Thursday, 8 January 2015

Silencing others is not the answer in religion or politics

I was an Afroplitan living in Paris, France in 1995 during the Metro bombings. Yesterday I was once again watching the news of another religious inspired violent attack (on the media) in Paris. This reminded me of Voltaire, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

This brings me ta an issue that has bothered me a lot of the past two years. I joined the Electoral Commission of Namibia (ECN) as the IT Project Coordinator in May 2013 and since then have had to face personal insults and verbal attacks on various social media. However, the moment I took issue with any personal attack (like on my personal Facebook page by a Namibia "investigative" journalist), I get reminded that I am an official of the ECN and should act more professionally.

Having been a social commentator since my student days I found it very difficult to understand that other people could confuse my personal life with my professional one. At one point I had to take out my "street manners" learnt in Hillbrow, Johannesburg and give some serious foul language to these characters that got into my personal life. I did not feel good about using foul language (even though it worked) but had to make a point of separating my professional life with my personal opinions.

The attach on @IamCharlie had me once again evaluate the way we as humans react to the opinions of others when we feel that it is contrary to our own. This was further brought to the for by the following post from a friend:

Rule #1: If you do not wish to be silenced, do not prevent others from speaking. 
Rule #2: If you do not want to be restricted, do not limit the movements of others.

This sentiment is not restricted to religions in Africa, but also the political parties. Most political parties (especially the "liberation parties"), have become a religion to their followers. Thus making a political party "holier than thou" and pushing a strategy of faith - even if you cannot see it you must believe in it.

I foresee that as long as we try to silence those who disagree with us, these type of senseless attacks will continue - whether the excuse is difference in religion or political beliefs.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Seven Steps - understanding the Cape identity

The SEVEN STEPS of District Six as a symbolic tool for understanding Cape identity

To anyone who has had an association with old District Six, the very mention of the ‘Seven Steps’ immortalised in Taliep Petersen’s musical ‘District Six’, stirs up deep emotions. The Seven Steps of stone worn by the thousands who climbed these to work, to home, to school, to play, to bok, to church, to mosque, to shop, to celebrate and to mourn, were part of the great big soul of the district. Today, so many years after its destruction, the Seven Steps stands out as the premier symbol of District Six. The District Six museum has it as an integral part of its brand and logo. There is a reverence at its mention – seven after all is God’s number. Seven is the dobbelaars ‘Lucky Number’.

The Seven Steps of stone worn by the thousands who climbed these to work, to home, to school, to play, to ‘bok’, to church, to mosque, to shop, to celebrate and to mourn, were part of the great big soul of the district.

District Six became Cape Town’s own Harlem. This Cape African Creole district on the edge of the city had its roots as one of the first settlements of freed urban slaves after emancipation. It was also the first home of African dockworkers from the Eastern Cape, sailors who jumped ship and poor European immigrants. The district grew over the years and became the cultural heart and soul of Coloured people. Some 40 000 people were living there. In 1966 the Apartheid regime began a forced removals process after declaring the colourful district as a ‘whites only’ part of the city. The forced removals, accompanied by wholesale demolitions saw the dwellings of the entire district raised to the ground. First Africans and then Coloured people were moved to the Cape Flats. The forced removals finally ended in 1986 when the last of the people were moved out. To add fuel to the fire, the district was renamed Zonnebloem - sunflower.

In the heart of District Six stood the seven stone steps which became one of those symbols of District Six that lives in the hearts of all who lived, loved, played and worked in the ‘District’. The seven steps became a powerful representation of popular memory.

The physical District Six is lost somewhere on the patch of earth and grass that remains like a gash on the body of our city. The District Six Museum is custodian of some of the old blocks of stone, the steps, and some pictures and paintings exist, but the greatest legacy symbolised by the seven steps is etched in our hearts. The spirit of District Six lives on.

There were seven stone steps in the heart of old District Six which holds a special place in the hearts of many and it is a powerful symbol of the heritage of Cape Town. The Seven Steps also speaks of the Seven Roots of identity in the Cape. The Coloured community in particular shares all of these roots of identity. (While some are comfortable with the term ‘Coloured’ many do not accept the term and feel uncomfortable with it, but no universally accepted term for people of mixed origins has ever emerged to find acceptance. I personally do not like the term and express myself as having a Cape Creole African identity as a South African, but I also do not shy away from using the term Coloured as it is more generally understood and used. Creole simply means ‘new creation’ or ‘locally born’).

