South African urbanist cancels UK lecture as visa process makes visitors “feel like criminals”

Zahira Asmal, an urbanist from South Africa, has been forced to cancel a planned lecture in London after a “humiliating” experience with UK visa services.

The cancellation comes amid rising concern over the way overseas creatives, particularly those from Africa, are being treated when applying for visas to visit the UK.

Asmal had been due to give a lecture in London this September as part of a series of talks organised by the Architecture Foundation.

But Asmal, who is director of Cape Town urban research, publishing and placemaking agency The City, withdrew following a gruelling and costly battle with UK diplomats over her visa.

Application process “overpriced and unfair”

In a Facebook post, she described the visa application process as “humiliating, overpriced and unfair” and said her decision to cancel her lecture was “tough and heart breaking”.

“We are made to feel like criminals each time rather than collaborators and guests,” wrote Asmal, who has visited the UK on numerous occasions in the past and worked for two years at the London office of Adjaye Associates as research and special projects manager.

“In South Africa we welcome visitors from the UK with open arms, smiles, mountain walks and dinner invitations.”

Architecture Foundation deputy director Phineas Harper said the immigration clampdown since the Brexit vote posed a threat to the UK’s creative industries.

“The Home Office’s hostility towards visitors from overseas is something nobody voted for and risks trashing our creative industries from architecture to music,” he said.

Visa restrictions getting tougher

Asmal said UK visa restrictions had recently got tougher and the application process more time-consuming and expensive. Visa staff, who are difficult to contact, treat applicants with suspicion, haughtiness and inflexibility while application forms involve lengthy and intrusive questionnaires.

Inconsistent and vague advice makes it hard for prospective visitors to plan their travel, Asmal said.

“I was not denied a visa, but rather warned that a month before my departure date may be too late for the application and was advised to apply to fast track the application which costs between £200 and £600,” she told Dezeen. “I was warned that I may not receive my passport back in time for my departure.”Related storyUK government calls for industry input on post-Brexit immigration system

She subsequently received an invitation to give the same lecture in Rotterdam, so she reluctantly decided to cancel the London talk and apply for a transit visa that would allow her to fly to London as planned and travel onwards to the Netherlands.

“I cancelled my visa application and decided to fly through London onwards to Amsterdam assuming that a transit visa would involve less paperwork and less time,” she explained. “I was wrong.”

She then had to repeat the visa application process, which involved answering “150 questions and paying an additional 50 quid to sit in Heathrow airport for an hour”.

“I was unaware that I would be expected to go through the same nightmare for an airside transit visa,” she said. “The alternative is to cancel my flight and rebook.”

Visa process “widely perceived as biased”

Earlier this month, a cross-party group of British members of parliament warned that the visa system was “broken” and was “widely perceived as biased or even discriminating against Africans”.

Asmal said that since posting her experience on Facebook, she had received numerous reports of similar incidents.

“People are rightly worried about the impact of Brexit ending free movement within Europe but in fact Britain has been independently hardening is border for some time,” said the Architecture Foundation’s Harper.Related storyUK to grant post-Brexit visas to architects with “outstanding talent”

Harper pointed out that international music festival WOMAD is struggling to book overseas artists due to the harsh visa regime.

“British architectural discourse is suffering a similar isolation as the government clamps down on our ability to engage international practitioners from beyond the EU, especially the global south,” he said.

Harper said UK visa requirements have long been tough for citizens of countries that were once British colonies, but said: “What is new is the scale and voracity of the issue.”

Asmal will now give lecture in Rotterdam

Asmal had planned to deliver a performance lecture titled Welcome to Johannesburg, which gives a detailed account of a place-making project she initiated at Park Station in South Africa’s largest metropolis. An element of the project involved commissioning British architect David Adjaye to design a pavilion as a symbolic welcome to the city.

