If we can split the atom we can live without borders.

(This piece first appeared in the Weekend Post on 24 March 2018)

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The Ocean has a powerful and mysterious effect on me.

 

On our way to swim in the ocean on Wednesday morning, we were chatting in the the car about Human Rights day. As we drove, I gave a little lecture explaining how on the 21st of March 1960, 69 unarmed protesters were gunned down outside a police station in Sharpville. “Why were they protesting?” asks Mandisa. “They were protesting about the “pass laws”. They burned the papers that they were required to carry as evidence that they had permission to leave the “homelands” in order to seek work in the city”. Mandisa silently nodded her head in the backseat as she continued to flip through Instagram, but Poppina said: ”You know, come to think of it, not much has really changed since 1960! If you walk down any Hillbrow street today, you run the risk of being thrown in the back of a police van if you don’t have the correct, ID papers, Refugee papers or Asylum papers”

I thought about this statement as I bobbed in the ocean that morning. Mandisa and I swam to the end of the pier. Poppina strolled on the beach. “What has changed since 1960?” I asked myself. Yes, things are much better for a whole lot of people that happen to have the right papers, but really, we have fallen into exactly the same thinking of the apartheid government. Then, the state said: “If your ancestors come from the wrong side of the Kei river, you go back there and do whatever your ancestors did there” All that has actually happened since 1960, is that the state has now just changed the rivers that they choose to use as reference points for their cruelty and brutality. “You dare not set your foot on “our” side of the Limpopo River. Go back to where you came from! Go do there whatever it is that your ancestors did there!”

We feel good about ourselves and justify our cruelty by referring  to concepts such as “The Constitution” or “The Sovereign State”. My friends, I am writing to you today to remind you that these, and many such like fabrications, are merely “concepts”. They are just ideas formed in the minds of people. They are neither real nor tangible.  What is real and what is tangible is the tremendous suffering of many millions of people across the globe and especially in africa that are unable to flee drought, famine, war, rape and slavery because of the notional concept of a “sovereign state”, with borders that cannot be freely crossed without risking death and imprisonment. People are dying (and worse) for the sake of these concepts. The “lucky” few that make it out of whatever desperate situation that has driven them to give up their ancestral home and their families, find themselves in a situation in a country like South Africa perhaps, where they are, at best, treated as second class citizens. They struggle to get a bank account, they struggle to own land, they struggle to get the same wages as those who have the “correct papers”, they struggle to access education. They are harassed by the police, they are exploited by the criminal underworld.

As we speak, right now, somewhere north of the Limpopo, young girls are being captured by rebels and sold into slavery. As we speak, right now, children are embarking on foot on a thousand mile journey in the hope of escaping the hell that has driven them to find the courage to flee. As we speak, in this town of ours,  young girls from Somalia or Zimbabwe, or the DRC or Sudan, with no papers, no means of support and no hope, are trapped in a living hell of drug induced sex slavery. Tell me my friends, why, why, why do we think of this unspeakable injustice in different terms to the way we have come to think about the crime of apartheid?

We are deluding ourselves to think that this is in any way OK!

It must stop right now!

I am not a prophet and I do not pretend to be one, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that we will look back at this time and we will judge ourselves for tolerating this situation. We will be embarrassed that we committed our energy to attempts to rid the oceans of plastic bottles, arguing against backyard dog breeders and whether our leaders should be permitted to smash each other’s heads with water jugs. We will judge ourselves for dedicating our time to this relative pettiness while this tragedy of human suffering continues as the result of our silence in condoning the rubbish idea of “Sovereign” borders.

The reality is that our species is a wandering species. From the time when we first emerged from the Cradle of Humankind near Krugersdorp, we have wandered. We have moved our families on to new lands when the conditions we were facing became unpleasant. This movement over thousands and thousands of years was a gradual process, but a fundamental ingredient to our continued success as a species.

