Army discipline will fix crime – NOT! January 31, 2007Posted by Andreas in News, Politics, Society, South Africa.
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In a statement released by his department on Monday, Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana suggested that compulsory military service could solve South Africa’s crime epidemic.
“The worrying trend whereby our youths are involved in the current spate of armed robberies and other related violent crimes that are ravaging our country could be reversed once they join the army.
Conscripting our young people would not only help inculcate discipline but make them understand better the importance of defending our hard-earned liberation.”
My first reaction: “You have got to be kidding me!”. But Andries Botha, the DA’s (official opposition (sic)) spokesperson on defence didn’t think it was such a bad idea provided it was done properly.
All we need is some good old army discipline! (Graphic from the amazing Eric Drooker).
I was going to launch into a full broadside rant on how this has got to be one of the most ridiculous propositions I’ve heard in a long time, even from politicians.
I was going to point out how a number of the premises that this argument is based on are fataly flawed. The assumption that “youths” are the predominant perpetrators of crime.
The assumption that the army “inculcates discipline” [come on, have you ever talked to anyone who's actually been in the army as a regular conscript? Although they were singing about education, the Madness song Baggy Trousers springs to mind:"All I learnt at school was how to bend not break the rules"].
The assumption that people who have experienced the kind of “discipline” the army peddles are less likely to commit crimes than those who have not.
The assumption that this army “discipline” would make “youths” appreciate and defend our hard-earned liberation [reminiscent of Stalin this, is it not...].
And so on and so on. I decided not to go on a major rant about this, because it all seemed so very obvious. What I am going to do is quote from an article by Karyn Maughan in this morning’s papers (curiously she does not make the connection between her own story and Mdladlana’s nonsense):
South African National Defence Force members are the accused in 287 serious criminal cases, recorded incidents of murder, shooting, assault and torture.
the most recent list of recorded criminal cases against army members includes 26 charges of murder, 22 of attempted murder, 15 of assault with grievous bodily harm, 25 of common assault, and 31 of reckless and negligent driving.
According to the Defence Department’s 2006 financial statements, the army is facing civil claims of R978-million, with motor accident claims amounting to an additional R3,7-million.
2010 Soccer World Cup on stolen land January 30, 2007Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, History, South Africa.
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According to Cyril Hromnik, the new 2010 FIFA Soccer World stadium to be built on Cape Town’s Green Point common will be located on “the first piece of land in future South Africa to be “legally” transferred, though without the consent of the original owners [he means to say "stolen", OK!], to the new Dutch keepers.”
In a very interesting article in the Sunday Argus a couple of weekends ago, Hromnik describes how the flat seaside area of Mouille Point and Green Point, the proposed site for the new 68 000-seater stadium which is slated to host one of the World Cup semi-finals, was the location of a village of some of the Cape’s first inhabitants.
Hromnik is a very controversial character on the South African history and archaeology scene because of his contention that ancient Indian traders had a much more significant impact on southern African history than is commonly acknowledged. I’m in no position to comment on his more contested beliefs (very interesting though they may be), but much of this current article appears to stand up to scrutiny and it certainly raises some much forgotten historical perspectives.
The area was inhabited by two distinct but allied “tribes”.
The early maritime visitors to the K’koe Qui //Hû-!Gâis (the Cape of Great Rocks of Storms), be they Indians, Portuguese, English, French or pre-1652 Dutch, did not disturb too much the annual regime of both the //Kurin ai-Quena (Strandlopers) and the Huri-!Xai Quena (Kaapmans). The coming of these foreign traders to the Camissa Bay tended to enrich the material existence of the Quena and to expose them to more advanced food production and a higher lifestyle [sic].
The major – and in certain ways less desirable [wow, is this guy a master of understatement, or what!?] – change came with the arrival of the permanent Dutch settlers in 1652. From now on, the indigenous Quena had to gradually adjust to the behavioural pattern and to the needs of the newcomers, who intended to stay here permanently.
A huge change [...] came to the lives of the Quena at //Hû-!Gâis [...] when the Dutch started ploughing the land near and further away from the Fort.
