Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NPC Diagnosis: SA serious, but not critical

South Africa is suffering from a chronic illness. Why is she so sick and what are the root causes of her ailments? The government-appointed National Planning Commission (NPC) seeks to provide some answers in its recently released Diagnostic Overview report by taking "a broad, cross-cutting, independent and critical view of South Africa."

Cyril Ramaphosa, NPC Deputy Chairperson

Deputy Chairperson of the Commission, Cyril Ramaphosa, and head of the NPC Secretariat, Kuben Naidoo, presented their findings at a forum held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science last week. The discussion provided a sobering examination of some of the country's structural defects, but was also defined by a spirit of optimism and frankness.

As stated in the NPC report (available online), the mandate of the Commission is "to help define the South Africa we seek to achieve in 20 years time and to map out a path to achieve those objectives. The commission is expected to put forward solid research, sound evidence and clear recommendations for government." [p.1]

Ramaphosa reiterated these objectives by highlighting the NPC's broad consultative nature and its attempt to achieve consensus on where the country is going. "We are consulting at a fairly deep level," he said, "through various forms and structures of society, from business, to NGOs, trade unions, religious organisations, you name them."

Ramaphosa spoke of the need for a guiding vision similar to the one that propelled the constitutional negotiations in the early 1990s, of which he was a principal player. "We need a vision statement for SA that when you read it, you can't help getting goosebumps," he said.

Roelf Meyer conducted the debate

According to the report, South Africa faces an overwhelming array of problems. These include low employment, poor education and a health care system struggling to cope with "a massive disease burden." The difficulties experienced today are the result of an enduring apartheid legacy coupled with poor policy planning and shoddy implementation post-1994.

The SA economy is also too resource-intensive claims the NPC, making it susceptible to capricious global commodity cycles [p.17]. "South Africa is a typical colonial economy," said Ramaphosa, "It is far too extractive in nature." Diversification is sorely needed to make the SA economy more agile, he argued.

Another focus of the report was on urban geography where there are "spatial challenges that continue to marginalise the poor" and infrastructure that is inadequate [p.19]. For example, poor South Africans are typically located on the margins of country's major cities and are forced to rely on expensive, unsafe and unreliable forms of transport in order to make a living.

These and other factors entrench the existing status quo of low growth and an unequal distribution of resources and wealth. In fact, reducing inequality is one of the core objectives of the National Planning Commission [see p.26].

Kuben Naidoo, head of the NPC Secretariat

Kuben Naidoo noted that one of the principal challenges facing SA was policy instability in the public sector [p.22]. With every new new minister comes changes in policy, he said, making it difficult to sustain long-term public policy programmes. Naidoo cited the Eastern Cape as an example, where in the 17 years since 1994 there have been a total of 14 MECs for Education. This turnover is far too high, he said.

Add to this the widespread presence of corruption and you have what amounts to a cumulative assault on the legitimacy of the state and its capacity to deliver services. Corruption, explains the NPC, "is particularly damaging to good relations between citizens and the state. It undermines confidence in the democratic system by enabling the better off to exert undue influence over the policy process or obtain preferential access to services." [p.25].

Responding to criticism that the NPC would ultimately be hampered by political constraints, Ramaphosa, who is also a member of the ANC National Executive, was as unequivocal as he could be. "We [in the NPC] will deal more with policy than with politics." he said. "We have to go beyond party interests. We are behoven to SA Inc, and not the interests of the ANC."


Another critical view expressed on the night was that the public consultative process had not gone far or wide enough. One audience member pointed out that the survey had only been conducted online, and in English, vastly narrowing the number of citizens who could participate. Ramaphosa's response was to commit to extending this process further - and in multiple tongues.

Returning to the medical metaphor, Ramaphosa took a cautiously optimistic view: "This patient walks, it is still alive," he said, "This patient is not terminally ill - it can be cured - we just need to find the right remedies."

