Category: History and Social issues

Dear All,

(Posted Aug 2015)
I thought you may find the rather haunting 1945 film footage of Berlin, at the following site, of interest. Pay particular attention to the sound track.
This link has prompted a wide response from friends to whom I have sent it, including a suggestion that I watch the documentary, Night Will Fall, (apparently about the holocaust); but unfortunately, in my dotage, I no longer have the emotional resources to watch stuff like that.
Incidentally, my reaction to the hollow expressions* and the only words you hear in the clip – Hitler ranting about “totalen krieg” – was to be reminded of the view expressed by Albert Hirshman in, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Harvard University Press, 1970). In that work Hirshman suggests that people in large, declining and/or decadent organisations generally respond to the degeneration in one of three ways, viz, 1) they give up the struggle and Exit, or 2) they use their Voice to speak out against what they see is wrong, or 3) they remain Loyal to the organisation by keeping quite and compromising along the way.
Freeman Dyson, in a Physics Today interview, listed three examples of physicists (and their approach to the use of physics by Nationalist and Fascist Europe in the 1930s) to illustrate this view by saying that “Bruno Pontecorvo chose to Exit, Albert Einstein chose a Voice, and Max Planck chose Loyalty”; going on to say that “each of them paid the price for his choice.”
The Hollow Men – T S Elliot

