new internationalist
issue 262 - December 1994

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New South Africa?
Cover of the NI Issue 260 Although your issue on Race (NI 260) confirms that the 14-per-cent white South African minority still owns nearly 90 per cent of the land, it fails to mention that the country remains based on the unique historical fraud of apartheid which pretends that its land ratio of 35 times more for a white than a black is somehow valid. Ferial Haffajee, in her otherwise interesting article, also omits the fact that apartheid’s rip-off of blacks has put at least $71 billion in white pockets, with no sign of fair reparation for ‘non-whites’.

Yes, things are changing in South Africa, but the changes are still confined to relationships on a heavily-listing raft in dangerous seas, while the raft itself continues its massive list towards the over-privileged whites, to their great delight. Hardly a firm foundation for a ‘non-racial democracy’!

Len Clarke,
Uxbridge, UK

Generation X
I am part of a group of people that is so often dismissively labelled ‘Generation X’ and I object to the way that articles such a ‘Rebel without a clue’ (NI 259) regard young people as being angst-ridden, alienated and apathetic. To assume that every person between the age of 15 and 30 (as Stephen Hill defines ‘Generation X’) feels this way is extremely derogatory.

The article was also insulting to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Apparently it was assumed that Cobain was a messiah for his young fans and that he let them down by not rebelling against the ‘establishment’. Why should this have been so? There was no reason for him to have been ‘in rebellion against a corporate structure that’s prepared to auction his generation off on the trading block’. He was merely a musician, with his strength lying in his honesty and originality, not his political correctness.

Steven Hill may have been trying to influence ‘Generation X’, but he has certainly failed to make a favourable impression on me.

Lorna Medhurst
Lanzarote, Canary Islands

It was with more than usual interest that I picked up the August issue (Beirut NI 258), having left Lebanon after three years in 1984. Sadly, amidst much valuable information and analysis I still seemed to come across some of the facile generalizations and prejudices which bedevilled outside perceptions from the start.

There is no clear attempt, for example, to explain the tremendously diverse communities. Lebanon’s numerous Christian communities have very diverse political allegiances; Christians as well as Muslims fled Phalangist areas in the early years of the conflict, and Christians of several denominations were active – or even predominant – in many areas of progressive politics. Also ignored is the collusion at times of both the Shi’a and the Sunni Muslim élites with the most brutal and reactionary Christian politicians at various stages during the war.

The continuing streams and pockets of confessional co-existence were remarkable features of the war – mainly west of the Green Line, but also in the east. Whatever peace is now being built is to a large degree the work of those who swam for years against the tides, and despite their sufferings would not give in to irrational hatreds.

Mark Deasey
Northcote, Victoria, Australia

Get real
According to Gio Frank (Letters NI 259) the ‘self-educating, respect-exercising and myth-exposing’ Internet could ‘allow the laying of a solid foundation for a better world’. Really?

On his own admission, it currently connects ‘only 0.36 per cent of the world’s population’. That’s less than one half of one per cent - and most of them are in North America.

Get real, Gio Frank. The Internet is just another Northern-controlled media institution - only the means of disseminating the information has changed. Until and unless the North starts giving away modems and PCs to the South, the Internet will be nothing more than a lot of rich boys playing with their shiny toys.

Joseph Nicholas
London, UK

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Illustration by VIV QUILLIN

It is perhaps appropriate after the June issue (Spiked NI 257) to remind readers of the Ethiopian media whitewash, including NI’s coverage of the Horn of Africa in December 1992 (NI 238).

The number of imprisonments, disappearances and killings performed by soldiers of the Transitional Government is greater than at any time this century. The 20-25 million Oromo are being targeted for human-rights abuses and cultural suppression as never before.

US support – to the tune of 150 million dollars this year – is vital to the survival of the Transitional Government, which has become a one-party, one-race dictatorship. This support was supposed to be conditional on progress on human-rights reform and democratization. US establishment sources claim progress in democratization and play down human-rights abuses.

Will the US Government continue to support and profit from the Transitional Government when the ongoing civil war reaches proportions the media can no longer ignore?

Trevor Trueman
Oromo Support Group, Malvern, UK

In your issue on Prostitution (NI 252) you refer to Brazilian ‘transvestites’. That is the sole mention of our sisters. It is wrong. Our Hispanic sisters are known as travesti, for the good reason that they choose that designation themselves. Travesti is also the term used in Turkey, Greece and throughout continental and Eastern Europe. It is a term for those between the genders – not Western fetish-seeking transvestites or those seeking full surgery or gay men, but a conglomerate of all. The improper use of the term ‘transvestite’ is an important factor in the manipulations by governments and others in authority.

The advance of industry and Western Christian ideals does nothing to help. Indeed, it increases the danger and helplessness of our situation tenfold. Anything that we, the transgendered, hold sacred, love or respect, has been either taken from us or destroyed, made a mockery of and minimized. Something has to be done about this. We need all the help we can get.

Phaedra Kelly
Isle of Wight, UK

No game
As a regular reader of NI I know it to be very concerned about the unjust and grossly uneven distribution of wealth in the world. It seems to me that the world can be likened to a great game of monopoly in which the winners gain everything and the losers drop out – or die out, as this is no game.

