Paying tribute to the PEOPLE who matter most

Previously, I have been asked why I chose Bolivia as a setting for my book. I assume the answer lies in me securing a sponsorship to embark on a study tour to Bolivia, Chile and Nicaragua. If this wasn’t the case, I would never have known Bolivia, its people and the llamas. As they say, everything happens for a reason.

Between 1997 and 2000, I was a member of a team (Community Water Supply and Sanitation) employed by the then Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF), led by the late, flamboyant and passionate Professor Kader Asmal. Back then, DWAF was always abuzz with activity. Every lunch time Professor would cross Schoeman Street, walking to the local shop, flanked and eclipsed by men wearing earpieces and dark suits. DWAF became one of the best performing departments in the country. It attracted the best engineers and other professionals. Professor Asmal used to joke that he made the water sector “sexy” because he successfully shed the misconception of a Department concerned only about ‘forests’ and other “boring technical issues” related to dams. I remember he had a 5 year development plan to eradicate water and sanitation backlogs, especially in Limpopo, Eastern Cape, North West, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces, by accelerating planning and capital expenditure programme of water services projects. He mobilised private sector companies, setting up institutional and stakeholder partnerships, both at national and provincial levels, including Project Steering Committees for each individual project. Through an impact assessment study conducted by the World Bank, many successes were recorded. However, shortcomings of this programme were also highlighted, bringing to light issues of sustainability, viability, community ownership and operations and maintenance.

During this period, I met a gentleman by the name of Mr Richard Noth, an American-based, Independent Consultant and Senior Consulting Advisor for water sector management and finance. He was seconded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on an assignment in the late 90s to advice the DWAF on issues of institutional development, finance and public private partnerships of water and sanitation services. Richard has had many years of experience in management, advising governments in 25 countries (including Bolivia and South Africa) on a range of management and other factors supporting sustainable environmental infrastructure. He directed 22 development projects, recently Chief of Party for USAID in Jordan and US Navy in Guam. This is how I got to know Bolivia, through Richard. I am not conversant in Spanish. Richard therefore accompanied me on field visits to La Paz and El Alto, to interact with local communities there, playing the role of an interpreter for me and advisor for the local people. I am highly indebted to Richard for his willingness to assist me during this study tour. Most importantly, for unlocking the doors of Cabinet Ministers, Regulators and Chief Executive Officers of water operators in Bolivia. Looking back, I wouldn’t have written this book, let alone embarked on a study tour to Bolivia, had it not been the support of Richard and Mr Sergio Guzman of USAID.

 Both countries, Bolivia and South Africa share something in common. Tradition. Culture and Natural Resources. The one extreme though is that Bolivia is one of the poorest countries, with the lowest per capita per income, in the world. It’s common knowledge that poverty retards and undermines people’s capacity to think, to learn and to grow. The scourge of poverty works against the rights of the poor and their dignity.

Bolivia straddles the centre of South American countries of Peru and Chile. The capital of Bolivia, La Paz, is located within towering, barren and magnificent mountains that takes your breath away. This is a welcoming sign of a home of the oldest Spanish capital, a city with mesmerising and fabulous landscapes. The high mountain passes and bumpy roads are characterised by sheer slopes with blind hairpin bends, notoriously called roads of death.

Tradition and culture is an important landmark for Bolivia. The city is embellished by the most colourful and friendly-looking Andes people. During any normal day, the indigenous Andean women wear multi-layered skirts and petticoats, with plaited strands of hair. The more affluent, in their normal western-style attires. Their street corner businesses are dominated by shoe shiners, weavers of ponchos and textiles. The majority rural peasants of Bolivia are dispersed along the mountain ranges and survive by breeding and herding llamas, which give them a sense of pride, wealth, transport and wool. Like coca leaves, llamas provide a great value to Andes peasants, particularly those living along the Altiplanos. Coca leaves play an important cultural, physiological and economic role for the indigenous people.

Compared to other South American countries such as Argentina, Peru and Brazil, Bolivia is a little known country. Yet, this is a country which can be credited for its role in the branding of a soft drink, Coca Cola, which bought the rights from Bolivia in 1886 for the use of coca leaf. Buying these rights was a turning point of departure in shaping the social, economic and political discourse of the Bolivian society.

