What do Waterloo, Ontario and Mbabane, Swaziland have in common? Apart from the fact that I have lived in both! A few nights ago, in Waterloo, there was a severe thunderstorm, the first I have experienced here. The flashing and crashing reminded me of the summer afternoon thunderstorms in Mbabane. The high veld of Swaziland has one of the highest rates of lightning strikes in the world. I gleaned this factoid when, as a freelance reporter, on the monthly newspaper ‘Business in Swaziland’, I interviewed the CEO of the Swaziland Electricity Board. This writing experience of nearly 40 years ago was great fun. We were paid 75 cents per column inch published, which meant that as soon as the paper appeared, we ‘journalists’ took out a ruler to work out what was due to us.
It is spring in southern Africa. The swallows are back, sweeping around the buildings at the university and across the freeways. That last comment may seem a little strange but bridges across these roads provide good nesting sites for swallows. I well remember, over 30 years ago, driving across the Highveld on my way to Swaziland. Two swallows flew suicidally in front of the car. The sadness I felt on seeing, in the rear view mirror, their bodies tossing and turning behind me is something that still resonates. I really felt terrible. It may of course be Darwinian! The surviving swallows and their offspring do not take these risks and there were none darting across the road this trip.
I feel very fortunate as I recently had reason to drive up to Swaziland and then on to Johannesburg. The occasion was the visit of Kim Duncan and Marina Galanti of the Rush Foundation. Their goal is to fund disruptive ideas around HIV prevention. I first met them at a meeting in Washington in September 2011, and then worked with them on a symposium in London held in June of this year. They have many good ideas – see www.rushfoundation.org. I suggested they visit HEARD and I would take them up to Swaziland and introduce them to the folk at The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).
Kim and Marina arrived in Durban on Tuesday 2 October and spent the day at HEARD. In the evening we hosted a dinner with some of Durban’s key people in the HIV world. On Wednesday, I picked them up and we set off for Mbabane. The roads were clear, partially because of the Road Freight Association truck drivers’ strike which meant there were few heavy vehicles on the road.
It was a sunny and bright day and as a consequence we had a most enjoyable drive, although it did take rather longer than I had hoped. We stopped for coffee at Mtunzini, lunch in Mkuze at the Ghost Mountain Inn, and got to the Mountain Inn just before dark. We then had just a few minutes to change before going to Malkerns to Marandela’s Resturant for dinner with colleagues from NERCHA. This is also the location of House on Fire, where every year there is a major festival.
On Thursday morning I dropped Kim and Marina off at the NERCHA offices and drove to Johannesburg to catch the flight back to Durban. It took me four hours to get from Mbabane to the airport and eight from Durban to Mbabane so it probably made more sense to go that route. As always it is a chance to reconnect with some very beautiful parts of both countries. The drive through Swaziland from the border to Mbabane is always a pleasure. The contrast between the flat Lowveld with the Lebombo Mountains on the right hand side; the rolling Middleveld; and then the jagged hills of the Highveld makes the journey interesting and scenic.
It was great to have interesting company for the first stage of the journey. On the second day I played CDs and for the first time really listened to a country music song called Letter to Heaven. What a desperately miserable song. The brief synopsis is: little girl asks her grandfather to write a letter to her dead mother; included in the letter are the lines: ‘Tell mommy I miss her since she went away
I coming to see her real soon I hope’; the girl goes out to the post box; gets knocked down and killed while crossing the road; the postman sees this happen and remarks on the puissance of her words; and the letter gets delivered! Oh dear it is terrible – almost as bad as the one about the two orphaned children who freeze to death on the porch of the church. It shows I do not listen properly to the lyrics.
I was delighted by the greenness of the countryside all the way from Durban to Johannesburg, an indication there have been good spring rains across the region. The area from Lavumisa to Big Bend in Swaziland seems to fall in a rain shadow area, but this year it is looking good. We passed one field where the farmer had harnessed his donkeys and was plowing the rich black earth. This is also the part of the journey where the Lilac Breasted Rollers perch on the telephone wires. They are stunning birds. Back in Durban the Pied Manikins, very attractive but tiny little birds, are furiously nest building outside my office window.