Most people of the Cape from all population groups share two or more of the Seven roots. There is at least one of these roots in everyone and even the most recent to join us in this city and province has a place in these Seven Steps. Everyone had a place in old District Six and the Seven Steps stands out as a powerful symbol of diversity and inclusivity in the Cape. In applying the symbolism of the Seven Steps to our heritage, each STEP represents a root tributary to Cape identity as follows:

STEP 1: Represents the tributary of the INDIGENES. The people of the Cape have strong African roots. The San, Khoe and amaXhosa in the Cape and the baSotho and baTswana in western and northern reaches of the old demarcated Cape Colony are the first tributary of Cape identity. The Coloured people of the Cape have deep African roots with a number of traditional African communities, sharing ancestors and many elements of cultural heritage. History also shows us that communities such as the amaXhosa of today, share San, Khoe, Asian and European ancestors with Coloured communities. There is a strong cousin-connection across ethno-social boundaries in the Cape.

STEP2: Represents the tributary of the SLAVES. We are the descendents of Slaves from other parts of Africa and Madagascar, from India and from the Indonesian Islands. Over the period 1653 – 1808 over 63 000 slaves were brought to the Cape from these areas. Around 32 500 of these slaves came from Africa and Madagascar, 19 000 from India, and 11 500 from the Indonesian islands. Between 1808 – 1856 a further 8000 mainly African slaves were brought to the Cape as ‘Prize Negro’ slaves captured from slaver vessels by the Royal Navy. The locally born children and successive grandchildren of these slaves were all to lead lives of slavery until emancipation in 1836. For many ‘Prize Slaves’ emancipation only came in dribs and drabs right through to 1870 and the last slaves arrived in 1890.

STEP 3: Represents the tributary of the FREE BLACKS. We are descendents of the Free Blacks of the Cape – a category of people that once were poised to be a socio-economic group to be reckoned with in early Cape development, but later for a number of reasons became powerless. Early Mardijkers soldiers from Ambonya in the employ of the VOC, Free Black travellers, soldiers and sailors, the manumitted slaves, and freed black convicts all became part of those referred to as Free Blacks.

STEP 4: Represents the tributary of the EUROPEANS. We are descendents of a range of Europeans who intermarried with, or who had children with Indigenes, Slaves and Free Blacks. In the early founding years of the Cape Settlement the mainly German, Dutch, Swiss, Portuguese, French and Scandanavians were mainly male and took black partners. Many Europeans were also transient and never settled in the colony but left children behind. There were always Europeans, across the centuries, who had children with black partners and this carried on when the English, Irish and Scots arrived in South Africa. The Europeans settled and made their homes in Africa as a local people, but their bloodlines can also be found amongst indigene groups and Coloured communities, as much as indigene and Coloured bloodlines can be found in the descendent European communities.

STEP 5: Represents the tributary of the MAROONS. We are descendents of runaway slaves, Free Black rebels, mixed ‘Baster’ descendents of indigenes and slaves, non-conformists Europeans, escaped convicts, and eccentric missionaries. They became the freedom-trekkers who moved as far away from the reaches of the colonial government, long before the Boer Great Trek, to the long wild territory along the Garieb river in the north west, and to the amaXhosa territory in the east. Here these Drosters or Maroons mixed with Khoe, San, Xhosa and other indigenes and formed new groups such as the Orlams Afrikaners, the Bergenaar Basters, the Springboks, and the Griquas. Others joined the Xhosa armies and resisted both the Boers and later the British.

STEP 6: Represents the tributary of the EXILES & REFUGEES: We are the descendents of outspoken fighters and political leaders who challenged the Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish in various territories in Indonesia and Polynesia. Indonesian Muslim resistance leaders were tried and banished into exile at the Cape; Peranakan Chinese from the Chinese resistance after the massacres of Chinese by the Dutch in Batavia; and Philippine refugees from the Phillipine Revolution - the Manillas, landed up at different times in the Cape and integrated into what was later called the Coloured population. In later years, to this day, new exile and refugee groups would continue to trickle into the Cape, make this place their home and integrate with other communities.

STEP 7: Represents the tributary of the INDENTURES & MIGRANTS: We are descendents of a range of people who were brought to the Cape as indentured labourers or who were economic migrants. After slavery was formally ended at the Cape, first the ‘Prize Boys’ were forced to accept indentureship as labourers, then farmers began importing indentured labour from the Congo, Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique. Most of these ‘Indentures’ were settled in the Drakenstein and integrated with both the Coloured communities and the amaXhosa who were working in the district since the late 1700s.

Already many of the freed slaves in the Drakenstein were those from East Africa known locally as the Mosbiekers. The Mosbieker pool grew as indentureship was continually extended over the 19th century.

From the 1840s and increasing in the 1870s right through to 1910 and beyond, large groups of people were brought in as indentured servants from St Helena. The Saints as they were known were also descendents of slaves, Chinese and British settlers on the island of St Helena.

