Superstition, murder and the mystery of Hong Kong’s ‘haunted’ houses @FT @TomHale_
The building is still recognisably a house, but no one could call it a home.
Through its narrow windows and across its deserted garden, there are few signs of life.
Its driveway is covered in leaves, although it is not autumn, and the roof is slowly shedding orange tiles. Unusually for Hong Kong, it has a chimney.
From this high up the Victoria Peak, the view takes in almost the entire territory.
In the distance, the skyscrapers of Kowloon shimmer eastward beneath a horizon of mountains.
From the west, the sea winds around neighbouring islands into the harbour, where the boats are so small that they look like toys.
Dragon Lodge, as the house is known, occupies some of the most valuable real estate on earth.
In 1997, the year that Britain handed Hong Kong over to China, it traded hands for HK$118m (about $15.3m at the time). But one day its last inhabitants moved out, and it has remained derelict ever since.
Confronted with this mystery, the internet has designated it one of the city’s most haunted houses. One rumour claims that construction workers refused to finish work on the site.
Other blogs are more gruesome, stating that Japanese soldiers occupied it during the second world war and decapitated several nuns there.
The current owners, faced with an onslaught of urban explorers, sealed off the premises with barbed wire.
But Lugard Road is a difficult place to ward off unwanted attention.
As well as a prime property location — the Chinese conglomerate HNA sold a site there in 2019 for HK$550m — it is also one of Hong Kong’s most picturesque walking trails.
As they pass, two hikers remark how “curious” it is that the house should be abandoned rather than let out.
This curiosity arises because, in Hong Kong, you would expect every inch of space to be occupied.
Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the waves of anti-government protests that started in 2019 — hundreds of thousands of British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders are expected to emigrate to the UK in the next few years — the real estate market is the most expensive in the world; and prices are increasing again.
Per square foot, the average cost of the territory’s luxury apartments rose 3.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 to HK$36,256, according to estate agency Savills.
There are, however, other factors at play.
Jia, a jogger from mainland China, says that there might be a few “ghost stories” about the house.
She lives on the Peak too and discussed it with her neighbour. He warned her of bad omens. “Whoever lived there,” he told her, “didn’t prosper.”
Superstition affects house prices
When one of Utpal Bhattacharya’s academic colleagues mentioned they were afraid to get out at certain subway stops in Hong Kong, he naturally assumed it was because of crime.
He did not assume it was because of haunted houses. “I said, ‘What? You really take this seriously?’” he recalls.
A US professor of finance at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Bhattacharya, originally from India, set about researching the impact such perceptions might have on real estate prices.
The result of that study, which tracked unnatural deaths, showed a striking effect. Not only do prices for “haunted” units in apartment blocks drop by about 20 per cent, but those nearby can be affected too: units on the same floor drop by 10 per cent, and those in the same block by 7 per cent.
In Hong Kong, many “haunted” sites are well-known and have developed their own urban legends, such as Dragon Lodge and Nam Koo Terrace, which is also reputed to have been occupied by the Japanese during the war.
But the city’s fascination with the subject is so strong that, when it comes to tragic incidents, legal precedents have been set.
A court case in 2001 found against an estate agent who had failed to inform a prospective buyer about the death of a four-year-old boy after he fell from the apartment balcony a year earlier.
Banks in Hong Kong take such incidents into account when valuing properties for mortgage lending. Local estate agents keep lists of them too, for those either avoiding or seeking them out.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity,” says Asif Ghafoor, chief executive of Spacious, a property listing site.
His website’s haunted house filter gets more than 10,000 views a month.
The legal risk is significant because of potential reputational damage to the property — in the past, people have tried to bring down prices by starting rumours — so every incident on there can be linked back to newspaper articles.
“We’re not claiming we are a source of truth,” he says.
As with the coroners’ reports that Bhattacharya drew on, the list mainly consists of suicides and accidents. Agents tend to disclose such incidents.
