from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: O if we but knew what we do …

Anne Chappel, author of two novels about Africa: Zanzibar Uhuru & Shadow of the Hyena

December 31.

Update. Our Australian state borders are closing once more. The fight continues as countries try to stop this virus killing more people. There are numbers I have read in the media, from the UK, from the USA, from South Africa that tell a story of more infections than ever before, of more deaths per day. Numbers.

And every one of those infected people facing possible death holds a personal story. My daughter in Seattle said her friend’s father, aged 80+, is dying of Covid-19 but won’t go to ICU because he refuses to leave his wife. How many children in South Africa cannot find a hospital place for their infected father or mother because there are no beds available? No oxygen, no remdesivir, no comfort in their final hours.

Back to Sydney, NSW. It appears that the virus has spread into greater Sydney. There is now a ‘Cronulla’ cluster and various more cases where the connections to known cases is unclear. Yet still Premier Gladys Berejiklian has not mandated masks (Victoria has) and continues to stand by her decision to allow the New Year’s cricket test (Australia vs India) to go ahead at the Sydney Cricket ground. Up to 20,000 spectators will be allowed (50% capacity). This seems reckless. You only have to look back to Europe and the February 19 soccer match in Bergamo, Italy, between Altlanta and Valancia. This is now regarded as a ‘super-spreader’ event.

True, our numbers are low. 10 more cases today in NSW and 3 in Victoria (after 2 months of no community spread). But, by now, we all know that it only takes a few infected people to explode the virus into the community.

World News. The problem with world news is that its seldom happy, seldom uplifting. We wake up for the 6.30 or 7am news. For months it has not been a good start to the day. Too efficient, our ABC find every bad event around the world. Maybe that is the nature of this pandemic year; maybe, being anxious, we home in on bad news that confirms our night-time fears.

Behind all this news of the virus, the environmental news is likewise miserable. Are the harvesters and destroyers of our wild animals and wild places getting bolder under cover of the pandemic? It is likely.

Before I was a bird-watcher in South Africa, I was interested in native orchids and trees. Durban, semi-tropical with a rich soil, had many remnant native forest reserves as well as magnificent old street trees.

I have this distinct memory from some time in the 1960s, of being driven around Durban North by an estate agent when we were looking to buy our first home. We drove into a street of flowering erythrina trees (the coral tree).

My estate agent said, ‘Erythrina crista-galli’.

‘WHAT? Say that again?’ I said, for I had never heard the scientific name of a tree said out aloud. It was beautiful, like a three-word poem.

I didn’t buy a house, I learnt the name of a tree.

I was hooked, mesmerised. At some stage, we collected the brown bean-like seeds of this tree and my young daughter planted them outside her bedroom window. Very quickly one took and grew big enough to hold a bird table, big enough to develop its own generous cascades of red blooms.

My life-long interest in trees had begun. The street trees of Durban are a year-round spectacle, a demonstration of the fecundity of immigrants: avenues of Latin America’s jacarandas, of Madagascar’s flamboyant, Delonix regia, of India’s golden shower, Cassia fistula, of the dark and solid Natal mahogany, Trichilia emetica which housed the roosting flocks of feral Indian Myna birds.

When you are a birdwatcher you appreciate trees and the rest: the wild places. Hence, when we retired in South Australia, almost 20 years ago, we bought a larger property on the city edge with lots of bush and we set about removing feral olive trees and planting native trees and bushes.

The bird life we now have is nothing short of delightful. We are an oasis on the hillside.

Superb blue wren, New Holland honeyeater

We were helped by an organisation in South Australia called Trees for Life. They supply appropriate native seeds, the wherewithal to plant them and the advice of how to care for them. In such a manner you can easily raise 60, 120 seedlings in one season for your own property. A gift for the future.

https://treesforlife.org.au/

Ancient eucalypts near Adelaide, Australia, surviving drought and fire.

Maybe as you get older you become more determined – and fierce – in your views. I get most unhappy when I hear about the clearing of old-growth forests. Australia is guilty – big time – forests are still being cleared in Queensland and in other states. Our record is not good at all. The land cleared in Queensland is for agriculture – mostly for beef production. The (cruel) live export trade remains strong.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-10-08/deforestation-land-clearing-australia-state-by-state/12535438

This week the news contained a non-virus story but still upsetting. Ancient, remnant trees in NE Namibia, in the semi-desert lands near the Okavango, are being cut down and exported to China. An investigation shows criminal elements in conjunction with Namibian elite are destroying in wholesale fashion these valuable ancient, African rosewood, Zambezi teak, and Kiaat trees.

https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/chinese-companies-and-namibian-elites-make-millions-illegally-logging-the-last-rosewoods#:~:text=Namibia%20is%20a%20signatory%20to,red%2Dwood%20furniture%20in%20Asia.

Humans come and go, each of us takes from the world, from the environment. Huge trees are survivors, bearing the marks of their efforts. To harvest 700-year-old trees from marginal communities is criminal.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. I am sorry, it is hardly likely to be so.

