Academic work


They’ve been available for some time now, and I bet for all the autodidacts out there they’re nothing new, but I just have to share the MIT Free Online Course Materials because they really are a marvellous thing. When an institution of higher learning of this caliber chooses to make it’s coursework materials open to the public they are saying something important about a whole bunch of things: access to information, open sourceware, education, and so on. And what MIT is saying is something really positive. I’m busily downloading resources from them to peruse at leisure when I’m finished my courses for this term. I shall soon be a superboffin and then Professor Spurrett and Mr Meadon won’t seem quite so intimidatingly clever (evil laughter here).

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South Africa is exploding before our eyes. First Atteridgeville, then Alexandra and Diepsloot. Over the weekend mob violence left the Johannesburg CBD looking like a war-zone. Looking, in fact, like Kigali or Nairobi looked not so long ago. Government condemns the xenophobia, but this is not just xenophobia. Venda, Shona, Pedi, even Zulu-speaking South Africans fear for their lives in the chaos that has erupted. Meanwhile, at the Sandton Convention Centre, a conference on Local Economic Development begins today. Representatives from municipal, provincial and national government and NGOs are gathering to attend workshops by international economists on how to grow local economies through encouraging export growth. Is there something wrong here? You bet. Police were strangely absent in Pretoria this morning as SAFM’s reporter watched people fleeing oncoming mobs carrying sticks and throwing stones. Perhaps they had all been deployed to Sandton to protect the conference delegates.

At the beginning of last week there was a suggestion that the attacks in Alex had been deliberately incited by a ‘third force’. This notion was quickly (and rightly) dismissed by Justice Minister Bridget Mbandla. Her reasoning was that if this was some sort of attempt at undermining stability in the country, we would have seen attacks of this nature everywhere, and not only in Alex. Well, they’re not caused by third force activity and they’re not on the scale of what we saw in Alex, Atteridgeville and Diepsloot recently, but every day there are countless examples of xenophobia countrywide. There was the supermarket cashier who I witnessed loudly and rudely berating a customer because he asked for cigarettes in an African language she didn’t understand – oddly I could hear perfectly well what he was asking for since ’30 Peter Stuyvesant’ sounds pretty much the same no matter what your accent. When I took her to task for being so rude to a customer she was unabashed – he was foreign and she didn’t want to serve him and that was that. Then there are the countless times Zimbabwean colleagues have been refused entry to a taxi because they couldn’t speak local languages, or the times comments have been openly made that they should ‘go home’ because they aren’t wanted here.

Dr Emmanuel Nyakarashi of the Refugee Ministries Centre was quoted in a recent Cape Argus article, saying “This is not a new phenomenon – it’s been happening for some time. But it has never been given the due attention it deserves.” He went on to say that our government has failed to properly educate South Africans about foreigners seeking refuge in our country, and South Africa’s duty towards them. He’s absolutely right, but this is not the only failure of our government.

In his ‘Monday Morning Matters’ column in The Times of May 19, Justice Malala identified the many failures of our government over the past ten years which have led us here. Not least among these is the failure to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe decisively at any point. A country in chaos just across the border is surely a recipe for disaster at home. Even without this catalyst, though, South Africa has been falling apart at the seams – energy crises, rising food prices, government corruption, rampant crime, a failing job market, and that’s just the beginning. The poor of our country are becoming increasingly desperate, and they are looking for someone to blame. How long will it be before they realise that the people they are looking for are not their neighbours in the squatter camps and townships, but the fat cats sitting snugly behind their high walls in Houghton and Sandton?

Just as Mbeki and others have maintained we should support Robert Mugabe, no matter what he does, because his government once provided refuge to our own exiles during apartheid, the people of South Africa don’t want to accuse ‘struggle heroes’ of selling out their own people, of kowtowing to Northern countries’ interests, of lining their own pockets. Just as Mugabe clearly no longer represents the people of Zimbabwe but only his own interests, many of South Africa’s leaders seem to have lost touch with the people they were elected to represent. So, early on, politicians were quick to blame a ‘third force’ or a ‘criminal element’ for what was happening in Alexandra. Now, it is clear, they can’t escape the xenophobia tag, but they will cling to that to avoid the big question of why our people turning on their neighbours and their fellow citizens; the answer to that has been clear all along.

Mbeki’s government has been accused of selling the people of South Africa out to foreign interests, accepting many of the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and IMF that all over Africa have led to increased poverty, inequality and, ultimately, rioting and mass protest. The conference opening in Sandton today hosts yet another round of ‘expert advisors’ on international economic development. What we need is not international development; it is South African and African development. Mbeki talks of an African Renaissance, but his leadership is sending us into a dark age. Mbeki’s Pan-Africanism has failed perhaps precisely because, for all his talk of brotherhood, he seems to have forgotten about his brothers and sisters at home.