Mistah Kurtz – he dead
A penny for the Old Guy


    We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer –

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper


(Written on 26 April 2015) Dear All, UCT alumni, friends and acquaintances who know I work at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have asked the question with concern; why did UCT’s management cave so easily when a relatively small group of students went on the rampage? Where will this end? Now that Rhodes has fallen…, will UCT also fall? To answer this question it is necessary to consider what the actual social problem at UCT may be, as well as to consider what it may mean for the university ‘to fall’. There is no doubt that there is a portion of the black student population at UCT who suffer from a sense of cultural alienated at the university. To quote Prof Mohamed Jeebhay’s view published in the special edition of the Monday Monthly, (April 2015), “the changing demographic patterns in the undergraduate student population… has contributed towards the creation of a growing critical mass of black students who articulate an increasing sense of alienation due to the (university’s) pervasive Eurocentric institutional culture”. There is some truth in this statement. My observation is that those students who come through what may be usefully described as a “model-C school experience” adapt readily to the institutional culture of UCT; while those who come from a township or rural school are at first bewildered, but those who cope with the work and adapt to the institutional culture generally go on to success. Unfortunately for those who find the academic work tough, the experience soon turns to something of a cultural shock. As these students battle to recover the characteristic ‘white impatience’ and the occasional expression of indifference with which they are met – sadly something that is part of the institutionalised culture – is interpreted as colonialist, imperialist, racism. The culturally shocked student’s reaction may range from a simple crestfallen shake of the head and a sad “eish wena”; to emotively irrational rants like that by Ntebaleng Morake about a “white supremacist capitalist misogynist system” where “nappy headed Black women (are) suffocated by the shackles that celebrate white supremacy and male entitlement”. (Why decolonising UCT is imperative, even after the fall of Rhodes statue, News24, 15 April 2015). Black students at UCT who experience this sense of cultural dissonance ask themselves, quite rightly, why they feel so uncomfortable at an indigenous institution? After all, they are Africans in Africa at an African university? Why do they feel like foreigners? Who or what is to blame for their state is readily described as colonialist, imperialist, etc., etc. Here I must point out that it is my observation that while the proportion of UCT students who struggle with what is essentially a Western culture is growing, they are not in the majority…, as yet. My observation is that the majority of students – and here I mean the black majority – have embraced what Jeebhay calls the ‘Eurocentric institutional culture’. The clothes they wear, the music to which they listen on their iphones, and the pictures of cult-heroes they paste on the covers of their books are largely Eurocentric. So for example, while a group of some 200 or 300 Rhodes-Must-Fall supporters would be singing and chanting and protesting at selected spots on campus, the significant majority of students, including black students, could be seen to be going about their usual business without much more than a passing interest in the protest. It is clear that the dissonance of some does not resonate with most, but this does not mean that there isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed. As the proportion of UCT students who come from township and rural schools increases the need to assuage this cultural dissonance becomes more urgent. Having acknowledged the cultural difficulty experienced by a growing portion of the black students at the university, what of the perception that in accommodating this cultural change the university will ‘fall’. The perception of the failure of South African institutions has become our daily experience. Eskom was once a financially A-rated, reliable generator of electricity; now we are reminded every other day of its fall as the lights go out. The South African Post Office was once the place where you opened your first savings account; today they cannot be relied upon to deliver a parcel. Even our parliament has been seen to degenerate into the kind of shambles that was once a risible news-item associated with lesser countries. Alumni of the Cape Technikon are presently at pains to point out that they graduated from an institution quite different from what became the Cape Peninsula University of Technology; as industry’s perception of the kaput CPUT’s qualification is a shadow of what the Technikon’s once was. After UCT’s management was seen to cave to the unruly student behaviour shown on national television we are left asking if this is UCT’s fate? What now? Will the management cave to other demands? Will UCT’s alumni also have to make the case that internationally recognised degrees conferred in 2000 are not the equivalent to some down-rated UCT qualification conferred in 2030? Of course, we have to ask ourselves if it really matters whether UCT ‘falls’ or not? Perhaps – to make a dent in the massive unemployment problem facing the country – esoteric research should be trumped by the need for vocational training at any price. From figures published by Stats SA in 2014 we know that in South Africa there is presently some 5 million unemployed black people between the ages of 17 and 24 years; and to this must be added the 16 million who will be coming through the school system over the next 15 years. Over the last five years the black population has grown at a rate around 11%, but the annual economic growth rates have been around 1.5% – so there is no way that a considerable proportion of these people will ever be employed. Under these dire social circumstances, does it matter that the country should have a university among the world’s top 150? (Incidentally, at present rates it is expected that by 2030 whites will make up less than 2% of South Africa’s total population.) So, we probably agree that it is inevitable that UCT should transform into an African university. Now we have to figure out what that means. How is an African university different from what would, worldwide, be considered a university worth the title? Rhodes PosterAs far as I can see, this point has not been clearly communicated simply because it appears to be poorly defined in the minds of the agitators for transformation. Yes, there has been a clear expression of what is broadly described as ‘black pain’, and specifically described as the sense of failure ‘to make it’ at what is seen as a European (colonial, imperialist) university. But what is not clear is what the transformed university would actually look like. The Rhodes-Must Fall campaigners have festooned the university’s notice boards with posters happily proclaiming, “Transformation has taken a leap forward”, while its companion poster shows a jumble of words that convey no specific meaning…, reminding one of the central problem with China’s Great Leap Forward; it destroyed but put nothing in its place. As agitating students, staff and supporting newspaper reporters resort to defacing symbols, demanding changes (inter alia for easier curricula and academic race quotas), occupying administrative offices, and mindlessly repeating slogans, one wonders if this is what they believe the ethos of an African university should be. In the Monday Monthly Special of April 2015 we are shown a picture of a demanding student proudly posing in front of an occupied building with a slogan and a clenched fist, but he has placed duct tape across his mouth… one wonders if he has any notion of the deep contradiction this image presents at a university, whether an African university or any other sort of university. Unlike some of my friends who have taken the view that the Rhodes-Must-Fall program will energise a wholesale change in the institutional culture of UCT, I expect that there will be some shifts to becoming a bit more African (however that may be manifest), but the university will nevertheless remain much on the same course as it is now. The reason for this is because UCT has a significant international exposure and connectedness which steers it away from the parochial. One is reminded of how, as the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in the 1960s, Albert Hertzog tried in vain to prevent television from being introduced to South Africa. Hertzog’s self-serving motivation was to preserve his specific brand of culture but ultimately the internal and international pressure prevailed and all his efforts were swept aside. So I expect it to be as with email, twitter, pop music, sneakers and tee-shirt slogans. I expect that despite the present cultural dissonance experienced by a section of the black student population, the youth at the university will adapt to the ethos of a pervasive International institutional culture…, I believe that UCT will remain a university for the foreseeable future, with some African flavour. I guess only those who will be around in 2030 will find out for sure. Regards Jeff

(Written 26 Dec 2014)

Dear All,

When Siobhan Mulligan recently told me that she had enrolled to do a course in creative writing at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, (USA), it struck me as a marvellous way to start a career as a writer. Perhaps it was because I had found the Eternal City to be such a fascinating place that Rome, Georgia, was always on my list of places-to-visit> And while I came close on occasions, I never actually got there. Nevertheless, I am just prejudiced enough to make all sorts of conclusions as to why the open spaces of Berry College would be just the right place to have great thoughts and to meet with all the conservative claptrap that makes for the tragedies and comedies of fine writing. Berry College may just be the place of which writers’ dreams are made.

