June 16 – June 23 2006

Kirby’s colonial project

Robert Kirby writes that Shakespeare’s plays and poetry ”stand on their own, immune from any historical context” (June 9). Really? How was he able to achieve this feat? Surely any writing is influenced by, and rooted in, contemporary public discourse and the prevailing mores of its time. It stands to reason that England’s empire-building exercise would have affected even our ”beloved” Shakespeare.

Despite their dreariness, I always read Kirby’s columns, for they serve as a reminder of the battle that lies ahead in dismantling the colonial project. He and his ilk, masquerading as ”liberals”, are adept at masking their contempt for Africa and its historical contribution to the world. They will stop at nothing to advance the interests of Queen and country. So it is that even today they portray Shakespeare’s writings as having an inherent superiority and iconic status.

Schools still teach African children mathematics is the preserve of Europe and ancient Greece, or that Hippocrates, rather than the great Egyptian physician Imhotep, is the father of medicine.

This is why the Native Club is not such a bad idea, for we need to mobilise material and human resources on a massive scale if we are to undo the damage done by Kirby and his ancestors. — Dr Thapelo Motshudi, Pretoria

The foam from Robert Kirby’s mouth was obviously getting his eyes. The sentence from my paper he misquotes begins with a qualification: ”If we accept the conclusions of cultural materialist and post-colonial work on the development … of English literature … then there is no intrinsic reason why Shakespeare’s texts should be made to speak to current South African issues.” If he had bothered to read the paper, he would have seen that it was precisely such an assumption I was exploring.

Kirby’s knee-jerk reactionary hatred of all things academic should be given some time on a therapist’s couch. We aren’t that bad. Some of us are actually trying to think carefully and responsibly about what we do. — Natasha Distiller, Department of English, University of Cape Town

Kirby’s initial attack on Distiller’s work was intensified a week later by a general jeremiad on the supposed denigration of Shakespeare by UCT as an institution.

A responsible journalist would attributed a single position to the university only after first acquainting himself with what a variety of people are doing in relation to Shakespeare on the campus.

The headline from UCT’s Monday Paper — ”Just how relevant is Shakespeare in the world of young South Africans?” — is a question, not a statement. It leaves the issue of Shakespeare’s relevance open. And the quotation from Distiller he relies on is conditional: ”If we accept …”. Nothing indicates she accepts the position that Shakespeare is a Dead White European Male whose work should be expunged from the syllabus.

To learn what Distiller does say, Kirby should have attended the lecture the Monday Paper was advertising, read her PhD, or found out from her book. He would have discovered that her conclusions are not radically different from his, although she reaches them after considerably more research and informed argument.

Distiller argues for a ”South African Shakespeare”, and her current work in both secondary schools and at UCT aims to find a significant place for such in the experience of young South Africans.

I invite Kirby to look at the role Shakespeare plays in the undergraduate and postgraduate syllabi of UCT’s humanities faculty. Read the work produced on Shakespeare by faculty members over the past five years (there’s quite a lot of it). Then write a column.

Be critical by all means. We need it. But first inform yourself of the facts. — David Schalkwyk, english department, UCT

The shopping mall revolution

For those who participated in resistance and experienced repression, June 16 is a time of sombre reflection on what was involved in liberating South Africa.

But for the generation born in the dying days of apartheid, it is a holiday like any other, celebrated through concerts, festivals, beach parties, braais and visits to shopping malls (ironically perceived by the June 16 generation as a symbol of race and class oppression).

Have we prepared our young people to understood June 16 and use it to shape their lives and those of the future generations? We see growing depoliticisation, de-culturalisation, Anglicisation and low political consciousness and participation by our youth.

At the same time, they face many challenges: unemployment, school violence, high school drop-out rates, poverty, and escalating HIV infection and Aids deaths.

Youth leaders are not engaging policymakers and implementing structures to combat Aids. Some criticise them, and the government, for leading the youth to believe that business offers the only way out of poverty, in contrast with traditional values of social cohesion and sharing.

Youth leaders must move away from posturing and narrow self-interest and define a way forward for our youth. Let us stop looking to the West to solve Africa’s problems, and seek home-grown solutions. The time has come for young people to look back and learn from the experiences of fallen youth heroes and heroines, and to play a role in transforming South Africa. — Nkosinathi Ace Ngcobo, University of KwaZulu-Natal

In 1976 young South Africans took to the streets for a better society, an inclusive and representative educational system and jobs. They were promised a democratic revolution, inspired by the Freedom Charter, the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, the Palestinian struggle and the ideas of black consciousness.

