Sunday, December 16, 2007

For Susan and Susan

I found another interesting article about the world of work in the Sunday Times today.

What better occasion than using the summer break, while lying at the beach, to reflect about your place of work and where you want to go with your career.

Jonathan Cook, from GIBS, suggest contemplating seriously a change of work, based on the following considerations:

1. at work, you are mostly bored or fearful

2. in the new year, everything seems set to continue as in all the previous years

3. to the question, 'why do I work?', all I say is: 'it is a necessity!'

4. thinking about 2008, you immediately want to go back to 2007

5. you don't have any goals for 2008

If thinking about this issues, while slurping a caipirinha and contemplating the ocean, suddenly the coconut drops, Cook suggests to go through the following questions:

A. The first and most important question is what do you want to contribute? Clarify your most important objectives: to write a book, to have more power, to earn tons of money, to sit quietly in an office, to help others, to have a family, to launch a business, to conquer the oil market, to launch a new product or service, and so on.

B. Now, is the moment to ask yourself what you are good at. Review your qualifications, your skills, your knowledge and your experience and write down what gives you the edge. Ask where your intelligence lies: verbal, numerical, perceptual, musical, physical, interpersonal or personal.

C. What is your style? Do you like to have it quiet with as little contact with others as possible? Then you rather opt for a writer/researcher career over being a marketeer or a teacher/trainer.

D. What is your personal capacity? Its not only about making the right choice, getting the right job but also what you are capable of doing given your circumstances, in your position to advance your career and improve your job satisfaction.

E. What are the opportunities you face? This is about what your dream is but also about making realistic choices. Think about who you are and where do you want to go. Before you take on that seductive offer, think if it fits your values and matches what you believe in.

Fo sho, I am using this summer time-out to think harder about where I want to go and what I have to offer. More than ever, satisfaction in life and at work relies on constantly interrogating yourself and your ambitions. What really matters is the question, not the answer.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"I have black friends"

This week, the owner of a tourist complex at the outskirts of Johannesburg was murdered. He had immigrated in the 1950s from Germany. In reporting about the incident, it was emhpasised that he loved Africa and that he said he wanted to make Africa work, with Africa. Or something similar, I do not recall the exact wording.

In the blog 'Constitutionally speaking', a heated debate ensued over HIV/Aids. black participant wrote that he was tired of white people who felt the need to say that they had black friends, how they liked black people or that they had voted for the ANC.

Why is there such a need to say these things in contemporary South Africa? Because race is still over burdened with history. White people who do not recognize themselves in the history of apartheid, who do not think that a black government is equal to failure, who do not contemplate emigration and who don't see themselves as superior to black people seem to feel the need to distinguish themselves from those who do all these things. (That they are still alive, but not necessarily in the country, tells you Aubrey Matshiqi in his recent BD column.)
But it is also because the label 'racist' is easily deployed in order to silence critiques. And "new" white South Africans feel the need to distinguish themselves from "old" ones.

Suspicion and lack of trust looms large in debates straddling the colour line.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Branding the self

Some might be concerned that marketers now want us to extend branding from products and corporations to countries and individuals. Why should everything be commercialized, they may ask? Yet, have human beings not always worked on their image and tried to fashion themselves according to certain ideals? In Renaissance France, the 'in' man wanted to be a 'gentilhomme', well versed in poetry and literature, with loads of panache and wit, and capable of horse riding and fencing. So the six steps to develop your brand are the following:

1. Purpose. You want to have a higher, guding principle in your life - making money alone will not do. Rather, think where you would like to make a difference: what is your contribution to humanity?

2. Passion. What gets you excited? Whatever you do, your passion (or non-passion) will come out, so identitfy what you like to do and go for it.

3. Planning. Develop your brand does not happen overnight. It requires continuous work. Plan and strategize, and work on developing your own brand.

4. People. Your brand is related to the people around you. A strong individual brand reflects the people network around you.

5. Play. Brand development has to be fun. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it. And you and your brand will see much appreciation.

6. Perseverance. There will be fat and meagre years. In meagre years, stay put and continue on the road you embarked. Hard times build character, as some say. A strong brand develops its distinctive characteristics in tough times.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The perpetuation of racial ideology in South Africa today

Neville Alexander addressed the Wits Democracy Debate on October 30, 2007. A summary of his presentation follows:

Affirmative Action and the Perpetuation of Racial Identities in Post-Apartheid South Africa

While Alexander recognizes that affirmative action may serve a purpose, and that only conservatives are outright against it, there are some serious problems with this policy. He argues that the problem is that affirmative action is based on a racial ideology that perpetuates racial identities; hence, the issue is how to do affirmative action without perpetuating racial identities? He is quick to add that while he may end up in the same camp with white conservatives who want to protect their racial privileges, he believes South Africa is stuck with affirmative action policies because no social revolution was implemented.

The ANC in government applies affirmative action and continues with a racial ideology to show to a majority of black people that the new regime has something to offer to them. Otherwise, the current regime would just be seen by black people as a neo-apartheid regime. However, in order to work towards non-racialism, what is needed is to re-imagine socially constructed identities and communities.

The maintenance of a racial ideology through race classification contradicts the constitution which requires non-racialism. Race thinking is entrenched through racial classification when in fact the real issue is disadvantage, not race.

Under the current regime, broad based poverty reduction is neglected and preference is given to policies that support the advancement of the black middle class. Alexander asks why it is that a white capitalist is seen as a foreigner and not one of ‘us’, but a black capitalist should be belonging to the people? This shows that racial awareness and racial ideology is still very much present and the task is then to problematize racial identities.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Comparative race relations

I have been writing a piece comparing whiteness and race relations in the United States of America and South Africa. Almost all theoretical writings on whiteness originate in the US. This is the theoretical toolbox we use when writing about whiteness in South Africa. However, I find that there are considerable pitfalls when we try to do so.