There is always poetry. Here is a poignant one to finish the year.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44390/binsey-poplars

Binsey Poplars by G.M.Hopkins

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, 
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, 
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
               Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

  O if we but knew what we do
         When we delve or hew —
     Hack and rack the growing green!
          Since country is so tender
     To touch, her being só slender,
     That, like this sleek and seeing ball
     But a prick will make no eye at all,
     Where we, even where we mean
                 To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
     Strokes of havoc unselve
           The sweet especial scene,
     Rural scene, a rural scene,
     Sweet especial rural scene.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Justinian’s Flea and the Spanish Flu…

December 27. UPDATE. So Christmas is over and we are still (holiday-less) in Adelaide while the virus bubbles away in Sydney, NSW. The numbers testing positive are low – yesterday 7, today 5 more positive cases have been diagnosed in the ‘Avalon’ Cluster that now stands at 130. NSW Health have conducted over 4 million tests. The Northern Beaches area of Sydney has gone back into lockdown. Our famous New Year’s Eve Sydney fireworks will go ahead in a shortened 7-minute form, but no public will be allowed on the foreshore lining the harbour. (Often a million people gather). Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, said that people are testing positive 11-12 days after infection so she justified the requirement stipulating 14 days of isolation after contact with an infected person. Serological testing is showing that the majority of cases are connected to the Avalon outbreak.

Obviously, we remain vulnerable to infection outbreaks with any international arrivals. All arrivals into Australia are significantly down but still enough people are arriving for it to be a challenge for quarantine management at ports of entry. In November 2020, just under 30,000 people arrived from overseas, divided almost equally between Australian citizens and others. (Compare with a year ago: November 2019, 746,080 Australian citizens arrived and 978,440 non-Australians arrived).

One year of Australian citizen arrivals
One year of non-citizen arrivals

Tonight, it was announced that the new strain of the virus, B117, from the UK, which is shutting international borders has been detected in six travellers arriving into Australia from the UK: two are in South Australia. These individuals are all in hotel quarantine. Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, says Australia will not be banning flights from the UK.

I note that our neighbour, Indonesia, is requiring all international arrivals to have a negative Covid-19 (PCR) test done within two days before arrival. Hotel quarantine is also required. But no international tourists are allowed into Indonesia. Australian immigration do not require arrivals to show recent test results but there is media discussion asking, why not?

All the recent news and discussions about the virus shows how we are all learning more and more: how it is highly infectious; how better to treat people; how poorer countries are suffering and their death rates are under-reported, how we need to worry about the rise of mutations. We are all learning the language of epidemiologists and vaccine research. Experts abound!

Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen

I am reading Justinian’s Flea by William Rosen, (Plague, Empire and the Birth of Europe) a history more about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire under Emperor Justinian (527-565CE) than the pandemic. While only part of the book is about this bubonic plague there are many parallels to reflect on.

‘During these times, there was a pestilence, by which the whole human race came near to being annihilated.’ (Quoted by William Rosen in Justinian’s Flea by historian, Procopius of Caesarea.)

The medical treatment of the 6th Century was ‘weighted towards spells, folk remedies and charms’ including saint’s relics and magic amulets‘ (page 212). Application of cold and hot water was suggested. The only possible respite seemed to have been in the use of the opium poppy juice!  Procopius of Caesarea blamed the plague on Emperor Justinian. Other Christian leaders blamed the plague on peoples’ wickedness. Millions died: between 20 and 50% of the population over the 200 years as the waves of infection criss-crossed Europe and Middle-eastern empires.

Nowadays, we too have magic treatments and strange advice: Trump’s internal UV light treatment, alternative medications (Chloroquine), garlic, drinking water every 15 minutes to wash the virus into the stomach; saline nasal washes and avoiding 5G networks.

The Plague of Justinian arrived in 542 CE with the ubiquitious rats on the grain shipments from Egypt and thence through the Mediterranean shipping lanes to ports and onward along the Roman roads (in carts bearing grain with the hidden black rats carrying the fleas) into the interior. The main plague was zoonotic so depended on the movement of Rattus rattus.

At first, our Covid-19 pandemic spread through air travellers – so much faster than Justinian’s plague.

William Rosen argues that Justinian’s plague changed history: it weakened the waring empires of the Romans and the Persians (the Sassanid Empire). Justinian was unable to extend his initial reconquest successes in Italy. The way was open for the rise of the Islamic people led at first by the righteous caliphs.

And so with us. It is arguable that both the USA, UK and hence the EU have been weakened by recent events coupled with popularist leaders in the UK and USA. It has hastened the rise of China to world economic significance and power. But on the other hand, without Covid-19, Trump might have been re-elected. His and his administration’s mishandling of the pandemic was enough in the forefront of citizens’ concerns to persuade those vacillating voters to cast a vote for Biden.

The Spanish flu of 1918-1920 was an H1N1 virus originating in birds, probably in North America. My father, Mervyn Smithyman, (1911-2008) loved to tell stories of his childhood in Nyasaland (Malawi) where the family moved after the First World War. But before that, my grandfather was with the South African Army in German East Africa fighting General von Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces and he did not return until late 2019. My grandmother stayed in Wepener in the Orange Free State with her 7 young children.

My father was 8 years old when the Spanish Flu swept through Southern Africa. He and Harold, his elder brother, had vivid memories of those days.

Harold. ‘At the end of the war, before Dad got back, the Spanish Influenza arrived. I was a Wolf Cub and we had to go round to the Market Square where they had clothes boiling in a huge cauldron. These charity workers had a big billycan to take from door from door and people went in and cleaned out and I waited outside. I wore a little packet of garlic round my neck and then Mum said, ‘No! I had to stop!’ I was then sent away to get away from the infection.’

