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Lee Berger named SA’s ‘most visible’ scientist

- Wits University

Wits palaeoanthropologist tops 25 300 others in a new study on highly visible scientists.

Renowned for the discovery of two species of human ancestors, Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi, Professor Lee Berger from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University has been identified as the most ‘publicly visible scientist’ in a new study by Stellenbosch University researchers Marina Joubert and Lars Guenther.

Berger received 27 mentions from the selection group consisting of 45 journalists, science communicators and researchers interested in public communication of science. He is among the 34 Wits researchers who made the cut as the top visible scientists in the country.

The others Wits scientists, who received four or more mentions, include Berger’s colleagues Professors Bruce Rubidge and Francis Thackeray, palaeoscientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute and the Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences; renowned HIV vaccine researcher, Professor Glenda Gray; internationally renowned systems ecologist, Professor Bob Scholes; and world genetics expert, Professor Himla Soodyall.

The study, titled: In the footsteps of Einstein, Sagan and Barnard: Identifying South Africa’s most visible scientists, is published in the latest edition of the South African Journal of Science.

While South Africa has around 25 300 researchers (excluding doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows at higher education institutions), only 211 scientists – less than 1% of the country’s scientific workforce – have been identified as ‘publicly visible’.

A closer look at the 211 visible scientists reveals that 78% of them are white, 63 of them are male and more than half of them work at just four universities. The 18 most visible scientists in the group were on average 52 years old. The study discusses the demographics of this group and its implications for public science engagement in the country, highlighting the need to increase the number of black and female scientists who become publicly visible.

This is the first such study to identify South Africa’s highly visible scientists and has meaningful policy implications for mobilising scientists towards public science engagement.

“It is important to identify and understand the role of these visible scientists, because they are able to influence public opinion about science and are seen as role models that shape the image of scientists in society,” explains Joubert, lead author of the study and a science communication researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University.

SA will not escape this revolution

- Zeblon Vilakazi

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi’s editorial in the latest issue of Curiosity, Wits’ new research magazine:

Welcome to the third issue of Curios.ty, which features research and researchers that interrogate capital within the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption, and the rapid disruption of the status quo and the world as we know it today. 

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research

Let us consider the capital wielded globally in terms of the economic, social and political power of the big five tech companies - Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The New York Times columnist, Farhard Manjoo, has provocatively referred to them as the ‘frightful five’, declaring that they control the world’s most important platforms – smartphones, app stores and a map of our global social interactions – in a way that is unprecedented in human history. 

Who would have imagined a world where the largest hotel company (AirBnB) doesn’t own a single piece of real estate, and the largest private transport company (Uber) does not own a fleet of taxis? Take the new cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripley) that are traded on alternative exchanges or the latest Wits MOOCs available on the EdX platform. These examples are indicators of how capital has, over the past decade, been disrupted by the ‘frightful five’. 

Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East – and the US Presidential election results – also point to the power of these platforms in reshaping regional political events in some of the world’s most powerful nations. 

Moisés Naím, the Venezuelan thinker and internationally syndicated columnist, writes in his book, The End of Power, that globalisation, economic growth, a growing global middle class, the spread of democracy, and rapidly expanding telecommunications technologies have changed our world and created a fluid and unpredictable environment which has unsettled the traditional dominions of power. 

Some refer to this context as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is a wave of change that uses technologies such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality, and robots to enhance our cognitive abilities. Most previous technology revolutions enhanced our muscle power; this one is characterised by social and technical interfaces and will impact on the world of work and the economy. 

South Africa will not escape this revolution. We will need to grapple with these changes as we simultaneously contend with transformation, social cohesion, poverty, inequality and unemployment. If not sufficiently daunting, we need to manage these changes in the context of sluggish economic growth still reliant, largely, on resources. 

These are some of the questions that Wits researchers and students are exploring. By extension, Wits will implement a new research and postgraduate strategic plan (2018-2022), that speaks to the transformation of the future, whilst addressing the challenges of today. 

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Postgraduate Affairs at Wits University. 

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

Guardians of the democracy

- Nhlanhla Nene

Public-private sector relationships should serve society broadly and when it starts serving the interest of a individuals it undermines our hard-won democracy.

Nhlanhla Nene, Honorary Adjunct Professor in Wits Business School

Few would argue that we, as a country, are going through a very difficult phase, politically and economically. But I believe that times like these compel us to reflect on where we are and where we are going as a nation. Each one of us has a responsibility to work ourselves out of this quagmire.

The big picture

I say this not only as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and a former government minister, but also as an ordinary South African. It is not only the ANC that is taking strain, but the whole country. I argue that we need to guard against taking a narrow view – by which I mean targeting one organisation, family, or individual. 