Joyce, 30, from Hong Kong, went to view an apartment several years ago in the city’s mid-levels, halfway up the Peak, that seemed cheaper than neighbouring options.
The agent told her an apartment on the floor above her was haunted, as the result of a suspected suicide. “I just felt like, nah, I don’t want to live here,” she says.
For the undeterred buyer, reselling a “haunted” property could be difficult, Bhattacharya says, as the stigma isn’t erased by the change in ownership.
Foreigners are often seen as less susceptible to such superstitions, given their distance from traditional Chinese culture, but Bhattacharya also found anecdotal evidence of a 25 per cent hit to prices in the US, UK and Australia on homes that have been connected with murder and suicide in newspaper articles.
Ghafoor says he’s not aware of any formalised system of recording such incidents, like his, anywhere in the west, and suggests they are about “a form of residual trauma”.
He remembers a colleague who died in his early twenties; he wouldn’t want to live in his flat, he says, because “I’d be thinking of him”.
What happened at Dragon Lodge?
Gerard Blitz, born in 1951 and now living in the Philippines, remembers many things from his childhood at Dragon Lodge.
He remembers playing in the old Japanese war tunnels. He remembers Typhoon Wanda in 1962, which swept away the family’s bamboo greenhouse.
He remembers a policeman showing him the revolver he fired at the Kowloon riots of 1967, when the British put down an uprising.
But he does not remember a single ghost story about the house, and neither do his siblings, Francis and Julia.
Their mother was South African and their father was Dutch; he had been captured by the Japanese in Java during the war.
Later, he worked in the diamond trade and rented Dragon Lodge from someone Gerard remembers as a Chinese man called “Uncle Tom”.
The 1948 phone book for Hong Kong lists a Tom ML as a resident there.
The house, the lot for which appears to date from 1921 and was last bought in 2004 by a company called East Team International Development (Nominee) for HK$76m, is not on the Spacious database and — while clearly abandoned, with the interior covered in graffiti — it is unclear why.
The closest thing to an “incident” that Blitz can recall involves a young lawyer by the name of Wimbush, who lived in the flat beneath the garden in the 1960s.
In the 1980s, he was embroiled in the Carrian affair, a famous corporate scandal, and was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool, at a different house, also on the Peak. It was ruled a suicide.
So why has it become thought of as haunted? One possibility is that ghost stories naturally attach themselves to empty homes.
And in Hong Kong, there is a surprising number of abandoned buildings — so many that Facebook groups have been set up devoted to them.
While abandonments are often associated with money laundering from the Chinese mainland, tradition may play an important role too.
One local expert in restoration, who asked to remain anonymous, says Chinese families often hang on to their parents’ flats after inheriting them, preferring to leave them empty out of ancestral respect rather than selling them.
Once a unit is abandoned, the person went on, the stories follow naturally.
A representative for the company that owns Dragon Lodge says there is, to his knowledge, no evidence for the execution of nuns during the war, and that the company plans to preserve the house rather than lease, rebuild or sell it.
They say it was built by a General Lung Wan, whose name contains the Chinese character for dragon.
Hong Kong heritage officials recently said they are reviewing a list of buildings for possible preservation, including Dragon Lodge.
Recent restorations include the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, formerly a police station, which the British built in the heart of the city.
But the impulse to preserve can conflict with private ownership. The government tried and failed to save Ho Tung Gardens, which was demolished in 2013.
Built in 1927 by Robert Hotung, who became the richest man in Hong Kong, it was the first building where a Chinese person had lived on the Peak after British colonial law restricted it to Europeans in 1904.
Restoration is part of the city’s understanding of its identity, the expert says, which was important because “we still don’t know who we are”.
In a city obsessed with its future under the Chinese government, hauntings are a way of clinging to the past.
Remnants of a moribund empire
There is little concrete evidence of what — if anything — happened at Dragon Lodge during the war, and it is difficult to ascertain the prosperity of its previous owners, most of which are listed as companies.