Well positioned in the Bible Belt and with so much Civil War history, I found the northwest corner of Georgia (USA) to be a haunting place. The serenity and beauty of the Chickamauga National Military Park, just to the north of Rome, GA, belies the stupidities and motivations that led to the battles that were fought there; something underscored when I witnessed a fallen soldier being interred in the carefully manicured Chattanooga National Cemetery in 2008. (It seems that he had been killed in Iraq.) I remember how the spectacularly misty views from Lookout Mountain left me with a strange sadness as I looked down onto the loops of the Tennessee River from which the Yankees arrived to slip through the back door in 1863. And I thought for a moment that I heard the whoops and galloping of Nathan Forrest – just as one can hear the clatter of running-away hooves of Christiaan de Wet’s commandos (2nd Boer War) across the vlaktes of the Orange Free State – as these icons struggled heroically in an already lost cause…, it is a place of romantic dreams indeed.

Of course, dreams provide a fertile space for creative writing. Not just the idea of the way in which Life’s dreams are made and broken, but that dreams can be interpreted in any way you please. Here I should point out that I subscribe to Bronowski’s view (The Visionary Eye: Essays in the Arts, Literature, and Science, MIT Press, 1978) that works of art are never complete in themselves. Art requires that the viewer or reader should complete the work by ‘creating’ a response at the time of the viewing or reading thereof; and in this sense, the author may well write creatively at the time of putting pen to paper, but the act of ‘creative writing’ only comes about when the reader actually interprets those words for themselves. For example, Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) has always held meanings for me that I am sure the young Robert Zimmerman never intended, and who has not sighed in sympathetic relief when the Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe (1882) comes to an end. Or how about the twists and turns of Lewis Carroll’s subverted Fit the Sixth – The Barrister’s Dream from The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in 8 Fits (1876). See The nonsense nature of these writings gives us the opportunity to ascribe deep meaning to the stuff of dreams.

Incidentally, one must chuckle at the thought of Queen Victoria, who, having enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, commanded that she be presented with other work by that author. One expects she could not make head or tail of the mathematics of Charles Dodgson, but perhaps she acknowledged the cleverness in Carroll’s the Fit the Second – The Bellman’s Speech:

The Bellman himself they all praised to the skies—
Such a carriage, such ease and such grace!
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
The moment one looked in his face!

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
A perfect and absolute blank!”

So I look forward to reading Siobhan’s work that I think may somehow maintain the bridge between the histories, sceneries, and dreams of the puritans of Southern Africa and those of North-Western Georgia.


(Written March 2014)

Dear All,

It has been suggested that systematic corruption thrives on organisational weaknesses in which the perpetrators can exploit conflicting incentives; discretionary and monopolistic powers; and a culture of impunity. And it can be seen that in some societies systematic corruption has become the norm; while in others, when (for personal gain), the political leaders of that society are prepared to take the government down that slippery slope, the general population has been able to reject this influence and opt for ‘clean administration’.

It is not clear to me what it takes for a population to rid itself of systematic corruption when it is at such a watershed…, just as it is not clear to me whether or not a sufficient number of honest members can presently be found in the ANC to counter the systematic corruption that has been encouraged by the Zuma administration.


It was while reading extracts of the Public Protector’s report on how the South African president had managed to spend over R200 million from the public purse on his private home at Nkandla that I was reminded of another leader who, also through an insidious system of patronage, had rebuilt his family home with “his accumulations in office”. The thing that reminded me of Sir Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745), the ‘First Minister’ of Great Britain, was paragraph 6.35.1 of the Nkandla Report; a section detailing minutes of meetings to show how Zuma had lied about his not knowing how any of it came about. And the minutes that caught my eye were those in which the president’s personal architect, Minenhle Makhanya, “indicated that he was advised by the President that the households to be relocated (to make way for the expanded Zuma homestead) ‘is waiting for a family member to arrive before relocation can take place’”, and later, that “(Zuma) had requested to be informed about the delay in their relocation from the site”. These minutes were noted not because they provide yet further evidence that the South African president was lying, but that this was not the first time the little guys had been moved away because they spoiled the view from a grand house.