Spring is a great time of year. It does have two downsides as far as I am concerned. The first is mosquitoes. They are back. Folklore has it is they do not fly very high and in theory my flat on the third floor should be a mosquito-free area. Unfortunately it is not and there are currently four patches of mashed mosquito on the wall of my bedroom. Scarlet blood and black body parts. The second is that the birds begin the dawn chorus a little earlier every day. By 4.30 am they have cleared their throats and are singing. After many years of waking in the very early mornings I now have taken to using ear plugs. This means I can sleep for a little longer. I fear that not even industrial ear plugs would keep the noise of the Hadedas out. Raucous and very loud. They roost in the trees around the flat and if a noisy vehicle, or ambulance with its siren blaring goes past they wake up and announce to the world that their rest has been disturbed. No consideration from those birds.
Is it the problem or the advantage of being an academic that one’s work is never done? There is always something new and interesting to read. At the moment I am on a number of news lists and fortunately they summarize the main articles that they believe would be of interest but there is still far too much to read. And then, of course, one of our main functions in our job descriptions is to add to the corpus of knowledge. I will have marked two PhDs in the last month. One was on gender-based violence and its links to HIV; the second a history of the epidemic and response to it in South Africa from 1980 to 1995. This is a really good way of getting a literature review and current thinking but it is daunting to be presented with a 300+ page document.
South Africa is going through a difficult period, with a great deal of labour unrest. We were appalled by the recent police shooting of 34 miners in Marikane in the North West province. At issue here is more than money; it is about how our society will be structured. If all these pay rises are awarded then we will create a labour aristocracy. Those who are not in employment will be increasingly desperate and dispossessed. There will not be enough jobs to go round. However given the huge amounts of money being earned by some people and the perception that there is wide spread corruption, who can blame those with low salaries from wanting more? The tragedy of the commons is that there are finite resources. The solutions in my view are: tax the rich and don’t flaunt wealth. I wonder why the Reconstruction and Development tax imposed in 1994 was not kept. It was not much and I did not know people who resented paying it. There is an excellent commentary by the Jonathan Jansen looking at what is going on here. Please do read it – far more insightful than I can ever be.
Finally, I have been running at the weekends. The first run was 6.1 kilometers – and yes the way I do it is to run round the neighbourhood, then get in my car and measure the distance. My goal is eight kilometers – five miles. So the last run was longer and I was sure I had cracked it. No! The drive round afterwards showed I had covered just 7.2 kilometers, and at a very slow pace. My excuse for the speed is that I do like running up and down the hills in Glenwood and some are exceptionally steep. Perhaps the key is to simply keep going at this. With less weight (the goal and reason for running in the first place) and stronger legs I will make the target and manage something faster than the current snail’s pace of only nine kilometers per hour.
Swaziland has been high on my agenda for the past few weeks. I travelled there in late July before returning to Durban. There were two main reasons for my Swaziland visit. First was to meet up with my colleagues at theNational Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA), a body formed by the government in order to respond to the epidemic. I have been working with them since they were established. The second was to go to Waterford Kamhlaba School for a number of events including our mid-year Governing Council meeting.
I flew into Matsapha airport, and as usual, picked up a car. Driving through the industrial estate, I found myself behind a mini bus with five large colour photographs in the back window. Moving from left to right they were of: Che Guevara, Osama Bin Laden, Muammer Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe and Julius Malema. The last may need some introduction; he is the young firebrand leader of the African National Congress Youth League who makes frequent intemperate and irresponsible speeches. Most recently he and his comrades called for the overthrow of the Botswana government as it is “led by capitalist lackeys”. This did not go down very well in South Africa, and of course was even less appreciated in Botswana! I wonder why the driver put up those particular photographs, and in that order. It was clearly a message but it went over my head.
The visit to NERCHA was, as always, inspiring. The staff are an excellent bunch and I am proud to be associated with them. The country is facing a crisis which is the subject of two separate postings on this website. The first is a briefing that I am putting up on this website separate from my usual monthly blog and the other was co-authored with Jacqui Hadingham for the Royal African Society.
When I was in Mbabane (and this is reflected in the postings) the talk was of imminent government bankruptcy. Swaziland had asked the South African government for a E1.2 billion loan as the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank had turned them down. On my return to Durban the news came that the King secured an E2.4 billion loan from South Africa on quite favourable terms. He was hailed in the (government owned) media as the saviour of the nation. The Swazi opposition and some of South African unions are outraged. Quite what will happen next is not clear: it is not time to give up.
I was invited to open the student’s annual art exhibition at Waterford. It was a flattering invitation. I took it seriously and carefully prepared my brief opening remarks. There was, I hope, one key message: hard work and practice are necessary for good art. I hung the message on the example of Lucian Freud who died the previous week. His obituaries described how long it took for him to complete his portraits. The second example I gave was that some years ago I exhibited a piece of work as part of the annual ‘Member’s Exhibition’ at the KwaZulu-Natal Society Gallery. This convinced me that, as an economist, I do not have an artistic bone in my body but also good art requires good craftsmanship. I was told that my remarks were well received and appreciated.
