ayesha into acting as a police informant. Since she does not cooperate, her husband is deported to India, an exile which she shares with her life partner.

The poverty of the Indian village means that Yusuf must become a migrant worker in Kuwait in order to support Ayesha and the children. The family finally returns to South Africa, many years later, after the release of Mandela.

Throughout the biography, Jaffer foregrounds romantic attachments. The narrative is prologued by the occasion when Ayesha sees Mandela again on his visit to Worcester on the Blue Train in 1997. The bonds of intimacy between Mandela and Graça Machel at the train station, and Ayesha and Yusuf, are paralleled.

The biography is structured around and locates its narrative momentum in this enduring, ethically cognisant love – or as Jaffer has Ayesha succinctly utter:

Yusuf is my taqdeer (destiny).

Complex relationship

The love relationship is similarly foregrounded in internationally recognised academic-activist Fatima Meer’s autobiography, posthumously published by her daughter.

Cover of ‘Fatima Meer: Memories of Love and Struggle’.

What is surprising about Meer’s autobiography is the way in which the complex relationship with her husband, prominent struggle lawyer Ismail Meer, is used as the organising principle around which her life story is told.

If Yusuf was Ayesha’s destiny, Ismail seems to shape the destiny of Fatima. The Meer relationship is a curious one where a member of the extended family whom she had regarded as an uncle later comes to be her husband when they proverbially fall head-over-heels in love. As trusted “uncle”, Ismail plays a role in determining that Fatima, constrained by a conservative community, should get to study away from home at the University of the Witwatersrand, and influences what she should study.

In a somewhat less tranquil relationship than that of Ayesha and Yusuf, Fatima presents her husband, despite his fierce temper and tendency to domineer, as the central pole and pulse of her life. Fatima’s is a life that is internationally known for never being cowed, a life remembered for its outspoken, principled defiance and critique, even of comrades.

The ConversationIt’s not clear whether these two South African “romance” struggle auto/biographies are a harbinger of a trend, or whether they are anomalies that won’t be repeated. What they certainly do, is to focalise the anti-apartheid struggle through the lives of heroic women whose public and private lives were intimately bound and who were bound by love.

F. Fiona Moolla, Senior Lecturer in English, University of the Western Cape

This article was originally published on The Conversation.