Let me just analyze one such pitfall, and arguably the most important one. In South Africa, Africans have always been a majority. The white colonial masters were always a minority who had to rely on the suppression and cooperation of the majority. Even at the height of dominance, control was rather tenuous. Today, as Africans make inroads into many areas of South African life in which they are a minority, they do so from a numerical and political position of strength. In contrast, on the Northamerican continent, the descendants of African slaves are a minority that struggles to be accepted as equal. In this quest, they are very much dependent on the white majority. Inclusion into the mainstream is a slow process and remains arduous.

Dynamics of relations and the politics of race proceed along different avenues. In Northamerica, it seems to me that affirmative action cannot be discussed beyond the two camps, either for or against. What should be serious discussion about how people live together degenerates into political bickering, replete with suspicion and grand-standing.

In contrast, the South African public debate on affirmative action and race shows intriguing levels of maturity. Over the last week, public commentators and newspaper editors discussed the effects of racial politics without the usual labels of reactionary, right wing and so on bandied about but by the most ideological and narrow-minded commentators. The aversion to enforced racial apartheid awareness leaves many with a deep suspicion of racial arguments and politics. Indeed, this is ground for hope that something new will come out of South Africa, despite the continuing legacy of apartheid.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to do anthropological research?

On friday we presented our paper about youth identities in Johannesburg. The focus of our in-depth interviews and ethnographies was on the intersection of race, gender, class and sexuality. The results will be compared with Cape Town, Chicago, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. A young and ambitious man was very scathing in his critique saying that it lacked depth, was not anthropological and was spending donor money with little results. In sum, it was deemed a fashion and not proper research.

I was trying to understand what his beef was. But I am still not clear. A large part of the presentation was about race and how it evolves and how people of different "races" relate to each other - was he unhappy with what we said about race? I mean he never criticized the substance of what we presented. He only talked about methodology and what proper anthropology was and what was not.

My experience with race-talk in South Africa is that in any public forum, people will rarely express in any direct way what they actually mean. So one is always faced with trying to figure out what they are trying to express. So over the next week I will try to understand better what was actually going on during discussions.

Saturday night I had a great dinner with good friends and dancing and partying in Melville. It was very cathartic. One can bemoan many things in Jozi, but the people here are great to go out and party with.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Deliverig the paper

During our World of Work program, we were honing our speaking and presentation skills. This coming friday I will present a paper with my colleagues, "Transforming Youth Identities among the Rainbow Nation’s Youth: Interactions across “Races/Colours/Ethnicities”, Gender, Classes and Sexualities in Johannesburg, South Africa" and I am busily putting the slideshow together.

It is quite fun. And I remember to add pictures and to conceive of a good colour scheme with contrasts that make it readable.

When you give the paper, speak slowly, pronounce well and so on.

But I think the most important is the passion that you have for the content that you present. Amongst the speakers that paraded in front of us, it was this sense that ultimatley distinguished an excellent, memorable presentation from a very good one.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Looming graduation...finally

After months of waiting, I eventually received yesterday the three exeaminers' report. What a great day - after going through the comments with the Prof, he headed straight to the Blind Pig to celebrate in due fashion. I need to make a few changes here and there, some big, some small, and then nothing should prevent me from graduating in November. That feels good!

I am looking forward to meeting the Vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa on stage in the great hall at Wits and getting my head capped.

Of course, as I read through the comments, I thought I should have done this and that, consulted this book as well, spent more time on editing and so on. But in the end, people correctly say that the best thesis is a finished thesis.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

White liberals

When I first came to South Africa, I was struck by the often aggressive derision with which the term 'liberal' was greeted. I mean in Canada and Switzerland, 'liberal' belonged to the political landscape like salt and vinegar to chips and it did not attract much debate beyond the usual. After all, any democracy espoused liberal values, such as freedom of expression.

Yet, in South Africa, 'liberal' has a specific historical meaning. Reading the memoirs of Colin Eglin, long-time leader of the Liberal Party during apartheid, it becomes clear that the liberals often advocated among white people the cause of black people. This was due to the gripping effect of apartheid racial separation. But it also took agency away from black people and handed it over to white brokers.

This sort of speaking for black people still lingers on today in many ways. Often, white people write what black people may think and feel yet they have not checked their assumptions by speaking to black people - an honest dialogue across the colour line is largely absent (In contrast, in my experience, black people seem to be much more clued in how white people think). Or, they pick one black individual that suits them and assume he represents the entire black population - the 'good' black who fits white expectations.

Nevertheless, face-to-face dialogue, as equals, is crucial. It is the only way that bit by bit, through hard work, the legacy of apartheid can be pushed back.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A truly great musician

Joe Zawinul has died. I true giant of music has left us. Beyond the hype that surrounded the likes of Pavarotti, Zawinul was a phenomenon who kept his feet on the ground. Last year, I failed to go and watch him live when I was in Switzerland. I regret that I missed this last chance to see him live! While he did many recordings, he and the musicians he played with were at their best when on stage. He was a master of improvisation and hence he played with the greats like the Adderley Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.

I saw them in 2003 at Cape Town's North Sea Jazz Festival. It was a marvellous encounter. He was playing with musicians from the four corners of the world - a true world music. Rhythm all over. A master of the piano, he generously shared his knowledge of music with other musicians and poured his money into developing musicians.

Fabio Freire, a Brazilian composer and musician living in Switzerland, told me that like Amadeus Mozart, Zawinul revolutionised how music was played. He made the synthesizer a staple of modern music. I have a tape of a recording when he was the pianist of the Adderley brothers - his playing and composition kept the audience in trance. Before he played with the greats of Jazz in the US, he studied classical music at the Conservatory in Vienna and later developed the synthesizer and his own brand of music, jazz fusion.

In a world struggling to keep genuine leadership afloat, he stands out as a one of those strong and quiet ones.

