Vol VIII, Issue 3 (Summer 2001): Female Circumcision Revisited



Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor

Walton Brown-Foster
Copy Editor

Haines Brown


Olayemi Akinwumi

Zenebworke Bissrat

Paulus Gerdes

Mosebjane Malatsi
(South Africa)

Alfred Zack-Williams
(Sierra Leone)


Tennyson Darko
Asst. Dir. ITS, CCSU

Peter K. LeMaire
Professor, CCSU

Bernice A. LeMaire
Website Designer

For more information concerning AfricaUpdate
Prof. Gloria Emeagwali
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Table of Contents

Editorial: Female Circumcision Revisited

      In AfricaUpdate, Vol. III, issue 2, Spring 1996, female circumcision was discussed by Ifeyinwa Iweriebor, Aisha Samad, Adeline Apena and myself. It was argued that Ancient  Africans, including the Egyptians, African Muslims and African Jews (Beta Israel of Ethiopia), all practiced female and male circumcision in their rites of passage or for religious reasons.
      In the current issue of AfricaUpdate, Desmond Wiggins of Australia explores some of the issues associated with the ancient practice and reflects on various theological dimensions surrounding Islam and circumcision. He examines some of the various authoritative texts such as the Haddith and the Qu'ran and provides a  discussion which is illuminating not only on the issue of circumcision but also on Islamic theology and the various intellectual issues which have preoccupied the Ulama or Islamic intelligentsia.
                Wiggins discusses the adoption of Ancient Egyptian circumcision rites by Arabs and raises several issues. Is this practice in conflict with Islamic theology or supported by it? Are male and female circumcision
processes mandatory for both male and females or optional? Do the various holy texts of Islam endorse the practice  equally? What constitutes textual authority in Islam? These are issues reflected on by Desmond Wiggins in his illuminating  piece.               
         The Editorial Board of AfricaUpdate does not endorse the practice of female circumcision. More symbolic forms of initiation could replace the painful process of infibulation. We thought it wise to include this analysis, however, so as to provide both advocates and critics alike with insights into the complexities surrounding the practice of female circumcision.
                Haines Brown  continues his series on Africa Online in this issue. The tension emerging between the ANC, SACP and COSATU stems from opposing perspectives on privatization, interventionism and the role of free market forces and, as pointed out by COSATU, is directly related to perceptions about poverty alleviation and development for the benefit of all.

             Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
             Chief Editor

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Male and Female Circumcision in Africa: Pharaonic Egyptian and Religious Origins

By Desmond Wiggins, University of South Australia

Circumcision in Ancient Egypt

Meinardus argues that it was an ancient Egyptian custom to circumcise males and excise the females (1967, p. 390, citing Strabo, ca. 25 BCE). Breasted provides evidence that exhumed male bodies from ca. 4000 BCE were circumcised which gives some credibility to the assertion of Meinardus (1933, p. 353). Further, in Figure 1 & 2 from the same reference (Breasted, 1933, p. 353) ancient Egyptian art depicts circumcised males. The former figure portrays a carpenter from the Sixth Dynasty (2350-2000 BCE) with his loincloth pulled to the back revealing a circumcised penis. The second figure shows a relief from the Sixth Dynasty tomb on Ankh-ma-Hor at Saqquara which portrays two youths being circumcised.

 A stele from the twenty-third century BCE indicates that mass male circumcision rituals were undertaken in Egypt. Uha, the author of the stele, wrote: "when I was circumcised, together with one hundred and twenty men, there was none thereof who hit out. . ." (Wilson, 1950, p. 326). However, not all Egyptian males were circumcised. X-rays of Pharaoh Ahmose's mummy (sixteenth century BCE) indicate that he was not circumcised, and it is possible his successor Amenhotep I was also uncircumcised (Harris and Weeks, 1973, p. 126-30). There is also debate as to whether the lower classes of society practiced circumcision. Harris and Weeks, along with Pritchard (1958, fig. 153), provide substantiation that commoners were not circumcised, whereas Bailey provides evidence that the opposite was the case (1996, pp. 21-23).

