Sunday, February 10, 2008


It took me awhile, but I now understand how some people feel the pace of change here is faster than it was in the US since the civil rights movement and how some people say things are so bad here. It’s both. It’s still bad in many ways, but because of the times sometimes people don’t go through all the stages that older countries went through.

In technology for instance, the cell phone is an example of a leap frog technology. In developing countries where the infrastructure for a land-based telephone system (telephone lines) is absent, people have picked up the cell phone industry and run with it. They have “leap-frogged” the land-line phone stage. I think it works well with cell phones because it’s a special example. Mobile phones don’t require much, right.

But imagine computers using the internet. Just because you’re wireless or so, you still need a wireless “router” that is sending out a signal somewhere. And there “router” is connected to a port which is connected to what? Lines. Telephone lines again. So the leap frog phenomenon doesn’t happen so well here. Development is so important, and you will often see me jumping for joy over this and that. But in retrospect, it requires a lot of thought because you can develop the wrong thing or push efforts that are effortlessly pushed and also counterproductive and useless. Hmmmm. . .

The one computer for every child program is one that I love. But I know that more important than a computer which is dependent on cables and networks and lines is human infrastructure and educational infrastructure. You need teachers and schoolhouses. Without that you’re sunk. I think it’s ok for people to work on different parts of the problem. But you definitely need people working on paramount and root problems, and you need the brunt of the effort going there. So the leapfrog doesn’t work there.

So I used to get upset with the government here about housing. It seemed to me like outside NGO’s were doing more. But the government did begin a housing program back around ’94 when the new government started. I saw one woman (it’s like ABC, CBS, and NBC each showing an hour of documentaries every night at around 9 or 10 after 2 hours of prime time on issues like poor communities in Pre-Katrina New Orleans or border town policies or other parties besides Republicans and Democrats) who was so excited in 1994 when she could apply for a house. They gave her a choice (as opposed to apartheid when you were sent to certain places) between 3 different towns. She chose one. She just got her house. She just got her house. In 2007. She was sooo pleased though. She said “I have gotten fatter. My colour has returned. . .” It was lovely to hear. But she had to wait so long. I get it to. Imagine if 80% (high high conservative number) of your population needed new housing. I mean the government is still working.

So the government has done some things at lightening speeds in terms of starting (perhaps compared to change in other places) due to the time. But in the execution of it, it takes or is taking a long time here because of such an imbalance.

And the housing is not as simple as giving someone a house. There are bouts and disputes in newly formed neighborhoods—a common result of people being put immediately into community never having had it before or at least with these people. There are border and land disputes. There are water disputes. And so the government has had to handle all of this and try to do better with future communities. It’s a large job and they are nowhere near finished.

I met a white man today who started a new job (he got tired of his old job at a bank—FNB) in asset management. He told me he was thankful to God because not only did he not have the skills to get the job, but he was the wrong colour. Sometimes those statements still surprise me. In the US, I hear them from a small minority of majority people in an negative sense claiming reverse discrimination. Here you hear it from a majority of minority people in a neutral sense as that’s the way things are (though it’s hard being the minority). Still with all the Affirmative Action I don’t yet see its effect. I just hear white people mention it when looking for jobs.

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