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Thabo Mbeki responds to the Nkandla judgment



 Thabo Mbeki.

On 31 March, 2016, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng conveyed the unanimous decision of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) in the matter of “Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others [2016] ZACC 11.”

This decision has evoked much understandable and inevitable political discussion and activity in our country, which has included calls for the immediate removal of the President of the Republic.

However what must also preoccupy the nation, including and especially the political parties, is the wider and deeper significance of the ConCourt decision.

That wider and deeper significance derives from the fact that in its consideration of the “Nkandla matter”, the ConCourt made an outstanding contribution to the clarification of the issue – what do we mean when we say that ours is a Constitutional Democracy?

It has therefore made a critical contribution in terms of the evolution of our democracy by posing and answering the question – what does our Constitution prescribe in terms of how South Africa should be governed?

In this context it has also answered the question in the affirmative – should any consequences arise from any failure by anybody or any governance institution to act according to the Constitutional prescripts?

The adoption of the Constitution in 1996 constituted a strategically important step forward towards defining the kind of new South Africa we all want, thus to end the centuries-long period of conflict-ridden colonial and apartheid rule.

‘What must we do to avoid bad governance?’

The Constitution was therefore conceived and designed as an agreed social compact about South African Governance that is binding on the Nation as a whole.

Necessarily it constituted and constitutes a United National Response to the question – what must we do in the new South Africa to avoid the fundamentally Bad Governance which characterised the old South Africa of colonialism and apartheid?

The ConCourt put this matter in these words:

“One of the crucial elements of our constitutional vision is to make a decisive break from the unchecked abuse of State power and resources that was virtually institutionalised during the apartheid era. To achieve this goal, we adopted accountability, the rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution as values of our constitutional democracy. For this reason, public office-bearers ignore their constitutional obligations at their peril. This is so because constitutionalism, accountability and the rule of law constitute the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity off its stiffened neck.”

Thus, to constitute the new, we took the solemn decision to define our System of Governance as a Constitutional Democracy.

Together, through the Constitutional Assembly and the extensive National Consultations which contributed to the outcomes of the Assembly, we therefore made the determination that it will only be through respect for and the implementation of the provisions of our Constitutional Democracy that:

  • we will avoid the conflict-ridden Bad Governance of the past, including through the full application of the rule of law;
    • we will be able to regulate the contending interests which had become entrenched because of that past, as well as those that would arise in future;
    • we will achieve national unity and reconciliation; and,
    • we will build a new South Africa that truly belongs to all who live in it, committed, among others, to heal the divisions of the past.

Supreme law of the land

It therefore stands to reason that when all of us decided to establish a Constitutional Democracy, we accepted and committed ourselves to respect the legal, political and ethical obligations which attend this strategic decision about our System of Governance.

By definition, the practice of Constitutional Democracy means recognition of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and therefore the central determinant of our Governance System.

Indeed, in this regard, our Constitution says:

“This Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic; law or conduct inconsistent with it is invalid, and the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled.”

It was to honour this Constitutional precept, which is fundamental to any Constitutional Democracy, that in considering the “Nkandla matter”, the ConCourt had to make the determination for which it is constitutionally empowered, as to whether the decisions and actions of the State Organs concerned were consistent with the Constitution.

In this context it underlined the requirement that the obligations imposed by the Constitution must be fulfilled.

It therefore commented that:

“Certain values in the Constitution have been designated as foundational to our democracy. This in turn means that as pillar-stones of this democracy, they must be observed scrupulously. If these values are not observed and their precepts not carried out conscientiously, we have a recipe for a constitutional crisis of great magnitude. In a State predicated on a desire to maintain the rule of law, it is imperative that one and all should be driven by a moral obligation to ensure the continued survival of our democracy.”

One of these ‘foundational values’ is obviously the prescript that all the obligations imposed by the Constitution must be fulfilled.

As a corollary to this, the ConCourt therefore made the determination that failure to observe these ‘foundational values’ might threaten the very ‘survival of our democracy’, and therefore constitute a counter-revolutionary act, where the revolution is understood as the establishment of our Constitutional Democracy.

State organs

Ours is a young Constitutional Democracy and will inevitably make mistakes as it works faithfully to implement the provisions contained within this Democracy, as prescribed by the Constitution.

