24 JANUARY 2016

 This document records the lunch organised in the Hunt Road Masonic Lodge by the Durban Caledonians on 24 January 2016, to honour the birthday of Scottish poet and intellectual Robbie Burns. It serves to show a South African interpretation of the ceremony, which is of course mounted each January in a great many countries across the world. This and other functions have been greatly enriched by participation of the Durban NMR Band.

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The NMR band in action (Natal Mounted Rifles)

Burns was born in Ayrshire on 25 January 1759 and died at the age of thirty-seven in 1796. The Address to a haggis, a paean to the traditional Scottish dish that is central to the commemoration ceremony, was written in 1786 when he was just twenty-seven years of age.

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The haggis lying in splendour.

Our ceremony began at 2 p.m., with the piping in by Pipe Major Gordon Capper of the ‘top table’, whose members processed in under the leadership of Chief Margaret Gardner.

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Chief Margaret Gardner welcoming guests


Following the seating of the seventy members in attendance, Margaret introduced the top table and the Master of Ceremonies outlined the programme. The haggis was brought into the hall on a silver trencher to the skirling of a lone piper.

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Entry of the haggis

It was held aloft and borne around the inner stage and thereby put on clear display to the assembly, before being set down on a small table in view of all.

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Piping in the haggis on its trencher

The wages of the piper and trencher-bearer were paid with a shot of fine Scotch whisky and a toast of slanchevar! (sic) (Slainte Mhath – Slanja Var – Good Health)

A brief explanation of the Address was given for the benefit of newcomers and the Address was then delivered unabridged with some animation, flourish and humour to reinforce its meanings. The haggis was piped out to be served for lunch.

Following delivery of the Selkirk Grace, lunch was served. Consistent with Scottish tradition, it included haggis, tatties and oatmeal cakes, with Neeps and butternut to provide further variety.

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Past Chief Alistair Mackenzie delivers the ‘Toast to the Immortal Memory’.

Glasses were again charged and the toast was proposed ‘to the Immortal Memory’. Dessert followed.

Entertainment was provided by a musical group called ‘Friends of Note’. The artists were mainly youngsters performing with guitar, violin, cello and recorders of widely differing sizes. As is usual with these functions, their performance was warmly received.

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The violinist in animated action.

Poetry reading followed, and the assembled pipers played a range of traditional Scottish medleys.

The ‘Toast to the lassies’ followed in complimentary vein, with a spirited reply. A Vote of Thanks followed, with final notices delivered by the chief.

The pipers and drummers then led the assembly through Auld Lang Syne.

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Members enjoying themselves at the gathering.

The Durban Caledonians have functioned since 1882 (for 134 years). Each year the Association offers five or six ceremonial/social functions. These are open to the public by booking.

Membership is open to people of Scottish descent (mother or father Scottish). Details of activities and membership can be obtained from past Chief Molly Gould (phone 031 7014148). Applicants can be assured of a friendly welcome.




The South African School System Needs Rebuilding.

The South African School System Needs Rebuilding.

Letter to the Editor, The Mercury, 05 October 2015

The Mercury and other newspapers have carried many insightful articles recently on the triumphs and travails of our national education system, including those dealing with the ANA debacle as well as much-publicised provision of various information technology devices to certain schools.

At the heart of any national system of education are located a corps of dedicated teachers drawn for all races and ideological outlooks who are wholeheartedly committed to the performance of their professional duties, namely teaching the ‘learners’ under their care, within and outside the classroom.

These brilliant, committed people are indispensable to the quality of teaching and learning that distinguish the system. They are a foundation to build on. They can serve as live models to those teachers who have not the skills, insights, or commitment to engage as fully as they should with the educational endeavour.

Our system of state schooling needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The following are a few suggestions on how to go about the process.

  1. Recognise that teachers are at the core of the system. Their critical work in providing role models cannot be supplanted by technology, although it can be amplified, and the overload of administrative duties that sucks the lifeblood from the classroom interactions can be reduced and the process made more efficient.
  2. Every teacher union should examine its constitution to establish the extent to which the welfare of the children, and not only its members, is served thereby.
  3. The South African Council of Educators guiding document should be re-written to incorporate criteria related to the processes of educating children rather than strictures on interpersonal relationships, important though these requirements are. One needs a reaffirmation of such qualities as punctuality, a work ethic, wide teaching skills, subject knowledge, vision, imagination and critical thinking, fiduciary responsibility, sound administration and much more.
  4. Hold teachers accountable for their performance, by the re-introduction of inspectors if necessary, by setting targets related to the mastery of subject knowledge, teaching skills and administrative procedures. Allow a period of grace during which professional criteria will be designed, published and implemented, but don’t let it drag on. Many children have suffered too severely already, and need their place in the sunshine. Focus resources on those most in need. The process will require courage.

Now retired, I spent forty years in education. What a special privilege it was! Why do so few now seem to share the excitement?

Dr Alex Coutts

Retired Deputy Rector, Edgewood College of Education.

Educate your child through sport

Educate your child through sport


Do your children play sport?

Do your children play sport? If so, are you as a parent aware of how educative the experience can be for them, if only an adult would be present to identify educative experiences as they arise, and point out a few educational truths the child might focus on? If you’ve not thought about the educational values of sports participation, would you like to know the basics?

If so, read on.

SO, what’s the article about?

This article explains how an average parent who’s enjoyed taking part in sports can become a role model and coach or teacher to educate his or her youngster(s) through sporting and other physical activities.

Some people spend years studying physical education because they aim to offer it in formal schooling. Unfortunately, many others are cast into the task of coaching sports with only some dabbling in the activity or else a bit of personal experience to back them up.

Also, parents crowd the sidelines of sporting activities without knowing much about the educative opportunities their kids are experiencing. Yet these experiences can be enhanced by encouragement and interpretations provided by dad or mom. Even if given from the sidelines, it can have a sound impact on their learning. This article has been written for parents who have insight into sport, but who might not wish to engage with active coaching. Why not encourage your youngsters to take part in sports activities that afford enjoyment as well as valuable, wider educative experiences?

Of course, the better one knows a sport, especially by playing it, the easier it is to spot ‘educative moments’ that might benefit your child.

The example of our forebears

For millions of years, humankind led a more active lifestyle than we do today. In a sense, their hunting and collecting bands gave a central place to physical education, or more correctly, physical training.

When ‘ancient’ mom went out to gather roots and berries for food the girls and younger boys of a clan would accompany her on the forays. They would learn many things that were useful to their survival in an often harsh environment.

‘Ancient’ dad would set out with the older boys and male relatives to fish, or scavenge from carcases, secure some sort of local small game, or join forces in stalking and attacking a large beast. During these excursions the children learned about planning, tactics, skills, co-operation, courage and their own physical capacities and limitations. It was a fundamental source of knowledge.

These enterprises all took considerable energy to perform. They involved much ambling and tracking, and perhaps a few short bursts of speed or a lengthy pursuit over broken terrain. Muscles would be used for power and speed, and the cardio-vascular system would come into operation with a vengeance as the hunters engaged with their quarry, or indeed ran from it.

More recently during recorded history, traders, workmen, labourers, and the military all used their physical resources more than we generally do today. Physical prowess counted for much.

We’re a lazy lot

In modern times, especially in more developed countries, sport has largely replaced the other physical earlier demands, but in recent years it has been professionalised to the extent that it is a spectacle to be followed on television more than something to be engaged with.

The advent of technology has exacerbated the problems of sedentary behaviour. We live in an increasingly virtual world. The real world of concrete reality including physical threats, climate and physics has been allowed to slide into the recesses of consciousness, whereas in former times it intruded so strongly that its dominant presence occupied our brain with a vengeance. We simply had to take it into account in a most fundamental way. And indeed, because of the planning we had to embark on to survive within it, it helped to form the impressive frontal lobe humanity now possesses. But we have become increasingly protected from physical challenges and therefore even complacent.

