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theintersectionsblog

trying to make sense of the world

Learning for Life

“All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher.”
― George Whitman

It has rung so true for me that the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. Academically speaking, my learning journey gets longer and longer than I ever thought it would. I never realised that my thirst for knowledge was so rampant upon leaving high school. Being in the process of putting together a Ph.D. proposal, I come to realise that there is always more to know, in life as well as within a particular subject area. The number of books to read is too many to count. As a result, I have made peace with the fact that I will be a lifelong student, not only of the academy but of life itself.

Within the professional setting, every day presents a new challenge: whether it be learning a new skill, navigating office politics or learning more about patience. My academic training did imbue me with transferable skills like time management, learning how to read and write critically and how to work under pressure. However, there is so much I had to learn and continually have to learn as I go along: especially by being thrown into the deep end by my superiors on projects or throwing myself into the deep end in a bid to test myself and demonstrate my worth to the organisation. On a more interpersonal level within the professional working environment, truly learning how to work with a group of people, with often conflicting personalities, has been one of the biggest learning curves for me. However, that is all part of the process and is so connected to the personal growth and learning journey I am on.

The personal learning journey I have been on has allowed me to recognise my spiritual essence and my connection each and every person and creature I encounter in the world, in addition to a higher power. This realisation and journey of self-discovery would not have begun had I not been open to changing my established opinions and world view. I had to remain open to new information and new experiences. As a result, I have to remain comfortable with the discomfort of continuous growth and development for this path to remain mine.

Ultimately though, in a world of economic and political instability, with an increase in nationalisation and fear of the other, it is each and every person’s responsibility to broaden the idea of what they thought was possible, to learn about themselves and their capacity for love and acceptance of others and acceptance of difference, be it through academic study, professional engagement or personal reflection. Ultimately, in the words of Albert Einstein, “Once you stop learning, you start dying”.

Picture credit: http://besmartaboutlife.com/brain-boosters-how-to-improve-your-learning-power/

21st Century Political Activism

While the reality might be different across the world, the South Africa political landscape and space for public engagement/activism has changed significantly over the past two decades. This change has led to a change in the way people engage with the government as well as address issues which stem from decisions made by the government. One difference between the South African case and that of the rest of the world is that the government has historically been a site of distrust for the majority of citizens. Apartheid meant that only a small, white minority enjoyed the government benefits at the expense of everyone else.

Even though political liberation came 23 years ago, the remnants of the apartheid system are still tangible in many parts of the country. Due to astronomical youth unemployment and inequality, the latent effects of apartheid are affecting the youth most significantly. Being born shortly before or after political liberation, millennials were fed the dream of a South Africa unlike that of our parents: An equal South Africa where people are treated with dignity and respect regardless of race or socio-economic standing. Unfortunately, this has not been realised, making the areas in which this disparity is most pronounced the sites for millennial political activism.

Three of the most notable movements involving young people within Cape Town are, the fight for safe access to sanitation (main organisations involved: The Social Justice Coalition; Ndifuna Ukwazi), The fight for a university curriculum which speaks to an African reality as opposed to a Euro-American reality and the fight for free tertiary education (movements involved: #RhodesMustFall/#FeesMustFall), The fight for urban land justice and the end of continued forced removals by the City of Cape Town (main organisations involved: Reclaim the City; Ndifuna Ukwazi). All of these movements have and continue to fight for the rights of the majority of citizens where the government has only prioritised the needs of the few.

Obviously, this form of political activism, which is much more community centred, does not involve all millennials. We are too diverse a group in terms of political beliefs, interests, and desires to make sweeping generalisations about what gets us motivated. That being said, there are commonalities which we have to recognise whether we’d like to or not. We have inherited a world which can no longer sustain the level of consumption and natural resource use our parents’ generation became accustomed to; globalisation has led to increased levels of migration, increasing the need for tolerance of cultural diversity; and the levels of inequality which continues to rise is not only unsustainable but increasingly becomes a security risk across the world.

In order to cope with this reality, millennials are being forced to do things differently and to see things differently in order to survive in the world we were born into. This includes mobilising around political and social issues in a way generations before us did not, and using resources, like technology and social media,  which were not available in years gone by.