Friday, September 14, 2007

....and the rest is history

With the words above, people end their stories after they have told us how they came to be what they are today. I find 'time' a strange concept - how it passes by as we grow older, how things come to an end and new things begin. Often new things, as a new job, is a bit scary. But I find it reassuring that even as we settle into new habits, new organisations and new ways of thinking, we will always move on in one way or another.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fitting into a work regime (culture)

I remember how must of the participants were a bit taken aback when speaker after speaker emphasized the importance of fitting into the culture of a work place. After all, we are all individuals and want to be recognized as such.

I can see why indeed this is so important. In order to work well, to show up at work every day in a good mood and motivated in order to be productive, you need to feel in sink with your work environment. If you rub yourself all day against how people think and do things, you will not enjoy yourself, the work you do and it will show. Yet, the questions remains: how far can you go to fit in?

This insistence on fitting into a work-culture is perhaps more of a problem in South Africa than anywhere else around the globe as apartheid has separated people by force into different 'cultures', all deemed incompatible. Rather than fitting in, South Africans would demand respect for cultures and their particularities.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not dead...yet!

Ok, some time passed since I wrote for the the last time. I got a bit bogged down by a few other things but foremost I have to wait for another couple of weeks until I can write about the experience that all from the 2007 Wow team would like to share. And like to read about!

The remaining pictures from the Walk are in the pipeline to be posted. I just get tired of the long and complicated downloading. And my home computer got some virus, and so on.

I intend to do a half-marathon at the Soweto Marathon in early November, for those who would like to hook up.

I am still waiting for the Wits examiner, the last one of three, to submit his report. I finished the final version of my thesis end of February 2007.....

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Walk the talk

Finally, we made it! I met with Susan today on the sports ground in Greenside to start the 702 walk. As the driver behind this whole thing, she was already there 7.30 am for the start at 9.30 am. Next, Wanjikou arrived - a bit coy as usual, she wanted to give us moral support only and not participate in the walk. Thank God to peer pressure, she took the spot of a no-show and became a happy walker like the rest of us. Then, Mwangi and Valentin arrived, both of them a bit confused, maybe it was the crowd or the early morning. Just before the start, Lesly and Jean graced us with their presence. And off we went.

It was a jolly walk - the area was like one big park. It was all fun and laughter - all for a good cause and for some a test of endurance. Towards the finish, they all became quieter until they could party at the arrival. And off we went to Melville for a well-deserved breakfast and plotting about the next steps for the book project. We shall be back next year and hopefully, we will have the necessary GPS to find our cars afterwards.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Walk is upon us!

This sunday the 2007 World of Work Team will join the 702 Walk. Some will do the 5 km walk while others opted for the 8 km. Thinking of it, I should have signed up for the 21 km run. After all, a bit of sweat is good for the heart and mind. I can't wait to see our t-shirts. I am even more excited about the book. The more I read about South Africa's labor market problems, the skills deficit, the difficulties university graduates have in getting employment, the more I believe this book will make a signficant contribution to alleviate these problems and create more happiness. And this should be a good thing!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Hooked on 'le tour' or team building revisited

Bruce Arden gave us an introduction to team building during the World of Work seminar. He rounded up his presentation with an excerpt of a behind-the-scenes documentary about the brave cyclists of the Tour de France. At the time, I found his focus on the tour, a heavily gendered environmnent, and its relevance for modern team building problematic, yet the documentary got me hooked on the tour. As the riders roll through the French mountains, I catch myself sitting with excitement in front of the tv and following the daily drama of a gruelling competition. Indeed, this is some gripping television in real time.

Today is also Jean-Bertrand Aristide's birthday. All the best to South Africa's most famous visitor and hopefully he will be able to return soon to his native country.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Much entertainment

So far, so good. Work is all very jolly and we should not forget the entertainment side. It's been ages I have not been to a proper Jazz concert and last night, I could indulge - the Swiss-South African Jazz Quintet was at the Bassline. It was great. There is nothing as stimulating and relaxing for the mind than music played well. The band was an electrifying mix of old cats such as Stefan Kurman on bass and Makaya Ntshoko on percussion, Feya Faku on Flugelhorn and trumpet and two young Swiss players, Domenic Landolf on sax and Collin Vallon on piano. It was a cold and wet night but the players heated the audience up. Afterwards, I went for a sneak peak to the Horror Cafe. Reaggae night was on, with live contributions from Bongomuffin's Appleseed. The crowd was young, stylish and excited - it was truly time to let it all hang out!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A psychometric test for racists

Scientist in the UK are developing a test to find out your attitude towards people of other races. They suggest it can be used in the not too far future for screening potential employees and weeding out racists. I am not familiar with the science of psychometrics but I am a bit sceptical of such tools. I mean surely people have prejudice but should the score on some test say if they are hired or not? What about people who have prejudice, given their background and upbringing, and how do we evaluate their potential to change? For instance, for many young students at Wits, being in such a diverse environment, with staff, students and lecturers of all races and origins, they live through a real culture shock. Eventually, they get used to diversity and even appreciate it. With a psychometric race test, would it mean that employees would no longer have the chance for change?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Coherent thinking and diversity

Some of my academic training is in philosophy. The good teachers I had would always stress one important point: that we should strive for coherence in our thinking. Now, I am always quite flabbergasted when I encounter fuzzy thinking that seems unaware of its implications. For instance, visible minorities can become victims of discrimination, usually based on "racial" appearance. The perpetrators are for the most part "white" people. Yet, some members of these minorities would in turn discriminate against others based on sexual orientation and gender without any awareness that the processes of exclusion, the technologies of discrimination, are pretty much the same in both cases. The discourse of exclusion is identical. You make fun of the outsiders, you say how you appreciate them, you say how you have friends among them and yet you belittle them, and so on. I find it then very ironic when someone is ranting on about the paternalism of "white" people but is doing exactly the same towards women or gays and lesbians. A remedial course in philosophy would be very useful for the people concerned.

