Archive for February, 2012

Land restitution in South Africa: A sad story

(Written 21 Feb 2012)

Dear All,

A hot topic in South African news over the last week or so has been the question of land restitution – a process through which the wrongs wrought by the iniquitous land policies of South Africa’s past were to be corrected. At the time of South Africa’s liberation (1992), it was recognised by all clear-thinking persons, including many in the ANC, that a sensible outcome to the efforts at land restitution was crucial to the long-term success of the country. Indeed, it was recognised that without some steady, tangible progress in land restitution this problem would become insoluble by peaceful means and a Zimbabwe style land-grab would be on the cards. To deal with this crucial task the principle of ‘willing buyer – willing seller’ was agreed; a special department was established within government; and plenty of money was provided by the State. Immediately the wheels of bureaucracy began to grind very slowly.

Now, if there is anyone foolish enough to share the land ownership view of South Africa’s current deputy-minister of agriculture, Pieter Mulder of the ‘Freedom Front Plus’, then I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy of Charles van Onselen’s, The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, (1894-1985), New York: Hill & Wang, 1996, and read it very carefully. The effects of racial discrimination by the English, the Afrikaners, the Land Act of 1913, the Marketing Act of 1937 and the slew of Apartheid legislation are all laid bare in this man’s life in a way that cannot be countered by bland claims of white ownership over two or three generations, or an astonishingly silly argument as to whether Herry de Strandloper was black or coloured. Once you have read this book you will understand why black people in South Africa cheer Robert Mugabe (in spite of what he has done to the people of Zimbabwe) and you will understand why the not-too-well-informed youth think that Julius Malema is a saviour able to restore to them the idea of ‘their land’.

Almost as an aside, I must point out I had recently suggested that Jacob Zuma had never said anything I would bother to quote, but in parliament on the 16th February 2012 all that changed. While absolutely flattening Mulder, Zuma cautioned, “The land question is one of the most emotive issues in our history and present, and must be handled with utmost care.”

So, what progress has the ANC-led government and its relevant department made in this all-important work; this crucial task that has to be handled with utmost care? As it happens, the details are presently being revealed to the South African Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and it tells a tale of betrayal of the South African people by the present government as sad as the betrayal of Kas Maine by previous administrations. A look at the performance of those responsible for land restitution in the new South Africa reveals incompetence, waste and corruption on a scale beyond the imagination of ordinary people. In fact, the handling of this “most emotive issue” by the ANC-led government can only be described as an abject failure. (I cannot think of a stronger phrase.)

But the saddest part is yet to come. The saddest part of the story is that the administration of Jacob Zuma will do nothing about this failure! Sure there will be a bit of hand-wringing; already the director general Mdu Shabane is reported to have said that this is “embarrassing”. Some promises will be made but the cadres will cover for one another and before you know it, the matter of the missing millions will have blown over and the administrators’ hands will be back in the cookie jar. All the while the people of South Africa, like Kas Maine, will continue to be betrayed. Eish, what wouldn’t we give to have honest men in government?




(Written 12 Feb 2012)

Dear All,

I did not listen to the president’s state-of-the-nation address to the South African people on 9 February 2012 because I cannot sit through a speech by a man who in my view has no credibility.

Sure the beaming Jacob seems affable enough and he will probably be a good guy to have at a party – a considerable number of women appear happy to share their bed with him – but I cannot listen to him speak without being reminded that there is something deeply disturbing about a nation that selects as its leader a man who, when as the minister of economic affairs of ZwaZulu-Natal, was in the pay of a fraudster; and when confronted with that fact he demanded “his day in court” only to spend a great deal of effort making sure that that day never came. Moreover, I cannot but wonder how this nation accepted a man in its highest office who, when in charge of the nation’s moral regeneration program, seduced a distraught woman young enough to be his daughter; that in spite of his already having three wives at homes. I ask myself how reliable a leader a man would be who, by now with four wives, produces a child out of wedlock with yet another woman, to add to his already sizeable brood of thirteen? That when the nation is burdened with many, many fatherless homes. I wonder how we can take seriously a man who never says anything one would bother to quote. And as he speaks I am reminded that his only contribution to the politic of the day has been the ‘Zuma manuva’ – a verbal slight-of-hand that promises jobs that don’t materialise, that claims to fight corruption while introducing a secrecy bill, that praises teachers for good work while they are actually on a go-slow strike, that puts municipal clean-up projects in hand without their having the capacity to carry them out. Most of all, I cannot help thinking that the relationship he has with Gupta to all intents and purposes appears to reflect what he once had with Schaik.

All-in-all, I cannot listen to the president without asking myself if the expectation of the ANC is actually so low that it is accepted that Jacob Zuma really is as good as it gets?