My view is that a captured state is linked to a weak relationship between the private and public sectors. It is deeply worrying when that relationship reaches a point where the state is being taken hostage and resources are being misappropriated. The public-private sector relationship should serve society. However, when it ends up serving the interests of a narrow group of individuals, I believe that it is a very sad state of affairs, because it is ultimately the poor who suffer.  

This situation requires us to broaden our investigation beyond just one family or group, otherwise we, too, are trapped in serving the narrow interests of a particular group instead of serving South Africa and its citizens. I welcome a full investigation to expose state capture; I believe the nation deserves to know what has transpired. 

The public private affair

If the public and private sectors cooperated as partners and focused on good leadership and sound operating models, our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) would be in an entirely different situation.  My view is that when the government bails out South African Airways, it should only do so in conjunction with putting in place the right leadership, and ensuring that the airline is operationally sustainable in the long term.

I believe that one of the reasons for the challenges facing our SOEs is the lack of requisite high level skills. Universities and business schools have the capabilities to produce high level skills in adequate measure, to produce ethical leaders of the future and to assume the responsibility for addressing the country’s skills deficit.

I have the privilege of serving on the board of Arise, a development finance institution headquartered in the Netherlands, which envisages building a stronger African economy. I believe this company is a working example of a strong public-private sector relationship that benefits society. Working with the Netherlandslargest co-operative bank and a Norwegian government investment fund for developing countries, this strategic public-private partnership works to grow emerging market economies, whilst simultaneously ensuring a sound return on investment for shareholders. There is much we can learn from such a strategic partnership. In South Africa, mistrust between the private and public sectors is costing us dearly.

Guarding democracy

As we move towards the ANC’s elective conference in December, we need to realise that the ANC of today is very different to the ANC of 1994. The party is attracting a different kind of membership, and stalwarts who served the ANC selflessly have left to establish their own external structures, as a voice of reason. Today’s challenges are very different to the challenges of the past and the instability in our political structures is breeding uncertainty.

South Africans need to be vigilant and I have seen increased vigilance in our country recently and in certain of our institutions. Importantly, we view institutions like the Treasury, the Constitutional Court, and the Public Protector, as strengths of our democracy. They are guardians of our democracy and we need to guard them.

We have seen vigilance in organisations that have taken a stand against state capture and corruption, for example, the banks and others who are drawing a line in the sand, saying: If your company is tainted, we will not do business with you until your name is cleared.

If we are to pass on a country to our children and grandchildren that are in better shape than the one we inherited, we need to guard the legacies of our institutions and establish strong public-private sector relationships that serve the best interests of the country as a whole. A narrow, self-serving focus threatens the next generation.

Nhlanhla Nene is Honorary Adjunct Professor in Wits Business School and the former Minister of Finance.

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

Lessons from muckrakers

- Anton Harber

Let’s celebrate the work of investigative reporters in exposing state capture but also interrogate where they got it wrong, and how damaging this has been.

The President's KeepersWe hail the work of those who – with doggedness, skill and bravery – are calling to account our president, his friends, family and allies, and exposing the extent to which they have destroyed individuals and institutions while they loot the public fiscus. Where most other institutions of accountability– such as the new Public Protector, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Hawks and the SA Revenue Services – have fallen short, a coterie of journalists have filled the gap.  

Jacques Pauw is, deservedly, the man of the moment, having uncovered some incredible dirt to add to the pile that is already out, and written it with maximum impact and consummate timing. But he is building on the work of others, such as the amaBhungane/Daily Maverick Scorpio team of Stefaans Brummer, Sam Sole, Susan Comrie and others; Sikonathi Mantshansha at the Financial Mail, and Adriaan Basson and Pieter-Louis Myburgh at News24.

But Pauw also highlights in his book instances where journalists allowed themselves to be used by those out to capture institutions like SARS and the Hawks, with devastating results. 

Sadly, the name of the country’s biggest newspaper, the Sunday Times, and some of its most senior journalists, pops up frequently in these stories. 

The best-known case is that of the Sunday Times’ reporting two years ago on an alleged “rogue unit” in SARS. The story began with a legitimate tale of sex and power: SARS official Johann van Loggerenberg had an affair with a Pretoria lawyer, Belinda Walters, who was acting for someone Van Loggerenberg was investigating. She turned out to be a double-crossing triple agent, and when their relationship went sour, both the Sunday Times and City Press exposed an apparently legitimate story, though each favoured a different side in the dispute, depending on who their main source was.  

