My report from International Civil Society Week
Hosted by CIVICUS in Johannesburg, South Africa 19-25 November 2014
30 hours from AKL to JHB meant my first day was dedicated to slee…
My whole week would be spent meeting new people from all over the world talking about civil society, the encroachment upon it by governments and big business, and the need for citizens to band together to expand the space where civil society can flourish.
So every morning I went for a bit of a jog through a different part of Johannesburg, to clear my head and check out the locals.
I got a glimpse of Ellis Park, saw some wealthy gated properties bordering on streets where homes are not so great, lots of rubbish and the odd ghastly smell of sewage in the mean streets, crazy traffic, road upgrades everywhere, hole-in-the-wall shops, big walls topped with razor wire everywhere, kids heading off to school in clean uniforms and polished shoes, and everybody going somewhere – nobody sitting around doing nothing – apart from the odd group of bruddahs out smoking the weed on street corners!
Jo’burg has a tough reputation, but when you’re there you also sense the energy of a society flexing muscles it hasn’t used for decades, a people wanting something better for their kids than they had and being willing to do whatever to make it happen.
Chasing the dream and civil society don’t always go hand in hand. I watch South Africa grow with interest.
BUILDING A WORLD CITIZENS’ MOVEMENT
On the first afternoon I met with about 100 other delegates, about half from Africa and Asia, and the rest from countries and organisations that funded initiatives to help people develop and grow civil societies in developing countries – the North giving to the South.
That evening nine of us briefly introduced ourselves before splitting into workshops where the other delegates could rotate in groups of about 20 to come and listen to us talk from our wildly different experiences.
The others talked about: working with youth and street children; re-energising poor communities; rebuilding communities with assistance from big business; the women’s movement in Nigeria; the student movement in Chile; peace education in Israel; rethinking education and development; and the clothing and textile workers of South Africa; so I decided to focus on the Indigenous People’s movement (see presentation notes attached).
The second day was a review of a document called the “Johannesburg Compass” and how to build on its vision for a civil society. Other presenters were positive about what we all needed to do, so when I was asked to contribute I made the point that indigenous people made up nearly 10% of the global population but about 30% of those living in poverty, and that my role would be to ensure that the emerging civil society movement did not marginalise Indigenous People the way ‘uncivil’ societies had done up until now.
The third day was about ACTION/2015, a global campaign to inspire actions that empower the marginalised, and collectively tackle the root causes of inequality, injustice, poverty and climate change.
When we were separated into groups to talk about what we might do regionally, I went to listen to what the North Americans were planning. They talked about activities like: picking 15 (2015) teenagers from 15 cities to come together and prepare a statement about their hopes and dreams to present to the nation in 2015; and promoting the aims of the campaign by writing to government leaders and mounting an internet blitz to coincide with key dates.
Then I met with the only other person from the Pacific, an Australian guy from World Vision, nice enough but completely outside my world view, so I said that my focus would be on indigenous people rather than an ANZAC response.
I am working with a man by the name of Ashok Barti, who is the chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations, to prepare a proposal for CIVICUS to fund a team to engage with Indigenous People and ensure that they are fully represented in all campaigns in action/2015 and beyond.
CONNECTION / SHARING
The next two days were held at the brand new Science Campus of the University of Witwatersrand in Braamfontein, and they were a veritable blizzard of presentations and workshops from some very good speakers.
I bounced around the venues and heard some excellent contributions; one from a woman who talked about Tunisia’s role as an emerging civil society and the role of women in helping draft the constitution, and another from a man who talked about Lebanon’s torturous recent history including the establishment of a constitutional council, the anomalies between religious imperatives and the demands of a new civil order, and the ongoing struggle between NGO’s and government.
Mind you I also heard a real ugly contribution as well – a programme funded by CIVICUS that was promoting privatisation of social services and selling the notion of state-owned enterprises, both of which seemed completely at odds with the whole focus of increasing civil society.
CIVICUS WORLD ASSEMBLY
However, I am happy to say that in spite of being bombarded by a storm of contributions, some good and some not so good, the last day turned out to be a real eye-opener, bringing together some good panels, great speakers, world class music, and a nice kai to end it all. My picks of the day were:
CIVIL SOCIETY RESOURCING
This panel featured major funders EMILY MARTINEZ (Open Society), MARK SUZMAN (Gates Foundation), MARTIN ABREGU (Ford Foundation), and THEO SOWA (African Women’s Development Fund).
TS AWDF said that there was a perception that foundation funding was a hand-out, but her organisation preferred to see it more as a partnership where the locals provided the expertise and the foundations provided the resources to make something work.
MS GATES was a lot more formal. He said that their funding was outcome focused. The Gates’ asked simple questions like: What did we say we would do? How did we perform? Are we succeeding? Are we meeting our outcomes? Their aim was to ensure any money they gave out met specific goals and outcomes as set down by the Gates’. They also said that they preferred to work through either US agencies with a 501 tax status, or overseas organisations that paid to meet the standard.
Former trade union leader, cabinet member in Mandela’s first government and still an activist for the rights of the poor, Naidoo spoke strongly of the need to maintain focus on the basics – eliminating poverty, decent housing, jobs – a very strong and vibrant speaker.
