Friday, June 16, 2017

Young South Africans aren't apathetic, just fed up with formal politics

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Children marching on the
anniversary of the Soweto uprising.
EPA/Kim Ludbrook

South Africa’s youth-led movements such as #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall provided contrasting view to perceptions that young people are apathetic and disinterested in the future of their country. But the protests didn’t quite dispel concerns about their lack of political involvement, particularly during elections where there’s been low youth voter turnout.

So we asked young people what they thought about politics. Our research involved focus groups with South Africans aged between 15 and 25 years of age from very different backgrounds. Sampled areas ranged from the rural Eastern Cape, to peri-urban Orange Farm and middle class Kensington, a Johannesburg suburb, amongst others.

Our findings challenge the widely reported perception that young people in South Africa are despondent and don’t care about politics or their role as citizens. What emerged from our research was a picture of young people with strongly defined opinions and knowledge of current affairs. Many said they were involved in some kind of civic activity.

All of the participants expressed a distrust of formal politics. But they also said they have a keen interest in the future of the country and are staking their claim in forging that future, albeit in different and new ways.

What was clear from the research is that young South Africans are engaging with politics very differently to the way in which young people got involved in the 1976 Soweto uprising. They have found new platforms and ways to share information, make their voices heard and ultimately be politically engaged on the back of growing internet based communication, especially social media.

In 1976 young people taught South Africa that they can’t be ignored. They are a powerful force that can shift the course of a country’s future. Today’s youth are no different. They are interested and engaged.

Distrust of formal politics

The people in our focus groups expressed distrust of formal political mechanisms such as voting, demonstrations, and membership of political parties.

Most indicated that they held little faith in the current leadership of the country. They found political leaders to be self-serving and disinterested in them and their communities. While they enjoyed watching parliament in action, this was because it provided entertainment value rather than serious content.

The discussions laid bare why many young people don’t vote. Most expressed alienation from all of South Africa’s political leaders. They said they didn’t know who they could trust or which political party would serve their interests.

As one put it:

Well, there’s ANC, an old promising party who is no longer keeping its promises, then follows the DA which is led and dominated by white people and you’d think when they are in power they may neglect us and care for whites only and also there is Malema who we think is going to corrupt us, so you just think it’s better not to vote.

They also said they didn’t see any point in voting given that there seemed to be little relation between what politicians said they would do versus what they actually did. A common sentiment is reflected in these quotes:

What is the point in voting? Nothing ever changes anyway.

We are not going to vote either because it’s not going to make a difference.

Personally for me I would vote for a party that I have seen making the biggest difference but everyone is fighting in parliament and they are not going out and making the difference that they are supposed to. And when it comes to voting time then all the municipalities jump up and start to do what they were supposed to do. I think that’s the thing. We don’t know who to vote for because no one is making a big difference.

This distrust and alienation often means that young people opt out of formal political processes such as voting and engagement with political parties.

But this should not be read to infer political disinterest and apathy. On the contrary, young people have found other ways to voice their opinions.

Different approaches

Social media is widely used, across the spectrum of youth interviewed, both to voice protest as well as to engage on issues they care about. And many said they have heated face-to-face discussions with their peers about key issues, particularly those affecting their own communities. All these approaches were more appealing, meaningful and accessible than political party membership and voting.

They also held very fervent issues-based views. The focus groups prompted heated debates about xenophobia and the role of foreign nationals in their communities. The participants also felt strongly about common challenges in their communities such as substance abuse, crime and teenage pregnancy.

Our research shows that young people are thinking about key issues in their communities and that they’re getting involved, particularly where issues affect them directly. The difference between this generation and the 1976 generation is that they’re doing so in non-formal ways.

The #feesmustfall campaign is a good example of this. It arose out of an issue that directly affected the lives of many young people. They did not feel that formal democratic processes served them, leading them to engage in a wave of protests driven largely by social media engagements across campuses.