The Governing Council meeting was long but productive. For the first time in a long time there were no major issues or crises to deal with. The school is running well. It looks as though there is more demand and then there are places and the calibre of the applicants remains high. Big issues we had to consider were at what level to put the fee and salary increases at for next year. This is always the task of the July GC meeting. There was a discussion of the economic crisis and the effect it will have on Swazi parents. The best way forward may be the creation of a ‘hardship fund’ of some description. We already give a significant number of bursaries, cannot set differentiated fees, and need to be pro active and imaginative.
Films and books
Lincoln Lawyer (2011) based on a book by Michael Connelly, this is the story of a lawyer, Mickey Haller, who works from his car in Los Angeles County. He is employed to defend a wealthy Beverly Hills playboy, Louis Roulet, accused of beating up a prostitute. Initially the lawyer believes his client was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He then sees similarities to an old case where he persuaded the client to plead guilty. Haller decides Roulet was guilty of this killing but cannot divulge this because of attorney-client confidentiality rules. He gets Roulet off on the case he is retained on, but manages to get him arrested on the earlier charge. The book is good and this film is an excellent courtroom drama that I found gripping. 8/10.
Green Hornet (2011) is what we would have called a ‘skiet and donner’ movie. Literally a ‘shoot and beat up’ film. It was not my first choice on the plane. Even given the heightened emotions of travelling, it turned out to be fun and quite thought provoking. It begins with the relationship between a boy and his wealthy father who publishes an influential paper. The son inherits the paper and, with a former employee of his father (a kung fu expert) the two join forces to fight crime. . The son Britt Reid creates a superhero persona for himself, ‘The Green Hornet’. At one level this is a simple film packed with action. On another, it looks at father son relationships; the relationship between the two young men (platonic); how one can be spoiled by having too many resources; and the role of the press. Of course the classic study of this topic is Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son, published in 1907, which was one of our set books at school. 6/10
Eat, Pray, Love (2010). Based on the runaway best seller by Elizabeth Gilbert this is the story of discontentment. Julia Roberts plays Gilbert, a young married woman with everything a modern woman could want – a husband, a house and successful career, yet, she finds herself lost, confused and searching for what she really wanted in life. She gets a divorce and travels for over a year to three destinations spending four months in each: Italy (eat), India (pray); and Bali (love). It is the story of a journey of self-discovery. I read the book some years ago and found it interesting but indulgent. The sequel Committed is more interesting but
This posting could be entitled ‘Pregnancy, Prime Circle, and Team Building’ as these are the three dominant themes of the past couple of weeks. Most of the Easter weekend has been spent working. I have finally emerged from a mass of administration and planning to resume writing my Swaziland book. ‘A Political Economy of Swaziland’ is what I have optimistically titled it. I am over half way through now and do need to get it to the publishers since it is at least 18 months late. But I have really enjoyed working on it. Swaziland is such an interesting and usual little country, and at the moment, there is a degree of political change which is exciting.
I went to Swaziland for a few days at the beginning of April. Apart from doing some additional book research this was to attend the first Waterford Governing Council (GC) meeting of the year. I have been on the GC since 1994 so have some institutional memory! In 2008, for the first time, since I joined, the GC was faced with having to make a decision around pregnancy. One of the female students, from a poor area, had fallen pregnant. We decided, probably wrongly, that the main concern was the baby. I say wrongly because as Governors our prime concern should always be the well-being of the school. We took a decision that the girl should be sent down for a year, but could return at the end of this. She did and is now a scholarship student at an internationally known university. Having set policy, the Headmaster then took the same decision in 2010 when he was faced with a second pregnancy. The same outcome was reported, the student is back at school and doing well.
At this GC we had a variation on the theme. A pregnant female student, but the father acknowledging his paternity, is also at the school. A policy decision had to be taken. What was most interesting for me is that while we can make a broad policy, we cannot cover every eventuality. What if the girl says she was made pregnant by a male student, but he refuses to acknowledge this? Given that he would face sanction this probably makes sense for him. Do we carry out a paternity test? What do we do if the girl says she was raped? It is clear that while there are in many instances there have to be rules, flexibility is necessary. Of course in other cases there should be no leniency, for example the school has a zero tolerance rule when it comes to drugs.