In a fine book by Luigi Barzini, The Italians (Penguin, 1968), there is a chapter titled ‘Mussolini or the Limitations of Showmanship’, and when one reads that chapter there is the invitation to consider the future of South Africa in the light of how the Italian public was seduced by Mussolini. I don’t suggest we make a comparison of Fascism and the ANC’s policies (Is nationalisation really in or out?), but that we consider how the Italian people went along with their flawed leader’s charades until it was too late to turn back. Barzini writes, “Trying to find out what really happened, one gets lost in a complex psychological labyrinth, bewildered by an Italian play of mirrors reflecting each other’s distorted images. There is no doubt, to begin with, that Mussolini deceived the people. He used deceit as a tool to govern with. The thing is not deplorable in principle. All great statesmen have had recourse to occasional distortions, misinterpretations and outright lies” (p. 171). But in the end, the Italian public had to turn from Mussolini’s speeches in which he told them of glorious military victories, fabulous industrial output and improving life-styles, to look at the actual defeats, the industrial failures and the poverty brought about by sycophantically following a leader who smiled and smiled, but had no integrity.



The Drumming Lesson

(Written in June 2007.)

Dear All,

Kahlil Gribran, in his collection The Prophet, wrote, “Then said a teacher, “Speak to us of Teaching.” And he said: No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.”

Some months ago – almost on impulse – I bought a set of drums from a local music shop. Drumming is not altogether unfamiliar to me as I had played the side-drum in a marching band in my youth and I can still do a moderately respectable triplet, paradiddle and roll. To start off with I took some drumming lessons at the shop where I bought the drums and then had to take a break as I went away on business for a while. Upon my return I enrolled for a tryout lesson with another drumming instructor, at another music shop in the area.

Now, for those who believe that things in the Universe conspire to bring about the right conditions for us to learn what it is we are seeking, you should know that quite by chance, I had, a week before, picked up a copy of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom and was turning over in my mind two important teaching concepts that Freire proposes:

  • Firstly, effective teaching is not a process in which information is simply passed from one person to another, as though one were making a deposit in a bank; but teaching is a process in which the teacher and the learner explore the subject together. Moreover, they re-learn the subject matter together and in so doing they both extend their knowledge.
  • Secondly, it is crucial that the teacher has respect for what the learner already knows – even if the teacher thinks what the learner already knows, is wrong.

So the big day for my tryout lesson with the new instructor arrived. I had a head full of questions and CD’s in my hand so that I could play snippets of music I had researched with the expectation that he could show me how it was done. I had proved to myself as a dancing instructor that I knew how to pick up a rhythm so I was confident. I was ready to explore. I was ready to make music.

This is a drumstick. This is the 1/3 point. Hold it like this”, he said. You don’t understand I replied, demonstrating that I knew how to hold a drumstick by giving a short roll. “The wrist position must be like this, not that.” You don’t understand I said, demonstrating with a triplet that I changed wrist positions to get different effects. “Look at this (stave of music on line 1, page1 of book 1) and tap out the (first) pattern while counting one-two-one-two- .” You don’t understand I said ….. “Do you know what this is?” What, the written note on the stave? You don’t understand I repeated……

We were 4 minutes into the lesson when I got up, paid the instructor the full fare owed for a ½ hour lesson and left. Both of us, the instructor and the learner, were upset and bewildered. So, what went wrong? Certainly inexperience on both sides played a part. Certainly there was miscommunication and within a short time, a breakdown in the little communication that had taken place. Fortunately, having just read Freire’s book, I can be more specific about the reason for this unexpected turn of events.

The new instructor’s own learning process appeared to have been formed in what Freire calls a ‘banking system’ of education. The instructor’s experience as a learner seemed to leave him with the fixed idea that there is only one way to play a drum. “It is this way. (Implying that all else is failure)!” Possibly his conditioning in the ‘banking system’, more than anything else, prevented him from asking the questions that cried out to be asked. “What do you want to achieve? What do you already know? What ‘already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge’? How shall we explore your desire to learn together?” Most importantly, “How do we move past the rote and get you to make music as soon as possible?”

Subsequently I returned to my original, less formal, drumming teacher. Sure, I didn’t get many of the finer points as the other guy wanted to teach me, but I was able to make music. I looked forward to the lessons and my teacher listened patiently to what I wanted to ask him. He deciphered the rhythms from the CD’s I would bring to class and he would send me home to try them out. Perhaps he was amused at my trying to take on things that were too ambitious, but he never said so. I know that I will never learn to read music properly but in my mind I was making progress and was convinced that one day I would be able to “jam” with my son Giles as we would pick our way through some of our favourite melodies.

For those who believe that things in the Universe conspire to bring about the right conditions for us to learn what it is we are seeking, let me say that I am extremely grateful to the formal drumming instructor at the shop where I took only one very short lesson; even though that lesson was not about drumming at all. It was about teaching and learning. It was a perfect moment in which my grasp of what Paulo Freire had to say became so clear that I could see to the very bottom of it. It was a great 4-minute lesson.