Nelson Mandela’s legacy looms large over South Africa. Everyone agrees that his death will mean something significant to the country, but few agree on what that will be. Mandela’s death on December 5 left behind a country still rife with painful inequalities, an African National Congress no longer bolstered by their famed leader and a new generation of “born frees” who have never known the pain of apartheid though they live its aftermath every day.

South Africa’s Persistent Inequalities

Though it has made huge strides since the end of apartheid, South Africa continues to be plagued by massive racial inequalities.

Between 2001 and 2011, the annual income of black households nearly tripled while percentages of the adult black population who have completed high school have grown and are continuing to do so. There has even been an increasing, if only by a tiny amount, segment of the black population going to college. These numbers seem to represent real progress, until they are compared to the statistics for whites. In 2001, white households earned an average of $17,000 more than black households, a disparity that grew to $30,000 by 2011. And while a national increase in high school education for blacks certainly represents some positive change, this is a barrier most whites, who have also attended college at higher rates than blacks since apartheid ended, will never face. Unemployment among young black people is, furthermore, at an all time high. Such statistics make it clear that there is much more work to be done.

ANC at the Polls

With the loss of its most beloved leader, the ANC may be facing its most competitive election yet. The party, which came to power in 1994 with Mandela’s election, has lost its “biggest link to its glorious past,” says William Gumede, the author of numerous articles and a book concerning the ANC.

Despite his retirement from politics, many believed Mandela to still be involved in the decision-making of the party which allowed the ANC to enjoy the electoral bump that the legend provided for many years. Now, without him, the party is forced to confront the staggering economic and social inequalities that they have done little to eradicate. Not only are allegations of corruption abound, but the party has been unable to both alleviate unemployment and reduce crime rates.

Moreover, it is likely than many disillusioned ANC supporters will accept how far the party has fallen from its revolutionist ideals now that Mandela has died. Some predict that the weakened party will splinter and fall out of favor. As the ANC is proving, in many ways, to be an inadequate leader of South African democracy, perhaps a change is necessary.

Born Frees: The Next Generation of South Africans

The “born frees,” as the generation born at the end or after apartheid are called, make up about 40% of South Africa’s population according to census data. As one of the largest population segments, their views on the future of the country have the potential to change much of it.

Many born frees feel that the best way to honor Mandela is to focus on the future of South Africa instead of dwelling in the past. They often resent the frequent references to apartheid from their elders, wanting instead to address the problems currently facing the country. Such focus tends to cause tension with older generations, who often feel born frees are too distanced from the harsh realities of apartheid to fully understand the importance of political involvement.

“It’s not a matter of not understanding apartheid; it’s just a matter of us having different challenges,” Akhumzi Jezile, a 24-year-old producer, television personality and speaker, told the New York Times. Jezile cited youth-run efforts to reduce drug use, crime and HIV rates as evidence of changing priorities.

A 2012 Reconciliation Barometer report revealed changes in the born free generation that may hint at a changing social and political landscape for South Africa. The report found that born frees were more likely than older generations to be friends and socialize with people of a different race. The report also found that they were less likely to trust political leaders.

– Sarah Morrison

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times: A Test at the Polls, New York Times, New York Times,Real Truth

There is enough food in the world to feed everyone, but due to a variety of factors, global hunger persists. In fact, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO,) the world produces enough food for everyone to intake 2,700 calories a day, much more than the recommended 2,000.

Nevertheless, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry. The reason behind this is multifaceted. Astounding amounts of food are wasted due to poor transportation and storage infrastructure. Even more goes in the trash uneaten. A great deal of grain crops are used for bio-fuels and animal feedlots rather than starving people. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact hunger is caused by inequality.

How are people to combat this inequality? Countries such as Brazil and Ghana have shown success through raising their minimum wage, giving cash to poor people, and investing in small-scale farms. World hunger comes down to the fact that many people simply cannot afford food, with over a billion people living on $1 a day.

The history of poverty begins with globalization and colonialism. When land is privatized and controlled by the few, the majority of people are forced into selling their work for food. Land ownership in the hands of the few is the main cause that spurred income gaps throughout the world.

Colonies exploited the resources and land of their colonies and kept them saddled in debt by claiming ownership in order to maintain this advantage for the long run. Today, less than 25 percent of people use more than 80 percent of the world’s resources. This is a direct result of the economic repression that so many populations are under and have been under for hundreds of years.

