CMR Audio Project – Episode 5 – Dr Thandi Mgwebi

As part of my post-doctorate position at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at the Nelson Mandela University, I get to interview people who have a link to the CMR, or whose work is relevant to the broad scope of the CMR.

Episode 5 is with Dr Thandi Mgwebi. She is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Internationalisation (RII) at the Nelson Mandela University: link.

Comments or questions welcome: [email protected]

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the CMR audio project episodes are those of the participants alone, and do not necessarily reflect any position of the CMR of the Nelson Mandela University.

CMR Audio Project – Episode 4 – Prof Mandy Lombard

As part of my post-doctorate position at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at the Nelson Mandela University, I get to interview people who have a link to the CMR, or whose work is relevant to the broad scope of the CMR.

Episode 4 is with Professor Mandy Lombard. She occupies the research Chair in Marine Spatial Planning. Read her profile here: link.

Comments or questions welcome: [email protected]

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the CMR audio project episodes are those of the participants alone, and do not necessarily reflect any position of the CMR of the Nelson Mandela University.

CMR Audio Project – Episode 3 – Dr Denning Metuge

As part of my post-doctorate position at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at the Nelson Mandela University, I get to interview people who have a link to the CMR, or whose work is relevant to the broad scope of the CMR.

Episode 3 is with a fellow post-doctoral researcher, Dr Denning Metuge. Here is an extract of Denning’s profile over at a Nelson Mandela University web-page (link): “Denning took up the post-doctoral fellowship in the Chair of the Law of the Sea and Development in Africa in 2019”.

Comments or questions welcome: [email protected]

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the CMR audio project episodes are those of the participants alone, and do not necessarily reflect any position of the CMR of the Nelson Mandela University.

CMR Audio Project – Episode 2 – Prof Janine Adams

As part of my post-doctorate position at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at the Nelson Mandela University, I get to interview people who have a link to the CMR, or whose work is relevant to the broad scope of the CMR.

Episode 2 is with shallow water ecosystems expert, Prof Janine Adams. Here is an extract of Janine’s Bio over at a Nelson Mandela University website (LINK): “Prof Adams’ current research focus areas are blue carbon ecosystems and response to climate change, mangrove and salt marsh ecology, and water quality management of estuaries. Prof Adams plays an important role in ensuring that science and knowledge of aquatic environments is communicated to managers and policymakers. She has published over 150 articles in peer-reviewed research journals and has made a significant contribution to global knowledge on shallow-water ecosystems. Her work is nationally and internationally acclaimed, and she is regularly sought out as an expert on international scientific panels and symposiums.”

Comments or questions welcome: [email protected]

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the CMR audio project episodes are those of the participants alone, and do not necessarily reflect any position of the CMR of the Nelson Mandela University.

CMR Audio Project – Episode 1 – Dr Berny Snow

As part of my post-doctorate position at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research at the Nelson Mandela University, I get to interview people who have a link to the CMR, or whose work is relevant to the broad scope of the CMR.

Episode 1 is with the director of the CMR, Dr Berny Snow. Here is Berny’s profile over at “Currently I am working on a few transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary projects with a team of researchers and post graduate students. Including socio-economic studies, pro-environmental behaviour, worldviews and ocean connectedness; sustainable and resilient coastal communities; integrated and dynamic ocean and coastal management and SMART water management. My key focal area is social-ecological systems .”

Comments or questions welcome: [email protected]

Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the CMR audio project episodes are those of the participants alone, and do not necessarily reflect any position of the CMR of the Nelson Mandela University.

Podcast #20: High Water Bridge (the band)

A conversation with three of the five band members of High Water Bridge.

