/ 24 November 2010

Letters to the Editor: November 19 2010

<i>M&G</i> readers weigh in on Robert Gumede, the reports on Sicelo Shiceka and more.

Trouble with the truth
The report “Shiceka’s bunches of trouble” (November 12) is a reflection of what the former Weekly Mail has become as the Mail & Guardian in 2010.
Let me repeat what the reporter was told when she was writing the story: there has never been a single occasion when flowers were delivered or given to the minister’s home or spouse. On each occasion, the flowers or fruit baskets were for the ministry offices, bereaved staff members, someone sick or hospitalised, or for Cabinet colleagues in similar situations.

Such purchases appeared on an internal audit report because supply-chain processes were found wanting and so the accounting officer could take a decision about appropriate action against those found to have deviated from such procedures. The reporter was aware of these facts, but chose to use rumour from faceless people because it supported her biased and predetermined angle.

The imbalance in power between the reporter and the reported-on is demonstrated once more in this instance. I have to limit myself to a few sentences to correct the misrepresentation of facts in a full-page story.

A reporter speaks to “well-placed sources” who seem disgruntled with the organisation or the leadership and finds supposedly “juicy” stuff. She then brands a minister as “high-living” without any facts to support her assertion. To appear to have fulfilled the requirements of good journalism, she takes the “juicy stuff” to that organisation, where she is given the facts.

Yet, the reporter chooses to publish the rumours in an unashamedly biased manner that seeks to fulfil the premise the story started with: that the said minister is “high living”.

Standard budgetary items of a department and a ministry are pulled out of documents and presented to show this “high living”. Internal documents still under review are used. The whole exercise passes editorial credibility tests and becomes the front-page lead of the M&G.

Many who respected the paper for its responsible, accurate journalism in its heyday as the Weekly Mail must be taken aback by this desperate attempt to defile a public representative’s reputation.

The report suggests that the department, including the ministry, should not spend its budget, which is ludicrous. Departments and ministries operate on the basis of a budget and, of course, budgets will reflect spending on items such as those the M&G lists as “perks”.

It is misleading to tell readers that a new PVC decoder bought for the ministry, repairs to DSTV at the minister’s Cape Town residence, entertainment for ministry guests, payments for catering, folders, corporate gifts, recording of briefings by the minister, and so on, are “perks”.

There is nothing irregular about this expenditure. These are standard, budgeted items of every ministry office and home. All these items are owned by the state and will be left for the next incumbent.

Recording the minister’s briefing sessions is standard operating procedure. All strategic business operations involving internal and external stakeholders are recorded and transcribed professionally. On the particular day mentioned, the minister held meetings on the expanded mandate of the department and, of course, they were recorded.

The reporter was aware of this. Expenditure of this nature is reflected in an internal audit report, not because “internal auditors also questioned the wisdom of spending R16 900 …” but because there is issue with supply-chain processes. Any official found to have flouted regulations will be dealt with appropriately.

Sadly, it shows the power of a media that screams and mobilises against the idea of being regulated, but fails to demonstrate a fair level of self-regulation. — Vuyelwa Qinga, ministerial media liaison, ministry for cooperative governance and traditional affairs

It’s all about self-respect
The power of the truth lies in the accuracy of its predictions. British scientist Charles Darwin wrote in 1859 that those most likely to succeed in the future are not the brightest, but those most able to adapt to dynamic environments.

Going through your paper two weeks ago, the articles by Nikiwe Bikitsha, “Basic respect has gone to the dogs“, and Andile Mngxitama “The face of white supremacy“, laid bare the naked truth about this country.

South Africa is a hopelessly divided country and we are nowhere near the attainment of lasting peace through harmonious coexistence. Forget the “Rainbow Nation”, forget the “miracle” of 1994. We have failed as a nation to embrace the change the post-apartheid era promised. Division keeps coming back to haunt us, no matter how hard we try to run away from this ugly reality.

In the August 8 edition, Niren Tolsi (“Leaderless community self-destruct“) brought to the fore the desperate situation experienced by the residents of Durban’s Kennedy Road informal settlement.

The divisions cut through social classes but, as the three articles demonstrate, the people at the receiving end of this unfortunate situation seem largely to be black. They enjoy no respect from the other racial groups in this country or elsewhere.

The solution is simple: members of this group must strive at all costs to reclaim whatever dignity they have lost in the 500 years of systematic destruction of their spiritual, cultural and psychological being. There are two things they can do to achieve this: first, prove their natural ability to be creative, to do things, to live life on their own terms. In other words, the ability to conquer their immediate environment, their natural place of abode.

Failure to do so will render any effort on the part of this group to alter its present predicament doomed from the start. As Dr Carter G Woodson warns in his book The Mis-Education of the Negro: “It does not matter who is in power — those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.”

Second, it must make use of the vast body of knowledge that has been contributed to the world by some of its best thinkers and scientists. It must invest massive resources in its universities so that world-class research can take place there. It must act now, time is running out. — Vusumzi Nobadula, Cape Town

I did pay for journalist’s flight
Your detailed article on Robert Gumede (November 5) contained solid facts and, at least to me, no surprises. The events leading up to your publication were, it must be said, extraordinary: Gumede’s rambling press release dated November 3 and the bizarre interview he gave to the SABC.