But the Sunday Times went on to report that Van Loggerenberg’s unit had gone rogue, even bugging the presidency and running a brothel. They ran a total of 35 stories over a two-year period. These stories were used to attack, harass, humiliate, dismiss and prosecute Van Loggerenberg and others who were among the tax authority’s best people, allowing a free hand to those, under SARS head Tom Moyane, who wanted them out of the way so that he could protect the president and his allies. 

As Pauw put it: “The Sunday Times journalists have contributed greatly to ending the careers of dedicated civil servants and ultimately enable Tom Moyane to break the tax collector.” 

The Press Ombusdman ruled in a series of judgments during December 2015/ January 2016 that these stories were “inaccurate, misleading and unfair” and a “serious breach” of the Code of Conduct. They were ordered to retract and apologise. 

It took the Sunday Times a while, and a change of editor, but in April 2016 the paper ran a full-page withdrawal and apology. The damage, though, was done. 

Pauw also lambasts the Sunday Times 2011 report that General Johan Booysen was running what was effectively a police hit squad in KwaZulu-Natal. This story is hotly disputed, with the Sunday Times team adamant that their evidence is good, while Pauw and others believe Booysen was a good crime-fighter targeted because he was nailing corruption in his area. This story is potentially embarrassing, as it won the major Taco Kuiper Award for Investigative Journalism (in which I was a judge). 

When one tries to wade through these conflicting versions, one finds that the people at the centre of them are seldom clean (Loggerenberg did have the compromising affair which kick-started the story, and Booysen may well have a case to answer on some of the killings attributed to his team). It becomes almost impossible to discern the truth between radically conflicting versions with some truth in each side. And, once the Sunday Times' credibility was damaged, everything else after that has to be looked at more closely. 

Another was the allegation that drove Anwa Dramat and Shadrack Sibiya out of top positions in the Hawks. They were accused of taking part in the illegal rendition of Zimbabwean nationals. 

Pauw cites these as key moments in the push to drive out from these important institutions good people who were acting against corruption, and freeing the hands of those who wanted to get into the till. Some of the journalists were innocent victims of manipulation (though they still need to answer for how they allowed this), while one or two appear to have been seriously negligent, perhaps even knowing participants in the factionalism. 

In some ways, it seems harsh to pick out the Sunday Times, especially since some of these stories are old and their team also did many good and important stories. MNet’s Carte Blanche, on the other hand, aired the “rogue unit” story and have not retracted it. 

A few years before this, I was one of a team of outsiders commissioned by the Sunday Times to investigate and report on a series of stories which had gone horribly wrong. Those with a memory for the bizarre might remember one of these, which appeared under the headline, ‘Cape Town sells its sea’. 

In general, and ironically for a group of people who do well in holding others to account, we said there was insufficient accountability and much arrogance in the newsroom. The report caused a brief flurry, and the paper moved on. Promises to bring us back to review progress six months later did not materialise. 

One of the journalists, Stephan Hofstatter, said a few things on the radio that reminded me of this. He said the allegation that SARS had run a brothel had been found in a SARS memo, but they had not checked it out. This was a good example of a fact being “sexed up” without enough time on deadline to confirm what was a wild claim.

He also said he was not the lead writer in some of these stories and the next day “did not recognise my name on the story”. He was implying that the story had been done by a team of which he was just one part, he had lost control of the details once it was in the hands of editors, and it had been “sexed up”. 

We interviewed most of the staff and wrote a long report which revealed the structural problems in the Sunday Times newsroom that led to these mistakes. Some of them still seem pertinent:

  • Too many people were interceding between the reporters and the end product to rewrite – and “sex up” – stories. Reporters lost control of their stories, and the search for racy intros and headlines sometimes distorted facts.
  • Fact-checking had become a formality, rather than an embedded culture.
  • The investigations team operated in secrecy as untouchable elite.
  • Insufficient planning meant that there was too much pressure on a Saturday afternoon to find a great front page, and caution was sometimes thrown to the wind.
  • Lots of people have been damaged by these practices, including journalists. 

Anton Harber is Caxton Professor of Journalism at Wits University. 

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

His master’s voice

- Tawana Kupe

What are the prospects for a free media in a captured state in 21st Century South Africa?

Media and communications have been key to exercising power in Africa historically, entrenched as they were in colonialism and apartheid in South Africa. 

Different forms of media ownership and control have been central to political-economic control and the dominance of forms of cultural representation. Media freedom was threatened because of censorship, bans, arrests and the incarceration of journalists and editors, multiple restrictions and the monopoly of broadcasting. 

