“We saw sanctions as an instrument to assist in the liberation of South Africa which they did. The effects of the sanctions were felt in the 1990’s here when the then minister of finance argued that White South Africa could not continue anymore. So in the end it was Economics, not racism, ideology that drove them to the negotiations.”Kader Asmal
I have learnt a lot these past three years about myself, friends, my family, my country, my continent, the world. This year I learnt a lot about politics. Most of what I learnt about politics though had nothing at all to do pas du tous with universities and Ivy League institutions of education around the world. I learnt a lot about politics by living.
What do I mean?
Let me start with three smaller nyana stories, which I hope will best illustrate my point. I’ll get to the point – so Don’t despair.
True story. 1 RACIAL PROFILING
I have a brother in Senegal called Allasane Ndiaye. He is a talented fellow and last week he lamented that though he speaks better French than the French, is a better orator, writer and linguist than many of the French people he comes across, the French Government still won’t grant him a visa to visit their fairest country. It doesn’t matter that he shares the same ideals, quotes the same authors and reads from the same books. He is still not good enough for them. Though he’s helped countless Europeans to write books, do research, offered himself, his knowledge and skills. He could never be enough. Sorry it doesn’t count.
True Story. 2 AFRO-PESSIMISM
Some of you might already be tired of this but here goes. I was minding my own business one afternoon when in an effort to make idle conversation with me, this white South African guy looked at my hair and said “having a bad hair day huh?” It took a moment for me to reply because I had spent hours plating my hair, caring for it and on that particular morning it was a good hair day. I left my house knowing that my hair, in its natural state was good, not only that but I had gone to great lengths to care for it. But to this guy, my hair in its natural state was bad. So I decided to play along. “It’s a bad hair day every day for me broer (brother), and you are you having a bad hair day too? I asked pointing at his straight greying hair. Ah no he said. I just get into a shower brush it and that’s it. “I do the same” I offered.
True Story. 3. SHOW ME THE MONEY
All things, including love, being equal I would be married today where it not for the tiny little matter of not having money. First to a beautiful black woman, then a beautiful black man; we shared the same ideals, hopes and dreams. He asked me to marry him, on Goree Island, the island of slaves, on the 11th of May, a day commemorating the death of Bob Marley. But when it came down to it, I had nothing to offer him. No trips abroad, no lucrative deals with NGOs. No additional access. I was just an ordinary African woman trying to live my truth. In the end I lost out to a Dutch woman. She hounded me, all of us, from his childhood friends to his housemates. Until one day she struck it lucky and took the man on a month-long holiday to visit her family in Beautiful Holland. He was in his element. He came back calling her parents Mommy and Daddy. Well done her! In the end it was not about religion or Islam or about language, forget love. It was about money. Luxury and comfort, an easy life. Nothing wrong with that. She would add untold status to the family. The Dutch, my former erstwhile oppressors, are well-meaning non-racists, who manage a democratic, liberal society which embraces all nations and still commemorates Zwarte Piet (black slave festival) to this day in defense of their culture. They are the biggest funders of journalism education and training in Africa. Yes I love you, know that. But we have to be practical about it. I thank the universe for small mercies. Ah well, personal sour grapes aside, this is what I’ve learnt…
NEVER A FAILURE, ALWAYS A LESSON.
So I imagine that my African forefathers must have felt crap like me. They must have felt, so foolish like me, like Allasane, for thinking that after trying so hard to shake off the chains of “barbarism”, to become civilized like the white man, to sip cognac, and smoke cigars in exclusive elitist and largely male establishments. After learning all they could learn, acquiring degrees upon degrees, Phds, even being honoured in the best Tweede suits money can buy. After learning to be more articulate debaters, orators, learned men and visionaries. They were still not enough.
HEARTBREAK SUCKS, BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT.
It must have really irked them, that despite their best efforts to rid themselves of their blackness, African-ness , to apply what knowledge they gained at the master’s institutions of learning, after they had absorbed all they could. Still in the end they were no more than silly little boys to their colonizers, to the imperialist. They were never considered equals. They were still just mere toddlers in the game of world domination. Pawns still, to be moved around at will on a whim in an elaborate illusion of a chess game. Those who tried harder to beat the master at his own game, who despite all of the above retained their “African-ness” preached unity among African nations, those who preached the good news, the gospel of do it yourself: Were quickly silenced because words are sharper than that the sword, mightier than the gun. Their lives were traded for money, power and influence, sold to the highest bidder by their very own brothers, who saw them as threats to their project of self-enrichment. They must have cried hot boiling tears when they discovered that the only way to “advance” is to give everything to the powers that be, their hearts must have been broken to pieces when they realized that the imperialists were never the gentlemen they claimed to be, that they would never give in, that they would even kill their own people to keep the system alive. They said one thing but meant something else. They must have felt like rats, trapped with their molars firmly on prime-cheddar that they would never live to enjoy unless they became obedient, servants. Their hearts must have sunk low, like mine, when they discovered that n reality they didn’t meant it. Love was an illusion. He never truly loved me.