Full album ‘Senescence’ available at YouTube: LINK

Article: A lesson on equality for the US from post-apartheid South Africa

Originally posted to the Mail and Guardian’s page on 13 June 2020: LINK

There has been a certain irony in watching the anti-racism protests in the United States from far away South Africa. In 1986, the US Congress enacted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which led to sanctions being imposed on South Africa for the racist policies that the National Party was guilty of creating and enforcing. Looking at the situation in the years shortly after the 1994 elections, it was as if the good guys in the US government climbed on board to help achieve justice and stop the bad guys of the then South African government. Today, the US government and many of its henchmen are faced with angry masses of civilians who, it seems, now see through the veneer of benevolence that their government has for many decades tried to foreground.

One would think that South Africa, a country long plagued by heightened racial tensions, has something to offer other nations wishing to learn about how to deal with their own issues of oppression. One might be partially correct for thinking this, and it is possible that some of the lessons provide grounds for hope. Today in South Africa, people of all races occupy positions at all levels of all sectors of the economy, and indeed in every sector of the private and public domains. This was not the case during apartheid, so obviously something has changed for the better in South Africa since 1994. Formal equality was declared in 1994, and to this day formal equality continues to exist.

Formal equality has existed in the US for quite a long time. The following Acts, for example, go back to the 1960s: the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Immigration and Nationality Services Act and the Fair Housing Act. I use the word “formal” here to mean something similar to “official” –  formally and officially, legislation exists in both the US and South Africa for the purposes of upholding people’s rights. With this understanding in mind, consider the following commentary on South Africa by Naomi Klein:

“In the years that passed between Nelson Mandela’s writing his note from prison and the ANC’s 1994 election sweep in which he was elected president, something happened to convince the party hierarchy that it could not use its grassroots prestige to reclaim and redistribute the country’s stolen wealth. So, rather than meeting in the middle between California and the Congo, the ANC adopted policies that exploded both inequality and crime to such a degree that South Africa’s divide is now closer to Beverly Hills and Baghdad. Today, the country stands as a living testament to what happens when economic reform is severed from political transformation. Politically, its people have the right to vote, civil liberties and majority rule. Yet economically, South Africa has surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in the world.”

Klein, writing in 2007, is in part highlighting the gap between formal equality and actual equality. One could further qualify the term “actual equality” by, for example, using the term “equality of opportunity”. My focus is instead on the fissure between the ideals associated with formal equality and the reality on the ground. Thirteen years after Klein offered her commentary, South Africa is worse off than it was then. The country is not only more unequal than Brazil, it was declared the most unequal country in the world in 2018. That’s after about 25 years of rule under the ANC, a party almost exclusively constituted by black elites.

The lesson I wish to foreground is Klein’s point, which is, to paraphrase, that formal political transformation is useless if deep economic transformation is not achieved. I would add that economic transformation is impossible where political structures entail hierarchies and concentrations of power. I may be guilty of deep and unforgivable cynicism in making such an addition, but I reached this conclusion after many years of research into the theme of political transformation — or rather the lack thereof. At the centre of most democracies is a capitalist core, and capitalism is excellent at resisting substantive changes. In fact, there are various mechanisms at play that prevent transformation from what I like to call democrapitalism. The political economy of democrapitalism is premised on the existence of inequality: to simplify dramatically, it is premised on the existence of rich business owners and various other elites, and masses of people existing at various lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder.

An important caveat about my view of democrapitalism is that, in problematising it, I am not implying that something like democratic socialism would be able to make the transition from formal to actual equality. Nor is there an implication that something like a social democracy would solve the crises born out of the political economy that now aligns and orders everything through its immense ideological and repressive powers. Any political structure with a centralised core is a structure in which power is concentrated. So if, for example, the Economic Freedom Fighters were to occupy the seat of political power in South Africa, the hierarchical structure that concentrates power into the hands of a few elites would derail the party’s goal (or rhetoric) of deep economic transformation. The histories of socialism and communism show this to be true. It is the hierarchical structure itself, one which concentrates power into the hands of a few, that is antithetical to actual equality.

