IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Troyville. Monday, 6pm CAT.

This little village where I fell in-love with artists so many years ago and for a little while lived vicariously through the lives of eccentric artists such as Karl Gietle who now lives in a coastal French town in Sett, Wayne Barker my former landlord who found love and is now remarried to a French woman and is living happily in suburbia, Mervin  Dowman the Mosaic artist who also is a keen craftsman, is also making a home somewhere else.  Bra Peter, the disgruntled writer who used to live on the top floor, is now also selling and moving on to his real hometown, Brixton London with his girlfriend.  Jessica the artist and mother of one sweet molly, Kacia the architect who wanted to be an artist is now a mother living in Cape Town, her brother Maciek is now living in Poland, writing, teaching, making films and looking after his grandmother. Katlego the singer with three beautiful children. Bheki the little guy on the stoep is not so little anymore, he now owns backpackers in the new gentrified Maboneng precinct and works a photographer. And then there’s me, the radio- journalist who was always in search of the meaning of life. After all these years  the people, characters, that made this little town so fascinating have all moved, left in pursuit of happiness.  I find myself now on the eve of my second departure from this institution called Berly Court, much clearer than when I first arrived. This little village of Nostalgia, of broken dreams, hearts, and friendships has made me realize just how fragile we all are. And how though we try to hide behind wide smiles and optimistic grins – we all feel a little lost, with a constant need, urge to belong somewhere, to someone, to something. To be relevant and understood without question. To be home.

The past two months here have been intensely emotional, I have met old friends, like Pamela whose now back in town and is living with her daughter and partner after years of being lost in Cape Town. Phibia who is now living in town with her new love. Mbali, the DJ who is now pursuing a career in photography and is on her way to Belgium to re-invent herself.  Fumi  a former colleague at the SABC whose wealth of knowledge about South African politics I never had time to discover,  Nicole also a former colleague, is a writer and researcher who lives a mostly solitary life.  Katarina, the German artist whose friendship has made my life a little easier to bear. Carole whose smile always reflects my own. Neli the travelling dancer, whose  amazing talent persuaded  me to pursue my secrete wish to be a dancer.  Then there’s Lindiwe my name sake and an Actress who I met years ago while she was still studying drama at Rhodes University and I was on assignment.  I finally got over her intoxicating beauty  and saw for the first time that she is just as human as I will ever be. In the last couple of days there’s been a flurry of old faces, all of them once so close and but now so far, old lovers, moving on with new loves, homes, careers or maybe still searching in other parts of town or world. I’ve met new faces too, most of which I don’t remember anymore and will probably never see again. I realize as in life that this place has always been a transit-home. A station where people wait for a little while, until a dream with their name on it picks them up. People I’ve met here have always been on their way to somewhere else, to bigger dreams to a better life, to love, to something which remains even as I write this intangible, until it’s lived.  I’ve  walked these streets every day and discovered the decay, the loneliness and broken-ness hidden behind closed windows, loud music blaring from cars, TV screens, chisanyama’s , in faces who hearts are somewhere else far away.  I can taste the hardship of life in the middle of no where  between the city of Johannesburg and the airport to the world. It’s a place populated by migrants from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, France, Germany, Soweto.  I can taste the sweat of the daily  hustle, the smell the frustration in perfumes and  faces drained with alcohol.  Life in Troyville seems to hang constantly and thinly on balance. As with money, jobs and relationships.

Today I feel mostly grateful for the time spent here, largely because I have somewhere to go, I have a family waiting for me, people I’ve known all my life and who have loved me and I them through all the ups and downs of life. I have always had a home, many homes in fact, in the hearts of those who’ve loved me unconditionally –who took me as I am. I’ve always had a home in those hearts that chose to love me irrespective of my many faults.   For home truly is where the heart is.  As to the meaning of life I have found that it is in Living.  To live, with as much love, kindness, forgiveness and grace as we can possibly master, one day at a time.

Thank you all for continuing to read my blog this year, I have enjoyed the freedom of writing my heart on the page and to look at it, from time to time, again and again with you, because then I don’t feel so alone.  I hope you are with the ones you love, with those in whose hearts you continue to find a home again and again. Happy Holidays! And let’s all toast to love in the New Year! And smile not because it ended, but because it happened.