 

Picture Credit: http://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/western-cape/petition-against-sale-of-tafelberg-remedial-school-2033402

The effect of technological development on peace and security efforts in Africa

Technological developments in the 21st century have led to an industrial revolution of sorts. Within the many African countries, this has been characterised by the rapid growth in the telecommunications industry: more specifically, the widespread use of cellphones and social networks like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. Even though the level of technological development might not have reached the same levels in Africa as it has in the Global North, its effect cannot be ignored.

While intra-state conflicts, political instability and transnational security threats have become more pronounced, the access communities have to political elites has been influenced by technological improvements. Analysing security from the human security perspective) putting the individual at the centre of the security paradigm rather than the state) technology has played an integral role in the levels of security of communities and their perception of the influence they have over state security structures. However, as governments across the continent spend increasing proportions of their annual budget on technological improvements the question of budget priority becomes more pertinent. In addition to this, technological improvements and the spread of social media has led to more accountability mechanisms as the ordinary person’s access to information improves and is able to spread more rapidly.

There are a number of positive examples of the innovative use of social media to improve peace and security of individuals within Kenya. In 2012, the Kenyan Chief, Francis Kariuki, was recognised using twitter to track down missing livestock and to stop crime by identifying criminals or criminal acts. The District Commissioner praised his efforts stating that his innovative use of technology brought the government closer to the people. However, the praise for innovative social media usage is not widespread amongst the political elite.

As the August elections approach, the Kenyan government has spent millions of Kenyan shillings on social media monitoring technology. As a result, there are fears that increased surveillance of social media will result in repression of basic human rights. In Kenya, this behaviour was characterised by the arrest of blogger, Ezer Kipurui. In Uganda, many social media platforms were shut down in the name of ‘’security concerns’.  Social media repression has become a trend across the region as Burundi and Ethiopia also limited citizens’ access to information and limited their ability to report election irregularities through social media restrictions.

The role of social media in the lived experiences of people cannot be denied or ignored. Social media and technological advancement have led to innovative crime fighting and local conflict resolution strategies. It has also led to knowledge dissemination and the perception of government being closer to the individual. However, as communication networks expand, the ability of political elites to manipulate and distort those networks have also expanded. This has added a new dimension to advocacy efforts the work of human rights defenders. Therefore, technological developments have the ability to both enhance and hinder peace and security efforts in Africa and indeed globally.

 

Photo credit: http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20161105/how-donald-trump-and-hillary-clinton-are-changing-the-social-media-game

 

Can I have a Modern Family?

So, I’m 24… way too young to get married, have two and a half child (because I still feel like a child in so many ways), settle down into a house with a white picket fence. Or so I thought. Most of my close friends are in the same boat, being single or in a relationship but so far from the point of envisaging life being quiet for long enough to get married and have kids. A few years ago, if a former classmate said their ‘I dos’ or had a baby, they’d be the exception but as the years pass and my facebook feed continues to be littered with engagements, marriages and baby announcement I have started to realise that I am becoming the exception.

Don’t get me wrong, the tides are shifting. People are choosing to get married a lot later or not at all, children are no longer a given and discussions about the types of relationship people want to have are becoming more common. This, of course, is coupled with the wider acceptance of varied sexualities and sexual preferences. Overall, there are just more people choosing to live outside the pre-determined family box established by our parents and their parents.

My family was pretty standard. My parents got married in their mid-twenties and are still together. They had two kids within the space of 5 years. My mother is a teacher, so while we were growing up she was with us most of the time. Dinner was on the table awaiting my dad’s arrival most nights. Having grown up with these examples of relationships and family dynamics from my immediate and extended family, living or choosing an alternative remains a challenge.

While I consider myself a radical feminist, I still envisage myself walking down the aisle. Why? Why do I want to wear a white dress? Why? Yes, I was socialised to believe that marriage (and a wedding) is what women should aspire to. I still get questions from members of my family about when I’m getting married, about how many kids I want as opposed to whether I want kids at all. But at the same time, I know an alternative. I don’t think it’s necessary to sign a page and say I do to prove your commitment to another person but does something magical happen on the altar, as I’ve been told by some married folks and of course, the movies? How can I be a great wife, awesome mother and have a ridiculously amazing career all at the same time? For all of the women close to me, something had to give.