 The origin of "female circumcision" is obscure-so hazy that Hosken argues the origin is unknown (1994, p. 71). Assaad suggests that female circumcision was practiced in ancient Egypt and hence originated there. Widstrand traces classical references to Agatharchides of Cnidus, a second century BCE geographer (1964, p. 116), while Abdalla suggests that it was practiced in ancient Egypt as a way to "obtain control of [women's] magic power" (1982, p. 66).

 Herodotus suggests that other nations borrowed the custom of male circumcision from the Egyptians (translated by Selincourt, 1954, pp. 167-68), but there appears to be no way of verifying the soundness of this statement. Herodotus" statement may be accurate and is possibly the explanation of how male circumcision became established in cultures such as the Hebrew nation (ca tenth century BCE), as attested in Exodus 4:24-26. Later Jewish philosophers such as Philo (first century BCE) advocated circumcision as a means of reducing sexual desire of males and females (Yonge, 1993, p. 534-35); this idea still held favour as late as 1932 in Western society. 

 A 1963 study conducted by Shandal determined that a large number of female mummies found in Egypt were circumcised (1963, cited in Ras-Work, 1997, p. 142). As with male circumcision it is believed "female circumcision" was performed to mark class distinction in Egypt. Taba proposes that "female circumcision" was transported from Egypt to the Sudan and the Horn of Africa in the fifth century CE with the migration of the population (cited in Ras-Work, 1997, p. 142).

 De Meo provides geographical data that reinforces Taba's view. He concludes: "based upon geographical distributions...it is reasonable to assume that they [female circumcisions]...were spread by inhabitants of these regions [Egypt]" (1997, p. 10).

 Islam and  Male and Female Circumcision

The Haddith  recognises male and female circumcision as a pre-Islamic institution, as is evidenced by Bukhari's account of Emperor Heraclius' horoscope. In the stars Heraclius reads the message "the king of the circumcised." Thereupon an envoy, who appeared to be circumcised, arrived from the king of Ghassin with a report of Muhammad's preaching of Islam. This envoy informed the Emperor that male and female circumcision was a common practice among the Arabs (Wensinck, 1986, p. 20).

 From an Islamic perspective male and female circumcision has been practiced for generations and is a practice which Muslims-especially in Africa-are accustomed to observing. Ibn Hajar summed up the views of Islamic scholars on male and female circumcision:

al-Shafie and the majority of his disciples believe circumcision is an obligation. Among old scholars who hold the same opinion is Attaa. He goes so far as to say: if an adult embraces Islam, he does not become a full Muslim until he is circumcised (cited in al-Sabbagh, 1996, p. 14).

 This Ahaddith is utilised by Muslim scholars such as Ibn Qudana to advocate obligatory male circumcision in Islam (Al-mughni cited in al-Sabbagh, 1996, p. 15). Al-Shafii goes further advocating that this Ahaddith teaches that circumcision is Sunna for both males and females and is equally mandatory for both sexes (Wensinck, 1986, p. 20).

 An important question that arises with regard to circumcision in Islam is whether Muhammad instituted the practice for his followers within his lifetime. If it can be shown that male or female circumcision has the direct sanction of Muhammad then debate among Muslims might cease. The answer is not clear. The practice is mentioned in early Egyptian poetry and the Haddith; the ancient language had special words for those who were not circumcised: alkhan, aklaf, aghlaf, and aghral (Wensinck, 1986, p. 20). According to al-Jahiz, who died in 868 CE, and his contemporary al-Marsafi, male circumcision had been practiced by Arabs from the time of Abraham. Al-Marsafi further adds that Arabs were known as the "nation of circumcision" (cited in Aldeeb, 1998, chapter 2, p.1).

 Conversely, in the Haddith of Ahmad Ibn-Hanbal (who died 855 CE) the following appears:

Uthman Ibn-al-As was invited to a circumcision, but he refused to come. When asked the reason, he said: in the time of Muhammad we did not practice circumcision and we were not invited to it (cited in Aldeeb, 1998, p. 2).