LOVE

j

Advertisements

NOT OF GOOD REPORT…

Of-good-report-poster
The day before the world came to a stand-still, due to reasons I’m sure you’re all very familiar with by now The First Wednesday Film Club (FWFC), an independent film screening club in Johannesburg South African hosted it’s last movie screening of the year – the critically acclaimed and most controversial South African Film –OF GOOD REPORT -written and directed by Jahmil Qubeka. The event was well attended by many of Johannesburg’s top film producers, directors, actors, film lovers and fans alike. The room was packed to the brim with an eager pop-corn munching audience.  Why?  The film was unceremoniously banned by the South African film board minutes before it was meant to open the Durban International film festival in June this year, for underage pornographic content.   Festival goers were met with a muted Qubeka and a message saying the film could not be screened as that would constitute a criminal offense. Social media was abuzz with twitters of heightened fears of increased suppression of the right to freedom of expression by the state. The film however was later approved for screening, with a 16 plus age restriction. This led to the eventual screening of the film at FWFC.
A TRAGEDY
True to form the Master of Ceremonies (MC) for the evenings’ screening   comedian David Kibuka, of Etv’s Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola  (LNN) comedy show did not mince his words. “We are all here to watch child pornography, that’s what we all are here to see “he said to much self-conscious laughter from the audience. I had been looking forward to seeing the film myself; generally eager to find out if the film was truly worth of all the fuss. As South Africans we can be quite hysterical about nothing sometimes.  Of Good report is a story about a serial killer teacher who forms an illicit relationship with a 15-year-old student. The teacher soon becomes obsessed with the girl so much so that he ends up bludgeoning her to a pulp with a cricket bat and butchering her body to get rid of her.  The scenes are all very graphic, from the sex scenes which the film was originally banned for and the butchering scenes.  Throughout the process the teacher, is haunted by the image of his chain-smoking mother whom he also smothered to death. The teacher, though of good report, had been in the army and had just returned from a peace keeping mission from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and on his return had to serve as a nurse to his ailing mother, which required him to wake up at odd hours of the night to clean her up after each time she went to the toilet to relieve herself.  A tortured, soul, he does not utter a single word through-out the film, something which the film’s director Qubeka says was intended to silence men, who often are given a voice in society despite their many transgressions.  The film itself is very long and slow and full of graphic violence, employing film styles, such Film Noir including echoes of the Coen brothers.  Qubeka himself admits that there is nothing “original” in his choice of film styles, calling himself a kind of Film “DJ” who mixed all imaginable Film genres into one movie. Many in the audience were awed by the director’s technical abilities in making film for film sake, while others bemoaned the lack of a larger storyline. But since I’m not a film buff I will not focus on the style of the film but just tell you what I got from it.
INTERPRETING SOUTH AFRICA
I am all about story-lines when it comes to movies and films – and less about how the film was made though the two often go hand in hand. I enjoyed Qubeka’s treatment of the heavy subject of  Child pornography, the relationship between teacher and student, because though illicit in nature he did not attach any blame to any single character, simply telling the story as it is, leaving it up to the audience to make their own judgments about who they would choose to empathize with.  All the characters are made vulnerable by their personal histories which when looked at holistically are equally traumatic, and each character acts out in different ways – all which are equally self-destructive.  However, the violent scenes where hard for me to take, and I would have put an 18 age restriction on the movie instead of 16 because of the high level of violent content. Why? Because I think we have our wires crossed a little bit, the Film board was not concerned about the violent content in this movie, only the sex scenes which are mostly implied, while the violence is not.  We make a lot of fuss about sex and less about violence: its okay to smother your mother to death with a pillow because you can’t stand their illness or taking care of them, it’s okay to bludgeon someone to death because they stopped loving you the way you want, but it’s not okay to have sex. The argument is often violence is real, its reality why not show it? Well so is sex? Why do we have double standards? However “real” it may be, killing is not a “natural” human function, hurting someone because of whatever reason is not natural.  Whether we perceive it as just a movie and therefore not “real” there’s no difference in the brain or in how our emotions react to what we see. It’s an experience, if there was a difference we wouldn’t cry at the movies when we see a touching or a sad scene because we would know it’s not real.  But we do and that’s because our emotions can’t tell the difference. The image becomes a memory and becomes a lived experience.   We suffer secondary, third levels of trauma as a result. We must take responsibility for what we do whether it’s in the name of “art” or “freedom” of expression.  Already as a country we suffer untold amounts of trauma from lived “real” experiences of violent crime, all the time, do we need see and experience more at the movies too?  I think the litmus test for every artist should be, would I be happy showing my child this  body of work to my child? If not then however interesting it is, it is not worth doing, if it’s not good enough for your child to see, it’s not good enough to be shown anywhere for anyone.  I think as artists we tend to take the easy route, pick on low hanging fruit, instead of really interrogating how we want to express our ideas. violence is easy. The more violence we see, the more immune we become to it, the more we find it easier to accept violent behavior in any shape or form as an acceptable part of human nature – which it isn’t.   So we learn that the only way to deal with trauma, pain or hurt is through violence – death.  Want to change how society behaves? Change the movies, change popular culture. Television and social media have an untold influence on human behavior whether you choose to acknowledge this fact or not.  If movies are about creating new ways of seeing the world, why don’t we focus on creating a world we would love to live in? Why perpetuate the same ugly, violence and hate crimes, and then hope to have a different result in real life?  We are all influenced by the images we see, whether we create them through “art” or we see them in real life no matter how “literate” we are. We are traumatized by the things we do and experience, children, even adults emulate what they see on television, good or bad in real life too.  Why don’t we practice loving each other? Talking to each other as a way of resolving problems instead of re-enforcing violent behavior and hate?  We might not be able to do away with violence in real life, but we can limit it on-screen, that we can surely control. So if a movie can be banned for implied sex scenes, which we all know happen in real life all the time but we still put age restrictions on such movies, why do we have different standards when it comes to violence?
I for one would have banned the movie all together.

A LOVE LETTER TO TATA MANDELA

lindiweA LETTER TO TATA NELSON MANDELA

From  your forgotten grand-daughter.

Dear Tata

Not sure where to start – so much has been said about you from all corners of the world by those who knew you, claimed to know you and from everyone who admired you around the world. Anyone who has a voice has said their piece, claimed a piece of you and ripped you apart into all kinds of objects and mementos, from bank notes to t-shirts, skirts, shops, street names, township names, shopping malls, even the ground I walk on. Tata you truly are legendary.   I have watched silently from a distance, jealous of course of all the time that these people got to spend with you.  I am hurting so much – because I have been so angry with you for a very long time, because I never understood you, I never understood why you took the decisions you did, why you spent so much time with everyone else but me. But now I understand, even though it hurts to admit, that they needed you more than I did.  For the past ten days I have gone through all manner of  emotions imaginable, from anger, sadness, joy, indifference, pain, disgust, disbelief, madness, grief, delirium you name it.  I felt as if once again I have been  silenced; my voice drowned out by the loud  trumpets  announcing your  passing  which  screeched  from every imaginable crevice of this country, I have Mandela coming out of my pores.  People can be so cruel when they think they are the only ones in pain. Everyone knows so much more about you, everybody knows what you think, how you felt, how you would want them to think to feel about everything. I have been trying to run away from you, but you are every-where – I go.  Everywhere I look. The radio has been all about you, TV, newspapers, conversations, street lamps and post. Someone said I should look for you, but now it seems I don’t have to look anymore for you. You are everywhere I go.  Maybe you’ve been trying to get my attention and what a way to do it.  You’ve  got my full attention now.

Behind the Rainbow.

Can you imagine I had to become a journalist just so I could be near you?  Close to you, follow you around? Be in your presence?  I laugh about it sometimes. I thought everyone else was crazy for claiming you as their father, grandfather, their leader, their liberator, their this and that. How could one single living human being be everything to everyone? I still struggle to remain true to myself let alone the entire universe.  But I guess I was the crazy one for refusing to see  the truth. I remember our brief conversation about politics. I was still angry with you then, my anger masked by a mix of admiration fear, awe and sadness.  I remember once I was forced no, let me say coerced into a conversation about you with Cornel West. He asked me about you and I told him and everyone who could listen that I didn’t care about you. That you were nothing to me, in some ways it was true in others in was a complete and utter lie because I loved you, love you now more than the first time I knew that your name was not Manelo.  And then came that time when you asked me if I had registered to vote and I said yes. You asked me who I would vote for.  I knew you were joking with me, but I didn’t have a sense of humour at the time. I couldn’t imagine why on earth you would want to discuss such private family matters in front of all those people when you knew very well that I couldn’t be a card-carrying member of any political party because of my job.  But thank you for saving me from myself.  You shielded me and made it a huge joke; everyone says you were such a joker in your later years.