Greed led to colonial powers gaining monopolies and establishing claims on resources that were not theirs. Greed led them to effectively enslaving their colonies under shackles of labor and heavy debt for land and resources that originally belonged to the colonies. Although there are many great NGOs and advocacy agencies that have brilliant ideas for solutions to global hunger, few acknowledge colonialism as the original foe, and lack of land ownership as the original problem.

Perhaps people can examine this complex issue more clearly if they perceive it as a parable. In a sun-drenched country, men live peaceful lives on their own farms. One day, a greedy man takes over, burning all their farms and forcing them to work for him. This man builds one massive farm, and exploits their labor and pushes growth, seeking to eat up the rest of the smaller farms in the land. In the end, he is the one who gets all the profits, while the rest barely survive.

This is not a story anyone wants to hear, but it is one that has been in action for centuries. Let us acknowledge this past and seek ways to start a new story.

Jordan Schunk

Sources: Alternet, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post

It is no secret that the concerns and rights of ethnic minorities in China fall to the wayside in favor of the Han, the ethnicity with the majority in the country. Inner Mongolia serves as an example of the cultural and economic strife caused by marginalizing one group over another. The result is what the Mongol minority believes is outright economic exclusion and the watering down of their culture.

One of the key issues within the region is the migration of the indigenous nomads from their native grasslands to the cities. The Chinese government waves off the migration as a move into modernity for the nomads. A removal from what Chinese authorities refer to as a “backward” culture, but as Nick Holdstock of the U.K. Independent points out, the natives have no say whatsoever when it comes to moving to the cities. This outflow of ethnic Mongolians to urban centers has raised fears among Mongolians that their culture, language and lifestyle are being threatened.

Another point of tension lies in the regional mining of rare-earth metals. Various mining companies have entered the region to take advantage of the lucrative prospects, especially since the value of these metals is demonstrated in their ubiquity among high-tech electronics. However, the mining has been accompanied by a degradation of the surrounding environment as well as the health of the nomads.

For example, the town of Baotou, a major mining hub, has seen its groundwater polluted to toxic levels, their crops ruined and much of their livestock destroyed. Moreover, the use of underground water sources, essential to the removal of impurities from the coal, has lessened the water available to crops and livestock. Many farmers, unable to deal with destruction of their livelihood, have moved away. The Guardian points out that the population within the surrounding villages of the Baotou plants has decreased dramatically. Those that have remained in the area are plagued by severe illness.

All of these factors have coalesced, creating serious economic problems for the ethnic minority. Environmental devastation of their grasslands has degraded some of the main forms of their economic livelihood; the mining industry in the region tends to hire workers from other provinces, excluding the nomads from many of the economic benefits the industry might bring.  Furthermore, those who have migrated to urban areas have discovered cultural barriers to finding gainful employment, namely an inability to speak passable Mandarin.

Tensions have, moreover, reached the point of violence in some instances. In 2011, a herder was killed by a passing coal truck when he attempted to prevent coal trucks from crossing into his land during his protest against the mining industry. Several days later another protester was killed by a forklift driver. Tensions finally boiled over and several thousand Mongolians went out to voice their opposition toward the mining activities.

Unfortunately, the case of Inner Mongolia is a harsh reminder among ethnic minorities in China of their second-class citizen status. Perhaps in time, the Chinese government will listen to the voices of protest among the disenfranchised minority groups that populate many rural areas throughout China. Until then, Mongolians and other ethnicities face major economic and cultural challenges.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian
Fabio Ghioni

On October 17, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was celebrated in honor of the goal to end world poverty by 2030. Declared by the UN General Assembly, this annual day serves as a reminder to promote the need to end poverty and destitution in all countries, specifically the developing nations.

In celebration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Interaction, the NGO alliance, highlighted global programs that are already making an impact. One of these programs, A World Vision program in Zambia, has made health care, education, and psycho-social support accessible for more than a quarter million children. The program has also trained nearly 40,000 volunteers to assist people living with HIV across the country. It is programs like these, indeed, that are helping us reach our goal.

In hope to get to zero percent by our lifetime, NGOs, like Interaction, are essential parts of the solution. “We cannot let over a billion people suffer in extreme poverty when we have the tools and the research to change their lives for the better. … We can do better. We have to do better,” said World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.

So far, the world has made significant progress in working toward this goal. While it is bold, it is undoubtedly achievable. Already, extreme poverty rates are half of what they were two decades ago. In 1990, nearly one in two people in the developing world lived in “extreme poverty” or on less than $1.25 a day. Today, this number is about one in five. Because of the help of many institutions, government and nongovernment organizations alike, we have been able to make immense developments. Still, it is not enough. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty recognizes these groups that have made all the difference through these years and even further, motivates people to help take those next few steps forward.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources: UN, Global Dimension, Devex
Photo: Times Square

It’s hard to say exactly how much of an impact a photo can have. At the risk of cliché, I won’t say that a picture is worth 1,000 words. Imagine seeing hundreds of photographs that detail not only a child’s appearance and age, but also the place they call their own – where they sleep.

