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Circuit Training

Stuart White

Back at work this week I had an employee bursting with excitement to share with me an article she had read during the holidays.  Her enthusiasm was feverish and I knew it had to be important because she kept asking over and over if I had read it till I complied.  

The article was about how thoughts can reshape your brain, and thereby change a physical construct of reality which probably needs a quick physiology lesson to get you in the picture: In our brain we have synapses (junctions between two nerve cells) and these are separated by empty space which is called the synaptic cleft. Each time we have a thought, one synapse shoots a chemical across the cleft to another synapse, thus building a bridge over which an electric signal can cross, carrying along its charge the relevant information you’re thinking about. Each time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together in order to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross.  So in a way it’s like evolution or adaptation as the brain rewires its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger. What my employee found so powerful was the proof that thoughts shape your brain and by inference, change the physical construct of reality.

The discussion we had was insightful, her learning is significant and as a result she is determined to rewire negative thoughts with positive ones. Happiness is after all a habit. It was so exciting to see this ‘Eureka’ moment in her. She is such a positive person anyway and now she has found a route to be even more of a practicing optimist.   But I wondered if these days I might be too jaded to have significant breakthroughs in my own thinking (I hope not…note to self ‘re-wire my thinking’) I can reflect on many paradigm shifts, eureka moments and Road to Damascus experiences I have had, and there have been a few – and as you’d expect at a ripe old age there should be (second note to self about re-wiring!) – but had they had the desired effect of my cephalic circuitry?

I remember attending an Industrial Relations Programme early in my career and what a profound effect it had on me. As a means of opening my mind to the dynamics of workplace relationships, the trainer encouraged me to read the Sowetan and New Nation which at the time were typically ‘Black’ newspapers.  The idea of whites reading such in the early 80 was quite radical and would raise a few eyebrows at the newsagents but as the trainer propounded, “Wouldn’t you want to know what your workers are reading before they get into work every day?” It was a significant moment that opened my eyes to change the way I perceived South Africa and its work force. My frame of reference up to that point was certainly tinged by what I was reading – The Star and Citizen, two newspapers appealing to the white mass –  this being a dichotomy as they were not a  mass but a minority. Under apartheid, the media operated in a minefield of laws designed to make it almost impossible to publish any information without authorization from the government, especially on political and national security issues. Newspapers were even prevented from publishing the names of banned people, who included almost all the anti-apartheid leaders.

Up until that time my thoughts about black South Africans had been significantly influenced by my white school upbringing, where classroom education was interspersed with routine terrorist attack drills instead of fire drills in a ‘normal’ environment and watching government propaganda films about communism, the ANC and how if we weren’t vigilant we would all surely be killed in our beds one day! My synapses were wired to think black equals danger and this evoked fear. Now reading newspapers of the black community was exposing me to people who were suffering, being suppressed etc and so the thoughts that I had were rewired from fear, mainly of the unknown, to empathy and understanding. It was profound and dramatically changed the way I viewed my construct of reality which was South Africa’s state of emergency.   My perception was altered from believing this was an action to protect us to an action to suppress and control others.  In retrospect this was a radical rewiring of my attitude and understanding – a quantum leap across a synaptic chasm of misinformation.

Back to the future and recently I was talking to someone about re-reading ‘The Road Less Travelled’. I loved the book the first time I read it and absorbed so much of its content that I could quote excerpts verbatim. Yet returning to it 30 years later I was amazed at all the gems of knowledge and wisdom that I had missed the first time around. I was reading sections thinking there is no way I could have missed this because of the depth of the content and the message being so profound and relevant. If I had not been reading from my original copy I might have thought that I was working through a revised edition.

Obviously in the last 30 years my cerebral synapses have changed as I have evolved and as such I can get to conclusions faster and understand things more broadly and with clarity which I lacked in my teens. Circuitry rewiring has allowed connections to be made which were too distant, ill-defined or obscure before.  It seems incredible that our brain is consistently doing this – shifting and morphing with every thought.  Even more exciting is the fact that synapses which most strongly bonded together (by occupying our thinking more frequently) come to represent our default personality: our intelligence, skills, aptitudes, and most easily accessible thoughts. So we move from conservative to liberal, not understanding to enlightenment and so on.  To sum up, I believe I’ve just had a brainwave about brainwaves!

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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The Era of “The Diplomat”

30th November 2020

Youngest Maccabees scion Jonathan takes over after Judas and leads for 18 years

Going hand-in-glove with the politics at play in Judea in the countdown to the AD era, General Atiku, was the contention for the priesthood. You will be aware, General, that politics and religion among the Jews interlocked. If there wasn’t a formal and sovereign Jewish King, there of necessity had to be a High Priest at any given point in time.

Initially, every High Priest was from the tribe of Levi as per the stipulation of the Torah. At some stage, however, colonisers of Judah imposed their own hand-picked High Priests who were not ethnic Levites. One such High Priest was Menelaus of the tribe of Benjamin.

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Land Board appointments of party activists is political corruption

30th November 2020

Parliament has rejected a motion by Leader of Opposition (LOO) calling for the reversing of the recent appointments of ruling party activists to various Land Boards across the country. The motion also called for the appointment of young and qualified Batswana with tertiary education qualifications.

The ruling party could not allow that motion to be adopted for many reasons discussed below. Why did the LOO table this motion? Why was it negated? Why are Land Boards so important that a ruling party felt compelled to deploy its functionaries to the leadership and membership positions?

