New Internationalist

Letters

Issue 173

new internationalist
issue 173 - July 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

Breaking boundaries
Cover of the NI issue 172 Your issue on the activities of Unilever (NI 172) concentrated on its irresponsibility and ruthlessness as a company with enormous power around the world. But it failed to see the other side of the coin.

Labour movements sprung up in different countries all over the world during the early part of this century as a response to capitalism. In a similar way, the growth of multinational companies has led to an increasing internationalism within radical politics today as workers fight to defend their rights.

Though Unilever can rightly be condemned as evil, if it helps us to see national boundaries as increasingly irrelevant it may have done something essential towards helping us to deal with the world's most pressing problems.

Victor Anderson
Croydon, UK

Funny money
After the promising start to his article Grow your own dollars (NI 171) why did Dick Racey stop short of proposing the obvious solution - a money-less society - and end up advocating another variety of currency crankinesss?

Is it so difficult to imagine a system where production would be geared to respond in a flexible way to demand without the intervention of money?

I would have thought that such a self-regulating system of production would be more appealing to Greens than yet another funny money scheme.

Adam Buick
Luxembourg

Green glitz
Your article in NI 171 on Greenpeace appeared to criticize its publicity-seeking image. But in the vast majority of its actions Greenpeace has had the support of the masses. Its 'media glitz' tactics have raised the voices (and opened up the pocketbooks) of the many at the expense of the anger of the few. This is far more effective than slowly burrowing through bureaucrats and governments which would make few new friends but create just as many enemies among the 'bad guys'.

Howard Feldman
Stanmore, UK

Knee jerk
I object to the way that NI frequently gives carte blanche to knee-jerk feminism and especially when it capitalizes on AIDS, Sex after AIDS (NI 169).

If males are, in general, consciously contriving exploiters of females:

Why do males out-number females in demonstrating dissatisfaction with their gender (e.g. transvestism) and in running foul of social mores? Why are so many males easing the pain of existence with drugs, alcohol or other means to escape immediate reality?

Why not admit that we don't know enough about our species to sound off with gross generalizations about ourselves - much less an ideologically discriminating 'them and us' attitude.

I, for one, have never felt myself to be dominant over females, and there are many like me.

Gerry Hiles
Albany, Australia

Brainwash
Your With God on their side piece, Briefly (NI 171) gives the distinct impression that interest in Christianity in the Third World is the direct result of Western cultural imperialism. This view is hardly tenable as the fastest growing Christian groupings, particularly in Africa, are indigenous churches of a broadly Pentecostal outlook. Perhaps the fastest-growing church in the world is in China, where the Church has grown from 840,000 before the 1949 revolution to its current size of 50,000,000 or five per cent of the population - in spite of the expulsion of foreign missionaries and the suppression of the cultural revolution. It is hard to attribute this to brainwashing techniques.

Jon Garvey
Danbury, UK

Chinese girls
Last year I came back from three years of teaching in North East China and I really enjoyed reading your unprejudiced series of articles on life in China (NI 170). I agree with Marie-Ange Donzé that the reforms are beginning to increase discrimination against women, but I found one thing very cheering about the one-child policy. Almost without exception city parents with a daughter pour all their hopes and ambitions on that daughter in the same way as they would a son. I think the next generation of city women will have a belief in their powers and an unwillingness to be second-class citizens that their mothers could never have dreamed of.

Sara Cottingham
Dorset, UK

African greetings
In Letter from Mawere (NI 171) Margaret St Clare describes her response at being greeted 'Murungu' ('white' in Shona) as being to retort 'Mutema' (which means 'black').

Children over much of Africa 'greet' Europeans in this manner, the word varying slightly from 'Muchungu' in Chichewe (Zambia) to 'Muzungu' in Swahili.

My retort has been 'Mtoto' which is 'child' in Swahili and is similar to the word in related languages. The equivalent vocabulary in Sudanese Arabic is 'Wodja' ('white') and 'Wollet' ('child').

George Michalakis
Itimpi, Zambia

Baby boon
The most recent studies clearly refute Ros Coward's Sex after AIDS (NI 169) statement that the pill is associated with breast cancer and indicate that it may in fact have some protective value against the illness.

Her statement that 'heterosexuality has never been safe for women' is also questionable. Whilst pregnancy carries significant risks for some women, most women in Western nations actually benefit from child bearing. Having children seems to be protective against cancer of the womb. I would also question her belief that heterosexuality 'has never been particularly spontaneous' for women. Is she implying that most women are asexual or homosexual?

Simon Vanlint
Adelaide, Australia

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Nuke vote
The peace movement has a massive re-education task on its hands to save the Aotearoa (NZ) Nuclear Free Zone and bring the issue back into the spotlight for the August 1987 general election.

It needs the support of people worldwide to do this. Every letter to our newspapers and to the Labour and National Parties will help to keep Aotearoa nuclear free and strengthen the voice of the peace movement.

Richard Arnold
Christchurch, Aotearoa (NZ)

Ecobreeding
Much as I enjoyed your magazine on Green Politics (NI 171) I am disappointed that the issue of population control was never raised.

Surely it is evident that unless such control is implemented the other policies of the Greens stand no chance of success in the long run.

One further point: how many women would give up their personal right to bear children in the struggle for a green world?