In 1890 the Ormoro North African slaves (Somalia) seized from a slaver ship were brought to the Cape and these also integrated into Coloured and amaXhosa communities.

Also amongst the migrants were West Africans of the Kru tribe who had been employed by the Royal Navy in Simonstown for almost a century (1830 – 1930). These Kroomen as they were locally known also integrated into the Coloured community. Their grave markers can still be seen in Simonstown today. In the late 1800s the Royal Navy began recruiting Siddis and Zanzibaris from displkaced African communities scattered along the African and Indian coasts. Siddis and Zanzibaris like the Kru also integrated into Cape society.

Migrants and other infusions into the Cape society carry on to this day. Through our sea ports relationships have produced children with Chinese and other seaman of many nations. Economic migrants and refugees from other African countries still arrive daily and take their place among us as they always have. District Six was a key centre that became a microcosm manifestation of the coming together of all of these tributaries and the creolisation of cultures that gave us the rich and diverse locally born Cape African heritage that we celebrate today.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Milk is soon becoming a cost at my house

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 17 December 2014)

The past two weeks have been extremely hectic at the Shaanika-Louw household. First it was counting the elections results that kept me from home, now baby has decided we must get ready for our new addition. We arrived at the maternity ward quite prepared as we both have children from previous relationships. However, baby has had other ideas. Since morning Monday, till now just after lunch on Tuesday, baby has decided to take a break. It seems it will take longer to have our baby than counting the elections results.
As part of my baby preparedness, I took my wife to the new mall that recently opened in the south east of Windhoek. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many brand name stores and one look at the prices of these items made me appreciate the value of competition. In one of the toy stores I was able to buy a present for our elder son of 11 for less than N$ 200.00. The exact same toy is available from local toys stores and large retailers for more than twice the price.
Thus, I look forward to continuing dropping of prices as we see more competition in the market place.
This now leads me to a conundrum - a confusing and difficult problem or question. If competition is good for me as a consumer when prices drop, when can it be bad for me?
As a previous promoter of trade for Namibia based at the United Nations Industrial Organisations office in Paris, France, we often complained about competition against our local business that forced them to go out of business. Many times I heard the argument we need to defend our Namibian industries and business against “unfair” advantage and tactics used by especially South African businesses. The examples are numerous where the power of size was used by such companies, for example cooking oil, toilet paper, foam mattresses, etc.)
In recent months I have approached by both sides of the arguments on “protecting local industry”. (The two commodities referred to is the fresh milk and the chicken market.)
The suppliers argue that they need protection from the outside producers because they only have a small market, and the large produces can afford to flood the market and the non-protection would lead to job losses. Consumers on the other hand argue quite rightly that when there is competition, then prices will come down and prevent monopolies from increasing their profit margins without due regard to the “market price”.
Having been on both sides of the “game”, I must now take a stand. Do I believe in market forces keeping prices affordable or do I believe in protecting jobs? Wrong!
That is not the actual question. We need to look at the industries concerned on an individual basis and then come to some recommendation.
The dairy industry used to consist of many producers supplying to dairies that were locally based. For example, in Rehoboth the farmers supplied their milk to the locally owned dairy. At Independence there were two main large dairies and they kept the market in balance. However, these two consolidated and became almost a monopoly. This large size meant they could use business tricks to get rid of competitors or put them into a position of having to either sell or close down their business. Today, this is the largest dairy and if I am correct, only dairy in the country. They even have their own super-farm to provide products to themselves.

This large company now wants to continue the production of the dairy industry because otherwise there will be loss of jobs and it is important to grow the Namibian economy.

I disagree. This monopolistic attitude is causing harm to our consumers and should not be allowed to continue. The Ministry of Trade and Industry must bow down to demands from large companies crying “infant protection” when they are neither infants nor protectors of the small and medium business owners in this country.

Access to adequate clean water is a right

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 19 November 2014)

