27 May 2008

Killing kids -- around South Africa and around the world

Is this us? Is this really what the "New South Africa" has become -- mobs killing kids the the townships, and our government conniving at killing kids around the world?
Final negotiations are underway right now in Dublin, Ireland on a treaty to ban cluster bombs. Arms manufacturers are pushing governments to riddle the treaty with loopholes and delays -- and the final text will be decided in the next 72 hours.

Cluster munitions don't just kill during war. They scatter small, shiny, unexploded "bomblets" on the ground that hold their deadly charge for years. When children pick them up, they are often maimed or killed. Most governments agree that these weapons should be outlawed, but back-room pressure is rising to undercut a strong ban. We're hearing the South African delegation is one of the problems -- so we need to send an avalanche of messages from South African Avaaz members to Thabo Mbeki.

If enough of us act before the treaty is signed on Friday, we can drown out the weapons merchants and convince governments around the world, South Africa among them, to ban cluster bombs once and for all. Click below to send a message, and then send this email on to friends and family:


The treaty to ban cluster munitions is the result of an inspiring, years-long campaign by citizens from around the world -- with victims and survivors of cluster bombs leading the way. One spokesman for the effort, Branislav Kapetanovic, lost his hands, legs, and some of his hearing and eyesight in a cluster-bomb explosion in his native Serbia. He is now in Dublin, pushing for the treaty -- but he took a moment to sent this message to the Avaaz community (you can see a video on the the Avaaz site):
Cluster bombs are one of the most dangerous weapons of today. The majority of their victims are civilians, affecting millions worldwide. They have absolutely no place in a conflict situation.

This week governments have gathered together in Dublin to outlaw this dangerous weapon. This is a historic meeting of the international community. Some governments are trying to undermine and weaken the treaty with loopholes and exceptions. They are trying to position the arms trade over the importance of lives of people like me.

Rich governments don't always listen to victims, but they will listen to you -- their citizens. Please send a strong message to your government now that calls for a treaty with no exception, no loopholes, and no delays.
Advocates like Kapetanovic have faced down enormous odds to reach this point, the brink of victory. Now, as citizens around the world, we can do our part, and raise a massive cry as the negotiators spar over the final text of the treaty. Watch the video, check out a map of countries that produce or use cluster bombs and send a message to your leaders, all from this link:


In 1997, the people-powered International Campaign to Ban Land Mines won a victory for humanity, earning a Nobel Peace Prize by ending the barbaric practice of laying mines in conflict zones. It would not have been possible without the efforts of thousands of ordinary people. This week, we can take the next step towards a more just, more peaceful world -- a world safer for children, and for generations to come.
really what we are?

25 May 2008

Compassion fatigue

Many South African bloggers have been writing about xenophobia recently, as have the news media. It's become the topic du jour among the chattering classes, in which I must include myself. What has not really been heard, however, is the voice of the perpetrators or the victims. They seem to be keeping very, very quiet.

Sue in Cyprus recently posted this Abstractions: Head, Heart and Hypocrisy?
Is it preferable that 1000 people die in an earthquake, or that one person hurts their finger?

It's a no-brainer, isn't it? One person in a bit of pain is almost nothing when compared to the agony and loss of even ten people in an earthquake, let alone 1000.

Now imagine two scenarios:

1. You see on the news that 1000 more people have perished in an earthquake on the other side of the globe

2. Someone accidentally closes a door on your little finger, almost crushing it completely

Which one causes you more physical pain? Obviously the second.

And then I saw this The Corner::
Compared with disasters like the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, those in China and Myanmar have generated just a trickle of aid. As of Friday, Americans had given about $12.1 million to charities for Myanmar, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The group said on Monday that it was too soon to count contributions to China.

wikipedia defines it as:
Compassion fatigue is a term that refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. Compassion fatigue may occur when, due to the media saturation of stories and images of people who are suffering (e.g. images of starving children in Africa, or extended war reporting) people develop a resistance to these images or stories. As the impact of these messages lessens, their willingness to give to causes reduces.

And that reminded me of a book I had read nearly 40 years ago, which had the following to say on the subject:

I have before me the current issue of the New Christian in which the General Secretary of the British Council of Churches, Dr Kenneth Sansbury, reported on the Crete meeting of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. One paragraph runs as follows: 'The Central Committee reiterated what it had already said about Viet Nam, called for full religious liberty in Spain, and offered the services of a mediator in Nigeria. It expressed serious concern over the world's food gap and protested against racial discrimination.' It is little wonder that the Church has almost ceased to be the target of satirical comedians. Not even the sharpest wit amongst them can parody us as effectively as we parody ourselves. But the image conjured up by that extraordinary paragraph ought to have been worth five minutes of the 'Frost Report' -- this august body of men, trotting metaphorically around the world expressing concern at this, grave concern at that, and very grave concern at something else.

Their sentiments were, I am sure, genuine. But it was that old word game again. We are vitally concerned about human suffering because we keep on and on and on saying so. But as a bed-rock Christian operation, it is all phoney, and the world knows it is phoney by simple logic. No human beings, even princes of the Church, have got that much compassion in them to pour out. They might look Nigeria in the face, glance at Viet Nam and shudder, but long before they reached the problem of world hunger they would be drained, voiceless and broken. And those good men would have adjourned that meeting greyer at the temples, utterly aghast at the enormity of what they had seen.

But so long as we need only wrestle with issues, our range is unlimited. We can tut-tut our way into, through and out of every problem on the entire globe, demands of the Agenda and tea breaks permitting.

