The Final Post of the Year and ‘last post’ from Durban

This is the last posting to be written in my incarnation of Director of HEARD. It is a time of change, and the passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has really shaken the country and me. It is taking time for this to sink in, but I will try to write about it.

I travelled to Cape Town on Wednesday, 4 December for a series of meetings and events. The first was the 3rd Structural Drivers of HIV Conference. I opened the conference with a short key note address and a great series of slides which are available on the HEARD website. This was an outstanding event with generally excellent papers and good logistics.

On the second day, we woke up to the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away. Everyone was very emotional. The country has lost a great and inspirational man. Inevitably this dominated our feelings and the news, until Sunday the 15th when he was buried in Qunu. In Cape Town, we marked this with a minute of silence followed by the national anthem (which we had sourced and dow loaded). The following day, at a Global Fund meeting we had a silence again. As we stood still and, in some cases weeping, one of women began singing Nkosi Sikelele and the hairs on my neck stood on end it was so powerful! It was both mournful and joyful.

I don’t think there is much I can add to the panoply of writing and analysis that has appeared. At the Wilton Park meeting on ‘Scaling up HIV/AIDS Treatment as Prevention: Southern Africa and Beyond’, we were invited to contribute a thought in honour of Madiba. Mine was a reflection on his leadership which  allowed us to vote in 1994. The polling booth was at the university where there were no queues. The monitors and election officials were friends and acquaintances. At the time Rowan, who was with Ailsa and I, was three and a half years old. I asked if I could take her into the booth. As I made my mark, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I said to her, ‘Remember this moment Rowan’. I still weep when I think of voting or try to tell the story. This vote was made possible by the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

On Friday the 13th December, (perhaps not auspicious) I received my final pay cheque from the university. As of the 31st of this month I will, officially, have taken early retirement. There were a number of functions. The last one, on 4 December, the day I flew to Cape Town, was organised by the School of Accounting, Economics and Finance. This was also their end of year party and they took the opportunity to say goodbye to a number of us. The College held a dinner for a number of senior and departing staff the previous week. I held my last ever HEARD staff meeting on 2 December and we held our final staff tea the previous week.

The two events that meant the most to me were the official farewell party and the end of year dinner for HEARD staff and partners. Over the years, I have spent a lot of time at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Arts gallery and restaurant. I decided this would be the appropriate location for the event. It worked very well, although the weather was a source of concern. There was a howling gale and thunderstorm in the afternoon. The staff at the gallery set up outside, then inside, then outside again. Fortunately, by 6 pm, it had cleared up. The gallery staff catered well and the speeches were brief and to the point. The master of ceremonies was Kay Govender and he, Samuel Gormley, Samantha Willan and Cheryl Potgieter the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the College of Humanities all said nice things.

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Most of what I said is reproduced below.

Leaving is a time for reflection. Here are just three thoughts. I am going to talk about art, balls and ego.

Art. We are in the KwaZulu Gallery, I have been a member for many years, indeed along with Marisa I have hung on the walls. Not me, a piece of art. I want to reveal for the first time, and I know this is unusual because I am an economist, that I have an artistic side.  One painting and one published poem.

Balls. One of the fantastic things about Durban has been sport. In the 1980’s a group of young idealists started playing touch rugby. Together we played for 20 years, through divorces, heart attacks and in my case a dislocated finger. The irresistible force met the immovable object when I ran into Mike Morris.  One of the problems with the group is that no one wanted to be identified as being on the right wing.  The squash courts also gave me an escape and still do.  Of course there were moments of trauma and desperation running HEARD. On one occasion I went to Ahmed Bawa to recite a litany of problems. At the end of this I looked at him and said “I don’t know how I’m going to cope, I have got so many balls in the air”. Then to my embarrassment I went on: “but why am I complaining, you got more balls than me”.

Ego. Finally I want to talk about ego, it is good to have one but also critical to understand ones limitations. First we need to know where we come from to know who we are. In my case it was growing up in Swaziland, going to the pioneering school of Waterford Kamhlaba, being one of the first cohorts to do a Development Studies degree at the University of East Anglia. Second, believe in a cause – for me that the world should be a better place for everyone when one leaves it. Treat everyone as having something to contribute until proven otherwise. Then fire them! (Joke). One of the joys of my career has been seeing people: staff and students blossom and grow.

A friend once gave me a saying, ‘Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment’. It is true. At HEARD I dealt with theft, fraud, sexual harassment cases, racial harassment accusations, incompetence, dishonest and unreliable partners, drunkenness, plagiarism, failing infrastructure, illness and death. I wish I could hand this experience on, but I can’t. We live by living.

To live life to the full push yourself out of your comfort zone. When I turned 50 I decided there were three new things I would learn. Surfing, ballroom dancing and flying. At 55 I took up yoga. In Canada I am going to learn to ski. We have to have a sense of humour. I worked on my body language for presentations.  Head up, shoulders back, chest out and jump onto the stage.  Then at the Medical School the step was half an inch higher than I expected. As I landed on my hands and knees the nurses in the front row said “oh shame”.

I will miss this place and the people more than I can express. Thank you one and all for coming this evening. An event like this is a chance to get everyone one who is important to me together so thank you for coming out.

The staff Christmas dinner was held at the Olive and Oil restaurant also in Glenwood. It is one of my favourite places for entertaining groups of people because they do things so well. The starter I always order is a mezze platter, which means there is something for everyone. The range of main courses is extensive, and the wine flows. Everything anyone would want. We took over a section of the restaurant for the short speech and presentation. My farewell gift is an engraved watch which I choose a few weeks ago. It is really nice, but I had not appreciated that, as a self winding watch, I will need to wear it to keep it going. That may be a bit of a challenge.

Let me end this final posting of the year with some of the personal and work triumphs. At the conference, HEARD cohosted a cocktail party at the end of the Structural Drivers meeting with the World Bank and London School of Tropical Medicine. For us to have that platform indicates the organisation is a serious research group with an excellent staff. HEARD was one of three groups invited to do some analysis for the Global Fund, along with Imperial College and the Institute of Health Metrics Analysis. It has been amazing to get this recognition.

I was invited to attend a Wilton Park meeting on ‘Scaling up HIV/AIDS Treatment as Prevention: Southern Africa and Beyond’. This is a think tank type meeting and was fascinating. At the formal dinner, Marisa (a HEARD staff member who was there to help with the report) was asked, and was able to act as interpreter for one of the delegates: an African priest who was representing the Vatican, and who spoke little English, but good Italian.

In Cape Town, I tried to do some exercise every day. On Sunday, I had some spare time so set off to run from my Waterfront hotel up Signal Hill. It is not that far but it took me an hour to get to the top and then 40 minutes to gingerly run down the hill. I felt proud and pleased. Of course one of the reasons for doing exercise is to enjoy excellent food. As part of the Wilton Park meeting we were taken for the conference dinner to Vergelegen Wine estate near Somerset West. The wine is outstanding and I am going to have to buy some. I like Ethiopian food and so took Tim, Kay and Gavin to Addis in the Cape, where we sat and ate Njera. Opposite was a Kurdish restaurant which we tried, but it was not as successful.

So that is it. The next time I write will be from Canada.