My Father. ‘One by one the rest of the family got sick except Mum and me. Then she got sick and I can remember she was telling me how to go the kitchen to get soup. People came to the door to help but she said that she would not accept charity. Mum told me from her sick bed how to get to the kitchen to get the soup.’

‘That was all fine for a little while and then I said, “Mum I have a headache!”’

‘Now she had to get up, otherwise there was no way we were going to survive. But she got up. She could not stand so she crawled to the kitchen. I remember she gave us some soup to bring back. Every one of us survived the influenza. The carts were passing the door with the corpses of hundreds of people.’

We are not at the end of the Covid-19 story. 2021 will be a long year as we wait for vaccination and desperately hope that a nastier strain of the virus does not develop and catch us before it is dampened down into the furthest little corners of the world. But I fear that we will all harbour a new anxiety about our world.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Let’s Dance…

December 13.

My friend, Ingrid, lives in a retirement village outside Durban, South Africa. a few months ago, she had had enough of doing do very little so she and a few friends decided to put a video together with some help from a couple of techno-capable younsters with a drone. They persuade many residents to leave their lonely units and started teaching them a dance routine.  They would meet on certain days in different locations/villages. She said it was wonderful seeing the reaction from many who had never met their neighbours before or had not left their units for months due to their strict lockdown regulations.  Hence all of the scenes were in the open air with the participants wearing masks.

So, there are little ways to change the world and make it a better place during these difficult days! Enjoy!

From David Maughan Brown in York: So much for democracy

October 31st

It will be apparent to outside observers, even if it apparently isn’t to many of our own citizens, that in UK we are currently trying to contend with two simultaneous, and in some ways related, crises.   On the one hand, we have a health crisis occasioned by the Covid pandemic, with all the economic stresses that entails; on the other hand, we have a political crisis occasioned by the election of a blindly ideological and helplessly incompetent government that cannot be effectively held to account by a terminally divided opposition that spends so much time tearing itself apart that it is barely level with the government in the polls instead of being the 20 to 30 points ahead that it should be.    Both are cause for despair, but at least there is some hope on the distant horizon that an effective vaccine might one day be developed where Covid is concerned.   I very much doubt that a vaccine will ever be developed that will inoculate politicians against ideological blindness and self-harm, or that a remedy can be found for our seemingly terminally ailing democracy.

The immediate occasion for the Labour Party’s fresh round of self-laceration has been a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission forcefully condemning the way the party, and the leadership of the party in particular, has handled complaints of anti-Semitism in recent years.  Jeremy Corbyn, the immediately past leader of the party, who was implicitly held to be at fault for the mishandling, responded to the report by saying that even a single anti-Semite in the party was one too many, but that the incidence of anti-Semitism in the party as a whole had been very significantly overstated.  Corbyn was summarily suspended from the party for being “in denial” about anti-Semitism, and his suspension, equally instantly and all too predictably, resulted in the long-standing divisions in the party revealing themselves again in all their ugliness.

Anyone who took part in any way in the struggle against apartheid will be profoundly conscious both of the iniquity of racism in any form, and of the strong parallels between the plight of the Palestinians today and the plight of black South Africans under apartheid.   It is common knowledge that the governments of South Africa and Israel worked hand in glove during the 1970s and 1980s on such things as the development of nuclear weapons, and many of their tactics for the repression of opposition have been similar, for example the resort to the selective assassination of leading opponents, and the fomenting of internecine violence between the different factions of their opposition.   The two moral giants of South Africa’s liberation both made the parallel between South Africa and Palestine very directly, as seen from Desmond Tutu’s statement – ‘We in South Africa had a relatively peaceful transition. If our madness could end as it did, it must be possible to do the same everywhere else in the world. If peace could come to South Africa, surely it can come to the Holy Land?’ – and Mandela’s pithier 1997 comment:  ‘We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’   

Where the parallels between apartheid South Africa and modern-day Israel diverge dramatically is that whereas criticism of the evils of apartheid became common cause globally, pro-Israeli propagandists have muddied the waters so successfully where anti-Semitism is concerned that any criticism of the government of Israel’s behavior, no matter how draconian or how internationally unlawful, is liable to be castigated as anti-Semitic.   Any and all racism directed against Jewish people on the grounds of their Jewishness is totally unacceptable; criticism of anything the government of Israel does as a government has, like criticism of any other government, to be permissible.

When the Labour party was catching up in the polls, and snapping at the heels of a callous and indifferent Tory governing party fixated on shrinking the State under the guise of ‘austerity’, it was blindingly obvious that the predominantly right-wing media would exploit any chink in Labour’s armour to the hilt.  The chink it seized on was the incidence of anti-Semitic invective directed at Jewish members of the party by a small minority of members who should unquestionably have been expelled from the party forthwith.  To say, as Corbyn did, that the incidence of anti-Semitism in the party had been overstated was merely to state the patently obvious, as Starmer, being an intelligent man, must clearly know.  But, given a context in which what Corbyn said was bound to be interpreted as downplaying the genuine hurt felt by the members of the party who had been the targets of vitriolic anti-Semitism, it was, to say the least, not a sensible or necessary point to make at the time.   But suspending Corbyn was the last thing anyone who genuinely wanted to unite the Labour Party should have done. Starmer must know that the only way he has any chance of winning power is by leading a united party into the next election.  So as we head into another nation-wide lockdown, once again leaked to the media rather than announced from the podium, let alone discussed in parliament, we find ourselves with a terminally wrong-headed and incompetent government ineffectually confronted by a terminally divided and self-lacerating opposition.  So much for democracy.