In 1722, then at the height of his powers, Robert Walpole had the original Village of Houghton demolished…, to make way for the lawns that were to surround his lavishly rebuilt home, Houghton Hall. In the BBC series, A History of Britain, Simon Schama can be seen next to the stone marker that shows where the original village had been located, certainly since 1086. And what links these two events in my mind is that in both cases they reflect an astonishing arrogance on the part of the owner of the mansion. Was it not enough that these men had helped themselves to obscene amounts of public money to serve their self-interest, to live in excessive luxury, and to make a grand show of their personal power? Did they really have to rub it in by getting rid of the little guys? See

The site of the original Houghton Village

The site of the original Houghton Village

Of course, Walpole’s political power did come to a sad and lonely end when, in 1742, he was pushed out of office. The sycophantic network he had created vanished into thin air but by then he had made a significant contribution to his country. He had stabilized a nation exhausted by war and the travails of royal succession. He really did lead and allowed for the development of the first modern parliament. Under his watch, Britain prospered as never before and the words “Rule Britannia” took on a meaning that spawned pride, nationhood, and prosperity. Zuma, on the other hand, has presided over a shrinking economy in which the personality of the country’s president is a very bad joke. The dancing, smiling, beguiling president of South Africa offers no leadership, nor does he instil confidence in the people who are at a political crossroad. Worse, there is a very real danger that the Zuma legacy may well be that of systematic government corruption in which the ANC’s Protection of State Information Act will play a pivotal role in keeping future presidents out of jail… unless there are sufficient numbers of good people in the ANC to put an end to this abuse of power.

The critical question at this time in South Africa, is whether the membership of the ANC has what it takes to return to its ideals and to elect a President who does not need to spend millions on lawyers to keep him/her out of jail? Does the membership of the ANC have what it takes to elect a President who does not give his/her friends special privileges to land their private aeroplanes at the country’s military airbases, and a President who does not have the arrogance to push the little people off the land…, as an expression of personal power?


(Written 15 December 2013)

Dear All,

With the demise of Nelson Mandela still dominating everything in the news this week, including the advertising, South Africans return again and again to the question, “How did it all go so wrong in the new South Africa? How did it happen that we started heroically with the ANC of Mandela, and a brief decade and a half later, we are saddled with the corrupt and incompetent ANC of Jacob Zuma! At the same we ask rather dolefully, “What can be done to right the ship?”

In thinking of this, the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens came to mind. I first heard this poem recited in 1971 by my good friend Giles Tayelor. We were steaming across the Indian Ocean at the time and I remember the dramatic moment vividly. The two of us were engineer cadets on the SA Vergelegen and he, being a SACS boy and all, had been taught poetry at school. (I had had no such luck having been sent to a technical school.) On that afternoon the blue-black sea was quite rough with storm clouds overhead and we were looking out over the aft deck at the wake of the ship when he told how, in the poem, “the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud, and gurley grew the sea. The ankers brak, and the topmast lap, It was sic a deadly storm”. He recited how the sailors tried valiantly to keep the ship afloat until (depending on the version you read) “a bolt flew from our gude ship’s side, and the salt sea it came in…”  And as every well-educated schoolboy knows, Sir Patrick and the good ship did not survive, the poem ending poignantly, “Half-owre, half-owre to Aberdour, ‘Tis fifty fathoms deep; And there lies Sir Patrick Spens, Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet!”

Of course, what makes the story so heroic is that it all started out with hope. Hope that the treacherous journey to bring the king’s daughter back from Norway could be achieved, the poem beginning: “The king sites in Dumferline town Drinking the blude-red wine; “O whare will I get a skeely* skipper To sail this ship of mine?” O up and spak an eldern knight, Sat at the king’s right knee; “Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor That ever Sail’d the sea.”  ”    *skilful

In 1994 we started out with hope, but when we look at the storms gathering in all quarters of South Africa today we see that the “lift is growing dark and the wind is beginning to howl”; and to illustrate the warning signs I draw your attention to the rather strange case of Thamsanqa Jantjie who was appointed by unknown to sign, for the deaf, the speeches at Mandela’s memorial service on 10 December 2013. It is a case that epitomizes the strange world of Jacob Zuma; something captured perfectly by Zapiro.

Zapiro and the interpreter

Zapiro and the interpreter

 Now, before you say the president cannot be responsible for everything, may I say that  I know that Jacob did not appoint the interpreter personally, I know that mistakes happen, and I know that in the bigger scheme of things, Thamsanqa Jantjie’s blatant lies about his being a qualified interpreter for the deaf is a relatively small thing, albeit a sad one. I know that there are fraudsters and shysters all over the world, but consider the circumstances of his appointment.