The patient will find out what those remedies will be when the NPC presents its final plan to cabinet in November 2011. Whether the executive will be either willing or able to implement this plan remains to be seen - and therein lies the Commission's greatest challenge.

Photos: David Ansara

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Looking back at Tunisia and Egypt

The dramatic changes that continue to sweep through the Middle East, described variously as the “Arab Awakening”, the “Arab Spring” and the “Jasmine Revolution”, have shown the true depth of democratic sentiments in a region commonly associated with authoritarianism and limited civil liberties.

The speed and coordination with which dictators have been brought to their knees is the result of a unique confluence of factors: a crisis of raised expectations caused by increased economic opportunities (without concomitant political rights); access to information and the organising power of social networks, and; schisms within the dominant elites in these countries.

However, with the current crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the continuation of this trend has become progressively bloodier and more disorderly. It is therefore sobering to remember where it all started - in Tunisia and Egypt - where the genesis of the Awakening was both peaceful and profoundly democratic.

In a recent forum held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), journalists and analysts sought to explore the origins, future implications and multiplier effects of these two upheavals.


Naeem Jeenah

Academic and activist, Naeem Jeenah chose to reference Vladimir Lenin in his address, whose words he believed aptly reflected the contemporary situation: “There are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen,” Jeenah quoted.

“All of us should feel privileged to live in these weeks when decades are happening," Jeenah said, "when we are seeing lifetimes unfold in front of us in the course of a few months.”

Jeenah was also of the view that too much credit had been given to the mobilization of the middle classes through the internet and social networking tools, and not enough on the role of existing trade union structures, which he claimed were also used as platforms to organise politically.

“In Egypt, we knew that the writing was on the wall for [Hosni] Mubarak and the state when workers in some of the defence industry companies came out on strike,” he said. These movements, he argued, have renewed the belief in the power of people’s mass action to affect meaningful change.


Jean Jacques Cornish

EWN reporter, Jean Jacques Cornish commented on the Tunisian “contagion effect” that had spread from Tunisia to Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Djibouti, Sudan, Jordan and of course, Libya.

Speaking about the lack of adequate forecasting before these events took place, Cornish remarked: “I’ve just come back from Paris where an official driving African policy gave one of those charming Gallic shrugs and admitted, ‘We simply had no idea.’”

This, as information came to light of the French government’s offer to train Tunisian riot police in crowd control tactics as the uprising unfolded. Cornish observed that the French have made an art form of the notion that in international relations a country doesn’t have friends, it has interests.

Not only had Western powers failed to predict the changes in Tunisia, he argued, but had also tacitly tolerated Ben Ali’s authoritarianism for the sake of stability - while preaching democracy elsewhere.

On this point Naeem Jeenah was also scathing, pointing out that both Tunisia and Egypt, with their high growth rates and relatively open economies, were regarded as model states by the IMF and the World Bank before 2011. Even the Mo Ibrahim Index of good governance ranked Tunisia and Egypt eighth and ninth respectively. “I really think we should chuck that list out the window right now,” Jeenah scoffed.


Tom Wheeler

Looking at the sustainability of democracy after the uprisings, former South African ambassador Tom Wheeler observed that many have questioned whether democracy is indeed possible in the Muslim world. He cited two examples where this is most definitely the case: Indonesia and Turkey.

Looking specifically at Turkey, which was an authoritarian state for most of the time that he was posted there (1997-2001), Wheeler noted that under the mildly Islamist government elected in 2002 there have been several significant steps taken towards democratic consolidation.

For one, the role of the military in state affairs has been drastically reduced. Moreover, in its attempt to join the European Union, the Turkish government has also had to conform more rigorously to international human rights standards and move away from the authoritarian secularism so similar to Ben Ali’s Tunisia and Mubarak’s Egypt.

“Although you have this Islamist government it is also more democratic, it is more responsive to the people, it is trying to deal with the Kurdish issue, and so on,” he said.

“So there is a role model in the Middle East for the countries that are now going through this enormous process of change,” he said.