Media that offered a counter-narrative to oppression and an alternative vision of a free society opposed colonialism and apartheid. The cast characters which owned media supportive of liberation included nationalists, radical activists, churches and emergent media entrepreneurs of all races. Since colonialism and apartheid, during all Africa’s political, economic and cultural upheavals, the media have driven, recorded and stymied or facilitated change. Developments in media have been indicative of African ‘progress.’ 

Media mark African progress 

Of course media outside state control contributed to the struggle for independence and freedom despite repression. It follows also that it was some media outside the control of post-independence African and the post-apartheid states that gave voice and editorial space to forces opposing those stifling democracy, clean governance and economic inclusivity. 

Even then, colonial and apartheid played out in the media space. Media freedom is still a long walk to freedom in many African countries. Colonial era restrictive media laws remain embedded in statute books despite the departure of the last colonial governor. South Africa is a beacon of hope only because of its constitutional guarantees, yet it is not immune to other insidious threats to press freedom.

The use of predominantly non-African languages by the print media perpetuates an urban elite orientation. News media struggle to strike the balance between reporting positive developments without practicing ‘sunshine journalism’, and being critical and confirming the stereotype western media have of Africa as the archetypal home of disasters untold. 

State monopoly of broadcasting endures in many guises with occasional periods of relative freedom. The South African Broadcasting Corporation – the continent’s great hope since the resurgent democracy in the 1990s and the promise of a model of genuine public broadcasting free from state or commercial interests – has succumbed to his master’s voice. 

Advancing African media frontiers 

On the other hand, the emergence of FM radio stations and talk radio across has expanded freedom of expression across Africa. The growth of locally-made television programmes and African music videos demonstrate African cultural creativity and the exploration of new identities and self-expression. A tradition of investigative journalism is strengthening in precarious political environments and demonstrates courage to hold the powerful accountable and for transparency to triumph.

New media and mobile telephony have spawned online and digital media spaces – that, despite not reaching a mass audience – enable free expression, particularly among the young and educated. Interactive features of online and digital media and their disruption of the traditional sender and receiver positioning of media and audiences has the potential to transcend control and censorship and to deliver real democracy. 

Reborn media monopoly 

However, the media market has exercised its own modes of censorship, at times reinforcing the enduring hand of state and political controls. Ownership and control of media remains in the hands of the historically economically privileged and the newly economically empowered. Some media, such as the print sector in South Africa, that supported repression during apartheid, are reborn as supporters of editorial independence in relation to state and government power, but are silent on the insidious corporate and commercial control of the media and the power of private interests. 

A careful analysis demonstrates that access to the expanding range of media available on the continent follows lines of economic privilege that marginalises the poor and creates new digital and social divides. Inequitable access to communications and media and information asymmetry contributes to the 21st Century phenomenon of increasing and unprecedented social inequality that threatens the creation of sustainable democracies. 

Tawana Kupe is an Associate Professor in Media Studies in Wits Journalism and Vice-Principal of Wits.

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

Bitter-sweet monopoly

- Deborah Minors

Capitalising on consumers' sweet spot has dangerous implications for public health.

Research conducted by public health experts at Wits University and their associates worldwide has explored how multinational global corporations that sell sugar sweetened beverages and fast foods undermine health, and have proposed how fiscal measures can protect health. 

The Priority Cost Effective Lessons for System Strengthening South Africa (PRICELESS SA) is a research unit in Public Health at Wits, which provides information to improve the allocation of resources for national priorities that address public health.

Priceless SA 

Money where the mouth is 

“Fiscal policies for health involve raising the price of a product to deter its use, or decreasing the price of a product to stimulate use, and income transfers to vulnerable populations to increase affordability of health products and/or services,” says Karen Hofman, director of PRICELESS SA, who launched the Fiscal Policies for Population Health in SA report in January 2017. 

Frank Chaloupka, Professor of Economics and director of the Health Policy Center at the University of Illinois Chicago visited the School of Public Health in November 2016, and presented research to the South African Treasury on the effects of prices, policies, and other environmental factors on diet, physical activity, and obesity. Sugar-sweetened beverages in particular are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and dental problems. 

Chaloupka’s research showed that a 10% increase in the price of SSBs resulted in a 12.1% reduction in consumption of these products. Thus the basic laws of economics apply: price increases reduce consumption and thus ultimately result in healthcare improvements. 

“There are just a handful of behaviours that contribute to a lot of these non-communicable diseases (NCDs) if you look at the leading causes of death: Tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. It suggests to me if we can do something to change those behaviours, it will have an impact,” said Chaloupka. 

But changing behavior is difficult – particularly amidst million-dollar advertising onslaughts. 