The Quena did not take it lightly and the chief of the //Kurin gai-Quena, Harry or Autshumao, declared that “the land belonged to his people”. Furthermore, as we read in Van Riebeeck’s Dispatch of March 5, 1657, “They venture also to assert boldly that it does not please them that we break up the ground, and destroy the grass which grows for the use of their cattle – to grow our crops.”
The last thing to consider is what happened when the Quena inhabitants of Kai Haa Mullai [Mouille Point] and of the Camissa Valley realised that the only home they knew had been irreversibly taken from them. They took their horses, put their wives and possessions on the backs of their humped oxen and drifted into the dry hinterland of the Karoo.
Looking back at Kai Haa Mullai and the Camissa Valley from that new perspective, the Quena expressed their deepest feeling about what had happened by calling their former home at the K’koe Qui //Hû-!Gâis (the Cape of Great Rocks of Storms) by the name which says it all – /I-/k??ab, meaning De Facto Theft.
I find my own ignorance about the history of the place where I live quite embarrassing.
Ironically, for much of my life, I have been fascinated and inspired by another continent’s first people. Growing up as a boy in Germany, I used to love the noble savage novels of Karl May – Winnetou, the fictional Apache, was my first hero. Gratefully, I came across the real story of Tecumseh fairly early on and his bravery and defiance have remained an inspiration to me ever since, as has the history of the genocide of the American Indians in general.
The importance of knowing as much as possible about the people who used to live in the area we call our home before us is surely an important educational mission for anyone, especially for anyone living in a country like South Africa and even more so for any white South African. I have only come to this conclusion far too recently, but will definitely try to make up for lost time.
Book Review: Parecon – Life after Capitalism by Michael Albert January 29, 2007Posted by Andreas in anarchism, Book Reviews.
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My rating: 8 out of 10 – radical, visionary and essential.
If you believe that capitalism doesn’t work because it destroys the planet, is inherently unsustainable and creates wealth for the few at the expense of the majority, and if you also believe that centrally-planned USSR style communism doesn’t work because it destroys the planet, is inherently unsustainable and concentrates power in the hands of a bureaucratic elite at the expense of the majority, then you must read Michael Albert’ book Parecon – Life after Capitalism
Albert is an activist and co-founder of ZNet, Z Magazine and South End Press, who has spend many years of his busy life disproving that Margaret Thatcher’s contention that “there is no alternative” [to capitalism/business as usual/etc.] is rubbish.
Together with Robin Hahnel, Albert has developed an innovative economic model called Participatory Economics, or Parecon for short. Simultaneously avoiding the pitfalls of capitalism and centrally-planned state communism, Parecon provides a detailed, challenging and thoughtful vision of the economic institutions and human interactions in a just, egalitarian, anti-authoritarian and co-operative society.
Albert is a prolific writer and has published many articles and several books on participatory economics. Parecon – Life after Capitalism summarises all of the various aspects of the model in detail, describes how it would function in the real world and discusses a number of criticisms at length.
Although his writing style can come across as somewhat patronising at times, Albert aims to describe participatory economics as clearly as possible to readers who have not come into contact with it before. For those who are familiar with the concepts, this book is a valuable summary and work of reference.
You may not agree with Albert all the time, but there is no doubt that the economic framework described in this book provides an inspiring vision of a better world that no “progressive” individual can afford to be ignorant of. Thanks to Albert’s tireless enthusiasm, participatory economics is becoming increasingly popular and talked about in North America, Europe and the developing world, where a growing number of people and collectives are experimenting with his ideas to change their lives for the better.
An absolute must read! Many more reviews here.
Continuous growth leads to accelerated demise January 26, 2007Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", Environment, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
In his column in Thursday’s Cape Argus (infuriatingly only available on-line to subscribers), Max Du Preez bemoans South Africa’s lack of a “grand energy plan for the future”, and although I am sympathetic to many of his arguments for a solution to the problem, when considered as a whole, they come across as a mish-mash of points that confuse more than they clarify, much less provide a coherent grand plan for the future.
Du Preez suggests that we should reduce our dependence on coal, promote the expansion of renewable solar, wind and hydro power, and the use of solar water heating and energy-saving light bulbs. All of these are perfectly sensible proposals that would go some way towards improving our predicament, at least in the short term, so count me in on this part of Du Preez’s project.