But Peter van der Voort, 72, a retired museum curator in Australia, grew up in the house next door to Dragon Lodge, and has a theory about how the ghost stories started.
Like his neighbour Gerard Blitz, van der Voort used to run amok in their corner of the Peak.
He would “play Tarzan” in the jungle or go to the rifle range. But in the decade after the war, there was danger everywhere. Once, his friends found an unexploded grenade.
Another time, he got trapped in a cave and couldn’t move forwards or backwards — he still dreams about it.
As well as his Dutch and American parents, who met in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Shanghai, van der Voort was brought up by his amahs, Cantonese-speaking servants who lived in the house, “sort of like the governess”, he says.
He remembers them as superstitious. Once he heard a shriek when he came home: someone had left a Clarks shoebox on the table.
There was an abandoned house nearby — not Dragon Lodge, but another one — that he thinks had been shelled by the Japanese.
It was his amah, he remembers, who told him the house was haunted, because that was the only way to stop him playing there. It worked.
And he thinks the rumour caught on, but it was attributed to the wrong house.
That was a long time ago, before the end of British colonial rule; he did not know he was growing up in “the throes of a moribund empire”.
There is another, much more recent explanation for its reputation. The representative for the owner says that, between 2008 and 2013, an investor based in the British Virgin Islands tried to buy the house.
He suspects the investor spread the rumours, because they were “widely circulated” after the offer was refused, and another one was later made.
The representative added that the reason the house is not lived in is because there are so many hikers on the narrow road on Sundays and public holidays.
An explanation based on the lengths 21st-century investors might go to secure valuable property appeals to the rational mind, especially in the cold light of day.
But after the sun has set on Dragon Lodge, and the joggers have all gone home, it is harder to overlook the residual presence of the past.
Behind the house, the black lampposts along Lugard Road look like they have been airlifted in from Victorian London. Amid the jungle and the roar of the cicadas, they suddenly seem lost.
Their light is almost spectral as it illuminates the land, as though each night, they too must stake a claim to it.
The Machine Stops The neurologist on steam engines, smartphones, and fearing the future @NewYorker By Oliver Sacks
My favorite aunt, Auntie Len, when she was in her eighties, told me that she had not had too much difficulty adjusting to all the things that were new in her lifetime—jet planes, space travel, plastics, and so on—but that she could not accustom herself to the disappearance of the old.
“Where have all the horses gone?” she would sometimes say. Born in 1892, she had grown up in a London full of carriages and horses.
I have similar feelings myself. A few years ago, I was walking with my niece Liz down Mill Lane, a road near the house in London where I grew up.
I stopped at a railway bridge where I had loved leaning over the railings as a child. I watched various electric and diesel trains go by, and after a few minutes Liz, growing impatient, asked, “What are you waiting for?” I said that I was waiting for a steam train. Liz looked at me as if I were crazy.
“Uncle Oliver,” she said. “There haven’t been steam trains for more than forty years.”
I have not adjusted as well as my aunt did to some aspects of the new—perhaps because the rate of social change associated with technological advances has been so rapid and so profound.
I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings.
I am most alarmed by such distraction and inattention when I see young parents staring at their cell phones and ignoring their own babies as they walk or wheel them along.
Such children, unable to attract their parents’ attention, must feel neglected, and they will surely show the effects of this in the years to come.
In his novel “Exit Ghost,” from 2007, Philip Roth speaks of how radically changed New York City appears to a reclusive writer who has been away from it for a decade.
He is forced to overhear cell-phone conversations all around him, and he wonders,
“What had happened in these ten years for there suddenly to be so much to say—so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? . . . I did not see how anyone could believe he was continuing to live a human existence by walking about talking into a phone for half his waking life.”
These gadgets, already ominous in 2007, have now immersed us in a virtual reality far denser, more absorbing, and even more dehumanizing.
I am confronted every day with the complete disappearance of the old civilities.
