Friday, February 29, 2008

RACISM IS ALIVE AND WELL IN SOUTH AFRICA - the University of the Freestate racist incident

This week, once more, the world witnessed the intensity of the racial divide that is largely just below the surface in South Africa. From time to time, this divide surfaces like the leviathan of yore and rears its most ugly head for all to see. Interesting, too, are the responses to this incident in the South African media. Reading about this online, I decided to add my own perspective as white, Afrikaner male. I noticed that as I read about the incident and as I contemplated the value of responding to it on this blog that, more than usual, I had experienced a pronounced resonance with the matter. It seemed inevitable that I would comment.

The Sowetan reported on 29 February, 2008 [] that the video that was made by white, male, Afrikaner students featured " employees at the university [UFS] on their knees, eating food that had been urinated on by white students" and that this video "sparked outrage across the political spectrum". In the same newspaper, on the same day, Eric Naki added that the video showed "white students" who were "forcing black cleaning staff to eat food they had urinated on". In response, the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor "has instructed department head Duncan Hindle to immediately lead a departmental investigation to UFS to meet its leadership to determine what is needed to fight racism at the campus". It appears that the person who published the video was a jilted girlfriend of one of the accused [].

On 28 February, 2008, the Sowetan also published an article titled "UFS students say sorry for video". The two accused, Roelof Malherbe and Schalk van der Merwe said that they "acted without malicious intent". They also expressed their "sorrow for the embarrassment they might have caused to any individual or group, including their parents". The article also points out that the two accused remind their critics "that they were and are only students".

OK, what nonsense is this? What defense is: "Hey, we are only mischievous students with no malicious racist intent"? Shall we remind ourselves who these students were and where they resided? Firstly, the students [Roelof Malherbe, Schalk van der Merwe, Johnny Roberts, and Danie Grobler] are white, Afrikaner males. Secondly, in an article in The Star of 29 February, 2008, entitled "We're receiving death threats - students", it is reported that these 4 Afrikaner boys lived in the Reitz Hostel of the University of the Free State. The article points out that: "The residence was started 12 years ago by white students angered at being forced to share a hostel with blacks during the university's first attempt at integration...Left unchecked, Reitz quickly developed a reputation as a hotbed of racism, associated with drunken behaviour. The area in front of the hostel was an offical no-go zone for black students. If they went near it, said former black students, they were on the receiving end of a barrage of racist verbal abuse. The local campus newspaper reported racist incidents involving Reitz residents on numerous occasions. In one, a black female student was attacked." What was that again about these white students having no "malicious intent" and that they were only "students"? The very reason-for-being of the hostel they were living in was a racist statement that expressed the laager-mentality of many retreatist Afrikaners at the time of national liberation in 1994 and shortly thereafter. And they want us to believe that there was no harm intended? That they were only innocent students doing what well-meaning students do - producing an offensive racist video? Of course, van der Merwe and Malherbe decry the unwarranted attention that they got from the media. They bemoan the fact that "the media and the public had crucified them as racists following the publication of the video" []. In defense, they pointed out that the video was a "satirical comment on a topic which was then prevalent and controversial". I just don't get this one at all. A simple definition of satire is that it is a "literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit" and that it includes "irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity" []. Are these students suggesting to us that the video was meant as an attack on racism perpetrated by whites and that it was supposed to be an exposition of the folly, vice and stupidity that underlies such racism? And all the while bearing in mind that the very students who supposedly make these noble sociopolitical statements are residents of a university hostel whose very existence is a statement to the contrary? In a statement released by van der Merwe and Malherbe they further point out that the black staff who are freatured in the video are their "loyal friends", they participated "voluntarily" in the video and that they "even enjoyed it". They added that "they were not racists and had no intention of humiliating or degrading the employees or black people in general" []. Is this the kind of "satire" that "loyal friends" would willingly submit to? Is this the kind of sociopolitcal statement that exposes the folly and stupidity of racism? What credibility is there in any such claim when the producers of such a video reside in a hostel that exists purely for the sake of preserving a racially exclusive haven for white students? I buy none of their excuses, I am not sorry to say.

