September 05, 2013
By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA
South Africans on September 2 welcomed Nelson Mandela’s discharge from a hospital after nearly three months of treatment amid concerns that his health remains so poor that he still must receive intensive care at home.
An ambulance returned the 95-year-old leader of the anti-apartheid movement to his home in the leafy Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton on Sunday. The office of South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela remains in critical and sometimes unstable condition and will receive the same level of care that he did in the hospital, administered by the same doctors.
Authorities kept a large contingent of journalists away from the entrance to Mandela’s house, and police patrolled tree-lined streets in the area. Some grandchildren and other relatives of the former leader visited the home, but did not comment to the media.
When Mandela was hospitalized, many people left written tributes outside the perimeter wall of his home, turning the area into a makeshift shrine. Most of the messages were later removed.
“If he’s back at home, I’m feeling free,” said Harrison Phiri, a gardener. “He’s the father of the nation.”
Thembisa Mbolambi, another Johannesburg resident, also expressed satisfaction that Mandela had left the hospital in Pretoria, describing him as “the man who offered himself for us.”
The Star, a South African newspaper, carried a headline that read, “Madiba At Home,” referring to Mandela by his clan name. The newspaper noted that "worries over infection persist.”
A headline in The New Age newspaper was more upbeat: “World joy for Mandela.”
Mandela was admitted to the hospital on June 8 for what the government described as a recurring lung infection. Legal papers filed by his family said he was on life support, and many South Africans feared he was close to death.
Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is viewed around the world as a powerful figure of reconciliation. Despite being jailed for his prominent role in opposing white racist rule, Mandela was seemingly free of rancor on his release in 1990 after 27 years in prison.
He became a unifying leader who led South Africa through a delicate transition to all-race elections that propelled him to the presidency in 1994.
September 05, 2013
By ARLEY PETESCH
A splinter group has been formed within Nigeria's ruling party by a former presidential candidate and seven governors who want more action against poverty and crime, one of the governors said Monday, in the first major internal challenge to the president since he was elected in 2011.
Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the governor of the southern Rivers state, told reporters that they hope to "transform from just a party that presents a candidate to a party with certain ideology."
He said the new group within the ruling People's Democratic Party, or PDP, wants the government to do more to fight poverty and insecurity as well as improve education.
"If you don't deal with poverty, you have insecurity," Amaechi said. "If you remove impunity then you don't have anything to worry about."
The governors made their move during a weekend convention by President Goodluck Jonathan's party, which has won every election since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999 and democracy was restored. The final trigger for the splinter group came amid an internal fight to fill vacant positions within an influential committee of the ruling party.
Another senior party member, former interim PDP leader Kawu Baraje, said on Saturday that it was their "sacred responsibility to save the PDP from the antics of a few desperadoes who have no democratic temperament and are therefore bent on hijacking the party for selfish ends."
Amaechi insisted, however, that they remain part of the PDP.
"I think the splintering itself is generally a positive thing," said Raufu Mustapha, a Nigerian lecturer on African politics at the University of Oxford in England. "The party's power was beginning to threaten the quality of democratic expression in the country, so anything to strangle that threat is a good thing."
Mustapha said tension within the ruling party had been festering for some time, and called it a struggle for power rather than an ideological contest "because most of them are cut from the same cloth." But they have started an important debate and some represent change, he added.
The governors lead states that tend to have high voter turnout in elections, presenting a challenge to the current leadership of the party. Nigeria, which has a population of more than 160 million, holds elections in 2015.
Jonathan, who as vice president came to power after President Umar Yar'Adua died in 2010, has not said if he will run again. He would face the challenge of a coalition of three opposition parties.
Some northern politicians within the ruling party don't want Jonathan, a southerner and a Christian, to run for a second four-year term, objecting that northerners were cheated of their turn at the presidency when Yar'Adua died.
Analysts say there is an unwritten agreement within the ruling party that power must be shared between the north and the south and a northern president should be succeeded by a southerner in order to balance power in Africa's most populous nation.
Nigeria is divided about equally between Muslims who dominate the north and Christians who live mainly in the south.
Traditional rivalries between Christians and Muslims have intensified because of an Islamic uprising in Nigeria's northeast. The Boko Haram terrorist network is accused of killing more than 1,700 civilians since 2010, according to a count by The Associated Press.
