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Knowledge is the key

The late African National Congress stalwart, Oliver Tambo, once said: ”The nation that does not look after its youth has no future.” At the funeral of the late Peter Mokaba, ANC Youth League president Malusi Gigaba called for the youth of this country to boycott the Mail & Guardian for allegedly having written unfavourably about Mokaba (”Two faces of Mokaba”, June 14). Unfortunately, Gigaba did not say whether the story was true or false.

If the story is true, his call suggests he was appealing to the youth to bury their heads in the sand. With the current outcry in society about the lack of reading going on among the youth, Gigaba’s call is a disservice to the intellectual development of our society.

A thorough reading of the M&G’s story about Mokaba does not in any way indicate a campaign to demonise ANC leaders, as Gigaba and his ilk allege. A newspaper keeps the trust of its readers, and deserves their trust, only if it reports the truth to the best of its ability, whether it is pleasant or not. As the youth we cannot boycott the paper for having told it like it is.

Reading leads to knowledge, which leads to freedom of the mind, which leads to the freedom of body and soul. What Gigaba is asking us to do is to boycott knowledge. How many times must Gigaba be reminded that reading and the quest for knowledge — not following President Thabo Mbeki blindly — leads to intellectual growth.

When Sipho Seepe critically illustrates that Mbeki is not the intellectual he pretends to be, he is labelled a post-1994 revolutionary and accused of seeking recognition. The ANC does not, however, advance a counter-argument.

Some time ago Mbeki called for black intellectuals to come forth and address the many problems in our society. But Gigaba’s call indicates that he stands for ignorance. I can now understand Professor Itumeleng Mosala’s point of view that, when the current crop of intellectuals disappears, that will be Amen and the end of them.

When Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, head of the Medical Research Council, stood up for the scientific truth that HIV does indeed cause Aids, some ANC elements such as Ngoako Ramahlodi, Premier of Limpopo province, started a smear campaign against him. They said he was being used by Western scientists and the media to undermine Mbeki. They did not engage Makgoba on the scientific facts.

During apartheid the government knew how to create a culture in which people were prepared to sacrifice their principles to feather their own nests. The same culture is being created now. It is up to us, the mentally liberated youth, to circumvent this demobilisation strategy by the ANC-led government. — Noga Kobe

The essence of the man

My family was distressed by the obituary Ben Turok wrote about my father, Rusty Bernstein (”Architect of the Charter”, June 28). It had several factual inaccuracies as well as being quite impersonal, saying nothing of the man apart from his politics.

I would have thought that someone who lived in our house for nine months during the treason trial would have more to say about the kindness and universally recognised humanity of the man, and of his great love for his wife and four children.

Regarding the factual errors:

” My father did not attempt to make a living as an architect after Rivonia. He was immediately rearrested in the court on his acquittal. Bail was negotiated and, after police came to arrest my mother a few days later, they escaped across the border to Botswana and later to England. This is all well documented.

” To say my father’s ”inspiration withered and his writing ceased” in exile is far from the truth. He wrote prolifically for many journals, including the African Communist, while working full time as an architect in London. His much acclaimed memoir, Memory Against Forgetting, was published only two years ago when he was already 80.

” My father did not become ”an observer of the movement”. As many have testified, he remained active in, and committed to, the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party. He was recognised as a great teacher by many of those now in leading positions in South Africa. As late as 1989 he spent a year at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Mazimbu, the ANC’s school in Tanzania, setting up a political school for ANC leaders. During the 1994 election period, he worked full time at the ANC election press office in Johannesburg.

” My father never sought recognition or high office, he was widely acknowledged to be a most modest man and, while not one for small talk, ”taciturn” is not a word anyone who knew him well would use.

It is ironic that here in the United Kingdom your sister newspaper, The Guardian, could publish such a full, sympathetic and factually correct obituary, yet the Mail & Guardian, perhaps South Africa’s leading paper, published such an impersonal and hurried one.

Reading Turok has caused my mother considerable extra distress at a difficult and sad time. We, Rusty’s four children, wonder why you did not find someone who knew him better to write his obituary. For, while obituaries do not need to be uncritical, they should at least convey the essence of the person and the facts of his life. –Toni Strasburg (Bernstein)

Swiss Army knife is not a tool of oppression

We wish to express our outrage at your cartoon depicting the Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife with the caption ”apartheid’s bankers” (June 21).

This magnificent pocket tool has served hundreds of millions of people in more than 120 countries over the past 110 years.

Its usage transcends frontiers and its reach is global. It is a companion to millions of proud owners. It has saved people in life-threatening situations. Its popularity is phenomenal. The Victorinox Swiss Army Pocket Knife is a symbol of global unity. It has been presented as gifts by American presidents to world leaders. It is also standard issue to the Nasa space programme. It is used by United Nations peacekeeping forces across the globe and has never been classified as a tool of oppression.

We agree that apartheid was a crime against humanity. Your cartoon, however, is an affront to millions who own the knife and to the Elsener family, whose factory produces it. Your paper erred in associating this magnificent tool with the atrocities of apartheid.

We expect a newspaper of your calibre to retract the distasteful comment and offer an apology. — Stanley E Gordon, CEO, Blade Trader & Cutlery Distributing Group

The Editor writes: The Swiss Army knife is, indeed, a magnificent product. Its virtues are such that it has, like the cuckoo clock, become emblematic of Switzerland. It is this symbolism that led our cartoonist to use it to represent Switzerland. We have no doubt that our readers understood that it was the Swiss banking system, not the knife or its manufacturer, that was the target of the cartoon.

