Showing posts from 2008

the remedy for arrogance

When we were in Mali's Dogon country, one of the structures that really stood out for me was the Toguna.

Every village, no matter how small, has one. Its a place of meeting. It a place where the village elders pass down their pronouncements and decide on disputes. Its the place where the men congregate in the evenings.

It's not a place where you'll see a woman... Dogon people live according to very strict sexual norms. Maybe the women are humble enough already and don't need it?

Our amazing guide Guiré explained that the Toguna is always built with a very low roof so that in order to enter, one must stoop to a position of humility. An added advantage is that if an argument gets too heated, anyone jumping up to fight will bash himself on the head.

If I was world dictator, I'd build Togunas in every place where people (men and women) meet. And I can think of a long list of South African politicians who could do with a little more humility.

Celebration in Mali

Dancers celebrate as the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure opens proceedings on the first day of the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health. For more information, go to

This gorgeous picture of one of the President's guards was taken by Elizabeth Kemf

The good news is that there is coffee available in Mali, but somehow it all tastes like the coffee they used to serve on South African Railways in the 1960s.

This is the view from our hotel window. The hotel is very basic but spotlessly clean, the food is good and the people are very friendly. Our room was upgraded to the "presidential suite" after the manager saw me on TV chairing a press conference and decided that we were "the boss of the conference".

We saw this goat when we were on our way to change money. It was one of those Monty Python moments, where Greg insisted that the goat was just resting. Having a little snooze.

I still believe it was dead.

Food, glorious food

We're in Mali managing the media room for the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health, and I'm too busy to blog, so today's posting is by Christina Scott, a member of my team but also the Africa Editor of

BAMAKO, Mali: Delegates attending the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health, underway until Thursday in Mali, were reminded today (Monday) that amidst the focus on faster,cheaper medical drugs and more active government policies, there was a risk of overlooking a rather important component of good health.
It's called food.
At a session on 'food for health' chaired by Ruth Oniang'o, founder of Kenya's Rural Outreach programme and co-author of 'The CompleteKenyan Cookbook', renowned researchers and high-level politicians were brought back to the basics: hungry people are never healthy people.
''Food is the most cost-effective intervention,'' declared Menno Mulder-Sibanda, a senior nutritionist specialist a…

Socialism and self sufficiency

Regular readers of Wheatlands News would have seen my posting on the Peninsula School Feeding Association here.

Today, in response to that post, guest writer Skoorby offers his perspective:

You may have noticed that in the recent U.S. election campaign, John McCain cast about wildly for something, anything, that would frame Barack Obama in a poor light, and would resonate with the American electorate. In the last week or two of the campaign, he finally came up with what became his final campaign theme: “Obama is a Socialist!” And it seemed to work. At least, Obama’s rise in the polls stopped and even pulled back from that point on. Why it was effective has something to say about the Peninsula School Feeding Association’s work.

A few days after the “Socialist!” meme emerged, I was sitting in a restaurant in suburban Philadelphia having lunch when I overheard a conversation between two fairly well-to-do middle aged white men – obviously Republicans and conservatives. They expressed disgust…

of being outspoken

I'm trying to catch up with my work and all the other things I need to do before we leave for Mali on Tuesday.

One of the things on my list was to buy Christmas presents for my brother and his family, so I went to Heather Moore's studio. I can't tell you what exactly I bought because my brother reads my blog!

But do yourself a favour and visit her Etsy shop (not you, Geoff. Or Maria). An extra incentive is that she is donating a portion of the profit from her Borrowed Spoons design to Peninsula School Feeding.

Last night was the last Isandla Development Dialogue of the year, with the title "Speaking truth to power". (I'll post Adrian's report that reflects all four of the speakers on Monday.) One of the speakers was the wonderfully forthright and outspoken Rhoda Kadalie (see pic). I'll leave you with some sound-bites:

"I am irritated by people who do not serve their country well because of political patronage. South Africa has become a haven for poo…

feeding the hungry

I found this video on Alex Matthews' Afrodissident blog.

Its well worth watching as a reminder of what happens when a government is headed by a madman with no regard for the people he is supposed to serve. What a contrast with Obama's speech this morning with its emphasis on working together for a new future and a government that is for, by and with the people.

And it is not just in Zimbabwe that children are starving. In Cape Town, the Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA) has the dubious honour of celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I say dubious, because the fact that it exists at all is a sad indictment on our society. As a country we are still failing the most needy among us.

