Thursday, 28 June 2007

A great artist who drew in blood - tribute to Sedumedi

Why must great artists who have contributed so much die unsung and largely unrecognised? What is wrong with this new South Africa that we cannot honour such courageous and visionary figures, asks Terry Grove, a guest contributor to the blog. By TERRY GROVE

On 11 June 2007, the artist from Meadowlands, Percy Sedumedi died. This notice was smsed by his youngest daughter, Itumeleng. “My dad passed away last night. Was with him yesterday afternoon, was convinced that he’s getting better but hey… TB.”

After the normal initial shock and sadness one feels at the loss of a loved one set in, I remonstrated with myself. TB - how is it possible for someone to die of a preventable or curable disease in the 21st century and in South Africa?

Not one of the myriad newspapers in South Africa carried an obituary, not in the week that he died or the weekend of his burial. What is wrong with us? How is it possible that not one of Percy’s friends thought of it?

I am not looking to apportion blame or indulge in a meaningless diatribe but I have so many niggling questions. Percy, talented artist – creator of the Messenger Series (I have one on my wall), and the comic “Travels of the Free Spirit”, founder member of the Soweto Artists Association and sculptor died penniless in a Johannesburg hospital.

How is it possible that one of the people who helped keep freedom’s dream alive in our hearts during the turbulent 70’s and 80’s died such an ignominious death a week before the 31st anniversary of the 16 June 1976 student uprising? Who in Soweto can forget the exhibition mounted by Percy, Fikile and others at the height of the ’76 uprising? Some of the works on display were drawn in the blood of the artists. This was done to demonstrate their solidarity with the students, despite the danger of imprisonment.

The anecdotes of Percy’s antics are legendary – some comical, some politically astute and others sad. He was the classic troubled genius – as art-lovers we marvel at his genius while, for his family, the troubled side, in terms of his role as husband and parent, was often the more immediate reality. Although he loved Connie and their girls, he never cracked the father- spouse thing. He did not quite get that having a family meant that material provision needed to be constant. Neither did he get it that being a dad means you actually need to be around when children are growing up.

For Percy there was no middle ground, always the high or the low – good or bad. And when they were good they were mind-blowing. My memories were mostly the mind- blowing stuff.

Percy entered my life when I was an adolescent. My father brought home a stranger one day in the late 70’s. He had met him on the Grand Parade in Cape Town. His artwork was rolled up and carried under his arm. He knew nobody in Cape Town but was determined to exhibit his work and not via the route of the white gallery owners.

So Percy came home to number 12 Sondousteeg, Silvertown and became one of my brothers. A strapping round-faced individual that fitted right in with the Matthews family. I was intrigued by his speech patterns. In one sentence he would use a mixture of Sotho, Zulu, English and Afrikaans and more often than not the sentence would end with “d’jy ken”. Percy was ahead of his time linguistically.

His artistic output during the period he spent in Cape Town was prolific. Not only did he draw and paint, he also made sculptures of plaster of Paris. These were baked in our kitchen oven.

When the Community Arts Project (CAP) was launched in Mowbray in the late 70’s, he conducted Sculpture classes that my brother Quinton and I attended for a while. My presence was merely to make up the numbers and to experience Percy the teacher.

That I had no obvious talent was no matter – art is for everybody and the communion of kindred spirits was enough. He made no distinction between people and embodied the concept ‘motho ke motho ka batho babang’.

Percy made me understand the nuances of South African life. Language and how he mixed it up forced me out of my English – Afrikaans comfort zone. He was as uninhibited as a child and the world became an infinitely wondrous place when he was around. He was so accepting of other people and their opinions.

David Blackwood, the Canadian artist from Newfoundland, says: “I’ve got a strong belief that people who’ve gone before are watching, observing. And they’re in a position to help you as well – I think they watch in a positive way”. I recall these words and I can almost hear Percy say, “I’m around, d’jy ken”, and I am comforted.

Percy Sedumedi was born on 6 October 1950 in Sophiatown. He married Connie Senoele and was the father of Lerato, Kagiso, Nina and Itumeleng.
By TERRY GROVE, Guest contributor.

(As always, readers are encouraged to comment and, in so doing, to keep debate and discussion alive!)