Today I am filled with gratitude, because even though we never had a normal grandfather and granddaughter relationship, even though I spent the past 32 years living in your shadow, you were still with me everywhere I went.  You opened doors for me everywhere I went, just by your name.  Where ever I travelled when people heard that I was from “Mandela land” they would go out of their way to make me comfortable and to feel at home. You have shielded me in war zones, in dangerous places and saved  me more than once from myself.   In 2008 I took off my journalist jacket and decided to follow you to London at the 46664 AIDs Benefit Concert in Hyde Park London, I was so proud of what you tried to do. It was your  last public appearance and I was there among the roaring crowds as myself, off duty. I thought it was so sweet how you protected Amy Winehouse and held her hand through a dark period in her life. I fell in love with you then, how gentle you had grown to be.  Last year when you were admitted to hospital, I grieved for you, I shaved my hair and decided to leave this country because I just couldn’t imagine living here without you. I arrived in Dakar, Senegal,  naked, to everyone I sounded Senegalese, but one man took one look at me and said – You look like Mandela. I laughed for days, because in all my living years, no-one has ever said that to me – you found me in a place of utter hopelessness. When things didn’t work out I found myself back here again in this country I love so much, that has brought out the worst and best of me. I didn’t understand why. Now I know that I needed to be home for such a time as this. I was even more frustrated when journalism couldn’t bring me any nearer to your bed-side, at your home in Houghton, I felt like an outsider looking in, invisible. But now I understand that it was meant to be this way, how can a granddaughter report on the passing of their grandfather? I can be so silly sometimes.

It is a bitter-sweet moment for me, Tata,  in the past ten days I learnt so much about you, it is as if you were showing me again who you are, not anyone’s version of you, but really who you are. How it was for you when you were barred from attending the signing of the 1955 freedom charter, the drawing up of which you worked so hard to achieve.  I began to understand in real terms how difficult it must have been to face your enemy and forgive them, sit with them at the negotiating table, to reach out to someone you knew  hated you and would kill you given the chance. You taught me what it is to fight – hatred with love, because love is the only thing that saves. Through the work of Cheryl Pillay, you showed me your  ideas of restorative justice – how love and forgiveness is the only thing that can turn someone around, the only thing that can change people’s minds and hearts. Unconditional love.   You showed me that even though at times everything and everyone may seem to be against you, if you hold on to love things do work out in the end. And oh so Beautifully too. Violence has never and will never be the answer, I am so glad you changed your mind about that too while in prison. So proud of you.

Today I have so much to be grateful for, not only have I met the man of my dreams, the one I asked for, a man who loves music, who loves art, respects the spirit world and thinks with his heart, I am also starting a new job.   My dreams are coming true at a time when I had given up hope, when I said goodbye to so many of them. My dreams are coming true because you died. And it is a sad reality for me. Thank you for the small stolen moments, when I was so close to you I could hug you.  Thank you for trying to do what was best for everyone, and being  selfless  at a time when you had every right to be selfish.  I know you were just as human as me and that it is only our creator who lifted you to  where you are,  and to who you have become to billions upon billion, imagine!? It it only our creator who could have given you the power and strength to go  against the grain and alone in love, when loving was probably the last thing you wanted to do. Thank you  granddad, Tata, for freedom, now I can come out and be myself again, because I know now that you’ve got my back for real.  I don’t need a picture with you or any proof what so ever –  that you are mine- blood is thicker than water. Your spirit will live on in me and through me and through everyone you’ve touched with your exemplary life. The road ahead will not be easy as you know, but I know  that you are  in a much better place to help me when I need it. Even though I knew it was your time I am still sad that you left, because it was good to know that you were hanging out somewhere having fun. Or that I could meet you one day on assignment.

People kept saying to me, because I can be very timid believe it or not, that confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am glad to finally know who I am.  It brings joy to my tears to know that despite what I thought  you never forgot  me.  That you loved me even when I thought the worst of you.

Did I tell you have a million dollar smile? That melts my heart still today? You do.  I will hold on to that smile.   Apparently I have a million dollar smile too, according to mom. So each time I think of you, I will smile. Because what you have given me is a beautiful gift. I will never stop smiling. Never stop loving.  And I have you and Love to thank for that.

Lala NgoxoloTata.

Ndiyabulela.

Enkosi.

Camagu!

 

MADIBA’S LEGACY: A FATHERLESS NATION

A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela's former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.
A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela’s former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.

 “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela

South Africa Today

South Africa is leading the world in incidents of domestic violence and rape against women and children. According to research by the Medical  Research Council of South Africa (MRC) at least one in three South African men admitted to raping a woman;   at least 144 women report incidents of rape in the country every hour, which  when extrapolated results in  3, 600 reported rape cases a day across the country. Rape, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS,  are largely responsible for an  estimated 3.6 million orphans  in the country, according to figures by Statistics South Africa. “Just under one fifth (19.6%) of all children in South Africa, representing approximately 3.6 million people, are orphaned – half of them due to HIV/AIDS,” said Stats SA in its social profile of vulnerable groups in South Africa from 2002–2010.   These are  causes which former South African President and Nobel Peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to after stepping down as the first black democratically elected president in 1999.

FAMILY MAN

Despite the negative statistics, there are men who, even under great financial strain are following in Madiba’s footsteps and are taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Men like Johannes Majola, a father of three sons and four children he inherited from his late sister.  Majola opened  the Simthembile Homes for children with  intellectual disabilities in Roodepoort South of Johannesburg after being approached by a parent asking him to take care of her child or else she will kill her. “ That broke my heart, I asked myself why she has to kill her” He told BTL “ Single parents face a great challenge, especially those with children with intellectual and physical disabilities,  having to balance work and take care of their children at the same time”  said Majola “ Often they cannot afford to pay and there are not enough homes which cater for physically and intellectually disabled children – I would say the system is failing us” says Majola who runs the home from governments’ disability grants which do not cover the cost of caring for the ten residents at the home.   “Sometimes I have to take food from my own children to give to the residents due to lack of funds”.   Majola  admires Mandela and  calls him his liberator. “ he brought us freedom, liberty and I am following his example of being a father, a protector, a shepherd  who looks after his flock.  Hope and love keep me going” He told BTL “without love you cannot take care of children”.

Majola is not the only man taking care of vulnerable children, Bob Nameng a former street-kid  and an orphan himself, runs centre  for  children in one of the oldest townships in Soweto – Kliptown  -whose living and social conditions have remained almost  unchanged since Mandela’s release from prison.  Nameng told BTL that he works with children because he wants to protect them from the hardship of living on the streets “I didn’t want children to experience the pain of living in the streets like I did, I am an orphan, and I wanted to lead by example, so that other men can see that they too can contribute towards positive change in the country.” He said.  Nameng  has been running the center since the 19 80’s and remembers meeting Mandela before he  led the country through peaceful, multiracial democratic elections and becoming President  in 1994 “When he shook my hand, I felt his powerful energy and knew that  he was a man who is larger than life” He says smiling “Madiba and I share a birthday month (July) and a star sign (cancer) and sometimes I compare myself to him and say if he can do so much – so can I. He has given us a lot and it’s time for us to follow in his footsteps and give children the freedom and space to be children and take care of them”.   Nameng provides free food to an estimated 200 children everyday who come to SKY for food and extra-mural activities in addition to providing shelter to  children who at risk without any support from government. He says the need for more child support is great “we are not doing nearly enough to look after our children, especially girls who are more vulnerable to sexual violent and abuse”