A bilateral amputee and bomb blast survivor, this young woman was a very positive and inspirational speaker, whose line is “the worst disability is a bad attitude”. Her story is a useful read for all disabled people and just as worthwhile for all young Maori thinking life is too hard.
The best speaker of the whole conference, bar none, was Navi Pillay. Of Tamil descent, she was born in the poor streets of Durban, South Africa in 1941, got a law degree, and became the first non-white woman to open a law office in South Africa in 1967 “No law firm would employ me because they said they could not have white employees taking instructions from a coloured person“.
She won the right for political prisoners on Robben Island to have lawyers in 1973, and became the first non-white woman appointed to the SA High Court, by Mandela himself in 1995.
She was appointed to the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda where she established a landmark ruling on rape “From time immemorial, rape has been regarded as spoils of war. Now it will be considered a war crime. We want to send out a strong signal that rape is no longer a trophy of war.”
In 2003 she was elected to the first-ever panel of judges of the International Criminal Court, and in 2008 took up the role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights where she spoke out on gender equality, publicly endorsed Edward Snowden as a Human Rights Defender, and heavily criticised the Israeli invasion of Gaza.
The CIVICUS conference was her first public outing since stepping down recently as UNHR Commissioner.
She spoke about a whole range of issues including African cases before the International Court, but noted the fact that none of the major western countries came before the court because they refused to validate the court’s existence.
A wonderful woman and a role model to thousands of young women all across Africa.
The final night of the conference was topped off by a special performance by Hugh Masekela, a trumpet maestro who was born in Witbank, escaped South Africa, and went on to establish an amazing career, playing alongside such musical giants as Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Jimmy Cliff, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, U2 and Herbie Hancock.
Backed up by two young musical prodigies on the piano and lead guitar, Masekela took us on a tour of his life and a history of apartheid, in stories and in music, from throwing stones on shanty town roofs to warn the families the police we coming and to hide the home brew, to the trains that brought people in to work in the mines, the importance of indigenous folk not putting down other people of colour for having to come to SA to work, and an awesome and very descriptive piece about a big, fat, but very beautiful woman at her wedding and how happy her husband was to have won her heart. Pain, sorrow, wonderfully expressive music from all 3 musicians, and heaps of laughter, Hugh Masekela made music and politics hum like no other artist I have ever heard … a note for indigenous musicians everywhere.
The concert was only 40 minutes but it was a privilege to see and hear this man perform.
I am working with Ashok Barti on the proposal for CIVICUS to fund a team to engage with Indigenous People and ensure that they are fully represented in all campaigns in action/2015 and beyond.
Notes to presentation to the ICSW conference
TOWARDS A WORLD CITIZENS MOVEMENT: Learning from the grassroots
19-21 November 2014, Johannesburg
Tēna koutou katoa
My name is Hone Harawira. I am a Maori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa / NZ. I am married to a wonderful woman and we have 7 children, 6 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild.
I have been involved in the struggle for land rights, for treaty rights, and for equal rights for Maori people in justice, education, employment, housing and civil rights, since 1973. For the last 9 years I served as a member of our nation’s parliament.
I would like to talk about changing our world, by changing the community we live in. The key aspects to achieving that change are clarity, teamwork, and courage.
Over the past 40 years I have been involved in court work to ensure Maori got proper legal representation; in land occupations to help Maori win back their lands, and been arrested for doing so; led actions to put an end to racist activity at university, and been arrested for doing so; led actions to highlight the way in which Maori rights under the Treaty of Waitangi have been dishonoured, desecrated, debased, and denied, and been arrested for doing so; led numerous actions against the anti-apartheid South African rugby tour of New Zealand, and been arrested for doing so; led an historic march of 50,000 people fighting for Maori rights to the foreshore and seabed, and instead of getting arrested, I got elected to the New Zealand House of Representatives, where I served for 9 years as the Member of Parliament for my home region of Tai Tokerau; and helped establish the MANA Movement as a vehicle to fight for the rights of the poor and the dispossessed.
During that time I have also served as a union delegate at a car plant in Auckland city, helped build a training centre in Otara, built a work trust to provide training and employment in my home town, served as CEO for my tribe, run a local sports organisation, established wananga reo (language immersion programmes) to help build the Maori language in the north, set up and managed a number of radio stations and a television station, led the national federation of Maori radio, built a Maori language school for students aged from 1-18, and written a column for my local paper for more than ten years.
I am currently working on a couple of community projects to help rebuild our communities and to help our old people.
In looking back over my time as an activist, if I had to pick three ideas that have helped me achieve success in the many and varied endeavours I have been involved in, they would be:
Clarity: being clear about what we want to achieve, and having a plan (and options) to achieve our goal
Team: surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals, including new people wanting to be part of what we want to do
Courage: having the resolution to achieve our goal, in the face of often overwhelming odds
Regardless of what our goal is – save an endangered species, stop toxic mining, become an astronaut, feed the kids, establish independence for indigenous peoples, uplift the poor and the dispossessed, or build a civil society – having clarity of purpose, a good team, and the courage to see something through to its completion, are all necessary elements to success.