Monday, 25 June 2007

Weighty questions face ANC policy indaba

As the ANC goes to its policy conference – aside from its bruising succession bun fight – it has major issues it needs to address.

It needs to arrive at decisions on how many provinces there should be and their role; how it should define its relationship to the business sector, and; how to manage top leaders’ involvement in the business world. It needs to look at relationships with other stakeholders, whether it be alliance partners, NGOs and spontaneous grassroots mobilization such as in Khutsong. Furthermore, it needs to look into how it can use its clout in society to translate the key gains made into wins that are more sustainable and thoroughgoing in society.

It might be better to tease out the “internal” issues and group them under the rubric of party modernization. Such a labeling would encourage the party to tackle, in an integrated way, a broad range of problems and challenges, for example around internal organization, ethics, cadre development, effective succession management (see my older post on this issue) and the potential of contamination of party idealism by BEE deals (also see my older post on this subject).

Modernisation would presuppose that the party is willing to scrutinise those elements of its liberation movement mode of operating that it should abandon. It should also consider what innovations it needs to make for better policy making, effective functioning in parliamentary processes and ensuring policies become practice (especially given the constraints and requirements of bureaucratic implementation).

As part of modernising, it should examine ways it can engage, enrol and involve the large number of people who are lapsed members but who still support the party. Here the liberation movement may want to have a closer look at the suggestion by commentator Aubrey Matshiqi that the party should allow for sector-based membership (e.g. for professionals) that can function alongside local branch membership.

This, he argues, will save older and jaded “revolutionaries” – if one could still call them that – from dreary branch meetings and at the same time draw them in to key discussions, debates and initiatives. This echoes a suggestion I made some time ago to Joel Netshitenze about ways of including sympathetic but independent professionals who otherwise remain on the sidelines.

I also proposed to him that the ruling party consider an annual think-tank session between the President and academics, researchers and well-placed thinkers on social issues who are aligned with transformation and a progressive agenda and who possess particular information, knowledge and insight arising from their specific areas of work.

Party modernization will be a journey and not a single event; but a start needs to be made to ensure renewal and revitalization rather than decay and atrophy.

On the policy front, the challenges are many and often enormous. The big question is: Will the ANC formulate something fundamentally new and different going forward - or will it be just more of the same? Will it forge a formula that will propel the country beyond the significant (compared to the past) yet modest (compared to the wide-ranging pressures & constraints) developmental position it has reached. Reading the documents, I also asked myself: To what extent is the party willing to go further (be more innovative, creative, entrepreneurial and radical) than public sector officials and government departments in generating ideas for solving stubborn development problems?

The country is bedeviled, for example, by:
- a gap between rich and poor that does not seem to be abating
- youth unemployment and the problem of transitioning youth from schooling, training, studies and unemployment into work.
- the enormity of the immediate skills shortage being experienced as the economy revs up and government rolls out major infrastructure investments, and a longer term malaise in its education system that makes it unable to properly supply the country with the capacities it needs.
- a huge backlog in terms of efforts to ensure that good start-up businesses, particularly those owned by black people and which have been operating successfully for a long time, grow, and cross over into the bigger mainstream.
- the failure to get optimal bang for buck in terms of results and social change outputs in vast areas of public sector activity.

The majority of policy challenges can be seen as a subset of – or closely linked to – the imperative of ensuring rapid reduction in levels of inequality. The problem of inequality is thus in the A-league of policy conundrums that need urgent answers. The ANC must this week come up with a policy package to ensure the movement of larger numbers of people into a life of dignity that includes participating meaningfully in the economy and society.

Economic growth is also another one of those A-level policy challenges. There are many people – including COSATU’s Zwelinzima Vavi – who mock the idea of economic growth and count it as useless if workers and the majority of black people don’t benefit in substantial ways.

I take a different view. Even as we argue about how to slice the cake, we should be taking decisive steps to grow the cake (as well the size of the oven and range of ingredients too, if you like).

We must generate the resources and opportunities to match the population’s needs now and into the future.

