Tag Archives: jail

South Africa: Ignorance is never bliss

Just 13 days before Nelson Mandela died, I was in Cape Town and I visited the Robben Island museum. This was the island where Mandela was imprisoned from 1964 to 1982 – 18 years of the 27 he spent in captivity.

It’s an incredible place and it requires an investment in time to see it. You can’t just step in front and take a quick photo for mates then move on to the next tourist destination. You need to take a boat trip from Cape Town for about half an hour, then a bus ride across the island to the prison itself, then a guide takes you on a tour around the prison. Then after you see the prison you need to get back again…

Cape Town Nov 2013

It’s fairly relaxed and you get plenty of time to do your own thing and take photos, but when the guides are speaking just about everyone does pay attention because the guides at Robben Island are all former political prisoners. The guide I was with this time described his own experience of a bungled ANC bombing raid during the armed struggle and some big white cops who arrested him – he ended up in Robben Island after his first attempt at violence against the state.

During one part of the tour, the guide was telling us about the football pitch and other facilities in the prison. We were in a group of about 20 tourists standing near the main wall of the prison all intently listening to him give us his own memories of being a prisoner there.

But at the back of the group one girl was chatting to a mate on her phone. It was some inane chat about a night out they had recently shared. Suddenly the guide stopped talking and just looked at the floor. Then he looked up and towards the girl at the back of the group. Then back at the floor again. He said nothing.

Eventually everyone in the group had turned and was looking at her. She hung up quickly, but failed to seem embarrassed and didn’t apologise. She was a black African girl – not that it really matters, but it felt even worse that she was a neighbour of the South Africans and possibly even a South African herself – I never actually asked where she was from.

Cape Town Nov 2013

The guide carried on, prefacing the continuation of his talk with ‘no phones here please.’

We live in a connected society and social rules are constantly changing. Some argue that the young are redefining how we communicate and when and where it is acceptable to use technology such as phones, but age is no excuse. When a political prisoner is telling you about his own life in prison, history is so much more real than reading about it in a book.

I saw someone posted a selfie recently of their visit to Auschwitz – the photo being a grinning self-portrait inside one of the gas chambers. Is this where we are heading to or is this just the digital version of rude behaviour that has always existed – you tell me?
Cape Town Nov 2013

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Clooney is the only true hero of celebrity today

George Clooney seems to have it all. He is 50 years old and yet women of all ages still cite him as their dream movie star – and plenty of men would like to be him, with enough charm and sophistication to rise above any situation.

Yet here is a movie star who doesn’t play by the normal Hollywood rules. He has an opinion, he has intelligence, and he is ready to use his celebrity as a vehicle that can create social change.

There has been a lot of coverage of his arrest today in Washington DC. Clooney and his father were thrown in jail in Washington DC for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy. The BBC says that Clooney is a keen protester when it comes to the issue of South Sudan, but this fails to do him justice at all.

George Clooney is a pioneer in the use of satellite technology for monitoring hostile government militias. It might sound incredible, but here is a Hollywood actor who personally set up a project to use satellites to monitor what was going on in Sudan and to then use social media to report live information as it could be observed.

Clooney has no need to be doing any of this. He could be living a nice life in Beverly Hills making new movies each year that boost his bank balance, yet he uses his personal wealth and fame to make people aware of injustice on another continent.

How many other actors in his position can you name that are really doing something as worthy with their fame – more than just appearing on a charity telethon?

George Clooney 66ème Festival de Venise (Mostra)

Reclaim Ealing

When the Arab spring took place, earlier this year, it was because millions of ordinary people had finally grown tired of dictators plundering their national resource and ruling over their lives. It was an ideological uprising to create fairer societies across the Middle East and North Africa.

When the Greek people took to the streets this year, it was over a sense of outrage at the mismanagement of their national economy – the government forcing austerity measures on working people that resulted in enormous job losses and pay cuts for public workers.

When the Metropolitan police shot Mark Duggan dead last week without him being in a position to attack them with a firearm (all the facts are still to come out in the inquiry, but it appears he posed no threat), they made a grave error. It led to protests from the family and then the local community – ending up in the localised rioting in Tottenham.

There has not been any rioting in London for a long time. Sure, there were a lot of student protests recently – one resulting in a jail term for the son of a rock star – and some anti-war protests like the big march in 2003, but nothing like this. The nearest I can remember to this was the 1990 poll tax rioting and even that was concentrated around a single area rather than spreading across the whole of London, like we have seen this week.

It seems just something burst in the collective consciousness of the criminal underclass this week. Seeing the riots in Tottenham galvanised a sense of injustice – especially against the police – and soon riots were taking place all over the capital, though they were particularly nasty in Hackney, Croydon, and Ealing.

Being a resident of Ealing until recently, all I could do was sit here in São Paulo watching the BBC news live updates and following the discussion on Twitter. Watching Ealing go up in flames without being there to actively do something was a very strange – and emotional – experience.

Of course, there is not much I could personally have done if I was there – what does anyone do if thugs are rampaging down the street setting cars on fire? But, I could see people I know from the local community – including many councillors and the council leader – getting messages online, warning of trouble, calling the fire brigade… actively helping their neighbours.

The tragic thing about this violence is that it has no objective, it’s just the violent outrage of frustration. If these kids really wanted to change the way companies like McDonald’s operate then getting the staff into a union or campaigning for fair wages and conditions would lead to a better outcome for everyone – rather than just bashing in the window of every branch they see.

And by looting, any sense of outrage or protest has been destroyed. London has been taken over by thugs who don’t even have a political message. Some are claiming it’s because of youth club cuts and youth unemployment. Nonsense – it’s just the criminal destruction of property by those who don’t even understand what they want or why.

At least the class warriors of the left, who used to cause trouble for business owners, had some form of objective – even if it was as simply stated as ‘smashing capitalism’ (even though the smashers were often educated property-owners).

The threat of Irish nationalist terrorism that only ceased recently, and also caused chaos in Ealing in the past decade, was also more understandable. There was a political debate to be had, even if it was always impossible to debate issues when one side used bombs.

But these riots are meaningless. They have no objective or planned outcome. And perhaps this is the most dangerous thing of all for a government that is now implementing possibly the largest ever cut-back in public sector jobs. If the disaffected youth think they have it bad right now, then just wait for another year… our trading partners in Europe are struggling and hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs are about to vanish.

I am visiting Ealing soon – later this month. And I had arranged a large local community event that will be on September 1st. I hope many more local residents come along to it now than were going to before these terrible riots – there will be many of those local councillors who were doing such a great job at the event, and at least one of the local MPs.

The tweetup may in some ways just be about having a pint and listening to some great live music, but since I started arranging these nights in early 2009, I met many local people and found new friends in my local community.

Ealing needs the local community right now and if social media is going to take some of the blame for helping rioters to focus on new targets then it should also be used to bring the community closer together.

Click here to register for the Ealing Tweetup…

Red Lion Ealing