The PSFA feeds 160 000 children daily. That's a lot of children who are relying on the single meal they get at school to stay alive. That's a lot of children trying to learn on an empty stomach.

And the economic crisis isn't helping. The facts speak for themselves. In the space…

If I could vote in the US today...

Whenever I had a break yesterday, I watched a snippet of Barack Obama's campaign advert. It's 30 minutes long and I just didn't have a 30 minute chunk of time in my day. But I did have time for five minute snippets.
And I'm so glad I did.

What really impressed me was that he appeared to have a real understanding about what ordinary people are experiencing, and he seems to be coming up with measured, logical solutions to the problems rather that a whole lot of mud slinging and rhetoric.

If I were dictator of this country, I'd make all our politicians watch this just so they could see what a real statesman sounds like.

Time will tell if he lives up to his promise and his promises, and after today we'll know if he'll be given the chance.

One thing I did pick up on was that he only spent time with his Kenyan father once, for a month. I wonder if that will make him as inclined to be pro-African as so many people on this continent are hoping. When I was in Uganda a co…

raising the bar

On the same weekend that the ANC breakaway group held its convention in Sandton in front of about 5000 people, Jacob Zuma had a rally in Soweto's Jabulani Stadium. About 20 000 people turned up to sing his praises.

I love the fact that our democracy is reflecting more voices. I love the fact that (on the whole) South Africans are free to voice their dissatisfaction with the government.

I'm not sure that any of the voices are entirely free of corruption and self interest, but that's beside the point.

What I don't love is that Jacob Zuma saw fit to include a whole posse of preachers on his platform. If all he was doing was signalling his broad based support it would be ok. But, according to the Star, what actually happened is:

Later, one of the many preachers stood up for devotions to signal the start of the rally, which was aimed at encouraging voter registration for the 2009 elections.

"(Zuma) has not been selected by the people only," the man told the huge crowd…

Time to say NO

Today is Okhi day, a public holiday in Greece to commemorate Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas's rejection of the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Mussolini on October 28, 1940. The ultimatum was presented to him at dawn after a party in the German embassy (Fascists are nothing if not theatrical) demanding that Axis troops be allowed to enter Greek territory.

The answer, allegedly, was the single word "no".

In response to the Greek's not agreeing to their plans, Italian troops attacked the Greek border at 5.30am. See what happens when you don't invite all the dictators to your party.

On the morning of October 28th the Greek population took to the streets shouting 'okhi'. The day was officially named Okhi Day in 1942.

I like the idea of a day to say no for two reasons. There's so much happening that we should be standing up and shouting NO about. And saying no is not always very easy. My totally unrealistic work schedule is proof of that.

But there are som…

rewarding the winners

So, is it a better idea to reward winners rather than censuring or giving encouragement to the losers?

Two things have got me pondering.

The first is the news today that Botswana's ex-president Festus Mogae has been awarded a US$5-million prize, designed to encourage good governance, because he stepped down after two terms in office. (Ag shame, Thabo... if the JZ-erites had just left you alone for a few more months, you could have been in line for the prize next year). He also gets $200 000 a year for the rest of his life.

You can read about it here

The second was a meeting I attended on Friday where Clem Sunter was teaching a group of health executives about scenario planning. Fascinating stuff, and I'll write about it here later, but more pertinant to this discussion was his recounting of how the Anglo American Chairman's fund rewards pockets of excellence in our education system.

"We give money to the winners," he said. "Those schools that are achieving good…

Happy Birthday Noah

By all accounts Noah Webster was a crotchety old man when he started messing around with the spelling of English words and wrote his famous dictionary. If he was alive today, it may be difficult to see even the hint of a smile in all those wrinkles... he'd be 250 years old.

And talking of kissing wrinkly lips, his namesake "the' Noah (the Biblical one) begat three of his children when he was 500 years old. And while I can't be accused of ageism (mainly because I'll could be a victim of it myself before too long) can you imagine begatting anything with a 500 year old? Nasty!

Noah Webster was an enthusiastic begatter too... he and his wife Rebecca had eight chidren.

According to Wikipedia, he was determined to rescue "our native tongue" from "the clamor of pedantry" that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation. He complained that the English language had been corrupted by the British aristocracy, which set its own standard for proper spelling …

interesting times

Lief Eriksson

I've always enjoyed the ancient Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times". I've loved the ambiguity of it... its the kind of statement that at first glance seems innocuous or even encouraging, but when you're not looking it comes back to bite you.

