29 March 2006

The real concerns around Zuma rape case

When it comes to Jacob Zuma South Africa is divided. On the one side of the battlefield a large group that strongly believes South Africa’s ex-vice president is guilty of raping the 31-year old, HIV positive Aids activist. Another large group of South Africans, convinced of Zuma’s innocence, form the other front. I personally shall refrain from joining the debate around Zuma’s guilty or innocence when it comes to the rape charges. However, I can’t help myself for convicting the man for highly irresponsible behaviour.

However it is unclear whether or not Jacob Zuma is guilty of rape, one thing is to be said: Zuma is guilty of and can be held accountable for highly irresponsible behaviour. Whether the s*xual intercourse between him and the woman was forced or voluntarily, the act occurred and was practiced unsafely.

After denying having sex with the 31-year old Aids Activist – thus lying in the face of South Africa- Zuma on March 6 admitted that sexual intercourse took place.

5,3 million infected

This is of great concern, especially considering his popularity in a country, which is being ravaged by HIV/AIDS.
South Africa counts for 5,3 million people who are HIV positive. That is more than ten percent of the world’s total (39,4 million according to UNAIDS) and 25% of Africa’s total. At this very moment, over 12% of the South African population is infected, a number that increases with 1500 daily. Or 547 000 people per annum; more than the total population of Luxemburg (462 000). Every day 800 South Africans die of HIV/AIDS related diseases, which comes down almost 300 000 per year.

Women are prime victims

According to the South African Department of Health, women are becoming more and more the victim of HIV/AIDS. Irresponsible sexual behaviour from their partners but also rape is one of the causes. South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world: According to the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation (NICRO) only one in twenty rapes are reported in South Africa and that one rape occurs every 83 seconds.

That brings me to my conclusion. Taking aside the question whether he is guilty or innocent, by not using a rubber, Zuma can be held accountable for lying to the public, for giving the wrong example and for – not less important – putting other lives in jeopardy. The lives of his two wives for instance, his children and who ever he had s*xual intercourse with.

By this Zuma became part of the HIV AIDS problem in his country, instead of contributing to or being part of a solution.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town, South Africa

17 March 2006

Thinking of tomorrow in Kenya

Tourism is big in Kenya. On the Internet for instance, one travel and tourism orientated website after another tries to lure tourists and travelers to Kenya for an all-inclusive and very exclusive safari holiday. Accompanied by beautiful photographs, internet users are told about Kenya’s exquisite natural beauty, the incredible cultures, the wide variety of African wildlife and of course the, compared to many parts of Europe and the US, favourable weather. “In Kenya the sun shines almost the entire year!”

Let thát – the dry, hot climate - be the problem to millions of Kenyans. At moment of writing 3,5 million Kenyans are on the verge of starvation. Especially the Northern part of the country hasn’t had proper rainfall in years. The result of the drought, a problem which started five years ago, is a destructive famine that slowly but surely is setting its claws into the region.

Skin over bone

Food and water are scarce or even non-existent. In the North of Kenya, millions of people haven’t eaten a proper meal in many days or even weeks. Children are skin over bone, lying in apathy in the arms of their hungry and desperate mothers. Some Kenyans have turned to eating soil, bark and grass. To have something in their stomachs, to kill the overpowering feeling of pain and discomfort caused by hunger.

According to the organization World Food Program of the United Nations, immediate action is needed to save the millions of desperate and hungry Kenyans from a similar death as the million Ethiopians who perished of hunger in the 1980’s.

Worst humanitarian crises

So far, response from the International Community to Africa’s worst humanitarian crises in decades has been poor. In contrary to the 1984, when Ethiopia was struck by a destructive, the images of crying and dying Kenyan children haven’t triggered international action as is needed at present. Or in contrary to when Hurricane Katrina struck America last year.

Meanwhile tourists from all corners of the earth are enjoying a well-deserved African wildlife safari holiday in one of the lavish and luxurious Kenyan game lodges. Here they – after having escaped the stress of their daily lives - fill their days with copious dinners, and exquisite and comfortable game drives. Here they conclude and exhausting day in an air-conditioned 4x4 vehicle with a dip in the Jacuzzi and a sip of wine while observing the African wildlife passing by in the far distance. They watch the sunset and wonder about what tomorrow will bring. UN aware of what is happening elsewhere in the country.

A few hundreds of kilometers away from the lavish holiday resorts, millions of starving Kenyans are eyewitness of the same sunset too. They also wonder about the next day, but not in the context of whether or not they will see a leopard.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town, South Africa

14 March 2006

122 Journalists in prison across the world

While the world’s attention and support is going out to those journalists, media workers and reporters that are kept hostage in Iraq, many tend to forget the hundreds of journalists worldwide who are kept being held behind bars. Because of their opinions, their dissident voices and critical points of view.

Last year the international organization Reporters Without Borders counted 807 cases of inlawful imprisonment of journalists worldwide. At the moment of writing 122 journalists are in jail around the world, in amongst other Burma (5), China (31), Cuba (24), Democratic Republic of Congo (3), Eritrea (13), and Iran (6).

China, with 32 cases last year, is without a doubt the worst offender for jailing journalists. Cuba was ranked second for imprisoning 24 reporters in 2005, followed by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.

Journalists in US cells

According to The Committee to Protect Journalists The United States - the land of the free, home of the brave that proclaims be a fighter for and deliverer of freedom - is an important offender as well. Last year, six journalists were in US custody - four of them at detention centers in Iraq and one at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The journalist held in Guantanamo Bay is Sami Al Haj, a Sudanese national and a cameraman of the Arab information network Al-Jazeera. He was arrested by the United States in 2001 and deported to Guantanamo Bay in 2002. He is accused of being an ‘enemy combatant’ and of making videos of Osama bin Laden. He has not had a trial yet.

Thirty-three years behind bars

He is not the only one that has been in jail for a very long time. There are other journalists and media people who have been imprisoned for many years. The Lybian journalist and writer Abdullah Ali Al-Sanussi Al-Darrat was arrested in 1973, and is therefore the journalist who has been imprisoned longest in the world. No one knows how he is doing, if he has had a fair trial, what his sentence was, where he is being held and whether or not he is alive: The Lybian authorities are reluctant on giving out information.

Or Chen Renjie and from Lin Youping, two Chinese journalists, who were arrested in 1983 for contra-revolutionary activities and who have been in prison ever since.


Win Tin (75) from Burma has been in prison since 1989, serving a 20-year sentence for subversion and anti-government propaganda. Plus: he was one of the political mentors of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who herself isn’t particularly loved by Burmese authorities either. Win Tin was often offered freedom in exchange for a signed declaration to give up politics. He refused every single time.

Last but certainly not least: The Egyptian journalist Abd al-Manim Gamal al Din Abd al-Munim was arrested in February 1993 at his home and taken to Egypt’s security head quarters for investigation on fundamentalist activities. Here, he was tortured for an entire day before taken to prison in Cairo. Although there is no evidence against him and he never was accused of involvement in violence, Abd al-Manim Gamal al Din Abd al-Munim remains in a prison in Cairo.

These journalists mentioned above form the top of the iceberg. A massive iceberg that does not seem to make any move to melt down.

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town, South Africa

13 March 2006

NEWS FLASH - Journalists under fire

So far, 2006 wasn't a great year for the international media. In the first two months up until March 13 (moment of writing), 7 journalists and 5 media assistants were killed: 3 journalists and all media assistants in Iraq. With 12 media workers over two months, year 2006 could – unfortunately - be just as a bloody year as 2005 was.

2005 was a sad, bloody, and horrific year for the media worldwide: Between January 1st and December 31st 2005 65 journalists and reporters from across the world were killed, ten more than in 2004. At least 807 journalists were arrested, 1 308 media workers and journalists were physically attacked or threatened and over 1 006 media outlets were censored.

