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The mystery of South Africa’s VIP anarchist February 28, 2007

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, South Africa.
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“Anarchist doesn’t want to be fascist” declared the headline to a “Newsmaker” story about Paris Mashile the chairperson of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in the Sunday Times Business Times section several weeks ago (January 28).

There was even a teaser on the front page of the paper: “The anarchist watching Telkom” , so you can imagine my excitement. It’s just not an everyday event for South Africans with as prominent a public profile as Mashile to identify themselves as anarchists in a national newspaper.

girl A

You can also imagine my massive disappointment when I realised that the article contained not a single reference to Mashile’s supposed anarchism. The only tit-bits we were given appeared in a small “In brief” box at the end of the article that contained the following: “Personal philosophy: I’m an anarchist” and the more circumstantial “Current reading: Noam Chomsky”.That was it.

The writer of the piece, Chris Barron, had not bothered to follow up on what was surely a surprising bit of information coming from an official figure. What did Mashile mean by anarchism? How did his being an anarchist impact on his private and professional life? How did he first get into contact with anarchist ideas? What relevance does anarchism have for South Africa today? Does he have an anarchist-inspired vision of a better future society?

smash the state

There were just so many pertinent questions to ask Mashile, but all Barron seemed to be interested in was trashing his performance as chairperson of ICASA. I’m sure many if not all of Barron’s criticisms were valid, but come on, wouldn’t it have been a real scoop to out someone of Mashile’s stature as an anarchist. Anarchists are, after all, part of the “far left” elements that Thabo Mbeki has been warning us about!

I suspect that Barron (or at least his sub-editor) was using the word “anarchist” in his headline and front page teaser in the popular, negative sense to further deride Mashile’s woeful professional performance.

I thought this story was interesting enough to try to follow up myself and so I fired off a sympathetic message to the general ICASA email address I found on the organisation’s website (info@icasa.org.za), expressing my appreciation for Mashile’s publicly declaring himself an anarchist and asking some of the questions I thought Barron should have posed.

I received an automated(?) reply to my message assuring me that the matter would be attended to. I heard nothing after that. I sent another 13 emails, but heard nothing more from ICASA. I know, that’s pretty pathetic, I do really have a life, I promise, but sending that email kind of became part of my daily routine.

I was about to post this rant on the blog last week when I finally got a more promising response: an ICASA employee, obviously getting annoyed by my constant emailing, informed me that Mr Mashile had been busy, but that he would forward my questions to him.

Yesterday morning I inquired whether Mr Mashile had had a moment to attend to my message and was told that

“Unfortunately Mr Mashile won’t be talking to you on this subject”.

And I’m afraid that’s pretty much all there is to it. So after reading my whole story on this matter, I’m very sorry to have to disappoint you as well.

long live A

The tale of South Africa’s highest-profile self-declared anarchist remains a mystery. Should I ever receive an answer to my questions, I’ll certainly let you know right here.

Why nuclear power still sucks February 26, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Nuclear Power.

I don’t like nuclear energy. I don’t like living 30 kms from Africa’s sole commercial nuclear power plant. Mostly, this is just a visceral gut reaction – atomic energy worries me and I don’t want it in my life, period.


The nuclear industry has been doing badly in recent years so I haven’t had much need to defend my hatred for it in a more rational way, but unfortunately… nuclear power seems on the comeback trail.

A growing number of governments, including those of the USA, the UK and South Africa, are actively promoting a growing role for atomic power. The nuclear energy lobby is fraudulently promoting itself as a “carbon-free alternative”, the habitually deceitful George W. Bush claims that “nukyular” power is a renewable source of energy and even the erstwhile darling of the new-age green movement, James Lovelock who conceived the Gaia theory, tells us that “nuclear power is the only green solution” to global warming.


The South African government is heavily invested in the nuclear industry and has just revealed a nuclear program involving the construction of 12 conventional and 24 pebble bed modular reactor atomic power stations.

The Cape Argus recently quoted Rob Adam, the CE of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA (Necsa) as saying that “geographic factors in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape ruled out any sources of power other than nuclear energy.”

