Archive for June, 2012

(Written 26 June 2012)

Dear All,

In a previous blog I wrote about lessons South Africans could learn from Singaporeans in regard to dealing with corrupt officials and I came in for a bit of stick about holding Singapore up as a paragon of political virtue (something I did not actually intend to do). So in opening, may I say that I recognise the fact that the political playing field in Singapore is not level and that the general tone of the blogs that I am predisposed to write may well get me into trouble if I were writing about the Singapore government rather than the South African one. Further, I believe that South Africa has a political system that may well be the envy of opposition politicians in Singapore, but that is not what I am concerned about here. I am concerned about the rapacious behaviour of public officials and politicians in South Africa and the fact that they are allowed to get away with it.

To illustrate the point I shall use a topic close to my heart; education, specifically the administration of education. And of the many, many possible examples I shall pick on the Eastern Cape School Feeding Scheme, the Books to Limpopo saga, and the question of SADTU paralysing any effort to correct unethical behaviour by teachers in the educational system.

The provision of primary and tertiary schooling in the Eastern Cape has long been a problem with multiple complexities and the following report on the topic is well worth reading. I would like to draw attention to the sentence on page 3 of the above, “The school feeding scheme debacle is just the most recent manifestation of an on-going malaise of inefficiency and corruption”. Now, the feeding scheme was launched in 1994 as a Presidential Lead Project and this report is one of many articles on the failure of this scheme. Just as widely reported is the fact that the Auditor-General has found that R100s of millions have been misappropriated over the years by the administrators of this scheme. In short, the officials in charge of this now collapsed feeding scheme have been complicit in the theft of significant amounts of money that was designated to buy food for undernourished children… and no-one has, or ever will be, called to account!

Presently in the South African news is the schoolbook debacle in which the Limpopo Province’s Department of Education has failed to supply the requisite school texts 6 months after the start of the academic year. If you read the Internet blurb on the company at the centre of the trouble, EduSolutions and its holding company African Access, you would think the task of providing the tools of education could not be in better hands, but even after a court order in May to make good on the delivery, part of a R320 million contract, the books were still not delivered. What we can expect to come out of this over the next few weeks and months is that a bit of dust will be kicked up here and there and details of some corruption will make its way into the public domain, but we cannot expect that anyone is ever going to be prosecuted. In short, the officials in the Limpopo Department of Education have been complicit in the maladministration of, and possibly even the theft of, significant amounts of money designated to buy educational material for children… and no-one has been, or ever will be, called to account!

A report has recently found its way into the media about the role that the South African Council for Educators (SACE) has played, or not played, in the improvement of the clearly failing educational system in South Africa. A key mandate of the SACE is to “uphold ethical practice by educators” and it has emerged that of some 350,000 active teachers in the educational system, only 97 have been fired in 12 years. This sounds like a pretty good statistic until you stop for a moment and ask yourself what happened to all those many cases of physical abuse of pupils (some even videotaped), cases of getting pupils pregnant, of the rape of pupils, of misappropriation of school funds, of teacher absenteeism and of teacher drunkenness that have been published in the papers over the last 12 years? Certainly there have been way, way more than 100 reported cases of very serious misdemeanours… Is it really possible that all these people are still on the Department’s payroll? Sadly yes. And as a reward for a job well done, the CEO of the SACE, Rej Brijraj – who has the responsibility to the children to ensure ethical standards in the teaching profession – was paid bonuses totaling almost R1 million to add to his already handsome salary over the last seven years. In short, the officials of the SACE have been complicit in the SADTU-backed conspiracy of silence that has protected those guilty of unethical teaching practices, once again leaving the children as the losers… and no-one has, or ever will be, called to account!

I return to the question posed at the start of this blog. Would the teachers and administrators of the educational system in Singapore be able to get away with behaviour like this? I think not.



(Written 22 June 2012)

Dear All,

As one would expect, Singapore is quite different from South Africa in many respects. Certainly the remains of British colonialism gives the two environments a similar look, but it does not take long to work out that the underlying cultures have resulted in very different views of the world.

