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MONDAY 26 MARCH 2012 BusinessDay

The Business Life/Talking heads

Richard Branson: The ties that don’t necessarily bind.

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gamer’s Bringing light in the dark of SA’s prisons The onlineto work approach
SA was successfully prosecuted at the United Nations over its human rights failures, but the fight is not over, writes Carolyn Raphaely
HILE politicians have spent much time of late pontificating about respecting the human rights enshrined in SA’s constitution, no one would have blamed Port Elizabeth attorney Egon Oswald if he appeared just a tad cynical. For Oswald is the first South African lawyer to have prosecuted SA with human rights violations and torture at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Commission in Geneva and won his case, Bradley McCallum vs SA. Acting on behalf of the tattooed and toothless St Albans Prison inmate, the attorney who runs a one-man practice from an old house in Port Elizabeth’s Bird Street, was last year voted human rights lawyer of the year by the Cape Law Society for his efforts. “The first time I saw Egon, I knew he was the one who would show the world how we were treated inside,” says McCallum, now released on parole. “He gave me the confidence to talk about what happened.” Although McCallum and Oswald’s “journey” to Geneva is a David and Goliath tale of the triumph of good over evil and the small man over the state, the last chapter remains to be written. Now Oswald is suing Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for damages on behalf of McCallum and 230 others. Based on their constitutional right to be free from torture, it’s likely to be the largest damages claim yet instituted against correctional services. McCallum, for one, was raped by a St Albans’ Prison warder using a baton during the winter of 2005. He was also beaten, attacked by dogs, trampled on and given electric shocks during a prison-wide orgy of violence in retribution for the murder of fellow warder Babini Nqakula — a relative of then safety and security minister Charles Nqakula, husband of Mapisa-Nqakula. “About 70 prisoners from Bradley’s section were forced to run naked down a corridor through a tunnel of about 50 warders,” Oswald says. “They were beaten, sprayed with water and forced to lie on the wet floor in a long human chain with their noses pressed into the anus of the person in front of them. “The warders beat them with batons, broom sticks, shock boards, pool cues and pickaxe handles. As result of the terror and electric shocks, the

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CHANGED MAN: Egon Oswald wants justice for inmates of St Albans who had been tortured and abused by warders. Picture: SOPHIA PHIRIPPIDES

It is about total disregard for human rights in a system where brutality is the order of the day
prisoners urinated and defecated on each other. Forced to run back into their cell, many of the inmates incurred further injuries as they slipped, tripped and fell on top of each other on the wet floor which was covered in water, urine, faeces and blood.” To make matters worse, Oswald says they were denied access to medical assistance for a month as well as HIV/AIDS testing, and other privileges such as a phone, access to legal representation and family: “They tried to treat themselves by

burning toilet paper, then applying ash and sand to their wounds.” He has photographs and medical records to prove their allegations. Predictably, McCallum is one of Oswald’s greatest fans: “Egon is different from other people. He cares about other human beings and shows respect to everyone. He doesn’t look down on people, or judge them. He’s a cool person, an angel in disguise. He is my hero.” Oswald also happens to be doggedly determined and highly principled. Even after the UN found in 2010 that SA had violated its obligations in terms of at least two conventions — the UN Convention on Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, and the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights — he had no intention of abandoning his fight.

Driven by what he describes as a “complete antipathy to the abuse of power”, Oswald was incensed by the fact that SA ignored five requests by the UN to respond to McCallum’s allegations. Not to mention the fact that the “darling” of the international human rights community was also flouting the provisions of its own constitution. “Egon’s success at the UN was an outstanding, significant achievement — particularly because of the international recognition and implications for human rights in SA,” says Cape Law Society councillor William Booth. “Hopefully, his case will cast some light on the inhumane conditions in our jails and bring about some necessary change.” In post-apartheid SA, it wasn’t surprising that Oswald’s initial response when told about

