Election Fever


Hi There,

Thought my days of blogging were over until this week and tonight. What’s made me feel like this is the quiet election process as the Labour Party started to make gains despite most of the Establishment, Press and Media attacking their policies. What I think is important is that there’s now a choice for voters between potential right and left wing Governments, offering different options for the country. I’m pleased that the Labour Party has been able to present a credible Manifesto alongside the Conservative Party’s equivalent which was deeply flawed. What’s emerging is that Theresa May’s ruthless decision to call an unnecessary election because she thought the Conservative Party would win it with a massive majority  is now working against her Party. Suddenly the Newspapers and TV Channels are realizing that their assumption the Conservative Party will win may not be credible so their election coverage has become more balanced.

Theresa May’s description of herself as ‘Strong and Steady’ has been challenged and one of her Ministers was asked this week whether she’s not ‘Strong and Steady’ but ‘Weak and Wobbly.’ Her tactic to avoid voters unless they’ve been carefully chosen and not taking part in a Leaders Debate has been shown to be ill-considered. It’s clear from the Campaign that Mrs May isn’t consulting with her Cabinet. As her credibility is questioned by Conservatives MP’s and Party members  having her as their election focus rather than the Party is losing their and other voters support. The Conservative Manifesto is ill considered.

Theresa May has changed her opinion on the Manifesto pledge for what is called the ‘Dementia  tax’ to include a Cap. What makes it worse is that she hasn’t admitted her error and hapless Cabinet members have been presented to the Press to defend her which doesn’t reflect well on her. In trying to portray herself as powerful Mrs May has confronted the EU Leadership which will make negotiating Brexit more complex which increases the likelihood of a hard Brexit which I find very concerning. I’m disappointed too that the Labour Party isn’t providing a different option because they cannot expect the EU agreeing to a No tariff arrangement if the UK restricts European migration.

What is changing in my view is that BBC programs by the Dimbleby brothers Question time and Any Questions have been the only means to have Politicians having to respond to questions by voters who aren’t chosen by Parties. On the programs I’ve watched and to which I’ve listened Conservative speakers have been poorly briefed in contrast to Labour Party representatives and most audiences have been more sympathetic to them. Last night’s Any Questions had David Davis in Crickhowell, Powys one of Mrs May’s ‘attack dogs’ there where the audience and other speakers there didn’t take to his aggressive approach.

After Any Questions Point of View had Howard Jacobson speaking about Manchester where he grew up while my thoughts have been about the bombing there earlier this week. What was most moving was his account of living there until he finished his Schooling with a no holds barred frank description of the City now warts and all. His account reminded my of the new educational opportunities, employment and innocent fun Post War UK Governments offered to young people that is very different to the experience of today’s similar age group.

What made this week very special for me is a realisation that Establishment and Media support for the Conservative Party cannot be assumed because at its Core the UK is a country with a long history of Democracy. As the election has developed it’s become clear to me that Theresa May isn’t a democrat which poses a clear danger to the freedoms we enjoy. This election is crucial in deciding our, our children, families and citizens futures. We need to be very careful when we vote to make a choice which will benefit the majority of our citizens.




2016 A bad year which ended with better prospects


Hi There,

When I suggested  2016 was a bad year I was referring to the world in general. It started to feel like that after I returned to London on 21 June  was the 23 June United Kingdom Referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union.While realizing that the vote was too close to call I was extremely surprised and disheartened that by a very close margin of 52 to 48% we’d decided to leave. In breaking down the vote a majority of English and Welsh voters supported the leave, with Scotland and Northern Ireland voters wanted to remain in the EU. One of the statistics which pleased me that was that 86% of voters in Hackney where I live supported the stay option, the 2nd highest Constituency vote for this option in United Kingdom. This negative feeling about the year was increased by the outcome of the United States Presidential, Congressional and Senate elections which resulted in Donald Trump being elected as President, with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress.As we approached the New Year I thought nothing would change the negative elections I’ll outline below.

However unexpectedly on 23 December the United Nations Security Council passed a unanimous Resolution which “reiterated its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”. What’s important is that Resolution was passed because the United States unexpectedly abstained from the vote and as importantly the United Kingdom voted in it’s favour. While the Resolution slipped through very quietly the critical response from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which showed how rattled he’d been by this event. John Kerry, the American Secretary of State a few days later made a speech critical of the Israel Government which also had a negative response from Mr Netanyahu. In my view these Israel has lost control of the Palestine-Israel dispute agenda providing the chance for Palestinian political leaders to take that role. I think that the potential for change in the dispute favoring the  Palestinians is now a possibility.

Regarding the more negative aspects of 2016 its been a whirlwind year with so-called populist United Kingdom political leaders in the United Kingdom Independence Party, English Conservative and Labour Party and Northern Ireland Unionist Party supporting the leave campaign achieving victory. Their supporters won the Referendum because the leave campaign leaders were the most organised in making their arguments to leave, sometimes lying to voters by suggesting that leaving the European Union would significantly increase spending on our National Health Service as well as seizing on voters anti Establishment, anti immigration and migration views. The stay campaign leaders were right from the start unable to seize the agenda from the leave campaigners, engaging in an intellectual defensive campaign trying to motivate voters to support the stay campaign by trying to frighten them about the dangerous consequences of leaving the European Union. Statistics show that negative campaigning puts voters off and provided an open goal for the leave campaign to win the leave argument with the majority of voters.

What was so surprising if the Referendum was a chance for voters to give the Establishment  a kicking by supporting the leave option is the politicians who led the campaign. While they’ve been called populist I’d suggest that behind this description in my view they’re Patrician politicians.This is because most of them have had privileged lives which include rich parents, private education and attending elite Universities like other establishment figures. What differentiates them with voters is that these patrician leaders engaged with their supporters through a nostalgia of returning the United Kingdom to how it was as Great Britain in a way which felt like ‘we were all in it together.’ Through finding a way to connect with disenchanted voters they persuaded them to choose the leave option.

My analysis shows how well prepared the leave politicians were and even from South Africa where I was when their campaign started I was struck by how quickly they organised themselves. Unlike David Cameron and his stay supporting politicians they’d been preparing the leave campaign from around 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. This was through establishing Right Wing Lobbying Groups which from the start of her Prime Ministerhood in alliance with the Right wing media started campaigning against the European Union, creating alliances in the Referendum with the leave group leaders, propelling them to victory.

What voters didn’t realize in the campaign is how little thought had been given by these politicians to what actions would be necessary to put the leave option into action because they’d assumed their side would lose the Referendum. The frantic speed after the vote led to the unexpectedly quick resignation of the Prime Minister David Cameron, with splits in the leading Conservative leave campaign leaders preventing Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Theresa May taking that role. Despite of what she said in front of Downing Street when she became Prime Minister she’s found it impossible to give any clarity about the United Kingdom’s plans regarding a departure from the European Union. This is because her Cabinet is split between stay and leave supporters who can’t agree the leave process. Boris Johnson has proved to be a useless Foreign Secretary because he doesn’t have the experience or knowledge for that role and the only competent coherent politician in the ‘Brexit’ Department is David Davies whose shifted his approach to leaving by intimating that the United Kingdom may need to move on the free movement of labour in leaving to achieve a ‘soft’ exit, withdrawing from the Union while retaining tariff free trade with the European Union. I can’t see our Government making concessions regarding labour movement which the Union will accept so the only option is a ‘hard’ exit which will be a disaster for United Kingdom citizens, Industry and service industries.Our leaders are propelling us into a disastrous future, with us seemingly standing meekly by waiting for it.

I return now to the United States with 12 days until Donald Trump is inaugurated as President. What’s terrifying is how an alliance of disaffected of all ages,different ethnic groups, poor, rich and openly racist voters propelled him to power.This alliance is dangerous because it’s made extreme right-wing politics on the edge of Fascism respectable not only in the United States but throughout the world. In my view the imperfect American democracy has been overcome by the dictatorship that Trump has already started to establish through silencing dissent and having a Republican majority in both Houses of Congress. It’s not unexpected for me that the politician he seems closest to presently is President Vladimir Putin in Russia because of the autocratic politics that characterize the system he’s established. I think Russia was more involved in the Presidential election then admitted like the plot in a book call ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ Donald Trump might be Vladimir Putin’s stooge, his Manchurian Candidate!