Consider for example the difference in the everyday sense that corruption is simply unacceptable in Singapore; while… well, despite what the ANC politicians say, sort of, it is ok in South Africa. This contrast is well illustrated by a comparison of an article on the front page of Singapore’s The Straits Times (22 June 2012) and an online report on South Africa’s Times Live of the same date. In the Singapore paper the article is headed ‘Senior MFA official under probe over expense claims’, while in the South African article it is “Judgements reserved in Mdluli case”.

Senior MFA official under probe Singapore

Official is suspended and that is that

It turns out that Mr Lim, who has been head of protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 10 years has been accused of making improper expense clams in regard to trips abroad. Mr Lim is described in the article as a “go to guy” who has served the ministry “very well” for 38 years and is highly respected. In 2009 he was awarded Singapore’s silver medal for Public Administration. An ambassador is quoted as saying that “This is very surprising, he is a good guy, very straight”, a view underscored by the fact that the position of head of protocol is given only to those “trusted by the top echelons of government”. Investigations have only begun and no-one knows if Mr Lim is guilty or not, but he has been suspended from his position and his pay has been docked anyway. As far as could be established, Mr Lim has not been arrested.

Mdluli contests suspension

Well, is he suspended or isn’t he?

Richard Mdluli on the other hand stands accused inter alia of murder, misappropriation of secret police funds and nepotism. He also stands accused of being responsible for the leaking of sensitive tapes and emails that have proved to be greatly advantageous to Jacob Zuma. See Incidentally, I note that Mdluli is using the old Shabier Shaik hypertension ploy (perhaps preparing a get-out-of-jail card) to muddy the waters while legally contesting, not whether he is innocent or guilty, but whether some detail of the delivery of his suspension notice was correct or not… and for this judgement has to be reserved. In the meantime Richard Mdluli is on full pay and wandering about as free as a bird.

Singapore is a huge success story in the improvement of people’s lives while South Africa’s public administration is a dysfunctional quagmire in which, for the last 20 years, the quality of life of ordinary people has remained the same at best. And sadly, the prospects of any improvement in the near to medium future are dismal. And all the while there are ANC members in Parliament who have actually been found guilty of what Mr Lim is only accused of doing – cheating on expense accounts – with the difference that the guilty ANC members in South Africa are still sitting in parliament, still making laws, and still supposedly providing fiduciary oversight on behalf of the people! Astonishingly, the Northern Cape ANC recently re-elected John Block as their chairman despite his facing a comprehensive set of charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering! What the hell is that electorate thinking? And the poor people in South Africa cheer Julius Malema when he tells them how he feels their pain because others have stolen their wealth; but then he drives away in a fleet of BMWs, wearing expensive suits and a breitling watch, to recently acquired properties worth millions, for which there is no accounting other than to point solidly to corrupt tenderpreneuring. Still the people see no irony ! The list of ANC officials still in office who have been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar goes on and on, but for me the most inexplicable is that the ANC elected a president who was known to have received money under very dubious circumstances from a convicted fraudster, but no matter, they put him in the highest office anyway!

So ask yourself this question, is there a link between the electorate’s tolerance for  corruption and the State’s failure to provide basic services to the people? I certainly think so. And then wonder why it is that the supporters of the ANC allow themselves and the country to be abused in this way? That is the part that has me flummoxed. Perhaps more of the South African electorate should visit Singapore; none of that ANC ambiguity about graft and corruption here, that’s for sure.



(Written 18 June 2012)

Dear All,

If it is true that the ANC wants to find ways to solve the problems facing the country in 2012, why do they not simply start with the work done by the State’s  National Planning Commission? After all, that Commission was established in 2010 to investigate exactly those issues that plague South Africa and their first (perhaps only?) report was published in November 2011. As I understood it, the findings of the NPC were meant to inform the policy deliberations at the ANC’s policy conference at the end of June this year, so what is the role of Jacob Zuma’s ‘second transition’ document?

Report on South African development

Why does Zuma need a second transition document?