Impermeable national boundaries are unnatural! They cause untold suffering and must abolished without delay. We are a species gifted with profound intelligence. We split the atom.  We send our representatives to the moon. We have credible plans to colonize Mars. Trust me, we can figure out how to overcome the challenges that emerge out of the removal of national boundaries. What do you think?

 

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I Love Building!!!!

I love building! The hammer and nails, the step ladder, with cordless drill. The pain in my joints in the evening as I rest after a day of sweat and pain. Building of course starts way before any hammer is swung or any brick is laid. Building begins like all other created phenomena. In the mind as an idea, a notion. It may then find form words in discussion with a loved one, an argument with a banker, then later it may take the form of text, a letter, a blog post, an idea in a journal, emerging only later perhaps into sketch form growing over self-confident: a serviette in a late night restaurant at first, a koki-pen drawing on a desk pad soon after. Each step of this building process comes closer to completing the vision and giving physical form to what was just a notion. The bricks mortar, timber an steel follow when the idea is strong enough to survive in the physical world.

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Building “Littlewoods”

I love the feeling of freedom that building gives me. The freedom to move beyond all the “reasons” why something cant be built. Overcoming the “reasons” and excuses and physically seeing the from emerge to completion.

While building is my great interest and passion, so too over the years I have come to be very interested in “Freedom”. I have become interested in what this word “Freedom” actually means to to me, and how the idea of Freedom may be different to you reading this post right now. Also I have become especially interested in the idea….in the truth that Freedom is not something that we simply stumble across, but rather that it is something that we build for ourselves. Freedom is something that must start out as an idea, then find its way into conversation, eventually into text and writing, then documented plans and ultimately in the concrete action in the physical and spatial world.

This website is about Building Freedom. Not about marching for freedom or fighting for freedom or voting for freedom. Here we test the notion that for freedom to be lasting and meaningful, it must find its expression first at the level of the individual. (You and I). Sure we can collaborate, pool our individual energies where we can align ourselves to obtain such freedom, but here we will explore there idea that you and I must first define for ourselves what it means to be free in our own lives. Having defined that freedom for ourselves we can choose to become free or to remain imprisoned.

Imprisonment may come in different forms for different people. You may be imprisoned in poverty, you may be imprisoned in your dead-end job, in your sexuality, in your family traditions, in your relationship. Most people reading this will not be physically imprisoned or enslaved, but sometimes those that are physically held captive are in a way more fortunate in that there is know doubt in their mind that they are not free. They have no doubt in their mind that they are being held against their will. If they try to escape their captors, they will be instantly met with violence.

In 1986 and 87 I was held captive as a conscript in the South African Defense Force. The army at the time was a brutal institution known for it cruelty and intolerance. Never once did I try to cut my way through the razorwire  fences that surrounded our barracks or risk being shot by the guards. The threat of violence was though imminently clear and evident. The public punishment of those that did try to escape was enough to discourage me and most others not to even try. In that system I knew that I was not free. It was made clear by the fences, the guard towers the barbed wire and the armed guards and by the military police. It was made clear by the suffering of those held in the notorious “detention barracks”. I had no doubt that I was not free. I had no doubt about who my captors were.

But what about you and me today? In our ordinary jobs, in our ordinary families in our ordinary relationships. Are we free? What does it really mean to be free? I have thought about this quite a bit. I have played with a few different definitions and I suppose what I have settled for is “freedom is choosing without fear”. So, In other words if I decide to stay inside the military base because I love the accommodation, the food and the camaraderie then I am free. But if i stay because I fear getting shot by the Military Police or being held in the detention barracks, then I am not free. If I stay in my job because I fear that my children will not eat, then I am not free. But you may say “well of course we need to feed our children”. But hear me. To be clear, I am not saying for a minute that anybody “deserves” freedom. All I am saying is that many of us (maybe most of us) are not free, because we are motivated everyday by fear to get out of bed and endure what we endure.

