Category Archives: Correctional

learning from failures

Intellectual Skhokhoism – A Redefining of Leadership

African People, being black, arabic or white need to take pride in their context-specific history and surroundings. We should allow our own constructs to inform our discourse. We should put our own frames around our own pictures.

For too long have we listened to slightly overweight middle aged American and European men telling us what leadership is. What we don’t realise is that behind their capped teeth and fancy suits they have already framed the conversation by introducing certain words and questions. The question is not only what leadership is, but whether there still is or should be a thing like leadership? Is it a valid and useful construct? If I had to hear another conversation about star fish or the difference between management and leadership I am going to evaporate! We miss the forest for the trees.

Hence my ‘nuutskepping’ or concoction of the term “skhokhoism”, in particular “intellectual skhokhoism”. Derivitives can include skhokhoist (pertaining to the character of-), skhokhobility (ability to be skhokhoist), skhokholectual (person revealing the particular traits) and even skhokhonitis (wannabe cool to the extreme).

What is a Skhokho? In Mzansi townships being skhokho means being “the man”, or “the shit”. (If you ether don’t know what Mzansi is or if you are upset about the word shit, please leave this page, its not for you) Back to the point: Skhokho is a tough guy, a hard guy, a survivor, not to be messed with. Feminist News Flash: girls or women can be Skhokho too! The term originates from the legendary cullinary South African delight called: pap (phutu). At the bottom of the pot there normally remains a hard section, slightly burnt, a crust; some people like eating this.  That bottom crust, hard piece is called skhokho, hence a Skhokho is the last man standing, the ‘bittereinder’, the hard one… In Africa its good to be called Skhokho. “Sho skhoko, uhamba kanjani?” “ngi grend mfuwetu” And there you go… leopard vest and all.

Back to the boardroom brainstorm of the domesticated classroom word called ‘leadership’: In the title of this blog a proposed a redefining, not a redefinition. The emphasis thus falls on a constant change and adaptation, a perpetual discourse and dialogue in an attempt to keep the notion of leading (following?) fresh. Leadership, like it or not is a bit of a sissy word these days; ascribed to the consultant type that impress with clothing, drawing models or making up acronyms. Leadership has become a specialist field of linguistics, it thrives in conferences, on stage and on paper.

Yet, to get right into it, if leadership is influence, then every single person is a leader since we all influence each other. If leadership is manipulation, then surely some are more gifted than others whether by training or genetics. Ubuntu’s “I am because we are” affirms that leadership is perhaps sold these days as a linear simplicity, a dichotomy implied between leaders and followers. The more you grapple with the word the more you realise that the concept of leadership is as slippery as an Italian politician. If leadership becomes linked to performance or ambition it loses it’s authenticity. It lost its authenticity. Westerners have commodified leadership into a label used for personal upward mobility. But Westerners aren’t the only ones who castrates the idea of leadership…

In Africa there is a further problem, pertaining to chiefs. For centuries the notion of chiefs has ruled (pardon the pun) African societies. Even today, hidden just below the buzz of cash, universities and politics, lies the paralysing layer of traditional chiefdoms where some unspectacular old man and his addicted followers view him as god. This idea of chiefs have snuck into African politics. The politicians, whether Mayor, Minister or President is not seen as a public servant, but as a boss. These are our so called ‘leaders’. Hence the driving with ten blue light police cars and building R200 million houses. Africa has a long history and reality of interpreting leaders as chiefs, to the benefit of the chief. Yet ‘the people’ seem hesitant to stand up against a chief if the chief has the same skin colour as the oppressed. (insert Mugabe and a myriad of other examples)

So for normal people today, what do we use? Servanthood, which is according to me the ultimate form of  ‘leadership’ should perhaps be called just that: servanthood. It is something very different than the things ascribed to leadership these days. Those who wish to ‘serve’, ironically wants to be called leaders, not servants! So I will protect the concepts of serving and ubuntu and hide it from the leadership discussion. Don’t waste your life trying to resuscitate dead things. I will propose two concepts attached to leadership: firstly, the idea of being respected or feared and secondly, the idea of someone causing more change than others. In this sense, and to the extent that leadership has been perverted, I thus think a contemporary definition of leadership has to do with strength; not real strength hidden behind humility or service, but blatant strength revealed through power. In this sense leadership is not a virtue, it is a burden, opportunity and curse. Being a ‘leader’ greatly increases your risk of being an asshole. So to set aside all the pretence I will now call a leader a ‘skhokho’: it is a move that exposes and enlightens, it turns the conversation towards honesty and less fuzziness.

