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Soft Issue?

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, South African water affairs and forestry director-general Mike Muller sat on a makeshift toilet at the Waterdome while displaying a curious item: a roll of official "summit toilet paper" carrying messages highlighting the plight of the millions of people around the world without access to sanitation and clean water.
Among the messages carried on the roll? "Hygiene is not a soft issue" and "A flush is not the only winning hand"!

Muller, Mike (?- ) South African water affairs and forestry director-general

Charles Taylor & Liberian Democracy

In 1989, Charles Taylor started a civil war in Liberia with the stated aim of overthrowing Liberian dictator Samuel Doe. Though Doe was in fact overthrown (and tortured to death) the following year, the war continued, as rival warlords fought for control.
In 1997, Taylor emerged on top and was elected president. He made it very clear that, if voters snubbed him, he would go back to war. His campaign song? "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, I'll vote for him!"

[By the time Taylor was forced out in 2003, many famished Liberians had eaten their neighbors' dogs and were scrounging for snails. He was stepping down, he said, in the interest of peace - and because he was forced to by the Americans. "God willing," he said, "I will be back."]


African Coup

In 1972, Frederick Forsyth led a $200,000 scheme to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea by kidnapping its president, Francisco Marcias Nguema. The plot (involving more than a dozen others) failed... because a Spanish co-conspirator failed to deliver the required ammunition! [Forsyth's novel The Dogs of War (1974) - the tale of Cat Shannon's coup in 'Zangaro' - was inspired by this attempted coup. Nguema was executed in 1979.]

Black Pimpernel

In 1961, Nelson Mandela ("the Black Pimpernel") went underground for more than a year and traveled abroad to enlist support for the A.N.C.:
"Soon after his return, he was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island for five years; within months practically all the leaders of the A.N.C. were arrested. Mandela was hauled from prison to face with them an almost certain death sentence. His statement from the dock was destined to smolder in the homes and servant quarters, the shacks and shebeens and huts and hovels of the oppressed, and to burn in the conscience of the world: 'During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.'

"Without any attempt to find a legal way out, Mandela assumed his full responsibility. This conferred a new status of moral dignity on his leadership, which became evident from the moment he was returned to Robben Island. Even on his first arrival, two years before, he had set an example by refusing to obey an order to jog from the harbor, where the ferry docked, to the prison gates. The warden in charge warned him bluntly that unless he started obeying, he might quite simply be killed and that no one on the mainland would ever be the wiser. Whereupon Mandela quietly retorted, 'If you so much as lay a hand on me, I will take you to the highest court in the land, and when I finish with you, you will be as poor as a church mouse.'"

[Amazingly, the warden backed off. "Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity," Mandela later wrote (in notes smuggled out by friends), "will lose."]

[Trivia: Mandela's given name (Rolihlahla) could be interpreted, prophetically, as "troublemaker."]

Mandela, Nelson Rolihlahla (1918- ) South African politician, Black political leader, South African president (19941999), Nobel Prize recipient (Peace, 1993) [noted for his 30 year imprisonment for anti-apartheid activities; and for his leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) and key role in negotiating an end to apartheid following his release in 1990]

Live From Baghdad

In March 2003, Phesheya Dube, Swaziland state radio's "man in Baghdad" gave several "live reports" from Baghdad. Program host Moses Matsebula frequently expressed concern for his wellbeing and once advised him to "find a cave somewhere to be safe from missiles."
Some time later, Swazi MPs were surprised to see Dube in parliament in Mbabane, the Swazi capital. A brief investigation prompted MP Jojo Dlamini to ask some penetrating questions, among them:

"Why are they lying to the nation that the man is in Iraq, when he is here in Swaziland, broadcasting out of a broom closet?"
Information Minister Mntomzima Dlamini promised to investigate. The station declined to comment.

Dube, Phesheya - Swazi broadcaster, Sources:, 1st April 2003; Swazi Observer

Judge Hoyt: Banana off a Tree?