Monopolising mindspace 

Rob Moodie is Professor of Public Health at the College of Medicine, University of Malawi, and Professor of Public Health at the University of Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health. Speaking at the Wits School of Public Health in October 2016, he interrogated strategies that the junk food industries use to drive sales and increase profits. 

“Transnational corporations are major drivers of non-communicable disease epidemics. These corporations profit from increased consumption of tobacco, alcohol, processed food, etc.,” says Moodie, adding that junk food industries use their size, power and influence to market their products and position. 

The global beverage industry spends billions on product advertising and then blames individuals for not practicing self-control – much focused on children”, says Moodie. 

In South Africa advertising spend by Coca Cola increased 33% from 2014 (R193m), to R259m in 2016. Seventy percent of advertising is on television. Marketing has specially targeted the poor in South Africa as their growth strategy. 

Taste the feeling… 

On January 19, 2016 US-based magazine Advertising Age published an article about Coke replacing its ‘open happiness’ tagline with ‘taste the feeling’. 

“Setting an enormous brand like Coke on a new marketing course is a massive undertaking and comes as the brand battles category headwinds, most notably declining soda consumption amid growing health concerns,” wrote E.J. Schultz, journalist and Chicago Bureau Chief at Advertising Age. 

“Coke would adopt a ‘one-brand’ approach that will unite multiple varieties like Diet Coke and Coke Zero”, wrote Schultz, because  “‘there are moments when this consumer wants to reduce their sugar intake’,” according to Coke’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, Marcos de Quinto. 

Moodie says Coke uses massive sponsorship of sport and music as a critical component of its corporate social responsibility strategy. 

“The primary health risk posed by the consumption of these drinks is the high caffeine and sugar content which in excess have dire consequences. The reality is that the move to introduce a tax – also known as a health promotion levy – is necessary, as diets and lifestyles are changing in South Africa and we face a tsunami of obesity related diseases.   A sugary beverage tax tries to reduce consumption of harmful products through increasing price but there are other drivers which also need attention – advertising to children in particular,” says Hofman. 

Vigorous energy drink sales 

Preference for food and beverage products is shaped by brand image through tactical marketing and advertising strategies. A key factor influencing consumption of processed food and drinks is how they are marketed to potential consumers, and this is especially true of newer entrants like energy drinks. 

In August 2017, researcher Nicholas Stacey at PRICELESS led a new study that shows that energy drinks have achieved the highest recent sales volume growth in SA. Between 2009 and 2014, the annual volume of sports and energy drinks rose from about 98 million litres to 168 million litres, rising from approximately two to three litres per capita in only five years. 

The fact that across beverage categories, energy drinks – which contain the highest sugar content – have achieved the highest recent sales volume growth in SA shows that advertising and sales of sugary targeting adolescents and young South Africans in particular, is on the rise. 

Insidious strategies 

Aside from an avalanche of advertising, junk food multinationals have seemingly innocuous strategies to persuade, promote, and profit. Moodie cites several methods used to increase consumption despite the threat these products pose to public health: 

  • Investing in partnerships, corporate social responsibility, and physical activity programmes (being ‘part of the solution’)Commissioning research to discredit any moves to regulate
  • Using PR to sway public opinion and influence reporters
  • Monitoring key public health researchers

A recruitment advertisement in October 2017 for a Communications Manager (Field Brand Reputation) for McDonald’s in Boston, USA, calls for a person who “will work to ensure a steady drumbeat of local people, food and community stories that support corporate and local business opportunities. In addition the role will focus on enabling operators to effectively engage with key influencers, media and stakeholders." 

Hofman says, “All the big food groups are doing this.” Multinationals appoint people who are tasked with positioning the firm as ‘part of the solution’. 

The sugar industry has used the threat of exaggerated, widespread jobs losses if government imposes the touted tax on sugary beverages. Hofman claims, however, that there are already fewer jobs, since small-scale cane growers have stopped planting while the sugar giants (Illovo, Tongaat Hulett, and Transvaal Sugar Ltd) are diversifying to remain profitable. 

Research indicates that climate change and drought has forced this diversification, which has enabled multinationals to capitalize. Tongaat Hulett’s disposal of land in KZN (and investment in cane-growing land elsewhere in southern Africa) is another strategy to remain profitable, as is Transvaal Sugar’s merger with RCL Foods. 

“Allegations of job losses have less to do with the proposed sugary drinks tax and more to do with global multinationals dominating the local market.  The question is the extent to which South African workers benefit?” says Hofman. 

