A Diamond Suprise….!

Pic: Replica of Ernst Oppenheimer Rough Cut Diamond. Credit: Behance.net
Pic: Replica of Ernst Oppenheimer Rough Cut Diamond. Credit: Behance.net

In Central Johannesburg

March 23, 2013.  I was walking home on Saturday afternoon when I decided to take a route I had never taken before, explore more of the streets of inner city Johannesburg.   And boy was there more to discover, right there slap bang in the cluster of buildings separated by widely narrow pavements cars, traders, nestled between President, Market and Joubert Street there in the middle was a park, with a basketball court.

A bunch of guys were shooting  hoops tapering off what seemed to have been a very  competitive game , while others  grouped themselves  in threes and fours chatting in English infused with different African accents  –  talks presumably  setting up the  next tournament.  Watching them play reminded me of my first crush in high school on a guy called Randy- a basketball player  amongst other things.  Oh Randy, he was from Taiwan.  “Taiwanese not Chinese” he told me once “there is a difference – the difference being that Taiwan and China are two different countries”. I didn’t know then how contentious the Taiwanese issue was for Main land China until much later when on a two-week marathon trip through the country I was advised not to mention Taiwan during conversations or formal interviews.  “People might get upset and it’s just better if we don’t talk about it” Of course it was hard to resist recalling my crush on Randy, what would he think of me now? But I wanted to experience China while I was there so the “Taiwanese issue” along with the dangerous subject of Tibet was never mentioned in any great detail.  We all preferred to “kampei” during long lunches, than to engage in unpleasant subjects.

Huang-cheng-tse was his  Taiwanese name. His family called him Huang, he was the oldest and only son. His father called him Cheng they all seemed to dote on him.  My crush on him was beyond embarrassing, for me  but gave my family enough jokes for years.  It was a passing phase we all agreed. Of course I secretly hoped we would have a happy ending but his “Dear Lindiwe, thank you for liking me but we can’t be together, it’s my family”  words in a letter he secretly passed to me through our go-betweens uSibusiso  no Patric crushed all my hopes and dreams for a red festive day. “They will never allow me to date someone from a different race” he continued with what seemed to me a sincere and heartfelt explanation.   He was 14 and I was 13. None the less I used to watch myself walk slowly across the lonely overgrown school yard toward the end of the school fence, near the basketball court to watch him , Sibusiso , Patrick and other boys from school play ball. He was a good player, energetic – he practiced the slam dunk every chance he’d get. He loved basketball and winning – he was a straight A student. I always had a book in my hand and would escape into its pages every now and again during the game or the duration of the lunch break.  Anyway it was not like my family would approve of my interests in him either. I was forbidden to be with anyone from a different religion, race was negotiable, religion not.  I was from a born again charismatic Christian family and he was a Buddhist.  Randy and his family seemed devout; they would often go to the temple a few meters from the school where on the opposite side foundations for Africa’s largest Buddhist temple  ( the bronkhorspruit nan-hua temple) were already being laid  and would take longer than my high school career to complete. The construction of the building was financed by Buddhists in Taiwan and all over the world. Buddhist Monks were common sights beyond the thin fence of the school yard, in light grey tunics, a touch of black, brown tunics, they walked in meditation, heads shaved and bent down each morning and afternoon. Sometimes they would be practicing some form of Kung-Fu or Tai-chi.  Over time we started seeing more and more (black) African monks living in residence at the temple, many of them dark, very fit, beautiful and fluent in mandarin Chinese. My love for Randy was impossible.

At the Oppenheimer Park my gaze shifted to a woman sitting on a concrete chair under a large overarching lace like tree which seemed to invite visitors to the park to take a seat, breathe and relax for a  little while. I closed my eyes as if to inhale the newness of the fresh air in this green oasis and as I slowly opened them I came face to face with it.

The Ernst Oppenheimer Rough Cut Crystal Diamond or at least a sculpture of it “In a playful spirit” the sculpture explanation notes read “the 236 carat Ernst Oppenheimer Diamond has been brought to life 3D scanned and scaled up 50 times to stand as a shining focal point of the park and central Johannesburg.” It continued. “Though people know of and frequent the park not many know that the park is named after Ernst Oppenheimer, a global mining/diamond magnet who discovered this rough cut Crystal diamond. “ Though not the largest diamond found at South Africa’s Cullinan mines, (such as the Star of Africa;  now part of the British Royal Family’s Crown jewels) it is recognized as the most beautiful diamond worldwide.”  The rough cut diamond crystal sculpture was unveiled in Johannesburg by Mayor Amos Masondo in 2011. The work is created by The Library and Trinity Sessions.”

