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Archive for October, 2007

Oprah Winfrey is to be commended on her handling of the allegations of assault by a school staff member against one of the girls attending the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henley-on-Klip (IOL).

Oprah WinfreyOn hearing of the allegations, Oprah set up an internal inquiry, sent the headmistress – who was not involved in the incident – on a leave of absence, brought in investigators from the United States, called in the Child Protection Services, cancelled her appointments and flew into South Africa to address concerned parents and to deal with the matter in person. It is apparent to observers that the allegations are being taken very seriously.  

One certainly gets the impression that Oprah is going to leave no stone unturned, until she establishes the truth behind the allegations of assault at her school for disadvantaged girls. And this is how it should be (News24). 

Contrast this to the allegations of sexual misconduct by the late Bishop Reginald Orsmond, a highly regarded South African Catholic bishop who founded Boys Town in 1958. 

Mario D’Offizi, a former resident of Boys’ Town, has claimed in his book, “Bless Me Father”, that Orsmond sexually abused him during the three years he spent at the institution in the 1960s (Saturday Star). Since coming forward with his story, two more victims have come forward with similar claims. In addition a former Boys’ Town staff member has alleged that it was an open secret that Orsmond had boys sleeping in his room in the 1970s (Saturday Star). 

The South African Catholic Church has issued a statement expressing its shock over the allegations and has invited the D’Offizi and the other “victims” to share their stories with the relevant church authority (Saturday Star). One certainly feels no sense of urgency or horror from them at the thought that the Catholic church may have once again been sheltering a monster in its midst. Instead one suspects that the matter is going to die a quiet death. 

The fact that Orsmond died in 2002 and is not able to stand up for himself, does makes this matter more complicated. However this does not mean that the allegations should not be thoroughly investigated.  

Orsmond may have done a great deal of good work and may have inspired generations of young boys to lead better lives, but if he is guilty of having preyed on some of the young boys in his care, the Catholic Church has a moral duty to investigate properly for the sake of the alleged victims and for the sake of the church as a whole. There have been too many scandals of this nature perpetrated and covered up by the Catholic Church authorities. 

The Catholic leadership has to stop protecting the pedophiles in its ranks and go after them with vigour and determination. If Orsmond is innocent, a determined and thorough investigation will prove the allegations to be unfounded and Orsmond can rest easy, his reputation in tact. However, if Orsmond is found to be guilty, the church has a duty to make it up to the victims by ensuring that the Catholic Church is no longer a sanctuary for practicing pedophiles. 

The Catholic Church has failed its worldwide congregation over the years, by shuffling pedophiles from one parish to the next, leaving the victims to pick up the pieces while providing the predators with new, unsuspecting victims. It is time for the church to take a leaf out of Oprah Winfrey’s book and deal decisively with such matters, instead of hiding behind closed doors and hoping the problem will go away.

Photo credit
Alan Light – www.flickr.com/photos/alan-light/216012860/

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Excitement hit South Africa in a big way last week when the Springboks made it into the finals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. 

Callers to radio shows were full of contagious delight about South Africa making it into the finals of rubgy’s ultimate competition. Acknowledging this unifying excitement, in a country where we often spend our time moaning about crime and corruption, Radio 702 called on Springbok supporters to upload photos of themselves onto the 702 website. In no time there were pages and pages of photos on their website showing Springbok supporters of all ages, sexes, sizes and colours dressed in the green and gold colours of South African rugby.  

There were photos of tiny babies wearing rugby jerseys, photos of school pupils from a variety of schools, work colleagues, family groups and friends decked in green and gold as well as photos of President Thabo Mbeki wearing a springbok rugby jersey and waving a South African flag.  

Even the doyen of South African real estate, Pam Golding, came to the party gracing a full page advert in the Saturday Star with her face painted in the colours of the South African flag. People had South African flags mounted on their cars, green and gold tinsel tied to their car door handles, and a house down the road had a light decoration on at night, flashing the words “Bokke” to passersby. People were certainly letting their hair down and it was great to feel like one people and one nation again. 

Nothing could beat what this family did though, they spray painted their sheep green and gold. 