I feel no need to comment on any of the inarticulate accusations he made about your paper and its integrity, nor on those about me. I do wish to confirm that your article truthfully relates the matter of my reimbursing Sam Sole R900, by cheque, for a flight ticket nine years ago, while he was working for Noseweek.

Over the years I have never responded to the progressively more absurd allegations made by Gumede, but his recent utterances compel me to do so. Both his press release and interview confirmed that Gumede has remained the figure I and many others know: loud, juvenile, racist and without substance.

Like all of us, I have seen unsavoury developments which have undermined our country, particularly concerning accountability and corruption, not only in business, but in jurisprudence and civil morality. I commend you for your impeccable journalism. — John Sterenborg

Aims is not a white elephant
I would like to defend the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (Aims) in Muizenberg in response to the article “Creation of South African Einstein a thwarted aim” (November 12).

The article picked on a specific point (the scarcity of South African graduates in the Aims programme) and I’m afraid it gave the impression that the institute is a dysfunctional, money-grabbing tax burden of no apparent use and one which is in danger of being given the chop.

Allow me therefore to state categorically: in its short, seven-year existence, Aims has been a miracle — indeed, nothing short of a saviour — to the mathematical sciences in South Africa. Here we have an institute, in a ramshackle old street in dear old Muizenberg, where the best (and I mean literally the best) scientists and mathematicians the world over come to deliver courses to about 50 African students every year.

I doubt your readers are aware of what happens. These internationally renowned researchers live, talk, eat, sleep and teach the students, every day, from breakfast until midnight. Do you have any idea how unique that is in the world? Do you have any idea of the impact that makes on the mathematical sciences in South Africa and in Africa as a whole? Of the goodwill, renown and prestige it generates for South Africa across the African continent and the world?

For goodness sake, this is the biggest steady influx of world-class mathematicians and scientists to South Africa in our entire history! And they love coming to Aims. Add to this the school’s enrichment programme, which has been a great success, and which plans, by 2013, to have offered further training to more than 1 000 mathematics teachers through its Mathematical Thinking (three months) and Advanced Certificate in Education (two years) courses. It is priceless!

Far from being a white elephant and a tax burden, Aims runs on peanuts. To do mathematics, you don’t need heavy equipment, you just need some chalk, a blackboard and food in your stomach.

I invite all readers in the Western Cape to go and visit Aims in Muizenberg and decide for themselves. Attend the public lectures. It is an African treasure. — Bruce Bartlett

Democracy needs education
Ivor Baatjes, in “Where is the public outcry?” (November 12), pinpoints a major stumbling block in the way of development. Many people can’t share in our democracy because they don’t have a very special kind of education.

These folks may be grouped outside a court demonstrating for or against bail, bringing a child to hospital because she is dying from dehydration, they may be starving, they may have given up on finding employment, they may not understand what the issues are when voting in the next elections, and, indeed, they may be voting for the party that gives them T-shirts.

People need a broad-based education that contains information on human rights, civic participation, family health, self-employment, social justice and critical thinking, not just “compensatory education”, as Baatjes has already said.

Why can’t South Africa have a special programme of adult basic education designed to bring everyone into common understanding of the values and systems of a modern country with a fine Constitution? — Pat Dean, director, Operation Upgrade of South Africa

Save us from knee-jerk rage
Your story on the local porn industry (October 22) was represented on the front page by a photograph of an attractive young woman that was eye-catching (doubtless a standard requirement) but undeserving of the label “explicit”. It could not possibly have been pornographic, or it would not have been there.

Nevertheless, it was yawn-makingly predictable that there would appear on the M&G‘s letters page (October 29) a cookie-cutter, knee-jerk effusion of rage from Karien van der Westhuizen, who eyebrow-raisingly opined that this photograph represented the “sexualisation, degradation and objectification of women”.

Her offensive suggestion — sarcastic, one dares hope — that “an explicit pic of some gay male porn” should have been used instead (presumably on the assumption that gays and/or males are beyond degradation) indicates, among other things, that she is but loosely attached to the gendered realities of the porn industry.

These remain as they have ever been, and show no signs of ever changing, as was fairly represented by the M&G front-page picture and by the article itself. — Michael Rolfe, Cape Town

Headline was misleading
Last week the M&G titled my article on cadre deployment “Jobs for pals are sometimes okay“. Whereas I emphasised the objective criteria of “integrity, independence and competence” and the need to criticise “incompetent, slavish cadres” the title suggests an acceptance of preferential treatment found nowhere in the article.

The blurb then wrongly summarises me as arguing that deployment “occurs the world over and should be accepted”. I actually wrote: “The fact that this happens elsewhere doesn’t automatically make it right, but it should give us pause.”

Sub-editors, the unsung heroes of newspapers, face a daunting challenge having to come up with provocative headlines each week, especially ones designed to inaugurate a debate, but this was not their best work. — Doron Isaacs