Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “poverty”

Let my dataset change your mindset

At a gathering in September 2000 the United Nations set some Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction to be achieved by 2015.

What progress has been made towards achieving them?

More than most people seem to think, according to Pieter Smith, who spoke at TGIF this morning.

He began by asking three questions:

  1. What is the proportion of children in the world who have been vaccinated against measles?
  2. How many children are there in the world today, and will there be more by the end of the century?
  3. What is the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty?

Most underestimated the number of children vaccinated, and over estimated the number of children and the proportion living in extreme poverty.

He said that 80% of the world’s children had been vaccinated against measles (most estimated that it was about 50%), and that the number of children in the world was not expected to increase between now and the end of the century.

The number of children being vaccinated and the proportion of girls being educated were not merely indicators of general prosperity and increased life expectancy, but were actually causes. It was not that prosperity caused more girls to be educated and thus to have their children vaccinated, but it was the other way round.

Most people have a mental picture of a “developed world” and a “developing world” which is a couple of generations out of date.

He said that there was a website where you could download an app to see these statistics that show this. Unfortunately the website is not accessible, and produces this message:

Error 1014 Ray ID: 38561baaa3ba564b • 2017-07-28 07:26:03 UTC
CNAME Cross-User Banned
What happened?

You’ve requested a page on a website that is part of the Cloudflare network. The host is configured as a CNAME across accounts on Cloudflare, which is prohibited by security policy.

When I’ve found out how to access the site I’ll post a link here.

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Obscenity

A new breed of South Africans is emerging, a new subculture, perhaps. It is composed of those who do not merely want to be rich, but who want be filthy, stinking rich; obscenely rich.

One of the things that one often hears is that crime is caused by poverty. But that is not strictly true. Criminologists who have researched the matter report that in societies where people are very poor, there is often relatively little crime. What causes the crime rate to rise is the income gap between the rich and the poor.

My blogging friend Dion Forster notes another effect of the income gap between rich and poor — it can lead to genocide — Wishes of youth and the winds of war – I was a soldier once – BLOG – Dion Forster – An uncommon path:

In Fiennes’ book he notes, among other things, that the conditions that are necessary for genocide to occur include:

  • An impoverished population
  • A large gap between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘do not have’
  • A clearly identifiable minority grouping that has access to wealth and power
  • The development of a racial or ethnic ideology that places groups of persons in opposition to one another
  • Corrupt, power hungry and irresponsible politicians

I wondered how many of these elements could be ticked off a list of criteria in South African society? We have much work to do in order to bring equality, overcome animosity, and combat false and harmful racial and ethnic ideologies.

A few days ago I noted in another blog post Black and white perceptions of South Africa’s problems | Khanya:

People sometimes like to talk about poverty as the cause of crime. But it is much less common for people to talk about it the other way round — of crime as the cause of poverty. Yet much of the poverty in places like Mamelodi is caused by crime — white crime.

Two of the ways in which people achieve their ambition to become filthy stinking rich are politics and crime. Criminologists who have noted that the crime rate increases where the gap between rich and poor increases have also noticed that criminals do not generally rob and steal to feed their starving families. They steal because they want to be filthy stinking rich. Their ill-gotten gains are used for conspicuous consumption.

As for politics, we all know about tenderpreneurs. Thabo Mbeki, the former president of the ANC and South Africa, spoke on this phenomenon at the very conference where the ANC voted him out as leader — that unscrupulous businessmen tried to take over ANC branches, and get themselves or their favoured candidates elected at the branches in areas that controlled municipalitries, and used their position to get lucrative contracts and tenders.

This is not unique to South Africa, it is found all over the world.

There are those who still say that the ANC has not made the mental transition from liberation movement to a political party. But the problerm is the other way round. Those who remember what it was to be a liberation movement are a diminishing minority, and are being swamped by those who see politics as a means of becoming filthy stinking rich.

In writing this, I’m not being an investigative journalist. I’m not trying to dig up the dirt on corrupt politicians and businessmen. I haven’t named names nor cited instances of these things in footnotes. I’ve written about perceptions, about gossip, about impressions. And the purpose is not to find and condemn the guilty.