An uncertain but exciting future awaits these two catalysts of the revolutionary epidemic in the Middle East. Both Tunisia and Egypt have entered an exciting and dynamic period, but their future rests on the establishment of transparent, robust institutions and the rule of law. Only this combination will ensure a lasting social contract for the new order.

Photos: David Ansara

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Foresight 2011

Thought leaders in politics, economics and business recently gathered at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) to forecast how the world will change in the year ahead. They concluded that the global economy will continue to tremble and the South African political arena will once again endure many highs and lows.

Adrian Saville, CEO of Cannon Asset Managers and a senior lecturer at GIBS, identified the greatest challenge for the world in 2011 as being whether or not the traditional powers could break free from the fetters of the recession.

In Saville’s view the developed economies, the US and the EU in particular, had failed to see that this is “no ordinary recession.” The ever-increasing mountain of debt these countries are having to pay off will eventually lead them into a situation similar to that experienced by Japan in the 1990s and 2000s, where endless debt obligations hampered long-term growth.

“The fact that our three largest trading partners, and our three largest investment partners, Japan, Western Europe and North America are going to continue to stutter causes headwinds for South Africa,” he cautioned.

But potential openings also existed for South Africa out of the re-alignment in the international political economy. “We tend to be enamoured with the China and India story, yet Sub-Saharan Africa is growing almost as fast as India and the per capita incomes of Sub-Saharan Africa are higher than India.” he noted. “So we are embedded in an incredible opportunity.”

Dr. Lyal White, a consultant and lecturer at GIBS, echoed this view and noted that 2011 would mark the start of the decade of the Dynamic Markets. He predicted that mature markets would grow by 1.7% (at best), while dynamic markets would grow at an average of about 6.5%. “In short, growth has really shifted from the North and the West, to the South and the East and debt has moved decisively to the North,” he said.

Phuthuma Nhleko, Group President and CEO of MTN, also marvelled at how the tectonic plates of the global economy were shifting. Like Saville, Nhleko saw a chance for SA, Inc. to take advantage of this crisis, especially as corporations begin to engage more actively in the continent (as MTN had done to great success). "Africa is in effect the best-kept open secret from an investment perspective - and a return perspective," he said.

Nhleko also commented on the decline of some of the formerly venerable institutions of the West. “If you had said five years ago that some of the sovereign funds would be taking over Citibank and UBS and so on, somebody would have said ‘you’re smoking something’, but the reality is that this has happened and I think for me that is a fundamental change.”

For Nhleko, demography was a key barometer of future competitiveness, with Europe and Japan rapidly ageing, and the youthful populations of India and China swelling the size of their workforces at a remarkable rate.

Focusing on the public sector and the political realm back home, executive director of FeverTree Consulting, Roelf Meyer argued that the issue of service delivery would be one of the defining points of the coming year and beyond.

“There are huge, huge problems in this area, and they are not decreasing,” he said. “On a daily basis there are more and more local authorities that can’t supply some sort of service that is desperately needed by the people that they are supposed to deliver to.”

Water, electricity and sanitation were all affected, he noted, and those who suffer the most are those who cannot afford to pay for alternative services.

Meyer also observed that this deterioration was not confined to remote areas, pointing to the supposedly developed town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, which is experiencing severe capacity problems. Meyer speculated that campaigning for the local elections in 2011 would lead to even greater delivery shortfalls.

Gauteng MEC for Education, Barbara Creecy discussed some of the immense challenges that have arisen in education, particularly following the prolonged public sector strike that gripped the country in August.

Creecy explained that although the question of “redress, access and equity” in the education system had largely been resolved since 1994, the issue of learner performance needed to be addressed, particularly in maths, sciences and literacy.

Creecy said that institutional factors and the impact of poverty were affecting the state’s ability to make these improvements, and that internal migration and deteriorating facilities were taking their toll. “So not only have we not managed to address historical back-logs, but the back-logs in fact get greater and greater.”

