Archive for March, 2013

March 11, 2013

March 11, 2013

The Republic of Heaven

I have been privileged this week to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was visiting Croydon to see, and celebrate some of the work of the Tutu Foundation (whose first Chair was the late lamented Colin Slee). With many hundred others, I saw a dance performance blending south Indian music and rhythms with salsa and western dance music, and listended to music combining a drumming ensemble and classical musicians. These were emblems of the Foundation’s work to bring together people of different traditions and backgrounds, and to enable them to celebrate what each has to offer the other. The Foundation has been working in Croydon, as in other area of possible social dislocation and division, to promote ubuntu. What is ubuntu (when it’s not a computer operating system!)?  – here is the Foundation’s own definition:

Said to be the ‘glue’ which held together the volatile and fragile nation of South Africa…

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March 11, 2013

Off to See the World!

“Ubuntu is a concept  that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence  of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot  be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are  generous, compassionate.”

“None of us comes into the world fully formed.  We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings.  We need other human beings in order to be human.  I am because other people are.  A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.”

“Ubuntu  [is] the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about…

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March 9, 2013

Atheism Africa

South Africa’s murder rate is currently placed 10th in the world. That is certainly an improvement, of sorts. We still proudly boast to have the worst rape statistics in the world, violence against children is one of our gravest social ills, and if you add other crime figures, few would doubt South Africa’s status as the most dangerous country outside of current war zones.

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has called on Christians to be South Africa’s moral conscience when it came to crimes such as rape. “There is no better agent than Christians and the church to raise the morals, the moral consciousness of our nation,” Ramaphosa was quoted by the City Press newspaper as saying at the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

“It falls on us as Christians. We must say this is a sin. This is a crime. Rape is a sin and it is a crime.We…

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Ramaphosa’s ‘Christianity to the rescue’ call

March 7, 2013

Opinion: Ramaphosa’s ‘Christianity to the rescue’ call

06 Mar 2013 00:00 – Mpho Moshe Matheolane


From apartheid to the war on terror, religion has been used to further political agendas. Mpho Matheolane wonders what’s behind Ramaphosa’s God call.


Cyril Ramaphosa with President Jacob Zuma. (Gallo)

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A few days ago ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, while addressing a congregation at the Pentecostal Holiness Church’s centennial celebrations in Rustenburg, said Christians needed to “become the moral conscience of our country” and that “this country cares for the Lord” and recognised God’s importance and hegemony.

Strangely, he did not mention any other religion or faith-based groups whose belief system might be different from that of Christianity. In a phrase, the clarion call – at least, that is how I heard it – was “Christianity to the rescue.”

To be fair, Ramaphosa was addressing the issue of the horrid persistence of violence and rape that has marred the South African psyche and landscape – a landscape most of us wonder about with a certain sense of jadedness and fear of what new horrors might be presented on any given day of the week.

Still, I have to admit that I found it rather peculiar that someone like Ramaphosa would dish out such populist-sounding utterances without any circumspection of how it could or would possibly be interpreted.

Ramaphosa, in that brief moment, reminded me that not only has the personal become the political, but that the religious have long since been enveloped by the same distinction. Religion in a sense always was the facilitating agent for politics to entrench itself within the lives of human beings.

Religion continues to be the “opium for the masses” used to perpetuate the causes of politicians and meet their own ends – while sprouting convenient falsehoods of how it is ultimately the people that their actions aim to serve.

Granted, a lot has changed since the days of Pope Alexander IV – father of Cesare Borgias who is believed provided Niccolò Machiavelli with the inspiring and equally frightening archetype for his famous work The Prince. But political use of religion to further interests of the few still remains.

We should remember that it was George W Bush’s invocation of Christianity that formed part and parcel of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. Colonialism itself, along with apartheid, had religion as a source of misguided fortitude to persist with imposing an ideology that was clearly detrimental to those who fell under their subjugation.

Nowadays religious institutions and their leaders are no longer the all-powerful sources of authority. They have been replaced by politicians, often times with derision. But these politicians, for all the history that precedes them, have become as adept if not more so, in their chicanery as some of the religious leaders such as Alexander IV himself. Ramaphosa illustrated this point succinctly when he decided to draw on the spiritual beliefs of his audience in the attempt at getting his message across.

