Monday, September 19, 2011

Response to Pallo Jordan article

Last Sunday, September 18, 2011, the lead on the letters page of the Sunday Times was a good one. It dealt with two articles the previous week on the Review pages of the newspaper, one of them by Pallo Jordan, the ANC cabinet minister. I submitted a letter in response to the same article, but it was not published. It is carried below.

I was pleased to note that Pallo Jordan adopted a far less virulently anti-colonial stance than usual in his article on Tiyo Soga, “The first African modernists” (September 11, 2011).

Normally, all we hear from him and other African commentators is how the European settlers “stole the people’s land” and suppressed them.

But the case of the Rev Soga tells a different tale. This was a 19th century Cape colony where the British, for all their early faults, later, through strong missionary and other humanitarian movements, promoted the advancement and integration of the Xhosa people.

That was how Soga came to be taken over to Scotland, where he trained to be a Presbyterian minister and married a local teacher, Janet Burnside, before returning to the Eastern Cape to help uplift his people.

Consider these words from Jordan: “The secular cultural impact of the movement initiated by the Christian converts [like Soga] led to the spread of literacy, modern education, technical training and the acquisition of modern skills among Africans.”

One of the reasons I have a keen interest in Soga is that, in the early 1980s, I played a small part in helping ensure that the historic hamlet of Mgwali, where Soga established a Christian mission, was not destroyed and its people forcibly removed to the Ciskei at the height of grand apartheid.

As an organiser for the Progressive Federal Party in East London at the time, I helped publicise the issue. But my role was minor compared with that of PFP MPs like Helen Suzman, Andrew Savage and Errol Moorcroft, not to mention the Legal Resources Centre under Geoff Budlender, who finally helped ensure that Mgwali, near Stutterheim, survived.

I invite readers to google my name and the word Mgwali, which will take you to a section of my blog where you can read a bit more about this fascinating place and the trauma it was subjected to under apartheid.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Putting Pinky in her place

The tendency of black South African columnists, with a few treasured rare exceptions, to paint our entire history - and hence white people's role therein - in as negative a light as possible, prompted me to again submit a letter for publication n the Sunday Times. Alas, last Sunday it was not used. Indeed, no letters critical of Ms Pinky Khoabane were used. Anyway, for the record, this is what I submitted:

Pinky Khoabane simply bristles with a Mugabe-like desire for revenge and retribution in “Sorry arch, but now it’s too little and too late” (August 21). And of course it is her white South African compatriots who are again in her sights.

I am always alarmed at the knee-jerk response of black South African commentators to the realities of a modern economic system in which they still do not feature as prominently as they should. Certainly, since 1994, the ANC has ensured that the bulk of state jobs have gone to people of colour – even if this has often been at the cost of efficiency as underqualified people have been promoted.

But it is the private sector that worries Khoabane most, as she again cites with disdain the fact that whites are still in the vast majority of managerial positions, while it is also still white farmers doing most of the commercial agriculture.

The way she writes, you would think that when whites first started arriving in this country over 350 years ago, there was already a thriving, modern economy which they then stole. The reality is that way back in history, Europeans explored and often colonised vast tracts of the earth. The British empire was immense, and South Africa was part of it for about 150 years. Before that, it was the Dutch who impacted on the Cape. The end result of this long, often ugly and discriminatory, association between settlers and natives was the development of modern towns and cities; the establishment of a first-world economy. Apartheid, from 1948, undermined what should have been a gradual deracialising of the economy – and drove a wedge between black and white.

Instead of blaming the ANC for failing, over the past 17 years, to institute a working education system which would have helped economically empower black people, Khoabane falls back on the old trick of blaming whites themselves. Whose fault is it that, despite throwing billions of rands at the problem, our schools are still not providing the vast majority of black children with essential skills?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The new South African propaganda

Was the wealth of South African whites acquired by "bloodshed and robbery"? Too often, today, black commentators in our media are expressing such views as "historical fact", when in reality our history was far more complex and ambiguous. I recently wrote the following piece based on the row over an editor being called a "black snake in the grass deployed by white capital", and that she would have been necklaced in the 1980s.

Truth or Propaganda?

The nature of propaganda is such that the more you repeat a lie, the more people begin to accept it as the truth.

