The clock ticks

I was shocked to see it has been over a month since I last posted. I have two countdowns going on in my life. The first, at the end of 2021 I will get my last salary cheque. Apart from a few short ‘student type’ jobs, since 1980 I have always had someone paying me a regular income. The short jobs in Swaziland included working for a school book supplier one holiday, and a week as a ‘hanger round’ at the Central News Agency in Mbabane. In the UK I spent a week packing bulbs (tulips and daffodils) etc. in a warehouse, ironically in the industrial site near where we live. I was fired for being too bolshy. I also spent three summer months as a warehouseman in Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The second milestone is, in March 2022, on my 66th birthday, I become eligible for a British State pension.

Most young people, certainly those under 40, see people aged 50 to 80 here as an exceptionally fortunate generation. This is true for a high proportion of us. We had access to free university education, jobs, and many will get a state pension that, while not hugely generous, is significant. We were able to travel widely. We only became aware of the appalling damage we have wrought on the world, in terms of over exploitation and environmental damage, as we were doing it.

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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.

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Sunshine and students

There are three semesters at the Balsillie School, and across Canada. The Autumn term starts in September and ends just before Christmas; the Winter term is from January to April; and we are completing the Spring term which lasts from May to July. The terms are longer than in the UK and Europe at 12 weeks.

I taught two courses in the Spring and will teach two in the Autumn. Next calendar year (January 2020 to December 2020), I am on sabbatical and am very much looking forward to this. This is the first time I have been in Waterloo for the Spring term, and while it might have begun as spring it ended as summer – which is the one term we do not have. My word it was hot and humid for weeks at a time. Fortunately there were occasional thunderstorms that roiled across the region and brought some relief.

It has been very hot across much of Europe as well. We have a friend who has been in hospital in Norwich for some weeks now. The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was opened in 2001. It was built on a greenfield site near the University, which means that UEA is able to offer medical degrees which was not the case when I was a student. It replaced a Victorian establishment in the centre of the city.

The new hospital is ‘state of the art’, except that there is no air-conditioning! This is OK for 10 months of the year. When there is a heatwave, as there was in July, it means that everyone from the consultants to the patients really suffers. It is miserable and sadly I don’t think there is any way that AC can be retrofitted into the building. The other major problem is that the hospital is not easy for the public to get to. It is an expensive and inconvenient bus journey, while those who drive have to pay car parking charges.

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Some snow, some slush

Oh dear, the start of the winter term was not very promising. Even before it began I was aware that we were undersubscribed in terms of students for the Masters in International Public Policy. There should have been 15 domestic students plus a number of ‘African Leaders of Tomorrow’. For various reasons that are beyond my understanding we ended up with just nine Canadian students, fortunately there is one international and four African students, which increases the cohort size to fourteen. In my special course IP641: Economic Policy in an Interdependent World: The Case of Health, HIV and AIDS and Other Epidemics, there are just seven students. The Inter-disciplinary Seminar has the full complement but that is hardly surprising since attendance is compulsory.

I suspect that the basic problem has been the lack of certainty about the future of the Balsillie School. The funds for the organisation are held at Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier Universities, but the Balsillie school is a partnership between the universities and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). CIGI is the landlord for the BSIA, owning the magnificent building we are housed in. The ten year agreement that governed the money ran out in November last year. We ran on a ‘steady as you go’ type of extension and are assured will be renewed in the next few days. Unfortunately all the promises in the world cannot replace a signed agreement that sets out exactly what can and cannot be done. Hopefully we will, by the time you have read this blog, have certainty as to what is going on. While we think that things will continue without too much change, we need to see the signed agreement to know that this is indeed be the case.

The one activity that began well was the salon series. These are gatherings of up to 20 people that I convene in my apartment. The idea is that there is a guided conversation with a special guest who answers questions on their topic of expertise. The first one of the year was with David Wilson, a friend of long-standing who grew up and worked in Zimbabwe, before joining the World Bank. The second was with Peter Boehm, a senior Canadian civil servant, currently engaged in preparing for Canada hosting the G-7 meeting in June 2018.

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Slush and wind and rain

This final note for 2017 will be posted just before the end of the year. It was written over a couple days after Christmas, and before I travelled to Canada on the 29th December. I have been in the UK for three weeks, flying over at the end of the first week of December. We celebrated Christmas in Norwich. My sister came up from London for the holiday. On the actual day Rowan and her partner Ben drove across the city for the big meal.