I’ve created enough dissent in what I’ve already written so I’ll finish quickly by reverting briefly to my interest in Palestine and more below. I’ve included below a draft letter that’s been developed by 2 UK-Palestine Mental Health Network and me as a Palestine-UK Social Work Network member. I ask that anyone willing to do so sends the letter below to their MP, Prime Minister or anyone else about the Security Council Resolution.


I welcome the 23 December 2016 Security Council resolution which “reiterates its demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”.  Visits to the Occupied West Bank and meetings with Palestinian Social Work professionals show the links between poor mental health outcomes  and the effects of military occupation, land seizure and  settlement building is inescapable. Palestinians are daily faced with brutality  if they try to resist the illegal expropriation of their land and shame and humiliation if they do not. This inevitably leads to high rates of depression. The sense that the international community has abandoned them compounds the loss of hope for Palestinians. Now there is the possibility for a process which might just bring some hope. But it will need to be tested by its material effects on the lives of those who suffer under occupation.

A Public event in Hebron which started on 10 December 2016 to mark International Human Rights Day also focused on the dire situation of the Palestinian citizens of Hebron and Tel Rumeida, the effects of settlement expansion, settler violence and military closures. The impact on school children of constant intimidation from settlers is particularly grave and in direct contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Israel is a signatory.

The 23 December Resolution is of course welcome and I am pleased that our government supported it. However, if it is to carry any credibility, it will need to have impact on the ground in communities such as Tel Rumeida. We therefore urge our government to keep up the pressure on Israel so that the future of a yet another generation of Palestinians is not blighted.


Last but not least (Really) I’d like to end the blog in a positive way for the new year. What’s made me feel more positive this week is BBC 4’s Thought of the Day yesterday which was about forgiveness, focusing on Jill Saward who died this week. In 1986 was raped during a burglary of her home where her father was the Vicar. She waived her right to be anonymous and recovered from the experience, becoming a campaigner for the Rape Crisis movement. She believed forgiveness was very important, “They’d destroyed enough, I didn’t want them to destroy anything else. Forgiveness gave me that liberation, that freedom, to move on,” she said.

I was also inspired by the Farewell Speech as the First Lady by Michelle Obama to young people at the School Councillor of the Year awards at the White House. She told the young people of America   “This country belongs to you. For all the young people in this room and who are watching, know that this country belongs to you. From every background, know that if you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition, the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas.” She also said that hope was a very important aspect of life. I’m inspired enough to write that I’m also dedicating to this year being one of hope for me. When I think of hope I’m reminded of what the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn, a holocaust survivor  disclosed that his father had said to him in Concentration Camp”Human beings can live for a month without food, 2 weeks without water but can’t live a day without hope.”

Please free to comment on what I’ve written.





Education, Education, Education 24 June 2016

Hi All,

I’m now back in London and am posting the last article about South African education below.

The second Mail and Guardian article suggests that by the end of Grade 3 three out of every 5 children in Public Schools don’t understand what they read in Class. Undue influence by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has been blamed for interfering with the education’s systems ability to act in the best interests of children which is one of the damning findings by the 5 Stellenbosch University researchers in the previous post. In a Report titled ‘Binding constraints in Education they’ve strongly urged that children should be able to “Read for meaning” by the end of Grade 3. It adds that “It is worth reiterating that at the Grade 5 level the entire curriculum is being taught in English for 90% of students. If these students can’t read for meaning in English then they cannot engage with the Curriculum and are silently excluded’ for the remainder of their educational career.” He thinks the inability to comprehend confirmed the need to provide support in Primary Schools.

The researchers have asked Angie Motshekga the Minister for Education to fast- track her Departments plans to establish a Primary Literacy Directorate and to request an audit of the education systems capacity to effectively teach reading to children in early grades. Other suggestions include:

  • Requesting education experts to train current and newly appointed foundation phase reading specialists on how to teach reading
  • Appointment of foundation phase reading specialists across Districts
  • Ministerial performance agreements outside of the Department should be linked to reading goal
  • Public recognition should be given to Districts and Schools that effectively implement foundation phase reading strategies

The researchers strongly asserted that “Learning to read for meaning and pleasure is the most important goal for Primary Schooling in Grades 1-3.” Currently less than half of all pupils learn to read for meaning in this critical period. They write that ” Many South African children complete Grades 1-3 without being able to read properly in their home language, with little understanding of the language they will be taught in from Grade 4 which is generally English” They found that 58% of a Grade 4 sample could not read for meaning and 29% were illiterate. With a colleague Kim Draper they conducted a first analysis of 1772 Grade 5 rural pupils for oral reading fluency in English and found it to be very low with 41% considered illiterate. 11% of the sample could not read a single word in English.

In a bid to set oral reading fluency norms for South Africa the researchers measured by the number of words read correctly per minute comparing second language pupils in South Africa with the USA State of Florida which has norms, finding that  Grade 5 South African learners from rural areas were on the same level as Grade 1 pupils in Florida.

In regard to Sadtu the researchers found the Union was a critical player in determining which policies were accepted or rejected. The Report found that Teacher Unions had blocked reforms in recent years including:

  • Standardised pupil testing, specifically the Annual National Assessments
  • Teacher testing, even for Matric markers and
  • Performance contracts for Principals
  • “Nepotistic appointments linked to Union membership appear to be a serious and systemic problem. The Volmink Commission highlighted corruption concerns in the appointment of School Principals”

The researchers found that residents in areas where Schools have made corrupt appointments were likely to lose trust in the education system. Besides having identified the Union’s influence on the education system as one of the adverse educational outcomes the researchers identified 3 other binding restraints:

  • Weak institutional functionality
  • Weak teacher content knowledge and pedagogical skill and
  • Wasted learning time and insufficient time to learn

The research warned that unless teachers were better equipped with content knowledge pupils ‘learning gains’ would be marginal. What Van der Berg told the reporters is that “The inability of children to read well in the early phase is really what holds them back in the higher grades. You won’t get large numbers passing Matric well if you can’t get that right.”

The Paper continues with an article suggesting that teachers face vocabulary tests with most Primary School teacher’s knowledge of English vocabulary being the same as Grade 3 pupils.   In this preliminary finding of the Literacy Policy Study by the Zenex Foundation involving about 300 English first additional language teachers from 24 Schools in Kwazulu-Natal, Western and Eastern Cape the teachers who teach pupils in Grades 1-3 were asked to write a test to assess their knowledge at 3 levels. Results are shown below.

How Teachers scored in the Vocabulary Test

Levels            One:     Two:       Three:                                                                                                        2000      3000     5000                                                                                                          words   words   words

Western Cape Department Heads            94%         89%      85%

Eastern Cape Department Heads             87%         70%      48%

Kwazulu-Natal Department Heads           91%         70%      47%

Western Cape Teachers                             92%         83%      76%

Eastern Cape Teachers                              87%         69%      47%

Kwazulu-Natal Teachers                            80%         52%      32%

Elizabeth Pretorius, one of the study’s researchers from the Department of Linguistics at Unisa said teachers from rural areas were unable to reach the minimum standard. She said “Words from levels 1-2 can be learnt from chatting to other people but if they’re not reading they won’t be able to reach levels 3-5. The test shows whether people are reading.” They had 8 years of English at School and still failed to reach the first level.

She added that “The Curriculum assessment policy statements (Caps) document recommends an English first additional language learners should know at least 2500-3000 frequently used English words at the end of Grade 3. Their teachers haven’t reached the Caps requirement for Grade 3 pupils.”

The information above Western Cape teachers outperformed the other 2 provinces according to the test results. This isn’t surprising because 53%of these teachers said English was their home language. Zulu and Xhosa were the home languages for teachers in Kwazulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. The researchers think that Foundation Stage teachers (Grades 1-3) needed to achieve at levels 1-2 in literacy. Pretorius said ‘This is especially urgent because of Caps guidelines for the vocabulary size of Grades 1-3 learners. The teachers must have adequate vocabulary knowledge in English first additional language to be able to develop knowledge of these words by their learners.”

