Oh!Bama… Love is Hard!

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. VIRIN: 090120-F-3961R-919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

29 June 2013.  A year ago, I met a beautiful man. In the midst of violent protests.   In the midst of some kind of a revolution.   We were friends.  United by a common purpose. Like me he is a journalist, a brilliant mind. A walking encyclopedia of  politics.  A gentleman.  A player. A strategist.  I – a maverick in every sense of the word – the passionate go getter,  the analyst who wears her  heart  on her sleeve  most times  and a visionary sometimes.

Our meeting was a challenge.  At the edge of Independence  Square( Place de la Independence). My passion was waning.  He was wearing dark Ray-Ban sun glasses. Unlike his fellow journalists he wasn’t wearing the customary “Press” flat jacket. Actually he looked quite dapper. With just a pen  in his hand.  If he wasn’t the most sensuous hue of dark chocolate, I would have dismissed him for a  pretentious Frenchman. He laughed at me “You are crazy!” The first words he uttered to me, as if we had been hanging out together the night before “You are new here, you can’t speak French and you want to write a story about the elections?” He shook his head. I was beyond irritated. Yes the odds were against me. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do” I said like a wounded child. “You don’t know me or where I’ve been, it’s either you want to help me or you don’t” I said moving to other less intimidating male journalists. He shook his head and continued to stare at something in the distance while I asked anyone who would listen questions… “ so when do you expect the march to start” in broken English and French. My frustration was growing, like a gene he rubbed me up the wrong way and smoke was coming out of my every pore.   “Non, no English, French” they each responded to my incoherent list of questions, they were not even trying, but I was relentless.

“What do you want to know?” He eventually turned to me as if to shut me up. “Everything “ I replied  raising my eyebrows. He continued to stare into the distance and told me everything as if he were an insider, a lawyer, a protester, the activist, the public, the politician, the president, a passerby “here’s my number” he said jotting it down on my green notepad as if to a child “call me if there’s anything you don’t understand with your stories, I will help you” he said jumping into a white van which came from no-where and disappeared just as fast.

I resolved not to call him. He had given me more than enough. I can take it from here.

Time passed. Eventually, suddenly we were friends. It was not anyone’s plan.  I was in distress when he called me for the umpteenth time, in a taxi to no particular destination. He was right. I am crazy.

We became friends. Really good friends. We talked all night. He sang with Luciano and I thought how cute.  We shared a vision, a meeting of two minds. One day we discovered that love is infinitely possible and can be found in the simplest of  moments together – sharing milk and honey  – coffee and tea – fish and rice a ride on  his beloved motorbike – a football match – a football game – a basketball game, skipping – working. Listening.  Dancing. “That score was for you baby!” He would say kissing me in celebration.  I would be half reading something, half writing something, crocheting a baby blanket for his sister or mine I hadn’t decided, half marveling on how easily pleased he was by something so well… small. It was just a game. I had no doubt of his love for me and neither did he.  One day as I was basking in a vision of infinite possibilities, he took my hand lovingly and said “ It’s going to be hard,   and you will have to be have to be strong” I smiled his favourite smile. He held my hand even tighter and continued “ I believe in you Jedi, I know you, you are strong”  I believed him. My strength renewed. I thought I was ready. Come what may.

He ,dear reader, is not a  man of a thousand words, so when he spoke I listened and it is hard not to believe what he says.  It became even harder to doubt him when my mother, a woman of even fewer words said to me  “He is a man of his word”.

But I guess I didn’t believe every word he said  after all – because nothing – nothing in the world could have ever prepared me for what would follow.  Nothing could have prepared me for just how hard things would get,  how much I, we were up against. How high the mountain I would have to climb, how many lives would be at stake, hopes, dreams, aspirations would have to die in the process. How many, many very small but heartbreaking decisions I would have to take. How so many would be disappointed, angered, be  betrayed. How much I would have to compromise, overlook, confront. How much opposition would come my way from all sides, every side, everywhere I look.  I guess I didn’t quite comprehend how much hate our love would have to fight..  How much I would have to CHANGE. My mind. I didn’t know how many times I would be ripped to pieces, how much my world would be turned up-side down inside out, scrutinized, analyzed, checked, and surveyed.  I never knew how easily I could be forgotten, left for dead, made irrelevant, of no consequence even to my own blood.