I’m not the same person I was when I first met these guys. I’m more determined now.
events in St Albans was disbelief. However, when the complaints turned from a trickle into a flood, he realised the reports were consistent and correct. “All my clients were injured, some far worse than Bradley,” he says. “They had bruises, blunt force contusions, dog bites and broken limbs.” So when all independent oversight mechanisms failed and no action was taken against the warders, Oswald realised he had to access a different set of laws. To date, despite the UN ruling, SA has failed to prosecute those

responsible and an official investigation remains incomplete. Nor has SA published the UN findings as instructed, or provided the international body with requested information. As Oswald sees it, the case is about “unethical leadership, the abuse of power and the catastrophic failure of internal control mechanisms. This really ticks me off. The UN views represent a great opportunity for SA to take a diplomatic high road, to demonstrate to the world that we’re willing to take a lead with regard to human rights issues.” As a former commercial lawyer, Oswald seemed an unlikely candidate to take up these cudgels. “I wasn’t looking for this case. It was ways too big for me and my small practice. But I do believe that if you do the right thing, things always work out.” For the past seven years, Oswald has funded the litigation himself, on behalf of McCallum and the other inmates. When former St Albans inmate Bafo Duru first met Oswald, he “knew straight away that justice would be served. He’s that kind of man. Money is not our first priority, nor is it his. It won’t really change anything for us. The best compensation will be when the people who injured us are punished and get what they deserve in terms of the law.” Meantime, Oswald has his work cut out as he processes individual applications for each of his 231 clients. He’s adamant that the upcoming damages claim does not become a financial footnote in Department of Correctional Services’ books — the reason he’s currently preoccupied with laying the groundwork for a Constitutional Court case. “This matter is about total disregard for human rights in a system where brutality is the order of the day. “Some of the warders involved in the case are still in their same jobs at St Albans. I believe that the rule of law must be upheld and public officials held accountable. It’s a matter of principle. “I’m not the same person I was when I first met these guys. I’m even more determined to seek justice now, not less.” ■ Raphaely is a member of the Wits Justice Project which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice.

Fleeing co-operative (mis) governance for a life beyond Grape Curtain
ITH nearly two-thirds of Americans saying they don’t know a Muslim, producers of the shock-named reality-TV show All-American Muslim may have been a bit surprised at their media offering closing after just one brief season. This was, after all, a chance to see a new side of the “Islamist peril” that has apparently faced the US since 9/11, and from the comfort of one’s own bunker. It was not to be, however. In spite of critical acclaim, both advertising and viewer numbers dwindled and, notwithstanding a promising first few episodes, the plug has been pulled on the to-ings and fro-ings of five Shiite Muslim families living in

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If you prefer your Muslims loud and brassy rather than conspicuously pious, then you’ll love Shahs of Sunset
PATRICK BULGER Late Night News

Dearborn, Michigan, home to the Ford automobile. Turns out these refugees were just too “normal”, too American that is, to deserve their own TV show. So unremarkable were they, this incensed the rednecks. One of their custodians of backwater idiocy said the show was “an

attempt to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad”, a theme picked up by the oddly-named Florida Family Association, and followed by home-improvement chain Lowe’s pulling its advertising. No more DIY bombs for you! Stereotypes aren’t what they used to be. Perhaps some were expecting emo teenage jihadists

and a granny dutifully stitching together suicide vests. Instead, they got Fordson High School football coach Fouad Zaban, who said: “We’re simple people. We don’t do crazy things. Quite honestly, what I told the show is I’m kind of boring.” Said Angela Jafaar, a cast member, and an exec in the car industry and wife of deputy chief Mike Jafaar of the Wayne County Sheriff’s department: “The best reaction I get is, ‘I never knew you were a Muslim’. That’s the whole point.” If nothing else, the exercise in cross-cultural voyeurism showed up the hollowness of the stereotypes we cultivate of one another, and which sustain our wars and hatreds.

Just as the Christian right accused All-American Muslim of hiding the reality of medieval practices in a modern-day secular state, so too did the Muslim right criticise the depiction of Muslims as anything other than single-mindedly devout and praying for the demise of the West. For both sides’ vested interests, it is vital that the stereotype endures. Some refugees have more than just fitted in — they’ve made good. So, if you prefer your Muslims loud and brassy rather than conspicuously pious, you might have loved Shahs of Sunset, a show “featuring glossy, high-living members of the Iranian-American community in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills”.

This “reality” offering stars Reza Farahan, 38, who says he has a message for Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cherishes his own stereotype that there are no gays in Iran. Farahan says: “I have an important message, all the bling aside: I am an openly gay Persian man. According to the president of the country I was born in, I don’t even exist.” Also on Shahs of Sunset are Iranians Mercedes Javid, “a 30-something luxury real estate agent and ‘known party girl’, developer Sammy Younai, who builds lavish homes for fellow Iranians, and Goinesa Gharachedaghi, 29, who hates ants and ‘ugly people’,” says a commentary on the show.