Majola and Nameng share similarities with Mandela.   Nelson Mandela (95)’s iconic status as an anti-apartheid revolutionary activist, liberator, world leader and peace maker came at a great personal cost to himself.  Born in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the 18 of July 1918, he lost his father at a very young age. And while serving a life sentence in Robben Island for treason he was refused permission to bury his son who died following a car accident.   He sacrificed raising his own children from two previous marriages with Evelyn Mandela and Winnie Madikizela Mandela, to father a nation through a difficult and complex transition from White- Apartheid –Minority rule to a non-racial democratic South Africa.  In January 2005 he lost his only remaining son Makgatho Mandela, 54, to HIV/AIDs.  Then at age, 86,Mandela was the second only prominent leader in South Africa (the first being IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi) to call for redoubled efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDs.  “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary”   He said during a media briefing at his private residence in Johannesburg.   In 1995, driven by his love for children and a desire to end their suffering, former President Nelson Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) and from 1996 to 1998, NMCF successfully mobilized over R36 million to fund over 780 projects, at an average of R40, 000 per project by  giving grants to promoting a humanitarian response to the plight of South Africa‘s children and youth. Yet even those efforts did not reach 17 year old Joy Magubane a resident at the Soweto Kliptown Youth Center who says   Bob Nameng is like Madiba to her  “Well all I can say is tata (Madiba) Madiba did nothing for me, it is  Bob Nameng who is looking after me and making sure  that all my needs are met, he is my mother, my father, my grandpa,  my everything, without him I don’t know where I’ll be.”

THE MESSIAH

But for millions of black South Africans who lived under the oppressive arm of Apartheid like 43 year old Madikhomo Nkgomo,  a married mother of five children, Mandela is the  Messiah.  Madikhomo says Mandela is her Jesus. “My mother was a domestic worker and she worked like a slave. We were not allowed to own homes or a land to build one.  For Nkgomo, now a managers at one of the country’s leading banks,  Apartheid –a racial segregation law enforced across South African in 1948 by then former South African President Hendrik Verwoed as a sign of “Good Neighborliness’ meant that she and her extended family of more than twelve people had to share a two bedroom house in Soshaguve, a black township outside of the country’s Capital city Pretoria. “Things got progressively worse and as children we were all separated. My mother lived in domestic quarters in Johannesburg, while we were moved to different places to live with complete strangers” She told BTL. “ We were all arrested at different points  in our family for trading illegally, we often had to hide in cupboards and under  beds from police who would arrest us if they found us without permits to be in the city” She adds.” I was a slave, my mother was a slave – Mandela is my savior, He is like Jesus to me”

For others Mandela will forever remain an icon of Freedom “I think many people are at a loss for words on how to describe the person of Madiba, he is larger than life – and still today young people don’t understand the real cost of freedom” says Nomvula  Mashoni –Cook referring  to Madiba’s policy of  reconciliation demonstrated through the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in the late 90’s. There victims and perpetrators of violence and murders under Apartheid testified, apologized and were forgiven while some received financial compensation for their suffering.

In June 2008, Madiba delivered one of his last public speeches during his 90th Birthday 46664 AIDS benefit concert in Hyde Park London, saying “Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings have been oppressed there is more work to be done. After nearly 90 years of life it is time for new hands, to lift the burdens – It is in your hands now”

And sometimes that change can be as simple as holding a child’s hand.

Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture - Jedi Ramalapa
Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture – Jedi Ramalapa

 

THE FIXER: DAY-UNKNOWN

The second coming?
The second coming?

“It’s always impossible until its done” Nelson Mandela

A DAY OF PRAYER AND REFLECTION.

ON SUNDAY – I was at the most famous church in Soweto, Regina Mundi where activists organized, held meetings prayed and were attacked by apartheid police during the 1970s, 80s and 90s The Church has to be rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by Apartheid police in pursuit of comrades. The service was e presided over by Bishop Sebastian Rousow. I spent most of my time outside, catching up with old friends and scouting out potential interviews for my clients . Trying to find the  right people for my people to speak to everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s story is important, but finding the right one out of billions is a skill.  While waiting outside I met tata Patrick, now a very old man. He tells me he has lived in  Rockville  Soweto since 1962, he was part of the Soweto Action Group Committee which was set up following the banning of all non-white political parties in South African, notably the  ANC and PAC.  He tells me with a faraway that police used to stand right where all the media cameras are, surround the church and shoot at people coming out of the church. He was even there when it was built. I can smell the whiff of stale alcohol on his breath. But he tells me that Mandela is a great man. A great tree has fallen he says. If you go to freedom Park which just behind the church you will see there are 95 indigenous trees which have been planted in honour of Mandela each year on his birthday the 18th of July. His son says each time he walks past those trees they represent freedom for him. Long Live they both say. But no one bothers to speak to Patrick. His old and rugged. The media crisscrossed past them waiting for the “big” political and international personalities. There are rumours that Winnie-Madikizela-Mandela might show up at the church, but the rumours are later proven untrue. I also meet Jane Nhlapho who has lived in Rovilled since 1967, and her friend Elizabeth Gwele from Dobsonville another Township in Soweto. They both describe  how police used to frequently surround the church with caspers, mellow yellows, police and army vehicles, and shoot and throw tear-gas at activists locked up inside. Elizabeth told me that, as parents they frequented the church in search of their children, to see if they are okay, still together in one piece.  Jane lost a family member right here at the church, a brother who disappeared – last seen at Regina Mundi Church. It’s pain-full to think about. They were running halter and skelter she says. Not knowing where to go or what to do. We were not free. We had not freedom of anything, movement, speech, anything. She looks as lars tall overwhelming  Master-like figure. “Today I can stand here and speak to you like a fellow human being “she said. And that simply brings me to tears.  I think of My brother Thente.

ROOM 209 – CHIEF ALBERT SISULU FLOOR – SOWETO HOTEL

Later in the day we go to the Soweto Hotel for the NRK team to edit and file their story  of the day. I chose Soweto hotel, because of where it is and it represents with uncanny accuracy the current state of our country.  It embodies in a few kilometres the character of South Africa.  Because the contrasts in South Africa from here can’t be more jarring. Our window is face the Union Road – Shop names have changed but the buildings are still the same buildings from 1955 when more than 3000  South African of all races gathered to sign the freedom charter – a blue print for a democratic South Africa – During the darkest period in my country.

They unanimously declared:

  1. The People Shall Govern
  2. All groups shall have equal rights
  3. The figures shall share in the country’s wealth
  4. The land shall be shared among those who work in it
  5. All shall be equal before the law
  6. All shall enjoy equal human rights
  7. There shall be work and security
  8. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened file and edit and file the story of the day. I choose the Soweto hotel we go back to Soweto …
  9. There shall be houses Security and Comfort
  10. There shall be peace and friendship.