I write not in anger but in contrition, for I too have played that particular word game. I have been responsible for more than my fair share of pious resolutions, only one of which, demanding majority rule in what was then Northern Rhodesia, really cost me anything personally. For the rest, like Hans Anderson's little tailor, I have killed as many as seven or eight political issues with one blow in a single session of the Methodist Conference, merely by raising my hand dutifully at the appropriate moment.

The book is Include me out: confessions of an ecclesiastical coward by Colin Morris, a Methodist minister in Zambia. I read it the day before I was to write a doctrine exam. I tossed up in my mind whether to read the magic book, Doctrines of the Creed by Professor Quicke, the previous head of the Department of Theoloy at Durham University, or Include me out. The point about the magic book is that if you read it, you pass. I found Include me out too absorbing to put down, so I opeted to ad lib the exam. I passed the exam, but I don't think that I've lived up to what Colin Morris was saying in the 40 years since I first read his book.

In the example Sue gives of the earthquake and the little finger, we like to say "I feel your pain". But we don't. We don't even feel it when it's someone else's little finger.

And I've played the same game of passing resolutions, and dutifully raised my hand to vote for a resolution that condemns this or that injustice "in the strongest possible terms" (isn't it funny that such resolutions never use strong terms, but like to say that they do?)

I remember the story in the Acts of the Apostles, where the first deacons were appointed to meet the needs of the makwerekwere widows who were being neglected in the distribution. They weren't appointed to feel their pain, but to give them food.

And then I remember the occasion when I actually sponsored a resolution at an Anglican synod, aimed at beefing up the ministry of deacons. At that time there was a drought in Zululand, and all sorts of people were sending aid, but it wasn't getting to the people who really needed it. It was getting to the people who had superior access to the means of communication so that they learnt about it first. Let it be known that the church is distributing second-hand clothing to the destitute, and every second-hand clothes dealer in town will be there, pleading poverty, but the destitute won't even get in the door.

One of the (theoretical) jobs of deacons in the Anglican Church was to seek out the sick, poor and impotent people of the parish and notify their names to the curate, so that they might be relieved by the alms of parishioners and others. The problem was that deacons never stayed deacons long enough to even begin to do that, and even in the short time they were around, they were too busy thinking of becoming priests. But the sy6nod was not concerned to make deacons more effective, it was more concerned about tomorrows headlines, and resolutions expressing grave concern at someone else's problems were more newsworthy. So when the resolution about changing the way of recruiting, training and deploying deacons came up, the synod voted to pass to the next business. Grave concern trumps action every time.

24 May 2008

The "third force" behind xenophobic violence?

Could the ugly face of capitalism be behind the violence against foreigners that we have seen over the last couple of months?

There have been taxi wars in the past, now it seems to have spread to other businesses.
clipped from www.rekord.co.za
Foreigners say the senseless violence in Atteridgeville and Mamelodi has been brewing for months.
Members of the Burundian and Rwandan communities say the attacks are planned and co-ordinated.
Abdul Hakim Mohamed, chairperson of the Somali Community Board of South Africa, says he believes there is a deeper cause for the widespread xenophobic violence.
“Rival business owners in the communities we serve, see us as serious competition.”
He claims that some local business owners actually pay youngsters in townships to loot and burn foreign businesses.
Abdul gave Rekord a copy of what he said was a written threat from a Mamelodi business organisation.
Abdul says he handed the letter to the Mamelodi East police but no action was taken.
Director Nkisikwethu Sithole, from the Mamelodi East police, denied receiving the letter.
“If we receive more evidence on this matter we will start an investigation,” he says.
blog it

23 May 2008

83 immigration detainees in the USA died in custody in 5 years

In South Africa immigrants have died at the hands of xenophobic mobs, rather than at the hands of government agencies.

In other news from Washington, two top Bush administration officials are expected to come under questioning today over the treatment of immigration prisoners in US custody. Several reports have emerged recently of detainee deaths and forcible injections of psychotropic drugs. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats will question Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Immigration and Customs Enforcement head Julie Myers. According to the Washington Post, eighty-three detainees have died in custody or soon after during the past five years.

blog it

22 May 2008

Nine milliion South Africans want to emigrate

According to a recent survey, some nine million South Africans want to emigrate. And 2430000 believe they have the funds and qualifications to do it.

Something tells me that this survey is deeply flawed.

clipped from www.theherald.co.za

TWENTY per cent of South Africans are planning to emigrate or are seriously considering it, according to the results of a survey released yesterday by global market research company Synovate.

Spokesman Jake Orpen said 600 respondents were interviewed in all nine provinces of South Africa. The results were weighted to ensure representation across province, age, gender and race.

Some 27% of respondents believed they would be able to successfully emigrate, would have the required funds and were well qualified. On the other hand, 51% of respondents said they would not be able to afford emigration.

blog it

Hat-tip to Contact Online.

But seriously, 9 million!

That's almost as high a proportion as are leaving basket case countries like Somalia and Zimbabwe. Something about that survey just doesn't ring true, and I suspect that the survey was not in any sense scientific. Who would take 9 million, even if they could afford the fare and were qualified?

But perhaps it would make more room for Zimbabweans.

Kenya mob burns 15 women to death over witchcraft

In South Africa it's foreigners, in Kenya it's suspected witches, though of course there have been witch hunts in South Africa too.

Kenya mob burns 15 women to death over witchcraft: "to death, a local official and villagers told AFP Wednesday.

'This is unacceptable. People must not take the law into their own hands simply because they suspected someone,' said Mwangi Ngunyi, the head of Nyamaiya district. 'We will hunt the suspects down,' he added.

The gang of about 100 people moved from house to house late Tuesday, tied up their victims and set them ablaze, the official said.

Ngunyi added that the mob also torched 50 houses in Nyakeo village, located some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of the capital Nairobi."