Social life, street life, and attention to people and things around one have largely disappeared, at least in big cities, where a majority of the population is now glued almost without pause to phones or other devices—jabbering, texting, playing games, turning more and more to virtual reality of every sort.
Everything is public now, potentially: one’s thoughts, one’s photos, one’s movements, one’s purchases.
There is no privacy and apparently little desire for it in a world devoted to non-stop use of social media.
Every minute, every second, has to be spent with one’s device clutched in one’s hand. Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently.
They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.
A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion about information and communication in the twenty-first century.
One of the panelists, an Internet pioneer, said proudly that his young daughter surfed the Web twelve hours a day and had access to a breadth and range of information that no one from a previous generation could have imagined.
I asked whether she had read any of Jane Austen’s novels, or any classic novel. When he said that she hadn’t, I wondered aloud whether she would then have a solid understanding of human nature or of society, and suggested that while she might be stocked with wide-ranging information, that was different from knowledge.
Half the audience cheered; the other half booed.
Much of this, remarkably, was envisaged by E. M. Forster in his 1909 story “The Machine Stops,” in which he imagined a future where people live underground in isolated cells, never seeing one another and communicating only by audio and visual devices.
In this world, original thought and direct observation are discouraged—“Beware of first-hand ideas!” people are told.
Humanity has been overtaken by “the Machine,” which provides all comforts and meets all needs—except the need for human contact.
One young man, Kuno, pleads with his mother via a Skype-like technology, “I want to see you not through the Machine. . . . I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”
He says to his mother, who is absorbed in her hectic, meaningless life, “We have lost the sense of space. . . . We have lost a part of ourselves. . . . Cannot you see . . . that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine?”
This is how I feel increasingly often about our bewitched, besotted society, too.
As one’s death draws near, one may take comfort in the feeling that life will go on—if not for oneself then for one’s children, or for what one has created.
Here, at least, one can invest hope, though there may be no hope for oneself physically and (for those of us who are not believers) no sense of any “spiritual” survival after bodily death.
But it may not be enough to create, to contribute, to have influenced others if one feels, as I do now, that the very culture in which one was nourished, and to which one has given one’s best in return, is itself threatened.
Though I am supported and stimulated by my friends, by readers around the world, by memories of my life, and by the joy that writing gives me, I have, as many of us must have, deep fears about the well-being and even survival of our world.
Such fears have been expressed at the highest intellectual and moral levels.
Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and a former president of the Royal Society, is not a man given to apocalyptic thinking, but in 2003 he published a book called “Our Final Hour,” subtitled “A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century—on Earth and Beyond.”
More recently, Pope Francis published his remarkable encyclical “Laudato Si’, ” a deep consideration not only of human-induced climate change and widespread ecological disaster but of the desperate state of the poor and the growing threats of consumerism and misuse of technology.
Traditional wars have now been joined by extremism, terrorism, genocide, and, in some cases, the deliberate destruction of our human heritage, of history and culture itself.
These threats, of course, concern me, but at a distance—I worry more about the subtle, pervasive draining out of meaning, of intimate contact, from our society and our culture.
When I was eighteen, I read Hume for the first time, and I was horrified by the vision he expressed in his eighteenth-century work
“A Treatise of Human Nature,” in which he wrote that mankind is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.”
As a neurologist, I have seen many patients rendered amnesic by destruction of the memory systems in their brains, and I cannot help feeling that these people, having lost any sense of a past or a future and being caught in a flutter of ephemeral, ever-changing sensations, have in some way been reduced from human beings to Humean ones.
I have only to venture into the streets of my own neighborhood, the West Village, to see such Humean casualties by the thousand: younger people, for the most part, who have grown up in our social-media era, have no personal memory of how things were before, and no immunity to the seductions of digital life.
What we are seeing—and bringing on ourselves—resembles a neurological catastrophe on a gigantic scale.
Nonetheless, I dare to hope that, despite everything, human life and its richness of cultures will survive, even on a ravaged earth.