James Mollison decided to take on that mission himself. A 40-year-old native of Kenya who grew up in England, Mollison had always been interested in art and design. He graduated from Oxford Brooks University and, later, Newport School of Art and Design with degrees in art, design, film, and photography. After attaining his degree, Mollison moved to Italy in order to work at Fabrica, Benetton’s communications research center and creative lab. This was where the idea for the Where Children Sleep Photography Project came about.

Among his other achievements and publications lies this creation, published in November 2010 – “stories of diverse children around the world, told through portraits and pictures of their bedroom.”

The aforementioned juxtaposition is exactly what Mollison longed to create, in order to point out the inequalities that exist all over the world. The two extremes he found most interesting were in a top-floor apartment in New York and a mud hut in Lesotho, Africa: the bedrooms of Jaime and Lehlohonolo.

Jamie went to a prestigious school in the area. He also had quite a hectic schedule filled with extracurricular activities such as judo, swimming, cello, and kickball. He would often study his finances on the Citibank website.

Lehlohonolo, in contrast, lived a highly different life. Along with his three brothers, who were AIDS orphans, he lived in a mud hut. The floor of this hut was where the boys would sleep, “cuddling up to each other for warmth during the freezing cold nights. Two of Lehlohonolo’s brothers walked to a school eight kilometers away where they are also given monthly rations of food -– cereal, pulses and oil. They couldn’t remember the last time they ate meat. Sadly, they will probably live in poverty for the rest of their lives because crops are difficult to grow on the infertile land and there are no prospects of employment. The vulnerability of these kids was very upsetting.”

When asked what he hoped people would take away from this collection of photos, Mollison said, “We tend to inhabit a small world of friends, family, work, school etc. I hope the book gives a glimpse into the lives some children are living in very diverse situations around the world; a chance to reflect on the inequality that exists, and realize just how lucky most of us in the developed world are.”

– Samantha Davis

Sources: New York Times BlogWhere Children SleepHuffington Post
Photo: Visual News

For most people, it is difficult to imagine the immense significance of an identification card, as it seems to be a common part of daily life.  However, without one, essential tasks become impossible. Without an ID, an individual cannot apply for a job. An individual cannot access medical care or educational records. An individual cannot open a bank account, drive, travel, or vote.

In South Africa, the transgender community is keenly aware of the struggles involved in life without an appropriate source of identification. Those who display a different gender presentation from their originally assigned one are constantly humiliated and debased because of this exact discrepancy. Many even face verbal or physical abuse.

In light of this gross inequality, many transgender and inter-sex activists — both nationally and internationally — have campaigned the South African government to overturn their strict and inhumane laws regarding gender changes and identification cards. Before 2003, these aforementioned laws had made a legally recognized gender change in South Africa impossible. That year, Parliament passed “Act 49,” which elucidated the process in which one might legally be able to make such a change.

The act made a medical report mandatory for such a change, but did not require any sort of genital surgery, a process that remains precarious and unfeasible for many in the transgender community.  If the application were to be denied, the Act stipulated that written reasons needed to be provided, and even further, appeals would be possible.

However, in 2013, ten years after “Act 49” passed, little tangible progress has been made in providing proper identification for transgender and intersex individuals. These communities point to the continuing denial of safeguards provided by “Act 49.”

Applicants have waited years for responses from the application process, meanwhile facing the severe inequalities that exist for an individual lacking a tenable identification card. Upon inquiring in regards to their application status, many inter-sex and transgender individuals have faced endless hostilities. When denied, the sanctioned written response detailing the basis of the decision rarely comes.

The changes made to provide basic rights and human services to the transgender and inter-sex communities of South Africa have been legislatively approved. The political fight has ended.

However, in order to provide true equality for all of its citizens, the South African government must, by law, fulfill its promises.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Humanity in Action
Photo: My Broadband

The longest war to date in contemporary American history is the war with Afghanistan. With interests building the fresh battlefields of Syria and Lebanon, American public consciousness has all but forgotten its government’s role in the Afghani conflict and the state of civilians caught in the crossfire. Malalai Joya, a women’s rights activist and former member of the Afghani parliament, has come to the forefront, however, with her refusal to remain silent concerning the turmoil in her country.