Just desserts 

Hofman cites a study by the American Chamber of Commerce which showed that by 2030 non-communicable diseases will be costing the South African economy 7% of GDP. The impact of NCDs is not only deaths and years of life lost, but also on quality of life morbidity – amputations, blindness, and kidney failure caused by diabetes as a result of consuming too much sugar. 

According to the Head of Orthopedic Surgery at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, the wards are overflowing with diabetes patients who have on average five amputations before they die.

On November 7, 2017 the Standing Committee on Finance decided that a decision for the Rates and Monetary Amounts and Amendment Revenue Laws Bill could proceed to the National Assembly. The amendment bill provides in general terms for a Health Promotion Levy and a schedule to the bill specifies that this will take the form of a tax on sugary beverages. Treasury plans to introduce the tax in April 2018. 

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

The unfinished business of apartheid

- Erna van Wyk

Can we finally see beyond the hashtags, clever memes, and witty commentary that #StateCapture, the #Guptas and #EdwardsFather elicit?

Are South Africans ready to deal honestly with the past?

State capture should come as no surprise to us. Its blueprint has been lurking in plain sight in apartheid state records that survived shredding in the early ‘90s, and which has been gathering dust since in countless public archives all over the country and abroad.

As Hennie van Vuuren’s book, Apartheid Guns and Money – A tale of profit, clearly showed this year, public record-keeping and archives are vital for transparency, accountability, and openness in a democracy. An exposé of how white monopoly capital profiteered from the apartheid state and kept the regime in power, the book is also a tale of how those old and new roots of corruption found fertile ground in our disconnected democracy.

Connecting the dots by systematically working through 40 000 documents, some two million pages, from 25 public archives, Van Vuuren and his researchers connected the dots to show how those networks of state capture and the looting of state coffers were firmly cemented during apartheid and have continued to flourish in our young democracy.

Relationships of capital

Why did it take us so long to connect the dots? Was it because we needed the warm glow of the mid-‘90s new South Africa and the strong get-on-with-life-injunction in the 2000s to suppress our pain, hide our complicities, and ignore our democracy’s fragility?

“This urgency in the first two decades of post-apartheid South Africa to move beyond our past did not take into account the unfinished business of transformation between people and groups, as well as the ongoing effects of all those old relationships of capital that still exist today,” says Garth Stevens, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Humanities, Professor in the Department of Psychology, and a primary researcher in the Apartheid Archives Research Project.

Professor Garth Stevens, primary researcher in the Apartheid Archives Research Project

“While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) focused on gross human rights violations, the sanctions-busting business practices of the time were left untouched. Crafted in the imagination of large parts of South African society today is this notion that these practices were not necessarily criminal but merely a response to an extremely hostile global climate at the time that slapped South Africa with sanctions.”

He says that parastatals that still exist today, such as Transnet, Eskom and Denel (Armscor), were really forms of capital that were developed during apartheid and crafted in parts of the collective memory as ‘necessary’ in order for South Africa to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. “But of course this belies the real consequences and knock-on effects (of their origins in criminality) that we still see today,” says Stevens.

“Archives help us address the transgressions of our history in a more open and transparent way, whether it is through the grand documentation of apartheid that continues to gather dust in the National Archives or government departments, that needs to be declassified, or the ‘everydayness of apartheid’ that needs to be narrated,” he says.

To fully understand our past and ensure future accountability in a democracy, academics from Wits University and their civil society partners are leading the call for apartheid state records to be declassified, and to promote open and transparent record-keeping of state records in South Africa today.

The currency of knowledge

Archives are a form of currency, and in particular, the ‘archive of knowledge’ is a central currency for a young democracy still reeling from centuries of oppressive colonial rule.

“Those who control the ‘archive of knowledge’ control what is taught, what people come to believe about the world, and how it is that we come to understand ourselves in the world,” Stevens explains.

Calls for decolonisation, decoloniality, and decolonial theory and thought lie on a continuum of how students and citizens in general are trying to rethink the political, economic and social systems that have intensified in the aftermath of the 2008 global economic meltdown.

“It is very clear that even though capitalism had an elasticity that expanded beyond what the Marxists of the 20th Century could have imagined, many people feel that the system is broken,” says Stevens.

Rethinking and liberating the ‘archive of knowledge’ gives us, as people in the Global South and on the African continent, a different currency that make us less reliant solely on the knowledge of the West, and helps us to consider a different way to be in the world, to think about the world, and to imagine what a different world would look like.

Free the Archives

Lack of political will keeps apartheid archive in shackles

“Public recordkeeping is about accountability,” says Gabriele Mohale, archivist at the Wits Historical Papers Research Archive.