20 May 2008

Paid to kill foreigners

Xenophobia, racism and the media: there are some more than usually disturbing elements about this report, and some others about xenophobic violence against foreigners.
clipped from www.sowetan.co.za

A Soweto hostel resident has told police that he was paid to carry out the attacks on foreign nationals in the township.

The man was arrested with six others who looted houses belonging to those they believed were foreign nationals in White City, Jabavu, on Sunday night.

The violence which had claimed the lives of 22 people since last week, had been spreading like wild fire in Gauteng townships.

The Soweto police, however, also issued a stern warning to against anyone who dared to mount xenophobic attacks in the township. They said they would do everything in their power to prevent large scale black-on-black violence.

In the 1990s a third force element was responsible for black-on-black attacks that claimed the lives of thousands of people in the townships.

Basani Sondlane, a Tsonga-speaking South African, whose RDP house was looted, said she was alerted by her neighbours that Nancefield Hostel dwellers were coming.

blog it

Many have suspected that the xenophobic violence in Gauteng over the last couple of months has been deliberately instigated by a group of people bent on fanning the flames of hatred. There are stories of people arriving taxis and doing this. Also, the fact that the violence flares up in one place, and then starts up in another. It looks suspiciously like an arsonist trying to start a veld fire -- setting light to a patch of grass here, and another patch there, until the whole hillside is ablaze. But this is the first account indicating that the police have evidence that this may be what is happening.

What is even more disturbing, however, is the use of the term "black-on-black violence" in this and other reports. This seems to indicate that our media (and the police, since it was quoting a police spokesman) are still racist, and that we haven't really moved on from apartheid.

When Yugoslavia erupted into violence 16 years ago, did any reports call it "white-on-white violence"? I can't remember any. So what does blackness have to do with violence that whiteness doesn't?

I suggest thart thwe term "black-on-black violence" is a deliberately racist attempt to implant the idea that black people are inherently violent. When white people are violent, it's just violence. But when black people are violent, somehow the word "black" has to be brought into association with the term "violence" when reporting it.

I hope never again to have to read that term.

It's nasty, it's ugly, and it's racist.

Haunted by white ghosts! The curse of Dipokong

Arthur Goldstuck, South Africa's collector of urban legends, has now got to grips with South Africa's greatest purveyor of urban legends, The Daily Sun.

Legends from a small country: Haunted by white ghosts! The curse of Dipokong:
As in any good sensationalist publication, this one is littered with the dark deeds of aliens - but as in illegal immigrants, rather than Elvis abductors. However, it is only a small step across the border into the land of urban legends, ghosts and other nomads of the paranormal. But don't they just know how to milk the legends that cross their desks!

The Daily Sun will become a regular visitor to this blog. But meanwhile, my all-time favourite from its pages combines racial fears with supernatural fears, and of course adds plenty exclamation marks and capital letters. It was the front page headline story on 19 March 2008, and is the story of the houses that were:


Read Arthur's blog for the full story.

When we drive to church in Mamelodi on Sunday mornings, all the lamposts in Tsamaya Avenue are festooned with posters for the Sunday papers, each trying to be more sensational than thou. They've got a bit tamer since Brenda Fassie died, though she was mentioned in the posters regularly for at least a year after her death.

I don't remember whether it was the Sun or not, but my favourite placard of all time was "Zombie ate my soap!"

19 May 2008

Telling it like it is - why xenophobia

A lot of the blame for the growing xenophobia among ordinary South Africans must be laid at the door of the government, says Justice Malala.

The Times - A simple recipe for xenophobia:
A cocktail of factors, mixed by the ANC over the past 10 years, is responsible for the barbarism.

These people are behaving like barbarians because the ANC has failed — despite numerous warnings — to act on burning issues that are well known for having sparked similar eruptions across the globe.

This cocktail is made up of stubborn denialism on Zimbabwe, an increasingly incompetent and corrupt police service, poor service delivery and corruption in government departments.

The crime-does-pay culture fostered by the ANC — criminals such as the Travelgate fraudsters walk away scot-free — is a central ingredient of the cocktail.

But the bulk of the cocktail comprises the failed state that is Zimbabwe. The country’s economy has collapsed. Its political leaders, security services and agents are looting the treasury. Zimbabweans are fleeing.

Malala tells it like it is, and there is no point in repeating what he says, far better than I could.

But a few points could be added. The police and immigration officials have harassed foreigners, even those who have valid residence permits, and tried to extort bribes from them, because of the culture of impunity. The move to incorporate the Scorpions into the police is part of this culture of impunity. But this attitude of the police encourages xenophobia. When South African passengers in taxis see foreigners being singled out for bullying, it sets an example that people follow.

South African observers of earlier Zimbabwean elections have said they were not free and fair, but they were told to say that they were free and fair, so they did.

I get the impression that Thabo Mbeki has shrunk over the years. When he first became deputy president, I regarded him as one of those who had fought for our freedom, but he has become more and more gnome-like. Back in 1991, at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, there was a communist-backed coup attempt. Gorbachev was on holiday at the Black Sea and was held incommunicado for several days, while Yeltsin in Moscow faced down the coup leaders. A few days later a cartoon appeared in some newspapers showing Yeltsin driving a car, with Gorbachev strapped into a child seat on the passenger side. Now one gets the impression that Mugabe is driving the car, and Mbeki is strapped in the child seat.