You can have all of the above in South African today. If you have money.Only.

BUT ON MONDAY

To say I’m broken would be an understatement. I am trying to be brave and say it’s okay. I’m here at the media centre as I write this. I imagine how full this room will be tomorrow frantic with journalist filing stories minute after minute, second after second, and I won’t be a part of it. I won’t even be at the FNB stadium tomorrow – because as a fixer my team does not think I should be there.get one. So I’ve been literally crying and I feel cheated somehow, except who can I tell. Except you. While noting instructions from my team Clinton my former boss walks past and say to me “where’s my script” and  it brings back old memories of being in the news room where he would say the same thing to me… it took me while to write a story.  I see Sam, waiting in line and she gives me the warmest hug and I start crying I try to walk away. Later Hajra comes and gives me a hug and says hello member of the A team. She is a sweet woman. I start crying. I leave because I’m now too emotional. “Are you OK my dear” Havard the camera–man asks me. “You seem, quite frankly – shattered” he says. I tell him I will be fine tomorrow. Yet in my heart I wonder if he wouldn’t be shattered like me if it were him in my shoes.

MEET THE FIXER

Jedi Ramalapa a South African Female journalist for 13 years. Maybe you don’t understand. I have covered Mandela stories so many times in my life and the one time it matters, not one is willing to hire me, except as a fixer. It’s maddening, I want to scream, tear off my clothes, cry, and what not. But it’s not the end of the world. I will tell my story here. As a blogger – because that will be the most authentic story I could ever tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job – work to do , to be involved. It’s just I never thought that I would be a fixer in the biggest event of my country’s history instead of being the one telling the story.  Not even have the memento of a press tag. But life does work in mysterious ways and I have to be grateful for what I have.

They are on their way to pick me up. It’s 8:12 am South African time. We’re going to the Stadium. I’m driving them

 

THE FIXER: DAY ONE – FRIDAY: GOING BACK HOME

Português: Brasília - O presidente da África d...
Português: Brasília – O presidente da África do Sul, Nelson Mandela, é recebido na capital federal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This morning duty called, our father passed away, on the day that our brother, struggle Icon and Pan African Congress (PAC) party leader Robert Sobukwe was born on the -5th of December 1924.  He died in a prisoner inIsolation on Robben Island in 1978. Members of the family have been called back home to mourn.  I didn’t know what to do or where to go.  I kept asking myself what I can do. So I am doing the best I can.

 

 I didn’t know what to expect on my drive down to the South Western Townships of Johannesburg –Soweto.  A place which, 36 years ago marked the turning point of South Africa’s struggle for freedom against the regime.  The 1976 Soweto Uprising by school children from Phefeni Secondary High School, commonly known as “PHESESCO” – where my mother went to school, Thloreng Primary, where both my mother and I began our primary school education, Bhele Secondary school including most schools around the township staged a protest march against an Apartheid government plan to introduce the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction at schools.  It was the last straw.  The world Watched as Police and the army opened fire to thousands of unarmed school children dressed in uniforms.  The picture of a limp Hector Peterson, carried in the hands of a grief-stricken Mbuyiselo, and Peterson’s sister running by his side, painted an iconic image of the cruelty of the Apartheid government.

 

 Happily, my brother Sechaba working as a car guard – was stationed at the make shift parking on Khumalo Street adjacent to the bottom of the Vilakazi street.  Where Nelson Mandela first own a house in 1946, and where he lived with his first wife Evelyn Mase, then later with his second Wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela and their children.  Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu also lived in this street, PHESESCO, the high-school I couldn’t wait to grow up and attend is also on the same street.

 

 “ Silahlekelwe sisi” ( it’s a great loss my sister)  he said of our father’s passing – the death of South Africa’s  First President and liberation leader  the late President Nelson  Rholihlahla Mandela. “Kub’hlungu” He says. I know. I can see the pain in his eyes. We get to chatting a little bit while the crew gathers their staff and he tells me that he’s afraid. Tata Madiba was the one holding us all together he says he’s the one who told us to stop fighting and I am afraid that now that he’s not here anymore, the children might start fighting again. Do you really think that? I ask. He says yes. The tension is bubbling he says. I refuse to go there with him.  The conversation leaves a sting in my heart. Don’t worry about your car he says, I’ll look after it. We thank him and proceed.

 

MADIBA- MAGIC. THRIVE.

 

 All I can hear as I cross over are drums.  A group of young drum-majorettes dressed in pink are marching down to the beating drum.    As we get nearer to the center I notice a new restaurant, it was not here a few months ago. It’s at the Corner opposite – to the famously packed Sakhumzi restaurant. The mood is festive. People are sitting outside on the pavements people gazing as they sip on their cold drinks and coffee. The building is a duplex concrete and glass structure, modern, minimalistic, with white plastic art deco chairs. It looks like my kind of space. For a moment, I don’t feel as if I am in Soweto, Orlando West: my home town.  I walk in and order a cup of coffee while I wait for my phone to recharge.  Then my eyes find the man who seemed to run things, the man taking the cash from waiters who have him inundated with orders.  With a wide smile he happily shared the miracle of THRIVE the restaurant, with a tagline “Appetite for life”.   “We opened the restaurant four weeks ago, he tells me. The restaurant is a beautiful 50 percent Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal he continues brimming with pride. It is the first black female owned restaurant on Vilakazi Street. He points at her, Thembi Mahlangu a native Sowetan.  She used to work for me as a barrister at one of my restaurants, Bellini’s in Illovo. She worked as a barrister there for two years.   She told me that she wanted to start a coffee trolley business in Soweto, and I decided that let’s build a place. I couldn’t get a view of Thembi Mahlangu only her back, she was facing the industrial coffee machine. Doing what she knows best. Making- coffee.

 

THE DEAL.                                               

 

So I used the opportunity to get into details about the BEE deal. Stop me if I’m rambling he says with excitement. I tell him not to worry. It’s an upmarket restaurant. We’re targeting 50 Percent Tourists, 25 percent black middle class, and another 25 percent for the locals.  The most expensive meal on the menu is a stake fillet at R150 (plus minus 15 USD), the cheapest is breakfast for R20 (2USD), the pricing is 10 percent below Tasha’s, one of the most successful restaurant franchises in Johannesburg. We’re also trying to introduce locals to different foods which they are adapting to very nicely. We have some local stuff he says, Boerewors for the Afrikaners and Kota’s for the local.  It’s not a party venue, he emphasizes for clarity, we’re bringing the North to the South – an upmarket restaurant in Soweto basically he says.  How did you get the land I ask? We got the land from the neighbours next door on a lease, we’re paying them rental, we built this place for them basically he says. And how is business so far? It’s picking up nicely he says looking out to the horizon, and with Mandela’s passing we’ve just been overwhelmed. I have never worked so hard in my life. We’re still facing some teething problems, but so far so good. I thank him, polish up my coffee which is good and head out to the crowds.

