Letters to the Editor: November 23

Russell Tribunal a travesty of justice
For a discussion of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine to turn on the issue of bias (“Not judges but witnesses”, November 4) misses the point.

If, as Mervyn Bennun contends, there was an intention to probe evidence rigorously and reach impeccably argued conclusions, bias would be an appropriate concern. But, since it never had any intention of doing so, the issue is irrelevant—a big pickled red herring.

Bennun tries to fudge the tribunal’s impersonation of a legal process by acknowledging that it deviates from legal norms (I’d say natural justice), but defends that on the basis that the tribunal’s luminaries are “witnesses”.

If so, why call it “the Russell Tribunal”, with all the implications of legal investigation, rather than, say, the “Russell Lectures”, or the “Russell Witnessing” or the “Russell Pontification”?

Indeed, why the tribunal terms them “jurors” is left unexplained. And this is grotesque: Would he, as a legal academic, agree to a trial in which his accusers were also his jury? The truth is that, contrary to his assertions, this is political theatre—propaganda masquerading as law. Nothing in the design of the tribunal allows for inconvenient conclusions; there is no examination other than what the tribunal wants.

In any event, in its London and Barcelona sessions, it had already declared Israel guilty of apartheid, though this was not their focus.

Bennun invokes the tribunal of the 1960s.

It should be noted that it was similarly crewed by activists. There was never any interest in interrogating atrocities committed by the communist forces.

Indeed, it was organised in consultation with the North Vietnamese government, not least regarding financing.

Bertrand Russell himself reminded North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh of an offer of financial assistance, noting: “I hope that such assistance will be forthcoming, for it will greatly facilitate the task before us.”

Pointing to the reputations of some of the “jury” and to Russell himself, Bennun seems to believe that this absolves them of suspicion. Leaving aside interrogation of their inherent virtue, I would say it is rather a warning that even the most accomplished among us can be catastrophically wrong. As author Christopher Hitchens remarked: “Being on the right side of history once is no guarantee that the subsequent fall will not be from a very great height.”

The worst decision these “juror-witnesses” are making, wittingly or not, in common with their 1960s counterparts, is the appropriation of the form and language of some of humanity’s nobler achievements and aspirations—law, justice, human rights—for political propaganda. This leaves what should be a common language for all of us cheapened and weakened, a discordant Alice-in-Wonderland patois in which a “word means what I want it to mean”.

Even Israel’s critics should ask whether this is a price they are willing to pay.—Rudi Massyn

Ambassador’s credentials don’t contain biographical data
The article “Burma ambassador’s questionable past” (November 4) states that the department of international relations and co-operation refused to make available to the Mail & Guardian the “credentials” of the ambassador to South Africa of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, His Excellency Myint Naung.

It is presumed that the writers of the article meant his curriculum vitae. Credentials or letters of credence do not contain biographical data. They are a formal communication from one head of state to another, requesting that his or her nominee be accepted as a plenipotentiary envoy of the state in question and are handed over at the formal credentials ceremony.

The CVs of foreign envoys in South Africa are not the property of the South African government to distribute to third parties.

The practice is that the sending state requests the receiving state to grant agreement for the appointment of its nominee.

The government of Myanmar duly asked the South African government to accept its nomination of Naung as ambassador of Myanmar to South Africa. Inquiries at the time of his nomination turned up no adverse information and as far as South Africa is aware there are no pending criminal charges against him anywhere.

Ambassador Naung is in South Africa as the representative of his government and deserves to be treated with the courtesy owed to foreign representatives.

South Africa remains totally committed to the democratisation of Myanmar and supports a process that is inclusive, consultative and based on the will of the broad mass of the people.
South Africa has taken note of the recent steps towards democratisation in Myanmar and has offered to share with the people of Myanmar its own experience of the road to constitutional democracy.

In this context the deputy minister of international relations and co-operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, said a year ago at the time of the release from house arrest of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that the “road to democracy is long and sometimes difficult, but it is achievable if the people remain committed to achieving lasting peace with one another and with the global community”.—Clayson Monyela, spokesperson, department of international relations and co-operation

Give credit where it’s due
I must point out one omission in the article about Equal Education’s victory at the Mail & Guardian awards. The article gives Equal Education credit for the R8.2-billion “mud-schools” settlement in the Eastern Cape.