Political parties trying to win the youth vote need to reconnect with where the majority of young people are, more so because young people will continue to form potentially the biggest proportion of the voter base at least until 2050. It’s time the country stopped stereotyping them as apathetic, disinterested and morally bankrupt and started engaging them in ways that are meaningful to them, and connect with the issues they’re interested in.

The Conversation_This article was co-authored with Lauren Stuart, Thobile Zulu and Senzelwe Mthembu.

Lauren Graham, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Development for Africa, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Why calling for a new climate deal isn't such a bad idea

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A floating school in a Lagos Lagoon fishing community is threatened by climate change.
Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye

US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord was greeted with consternation in the rest of the world. Both the United Nations and former President Barack Obama described the decision as a major setback.

I find myself on the same side with the US leader on the Paris Accord, particularly on his call for a new climate deal although my reasons are very different to his. Trump argued that the treaty would affect US jobs and businesses. He also claimed that even if the Paris agreement was implemented in full, its impact on global temperatures would be negligible.

All these reasons have been fact-checked and there are grounds to question his analysis. But his call for a new climate deal or a renegotiation of the agreement would be an opportunity to make the agreement work better from an international law perspective.

The Paris Agreement is weak, lacks an enforcement mechanism and does not clarify liability for climate change. This puts developing countries that have contributed less to global warming at a disadvantage due to the fact that countries that have contributed the most towards global warming are not legally liable or compelled to assist developing nations to adapt to climate change.

The anticipation was that through the agreement, developed nations would fund the adaptation strategies of developing nations. But weaknesses in it mean that the flow of funds isn’t guaranteed. It’s estimated that the cost of meeting the demands of mitigation could reach well over $500 billion a year for developing countries.

The agreement’s objective is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development. The pact requires countries to set goals to reduce carbon emissions. To monitor this, signatories are to meet every five years to report on their respective emissions levels and reductions.

Central to this agreement is the hope that, of their own accord, governments will prioritise the fight against climate change. The programme and targets that each country seeks to meet are nationally determined and implemented, taking into account their respective ability and circumstances.

What this effectively means is that each party has a wide discretion. They can choose what measures they’ll implement to combat climate change. Governments can also determine what financial sacrifices they’ll make. So, if a government chooses to fund its health and education sector rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions it is free to do so.

This means that there’s no institution or mechanism to determine if the measures taken by countries are sufficient. This could lead to a situation in which the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters simply point fingers at one another and while making the least effort to uphold the agreement.

A deal that doesn’t have proper accountability measures built into it and isn’t enforceable can’t be a good one – most particularly for developing countries.

Non-adversarial and non-punitive?

The job of overseeing the implementation of the Paris accord is vested in a committee. The agreement proposes that the committee be expert-based, facilitative in nature and functions in a way that’s transparent, non-adversarial and non-punitive.

The use of the words “non-adversarial’ and "non-punitive” point to the voluntary nature of the pact. I believe this renders it ineffective. Even United Nations agreements backed by the threat of sanctions often don’t work. For instance, though the use of chemical weapons is banned, the United Nations Security Council failed to investigate fully, or punish, violations in Syria this year. What drove the drafters to imagine that the climate treaty would receive the attention it deserves with no enforcement mechanisms?

In fact, one would have expected the Paris agreement to rectify the challenges that have plagued the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under this framework, countries have gathered each year at the Conference of Parties (COP) to negotiate agreements on how to combat climate change. In 1997, the conference adopted the Kyoto Protocol.

This was commendable in 1997 but research indicates that over the years countries actually failed to meet their Kyoto commitments. None faced any consequences and a perfect example would be Canada whose withdrawal from the Treaty extinguished any consequences for non-compliance. In addition, the US failed to ratify the protocol yet it was the largest emitter at the time of signing.

The seeds of the Paris agreement were sown in the Kyoto protocol. The major difference between the two is that the Kyoto protocol has targets for leading economies. This made it very unpopular which led to most states at the Paris conference demanding a more flexible approach.


