November 18 – November 24

PLAN bodies dishonoured

The discovery of the bodies of PLAN fighters buried in a mass grave near the former South African Defence Force (SADF) base at Eenhana in Namibia gives me the opportunity to write about my own experience while serving on the Namibian/Angolan border.

I was unwillingly conscripted into the SADF for two years in January 1982, and towards the end of 1982 we were sent to the border. There was no space for us at the existing bases, so for some months we lived a nomadic existence, moving from base to base as operations demanded and sharing bases with other units. We saw most of the bases in the Owamboland’s then-Sector 10.

The first company base we were posted to was between Eenhana and Nkongo. We shared it with a unit that had been there for some time. One night a patrol of this unit killed two PLAN fighters in a firefight, and brought the bodies and their equipment into the base.

I remember no identification on them. It was disturbing to think that they had families who would never know what happened to them.

What was even more disturbing was that the bodies were taken out to the base’s rubbish tip, dowsed with aviation gas or petrol and burned. I was told this by several of the troops who were on the detail.

I have never forgotten the lack of respect and humanity shown towards the bodies of these two fighters.

War is generally dehumanising, and most participants try to work against its effects. Unfortunately, in some wars, particularly those with a shaky justification like the SADF’s war against PLAN, the dehumanisation of the enemy is almost made into a strategy to maintain morale and solidarity.

Conscripts were not really trusted by SADF leaders, who would not have wanted their actions questioned. If the enemy was seen as human and not all that different from ourselves, the war would have been much more difficult to fight.

It is important for those who die in a conflict to be remembered, and if not by the ideal of a name on a gravestone, then at least by means of a memorial near the place where they fell or their remains are buried. I’m sure this gives their families some consolation.

I hope that something like this can be done at the former SADF bases in northern Namibia to restore the respect of those PLAN fighters whose bodies were disposed of in such a disrespectful and inhumane manner. — Graham McKenzie, Centurion

Ambition posing as zeal

Hell hath no fury like unbridled ambition masquerading as revolutionary zeal. In his recent attack on Frene Ginwala, Fikile Mbalula shamelessly equates the horrific brinkmanship of sectors of the African National Congress Youth League in defence of Jacob Zuma with the heroism of Oliver Tambo and Solomon Mahlangu.

As an ANC member who was exiled and lost friends and family members in the struggle against apartheid, I am appalled. No greater insult can be heaped on Tambo and other ANC stalwarts who taught us to place principles before personalities.

For them, the interests of the ANC and the country always came first, with unity being an indispensible tool.

Mbalula and his cohorts are recklessly tearing the country apart and betraying everything our authentic revolutionary heroes stood for. — Nozizwe Afrika, Sandhurst, Johannesburg

A Zuma presidency is unlikely to please the international community, which we need, given that we do not have a big economy. — Mpumezo Ralo, KwaDwesi, Port Elizabeth

Thabo Mbeki and Zuma cannot resolve the issues that divide them, and the ANC chairperson, Mosuioa Lekota, and secretary general, Kgalema Motlanthe, have failed to show decisive leadership and used their powers to remind Mbeki of the need to create consensus in the movement.

The ANC must understand that Zuma’s exclusion is likely to cause civil war in the party. — Phuti Mosomane, Wits University

Mokgophana Ramasobana’s suggestion that Zuma is supported by people who call for ”socialism now” (Letters, November 11) is a gross overstatement, while characterising them as Levi’s-clad, Samsung D500-carrying consumerist supporters is an over-simplication.

Zuma’s support is premised on the fact that he is the most viable leader to make government programmes more responsive to South Africa’s development needs, as opposed to the current illusory reforms. — Floyd Shivambu, Johannesburg

The fight over the leadership of the ANC is causing the party untold damage. I say both Mbeki and Zuma must go! — Inga Buhle Chagi, Pretoria

It’s all in the head

Regarding the circumcision discussion: Am I missing something — that is, other than a foreskin? Should I be staring southwards during my morning shower, wondering what could have been?

I’m certainly missing out on a significantly increased chance of contracting and transmitting HIV, and of improving the chances of a partner developing cervical cancer.

Unlike ”John D/E” quoted in ”Faith crime” (November 11), orgasms don’t seem to be a problem. If ”John D/E” is blaming a few missing centimetres of thin skin for non-performance, it is all firmly in his head (sorry!). Anyway, there’s no magically authoritative way of comparing pleasure levels between cut and uncut men, it’s all anecdotal.