Springbok rugby sheep

Radio 702 contributed further to the Springbok fervour by loading the words to Nkosi Sikelele, and Shosholoza onto their website and provided an inspiring selection of audio clips including the Zulu version of the Haka; the gameplan for the final – give the ball to Brian; an Afrikaans ode to Brian Habana; Leon Schuster singing “Hier kom die Bokke”; and Johnny Clegg’s Impi. A wonderful eclectic mix reflecting what it is to be a rugby supporter in today’s South Africa. Listen here 

The fervour from fans gradually increased with a spontaneous decision by many supporters to wear green and gold to school, work and play on Friday the 19 October 2007. On the way into work that morning, my kids and I took great delight in yelling out green, every time we passed green-clad supporters.  

At work, normally a bastion of industrious endeavour, everyone was wearing some element of green and or gold on their person. And later that evening while attending a performance at the Barnyard Theatre, one of the performers stripped off to show his springbok rugby jersey underneath his costume. 

Finally Saturday came, and despite having no liking for the game whatsoever I donned a lime green shirt and headed off to a friend’s house to support our players. The rest of the country had come down with Springbok fever and I had come down with a touch of it myself.  

South Africa won the game decisively and I was mightily impressed with Percy Montgomery and his ability to look like Prince Charming during the roughest of play. His elegant leap over the boundary boards into a TV camera, when shoved by an English player, was delightfully executed. The man is amazing to look at and he played awesomely too.

Photo credit
Irene Blythe

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South Africa’s Bern Goosen has conquered Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair, again. 

A wheel chair bound quadriplegic, Bern is the only person to have ascended Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair. He is also the only person to have successfully climbed the mountain in a wheelchair twice.

Mount Kilimanjaro

View Google satellite image of Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit

I met Bern at a press conference at the Innovation Hub announcing this 2007 expedition to climb Kilimanjaro. Looking at him sitting on his wheelchair, a modified bicycle, I wondered how he would manage to climb Africa’s highest mountain. I had been expecting Bern to have a muscular, well-built upper body, to compensate for his inability to walk. His small and wiry frame, confined to a wheel chair, did not inspire any confidence in his ability to climb mountains.

Later when Bern demonstrated his mountain climbing prowess up a koppie on the grounds of the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, his incredibly slow, painstaking progress made me certain he was aiming for the impossible.  

If I had been asked to put money on Bern making it to the top of the koppie in Pretoria, let alone up 5895 metres to Africa’s highest peak, I would not have put any money on him. It was only when I reminded myself that this incredible man had already conquered the mountain in 2003, and had almost summited in 2005, that I had to open my mind to a new possibility.

 

My brain really struggled with processing the information that Bern’s excruciatingly slow, progress up the rocky incline, if repeated for long enough, would be sufficient to get him to the top of a mountain. Gradually I realised that it would be guts and determination that would be taking Bern to the top of Kilimanjaro, and it had been those same qualities, which had taken him up on his previous attempts. 

Confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, Goosen can in no way be accused of allowing his bodily limitations to restrict his life. A qualified accountant and a motivational speaker (see his website Get Motivated), Bern seeks to help people conquer their own mountains, imaginary or real. 

Bern’s successful expedition to Africa’s highest peak this year, was via the Rongai Route covering a total distance of 27,1 km.  The expedition, which started on 9 October 2007, saw Bern reaching the summit after 6 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes beating his 2003 successful summit record of 9 days. The average able-bodied person does the climb in three to four days depending on the chosen route, while the world record holders for the fastest ascent do it in a matter of hours. 

(To follow Bern and his team’s 2007 journey up Mount Kilimanjaro, view Yellow.TV’s  footage of the expedition – Click here)

Bern’s first successful climb of Kilimanjaro was not officially recognised as a world record due to record authorities having no way of establishing whether he had complied with the strict rules governing record attempts.  

In wheelchair mountain ascents it is assumed that the person trying for the record has to receive assistance over some of the climb due to rough terrain being impassable by wheelchair, however as long as it is no more than 10% of the distance traveled, the climber can claim to have summited the mountain unassisted. At present Bern is awaiting official confirmation of his world record. (For more details go to: Record Attempt) 

A second attempt on the mountain failed in 2005 with Bern only reaching the second highest point on the mountain, Gilman’s Point, before succumbing to altitude sickness. A television crew from Carte Blanche covered his journey and beamed the story of his failure into the homes of many South Africans.  