Back in Durban I have been very busy with work but found time to go to two gallery openings, one at theKwaZulu Natal Art Society Gallery. The main exhibitor was a botanical artist which I do not find terribly exciting. The second at Durban ArtSpace is a very unusual gallery in an industrial area of town next to the railway line.This was entitled wo.man and was way over my head. Most interesting though, I did not know a single person there although I did recognize one, he had been at the KZNA opening. Perhaps this is a little sad!
Cultural activities continued when I went to listen to ‘Prime Circle’ a South African band who described themselves as South Africa’s leading rock band http://www.primecircle.co.za This was at the Gateway shopping Center about 35 km from my flat. I find I drive slowly along the motorway, trying to treat the car with love and respect. It is after all nearly 20 years old now, bought new and registered in 1992. However as it has only done 130,000 km I think it is good for a few more years yet.
We have been looking at ways of building the HEARD staff into a more cohesive unit. Much as I hate the term, ‘team building’ is a good idea. So last Thursday we headed off for a team building experience. The decision was taken to go to cooking school for a half day. Fusion is not very far from our campus in Westville see and they have a great restaurant in Durban We were divided into three teams, and set to the task of cooking Thai style chicken breasts stuffed with various herbs and spices. For the vegetarians stuffed mushrooms were the option.
Each cooking station was allocated a student, described as a ‘cooking fairy’ to assist us. It was quite an experience. The key learning for me was that you need equipment and enthusiasm. The desert was banana pancakes skewers lightly brushed with a reduction of sugar and flavorings, including vanilla, and rolled in grated chocolate. A good time was had by all, and certainly I feel less intimidated by the thought of cooking now. To be fair the bulk of the work was done by one or two people on the team.
I am amused to look at my browser and see that I have two websites open one for Fusion and one a classic article by Sidney Kark on the ‘Social Pathology of Syphilis’ published in 1949. It identifies migration as one of the major drivers of sexually transmitted diseases in southern Africa.
This week I have twice been reminded of how nice it is to be fit and young, although it is possible to be young and not fit. I played squash with Jeremy Grest and his son Adam, who is in his early 20’s. Adam gets round the court without stopping, it was only guile that allowed me to win points and he beat me! On Sunday evening I went for a long run (in time rather than distance). Two of the children from the flats were playing by the gate.
“Are you going for a run”, asked one.
“Yes”, I replied.
“My brother has just gone”, he said. This brother being a lean lad of about 14.
“I’ll try to catch up with him”, I responded as I started my standard slow plod.
“He was running much faster than that”, said the boy disdainfully.
I ran up past St Augustine’s hospital to Ridge Road, and then down the bottom of the Pigeon Valley nature reserve. The monkey troop that live there were raiding across the street and looked at me with disbelief. From there to the Howard college campus, then back along what was Manning, and is now Lena Ahren’s, Road. It was the magical hour when the sun has a particular evening tint, and Durban was stunning. Interesting up the hill, security gets tighter, and the dogs bigger, more numerous and louder.
Men who stare at Goats, we bought a DVD of this film a while ago. It was seriously damaged and so unwatchable, but this only became apparent about 40 minutes into it. I hired the DVD the other night and so have finally seen it. I really enjoyed it. It is just about credible that people could behave in this bizarre way in the interests of … what? It is the story of reporter in Iraq who meets Lyn Cassaday who claims he was part of the New Earth Army who employ paranormal powers. George Clooney stars and there is no love interest!
I have had a busy few weeks in Norwich. I started writing this while sitting at the dining room table as Douglas read me poetry. He is preparing for his GCSE exams and I am here, firstly in solidarity, and secondly hoping to be of some help. His first major exam, where he had to sit and write for a long period, was English Literature. One of the good things is that I am hearing lines from poems I had long forgotten. For example, from WB Yeats, The Second Coming:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
This is where Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe got the title for his first book, Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, which we read at Waterford School, and found a real revelation. By then it had, I think, been published in the Heinemann African Writers Series. So it seems what goes around comes around.
Life here has been un-anarchic, albeit busy. We have been to the beach, about forty minutes away. It was most beautiful driving through the Norfolk countryside. The long winter meant the flowers have delayed their opening and all seem to be blooming together. On this road the sea appears in the distance with striations of colour: a muddy blue hugs the beach; then the aquamarine shades into gray in the distance; and shimmering patterns across the whole surface.
