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  Annesu de Vos
debuteer in 1980 op 16-jarige ouderdom met die digbundel Gebed van ’n groen perske. Sy studeer aan die Universiteit van die Witwatersrand, maar verlaat die land weens haar man se dienspligweiering voor sy haar studie kon voltooi. Sy werk vryskut in Kanada, waar sy sedertdien woon. Sy het onlangs weer met haar reaksie op Chris Louw se Boetman brief van haar laat hoor.

The fist on the table (and other more important issues)

The following concept models are presented for the reference of all those in government as well as the private sector, non-profit sector and NGOs who may be in a position to consider their implementation as part of the process of giving shape and form to the African Renaissance envisioned by President Thabo Mbeki.

This is intended as a constructive contribution rather than a critique of what has already been accomplished, as it is my personal view that the present government has accomplished a considerable amount in a very short time indeed, and that it is still in the process of facilitating fundamental and essential structural changes in the inherently dangerous and unstable infrastructure inherited from the previous regime.

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Everybody agrees that job creation is necessary; however, perhaps we could usefully work in the area of establishing which jobs should be created and for what purposes. It is to this end that I wish to take the liberty of making a few creative suggestions.

First of all, we obviously need to strengthen South Africa’s social safety net greatly, in order to combat poverty, unemployment and the attendant problems of crime and violence. However, we require a form of social assistance that is not based on mere welfare, but on the development of long-term economic solutions in the form of micro-entrepreneurial enterprise models, start-up strategies and the acquisition of personal financial management skills appropriate for the requirements of the economically challenged.

I came across one potentially workable model in the form of the Calmeadow Metrofund in Toronto, and was interested to see that this fund’s unique “group lending” system was based on research conducted in developing nations rather than on the advice of conventional financial managers.

Researchers into the “group lending” model found that for example an economically challenged woman in a “third world” nation would often, once she has received assistance to start her own business, become a much better credit risk than her archetypal counterpart, the wealthy man in a “first world” country. The reason: the poor work harder at their business ventures, succeed more frequently, and act more responsibly than the extremely wealthy, who often view themselves as “players” and who also tend to view money, other people’s money in particular, as a mere power tool for fun and games. Of course not all rich people operate like this; however, more poor people would operate like the woman in the Calmeadow example if given a chance.

The Calmeadow model consists of allowing a group (minimum of four individuals) to form at its own initiative in the community, and to approach the lending institution (which in South Africa’s case could be the government in the context of an extended national loans programme or financial institutions subcontracted by the government for the purpose of administering such a programme), with their business plans and a request for a small loan, say for $500 each. Once all four members have borrowed successfully at this level and the group has established a good credit rating by showing stable repayment patterns, they can then extend their borrowing capacity and develop lines of credit running into thousands of dollars. The key issue is that the group as a whole is responsible for the credit of the individuals in it; thus if one member defaults, others have to pick up the slack. This reduces the risk to the financial institution in that it is expected that members will have selected their borrowing partners carefully for the sake of protecting their own credit at the outset.

Because South Africa already possesses the traditional stokvel model, I think the group lending system will work very well for all sorts of purposes in that country.

A wide variety of uniquely South African government programmes, yet similar in concept to some Canadian models that I happen to be familiar with and will briefly outline as a starting point, can be created. Programmes similar to Futures (a government-subsidised job creation strategy for young people out of work and out of school), Co-op (a programme where students work in a business approved by the government for this purpose and receive an academic credit while gaining expertise in a real-life environment), Student Ventures (a government start-up loans programme for students who wish to run a business such as a simple T-shirt venture during the summer holidays in order to help put themselves through school), Youth Ventures and New Ventures (enhanced programmes similar to Student Ventures with larger amounts of money involved) can be created and adapted for South African conditions, and even combined with the stokvel and group lending models.

A combination of stokvel, where members each chip in a small amount of money to create a capital pool allowing individuals in the group to take turns at achieving larger financial goals than they may individually manage, and group lending, where the government may match the resources of the stokvel on a rand-for-rand basis and become the group’s active long-term business partner by charging a small amount of interest on the loans, with elements of the above-mentioned Canadian models, could go a long way towards alleviating economic suffering.