He also argues, however, that we should “overcome our deep-seated prejudice against nuclear power” (I wonder if that approach would work with anyone who used to live anywhere near Chernobyl) and build more nuclear power stations, since they “have minimal carbon emissions”. Are we to assume that the uranium mines, enriches, processes and transports itself all on its own accord without consuming more than a “minimal” amount of fossil fuels?
Du Preez proceeds to dis atomic energy in his very next sentence by emphasising its potential dangers and long-lived toxicity, leaving the reader utterly confused as to which it is – nuclear or not.
For me, however, the fatal flaw in Du Preez’s discussion is contained in the following sentence:
The trick, of course, is to drastically curb our use of fossil fuels without sacrificing economic growth (my italics).
(Later in the column he rephrases the above and talks about “cut[ting] back on power generation without sacrificing progress.” My italics again).
Why? Why is it an unquestioned premise that whatever we do to overcome the intertwined crisis of rising energy consumption and environmental degradation has to happen without giving up on growth? And why conflate “economic growth” with “progress” in the first place?
Du Preez is, of course, not the only one with this one-track mindset. Far from it, our entire civilisation is based on the idea of continuous and accelerated growth. It is a fundamental premise of capitalism and is hardly ever questioned in the mainstream of society.
When business and political leaders fashionably speak about sustainability they invariably mean sustainable profitability rather than long-term existence without causing damage to the environment.
To my mind, our insistence on constant growth (continued commodity production, consumption, resource extraction and depletion, and the environmental decimation that are inextricably linked to these) is actually at the very heart of the problem.
The concept is entirely unnatural. In nature, there is no such thing as continuous and endless growth. Nature works in nested cycles, in intricate networks of co-operation and symbiosis, in a recurring up-an-down, ebb-and-flow of energy and interactions between fauna, flora and the physical environment. If anyone can point me to a single example of unrestrained, yet perpetually sustainable, growth in nature, I would be genuinely intrigued.
Moreover, and even more damning, continuous growth, the very basis of our civilisation as it functions now, is a mathematical and energetic impossibility in a finite system. In a world with limited non-renewable resources (i.e. a world like ours), these resources can not be exploited (coal, oil, uranium, etc.) or polluted (water, air, soil, etc.) indefinitely.
Once they are gone, they are gone forever and the whole house of cards collapses. This argument holds true even if we believe that new technologies will eventually get us out of our current fix. They can only bring temporary respite. Finite resources can not be exploited indefinitely – this is not rocket science!
So what are the alternatives to the ultimately fatal concept of continuous growth? I’m not sure, but I would venture that a close look at the plethora of successful natural systems might lead us towards some answers. Some sort of steady-state equilibrium springs to mind. Any brilliant ideas, anyone?
I think Du Preez actually got quite close very early on in his column (before he muddied the waters). He said that we “should not be planning to build more power stations. South Africa should learn to consume a lot less energy. It is as simple as that.” As simple as that, indeed!
I’m not sure, at this stage, if the primitivists have got it right (individuals like US writer Derrick Jensen who maintains that “the only sustainable level of technology is the stone age”) or if there are other viable alternatives, but let’s be creative here. We need to think outside of our box before it turns into a communal coffin.
I am sure that the current path of perpetual growth and hopeful techno-fixes is ultimately a dead end. Maybe we should think of this project as the next step in the story of human evolution – a conscious move to live on this planet without destroying it for future generations.
South Africa heads for a genetically engineered future January 25, 2007Posted by Andreas in Environment, genetic engineering, News, South Africa.
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AgriSA (formerly the South African Agricultural Union, which according to its website “serves some 70 000 large and small-scale commercial farmer members”) announced on Tuesday that the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in South Africa increased by a whopping 180% (by area) from last year to a current total of 1.4 million hectares.
Only India has a faster growth rate (192%) and South Africa is now the eighth biggest producer of GE crops worldwide with 44% of all maize, 80% of all soya and 90% of all cotton grown in the country being genetically engineered.
There has been considerable opposition to the introduction and accelerated cultivation of these crops in SA, especially from activist groups like SAFeAGE, Biowatch and Earthlife Africa, but much of it appears has fallen on deaf ears. The ANC government seems to be as steadfastly pro genetic engineering as it is pro nuclear power.
