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Kevin Myers: We're addicted to house building, but why indulge it in South Africa?

I HAD initially thought that if there were anything more absurd, in the asylum that is this Republic, than pink-skinned Irish people toiling in the midday sun of Cape Town, building houses for watching Africans, it remained in its padded cell, howling at the moon. But not so, for Niall Mellon, who organised these house-building capers, is now proposing that unemployed Irish teachers be redeployed to Kenya, on salaries of €12,000 to €15,000.

"And it wouldn't cost the Irish taxpayer one cent," he declared, "because it would come out of the Irish Aid budget." I see. And who pays for the Irish Aid budget? Paraguay?

Just about all the grisly, patronising pieties that have bedevilled Irish life down the years are embodied in the Niall Mellon Trust, which currently has 600 Irish people building houses in South Africa. Why do so many Irish people think that they have house-building skills that Africans lack? To be sure, we do seem to have a house-building addiction, which is why we've built about a zillion unwanted houses here in Ireland; but that's no reason for us to indulge this frenzied addiction of ours in South Africa.

No wonder President Jacob Zuma (the fine fellow who thought that washing his penis is a sovereign remedy for AIDS) was a little dumbfounded when he recently visited the Mellon project in Wallacedene in Cape Town – in a cavalcade of BMWs, naturally: have you noticed the African leaders never travel by Toyota or VW?

But when told that 50pc of the volunteers on the project were African, this noble gentleman declared: "I was going to say, let's try to establish this movement in South Africa. But if South Africans are a part of it, what else do we want?"

"What else do we want?" is probably the motto that one could put on the coat of arms of just about any African country. But I can tell the splendid Zuma what he really wants: it is for Irish people to stay at home and not interfere in foreign countries, in the name of "charity". Unemployment in South Africa stands at 25pc. Amongst young people it is 50pc. In all, 4.5 million South Africans are unemployed – namely, the same as the population of the entire Republic of Ireland. So why are Irish people doing jobs in South Africa that South Africans could and should be doing?

When a reporter asked Niall Mellon that very question, he replied in Persian, or so it seems, because this is what she wrote: "His answer is that when he started, national policy was to build 26sqm houses with poor materials. He doubled the size, using first-rate materials, and demanded first-class quality from the local workforce."

And if I were to ask him about, say, his plans to build a submarine out of tissue-paper, he no doubt would dilate freely upon his tea-plantations on Mercury. Still, let's ask this question for the record: "Niall, apart from assuaging the almost indefatigable Irish desire to meddle sanctimoniously in other people's affairs, why are there ANY Irish people building houses in South Africa, when the number of unemployed in that country is equal to the entire population of this Republic?"

Okay, so the Mellon Trust has built 20,000 homes in 10 years, during which time, as it happens, South Africa's population rose by six million, or 0.003 of a new home per new person. Meanwhile, the Minister for Agriculture, Lulatna Xingwana, had a 500,000 rand portable loo built for her sole use during her supervision of land-redistribution, and the number of white farmers and their wives butchered in their homes reached nearly 4,000: about the same as the death-toll for the 26 years of our Troubles. Ah yes, our two countries, they have so much in common!

And, as we've noted, the next Mellon bright idea is for jobless Irish teachers to be employed in Kenya: surely, one of the wittier outcomes of the Croke Park deal. We make teachers too expensive for Irish use, and then export our unemployment to Kenya. And if our teachers, why not our surplus civil servants, soldiers, police-officers? Rather like the days of the Empire, when surplus sons were packed off to run the Colonies.

ALL over Ireland we have schools with leaking roofs and stinking toilets. Yet instead of attending to these chronic local needs, thousands of Irish people have been building houses in South Africa. Next, no doubt, house-building in Kenya, which has been independent (39 years) for nearly as long as it was an official crown colony (42 years). However, the appetites of Irish piety are probably too restless to be confined to South Africa and Kenya, or even to neighbouring Uganda, where millions of Irish money have just vanished without trace.

No matter: we'll just borrow some more, at compound interest. Clearly, no African country is large enough to absorb all our charitable recklessness. We should simply annex the entire continent, from Cairo to the Cape, upon which stage we can then showcase our moral superiority to the world.

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