The question of whether women can have it all has come up so many times when hanging out with girlfriends and I am yet to decide of myself whether I can have it all (my own modern family: have a partner who doesn’t mind staying home while I am travelling the world, who will gladly share all the responsibilities that come with the home, with kids who feel loved by me even though I might not always be around, with a high-powered career, surrounded by people I respect and who respect me) or whether I can have it all but not at the same time?

Picture credit: http://www.freepik.com/free-icon/white-question-mark-on-a-black-circular-background_750291.htm

Where has all the Water Gone?

Cape Town is in the midst of midst of one of its worst droughts ever. Water restrictions are severe across the Western Cape and dam levels are worryingly low. This phenomenon in not restricted to the tip of Africa, with Kenya and Somalia, experiencing droughts of their own. While I participated in some serious water saving strategies on my short visit back to the mother city, I was beyond shocked when I heard the familiar ‘tick-tick-tick’ sound of the neighbour’s sophisticated sprinkler system. I was stunned… shock and horror. How is it possible to carelessly be watering your garden at midday while my family had resorted to recycling shower water to flush the toilet?

It seems that many people have managed to disassociate themselves from the fact that the whole of Cape Town is thirsty. Instead, they seem to have adopted a carefree attitude of ‘water running from my taps means I’m ok and I can do what I please, after all… I’m paying for it’. Are they, though? No! When they waste water, the whole city suffers. Crops can’t be watered leading to food shortages and when the water in the tap is no longer drinkable, paying for water might remain a luxury only a few citizens can afford. Like so many natural and manmade disasters, the poorest are likely to suffer the most.

Not to sound like a doomsday prepper but precautions should be taken before there is a problem. On a large city-wide scale, water monitoring should become the norm and other innovations should be tried and tested. I am no water scientist but one of the most promising possibilities was tested in Los Angeles. 96 million plastic balls were released onto the Los Angeles Reservoir to reduce water evaporation. More importantly though, water saving techniques should become a thing of habit rather than a frenzied practice, adopted when things are already irreversibly bad. As the effects of climate change become palatable for all parts of the world in one way or another, environmentally friendly practices need to become the norm for every individual. Too often we rely on governments to pass regulations or restrictions with regards to resource and energy efficiency (which is important, don’t get me wrong), however, every single person is capable of doing something, small or big, to ensure we remain safe on this planet a bit longer.

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Cover Photo Credit: http://noordhoekvalley.co.za/water-saving-tips/

Tips Photo Credit: https://carteblanche.dstv.com/savewater/

The Tertiary Education Dilemma

Being South African, a recent University of Cape Town (UCT) graduate, having student debt and numerous friends still fighting the fight for free tertiary education in South Africa, the struggle for free education is very close to my heart.  #RhodesMustFall took UCT by storm in 2015. The calls by the movement for a decolonised curriculum, university staff and environment went along with very strong calls for the removal of a statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the university campus. While many commentators tried to reduce the movement to only being about a statue, the calls for the removal of the statue were always accompanied with conversations about the lack of racial integration of the faculty and student body, the lack of gender sensitivity of the university administration and the eurocentric nature of many of the curricula.

Shortly after the removal of the statue, the government announced a 10% fees increase for public tertiary institutions in 2016. Shortly after the announcement, the #FeesMustFall movement started at the University of the Witwatersrand. This movement started the conversation amongst South African students about the need to provide free tertiary education in the country. While for many this was considered unrealistic, it is important to note that at this time, the government was embroiled in a number of public spending controversies.

These conversations and the movement as a whole also highlighted the racial inequalities in the country. This was most clearly illustrated by the varied media attention received by protest action and police brutality at different campuses. While historically black tertiary institutions like the University of Western Cape and Tshwane University of Technology had experienced a disproportionate amount of police violence and also had been calling for fee reductions prior to the creation of the movement, only when the protests started at historically white institutions like Wits University and UCT were these calls taken seriously by the government, the media and the general public.

While the fee increase was cancelled for 2016, South Africa is no closer to achieving free tertiary education. Many students are struggling with student debt, being excluded on financial grounds or are unable to even consider tertiary education due to the inability to pay the fees, access student loans or government assistance. Unfortunately, due to South Africa’s past, most of the people who are severely hindered by the exorbitant cost of tertiary education are young black people; People whose historical disadvantage does not seem so historical. While some have argued that free education is not feasible, in order to ensure that the discrimination of the past and present does not hinder the upward mobility of young black people in the country, the South African government and tertiary institutions in the country have to find a creative solution to make tertiary education more accessible for racially and economically disenfranchised in the country. Only when education is equally accessible for all and everyone in the country feels safe and equally represented in those spaces can South Africans begin to claim that steps have been made to overcoming inequality in education. There is absolutely no justification for the current state of affairs in South Africa, which privileges wealth (and in turn skin tone) for the access to education!

