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new internationalist
issue 170 - April 1987



Soldiers' schools
Turkish army take-over

The Kurds, numbering some twenty million, have the unfortunate distinction of being the largest community in the world still to be denied some form of national statehood: this lack of status is reflected in Turkey, for example, in the way schools for Kurds are run. The Kurds' homeland spans Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and the USSR. In Turkey they make up approximately one quarter of the Republic's population and live predominantly in the east. In all official dealings they are treated as foreigners in their own country.

The Turkish military - there has been martial law in some Kurdish provinces for seven years - have, since August, taken over the running of nearly half the secondary schools in Turkish Kurdistan. The army promise that they will repair school buildings and upgrade equipment. Whether this will reassure Kurdish parents, who do not want their children educated by those who enforce the law, remains to be seen.

Kurds in army-run schools are educated in an alien tongue, Turkish. It is forbidden to teach in Kurmanchi, the Kurdish dialect used by local people. Education in the language of an alien regime does not encourage learning at school. As a result of the Turks' control of schooling, more than half the Kurdish population, mainly women, cannot speak Turkish. It is hardly surprising that the Kunis have a 70 per cent illiteracy rate.

Simon Gray


Death of a President
South Africa's complicity

President Samora Machel of Mozambique - a well-known opponent of apartheid - was killed last year in a plane crash: newly revealed evidence points to South African involvement in his death. On 19 October 1986 the plane carrying President Machel was approaching Maputo airport and beginning its descent. The flight was running normally but for some reason the plane mysteriously took a 30 degree turn westwards and crashed into a hillside 400 metres inside South African territory. The result was the death of the President and 33 others on board.

As soon as the news was out, the South African Bureau of Information began to offer improbable explanations of the crash. Some of their theories have bordered on the ridiculous. The British Press, quoting South African sources, for example, stated that the plane passed through a severe storm. But there was no such storm in the area, the site of the crash was dry and Maputo residents speak of a clear night sky that evening. Several papers, again quoting South African sources, said that pilot error was the cause: the plane mistakenly turned westwards. But the pilot was experienced and had made 65 landings at Maputo airport. If he had been lost, flight regulations would have told him to turn eastwards towards the sea.

One story relevant to the tragedy was not published at the time. The day after the crash someone identifying himself as a member of the South African Air Force phoned the Press Agency UPI saying that a false navigational beacon had been placed over the border inside Mozambique the previous evening. UPI ignored the story and it was several weeks before this incident received any publicity.

A powerful navigational beacon could easily have lured the plane off its course if, as is common, the pilot was flying by automatic control. South Africa has the sophisticated electronic equipment to interfere with navigational beacons. They have applied this technology against other planes, according to Angola's Interior Minister, Alexander Rodrigues.

None of the other explanations of the plane's fatal deviation hold any credibility. The South Africans' deliberate attempt to obscure the facts suggests that they have something to hide.

Ian Bray


Acquired tastes
Forced markets

Shoppers with more money to spend and a concern for healthy eating are being sold increasing amounts of out-of-season foods: for example, fresh strawberries and salad tomatoes in the depths of winter. The exotic fruit and vegetable market, valued at £3 billion ($4.3 billion) in the UK alone, is growing fast. 'It is easier to keep the customer buying raspberries or green beans all the year round than to persuade them to buy when those items happen to be in season', explained a marketing expert.

Bananas remain the mainstay of the West's fruit and vegetable trade with the Third World. Worldwide the $2 billion plus banana trade is dominated by a tiny bunch of US based corporations; United Brands, Castle & Cooke and R J Reynolds, which owns Del Monte. Together these three sell two thirds of the seven million tonnes of bananas shipped every year.

Plans are afoot to increase these sales. North Americans eat 10 kilos of bananas a year, Britons swallow only six kilos and Russians no more than a quarter of a kilo each. Consumption can be increased by creating a bigger demand through advertising.

It is important to ask whether increasing fruit and vegetable sales will help the hungry in the producing countries. So far there is no indication that the wealth generated by the fruit reaches the poor: in banana-growing Ecuador, for example, the population's average food intake is only 89 per cent of need. In Kenya, which supplies Geest with its green beans, the figure is 83 per cent of daily calorie requirements. The average return to the producers in the Philippines, the Caribbean or Latin America is only about 18 per cent of the final selling price in the United States, Western Europe or Japan.

The banana companies are using the technology of picking at just the right time, transporting in refrigerated ships and ripening in special sheds, to extend the range of fruit and vegetables they sell. In future passion fruit and fresh asparagus will be available in the deepest winter snows: flown in from the tropics - at a price.