The government does not want to acknowledge that there are enormous numbers of refugees from Zimbabwe at present in South Africa, because to do so would be to acknowledge that there is a problem in Zimbabwe. And, sad to say, Zimbabweans are often better educated and harder-working than South Africans. Nearly 15 years after the end of apartheid, the government has failed to repair the damage done to the education system by Christian National Education. A whole generation of school children have gone through school without seeing very much improvement. By now, the school system in Zimbabwe has probably collapsed, but the average Zimbabwean aged between 25 and 35 is probably far better educated than their South African counterparts, and so find it easier to get jobs.

No one in their right mind expects Thabo Mbeki to behave like George Bush and to invade Zimbabwe to bring about regime change, but he could at least say something in favour of justice, freedom and democracy. We've heard his excuses for his impotence for the last eight or nine years now, and he's still strapped in the child seat and can't reach the steering wheel and the pedals, and his toy steering wheel fools no one but him.

Time to rename Gauteng?

Yesterday I listened to the news on the car radio, and they were talking about xenophobic violence "that started in Gauteng last weekend in Alexandra" and went on to say that it had since spread to other places.

Gauteng used to be the North Sotho name for Johannesburg, and was given to the rather awkwardly-named PWV province. The trouble is that for many, including the Joburg-based media, "Gauteng" still means Johannesburg and perhaps the Witwatersrand, but not outlying areas like Pretoria and Vereeniging. I once heard one radio announcer refer several times to "The Gauteng phone code 011".

While Joburg-based journalists write about xenophobia, they seem to suffer from xenoamnesia, and to forget that Tshwane is also a part of Gauteng, and that xenophobic violence occurred here several weeks before it appeared in Alex. But for the chattering classes it was in a foreign country until it appeared south of the Jukskei. Only then did it reach Gauteng.

Perhaps we need another name for Gauteng, one that is not so closely linked with Johannesburg.

18 May 2008

Search engines for genealogy and family history research

Over the last ten years or so Google has become the most popular web search engine — to much so that “to google” has become synonymous with searching the web. It’s become a generic term.

When Jackie Seaman announced her Growden reunion, I thought I’d do a web search for Growden, and started with Google because Firefox puts it so conveniently in the toolbar. Growden (or Growdon) is one of the less common surnames I’m researching, and we have a web page just for Growdon family researchers. But Google didn’t find it — at least not in the first 17 mages of results.

I tried another search engine, Altavista, and our Growdon page came up on the first page of results.

I tried another search engine, Dogpile, which is an aggregator of results from several different search engines, and our Growdon page was also on the first page of results, but further down.

It seems that Google is definitely not the best search engine for genealogical and family history research. Altavista (www.altavista.com) was better by a long way, and its first page of results was far more relevant to genealogy researchers.

The first page of results on Google produced a bunch of generic surname search sites, many of them commercial. This means that they show up on search results for anyone looking for any surname at all. If you try some of them you might find they have no information at all on Growdon (or whatever surname you are looking for), but then invite you to look for other surnames. And quite often, if they do have information, they ask you to pay upfront before you can see it.

Dogpile also came up with quite few of those generic surname sites, but did have more relevant sites on the first page of search results as well.

But Altavista came up with “real” Growdon/Growden sites first — people who were actually interested in Growden family history, and had information or were looking for information, rather than generic surname search sites.

So if you are looking for family history information on the web, don’t just “google” for it — try other search engines as well. You may be pleasantly surprised.

(Originally posted in my family history blog, but copied here as it may be of wider interest).

17 May 2008

Is Black Liberation Theology “Racist”? | The Unbound Movement

Jeremiah Wright is the minister of the church attended by Barack Obama, one of the front-running candidates in the US Presidential elections that will take place in November. Until one of his parishioners decided to run for president, probably few people outside his parish had heard of Jeremiah Wright.

Over the last few weeks, however, he has been catapulted into celebrity status by the news media, and a great deal of publicity has been given to a sermon he preached a few years ago, and some people have reacted with shock and horror to "black liberation theology".

Is Black Liberation Theology “Racist”? | The Unbound Movement:
The style and content of Reverend Wright’s preaching, and the theology that informs it, far from being an aberration, are archetypal examples of the Black church experience. That anyone would find the content and style of Reverend Wright’s sermons shocking only serves to underscore the fact that not only are many white Americans profoundly ignorant of the day to day realities of Black American life, but they are blithely unaware of the roots of their own national history. Out of the 400 some odd years that people of African descent have been present on the American continent, we’ve only been legally free for the last forty, and the fact that we are now legally free is due in large part to the efforts of the preeminent exponent of Black liberation theology, Dr. Martin Luther King. What other kind of theology could a Black church worthy of the name be reasonably expected to have?

Black liberation theology was quite popular in South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in academic circles. Some of its exponents, like Alan Boesak, became political activists. But it seems a strange thing to make such a fuss about. Has anyone gone dredging up sermons by the ministers of the churches that other US Presidential candidates belong to?

16 May 2008

Hamas condemns the Holocaust

This article is unlikely to get much coverage in the Western media.
We are not engaged in a religious conflict with Jews; this is a political struggle to free ourselves from occupation and oppression
But it should be made clear that neither Hamas nor the Palestinian government in Gaza denies the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust was not only a crime against humanity but one of the most abhorrent crimes in modern history. We condemn it as we condemn every abuse of humanity and all forms of discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender or nationality.
And at the same time as we unreservedly condemn the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe, we categorically reject the exploitation of the Holocaust by the Zionists to justify their crimes and harness international acceptance of the campaign of ethnic cleansing and subjection they have been waging against us
blog it
Hat-tip to The Western Confucian.

15 May 2008

Blogging for human rights

This month's synchroblog is on Human rights, and we are also joining a much larger number of bloggers who are blogging for human rights today.

Here are the links to the posts that are up so far. More will be added later:

13 May 2008

New widget -- Skribit

Fr Gregory added this widget to his blog, and I thought I would try it out too.

