Final Word

About medals and education

Pig .jpg

The final word on a few matters prominent on the news scene in South Africa right now, should go to Britain’s prime minister at the time of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill.

Sir Winston could easily have been referring to South African Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega when in 1941 he famously said: “A medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow.”

The statesman, orator of note, author, accomplished war strategist and skilled politician, was referring to the envy that comes with the awarding of military decorations from those who do not get them.

It is perhaps not the same kind of shadow Sir Winston had in mind, but the fact that Commissioner Phiyega was awarded:

• a 10-year Commemoration Award after only two years of service to the South African Police Service;

• a Gold Medal for outstanding service, while crime rates are going up;

• the World Cup 2010 Support Award for those police officers who worked during the staging of the tournament, although she only joined SAPS in 2012; and

• an Amalgamation Medal for eleven police agencies being amalgamated into a single service way back in 1994 already, casts a shadow in a class all of its own.

The term ‘medal’ started off in the days of the Romans from the Latin word matellea indicating a coin worth half a denarius and derived from the root word metallum meaning metal.

From around the middle of the 18th century it became the custom to produce special medals – sculpted, moulded, cast, struck or stamped – and marked with special insignias, portraits or symbols. These were then awarded to persons or organisations in recognition of special services rendered or of outstanding achievements.

In the case of Commissioner Phiyega just a small error might have been made in the selection of medals from the wrong custom of rewarding merit. During the late Middle Ages it also became customary in Europe for sovereigns, other nobles and even some institutions, to award medals simply as gifts to their political allies or in order to gain favour from influential people.

She and those who awarded her the medals would do well to read Sir Winston’s famous quote in its full context: “The object of presenting medals, stars and ribbons is to give pride and pleasure to those who have deserved them. At the same time a distinction is something which everybody does not possess. If all have it is of less value … A medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow.”

On education

It is also again that all-important time of the year for learners who are completing their high school careers to write their matriculation examinations.

Examination comes originally from the Latin word examinare, which means to weigh or test. In the sense of a “test of knowledge”, the word is documented from the 1610s. And that is exactly what matric exams are; a test of knowledge accumulated over 12 years on school benches.

But that should not be confused with real ‘education’, something that should never end. On this subject Sir Winston, who did not do all that well at school, but excelled at the more specialised tertiary level, once recalled:”My education was interrupted only by my schooling.”

Bottom line is, schooling is important for the basic knowledge that is required – but with broad and specialised education you open yourself to realising your full potential.

Final word on pigs

Also in the news last week were pigs’ head, dumped on Kosher food in a Woolworths store in Cape Town – allegedly by members of the Congress of South African Students. It was in protest against the retail chain’s trade relations with Israel.

Apparently these (alleged) students’ knowledge and education left them oblivious to the fact that their action is not only offensive to people of the Jewish faith but also to Muslims.

To them I would like leave another quote from Sir Winston: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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