It is pretty safe to say that the vast majority of South Africans are unaware of the increasing quantities of GE crops being grown in the country. Most, in fact, are entirely unaware of what GE crops are in the first place and what their potential environmental, economic and health impacts may be.
Under similar circumstances free-market advocates may conceivably (I know, you’re laughing, but just bear with me on this one) claim that we should simply let the market take care of the situation. If consumers don’t want foods and other products that contain GE components, they won’t buy them and in the absence of a profitable market for its goods, the GE industry will simply wither away.
In South Africa we can’t even appeal to this mystical magical market mechanism (if we really wanted to, ahem) since consumers here have no choice in the matter at all. Even if they were the most GE-informed community in the world they wouldn’t have that choice.
In South Africa, GE crops and products containing them are still not required to be kept separate from non-GE crops, do not have to be appropriately labelled (although some retailers do it voluntarily) and, in effect, can not be traced through the various stages of production and processing.
Personally, I think all of this sucks on a number of levels – a major disaster on a national scale.
So what am I going to do about it? Well, I’ll talk to as many people about GE crops in South Africa (especially any Free State mielie farmers I come across), I’ll support organisations such as Biowatch and SAFeAGE wherever and whenever I can (any night-time raids on GE fields, count me in), I’ll try to grow more food in my garden and I’ll eat as much seasonal, locally-grown organic produce as I can lay my hands on (if you live in Cape Town, I can highly recommend Wild Organic Foods and The Ethical Co-op). It doesn’t sound like a lot, I know, but… baby steps, right!?
Botswana Bushmen told to shape up January 23, 2007Posted by Andreas in News, Society, Southern Africa, Sustainable Living.
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Festus Mogae, the President of Botswana, recently told a small gathering of Basarwa Bushmen that they should give up their ancient hunting and gathering lifestyle and adopt modern ways (I came across his comments in Die Burger and haven’t managed to find his actual speech in English anywhere).
A little historical reflection reveals the considerable arrogance of Mogae’s comments.
He was speaking to members of a community that has just won the right to return to their ancestral homeland in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve from which some 3000 of them were illegally evicted between 1997 and 2002.
Since that time the Basarwa have survived in the squalor of crowded and isolated resettlement camps where poverty, Aids, joblessness, alcoholism and dependency on aid and government handouts were the order of the day.
On the eve of their long-awaited return home (the court case granting their right to return was the longest running case in Botswana history), Mogae decided to tell a people whose ancestors have lived in the area for hundreds of years, literally since “pre-historic” times, and have done so under harsh conditions without degrading their environment, to give up the very knowledge that enabled them to do so in the first place.
At a time when the very foundations of modern western civilisation are under threat from Global Warming, resource depletion and environmental destruction on a massive scale, Mogae was telling the only people who have managed to live in the Kalahari in a truly sustainable fashion to forget their ancient wisdom and technologies.
That’s what I mean by arrogance. Of course his pleas for the Basarwa not to return to their homes and traditions are in effect genocidal as well.
Should we really be surprised, though? Mogae is, after all, merely repeating what the “civilised” have told the “primitive” wherever and whenever they have encountered them. The inevitable consequences of Mogae’s and civilisation’s attitude are of course entirely predictable.
Just as the “civilised” are decimating biodiversity around the world through mono-crop industrial agriculture, habitat destruction and genetic engineering, so they are wiping out cultural diversity by “encouraging” – no forcing and black-mailing – indigenous people to get with the program of ProgressTM and abandon their old ways of life.
Just as the annihilation of biodiversity is lethal to whole ecosystems and ultimately life on Earth, this cultural colonialism will deprive all of us of the immeasurable knowledge of how to survive on an increasingly inhospitable planet.
Let’s just leave the Basarwa alone. In fact let’s do all we can to help them recover their way of life on their own terms and hope they haven’t given up on the rest of us yet – I have a sneaking suspicion that we will need their help sooner rather than later!
Ubuntu for a better world January 22, 2007Posted by Andreas in anarchism, Politics, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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I attended an International Institute for Self-Management (IIS) conference about cooperates a little while ago. It was a very small gathering and I only managed to sit in on some of the morning sessions (I was supposed to be at work – don’t tell my boss!), but the overall experience was very inspiring.
