Xenophobia – Calling A Spade by Any Other Name

We are celebrating Africa Day on May 25.

Historically this day marks the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and commemorates African unity.

In South Africa we have paved the way to Africa Day with the death of at least five people during xenophobic attacks which flared up in KwaZulu-Natal last week. It has now spread to Gauteng with news of attacks in Johannesburg.

Yes, xenophobic attacks.

It is truly a sad day when we forget the atrocities committed towards our African brothers and sisters during the 2008 xenophobic attacks by allowing our government to go to great lengths to call a spade by any other name than a spade.

A recent opinion piece by Rebecca Davis on the Daily Maverick website, Xenophobic violence: Government walks the walk, but will it talk the talk? offers a telling timeline of just how much government doesn’t want to call a spade a spade.

Yet the animosity towards our African compatriots have not ceased to stew since the 2008 attacks and violence continued to flare up in several parts of South Africa.

It highlights the fact that government has done very little to address the issue. Perhaps it can be attributed to the fact that these attacks have been written off as mere criminal opportunism by more than one prominent government official.

If we consider our failed efforts to curb crime, it makes sense that government would plead the fifth rather than call the monster by its real name.

On Facebook a user called it an “academic contest” as everyone tries to weigh in on what is happening in KZN… xenophobia, afrophobia, criminal, political…

While all this is going on people continue to die violently. Communities continue to burn. Families continue to be displaced.

As I write this I am currently on a visit to Australia where the current situation in South Africa is a hot topic.

Our continent is looking towards us, not as a source of inspiration, but as an embarrassment in efforts to achieving African unity and prosperity.

I would like to see our government showing its strength by not just condemning these attacks, but intervening decisively towards trampling this fear and anger towards our African brothers and sisters. We need leadership and we need it now.

I would like to see all South Africans pull together (and we have shown on many occasions that we can) and find non-violent ways to address these festering wounds left over by colonialism and apartheid, and find a way to heal our nation.

South Africa is not the only African nation with problems, we have a lot of challenges in common and we need to tackle them together. We were recently reminded that the threat of terrorism is fast spreading on our continent and leaving a bloody trail in its wake. Can we afford to pretend that this threat is just a threat on some African nations? No we cannot.

As we are about to celebrate 21 years of democracy, these incidents are a sad indictment of what so many fought and lost their lives for.

My hope is that we will renew the bonds of Africa Day and find our collective identity as a continent ripe with possibilities and committed to the spirit of Ubuntu.

Divided we are weak, united we are strong. #NoToXenophobia

Justice Postponed, is Justice Denied

I spent the entire morning in Court 5 of the Pretoria Regional Court.

I was due to testify as a witness in the house robbery case where my family and I fell victim.

This incident took place in Nov 2013.

I returned to the court building after many years. As a reporter, I spent many long hours in the courts covering stories.

Little seems to have changed. The building is the same old dump. The courtrooms are still filled with stale air and they have not been renovated for years.

The system seems to have also changed little over the years. Case after case gets postponed.
Many prosecutors left at around 11am to attend the funeral of a colleague.

While waiting for the accused in my case to arrive, it was interesting to watch the prosecutors, lawyers, court officials and police officers at work.

Most have no rush…They joke, and walk around. In the public gallery, witnesses and even accused out on bail wait for the next move.

The Magistrate walks in and everyone stands. It appears this is when the serious stuff start.

Postponed…postponed…postponed…yes it continues.

In between an accused appears to be sentenced on a charge of corruption. He has been waiting for ten years for the case to be finalized. The man, a Home Affairs official, took a R2000 bribe from a Pakistani national.

Within 30 minutes, it’s all over. A witness testifies and the State and Defence argue their case. Immediately the magistrate hands down the sentence. 5 years in jail.

The State prosecutors are happy. The Defence lawyer is grumpy. He wants to appeal the conviction and sentence but aborts the application quickly after the magistrate asks whether it is a formal application.

In the meantime, a man shackled is brought into the public gallery by prison warders. He sits a few places away from us in the front row. I immediately recognized him as the suspect in my robbery case. He was apparently sentenced to 5 years in jail on another charge.

Eventually, the two accused are called to the stand and my son and I are asked to leave the courtroom. We are called back and asked to return to court on 28 May. Yes, another postponement.

The magistrate angrily tells the one accused “This is not a circus…” This is in response to him looking around the gallery and fiddling with his hands.

Their lawyers indicates they want to bring another bail application for the one man. This is possibly the fifth attempt.

We need an effective and efficient court system. Delays are causing lots of frustration. The system works far too slow. Promises over the years that things will improve at the lower courts have never materialized.

