/ 14 October 2011

Letters to the Editor: October 18

Cape committing ‘learnercide’
Your account of the administrative tragedy at Walter Sisulu University (“Mega-varsity hits the wall“, October 7) could be extended to the whole Eastern Cape educational system.

The retrenchment of 4 000 teachers earlier this year has slipped out of the headlines, together with the closure of farm schools, the cancellation of the transport of rural kids to alternative schools and the late or non-delivery of schoolbooks.

No turnaround strategy managed by the national department of education can do more than paper over the cracks. The primary cause is a sticky, smothering spider’s web of government policy and cultural attitudes.

The main culprits are cadre deployment in administration and affirmative action in the choice of builders and suppliers. To these must be added outdated cultural practices in the workplace such as male patriarchy, rote learning, teacher rather than child-centred education and the stifling prevalence of “umona”, a small scale, village-type society’s paralysing suspicion of individual talent, initiative and success. A union more suited to a factory than the delivery of a country’s essential services makes things worse.

Anyone involved in education knows there are numerous heroic teachers and administrators trying to get things right. They will continue to fail until government, as in the case of outcomes-based education, changes policies that don’t work. Because such policies now empower and enrich a small, entrenched ruling party minority, this will not happen without broad-based civic resistance.

Our education system has seen many achievements, but we cannot ignore the research that shows how, year after year, we slip further behind other countries in Africa and the world. All South Africans are complicit in the tragedy that is devastating our children. Is this not learnercide? Is this a version of the cattle-killing all over again? — Chris Zithulele Mann, Rhini-Grahamstown

Dalai Lama’s trade fallout overstated
The Mail & Guardian article “China’s big economic stick” (October 7) discusses our research on the impact of meetings with the Dalai Lama on exports to China. This is very much appreciated. We believe, however, that the article is misleading on one important point.

This applies to the following two sentences: “The economists said the move soured relations with China, which undermined the United States’s recovery from the current economic crisis. Recent meetings between the Dalai Lama and leaders in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Italy, Mongolia and Germany had also damaged relations with the Asian giant.”

This is an over-interpretation of our results. Our study covers a large group of countries, which means that what we find is only an average effect — that is, we have no results to say whether there actually was a trade reduction in the mentioned cases.

With regard to President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, we are only quoting threats (and not delivering evidence) that economic relations deteriorated.

Beyond that, the newspaper article did not mention our finding that there was no significant trade reduction after the Dalai Lama had simply travelled to a particular country (again, controlling for all other factors and on average).

Admittedly, the issue might be different for South Africa because of its asymmetrical power relationship with China, but we did not investigate this question and any statement would be speculative. — Andreas Fuchs, University of Heidelberg, Germany; Nils-Hendrik Klann, University of Goettingen, Germany

Nuclear not so dynamite
However scary it was to read the article about the battle for the nuclear tender (“Sniffing around biggest prize ever”, October 7), with all the possibilities for abuse it opens, it worries me how uncritically nuclear power is painted as the way forward.

Reporter Lionel Faull says pro-nuclear campaigners argue that nuclear power “will secure long-term energy supply, combat climate change, beneficiate uranium deposits and create jobs at the probably underestimated financial cost of R1-trillion (or roughly R20 000 for each man, woman and child in the country)”. But how true are these claims? And what are the other costs of nuclear power?

To date, no satisfactory way of dealing with nuclear waste has been found. There is already so much of it globally, it’s creating a massive problem. Our best containers may last 10 000 years, but the half-life of uranium 238 is 4.5-billion years.

It’s not only depleted uranium that’s the problem. When power stations become too old they cannot always be dismantled but must be encapsulated in concrete. Tools, clothing, oils, solvents and so on get contaminated too and are added to the list of hazardous waste. Where to put it? Abandoned mines in Gauteng? And what will it cost?

What about the risk of accidents? Have we learned nothing?

If we are to become a uranium-processing nation, as the government seems to want, what will the effects on health and the environment be? What are the risks of having uranium-processing plants and what about the tailings from milling uranium ore, which will join the piles of radioactive waste?

And if South Africa continues to sell electricity to industry at a small fraction of what consumers pay for it, will keeping up that supply do enough to reduce global warming? What about the concern, reported in earlier issues of the Mail & Guardian, that nuclear uses more water than renewables do? And job creation? This is a strong factor in Germany in moving to wind and solar power.

Imagine South Africa instead daring to think differently and spend even a tenth of its nuclear-power budget on renewable-energy sources. Rather than repeat the mistakes of developed countries, let us dare to walk the road less travelled. — IM Christiansen, Pietermaritzburg

Zuma-led ANC reverts to tribalism
Why is KwaZulu-Natal treated as an autonomous region by the ANC? Why does Nkandla get more funding than any other rural village in South Africa and why do Patrice Motsepe, Old Mutual and AgriSA fund the Masibambisane Trust that President Jacob Zuma chairs? It is a fact that the province dominates Cabinet and that it is a strong defender of Zuma.