Picture Credit: See http://connect.citizen.co.za/news/26694/wits-feesmustfall-timeline-and-outcome/

And Now?

The city waited with baited breath as the election results poured in. Going to sleep the night before, it seemed that Hilary was a sure thing but, like the Brexit vote in the UK, that reality seemed to crumble as morning turned to noon. By lunch time, a wave of shock and horror seemed to sweep all those whose company I kept. Like them, the thought of Donald J. Trump as the president of the United States and the “leader of the free world” was too outlandish to comprehend. But … the people spoke. At first, I was quite surprised at the emotional investment of the population, given that I was over 12 000 kilometres away in Nairobi, Kenya. However, I do realise that, beside the fact that the whole world seemed to be bombarded with news about the US electoral race, the politics and policies of the United States affects the whole world in one way or another. There are a few issues which have been illuminated by the results which warrant further discussion and reflection.

  1. Population Polarisation: The most stable democracies, the US and UK being the most recent example, are displaying deep divisions within societies. While in both landmark elections more conservative political options triumphed, the results were almost 50/50.
  2. Extremist/Inward Looking Politics: Like Brexit, the most recent US election demonstrates a desire from the populous to concentrate on themselves and a redefining of what it means to be a citizen. For the United States, the election has sent a strong message to all people who do not fall into the category of heterosexual white men.
  3. Being an Example: I am not at all suggesting that US democracy does not have issues or that developing nations should look for examples outside themselves, however, with the US priding itself as being the champion of democracy and equality, how will they start conversations about gender equality when their president has proudly and repeatedly shown an absolute lack of respect for women? How will they facilitate conversations about inclusivity and respect for diversity when discriminatory politics has triumphed?
  4. The Majority: We cannot deny that Hilary had her flaws (for Africa, her involvement in Libya was an absolute disaster). However, probably the saddest take away from the election results is that during the campaign, it was assumed that Trump appealed to a small minority. However, the election demonstrated (the often unspoken) beliefs of the American public… the tired stereotypes that I thought, or rather hoped, the world were alive and kicking. Will discrimination ever die?
  5. An Opportunity: As has been reflected upon by a number of Americans disappointed by the results, this post-election period and going forward, is an opportunity to reinvigorate public participation and active citizenry… not just sitting around wallowing in grief but rather, doing something to improve the situation. It also gives political parties, especially the Democrats an opportunity to rethink their engagement with the entire country. Finally, and this is a lesson for citizens of functioning democracies throughout the world, your vote matters and not using that vote may lead to your worst nightmare!

Pricture Credit: See http://www.luxury-homes-katy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/1042703_1280x720.jpg

The Job Hunt

As youth unemployment increases throughout the world, the level of education of young people continues to increase. In years gone by, 12 years of schooling would have been sufficient to secure a job. However, currently, an undergraduate degree does not guarantee employment. What you learn in the classroom might not be enough. The current job market requires creativity, patience and a significant amount of self confidence. About to embark on the job hunting journey myself, I have had to interrogate how prepared I am and how prepared I feel for the next chapter. At the same time, recognising that there are no guarantees.

10 things I have finally come to know about the job hunt:

1. Resources: Use the resources available to you. If there is a career centre at your school or university, visit it regularly. Inquire about how your skills might match positions and professions that you were previously not aware of.

2. Be Creative: Your degree does not dictate your career path. Tertiary education is about skills: learning how to be critical; learning how to analyse; learning how to work well under pressure. Recognise the skills that you have learned throughout your years or study, in addition to the content, in order to boost your C.V. and demonstrate your flexibility.

3. Detours: While studying, many of us have a very clear idea about the direction life will take post-university. Usually, reality doesn’t look the same and that is okay. Make the most of whatever situation you are in and use it as an opportunity to grow.

4. Patience: Finding a job often takes time. Try your best to be comfortable in the discomfort. It will come, and if it doesn’t broaden your search (See 1).

