South Africa


Civil Society Watch: 17-23 February 2020

A weekly feature to inform readers of a cross-section of events organised by civil society organisations.

Wow, what a busy week this one is going to be for civil society!

However, before we start, it’s important to take note of the fact that 20 February has been declared by the United Nations to be the World Day of Social Justice. This year’s theme is “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice”.

Despite democracy being realised in 1994, very little progress has been made to redress the ills of the past. (Photo: @johnny_miller_photography)

Of course, some people are understandably sceptical about the value of such anniversaries. Lots of lip-service, far less action. Yet, as we have seen with World AIDS Day (December 1), when these days are taken seriously they provide an opportunity to reflect, publicise, galvanise and recommit.

And boy, (in an era where the promise of social justice is written into most constitutions of the world, but when an unholy alliance of Big Men is trying to tear up the rule of human rights law so as to protect their right to advance social injustice) do we need to regroup and galvanise our forces. 

Coincidentally, the World Day of Social Justice comes a day before the 55th annniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, an unbending civil rights activist who, after his break with Nation of Islam, was moving closer towards joining the struggles against racism with the struggles for social and economic justice. There’s also a great documentary just started on Netflix about who really killed Malcolm X.

Malcom X in March 1964 Photo: Ed Ford, World Telegram staff photographer – Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

So, before I deal with the rest of the week, let me tell you about some of the things happening on Thursday 20 February, World Social Justice Day.

In Stellenbosch, Thuli Madonsela’s Social Justice Mosa Plan Unit at Stellenbosch University has a double bill.

Between 1-2pm it is organising its monthly Social Justice Cafe on “The Theories and Meaning of Social Justice”. The cafe is a space “to engage with young people on social justice issues and human rights-inspired democracy and action for inclusion”.  

That evening, Judge Dennis Davis is giving the inaugural Social Justice Lecture, under the title “Social Justice and Inclusion: Where to South Africa?”

Davis is what some people call “an activist judge” (nothing wrong with that!). His judgments started the chain of appeals that led to the celebrated Grootboom and cannabis judgements (among others). He is also the chair of the Davis Committee on Taxation (whose reports and recommendations have largely been ignored by Treasury). So get there if you can and expect a provocative lecture!

On the other side of the country, also on 20 February, the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research is organising a “Public Dialogue on the Cost of Austerity and the Launch of Dossier No 24: Our World Oscillates Between Crises and Protest”. It’s at The Commune, a new, not-for-profit, radical bookshop in the centre of Braamfontein, at 6pm.

To round off a busy 20 February, the Africa Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research is hosting a colloquium at UCT, starting at 3pm, to launch a new book of essays titled Social Cohesion in South Africa – Past, Present and Future.

Phew… no excuse for lethargy on World Social Justice day. 

Now to the rest of the week… which is no less busy.

Today, Monday 17 February, the Outa delinquent director case against Dudu Myeni continues in the Gauteng North High Court. 

Former SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

On Wednesday 19 February, the Civil Society Working Group on State Capture, a coalition of social justice organisations, will make public their  joint submission to the Zondo Commission. The launch is at the OSF-South Africa offices in Roeland Street, Cape Town. All are welcome, except perhaps the EFF, who may choose to boycott it because of their conspiracy theories about OSF-benefactor George Soros, something they have in common with Viktor Orban, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. Makes you think…

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. (Photo: Financial Mail / Freddy Mavunda)

At the same time, 100km further up the coast, the Eastern Cape Health Crisis Action Coalition (ECHCAC), will be holding its first general meeting of 2020 at the Calvary Christian Church in East London.

February 19 will also see the start of the Cry of the Xcluded caravan, when hundreds of activists from different communities all over South Africa set off to travel to Cape Town to protest against the upcoming austerity budget. The caravan will stop at towns and villages across SA and “engage with forgotten people and collect ideas and demands for the Real Jobs Summit”, set to take place at St George’s Cathedral on 24 and 25 February.

A very busy activist week ends with a busy Friday.