Virtual reality doesn’t help

The intrusion of virtual reality into the ‘real world’ now threatens to confuse that which is real (ontic reality) and that which is illusory (virtual reality), to the extent that they become indistinguishable, a fact promoted by commercialisation and its marketing.

For many middle-class people our televisions, cell-phones and ipads are the here and now, while receding glaciers, increasing flab, poverty, crime and the demise of wild creatures are remote things to pay lip-service to as we get on with our immediate, comfortable sedentary preoccupations. Many in the First World are losing contact with demanding physical reality.

Losing respect for our bodies

This also means losing respect for our physical bodies. We have tended to hand them over to the care of medical science rather than to accept them as something needing personal maintenance as intrinsically ‘US’. So, many people make no effort whatsoever to keep themselves in good health, nor do they value the old capacities related to powerful, extensive, repetitive or skilled movement. These are often no longer seen as necessary.

These trends are a few of the reasons motivating perceptive, modern educationists to propagate a renewed focus on physical education in the formal schooling or tertiary context, or pursued informally through enhanced lifestyles. With a bit of understanding, you can participate.

Below I’ll outline some of the outcomes one seeks from a physical education programme. The objectives that follow seek to cultivate a sound mind in a healthy body. A return to these outcomes is needed desperately in my country South Africa, whose population is becoming increasingly flabby and physically unskilled.

Physical development


Let’s start with a focus on the health of the body. Whether you deal with schooling curricula or an adult’s home lifestyle, you’ll first need to look at the efficient physiological function of the bodily systems if you want to enhance physical well-being. This means taking a ‘medical’ viewpoint that ensures freedom from disease and decrepitude, rather than a ‘functional’ viewpoint by means of which ‘physical work’ becomes the focus.

Good health can be achieved by engaging regularly and systematically with physical activities that will exercise the cardio-vascular system and musculature to get them working optimally, but also seeing to such things as bodily hygiene, dental hygiene, posture and diet. Your fifty trillion cells need to work reasonably in harmony; for that implies good health. Sport, especially such as require vigorous, total-body activity and the ingestion of oxygen, can help here.

Physical fitness

Physical fitness implies the ‘functional’ ability of the body to produce ‘work’. It’s the sort of capacities a pentathlon participant or military marine works towards. It is built on a foundation of sound health, as discussed briefly above.

It implies engagement with systematised exercises directed to the achievement of greater strength, power, muscular endurance, cardiovascular stamina and suppleness. The body becomes more capable of running at a reasonable speed, lifting or carrying weights, throwing projectiles, running reasonably long distances and so on.

Physical skills

Next in the physical domain are skills. Traditionally in Western societies, these tend to relate to gross motor exercises, educational and competitive gymnastics, individual and team sports and outdoor pastimes that require co-ordinated, accurate or precise movements capable of repetition at a good standard of accuracy.

With small children we offer generalised movements unrelated specifically to sports or other traditional contexts. These can include jumping, climbing, walking, running, twisting, turning, landing, taking off, throwing, catching, hitting, pitching slinging, kicking and so on.

The intention there is to get the psycho-motor apparatus of muscles, bones, nerves and so on working smoothly to lay a foundation of varied movements on which refined skills can be built. Increasingly, they will be used in defined contexts such as athletics, dance, cricket, rock-climbing, diving or gymnastics.

All of these basic movements and more refined, specific skills depend on a smooth integration of muscle activity with brain functioning, using the ability of that organ to motivate, initiate, provide motor control, and adapt to varying circumstances. These skills usually help the individual to achieve a complex outcome dependent on a smooth sequence of movement.

Cognition, or thinking

Now we move from the physical domain to the cognitive, or ‘thinking’ domain. We might first look at the acquisition of knowledge achieved through participation in physical activities. The range of knowledge to be obtained by this means is quite remarkable.


There can be acquisition of information about the texture, weight, durability, softness or hardness of materials, the attitude of people, acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, aesthetic qualities that are to be admired or wondered at, societal norms, rules of games and other pursuits, good sportsmanship, management of stress, injury and competition, the behaviour of weather, the climate, environment and wild creatures in nature, even history if one wishes to include it, and much more.


Another cognitive capacity one can hone and enhance is problem-solving. Physical activities are replete with opportunities to generate problems one might solve by problem-solving. Team game tactics are essentially problem-solving activities, so are the composition of a dance, the scaling of a sheer rock wall and the negotiation of rapids in a canoe.


Creative thinking can be enhanced and exercised during participation in dance, diving or gymnastics as one works out programmes and routines. One can also cite innovative approaches used in many outdoor activities such as rock climbing, or tactics used in such team games as soccer, rugby, hockey, and many others.

The social domain

The social domain is also amenable to development in physical education.


Teamwork and followership can be experienced, with participation in such things as rock-climbing, hiking and team games offering myriads of learning experiences leading to people becoming capable of working effectively in a group under leaderships.

Socialised activities can enhance the learning of ethical behaviour. Many activities provide contexts for the exercise of actions showing fair play and empathy, revealing ethics and morality. Juvenile crime can be countered thereby.


Leadership opportunities are numerous, giving individuals the opportunity to lead teams or groups, thus gaining experience in implementing a variety of styles before settling on a suitable approach to leadership. Most people will reject either blatantly autocratic or laissez-faire approaches, choosing a style that is best suited to the task, perhaps with an element of democracy in it.

Emotional responses

The emotional responses of people can also be honed. You can learn to control emotional responses when in tight situations, and to express emotions in ways acceptable to society. Finally, you can also learn to appreciate the emotional components of aesthetic movements found in such activities as dance, diving, gymnastics, and even team sports such as cricket and dare I say it, rugby, football or American football.

All of the above implies the adult being alert to opportunities that present themselves for children to identify emotional contexts, focus on them, receive guidance and learn to eventually self-educate themselves in the management of emotional responses.

Outdoor activities

Most outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, surfing, underwater swimming, rock climbing provide marvellous opportunities for educating youngsters. All of them also demand extra safety precautions and care.

Now list the outcomes as:


  • Health
  • Fitness
  • Skills


  • Knowledge
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity


  • Followership
  • Ethics/morality
  • Leadership


  • Control
  • Catharsis
  • Aesthetics

What can you do as a parent or educator?

Write down and reflect on the dozen outcomes. Then reflect on how you can use physical activity to enhance these qualities or capacities in the lives of your own youngsters or those you teach.

You need not teach the activities yourself; indeed for safety reasons that is best left to qualified and accredited teachers and coaches. But you can always watch from the sidelines, and use incidents and events that you spot in order to educate your child.. It’ll of course take a bit of initial effort.

You can have the ammunition available to become a role model. You can use sport as a medium of education. Do, however, study safety rules and first aid if you become personally and actively engaged. Also, get a first aid qualification if you work with young sports participants!

How to clarify a problem

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Have you sometimes tried to tackle a complex problem without being clear about what you’re doing? Unless you’re clear, you might even waste time on trying to fix the wrong problem, or you might tackle some apparent issue that is not a problem at all.

If you’re embarking on some massive project such as a doctoral thesis, it’s essential that you spend time at the start, making sure you know exactly what you’re trying to resolve. You’ll usually be required to make a ‘Statement of the problem’.

This initial clarification is one of the most critical steps in problem solving. It implies seeking to make the problem clear at the outset so that you know exactly what has to be resolved. You can then plan confidently how to resolve it. You won’t get far if you miss this important first stage.

The individual problem-solver will routinely seek to locate any gaps, disjunctions, incongruities, confusions, inconsistencies and irregularities in data that shows the nature of the problem. The early identification of a problem enables the thinker to assemble resources necessary to the further systematic elaboration of thinking. So, an ability to identify and define problems provides a focus for selecting and structuring the mental operations and processes that follow.

