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Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Charity work is essential to modern day society, in pretty much every part of the world. Helping people in miserable situations when they are struggling to help themselves is often a life saver, and charitable giving undeniably supports millions of people in the world.

However, despite the dominant view of charity, which sees it as almost automatically ‘good’ because of its nature, looking at it from another angle we can see that perhaps the existence of charity actually stifles people’s ability to bring about the changes necessary to live in a just world.

Lets take an example of charities working in Africa like Comic Relief. While of course it is better that a child has some medicine or a mosquito net instead of not having them and it is better that a village has clean water/a school/ a clinic instead of not having these things, by simply providing them for these communities can this really be described as a ‘good’ thing? After all, those people will now continue to live in poverty but with new mosquito nets to sleep under, or a clinic nearby.

Isn’t it strange that rather than trying to focus on the root cause of what is causing poverty, charities seem intent on merely analysing and treating the symptoms?

As Zizek points out in the video below, surely the proper focus should be on reconstructing society so that poverty and its associated range of miseries cannot exist, rather than covering up our consciences and the symptoms with measures which do not seek to eradicate poverty?

It is clear that the mainstream focus of international development is not to see the end of poverty, the World Bank’s loans are packaged as ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ (PRSPs). They are only designed to reduce, not eradicate poverty.

So why is this the case? I would like to put forward the argument that charity in its current existence is merely an accomplice to the system of exploitation that leaves people in the impoverished situations in which they find themselves. In fact it is a legitimisation of that system of exploitation.

Neoliberalism relies on large scale poverty in order to profit from it, think of the cheap labour used to manufacture swathes of consumer goods across the world. Think of the workers on plantations and down mines, working for next to nothing to produce the natural resources from which these goods are made and from which the rich multi-national companies profit.

In order to break free from poverty, people need to break free from the system which results in the rich’s domination over the poor, on national and global levels and this can’t be achieved with the idea of charity as we know it. We need to change a system which forces people to rely on the ‘market’ for their livelihood, rather than patch up the misery that system causes with simple handouts.

A beautiful animation to accompany a Slavoj Zizek talk about the topic of charity as referred to above.

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By Luci Storelli-Castro

After the black stain left in our common human heritage by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial legacy, economic redress is certainly something the world owes Africa. However, our debt to Africa does not end there. Adding to the list of ways Africa has been shortchanged throughout history, is the overlooking of its contribution to science and technology.

Like most people, prior to this semester I was not aware of the significant gains made in the modern scientific tradition as a result of African scientific thought. Even more foreign a concept was the idea that there was such a thing as African technological innovation.

In part, the on-the-ground situation in most African countries helps explain why this false perception of the continent’s scientific and technological incapacity continues to be perpetrated.

I can attest from my time in Ghana, for example, that science is not a strong suite within the educational curriculum. Where schools and research institutions in the developed world benefit from state-of-the-art equipment facilitating scientific rigor, that is not the case in Ghana where such institutions are strapped for resources. Moreover, one hardly hears of any new scientific discovery originating from Africa.

In terms of technology, Ghana does not fare much better. What are common technological fixtures in developed countries are largely absent or found to a much lesser degree within Ghana.

Another factor diminishing the role Africa has played in furthering scientific and technological advancements is the belief held by some that there exists a duality between African traditional thought and scientific-technological methods of inquiry.

The misconception of African traditional views as strictly anthropomorphic and superstitious has drawn much welcomed criticism over the years, however. Central in this effort has been G.P. Hagan, whose work on Akan aphorisms has exposed evidence of principles reminiscent of Newtonian mechanics.

An area in which African knowledge has been especially useful, yet seriously unrecognized, includes the realm of biomedical and pharmaceutical research. Indigenous African herb specialists have, for example, discovered an array of anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral therapies.

Unfortunately, however, patent laws protecting these indigenous efforts against multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies are lacking.

This is the case in the controversy surrounding Michelamine, a compound discovered by native herbalists in the rainforest of Cameroon. Of course, the ante goes up considering Michelamine is believed to be a promising marker in the route to curing AIDS.

