Monday, 20 July 2015

Worrying about South Africa


A few days ago (July 18, 2015) I was asked to give a brief talk at an event in Brantford, Ontario—the location of a branch of Wilfrid Laurier University, where I work—on the occasion of Nelson Mandela Day. This is a worldwide movement to encourage people everywhere to devote 67 minutes to volunteer work, in recognition of Mandela’s own 67 years of public service.

I was asked to give an inspiring speech, but as an academic I’m more likely to be a worrier than an inspirer. Indeed, in 1994 I reviewed a book entitled Advancing Human Rights in South Africa by Albie Sachs, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa (you can find my review in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, vol. 12, no.2, 1994, pp. 222-25). I doubted Sachs’ contention that South Africa could become a social democratic country, in which economic human rights were protected as well as constitutionalism, the rule of law, and non-racialism (this time protecting non-black minorities rather than the black majority).

Albie Sachs
Source: Bates News
In preparation for my talk at Brantford, I asked my research assistant, Ms. Jinelle Piereder, to find some statistics for me, on “good news” and “bad news” in South Africa.  Here are some samples of what she found: if you’d like her sources, email me at and I’ll send them to you.

Here’s some good news:

Housing: since 1994, the government has built 1.4 million housing units for more than 5 million people.

Electricity: 54-58% of the population had access to electricity in 1993-1996; by 2012 that figure had risen to 85.4%.  

Clean Water: only 59% of the population had access to clean water in 1994; by 2013 that figure had risen to 94.7% of the population.  

Education: 98% of children that should be in grade 6 are actually in school, and the percentage of black South Africans age 20 and up that has received no education fell from 24% in 1996 to 10.5% in 2011.

Land Redistribution: from 1994 to 2013, 4.2 million hectares of land was transferred through the government’s redistribution program, and 3.08 million hectares was subject to restitution, for a total of approximately 7.3 million hectares.  Between 3,712 and 4,813 farms has been redistributed since 1994, benefitting over 220,000 people.

Now here’s some bad news:

Unemployment rate: the unemployment rate was estimated at 20%- 31.5% in 1994, and rose to 24.3% -35.6% 2013, depends on how you define unemployment.

Crime: The rate for sexual offenses is 118.2 per 100,000 people; for murder it is 32.2 per 100,000 people; and for kidnapping it is 7.8 per 100,000 people; these are very high rates.

HIV/AIDS: 12% of the population has HIV/AIDS, and for adults aged 15-49 the rate is 19%. South Africa does have one of the world’s largest ARV treatment programs, but it was delayed for several years under Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor as President, because of his and his health minister’s disbelief in the efficacy of AIDS medications. Researchers at Harvard University calculated that Mbeki’s AIDS denialism was responsible for 330,000 unnecessary deaths.

Informal settlements: In 1996, 1.5 million households lived in informal settlements across South Africa: in 2011 the number was 2 million. This means the government hasn’t been able to keep up with population growth in providing housing.

A lot of what’s going on in South Africa today has me more worried than when I wrote my review in 1994. 

There’s the (almost) constitutional crisis in June 2015. That’s when President Al-Bashir of Sudan, who is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide in Darfur, visited South Africa for a meeting of the African Union. Countries that are party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, including South Africa, are supposed to arrest anyone under indictment if they are on that country’s territory. The South African government did not arrest Al-Bashir. In fact, when a South Africa court ordered that he be temporarily detained until it could consider a request to have him arrested, the government helped to spirit him out of the country.

There’s also increasing pressure on the free press, according to a recent article in The Economist (June 17, 2015, p. 40). The government pressures the South African Broadcasting Corporation to be biased in its favour, and uses government funds to purchase independent privately-owned media and convert them into government mouthpieces.

President Jacob Zuma
Source: IOL News, Henk Kruger
Corruption is also a growing problem. President Jacob Zuma is reputed to have spent $21 million of public money on his home compound, including a swimming pool.  But this may be small change compared to other aspects of corruption, favoritism towards African National Congress (ANC) government supporters, etc.

And there’s severe prejudice against the GLBT community. This is no surprise. In recent years GLBT rights have become flashpoints for rhetoric against the West and defense of so-called “traditional” ways of life in countries such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda as well as South Africa. I’m afraid that many black and/or “traditional” South Africans view the South African constitution, with its “rights-for-everyone” approach, as another example of white imperialism.

