Leadership in the time of plague

The Covid-19 pandemic has concentrated our minds on the question of leadership, across the globe. Donald Trump. Boris Johnson. John Pombe Magufuli. These men are flashpoints for discussion around a leader’s response to a clear and present danger.

South Africa has its own issues here, of course. Our leaders have taken strong action in response to the havoc wrought by the novel coronavirus, and the citizenry has been loud and contradictory in its response. We are an unruly lot, after all.

But none of the leadership challenges confronting the world are new. There have been plagues before, and there will be plagues again. The bigger questions remain: What is good leadership, actually? What is bad leadership? And what of followers? Continue reading

Thoughts on what it means to be a white South African

In the past few weeks, every United States email newsletter that I subscribe to has sent me some version of this: “We know about George Floyd, appalled, saddened. We promise to do better.”

I’ve read them, wondering if every single one of them is sincere, filtering them through my usual scepticism. I have also read them though a South African filter. And after thinking about it a lot, I have decided to try to express what I’ve been feeling. And what all this could mean for my fellow white “Saffers”. Continue reading

Farewell to Shiloh of the Ears

Dog with stick

Shiloh and the very first fabric toy stick that we bought for her. There are more pictures at the end of this post.

This Friday it will be three weeks since the death of Shiloh of the Ears.
Our dog, who was only eight years old, succumbed in the early hours of the morning of Friday August 17 to a horrible cancer, of the spleen thought the vet. We had an appointment to “put her to sleep”, as they say, but death came earlier, and I was glad of that. Better to go on her cushion next to my bed than in fear at the Horrible Place.
She and I had spent a lot of time in the Horrible Place in the run-up to her death, trying to find out what was wrong with her, coming and going with packets of pills and fear and hope in my heart. In her heart there was just fear. She would sit on the vet’s scale in the hope that being a good dog would make me take her home again (because she would always sit on it to be weighed, so obediently, not like other dogs who wriggle and bounce).
She had not been our dog – my dog – for long.
This coming September 24 will be the second anniversary of the day she came to live with us, a gift from a family emigrating to the United States and unable to take her with them. The Snymans posted her picture on Facebook, and since we had been looking for a new dog, and they said “good with cats”, she seemed perfect for us. And she was (good with cats, and perfect).
Her predecessor, our first dog Indiana, taught me the Way of the Dog, to like them, to understand the joyous and irritating and noisy and fun ways that dogs are are nothing like cats. Continue reading

Could you ever write something in a library book?

Rows of books in Stockholm Public Library

Stockholm Public Library: Picture: Marcus Hansson, Göteborg, Sweden

When I was in Grade 2, I had a teacher called Miss Reynolds. She was outwardly terrifying and children in Grade 1 spent a lot of time hoping they would not be placed in her class.
But there I was, stuck with Miss Reynolds for a whole year. And it turned out she was lovely – my first life lesson in the uselessness of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
My memories are hazy, but in a clear indication of how good it was, I do remember clearly that we had a big tin of dog biscuits kept ready for the daily visit of a big golden neighbourhood dog called Shannon and we all took turns to give him a biscuit.
But one day, in a fit of six-year-oldness, I took a book and hit my desk mate on the head with it. I don’t remember why, and I don’t think I hit the child all that hard. But Miss Reynolds was mightily displeased. I can’t remember the punishment (being made to sit in a corner, probably) but I remember very clearly what she said: you don’t do that to a book. (In retrospect, it’s a little odd that she cared more about the book than the other kid.)

Continue reading

Enough with the water restrictions – let’s try something else

water droplet

A precious resource. Picture: Lexi XU, Unsplash

As a household, we’ve been saving water for months now. Cape Town is in the grip of a drought, and there is no end in sight.
So we have put in a rain water tank, and are flushing the toilet with water saved from showering. We’ve long had a wellpoint for the garden, and have hardy plants. We are catching vegetable-rinsing water. We are taking short showers and wearing our clothes for longer to cut down on the washing.
In short, we have been fully supportive of our municipality in its efforts to stave off the day when the dams run dry.
But now I have had enough. Continue reading

Carmageddon may be coming – but what about wetsuits?

1996 Honda Ballade

The Honda waits in the driveway for its next mission. Picture: Jak Seddon

When a friend shared an article entitled Carmageddon is Coming on Facebook, I read it with interest, and some irritation.
The sub-heading of the article says humanity is “on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption in transport history”. Writer Angus Hervey lays out what he thinks is going to happen to the transport industry over the next few years, courtesy of three technological waves:
• Our ability to summon a car and a driver with our smartphone
• The arrival of the electric vehicle
• “Artificial intelligence, which paves the way for autonomy” – in other words driverless vehicles.

Says Hervey: “Within a few years, electric vehicles are going to be cheaper, more durable and more reliable than petrol powered cars, autonomy will be good enough that you don’t need human drivers and everyone will be able to hail a car on their phone… we don’t have to wait for people to get rid of their old cars; they simply walk out their front door one morning and decide they would prefer to hail an autonomous, electric vehicle.”

Charming as this vision of carless freedom is, I had a question: Would I walk out of the front door with a child, a school backpack, a model of the Taj Mahal made of matchsticks, a cricket tog bag, my own lunch bag, the office’s new coffee supplies and the cake dish I want to return to a friend on the way home and then decide the thing I want is to hail a ride? Perhaps not. Continue reading