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trying to fix the US’s economy comes down to choosing between collectivism in the socialist sense (Democrats) and individualism in the liberal capitalist sense (Republicans). On election day, this is the choice voters will make, like it or not. If I were American, I would find this distasteful, as many apathetic nonvoting Americans apparently do. How can it be that people the world over still have to choose friends from a pool of atavistic socialists and the red-necked right wing? I don’t know why humanity is still so backward, but there it is. It seems to me that the very idea of the state has been so perverted that it should be scrapped altogether. But this, too, is a form of utopianism that cannot be implemented any time soon. What we can do, though, is to relieve the state of all the responsibilities it is unable to discharge and do the job ourselves. In SA, this may amount to a great many new things to do every day, but consider how much time and taxpayers’ money we’ll save if — in the capacity of caretakers — profit-orientated enterprises assumed the state’s tasks where it has failed. This is already the case in many instances in SA. Of the three fundamental executive tasks of the state — to provide security, healthcare and education — the private sector already provides much of its own security, a substantial share of the education of its children and all the healthcare with the exception of state-assisted suicide at provincial hospitals. Statists won’t like that, though this should be reckoned as a plus. And we may see a lot of litigation and new business for the Constitutional Court, but at least we will be able to choose our own new best friends.
MONDAY 1 OCTOBER 2012 BusinessDay
The Business Life/Talking heads
Richard Branson: Volunteer work — the bigger picture
Putting remand prisoners’ rights first
The newly appointed head of the remand detention branch considers human rights as the core of her work, writes Ruth Hopkins
ANAGING state-run prison facilities is seldom classified as human rights work, but the newly appointed head of the remand detention branch, Britta Rotmann, views human rights as an integral part of her work. Rotmann is not your typical bureaucrat. After completing a law degree and practising as an attorney, she worked for the nongovernmental organisation, Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat), in 2005, where she championed the rights of sex workers. She went on to study human rights and conflict management at the University of Pisa, in Italy, which led to her being appointed as a United Nation human rights officer in Nepal. These positions might seem at the opposite ends of a spectrum; Rotmann, however, views them as a natural continuum. “The focus is the same for me; when you work with and advocate for sex workers, you engage in fundamental human rights. The same applies to this position. I strongly believe in the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and that is what remand detention is all about. We want to improve the situation of awaiting-trial detainees in SA. The effect of our work could be huge and, in that sense, it’s not so different from the work I did for Sweat.” This is quite a remarkable and unexpected mission statement from a high-level bureaucrat of a department not known for its formidable human rights record. Correctional facilities in SA are riddled with systemic flaws and problems; some urban correctional facilities have an overcrowding rate of up to 246%, according to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services in its 2010-11 annual report. Moreover, research has shown that the unchecked spread of tuberculosis poses a huge risk to the prison population. On top of that, sexual and gang violence form part of the daily reality for most prisoners. About 45,000 (awaiting-trial) remand detainees in centres around the country experience additional problems, as these prison facilities are geared to house inmates briefly until the finalisation of their trial. However, about 2,600 prisoners have been incarcerated in remand detention centres for two years or more. TM, an inmate who has been incarcerated in Johannesburg’s remand detention centre, Medium A, for nearly five years, awaiting the outcome of the murder trial against him, told the Wits Justice Project in
FAIR PLAY: From sex workers to awaiting-trial prisoners, for Britta Rotmann, it’s all about working for people’s basic rights. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
January: “We have to share one toilet with 60 men and there are no toiletries such as soap provided.” Exercise and fresh air are restricted to an hour a day. Being “noncontact inmates”, family and friends of remand detainees can visit only briefly once a week, in a room with a glass partition and often faulty speaker-phones. The responsibility for the incarceration of awaiting-trial detainees fell between two stools — the Department of Correctional Services and the Department of Justice — for a long time. The government decided to clearly delineate responsibilities when it created the position of chief deputy commissioner for remand to head a remand detention branch in correctional services, during the Cabinet lekgotla in 2009. Rotmann was appointed in June this year. While the government seems to be stepping up to its obligations, the question remains how Rotmann hopes to tackle this highly complex problem. “It is wonderful that the decision was taken to establish a remand branch. Now that it clearly sits with correctional services, we can ask: How are