The reality is not every country will be able to combat the adverse effects of climate change effectively while still guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens.

The solution offered by the Paris Accord is to get developed countries to commit funds that will be facilitated through a UN framework to the benefit of developing countries. This essentially translates into vested economies like the China and the US subsidising the efforts of highly vulnerable regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

There is fairness in this arrangement since these regions don’t have a history of large emissions.

The World Resources Institute shows that China is the largest polluter followed by the US, EU, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada and Mexico. In line with the restorative principle, the Paris Accord came close to getting countries that warm up the globe to foot the bill for efforts to restore and preserve natural resources.

Unfortunately, coming close is all that it did.

In his official statement outlining the reasons for the US withdrawal, Trump repeatedly mentions his willingness to re-enter negotiations on a new deal. This call is not necessarily a bad thing. A new round on how we save planet earth would give leaders the opportunity to craft a binding and enforceable agreement.

The ConversationHopefully it would take into account actual environmental damage, loss and liability. And developing countries could demand accountability for greenhouse gas emissions.

Ilyayambwa Mwanawina, Senior Law Lecturer, North-West University

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

South Africa will need a government of national healing after Zuma leaves

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A government of national unity has served South Africa well before. It should consider forming another after President Jacob Zuma leaves office.

South Africa’s march into a democracy was greatly helped by a multiparty government of national unity established after the 1994 elections.

The government of national unity, which governed from 1994 - 1999, has been largely credited with fostering unity of purpose and relative confidence between previously warring parties to build trust in a joint future. It laid the foundation for healing wounds as well as remarkable socioeconomic development. During the period it governed the country enjoyed an economic growth rate of close to 3% per annum.

Given the damage that’s being caused by President Jacob Zuma’s administration since he assumed power in 2009, the country will need elements of a government of national unity when he goes.

The fact that South Africa is in recession is only the latest in a growing list of Zuma-induced catastrophes. Others include credit rating agencies downgrading South Africa. Their decision was linked to a cabinet reshuffle widely seen as an attempt to capture key state institutions.

The state capture allegations have been corroborated by a number of credible parties including the former Public Protector, the South African Council of Churches as well as a group of academics who produced a report titled Betrayal of the promise: How South Africa is stolen.

These reports make it clear that high levels of corruption are at the root of the economic crisis gripping the country. Corruption has driven away investment, and as a result economic growth has suffered. It has also led to an erosion of trust in the government.

It’s therefore necessary to start debating what happens when Zuma goes. South Africa will need a government of national healing, administered by a government of national unity. This is the only way in which its citizens will be able to learn to trust one another again, as they did after 1994.

Healing will be needed

Governments of national unity have served some countries, including South Africa, well. Israel had several governments of national unity, while Kenya had one from 2008 to 2013. Greece had a government of national unity in 2011 to help the country deal with the aftermath of the international financial crisis.

A South African government of national unity should include representatives of all major political parties in parliament. Its role should be to:

  • focus on restoring confidence in government institutions and in the government itself,
  • restoring trust among people, and
  • eradicating any form of corruption which, in turn, will restore trust in the government.

National healing requires sacrifices from all citizens to ensure a better future. A government that represented all key players in society, run by leaders appointed for their technical expertise rather than their political party loyalty, would be much better placed to ask people to make these sacrifices.

The question of a wealth tax is a good example. Already on the table for debate , a wealth tax could work well if it was presented as a contribution to the interests of the country has a whole.

But people would need an assurance that the money would be put to good use and not wasted. Only a freshly minted government could provide this.

A wealth tax could play an important role in national healing if it was implemented with the necessary circumspection. Given the fragility of the country’s economy, a number of key considerations would need to be taken on board. These would include whether there should be a once-off restitution tax for wealth redistribution, or an annual wealth tax.