Koinonia: Skribit:
On the right hand side you may have noticed I've added a new widget, Skribit. This allows you as the reader to offer suggestions for future topics on Koinonia. Alternatively, Skribit allows other readers to vote on topics of interest. So if there's something you would like me to address, or there's a topic listed you think I ought to write on, please feel free to make your views know via Skribit.

12 May 2008

Blatant phishing expedition -- Telkom scam

Someone sent me this blatant phishing message today

Date sent: Fri, 9 May 2008 07:36:09 +0100 (BST)
Subject: Please Verify Your Email Address‏
Send reply to: helpdeskmailteam@gmail.com
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Dear telkomsa.net Webmail User,

To complete your telkomsa.net webmail account, you must reply to this email immediately and enter your password here (*********)

Failure to do this will immediately render your email address deactivated from our database.

You can also confirm your email address by logging into your telkomsa.net webmail account at http://webmail.telkomsa.net/src/login.php

We apologise for any inconveniences, but trust you understand that our primary concern is for our customers to be totally secure.


The giveaway, of course, is the Replyto: address -- why would Telkom ask for replies to be sent to a Gmail address?

As it was no doubt a mass mailing spam as well, others may have received it, so be on your guard.

Language culture and education

clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

Afrikaans-speaking parents are pulling their children out of Newcastle High School, claiming the pupils are being discriminated against.

Twenty-seven learners left the former Afrikaans-medium school this week to attend the neighbouring Ferrum High School.

Parents claim that black teachers can’t speak Afrikaans. They also maintain that deputy principal Muggie Liebenberg was overlooked for the principal’s position, despite doing “excellent work”.
Parent Francois Lichtenstein, who unsuccessfully took the governing body to court to force it to retain the school’s Christian identity, said Afrikaans was deliberately being eroded.
But new principal Manuel Govender denied that Afrikaans was being done away with. “It’s very sad that people can’t accept change. I understand change is very difficult, but at the end of the day we can learn to tolerate our differences,” he said.

blog it

I can't help thinking that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Even when one reads the full version, rather than the bits I've cited in the clip, it seems that there is more in the subtext than in the text itself, one needs to read between the lines to find the issues that everyone seems to be trying to avoid.

The trouble is that there are several different issues here: does one try to unravel them and deal with them one by one, or must they be seen holistically, as things that cannot be disentangled?

One issue is language.

A group of Afrikaans-speaking parents are unhappy because the language used in teaching has changed, and their children are being taught in English rather than Afrikaans.

My mind goes back 30 years, when I lived in Utrecht, which is about 50 km from Newcastle. An English-speaking family I knew took their daughter out of the local primary school and sent her to a church school in Newcastle. Why? Because the local school was predominantly Afrikaans. Back in those days, of course, all the pupils at government schools were white. In Natal, most government schools in small towns were dual-medium -- they taught in both Afrikaans and English, and each child was theoretically entitled to be taught in its own language.

In Utrecht, however, the majority of the children and all the teachers were Afrikaans speaking. The school principal spoke to the child's mother, and asked why she wanted to take her child out of the school. She was doing quite well, and she could understand the lessons that were given in Afrikaans. The mother replied that those were not her objections. She was quite happy for her daughter to be taught Maths, Geography and the like through the medium of Afrikaans. What she was not happy about, however, was that the child was being taught to speak bad English by the Afrikaans-speaking teachers who could not speak English very well. The teachers at the Utrecht school would mark her English homework wrong when it was right, and punish her for speaking and writing correct English. The mother sent her daughter as a weekly boarder to Newcastle so that she could learn to speak and write her own language properly.

Now the boot is on the other foot. Afrikaans parents are having to have their children taught by English-speaking teachers. I can sympathise with their position. They surely have a right to have their children taught to speak and write their own language properly, even if they learn Maths and Geography through English.

If language were the only problem, then it could be solved by the education department doing a survey, and discovering how many Afrikaans speaking children there are in the town and where they live, and plan schools accordingly. The trouble is that most of the existing schools were planned in the days of apartheid, when people lived in segregated areas, and Afrikaans schools were given preference. The legacy of apartheid lives on. Now the demographics have changed, and perhaps the Afrikaans schools need to be consolidated.

But there is more to it than just language, of course, and that is where the sub-texts come in.

One person quoted in the report spoke of the "Christian identity" of the the school, and another mentioned an "Indian broederbond" that had taken over the school governing body.

So it's not just language, but religion and race as well.

And that is where I wonder about the things that we are not told in the report.

What is meant by the "Christian identity" of the school being eroded? Is it that most of the teachers are now using a heathen language like English, or are they now singing hymns to Shiva at the school assembly?

The platitudes from the principal that end the article don't seem to get near what is really going on.

11 May 2008

Blogger working again

Blogger started working again on Sunday afternoon, after having stopped working on Saturday afternoon. I assume that Google fixed the bug, because I didn't make any changes at this end that could either have caused it or fixed it.

By the time it was working again I had already moved my family history blog over to WordPress, where a lot of people migrated about a year ago. That migration was caused when Google introduced a Beta version of Blogger, where lots of things that had previously worked stopped working, and it took 6-12 months before some of them started working again, and it appeared that Google was in no hurry to fix them. So when it stopped working yesterday, I wasn't sure when it would start working again, if ever.

I'll leave this blog where it is for now, and see what happens. But if I start getting any more "403 forbidden" errors, I'll think about moving it again.

Have fascist Israeli Zionists hacked Blogger?