In fact, this settlement, probably the biggest single victory for education activism in post-apartheid South Africa, is because of the litigation brought by the Legal Resources Centre on behalf of the Centre for Child Law.

Equal Education engaged in much activism on this case but the litigation was all-important. In fact, it was based on a thesis by Cameron McConnachie, now a lawyer at the centre. In her answers to the M&G‘s questions, Equal Education’s Yoliswa Dwane took no such credit. In the application submitted on behalf of Equal Education, credit was rightly given to the Legal Resources Centre.

It is Equal Education’s wish that the resources centre, the Centre for Child Law and the seven schools party to the litigation are afforded the full credit.—Doron Isaacs, co-ordinator Equal Education

The funfair of the damned (on COP17)
The flags of every land on Earth
are fluttering on the poles
where Mephistopheles has come
to gamble for men’s souls.

He waves a wad of bills and laughs
and spins his ivory dice,
“Roll up,” he says, “I know each land,
each business has its price.”

The prophets at the car-park gate
are being pushed aside,
the poorest people of the Earth
can’t wait to get inside.

So caucus in the conference halls,
vote for the promised land,
help MegaMammonWorld transform
the funfair of the damned.

The horses of Apocalypse
snort carbon in the sky,
the coal men on the golf-course say,
“Tree-hugger talk’s a lie.”

Dead frogs and methane in the reeds
adorn the leisure lake,
the front men for an oil cartel
sign up a smiling sheik.

But media saints are filming graphs,
great leaders talk on phones
persuading banks to fix Earth’s debt
by funding loans with loans.

Be hip and hop with Nero’s band
that’s rocking on the stand,
help MegaMammonWorld transform
the funfair of the damned.

It’s poker, power and politics
inside the weapons tent,
each chip’s a nuclear missile,
each war a cash event.

The hands are hot and sweaty,
the lips and mouths are dry,
whoever wins the blind man’s bluff
will send their stocks sky high.

But you and me and everyone
and no one is to blame
when nothing’s sacred in the world
except the money game.

So caucus now to make the Earth
a green and sunny land,
help MegaMammonWorld transform
the funfair of the damned.

The air is hot as hell inside
the VIPs’ marquee
where banks and presidents cut deals
around the Judas tree.

The money shoots as fast as thoughts
around the global mall
and booms and busts the businesses
inside the banking hall.

But financiers and engineers
are working double shift
to fix the yen flows round the mall,
the aircon in the lift.

So cash your carbon credits in
and buy a solar brand,
help MegaMammonWorld transform
the funfair of the damned.
When Mephistopheles has bought
the last soul in the bar,
when acid eats the funfair flags
and rain steams off the tar,

When Lazarus the janitor
has put away his broom
and limped off coughing to the hills
and climbed back in his tomb,

The prophets at the gate will wake
to septic lungs each dawn
and weakly lift placards and groan,
“What could we do but warn?”
For who can stop the rock ‘n roll
when money owns the band
and MegaMammonWorld creates
the funfair of the damned?
Chris Mann, Grahamstown

DA, call a spade a spade
I refer to “DA’s ‘Verwoerdian’ rebel on the ropes” (November 4). Helen Zille wants to attract the black vote, and to cast her net as widely as possible. But a failure to speak out loudly will result in the Democratic Alliance having more Patricia de Lilles, more Lindiwe Mazibukos, and more importantly, more Masizole Mnqaselas in its ranks.

In an attempt at dangling his leadership skills under the nose of his mentor, Mnqasela had the audacity to suggest that Lindiwe Mazibuko - because of her privileged background - is not an authentic black and that Zille should in future consider someone authentic like him!

The DA should thank him for showing it where Zille’s growth über alles is heading and show him the door at the very earliest convenience. The DA does not need opportunists. Or sheep.—Terence Grant, Cape Town

Rapule Tabane (”Working out what Mazibuko really stands for”, November 4) suggests that blacks who question the merits of affirmative action and black economic empowerment policy are not real blacks. What he proposes is a new level of racial classification. Not only can race now be determined by how you look but also by what you think. The architects of apartheid must be smiling.—Frans Cronje, deputy chief executive, South African Institute of Race Relations

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