This is an astonishing statement, mostly because it is completely untrue. Wind power and solar power are both viable options in the Western and Eastern Cape. I wrote several emails to Necsa to find out if Adam had perhaps been misquoted, but have yet to receive a response.

So what are we to do, faced with all this pro-nuclear propaganda? Educate ourselves. Say no to this dangerous technology, oppose it wherever we can and spread the word. Here are six good reasons to ditch nuclear power for good.

Nuclear No Thanks

Nuclear power is expensive

Atomic power plants are hugely expensive, take around a decade to build and cost billions to decommission. In fact, a 2002 a UK Cabinet Office report showed that nuclear power costs more than on-shore or off-shore wind electricity per unit generated. Besides, nuclear power stations produce waste that remains lethal to the environment and humans for tens of thousands of years – how on Earth do you put a price on that?

The global nuclear industry has long survived on massive government subsidies and South Africa has been no different. According to the World Council on Renewable Energy, it has been supported worldwide to the tune of a total of at least a trillion (i.e. a thousand billion) dollars, while only $50 billion has been spent on renewable energy. Imagine where we would be today if that ratio had been reversed?


Nuclear power is no solution to global warming

Many politicians and the nuclear industry claim that we need nuclear energy to reduce CO2 emissions which are a major cause of global warming. While it is true that atomic energy plants generate substantially less CO2 than coal-fired power stations, they still produce much more CO2 than renewables.

If nuclear power would contribute 70% of all electricity produced worldwide by 2100 (which would require construction of 10 000 new nuclear reactors), it would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of merely 16%. This is because electricity production is only a comparatively small part of the problem – fossil fuel powered transport being the biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

According to Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute,

Each dollar invested in electric efficiency displaces nearly seven times as much carbon dioxide as a dollar invested in nuclear power, without any nasty side effects. If climate change is the problem, nuclear power isn’t the solution. It’s an expensive, one-size-fits-all technology that diverts money and time from cheaper, safer, more resilient alternatives.


Nuclear power is not a renewable source of energy

The world’s total recoverable reserves of uranium (the fuel for most nuclear power plants) have been estimated to be around 4.6 million tonnes. There may be another 10 million tonnes in undiscovered or low-grade ores. The world’s current atomic energy plants need about 75 000 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. Even without building the many new nuclear power stations that atomic advocates are demanding, the present recoverable reserves are enough to satisfy the world’s current nuclear capacity for only another 60 years (source: Is nuclear power a solution to climate change? by Pete Roche).


Nuclear power is dirty

The whole nuclear energy chain, from mining, to transport, enrichment, fission, waste storage and waste disposal creates pollution at every stage. Nuclear reactors generate high-level radioactive waste that will remain lethal for tens of thousands of years and operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants produces huge amounts of low-level waste.

No repository for high-level nuclear waste has been established anywhere in the world, even though the USA has thrown more than R80 million at the problem. According to some estimates it may take another 25 to 40 years for a high-level nuclear waste facility to be in operation in the UK.

The Blacksmith Institute has recently declared Chernobyl the most polluted place on Earth. Twenty years after the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster, the 19-mile exclusion zone around the plant remains uninhabitable. A former soviet uranium plant in Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan, also makes the top 10 list.


Nuclear power is dangerous

Just ask the people who used to live near Chernobyl! The US Department of Energy has estimated that around the globe (because yes, radiation can travel) there were around 40 000 cancer deaths that can be linked to the Chernobyl disaster.

And it isn’t just dangerous when the huge disasters happen. Uranium miners are routinely exposed to substantial doses of radiation, particularly through inhalation of radioactive radon gas derived from uranium ore.

Nuclear power stations are prime targets for terrorist attacks and the civilian atomic energy industry produces highly enriched uranium and plutonium which can be used to manufacture nuclear weapons.


The nuclear power industry has blood on its hands!

Critics may consider this point a historical irrelevancy that should not cloud our rational judgment of the “peaceful” uses of atomic energy, but the civilian nuclear industry will forever be linked to the most hideous weapons of mass destruction invented and used by humans.