 Added to this is an account in the History of Al-Tabari (who died 923 CE) that details the report of the Caliph Umar Ibn-Abd-al-Aziz (who died 720 CE) writing to the military chief Al-Jarrah Ibn-Abdallah. Ibn-Abdallah had written to the Caliph requesting an opinion on whether male converts to Islam should be circumcised. The Caliph replied: "God sent the prophet Muhammad and entrusted him to summon people to embrace Islam. He did not send him as a circumciser" (Aldeeb, 1998, chapter 3, p. 3). Aldeeb gives further textual evidence to show that male circumcision was not a compulsory act in the time of Muhammad, but rather a matter of choice. 

 With regard to the prevalence of "female circumcision" in the time of Muhammad, information is scant. In order to support female circumcision classical and modern authors often quote a saying reported by Ahmad and Al-Baihaqee that states: "when two circumcised parts unite then bathing becomes obligatory." These authors argue that this saying implies that both men and women were circumcised in the time of Muhammad (Aldeeb, 1984, article no. 05, p. 11).

 Al-Jahiz (cited above) suggests that female circumcision was practiced from the time of Hagar just as male circumcision was practiced from the time of Abraham. Hagar's circumcision is supposed to have eventuated because Sarah, plagued by jealousy, swore that she would mutilate Hagar. Abraham protested, but eventually allowed Sarah to act accordingly. Although textual evidence is limited and not explicit regarding the exact nature of female circumcision, Donzel et al. argue that the "synonymy of khitan, and khifad leads one to think that the minimal practice comprised excision of the prepuce of the clitoris" (1978, p. 913).

 By the tenth century CE Islam was entering Africa through three primary routes: the ports of the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea coast and North Africa (Hicks, 1993, p. 21). These were the main trade routes and offered a vehicle for the dissemination of the Islamic faith (Lewis, 1980, p. 4-6).

 Based on the above evidence it seems clear that Muhammad did not personally institute female circumcision amongst his followers, so another source needs to be identified. As female circumcision is perceived to be a religious rite in "traditional Islam" by necessity this source needs to be found in the writings of Islam.

Textual Support for Circumcision

Before investigating specific textual support for circumcision in the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, it is relevant to gain an understanding of the texts that are considered authoritative in Islam because it has a direct bearing on the legitimacy of my argument that "female circumcision" has a religious foundation.


An important factor regarding the Qur'an that is generally overlooked is its form. Most Westerners have probably never seen the book itself though many will have seen a translation. It is necessary to recognize the difference between the Qur'an and a translation of the Qur'an. For Muslims the divine word assumed a specific form-namely Arabic-in order to convey the message of God. Hence, to Muslims the Arabic Qur'an is the genuine Qur'an; translations are viewed as inferior interpretations that are a necessary evil.

Khalifa emphasises this idea: "to anyone who has not heard the sonorous majesty of an Arab reciting the Qur'an, it is impossible to convey what the Book lacks in English, French and German" (1997, p. 1). Murata and Chittock reinforce this with the following observation: "the Arabic form of the Koran is in many ways more important than the text's meaning" (n.d., p. 1).

The Arabic Qur'an is considered to be the complete account of God's will. In fact, based on Q 6:38 and Q 16:89-which declare respectively-"we have left out nothing in the Book" and "for to you We have revealed the Book which manifests the truth about all things"-it seems reasonable to assume that the Qur'an contains the core tenets that form the underlying framework of Muslim belief.

Lamya al-F'aruqi aptly comments: "it is the conformance to a Qur'an based society for which we all must work if the Muslim peoples are to enjoy a felicitous future" (n.d., p. 2). The Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahayan Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation proposes that the Qur'an is the "complete book of guidance for mankind [sic]...no other book in the world can match the Qur'an" (n.d., p. 4). Ammar writes:

the source of knowledge in the Holy Qur'an is a given and not subject to empirical and other testing procedures. . .the Holy Qur'an is the uncreated words of God" (n.d., p. 2). As such the Qur'an functions as a "declaration of Islamic ethic establishing moral norms" (Hicks, 1993, p. 72).

