March 03 – March 09

Ideals have been betrayed

Larger issues were at stake in the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) strike than salaries and service conditions.

It exemplified the growing concern about the impact of neo-liberalism in institutions of higher learning, increased economic referencing in education and the demand that academics do more for less. It is unacceptable that staff are told that the ”good times are over” — whatever that means — and referred to disrespectfully as ”so-called academics”.

Models for assessing ”academic effectiveness” are based on irrelevant criteria that in no way consider quality education and teaching, and have been introduced without consultation with staff.

And the professed emancipatory ideals of the university have been compromised. These are supposed to reflect educators’ desire to contribute to the holistic development of students so that they engage as active citizens, concerned with deepening democracy in South Africa and the world.

Citizenship, human rights and democracy cannot be addressed within the restrictive language of the markets, profit and individualism.

This is one of the roots of the resistance at UKZN. Managerial and market-related discourses have come to dominate every sphere of life there.

Emancipatory ideals will not be achieved within the culture of intimidation, attempts to sow division among staff, fear and open threats current at UKZN. We need to create and maintain space for open debate, and to reclaim what a university represents in terms of academic freedom, excellence in scholarship and the desire to contribute to a better world. — Professor Vishanthie Sewpaul, school of social work and community development, UKZN

It is typical of Ashwin Desai that when he is given an opportunity to state his case, he makes a scurrilous attack on someone (”Put me with the coolies and the squatters”, February 24).

No one is interested in whether the UKZN vice-chancellor, Malegapuru Makgoba, earns more than he does. Or does he think Africans should earn less than Indians? And no one is interested in whether Makgoba has a credit card. Or does he think that, like Jacob Zuma, Africans can’t handle their own finances?

So what if Makgoba eats calamari and Desai roti? That is a personal preference — or is he saying Makgoba, as a Mopedi, should stick to morogo?

That Makgoba had problems at Wits is not the issue. Or is the suggestion that this somehow disqualifies him from pronouncing on Desai?

Desai should address the following issues: Was he charged with misconduct at the old University of Durban-Westville? Did he cut a deal with the authorities, and if so, what did it provide for and why does he not abide by it?

Academic freedom must be defended at all costs — but Desai crossed the borders of discipline and Makgoba has no authority to unban him. That can only be done by the university council, with which Desai entered a contract in the first place. Makgoba is the council’s servant.

Let Desai approach the council, which should be big-hearted enough to forgive him. — Sifiso Ndlovu, former UDW student

Pilger naive on Iran

John Pilger’s naive comments about the threat Iran poses to Israel are laughable (”Iran: The next war”, February 24).

I found many references on the Internet that contradict him, including the BBC website (www.bbcnews.com). Among other things, this reports: ”[Iran’s] sand-coloured Shahab-3s, towed on mobile launchers to rousing military music during the parade, have a range of about 1 300km — capable of reaching Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy.

”It is also believed that the missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The missiles were daubed with slogans including ‘We will crush America under our feet’ and ‘Israel must be wiped off the map’.” — Gill Katz, Media Team Israel

Ilan Baruch’s article, ”The myths of Ronnie” (February 17), says Palestinian leaders pursued relations with Nazi Germany. While Al-Hajj Amin, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was a Palestinian nationalist who established ties with the Nazis before and during World War II, the vast majority of Palestinians disassociated themselves from the Nazi agenda.

In all anti-colonial struggles, from Ireland to India, there were elements that hoped to see a German victory, but this does not mean their struggles were Nazi or anti-Semitic.

It should also be remembered that the former South African prime minister John Vorster, a Nazi sympathiser, was received as a hero by the Israeli government during his visit to Israel in 1976.

Vorster was hailed by Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as ”a force for freedom” and by Shimon Peres as ”one of the greatest leaders of our time”. — Mohammed el Herfi, University of Pretoria

A tired formula

It seems only words change in South Africa, while the realities remain the same.

The government’s new plan for kick-starting growth and job creation, the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (Asgisa), seems to be following in the footsteps of the failed growth, employment and redistribution (Gear) programme. It seems to be focusing on promoting imaginary investments within the country so as to achieve accelerated growth, which would be shared by all.

As with Gear, ”all” mainly refers to members of the ruling party. As with Gear, the research behind the initiative is being conducted by foreigners who seem to know little about the country and its people, but want to impose tired ideas borrowed from developed economies.

