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new internationalist
issue 158 - April 1986


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
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Scrapping the system
[image, unknown] Even a mere three per cent rate of economic growth would mean that by 2050 our annual production of garbage, pollution etc. would be eight. times what it is now. What will the acid rain problem be like then? How much forest and how many species will be left?

Our economic system does nor permit us to eliminate unnecessary and wasteful production. Much, possibly most, of the work and resources in rich countries goes into production of things we have little or no need for. But this economic system can't tolerate any reduction in the total amount of production and sales - bankruptcies and unemployment would sky-rocket. We will get nowhere until it is generally understood that fundamental system change is needed.

Ted Trainer
University of New South Wales,
Sydney, Australia

Cheap deals
Jonathan Porritt (NI 157) understates his case when he writes that the collapse of commodity prices between 1980 and 1982 caused developing countries an aggregate loss of export earnings amounting to 21,000 million dollars.

The situation has got much worse since then. In one year alone to 1985 world prices of foods have fallen by ten per cent and of metals by 15 per cent. These falls have cost the producers (mainly developing countries) 65,000 million dollars (Economist, 30.11.85).

The poor of the world are paying to keep us in the well-off countries in the state to which we are accustomed.

Peter Little
London, UK

Karma vs. Dogma
It seems to me that in your Guide to Religions (NI 155) you perpetuate a common misconception of Buddhism. Specifically a feeling of nihilism - that nothing really matters in life on earth. However the vision of Karma, where every thought and act influences oneself and those around, increases the personal responsibility of every individual.

From Buddhist scriptures:

Sow a thought, reap an act

Sow an act, reap a habit

Sow a habit, reap a character

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

Paul McSheehy
London, UK

Papal politics
I was struck by the sheer misrepresentation that was the mainstay of Allan Clark's article Rome silences the critics (NI 155).

Pope John Paul, he writes, has clearly admonished priests for mixing faith and politics. This is simply false. He has cautioned priests against holding political office, but this is because of the need to preserve the identity of the Church as distinct from the State. There is no reason at all why priests should not engage in politics (even revolutionary politics) in a way consonant with their priestly ministry. There is no basis for Clark's claim that the Vatican is worried about priests who flirt with politics. The Pope himself is up to his eyeballs in politics.

Clark also implies that there is Vatican opposition to Boff's claim that liberation is the clear mission of the Church. This is untrue. The recent statement on Liberation Theology from the Vatican recognises the truth of this claim and demands that Christians 'become involved in the struggle for justice, freedom and human dignity, because of their love for their disinherited, oppressed and persecuted brothers and sisters'.

Clark's thesis is not one that Latin American Christians share. His opposition to a centuries-old authoritarian system is the liberal, bourgeois, individualist complaint of Europe against authority of any sort. It is a complaint that applies equally to tyranny and to revolutionary leadership. The Christians of Latin America, however, are not so short-sighted, nor so envious of European liberalism. Too many bishops, leaders of their people in Latin America, have suffered hardship, exile and death because of their option for the liberation of the poor for Clark's thesis to be acceptable.

Gilbert Markus OP
Edinburgh, UK

No original sin
Your article on bias against women resulting from the Adam and Eve story (NI 155) contained one small but crucial error. Contrary to the Judaeo-Christian accounts of the fall of Adam and Eve, the Qu'ran account of this story says that both Adam and Eve were guilty of disobeying God, but that Adam was primarily responsible for the sin. The Qu'ran also reports that both Adam and Eve repented and God forgave them. Thus there is no basis for the idea of 'original sin' in Islam.

In your Guide to Religions you also say that Muslims engage in brutal acts against unbelievers. This activity is not encouraged by the teachings of Islam which prohibit compulsion in religion. You do not say however that the misguided followers of all of the other religions mentioned in your guide also engage in acts of brutality against non-believers. Please distinguish between the teachings and the actions of so called followers and criticise fairly where criticism is due.

Sarah Sheriff
London, UK

Cartoon: Cath Jackson

Reclaiming God
I felt that your January issue on religion (NI 155) skated over the surface and avoided recent developments concerning the nature of religion. Your emphasis was on the traditional idea that religion, God and belief are things outside of us that have to be discovered. But even modern Physics is beginning to see parallels between itself and Eastern mysticism which regards the universe as one integrated whole.

C A Bond
Frome, Somerset, UK

Weather forecast
Kelly McParland's update on Africa (NI 154) began with a cheerful overview of the results of the recent rainfall in the Sahel and ended with a sour note on the lack of knowledge expressed by the FAO Report writers about the causes of drought. This prompted the following questions: What can the weather-men do to improve our knowledge of the crisis in such region? Are they too busy working with the military to notice that they are needed more than ever before? How about some insights into this?

David Menham
Brighouse, Yorkshire, UK

Cuban kudos
Thank you for the current issue on justice (NI 154). NI excels itself again. I was particularly interested by the article on the low rates of serious crime in Cuba. Since the revolution Cuba has also worked wonders in the fields of education and health and has received United Nations' mention for these programmes. Cuba appears to be a developing country which has come close to solving many of its Third World problems.

Anne Paige
Randwick, New South Wales

While I find that there is much to criticise in the NI I will confine myself to the following observations on December's issue, Blind Justice (NI 154).