Those who are alive today, must feel so conflicted:
“Ons ry nou ook in amptelike slap motors. Ons word ook onderdaning ge-ja-baas, ja-meneer, ja-minister, ja-alles. Die nee-mense van di struggle het vinning en onverklaarbaar ja-gewoontes angeleer”
“Now we, too, ride in official limousines. And humbly get yes-master, yes-sir, yes-minister, yes everything. No-people of the struggle have learnt yes-habits swiftly and without explanation” Mathews Phosa – the price of freedom
“the matter that came up about sanctions, we need to encourage these other people. You need to be providing these carrots, so that when they move they take a step forward you need to say well done, in our own interest, but please take the next step. But for the positive steps you have taken, please have these carrots.” Former South African President Thabo Mbeki
They never became respected equal partners at the negotiating table. Despite all the concessions they made, despite compromises for the love of the people towards a more equitable African future the were met with dead ends.
“We seek to ensure that we move away from the donor-recipient relationship with the developed world to a new partnership based on mutual respect as well as shared responsibility and accountability” Thabo Mbeki.
“They have defined a new paradigm for the development relationship. We are dancing to their tune, but at least it is our own dance” UK Foreign Office on NEPAD
“Let them have their experience in liberty, either they give Africa the example we give Europe of a united self-respecting, hard -working nation or else the primitive roots sprout again. In which case we have control of the army, the militias, planes, the tanks…….
“What is independence to them? They are not a nation. They are a bunch of tribes, the Bulubas detest, the Luas, detest the bacongo, colonial rule holds the country together” Belgian Officials discussing the The Independene of Zaire now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Extract from the movie Lumumba.
AFTER HEARTBREAK THEN COMES… REAL LOVE.
But our forerunners, our forefathers tried. They did they best could, given the knowledge and understanding at their disposal. They used the tools given to them to do their best both on a personal and collective levels. Yes mistakes were made. You make mistakes too don’t you, at work, at home? some are very bad, some not so bad. But mistakes they are still. I have the utmost respect for them and their collective efforts. They weathered the storm, they charged forward – were leaders in the truest sense that they still to this day, lead by example. The best we can do is to learn from their mistakes and continue the fight. They did make significant in-roads. I thank them for their courage, their resilience, their tenacity. We can learn from them, from their efforts.
The Moral of the story? You can’t dismantle the master house, using the master’s tools. But perhaps that is actually not the point. The point perhaps is not about dismantling the Master’s house. Perhaps the point I’m making is its better to build your own house with your own tools. Is that a far-fetched idea? What have you learned?
Credits: Quotes from:
Behind the Rainbow – a documentary film on the ANC by Jihan Al tahri
Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the Soul of the ANC – a book by William Gumede.
Lumba – the film on the first Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Patrice Lumumba.
I found him sitting at Cramers café in Johannesburg’s Marshall town. I noticed that tome of a book which I recently inspired myself to read. Former President Nelson Mandela’s’ autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom” under the nest of his crossed arms. “Excuse me; can I please borrow this chair?” I asked settling next to him at the café’s window seat. “Sure” he said without any pretense at being nice. He looked very young, so I thought I should ask him. “So how are you finding the book?” I just started he replied, so I don’t have an opinion yet. I have just read it I offer. How was it? He asks, inspiring? “You can say that, so you’re a leader in waiting?” I said trying to find out just why a guy his age would be reading Nelson Mandela’s biography when so many of us “older” folks still feel tired at the thought. “Yes I guess you can say that, I always knew that I was born to do great things and I am in a way searching for inspiration.
After a few questions chatting about this and that, we got to the part where I just fell in love. Here is his story:
I grew up in Yeoville, was raised by my grandmother after both my parents passed away. She was a tenacious woman, sent me to a private school in Houghton even though she couldn’t afford it. It was hard to lose her you know. I’m a little bit nervous, he offered looking down. Why I asked? “I am studying business science at the University of Cape Town, I on holiday now. The thing is, our results are coming out and they put them up on the notice board for all to see. I have one subject that I have been struggling with, all this year and I’m afraid I will either fail it or get a supplementary exam.” Really I say, don’t worry. I offer knowing that it would do nothing for his anxiety. We can’t always get everything right I say in a way of encouragement. “Yes that’s what my mentor told me. He said life is not a linear process.” He offered quietly and I know he’s now more worried than before. So I tell him my story.
He offers me some advice. “One of my mentors went to India on a spiritual retreat, and every day he wakes up he repeats these five sayings to himself:
This moment is inevitable: This conversation is happening so allow it
I have an infinite capacity to respond to whatever happens: You can handle any situation you’re confronted with.
I am responsible for everything that happens. This is the law of Karma: Many people shy away from taking responsibility for their choices, if you made a girl pregnant it might be a mistake but you still have to take responsibility for your actions since she didn’t fall pregnant on her own for example.
I am a mother to the universe: This one is about love, love everything and everyone and treat all people with kindness and understanding even if you know they don’t feel the same about you or hate you.
I am not the body; I am not even the mind: I still don’t get what he means by this but I was encouraged he adds.
“I guess I’m just learning to be grateful “He says putting down his blackberry “I was just congratulating a friend of mine who was accepted for an internship we all applied for. I am learning to be grateful and happy regardless of my circumstances – whether I get it or not to be happy and grateful for the experience, to learn you know. To dream big and know that even if I don’t get this internship, maybe the one who got it needed it more or that it was just not meant for me, I’ll keep trying but I won’t dwell in the negative. I believe that God has a hand in my life and that everything happens for a reason.” I am now holding my breath not sure what I could add to that mouthful, so he cuts the silence.