A classic example was Nazi Germany before the Second World War, where the Jewish community was demonised by the fascist leaders under Adolf Hitler to such an extent that eventually they used this “truth” as justification for a policy of genocide.

So I write with a sense of growing concern at the direction in which the national dialogue has been moving of late. And something Veli Mbele said in his “In my view” column in the Port Elizabeth newspaper, The Herald, of August 22 encapsulates the way in which African South Africans have become so steeped in the “black is right, white is wrong” perception of our history that they refuse to see the many uncomfortable nuances, the vast expanses of grey.

Mbele wrote a largely commendable analysis of the row between City Press editor Ferial Haffajee and Sowetan columnist Eric Myeni, who was fired after writing a racially charged diatribe attacking Haffajee. We all know the most jarring aspects of what was written – things like calling her a “black snake in the grass deployed by white capital to sow discord amongst blacks” and that in the 1980s she would “probably have had a burning tyre around her neck”. Scurrilous stuff.

Mbele explored further Myeni’s argument about how the use of state tenders to enrich black people could be justified. Mbele commendably says the point is whether “when they get rich through state tenders ... they do so legally and ... use their wealth to materially improve the living conditions of African people in general”. On this point, of course, one has to ask: how many of the many state tenders awarded to BEE companies since 1994 have been above board? How many of the companies were equipped to do the job, and indeed completed it properly? One only has to look at the RDP housing fiasco – with houses crumbling – to realise that far too many of these companies were ill-equipped to tackle the projects for which they tendered. Often they simply sub-contracted the work to established (read white) firms, thereby increasing the cost of the project.

But that is an argument for another day. More worrying for me are Mbele’s comments with regard to our history. He notes that Myeni had stated that the DA “receives money largely from white business, which is the main economic beneficiary of the government tender system”. Firstly, that is a dubious claim, since white firms are by and large only given the contracts when, as noted above, black firms find themselves unable to do the work. In terms of the BEE loading formulae, contracts will go to black firms first. Indeed, the whole BEE concept was almost custom made to facilitate corruption. As soon as you put race above things like competence, price and track record in the awarding of tenders, you’re asking for trouble. So we are stuck with a system literally designed to promote just the sort of moral malaise which Mbele correctly identifies in Myeni’s argument.

However, what really concerns me is this sentence by Mbele: “It is common knowledge the DA is a historically white party and that our national wealth, which now resides in white hands, was acquired through bloodshed and robbery.”

He goes on to talk about “these historical facts”, as if his biased view – which is widely held thanks to decades of indoctrination – is holy writ. The historical reality is far more nuanced. There are indeed vast grey areas where Mbele sees only black and white, good and bad.

A brief resume of the counter-argument would go like this. Bantu-speaking people came down from central Africa and “colonised” what is now South Africa and was occupied by the Khoisan. European whites started “colonising” the same area, starting in what would become Cape Town, from 1652. That’s over 350 years ago. The world was a very different place. The great powers of Europe were taking to their sailing ships and exploring a world they had only recently discovered was indeed round, not flat. They were motivated by both a desire to find wealth through trade, and indeed colonisation, and among their scientists and intellectuals, by a fascination with the complexity of this planet. Charles Darwin is a fine example.

It was as much an age of discovery as one of imperialism. Yet imperialism did occur, and Britain was the key imperialist for a century and a half. Of course “weaker”, less advanced indigenous people were conquered and governed by settler rulers. (Just as the Romans did to Britain for nearly 400 years until 410 AD, the Normans did after 1066 and in a sense the Roman Catholic Church did to much of Europe for 1000 years up till the 16th century.)

The local populations of colonised countries were exploited and marginalised. But Britain did abolish slavery in 1833, and by the mid-20th century gradually loosened its grip and eventually handed over the reins to the locals in countries around the globe. A fine example is India, which is now a thriving democracy, though still beset by widespread poverty.

Most important of all, the European settlers brought with them – especially in the 19th and 20th centuries – all the benefits of the scientific, intellectual, industrial, agricultural and economic advances that had made their home countries the powerful states they were. These were introduced into South Africa as a direct result of colonialism, leaving us with an advanced, industrial economy that is the envy of the rest of Africa.

Certainly black people often suffered grievously, particularly under apartheid post-1948. But the broader picture is one of a country provided with the building blocks to succeed by the ingenuity of its white settler community in partnership with the indigenous population.

Mbele and Myeni can distort this history as they please, but each time they make use of anything that has its origins in the West – the products of centuries of rigorous intellectual endeavour – they should pause to reflect on whether they shouldn’t be just a little grateful for that legacy.

I suggest the Internet – a western invention – might be a place to start looking. Or computers themselves. Or cars, trains, internal combustion engines, cellphones, telephones, radio, television, CDs, DVDs, fridges, stoves, electricity. Look at the history of science and ask yourselves, should we not be grateful for these gifts, the atom bomb notwithstanding? Think too of things like freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, human rights, modern medicine, formal schooling, universities, police forces, democracy. All were, by and large, a product of this western European age of enlightenment.

We have a choice. We can accept this broader, more balanced, picture of our history. Or we can just swallow the “white is wrong, black is right” propaganda hook, line and sinker, until in the end all manner of cruelty is justified in addressing this supposed “truth” – as Hitler did in Germany and Poland.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nationalising South Africa's mines

Julius Malema and the ANC Youth League have been calling for the nationalisation of South Africa's mines. What sort of impact is this having? This is how a Reuters correspondent reported on the issue on August 10, 2011. Consider what effect such a report might have on potential investors overseas. This is the report:

By Jon Herskovitz

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s ruling
African National Congress is at war with itself over calls to
nationalise a mining sector that has been the backbone of
Africa’s largest economy.

Nationalisation could bankrupt the country and destroy its
credibility among investors. But the idea resonates with the
country’s poor black majority who see it as a way to spread the
wealth from a sector that grew powerful along with
white-minority apartheid rule.

Here are a few questions and answers as to what may result
of the nationalisation debate.


Not unless the ANC wants to ruin the economy by trying to
take over a sector that accounts for about half a million jobs
and 6 percent of GDP.

The country cannot afford to buy out listed mining firms
which have a market capitalisation of about 270 billion, equal
to about two-thirds of GDP or twice the annual state budget.

Running the mining firms would cost tens of billions more a
year and given the loss-making track record of state-owned
enterprises, nationalised mines in South Africa would place a
huge drag on the economy.

Threats to tweak laws in order to expropriate shares for a
fraction of their value would run up against international
investment guarantees that would almost certainly a trigger
severe backlash from South Africa’s trading partners.

The debate is largely kept alive to settle political scores
in the ANC and will stay on the agenda at least through the end
of next year when it holds a conference to elect its leaders.


The government has been clear on what it expects from mining
companies: more black ownership, more jobs and social justice
for the black poor who have been marginalised for decades by
mining barons.

Nationalisation will not happen but keeping the debate alive
provides leverage.

The government has created a state mining company which will
focus on strategic minerals including coal and uranium, although
it has yet to be decided how the firm would operate. Analysts
said this may be the extent of state ownership in the industry.


The government will likely apply more pressure on mining
firms to achieve a government mandate for them to have 26
percent black ownership and 40 percent black management by 2014.

Mining firms could be pressed into joint ventures with the
public sector in the downstream processing of minerals. The
government’s national growth strategy sees mineral processing as
a pillar of growth and job creation. It has laid out 10 mineral
commodities and five value chains it wants to develop, saying
mining firms will be called on to help.


Changes may come at the margins but there will probably be
nothing major. South Africa’s royalty system is considered one
of the more advanced among mining giants.


Probably not. Mining firms may face greater pressure to
increase shareholdings to local communities where mines are
located and pay a larger bill for infrastructure development.

The energy-intensive sector may see higher tariffs from state
utility Eskom, which is scrambling for funds to build much
needed power stations.

Mark Cutifani, chief executive of mining power AngloGold
Ashanti, said in an opinion article last month the mining sector
is willing to help end “inequality and the demons of its past".

Separate from nationalisation, mining firms could face a
huge bill from legal cases from miners seeking compensation for
deadly lung diseases, especially in the gold mining sector.


High-minded ideals of social justice could easily fall prey
to crass corruption.