From Louis in Johannesburg: Fiddler on the Roof

Having just streamed the launch of Fiddler on the Roof from Brooklyn Theatre here in Pretoria from the comfort of my lounge what they have achieved Covid and unethical landlords notwithstanding, deserves mention on our Blog. Longer story short Brooklyn Theatre (BT) converted to digital format and successfully streamed Fiddler on the Roof: The musical. It launched this past Saturday 17th of October 2020. I had bought tickets in anticipation of the live performance of this classic. Then Covid struck and all hell broke loose with any function where people were gathered in numbers. BT had secured the rights to produce and had faithfully paid the royalty providing the rights to perform Fiddler. 

There was no going back. 

When the owners of the theatre that BT used on aregular basis refused to accommodate BT with a reduction in rental that final straw broke the camel’s back and BT decided to go digital based on nothing but Chutspa and stream the production. They had no experience with digital productions and decided to press on anyway. Rehearsals took place on a regular basis until the production flowed smoothly. Musicians provided backing and support. Here I need to declare my interests: My wife Marie plays Yente the matchmaker and daughter Rachel plays one of Tevye’s five daughters, Shprintze. Having declared my interests you will appreciate how BT and the Fiddler production is worthy of support based purely on what they have achieved during Covid19 lockdown and with extortionist landlords. It truly is an ill wind that brings no good with it.BT has taken the leap of faith and has successfully gone digital with their productions.

 If ever a production was relevant to a society it is Fiddler’s relevance to South African as well as global society in a post-modern era. The original purpose of Opera to remind society of the morals that guide it is also relevant to this wonderful musical production. The plot is well known to many. A traditional Jewish family living in the Ukraine during a Pogrom by the Russian authorities dispossess them. They have to leave for foreign shores after much protestation by Tevye with only the possessions they can carry. The family headed by Tevye and his wife Golde who lament the loss of their traditional way of life. Tevye draws traditions and teachings which inform their day to day lives from “The Good Book”, quoted frequently by him. Tevye and Golde have five daughters (Tzeitel, Hodel, Chava, Shprintze and Beilke) who need to find suitable Jewish husbands, hence the need for a traditional matchmaker (Yente) to facilitate this. To the frustration of the matchmaker, as well as Tevye, in the end the daughters marry for love. The compassion and understanding of their mother, Golde, provides a softer touch. Tevye accepts their choice after due consideration. Humour punctuates this otherwise tragic storyline of a Ukraine Pogrom, which includes, discrimination, loss of property, the disruption of traditions and displacement of people from the land they have long occupied. A reminder of the perils of current society, the role of traditional family morals and the danger of discrimination based on religion and race. Support a worthy cause at www.brooklyntheatre.tv  

Brookly Theatre (BT) will also never be the same again in the Post-Covid world…

From David Maughan Brown in York: A second wave, a second botched response

October 12th

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic is now assertively with us in the UK, and the government of England, having apparently learnt nothing whatever from the experience of the first wave, is busy botching its response to the second wave just as badly.  For the past five days the media have been trailing a momentous speech that Boris was due to make in parliament today in response to the rapidly increasing number of infections and hospitalisations, to be followed by the news conference I can hear droning on in the background as I write.   Boris’s unique contribution to the history of governance – government via deliberate leaks to, and covert briefing of, the media – has saved everyone who pays any attention to said media the pain of having to watch him and hear him telling us what, well before this last weekend, we already knew to be coming up the track at us.   After six months of concentrated deliberation by the great minds in Downing St., they have had the bright idea of instituting the kind of tiered lockdown system successfully implemented in South Africa six months ago.  All that today’s grand announcement amounted to, apart from the predicted three-tier system, was the equally well trailed fact that Liverpool is destined to enter Tier 3 – the severest level of restriction, with no social mixing, no pubs open, etc. – on Wednesday, the only area to do so.

The government’s dilemmas as the pandemic threatens to get out of control again, which I don’t envy them, include:  how to balance the competing demands of public health and the economy; how to communicate the extent of the crisis to an increasingly sceptical public; how to establish an appropriate balance between centralised and regionalised decision making; and how to provide the necessary resources to combat the virus in terms both of equipment, person-power and an efficient test and trace system.  