“So I’ve been trying to get on to SABC’s Morning Live, how do I get there?” He asks me.” Oh well I don’t know why do you want to be on Morning live? I ask “We just started an organization called Amadoda, an NGO about raising responsible men.” I ask him to tell me more ….
The story starts in the streets of Johannesburg. “We were walking down town and we met this woman who was asking for money to buy meat. She told us her story. She was forced into marriage to a man who is abusive emotionally, financially and physically. She is struggling to make a living, and comes to Johannesburg to get bread from a Senegalese guy who runs a shop in town. He regularly gives her food, though her husband works she continued; he drinks all of his money. She was so grateful, and told us that we’re the first people to even take time to listen to her story. She encouraged us to stay as we are, offered us blessings and told us to love and protect women”
“After that incident I started thinking about my grandmother who passed away last year, and I was wondering why I was thinking of her so much. Then I started thinking about how I view women, I looked at the media and the type of music I was consuming, and decided then and there to change. I stopped listening to rap music and hip-hop, which is in large part responsible for the prevailing attitudes that men have about women. They perceive women as mere sexual objects and things to be had, accessories. This comes through in rap and hip-hop music, now I listen to different music that is in line with what I believe to be true about women. When I went back to University, my friend and I talked about this and decided to start an organization that can act as a social vehicle committed to building a generation of African men that fulfill their role in society by exhibiting Ubuntu and servant leadership”
Men often use culture as an excuse for having multiple partners and being abusive towards women. We believe that men and women are created equal. So we want to bring men into the conversation, a discussion about what is Manhood- Ubudoda really? I’m a softy, and I don’t think being hard,harsh or violent is what makes me a man.
“Can you kiss your children in public, be affectionate towards them and still be a man? Can you cry and show emotion and still be a man?, help them do their homework, invest in their future and still be a man?” We are asking those questions in a quest to re-define manhood? For example why do men not go on paternity leave? It is only the responsibility of a woman to take care of a child? The current systems perpetuates the oppression of women and we want to contribute towards fixing this – because we know that men are, we are the main problem”
“Tomorrow we’ll be taking school learners to constitutional hill to teach them about their history. Today is the beginning of 16 days and we’ve partners with V-day and I Billion and Rising to raise awareness so we wanted to share and spread the message around some of our initiatives we’ve planned”
“We have a huge following in campus and through t-shirts and our picture campaign we’ve asked men all over South Africa to write positive messages about what they are doing to prevent violence and abuse against women.”
“Traditionally women shy away from guys like us saying we’re “too-nice” and they often can’t deal with that. There’s no concept of being too nice, being nice is a function of being human, to treat everyone with kindness, respect and understanding. I just celebrated my 21st birthday last week, and I had it in a nice Houghton home, when I was a child I used to dream of owning a Houghton home, last week my party was hosted in one and one day I will own one. Do I want to be successful? Yes, but more importantly I just want to be a good human being a useful man, a man of value to society, a good human being. The difference between me and the my ten-year old self who used to walk to Houghton with on an empty stomach is time – time has a way of changing things and I look forward to the future”
Meet Dalisu Jwara, 21, year old UCT Business Science Third Year Student.
PS: While we were chatting his results came in, and he passed.
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a date with anyone including myself. So Last night was special. I took myself out on a night out to see a dance performance by Moving into Dance Mophatong Company in Newtown, Johannesburg. It was an auspicious event for the dance company which is celebrating its 35 year anniversary and the retirement of its founder and director Sylvia Glasser who started the company from her garage back in 1978, during Apartheids glory days. The company has since developed into one of South Africa’s premier professional full-time, contemporary dance companies, receiving numerous awards including six Standard Bank Artists of the year awards, more than any other dance company in Johannesburg.
It was a special night for me too since, apart from being on a date with me, I got to “meet” the woman behind the dance company which back in 2007 tossed me lifeline through its after hours open dance classes. It was a dream come true, to learn how to dance, because though I have always loved dance and wished to dance professionally all my life, I had never had the opportunity to, except of course at parties and music venues across Johannesburg. The afternoon classes were vigorous and succeeded in convincing me that I could not dance at all since I seemed to have two left feet. Instead of one- two- three- four, I would go five- eight- one- two. I became so frustrated that one day I sat out of class and cried while others danced in harmony to the teacher’s metronomic voice. I cried because, I sucked at the one thing I loved and thought I could do well. I wanted so much to dance like the other students and follow the logical one-two-three steps but my feet would not let me. The experience was rewarding physically even though I quit after a while due to work commitments and a broken heart – after realizing that my heart somehow misled me – in reality I cannot dance.
The Winds of…
The four-day performance titled “ The winds of..” is about change and introspection with the sole purpose of moving forward, looking beyond and conquering all that lies across the horizon. It speaks of the natural progression that time initiates. It speaks of change and movement, of sunsets and sunrises of plateaus and climbs. So with such a promising description you can imagine that I was more than ready to be inspired to move forward and a part of me was hoping to still be moved into dance again somehow.