I have come to see in my life that it must be my mission to live free. Perhaps I will never achieve this objective. Perhaps until the day I die I will be striving toward achieving a life motivated by joy and not by fear. But what I have decided is that I will not resign myself to a life of fear. I have decided to build freedom. I have decided work in the same way we would set about building a house or a church or a hospital. I have decided to build freedom in a methodical way. Starting first by recognizing where I am not free, then conceptualizing and designing a new, free place and new reality. Then working hard to build it. To make it real.

August 2016 THC

Technological advances could herald a future without government

I have never yet been a civil servant and I don’t have any immediate plans to become one. In fact I have my doubts that I am really “employable” in that the sense of the word. But if I was employed by the taxpayers,  I suspect I would be a little miffed that Minister Malusi Gigaba thinks that it’s not such a bad idea that the PIC (the public investment company) bails out ever-ailing South African Airways with the savings of ordinary working people who have contributed a chunk of their civil servant salary month after month to a pension fund they believe will look after them in the years when they are too old to be a fire man, or that guy that comes around to your house to be sure that you have a TV liscence

Windmill near Waterford
There was a time when we could not imagine how wind could be used to pump water

 

But I am not angry at Minister Gigaba. He like many of my otherwise intelligent friends, labour under the continued belief that the only way any of us can ever fly from PE or Joburg, or from Cape Town to Singapore, is if we use taxpayers money to own and run airline to do so. But I must admit, I struggle to get it. Is it a matter of national pride that we fly to Doha in a plane marked “South African”? Is it a huge embarrassment if I fly from Mangaung to King Shaka International in a plane owned by Comair or some other privately owned enterprise? I don’t think so.  So why then, I ask, are so many of us obsessed with the idea that we need to year after year be called upon to bail out SAA, or the Postal Services, or Eskom or Sanral? I’ll tell you why. It’s quite understandable actually. You see, there was a time, not very long ago, where the only way to get an airline up and running was to use tax payer’s money to do so. There was a time, not too long ago (before email and couriers) when the only way to effectively get important messages to each other was through a Postal Service paid for by the tax payers. There was a time, not to long ago, before Skype, WhatsApp and Cell C, when the only way in which we could ensure effective voice communication was by the taxpayers investing in a telephone network now called Telkom. The reality of course is that times change and as great minds bring new innovation. We figure out ways in which projects can be made to happen in such a way as not to depend on violently extorting funds from the public (remember tax would not be collected unless there was the violent threat of Jail time). There was a time that it was the accepted general consensus that the only way humanity to get into space was through the efforts of publicly funded programmes like NASA. Now companies like Space X embrace advances in technology in order to make it possible to do so without any government support.

Where am I going with all this? What I am trying to do, in a roundabout way, is to open a conversation beyond the political poles of “statists” and “anarchists”. Where the extreme “statists” would argue toward the state controlling everything (like in North Korea) and the extreme anarchists would argue for a “government free” situation as we may find in Somalia. What I am trying to argue is that as technology and innovation advance, the things we think we needed government for become fewer and a fewer. Right now, I believe that we need government to, for example, see to basic education and to address the wealth gap. I am however completely open to the idea that we will very soon have access to innovation and technology that is able to achieve these critical objectives without the requirement of a state. It’s just that I can’t yet imagine how this could be done.  But then again, it was inconceivable a few years ago that we could bypass the state in the creation of a reliable currency to use as a means of exchange. Now we have Bitcoin and Ethereum (Google them if you’re out of the loop)

I saw on Youtube the other day how the IBM Artificial Intelligence platform “Watson” was able to compete and win against very able human players in the US television game show “Jeopardy”. That’s not very exciting in itself, what is exciting, is that there are now stories of UK Law firms and Japanese Insurance companies buying the Watson computer and as a result being able to retrench dozens of graduate attorneys and actuaries.  I begin to ask myself then, if even these highly complex professional posts can be replaced by computers, how soon will it be until we begin to reconsider our belief that the only way to, for example, keep our toilets flushing and out refuse removed is to have a 120 elected Councillors overseeing thousands of unionised municipal employees? It must be plain to us that it is only a matter of time until we come to see that the idea of government, was an “interim measure”;  a mere blip in history until technology caught up with our desire to live in a world where we are free, but a world where still there is order.