I am willing to believe that his intentions were probably sincere but given the undeniable fact of how the same Christian belief that he was invoking, is just as beset by the same troubles that it is expected to combat, I don’t see how its use in the form of political rhetoric helps in any tangible manner.

There have been reports of priests raping people and molesting children with very little perceivable consequence from the involved religious institutions. Religion, or rather Christianity, has mostly proven to be intolerant of anything that places it in a bad or heavily critical light. Do not get me wrong, I am well aware that there is a difference between religious institutions and agents, such as churches, priests and religious belief itself. But how do we say Christians need to become the moral conscience of South Africa when for example, a well-known South African gospel singer was recently arrested on the grounds of statutory rape and his court appearance was marked by incredible support for him from his fans and ridicule for his 15-year-old victim?

All I know right now is that our problems as a society cannot be easily wished away with the mere invocation of spiritual belief.




What do YOU think?



March 4, 2013


Oscar Pistorius: Big trouble in South Africa, the land that believes in miracles

The unfolding drama of the Oscar Pistorius case has created a wave of soul-searching in South Africa, writes Tim Butcher




The spectacular fall of Oscar Pistorius, national hero turned tearful murder suspect, has raised questions about the state of the nation Photo: Getty Images

By Tim Butcher

7:30PM GMT 22 Feb 2013


It has been a heartbreaking week in South Africa for those who believe in miracles. Ever since Nelson Mandela strode so forgivingly to the close of his long walk to freedom in the early 1990s, modern South Africa has flirted almost recklessly with the ”M’’ word.

The way white rule ended peacefully without the sort of civil war that blighted so many other parts of Africa was recognised, rightly in my view, as little short of a miracle. But from then on the term has been devalued through overuse.

The transformation of the African National Congress from a loose, untried muddle of occasional Lefties, hotheads and radicals into a sober, market-orientated party of government, capable of stewarding the continent’s most powerful economy, was heralded among the white-dominated business community as miraculous.

The victory of the supposedly underdog South African side in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, cheered on by Mandela famously dressed in the same Springbok shirt so symbolically associated with his auld enemy, saw headline writers and filmmakers reaching again for the ”M’’ word.

So ever since, any stand-out South African success whether in sport, entertainment or commerce, has been given the same glowing treatment. To have done well from humble South African beginnings must be a miracle, the narrative goes.

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No surprise then at the title of a major documentary film on the country’s recent history given its premiere a few days ago: Miracle Rising. But fewer believe in miracles than 10 days ago. The spectacular fall of Oscar Pistorius, national hero turned tearful murder suspect, has not just aroused intense international media interest. In South Africa it has brought about a wave of soul-searching: about trust in the police, the cult of celebrity, violent crime and gun control, and faith in the political dominance of Mandela’s beloved ANC.

The announcement of bail for Pistorius also sparked debate on the unlevel playing field in the judicial system where prisons are full of remand prisoners on lesser charges than murder but who cannot afford a high-end defence team such as that retained by Pistorius, whose extraordinary success in securing bail for their client kicked every other story off the pitch.

Indeed, you’d never know from the meagre coverage, but President Jacob Zuma gave the annual State of the Nation address this week. Once a major event, parsed, analysed, processed ad nauseam not just by political observers but also by voters across the country, this one was almost ignored, overshadowed by public obsession with Pistorius.

With a flatlining economy and dipping confidence in the ANC government he leads, President Zuma’s lukewarm performance was not so much criticised as passed over. Such indifference feels very damaging. A nation once so proudly, loudly, engaged with the ANC feels like it might just be in the process of moving on.

Not uncoincidentally, a former stalwart anti-apartheid campaigner, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, broke cover this week to announce the creation of a new political movement, Agang, a name I suggest you take note of for the promise it has to become a significant political player. So widespread had been the support for the ANC, so long the honeymoon it enjoyed for leading the struggle against apartheid, that meaningful opposition in South Africa has struggled since the first fully democratic elections back in 1994.

Today’s main opposition party, known as the Democratic Alliance after several name changes over the years, did achieve a creditable 50 per cent increase in its vote at the last general election. But, shackled by the image that it is still a predominantly ”white’’ party, it still only managed 17 per cent of the national vote, while the ANC captured 66 per cent.

Dr Ramphele, a former lover of Steve Biko, one of the most iconic black rights campaigners murdered by the apartheid regime, is free of any toxic ”white’’ stigma. Her new grouping promises a different challenge altogether for the ANC. These key political realignments have served to amplify the challenge to South Africa’s standard miracle mythology from the Pistorius case.