She has previously performed the lecture in Marrakech and Cape Town and is additionally due to deliver the lecture in Tunis and Amsterdam this year and Accra, Milan and Paris next year.

René Boer, managing editor of Failed Architecture, described the lecture as “evocative” and “exemplary”.

In a review of Asmal’s Marrakech performance, he wrote: “In this evocative lecture, Zahira Asmal shares the complexities of working on the ground in the contested urban conditions of Johannesburg. Her commitment to careful, informed and ambitious interventions, relating to the city’s physical heritage as well as its social fabric are exemplary of today’s avant-garde grounded urban practice.”

Asmal will give her lecture at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam on 3 October 2019.Read more: 


South Africa’s anti-corruption chief Busisiwe Mkhwebane lied under oath

Busisiwe Mkhwebane speaks into a microphone.
Image captionCritics of Ms Mkhwebane say she has become a participant in a fight-back by allies of ex-President Jacob Zuma

South Africa’s highest court has ruled that a top state official charged with investigating corruption lied under oath and acted in bad faith.

It upheld a court ruling from last year that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane had acted in bad faith while investigating a bank bailout.

It is the latest controversy to hit Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

She has been accused of undermining President Cyril Ramaphosa’s war against high-level corruption.

Her critics say she is being used by supporters of former President Jacob Zuma, who is facing corruption charges.

Last week, Ms Mkhwebane ruled that Mr Ramaphosa had misled parliament over a campaign donation and should be investigated, following a complaint from the Democratic Alliance opposition party.

Mr Ramaphosa said on Sunday he would be mounting a legal challenge. He denied the allegations, saying her findings were “fundamentally and irretrievably flawed”.

Ms Mkhwebane has defended her work, saying it is being done according to the law and the constitution.

Many of Ms Mkhwebane’s recent reports have become swamped by scandal and led to claims she is siding with Mr Zuma’s faction within the governing African National Congress (ANC), says the BBC’s Andrew Harding in Johannesburg.

Mr Ramaphosa replaced Mr Zuma as party leader last year after the then-president became embroiled in numerous corruption scandals.

The courts overruled Ms Mkhwebane on several occasions recently.

Why was she convicted of lying under oath?

The Constitutional Court upheld a High Court ruling that ordered Ms Mkhwebane to pay $62,000 (£50,000) in legal fees in a dispute between her office and South Africa’s Reserve Bank.

Ms Mkhwebane previously denied any wrongdoing.

Reacting to the judgement on Monday, she noted that the court had not been unanimous, our reporter says.

The devastating judgement by the Constitutional Court will, however, add weight to claims that Ms Mkhwebane is involved in a dirty tricks campaign to undermine President Ramaphosa and halt his campaign against high-level corruption, our reporter says.

Presentational grey line

A fight to restore the public protector’s integrity

Analysis box by Pumza Fihlani, southern Africa reporter

Busisiwe Mkhwebane was backed for the public protector’s job by an overwhelming 263 MPs during a debate in the 400-member parliament.

She has only been in the job for less than three years but has already faced two attempts to remove her from office, accusations of political bias and, most scathing of all, a reprimand from the Constitutional Court.

Accusations that she is a spy and Zuma loyalist are not dissimilar to those levelled against her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, who was accused by allies of Mr Zuma of working for the CIA.

These claims have not been substantiated.

Ms Mkhwebane is not one to shy away from a fight. She is also not one to accept defeat, not even from the highest court, it seems.

She is determined to clear her name and restore the public’s faith in her as their protector.

Venezuelan oil executive Márquez found hanged in Madrid

Police in the Spanish capital, Madrid, are investigating the death on Sunday of Juan Carlos Márquez, a former executive at Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA.

Mr Márquez, 48, had appeared in court on Friday over his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme.

While he denied the allegations of money-laundering, he had reportedly agreed to collaborate with an investigation into corruption at PDVSA.

He was due back in court on Monday.

Police said Mr Márquez had been found hanged in a flat on the outskirts of Madrid.