we going to address this? Overcrowding is at the top of our list; that needs to be dealt with, as it leads to other problems, such as overuse of sanitary facilities and lack of beds for inmates.” The first step Rotmann intends to take in reducing overcrowding is to approach the
The government has accepted there is no way you can build yourself out of overcrowding. We do not have the budget
courts for the placement of people already given bail. According to Legal Aid SA, as many as 10,000 people were granted bail by a magistrate last year, but were not released from prison because they didn’t have a fixed address or because they couldn’t afford the bail. Most of the bail sums were less than R2,500. “Correctional services has cluster meetings with the police, Legal Aid SA, the national prosecutor and the Department
of Justice. During these meetings, bail issues are also discussed. We establish what the bottlenecks are: is the magistrate not amenable to granting bail or is the head of the correctional facility not reporting inmates with bail?” “Ideally, we shouldn’t have anyone in a correctional facility that has bail. The heads of overcrowded correctional centres can approach a court and say they can’t provide the inmates with an environment that is conducive to human dignity. The magistrate can then decide to release inmates who have already been granted bail.” Not surprisingly, though, heads of prisons have been very reluctant to use this provision: “We have really fantastic legal provisions and correctional services is trying hard to engage them. The problem seems to be filtering it down to the level of courts, heads of correctional facilities, warders and social workers.“ The problem of prison overcrowding is widespread and pervasive, but “the government has accepted there is no way you can build yourself out of overcrowding. We simply do not
have the budget to do that. We have to look at alternatives, such as streamlining the bail procedure, but electronic tagging would also help alleviate the problem.” Overcrowding in remand detention centres is firmly related to what goes on in the
courts. Victor Nkomo was arrested six years ago for alleged complicity in a casino robbery. He is still locked up in Johannesburg’s Medium A prison. His court case has been postponed endlessly. The torpid pace of the legal procedure has serious effects on his family life. His wife left him after she found another man in his absence and he hasn’t seen his child for years. Nkomo wants to find a job when he gets out, to provide for his son. In theory, Nkomo does have the right to a speedy trial. The constitution stipulates that remand detainees have a right to a trial that begins and ends without unreasonable delay. The Criminal Matters Amendment Act sets a time limit: remand detention should not last beyond two years without a court having considered continued detention. “This provision has been promulgated, but not yet implemented. We are dealing with a huge backlog of cases and we need to design an appropriate system to deal with remand inmates who have been imprisoned for long periods.” The remand detention branch, which employs 15 people, has been operational only for four months. It remains to be seen if the state will guarantee the constitutional rights of awaiting-trial prisoners. Rotmann holds high hopes: “I promise we will be dealing with that backlog within a year. Our main goal is to reduce the length of remand detention. The minister has signed a performance agreement and must achieve that result. The energy that sits with this branch is enormous; we are driven to do things differently. I’m sure we will have a huge effect.” ■ Hopkins works for the Wits Justice Project.
Secrets in my colleagues’ drawers
AST week, I was wearing a pair of shoes that were savagely slicing into one of my toes and I asked around the office to see if anyone had a plaster. A colleague opened her desk drawer and started to sift through a jumble of pens, pills, sachets of ketchup, a tennis ball, some batteries, a mug and an extraordinarily large number of plastic forks and spoons before she alighted on a slightly crumpled plaster with a leopard skin design and gave it to me. I have been writing about office life for almost two decades but have never given much thought to the tangle of history, habit and happenstance that occurs in a desk drawer. This, I now see, is a serious oversight: if a rummage through someone’s bathroom cabinet can be revealing, a rummage through their office drawers is far more so. Take one of my colleagues. I’ve studied him for many years and have observed that he’s great on detail, dispatches work promptly and has a generous way of taking tiresome tasks on himself rather than shunting them on to others. Had I only looked in his drawers, I could have short-circuited this discovery process. There I would have found, alongside regimented pens and paper knives, a neat sewing kit: whenever a button goes missing, he swings into action himself and fixes it. A little further away sits
Do they trust colleagues so little they think they are going to steal their staples and dried-up Pritt sticks?