The IMF and the World Bank are celebrating their fiftieth birthdays. Readers might like to know that Christian Aid has launched a major campaign entitled ‘Who runs the world?’, to inform people of the disastrous effect of IMF policies on Third World countries and to expose the arrogance of these two powerful organizations who receive our money but who are accountable to no-one. Anyone interested should contact Christian Aid, PO Box 100, London SE1 7RT.

Joyce Tyler
Devon, UK

Ed: Other contacts on this issue can be found in NI 257 on the World Bank/IMF.

Abuse of justice
I am editing a book which is to be published next year on the abuse of justice by public authorities, politicians and the professions.

I would be interested in hearing from any of your readers about recent cases where they have been directly involved and a significant amount of tangible evidence exists that a clear injustice has been done. Write to me at CAMC Publications, 1 Ickleton Road, Wantage, Oxford OX12 9JA.

Robin Chater
Wantage, UK

Readers might like to know that Viv Quillin, our Letters’ page cartoonist has just produced Pussyfooting: Essential Dance Procedures for Cats (Victor Gollancz 1994).

The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from Lagos

A gust of pure evil
Servants who are witches; sorcerers in
the office – Elizabeth Obadina reveals a new tendency
to blame all ills on the supernatural...

It’s the Sunday evening prayer fellowship at a neighbour’s house. Against a background of sympathetic murmuring from a dozen or more shocked matrons and young evangelists Auntie Vee is testifying how a commonplace enquiry over a plot of land turned into a trip to the fringes of the spirit world.

‘I just wasn’t sure about the plot Mama Olu was offering me,’ began Auntie Vee. ‘Mama Olu said she would swear on a bible that there was nothing wrong.’ So Auntie Vee took Mama Olu to a reputable reverend gentleman nearby. Both ladies were attended by their housegirls.

The reverend gentleman greeted Auntie Vee and Mama Olu but found himself unable to pass by Kudirat, Auntie Vee’s 10-year-old housegirl. ‘This is serious. Come with me,’ he said. The two ladies and Kudirat trailed after him.

They emerged two hours later. The land issue had been forgotten, overwhelmed by far greater concern about Kudirat. The reverend gentleman had been hit by a gust of pure evil when he first walked past her. Close questioning and prayer revealed her to be a witch and just coming into her powers. Kudirat’s induction had taken place sometime during her last visit home. Her grandmother had been the one to introduce her to the coven which met, as covens usually do, at night, under the broad fronds of the plantain groves. Auntie Vee had attributed Kudirat’s lean and troubled looks since returning home to poor feeding whilst away. Now she knew better. Every night, whilst Auntie Vee’s household slept in Lagos, Kudirat had been flying off to meet and play with her coven brothers and sisters under the plantains one hundred kilometres away in her home city, Ibadan.

Deeply distressed, Auntie Vee decided that Kudirat would have to go. Kudirat wept and wailed. She didn’t want to leave Auntie Vee who had been more of a mother to her than her own mother. She was strong-willed. She could disobey her mates in the coven. She hadn’t done a fraction of the evil deeds she had been told to do. The recitation of these turned Auntie Vee’s blood cold. Friends and neighbours who had assembled to hear Kudirat’s confession and help Auntie Vee with the crisis were agreed that she must leave. The trouble was that no-one was brave enough to take her home. But witch or not, no-one was going to put a child on a bus to travel the hundred kilometres alone.

A week passed. Kudirat spent every night sleeping at the foot of Auntie Vee’s bed with CNN blaring out its world news loudly through the dark hours to drown out the phantoms of her coven mates who crowded the walls calling to her. Only with Auntie Vee did she feel safe. When power cuts silenced CNN Auntie Vee would beseech Jesus’s protection. At the end of the week they were both worn out from keeping the witches at bay. Kudirat decided to confess the source of her power. It was a charm that was hidden in her family’s house in Ibadan.

In the end, Auntie Vee took Kudirat home. Her ‘power’ was discovered and despite being a Muslim she began a 40-day fast at a church which specializes in the exorcism of witches.

Illustration by MIRIAM McCURDY

Friends assure me that more and more children are becoming witches nowadays. With the economy and education lying in ruins and individual lives and aspirations destroyed, increasing numbers of people are asking themselves questions. Not: ‘Why is this happening and what is the political solution?’ but ‘Who would wish this evil upon me?’ Ask the question ‘who?’ and individuals immediately come to mind.

A good friend, a senior executive in one of the most corrupt parastatal corporations, has been trying to clean up operations at work. He returned from his annual leave to find loyal staffers begging him not to enter his office. His immediate subordinate had employed the services of a powerful sorcerer, a babalowa, to cast evil charms about his office. My friend, a devout Christian, had no fear of them. He believed himself protected by the far greater power of Jesus Christ and reprimanded his staff for allowing their minds to be chained to the superstitious past when the twenty-first century is almost here.

‘You can’t protect yourself against poison, Liz,’ advised my mother-in-law when I told her about Auntie Vee and my friend. ‘That’s why it’s good not to let the children eat outside. You don’t know what evil they might swallow. But Jesus protects against all witches. Why do you think the churches are so full nowadays? Only God can save us now in Nigeria.’

Elizabeth Obadina is a freelance writer and journalist living in Lagos.

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