Our struggle, as St Paul says, is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies (Eph 6:10-12).

The problem is not individual sinners, but sin itself.

And the problem is not merely individual sins, but rather the inversion of values.

As Isaiah says:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isa 5:20)

Those who desire to be filthy stinking rich do so because of greed.

Christians in the past have seen greed and lust as passions that we should seek to control. But there are new ideologies abroad in the world that seek to invert this, and say that passions like greed and lust are good.

And so we find people, even people who claim to be Christians, saying that it’s OK to help the poor, but not by taking money from the rich “at gunpoint”. The “at gunpoint” is a peculiar code word among such people for “taxes”. What they mean is that money from taxes paid by the rich should not be used to help the poor. That, they say, is “theft”.

And so they invert Christian values; they call evil good and good evil.

St John Chrysostom says precisely the opposite:

“See the man,” He says, “and his works: indeed, this also is theft, not to share one’s possessions.” Perhaps this statement seems surprising to you, but do not be surprised. I shall bring you testimony from the divine Scriptures, saying that not only the theft of others’ goods but the failure to share one’s own goods with others is theft and swindle and defraudation. What is this testimony? Accusing the Jews by the prophet, God says, “The earth has brought forth her increase, and you have not brought forth your tithes; but the theft of the poor is in your houses.” Since you have not given the accustomed offerings, he says, you have stolen the goods of the poor. He says this to show the rich that they hold the goods of the poor even if they have inherited them from their fathers or no matter how they have gathered their wealth. And elsewhere the Scripture says, “Deprive not the poor of his living.” To deprive is to take what belongs to another, for it is called deprivation when we take and keep what belongs to others.

Thus if the government uses the taxes paid by the rich to provide basic necessities for the poor, such as housing or health services, it is not theft, but rather the recovery of stolen property. To call taxes used in such a way “theft” is to invert Christian values, and to call good evil and evil good.

Adulterers may repent. Thieves may repent. Murderers may repent. And when we experience lust or greed or other passions we may repent and struggle against them.

But those who call greed and lust good cannot repent.

This ideological inversion was propounded by Ayn Rand in the 1940s and 1950s, and spread to the institutions of state and society in the West, especially in the 1980s, until it has now permeated much of society and people’s values as the insidious propaganda for it continues and increases.

We may never be able to remove inequalities of wealth; we may never be able to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor. But we can and ought to resist the ideology that says that it is a good thing, and that the passions that maintain it are to be encouraged.

__________

This post is part of the February 2012 Synchroblog – Extreme Economic Inequality | synchroblog in which different bloggers write blog posts on the same theme, and provide a list of the other posts so that people can follow the theme by surfing from one post to another.

Other posts in this month’s Synchroblog are:

Julius Malema — South Africa’s answer to Shane Warne?

It seems that at last South Africa has a fat buffoon to match, and even surpass Australia’s Shane Warne: Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League.

The media love him; he gives them soundbites galore. Every time he opens his mouth he seems to put his foot in it. He seems as arrogant as Shane Warne, and like Warne, he is revered by many.

But, as someone once said, the trouble with most political jokes is that they get elected.

Professor Tinyiko Maluleke of Unisa warns that it would be a mistake to dismiss Malema as a lightweight political clown. If there is a joke involved, the joke is on us, and on the poor.

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke’s Blog: The Julius Malema Strategy of Distraction and Diversion:

What Chumani Maxwele, the jogger arrested and detained for allegedly showing the middle finger to Zuma’s blue-light brigade, is said to have done, is done daily by Malemaists. They do it to the poor. In their arrogant press conferences, in VIP events for celebrities and through the fat parties they host in their tall houses, as they drink, chatter and clutter; they stick their middle finger to the poor. As they wheel and deal in the air-conditioned corridors of public and private sector offices, it is the poor they are offending. As their luxury ministerial cars speed through the squatter camps; as their 4x4s spray the playing children with the sewage that is flowing in the streets, the Malemaists are saying voetsek! to the poor.

