“Julius Malema eats, drinks and sleeps South African politics. It doesn’t matter that he got a G in woodwork because he knows this game better than anyone else around,” stated Richard Poplak, the acclaimed journalist, at the Stellenbosch University on Monday.
Poplak was promoting his new book, Until Julius Comes, which documents the South African 2014 elections and features Julius Malema and the EFF as the main protagonists.
Poplak’s book release coincides with the controversial disruption in parliament on Thursday last week where EFF members were kicked out of parliament for chanting, “Pay back the money”.
The outburst was against President Jacob Zuma and the fraudulent allegations surrounding his homestead, Nkandla. This action, according to Poplak, could be a ‘game changer’.
“We cannot underestimate how powerful that performance was in parliament last week. On Thursday Julius Malema did something that has been passed around the country, he stood up to the bad guys and gave them hell right in the big house,” stated Poplak.
“The idea of representation [of the public] suddenly switched and people realised they have a voice, and that voice is Julius Malema.”
Richard Poplak at Stellenbosch University
Wearing a black beanie and a shaggy beard, Poplak spoke of the rising popularity of the charismatic Malema and the crucial role he plays in the party’s success.
“He [Malema] is the star, if he’s gone, what’s left? This question is pretty serious because at this point without him there is no movement.”
The EFF won 6.35 percent of the votes in the national elections. The EFF still needs to produce an in-depth policy document clearly stating what their future intentions and guidelines will be.
“Right now it’s like a Pink Floyd light show, everything looks great but at some point there has to be something underpinning it. It can’t all be Marxist rhetoric and red onesies.”
The 2016 municipal elections will be the next test for the EFF. Poplak predicts that they will show a massive upscale in the polls and that the DA will also have a surge in votes.
Poplak has been trailing the EFF and their rise to parliament over the past year and hypothesized what could happen if the EFF took power of the country.
“With what I understand of the EFF policies currently, there would most likely be a massive capital flight out of the country and a lot of white people would run screaming to O.R Tambo or Cape Town International airports clutching their cutlery.”
Until Julius Comes documents the political complexity of the new South Africa. Poplak, acting under the pseudonym “Hannibal Elector”, will continue to document Malema and the EFF going forward.
Parents save their hard earned cash for years to ensure that their children have the opportunity to attend university. Some scholar’s social lives and fingernails are in tatters from the strain to gain a scholarship or bursary, just to have the chance to study at places like Harvard or MIT.
The cost of a university education rules out millions of people from ever having the advantage of a degree. Should the socio-economic world we are born into dictate our future?
What if a university education was free AND top class?
Today we have massive resources online at our disposal. People across the globe can access this information through their cell phones or computers. With this vehicle, there are new ways to gain a quality education, free of charge.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have given a chance to those less fortunate to gain the skills required for higher learning and special skills.
According to the BBC, at Harvard University, more people signed up with MOOCs in a single year than have graduated from Harvard throughout its 378 year history.
Twenty years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed possible. Today, institutions like Harvard and MIT have set up Edx, an online education platform offering Harvard lectures and short courses, free of charge, to anyone who has an internet connection.
The first online course offered by Harvard drew 155,000 students from 163 countries. That’s more than all the students that have ever graduated from MIT, all within the first week.
Is this the beginning of the end for universities and its ‘passport to life’ idea?
Much like in newspapers, the old school traditional approach has had to change rapidly in order to stay afloat. Many newspapers were casualties of not adapting fast enough.
Khan Academyis a famous non-profit educational organisation practicing online. Their mission statement is “Learn almost anything. Completely free, forever,” and they have already changed the way classrooms operate throughout the United States.
A ‘flipped-classroom’ approach has been adopted in many schools, where children use Khan Academy at home to learn new concepts, such as fractions or equations, through watching fun educational videos and playing math games. During school hours, the teacher will go through the exercises already completed by the students in order to focus on their specific areas of weakness.
Could university lecturers turn into tutors in a similar manner?
The socio-economic bias is somehow still present in the online model, with 80% of enrolled MOOC students already having a degree.
This is changing though. People from around the world are taking part on discussions and online forums, learning and benefiting from Ivy League schools. The chances of gaining a Harvard style education for those less fortunate have never been more exceptional.
Udacity.com have found an exceptional way of profiting from this new trend. Udacity have teamed up with Silicon Valley to offer courses made by Google and Facebook, specifically catering to the people they need in the industry. Completing these courses will dramatically increase ones chance of getting a job in this field.
These unique courses are offered at a fraction of the cost of a university course.
Added to this is the fact that you could do these courses in your own time, anywhere you want. You could gain work experience or get a job that still pays the bills while you are studying. No need to sit in classes or hand in assignments, everything is done online.
Obviously there are degrees and courses that will almost certainly require a University and the need to be physically present in class – Medicine being an obvious example – but the old models of three year degrees in philosophy and psychology for example, seem to be struggling to stay relevant in this new, unlimited world.
Universities are going through this crisis. They are facing some scary possibilities of economy redundant. Some might say that it is unfair towards these institutions of tradition and heritage…but then again, wasn’t it an unfair model in the first place?
With the opening of a new skate park in Gardens, Cape Town, and the rise in skate competitions, what lies ahead for this increasingly diverse sport?