I was happy to find it, and stepped back for a better look of the rough cut diamond blown up to a stainless steel shimmering blob in front of me. My heart sang pop-idol Rihanna’s hit single “Shine Bright Like a Diamond“right there and there as if in worship.  The chorus “you’re beautiful like a diamond in the sky, so shine bright” got me up to dance, its rhythmic beats moved my soul and inspired me to look beyond the dusty brown horizon of Senegal’s Capital city Dakar. My feet which were cold as ice until that moment when I heard the song for the first time warmed up.  The hit single, called me in an unexpected way, to believe – again.

But in another part the of the continent, a region that is home to one of the rarest diamonds in the world –  my personal favourite -the black diamond – there is untold is untold turmoil. The Daily Maverick summarized events in Central Africa over the weekend thus: “Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, has fallen to rebel fightersfrom the Seleka coalition. President Francois Bozize has fled the country, according to reports, and the rebels are talking about forming a new government and planning elections. A number of South African troops have been killed in the fighting – it could be as many as 14, although reports are contradictory. What exactly were they doing there,asks Khadija Patel, and what’s going to happen next?

I took pictures of the park and its surrounds and as I near the exit, which is not very far from the entrance, I laughed out loud at a sign which was made for the park but seemed to have been placed there just for me to read in red and black letters:  Jozi – Nothing is impossible.


Some Pepper With That? Afrika Rea Bolela

Wesley Pepper. Pic:Jhblive.com
Wesley Pepper. Pic:Jhblive.com

Johannesburg, South Africa. The last time I met a guy at a McDonald’s establishment was in circa 2001, then I was a virgin and a journalism student in the dark really about my purpose in life.  He was my first real boyfriend and everyone in the class knew how besotted I was with him.  Perhaps it was his cold ocean blue eyes, his gait, his smile or the way his blonde hair seemed permanently peppered with dandruff, or maybe it was the fact that I seemed to think everyone wanted to be his girlfriend, whatever the reason I felt lucky to be the chosen one.   He asked me out for coffee after class, an invitation I welcomed since I couldn’t afford any of MacDonald’s offerings and additionally it would mean spending some time with him. He was really serious s and I wondered what was on his mind. “It’s not working” he said to me. “What is not working?” I asked naively.  “us” he said trying really hard not to break my heart. I was considered to be a “sweet” girl.  “What do you mean?” I asked confused. “Well will you come to my grandparent’s house? They are going away for two weeks while we’re on holiday will you come and visit me? hang out?” he asked  an  impossible question. “You know I can’t” I said trying to think of what excuse I could give my parents for sleeping over at a stranger’s place.  I couldn’t  think of one and actually I was not  yet ready to do the deed so I had to accept  that our four weeks of  stolen kisses by the bridge on my way to catch a taxi home or the stolen kisses, looks and smiles  before, during and after lectures was basically over.  “Yeah so, it’s not going to work out … please don’t cry” he said looking around as if someone could hear the sound of my tears dripping into my now cold coffee. “It’s not you it’s me” He said growing more concerned, but  it proved hard to form words  between the warm vapour  foaming behind my ears and throat. “Do you want a napkin?” he asked.  A napkin? I repeated … wondering why he would offer me a napkin in public – images of a baby in a napkin crying from some mysterious irritation flooded my mind. I looked up.  “Oh a serviette” I said taking it and smiling at the tragic comedy of it all.

These were the emotions that suddenly welled up inside me as I sat opposite artist and writer Wesley Pepper at a 24hr  McDonald’s on Gandhi square, in downtown Johannesburg.  He along with  about 40 artists formed a fine artist collective, late last year  to take full control of their own work, and he wanted to tell me all about it.  The collective must be working – the group will be exhibiting their work at Constitutional Hill on the 11 of April. “I think that’s my purpose” said Pepper who has had an 8 year career in  the  publishing industry, himself a published author with three books under his name.  In 2004 he established his own publishing company called ” Reunited Siblings” in response to a r growing demand for alternative creative outlets for  writers artists, you name it. “I never wondered what I would do with my life, I always knew that I would be in the arts and that the work I would do would be good’ he said. “Getting artists together  in a room and working on a collective creative project that’s my purpose.”

The exhibition titled: Afrika Rea Bolela  ( literal  English translation  Africa We are Talking) is the brain child of Pepper and his co-curator collaborator artist Molefi Thwala, whose work he has the utmost respect for.   “I’ve always wanted to collaborate with Molefi, I like how he works conceptually”. The theme for the exhibition is not so light-hearted  though.  It’s about that hefty document which forms the bedrock of South Africa’s constitution: The bill of rights. “My work is always political, I have to be political” he said smiling at his own genius. “We really got a good deal at the constitutional court to showcase our work” his smile now widening.