Normally I would regard this kind of suggestion as a way-out conspiracy theory, but the timing seems to suggest that the following comment may have some merit

The reason I checked was because a friend suggested to me that I might be under attack for voicing concern for the Palestinians. He was right. He too had apparently been targeted earlier and kicked off WordPress for violating policies. He had supported the Palestinians' human rights (without being anti-Semitic). The political Zionists conflate their views with Jewishness, leaving anything that disagrees with their position outside Jewishness, which is a position designed by Machiavellians (liars) to appeal to the weak-minded. It's akin to many in the U.S. who claim that to be anti-war is anti-American. Well, whether they like it or not, I'm a seven-generation-plus American (signifies with the American Indians) and I'm also anti-War!

The comment was sent to me after I said I could not read my Blogger blogs, or anyone else's.

In the absence of any response from Google, it seems to have some merit.

Blogspot problems

Blogger problems persist, even though I have tried it with two different browsers and three different computers, I still get a "403 forbidden" message when I try to read any of my Blogger blogs of Blogspot.

I get the same message when I try to read any other blogs on Blogspot too.

I have already moved my family history blog to http://hayesgreene.wordpress.com/, and will move this one too if the problem persists.

In the mean time, I'm still blogging at Khanya blog.

10 May 2008

End of the road for Blogger?

For more than a year now I’ve had a blog on Blogger and one on WordPress, and have posted about equally on both. I found it hard to decide which platform I preferred, but this just about clinches it.

Tried to log in to my Blogger blog a few minutes ago, and got this charming message:

We’re sorry…

… but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now.

We’ll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.

If you’re continually receiving this error, you may be able to resolve the problem by deleting your Google cookie and revisiting Google. For browser-specific instructions, please consult your browser’s online support center.

If your entire network is affected, more information is available in the Google Web Search Help Center.

We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we’ll see you again on Google.

It seems that I can post, but the moment I try to read my posts, I get that message.

If that’s lasts any longer, you certainly won’t be seeing me much longer on Blogger.

And obviously, if I can't read my blog, I can't read or respond to comments, so if you would like to comment on this, please do so on my WordPress blog.

It's almost supernatural: The loathsome smearing of Israel's critics - Johann Hari, Commentators - The Independent

Why is it that when one criticises actions of the Israeli government, one is often called "anti-Semitic", or accused of "denying Israel's right to exist". Here's a journalist who has had such experiences.

Johann Hari: The loathsome smearing of Israel's critics - Johann Hari, Commentators - The Independent:
I have also reported from Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, I wrote an article that described how untreated sewage was being pumped from illegal Israeli settlements on to Palestinian land, contaminating their reservoirs. This isn't controversial. It has been documented by Friends of the Earth, and I have seen it with my own eyes.

The response? There was little attempt to dispute the facts I offered. Instead, some of the most high profile 'pro-Israel' writers and media monitoring groups – including Honest Reporting and Camera – said I an anti-Jewish bigot akin to Joseph Goebbels and Mahmoud Ahmadinejadh, while Melanie Phillips even linked the stabbing of two Jewish people in North London to articles like mine. Vast numbers of e-mails came flooding in calling for me to be sacked.

I had a Jewish correspondent in New York who was forever sending me copies of the same article by Martin Luther King, Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism and vehemently denied any resemblance between the way Palestinians are treated by Israel and apartheid. Yet in many ways it is worse than apartheid. South Africa never tried to build a concrete wall around the "homelands", though they did accuse anyone who criticised apartheid (or any of its euphemisms, like "separate development") of being anti-South African, though the accusation that they "denied South Africa's right to exist" was implicit rather than explicit as in the case of the Israeli government apologists.

Let's face it, Zionism (in the sense of Jewish nationalism, rather than the African Independent Churches) comes from the same milieu that produced other Eastern European nationalisms that led, inter alia to the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, whose repercussions are still being felt today. In Africa, however, we call it tribalism rather than nationalism.

Ten Reasons Why I Want To Raise My Child in South Africa

Here are three of the ten reasons, but the others are worth reading too.

random thoughts from underneath the table v3.0.: Ten Reasons Why I Want To Raise My Child in South Africa:
3. She goes to school with kids of every colour of the rainbow. They all get the same snotty noses, the same scrapes on the knees, and they hold hands with each other. They have absolutely no interest in whether or not their grandparents or parents once upon a time were not allowed to do this.

4. She understands three languages. She's not even three yet. Yes, she can't speak them all, but she can understand all three.

5. There is noise and joy and emotional honesty in the way we live. When we as a nation are happy, we celebrate. When we are sad, we are sad together. Does anything else really matter? At least we are together in the queue for petrol and/or torches.

Our kids are older than that now, so it's no longer a question that concerns us very much, but if they were younger, those would have been important considerations.

And when we are in the queue for petrol and I find that it costs over R500.00 to fill the tank, I console myself with the thought that petrol costs twice as much in the UK -- over a pound a litre.

09 May 2008

Independent Democrats question high electricity prices

clipped from www.thetimes.co.za

South Africans are paying four times more than some foreign countries for electricity, the Independent Democrats said yesterday.

Lance Greyling, spokesman on energy, said the ID wanted answers from Eskom over the increase in electricity exports to neighbouring countries during South Africa’s ongoing power crisis.

Greyling said he had sent questions for written reply to Minister of Public Enterprises, Alec Erwin.

Greyling said Eskom must also explain why there had been a 22 percent decrease in electricity imports.

He said Eskom exported electricity at 11 cents per kilowatt hour, which was a quarter of the rate South Africans pay.

In his questions to the minister, Greyling said the ID wanted to know the reasons behind South Africa’s exports to neighbouring countries being increased by a reported 6.1percent in the first three months of this year, and on what basis decisions were made to increase the export of electricity.

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As shortages of things like electricity, oil and even food grow, so will conflicts of interest.