The Zenex Foundations chief executive Gail Campbell thinks the tests demonstrated teacher’s vocabulary levels and the levels needed to teach English as a 2nd language effectively. She said “The intervention is about improving teacher’s vocabulary which is a clear indicator of language proficiency. Vocabulary intersects with one’s ability to read and comprehend.”  The Foundation asks teachers to:

  • Set improvement goals
  • Keep a vocabulary book and have a weekly target of learning 5 new words
  • Receive an English Dictionary to support their vocabulary development and
  • Share their reading and vocabulary books at quarterly training sessions

Campbell says the Foundation’s approach to improving teacher’s English proficiency is based on the hypothesis that it will lead to improved teaching which will lead to improved learner performance. However she thinks there’s a problem in the teacher’s slow response to vocabulary interventions. She added that “Initial evidence on take-up shows that teachers who read more grew up with access to books in their homes. Teachers report that they mainly read romance, religious books and magazines.” Teachers aren’t enthusiastic about setting up School based book clubs. One constraint was time, particularly in rural areas where teachers had to travel long distances to School. Campbell said “It is hard t establish a reading culture in adults-and teachers may feel exposed in reading clubs.”

Researcher Nick Spall says the ‘headline message’ from the study was ‘learning to read with meaning’ in Grades 1-3. He said “An important secondary goal is every child should be able to read first additional language texts in English fluently and with comprehension by the end of Grade 3.

For me the Articles from the Mail and Guardian show how the South African education system since 1994 has continued to fail the majority of pupils in poor Schools because these young people aren’t able to meet the basic competences in Grades 1-3. With the exception of a small cohort who catch up in later years the consequence is that this large cohort of learners are excluded from achieving their potential in the education system from Grade 4 onwards. A high proportion of these pupils drop out of School when they are around 15-16 years old or fail to achieve Matric results which allow them to proceed to University or other Post School education options. The Articles show that the Department of Education will need to front load the Schooling system to provide teachers who are able to offer all learners the opportunity to achieve the required standards to proceed further in their education and increase significantly the learner cohort who can proceed to further education after Matric.

The researchers show that a big shift in education is needed to have the most able heads and teachers for learners in Grades 1-3 with specialist training in early development and learning education. This will require financial resources to fund these services by the Department of Education. My view is that parents need to be actively involved in their children’s education generally and to provide stimulation for them at home. For their children in Grades 1-3 they need to have books in their homes to read with their children, check with heads about the curriculum the children are following and ensure their children receive homework which they can supervise. For poor families parents can use Libraries to borrow books for their children.

I like to suggest that my posts provide constructive criticism for most of the issues I raise in the Steveposts blogs. My final analysis of the Education issue I’ve raised through the Mail and Guardian Reports is serious because it covers a large annual group of matriculants. The Basic Education Department has just published figures for progressed learners (students who have failed Matric twice or overage) who wrote and passed Matric exams in 2015 and the current number of progressed students this year without figures by Gauteng province. These are that 58656 progressed learners wrote Matric in 2015 of whom 22060 passed with 100841 progressed learners in Matric this year. I’m not an expert in Statistics, however from these figures just over 50% of this group passed Matric in 2015 and in 2016 without the Gauteng numbers their number has increased by just under 100%. In my view the articles and the information provided is a damming indightment of the South African education system because it discriminates against poor children who attend township or rural Schools.

Another shocking feature of the education system is that legislation regarding which Schools children attend locks in the discriminatory features from the Apartheid era’s Group Areas Act. This is because parents are required to place their children in Schools within 5 Km from their home addresses which has created a system where most children from previously discriminated communities remain in the same poorly performing Schools that failed previous generations through so called ‘Bantu Education’. Additionally parents who want to School their children in the better performing Schools require permission from the Department of Education to allow their children to attend these mainly suburban Public Schools, most of which are fee paying. I’ve already written previously how economic apartheid still embeds discrimination in South Africa, what the 2 articles I’ve summarised show is educational apartheid  has excluded and continues to exclude a large group of learners which is an extremely concerning issue.

I want to end on a more positive note. This is because a campaigning group called Equal Education has taken a test case to Gauteng High Court regarding the 5Km School choice requirement and had a potentially positive outcome. This is because the Court ruled in the last month that Gauteng’s Department of Education needs to review the distance requirement which it ruled to be discriminatory. What’s crucial now is how long the review takes and whether Gauteng decides to change the requirement. This decision needs a quick response and if there’s no change to the requirement it’s clear the application will end up in the Constitutional Court because of the discrimination issue. As you as my readers must realise I’m highly exercised by the education issue. As an outsider I hope that the Equal Education test case gets traction through support from parents whose children are directly concerned by the issues raised.





Education, Education, Education in South Africa


Dear All,

For voters who can remember the 1997 UK general election which swept a Labour government led by Tony Blair into power after 18 years on Conservative Party rule. In South Africa I’ve been thinking of one of the main slogans by Labour in that election was ‘Education, Education, Education’ which was central to the Party being elected to lead the country. As Local Authority and Provincial elections are due to take place here in August my recent reading of the Mail and Guardian over 2 weeks here on 20 and 27 May has shown how the ANC has completely failed to transform the Education system in a way which removes inequality and allows students from previously disadvantaged majority community to compete on an equal basis with those from other communities.

The articles have made me very angry. This is because recent research in South African Public Schools which are the equivalent of UK State Schools has shown that children who haven’t reached competence levels to read and be literate in their home languages by Grade 4 aged 9 are seriously disadvantaged in their further learning to the extent that they’re unlikely to receive a Matric qualification at the end of their schooling which allows them to attend University.  I’m so exercised by what I’ve read that I’ll summarize the information and outcomes from the research below.

The 20 May Mail and Guardian article suggests in the headline that poor children in South African Public Schools are ‘doomed early’ and the gap between haves and have-nots is already established for life in Primary School. By the time most students in poor Schools reach the end of Grade 3 the chances of them achieving a good Matric pass is unlikely. The education system fails them and affects their chances of doing well in Matric-and even later after they’ve left School.

Research findings by Professor Servaas Van der Berg at Stellenbosch University comes  from a new study of learner’s performance in 2012 and 2013 in Annual National Assessments (ANA’s) which assess children’s literacy and numeracy skills target Grades 1-6 and 9.Van der Berg’s opinion is that the findings have policy implications because early remedial action is needed. Currently ANA’s target Maths performance in Grade 9 which he thinks is the wrong outcome from the Assessments to consider. As a socioeconomic researcher in the Universities Economics Department his view is that the low learning performance for children at poor Schools ‘sabotage’ their chances of doing well in Matric. He is very concerned that the learning gap between children at rich and poor Schools is pre-determined by Grade 4 which strongly affects their chances of progressing to University and future careers.

His research findings and policy recommendations are supported by other educationalists and Nick Taylor, previous head of the Basic Education Department’s National Education Evaluation and Development Unit. Taylor suggests that the National Basic Education Department’s conclusions based on ANA scores is that Primary School education is fine and performance inequity starts in High Schools which wrong as shown by Van der Berg’s study. This is because his research shows that inequities start in the first grade and become more entrenched with each passing grade.

Taylor who is now a researcher based at Jet Education Services adds that making up the backlogs is difficult, indeed impossible. By the end of Grade 3 children’s life chances have been determined through birth and the poor schooling they receive. Van der Berg agrees with Taylor, because his research shows that large learning deficits that become established by the middle of Primary School years and Grade 4 so catching up is not a realistic prospect. Poor cognitive outcomes in the ANA data show that the learning deficit increases slightly more in subsequent grades. These children have little chance of catching up at School or before they started School. By this time he thinks many opportunities are no longer there for them however work to repair the damage at higher Grades must continue for those who may benefit from them.

Ursula Hoadley, Associate Professor on Education at the University of Cape Town agrees that harm is most likely done in the School foundation phase because Grade 3 ends formal teaching of two key fundamental skills which are literacy and numeracy. If these skills aren’t achieved early students are likely to fall further behind because in her view all School education relies on being able to read. Brahm Fleish, a Professor at Wits School of Education agrees with Van der Berg’s views. He adds that the research doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions for older students who start to achieve in their later School years although this cohort is likely to be small, with life opportunities determined by age 9. His view is that interventions in the foundation years, Grades R, 1, 2 and 3 to improve learning in all Schools will lead to significant improvements in educational outcomes for poor children.

Elizabeth Henning, a Professor of Educational Linguistics at the University of Johannesburg said the mantra in childhood education is ‘Matric begins at Grade One.’ She thinks the pre-School years are crucial and that this may be where socioeconomic factors start to severely affect a child’s future. She thinks that teachers need to be more aware of child development in the foundation phase. Poor children can have a chance if teachers can be helped to see children as learners, “individual young people who are learning to learn.”