Thirty years later the youth have few heroes and have lost faith in these ideals. Almost 60% are jobless; 12 years after being promised a ”better life for all”,they still sleep hungry.

Revolutionary comrades co-opted into business through black economic empowerment now smoke cigars and go to expensive night clubs. They threaten the very existence of independent trade unions and silence radical opposition.

Most members of the ANC’s national executive committee are business people; the Scorpions, National Intelligence Agency and judiciary are used used to advance a capitalist agenda.

The ANC has failed the youth through a market-driven higher education system rendered inaccessible by high tuition fees, a Western-oriented curriculums and continued marginalisation of the poor.

Today, the market economy has triumphed over the Freedom Charter. And youth revolutionaries are losing patience with their political and economic alienation. — Phuti S Mosomane, Johannesburg

Justifying past idiocy

I was amazed to read Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala–Msimang’s amnesic letter last week. (”We were right all along”). The gist was that President Thabo Mbeki was right to question the HIV-Aids link six years ago. She states that ”[Mbeki] said that we could not blame the challenge of HIV/Aids only on the virus …”

No one has ever doubted the link between Aids and its surrounding socio-political environment. The president’s point was different — he questioned the very link between the virus and the disease. Don’t you remember him saying that ”a virus can’t cause a syndrome” and other similar trash?

Don’t justify past moronic behaviour now by trying to change history. — Dr Pieter Fourie, Johannesburg

Mbeki didn’t say ”that society’s response to the pandemic should look not only at the virus”, in other words, that HIV/Aids is a social as well as a health problem. South Africa would have been further down the road if the government had taken this position. What he said was that HIV does not cause Aids.

South Africa has got used to the fact that it does not have a competent health minister and has a president whose leadership failures on this challenge can be described, at best, as his Achilles heel.

But let’s not be distracted by the minister’s delusion. Focus on what’s important. South Africa, through the efforts of many outside the minister’s office, is close to the point of making HIV/Aids a manageable chronic illness (until such time as we have a cure or vaccine). — Professor Tim Quinlan, health economics and HIV/Aids research division, University of KwaZulu-Natal

I remember Mbeki saying, when a journalist asked if a virus caused Aids: ”That’s what the scientists say.” — Paul Whelan, Umhlanga

A few years ago Mbeki made a controversial statement that HIV does not necessarily cause Aids. Yet he was not summoned to explain his statement. Both Mbeki and Jacob Zuma should be summoned to account for their statements on HIV/Aids so that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. The ANC is not a tool or mouthpiece of ”important” individuals; it was and always will be the mouthpiece of the poor and downtrodden. — Molefi Ramoshebi, Soweto

Gas in interests of health, safety

It is a pity your attack on the liquid petroleum gas industry was not better researched. (June 2). The swapping of two-plate stoves for a free gas cylinder and cooker was not originally an Eskom initiative and predates the Western Cape electricity shortages by a couple of years.

What your reporters failed to mention was that in addition to a free cylinder full of gas, these poorer consumers (shack dwellers in the main) also get a stove worth R207 and subsidised gas in the form of four vouchers entitling them to a R30 discount on their next four refills.

No wonder the queues are stretching round the block in Langa and Khayelitsha.

For Department of Minerals and Energy official Henry Gumede to threaten regulation of gas prices seems odd, as his former minister, now the deputy president, and the department itself has been wholly behind the affordable gas and stove initiative from the start.

Incidentally, the price of the LPG to be supplied in this project has been pegged at R2 per kilogram less than the department’s listed price of paraffin — another little detail Gumede failed to acknowledge.

The project’s aim is laudable: to get people off paraffin and on to gas for the sake of public health and public safety. Modern gas cylinders have valves which ensure they do not explode when heated. — Keith Bryer, Kalk Bay

Shared mores

I agree with Harry Garuba (May 27) that judges can be biased. But that does not mean juries would do any better.

In ancient Greece, jury service was considered a citizen’s right. Great care was, however, taken to ensure the body politic shared religious and ethical mores.

South Africa does not yet have that luxury — juries would spend much time deliberating whose standards to apply. Deciding, for example, whether a kanga is a device of seduction would take forever. This would exacerbate our case backlog.

Better to leave matters in the hands of people trained to weigh evidence. — Cassie Puren

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