Squatter communities and other extremely economically challenged groups should be first in line for this type of social assistance. As long as a community can demonstrate unity and collective responsibility in managing their resources, the government can partner with the poorest of the poor and foster the creation of jobs where none at present exist.

The government may be interested in looking at this stokvel-cum-group lending concept model for the purpose of establishing a national government loans programme whose management and administration can be subcontracted to financial institutions where appropriate, and which can be extended to cover student loans, personal loans, and also of course most importantly, business start-up loans. Even prior to a large-scale government initiative of this nature, financial institutions may gain experience and take the initiative by following the Calmeadow example and starting such loan programmes of their own accord, and then presenting the results of their own field-tested empowerment strategies to the government with the view to expanding the models on a larger, perhaps national scale.

Furthermore, we could perhaps look at a few ideas for job creation as well as business start-ups.

With regard to municipal or local government, I think the highest priority should be a recycling strategy in every municipality in South Africa. Serious money is thrown away every day in the form of recyclable materials such as cardboard, paper, aluminium (cans and foil dishes alike), many types of plastic, glass bottles and even other materials such as disposable diapers. A recycling technology actually exists here in Canada by which paper and mixed plastic products are made from disposable diapers after the human waste is cleaned up and disposed of safely. In the case of the diapers, a private company recycles them and members pay a small fee to have their diapers picked up regularly and handled in this environment-friendly way.

Recycling revenues that by rights should go to the municipalities for many other recyclable items are in South Africa at present simply tossed in the garbage. This is a huge area of potential job creation, since no recycling infrastructure exists at present and the government would need to establish recycling depots and plants where the materials are processed, in every municipality as well as invest in considerable additional labour and transportation resources for the weekly or bi-weekly separate removal of recyclable materials in addition to ordinary garbage.

Public education is needed on a grand scale in this area, but the fact that it is also a huge source of potential jobs for relatively unskilled labour, in addition to the fact that municipalities would make money by selling the recycled materials to industry, should make this a priority area for immediate action.

Again on the municipal / local government level, enormous shortages are seen in facilities for children. Here in Canada we have a magnificent tradition called the “parent-child drop-in”. This basically consists of a public space such as a school classroom or a church hall, where couches and chairs are strategically placed and comfortably arranged for mothers to sit and drink free coffee at the expense of local government while children play peacefully with collectively owned toys.

South Africa needs spaces for children so desperately that the introduction of a local parent-child drop-in in every community would be a huge success. Every school building should host one. Every church should host one. Again, each drop-in represents a potential opportunity for job creation, as it is usually staffed by at least three highly experienced and qualified child-care professionals who rotate shifts, and is also often visited by health nurses and other professionals who give advice to parents. Drop-in hours may range from 9 a.m. in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon, with some hosted by community centres and others by churches and schools. Drop-ins also typically provide a toy library and a clothing exchange. The toy library provides an opportunity for children to borrow toys for a couple of weeks, and the clothing exchange provides free clothes which are donated by parents whose children have outgrown previously used items which are then picked up by the next parent who may have smaller children to take over the clothes.

Children need safe public spaces. Parks and wading pools are needed in every community, with all the opportunities for job creation that this implies. Wading pools have to be drained daily and kept very clean, and each wading pool has to have a staff member employed by the local government to watch over the safety of children. Garbage is a no-no around these spaces. Again: job creation opportunities abound in context of providing such facilities to all South Africans.

It is a tragedy that so few spaces exist for South African children to play and relax in. The focus on children’s spaces and creating a decent environment for kids, would in my view be the most important priority of all in the African Renaissance. To create an environment that is fit for kids to live and thrive in: no job could be more important than that.

There are many more ideas where the above came from, but space is limited. If anyone who has an actual practical use for such an idea requests it of me, I will be happy to contribute more according to my knowledge and understanding.