Foreign investors, South Africans and the ANC's governing
partners have grown increasingly worried about the
implementation of a black economic empowerment policy introduced
by the ANC after apartheid ended 17 years ago.

BEE is aimed at righting the economic wrongs of apartheid
but critics say it has only enriched a few politically connected
businessmen in a country where millions live in poverty and over
a quarter of the work force is jobless.

An increased push for more black ownership could deepen the
pockets of a few while the impoverished majority see no gains.

Nationalisation could be used to bail out BEE firms that
made bad investments in the sector or to revisit mining rights,
which would deal a blow to regulators already being probed by
police over a sweetheart rights deal that benefited President
Jacob Zuma’s son and his backers.

Joint venture firms could end up as money pits that create
few jobs while piling costs on mining firms.

The biggest risk is that South Africa will place too high a
burden on mining companies, hurting the competitiveness and long term prospects for Africa’s largest economy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sadtu's baleful influence

This short letter was published in the Sunday Times on July 24, 2011. I wrote it in response to several examples of people in power demonstrating that when it comes to acting morally, they are prepared to fudge issues at random. Anyway, the national newspaper chose to edit my letter quite severely, so I am including my original below. However, the letter may have spurred ST journalist Chris Barron to grill a senior Education official along similar lines.

My published letter is above. Click on it to read it in larger format. Below is my original, which cited two further instances of moral torpidity.

A reading of the Review section of the Sunday Times last week (July 17) provided a disturbing insight into the moral malaise afflicting this country. Three points stood out:

- In his article on education, the DA's Wilmot James referred to the Education International congress in Cape Town from July 22 to 26. While many of Wilmot's suggestions for resolving the education crisis hit the mark, it did not seem to occur to him that the fact that Sadtu was hosting the gathering during a school term was symptomatic of the very union-induced failure besetting education. Three of the days earmarked for the conference are school days. How many teachers will sacrifice time they should be spending with their pupils to attend this conference? This just a week after their three-week midyear holidays.

- President Jacob Zuma's new (old) spin doctor, Mac Maharaj, confesses to S'thembiso Msomi in an interview that in cases like Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka – who is accused of using R160 000 in public funds to fly family members around the country – Zuma will not fire him because “we don't like to drop a person. And that is a good quality.” In other words, when it comes to the ANC, every cadre is untouchable.

- Business Unity SA executive member Sandile Zungu uses similar logic to justify having chief government spokesman Jimmy Manyi as head of the Black Management Forum. Chris Barron asked him if black business was likely to speak “without fear or favour” against nationalisation when “one of its most influential leaders is the government's chief spokesman”. Zungu said there was “a school of thought which says it enhances that because of access and reach”. Asked if it doesn't “compromise its independence”, he said: “Independence is not enhanced by dissociation, necessarily.” So he's saying it is possible to be critical of government while being its chief spokesman. What dangerous nonsense.

This is a section of an interview which Chris Barron conducted for his So Many Questions column in the Sunday Times of July 24, 2011. He was speaking to the director general of Basic Education, Bobby Soobrayan in the light of the Sadtu conference I referred to, and to two reports which spoke of Sadtu's baleful influence on education. As usual, Barron was brilliant in pinning his subject down. I often wonder how he does these interviews. It is in person or over the phone. What they constitute, however, is an object lesson in how to speak truth to power. Now if only we could see our politicians - including Malema - put under similar pressure on national TV, preferably by someone as informed and fearless as Chris Barron seems to be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prof Jonathan Jansen on education

I submitted this piece in response to an article in the Sunday Times of July 10. Needless to say, it wasn't published. Instead, the paper led the July 17 letters page with another response to the same article written by someone who regurgitated the very turgid rubbish which got education in this country into the sorry state it is to begin with. Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my response to Prof Jansen's article:

Professor Jonathan Jansen hits the nail on the head with his analysis of what is wrong with education in SA (Fixing a class-based calamity, July 10). However, what he did not mention was the imposition of outcomes-based education soon after the ANC came to power.

In their arrogant rush to remove all structures in place before 1994, the ANC decided to impose a curriculum that many warned would fail. And so it has.