Mohale convened the first Archives and Democracy Colloquium held at Wits University in September that brought together academics, civil society, activists, archivists, lawyers and others to create public awareness about the urgent need for open and transparent regulation of the apartheid era records, to declassify these records, and to promote initiatives for sound recordkeeping in a democratic South Africa.

Gabriele Mohale, Archivist at the Wits Historical Papers Research Archive

“The idea for the colloquium was this thread between archives and the level of democracy. Wherever one has accountability collapsing, you have democracy collapsing. And the question is: Why is it that, now that we have a new, democratic state, it still does not work for the citizen in the way it should in terms of public recordkeeping and transparency?” says Mohale.

The problem with apartheid era records is that they are spread across many institutions in South Africa; in national and provincial government departments, state security agencies, courts, police stations, businesses and corporations, among private citizens, and many other places.

“As much as there is a lot of secrecy and conspiracies around what these remaining records might unveil, the reasons why declassification has not happened 25 years after apartheid is because of inefficiency in our government departments, a huge backlog in getting these records to the National Archive and processing them, and a lack of money and manpower. Mostly it’s a lack of political will,” says Mohale.

The next step in their work to free the apartheid archive is firstly to conduct an oral history project to get a comprehensive understanding of the problems with the apartheid era records. This would consist of interviews with, among others, people in state archives; those involved in research and investigations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; civil society activists who have been working with archives; and researchers.

Following this, there would have to be a full audit detailing the issues with access regulations, the governance of these state records, who is responsible for overseeing them, and then to make substantial recommendations in terms of administration.

“Because public recordkeeping is about accountability, the South African National Archive is currently placed in the wrong department. It should be moved from the Department of Arts and Culture, the department of which the budget is always the first to be slashed, to the Department of Public Service and Administration, because administrative justice and accountability is reliant on proper public recordkeeping,” says Mohale.

This project is a massive research undertaking that requires an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated researcher or research group. “We have the funding, but we now need to find the right person or group to take on this project,” she says.

The Archives and Democracy Colloquium was jointly hosted by the History Workshop and Historical Papers Research Archive at Wits University, together with SECTION 27 and the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI).

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

Tackling global crime networks

- The Conversation Africa

Interview with Lord Peter Hain about his efforts to bring British banks to justice for their alleged involvement in state capture.

Lord Peter Hain tabled a series of allegations in the UK’s House of Lords relating to the possible role of British banks in alleged money laundering and illicit financial transactions centred around South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family.

Lord Peter Hain, Visiting Adjunct Professor at Wits Business School

In the House of Lords you said the illicit transactions were “part of a flagrant robbery of South African taxpayers”. What do you mean by this?

As I explained in my speech, the Guptas, a family from India that relocated to South African have, with the connivance of the South African Presidency been getting government contracts and allegedly thereby robbing taxpayers of billions.

On regular visits to South Africa – most recently last month – I have been stunned by the systemic transnational financial network facilitated by the Guptas and the presidential family, the Zumas. If there had been more proactive and genuine cooperation between the multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies – and within and between the banks, which have been moving money for the alleged Gupta/Zuma laundering network – the devastation wrought on South Africa could have been significantly reduced. And perhaps, the financial institutions involved would have been better able to mitigate their exposure.

So does it point to South Africans benefiting from the illicit transactions?

I had delivered by hand to Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, printouts of transactions, and named a British bank concerned. I asked that he again refers these to the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, the National Crime Agency and the Financial Conduct Authority for investigation.

This information allegedly shows illegal transfers of funds from South Africa made by the Gupta family over the last few years from their South African accounts to accounts held in Dubai and Hong Kong. Many of the transactions are legitimate. But many certainly are not.

The illicit transactions were flagged internally in the bank concerned as suspicious. But I am reliably informed that the bank was told by the UK headquarters to ignore it. That is an iniquitous breach of legal banking practice in the UK, which I trust ministers would never countenance. It is also an incitement to money laundering. This has self-evidently occurred in this case, sanctioned by a British bank, as part of the flagrant robbery of South African taxpayers. They have lost millions of pounds and many billions of their local currency, the rand.

Was there a specific event that triggered your request to the Chancellor?

I was asked by senior African National Congress figures and stalwarts to do this. My relationships with them go back more than half a century when we stood shoulder to shoulder fighting apartheid.

As before, my latest information has been supplied by South African whistleblowers deep inside the system who are disgusted by the corruption at the heart of the state.

What do you hope to achieve?