Pepper is inspired by life, people and music but street art  is what gets him going and the exhibition draws a lot of  inspiration from street  art.   “We live in a world of short attention spans, twitter, face book  etc  and I think street art is  most  effective in getting people’s attention or  whatever message you want across” He says his face suddenly lightening up.  “In a given day you are guaranteed at least that 600 people will see your work and a few might think about it, but it will touch at least one person’s life”. His statement brought to mind  quote by one of my great loves  American writer James Baldwin  when he said “You write in order to change the world…if you alter, even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it” I live by his words.

Pepper is surprisingly very honest about the works. “I expected  the work to be more daring, more experimental “ He said adding that he understands “Because  we get used to how we do things and get settled into our comfort zones and often artists don’t understand the dynamics of evolving “He said removing an invisible stain on the table with his thumb and index finger.  “If all the black artists would decide to things for themselves the industry would get a serious awakening, a serious wake-up call”.  “It’s very cool “ he  continued as if realizing for the first time that I was sitting in front of him “ It’s very cool to see something which was just an idea come to life, becoming real, it’s very cool and I think we’re on the right track. We just need someone with a big wallet”.

As we parted outside Macdonald’s  into our separate city boxes, yellow morning sun-rays beamed through concrete pillars, catching light and glimmering on green leaves, glass, Perspex walls, the city was alive and I was alive in it.  So you can imagine my surprise when I caught a glimpse of that sweet girl smiling back at me and found that though a little wiser, she  had not lost her innocence after all.

Afrika Rea Bolela:  A mixed media exhibition is  on at the Constitutional Court (ConHill)t, Johannesburg on the 11 of April.

Catch it if you can.


The Black President, Kudzanai Chiurai, 2009, Fromt he Dying to be Men series. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery
The Black President, Kudzanai Chiurai, 2009, From  the Dying to be Men series. Courtesy of Standardbank, the artist and  the Goodman Gallery

Johannesburg, South Africa.  During one  of my many (almost daily) trips to Standard Bank‘s head offices in Johannesburg  hoping to be compensated for the most atrocious customer service I have ever experienced in my life;  I too a brief  break into the bank’s Art gallery to  enjoy some art.   It was in  fact a poster  of a woman, standing in the middle of a dark disused  room littered with bright orange carrots on the floor, that caught my attention.  She, a Yoko Ono look alike, wore a delicate dusty  pink layered skirt, shiny black boots, a denim jacket and a light blue head headscarf.   She stood quietly, effortlessly in the antique room, wearing trendy dark sunglasses, carrying a walking stick in one hand  and a red string / leash on the other tied to a  white  rabbit which was already gnawing at a carrot closest to it.  The image was beautifully haunting and with my interest peaked I decided to step in and see if there were more carrots to be found in the exhibition titled: Making Way – Contemporary Art from South Africa and China (30 January to 28 March 2013)

“One of the most critical geopolitical shifts of the 21st Century has been the rise of China as an economic power, and its venture into the global south – particularly on the African continent.   Too often however, the media sensationalizes China-Africa relations, simplistically framing China as either Africa’s new curse or as the economic savior to the continent.” Read the exhibition statement.

The exhibition was in-fact long overdue in my opinion, and I was glad that the curator(s) were equally aware of this fact. “While revived China-Africa relations have piqued the interests of economists, little meaningful cultural understanding exists and Sinophobia is hot on the heels of Afrophobia” explains the exhibition text.  “Making way addresses the various ways in which humans “make way” globally and locally through broad patterns of movement as well as small, grounded movements of performance” concluded the exhibition mission statement.

China has been making way into Africa and into us all globally in a  number of ways. One of  the more “obvious”  ways in South Africa being  China’s   acquisition in recent years of the Standardbank group  which along with FNB and  NEDBANK claims to be  South Africa’s oldest banking institutions.  It celebrates 150 years this year.  A quick look into the banks’  board of   directors will give you a idea of who is really calling the shots at standard bank and it is most certainly not the banks recently appointed  joint CEO’s Sim Tshabalala and Ben Kruger.

Since the the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)bought a 20 % stake in the bank in 2007, Standardbank now boasts  the title of being the largest bank in Africa in assets and profits.  In November 2012, ICBC reported that  Standard Bank  Argentina, approved a deal  for ICBC to take control of StandardBank South Africa’s local operations, after concluding a  $ 600 million USD or 5.6 billion rand deal.   Standard Bank established operations in Argentina in 1998 to service corporate clients, following its acquisition of  BankBoston in 2007 .  ICBC  now the  world’s richest bank by market value will take 80 percent of Standarbank Argentina and its two affiliates StandardBank Investment and its commercial service provider Inversora Diaognal.