Jansen notes that it is the former Model C schools which “continue to provide the camouflage of an apparently functional education system”, and the reason they do is not entirely financial. What most of them did was apply OBE very reluctantly, at all times ensuring that tried and tested methods – what Jansen calls “routines and rituals” – were retained. Clearly, with Sadtu undermining all attempts at achieving excellence, these rituals have not been allowed to take hold in township schools.

The ANC has repeatedly refused to acknowledge that it needs the expertise and experience of the white people of this country, and as long as it continues to do so it will reap the bitter rewards of such short-sightedness. Meanwhile, the ANC elite send their children to those very schools which still apply the successful methodologies of the apartheid era. How tragically ironic, since it means that the people who vote them into power again and again – the impoverished township masses – will continue to bear the brunt of this new form of class-based apartheid.

Meanwhile, the ANC goes on appointing under-skilled, inexperienced cadres to key positions in local, provincial and national government as part of its race-based affirmative action programme. And so the vicious cycle of failure built on failure will continue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

King George VI

I had a piece published in The Herald, Port Elizabeth, back in about 2001 protesting at the planned change of the name of the King George VI Art Gallery to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum. My concern was that the move amounted to destroying history. It came as the ANC has sought to change various colonial names. A tentative compromise has been reached in this area, with Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch incorporated in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro. Then I saw the film, The King's Speech, and thought I'd have another bite at this apple. This was the result.

My article, published in the Weekend Post, on March 3, 2011. Click on it to read it full-size.

Then came some follow-up letters and SMS, which are always interesting to see. Often, sadly, my "supporters" add a racist dimension I never intended. Will black Africans ever accept that, for all its failings, colonialism was a necessary step in this country's development?

Some more SMS responses from the following week (not the bottom one, which is about another issue).

Two more, from March 26, which means the issue kept going for three weeks.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The fight to save Mgwali

Today, 17 years since the advent of non-racial democracy in South Africa, many younger people will have no real concept of what apartheid was like. Working for the liberal opposition, the Progressive Federal Party, in the early 1980s, I got to grips with some of the policy's most sinister aspects. There was a so-called "white corridor" between the nominally independent Ciskei and Transkei. The purpose of Vervoerdian "grand apartheid" was to make black people a minority in South Africa, as people supposedly returned to their "homelands". But of course nobody wants to move from where they have lived for generations, so the state started its policy of forced removals of "black spots". One such area was Mgwali, near Stutterheim. The son of one of Mgwali's oldest residents, Kidwell Giga, visited us in our Eat London office and told us something about this historic place - and of how the Nat government was colluding with Ciskei officials to have the area "voluntarily" agree to be removed so some or other dumping ground in the Ciskei. The PFP made it its business to try to halt this removal and many others, including that of Duncan Village, a long-established black settlement in East London. Here the aim was to dump these people in Mdantsane, a sprawling township some 20km outside East London - and happily (for the Nats) in the "independent" Ciskei. They would lose their citizenship just like that.

I wrote this piece at the time (the last leg of copy is below). It was published in the Daily Dispatch in November, 1982. I was 26 years old. Please click on the images to see them at a readable size.

I am happy to record that thanks to widespread opposition, Mgwali and Duncan Village were not obliterated. A few small battles against apartheid were starting to be won in the early- to mid-1980s. I believe those of us who had the guts to speak out against injustice at the time helped bring down the apartheid government monolith in the early 1990s.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fighting apartheid in the 1970s

Since the ANC came to power in 1994, but especially since Nelson Mandela stepped down as president in 1999, I have found myself compelled to become increasingly critical of the ruling party's mismanagement of our country. Corruption, cronyism, nepotism, the race-based black economic empowerment laws, and so on, have all come in for a battering. My detractors have often accused me of racism, but this is arrant nonsense. I just despise hypocrisy. Anyway, as proof of my nonracial credentials, here are some of my earliest writings.

Somewhat badly edited, this appeared in the East London Daily Dispatch of my childhood hero, Donald Woods, on June 27, 1974. I was 17 years old and in matric. My father had died a few months earlier of a coronary thrombosis. On April 24 of that year, the Progressive Party won six seats in parliament. Among those joining Helen Suzman was future leader Frederik van Zyl Slabbert. Alex Boraine would join them after winning a by-election later that year. These were the first major chinks in the National Party's armour. Increasingly, whites in urban areas would turn against the party of apartheid. My siblings and I worked for many years for the Progs and their successors, the Progressive Federal Party, in pursuit of a peaceful transition to a nonracial democracy.

But of course youngsters do have other things on their minds, and this little letter, published in the Dispatch on August 22, 1974, when I was still 17, shows the impact of the hippie era.

National service, or military conscription, to put it less euphemistically, loomed. I was meant to go in July, 1975, but for some reason the call-up was postponed a year. I worked for the first five months of that year on the Dispatch as a cub reporter, under Woods. During that time I penned this piece, which was run on the leader page on March 4, 1975. Again, it's quite naive and poorly written, but then I was just 19 years old.

The impact of apartheid really hit home when one visited the beach, which in my case was a stone's throw from our humble home in Bonza Bay. I probably wrote this before the June 16, Soweto uprising, but it was published in the Dispatch on June 20, 1976. There was always a delay of about a week before letters were run due to the lag caused by the postal service and, no doubt, a huge queue of letters at the newspaper. I had started studying fine art at the East London Technical College under Jack Lugg, so happily was able to delay the military until July, 1979. I used that time to fight apartheid.

Still essentially a child myself, in 1977, not quite 21, I wrote this piece, which was run on September 6.

I latched onto many issues. This one appeared on September 16, 1977.

The year 1977, with SA still simmering in the wake of the June 1976 uprising, was a traumatic one. Black consciousness leader Steve Biko was murdered in security police detention on September 12, 1977, two days before my 21st birthday. His death saw an outpouring of letters to the editor. These appeared on September 20 - again delayed due to the time lag. By the way, I never kept copies of these letters. My sister-in-law Hazel and I took turns examinig a myriad microfiche files of the Dispatch to track them down.

It was always a great thrill to get the lead letter on the page. This one appeared on October 10, 1977.

This was probably written the day news arrived of Biko's death, but was only published on October 6, 1977.

The evils of beach apartheid came under my cudgel again on October 17, 1977. It is interesting to read the adjacent letters on these pages as they give one an insight into what was happening at the time.

The next white general election was scheduled for November 30, 1977, so the country was not only dealing with issues like Biko's murder, but was also on an election footing. And at election time the Nats could be ruthless.

Here again, on October 20, I got the lead letter.

Another stab at the Nats appeared on October 21, 1977.

I must have been writing almost a letter a day at this point. This was written in the wake of the banning of Donald Woods and was used on October 25, 1977. For a short biography on this remarkable man, visit the Donald Woods Foundation site

The anti-apartheid campaign continued with this from October 27.

Here I talk about a protest we planned for the City Hall which was banned. It was run on October 28. My sister Jen was held briefly by the police during this incident.

The banning of various organisations, newspapers and individuals was the subject of this, from October 29.

Justice Minister Jimmy Kruger symbolised the unfeeling nature of a ruthless regime. These letters appeared on October 31, 1977. During this election campaign, I heckled Defence Minister PW Botha single-handedly in the East London City Hall at a massive public meeting. I was nearly beaten up. A few weeks later, we again protested inside the Orient Theatre and I did get kicked around by Nat thugs after we quit the meeting before the singing of Die Stem. The Nats won 134 seats in the election, but the PFP boosted its tally from 7 to 17, while the New Republic Party, successor to the United Party, only mustered 10. So to those who label me racist, I ask: have you ever stood up against tyranny? Have you ever spoken truth to power. I think, in my small way, I made a contribution in the struggle against apartheid which today qualifies me to be equally critical of the ANC when, as it so often does, it puts itself ahead of the interests of the people.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


As noted in the blurb on the right, I have written articles and letters to the editors of newspapers attacking injustice and hypocrisy for decades. After being barred from doing so in the local Port Elizabeth media for a couple of years, with a change of leadership a window again opened and I put through this piece, which was used in the Weekend Post of March 3, 2011. Please click on the article to get the bigger picture.

Though cut somewhat, this retains the thrust of my argument. I have, as you'll see in subsequent blog postings, been one of very few writers sticking up for the positive impact which colonialism had on Africa. It will be interesting to see if this article has any response in the letters column this Saturday. If so, I'll update the blog with them.