When one combines Klein’s point with mine, it becomes clear that the people protesting in the US have acted out against symptoms of the problem, and not the problem itself. To be sure, the symptoms presently under the spotlight, namely discrimination-fuelled police brutality and deep-seated systemic and structural racism, are reprehensible and must be challenged and changed. But the analogy of shifting deck chairs around on the Titanic while it sinks comes to mind, with the analogue for one of the deck chairs being the protests themselves, and for the Titanic being the democrapitalist edifice that is the political economy of the US (and elsewhere). The shifting will probably result in more legislation that waxes lyrical about equality, but the sinking of a political economy premised on hierarchy and inequality will continue. The previous quarter of a century in South Africa is perhaps the harshest reminders of this.

In the US, the presidential candidate most likely to replace Donald Trump is Joe Biden. Biden is an establishment man — he might be able to facilitate the shifting of a few of the deck chairs towards a society with more formal equality written into its legislation, but he cannot stop the proverbial ship from sinking further. Nobody can. Former president Barack Obama couldn’t do it, the Occupy Movement couldn’t do it (and Occupy was actually aiming at structural problems), progressive independent politician Bernie Sanders would not have been able to do it. It doesn’t look like Jesus is coming back to save us born sinners, and aliens who cross the vastness of space will hyper-drive out of our orbit to avoid us. Point being, structural and systemic arrangements are the fabric on which the picture of society, in all its ugliness, is printed. The structure is dominated, in part, by toxic concentrations of political power. To really change the picture, one would have to tear apart the fabric on which it is printed, which means addressing the concentrations of power.

My commentary so far may be criticised for downplaying the central point of the protests in the US. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the protests have been aimed at ending a tragic reality for many black people in the US, a reality in which a black person may be killed by brutal police intervention simply for being black. If this is the sole focus of the protests, then yes, I have gone too far. Perhaps this reality will somehow be changed thanks to the ripple effects of the protests, in which case the world would do well to learn from any changes that may accordingly occur in the dispensation of the US.

But, in reading about the protests, I have frequently seen analyses focusing on systemic racial oppression. Being South African, I have seen first-hand how the focus on ending systemic racial oppression has failed. It has failed because, in my opinion, one toxic concentration of political power was handed over to a different toxic concentration of political power. From what I can see, no option is on the table in South Africa or the US or anywhere, that does not entail political hierarchies and toxic concentrations of power. If the protests have been about systemic racial oppression at all, then those concerned should be warned about toxic concentrations of political power, which may make for appropriate targets in later protest action once justice has been achieved in light of race-based police brutality.

Article: “Free us from mind control”: A contextual addition to the US protests


Originally posted to the Mail and Guardian’s page: LINK

While reading online about the ongoing protests in the United States, I saw numerous pictures of protesters holding placards bearing the words: “I can’t breathe” or “Black lives matter”. This signified a sense of unity to the protests that I had not experienced during my time in the Occupy Movement in 2011, where people with all sorts of agendas and motivations were on board.

Every now and then, however, the words of a sign or placard stood out to me with messages that considerably deviated thematically from the others. What caught my attention most in this regard was some graffiti on a wall of one of the looted areas that the press so loves to focus on. The following was written in large black letters: “Free Us From Mind Control”.

This was an instant reminder for me that although the present protests are specifically about deeply rooted systemic racism and unacceptable discrimination-fuelled police actions, the protests can also be contextualised in a much broader manner. In offering my thoughts on this broadened context here, I do not wish to detract from the importance of the racial issues that are presently in the spotlight across the globe – I fully acknowledge that these specific issues are in desperate need of being addressed. The following is merely an addition intended to provoke further thought.

Rewinding by only a few days in some places and weeks in others, billions of people worldwide have been in situations of lockdown and social isolation because of dubious decisions made by numerous governments across the globe. Anyone who bothers to look into the full spectrum of startlingly diverse views espoused by scientists, experts, and specialists, will quickly realise that there is no possible way to defend “the science” behind governmental decisions to control civilians to the extent that they have been controlled in many countries.

Instead, as is becoming increasingly clear, various governments took advantage of the pandemic in true disaster capitalism style. So when a government or an individual summons “the science” or “the data”, or “the advice given by experts”, to defend the deprivation of what remains of civilian freedoms, they are guilty of a dangerous type of oppression.