A quick reminder to those still oblivious to China rapid take over of the worlds asserts :  China  is now second only to the United States of America (USA) on the list of global superpowers and has over  USD 7 Trillion in foreign currency reserves.

Locally  Standardbank is a well-known  as a patron or sponsor of the Arts in South Africa with a strong focus on promoting  Jazz ( Cape Town Jazz Festival, Joy of Jazz) and the visual arts.

Making WAY….

In the first room near the entrance of the gallery is a video installation, by Internationally acclaimed Chinese artist  Chen Quilin.   In the video exhibition titled: Colour Lines,  Quilin plays with the iconic blue and white vinyl material made popular in South Africa (Africa) by street traders, refugees or travelers, and shoppers alike.  The checkered blue, white red and white bags. Dressed in the same material she converts into an angel, a lost child  looking for paradise. She walks slowly, aimlessly following and being followed  long trail of this plastic/vinyl bag material every corner she takes.  Four young boys assist her , they also wear the same material made into sailor like (school ) uniforms.  The material  and  Quilin are the only colour that remained in the grey, deserted and degraded town of Chengdu.  This  according to the artist statement  is  Quilin’s own way of  grappling with the dramatic economic and urban in relation to the development of the Three Gorges Dam.

The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW).
The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, located in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW).

The video art brought to mind works by South African Artist  Tracy Rose (video installations) and works by dance and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba (Platicizatio; 2007) who makes use of the same material ( China Bag)  her  dance pieces. Both artist were  conspicuously absent for this Exhibition.  Quilin continues to grapple with issues of environmental degradation in a complimentary video installation called the Garden. There  two men each carry a  pot of large flower to a  celebration of sorts or a rich individual.  Again in this piece these are the only bright colours that litter the streets in the grey town.

Upstairs I was pleasantly surprised to see the work of South African performance artist Athi Patra Ruga artist whose rise to fame surprised many insiders to the country’s Art-world.  However, I was a little disappointed to see that he had offered something very similar to a piece he produced  and circa 2007/8.  Then another  man wore high heels black stockings and was dressed in a ball of black hair pieces, the artist also walked around the streets of Johannesburg at night and at galleries back in 2007. This time his work was less dark or morbid.  Ruga  walked down the streets of Grahamstown in pink tights, high-heels and the main piece like in the hair piece of yore, his entire body from the bottom to his head was covered with colorful balloons full of some liquid. Making way.

Neliswe Xaba in Plasticization: 2007
Neliswe Xaba in Plasticization: 2007

Art is art. The “art” was in the public’s reaction to a man wearing high-heels walking around Grahamstown in a cloud of multicoloreda balloons. The Essay explaining the work was not immediately easy for a layman like me to understand  but the gist of it was –  “invited” guests were left waiting at the top of  one building were the show was meant to happen while Ruga walked around the streets forcing invited  guests to strain to see the moving – mobile – organic art piece. Many of them missed it – according to the write up, which is exactly what the “performance art piece was about”.

I was moved by Chinese artist Gin Ga’s 3000 kilometer re-enactment of the March of the Chinese red army. The artists tattooed a map of china on his back and  etched in  all the points at which he stopped in commemoration to the army and artists who had gone before him. A drunken sing-along and dance with a community of a Tibetan community revealed to me a never seen before insight into the daily lives of the community.

Gerald Machona’s work  was conceptually more interesting.  The artist had used de-commissioned ZIM Dollars to create different objects in his work titled Made in China. The piece in my opinion a more real account of what china has come to mean for  Africans and citizens of the world in general. Thenjiwe’s Nkosi’s Boarder Farm, a re-enactment of border crossing by Zimbabwe’s refugees who re-told their story of  “making way” was also  touching.

China has more money than computers have Zero’s so this piece was more interesting conceptually.   The exhibition curated by Dry Ruth Samba – held much promise, a vast selection of interesting works individually but failed to deliver the promised the exhibition’s objective of “an exploration of  local and grounded moments of engagement in the context of broader socio-economic and political changes that currently affect Chinese and South African Societies” collectively.

It seems clear to me that the exhibition  has high and low moments, but overall I got the feeling of a hurried curating process.  The e pieces in and of themselves are important explorations  of   a people” making way” despite harsh and difficult socio-political conditions – but they do not deal effectively with the question of how the rise of China as an economic and cultural super  power means for Africa especially.