Then, there is the charming defense of the Head Student of the Reitz Hostel, Pieter Odendaal, when he agonised over the response of what I assume to be black students on campus: "They said they will rape our girlfriends and our sisters and they will not stop before the hostel closes, is set on fire or when they see a Reitz student lying in his own pool of blood". As alarming and reprehensible as such statements may be, it hardly comes as a surprise to me that these students would now want to point the finger at others and by so doing deflect attention away from the real issue. Odendaal also cries about the negative impact of the emotional tensions on the academic efforts of Reitz residents.

The lawyer who represents the black university employees who are seen in the video, Lesley Makgoro, pointed out that the staff were not aware of the purpose of the video and that "with deft editing, the video was a protest at integration, ridiculing the very women who would often 'rescue' a drunken Reitz resident from the garden where he had passed out" []. One of the black employees remarked: "It has affected us badly. We trusted the students and they betrayed us". Another said: "I'm very hurt. We treated them like our children". It is clear to me that these students are the ones who were having the fun at the cost of the black employees. Their motives for producing the video are indisputably racist. Their defense and mock-surprise at the consequences are entirely incredulous. There is no justification for indulging in this kind of supposed innocent student fun in a country that had witnessed so much pain, devastation and bloodshed in the name of a racist political ideology that has rightly been called a sin against humankind. Is Afrikaner racism alive and well? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Friday, February 22, 2008


Saturday, 23 February, 2008
In the Khaleej Times of today, page 4, there is a small article titled "Imam of Kaaba hails efforts to promote learning of Quran". In it, Dr. Abdul Rahman Sudais, Imam of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, pointed out that a "true Muslim" is someone who "must follow Islamic teachings in all his deeds and at all times and not only when faced by problems as it is the case for many Muslims".
Bravo! It is sad but true that religious polemicists of whatever persuasion are too eager to point out the supposed "inherent faultlines" of a specific religion by drawing attention to those inauthentic examples of faith-practice that clearly defy the essence of religion. A true Muslim, says Dr. Sudais, is someone whose life is infused with the values and teachings of Islam. Islamic principles are relevant to "all deeds" and at "all times". Few statements could be clearer than this one.


Saturday, 23 February, 2008
In 2000, UNESCO spearheaded an international education initiative known as "Education for All".
The article points out: "...enrolment in primary schools increased by 11 per cent between 2005 and 1999. Opportunities for education beyond the primary level also expanded notably as well as gender equality, with more girls enrolled in secondary schools and universities." At the moment, Arab education ministers are meeting in Doha, Qatar, to discuss and evaluate progress in Arab education and to review Mid-Term achievements in this regard.
An article in the Gulf News ( remarks in its introduction: "Arab countries have improved their educational policies but not enough to meet the Education for All goals by 2015". It points out further: "...the Arab region is far from achieving its goals".
Some of the key education challenges facing the Arab region include: adult illiteracy rates (around 30% or 57 million adults); around 6 million children are not in school; grade repetition; irregular school attendance; high drop-out rates; the rapid growth of primary school age children (estimated at around 13% in the next decade); insufficient numbers of teachers (the number should increase by about 26% to meet education demand needs).
On a positive note, some of the improvements in the Arab region include: most Arab countries spent around one-fifth of their total Government expenditure on education in 2005; primary school enrolments increased by 12% between 1999 to 2004; and, secondary school enrolments increased by 25% since 1999 (currently around 28 million students).
It is perfectly reasonable, therefore, for Arab countries to be selective in the quality of teachers that are employed in the region, especially the expat teachers that contribute to the improvement of education with the view to reaching the objectives of the Education for All programme of UNESCO. All in all, my point is that expat teachers in the Arab region play an important role in this regard, and that their work is highly significant in the broader context of developments in Arab education. I suggest that expat teachers sensitise themselves to these educational issues and remind themselves that their individual contributions are, indeed, important.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Saturday, 16 February, 2008

In an article in today’s Gulf News, “Oops! The man can’t read,” the following remark is made by Fawaz Turki (Arab journalist, lecturer and author) about the challenging state of affairs with regard to education in the Arab world:
“Unless Arab countries make the improvement of their educational system a top priority, because education goes hand-in-hand with economic development and social progress, Arabs will continue to fail in meeting the challenges of modernity.” Bear in mind that 60% of the population of the Arab region is under 30 years of age! Here are some background facts to put the above statement in context:

[1] The countries of the Arab world, in 2005, together produced 13,444 scientific publications. This is fewer than the 15,455 published by Harvard University alone.