In writing about the Michelamine case, Dr. Helen Lauer of the University of Ghana writes, “if the promised drug ever comes to the world market, it will be subjected to the protections of the WTO, which is promoting an extension of patent laws to monopolise drug production world-wide. Then the drug will still cost too much to save the life of the child whose herbalist father first pointed out the plant’s value in the forest patch near his home to the inquiring pharmaceutical researchers on exploration from the US.”

Technological innovation is also not alien within Africa. To provide just one example, Ghanaians have made a name for their cocoa by employing a bean drying procedure that is unique worldwide. According to Dr. O.A. Akoto, an economist, this procedure involves maintaining a 13 percent moisture content which, in turn, adds 15 percent more value to Ghanaian cocoa in the global market.

These are only some of many examples of how Africa has contributed to the modern scientific cannon and technological progress. Yet, one finds that the continent is not given due credit for its contributions. It goes without saying, Africa is long overdue in claiming entitlement to its legacy in the development of science and technology.

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Witness to punishment inside the Ghanaian classroom by Luciana Storelli Castro

In my view, one of the most difficult tasks associated with living in a foreign country, especially a non-western lower-income developing country, is finding a delicate balance between accepting and constructively criticizing the dictates of that country’s moral code.

The question arises, is it right to impose one’s own post-modernist values on a society still in the lower rung of the development ladder? This is a question that I continuously wrestle with, especially as a volunteer at a local primary school.

As “Auntie Luci,” the foreign English teacher, I have been assigned to work with a 1st grade classroom of fifty-seven students. From day one I have suffered from a bit of culture shock, witnessing a form of classroom discipline completely alien to what I have ever known.

Teachers will roam the aisles with a yard – long cane, whacking children on the arm or back for talking, not following directions, or just being rowdy. To grab the class’s attention, the teacher will stand in front of the classroom and smack the cane repetitively on a desk threatening, “I will beat you!” if the class does not come to order.

In some instances, a student found to have somehow wronged another student (i.e. usually by either hitting or stealing the student’s pencil), will be asked to hold his or her hand open while the teacher administers several blows with the cane.

Another strategy a teacher might use in disciplining students includes singling out those who are misbehaving and having them kneel down in front of the classroom with their hands raised for an indeterminate period of time. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that these disciplinary methods have been so concretely institutionalized that students have been programmed to react only upon physical infliction. To give an example, on one occasion I was left alone with the children and, from one moment to the next, the once harmonious classroom environment ruptured into anarchy. I had a whole classroom full of seven year-olds crying, running, shouting, and fighting – it was utter mayhem.

A little girl, having read the desperation in my face, handed me the cane. The message could not have been clearer: If you want to regain control of the classroom, whack away. I didn’t of course, but was saved by another teacher who was prepared to use the cane.

My personal dilemma is knowing how to respond to a disciplinary system that I feel is not only outdated but, most importantly, detrimental to student learning. Studies have shown that a child’s cortisol levels rise in order to manage stress and fear. This physiological reaction, in turn, blocks the child’s ability to reason.

After sustained reflection on my experience in the classroom, I continue to be torn by the underlying ethical predicament. I would strongly argue that there are universal values that transcend cultures, such as the right of children to secure their physical integrity. However, discovering ways to promote these universal values without coming off as a moral imperialist remains a foremost challenge.

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The residents of Khayelitsha, a township on the eastern outskirts of Cape Town, were rejoicing, deliriously swirling in fits of joy as the long awaited news reached them. On the back of the Mandela Park housing scandal which saw the Western Cape MEC for housing deliver only 5 of the 437 houses that were promised by the city of Cape Town.  Amidst the toilet saga which leaves hundreds of households with unfinished, unroofed external toilets, a West End play came to town!