  1. Gain an understanding of the context and issues surrounding the problem.
  2. Get to the core issues and seek data relevant to them.
  3. Locate any gaps, disjunctions, incongruities, confusions, inconsistencies and irregularities in data that show the nature of the problem.
  4. Perhaps start with obvious incongruities when seeking information, but also seek obscure hints and clues where these present themselves as relevant.
  5. Describe the problem accurately, clearly and briefly. Determine the purpose and objectives that will help to guide the coming problem solving process.
  6. Clarify whether you should transform the objectives into criteria (questions) with which to evaluate any outcomes from the problem solving that is likely to follow.
  7. Once you have stated the correct problem clearly, get on with solving it. This means devising tentative solutions (hypotheses) you might try out, test or put into operation to see if they work. But don’t put this phase into operation until you know precisely what the problem is.

Perhaps practice by clarifying a typical problem relating to your health, clothing, home, personal security, family, social life, achievements, aspirations, occupation, vocation or profession.

Elephants! An excerpt from The big five, a children’s novel


An excerpt from The big five, a children’s novel

 21 Elephant (3)

After an hour of trudging in silence, they saw a distant line of trees and sighed with relief. They would find water. The landscape had become a furnace as mid-day approached and they had sweated from their exertion, but soon a breeze sprang up quite suddenly to dissipate the heat. It helped to cool them as it dried the sweat on their arms.

They tramped on and at last came to a broad tributary, which had burst its banks during the night and was now almost dry. On the opposite side of the river, downstream, was an extensive bed of very tall reeds. The bed was four or five times the size of a football field. The river had torn reeds growing close to the edges from the sand, and swept them downstream to form jumbled and matted piles as high as their heads. Half-drowned brambles growing on the near side of the river hid some of the reed bed from the sight of the children.

They dipped their cupped hands into the water and drank.

“Ugh!” said Claire. “It’s still full of sand.”

Making wry faces, each of the children drank only as much as was necessary, while others kept alert to the presence of wild beasts.

“We’ll have to cross somewhere,” said Daniel. “It looks like better going on the other side. Follow me.”

Following Daniel’s lead, the group climbed the bank and walked a little way downstream to come out opposite the reed beds, which were swaying and rustling in the breeze. They clambered onto a ledge of rock and slid down a steep bank of earth to drop into the water below. To their relief it only came to their knees. During the worst of the storm, it seemed to have been at head height.

“The main river should’ve gone down a lot by now. I mean, look how this stream has gone down,” said Daniel.

“No, I don’t think so. The main river will take a lot longer to go down,” Siyabonga contradicted him, shaking his head. “It was raining hard up river even before we crossed from the camp. We should have known it would flood. There could be even more to come. It might take days, and the river might even flood again.”

“Yes, if only smarty here hadn’t been so stupid,” replied Daniel, dismissing John with a sneer and wave of the hand.

John was pale with fury. I should have expected that, he thought. Of course, I should have thought about the river before we left camp. I didn’t, so I suppose the big oaf’s right. Then, he was the one who … oh, what’s the use! Now he wants to be leader.

The children were sheltered from the wind but, across the broad expanse of shallow water, gusts had begun to sweep the tall reeds. There was a constant rustle and chafing as the stems brushed back and forth in the wind. The children entered the bed. They moved cautiously. There was now also the muffled sound of large bodies moving amidst the stems; but the sound was too indistinct to determine what was causing it.

“There’s something moving in there,” said John, his brow furrowed with concentration as he looked to left and right, “but I don’t know what it is.”

“It can only be buffalo or elephants,” said Siyabonga, his hands cupped over his ears.

“We’d better try and stop Daniel until we’re certain,” warned John. “I think we should get away from here. Go back.”

Before anyone could stop him, Daniel splashed across a shallow furrow and penetrated further into the swaying reeds to move onto a sodden game path rich with the spoor of antelope that had used it after the flood subsided.

“Daniel! Wait!” shouted John and Siyabonga almost as one, but their voices were lost in the stiff breeze.

Daniel ignored them. Whistling now, he followed the path. He was beginning to enjoy himself; relishing the role of leader. The two shouted again. Again, Daniel ignored them. Lashing out with his stick at the swaying reed stems on either side, he thrust his way forward.

Then, the reed bed exploded.

A huge grey bulk rose suddenly above them, crunching reeds underfoot as it tried to make out the position of the intruders amongst the long stems. Ears as big as car doors swung back and forward, as their owners tried to focus their hearing. Elephants! Now there came a shrill blast of sound! Trunks lifted in the air as the herd tested the breeze for the scent of the children. There was a mighty smashing and trampling of the reed bed as the great animals shifted position, uncertain of the direction from which they were threatened.

Tandi screamed and rushed deeper into the reed beds, lost amongst the stems as a huge cow swung on her from the flank. John grabbed Claire and pulled her towards the river. They burst out of the reeds pursued by a three-quarter grown bull and splashed their way through the water towards the bank they had just come down. John heaved Claire up the bank, pushing her towards the rock ledge, and shouting: “Climb! Climb!”

He turned to face the pursuing beast, only to find that it had turned from its pursuit to go after Siyabonga, who was some way up-river and making for a large boulder. Siyabonga gained the shelter of the rock and dodged behind it. He crouched there in waist-deep water, his chest drawing in great gulps of air. The elephant gave up its pursuit and returned, screaming shrilly, to the herd.

John splashed through the shallows to join Siyabonga and the two crouched side by side, peering at the massive grey shapes wheeling and crashing through the reeds.

At that moment, Daniel emerged from the reed bed further down-river and darted across a sand-spit to plunge into the water and flounder his way to the near bank. He clawed his way onto the rock ledge and scrambled up its face to dive past Claire, who was jumping up and down on the bank shouting: “Where’s Tandi? Where’s Tandi?”

Siyabonga stood up, peering towards the reeds. “John, I thought Tandi had got back,” he yelled.

“No, only Claire got up the bank.”

Siyabonga cried out as if in pain. He bent down and John could see him groping on the bottom for some of the smooth stones that lay embedded there. “I’m going to get Tandi,” said Siyabonga grimly, as he started to wade towards the reed bed.

“Don’t be a fool,” yelled John, feeling himself rising as if in a trance, heart pounding, to follow Siyabonga. “You can’t take on a herd of elephants!” He groped for rocks and started to edge forward in Siyabonga’s wake.

Siyabonga splashed to the middle of the stream, and with a long throw bounced a rock off the hindquarters of one of the blundering animals. It swung around at the irritation and moved towards the river’s edge, seeking the cause of its discomfort, and then plunged back into the reeds. Again, Siyabonga threw a stone. Again he connected. John found himself joining in the futile assault, yelling as he went. The boys were now close to the reeds, shouting and tormenting the big beasts to try to make them give way.

At that moment a large cow, leader of the herd, saw them and trumpeted. With her trunk curled under her massive head and ears folded back, she charged, sending scatters of spray across the shallows as she came.

The boys turned and ran. They churned through the shallow water with great bounds, their pebbles discarded as they sped. John reached the boulder a moment before Siyabonga, and dived behind it. Siyabonga followed with a great surge of water as he tripped and fell headlong behind the rock. The boys crouched low, clutching each other and frozen with fear, not daring to raise their heads. Above them, the cow stood screaming, swaying, and shifting its weight, its little eyes peering to catch a sign of movement near the rock.

Behind them on the steep bank, Claire stood transformed as she dared the very edge, waving a dry branch and shouting to attract the attention of the angry cow. It was enough provocation to enrage the matriarch further, and the beast moved from the rock to confront her. It tried to climb the bank, placing its massive front pads on the yielding earth and attempting to heave itself up. All the while, it squealed with rage.

Claire stood her ground, screaming with excitement and terror and waving her small branch in the air. In her panic, she teetered on the rim and nearly plunged down the slope. Daniel crouched, several paces behind, close to the trunks of two large trees. From their shelter, he also began to wave his stick, shouting.