At every level the response is being botched again.  Where the Public Health/Economy dilemma is concerned, the painfully obvious question to ask is, why on a Wednesday start covertly briefing about further restriction measures that won’t be formally announced until the following Monday and only implemented on the Wednesday?  That could only serve as an invitation to anyone who felt so inclined to spend the weekend doing his or her best to contract the virus, with only one possible outcome where the infection statistics are concerned.   And what conceivable logic can there be to introducing exactly the same restrictions for pubs etc. in the Tier 3 areas as in March, but reducing the financial support offered to employers to the point of making both the retention of staff, and meeting the costs of living for any staff who are retained, unviable?  Where communication is concerned, it is probably too late to simplify and improve the desperately poor communication of the past few months with any realistic hope that everyone will listen: too many people in England, in marked contrast to Scotland and Wales, no longer trust government.  After very belatedly waking up to the idea of consulting the leaders of the supposedly devolved regions in ‘the North’ (after already having decided what he intended to do), Boris claims that he now has the agreement of those leaders to his decisions: this, like so much else he says, is untrue, as evidenced by the intention of a group of them to bring legal action against the government for implementing the measures without providing adequate support.  The test and trace system is, in spite of Boris’s boasts and promises, still wholly inadequate – and must have had a part to play in the surge of new infections.  

Associating Boris with botching brought a distant echo to mind, which, when I thought about it, I realised came from very vague memories of reading stories about Billy Bunter (Boris Botcher/Billy Bunter), the corpulent clown of the Lower Fourth Form at Greyfriars School, when I was about ten years old.  For a very quick memory refresher I resorted to Google where one can find Wikipedia listing Billy Bunter’s chief characteristics besides his corpulence. He was, we are told: ‘obtuse, lazy, racist, … deceitful, slothful, self-important and conceited’ but combined these with a ‘cheery optimism’ and ‘comically transparent untruthfulness.’   It would be very unfair to imply that Boris is corpulent, given his partly successful efforts to reduce his weight after his hospital experience.

from Louis in Johannesburg: South African (SA) socio/political dynamics-an anthropologist view

September 20.

“Those who were seen dancing, were thought to be insane, by those who couldn’t hear the music.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

During the Democratic Alliance (DA) reign of Mmusi Maimane, Gwen Ngwenya was appointed in 2019 head of policy. Her nonracial policy pronouncements went unheard by the party leadership at the time. Fast forward to September 2020, her policy emerges once more from the DA national convention to an aggressive chorus of condemnation from mainstream media and various members of the commentariat. 

A few voices that criticize Gwen Ngwenya also consider that she may in future be seen as a thought leader: the first person to apply critical thinking to the issue of non-racialist policy. ‘Racist’ being used in a pejorative sense and ‘racialist’ being used in an anthropological sense. At least the current DA leadership seem to be listening.

https://www.da.org.za/why-the-da/values-and-principles

The ruling party in South Africa have yet to reach what may be called “their Magna Carta moment”. England reached this moment in 1215 and laid the foundations for the rule of law and protection of property rights from the vagaries of tribal chiefs and kings. The Charter of the Forest of 1217 a companion document protected the rights of commoners to plant crops for family sustenance, gather fuel and graze their cattle. It was never meant as a basis for possessing large tracks of land as basis for wealth. These foundational documents provide the basis where the spirit and the letter of the constitution hold citizens to account through a process of self-regulation, as well as the rule of law through independent judges and the courts. In South Africa we have a way to go to catch up to England of 1215 and 1217? When we look back from 2040, we may mark this moment as the watershed that took us away from a relativist world of politics and policy implementation to an analytical, evidence-based world of policy.

As the Nationalist Party copied its colonial masters so the ANC alliance has emulated the Nationalist Party government insofar as race-based policies are concerned. No new thinking in sight. So much for ANC non-racialism. One of the ANC founding documents, the Freedom Charter from Kliptown, Soweto in 1955, speaks clearly of non-racialism, non-sexist and a country that belongs to all who live in it. However, the current crop of ANC leaders choose to emulate the apartheid racist policies including racial classification.

A well-known SA industrialist once said, in all revolutions there is damage, in the South African revolution the damage has been to the quality of thinking. We seem to have sunk into a morass of relativist thinking where critical thinking is almost entirely lacking. Even main-stream journalists seem to be in an echo chamber where they pass ignorance around as analysis and insight.

Past President Zuma continues to ask these same journalists “Tell me what have I done wrong?”

What he means is that he has not been found guilty in any court of law of any crime. I think he with many others believe, notwithstanding allegations based on investigations that they are complying with the rule of law, huh?

All of this when critical race theory and a firestorm of cancel culture in the USA the UK and elsewhere in the west, fueled by non-liberal thinking threatens to undermine western democratic foundations. It reminds me of how Mao used the Red Guards to remove any traditional cultural reminders which were in accordance with Maoist philosophy holding society back, so-doing opening the way for the great leap forward.

IMHO Gwen Ngwenya’s non-racial policy offers us the first glimpse of principle-based policy where what may be called radical non-racialism, is central. (Policy Document available on request – health warning 58-page document!). As the beloved Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us there is no African version of principles and values. This may be confusing to many. Ngwenya’s policy document goes unrecognised by mainstream media as thought leadership, for now. So what’s new? Galileo, Darwin, Martin Luther King Junior, van Zyl-Slabbert and Smuts. These visionaries, ahead of their times, had to endure emotional criticism from “those who could not hear the music.”

Classical liberalism reflected in the metrics of The Heritage Foundation, The Fraser institute and the Cato Institute has an undeniable association with wealth creation.

“Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties under the rule of law with an emphasis on economic freedom. Closely related to economic liberalism, it developed in the early 19th century, building on ideas from the previous century as a response to urbanisation and to the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America (Wikipedia  2020).

from Louis in Johannesburg: Organic Gardening, churches and world leadership

September 14.