Bolivia, like South Africa, shares a lot in common because exploitation of natural resources in South Africa is also premised on privilege and economic power. The question is; what can South Africa learn from these experiences, in protecting the rights and interests of the indigenous rural communities where mining activities are becoming rife? Is there still some platinum fever left in the provinces of North West and Limpopo? Are the vulnerable rural communities well-organised to challenge the status quo created by the most powerful mining groups? What lessons can we learn from the 16th century Potosi silver mining in Bolivia and the experiences of the Bafokeng tribe, in Phokeng (Rustenburg) and how best do we position local communities, develop and strengthen their local leadership, through youth, tribal authorities and women empowerment?

The manner in which natural resources and commodities are regulated, exploited and distributed, should serve as a concern for the South African government, especially when the livelihoods of local communities are simply left out at the mercy of the mining magnates. It should be stated that those who exploit natural resources at the expense of the indigenous communities are actually committing human rights abuses. The challenge to the Department of Minerals and Energy is to transcend the current regulatory regime and introduce stricter mining ethics which ensure ongoing economic impact analysis of these mining activities, in terms of sustainable jobs, rural income, through royalties and share ownership. The Department should regularly monitor and determine how rural communities benefit and measure how the mining activities impact on their lives. Historically, marginalised peoples have relied on the endowed natural resources and biodiversity, in terms of subsistence usage. Creating a culture of empowerment requires a conscious effort to understand the dichotomous relationship between indigenous people and their natural environment. The latter has an intrinsic value to them, such as their cultural and historical heritage. It is therefore not unreasonable for communities in Bolivia, South Africa and elsewhere, to ask for a share of the natural commodities.






Mental health is the wealth of our nation

Mental health should become every nation’s wealth. South Africa is no different from any other country or nation whose people experience debilitating mental illnesses caused (directly or indirectly) by myriad factors. That is to say, mental ill-health is a global phenomenon. A journey to recovery.

Gauteng, specifically Johannesburg, is the economic heart-beat and powerhouse of South Africa’s economy. Johannesburg is driven by the sophisticated financial sector, top retail, commercial and manufacturing services. This city can pull you into success or push you out into oblivion. It is a place where only the fittest can survive. Having worked in the corporate sector myself, I’ve seen how people’s dreams are made and lives shattered. People struggle to survive emotionally, economically and socially. Those who don’t survive, end up abusing variety of substances, as a coping mechanism. Others, end up in doctors’ consultation rooms with diverse mental health related disorders. In most cases, due to the stigma attached to mental illness, these individuals ‘hide away’ and suffer in silence. Here’s how:

  • Highly competitive, high performance, cut throat private sector organisations drive people into stress, often depression
  • High cost of living drive people into debt, stress, often depression
  • Peer and social pressure drive people into debt, stress, often depression
  • Broken relationships/marriages drive people into depression, often suicide


Any combination of the above factors does not bode well for the mental health of people. Professionals in particular, find it hard to ask for assistance or support. When confronted with a mental illness, they withdraw, lose interest, ending up with a diminished sense of purpose.

Experience elsewhere, shows that community based rehabilitation facilities do play a crucial role in creating opportunities for people living with mental illnesses to become re-integrated back into society and work places. One such example of a community based rehabilitation facility is Fountain House, based in Observatory, Cape Town. This centre plays a vital role in the lives of people living with psychiatric disabilities. It creates opportunities for them to begin the journey of recovery, find meaning in life and actively contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of each other and their families. This is achieved through participation and training in four work units at the centre: administration, catering, a paper making workshop, and the employment/communications unit (Fountain House, South Africa).

A Fountain House model or clubhouse was first developed in New York in 1948. Cape Mental Health pioneered the establishment of the Cape Fountain House. I am privileged to have worked under Cape Mental Health and interacted with persons affiliated to Fountain House, between 1991 and 1994. When I heard about the recent deaths of more than 100 patients in Johannesburg, I thought about the caring and diligence of staff, the well-being of patients and the overall effectiveness of Fountain House. South Africa’s mentally ill community can benefit from such facilities.