The cow stood for some time in the water at the base of the bank, seeking their scent with her trunk and peering up at the girl, frustrated at not being able to mount the bank. Growing weary, and having lost sight of the boys in the water, she wheeled and strode back to the reed bed, moved through the milling herd and continued up the incline on the other side.

One after the other, the rest of the herd followed her. The children caught a glimpse of them retreating through the rank vegetation that lined the river bank. They made out two calves a metre tall amongst the big animals. Their mothers were close by, rumbling reassurance to the two little ones despite the fracas. Soon the herd was gone.

The reed bed looked devastated, with great swathes of reeds crushed underfoot as the herd blundered through it. Here and there, islands of reeds stood intact, their tips swaying in the breeze.

Siyabonga stood up, shaking. He looked stunned. “Here comes Karel, and he looks done in. He’s not hurt. Now where’s Tandi? Oh, Lord! Where’s Tandi?”

Karel joined the group. He had scrambled up the bank further down-river, he said, and got onto high ground from where he could see the unfolding events. He could not give any information about Tandi. No one could offer Siyabonga any words of comfort. John had seen Tandi run to his left as a cow advanced on them and, pursued by the animal, flee deeper into the reeds. The place to which she had fled looked devastated. The four children edged across the river, dreading what they might find.

There, lying in a mess of trampled reeds was a mud-spattered clump of red material. John could make out a sleeve of his anorak that he had put around Tandi when the first rain fell. He picked up the pathetic remnant. An elephant’s tusk had torn it from the jacket and trampled it to mush. Where was Tandi’s body, he wondered? The elephants would probably have crushed her. Claire started to sob quietly. Siyabonga looked grim.

Then they glimpsed it: a limp red object lying near the far bank, with broken reeds partly covering it. “Oh no,” thought John, “I’ve heard of elephants killing a person and then scattering grass on the body! Poor Tandi.”

With a cry of distress, Siyabonga ran forward, and sank to his knees, tearing away the scatter of reeds. He held the remains of a red anorak.

“It’s not her,” he shouted triumphantly. “She might be alive.”

John sank to his knees, not able to speak.

Then, from beneath the half-buried trunk of a dead tree, they heard a plaintive voice.

“Siyabonga … I’m scared. I want to go back … to camp.”

Overjoyed, Siyabonga ran to help his younger sister from her refuge, pulling her to her feet and reassuring her. Claire ran up excitedly and hugged the little girl.

All around the gnarled trunk were the deeply embedded footprints of the herd, and the mounds of dung they had dropped as they milled about in their confusion and anger.

Breathing hard and exhausted from their ordeal, the children sat down to recover. There was a feeling of relief that no one had suffered injury. Claire wiped her tear-grimed face and held Tandi’s hand as they rested, all talking at once.

“Did you see the big cow? Squealing and charging about … and the way she shielded the calves?”

“And Claire … jumping up and down like a yoyo.”

When they had calmed, John and Siyabonga spoke to Claire.

“You weren’t bad, Claire … for a girl,” John said.

“For a girl? What do you mean, ‘for a girl’?” responded Claire indignantly.

“Just joking,” said John laughing, his hands lifted in surrender. “You did a great job.”

“I also helped,” said Daniel, pushing forward. “I was right there.”

“You? You nearly got Tandi killed, that’s what you did!” said John.

“What did you say?”

“I said: ‘You nearly got Tandi killed.’”

Daniel got slowly to his feet, his eyes sparkling with anger. His face flushed, he strode over to where John sat and towered over him, his big fists clenched and the veins swelling in his neck.

“You’ll have to deal with me too,” said Siyabonga with quiet anger, his heart pounding in his throat as he moved to stand beside John.

Daniel stood there huge and menacing, a little muscle twitching near the corner of his right eye. He glared down at John. John stood up, his hands involuntarily coming up beneath his chin to take guard.

“No man, Daniel,” came the voice of Karel. “Just let it be. Admit it. You were stupid. We were all stupid. We need weapons.”

Daniel swung sharply on his heel and stalked off to throw himself down under a tree, cursing, brooding, and sulky.

“Ja Karel, a great friend you are.”

Karel just shrugged, and the tension passed.

While Claire and Tandi told each other about their experiences and Daniel sat in angry silence, John spoke to Siyabonga. Both boys felt the surge of a new confidence.

“You were pretty good out there,” said John.

“But you helped me,” said Siyabonga. “You were also right there … when it mattered.”

“Maybe, but that was all in a rush. You went back. You tried to take on the herd. You must be bonkers! You must’ve known you could’ve got killed.”

“Forget it,” said Siyabonga. “She’s my sister. Anyhow, you came with me. And, what about Claire! She’s got ‘guts’, as you would say.”

The two stood silent for a time.

“She has,” said John. “She sure has. Exactly as I would say.”

13 June 2015 International Albinism Awareness Day


I feel sick at reading of the atrocities committed against persons with an absence of melanin (known as oculocutaneous albinism), in Tanzania and more than twenty other African countries. Harassment also occasionally occurs in China and India, although to a far lesser extent. All this is endured, on account of a slip in genetic makeup that is beyond any sufferer’s ability to counter.

Born in South Africa, I am white; but by definition of birth I am an African. As such, I utterly condemn the satanic brutality sometimes meted out to people already struggling with weakened eyesight and susceptible to skin cancer. Often highly intelligent, normal and complete in every other way, they are deserving of respect by all. It is incumbent on every government to support them, and to ensure protection within law.

Within South Africa, millions live with the concept of ‘ubuntu’ ever before them. This implies honouring the dignity and humanity of other human beings, with a view to letting the concept guide behaviour and attitudes.

My wish for people with albinism is that genetic scientists will find a solution to their affliction, and soon. And may they bask in ubuntu and respect, rather than be the objects of disdain.

Memories of the Edgewood Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Memories of the Edgewood Campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The book mentioned above is in the library of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. It describes the transition from a whites-only institution to one fully non-racial. It is written from the points of view of persons working at a transforming college of education that was absorbed into a South African university as apartheid was dismantled.


In a sense it is a story repeated in many other South African institutions striving to achieve a non-racial future for the country. Some staff embraced the idea of transition, many did not. The book will be of use to anyone, anywhere in the world, engaged with the transformation of an institution with a racially-defined ethos to a fully integrated, non-racial, multicultural entity.

The present post appeared largely unchanged as the chapter Recollections of Edgewood. Alex Coutts 1970-1993.

Please bear with me as I romp through the description of a mis-spent youth, which might come across as a poor start for a teaching-college educator. I thoroughly disliked my early schooling because the experience often scared the wits out of me. Especially when quite small, I found most teachers to be threatening creatures. My father died when I was seven, and with my mother working through long days as a bank clerk, I had little parental guidance in matters educational.

Later at the Northlands Boys High School (now Northwood) in Durban, I settled down a bit, but at that stage of life still couldn’t see the point of education. I accordingly spent many happy hours body surfing amidst the occasional shark in ominously discoloured waters off the Durban North beaches, when my time could have been spent better by my studying for exams. It was not a good start for someone who later entered teacher education as a profession.

Having done a few modest sporting performances at school, I entered the Durban Teachers’ Training College (Dokkies) where I enjoyed Physical Education and did well in it. I later passed the specialist course in Physical Education with distinction at the Paarl Teachers’ Training College, and went on to teach the subject at Grosvenor Boys High School.

During a break in career prior to joining the Edgewood College community, I decided to get away from South African’s narrow social and political confines to see the wider world. I wanted to gain experience in self-dependence; to see if I could manage on my own. It’s of course something many young people do.

There followed a venture in deep-sea yachting which terminated when I left the vessel at Ascension Island in the mid-Atlantic. This followed an incident with the McCormac Cape, a freighter whose captain was docking her late at night in the presence of our small, intrusive yacht that had somehow wandered into the freighter anchorage. After this incident was settled, the yacht sailed on. I stayed put.

