/ 1 April 2011

Letters to the Editor: April 1

M&G readers weigh in on UJ’s ties with BGU, renewable energy, Japan’s nuclear crisis and more.

Stop anti-Israeli propaganda
In “More universities to query Israeli links as UJ severs ties” (March 25), Ilham Rawoot and her editors were so far off the mark that one has to question their objectivity. To be sure, they may be victims of clever propaganda, but Mail & Guardian readers expect you to root that out.

Starting from the headline itself, which may not have been written by Rawoot, the story seeks to spread disinformation. UJ “does not subscribe to an academic boycott of Israel”, writes vice-chancellor Ihron Rensburg under the headline “No UJ academic boycott of Israel” on the UJ website. While undated, the item was posted after the March 23 senate vote. This renders both the M&G headline and the first paragraph of the story invalid.

Rawoot’s subjective writings belong in the comment and analysis pages, not in news. Section editors’ actions have resulted in propaganda and/or personal opinion being packaged as objective news.

The article has Muhammed Desai of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Working Group confirming that “he, too, had learned that a university in the [Western Cape] ‘may have links to a university in Israel'”. So what? In the story, Rensburg says: “I need to make this quite clear. UJ is not part of an academic boycott of Israel.” The rest of the piece gives far too much credence to a “fact-finding report on Ben-Gurion University’s links to the Israeli military”.

The UJ website reported six months ago that “the senate of UJ has voted not to continue a long-standing relationship with BGU in Israel in its present form and has set conditions for the relationship to continue”.

The conditions included the inclusion of “Palestinian universities chosen with the direct involvement of UJ” and that “UJ will not engage in any activities with BGU that have direct or indirect military implications”.

Claims Rawoot aired at length, such as that BGU is enmeshed with the Israeli army, that it offered scholarships and extra tuition to students who served in active combat units and that it provides academic scholarships and has official protocols for providing support to army-reservist students, have nothing to do with the original UJ requests.

Such university accommodation for conscripts is no different in any other country with conscription Cyprus, Egypt, Finland, Germany (until July 2011), Greece, Malaysia, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey, among others. What of it?

Rawoot includes the fact that BGU has tendered for a military medicine school to train medical staff for the Israeli armed forces. Where is the relevance? Doctors of the Israeli Defence Force invariably have the first boots on the ground in any global emergency. They were credited with saving thousands of lives in Haiti last year and hundreds in Japan this month. Universities in all countries train the medical professionals who serve in their armed services. Anti-Israel propaganda, to which Rawoot may have fallen victim, aims to single out Israel and is irrelevant to the story.

To the best of my knowledge, the only current research memorandum between UJ and BGU covers the issue of algae in the Hartbeespoort Dam. Rawoot says BGU is “also a feeder institution for Israel’s nuclear research programme with graduates serving as interns in the Israeli government’s nuclear plant in Dimona”. Can Rawoot please give M&G readers an example of a country whose nuclear graduates do not come from their universities? Just one example will do.

Rawoot does not mention the senate condition of including Palestinian universities. Neither does she mention that professor Adam Habib’s delegation failed to find any Palestinian “university” prepared to join the research programme.

How and why the UJ senate was ambushed and hoodwinked into ending a research project with (but not boycotting) BGU last week is not the purpose of this rebuttal Rawoot’s account of the events is. The M&G is the only newspaper I never miss. I read it from cover to cover. Please stop spoiling it for me by publishing anti-Israeli propaganda. — Ant Katz, publisher, MyShtetl.co.za

New faith in renewable energy
I find it sad when a person who has been regarded as a pioneer in his field and who has a cult following among people concerned about the dangers of climate change gets so caught up in his commitment to his cause and his reputation as an arse-kicker that he loses his marbles.

George Monbiot (“Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power“, March 25) declares that the Fukushima disaster has converted him to the cause of nuclear power because, in spite of the severity of the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the planet has not really been damaged by the radiation from the stricken reactors.

In an earlier piece on the Guardian‘s website he qualified this support with some preconditions: total emissions must be taken into account to demonstrate that it is really a low-carbon option and assurances should be given around problems with nuclear waste, costs and the danger that materials will be diverted for military use. Nuclear energy fails on all these fronts.

Seduced by the arguments of low emissions and assurances of nuclear’s safety record, I also reviewed my own opposition to nuclear energy a few years ago. Fukushima has finally convinced me that these assurances are not worth much. The plant (in high-tech, sophisticated Japan) was hours away from a complete meltdown and, even as I write this, there is still the danger of Fukushima becoming a disaster on the scale of Three Mile Island.