GDP growth no measure of how well we are doing.

(this piece first appeared in The Herald on 12 May 2017)

I don’t eat much sugar at all. In my experience, sugar and starch cause me to become fat and lazy. So I drink bitter coffee by day, red wine at night and water when I train. So I’m personally not too stressed about government’s plans to tax the consumption of sugar in the same way it taxes cigarettes and alcohol. Selfish of me perhaps? (for the record though, I don’t think the amount of sugar I put in my tea, or how many hours I spend watching TV or whether I spend enough time in gym are the business of government at all.)

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Bitter morning coffee at “Cafe Blend”

I think what interests me more is the game playing out as the sugar industry attempts, through the media, to argue the case against introducing such a tax. I recall that the initial attempts by the makers of fizzy cool drinks was to rubbish any of the science that has growingly begun to link increased carbohydrate intake with a number of ailments including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. The merits of that discussion we will leave to another, perhaps more scientifically oriented, writer.

What I notice though, is that the sugar industry’s PR campaign has now shifted to how many jobs will be lost and the general impact that this new tax will have on the economy. The latest headline reading “Sugar Tax – blow to GDP!”… or something like that. And this is what I would like to talk about here today. Not Sugar, not tax, but our community’s continued focus on GDP growth as a measure of whether we are doing well or not. We seem do descend into a collective state of panic when Treasury projects a 0% growth rate. We seem all to be in awe of Indonesia or Ghana when it reports GDP growth of 7 or 8%. But if that GDP growth has occurred as a result of the economic activity resulting from the logging of thousand year old forests, or the activity of building roads and rail to move logs from the 1000 year old forest to the Port that was built for no reason other than parking big ships that will move these logs across the ocean, then can such 7 or 8% growth really be good for any country?

Because GDP growth, at the end of the day, is a simple measure of how much money has been spent in economy. So … to use cigarettes as an example. If a farm is bought to plant tobacco, that transaction is counted as part of the GDP, so it the cost of ploughing the field and planting the tobacco seed, harvesting, drying, transporting, rolling into cigarettes in huge factories, advertising, marketing….. all part of GDP, but also all the medical costs of people dying of lung cancer or buying twisps or patches in an attempt to free themselves from nicotine addiction. Each and every transaction in the value chain is counted in the calculation of the GDP figure. So perhaps the question that you and I need to ask is: “Is it automatically good for us just because it makes up part of the GDP figure?” (Because I suppose, if everyone suddenly stopped smoking cigarettes, those people who used to smoke would spend their money on something else and therefore still show up in the GDP figures.)

I am arguing that we need to develop of ourselves a more sophisticated measure of whether or not something is good for our community than the measure of GDP growth. A measure that reflects on the value that is added by the purchases we make with the money circulating though the economy. A measure that can distinguish the value difference between money spent on a bottle of imported whiskey or the planting of a fruit tree. (Both of similar value but one of lasting contribution to the well-being of the community). A measure that helps us decide whether or not it’s good for our community to build a new supermall outside of town, or a nuclear plant at Thyspunt or a new Chinese motor vehicle assembly plant at Coega. You see, what I am introducing is the question of how do we quantify the “qualitative”. We all know through life experience that some things, some experiences, some places are better than others. We all know this, but find it very difficult to argue or prove. We know that it is better to see our economy directed to spend money of the “better stuff”, but we also know that it is so difficult to adjudicate between two parties that claim that their stuff is better, that we just tend to abandon the whole concept of quality and focus more on what we can, without doubt, quantify, and that ladies and gentlemen, is why we have this obsession with GDP growth! Not because it is useful measure of if we are doing the right stuff or not, but quite simply because it can be quantified in such a way that invites very little dispute. But this is where you and I come in. We have a duty as individuals to be vocal and outspoken about what we as individuals view to be the “better stuff”. What is your favourite building? Your favourite place to view the sunset? Your favourite street vista? Make it an issue. We don’t need consensus in order for it to be reality.