While on the island I worked for Gunn Plumbing of Miami for several months as a labourer. One of the more memorable incidents was a strike that turned nasty and culminated in injuries to two African-American workers and the pay-off of union members by a boss with a loaded revolver on his desk.

A period of teaching in Inner London schools followed. I then embarked on a six -week hitch-hike across North Africa sipping tea or coffee with the Bedouin and sleeping in the bitterly cold winter desert. My stores of experience were growing.

I also endured a harrowing week at Aberfan, assisting the mortician during the coal-mining disaster of November 1967. We worked in the small Barthol Chapel building which had been turned into a mortuary. Our team met the Queen and Prince Philip. More indelibly memorable yet, I was present when parents entered the small chapel to identify the clothing, possessions or bodies of their children. Many hurled oaths at the Coal Board and broke down in tears. At the age of twenty-four I was not prepared psychologically for the experience. The memories proved enduring.

Returning to South Africa, I joined the staff at Northlands Boys High School in Durban. The opulent socio-economic status of many parents meant that they could afford private swimming coaches and so our team did well over many years, while athletics kept up its long-standing tradition at the school. This implied winning competitions regularly.

Having done a reasonable job at Northlands, I applied for the job of lecturer in Physical Education at Edgewood College. I arrived as a bewildered youth, experienced in some of the more esoteric and even brutal experiences of life, but not particularly suited to the refinements of Academe.

I brought to the job a tinge of macho, a distrust of memorisation as the central pillar of education, a mind open to the non-racialism of many overseas countries and a sense of independence in thought and action picked up during travels through more than forty countries. Throughout, I had paid my own way and learnt that the main instrument in achievement was my own hard effort coupled to such integrity, knowledge and skills as I had garnered.

On arrival at Edgewood, I was met by strangers. It was a world different to anything previously experienced. During the 1970’s, the College was in its infancy, having moved to Pinetown from a previous Durban campus. The first students were all women.

The popular Eric Edminson, deeply experienced in primary schooling, headed the staff. A few days after arrival, he gave me the best advice I ever received from anyone. “Think things through and look at all the consequences, then if you have a choice, rather be kind,” he said. “Be kind”.

Eric Edminson was supported by the awesome Sylvia Vietzen (History), and equally impressive Cynthia Scott (English language), Ailsa Mumby (Mathematics), Ingrid Machin (History), Rosemary Miles-Cadmin (English), Jill Kelsall (Religious Studies) and one or two others of equal eminence. I mean no cynicism here; for a callow youth these teaching academics brought an aura of intelligence and dignity that led to one conclusion; select your reference characters well, and learn from them. With a need to accommodate male students, Messrs Ken Tebbutt (Handcraft), Harry Getliffe (Physical science) and Gordon Morton (Geography) were appointed in due course.

In those days, a frontier spirit prevailed as the college buildings were completed. It was fuelled by the noise of frogs at night (an obsessive talking point for some) and the occasional discharge of dynamite when protruding rocks were to be removed. For someone who had hitched the coast of North Africa, bathed with whales on a yacht somewhere in the South Atlantic Ocean, and watched the Israeli army in action on their border with Jordan, I couldn’t quite catch the prevailing spirit. It was all so terribly civilized! And if this was a frontier, a frontier to where? And who lay beyond it?

The staffroom dynamics were interesting. In my naive view, status was determined by proximity to the tea things. The staff members of the most highly regarded subjects were in closest proximity, with a long chain of status down to the ‘practicals’ where I seated myself respectfully.

Language was especially interesting, with second language experiencing refugee status in a predominantly English-speaking college. They were seated a long way from such critical survival resources as tea and coffee. I noted that, when we moved to our grand new staffroom a year or two later, the second-language department had seated themselves close to the urn and refused to budge. Main language took to the opposing corner, gloves off and glowering.

But, lest I give the impression that departments were habitually at war, I must hasten to add that usually everyone got along fine. During the twenty or so years I spent at Edgewood, apart from understandable intrigues and tiffs here and there, the staff members were remarkably combined in their social interactions and common pursuit of excellence. Many members became my firm friends.

There were many remarkable and engaging characters. Our new rector, Professor Andre le Roux, became known for his brilliant, humorous and athletic public speeches and presentations. I say athletic because Andre was known for his remarkable agility in bobbing up and down with sheer excitement as he regaled us with educational insights, anecdotes, homilies and missives. One could establish the import of a speech quite accurately by recording the height to which his heels left the stage floor. Andre established a firm leadership based on a brilliant mind, wide knowledge of many things, basically compassionate nature and insistence that Edgewood was to become a family to all who operated there. It was clear that he had distinct visions of a non-racial future.

I also recall Gordon Morton. His love of Geography (how I had relied on his textbook Man’s environment years earlier while at school!) was only exceeded by his love of motor bikes. There was also Rosemary Miles-Cadman, known for her exceptional intellect, Cynthia Scott who was a leading academic but also known for her compassionate care for the college cats, for whose benefit she solicited funds (we called it putting something in the kitty). Jan Forbes was well reputed for her creative dancing, Hugh Thompson for his brilliant play productions, and Brian Reid for his insightful, Catholic (with a capital C) views on History. Brian trained later at the Beda in France for the Catholic priesthood.

There are so many others, united in the quest to maintain Edgewood as a centre of excellence. I plodded on steadily, establishing Physical Education as a component of the broader curriculum, editing The Natal Physical Educator, and working to transform the subject from a rather limited physical training, so prevalent during the post-war years, into something thoroughly grounded in education. This implied giving full vent to a participant’s cognitive, emotional, social, health, psycho-motor and knowledge capacities. In due course Jan Forbes and Bob Rottcher took the work forward brilliantly as I moved more deeply into administration and general education.

I was asked to Head a range of subjects, and Physical Education, Art, Handcrafts, Speech and Drama, Needlework, Health Education, Electrical Technika, Electronic Technika, Technical Drawing, Computer Studies and Business Economics were part of what became known as ‘Alexander’s empire’.

Darryl Houghton was so successful as senior lecturer in Art that he became subject adviser. Carolyn Higgs and Lorna Shadwell ran Speech and Drama very capably, while Mike O’Neill did a fine job with the Technical subjects. Ken Tebbutt managed handcrafts creatively, ensuring that Saturday ‘handcraft fairs’ became a regular feature of college life. My main job was to assist with critical administrative jobs while ensuring that my own lack of experience in some of these subjects didn’t destroy the natural capability and creativity of the specialist staff. It was a great learning experience.

I also served on the College Council, was Secretary to Senate, managed Practical Teaching, organised or helped organise conferences, served as college examinations officer, ran the so-called Civil Defence programme, managed the Grounds and Buildings Committee and supervised the residences. At one time or another I was on sixteen committees and chaired six. So I kept out of mischief.

Having entered the college with two teaching diplomas it was clear to me that I was formally under qualified, so over the years I found time (often two o’clock in the morning, and most weekends) to do a B.A., B. Ed., Masters and D.Ed. Not being sure of the first doctorate’s value, I did a second. This was a D. Phil. Having struggled at school, I found these degrees increasingly easy with practice and maturity. I funded them myself, with no financial sources other than my salary. There was a measure of pride in doing that.

The second doctorate enjoyed the encouragement of the rector, Prof Andre le Roux. He was engaged with the Council of Rectors and Deans of KwaZulu-Natal (CORDTEK) initiative. It was an endeavour to draw together rectors and deans of universities and colleges, to establish a closer symbiotic relationship on an equitable, non-racial basis.

My D. Phil. study was based a four-year longitudinal study of the New Era Schools Trust, an early attempt to explore strategies for implementing a system of non-racial schooling in South Africa. The idea had incubated for years. I understand that my study was the first of its kind in South Africa to explore non-racial schooling. Titled An exploratory Study of the New Era Schools Trust, it was done in 1989 through the University of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal). It traced the development of a system of non-racial schooling that could be a model to guide future endeavours at the national level.