The opening performance was “Man-longing”, choreographed by Sunnyboy Mandla Motau. The piece is an exploration into the dark and sinister world of human trafficking. The five person dance performance piece uses dance and poetry to bring awareness of the dangers and consequences of being a victim of human trafficking. “Several years ago one of my uncles disappeared. We have never been able to find him. It has been a huge loss for the family. I don’t want the audience to be comfortable; I want to create awareness around this very real and dreadful industry. People disappear without a trace in big cities, families meet dead ends all the time” says Motau. The piece is accompanied by a city soundtrack which has captured sounds of Johannesburg into a grizzly metallic sound scape. It’s a spirited performance piece, with breathtaking choreography fusing tight balance between violence and sex. One moment it feels like someone is going to get seriously hurt the next it seems the dancers are about to engage in an act public masturbation. I was definitely not comfortable but I was pleasantly surprised by the piece which was first showcased in September this year. I loved the story line, the theatrical performances, the strong presence of solid female dancers who beguiled me with the way they moved. And yet something was missing….
For the first time in my life I didn’t want to jump on to the stage and join the dancers. I have always felt, , believed that dance is meant to be a freeing experience. Part of my frustration with my dance classes at MID was due in part to the fact that I had to remember movements, repeat them over and over again until my body had programmed them to each and every muscle and they happen automatically. So I become pre-occupied with the algorithms of dance that I actually ended up not dancing at all. Just following the steps. Smile. Breathe. Chin up. Stomach in. Shoulders straight. Tighten the behind. Act natural.Posture. Don’t miss a step. Smile. Look at your audience. Focus. Don’t forget your step. And One-two –three-ten! ahhhh Yes to be a professional dancer one needs to be fit, solid and centered. To create those soft-flowing-seemless – movements one has to be as tough as nails. It seems so utterly contradictory but it’s true. Dance is ultimately about being in control of yourself, in control of your body and how it moves. It is highly disciplined art and being fit.
But nowadays I find that when I watch dance performances in Johannesburg… there’s everything in the performance but dance. There’s drama, costumes, lights, music but no-one is dancing. I remember one dance performance piece where the dancer, just sat looking at himself in the mirror throughout the entire show, talking to the audience, threatening to move into dance but never did. It was a powerful political statement to make about the art of dancing, especially as it relates to the African experience “all things being equal”. But I still wanted to see “actual” dancing. I miss dancing. I miss watching people letting go and allowing the music to dictate where their limbs go and how they move. That is how I have always understood dance to be in my mind. Music is not just a backdrop to a dance piece, it is what gives dance its power, what propels the dancer forward. At least when I’m dancing it’s the music, the sound, that tells me where to go.
Dancing for me is about letting go of control. And though I may seem often completely out of control to your my dear reader, I have a hard time letting go of control. What my “night-club-dancing“ and dance classes have taught me over the years about dancing is you have to release all desire for control, and just allow your body to move naturally – like walking. When you walk, you don’t analyze it, plan it , you just walk how you walk , dancing for me is just like walking. Allow the music to do the talking through your body. I could never let go while sober. In the past it became essential to have a drink or two to ge to the point where I can relinquish control – to dance – I would drink and go out dancing, and if I suddenly had an audience I would close my eyes. Because dancing for me has always been a form of prayer, of communicating with my maker and getting close to a place where I am whole complete, lacking nothing. In the past three years I stopped drinking to dance – so I stopped praying. Only doing it in the privacy of my home after a shower or bath in front of the mirror or when if music pulls me up.
That said dance is a sacred act for me yes, but there is also ample room for all kinds of dance expressions in the world. I just miss the kind that is full of love and joy. Dancing that inspires both the dancer and the audience to love… again.
Catch Winds of…. at the dance factory from the 22 to 24 November at the Dance Factory.
A Tribute to my brother Nkuli, “Nkush” Nkululeko Mpumelelo Mthembu.
23 May 1986-10 November 2013
I stopped breathing the day I heard. That Nkulukelo Mthembu was no longer with us. It was simply not possible. Nkuli has passed away? Why are people so cruel to tell such lies? To hell with Social media. As the truth sunk in I could help but think of those closest to him. No! No! No! Oh my God Siya! Mbali! My heart started doing things I had never felt before, somersaults, thuds, shrieks – it was something between a panic and a heart-attack. I was alone in my flat and for the first time I couldn’t escape this one. I could not numb or avoid my feelings, the pain that took hold of me crept into my body like a cold winter’s breeze and clung to my bones – I immediately felt sick, dizzy. This time without choosing to I had to face the reality of death –stone cold sober. I had to feel the pain of losing someone, grasp the idea of never seeing them again without losing my mind, it was overwhelming. It was as if my heart would beat right out of my chest and fall flat on the floor like jelly.
On the 10th of November – the Sunday that Nkuli breathed for the last time, I was in tears. All day and I didn’t quite know why? Where this sorrow was coming from, what sadness is this? That Sunday as I walked up the wide streets of linden to see my brother peace, even the wind was silent. It was so quiet, I told my brother that something was strange.
You see, I don’t know if you have a brother – but Nkuli is one of my brothers. We met over ten years ago. He waited for Mbali and me, outside the SABC Head Quarters with his older brother Siya in their brown Beatle. I didn’t know it then, but the moment I got into that Beatle, I was home.
