Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Floating Hope has a new Tenant @ Virtual Africa

I am so glad to have met Peter Miller (Graham Mills inSL) and then discover his strong education background and interest. This is exactly the quality of community member that we would like to attract to Virtual Africa Region in 2010. Welcome Mr. Mills. We look forward to sharing some virtual space.... Ps: He also posted a blog entry:

TidalBlog: Floating Hope

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reconcile and Rest in Peace

Yesterday, it was the 16th of December and in South Africa this day is a declared public holiday since 1838, and then revisited after 1994, and declared a public holiday again. It was also the day that  former Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, passed away. And the day that my concerns for South Africa rose to the surface again. It was the Day of Reconciliation. I grew up in an Afrikaans-speaking community and came to know the 16th as the Day of the Vow, described as one of South Africa's public holidays on the South African Government website:  

On 16 December 1838 about 10 000 troops under the command of Dambuza (Nzobo) and  Nhlela attacked the Voortrekkers, but the 470 Voortrekkers, with the advantage of gun powder, warded them off. Only three Voortrekkers were wounded, but more than 3 000 Zulus were killed during the battle.
In apartheid South Africa 16 December was known as Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers in preparation for the battle took a Vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory. With the advent of democracy in South Africa 16 December retained its status as a public holiday, however, this time with the purpose of fostering reconciliation and national unity.
And then I read an article in the New York Times and my heart sank a bit again as I listened to the views of one Afrikaans-speaking male in his late fourties - and knowing that he represents the sentiments of quite a number of South Africans: "The Day of Reconciliation may be a good idea, but for Afrikaners, the Day of the Vow is still what’s in our hearts,” said Johan de Beer, 46, a teacher waiting on the steps for the gates of the monument to open in the early morning. “This is a religious holiday that is based on our people’s history.”" It is a good idea (only) ?? followed by a 'BUT'... How could there possibly be a 'BUT' these days, in this country?

Now let there be no doubt:  I speak Afrikaans, English and German, understand some isiXhosa and Dutch. I can also help myself a bit in sign language. I have a light-skinned female avatar in Second Life and speak with the voice of a female in Skype. I also have a dark-skinned male avatar that I manage for our company. I am more than the stereotype  - just like you. I define myself simply as human and South African . Lately, I started thinking I am "Euro-African": only these - not black, not white, not inbetween, nor any cother colour or lack of it. I am also not an Afrikaner, or a Boer merely because 'Alanagh Recreant' is a light skinned avatar from South Africa that also speaks and loves Afrikaans. And certainly not a "whitey" nor umlungu (which means the same as 'dirty scum' from waves)- one of those racially-charged and hurtful linguistic shackles in our collective vocubulary. I defy being defined in terms of my race, my nation, spirtuality, religious background, cultural affinity or sexual preference. And I will not stand prejudice and human rights' violation in any form - have not in the past and will not now.. 

... which is why I am so uncomfortable about Gareth Cliff's insensitive remarks (which in itself is his constitutional right to free speech!) when the former Minister of Health, 'Manto' in nation's talk, died yesterday - despite the allegations that she did not seize drinking after the first transpart, or the fact that her support of  flawed ANC policies on HIV/Aids (at the time) may have done irreversable damage to many families losing loved ones to the disease.  For THIS most of us agree upon: the shame of her under-achievement when she had her courageous deputy, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, fired when she challenged Manto's policies on Aids and exposed the state of hospitals in the media. Unacceptable. However, she was also a gender activist and contributed to the struggle in a big way, as so well described by Stephan Grootes in The Daily Maverick:
"Tshabalala-Msimang's contribution to our democracy is huge. We should remember her for that. We should remember that she gave up almost her entire life, put herself in danger, and left her family for the cold Russian winter, in the hopes of making things better for her people. She achieved that, and lived to see a better life for all. For that, we should be grateful. But her legacy is also the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Aids sufferers who could have been saved had her beliefs been different".

The fact is that death is inevitable for all, and that it is the last thing that any human being will do on earth. It is the ultimate human right (although not mentioned explicitly in the top 30 list) to die with dignity in a civilised society. And, it is just unacceptable that her right to such dignity as a human being - even though she passed on - is being disregarded via @GarethCliff and others:
"Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers - all three of them."

This is deeply personal for me in a way: My father, an active  minister (of religion) in a small community was declined a liver transplant (due to non-alcoholic liver chirrosis) by local doctors at the MediClinic George two years ago. We were told to prepare for the inevitable as (1) there were 'not enough organs available in South Africa' and (2) he would 'not qualify due to age'! He passed on a defeated man five months later at the George Mediclinic. It was a digified moment in the early morning -  on 10 January 2007. He was 70 years old. A few weeks later I learned about Manto's liver transplant on the frontpage news, and age not being the main consideration. Today, I read that there are not enough patients for all the available donors. And this knowledge was not enough for either my dad or for Manto, or our families. 

Life has moved on, and it will serve no purpose to reflect on the medical wisdom or lack of it in the past and be tortured by 'IFs' and seeking reasons... I can merely remember and forgive - even myself. And believe it was his time to move on, and he has. 

The fact remains: Reconciliation in South Africa can only happen at a personal level between people. One on one. It is not pie in the sky stuff. It is respect for humanity and for life - so that a healthy liver (cleaning the body of toxins) is wished upon anyone that needs it regardless of our own subjective judgment on whether she/her 'deserves' it. 