 But even though these statements seem clear, the issue of what constitutes textual authority in Islam is just as complex as in other religions. There has been, and still is, much debate in Islamic circles regarding what is acceptable as Scripture in Islam. Basically there are two philosophies. One philosophy accepts that only the Qur'an represents the guide for matters of faith and practice. The other viewpoint accepts the Qur'an as well as the Haddith, Sunna, Sira, Tafsir, and other religious opinions as the guides for understanding the will of Allah. As one would expect, the respective schools of thought are emphatic about their ideas. For example, Muhammad lists a dozen reasons why believers should "follow the Qur'an and nothing but the Qur'an." Iqbal argues that for true Muslims "QUR'AN ALONE is all that we need" (1997, p. 1).

Conversely, the importance of extra-Qur'anic material such as the Haddith is seen in Robson's comment: "Haddith came to be recognised as a foundation of Islam second only to the Kur'an" (1971, p. 24). Al-Shafii (cited in Robson, 1971, p. 24) argues that when the Qur'an speaks of the Book and the Wisdom (Q 2:151; Q 3:164; Q 4:113; Q 62:2), it refers to the dual role of the Qur'an and the Haddith.

Muhammad Zafrulla Khan postulates that the Haddith gives the complete picture of the Muhammad's mode of life (n.d., p. 2). Further, any Muslim who is interested in upholding moral and spiritual values owes a heavy debt of gratitude to the narrators and compilers of the Haddith. Muhammad Salim al-Awwa maintains that to determine a point of truth in Islamic law it should be sought from four sources: the Qur'an, the Sunna, the consensus of scholars, and finally, from analogy (1996, p. 34). The Haddith is the foundational source for the Sunna and is a vital part of the sacred texts of "traditional Islam."


The development of the Haddith occurred during the first three centuries of Islamic history, and its study provides a broad index to the thinking and ethos of Islam. Soon after the death of Muhammad there was a desire to understand in more detail the exact meaning of certain passages in the Qur'an. Approximately one hundred years after Muhammad's death the Khalif, Umar II, ordered that the sayings of the Prophet be collected and committed to writing (Klein, 1985, p. 26).

 The traditions that constitute the Haddith are divided into various classes depending on the degree of authority they possess; the authority of each Haddith is determined by many factors such as the manner of transmission and the persons from whom they were derived (Klein, 1985, p. 26). The collection of traditions which are considered standard authoritative texts are referred to as the six books: Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Abu awad al-Sijistani, Abu 'Isa Muhammad at-Tirmidhi, Abu' Abd ar-Rahman an-Nasa`I, and Abu Abdallah ibn Maja.

 Once recorded on paper, these books and the other sayings that form the Haddith then constituted the Sunna, the teaching of Muhammad who was the "exemplar who followed the right path" (Trimingham, 1980, p. 67). The process of determining the exact form of the Sunna was not without difficulties. As different interest groups arose after the death of Muhammad contradictory tendencies emerged and the various groups were at loggerheads. On one hand, male politicians sought to manipulate the sacred, while on the other hand, scholars determined to oppose these politicians through the science of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence (Mernissi, 1991, p. 43).

 Further, while traditionalists sought to verify the authority of traditions, there were others who were not prepared to lay great emphasis on tradition; this difference of opinion led to disputes between the parties involved (Robson, 1971, p. 24). But even though disagreement exists today over the acceptance of the Haddith, and about which sayings should be granted authority the fact remains that the Haddith is an established corpus of text accepted by a large percentage of contemporary traditional Muslims as the word of Allah. This is an important point because it has direct bearing on my contention that female circumcision is a religious rite in Islam.

 The Haddith is not the only extra-Qur'anic source in Islam that constitutes guidance for traditional Muslims. Another element is the Ijma, the unanimous agreement of the Muslim nation. Perhaps a more accurate definition of Ijma would be the agreement of the Mujtabidin or the great doctors of the nation (Klein, 1985, p. 30). The Ulamas, as the religious scholars are known, are consulted on both personal and political matters. When the Ulamas arrive at a consensus on an issue, it is interpreted as Ijma (Wiechman, Kendall and Azarian, n.d., p. 3). Trimingham comments that the Ijma is the criterion that determines the social ethics of Islamic communities and is a concept that remains unchallenged in Islam (1980, p. 67).

