Actually, there is a moral high ground

Pat Schwartz’s article “There is no moral high ground” (April 26) proves the truism that history is written by the victors. There is a moral high ground in the case of Israel vs Palestine, and it is time for us, as Jewish people, to acknowledge this.

It is grossly unfair to represent the conflict as one between two equals in which there is “no will on either side to make it [peace] except on their own uncompromising terms”.

Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David is a case in point. Presented as “more than generous”, Yasser Arafat is tarnished as uncompromising for walking out on the talks. But considering what was actually on offer, did he really have a choice?

Camp David’s “compromise” involved the establishment of a non-viable, semi-independent Palestinian state that would still leave Israel in full control. If a person takes over your 20-room house and then offers you “independence” in one room, broken up into pieces and scattered like Bantustans throughout the mansion, is it unreasonable to say no? Particularly if the offer is contingent on your forgoing the right to resolve any of the really important questions like the return of Palestinian refugees.

The massacre in Jenin is the culmination of a long string of human rights violations perpetrated against Palestinians, starting with the United Nations Partition Plan that gave 54% of the land to Israel, despite Jews owning only 6% of it.

According to Jewish historians like Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe, Zionists – unhappy with the plan – had an expansionist agenda from the outset and have used every excuse over the years to clear Palestinians off the land and provoke military action that would gain more territory for Israel. This agenda has culminated in the occupation of the West Bank and the intensification of Israeli settlements even throughout the seven years of the Oslo process.

The reality is that an historic compromise was made in 1988 when the Palestinians accepted the existence of the State of Israel and agreed to an independent State of Palestine in 22% of the land (4,4 rooms of the 20-room house) despite a legitimate claim to it all. This compromise has been reiterated in the recent Saudi peace proposal adopted by the entire Arab League and again rejected by Israel.

If we are to uphold everything that is ethical and precious about our heritage as Jewish people we must acknowledge the origin of this terrible conflict and recognise Israel’s role as aggressor in the Middle East. – Shereen Usdin

Old Boys jeopardise dream

I refer to the article “Megapark threatened” (April 26). Indeed Minister of Enviromental Affairs and Tourism Mohammed Valli Moosa did promise undeliverables with regard to the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, but I’d like to suggest that a certain stakeholder group got him to stick his neck out on its behalf (for fences to be lifted and threatening animals to be introduced, with precious little management on the ground, well before it was responsible to do so) to ensure that the expectations these stakeholders had established in the public arena and the promises that they had made to their funders would be fulfilled.

Moosa was probably unaware of the fundamental sticking point for the project’s success ? the project’s lack of rural consultation, people who consider this land “their land” and who will finally determine the success or failure of this transfrontier park.

Many young field conservationists in South Africa are not surprised by Justin Arenstein’s findings. Seven years ago South African Development Community (SADC) conservationists who ran tried-and-tested programmes of conservation-based community development, invited South African practitioners to join their regional network of cooperation.

They knew, through some hard lessons, that only by actively involving rural communities in the business of ecotourism and sustainable land management with wildlife, would they be able to conserve protected areas.

These conservationists had long been used to working with a limited traditional skills base, fragmented infrastructure and negligible budgets. Necessity had forced our neighbours to gain a wealth of experience in a new form of African conservation practice, incorporating rural leadership, knowledge and sustainable wildland management practice, both within and alongside protected areas.

Despite the SADC conservationists’ efforts, I watched South Africa’s old white vanguard of established NGOs look on with a little disdain, participating marginally, so assured were they that they would never find themselves practising this kind of Africanised conservation.

As the years went by young Turks in the field soon realised that it was an imperative to consult with rural people living alongside protected areas. Their managers in the established NGO sector, however, paid lip service to truly inclusive community participation, coupled with real developmental objectives that would provide incentives for rural people to continue to live with dangerous wildlife.

As these young Turks began to develop programmes that involved building capacity in new black conservationists, the old boys refused to move out of their “single species protection” domain, too afraid to meaningfully involve rural people in the protection of South Africa’s biodiversity.

Some of us left the fray, too tired of trying to convince our Old Boys Club managers that we had no alternative but to include African management perspectives. But the Old Boys were not going to give an inch into their conservation strongholds, fearful that they would lose their established profiles and funding bases. The irony and tragedy is that now there are precious few black conservationists to take over their conservation legacy.

Years ago, I remember observing a Peace Parks Foundation’s senior representative at a community consultative workshop in Kruger, a pinstriped Englishman who proved to be completely out of his depth. Perhaps he thought a quick dash into the bush would allow him to tick off “communities consulted” on his to-do list. As I recall, community representatives were left angered and alienated by his superficial grasp of the situation, and the arrogance of placing his ready-made plan before them.

And what about the board members of these organisations? Seven years later the Old Boys grow impatient with needing to leave a legacy, and it’s easier to convince those like Moosa to fast track their objectives, knowing the shortfalls, but fundamentally jeopardising the entire dream.

The best thing about being part of an Old/Young Boys club (and there are plenty of young Anglophiles in their wake) is that you buy their silence ? the NGOs and consultants knew that Moosa’s promises reflected both questionable judgements and bad conservation practice, considering the project’s lopsided state of completion. Moosa took his lead from those he believed were “in the know”. Those on the ground knew it was a farce.