It’s time for action. The criminal justice system is critical to ensuring that we fight crime effectively. For as long as this does not happen, we are not going to see progress.

Abramjee: It’s time for active citizenry against drugs

Communities must stand up against drugs.

No area is immune.

We at Crime Line and Lead SA are being inundated with calls for help from across South Africa.

During a recent visit to areas in the Western Cape, the Minister in the Presidency, Susan Shabangu, and I met various communities as part of the #365days of activism initiative. Drugs, drugs and drugs topped the agenda wherever we went.

Dareleen James from Eldorado Park, the famous mother who wrote to President Jacob Zuma, continues to cry out for help saying her community is continuing to face an onslaught from drug dealers.

This week, mothers from Laudium and surrounding areas outside Pretoria called us – also appealing for urgent interventions.

Gauteng Community Safety MEC Sizakele Malobane accepted an invitation from Crime Line to meet affected individuals and community representatives at short notice.

Chairman of the Gauteng Community Police Board, Andy Mashaile, local councillor Farouk Essop, representatives from the SAPS and Tshwane Metro Police Dept also attended.

Resident after resident spoke about the drug scourge. It’s heartbreaking to hear how mothers complain about their young children hooked on drugs. Schools are also affected. A SGB member told the meeting how the dealers were targeting students.

Everyone is crying out for help.

Another common complain is how drug dealers are openly operating in the area – and allegedly working in cahoots with some local crooked cops.

It was also alleged that some drug dealers are often seen at the police station delivering take-away foods for cops.

Resident told the MEC how quickly dealers and peddlers are released after being arrested. Some don’t even appear in court.

Claims that a man who buys stolen property and who allegedly lives off ill-gotten gains again surfaced. At times victims are forced to buy their stolen property back – and again police allegedly fail to act.

The MEC promised urgent interventions. She said police had to be held accountable. She also appealed to the community to pass on detailed information anonymously.

SMS Crime Line on 32211 or call Crime Stop on 08600 10111.

MEC Nkosi Malobane spoke openly and frankly. She lashed the SAPS at times.

The MEC promised to return to the area unannounced.

Her department will also have special awareness campaigns soon. She will continue to engage the Gauteng police leadership on the growing drug problem.

Nkosi Malobane is clearly a leader who takes no nonsense. She told the community she was “angry”
because she invited senior police officers to attend the meeting only to be told they are in a workshop for two days.

Earlier in the day, Mashaile and I drove through some hotspots to see what was happening for ourselves. It’s no secret that drug dealers are operating openly- some a few meters away from the Laudium police station.

A well know drug dealer approached us and openly threatened me. That’s how they operate. We should not be intimated.

We must all stand up against drugs and fight the scourge. We must all say NO to drugs. Become an active citizen and let’s pressurize authorities to act. Yes, act within the framework of the law and say #CountMeIn

#DrugWatch must become an on-going national initiative. Communities must own it.

I again repeated the call for the specialized narcotics units to return. The MEC, Mashaile and others agreed.

Stand up, do the right thing and make a difference in the spirit of #LeadSA.


Every community is affected by drugs

Ayanda at SABC News and New Age Business Briefing in Fourways .
The focus this morning is on crimes against children.
Crime Line head Yusuf Abramjee, Advocate Simi Pillay-van Graan the CEO of Business Against Crime (BACSA) & Brigadier Bafana Linda from SAPS, to discuss the current spurt in child abuse cases and how everyone can contribute to curb it….http://owl.li/AqCkK

The Drug Fight Needs YOU

The UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was marked on 26 June.

It is also a year since Lead SA and Crime Line launched the Drug Watch campaign to Gauteng.

Some 30 000 suspects were arrested and millions of rands worth of drugs were seized by police.

Despite numerous calls on the Justice Department, the conviction rate of these arrests are still unknown.

Initiatives aimed at curbing the trafficking and manufacturing of illicit drugs should be escalated with urgency.

At the same time, investment into rehabilitation and counselling should be revitalised for addicts.

The reality is we are losing the war on drugs.

The consequences of drug abuse on communities are devastating.

Cape Town communities are at war as gangsterism and drug trafficking continue to escalate.

Last weekend, 16-year-old Annestley Hartnick was shot multiple times in front of his home in Tafelsig by members of a gang.

He is just another casualty of gang rivalry.

Residents have warned that they will start taking the law into their own hands. This is something that we cannot afford.

No corner of South Africa is immune to the drug plague.

Meanwhile in Eldorado Park, outside Johannesburg, the drug situation is apparently again out of control. This despite President Jacob Zuma’s intervention in the area following a compelling letter from a mother, Dereleen James, pleading for help in the drug ridden area.