You may want to peruse the courses offered by the Wits philosopy department:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Viva Wits World of Work 2007 Book Club, Viva!

We recently launched the Wits World of Work 2007 Book club. But not just confined to reading books, we will also write a book about the experience together. My contribution to the club is Kopano Matlwa's 'Coconut'. Here is my review:

Kopano Matlwa, a 21-year old medical student from the University of Cape Town, has written with ‘Coconut’ a remarkable first novel and scooped with due merit this year’s European Union Literary Award. It is a timely book for it looks at South African society from the perspective of two young black women and is refreshingly without any overbearing ideology. As the author writes in an afterthought, ‘Coconut’ “is our story, told in our own words as we feel it everyday.”

The first main character, Ofilwe, lives in a rich and dysfunctional family. Her father, while preoccupied with amassing fortunes, neglects his wife and children. He rather spends his spare-time in the company of numerous girlfriends. Her mother is whiling time away by making herself beautiful, meeting friends, gossiping about the children and the do’s and dont’s of a life in affluence. Ofilwe’s brother Tshepo has retreated into his own world, pursuing the beauty of the written word. The parents never talk to each other and Ofilwe celebrates a victory when her mother and her father engage in a shouting match. The confrontational bickering is more comforting to her than the nothingness of silence and indifference.

In the pursuit of wealth and status, much has been left behind: mutual respect and honesty, a sense of togetherness and African traditions. Ofilwe, for her part, lives up to the desire of her parents, to be at least equal to if not better than their white neighbors. In fact, she sees no difference between herself and white people. She is brought back to reality through the racism of her white friends and her white environment.

Aspiring to be like them, to be white, is the one thing that Ofilwe has in common with the second main character, Fikile or ‘Fiks’. While Ofilwe is white by virtue of her environment and the aspirations of her parents, Fiks desires to a better life by leaving blackness behind and join the wealth and beauty of white people. After her father run away and her mother killed herself, Fiks is raised by her gogo, a maid and her uncle, a security guard. Fiks is determined to escape poverty. For her, this poverty is tied to blackness and hence her aspiration to be something better, to be with the rich and the happy. To be white.

It is especially in Fiks’ characterization and psychology that Matlwa is at her best. Sexually abused by her uncle, she is running away from what hurts her and holds her back. Matlwa shows well the many layers of the consequences of sexual abuse and how the victim battles with these. After having been robbed of the most precious, the faith to be the master of her own destiny, Fiks struggles to find herself. Perhaps here lies the South African-ness of ‘Coconut’, in the determination of the two main characters to overcome hardship and pain, and to be content and happy.

You may chat with the author on her own blog and learn more about the book.

An equally excellent discussion of the sexual abuse of children I found in Arakis' 'mysterious skin'. For an insightful perspective, see

Thursday, June 7, 2007


Last month I attended the graduation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, former president of Haiti. UNISA awarded him a doctorate in African languages for his investigation into the relationship between isiZulu and Creole, his native tongue from Haiti. Aristide is exiled to South Africa after he was kidnapped and carried out of Haiti by US, French and Canadian forces. President Mbeki and the first lady, Zenele Mbeki, attended. I was seated right behind them and Smuts Ngonyama, head of the Presidency, a very warm and gentle person by the way, was sitting in the same row as myself. Barney Pitanya, Black Consciousness activist and Vice-Chancellor, was the master of ceremony. Given the importance of the relationship between Mbeki and Aristide, to emphasize the ties between the diaspora and the African continent, forging alliances across the global South and showing solidarity with those who advocate pro-poor policies, the theme of Africanization was written all over the ceremony. Speaker after speaker drove the point home about the importance of African languages and the dire legacy of colonialism. At times, I found the ideology of the speeches quite overbearing. While the need for redress is quite evident in South Africa, and there is certainly a steep road ahead to achieve this, one should be careful not to short-circuit history and the complexities of cultures for the sake of ideology. The irony is that this is the same UNISA where some refuse to teach certain important European literary works deemed too subversive, ie. communist! Too much ideology, not matter from which corner, can do no good.

The 'Mbigi' question

As I wrap up my current projects and get ready for my new employment, I have what I call the 'Mbigi'question in mind. This question basically asks 'what is the value that I can add to the organisation' and closely related, 'what is the problem that I can solve within the organisation'? Of course, your employer knows what she wants you to do, and that is always your priority, but I think you want to put a challenge to yourself while you are on the job. Thereby, you become more valuable to the organisation, but you also have much more fun (and agency) in what you are doing. In other words, you want to retain the initiative in what you are doing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

And now a breather

I was offered a permanent position. That was quite a relief. After all, all the studies and the extra-curricular activities bore some fruit. There are people who think I do valuable work, give me some recognition and are willing to trust me with employment.

Monday, June 4, 2007


Usually people write about the post-modern and the post-apartheid period. So let me write about the post-interview. Research and preparation are very important. But your own gut-feeling about what they are looking for is even more crucial. For my recent interview, the research I did about the organisation was not relevant. Our talk was much more about my CV and the specific task they have given me prior to the interview. One has to make trade-offs. While it is certainly important to be honest (who wants a dishonest employee?), perceived honesty can also make you look less good. I had done some legal work for government without any legal training. So they were wondering how I did it? Well, legal work at a basic level comes quite easy to me, so I was trying to explain that this was not such a big deal after all. I wanted to be honest but I rather diminshed my accomplishment. The more rewarding strategy would have been to emphasize the great efforts I had made. The second issue I realized is that after 30 minutes into the interview, my speech tended to be less clear and difficult questions were not dealt with properly (Ok, I was still battling a sore throat and a stuffy nose). The trick here is to be aware of the interview cycle, that we slow down and get tired. The sensible thing to do is to be aware of this weaknesses and then to re-focus and re-energize. The third important issue is to back up all your statements with evidence. The questions people ask are based on their assumptions and assertions and you cannot answer back with an assertion. They want you to give them evidence to prove or disprove their assumptions - they make assertions based on their impression of your CV and your person as they meet you. Hence, the smart preparation involves exploring all the different aspects of your skills and capabilities and how they relate to the employment for which you compete.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Life is beautiful