On making poverty history

Tales of the desert fathers, as told by ORTHODIXIE … Southern, Orthodox, Convert, Etc.:

A very rich man who lived in Alexandria prayed to God every day that the lives of the indigent be made easier. On hearing about this, Abba Makarios sent him a message: ‘I would like to own all your estate.’

The man was puzzled, and sent one of his servants to ask what [Abba Makarios] would do with all that wealth.

Abba Makarios said: ‘Tell your master that I would immediately answer his prayer.’

Pragmatic – Eclectic: You Go Do Likewise …..

Pragmatic – Eclectic: You Go Do Likewise …..:

In our world of increasing globalisation the sinful power of economic structures magnify and multiply the power of sin. The destruction or impoverishment of human life is a theological problem, the problem of sin in action and the problem of life denied in human existence.

Worth reading.

Holy Poverty

In 1920 R.H. Tawney published his book The acquisitive society, in which he criticised capitalist morality and values. Fifty years later Lawrence Lipton, the chronicler of the Beat Generation, wrote:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused
with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an
advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty.

In the 1970s Western Christian theologians wrote a lot about “contextualisation”, to such an extent that it became an almost meaningless piece of theological jargon. But the main idea is quite simple. It is an image taken from the weaving of cloth. The warp threads are stretched out along the length of the cloth, and the weft threads are woven in crosswise, so that in the finished piece of cloth the warp and the weft are inseparably woven together. So, the contextual theologians said, the gospel must we woven into society. Christianity must be a part of the society in which it finds itself.

For some contextual theologians, especially in South America, this meant a “preferential option for the poor”. If the gospel of Christ could not speak to the poor and become part of their lives, it would never be heard. In North America, on the other hand, a movement arose to contextualise the gospel for the acquisitive society. And this led to what is called the “prosperity gospel”. And so we discover that “contextualisation” doesn’t solve the problem, it just shows it. Do Christian values shape and inform society, or are they shaped by it?

That, in North America, often leads on to debates about “separation between church and state”, but I don’t want to go into that now. The more important question, the prior question, remains: what are my values? Are they shaped by the gospel, or by the world, by the acquisitive society?

The other side of the contextualisation coin is that in many ways the Church is called to be countercultural. St Paul said “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Perhaps one of the unintended consequences of contextual theology is that it sometimes leads to a conformity to the world’s values. In traditional Christian morality we recognise that we have to struggle against sinful behaviour. This spiritual struggle, spiritual warfare, is called podvig in Russian and ascesis in Greek. But contextualisation can sometimes lead to a different way.

Instead of struggling against sins like lust and greed, one simply redefines them as virtues. So for some in the West fornication is no longer a sin to be repented of or stuggled against, but rather extolled as a virtue, in the name of “inclusion”. For others, lust remains a sin to be denounced (sometimes self-righteously, especially in others), but it is greed that has been transformed into a virtue in the new “prosperity gospel”. And very often the pro-lust group and the pro-greed groups find themselves opposed to one another. The secular world has no such problems. Lust and greed go hand in hand in a symbiotic relationship, and the porn industry flourishes as never before. People from poor countries and regions are traded as sex slaves, and make their pimps very, very rich.

But this article is not about lust — that was just to show that the unintended consequences of contextualisation can take different forms. Whatever form it takes it means that one no longer even needs to pay lip-service to Christian values. But sometimes even lip service is better than nothing, and leads, however imperfectly, to an attempt to shape society by Christian values. St Constantine is often vilified nowadays since his introduction of religious toleration opened the way for the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. One result of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire was the attempt, at least to some extent, to manifest Christian values in public life.

The emperors participated personally in the care of the needy, e.g. by anointing lepers or sharing meals with the hungry. This must have provided them with political public relations benefits, but it also represents a crucial emphasis in Orthodox spirituality. To be complete, a charitable work cannot deal only with structures and institutions but must involve a direct relation between persons, who bear the divine
image. Thus Romanus not only funds the feeding of the masses but also invites a few at a time to his own table. Whether he does this out of genuine compassion or only from a desire to appear compassionate, he shows his respect for a spiritual and ethical principle which his society values highly (Harrison 1990:24).

