New Internationalist

Letters

November 1987

This feature was published in the November issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

new internationalist
issue 177 - November 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

Their big is our small
Cover of the NI issue 176 Congratulations on a powerful and moving NI on Population (NI 176). By focusing on people as much as on statistics, you challenged the arrogance of the affluent who imagine they know what is best for the poor. People have large families for good reasons: high infant mortality absence of care for the old and sick, low-wage labour economies: the low status of women. And you avoided the usual trap of the Right, that they need Western-style development for their birth rates to plummet.

However there was no historical analysis to show that their large families and our small families might be connected. In fact there is plentiful evidence to show that the early colonials encouraged the natives to have large families as a source of cheap labour for the plantations. The ensuing wealth was then the prerequisite, from the late 19th century, for our falling birth rates. The vicious opposition to the efforts of the poor to free themselves from the exploitation inherent in this connection continues. It is a form of demographic parasitism.

Richard Clarke
University of London, UK

Anti-Christian bigotry
The Punchline cartoon (NI 174) was offensive to millions of Christians who love and know the worth of the Bible. More, it was ignorant, implying that Evangelicals don't help the poor and the Bible doesn't help them either.

Please advise your cartoonist to look at the lives of Wilberforce, Booth, Luther King, Mother Theresa and countless others.

I am used to ignoring your anti-Christian bigotry and getting on with your presentation of other facts, for Christians do well to be aware of the issues you present. But do we have to be offended by your cartoons?

Tom Hawksley
Karachi, Pakistan

Animal or vegetable?
In your summary of Green beliefs (NI 171) you state that 'for most Greens non-violence goes beyond simply reducing the military budget, it also implies different ways of making decisions and of treating people...'

That's all well and good. But if we call into question the use of violence and coercion to deal with people, I can see no logic, only unexamined habit, for continuing collective violence against highly sentient, non-human animals.

We cannot ignore dietary non-violence as the ultimate implication of general nonviolence. To do so is the height of moral hypocrisy and not truly Green.

Billy Boyd
San Francisco, USA

Father fed
Although I agreed with the sentiments in your Masculinity issue (NI 175), I was appalled to see the photo of an 'enlightened' father bottle-feeding his baby. Breast milk is the proper food for babies and breastfeeding the natural sequence to childbirth. Women are already subjected to pressure to bottle feed from various sources, without 'enlightened' fathers adding to it.

E McDermott
London, UK

Yin and yang
Rosalind Coward says in the issue on Masculinity (NI 175) 'It (rigid gender divisions) hints at a preoccupation with the idea that sex should be about opposites, passivity matched with activity, strength ... weakness, emotional distance . . . closeness.' Quite so! That is exactly what sex, as opposed to affectionate, friendly relationships, is about. Has she not noticed how men with hopelessly masculine qualities have no special problem finding female partners? Or that gay life is peopled frequently by extremes; for example, the current clipped military macho, the extravaganzas of camp and other signifiers of masculine and feminine polarities?

Forget the new orthodoxies for a bit, Rosalind, and think.

Anne Romary
London, UK

Tripe
Tony Vaux's story I am from Deogarh (NI 173) is the most offensive piece of neo-imperialist tripe I have ever read. His descriptions of greedy, naked priests subsisting on 'ritual meals of milk and sweets' and the 'awe and fear' that Ramlal feels in the temple reveal his ignorance of the culture of my country and propagate the most insulting stereotypes. His attitude is quintessentially neo-imperialist, shedding crocodile tears over his fathers' rape of Third World culture, so he can tell them how it really should be and what's wrong with it now. Isn't the Indian bureaucracy a direct result of an imperialist education, whose sole purpose was to churn out civil servants for the white sahibs?

Why do you emphasize corruption in Third World countries so? The First World isn't exactly free from corruption. Haven't you heard of Contragate? You want to know about bureaucracy? Try getting a Social Security number! Try opening an account at a bank in Philadelphia! Another thing. If you guys (sic) are so environmentally conscious how come you ship your magazine in a non-biodegradable polythene wrapper? Saving Third World resources by not using paper?

Deepak Pradhan
Philadelphia, USA

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Keeping your head down
I've just finished Moonlit Money (NI 173) and learned quite a bit.

As a legal educator and activist, I see the underground work issue as part of a bigger problem: the way little illegalities prevent radical dissent among a cross-section of the United States population.

The case of undocumented workers is one example of a group whose legal status affects their ability to organize and protest But a less obvious one is that of middle-class people who break the speed limit, smoke marijuana, work off the books, cheat over tax, engage in illicit sex and other officially proscribed activities. This life in the penumbra of illegality makes all such people unwilling to take landlords to court, march in picket lines or take any other action that might bring their deviant activities to light.

I'm not sure that this 'life in the penumbra of illegality' theme has received enough attention in the UK.

Philip Tajitsu Nash
City University,
New York, USA

Off with his head
While it may seem churlish to quibble over details in your very interesting issue on the New Man, (NI 175), I believe that you have a mistaken picture of the status of gay men in the past. I'm sure that powerful men did enjoy themselves with boys. Strictly speaking, however, I understand it was a crime that could be punished by death.

Jane Gifford
Newcastle, UK

Daily repetitions
I found your issue on Masculinity (NI 175) very enlightening and slightly frightening. However, had you read your Brave New World and considered the power of daily repetition of male stereotype messages, you'd better appreciate the struggle that feminism has to face and that true equality will take generations.