On 21 February there will be South Africa’s first coordinated school campus climate strike at schools across the country. The strike is to demand the end of the use of fossil fuels and that South Africa works actively to “stay within 1.5 degrees celsius of global heating”. It’s organised by the Collective Movement, including Greenpeace, ArtivistsSA, the World Wildlife Fund and For more information contact [email protected].

Thousands of citizens and activists marched to Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, forming part of a global movement that demands an end to the age of fossil fuels and embraces a new age of renewable energy and climate justice. Climate strikes took place in 137 countries across the world and 18 cities and towns across South Africa. 20 September 2019. (Photo: Leila Dougan/Daily Maverick)

The school students’ efforts to galvanise awareness and political will to address the climate crisis (not much was evident in the SONA, except another presidential commission and an as yet invisible Climate Change Bill) is timely and urgent: it will coincide with a National Dialogue on Climate Change being organised in Gauteng somewhere by the minister for environmental affairs which is intended to “provide feedback from the 2019 Madrid Climate Change Conference”.

And last, but not least important, the public hearings on the NHI Bill also start on 21 February in Gauteng in Soshanguve (4.30-8.30pm); on 22 February in Kagiso, 10am-3pm; on 23 February in Soweto, 10am-3pm and 24 February in Germiston, 4.30-8.30pm.

NHI hearings in Mangaung (Photo: Refilwe Mekoa)

Unfortunately, President Cyril Ramaphosa seems already to have predetermined the outcome of these hearings; in his SONA he “noted the enthusiastic support from South Africans during public hearings on the NHI, and [government is] putting in place mechanisms for its implementation following conclusion of the parliamentary process”. However, from what Maverick Citizen’s partner Spotlight has reported, the NHI hearings have not been unanimous in their support for the NHI Bill. It would be a pity if constructive critique made in submissions by organisations like SECTION27 and TAC is destined for the dustbin.

We hope not.

Throughout the week MPs will be debating the SONA. A major focus of SONA was the state of the SOEs. If you want a deeper and more informed dive into this issue, take a read of the Dullah Omar Institute’s research papers. If you want to be kept informed of every development around your right to know, subscribe to R2K’s comprehensive weekly update.

Many activists don’t really do weekends (though mental health care requires that they should!).

On Saturday February 22, the India Solidarity Alliance is holding a meeting with activist academics, including Shaeera Kalla and Vashna Jagarnath, on “Why South Africans should be concerned about rising facism in India”. It’s at 3pm at the Centre for Indian Studies, 36 Jorissen St, Wits University.

Indian students shout slogans during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata, India, 11 January 2020. Students were protesting against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The bill will give Indian citizenship rights to refugees from Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikhs, Parsi or Christian communities coming from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Piyal Adhikary)

Also, on Saturday 22 February the (state?) funeral of Joseph Tshabalala, the founder and inspiration for Ladysmith Black Mambazo takes place. You may not be able to make it to the funeral, but if you want to reflect on Tshabalala’s life and musical legacy you couldn’t do better than read Niren Tolsi’s tribute in the excellent online non-profit media organisation New Frame

Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at the International Music Festival, held at the International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa on 24 September 2010. (Photo: Gallo Images/Sunday Times/Tebogo Letsie)

On Sunday 23 February, a number of social movements, trade unions and political parties are organising a Gauteng Mass Rally, “Enough is Enough. Kwanele! Stop electricity cut-offs and load shedding now!” at 10.00am in Thokoza Park, Soweto (next to Regina Mundi).

Laugh it off

Daniel Mpilo Richards

At the end of a week like the one ahead, activists need to remember that it’s still possible to laugh. In fact, in this age of tired politics and grey political commentary, the sharpest political analysis often comes from comedians. As always, it is artists who hold the greatest freedom t0 speak unsanitised politically incorrect truths to all sorts of power. So, if you are in Cape Town on 22 and 23 February, get to the Mother City Comedy Festival, and watch the inimitable Daniel Mpilo Richards perform in The Best of Mike van Graan. Tickets can be booked here.

You will notice that many of the events are happening in Cape Town and Johannesburg. But activists live in every city, town and village in South Africa and we want to report on all of them! So, wherever you live, if you have events or meetings which you think other activists ought to know about, write to us at: [email protected]

Also please sign up for our weekly newsletter here. MC


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