Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breathing Again

I feel like I have been holding my breath for the last few weeks! We heard yesterday, at the very last possible moment that we have finance to buy a house in Cape Town. Apart from anything else, we now know where we will be moving to when the removal truck comes in two weeks time!

This house is not only a place to stay, but a bit of security for our kids who are going to be studying at UCT. We are not planning on leaving Cape Town, but the church could send us anywhere!

And we have a big thank you to Kobus Nel who was our consultant at SA Home Loans. The Methodist Church system, especially as implemented in an unsophisticated setting like Mitchell's Plain, is complex. He managed to work through it all and get us the bond. (And I will now get some tax back as I discovered that my payslip was showing one thing and the circuit was paying me another!)

Too scared to pinch myself in case this is all a dream.

God is good.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to be rich

Is this the million dollar question? How do we get to be rich? There is a very interesting article at fin24.com and hat tip to Steve Hayes for picking it up.

This is economist Mike Schussler's basis for the article:

White people earning six times more than blacks, screamed the headlines after the release of the 2011 census.

I do not doubt that whites earn more than blacks - although in a way it is too simplistic to state it as such. 

At first this might seem like an article trying to justify white people having a privileged position and it might seem to be coming from a defensive position, but some of the points he makes are very useful. They are useful because they move us out of the realm of victimhood and into the realm of agency.
How can I be rich? You need to be white. I'm not. End. Victim.

Schussler points out a number of things, of which I am only going to mention four.

Median age: The median age of black people in South Africa is 21, that of white people is 38. This means that if you put every black person in the country in a line in order of age, the middle person in the line would be 21. Or in other words half of the black population is 21 or under and half is 21 or over. As Schussler points out, older people earn more. They have experience and have often been promoted to higher positions.

Message to people of all races: You are not a victim. Be patient. Income grows with age.

Educational level: White South Africans have a significantly higher level of education than black South Africans. 77% of white people have matric or more compared to 35% of black people. It goes without saying that better skills mean greater income. This is undoubtedly an effect of apartheid, but it can be overcome.

Message to people of all races: You are not a victim. Fight for an education and a matric, even if you are already an adult.

Commitment to work: I am combining two of Schussler's points here. The one is that over 73% of white people are either working or looking for work. Fewer than 54% of black people are trying to be part of the labour force in the country. This means that approximately 46% of black people between the age of 15 and 64 are not working or looking for work. There can be all sorts of reasons for this, but if hopelessness is learned it can also be unlearned. The other statistic regarding work is that white people stay in one job for an average of 71 months while black people remain in the a job for an average of 51 months. Longer commitment to a job tends to result in specific skills being acquired and an increase in remuneration.

Message to people of all races: You are not a victim. Look for a job. Accept a job. Stay in the job.

Schussler has other angles. The article is worth reading and you can find it here. Many of the stats quoted can be found at Stat SA here (it is a pdf).

Friday, November 08, 2013

Mitchells Plain and Guy Fawkes night

We had an executive meeting planned for the 5th of November at our church in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain. I received a call in the morning asking if we could please postpone it - tonight there were Guy Fawkes celebrations and they wouldn't feel safe being out or in the church.

It is the first time I've been asked to cancel a meeting for reasons of safety.

The next day I saw the rubber on the road where cars had been performing high speed tricks outside the church. There were pictures in the paper of a car with its windows smashed in Tafelsig.

But where I stay in Westridge, Mitchells Plain, there were only the sounds of fireworks. Lots of them and loud! But no unruliness.

Mitchells Plain is far bigger than people tend to think. Tafelsig is a little corner of Mitchells Plain - the poorest corner and where people do hear gun shots. But most of Mitchells Plain is calm and respectable.

I worry a little that what we find in Tafelsig is creeping up to Eastridge, but I also know that the rest of Mitchells Plain will push back.

It would be nice if the outside world didn't see what happens in Tafelsig as if it is happening in the whole of Mitchells Plain! There is hope in this community. Just give us a chance.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Truth For Truth's Sake

Since starting to work on my PhD I have been convinced that there is little value in "truth for truth's sake" in academia. I thought that research should lead to meaningful practical application and not arcane "how many angels can stand on the head of a pin" type discussions.

I think that I have been wrong. Two articles that I have read recently have made me stop and think. The first is from Scientific American and you can read the whole article here. It tells of a study of the results of reading 'good' literature on the reader's ability to empathise.

When study participants read non-fiction or nothing, their results were unimpressive. When they read excerpts of genre fiction, such as Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother, their test results were dually insignificant. However, when they read literary fiction, such as The Round House by Louise Erdrich, their test results improved markedly—and, by implication, so did their capacity for empathy. 
This makes sense to me. I know that reading diverse, thoughtful books leads me to understand different people, personalities and cultures better, but I was not conscious of the extent of this until I watched myself over a few days. I would not have seen good literature as being practically useful, but rather of artistic value. And yet, if every Mitchell's Plain was to have a good dose of literature expanding their horisons (rather than music videos and 7de Laan!), how different could their worlds be?

The other article was the recent foreword to a book by Prof John Higgins written by JM Coetzee. He argues that universities should be producing critical thinkers who are able to question the status quo and see the shortcomings of things to which we have become used. Yet we water down that component into a short course or two and focus on skills that will build the (now never questioned or challenged) economy. It seems to me that this thinking is developed by engagement in questions that go beyond the immediately practical. Read the article here. Here is a quote from what he writes.

You argue - cogently - that allowing the transient needs of the economy to define the goals of higher education is a misguided and short­sighted policy: indispensable to a democratic society - indeed, to a vigorous national economy - is a critically literate citizenry competent to explore and interrogate the assumptions behind the paradigms of national and economic life reigning at any given moment. Without the ability to reflect on ourselves, you argue, we run a perennial risk of relaxing into complacent stasis. And only the neglected humanities can provide a training in such critical literacy.

There is value in truth for truth's sake - it teaches us to think and argue (constructively) and ultimately also to understand.