Successes since 1994

The new government could draw on the considerable successes the South African government has achieved since 1994. This includes the fact that millions more people have basic services such as electricity and running water. The percentage of households with electricity has increased from 58% to 90% while those with access to running water has more than doubled from 7,2 million in 1995 to 15,2 million.

Institutions have been built to safeguard the country’s democracy. South Africa boasts an independent judiciary, despite attempts by the Zuma administration to undermine it. And the country’s central bank remains independent.

On top of this, there’s the goodwill of millions of South Africans with dreams for a better future for their children.

Dreams of a post-Zuma era

The government of national healing would have to create conditions for sustained economic growth, particularly a reduction in the country’s high unemployment rate. Strong but caring leadership will be needed to deal with a number of sticky issues that are limiting investment and job creation.

For example, the country needs to make it easy and attractive for entrepreneurs to do business. This will require a relaxation of labour laws, particularly for small business that suffer under the burden of cumbersome regulation. At the same time the removal of red tape for small and medium enterprises would help greatly.

Bold decisions, including privatisation, would also need to be made to deal with the country’s decaying state owned enterprises. Most, such as South African Airways and the national power utility Eskom, have become an unnecessarily heavy burden on the state.

Addressing the crisis in primary and secondary education would also have to be a priority. And devolving powers to the provinces from the central government would be another.

The ConversationSouth Africa has exciting prospects and can look forward to rapid economic growth after the Zuma administration. South Africans need to start dreaming, planning and working towards a government of national healing.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thousands left stranded by Johannesburg taxi blockade

Talks between taxi association and SA Taxi Finance Holdings broke down

By Ihsaan Haffejee
15 June 2017
Photo of a highway
Trucks were used to block the N1 highway near Allendale. According to police spokesperson Wayne Minnaar, the trucks were hijacked and the keys stolen so that they could not be moved. Photo supplied
Thousands of commuters across Gauteng were left stranded after mini-bus taxis of The South African National Taxi Association (Santaco) embarked on protest action by blocking major highways between Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The protest follows the collapse of negotiations between the taxi association and South African Taxi Finance Holdings over the cost of Toyota Quantum vehicles.

“Some members of the taxi industry have been hard hit by the high interest rate of 28% and the R15,000 per month payment. We can’t take it anymore. There will be no taxis running and we advise commuters to seek alternative transport,” said the spokesperson for Santaco Gauteng Ralph Jones.

National highways including the N1, N3 and N12 were blocked as well as secondary roads that could have been used as alternatives. In the south of Johannesburg, there almost no taxis operating. The N1 at the Grasmere toll as well as sections of the Golden Highway were cut off to traffic. Commuters were left stranded on the side of the road.

Jeremy Xaba from Finetown was worried about missing a day of work and was searching for an alternative way to get to Johannesburg. “I am doing small work on construction, but you know if you don’t pitch for work you do not get paid. So I’m going to lose out on a day’s wages if I can’t get to Jo’burg,” said Xaba.

Other commuters were seen walking towards the highway in the hope of getting lifts from passing motorists, while many gave up and headed back home.

Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson Wayne Minnaar said: “Quite a few trucks were hijacked and keys were stolen for the purpose of blocking the highway. This happened by the Allandale off-ramp‚” said Minnaar.

The bus services for the Gautrain were also suspended because of taxis blocking the entrances to stations and employees unable to reach their workstations.

The Gauteng Department of Education also urged parents to keep their children home for their safety, and said it had told principals to give children who could not make exams today another opportunity. Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi said that no child would be penalised for not making it to school.

The University of South Africa (UNISA) said it was aware that some students were unable to reach their exam venues on time and students would be allowed to apply to defer their exams.

SAPS Gauteng spokesperson Kay Makhubela said that the police impounded 18 taxis that were blocking the highway on the N1 near Allandale.

The Santaco leadership said it would be mobilising drivers on a march to the SA Taxi Finance offices in Midland today, where a memorandum would be given to the directors citing its grievances.