A play of this caliber, of such international acclaim should be well received, especially considering the ‘pay as much as you can’ ticket price. However, the reception was rather subdued. Does this come as any surprise? Effectively you are bringing a show steeped in white middle class culture and expecting a distinctly African culture to embrace it. People are right to be skeptical about this cultural fusion. I understand what the organizers of this event were trying to achieve; as director Sean Mathias admirably states “We wanted to bring our production to the people of Khayelitsha in a venue that is accessible and at a price everyone can afford, and in this way properly honour the notion of ‘touring’”. Despite these admirable sentiments I can’t help wondering if this was sincerely an act which upholds the spirit of ‘touring’ or was it a cleverly executed publicity ploy?

Was it appropriate for a West End show to flounce into a community that is struggling to establish adequate sanitation, education infrastructure, sufficient housing, or a basic income level? On my way there we picked up a couple of hitchhikers and asked if they had heard of the play, ‘yeah yeah I heard something about that’. You didn’t want to go then? I inquired. A violent click erupted and a sound ‘CHA…I ain’t got no money’. The very assumption that this woman had the choice to go was perhaps ignorant, and the car was plunged into silence as we reflected upon our arrival in the township to see a West End play that the locals couldn’t afford. ‘Pay as much as you can’ was rather insulting considering people would buy more food for their family if they ‘could’, they would re-roof their house for the winter if they ‘could’, and they probably wouldn’t be chomping at the bit to see Waiting for Godot if they ‘could’.

On the other hand what harm does it do? Other than being exposed to an alien pastime and experiencing theatre at a level never before imagined, it is hardly a malicious act. Publicity stunt or not it has gathered white South African’s in a hitherto ‘excluded’ area. This recreated the atmosphere of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic fan parks of the World Cup, which was the first time South Africans stood up and noticed the beauty and unity of their people. Even those who have not made it out to the township will have talked about the prospect of going, or at the very least it will have been discussed. With this discussion, true feelings and fears will have emerged, hopefully with an element of introspection. Self reflection concerning the sub conscious prejudices that we harbor should be a positive action.

The positive vibes of the event were plainly evident during the show, which was a fusion of slapstick actions with a colossal underlying message. Whether this message was effectively portrayed is not important. Godot being a pseudonym for God, the questioning of a life spent waiting for a non-existent character, encountering along the way the struggles of reality, and the repetitive nature of a life spent waiting; all this was slightly, and perhaps wisely diluted. So, the opening speech was delivered solely in Xhosa, the audience of black, white and coloured people rose in a standing ovation, and everyone went home with a warm theatre buzz! It was nothing but a success, but was it appropriate? As Waiting for Godot departs the residents who for ‘one night only’ were witness to world class theatre are left waiting for houses, roofing, food, education, sanitation, opportunity, and dignity! Saving and campaigning for the next theatre performance is probably not high on their list of priorities!

I am interested to hear peoples opinions on the Waiting for Godot performance in Khayletisha, please comment.

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Amidst the piercing vuvezelas, zulu dancing, cries of Bafana Bafana (the boys), and general joy-ridden pandemonium, there is a growing resentment that lurks beneath the surface, masked by the bright, painted faces.

Despite the projected gross impact of R93 billion on the South African economy and the 695000 jobs created (http://www.southafrica.info/2010/worldcup-overview), such profit will line the pockets of government officials, advertising moguls, FIFA representatives, and business owners, whilst the 695000 will shuffle home on 11th July and wonder what the hell just happened. In their state of bewilderment, where and to whom will they direct their blame?

Who is actually to blame for these empty promises and who the people blame may differ, but it is the perceptions of the people that could have devastating effects for the political progress of a country already wracked with political instability, crippling poverty and inequality. The main question is whether the government is viewed as an actively deceitful party in the shattered hopes or merely the ignorant puppets dancing to the strategic pulls of FIFA’s hands?

The 2010 world cup was regaled in South Africa as a panacea to the problems of the poor, promising to; increase business opportunities, heighten tourism potential, and secure sponsorship and investment deals to ease impoverished situations. The ANC voiced the notion that the world cup would “spread confidence and prosperity across the entire continent’ (http://www.sa2010.gov.za/node/515). Instead, many feel economic gain has been diverted into the pockets of the government and the associated commerical giants. A torrent of distrust, and discontentment has gushed ferociously into the face of Zuma, his idea of a ‘proud legacy’ (www.fifa.com) has been thoroughly derailed.