It therefore stands to reason that everybody concerned and all State Organs should regularly assess their decisions and actions taken over time, to determine whether these have been correct in the context of the legal, political and ethical obligations arising from the continuous effort to ensure the proper functioning of a Constitutional Democracy.

This assessment would make it possible for all concerned to take such corrective action as might be necessary.

The eminent ConCourt Judgement relating to the “Nkandla matter” has laid a vitally important foundation for such an assessment, which, again, all those concerned should act upon.

In this regard, and as all of us know, the ConCourt dealt definitively with such matters that are important to our Constitutional Democracy as:

  • the separation of powers among the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary;
    • the role and tasks of the Executive, especially the President of the Republic;
    • the role and tasks of the National Assembly;
    • the role and tasks of the Judiciary; and,
    • the role and tasks of the Public Protector.

In this regard all of us will have studied the comments of the ConCourt about the role and tasks of the President of the Republic when it said that, among others:

“The President is the Head of State and Head of the National Executive. His is indeed the highest calling to the highest office in the land…As the Head of State and the Head of the National Executive, the President is uniquely positioned, empowered and resourced to do much more than what other public office-bearers can do…

“He is after all, the image of South Africa and the first to remember at its mention on any global platform…

“He is a constitutional being by design, a national pathfinder, the quintessential commander-in-chief of State affairs and the personification of this nation’s constitutional project…The President is a constitutional being. In the Constitution the President exists, moves and has his being. Virtually all his obligations are constitutional in nature because they have their origin, in some way, in the Constitution…

“Unsurprisingly, the nation pins its hopes on him to steer the country in the right direction and accelerate our journey towards a peaceful, just and prosperous destination that all other progress-driven nations strive towards on a daily basis…

“Only upon him has the constitutional obligation to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic been expressly imposed.

“The promotion of national unity and reconciliation falls squarely on his shoulders…to unite the nation, obviously with particular regard to the painful divisions of the past… “He initiates and gives the final stamp of approval to all national legislation.

“And almost all the key role players in the realisation of our constitutional vision and the aspirations of all our people are appointed and may ultimately be removed by him…

“The President has the duty to ensure that State resources are used only for the advancement of State interests. On the other hand, there is the real risk of him closing an eye to possible wastage, if he is likely to derive personal benefit from indifference. To find oneself on the wrong side of Section 96 (of the Constitution), all that needs to be proven is a risk. It does not even have to materialise…The President is expected to endure graciously and admirably and fulfil all obligations imposed on him, however unpleasant.

“He is required to promise solemnly and sincerely to always connect with the true dictates of his conscience in the execution of his duties…

“The President (should) do all he can to ensure that our constitutional democracy thrives. He must provide support to all institutions or measures designed to strengthen our constitutional democracy. More directly, he is to ensure that the Constitution is known, treated and related to, as the supreme law of the Republic…

“He is required to (discharge his responsibilities) with all his strength, all his talents and to the best of his knowledge and abilities.”

The constitutional duties of the president

Arising from all these critically important responsibilities of the President of the Republic, and in the context of what we have suggested concerning a periodic assessment of our success in terms of ensuring the proper functioning of our Constitutional Democracy, it would seem obvious that:

  • whatever Political Party/s present candidates to Parliament for election to the post of President of the Republic, they must satisfy themselves that such candidate/s have the capacity to discharge their Constitutional responsibilities in our Constitutional Democracy;
    • Parliament must take all necessary measures to satisfy itself that the person it elects is capable of and is committed to this discharge of their Constitutional responsibilities in our Constitutional Democracy;
    • subsequently, in honouring its oversight responsibilities over the Executive, Parliament should regularly make an assessment of whether the elected President is indeed carrying out his/her Constitutional responsibilities; and,
    • Government and the State should ensure that the President is provided with the ways and means to empower her/him effectively to discharge the said Constitutional responsibilities.

It is also important that we understand the observations made by the ConCourt concerning the National Assembly, including its comments that:

“The National Assembly, and by extension Parliament, is the embodiment of the centuries-old dreams and legitimate aspirations of all our people. It is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered.

“It is the watchdog of State resources, the enforcer of fiscal discipline and cost-effectiveness for the common good of all our people.

“It also bears the responsibility to play an oversight role over the Executive and State organs and ensure that constitutional and statutory obligations are properly executed. For this reason, it fulfils a pre-eminently unique role of holding the Executive accountable for the fulfilment of the promises made to the populace through the State of the Nation Address, budget speeches, policies, legislation and the Constitution, duly undergirded by the affirmation or oath of office constitutionally administered to the Executive before assumption of office.