Tsepho Motsepe, General Secretary of Equal Education agrees fully with Van der Berg’s research outcomes. This is that the biggest effort is needed in the early years or before while efforts to remedy damage in higher grades are important. He agrees with Henning’s view that Matric begins at Grade One, in Grade R and in Early Development classrooms. He thinks that young, well qualified teachers are needed in townships and rural areas to fix education.

In the same week Servaas van der Berg wrote an article himself which was titled ‘Focus on reading to fix education.’ He first agreed there has been progress in School performance, more children at School, more black students matriculate and achieve results enabling University attendance and Schools are deracialised. However in most respects the situation remains bleak, almost 50% of children don’t reach Matric, learners repeat classes despite limits on this and many drop out from School at 15 or 16. Local and international tests show extremely weak outcomes. In response government, researchers and others have been trying to determine what’s wrong with the Schools and how the situation can be improved. His research group on socioeconomic policy and Stellenbosch University’s School of Economics are releasing 2 Reports, ‘Identifying binding constraints in education’ and Laying firm foundations: Getting reading right’ to provide some answers’ which is based on studies by a research team working with the Department of Basic Education.

They’ve used a USA based idea from Harvard University and others. However not all education problems can be addressed immediately so the focus has to be on what problems are most frequent. If teachers not being in classes to teach is the main or binding restraint efforts to increase teacher subject knowledge is secondary as it can’t be tackled until teachers are there to teach. Van der Berg previews a Conference which took place last week where the primary restraint is defined as the failure of children to read fluently and with meaning in their home language in their education after Grade 3 at the end in their foundation phase. He writes that the first 3 School years at a period when children learn to read, from then it becomes reading to learn.

Further progress depends on being able to read and with comprehension. Pupils who can’t read are further disadvantaged in Grade 4 when teaching switches to English as happens in most Schools. The 2 University Schools main recommendation to the Department of Basic Education is to set a priority early grade reading goal that all learners must read fluently and with comprehension by the end of Grade 3. This will change priorities for officials to focus on the foundation phase rather than prioritising High Schools because of the current priority being Matric results. He outlines further recommendations which are below.

  • Researchers have found that persevering in learning in a child’s home language improves children’s learning outcomes which covers about 70% of all children learning an African language in the first few grades and even in English It is easier for these children to move to literacy in a second language if they are literate in their home language.
  • The first analysis of large scale oral reading fluency using data from the National Education Evaluation and Development found oral fluency, the ability to read text quickly, accurately and with expression a problem in Schools. This was because the English oral fluency of Grade 5 rural learners is as low as Grade 2 learners in Florida USA. 41% were considered to be non-readers in English, reading so slowly that they couldn’t understand what they were reading and 11% couldn’t read a single word.
  • Another research finding is that the disadvantage of learning in a second language was much reduced if that language was linked to the child’s home language, part of the same language group like Nguni or Sotho. A child speaking an Nguni language is less disadvantaged at School if the foundation stage language is another Nguni language rather than an unrelated one. When it’s impractical for foundation phase children to attend a School teaching in their own home language it’s preferable for them to attend a School teaching in the same language group.
  • Research has also found that children whose parent regularly check their homework, support children reading at home and whose teachers reported that they closely followed the curriculum were performing about 2 years ahead of their peers in Grade 4.

I’ve reached my maximum length for the post and will provide further information on this particular stream when even more will be revealed!

I’ll digress briefly to inform 2 important events have taken place in Paris over the last week, serious flooding about which I know little. An International Conference on Palestine has been arranged and held in Paris by the French president Francois Hollande. He said that his country’s initiative could provide guarantees that the peace will be solid, sustainable and under international supervision. As a first step working groups will meet to develop economic and security incentives for both sides.

While neither the Palestinian or Israeli governments sent representatives for the Conference there were 2 important factors that emerged. The US government has for the first time fully backed a Conference where it supported an end to Israeli occupation and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has backed the French initiative. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is strongly opposed to it and says a deal can only be achieved in direct negotiations. He is however open to elements in a 2002 Arab peace proposal that offered Israel recognition throughout the Arab world after a deal on the Palestinians.

Lastly I return to Johannesburg for just over 2 weeks before flying back to London on 20 June. I’m going to have a busy time here still and am starting on the final phase of my trip which will include joining a Soweto March on 16 June, 40 years since the original event.




Further Thoughts about South Africa once in Cape Town

Kimberley Station 1130 pm on 24/05/2016

Kimberley Station 1130 pm on 24/05/2016



Dear All,

A term I’ve heard addressed towards me since coming here is Mulungu, translated as ‘being of white heritage’. Generally when I’ve been addressed in this way it’s a way of saying hello while identifying my ethnic origin, at other times there’s a more hostile element in Soweto which I sense is more like ‘what the hell are you doing here’. What the term reminds me of is how racially stratified South Africa still is. Like when I lived here ethnic origin or race remains a main focus of my contacts in Soweto where I’m asked when speaking about people I know in the country the first question is whether they are white. It’s not something I’m asked by white people because of their sensitivity about this issue and for most of them having no social contacts with the majority community or visiting the townships. For all South Africans there remains a way of probing about ethnic origin through asking for surnames and where people live which makes me uneasy but can’t be avoided. My view is that this issue shows how deeply embedded discrimination and inequality remain in South Africa, with a similarity to the rest of the world where status is focussed on different skin colour, from white to shades of white then shades of black to black.

I’ve just thought of something else which is a question of what similarities there are between South Africa after majority rule and Northern Ireland after the Good Friday agreement which started the process of devolving power to the countries National Assembly. The answer is an increase in attacks on foreigners and refugees living in both countries. While I don’t know about the current Northern Ireland situation prejudice and violence against these groups in South Africa is now part of the culture with regular organised attacks. These have led to attacks, killings and a feeling among these groupings that they are unsafe in South Africa. When the major attacks have occurred they’ve fled from where they stay to places of safety like Churches and other Civic buildings. It’s ironic that the majority community which suffered grievously under apartheid have turned their anger about the lack of change into attacks. In my view this deferred anger maintains the current status quo where there has been so little evidence of change.

Returning to what I started with I spoke recently with Antoinette Sithole’s husband Mantla about the term Mulungu. What he told me is Mulungu is an aberration of the word a Xhosa word Further Thoughts about South Africa and the Transition to Cape Town. Amulumbi which translates as Magician or Wonder Maker which comes from the first encounters in the Eastern Cape between Xhosa and white settlers called the Boers moving north from the initial Dutch settlements in the Western Cape. The origin of the word in his view was because of the new technology the Boers brought with them like firearms and the wheels on their wagons which had not been used by Xhosas. I think that from the start of these encounters that status made the Boers and white people superior in the minds of the black tribes moving into South Africa from the North. Conflict developed over time in the Eastern Cape over land ownership and cattle between the settlers and black people where power was held by the settlers because of their superior force through having firearms. I thought afterwards about Magicians and Wonder Makers in a more negative context where these qualities could make them mistrusted or suspected of witchcraft or wizardry which put them at risk. History suggests in my view that the colonial mind-set had at its centre discrimination based on colour which reflects badly on these settlers now as South African citizens placing them at future risk unless a more inclusive country and nation emerges.

Even before I start to describe my trip to Cape Town I’ve thought about the travel I’ve done since setting off from Heathrow on 10 April. I flew British Airways, noting first that only about 10% of the passengers were black, really little different to anytime I’ve traveled to South Africa since 1999. Clearly on aeroplanes the 20-1 low Rand to UK Pound rate makes an international return air ticket at a minimum of R12000(£600)travel very expensive for most South Africans, creating the flying equivalent of economic exclusion and discrimination. On the bus trip to and from Durban for Indaba I noticed that roughly 95%of the travelers were black. The bus service was reasonably good however the internal fabric of the vehicles was poor; the floors needed cleaning, with some seats     broken or not adjustable. The single toilet was always dirty and many passengers preferred to wait until the set stop to use facilities there. Air conditioning was a problem because on the route to Durban cool air was blown through when not needed, making the bus very cold. On the return journey there was heating when cooling was needed. Quite clearly long distance bus travel through large Companies or minibus taxis internally and to other Southern African countries as far as Malawi and Zambia is more affordable than flying.

Train travel has discrimination built in it through the services provided. The most expensive trains are run by private companies, Ravos Rail and the Blue Train, prices for which only the very rich can afford.  Next is Premier Classe which has a R2000 (£100) fee for a single trip to or from Cape Town. This is a premium service with comfortable compartments, a viewing coach and a high range dining car. I traveled on the Tourist class train Shosholoza Meyl which cost R699 for a single trip (£35). The service was comfortable and the serving staff very attentive which made the travel pleasant, the only problem being a history of these trains always running late. My train didn’t have Third Class carriages so I can’t comment on this service.