Julius Malema
Source: The Voice of the Cape FM
And most worrisome is the prospect of a populist, anti-white government that will impose radical and destructive economic policies, such as land confiscations without compensation and nationalization of privately-owned mines and industries. Julius Malema has led the opposition political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, since 2013.  This party has a large following, despite Malema’s own well-known personal corruption. In 2011, Malema was convicted of hate speech for singing the song, “Shoot the Boers.”  Boer is a term for white South Africans.

An estimated 3.1 million South African blacks lost their property under apartheid. Many of them were then confined to supposedly “independent “ Bantustans, essentially dumping grounds for “surplus” blacks. Lots of these people are still landless and their children and grandchildren are jobless, without a role and recognition in society. They are fertile grounds for populist demagoguery.

Joblessness and lack of social roles also helps explain the high crime rates in contemporary South Africa. I think one of the reasons for these high crime rates is that many of the men who commit crimes grew up under apartheid; a 35-year-old criminal would have been born in 1980. The apartheid government deliberately destroyed the black South African family. Many fathers lived in migrant work camps and rarely saw their children; many mothers had to leave their children alone for 12 to 16 hours a day as they travelled from peri-urban black townships into white areas to work as domestic servants. Schooling for blacks also was inferior.  

So there’s a portion of the South African population that may be very susceptible to populist rhetoric. Julius Malema knows this. Populists reject constitutionalism, the rule of law, and standard civil and political rights. If Malema takes power, I am afraid that the inspiring South African experiment will end in disaster.

1.    Free yourself.

2.    Free others.

3.    Serve every day.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dominican Republic Deports People of Haitian Descent

Dominican Republic Deports People of Haitian Descent

(This is a guest blog by Margaret Walton-Roberts, the co-editor of The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, which I announced in my blog of July 7, 2015 ( In this blog, Margaret expounds on the Dominican Republic’s current deportations of people of Haitian descent, a case I mentioned briefly in my introduction to the book).

In recent months I have been struck by the relevance of The Human Right to Citizenship. In September 2013 the Dominican Republic (DR) issued the Tribunal Constitution Resolution 168/13, which retroactively removed citizenship from a Dominican-born woman of Haitian descent, after which the court demanded that all similar cases be noted and that those individuals be defined as foreigners.

A member of the Dominican Special Unit Border looks at Haitians
stranded on the border between Dominican Republic and Haiti are seen,
in Djabon, Dominican Republic, 07 January 2013.
Sofia News Agency
In response to this ruling the DR government passed The Naturalization Law (169-14). This Law states that anyone born in the DR to Haitian parents since 1929 is no longer automatically a DR citizen, but creates some pathways to legal residence. This process rendered approximately 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless.

The retroactive stripping of citizenship created chaos. International condemnation of these rulings argued that the retroactive application of 168/13 is arbitrary deprivation of the right to nationality, in violation of Article 20 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 24(3), together with Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After international outrage the DR created the Plan Nacional de Regularización de Extranjeros (National Regulation Plan for Foreigners) in November 2013, so that those born in the country to undocumented Haitian parents could apply for foreign resident status and after two years apply for naturalization. While over 250,000 have taken up this opportunity, many have not, fearing that identifying themselves as foreign residents will merely speed up their deportation to Haiti. Some are also excluded from this process because they do not have official documentation to prove their status.

Stripping the rights of those born in the DR but of Haitian descent has also reverberated through the large population of Haitian migrants in the country.  To address this population’s status the DR stated that Haitians living in the country who could  both prove their identity and prove that they arrived in the DR before October 2011 were eligible to apply for residency. There are an estimated 460,000  Haitian migrants in the DR. This option for migrants who have lived in the DR to claim residency has also been difficult for many to pursue, since securing the necessary documentation to prove their status and time of arrival is complicated, in part because many of the Dominicans who employed Haitians are unwilling to officially admit to this fact.

While some DR officials have tried to calm people’s fears about imminent deportations, The Guardian reported ( that  that the country’s director of migration had told the local press that 2,000 police and military officers and 150 inspectors had received special training for deportations. In the first quarter of 2015 the DR reportedly deported 40,000 people to Haiti under operation Shield. The very name shield indicates that the DR has invoked national security as the justification for these expulsions.

Haitians at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
Source: Creative Commons

In our book we examine how this discourse of securitization has stripped people of their rights and how it operates not only on the borders of states, but also from deep within the social fabric of the nation: Resolution 168/13 also illustrates another assertion our book offers, that we are increasingly witnessing the creation of differentially protected subjects under conditions of increased mobility and displacement.