The past two weeks I have been facing a personal crisis at home. The water connection was cut off on 6 November and still has not been reconnected. At first, I felt like a politician slumming it out and showing I can manage for a day without clean, running water but was very soon brought back to reality. Without water you cannot flush your toilets, drink from a tap, shower or wash your hands. Everything is returned to a basic water access through a bucket or a drum. This made me think of the quote by Marcus Samuelsson, “Clean water and access to food are some of the simplest things that we can take for granted each and every day. In places like Africa, these can be some of the hardest resources to attain if you live in a rural area.”
I was upset with my water being off and contacted the City of Windhoek to give them a piece of my mind. They in turn pointed out that I have a rental contract with the price of water included, but that my landlady had not paid them for a few months. I contacted my landlady who stated that it was a billing problem as she paid via online banking and thus the error was the municipality. Well, back to the debtors department at City of Windhoek (CoW). After checking again, they insisted the error was with the landlady and not their billing system.
In the meantime, I was willing to pay the outstanding amount of around N$ 2,000 to get my water connected and would then just subtract it from the rent.
The landlady once again assured me that it was not necessary for me to pay as there was a billing error. However, I realised that this was not the truth as someone had been sent to deposit money on this account, but the CoW did not deem it sufficient to reconnect my water.
As a consumer, I was now being severely impacted by the landlady who as my service supplier was (and still is) not keeping her side of the agreement. Not only was I being deprived of an inherent right of the contract, I was also getting a lot of flak from my pregnant wife!
Looking at this as a consumer, what is my rights in a case like this where my water is caused to be cut-off by my landlord? The first thing to consider is that the issue is a civil case and is not governed by criminal law – which means I have no recourse to a police person to assist, but rather through the courts. Secondly, as the wronged party what cause of action can I take now to get my water reconnected, and thirdly how do I get compensated for the loss of water, time and the indignity of getting water from neighbours and friends?

As this is a civil case, neither party has recourse to the police – meaning that a difference on this or keeping back part of the rent is cause for getting the police involved. As the wronged party, I can decide to go to the CoW and pay the outstanding amount and then deduct this amount from the rental and submit the invoice for the water paid. The third part is the hardest, what should I be compensated for this wrong? I have looked into the matter and believe that any tenant has the right to deduct pro rata the amount of rent for each day the material aim of the contract is not kept by the landlord. In plain English, if I rent a property of N$ 6,000 a month, I may deduct an amount of 200 per day for the water being cut off due to negligence from the side of the landlord. In my case, the rent will be less by an amount of one-third (or more) as the water is still cut-off and the landlord insists that she has paid the water.
I would have just have preferred to have running water!

A happy customer is the best advertising you can get

(First Published in New Era Newspaper - 12 November 2014)

In everyone’s life there comes a time when you need “someone in your corner”. Being married has reminded me of how important it is to have support structures in place through friends and family – especially when you and the better half have different views or opinions on an issue. For me, after only a few months of marriage, it has been difficult lately because my work is very demanding on my time, as well as being a job in which I get to travel very frequently. This means that I have to make that extra effort to convince my wife that she is still the most important person in my life.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be a panellist at the Namibia Customer Service Awards and Conference hosted at the Polytechnic of Namibia. The topic for which I was invited to do a short presentation was “Customer Advocacy”. This term is used to refer to companies that focus on what is best for a customer. This might sound like just another gimmick, but is in fact a marketing technique which is used to encourage the sales person to better understand the customers’ needs and according to this philosophy, give advice to the customer even if it means less profit for the company. It also means finding the time of the day that the customer is most comfortable being called about a company’s products and services. In extreme cases it might even mean suggesting a competitors products as they can best suit the customers’ needs. For me, this sounds like customer heaven.
While on the panel, I also had an opportunity to discuss how that companies can measure this advocacy and its integration into their strategic goals through customer satisfaction, retention and profitability. A popular tool to measure this is the NetPromoter Score. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a management tool that can be used to measure the loyalty of a customer to a business. It can be used as an alternative to the traditional customer satisfaction research and many businesses who use it claims that it can be correlated with revenue growth. In other words, companies who use NPS state they have improved their profits through this process.
NPS is based on a direct question: How likely is it that you would recommend our company/product/service to a friend or colleague? The scoring for this answer is most often based on a 0 to 10 scale. Customers that answer with a high score (with a 9 or a 10) are considered loyal promoters. Detractors are considered to be customers that answer with a score between 0 and 6. The NPS is now calculated by subtracting the percentage of Detractors from the percentage of customers that are Promoters. The primary purpose of this score is to evaluate the loyalty of a customer to a specific brand or company rather than their satisfaction with a specific product or transaction.
What is interesting for a customer advocate (such as myself) is that through this scoring, companies can identify customers who are willing promoters and sales persons of the company – without getting paid? This is becoming very important in the modern world where most of our decisions on products and brands are being made more and more often based on the recommendation of a friend rather than the advertising prepared by the sales and marketing departments of a company. The value of advice given by a friend (or trusted source such as this column), is becoming more and more important when buying decisions are made.
For companies this means that making a customer happy, and encouraging them to make their voice heard is good for the profit of a company. Never before has the bad experience of a customer been so quick to be shared with others as it is being done today through social media. Customers have now got the power to share their experiences, both good and bad, within a few seconds of that experience.

Disqus for Milton Louw - Buidling a better Namibia