The difference is that the acquisitive society does not value that spiritual and ethical principle.

Let St Ambrose of Milan have the last word

How far, ye rich, will you carry your insane cupidity? … why do you reject nature’s partnership of goods, and claim possession of nature for yourselves? The earth was established to be in common for all, rich and poor; why do ye rich alone arrogate it to yourselves as your rightful property? Nature knows no rich, since she brings forth all men poor. For we are born without clothes and are brought forth without silver or gold. Naked she brings us to the light of day, and in want of food and covering and drink; and naked the earth receives back what she has brought forth, nor can she stretch men’s tombs to cover their possessions. A narrow mound of turf is enough for rich and poor alike; and a bit of land of which the rich man when alive took no heed now takes in the whole of him. Nature makes no distinctions among us at our birth, and none at our death. All alike she creates us, all alike she seals us in the tomb. Who can tell the dead apart? Open up the graves, and, if you can, tell which was a rich man. . . .

But why do you think that, even while you live, you have abundance of all things? Rich man, you know not how poor you are, how destitute you would seem even to yourself, who call yourself wealthy. The more you have, the more you want; and whatever you may acquire, you nevertheless remain as needy as before. Avarice is inflamed by gain, not diminished by it…

You crave possessions not so much for their utility to yourself, as because you want to exclude others from them. You are more concerned with despoiling the poor than with your own advantage. You think yourself injured if a poor man possesses anything which you consider a suitable belonging for a rich man; whatever belongs to others you look upon as something of which you are deprived. Why do you delight in what to nature are losses? The world, which you few rich men try to keep for yourselves, was created for all men. For not alone the soil, but the very heaven, the air, the sea, are claimed for the use of the few rich. . . . Do the angels in heaven, think you, have their separate regions of space, as you divide up the earth by fixed boundaries?

How many men are killed to procure the means of your enjoyment! A deadly thing is your greed, and deadly your luxury. One man falls to death from a roof, in order that you may have your big granaries. Another tumbles from the top of a high tree while seeking for certain kinds of grapes, so that you may have the right sort of wine for your banquet. Another is drowned in the sea while making sure that fish or oysters shall not be lacking on your table. Another is frozen to death while tracking hares or trying to catch birds with traps. Another is beaten to death before your eyes, if he chances to have displeased you, and your very viands are bespattered with his blood…

—–

Bibliography

Harrison, Verna, 1990. Poverty in the Orthodox tradition, in St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 34(1). Page 15-47.

Synchroblog

This post is part of a “Poverty, as seen from God’s perspective”.

Here are links to others blogging on this topic this month:

Phil Wyman: A theology of poverty and our personal biases
Adam Gonnerman: Echoes of Judas
Cobus van Wyngaard: Luke: The Gospel for the Rich
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Steve Hayes: Holy Poverty
Jonathan Brink: Spiritual Poverty
Dan Stone at The Tense Before
Jeremiah: Blessed are the poor… churches…
Alan Knox: Boasting in Humiliation
Miss Eagle: Poverty and the hospitable heart
Jimmie: Feeding the poor
Calacirian: Fully known and fully loved

FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot

Roger Saner has an interesting discussion on Megachurches on his blog, in which he says, among other things FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot:

One of the guys was talking about how Jesus was such a success and this is where I said my silly thing: I jumped in and challenged him on that. It seems like we can adapt the Bible a little too easily and make it say what we want to…and I don’t know why I thought this would be a good thing to challenge, but I did. And told the story of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great human beings of the 20th century, who had great fun showing how all of the historians before him had brought their own presuppositions to bear on the historical study of Jesus, and instead of portraying the actual Jesus of history, they put across their own idea of Jesus. Then he proposed to tell us what Jesus was really like, and concluded that he was a wild-eyed apocalyptic prophet who died a failure.

I tried to comment on Roger’s blog, but was told to enter the characters in the picture, and could see no picture and no characters, so I thought I’d comment here.