John Tanner


Mothers' clubs
Self-help in Bolivia

The sting of economic recession is felt most acutely by the poorer countries and by low-income groups, especially women. In Bolivia, racked by inflation and political instability, the authorities are trying a direct approach to the problem of generating income for these groups. They are offering assistance to the organizations established by the for poor, including mothers' clubs.

The 650 Bolivian mothers' clubs have flourished in the most populous regions. They got their start following an agreement between the Bolivian Government and the World Food Programme. Food gifts were handed out to the clubs and sold by them to their members. Besides channelling cheap nourishment, the clubs were able to accumulate capital from these sales. In turn this money was invested in schemes that would generate work - such as buying land that could be cultivated by the women.

Many clubs have received support from the International Labour Organization (ILO) technical co-operation project. They are taught how to calculate costs and benefits, whether for knitted articles, raising guinea-pigs or growing potatoes. The clubs also get training in the basic forms of organization. Some decide to become co-operatives. 'The essential is there - the will to work together' says an ILO expert. 'Given time and the right conditions, including systematic assistance and training, these women will employ themselves productively.'

International Labour Organisation


Well red
Fighting for literacy

In 1980, a year after the revolution, Nicaragua achieved world-wide recognition (and a UNESCO prize) for mobilizing 100,000 volunteers in a crusade which reduced illiteracy from 55 per cent to 12 per cent of the population in just five months. Yet it has been difficult to sustain these advances. People were taught in 'Collectives of Popular Education' in the early days: these basic teaching units consisted of about ten people, meeting anywhere and at any time with chalk, slate and oil lamps. The 'popular teachers' who taught in this new way had basic reading and writing skills, and the willingness to co-ordinate learning. but they were not professionals. Motivation and a background that had been shared with the learners were valued more highly than professional skills. Reading programmes were also based on revolutionary ideas of knowledge. The old curriculum was abandoned and teachers were encouraged not to lecture their pupils. Instead, groups tended to talk to one another.

But the literacy programme was unable to sustain its momentum after a few years. Illiteracy rose to 23 per cent, drop-out rates were high and enrollment rates were falling. Initially the blame was attached to the Contra War and the economic blockade by the US. Teachers and education centres were prime Contra targets, and there were serious shortages of basic educational materials. The war zones and the resettlement camps for refugees suffered the highest rates of illiteracy.

Initially the war was blamed the falling literacy rates. But other factors were also involved. The Ministry of Education realized that it had developed into a huge bureaucracy which had smothered the Collectives of Popular Education with rules. Pressure was being applied to make students pass exams and the curriculum, which had been centrally imposed, was often inappropriate.

These problems have now been largely overcome. Flexibility has been reintroduced, with each region producing its own materials. In urban areas, temporary brigades are being replaced by the more permanent solution of voluntary recruits from secondary schools. Training sessions focus on dialogue. In seven years the education of adults in Nicaragua has come full circle: the Collectives of Popular Education have regained the flexibility which is their vital ingredient.

David Archer and Alan Murdoch


Maize mountains
Zimbabwe's food surplus

Drought and famine seem to be endemic to many African countries. But Zimbabwe now has the opposite problem: too much food. Maize production has doubled since independence in 1980 and by April 1987 the biggest ever maize stockpile of two million tonnes will be in silos. Despite these food surpluses there are pockets of drought and famine in parts of Matabeleland (south west Zimbabwe), western Zimbabwe and neighbouring war-torn Mozambique.

But now help is at hand: both local and regional action is being taken to get the food where it is needed. Surplus grain is bought from peasant farmers in northern Matabeleland and the Organisation of Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP) delivers and distributes it to the famine areas. This type of food aid does not undermine the local economy - unlike the dumping of foreign-grown cereals which often destroys local markets.

Using Zimbabwean grain surpluses to feed Mozambicans creates problems: money is needed to purchase the Zimbabwean grain; trucks are needed to transport the grain to Mozambique and drivers need to have their security guaranteed in the war-zone.

The challenge of getting food through to Mozambique's hungry has been taken up by the Zimbabwe - Mozambique Friendship Association. Zimbabwean farmers could put aside their surplus maize, suggested their Deputy Prime Minister, which would be purchased by the Friendship Association and stored before being sent to Mozambique. Every student and waged person has been asked to put aside fixed monthly amounts of money to help pay for the crop and pay the costs of moving the maize to Mozambique.

It is too early to assess the likely response to the fund. But the recent death of President Samora Machel and the war in Mozambique has served to heighten the will and desire of Zimbabweans to respond to such appeals.

Jenny Rossiter

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New Internationalist issue 170 magazine cover This article is from the April 1987 issue of New Internationalist.
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