Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
21 May 2012

On the real immorality of our society

There are approximately 1.7 million learners at over 5 000 schools in Limpopo. Think about this: For the last six months – almost half the academic year – the Department of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education have failed to provide textbooks to these learners throughout Limpopo, violating their right to a basic education guaranteed in the Constitution.

While the learners of rich parents attending the better schools were probably assisted and while their parents probably bought their own textbooks, those who really need the textbooks are having their education sabotaged by people who could not care less. Surely this is far more obscene than one painting could ever be?

Politicians with their disgustingly large ego’s (often far larger, it seems, than their sense of pride in who they are and in their country or their sense of responsibility as elected servants of the people) and their small tolerance level for hard work have overseen this mess, while enjoying the perks of the Ministerial Handbook and while feeling important about being politicians whose dignity the rest of us are supposed to respect. Stuff the dignity of the poor! Stuff the dignity of the school children being denied a proper education! Let’s rather get into a blue light convoy and drive around Limpopo to show how important we are and to demand respect and to insists that OUR dignity be respected!

Bureaucrats have been playing Tetris on their computers, filing their nails or scheming to land more government tenders by corrupt means (or whatever those bureaucrats do instead of doing their jobs), while indecently neglecting the interests of school children who have been forced to go to school without access to textbooks.

It took Section 27, an NGO engaged in promoting social and economic rights, to approach the North Gauteng High Court to do something about this disgrace. That is why last week Judge Kollapen ordered the delivery of textbooks to schools in Limpopo and the implementation of a catch-up plan for Grade 10 learners. Judge Kollapen ordered the DBE and the Department to deliver textbooks to all schools in Limpopo by no later than 15 June 2012.

He further ordered that a catch-up plan must be formulated and a copy lodged with the court and the applicants by 8 June 2012. The catch-up plan must identify gaps in curricula and the extent to which the quality of teaching and learning has been prejudiced by the lack of textbooks. The Court ordered the Department to indicate what remedial measures will be put in place to address these problems. They are also required to lodge monthly reports with the court and the applicants on their compliance with the catch-up plan, which must be concluded by the end of this academic year. In addition, Grade 10 learners throughout the Province will benefit from the catch-up plan, which will assist them in closing the gaps in their syllabi caused by the late delivery of textbooks.

While many South Africans seem to have gotten rather upset (in a choreographed expression of moral outrage) about the supposedly inhuman, racist, degrading and humiliating painting of our President because the painting depicts – gasp! – a penis, the real inhuman, racist, degrading and humiliating neglect of our government selling the school children of Limpopo down the drain goes unremarked on. Why worry about a few million starving children when one can get cross about the Presidential willy.

I guess it would be too shameful to feel disgusted by this criminal neglect of our government, because then we would have to confront the immorality of the very system which we often condone or benefit from. We would have to confront the fact that millions of South African children are not only denied decent schooling but also grow up hungry and exposed to preventable disease and that as a society we can do something about it but that – collectively – we do not care enough to take action or to force our government to take action. Far easier to howl in anger about the depiction of a Presidential willy than to confront the real moral decay at the heart of our society, namely our collective disgust and hatred of the poor and our blind celebration of those who acquire material things and our own mad chase after money and material things that might, momentarily, make us feel as if we are worthy of the kind of respect we demand being shown to a second rate politician.

(In any case, what is so special about a man’s penis? Unless one is a patriarch who sees the penis as a symbol of male power and unless one believes a man deserves special treatment and can demand special respect merely because he happens to have a little willy, that organ is a rather silly, inconsequential and laughable appendage, not much different from the belly button or the small toe. Those who invest it with so much meaning – which includes the artist in question – are really just perpetuating male domination and a belief in male superiority by investing the phallus with an almost mystical importance – I almost wrote impotence.  How ridiculous and irrelevant.)

What kind of a country do we live in where so many people can get so angry about a painting of a silly willy, but can blithely ignore the disgusting and even criminal neglect by our government of the education system in one of the poorest provinces in South Africa? Why are we not marching to the President’s house demanding answers about the fact that a new Unicef report – yet to be released – found that 11.5million of the country’s 19 million children are living in poverty. The report states that 7 million children are living in 20% of the poorest households and shows that poor children are 17 times more likely to experience hunger and three times less likely to complete school than children from wealthier backgrounds.

Why are we not outraged at the fact that the government is sabotaging the future of hundreds of thousands if not millions of (mostly black) children (in Limpopo and elsewhere) because government officials and politicians are either too lazy, or too lacking in respect for themselves and their fellow citizens, to do their jobs properly and because those who have money and power (also those working in the private sector) are too greedy to pay more taxes and so many others are too scared of speaking out about the injustices and coprruption around us for fear of being ostracised by friends and family who continue blindly to support the ANC government?

We live in a country where the human dignity of millions of people are daily disrespected in a systematic and structural manner. What kind of dignity is it that we supposedly are so respectful of if we allow, through our silence or our greed, a situation to continue in which many South Africans are dying of hunger or go to bed at night shivering in the cold and wet under a bridge? Surely, we should all feel ashamed and disgusted that so many of our fellow citizens have very little freedom and cannot make meaningful life choices because they are unemployed, hungry and sometimes homeless? The immorality of the social and economic inequality and the depravation around us is something that should anger us all.

Surely if we are going to get angry (and we should), it should not be because of a self-righteously fake morality conjured up by patriarchs about something as utterly banal as a (not-real) depiction of a rather small part of the human anatomy? So where is the anger about the true immorality that is at the heart of this society we live in?

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