 Added to this is the Qias (measuring) which incorporates the "reasoning by analogy of the learned doctors of Islam, the Mujtabidin (Klein, 1985, p. 31). The Qias are not found in the Qur'an, Sunna or Ijma; rather they are new cases that have already been judged by a higher judge (Wiechman et. al., n.d., p. 3). Klein quotes a tradition to show that the Qias is in keeping with the wishes of Muhammad (1985, p. 32). Muhammad wished to send a man named Muaz to Al Yaman in order to collect alms which were to be distributed to the poor. Muhammad asks by what rule Muaz will act, to which he replies: "the Qur'an." Muhammad then asks what Muaz will do if the Qur'an has no direction to give on the matter. Muaz responds: "according to the Sunna." "If that fails?" questions Muhammad. Muaz informs Muhammad that he would: "make an Ijtihad and act on that." According to the tradition, that response pleased Muhammad.

 Besides the Qur'an, Sunna and Qias, the religious norms of previous Muslim communities, as received through the various prophets accepted as valid for Muslims, are considered to be the revealed will of God. According to Islamic norms, whatever is necessary to accomplish a duty becomes a duty (Aldeeb, 1984, article no. 05, p. 18).

 An interesting approach to accepting norms is presented by Professor Al‑Labban, who argues that if Muslims do not understand the wisdom of a religious norm, the problem lies with their reasoning, not with God (Aldeeb, 1984, article no. 05, p. 24). An Egyptian fatwa, issued on June 23, 1951, says: "experience has taught us that, given time, the true meaning of the Lawmaker's wisdom, which was hidden, is unveiled to us" (cited by Aldeeb, 1984, article no. 05, p. 25).

 Another element in this seemingly complex area of authority/law is the issuing of a fatwa-an opinion on a point of law that affects civil or religious matters. The institution of the fatwa parallels jus respondendi of Roman society and is comparable with it in many respects (Walsh, 1965, p. 866). Like the other elements previously mentioned, fatwas can be issued by muftis-religious lawyers-to individuals, magistrates and any other authority. It is very important that a fatwa is rendered in accordance with fixed precedents in Islam, rather than on the personal ideas of the muftis (Kjeilen, 1999, p. 1). The authority inherent in a fatwa is seen in the death decree issued against Salman Rushdie by Imam Khomeini on February 13, 1989.

 As one reads the arguments for and against extra‑Qur'anic material that is accepted as authoritative for law and guidance in Islam one thing is apparent: there is no consensus on the matter. However, the preceding discussion indicates that there are two distinct philosophies on the subject: "Qur'an‑only," or "Qur'an plus the Haddith, Sunna and other elements." But the fact that there is no universal, unanimous position on this matter is of no consequence to my proposal that "female circumcision" is a religious rite in "traditional Islam." Quite the reverse.

Traditional Islamic belief allows for the acceptance of rites, such as female circumcision, to be accepted as religious in one Islamic community and yet not condoned even condemned in another. This is of paramount importance when studying "female circumcision" in Islamic Africa because: "the religion of African Muslims is based...on their apprehension and expression of Islam" (Trimingham, 1980, p. x). The pivotal issue is which particular philosophy is adhered to in a given society. It is a moot point which position is most accurate and is not within the scope of this research to establish, but there are some considerations that warrant mentioning in this regard.

 Firstly, Muhammad did not personally write the Qur'an just as Jesus did not personally write the sayings of the Christian Scriptures attributed to him. Some Muslims even present the argument that Muhammad was illiterate and ask:

how can an illiterate person come up with such a rich, poetic, intellectual, and inspiring text that it rocked the entire Arabia? An illiterate man is simply not capable of writing such a book" ('who wrote the Koran, n.d., p. 3).

 Sheikh Abd El-Fatah El-Kady wrote in his book Al Mushaf Al-Shareef:

the Koran was written during Muhammad's life, on the branches of palm trees, on thin stones, on paper, on skin, on shoulders and side bones of animals (n.d., p. 14)           

 All of the Koran was written during Muhammad's life, but was not collected in one volume. Its suras were not organized. It was scattered on the branches of palm trees, skin and in the memories or breasts of Muhammad's "close friends" (n.d., p. 55).