"One of a few African-Americans appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan, [Kenneth] Hoyt has a reputation for eccentricity. In a 1997 case involving alleged environmental contamination in a largely minority neighborhood, the Judge asserted that physical differences among races were the product of their environment.
"'Why do you think Chinese people are short?' Hoyt told the lawyers in the case. 'Because there is so much damn wind over there they need to be short. Why are they so tall in Africa? Because they need to be tall. It's environmental. I mean, you don't jump up and get a banana off a tree if you're only four feet. If you're seven feet tall and you're standing in China, then you're going to get blown away when that Siberian wind comes through.'"

[The court of appeals later called Hoyt's remarks "unfortunate, grossly inappropriate, and deserving of close and careful scrutiny."]

Laurens van der Bogus

In 1977, South African author Sir Laurens van der Post wrote a book chronicling his exploration of the Kalahari Desert (The Lost World of the Kalahari). Years later, it was discovered that van der Post had in fact never set foot in the Kalahari.

Van der Post, Sir Laurens (1906-1996) South African writer [noted for various books, among them The Lost World of the Kalahari, a chronicle of his (alleged) exploration of the Kalahari Desert]

Devout Muslim?

On April 11th, 1979, Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin was ousted from power by a force of Ugandan exiles and Tanzanians. Though his eight-year reign of terror quickly ended, Amin himself managed to escape to Egypt.
"Idi Amin likes the quiet life these days," Newsweek reported nearly 25 years later. "Folks in the Saudi city of Jidda talk of a devout Muslim and dedicated family man. Often he's seen at the airport collecting parcels of his favourite foods, flown in from his native Uganda. Otherwise, the dictator in exile likes to fish, play the organ and exercise at a local gym. As he tells interviewer Riccardo Orizio: 'I'm first and foremost a boxing champion, you know.'

"That isn't how he's remembered back home. His eight-year rule saw 300,000 people murdered. Some victims were reportedly fed to crocodiles. Before his overthrow in 1979, Uganda's economy was in ruin... So does he feel remorse? 'Only nostalgia,' he says."

Amin [Dada], Idi (1925-2003) Ugandan dictator (19711979) [noted for his brutal and repressive regime and for his flight from Uganda following a coup in 1979

Oh Shucks!

"During the making of [Sandy Mackendrick's] The Ladykillers," Sir Alec Guinness once recalled, "I had to stand on the edge of a 60-foot-high wall and I took hold of what looked like a solid iron rail for support. 'Is this secure?' I called down when I realised the rail was in fact only wood. 'Perfectly!' they called from below. Whereupon it snapped, and I had the good fortune to fall backwards."

One day in September 2003, South African comedian and film maker Leon Schuster and fellow actor, Alfred Ntombela, walked around a Johannesburg suburb shooting a memorable scene for Schuster's latest film, Oh Shucks, I'm Gatvol!. Motorists were astonished by the sight of the actors stripping off their clothes and begging for money at a busy road junction.

[The scene pokes fun at begging, Schuster explained, which is common in South Africa due the high unemployment rate and poverty: "The plot involves a group of South Africans who decide they are gatvol (fed-up) with the situation in South Africa and leave for Australia."]

Schuster, Leon (?- ) South African comedian, actor and director [noted for various films]

Queen Mum

One day during a royal tour of South Africa (in 1947), King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made a stop in Swellendam, a town well known for its Nationalist sentiments. When the queen greeted the crowd, an old Afrikaner farmer bluntly remarked that, as delighted as he was to meet the Royal Family, he did not think much of being governed by Westminster.
"I understand perfectly," the Queen Mum, daughter of a Scottish earl, sweetly replied. "We feel the same in Scotland!"

Queen Mother [born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon], (1900-2002) British queen consort (1923 to 1952) of George VI, Chancellor of the University of London (1955-1980)

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