Pass Laws out
Abolition of the hated South African Pass Laws was the main purpose behind the protest organised by the Pan-African Congress which culminated in the Sharpeville massacre of March 1960 in which 69 people were killed by the police.
Twenty six years later the Pass Laws, which control the movements of black workers, are to be abolished and all blacks imprisoned for offences against them are to be released. In 1960 such a reform might have been welcomed by blacks as a significant change. In 1986 it has been greeted with scepticism. For, as Pass books are abolished, so the South African government is introducing a new identity document to be carried by all South Africans (it's not yet clear whether it will indicate the race of the holder); the Group Areas Act which restricts the areas in which blacks can live will continue in force, and it is generally feared that influx control, the basis of segregation according to race, will continue under the new euphemism of "orderly urbanisation".
At the same time that the government offers these token gestures of reform in an attempt to defuse the violence and protests of black workers in the townships without conceding them political rights, they are also fearful of alarming their white supporters who are increasingly critical of what they see as the chipping away of the citadel of apartheid. It remains to be seen how long Botha and his cronies can continue to pretend to the blacks that they are dismantling apartheid, and to the whites that they are not.
Britain currently locks up more people (both absolutely and in proportion to its population) than any other West European country except Turkey — not noted for its liberal regime. At present 47,000 people are being held in prisons designed to accommodate no more than 41,000. In order to meet the expected rise in the prison population, the government has embarked on a £360 million prison-building programme — 16 new prisons by 1991. While most areas of government spending — health, housing and education — have been cut since the mid 1970s, prisons have continued to be a growth area, in terms of expenditure, numbers of prisons and numbers of prisoners.
Next year's prison budget will be £700 million of which two thirds will be to pay prison staff. So, if the government is to apply its philosophy of spending cuts to the prison service, while at the same time continuing to lock up significant numbers of people, then it is in the area of expenditure on prison staff that cuts will have to be made. But despite an 18 per cent rise in the number of prison officers over the past five years, and only a 12 per cent rise in the prison population, there has also been a rise in the number of remand prisoners from 10 per cent to 18 per cent of the total prison population. So, unable to reduce the actual number of prison officers without either risking a breach in security, or reducing still further prisoners' access to certain "privileges" like education, PE. and visits, the government has turned to the highly contentious issue of overtime, manning levels and the restrictive practices used by the Prison Officers Association (POA) to get the maximum in overtime payments. Budgets recently announced by the Home Office are thought to require a reduction of about 400 hours each week in most prisons which would mean an average loss of overtime of about 2.5 hours a week for prison officers. The POA argue that this is unacceptable since overcrowding and the resulting increased levels of stress and violence in prisons, have made their jobs more difficult, more dangerous and their working conditions more insanitary.
The recent overtime ban in prisons resulted in widespread riots, arson and damage. The POA. clearly shocked at the effect of their industrial action, agreed to return to normal working and enter into talks with the Home Office about manning levels. The desire to avoid a repetition of the prison riots that took place may well lead to a settlement being reached. What the dispute will not have achieved is an end to the barbaric practice of locking up human beings in inhumane and brutalising conditions; what is at issue in this dispute is not the system itself, but how to run that system most cheaply.
Slums for sale
The aims of selling off council housing, once you delve behind the rhetoric of the "property-owning democracy", was to rid the local authorities of the burden of maintaining increasingly dilapidated and troublesome council estates. It didn't work. Most council tenants don't want to buy the run-down houses and flats they are forced to live in, not even for the knock-down prices they were being offered at. The result was that only the better quality council housing was sold off, leaving a residuum of the worst council estates. And because local authority building has almost ceased, more and more workers are now chasing an ever-decreasing number of sub-standard council properties.
That number now looks set to be reduced still further as a result of the Housing and Planning Bill which will make it easier for local authorities to sell off, not just individual houses, but whole estates. At present about 40 local authorities have begun to sell approximately 80 council estates. The Bill will make it easier to increase this number since it gives councils the power to evict tenants so that estates can be sold off empty to private developers. Labour, Tory and Alliance controlled councils have all jumped at the chance of getting rid of their problem estates in this way.