In this connection, the ANC must lead us to defining an industrial growth strategy. Such a strategy will require that as a country we are prepared to pick winning sectors (and give solid support to such sectors), in the same way that South East Asia countries selected automobiles, electronic goods and computer chips as areas for targeted growth. Of course, to make sense and to avoid waste of state resources, such selection decisions needs to be built on emerging trends and on particular national advantages, although there are cases where competitive advantage can be built up through some lateral thinking and concerted government action.

Once the sectors have been identified, government has to grapple again with the support systems required for these and other sectors. It needs to fix problem areas – such as skills provision – and do so in ways that give priority and urgent focus to the needs of identified key sectors.

The ANC thus has its plate full. And although everyone knocks our ruling party for its many faults, they look it to forge answers that will help our society take that much vaunted quantum leap forward. As ANC representatives prepare to enter their policy conference later this week, one can only wish them – apart from quality deliberations that are fact-based rather than faction-based – lots of good luck.

I would like to hear readers' views on this and other blog entries. Let's keep debate and discussion alive! - FM

Friday, 22 June 2007

Wage talks, negotiating tactics and closing gaps

The public sector wage negotiations bring to mind my own experience in wage negotiations in recent years, when I worked at the Post Office on a contract post in the Human Resources Division.

Recall that some years before I had been part of COSATU, working in the head office of the labour giant. Is this an anomaly? No, because I see no contradiction in the fact that I have been employed on both sides of the fence. In my perspective on social change, one can work for just outcomes wherever one happens to be located.

What was interesting during my brush with labour-management consultations then, was the discourse employed by the unions. Although it was about 5 to 6 years after the birth of the new democratic order, the COSATU union in particular viewed management in the same way that the federation’s affiliates viewed apartheid-order bosses. Unions in each meeting referred to management as "Damagement", reminded us from the outset that management could never be trusted and dismissed as "management's problem" any requests that labour should help curb postal theft in the international division.

At one stage in talks with unions, when I had finished an input on a proposal, the unions’ leader commented that, given what I had said, I could not have been genuine when I was active in COSATU. That barb had less to do with what I had said (I had given technical information about the state of the company), and more to do with trying to disorientate the discussion as part of those old-style negotiating tactics.

This vignette raises questions such as: Who will mediate the new (healthy) tensions under a democracy? Is it better for the unions to face the hardegat "baas" of old or to have discussions with former comrades? Would some (in management and unions) prefer out-and-out conflict rather than discussions that are characterised by some shared visions – would this be in line with their inherited strengths?

In the course of negotiations, there was:
- Baiting and name calling (unions referred to management as Damagement).
- Some areas of co-operation and isolated instances of mutual respect.
- A frequent going-back on consensus points reached
- Delaying tactics
- Regular denials that written communication had been received.

At one stage, the unions arrived at a hotel for a two-day consultation and all was well until – at the coffee session before the start - one of the unionists spotted a cockroach in the old Pretoria hotel venue that management had managed to secure. The unions began the discussion by questioning the quality of the venue and accusing management of undermining them by hosting them in such a place. They suspended the meeting – and asked management to call them back on their cell phones when the former had found another venue.

In the negotiations of that year, the unions began the talks with a demand for wage increase of between 18% and 20%, if I can recall. This at a time when the Post Office had posted a loss of about R300m. Asked about the basis of their demand, the union responded that “it was for 300 years of oppression”. Such a demand is of course not unreasonable (given what black people in the country have lost over the decades). At the same time such a demand fits better in reparations talks than in wage negotiations. It would struggle to find traction in a context of a company that was then a sinking ship requiring tax payers to fork out millions to keep it afloat each year.

I cannot say more about those negotiations, except that I hope and pray that the colleagues and comrades on both sides at the Post Office have since found ways to negotiate in a better spirit. How did those talks end? The unions would not go on strike, nor would they sign off on management’s final offer. In the end, based partly on employee pressure from below (a significant number of workers desperately needed the wage increases as most of what they went earned straight to “loan sharks”), management simply effected the increase.