The Show’s curator Dr Ruth Simbao says ” the exhibition is not  aimed at either glorifying or demonizing African or Chine Culture. It isn’t about being pro or anti Chinese but about human stories  and shared culture”

The latter is what I found lacking in the exhibition. I was expecting some kind of a  artists’ exchange program to provide artist from both countries with a view into each-other’s worlds and then produce art-work that would at the very least challenge commonly held stereotypes on Africa and China – however  from the South African/African side things I found the exhibition to be  lacking in its interrogation of what China means for Africa and Visa versa.  The work seems a disjointed piece of the puzzle strung together by the clever use of words

Despite the continuous backlash against China ( it’s labour law practices and its larger than like appetite  for natural commodities  which Chen Quilin deals with in a very clever a nuanced way in the colour line and the garden) and now more recently South Africa making International headlines for all the wrong reasons. There’s so much to be said about China’s role in future of our world – the continent as we know it and this exhibitions failed to scrape the surface of what we all already know.  The exhibitions in ts failure to probe in a more nuanced way the sociopolitical and cultural challenges and opportunities China presents to Africa and the world, revealed the huge cultural gaps  that exists between China and the continent.  South Africa (and many other countries in Africa have had a long rarely documented history with mainland china) pre-dating the rise of China as a superpower.  The Chinese community in South Africa enjoys BEE status ( officially Chinese are considered black).For me the  best part of the exhibition was the poster with a blind woman and a  rabbit in a room littered with carrots– because it seems even within the  relatively “free-world” of art – we  are all  still very blindly  following dangling carrots to holes of antiquity. The rabbit had the right idea. East the damn thing.

Making Way- Contemporary Art from South Africa and China is showing at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg until the 28th of March. Catch if you can.

A gift of a Thousand Words……

Akhona Metu Reading extracts from her poetry book titled " A gift of a thousand words"
Akona Metu reading extracts from her poetry book titled ” A gift of a thousand words” Pic: Lwazi Mashiya

It was a beautiful conclusion to International Women’s day( Friday 08 March 2013) in Johannesburg South Africa.  Women as young as four years old to about 80 gathered together in their most regal outfits to watch as one of their own prepared to take flight.  Like proud mother hens, their wings fluttered protectively over  poet and writer Akona Metu – as she stepped out to the world to reveal the garden of her heart  etched in her debut poetry book  “A gift of a thousand words”.   It was an atmosphere that brought to life  Simphiwe Dana’s  debut hit song “Nidredi” lyrics to life.  The song opens with a call so hypnotic one can’t help but want to fly as her voice delivers the words “Ndiredi Ukundiza  Ndiph’umoya” which in English translates to a less poetic  “I’m ready to fly give  me some air”.

The setting was even more special.  The venue:  the Kippies  International Jazz club in Newtown, Johannesburg – a historically significant, center for resistant art(music) in South Africa. The building now part of the country’s increasing cultural heritage sites has been refurbished into a smaller more intimate venue – a structure not far removed from a traditional African hut or rondavel.   Clean high walls stand reminiscent of  a sacred space; a church, an ashram perhaps even a synagogue.  A heavy wooden  grand piano stands grounded at the corner on one side of the room, as if waiting for a master pianist to come play.

Delicate lanterns made out of lace paper hung above the high ceilings created  a lightness of being in some kind of a fairly- tale. The shiny glass doors to the north, west and south of the building gave the space a larger than life atmosphere as well as a  feeling of being in a transient  place  – a pit stop on the amazing race  of life.

Akhona book launch 2
Akona Metu outside Kippies Museum in Newtown Johannesburg. Pic: Lwazi Mashiya

Soweto performance poet  “Mak” Manaka, who was both guest poet and master of ceremonies, was not blind to the significance of the moment. He too, now a power house of performance poetry in the country launched his first  book of poetry (If Only; 2002).  when Kippies was Kippies  Jazz Club.

“He accuses me of being too kind” Those were the first words Akona Metu “hostess with the mostess ” at the Afrikaan Freedom Station – a new venue for all artists young and old from painters, writers, singers and musicians  to showcase their work, experiment  and support each other’s  talent in old Sophia town Johannesburg.   On sitting down with her (it was not a scheduled interview) she allowed herself a moment of giddy nervousness.  “ It’s like standing in the middle of a busy street naked, and no one wants to sleep with you” she said of the impending book launch.  Of the book itself she said “Oh it was something that was long overdue, it just had to be done”

I have always been a writer she says, but I never thought I was any good until I got to university where I was exposed to lecturers who were also authors and had  published books.  When they said my writing was good I decided to run with it. It allowed me to free myself  and my writing from the hazards of comparing it to other more accomplished writers. For the first time I did not restrict my writing to emulate any set formula or style. I just allowed my voice to come through as it pleased. “I stopped putting restrictions on myself” she confessed as if to herself while attending to her four-year old nieces’ intimate confessions of her own.