[2] The Arab-based Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation reported that 30% of the approximately 300 million people in the Arab world were illiterate.

[3] Another alarming statistic is quoted. It is pointed out that by the end of the 20th century the Gross National Product per capita of all Arab countries combined was slightly more than that of Spain, a country with only 15% of the population of the Arab world.

[4] Turki further points out that countries like the UAE have created a $10 billion (Dh36.7 billion) foundation to establish research centres in Arab universities, but he reminds us that there are still elementary and secondary schools in Yemen, for example, with classes holding 100 students each. In Morocco there are also many schools where teachers are themselves barely literate. [These two countries are named in the World Bank report as "the worst educational reformers".]

What is abundantly clear is that expat teachers like me have their work cut out for them. Ours is a noble task anywhere and in any situation, but here in the Gulf it takes on special significance.

More about this article can be found at:


Saturday, 16 February, 2008
In South Africa, 12 million learners attend school daily. This week, the South African Institute of Race Relations [SAIRR] reported the findings of a Progress in International Reading Literacy study that place South African schools at the bottom of the heap in terms of school safety.
A spokesperson for the Institute, Thomas Blaser, remarked: "In that study South African school pupils were asked whether they felt safe when they were at school and if they had experienced incidents of stealing, bullying, and injury to themselves or to others in their class the last four weeks. Only 23 percent of South African pupils said they felt safe at school. On average South Africa's schools ranked more than 20 percentage points below the world-wide average of 47 percent...".
Of course, in response, the National Department of Education retreated into the usual denialism by pointing out that the SAIRR "has fallen prey to a political agenda, and in so doing has severely damaged its credibility". The Director-General of the Department of Education, Duncan Hindle, pointed out that the data used by the SAIRR only reflect learners' perceptions, and not, in fact, reality: "Feeling something does not make it so."
Here is the clincher:
[1] The Department's own records show the following facts - 24% of South African schools have no burglar bars; 35% of schools have no security gates; and 80% of schools have no alarm systems.
[2] To demonstrate how irrelevant the findings of the study are, Mr. Hindle pointed out that the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, (for long a personal favourite of mine!) recently launched a programme to provide South African schools "seriously at risk" with fences, lighting, security guards and even metal detectors!
[3] The Department of Education also sponsored legislation in 2007 for providing for the search and seizure of dangerous weapons and drugs at school.
Now, my question is simple - If there were no problem, why would there be a need for points 2 and 3 above? It seems hardly demonstrative of the Department's belaboured position to admit the problem by sponsoring the passing of legislation when, in fact, there is no problem to address.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CRY MY BELOVED COUNTRY - DIE BEELD/THE STAR [Thursday, 14 February 2008]

As I sit today in the desert of the United Arab Emirates, I read and reread the news about my country, South Africa. I turned to the Afrikaans newspaper Die Beeld []. Here are 5 short stories that explain why I cry about my country.
1. Young student dies after car hijacking. Ryan Holmes [22] died yesterday in the Muelmed Hospital in Pretoria after being hijacked by 3 thugs in the driveway of his own home. Another young life pays the price for the plague of criminality that has gripped my beautiful country.
2. South Africa sits on a trauma time bomb. "South Africa is in big trouble. The country is already paying the price for children who are living in fear due to crime or who have personally experienced the trauma of crime," reads an article. An ex-university lecturer of mine, Professor Kobus Maree, remarked: "And the country will pay this price for long. We are not fooling our children: they know what is happening." [Translated from Afrikaans]
3. Young girl dies in crossfire between robbers and security guards. Emily Williams [12] died the day before yesterday when she was killed by a stray bullet in the crossfire between robbers and security guards.
4. Thug rule in South Africa. A gang of men who pretend to be traffic officials are targetting and robbing motorists in the Ogies region by pretending they are traffic officials.
5. Another victim of car-hijacking. Mr. Bruno Baptista [29] of Regents Park in Johannesburg was shot by car-hijackers who ambushed him in his drive way when he returned home from work at 17.40 the day before yesterday. These criminals were waiting for him and pounced on him from his neighbour's garden by jumping over the wall.
Much good has also happened in my new South Africa for which many people are eternally grateful. I shall reflect on some of those wonderful things in due course too. Those dark and dire prophets of doom who only see the bad, the worse and the worst are the types that plunge perceptions of Africa into the deepest tar pits of despair and gloom. Sensibility prevails when the fault-lines in South African society are not examined at the cost of the reasons to celebrate. But, alas, for now it is time to weep with and for all those who have suffered and are suffering so despairingly under the surge of crime and lawlessness.

Friday, February 8, 2008

NEW EVANGELICAL CHURCH IN ABU DHABI - Saturday, February 09, 2008 / Safar 2, 1429

To illustrate the goodwill that is characteristic of an authentic Islamic society, today's edition of the Gulf News has an article on a new Evangelical Church that was built in the Abu Dhabi Emirate recently. This building is the home of thousands of Christian worshippers in Abu Dhabi, uniting 21 denominations under one roof. The Pastor, Cameron Arensen, remarked: "The land was granted to us by the rulers of this country, who have been very generous". It is indeed an act of charity and goodwill for Muslims to allow Christians to worship as they choose, even on Islamic soil. The article can be found at:
But, this reminds me of the verse in the Holy Qur'an that makes it clear to Christians that acts like these are not meant to suppose Islamic acceptance of the Christian heresy. Unlike many other religions, Islam is not unclear about what it accepts and endorses as truth. In Aal-e-Imran (chapter 3:64) we read the following inspired words:
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ تَعَالَوْاْ إِلَى كَلِمَةٍ سَوَاءٍ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلاَّ نَعْبُدَ إِلاَّ اللّهَ وَلاَ نُشْرِكَ بِهِ شَيْئًا وَلاَ يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضاً أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْاْ فَقُولُواْ اشْهَدُواْ بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ

Qul ya ahla alkitabi taAAalaw ila kalimatin sawain baynana wabaynakum alla naAAbuda illa Allaha wala nushrika bihi shayan wala yattakhitha baAAduna baAAdan arbaban min dooni Allahi fain tawallaw faqooloo ishhadoo bianna muslimoona.

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to an agreement between us and you: that we shall worship none but Allah, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him).
It is the Muslim call to Christians to come to the truth of Islam that is essentially encapsulated in the shahadah [testimony] that makes one a Muslim: we shall worship NONE but Allah, and we shall ascribe NO partner unto Him, and that NONE of us shall take others for lords beside Allah. Acts of Muslim generosity to Christians would be entirely insufficient without extending to them the ultimate generosity - the privilege of embracing Islam and bowing the knee to the one true God.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


En hier is die verhooggedoente met al die pret. Party ouens het Die Stem probeer sing, en Shosholoza! Ja well no fine...

En die krismiswurm maak toe sulke heerlik-lekker geluide wat mens se tone laat opkrul van knus genot! Ai, hoe lekker was die aand!

Friday, February 1, 2008


Hier is die Bok-man in volle glorie. Min performers kry dit reg om 'n live show te doen wat reg klink en wat die skare rock. Bok jy rock! Dit was ongelooflik om te dink dat ons in die middel van die woestyn was, in 'n vreemde land. Ek skat daar was seker so 'n paar duisend meestal Afrikaans-sprekende expats wat die show bygewoon het. Ten spyte van die koue het ons almal die samesyn terdee geniet. DE LA REY het aan die skare se hartsnare getokkel. Dit was soos 'n lekker boeredag erens in Germiston, Belfast of in die Swartland.

Dankie Bok vir die show en die lekker tyd!


Dit was nou 'n lekker jol by die Al Ain rugbyklub gisteraand. Ewe skielik sak 'n ysige koue neer op die woestyn en almal wat kon het komberse en warm aantrekgoete saamgebring. Die ergste was die stofstorm wat heeldag gewoed het. Die dakke van huise en karre was snoesig omvou in rooi woestynsand. Hoe heerlik was die reuk van kerrie en rys met Mrs. Ball's blatjang, die asemrowende koesisters en klein melktertjies. Hier is 'n foto van my en my kollega, Sharon, ook 'n Engelse onderwyser by my skool. Ons het besluit om die Bok-ding te doen, min wetende dat ons die koue sou moes aandurf. In die agtergrond is is die pawiljoen van die rugbyklub.