The Aid Triangle

Just done reading (dissecting/consuming) the little book called “The Aid Triangle”.
It’s one of the few books I have come across that makes an uncompromising link between development efforts and power relations. Some of my friends might think ‘power relations’ is Schalk’s thing because I did my Masters on it. Yet, the three authors of this little book affirms that ‘develoment’ (aid/charity/CSI) is all about relationships and a human dynamic.

The authors explain how dominance, injustice and identity interplay and that inequitable interaction causes a system without integrity and with little prospect of sustainability. Dominance, simply implies someone is in a favoured position and has more power or influence than they deserve. The lack of equality is revealed through paternalism and games people start to play. Injustice refers to how everyone is not treated in the same way and how they do not have equal opportunity and benefits. Identity relates to how people view themselves, it speaks to confidence and pride.

Relational issues reveals how trust and dignity for example are major success factors, yet seldom feature in project management frameworks. The best thing we can do is to learn together. Content experts and context experts should learn from each other. These are nice descriptions of academics and real people; funny.

Speaking of Organisational Learning, the authors interestingly mentions single, double and triple loop learning, respectively referring to thinking in, outside and about the box. Clever ways to say we have to be critical and see the bigger picture.



Dualisms, dichotomies, binaries: good vs evil, light vs dark, black vs white, right vs wrong- always two opposing sides, simplistic opposites to force us into illusions of choice and control.

I like a compass for the simple reason that unlike a ruler, hour glass or coin, it has more than two alternative movements. The four options and directions of a compass, the 360 degrees, at least start to deal with the multi-dimensional choices and nuances we face in life.

As I grow older I discover the naive contradictions in the mechanisms I employ as compass in my life. Then, sometimes, free of direction I miss ideas of true north. Can I search for true north and journey strong without a tool, without a tangible thing? A place, a group, a person, a paper, a number, a word, a book- who am I stripped of all these things?

Am I ok? Am I happy?

Who am I?

Am I?

Pride and Prejudice

Every day I work with the so called poor, I realise that self-confidence and pride is the biggest problem keeping people down. Without dignity they cannot learn and grow, they don’t push forward. Most of our problems start with our own insecurity.

I struggle with the same issues, not in terms of public speaking, work, or who I am. But like every human being I hate the feeling of not being loved. As bad as it feels to be insecure, so beautiful and good it is to have self confidence and pride in oneself. To be happy with the person in the mirror.

Sometimes others add to that and sometimes other detract from that. We have to manage our own happiness by finding our beauty and joy inside.

The balance between brave and safe is very tricky…


Shack Attack

I find myself in and around ‘squatter camps’ every week. When you drive out of Durban, fly into Cape Town or near Sandton you get confronted with the uncomfortable contrasts of shacks near mansions. Foreign visitors are usually indignant and quick to join in the blame apartheid chorus. To be clear, in many ways apartheid is to blame, and we have to deal with that. Besides apartheid, if I ask whites, why they think South Africa has so many shacks, the answers vary from: “they just don’t have money” and “they just used to it, they don’t imagine anything else” to “they are useless and lazy”.

Yet after just a few chats, it seems to me that the South African government is to blame. I wont mention political parties, because I don’t want that emotional response to detract from the topic. In Zimbabwe and especially Mozambique, you don’t really see shacks; why? Their government gives them land. Either cheap or free. After 19 years of democracy our government has not yet come to the same conclusion, that it might be a good idea to give the poorest of the poor their own little stand. South Africans stay in shacks because of the government. Citizens are NOT allowed to build on the stands where they have their shacks. No permanent buildings or constructions. Even if you stay there ‘temporarily’ for 10 years, you are not allowed to make or buy your own bricks and build yourself a house. The idea is that the stand does not belong to you, it is not permanent, it is not your home. What has the psychological and societal effect of this unrootedness been? One of my friends built an extra shack room on his stand and the red ants even came to destroy that.

It would be so easy to transfer dignity and power… just give each poor citizen a stand, where he or she can start building their own house with their own hands. Are we to good or proud for that? It’s a numbers game. Compare the number of South Africans living in RDP’s and those living in shacks… Our plan is not the smartest, it is not realistic. Many with RDP’s also rent them out and build another shack! The government loves to be Santa Clause, ensuring the kids behave and vote, or they wont get a shine RDP house under the Christmas tree. The promise of a free two room RDP ensures that politicians remain seen as chiefs, instead of public ‘servants’. Some of my friends are removed from their communities, their shacks destroyed after many years of living there, forced to live elsewhere. Friendships and relationships are torn apart, soccer teams split and communities are cut in two with these generous forced removals into the South African Dream, getting an RDP for free… How empowering.