President Zuma spoke at Freedom Park in Pretoria yesterday. I could not agree more with him: "Let me emphasise that in this era of promoting renewal, we must promote the values of non-racialism, reconciliation and non-sexism amongst all our people, black and white," he said. However,  Mr. President, with respect, please do NOT assume that I have NOT done that already, merely based on what others say or do that look like me or talk like me. And similarly, please do not think for one moment that all those that look different than I do, or talk in one of our other 11 languages, have actually managed to overcome the deeply entrenched hurt of the past by now - without demanding that I suffer for the sins of my 'fathers'.

Yes, we need to get beyond and far away from stereotyping people based on their skin colour, their gender, their income-levels, their fashion, their career choice, their confictions, their associations, their sexual orientation, and most of all, their mistakes of the past - whether they are in the physical world or in a virtual world or social network.

We should be judged by our actions and not by the colour of our skin: and this is exactly where both  Manto Tsabalala-Msimang and Gareth Cliff failed in my book. The first by not acting with the power she had to protect innocent people from the deadly spread of HIV/Aids in South Africa, and the second, for not knowing when her influence is over and her family deserves the respect that she did not earn from him.

At least both spoke out bluntly and fearlessly about the convictions, with the necessary disregard for criticism, and were cut from the same cloth in this respect.  Few hidden agendas. Freedom of Speech some times knows no boundaries. Maybe it should.

~ This blog entry is in memory of my father, Chris Steenkamp, who  challenged me intellectually and supported my visit to the South African Council of Churches in 1989 where I met the late Beyers Naude who made a lasting impression on me ~

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alis volat propriis - it flies with its own wings, or not yet?

Today I spent some time on my own outside the virtual African Lounge at Robben Island in Second Life(R), and I thought about the journey in virtual worlds to date: Our project has gained its own momentum and has grown wings beyond the small Uthango office at the old Sunset Commerce inSL. But does it fly yet? I am not sure... 

I have now just completed distribution of almost 300 notecards to my personal network about the status of Uthango's metaAfrica(TM) project. It is important that people know that we are having a tough time with this project in Second Life due to the financial costs. I think I will also post the same information on our project blog soon.

We currently have four sims - two full sims, and two homesteads - that are located next to each other and form a seamless region (beneath) for 3000 people (and counting) to explore every month. Some are even permanently camping at metaAfrica 1 to support our vision and have a home in Second Life. In these times, we hear much about landowners and projects downscaling, but we have stubbornly clung to the idea of having a region - working towards finding an African-based company or agency to partner with Uthango Social Investments. It has always felt like home to me, but then again - I am home in Africa - being an Euro-African (a term I have conjured up to define myself recently) and given my European roots in France in the 1600s and my place of birth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in a rural village. Our region has lots of water, because (1) Africa has a coastline of beauty, (2) people love rafting, sailing and fishing here and (3) I am drawn to water like a typical Aquarian:

The month of November has been particularly busy in South Africa, and I could not spend my own time fishing in Virtual Africa on the small jetty overlooking a few animated and competing crocodile. Directions to my favourite fishing spot if you are active in SL: Click HERE.

Yes, we did also start to build a typical township / shantytown as part of our next phase of the project, but truthfully my efforts and energies were directed towards capacity-building workshops for 80 civil society organisations in South Africa on advocacy and campaigning: Online Ambassadors and Digital Nomads
Even this national initiative is part of the bigger picture for us, and organisations are SO keen to be part of virtual worlds. We have had the same request from organisations in Kenya and Egypt. Uthango is working on a plan to make that possible, and to enable them to link with the international community via this platform.

We ask ourselves so many questions recently: Is the community in South Africa more important than the community online in virtual worlds - miles away from the continent? If the economy is so cloudy, and resources thinly-spread, is it responsible to be in a virtual world and spend time, energy with advocacy in this format? 

So every now and again when my thoughts are pulled in many directions and I face the plight of our clients, I find a spot in a virtual world and remind myself (as well!) WHY we are doing this: And yes, yes, yes - we need to be present in virtual worlds and not just present, but ACTIVE. Information poverty is at the heart of many injustices in the world. And with upcoming European, Asian and American youth that are computer savvy, connected and AVATAR-friendly in a very connected 3D-online space, we have a responsibility to bring Africa into the loop as a parallel strategy to putting cables in the ground and connecting wires to gain access to technology continent-wide.

A young person in Amsterdam, Netherlands SHOULD be able to connect directly with another in Lusaka, Zambia and speak about cultural experiences during the holiday season after playing an online game, or maybe BECAUSE the game is designed to do exactly that. Also, if not, we design solutions top-down and may find that we have missed out on so many possibilities to make the world a more equal place of opportunity.

The virtual economy is growing and is already pinned at 8 Biillion USD per annum. Africa's 1 billion people COULD benefit directly from it if the DESIGN and INTENTION is in place. If the United Nations Millenium Development Goals highlight free trade and global partnerships as one of its eight goals, in MY book we include equal opportunity for virtual worlds as the upcoming emerging platform. Regardless of the developmental goal, it makes good business sense. More about that later...

It is all about timing. The biggest question is maybe: Will our wings be strong enough when it is TIME to fly? One organisation, One vision for Africa in virtual worlds, Several opportunities And all we need is a bit more time and our community. We think.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Google SideWiki & Uthango

Since I work for Uthango, and manages our digital footprint, I was surprised to log on today and find that Google SIDEWIKI was launched. It is an interesting tool, with no opt out for domain owners.

Nevertheless, it brings the opportunity to engage our new website visitors and extract comments and feedback on our work. Yes, like everything else, there is the possibility for abuse. Looking forward to see if Google adds value to our online experience(s).

Read more about our company under the ABOUT tab, where you will find an embedded profile.

in reference to: Uthango Social Investments - Welcome...! (view on Google Sidewiki)

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