While I was sneezing and coughing at home, trying to get through a cold, I got a phone call telling me to come for an interview for a research position. WoW! Great stuff. I cant wait to get there and offer the best I have. I feel my academic work and the World of Work program prepared me well for an inteview situation. I mean it is really a tough exercise, not to be underestimated. I think we are not used to being scrutinized so closely and the nervousness can make you look more inadequate than you actually are! Compensating for the tediousness of the cold, I induldged in buying new books: a prize-winning South African novel titled 'Coconut' from a young writer, a book about African masks from a well-known Swiss collection and Calland's 'Anatomy of Power in South Africa' - I am truly looking forward to 'dig into' these books and I understand better why Lovemore Mbigi was always talking about books and encouraging to read us more. I mean how else do you get pleasure and education at the same time?

But the most amazing thing happened the other day in the gym. I was going through my routine as this tall, well-trained guy walked up to me. "So, you are from Canada ?", he goes, looking at my 'Youth Canada' sweater and I respond in the affirmative. Now, this is all very ordinary but this case is a bit different. He and I are regulars at the gym for the last three years or so and once we had a big fight about some meaningless issue. Brad Arden would probably confirm that it is about territory and defensiveness, one ambitious male not wanting to share the space with another. Anyway, I explained to him my relation with Canada and we chatted about all the rest, like the best of friends. I left the gym much happier than I was before. To turn adversity into comradeship is a beautiful, gratifying thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Taking care of my rocks

While the job search is in full swing and I am keeping myself busy with research and writing, I keep coming back to the following issues from the seminar. What are the rocks in my life that always come first? I am working and thinking hard on making sure I spend enough time on the things that are really important to me. The other issues that are on my mind are what I want to do in life, what is my purpose and finally, what defines me? It is quite a quest but I understand I need to answer these questions for myself in order to direct where I wish to go.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Keeping the energy level

The four weeks with the World of Work program certainly kept me on my toes. I was juggling the ambitious seminar schedule with my own research and other commitments. Foremost, the constant engagement with the presentations really made me think about my goals in life, but also how going about earning a living by doing what I like doing most and what I am capable of doing best. Now, going through my notes, I try to keep the reflection going. Sometimes I am a bit tired of the thinking - in the end, what counts is what 'is'. In other words, what will be my activities in the next few weeks and months?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Writing a book about the World of Work Program

Today, we met with the program managers to assess our performances in the program, our writing which included the blog and one assignment as well as our 15 minutes presentation. Jean, Sue and Lesley gave us the hard truth with much courtesy and respect. We were able to benefit tremendously from their constructive criticism. After that, I spoke with Susan Mwangi and we said it would be great to put the content of the program into a book titled '10 steps to a fullfilling job' or something to that efffect. We could write about the individuals in the program, their experiences, South African society, the labour market, how to perform well, how to do CVs, ubuntu, HIV/AIDS and other political and socio-economic issues, and so on. And most importantly, how we all landed in great and fullfilling jobs. I am confident it would easily rise to the top ten on the local business and self-help book market. I am just concerned that the University would give us a hard time with the copy right....or at least they would want to have their share of the royalties!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Quizz of the Day

Which German thinker said:

"Thinking will atrophy in an environment that lacks the stillness that allows us to concentrate in inner dialogue or in a social environment where distrust among people makes first outer conversation, then inner conversation impossible."

a) Peter Sloterdjik

b) Hannah Arendt

c) Jurgen Habermas

And more important perhaps, is contemporary society such an environment?

Conflict Resolution, part III

This is probably one of the last 'official' blogs directly related to the World of Work Program. And, no coincidence, it is about Conflict Resolution. After all, I graduated in Politics! In our second session with Berenice De La Croix, we used the CAN model to practice case studies. It was a fruitful exerice as I encountered unexpected difficulties. For instance, how to you start talking with your "enemy", just to break the ice and establish some basic way of talking to each other? Indeed, not easy. We just have to practice and rembember the toolbox at hand that helps us dealing with conflict. Berenice also recommended books such as Nancy Kline's "Time To Think" and Fisher and Urry's "Getting Past No". In my undergraduate studies I encountered the latter's "Getting To Yes" in a course in international relations that dealt with coercive diplomacy and negotiations. It was a very helpful read, brought our theory course very much alive and I will be looking out for their other book as well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Presenting in Style

Des Patel certainly gave us a great presentation about the tools needed to have some impact while telling your story. But one of the many benefits we got from three weeks of seminar-presentations was the exposure to all these terrifice individuals and their styles of presenting themselves and what they had to say. The passion and committment to what they do to earn a living came out so beautifully.For instance, you could tell how Berenice was concerned with all of us understanding her model to resolve conflicts. Also to see how they appreciate their audience and how they respect the people who listen to them was quite impressive. I noticed that all started off with some personal story to draw in the audience's attention. To be humerous and to laugh is so important. Remember Janet, she came with a laugh, continued laughing while carry home her most important points and she left with a smile. Or Brad, he was joking with us, making funny comments about himself and thereby grabbing our attention. Or Lovemore, did he not leave a lasting impression? How did he do it? Practice seems to be an important aspect: the more you stand at the top of that table and look at the faces in front of you, the better. In the end, what counts is that you are yourself. You need to discover what kind of presentation style works for you. Practice, practice, practice,...I always love to watch people performing their talk or conversation. Years ago, there was Laure Adler presenting a talk show on French tv. I never missed a show. I learnt so much just from waching her, how she presented her arguments and how she interacted with her guests. Needless to say that they and her topics were very interesting and diverse: young French people of foreign origin who are marginalized, a bull breeder from Southern France with a passion for gardening and plants, an art historian who talks so passionately about paintings that you immediatley went out to get her latest book, and so on. Nothing beats an entertaining and instructive presentation that improves your life and satisfies your curiosity.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Say 'Nice Chicks'