The connection between atomic bombs and nuclear power plants are, of course, as intimate in South Africa as they are around the world. In the words of George Monbiot:

[…] we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state which has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years – Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran – has done so by manipulating its nuclear power program.

In recent years, the the USA and the UK have made use of depleted uranium ammunition (considered by some as a convenient vehicle to get rid of nuclear waste produced by the atomic energy industry) in the wars in the Balkans and Iraq. These weapons have been connected with horrendous increases in cancers, deaths, birth defects and environmental contamination that are just the latest outrage in a long history of violence and bloodshed.


So there you have it. These are just some reasons to reject nuclear power. There are more, but do you really need them? Say no to atomic energy – for your own sake, for that of your children and for that of our planet!


Anarchism means… February 22, 2007

Posted by Andreas in anarchism, Life, Politics, Society.
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CrimethInc. says:

“Anarchism” is the revolutionary idea that no one is more qualified than you are to decide what your life will be.

It means thinking for yourself, rather than following blindly.

It means rejecting hierarchy.

It means trying to figure out how to work together to meet our individual needs, how to work with each other rather than for or against each other.

It means not valuing any system or ideology above the people it purports to serve, not valuing anything theoretical above the real things in this world.

It means not forcing your desires into a hierarchical order, but accepting and embracing all of them, accepting yourself.

It means refusing to put the responsibility for your happiness in anyone else’s hands, whether that be parents, lovers, employers, or society itself. It means taking the pursuit of meaning and joy in your life upon your own shoulders.

For what else should we pursue, if not happiness? If something isn’t valuable because we find meaning and joy in it, then what could possibly make it important? How could abstractions like “responsibility”, “order”, or “propriety” possibly be more important than the real needs of the people who invented them? Should we serve employers, parents, the State, God, capitalism, moral law, causes, movements, “society” before ourselves? Who taught you that, anyway?

UCT strikers victorious! February 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.

After striking from 2pm last Friday, members of the UCT Employees’ Union this morning accepted a substantially improved offer from the university’s management and the strike has been suspended.

The offer, which was accepted nearly unanimously, is arguably better than the demands that the union had put on the table. We were striking for an across the board increase of 5.5% plus a 1.5% performance related raise (i.e. a maximum pay increase of 7% for top, walk-on-water performers).

What we got is a performance related raise that incorporates a guaranteed minimum 5.5% increase which can be higher than 7%, depending on where the worker is placed on her or his payscale according to her or his performance appraisal.

The guaranteed 5.5% raise essentially translates into an across the board increase (it only excludes individuals with a documented below-par performance record) and the deal is not capped by the 1.5% performance related top-up we demanded.

This outcome is a definite victory for the union. Management was clearly shaken by our militancy and resolve. The fact that they essentially conceded to our demands is brilliant. Union members have demonstrated to themselves and the rest of the university community that as a united force they are capable of winning these sorts of battles with the management – and it took just over a day!

There were also exciting signs of solidarity between the EU and NEHAWU, between workers from different bargaining units as well as from students and academics.

Members of the union exec emphasised that a commitment was made to start the next round of salary negotiations much earlier this year to avoid some of the problems that plagued the process this time around.

In our meeting this morning, several members made it clear that we should see this victory as a stepping stone to further improvements and gains and I think that is a particularly positive development. If we can take the success of this strike as what some people would call a “non-reformist reform”, which we can build on in future rather than suffering an erosion of our new gains, then we have made a quantum leap in the struggle for better working conditions at UCT.

There are clearly some outstanding problems, particularly those around the practical implementation of the performance appraisal system, but these issues are acknowledged and will surely be addressed and at the very least watched with eagle-eyes by union members.

As for management and particularly the Human Resources department, they will have to work hard to rebuild a number of bridges that have been burnt in an effort to re-establish some sort of trust.