Published originally on GroundUp .

Science in crisis: from the sugar scam to Brexit, our faith in experts is fading

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Under the microscope.

This is a Foundation Essay for The Conversation Global. Our series of Foundation Essays provide an in-depth investigation of a particular global challenge. In this piece, Andrea Saltelli asks what’s behind the worldwide crisis in science.

Worldwide, we are facing a joint crisis in science and expertise. This has led some observers to speak of a post-factual democracy – with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump the results.

Today, the scientific enterprise produces somewhere in the order of 2m papers a year, published in roughly 30,000 different journals. A blunt assessment has been made that perhaps half or more of all this production “will not stand the test of time”.

Meanwhile, science has been challenged as an authoritative source of knowledge for both policy and everyday life, with noted major misdiagnoses in fields as disparate as forensics, preclinical and clinical medicine, chemistry, psychology and economics.

Perhaps nutrition is the field most in the spotlight. It took several decades for cholesterol to be absolved and for sugar to be re-indicted as the more serious health threat, thanks to the fact that the sugar industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s, which successfully cast doubt on the hazards of sucrose – while promoting fat as the dietary culprit.

Destructive trend

We think of science as producing truths about the universe. Triumphs of science, like the recent confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves and the landing of a probe on a comet flying around the sun, bring more urgency to the need to reverse the present crisis of confidence in other areas of the scientific endeavour.

Science is tied up with our ideas about democracy – not in the cold war sense of science being an attribute of open democratic societies, but because it provides legitimacy to existing power arrangements: those who rule need to know what needs to be done, and in modern society this knowledge is provided by science. The science-knowledge-power relationship is one of the master narratives of modernity, whose end was announced by philosopher Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard four decades ago. The contemporary loss of trust in expertise seems to support his views.

Still, techno-science is at the heart of contemporary narratives: the convictions that we will innovate our way out of the economic crisis, overcome our planetary boundaries, achieve a dematerialised economy, improve the fabric of nature, and allow universal well-being.

The appeal of reassuring narratives about our future depends on our trust in science, and the feared collapse of this trust will have far-reaching consequences.

The cult of science is still adhered to by many. Most of us need to believe in a neutral science, detached from material interests and political bargaining, capable of discovering the wonders of nature. For this reason, no political party has so far argued for a reduction in science funding on the basis of the crisis in science, but this threat could soon materialise.

Landing Philae on a comet was no mean feat.
DLR German Aerospace Center Follow, CC BY

The crisis we saw coming

The crisis in science is not a surprise – some scholars of history and philosophy of science had predicted it four decades ago.

Derek de Solla Price, the father of scientometrics – literally the scientific study of science – feared the quality crisis. He noted in his 1963 book, Little Science, Big Science, that the exponential growth of science might lead to saturation, and possibly to senility (an incapacity to progress any further). For contemporary philosopher Elijah Millgram, this disease takes the form of disciplines becoming alien to one another, separated by different languages and standards.

Jerome R Ravetz noted in 1971 that science is a social activity, and that changes in the social fabric of science – once made up of restricted clubs whose members were linked by common interests and now a system ruled by impersonal metrics - would entail serious problems for its quality assurance system and important repercussions for its social functions.

Ravetz, whose analysis of science’s contradictions has continued to the present day, noted that neither a technical fix would remedy this, nor would a system of enforced rules. Scientific quality is too delicate a matter to be resolved with a set of recipes.

A perfect illustration of his thesis is the recent debate about the P value – commonly used in experiments to judge the quality of scientific results. The inappropriate use of this technique has been strongly criticised, provoking alarm – and statements of concern – at the highest levels in the profession of statistics. But no clear agreement has been reached on the nature of the problem, as shown by the high number of critical comments in the ensuing debate.