I have written, on 19 March 2010, about the ‘zuma manuva’, a phrase that describes a political manoeuvre in which the leader presents to the followers ideas or promises in such a way that every individual can interpret what he or she heard as if what they wanted was being offered to them, but in truth nothing is being offered to anyone. Jacob Zuma, after whom the strategy has been named, is the arch-practitioner of the zuma manuva and so it comes as no surprise to me that there should have been leaked to the press a set of discussion documents that the ANC has dubbed the “second transition”. (Drawn up incidentally, also, to protect the ANC from those who want to steal it from the masses. A story well know to students of the history of Liberation.)

Indeed, the president and various ministers and officials have alluded to the importance of the second transition in recent speeches but from the pieces on the topic published so far, it is not possible for the public, nor the Deputy-President it seems,  to work out from what and to what the second transition may be. Come to think of it, I don’t recall a first transition in the ANC, but that is of no consequence because the only important thing about this document is that it lacks specifics; you see, obfuscation is the hallmark of a zuma manuva.

The ultimate purpose of the second transition document is to prepare for the ANC’s Mangaung presidential election at the end of 2012 and so the timing of the leaking of the second transition documents – before the ANC’s June policy conference, but not too long before in case it is recognised as a nonsense – is a key part of the strategy. Unlike the work of the National Planning Commission which has a brief to point in some particular way to a better future, the purpose of the second transition document is to point in every possible different way at once… that is the essence of the zuma manuva. And by the time Mangaung arrives, the Zuma camp will make the claim that their second transitional plan was ratified by the ANC’s June policy conference.

The second transition is anything you want it to be

The second transition is anything you want it to be

For those who wish to read that land will be given to all and that the right of ownership of property will be protected; that the broken education system will be repaired and that teachers’ unions will not be challenged; that the moribund economy will be invigorated and that all workers will be given decent work without their having to work very much; that a free press in South Africa is sacrosanct and that the state’s ‘secrets’ will be protected; that nationalisation of mines and banks  is being discussed and that foreign fixed investment is safe; that corruption will be rooted out and that government officials who inadvertantly had their fingers in the till will be given a second chance… just look for it in the second transition. The picture from the Mail & Guardian of 20 March 2012 is an example of what I mean. Green? Of course, everything is green in the second transition. What colour would you like it to be? (This already government policy after all, so no problems there.)

In summary, the purpose of the second transition is to play the role of a promised “Great leap forward”. So, for some real insight into the goings-on inside the ANC over the next few months, don’t look for what is or is not written in the second transition document, look for the way in which the political ambiguities are incorporated.



(Written 9 June 2012)

Dear All,

There has been much discussion in the South African media about the destruction of interpersonal relations and the problems that arise from some considering themselves inferior or superior to others; what we would readily recognise as the old problem of racism. The reaction by a portion of South African society to the Brett Murray painting The Spear is a case in point, to which I should like add the comment that it takes two to make racism ‘work’, there has to be a victim and a victor.  

In 2008 I took a job as a science teacher at a school that was specifically focussed on working with children from disadvantaged black communities. Having spent most of the previous 35-odd years of my working life in some or other engineering capacity, this was a significant change in my life, one that presented unexpected challenges. I had expected that my offering and expertise from the world of science and technology would be welcomed – and indeed they were warmly welcomed by the children – but you can imagine my surprise when, as a person, I was rejected by the inner management of the school. Rejection of this sort had never happened to me before and it took a while to figure out why an industrious, well-meaning, committed and friendly person would be ostracised by the adults at an institution like that? The reason was that my behaviour was seen as that of a “dominating white male”.

The question of racism on such a personal level is generally not confronted in the engineering world and so I had never before been accused of real, or imagined, interpersonal racism. I have always taken the view that racism is a bad thing but I had had no real, personal understanding of the destructive nature of racism in its many guises. In any event, at the time I was struggling to find my feet in the classroom and given that I had been told by an otherwise knowledgeable friend that, “Honkies cannot teach in the Townships” (Whites cannot teach black children), I was very focussed on trying to find out how to relate to children in a learning environment, especially children who’s experiences and cultural background was quite different from mine. So being accused of racism at a time like that was a bewildering problem.