In the course of our seminar series women's rights and gender relations were eagerly discussed (A big thanks to Bruce for his blog posting in this regard!). These discussions came into sharp focus this afternoon as I went shopping at my local mall. As I walked across the parking lot two young women, dressed elegantly in skirts and high heels, went into the opposite direction. At the same time, three young men crossed our path, one holding a two year-old boy in his arms. All three men looked eagerly at the young women and the one holding the child belted out with a loud voice towards his child: "Say nice chicks", while indulging in an oily grin. I had to pause for a minute to verify if I really saw what my eyes seemed to have registered - I found the entire episode quite odd. Why? Perhaps its a good thing to live in a country where the attraction of women is appreciated, but I also find the public and even confrontational display of gender related excitement disturbing, especially if transmitted to a two year-old boy. Where does welcome consideration end and harassment start? How is this related to men punishing women at taxi ranks for wearing trousers or skirts that are deemed too short? How does the young boy's education about how to relate to women look like?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Conflict Resolution Revisited

If I say that I encounter conflict, large and small, pretty much everyday, I hope I am not outing myself as a quarrelsome troublemaker. There are always things that irk us and make us pause or draw our attention in one way or another.

Let me then summarize our session on conflict resolution.

There are five major styles that we use to deal with conflict.

We compete. Either we win or we lose. Conflict is a zero-sum game with a clear outcome.

We withdraw and avoid conflict. Both parties loose. Potential conflict is deferred.

We accomodate. One party gives in and loses, the other wins.

We compromise. Both parties agree to meet each other half-way. Both claim a small victory.

We collaborate. Both parties win.

While we can easily conclude that the last style is the most desirable, given the cirucumstances, any other style of conflict might be better suited to preserve our interests. And yet, to create a win-win situation remains the objective of most negotiations and conflict resolutions. Important is that we do not pretend to know the other person's intention. Also, we have to avoid to hold the other person responsible for our feelings.

Let's now look at the 7 steps of the CAN model to resolve conflict.

1. We have to take a breather, reflect on the problem and speak only when we are calm.

2. Before we start to engage on the issues, we need to build trust.

3. Now, we need to set the ground rules of engagement. We have to create a safe and respectful container for our dialogue. They may stipulate that we cannot walk away or that we cannot interrupt the other person.

4. We have to tell our story. Important is that we do not attempt to resolve the conflict yet. We need to hear all the necessary information.

5. We need to become aware of the needs and fears of the other party. We want to know what is really going on.

6. Together, we brainstorm for possible solutions how we can meet each others' needs and wants.

7. Once we have certain solutions on the table, we need to find out if they are practical.

The final point I want to make about the seminar is that to resolve conflict in a sustainble way, we need to understand better our prejudices that lead to conflict. For conflict to result in a positive outcome, we need to rethink our way of doing things, how we think and how our organisations and institutions function. I found this a most valuable insight. Often, it is our prejudice and how we do things that leads to conflict. For this reason, personal growth and development are closely linked to conflict resolution.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Quote of the day

"We are ugly but we have the music."
Canadian singer Leonard Cohen in 'Chelsea Hotel No.2'

Friday, April 27, 2007

A great day!

I heard back from the organisation with which I applied for a research position. They congratulated me and now I have to write a 1500 word essay and still go to, or rather I hope to be called in for an interview. Indeed, the competition is tough. Anyway, I like the topic and I will write a concise, analytical and critical essay. If all goes well, my conclusion will enthrall the readers. But the day was also great for another reason. I went on a short hike on the Klipriver Nature Reserve, to the South of Jozi, close to Southgate and Mondeor. The place makes you forget that you are close to Africa's metropolis. I walked through high grass, splendid in its shades of gold, brown and green. There was a wind, and a gentle automn sun was shining on my path. As a came down a ridge, the smell of wild herbs enchanted me and a little later, as I sat down on a warm stone, two Steenbocks suddenly appeared on the other side of the valley. They sensed my presence and stood in silence. After a while, they strode up the hill side. I could hear their movements, carried by the wind and the silence of the valley, as they cut their way through the grass. Magical moments. After a busy week, there is nothing better than connecting with the inner self in the solitude of the outdoors. And all this a fifteen minute car ride away from Wits. How can you not love a city that offers such a thing?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quizz of the Day

What is transformation?

a) replace all white people with black people

b) create a more just South Africa

c) become more efficient and improve business and governance structure

Send your answer to

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Online CV Thomas Blaser

Thomas Michael Blaser
Graduate Centre Humanities
University of the Witwatersrand
Republic of South Africa


Place of Birth: Berne, Switzerland
Marital status: Single


1982 – 1989 Gymnasium Baumlihof, Basel
1990 – 1992 Institut Minerva, Basel
Eidgenossische Matura


1994 Capilano College, West Vancouver, Canada

1994-1999 Political Science (Comparative Politics, Political Philosophy)
Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, Canada
Bachelor of Arts

1999-2001 Political Science (Comparative Politics)
Thesis: Official Language Policy in Canada
and Switzerland: Language Survival and Political Stability
McGill University, Montreal, Canada
Master of Arts

2002 - 2008 Political Studies
Thesis: Afrikaner Identity after Nationalism
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

1997-1998 Immigration Canada, Vancouver, internship and employee
Researched and wrote reports in preparation for legal proceedings

2002 -2005 Tutor: Department of Sociology, Wits University, Johannesburg SOCL 320, States, Market and Economic Policy
SOCL 211, Sociological Theories
SOCL 109, Poverty and Society

2004 Course Lecturer (Evening class):
SOCL 320, Culture, Power & Identity

2005 Tutor, School of Accountancy,
Business Communication, course: ACN 226

2006-07 Ford Foundation research project into races, colours, ethnicities,
gender, class, and sexualities in Johannesburg

2007 – 08 South African Institute of Race Relations, Johannesburg, Researcher (Politics, race, and education)

2008 - 2010 African Futures Institute, Tshwane, Researcher (Futures Studies,
scenario building, and African development)

2010 - Post-doctorate Fellow, Graduate Centre Humanities, University of
the Witwatersrand

Other Activities and Skills

1990-1994 Member of the Othella Dallas Jazz Theater, Basel, Switzerland

2002 -03 Executive Member of the Postgraduate Association (PGA),
University of the Witwatersrand

PGA Representative University Council, Wits University

2002-08 Founding member of the Political Studies Forum,
Wits University
The Forum organises, together with the History Workshop,
lectures by PhD Candidates, national and international visitors.