On the train I felt like being plunged back into the past through the way customer care staff were organised in a hierarchy based on ethnic origin where the train manager was white and the other staff black, reminding me of train trips I took before I emigrated to the UK. Separately the system was controlled by the staff with clear routines around bedding being provided, and meals, with no negotiation possible. It felt a bit like being in a Goffman type total institution like they were the trustees in the Asylum described by him. While the staff were pleasant they were totally in charge of what they provided and weren’t into negotiating or flexibility. I felt strange travelling in a service where it felt like the system was set up for the staff not for travelers.

I traveled from Johannesburg to Cape Town from 24-25 April by train because I wanted to have an experience which gave me a stronger connection to the terrain from the Highveld through the Karoo and then to Cape Town. I’ve downloaded some photos from the trip with this post, unfortunately no pictures from travels end as the environment and scenery changed are worth including. The train left Johannesburg Station early in the afternoon on 24 May and until sunset we travelled through the Highveld, mainly in what’s called the Witwatersrand, the industrial area that extends South beyond Johannesburg. We passed gold and coal mines as well as South Africa’s main steelworks as the train moved south, with frequent delays because of poor maintenance on the route and no priority being given to passenger trains. The route later passed through the wheat and cereal growing areas, with a golden hue to the vegetation because of lack of rain and the end of the growing season, ending with a sunset made up of a vivid mixture of gold and orange painted on the sky as a palette.

When I woke the next morning we were in the Southern Karoo which is semi desert with sparse vegetation and a low population. The main industry here is sheep farming for meat or wool, with a special brand called Merino wool which is world renowned for making warm loosely woven blankets and scarves. The scenery started to change in the early afternoon after Worcester from an arid flat landscape to one with mountains and farms where irrigation made the vegetation green. This is the area in South Africa UK citizens know best because of exports to us which include oranges, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, grapes and wine. The quality of the land stood out because of the irrigation and fertility from 400 years of cultivation. Worcester, Wellington and Huguenot were towns where the quality of civil buildings and housing showed the wealth that came from the industry. From what I saw on this route until it reached the edge of Cape Town it didn’t pass shanty dwellings on the edges of towns, although quite clearly the farm labourer homes were very small compared to the main farmhouses, suggesting a large income disparity.

On the whole route rail stations were sleepy places where the train arriving was a major occasion, as the night drew on I sensed a type of Hopper type alienation at stopping stations because people were there because of roles for the train from the official who sent the train on its way through blowing his whistle, security staff, baggage handlers and traders selling their wares, not to relate to anyone and the main reason for railways being there was to transport agricultural production to other towns or cities or to Cape Town for export. Throughout my travel through small South African towns since 1999 my general impression has been that little had changed in these towns for the majority of South African citizens who’ve lived in them since 1994 and majority rule.

I’ve reached my time and content deadline now so I’ll end the post now. I plan to send another post about Cape Town and my experiences here before I leave on 8 June. Just before I end I want to make a brief mention about the UK referendum after a friend emailed me yesterday, worried that the country might vote to leave the EU. I’ve thought for some time that there’s a potential for the referendum vote being in favour of leaving the EU. It’s unusual for governments to hold referendums unless they think voters will support their views. Immigration and disaffection with politicians as well as a long period of time for exit supporters and the red top press including the Times and Telegraph to deeply embedding the exit lies make the outcome too close to call. A Conservative Party led by their most right wing MP’s is frightening. It reminds me of the election which brought Hitler to power in the 1930’s because of the risks a victory poses to any UK minority.

Apologies for the formatting,


Beaufort West Station

Beaufort West Station Cape Province    


A social gathering alongside the Prince Albert Station

A social gathering alongside the Prince Albert Road Station


In South Africa again


Hi There,

I’m going to resume my Steve trips blog because I’m once again in South Africa for a 2 ½ month stint. This is to engage again with the Orlando West group I’ve worked with for 2 years to be with them when they launch a Heritage walk along one of the 16 June 1976 Protest March routes. I also want get a sense of what’s happening here to the people I know, about the current South African situation and to be here in Soweto for the 40th Anniversary of the Soweto uprising.

Soweto Uprising Heritage Walking Tours

I’ve been in Soweto since 11 April and my main involvement has been with the Orlando West group, Antoinette Sithole and Xolisile Mkhize in preparing to launch their Heritage walks. Antoinette is the main guide and also the sister of Hector Pietersen who was one of the first students shot by police on 16 June 1976. This factor is very much a unique selling point for the walks. She’s also very well known locally as a seasoned guide for school trip groups to the Hector Pietersen Museum in Orlando West. Additionally she’s known worldwide for the iconic photo of her running alongside Hector after he’d been shot. Locally and internationally she’s one of the most familiar representatives of the Soweto uprising which has given her the chance to meet local and world leaders. Xolisile is the business manager who has taken the primary role in having the Heritage Walks Company registered, worked on setting up the Website, preparing publicity for the Indaba Tourism Convention in Durban, negotiating a funded Exhibition stand there and making travel arrangements for Antoinette and her to be there. Xolisile’s mother Mamatsi has been involved in the planning and once the walks start she’ll manage the catering arrangements as the Walks include a light Township lunch.
The Heritage Walks Website is now live. In the last week I accompanied Antoinette and Xolisile to Durban where they attended the Indaba Tourism Convention (the largest Tourism event in Africa) from 6-9 May. What was exciting and reassuring for them was that visitors to the stand who were interested in the concept were very positive about prospects for the walk. A Marketing event for interested Companies will take place next week, led by Antoinette speaking about her being on the 16 June 1976 Protest March, speaking with locals on the way who were there on the day and describing events that took place as the walk proceeds. The aim of the walk will be to give a sense of how it felt to be there then. Once the Marketing event has taken place the Company will be ready to take bookings and Tourism Day on 26 September 2016 will officially launch the Walks.
What pleases me about the establishment of the Walks is that it proved that the idea I had 2 years ago about establishing a Heritage Walk was well grounded and can work for the group now involved in running the Company. I’ll also be able to end my direct involvement with the South African Company and shift my role to taking bookings in the UK for the Walks. I think that the Walks will significantly increase the Tourism footprint in Soweto. They’ll take visitors from their buses onto the streets in a safe way to gain direct insight into the Soweto Uprising and allow them to relate directly to people who were involved on the day. The Walks will also add to local incomes through 90% of all income from them going to the group organizing the Tours, which is about as close as I can think to be an example of community based tourism and add to tour opportunities locally.

My Soweto family

The people in the 2 households on Xorile Street in Orlando West are Mamatsi, her youngest child Xolisile, her partner Ismael and their 3 children Disetso, Katlego and Sanele. Mamatsi’s oldest child Tandi has a room in her backyard. Additionally Mamatsi has a grandson Jabulani who’s lived with her since early childhood. She has 2 foster children, Nellie and Augushle, Angela, an older child she fostered still lives at home and the oldest fostered child Julia who has a 1 year old child Zintle and lives independently. In another back room she has an old friend Maggie, her partner, Maggie’s daughter and granddaughter living. Mamatsi’s pension, her income as a foster carer and Xolisile’s family allowance come to around R10000 (£500) a month for 7 children and 4 adults.
Compared to my last trip the extended family situation is more challenging because their income has reduced further compared to their outgoings? Despite of this they remain impossibly optimistic, like many South Africans who believe that ‘things can only get better’ which for me as an outsider is impossibility. For me being here re-connects me to the anger I felt when I lived in South Africa because in my view so little has changed for a significant majority of South Africans.
I am however in a totally different place now, sharing life with previously oppressed citizens which have made it hard to relate to my previous contemporaries. The family are so poor and sometimes their diet is reduced through their situation. Their physical and emotional hunger can make me feel uncomfortable at times because I choose to live with them and am privileged to do so. It pains me that I can’t solve their problems because my resources aren’t sufficient. As an old style socialist the situation here shows how dangerous liberal economics is and in the end unless there’s a huge change of mind-set by the rich elite here the only solution I can envisage for my friends is to take part in joint social action here to topple this evil system. At its most basic the tax system must start to redistribute wealth significantly, education funding shift to low achieving township Schools, an independent anti-corruption police force needs to be established to investigate and if appropriate charge high profile citizens, the land rights commission must become more prominent in land restitution across the whole country and private health care needs to have a high tax attached to it in order to better resource the National Health Service.