The type of oppression I have just mentioned is, to be sure, different from the racial oppression being protested against mainly in the US. Racial oppression is particularly easy to spot. Continued instances of it form a pattern, and widespread repetitions of the pattern make things conspicuous. The other kind oppression I have alluded to is less conspicuous and is therefore much harder to spot.

To see it, one actually has to conduct a proper investigation, and dig much deeper than mainstream sources. In the Covid-19 fiasco, this would mean not only looking at information made available by the World Health OrganisationJohns Hopkins University, the Imperial College of London, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and numerous other “official” sources, many of which coincidentally received or continue to receive sponsorship from Bill Gates.

One would have to take on board several dozen hours’ worth of analyses and commentary from a wide range of experts. In the Covid-19 fiasco, this would mean eventually being exposed to people such as the Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt, who makes it crystal clear that there was an “anti-scientific dynamic” driving the decisions made by various governments in response to the pandemic, and he draws attention to the partisan politics involved. So much for the science behind lockdowns.

There are hundreds of interviews with, and articles by, experts showing clearly that the official and mainstream windows to the world of Covid-19 information are more like tiny slits obscuring the bigger picture of the real world. I do not think it is inappropriate to call this obscuring effect a form of “mind control” if the term is applied very loosely.

The bigger picture, made visible by tearing open the official slits through which so many people peep at the world, is a world in which civilians have been unduly influenced by governments and other nefarious organisations for decades, not just in the lead-up to the lockdowns.

One need not invoke MK Ultra or Darpa to make the point that civilians are subjected to what may loosely be called “mind control” (though if you don’t know about them, you should). Rather, one can point to the Hollywood culture that pervades the US, something that has for many decades been exported to rest the world. From a young age, people are exposed via television, films, the news, sports celebrities and so on, to the values of the consumer capitalist culture epitomised by Hollywood. Note also that the home of Hollywood is Los Angeles, which has recently been brought to something of a stand-still by protesters — this is surely a symbolic event.

Although I believe that some films break the Hollywood mould and can even facilitate the development of critical thinking skills, the bulk of Hollywood films do not do this. Rather, for the most part, like so much content on network channels, they have normalised the socio-political and economic dispensation created by historical processes in which winners took all and created the illusion of the “land of the free”.

As the revolutionary comedian Bill Hicks once said, however, freedom here denotes the freedom to do as you are told:

Go back to bed, America. Your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed, America. Your government is in control again. Here. Here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up. Go back to bed, America. Here’s American Gladiators. Here’s 56 channels of it! … Here you go, America! You are free to do what we tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!

Bill Hicks

Hicks provided this close-to-the-bone commentary during the 1990s, at a time when the internet had not yet pervaded most people’s private and/or professional lives. It is now common knowledge that various internet platforms actively manipulate users to behave in specific ways. Hicks would have had a comic field day with such material. Although internet manipulation of user behaviour might not be the same as mind control, we are in the same ballpark.

Commenting in pre-internet times, Hicks took aim at the kind of material that falls under the category of Hollywood entertainment, and he occasionally drew attention to the unforgivable one-sidedness of network news. He popularised a few of the ideas that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman had penned only a few years before he became a counter-cultural mouthpiece. In 1988, Chomsky and Herman released a book with a telling title, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. I’m not sure if Hicks read the book, but he did quote Chomsky in a letter to a friend in 1994: “The responsibility of the intellectual is to tell the truth and expose lies.” Hicks would have had a much fuller schedule if he were alive and working today.

Hicks also noted the pernicious influence that marketing and advertising have on the public (an influence that can be categorised very loosely as mind control). His joke, which he went out of his way to introduce as not being a joke, was: “If you are in advertising or marketing, kill yourself”. Extreme, maybe, but excellent at conveying a point, which in this case may be that manipulation tactics are ethically reprehensible.