Prior to the motion, there was a LOO parliamentary question on these appointments. The Speaker threw a spanner in the works by ruling that availing a list of applicants to determine who qualified and who didn’t would violate the rights of those citizens. This has completely obliterated oversight attempts by Parliament on the matter.

How can parliament ascertain the veracity of the claim without the names of applicants? The opposition seeks to challenge this decision in court.  It would also be difficult in the future for Ministers and government officials to obey instructions by investigative Parliamentary Committees to summon evidence which include list of persons. It would be a bad precedent if the decision is not reviewed and set aside by the Business Advisory Committee or a Court of law.

Prior to independence, Dikgosi allocated land for residential and agricultural purposes. At independence, land tenures in Botswana became freehold, state land and tribal land. Before 1968, tribal land, which is land belonging to different tribes, dating back to pre-independence, was allocated and administered by Dikgosi under Customary Law. Dikgosi are currently merely ‘land overseers’, a responsibility that can be delegated. Land overseers assist the Land Boards by confirming the vacancy or availability for occupation of land applied for.

Post-independence, the country was managed through modern law and customary law, a system developed during colonialism. Land was allocated for agricultural purposes such as ploughing and grazing and most importantly for residential use. Over time some land was allocated for commercial purpose. In terms of the law, sinking of boreholes and development of wells was permitted and farmers had some rights over such developed water resources.

Land Boards were established under Section 3 of the Tribal Land Act of 1968 with the intention to improve tribal land administration. Whilst the law was enacted in 1968, Land Boards started operating around 1970 under the Ministry of Local Government and Lands which was renamed Ministry of Lands and Housing (MLH) in 1999. These statutory bodies were a mechanism to also prune the powers of Dikgosi over tribal land. Currently, land issues fall under the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services.

There are 12 Main Land Boards, namely Ngwato, Kgatleng, Tlokweng, Tati, Chobe, Tawana, Malete, Rolong, Ghanzi, Kgalagadi, Kweneng and Ngwaketse Land Boards.  The Tribal Land Act of 1968 as amended in 1994 provides that the Land Boards have the powers to rescind the grant of any rights to use any land, impose restrictions on land usage and facilitate any transfer or change of use of land.

Some land administration powers have been decentralized to sub land boards. The devolved powers include inter alia common law and customary law water rights and land applications, mining, evictions and dispute resolution. However, decisions can be appealed to the land board or to the Minister who is at the apex.

So, land boards are very powerful entities in the country’s local government system. Membership to these institutions is important not only because of monetary benefits of allowances but also the power of these bodies. in terms of the law, candidates for appointment to Land Boards or Subs should be residents of the tribal areas where appointments are sought, be holders of at least Junior Certificate and not actively involved in politics.  The LOO contended that ruling party activists have been appointed in the recent appointments.

He argued that worse, some had no minimum qualifications required by the law and that some are not inhabitants of the tribal or sub tribal areas where they have been appointed. It was also pointed that some people appointed are septuagenarians and that younger qualified Batswana with degrees have been rejected.

Other arguments raised by the opposition in general were that the development was not unusual. That the ruling party is used to politically motivated appointments in parastatals, civil service, diplomatic missions, specially elected councilors and Members of Parliament (MPs), Bogosi and Land Boards. Usually these positions are distributed as patronage to activists in return for their support and loyalty to the political leadership and the party.

The ruling party contended that when the Minister or the Ministry intervened and ultimately appointed the Land Boards Chairpersons, Deputies and members , he didn’t have information, as this was not information required in the application, on who was politically active and for that reason he could not have known who to not appoint on that basis. They also argued that opposition activists have been appointed to positions in the government.

The counter argument was that there was a reason for the legal requirement of exclusion of political activists and that the government ought to have mechanisms to detect those. The whole argument of “‘we didn’t know who was politically active” was frivolous. The fact is that ruling party activists have been appointed. The opposition also argued that erstwhile activists from their ranks have been recruited through positions and that a few who are serving in public offices have either been bought or hold insignificant positions which they qualified for anyway.

Whilst people should not be excluded from public positions because of their political activism, the ruling party cannot hide the fact that they have used public positions to reward activists. Exclusion of political activists may be a violation of fundamental human or constitutional rights. But, the packing of Land Boards with the ruling party activists is clear political corruption. It seeks to sow divisions in communities and administer land in a politically biased manner.

It should be expected that the ruling party officials applying for land or change of land usage etcetera will be greatly assisted. Since land is wealth, the ruling party seeks to secure resources for its members and leaders. The appointments served to reward 2019 election primary and general elections losers and other activists who have shown loyalty to the leadership and the party.

Running a country like this has divided it in a way that may be difficult to undo. The next government may decide to reset the whole system by replacing many of government agencies leadership and management in a way that is political. In fact, it would be compelled to do so to cleanse the system.

The opposition is also pondering on approaching the courts for review of the decision to appoint party functionaries and the general violation of clearly stated terms of reference. If this can be established with evidence, the courts can set aside the decision on the basis that unqualified people have been appointed.

The political activism aspect may also not be difficult to prove as some of these people are known activists who are in party structures, at least at the time of appointment, and some were recently candidates. There is a needed for civil society organizations such as trade unions and political parties to fight some of these decisions through peaceful protests and courts.

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