new internationalist
issue 247 - September 1993



Anfal widows
Saddam’s genocide

Anfal is a term from the Qu’ran which refers to the spoils of a war against non-believers. It was used by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to justify genocidal assaults on the Kurds, who are also Muslim. His Anfal campaign in Iraqi Kurdistan killed as many as 180,000 people – mostly males – in 1988. Since the Gulf War and the suppression of the Kurdish uprising that followed, Saddam has imposed a strict economic blockade on the region. UN sanctions are still in force against the whole of Iraq. The result is widespread suffering among the dispossessed women and children who remain. But they are developing new ways of coping.

Teresa Thornhill

For more information on Zinan contact Brenda Prince, Format Partners, 19 Arlington Way, London EC1R 1UY, UK.

Rank, file and HIV
The Singapore government has given an altogether new twist to HIV discrimination. It has introduced compulsory testing for its 300,000-odd foreign workers. Anyone who tests positive will have to leave the country. Foreign executives, however, can count among their perks an exemption from this requirement.

from Populi, Vol 20, No 4

They disappear in the dead of night, leaving behind empty homes and even their relatives. Usually young, they flee because they have run up astronomical debts through the use of multiple credit cards. The yonige or ‘night-flight people’ are increasingly common in Japan. Often the credit-card firms make little effort to find them because of the high costs of tracking them down and the large numbers involved. An industry has sprung up to serve the absconders – the yonige-ya, or ‘night-flight’ furniture removal company. They have been known to disguise their trucks with spray-paint and even to use decoys to confuse any would-be followers.

from World Press Review, Vol 40, No 6



Boycotts and balaclavas
Squatter settlements wait for change

In South Africa’s renewed turmoil after the murder of Communist Party leader Chris Hani last April the squatter settlements are once again in the limelight. It is estimated that about seven million blacks live in these crowded, often desolate strips of land; crucibles of anger, fear and hope which act as gauges of the country’s political temperature.

Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, is one of the largest. Lying on the windswept Cape Flats to the east of the city, it is home to some 700,000 people, mainly Africans from the ‘homelands’ of Transkei and Ciskei.

‘They leave to find work or because they have family here,’ says Freddie, an ANC organizer. ‘But they come to Cape Town now because there is no Inkatha here [Zulu Chief Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party]. Around Durban and Johannesburg, where the other big squatter places are, there is always fighting between ANC and Inkatha.’

But Hani’s death and the painfully slow negotiations between the ANC, the ruling Nationalists and the other interested parties are sapping the patience of people in Khayelitsha. There is a constant security-force presence, with soldiers or police patrolling in riot gear, toting automatic rifles.

‘People sadly accept their presence because they don’t know what else to do,’ explains Freddie. ‘But they are not there to protect blacks: instead they promote violence.’

Hilda Sithole, an ANC Women’s League organizer in Khayelitsha, bears this out. Her husband, leader of the local civic organization, was killed last year allegedly by ‘Balaclavas’ – hooded black men carrying out the security forces’ dirty work.

‘He was killed because the authorities said he urged people not to pay their rents,’ she said. Rents are about 27 rand ($10) per month, but nobody pays them. The boycott is part of the general protest about the appalling housing conditions. Hilda’s shack has cardboard walls and a rusting corrugated tin roof through which the lashing winter rain easily penetrates. ‘We do have toilets and a standpipe now,’ she says. ‘But we won’t pay rent until we have proper brick houses.’

Poor housing is just one of the problems for the squatters. Another is the lack of jobs. Less than half the inhabitants have regular paid work, in textile and other factories, in the harbour, as domestics or seasonal workers on the fruit and wine farms inland. Others hustle on the street, buying and selling vegetables or cheap meat like tripe – or drugs. Many young people of Cape Flats are reported to be addicted to the narcotic Mandrax.

The ANC, if it becomes the majority in the new government, will be unlikely to fulfil the very high expectations of its supporters in the squatter areas. Their list of needs is long: jobs and weatherproof brick houses, decent schools and clinics, sanitation and electricity. Delivering them fast enough will be difficult for any government inheriting apartheid’s lopsided legacy of preferential treatment for whites.

Troth Wells

Going under in China
China’s plans to build the largest hydropower plant in the world at Three Gorges on the Yangtze River would flood six counties and displace 1.2 million people. Told to make way for the project, Chinese citizens have been denied the right to speak out against or write negatively about the project.

The most fertile land in the valley would be lost to the reservoir and if people cannot be resettled within the region, the Government could deport them to distant areas. The Canadian dam builders found that the Chinese Government overestimated the land available for resettlement by 50 per cent.

Of the 10 million people who have been resettled to make way for large dams in China since the 1950s, 30 to 40 per cent are still impoverished and lack adequate food and clothing.

