Letters to the Editor: May 20

Readers share their thoughts on Abebe Zegeye, Zim Ngqawana, Zapiro and more.

Plagiarism case was fair and meticulous
The tone and suggestions of recent letters and articles about the plagiarism findings against professor Abebe Zegeye in the Mail & Guardian (Letters, May 13) have questioned the integrity of the manner in which my colleagues and I dealt with these charges against professor Zegeye. I trust that the facts below will clarify the matter.

In August 2009, soon after he was appointed director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser), we received a letter from three senior international academics, who work in the same discipline, accusing professor Zegeye of plagiarism and providing us with four such alleged instances. As vice-chancellor, I personally directed that these allegations be fully investigated and professor Zegeye was informed of the university’s intention.

This was followed by thorough research and a meticulous and confidential investigation spanning several months.

At my request, two senior and highly respected academics (one internal and one external) were commissioned to consider the evidence gathered and to advise the university on whether there was indeed a prima facie case against professor Zegeye.
This investigation did show that the university had grounds for pursuing a disciplinary case against professor Zegeye.

For the disciplinary process professor Zegeye was offered the option of a panel of peers, including one from his field of study, but instead opted for arbitration, which would include legal representation. Professor Zegeye and his legal representative agreed that advocate Gilbert Marcus be appointed as the arbitrator.

The arbitration process was systematic and rigorous and included detailed consideration of the evidence at hand. During the proceedings professor Zegeye submitted a statement to the arbitrator in which he acknowledged that he had failed appropriately to cite the work of others, as is the requirement for good academic writing.

In November 2010 the arbitration award was given: professor Zegeye was found guilty of plagiarism and a summary dismissal from the university was indicated. Professor Zegeye was duly dismissed.

The university’s disciplinary procedures do not provide for public announcement of its outcomes and this case was treated accordingly. A public announcement of this kind would constitute a further punishment beyond that mandated by the disciplinary process.

The policy of the university, however, is to disclose full details of any such case should we receive an inquiry. We received such an inquiry from another university about the outcome of the arbitration involving professor Zegeye. The request was honoured and the university concerned was fully informed of the outcome.

The university has not received any formal request for information on the plagiarism matter from the University of South Australia, neither during its recruitment process nor subsequently. I should emphasise that, in this matter, Wits has no confidentiality agreement with professor Zegeye, neither would we consider entering into an agreement in such a case.

I have no doubt that the university attended to this matter with full substantive and procedural integrity.—Professor Loyiso Nongxa, vice-chancellor and principal of Wits University

Old journalistic tricks miss the story’s facts
Ilham Rawoot’s article “Youth Skills programme optimistic” (May 6) uses old journalistic tricks to cast aspersions on the National Rural Service Youth Corps. Negative and unfounded allegations are given prominence in the article, while the facts are put in some obscure corner in a “by-the-way-here-are-the-facts” manner. This letter intends to give readers the facts comprehensively.

We need to understand the challenges the corps tries to address: the lack of employment among rural youths (caused by lack of skills) and the lack of development and basic services in rural areas. The corps, begun in September 2010, recruits rural youths and trains them in both soft and technical skills. They can then return to their communities to implement their acquired skills, under leadership or mentorship, in rural development projects being delivered by the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme of the department of rural development and land reform.

The corps youth undergo two training phases: a foundation phase (orientation, household-profiling training and then a seven-week, non-military training with the defence force, focusing on life skills, discipline, patriotism, civil duty and service delivery in rural communities) and a skills-development phase. The four months of household-profiling training is important to the people-centred development of rural areas. The department aims to do household profiling in all rural wards by 2014. StatsSA will use the corps’s youth to conduct the census.

In the finishing-skills training youths are taught skills in basic administration, project administration and basic budgeting.

In the skills-development phase they undertake six months of technical skills training, ranging from construction to agriculture and emergency services to trades such as bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry and so on. The corps’s skills-training currently focuses on construction. Youth will help build houses in rural areas.

This hard-skills training addresses the concerns expressed by David Neves of Plaas [the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies] about the “intangibility” of training provided and supports his assertion of the kind of training required. Rawoot has not served her readers well. She did not make use of the information the corps gave to her.
Once the youth have finished the training programme they go into community service, with the option of workplace application (delivery of rural infrastructure such as housing, roads and sanitation) or becoming a job creator, where they will be assisted with the identification of business opportunities.

None of the 7 956 young people in the corps was selected or recruited by any political party or structure.

The department ran recruitment adverts (particularly on community radio stations), publicity campaigns on SABC stations and distributed application forms at rural municipalities. The three tiers of government, including community structures, participated in the selection processes.—Eddie Ramakoloi Mohoebi, executive manager: communications, department of rural development and land reform

Don’t be passive about democracy
Some people think that when we cast our votes in 1994 the struggle for freedom was over. They believe that with the ANC in power all will automatically fall into place because the party has for a long time been calling for economic freedom for the people and a transformation of the country’s governance. People should know that it is not just those voted into power who have the duty to bring change. We should all contribute to changing the country for the better by voting and following up on our votes.