 The Sunday Times of South Africa, dated 15 December 2013 (p. 3) informs us that the head of the ANC’s religious and traditional affairs desk, Bantubahle Xozwa, happens to own South African Interpreters, the company that employed Jantjies. For these ‘services’, South African Interpreters included in their bill an invoice from another company, Asange Image Studio. The reason being that images are required “for all appearances” of SA Interpreter’s workers. You may well ask why another company is required to provide something that could so easily be acquired in-house until you find out that Asange Image Studio is owned by Cikizwa Xozwa, Bantubahle’s wife. Cikizwa also happens to be the office manager for Jackson Mthembu, the ANC spokesman; small world this. It seems that SA Translators and Asange have done quite a lot of business with the ANC and here is the cherry on top, their “invoices to the ANC all have the same false address and registration number”.

If all of this sounds a bit like everything else that surrounds Jacob Zuma, but you are not convinced, here is the clincher. When it was asked who Jantjies was, remember, this is a man who had been given top security clearance to be in the inner circle with people like the President of the United States, and it was asked how he came to be appointed…, nobody knows! The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu tells us Jantjies’ “services were secured by the government”, but conceded that the ANC has “utilized his services over the years”. Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the government’s deputy minister of women, children and the disabled (by every account a totally dysfunctional department) is quoted as saying that her department did not hire Jantjies. Furthermore, she “did not know who had”; adding that “somebody, somewhere, is lying”. Err, yes, that is one of the few things we worked out pretty quickly.

As noted, this little episode epitomizes Jacob’s administration; everything about it is “so totally Zuma”. In the Zuma world it is OK to provide a mediocre service and defraud the public. We have ample evidence of how those in the inner circle of ‘number 1’ have license to feed from end-to-end through the country as though it were a trough. In the Zuma world it is OK for cabinet ministers to cheat on travel expenses and to botch substantial tenders (Joemat-Peterson), no matter what the cost to the country’s natural resources. And if you get found out, well, just hang in there, the Secrecy Bill is just around the corner to protect the government’s flops. In the Zuma world it is OK to spend an unauthorized MR200 (US$20,000,000) on yourself while pretending it is for your security because if you are the president surrounded by a sycophantic coterie of security ministers, you can have your private home in the rural midlands at Nkandla declared a national key point; while at the same time your friends can land their private airliners at the Waterkloof Airforce Base, a real military installation in a built-up area, because that can be declared… “not be a national key point”. And all the while those actually responsible will know nothing! It is pure Zuma.

So we ask ourselves again, how can the hope we had be saved? Where will we find a skilful skipper to sail this ship of State for we have seen ‘the new moon with the old moon in her arm’, and we know that if we are to continue this way ‘we’ll surely come to harm’. Who can sail South Africa away from the storm that is the accumulation of the corruption, lies, mediocrity and feigned ignorance that characterizes the administration of Jacob Zuma; an administration spectacularly symbolized by the mumbo-jumbo of the delusional Thamsanqa Jantjies?



(Written on 23 December 2012)

Dear All,

‘A bit over the top’ was my immediate reaction on noting a report quoting Richard Dawkins as saying, ‘Being raised Catholic is worse than child abuse’, see

Certainly, in the panoply of organisations that have been in the business of thought control, the Catholics stand out as one of the great successes. The symbols of Papal control can still be seen all over Rome, and here I am referring to the constant reminders above inscriptions and monuments all over the Eternal City, the symbols that remind the viewer as to who holds the keys to the gates of Heaven. It is, to my mind, a symbol of mental terrorism to remind you who is supposed to have the power to “loose and bind” your very soul to either Paradise or Hell.

Papal insignia - showing the keys to looe or bind

Papal insignia – showing the keys to loose or bind

Before I am misunderstood however, I must declare that I am not a religious man. As with Michel de Montaigne, I “would easily carry, in case of need, one candle to Saint Michael and one to the dragon”, but may I hasten to add that I hold this a-religious view not because I have insight into whether or not a Spiritual Reality of this kind exists – and therefore a gatekeeper to Heaven is necessary – but because I do not know if it is so. It may be that there exists a God who is more interested in the minutia of human life than say in the minutia of ant life, but I cannot see any evidence or reason for such a state of affairs. The only interest I have ever come across when considering this matter has been that of the people peddling the idea. So, this post is not about a belief in a God, but is confined to a comment prompted by Dawkins, that the Catholic Church is or was a great menace.

It is not a simple thing to show that the Papal symbols are not instruments of thought control, but it is easy to show that Catholics don’t have a monopoly on religious systems that employ psychological blackmail. Throughout history the industry of priests has been to exert a form of mental terrorism through promises of Heaven and or threats of Hell, be they in this world, the third world, or the next world. And while most civilisations have got over it, we still see this manipulation of the minds of people by pastors, priests, rabbis, mullahs and sangomas all over the world; the bedevilment of life in the Middle East in this way is a case in point.

