Michael McCarthy’s article about Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its Art Deco architecture brings back memories of a visit I made to the city in 1957 (Voices, 20 March).
I had taken a three-month job as medical officer and bus driver in a convoy of buses taking tourists from Johannesburg through Europe to London. I had just completed my medical degree and had strong anti-racism opinions that had developed at the University of Witwatersrand, and a love of African wildlife from frequent visits to the Kruger National Park.
As a very naive and ignorant youngster, I was excited by the idea of a visit to the Belgian Congo, but was woefully uninformed about the appalling brutality towards the indigenous people by the Belgians. We had a 24-hour stopover in Bukavu, which was by far the most attractive town we had visited.
I had no knowledge of Art Deco architecture then and just liked the centre of town, which was so quiet and clean – but it was striking that no Africans were visible except for those working in menial jobs. Lake Kivu was stunningly beautiful but it was disappointing that there seemed to be no public access to the shore, which was ringed by luxurious villas with well-groomed gardens extending down to yachts and motorboats anchored below the gardens. The Belgians must have believed that they were living in paradise. The article does not mention these villas but I can only guess that they are decaying and crumbling into ruin, unless they have been occupied by various warlords or foreigners exploiting the wealth of the area.
While the threat to gorillas and other endangered species must be taken seriously, everything is subordinate to the continuing war and exploitation of the vast mineral wealth by neighbouring countries, the great Western economies, and China. Without anywhere near enough resources, the UN has been powerless to stop the conflict and the general public are either unaware or shrug their shoulders at “another African disaster”.
It would be wonderful to see Bukavu refurbished, spruced up, and peaceful, with a thriving tourist trade. What a dream!
Dr John Beck
Lessons in compassion for the NHS
Let me get this clear. To improve standards of basic patient care, we’re going to put it in the hands of untrained school-leavers who are paid even less than nurses. And after a year of that, they will have learnt compassion.
I was born in 1932. My first memory of hospital was of having my tonsils out when I was about four years old. The nurses seemed very kind and nice. Since that distant date I have been a patient many times. In all this time all the nurses who tended me were caring, pleasant and sometimes wonderful people; they were from all races and both sexes.
Some of my fellow patients were rude, aggressive and quite nasty, but even those were treated politely. Hospital staff also have to contend with drunken assaults and threatening language, particularly in casualty on Friday and Saturday nights.
Nurses don’t seem able to defend themselves against all the accusations levelled against them. If this badgering of the medical professions carries on who will want to do it? There might be room for improvement, but in the meantime cherish what we have got.
Long Melford, Suffolk
It was always scary to undergo an operation in hospital. Would you wake up after the op? Would you be in pain? How sad nowadays, especially if you are over 70 as I am, to be afraid to go into hospital because the routine nursing aftercare or an infection might kill you, not the operation.
Both my father and my aunt might have faded away in hospital if family members or carers had not ensured that they ate their meals. My aunt was blind, but however often I mentioned that fact, the ever-changing staff often failed to notice why she didn’t respond to passing remarks or left her meals untouched until I put up a large note near her bed.
Families with two earners
J Longstaff (Letter, 22 March) confuses the social and economic issues of both parents being in employment in a two-parent household. He and his family will not be contributing to the tax support for childcare; it will be funded from the additional taxes generated by an additional working adult. There are various social arguments for and against one parent staying at home and clearly his family’s situation works for them; other situations, including part-time work, are best for other families.
The economic arguments only ever come out in favour of more adults being in employment. Each adult who is able to earn contributes to the health, education, social benefits, law and the many other benefits that our taxes allow us to receive. His single salary needs to cover this for two adults.
New force on the left
Owen Jones’s call (25 March) for a broad left-wing movement against austerity should be welcomed. I hope that the People’s Assembly does give voice to all those who want to see an alternative.
But a “movement” isn’t enough. The “chasm in British politics” will only begin to be filled when we also have a party that we can support. That means challenging not only the Tories and Liberal Democrats but Labour as well. It’s why I welcome Ken Loach’s call for a new party of the left. Owen does himself no favours with his weary dismissal of that call.
The people assembled (and beyond) will no doubt include many who aren’t prepared to put up any longer with the argument that they should just vote for the “lesser evil”. They will be looking for a political alternative. Their voice should also be heard.
Your otherwise welcome report of the People’s Assembly press conference (27 March) claimed that I said there would be a march that would be larger than the February 2003 protest against the Iraq war. In fact I and others made it clear that the People’s Assembly is a conference, not a demonstration.
I did say that there needed to be a movement larger than the anti-war movement in order to defeat the Government’s austerity measures.
No buyer for the Falklands
Peter Flynn makes an admirable suggestion that we should sell the Falklands to Argentina and use the money to pay down our national debt as well as repatriate the small Falklands population (Letter, 27 March).
If only it were that simple. The UK would lose a problem and gain much-needed cash. President Kirchner would be made president for life, and the Falklanders would be able to retire in comfort to Britain, which, in their heart of hearts, most of them surely want to do.
Unfortunately, Argentina can’t afford the Falklands. Which is why it wants to get them and their oil for free – to pay off a national debt so large it makes Greece look like Switzerland.
On the other hand, even if we can no longer afford another Falklands war, neither can Argentina. So invasion is off and it’s back to David and Cristina making empty speeches, and Francis telling them to please be nice to each other.
Lipa City, The Philippines
Write off this irrelevant skill
Why are our teachers still wasting hours each week teaching children the irrelevant subject of handwriting? Think how much better the hours could be spent if, as in America, pupils were allowed to use a keyboard once they had learned how to print letters.
It is surely nonsense for children to lose marks because they don’t join a letter “b” correctly to other letters, when they’re unlikely to use joined-up writing even in secondary school, let alone once they’re in work.
At best, handwriting belongs in 2013 as a niche subject in the art class. When did any reader of The Independent in recent times hand-write more than a few words, perhaps hurriedly jotted down during a telephone call?
Law needed on dangerous dogs
The tragic loss of a young life following a horrific dog attack in Wigan is an extremely distressing reminder that current dangerous dog legislation puts people at risk. Until we see a radical overhaul of the law so as to allow authorities to step in at the first sign of aggressive behaviour, such shocking incidents will continue to happen.
When are people going to learn? Dogs are pack animals. If you have a few dogs together they will revert to being pack animals. This is dangerous to anyone or anything outside the pack; hence the attacks on humans and other people’s pets.
The law needs changing so that all dogs have to be chipped, any dog in a public environment should be muzzled and anyone keeping more than two dogs should need a kennel licence.
America has a gun control problem. We have a dog control problem. But it is for much the same reason: our politicians are afraid of the Dog Lobby. There is the dog-breeding industry, the petfood makers and, most of all, dog-dependent voters. Expect more children to be mauled.
To school with no breakfast
Stuart White (letter, 27 March) is right about one thing: some parents are irresponsible, not just about providing breakfast, but about providing any of the support that a child needs to be able to thrive. This is why some schools have to be parents as well as teachers.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is not “scaremongering”, and I applaud The Independent for recognising this. The “nanny state” is much criticised, but sometimes it is the only nanny that a child has.
Reward of office
Steve Richards (28 March) refers to several former Labour ministers being “more powerful and wealthy when they leave their elected posts”. Maybe this sort of advancement is what contributes towards voters’ attitudes in “this anti-politics era”.