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New Social Compact

The Quiet Death of Lonmin

Abigail George



Their souls are silent now. Shot execution style. Flowers do not grow on abnormality.

At first, I saw them everywhere. They had different names besides ‘miners’. Some were vagrants. People who did odd jobs. Some were homeless. Some sold newspapers. Some begged for food. Some sold toys at the traffic light or pretty much anything in order to make a living. Some were garden boys. Yes, in South Africa, we still call grown men ‘garden boys’. I presumed as I had been brought up to believe that they were the masters of their own destiny. The day that Lonmin went down in history, the miners were not quite the masters of their own destiny.

We will never forget the future abandoned. This is what Africa does with revolutionary acts. The miners were people. People who only wanted to be understood but it was deceit that controlled the present. Then the game was up. Then the agenda came. The temptation to distort truth was there alongside the glamour of the international press. Alongside frenzy, there was propaganda too. I am inclined to think and feel very strongly about this, as I am sure all people of colour did. It does not matter what race, what faith, what gender. They changed the world. The miners. They fought for what they believed in. They were bold, brave and brilliant. They dreamed with a kind of certainty about what they wanted not for themselves but for their children.

This is why the miners went to ‘war’. What are the breathing lessons that we learn from war? We inhale death. We exhale inhumanity. War is a nasty business. We did not learn much from Lonmin. Our police followed in the footsteps of the Special Branch that day of the wuthering heights of apartheid. They turned to the literature of the police of apartheid. I can only paint and write about what I see in the post-apartheid world we live in today in South Africa. We live in a land of extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Wherever we look there is wrongdoing and corruption at all levels in the spheres of government. We live and believe in the hierarchy of politics because is it not our votes that placed this government into power. In the eyes of the people in power, we do not exist.

They make their own rules. In the end, we are the losers. We want with an irresistible urge things to change. We cannot wait for transformation to take place but how quickly we forget. The zoo parade of the way of life during apartheid when detention, assassination, murder, and imprisonment was the order of the day but we want to believe that there is now a harmony that exists amongst humanity in South Africa not monsters. Death is death and it is not pretty in South Africa. If you have a long memory, you will remember those ghosts. If you are a child, you will remain an innocent. You will visit apartheid in a museum. Perhaps I should not write like this but I look at the world I live like a child. All adults do who have experienced trauma in childhood.

It comes with the history of violence, ghost stories, the major earth, men and women being born with a different texture of hair, the kinkiness of my curls, open parachutes descending like dreams. It comes with having been born learning to welcome the inevitable, the honourable, and conditioned to the universal loneliness of the working classes around us. It comes with being born with a different mother tongue, ordinariness, drink it in, bathe in it, swim in its muddy waters, and stand mesmerised on any shore by its contrariness. The journalists and photographers wearing their Mona Lisa smiles in this volatile region. This colossus comes with being consumed by the habit of looking, living with, surviving danger by habitat and by life. As I write this, I am shattered.

In the process of the days that followed, the miners became warriors. Their wives sang the blues. They danced to the tune of pain. They waltzed to suffering. The sorrows of many spoke to our hearts again. In the weeks that followed the Lonmin case was on television. Fodder. It was a terrifying sacrifice when the volcano people began to speak. I looked at the television screen. On the one hand, it meant nothing to me. On the other, it meant everything. Were they not my estranged brothers and sisters? For example, for years to come if you are a writer, artist, and poet. If you are an African. You are an African if you live in Africa. To the dead I have this to say who were catapulted into another realm from spiritual poverty and victory to another schizophrenic dimension.

The big strings of its orchestration. It comes when a family homes in and start to cry a river and the whole world starts laughing at the macabre of life. It comes with having been raised with a mother, yet another woman, another muse, another goddess. It comes with having been subjected to being called monkeys. These same monkeys riding on your back. A self-portrait. It comes with the flushed curve of your palm, myth, legend, and symbol. Epic. It comes with the pure rhythm of my feet, the snake in my hips. It comes with phenomenally homing in on ancient yet lovely bones in the morgue. Grown up beautifully with peaceful resolutions in the home. Even something like this, like death, a succession of deaths can feed, nurture your imagination.

Your children have to live as you did once. Listening. Oh the tears, the words, the organic observations, the songs exploding into stardom. It comes with watching shadows disappear standing at the water’s edge. It comes with moody blues. Standing on the ground looking up at the sky. Words of a poet, a writer, a documentary filmmaker in slow motion compelling, unique, relevant, fluid, pure while you guess at the intensity behind my words. I am history breathing. Funny how a brush with poverty, with innocence, with flawed human beings, characters everyone on the world’s stage putting everything into perspective. It comes with planting yourself comaed near kindling or a reservoir like a butterfly. It comes with wisdom, grief.

At certain intervals I felt ravished and then sated. It keeps us alive. That what hurts the most. It comes with my version of a lament and an ode. It comes with the intense imagery that inspires men, children and women. Citizens of the world not just a continent. In order for us to become visionaries, our thinking literally has to evolve from a series of compromises. It has to come with the arrival of education, the origins of what was lost in translation. It comes with a feast of novel blueprints on the ego, the intellect, psyche and the brain. Your victory was not a hollow one. Your memory, your struggle, your life, there was glory and depth in all that you did, all that you fought for and it was a gift. I was not prepared for mourning. I do not think that anybody really was.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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New Social Compact

Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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New Social Compact

UN women’s commission opens annual session at ‘pivotal moment’ for gender equality movement

MD Staff



Secretary-General António Guterres (left) and Geraldine Byrne Nason, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN and Chair of the sixty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), at the opening of the session. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Taking place at “a pivotal moment for the rights of women and girls,” the United Nations body dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment opened its annual session on Monday hearing calls to help women, especially those in rural communities, secure an end to the male-dominated power dynamic that has long marginalized their participation and muted their voices.