I always admired Nkuli for having such a big heart – a heart made of Gold – jokes aside. Even before he shot to fame he was a true comedian, joker and a source of untold humour whenever we were together. With Nkuli, there was never a dull moment. Without trying he would speak his mind, and we’d all be on the floor laughing for days at his unique wit. With him around we could forget about whatever was troubling us, and just be in the moment. Whether we had money or not, a way or no way of going there he was always a source of strength.
Nkuli personified his name; Nkululeko – a name which means – Freedom. He was a free spirit, a free-thinker who literally danced to his own drum. But his endearing quality was his soft-heart. A kind and gentle soul, who cared deeply for his loved ones. He always used to comfort me and say don’t worry J, don’t mind him” each time Siya would start making fun of me, something I really didn’t like, because when Siya laughs at you it is seriously not funny at all. At first I didn’t understand why Siya would be on my case like that, I would cry sometimes. But I know now. Being the youngest we all made a show of “taking care” of Nkuli, but in truth he was the one taking care –of us. He was the one fighting for our spiritual freedom. The one who constantly challenged, confronted, and broke the chains of “normal” and “acceptable’. He was the one who made life seem easy, fun, and full of adventure and possibility.
Our long-standing joke with him back in the days when we were younger was his inability to pronounce the th- sound, always saying I fought instead of thought or fink instead of think. And boy did he fink…
THE BROTHER MOVES ON
An artists and musician, he founded the Johannesburg Art music collective, The Brother Moves On, after he abandoned his studies at AFDA, with his older brother Siya Mthembu, cousin Zweli Mthembu, and Raytheon Moorvan. With his childhood friend BJ Engelbrecht, he formed an online production company called “No budget Productions” which is the official home for the Brother Moves On videos. In May this year he curated his first commercial exhibition entitled, “The brother breaks the Bullion” which was picked up by Business Day. His work was featured in the Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, TeleRama France, RFI andThe Mail&Guardian to name a few. He spent much of 2013, travelling and performing in across the SADC region. Apart from being an artist he was a manager for his mother’s business in Tembisa.
THE GOLDEN WAKE
I thought for sure my heart would stop, when the next morning after his funeral Siya asked me to help him carry the funeral paraphernalia back to the house. You see I didn’t make it to his funeral on Friday the 15th of November. I arrived long after his body had been laid to rest, when the white dresses and shirts were stained red with wine, whiskey and every other spirit, when feet were sore, and those who could still walk were dreaming of bed, and sleepwalking home. When all that could be drank was drunk. “Jedi, Nkush loves you” said Zweli to me with a smile so wide I was sure it was Nkuli saying it. I still wasn’t breathing because you see, a part of me was still waiting for him, I could see him in my mind’s eye, any minute now Nkuli was going to come waltzing in through those gates, with one hand in one pocket, saggy jeans, wearing his white-shirt, and waistcoat, head down, with his fast –hip-hop gait as if always on the look out for something. Damn. Siya opened the boot, stood back and said please help me with that….
It hit me the minute I held those gold curtains close to my chest, the irony of it all. From the name of the band, The brother Moves On, pinned on the idea that each member of the band were an impermanent part of the process of creating – where it is the individual prerogative of each ‘brother’ to move on if he feels so inclined. To the Recording of the band’s first album The Golden Wake (EP) at the SABC’s radio park basement studios in 2011. The concept for the EP launch was based on a performance piece staging of a funeral of the character of Mr. Gold (Played by Siyabonga Mthembu). The story of Mr. Gold begins with a dream of his grandfather who tells Mr. Gold to journey to the city of Gold to “Mine his dreams”
I didn’t “see” Nkush that night (who was the bands costume designer, performance artist, and visuals person). But I heard sounds I had never heard before. Like deep calling unto deep; I hummed and sang along with them from under my breath with a depth I didn’t know I possessed. The Band reached into to my soul, with their eclectic fusion of sounds etched in the crevice of traditional, shamanic sounds that resurrect and resuscitate the ancestral spirit of the artist, long-gone and yet-to-be-born, while also maintaining a modern 21st century sound. In isiZulu the music can be summed up in one word: Ubungoma. That night I cried as if I was at a real funeral.
The last time I saw Nkuli was a perfectly beautiful summer’s day, on one of those rare occasions when the Brother Moves On was not performing. He said to me, “today feels like old times j” as we walked aimlessly down Fox street on Johannesburg’s Maboneng district.” It reminds me of that time we went to Cape-Town together, you Mbali, Siya and me”. In hindsight, I think it may have been his way of saying – I miss you.
In pursuit of progress, security, happiness, meaning or something along those lines; I had forgotten that it was not about fame, status, or about people liking you, or about money, about clothes, about social status. It’s about love. Love means being true to yourself, discovering, living and fulfilling your life’ purpose to the very best of your ability. At 27 Nkululeko had accomplished what many artists today can only fantasize about, the passionate pursuit of purpose and fulfillment with no budget. Thank you for being a light in our darkness and answering the call to be the person only you could be. Nkululeko Mpumelelo Mthembu.
