A legacy in our children

The second time I was overwhelmed by traveller’s guilt was at the travertines at Pamukkale, Turkey. The first was in Jaisalmer, India but that is a story for another day.

The surreal landscape of the travertines in Pamukkale

The surreal landscape of the travertines at Pamukkale

A pathway in Hierapolis

A pathway in Hierapolis

This surreal landscape is adjacent to Hierapolis and was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. As I was standing there, one of the thousands of tourists who flock there every month, I suddenly thought: “What am I doing here?”.

Except for the fact that I was busy with a Round-the-World trip, comprising of very many flights, I was standing on that pristine white limestone and became acutely aware that I was leaving a very real footprint with every step I took.

The moonlike calcium deposits of the travertines in Pamukkale

The moon like calcium deposits of the travertines at Pamukkale

Tourists in the natural pools formed by the travertines

Tourists in the natural pools formed by the travertines

In the village-sized world we live in, where reaching the far-flung corners of the earth has become as easy as a plane, a train and a boat ride away, how much right do I have to travel to these places, gasp in awe and wonder for a day or two, and continue on my merry way? Except for the little bit of money I may have injected into the local economy, can I say, at any level, that I have made a contribution, or was everything on my side just consumption?

The "Cotton Castle" at Pamukkale

The “Cotton Castle” at Pamukkale

In Simon Usborne’s article on world heritage sites he talks about the influx of tourists to places locals were hardly aware of; the wear and tear of millions of feet passing through; the looting of artefacts; the urbanisation of surrounding areas. Then we haven’t even mentioned pollution; the consumption of resources untouched by locals; the drinking and discarding of countless bottles of water; the stress on the environment; the corruption of local customs and beliefs through the influence of tourists and travellers –  the list can go on and on.

Maybe that is the travellers dilemma. Many of these places depend on the income derived from tourists while tourists also contribute to the destruction, albeit sometimes gradual, of these places.

Real understanding though, comes from intimate knowledge and, just as much as travelling breaks down cultural barriers and preconceptions, just as much a love for nature comes from a closeness thereto.

In Plettenberg Bay visisting the NSRI

In Plettenberg Bay visisting the NSRI

The first time I came to Sedgefield was in 1990. I just finished high school and, although I have dipped my feet in the icy waters of Bloubergstrand, I can’t say that I have had any real knowledge of the ocean.

Making a mussel "potjie" from frashly harvested mussels

Making a mussel “potjie” from freshly harvested mussels

At the time I was part of Die Voortrekkers, an Afrikaner youth group similar to the Scouts. It was the first year they had a sea camp for kids living in the Transvaal (now Gauteng) and we, a group of youth leaders, were doing a training course in survival on water.

I wanted to live right here!

I wanted to live right here!

I will always remember walking over the dune between Swartvlei caravan park and the ocean. A berg wind was blowing and I lost my heart! There was a little house on the crest of that dune and I decided then and there I want to live here – one day.

The years rolled by and I haven’t been back to Sedgefield till a road trip in 2008 with one of my best friends. Of course I included what have remained, even after many travels through the known world, my favourite place. Countless times I gushed about the rock pools filled with sea life and am unable to describe how I felt when Ravi and I made our way out to Gericke’s point. Where did they go? Where were all the sea stars and the octopuses and the anemones? In comparison with the teeming life of 1990 the pools were dead and devoid!

Ravi on Swartvlei beach

Ravi on Swartvlei beach

A couple of weeks ago Jo, a friend who recently moved to the Garden Route, mentioned the wonderful sea life in the rock pools at Gericke’s. In an off the cuff remark local guide and lover of nature, Mark, commented that it is a wonder after the Voortrekkers were here (the camp takes place during the July winter holidays).

Ravi at Gericke's Point

Ravi at Gericke’s Point

What a punch to the gut! I was immediately transported to that camp. A camp specifically designed to teach children – many who may never have had the opportunity otherwise – to respect, appreciate and grow to love this indescribably wonderful part of creation. Yet, by the process of collecting samples and specimens for the camp aquarium, harvesting and plundering the very thing they want to preserve.

As in that moment in Pamukkale, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the fact that I, without a shadow of doubt, contributed to the destruction of life at Gericke’s point.

