Monday, April 19, 2010
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
IN speaking truth to power, it is not just to the very powerful that we must look.
In reality, more power is often wielded by politicians at a local level. Consider, for instance, how during the Nazi occupation of
Similarly, during the
I’m not suggesting we in
How to keep things together? How to ensure that the centre holds, and things don’t fall apart? That is the key issue, and it is ironic that in 2010 we have probably seen, at a seemingly trivial level, just ahead of the World Cup, very real signs of the ANC-run municipality in
It is as if they don’t have the will to do the basics right anymore. With a drought threatening the very existence of the city, there are regular reports of people informing the authorities about massively wasteful water leaks, and nothing gets done about it. For days, millions of litres of water are squandered.
We have had ongoing examples of our traffic officers failing to do their work. They are rarely seen – except when barricading freeways in protest over some or other pay dispute. Minibus taxis, whose drivers are rarely brought to book, have become a law unto themselves, breaking every rule of the road with impunity.
Streets with a story
Just some of the gutters in Port Elizabeth where leaves are accumulating. In many, weeds and grass have taken a foothold, as the municipality seems to have stopped caring about maintenance of our infrastructure.
Alfred Terrace in Central, Port Elizabeth, back in the days when gutters were kept clean and some of our key heritage buildings hadn't been allowed to fall into disrepair by cynical, uncaring property speculators.
Okay I know there’s a drought on, so the beautification plans in terms of public gardens are pretty much on hold. But there can be no excuse for the neglect of such basic services as sweeping gutters and weeding sidewalks. It is not only about beautifying the city ahead of the Cup. The city’s gutters are filled with leaves and twigs, in which weeds and grass are establishing major footholds. In time, the infestation will be such that weeds and grass start to crack up both gutters and tarred roads.
Then, of course, when the heavy rains finally come, flooding will ensue as all that detritus in the gutters is finally washed down into the storm water drains, blocking them.
The new regime seems to be largely oblivious of the need to perform ongoing maintenance of the generally fine infrastructure bequeathed to it after 1994. But the rot has only really set in this year in terms of this city’s gutters. In the past, the municipality employed street sweepers, hundreds of them, apparently on a fairly informal basis. Then some bigwigs in Cosatu decided the fact that such people were employed through labour brokers was wrong. These, Cosatu argued, aren’t “proper” jobs, so let’s do away with them. So hundreds lost their jobs, and we no longer see men sweeping those gutters and preventing the growth of weeds. The result: general decay. Okay, sure, a few weeks ago a big yellow machine came past our house and suctioned up some of the matter lying in the gutters. But this is no substitute for manual labour; for a person physically cleaning gutters and removing weeds.
So, at a time when we are supposed to be labour-intensive, a Cosatu demand has seen a machine or two take over the work of hundreds – and of course fail to do the job properly.
A week’s light, but steady rain in the city has now also left a legacy of grass verges and traffic islands that are starting to resemble small jungles. One wonders where the municipal employees all are.
Oh yes, I’ve just remembered. They’re all on strike – though often it’s hard to tell these days. Except, of course, that the black bags pile up and are split open by dogs and vagrants, waiting for the next cold front to bring a gale which will spread the waste matter far and wide. Which makes you wonder why people are so foolish as to put out their rubbish for collection when they know – if they read their newspaper or watch telly – that a strike is on.
There is a national local government election next year. Most of the people who pay rates in our towns and cities probably support the opposition Democratic Alliance. The majority who don’t pay, or pay very little, vote ANC, which then takes those rates and either wastes them on parties and perks, or uses them to subsidise the free electricity and water which “indigent” township dwellers receive.
One would not wish to see poor people deprived of these handouts because, like pensions and grants, they provide the livelihoods on which so many depend.
However, I believe – as
Just a thought.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
A section of the many citrus orchards at Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape.
THERE is a very humbling experience which every South African politician, but especially those from the ANC, needs to go through. But before I divulge what it is, a bit of background.
It is all too easy for those in power to become isolated from “the people” – to ignore the role played by that august body of humanity who constitute our nation.
These are the folk whose everyday lives ensure that the economy keeps on rolling, and it is with their taxes that the politicians and their vast hordes of hangers-on are paid.
I think, in particular, of the likes of Julius Malema, president of the ANC Youth League, who loves to sing a “struggle song” which exhorts his followers to “shoot the boer”. Of course this is not far removed from President Jacob Zuma’s song in which he calls for his machine gun.
Before divulging the full nature of the “humbling experience” I believe the likes of Malema and Zuma should be subjected to, let’s for a moment consider Malema’s credentials as a struggle veteran. You cannot tell me that a man aged 29 was part of “the struggle”. He would have been about nine when Madiba was freed, and 13 when democracy arrived.
But judging from his recent outbursts in Zimbabwe it is clear Malema believes “aluta continua”, and that the struggle aims will only have been achieved once everything owned by white South Africans has been nationalised. He wants to “take” white-owned farms and “give” them to black people. The same applies to mines and, no doubt, all businesses and, eventually all private property. Makes you wonder why he isn’t the Communist Party’s biggest hero, since this surely will be a socialist utopia.
Or will it?
Malema obviously has not followed the course of events in Zimbabwe over the past 10 years. The former Rhodesia was once a prosperous nation, with a strong agriculture sector built around its commercial farmers, making it the envy of many and the breadbasket of the region.