It was the first decent weekend and so the beach was busy. A few hardy souls ventured into the water. According to the data at the life-guard’s station, the sea temperature was only 14 degrees so I am filled with admiration. The North Sea is shallow, so there tend not to be big waves, indeed it would be accurate to say they ‘lap’ rather than break. Despite this there are always optimists who have body-boards and even, in one case, a surf board. We walked a few kilometers and went to the Beach Café for lunch. It is excellent, good food and a great view, most important they allow well behaved dogs. Didi had a great time chasing up and down on the sand, running into the waves, and pretending to be brave. The village website is www.mundesley.org and the café has a page on facebook.
We got to see the ‘British changing style’. You clutch a towel round the waist, (which usually seems rather small by this time) and attempt to put on a dry costume, or even worse, takes off a wet one. In Durban, a couple of months ago, I was sitting on the beach with Rowan, her boyfriend and one of her friends; a group of German tourists arrived. No modesty for them, it was stand in a circle and strip to put on their swimming costumes.
A week or so ago I had the crucial flying lesson. This was the third since I returned and it took me to over 20 hours of tuition. The essential goal was: learn to land. Up to four lessons ago landing was not crucial – David, my instructor, would do this. However, as we know, pilots have to be able to land. It is not easy. I was lucky, the wind was very light, and straight down the runway. I walked away from this lesson thinking that I could actually do this. I went back a few days later to consolidate what I had learnt, this time in rather a strong wind. It was gratifying to find I can, indeed, land.
At the moment I am ‘in the circuit’, which means taking off and making a 90?; leveling of; setting the power and trimming the plane; turning another 90?; flying parallel with the airfield; turning into the approach; gently putting the wheels on the tarmac; then taking up the flaps; going to full power and going round and doing it again. The whole time one has to know where one is. My landmarks are not assets to the Norfolk countryside. The first turn is over the pig farm: little tin huts; barren ground and tubular pink bodies; then over the gravel pit, a scar in the landscape with mounds of yellow soil; and finally aim at the factory chimney. They may not be attractive, but they do stand out. I have even been practicing with Google Earth.
Does that sound simple? Well it is not! There are controls, speed, angles of bank, radio calls and checklists that all have to be included. The most difficult part is the touchdown. I am supposed to fly parallel to the ground, gradually taking the power off, holding the nose up while the plane sinks gently onto the runway. This is a ‘flare’ and takes judgment and experience. It has to feel right. David had said: “I can teach you to fly, but I can’t teach you to land, this is something that you have to get through experience.” A key is to get the approach right: the rate of descent and the speed; the line-up, so the plane is actually pointed at the runway; then, at the right moment, take the power off. The website for the flying school is www.nsf.flyer.co.uk.
That describes the non-work life here. My main work activity has been to get to grips with the Political Economy of Swaziland book. There has been definite progress on this. I want to describe how the history of Swaziland has lead to the current situation with regard to the politics, economics and HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Going to see a live production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys at the Theatre Royal in the city last week was very helpful. A quote from the play on what history is: “How does stuff happen, do you think? People decide to do stuff. Make moves. Alter things.” This is exactly what happened in Swaziland and this is story I hope to tell. Over the past weeks I have been looking at the political trends in the region which have been crucial. In the 1980’s Swaziland and the other countries in the region benefited from the fact they stood against South Africa. Since then they have been quite ignored, and additionally they have slightly more wealth and so fall into the lower-middle-income country category, giving them less access to international resources.
Joseph O’Neil, Netherland, Harper Perennial, 2009, 300 pages
This is a most unlikely topic. It is the story of a Dutchman, Hans van den Broek, living in New York, where he has been abandoned by his wife and child. He is a cricket player and the game comes to dominate his life. It is played mainly by immigrants from the former British colonies: the Caribbean Islands; Sri Lanka and India. Hans becomes particularly friendly with Chuck Ramkissoon, a charismatic Trinidadian entrepreneur and clearly criminal. It is his murder that leads to the reflection giving rise to the book. This book portrays a part of New York and the people living there, that is murky and subterranean. It is also a story of hope and friendship. At the end he and his wife are back together in London, attempting to make a go of their relationship. I had been looking at the book on airport bookshops wondering if I buy it, a week ago I was at the local library so I was pleased to be able to borrow it.
Andrea Camilleri, The Inspector Mantalbano series. These books have has their central character a tortured police inspector in Sicily. He is the local commander of a police station, staffed by a range of equally extraordinary characters. Camilleri is apparently a very well known Italian writer, but I have just been introduced to his books and am really enjoying them. They are published in paperback by Picador and are translated by Stephen Sartarelli. Obviously the translation is crucial in ensuring that the book remains good when it is put in another language.