Here are some tips for conducting wage negotiations:
1.Negotiations should be based on information and facts. In this regard, management should share information about the financial position of the company or institution.
2. There should be some discussion of wider issues. These will include matters such as inflation and cost of living. Each party also should have an opportunity to report on wider impacts as they see them.
3. Parties should punctuate the talks with proposals that aim to progress the discussions, with each side taking turns to make proposals. Such proposals are an opportunity for one side to show that it has heard the other side, and is thus making adjustments while continuing to strongly assert its core case.
4.At the final point, parties should be open to some form of mediation. Mediation is critical when the process gets stale, and as table-thumping takes precedence and sides are not listening anymore.

In addition, in the South African situation, management should know that it also has an interest in a reasonable (rather than a stingy) wage settlement. If, for example, for a number of successive years (as has happened in the case of the public sector) management gets away with sub-inflation and below cost-of-living increases, it will ultimately be a pyrrhic victory for them. It is also far better to constantly give regular reasonable increases so that workers’ lives improve, rather than allow a deterioration (in real terms) of employees wages – the result, at some point, will be wage talks that begin with a huge (unbridgeable?) gulf between what management has budgeted to pay in terms of a wage rise and what unions and workers demand. In either case, the tension and anger will build up – and explode.

Also in countries with a rich-poor gap such as ours, serious consideration should be given to a sliding scale approach to wage increases. A sliding scale approach, where higher paid workers get a lower percentage increase and lower paid workers get the highest percentage, closes the income gap but also helps to close social and political gaps.

This is a dilemma for management in present day South Africa. Management must strive to close the wage gap and, at the same time, ensure retention of senior qualified staff (in a context of skills shortages, to boot). However, if companies and other organizations don’t work at closing the wage gap, the country will (continue to) have to deal with millions of angry people who feel that they have not benefited from the economic boom of recent years.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

June 16 is a key part in the building of democracy

June 16 is 31 years old this week. As usual, this day evokes strong feelings for millions of people.

The day – and the earth-shaking happenings associated with it – continues to stand out in significance, even after all these years.

June 16 1976 was, firstly, a turning point for the government of the day.

For the regime, it came as a bolt from the blue. Beyond the knee jerk, South Africa's rulers had no idea how to respond. And when they used guns against kids, they again demonstrated their inability to relate properly to a nation of wondrously diverse people as well as to govern a complex country with justice. They exposed their woeful incapacity to see and understand beyond the needs, wants and fears of a tiny minority. Aside from actual brutality of oppression, this unfitness to govern was the essence of oppression – and it was starkly showcased again for the world to see.

Furthermore, the Nationalist Party woke up to find that, despite harsh controls imposed on society, history was starting to wave goodbye to the mass acquiescence that had prevailed since the banning of organisations. There was a kind of tearing or rupturing, a birthing of something new. The realisation dawned on government that the old ways of working (and of controlling and commanding black people) wasn't working anymore and would have to be replaced by new ways. Of course, while they responded to their own anxiety about their capacities to rule the majority, their response was to consider reforms to apartheid. But the urban black populace became more vocal in demanding fundamental political change.

The realisation dawned on people – and students themselves who were initially surprised at how their local protest escalated to have national and international ramifications – that they had launched a major new response and that the dominant culture of fear in communities had been broken. The kids had defined a new way of engaging with the apartheid government.

But June 16th was also a major turning point for the ANC and other liberation movements. Up to that point, the liberation position was strong, well grounded and well articulated (See Mandela's statement from the dock - I am prepared to die. Rivonia Trial, 20 April 1964), with a sound intellectual and moral basis. However, leading organisations such as the ANC were comprised mainly of the educated and the elite. Where there was grassroots support, it was not really the organisation’s motive force.

June 16th signalled a new dynamism – it triggered a process of rooting the struggle for freedom more deeply in poor communities countrywide. It illustrated the will and capacity of poor and oppressed people to organise themselves.

Of course, such capacity was linked to social changes: by June 16th, urbanisation had become a greater force. Through that process, capitalism and apartheid had grouped poor black people in ghettoes that were ideal for organisation. In this regard, June 16 became our "intifada", operating on a geographical base that was constantly monitored and designed for control, but which as easily became a platform for myriad small militant sorties and constantly shifting centres of action and protest.