It investigated such concepts as race, ethnicity and socio-economic class. As a result, Marxist theory was brought into the Bachelor of Primary Education classes, which I taught. Although I personally found flaws with the Marxian analysis, Marx helped to sensitize me further to the travails of the impoverished and disadvantaged in South Africa. Thereafter, there was a rapid awakening.

Whilst doing the doctorate and after its completion, during the 1980s I embarked on a series of perhaps sixty public addresses throughout KwaZulu-Natal and (occasionally) Gauteng. It was an attempt to convince educators in schools to brave the emerging new world and become accepting of transition to a modern non-racial democracy. It involved the dissemination of strategies for transformation that would lead to a more socially, economically and politically just society.

Probably the most interesting presentation was done at an educational institution in Dundee, while apartheid was still fully in force. After a long drive, I arrived to find a considerable audience, prepared my slides and engaged with those present. I explained the evolving historical context as best I could while exploring strategies to accommodate cultures equitably as a foundation for shifting to a new non-racial dispensation.

And then, whilst in full flight I noticed (one could hardly ignore them) a phalanx of fourteen brown-shirted men striding into the hall. They sat down as a tight group. Their shoulder insignia were those of the AWB. Grim faced and tense, at question time they rose as one man and distributed leaflets warning of sex across the racial lines, negative happenings in other countries and the demise of white privilege.

Their questions were direct and probing. This lead me to explain that, as far as I was informed the term kaffir (kafir) was derived from the Arabic word for unbeliever. Did they want to discuss religion? I asked. To their credit there were no direct threats or aggressive behaviour, but it did alert me to the prospect of difficult times ahead for us all. I saw them as ordinary people whose upbringing and political views were radically different to my own.

I found the doctoral studies through the University of Natal particularly helpful as Edgewood College began to accommodate the staff and students of Bechet College, which was being closed. We also took in an initial intake of several hundred African students. The transition went as well as such things can, when one takes our benighted history and socio-economic disparities into account. The Bechet staff, led by Lawrence Samuels, was magnanimous in coming from their previously ‘secure’ home to adapt to an alien environment.

Regarding the students, we had to manage matters as fairly and equitably as we could, including their understandable anger at the disparity in loans occasioned by Edgewood moving too quickly, ahead of the state’s capacity to catch up with enabling legislation. The College had summarily ‘jumped the gun’. White students got R4500 yearly, Coloured students R2800 and Africans R2200. The figures were the cause of enduring distress.

We had cultural differences to accommodate, also allegations of discrimination levelled at the house committee members, accusations of academic bias and much more. But, none of it was in any way as intense as one might have anticipated, and the newcomers to the campus as well as the existing community behaved with considerable decorum and restraint.

The Doctorate also no doubt helped my wife Memory and me when we first took on and raised four abandoned Zulu children as our own progeny. There were eventually fourteen, albeit at different times. One has lived with us for twenty-odd years, others for lesser times. For more than thirty years they have been our sons and daughters.

As each became capable of earning a living, so the next arrived. Several went through schooling under our care and financing, then proceeded to higher education. Three have degrees, and four others have diplomas achieved or pending. One has been ordained a Catholic priest. It was all funded from our educator salaries. But we, arguably, have been enriched more than they.

Looking back, the most difficult task I had as vice-rector occurred in the early 1990s while Prof le Roux was in the Drakensberg foothills attending a conference. As usual, I was asked to assume responsibility for the College for a few days. At about 5 p.m. on the first day, just after arriving home, I received a call from a residence staff member warning of a vehicle accident involving some of our black students who were returning from our College to their University residences. Unsure of what was happening, I drove to the casualty department of the King Edward V111hospital, closest to the accident site. My actions were based on a simple assumption.

Our students were there, bloodied and mainly unrecognisable. I comforted them as best I could, consoled the parents and phoned Prof. le Roux. I learnt that the driver had died and a student had been injured critically. He was not expected to survive without serious brain damage. On the following morning it was necessary to brief Mr Attie Ohlmesdahl, then director of education, Prof Piet Booysen, vice chancellor and principal of the University of Natal and Prof Berndene Nel, Dean of the faculty of Education.

A sorrowful memorial service was thereafter held in the Margaret Martin Theatre at Edgewood. It was lightened only slightly by the tributes of various members of staff and beautiful, if mournful, singing of the assembled throng. The week that followed was an understandably tough one. It culminated in the death of the injured student who had suffered head injuries and brought tangible sadness that seemed to touch all staff, black and white.

The journey through Edgewood over twenty years was a daily educative experience. I feel privileged to have made superb friends irrespective of their race or ethnicity and to have served there. I look on the experience largely with affection, and trust that the present staff will strive constantly to exceed what we achieved in the service of the children of KwaZulu-Natal.

No race is free of racist behaviour to others. More than ever, South Africans need integrity, service orientation, generosity of spirit, tolerance and mutual respect if we are to progress. Only then can we claim to be a light-infused ‘rainbow nation’.

Xenophobia South Africa; turning the tide

Xenophobia South Africa; turning the tide


Because of their complexity and depth, the tides and currents of xenophobia that have swirled though our country will only return to calm if diverse, precisely targeted strategies are used to ease tensions. Foremost amongst these is the address of poverty, a debilitating phenomenon that underlies almost every other social ill in this country. This is where the past Masifundisane project could help.

A few years ago, the Masifundisane literacy programme was run successfully in KwaZulu-Natal, under the conscientious leadership of Mrs Cynthia Mpati of the Department of Education. It was directed at adults whose education had been fractured by apartheid. Cuba provided a model. Local unemployed KZN matriculants provided much of the teaching manpower, but local communities owned it and provided monitoring.

Masifundisane gave participants an education focused on their home language Zulu, as well as the language of the economy and much of the outside world, which is English. A more widely-scoped curriculum is now needed.

We need a national endeavour that encompasses;

  • The home language and English literacy
  • Numeracy and financial/business literacy
  • Entrepreneurship and how to run a small business such as a co-operative
  • Economic geography of the surrounding environment, business opportunities
  • Selected vocational skills suited to the region

Every component of the courses would be focused on achieving economic independence for the participants in the region in which they live, either as an individual, member of a collective or seeker of employment. There would be no wasted theorizing; just solid, practical, usable knowledge and skills. The development of suitable certification would be explored.

Every component of the curriculum above should also be integrated into the public schooling system, perhaps in the Life Orientation curriculum of Grades 7, 8 or 9.

We could adopt the Masifundisane (Google it, or check and its linked sites for a summary) project as a model. It was a brilliant endeavour. Lessons were run in community halls, churches and school classrooms after hours, and every other venue available was employed in the task. Unemployed matric students taught for a modest salary, and the local community monitored and reported on progress.

SABC radio and television programmes, NGOs, churches and businesses could be harnessed. SETAS could be incorporated (but solely for initial, basic curriculum content and emphatically not for the suffocating administrative and bureaucratic constraints the SETAS must implement).

Instead of trading insults on the floor of parliament in the unseemly manner that has recently held sway, politicians might join forces to ensure that the proposed programmes work. Our society has not benefited from the past, indulgent mud-slinging; the fracas has given the nation a particularly bad model to follow and we are currently reaping the whirlwind. We need a return to propriety and proper work.

Although a measure of socialism underlies the suggested scheme, businesses must surely see the advantage of striving to develop social equilibrium based on a proliferation of micro- and meso-businesses. Big companies and banks might adopt a local or municipal region and reap some cudos from their investment. ‘Ordinary’ citizens might contribute greatly. Basic funding can be built into the education budget each year, and some money might be transferred from the SETAS.

Politics would have to be kept out of the mix as far as possible, if a programme such as that envisaged is to be run successfully throughout the country. The goodwill, input and resources of all political parties would have to be invited and accessed sensitively, while retaining a healthy measure of independent action and conscience.