When I was leaving the meeting at which the new proposal was accepted this morning, I bumped into one of my co-workers who was wearing a broad and satisfied smile. Last year this long-time UCT employee and consistently good performer got an increase of less than half a percent (I’m not kidding you, even his line manager was astonished!). This year he will get 5.5% guaranteed and most probably considerably more. That thought alone makes this a particularly sweet victory!

UCT strike rolls along February 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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The strike by workers in payclasses 5 to 12 at the University of Cape Town continued into its second day today. This morning started with successful picketing along Rosebank Main Road and Woolsack Drive followed by a convergence on Bremner building (home to the university’s administration).

From there workers marched to Upper Campus singing and toy-toying, surely an apt initiation to the throngs of students coming to UCT for their first day of lectures for the year. Most of the students looked somewhat perplexed, but the atmosphere on the plaza and on University Avenue was generally supportive.

The only exception to this that I noticed was a student holding a hastily hand-written piece of paper that read “Go Home Commies”. His childish conflation of our democratic and constitutionally-guaranteed right to strike with a political philosophy was rather comical. A dignified elder striker took him to task and let him know (with a few carefully chosen kind words) that he’d better be off to his lectures since his education was clearly lacking and rather incomplete.

At a meeting in the acoustically-challenged echo chamber that is Jameson Hall, the strikers overwhelmingly resolved to continue the strike for the rest of the day and into Tuesday. Management and the union negotiating team met at Bremner at 2pm. By tomorrow morning we should have an indication if UCT is finally prepared make a constructive offer.

Today was a good day for the strikers – it was sunny and hot and this whitey got his face and balding forehead thoroughly burnt. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this strike, it is to come prepared and appropriately accessorised. Oh, and that a united workforce is a powerful thing, of course!

UCT strike: distrust, anger and lack of communication February 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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The strike by UCT workers in payclasses 5 to 12 commenced at 2 pm on Friday and will continue on Monday morning, unless management and the negotiating team miraculously contrived to come up with a solution to the deadlock during the weekend.

On Friday, the majority of strikers marched to the Bremner building, which houses the universities administration, while a smaller contingent was delegated to picket along De Wall Drive attracting the attention of numerous Captonians on their way home from work. The strikers where enthusiastic and very disciplined, singing, brandishing placards and toy-toying. Look at some pics here.

A large proportion of the people who have joined this strike with such conviction have worked at UCT for many years, decades in some cases, some were students here who stayed on after finishing their studies, and many remember the institution as a comparatively good, caring and compassionate employer.

During the last five to ten years, however, UCT has undergone some rather drastic changes. Today, the university is run as a “business” rather than as a public institution and resource of learning and research with at least some grounding in civil society and its relationship to its employees has changed accordingly.

The workforce at UCT has been severely fragmented by an administration that has “outsourced” as many of its “non-core” activities as possible and clearly prefers to deal with its employees in small groups (a tactic of divide and rule that was evident in management’s offers during the recent negotiations).

It’s my sense that there is currently a great deal of disappointment in a UCT leadership that seems oblivious to the widespread unhappiness of its workforce and a vice-chancellor who prefers to communicate via impersonal mass emails rather than by speaking to UCT workers on the steps of the administration building.

There is a deep sense of distrust in a Human Resources department that seems to regard other UCT workers primarily as “resources” and only coincidentally as “human” and that appears to have negotiated salary increases for itself that are much larger than would ever be offered to the remainder of the workforce.

The HR department is widely considered to have under-designing a performance-related remuneration system that is differently understood and differently applied by line-managers across the university’s various departments and faculties, leading many to question its fairness and workability. Having endowed the performance-appraisal system with entirely inefficient feed-back loops, the HR department appeared for a long time to be under the impression that the feeling among UCT employees was that the system was working flawlessly, an exercise in self-deception if ever there was one.

Finally there has been a fairly comprehensive break-down in communication between the broad workforce and the upper management level, which has led a lot of the strikers to feel as though they are being treated unfairly.

Of course this is just my own personal evaluation of the current situation, but I feel that management would do well to consider some of these issues. If they don’t believe me, maybe the vice-chancellor and his deputies should speak to the odd striking UCT worker themselves – an exercises that might just open their eyes.