The severity of psychiatric disability will dictate the required level of care. Majority of patients who attend Fountain House are individuals who are independent, productive and can easily be integrated into society. Indication is that there are very few places which create opportunities for the economic and social well-being of patients. South Africa’s reforms of the mental health systems should introduce programmes that seek to address the stigma, recreation, training and vocation, nutrition, supported employment opportunities and many more. Rehabilitation should take into consideration the vitality needs, welfare, intellectual stimulation, lifestyle and caring of people living with mental illness or disabilities. The current deaths of patients due to alleged negligence points to a need for a complete overhaul of the mental health care system in South Africa. However, the responsible authorities need to tread carefully between institutionalization and de-institutionalization. The veracity of any policy choice need to be thoroughly investigated and tested, before major policy decisions are made.






Life is a pendulum. Do you know your pivotal point?

In recent times we’ve experienced unprecedented pendulum swings in global politics, trade relations, human rights, wars and conflicts, etc. In particular, American politics have taught us that you can never take anything for granted. Populism is having an upper hand over democracy. Individualism over collectivism. The unintended consequences of some of these unfolding events and human psychology will ultimately bear long term negative effect on the lives of other people elsewhere in the globe. This chain reaction (cause-effect) will be felt at global level, continental, local (country), family, and ultimately, at an individual. This shows that global issues are complex and structural in nature and in the long term, do impact somehow on the lives of ordinary people, especially the poorest of the poor.

This blog places an individual at the centre of the above-mentioned global issues. Our lives are in a state of flux and danger. We constantly react to pressures placed upon us; at home, work place, community and society as a whole. This begs the question; are we emotionally ready to absorb the daily beatings we encounter? Have we found coping mechanisms to deal with these pressures? Do we know what makes us happy? Are we aware of our daily emotional roller-coaster rides and the effect these have on our mental and physical health?

We need to understand our situations and find a balance. A pivot. Life without problems or challenges is boring. What we need is a coping mechanism to identify, understand and manage our situations. We need to know life dichotomies or doubles. Pendula. Swings.

The most fascinating doubles/opposites can be found in economics (boom and slump), finance (greed and philanthropy) and mental health (sorrow and joy). These swings reveal what we are and where we are likely to be in future. They manifest a human behaviour not always easily understood. The one reinforces the other, and vice versa. For example, government policies (economic, finance, trade, etc.) reflect the very feature of how politics influences our lives. Policies governments design and implement influence our well-being, positively or negatively. That is to say, there is an abundance of swings in the pendula. Everything is in a state of flux.

Life is indeed a pendulum. If you have watched an old wall clock pendulum swing back and forth, left and right, then you’ll understand the logic that things swing between two opposite ends. For example, from one end (birth) to the other (death). The following Bible scripture (Ecclesiastes 3.1-8) provides a clearer analogy, that there is

 “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance”

 Nothing is constant. Hence it’s very important to know one’s pivot(al) point. Know yourself. Know people around you. Be aware of the law of the pendulum because it regulates everything in this universe; politics, health, economics, finance, relationships, weather patterns, trade, etc.

We can see the law of pendulum in nature, for example, in the change of time from day to night, change of season from winter to summer. We can see it also in the world of human phenomena. For example, the swings from calm to anger through community protests, war to peace, from prosperity to recession. We can also see the law of pendulum in ourselves as we swing from feeling cold to feeling hot, feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful, loving to hating. In time some pendula hit their opposites more frequently than others, i.e. they are moving faster in time than other pendula. Becoming angry and becoming calm, or calm and becoming angry. For example, driving to work, in a joyous mood when suddenly you become involved in a road rage.

Life is full of opposites. These opposites force us to have a counterbalance in all things. Sometimes we need to go through rough experiences, to be able to appreciate life and other fellow human beings.

We therefore need to be ‘conscious’ of time and space in order to understand how things in life influence each other. This means that everything comes to an end in time, so that one thing is replaced by its opposite. In turn, this means that the end of political stability is political instability (protests), peace is war, the end of winter is spring and if we have a good time today we may have a bad time tomorrow. If you embrace the concept of sustainable development you’ll understand that decisions of today can have desirable or disastrous consequences for future generations.

Pendula swings are about change. We should try to find our strengths and weaknesses. Begin to be conscious of opposites at the same time. Be able to anticipate, adjust and manage of our lives because change is inevitable. We should try to see pendula in ourselves, others and the environment around us.