Compounding the problem, approximately 60% of this year’s curriculum simply wasn’t covered owing to an inability on the part of teachers to fully engage with course material. The problem is teacher understanding and knowledge of curriculum content, the MEC said, and not teachers’ level of qualifications, which are relatively high. As an illustrative example, Creecy admitted that in 2008 the department had a sample of matric maths teachers write the grade 6 maths exam and only 60% of them passed.

Shaka Sisulu of Cheesekids argued that young people would react strongly to the increasingly more testing and rapidly evolving environment bestowed upon them by their elders. Sisulu warned that the current establishment will resist some of the pressures of this transition.

“Even though we have always seen the youth being vigorous, and vigorously challenging the status quo, there is [now] a lot more at stake for the status quo globally, but particularly in South Africa.”

Gary Morolo, Chairman of Datacentrix, spoke about the general feelings of anxiety in the country when looking to the future. “As South Africans we have extreme sentiment swings. We are either wildly euphoric or we are deeply pessimistic and we are in one of those phases where we say ‘this country is going to the dogs’.”

While many of these problems are cause for concern, Morolo said it is possible to be vigilant in guarding against abuses of power without resorting to hysteria. To do this the country needs strong checks and balances.

“What we have to ensure is that those important structures of state that are constitutionally protected continue to be that way, that we don’t find ourselves in a position where our institutions are perverted…where we allow the Constitution to be subverted in any way. So long as people are not touching those institutions then we have recourse to do something about it,” he said.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Social Media and the Context for Corporates

By David Ansara and Sarann Buckby

A tweet there, a status update here, a blog post over there. This seemingly inconsequential stream of online commentary has suddenly begun to challenge the orthodoxies of traditional marketing approaches. Granted, corporates may have come to the social media party late, but they are showing every intention of playing catch-up. And those companies that don’t embrace these new methods of communication risk being left behind in the turgid realm of old media.

Justin Spratt, managing partner at Quirk eMarketing, brought some of SA’s top social media thinkers and doers together at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) on Tuesday 12th October. They discussed the effect that new technology platforms are having on brand awareness and consumer behaviour, as well as on society itself.

From left to right, Andre Hugo, Mary Mzumara, Justin Spratt, Mike Stopforth, and Jarred Cinman, who sees the fervour surrounding pop star Justin Bieber as a symbol of the tyranny of the crowd.

The power individuals now have to broadcast their opinions to friends and followers on their networks can be to the benefit or detriment of any brand, no matter how powerful. As news of a company’s triumphs or missteps can spread like a virus, how do marketers and PR agents respond?

Mike Stopforth, founder and CEO of Cerebra, illustrated the power of new media by arguing that brand identity was formed through the collective thoughts, associations, emotions and experiences of the user. Such modes of behaviour have been with human beings forever, he argued, but were now being amplified by technology. “It’s word-of-mouth on steroids,” he explained.

Social media was about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, Stopforth chimed. He urged businesses to empathise with, and listen to, their customers, and to see the product as their buyers do. “It can be very difficult to read the label when we are inside of the bottle,” he said.

The consumer is getting smarter faster than we can keep up, he added, and thus companies looking to understand social media need to get to grips with the idea of community, rather than a de-humanized set of data to be manipulated and codified. “Community-building happens over the long term. It’s not a T20 match; it’s a five day test,” he said.

Jarred Cinman, strategy director at Native, articulated a more contrarian perspective. Firstly, he said, social media has had an insidious effect on people’s conduct, as it cultivates egoism and was highly distractive. “Human beings love distracting things,” he observed, at which point, Stopforth quipped that idling on Facebook in the workplace was “social not-working.”

Justin Spratt, Jarred Cinman, and Mike Stopforth. An audience member playfully reprimanded Stopforth on Twitter for being distracted by his phone during the discussion, to which he tweeted back: "@candiceburin pff. I have the attention span of a goldfish"

The ongoing infatuation with networking is the ultimate opiate of the masses, Cinman scoffed, drawing on Marxist theory. “[Users] might hate a brand, but they’re still talking about brands.”