And besides: who wants to wait till 2014 to get employed?

We will hop from one macro-economic policy to another without success until we stop ignoring the majority of stakeholders. — Phillimon Mnisi, Johannesburg

Krog had right of preview

Writing on the Antjie Krog plagiarism saga (February 24), Colin Bower says academic staff at the University of Cape Town’s English department were ”largely reluctant to talk to the Mail & Guardian”. I don’t recall Bower asking me anything. The perception that members of the English department are monolithic in their opinions is ”largely” erroneous.

Personally, I support Bankole Omotoso’s position: Krog should have been allowed to preview Stephen Watson’s review-essay and respond to it before it was printed and circulated. Both the review-essay and Krog’s response should have formed a critical subject of debate for subscribers and others to read, rather than seeing it sensationalised in the Sunday papers.

When he edited The South African Review of Books, Rob Turrell allowed for such a practice. As it is, Krog’s response has to wait till Mandla knows when before it is made public. — Sam Raditlhalo, department of English, University of Cape Town

The myth of renewables

The cost of wind energy — five times the price of electricity — shows that renewable energy, while clean on the generating side, consumes more energy, uses more materials and generates more pollution in the construction phase than conventional power sources.

To build generating capacity, you have to consume far more non-renewable resources when building a ”renewable” power plant. Renewable energy in its current state of development is bad for the environment and for the economy. We cannot continue our carbon-intensive ways forever; alternatives need to be found. In the short term, however, far greater environmental and economic benefits are to be gained through conservation measures by energy consumers. — Luke Cronin

Ian Sample (”A sweet solution”, February 24) plays down the contribution of biofuels to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by saying that ”bioethanol is greener only because its fermentation process usually uses up less fossil fuel than petroleum refineries”.

It is true that greenhouse gases emitted by a car running on bioethanol are very similar to those from a petrol-driven vehicle. But it is the fact that plants (from which the bioethanol is extracted) suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow that makes the big difference. The production and consumption of biofuels is a balanced cycle.

In contrast, the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuel was sucked out of the atmosphere by plants growing millions of years ago, when the Earth’s temperature was much higher. That is why pumping it up and burning it adds to the sum of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, resulting in the greenhouse effect. — Chris Andreas, Oxford University

In response to DG Coetzee’s letter last week, the bottom line is that the Brazilian-style ethanol-petrol blends our policy-makers are publicly promoting give the average person buying fuel at the pump fewer kilometres per litre than petrol.

And if we adopt a Brazilian approach to ethanol production and use, we will get a Brazilian-scale destruction of our ecosystems. — Adam Welz, Cape Town

Foreign buying raises price bar

The knee-jerk reaction of major property groups and analysts to the recommendations on regulating foreign ownership of land in South Africa is the result of vested interests. Major property groups and estate agents would lose much in transaction and management fees, as foreign buyers are their premium clients.

This myopia should not detract from bigger concerns over the need to transform property relations and skewed property ownership patterns. Because of past policies, most South Africans do not own property. Increased foreign penetration raises the price bar, keeping property out of reach of new entrants, mostly black. — Dr Mzukisi Qobo, University of Stellenbosch

In response to Yolandi Groenewald’s ”Local and landless” (February 24) I believe foreign buying only has an impact on the top end of the market, while providing an opportunity for cross-subsidisation of rates to local government. Don’t keep the foreigners out, rather up the rates for the elite (including locals) and let this revenue to local government be used for the poor.

The real factors that have had an impact on the market are lower interest rates and an emerging, mainly black, middle class. Even here I doubt there has been any real impact on housing prices for the poor.

Groenewald refers to anecdotal evidence. Let’s look at hard figures. — Harold Liversage, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome

Disrespect

South Africans say proudly to themselves: ”We are free from the apartheid era.”

Yet everywhere foreign-born Africans go in the country, we are treated as makwerekwere — with disrespect and like prohibited persons.

As a former Nigerian who is now a South African citizen, I experience this at first hand.

Only a few leaders and fighters for freedom have love and respect for their African neighbours.

All this will have to change if we truly love our nation and our continent. We must learn to love and respect each other whatever our race or nationality. — Joe Odiboh, Cape Town

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