This dynamism infused the liberation movements with a new energy. From then on, the freedom struggle was more community based than ever before; and guidance and direction from the leadership was matched with leadership, perspectives and input from below. In time, the student and community-based resurgence linked with workplace organisation. Such organisation had begun on the basis of different disciplines - but solidified when we witnessed the 1973 strikes that sparked a major growth spurt in independent trade unions. It also tapped into the very potent contribution of the Black Consciousness Movement (which operated mainly at higher education institutions and which combined a strident voice, charismatic leadership, innovative intellectual work and projects in poor communities).

The June 16th protests added a new impetus and urgency to the work of the liberation movements. It made these movements much more robust, resilient and rooted; it increased the range of options for actions and resistance on the ground in South Africa. Clearly, the June 16th events (which began as protest but ended as resistance) contributed in fundamental ways to the democracy that we have today, and to the capacity of communities to hold leaders and parties in the new South Africa accountable.

June 16 1976 let a thousand flowers bloom.

In summary, the event and its immediate outcomes denote a watershed in that it:
· Consolidated and extended, to a significant degree, the grassroots foundations of the freedom struggle.
· Infused energy, perspectives, and leadership from the grassroots into the ANC and PAC, and in so doing added immensely to the resilience and strength of these bodies.
· Once and for all, broke the “spell” of fear that had been entrenched through the joint effects of repression and brutality on the one hand, and propaganda, ideological control and suppression of free speech on the other.
· As far as community-level activism went, moved beyond community organisation (as in self-help projects) to community mobilisation for political change.
· Gave concrete effect to the notion of mass struggle, a term often invoked by liberation movements but not yet generally or widely realised in practice.
· Demonstrated the efficacy of combining “leader-led” national protest action and people-led action undertaken at local level and co-ordinated through the efforts of hundreds (and later many thousands) of activists.

· Constitutes a key contribution to the building of democracy.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Black Rose gives insight into June 1976

For anyone who desires to read up about the events surrounding that 16 June 1976, I can do no better than recommend that you read Open Earth and Black Roses, written by Sibongile Mkhabela.

Mkhabela was a participant in those events and gives an inside view of the thinking, events and immediate consequences of the Soweto student protest that flared up into a national uprising. She was one of the Soweto student leaders at the time, and the only women in the leadership group. The pictures in the book show her, dressed in school uniform, as a slip of girl and the other student leaders as equally extremely youthful.

The rose in the book’s title can be taken to refer to Mkhabela (then Mthembu) [her being the lone female in the Soweto Student Representative Committee] as the proverbial rose among the thorns. It also suggests beauty, innocence (of the young township girl), fragility and of course a sharp edge that signifies anger and a willingness to take action.

The leadership team was soon detained, and Sibongile tells of the strains of being isolated from her counterparts in women cells.

The first hand narrative of the protest is complemented by Mkhabela’s insights and perspectives around community, society and change. She comes across as a person with sound values, a strong belief in community development and an engrossing vision for the country. Mkhabela speaks from the heart and keeps her text direct; the text is free of contrivance, artifice and needless theorizing.

By the way, Mkhabela is currently CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.

In the book’s closing section, she shares - in a powerful way - her aspirations for the country; she also conveys a deep concern about the fact that millions of people have not yet benefited in a life-changing way from democracy...

Open Earth and Black Roses – published by Skotaville Press – was released a few years ago, but has not been widely distributed. It can most likely be obtained by requesting it at your bookshop. You can also get your hands on the book by emailing or

Monday, 11 June 2007

Mac Maharaj: our own Che Guevara?

The book Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa reveals Maharaj as a striking figure of SA’s transformation and raises interesting issues for South Africanness and South African identity.

The book, authored by Padraig O’Malley, (with much of the text featuring the direct narrative of Maharaj himself) contains a remarkable foreword by Nelson Mandela. This is no standardized Madiba endorsement - one gets the sense that Mandela has engaged deeply with the text, knows the person intimately and was really moved while reading the book. Madiba describes Maharaj as a founding father of the struggle and says that Mac’s advice helped to enrich his decision-making.

The book reveals Maharaj as a distinctive character: often stubborn, not always easy to get on with, “arrogant to a fault”, proud and zealous, but always driven by the larger concern for social change and adding value through his inventiveness, boundless energy and extraordinary courage.