 A reading of Q 17:106 indicates that the Qur'an was revealed slowly over a period of time: "a Quran that we have released slowly, in order for you to read it to the people over a long period" (Khalifa's translation).

 Secondly, if Muslims argue from a "Qur'an-only" stance in order to avoid corruption of the word of Allah, their argument is seemingly inconsistent. After all, the Qur'an is a work that is just as dependent on other people's memories of what was said as the other texts I have mentioned: the intermittent revelations to Muhammad were first memorized by followers and used in ritual prayers before the text was composed and written onto paper or parchment.

 Although verses were later written down during the Muhammad's lifetime by his followers they were first compiled in their present authoritative form during the reign of the third caliph (644-656 CE) the successor to the Prophet (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Multimedia Version, 1999). Some Muslims suggest that discrepancies crept into the text between the initial revelation and its being written and compiled as a text. Dr Rashid Khalifa in his Appendix 24 of the Authorised English Translation of the Qur'an, maintains that some scribes originally tampered with the Qur'an nineteen years after Muhammad's death. He alleges that the scribes "injected two false verses at the end of Sura 9" (Khalifa, n.d., p. 1).

 The idea of an "impure" Qur'an is reinforced by a discovery made in 1972 in the Great Mosque at Yemen. Labourers uncovered a gravesite that contained no human remains, no funeral jewelry, nothing except a conglomeration of old parchment documents, damaged books and individual pages of Arabic text. In 1979, a visiting German scholar undertook a study of the texts and it was determined that the discovery was nothing less than the oldest extant portions of the Qur'an (Lester, 1999, pp. 1-2). The significance of this discovery is that the parchments that dated back to the seventh and eighth centuries revealed aberrations from standard Qur'anic texts. If these parchments are authentic-and as of January 1999 evidence to the contrary had not been presented-the aberrations provide evidence of changes in contemporary Qur'anic texts.

 The advocates of the Qur'an plus Haddith, Sunna and the other elements mentioned previously-those I have defined as adherents of "traditional Islam"-have a similar problem as those arguing for the Qur'an-only. There is no way to prevent a corruption of the texts and assure that no false Ahaddith are accepted as authentic.

 Even though there are strict guidelines for the acceptance of Ahaddith (see the article by the Muslim Students Association, n.d., "The Science of Hadith," pp. 1-4) evidence is presented by some Muslims that maintains false Ahaddith have been accepted as authentic (see Mustafa, 1997, pp. 1-33; al-Awwa, n.d., pp. 1-5). As stated earlier, these issues do not affect the outcome of my proposal, yet they are issues that should not be ignored and are worthy of further research at a future date.

 (to be continued)

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Africa Online

By Haines Brown, CCSU Emeritus

While the development of IT industry in Africa is often viewed in terms of the internal obstacles to be overcome, in several countries such as South Africa, more at issue is the relation of internal resources and the world market. However, globalization of South African IT means that the model its development is hotly contested.

Much has to do with the evolution of the ANC in recent years. In response to global pressures, social needs (such as Black liberation) are no longer perceived as primary, but addressed only to the extent compatible with global market relations.

The result is a struggle to balance the demand of social needs and that of economic efficiency. Whenever these objectives do not coincide, the outcome is determined by the balance of effective power.

This is clearly perceived in South Africa today as tension in the ruling coalition. The ANC handed initiative over to a South African Association for Management of Technological Innovation (Saamoti) in June 2000. Dr. Steve Lennon, chair of the National Science and Technology Forum and a leading proponent of the Saamoti concept, defined its aim as an improvement in South Africa's global competitiveness through a commitment to innovation and public‑private partnership to promote rapid commercialization of new technology.

The initiative was not taken by government, but by five founding corporations: the CSIR, De Beers, ISCOR, the enterprise promotion agency NTSIKA and [significantly] the Water Research Commission. This new link is not between existing economic resources and social need, but between the global economy and South African (and foreign) private enterprise. The composition of Saamoti reflects its new purpose: a think-tank of IT professionals, a network for the private sector and for governmental and academic co-operation. We see here the abandonment of democratic people's power in favor of government as corporate management. 