“Parliament also passes legislation with due regard to the needs and concerns of the broader South African public. The willingness and obligation to do so is reinforced by each member’s equally irreversible public declaration of allegiance to the Republic, obedience, respect and vindication of the Constitution and all law of the Republic, to the best of her abilities…Parliament ‘must act in accordance with, and within the limits of, the Constitution’, and the supremacy of the Constitution requires that ‘the obligations imposed by it must be fulfilled’…

“In sum, Parliament is the mouthpiece, the eyes and the service-delivery-ensuring machinery of the people. No doubt, it is an irreplaceable feature of good governance in South Africa.”

Arising from all the foregoing, it would seem obvious that:

  • all Political Parties must ensure that their Parliamentary members understand that their first responsibility as Members of Parliament, above Party loyalty, is to serve as the ‘voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least remembered’;
    • similarly, Parliament should conduct induction processes for all its Members such that they understand this principal individual and collective responsibility on their part;
    • consequently Parliament should educate its Members to understand the meaning of their oversight role over the Executive and State organs, which includes ensuring that these properly execute their Constitutional and Statutory obligations, and meet the commitments they have made to Parliament, again above Party loyalty;
    • Parliament should also help to ensure that each Member understands that with regard to whatever she/he does, she/he is duty bound to honour to their best of her/his ability her/his public declaration of allegiance to the Republic, and obedience, respect and vindication of the Constitution and all law of the Republic;
    • the Parliamentary Presiding Officers in particular must ensure that Parliament implements all Decisions handed down by the Courts relating to Parliament, consistent with the Separation of Powers, including as this relates to oversight over the Executive and the State Organs; and,
    • these Presiding Officers must ensure that in everything it does, Parliament respects the reality that ours is a Constitutional Democracy and therefore that the Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic with obligations which must be fulfilled.

The ConCourt also made observations which relate to the Judiciary, including itself, the ConCourt, as when it said:

“As the highest court in constitutional matters and “the ultimate guardian of the Constitution and its values”, (the ConCourt) has “to adjudicate finally in respect of issues which would inevitably have important political consequences”.

“Also to be factored into this process is the utmost importance of the highest court in the land being the one to deal with disputes that have crucial and sensitive political implications…

“Courts must be conscious of the vital limits on judicial authority and the Constitution’s design to leave certain matters to other branches of government. They too must observe the constitutional limits of their authority. This means that the judiciary should not interfere in the processes of other branches of government unless to do so is mandated by the Constitution. “Courts are required by the Constitution ‘to ensure that all branches of government act within the law’ and fulfil their constitutional obligations…

“It falls outside the parameters of judicial authority to prescribe to the National Assembly how to scrutinise executive action, what mechanisms to establish and which mandate to give them, for the purpose of holding the Executive accountable and fulfilling its oversight role of the Executive or organs of State in general. The mechanics of how to go about fulfilling these constitutional obligations is a discretionary matter best left to the National Assembly.

“Ours is a much broader and less intrusive role. And that is to determine whether what the National Assembly did does in substance and in reality amount to fulfilment of its constitutional obligations. That is the sum-total of the constitutionally permissible judicial enquiry to be embarked upon.”

Again arising from the foregoing, it would seem obvious that given the delicate role that the Judiciary must play within the context of the Separation of powers in a Constitutional Democracy, it would be important that:

  • the processes to select and appoint Members of the Judiciary should be such that they give the best possible guarantee that those selected are properly qualified truly to understand the meaning and application of the Separation of Powers and the role and place of the Judiciary in this regard, in the context of the reality that ours is a Constitutional Democracy;
    • the leadership of the Judiciary, especially the Chief Justice, should undertake the processes that Members of the Judiciary are properly schooled with regard to the immediate foregoing; and,
    • this leadership, especially the Chief Justice, should engage the Members of the Judiciary in educational processes to ensure that these Members understand the national circumstances which gave birth to, as well as those under which our Constitutional Democracy must function.

Of course the ConCourt also commented on the matter of the Public Protector and said, among others:

“The institution of the Public Protector is pivotal to the facilitation of good governance in our constitutional dispensation…

“The Public Protector is thus one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation in the fight against corruption, unlawful enrichment, prejudice and impropriety in State affairs and for the betterment of good governance.