Ideally, southern Africa should try to produce its own electricity for the whole subcontinent. As supplies of coal and other fossil fuels dwindle, there will be increasing reliance on hydroelectricity from the Zambezi and the Congo -- but countries along those rivers will want to serve themselves first, and sell the surplus to others -- while there is a surplus.

So which route to go -- cooperation in the subcontinent, or autarky?

07 May 2008

The gospel of consumption

Information Clearing House - ICH:
Today “work and more work” is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but “higher productivity”—and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce.

In the sidebar of this blog there is a widget that shows what books I'm reading. I put it there because it might interest someone else who is reading or has read some of the same books. But I was always a bit worried about the name and the philosophy behind it: All Consuming. It actually doesn't show which books I'm reading, but which I am "consuming". But such is the world today that an act like reading is transformed into an act of consumption, which has, as the article quoted above suggests, become an ideology.

The immediately preceding article in this blog, about the New York Times's views on Vladimir Putin's views on religion illustrates this -- the author of the NYT article clearly proceeds from an assumption that the consumer ideology is good, and evaluates everything else, including religion, in those terms.

One of the books I have been consuming (or rather "reading") is Henry Thoreau's Walden, which starts from an almost diametrically opposed point of view, as the following extract shows. Thoreau, while fishing, is caught in the rain, and takes shelter in a hut that he thought was unoccupied, but finds it inhabited by John Field, an Irishman, and his family, who worked "bogging" for a neighboring farmer.

I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter nor milk, nor flesh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat again to repair the waste of his system, -- and so it was as broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous things which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

When I've finished reading Walden I think I shall rate it as "worth consuming".

06 May 2008

Putin picks a church?

Another example of the truism that the media just don't "get" religion!

But this article from the New York Times is more than that. It illustrates some of the huge cultural barriers to understanding between Christians of different understandings and traditions, especially when they are filtered through nationalistic spectacles.
clipped from www.nytimes.com

There was a time after the fall of Communism when small Protestant congregations blossomed here in southwestern Russia, when a church was almost as easy to set up as a general store. Today, this industrial region has become emblematic of the suppression of religious freedom under President Vladimir V. Putin.

Just as the government has tightened control over political life, so, too, has it intruded in matters of faith. The Kremlin’s surrogates in many areas have turned the Russian Orthodox Church into a de facto official religion, warding off other Christian denominations that seem to offer the most significant competition for worshipers.

Mr. Putin makes frequent appearances with the church’s leader, Patriarch Aleksei II, on the Kremlin-controlled national television networks. Last week, Mr. Putin was shown prominently accepting an invitation from Aleksei II to attend services for Russian Orthodox Easter, which is this Sunday.

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There is an excellent cultural deconstruction of this article from an American Orthodox Christian, who has had some experience of both religious cultures (Orthodox and Protestant) and both national cultures (Russian and American) -- Notes from a Common-place Book: "Putin Picks a Church":
There are several problems with the story, however. For starters, the title itself is ludicrous: 'At Expense of Others, Putin Picks a Church.' I find this image of Putin choosing among churches as an American would shop between denominations to be amusing. Can you really imagine Vladimir Putin trying to decide between, say, the Freewill Baptists, or Missouri Synod Lutherans, or say the New Life Covenant Believers Outreach Center (or is it the New Covenant Believers Outreach Life Center?), rather than say, the Orthodox church which has been the faith of his nation and forebears for over 1,000 years now?
Another quote:
Others complain that some government bureaucrats and Orthodox priests do not show proper respect to Protestants, labeling them "sects" and "heretics." We are accustomed to making distinctions between the term "denomination" (which is acceptable) and "sect" (which is unacceptable). Many Americans assume our situation to be normative, and one that should be a model for less enlightened lands. We are too deep in the forest to see the truth behind the shopping mall this is American religiosity. Our situation is nothing short of bizarre. Russians see little substantive differences between denomination and sect. Why should we expect them to play our silly word games?
And of course the word games also work the other way:
Many Russians perceive it as alien to their culture. This suspicion was not helped when Western missionaries rushed in after the fall of communism. Eager evangelicals viewed the society as completely atheistic. To the extent that they were aware of Russian Orthodox Christians, they were dismissed as superstitious quasi-Catholics, who were not really Christian at all. I know, for I was an evangelical in those days. The Russian Orthodox Church, which had to begin rebuilding, retraining and teaching at that same time, was obviously frustrated by the crush of Western missionaries. But the situation is changing. The Church is resurgent in Russia today. Recent polls find that 71% of the nation considers themselves Orthodox. Studies also point out that there is something of a "baby boom" underway, and that with such, Russia may be slowing turning from the path of demographic suicide.
Lest it be thought that this is simply Orthodox prejudice, back in 1995 Prof Willem Saayman, the head of the Missiology Department at the University of South Africa and a Protestant, visited Russia in 1995, and on his return he said very emphatically that he thought Protestant missionaries from the West should be banned from Russia because of their cultural insensitivity and blatant cultural imperialism.

The Russian Church was like the man going from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves, and Western Christians came but, unlike the priest and the Levite in the story, they did not pass by on the other side, but rifled the victim's pockets while he was still unconscious to see what the robbers had left.

And it was not only Orthodox Christians who suffered from this process, Russian Protestants did as well. The story was told of one Protestant church where the congregation had not heard their own pastor preach for more than a year, because there were so many American visitors who were absolutely convinced that the Lord had laid a message on their hearts that they simply had to give that congregation.

For a Russian Protestant viewpoint on this process, see Mission in post-perestroika Russia by Johannes Reimer. Though the article is somewhat dated, it does give the background against which the present Russian suspicion of foreign Protestant mission groups needs to be seen.