2005 Carnegie Equity Student Leader for Sustainable Dialogue
Student leaders raise awareness about issues of equity and transformation amongst the student population and the faculty through social and academic events.

2005 Consultant with the Wits Writing Centre

2006 Consultant and presenter for an undergraduate short course, Ethics,
Protocols and Practices of International Research, University of
Virginia, USA

2007 World of Work Training Program, Wits University
A one month Business Training Program in the Faculty of
Humanities, involving workshops with business people which address all aspects of doing business in contemporary South Africa.

Computer - Hardware: IBM and Apple personal computers
- Software: Word Processing (Microsoft Word, Powerpoint) and
spreadsheet (Excel), internet and email

Languages Afrikaans, reading ability
French and German, fluent in oral and written expression


Journal article:

South African Historical Journal, ‘The Afrikaners and Nation Building in Post-apartheid South Africa’, 51, (2005)

The Journal of South African and American Studies (Safundi), ‘Looking at ‘The Heart of
Whiteness’ in South Africa Today’, vol. 9, issue 1, (January 2008), 81-96.

Chapters in a book:

Fragile Freedom, eds. Greg Cuthbertson and Alan Jeeves ‘A New South African Imaginary: the Afrikaners and Nation Building in Post-apartheid South Africa’ (UNISA Press, Pretoria, 2008).

The South Africa Survey 2007/08, South African Institute of Race Relations, chapters on the economy and education


Canadian Association of African Studies (CAAS) newsletter, 2003, ‘Thinking
Blackness and Africa’. Three Lectures by Achille Mbembe

African Studies Review, 2004,‘Whiteness is just not what it used to
Be’. Melissa Steyn (2002).

H-Net SAfrica, 2007, ‘The Populist Dimension to African Political Thought: Essays
In Reconstruction and Retrieval’, P.L.E. Idahosa (2004)

H-Net SAfrica, 2007, ‘The Illusion of Cultural Identity’, Jean-Francois Bayart (2005)

Politikon, 2009, ‘African Intellectuals in the 19th and early 20th Century South Africa’,
Mcebisi Ndletyana (ed.) (2008)

Beeld (Johannesburg), ‘Skep nuwe geskiedenis, Afrikaners moet ophou om ‘n ’aparte
groep’ te wees’, Sept. 6, 2005, p. 11

Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Working Paper Series, 2006, no. 4, ‘Afrikaner Identity after Nationalism’

Conference Papers and Presentations
2002 PhD Forum, University of the Witwatersrand, State and Narration:
Afrikaner Identity

2004 Ten Years of Democracy in Southern Africa: Historical Achievement, Present
State, Future Prospects:

- Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, May 2-5, 2004, The Afrikaners and
Nation Building in Post-apartheid South Africa

- University of South Africa, Pretoria, August 23-25, 2004, Identity after Nationalism: Young Afrikaners and the New Nation

2005 South African Association of Political Studies (SAAPS) Colloquium,
Pietermaritzburg, 22-23 September 2005, Young Afrikaners: new citizens
of the nation?

2006 Discussant for Rehad Desai’s documentary Heart of Whiteness at the
Graduate Conference, Wits School of Literature and Language Studies, March 18 -19

Seminar Leader: Truth, Reconciliation and Transformation in
South Africa, Interdisciplinary Seminar: Paradigms of Community Engagement in South Africa, Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Ikageng Itireleng, Soweto; May 28

Basler Afrika Bibliographien and Namib Resource Centre, and Historisches Seminar University of Basel, Switzerland, June 12, Afrikaner Identity after Nationalism

International Sociological Congress and Junior Sociology Workshop, Durban, July 22-29, Afrikaner Identity after Nationalism

2007 Anthropology South Africa Conference, University of Pretoria,
September, 2007, ‘Transforming Identities among the rainbow nations’s
youth: Interactions across “races, colours, ethnicities”, gender, classes and
sexualities in Johannsburg, with Zethu Matebeni and Brigitte Bagnol

Human Resources Africa Conference, Johannesburg, November 2007, ‘Scarce
skills in 2010’, with Marius Roodt

2008 Presentation to undergraduate students at Wits University, 24 May 2008
‘South Africa Mirror: Socio-economic and political indicators’,

Colloquium on Race and Racism in South Africa, 18 June 2008, University of
South Africa, (UNISA) ‘Race, Racism and Liberalism’

2010 Experience and Experiments: Afrikaners after apartheid,
‘Afrikaners after nationalism: young Afrikaners and the new nation’, University of Stellenbosch, 18 February 2010

2002-2004 Post-graduate Merit Award, University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesbrg, South Africa

1994 Dean’s Honor Roll, Capilano College, West Vancouver, BC, Canada

Prof. Jonathan Hyslop
Deputy Director, Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand, RSA
011 717 4272

Prof. Shela Meintjes
Chair, Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, RSA
011 717 4371

Dr. Alioune Sall
Executive Director, African Futures Institute, Tshwane, RSA
012 352 4071/4107

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Conflict Resolution In Practice

