The end is nigh

It is many years since I included a ‘round robin’ in with Christmas cards and this, lazily, also constitutes my blog post for December. There is a good reason this year. I have significant news and don’t want to leave people out, or have to write it in all the cards I send.

You may recall in January 2014 I joined the Balsillie School in Waterloo, Ontario as a full time member of faculty. It is complicated appointment. My salary is paid by Wilfrid Laurier University, but I work at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Here I was, according to my letter of appointment, employed to teach two courses per year, and carry out the other responsibilities of a senior academic, including researching, writing and publishing.

About two years ago the University unilaterally, and with very little consultation, decided to change the conditions of service. They were, of course, made less favourable for academics. Of particular concern was the doubling of our teaching commitment. I came here because I had not, in 30 years as an academic, taught (two years of teaching one course at the University of Natal on Southern African Development in 1984 and 1985 had receded to a distant memory). I wanted to see what it would be like to work with and teach MA and PhD students. The idea of supervising a thesis from start to finish was intriguing, and I am happy to report that I did manage to do that with one student.

This new demand regarding teaching made staying in Waterloo problematic in the long term. I neither had courses prepared, nor much guidance on what to do. In addition to more teaching being mandatory my academic cohort was assured, when we signed up in 2012 and 2013, there would be research money available to us, without too many hoops to leap through. This promise evaporated like the dew in the Kalahari in January, although it was not entirely the fault of the university but rather the shocking behaviour of one of the other ‘partners’. In addition to this moving the goalposts, a part of the university bureaucracy was irrational to me. I have every intention of writing about this in due course.

The original move to Canada took rather longer than anticipated. Finding the right person to take over HEARD in Durban was a lengthy process. I was absolutely delighted when an academic friend, Professor Nana Poku, accepted the position. HEARD is still operating, and is stronger than ever with Nana at the helm. One of my mantras is, “the only way to leave a legacy is to leave”. I am glad I did, and six years later the organisation is flourishing. The AIDS epidemic has not gone away although the pressing problems are somewhat different from those of the 1990s and 2000s.

It was a wrench leaving Durban which had been (mostly) home for 30 years, and where the children were born. When we sold the family home I bought a small flat. Fortunately for me, Tim Quinlan, who was my Research Director at HEARD, continues his affiliation at the University. He occupies the flat for most of the year and covers the bulk of the recurrent costs of maintaining my pied-à-terre. This works. We try to not be there at the same time. Friendship is one thing, sharing a bathroom another entirely.

I spent some time in Durban in March and April of 2019. I needed a small surgical procedure – an umbilical hernia repair. I was one of the fortunate few employed at the University of Natal, whose terms and conditions included post-retirement medical care as part of the package. This is for the rest of my life, as long as I am in South Africa. As a result I decided to have the operation done in Durban. The surgeon, Craig Campbell, gave me a choice of stitching or a mesh. I decided the embroidery would be less invasive. This was a mistake; unfortunately the repair did not work. I have to wait a year to have it redone. I am not sure where I will do this, the waiting lists in Canada and the UK are very long, as is always the case with national health services and elective procedures.

In addition to having the operation I saw many friends during my time in Durban. Among these were the Brauninger family. They lived on the same road, Manor Drive, about 100 meters from us. Hannah, their eldest daughter, is six months older than Rowan. Tania, the second is about 18 months older than Douglas. Jurgen was a professor in the music department at the University, and they came to Durban two years after we did. The family are very dear friends. I spent time with them, having a final meal together at the really delightful Glenwood Bakery and pizza restaurant.

Less than a month after I left, the news came that Jurgen had been diagnosed with advanced cancer. This progressed very rapidly and he died on 6th May 2019. I would like to pay tribute to a loving family man, remarkable musician, and a dear friend. He had many enthusiasms: formula one racing, horses, European and World Cup football and, of course, music. I find myself thinking of him often and missing his presence in Durban. It is completely devastating for his family as Christmas approaches.

Coming back to the purpose of this blog/round robin letter! I am due sabbatical from the University. The earliest I could get a full year was for the 2020 calendar year. I will be leaving in a couple of weeks, after the end of term, and get to Norwich just before Christmas 2019. I have to stay long enough to complete my marking and submit the grades. I also need to prepare the apartment for renting.

The University is keen to have its older, more expensive academics take early retirement. Since there is no mandatory retirement age it seems to me leaving any time before death is ‘early’. As a result Laurier offered all academics with more than a number of years’ service a package. I have been included in this. It means that January to December 2020 is my sabbatical and January to December 2021 is a period of ‘continuance of service’, but I am not teaching. In January 2022 I will be collecting my pension and will be retired! The next two years will give me a chance to work out what retirement this will look like. I have affiliations at two universities in the UK and remain a Professor Emeritus at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, giving institutional homes which could be important for seeking research funds.

So the question is: what is the plan? I am not at all sure. I need to work on my sabbatical project, which is to finally get to grips with the book on Eswatini (the country formerly known as Swaziland). I first wrote a prospectus for a publisher back in 2008, but it kept being put on the back boiler. The first title was “A Political Economy of Swaziland”. The new working title is “An Accidental Country: The Politics and Economics of Eswatini”. I am looking forward to getting my teeth into this. I also want to write about my life – but fully recognise that this would be primarily for me, it would be a reflective project. Once I am in Norwich I will sign up to some writing courses through the Writer’s Centre. I also, desperately need to get fit again, I have barely done any exercise since the hernia operation.

It would be really great if Ailsa and I could do some traveling. The goal would be to do this by road and rail. It would be important not to fly and be more environmentally conscious. High on my list of places to go is Ireland, we have only been to Dublin. This would be achievable by either road or rail (including a ferry trip). Greece is rather further, but is also reachable by train.

I must end this meandering by mentioning the ghastly political situation in the UK. It has been a most horrifying and divisive period. I actually paid my membership to the Liberal Democrats. We may hold the balance of power, but sadly won’t be able to form a government. So let me end this by sending you best wishes for Christmas and the New Year wherever you are. We hope to see you at some point and somewhere in 2020. This is being posted on the 4th of December as my final class (ever?) was on the 3rd of December and I wanted to also report that fact!

2 thoughts on “The end is nigh

  1. Hi Alan,

    It’s always a pleasure to read your blog! I’m so sorry to hear about your dear family friend Jurgen. Life is not fair at times and hope for the best for his family!

    Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy the travels :) Eris

    Sent from my iPhone



  2. How unlucky could I have been knowing you will not be around for this spring semester? I sincerely would have loved you to supervise my Ph.D. thesis. I hope to see you around in 2021 and thank you so much for all you have done for the field of research.


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