New Internationalist

Letters

May 1987

new internationalist
issue 171 - May 1987

Letters

The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : ni@newint.org

Chinese tangles
Cover of the NI issue 170 I am pleased that you have drawn attention to China's present development policy (NI 170). Analysis elsewhere has neglected recent, radical initiatives and reforms in China. But they are important in their own right and not just as modifications or reversals of the Maoist policies.

Achieving a balanced assessment is hard. This is not least because China's ideology of development often leads to 'black and white' judgements. Your article on women, for instance, idealizes China's past. It can be argued very cogently that both the communes and present policies, far from freeing women from household drudgery, have increased work for women and this has subsidized development.

Today, as in the past, development programmes in China are pluralistic in their aims and practice. It is not enough to dismiss them under 'capitalist', 'non-socialistic' or 'bourgeois' labels.

Several of your articles address these complex issues. There has been an undoubted rise in standards of living - particularly in the countryside - with greater scope for individual initiative and better interpersonal relationships. But how should this be balanced against the privatisation of certain basic services and growing differentials between households and within villages?

Many questions remain unanswered How successfully will China's Government combine individual responsibility, collective management and economic co-operation while meeting the needs of the very poorest, remains to be seen.

Elizabeth Kroll
British Resource Unit for Sociology and Anthropology of China
London University, UK

Clean living
If we buy a washing machine and ignore the maker's instructions it will either not work or fail altogether. Likewise, if we decide to take no notice of our Maker's advice, we must expect breakdown and problems to arise. We chose our own course of action and must be ready for the consequences.

AIDS (NI 169) is now a fact and needs not 'the pointing of the finger in our midst' but love and all the skills God gives us to help those who are suffering.

R Rudkin
Stoke Fleming, UK

Crude safety
AIDS is an immensely threatening disease but to trivialize it (NI 169 - Simply: a guide to safer sex) detracts from the very serious nature of the subject. I doubt if the photograph on page 20 adds much to 'information' either.

As a member of the OXFAM Council, I remember when the idea of launching your magazine was first suggested. You have come a long way since then, and I would deplore the direction.

To promote concern and interest in the Third World does not necessitate being crude and offensive.

Dr John L Tester OBE
Edinburgh, UK

More simply
Wow! Thanks NI 169 for your brilliant 'Simply... a guide to safer sex' with its really explicit and frank information. Just what us 16-year-olds wanted. More please!

Joanne Bird
Birkenhead, UK

Man-made AIDS
Interesting though your March issue on AIDS (NI 169) is, I was disappointed that there was not the least attempt to alert the public to the real 'politics of AIDS' - the widespread suspicion that the AIDS virus was created in a laboratory at the biological warfare research centre at Fort Detrick, Maryland, US.

M J Kahn
Oxford, UK

Graham Hancock replies: There isn't room in the magazine to cover everything and this theory is not credited by any serious researcher in the world.

Breastmilk fear
Twice you refer to the transmission of the AIDS virus via breastmilk (NI 169). It is vital at this stage to look at the implications of such statements.

That babies in Africa are infected by their mothers' milk is as yet unproven. There is only one reported case in the world which suggests that this could have been the route of transmission; only one researcher has isolated the virus in breastmilk and, as we know from the saliva debate, the presence of the virus in a body fluid does not automatically mean its transmission.

In regions of Africa where AIDS is prevalent, conditions for artificial feeding are extremely risky. If health workers discourage breast-feeding they condemn children to malnutrition, illness and possible death, while the effects of breastfeeding by HIV positive mothers is as yet unknown.

Our main concern is that commercial interests should not be allowed to exploit the situation. The International Code of Marketing, which health workers all over the world are working to implement, might help prevent this. It clearly states that if a baby must be bottle-fed companies would be allowed to donate free babymilk only if they continue to do so for the whole of its infancy.

Gay Palmer and Patti Rundall
Baby Milk Action Coalition
Cambridge, UK

Graham Hancock replies: It is a fact that AlDS can be transmitted at the breast. The implications are dynamite for Africa. Looking back, I agree that we should have covered this area more closely.

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Chastity
Surely the AIDS crisis starkly underlines the need for sexual chastity before marriage and exclusive faithfulness within marriage as the best way to solve the AIDS problem. It would also bring greater stability to marriages and more security to children.

P & K Tapp
Bristol, UK

Double dose
Although Africa already has far more than its share of mass killer diseases, fortunately it does not have to contend with schistosomiasis and bilharzia (NI 169 Aids and the nations of the South). The two are the same disease - the latter being the older name.

Rob Unwin
Leeds UK

Drunks slur
I am outraged at your letting an ethnic slur in Lynne Attwood's article go into print (Imperialism NI 167). The Soviet Union, she says 'has refrained from repressing the tradition of heavy drinking in Czechoslovakia'. This is offered as an illustration of the absence of 'cultural imperialism' in Eastern Europe! If that is the only example of Czech culture - or cultural repression - she could come up with, then it should not have been allowed to go into print.

Chris De Bresson
Montreal, Canada

Sound control
In drawing attention to the weaknesses in the world's basically capitalist structure of international trade and banking (NI 168) you imply that they are largely anti-social.

However, the world and its populace have gained greatly over the centuries through the interchange of produce, services and the migration of peoples.