I was recently in conversation with an old friend, brother and prolific South African Film-maker Teddy Mattera. (PS: If you haven’t seen his movie Max and Mona, please do! It’s the funniest South African comedy I’ve seen ever – I laughed so hard I cried, which in my books is the best way to have a laugh!) . We were talking about race, the colour bar and Otherness. He was sharing a story of how he just didn’t know which box to tick when confronted with an official form asking him to define his race: –black-white-indian-coloured-other. We laughed. In the end he said he ticked all the boxes, including the “other” Box. I have often find myself routinely ticking the “other” box just to have fun with myself, change my mind, think something else because we all know how hard it can be to remove a label once it has be firmly burnt on your back like a tattoo. Thinking can sometimes be a heavy burden to carry, as everything has to be “analyzed” but it’s also fun because how else would we discover new things, new methods and concepts? How else would we progress and change if we didn’t begin by thinking or “considering” others (ness), other things, thoughts and concepts. But we don’t have to be high-brow about it – it being the act of thinking. Thinking can be basic, and I will henceforth replace the words to think with consider, because that is a much nicer-calmer way of thinking – considering. So let’s do consider the other. What does it actually mean to be the “other”, let’s define the word:
Used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.
Further; additional i.e. “one other word of advice” synonyms: more, further, additional , extra, added, supplementary, supplemental
View or treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to one- self.
Alternative of two: the Other side of the street
That which is distinct from, different from, or opposite to something or oneself.
Makes one wonder doesn’t it? Well I think who ever needs to keep records should just do away with all of the existing boxes and leave the OTHER as the only box to tick. We are already so different, so other than the boxes we are meant to fit into, the “Other” box seems to me to be the only box that is appropriate for everyone. We all are the other to each other.
So it with pleasure that I introduce to you a new grant making and fund-raising organization which also shares some of my ideas of otherness…
THE OTHER FOUNDATION
A NEW FUND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND LGBTI ORGANIZATIONS WORKING IN AFRICA.
The Other Foundation has issued a call for grant applications from human rights and LGBT organizations in Africa to access funding. The Other foundation is a joint initiative by Atlantic Philanthropies and HIVOS who have a long LGBTI donor history in Africa. The call comes as Atlantic philanthropies one of the largest grants making organization in the world, announced that it will be spending down with an aim of closing down the fund within the next seven years. The foundation issued the call during its outreach meetings in South Africa’s three major cities Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, earlier this month. The fundraising and grant making organization’s main objective is to break the cycle of dependency on international donors by creating self-sustaining and independent civil society organizations in Africa.
The Other Foundations’ Phumi Mtethwa says the fund is now accepting proposals for four types of grants to civil society organizations and individuals working in Africa for the 2014 financial year. The Namaqualand Daisy aimed at individuals who work with Human Rights issues in the Arts for up to 10 thousand rands. The Inyosi or Honeybee for community based organizations for 50 thousand rands, the fish eagle fund to support civil society organization working on 12- 24 month projects for up to 200 thousands rand and the Umbrella Thorn Tree Grant for up to 500 thousand rands.
The Foundation is also accepting application for Peer Review body which will assess all applications to ensure that they meet the criteria
“The launch of the Other Foundation has been a seven-year long process. We conducted a three-year preliminary investigation into the viability of the foundation, and have spent the last year appointing board members with a lot of experience working within the non-governmental sector and in LGBTI organizations” She said during a presentation to LGBTI activists in Constitution Hill. “Our main objectives is to break the cycle of dependency by civil society organizations on International donors by encouraging individual giving and raising funds from local businesses”
“We are currently exploring different models for funding. Those include pledges by individuals and businesses, including the establishment of the organizational stockvel model where civil society organizations make monthly contributions to help support each other’s projects on a rotational basis. Other models include raising funds from government organizations and corporates”
“ Part of this outreach programs is to engage with community based civil society organizations with a strong focus on advancing LGBTI rights on the different models, for ideas and suggestions on how the fund can help them continue with the work they are already doing with a view to making it more sustainable”
Organizations present at the meeting included the GALA, the gay and Lesbian Archive project, ActionAid and others who raised a number of concerns including how the fund will issue grants to LGBTI initiatives or project in countries where they don’t have legal status.
The Other Foundation said it would work in collaboration with pre-existing human rights organizations who would then act as intermediaries and as mentors for the grant. The Foundation will be based in South Africa from where it hopes to generate most of its funding, but the grants will extend to six other countries in Southern Africa.
“The Foundation is currently interviewing for the position of a CEO, who will then spear head the process of fund-raising and grant making. We have received 38 applications so far and should issue out a formal call for proposals after a suitable candidate for the position of CEO have been appointed” She said. If you are starting to feel like the “other” in this context, don’t despair: Membership and Grant making is not restricted to South African only or to LGBTIs only. So you are free to apply.