Strike! February 15, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.

Wow was I wrong when I suggested the other day that there might not be “enough anger and passion” among UCT workers (payclasses 5 to 12) to sufficiently support the Employees’ Union’s demands in the current dispute with management.

At a meeting on Wednesday, which was called by the union specifically to gauge support, about 400 or so UCT workers rejected mamagements very final non-offer and came out overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

There were also messages of support from the Student Representative Council, NEHAWU (who may come out in a sympathy strike) and the UCT Workers’ Forum (representing contracted workers).

After the legally required 48-hour notice period, we will be on strike from 2pm this Friday! All in all, this should have management shaking in their boots – let’s see how far they’re willing to take this!

Spirits are high. Watch this space.

South Africa takes the nuclear energy low-road February 14, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Environment, News, Nuclear Power, South Africa.

It’s almost semi-official now: South Africa will get a new conventional nuclear power plant. I told you so, didn’t I! Here are some extracts from yesterday’s Business Day:

SA is to get its second nuclear power station in the Cape, with Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin announcing yesterday that a decision had been taken to build a new baseload nuclear power station “in the southern part of the grid”.


Speculation has been that a new nuclear plant would be built next door to the existing one at Koeberg, which is licensed for another two reactors and has access to cold cooling water for the power station.

Erwin said yesterday Eskom had taken the decision to go ahead with the plant late last year, with government’s support. It would decide on a preferred bidder in the first quarter of this year. It is expected to go public on details of the new power station within a couple of days. The new plant would be upwards of 1000MW, he said.

It is not yet clear what the new nuclear plant, which would not come on line until at least 2013, will cost […]

So there you have it. The powers that be have decided and that’s the way things will be.

Eskom spokesperson Fani Zulu is quoted as saying that

An EIA (environmental impact assessment) has yet to be done and that would be a participatory process. It is therefore difficult to say when construction will start. We have, however, seen some of the decisions (regarding the plant) taken this year and foresee that the EIA will also be initiated this year.

Does that sound cart-before-horseish to you as well? An EIA has not even been done yet, but plans for the plant are clearly already far advanced and all of the language suggests that in the end the outcome of the EIA will be a mere formality, a rubber stamp.

I also love the reference here to this being a participatory process. This whole thing smacks of quite the opposite to me.

In the absence of details about government and Eskom’s plans a population that is woefully under-informed when it comes to the issues around nuclear power will have little real decision making power, even if they should be asked to participate in a broad-based consultation such as a referendum (which, of course, they won’t).

“The People’s” elected representatives (sic) together with unelected bureaucrats and business people with immense vested interests will decide that a new nuclear power station is indeed best for all of us. It’s called democracy, don’t you know.

So what’s the alternative? What’s going to stop me from whinging on and on about this? What’s the antidote?

Well, you may have read some of my thoughts regarding the concept of continuous growth that seems to underpin our entire civilisation and I think there are a number of very fundamental issues in this regard that we, as a society, would do well to grapple with. For the moment, however, there are a number of much simpler potential, if temporary, solutions.

We are forever being told that if all of Cape Town’s water heating was done using solar water heaters, the local electricity demand would be reduced dramatically. There must be a xentillion other, similarly simple, ways to make us use less electricity. So reduced consumption and improved energy efficiency are one part of the solution.

The second would be investing much more of our efforts in renewable energy generation, and no, nuclear power is not renewable (just as it isn’t clean or cheap). The government seems to have no qualms about spending billions of tax rands on the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor and now on conventional atomic energy as well as new coal-fired power stations – why are renewables the perpetual poorer cousins.

Not realistic? Think again: the American Solar Energy Association has just released a comprehensive report that suggests that a combination of improved energy efficiency and renewable energy production (concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, windpower, biofuels and geothermal) could not only satisfy the electricity demand of the United States, but could meet the 60 to 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by mid-century that many climate scientists believe to be the minimum requirement to preserve a habitable planet. And all of this without any nuclear energy at all!

If this is possible in the USA with its massive energy consumption, it must surely be possible in South Africa.

Looming strike at UCT? February 13, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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If you’ve been following my previous posts about the current round of salary negotiations at the University of Cape Town, you won’t be entirely surprised that the negotiation process has finally reached a stale-mate.

The CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) wasn’t able to resolve the deadlock and at two meetings last week, the members of the UCT Employees’ Union rejected management’s last offer (which was essentially the same as the one before it) and came out in favour of strike action if required.

We’re not on strike yet, but I guess we could be very soon. How interesting would that be! I’m still not entirely convinced that there is enough anger and passion behind this from enough people, but I’m ready to be surprised!

The union has called for a lunch-time meeting of its members this Wednesday as a show of strength and resolve. This is a pretty sensitive time in the university calendar since we have just started orientation week and the registration of new and returning students.

Watch this space and I’ll keep you up to date on how things pan out.

Here are the union’s current demands:

1. Salary Increase – 7% increase of which 5.5.% should be across the board and the remainder of 1.5% granted in terms of the performance reward system.

2. Staff Tuition rate – referred to sub group for recommendations

3. Tax on Bonus – agreed with set of rules for choice and implementation to be agreed by 31 May 2007. Members to be allowed 3 years in which to take a final decision whether to remain on system or not.

4. Parking – increases to be contained to a % not greater than the average salary % increase granted in any one year.

5. Performance development system. The appointment of a sub-group, with 3 reps from either side, to resolve issues with the current system.

Land Rover: Lies, insults and arrogant TV ads February 12, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.

There’s an ad on the TV at the moment that’s really bugging me. You might have seen it yourself, it’s the one for the new Land Rover.

An Inuit man is seen steering his husky-drawn sled across an ice and snow-covered landscape. Suddenly a big Land Rover pulls up next to him. The man driving the SUV and the Inuit smile and wave at each other through the passenger window.

The Inuit is so perplexed by the sight of the man in the comfort of his car with his dog curled up on the backseat that he loses control of his sled and is thrown off it. In the next scene, the Inuit is seen running after the Land Rover and the bolted sled.

Last, we are shown the Land Rover logo with the punch line, “Go Further”, written below it. Fin. (There’s actually another version which I found online, and which I guess we might still get to see on our TV’s, in which the Land Rover driver gives the Inuit and his huskies a lift).

Why do I dislike it so much that I would rant about it in public? Well, for starters, it’s a lie. In the deep arctic wilderness, which is where we’re obviously meant to believe this is happening, you will not come across a man in a Land Rover taking his doggy for a joyride – no roads, no petrol stations, no cars, not even 4x4s. But then most ads lie almost by definition, so that’s not the main reason.

What annoys me more about this particular ad is that it’s almost as if someone tried to come up with a perfect parody of the relationship between modern civilisation and so-called primitive people. The civilised way of life (symbolised by the Land Rover and its driver) performs better and is more comfortable in the very environment which has up until now been the harsh and inhospitable home of the primitive indigenous people.

I consider it an insult to my intelligence that I’m expected to ignore the fact that Inuit have successfully lived in this environment for hundreds of years in balance with nature and without destroying their environment, while huge, petrol-guzzling cars like the Land Rover are one of the very reasons why the Arctic is melting away before our eyes.

Modern civilisation literally overtakes the savage (noble, but still savage), whose inferior way of life (the sled) disappears into the distance. Civilisation hardly notices the genocide and environmental destruction it leaves in it’s wake and carries on its merry way without giving it another thought. (In the second version, of course, civilisation saves the primitive from themselves by graciously taking them into the future, the civilised, motorised future).

You may say that I’m over-analysing this whole thing, but to my mind the ad really stinks to high heaven. It displays the same arrogance towards indigenous people that was exhibited recently by the government of Botswana in its dealings with the Basarwa Bushmen.

When are we going to learn to respect indigenous people and their incredible knowledge of living on this planet in a sustainable fashion? When will we stop looking at them as miserable basket cases in need of our civilised guidance? When will we realise that we may very well need their know-how very soon to overcome our own problems?