“It’s a playground for the worst aspects of human nature – greed, power, lust, revenge and the sheep mentality,” Cinman said. He added that the anonymity enjoyed by people commenting on online news articles or YouTube videos allowed racism, sexism and fundamentalism to flourish.

There was also the alienation of having scores of fake friends, which Cinman observed was odd when compared with the increase in depression in young people. “A thousand friends, how could I be depressed?” he joked.

The networks also bred a culture of sameness and unoriginality that he claimed was built into the system. “For me the notion of the long tail is a complete misnomer.” People are clustering around a few ideas and repeating them, he explained.

Mary Mzumara

Mary Mzumara, another managing partner at Quirk, countered this with some revealing examples of the consequences of disobeying the crowd. She used the recent experience of clothing retailer GAP, and its hasty withdrawal of an ill-conceived rebranding exercise. Online users voted down its new logo, forcing the company to revert back to its iconic tag. Judgement was still out on whether this was a marketing coup or catastrophe.

There are three broad categories of social media objectives - sales or marketing gains; increased engagement and; improved relationships or reputation. Mzumara alluded to this by differentiating between sales media and social media.

Employers too, Mzumara suggested, could tap into the power of online crowds and suck the marrow of talent out of their employees by better engaging them on social networks. The only thing stopping corporates from taking the leap is fear and trepidation, she warned.

According to Andre Hugo, a director at Deloitte, the auditing firm had already made that leap, and with amazing consequences. As a pioneer of Deloitte Digital, Hugo spoke of the improved intellectual capital and originality that had come out of obliging employees to generate more ideas and share them on internal networks.

In a recent drive, Deloitte employees created a pool of thousands of original business proposals, half a dozen of which resulted in concrete ventures. The effective internal use of social media whittled a six-month process down to six weeks, and increased the dynamism and elasticity of the business.

Andre Hugo demonstrating the power of social media

Contra Stopforth, Hugo argued that social media was just another set of data that companies could analyse and use. He illustrated this with a series of inkblot graphs that demonstrated the spread of key messages through targeted networks. Hugo’s approach highlighted how online data can inform and improve communication tactics, resulting in a better return on investment for companies.

The panel expressed the view that if corporates did not integrate social media into their marketing strategies they could be sure their competitors were doing so. This motivation, while true on some levels, seemed to fall prey to the “sheep mentality” derided by Cinman. A more effective approach, as shown in Hugo’s case study, is for marketers to understand what they want to achieve through social media before they set out, and to convince management to buy into the expectations and definitions of success in social media.

The overarching message of the evening was that social networking is fast reaching its zenith and those who do not engage with it will simply be ignored. And whatever you do, don’t ban your employees from surfing their networks at the office.

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Sarann Buckby is a director at Phatic Communications, a digital PR and social media agency. David Ansara is a freelance writer.

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This article was originally written for MBAnetwork, an information portal and networking site for prospective and current MBA students in South Africa.

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Photos: David Ansara

Monday, October 11, 2010

Obama and the Middle East


In April 2009, my friend Robert Krause and I took part in a series of televised current affairs programmes in London featured on the news channel Press TV. The show was called Forum, and was structured around audience participation and debate. Above is an excerpt from the episode focusing on 'Obama and the Middle East' and contains both mine and Mr. Krause's questions to the panel.

Robert Krause: "It's very possible that even according to some Israeli NGOs that actually the two-state solution has already been, or is about to be, buried just by the sheer scale of settlement construction, [and] bypassed roads in the West Bank, which have sliced up the territory and made a Palestinian State economically impossible; so how is Obama going to react to the death of the two-state solution and find other solutions (a single state solution or a bi-national solution)?"

David Ansara: "Do you think Mr. Obama will be able to adopt a more principled position towards Israel, rather than one that just solely protects Israel's interests?"

I do not believe that America solely protects Israel's interests, as I implied unsubtly in my question to the panel, but the country still remains the most important strategic ally for the US in the Middle East. This has not changed under President Obama, who has nevertheless bravely attempted to bring both parties to the negotiation table, albeit with limited success.