Perhaps quality cannot be quantified, but that does not mean that it’s not real?

What are your rights in the privacy of your own homes?

(This Piece first appeared in the Weekend Post on 8 April 2017)

I have quite a full and busy life. So I really don’t find time in my daily routine to grow or smoke dagga. But friends of mine, who do find the time, are very excited to hear that the Western Cape High Court has last week seen to it that the chances of armed police bashing down their door and confiscating their favourite pot plant in the middle of the night have now been significantly reduced. To be honest I have, for quite a long time now, considered what herbs people choose to grow in their own gardens or sprinkle on their own muffins to be completely and entirely their own business. The Western Cape High Court judge Dennis Davis has now taken the same view. I’ve read the judgment. Interestingly, Judge Davis does not seem to be very much of a dagga fan, but he clearly is a big fan of personal privacy and of the constitution of the Republic, that guarantees such personal privacy. In a nutshell, Judge Davis has told the legislature that while they are fee to hold a view on what may or may not be good for society, they are not free to write legislation that deprives us to our right to privacy in our own homes on the basis of very flimsy evidence of possible societal harm (that in this case, is alleged will be caused by sprinkling dagga on your muffins)

While dagga lawIMG_3240.JPGs only bother me on an intellectual on philosophical level, there are other state imposed attacks on my privacy and freedom that do bother me in a much more practical sense. As you can imagine, controls and restrictions on my freedom to express myself in the built environment cause me particular frustration. I have a confession to make. In my back yard, I have a little wooden treehouse that I built in the Avocado Pear tree for my daughter’s seventh birthday. I have broken the law in building that structure. I have read the “National Building Regulations Act” again and again. I have read and re-read to regulations promulgated in terms of the Act. I have worked backward and forward through the SANS codes that have been “Deemed to Satisfy” the Act. Believe it or not these documents all confirm that that my daughter’s tree house is in fact a “building” that required me to have an approval letter from the Municipality’s Building Control Officer before I proceeded to build it. I can tell you that have made no attempt to obtain such a letter. In fact, as an act of public protest, I now refuse to ever make any attempt to obtain such a letter and in so doing publicly challenge the state to act. I challenge the long arm of the law to barge into my bedroom in the early hours and throw me into St Alban’s with other criminals. I make this challenge because in spite of the fact that it is a very pretty treehouse, made from very nice recycled timber, the Act mandates the state to affect my “imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months”.

And it not just tree houses. The state restricts me form selling a coke from my living room as it contravenes the conditions of my property’s zoning. I have changed the colour of a balustrade of a property I own in Central. By doing this I broke the law because I require a permit to do this where the property is older than sixty years. If I build a staircase too steep to a study in my loft space, or if I build a ceiling to low in a room I allocate to my (very) short nephew, or if I keep six laying hens instead of the five that the bylaws permit, I get in to trouble with the law!

If I had time I would try to make an issue in the High Court about my treehouse. I think though I will not rush into a court action just yet (unless of course the Police to bash down my door tonight) I will rather invest the little time I have to start a discussion with you about privacy and about what level of meddling we should permit in what we do with our own time in the privacy of our own homes. And another thing! Just because judge Davis ruled against Dagga laws in this matter, does not mean you and I should label him a “Dope Head”. In the same way, just because I am miffed about having to consider jail time for building a treehouse, does not mean you should label me an “Anarchist” (not that I think that is a particularly bad label). My appeal is that we refrain from jumping to labels in an attempt to discredit, but rather that we mature to the point where we discuss, agree and find the way forward together. What do you think?