Joya’s story is one for the books. In the official rhetoric, writes the Independent, is everything we’ve been fighting for. Casting off the burka and running against religious fundamentalists, Malalai has experienced seven assassination attempts due to her efforts to provide underground education for girls and speak out against the warlords that are tearing her beloved country apart.

“I don’t fear death,” she states plainly, “I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice. I am young, and I want to live.” And to those looking to kill her: “I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can keep the coming of the spring.”

Joya’s activism has made her a target for both the Taliban and the U.S. sponsored regime in Afghanistan. She lives underground and never leaves her home without an armed escort. Attempts on her life have included bombs hidden in her path and the raining of gunfire at unexpected times. She says she’s been lucky to escape, and even though the assassination attempts only seem to be getting closer to their goal, she refuses to back down.

Joya’s passion includes freedom from oppression, and she fights unceasingly for Afghani women and education. She claims hundreds of schools have been closed because of a lack of security and that teachers have been kidnapped, raped, and even beheaded. There are numerous unreported examples of girls who’ve had acid thrown on their faces or been raped on their way to school.

“When we are ruled by misogynists and warlords, how can we expect the education for girls will improve?” Joya argued, “They know educated women have their own identities.”

She’s not far from the truth. 25 percent of parliamentary seats in Afghanistan belong to women, but women’s rights continuously suffer. Women that are the heads of major NGOs have obtained fame and wealth from the occupation by the puppet Mafia regime and have turned into “NGO-lords” themselves, according to Joya.

With no one to defend Afghani women, Malalai Joya has taken it upon herself and garnered media attention around the world for the positive changes she pushes for. While she doesn’t harbor contempt for U.S. and NATO involvement, she argues that it could only benefit Afghanistan if the United States stopped empowering warlords that have been cloaked in the disguise of democracy.

But Malalai has hope for her country. She’s a firm believer that, eventually, peaceful Afghani citizens will rise from the oppression and be freed of the shackles of both the warlords and foreign powers with geopolitical interest in the region.

“One day, we will win,” she says, “and that is why I will not leave Afghanistan. We can liberate ourselves.”

– Janki Kaswala

Sources: Vice, Independent
Photo: The Telegraph

Of all the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN, those pertaining to the reproductive health of women seem most likely to be unmet when the 2015 deadline hits. Whatever the other MDG successes, the failure to meet the reasonable objectives set for women should be remembered as a defining symbol of the UN’s ability to get things done in 2015. The issue of reproductive health in and of itself is insufficient to merit that reaction, but it does stand as a weather-vane to all kinds of gender-related issues; it points to a future of injustice.

The Millennium Development Goals in question were meant to achieve universal reproductive health and reduce maternal mortality rates by 75 percent of their 1990 levels. Currently, the rates remain double their intended 2015 targets. As Eva Joly, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Development, observed, “It is a failure of the fight against poverty…but it is also linked to other questions.”

The “questions” which have stymied progress on the issue are mainly cultural in nature. Throughout the world, for many hundreds or even thousands of years, women have been viewed as an inferior sex, in some times and places ranking below valued animals such as horses. From the spatial organization of public and private spaces and places, the norms of social interaction, and the ratio of economic independence, to acceptable activities, clothing, and even mentality, women have long been the second sex.

In failing to keep its MDGs, the UN is not only harming today and tomorrow’s women biologically, it fails to make any headway in provoking a cultural revolution which will allow women to be recognized as equally valuable human beings.

Such sentiments may be senseless to men living in particularly sexist cultures. Indeed, there is a strong argument to make for abstaining from building a homogenous global culture which, conveniently enough, is predicated on modern, Western values, and sees all deviation from that standard as unhealthy, unjust, and immoral. Cultural diversity makes humanity strong, and those who pine for days of a culturally unified humanity may wish to second-guess some of their assumptions.

But the UN has made it clear that it does not intend to allow some cultures to continue to exist according to their traditional ways if those traditions conflict with what the UN perceives to be universal rights. And in that light, the UN has failed to convince these disparate cultures that the lives of their women are worth the cost to be saved from death or trauma in childbirth.

When 2015 comes around, the UN will doubtlessly celebrate their many achievements, as well they should. The effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals has been well spent, and many of the results from it are incontrovertibly good. But the UN should not forget that in this major arena, it has failed.