These concepts and ideas demonstrate clearly that there are issues far more pressing and urgent in my view, grassroots issues that concern all South Africans, and that they are more interesting to me at least, than any narrow cultural issues surrounding Afrikaans.

I take an extremely dim view of the cynicism levelled at the concept of the African Renaissance by writers and would-be intellectuals who have nothing better to do than to engage in visually lousy and badly executed verbal pyrotechnics. They agonise to no end about the future of Afrikaans, a question which Jakes Gerwel settled rather admirably already in an excellent address at a Skrywersgilde meeting in 1983, where he stated calmly that if there are Afrikaans speakers around fifty years from now, there will be an Afrikaans language around fifty years from now. This seemed to make logical enough sense to me at the time, and it still does.

The “survival” of Afrikaans is a question which, as Ebrahim Harvey points out in a recent column on the topic (“Afrikaans: the product of a racist history,” Mail & Guardian, June 23 to 29, 2000) where he quotes from that very same Gerwel address, has always been a white man’s obsession. My intuition concurs with Harvey’s and Gerwel’s that the entire issue of linguistic “struggle” is deeply irrelevant for the majority of South Africans.

I asked a black Afrikaans-speaking friend of mine at Wits to contribute to the recent debate on the issue of Afrikaans as instigated by Chris Louw and friends; however my friend shrugged in email and said that the issue leaves him cold. I wish this to be known to those among my colleagues here who so love to refer to the fact that Afrikaans has “brown” speakers too: what a racist term this is in any event; this frequent allusion to the “other” Afrikaners shows no awareness of black consciousness, and less respect; it even betrays the absence of any actual conversation having been conducted on the issue with any of these conveniently darker speakers.

Harvey, again in that same article, sees exactly what I have seen: the fact that these “taalstryders” love to manipulate the concept of the black Afrikaans speaker, even as the “coloured” community as a whole has always been the target of manipulative tactics, often with regrettable success, by white Afrikaners in the attainment of their own political goals.

I may add to this the observation that there is a recent phenomenon in Afrikaans which consists of wantonly and wilfully chucking huge chunks of English right into Afrikaans sentences. This is not a case of employing township lingo, “skollietaal” or “flaaitaal”; rather it is a brand-new affectation of white Afrikaner wannabe intellectuals who obviously are experiencing a huge identity crisis and inferiority complex, and who have responded to these feelings with the creation of a new Fanagalo of their own, one that I have dubbed Engelkaans or Afringels if you prefer, several fine examples of which can be viewed in the letters column on this very web site, the most strident being the letter by a young lady who signs herself “Des P Raat”. I do recommend you read it, not for the content but as a linguistic phenomenon! It is astonishing.

“Des” describes her fruitless courtship of the archetypal “goeie boerseun”, the sexually decent young Afrikaner man, in a language so garbled that one’s eyes pop at the sheer messiness of it.

If this lady speaks to any extent as she writes (and I am afraid these “artsy” types do exactly that, as I have seen with my own eyes to my absolute horror on SABC television when I visited South Africa briefly last year) then I do believe I have the cure for her lack of success with Afrikaans-speaking men. I strongly recommend that Des take a few remedial classes in the use of the Afrikaans language, preferably from a very strict and old-fashioned teacher.

This Afringels is the work of Afrikaans speakers themselves, and it is the only thing in South Africa that is visible from this distance where I sit, which constitutes an actual threat to Afrikaans. Moreover, the government and the ANC had nothing to do with the creation of Engelkaans: it is the work purely of a large number of Afrikaans speakers themselves who seem to be nothing other than linguistic tsotsis who break and destroy at will that which they regard as their heritage.

My advice to all those who concern themselves with the “taal”, “taalstryders” and “taaltsotsis” alike: first let us see you remember how to speak and write Afrikaans before blaming the government for marginalizing an already marginal culture. I do not believe the government is your problem. Your problem is psychological; it is within yourselves. Your culture has always been marginal. The fact that you were able to exist under the misapprehension that it was anything other than that, was purely a function of apartheid.