(See Carte Blanche’s TV footage of Bern’s reaction to his failure to summit in 2005 at: www.badongo.com/vid/507214 )

This did not deter Bern from his goal of winning a well-deserved place in the Guinness Book of Records. Instead he set about getting another expedition together that would be verified by officials from the bodies overseeing world records of this nature. This week saw him achieve his dream and while he recovers in hospital suffering from exhaustion, all his supporters wait anxiously to hear whether the Guinness Book of Record will give him his due. 

Congratulations Bern. Thank you for providing me with the motivation to fulfill my own dream of climbing Kilimanjaro.

Related links
World Record for Kilimanjaro Wheelchair Climb Smashed!
Bern Goosen’s website – Get Motivated
Climb Mount Kilimanjaro
Where is Kilimanjaro? 

Photo credits
Mount Kilimanjaro – Gerard D. Hertel, West Chester University, United States
Slideshow photos – Clare van Zwieten

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South Africa’s top three computer gamers have won national colours for playing computer games. 

The computer gamers came top in the Amateur Gamers Association of South Africa (Agasa) roadshow held at the rAge 2007 expo where they competed against 1500 gamers vying for top honours including the Battlefield 2142 competition prize of R32 000.  

National colours for computer gamers

Pictured from left to right are Imi Mosaheb, AMD Country Manager; Peter van Nieuwenhuizen; Mitchell Tasic and Trevor Herselman (Photo courtesy of AMD). 

Traditionalists like John Robbie will be curling up their toes at the thought of players of computer games being granted an honour normally reserved for sportsmen and women in recognised old-school sports such as rugby, soccer, swimming, and running. Sports where you have to physically exert yourself and train for hours everyday.  

But who says computer gamers don’t exert themselves both mentally and physically? Who says computer gamers don’t spend hours training?

The time for complaining is too late though. South Africa became the first country in the world to recognise computer gaming as a national sport back in August 2006. This achievement or travesty, depending on your viewpoint, was made possible via the efforts of Agasa, which was established back in 2005 with the intention of making it possible for South African gamers to become eligible for provincial and national colours. 

Aside from the gaming roadshow, this year’s rAge expo showcased the latest in computer hardware, games and accessories, console gaming as well as alternative gaming such as trading card games and board games and much more. People attending the expo ranged from serious computer gamers to families making the most of the opportunity to play some of the hottest new gaming titles including the much talked about Wii. The slideshow below provides some highlights of rAge 2007.

Photo credit
Clare van Zwieten

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South Africa’s National Director of Public Prosecutions, Vusi Pikoli, has been given the boot. 

Vusi PikoliOn the one hand Pikoli is alleged to have issued an arrest warrant for South Africa’s national police commissioner Jackie Selebi and on the other he is alleged to have been unable to work with the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Brigitte Mabandla. He has since been accused of failing to reconise the minister’s authority and of being unfit to hold office. It is all very worrying. 

President Mbeki appears very quick to suspend officials who blow the whistle on wrong-doing (former deputy minister of health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and parliament’s former chief financial officer Harry Charlton) and not so quick to suspend others whose suitability for office is questionable (Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the Travelgate MPs).

Whistleblowers are not wanted is the message that is coming through strongly and clearly. The alleged charges in the arrest warrant issued by Pikoli are reported to be linked to Selebi’s alleged friendship with businessman Glenn Agliotti, who is suspected of participating in the murder of mining magnate Brett Kebble. Agliotti, who is under house arrest, has denied any involvement in Kebble’s murder and Selebi denies any knowledge of Agliotti’s alleged international crime syndicate connections.  Jackie Selebi

Government spokesperson, Themba Maseko, has confirmed that President Thabo Mbeki’s reason for suspending Pikoli was due to the breakdown of the relationship between Pikoli and the minister. And he has denied that the suspension was aimed at protecting national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is ironically president of Interpol, from prosecution. 