Lucy Kellaway On Work
someone who keeps a set of ear defenders designed for a rifle range, which he uses to drown out the noise of other people. The message: he’s bloodyminded and proud of it. It’s not just the objects that are telling. It’s the juxtaposition. So the drawer containing some leftover antibiotics, a painted Serraglio fan, some wasabi and a speeding ticket from the Comune di Firenze tells a different story from another that houses 57 assorted pens, most of which no longer work, and a 1972 Rolodex and a Powerball Gyroscope. More revealing still is whether the drawers are locked. As a nonlocker, I rather look down on people who are always fiddling with keys. Do they trust colleagues so little they think they are going to steal their staples and dried-up Pritt sticks? To further my inquiries, and to save me from the dishonourable business of rifling through other people’s drawers, I sent out an e-mail to everyone at the Financial Times, inviting
them to go through their own, and report back on the oddest thing there. What they owned up to was quite surprising. A rubber duck. A peach feather boa. Some aquarium sealant. A Z$300trillion note. A mouse (of the animal variety). A copy of Poetry of the Taliban. A yellowing copy of a grandmother’s PhD thesis on English naval policy 18801895. A sticky and slightly smelly lump of tar sand. And a cute little survival kit issued by JP Morgan after 9/11 containing a heroically useless whistle and a paper mask. There were some also more controversial items. One male colleague admitted to five pairs of women’s shoes in his drawer. Another to having a whip, a third to a flick book showing a gyrating Agent Provocateur underwear model. Most worrying of all, one man had a section of a rusty metal bar in a zip-up bag. However, all four swore blue murder that they had no idea how such items came to be in their desks, and I believe them. Sort of. You might notice that I’ve
skillfully avoided revealing what is in my own desk drawers. I’ve had a quick look and the main thing that’s in there seems to be alcohol. People keep giving it to me and, as you can no longer drink at work, it’s been mounting up. There are also three chargers from phones I no longer own, and the box that my longdefunct, first ever BlackBerry came in. There are many obsolete tape recorders. A lot of business cards of people I have no memory of ever having met. And hundreds of newspaper cuttings from before the internet made such yellowing scraps quite unnecessary. The only things of any possible value in my drawers are letters of compliment and complaint that I’ve preserved from the days when people still wrote them. My favourite, from the former boss of Marks & Spencer, Richard Greenbury, goes like this: “I found your comments unreasonably sarcastic, even for you.” Otherwise, there is nothing that serves any purpose, yet I don’t want to get rid of any of it. At home I, am a draconian chucker-outer, but at work, where change is so fast and so dehumanising, I am clinging on. The contents of my drawers might be duff, but they’re not going anywhere. © 2012 The Financial Times Limited
My enemy’s enemy is sort of my friend
HE trouble with taking sides is you invariably end up with new best friends you don’t want. The proverbial enemy of your enemy being your friend, so to paraphrase, will dog you from the minute you’ve made your little Faustian deal. Consider the liberty that unreconstructed racist in a Harrismith bar will take to enlighten you about the dark heart of all that is black when your only sin is to complain about the potholes. The hard left did the same in the riotous 1980s, when liberals were tainted pink for their opposition to the apartheid state and you could not rouse a decent dinnerparty fight without being labelled a naive Stalinist patsy and traitor to your race. These days, a liberal’s struggle to preserve personal freedom and the right to complain has been hijacked by unlikely new best friends such as Julius Malema and commentator Dan Roodt, themselves unhappily discovering the joys of expedient conjugation. The thing is, it is about a lot more than the holes in the road. SA’s troubles are dividing us, for the moment at least, into several classes of complainants. But that will change. As the scrap warms up, we will do the inevitable thing and take sides. Already the “anyone but Zuma” campaigners are uniting supporters across the ideological spectrum and brain-pan capacity. Obviously nothing can be that simple, yet this is how it manifests, as it does apparently everywhere else in the riotous 21st century. Razeen Sally, an associate professor at the Singapore National University, simplifies the issues neatly when she writes in Business Day that the political manifestation of
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