From the lives lost amongst journalists, reporters and other media people, more than one third – 23 - occurred in Iraq. Other died in the line of duty in Philippines (9), Bangladesh (3), Haiti (3), Brazil (2), Colombia (2), Lebanon (2), Mexico (2), Nepal (2), Pakistan (2), Somalia (2), Sri Lanka (2), Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Libya, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, and Thailand.

Asia: Risky Business
One of the conclusions of a 2005 annual report by Reporters Without Borders is that journalists, reporters and media people are most at risk in Asia. First of all, Asia ranks second after North Africa and the Middle East Asia with 17 deaths.

Furthermore, the continent is accountable for 352 cases of arrests and imprisonment (more then a third). Asia also claims one third of the total number of cases of physical attack and threatening (583 of 1 308 ). Last but not least, it was in Asian where most media outlets (745 out of the 1006) were censored and shut down.

Freedom of Speech Behind Bars
In 2005 many journalists have been arrested in 2005. According to Reporters Without Borders the figure of 807 is just an estimate. A low estimate: many cases of imprisonment of journalists are not reported by authorities of these specific countries. “[This figure] But this is not good enough, because every day an average of two journalists are arrested somewhere in the world just for trying to do their job,” as is stated in the 2005 report.

In 2005 many journalists across the world who were put behind bars in previous years, were still waiting for their release. To name a few:

Chinese journalist Yu Dongyue was imprisoned for 18 years after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 for “counter-revolutionary propaganda.” The 75-year-old Burmese Journalist Win Tin has been behind bars for 17 years. Libyan Abdullah Ali al-Sanussi al-Darrat has imprisoned the longest, since 1973.

2006: Bloody and violent prospect
Unfortunately, the year 2006 does not promise to be a good one for the media as already 12 media workers and journalist have lost their lives in the line of duty. If this would a 2-month average, by 31st of December the year 2006 will in the end claim 72 lives of journalists and reporters. When taken in consideration all the media people that are behind bars and that will be confronted with violence and harassment 2006 cannot be described as a pretty year.

For more information on freedom of speech, freedom of press and relevant information surf to the website of Reporters Sans Frontieres or Reporters Without Borders.

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

10 March 2006

Say no Evil: Freedom of Press

Freedom of press. As westerners liberty of speach is a phenomenon that we tend to take for granted. We are so used say, write and voice what we think, feel and want that we don’t realize that in other countries journalists end up in jail, being arrested, tortured, maimed, or even getting killed for doing the same. Or less.

Take Africa for instance. In African countries as Zimbabwe and The Democratic republic of Congo not a week goes by without the press and media being threatened. Over the years, reporters, journalists and other media people have vanished, were locked up, tortured, maimed, killed and arrested for having certain opinions.

Also in Madagascar, Guinea, Kenya, Chad, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Gambia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia freedom of press hardly exists.

But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As stated by the international journalists organization Reporters Without Borders, many African countries have improved their situation regarding freedom of press.

Based on their 2005 report on 167 countries, Reporters without Borders concluded that many African countries are improving when it comes to freedom of speech and press liberty. Benin and Namibia (both 25th place) score better than Australia (30th place, together with South Africa) and the situation on press freedom in Mauritius (34th place) and Mali (37th) is better than in for instance Israel (47), Italy (42), or Spain (40).

Or the United States (44th). The nation that proclaims to be the world's freedom defendor and democracy deliveror tumbled down over 20 places.

Mozambique moved from 64th to the 49th place and the Central African Republic jumped from the 104th to 82nd place. Also Angola improved its freedom of press rankings (76th).
This does not by far mean that Africa is a paradise for the press and media. It just means that there is improvement. And that is simply great news from a continent that has build a negative image news and freedom wise.

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

09 March 2006

NEWS FLASH - Hail the rain in Kenya

One of this week’s least known but most important news facts is probably the rainfall in the African country of Kenya. “Rain important?” I hear you think, looking at the grey European skies which have unleashed liters of water the last couple of winter months. “Why should the media report on such a common natural phenomenon as ‘rain’, while shit hits the fan everywhere?”