Poor, rural people are not stupid when it comes to the management of the land on which they survive. This is the only resource they have available to keep poverty at bay. Without thorough, inclusive consultation even at the stage of “drawing up” a project, years of time and money are wasted, not to mention a new arena of mistrust – it’s rather like reviewing the planned routing of the Shilowa Express in your newspaper along with receiving eviction papers – your home, your only real asset after 40 years of hard work, is bang slap in the middle of the Express’s construction path and the project is already in progress. – Victoria Hylton, Johannesburg

Thwarting transformation

Transformation is a concept that our lovely Natal University has strived over the years, particularly post-democratic elections, to make us believe is held in the utmost importance. It appears, however, that a pocket of academics within the university’s corridors of power either has a rather counter-transformation agenda that intends to frustrate the process of redress, or are determined to put the transformation agenda in abeyance if it means getting a credible black professor of academic distinction to head the university.

This surely does not only perplex the more than 50% of the selection committee members who voted for Professor Malegapuru Makgoba as vice-chancellor, but also confounds the more than 70% of the general university community (students, lecturers and general workers) who voted for Makgoba to become their vice-chancellor.

A few university professors, led by a very white executive cabal, have resorted to using a few ambiguous technicalities to benefit their personal agendas. They do this by demanding from a selection committee consisting of 30 members a two-thirds majority as a requisite for a recommendation to be made to senate and eventually council. The requirement does not offer any alternative in cases where the majority is less than two-thirds, creating a loophole vulnerable to exploitation by a few powerful individuals.

Such filthy, cheap tactics are, in fact, conducted amid confidence that the university community is backing Makgoba – the university community and selection committee, plus a resolution of the General Students Council on further supporting Makgoba’s candidature. We are left with but one thing to conclude: that there is a serious organised counter-productive cabal within the executive and senate that still lives in the twilight of the apartheid era with its racist approach.

Also dumbfounding is the persistence of demotivating Makgoba’s candidature on two issues: firstly the Wits University saga that arose from the panel during his interview and, secondly, allegations that he attempted to stop funds from being channelled to the University of Natal Medical School. He gave a clear response to both questions.

It is appalling to learn of a plan by some members of senate not to send any recommendation to council on the issue of the vice-chancellor’s appointment. One foresees a situation where the chairperson of council coerces council to re-advertise the position, making it possible for a highly ambitious professor from the university executive to assume the position. Indeed we will decry an opportunity missed by our lovely institution. – South African Students Congress and African National Congress Youth League, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

‘Lies, damn lies and statistics!’

In a statement released on April 17 Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon declares that his party has shown “tremendous growth in Alex”, achieving a “substantial increase in support in Alexandra” when their candidate in the by-election managed to obtain 15,2% of the vote, “up from 4,2% in 2000”.

What Mr Leon fails to mention is that the Alex total polling percentage in 2000 was 34,79% (15 024 registered voters) as against 6,31% this year (15 280 registered voters). While the DA votes might have increased percentage-wise from 4,17% to 15,13%, the actual number of persons who have voted for them decreased from 218 in 2000 to 144 in this by-election.

One would imagine that voters who support a smaller party where a big party dominates the political scene would show their party loyalty by making an effort to get every single supporter to the polling booths to vote and to increase the number of votes.

Admittedly, all the other parties participating in the by-election showed a decrease in the numbers of persons who voted for them, but the scoreboard still shows that the African National Congress again won the ward with 81,09% of the vote as against 91,46% in 2000.

By conjuring with figures and misrepresenting statistics in this way, Leon almost succeeds in convincing one to agree with Samuel Clemens when he said there are “lies, damn lies and statistics!”. -Edwin Conroy, Pretoria

No proof

Your story “Would the real Aids dissident please stand up” (April 26) suggests that the documents mentioned in your article might have been written by President Thabo Mbeki. That might be true but the electronic signaturing on those documents does not in any way prove it.

If someone creates a document in Word, then sends it to someone, the recipient of that document can decide to use the same document to write another one by just deleting the contents of that document and adding his own. That will not in any way delete the electronic signaturing for the user who created the [original] document. ? Mandla Thabethe

In brief

The price increase has been a motivation for many to withdraw their patronage even though they have been patrons since the Weekly Mail days. However, the editorial on Gerald Morkel and the education situation in the Eastern Cape affirmed the importance of the Mail & Guardian. Public officials should be transparent and accountable to the people on whose behalf they act. Please intensify monitoring them because that is in the public interest. – Mandlenkosi Koma, Mofolo South

Shuttleworth is a South African name. We should oblige the Brits and surrender Mark and his space flight to them (April 26) only when the Europeans allow us to make grappa, ouzo, port, sherry and champagne. ? Mal Malachy Morrow, Tableview

When I met the man who stole my car, the furthest thing from my mind was any negotiation over sharing the title of the car. Why, then, does our government expect the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe to enter power-sharing negotiations with Zanu-PF? Before the seats go cold at Sun City, let’s invite them all down for a junket and do the job properly. – Phil Evans, Somerset West

Perhaps you women should devote your time to getting your own house in order (Letters, April 26). Put your bras back on, refrain from wearing see-through clothing at the office, stop exposing your breasts on public beaches, end your posing nude in magazines, strip-clubs and movies and simply clean up your act. Perhaps then your precious vaginas won’t be viewed as “objects of disgust” as you put it. – Dieter Carlson, Durbanville

Please include your name and address. Letters must be received by 5pm Monday. Be as brief as possible. The editor reserves the right to edit letters and to withhold from publication any letter which he believes contains factual inaccuracies, or is based on misrepresentation.

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