International Rivers Network

Saudi pioneers
A tiny group, both respectable and respectful, has set out to fight for human rights in Saudi Arabia. The Committee for the Defence of Legitimate Rights (CDLR), with half-a-dozen founding members, wants to draw polite attention to the odd instance when individual human rights are not exactly being catered for. Punishment has been swift. The founding members lost their jobs. The CDLR’s spokesman was arrested and whisked away. One of the founders, a religious radical who believes that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is too permissive and who had been co-opted in the hope that his presence would protect the others, was persuaded by the authorities to disassociate himself from the whole affair. Supporters are finding themselves questioned and cautioned. Yet the Committee bravely lives on, preparing reports on the judicial system and political detainees.

from The Economist, Vol 327, No 7815

The feeling you get
In Nicaragua Coca-Cola has been hard at it to push back PepsiCo, its biggest rival. A contest offered a cash prize of about $8,250 to people with a certain number printed inside a Coke bottle cap. After a newspaper misprinted the winning number, about 3,000 people tried to claim the cash. Hundreds of would-be winners mobbed a bottling plant and threatened to burn it down. Coca-Cola has refused to pay and the case will probably end up in court. Meanwhile, many angry Nicaraguans are boycotting Coke.

from World Press Review, Vol 40, No 6

Easi Pee comfort
In Bangkok traffic congestion is so dire that most petrol stations now stock ‘Comfort 100’, a red plastic bottle which is being sold as a portable urinal. It has an optional cone-shaped funnel for the use of female motorists. Competition has arrived from abroad. A Taiwanese device called ‘Easi Pee’ is advertised as ideal for children. And from Japan comes a more unwieldy piece of equipment, the ominously titled ‘Thunderbox’.

from The Economist, Vol 327, No 7815

photo by ALAN HUGHES
Just three snags
In a new scheme designed to discourage infanticide and encourage parents to have girl children, 2,000 rupees (about $64.50) will be deposited for 20 years in an account in the name of new-born girls. After 20 years the deposit should have grown to 20,000 rupees. There are, however, three conditions attached to the plan announced by the female Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalitha. One parent must be sterilized before the age of 35; there should already be one or two daughters and no sons; and the family must be living below the poverty line.

Atiya Singh / Gemini

Sewn-up women
In the countries of South Asia women are increasingly leaving their traditional work at home or in the fields to join the labour market. But it’s difficult to avoid the trap of low-paying jobs with limited skills.

In Sri Lanka, 99.8 per cent of the women in vocational training centres are enrolled in sewing classes.

Although they have equal access to general education and training programmes, they tend to be channelled into a few ‘acceptable’ occupations.

In Bangladesh over the last decade the number of women in the workforce has risen by 7.5 per cent each year, but women’s enrolment in vocational training institutes and technical centres is only one to two per cent.

from World of Work, June 1993



Peaceful measures
Healing the wounds in Nicaragua and El Salvador

Mending the mind: Marta Adriana Peralta (left) works with polarized groups in northern Nicaragua, while Dr Clara Almanza (right) can't change a culture of violence overnight.

The emotional wounds of conflict are often more enduring and harder to heal than the physical ones. Two very different women in Central America have the peculiar brand of optimism needed to make long-term plans for recovery and reconciliation in a region where brutal conflict has been the norm for a generation.

Marta Adriana Peralta promotes mental health in northern Nicaragua, where human rights have been ‘suspended’ in conditions of continuing insecurity. This was one of the worst-affected regions during the years of conflict between the Sandinista government and the US-sponsored ‘Contra’ guerilla opposition. Here, she says, ‘firearms are the only things many people possess, the only currency with which to buy the basic necessities of life’. Armed rivalries run through families, between brothers and sisters, parents and children, leaving physical injury, bereavement and trauma on both sides. Politics and families alike have become ‘polarized’.

Marta works with war orphans and repatriated ‘Contra’ soldiers. Boys who were teenagers during the conflict have reached their mid-twenties with no experience of peace and few of the skills to benefit from it. Her job, she says, is to equip them for reconstruction: ‘we’re all fighting against the same things now – hunger, unemployment, violence’.

She is, however, dismissive of the authorities. The Government, she says, has betrayed its promise to bring economic regeneration to the region. ‘The people vegetate because they lack the means to live. And the right-wing hierarchy of the Church has failed to put out a plea for reconciliation, love and social justice. The people are confused.’

Dr Clara Almanza works with the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), the main guerilla opposition group in El Salvador, which has now become a registered political party following peace accords in January this year. There are some 8,530 soldiers being demobilized, who live in 64 different camps near centres of population around the country. Her job is to promote health – including mental health – in the camps and with all the victims of violence, including relatives, orphans and disabled people.

The peace accords are, she says, only a beginning: ‘Years and years of a particular, violent way of life don’t change just because agreements have been signed by political leaders. You can’t change a culture of violence overnight. But if you recognize it for what it is, you can at least make a start.’

David Ransom


‘I come from a land
From a faraway place,
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don’t like your face.
It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.’

Culturally-sensitive lyrics from ‘Arabian Nights’,
a song in Walt Disney’s latest animation hit - Aladdin.

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