Monday, 1 December 2014

Is It Prophecy or Good Old Plain Guessing?

"There is in human nature generally more of the fool than of the wise" - Francis Bacon, Essays, 1625 A.D.

At Delphi where ancient kings came to consult the Oracle before commencing any major military operations.
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

There is something that I have not yet tackled regardless of the fact that I have made it my business to discuss everything under the sun. The subject is prophecy. I have chosen to stay clear of this topic because people tend to be too sensitive about their spirituality and any criticism therefore. I, on the other hand, care only about the hard facts in life and further, I don't have any "prophet" friends so the subject rarely arises. Fact: I am very sceptical about prophecy. Mind you I do not say it is utterly useless; in my study of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I found prophetic churches to be the substitute of the state in offering hope and comradeship where abject poverty rules because the state does not exist. But, as you very well know: "hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper."

The anecdote that follows below sums up my scepticism about prophecy in all its variants. Granted, I have not done a clinical study to establish whether those who have received prophecies have seen them unfold in the manner described by the "prophet." My suspicion arises because "prophecy" is always couched in such vague terms so as to make it hard to call out the "prophet" for lying. In Logic, such a manner of speaking is called the fallacy of amphiboly

The fallacy of amphiboly occurs in arguing from premises whose formulations are ambiguous because of their grammatical construction. A statement is amphibolous when its meaning is unclear because of the loose or awkward way in which its words are combined. An amphibolous statement may be true on one interpretation and false on another. When it is stated as premise with the interpretation which makes it true, and a conclusion is drawn from it on the interpretation which makes it false, then the fallacy of amphiboly has been committed.

The classic example of amphiboly has to do with Croesus and the Oracle of Delphi. Amphibolous utterances were, of course, the chief stock in trade of the ancient oracles. Croesus, the King of Lydia, was contemplating war with the Kingdom of Persia. Being a prudent man, he did not wish to go to war unless he were sure to win. He consulted Delphi on the matter and received the oracular reply that "If Croesus went to war with Cyrus, he would destroy a mighty Kingdom." Delighted with this prediction, Croesus went to war and was speedily defeated by Cyrus, King of the Persian host. Afterwards, his life having been spared, Croesus wrote a bitterly complaining letter to the Oracle, presumably signing it "irate subscriber." His letter was answered by the priests of Delphi who claimed that the Oracle had been right. In going to war, Croesus had destroyed a mighty Kingdom - his own!**


** Copi, Irving M. (1961), Introduction To Logic. New York: Macmillan Company.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Kudakwashe Kanhutu: The Reluctant Farmer

"Concern for man and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations" - Albert Einstein.

The Reluctant Farmer
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

I will never be a crop farmer, let someone else do it instead.  I do not necessarily say those who taught me crop farming as a youngster completely wasted their time but, all the same, hell will have to freeze over first before I become a crop farmer again. And, even then, you will still have to capture me as I make my escape on my souped-up snowmobile. Crop farming is just too much work! Well, at least in my experience as a young boy growing up in deep rural Zambezi Valley. 

In this entry of my blog we briefly revisit some of the experiences in my youth that made me decide against crop farming as an occupation. But after government (Yes, you heard right: after government!) in retirement, I wouldn't mind animal husbandry. So I visited a farm in Durham to see, first hand, what goes into such an operation.

John Mangwanya Kanhutu, (The Elder in a suit) My Grandfather who educated me on the ways of this world before I commenced book learning.

Agriculture and War

I have already said elsewhere that the essential branches of knowledge for humanity are defence and agriculture while other professions like law and politics are mere adjuncts. That proposition still holds for me;

"Now, if men form parties, the arguments and dissensions in the country will be of confusing diversity; the lower classes will be amused and the great men will enjoy it, with the result that amongst such a people farmers will be few and those who, in idleness, live on others will be many. These latter being numerous, farmers will be in a perilous position, and this being so, land will be left lying fallow. If study becomes popular, people will abandon agriculture and occupy themselves with debates, high-sounding words and discussions on false premises; abandoning agriculture, they will live on others in idleness, and seek to surpass one another with words. Thus the people will become estranged from the ruler, and there will be crowds of disloyal subjects. This is a doctrine which leads to the impoverishment of the state and to the weakening of the army. Indeed, if a country employs people for their talking, then the people will not be nurtured in agriculture; so it is only an intelligent prince who understands that by fondness for words one cannot strengthen the army nor open up the land. Only when a sage rules the country will he strive for singleness of purpose and for the consolidation of the people in agriculture, and for that alone" - The Book of Lord Shang, Chapter 3 Agriculture and War.