India denies PM Modi asked Trump to mediate in Kashmir conflict

India has denied that PM Narendra Modi asked US President Donald Trump to mediate in the longstanding Kashmir conflict with Pakistan.

The Indian foreign ministry tweeted that “no such request” had been made, adding that all issues with Pakistan were “discussed only bilaterally”.

Mr Trump’s claim that he had been asked came as he hosted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House.

Both India and Pakistan claim all of Kashmir, but control only parts of it.

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar repeated in the parliament that Mr Trump’s claims were not true.

But opposition MPs have demanded that Mr Modi should address the parliament on this issue. Rahul Gandhi, who recently resigned as the chief of main opposition Congress party, tweeted that the foreign ministry’s denial wasn’t enough.Skip Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

Rahul Gandhi@RahulGandhi

President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India & Pakistan on Kashmir!

If true, PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement.

A weak Foreign Ministry denial won’t do. PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him & @POTUS29.1K8:27 AM – Jul 23, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy14.9K people are talking about thisReport

End of Twitter post by @RahulGandhi

The neighbours have fought two wars over Kashmir, and tensions flared again in the Muslim-majority territory in February leading to cross-border air strikes.

Mr Trump had his first face-to-face meeting with Mr Khan on Monday at the Oval Office.

President Trump hosts a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan

Afterwards they spoke to reporters and addressed a variety of subjects.

When PM Imran Khan was asked if the US could help in the 70-year-long dispute between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, he said: “Only the most powerful state headed by President Trump can bring the two countries together,” according to a White House transcript.

Mr Trump then added: “So I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago and we talked about this subject and he actually said, ‘Would you like to be a mediator, or arbitrator?’

“I said ‘where?’ He said: ‘Kashmir, because this has been going on for many, many years.’

“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Mr Trump said.

Pakistan welcomes mediation by a third party in Kashmir, while India says all issues should only be discussed bilaterally.

India was quick to respond to Mr Trump’s statement.

“We have seen [Mr Trump’s] remarks to the press. No such request has been made,” said Raveesh Kumar, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, in a tweet on Tuesday.

“It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally.

“Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism.”

Indian politician Shashi Tharoor criticised Mr Trump’s remarks, saying he did not have the “slightest idea of what he was talking about”.

“He has either not been briefed or not understood what Modi was saying,” he said on Twitter.

A military stand-off in February ratcheted up tensions between the neighbours over the region again when India ordered a pre-emptive strike on what it said was a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

It came after a terror attack in Indian-administered Kashmir where a suicide bomber killed 44 Indian paramilitary police.

Since 1989, Kashmir has been convulsed by regular episodes of violence that have killed more than 70,000 people.

Spain’s acting PM fails in first attempt to form new government

Spain’s Socialist party leader, Pedro Sánchez, has failed in his first attempt to form a new government after the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos party abstained in a parliamentary vote.

Is the man elected is not favourable to Podemos ??

Sánchez, who has been acting prime minister since an inconclusive election in April, needed an absolute majority of at least 176 votes in his favour in the 350-seat house to be confirmed as PM. Instead he received 124 votes in favour and 170 against, and there were 52 abstentions.

The vote now goes to a second round on Thursday when Sánchez only needs a simple majority – ie more “yes” than “no” votes. In the meantime he needs to strike a deal with Podemos in order to secure its MPs’ votes.

Venezuela in the dark again after massive blackout


JULY 22, 2019 — 11:05PM

CARACAS, Venezuela — The lights went out across much of Venezuela, reviving fears of the blackouts that plunged the country into chaos a few months ago as the government once again accused opponents of sabotaging the nation’s hydroelectric power system.

The power in the capital went out after 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) Monday and immediately backed up traffic as stop lights and the subway stopped working during rush hour. As night fell in Caracas many were wondering how long they would be left in the dark.

Image result for Venezuela......starts electricity, no communications...... everything dark.

