Tea with a Thought Leader

Superpowers: iLoveback, the Land and your Data.

By Fumbatha May

Welcome to the second edition of Tea With A Thought Leader. The aim of this campaign is to connect Activators with thought leaders and their opinions through rounding up the global highlights of each month.

Fumbatha May is a data scientist and writer. He is a fellow of the (unofficial) Extended Youth Programme for Over 35s.

Gather around everyone, we have much to discuss and very little time to do it. First up is of course the land issue. If you haven’t heard already, we are now in the middle of a process towards finalising expropriation of land without compensation. The process kicked off on March 3 with the overzealous wooing of the ANC, desperate for iloveback from the EFF, supporting the EFF’s parliamentary motion to establish a constitutional review committee to investigate implementing Section 25 of the Constitution of South Africa (please read up on it for yourself, it’s available online).

“I’m leaving Mary – I’m going to Australia… they’re gonna eat us Mary!” has been the typical refrain from those with the land, as noted by Trevor Noah in a stand-up routine from 10 years go. So let’s dispel the misinformation. First of all, no one’s gonna eat you Mary. VAT may be going up and incomes might be depressed but nobody is outchea tryna eat you Mary, calm down.

Expropriation of land without compensation has always been part of our post-apartheid Constitution – that’s exactly what Section 25 is about. It’s just that the government, attempting not to scare Mary and her friends off to Australia, didn’t really have a clear plan of when and how to invoke it. The March 3 parliamentary motion set the ball rolling for government to come back to us – the citizens of this country, of every race – to ask for suggestions on how best to apply Section 25. It’s an opportunity for us to take all those suggestions we’ve been making to each other in our social circles, churches, schools, shebeens, on social media; and make them part of government policy. As citizens, one of our rights and responsibilities is to make submissions on important matters to give the government an idea of what we want. Calls for submissions are data collection exercises that aid decision-making. So I implore you all to keep an eye on your local press for announcements of dates for hearings in your area which will begin on May 8, 2018 in Limpopo and will travel throughout the country until the final one on June 22, 2018.

Another story dominating the news at the moment is the scandal involving Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Trump. Quick recap: a former Cambridge Analytica employee sent shockwaves throughout the world when he blew the whistle on how data from 50 million Facebook users was used to target people with pro-Trump messaging in the run up to the American presidential election which Trump won (on a technicality).

This story is important in for two reasons: 1) we don’t really understand how social media works; and 2) we need to take more responsibility for what we consume online.

Data mining isn’t inherently wrong. It’s a bit like having superpowers which can be used for good or evil. For instance, mining social media for personal health info could provide much-needed data to medical researchers to illuminate rare/misunderstood conditions or co-morbidities (illnesses that arise as in relation to others, like diabetes and heart disease). In the Cambridge Analytica case, these powers were used for evil, breaking the cardinal rule of having superpowers.

How do we protect ourselves from this evil? One way is by verifying the news we consume online. By now those of us who have been closely following the Trump-Breitbart-Cambridge Analytica saga know that fake news has been an indispensable weapon in Trump’s election campaign. For fake news to be effective, its intended audience must either be wilfully ignorant or just lazy to verify the source and content of the news they consume. The idea that the data of 50 million users could have shown a high probability for this campaign tactic to be effective is alarming. We need to be vigilant and stay woke to the BS always. Google is free and for now still the best tool we have to fight back against being lied to.

So the next time you read something that makes you sit up and pay attention enough to want to share it with your friends, STOP and GOOGLE first. Check if you can find the story or information on another credible site. Check what other info/stories you can find from the original source. If something in you makes you doubt the truth of what you are reading, it’s better to err on the side of caution and not share it. You will not get a prize for being the first in your crew to share info. You will earn more credibility if you choose to wait and share only those things you are absolutely sure about. Knowledge is hard work but the wisdom you gain in return is worth it, almost like a superpower.

Tea With A Thought Leader

By Fumbatha May

Welcome to the first edition of Tea With A Thought Leader. The aim of this campaign is to connect Activators with thought leaders and their opinions through rounding up the global highlights of each month.

Fumbatha May is a data scientist and writer. He is a fellow of the (unofficial) Extended Youth Programme for Over 35s.