N Wheatley
Lincoln, UK

Victor Jara
One book that you left out of your Worth reading on Chile column (NI 174) was the excellent biography of Victor Jara by his wife Joan Jara, 'Victor: the unfinished story' (Jonathan Cape).

It gives a vivid and detailed account of the life of Victor Jara, whose songs articulated the political and social aspirations of the poor with whom he grew up. This political commitment was responsible for his eventual murder by Pinochet's regime.

Joan Jara also gives a detailed account of how the Right, with the help of America, destabilized the Allende government the deliberate creation of shortages by big business; the involvement of the CIA in organising acts of disruption in civil life; the joint US-Chilean naval exercise just off the coast prior to the military coup; the lineup of Christian Democrats and the Armed Forces.

I urge everyone to read this book for it is in many ways the story of Chile itself.

Ian Williams
Kent, UK

NI sexism
As a new subscriber to NI, I eagerly awaited my second issue on Chile (NI 174), however the article Hunt the Bishop made me wonder if I'd subscribed to the right magazine. Having noticed a 'young attractive woman' and interpreted her conversation as an invitation ('long, lingering glances' and the like), in the manner of male, sexist fantasies, the author describes the agonizing choice he faces when it's time to get off the bus, 'the bishop or the schoolmistress, the sacred or the profane.'

I find it hard to believe that someone writing for a progressive magazine, which pretends to support feminism, can express views which are blatantly based on the notion that young attractive women in public are potentially male property.

Jane Bryant
London, UK

Softly softly
NI is to be congratulated on its recent attempts to move into the area of personal politics. But it will only cause offence and create reactions which are the exact oppsite of those intended if it presents masculinity arguments in the manner of the Masculinity issue (NI 175), that is, by issuing a series of 'dos' and 'don'ts'.

You need to be more gentle, allowing readers to discover their faults themselves. No-one reacts well to being made to feel guilty, especially when the guilt has a foundation.

Ian Laws
Brighton, UK

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

Letter from Mawere

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Margaret St. Clare has been living and working in the
Zimbabwe countryside since January 1984. This month she writes
about the working conditions on the commercial farms.

A few months ago I visited an ex-student of the school where I was teaching. Ephat and his father, Baba Ephat, had taken casual work on a commercial farm half-way to town. I was a bit worried about Baba Ephat whose health was delicate these days. I had heard from Ephat's family that working for the white farmer called Peter was hard. It was a 6am start, finishing at 5.30 with half an hour for lunch, 6 till 1 on Saturday. No singing, whistling or talking was permitted on this job. And the work might be weeding or running up and down the rows of cabbages sprinkling pesticide powder by hand or spraying chemicals on the maize. All this was without masks or gloves or even shoes. Ephat spent his first month's wages on rubber boots for himself and his Dad.

As for the wages, the workers never knew what to expect at the end of the month. Fifteen minutes late for work and five dollars might be docked. A day of 'flu and who could tell? And since people were fired almost daily, everyone was afraid to ask of protest. The most that could be expected for a month's wages, it seemed, was $70 - about $15 less than the official minimum wage for commercial farm workers, which in turn was $40 beneath the minimum industrial wage.

Early on in my time in this country, shocked by the pittance another friend was receiving on a different commercial farm, I had gone to the Ministry of Labour to report the farmer. The courteous (black) official took down the details and called the farmer's house - 'Oh hello Eleanor, is John around?' John was out. I left the building feeling rather foolish, realising a little more about what being powerless means.

Now the day of my visit to Ephat, I got off the bus towards sunset. An elderly man was standing by the wooden bus shelter. I told him whom I was looking for and he welcomed me, walking me along the dirt road between wide fields where well-irrigated, half-grown maize stood waist high. We moved towards a tree-covered rise from which an imposing English style red-brick mansion glared down. It was surrounded by cypresses, pines and pink and purple blossoms. The settlers have a way with plants.

After a tiring walk along the ditches, through high grass and over fences, we reached the workers' compound as darkness was falling; a sad row of corrugated asbestos-roofed brick cubicles, blackened and crumbling, surrounded by weeds. No toilets, no tap water. The uncovered well was half a mile away.

I was shown into one of the shacks and a mat was unrolled for me. Seated, I looked around miserably at the cracked, soot-encrusted surfaces. No window, no chimney, no thatch to let the smoke escape, no bench around to wall, the floor pitted and unrepaired. It was an insult, a place unfit even for poultry. Remembering Ephat's beautiful riverside home with it's mango and lemon trees, its swept yard and tiny ornamental lawn, I thought of the self-justifying settler lie, 'It's what they're used to,' and squirmed with shame.

Baba Ephat had gone to buy a chicken, on credit, to celebrate my visit. When he came back he told me that his son had gone to the grinding mill, over two hours' walk away. We spent the evening cooking, eating, talking and playing cards. Ephat got back late at night and ate his portion cold before we rolled our mats and blanket on the floor for sleeping.

I am glad to say that Ephat and his father did not stay long on the farm. Ephat found paid work for some months building my house. The daily rate was just as rotten but the pace more easy-going. His father had no other paid work to go to - and of course no social security to fall back on - but left because of his health.

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