Statism and the East Cape Taxi Protest

(this piece first appeared in The Herald on 15 June 2016, under the “Title SA freedom being circumscribed)

 

My 1997 Toyota is currently propped up on bricks in my backyard. You see, I’m waiting for my small time mechanic “guy” to find a specific part that is being reconditioned by his small time parts supply “guy”.  I have though still managed to get around town regardless of this challenge and regardless of this week’s province wide taxi protest. This, partly thanks to Uber and partly thanks to the luck that I do not rank in the number of the struggling poor compelled to live in the far flung periphery of our sprawling metro. So, as I have zipped around town as a passenger in the last few days I have had a little more time to follow what my “friends” are saying on Facebook. Much of my feed is clogged up with pictures of cats sleeping in laundry baskets or heart wrenching messages about how not sharing this picture of a goat means that I don’t care about people dying of cancer. There was, though, some interesting talk about what people think of the taxi protest. Most of the talk was about the fear of the protest getting violent or how unfair it was that students could not get to class to write their exams.  Yes, I feel for the students. I feel for the mall bound housewives’ stuck in traffic jams. But, to be honest, I’m more interested in what this protest is really about; and as far as I can understand, it’s really is about the delay in the provincial government’s issuing of “operating licenses”. Because, you see, the state has decided that it is criminal for a hardworking person to make an honest living transporting people from A to B without their permission. Really!? Perhaps there is something that I am not getting here? But my real worry is that so many of us are completely content with the idea that the state somehow has the right to tell us what we can and cannot do and that we need their “permission” to do an honest day’s work. This state bullying is not just in the transport sector, it’s all over the economy!
 I work as an Architect. In this industry the state has decided that they do not trust the judgment of those who chose to do business with me. I am therefor required to remain “licensed” by the state. For an Architect to work without a license is a criminal offence. I go to jail! I mean, can we not be trusted as ordinary citizens to choose for ourselves who to employ to give us a lift to work or to draw up plans for the extensions to our patio?  Do we really need armies of faceless civil servants employed with our tax money in Pretoria or Bhisho to help us with this level of decision making? Perhaps the reason we tolerate this intrusion is because we have not paused to think about it?
 In the late eighties many of my friends, like me, were caught up with the idea of “freedom” and of “power to the people”. It seems though that as time has passed that ideal has evolved rather to us being content with changing the complexion of the state rather that questioning whether it was ever necessary for the state to take away our individual freedoms in the first place. The Apartheid state was unapologetic in taking away freedoms in the pursuit of “Law and Order”. At that time, citizens felt it was absolutely OK that there would be laws stopping us from selling flowers on pavements, brewing Umqomboti  in the backyard or playing guitar for loose coins at the bus stop. It was just understood that the state was in control and it was the job of each and every citizen to “stay out of trouble”. But somehow we have allowed that apartheid mindset to move with us 20 years and beyond into the “free” South Africa. The obsession with “statism” seems to be held equally by political parties to the left and the right.  The political debate is generally only about what category of additional state control can be forced upon its citizens.
Since apartheid times, the excuse used for state bullying has moved from “Law and Order” and “Suppression of Communism” to our new regime’s talk of “Health and Safety” and “Transformation”. We need though to wake up the very real possibility that our freedoms are being taken away for no reason other than to allow huge monopolies to step in and take control of the country. Putting in place “licensing procedures” on top of layers and layers of compliance requirements makes it more and more difficult for any but larger and larger institutions and corporations to keep up. State capture is not a single event, not just the Guptas, not just one corrupt politician. It is a tendency that has come with us since before we agreed in 1994 that freedom is what each and every citizen deserves and is entitled to.

 

So I urge each and every one of us, from today on,  to free our minds and to become openly and vocally disgusted whenever we encounter the smallest attempt on the part of the state to tell us that we are not free.  As long as we are not harming anyone, it should not be any of their damn business!