A useful way in which to understand human interaction of the sort outlined above is based on Patsy Rodenburg’s book, Presence: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation (Michael Joseph, 2007). Rodenberg develops the model by which three modes of human interaction are described and she refers to these modes as “circles of energy”. An excellent description of these concepts is given at Here is my summary of the circle model:

1st circle of energy: Where interaction is characterised by introversion, withdrawal, subservience and “being the victim”.

2nd circle of energy: Where interaction is characterised by balance, give-and-take, intimacy and “being an equal”.

3rd circle of energy: Where interaction is characterised by extraversion, imposition, control, domination and “being the boss”.

As noted, for a number of years I had been an engineering manager and although I was conscious of being a newcomer in teaching, I suppose I unwittingly took on the look of a ‘boss’, although I am not sure of this. Certainly I had a lot of skills to offer but that, paradoxically, also seemed to be a failing. Apparently my colleagues didn’t need a capable person to lay a golden egg every other day, they wanted people around them who would let them feel as equals; something they apparently could not do with me because I was perceived as a dominating white guy. All their lives they had been threatened and demeaned by dominating white guys and they resented it deeply. Using the Rodenberg model, my behaviour was seen as being of the 3rd circle, imposing and controlling, which automatically drove them into 1st circle. When I found I was inexplicably being frozen out of the team by the management of the school it was my turn to exhibit 1st circle behaviour… and because I did not know why all of this was happening, I remained in the 1st circle until I left the school.

In the tradition of Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) – who invariably used himself as an example – I can see evidence in my own life of not being properly schooled in the art of living in the 2nd circle. Like so many people in our society, somewhere early on the knowledge of how to live effectively in the 2nd circle appears to have been knocked out of me to some extent. Was it that boarding school? Perhaps it followed from the rigid instruction always to “stand on your own two feet”. I do not know how or why it came about, but I have since become convinced that the best way to get through the world is to learn the skill of graciously receiving and giving, as equals, for as Rodenberg puts it, “we need to be in 2nd circle in order to survive.”

Accusations of racism such as those experienced at the school automatically result in 3rd and 1st circle behaviour, which in turn allows for the justification of the disengagement on both sides. In a perverted way, racism offers an illusion of ‘safety’ in the interaction in that it defines where each stands in relation to the other. But sustained 3rd and 1st circle behaviour is insidiously dangerous in that it wilts the human spirit and destroys what could have been. A country in which its citizens lock themselves in such a paradigm is doomed to fail.

And what of the cure for racism? Well, that may not be so easy for it requires both parties to want to interact in the 2nd circle, an engagement that requires a degree of personal courage and understanding from both sides. It requires that both parties want to give and take. And it requires that neither party identifies victims and victors, but that each learns to see themselves and the others as equals. Far sooner said than done… a task that requires great leadership.



PS:  In considering all of this I went back to my notes on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom, writing that makes a lot more sense to me now, and I have made it a personal goal to try and lecture in the 2nd circle. Although I still have a great deal to learn about the subtleties and nuances of speaking, listening, feeling and thinking in each of the “circles of energy”, there is something of which I am already quite certain, “We need to be in 2nd circle in order to survive.”

PPS: Thanks to Vicki Bawcombe, who, by way of helping me develop some teaching skills, suggested I read Patsy Rodenburg’s work.

The ‘rope-a-dope’ Stormers

(Written 3 June 2012)

Dear All,

I have been a Western Province rugby supporter for 40 years! And while I always enjoy a Stormers win over the Bulls (perhaps not as much as I used to relish a WP victory over the old Northern Transvaal), I must say that the unlikely 19 – 14 win on 2 June at Loftus has left me with mixed feelings.

With only some 30% of the possession, very little constructive attacking play, and a concentration on defence in which the Stormers’ “tackles made” outnumber those of the Bulls by more than 3:1, this certainty was an unusual win. The Sunday Times described the Stormers’ approach as ‘rope-a-dope’ which is probably an accurate description of the game.

Rope-a-dope: Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle

I cannot agree with the view that it does not matter how you win… as long as you win. There is always something a bit unsettling when the best team does not come out on top. Sure there was great defence by the Stormers, but the Bulls played the better rugby; something I never could have said in the 1970s.