I didn’t know how mad I could get.  How crazy I would become – when Isolated from you. I never knew how lonely and alone I could feel right there in your arms.  I never knew how much self-control I would need  to just keep it all together. For  you. For us.  For me. I never knew how far my heart  would have to stretch to accommodate, each and every bitterly, cold blow.  Actually, I don’t think I knew what it actually meant to be strong. To believe in something,  in someone.  I didn’t know that it would require EVERYTHING!, blood sweat and Oh so many tears. And then  some.  I didn’t know how much I could grow, how- ever soft and tender my heart could get. I didn’t know that I could be capable of greatness even in my weakest of weakest   moments. I didn’t know how much power I had in being vulnerable, how empowering powerlessness could be. I never knew that  I could be this gentle, this patient, this peaceful in the eye of a raging furnace. Yes I never knew I had so much love in me, pulsating from the very core of my being.  I didn’t know that I was love or that love is my essence .  Enfin,  what  I didn’t expect, and this is altogether laughable, I didn’t expect that I would find, in right here in me, my greatest challenger. My greatest fan. My very own  hero. Myself.

Even as I get ready to let go and to hold on, even as I from time to time lose hope, faith; even as I begin to doubt  the vision which was once so clear, so vivid, so ultimately possible . The irony of American President Barack Obama’s African Safari – from Senegal to South Africa – not withstanding – brings it all together,  my past, present and future.  I thought it can’t be true after all.  I never knew love like this before. I pick up a book on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Antjie Krog almost accidentally, briefly, takes me back to Goree Island… where we danced under the moonlight.

“I know it’s hard, harder than you ever imagined, but it’s possible, yes, we can.”  “If you believe, anything is possible” my younger sister gently encourages me every day.   And then I see her ,on her wedding day, So radiant, so beautiful  in her white and pink All Stars… about to walk down the Isle  and  suddenly, poetically her feet give way, to some kind of a dance , a cha-cha-cha,  a folks trot,  running on the spot,  a jog,  shaking it all off,  at the starting line, warming up to a  marathon of a lifetime.  I will never forget that image. I now understand what was unfathomable at the time.  Yes, I cannot say with any certainty that I know what tomorrow holds, or if I will like its presence.  All I have is now, today.  And I am excited. I am happy to be here.  To be Alive.  In  this moment in time.  I am so grateful for the gift of love, in all its shapes and forms, because love never ever fails.

“I never said it would easy, I only said it would be worth it” Mae West.

Love.

.

I AM SORRY. THINGS WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.

Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic  Jedi Ramalapa

Photojournalist. Waiting For the smoke to clear. 2012. Pic Jedi Ramalapa

27-06-2013 These are highly stressful days for any journalist… in fact for most South Africans and perhaps even the world at large. Our beacon of hope, our best example of a human being Former South African President Nelson Mandela is critical in hospital. On life support. We are again at the precipice of the unknown.  We are at a point of no return. Things are changing. Any day now, any minute now we’ll get the call. Life is changing. We are indeed yet again a country in transition, we are “growing up” and regardless of how hard we try to stall, to delay, to postpone hoping and wishing – nature will and must take its course. The book I’m reading now Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog puts that fact so vividly into perspective, makes the fragility of life so ruthlessly definite, and so final.  I am beside myself with anger, with anxiety. I have been staring blankly through the window at the IT Corner – trying to finish the last couple of pages.  Tears interrupt me they stream down my face. I don’t care this time. I am so full of remorse, full of shame, maybe I feel guilty. I am angry. I don’t know what to do with myself, where to place the anger… how to package my emotions in a neatly coherent articulate English sentence that will make sense to you my dear learnerd reader. What’s worse there’s a huge  part of me feels that these “feelings” these “these moments when I feel so tender a look could shatter me, dissolve me,”  are a luxuries I cannot afford. They are Illegitimate, Bastard feelings.  There’s  no time. People before me endured and survived worse. I need strength. More courage. More wisdom.

I stand up – I am finding it incredibly challenging to finish the book. The testimonies of Apartheid atrocities worse that the holocaust. Beyond what I imagine to be humanly possible.  I am reading the Epilogue. I have been doing so well.  But I stand up and walk up the streets of Melville, Johannesburg,  once an artists preferred watering hole…

…I walk up 7th Street and each ever-changing establishments brings back memories…as if it was yesterday, Mojitos at Six the ever popular cocktail bar, dinners with friends at what used to the  Asian restaurant –SOI- now dark and empty, nights spent talking nonsense or watching soccer at former Wish, Spiro’s, Now Poppy’s…prawns I devoured with friends at the now vacant Portuguese fish market, which used to be Full Stop where we used to have breakfast.  I remember potato skins and cheese at Xai Xai, laughing over Oliver Mtukudzi lament on repeat  “ I’m feeling low I feeling low, help me lord I’m feeling low” ahead of a night spent jumping   and spinning to Drum ‘n Base in Transkei which used to be  home to the  famed Jazz establishment the  Baseline… now it’s on its way to becoming something else again. The vacant image of 7th street stings and suddenly I feel this emptiness growing  in my heart … new owners announce their imminent arrival on a few still  vacant shops…but that does not fill my heart with hope…I don’t know what I should put in this gaping hole in my heart..