One of the interesting thing about the rush of Western Protestant missionaries to the former Second World in the early 1990s is that quite a surprising number of them have become Orthodox. Something that impressed them was the faith of Orthodox Christians who had lived under atheist hegemony.

Back in the 1970s, when atheistic communism seemed well entrenched in the Second World, I met a Croatian Catholic priest at a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting in Durban. He remarked that everywhere he went in the West, Christians prayed for those behind the iron curtain, that they would have faith. "They may lack many things," he said, "but one thing they do not lack is faith. Their faith is far stronger than that of most of the Western Christians I have met."

Iran rejects nuclear inspections unless Israel permits them, too

Seems like common sense to me, says Monte Asbury.

And to me too.
Source: Associated Press

Associated Press
By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS – 3 hours ago

GENEVA (AP) — An Iranian envoy said Monday his government will not submit to extensive nuclear inspections while Israel stays outside the global treaty to curb the spread of atomic weapons.

"The existing double standard shall not be tolerated anymore by non-nuclear-weapon states," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told a meeting of the 190 countries that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Nuclear safeguards are far from universal, he said, adding that more than 30 countries are still without a comprehensive safeguard agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure full cooperation with that U.N. body.

"Israel, with huge nuclear weapons activities, has not concluded" such an agreement or submitted its facilities to the IAEA's safeguards, Soltanieh said.

Read more: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gvr7j491Cmq9QVFPn-gL...

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03 May 2008

Gott segnen Amerika!

Views on the Weakly News VIII � Angry African on the Loose:
Happy birthday dear Adolf!

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Republican congressional candidate of Indiana, Tony Zirkle, went to celebrate the birthday of Hitler. A big bash given by the American National Socialist Workers Party in Chicago. WTF? Just follow the link. They even have a photo of the guy in front of a Hitler picture. And you bitch about Obama guys? Start cleaning that pigsty out right away mista! But here is the part I just love - his reason for going… Because he was invited. But wait! The best is yet to come. He says he that he goes to everything he gets invited to. “I’ll speak before any group that invites me,” said Zirkle ”I’ve spoken on an African-American radio station in Atlanta.” WTF? Hitler and an African-American radio station? WTF? Do I need to say more?

End of the US dollar?

Is this the beginning of the end for the US dollar as an international currency?

Iran Ends Oil Transactions In U.S. Dollars, OPEC's Second-Largest Producer Now Pegs Petroleum To Euros And Yen - CBS News:
(AP) Iran, OPEC's second-largest producer, has completely stopped conducting oil transactions in U.S. dollars, a top Oil Ministry official said Wednesday, a concerted attempt to reduce reliance on Washington at a time of tension over Tehran's nuclear program and suspected involvement in Iraq.

Iran has dramatically reduced dependence on the dollar over the past year in the face of increasing U.S. pressure on its financial system and the fall in the value of the American currency.

The Rand, unfortunately, seems to be following the US dollar, and dropping against the Pound and Euro. Perhaps we need to link to the Euro. Or perhaps we need asn Afro. On second thoughts, thinking of Zimbabwe, perhaps we don't.

02 May 2008

Things that bomb my computer: Flash 9 and Technorati

Flash 9

I'm getting urged more and frequently to "upgrade" to the latest version of Flash, because something or other won't display unless I have the latest version.

I've actually installed it a couple of times, and have regretted it immediately, and done a "system restore" on the same day to get rid of it.

The trouble is, the things I might want to use it for are still quite rare, while the things that it breaks on my computer are things I use every day. With Telkom's bandwidth caps, I never watch videos on the web, and as soon as a blog or other web site starts playing songs I navigate away from it a quickly as possible for the same reason (and also because, when I'm on the computer at 2:00 am I don't want to wake up the rest of the family with sudden bursts of loud music). No matter how interesting the stuff I'm reading, having the site consume my bandwidth at a rapid rate while I'm reading means it's just not worth it.

But what Flash 9 appears to break is the batch files I use every day to back up important data on to a flash drive, and copy it between my desktop and laptop and vice versa. There is something in the Flash 9 installation program that overwrites the autoexec.bat file without simply adding its own requirements to what is already there. Any program that does that is badly behaved, and I don't want it on my computer.


Technorati is (or was until recently) a useful blog search tool.

It was useful for finding blog posts on particular topics. I often used it before or after writing something in my blog to see what others were saying about the topic. If someone had already said some good things, I could link my post to theirs, and so on.

A few months ago, however, the Technorati people changed their navigation system to make it far more difficult to use, and split stuff between several different pages. No doubt this increases their advertising revenue, since if you have to look at four pages to find the information you could previously get on one page, you'll be exposed to more ads, and by making the information you are looking for harder to find, you'll take several wrong turnings nagigating through the maze, and so be exposed to even more ads. I suspect that this will be counterproductive in the end, as most people will find it too much bother, and some who, like me, have bandwidth concerns, will just spend as little time on Technorati as possible.

But the latest "feature" takes the cake.

Over the last week, every time I've gone to Technorati, my computer freezes. I can be typing something -- like the URL of a blog I want it to ping, and suddenly the letters no longer appear on the screen. The mouse does not respond. And the hard disk light stays on for a minute, two minutes or more. I've never actually timed it, because I usually simply switch the computer off and start again, or at least attempt to exit the browser. But it doesn't respond to those clicks for a minute or more either, and when it eventually does respond and close the browser, the next time I open the browser, it tells me that the last session terminated abnormally.

Has anyone else noticed this kind of behaviour with Technorati?

It makes me suspect a virus or trojan being installed on my computer from the site.


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