Law of the farm number 9: “The fence works because the bull chooses to stay behind it

February 2015
 
I did not get a chance to watch the State of the Nation address last night. Things were a little busy. I made a presentation to a community meeting in Gqebera about a project, then Hlubi and I went to a function at the Radisson Hotel, introducing their new chef. But when we go back home we watched some of the footage from the debacle. The EFF were forcibly thrown out of Parliament, the DA walked out in protest. The discussion this morning on Facebook and Twitter is about how irresponsible it is for the EFF to walk out and to be disruptive. I am not that interested in politics. I get the sense that the energy I may commit there is so indirectly applied. My feeling is that I should be making more direct action right now. I am interested though in the principles, the fundamental laws that are illustrated by everyday events like the EFF being “goose-stepped” out of Parliament. Because we see this again and again around the world, when a dominant group abuses its power, those that resist them are left with no alternative but to break the rules. We saw this with Apartheid, where the inflexibility of the National Party, lead to the ANC eventually resorting to the armed struggle, “breaking the rules”. We saw this will the Palestinian Liberation Organisation “breaking the rules” in its response to Israel evicting Palestinians from their homeland. More recently we have we seen AL Qaeda and Osama bin Laden broke the rules very dramatically, flying passenger airlines into the World Trade Centre, breaking even the rules of international terrorism.  These acts of “breaking rules” are a pattern that repeats itself again and again no matter how far back in history you would choose to look. Oppression by the powerful will inevitably result in revolt, and very often the revolt is violent and ugly. Where the powerful have been successful in holding onto their power is where they have set up process, that make those that have less power feel included, to feel as if though there is remote chance that by participating in the processes that they will be able to impact the way things are. The other thing successful powerful groups have over the millennia, is to exercise grace and restraint. They have not wielded all the power they have been able to wield; instead they directed a fraction of this power to making sure their citizens were happily distracted. The Romans built the coliseum to house the gladiators, the Americans built Hollywood to house the movie industry.
 