Skhokho’s are often tall, beatiful, confident, smart, skilled, rich, sneaky, reflective, creative, intimidating, charismatic, analytical, brave, strong, from good homes, from bad neighbourhoods, short, challenging, aggressive, arrogant, or any mixture of the above. Skhokholectuals are more than physically imposing or skilled, their strength lies in their minds. Intellectual Skhokhoism is not a noble art. It is the messy business of interference in other people’s lives. Ironically, it can cause good or harm, it can be selfish or giving. Let’s be honest however, 95 % of skhokhos use their skhokhotude for personal gain. Few Skhokhos use their skhokhoist dendencies to pursue love and justice. I say few, because they are there; just in the minority. Yet, skhokhos are encouraged and praised simply for being skhokhos! The admiration asks no questions of social justice or integrity, it revels in results. Hitler was a Skhoko. Taylor, Amin, Stalin, Pinochet and Mao were all Skhokhos. MIllions died under the Skhokhoism of these Skhokos. Today, millions of selfish Skhokhos reveal great Skhokhoism to the destruction of our planet and communities. Should this idea of influence, dominance and manipulation be valorised, should thousands of institutes dedicate itself to Skhokhoism? Why is it so popular to celebrate strength? It serves the purpose of those in power, those who has and seeks  power.

If we on this planet could take all the money, words and time dedicated on ‘leadership’ and instead dedicate it to ethics (ancient variety of leadership) our planet would be transformed unimaginably! But chats and institutes for ethics does not serve the discourse and system that produce super-rich and super-poor. The illusion that anyone can become educated (on paper) and have a career path (through leadership) keeps the billions in submission. The niceties are not kind, they are meant to blind and chain. Kindness can kill.

When I hear leadership, i hear evil. Sure, call me extreme or reactionary. But, that would be a cop out and simplistic evasion.

I embrace my Skhokhoism, but I don’t call it a virtue. I don’t want a planet where every kid becomes a Skhokho- despite my affection towards my fellow Skhokhos.

You have to go through a thing to leave it behind… So if this article makes no sense to you, push harder, become a greater leader… more, more, more… one day, after all the books, tedtalks, seminars, promotions, plans, awards-

revisit this.


Treasure Hunt

You can save a lot of time and money by collecting more childlike treasures: things that are cheaper, sentimental, old, cute or rare.
Hunting for those and gathering such performs the same function as buying expensive brands, which by definition becomes cheap when anyone can walk into a shop and take it with a swipe of a credit card.
If we are going to be weak and ‘gather treasures on earth’, let’s at least make it an adventure and interesting.

What do these narrative and meaning infused treasures look like? Each person has to figure that out for themselves. For me, this journey of refined compromise includes the following: One of the best treasures is when something precious is given to me freely from someone with humble means. Some treasures are special because I uncovered, designed or built them. Places, events and people are the soul of these alternative treasures.

Consider your inner desires and the needs that your work and spending aims to satisfy. Then explore creative ways to reach the same goal.

Happy hunting.

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.

Mini Review of Mini Book

Robert Greene’s Concise 48 Laws of Power

I read the 195 small pages of the concise version and I’m very grateful for that choice, since this little book contains so much nonsense and such diverse themes with contradictory advice that a larger or more comprehensive version of it, might have prevented me from finishing it! Nevertheless, I gained and learnt much from it, I gained because the content drips with reality and applied knowledge. The ideas and advice is applicable and implementable; the readers only choice is whether to take and employ the advice or not.

This choice boils down, for me, to a decision of whether you view yourself as a human or an animal. Clever people will immediately say we are both, and Greene constantly uses the phrase ‘human animal’, but that emphasises the animal side. The debate about to what extent we are animals is not really the issue though, the question is, when we employ metaphors and set moral and ethical ideals, do we construct these ideals to become the smarted animals or the best humans? So, never mind genetics and evolutionary history, we are faced with choices where we can act like animals or humans. Personally, I fully recognise my animal nature, and that is why in theory, reflection and ideals, I have to go 100% towards being a human being. Just because I have teeth does not mean I have to bite other people.

I found the book helpful for a few reasons. Greene reveals and promotes sneaky tricks to get to the top, and just as we find it disgusting, we discover chapters that act as mirrors, we discover how we learnt to automatically do many of these clever and manipulative tricks and strategies! Society and experience taught us to play the power game. Greene makes the pensive reader aware that we all play the game to some extent. The book leaves you with a choice: do I try to stop the tricks and live an alternative innocent naive life, or do I become a master tactician in the games of power.   We live in a power jungle, and to some extent you need jungle law in the jungle- or you die. Followers of the New Testament Jesus (and I don’t mean church going christians) might find the predicament more acute. How sincere, how naive should we be and does naivety equal sincerity? If I think of Jesus, he played many social games: the silence before Pilate, the answering questions with questions, the naughty metaphors of turning cheeks, the embarrassment of writing in sand… Jesus was constantly playing people. Yet there was a grounded purpose to his games and it was not popularity, it was didactical and strategic. Innocent like a dove, sneaky like a snake: wow, hardcore cutting edge advice, 2000 years ago. It is not easy to operate in the grey, we are addicted to black or white answers, we are addicted to the creation of opposites; it makes us feel clever and in control.