The role of government is therefore limited to the promotion of the political order needed by private enterprise. Last year, the South African Department of Communications drafted a White Paper that sought to define a balance between social needs and corporate interests, which it assumed were compatible.

Speaking at the annual general meeting of the Internet Service Providers Association in Epsom Downs last August, Andile Ngcaba, director‑general of the department, indicated that the competence of government was limited to certification and domain names. It would also discourage cyber-crime and act as arbiter in liability cases. But he emphasized that "this must not get in the way of industry development or contravening the spirit of the new economy." The White Paper represents capitalist hopes for the IT legislation to come in late 2001.

Johannesburg offers an instructive example. Here the political context is iGoli 2002-the plan to hand Johannesburg's governing powers over to private corporations. The Johannesburg Metro Council in October 2000, entered into one of Africa's largest contracts to "outsource" the IT implementation of iGoli to a consortium consisting of IBM and Masana Technologies. Councillor Pule Buthelezi said Johannsburg's enormous expenditure reflects the government's commitment to privatization.

However, privatization has been the cause of mounting tension within the governing alliance of the ANC, SACP and COSATU. One of the objections to privatization is that it would reduce precious jobs through forcing the remaining workforce to speed up production. In this case, 115 IT professionals employed by Johannesburg would be transferred to the consortium. Buthelezi said that the effort was a major step in joining hands together with business to ensure the revitalization of the city. He also said that "It is not about empowering black-owned companies but about performance-the council needs a world-class IT system to revitalise the way it has been running its business." It was felt that this IT outsourcing contract with IBM represented a benchmark for public-private sector partnership and a model for other communities.

Rather than being a principal purpose of government, social service delivery becomes merely a source of its legitimization. "We have mapped IT solutions on to the GJMC's vision of extending services into historically disadvantaged communities while turning the Greater Johannesburg area into a globally competitive metropolitan area," said Mark Lambert, strategic outsourcing executive at IBM SA. In fact, globalization and privatization have resulted in global impoverishment and social deterioration, and, in terms of IT, a digital divide.

In November of last year was published a green paper on e-commerce that addressed the issue of the growing digital divide. South African Communications Minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri warned that legislation was required to enable government to help technology change the lives of people on the margins of society. Eighteen months before, the government had set out to assess telecommunication needs, but this defined e-commerce needs, not public needs. The paper spoke primarily of cyber-crimes like tax evasion, child pornography and copyright infringement rather than popular empowerment. It advocated market expansion to promote easy and affordable access to telephony and internet access, encouragement of a rapid adoption of e-commerce by small enterprises and an education system that teaches computer literacy.

The green paper contained no specific policies, but instead offered questions that the government hopes will elicit input from the private sector and end-users to contribute to a white paper later in 2001 and before an e-commerce bill is presented to Parliament.

Of course, labor has quite a different outlook. COSATU and the Communication  Workers' Union (CWU) made a joint submission on the Intended Telecommunication Policy Directions, on 23 March 2001.

Rather than a trickle down of telecommunications access being the result of abstract economic growth, labor's position focused instead on power. It insisted that access to telecommunications is a basic need and a right, necessary for people's full participation in society and the economy.

Economic development is furthered by popular access to telecommunications, and universal access is crucial in  strengthening democracy. COSATU was not convinced that the proposed market structure will foster a telecommunications industry which meets people's basic needs. It said in relation to telephone, "While we are not opposed to some regulated competition for the provision of high‑level services to business, we are opposed to competition in the provision of basic telephony." Also, the services necessary for democracy and social vitality should be universal rather than enjoyed by only those who can afford them: "The attainment of universal service is a priority and a challenge, [and] a more decisive approach is needed to extend services to the majority of South Africans."

COSATU went on to say, "Given the high levels of poverty and unemployment, affordability means state funding and cross-subsidisation. Competition will not address the problem of high tariffs for basic services, and may actually worsen the situation if price cuts are concentrated at the upper end of the market. Ongoing direct regulation of tariffs will thus be necessary to ensure affordability of basic telephony and genuine universal service." "Any policy initiative needs to be guided by the imperative of protecting current jobs and creating new ones."

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