The Business Day website will carry the panel discussion and video clips on Thursday March 29 Supplement will publish in Business Day on Thursday March 29 Summit TV will air the TV panel discussion on Thursday night March 29 just after the short news bulletin at 9pm and on Friday March 30 at 8.30am and again that night at 9.30pm

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USED to think that each new generation of workers was pretty much like the last one, at least in big ways. We all want more money, more praise, more interesting work and colleagues who are pleasant enough to join for a sandwich at lunchtime. Yet last week I started to wonder if 20-year-olds might be something different altogether. I had a conversation with a young man who, far from sharing sandwiches with his colleagues, has never even met them. He doesn’t talk to them on the phone either. Instead, Jamie Holmes has spent the past two years interacting with his bosses and with the people he recruits and trains entirely by text message and e-mail. What is even more peculiar is that he doesn’t think this arrangement is remotely strange. His description of how he and his team get along sounds rather good. They trust each other. They believe strongly in their shared project and feel loyalty to their employer, an online strategy video game developer. They exchange small talk and gossip. He says he knows them well and gets on with some better than others. Yet he feels no desire to clap eyes on any of them. Holmes is not a weirdo or a recluse. He is a clever, sociable young man who is doing a degree at Durham University and spends lots of time with actual humans. Yet he would quite happily pass his whole working life without ever going to an office or seeing anyone. If Holmes is even slightly representative of his generation, this is a mighty shift. It means virtual working might one day happen properly. It could mean workplaces really will vanish, and so will business travel. What is new about Holmes’s generation is not just that it grew up on texts and Facebook. The real difference comes from playing video games, during which people happily bond with faceless strangers for hours on end. I’ve just been scaring myself watching a Ted talk given by a Californian game designer called Jane McGonigal. She says a dedicated gamer will have spent 10 000 hours playing by the time they turn 21 — exactly the same amount of time they will have spent in formal education. While at their screens, four miraculous things happen to gamers that don’t when they are slouching about in the real world. First, they become

Lucy Kellaway
urgently optimistic, beset by a desire to win. Second, they bond tightly, as those who play together are more inclined to like and trust each other. Third, it makes them happy Stakhanovites, sitting at their screens for hours in a state of focused bliss. And finally it furnishes them with some sort of epic purpose, quite alien to people of my age. What interests me about these four states is that they are precisely the things that make for a model employee — an optimistic, idealistic team worker, who is blissfully happy to slave away all day and all night. Indeed, if only some way could be found to make the working world a bit more like World of Warcraft, then not only would offices vanish, so would all problems of morale, disaffection and sloppiness. The idea of work-as-videogame might not be as far off as you think. In fact, quite a few big companies are already dabbling in gaming to try to inject a bit more oomph into their staff. IBM, Deloitte and SAS have already made their own video games for training, and some are reporting big productivity improvements. Yet before I get too carried away with this hi-tech utopia, a couple of other things occur to me. From observing the excessive gaming that goes on under my own roof, I can’t help noticing that video games also make people lazy, grumpy, aggressive and addicted to instant gratification. They also make you woefully inefficient: you feel productive while achieving precisely nothing. And most dangerous of all, they make you think you can do things you can’t, like be a global ruler or score goals like Robin van Persie when actually you are too unfit to run round the block. But now that I think of it, these traits — aggression, inefficiency, laziness and overconfidence — aren’t entirely alien to our own working world. So maybe the office run by the gaming generation won’t be all that different after all. It will be good and bad. Just as it is now. © 2012 The Financial Times Limited

What they all have in common, apart from being refugee TV stars, is that they’re living the American Dream, which is more than you can say for a lot of Americans nowadays. Some refugees are not so lucky, though, and recently that journalist-turned-premier Helen Zille mentioned on Twitter the “economic refugees” who were fleeing the Eastern Cape, and whose presence was causing friction with locals in Grabouw. Of course, most inhabitants of the Eastern Cape are only too happy to endure the light hand (fingers?) of “government” by the African National Congress. They’ve got used to the fact that it only operates for an hour a day, which is part of a strategy

implemented by the exco to stay within budget and not get taken over by Pravin Gordhan and the Treasury. But there are others, like Zille’s “economic refugees”, who’re just not prepared to make a decent fist of it down there, and who insist on a new life of ease beyond the Grape Curtain. In doing so, they display total disregard for the sacrifices that “co-operative governance” demands of all of us, and our duty to uphold the “unity and invisibility of the Republic”. And as for Zille, she surely is strongly in the running now for a humanitarian award. The Twitter Mulder Trophy for Inter-Cultural Sensitivity, perhaps?
bulgerp@bdfm.co.za

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