“The tentacles of poverty run far, wide and deep in our nation. Litigation is prohibitively expensive and therefore not an easily exercisable constitutional option for an average citizen. For this reason, the fathers and mothers of our Constitution conceived of a way to give even to the poor and marginalised a voice, and teeth that would bite corruption and abuse excruciatingly. And that is the Public Protector…The Public Protector is one of the true crusaders and champions of anti?corruption and clean governance…

“The purpose of the office of the Public Protector is therefore to help uproot prejudice, impropriety, abuse of power and corruption in State affairs, (in) all spheres of government and State-controlled institutions. The Public Protector is a critical and indeed indispensable factor in the facilitation of good governance and keeping our constitutional democracy strong and vibrant… “As with other Chapter Nine institutions, the Constitution guarantees the independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness of this institution as indispensable requirements for the proper execution of its mandate. The obligation to keep alive these essential requirements for functionality and the necessary impact is placed on organs of State. And the Public Protector is one of those deserving of this constitutionally-imposed assistance and protection…

“If compliance with remedial action taken were optional, then very few culprits, if any at all, would allow it to have any effect…

“The power to take remedial action is primarily sourced from the supreme law itself. And the powers and functions conferred on the Public Protector by the Act owe their very existence or significance to the Constitution. Just as roots do not owe their life to branches, so are the powers provided by national legislation incapable of eviscerating their constitutional forebears into operational obscurity…

“Our constitutional order hinges also on the rule of law. No decision grounded on the Constitution or law, (such as remedial action prescribed by the Public Protector), may be disregarded without recourse to a court of law. To do otherwise would “amount to a licence to self-help”.

Given its Constitutional mandate and powers, it would seem obvious that:

  • the Public Protector should, at all times, be given sufficient resources to carry out her/his important work;
    • it should further be popularised among the people as a whole to encourage these to access it as need may arise; and,
    • the (State) National Executive should take all necessary action to familiarise the Executive authorities and State Organs in all the Spheres of Government both with the powers of the Public Protector and their responsibilities to support her/him in the discharge of her/his duties.

It is critically important that all of us should understand that the ConCourt Judgement on the “Nkandla matter” has raised many vitally important issues about the functioning of our Constitutional Democracy on which all those concerned should act.

In this regard these should keep in sharp focus that the solemn decision to establish this Constitutional Democracy was born out of the immense sacrifices that were made by countless numbers of our people, up to and including the sacrifice of many lives, as well as the millions in the rest of Africa and across the globe who joined us in struggle to end the system of apartheid and help ensure the birth of our Democracy.

That decision to establish a Constitutional Democracy sought to entrench an outcome which would help to ensure that the need should never arise again for future generations to have to make similar sacrifices.

Among others the decision to establish a Constitutional Democracy means that we wanted to ensure that Executive Power is not abused to undermine the Constitutional and Statutory rights of the people and to weaken the capacity of the State Organs to discharge their Constitutional obligations to the Nation and the country.

It also means that Members of all Political Parties elected to Parliament should understand that they share a collective responsibility to act in concert to discharge the responsibilities imposed by the Constitution, at all times to honour their public declarations of submission to the Constitution and all laws, and to respect their primary obligation to serve as true peoples’ tribunes, which makes them accountable, first and foremost, to our people as a whole whom they are elected to represent. The decision to establish a Constitutional Democracy also means that all Members of the Judiciary, others in the Criminal Justice System, as well as all those who serve in other State Organs should not allow themselves to be “owned” by any Political Party and/or any other interest, remaining loyal to the fundamental proposition advanced recently by the Chief Justice when he said – “My soul is not for sale.”

It also means that all Chapter Nine institutions, regardless of who heads them, should do everything possible, acting without fear or favour, strenuously to discharge their Constitutional and Statutory responsibilities.

The decision to establish a Constitutional Democracy also means that all Political Parties which function within this Democracy, whether in the Executive and/or the Legislature, have a primary obligation to help develop and entrench this Constitutional Democracy, at all times respecting and popularising the understanding that they, like everybody else, are obliged to operate within and under the imperative that the Constitution is the supreme law of the Republic which dictates the nature and functioning of our System of Governance. In this regard they would be acting to honour their legal, political and ethical commitments attendant to the acceptance of a Constitutional Democracy.