There’s a soundtrack for this moment in life. It’s Hometown Glory by Adel.

 I’ve been walking in the same way as I did

And missing out the cracks in the pavement

And tutting my heel and strutting my feet

“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I could call?

No, and thank you, please madam, I ain’t lost, just wandering”

 

Round my hometown, memories are fresh

Round my hometown, ooh, the people I’ve met

Are the wonders of my world, are the wonders of my world

Are the wonders of this world, are the wonders and now

I go to the corner café on 7th and 2nd Avenue, thankfully it still exists but like so many business in Melville it’s also under new management.  In a quivering voice I ask for a single Stuyvesant Blue, my first cigarette in over two months. I know it won’t change anything now but I want to smoke it. I smoke it slowly as I walk back down I watch as new hiply-weaved young people spill out and smoke coolly on the pavements of what used to be PHAT JOE’s studios. – I choke on mine  and put it out.   I really could use a glass of the most crimson Pinotage.  I understand religion, I understand the need to hold on to a ritual a cleansing, a practice,  a fellowship, a heaven, a happily ever after, to be born again, to be absolved, forgiven – Since I can’t even trust myself to quit smoking, keep a roof over my head, or a job, be a functional human being, have friends, stay in a relationship, have children, build my own family. Take care of something. Someone. People who cannot do that are not trustworthy. Does not matter about your Politics. Be optimistic; be balanced, mature. Be responsible, accountable. Make something of yourself for god’s sake…  Me too really I want to be happy like Lira. Or at the very least content,  grateful, Thankful.  I feel more ashamed. What will it take?

Eyewitness news reporter Alex Aleesive is receiving kudos from a fellow colleague and new author Mandy Wiener  at Talk radio 702 for writing a great piece on the legacy of Mandela, he quotes veteran journalist Max du Preez – The face of the Truth and Reconciliation reports at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) back in the day.  “Mandela is living proof that good can triumph over evil” He is moved by Madiba’s  supernatural ability to just be human.  I can’t stop myself from crying. I think maybe I’m jealous.  I’m young, black and still not qualified to tell the story of our struggle, not free to tell it as I see it.  Sorry that position has been filled.  We had more qualified applicants. You seem to have a problem with commitment.   I am still waiting for so and so to “come back to me”.  Thank you.  But I know for sure it’s way deeper than that.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (Photo credit: Festival Karsh Ottawa)

Instinctively, intuitively  I feel like Madibas daughter, his grandchild, his great-grand daughter – I feel like one of his off-spring who have  been pleading, begging asking the Media and the world  to back off a while they spend this crucial time with their father – who was never theirs to begin with. I want to say wait. Shut up. Don’t interpret my words, don’t put them another way. Don’t tell me how to feel; don’t translate, don’t tell me what to say and how to say it. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t be angry –just for once back off. Don’t tell me how things should be done,  don’t tell me how to be civil, don’t tell me what you think Ubuntu is,  don’t outline to me what’s  appropriate or inappropriate to do at this time, don’t try and analyze me, understand me,  Don’t pretend to know me or to “get” me. Don’t educate me. You’ve spoken for me for long enough. You’ve twisted my story, my history, my culture, my being for long enough. You’ve spoken for, about and over me for long enough.  Just don’t tell me how to behave, don’t mediate,  don’t HELP! Just Stand back for once, don’t take this moment from me, and make it yours, don’t force me to feel sorry for your pain once again.  Don’t try to fit me us him into your ideas of what makes you the better man or human.  Don’t taint this time with your pity, empathy or admiration. It’s not about you.  Please don’t interfere, don’t try and fit this moment in your very busy schedule, your plan… don’t speed it up or slow it down, just let it be what it is. Its importants. Don’t steal it, make me pay for it, work for it, earn it. Don’t ask me how I feel. Today that is none of your business. I want to be left with my nearest and dearest as we  spend time with “our father” to share sweet nothing moments, – for as long as it takes – to exchange  sacred secretes, moments, to hear “Things went horribly wrong, and for that I’m sorry.” To  Say “I’m sorry too Tata. So – so sorry for making my happiness, our happiness, your sole responsibility.  We cannot ask for more. Thank you. I love you”

What Marikana Meant for Me.

write now.

write now.