It will be interesting to observe how he reacts to the current thaw in the Israeli settlement construction freeze on the West Bank. Even if there is an extension of the freeze period, the issue could be sufficiently sticky to prompt the withdrawal of the Palestinian Authority from the present negotiations. Obama will have to use all his persuasive powers to keep them at the table.

Perhaps Mr. Krause is correct when he suggests that a unitary state within a single set of borders might be a better option than the two-state solution. I don't know for sure, but I still think that two sovereign territories along the 1967 borders would be preferable. However, if the Palestinians are left with a cantonized, segmented territory, then that might not be acceptable to them and a negotiated settlement could remain forever elusive. Alternatives such as the one expressed here by Mr. Krause should be seriously considered if both sides wish to see peace sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Small Movie with a Big Message



The South African film A Small Town Called Descent is currently being screened at the Tri Continents Film Festival in Johannesburg. Directed by first-time filmmaker Jahmil X. T. Quebeka, the film is a hard examination of some the ugly realities of contemporary SA.

Descent is not the easiest film to watch: production and sound quality are variable, the plot takes too many twists and turns, and there is an over-reliance on stock footage, which sometimes detracts from the narrative and the characters before you.

That said, there is something quite brutal and honest about Quebeka’s confrontation of the xenophobic violence of May 2008, and the effect that these events had on the collective psyche of the nation.

Moreover, his work documents how the gush of violence exposed a deeper uncertainty about the institutions of our democracy and the perception of our own moral certainty after the end of apartheid. The fallibility of our policing services and the difficulty of their task in an environment of official lawlessness and corruption was another striking aspect of the film.

I caught up with one of its stars, Paul Buckby, who will be familiar to fans of television series Generations, and Egoli. He is also currently on our TV screens as detective Eddie Holmes on Isidingo on SABC3.

David Ansara: In the film you play a member of the Scorpions tasked with investigating a xenophobic attack in the titular (and fictional) Karoo town of ‘Descent’. Describe your character and what motivates him.

Paul Buckby: The character I play is a Scorpion called 'Nathan Liebowitz'. The idea of giving him an Israeli identity was to avoid the too-often-seen, stereotypical relationship between the black cop and the Afrikaner cop. This also helps to mystify him somewhat. Nathan alludes to having served in the Israeli Special Forces and in the SA Parabats, so he's not an open book as far as his experience is concerned. He is motivated by seeing justice done and takes his career seriously.


DA: What were the challenges of playing Liebowitz?

PB: Liebowitz is a walking paradox. He appears to be in complete control of his world around him, but inside he wages war with his demons. To show this contrast gently, was a challenge.

DA: Descent is wide-ranging in terms of its subject matter. In fact, it probably tries to tackle too much (xenophonbia, corruption, gender violence, the legacy of Apartheid, crime, racism, etc). But it nevertheless paints an interesting portrait of the eventful period between the end of 2007 and late 2008. What themes in the film resonated most strongly with you, and how have audiences reacted to the issues portrayed in the movie?

PB: South Africa certainly offers the film maker a kaleidoscope of subjects to focus on and I agree with you that maybe director Jahmil X. T. Quebeka tackled too many of them at once, but so much was going on around that time, not least of which, was the sudden recall of Thabo Mbeki. It’s hard to avoid references to Apartheid in this film or corruption for that matter, which has become cannon-fodder for the media. Xenophobia, a term I hadn't really heard of until 2007-8, has now become a part of my daily dialogue.

The variety of subjects shown in Descent has certainly gotten audiences talking. However, the Issue of xenophobia is to me what the film is all about. Even though the Scorpion characters have different backgrounds and political convictions, they discover that their humanity is a constant and it brings them together.

DA: The role was very physical and there are several action sequences. Were you up to the task?