However  Metu , 27,  is not new to the world of publishing. She has published articles and short stories in the  new Drum Magazine.  In fact  Akona was first published during  high school,  revealed her  two older sisters  who sang her praises during the book launch.   That  was the  first time the Metu family realized that she had a gift.  She wrote a high school essay following a school trip to one of the  eastern capes correctional facilities – the essay received the highest praise in her  class later spreading  from the schools assembly to the  community’s local paper.

A gift of a thousand words is a collection of poems  she wrote before and during her two-year stay in Korea where she worked as an English teacher and a singer in a band to pass time she told the audience at her book launch. ” I found it was necessary for me to go in order to remember who I am and what I valued most in my life”

Metu is the youngest in her family.  Her two older sisters dotingly described her as a fragile, perfectionist, humble and stubborn, quick to laugh and cry, someone who is at ease with herself.

A gift of a thousand words reads like a prayer, intimate conversations with herself and the loves that surround her, an invitations into  her deepest desires musings on life and its meaning.  Poems like Child You Belong, written for one of her sisters is one of hope and encouragement  in which she says she wanted to remind her sister that she belongs  even in the  very  discomfort of life.” It’s not just for her” she said looking in my direction” it’s applies to everyone, we all belong here, even in our discomfort.  “I am the gap that fills up your spaces” is a tribute to the  kind of love American academic and  author Bell Hooks says  “we all want to receive but are afraid to give”. Mother of Mercy is a call out to God, a deity she describes as her mother because she knows her mother loves her more than anyone in the world.  It’s a poem penned, during despairing moments of  being alone in foreign land.

Her voice is fresh,honest, passionate and energetic, a reminder, an inspired call to change our minds about  who  we (think) are and who we have become a call to be  brave and dare to look at life with a different eye – a conciliatory eye of love.

“This moment reminds me of the first time I really, really fell in love” Said her uncle on behalf of the family. “This reminds me of the first time I fell in real love for the first time 36 years ago – I didn’t know she could write like, she melted my heart”.

Master of Ceremonies, Mak Manaka barely caught his tears from falling on to the grand piano as Metu delivered  her final poetic kisses to an audience hungry for love. Her words were like a string of precious pearls she draped around each of her  guest, to Honour  and soothe  reminding  all of us that we are  loved.


loveSo grateful! A dear friend sent me this this morning:

Posted by: Sheila Stowell

I am not afraid to tell you, “I love you.” Your mind may say, “How can you love me when you don’t even know me?” I don’t need to know you. I don’t need to justify my love. I love you because this is my pleasure. Love coming out of me makes me happy, and it’s not important if you reject me because I don’t reject myself. In my story, I live in an ongoing romance, and everything is beautiful for me. To live in love is to be alive again. When you recover your integrity, you always follow love.You live your life as an eternal romance because when you love yourself, it is easy to love everyone else.

~ Don Miguel Ruiz

You Go to My Head….

The Golden Savannah: Cradle of Human Kind. Gauteng, South Africa1913- They Got Away With It …..

 2013 Whose Land is It Anyway?

06 March 2013.  It’s been a hundred years since South African Law makers cemented apartheid laws effectively legislating the dehumanization and continued enslavement of 80 percent of the country’s population, in its infamous 1913 Natives Land Act.  It’s been a hundred years and the current democratic government still doesn’t know whose land is it anyway.

The state admitted in a recent news report that it owns only 22 percent of South African Land.  Adding that in this year 2013, a year marking a centenary since the Native Land Act was passed in 1913, they still don’t know who owns 79 percent of the land in the country.  The land must (still) be in the hands of the private sector, local and or foreign investors.

An audit will be launched, announced the reporter on e-news, to investigate who owns the land again.

Government’s land restitution program has so far been just too slow and not necessarily a failure, she quoted a government source.   The fact that much of the land (read farmland) that has already been distributed to its “rightful owners”   has ceased to be productive has not counted in government’s favour.   No so long ago a government spokesperson from the department of land affairs or agriculture  said their policy of willing buyer willing seller had not been successful. Land-owners he said were refusing to sell their land at less than market  prices.    This means government will not reach its target of distributing 30 percent of the land by 2014, an election year.

The audit then, if done, is just a delay tactic to answering  the burning question of land restitution – whose land is it anyway? Really?

This question – for those who haven’t noticed – has been showing up in a lot of different ways in our beautiful land. I am tempted to describe the magnitude of this “bubbling up” through a small citation of one of my favourite jazz standards “You go to my head”  a 1938 popular song composed by J Fred Coots, with lyrics by Haven Gillepse.