Our Calves at Wittlekleibos
 
The point that becomes clear is that a hungry, unhappy population that feels that is not being taken seriously, is a very serious threat to the entire system. (including the unhappy population that are a part of it) The dynamic between the powerful and the powerless is governed by fundamental dynamics. It is governed by a “law”. This is a law that applies to the way people live together, but it runs much deeper, it applies to the way organisms live together and interact. You see, the fundamental law that applies to these relationships is Law of the farm number 9: “The fence works because the bull chooses to stay behind it.”
There was a  time (before I owned my own livestock) when I believed that the fences I saw between the cattle on the side of the road and the highway that sped past on, was what was keeping the animals from wondering into the traffic. I was wrong. A cow is an incredibly big animal; it can weigh 500 kg and more. If it decides that it would rather be on the other side of the five strands of wire that divide it from where it would want to be, then it will jump over, or walk through. Believe me I have seen this happen in front of my eyes, many times. In fact when I first began to buy calves to build our cattle herd, I was amazed at how these seemingly docile creatures were able to be such accomplished escape artists. My strategy then was to buy three month old calves that had just been weaned from their mother. I had negotiated to make use of some land in Tsitsikama, where Hlubi’s family had some historical connections to community land that had been returned to the community by the government.  It’s a long story, but Hlubi’s mother’s family is part of the Mfengu grouping, who were granted land by the British in the 1800’s in exchange for loyal service as mercenaries during the hundred year Frontier wars that raged in the eastern cape between the British and the Xhosa. The Mfengu were forcibly removed from the land by the apartheid government in the 1970s, but returned (in part) in the 1990’s when the democratic government came into power.
In 2009 we put our first nine calves onto grazing in Tsitsikama. Hlubi and I negotiated with Rasi, the “Isibonda”, the headman. He agreed that we could make use of the “Bull Camp” until such time as our calves were completely self-sufficient and no longer taking the nutrient rich pellets they were being fed every evening. We were very pleased to have access to the “Bull Camp” because of all the hundred and seventy two hectares that make up the Wittekleibos farm, which was home to the Mfengu community, this one hectare camp was by far the most secure, with very sturdy fences. It was the camp that the prize breeding bull would be secured in and into which cows would be brought in order for the bull to do his business without too much running around all over the extensive grassland.
The calves seemed content enough as they were released into the camp. They had been raised by a redheaded farmer just ten kilometres up the road. His name is Gerhard. He is maybe ten years younger than me, but insists calling me “Oom” in the respectful tone reserved for when one speaks to elders. Gerhard’s business model is to buy these calves in from farmers in the district that have no need for them, usually because they are running dairies and find the calves to be an unnecessary inconvenience to their operations. Gerhard takes great care to then rear these calves by hand, initially bottle feeding them three times a day and then slowly introducing pellets and grass.
By sunset on the day that they arrived, the calves were beginning to become restless and noisy. “Mooing” loudly at the top of their voices and pacing up and down the fence line. One by one each of the them found some way through the fence and were headed up the gravel road toward where they must have believed Gerhard’s farm was. When they were chased back into the Bullcamp (not an easy job to chase nine belligerent, single minded calves in the opposite direction to which they have got their minds set on) they would settle for a few minutes only to be headed up the gravel road toward the national highway again. The problem was only resolved by enclosing the calves in a very small; completely escape proof kraal for two weeks. By that time they were settled and had come to accept that this was now their new home.
Now years later, when I drive past the Bull Camp at Tsitiskama and see the giant majestic glistening bull gently lounging behind the fence, I know that he is behind that fence (that can’t even hold in my puny weaner calves) only because he chooses to be behind it. If the bull were so much as lean on the fence he would flatten it.  He could leap over it without building up a sweat. Of course this is so completely true of us and our everyday lives whether we live in the city or the farm. We all, in some way or another live out our lives behind barriers that we choose not to challenge. We stay in our jobs, we stay in the suburbs and townships we were born into, we stay in our relationships and or in our circle of friends. Sometimes we even complain that we are contained and limited by the “fences” of class or family or race or gender or education, but seldom do we challenge the “fences”.
The bull does not challenge the fences because the farmer makes sure he has enough water and grazing (and a willing cow now and again). By giving a little to the bull, the farmer makes his own life easier, and spends very little of his time driving up and down looking for runaway bulls. Where the farmer becomes greedy though, perhaps rather using the bull camp to build a shopping centre and constraining the bull to a small enclosure, without grazing or water or cows, he will find the bull becomes unhappy and becomes determined to be elsewhere. Our society is a little like this. An angry population becomes determined to break the rules (perhaps like the EFF in parliament) To respond by sending in armed police or building higher fences around the secure complexes of the rich is to not understand the problem.
The truth is that the poor and hungry don’t need very much to remain placated and stay within the boundaries that the rich and powerful have historically set for them. The rich and powerful elites know that if the poor and hungry challenge the boundaries and run amok they become a great danger to the order of things. This law is fundamental. Every society that has tried for extended periods of time to make the lives of the miserable more miserable than what can be tolerated has paid the price in a big way. A wise farmer knows not to abuse the power he holds over his animals and in the same way wise powerful elites will only survive if they know this to be true of the economy and the politics that gives order to it. That’s just the way things are; it’s the law of the farm.

In fact it is quite easy for the elite to contain the masses and the individuals that make up the masses when these masses have no vision; when they have no idea of a place they would rather be. Even a heavy powerful bull will wither away in a field with just a little grazing and some muddy water. The calves in my story are however a different matter altogether. Presented with the same grazing and the same water that was good enough for the bull, they were not content. They “knew” they belonged somewhere else. The knowledge made them challenge the fences. And so it is with us. The few that do challenge the boundaries and limitations are those that know where they want to be and believe that they belong in that other place beyond what is currently appearing to constrain them.  I suppose my calves who believed so strongly that they belonged back at Gerhard’s farm, that they were prepared to challenge and to overcome the fences that contained even the biggest and strongest bulls of Wittekleibos. So too,  it is a clear vision we need to develop in our minds that must drive an unwavering passion and desire to be beyond those factors that we have come to believe are limiting us. This is the way we will become free, because this is an observed and recorded fundamental law of the human condition and a fundamental and observed law of the farm.