In The Public Interest

I wrote this for Press Freedom Day recently.  Working on the Marikana story revealed how important it is that we get counselling and psychological help for people experiencing trauma (the widow I interviewed specifically asked for some kind of psychological counselling) it also revealed to me that though I was empathetic and wanted to help I could not help her since I needed counselling myself. I did try though. She was suicidal.

It’s not a classic Censorship Story.

By Jedi Ramalapa.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation( SABC) broadcasts news and current affairs daily to more than 48 million South Africans, through 18 radio stations in all the 11 official languages, including Swahili and French through Channel Africa. The public broadcaster has  three television channels which can be accessed  and are available  in the remotest parts of the country.   It is more powerful than any of the broadcasters put together in swaying public opinion and more importantly winning votes.  Having control over the “public broadcaster” is having control of the country.  Business and Politicians understand this fact all too well.  As long as it’s not on SABC, it can’t be completely true. It is a powerful machine which has consistantly made vulnerable to grave abuse.

I think I only realized a moment after they walked outof the editing studio just what had happened.  I was busy editing an interview with one of the Marikana widows, whose husband was killed along with 50 or so other mine workers on the 16th of August.  It was the kind of interview I had done a thousand times before, speaking to grieving relatives about their loved ones. It was in my opinion nothing out of the ordinary nor controversial.

But this time and for the first time in a 12 and a half-year public broadcasting career,  at the South African Broadcasting Corporation,   they asked to listen to the final cut of the interview which we planned to air later that day.   They listened as the widow spoke of her grief and her anger. “I blame the government, the police, the unions and Lonmin for what happened” she said on tape.   Play that again, said the executive producers. They listened and said cut out that part.  Which part I asked? Like a naïve little girl. That part where she says “I blame the government, the unions, the police and Lonmin for what happened”. Why I asked. “Because there’s no one to blame, we don’t know who is responsible and we just don’t want to have to deal with questions.” What questions I asked myself in disbelief thinking that even in her grief the widow had managed to be “impartial” in apportioning blame to everyone involved in the Marikana massacre, not many people were able to do that.  But I couldn’t fight it. I had woken this woman up at 6am to do the interview, which had taken me at least three days and a string of phone-calls to convince her to speak to me.  We cried together during the interview in which I tried to convince her that life was still worth living. She had trusted me with her heart.  I was not going to let her down.  So I did as I was told and cut out the offending parts like a surgeon saving a life.

The widow had been censored in the most subtle of ways, by omission and not only was I not prepared for it, I was a part of it an accomplice.   Even today I don’t know who to blame for that moment in my life, myself for doing the interview in the first place? Or for failing to defend her / my work when I was told to cut out certain parts? I don’t know.   But I am writing this to honour the Marikana Widow who in a moment of great loss and pain managed to do what I and Public Broadcaster failed to do, speak truth to power and remain impartial.

 

More ZEN less PH0BIA

 

Anti- Xenophobia Protest March 27 May 2008

Anti- Xenophobia Protest March 27 May 2008

11.  May. That date brings so many memories. I recall them today because it was a day of paradoxes which I am now only aware of ironically in hindsight.  The 11th of May 2008 was a day of new beginnings, a day of some kind of a fresh start. I walked into the walls of the largest Buddhist temple in Africa, dehydrated, hoping to come out refreshed, energized and ready to live a peaceful life. We  ( I and three others) were going to spend a weekend in silent meditation…connecting with our inner chi and though we were not disciplined enough  not go out the night before we still made it against all odds, half way on a Saturday the 11th of May 2008.

It was a meaningful occasion, especially for me  because I had attended high school just a street away from where the majestic temple now stands, oddly isolated from the once sleepy town of Bronkhorspruit. You can see it on the highway from Pretoria to Witbank.   Back then when I was 13,  learning Badminton, practicing Kung-fu and reading Miles Munroes’ in Pursuit of Purpose between selling pies at break time,  sweeping mounds of hair from my mothers Hair Salon, watching the Lion King and having “debates” about the existence of God, race  and Homosexuality with my class mates… the temple  whose foundations were still being dug seemed like a faraway dream. Like something that would probably never happen. Or even if it did my choice of faith would prohibit me from walking through those gates.  But in May 2008 I drove through Nan-hua Temple with Chris  and Black Panther (my car) two of my then best friends.

One of the T-shirts we made. With Christiane  Dankbar and Carole Chauvin.

One of the T-shirts we made. With Christiane Dankbar and Carole Chauvin.