At a time of acute stress in international relations generated by the recent outbreak of xenophobia , the added burden of inviting internal social and political collaboration would be difficult to orchestrate. With the inbuilt oppositional tensions inherent in our democratic Westminster parliamentary system, it might prove impossible. But it is surely worth discussion and if feasible, implementation. The benefits of success would be enormous.

A model derived from Cuba, involving government initiatives might smack too much for some people of ‘creeping socialism’. On the other hand, success would bring economic freedom for many, with a measure of independence from the present widespread state support. I believe that in this case, the ends justify the means. It would mean a brave new world for many.

The Masifundisane project is described in some detail under Community Empowerment through enhanced literacy at: and .

You might like to look it up. It’s a South African initiative of worldwide importance.

Xenophobia South Africa

Xenophobia South Africa


Desperate people are fleeing out of both ends of Africa; the north and the south. In North Africa, refugees are searching for a better life in already-crowded Europe. Many have come from war-torn countries. As a result of desperation, many have endured terrible deaths at the hands of brutal agents bent on making a quick buck without regard for the savage fate to which they are committing their victims.

Politicians in European countries are searching for ways to accommodate a regulated, ‘manageable’ number of migrants. In this, they are discharging the first duty of any government, which is to secure the safety of their citizens. They are also attempting to stem the tide at source by targeted action on the African continent itself. They face a titanic battle between expediency and conscience, with the lives of thousands at stake… and also the reputations of their countries.

In the far south, South Africa has over the years accommodated several million economic and political migrants, some of whom no doubt also qualify as refugees. Past Government immigration policy had been one of benign understatement. Now for some migrants as well as ‘local’ people, especially for those deeply in poverty, a breaking-point has been reached.

While most of South Africa has gone about its business relatively unperturbed, pockets of vehement, violent conduct have broken out. Many migrants, especially those who are involved in commerce, have been generalised as corrupt, ruthless, exploitive, and perhaps even ‘colonialist’. Only now as mature reflection intrudes at last, is their economic contribution to society being recognised.

South Africans think so easily by classifying individual human beings into ‘groups’. We are besotted by ‘group-think’. One’s race, social class and family name come before one’s personal identity, character, service or other achievements. I do not blame any single sector of our population for this skewed thinking, which often leads to tremendous injustice, as the apartheid years showed. Group-thought and mindless generalising are alive and well. We all do it. Individual character, service and personal accountability are often glossed over.

Where their citizens have been terrorised or even killed, African Governments have responded vehemently. Some response from these countries is justified, understandable and worthy of recompense and an assumption of responsibility on the part of the South African Government. Yet, a considerable number of perpetrators of violence were tried and sentenced after the 2008 riots.

In the short term they were no doubt slow to react to the present eruption, and in the long term, poverty has remained addressed less effectively than it should have been. In that regard, we citizens who actually comprise ‘the state’ are also culpable. We have become numbed. It’s not only Government.

In a few cases, there is a distinct taint of politics inherent in some of the statements from Africa; also a measure of envious denigration and no doubt economic competition. I doubt whether any other state in Africa could have acted with any greater speed than our Government did. To prove the case, readers can choose from many recent examples of laxity on the part of other governments. Indulge yourself.

My wife and I are white South Africans, born in this country of parents also born here. I did not support apartheid, although I enjoyed its benefits. As educationists, my wife and I pursued education as career paths, and both of us served until it hurt, drawing salaries no greater than the comparable salary paid to any other ‘cultural group’ of the time.

Increasingly uneasy and later opposed to the prevailing political dispensation, I judged my white skin to be worth a million rand in indirect (or perhaps direct) benefits during my early years. I became a social activist while in a senior position in the education sphere. I researched racism with a D. Ed., and spoke against the policy and practice for many years. In the capacity of a college Vice Rector, such public speaking was controversial, but never threatening to me or otherwise heroic to do. Two of my public addresses were broken up by the advocates of apartheid; interesting experiences.

My wife and I of course rejected violence, and sought initially to make a contribution through NGO’S, but then decided to operate domestically outside politics. We became ‘father’ and ‘mother’ to four young Zulus (one was a week old) whose mother had died in my wife’s vehicle en route to hospital. The mother had lived with us for six months while ill. So, for thirty-five years we assisted a growing, extended Zulu family in building their houses, pursuing career paths and getting employment. We were all too busy to indulge ourselves with racist thoughts.

There was nothing particularly commendable about this. I’m sure many others in South Africa have done the same, or more. And, we were well rewarded. We paid our two-million rand virtual social debt, retained a measure of dignity, and were rewarded with several of our youngsters becoming teachers. Another qualified as a Catholic priest (he was ordained within the Catholic Church on 07 March 2015), and another as an electrician. There was also a financial administrator and several others are still training. We did it on state educationist/educator salaries and have been well rewarded, with very few disappointments. Old gogo (granny) was the mainstay of the family through their difficult years, as is quite usual these days; not us.

2010-01-03 17.30.55

I am ‘white’ and, being born in Africa, I am an African. I am proud of it. And, I shall define myself as I wish. No-one else shall. I’m tired of being labelled indirectly as colonist, exploiter, or any other unpleasant implied epithet. I’m sure millions of other South Africans who have contributed to our economy and served in other ways greater than mine feel the same. Even the African immigrants who were born in other countries are now being praised for their economic contribution. Initially damned, many are now feeling affirmed.

As the xenophobic fracas settles and the country returns to normality, I hope the shock of the most recent xenophobic episode focuses our minds on a national scale. Above all, I hope that we as a nation can learn to look at such things as character as something worthwhile, rather than race or the banal trappings of wealth. The poor have been used as political fodder for long enough. And civil society is not blameless.

We in South Africa are a cultural kaleidoscope and a microcosm of the world. I hope that every citizen who has a bit more than average assets, no matter how little the reserve is, will occasionally use it well in the service of the needy. And the rich can always do more. In a world currently bent on suicide that will be a means to build a people worthy of the accolade ‘Rainbow Nation’.

Xenophobia: quo vadis, South Africa?

Xenophobia: quo vadis, South Africa?

Recent events in and around my home city Durban have sent shivers down the spines of South Africans. Xenophobic attacks have occurred against foreigners, initially amongst owners of small businesses in Isipingo, central Durban and Verulam. There have been deaths. The social disturbances have now spread to the Witwatersrand in Gauteng province, and no end to the disturbances is yet in sight. Similar unrest occurred in 2002, 2008 and 2014.


The trigger for these events seems to be a rising antipathy and even hatred on the part of impoverished local communities. It is largely directed against foreign nationals who have migrated to South Africa in huge numbers because of political or economic pressures in their own countries. The total of such people is estimated at four million. The broader setting has been conducive to social disruption, since during times of international economic, political, religious and social disruptions, migrants and refugees are obvious targets for the focus of anger amongst those already under pressure.

President Zuma has spoken on the subject, and has apparently invited answers to the problem, from whatever quarter. This present post is a response to that invitation.

Allegations of thoughtless statements by public figures and even underlying political intrigue are emerging, and need to be investigated thoroughly. If necessary, people must be held accountable. The response by government was tardy initially, but it is gathering momentum. Numerous statements have been made by government officials and members of civil society condemning the violence. We must all do so.

Many commentators have condemned the initial media reaction, which for a time focused on debates about whether the problem represents xenophobia or afrophobia. As the problem deepened, there was a realisation that the country needed vigorous action, not words. After some vacillation, the government responded with police action to ensure the safety of people whose lives were most in jeopardy. They have now correctly discerned the wellbeing of the civilian population as a first urgent step. In Durban and Gauteng, police have clamped down on crowd violence and associated criminality.

