Dear Reader: Reinvent Denel

More vision and action, less politicking – is that too much to ask of our politicians in South Africa?

We spend thousands of hours arguing whether we should replace the springbok as emblem on the national rugby jersey – and nothing at all on building new rugby fields and stadiums in townships, or scouting for young township talent and putting them through a rugby academy.

Politicians of all factions and persuasions  fight each other tooth and nail over who is really the champion of the poor. And then they get into fancy BMWs and four-wheel-drive monsters, desperately look the other way when beggars approach them at the traffic lights, and drive to the wealthy suburbs where they entertain their friends on single malt whisky and Cuban cigars.

ANC leaders make solemn statements about the cruel legacy of the past and the dire need to correct injustices through affirmative action and black empowerment. But they have consistently and criminally neglected the education of black youngsters, to such an extent that we are running out of literate people to affirm and empower.

It was the Rooivalk helicopter story in this edition that stimulated my thinking on this topic.

Our leaders (pre- and post-1994) believe military might determines the prestige of a nation. They’ve squandered billions – and utterly corrupted our centre of political power in the process – buying submarines and attack aircraft we have no need for. And they are stubbornly refusing to let go of that ultimate black hole into which so many billions have disappeared, and are still disappearing – Denel.

I’m told that the Rooivalk was actually a spectacular and advanced military helicopter at the time it was launched and it really should have been bought by many countries worldwide. But they haven’t. Denel hasn’t sold a single Rooivalk apart from the twelve bought by the SANDF.

I have long hoped that Denel would cut their losses on the Rooivalk and let it go. Now they’re pumping more money into the project, as if R8bn wasn’t enough. But perhaps there is a case to be made that it would be cheaper to keep the remaining choppers serviced than to buy new ones.

Some of my peacenik friends have long argued that the government should simply close Denel down because this country simply shouldn’t be in the arms business, and because we can use the billions and billions spent on keeping Denel afloat in much better ways.

I’m more inclined to go with the argument that South Africa really does need to cherish its high tech capacities, and that Denel would be the ideal place to do it. In other words – keep your top inventors, engineers and scientists inside the country, and give them enough funds to push the limits of technology.

We have a little story on page 16 about the South African electric car, now stirring much interest overseas, which was the brainchild of three people who were formerly with Denel. That’s what I’m talking about.

Denel should be making electric cars, not missiles and attack helicopters. The company should apply its skills and resources towards cheaper and more efficient ways to harness solar and wind energy; it should lead the way in developing appropriate technology for small farmers; it should make cheap, reliable electric scooters, for use by ordinary people in our clogged cities.

If our politicians can get their snouts out of the trough long enough and find the capacity to ponder the future rather than insulting each other and each other’s constituencies, they will realise that as long as we see our mineral resources and our cheap labour as our major assets, we will not grow and prosper.

Our greatest gifts lie in our people – in their minds, energy and innovation – not in the minerals under our soil or the sweat of our labour.

Is it too much to hope that during this time of political turmoil our politicians will think about our children’s future rather than about next year’s election?

Noseweek has chuckled for some two years now over Marike Roth’s witty Web Dreams column. In this edition she pens a rare and courageous thing – an acknowledgement of her own mortality. She has decided to abandon her cancer therapy after being told there was little chance of her survival.

And yet, despite the sadness, her message is affirmative. Many others, she notes wryly, have greater miseries.

The Acting Editor

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Submitted by : Philip Smith of QUEENSLAND on 2008-10-30 04:01:05
The words below were delivered in 1926, how slowly we learn, how desperately the "leaders" work at avoiding all responsibility, how lazy we are for not speaking out more.

Thank Noseweek for standing up and speaking out

Philip Smith

The true greatness of a nation is not measured by the vastness of its territory, or by the multitude of its people, or by the profusion of its exports and imports; but by the extent to which it has contributed to the life and thought and progress of the world. A man's greatness is not estimated by the size of his body or of his purse; not by his family connections or social position, however high these may be. He may bulk large in public estimation today, but tomorrow he will be forgotten like a dream, and his very servants may secure a higher position and a name lasting possibly a little longer.
A man's greatness is estimated by his influence, not over the votes and empty cheers of a changing and passing crowd, but by his abiding, inspiring influence in their bidden thoughts, upon their ways of thinking, and consequently of acting. That is why the Wycliffes, Shakespeares, Miltons, Newtons, Wesleys, and Gladstones of English history live, and will live, in everlasting memory, while lesser men are remembered only through them, and the crowd of demagogues, pretenders, and self-seekers are named, if ever named, only to "point a moral, or adorn a tale."
So with nations. A great nation is not one which, like Russia, has an enormous territory ; or, like China, has an enormous population. It is the nation which gives mankind new modes of thought, new ideals of life, new hopes, new aspirations; which lifts the world out of the rut, and sets it going on a cleaner and brighter road.
L. E. Blaze, ( Lecture at the D. B. U. Hall, November 26, 1926 )


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