That strategic decision to establish a Constitutional Democracy also imposes the obligation on the masses of our people, and all their organisations, continuously to act as the guardians of our Constitutional Democracy, at all times determined to defend it as the product of their sacrifices and their guarantee that the people shall govern!

We owe it to our Constitutional Court to salute the Chief Justice and his fellow Judges for the meticulous manner in which they discharged their Constitutional responsibilities as our Apex Court, clearly to identify the national imperatives binding on everybody with regard to the strategic task to ensure the vibrant functioning of our Constitutional Democracy!

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Who will speak on behalf of Basotho?



A clash was reported to have taken place a few weeks ago between police officers, on the one hand, and an MP and his bodyguards, on the other, was always inevitable. It is a direct result of arrangements where people we have lent power to represent us in Parliament now use that power to come up with schemes by which they and their bodyguards should be exempted from equal treatment, and be treated differently from the rest us.

This conduct is anti-seMohlomi, and anti-seMoshoeshoe. And so are many other behaviours we have seen perpetrated by our MPs.

We can expect that those who behave this way will not stop at violation of road traffic laws but will go on to carry contraband in ‘MP’ registered vehicles, and claim exemption from police searches when confronted by the police.
The principle of ‘equality before the law’, and the principle that we should all be treated the same, is a fundamental requirement for the maintenance of social order. MPs who ignore, or violate, it are sources of social disorder. Such MPs have to be regarded as enemies of social order in Lesotho. They should bear in mind that they are opposing society when they oppose the police’s attempts to enforce the law.

We should all obey traffic laws. And, we should all stand in long queues for poor services at the Passport and Traffic Offices. Otherwise, if those we have voted into power use that power to exempt themselves and their bodyguards from poor public services, MPs will have no incentive and interest to work for improved quality of public service.
The failure by MPs and governments to address problems of poor public services is an important reason why everyday many Basotho cross into South Africa in search of better education, better medical services, and lower prices of basic necessities. That traffic includes cars which bear red registration numbers ferrying Lesotho public officials to South Africa for better services.

As always, MPs, Ministers, and other public servants will probably be exempted, or expect to be exempted, from the torment that comes with the new customs regime agreed by Revenue Services (SARS) and Revenue Services Lesotho (RSL), and implemented at RSA-Lesotho border posts. Exemption of officials and MPs will mean that they will have no interest, nor incentive, to lessen its toll on Basotho.
The new regime started early in August 2023. To educate travellers about it, the RSL staff at the Maseru border have been giving people leaflets that explain the new procedures.

Even before this new regime, and others that came before it, many people have always been suspicious that a lot of what people who enter Lesotho go through is not in the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) Agreement. For example, it is known that the Agreement is supposed to ensure that citizens of SACU member-countries do not pay tax on a similar item in more than one SACU country. In other words, citizens of SACU member-states should not be taxed twice, or more, for the same item within the SACU area.

But because of the bureaucracy that has been imposed on customs processes at the Lesotho-South Africa borders, many people fall victim to some bureaucratic detail, or other, and end up paying tax in South Africa and Lesotho for a similar item, or service.
In the new regime agreed by RSL and SARS, RSL officials tell us that we are supposed to stamp all receipts of value of M250, and above, at SARS. They say this while distributing a leaflet that says the threshold is M10 000.

For the M250 receipt to be stamped, you need to submit to SARS copies of pages of your passport showing your address in Lesotho, and showing dates on which you travelled to and from South Africa. The implication of this is that if you carry a South African passport you cannot bring groceries into Lesotho for reasons including the fact that Lesotho government cannot claim tax from South Africa on such goods. It is unclear what will happen to a South African tourists coming to Lesotho who might be refused permission to enter with their food.

As said, the requirement that we should stamp M250 receipts at SARS is not on the leaflet RSL officials are giving to travellers. Extraordinarily, RSL officials admit this.
So, at the expense of our time, and standing in receipt-stamping queues that will inevitably grow longer and longer, we are being forced to adhere to a requirement which is nowhere in the official papers.