Let me thank Berenice de la Croix, director of 'Learning in Practice' for an insightful seminar on conflict resolution. The very same day I put her advice into practice. I had an assignment to do background research, mainly web-based, for a seminar series. My colleague expected me to send some results this week. I was unable to do so as I had a hectic week with emergency meetings and all-night work to deliver submissions for another project. So I sent an email saying I would have more time to deliver research findings on friday and on the week-end. As I wrote the email, I received an email, worded quite strongly, that my failure to meet the deadline was unacceptable and so on. I was very annoyed by the tone and the insinuation that I was not serious about the work. One of the problems was also that I was not fully aware of the deadlines. My colleague sends email after email with lots of words on banal and superfluous things to the effect that I read them only quickly. My first reaction was to send a rebuttal but I took the time to chill, looked out of the window, and reconsidered. Finally, I sent an apology and a very conciliatory email. After all, I was supposed to have done the work before and it was expected to be done. Instead of competing, I went for accomodation. After reflection, I felt some of the blame was justified. Let me add here that I usually choose to compete when dealing with conflict. But in this case, to accomodate was the far better strategy. Indeed, not much was at stake and to accomodate did not cost me anything. So ja, a great thank you to our passionate presenter for offering different strategies for dealing with conflict.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Company Culture

I was struck by ECI's Janet Pringle's recurrent comment about the importance of fitting in with the culture of the company you intend to work with. Does this apply to all companies? This may also mean that you focus less on your skills and more on who you are, your appearance and so on. This also seems in contradiction to what Andrew Hofmeyr suggested. For him, the focus was on your skills and what you have to offer. Perhpas there are different types of employers and they look for different things in a candidate. I guess the trick is to be aware of what type of comany you want to work with and shape your profile and presentation towards that objective. In an article in the weekly magazine 'noiseweek'the talk was about 'fifo' - fit in or fuck off. There are those who require uniformity and adherence to strict rules but no doubt there are others who look form more diversity amongst the workforce.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I really liked Andrew Hofmeyr's workshop with us. First, he is a great individual, a real 'mensch'. He came across as an honest, human being. Second, his theme, to think what you have to offer to an employer and even to the world suggests a radically different way of looking for employment. It is about evaluating yourself first, who you are, what you have to offer and then identifying what you can do and with whom. This is an empowering way of thinking about life and the world of work.

Quizz of the day

Who is the author of the following quote:
"There is no lower form of life than guru-hood."

a) Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics
b) Roy Blumenthal, Artiste-at-Large
c) Idriss Naidoo, Swami for Transcendental Meditation

Email to for the answer.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The basics about Blogging (Roy's seminar)

I was the team leader for the seminar by Roy Blumenthal on Blogging. Here are my notes and summary of the session.

Roy started off by saying that you needto stick to a discipline to keep your blog going. He suggested that we all agree to blog at least three times a week. Lesley felt one could even blog everyday. But the main thing is to be consistent and not disappoint your reader. We should seek consistency but not necessarily perfection.

Roy also mentioned that it is not really the content that counts but that we be successful. I am not quite sure what he meant by this. After all, WHAT I put on my blog matters! So please come forward with any explanations.

A blog is an online diary but it is pointed. I think this means that the blog has to be concise. Avoid rambling on.

A blog is a marketing tool. This does not need much explanation. For our World of Work program, we want to use the blog to communicate with potential employers.

The blog reflects a sharing ethos. You share your thoughts and experiences with others. You offer them something from you and you can also expect somehting in return. You want to share generosity and personal growth with others.

In your blog, you can reveal your ideologies and passions. "You need your blog to be you", Roy said. Your blog is then your personal stamp of identity. Don't try to hide yourself but use the blog to express yourself. People want to know about you and with your blog, you can reveal who you are and how you think.

The blog is then about you as a person. Do not confuse 'person' with 'persona'. Try to post matters that truly show who you are rather than pretending to be someone you are not.

Your blog also shows how you grow over time. Instead of deleting blogs, leave them there so people can see how you have developed. Remember, Dan Sonnenberg from Matrix Consulting mentioned that he does not look for people who know it all but who can learn.

Your blog is like a shark: it has to move to remain alive. So you need to post regularly but you also need to post interesting and meaningful things on your blog. So content does matter?!

Try to make regular updates on your blog. Make sure your blog has personality. The more it says about you, the more interesting it is. You also want to have a focus on your blog. Maybe you can show how you work on your blog towards a specific aim; how it evolves, how it takes shape.

Let me end with a personal observation. While I can understand that the blog has to be you, that is, you want to be authentic and truthful, there are always issues that will be left out. I mean, I write here to a global audience, to every Dick, Tom and Harry in the universe, I even use it to market myself. So there are limitations to what I put on my blog. In this sense, you get a glimpse of 'my truth', but probably not the 'whole truth'.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

How to change fonts and colours of your blog

A big hi! to all bloggers, especially those from the Wits World of Work program!

Let me share with you how to change the colours and fonts of your blog. From your blog site (ie. you click on 'new post' (upper right hand corner), then choose 'template', then 'fonts and colours'. After you have followed these steps, you should now have different colours and fonts in front of you and you can click on them at your pleasure. After all, as Lesley said at the seminar, colours stimulate your brain and creativity. And I remember, we always made fun in high school of those students who illustrated their assignments with many colours. Maybe they were on to something I did not know at the time...

After having posted my first blog, how do I feel?

I am feeling good. Even relieved, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It took me a while to sort out the technicalities so there was some annoyance about getting started. Thinking about the process of blogging over the last 48 hours puts me more at ease about the whole thing. I mean, anyone can access my thoughts directly and respond to it - that is intimidating!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How I feel about blogging?

I have heard a lot about blogging in the past. People talk about it and you encounter some blogs when you surf the net. I hope the audience will enjoy it; I think I will enjoy it as I like to write. So here I go - my own blog! Raise the curtains!