Others overlook the government’s responsibility and instead blame FIFA for allowing the globalisation of football to dictate the unchallenged control they have had over the event. In a recent article ‘2010 World Cup: Africa’s turn or turning on Africa? A political economy of FIFA’s African adventure, (Soccer & Society, volume 11, issue 1 & 2, January 2010, by Patrick Bond), it was stated that ‘FIFA, rather than the host country, has the monopoly of television rights, advertising and stadium space’. FIFAs domination has rendered the government helpless, and prevented them from implementing their anticipated World Cup model, aimed at South African advancement. (Is it naïve to believe the government had these good intentions?) This view is supported by FIFA regulations that have gripped the country throughout the tournament, including suggestions of heavy FIFA censorship in national newspapers and unreasonable street trader regulations. Beatrice, a food trader who operated in the area surrounding Greenpoint Stadium was told to buy a portable kitchen and register with FIFA if she wanted to trade during the World Cup period. Unsurprisingly the costs of these regulations have left her no choice but to abandon the area and survive by other means ‘until all this nonsense is over’. The condemnation of FIFA as a corporate evil has exposed the weakness of the government. Those that hold FIFA responsible have not pardoned the government completely, blaming them for their pathetic vulnerability at the hands of an international multinational.

There is another idea that rather than taking a dictatorial role which ousted the government entirely, FIFA in fact manipulated the government into genuinely believing that the positive economical effects of the world cup would trickle down in a beautiful cascade of development? Whether people blame FIFA as a totalitarian actor or as a manipulative actor, it is the ANC who are receiving the brunt of the peoples’ dissatisfaction. Perhaps the ANC are innocent of intentionally deluding the public, but regardless, the people are finding them guilty of either unfathomable ignorance or alarming weakness.
Is it fair that the ANC is burdened by a political legacy that they had very little control in creating? As FIFA pump their meaty fists in the air celebrating the most commercially successful World Cup ever, the ANC are left to abate the bewildered public. I am not defending the government’s faults of overestimating gains and delivering sensationalized information, but FIFA are escaping the heartbroken eyes, the confused frowns and the discontented glares of the people. Is it fair for the ANC to be labeled the enemies, be faced with a legacy that threatens political progress, and have to unify an increasingly fragmented society, while FIFA flee in a state of merriment, having garnered corporate admiration as well as a 50% rise in income since the last World Cup (Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke, The Cape Times 4th June 2010)

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At the end of June, you might be pleased to know that the Kimberley Process (KP), the international diamond-trade watchdog, kept up its sanctions on Zimbabwe’s dubious trade in the valuable little stones ie. not letting it exist. I think this is great. Mugabe’s fantastically evil regime cannot garner any funds from this lucrative trade on which to prop itself. Without KP certification, very few legitimate and international traders will touch Zimbabwean diamonds.

In the diamond ‘fields’ (I dont know what they are called), especially in the Marange area, militia continue to be present and subjecting locals to enforced mining (amongst other ugly things) of the stones. This is in direct contradiction of the KP, which exists to ensure that diamonds are not orginating from conflict zones and thus funding warfare (in a nutshell).

This decision is all the more impressive, because, as I was doing my research, I found that the KP actually legislates on diamonds from ‘conflict-zones’ and not those from ‘human-rights-abuses-zones’. For once it seems an international body has risen above the letters of the law and non-sensical beaurocracy.

It is not just abuses in and around the diamond mines themselves, but also of activists and investigators into the sickening practices surrounding excavation. A man called Farai Maguwu, the Director for the Centre for Research and Development (CRD), was reporting on what was happening in the Marange area diamond fields. Do you know what happened to him and his family? Arrested, detained and beaten by Zimbabwean police.

So well done to the Kimberley Process for taking positive action in a desperate situation.

I now turn your attention to a Nas tune called ‘Shine on ’em’. Have fun.

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