5. Rejection: In your job hunt, you are bound to be rejected (or worse, ignored) at least once. This does not make you less amazing than you are, it just means that your amazingness does not match the amazingness needed for that position.

6. Costs: Looking for a job can be quite costly. Try your best to ensure that you have enough financial resources to sustain you during the period of limbo. Also factor in travelling costs (to and from interviews), postage etc.

7. Learning: You never stop learning. That goes for job interviews too. They get better with time. Be comfortable, confident and ask questions. Asking questions during the interview (about the organisation or the relevant position) shows the interviewers that you have done your homework about your possible place of employment and that you are interested and engaged in the position.

8. Prejudice: As much as people some people hate to acknowledge or talk about it, prejudice does exist. Don’t let the prejudice of another affect how you feel about yourself and your abilities. Also, confront your own prejudice: Was the interviewer/ your boss who you expected? If the answer is no, why not?

9. Changes: Career dreams and goals change. your ideas about what you want might change or the organisations you aspired to work for might not be what you expect. Take those companies/organisations off the pedestal you put them on and find something new. Don’t compromise on your core values!

10. Entrepreneurship: Think about whether creating your own job may be the best thing for you, both short and long term. Many of us can’t imagine having a boss (and a cranky boss at that). Being your own boss might be the best alternative. Put all your skills to the test and try to create something new.

Good Luck!

Photo Credit: See http://www.viruseyes.com/vision-virus-nature/cheetahspackhunting-gazelle/

 

Should Trust in Leaders and Leadership be Earned or Expected?

There can be no denying that definitions of leadership have and continue to vary tremendously . Despite the definitional differences, in the instances where leadership is mentioned when referring to organisations, governments or individuals, the definition is rarely clarified. Therefore, in order to discuss trust in leadership, it is important to clarify my understanding of leadership, its purpose and how it is distinct from leaders.

Leadership is a process. The process includes a leader and followers in a given situation who undergo a process. This process leads to an outcome which changes the situation in which that leader operates. Once a particular outcome has been obtained, and the situation changes, either the leader needs to adapt his/her leadership style in order to respond to the new situational needs or a new leader needs to emerge who is better able to respond to those new situational needs. The purpose of leadership is therefore to achieve a particular goal which was collectively decided upon. Leaders are just one component of that process. They are an integral component but one component nonetheless. Without followers, leaders cannot and will not exist. In addition, if the individual who is on top of a vertical hierarchy of authority is not able to respond to the situationally dependent needs of followers, technically, they are not exercising leadership. One of the benefits of recognising leadership as being a process, is that the system is able to recognise that a leader can emerge from any position within society or an organisation if the situation arises. It, therefore, increases the likelihood of innovation and fresh ideas and approaches being incorporated into otherwise rigid systems.

While formal leadership studies has, more often than not, been applied to organisations, understanding the leadership process in political systems is equally important. In order for a leader to remain credible, they are obliged to respond to the needs of their followers in a given situation. Distrust in leaders is a result of leaders being unable or unwilling to meet the needs of their followers and/or do not allow for the emergence of a more capable leader. Distrust in leadership results when followers no longer believe that the system through which leaders emerge is capable of providing them with competent and responsive leaders. There is, therefore, a complete breakdown in the leadership process.

One situation where this becomes particularly relevant is peace negotiations or the selection of leaders rather than the election of leaders. South Sudan is a prime example of the failure of the leadership process and a distrust in leadership. Simplifying the story quite substantially, without a countrywide discussion of the type of country/government the people wanted, leaders were selected during the peace process. However, those “leaders” (SalvaKiir and RiekMashar) did not meet the needs of the people of the country. Instead of building a nation through the leadership process, they were unable and/or unwilling to respond to the needs of citizens of South Sudan. As a result, fighting erupted once again in the capital of Juba in July 2016. The peace which has been ‘declared’ remains fragile and thousands of refugees continue to flock to neighbouring countries in search of safety.

Trust in leadership by followers needs to be earned by the leaders who have emerged to respond to a particular situation. If leaders are unable to respond to those needs, trust in that leader cannot be guaranteed and if the leadership process is unable to respond to the need for a new leader, trust from followers cannot be expected. Leadership is an interaction between leaders and followers and in order for trust to be ensured, that relationship needs to be respected from both the leader and the followers.

Photo Credit: See http://www.nairobibusinessmonthly.com/companies/leaders-and-followers/

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