When our younger son was about 10 years old he had the misfortune of having a junior school teacher who was a dreadfully religious, reborn spinster. Not only were her obligatory sex-education lessons very confusing for the boy – mainly because this miserable woman was telling of what she had heard, not of what she knew – but because she solemnly declared if a child had not been baptised in a church, and should they die, then their souls would go straight to Hell and Damnation…, for eternity. As we didn’t believe in that liturgy, my wife and I had not bothered with the ritual of baptism and so now, simply to assuage the child’s deep anxiety, we arranged for the lad to be baptised at the local church; something I expect the Church and the teacher had in mind in the first place. As it happened, the baptism was a happy occasion and in the end no harm was done, but the iniquity of frightening a child in this way is, to my mind, quite unforgivable. In that respect I am in agreement with Dawkins.

But is or was everything about Catholicism as bad as he seems to suggest? Well, I am not a Catholic, and I am mindful of H G Wells’ view that in the question of the dissemination of knowledge, “It was not the Roman Republic whose heir the Church esteemed itself, but the Roman Emperor.” It may well be that the intention of Church education was to facilitate the subjugation of the common minds by the clergy, but in the end, the fact is that it did open up the prospect of the modern educational state. And as I hear you cry, ‘Oh yeah, what about Galileo’, may I point out that no matter whether the leaders of the Church planned to enlighten or oppress thinking in the world, it was indeed the organisation of that Church that provided the vehicle for the general dissemination of knowledge throughout the Globe for hundreds of years.

Perhaps more importantly, as pointed out by Kenneth Clark, “The great achievements of the Catholic Church lay in harmonising, humanising and civilising the deepest impulses of the ordinary people.” One of the ways in which the Church did this was by presenting the virtues of tenderness and compassion to a barbaric world through the introduction of a female principle of the form of the Virgin Mary; a key figure in Catholic worship and to my mind a most enlightened idea. After all, why should we take seriously an all-male Divinity? Male and female principals are characteristic of every stabilising world religion and perhaps, if the Judaic religions had included a female principle, we would not be witnessing the present and protracted fighting in the Middle East.

Michelangelo's Madonna and Child

Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child

And then of course there is confession… as noted, I have never made confession (if that is what you do with it). By the same token, I have never been on a psychiatrist’s couch, so in that sense I am not much better than a virginal sex-education teacher, so I will quote Kenneth Clark on this topic.

The historian cannot help observing how the need for confession has returned, even – or especially – in the land of the Pilgrim Fathers. The difference being that instead of confession being followed by a simple comforting rubric which has behind it the weight of divine authority, the modern confessor must grope his way through the labyrinth of the psyche, with all its false turnings and dissolving perspectives… because as a rule it is the act of confession that matters, not the attempted cure. (Civilisation, BBC and John Murray, 1971, p. 177)

It is quite true that through the dogma, bigotry, corruption and secrecy of the Catholic Church’s Councils and Inquisitions, a large number of people have been damaged over the years – and for that the Church stands rightly accused – but the Roman Catholic Church ultimately, in my view, did more good than harm and is therefore not deserving of the Dawkins headline.



(Written 4 Nov 2012)

Dear All,

A recent discussion about Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (1901 – 1966) having been at Wynberg Boys High School for one year ( Headmaster’s Blog) had me reaching for my copy of what must be the finest book published on Afrikaaner Nationalism, W A de Klerk’s The Puritans in Africa: A story of Afrikaanerdom, (Pelican, 1976). The thought on my mind being to what extent his schooling may have influenced the world-view of a person many would consider to have been the devil incarnate.

It is well recorded that Verwoerd was an extremely intelligent man (although I have learnt that he only came second in his Wynberg class, 1913) but what was of greater interest to me is the way in which his early life may have made it possible for him to rationalise his role in the obvious destruction, pain and distress caused by the implementation of National Party policies in South Africa during the 50s and 60s. Especially since his father seems to have had great sympathy for the Boers in their struggle against the English and so the family’s sense of the pain of social injustice must have been acute. It is my guess that his deeply religious father played a key role in his thinking and perhaps his schoolboy experiences had a part in it. No doubt his immersion in the Social Pathologies and problems of white Afrikaaner poverty during the depression years in particular could have prompted a self-image of a saviour of his people. Whatever it was, his destruction of the lives of many people came with a peculiar sense of righteousness that is well described in Chapter 10, titled The Promethean Afrikaaner, a chapter in which de Klerk writes about the way in which the policy of apartheid ‘unfolded’ (p. 241):

Never in history have so few legislated so programmatically, thoroughly and religiously, in such a short time, for so many divergent groups, cultures and traditions, than the nationalist Afrikaaners of the second half of the twentieth century. Never had such a small minority of all those affected done so much with such a high sense of purpose, vocation and idealism. Never have so few drawn such sharply critical attention from a wondering world. Never has such a volume of criticism been so wide of the mark.