Freedom of speech is sacrosanct

While the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) calls for ”good governance”, President Robert Mugabe destroys his opposition and his country. He tries to whitewash his appalling human rights record. I want to focus on one principle of good governance — one that is key to the success of open societies: free expression.

”Change” or ”transformation” requires open discussion about the way forward. No government or political party has the perfect blueprint for change. People want to debate and plan their own future. That is why democracy is the way forward for Africa, and why freedom of expression is sacrosanct. It allows the opposition to say what it thinks about the quality of governance and to contribute to nation building.

The destruction of the opposition in Zimbabwe is a fundamentalist act at odds with the principles of Nepad. Zimbabwe’s government has attacked an independent press, denied free expression, even at the polls, and is no longer fit to rule. A leadership that promotes such things should be condemned by all of us — and by the G8. In fact, no fundamentalist government should benefit through Nepad.

Today many individual leaders in Africa have chosen to take a fundamentalist route. Some members of the former National Party government were ”fundamentalist” in their obsession with race. Some members of the South African Communist Party are ”fundamentalist” in their continuing commitment to communism. Some members of the Congress of South African Trade Unions are ”fundamentalist” in promotion of socialism. Hopefully, however, the requirements of good governance will demand the demise of such thinking in Africa and encourage the rise of loyal democratic opposition.

The Democratic Alliance is our official opposition and, as such, deserves the respect of the African National Congress alliance, including the fundamentalist part of it. The Inkatha Freedom Party uses the slogan ”Democracy means freedom to choose”, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi is often in opposition to ANC’s centralising propensity and has put forward an alternative for our country

To choose wisely, people need to express themselves openly. They need a responsible free press that will provide the information to help them choose. ”Good governance” should mean the end of tyrants in Africa, more respect for free expression and loyal opposition and greater opportunity to choose. –Anthony Fleischer, President, South African Centre of International PEN

Hypocrisy and humbug

The ”canonisation” by Mbongeni Ngema’s black fans of white Afrikaners (as ”good guys” against those racist Indians) must rank as a spectacle not far removed from Ariel Sharon now rubbing shoulders with the likes of President George W Bush,his blood-thirsty past obliterated from memory for the sake of fighting terrorists.

It boggles the mind that Ngema and his ilk should, for the purpose of securing allies, reach out to their former oppressors to belittle and incite violence against the country’s smallest minority, which remembers all too well the vendettas against them by the Nationalist Party and their supporters — many of whom stationed themselves outside Indian-owned shops, shouting out ”Uit! Uit! Uit! (Out! Out! Out!)” to white customers.

Is there no limit to hypocrisy and humbug? –Mohammed Bhaigora

Sarita Ranchod (Letters, June 21) appears to have been duped into Ngema’s pathetic argument that he was merely ”exposing the issue of race relations” in KwaZulu-Natal.

Phrases like ”Zulu warriors should confront the Indians” do not promote dialogue and analysis as Ranchod’s letter appears to imply.

That racism exists in some sections in the Indian community is undeniable. That racism also exists in African communities is equally undeniable. Does the solution lie in venting racial stereotypes and then profiting from this idiocy?

Let’s not tolerate bigotry under the pretext of ”national dialogue”. — Sudeshan Reddy

Abuse of power

I read with interest what happened to Dr McGlory Speckman (”The priest vs Unisa”, June 28). He was recommended for appointment as deputy dean at Unisa, but the council appointed another candidate on the ground that council is supreme. The view of the faculty of theology and senate was ignored. This, as Dr Speckman states, is abuse of power.

Similar action has occurred elsewhere. Councils have become laws unto themselves. Recently the University of Natal decided to appoint a vice-chancellor against the recommendations of the selection committee and senate.

Dr Speckman challenged council in court and won. This may be the route to take to curb university councils’ arrogance. –Professor Tuntufyes Mwamwenda, University of Natal

In brief

The tricameral circus is back in town! Although the clowns have changed, the acts are the same — carrot-dangling and boot-licking. As they sell out to the highest bidder, the shenanigans of the political prostitutes reflect the politics of power, privilege and patronage. Sadly, our country continues to be governed by greed. To hell with integrity and the will of the people — and damn the poor! –Brij Maharaj, Durban

Why is it you have to get the worst news for Africa? I am sick of people like you, pretending to be Africans but hurting Africa with your prejudice. Have you ever found a good story to report about Africa? –Cedrick G Ngalande, Los Angeles

I’ve quantised your ”reader retention” in a nothing-to-do situation. Your June 28 issue stimulated the grey matter from Cape Town to Worcester, driving at the speed limit. I thought that was pretty good. Writing this letter got me through to De Doorns. –Ross Campbell, Cape Town

It is John Matshikiza’s democratic right to argue that the Voortrekker Monument be turned into a urinal (June 21), but let’s be even-handed about this — surely he should supply us with the whereabouts of his ancestors’ graves so that those who disagree with his views can Pay theIr reSpectS on these sites. — Patrick Lander

I am curious as to why South Africa needs three new submarines from Germany. Robert Mugabe is unpleasant, but I doubt he has the resources to mount an amphibious assault. –Alan Dean Foster Prescott, Arizona

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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David Shapshak
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