There were contributions and discussions about the co-op movement and co-operative experiments in South Africa, Europe and Latin America, all within the context of globalisation. Participants came from southern Africa and further afield.
I am convinced, now more than ever, that a revitalisation and strengthening of the cooperative “mode” of human existence, both in terms of interactions between people and in terms of our relationship with the non-human world, is the only way in which humanity can survive in a just, equitable, ethical and sustainable fashion.
I say “revitalisation and strengthening”, because even our current world is fundamentally based and dependent on co-operative human behaviour. It’s just that we’re not usually conscious of the fact and are frequently actively discouraged from acknowledging it.
Think about it, our society would utterly collapse in a day if it wasn’t for the unpaid labour of billions of women (and to a much lesser degree men) who sustain our children and families and thereby continuously reproduce our very civilisation. The relationship is generally a co-operative one (between a woman and her partner and between women and all of society). Similarly, if wage slaves around the globe were to work strictly according to their job descriptions from tomorrow onwards, every factory and all of “the economy” would come to a grinding halt pretty quickly.
Without the underlying and fundamentally human co-operative spirit there could not be any sort of cohabitation in cities and communities, there would be no group sporting activities and no shared rounds of drinks at your local pub.
We are meant to believe that competition is the dominant social force in the world, that the “market” will determine who among us are the fittest and most worthy of the lion’s share of reward in terms of wealth, power and influence. We are meant to believe that because science and evolutionary theory show that that is the way nature functions, human animal function this way, too.
But not even Darwin ignored the fact that co-operation is a factor in natural evolution – some of his followers, particularly those who applied his ideas in the social arena, greatly overstated the importance of competitive behaviour.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that co-operation is ubiquitous and vital in the natural world. Think of beehives, think of a pride of lions hunting, think of a multitude of other intricate collaborations both within and between species.
One of the things that was raised at the conference was that in South Africa there is a very long and deep-rooted co-operative tradition – that of ubuntu, the concept that a person is a person only within the context of human community.
Ubuntu encompasses such concepts as human solidarity, consensus decision-making and conflict resolution, a “willingness to sacrifice for the common good” and “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. Very similar, in many ways, to the anarchists’ guiding principle of mutual aid.
One of the beautiful things about ubuntu is its spiritual aspect – “the idea that we’re part of a long chain of human experience, connecting us to previous and future generations”.
Appeals to ubuntu are, of course, fashionable among South African politicians and even capitalist corporations, often in the most meaning-sapping and cliched ways. Poor South Africans, however, have always practiced ubuntu and they have survived many hardships because of ubuntu.
Is it really so idealistic and unrealistic to believe that we could make the concept of ubuntu into a fundamental pillar of our society (again!), one that replaces the destructive and cursed non-ethic of destruction, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, devil take the hindmost? I don’t think so.
Eskom: power tripping across the universe January 19, 2007Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Life, South Africa.
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Were you load-shed yesterday? I was load-shed twice, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and Eskom is “predicting” more rolling power blackouts for the weekend, or until the end of next week, or for the next three weeks, or whatever…
At about 2.15 am on Thursday morning, a “problem with the electronic component on one of the turbines” in one of the two reactors at Koeberg nuclear power station caused it to “trip”, compounding problems at other power stations around the country and necessitating the latest dose of load-shedding.
You’ve got to love that word: load-shedding. It’s spin at its best and makes power cuts sound like they’re almost a good thing, conjuring up images of obese people loosing loads of weight in the latest dieting revolution.
What always amazes me is the response of Capetonians to the recurring “problems” at Koeberg. We just want our bloody lights back on, thank you very much. Nobody seems to even think about the fact that we’re talking about a frigging NUCLEAR power station right in our very back yard.
All those of us who even give it a second thought need is to be told that the reactor is in “a safe shutdown” condition and its very existence slips our collective minds until the next power trip.
A particularly inane comment by Saleem Mowzer of Red1 (the Cape metropole’s regional electricity distributor) in yesterdays Cape Argus says it all: “It’s good to know that Koeberg’s safety measures are operating as they should.” Good to know, indeed, Mr. Mowzer!