Once the white-owned farms were seized and ceased to be productive, the economy simply imploded.
But let’s return to that vision Malema has, whereby white farms are, to use a Zanu-PF term, “indiginised” – which of course ignores the fact that many whites in that country had roots going back several generations to those who established the then Rhodesia in the late 19th century. In this country most of the “boers” – Afrikaners – can trace their African heritage back to not long after Van Riebeeck arrived at the Cape in 1652. That’s over 350 years.
For many English-speaking whites, me included, our African presence dates back to the 19th century, with 5000 settlers having arrived from Britain in 1820.
But, of course, for the likes of Malema this attachment to South Africa is irrelevant – except in so far as it “proves” that this influx of settlers, which over the centuries has seen over four million people of European extraction come to live in South Africa, only did obnoxious things: like exploit and pillage the locals.
As someone who grew up opposing apartheid, I am the last to defend the way black South Africans were treated, especially under apartheid after 1948, when our leaders should have known better. But the colonisation of this country was part of a global phenomenon. It may not have been moral, but it happened in various ways around the world as European nations flexed their muscles. We have now to decide whether our joint futures should forever be determined by which “side” of the colonial divide we are perceived to be a part, or whether we can look beyond our differences to a joint nationhood.
Surely, with a black government having now been in power for 16 years, we need to work together to build this country and create masses of new jobs to reduce unemployment and tackle poverty, thereby hopefully reducing crime.
Which brings me back to that humbling experience. It is a simple process – in my case thanks to having finally acquired unlimited home-based internet access.
I challenge Malema, Zuma and all the other ANC leaders to get onto Google Earth and simply explore this great land of ours.
I started by trying to find the dams built before the advent of democracy to supply Port Elizabeth’s water needs. I found the Kouga dam amid spectacular mountains in the Baviaanskloof area. I also noticed that along the river were incredible irrigated farmlands, a delicate patchwork of rectangles and perfect circles – which look so impressive from the air.
Then I moved to the Kirkwood area, and was flabbergasted at just how many separate orchards full of citrus trees there are along the Sundays River valley.
I traced the canal which was built to supply irrigation water to these farms, and then travelled inland up the river into the Karoo. I was startled by just how many perfectly laid out farms, all meticulously surveyed, flank this river. In fact, virtually every river, every small tributary, that I looked at showed evidence of how enterprising farmers have used their expertise, and determination, to grow food on a commercial basis. Elsewhere, larger farms are home to livestock – dairy, beef, wool, mohair, mutton ...
The landmark Teebus and Koffiebus koppies near Steynsburg in the Karoo, with irrigated lands nearby.
I “travelled” north, to the Gariep dam, built in 1971 at the height of apartheid. It is an impressive expanse of water, and some of it is tapped, via the 82.8km Orange-Fish River Tunnel (opened in 1975) under the Suurberg mountain plateau to a place called Teebus near Steynsburg. According to Wikipedia, it is the longest continuous enclosed aqueduct in the southern hemisphere and the third-longest water supply tunnel in the world. It has a diameter of 5.3 metres and ranges in depth from 80 metres to 380 metres. Construction started in 1966 and the tunnel opened in 1975. Wikipedia says when the tunnel was completed “it was the longest continuous enclosed aqueduct in the southern hemisphere and the second-longest water supply tunnel in the world”.
Anyway, from Teebus, the Orange River water travels along various rivers till it reaches the Sundays River valley canal system. And we in Port Elizabeth, in turn, draw water from there to supplement our dwindling supplies from the dams to our west.
I also took myself into the Western Cape winelands and wheatlands, to the sprawling maize fields of the Free State ...
It is in the rural heartland of this country that you discover why it is so great. Destroy this, and like Zimbabwe you cut off its lifeblood.
Now I am not citing all this as a form of white boasting. Throughout our history, things have been built jointly between white and black. The partnership may not always have been equal, just or fair, but in the end this country was developed to be the relative African powerhouse it is today.
What I hope such a virtual tour of this country might give our ANC leaders is a sense of perspective. The message it sends me, who can stake no claim to have contributed to such marvels, is that there is so much to aspire to if our young people acquire an education and the skills needed to participate in our economy.
I remember watching a schools rugby match last year on SuperSport between two agricultural colleges, Marlow from Cradock, and the other from Riviersonderend. What saddened me was there was hardly a black face to be seen – either on the stands or in the teams.
If black people are to become fully integrated into this country’s economy, they need to acquire the relevant skills to do so – not simply hope to get there on the back of BEE, affirmative action and employment equity laws. These artificial bits of social engineering have inculcated an instant-riches syndrome which is bedevelling our future.
Had the ANC adopted the view at the outset that people should be given a sound education, instead of experimenting for 15 years with unworkable outcomes-based education, the process of broad-based black upliftment would by now have been firmly established.
Tragically, a handful of connected cadres have got filthy rich, often only thanks to widespread corruption and nepotism, while millions still wallow in poverty. The hoped-for broad black middle class has not become the force many had hoped for.
A first-world economy, as this Google Earth tour of South Africa’s agricultural heartland shows, is a hugely complex thing. And there is no easy entree to its fruits – you need to acquire the relevant skills and then commit yourself to a lifetime of hard work in order to achieve your dreams.
But instant, race-based gratification of the Robert Mugabe and Julius Malema variety is a recipe for disaster.