September 05, 2013
By RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI
DIRGIN, Texas — Ida Finley smiles wistfully, recalling how she used to cook for an entire East Texas community — nearly all descendants of slaves. The children would grab cornbread, greens and cookies from her kitchen while their parents grew vegetables in a tiny creekside village hidden among pine forests.
“It’s been so long,” she muses, gazing at old photos that dot the walls of her nursing home room some 30 miles from Dirgin.
Now, just weeks from her 102nd birthday, Finley faces the prospect of losing the land worked by her husband and his parents, slaves who toiled for a master.
For three years, Luminant Mining Co. has tried to purchase this 9.1-acre plot, which is currently owned by a bevy of relatives spread across the country. The company owns more than 75 percent of the parcel but can’t mine it because of a complex inheritance arrangement and the refusal of some family members to let go or accept Luminant’s offer.
Luminant says it has negotiated fairly with the owners, offering them more than the land’s appraised value, plus full compensation to Ida Finley and her granddaughter for homes they have on the land, which the company says they do not legally own. For the first time in its history, Luminant has sued some of the heirs, asking a court to equitably divide the land or force a settlement.
And some of the Finleys are gearing up for a fight.
“I don’t want to sell my family’s land. If I were to sell it, they would have to offer me a huge amount of money,” said Kay Moore, a Fairfield, Calif., woman who says Luminant offered her $3,000 for her piece of property, which the company says is 1/20 of the remainder.
“It belongs to me, and I’m not willing to part with that,” she added, recalling horseback riding trips and meals at Aunt Ida’s.
The company has acknowledged the family’s emotional ties to the land and said in a statement that it “strived for consistency from owner to owner to maintain our credibility. Most people found our offers to be more than fair.”
In many ways, the family’s story is about a way of life that disappeared long ago and a town 150 miles east of Dallas that has vanished into modernity.
Brushing the wispy white hairs from Ida Finley's forehead is her granddaughter, Jacquelin Finley — a force behind the battle against Luminant and for preserving something from those long-gone days. Still living on the property in a decaying trailer with patched siding, Jacquelin remembers Dirgin before Luminant’s predecessor built the nearby reservoir. This is where Ida Finley, known to her family simply as Big Momma, raised her children and grandchildren and buried her husband.
In the early 1800s, Dirgin, like much of East Texas, consisted of large cotton plantations worked by slaves. In 1865, when the Civil War ended, Union soldiers entered Texas for the first time. The slaves were freed, and some masters sold or gave them land.
Ida Finley says “Old Man Martin,” the master, gave her husband’s parents more than 100 acres. Luminant says its records show the family bought the land from two Confederate Army veterans. Either way, sometime in the late 1880s, the Finleys came to own land in Dirgin. Living alongside them were other former slave families: the Menefees, Humphreys, Petersons, Barrs and Reeses among them.
When those Finleys — Dick and Puss — died, they left no will, and the parcel was evenly divided among their five children, including Ida’s husband, Adolphus.
Ida and Adolphus lived in a small white house with a front porch and a backyard dotted with fruit trees and a basketball hoop. After the crops were harvested, the children played baseball in the cleared fields. On Sundays, they went to church — either in a wagon or by foot.
“It was the best of times,” said Jacquelin Finley, who went to live with her grandparents in the early 1960s, when she was a baby.
In the 1970s, life changed.
Just as Jacquelin Finley was bused from Mayflower Elementary to a newly desegregated school in nearby Tatum, Luminant’s predecessor moved into the area. It had its eye on a multimillion dollar prize hidden deep beneath the green grass and pine trees: a low grade of coal known as lignite. To profit from it, the company had to uproot trees and build a power plant.
The company bought land. Ida Finley remembers the pressure applied on her husband, who finally sold 9.5 acres for $1,000 — the equivalent today of just over $4,300.
Feeling duped, he spent his final years sitting on his front porch gazing bitterly at the nearby reservoir that had flooded his land. Barely two years later, he died.
“That bothered him all those years until he died,” Jacquelin Finley said. “That’s my anger. Do I have a right to be angry? Yes. I want to see them go down.”
Life went on, though. The power plant was built. People moved away. The church congregations shrunk. Some of the Finleys remained, including Ida and Jacquelin. The crops were gone, but Ida's little white house bustled.
Then, about three years ago, Luminant came knocking. The company needed to expand the mine to meet Texas’ growing energy demands.