If people thought the revolution stopped in 1994, they are mistaken. We cannot afford to sit back and hope that government will simply award us free houses and water. We all have the duty to defend the national democratic revolution. It is, after all, meant to protect us from exploitation while improving our lives. We need to make an active contribution to the economy of the country so that we can have a claim to its profits.—Pius Khumalo, Soweto

Heart-rending tribute to Ngqawana
The Zim Ngqawana obituary (”Jazz mystic’s quest for self-cut short”, Friday, May 13) was heart-rending. Ngqawana had a brave life. Some would even say that being a jazz musician is masochistic. Jazz’s history is riddled with betrayed promises and deferred dreams. The material benefits of this art form are scant.

The fact is, jazz is anything but easy-listening music. It takes time to make sense of it. It has no radio-friendly ditties. It demands the patience of the audience. I concur with your wordsmith, Percy Zvomuya, that “most of the time it feels like being led into an abyss or fearsome forest. Yet [Ngqawana ] walks there assuredly, not minding the sharp rocky outcrops, the scree and the slippery moss.”

For Ngqawana, it meant living each nanosecond as if it was the last. It helps explain those Coltranesque solos and Rollins-inspired improvisations. I want to believe that what spurred him on was this: he knew, as stated in the Bhagavad Gita, that to be a true artist is to “have the right to the work but not the reward”.

The beatific orchestra above must be fulsome with praise to receive you, Zim Ngqawana. Rest in jazzy peace.—Jeffrey Sehume, Kwa-Thema

No apology from Zapiro
Opposite Zapiro’s cartoon of May 13 are three letters complaining of unfair treatment of alleged plagiarist Abebe Zegeye. Clearly the Mail & Guardian disapproves of plagiarism.

It is thus ironic that the paper failed to notice Zapiro’s unattributed adaptation of a notorious cartoon by Franco Frescura from Wits Student in the 1970s. It featured a figure looking into a toilet bowl and greeting the prime minister (at the time JB Vorster). It was probably the edgiest cartoon in South African history, in spite of the risks Zapiro has also taken in his long career.

Because of the fame of Frescura’s invention in opposition circles at the time and the left’s contempt for private (including intellectual) property, Zapiro probably thought attribution was unnecessary. But he should also have known that it is a long tradition of political cartoonists internationally who like to play with the images of other artists to write: “Apologies to ...” in the corner of the work, a simple and sufficient acknowledgement.—Professor Robin Palmer, Grahamstown

M&G responds: Zapiro regularly acknowledges any adaptations from elsewhere, especially as regards the overall concept. Before publishing his cartoon of last week, Zapiro reminded us of the 1970s Wits Student cover (a photo with caption, not a cartoon), to which one of five vignettes in last week’s cartoon refers. We saw it as a little in-joke a few old lefties might pick up.

Meersman got it wrong
In Autumn Reading (April 21) Jane Rosenthal glowingly reviewed Reports before Daybreak by Brent Meersman. It is a fictional account of individuals on various sides of the extreme divides of South Africa in the dying days of apartheid, including the bush war in Namibia and Angola.

These are, indeed, stories that need to be told. I rushed out to buy the book—and was sorely disappointed. I found the story and characters unconvincing and some purported facts doubtful. Am I, who lived through this period, being excessively critical? If a person who did not personally live through this time wishes to write about it, he should ensure that he gets his facts straight. As familiar as the yellow Casspirs became in the townships I can hardly believe that “Rooi Rus” would be driving one in the Namibian/Angolan bush, where these vehicles were painted a buff brown.

Also, in the South African army there was a dual rank system: you were either in the non-commissioned-officer band, where you could progress from corporal to sergeant to sergeant-major, or you were in the officers band where you started as a one-pip lieutenant and could progress to general. It is not believable that Meersman’s character, François, progresses through the ranks from troepie to corporal to officer.

There are many other examples: tadpoles on the beach (Page 130); Lyons Golden Syrup instead of Lyles (Page 100); a young Swapo fighter suddenly turning out to be a Russian (Pages 122 and 186); or the suggestion that conscripted soldiers in the townships were “hardened soldiers” (Page 257). I have never seen the name “Diepenaar”. Was “Dippenaar” meant?
Reports before Daybreak had clever aspects, such as the interspersal of newspaper headlines from the time and brief histories of some real characters. But surely a sensitive editor could have helped turn it into a much better book.—Louis de Villiers

Redistribute, Juju!
I am simply delighted that Julius Malema is insisting on the redistribution of land and property to poor South Africans in the near future.

As a poor, newly disadvantaged South African myself, might I suggest he shows good faith by handing me the keys of his multimillion-rand Sandton townhouse, which his declared income on his tax return would suggest he can’t afford anyway. In fact, if there is any redistribution to be addressed, might I suggest that the now fabulously wealthy ANC hierarchy donate a house or two of their own to disadvantaged South Africans like myself?—Grumpy of Gillitts

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