Today is a very special day for me. It’s the first day that this blog does what it was created for. It’s the day I am so honoured to get to publish my great sister, friend and prolific photographer Neo Ntsoma’s story. I first met her on the happiest day of her life, as the first black female winner of the CNN African Journalist – Photojournalist of the year award in 2004. Dressed in a bright red and white suit, a top hat and wide smile with sparkling eyes, I immediately knew she was one of a kind. Since then we’ve become like sisters, meeting often to talk about anything but the work we do, have coffee, watch films, and imagine and dream about the future. Yesterday, for the first time Neo told her story on her Facebook page. She told it in a way that only she can and in a voice I have never heard before; though I recognize it, it resonates with me, I know exactly what she means – in many ways our story is the same story. Her story is the reason I started this blog, the reason Between The Lines exists. Today I have her to thank again, for her courage to speak her truth, because her truth has allowed me to see mine, again with fresh eyes and clarity (yes I am tearing up). A re-commitment to a vision of a future full of HOPE that was birthed within me from the depths of despair. So take your time, and listen to the true cost of journalism and it’s rewards. She has kindly given me her permission to re-publish her story on this blog. In her own words and pictures, My sister friend and colleague Neo Ntsoma:
“I’ve never really felt comfortable to tell anyone the real reason why I quit my fulltime job of almost a decade at The Star. So I decided today would be the day I put the truth out there. Hopefully I will never get to be asked the same question ever again. I need to put the past behind me…“
Why I Quit My Job To Rediscover Myself:
I thought I was going to get a mental breakdown. The four years that I worked night-shift at The Star newspaper exposed me to so much. My assignments mostly involved covering a lot of violence in the city, road accidents, police raids, drowned children in lakes, inferno(s) in informal settlements and just about anything traumatic…it was intense! There was so much uncontrolled crime happening around that time. Johannesburg had earned its place as one of the most dangerous cities in the world and a very reckless one to live in and I was right in the middle of it all. It got to a point where I would even get calls from other newspapers photo desks asking for leads to crime scenes.
I suffered terrible insomnia I couldn’t sleep. Is not like anybody had forced me to work night, it was a more of a personal choice I made. I enjoyed it so much that it was more of an addiction. I was hooked! Working night was a selfish decision that I chose for myself mainly because I preferred to work in an environment that involved fewer people and manageable egos to deal with. It was more to avoid conflict of interests and decisions that sounded unreasonable at times. It would have been practically impossible to adjust and adapt to working daytime even if I had wanted to.
If I weren’t out on assignments shooting various disasters, I would just sit around at the office waiting for the next big scoop to happen. At times I would work throughout the night and leave the office at 6am the next day to be back again at 2pm of the same day. I got used to the routine so much and enjoyed it because it allowed me the time to do other things such as attending to emails from varsity students whom were working on their research on photojournalism or something in relation to that. I was always at their service. I was forever bombarded with scholarly requests of sorts. It had become a habit to find a few Q & A interviews waiting in my inbox from international journalists writing reviews based on my work. Somewhere more demanding of my time than others but I enjoyed every moment ever spent responding to those requests. I also used that time to research on photography. I would sit for hours on the computer searching lots of photo sites for new trends within photo scenes around the world. I was driven, passionate and very competitive but more competing with myself than with anyone else. That time was also invested well on reading books, lots of books on various subjects from anthropology to biographies of successful people. My huge appetite for knowledge was craving to be fed with more information, which I enjoyed sharing with others.
Being the type that enjoys getting a bit of more sleep in the morning I figured working night would suit me better considering the many other commitments that I already had. Besides, it was getting more of a routine for me to arrive 30 minutes to an hour late to work only because I had overslept a little. I just couldn’t get myself to waking up early like your average normal person. I had a good share of warnings from my photo editor and had already a few trips to the managing editor’s office. And it was starting to seem like I was being disrespectful whereas I wasn’t. So in order to keep my job I had to beg to be put on a permanent night-shift slot. Ultimately I got burned-out!!!
I later learnt that Ken Oosterbrooke also suffered from the same disorder and like me; he never allowed it to come between his commitments nor his duties.
By mid 2006, I no longer could cope. I remember sending Robin Comley, my former photo editor a series of text messages around 3 o’clock in the morning sharing my frustrations mostly about my unhappiness at work. About how unappreciated I felt at the office and just how fed-up I was with my life and that I wanted to resign. I was only expressing my bitterness at the realization that my life was turning into something I had not imagined or planned for.
I was unhappy about everything but mostly about the direction that my career was heading. Too much was expected of me also because I had set myself a very high standard of excellence which increased the pressure to keep wanting to achieve more. At the time I had already decided to take a break from entering photo competitions but to focus more on investing in others. There was a new breed of young photographers that had just joined the company and I took it upon myself that I would be their mentor. That was my mission and I was prepared to commit to it whole heartedly. I still feel proud to this day that I made that decision because it has produced amazing results, which I’d choose not to mention on this platform.
My insomnia increased. Again I started pitching to work late. Some kind of uncontrollable disorder had taken over my life yet again but I still maintained producing excellent work. Insomnia propelled me to push myself even harder to make up for my late coming. The one thing they failed to recognise was that I worked extremely long hours than I was paid for without ever claiming overtime. Time was not so much of an issue. What mattered was the level of commitment I put in my work.
Karen Sandison, deputy photo editor and probably the only person that understood and appreciated my dedication knew that my actions were not meant to cause any harm.
I was constantly thinking new ideas and never-seen-before concepts that I wanted to create for the betterment of the newspaper and myself. I even went as far as collaborating with Robin Orlin, the internationally renowned choreographer and created an award-winning series that caught the attention of the Art scene both in South Africa and in Europe…The Babysitting Egoli Series…photographed at the Johannesburg Art Gallery!