The company said that because Ida’s husband died without a will, their children owned the land, and they had sold it to Luminant.
Under Texas law, when a landowner dies without a will, a surviving spouse receives the right to live on part of the land, but ownership passes to blood relatives, usually children.
Ida Finley, Luminant said, owned only the house, its porch now hanging forlornly near overgrown weeds, the steps broken and rotting. The quaint siding is broken and cracked. Looters scattered pictures, stuffed animals, Christmas ornaments, letters, shoes and clothing across the dusty floor, making off with more valuable items, like a refrigerator. Luminant says it offered Ida money for the home, but she declined.
Jacquelin Finley said Sunday that initially the company only offered her a new trailer but in recent days, through her mother, also offered an acre of land. Luminant denies that account, saying she only owns the trailer she lives in and that the company offered her a new trailer and an acre elsewhere toward the beginning of the negotiations. Either way, Jacquelin has declined to accept it, and doesn’t want to move. And for now Luminant can't force her.
Looking recently at the dirt patch and pile of rubble that remains of the Methodist church she attended as a child, Jacquelin said Luminant would have to give her at least $1 million to leave — enough, she estimates, to fix her grandmother’s house and care for her there.
“It’s like I’m going against the world, and they’re the world because they own everything,” she said.
August 29, 2013
By Eric E. Vickers
Special to the NNPA from the St. Louis American
If Islam is ever to be understood and appreciated by Americans, then Muslims will need to stop trying to convince them that it is a “religion of peace.” Having just completed my 35th Ramadan – the month of fasting – I find it neither representative of nor true to the faith to portray it in any way as passive.
If America is to reap the vitality that Islam can offer a society, then Americans will have to look beyond Muslim terrorists to see a religion that blossomed in a remarkably short span of time from one man’s vision in a cave to the world superpower that conquered the Persian and Byzantine empires and brought enlightenment to Europe. To understand this history as a continuing spiritual phenomenon, Americans will need to understand the religion’s founder, Muhammad, and the text he brought, the Qur’an.
The quote attributed to Jesus in the Book of Matthew provides an apt description of Muhammad’s life: “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword.” It was 600 years after the time of Christ and during Ramadan – the ninth month in the Islamic (lunar) calendar – that Muhammad, a 40-year-old Arab businessman, while meditating in a cave about the greed and corruption in society, had a revelation that he was called to preach the oneness of God.
This brought him enmity from his fellow Arabs, who were polytheists; from the Christians who taught that Jesus was God; and from the Jews who rejected the prophecy of Jesus.
It also brought him intense enmity from the political and business leaders, who saw him as detrimental to Mecca remaining a hub of world commerce and were insulted by his message that their wealth and power was no match for God.
After 13 years of preaching the Qur’an, which Muhammad maintained was just him reciting the word revealed to him by God like previous prophets, his persecution in Mecca became such that he was forced to flee. He and a companion escaped to a cave just ahead of a group of assassins who had come to kill him, and during his 200- mile desert journey to the City of Medina his pursuers were uncannily thwarted.
In Medina, Muhammad established a community constituted on the Qur’an, whose 114 chapters, called Suras, were recited by him over a 23- year period. The Qur’an, which says throughout, that it is meant for all mankind, touches on every aspect of life, including property, marital, inheritance and contract rights, the manner of prayer, caring for the poor, and even how to argue with adversaries.
Sura VIII describes how two years after Muhammad and his followers had settled in Medina, God called them to go to war. It was Ramadan, and Muhammad’s ill-equipped army numbering 300 decisively and surprisingly defeated a vastly superior army of over a thousand, with the Ethiopian Muslim, Bilal, slaying on the battlefield his former slave master.
Muhammad Assad describes how the permanent psychological effect of this war has profoundly shaped history in his transliteration of the Qur’an:
“The spirit of passive sacrifice, so characteristic of their [Muslims’] earlier days, received its compliment in the idea of sacrifice through action,” Assad writes.
“The doctrine of action as the most fundamental, creative element of life was, perhaps for the first time in the history of man, consciously realized not only by a few select individuals but by a whole community; and the intense activism, which was to distinguish Muslim history in the coming decades and centuries was a direct, immediate consequence of the battle of Badr.”
What Americans need to understand is that since the battle of Badr 14 centuries ago, acting against injustice is dearer to a Muslim than peace.
Eric E. Vickers is a board member of the American Muslim Alliance.