Mac grew up in a small KwaZulu-Natal town, Newcastle, which embodies all the homeliness and the parochialism of such places. His rebelliousness brought a major clash with his father – and caused him to head for Durban. There, he stirred opposition to apartheid practices at university, and quickly made his way into the ranks of activists.

Maharaj endured unbelievable torture at the hands of the security police – but he remained unbowed. He spent his 12 years on Robben Island organizing, planning and generally being a thorn in the side of the system. He was always at the centre of survival plans – getting news, getting access to “news”, smuggling money into the prison from abroad. Eventually, it was Maharaj who, in the eighties smuggled Mandela’s autobiography from the island jail so that it could be published.

‘Shades of Difference’ portrays Maharaj as a natural born underground operator, our very own Scarlet Pimpernel or Che Guevara. He was a master of disguise and, in the words of Mandela, “popped up in the most unlikely places”. Thoughtful and razor sharp, he knew his enemy, prepared thoroughly, and - despite being on the state’s wanted list for most of his life - provided key connections between activists in exile and in the country, those in jail and out, the armed wing and community-based structures.

Sadly, the book ends on a pessimistic note. In its closing pages, it paints Maharaj as a victim (which is completely out of kilter with the pro-activeness that otherwise always characterised Maharaj’s life). O'Malley notes that midway through penning the book, Maharaj – who had resigned as Minister of Transport in 1999 – felt that his life was falling apart. He had a major run-in with the Scorpions and was entangled in the high profile commission set up to determine whether the then head of Scorpions, Bulelani Ngcuka, had been an apartheid spy in the eighties.
Mac was in the thick of ANC infighting – and, strangely (or not so strangely given the power issues involved), when comrades fall out they can be nastier to each other than to former apartheid leaders who once gave orders to torture or kill them.

O’Malley recounts occurrences which show Maharaj's political sidelining and he argues that this came about because Mac is of Indian descent. In the last chapter, Hush! Apartheid Thoughts of a Different Kind, he brings this theme strongly to the fore. O’Malley notes that “in the new mythology (an emphasis on Africanness) there is little room for an Indian dimension, little room for the likes of Mac Maharaj. He is an anachronism, an artifact of the struggle.”

I think it’s a pity the book ends on a note of bitterness and regrettable that O’Malley insinuates that Mac’s life work has been largely in vain. While it is good that such views are aired (so we can debate them), I disagree with O’Malley. I don’t agree with such extreme views, in the same way that I reject the tone and content of Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi’s comment that the ANC can be compared to the Nazis of Hitler's day.

To be sure, I too have witnessed among some in the ANC, a worrying chauvinism, a view among some new leaders and many foot soldiers in the ANC that non-Africans can have no place in the leadership of democratic transformation. And yet … I firmly believe it is better to remain involved and engaged (with the transformation project) than to retreat into bitterness and outrage. Such bitterness is paralyzing, and retreating leaves the field wide open for such retrogressive thinking to flourish and grow in influence.

In the end, ‘Shades of Difference’ disturbs and disrupts the comfort zone of the hard core Africanist. It shows how people like Maharaj have largely shed their ethnic loyalties and embraced a commitment to justice, human rights and democracy - and that no one can deny them their place in the struggle.

‘Shades of Difference’ is a compelling book, rich in detail and insights about the freedom struggle. It helps in a small but important way to fill out the picture of where we come from, what the struggle involved and the intricate organizational dynamics of the broad liberation movement.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Monorail brings pressing transport issues to the fore

At my workplace, there is a joke about the Monorail becoming the No-mo-rail. Of course, I think that the Soweto Monorail idea is not yet dead and gone; I believe that Gauteng MECs Paul Mashatile and Ignatius Jacobs – although forced to backtrack – have enough political clout to keep their dream on the rails.

But, the monorail issue brings to the fore a range of concerns and ideas about urban transport. The subject matter is fascinating – not least because transport is central to city living. Transport is in many ways, a crossroads – it is heaven or hell, it connects or separates us, limits or liberates us and closes or opens new possibilities as far as city living is concerned.