Roger mentioned a “pastor” who had a medium-sized church that he wanted to grow into a megachurch, and that got me wondering about all sorts of things — like what do we mean by “pastor” and why do we (or at least some people) think that “size matters”?

And it seems to me that some of the people called “pastors” are not so much pastors as ranchers, or at least wannabe ranchers. OK, we read in the Old Testament about all those patriarchs with huge flocks, and especially Jacob who increased his flocks and herds at the expense of his uncle and father-in-law, and all the good things that happened since their corn and wine and oil increased. And of course in the secular world the more people a person has to boss around, the more important they are. The rulers of big and rich nations are more important than the rulers of small and poor nations. And the CEO of a big company is more important than the CEO of a small one. But didn’t Jesus say “It is not to be so among you?”

What is a pastor? A CEO for Jesus?

With Jesus as partner, and perhaps a junior partner at that?

As someone (I think it was Juan Carlos Ortiz) once said, “Is your church growing, or is it just getting fat?”

I remember one Anglican priest who was always preaching about money and the need for the church to look successful. “Success appeals to those who love success, and all men do,” he said.

Yet, as Roger points out, in the eyes of the world, Jesus was a failure.

And I read a passage in a book that somehow seems truer to the Gospel of Christ than the false gospel of Success:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused
with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty (from The holy barbarians, by Lawrence Lipton).

Whom do we worship? Christ, who came to be poor among the poor, or the bitch goddess Sucess?

FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot

Roger Saner has an interesting discussion on Megachurches on his blog, in which he says, among other things FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot:

One of the guys was talking about how Jesus was such a success and this is where I said my silly thing: I jumped in and challenged him on that. It seems like we can adapt the Bible a little too easily and make it say what we want to…and I don’t know why I thought this would be a good thing to challenge, but I did. And told the story of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great human beings of the 20th century, who had great fun showing how all of the historians before him had brought their own presuppositions to bear on the historical study of Jesus, and instead of portraying the actual Jesus of history, they put across their own idea of Jesus. Then he proposed to tell us what Jesus was really like, and concluded that he was a wild-eyed apocalyptic prophet who died a failure.

I tried to comment on Roger’s blog, but was told to enter the characters in the picture, and could see no picture and no characters, so I thought I’d comment here.

Roger mentioned a “pastor” who had a medium-sized church that he wanted to grow into a megachurch, and that got me wondering about all sorts of things — like what do we mean by “pastor” and why do we (or at least some people) think that “size matters”?

And it seems to me that some of the people called “pastors” are not so much pastors as ranchers, or at least wannabe ranchers. OK, we read in the Old Testament about all those patriarchs with huge flocks, and especially Jacob who increased his flocks and herds at the expense of his uncle and father-in-law, and all the good things that happened since their corn and wine and oil increased. And of course in the secular world the more people a person has to boss around, the more important they are. The rulers of big and rich nations are more important than the rulers of small and poor nations. And the CEO of a big company is more important than the CEO of a small one. But didn’t Jesus say “It is not to be so among you?”

What is a pastor? A CEO for Jesus?

With Jesus as partner, and perhaps a junior partner at that?

As someone (I think it was Juan Carlos Ortiz) once said, “Is your church growing, or is it just getting fat?”

I remember one Anglican priest who was always preaching about money and the need for the church to look successful. “Success appeals to those who love success, and all men do,” he said.

Yet, as Roger points out, in the eyes of the world, Jesus was a failure.

And I read a passage in a book that somehow seems truer to the Gospel of Christ than the false gospel of Success:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused
with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty (from The holy barbarians, by Lawrence Lipton).

Whom do we worship? Christ, who came to be poor among the poor, or the bitch goddess Sucess?

Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC

It looks as though there may soon be an independent investigation into Eskom:

IOL: Load-shedding a human right violation: SAHRC:

Eskom must give answers about the ongoing electricity crisis, the SA Human Rights Commission said on Friday.

In a statement, the SAHRC said it and the Public Protector could soon work together in an investigation to establish why Eskom had instituted power cuts to the extent it had recently.

Earlier this week, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana sent a letter to Eskom saying he was considering investigating the power cuts because they were having a devastating effect on service delivery by government.