The Blade Runner who bestrode the London Olympics and Paralympics has become virtually a hunted animal following the Valentine’s Day killing of his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

For years Pistorius, 26, has been a household name in South Africa, where his fight against adversity, overcoming the childhood double amputation of his lower legs to compete as a sprinter in any field, had echoes of the country’s struggle for equality. And it was in London that the Pistorius brand – which is what he had become with multimillion-pound endorsements – went global. So when news broke on February 14 that he had shot dead his 29-year-old girlfriend at his upmarket home on a private estate near Pretoria, interest was worldwide.

Not since the helicopter-mounted camera followed O J Simpson as he was pursued in his white Ford Bronco by the LAPD has the unrolling case against a murder suspect been so meticulously followed in real time.

And while the Simpson case in the mid-1990s predated the internet, Pistorius’s bail application has been put on trial by Twitter, gobbets of material, sometimes fact, sometimes opinion, sometimes irrelevant froth, exploding out of the courtroom like popcorn from a hot pan of oil.

With the legal system allowing for the disclosure at this early stage of so much material that other criminal justice codes, including Britain, would never allow, observers have had rich pickings. The floor plan of Pistorius’s house has been put into the public domain. Within hours this meant you could go to websites where it is possible to virtually walk through his house: from the balcony on the first floor, through the master bedroom before turning right and passing the corner-set bath to the lavatory cubicle where Miss Steenkamp was shot dead.

Facial expressions of his supporters had been tweeted. At times the courtroom looked like a film set, the lighting designed to frame Pistorius aglow while the rest of the room was cast into shadow.

And into the cavernous, insatiable vacuum of international interest issues too serious to be parsed in the staccato of 140-character, stream-of-consciousness, knee-jerk social media feeds have been dragged.

Gun culture is one; the court heard that Pistorius owned at least one firearm and had applied for licences for six more. The internet has filled with ill-informed misrepresentations of South Africa awash with guns. The facts tell a different story: 12 guns for every 100 people, compared with 31 in France, 45 in Switzerland and 88 in America.

Police bungling has spawned more criticism after the first investigating officer, Hilton Botha, admitted contaminating the crime scene by not wearing protective overshoes, misrepresenting as a banned steroid a herbal remedy in Pistorius’s bathroom, and other oversights.

It then turned out he faces seven counts of attempted murder following a shooting two years ago. Botha has now been relieved of the case. But if crimes were only solved by perfect police officers then few crimes would be solved anywhere.

As a foreigner who chooses South Africa as a home to bring up my children, the Pistorius case underlines this important point. This is a work-in-progress country. The people are no more or less violent than anywhere else in the world but the turbulence of their recent history does lead, unsurprisingly, to problems with crime, bungling police and celebrities who face enormous and potentially unmanageable pressure from newly acquired wealth and status.

South Africa has a very dynamic equilibrium, the equilibrium of a rugby ball balanced on its end. Britain feels like the ball on its side, easy to rock back to a resting position if nudged, whereas South Africa wobbles dramatically when pushed. I love that sense of edge, of unpredictability and dynamism. But one thing it has taught me: don’t believe in miracles.

Tim Butcher, former Africa bureau chief of ‘The Daily Telegraph’, is the author of ‘Blood River’ and ‘Chasing the Devil’



“To live in Africa, you must know what it is to die in Africa”,

– Ernest Hemingway

March 3, 2013

Unsung Heroes: People Shining a Light in a Sometimes Dark World

darkness tunnel

lightpinprick2Batting legend opens a new innings

September 30 2011 at 12:24pm


Dominic Barnardt

KNYSNA, SOUTH AFRICA – APRIL 24, Barry Richards and Wessel Witthunn during the Castle Lite pre-dinner drinks on April 24, 2010 at the Simola golf resort in Knysna, South Africa. Photo by Dominic Barnardt / Gallo Images

BARRY Richards was the kind of genius who always found the game pretty easy. Life, however, has proved a more difficult opponent.

Last week, Richards paid a brief visit to the city of his birth and spoke about his family tragedy, his new life in South Africa, the forthcoming visit of Australia and the game he loves.

For a man blessed with such talent, life has not been easy for Richards. Because of apartheid, he only played four Tests for his country in that much-remembered Australian tour from January to March 1970. In those four matches, at Newlands…

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March 1, 2013

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