What we need is not a curtailment of international trade and banking but a sound international control of it. Perhaps Keynes and his friends did not get it right at Bretton Woods, but they were at least moving in the right direction.

Trevor Denniff
Hythe, UK

Tasty 'roos
You refer to the kangaroo culling debate in NI 166 (Briefly). Admittedly, while certain species are endangered and need protection, the 'roos that are culled (Reds and Greys) now exist in far greater numbers than prior to white settlement, owing to increased pasture, introduced water and the elimination of predators such as the dingo. The culling programme is revised annually and the present figure of 2.6 million is unlikely to be continued indefinitely. The Red and the Grey 'roos have a high quality lean meat and the Red in particular has a fine skin. Both species could, with appropriate safeguards, be 'farmed' successfully in conjunction with more traditional livestock. Only the bias of our Western palate places such low value on the meat of this animal.

Malcolm Wrest
Rosanna, Australia

Who's who
Your article Who's pro-life? (NI 168) concluded that antiabortion ideology reflected an ideology of authoritarianism. This is quite invalid based on the facts given. It is a fairly elementary mistake in statistics to assume that if there is a correlation between two things, then there must necessarily be a causal relationship between them.

Chris Whitlow
Leeds, UK

Sexist glances
How about a little graphic equality and originality for the 'At a glance' section of your Country Profiles? You use the conventional toilet signs for the two sexes - a skirt for females, trousers for men - and then only allow 'women' to figure in your 'Position of women' box.

Sue Lyons
Tewin, UK

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from Mawere

Margaret St Clare has been living and working in the Zimbabwe
countryside since January 1984. This month she describes a black township
and what happens to white people who choose to live in it.

If you come by bus into Chikumwe, a provincial township, you will be dropped, whether you like it or not, at the 'rank' outside the town. You then pay 30 cents for an emergency taxi ride, 15 cents for another bus, or you can walk for half an hour along sandy paths through scrub and by the side of sewage plants, to get to the so-called 'back entrance'. Six years after Zimbabwe's Independence, buses coming from other areas still have no permission to stop in this black township!

Segregation persists in the town. Though there are no Asians or 'coloureds' and only four whites in Chikumwe, different cultures meet here, and in the daytime they seem to clash. Reggae or Zimbabwe music pounds from the stereos; mothers call their children with names like Lawrence, Stanwell or Zvidzai; the ice-cream vendors' bells rattle insistently; crows squawk on the lookout for lizards; articulated lorries roar...

The houses in this new part of Chikumwe are tidy, four-room units of breeze block and asbestos, nicely designed except that they have no verandas and have been built in eye-wearying straight lines with about fifteen feet between each house. This week I'm staying with Anne and John, two English friends who have chosen to live in Chikumwe while they work here for two years. Apart from doing without suburban luxuries - swimming pool, three bathrooms and a huge tree-shaded garden - living in the township has its trials for the Western expatriate.

A visitor from Canada recently looked up 'Murungul' - the greeting she'd heard shouted by children as she passed - and was a bit shaken to find it meant' White!' (I have occasionally retorted 'Mutema!' - which means black - after checking there was an adult around to exchange proper greetings with and who might have a word with the children).

Now I can hear the wee boy next door playing his new game 'heavy traffic' (this is my name for his pastime). He runs behind a long piece of wire with two improvised wheels on the end (yesterday it was a bald tyre), and as he runs keeps up a powerful droning whine that is hard to think through.

If you try asking children at play here, 'Is that a lorry?' or 'Are you mixing dough?' you will be told plainly, 'No, it's wire, shoe-polish, tins or mud'. Childhood in Zimbabwe is a experience that has not been been moulded by adult's romanticization of children and their worlds.

Mud is mud, and not supplanted by - as a Western child would be likely to find - a specially developed product such as 'play dough' which is sold to adults for children.

Yesterday afternoon, as I was baking by the open door, a neighbour's aunt beckoned me over. She and her niece were embroidering and chatting, sitting on the kitchen floor on pieces of 'African' printed cloth (known here as 'Zambias'). The Shona word for chatting, 'kutandara', also means spending time together, and has no sexist overtones of women wasting time or female gossiping.

We talked for a while about sewing and crocheting, and I showed them the two new mouse-holes in my favourite crocheted bodice, which my great-aunt bought in Palestine when she was nursing there during World War Two. The aunt would fix it for me if I could find the twine. 'You'll always find me here', she said, 'I have to keep an eye on my niece in case she sees any men she prefers to her husband while he's at work.' Everyone laughed, but as a relative of the husband, the speaker's meaning was plain.

When I stood up to go, the aunt looked astonished. 'But who is there?' she asked. The younger woman explained I would be doing my things: reading, lying down or sleeping ... 'And writing,' I added lamely. For I know most people just can't imagine what there could be to do in a house on your own for hours on end.

At sunset all these cultural differences will be reconciled in a peaceful, peachy glow. Rows of rooftops, telegraph poles and wires will stand poetic against the embers; the low hills rolling away westwards will be golden; groups of youths will stroll along the streets not looking for trouble but having a good time. Women will raise their voices to their neighbours in evening conversation. I have never been to South Africa, but this is how I imagine its black townships when their inhabitants are able to rest from the fight against apartheid: sweetness and music in the midst of a sour, discordant world.

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