It is safe to say that Hicks was a strong critic of the narrow set of positive freedoms that many people all over the world are force-fed as substitutes for actual freedoms. A positive freedom is of the type that Hicks mocked in his insightful way: the freedom to do as you are told. A negative freedom is the freedom to do as you choose without interference from the state or any other entity, on condition that you do not harm another person.

Arguably, the emergence of democracy in France centuries ago was a movement away from the restrictive positive “freedoms” of the feudal system, towards negative freedoms that no king or queen was supposed to be able to negate. Democratic government formed in part to act as a buffer between powerful members of the monarchy and the average person, not as a system to control civilians.

Much has happened in the history of democracy to drive the formation of a sad and sorry dispensation where democracy mainly entails the right to vote for your leaders. And once again, Hicks provides insightful commentary on this dispensation: “I’ll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. ‘I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs’. ‘I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking’. Hey, wait a minute, there’s one guy holding out both puppets!”

That “one guy”, I would add, is a symbol for a mixture of conformity values: conformity to consumerism, to economic growth, to individual success over all else, to the acquisition of material wealth and power, to stifling bureaucracies, to bipartisan politics that merely perpetuate the status quo, to sensationalised news of events that fit dodgy agendas, to endless public debt and untouchable private profits, to earning or dying, to winning or losing, to fame over wisdom, to pervasive legal corruption, to ecocide and mind control and various forms of oppression. All of this is systemic — the face of the leader may change, but as history has shown, the momentum of the system is immense, perhaps unstoppable.

So, although it is clearly the case that the protests in the US are aimed at racial injustice, it is possible to situate the frustrations experienced by protesters in a much larger context. This is a context in which most people are free to do what their democrapitalist government tells them is acceptable, but not free to do much else — the Covid-19 lockdowns that occurred in various countries, and continue to occur in others, were and are a harsh reminder of this.

Although the internet has been used as a tool to further achieve effects that can loosely be classified as mind control, it can also be used to gain a wider spread of information about what is really going on. Not through conspiracy theory channels, but through a multitude of information clearly depicting a system that manufactures consent to highly problematic and often destructive norms and values.

As increasing numbers of people become aware of the iron cages in which they are forced to live under the reign of modern-day Pharaohs who occupy seats at the top of the pyramid scheme of the political economy, there will be more reasons for frustrated citizens to protest. These reasons will be especially clear to young people who somehow have to figure out how to survive off of what’s left of the pie.

George Floyd’s murder is a very specific event, symbolic of the specific issues of racist police brutality and deep-seated systemic racism. Protests against these specific events and issues come at a time when the floodgates are opening with information about various other forms of public manipulation and oppression.

North America now looks a little like a camel collapsing from overload, with the murder of Floyd being the final straw. As the contents of the baggage once hidden on the camel’s back scatter far and wide for more and more people to see, we should expect more unrest and disruption. Much more.

Article: Enough with the ‘saving lives’ lie

Originally posted to on 15 May 2020: LINK

During his reading of a speech to the people of South Africa on Wednesday May 13, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred again to the idea of saving lives. He has done so in every one of the addresses to the nation since the start of the Covid-19 fiasco. This is how it was worded on May 13: “By answering the call to stay at home and stay safe, you, the people of South Africa, have helped us to save many lives.”

First, it’s not a call to stay at home, it’s a command, and in many places in South Africa, the command is being enforced by the police, the army and even by civilians. I live in a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth and every day the cops pull people over at the T-junction where our gravel road meets a provincial road. The freeway route into PE is also throttled by a nearly permanent roadblock. On Sunday, I was confronted by an officious man for daring to venture out beyond the nonsensical exercise times mandated by the government.

Second, it is unclear if one-size-fits-all, authoritarian lockdowns prevent the overall number of lives lost to a deadly virus compared with the numerous other options that are available for responding to a pandemic. The approaches of Sweden, Taiwan and South Korea are a few instances of what may be referred to as lenient responses to dealing with the spread of the virus. In various other countries, for example the United Kingdom, lockdowns are not enforced in any serious manner. There is no consensus among experts if lockdowns are the preferred route – see, for examples, the commentary provided by Professor Johan Giesecke, Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Levitt, Professor John Ioannidis, Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Knut Wittkowski, and Professor David Katz.

In response to my second point, I have often been told that South Africa is different and needs a heavy-handed approach. The reasoning here is that South Africans are, for various reasons, more likely to ignore the health and safety guidelines, so a heavy-handed enforced lockdown is the only option. The irony is that it is impossible to lock down a township. So proponents of the heavy-handed approach are really defending the ideal of a full lockdown. The reality is quite different. This is very difficult to stomach when being stopped by a cop who invariably and disrespectfully grunts, “Where is your permit?”

Third, as should be well known by now, it is unclear if the deaths allegedly from Covid-19 will outweigh the long-term deaths caused by the lockdown.

I say allegedly not because I think the virus is harmless, but because — and this is point number four — in most instances of death there are either one or more underlying conditions that classify the victim as at-risk from dying with any additional illness, or they are well over the age of 60. This is not to devalue the lives of sick and older people. Rather, it is to highlight the importance of a political response that is proportionate to the risks posed by a threat. With most men in South Africa dying before the age of 60 in pre-Covid-19 conditions, and with only 3% of the population being over the age of 65, it is unclear if the ridiculously draconian lockdown was or is proportionate to the threat.

Fifth, the numbers. I have taken issue with reliance on “meaningless” numbers before, and the speech that Ramaphosa read on May 13 is another instance of relying on the numbers. In all the speeches, he has stated the alleged deaths from the virus (see point 3, above), he has stated the number of people who have been tested positive for the virus, and he has stated the total number of people tested. As John Ioannidis has stated, specifically in the context of the unknown extent of the real threat posed by the virus, the numbers are “meaningless” and “cause chaos”.

The number of positive tests divided by the total number of tests conducted does not provide an accurate death rate — only antibodies testing can provide a clearer picture of this. Testing statistics can only show if the virus is present in a given location, and overall results compared over time can provide some indication of whether the spread of the virus is accelerating or slowing. Nobody knows how many people have or have had the virus in South Africa. So Ramaphosa compared “meaningless” numbers with another “meaningless” number when he read the following: the “best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80 000 South Africans could have been infected by now”.

Sixth, lockdowns may buy some time for hospitals to prepare for the worst-case scenario (even if it doesn’t occur), for extra emergency hospital centres to be organised and for a nationwide increase in hygiene measures to unroll. That’s why many of us thought we were going into lockdown in the first place: to buy time. It turns out that Ramaphosa agrees, but went an extra step towards the impossible: “We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the virus and prevent a huge surge of infections.” Does he really think that there will not be a surge of infections as the lockdown is lifted? If he were to believe this, he would be taking a different stance to Salim Abdool Karim, the public face of the Covid-19 scientific team, who “insists repeatedly that this country cannot avoid a ‘severe’ outbreak.”

Ramaphosa said in his May 13 speech that without “the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died”. This statement is full of half-truths, if not outright lies. Sure, without some kind of concerted action, infections would have soared, perhaps uncontrollably, but perhaps not. Concerted efforts did not have to entail one-size-fits-all lockdowns of any kind. It is unknown that health facilities would have been overwhelmed, because such a scenario only manifested in a few cities globally, largely because no action was taken before it was too late.

It is unknown if, under a more lenient national response to the virus, “many thousands more South Africans would have died”. Various countries where lenient measures were taken (and where the population is much older than in South Africa) saw no such increase in deaths in comparison to various other countries where harder lockdowns occurred (but not as hard as in South Africa). Even if early death rates are different between countries, longer-term death rates may show a balancing-out effect. To speak early of the success of the lockdown for saving lives is misleading.