As your contributor from Cuba said, serious crime disappeared almost overnight with the deportation from Cuba, without trial, of 100,000 'malcontents', one per cent of the population. Presumably the term 'malcontent' means undesirables as far as the Cuban government is concerned. If the British government were to adopt a similar method to solve their perceived crime problem over half a million undesirables could be exported. Thus, not only the prisons could be expurgated, but also other political undesirables, e.g. NI editors. Is this justice?

'What is justice?' was not asked. Were we, the readers expected to accept as gospel the simplistic ideas insidiously expressed in the articles? The irony of the title Blind Justice is inescapable as it seems to be a case of the blind leading the blind.

Gareth Lowther
Manchester, UK

Life sentence
There was a surprising omission from the otherwise informative issue on crime (NI 154). Article 23 of the Declaration of Human Rights reads; 'Everyone has the right to work, . Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration'. It is generally accepted that unemployment is a major cause of crime so why does the NI join with the rest of the world's media in ignoring the basic and, inn today's world, paramount right?

Its acceptance and implementation would go far beyond the immediate effect of cutting the crime rate by removing its main motivation. If every household had the guarantee of a 'just and fair remuneration' two major results would follow: First, the all-pervasive sense of insecurity which causes so much mental anguish and breakdown, would be largely banished. Second the compulsive drive to acquire would give place to a drive to make the earning of money both a satisfying occupation and a socially-useful aspect of living.

The assimilation of Article 23 into our politics might help bring us back to realism.

Robert Powell
Address not supplied, UK

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

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Yvonne St Clare has been working as a secondary school English teacher
in the Zimbabwe countryside since January 1984. In this, the first of her monthly
letters, she introduces us to the village where she lives and works.

SOMETIMES after school, when I need to get some perspective on what I'm doing here, I climb Vakwambo Mountain behind our house. First there is a scramble up crumbling rock through small trees, then I come out above the tree-line onto rolling humps of open rock with lines of coarse grass and aloes running between them. It feels like walking on sleeping elephants.

From the top I can look north - over a blue expanse of water, the Kyle Dam, bordered by sharply peaked, tree-covered mountains - or south, east and west over ranges of undulating blue-green mountains stretching as far as I can see. I have discovered that most of Zimbabwe is wearyingly flat to the Scottish eye, but from Vakwambo it looks like a fairy-tale land of endless hills and valleys.

Looking down to the east, I can see the school - a line of barrack-like asbestos-roofed buildings painted green. It is harder to pick out the traditional houses because they are built of the same materials as their surroundings: red clay, brown and grey thatch. They are always in beautiful spots, with the doorways, if possible, facing the sunset and a few trees or banana plants to give shade and form. Most evenings I can hear the calls and whistles of herd-boys bringing in the cattle and goats from their grazing outside the village, and the voice of someone singing, or the beat of a drum.

The construction of the dam has brought a tarred tourist road right past the school. A huge engineering feat of the 1960s, it was built, as every student knows, to irrigate sugar cane and tobacco in the Lowveld commercial farms, 100 miles south-east. But it provides no irrigation for local farmers, many of whom were moved off the land that was flooded and crowded onto poorer land nearby.

The contrasts between modem and traditional lifestyles are unavoidable and often disturbing. As whites we can have a dangerously easy time here: attending volunteers' meetings in the immaculately-kept chalets of one game park or another, whisking along the tarred road to town to do the week's grocery shopping in one of the South-African-owned supermarkets (it's very difficult to boycott South Africa in Zimbabwe!). Yet most of my local friends have never set foot in a supermarket (they would be ashamed to in bare feet, even if they found the bus fare to town), let alone a game park.

Nobody in our area has electricity, but I cook on a fine little gas stove. Everyone else cooks over wood, using the efficient three-stone method or the more wasteful, but convenient and prestigious, cast iron grid. Trees are getting sparser, though there are still enough to grace the view from Vakwambo.

If I were to work as a teacher and cook over wood, I would need a servant. This can be a younger sister or brother, or a local girl trying to save for school fees. The going rate for paid help is $30 a month (that is US$48) - less than half the legal minimum for domestic workers. So my preference and conscience have made me side-step the issue and buy a gas cooker instead.

I sleep on an inexpensive mattress, raised on bricks and planks so I can store my rucksack, violin and posters underneath. On the floor a lovely, locally woven reed mat covers the weeks of dust that I never get around to sweeping up. In local households, one sister will sweep the traditional mud floor 15 to 20 times before the mats are finally unrolled at the end of the day and the blankets spread out around the dying fire in the centre of the hut.

Local women and girls fetch water morning and evening from the spring or the well, balancing a metal bucket or clay pot gracefully on their heads, pictures of strength and dignity. But I have a tap outside the door and a diesel engine chugs away by the bore-hole that keeps us teachers and nurses supplied: after all, the school and the clinic represent 'development'.

Sitting up here on Vakwambo at sunset, while the pupils walk home through the valleys, I feel a mixture of gratitude and unease about my job as a teacher. It is not clear to me how I am helping to 'develop' this community or its young people either by precept or example. So education will be the subject of my next letter from Mawere.

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New Internationalist issue 158 magazine cover This article is from the April 1986 issue of New Internationalist.
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