South Africa now

What I’ve found here is a continuation of neo-liberal economic policies which make the richest 10% richer. 55% of the South African population are those who the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne would call the strivers, the middle class, small shop owners, skilled workers and those on the edge of financial disaster as unskilled workers or in insecure jobs. Estimated long term unemployment is around 43%. The most striking statistic here for me is that 75% of young people between the age of 16-25 and 50% of 25-35% are unemployed. Mr Osborne would probably call this group shirkers, unemployed or unwaged for long periods of time with little prospect of ever being in secure work again.

In terms of chances to advance themselves statistics 75% of black senior managers in the private sector are white, in the public sector 75% of senior managers are black which suggests to me that inequality in South Africa hasn’t reduced significantly since majority rule in 1994. What has developed in South Africa since 1994 is a Cleptocracy which unites corrupt ANC politicians linked with large Companies and rich individuals creating opportunities for enriching themselves. In exchange for their largesse these Companies and individuals create economic advantage and there are suggestions they influence Government policies by having ANC politicians they favour being put into key Ministerial positions. Government tenders, purchase of equipment and out-sourcing of services have provided enrichment opportunities for all involved. Time however is running out for this elite because of civil society, private Media, the Courts and the Public Protector starting to challenge their privileges. My personal view is that the last phase of ANC majority rule is coming to an end with a President and those dependent on him going to extremes to obtain the last scraps before doors close.
South Africa has invented a new term here called ‘State capture’ to describe the Cleptocracy. Departments of state are directly involved in privatisation and demolition of the state in this process. Lest we feel the UK and other countries are protected from this corruption. In the UK I suggest we consider relationships between long established neo-liberal economic lobbying groups, the right wing press, other media and the Establishment with close links to the Conservative Party. Through their influence on government an alliance has been formed with key ministers and industry, all of which are focused on dismantling the Nation State as it exists. Like in South Africa handing over services through privatisation will end what remains of the welfare state. My view is that privatisation isn’t about efficiency but reducing the quality of public services. The process favours a financial sector and has allowed Banks which were directly responsible for the most recent global crisis through investment vehicles which known to be economically dangerous to once again re-establish them in funding the above policies.
It’s interesting here that in the last 1 ½ months the Judiciary has taken action to challenge political corruption. As I arrived here on 11 April a unanimous decision was made by the Constitutional Court that Mr Zuma needed to repay State financial support for building his official residence not required to enhance security. Additionally the Court found that he’d broken requirements in the South African Constitution for him in his Presidential role to show moral leadership. The President had another very bad day in Court on 29 April at the Johannesburg High Court with a verdict that the National Prosecution authority was incorrect in 2009 to end his trial for corruption which needs to be restarted. The question now is how long a further trial can be delayed and whether he can survive his whole Presidential term.
In order to end this post I want briefly to consider a comparison between South Africa and Brazil which both have Presidents facing impeachment or pressure to resign. The Brazilian President faces impeachment. This is because a coalition of Parliamentarians across all political Parties put their principles before the Parties they represent in supporting a motion to impeach their President. A similar motion in the South African parliament failed because ANC MP’s voted en bloc against it. What occurred in Brazil can’t happen here at present because corruption in the South African Parliament is so deeply embedded in the ANC. MP’s have to follow the Party to retain their privileged positions to benefit from continued corrupt payments. This factor makes impeachment impossible and requires civil society, other institutions of state and the non-state media to challenge corruption. In my view corruption isn’t limited to Parliament. Any lasting solution will need to engage with public opinion, linking with other institutions to end corruption in Provincial and City Councils. A Private Sector a Public Inquiry needs to be set up to consider the influence of Companies and rich individuals on State policies and all corrupt relationships with politicians.

Finally I’d like to inform you that Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, the most prominent Israeli critics of the countries policies are speaking on the same stage in London at London University on 25 May. For anyone interested in Palestine and Israeli issues this will be an interesting event.

Attachments didn’t work in the last Post


Hi There,

Two vigilant readers have pointed out that the articles promised in the last Post which I’ll add here because the attachments didn’t work. Sorry!


Can there be peace between Israel and Palestine? How can we help?
Remarks by Sir Vincent Fean at the University of Sheffield, 25 February 2016

I was in Jerusalem from 2010 to 2014, representing the British Government and talking
mainly to Palestinians. What I witnessed there, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, made
me want to talk about the Israel/Palestine conflict tonight. It is a conflict too easily neglected.
I had the privilege of going there and seeing for myself. We neglect it at our peril.
Now retired, I will share my personal impressions of what is happening on the ground and at
the political level now; look at three options for the future in what we call the Holy Land, two
of them bad and the only good one – the solution of two states – becoming harder to achieve
by the day, and end by suggesting why we British should care, and what we can do to make
the best outcome more likely to happen. I shall talk more about Palestinians than about
anything else, because it’s best to talk about what I know something about.

What is happening now, on the ground and politically

Let’s not start from the beginning. But let’s start with the Prophet Abraham, revered by Jews,
Christians and Muslims alike. Abraham embodies the fact that all three of those great
religions belong together in the Holy Land, and have so much in common. They teach
peace, justice and mercy. So let no one tell you that this conflict is about religion. It could go
that way, into sectarian strife – but at heart, it’s about land, power, control, security and the
well-being of two peoples who are cousins.

There are two strongly competing narratives – one Israeli Jewish, one Palestinian Arab. Both
peoples feel a sense of victimhood, past or present. Both narratives deserve respect, but
you don’t need to believe just the one, and espousing one to the exclusion of the other
doesn’t actually help. Nor does it help to assimilate an entire people with the actions of a
government. That mistake is too often made. Today, what we have is the State of Israel
recognized on pre-1967 war lines by almost all the world including, very importantly, by the
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and neighboring Egypt and Jordan. In 1967 Israel
won a war and occupied what I today call Palestine–East Jerusalem, the West Bank of the
River Jordan and the Gaza Strip. That Israeli-occupied area is recognised as a state – the
State of Palestine – by two thirds of the members of the United Nations, including China,
Russia and India, but not by the USA or most of the European Union, including the United
Kingdom. I advocate recognition of Palestine. Recognition matters, which is why it is not
easy to obtain.

On the ground, the Occupation inevitably causes friction. To put it bluntly, one people’s army
is bossing around another people, who resent that fact. During this 49 year occupation there
have been a number of uprisings by Palestinians, overpowered by Israel, for Israel has the
power, including three Gaza wars – the last in 2014. The cease fire between Hamas in Gaza
and Israel has held since then, but is very precarious. Elsewhere in Palestine and Israel, in
recent weeks we have seen desperate and totally futile individual acts of violence, often by
very young Palestinians, against Israelis – both military and civilian. These acts are hard to
prevent – they look and are spontaneous, unplanned, uncoordinated. Often the perpetrators
are killed on the spot. Their violence is to be deplored, condemned outright. We should also
ask what drives them to desperate acts. Where is their hope for a better tomorrow, for the
sort of future we seek for our own children?

Politically, there is next to no communication between the Israeli and Palestinian
leaderships, between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. Each side talks to the
Americans, to the EU – but barely to each other, except for megaphone diplomacy, at which
Israel is much, much better than the Palestinians. It does not help at all that the Palestinians
are politically as well as administratively divided, between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah, the
PLO or the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Western diplomatic efforts focus on the
PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, as agreed in the Oslo
Accords, and the Palestinian Authority as the legitimate authority in Gaza, which it is.
Currently the PLO excludes Hamas, though Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary
election back in 2006, and won fairly.

The Americans traditionally lead on efforts to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
It is for debate whether the Americans are neutral, unbiased. In any event, since Secretary
Kerry’s valiant effort failed almost 1 year ago, the USA have signed off. This is a Presidential
election year in the US. Obama wants his Democratic Party to win, and taking risks for
peace in the Holy Land by challenging Israeli policies is a risk too far. Optimists would say
that this is an opportunity for the EU to fill the vacuum, but EU policy on this conflict is of the
lowest common denominator type – the opposite of adventurous or assertive. If you thought
that the Quartet – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – had folded its tent and faded into the
night, you might be forgiven for thinking that, since it has achieved so little. But it continues
to exist, and is working on a policy document setting out what needs to be done. I am not
holding my breath. That leaves the French. I am not saying much about our Government –
their mind is elsewhere – an error we can correct, but for now let’s focus on the French, as
our partners and rivals in EU foreign policy formulation. They propose an international
conference on the conflict this summer. Today Abbas is keen and Netanyahu is cool, but has
yet to say no. He was irritated by the remark of France’s then Foreign Minister, Laurent
Fabius, last month that if the conference fails to come about, or fails to work, then France will
recognise the State of Palestine, albeit under Occupation. I have long admired, and
sometimes been jealous of, French diplomacy. I think they’ve got this right.