Let me tell you. At this very moment Kenya faces one of the biggest humanitarian crises the country has ever faced: Due to amongst other severe drought and failed crops over 3,5 million Kenyans are facing starvation and depend on food-aid. In December 2005 the number was 2,5 million. Rain is therefore essential for the near future of many people and for next years harvest. Very essential.

Unfortunately the rain only fell on the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and skipped the north of the country, which has been hardest hit by the drought. “Despite the rains it is too early to talk about the end of the drought... Overall, we're still in for a bad time," William Nyakwada from Kenya Meteorological Department said during a press conference.

According to World Food Program (WFP) executive director James Morris there is a big chance Kenya will not get rain needed for an adequate harvest. Morris added the drought had persisted for five to six years.

To my astonishment – this is not a brand new crisis but one that has started half a decade ago – the west hasn’t done anything. While many millions were collected for Katrina and the Tsunami, and while all eyes were focused on Afghanistan, the twin towers, Iraq nobody seemed to see what was going on in East Africa, despite the calls for help from different organizations. Nobody seemed to realize that one of the human biggest crises was developing in Africa. To compare: During the famine of Ethiopia in 1984, often called the worst humanitarian crisis ever, 8 million people became famine victims and 1 million died.

Despite the scope of the crisis, the international community is still hesitant to stick out a helping hand. The World Food Program (WFP) has received only $28 million of the $225 million it needs until February 2007 to buy 30 000 tons of food each month to feed 3,5 million hungry Kenyans.

So yes. Rain – for the future and survival for 11 million Africans – is important. Very important.

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

08 March 2006

“You're in the wrong continent dear!"

Are you from Europe or the United States, or are you living there for whatever reason? May I ask you something? Would you please have a look in the international sections of the past few newspapers, and count how many articles are dedicated about Africa? Based on the (non?) presence of Africa in your newspaper - or what ever medium in the Western World - you would be tempted to assume that "nothing happens in Africa".


Plenty is happening in Africa; matters that are just as important and urgent - or just as (or even more) tragic as the effects of for instance hurricanes, bombs, and fundamentalism.

Just a few exemples:
  • March 8 (www.iol.co.za): In Ethiopia, three explosions hit the capital Addis Ababa, injuring at least four people. One explosion hit a restaurant, another a market.
  • March 8 – (www.iol.co.za): In the Horn of Africa, every day 25 000 people (more than 1 Katrina hurricane each day) die of hunger, every day 18 000 children - one every five seconds - die per day. This is one of the harsh conclusions of the World Food Program. "These people will die off the beaten track that the world is not focused on," WFP director James Morris said.
  • March 6 – BBC News: If Kenya does not get food aid, 3,5 million people will die the next month. That is 175 times as many casualties as the number of people died in because of hurricane Katrina.
  • March 6 – BBC News: In the Horn of Africa, due to five years of drought, 11 million Africans are on the verge of famine and starvation. That equals to 550 Katrina hurricanes. "The world has not appreciated in the last 60 days how serious this situation is... we are now in a crisis,” said UN delegate and World Food Program (WFP) director James Morris said after visiting El Wak on the Kenya-Somalia border. “The world needs to wake up!”
  • March 4 – (allafrica.com): Tanzania might be the next African country to fall into the claws of hunger and famine, as many billions of are destroying vast acres of crops in many parts of the country. The situation has reached stage that experts have given up.
  • March 7 – (allafrica.com) : In Cameroon a new HIV/AIDS vaccin to prevent the HIV transmission through breast-feeding is to be created.
  • March 7 (www.afrol.com) - The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has infected 157,000 people in the rest the African Indian Ocean region, including the French island of Reunion. Over 90 people have died since the outbreak. The virus has a firm hold on Seychelles, Mauritius and other area’s of the Indian Ocean Region. In Mauritius spraying and fogging machines were ordered from abroad and some 100,000 litres of insecticides were imported.
  • March 8 (www.afrol.com) – Mozambique has not recovered from the heavy earthquake (7.5 on the Richter Scale) that hit the Southern African country end of February. Despite the low casualty number – four people died – the damage is more serious than assumed. Tremors of the heavy earthquake were felt in many parts of Mozambique, in eastern Zimbabwe and some parts of South Africa as for instance Pretoria and Durban.
  • 7 March (Survival International): Botswana government has been receiving harsh criticism from the UN's human rights agency UNHCHR because of its record on racial discrimination in the fate of the indigenous San people (also known as Bushmen or Basarwa). The government is relocating the San from the Kalahari, their native land, into reserves. The UN Committee member from Burkina Faso referred to the Botswana's San people as "discriminated against and marginalized", while the Committee member from the UK told the Botswana government, "What disturbs many people is the spectacle of one of the great cultures of Africa being placed under severe threat."
For me, as a Dutch journalist who grew up in Africa and moved back to this magnificent continent one year and a half ago, it is not surprising that you don’t know about the above.