Several thousand people have been displaced. They are being housed temporarily in tent villages, police stations and other shelters. Angered and dismayed by the harsh events, some will no doubt return to their home countries. An exodus has begun. Several states have already taken action to repatriate citizens, and South Africa’s reputation as an exemplary country where a brilliant constitution holds sway has been besmirched and the underlying social fragilities revealed.

Condemnation of the violence and desultory initial response has come from Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and also Boko Haram and Al Shebaab. Political and economic retaliation have been threatened. The Department of Foreign Relations has been hard pressed to respond to and placate these criticisms. It is probable that South Africa will suffer in its international relations.

Some foreigners have not got relevant residence permits, and complain of experiencing corrupt practices in the registration process, muddled thinking and sometimes, enormous distances to be covered to get documents renewed.

In due course there will be the preparation of long-term plans to manage the crisis, to ensure a return to reasonably normal social interactions, and the development of a strategy to forestall recurrence. The process of introspection and planning has already begun. Unfortunately, as is so common with the managements of these sorts of events, initial reaction is to see and address only the surface manifestations, but not to drill or probe more deeply into the underlying aetiology. Clearly, the current events are symptoms of deeper things than those appearing at the surface. These have incubated and festered over decades, exacerbated by apartheid but also by mistakes made during the past few decades of ‘freedom’.

Many of the transgressors are Zulus, a nation that at one stage was the most powerful military and political body in South-east Africa. Read Shaka.The Story of a Zulu King for background. The fact is still embedded in the collective unconscious of large numbers of people, and fuels an underlying but tangible, simmering political resentment. Despite being the largest identifiable cultural entity in Southern Africa, historically they never consolidated into a nation-state such as that of the Sothos (Lesotho) or Swazis (Swaziland). There has apparently never been a satisfaction of historical ambitions.

A further provocation is that many live in a state of comparative poverty. The result is often a sense of hopelessness, loss of initiative and surrender to a sense of impotence and hopelessness. Yet amongst them are the most remarkable, kindly and precious people one can hope to meet. I have admired them for their ineffable strength of character, fortitude, courtesy and compassion despite their being in the grip of undeserved, grinding poverty. Some have become ‘family’.

In general however, South African society seems to harbour a deeply rooted propensity to resort to violence to get one’s way, and the concept of ubuntu sometimes appears more like a fragile, politically expedient construct to be trotted out when necessary, rather than a reality. It seems at times to extend no further than a narrow clan allegiance based on related names and interests. In our society there is also a measure of allegiance to larger ‘tribal’ entities whether black, brown or white, but little empathic regard for humanity in a wider context. We delude ourselves by accepting the designation ‘rainbow nation’. We have yet to earn that accolade.

The present outbursts of aggression are focused on xenophobia, which implies a fear and even hatred of foreigners or even strangers. It is a reaction that flies directly in the face of the ubuntu ethic. It has given vent to opportunistic criminality and the looting of shops and other property. Some of the anger is even alleged to originate in an attempt to clear debts by driving away the implicated business owners.

Poverty has over many years been exacerbated by the apartheid legacy which is not yet entirely expunged from current economic, political and social activities. White people are still pilloried en bloc, including those who fought apartheid. The persistence of poverty is recent years is due to a composite of syndromes such as corruption emanating from the elites within government and business, shocking labour relations underlying such events as the Marikana Massacre that have scared off overseas and domestic investment, a contested trade union battle for national hegemony, recent appalling behaviour within parliament that has set a new low bar for what can be tolerated within human interactions, and persistent and entrenched feelings of elitism, superiority and entitlement characteristic of many.

Then there is the dismal performance of many municipalities as well as parastatals such as ESCOM and SAA that have further damaged our economy. One can add the schooling system which consuming massive resources, yet produces little to reassure taxpayers and especially parents.

As usual, these current disturbances have loaded further stress onto the shoulders of the police services, still reeling from such exposes as the Marikana enquiry while trying bravely to maintain morale in the face of poor performances by some members.

South Africa has for long been describes as a ‘microcosm of the world’. With a world in turmoil, we have not needed these horrific events. Well, now a brave new world is needed. We must penetrate to current and historical fundamentals and address them responsibly to the advantage of both contesting blocs.

Some solutions might lie in the following suggestions.

  1. We are engaged here with disruptions of a complex social system. To address the trauma adequately demands intelligent systemic thinking that penetrates to the roots of the problem and tracks the various underlying threads that cause the surface manifestations we now see.
  2. We can accept that the present events will be brought under temporary control, as if a lid was put on a boiling pot. But, they will resurface in a month, a year or a decade, just as the pressure in a pot is likely to repeatedly dislodge the lid. Action and reaction will continue until lasting solutions are found. The solution lies in an impossible vision; the development of an unshakeable empathic national character that pursues a common good for all people resident in South Africa.
  3. While some roots of the present turmoil can be traced back to apartheid, events in South Africa in the past two decades have also exacerbated a steady descent to chaos. Amongst these, appalling widespread corruption coupled to political arrogance are probably the most disruptive factors that have driven people apart. More than anything else, these factors have shaken faith in positive change.
  4. As a nation, we must consolidate nationally. We must accept that historical factors are tenacious. On the massive scale inherent in our South African society, poverty is abominably difficult to ameliorate. Each individual must accept responsibility for addressing the underlying economic realities across a breadth of social entities including races, classes and genders. Civil society must more actively address poverty in creative ways. The government cannot do it all, although when one notes the past profligate and wasteful expenditure, it is clear that it could do far more than it does at present.
  5.  Individuals might accept a personal project. Families that can cope economically might help someone to build a small two-roomed house, educate a child or find employment. My wife and I have been engaged with this for the past thirty-five years. It is reaffirming and immensely enriching. I’m sure many others have done the same. The trend needs to spread.
  6.  Government must accept and value positive inputs from any quarter, insofar as it is predicated on the national good. This implies listening to opposition parties as well as ‘ordinary’ citizens. But we need action, not ‘talking heads’.
  7.  Government must stand firmly behind the Constitution and the laws that emanate from it. In practical terms they must support the Police Service in undertaking a difficult and sensitive task, uphold the courts in their decisions, and maintain the morale of municipalities in the discharge of their related duties. Their present policy of placing the security of individuals as a top, practical priority is sensible and commendable. This avoids immersion in senseless obfuscations surrounding debates on terminology and ideological imperatives.
  8.  Without fear or favour, anyone found culpable of fomenting or propagating a resort to violence or who has resorted to violence, theft or the destruction of property must be censured and if necessary brought before the law.
  9.  Government should establish a firm yet compassionate immigration/border control. This will of course always prove a contradiction. With people from other countries flooding into South Africa, many impoverished citizens feel that they are being sacrificed while the more opulent make no sacrifice. This fuels feelings of xenophobia. Yet the entitlements of migrants must also be honoured and respected.South Africa is signatory to international conventions, and there are entitlements to recognise and accommodate. Many refugees feel humiliated and let down. Those who wish to reintegrate into their communities need police protection if they are to do so safely.Accordingly, on the one hand the country must meet the dictates of conscience and international law, and on the other one needs to protect an over-burdened social service while also protecting the citizenry within our borders. More vigorous programmes of adult education such as that mounted under the Masifundisane banner some years ago will help. Whatever is done, the present muddled thinking must end.
  10.  The education system must be overhauled and transformed. It is matter for individual teachers to put right, by adopting a professional and not self-centred ‘trade unionist’ approach. Many who are in poverty in this country are the victims of an inadequate education. Many emerging from grade 12 schooling are apparently proving unemployable. I suspect that much of the fiercest resentment arises through the perception of local communities that they cannot compete fairly against the better-educated people flooding into the country. Further, school curricula need the infusion of programmes promoting interpersonal tolerance and a multi-cultural approach.
  11.  We as a nation must learn to value character, empathy and service beyond wealth. We have yet to earn the self-accorded accolade of ‘Rainbow Nation’. At present there’s no rainbow. And the darkest storm-clouds are still gathering.