The spring has sprung and the crops are in the fertile ground nourished organically by compost from last year’s leaf drop, irrigated from our granite-based spring water.

Spinach in the foreground, cabbage in the RHS distance, onions peeping over the palisade in the LHS, radishes and more. Growing vigorously in the early morning spring sunlight under bird-proof netting. We can’t wait for the harvest in a couple of weeks. Morogo, cole slaw, radishes in the salads, onion relish etc.

Returning to the description of the various places of worship in the vicinity of our small farm and vegetable garden.

I was struck recently by a comment by one of the political commentariat about South Africa being “Russia with a good climate.” A couple of years ago I was visited by Slawa, a Russian friend. His father translated the ship’s log of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama from the Arabic – they were written into Russian. How I wished I could read Russian to trace the early days of discovery of this part of the world. Da Gama is one of the first visitors to Southern Africa in the 1490s.

Slawa wished to attend the celebratory service of St Stephen at the local Russian Orthodox. St Stephen, who’s feast day falls on April 26, is one of the most successful and dynamic missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church. I duly transported him to the exquisite church a few kilometres away across the valley. This beautiful church was built by the Russian community living in Midrand.

The Russian community consists of approximately seven thousand souls living in close proximity to our home in Midrand. Midrand provides equal access to Pretoria and Johannesburg as it is situated approximately halfway between the two cities. Slawa reported in a hushed voice that he had identified a number of KGB agents attending the service as well. Apparently they are easy to spot. I wondered what they pray for?

https://www.st-sergius.info/en/

St Saviour’s church, literally two doors up the road we live in, has a more interesting history. Its building was part of the property developer’s strategy when he developed Randjesfontein in 1980. I moved in in August 1980. St Saviour’s used to be a local church in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal Province now called Kwazulu-Natal (KZN). The St Saviour’s building was acquired for R1 and moved to our suburb where it was rebuilt to its original design. The link below provides easy access to it. One of the annual events I used to arrange during my fifteen year corporate tenure at Eskom was a reception held on our property. One particular year we hired the African Jazz Pioneers to provide music while we celebrated another successful year. There are a number of dams on the property.

On that occasion, we were sitting on the lawns approximately where the vegetable garden in the above pic is now situated. The St Saviour’s church was visible from where we were partying. During one of the breaks in the music flow the trombone player signalled to me to approach him to talk privately.

He said. “I used to live in Pietermaritzburg and walked daily past a church that looked very much like that church up the road on my way to school.”  But, he continued, “I know churches do not move from one city to another.”

I replied hastily, “Well, this one did!”

St Saviour’s has a lovely acoustic amongst the vaulted, yellowwood beams and open ceilings. Many an operatic recital was held in it and art exhibitions in the cloisters adjoining the church with a magical herb garden in its centre. It has become a popular venue for weddings. The graveyard opposite its entrance silently bears witness to its past. The patriarchs of the Erasmus family were laid to rest here in the 1880s. Many generations later the Chaukes and Sitholes also were accommodated in the small cemetery.  The Erasmus family owned vast tracts of land and gave their name to many developments and suburbs in the vicinity such as Erasmusrand, Erasmia and so on. The property now called Randjesfontein Country Estate (RCE) is where we have lived since August 1980. More than 400 families call it home. See link below for details and visuals.

https://www.midchurch.co.za/cp/7243/st-saviours-church

Yesterday, was a red letter day for me marking the 150 anniversary of the passing of Jan Smuts. My family were ardent supporters of Jan Smuts and Louis Botha. We visited the “Big House” he and his family lived in Irene, a twenty minute drive from here. Once again I was awestruck by the colossus of Smuts the polymath. He overshadowed and struck fear into the hearts of the apartheid government who voted him out in 1948 to begin the path to becoming the polecat of the world. South Africa is one of the few countries where Smuts’ contributions to the establishment of the United Nations and other international contributions does not form part of the school curriculum.

The National Party and its adherents systematically continue to erode his legacy in South Africa. He remains relatively unknown in South Africa, his home, to which he regularly returned from abroad. Christ College, Cambridge ranks Smuts with Charles Darwin and John Milton as the three brightest alumni in their history. He later became Chancellor of Cambridge. A new curator to the Smuts House Museum has reorganised exhibitions in the house around the theme of “a boer family and their life at home”. Gratefully Isie his spouse or “Ouma Isie” as she has become affectionately known has been featured prominently. Smuts coined words such as holism (in his writing, “Holism and Evolution” completed in 1927), “commonwealth” to replace “Empire” in a more meaningful way capturing the essence of a post-colonial era.

In the context of the era he lived in, Isie Krige Smuts matched Smuts intellectually and emotionally. She spoke Afrikaans, English, French, German, Spanish, Greek and quoted biblical passages in classical Greek to which Jan Smuts would reply also in classical Greek.

The “Big House” as it is known has been superbly curated and improved. The two centres of the house are Smuts’ library and the kitchen where “Ouma Isie” would cater for a constant flow of guests including royalty from Great Britain and Greece. Reigning King George’s family including a young future Queen Elizabeth visited in 1947.

Smuts did not suffer fools easily. However, he indulged children. One of his feats he would engage them with was to invite them to pick any book from his library of approximately six thousand copies. They were requested to read any two pages from the selected book. He would then tell them the title of the book and recite the two pages back to them word perfect.