It is a clear fact: Africa isn’t of great interest amongst western media. I have tried to sell a couple of stories to print media in my country, stories that were of great importance I found. Unfortunately, the answer was “not serious enough”, “No dead people”, “No space”. I was even told once: “Africa? You have chosen the wrong continent, dear.”

The wrong continent.

Than to think that, not so long ago, western countries were trampling one another to get a strong hold in Africa. Ironic. Morbidly ironic, as all the back than important countries are now being forgotten completely. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not so long ago this country used to be a paradise for diamond miners, gold diggers and hunters. Everybody wanted to get involved. Now, practically no western country wants to dirty its hands and get involved. Tragic, as the west is one of the key players in Congo’s misery. For more information I’d be glad to refer you to the book or movie ‘King Leopold’s Ghost’.

I know I am not going to change the perception of the western media, but my aim is - with this weblog - to give a voice to Africa. So if you are interested in African news, log in once in a while!

Miriam Mannak / Cape Town

Oscar Award for Tsotsi movie

In South Africa it is the talk of the week: The South African film production Tsotsi grabs the Academy Award for best foreign language film during the 78th Oscar ceremony. The prestigious movie award not only recognizes the quality of this particular movie production, it also strengthens South Africa's position on the map of the International Film Industry.

Tsotsi, apart from being a good movie, shows that South Africa is very much capable of making excellent film productions and that there are talented actors, actresses and directors. Not only did the movie won an Oscar, it also grabbed five other International movie awards, at for instance the acclaimed 2005 film festivals of Toronto and Edinborough.
"So tell me ... What is this movie, that is apparently so great, all about?" I hear you think. I understand: Best Foreign Language Film has always been the underdog in the Universe of the Oscars. Which is a shame, as it is this category that has featured the world's best movies. Anyway, back to Tsotsi.

Tsotsi tells the story of David, a nineteen-year-old hardcore gangster in a township close to Johannesburg. David, or Tsotsi ( "Thug" or "Gangster") for friends, spends his days with drinking, drugs, theft, robbery, hijackings and other criminal and illegal activities. Tsotsi is, in no respect, the perfect son-in-law. Things change radically when Tsotsi, after hijacking a car in a fancy Jo'burg suburb and shooting the female driver, ends up with the baby of his victim.
Wrong side of the law
The movie tells, first of all, about how difficult life can be in South Africa's townships. Especially for young kids who - due to all kinds of causes - grow up with a distorted view on life. They are for instance affected by the non-presence of one (or both) parents, due to HIV/Aids / crime / domestic violence or whatever reason. They struggle with poverty, don't go to school, grow up with distorted perceptions of good and bad and therefore have a big chance of ending up on the wrong side of the law. Like what happened to Tsotsi.

Second, the movie is about human strength, humanity and forgiveness. And about the question: Does every one deserve a second chance? You go see that movie and think about it!

Miriam Mannak / Africa in the News - Cape Town, South Africa