I attended a meeting in Eldorado Park recently with Gauteng Community Policing Board Chairman, Andy Mashaile and senior police officials. Community leaders claim that despite interventions into the area, it is business as usual for drug dealers.

Parents in this area are desperate. Dereleen, who founded the Sharing Without Shame initiative, is testimony to the sacrifices that the community has made and despite this, all indications are that the problem is worse than before.

Pointing fingers will not achieve anything, but Eldorado Park as a case study shows that we are not equipped to deal with the drug problem holistically.

Long-term and sustainable interventions are what we need.

When I visited a school west of Pretoria recently, I asked learners how many of them have experimented with drugs and alcohol. Half of the school’s hands went up. I was shocked.

Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi was equally shocked and have vowed to root out the top 10 gangsters operating in schools.

It is however clear that schools are easy targets for drug syndicates and many have become havens for dealers and addicts.

There is a common belief that only poor communities are affected. The reality is quite different. I’ve met with children from upper and middle class families experimenting with and often abusing drugs.

The war on drugs is not as simple as just locking up drug dealers. It is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution.

The justice department needs to take the lead and ensure that not only dealers, but the kingpins and manufacturers are convicted and severely punished.

There have been discussions happening in the country regarding the legalisation of drugs. I do not know if this is the answer, but are we having the right discussions to determine the veracity of claims that it will significantly reduce the drug problem?

Headlines were recently made in the United Kingdom when a mother called for the legalisation of recreational drugs. Her 15-year-old daughter suffered a cardiac arrest last year after taking 0.5mg of ecstasy.

The mother believes that by lifting the prohibition, it will ensure that health professional and not dealers are in control of drugs.

Back home there is currently a bill before parliament seeking the legalisation of dagga.

It is going to be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.

The time of the whistleblower is here.

More and more we are seeing ordinary citizens from across the world playing a more active role in the issues that affect them.

Whether they are actively trying to change legislation, patrolling their neighbourhood or blowing the whistle on criminal activities in their communities, the change is coming from the bottom up.

This groundswell of growing active citizenship is not going unnoticed.

Police are counting more and more on information from the public. This is becoming a global phenomenon and for us commonplace.

In October South Africa is hosting the first ever Crime Stoppers International Conference on African soil. The conference, which is open to the public, will be held in Cape Town from 12 -15 October 2014.

Drug trafficking is one of the topics that will receive considerable attention, including the issue of legalisation.

It will also look at the Mexican cartels, gangsterism and what the rest of the world is doing to combat drug trafficking.

South Africa has to be part of this discussion and I truly think we have a contribution to make.

I was very impressed to learn about the ‘Shot Spot’ technology that will soon be tested in Cape Town.

This detection system will be able to triangulate the location of a gunshot. If successful, it will definitely assist police in tackling the problem with gangs.

We certainly look forward to engaging with the international community on crime. The best part is that this conference is open to everyone and all who have an interest in crime prevention.

Earlier this week The Star published an editorial on drug smuggling through OR Tambo International Airport. It has become such a common occurrence that 40kg of seized cocaine hardly made the news.

The fact that it didn’t speaks volumes of the apparent ease drugs are being smuggled into the country.

As the editorial points out, we are ill equipped to stop the trafficking of drugs to the country.

It also reminds us that we can no longer talk about crime in isolation.

The world is at war with drugs, but it’s no longer just a war for law enforcement and legislators. It is everyone’s war.

We cannot sit back and watch the drug dealers and manufacturers ruin lives. It is up to each and everyone one of us to be an active citizen and Lead SA.

*For more on the Crime Line / Crime Stoppers International Conference visit www.crimestoppers-conference2014.com.


20 Years and Counting

These last couple of months of celebrating 20 years of democracy has been quite nostalgic for many.

I for one have naturally been transported back in time to that historical day, 27 April 1994, and what I was doing and feeling at the time.

At the time I was a community newspaper owner and editor, while also freelancing as a journalist for 702 Eyewitness News. This afforded me the opportunity to see the first democratic elections from a different perspective.

It was a new beginning for millions of South Africans who were able to vote for the first time in our new democracy.

I covered Thabo Mbeki casting his ballot in Laudium, outside Pretoria. Days later he was sworn in as Deputy President of South Africa and five years later became head of state.

To witness firsthand the excitement of a country on the brink of magnificent change was an honour.

The long and winding queues of South Africans from all creeds and backgrounds were symbolic of the rainbow nation we would become.

Rewinding to this day 20 years later, piecing together the passage of time with our successes and our failures is important as we look into the future.