Greene, thought he is writing an assured money maker, by providing selfish people with ammunition to trample on others. Yet, as was the case with Machiaveli, he supposes such a hyperbole of unpretentious animality that his ‘tricks of the trade’ manual, becomes a profound philosophical workshop, an ethical shakeout. I’ve been reading one law each day, for 48 days. I did this as ‘bible study’ and the irony is, by reading such a dirty little bible, it did a splendid job of reverse psychology, increasing my hunger for unselfish goodness. Sure, I picked up many tricks along the journey and if I can stay grounded or rooted, I will do well to implement many of these tools, not because Im in a war against others, but because I need to influence people addicted to silly rhythms and beliefs. THe tool can be the key to unlock a door, then friendship and love will be the actual door we walk through to explore the rooms of deeper life.

I would definitely advise the little book, for naive people to sharpen up, and for sneaky people to reevaluate their moral stance.

48 Laws of Power
48 Laws of Power

Talking vs Doing

Tell me about your journey with the ‘poor’?
You dont have a long term story?
You are not the beneficiary and lucky one?
You are not learning and changing?
You are not caught in between hope and despair?
You are not mentioning specific names and examples?

You mention theories, you blame, you generalise, you spiritualise, you reach out and down, you resent, you abstract…

Its easy to hear, see and feel if someone ‘lucky’ is the real deal or not.

Radical Development

We associate ‘radical’ with something new and crazy, but radical actually means getting back to the root, the original, rootedness. So, my radical notions of development is in fact old school. To learn, to listen, to have and show respect, to build friendship and trust… these are way older than interventions, outputs, and all sorts of technical project management jargon.

The rich has been doing development (outreach/ engagement/ mission/ involvement/ investment… call it what you want) in a perverted unauthentic way that cost them little and basically serve their own needs more than that of those they intend to help. I include myself, sadly. Fake Development vs Radical Development is perhaps an idealistic duality, perhaps the realistic choice, considering how Westerners engage these days, should be fake development vs no development. Again, you might think I am too harsh, too critical… but I am not alone!

Last night as I lay in bed at 2 a.m., not managing to sleep I started googling and discovered a speech by Ivan Illich (1926-2002). Illich speaks not about radical development, but rather fake development. His suggestions are radical, very radical:


Game On

It’s game on. The battle is on, a battle that will affect millions of lives. The issue is not the What? Where? or the Why? of Development, but the How?

Two paradigms are opposed. The dominant paradigm is so mainstream and it’s power lies in its inarticulate nature. It is assumed. This way of doing development aims to mimic corporate companies and employ business models and corporate managerialism.  The alternative paradigm is so hidden that most people do not even realise that it is a valid alternative: it is the way of doing development as family and friends.

The corporate model for example relies on paper, laws, rules, contracts, punishment and power. The relational model relies on trust, good times and friendship.

In my development work I am engaged in the battle between these paradigms every waking hour. The Corporate paradigm reveals itself in the way that M&E expresses power. The Relational paradigm is not realised far beyond that gut feel in practitioner’s hearts that something is not right. When a person turns into a Human resource and lives become projects, we can know we are slaves to the dominant paradigm.

The World Bank, USAID, and corporate CSI divisions maintain the managerialist approach. It makes them feel in control, it creates and illusion of predictability. But this way of doing projects, doing things, doing life has not made a dent in poverty. The design indicators and plans, they evaluate return on investment and outputs in time frames.

Yet, since people are not bricks, has it ever occurred to us that we should not act like engineers? Trying to run people like an engineer runs a construction project is not smart or professional, it is naive and stupid.

Once we remove the humanity from development, we are wasting our time and money and we are losing our dignity.

Will anyone fight back?

On Being Heroic

What gives meaning to life? This question assumes a supremacy over the question of how we can make life less scary. Two questions.

The former seeks life and fulfillment, the latter seeks safety and prediction.

Am I simplistic in saying our fear and doubt of self pushes us to this second rhythm of security and prevents a vibrancy of unpredictability.
To experience the fulness of human emotion, character, resolve and joy; we need to remain open and vulnerable. If we build walls around us with money, houses, jobs, degrees and orthodoxy we feel safe and successful, but we prevent streams of life to enter our being. That is why every person you meet is so fucking uninspiring.
They will make you feel like a fool for being naive, they will claim that your idealism is inferior to their investments and self obsessed drive for vanity, they will not just defend their skepticism, they will ridicule your belief in the good and better life.

There is only one way to live and that is as a hero.
Forget about leadership- leadership is an euphemism for vanity wrapped in moderation and position.
We need to look around and start fighting for what is right and missing.
Stressing about what is present and wrong can feel masochistically rewarding, but it wont give you life.
Imagine… Imagine how things can and should be, pursue that at whatever cost and you will find that it costs nothing at all.

What are the issues of the day? What gets you going, gets you angry, gets you sad? What situation requires your heroic intervention? Think small… not couch small, but listening, serving and learning small.

80 years to be a hero… What does that even mean? Where to start?

Changing your mind about some things…that might be heroic.