Graeme Addison’s review of “The Promise of Justice”.
Note from the author. The day before my 65th birthday on 21 August I received this unexpected and unintended birthday gift. It was an unsolicited review by Graeme Addison of my first published book The Promise of Justice. The gods of social media had deigned to connect Graeme and me through FaceBook about a year ago. His posts give FaceBook a FaceLift, because he writes with both elegant form and - with real life experience to back things up- potent content.
Our virtual reality friendship has become ever more real as I have found myself seeking his learned counsel in picking my way through the minefield of hidden biases and prejudices that afflict writers, journalists and editors.
This is being done in the course of advocating in my professional capacity as a social worker for the interests of whistleblowers who are subjected to ‘lawfare’ from the weaponised use of the law by guilty Powers intent on smothering their inconvenient Truth. They also find themselves targets of retaliation through the media. He has helped guide me in my quest to ensure the media can reliably protect and not expose whistleblowers.
Graeme is an author, veteran journalist and former lecturer in journalism at North West University, Technikon Natal and Rhodes University. Although semi retired he continues to do some teaching and mentoring for the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism when he is not teaching river rafters to jump rapids from his Otters Haunt resort on the Vaal River.
I had given him a copy of my book simply to get his learned feedback to make sure my next book was more reader friendly and enjoyable. To my surprise and delight he generously wrote this review.
The digital era has turned us into skaters over the written word: fast, superficial readers. We are fearful of breaking the surface in case we fall into deep thought.
In the beginning was the word, whether God or godless, it was human expression making sense of things, or not. There are so many books, the distilled wisdom and confusion of countless generations. No-one could possibly read them all or, anyway, make sense of the total corpus. We are lost in words.
Literature is our admission that we just don’t know what life is or what it means.
Still, you come across books that speak to you. I’m dipping and flipping through a big, highly readable, volume called The Promise of Justice by social worker turned whistleblower advocate John GI Clarke. Published in 2014 during the wasted years of Zuma’s presidency, it tells the tale of two Mpondo kings separated by 100 years of cruel history.
Both were persecuted by the masters of South Africa — respectively Cecil Rhodes and Jacob Zuma — in the conflict between tradition and material interests. The royal Faku lineage has suffered the worst of both worlds, riven by internal disputes and ripped by outsiders bearing the banner of modernisation. There is stalemate as the courts have intervened to uphold the rights of community land ownership. It won’t end there; there will be no end as heritage fights an endless battle with developers.
The fraught story of kings and their people under threat tears at your sense of justice. But what really gets me thinking is Clarke’s strange and wonderful literary technique. As a white visitor to Pondoland, speaking only English, he has immersed himself in local history and come up with an encyclopaedic portrait of humanity struggling with itself.
His central tale is that of the campaign to prevent titanium mining and the construction of the N2 toll highway along the coast of the former Transkei. Clarke has been the catalyst in a well-publicized saga against nefarious forces set on stripping the land and baring it to commerce. His role as a whistleblower advocate has won him admiration and landed him with a SLAPP suit claiming millions in damages. (Note. Deputy Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court Judith Goliath explains in a recent judgement. “SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits or Litigation Against Public Participation, meritless or exaggerated lawsuits intended to intimidate civil society advocates, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and individuals as well as organisations acting in the public interest”).
Yet the structure of the book, though combative, is akin to a Biblical parable. Clarke is a Christian apostle of the right and the good, wryly representing himself as an innocent among heathens. Layer after layer of anecdotes about characters in the tale turn the book from being an indictment of material evil to a paean about humanity’s existential uncertainty about what to do with life.
Clarke builds a mosaic of personalities — from kings to commoners, government officials to ecologists — creating a cast of characters who emerge startlingly alive as if in a sweeping Tolstoyan novel. The people and the land tumble across pages filled with drama. By constructing the narrative across a wide span of time from the colonial era to the present, history is condensed into the present. The overall impression is one of injustice perpetrated by the state against communities whose very identity is made from their connection with the land that is being stolen from them.
The author’s social work background, enriched by philosophy, equips him with the kind of humanism that sees into people not just as inhabitants of a culture, time and place but as spiritual beings with a timeless essence. One recognises these people as beings who are known to us as human archetypes.
This is a book about finding value in conflict and meaning in stolen sacrificial meats. A mayor’s gift of sheep to a faction of the royal family supporting a claimant to the throne is appropriated by warriors loyal to the incumbent who feast and depart, leaving the claimant faction to eat stale biscuits. Far from provoking further animosity, the episode mollifies clan members with the meaty taste of shared destiny.
Behind what Clarke calls the “irony curtain” he discerns hope amid misery. Zulu impis attacked the Pondos for their insolence in resisting the great Shaka himself, shattering their kraals and dispersing them to eke out existence in caves and badlands. The trader Henry Francis Fynn (whose followers became known as the iziNkumbi, “locusts”) cynically sought the friendship of the King Faku in order to massacre vast numbers of elephants for ivory.
The Mpondo were used to victimhood but never lost their pride. They took care to stay out of trouble. When visiting the townships of Durban, an Oxford educated pastor pretended to be a Zulu to avoid assault. The tribe remained insular and “backward” as Jan Christian Smuts described them in a reflection on their refusal to join the modern world. Things came to a head in the early 1960s when the white nationalist government savagely suppressed a rebellion in Pondoland.
Against this background, Clarke befriended the royal family and became a servant of their cause. He never imposed on them but spoke for them, moving between what he saw as the authentic context of their rural lives to the media saturated environment of Johannesburg. One of his friends, Denis Beckett, queried John’s infatuation with the traditional politics of the tribe, pointing out that democracy could and would and should eventually overcome the arcane rituals of chiefly power.
Clarke acknowledges both sides of the argument but never gives ground on the issue of justice. Saving the environment from destructive mining and getting the N2 highway to follow a sensible, developmental route through the interior rather than along the coast, remained his driven purpose.
Books like this are a repository of the confusion that clouds our lives and always has. We do not know how to live properly by values that would sustain a cooperative existence; we never have. We are a species both predatory and protective, good mixed with bad, the old forever resisting the new until it too subsides into torn memories. There are no solutions, only outcomes created by the play of forces.
Ok, the above review came seven years after the publication, but in some respects that has made it all the more helpful.
My intention in giving Graeme a copy of my book was to get his guidance and feedback hoping it might serve to motivate me to finish the writing project I started in 2006.
Two more instalments are planned.
Book Three: My Story/Mystery, intended to be the fruits of my research into my own family history and ancestral roots in Pondoland and Johannesburg in the 19th Century. It is a story I have shared with trusted friends among the amaMpondo and never failed to create shared meaning and purpose. It revealed just how intertwined our histories were and tries to be obedient to Ben Okri’s urging in this inspirational TED talk for us to own and make public our secret stories.
Book Four: Our Story, intends to show how the AmaMpondo story is emblematic of the South African story, as well as the story of how the human species on Planet Earth might learn and deeply adapt to the predicament we now face having trashed the planet so badly. Hopefully that will emerge before I turn 70, so that I can “decline into my anecdotage” as one of my mentors Stafford Beer once quipped, satisfied that I have left the next generation something to build upon in shaping further reaches of consciousness as to why the human species exists.
My next instalments now have a much larger compass of developments to span than I envisaged when I commenced this enterprise.
Here is why they are taking so long to emerge.
I was fortunate to receive a “blurb” of support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu which appears on the back cover of the print copy. He has been a major influence in shaping my consciousness since my days as a student in the early 80’s.
The ‘Arch’ does not lend his name to anything without prudent thought. Before his kind words emerged (see opposite), after looking at the book he counselled me “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar John”.
That necessitated another edit to strain out any residue of vinegar and acerbic attack against the antagonists featured in the book, especially Mr Mark Caruso, CEO of the Australian mining company MRC with whom I had had more than a few altercations in my efforts to Engage the Powers. I had to make sure I was being ‘hard on the problem and gentle on the people’, as befits a social worker. Once cleansed of vinegar and laced with some honey, the Arch duly endorsed the book.
The book was released to coincide with a documentary on the Xolobeni Mining/N2 Toll Road/Kingship dispute titled The Shore Break produced by Ryley Grunenwald. Here is the trailer which gives a glimpse.
However before The Shore Break was released the conflict over the Xolobeni Mining Rights intensified. I decided that the larger book project would have to wait because the story was becoming tragic. Daily Maverick and Noseweek provided helpful platforms to update audiences who watched the film, as well as the general public on emerging developments, hoping public pressure would deter violence.
These articles are combined in this e-book. Survivor Wild Coast: Before and Beyond the Shorebreak .
We had hoped that publicity and media profile would pressure the authorities to swiftly intervene to better police the situation and investigate allegations of intimidation.
Alas in March 2016, the day of Human Rights Day, one of the protagonists featured in the book Bazooka Rhadebe, was gunned down in a hail of bullets
Bazooka had courageously led the community in their opposition to the awarding of mining rights . Greater injustice seemed to eclipse any fulfilment of the promise of justice that I had hoped would ensue from my attempt to “write the wrongs” of the past.
“You keep describing yourself as a social worker but in reality this book is a non fiction novel executed by a master craftsman with a language all your own” Graeme Addison wrote to help my with my sense of imposter syndrome. “You are both a writer and an investigative journalist and should take pride in claiming these titles.”
Even so, neither social workers nor journalists should become the story. However with the killing of my clients, extraordinary circumstances necessitated extraordinary measures. I spoke out loudly and repeatedly, calling President Jacob Zuma, his cabinet ministers responsible for Minerals, Police, Justice and Local Government as well as challenging Mark Caruso and MRC for having failed to listen to my many prior warnings about the volatility of the conflict that the mining rights application had provoked, due to the conduct of the BEE partner Xolco, led by local strongman Zamile Qunya (he features prominently in The Shore Break and in my book). Zuma and his ministers predictably ignored me, but Mark Caruso did not. Three months after Bazooka’s murder I was served with a defamation SLAPP suit.
Five years on, the perpetrators of Bazooka’s murder have yet to be arrested and charged. South Africa has been on a steady downward slope into a State of Capture and erosion of the Rule of Law. The only promise of justice has come from civil litigation rather than criminal prosecution. In 2018 the Amadiba achieved an historic landmark judgement when Judge Annali Basson declared that the Minister of Mineral Resources was obliged to obtain the Free Prior and Informed Consent of all directly affected residents before mining rights could be awarded over their ancestral lands. It was widely celebrated and made legal history as Groundup reported.
The Minister of Minerals, Gwede Mantashe has said he intends to appeal the decision, but has yet to do so.
So when is the next instalment in The Promise of Justice series going to see the light of published day?
Ironically a week or so after Caruso and MRC’s first claim for R2.25 million in damages, while I was still reeling with shock and uncertainty, I happened to meet up with one of my readers. She was a poet and former teacher now living in retirement on the South Coast. She remarked that although she found the book to be “complex” she could see it it was “written in great love”. Archbishop Tutu’s influence was clearly evident to her.
“But when can we expect the next book?” she asked.
I howled with laughter, because she was unaware of the defamation suit, which included four statements made in the book. I told her that her opinion was not universally shared.
However she helped nerve me to face what was by then so obviously a ‘SLAPP’ suit, and to keep speaking my Truth to Power. That resulted in additional claims against me and the escalation of the quantum over the next few months to R10 million where it now stands. Moreover, Mark Caruso and his company and business partners went on to serve papers on five other critics, which resulted in an application to the High Court to have our defence certified as a SLAPP suit. The High Court decided that we had been SLAPP-ed, and the next and the last step is for the Constitutional Court to consider whether we had been SLAPPed. Activists and whistleblowers desperately need Judge Patricia’s Goliaths sentiments to be set in constitutional stone.
“Corporations should not be allowed to weaponise our legal system against the ordinary citizen and activists in order to intimidate and silence them. It appears that the defamation suit is not genuine and bona fide, but merely a pretext with the only purpose to silence its opponents and critics. Litigation that is not aimed at vindicating legitimate rights, but is part of a broad and purposeful strategy to intimidate, distract and silence public criticism, constitutes an improper use of the judicial process and is vexatious. The improper use and abuse of the judicial process interferes with due administration of justice and undermines fundamental notions of justice and the integrity of our judicial process. SLAPP suits constitute an abuse of process, and is inconsistent with our constitutional values and scheme”.
Giving Power Away.
“This is the principle of power: We keep and grow power by giving it away” Graeme wrote to me the other day. “I’ll say it again, enduring power is found in giving it away. Your power expands as you empower others.”
UC Berkeley psychologist Dr. Dacher Keltner argues in his celebrated book The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, that compassion and selflessness enable us to have the most influence over others and the result is power as a force for good in the world.
Graeme offered this quote to blow still more wind into my sails.
“The power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.
How we handle the power paradox guides our personal and work lives and determines, ultimately, how happy we and the people we care about will be. It determines our empathy, generosity, civility, innovation, intellectual rigour, and the collaborative strength of our communities and social networks. Its ripple effects shape the patterns that make up our families, neighbourhoods, and workplaces, as well as the broader patterns of social organisation that define societies and our current political struggles.”
Serendipitously another class of oppressed truth tellers have emerged to enjoin themselves to the cause and demonstrate that the only way to mediate between the endless binary tug of war between Power and Liberty is for Truth to humble and qualify the two adversaries.
As I write headlines are screaming about the assassination of Ms Babitha Deocoran, a whistleblower who was targeted for exposing corruption in the Department of Health over the fraudulent supply of Covid19 PPE. Before she was killed, corrupted Power tried to intimidate her with a spurious disciplinary process to curb her Liberty, suspending her. She saw that off successfully, but that intimidation tactic ought to have been a warning sign to the Special Investigating Unit that she could be a target for a more terminal form of silencing. She was not going to let Truth be suppressed. She should have been put in witness protection.
The tragedy has stirred in me the resolve to ensure that there is a merger of solidarity between environmental activists and whistleblowers in stopping vexatious ‘lawfare’. I have coined the acronym SLOW — Strategic Litigation On Whistleblowers. Two months before Ms Deocoran was killed I wrote this article warning that “whistleblowers were left vulnerable and at risk”.
What more will it take?
Having a Constitutional Court ruling that outlaws SLAPP/SLOW suits won’t be sufficient to protect whistleblowers from being killed. The responsibility lies with the Executive Arm of the State, not the Judiciary. However it will send a signal that the State is serious about setting Truth free, so that our society will in turn be set free and cleansed from the contagion of corruption.
While we await that, the first two instalments of The Promise of Justice will hopefully assist readers to appreciate that this is not a vain hope, and that the story is really good news. Some revenue from book sales will also help me reach further than my present grasp to provide psycho-social support for whistleblowers.
There are still a few print copies of The Promise of Justice available from my publisher Brevitas Publishers, and the e-books (in two parts) are available from Amazon and most other online publishers. See my Amazon author page here.
Thank you Professor Graeme Addison for giving your power away.