The world’s criticism was ineffective because “(they) did not understand that the harshness, the patent injustices, were all oblique but necessary results of a most rational, most passionate, most radical will to restructure the world according to a vision of justice; all with a view to lasting peace, progress and prosperity. As such it was true to the peculiar life-style of the Western Puritan man.

A bust of H F Verwoerd

This Puritanical view of righteousness was captured in two dicta regularly preached by Verwoerd, the first being that “The policy (of separate development) is designed for happiness, security and stability…,” and secondly, in the nature of a slogan, “Skep self u eie toekoms!” In a sentence, “Create your own future by a design for the happiness of all.”

These dicta, in some modern context, may find a place in the hearts and minds of the Men of Wynberg in 2012, but I am sure we will never be able to calculate the damage, suffering and loss brought about by the Puritanical implementation and rationalisation of this ultimately misguided work by the disciples of Malan; N. J. van der Merwe, T. E. Dönges, Eric Louw, C. R. Swart, J. G. Strydom and H. F. Verwoerd. All of whom, except Verwoerd, as de Klerk points out, “… were urbanised Afrikaaners, but a generation removed from their own platteland nurseries (p.114).” Verwoerd was born in Holland.

So in answer to the question as to how it was possible for Verwoerd to rationalise the destruction of apartheid, I am afraid I really am non-the-wiser. Who knows what goes on in the mind of an extremely intelligent bigot ?



(Written on 13 October 2012)

Dear All,

Once upon a time there was a president of a struggling country. The suffering people of the land had been exploited by their political masters over many years and as their lives became more and more miserable the desperate citizens turned to their smiling, dancing president for the requisite leadership that had hitherto been absent. The people looked to their president for words that they could understand, for words that would inspire them, for words that would make it possible for them to see their way forward. As it happened, at that time, an election was looming and there was a small possibility that the president may lose his #1 position of privilege at the State’s feeding trough – a position he was very keen to retain because he was misappropriating a great deal of the peoples’ money to build a giant castle for himself at Inkandla – and so he went to speak to his old friends, the ANC’s Umkonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association.

But instead of saying things that could be plainly understood by the ex-soldiers and the nation, the president spoke in metaphor. He told them that a previous President of the ANC had warned them to “beware of the enemy within”. He told them not to get into busses if they did not know where the bus-driver was going. He gave them the surprising news that fraudulent and corrupt leaders were alien to the ANC. Without being specific, he told the veterans to “remain vigilant” in guarding against those who lobby for positions.

Zuma stumping for a second term

In listening to the president’s metaphoric messages I was reminded of the Macbeth skit from the BBC 60s & 70s radio show, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, a show featuring John Cleese, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, David Hatch, Tim Brooke Taylor and Bill Oddie. In the following piece, Macbeth is giving instructions to the murderers:

(Read the whole wonderful script at or listen to it starting at 16:45 at

Lady Macbeth: Macbeth, we must put an end to Banquo and his son Fleance, I have hired two murderers.
(knock knock)
Lady Macbeth: That’ll be them.
(enter two murderers)
Macbeth: Ah, you must be the…
Murderers: exactly.
Macbeth: As you may know, I have a little…
Murderers: inconvenience?
Macbeth: Exactly, I was hoping that it could meet with a little…
Murderers: shall we say… accident
Macbeth: My very words.
Murderers: there is of course the question of…
Macbeth: Say no more.
Murderers: Splendid.
Macbeth: So you will…
Murderers: Quite.
Macbeth: And it will be…
Murderers: Naturally.
Macbeth: Then I think we…
Murderers: Understand each other? Good.
(exit Macbeth)
Murderer 1: What have we got to do?
Murdered 2: I’ve absolutely no idea.
Announcer: The next day, Banquo was murdered, but his son Fleance escaped. When Macbeth heard this, he tore his hair and stamped on his rabbit.