To be clear, a RDP is great, Id love to live in one. By law I cant buy or rent one, which I suppose is right. Yet it happens regularly, everywhere. In a way RDP’s do not better housing, but promotes entrepreneurship. Which is kind of interesting I guess. Yet, if our country is ever to be ‘equal’ we should start working together and learn to imagine, dream, take charge and resist, we will need to learn how to think critically, especially critical of ‘good things’ that are cheap imitations of freedom and from good people that have slipped into bad habits.

Once I discovered that shack dwellers are forced and encouraged by law to live in zinc squares, I understood why I sense such a different vibe when I am in Mozambique, why when I am there poverty feels less, despite people being way ‘poorer’. Forget building standards, self made houses don’t fall in, cheap fake contract tender houses fall in. And trust me a poor man can build a house that is safer than a shack. How many losses have been caused by fires ripping through squatter camps? The safety regulations is a white answer and poor excuse to deny people the basic right and freedom to decent housing and shelter. There is a dignity in making a home, making a place, having roots. As a whitey, I struggle with issues of home and rootedness. It saddens me to think Africans are punished by their own leaders. Freire was right: the mind of the oppressor infiltrates the mind of the oppressed, first the oppressed starts believing the lie and when they are liberated, ironically find themselves imitating the oppressors they so despised.

Im very keen to learn more about all of this.This post is my thoughts as they are in response to what I see. If there are reason and legislation Im not aware of, I would be glad to learn, understand better and even change my mind.

Below, friends in front of a shack in Gabon, Daveyton where shacks are being destroyed by government.

visitors from Sandton chilling with friends. HUge difference in housing, yet we are equal as beautiful humans.
visitors from Sandton chilling with friends. Huge difference in housing, yet we are equal as beautiful humans.

The Ins and Outs in the Life of a Tortoise

My work in development is intrinsically link with the work of my charachter and personal life. In the end, we all work with the aim of achieving happiness. Our reason for work is the pursuit of happiness. Ironic then when our work makes us unhappy, but we stay because we are scared, or we think the things our salary buys will make us happy.

I think I believe I can be happy when I am content with who I am as a person and with the meaning I find in life. My character and personality are the things that can bring me joy. Mostly, people think the power that money gives them will make them happy, so they pursue money, even if the goal of the money is undefined. How does money buy happiness?

Besides work and money, we also pursue other avenues that might make us feel good, not just good in general (adventure, toys, fun) but good about ourselves. Study could be one of these things. Yet the predominant tool that the majority of people on this planet use to feel happy about themselves is romantic relationships and marriage. The sex is obvious, how the triple pleasure of body, power and intimacy gives a happy-boost is understandable. Yet, to ensure longer term happiness finding a ‘life-partner’ seem to be one of the non-negotiables. Many people need a spouse or partner to make them feel good about themselves. This person chose me, for them I am the greatest, etc; they cannot risk being single or alone in fear of feeling bad in that loneliness. Being alone for most is frightful because of the fear that we feel bad about ourselves, so you pick someone and hope they make you feel better about yourself.

For me the opposite rings true. Being just me facing only myself in the mirror feels safe and I am happy with who I am. In a relationship I don’t see the chance to become happy with myself. Rather I experience the risk of being made unhappy with myself, for it is the only vulnerable place where I am open to be hurt or not feel good about myself. Funny, where most find safety, I find vulnerability. Vulnerability can be good, even if it is not nice. To give someone the power to heal or hurt you is a terrifying act indeed, and requires trust and wisdom. Most people have a blind faith and trust and that works for them.

I find that my insecurities and fear determines the way I think about a myriad of small things, and it determines how I make big decisions of how far to open the door of my heart; on various levels. Daily I struggle with the conflict between my critical mind that calls me naive and stupid and my imaginative mind that loves to believe and dream. I hope I never make people unsure about themselves and I hope my choices do not hurt the very people that I wanted to experience my love.

Enough to drive a person into a life of solitude! To pull back into my shell and feel safe, or to walk on and take some knocks, scratches and wounds? So often I am faced with the emotions that confuse this decision. Will I be a brave little tortoise or will I continue my typical behaviour of retraction?


– What are these ramblings doing on a blog about development? Simple, before we are developed and undeveloped or educated or uneducated, rich or poor; we are above all human. Humans with much in common. Before I am a Human Resource or team member, I am a human, a person. Our developmental efforts should make us better people, stronger and happier. Many things affect this, and being open about tricky things is normally good. Shared humanity and frailty.

– The issue at hand speaks to my blog title: Who needs who? Often when I am frustrated I say: “I dont need this”, but perhaps we do need the things we dont need. Maybe I need exactly what I dont want, maybe I need that which tests my self-image, that which pushes my reaction to rejection and begs of my unselfishness to go another mile… Also in relationships it is not easy to answer: “Who needs who?”