 

We joined two friends Mali and Fumi? Our masters were at pains to explain that men and women were not allowed to share the same room. A rule which was for once,  all in our favour. We couldn’t have wished it otherwise.  Our first lesson after lunch was learning how to plan and be prepared  for life by learning the art of  making tea.  Then we did Tai Chi, Kung fu stretches , walking, sleeping, eating meditation, we practiced being grateful for everything, between bites  of noodles and greens and suppressed pious laughter…..shhhhh…silence was encouraged.  It was beautiful. On Sunday we bought music to keep meditating on the  way back to the busy buzz of the city of gold.  We were floating on repeated chimes of the Chinese flute and violins when at the petrol station; Mali leaned on black panther and said d through the window “You guys are busy meditating while Johannesburg is burning!” I had never heard anyone say that before “Johannesburg is Burning” what do you mean? We asked perplexed as if waking from deep sleep. Turn on the radio, it’s on the news.  I immediately switched to SAfm, and heard the shocking news that there had been wide-spread  violent attacks on foreign nationals in the city center, some people were dead some injured, shops had been looted it was just mayhem.  I called my boss to ask if they needed extra hands. He said it was fine they had it covered. What was covered? But by the next morning I was walking through the deserted streets of Jeppe’s town on the outskirts of Johannesburg’s city CBD… trying to piece together some kind of a story a sequence of events. Who – What – When – Where – How and Why? The streets were eerily empty… the shops abandoned… broken glass, black soot, the only sign of violence…. shop owners gingerly trying to salvage what remained  of the weekends’ carnage”.

On of the T-Shirts in the Making. We hand made more than 20 - and gave them away for free.

On of the T-Shirts in the Making. We hand-made more than 20 – and gave them away for free.

A far and distant  memory seeps to the surface like a mirage…. one day in Bronkhorspruit we woke up to news of a terrorist attack… the Indian shopping center had been bombed…. there were TV news journalists asking people questions. Did you see anything. I wanted to see. I was a street trader, selling hair clips, lipstick and nail polish( it helps grow your nails, makes them strong) A better option for me compared to knocking on people’s homes  like Jehovah’ Witnesses.  I had to go to the loo near where the bombs had exploded… I didn’t bargain on a platform of pit-toilets and large half-naked women balancing precariously between the dark manholes…with yellow water falling from even darker hidden places. But I saw the damage… and heard the word.  Terrorism. The market was busy, teeming with people  who continued to shop as if nothing happened.    The last time I had been in a deserted town  in a place where clothes, money and possessions lost all their value… where people left everything behind was…. was in the Hot Summer of June 2006 in Lebanon.

But the  xenophobic violence quickly spread across the country… like wild fire and became daily headline news.  The police were becoming desperate to find the ‘criminal”,” third force” element that was quote unquote responsible for the violence. They had a list of names and were now knocking on doors, shacks, banging them down,  barking “where is so and so? we’re told he lives here? Are you hiding him? I don’t know who you’re talking about . A woman would respond  peering fearfully through a corrugated iron door “Hhey mama, we know he lives here”….. “mkhiphe” take him out… where did you buy this TV, this DVD? You steal? Where are the slips?  All of it sounded too familiar, so close to me…. I know a time like that in my life…. Years ago…somewhere in Orlando West Soweto  on the kitchen table… my uncle Thente was getting a  Tjambok’s  hiding – a lesser punishment for whatever crime he was    at the time, white soldiers in full army uniform stood around our   faded green enamel  kitchen table. My  great-aunt watched on helplessly as he flinched and groaned with every lash, his lips and eyes blood-shot. Do you Know him? What would I have said peeping through my bedroom door.  He died a few years later. But not before teaching me how to draw, and introducing me to the joys of eating ‘is’khokho’.

The front-lline. Anti-Xenophobia Protest march, Johannesburg, South Africa.

The front-lline. Anti-Xenophobia Protest march, Johannesburg, South Africa.

“black bags meant for  garbage are prized possessions here” was the line my colleague Sherwin  and I  used to open  our radio story on scores of refugees returning to their countries of birth following the aftermath of the Xenophobic attacks.  “You hesitate when you ask questions” he says to me taking the microphone and showing me how it’s done.  I was overwhelmed.  I spoke to refugee after refugee…. I spent days on the side of the road…. In Lindela  …. In the corridors of the Methodist church in downtown Johannesburg. None of it made sense.  We Printed T-shirts. We marched in solidarity.  Slept behind bars.  Appeared in court.  Until someone asked – How does a victim become the perpetrator? It was just a play. The line. I knew then that the events of 11th May 2008/2007/6/2004/1993 etc had changed my life. I’m still trying to find myself in the ashes of the burning man.  I just cannot believe it’s happening again.