Has the new regime been negotiated and agreed to by RSL officials alone, or is the government aware of the unreasonable measures that we have to comply with?
It must be said that, at least, for now, the RSL staff remain very helpful, and seem to acknowledge that requirements they are expected to enforce are unreasonable.
It seems nobody thinks of us when government and officials agree to onerous customs measures at our border posts. In part this is because, again, those we have lent power to represent us use that power to exempt themselves onerous procedures that they negotiate and agree to.
We need people who think of us when they negotiate customs and other agreements. Basotho need somebody who can speak on their behalf.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Developing close reading skills



One of the most important skills in adeptly dealing with comprehension-related questions lies in your acquisition and refining close-reading competencies and strategies. The word comprehend means to understand, to fully grasp the essence of a text. When you comprehend a text you will take in, as it were, all the elements of a text, you nibble in, to speak using metaphors, your teeth into the heart of the text. You savour the text, immersing yourself in the texture of the text.

Close-reading involves deep observation and critical analysis of a text or comprehension passage. Close-reading strategies demands that the reader of a text pick even the salient nuances of a text, he or she must take in all the hues and details of a text which are not mentioned directly in the text. This skill takes time to hone, but with constant practice and hard work, it can be done. Let’s do that in a practical way. We are going to focus on a very small extract depicting how one aspiring ironman trained rigorously to realise his dream and the social and emotional toll the training exerted on the man and his family and how, finally he won, much to the happiness and excitement of his family. Here is the extract, as you read, please focus on the use of language to create meaning and effect. Let’s try to discern the feelings of the writer when her husband, eventually became an ironman.

“Because it’s there,’ I’d snarl to anyone who dared question why any sane mortal would tackle an Ironman. I enjoyed mercilessly shaming his less-than-supportive business partner into recognising the potentially boundless benefits of Sam’s well-publicised adventure for their newly-established, fledgling travel company. A flurry of online articles described me as ‘a runner married to a triathlete’ – it took me a few moments to recognise our family and beam with immeasurable pride.
Our son missed having Dad around at the weekends, especially if he woke up after Sam had left to train on a Saturday when sometimes there were tears. But he got used to the different dynamic. He was given an ‘Ironman’ superhero toy as a birthday gift by some relatives and immediately started making it swim, bike and run! The poor child thinks that this is how normal families operate.

Having said all that, watching Sam emerge god-like from the water, power past us on his bike and rocket down the finishing chute, head held high as our kids cheered with the crowd – utterly incredible and intoxicating, one of life’s rare pinnacles of perfection. It had been an epic journey for all of us. I’m so glad we did it. And next year? Well yes, it’s my turn.”

Have you seen how this extract is written in a very captivating way; it colourfully depicts the writer’s feelings of extreme excitement and euphoria when Sam completed the race successfully. The words, “having said all that” are colourful and conclusive. Before these words were uttered, the narrator was expressing her dissatisfaction about Sam’s involvement in sport and how demanding it was emotionally, physically and financially. But, now, the words show that the success overwhelmed even the sentiments or expressions of dissatisfaction registered earlier. One can also see that the writer is overwhelmed by pride and celebration at the success of her husband and she and the entire crowd were immersed in an “intoxicating” experience. Beer intoxicates, so the writer uses this word as a word picture to graphically show the intensity and pervasive nature of the happiness generated by Sam’s victory — it is as if they were overdrunk with the sense of success and accomplishment. Sam’s win evoked all those rare moments in life when all seems to be perfect and in its place; that is why the writer used the words, “life’s rare pinnacles of perfection” just to express that.

Have you also noticed how the writer uses a lot of word pictures to describe her reactions about people’s views regarding her husband’s involvement in the ironman race? One such word, a word picture is “flurry.” The word explains the immensity as well as the amount of excitement and frenzy of publicity generated by Sam’s attempt to be the iron man. This word is apt in describing the writer’s admiration for her husband’s feat and the publicity and excitement generated.
Let’s now focus on another text, let’s focus on how the extract reveals why people hate snakes as a result of the misconceptions they have about them. But notice how the writer arguably writes to endear us to the world of snakes and some of their very positive attributes. Let’s nibble at the text of the extract.