 

IN MOURNING.

 

Opposite Madiba’s former home, now a Museum called Mandela House. I see her. Dressed in her green and black African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) uniform, Khosi Masondo. Standing alone and forlorn. She really looks sad. “Sizilile M’tanami” she says, we are in mourning a leader, a visionary. But we just want to thank Tata Madiba for what he has done for us. He really helped us. You see, at a time like this, you can’t just sit in your little corner and cry by yourself you have to be with others. I really don’t think we will ever have a person like Madiba, not in the near future, maybe centuries from now but I not for a long time. His Patience, his Resilience, His Humility. You know Madiba had the ability to make you feel very important. Even when you felt that you as a person are nothing. Madiba made you feel like you’re human being, that you are worthy, that you can do something.

 

COME THE TABLE

 

“My fondest memory of him” she tells me as her eyes fill up with tears. Was at a dinner party organized by my husband, former Mayor of Johannesburg to Amos Masondo to commemorate the June 16 Anniversary for the first time after his release. I ran away. I ran away when I heard that I was going to sit at the same table with Madiba.  I went to hide. But Madiba called me, sent people to fetch me to say you “Khosi” you have been called to duty, come and sit at the table with South Africa’s first Black President. He could make you feel really important.  Tata has taught us a lot, we’ve seen, we’ve learnt the most amazing lessons from Tata.

 

AN END OF AN ERA

 

 As day became night, I found myself at his last home in Houghton estate, amongst fellow mourners. I think it became real when I glimpsed the sea of lit candles, flowers, wreathes, images that I had until then only seen on Television, about other people. I am alive at this moment in time in history and suddenly I felt overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s my last assignment as Africa foreign Editor” Lars Sigurd Sunnana. A Radio and Television Journalist with the  Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) , for more than four decades. He is an award winning journalist. A true professional. ” Its a  it’s a fitting conclusion to an illustrious career I say. He says yes. It’s fitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T BE TOO EMOTIONAL…! CRY MY BELOVED COUNTRY

Former South African President Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. Dies.
Former South African President Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. Dies.

“I write emotional Algebra” Anais Nin

If I could tell you the number of times that I have been told to not be “too emotional” about things I would be a rich woman today. And for years I have struggled with my  character and the fact that it doesn’t take a lot for me to  tear-up,  both good and bad things  make me cry. Crying is not a hobby for me or my favorite past time. For many years I have been annoyed with myself for crying so easily.

Someone who is deemed too emotional is understood by all to be generally irrational, erratic, someone who lacks control, who is both mentally and emotionally unstable, too weak to cope with stressful situations. In other words someone you generally can’t rely on because their emotions are too unpredictable, they are like a ticking time bomb. I don’t think anyone would like to be described as “too emotional” in light of the above.

So where am I going with this?  Because I am a naturally sensitive person – I cry a lot.  I feel deeply and I am deeply moved.  I am moved by other people’s pain and suffering just as much as I am moved by my own pain and when that happens, tears come out.  So being a journalist I figured that being tough means that one must never under any circumstances show signs of emotion, and crying would be showing excessive emotion in this case.

I think people assume that I decide to cry. But I don’t. I never decide that when I hear this persons’story or that person tragic loss that I will cry, and there have been times when I have not cried in situations where crying would have been acceptable.  It’s not something I turn on and off at will, it is something that happens in spite of me. And no I don’t walk around in tears all day, every day though there was a time when that was true.

Believing that my crying was a sign of weakness, and not wanting to have that label attached to me, especially as a journalist, I thought the best thing to do was to hide it, avoid crying at all costs. To do that I would just have to act like I don’t care, pretend to be unmoved by any pain or suffering, or love including my own.  But that almost killed me. Because hiding my emotions and burying them was tantamount to killing myself and hiding myself under the carpet until I couldn’t keep it all in anymore.  All the pent up frustration, angers, disappointment, hurts had to come out somehow.

Then one day a kind soul told me something that saved my life.  There’s nothing wrong with you she said, you are allowed to cry, crying is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. What? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I am strong because I cry? Yes she said. But all this time since childhood I have been told never to cry, to stop crying, why are you crying, if you cry we’ll give you something to cry about and would be beaten up because of that so that I could have something to cry about. “Promise me you won’t cry” was always a promise I could not keep.

But this woman told me that crying means you are strong; because you are willing let go of control, to be vulnerable and to allow yourself to feel your pain,  and open up to the healing waters of tears. Really? Yes you are not weak because you cry, it’s not crying that makes you weak or feelings or emotions, it’s the opposite.  Really? Yes she said. When cry and feel  it is out of control it’s because you haven’t allowed yourself to cry for a long time and ultimately the system will collapse. There’s a reason for everything, and we have tears for a reason and that reason is for cleansing. Just as you wash your body every day to get rid of excessive dirt accumulated during the day, to be fresh, clean and rejuvenated  whether the dirt is visible to the naked eye or not,  so tears do the same for our emotional and mental well-being.  Kanti? I’ve been thinking that people who don’t cry are the strong stable ones but they’re not? No they are not any stronger or weaker than you, we all have our ways of dealing with stress, some are constructive and others are destructive, but our feelings and emotions including especially tears, are our inbuilt tools to help us release all kinds of tensions. Wow. I didn’t know that.

And I think many people in our country didn’t know that either: that it’s okay and natural to cry. We all reserve our tears for “special” occasions at funerals and at weddings.  Because we have been taught that must not be “too emotional” we  suppress our negative and positive emotions  until we can’t anymore keep it all in anymore and we lash out, through aggressive behavior, stabbing our neighbor, shooting our wives, raping children and infants, engaging in brutal acts of violence, hatred because we can’t feel anymore.  We don’t feel our own pain and therefore can never feel for another for their pain or loss or tragedy. We become callous, hard; we lack empathy because we have never allowed ourselves to feel compassion for ourselves first.   So then with dry eyes we walk around blind to each other’s pain and we bulldoze our way through situations, hurting each other in the most unimaginable ways  because we’re too afraid to stop and feel and cry. Why do we have such high crime rates in South Africa? Violent, brutal murders?  Raping infants, children, girls, mothers, grandmothers? Why are we blind to other people’s suffering and pain?  It’s because we don’t feel anymore. We’ve gotten so used to not caring. Because we don’t acknowledge our own pain and suffering, we don’t feel compassion to ourselves first, therefore we can never expect to feel for another person. We can say sorry, shame, too bad, but until you feel the pain you can never truly empathize with another.

