Walls: Useful for some, divisive for others?

While some historical walls such as the Berlin Wall, an enduring symbol of the Cold War and built to stem mass migration into West Berlin, have been taken down, more walls still exist, or are in the early stages of being built. This includes, just to mention a few, the Peace wall, a barrier in Northern Ireland that aims since 1969 to curb violence between the Catholic and nationals in Belfast and Derry, and related places like the Mexico-United States barrier, preventing illegal crossing from Mexico into the United States of America (USA) and vice-versa, where new US-president Donald Trump aims to build a huge wall in the near future.

Visible Walls
Walls, in a literal meaning of the word are associated to continuous vertical bricks or stones with which its structure encloses an area of land, communicate matters of protection and privacy. They also can communicate politically to matters like societal stratification, segregation and conflicts. These are then linked to political walls and are influencing actions of governing policies and strategies, directly or indirectly impacting those being governed.

Invisible Walls
Despite these existing case studies denoting visible walls, in the current contemporary time walls are by far invisible. These are intangible walls embedded in societies and act as physical walls. They are obstacles that people experience and to a larger extend date back or are impacted by history, requiring holistic approaches to tackle them. These invisible walls are controversies like social injustices, prejudices, poverty, maladministration, discrimination and racism. I define “invisible walls” as uncertainties or difficulties that people face in different places which are unjust.

Questions / Fragen: Which walls do you know?/ Welche Mauern kennen Sie? and: Why is it necessary to still have the Berlin Wall as a memorial? / Warum ist es immer noch notwendig, die Berliner Mauer als Denkmal zu erhalten?

Walls in the South Africa

After 23 Years of Democracy
Born in 1991, I am a generation experiencing the aftermath of South Africa’s turbulent history, now 23 years after the end of Apartheid. Like many young South Africa’s, there are many societal problems that fail being addressed, affecting many of us. Firstly, the Apartheid regime, a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination between 1948 and 1991 was a wall. Although not a physical one, this system made lives of black South Africans in the bottom line. That is, not being in favour of these people in daily interactions and engagements. Presently, as an invisible wall, the apartheid history communicates the stains left in black South African communities and lives, affecting the present generation and likely to affect the next coming one. My ethnographic analysis is that, the invisible matters [walls] yet visible when observing cultures, customs, habits and mutual differences are matters of an unrepresentative economy, gaps of equality, and persisting poverty.

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Restorative, violent, sad and uplifting: Kliptown, an old district in Soweto and presently a slum were many live in poverty. Photo taken in 2014.

My Experience back Home
I grew up in Soweto (Southern Western Townships) in Johannesburg. This is a community which prides itself with the historical victory that took place but, where poverty is very visible. Although afforded with basic needs such as water, electricity, state provided healthcare and education; many citizens are facing social instabilities. My own personal experiences includes living with an employed mother of four, going beyond all odds to be admitted to purse my university studies and seeing majority voices still not heard. Invisible walls in the South African context which play huge roles in impacting lives of people include prejudices, inequality and poverty.

Inequality
Inequality in South Africa, as an invisible wall manifests through socio-economic differences caused by race. Black South Africans are subject to not being part of shared wealth. For instances, the unequal income distribution, where the majority earn less, are striking reasons poverty will be long battle to win.

Prejudices
South Africa has built a set of liberties founded in it’s Constitution with sets of rights and duties for its citizens, also defining the structure of the government. Due to corruption and self interests, people are subject to prejudices. A relevant example of ongoing prejudices is when Penny Sparrow, a real estate agent called black South Africans “monkeys” after photos of New Year´s celebration on public beaches were published. This suggests that people in various societies still hold unfair opinions, which create continuous  assumptions that people of different races can still not be the same or are simply different. More cases such as homophobia and health prejudices such as HIV or AIDS are gradually there.

Poverty
Linked to socio-economic instabilities, prejudices, discrimination, and social injustices, poverty is an invisible wall continuing to limit and sideline black South Africans from liberating themselves to opportunities such as quality education, health services and general resources. These factors communicate the unchanged state of living in South Africa and more importantly, that the voices of majority of people are still unheard.

Walls in Germany

Questions / Fragen: Who profits from building walls? / Wer profitiert davon, Mauern zu bauen? and: What are the positive aspects of walls? / Was sind die positiven Aspeke von Mauern? 

