Editorial Comment – March 2008

The month of March has dual importance in that we observe human rights day, and we observe the International women’s day. In a sense the two are interlinked and reinforces the notion that women’s rights are human rights or human rights are essentially also women’s rights. Often in discussing these issues separately and it is important to discuss them separately, we forget that women are also human and have the same aspirations, needs and desires as everyone else. They are not endowed with any special energy that enable them to work the double and triple shifts that they are often subjected to and these are violations of their human rights. 

We have articles in this issue on both the human rights issues and the celebration of women’s day. This year marks the centenary of the day when women took to the streets in protest against the conditions of work in the factories. When one recalls the stories of sweat shops where women were locked in through the night, shops where women are made to work in conditions of squalor and face health hazards, one wonders how much has really changed for the working women. 

In South Africa because of its past policies the black women are at the most vulnerable end of the human rights violations. That will take many years to change. Having said that it does not mean that this situation is a given and that we are therefore absolved of any responsibility towards making the changes. Perhaps we need to think, when we feel the pinch of the rising rates, price of fuel, food price, and when we struggle to make ends meet, what could be the plight of the domestic worker who is earning R500 a month taking care of two or three children, having to commute long distances, and then taking care of those at home, mother, granny, husband, the sick and feeble. How does she survive? What does life mean for this ever smiling and willing worker? She is Woman, she is human!

In this issue we also discuss the issues of rural development and the issues with agriculture. As South Africa is grappling with a policy for rural development, land redistribution and agriculture, we need to look at some of the burning issues of sustainability. Vandana Shiva talks of the new colonialism through the monopolizing of seeds. With 80% already under GM crops are we heading for colonization all over again? With large agricultural land turned into private game reserves are we concerned about conservation of our agriculture or are we going the route of food dependency and further colonization? These are some of the burning issues that policy makers need to think about urgently and seriously. 

Maybe we are under false delusions that we are indeed free. The spectrum of racism is raising its head not only at the Free State University which came under spot light but all over South Africa.  We need to seriously grapple with the issues of racism before it consumes us all and alters our lives beyond recognition. The very important question is can punitive measures rid our society of racism? Gandhiji has shown us that only the power of agape or unconditional love can help change such entrenched prejudices and hateful anger, violent confrontations, retaliation, revenge and retribution may in fact have the effect of further entrenching the mis-beliefs. The need to discuss how we change mindsets is urgent. 

In this issue through some of the stories on Gandhian thought the issue of the relevance of his message in today’s society is being discussed. There is an urgency about looking at issues of values and lifestyles, of ahimsa or nonviolence and truth and of soul force as against brute force.  These are all issues that we often push under the carpet as we grapple with modernity and tradition. Yet there is an urgent need to discuss these issues as we face violence in schools, addictions, disillusionment among our youth and the growing schism between the generations.  We see daily impatience, anger, disillusionment and a sense of loss of hope. This does not bode well for our country.

Is Gandhism the answer?