The other thing I find striking is our beloved country’s rather warped relationship with electric power in general: we have some of the cheapest power in the world (I guess Telkom is trying to offset this by providing some of the most expensive telephone/internet rates on the planet), but we can’t make enough of it to keep everyone’s pool pumps and electrified fencing going and yet we bend over backwards to lure the most energy-sapping industries to our shores… you go figure.
FIFA: Table Mountain or bust January 18, 2007Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Aestetics are important, but are they worth more than R2.5 billion? Fifa, the world soccer association, appears to be insisting that the Cape Town venue for the 2010 Soccer World Cup be positioned just right to have Table Mountain as its backdrop.
The initial South African bid for the 2010 included an upgrade of the existing Newlands rugby stadium (current capacity: 50 900) as the venue for Cape Town. According to the Mail & Guardian, “it was [subsequently] decided to propose Athlone Stadium as the city’s preferred venue. The city spent R322-million on upgrading Athlone, in the hope that Fifa would approve it for a World Cup quarter-final.”
Well, they didn’t. The Mail & Guardian quotes an anonymous ‘senior government source’ as saying that
during their inspection in October 2005, Fifa delegates objected that the low-cost council housing around the Athlone stadium would not form a suitable backdrop. “A billion television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty on this scale,” one delegate allegedly said.
Understandable, isn’t it, who would want to be confronted the ugly truth about poverty in South Africa?
Then we were told that the old Green Point stadium would be upgraded. Also not good enough. The current plan is to build a brand new 68 000-seater stadium (original budget: ~R2.5 billion; current quote by preferred bidder Murray and Roberts: R3.7 billion) right next to the old Green Point stadium. Why? Because from this vantage point you get the best photographic angle of the new venue with Table Mountain in the background.
We’re moving the stadium 200 metres to the left to get a better photo op!
Personally I’m quite sceptical of South Africa hosting the World Cup in the first place. I just don’t think it’s in our best interest financially, environmentally or developmentally.
Don’t get me wrong, I love soccer. I play it every Wednesday evening at what I reckon must be one of the most beautiful sports fields anywhere in the world (well, let’s just say I try my best to imitate someone who knows how to play the game). The view from the field looks something like this (thanks to Manfred Leiter of Munich, Germany, for the pic):
If South Africa is to host the World Cup, though, why can’t we at least do so on our own terms and with our own priorities? If this World Cup is meant, at least in part, to benefit the local population, the new stadium should be located in the poorer, underdeveloped parts of town that need the infrastructure.
Under the current plan, we’ll end up with a huge stadium (in Germany 2006, only the Berlin stadium with a capacity of 72 000 was bigger than the one planned for Green Point) miles away from the local soccer fans who will never fill it for domestic fixtures after the World Cup anyway.
I’m sure someone will benefit from this deal, but it won’t be ordinary Captonians and definitely not poor Captonians!
Back to school January 17, 2007Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Life, Parenting, Society, South Africa, Work.
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The boys are back at school today. Being the primary parent (I don’t really like that term since I know that Zen is just as “primary” as I am in our kids’ lives), that means I’m back in the school lifting routine.
Sometimes it feels as though I’m on the road all the time.
My typical day involves driving Joey and Ben to school in the morning and driving them back home in the afternoon with the time depending on their extra-curricular schedule on that day (my boss has let me sacrifice my lunch-break so I can do the lifting whenever it’s required).
On Wednesdays Josef does arts at Frank Joubert (absolutely loves it!), so I’ve got to take him there after school, fetch and take him home after an hour and then get back to work. At the moment that’s our only off-school extra-curricular activity, but I’m sure there’ll be more soon… and more driving for me.
The distances involved are not very big, but the time I spend in traffic, mostly in a rush to get to the boys or to get back to work seems endless.
Since I started doing this, I’ve really learned to appreciate this aspect of what’s traditionally considered as part of an urban mother’s (unpaid) job. The “Mum’s Taxi” bumper stickers suddenly changed from whiny cliche to an accurate reflection of my life, well part of it anyway.
So here’s to all the mums (and dads who are mums) out there, who keep this society running with no remuneration, financial or otherwise, and all too often no recognition or appreciation!