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(Written 9 Nov 2012)

Dear All,

In the opening scene of the first episode of the BBC television series, Civilisation (BBC, 1969) Kenneth Clark is seen on the banks of the Seine with the Louvre in the background. After a brief discussion about the number of artists who have hurried to that famous gallery to study the works it contains he asks, “What is Civilisation?” Then he goes on to say, “I don’t know. I can’t define (Civilisation) in abstract terms. But I think I can recognise it when I see it.” This thought… that of believing that you can recognise civilisation when you see it, struck me quite forcibly recently while sitting on the lawn of the John Baxter Outdoor Theater at Wynberg Boys High School. (http://www.facebook.com/#!/Wynberg.Music)

The occasion was the School’s Sunset Concert and once again I marvelled at the care with which the music teachers ply their trade and I was impressed by the skill with which the pupils respond to their teaching. It has long been my view that one of the most civilising things in the world is the process by which people learn to play sophisticated music in concert; the other being schoolboy cricket in which the batsman is taught to ‘walk’ when they are out.

One the other hand, as Clark often remarks in the Civilisation series, “while it may be difficult to define Civilisation, it isn’t so difficult to recognise barbarism”, and so, as I sat there I juxtaposed this musical expression of civilisation with the expression of violence and graft to which we South Africans are subjected every day when we open our newspapers.

With that thought my mind went back to the sense of the truly sublime that I was able to enjoy with Keith and Pippa – that is them sitting behind me in the photo – when we saw Bernini’s Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius in the Eternal City. Apart from the magnificence of the work, the statue’s great symbolism of grandfather, father and son in the process of moving away from the destruction of Troy to the establishment of the new, greater Rome has a lot of meaning for me. The line from Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome always comes to mind, “For the ashes of his fathers, And the temples of his Gods” (Horatius). In a way, it represents brothers in an endless chain; overcoming difficulties, Supera Moras.

 

But sadly, as I said, at the same time as I was listening to this marvellous music I thought of the shenanigans of this country’s president as he loots the treasury, avoids corruption charges, and still manages to move toward re-election. I thought of the way in which the ANC is steadily attacking the country’s constitution through the proposed Protection of Information Act. In my mind I juxtaposed Bernini’s depiction of heroism with Hogarth’s 18th century depiction of electioneering and I was reminded how fortunate we are to have islands such as that at Wynberg where Civilisation is being fostered as a bulwark against the barbarism that has made Cape Town the Murder Capitol of the world.

It is when one attends concerts like this one that one gets hope. Hope that somehow, like Aeneas, the country will overcome the attacks and the blight of crime, corruption and government failure.

Regards

Jeff

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(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 (http://www.wbhs.org.za/ 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 ?

Regards

Jeff

(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 http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=83483 or listen to it starting at 16:45 at http://www.myoldradio.com/old-radio-episodes/i-m-sorry-ill-read-that-again-macbeth/3)

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.

Regards

Jeff

(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!

Regards

Jeff

(Written 29th July 2012)

Dear All,

It would come as a surprise to those who know me that I am quite satisfied with the Stormers’ 19 – 26 loss to the Sharks last Saturday, so an explanation is necessary.

In the 1970s, when I was what could only be described as a Western Province rugby fanatic, there emerged in the world two brands of rugby, the 11-man game and the 15-man game. If you look up the legacy of one Buurman van Zyl, reported by some to be the most successful coach of Northern Transvaal (now Blue Bulls) rugby, you will see that his success was built on a dour forward struggle in which the backs played a relatively small part. The key player in van Zyl’s 11-man style was a kicking fly-half and the upshot of it all was that the fans watched balefully as players like Naas Botha and Robbie Blair kicked South African rugby to death… it was dull, dull, dull winning rugby. In fact, the game as a spectacle was only revived, indeed, saved, when the kicking rules were changed.

At the same time, in Wales, Carwyn James was developing a fluid 15-man brand of the game with which the 1971 British Lions beat the All Blacks in Zealand. I well remember the exciting 15-man rugby played by the 1974 British Lions; as well as I remember the bewildered South African response as the Springboks were outplayed in every facet of the game. The touring Lions won 3 and drew 1 in the 4-match test series because the visitors had long worked out that possession of the ball and the attacking 15-man play was the better option; but sadly, the South Africans seemed to have none of the imagination required to adapt to a more complicated pattern of play and for the next decade, into isolation, South African coaches plodded on with the mantra that it did not matter how ugly ‘kick-and-charge” rugby may be, it was sufficient to get the scoreboard in one’s favour.

2012 Super 15 log

2012 Super 15 points table

So it was with a sense of déjà vu that I watched the 2012 Super 15 Stormers plod to the top of the log table. “We don’t care how boring it may be”, says the coach Coetzee, we are winning and that is all that matters… Only two teams scored fewer points than the “rope-a-dope” Stormers – and those were at the very bottom of the log – and the 2 bonus points the Stormers did accumulate were from their losses being within 7 points of the winners. Even the lowly Lions were able to score 4 tries in a match, which they did did more than once in the season!

I am satisfied with the Stormers’ loss because their “rope-a-dope” style of rugby (see elsewhere in this blog) would not have been challenged if they had won, no matter what happened in the final. At least now the people in charge of WP and Stormers rugby (who do not inspire in the least) will have to listen to the public. Had the Stormers won the semi-final, it would have meant another season, in 2013, of stodgy, navel-gazing coaching in which the marvelous talents of running players such as Habana, Aplon, de Villiers, de Jongh, Kolisi and Etzebeth will have been wasted again.

Regards

Jeff

(Written 28 July 2012)

Dear All,
With the recent news of the confirmation of the finding of a particle that may well be the Higgs boson I thought it would be a fine thing to post a favourite poem (and a joke) for physicists.

Billy Collins – The Centrifuge
(The trouble with poetry, Random House, 2005)

It is difficult to describe what we felt
after we paid the admission,
entered the aluminium dome,
and stood there with our mouths open
before the machine itself,
what we had only read about in papers.

Huge and glistening it was
but bolted down and giving nothing away.

What did it mean?
we all openly wondered.
and did another machine exist somewhere else-
an even mightier one-
that was designed to be the exact opposite?

These were not new questions,
but we asked them earnestly and repeatedly.

Later, when we were home again-
a family of six having tea-
we raised these questions once more,
knowing that it made us part
of a great historical discussion
that included science
as well as literature and the weather
not to mention the lodger downstairs,
who, someone said,
had been seen earlier leaving the house
with a suitcase and a tightly furled umbrella.

And the joke…

Regards
Jeff

(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. http://eprints.ru.ac.za/1399/1/Hendricks_school_book_article.pdf 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. http://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/firing-motshekga-not-the-answer-zille-1.1326803 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. http://inside-politics.org/2012/06/25/how-sadtu-and-the-sace-have-damaged-accountability-in-sa-education/ 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.

Regards

Jeff

(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 http://thepatterns.info/crime-intelligence-head-saga-reveals-a-growing-threat-to-the-rule-of-law-in-south-africa/ 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? http://www.timeslive.co.za/politics/2012/06/08/john-block-re-elected-as-anc-northern-cape-chair 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.

Regards

Jeff

(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.

Regards

Jeff

(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 http://sciencestage.com/v/5454/patsy-rodenburg-the-second-circle. 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.

Regards

Jeff

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.