Rowan had suggested we go to her house as she is, at the moment, fostering three young cats. The poor creatures were feral and they are taking time to get used to people. After much thought we decided to have everything in our house. We feared the festivities, and number of people, might have been a bit much for nervous cats. We had a really great meal. Ben introduced me to ‘pigs in blankets’, sausages wrapped in bacon, a real treat for the only two carnivores. Everyone else is vegetarian so the rest of the meal was a vegetarian feast.

Unusually everyone got gifts they really wanted. I made a point of sending out my wish list early in the month, but still had complaints because I had not specifically told the family who should buy what! One of the themes of my gifts was maps. Gill bought an old, 1952, ordinance survey map of Norfolk and a scratch World Map, the idea being that the gilt overlay gets scratched off every country one has visited. Ailsa got me a jigsaw puzzle of Norwich, which I am looking forward to assembling.

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Halloween in Germany

I had the opportunity to spend two weeks teaching at the University of Konstanz in the state of Baden-Württemberg on the border with Switzerland. I decided to jump at the chance, so am, I think, the first academic to come over from the Balsillie School and do this stint. The idea was to spend a fortnight here in Germany, and teach 14 sessions on a Global Health and HIV and AIDS. The University covered my costs.

There was an additional reason though. Due to the tax rules in the UK I am severely penalized if I spend more than 90 days in Britain. This trip to Europe was therefore a really good opportunity to see a new University, teach different students, and have time with the family. They had to come to Germany for this to happen. Douglas and I travelled together on Saturday 21st October. He left on Wednesday. Ailsa came from Thursday to Sunday and the plan is that Rowan will join me on the last Wednesday. We will then leave together on Saturday and travel to Amsterdam for a night. From there she will fly to Norwich while I go to Cape Town.

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Politics: Britain Votes and Canada Celebrates 150 Years

On the 8th of June Britain went to the polls. Theresa May called an early election in the expectation that she would strengthen her hand ahead of the Brexit negotiations. In her mind she would be returned to power with an increased majority. Two months ahead of the election the press was united in the view that this would happen, and the Labour Party, under the leadership of the demonised Jeremy Corbyn, would be crushed. Well that did not materialise. The Tories (Conservatives) won just 317 seats, and as there are 650 seats in the House of Commons this is not a majority. Labour gained 30 seats, giving them 262. It is now generally felt the winners lost and the losers won.

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Leaving Durban

It is now absolutely official and irrevocable. I will be leaving HEARD, the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban at the end of the year. My post as the Director of the Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division was advertised in the Mail and Guardian on Friday 28 June. I hope we will get strong candidates and anyone reading this posting who knows people who might want to apply, please encourage them.

I am going to Canada where I have been appointed as the Center for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) Chair in Global Health Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. It is quite a complicated appointment. I will be located in the Balsillie School for International Affairs (BSIA) and am also part of CIGI which is a think tank. Waterloo is a small university town located about an hour south west of Toronto’s Pearson Airport. It looks like a very interesting place with the two universities (the other one is Waterloo University); the BSIA and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, all close together. It is worth looking at the websites, if only to see the wonderful buildings. CIGI is in the renovated Seagram’s Distillery while BSIA has its own new building next door.

The process of going has been a protracted one. I was offered the position and accepted last year. I informed the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the HEARD Board of my intention to depart and began the process of negotiating the transition. It has taken a long time to get the advertisement put together, longer than anyone would have liked.

I will be transitioning in a measured manner, I am already fractionally appointed in Waterloo, will increase this with effect from September 2013 and will then be 100% there from 1 January 2014. I am aware that this is in the depths of the Canadian winter. So cross country skiing will be on my agenda.

Last year was a time of endings. At the end of the Washington AIDS conference I completed 12 years as a Governing Council member for the International AIDS Society. At the end of December 2012 I finished a three and a half year term as a British Department of International Development (DFID) Senior Research Fellow. This was a factional appointment. It was a huge learning experience and a pleasure to do. I so enjoyed working with the DFID team – although I am totally opposed to open plan offices as a result of this experience. I don’t know how people managed to get so much done.