It was in KwaZulu-Natal that Thabo Mbeki suffered humiliation and those who supported him were summoned to a similar disciplinary hearing to that facing the ANC Youth League.

Zuma has never criticised tribalism in the ANC. It was tribalism that made politician Harry Gwala accuse Zuma of Inkatha Freedom Party tendencies. The “Lion of the Midlands” was correct, Zuma is the custodian of Zulu chauvinism. Government has set aside R700 000 for luxury cars for Zuma’s wives, but polygamy contradicts the ANC’s position of progressive feminism.

Let us unite and bury the tribalism that is being used against progressive forces in the ANC. — Nokwanda Nsimbi, Standerton

Beware racist Burma regime
Thank you for the article “Burmese firm gets SA exploration right” (October 7). South Africans should know that Burma ranks second-last in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. A 2002 report in Newsweek stated that, according to reliable estimates, laundered drug money accounts for as much as 50% of Burma’s gross domestic product.

But there’s something else South Africans in particular should know. In 2009, Burma’s consul general in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, described the Rohingya, Burma’s long-persecuted ethnic Bengalis, as being “too dark” to be Burmese and as “ugly as ogres” (does he know what ogres look like?). By contrast, he described himself as a “typical” Burmese, “handsome” and with a “fair and soft” complexion.

After his explicitly racist statement, he has been promoted! He’s now the regime’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. A democratic, transparent and non-racial South Africa should not be doing business with or accepting gifts from the corrupt and racist regime in Burma and its associates. — David P Kramer, Free Burma Campaign (South Africa)

No Poqo pension
The article “Special Pensions Unit fails activists” (September 30) reminded me of the sad case of former Poqo/Pan-Africanist Congress member, the late Josiah “Hunter” Mocumi, from Munsieville, Krugersdorp, who was hanged with three others (Rakoloi “Champ” Molatlhegi, Thami Motswahae and Piet Ntshole) on June 16 1964 at Pretoria Central prison.

The families of the other three were each paid a meagre special-pension lump sum of R60 000. The Mocumi family received nothing because the Special Pensions Act has no provision for next of kin. Beneficiaries are spouses and children.

Mocumi had only two siblings, the eldest being 85 and the youngest 78. Both are old women. The eldest wrote a letter to President Jacob Zuma more than a year ago requesting a presidential decree. The president’s office confirmed receiving the letter, but did not respond to it. — Sam Ditshego, Kagiso

Chinese go home
I read that President Jacob Zuma was hurt and disappointed by Baba Tutu’s criticism. I always thought that criticism from friends was the most useful input one could get.

So, read our lips, Mr President. We, the people of South Africa, do not want more Chinese business here, in search of the holy grail of expanded economic growth, growth that depletes the continent and escalates global warming, growth that never seems to benefit those most in need of it.

The American underclass has started to say no. They occupy Wall Street and banks. Some leaders proclaim the United States as being the most democratic in the world, but their people and ours know better.

We don’t want your Chinese deals, we don’t want more coal plants or nuclear-power plants, we don’t want more oppression. The struggle was about so much more than race. It was about humanisation. The visit of the Dalai Lama was symbolic of that. We’ve lost a dream. — “The Children of Africa”

Zuma deflection a ploy
I was disappointed by President Jacob Zuma’s most recent interview on the SABC. The ANC’s disciplinary process against Youth League leader Julius Malema is still in progress, but Zuma continues to campaign negatively against him. Why is he shifting the public focus away from police chief General Bheki Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde to Malema? It exposes Zuma as a weak leader.

I am not a disciple of Malema, but I can see that the ANC, especially Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, are targeting those who are fighting for change in the ANC leadership. In every branch, region and province, there is infighting. The centres of power in Gauteng have encouraged division in North West and KwaZulu-Natal. Provincial leaders such as Zweli Mkhize and Senzo Mchunu in KwaZulu-Natal are at each other’s throats. In North West, the battle between premier Thandi Modise and “Black Jesus” Supra Mahumapelo is turning nasty.

In the SABC interview, Zuma said he had never campaigned for a position in the ANC. But Zuma began campaigning for the ANC presidency when he realised there was a case against him. He never criticised slogans such as “Zuma for presidency” or “Zuma 100% Zulu boy”.

He and Mantashe charged Malema because of his support for deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and his praise for former president Thabo Mbeki. We must remember that Zuma rose to power by demonising Mbeki, late MK commander Thami Zulu, politician Alfred Nzo and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. Now it’s Malema and the youth league. — Phindile Girlie Gebashe