“In the United States, for example, public outcry based on fear and misinformation recently halted a scientifically sound conservation plan for timber rattlesnakes. Another project at the same location that involved releasing eagles was embraced by the community. Rattlesnakes are no less important than eagles. In fact, they may help reduce the incidence of Lyme disease, which affects thousands of people each year, by reducing the number of rodents that harbour this disease. But emotions override facts, it seems, where snakes are concerned. Snakes play an integral role in maintaining balance in the ecosystem – in most ecosystems on earth, snakes can be both predator and prey. When a large prey-population attracts and sustains a large snake population, those snakes become prey for birds, mammals and even other snakes! As predators, snakes keep prey-populations in balance. Snakes provide an easy, environmentally friendly, free and natural pest-control service. But snakes are worth saving not because of what they can do for us, but because of who they are. Snakes share many behaviours with us, behaviours we value. They have friends. They take care of their kids and even their friends’ kids too. Want to help us change how people view and treat snakes? Visit the World Snake Day website.”

While you were still reading, I hope you saw that this is a really captivating text. It focuses on the misconceptions and lack of information we have about snakes, which information gaps lead us into hating snakes without reason. True, snakes are predatory but they also serve an important function in balancing the ecological balance.

Snakes are not that bad, too; and like us humans, they make friends, protect their young ones and the young ones of their friends. Pretty amazing to learn that snakes, too, have friends.

So the point is that there are a lot of falsehoods and misconceptions about snakes and their true habits and functions within the ecological sphere. Often times, they are shown to be cruel, bloody predators that kill in cold-blood. But snakes are also victims from birth and other creatures. Snakes are a natural means to curb diseases which are brought about by rodents. Thus, snakes help in maintaining balance in the ecosystem. Snakes are relational and friendly.
Let’s now hone close-reading skills a little more. In the following extract, the writer beautifully describes her experiences of meeting snakes in their natural habitats in the rainforest and her excitement of seeing quite an exciting array of species. As you read, focus on the writer’s reaction to what she saw and how she is alive to the beautiful scenery around her and she captures that.

“Three hours later, returning from the trek, I felt bubbles of amazement and wonder rising. I’d seen gliding lizards fly effortlessly between trees, intricate dragonflies of infinite varieties and delicately etched, golden frogs. The overcast sky, saturated to the brim, had poured down heavily, drenching the forest, its native creatures, and the handful of humans who happened to be there. Thereafter began the frenzy of activities and sounds that engulfs the woods after a good rain – rhythmic sounds, musical, coordinated and orchestrated, and pleasantly deafening. Ah! My brimming heart and soothed soul enjoyed restful sleep in the tent that first night. Bonfires and loud music are prohibited to avoid any disturbance to animals and hygienic common bathrooms (with hot-water facilities) were appreciated. Everyone was expected to wash their own plates and glasses after every meal. We were encouraged to separate organic waste into the respective dustbins before retiring each night. All inorganic waste went back with you.”

You have picked words which convey meaning so aptly and beautifully. I liked the expression and the choice of words. The phrase, “bubbles of amazement” is so colourful and this is a word picture which shows or reflects the intensity of the writer’s excitement and frenzy at experiencing the tranquil and pleasant experience of being in a rainforest teeming with a vast array of species.

Here we are! Mastering close reading skills is a journey, but an exciting one, which allows you to immerse yourself in the text and allows you to feel all the juicy aspects of the text, as it were.

 Vuso Mhlanga teaches at the University of Zimbabwe. For almost a decade and half he taught English language and Literature in English at high school. Send your comments and questions to:

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The significance of BRICS for the African continent



In the pioneering work titled “Building Better Global Economic BRICs” (Global Economics Paper No: 66), Lord Jim O’Neill, then Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs, introduced the term BRICs, referring to the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. These nations’ economies were experiencing rapid growth, fuelling discussions about their potential to collectively shape the global economy by 2050. In the spirit of this vision, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, and China convened for the first time in July 2006, on the sidelines of the G8 Outreach Summit in St Petersburg, Russia. This marked a pivotal moment in cementing the idea of forming a consortium of burgeoning economies.

Subsequently, the Foreign Ministers of these countries assembled in New York City in 2006 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and embraced the term “BRIC” as originally coined by Lord Jim O’Neill. On June 16, 2009, the inaugural ‘BRIC’ Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Later, South Africa was granted full membership in September 2010 during a BRIC Foreign Ministers meeting on the fringes of the UN General Assembly. This led to the alteration of the acronym to BRICS. Building on this progress, South Africa participated in the Third BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, on April 14, 2011.

BRICS is firmly anchored in the principles of mutual respect, sovereign equality, inclusivity, consensus, and strengthened collaboration. The foundation of BRICS rests upon three pivotal pillars: political and security cooperation, financial and economic collaboration, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges. These pillars serve as a robust framework for guiding the alliance’s interactions and ensuring its enduring viability. This sentiment is particularly pronounced as the 15th BRICS Summit, slated for August 22-24, 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa, convenes under the theme “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.”