Social distancing was absent during the two lectures we attended on Jan Smuts and Ouma Isie. However the passionate curator painted a picture of a modern partnership, even by today’s standards between Isie Krige-Smuts and Jan Smuts. Ouma Isie often stood side by side with Smuts and delivered campaign speeches, translated his writing into other languages and provided support where needed.(see link below for more information)

https://www.smutshouse.co.za/   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Smuts

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Small holder organic farming, bartering and trading within suburbia. Thanks Covid19!

August 30. I have been awestruck by the rapid digitally enabled transformation of learning. Rachel is not looking forward to returning to class based schooling which is scheduled to resume soon. She is dreading the exam season which does not suite her learning style and persona. 

Thanks, David for your helpful observations about the shortcomings of exams as they are now structured. The links you provided have also proved insightful and rich, thank you. The beneficial application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be welcomed by Rachel. Hopefully it arrives within the next four years. Klaus Shwab, founder of the WEF, reminds us that 4IR is not value free. There are constructive as well as destructive applications of the disruptive technologies contained in the so-called Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR). The application of AI in examination of knowledge would be constructive application. Smart cities which are rapidly evolving in The People’s Republic of China (PRC) seem to be reinforcing coercion and control by intruding into the private space of its citizens. In due course I expect 4IR technologies will also be used to enhance informed economic choices thus catalysing wealth-creation and democratic processes.

COVID19 has compelled me to stay out of its path – by all accounts I am in its kill zone. That has been a mixed blessing as it has enabled me to not only self-isolate but also turn inward to writing and gardening/farming. A recent visitor commented, once he had seen the various facets of self-isolation on our small holding, that we had prepared for the apocalyptic moment where SA as we know it has collapsed.

In the meantime, back on the ranch (on our self-isolated small holding) in our agriculturally oriented suburb life is changing for the better COVID19 notwithstanding. It is returning to life as I imagine it once existed. This lifestyle is becoming the new normal on our suburb of more than 400 families. Yes, it’s a gated suburb. Ow else could it be crime-free in the current version of SA?

Small businesses developed out of necessity are truly the mother of invention. COVID19 has all but wiped out small businesses. Most restaurant chains have closed many outlets and some franchises have been declared bankrupt. Giant synfuel corporations SASOL reported a R90bn loss last week.  In the meantime Sean, just up the road we live in, has become a supplier of packaged meat products and supplies our needs. He delivers to our front gate, complete with face masks and sanitised bags, thinly sliced smoked bacon, smoked pork-neck, rump and T-bone steaks and topside mince and more.

Other suppliers add Salmon and other fish delicacies to their offerings. All of it at prices well below what the retail chains ask. We have redirected all our purchases to support these businesses. Sarah, also close by, supplies us with fresh farm eggs by the dozen, untouched and virus-free delivered weekly from a farm more than 400 kilometres away. The farmer now has sufficient business from the surrounding suburbs obviating the need to subject herself to the vagaries of the large chains and their unethical manipulation of quality and price of the little supplier. I expect if these initiatives survive beyond COVID19 they will become the new normal.

A WhatsApp group has sprung up amongst the 400 families to put buyers in touch with local suppliers. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ at work! Sarah our egg supplier also supplied us with Spekboom cuttings. The Spekboom, an indigenous succulent from the Eastern Cape, is interesting as it grows easily from slips. It is a very good carbon dioxide sink. It is edible to both browsers as staple feed and humans as a delicious salad ingredient. I have planted a row of these useful plants and intend supplying our kitchen from the growing hedge it will form in our dry garden. More about the broader Midrand context and churches in a future entry.

This morning at dawn, I received a tour of the crops that are growing in the cultivated area of our property by Malawian gardener, Victor Magonja. Onions, Radishes, Spinach, Cabbages, Hubbard Squash thriving as the season turns to spring and summer. Gem Squash planting from seeds harvested selectively from last season’s crop to follow as staggered planting limits the feast and famine cycle of glut and shortage. We tithe our crops with anyone who participates in their cultivation. Spinach is a great favourite, for making traditional African Morogo, amongst our friends and colleagues.

We also make Morogo as a dinner staple in season and freeze surplus for out of season consumption. I can see in my mind’s eye the welcoming, broad smiles from friends and colleagues which greet an armful gift of freshly picked Spinach.

http://globaltableadventure.com/recipe/stewed-spinach-greens/

Delani Mthembu, Myelani Holeni and Alex Mabunda and neighbours are the primary beneficiaries. Our pecan nut trees are also harvested delivering 30-40 kgs of nuts per fully grown tree. All crops are organically cultivated, with nutritional compost also from our garden.  

Thanks to Monsanto and others which practice shareholder capitalism (which is in decline and probably failing) seed harvesting is not possible as the GM crops have been modified so that seeds are sterile and cannot be replanted. We found this out with the corn we planted. Unethical capitalists compelled us to buy new seeds instead of harvesting and replanting. We are finding out by trail and error which seeds can be replanted and which can not. We avoid buying GM seeds where we can. Historically, Monsanto registered seed banks in the USA as their intellectual property. One of these seed banks contained 11,000 seeds! Access to these seeds now carry a royalty to Monsanto.(‘Future of Food’ documentary available on DVD made by Garcia’s widow). In Holland we were able to attend public activist citizen gatherings including the Dutch Minister of Agriculture to talk about these matters.