– Alex Pusateri

Sources: Euractiv, The Atlantic, AWID
Photo: The Gaurdian

Unicef Putting Last First Child Millenium Goals
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), putting the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach children first will speed up progress towards achieving the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Since their adoption in 2000, the MDGs have achieved huge results for children around the world, and have helped guide global and national priorities. Thanks to these global and national efforts, mortality rates for children under five have been halved, fewer people live in poverty, less women die in childbirth, and 2.1 billion people gained access to clean drinking water between 1990 and 2011.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, said that while these successes should be celebrated, the focus should now be on the millions of children who are still left behind. “It is unacceptable that poverty, gender, and geographic location so often determine whether a child will love or die, be able to go to school or grow up uneducated,” said Lake.

Nearly 6.6 million children under the age of five died in 2012, or roughly 18,000 children per day. Most of these deaths were due to preventable causes. If this current trend holds, the fourth MDG will not be met until 2028. This means that an additional 35 million children will die between 2015 and 2028.

The UNICEF-supported global movement—”Committing to Child Survival: A Promise Renewed”—is mobilizing political commitment and civil society partners in an effort to turn the promise of the MDGs into action.

Worldwide, 99 million children under five years old are underweight, and 162 million children are stunted or chronically malnourished. UNICEF plays a major role in the Scaling-Up Nutrition (SUN) movement that works with numerous countries in developing national plans to tackle malnutrition.

More children than ever are attending primary school, but, in 2011, a reported 57 million children of primary school age were not in school. More than half of these children lived in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, fewer girls are enrolled in secondary school than boys.

UNICEF plays an additional major role in the Global Partnership for Education. This partnership consists of 60 developing countries, donor governments, international organizations, and additional partners. The partnership develops and implements sound education practices, as well as mobilizes resources to enroll more children in school.

“Children are not only the inheritors of the planet. They will actively shape its future,” said Lake. The survival, health, education, and well-being of children are, indeed, essential for sustainable development and prosperity.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: UNICEF, The World Bank, Child Info, World Food Programme
Photo: Marquetteducator

With the world population expected to double by 2050, food security will continue to be an increasingly complicated and important issue. More food will be needed to feed more people and, to preserve vital biodiversity sites, we’ll need to produce this additional food using land already devoted to agriculture. While there are many factors that could improve agricultural efficiency, genetically modified crops hold the most potential. Many scientists now believe that transgenic plants could help prevent or minimize future food shortages.

Transgenic plants are those that possess an inserted portion of DNA either from a different member of their own species or from an entirely different species. The inserted DNA serves some special purpose, such as allowing the plant to produce natural insecticides. Once the genes are transferred, they can be passed on to offspring through simple fertilization, allowing farmers to breed advantageous traits in their plants. Transgenic plants have proven extremely profitable in the developed world, accounting for a 5% to 10% increase in productivity, and reducing the cost of herbicides and insecticides.

Such methods could effectively increase productivity in the developing world, where a surge in food production is sorely needed. Developing countries, especially those in the tropics and subtropics, suffer severe crop losses due to pests, diseases, and poor soil conditions. In addition, a lack of financial capital often prevents farmers from investing in high quality seeds, insecticides, and fertilizers. Poor post-harvest conditions such as inadequate storage facilities and thriving fungi and insect populations also fuel crop loss. Currently, pests destroy over half the world’s crop production. Transgenic plants could provide an innovative solution.

Fortunately, bioengineering solutions can be easily adapted from one species to another, allowing one advancement in plant biotechnology to quickly produce many more. For example, insect-resistant strains of several important plant species have been produced using one specific endotoxin. Commercial production of insect-resistant maize, potato, and cotton has already begun. Plant bioengineers hope to use similar technology to create fruits that ripen more slowly, allowing for longer shelf lives and less post-harvest crop loss.

It is important to note that this technology has mostly been established with the developed world in mind. Therefore, adapting it for use in the developing world must be done carefully. For instance, many crops grown in the developing world are local varieties and have not been extensively tested thus far by plant bioengineers. Blindly replacing local crops with bioengineered varieties from the developed world could disturb deep social or religious traditions that are represented in the widely varied cultures in the developing world. Additionally, societies are more likely to embrace a familiar crop than a foreign one. Research and development in bioengineering must, therefore, adapt to include the crops of the developing world.

Although the globe produces enough food for everyone, people everywhere continue to die of starvation. With this unequal distribution in mind, it is imperative that, moving forward, small farmers in the developing world receive the same access to plant biotechnology given to large agribusinesses in the developed world. First-world corporations cannot be granted even more unfair advantages over small landholders in poorer nations, especially as global populations grow and food security becomes ever more scarce and important. As this technology is developed, it is up to us to share it with the developing world in order to minimize severe food shortages in the years to come.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: Plant Physiology, Colorado State University
Photo: Tree Hugger