There are two version I love most . One is performed by  Billie Holiday and the other version by  Louis Armstrong.  Of course  the song has since been sampled by many Jazz greats, Frank Sinatra et al.   There was a raging debate  at some point about which version is better, Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday. I love both. The coarse  happy rustiness of Armstrong’s droll  draws me in.  Billie Holiday is so blase about the whole things it’s beautiful to listen to. But it is the lyrics of the song, and not so much its intoxicating melody that is relevant for today’s topic. And the lyrics go something like this:

You go to my head” and You linger like a haunting refrain;And I find you spinning round In my brain;Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne;You go to my head;Like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew;And I find the very mention of you;Like the kicker in a julep or two;The thrill of the thought;That you might give a thought;To my plea, casts a spell over me;Still I say to myself;Get a hold of yourself;Can’t you see that it never can be;You go to my head with a smile;That makes my temperature rise;Like a summer with a thousand Julys….

There seems to be trouble every where you see, most of it emanating from issues about land. If my champagne motif is too romantic for you, please do feel free to imagine tiny volcanoes bubbling up everywhere. It’s so hot even the sky casts a brilliant pink and redish hues at sunset in our  city of gold.

South African’s Ministry of  Minerals and Energy is  beset  by a number of problems not limited to:  Acid mine drainage from old non-operational mines,  seeping deep underground and resurfacing or decanting and filtering through underground water  reservoirs in Johannesburg’s west rand. The mining belt.

The acid mine drainage problem – which government has so far failed to resolve – has now  reportedly spread to farm and grazing land in Johannesburg’s western area. Recent research by the University of the free-state found that  cows/beef meat from that area tested positive for Uranium contamination. The quoted scientists said the Uranium levels were not high enough to be deemed dangerous for human consumption, however considering how much  South Africa’s love their meat, it is possible that those levels could be increased with increased consumption? That story has not made headlines yet in South Africa.

A Mine workers went on strike last year demanding better pay, a demand whose reply  resulted in least 34 people tragically losing their lives.  The  Mining industry seeing  unexpected opportunity to make even more money has announced fore-closures, and some are  shaving off their workers citing the high cost of labour, wildcat strikes,lack of productivity  etc. A forgotten yet painfully huge problem of  occupational health diseases such as silica silicosis , TB,  and lung disease not to mention the ever popular HIV/AIDs  in the mining industry has left close to a million men ( according to current occupational health figures )  too sick to work after an average  three years working  at the coal face.  These men are then sent home disabled and without any sustainable form of compensation or medical assistance. They go home to die basically.

A number of service delivery protests have left many a car, school or library torched, teachers are too tired to teach overcrowded unruly “township” classrooms, there are no text books at schools. If any are to be found they are quickly burnt at the stakes or on the streets by faceless enemies of the people.

The Municipal demarcation board of South Africa is currently  finalizing municipal ward demarcations in preparation for the  National Elections in 2014.  Their job is to basically organize people in their voting district or wards,   prepare the ground for the IEC to distributes ballots for elections.  How these borders are drawn greatly affects  – in a  non-scientific way- who wins a ward, a municipalities, regions to provinces and ultimately who wins the Natioanal elections.

For those in South Africa ( some of these “service delivery protests” are based disagreements on ward determinations i.e  which municipality you fall under, and what services you will be able to access as a result)  It’s so simple my complex mind often cannot understand it. But basically  its all about pies and divisions.

Our new democratic governmentrecently demonstrated  its position on the burning question of whose land is it anyway  when it razed to the ground about 80 homes built it said illegally in Lenasia South of Johannesburg.

The land it said was intendend for low cost housing developments (RDP houses) in middle of  Surburban bliss Lensai – they clearly stated that the home owners  had broken the law.  The government chose to ignore the fact that it was it’s own employees who offered land to the homeowners and gave them all the “illegal” title deeds and bank loans legitimizing the sale of the land and plans to built the demolished houses.

But they had to “show” them that they have the last word. We’ll take your hard earned money and everything you have built and leave you with nothing. That is what happened in Lenasia. And I forgive everyone involved.

I never quite learnt how to play chess…so I will leave it up to you to figure out this move.

Farm workers in the famous Cape Winelands are back to work after their protests  demanding better wages were rewarded with a basic wage increase of  50 ZAR up from 50 r 65  South Africa a day depending on who you choose to believe ,they are now receiving a minimum wage of  a  100 ZARs a day ( about 10 USD).  By this time most farm workers had already gone back to work even before the unions and farm owners concluded negotiations  because  even I know that even though  50 rands a day is  a small amount at the very best of times – it is ultimately  much more than having nothing at the end of the day.

Government’s proposal for a land audit is  a reasonable argument if one is not paying attention. But look a little closer and you will not help but wonder how the state has been redistributing land without an audit of how much land there is to distribute in the first place.