In that moment I was overcome with the responsibility we have to leave a legacy, not only for our children, but to leave a legacy in our children. A legacy not through words but through the very example of our lives. A legacy to observe rather than obtain, to contribute rather than consume and to walk ever more lightly on this earth, for what we have is finite and, once we have plucked all the sea stars, there will be no more.


A dark day indeed

“It is insulting to all South Africans to be asked to stomach legislation that could be used to outlaw whistle-blowing and investigative journalism…and that makes the state answerable only to the state” – Desmond Tutu

On the 19th October 1977, the apartheid regime banned The World and Weekend World newspapers as well as Pro Veritate – a Christian publication – alongside 19 black organisations and detained scores of critics – that day has been called Black Wednesday ever since.

Slightly more than 3 decades later, we have a sense of déjà vu with the Protection of Information Bill that went to table today.

After mass protests on the 17th of September, and internal squabbles of the ANC, the Bill was pulled on Monday the 19th of September but would have been tabled again on Wednesday the 23rd of November. Yusuf Abramjee, chairman of the National Press Club, issued a statement declaring “Wednesday 23 November Black Wednesday“. Thus an appeal went out to all South Africans to dress or wear a black ribbon or armband – the traditional symbols of mourning – on the day, to show their opposition to the bill.

That would just not do! Abramjee was informed that the bill will be voted on, on Tuesday 22 November.

The office of ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, declared its distaste for the comparison between events in 1977 and today. “The National Press Council’s likening of the scheduled democratic and constitutional process in Parliament this week, in which the draft legislation on the Protection of State Information (Bill) would be put to vote, to the infamous 1977 Black Wednesday, is nothing short of a reckless hyperbole aimed at peddling misinformation and distorting history. The Council’s plans, in which a democratic and open parliamentary process would be declared Black Wednesday by having people dress in black, are tantamount to staging a parody of one of the saddest political events of our history.”

At 14:00 today, the bill went to table with about 120 amendments since September, yet still without a public interest clause which would allow whistle blowers and journalist to disclose information found to be in the public interest. Hence the state can seal, at any given time, any information it so wishes and with a government whose corruption has been exposed time and again, this can be seen as nothing but an investment in self-interest.

It may be true that keeping corruption under cover may not be the primary intention of the so-called Secrecy Bill as it does include clauses that criminalise misuse of the bill to avoid embarrassment. Yet, with no way to demonstrate that abuse this wall can shelter many an evil and woe to anyone who leaks a secret, anyone who takes possession of a secret and anyone who publishes a secret as they will go to jail, without the option of a fine, potentially for up to 25 years!

Even though the Bill still has to be pass through the National Council of Provinces and will, in all probability, also go to the constitutional court, it is without a doubt that, with 229 to 207 votes for passing the bill, this is indeed a black day in our history.

May the pledge of the Honourable Lindiwe Mazibuko (she who was called the Madam’s Tea Lady by Mr. Malema) be the shining beacon of light and may we not stop standing up to be heard until Light shines through for our country and our freedom.

“It should never have come to this. Today is a dark day for our young democracy.

If passed, this Bill will un-stitch the very fabric of our Constitution. It will criminalise the freedoms that so many of our people fought for.

What will you, the members on that side of the House, tell your grandchildren one day? I know you will tell them that you fought for freedom. But will you also tell them you helped to destroy it? Because they will pay the price for your actions today. Let this weigh heavy on your conscience as you cast your vote.

Speaker, whatever happens in this House, we will not give up the fight.

We have fought this Bill from the very first day it was tabled. And we will continue to do whatever it takes to defeat those who want to silence our people. First, we will take the fight to the National Council of Provinces, where we will propose amendments, including a clause to protect those who disclose state information in the public interest.

If the Bill in its current form is passed in that House, we trust that the President will send it back to Parliament. Surely he will see that it is unconstitutional.

But if this Bill is signed into law, I will lead an application to the Constitutional Court to have the Act declared unconstitutional.

In terms of section 80 of the Constitution, the support of one-third of the Members of this House will be enough to send this Bill directly to the Constitutional Court.

I know that my colleagues on the opposition benches will support us. And I believe there are enough ANC MPs with a conscience who will do the right thing. Honourable Members, it is our duty to protect democracy. A Bill that poses a danger to our people’s freedom is before us. Let us vote against it today.

But if it is passed, let the message ring out from this House across South Africa:

The ANC has abandoned the values of its founders exactly 100 years after it was formed.”