Eskom certainly needs to be investigated, but I’m not sure that the Human Rights Commission is the best body to do it. The way the Eskom crisis affects our constitutional rights is just one aspect of its managerial incompetence, and the other aspects need investigation too. Rather than doing its own investigation, the Human Rights Commission should throw its weight behind calls for a wider investigation, and prepare evidence to present to such an investigation.

Lots of people are blogging about the power cuts, and the Mail and Guardian is even running a special feature on Who do you blame? Unfortunately people seem to be more concerned with finding a scapegoat than a solution.

Obviously there has been poor planning on Eskom’s part. One of the things an investigation would need to determine would be whether that was the fault of Eskom’s planners, or whether it was the fault of top management, who failed to heed the advice of the planners. Eskom has obviously invested a lot in distribution infrastructure over the last 10-15 years, but equally obviously their generation capacity has failed to keep up.

For such incompetence heads must roll. But that is not enough. To solve the problem means that incompetent managers must be replaced by competent ones, and not merely other incompetent ones.

An investigation would also need to take account of political pressure.

Was the Eskom management under political pressure to make electricity available to as many people as possible so that all new investment in infrastructure was channelled into distribution, and not enough into generating capacity?

As I have travelled around rural areas over the last few years, I’ve seen many small communities that now have electricity, which did not have a few years ago. I found this encouraging evidence that the new South Africa was working. Ordinary people did not just have a right to have a say in the election of their government once every five years sor so, but their quality of life was improving. Perhaps it was, in part, a fulfilment of the ANC’s election promise of “a better life for all”. I didn’t then suspect that failure to plan for adequate generation capacity would render such advances illusory.

The warning sign was the Coega aluminium smelter proposal. That was certainly not planned to benefit the poor or the “previously disadvantaged”. That was calculated to benefit the previously and currently advantaged fat cats of Alcan:

Alcan has secured a long-term supply agreement with South-African energy firm, ESKOM Holdings Limited, for the purchase of up to 1355 MVA of electricity for the proposed 720kt greenfield COEGA aluminum smelter project, which will have a total estimated cost of US$2.7 billion. The agreement provides for a 25-year supply, set to begin in 2010.

“Alcan is engaged in successfully developing some of the most attractive smelter projects for primary aluminum production in the world, including this potential smelter in South Africa, all characterized by secure, competitively priced, long-term energy supplies, and leveraged by our world leading technology,” said Dick Evans, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alcan Inc.

Think about those “competitively-priced long-term energy supplies” for a moment. Where are they going to come from? And who is going to pay for them?

Most of South Africa’s electricity supply comes from coal-fired power stations, and many of them are situated in “Kragveld” — Western Mpumalanga, where the power stations have been built at coal mines. Most of these power stations are now fairly old, and cause unnecessary pollution, which causes acid rain, which in turn damages crops and buildings and poisons fish in rivers. Coal is a fossil fuel, and therefore not a renewable energy source. What is used for smelting aluminium tomorrow will not be available for lighting, heating or cooking the day after tomorrow. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

When I learned geography at school, one of the things we learned was that smelting aluminium consumes huge amounts of electricity, and that was why it was cheaper to build aluminium smelters in places where cheap electricity was available, and transport the ore to there. And that is why Alcan is in Canada, because Canada has lots of water and lots of mountains which makes for cheap hydroelectricity. And hydro-electricity, unlike electricity from coal, is non-polluting and is a renewable resource.

Why, then, does Alcan now want to build a smelter in South Africa, where electricity is produced from coal, which is less efficient and normally more expensive?

Because they’ve been promised a subsisdy, that’s why.

And who is going to pay the subsidy?

Why, you and me and all the “previously disadvantaged” who have just been connected to the electricity supply, of course. We will pay more money for less electricity, because you can bet your last cent that Alcan’s load is one that will not be shed.

So yes, Eskom’s poor planning does have quite a lot to do with human rights, but it also has to do with the environment, and a lot more besides. And perhaps the terms of reference of an investigating commission should be broad enough to ask why Canadian hydro-electricity has suddenly become too expensive for Alcan.