What is more, the proliferation of nuclear plants will simply increase the dangers of terrorist attacks and rogue dictatorships building bombs. To set nuclear against coal-fired power stations is a non-debate. Renewable energy, much maligned by the nuclear and coal industries, climate-change denialists and crackpot libertarians, is the only responsible, sensible way to go.

For a famous climate-change activist to push nuclear now is simply to confuse the issue and to undermine this cause. It was ironic that the South African government announced plans to substantially increase our reliance on nuclear in the same month that Fukushima happened.

With nuclear safety in the international spotlight, this was an ideal time for South Africa, with all its sunshine, wind and long coastline, to change tack and embark on an ambitious renewable-energy strategy that would make us leaders in the world, clean up our own environment and create jobs. Even confused George must know deep down that the future is renewable. — Max du Preez, Schotsche Kloof

Voting for no-fly zone is selling out
I am not a fan of Julius Malema or Andile Lungisa, but when they speak the truth we must applaud them. The collaboration of our country with the United States, Germany, Britain, Canada and Spain against Libya shames the policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries.

Gaddafi must go, but that is the responsibility of the Libyans. Malema is correct to say that Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki would have rejected Resolution 1973. Would our president support a no-fly zone in Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire and Somalia? How many coups did the US, Britain and Germany sponsor when their interests were under threat? Zuma is abusing our seat in the Security Council to be loved by the West.

There has been civil war in Rwanda, Liberia and Burundi, but because there is no oil or natural resources to exploit, the West did not intervene. The US supported Unita and Renamo against the people of Angola and Mozambique. The US, Britain and West Germany supported the apartheid state. Has Zuma forgotten these facts? — Siyanda Mhlongo, Durban

A “no-fly zone” is what the Luftwaffe attempted to establish over Britain in 1940. It is armed aggression by means of air power. This violates the United Nations Charter and renders the UN Security Council illegitimate. The “responsibility to protect” has never been invoked to protect the victims of Americans or their allies, so this concept has no ethical foundation. In voting for Resolution 1973 South Africa was violating the UN Charter and empowering countries that abuse UN authority in pursuit of imperialist aggression.

When South Africa chaired the Security Council it voted (in accordance with the UN Charter) against such military blank cheques, as did the majority on the council.

The message of the Libyan disaster is simple: the pattern of Western imperialist aggression has not changed. We should oppose international aggression, no matter what spurious grounds are provided to support it. — Mathew Blatchford, University of Fort Hare

Green skills needed
Sipho McDermott does a brave job reflecting on the recent environmental skills summit (“The green-education conundrum“, March 25). Producing the “green” skills South Africa needs is a conundrum we must solve.

One can no longer think of the conservation manager as a chap in khaki who has little more to do than fix his fences. Today’s green leaders deal with multimillion-rand budgets, the relative merits of luxury hotels in wildlife reserves, the pros and cons of nuclear energy, acid mine drainage, sea fisheries that need to sustain people. Green leaders need a potent mix of technical knowledge, principled decision-making and advocacy skills. No wonder it is hard to produce them.

South Africa has some of the best environmental brains in the world in our universities. Their teaching challenge is to combine a high level of scientific know-how with a strong values component. To do this universities must have the resources to expose students to fieldwork, research and the new work opportunities out there and to mentor them to postgraduate level.

Investing in green skills so that we can revitalise our entire economy is an exciting prospect, conundrum or not. One of the best aspects, for me, is the number of young people who are keen on green careers, from the rural universities’ graduates to a new reporter on the environmental beat. The green procession is underway — a luta continua. — Dr Eureta Rosenberg

Tax for cronies?
The mooted resource rent tax (“Task team probes resource tax for SA“, March 25) is a surprise move because “as the custodian of the nation’s mineral and petroleum resources” the state already collects mining royalties, also known as resource rents, of R4-billion a year.

Like the Australian resource tax, which the ANC is said to be looking into, South African royalties are based on mining profits. That means that the market value of unexploited ores escapes Revenue Services’ collection boxes, as the Sishen prospecting rights saga demonstrates. That became a “reverse royalty” as our “custodian” ceded the nation’s wealth to private interests.

The ANC task team, therefore, needs only to rationalise the state’s royalty regime, including increasing royalties, which is already a treasury prerogative. Or is its intention to initiate a new tax which would extend the private appropriation of unexploited royalties by its friends and allies? — Peter Meakin, registered professional valuer, Associate Institute of Valuers SA