In London, the Labour Tower Hamlets Council has sold over two-thirds of the 400-flat Waterlow Estate to the building company Barratts. Most of the tenants who objected and refused to move out were eventually "persuaded" to move as a result of council pressure and the refusal by the housing authority to carry out even basic repairs The Labour Party, especially Jeff Rooker, their housing spokesperson, has supported the selling of estates using the now fashionable rhetoric of "decentralisation" and condemnation of "public landlordism". What this conceals is that the sale of council estates, while it may result in better-maintained housing, also results in housing that the present tenants can no longer afford to rent. If estate agents are buying up decrepit council estates you can be quite sure that it is not because they intend to run them as a social service for the poor, the homeless or those living in slums, but because there's profit to be made out of them.
Side by side
On the food and drink page of the Guardian on 2 May, a headline states The Book That Made A Feast Out Of Famine. There follows a very critical review by Colin Spencer of the just-published Delia Smith Food Aid Cookery Book (BBC Publications). This, in case the hullabaloo has failed to reach you. is a collection of favourite recipes of "famous" people. The review queries the ethics of a plush launch at the Savoy among contributors who looked "rather pink, plump and well fed" of a book intended to raise funds for the starving. Further, it queries the "good taste" of such a book featuring (rather unimaginative) recipes such as Mrs Terry Wogan's caviar pie, to be eaten with smoked salmon. There follows a lecture on world nutrition, how wealthy EEC countries, instead of exploiting Third World agriculture and then overproducing beef and wheat themselves, should hold back, mend their ways and encourage the hungry countries to produce food to feed themselves rather than crops for export. Colin Spencer obviously has no understanding of the workings of capitalism.
Alongside this well-meaning lecture is the Good Food Guide by Drew Smith. It is headed Oysters. Langoustine. Raw Mussels, Winkles And Whelks, and is a review of the best fish restaurants in London. Recommended among other things, is the "lobster, plain grilled in butter" available at one of them. No doubt, had the chef at the restaurant been famous, the recipe would have appeared in the Food Aid Cookery Book. . .
Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). recently returned to Pakistan from exile in Britain in order to mobilise Pakistani workers and demand early elections, in the hope of winning power from the present ruling clique.
Benazir Bhutto is the daughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, overthrown in the military coup of 1977 and executed by the now President. Zia ul Haq. in 1979. Since that time Pakistan has endured nine years of martial law until the end of last year when President Zia restored at least a measure of democracy by allowing elections (hardly free, however, since most of the opposition were imprisoned).
Bhutto is a populist leader who is currently riding high on the desire for change among many Pakistani workers as a result of the brutality of the Zia regime. To the extent that the PPP has a policy, other than to secure power, it is mildly reformist in domestic terms (slum clearance, improved health care, land reform and a minimum wage) and, in foreign policy, attempts to offer something to both Russia and America in the hope of getting back a lot more. Bhutto promises an independent foreign policy based on "bilateral relations a political settlement that would permit the Russians to withdraw their forces from the area so that the 3.5 million Afghan refugees, which Bhutto sees as a destabilising force in Pakistan, can go home.
Like all opportunistic political leaders Bhutto changes her political colours to suit her audience. The recent rise in Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan, as in any other Moslem countries, has persuaded Bhutto to exchange her western clothing for traditional, more "modest" garb acceptable to Moslem conservatives. But while this change of image might win her some popular support, the Islamic fundamentalist party, Jamat Islami, remains politically opposed to her and represents a serious challenge since it is both the richest and best-armed political group in Pakistan. Its help and co-operation in the coup of 1977 secured the presidency for Zia and. since then, they have retained a hold on power and influence which they are unlikely to relinquish willingly. So the usually winning combination of political opportunism, populist appeal and promises of reform may not be enough to secure power for Bhutto in the face of a coalition of the military, religious fanaticism and vested interests. A not unfamiliar story.