I began thinking about leaving HEARD some time ago for a number of reasons. The predominant one was the desire to have a legacy. A prerequisite for a legacy is one has to leave! I firmly believe founders have ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates and hope I did not pass mine. HEARD  is an established organisation with excellent staff, reasonably secure funding, and great track record. I won’t blow our trumpet, the information is all on the website but I must however mention the remarkable number of peer-reviewed publications being produced by our team: 34 last year alone.

I felt it important for the organisation to have new leadership. There are so many issues in the health field that need attention in southern Africa and my focus is somewhat constrained. A new Director will bring a fresh vision and take the group in some interesting new directions. Things that they can think about include the rise in Non-Communicable Diseases and the environmental changes we are seeing.

Finding a position to go to was rapid. I went for a number of interviews in South Africa and beyond. I was told about the post in Waterloo by a friend of 40 years; looked at it; put in an application; and went for an interview and visit. The rest, as they say, is history.

The post is really attractive. The organisation is new and developing. It gives me the opportunity to work with major issues in a different environment. There will be considerably less administration and more time to write and think. I will, for the first time in many years, have the opportunity to teach and work with graduate students. In addition I will be able to talk to people and go to meetings in New York, Washington, Toronto and Ottawa without having to worry about time zones and long journeys and jet lag. It is very exciting.

Back in Durban the HEARD team have been extremely busy. We have just had the 6th SA AIDS Conference here. Important new data were released. Ahead of this there was a meeting organised by the South African Medical Research Council and the National Institutes of Health on Research frontiers in HIV, HIV related malignancies and TB. It was a summit on shared research priorities and was mainly bio-medical. The dinner was held on the top floor of the Blue Waters Hotel at the north end of the beachfront. The night was clear and the view across the city and the new stadium, as far as Umhlanga, magnificent.

On the Tuesday of the conference opening we co-hosted a meeting with UNAIDS at the HEARD offices. This was on Investments into Critical Enablers for the KZN AIDS Response: Where are the Gaps? The guest of honour was the provincial Minister of Health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. There was much excitement about this as we had to deal with protocol and bodyguards. He was supposed to arrive just before 10am but at 9:20am I got a message to say they were in the car park. I dashed down and he told me he was going to sit there and work and would come up at about 9.55am, and I should stop fussing. He is such a nice man. When this was over I dashed down to the International Convention Centre to attend the opening of the Conference.

The title of a plenary speech by the CEO of the Human Sciences Research Council, Dr Olive Shisana, HIV/AIDS in South Africa: A last the glass is half full, summed up the complex and extremely challenging situation. The estimated number of people in South Africa living with HIV has risen to 6.4 million people (up from the previous estimate of 5.6 million). The estimated prevalence of HIV increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.3% in 2012. It is highest in KwaZulu-Natal at 27.6% of those aged 15 – 49, falling to 9.2% in the Western Cape.

While that was bleak, the research and policy input coming from HEARD is influential and important. There were panels organised by HEARD’s Disability and HIV Project and a reception held at Kingsmead cricket ground in the director’s box. We organised a meeting on HIV resource tracking and costing in east and southern Africa which was http://www.gmai;held on Howard College campus in a wonderful new building next to the science block.

On the personal level Douglas has finished high school and, while waiting for the results, is looking at next steps, including coming to Canada. Ailsa is dealing with the bureaucracy of the move, endless forms and complexities! Rowan is busy with two jobs, one at the Writers Centre Norwich. It is worth mentioning that Norwich is England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. She will be starting an MA in creative writing in 2014. So, in summary, all is well and exciting.


C.J Sansom, Dissolution

This was first published in 2003 by Viking. I got one of the 2011 World Book Night copies. The WBN is ‘a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading’. In 2013 it was celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the USA.  This is a crime novel set in the 16th century during the dissolution of the monasteries. It is as good as the Hilary Mantel books, and is complimentary since it takes a different view, a hunchback lawyer in the employ of Thomas Cromwell investigates crimes in monasteries. It is an excellent read. What makes it particularly relevant is that I am also reading Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. I will review that in the next posting – but for now he argues that the world is a more peaceable rational place, the 16th Century was routinely violent.


‘Save your legs’ released in 2013, an independent Australian film

This is the story of a not very good Australian cricket team called the Abbotsford Anglers who go on tour in India, with all the trials and tribulations that is involved from rotten pitches to food poisoning. Not all the characters are developed or believable but it is a nice human observational film.