There are disturbing questions around the complicity – witting or unwitting – of UK global financial institutions in the Gupta/Zuma transnational network. There are also disturbing questions about these institutions’ willful blindness to the reality that the laundering process often necessitates financial systems with lax regulation and controls. Unless we urgently find ways to leverage our respective capabilities to coordinate and influence action between the law enforcement and banking sectors we cannot win this battle. This coordination needs to happen domestically here in the UK as well as globally.

Unless we use the opportunity to crack down meaningfully, those who want to break the law will always be one step ahead. We must therefore get the international authorities to close down any money laundering networks.

As someone who fought against apartheid, how do you feel about having to take up a campaign against the country’s democratically elected government?

Having been active along with my brave parents in the anti-apartheid struggle it’s painful for me to witness corruption within a monopoly capital elite around Zuma’s family and their close associates the Gupta brothers.

But we should look closer to home, here in the UK. The complicity of our financial institutions in this, as well as the responsibility of law enforcers and regulators in all the concerned jurisdictions, should make government ministers and parliamentarians hang their heads in shame. Just as they were complicit in sustaining apartheid, so today they are complicit in sustaining the corrupt power elite in South Africa which is now betraying the legacy of Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle.

Winning the war against financial crime will require coordination, influence, action and accountability between multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agencies. The success of criminal networks also relies on the action or inaction – and cooperation or non-cooperation – of the relevant law enforcement authorities.

Lord Peter Hain was a vocal anti-apartheid activist born in South Africa but who grew up in the UK. He is a visiting adjunct professor at the Wits Business School. This article was first published in The Conversation Africa – www.theconversation.com/africa

Read more about capital in the context of political economy, monopoly capital, corruption and ownership in the third issue of Wits' new research magazine, CURIOSITY.

Print a 200-million-year-old dinosaur fossil in your own home

- Wits University

CT-scan study of Wits PHD student makes it possible to 3D print the skull of the dinosaur species Massospondylus that roamed South Africa 200 million years ago.

The digital reconstruction of the skull of a 200-million-year-old South African dinosaur, Massospondylus, has made it possible for researchers to make 3D prints and in this way facilitate research on other dinosaurs all over the world.

Kimi ChapelleKimi Chapelle, a PhD student at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa (Wits), has used the Wits MicroFocus CT facility to peer inside the skull of the dinosaur Massospondylus.

Chapelle was able to use the CT facility to rebuild every bone of Massospondyluss cranium, and to even look at tiny features like nerves exiting the brain and the balance organs of the inner ear. Her research is published today in the open-access journal, PeerJ.

Along with the paper, which is open for anybody to download and read, a 3D surface file of the skull is available to be downloaded.

“This means any researcher or member of the public can print their own Massospondylus skull at home,” says Chapelle.

Massospondylus is one of the most famous dinosaurs from South Africa and was named in 1854 by the celebrated anatomist Sir Richard Owen. Fossils of Massospondylus have been found in many places in South Africa, including Golden Gate National Park, where James Kitching discovered fossil eggs and embryos in 1976. Surprisingly, the skull of Massospondylus has never been the focus of an in-depth anatomical investigation.

Profile view of the Massospondylus skull scan“I was amazed when I started digitally reconstructing Massospondylus’ skull, and found all these features that had never been described,” said Chapelle, “it just goes to show that researchers still have a lot to learn about South Africa’s dinosaurs.”

Some of the most interesting discoveries from the skull, which is described in Chapelle’s paper include:

  • details on how the inner ear and the middle ear contacted each other and what these looked like
  • Where the nerves connecting different parts of the skull to the brain were and which bones they went through
  • that replacement teeth don't erupt in a specific pattern and are present on all teeth, and
  • that the bones that surround the brain in this specific fossil were not fully fused

 “By comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret things like how they held their heads and how they moved. You can actually see tiny replacement teeth in the bones of the jaws, showing us that Massospondylus continuously replaced its teeth, like crocodiles do, but unlike humans that can only do it once,” says Chapelle.

Profile view of the Massospondylus skull"Also, the fact that the bones of the braincase aren't fully fused means that this particular fossil is that of an individual that is not fully grown yet. This allows us to understand how Massospondylus grew, how fast it grew and how big it could grow.”

Hundreds of Massospondylus fossils have been found in South Africa, ranging in size from hatchlings to adult. Chapelle is using CT technology to study these additional fossils for her PhD. “I’ll be using scans of other specimens to answer new questions,” said Chapelle, “for example, how did Massospondylus babies weighing less than 100g grow up to be half-tonne adults?”.

“Students like Kimi have been able to use our CT facility to produce cutting-edge research like this” said Prof. Jonah Choiniere, the supervisor and co-author of the study, “and it’s changing the way we do dinosaur research.”

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