It seems doubtful that it actually was a Chinese curse, or if it is, it is like putting a phrase into babelfish or some other online translation site. You can translate it from Chinese to English but when you translate it back again, it looks nothing like the original.

If its not actually a Chinese curse, we have Robert F Kennedy to blame. He is credited with making the statement popular in South Africa, and possibly abroad. In a speech in Cape Town on 7 June, 1966, he said: There is a Chinese curse which says, 'May he live in interesting times'. Like it or not, we live in interesting times...

I like another story that came out of his visit: He saw the graffiti for the JFK gang and was touched…

leaving and cleaving

So, I'm still wondering about the whole white African thing, and a couple of things have caught my eye lately.

We were watching an episode of "Who do you think you are" recently. It's a TV show that really taps into people's obsession with their roots. The episode traced the history of Alistair McGowan, a comedian, who really thought he was Scottish. Well, he would, wouldn't he! Turns out he was Anglo-Indian, and he traced his Indian links back through about seven generations when the original (Irish) ancestor came to India.

I was fascinated to discover that the British had a presence in India from 1600 until the country regained its independence in 1947, 347 years years later. Surely there were whites who lived there who regarded themselves as Indian? And what happened to them? Are they contributing members of society, or did they all find their way back to the mother ship?

And, talking about people clinging to the past, or holding onto things way past their s…

where is my home?

I've been spending some time pondering, lately.

Is there such a thing as a white African? Or are those of us with only one passport destined to be rootless, stateless people?
Are we holding onto a land where we don't belong? And do the ordinary white South Africans have any real hope of understanding the revolution?

The pondering has been brought on by a number of things.
A few conversations in Uganda like this one:
Me: I'm South African. That makes me an African
Various delegates: No really, where do you come from?
Me: I'm South African
Delegates: No, I mean, where is your home country?

A snippet from an article in the St Georges Cathedral magazine this month, written by a Zimbabwean refugee:
"Economic Emancipation is the third and final stage of any liberation struggle; we still hear stories, about Kenya, and Mozambique etc. How people just left what they had and went with the clothes on their back, any where they could find refuge. In all these instances, the economy w…

moving uphill

In the weeks before I went to Uganda, I was really feeling like my life was an uphill struggle. I had lots of deadlines, lots to do and lots on my mind.

And yes, I know that no deadlines = no work = not enough money = not much else. Maybe I was just tired.

The trip to Uganda really opened my eyes to so many things:

I was reminded how much I love teaching.

I was reminded how fortunate I am.

I was reminded how much joy there is in Africa, in spite of all the issues.

This guy certainly looked like life was a bit of an uphill struggle, but he saw me photographing him as we passed him on the bus, and he flashed the biggest grin!

I was interested to see the different forms of transport, from home made wooden wheelbarrows to bikes to the Buda Buda (scooters with lots of passengers) to minibus taxis to cars. And somehow in the disorder of a city with no urban planning and mostly sand roads, everything seems to work.

But there is a caveat.

Michael Totten's latest post was a timely reminder that no …

strange desires

I saw this sign on a lamp post in Uganda and it really got me wondering. Why, oh why would anyone want to gain a bum?
And what does it mean? A bigger bum? An extra bum?
There were similar signs (with different phone numbers) advertising "Gain hips quickly". Is that to accommodate the extra bum?

I never saw any signs of mutant Ugandans though, so I'm not sure if the business is doing very well.

Soundbites and sacrifice

The Honourable Joseph Mugambe, head of the science and technology committee in the Ugandan Parliament is one of the first politicians I have met that I really enjoy listening to. In the past three days I have heard him speak four times and I'm quite disappointed that he won't be coming to speak again during the workshop. I'd never have believed that I could be sorry when an MP had to stop speaking!

He's a tall man, with a wry sense of humour and he makes speeches that are peppered with a host of wonderful idioms.

Every now and then as he speaks, he drops his voice to almost a whisper and leans forward across the podium so that each member of the audience feels that they - and only they - are privy to a very special secret.

"People say you can take a horse to a well but you can't make him drink," he said. "But why do you want to take him to the well? You need to make the horse thirsty and then he will go to the well for himself."

The early Christia…

Of fear and laughter

I have this theory about South Africa.

I think it has actually slipped into a parallel universe which hovers above the place where South Africa should be on the map.
I'm in Uganda sharing writing skills with parliamentary researchers from 12 African countries and I feel like I have slipped into that warm-hearted, inspirational place that Africa should be.

Those of you who are South African, can you remember when any complete stranger in smiled and greeted you in the street? Have you been made to feel totally welcome and appreciated by any South African recently?