If we are going to divide something, we must know how much of it there is to divide. So either an audit was never done in the first place or they know who owns the land and how much of it. They just don’t want us to know that.

The Municipal Demarcation Board has the entire country’s map down to the finer details of who is you neighbour. They know.

A possible scenario could be that our custodians; the chief negotiators of our democracy our beloved heroes among them  from former President Nelson Mandela, former President Thabo Mbeki, Former President Kgalema Motlanthe, Deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa, to  our current sitting President Jacob Zuma agreed to a power sharing deal of 22 percent  which still has or had nothing to do freeing the majority of marginalized South Africa’s, only some.  Maybe they agreed on a power sharing deal which I sometimes imagine could have gone something like this : ( keep an open mind there are a million other possibilities) :

FreedomFighters:  Give us everything you have , it is ours…

Apartheid Government:  No way Jose, we worked for it

FF:  We will destroy everything.

A G:  listen I have a plan to get us both what we want.

FF:  what kind of plan is that?

AG: Listen here, no, just listens to me okay? Hear me out.  You can be president and take all the power in government. No – don’t worry we’ll keep our people there who will  work with you, you know, to show you the ropes of how we do things here you will be just fine.

FF: But…. You mean???!!!!

AG: Ah-ah-ha.  Don’t worry about it  Broer , my comrade don’t worry.  It’s not a problem   for us… we can arrange everything. ..

FF: But what about….

AG: Listen here’s the plan. Well give you the land your people already live on okay?  that’s 20 percent a huge number my friend big number, big land…. lots and lots of it. Not only that, you see we will also add an additional one no…. two percent which you can distribute to whoever you like. Just don’t worry, don’t worry about anything.  We will take care of business.

FF: But!!!!!!

AG: No my friend don’t panic. It’s really not as bad as you think.  We will take care of business …everything we’ll give you the money and profits.  And listen here you don’t have to worry about all the  technical stuff and numbers and all that – it’s all boring. You don’t have to worry about the numbers …. We will do all that for you. Besides you won’t have time while you’re in government to do all technical stuff you will be busy running the country. We will take care of everything and make it look like you’re the one doing it. The mining and the farming and everything, you don’t have to think about that, you must just focus on running the country; we will then give you a stake in the different parastatals, the companies we own…. You like flying don’t you??

FF: Yes BUT you don’t understand.

AG: Of course I understand,  of course, you want a stake in the business and  we’ll arrange it. You can have black economic empowerment policy where you can distribute the shares in businesses amongs yourselves. We can even throw in a few CEO positions to reward so your  educated chaps in your camp you have enough of them don’t you? we are prepared to give it you on the condition that  you keep your promise.

FF: ……

I guess we all still reading this story. We don’t how it ends because you see we are still in conversation.

.I remember a conversation I had with Princeton University Professor Bernadette Atuahene, in her office in at the Wits Law School in Johannesburg last year.  She looked great and happy despite the amount of work and subject matter she was dealing with.

She was warm and eager to share with me the information she had  learned from her many years of research  on the land Restitution Program in South Africa.  All her  information was collected in her book:

” We Want What’s Ours-An Evaluation of South Africa’s Land Restitution Program’

There is one moment I will never forget in our conversation she said as if hearing herself say it out loud for the first time: ” Jedi,  I realized they THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT!”

The truth of her statement left me frozen, and I have been cold in summer ever since. I’m warming up now.

It stands to reason then that I will not accept the government’s assertion that they don’t know  who owns 78 percent of the land. They know. It is the same architects of the 1913 Native Land Act.  Nice one Chap, Brilliant!  I could not have thought of a better plan myself” I can hear an exchange of mutual admiration. This deal according to word on the word on the street could have happened earlier circa 1846 somewhere in Bloemfontein. But we shall work with what we know now.

Professor Atuehene, calm in manner and character, display an urgency in her voice that made me literally want to jump from my seat at her round table and run! How foolish one can be..

” There’s a study” She said searching for the right link ” that says that recent polls asking South African about the land question…(by South Africans we mean the majority of marginalized people of the country. Black African population of South Africa in short : all the marginalized in long hand) found that 80 of them percent believe that the “land” was stolen from them and should be returned back to its “rightful” owners by any means necessary” She turned to me her eyes widening in bewilderment. Or was it mine?

Does that answer your Zimbabwe Question.

How do we resolve the “land Question” without the kind of fight that has left us barely able to walk   proudly as part of the human race?

Can we restore dignity to ourselves and other’s ? How do we continue to love when it seems the battle lines have been firmly painted on the ground. Stand behind that line.

The simplest answer is by sharing.

How do we share?

Let’s has that conversation.