While some see art as a bulwark of our collective memory, I see science, with its depth of thought, its palpable achievements and potentials, as equally important; and science, good science, is flourishing as never before, though it moves cautiously and slowly, its insights checked by continual self-testing and experimentation.
I revere good writing and art and music, but it seems to me that only science, aided by human decency, common sense, farsightedness, and concern for the unfortunate and the poor, offers the world any hope in its present morass.
This idea is explicit in Pope Francis’s encyclical and may be practiced not only with vast, centralized technologies but by workers, artisans, and farmers in the villages of the world.
Between us, we can surely pull the world through its present crises and lead the way to a happier time ahead.
As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe in this—that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be our final hour.
and am now reading “Oryx and Crake”
Atwood, who is the daughter of a biologist, vividly imagines a late-twenty-first-century world ravaged by innovations in biological science. Like most literary imaginings of the future, her vision is mournful, bleak, and infernal, and is punctuated, in Atwood style, with the occasional macabre joke—perhaps not unlike Dante’s own literary vision.
Atwood’s pilgrim in Hell is Snowman, who, following a genetically engineered viral cataclysm, is, as far as he knows, the only human being who has survived.
Snowman (formerly Jimmy) has become arboreal, living in trees and in shelters of junk, roaming the beaches and picnic grounds of a former park—where fungi sprout from rotting picnic tables and barbecues are festooned with bindweed—scavenging for food.
His only companions are a dozen or so humanoids, the Crakers—gentle, naked, beautiful creations of Jimmy’s old, half-mad scientist friend Crake. Freed from their experimental lab, the Crakers also live near the beach.
They eat nothing but grass, leaves, and roots; their sexual rituals have been elegantly and efficiently programmed to minimize both sexual reproduction and unrequited lust. T
o them, the man they call Snowman is a demigod or a prophet. Unable to tolerate sunlight, Jimmy wears a ghostly bedsheet.
For the Crakers, the real gods are Crake, whom they have never seen, and his girlfriend, Oryx, whom they have.
The Crakers await their return and listen to stories that Snowman tells them about Crake and Oryx. A holy, yarny scripture is already emerging.
Parallel with this vision of a blighted future is the novel’s dramatic story of how the global apocalypse came to pass, told in flashback.
Jimmy and Crake grow up as friends in gated communities, safe from the environmental degradation that has already overtaken the outside world.
They are the privileged children of scientists who work for top-secret agribusiness and biotech companies with names like HelthWyzer and OrganicInc Farms.
The latter, for medical-transplant purposes, makes pigs that are genetically altered with human DNA; after the apocalypse, these extra-clever “pigoons” go hunting for Snowman like hounds after a fox.
There are other mistakes, too—creatures called wolvogs, which are exactly what you would expect.
Later, Crake’s classmates work on developing, for a fast-food venture, headless, legless chickens—“Sort of like a chicken hookworm,” Crake says.
Such genetic ambitions will not sound outlandish to anyone who has kept abreast of current poultry-farming practices or knows that scientists have experimented with splicing fish genes into tomatoes to prevent freezing.
Although the boys’ daily lives are full of swimming pools, bullet trains, completely self-contained shopping malls, and games like Kwiktime Osama, they maintain a curiosity about the world outside in “the pleeblands,” of which they have little experience.
They have lost parents in the madness of this sinister and isolated life style.
Crake’s father, burdened with the knowledge of pharmaceutical conspiracies, “jumped” from an overpass; Jimmy’s mother, critical of her husband’s work, grew depressed, then disappeared.
While quite young, both boys come to suspect that their parents have been executed.
Tonally, “Oryx and Crake” is a roller-coaster ride. The book proceeds from terrifying grimness, through lonely mournfulness, until, midway, a morbid silliness begins sporadically to assert itself, like someone, exhausted by bad news, hysterically succumbing to giggles at a funeral.