What the judges said: “Mohamed Amin photographic award: Neo Ntsoma, The Star, South Africa Topic: Their world in flames Judges’ Citation: “It stood out as a news piece in that not only did the photographer manage to capture the intensity of the event, but she did so in a very unusual way. She produced a very attractive set of photographs that were technically superb, visually very attractive, the sort of photographs one felt you could enlarge and frame and hang on your wall, and yet they were photographs of a tragedy.”
Then I suggested to be allowed to specialise, a decision that was turned down by management, as they couldn’t see how that would benefit the newspaper. I knew then that my future with the company was nearing the end. All I really wanted was to be given a chance to take control of my professional future with the hope that the company will give me the much-needed support by making sure that I am progressing wisely down the right path. Much to my surprise it turned out that we were not on the same page regarding my future plans hence they couldn’t hear me out. They blindly failed to recognize the bigger picture and the prospects of how much value that could add to the company.
Just being a senior photographer based on the fact that I was a little more technically experienced than my juniors was not good enough for me. That was not my ultimate achievement aspiration. My goal was a lot bigger than what was on offer but more to do with the craving for freedom to focus more on special assignments type of projects. The type of assignments that would require that I choose my own team based on their strengths and specialities. A team of special reporting experts that would work with me on various subjects while I create images that would make one think that they were reviewing a Master’s or PhD thesis when viewed. Highly intellectual material! Not the average hurry up and wait daily assignments that I used to do. I wanted to step out of the norm, find my own voice, be on a league of my own but I needed a pair of wings to fly that far. I so much wanted to revolutionize the industry but I knew there was no way I could achieve that on my own without the full support of my employers. Not even an associate editorship position could have fulfilled that desire. I think my over ambitious aspirations scared my editors or perhaps the industry was not yet ready for my over the top ideas.
Still in 2006, I got nominated for a MTN Women in the Media Award alongside the likes of Ferial Haffajee, who was then editor in chief of the Mail & Guardian and the first woman to ever hold that position, Ruda Landman whom most people may know from Carte Blanche, currently a non-executive director on the board of Media24 board and Sue Valentine, a Nieman Foundation fellow. Surely being nominated alongside these industry heavyweights was a good enough reason to encourage my editors to review my proposal. I was ready for growth and needed to be groomed for a more advanced role.
When my editors failed to show up at the awards ceremony. it clearly spoke volumes. All my efforts and dedication towards my work and the company were unappreciated but also a clear indication of condemnation at least that’s how I took it. I felt even more trapped, like a rat in a cage.
Thoughts of suicide crossed my mind several times but I could not let myself entertainment them considering that my child needed me to still be here for him…but truth is I was not coping. Dealing with so much emotion all at the same time, I was burning up inside. I had reached a breaking down point but no one could notice neither did I have the courage to disclose my situation to anyone except the occasional text messages to Robin sometimes sent out at some very awkward hours, at times with parts of the truths distorted.
It had come to a point where I couldn’t force myself to be remorseful over a relative’s death or that of a friend. My heart was hardened from covering the deaths of those that died in the most horrific ways. I had seen and photographed a lot of corpses before, some with missing body parts, brain splashed onto the ground, people trapped in cars, the Ellis Park stadium disaster where I had to photograph close to 30 corpses lined up together awaiting to be identified by relatives.
Shortly after my resignation Robin Comley, was appointed photo editor at The Times, the sister paper of the Sunday Times and suggested that I join her as chief photographer. As much as the offer sounded attractive and the fact that I was indeed qualified for the position, I turned it down mainly because I needed to take a break from the pressures of mainstream, shooting hard news. If only the offer came a year earlier I am sure I would have jumped at it with eyes closed. I had already lost the passion for Journalism and I couldn’t do it even for a million bucks. I didn’t have the heart for it any more. I so badly wanted to be left to mourn the passing of my mother even seven years after her death. I wanted to be left to rediscover myself.
If you can’t stand the idea of having your current or previous ‘manager’s job, you need to think long and hard about what’s next. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, but something inside of me was telling me I shouldn’t continue down the career path I was on. I felt strongly that it wasn’t getting me closer to where I wanted to be, though that destination was largely unknown, and I had to get off that road. I just needed some Me time. What more was there for me to still wanna explore or challenge myself with? Nothing!!!
Not even that one picture that probably could have put a smile on my editor’s face and turned me into an overnight superstar was not good enough to change my mind about leaving. I am referring to a photograph of Fezekile Kuzwayo boarding a flight to Amsterdam. Thee “Khwezi,” the alleged rape victim was relocating, a move that was prompted by persistent threats from President Jacob Zuma’s supporters. Being the ONLY photographer at the airport at that particular time, that picture could have earned me a lot of respect from my editors including the international media landscape at large but I had to let it pass.
‘I’ Neo Ntsoma witnessed “Khwezi,” as she walked right passed me, with all the access I had, a camera in my hand but I just couldn’t bring myself to capturing that moment. She had found freedom and she needed to be left alone. That moment gave me all the reasons to stick to my decision because I had nothing left to prove to anybody anymore. I had found my own freedom!