The Berlin Wall
Currently, I am living in Potsdam, Germany to do a one year federal voluntary service, volunteering at a Waldorf Kindergarten in Berlin. Before I left Johannesburg in September 2016, I have been learning German for 18 while working in education oriented non-governmental organisations as a primary school tutor, alongside pursuing both journalism and activism projects.

New Walls
Even though the Berlin Wall came down 28 years ago, remains of it can still be visited – there is for example the East Side Gallery, but also the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer. These remains of the physical wall, which actually had been around 160 km long, function today as reminders of the atrocities of history. They speak the past, wall as an outcome/product of opposing world views/political convictions (Soviet Union and GDR with communism on the one side, and French, British and US-American alliterate with capitalistic convictions on the other side) and the Cold War, the Soviet Union and GDR aiming to isolate themselves. Today the remains of the Berlin Wall are used as a historical symbol for tourists and its citizens to show how a whole country, a city, families and friends had been divided, creating an emphasis of a society being different.

Question / Frage: Why do people build walls? / Warum bauen Menschen Mauern? 

Even though the wall came down and even though there are reminders in a form of monuments, again walls are being built. But not only visible, physical walls are being build on the border of the European Union – but also countries within the EU isolating themselves from the rest of the union – also invisible walls are emerging, especially in the broader scheme of things, with communities confronted with day-to-day challenges, to what extend can walls be perceived as threatening or useful when social issues suggest that there are more invisible walls than physical walls?

Refugees: Us and Them
During 2015 Germany welcomed an approximated 1 million immigrants, accommodating above 400 000 Syrian refugees escaping from grave disaster, in dire need of humanitarian assistance. This was a gesture of sympathy. Following conflicting views about long term disadvantages of accommodating refugees or not to, these discussions created walls in the heads of some people. Citizens either argued to the interest or need support of not, drawing conclusions of intending to either sideline these masses and always categorising arguments as “us” and “them”. It is within these arguments that historical elements reflecting the Berlin Wall are still present in society and the minds of people. For instance, invisible walls also in minds of people led to the rise of new right-wing parties like Altenative für Deutschland (AfD). Influenced by the past, arguments in the German society and thoughts people generally have communicate historic fears such as losing their economic power, protecting their interests; property, jobs, and often being threatened the invasion of new inhabitants.

My Experience in Germany
In the last 5 months of my stay, I have been confronted with uninformed assumptions about Africa from people. At least, in a community where people have unlimited resources such the internet, one can take an advantage to develop balanced perceptions. Thoughts of people, still perceiving Africa in less open minded ways mainly highlights the unchanging mentalities of Africa as less changing and improving and associated to inferior. Without disputing arguments of Africa as a continent in need of help and and generally termed as poor, many people create walls of seeing blackness as taboo, living in intolerance, discriminating and segregating stratifying African people to certain levels.

Realities about Walls
Related to the African Diaspora, Germany and South Africa have created similar invisible walls in their respective contexts. For instance, the xenophobic attacks, which caused a number of deaths and physical war zones in South Africa against other African natives was driven by threats of immigrants as they argue, taking their employment, taking over and changing communities. While in Germany these arguments have also been in place, showing fears in people’s views and ideas, these are contemporary walls communicating the past and reinventing similar voices to when the Berlin Wall operated.

Realities about walls are not limited only to these arguments, but are often built on arguments of security, privacy and protection, property and laws. Both visible and invisible walls are capable of either taking others in or others out, suppressing freedoms of thought, expression, dreams and travelling, for example. At first sight, walls might seem to be  benefititng and useful for at least one of the involved parties. But looking more closely at the issue, it becomes clear that walls actually do not serve anyone.

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7 USER-FRIENDLY TOOLS TO PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY ONLINE

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass — Image by © Images.com/Corbis

No communication is 100 percent secure. But, activists and journalists can be their own watchdogs when it comes to protecting their privacy online. For the past two weeks I have sought to look into tools which can be used to protect digital surveillance.

Activists in South Africa have raised concerns that state intelligence structures may be monitoring their activities. This is what commentator Jane Duncan terms as the ‘rise of the securocrats’, where South Africa’s security cluster is becoming increasingly powerful, secretive, and involved in political affairs of the country. Secrocrats is also defined as a military or police officer who holds an influential position in the government; an advocate of the close involvement of military and police officers in government.

While they have established instances that this could be happening in the country, civil society is playing a significant role to challenge the government on this matter.