It is absolutely no surprise that people will seek out refuge and livelihood opportunities outside of Haiti: their immediate neighbour on the island of Hispaniola offers an obvious option. Haiti’s relationship with DR is certainly tumultuous, but communities of Dominican and Haitian ancestry have successfully lived together for decades. Despite this co-existence, xenophobic hatred is already occurring against those who look Haitian: in February 2015 a young black man was lynched and left hanging in a tree in Santiago.

The DR and Haiti share the Island of Hispaniola, the site of the first European settlement in the Americas. After Columbus landed there the indigenous Taino populations were massacred or died of disease, and by 1503 the colony was importing African slaves. Slaves achieved independence from their then French rulers in 1804, but international boycotts by the US and Europe forced Haiti to pay reparations to its former French enslavers.

The Dominican war of Independence in 1844 secured the independence of Dominicans (a Spanish term referencing those from Santo Domingo) from Haitian rule, and subsequent years saw numerous conflicts between Haiti and the DR. Part of the justification some DR residents offer to support the current deportations of those of Haitian ancestry emerges from a discourse of anxiety linked to the nineteenth century history of Haitian dominance across the island.

This case thus illustrates many of the arguments we make in The Human Right to Citizenship about how citizenship is a slippery concept that reflects national narratives and how the right to citizenship can be subjected to reconstruction through legislative whim. The history of the Island of Hispaniola offers some guidance as to why hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent can be so easily stripped of their citizenship rights. But the responsibility of the state to protect the human rights of those who reside within their boundaries must now be the focus.  

Haiti is already declaring it will face a humanitarian crisis if the deportations continue.  This tinderbox has been created by the DR, and the international community and civil society groups within the DR will have to find ways to manage the devastation it is creating.  

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Book Announcement: The Human Right to Citizenship

Book Announcement: The Human Right to Citizenship
Below is the text of the announcement for my latest book, The Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept, (University of Pennsylvania Press), co-edited with my wonderful colleague at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Margaret Walton-Roberts. I would like to thank Margaret and all the authors for all the work they did to produce this book. I’ve long been interested in the problem of statelessness in particular, so it was nice to be able to produce an academic work on the subject. Helmut Hassmann, the stateless individual quoted in the beginning of my introduction to the book, is of course my father, whose memoir I posted on this blog on October 20, 2014, see
Go to next page for the book: I couldn’t figure out how to position it.

Now Available from Penn Press

The Human Right to CitizenshipThe Human Right to Citizenship: A Slippery Concept
Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann and Margaret Walton-Roberts, Editors

"An empirically rich, diverse, and informative contribution to sociological citizenship studies."—Karolina S. Follis, Lancaster University

The Human Right to Citizenship provides an accessible overview of citizenship around the globe, focusing on empirical cases of denied or weakened legal rights. This wide-ranging volume provides a theoretical framework to understand the particular ambiguities, paradoxes, and evolutions of citizenship regimes in the twenty-first century.

Full Description, Table of Contents, and More

328 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 illus.
Hardcover | ISBN 978-0-8122-4717-6 | $65.00s | £42.50
Ebook | ISBN 978-0-8122-9142-1 | $65.00s | £42.50
A volume in the Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights series

The Human Right to Citizenship provides an accessible overview of citizenship regimes around the globe, focusing on empirical cases of denied or weakened legal rights. Exploring the legal and social implications of specific national contexts, contributors examine the status of labor migrants in the United States and Canada, the changing definition of citizen­ship in Nigeria, Germany, India, and Brazil, and the rights of ethnic groups including Palestinians, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi migrants to India, and Roma in Europe. Other chapters consider children’s rights to citizenship, multiple citizenships, and unwanted citizenships. With a broad geographical scope, this volume provides a wide-ranging theoretical and legal framework to understand the particular ambiguities, paradoxes, and evolutions of citizenship regimes in the twenty-first century.

Contributors: Michal Baer, Kristy A. Belton, Jacqueline Bhabha, Thomas Faist, Jenna Hennebry, Nancy Hiemstra, Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, Audrey Macklin, Margareta Matache, Janet McLaughlin, Carolina Moulin, Alison Mountz, Helen O’Nions, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Sujata Ramachandran, Kim Rygiel, Nasir Uddin, Margaret Walton-Roberts, David S. Weissbrodt.

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann is Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. She is author of Reparations to Africa and coeditor of Economic Rights in Canada and the United States and The Age of Apology: Facing Up to the Past, all available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Margaret Walton-Roberts is Associate Professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. She is coauthor of Cultural Geography: Environments, Landscapes, Identities, Inequalities and coeditor of Territoriality and Migration in the E.U. Neighbourhood: Spilling over the Wall.

B Jun 2015 | 288 | 6 x 9