So, before I go on to educate you on how I came to hate..., I mean dislike crop farming, let me assure you that I have done it and if the prince of the day ever required me to do it - as a national security concern - I would easily manage it again. But I have taken steps to make sure I will not be the obvious choice to be called back to it. How you ask? I will tell you how;

When I decided to return to University education my first firm offer for study was at Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.
The universities that accepted my applications on my return to education were Goldsmiths College (Classics), Royal Holloway (History), King's College London (War Studies - deferred) Royal Agricultural College (Agriculture) and University of Kent (Conflict, Peace and Security). There was no soul searching, no sleepless nights deciding which course to take; Agriculture was dropped like it was scorching hot! 

My return to education should also not be confused with the love of knowledge for its sake that afflicts so many academics. My return is instrumental - as evinced by my manifest inability to analyse inessential theories to the death. I just needed a higher level of critical thought training so as to be able to communicate and execute my ideas better, but that's a story for another day... I paid the Royal Agricultural College a courtesy visit but I had already made up my mind to study statecraft at its highest level in Kent. 

My Alfa Romeo parked outside the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester

Thus I chose, in a heartbeat, to engage  with strategic studies. Such study can be said to stand slightly above agriculture in that it is the study of how to employ all the material and ideational resources at the country's disposal so as to strengthen one's own side in the contention of the nations.

"A sage, therefore, in organizing a country causes the people in home affairs to adhere to agriculture, and in foreign affairs to scheme for war. Now, agriculture makes the people suffer hardships, and war makes them run dangers, and the means whereby they can be led to encounter hardships and to perform actions that expose them to danger, is calculation.... If enemies are conquered and at the same time fields do not lie fallow, then without moving, the result will be obtained of having both wealth and strength" - The Book of Lord Shang, Chapter 2, The Calculation of Land.

Therefore I decided to stand above these two essential fields but with an inclination towards the profession of arms so that my prince, if he is sagacious, can only call on me for war rather than agriculture.

My Jaguar X Type parked outside the School of Government and International Affairs Building at Durham University circa October 2013
But why do I try to avoid crop farming like the plague?

Agriculture Is Hard

Or to be precise, the way I did it in my youth was hard...

My childhood friend  Andrew's cow - Doctor - pulling a cultivator through the cotton crop typical of our farming method as youngsters in the Zambezi Valley.
I am talking to you now about when we were between the ages of 5 - 12 years old. Forget the nonsensical claims in the West that this is child labour; the proper word for it is self-help. What? I should starve to death because I am 11 years old instead of just going to the fields I own already and grow my own food?? 

During the holidays we worked in our fields everyday as soon as it became light enough to see at the crack of dawn until it became too hot, then we would return to the fields again in the evening till it became too dark to see. On school days my grandfather made my brother Douglas and I - as the older boys at home - go to the fields before we went to school so as to ensure the crops would not fail (and our school grades had to be high too - and they were high!). The early morning work was usually weeding a particularly bad patch of the field followed by a dash to school before the first bell. 

We also had to sometimes sleep in the field hut to scare away elephants and wild pigs so that they would not destroy our crops when it was near harvest time. This involved lighting fires and making an almighty racket with metals cans, drums and what have you. I don't remember that being succesful though. But while this work was hard, I was quite amenable to it because it was ours, our grandfather found this place for us, we cleared the virgin land to farm it ourselves, we would not ask for permission from anyone to eat any of the food we produced and (now) no force on earth can take this land from our family. 

Watermelon - Typical produce from our fields in the Zambezi Valley, these organic products that are sold for shocking amounts in the UK we would just walk into any of our relatives' fields and eat without asking anyone for permission.
I think it was the work that I had to do for my primary school - Muringazuva Primary - that made me disdain crop farming. My primary school, being thoroughly improverished, had an arrangement with the local farming operation whereby from grade 5 - grade 7 we would go to do some work there and that farm would pay the school an amount for that work. The school would then use it for the betterment of our school. The farm is Agricultural Rural Development Authority (A.R.D.A) Mzarabani Estate.

A.R.D.A Mzarabani Estate viewed from the lower reaches of the Mavhuradonha Mountain in Northern Zimbabwe 
To be sure, the money we worked for there was used on our school for we never bought pens or exercise books at primary school, all we had to do was to go to the office with the filled up exercise book and exchange it for a new one. Sports uniforms were also supplied from this income and, as new buildings were constructed at our school, I suspect the money earned by us was really used for the betterment of the school. The work we had to do at A.R.D.A Mzarabani was exactly the same as we had to do in our own fields; spacing bean and cotton crops on germination, weeding, picking and packing cotton. Things we were already proficient at but, somehow, I did not have the same respect for that work as the respect I had for the work in our own fields. A single occurence is instructive as the point when I finally got fed up with crop farming:

My friend Andrew at our old Primary School where he teaches while currently completing his BA Degree
Like Ninjas In The Middle of the Day!

The way we made our way to the A.R.D.A Mzarabani Estate was this; around 1230pm a tractor with a flat-bed trailer would come to our primary school. At 0100pm when we finished classes we would all then stream onto the trailer and be driven down to the farm which was about 5km away. We had done this routine without misshap for about 2 years but there is always a first time for everything. On the particluar day in question, my childhood friend Andrew and I decided we had better things to do than pick someone else's cotton! (Andrew is pictured above, and I wonder how he handles the hot-head kids there who are exactly our carbon copies since he now teaches at our old school).

I don't remember if we specifically discussed our modus operandi for this day but Ninjas everywhere will be proud of the stunt we pulled off. Unfortunately, I only remember it so well because it did not end well for us - the perpetrators. We got onto the flat-bed trailer as if we really meant to go to the farm with everyone but sat at the edges, ready! We allowed the tractor to move to the edges of the football field where there was tree cover blocking the line of sight from the school buildings, then we made our move. Posterity has been denied a front row seat to some of the most foolish escapades for want of a video camera. We leapt from the flat-bed trailer and took cover behind some trees to great shouting and excitement from the other kids left on the trailer. Promptly we dashed through the thickets leaving the school on our right side and Mr Chinyere's fields on our left. This is a part of the bush we could navigate blindfold at midnight - it was our local. We then went to Andrew's family fields, had some watermelons and raw groundnuts before going our separate ways without as much as discussing how this was all going to turn out for us. Kids!

The Mighty Mavhuradonha Mountain viewed from near the point we made our daring escape from a school work day 

As you no doubt have guessed, all that zig zag running through the bushes with our heads low served no purpose as all the teacher accompanying our group had to do was ask the other kids; "who leapt off the trailer?" Kids that age don't know about subterfuge and the code of silence, so they happily volunteered our names. Assembly the following day was very interesting for everyone - even those at home. For that offence we were taken to the office and beaten thoroughly with a rope by this sadistic teacher - Mr Machado. During our beating, Andrew managed to leap through the window and ran home while I was trapped on the other side.

As soon as Andrew got home, his homestead was closer to the school than mine as well, and showed his grandfather the rope marks from the beating, things heated up sufficiently. You see, when we moved to the Zambezi Valley it was virgin territory and all kinds of wild animals roamed freely in our community: Lions, Leopards, Buffalo, Elephants, Black Mambas etc. For this reason every homestead had a hunting rifle. Every young male had to move around with an axe and a spear just in case you are accosted by any of these wild animals. 

Within the hour, Andrew's grandfather - Mr Chabata - was at the school with his hunting rifle to shoot down that sadistic teacher I mentioned above - Machado. For his safety now, Machado locked himself in the same office where he previously had been beating us up. An instant reversal of fortunes? Safe bet! He was there 3 hours later as the headmaster begged and pleaded with Andrew's grandfather to calm down. Because it was such a dramatic occurrence Andrew's grandfather only calmed down when the other elders he respected came to the school. 

Promptly, a meeting was held with the elders that convened at the school. These elders were Messrs Chabata, Machakwa, Kanhutu, Makoni, Chinyere, Sithole and Mashingaidze. At this meeting it was pointed out that it was only out of the elders' generosity that they allowed their kids to work for the school. Forthwith we didn't have to work at A.R.D.A at all, and no teacher was authorised to beat up children anymore, they would have to call in the parents if a child misbehaved.

But you would be wrong to think that this was the last beating I got as a child in the Zambezi Valley. The same elders that stopped the teachers from beating us were also quite proficient at beating us up usually when our cattle destroyed crops while we played football. But again, that's a story for another day. My experiences with crop farming as a kid is that it is hard, I did it, still know how to do it but I won't do it!

Having said all this, if I must give you an excuse as to why I will always avoid crop farming, I would say that I did it to my heart's content as a kid so I want to do something else now. That something else is raising beef cattle. I already bought 3 cows 6 years ago from another childhood friend and uncle who owns a plot in Mazoe. What has surprised me about this purchase is that in the 6 years since I bought them, my cows haven't had calves. Everytime I call and ask him about these cows of mine, their number is still 3!  

County Durham 2014 Farm Visit Photo Essay:

My Jaguar X Type in the Durham countryside

Wind turbines on a farm in Durham 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Stranger In Whitby, North Yorks

"In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it" - Oscar Wilde

Whitby Abbey: the main attraction in Whitby
by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

I did not close my account in the North East of England properly because I left in a tearing hurry. My rental term had expired by a week when I left. The landlord, a reasonable man, let me stay free of charge for the 5 - 6 days I still needed to complete my MSc Defence, Development and Diplomacy thesis and hand it in. On Friday 5th September, the second last day of my stay in Durham, I almost burned the house down. You will be pleased to know that someone was watching over me. I will tell you all about that in later installments of this blog. The subject of today's entry is just to show you how there is nothing in my past to suggest I would successfully complete University education. A moment of sober reflection yielded this to me when I took a much needed break from thesis writing and visited a beautiful town called Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Whitby and its surrounding area is very beautiful and the pictures at the bottom of this story should communicate that to you if you ever want to visit. I want instead to talk about the thoughts that occupied me while I was out there. I had decided to clear my mind from my immediate dissertation woes so, instead, I focused on this question; should I even have passed secondary school? The answer to that question is: hell No!

Crazy but didn't know it
Do Girls Find A Russell Group University Degree Sexy?

The short answer to that is: I don't know and I don't care. But that's not the point.

My highest educational award todate 06. 11. 2014
The point I want to make is that my conduct at my improverished secondary school has no congruence with entry to any higher educational institution - anywhere! To do that, as a narrative device, I must rely on my relationship with girls at secondary school.

Back in Zimbabwe, my age mates who went to what were called Group A schools (your Etons in England) tended to get all the prettiest girls, while we, who went to what must have been - in a fair comparison - Group Z schools (no equivalent in England), got nothing. It bothered me for the longest time that no pretty girls wanted to go out with me as they all flocked to these blazer wearing, basketball and cricket playing rich kids. 

But, as you very well know times change
What's worse, long after we finished secondary school, some girls would still ask you that dreaded question; "what school did you go to?" It's the world we live in my friends, where people value you by what you possess. But on sober reflection, what is this a proxy of? This going to the Group A schools? This having nice possessions? Is it evidence of prudent planning? intelligence? God's favour? I don't know, but I can assure you no girl would have been making such complex calculations when we were at secondary school. On my day out in Whitby, I reviewed the evidence and reached the verdict that I just wasn't boyfriend material in my secondary schools years; it wasn't the school that I went to.

Arrival at Whitby Station, already planning my long awaited visit to Moscow next year
The Evidence: 

The secondary school you went to cannot be the only variable that determines whether you get a girlfriend or not, the laws of supply and demand do not allow such an anomalous condition. So we must look to other variables to determine why someone ended secondary school without a serious girlfriend. Let me venture that the dependent variable (the person) is also the major independent variable (his conduct).

At primary school, I fought with girls and my record in that is dismal, if memory serves, my record is; LLWD (Lose, Lose, Win, Draw).  Secondary school was when I became, what in the business is called, a hell raiser. Not even in an appealing way, but in the "most likely to end up in jail" kind of way. Girls in my background were cautioned by their parents against that kind of person and they listened. Even if they didn't listen to that advice, I was indiscrete anyway. Somehow, I was one of the clique whose task it was to expose - on the chalkboard - whatever little relationship we got wind of. If teacher X was dating teacher Y, we would put it up on the board, if student A was dating student B (from our school or another) it was my job to bring it to everyone's attention. What chance I wouldn't tell everyone everything if some girl went out with me? Who was the first student to break the news when in our last year of school one student impregnated another? Me. I don't even know how I found out because it's not like any of them would have confided in me.