Atwood begins to smirk and deadpan: “There was a lot of dismay out there, and not nearly enough ambulances.” She invents an assisted-suicide site called nitee-nite.com
"The Dark Forest," which continues the story of the invasion of Earth by the ruthless and technologically superior Trisolarans, introduces Liu’s three axioms of “cosmic sociology.” @nfergus
First, “Survival is the primary need of civilization.”
Second, “Civilization continuously grows and expands, but the total matter in the universe remains constant.”
Third, “chains of suspicion” and the risk of a “technological explosion” in another civilization mean that in space there can only be the law of the jungle.
In the words of the book’s hero, Luo Ji:
The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost ... trying to tread without sound ...
The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him.
If he finds other life — another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod —
there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people ... any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out.
This is intergalactic Darwinism.
6 JAN 20 :: The Escalation of 'Shadow War'
Law & Politics
Kronsteen out- lines to Blofeld his play
Blofeld Kronsteen, you are sure this plan is foolproof?
Kronsteen Yes it is because I have anticipated every possible variation of counter-move.
''a cornered country that has increasingly less to lose. The risks of miscalculation are at an all-time high’’ Vali Nasr.
Nations w/ most average COVID-19 cases/day @jmlukens
Colombia and Malaysia #COVID19 average cases per day up more than 50% past 2wks. @jmlukens
Nations w/ most average COVID-19 cases/day
01-MAR-2020 :: The Origin of the #CoronaVirus #COVID19
What is clear is that the #COVID19 was bio-engineered The Science [and I am not a Scientist is irrefutable and in the public domain for those with a modicum of intellectual interest.
This information is being deliberately suppressed.
This took me to Thomas Pynchon
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.”
“There's always more to it. This is what history consists of. It is the sum total of the things they aren't telling us.”
Now Why are we being led away from this irrefutable Truth
04-JAN-2021 :: What Will Happen In 2021
Today only the Paid for Propagandists and Virologists and WHO will argue that there is a ''zoonotic'' origin for COVID19.
It is remarkable that the Propaganda is still being propagated more than a year later.
Those who have chosen to propagate this narrative are above the radar and in plain sight and need to be called to account.
The Utter Failure to call these 5th columnists to Account is the clearest Signal that there is no external threat because it is already on the inside.
08-FEB-2021 :: The Markets Are Wilding
@elonmusk I am become meme, Destroyer of shorts
Mr. Musk can pump [and dump] just about anything with a tweet. he has superpowers.
And on February 4 He tested that hypothesis
No highs, no lows, only Doge @elonmusk Feb 4
Dogecoin is the people’s crypto @elonmusk Feb 4
Namibia Experiencing Third Wave of Coronavirus Infections @business
Namibia is experiencing a third wave of coronavirus infections, with the health ministry confirming 717 new cases on Thursday -- a daily record.
The test positivity rate and Covid-19-related hospitalizations and deaths have risen sharply, according to Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula.
The alarming increase in the caseload “is an indication that the public is not strictly following the Covid-19 infection prevention and control measures,” Shangula said Friday.
“More people are becoming symptomatic, getting seriously ill and dying.”
By Thursday, 56,981 people had tested positive for the disease in the nation with a population of 2.5 million and 877 of them had died -- 47 of them in the past three days -- while 90% had recovered.
Increased hospital admissions have placed the oxygen-supply infrastructure under pressure, the health ministry warned.
.@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.
Ethiopia which was once the Poster child of the African Renaissance now has a Nobel Prize Winner whom I am reliably informed
PM Abiy His inner war cabinet includes Evangelicals who are counseling him he is "doing Christ's work"; that his faith is being "tested". @RAbdiAnalyst
@PMEthiopia has launched an unwinnable War on Tigray Province.
28 OCT 19 :: From Russia with Love
“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally with someone against someone else, and we strongly oppose any geopolitical games involving Africa.”
“Russia regards Africa as an important and active participant in the emerging polycentric architecture of the world order and an ally in protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov back in November 2018.