The problem with the metaphorically speaking president’s exhorting of ex-soldiers to do something about an ill-defined enemy is that it is not clear who the corrupt, misdirected bus-driver may be. Who is the enemy lobbying for a top position by the bulk-buying of members (in ZwaZulu-Natal)? Surely the president wasn’t referring to himself… or is there someone else in the ANC guilty of these alien tendencies?

Sadly, this fairy tale does not appear to end happily ever after.



(Written 2 October 2012)

Dear All,

With the ANC’s 2012 leadership race in full swing we expect our newspapers to be crammed with the vicissitudes of political intrigue over the next three months, the big question being, will the rapacious Jacob Zuma be returned to office? Somehow one gets the feeling that the accredited souls of the ANC will not have what it takes to make the desperately needed change… which leads to the next question, why not? Why would the rank and file of that organisation return this man to office when it is as plain as a pikestaff that he is a failed president.

Zuma promised to fight corruption

On Zuma’s watch all of South Africa’s key social indicators have turned to alarms. He has, on occasion, pronounced on action to be taken to arrest the scourge that is corruption and yet, at absolutely every level of government, corruption has boomed. Some years ago Zuma declared his government ready to get teachers to spend time-on-task, but for the majority of learners education has ‘tanked’. Instead of the promised “better life for all”, we have a disintegrating public health service, labour relations at a dangerous low, abysmal municipal service delivery that exacerbates the daily struggle and we have a level of social protest and violence reminiscent of the bad old days of Apartheid, all coupled with inept, gung-ho policing

The Constitution is under threat and the National Prosecuting Authority is moribund while the ANC’s parliamentary priority appears to be its bid to hide that party’s corruption behind a Protection of Information Act. The hugely important problems of land restitution and nationalisation are left unattended expect for the occasionally mumbled question in speeches, “How do we fix these things?”… this open question being Zuma’s stock reply to every complex problem.

Astonishing amounts of taxpayer’s money have been squandered on junkets for government officials while the dysfunctional Public Works Department is being plundered for personal gain by anyone with political clout, mainly by the president himself. The list goes on and in this litany of travesties we look to the president’s example – which embodies a great deal of what has gone wrong in the country – and we recognise that in every crisis the country has had to face of late, the president has failed to inspire the struggling nation.

And despite the obvious erosion of this country’s social fabric the smiling, dancing, wooing president has convinced himself that he has not failed because, “the ANC does not have a single person as its leader, the ANC has collective leadership”. Zuma is able to reconcile his dismal performance by holding out that in the ANC the buck does not stop anywhere. For ANC members there is privilege and reward, never individual accountability.

But is there such a thing as ‘collective leadership’?

An example of research into Leadership

Over the last 30 or so years a great deal has been published in business and organisational literature about management vs. leadership. Researchers have considered whether these are just two sides of the same organisational coin, they have tried to distinguish the actions of management from the actions of leadership. They have even wondered whether managers are a different breed from leaders. My experience is that these two aspects of organisation are closely linked but are quite different in one key respect; management is impersonal while leadership is intensely personal. Management is structured, mechanistic, and to a large extent, faceless. The responsibilities of management can certainly be shared and so the idea of an amorphous “collective management” does have validity. But leadership has a character and a style; it is idiosyncratic. The character of an organisation is the character of its leader and so the idea of ‘collective leadership’ is simply nonsense.

The strength of management in an organisation is vested in its infrastructure, it is a long-term asset, while its leadership is vested in the individual at the head, a short-term thing. That is why it is possible for once well-led and well-managed organisations to continue operations for limited periods with poor leadership. Which is also why, when leadership change takes place, good organisations can make their way safely through periods of transition, but no organisation can accommodate for a sustained period, a lack of leadership, or the burden of poor leadership.

As an aside, it is worth noting that successful organisations have at their head an individual who is able to play the roles of both a manager and a leader as appropriate. Such individuals will show an inclination to be one rather than the other, but those heads that bring about prosperity always have a clear sense of when they are managing and when they need to be leading.

Which brings us back to the blight that has struck the ANC in 2012: In its 100th year it finds itself with neither leadership nor management; and no apparent way to correct itself. The ANC’s loss of direction has its roots in the mid-1990s when the leadership of Mandela was replaced by the bureaucracy of Mbeki. And this downhill slide was underscored when the bureaucratic style was replaced with the self-serving but otherwise vacuous leadership of Jacob Zuma.

It is a sorry state of affairs for an organisation that could boast a wealth of management and leadership a mere 20 years ago, but which is now mostly gone. Sadly, for the Beloved Country and for the ANC, Jacob Zuma appears to be as good as it gets. Eish!



(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.