Strangely, while I could get up to all these shenanigans, there is an incongruency there because I was hardly ever at school. If I wasn't suspended (failure to pay fees, breaking the science lab door etc), I would have been playing truancy. My clique and I used to like to go to the Army shooting range near Ruzawi to collect spent cartridges and wild fruits. To which we would be suspended for again, or punished every Friday, thereby further limiting the time I spent in an actual classroom. If we had a library lesson, it was a great opportunity for me to tear football pictures from the newspaper for my scrapbooks. I had 4 volumes; Local, European, Latin American and World Cup football. Punishment everytime I got caught. I can't remember exactly what crazy thing my friend George and I did, but I distinctly remember the Deputy Headmaster stopping assembly proceedings and plucking us from there, then walking us to the school gate, pushing us out, then him standing at the gate with folded arms shaking his head in an "I give up" gesture (there is a ham actor in all of us?). The point is, I shouldn't have passed secondary school.

But leaving my school conduct aside as a reason why no girl would date me, what about the girls who didn't go to my school who would not have known about my - for want of a better word - infamy? I think this is where it becomes slim pickings because Group A school status would have certainly helped, but still, I had something else. I played football, and in the small town I am from, we were accorded celebrity status because we were the next crop of players-in-waiting to play for the biggest local club. But the downside to that, for both my school work and possible relationship with girls, we were always gallivanting somewhere following football; 4 days training every week, game on Saturday, Sunday we would watch the first team either locally or follow it all over the country as far afield as Gweru, some 300 kilometres away from our home town - Marondera. 

If we were not away with football, my friends and I had Kung-Fu as one of our favourite pastimes. We watched every film at Dombotombo Hall. But what really took our time was our trek to our forest hide out - again for want of a better word - Dojo. We had a punching bag (a bag with sand) in the middle of the forest next to some sawdust heap from the local timber mill. The sand bag - hanging from a low tree branch - was for practising flying kicks, round house kicks etc and the sawdust was for practising our spinning techniques, with or without hands. Was it even real Kung-Fu we were practising? No, it was a mix of some self-defence moves my brothers in the army had shown us, what we saw in Chinese movies and the moves we spied on at the Dombotombo Hall Dojo. I wonder if the moves we saw at Dombotombo Hall were real Kung-Fu as well or their Sensei was just a make-believe sensei relying on Kung-Fu films like us. The truth of the matter is my time was fully occupied by other things than school or girls. 

Further, you don't just decide to be a hell raiser in school and a prince charming at home. My record in my town was almost as bad, we were doing it all. But I would say within acceptable limits because my brothers in the army would not have stood for it. So you find that stealing, drinking, smoking, and drugs was never one of the things I did because I wouldn't have lasted a day after that, but Fighting? Between fights! Playing truancy? Regular as clockwork! Climbing over the durawall at the local stadium for music concerts? Daily bread!

Which reminds me as well that the girls at my school did not hate me, they just knew one important thing; that I was too out of control to be boyfriend material. They liked me; in my last year of school the girls voted me to be the House Captain - Nehanda House. Our schools had the formative stages of a collegiate system (like I found at Durham University) whereby groupings are established to compete with each other in sports. On the eve of the big sporting event what I did I do? I tried to jump the durawall at Rudhaka Stadium into a Thomas Mapfumo Music Concert and cut my hand on the broken bottles that formed the top of the wall. The event went ahead without the Nehanda House Captain.

So there you have it, the few thoughts of reflection on my educational journey so far that my mind accorded itself when I said my long goodbye to Durham University and surrounding areas. I was going to stop studying now, but I have clear guidance from the military I will be re-joining to  do the PhD. I have already decided where I will be doing it; it is in one of the most beautiful places you have ever seen. I will keep you posted.

The Long Good-Bye to the North-East of England

Photo Essay:

Newcastle, Tynemouth, North and South Shields, Sunderland - Day One

Hartlepool, Middlesborough, Whitby - Day Two