Drawing from the World Bank data from 2022, the combined population of the five BRICS nations stands at 3.27 billion, constituting 41.1% of the global population. These countries’ cumulative Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2022 is valued at 25.92 trillion, accounting for 25.8% of the world’s GDP. In contrast, Africa’s total population across its 55 countries is estimated at 1.4 billion, representing 17.5% of the global population. Africa’s overall GDP amounts to approximately US$3.0 trillion, contributing 2.7% to the global GDP.

The African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook for 2023, underscores Africa’s abundant natural resources — oil, gas, minerals, land, sunlight, wind, and biodiversity —whose potential remains largely untapped and undervalued. The report highlights Africa’s trillion-dollar investment potential in the climate and green growth sectors, offering a promising avenue for private sector involvement.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) BRICS Investment Report for 2023 reveals that the BRICS economies collectively account for 18% of global exports and approximately $250 billion in foreign direct investment outflows. Notably, the BRICS nations have emerged as significant investors in Africa, with a particular focus on industrial and service sectors, as confirmed by the Africa Development Bank’s Briefing Note titled “Africa and the BRICS: A Win-Win Partnership?” (2003).
Moreover, the BRICS countries have expanded their presence on the continent in terms of foreign direct investment, outpacing traditional partners such as the United States and Europe. This emphasis on harnessing natural resources and boosting agricultural production is also underscored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) Report “BRICS/Africa Partnership for Development” (2014).

Leveraging their substantial economic potential, the BRICS nations are optimally positioned to support Africa’s aspirations under the AU Agenda 2063. These countries play a pivotal role in driving investments in natural resource beneficiation, manufacturing, and industrialisation across the continent. They also provide strategic impetus for enhancing productivity and competitiveness, especially within the agricultural sector, through consistent investment efforts.
The emergence of the BRICS New Development Bank offers an alternative to the Western-dominated multilateral financial institutions, which have historically contributed to Africa’s infrastructure development at a gradual pace. This bank holds the promise of financing comprehensive infrastructure projects across the continent, thereby enhancing connectivity through rail, maritime, air routes, and information and communication technology — an aspiration cherished by the African populace.

A symbiotic partnership between Africa and BRICS has the potential to elevate Africa’s status as a significant player on the global stage. This partnership extends to bolstering Africa’s role in global governance structures, including institutions like the United Nations and Multilateral Financial Institutions. The expansion of BRICS to encompass additional nations, including those from Africa, is poised to inspire African countries to assume greater responsibility for funding their sustainable development endeavours.

This approach empowers African nations to form alliances with developed countries that squarely address the continent’s priorities for sustainable growth and economic transformation. Most notably, the BRICS initiative lays the foundation for a multipolar world, contrasting the prevailing unipolar influence exerted by the US and the G7 countries (Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, UK, and the US). This envisioned multipolar world rests on principles such as mutual respect, sovereign equality, inclusiveness, consensus, and fortified collaborations. The International Monetary Fund, Economic Outlook (April, 2023) reveals that the population of the G7 countries is around 776.55 million representing 9.7% of the global population. The GDP for the G7 countries is around US$42.92 trillion representing around 30% of the world GDP.
In a recent interview with Africa Business in June 2023, Lord Jim O’Neill, the visionary behind BRICS, shared his perspective on the future of BRICS and its implications for Africa. He astutely remarked, “the notion that the group of seven ‘industrialised’ or ‘more developed’ or ‘early developed’ (G7) nations can single-handedly govern the world is disconcerting, given their diminishing share of the global GDP. Moreover, the G7 often finds itself aligned with the desires of Washington (US). How then can these select few address the world’s most pressing challenges? This predicament highlights the raison d’être behind my conception of BRICS: to advocate for a more effective global governance model than what the G7 offers.”

It is for these reasons that the enduring partnership between Africa and BRICS embodies a shared commitment to sustainable development, economic growth, and the transformation of global governance structures. The collaborative approach rooted in mutual benefit, respect, and a multi-polar perspective has the potential to reshape the global landscape, ensuring a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

Advocate Batlokoa Makong is a seasoned diplomat currently working for the African Union. He writes in his personal capacity.

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