I campaigned as far back as 1985 at the Afrikaans Writers’ Guild meeting when it was held at the University of the Witwatersrand, for the removal of Afrikaans as “official” language in the apartheid system.

Precisely because I loved the language, I did not want to see it functioning as the power tool of the government of the day. I argued that I wanted no part of cultural dominance derived from injustice, and nor should we as a professional body of Afrikaans writers accept our role as beneficiaries of such a system. Nobody at the time wanted to hear any of it, but I asked this esteemed professional body if it would not consider affiliating itself with the then UDF and making a clear statement in conscience against the status of Afrikaans as language of the oppressor. An esteemed colleague who shall out of the kindness of my heart remain nameless, beat the table with his fist and yelled, “Annesu, that is enough!”

For a number of Guild members at the time, the abolition of Afrikaans as an official language would have meant diminished royalty cheques from work prescribed in sizeable print runs against the wishes of the black student majority in the schools. How can we appear to forget so soon that this is after all what Soweto 1976 was about? It is so obvious; yet I faced a frightening amount of anger due to the unpopular stance I took, even as I faced the same amount of anger for the simple statement I made recently in response to the “Boetman” debate. I simply said, in that latter case, that it is not so easy to blame everything on “indoctrination” as there were in fact those among the Afrikaners who were capable of thinking for themselves even back then, and there were also actual conscientious objectors who voted with their feet, such as my husband at the time. (Even though he is an English-speaking South African, his mother is Afrikaans, and his parents accepted this move no matter how hard it was for them not to see their son for so many years.) I attempted to reason with Louw’s mythical “Boetman” character, and this did not go down very well either: I was reminded of my earlier participation in Afrikaner intellectual circles and of the fist on the table, and could not help smiling. “Plus ça change.”

I taught for two years prior to the 1985 Guild meeting and again for two years after that, as Afrikaans tutor and later subject co-ordinator in the Education Support Programme (ESP), the Saturday morning classes at Wits where my students struggled to overcome the debilitating influence of a subject which many found difficult to impossible to pass. Afrikaans posed a real obstacle to the attainment of higher educational goals for many of my students, and thus I felt duty-bound to express their feelings to the Guild, which I thought would be sympathetic due to its tradition of opposition to the government. However, as soon as the issue touched any possibility of personal sacrifice by its members, this proud tradition became exposed as the mere thin veneer of fashionable obstreperousness which it always was in truth, and it was embarrassingly plain for all to see the extent to which the Afrikaans Writers’ Guild’s political stance (or lack of same) was (mis)informed by a complete lack of real substance and commitment. The reaction to my proposal was one of righteous fury; hence the fist on the table.

I was completely disillusioned and depressed, until afterwards when an activist came from the townships to convey the thanks of some people there who had seen a report on these events in the Star. “Thank you,” he said, “for giving a voice to the will of the people.” If he had not come to me on that day, I would truly have believed myself the most useless wannabe political activist under the sun, as no-one in my peer group wanted to listen to me. At least the people knew, thanks to that little report in the Star, that someone cared. This made me feel a whole lot better, but it of course did not result in any structural change to anything.

I have, however, chosen not to engage my fire-breathing Afrikaner brethren in any more of this that they call “debate” (which to me seems rather more like intellectual arson), but to concentrate instead on constructive discussions of what may in fact be done at a grassroots level to “win the peace” in South Africa. The challenges of successful day-to-day management in a stable environment without war are arguably far greater yet than the challenge of winning the war itself. It takes real discipline to be organised and efficient without the imposition of a militaristic consciousness.

We know that it is impossible to solve all the problems of the present in the present generation. However, it is possible to create a future for the next generation that will be reasonably safe, secure and prosperous, and this is the only truly important task at present. We owe it to all the children of South Africa that they do not inherit the karma of the old South Africa. It is our obligation towards them to create an environment that is fit to live in. Therefore I ask of my fellow Afrikaners: if you are going to stay in South Africa, please be part of the solution; do not be part of the problem.

I thank you all for listening and I wish you well.

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