Winter evenings are spent in front of a roaring fire fuelled by recycled invasive Eucalyptus hardwood. Namibian charcoal, made from invasive species, fuels our outdoor cooking when Eskom fails to meet demand and we experience blackouts. Rolling blackouts are now quite common.

From David Maughan Brown in York: A-levels.

August 12th

The omnishambles our impressively incompetent government manages to engineer in every area it is responsible for may be deeply damaging for all those affected, but from time to time the mess it makes opens the possibility that some long-term benefit might nevertheless inadvertently come from it.   The entirely unfunny farce those responsible have made of what they are choosing to call this year’s ‘A-level results’ is a case in point.   How schools, parents and A-level students are supposed to have any confidence whatever that the ‘results’ are any kind of reflection of the students’ ability is anybody’s guess.   Prospective employers can have equally little confidence in the capabilities of students who haven’t been able to go to school for the past five months and are now being made the victims of the pandemic twice-over.  Universities are being told that the ‘results’ they based their selections on may change at the last minute and are being requested to ‘keep places open’ for students, seemingly indefinitely.  Which last makes it clear that those making the request have no idea about how a university runs.   So how could any possible benefit come from this deplorable chaos?  

Whatever uncertainty and stress the shambles is wreaking on those directly affected in 2020, the one thing it is unquestionably doing is focusing a spotlight on the predictive omniscience of A-level results, which, with the notable exception of the Open University, are normally lazily fetishized as the almost exclusive means of determining whether or not students are fit to breathe the rarefied atmosphere of higher education.   This is particularly the case with those universities that like to see themselves, and make sure the media depict them, as the ‘top’ universities, and collude in the development of league-table indices to that end.  This year, for once, all universities are being forced to face the possibility that the highly fluid 2020 A-level results may not be a reliable indicator of a student’s potential to succeed at university.

In 1985 in South Africa, when I became the Dean responsible for admissions to the Faculty of Arts on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal, the apartheid system had, very deliberately, made sure that the school-leaving results of black students were almost completely useless as an indicator of university potential.  Apart from anything else, one had to contend with the results from 17 different Departments of Education and national Examination Boards, which all set different school-leaving exams.   To cite just one of countless examples, I arrived back at my office one evening, after a day spent on the university’s campus in Durban, to find a flustered PA and a Zulu-speaking student who had arrived early in the morning, refused to go away without seeing me, and sat himself down on the floor of the corridor outside my office all day to wait for me.  His school leaving results had earned him a total of 13 points from his six subjects in a system which prescribed a minimum requirement of 28 points for admission, barring ‘Dean’s discretion’.   He was highly articulate, obviously highly intelligent, and nothing if not persistent and committed, so I took a chance, and the Dean accordingly exercised his discretion.   The student in question took 13 subjects instead of the required ten, completed the degree in the minimum three years, and never had a result lower than an upper second.   He had obviously been given the wrong candidate’s school-leaving results.   Another Dean, I hoped at a different university, was probably left wondering what on earth could have happened to make the student who received my student’s results fail first year so badly.

So if you couldn’t rely on school-leaving results what could your do to find students who had the potential to do well at university in spite of their schooling? One answer was to set up what we called the Test-Teach-Test programme, TTT for short, which was based on the research of Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli psychologist who developed a theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability.   To grossly oversimplify, the implementation of this theory involved an iterative process of asking a candidate to take a test, ‘teaching’ the right answers and the reasoning behind them, getting the aspirant student to take the same test again, then assessing the difference between the two sets of answers,  and potentially repeating the exercise.  We took in significant numbers of black students on this basis who wouldn’t have had a hope of being admitted otherwise, and many of them justified our faith in them.   The prior question, of course, was who to test.   School results were a good place to start:  if a student had come first out of a class of 160, that fact might be a better indicator than a final mark of, say, 55%.   We wanted rural students as well as urban ones, so we sent people out to villages in the hills and valleys to identify likely candidates for the tests via, among other methods, asking the village elders who they thought were the really bright school-leavers.  And so on.

The situation in UK is obviously vastly different and A-level results are a much better predictor than the results we had to try to deal with.   But rich parents do have their sometimes not very bright students intensively tutored in ways poor parents can’t; the children of highly educated parents generally have resource availability and other advantages over those of less well-educated ones; some children come from broken homes, others have home lives wholly unconducive to study; some schools have better teachers and resources than others; some pupils choose A-level subjects they aren’t suited to, and others choose subjects some universities treat with contempt.  All this is blindingly obvious, but ‘contextual’ factors still seem to play far too insignificant a role in student selection, compared to A-level results, at most universities.  If universities really want to take in the students best suited to university study they need to take such factors much more seriously than they do.   Whatever the outcome of the 2020 A-level omnishambles, it is going to force the university sector as a whole to focus its collective mind on A-level results in a way it hasn’t had to before.   So in this one aspect, at least, this government’s incompetence might have done higher education and future students a favour.   It is also just possible that in the long term the UK university sector might find that in such matters there are one or two things the ‘developed’ world might usefully learn from the ‘developing’ world.