Three possible outcomes to the Israel/Palestine conflict

I believe we are at a decisive point in this conflict. I see three possible ways ahead. Only one
of them is actually a way forward. The first is more of the same – the status quo continued. That means continued illegal Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, contrary to the 4th Geneva
Convention, and the continued closure of Gaza, locking in 1.8 million people – most of them
under university age. It means chronic violence in and from Gaza – if nothing changes, the
conditions for violence there will recur. It probably means a continuation of the sporadic
violence in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and indeed in Green Line Israel proper.
Israel’s security forces are strong and well practiced in preemption, though not always with
proportionate use of force. In the last Gaza war Israel’s use of force was not proportionate,
and Israel’s international standing suffered as a result. Israel will continue down this spiral as
long as she maintains the Occupation.

The words “status quo” have a seductively reassuring ring – an air of continuity, pause for
breath, time to take stock. This status quo is different – it’s dynamic, with already 650,000
Israeli illegal settlers on the Palestinian side of the Green Line, and more coming every year.
That’s over 10% of the Israeli voting population: an increasingly influential political force.
This status quo suits some Israelis – by no means all Israelis – but no Palestinians at all. To
me, it risks meaning the end of the EU’s favoured option of two contiguous sovereign states
on ’67 lines sharing Jerusalem as the capital of both – in other words, the demise of the two
state solution, and thus of the agreed aim of the international community for the last 25
years or more. I think that’s bad for Israelis, and I know it’s bad for Palestinians. It’s bad for
Israel’s international standing. It means the army of one people continuing to boss another
people, with corrosive effect on both peoples. It’s bad for Palestinians because it deprives
them of the sovereign state to which they aspire in Gaza, the West Bank and East
Jerusalem, and thus of the opportunity to invest in that state, to make something of it, to give
their children prospects. The absence of those prospects is daunting.

The second possible outcome is more clear-cut, but with the same result: it’s called the one state
outcome, or the ”bi-national state” – ie two peoples in one state – which Mr Netanyahu
swears will never happen. There are some in his cabinet who favour illegally annexing the
countryside of the West Bank, just as Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. It is a
short step from there to the assimilation of the West Bank into “Greater Israel”, bringing 3 or
– if you included Gaza – 5 million Palestinians into a state created explicitly for the Jewish
people. If those people had equal rights, the present Jewish majority in Israel might lose
power. That’s not what Mr Netanyahu is about. Nor do I favour the one state outcome. I fear
it would not be a state of equality, of equal rights for all, in my lifetime. To use a word that
Secretary Kerry whispered, quite deliberately, it would be an apartheid state.
One major drawback of both these outcomes is that they internalize and perpetuate
violence, because they perpetuate the Occupation of 1967 and the illegalities inherent in the
conduct of that Occupation. Both deprive a people – the Palestinian people – of hope.
The third outcome is the one which the West has urged on the two parties to this conflict for
decades – a two state solution which ends the 1967 Occupation while safeguarding the
security of both Israelis and Palestinians and beginning to undo the harm caused by
decades of mutual suspicion, of mistrust, of hatred. Easier said than done, as the last 49
years of Occupation have proved. This outcome needs work, lots of it, and lots of moral
courage. It entails risk – more risk for Israel than for the Palestinians, because the Israeli
authorities now exercise control of the Palestinian territory and the people through the
Occupation, and will be expected to give it up. For it to work, Palestinians will need to
exercise new-found power responsibly. Some of the 650,000 settlers will have to go home to
Green Line Israel. Otherwise, there is no contiguous Palestinian state – just a collection of
Palestinian bantustans in the West Bank.

We are not close to an equitable two-state outcome today, and many Palestinians say that it
is a pipe-dream – so very far from the grim reality they live. But it remains the best available
outcome for both peoples, and for us here. It’s pretty clear what’s in it for the Palestinians –
though it does not address all of their concerns, including the plight of Palestinian refugees
from 1948 and 1967. For Israelis to embrace the change, the goal of enhanced security for
their children needs to be attainable, and credible – and the alternatives, including the status
quo, need to become much less appealing, less comfortable. There is a security role here for
the US, for NATO, for the EU. There is a major role for the Arab states, offering recognition
for Israel, trade with and investment with Israel, based on the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002.
There is a role for us British, as a concerned friend of both peoples: first warning of
consequences for any illegal acts by either party, and then following through consistently if
those illegal acts are repeated. Our Governments talk the talk, but hesitate to do more than

Some say that Israel would be foolish to withdraw in a phased manner from the land
occupied in 1967 – just look at the turmoil in the neighbourhood… The counter-argument is
that no one in his right mind is asking Israel to disarm – but Israel’s long-term interest lies in
a peace treaty with the Palestinians such as Israel has negotiated with Jordan and Egypt.
Those vital peace treaties, and the turmoil in Syria and elsewhere, mean that today there is
absolutely no strategic threat to Israel from any of her Arab neighbours, unlike 1948 or, most
recently, 1973. At the same time, there is genuine urgency: an equitable two state solution is
disappearing before our eyes. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Hope is dwindling
– to many Palestinians, their situation is hopeless, and that is dangerous.
Why we should care, and what we can do.

So, what’s it to us? The answer depends on who we think we are, and what we stand for.
What are our values, and where do our interests lie? We have “form” on this conflict, going
back even before the Balfour Declaration whose centenary is on 2 November next year. In
1917 our Foreign Secretary said: “Her Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which
may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.
Part two of that Declaration, that promise, is still unfinished business. Our unfinished
business. In my view, only the creation of the Palestinian state alongside Israel will complete

I commend to you the work of a group of British academics and people of faith who have
joined together in the Balfour Project – http://www.balfourproject.org – to shed light on that corner
of our country’s history, for the benefit of our young people and those charged with their
education. The Project promotes justice, security and peace for Israelis and for Palestinians.
We British co wrote the 4th Geneva Convention, after World War 2. Israel and the
Palestinians – the PLO – have signed and ratified it. Israel’s conduct of this Occupation does
not conform to that Convention – it breaches it in several regards: the settlements are illegal,
as is the Separation Barrier or Wall wherever it trespasses on Palestinian soil, which is often;
the closure of Gaza, banning movement to the West Bank, is in effect collective punishment.

There are other examples. This is not to condone the terrifying and indiscriminate rocket fire
from Gaza, currently suspended – nor the stabbings and other violence to which I have
referred. But two wrongs do not make a right. Justice requires an even handed approach if
we really want to end this conflict, not just manage it. Expediency suggests trying to manage
it – and diplomats are familiar with expediency – but the right thing to do is to try to end this
conflict, which has poisoned and stunted the region for 50 years and more.

Politically, what can be done? France shows us the way. The international conference will
only work if Israel sees opportunity for a better future not just with her nearest neighbours,
the Palestinians, but with the entire Arab world – and sees that she is losing altitude
internationally through her conduct of the Occupation. France is prepared to recognise the
state of Palestine on ’67 lines if the conference doesn’t happen, or doesn’t work. Recognition
of Palestine is in the gift of our Government, who are reluctant to do it. But there is an urgent
need to save the two state outcome – what better way to do so than to legitimize and
strengthen the voice of moderate, non-violent Palestinians, without in any way delegitimising
the state of Israel? Where France leads, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and others will follow. The
message to the parties will be so much stronger if HM Government work with France on this
issue. It matters greatly that Britain and France, the two European members of the UN
Security Council, should work in concert, objectively, giving primacy to security for both
peoples in Israel/Palestine and to upholding International Law.

There are British interests as well as British values at stake. The self-styled Islamic State or
Da’esh makes much of its call to “liberate” the al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, the third
most holy shrine in Islam. Da’esh will do nothing of the kind, of course – but its sinister and
efficient propaganda machine denounces the double standards of the West, including the
United Kingdom, and claims that Israel acts as if she is above the law, with impunity. Some
British youths may be swayed by this line. There is anecdotal evidence to support this. It is
directly in our own security interest to uphold International Law without fear or favour – and
to be seen to do so. That will confound Islamic State, which has misappropriated and
abused the name of a great religion.

