Friday, June 20, 2008

Time to Get Your Hopes Up

Hope is a fragile thing these days in South Africa. Can you dare to hope?

Scores have left these shores to craft their lives overseas because their hopes in the future of South Africa had diminished to the point where they could not see a decent lifestyle for themselves or their children in the future. Those that have remained try hard to hope, certainly I do, but every now and then on a rainy day our grasp on the dream seems to weaken.

It's difficult to bring yourself to the point of saying: that's it, this country is doomed and there's nothing we can do. We talk easily of being the next Zimbabwe, but I'd say most of us still cherish a little bit of hope that South Africa might still come out okay.

The problem comes here: do you take risks? Do you buy a house which will take 20 years to pay off? Do you start a multi-million rand business? Do you invest in a pension plan? Do you do anything that could be jeopardised if things went haywire in 15 years time?

The problem is ... the very decision to hedge your bets is what accelerates the downfall. When the good guys keep battling away, the country manages to keep ticking over. To stop trying because you believe there is no hope becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The simple truth is that an effective country and economy depends on the many individuals each playing their part. It doesn't depend ultimately on a government, although government can certainly have a huge influence. South Africa's long-term failure would be partly down to government failure, but it would also be down to those who decided to stop trying.

This is a memo to self: get your spirit up regardless of your circumstances, take managed risks, dare to dream, step out and do what needs to be done, hope eternally.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why the Media Misrepresent the Real Picture

Perched on the edge of his leather chair, the chief editor of the local newspaper weighs heavy decisions. He's been presented with three articles: the city's favourite sports team won their third game in a row, pothole-ridden Oak Avenue got repaved, and a city policeman was seen getting drunk at a city party. There are only two slots available. Obviously sports always sells. Of the two remaining stories, which one is more likely to sell? It's easy.

Frankly, when it comes time to tell stories, an editor is always likely to choose something more dramatic and more sinister. Take a topical issue like global warming for example. Ten university professors submit their opinions on climate change. One says: "The coastal cities are going to be swamped within 15 years if we don't do something right now." I'll be honest and admit I'd find that more interesting than his colleague who wrote: "Climate change could result in reduced health over the next two hundred years."

So you pick up the newspaper the next morning and read the headline: "City Policeman Drunk at Local Party". You breath in sharply and sigh: "What is this world coming to?" What you didn't know is that the other 254 policemen have had an impeccable record. But when was the newspaper ever going to report that? How would they craft it into an interesting story? What would the headline be? Would the newspaper sell?

Quite simply, you can very easily get a wrong picture of the state of the world by watching a news bulletin or reading a newspaper. Of course we need to stay abreast with current affairs, but we need to keep perspective.

The problem for the ACDP is that we don't have dramatic, sinister stories to hide. People who put their heads down and work hard don't make the news. And this is an intense struggle for us. While we cringe like everyone else at the thought of "selling" ourselves, with the way the media works, it would seem that's the only way to communicate to the average Joe. Even really good deeds get reported less often than scandalous ones. In fact, in South Africa you could do a wonderful job with what you have and never get heard of.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Why Narnia Is Different

Having seen the new Prince Caspian movie just released as part of the Narnia series, we pondered just how clearly the Christian message was portrayed. Anybody "in the know" will realise that the movie remains faithful to C.S. Lewis' intention of illustrating the Christian message through stories. However, much of the general public will remain clueless to the real thread behind the Narnia series and its "rival", the Golden Compass, which was of course written by arch-athiest Phillip Pullman.

For a moment, I reluctantly admitted: without understanding, this movie could simply be regarded as another of those good versus evil stories, a vague grasp at this intangible current of good will that moves us all. Then the difference struck me...

At the moment of the movie's greatest crisis, a true-blue Hollywood blockbuster would have the heroes and heroins look inside themselves, discover their inner strength, decide to do what they owe to the world, and go and save it. In Prince Caspian, however, at the point of greatest crisis, the heroes realise that their own abilities and good intentions have failed. As the opposing troops march forward in ominous power, Aslan the lion comes to the rescue.

This is no coincidence. In fact, these two different resolutions present the fundamental difference between Christianity and humanism and between Christianity and most other religions. Christianity portrays man as fallen and in need of a saviour. Most other religions portray man as inherently good and capable of finding sufficient inner ability to resolve a problem. In fact, secular humanism, in its own way, holds man up as a god unto himself. The bill of human rights, drawn up by man himself, becomes the new commandment. Each to his own is the new absolute relative.

That Disney could have put their name behind such a courageous statement of support for Christianity is intriguing. And in retrospect, while Christians would have loved the two Narnia movies to be even more literal in their metaphors, I'll happily put my stamp of approval on Prince Caspian.

ps. For all the complaints of the movie being "dark" - I'm unconvinced. More violent and tense, yes, but in a "darkly sinister" way like the Harry Potter movies, no.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Let Prisoners Work for Food

We're often asked to name the policies of our party, especially beyond the "moral" issues like abortion and gay marriage. In fact, the party has some very interesting and innovative policies, and crime and prison reformation is certainly one area of attention. In fact, the ACDP is very interested in implementing the Taiwanese model of work for prisoners.

My home town, New Hanover, has a family prison with very limited security. Frankly, if a prisoner wanted to escape, he would have ample opportunity. I gave a lift to one of the prison wardens recently, who told me that the prisoners are quite happy there - they get big meals and watch DSTV.

Let's pause for a moment and take in the picture. Law abiding citizens are working eight hours a day to put food on the table, and the majority of South Africans would consider DSTV a luxury. In contrast, the prisoners have committed a crime and enjoy a better life (apart from freedom of movement of course) than the majority. It's simply not right.

At the very least, prisoners should have to earn their food in the way that normal citizens do. However, the Taiwanese model goes a step better than that, and here is where it becomes interesting. Income is obviously earned from this work - part of it goes to covering the expense of housing and feeding the prisoners, and the other part goes into an investment fund. The prisoners are learning a skill while they are working in the prison, and when they are released, those funds are used to help them start a new business of their own. As a result, Taiwan saw a massive reduction in prison returnees.

Unfortunately we still have an image of the ball-and-chain convicts in black and white doing slave-type work for the prisons. The reality is that all of us have to work to earn our keep and feed our families, and prisoners should not be exempt from that. The other concern is that this could be regarded as a lucrative scheme - a guaranteed job with real rewards. Even so, this scheme would still be a superior alternative to what we have now.

Either way, the work for prisoners scheme benefits both parties: the prisoners and the public. It helps in the prison's role of redirection and reformation, and it takes pressure of the taxpayers.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mr Price: Appreciation for Family Values

For several decades we've ridden a wave of promiscuous advertising and media, and at times we've felt a little helpless. I was shopping in Mr Price recently and was disturbed by the lyrics of a song that, in my view, described the sex act. Certainly the wider acceptance of R n' B and Hip-hop into mainstream music has included this aspect of those genres. While I'm not on the "that's not music" bandwagon, we do need to take a firm stand where the lyrical content is not appropriate.

I wrote an email of complaint to Mr Price via the contact on their website, and received a response back within 2 hours that they had reviewed the song and removed it from their playlist. They also referred to the fact that their playlists were largely generated from existing lists generated internationally. I accept the explanation, although perhaps I'd suggest that the feedback they receive from audiences needs to be fed back up further through the system as well.

Hats, sorry, caps off to Mr Price for listening to their customers. And may I remind those who share these concerns, regardless of the vendor, to make their voices heard for the sake of the families and the children.

DISCLAIMER: This blog serves as a commentary and the views presented are not necessary the official views of the ACDP. For official statements and contact details, visit: