A South African Tale About Tools
IS IT ABOUT UNDERSTANDING TOOLS OR IS IT ABOUT REVERENCE FOR LIFE? –
UNDERSTANDING WHAT WE REALLY WANT
A nearly true story of two modern day heroes
By Julie Clarke
Development Bank of Southern Africa
(If any name resembles any person or place it is purely coincidental)
There was once an ambitious and enthusiastic young man who, through some good fortune
(probably a bilateral arrangement), came upon the finest woodcarving tool box in the whole
world. This tool box could easily have been designed by IEED or DFYD or some such
organisation). He also acquired two pieces form which to make a boat – one big piece of
newly chopped and shining exotic South African pine (probably from SAPY ); the other a
small, old and worn piece of indigenous teak from the local dune thickets that, somehow, had
washed up on the shore.
Well, the youngster was eager to make a grand entrance to his career as a boat builder. So
studied for a Doctorate in wood carving tools and then carved himself an amazing dream boat.
He set sail to the sounds of admiring crowds.
Within minutes of being out at sea, the weather turned for the worse. It may well have been
due to the impact of climate change. His boat cracked under the pressure of the waves and
broke into a thousand pieces. Not knowing much about the character of the seas and knowing
even less about the nature of the wood, he had chosen to make his boat from the soft exotic
A wise old man felt pity for the young man struggling to survive in the wild waters clutching
to the last remaining beautifully carved plank. The old man understood well the nature and
potential of the gnarled teak log left abandoned on the shore. Swiftly, using his primitive
pocket knife and whatever other tools and support he could muster from the crowds, he
carved a rustic boat. Unlike the young man, the old man also understood the raging torrid
waters and the crowds cheered as he negotiated the currents and stretched out his helping
How did the story continue for these two men?
In the beginning it looked really bleak. Understandably so, for the young man managed to
secure disaster management funds to rebuild his boat. Later he also acquired SMME seed
capital and BBBEE technical assistance, EWPP job creation funds and LED funds to assist
him to design numerous new innovative tools for mass producing millions of ASWISA boats.
On paper and according to government score cards, he had achieved so many targets for so
many departments that many bureaucrats and bank CEO’s got big bonuses. He was a walking
success case study.
Time passed and he became ever more busy making money and creating jobs. But he was
always a little unnerved by a niggling concern at the back of his mind. especially when he
saw the old man out at sea – in the roughest of waters – at peace with all the world and still
sailing his old teak boat. Why did all his own ships keep sinking?
Then one day, whilst watching the old man sailing past, the young man glanced behind him at his great ASWISA tool factory. Perhaps due to globalisation, it had become a sweat shop that now stretched across the whole of Corga Integrated Development Zone. Although it was foggy due to the billowing smoke stacks, he could still make out the thousands of poor workers trudging, coughing and vomiting off to work – work they would never have had if it
had not been for his great boat empire. He felt a thrilling sense of achievement and that is when it suddenly struck him. How wonderfully valuable it would be to organise a national survey to see which tools were the most useful for building yet more boats in his ever growing factory box.
Meanwhile, whilst all this activity was happening in the young man’s busy life, the old man continued year after year to love and care for the old teak boat – maintaining it with his own
two hands, and the sweat of his brow and, of course, his old pocket knife. He also increased his knowledge of the seas and his knowledge of the woods and ecosystems from which the wood came. And he helped communities to build small boats from the hard woods of the dune thickets (always replanting at the same rate they were harvesting). It is highly unlikely that this community would ever have received funding for such a small and insignificant project. Most politicians probably viewed it as standing in the way of putting more land under biofuel mono crop plantations to feed energy into the Corga factories. Anyway, these community-made boats were able to withstand the toughest of seas. Due to lack of funding and other priorities, the old man’s tool box was never much to speak of. However, he did
invest in one new tool which he personally designed with the help of a transdisciplinary team of technician Green Peace types. It was a state of the art, nano-technology-based, solar-powered, sonar-techno gadget which he switched on every time the ASWISA fishing boats went out to sea. It worked wonders for herding the fish to safer waters where they were sustainably harvested by the local communities. Of course, the ASWISA generals despised him. They smeared his name in the press and used every trick in the book to silence his influence on society. All because he seemed so anti large-scale development, and he was such an alarmist about perlemoen poaching and key species being over harvested and the like. But, admittedly, the day came when that particular bay was just about the only bay in the whole ocean where there were still fish to be found. By this stage, the locals kept this a secret. Globally, there was never much conclusive scientific evidence to indicate whether the disappearance of fish species in the sea was due to man made activities or was purely a natural disaster. Opinions on this would remain split right down the middle – at least until the
very last fish was gone.
From his boat far out at sea, the old man had a great view of the ASWISA landscape spreading like a cancer across the bay. The young man’s ASWISA award-winning tool
factory dominated the skyline. Being at one with nature, and understanding her laws, the old man tried never to fear - as nature had taught him: The lowest ebb would indeed be the turn of the tide.
The young man undertook his tool box survey and indeed many many more. Eventually, he concluded that no amount of improvement in tools actually helped. The situation was clearly an economicy disastrous at this stage. And so it came to be that, bankrupt, he set out to sea to meet the old man.
He had so much to ask him and learn from him about how the laws of nature worked and about the evolution of people and society.
But, on approaching the old teak boat, the young man froze in horror as he realised it was empty. The boat bobbed aimlessly up and down in the quiet crystal clear waters of the bay. The young man wept with bitter grief. He felt so terribly afraid and so totally alone. He had no one in the world to turn to - at least no one who would ever understand.
He looked into the waters and saw it was abundant with life. There were brightly coloured
algae and coral reefs, sea plants of every description, and dolphins and fish species he had
never seen for years around his shores. The sky was filled with birds. He had forgotten how
beautiful they sounded. He felt such immense inner peace and at one with the universe. He
felt connected and his empty heart was filled with love. He understood now why the old man
had spent so much time out at sea in his little boat. Then he became aware of other little boats
all around the bay – fisher folk from the old mans village. One of the boats came close and
the fisherman on board smiled warmly at him, saying “The old man built and cared for the
boat for you. He knew you would need it again one day”.
Possibly the old man had been dragged out to sea by illegal Taiwanese drag net trawlers.
Maybe the young man was left pondering whether the boat was a tool or a tactic, or a method,
or none of these. But the point of the story is that the bay of Eden lived on to survive another
day. Systems thinking, zero waste, holism, integrated environmental management,
empowerment, sustainability science, socio ecology – you name it – continued to thrive in
small pockets here and there. New heroes were born in the strangest of places. You will find
them speaking out in the report of the South African country survey – helping us to
understand that tools are only as helpful as there is love and understanding in the hearts and
minds and world views of the users.
Is this story going to end happily ever after? That ending is up to us now and how we live
and conduct our personal and working lives. And, of course, we have lots and lots of tools to
help us as and when we need them – our favourites for now at least can also be found in the pages of the survey report.