And finally – what can we in this room do? We should do what we can, while heeding the
wise words – “Do no harm”. Those of us with political influence – and that’s all of us in this
democracy – should argue for more from our elected representatives than just DFID funding
for Palestinians and ritual diplomatic condemnation of Israel when she creates new, illegal
facts on the ground. Leaving this conflict to fester harms Israelis, Palestinians and us. So we
should give everybody a hard time – but exerting maximum influence where we have the
greatest clout, and on those with the greatest ability to change things. We should start with
our own Government, because it is nearest to home, and we have great influence on it. Of
the two parties, Israel has the power, and occupies the land. Palestinians need to reunite,
and hold free, fair elections – the result of which we should respect.

Sheffield, this excellent university, is doing good things with Israeli and Palestinian students,
including a valuable Gaza connection. I am delighted that public health student Hind al Alami
from Gaza is here with us. In all of Palestine, Gaza is in the greatest need of skilled people
to do what their community needs most. There is always more for Sheffield to do. Israel is
well served by her universities. The Palestinians are the ones in greater need – their
universities lack funding, external support and, in the case of Gaza, room to breathe. They
need joint research projects, partners in bids for EU programmes – you name it. Israeli and
Palestinian universities are centres of excellence, shaping the minds of the next generation.
In partnership with Sheffield and like-minded British universities, they can only get better –
and it’s a two way street. The same goes for community links, church links, school links. I
happen to be the patron of the Britain Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network (BPFTN),
whose volunteer members do much good. In their spare time they come together locally to
link with Palestine or a locality in Palestine – helping people there to feel less isolated, more
valued, not forgotten. Please look at their website – http://www.twinningwithpalestine.net.
With regard to Israel, I do not favour academic boycotts – as an ex diplomat, I believe in
talking, in the power of persuasion. There is one exception, and it is not in Israel. There is a
college in Ariel, an illegal Israeli settlement in the middle of the Palestinian West Bank. Mr
Netanyahu elevated it to university status a couple of years ago, against the advice of the
relevant Israeli academic body. The German Government has written to all German
universities advising them to have nothing to do with Ariel. That’s my advice, too.
To conclude: yes, there can be peace between Israel and Palestine, if we act evenhandedly
and encourage our partners to do so. Inertia will kill the two state solution – which remains
the best and just solution.

Of our Government and elected representatives I ask more activism, more willingness to
speak the truth to power, to call things by their name, and to uphold the international laws we
wrote. I ask them to work with France and other EU partners to legitimise the non-violent
voices in Palestine through recognition of the State of Palestine, removing a potent
propaganda weapon from Islamic State while doing the right thing.
Of this right minded University, I ask for a fresh outreach effort to both Israel and to Palestine
– taking into account who needs us the more. Israel has America, no question. Palestine
needs us, and we do well to recognise that fact – and that state.

Ceasefire of hostilities or Ceasefire 28/02/2016

The ceasefire in Syria that took effect on Saturday was part of a negotiated deal, based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, passed in December 2015. The deal that contained three main commitments around humanitarian access, a negotiated ceasefire and a political transition was reached in Munich by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), a group of international actors mandated to find a resolution to the Syrian conflict. The ISSG, which includes major regional actors, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, as well as regional bodies, such as the Arab League and the European Union, has emerged out of previous attempts, notably the Geneva process, to negotiate a political solution to the Syrian conflict.
The major difference between the ISSG’s success in negotiating a deal in February had little to do with its structure or political agreement among the key sides. Instead, the February deal has everything to do with the changing dynamics on the ground and the ability of Russia and its allies to impose a political vision for ending the conflict that suits their interests. Below are answers to some key questions about what these commitments entail, what their chances of success are, and how the Munich agreement may shape the future of Syria.
What does the ceasefire in Syria mean on the ground? Which areas will observe it and which areas will not?
In theory, the ceasefire should apply to all of Syria. However, Russia has insisted that, along with its allied forces, it reserve the right to attack the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and al-Nusra Front forces as these two groups are outside the framework of the ceasefire, as are other groups labelled as ‘terrorist’ by the UN. This means that the ceasefire is not geographically demarcated. This exception to the ceasefire is very problematic, however, because Russian forces have attacked many rebel groups and civilian areas under the justification of attacking ISIL and Nusra. The commitment to a political transition envisaged through the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is unlikely to generate resources and energy at this point when so much focus is on the ceasefire.

These two groups have become convenient scapegoats for Russian attacks throughout Syria. Russia has essentially reserved the right to militarily engage any armed groups in Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIL and Nusra. The United States has been working with Russia in an attempt to designate whether certain areas are ceasefire-abiding areas or not, but they have yet to agree on the specific geographic contours of the agreement. The absence of such contours will give Russia greater military latitude. Practically speaking, this means that large swaths of Syrian territory in which these groups are present, particularly in the eastern and northwestern parts of the country, will remain active conflict zones. Groups outside of the ceasefire, such as Ahrar al-Sham and others labelled as terrorist groups, remain present in parts of Homs and Hama provinces, as well as near Damascus, meaning these areas also potentially lie outside of the ceasefire zones.

What are the chances of the ceasefire holding and for how long? What could it hold and why might it not?
The ceasefire is unlikely to hold for three main reasons: First, Russia and its allies have reserved the right to attack forces outside of the ceasefire. This means that any violence on the ground that is committed by Russia or regime-led forces can be justified within the framework of the Munich agreement and the ceasefire under the pretense of fighting ISIL. As such, Russia can have its cake and eat it, too; it has reserved the right to militarily engage armed groups while demanding that they cease all hostilities. Second, there are simply thousands of small, organised brigades in Syria that have little interest in a cessation of hostilities. There is a network of armed groups who have benefitted handsomely from the conflict and for whom a ceasefire may threaten them and their activities. It is counterintuitive; however, it is important to note that not all of the violence in Syria is driven by meta political issues, such as trying to overthrow the regime, and that there are micro political issues, such as security and smuggling, that also motivate armed groups.

With little incentive aside from the possible reprieve from Russian bombing, it is unlikely that many of these groups will be motivated to observe the ceasefire. Third, most of the rebel groups inside of Syria cooperate with other groups on the battlefield. This cooperation has as much to do with their political or ideological affinities as it does their relative strengths and weaknesses and need to build alliances to make military gains. Thus, very few armed groups inside Syria operate independently of other groups, blurring the distinctions between them. Isolating a few groups as outside of the ceasefire betrays the organisational structure of violence on the ground and the reality that most groups cooperate on the battlefield.

How many of the rebel groups have committed to the ceasefire?

According to the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee (HNC), more than 100 rebel factions agreed to abide by the terms of the ceasefire. Many of the stronger rebel groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, are outside of the terms of the ceasefire as they are labelled as terrorist groups and remain subject to attacks. This will complicate and weaken the ceasefire as both of these groups are known to cooperate with opposition-backed armed groups committed to the ceasefire. The greatest chance for success of the ceasefire is if there is significant compliance over the initial two-week period and that this brings different groups – whether officially or not – under the umbrella of the ceasefire.

What are the chances that humanitarian aid will reach the besieged areas?

While chances that the ceasefire will hold are slim, the agreement will likely lead to enhanced humanitarian access throughout the country. Humanitarian airlifts are about to begin the delivery of relief to besieged areas, and there are agreements between regime and opposition forces to lift sieges imposed on specific towns and villages. This includes Madaya, where a devastating siege by regime forces has been in place for months. Creating and maintaining access to areas in need should be reinforced by a large commitment of ISSG members to provide medicines, food, and other necessities. Unfortunately, the agreement does not carry stipulations for levels of humanitarian aid as it focuses solely on creating access.

Will the ceasefire lead to a political transition?

Advancing a political transition is the third goal of the agreement but is the least likely to generate any interest among the main parties at this point. At this point, international efforts have been focused on efforts where there is relative agreement specifically on the need for a ceasefire and creating humanitarian access. The contours of a political transition remain very contentious, and while the Western world is gravitating towards the Russian position on the architecture of a political transition, there is enough resistance from the political opposition and regional states to prevent a consensus on the issue. The commitment to a political transition envisaged through the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 is unlikely to generate resources and energy at this point when so much focus is on the ceasefire.