Faith crime? That’s being a tad harsh, don’t you think? Monotheistic religions have far more important things to worry about. Is John D/E implying that he’s some sort of foreskin martyr? That he will ”rise” again? Let’s not go there …

Occasionally, babies are born with coccygeal vertebrae extending out of the base of the back — the remnant of a tail. No doubt, it is also ”rich in blood vessels and nerves”, but it is clinically snipped off. Must we now despair at the thought of all those men who are unable to express themselves by wagging their (human) tail? There must be more worthy causes than the fate of a few centimetres of evolutionary vestige that will probably disappear. — Brent Johnson, Stellenbosch

HIV’s nasty side effects

I hesitate to call Anthony Brink a liar, but in my reading of the mainstream medical literature I have failed to come across the ”hundreds of studies indicating the profound toxi-city to all human cells of AZT” and the numerous studies showing that babies exposed to AZT in the womb suffer brain damage, et cetera.

The United States Food and Drug Administration and drug regulatory bodies in other countries — which approved the use of AZT — presumably missed these studies as well.

Why is the ”enormous, growing corpus of little-known research litera-ture in the medical/scientific press concerning the serious toxicity of AZT and nevirapine” so little known? Could it be garbage?

All drugs have side effects. HIV has a few pretty serious ones too — visit a children’s ward in any South African hospital. — CD Karabus, Red Cross Children’s Hospital, Cape Town

Drew Forrest’s reference to Anthony Brink as a buffoon is entirely justified, and Brink’s response (Letters, November 11) only reinforces that notion. What makes him so dangerous is his unshakeable conviction that he is right — even though his beliefs about anti-retrovirals are held by only a handful of quacks.

No one denies AZT has undesirable side effects, but Brink exaggerates these — and the alternative for Aids sufferers is death. Brink would have us believe the Rath Foundation’s vitamin programme can reverse the effects of Aids, an outlandish claim unsubstantiated by reputable data.

If people like Brink really have good intentions, they are gravely misguided; if they are out to make a profit, they are psychopathic. Either way, they must be stopped. — Alex Myers, Cape Town

Kasrils breaking the law

I am a former intelligence officer, who retired when the current Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, was the deputy minister of defence. I’m very lucky that I got out with my sanity intact.

In most countries intelligence matters are handled with such sensitivity that there is almost an established culture. I got worried when Kasrils dealt with operational intelligence matters as if they were the same as water affairs and forestry.

We have had situations in South Africa where the intelligence services have so messed up their operations that they come to the attention of the media. The correct situation was well articulated by the first post-apartheid intelligence minister, the late Dullah Omar, who said: ”It is not the intention of government to discuss intelligence matters in the public domain, nor do our laws allow it.” This was his standard answer to the media.

I get worried now when Kasrils openly discusses intelligence operational matters. In fact, he is running a special self–promotional campaign, running down his own department.

If the media is to be believed, it is the intelligence officers who have the discipline to refuse to engage with the public. One wonders, has it stopped being illegal to discuss these matters in the public domain? Someone must look at the law and inform us.

Last year our spies were caught spying on Zimbabwe. Kasrils’s response then was that the intelligence services could not comment on operational matters. He must explain why suddenly it is possible to comment on operational matters when Saki Macozoma complains of being spied on.

I am convinced that, in this case, the political expediency of the ruling elite, who were enraged by the surveillance of Macozoma, overrode the rule that it is illegal to comment on intelligence operations.

The president needs to appoint a commission of inquiry into all these matters, because it is difficult to imagine that there is no sinister motive behind it. When a minister suspends three of his top officials, surely an inquiry is warranted. — Concerned ex-intelligence officer, Pretoria

Women honoured in Islam

The position of Islam on the status of women in society continues to be among the subjects presented to the ”Western” reader with the least objectivity. This was illustrated by Madeleine Bunting’s article ”An uncomfortable ally” (November 4).

The Qur’an explains that Eve was created equally but differently to Adam so that the sexes may complement and partner each other, and for no reasons of superiority (30:21). Thus, each has equal political rights (58:1-2, 60:10-12) and a responsibility towards the other. It is explained that one sex has been created stronger to be protector and maintainer of the other. Husbands should also provide for their wives financially (4:34). Women in turn are honoured in the unequalled status of motherhood, as wives, and even in childhood.

The Qur’anic verse (4:34) Bunting mentions regarding the ”beating” of women is the only such example. A wife who transgresses in her duties to God should be spoken to gently, and if this fails, the husband may refuse to share a bed with her. Only as a last resort may one hit her lightly, so as not to injure her.

This is not ”beating” as Bunting interprets it. Rather, these laws serve to protect women from being beaten. One should also point out that it is forbidden in Islam to hit any living thing in the face — neither men, women, children, nor even animals. — M Toffa, Illovo, Johannesburg

Elitist

The Gautrain is a classic example of the transport problem being tackled from the wrong end.

We all know that what is required is a safe, inexpensive and reliable mass transit system for the majority. One that would keep private cars and death-trap taxis off the roads and leave roads safer and less congested, with those who want to use them paying tolls for doing so. Why is this obvious fact being ignored?

This elitist solution will not solve Gauteng’s increasing transport problems. By the time operating and maintenance costs are accounted for, transport of this nature may well be redundant. — Michael R Preston

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