In July this year, a three-minute animated video appeared on YouTube. Called Lionbear, the cartoon was aimed at children and told the story of a brave but beleaguered Central African lion, who was fighting a losing battle against a pack of hungry hyenas.
Luckily the lion had a friend who came to the rescue — the strong Russian bear.
The bear fights off the hyenas brings peace to the land and everyone lives happily ever after.The video was produced by Lobaye Invest, a Russian mining company with links to the Wagner Group.
Lobaye runs a radio station in the CAR, and orga- nised a Miss CAR pageant.
But, as a CNN investigation reported this year, Lobaye also funds the 250 Russian mercenaries who are stationed in the country.
A place weeping @NewFrame_News
The social devastation of mass unemployment renders South Africa a non-viable society for millions. Something must give.
Unemployment in the United States peaked at 24.9% during the Great Depression.
On the eve of Adolf Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933, unemployment in Germany was at 24%.
The protests that launched the Arab Spring in 2011 were ascribed, in part, to what the International Labour Organization called an “extremely high youth unemployment rate of 23.4%”.
In Gaza, the unemployment rate was 43.1% at the end of last year. We know what Gaza is. It is a ghetto formed by violent dispossession and sustained with violent repression. It is walled and surveilled. Its residents are subject to routine organised humiliation.
There are organised ideological attempts to expel them from the count of the human race. Their protests are met with ruthless and spectacular violence.
In a 2009 essay on Gaza, John Berger, a writer for the ages, borrowed two lines from Kurdish poet Bejan Matur: “A place weeping enters our sleep / a place weeping enters our sleep and never leaves.”
In South Africa, unemployment is at 42.3%. The rate for young people is 74.7%. The scale of this social devastation is extraordinary in global terms.
A 2019 survey placed the youth unemployment rate in the country, then calculated at 57.47%, as the worst in the world – a position it has held since 2017.
Millions of young people find that the world does not extend them any kind of welcome.
They are, in the words of poet Lesego Rampolokeng, “frustrated hoisted then dropped against the rocks of promise”.
Millions of people endure blocked lives, passing time in a stasis marked by tightening circles of shame, failure, fear and despair.
Some start to sleep most of the day. Some turn to transactional forms of religion, offering submission in the hope of reward. Some succumb to the temptation to dull their pain with cheap heroin.
Some take what they can from who they can, how they can. Some, often supported by the grace of family, friends and community, manage to find a way to hold on to enough hope to keep going.
The weight of what all this means for these people and their families, the colossal squandering of their gifts and possibilities, are not taken as a crisis for our state, the people that govern it or most of our elite public sphere.
Lives are rendered as waste, voices as noise rather than speech, protests as traffic issues or crime.
People are told that their suffering is a matter of personal failure, their attempts to cope with their situation consequent to moral dissolution.
They can be murdered by the state during a protest or an eviction without consequence.
It is unsurprising that the demand to be recognised as human is often central to the language of popular protest.
It is telling that the phrase “service delivery protests” is relentlessly imposed on much more complex phenomena by those whose unconscious investment in organised dehumanisation is such that they simply cannot recognise that the plainly expressed yearnings of the oppressed often extend far beyond aspirations for the basic means to sustain bare life.
It is not uncommon for thousands of people to apply for jobs that offer drudgery, exploitation and exhaustion for meagre rewards. People have died in stampedes for these kinds of jobs.
New forms of work are often precarious, and often organised with the aim of ensuring that employers can avoid the obligations imposed by generations of trade union organisation and struggle.
The unions operate on the terrain of constant crisis, gearing up to oppose austerity in the state and fighting a long, losing battle to retain jobs as deindustrialisation escalates.
Neither democracy nor the NGOs calling themselves ‘civil society’ or the public sphere are really taken to include the people as a whole.
Millions of people just don’t count as people. Weeping enters their sleep. It comes to sit in their bones. It comes to structure their sense of themselves, their place in their families and their understanding of the world.
We know what Gaza is. But do we understand what South Africa is?