Judas Priest’s lyrics, “Breaking the law, breaking the law!” bursts out of the speakers, entertaining the packed venue known as The Pit.
The Pit, a skating bar in Cape Town’s city “bowl”, is hosting the Vans invitational skateboarding competition on a cloudy Saturday evening. Skaters speed from one end of the fluorescent lit bowl to the other, performing grinds and wall rides on each end.
A competitor attempts to impress the judges.
The association attached to skaters is normally that of reckless trouble-makers and vandals but watching the skaters and crowd, I don’t see the connection.
There are no fights breaking out; even when a board accidentally goes flying into someones face or a beer is spilled onto a spectator’s camera. There are no vandals destroying pot plants or mail boxes. If anything, there is a general camaraderie and respect between everyone present.
The Pit Party. Invitational skate competition poster.
Quinton Robertson, one of the skaters taking part in the competition at The Pit, spoke about what he thought a skate park brings to the community.
“Kids will have a facility where they can hang out after school and when they are finished their homework. It doesn’t matter if they are bored, they can just watch and this helps to keep them off the streets.”
A skater attempting an aerial trick at the Gardens skate park
The skate park hosted hundreds of young kids, some as young as 8, and people from all backgrounds.
Marco Morgan, a founding member of the National Skate Collective, an organisation hoping to advance the culture of skateboarding in Cape Town, believes however that this diversity has not always been present in the sport.
“Skateboarding has always had stigma of rebellion or dare-devils attached to it, and for that reason it has been attractive to some and less attractive to others.
“In South Africa, these stigmas ran a bit deeper and skateboarding was seen to be exclusively “white” with the type of slang, fashion and music associated.
“…looking at the skateboarding community today, these walls of exclusion have been broken down, and the South African skateboarding community shows diversity in its sport and culture.”
Gardens Skate Park opening day. Skaters of all ages came from around Cape Town to the opening in Gardens.
There has also been an increase in gender diversity. The Pit’s competition includes a female, Melissa Williams.
Williams is the only female competing against 35 male competitors.
“Gender has always been an issue in skateboarding, as it has always been seen as a masculine activity; however with the increase of females participating in the sport, we are seeing a much more diverse community, illustrating a real sense of accessibility,” says Morgan.
“At a competition level, we have seen organisation such as SAGRA [South African Gravity Racing Association] and KDC [Kimberely Diamond Cup] cater to the demand for female competitors.”
Unfortunately Williams couldn’t comment on gender in skating as she had to be taken to hospital after severely breaking her finger in one of the heats of the competition.
Injuries are synonymous with skating.
A search for “skateboarding fails” in YouTube, offers days of footage that will make your eyes water and steer most people away from the sport.
Injuries are commpn place in the skate world. Image at Soletron.com
So I asked Leigh Soulink, a young man with dreadlocks and a massive red rose tattoo covering his neck, what he thought drew people to skating, even with such high risk of injuries.
“It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something and you’re doing it solely because you want to have fun.
“I just like hanging out with my friends and being happy for the guy when they land a trick. That’s what skating is all about, just having a good time with friends.”
Sheldon Klopper, a spectator and skater himself says,
“It starts off with the people. They are very accommodating and it doesn’t matter if you’re starting out [with skating] or been doing it for 20 years.
“Skateboarding takes away that team sport vibe of being shut out if you’re not good enough.”
It seems this accepting environment is one that sets skating apart from most other sports.
Today’s park opening and the regular competitions are a sign of the sport’s increasing popularity. More importantly, skating has an opportunity now by using the parks to shrug off the stigma associated with skaters.
By setting up the Gardens Skate Park , skating is granted more awareness and with this, acceptance.
Although a positive step forward, Morgan believes that throwing more skate parks at the issue of bad reputation, is not always a good thing.
“Skate parks are often the easy answer to dealing with the spatial antagonism between skaters and other users of public space.
“Although skate parks are awesome spaces for skaters to connect and congregate, it is seen as a way for authorities to control skaters spatial mobility and fence an activity, which most likely will result in facility-based mentality that supports the sport without supporting skateboarders’ needs.
“Most times we are not consulted about skate facilities and in these cases; these spaces do not fit our real needs.”
Morgan and the National Skate Collective are attempting to introduce a by-law that will allow skateboarders to skate on the roads legally.
“We have set up a task team with the City of Cape Town, to work together on developing future skate parks/skate facilities and integrating skateboarding into the urban fabric of the city,” states Morgan.
There have also been talks about a new skate park being constructed in Woodstock using these task team approaches.
The winner of the competition, Joubert van Staaden (left), celebrating his prize of R7000
This accepting community of skateboarders seems to be making progress in communities around the world. In South Africa, the diversity is striking and promises positive change.
But will this diversification and exposure lead to more facilities and support for the sport? Or will it serve to isolate the skateboarder even more by confining them and “fencing the activity” to spaces catered for them.
A greater question is raised: Will skating only be practiced in cordoned off, ‘legal’ areas in the future or will it be accepted for its freedom of expression and allowed to be practiced wherever the skater chooses?
As for now, the growth of this niche sport is on the up and skaters around Cape Town all seem to be winning.
The Great Escape makes a return with the second installment of the show. Gregory Alan Isakov is my Delightful Unusual of the week. Passenger, The National, Imagine Dragons, Leonard Cohen and more to accompany you for an hour of chilled out, uplifting beats and words.