To be empathetic with another does necessarily mean you must cry like me (that’s just how I am) but you must allow yourself to feel. Feel for another person, and you can’t feel for someone if you don’t feel for yourself. And if you truly feel for another it will show through action, you will do something not to hurt someone, to help where possible and maybe you will just cry with them where it isn’t. Heres the thing, people often say what’s the use of crying? It won’t change anything? But crying is not meant to change the situation or circumstances which are causing you pain. Crying is meant for you, so that you can release those negative emotions, so that compassion can replaced hatred, anger, feelings of revenge, of wanting to hurt someone because they have hurt you back. Crying softens your heart, because when you cry and feel the hurt and the pain, you are less likely to want to inflict the same pain to someone else. You become more compassionate with another.  You don’t wake up and say what’s the use of bathing, it won’t change anything when you wake up in the morning or after a hard days work. You wash everyday anyway because if you didn’t you know you will start smelling, collecting germs – eventually you end up looking like a hobo, someone who chooses never to bath. So you bath so you feel fresh. So you should cry to feel fresh emotionally and mentally.   But society has taught us crying is bad, so we suppress all the pain until we explode. Until the sadness, becomes pain, becomes anger, and becomes rage, a blaring furnace that is expressed through cruelty to everything and anyone. Most of the tension can be diffused if we cried a lot more. Because that softens the heart and we can think more clearly, better after we have cried.  Feel. Cry.  Many of these violent crimes are because we say and believe things like, I won’t allowthem to see me cry. Crying is for Sissies, I want them to suffer like I am to inflict the same pain on them and it becomes a vicious cycle.  Instead of acknowledging those feelings for yourself, the pain, the hurt, the anger, the disappointment and allow the tears to cleanse you of them. You do something that hurts you and the other even more.

Yes it’s not an exact science but I know that our emotions drive what we do, motivates us to change something, do something for ourselves or another. Without feelings we become callous robots. In-humane. So because we are human,  who feel all the time all manner of things, we need to constantly cleanse ourselves as we do to our physical bodies, by allowing ourselves to cry and be more balanced human beings. You don’t have to wait for something gruesome or violent or bad to happen before you can cry because many of those huge catastrophes can be avoided if we allowed ourselves to cry when we experience small little hurts.  We don’t need to pile it up until it becomes an irreversible volcano. Cry Baba, Cry brother, cry my sister. We cry not because we are weak but because we feel pain, we hurg, and that hast to be expressed by a biological self-help mechanism called crying, when you feel the sting allow the pain to come out in tears, that’s healing. That’s why it happens, your body says “this is so Hurtful it has to come out you can’t keep it in, that’s why you’re eyes tear up, it’s necessary. Cry. There’s no shame in it. It’s another way to show love.  Some of the strongest and most loving men I know cry. It doesn’t have to be public – just like you don’t take a shower publicly for all to see, but you do take a shower every day. It’s human, natural, like taking a piss or a dump. Honestly.

My mother tells me that I should never wish that I didn’t cry. She says being able to cry, release negative emotions through tears is a gift. Because it’s healing, it’s a good thing she says. Because many people wish so much that they could cry but their eyes are dry and that is a very sad thing.

Yes too much of anything is not good, and that includes crying, but if you asked me I’d say we don’t cry nearly enough in this country.

Cry My Beloved Country.

 

DAILY-LIFE AS PEFORMANCE

Long Live The dead Queen by Mary Sibande Pic: Arthrob
Long Live The dead Queen by Mary Sibande
Pic: Arthrob

A Couple of days ago I was invited to a gig at the Drill Hall downtown Johannesburg, opposite the notoriously crowded and busy Noord Street taxi rank.  We arrived fashionably late as always in time to hear the last band on the line up blasting its tunes to a half full glass gallery. It was strange to be out among former party people and friends.  The music performed by a new up and coming Afro-Rock-band BCUC, was too much to bear.  I stood between bobbing heads and watched as the band members sang their lungs out as if it were their last performance on earth.

FO MO…

Orange juice in hand, I went out to the balcony, for some air. The city streets offered some quiet room for idle contemplation.  Then Suddenly, as if listening to a documentary narration on the National Geographic channel I heard a beautiful baritone say, “Look at her, picking up, bag after bag, rubbish after rubbish, and no one is paying attention her, she does her work, quietly as if she’s performing” he mused and waited to let his words linger on the woman in blue overalls and a reflective jacket plastic bag in hand bending-over. “It’s a kind of performance.”   I searched for the voice with my eyes and found it coming from the mouth of the artist friend who invited us to join him on a night out to fend off a common condition among hip Jo’burgers called FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out.  I wondered if this woman, someone’s grandmother, mother or aunt, wife, sister, friend, thought the same about her work as a municipal worker for Pick-It-Up (a municipal refuse collecting service).  A performance. His languid narration brought to mind a memory from childhood.  Bear with me as I connect the dots.   Here’s the story:

EMAKHISHINI BABY…

Domestic work in township slang is called – emakhishini – a Zulu word meaning Kitchens. I knew that my grandmother woke up every day as early as four in the mornings to catch the train and go to work Emakhishini, a place I imagined to be a massive large kitchen full of dishes and plates and my favourite: Shiny silver pots, pans and all manner of utensils.  In my mind’s eye my grandmother would report to work and fall in line next to other women and begin the task of washing dishes all day as if in a factory until it was time to come home.  Then one day my grandmother told me the unthinkable she said “today I am going to take you to work with me”.  “Really?” I exclaimed with all the excitement and enthusiasm an inquisitive, I’ll go anywhere as long as we’re on the road nine-year old could master. “I will get to see the huge kitchen that you work in?” Yes she said. Oh boy was I excited, finally I would have a story to tell to the other kids when schools re-opened.  Since I was petrified of trains, we took a mini-bus taxi.  I must have pelted her with questions all the way from Soweto to one of Johannesburg’s leafy Suburbs. We arrived to a cream-white  house with a pool  and yes I was a little disappointed at the size of it, since I had imagined that it would be some place huge and magnificent. The moment I entered the space – I felt as if I was walking into a movie set. Two younger white children (toddlers) sat on the carpet floor watching cartoons amid a river of toys strewn everywhere. The Mother crisscrossed down the passage, kitchen and lounge while shouting orders to Lefina, my grandmother. “Stay here, and play with the children” My grandmother instructed me while she went in for more instructions from her madam.

After the Madam and her husband left the house for work, I followed my grandmother into the kitchen where I was confronted with the biggest shock of my life.

