Friday. 12/11/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Emma Searle

Meeting FW de Klerk

The news yesterday of FW de Klerk’s death, at the age of 85, conjured memories of my childhood. I remember attending my grandfather’s funeral as a young girl in Cape Town in 2010. During the service I glanced to my left and spotted De Klerk sitting in the front row. When the funeral ended, I saw members of the press circling the church like keen-eyed vultures, trying to capture a photograph of the Nobel laureate. I would later learn that my grandfather, an anti-apartheid activist and lawyer who served on the supreme court, had worked closely with both De Klerk and Nelson Mandela (both pictured) to help end South Africa’s system of white supremacy.

Having been a conservative minister within the National Party, De Klerk became president in 1989 and served as an unlikely agent of change during his five-year rule. Perhaps in recognition of the possibility of civil war, he appeared to understand that the brutal apartheid system was untenable. Five months after taking office, De Klerk announced the release of Mandela, the leader of the anti-apartheid struggle with whom De Klerk would later share the Nobel prize for peace. This turning point eventually culminated in the historic elections that brought Mandela to power in 1994.

While De Klerk’s role in dismantling South Africa’s apartheid system was significant, he leaves behind an uneven and divisive legacy. There are those who will remember him as a courageous leader and others who view him as an opportunist or as a symbol of the failure of white South Africans to acknowledge the full horrors of apartheid. Indeed, had De Klerk’s career not ended as it did, he would no doubt be remembered as another enforcer of a violent and racist regime. But it’s also true that, had De Klerk not decided to end apartheid, we might be looking at a very different South Africa today.

After my grandfather’s funeral, I asked De Klerk to jot down a message for me to read one day when I was older and better able to understand the history of my country. When I later received his note, it read, “When you make mistakes, own up to them. Don’t be afraid to walk down the right path and fight for equality.”

Image: Getty Images

Development / Germany

Making ends meet

It was only last year that Germany’s development ministry laid out its 2030 “reform concept”, setting new rules for foreign aid. Now reports are that the negotiators of a possible three-way governing coalition between the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats are considering doing away with the development ministry entirely, instead ploughing more money into confronting climate change. Germany wouldn’t be the first: the UK merged its Department for International Development with the Foreign Office in 2020. But the signal this sends is worrying. Issues surrounding development and global inequality are reportedly playing little role in the coalition talks. Gerd Müller, Germany’s current development minister (pictured), wrote in Frankfurter Allgemeine that his country plays a key role in addressing extreme poverty, disseminating vaccines and has become a “trusted partner” for global NGOs. While boosting climate financing, the focus of this week’s Cop26 summit in Glasgow, is laudable, it’s worth questioning why wealthy nations like Germany feel they can’t do both.

Image: Shutterstock

Art / Hong Kong

Restricted viewing

Hong Kong’s new contemporary art museum, M+ (pictured), opens to the public today after years of delay. The 65,000 sq m building, a striking addition to the city’ skyline, houses 33 galleries, three cinemas, two restaurants, a members’ lounge and a rooftop garden, while some 1,500 works are on display in six inaugural exhibitions.

M+ brands itself as Hong Kong’s answer to London’s Tate Modern, New York’s Moma and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. But it has already sparked controversy in relation to artistic freedom. Hong Kong’s political landscape has transformed in the decade since M+ was first announced, especially after the passing of a draconian national security law in 2020. Before it opened, M+ removed from its website some of the works in its collection, including “Study of Perspective: Tiananmen” and “Map of China”, by Ai Weiwei, over concerns that they violated the law. Other works by the dissident artist were on display at the opening but these pieces, which could be viewed as critical of China, were not.

Culture / UK

Unsung hero

Music documentaries, particularly biopics, typically chart an artist’s glorious rise to fame and, as their heyday passes, their sometimes less than glamorous decline. Keyboard Fantasies, a documentary released today in the UK and Ireland, bucks that trend by telling the story of Glenn Copeland. The musician’s 1986 album Keyboard Fantasies spent 30 years in obscurity until influential Japanese record collector Ryota Masuko, of She Ye Ye records, sent a chance email enquiring about buying the remaining stock. Less than five years later, Copeland’s quiet life in rural Canada took a sharp U-turn and, in his seventies, the black transgender musician who had always been out of sync suddenly found himself with legions of fans and planning his first world tour. “He’s been years ahead of everybody else and you can hear that in his music,” director Posy Dixon told Monocle 24. “He compares himself to a radio, just bringing in what comes and giving it to us. That’s why his music often feels so timeless.”

Hear the full interview with Posy Dixon on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Alamy

Politics / Singapore

Word association

Nearly 800 people have volunteered to improve the translation of Singapore’s government communication material as part of a nationwide effort to strengthen correspondence across its four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil). The Citizen Translators project invites volunteers to attend discussions, take part in contests, give feedback and report errors. The programme, which was detailed by the government this week, awards e-certificates and e-vouchers to the participants based on their level of contribution. Currently there are about 660 Chinese, 60 Malay and 50 Tamil speakers involved in the scheme; they have so far only taken part in pilot projects but, by March next year, will be able to vet and proofread communication materials through a dedicated Citizen Translators web portal. Political freedom is limited in Singapore but the initiative is nevertheless an example of how the skill and enthusiasm of individuals can be harnessed by a resourceful government to make information accessible to all.

Image: MyBossWas

M24 / Monocle On Design

Rouleur Live and Marvel

We head to Rouleur Live to meet some of the brands and designers making an impact in the cycling industry, and explore a book charting the visual language of Marvel. Plus: a new film sheds light on the importance of architects.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tsinandali tunes

The first edition of a Georgian festival that’s bringing together musicians from the Caucasus to discuss their shared future.

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