It's such a relief to be treated as an equal and welcome partner, rather than with the hostility and suspicion which has become the norm at home. It's just a pleasure to see people of all races, ages and sexes smile with genuine pleasure when they see each other.

We've had a busy two days and this afternoon we managed to grab an hour to go shopping at the curio market. And it was there that I discovered that there…

financial planning

I wanted to share this, emailed by a Safrea (South African Freelancers Association) member.

Financial advice from Michael Millar from The Spectator

If you had purchased £1000 of Northern Rock shares one year ago it
would now be worth £4.95. With HBOS, earlier this week your £1000 would have been worth £16.50, £1000 invested in XL Leisure would now be worth less than £5, but if you bought £1000 worth of Tennents Lager one year ago, drank it all, then took the empty cans to an aluminium re-cycling plant, you would get £214. So based on the above statistics the best current investment advice is to drink heavily and recycle.

PS... If you get this on Sunday, it's because I discovered I can post things in advance. Not because I discovered how to blog from 20 000 feet above Africa.

heading north

So, tomorrow I fly to Uganda and already I'm awash with useless information. Like, did you know that the word Kampala comes from the fact that there were so many impalas on the plains where it was built?

One of the bits of information that I didn't know was that I'd need a yellow fever certificate, or else they'd inject me at the airport. I'm really scared of needles and I'm really scared of flying and now they're offering me a combination of the two??? Are they totally insane?

(Actually, I'm not scared of flying, I'm scared of dying when I'm not ready. And I'm not ready yet, even if I do end up in a better place than here. And I don't like leaving Greg)

The yellow fever thing was dropped casually into an email from one of the workshop organisers. That I got yesterday at about 8.30pm. And there's nowhere in the Swartland to get a yellow fever injection. And anyway after last year's debacle with Greg's accident I'd rather ta…

talk like a pirate

Who knew? Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. There's an advert on TV at the moment for a BBC Knowledge programme where the pirate says he is prone to "unnecessary violence". For some reason I find that really comical. Logically it makes no sense, but it makes me chuckle every time. I'm not nice. I admit it. The pirate also wears some really strangely fitting pants... he has the widest crotch I've ever seen. Maybe there's a link between feelings of violence and strange pants? Sometimes the most respected of men are pirates: The picture is of Francis Drake, son of a preacher, first Englishman to circumnavigate the world and long-time enemy of the Spanish. He was one of Elizabeth I's blue-eyed boys. He was also a well known slave trader and pirate. His fortune was made when he raided a Spanish fleet in Panama and made off with all their gold. He left behind the silver, because it was too heavy to carry. He was also complicit in the massac…

Wise words

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Franklin D Roosevelt, 1933

Thanks Carol, at wheresmydamnanswer!


One of the things I do is to lay out the quarterly magazine for St Georges Cathedral. The Anglican Church (maybe just in South Africa, not sure) is celebrating a season of creation, and these facts that were included in the newsletter caught my eye:

"Although South Africa covers less than 2% of the earth’s surface, it has the 3rd highest level of biodiversity in the world.
We share our homeland with almost 300 species of mammals [more than there are in Europe and Asia combined], 1000 kinds of trees [Europe has fewer than 70], 23,200 flowering plants [10% of the total in the world], 800 identified birds [8% of the total in the world], 50,000 insect species, 288 species of reptiles [almost 5% of the total in the world] and 11,000 marine species of which 25% are found nowhere else on earth.
Our beloved homeland – along with all the rest of the planet – is severely under threat. Only 25% of our water systems are intact, 54% are critically endangered and 50% of our wetlands have already …

Re: that pic

and again...

See! It was worth the wait!

that pic

Here I am, trying another way to upload a picture: I thought uploading via email would be useful for when I'm in Uganda next week too.

Panic mode!

It's another of those unseasonably wintery days in the Swartland, and I'm in panic mode. Panic mode is when I have way more work than I can cope with. The spin-off of panic mode is that I put my head down and plough my way through all the work until it's done!

You'd think that now would not be a good time to start a new project, like finally getting this blog going. But somehow it feels like now is the time, so here I am, over a year since I set the site up, finally writing the first post.

What was the catylist? A gorgeous birds nest that I saw on, thanks to a tip off from Ms Tee, on her blog the delightful home. It reminded me how much I enjoy my daily dose of blog-reading and how much I've discovered since I started. I've tried to upload it, but I seem to be having a technodummy day.

So, let's hope I'm disciplined and keep this going. I have so much to share!