PB: It’s amazing how willing actors are to throw themselves into risky situations, just to get the perfect shot. The fight sequence with 'Demon' (John Dlamini) was very physical and he was great to work with. He has no experience as an actor, but rose to the occasion admirably.
There is a scene where we are grappling with each other near some shacks, when he is choreographed to pick me up and bulldoze me into a shack wall. After a slightly measured first take, I asked him not to hold back his aggression. Well, the second take was somewhat different…

Paul Buckby in action as Nathan Liebowitz

He picked me up with the same ease as I would a sheaf of wheat and rammed me into the shack. I felt something give in my rib cage, which left me winded! I was in agony, but we had to soldier on. The sequence shows me wincing, which I used, without any choice, to full effect. It took me a month to recover from what I thought was a broken rib, but turned out to be less than so. It was worth it!

DA: Ouch. What were some of the other highlights from the shoot for you personally?

PB: The black Golf GTi played a vital role, not only as the 'Scorpionmobile', but as a car I really enjoyed driving around our shooting location, Somerset East. It’s an awesome car to drive. It created a stir with the locals, who must've thought we were the real deal.

I remember an amusing incident one morning: We were standing next to our Gti, adorned in imposing Scorpion insignia and a blue light. We were waiting to get the call to set, fully kitted out in Kevlar vests and wearing our 9mm Brownings, when a coloured gentleman, looking quite distressed, asked if we could assist him to break up a fight between two farmers! I must say, I was tempted to do so! I'm sure we would've diffused the situation, even though our sidearms were empty!

DA: A convincing portrayal indeed! There are many graphic depictions of violence and sexual assault in the film. Did you feel it was necessary to show, for instance, the photograph of the Burning Man, the Mozambican Ernesto Nhamuave?

PB: This tragic event is what spawned the idea for the film. When Jahmil saw the photo on the front pages, he was moved to try and investigate this further - if only on a fictional level. The showing of this photo will hopefully serve to remind us of what we don't want to experience ever again.

DA: Has filmmaking become more or less difficult in South Africa, particularly for young or first-time directors? I am referring particularly to funding, logistics, distribution, etc.

PB: I’m planning to produce my first film next year, so maybe I will have to put my answer to that one on hold until I've experienced the challenges for myself. I can say that Anand Singh from VideoVision, the distributor for Descent, said at the recent Durban Film Festival that it’s an exciting time for filmmaking in SA, however, the challenge of securing a distribution deal remains enormous. His advice is to continue making the films you want to make and don't give up.

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A Small Town Called Descent is produced by A Moment's Entertainment and is showing at Cinema Nouveau Brooklyn Mall (18h00) and Rosebank (20h00) tomorrow, Saturday 9th October, 2010. It is scheduled for nationwide release in February 2011.

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Images courtesy of Paul Buckby

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pledge to take back the racial middle ground in South Africa

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My friend Patrick Madden wrote a call to action in April of this year, which was a period of intense racial animosity and uncertainty in the country. He crafted this pledge as a way of restoring some sanity to the discourse surrounding the national question in South Africa, and it bears repeating. See Patrick's explanation as well as the original pledge here.
  • I recognise the feelings of tension and anger felt between people of different races in South Africa today.
  • I recognise that nurturing these feelings undermines our mutual best interests and our highest ambitions for ourselves, our communities and our nation.
  • I recognise my interdependence with all South Africans. I affirm that South Africans of all races and cultures can work together to improve the conditions of our lives and our environment.
  • Recognising our common humanity, I pledge to relate to all South Africans with compassion and respect and to work with them in an atmosphere of openness and mutual recognition.
  • I aspire to create a South Africa that is safe and caring for all. Therefore, I personally vow to refrain from violence and from violent speech towards anyone, regardless of their race or culture.
I was particularly moved by the statement concerning the inherent interdependence of different racial groups. The goodwill of the World Cup went some way towards pushing these concerns aside, but the issues Patrick raises are no less cogent today than they were six months ago. It is the responsibility of all of us to treat others with dignity and respect and to view our interests not simply as a zero-sum racial game.

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Original image: Poplicks.com