Speculation has been mounting for months, if not years, about Selebi’s alleged links to organised crime. The Mail & Guardian’s Sam Sole states that the Scorpions have been investigating Selebi for almost two years and that Mbeki has been aware of the Scorpions’ investigation (Mail and Guardian 5-11 October 2007).  Despite this, Mbeki has not gone the route of suspending Selebi. 

Surely the fact that South Africa’s top police official is suspected of being involved with crime syndicates is a matter urgently needing investigation and he should be suspended while the matter is looked into.  

Unfortunately we have a case where the national public prosecutor responsible for issuing the arrest warrant is the one who has been suspended and the person suspected of links to international crime syndicates is carrying on with his job unhindered. 

To add insult to injury, acting National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Mokotedi Mpshe is to review all cases that were being handled by Pikoli. Mpshe is also tasked with establishing whether there is sufficient evidence for these cases to proceed. It will be very interesting to see which cases proceed and which get withdrawn.  

Instead of Selebi’s conduct falling under the spotlight, Pikoli’s fitness to hold office as the National Director of Public Prosecutions is being investigated by former National Assembly speaker, Frene Ginwala.  That a former ANC politician has been chosen to preside over the matter instead of a judge has added to the controversy. (Read more about Selebi, Agliotti and Kebble in the Mail & Guardian Special Report) 

Photo credits
Vusi Pikoli – Source – www.npa.gov.za/UploadedFiles/Vusi-Pikoli.gif
Jackie Selebi – Source – www.interpol.int/Public/icpo/governance/ec/default.asp

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So the case against Madeleine McCann’s parents is facing collapse. How could this be? 

Last week Kate McCann was all but found guilty of overdosing her child, hiding her body, leaving DNA samples of Madeleine’s hair and blood in the hired car and dumping her body into the sea from a yacht based in the area. It was all so cut and dry. The “evil mother’s” alleged actions backed up by entries in her diary complaining about her children’s misbehaviour and her husband’s lack of support. 

And now the about-turn…  

The wild accusations have all but dried up. A senior Portuguese prosecutor has admitted there is no new evidence and no charges are to be made against the couple.  

How is it possible that we could have had weeks of mounting “evidence” pointing to the McCann’s implication in their daughter’s death and, just like that, it all ends. Where does that leave the audience following these stories? The speculation is over and there is no explanation from the media, no tying up of loose ends…just a sheer abandonment of the allegations into the public arena. Where does that leave the McCanns?

The McCann Family

If it had just been the tabloids running the stories, it would have been ok – after all we expect this kind of baseless speculation from them. But all the doping and DNA-in-the-boot stories were in my local “quality” mainstream South African newspapers.  

Does the media really take their audience to be such fools? Taking their readers on wild rollercoaster rides of innuendo and then walking off, leaving no answers, while they move onto some other more compelling subject. Giving no acknowledgement of having led their audience astray or any indication of an intention to investigate the matter further. 

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book Warp Speed make an interesting point about today’s media culture. They state that while the new mixed media culture of today initially relies on legitimate sources for its breaking news, it almost immediately begins to push the story forward, even if there are no new facts. They add that there is a growing tendency to quickly follow up stories by relying on thin or secondhand sources to provide provocative new twists and what-ifs.   

The authors identify a growing sense of incompleteness in today’s media with stories coming out piece meal, an allegation now, followed by counter allegation a few hours later. This makes paying attention to the media’s message, a waste of time and eventually also creates a kind of numbness for the audience. Kovach and Rosenstiel point out that the press doesn’t take the time to sum up and analyse events. They are always moving onto the next thing, grasping for an interesting twist in the tale.  

Stories – just like the McCann revelations in recent weeks – get more confusing, and more contradictory. Separating fact and allegations becomes a daunting task for the media audience.  

I would say that this sums up my experiences of following the McCann revelations. But where does this leave us.  

Is the media here to keep us informed or are they here to keep us entertained? Which of their stories are fact and which are fiction? Are they just a medium and not responsible for the messages they churn out? What is their role in modern society? Are they just businesses seeking to make a profit or do they have a responsibility to uphold and protect democracy? Does anyone care? 

Photo credit
Source: www.findmadeleine.com

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