Thanks to Right2Know  for challenging the state on calling for a new Inspector General for Intelligence (IGI) – the public protector of the spies – to be appointed urgently. R2K is a democratic activist driven organization, also known as a umbrella social movement under which are non-governmental organizations addressing issues that affect citizens such as social justice, electricity, labour issues, human rights, etc. Its mandate is to defend and advance the free flow of information necessary to meet people’s social, economic, political and ecological needs.

What does ‘monitoring’ mean?

According to Right2Know monitoring also used interchangeably as ‘surveillance and intelligence gathering’ is when state bodies are collecting information on the activities of an organization or individuals. There are several kinds of surveillance such as monitoring public websites such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook; news media; attending public meetings openly or posing as a member of the public during gatherings, people’s phone calls, electronic mails or Internet usage-sometimes called signals interception or “bugging”.

Nonetheless the list is endless but electronic surveillance is becoming more a popular as many people are establishing communication online more than in person. Electronic surveillance is hard to trance however, it is vital for journalists and activists to have mechanisms to protect their communication.

I have established seven user-friendly applications that can be used to build more private platforms online. These tools are Signal, TextSecure, RedPhone, MiniLock, Meet.Jit.si, Mailvelope and SpiderOak.

Signal

Signal  is a free and open source app that replaces your regular Short Messaging Service (SMS) messenger app, allowing you to send and receive SMS messages as normal, except that when texting other Signal users in your contact list, all messages are automatically encrypted. What does this mean? Encryption and decrypting content requires a complex password- known as a key-for authentication. Very often, this key is held by the company providing services such as email or  web hosting, so they have full access to your data. Governments can compel the company to hand over your information, or try to back into its servers to get direct access.

When texting non-Signal users you are given the option to invite them to Signal, or can simply send a message as normal via (unencrypted) SMS. Note that in the past TextSecure allowed users to send encrypted messages over SMS (as opposed to the internet), but this feature was removed from TextSecure due to lack of interest, and is not present in Signal.) Signal is works like TextSecure and RedPhone as Open Whisper Systems released Signal app for iOS that combines the functionality of TextSecure and RedPhone, making it a compatible app for iPhones.

This means that existing Android users will find TextSecure app automatically updated to Signal, while RedPhone users are advised to uninstall the app (and install Signal instead, if you do not already have it installed).

TextSecure and RedPhone

TextSecure and RedPhone are Android apps developed by security outfit Open Whisper Systems. They provide secure encrypted text chat and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) voice call capabilities respectively. VoIP (voice over IP) is an IP telephony term for a set of facilities used to manage the delivery of voice information over the Internet.It involves sending voice information in digital form in discrete packets rather than by using the traditional circuit-committed protocols of the public switched telephone network. These two tools are regarded among others as the best (and arguably the best) options available for keeping your conversations private on Android.

TextSecure is easy-to-use. It looks like WhatsApp but encrypts texts, pictures, videos and audio. It is an open-source and provides end-to-end encryption. Open source can be defined as the code used to write computer software, usually privately-owned, meaning that whoever developed it has sole access to it. Open-source code is available for anyone to see and analyse. While it might seem counter-intuitive, this is widely considered to be the best way to make software secure. It helps ensure it does not do anything nasty, like providing a ‘back door’ for intelligence agencies, and to be discovered and patched up.

End-to-end encryption means only you know the key, and your communications stay private. To the company transmitting your messages, or anybody trying to intercept them, they will look like a long string of random numbers and letters. Third parties can know who you communicated with, but they cannot see your messages.

RedPhone encrypts all voice calls end-to-end over the internet, so you only pay for the Wi-Fi or data. It is free and open source.

miniLock

MiniLock is a free and open source, web plug-in that lets users encrypt and share files- including videos, email attachments and photos. You upload and send your file using a unique ID, so it can be downloaded by the person you share it with. miniLock uses your email and secret passphrase to generate a miniLock (identity) ID. miniLock IDs are small and easy to share online.  Anyone can use your ID to encrypt files to you, and you can encrypt files to friends using their miniLock IDs. MiniLock uses modern cryptographic primitives to accomplish this securely.

Meet.Jit.si

Meet.Jit.si helps secure video calls and instant messaging. It secures voice and video calls, video conferences, instant messages and file transfers. It runs directly in your browser, encrypting calls and chats end-to-end. For a desktop version, try Jitsi for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Android. It is free and open-source (reference).

Mailvelope

This is a web browser add-on online privacy tool, providing end-to-end email encryption. Mailvelope  can be configured for almost any web-based email provider, including Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook. It is free and open-source.