South Africa is a chunk of territory, its borders drawn by an invading force, its people violently conquered, enslaved, dispossessed of their land, wealth and autonomy, contained in ghettos and forced into forms of labour – domestic, agricultural and industrial – structured as racial servitude.
Violence built a system of racial appropriation, exploitation and exclusion, and violence sustained it.
The sequence of popular organisation and struggle that began in Durban in the early 1970s moved into the Soweto revolt and then the growing power of the trade union movement.
The urban insurrection that followed in the 1980s, often organised by or in the name of the United Democratic Front, raised the possibility of radical democracy, popular power and deep structural transformation.
But an alliance between contending elites, backed by imperialism, was able to take the initiative in the early 1990s and follow the broad outlines of the standard path towards liberal democracy developed at the end of the Cold War.
The people were thanked for their service, given rights on paper and sent home.
The ANC in power moved swiftly to co-opt or dissolve grassroots organisations, while union leaders were brought into the new circuits of state, corporate and party power.
It was able to begin to make progress towards the deracialisation of the middle class and elites through enabling legislation and other forms of regulation.
Later on, a new class of politically connected elites became wealthy – sometimes massively wealthy – by appropriating public funds. Impoverishment and inequality worsened.
When new social movements like the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign and the Landless People’s Movement emerged at the turn of the century, they were met with paranoia and repression.
When popular protest, usually organised through road blockades marked out with burning tyres, began to become a ubiquitous backdrop to everyday life from 2004, protesters were murdered by the police at a steady clip.
When a movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, emerged from these protests, it was met with slander, assault, arrest, torture and murder.
When workers on the platinum mines struck outside of the authority of a co-opted union in 2012, they were massacred.
The ANC was committed to opening access to elite spaces, but it showed no commitment to fundamentally transforming society in the interests of the majority.
The question of who has access to the fortified nodes of wealth was, and remains, intensely contested.
The question of what happens to the people locked out remains largely ignored, apart from empty and often cynical rhetorical gestures.
Where there have been advances, such as the expansion of the grants system or the antiretroviral rollout, they were not aimed at achieving anything beyond sustaining bare life.
RDP houses were smaller and more poorly constructed than the township houses built under apartheid, and often extended rather than contested the logic of colonial spatial planning.
A non-viable society
There is no commitment to the flourishing of the majority, let alone to a fundamental shift in political and economic power.
As grants come in, the money is taken to the supermarkets, to white capital.
The state has not even bothered to undertake a project as basic as serious urban land reform and support for small-scale farming cooperatives and markets that would allow impoverished people to grow their own food and sell it to each other.
Across space and time, very high rates of unemployment, especially among young people, have led to major social upheaval, sometimes taking progressive forms and sometimes marked by an attraction to authoritarianism and a will to scapegoat vulnerable minorities.
South Africa is not a viable society for a large proportion of the people who live here, and if history is a reliable guide to the future, something will have to give.
The question is what gives – and what comes next?
Will an authoritarian figure bent on displacing the crisis onto migrants step into the breach?
Will our politics throw up more of the sort of crude chauvinists who took the recent by-elections in Eldorado Park? Will we have to endure our own Trump or Bolsonaro?
Will there be a long stasis in which the impoverished majority is governed with escalating violence as the better-off take what they can before getting out?
Or will there be new forms of democratic popular power able to make some progress towards bending the state to their will, disciplining capital and insisting that every life be counted as a life?
None of these possibilities are foreclosed, and there are many more.
But what is certain is that most of our people are young and urban, and most of them are without work.
No social force will be able to decisively shape our future without the participation or sanction of these people.
21 OCT 19 :: The New Economy of Anger
Nose-diving economic opportunity is creating tinder-dry conditions
Paul Virilio pronounced in his book Speed and Politics,
“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words, a producer of speed.’’
The Phenomenon is spreading like wildfire in large part because of the tinder dry conditions underfoot. Prolonged stand-offs eviscerate economies, reducing opportunities and accelerate the negative feed- back loop.