As you embark on a journey to discover your own pivot, take time to read the following quotations:

Realize that true happiness lies within you. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside. Remember that there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. Reach out. Share. Smile. Hug. Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself” (Og Mandino)

“Happiness is an inner state of well being. A state of well being enables you to profit from your highest: thoughts, wisdom, intelligence, common sense, emotions, health, and spiritual values in your life” (Lionel Ketchian)

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” (Aristotle).



Life is a Journey. Enjoy the Ride

For obvious reasons, I love Cape Town. My career began there in 1988 and l never looked back. Travelling to the Cape of Good Hope has become a pilgrimage. The National road (N1) between Johannesburg and Cape Town is a journey less travelled. Flying has become a norm. I don’t have a problem with flying, but road travel can influence and shape a person’s life.

Many of my friends and colleagues turn red when they discover that I prefer a road trip to Cape Town instead of flying. My usual philosophical excuse and the adage that ‘Life is a Journey’ is usually shunned for two reasons. First, the cost element and the time it takes to get there. This is travel economics. Second, long distance versus safety considerations. Granted, these are valid reasons to dissuade me to drive to the Cape. On average, I drive three times a year, from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I normally rest half-way. A single distance is around 1,450 kilometers. Let’s say on average I do 5,000 km X 3 trips, which equals 15,000 km per annum. Over the past twenty five years I have driven 15,000 X 25, which equals 375, 000 km. Crazy, isn’t it?

Crazy thoughts indeed. But I look at this differently. For me, 375, 000 km represent the number of experiences and moments in my journey. These can range from driver experiences, close calls, our awesome road infrastructure, to the natural and scenic Cape mountain range. Road travel is the best time to catch up with oneself, to reflect. To marvel at the moon, the stars. I like the nothingness of the Karoo. This entire phenomenon is closer to what you’d call ADVENTURE. It doesn’t matter if you have company or not. After all, passengers fall asleep most of the time.

My destination is never a focal point. Once I pass Bloemfontein, the sign ‘Cape Town 1,020 km’ appears on the road side. I become more excited because I know that there are 1,020 experiences ahead of me. Every 200 km I take a rest. Often, I obey the rules of the road. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Hence it’s very important that we all obey the rules to stay alive. The current road accident statistics are a sign of something gone wrong on our national roads. Something to do with our lack of safety consciousness and our general bad attitudes.

My point is not to lecture you on road safety. But bring your attention to the duality between a journey and a destination. In life, we tend to look at things in a linear fashion. To book a flight ticket to Cape Town and arrive there in two hours. We are obsessed with destination. We have been designed to think that way. To arrive and chill. This fits the realm of what is called ‘normal’. We have been socialized and taught that time is money and money is time. To become one-dimensional, economical, materialistic and competitive. To become less conscious of others, our environment and too conscious about things which bring HAPPINESS in our lives. Our mental health and material health have become so intertwined that we tend to lose ourselves. Material wealth is about what most of us strive for. That is ‘happiness’, whilst mental health has become a by-product.

Economics and our mental health have become the core of what we are, who we are and where we are likely to be in the future. Mental health economics reflects the very feature of how economics influences our lives, the way we approach life, live, play, work and relate to others. It is at the core our personality, behaviors and attitudes.

Many of us expect things to always be the same and when things do not correspond to what we wish, we cannot adjust ourselves to what life brings. On a daily basis, we travel to various destinations, over-looking the entire journey. We miss out on many life experiences. Our inability to know of both sides of the pendulum, makes us too one-sided, inflexible and more prone to physical and mental health woes. These woes could be prevented, had we known our pivotal points upfront. First our journey, then destination. Knowing who we are and what is our purpose in life.

Travelling is a journey towards self-discovery. It forces us to step outside our comfort zones. We need to change our attitudes about travel destinations. We need to focus on our life journeys. Our personal development and intellectual growth. Change is indispensable. If we don’t see this balance manifesting itself in our daily living, then we’re losing one of the finest gifts ever conferred by God to human beings. Travel magic. Once we become conscious of this gift, we’re destined to prosperity.

Life is too short. Take your time to appreciate smaller things in life.