“Across the world, women are telling their stories and provoking important and necessary conversations – in villages and cities; in boardrooms and bedrooms; in the streets and in the corridors of power,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, opening the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62).

“From ‘MeToo’ to ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘The Time is Now’ […] women and girls are calling out abusive behaviour and discriminatory attitudes,” he added.

Under the Commission’s theme ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,’ the UN chief observed that although a marginalized group, they were often the backbone of their families and communities, managing land and resources.

Mr. Guterres said that supporting these women is essential to fulfilling our global pledge to eradicate poverty and to create a safer, more sustainable world on a healthy planet – 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mr. Guterres painted a picture of a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture in which centuries of patriarchy and discrimination have left a damaging legacy.

Calling it “the greatest human rights challenge of our time,” he said “progress for women and girls means changing the unequal power dynamics that underpin discrimination and violence.”

“Discrimination against women damages communities, organizations, companies, economies and societies,” he continued. “That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I consider myself a proud feminist.”

The President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Marie Chatardova pointed to the Commission, as a critical instrument to strengthen the global normative framework for women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender equality.

The body is also as a key driver of ECOSOC’s work, with the Commission’s outcomes as bolstering the 2030 Agenda’s implementation and that of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to end poverty and ensure prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

Noting that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is a theme that cuts across all the Goals, Ms. Chatardova said the Commission’s focus on rural women and girls was both timely and well-aligned with the 2030 Agenda.

According to the ECOSOC President, inclusion is a key element in all efforts.

Noting that the Commission has long provided a roadmap for the UN’s work in women’s empowerment and gender equality, she announced a special Council session in May to build sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies.

Gender perspective is critical

For his part, the President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, noted that past challenges were approached without a gender perspective, which “has had a particularly damaging effect on rural women.”

Mr. Lajčák underscored that this needs to stop, and that women must be taken into account in all actions, from access to water to closing pay gaps.

Drawing attention to rural women as a major source of innovation, he explained that their empowerment would benefit everyone.

“These kinds of women do not need our help, in finding solutions,” he stated. “What they need is our support, in turning their ideas into reality.”

Calling gender equality “an urgent priority,” Mr. Lajčák he encouraged the Commission to carry on with its important work “until every woman, sitting in this room today has the same rights, and the same opportunities, as the man sitting beside her.’

“Thank you for continuing your calls. Let’s make them stronger than ever,” he concluded.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka highlighted the importance of this year’s focus on rurual women.

“It speaks to our commitment to fight some of the biggest challenges of our time: poverty, inequality, intersectionality and an end to violence and discrimination against women and girls, no matter where they live, or how they live, so that we ‘leave no one behind,’” she stated.

Calling it “a tipping point moment,” the UN Women chief urged the forum to seize the opportunity to secure and accelerate progress, build consensus and share best practices to serve “the poorest of the poor.”

“It has never been so urgent to hold leaders accountable for their promises for accelerating progress” on the SDGs, she said.  An unprecedented hunger for change in women’s lives was being seen around the world, as well as a growing recognition that when women banded together, “they can make demands that bite.”

“Women are fighting to take steps that change their lives, and they are refusing to accept the practices that have normalized gender inequality, sexual misconduct, exclusion and discrimination across all walks of life,” she argued.

She urged everyone to unite around the common cause, as set out in the principles of equality in the UN Charter, “to make this a moment of real acceleration, change and accountability.”

The chair, Geraldine Byrne Nason, said the current session is a key moment on the path to ending discrimination against women and girls once and for all.  Indeed, “time is up” on women taking second place around the world, she said, challenging the Commission to do more and do better.

CSW functions under ECOSOC, acting as the UN organ promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.  CSW62 runs until 23 March.

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New Social Compact

UNESCO Rewards Outstanding Teacher Initiatives in Chile, Indonesia and the UK

MD Staff



Three programmes designed to empower teachers have been named as winners of the 2017-2018 UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize: The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile, the Diklat Berjenjang project of Indonesia and the Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers will be awarded on 5 October as part of World Teachers’ Day celebrations at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris when the each winner will receive $100,000.

The Center for Mathematic Modeling of the University of Chile (Chile) is rewarded for its Suma y Sigue: Matemática en línea (Adding it up: Mathematics online) programme which was developed to address the performance gaps in mathematics between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds and improve the quality of maths teaching in general. It is a ‘learning by doing’ programme organized by grade levels and curricula, enabling teachers to focus on their specialized area of mathematics teaching. It blends face-to-face sessions with intensive virtual instruction. The programme is scaleable, easily accessed by teachers in remote areas, and it promotes inclusion.

The Diklat Berjenjang project from Indonesia is rewarded for bringing quality professional development to early childhood teachers, notably in the poorest and most remote areas. It helps meet Indonesia’s need for teachers skilled in creating stimulating learning environments for young learners. It helps identify potential teacher trainers and provides step-by-step written guides, follow-up assignments and exchanges.

The Fast-track Transformational Teacher Training Programme from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was selected for its highly innovative and impactful approach to training teachers in various professional environments in Ghana. It promotes child-centred and play-based pedagogy in early education to replace traditional talk chalk disciplinarian methods. Practicing teachers receive a two-year training, combining workshops with smaller peer group meetings in which they are paired on the basis of their complementary strengths to engage in classroom observations and in class coaching.

The three winners were selected from 150 nominations submitted by the Governments of UNESCO’s Member States and UNESCO partner organizations on the recommendation of an International Jury of education professionals.

Established in 2009 with funding from Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai, the Prize is awarded every two years to projects that have made outstanding contributions to improving the quality of teaching and learning, especially in developing countries or within marginalized or disadvantaged communities.

More information on the prize:

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