Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

When They Go Low, We Go High

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When They Go Low, We Go High – Speeches That Shaped The World – And Why We Need Them
By Philip Collins – £16.99

”Beyond human aspiration, there is no end and no point. There is only time and chance. Perhaps this makes life absurd but there we are. Politics is the system by which we gather to accept and negotiate this ineluctably tragic fact of human existence. Camus understood that the supreme political virtue was moderation; Sartre never did, and in politics, if you don’t understand that you don’t understand anything.”

‘Revolution: Through Politics the Worst is Avoided’

”’There are two countries, real and fictional, occupying the same space,’ said Salman Rushdie in Shame. Unfortunately, in the history of nationalism, shame is too often the appropriate emotion.”

‘Nation: Through Politics the Nation is Defined’

It might be said that moderation and quintessential consideration for others, are the two integral necessities by which most great and respected world leaders are particularly renowned.

The American likes of both Carter and Clinton had it in abundance. As did Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and of course, said country’s first black President, Barack Obama.
All of whom were Democrats.
All of whom are rightfully written about in this altogether terrific book.
That’s not to say Republicans don’t get a look in because they do, as do a number of international politicians of unquestionable repute – among them Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and Vaclav Havel. The latter of whom began life as a writer/playright, and who is, for all intents and purposes, one of the few mentioned herein that doesn’t happen to be (an out and out) politician. The others being Martin Luther King and of course, Elie Wiesel – both of whom spoke and wrote with far more eloquence than most of us could ever dream of. Let alone aspire to.

To be sure, Philip Collins – columnist for The Times, associate editor of Prospect Magazine and one of Tony Blair’s former speechwriters between 2004 and 2007 – has herein compiled an outstanding and lest it be said, important book. Important, because it de-blurs the political lines and puts so many things into prime perspective; which far too much of today’s society take for granted. Outstanding, because it well…. just is.

Reason fundamentally being: not only does Collins critique and analyse all twenty-five of the most notable speeches in world history throughout When They Go Low, We Go High – Speeches That Shaped The World – And Why We Need Them. But, amid its 409 pages (excluding Bibliography and Index), he also asserts his own mighty correct, crystal-clear thoughts on many an inflammatory issue.

For instance, in the ‘Gettysburg Addresses,’ he bequeaths the reader with a most appropriate take on the ghastly resurgence of populism: ”The populist utopian has all the answers […]. No sooner has he ejected the hated elite than the populist’s entourage become the elite themselves. He glosses the shift by posing as the tribune of the people. No need for a manifesto: he simply intuits the general will. Populism is a movement with no ideological content beyond its resentment of an elite. It therefore requires a charismatic leader – lately a Trump, a Chavez, an Erdogan – to glue it together. The movement gathers around the leader as if around a maypole. Its name proclaims allegiance to the people, but in fact populism requires the people to swear allegiance to the leader. The bargain rests on the populist knowing everything, but, of course, the truth is that he knows almost nothing. The populist has a utopian account of political change, which is to say no account at all.”

Sound somewhat familiar?
Do such names as Adolf Hitler (”populism requires the people to swear allegiance to the leader”) and Nigel Farage (”The bargain rests on the populist knowing everything, but, of course, the truth is that he knows almost nothing”) leap forth?

So far as right here, right now is concerned, it’s worth reading When They Go Low, We Go High for the above quotation on populism alone. And apart from all the high-octane, well considered analyses, it also makes for convenient, refreshing reading, to have all these marvellous speeches in just one book.

None more so than the undeniably, utterly heartbreaking words of the brave and brilliant, Elie Wiesel, which, to my mind, really ought to have concluded the final chapter ‘Revolution,’ but for some reason, doesn’t. Although Collins does lead into it with the following sentence: ”There is no more affecting passage of rhetoric anywhere than this, from Night:

”Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.”

David Marx

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South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

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South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland
Lonely Planet – £17.99

Lions at waterholes, township art, clouds pouring over Table Mountain, Kalahari dunes, Drakensberg peaks, Swazi and Zulu ceremonies: Southern Africa’s famous trio is rich with adventures and experiences, culture and scenery.

                                                                     James Bainbridge
                                                                     Lonely Planet Writer

When compared to other travel guides, it does need to be said that Lonely Planet do go some way in coaxing that extra mile out of their publications. Perhaps there’s something in the layout, overall design or content, that makes this part-time traveller at least, always want to invariably reach out for their manifestation of travel writing, over others.

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland being no exception to this thinking.

Replete with an array of maps (many of which are generally overall country maps, although several do home-in on a number of city centres such as Cape Town and Durban, Knysna and Pietermaritzburg), and the sort of colour photography that traverses everything which comes to mind when thinking of Africa’s famous trio: from the lions, zebras, buffalo and rhino that constitute its spectacular wildlife, to whales swimming in Walker Bay, not to mention Cape Dutch architecture, the Cederberg Wildnerness, vast urban areas, Knysna oyters and of course, a menagerie of cats (which, along with lions, also include wildcats, leopards, caracals and of course, cheetahs).

Indeed, like the Rainbow Nation itself, these 628 pages (excluding Index) cover most of the things that could possibly be expected from a visit to this extraordinary part of the world: ”With people from Afrikaners to Zulu living side by side and speaking 11 official languages, South Africa is undoubtedly one of the world’s most diverse countries. Pastel rondavels (round hats with a conical roof) dot the green ridges of the Drakensberg and Wild Coast, Nelson Mandela’s birthplace; Basotho shepherds clad in distinctive hats and blankets lead their sturdy ponies through Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains; and at the traditional reed dances in Swaziland and Zululand, debutantes dance with swaying reeds for local royalty. Meeting these people and experiencing their diverse cultures, all coexisting thanks to Mandela’s legacy of tolerance, will leave you with indelible memories.”

Memories indeed!

Compartmentalised into twelve different sections (Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Free State, Johannesburg & Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Kruger National Park, Limpopo, North West Province, Northern Cape, Lesotho, Swaziland) and simply packed with an abundance of all the important information you’ll ever need – from best places to eat and stay, sights and activities, phone numbers, websites, a handy section on the various languages, and a (most worthwhile) section called a Survival Guide that lends itself to everything you need to know – Lonely Planet do give good value for money.

Before I forget, also included is a wildlife guide, and in the back of the book, a pull-out map of Cape Town.

So, if you intend heading to either South Africa, Lesotho or Swaziland, be sure to investigate this most crucial of travel guides. It’ll enable you to do so much forward planning before you’ve even landed; which, when you think about it, can only be a good thing.

Or, like South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland itself, an essential thing.

David Marx

Democracy’s Infrastructure

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Democracy’s Infrastructure –
Techno-Politics & Protest after Apartheid
By Anita Von Schnitzler
Princeton University Press – £22.95

By the standards of students of the liberal principles, the southern African plural urban society is in need of a great deal of reform before it could be expected to function well.

                                                                                       J.A. Lombard 1978

Surely this is a most profound understatement of the most profound order?

In 1978, Nelson Mandela was still incarcerated on Robben Island. It was also his sixtieth birthday, which the then British Prime Minister, James Callaghan, acknowledged, by sending him formal greetings from the House of Commons. I should imagine Mandela was beside himself with joy; especially as South African society was, if nothing else, still fundamentally out of control and seemingly beyond repair.

Fast forward to today, and we find ourselves amid a society, still teetering on the brink of breakdown, although said breakdown is supposedly reflective of South African society itself.

As much is coherently brought to bear throughout Democracy’s Infrastructure – Techno-Politics & Protest after Apartheid, by the anthropologist, Anita von Schnitzler. A savvy account of an overtly troubled nation, written from the premise of dare I actually write: that of a semi-apolitical perspective; namely that of the country’s water rights and the introduction of the all governing (it would seem) water meter.

A technological product or policing breakthrough or however you’d like to describe it, which, as von Schnitzler explains, is more clinically Orwellian, than many might initially imagine: ”A prepaid meter is a device, which, apart from measuring networked services such as electricity, gas, or water, automatically disconnects users in cases of nonpayment. In order to access services, users have to purchase and load up credit tokens in advance, either by entering a numerical code or by using a magnetic key or card. Failure to do so results in immediate ”self-disconnection.” While the meter is one of many increasingly sophisticated infrastructure technologies that mediate access to flows of goods, information, and money in many places of the world today, it is also a distinctly South African thing […]. Living prepaid mirrors life in a moment in which income has become precarious, where reliance on a regular monthly wage is the exception rather than the norm. Here, payment for basic services is no longer shaped by the cyclical temporality of regularly recurring monthly salaries and bills; instead, income as well as payment is often incremental and ad hoc.”

By it’s very nature then, living ‘prepaid’ has essentially been introduced and designated to ultimately fail.

And to fail in such a way as to both condone and promote an everyday existence which is undeniably stressful – to say the least.
Or is it?: ”While the threat of cutoff is what makes many residents object to prepaid meters, it is paradoxically also this ability to prevent debts from accumulating that often makes them attractive. Prepaid meters, in this sense, are technologies of precarity that reflect the multiple dilemmas and vicissitudes of life after the ”end of the salary” (Mbembe and Roitman 1996). Thus, they provide a window onto larger shifts in experiences of time, consumption, and life after formal employment.”

Hmm….
As the second part of the book’s title suggests (Techno-Politics & Protest after Apartheid), these six chapters traverse much of what is enabling South Africa to move forward, whilst simultaneously dissecting that which is quintessentially holding it back.

David Marx