(Written 1 June 2012)

Dear All,

To pass laws to announce what freedoms there should be is one thing. To discover what it means to be free is something quite different.”  Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity, Harper Perennial, 1996, p. 191.

The appearance of the now defaced painting, The Spear by Brett Murray, has by and large left South Africans either titillated or convulsed – depending on one’s allegiance. Of the Nation’s polarised reaction there does not seem to be much new to be learned of those who nod and wag, “Quite right, the president is a dick in more ways than one”; but there is a great deal to be learned about the state of freedom of those who have declared themselves to be grossly insulted and demeaned. Especially what is to be learnt from the response of those who tearfully recalled the pain of being a victim of the institutionalised racism of Apartheid.

On the 5th March 2006 I was very pleased to get a letter published in the Sunday Times under the title ‘Lessons from Abroad’. . The letter was a response to one Vuyo Mvoko who had written about how a white person who had returned to SA from abroad had left him with a sense of inferiority… the white person still acted like a ‘baas’. Part of my glib advice was that someone could only be a ‘baas’ if the person holding that view saw themselves as a ‘servant’. My pie-in-the-sky solution went something like, ‘sure you were treated as an inferior in the past, but all that is behind us now. So stop thinking of white people as “baas”. You are Free at Last! Go out and compete as an equal.’

A poster advertising a Free at Last film festival

Of course, it was useless advice. I have since realised that people do not have some internal switch that can be flicked from inferior to equal to superior at will. There is reason to believe that at some early stage of our adult lives – perhaps around 18 to 23 years of age – we develop an idiosyncratic image of our ‘self’ that appears to stay with us for the rest of our lives. As we mature we are able to put an internal spin on that image, to give it all sorts of masks; but in our quietest moments, we always seem to return to that original ‘self’. As my father used to say, “You take yourself everywhere.”

Zeldin makes the point that actors play a significant role in our striving for personal freedom because in some sense, everyone is an actor. “Professional actors are most admired where freedom is most highly valued, because acting is an instrument of freedom. (Acting) enables people to realise that they are not imprisoned in themselves, but can understand others and be understood by them” (p. 187). I should like to expand on this idea by suggesting that any engagement in a creative activity is an Instrument of Freedom. For example, as I write this I am in some way releasing the fears of that little man trapped deep inside of me, I am striving to express a personal freedom and in reading this you may get a sense of that freedom; further, in trying to make my point I am perhaps seeing the point of those of whom I write.

Is this the pattern of the march of personal freedom in South Africa?

While I am not a painter – and I do not know Brett Murray from a bar of soap – I am pretty sure that in his painting of The Spear he was searching for a personal freedom, a personal freedom for himself as well as for others. This is what societies’ artists do. They reach out as actors on our behalf so that through them we may experience some of that personal freedom. But this process is not without difficulty. Zeldin again, “People who try to think for themselves know that the cobwebs they spin are fragile and incomplete; but those who are content to be disciples, and become entangled in the cobwebs of others, forget that fragility and imagine they have landed on firm, stable ground (p. 195)”. Society carries a self-preserving inertia that challenges personal freedom and in healthy societies there is a civilising balance between the expresssions of the personal and of the group. But in unhealthy, unbalanced societies – where that civilising space is not given – there is a march to anarchy or oppression. And a mark of oppressive societies is the defacing of artistic expression. In oppressive societies we hear the monotonous, mindless, chanting of slogans, by mobs, as they make their way to protest against their own liberty.

The reaction of South Africa’s political leaders and the general public to The Spear is disturbing in that it tells us that even though the Nation has been free from the oppression of institutionalised racism for almost 20 years, as a society, South Africans are as trapped as ever. Trapped in racism, bigotry, hack ideologies, and every blight that leaves us tearfully shackled to the servile state of self-styled ‘servant and baas’. It will take men and women of considerably greater ability than those presently in charge of this country to lead it to a better life for all.



PS: “Baas” is an Afrikaans word meaning “master”.