The monorail issue, for me, sparks the following reflections:

• The many bun fights about urban transport unlocks numerous contesting interests (and sometimes players are prepared to kill to get their way). One example of this is the contestation around which mode of transport should receive priority in major spending or investment in transport. Should we have bicycle lanes, dedicated bus routes or focus only on the needs of car users? Should we close some roads and replace them with pedestrian walks – and will the car users or the shop owners scream blue murder? There are also fights around subsidies: in our situation, the Putcos of the world have enjoyed subsidies while taxi drivers have had to fend for themselves. The war (competing interests) between the providers of the various transport modes created quite a din in the ears of planners, believe me.

• I am happy to wade into this war of different agendas with my own controversial view on the importance of the price of fuel. Although not a single one of my friends agree with me, I am happy to see the price of fuel edge upwards. Compared to prices in places such as the UK, our price per litre of petrol has been low. It is only when the prices rise high enough, that the almost insatiable middle class rush for cars, and the constantly growing demand for petrol-guzzling vehicles will be stemmed. My logic is simple – stifle this appetite and watch the demand for decent public transport grow. It is ironic that rich countries – where many people can afford private transport – boast better public transport systems, and more well off people voluntarily leave their cars at home while using metro rail services.

• Minibus taxi drivers are much maligned (in some quarters even hated), yet I think, much of these impressions are highly distorted or unfair. Remember, taxis are our public transport system ferrying tens of thousands – if not millions – of people to work daily. In other countries, public transporters have special lanes and are valued because they carry more people per vehicle in a situation where we want to keep the use of cars and carbon emissions down. But our taxi warriors –battling against heavy peak hour traffic - don’t have special lanes. Taxi drivers don’t have “bus stops” or places akin to the pit stop where they can pull out of the bustle of traffic and calmly offload passengers. So – always inventive and creative like the proverbial "boer" making a plan - they often use the edges, shoulders and ‘right turning-only’ lanes to get forward. They also load passengers on corners or while idling in a busy lane. Thus, they give us hassles. Being patient, many a car driver has learnt to take this in their stride. It also makes me more tolerant knowing that many taxi drivers give way – when they don’t have to – to vehicles to cross busy intersections, or get a chance to enter a busy road jampacked with peak-hour traffic. Often they are more polite and generous on the road than many a macho fiend behind the steering wheel of a BMW or a Merc. I must admit, however, that despite my positive mood toward taxi drivers – I am still infuriated when a taxi daredevil - who is otherwise in some helluva rush in the fast lane - crosses 4 lanes to pick up a lone passenger at the roadside.

• Why is traffic planning and management such a House of Babel? In any city, you have numerous competing authorities – all doing their own thing. In any major South African city, there are private bus providers (Putco, Golden Arrow, etc.), Metrorail, Spoornet, the Commuter Rail Association, the municipal bus service, taxis as well as the Department of Transport. They each operate their own system. Each (usually) plans separately based on its own understanding of how the city will function, grow and change in the future. In the middle of this is the consumer. Oh for an integrated system that responds to need and allows the citizen to move painlessly across the city! Oh for an integrated payment system that would allow one the option of using different modes of transport while using the same trip, day or monthly ticket!

Into such a complicated and wondrous scenario comes the Monorail idea. The monorail raises many questions. Given my studies in urban planning, I have heard much about the benefits of this mode of transport. With coaches that hug concrete beams, monorails emit low noise, are environmentally friendly (use electricity), are incredibly safe and rise above the immense densities of roads and buildings that cities have become.

But just how far can the monorail go and how many people can it carry? I have never come across them being used for mass transport over long distances. One entry on the Internet, probably out of date by now, notes (see Wikipedia) that the longest monorail in the world is the Osaka monorail that is a mere 28km long. In other words, monorails are used as “fillers” in the transport system, providing vital connections in congested areas and – together with other feeder systems – ferry commuters to the pick-up points of the major mass transporters on the transport grid. But I accept that - with the help of Jacobs and Mashatile - we may be breaking new ground and I may yet be convinced about the larger carrying capacity of the monorail and (if we are talking about mass use) the possibility of reasonable to low commuter fares.

Doubts aside, I like the idea of bold public sector projects around transport. I think such projects, taken collectively, may be the decisive ingredients in the magic formula we need to take our cities into the future. Against the tide of urban problems and in the face of bewildering complexity, bold projects denote action and vision rather than paralysis, absence of leadership or surrender.