“This is horrible, a disaster,” Reni Blanco, a 48-year-old teacher, said as she joined a crush of people who flooded into the streets of the capital trying to make it home before nightfall.

Almost three hours into the blackout authorities broke their silence and blamed an “electromagnetic attack” on a series of dams located in southern Venezuela — the same culprit it attributed an almost week-long outage in March that left millions of Venezuelans without water or the ability to communicate with loved ones.

“Those who’ve systematically attacked the noble people of Venezuela in all kinds of ways will once again be confronted with the mettle and courage that we, the children of our liberator Simón Bolívar, have demonstrated in the face of difficulties,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez said in a statement read on state TV.

Image result for Venezuela......starts electricity, no communications...... everything dark.

Rodíguez said authorities were working to restore electricity as quickly as possible. He said security forces had been deployed, and contingency plans activated, to guarantee basic medical services and keep streets safe.

“Without light we have nothing,” said María Teresa González, fretting over the meat she had in her freezer if the outage wore on as she walked her dog in the last rays of the evening sun.

Reports on social media said that 19 of 24 Venezuelan states were also affected. Netblocks, a group monitoring internet activity, said network data showed most of Venezuela was knocked offline with national connectivity at just 6% after the latest cuts. Normally non-stop state TV, a key way for the government to keep people informed, was also off the air for a while, adding to frustrations.

President Nicolás Maduro blamed the March outage on a U.S.-sponsored attack against the nation’s biggest hydroelectric dam. More recently, as power service in the politically turbulent capital has improved amid widespread rationing in the interior, officials have even taken to downplaying the outages as similar to a nationwide blackout in Argentina and even one that knocked off the power for several thousand residents of Manhattan for a few hours amid the summer heat.

But his opponents said the outage laid bare years of underinvestment in the nation’s grid by corrupt officials who mismanaged an oil bonanza in the nation sitting atop the world’s largest crude reserves.

“They tried to hide the tragedy by rationing supplies across the country, but their failure is evident: they destroyed the system and they don’t have answers,” opposition leader Juan Guaidó said on Twitter.

Guaidó, who the U.S. and more than 50 other nations recognize as Venezuela’s rightful leader, reiterated an earlier call for nationwide protests on Tuesday.

“We Venezuelans won’t grow accustomed to this,” he said.

Image result for Venezuela......starts electricity, no communications...... everything dark.

Much of the government’s focus since the March blackouts has been on repairing transmission lines near the Guri Dam, which provides about 80 percent of Venezuela’s electricity.

José Aguilar, a U.S.-based power expert who hails from Venezuela, said that alternative power plants running on diesel fuel and gas are unable to make up the difference.

He estimates that since the March outages the country has lost about 1,200 Megawatts of thermal power, or about 40% of its thermal generating capacity at the start of the year, as the government overburdens the fragile system in a desperate attempt to keep the lights on in Caracas and other cities.

“Even in the best-run grids equipment is going to fail,” Aguilar, who is an informal adviser to Guaidó on electricity issues, told The Associated Press. “But when you operate on a limb, outside of safe limits, you expose yourself to these types of domino events. It’s like Russian Roulette.”

Image result for Venezuela......starts electricity, no communications...... everything dark.

Despite the risks of another extended collapse, some Venezuelans were taking the blackout in stride.

Cristian Sandoval, a 37-year-old owner of a motorcycle repair business, said he is more prepared for a prolonged outage having equipped his home with a water tank and a generator for his workshop. As Venezuela’s crisis deepens, the sale of electric generators is one of the few growth industries in a country ravaged by six-digit inflation and cratering public services.

“If the blackout continues we’ll have another round of dessert,” he chuckled while sharing a piece of chocolate cake with a friend at a cafeteria growing dark as the night began to fall.

“But it’s very difficult for the people,” he conceded. “This creates a lot of discomfort.”

Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia