Health (it needs some money)…

Ah. The Department of Health. The government department that everyone loves to hate. Well, that and the Department of Home Affairs, of course. Actually, I daresay that there are a few others too. But recently, the DoH has been taking a fair old beating. And the majority of it is entirely justified. Dirty wards, staff shortages, poor pay for nurses, a lack of qualified doctors – the list is seemingly endless. Perhaps it’s at this point that I should point out that although I’m referring to the South African Department of Health, I could equally be describing the situation back in old Blighty. Having worked in both, I can say that in many respects the similarities are striking. The underfunding, lack of equipment and the shortages of staff are obvious and alarming in both countries, albeit on different scales. Here in SA, there has (rightfully) been outcry over the fact that newly born babies were placed in cardboard boxes. It sounds terrible – it is terrible and unacceptable. But reading Georgina Guedes’ column, one can see the good in the people that work in these conditions; a staff, under pressure, underfunded, underpaid, yet still doing their best to make patients – be they mothers or neonates – comfortable and safe, despite the lack of support they face. Making the best out of a very bad job.

I looked closely at those babies and I could see that they were clean, clothed and covered with warm blankets, and so I wasn’t too concerned about their wellbeing.

For me, it’s a reminder of my time in the NHS in the UK. Hospital workers doing their best for the patients in difficult conditions. Unpaid overtime, long hours, extra duties due to a lack of qualified staff; low wages, low morale, high staff turnover etc etc. But there was a willingness to serve the patients, wherever you looked – almost a Blitz spirit. But staff goodwill can only go so far. Eventually, the system passes breaking point, shortcuts are taken and mistakes happen. And patients die. 90 of them in this Clostridium difficle “superbug” outbreak in Kent. The interview with the son of one of the victims, Ranjit Gosal, describes the situation in the wards, and the difficulties he came up against when trying to get help for his dying mother. It’s tragic. And the NHS baby units are in no better state. We’re not down to cardboard boxes in the UK just yet, but the parallels are there for all to see. The answer? More money – but more better managed money. But it’s ok – I’m no fool. I have heard these calls in the UK for many years and nothing has been done to redress the balance of years of underfunding. The same goes for SA. And so, the respective Departments of Health stagger from one disaster to another, each time claiming that “lessons have been learned”. Sorry – I just don’t see the evidence of that.

SA’s bad press

Just look at the news stories involving South Africa which made it to the front page of the BBC News website (more than 800 million pages served each month) over the last week and you can see why some people claim that SA gets a bad press. We have good old African corruption, political crisis, more self-publicising Simon Grindrod nonsense about crime and a completely laughable story about Durban being named after… well… bulls bollocks. A bad press, yes, but that’s not to say that these stories are not true – sadly, they are (although Simon Grindrod is an idiot and has a vaguely amusing name). It’s perhaps just a little unfair that the country’s dirty laundry is out there for so many to see, while the neatly folded stuff in the cupboard remains… in the cupboard.

But that’s not the only “bad press” that I’m talking about. South Africa’s own news sites – such as News 24 and IOL – are pretty awful: laden with poor journalism, sensationalist rubbish and more adverts than actual stories. That’s why it’s sometimes very hard to actually get a handle on what is going on in this country.
After all, why would one trust any content from a front page that features a dark picture of a dodgy looking gent, claiming to be a 25-year old man “looking to date men and women between the ages of 18 and 100”?
Not the most specific of parameters, I think you’ll agree, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the fact that bad news sells newspapers, gets viewers and snaffles a nice big internet readership too. Those good news stories are kept for the final item: the “and finally…” to leave the viewer feeling all snuggly and warm and ready to come back again at the same time tomorrow; that despite the fact the world is filled with crime, disease, earthquakes, war and poverty – Snookie the labrador is looking after some orphaned piglets, so everything’s OK.

Sadly for SA, most people on the BBC News site will have read the headline SA’s Table Mountain ‘needs army’ and moved on, probably with the thought that they’ll leave Cape Town and BullsBalls off their summer itinerary this year, Snookie or not.

The Big South African Crime Post

This post won Runner-Up in the 2008 SA Blog Awards BEST POST category.

Wow. What a week.
We had the arbitration panel’s report on the Tevez affair, we had the new crime stats released in South Africa and I actually managed to play a game of football for the first time in almost three months, the last of which goes some way towards explaining the bruise on my arse. Some way, not by any means all.
It was inflicted by a stoutly-built Slavic dwarf. Seriously. I’m still not sure how he reached.

As for the Tevez scandal, I’m not going to start on here about that. First off, I’d have to try and explain it, which is going to be time-consuming and suitably subjective. Then, by the time I upload this, everything will all be out of date. And, by the time you read it in 2009, they’ll probably still be bickering over some minor legal technicality. It’s time that football authorities clamped down on the things that are ruining our beautiful game. Those things would include dodgy transfer deals, Sheffield wednesday and stocky Bulgarian midgets.

Which leaves us with the hot potato, the thorny apple, the… the… pokey fishcake – whatever – that is South Africa and crime. Woo.
OK. For starters – South Africa has a big problem with crime.
There. I said it. Whoever that was at the back who suggested I wouldn’t say it was wrong.
You people who deny that there’s a problem, get with the programme. There is. Believe it, because it’s true.
And some of it is on the increase. Although equally, some of it is on the decrease too.
The stats show that South Africa remains one of the most violent societies on earth – the figures are shocking. People pay their taxes and they are right to expect more to be done to reduce rates of crime in the country.

That said, while the stories in the newspapers may make grim reading, the majority of us carry on with our lives without being directly or personally affected by crime. According to the latest figures, 40 in every 100,000 people will be murdered in SA each year, but lest we forget, that still leaves 99,960 who won’t be. I’d love them to be better, but for me, those odds (equating to 2,500-1) are still pretty good. Let’s face it, would you really bet on a horse that was a 2,500-1 outsider and expect to win? No. Because that’s what odds are all about – indicating the probability of something actually occurring. Moreover, by being sensible and avoiding situations and places where you might put yourself in danger, you can lower that risk still further. You can’t do that with your horse.

There’s another more sinister side to this issue as well – race.
Because of the ongoing inequalities in many areas of South African life, there is a perception that the majority of crime victims are white.
Not true. By far the majority of crime victims are black. But the average white person is more likely to have a computer, internet access, education to be able to write to their local newspaper and so forth than their black counterpart. So we do hear an awful lot from them.
It’s just another way that the press exaggerates the public perception of crime in this country. Yes, the power of the press can be an important tool in bringing about change in society, but sadly, the current hysteria is counter-productive and the perception of the situation is actually far worse than the situation itself.

In addition, there really isn’t the need for the hysteria that the extremely vocal minority exhibit on online forums etc. Many of those seem to be ex-pat South Africans desperate to run their country down, perhaps in order to justify their decision to move away. That move was their decision and it’s their right to be allowed to make that choice. But while they tell the world about how dangerous South Africa is from their new homes thousands of miles away, we live here and we’d like to set the record straight.Do come to South Africa. Do behave sensibly as you would on holiday anywhere else in the world.
Don’t wave your iPod around in downtown Cape Town – it might get nicked. As it might in downtown New York, Amsterdam or Sydney.
Don’t wander round Nyanga on your own late at night. Or Harlem. Or the Manor Estate in Sheffield.
And really, don’t expect to be shot or mugged as you get off the plane – that’s just paranoia – you’ll be sadly disappointed and you’ll look proper stupid doing your ninja stealth moves along the air-bridge for no reason whatsoever.

I’d especially welcome comments on this post; from those in SA, those with an SA connection and those with a passing interest since they started reading this brilliant blog – what do you hear about SA in your country? Please take time to indicate which category (if any) you fall into – just for interest’s sake. 

Keep safe, wherever you are.

Comments from this post on ballacorkish.net (my old site) can be read here.
 
 

 

Sport and Racism in South Africa…

I read with interest the Ruck & Maul column by Ashfak Mohamed in today’s Cape Times. Ashfak is a rugby fan who was at the SA v England game in Bloemfontein last Saturday.


Ashfak isn’t white. (There was a photo).


He described what we’ve all seen at rugby matches across South Africa, namely an almost complete absence of black and coloured fans in the crowd; an embarrassing and hostile silence through the first verse of the national anthem (which is sung in isiXhosa), followed by a bellowing of Die Stem (the Afrikaans verse which also used to be the national anthem of the “old” South Africa) and players of colour being racially abused for their mistakes on the pitch.
His citing of previous racism at matches in Bloemfontein for this overwhelming majority of white fans got me thinking. Also on Saturday was the ABSA Cup final between Ajax Cape Town and Sundowns (that’s a soccer* game, folks). One wonders how many white fans were at that game? I would wager that it was fewer than blacks and coloureds in Bloem. But is that a problem? Well, obviously, it is a problem when racial abuse stops people from watching sport** – whatever their colour. But is that really the reason that these two games were attended by such completely different crowds?
I think it is only one part of the story.

According to southafrica.info, “Sport is the national religion. Transcending race, politics or language group, sport unites the country”

I laughed when I read that. Yes, this country could have gone down the road of civil war in 1994 and it didn’t, and for that everyone should be thankful. But saying that life is settled and the country is united in any form just because there’s no civil war is like saying that England did well at the rugby because they didn’t lose by, say, 100 points. Those claiming “racial harmony” are, to coin a cockney phrase, “having a larf”. This country is amongst the most divided in the world.

Insecurity, paranoia, resentment, retribution, disillusionment and distrust are plainly evident the way many South Africans live their daily lives. Those reading this will probably snort and dismiss this. “That’s not me.” they’ll say. I beg to differ.


The population here is divided into those who won’t openly admit to there being a problem, those who see the issues but don’t have a problem with them and the other 1% who want to sort things out but can’t overcome the apathy or engrained racist attitudes of the other 99%. Of course, 99% of the South Africans reading this think that they’re in that 1% – and that’s exactly the problem.

But back to sport.

Because of the unique history of this country, the lines of division run through every aspect of life. But perhaps the most public of these is sport. Well, that and politics, but no-one reads posts about politics. Sport is neatly divided in three in this country: Rugby, Cricket and Soccer. Of course, there are other sports played here, but those are the biggies. Rugby and cricket get the most press. They are the “white” sports. What distresses many of the rugby and cricket fans is that the official national sport of South Africa is… er… the other one. And that’s because the majority of the sporting population play football. Rugby and cricket come in very much second and third. How embarrassing.


And while there is a huge push to get more coloured and black players into the national teams for rugby and cricket to make the team more representative of the racial make-up of the country (often despite the fact that the players in question aren’t actually very good), there is no reciprocal push to get white players into the soccer team.

Ashfak suggests that beacuse the ANC is in power in the Free State, there must be a lot of black people living there and they should have been at the game. Nice big tarring brush you have there, sir.
But it seems to me that the major reason for the obvious racial divisions in South African sport is that for the vast majority of whites, soccer holds no interest and for the vast majority of blacks, rugby holds no interest. And as long as those few who want to watch and play a sport from “the other side” can, I don’t see a problem.


So Ashfak, while I agree with your comments regarding the Afrikaaners and their small-minded and right-wing attitudes, I think the major reason for the nearly all-white crowd last Saturday was really because they were the only ones actually interested.

*I hate this word. Obviously, I mean football, but that would just confuse everyone.
**or indeed doing anything.

Back to the future (sort of)

I found a web-based version of HG Wells’ infamous Time Machine (thanks Ender) which has allowed me to relive certain moments of my life over the last 4 years. Sadly for you, it also means that I can let you relive them too, and thus the slow and tedious task of putting all that archived material together into a W3C compliant, user-friendly format has begun. Or at least, has been thought about being begun.

In other news, friend of 6000 miles, dear Manto, is rather ill. Her doctor suggests, among other problems that she is suffering from severe anaemia. I can sympathise – it’s the damn mosquitoes – at the moment, each night is like a bloody feeding frenzy. It’s my belief that they’re draining everyone in South Africa of blood and then they’re going to take over the world. Possibly. Either that or they’re in cahoots with the SA National Blood Transfusion Service.
Although saying that, I very much doubt that the opportunity to save Manto’s life would attract many more devotees to their cause.
Anyway, a quick count here indicates that I’m currently sporting 31 bites of various sizes. I itch.
It amazes me that I have any blood left.
While getting the link for the Manto story, I came across this little gem. Astounding.
If I didn’t know differently, I’d guess that story came out of South Africa – it’s typically bizarre enough: “sharpened kite strings”, indeed…

Finally, I was interviewed last week by a British journalist working for an emigration newspaper. They’re going to do a story about me and my experiences since I moved out to Cape Town.

No-one will believe a word of it.