Ramaphosa said that “from the very beginning, our response has been guided by advice from world-leading experts from our own country and across the globe”. Obviously the list of experts excludes those who cautioned against locking down — those who pointed out that the long-term costs of lock-down would outweigh its benefits, who pointed out that outbreaks cannot be prevented, and who spoke of early herd immunity being a more realistic route. Ramaphosa stated further that, “We have also benefited from the guidance from the World Health Organisation [WHO].” This should raise the alarm bells, because the WHO used the “meaningless” death-rate of 3.4% when it declared a pandemic at the end of January, and was also found guilty of several major misdemeanours by a European Council in its attempt to declare a pandemic in 2009.

Ramaphosa said the “experiences that other nations have been through have also given us invaluable insights”. Which other nations? What insights? What experiences? Are the experiences relevant for the South African context? Are they exceptions to the rule? Does Ramaphosa mean experiences of other nations as depicted in the mainstream news media? Is this reference to other nations a tactic that conjures in the minds of people who hear it a picture of the worst of the worst, like the exceptions to the rule that occurred in Italy and New York City?

After Ramaphosa read the half-truths, lies, and other rhetorical niceties fitting for a paternalistic authoritarian, he then read a major truth: “We have introduced several vital measures to support the companies, workers and households that have been severely affected by the lockdown.” Spot-on, Mr President. The mess was not created by a virus, but by various government responses to a virus. The responses were not guided by pandemic rules written in stone, waiting to be dragged out for when a pandemic hits. They were created, announced and enforced by powerful political entities that clearly have no problem in telling lies and half-truths to the public they control with increasing levels of intervention, interference and force.

Article: Coronovirus, meaningless numbers, disaster capitalism: Oligarchy’s dream come true

Originally published on 11 May 2020 at LINK

Have you wondered about the relevance of coronavirus test results? If you did, you would have been thinking similarly to the esteemed Stanford professor, John Ioannidis. He wrote an article with a title worth a thousand words: “A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data”. In the article, Ioannidis states that reported “case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organisation [WHO], cause horror — and are meaningless”.

One of the reasons Ioannidis takes issue with reported case fatality rates is that many of the numbers in the mainstream media provide information that is only relevant in the context of the total number of tests carried out. The total number of people who actually have the virus will certainly be much bigger than the number confirmed by testing. As Ioannidis states, “We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300.” One can only claim a death rate if one knows exactly how many people in a population have the virus. Nobody knows the overall number, but early antibodies testing suggests that it is considerably large — much larger than the numbers arrived at from counting RT-PCR tests.

Despite the limitations of the numbers, various sources such as mainstream news channels, government announcements, several prominent universities and the WHO constantly highlight the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and the number of people who have (allegedly) died from the virus. Deaths from the virus is a contentious topic, but to grasp why it is potentially misleading to claim total deaths from the virus rather than deaths with the virus, I would recommend reading a BBC article called Cornonavirus: How to understand the death toll.

Constant reporting and reliance on the number of positive test results seems to carry with it the implication that the number of positives is important. It is of course important to be able to test if a person has the virus. Testing can also confirm if the virus is present in a given location, and overall results compared over time can provide some indication of whether the spread of the virus is accelerating or slowing. This is all important information.

But the information ascertained from testing is not inherently meaningful. Different responses to the pandemic by different governments show that information is used differently in different decision-making processes. The leaders of Sweden went one direction while South Africa’s leaders chose very differently. In South Africa, lockdown measures have been lowered to level 4, despite the number of reported positive cases being higher than during lock-down level 5. Considering the complicated socio-political and economic contexts in which leaders must make difficult decisions, it is appropriate that the types of numbers to which I have referred are only one component of the decision-making process.

But here’s the thing. What if you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the government of the world’s most influential and powerful nation is guilty of what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism? Guilty of applying what Klein calls a shock doctrine to advance ever-increasing concentrations of power for the USA’s oligarchy? Consider the following from Klein:

“As I dug deeper into the history of how this [“free trade and democracy”] market model had swept the globe, […] I discovered that the idea of exploiting crisis and disaster has been the modus operandi of Milton Friedman’s movement from the very beginning – this fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed disasters to advance. It was certainly the case that the facilitating disasters were getting bigger and more shocking, but what was happening in Iraq and New Orleans was not a new, post-September 11 invention. Rather, these bold experiments in crisis exploitation were the culmination of three decades of strict adherence to the shock doctrine.”