Philip Mirowski’s recent book offers a fresh reading of the crisis in terms of the commercialisation of science’s production. Scientific research deteriorates when it is entrusted to contract research organisations, working on a short leash held by commercial interests.

The present trajectory will result in an impasse in many areas of science, where it may become impossible to sort out the good papers from the bad.

See me after class.

Science-based narratives and the social functions of science will then lose their appeal. No solution is possible without a change in the prevailing vision and ideology, but can scientific institutions offer one?

The supremacy of expertise

Here the stakes are high and perverse systems of incentives entrenched. Many scientists are highly defensive of their work. They adhere to the deficit model, in its standard or glorified form, whereby if only people understood science – or at least understood who the true experts were – then progress would be achieved.

Scientists often subscribe to the myth of one science, and promote actions for or against a policy based on their position as scientists. In a recent case, more than 100 Nobel laureates took a side in a dispute over a genetically modified rice, a rather complex case where more prudence would have been in order.

Climate is another battlefield where the idea that “science has spoken” or “doubt has been eliminated” have become common refrains.

Many scientists defend the supremacy of expertise; if lay citizens disagree with experts, it is the former who are wrong. This because scientists are better than bankers and politicians, or simply better human beings, who need protection from political interference.

There is an evident tension between this view and what takes place in the arena of evidence-based (or informed) policy. Here legislation developed to fight racketeering is used by activists and scientists to target their peers in the opposing faction, in hot fields from climate to biotechnologies.

Perhaps not the most helpful attitude.
DanaK~WaterPenny, CC BY

The science of economics is still in control of the master narrative. The same craft that failed to predict the latest great recession – and worse, directly engineered it thanks to its financial recklessness – is still dictating market-based approaches to overcome present challenges. By its own admission, the discipline, which supported austerity policies with a theorem based on a coding error, has little clue as to what to do if the global economy will face another downturn.

The economic historian Erik Reinert notes that economics is the only discipline impermeable to paradigm shifts. For economics, he says, the earth is round and flat at the same time, all the time, with fashions changing in cyclical shifts.

One can see in the present critique of finance – as something having outgrown its original function into a self-serving entity – the same ingredients of the social critique of science.

Thus the ethos of “little science” reminds us of the local banker of old times. Scientists in a given field knew one another, just as local bankers had lunch and played golf with their most important customers. The ethos of techno-science or mega-science is similar to that of the modern Lehman bankers, where the key actors know one another only through performance metrics.

Change takes place at an ever-accelerating pace; the number of initiatives to heal science’s diseases multiply every day from within the house of science.

Increasingly, philosophers warn that not all is well in our ever-stronger symbiotic relation with technology. The effects of innovation on jobs, on inequality, on our way of knowing and of making sense of reality, are all becoming problematic. Everything moves at a pace that frustrates our hope of control.

What can we do?

If this wave of concern will merge with the science crisis, then important facets of our modernity might be up for discussion. Will this lead to a new humanism as hoped by some philosophers or to a new dark age, as feared by others?

The conflicts described thus far involve values in conflict, of the type dealt with in something called “post-normal science”. Many dislike the name of this approach for its postmodern associations, but appreciate its model of extended peer communities. These communities bring together experts from across disciplines – as different disciplines see through different lenses – and anyone affected or concerned with the subject at hand, with possibly different views about what the problem is.

Today, extended peer communities are set up by some activist citizens and scientists. This format encourages a humbler, more reflexive attitude. It suggests to citizens a more critical and participatory attitude in matters of science and technology, with less deference towards experts.

New media provides fertile ground for these communities. “Could the internet be to science what the printing press was to the church?” asks the science and technology philosoper Silvio Funtowicz.

The ConversationIf this process leads to reform in science and challenges the monopoly of knowledge and authority – as to some extent we see happening in health - then we might go some way to rebuilding trust in one of the most important facets of modern life.

Andrea Saltelli, Researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) , University of Bergen

This article was originally published on The Conversation.