On Sunday we marked the 20 year mark since that day in 1994, which be built up to through the #FreedomFriday initiative – a collaboration between Lead SA, Proudly SA, GCIS and the Department of Arts and Culture.

Through this initiative we wanted to remind South Africans of our achievements as a nation, our natural heritage, our landmarks and indeed our “South Africaness”.

It brought home the uniqueness of our nation as citizens expressed their cultures and shared it boldly with others. The way it was embraced also shows that we are more connected with each other than we care to admit at times.

Next week we take to the polls again when the General Election takes place on May 7.

The ballot paper shows the uniqueness of our country with different leaders, policies and indeed promises of a better South Africa.

We are at a crossroads in our country where we are faced with growing challenges from corruption and crime to poverty.

Marking your X is the first step to activating your citizenship towards change. Do so wisely and hold your chosen leaders to account.

I think we are all invested in making South Africa a better place for all. We will only achieve this if we pull together, despite our differences, to tackle the problems in our country and celebrate the challenges we overcome.

We need to all become active citizens and as we reflect on the past 20 years, ask yourself: What can I do to create a better South Africa?

Let us make 2014 the year of Freedom. April 27 may be over but let’s continue to live the legacy. Lead SA and do your bit!

Freedom to you.



Media release- Homecoming

London- South African expats have been urged to return home “and assist in creating a better country.”
Speaking at the Homecoming Revolution event at the London Expo 2014, several South Africans urged their fellow citizens “to come back where they belong.”
Lead SA activist and Head of Crime Line, Yusuf Abramjee, told hundreds of expats at the Olympia Conference Centre in Kensington, London, that South Africa needed their “skill and expertise.”
He said the country was plagued by various problems including crime and corruption, poverty, unemployment, etolls, load-shedding and potholes.
“…and let’s not forget Nkandla.”
“Despite all of these problems, we need you and you can make a difference. We need to all join hands and build a better country,” Abramjee said. “Join us and become active citizens.”
Abramjee said crime “remained a problem. I am also even not immune to it. In November last year, my family and I were robbed at our home in Pretoria.
“I could have simply given up. I could have put my head in the sand. But, it made me more adamant to fight the crime scourge. We have to all work together and make South Africa a better place,” Abramjee added.
He told delegates that the 2014 Crime Stoppers International (CSI) Conference was coming to Cape Town in October. “The world must unite,” said Abramjee who is CSI Vice-President.
He said every citizen “had to play a role. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Abramjee said South Africa “is not only about Oscar Pistorius and  Dewani…Yes, these stories are making world headlines. But, there is also much good happening back home.”
Abramjee said to a loud applause: “We need you and we need you now. We urge you also to vote on May 7- where ever you are.”
He said “it’s not about whether you wear a yellow of blue t-shirt of sport a red beret. It’s about our future.”
“We are celebrating 20 years of freedom. We have achieved much but a lot of work still lies ahead…We need you. It takes one committed citizen to make a difference.”
Abramjee added that every expat had a role to play. “We must also take the Homecoming Revolution message to other countries including the USA, Australia and other parts of Europe.”
Founder and CEO of Homecoming Revolution, Angel Jones, said hundreds of South Africans were coming home and this “is very encouraging.”
Jones said “there are many good stories to share.”
Professor Nick Binedell of the Gordon Institute of Business, GIBBS, said South Africans could contribute to a better country and continent if they returned. “The continent has lots to offer.”
Speakers from Kenya, Uganda and Ghana also urged their nationals to return home.
Various South African companies and organizations are exhibiting at the London Expo. They include Group Five, Standard Bank, Barclays, The Foschini Group , Gibbs, the Food Bank and Brand SA.
Hundreds of people attended day one of the expo which closes tomorrow evening.
Steuart Pennington of SA Good News said South Africa had the 27th biggest economy in the world.
Several expats said they were seriously returning home.

A Healer. A Leader. A Legend

“Fellow South Africans, our beloved Nelson Rohlihlala Mandela, the founding president of our democratic nation, has departed,” President Jacob Zuma announced just after 11.30pm on December, 5, 2013.

I will never forget that day.

The day that will forever be marked as the day that South Africa lost its father and its leader.

Within minutes of the news, despite the hour, the outpouring of grief eclipsed whatever else was making headlines around the world and continues to do so.

Madiba’s last journey to Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where he will be laid to rest, has been paved by countless Madiba memories and anecdotes recalled, touching cartoon tributes, world leaders travelling to our shores on mass, including countless column space and airtime dedicated to the life and times of Madiba.

As in life, Mandela has united the people of South Africa and indeed the world.