Klein explores the history to which she refers in great detail in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In a testament to the accuracy of her observations, the 2008-2009 financial crisis was pounced on by the US government as a disaster that warranted the creation of $700-billion of bailout funds. Bank executives, who were among the people who should have been preventing toxic loans from being issued in the first place, received get-out-of-jail-free cards and walked away smiling, while the nation’s debt rose dramatically in an instant — a perfect example of privatising profits and socialising risks. Government was seen to be legitimised by solving a problem, and then got to oversee the bailout funds orchestrated during dealings with the ultimate private entity, the Federal Reserve Bank. Looking back, the pandemic bailout funds make the 2008-2009 financial crisis bailout funds look like petty cash.

Furthermore, what if you knew that this most powerful neoliberal government has revolving doors between itself and various corporate entities? What if you knew that private interests do influence the decisions made at government level due to lobbying, aka legal bribery? What if you knew that the participants of Event 201 in October 2019, a pandemic simulation event hosted by Johns Hopkins University and involving the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded in part that “collaboration between governments, international organisations, and the private sector” is necessary in a pandemic scenario. What if you knew that increasing private influence in the supposedly public political realm of government is antithetical to a real democracy, and has been among the core goals of neoliberal business-politics? What if you knew that consent is manufactured largely through mainstream media sources?

What if you knew that the WHO tried to declare a pandemic in 2009, and was later found by a European Council committee to be guilty of several misdemeanours, including issues such as “the possible influence of the pharmaceutical industry on some of the major decisions relating to the pandemic”? What if you knew that some of the same organisations (here and here) that participated in Event 201 were instrumental in influencing the context in which the US government (and other governments) made decisions during the pandemic? What if you knew that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has vested economic interests in punting a global vaccine, and that they have been pushing this agenda for many years despite serious, mostly under-publicised, criticism? What if you knew that the same organisation’s so-called philanthropic endeavours to spread genetically modified seeds in Africa involves a highly problematic monopoly of agriculture featuring patented seeds that destroy farmer sovereignty, and that the monopoly model is championed by the US government, an entity that has played no small role in shaping various nations’ responses to, and narratives about, the pandemic?

What if you knew all of the above and more? Maybe you would think twice about believing what seems to be the mainstream narrative, that governments are simply doing what they must do to deal with the spread of a deadly virus because, hey presto, look at the numbers! Most governments can perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt, but not the US government. When that country’s leaders closed its borders, others more or less had to follow suit, and the economic domino effect continues to take its toll. The actions taken by the US government in response to the pandemic cannot be considered in a vacuum: the country’s neoliberal leadership has for decades been doing what it can to increase its oligarchical powers, actions that benefit the few and hurt the many.

This is not to deny that there is a dangerous virus out there, one that has contributed to the loss of life and has seriously affected some health-care systems in some places. But let us not forget that we have been fed “meaningless” numbers that “cause chaos”, and thanks partly to the chaos, various governments, mainly the US’s, have leapt at the opportunity to create more national debt, channel relief funds wherever they choose (often to well connected individuals), control citizens beyond anything seen since World War II, wax lyrical about an invisible enemy that must be fought at all costs, and more. The writing is on the wall, and if one bothers to learn to read it, the message is clear: the global masters have tightened the shackles on their slaves to near choking point.

Our world is now one that the Oligarchs can control more easily than ever before, simply by pointing to numbers that mean whatever governments want them to mean; numbers that will somehow magically justify all sorts of authoritarian government interventions and mandatory civilian compliances. These are aspects of a developing narrative that must be questioned, challenged and dismissed if the evidence points to foul play — and this is not the same thing as dismissing the real threats of the virus. The only way to find real evidence is to look for it in earnest, which requires going much deeper than official death rates, testing results, and sensationalised mainstream news reporting.

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