We have been told that the Coega aluminum smelter scheme will “create jobs” — but balance that with all the jobs that will be lost because of lost productivity caused by load-shedding, when shops and offices and factories close down because there is no electricity, and people sit for hours in traffic jams because robots aren’t working. Will the jobs created by the Coega scheme compensate for that?

Postcolonial Christianity in Africa

I’ve recently heard quite a number of people (well, read on their blogs rather than “heard”) saying that they are “post colonial Christians”. Actually I think I recall Brian McLaren saying something about post-colonial Christianity when he visited Pretoria last year too.

My difficulty is in trying to work out what this “Post-colonial Christianity” that people talk about actually is. What do people mean when they talk about “postcolonial Christianity”? This is one of those blog posts where I toss in a lot of half-baked ideas in the hope that other people will help me to bake them — and especially those people who regard themselves as “postcolonial Christians” — what is it that makes them such, other than pure chronology?

One of the things that I found helpful was a blog post by Julie Clawson, at One hand clapping, on Cultural Imperialism, Contextualization, and Postcolonial Missions. What she described is a good example of what postcolonial mission is most decidedly NOT, which can help to clarify one’s thinking on the topic, except that it is from an American rather than an African point of view.

A step forward, and what actually got me thinking more seriously about this, was reading The Cambridge history of Christianity. Volume 9: World Christianities c.1914-c.2000. Actually the title is a bit misleading — the book is quite specifically about Western Christianity and its offshoots, but still, this is what it says about postcolonial Africa:

Autocratic regimes prevailed until the end of the 1980s when a combination of forces led to their demise. The collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War deprived states of Western or Eastern benefactors and of legitimating models of communist dictatorship. Moreover, events in Eastern Europe inspired a revived and resurgent civil society to challenge near bankrupt regimes. A ‘second democratic revolution’ ensued as more than half of sub-Saharan African states made political reforms and moved toward multi-party democracy. In this revolution the churches played a leading role. Sadly, however, the political transformation begun at the end of the 1980s was shortlived. In a new world dominated by America the new regimes had to embrace neo-liberal economics of trade liberalisation, privatisation and diminished state provision in the form of structural adjustment programmes ordained by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. While such policies benefited a minority of African businessmen working for international companies, they stifled local enterprise, boosted unemployment, and led to new levels of poverty, crime and violence. Worse still, many of the newly elected leaders of multi- party regimes were ‘born-again’ politicians from the previous generation of politicians. Their conversions to democracy proved to be superficial and they were barely distinguishable from their predecessors. Soon they learnt how to stay in power by dividing opposition parties and manipulating elections and constitutions while satisfying international pressure. Their governments became de facto one- party regimes. Thus from the mid-1990s Africa’s churches have been involved in a third democratic revolution. This revolution is against ‘presidential third-termism’ — the tendency of leaders to cling to office. It is a struggle for incorrupt ‘transparency’ and the development of electoral institutions, and a struggle for a democratic political culture. Only through such a revolution can African states begin to reconnect with the needs and aspirations of their citizens (McLeod 2006:405).

We have seen attempts at the ‘third democratic revolution’ in Kenya, where it was stifled, and at the December ANC congress, where the levers of power in the ANC were prised from the clutches of those who had hitherto held them. What is the role of postcolonial Christians in all that?

Five years ago we had SACLA II, the Southern African Christian Leadership Assembly, but where did it get us? We were supposed to face up to the “giants” that threatened our society, which included unemployment, poverty, crime and violence. But there seemed to be a reluctance to face up to the giants behind the giants — America, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, structural adjustment programmes and the ideology of neoliberalism that they have been peddling to African governments. My recollection of SACLA II was that some American came round and gave out free copies of a rather kitschy book called The prayer of Jabez, which seemed to be a good example of what Karl Marx described as “the opium of the people.”

So what IS postcolonial Christianity? And what is it going to do about the “giants”? And what will happen when Jacob Zuma and umshini wakhe doesn’t turn out to be the kind of saviour that people are apparently hoping for?

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