My personal memories of Tata really take me back. I cannot imagine my own life without the golden thread of his sacrifices, his leadership and humility.

My first brush with Madiba was in 1990 when he was released from prison. At the time I was a junior reporter for the SABC and was part of a group of journalists who covered his address at the Grand Parade in Cape Town.

Who will ever forget when F.W de Klerk made the announcement in parliament that Mandela was to be released? I was in parliament covering it.

Over the years I covered many more stories regarding Madiba.

I was there when Madiba was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. What a momentous occasion.

One of these stories that really stand out for me was when he reacted to the death of Princess Diana in 1997 outside his Pretoria official residence.

Just before he retired from politics in 1999, he invited the so-called Indian community for a breakfast at his official residence in Pretoria. We were asked to be there early, so around 40 of us arrived promptly at 6am.

Madiba went around the table to shake everybody’s hand and when he finally came around to me he said jokingly: “Oh, young man, what are you doing here?”

Even in his retirement, Madiba was relentless in the pursuit of social justice and people continued to seek him out for advice. He would later at the age of 85 announce that he was “retiring from retirement”.

To give an example, shortly after he retired, he visited Laudium where I accompanied him to the Sunrise School for children with disabilities and the Tshwane Muslim School (then Pretoria Muslim School).

He never stopped being fully invested in the people of South Africa.

In 2001 when Madiba was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Talk Radio 702 arranged a fundraiser for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. I was 702’s station manager at the time. Together with Aki Anastasiou we handed over the cheque to Madiba at his Houghton office.

My last face-to-face meeting with Madiba was in 2005 when Talk Radio 702 celebrated its 25th birthday. Zelda Le Grange arranged for Madiba to record a message for us to mark the occasion. Andy Thomas, our then audiovisual manager, and I went through to his office in Houghton to record the message. That office is now part of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Centre of Memory’s museum.

I remember that after he read the message for the first time, Zelda cautioned “Tata, you are reading to fast” and he graciously read the message again.

The part of his birthday message that resonated the most and which I will never forget was:

“Happy Birthday 702. Keep the nation talking for they say that ‘it’s when the talking starts the wars stop’.”

I fully appreciate how lucky I have been to have had so many moments in his presence and as a journalist to be able to have had a front row seat to watch the legend at work.

This week we saw Madiba’s so-called magic at work then people from all walks of life united in mourning.

Lead SA partnered with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to host a special interfaith service as part of the National Day of Prayer and Reflection this past Sunday.

The next evening we also held a special tribute with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu as the keynote speaker and performance by some of best local musicians. Johnny Clegg and the Soweto Gospel Choir’s rendition of “Asimbonanga” still gives me chills, not to mention the people that came out in their numbers despite the rain.

We were further awarded the opportunity to bid Tata farewell at the FNB Stadium where his memorial service was held this week. The heavens opened with an unyielding drizzle and sometimes pouring of rain, but South Africans were not deterred.

During this memorial I was struck by the speech of US President, Barack Obama, in particular who said: “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoners, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth.

He continuously urged people from around the world to follow Madiba’s example and how we can apply it in our own lives. This is exactly the action that Madiba inspires in so many of us – to be better, to make a difference to lead.

Since Wednesday Madiba’s cortege moved through the streets of Pretoria to the Union Building’s where his body lie in wake for people to say their goodbyes. People lined up for kilometers to do so. It’s been an emotional time for us as a nation.

Personally, the finality of seeing Madiba’s body has been profound beyond any words I could say. Yes there is immense sadness, but also bittersweet closure in knowing that his body is finally heading home to rest in Qunu, where he spent some of the happiest years of his life.

But the spirit of Madiba remains. Larger than life, embedded in the hearts of the many people he has touched along the way.

Lead SA took the opportunity to arrange a special gathering at the Pretoria News offices in Madiba Street to unite scores of people in seeing Madiba off on his final trip to the Union Buildings on Friday. There was  festive mood as the crowds started singing and dancing, the atmosphere was palpable and fitting to the celebration of the life of Madiba.

Yet when the cortege passed a somber mood descended and the crowds fell silent in respect, reflection and acceptance. I will carry that memory with me always.

It brings the truth home that the hardest challenges lie before us yet.

To let go.

To carry on his legacy and ensure that the unity we have seen over the last couple of days endures.

That is the best tribute we can pay to Tata in honouring his ideals for South Africa and bigger than that, a better world for all.

His time on earth should resound through the future generations.

One day we must be able to stand up with pride and be able to say that we achieved each and every ideal that Madiba so often said he was willing to die for.

Let’s come together and move forward.

For Tata, for ourselves and for the world.