SpiderOak  

SpiderOak was SpiderOak was founded by Ethan Oberman and Alan Fairless as a zero knowledge private backup program. In 2013, SpiderOak began developing Crypton, “a JavaScript framework for building applications where the server doesn’t know the contents it’s storing on behalf of users”.

SpiderOak is a US based cloud sharing and storage tool. Like Meet.Jit.si, SpiderOak is also accessible through an app for Windows, Mac and Linux computer platforms, and Android, N900 Maemo and iOS mobile platforms. Unfortunately it is not an open-source but, some components of it are. But, it assists users to back-up files, sync between devices and share files privately. It fully encrypts your data end-to-end, so even the company cannot see your documents. SpiderOak costs US $12 a month (approximately R150- R200).  In a July 2014 interview, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden recommended SpiderOak over Dropbox, citing its better protection against government surveillance.

As intelligent agencies intrude on people’s information and communication, especially online, it is worth noting that it is hard to detect electronic surveillance. But, using available applications to protect your privacy online is better than no protection at all.

HOW SOCIAL IS SOCIAL MEDIA?

Human communication is considerably changing due to social media, which creates anti-socialism societies at its best

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Individuals glued to their mobile phones engaging on social networks escaping real life settings. BY Anti-social cartoons and comics.

The most awkward incident that has happened to me recently was when I was in room full of people whom I greeted and all I heard was silence and saw bended heads unable to unplug from their hand held-devices and who, facially denoted a sense of busyness and an ego saying, “I am speaking to someone important”.  Oh well, what happened to being social in real life settings? n the past few week I have been involved in interactions that raised questions for me, about whether social media is indeed social and if so, to what extent. The former is an emphatic “No”. The latter comes with a lot of contradictions.

Social media has become an alternative platform where users resort to it to escape from reality

Social media has changed how we communicate with others interpersonally. Social media has become an alternative platform where users resort to it to escape from reality. Yet, interaction amongst individuals is viewed as a responsive way of communication. This is done or rather has been done in numerous ways from the past to date. There has been means of telefaxes, telephones, writing letters to mention a few.

These types of communication were for reasons of eradicating distance. Not like social media plays no pivotal role when it comes to bridging distance. By far, it has. But, in so many ways, it has created distance yet again.

There seems to be more isolation amongst human in terms of restricting being personal

The second interaction was when I got home and realised that not having a phone was a social torcher or rather, a cause inflicting serve pain. But a blessing more than it could be a curse because everyone had social media devotions like any other day and sadly, it seemed as though people are inclined to talking once in a blue moon when there are “free”. We barely chat and laugh about issues we see around us. Instead we are likely to share our jokes with the unknown or those online.

Year’s back, before the demise of socialisation, a form of humans talking to one another was often perceived to be more effective. This as a result could enhance relationships with each other in families, friendships including within a society.

Face to face interaction was more comprehensive in the different personalities humans have. With the extensive need for growth, innovation for development led to more advanced creations. Now the times of writing letters evolved to instant texting.

Through the rise of the now smart phones, communication has turned into social media: subject to making our lives far better compared to what we view as Stone Age, influencing a so called “social” using social media. Contrary to the good side of information technology with the creation smart phones, one can help but wonder whether social media has moved to a traditional way of communication.

For example, there seems to be more isolation amongst human in terms of restricting being personal. Besides the personal, we have valued phones more than those around and the language we rely on to form mutual understanding. People focus more on gluing their eyes on gadgets they hold, rather than walking or sharing laughter.

My third interchange is that this social media in a growing unfriendly detrimental to social order with which society is constituted also opens doors to individuals been open themselves to strangers, hence creating behavioural patterns for example, young people or strangers being to exploitation into or by paedophiles.

In known incidents, teenagers have disrespected their parents and caregivers, runaway from their homes to meet these strangers which unfortunately turns resulted in catastrophic events. Lacking conversation with close members of the family could make one vulnerable to expressing themselves in social media in the way to try finding comfort to those not unknown. Instead of social media being an advantage to all, it has invaded personal spaces, people’s relationships causing a lack in transparency.

People focus more on gluing their eyes on gadgets they hold, rather than walking or sharing laughter

I am not encouraging a “no social media” protest. That is without disputing that the perks are endless. And, on the other hand, so are its contradictions. Many of these contradictions include users being victims of cyber bullying, stalking and being finding expression through daily posts. Lets be communication wise and friendly.