M B Kemp
Bath, UK

Bad science
People should not allow themselves to be deceived into believing that the experiments on marmoset monkeys currently being carried out at the Porton Down Chemical Defence Establishment, UK, will lead to the discovery of a cure for AIDS. It is extremely unlikely that animal experiments will do anything but mislead researchers and actually stall progress.

According to Dr Richard Tedder, head of virology at the Middlesex Hospital and a leading expert on the AIDS retro virus: 'Infecting monkeys has no value. If you want to follow the progress of this disease there are sufficient humans already infected. And is what goes on in monkeys relevant to what goes on in the human body?'

To use monkeys in AIDS research is not only immoral and dangerous; it is also bad science.

D E Egby-Edwards
Bournemouth, UK

Old game
Your unilateral renaming of New Zealand to Aotearoa (NI 163) is the very same method used by the old imperialists to name the country New Zealand in the first place.

Does this now make your publication The New Imperialist?

Seriously, if you are dealing with the renaming of imperialist-named countries one at a time, I propose that you start with the most obvious one, America, which was named after an Italian, and then move on to Australia, derived from the Latin australis. American Indian and Australian Aboriginal languages could provide inspiration.

E S Blackburn
Darwin, Australia

Good sex
I didn't like your references to squirting jam into a doughnut (NI 169 Simply) - the implication being that as it is unimaginative it is therefore inferior to other forms of sex.

Good sex is the result of open communication where both partners' needs are taken into account. Denigration of any single activity is just not constructive.

Nick Davis
Brussels, Belgium

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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 the
pitfalls and pleasures of local ways of working.

This morning I put the kettle on the gas before going down to the Blair toilet* at the bottom of the maize field. The grass was high and golden in the morning sun. After breakfast of tea without milk and rolls with cheese and marmalade, I wrote myself reminders of what to discuss today at the 'Keep Trying' bakery, collected useful handouts and a picnic lunch, fetched the bike from its tiny sleeping house, pumped up the back tyre and I was off.

It is a ten-minute ride to the road, first on a narrow path along the side of a field of parched maize and groundnuts, then down across the stream, up the smooth rounded granite and along the top, passing by my neighbour's home, down round her fields under the trees and up to the tarred road.

Laid for white tourists, this road hugs the flat land by the lakeside, going nowhere in particular, while the road south through the communal area which I soon turn into is much busier, yet is untarred and in many places steep and treacherous. Passing the township, both brakes jammed on, I slither and judder down the newly regravelled surface, hoping for something to pass and pick me up, but also marvelling at the open splendour of the valley scenery which surprises me afresh every time I look.

Nothing passes during the eight miles to Dimatima. I slow down for some cows and greet many people but I don't usually have to stop now, even for elders. I've gradually learned how to carry on casual yet animated extended greetings, including weather and work comments and the odd joke, even respectful clapping (hand to shoulder) while pedalling past.

When I get to the township, three women have already prepared the bread dough in a bucket. I see they have made new breadpans of the right size out of empty cooking-oil cans from the US AID supplementary feeding programme - these were brought out recently by a local agency who helped the women to build a new oven. They should make a bit more profit than they used to with the old, oversized pans they made from bigger oil cans.

The new oven is popular. The women are glad not to have to labour in their sweltering, smoke-filled little pole-and-dagga houses. Previously they had to remove embers from the long fire-pit to lay on corrugated metal sheets, then embed the breadpans in the cinders and replace the hot sheets over the hole.

They new mud-and-brick oven is designed around two used oil drums - a piece of 'appropriate technology' developed and introduced, in part, by an expatriate ex-colleague. It's nice to see it in action.

To my amused horror, I find myself urging the women to try baking buns (more sugar, more profit!) and working out the amounts for a trial run. With government-subsidized bread prices, it is very hard to make a rural bakery worthwhile for 15 members by making bread alone, even mixing local maize meal with the flour. Though it depends, of course, on what you mean by 'worthwhile'. Certainly this bakery is not yet a going financial concern, but who can measure the value of the women's enthusiasm, optimism, pride and enjoyment of their co-operative effort? It was their own idea, started without help before I began my work as an advisor and I want to try and help them make it a success.

In between the business talk people are coming and going with news of death or illness, words of praise and encouragement and proposals for mutual support between local co-operatives. Among the women, the talk is of Kubereka (childbearing). A woman starting her twelfth pregnancy says her mother scolded her when she heard: 'You will die!' She says her mother had six and then stopped.

Writing this down, I realize she is afraid, but this morning she shared her fear so publicly and laughed so heartily that this didn't strike me till now.

This morning, as often happens, the women urged me to marry here and have a family. They even jokingly offered me a brother or son - I used to think this was a straightforward, if surprising and rather frivolous show of openness to newcomers. But maybe it is rather a response to the real threat which we single expatriate women, with all our means and mobility, present to family structures here. Instead of being repressed, the frightening possibility is voiced, dramatized and laughed about and so acknowledged as part of life.

Everything from bereavement and marriage to the price of yeast is taken as it comes at these rural meetings. This contrasts with the 'proper' business practice of prioritizing, following an agenda, and excluding the personal (which often reappears with us in various professional disguises!). This way of working is often frustrating for me, of course, and it makes for economic inefficiency. But if efficiency ultimately aims at improving the quality of our life, there is surely another, more important, kind of efficiency here, in the holistic practice of these women and men.

A round, roofed pit latrine which was developed at the Blair Institute near Harare.

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