If you’re reading this then congratulations: you survived all of January’s 84 days and then some. It means awulogwala. That’s a good thing. We’re gonna need people like you just now. To recap, 2018 so far: we’ve yet another peaceful palace coup (but no one will call it that – “managing transition” they said), people are on the run – kuLit mntase; two movies generated conversations both here and abroad about culture; and America has had yet another tragic shooting at a high school, while here at home 4 police officers and a retired solder were gunned down while another fights for his life after a gang of gunmen shot up a police station and made off with a busload of weapons. It’s been a lot and February isn’t even over yet.

It was quite hilarious watching the newest president of the Republic of South Africa – Number 5 or #5, if you will – tie himself in knots trying to eject The Previous guy (also referred to as He Who Shall Not Be Named For A While Coz Ibhadi Nje) from office. It was all so nice. Didn’t want to embarrass him, he claimed. But the embarrassment was unavoidable and the stalemate that followed hung heavily around our necks like “an albatross of a marriage” many of us hadn’t signed up for.

In the time that the EFF has been in Parliament, they have done at least one remarkable thing that perhaps stands out most keenly from the theatrics: asking difficult questions of why and how the institutions of government are the way they are, while asking similar ones of the capitalist structures they support – urging us to rethink and unthink the things we thought we knew about politics and the economy. The already eradicated standard of debate in Parliament loudly drowned out this important conversation, providing fertile ground for the theatrics to flourish at the expense of substance

Number 5’s Mr Nice Guy act is an attempt at restoring faith in our government. It seems to be paying off a little – the USD/ZAR exchange rate improved to its best levels in 2.5 years, which is good for everyone; investor confidence is up; white people are happy again. Kumnandi maan. It’s almost like Tata’s Rainbow Years.

But we are an awake citizenry now. We have not and should not forget Marikana and their demand for a decent living wage. Number 5 is reminded of this everyday. We are reminded of what that says about his proximity to the kind of capital that has pillaged this land since the first settler colonisers arrived. You know, the White Monopoly kind. Pledges from #5 to make amends are a step in the right direction. We should be satisfied with whatever the families of the slain believe to be fair and just atonement for them. For ourselves, we must remain vigilant of any threats – from capitalism to cultural chauvinism – to our constitutionality.

Speaking of which, the film Inxeba – The Wound continues to rack up more accolades. The latest by becoming the first film in the history of cinema to be classified as pornography without featuring any frontal nudity whatsoever. A stroke of masterful genius from the producers and director – South African filmmaking is truly going places. Pornographers, on the other hand, are understandably upset at this unilateral lowering, by the FPB Appeals Tribunal, of the standard that governs their entire industry.

In a previous case brought against Dr Dingeman Rijken and his website, ulwaluko.co.za, by the Community Development Foundation of SA the Tribunal upheld a “no-under 13” rating for the site, which consisted of pictures of mutilated penises and other tragedies arising from reasons linked to the tradition of ulwaluko. In other cases dealing with content of similar themes as Inxeba the FPB has been happy for the general public to view these in cinemas or even on their TVs at home. The X18 rating of Inxeba means it can only screened in specially designated cinemas for adult content only (read: porn). The FPB Appeals Tribunal has made public the full text of its ruling on its website. It is a difficult read, which requires  at least two heads so read it out loud to each other and see if you can make sense of it.

Inconsistencies like these, read together with claims made by the previous head of the FPB that he was ejected from his position in 2017 because of his sexual orientation paint the FPB as one governed by people who make light of the very Constitution from which they derive their power.

The reason for Number 5 asking The Previous Guy to nicely go away for so long is a simple one: the integrity of these Constitutionally mandated institutions is the glue that holds a democracy together. To shove him abruptly and rudely out of the way would cause the nation to ask difficult questions about his own legitimacy. When citizens lose their faith in these institutions, only anarchy can follow.

A “BHEN! BHEN! BHEN” situation like the one in Sarafina (or Erik Killmonger’s dreams of world domination in Black Panther) may seem attractive to those of us who are fed up with unkept promises and betrayals by these institutions. But we must also face the reality of what anarchy may entail.

The fatal armed robbery of a police station in Ngcobo, in the Eastern Cape (and the context of a troubled community and the church at the heart of it all) is a classic example of how far we’ve travelled towards chaos in the last decade or so as our faith in these institutions gradually eroded. Avoiding that chaos now means a recovery of faith, both through substance and performance. The performance part is easy – it’s the substance that we lack.

That is why we need people like you who is reading this to keep your mind open to new ideas and new ways of being and of doing. Ways that do not retain the inequality-producing engine of the status quo. Speak out against injustice. Ask important questions about why things are. Demand explanations in language that is clear and straightforward. Never be afraid to unlearn what you think you already know.