WEEK-END SPECIAL…

Still today as I write this I am still trying to figure out just what was going through my mind and how I rationalized my imaginary majestic silver kitchen with  the reality of what  “emakhishini “  work actually  was.  I still don’t understand why I was so shocked by what I saw. Pots, plates, dirty cups, mounds of plates with half eaten dried out food  and sauces, mountains and mountains of Tupperware, some even fell to the floor, whose cream-white tiles were covered in black soot; it was so disgusting my head spun. I had never seen a house as filthy as that kitchen in my short life, with the exception of the beer house at the top of our street. But even they managed to wash the dishes once in a while. I couldn’t understand how grown people could live in such filth for days on end. The day of the week was Monday. “Wow “I exclaimed “don’t these people wash the dishes? “ I asked my grandmother “So all this time, Friday, Saturday, Sunday they don’t wash the dishes?” Why? I asked her, “Because it’s my job to wash the dishes” She replied already starting to clear out the dizzying mess. “They wait for you? for the whole weekend??”  I asked. Yes she said “that’s why you’re going to help me” she said. I immediately wished I had never said yes to my grandmother’s invitation. I couldn’t think just where I would even start to help her, the kitchen was such a mess; it was as if a hurricane, coupled with a bloody world war had taken place in that kitchen. Plus in my imagination my grandmother never worked alone, how was I supposed to help her?  The prospect of having to clean up brought tears to my eyes which I tried  desperately to hide from mama.

THE SHOWER

My grandmother consoled me and told me I shouldn’t worry she would clean up the kitchen herself; I was to help her with one small favour she said. “It won’t take long, and then you can join the other children and watch TV” she said, we didn’t own at a television set at home.  She said I would like you to help me clean the bathroom baby as she led me to the shower.  She said see these tiles, they used to be white but now as you can see they are almost black, if you can scrub them clean for me you will have helped me a lot she said as she cleaned one corner of the one inch by inch white tiles whose ridges had become black from decay and grime in demonstration. “Every single one of them?” I asked my heart sinking with each syllable. “Yes my baby” my grandma said with such a sweet pleading voice, I couldn’t disappoint her. The minute she left the bathroom I started crying, as I scrubbed every inch of that shower as if it were the last thing I would do. I had been in that bathroom for-ever, when my grandmother arrived and told me I had done a sterling job, better than she would have she said. “Now come eat and look after the other children” I followed her to a transformed kitchen, as if an angel had come and did a miraculous make-over. I was proud of my grandmother. But I missed her more, she had disappeared into the children’s bedroom and was now ironing their clothes,  she looked so lonely and alone I had never missed someone alive standing right in front of me like I did then. I lost all and any respect I had for white people. I resented how my grandmother told her madam how well I had scrubbed the bathroom making it look almost brand new. She was so proud. The Madam smiled at me, but all I wanted was to go home, with my grandmother to our little house with music and radio stories at 7, where she didn’t have to wash mountains of dishes.

Life as performance…

Maybe I have trouble with the idea because of that experience. Because I know that my grandmother was not engaged in some form of artistic Performance for the benefit of galleries or artists bored with their lives looking for a muse or inspiration.  It was not a performance scrubbing those tiny little tiles inch by inch.   The artists’ job is meant to challenge the norm, reveal new perspectives, ways of seeing the other but I suppose I have a problem with easy fantasies and eloquent conclusions.   I have a problem with world-renowned artist Mary Sibandes’ Glorified “Sophie” character in her critically acclaimed work “Long live the Dead the Queen” a domestic worker – maid – dressed majestically in regal, aristocratic, stoic yet still domestic uniform. I had never truly understood why until now.

Here’s the thing…

While I admire Mary Sibandes’ work and artistic talent and vision: I am just simply tired of efforts to try and glorify abusive behavior in the name of art.  I am just simply tired of being forced to make do, accept the inhumane working conditions which are simply put – an act – of continued slavery perpetuated by both the former colonial masters and increasingly the new African black bourgeoisie or middle class.  I simply just can’t stand it anymore, to watch and listen as people pontificate, subvert and what not with what is essentially people’s lives.  Here’s the thing, I don’t look down on Domestic work, or people who do this type of work. It is work. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning people’s homes and offices who can’t do it themselves, there’s nothing wrong with working as a municipal worker for Pick It Up, picking up refuse, cleaning the sewage etc. – work is work and as some would say, “someone has got do it” Restoring order in chaos is a talent, a skill which includes – all the skills required for you my learned friend to land that plum job at that corner office. Time management, organizational skills, project management, conflict management, people skills, culinary skills, child care abilities etc. So those who do this type of work must be paid and compensated with salaries consumerate with their skills, experience and hours spent at a job.   I think it’s high time that domestic workers are paid a living wage, and no that does not amount to the 150 bucks you spend on a dinner in a restaurant.  Domestic workers must be paid real wages,   close to what you would expect to be paid for a day’s hard labour.  A minimum of 6 -10 thousand rand a month, for picking up your soiled panties that you leave lying around or the tread marks of last night’s dinner that  you neglected to use a toilet brush to remove.  If you want someone to clean up after you and wipe your cute little behind you must be willing to pay and pay well for work well done, otherwise don’t patronize people by expecting them be grateful, for the change you give them for a full day’s work. If they need training, you as the employer must foot the bill, send them for further education and skills and pay them what they are worth. So that they too can plan ahead, advance their lives, send their children to school, buy a home, have choices and not live from hand to mouth in perpetual slavery to you.   Respect is not a platitude of fake smiles, hand me downs, hug and fake benevolence. Show respect by paying people a decent salary. Pay them money so that they can buy the clothes they want to wear, not some hand me down clutter and rubbish you pull out from your wardrobe and dump it on them because shame they are so poor. You must pay; otherwise learn how to clean up after yourself.  There’s no shame in domestic work, the shame is from you, you must feel ashamed that you expect someone to clean up your shit and then turn around and spit on them by disrespecting them and looking down on them.  You must be ashamed because you know you wouldn’t, would never do what you expect your domestic worker to do at the price you pay them.  (Please don’t say that’s why I went to school and got an education crap, you should know better by now, surely)

There are countless examples of people around the world who make money from organizing people’s homes and offices doing the cleaning, the dusting etc. There are even shows about it. And you expect “Sophie” to do it for free for you, giving her just enough money for transport and brown bread.  You are a slave-master. If you insist you must not complain when it’s not clean enough to meet your very high standards, you get what you pay for. Empowerment does not begin with some government policy or legislation, do the math oh you educated one and tell me if you could “live” on the pennies you give another. It’s not rocket science; failure to do this is slavery. It means you too are part of the problem not the solution. Start by recognizing that, that woman who cleans your house is a human just like you.   And treat her as you demand to be treated by your employers, give her the benefits you so righteously deserve too. Then maybe you can afford to “care-less” about their personal “issues”.  Anything  less than that is pure slavery.

Life is not a GOD-DAMN performance! Even that you pay good money for.

 

CHANNEL O-OH! AFRICAN VIDEO AWARDS AND THE VIP SYNDROME

Nigerian R&B duo P-SQUARE, doing their thing at the 2013 Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown Soweto.
Nigerian R&B duo P-SQUARE, doing their thing at the 2013 Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown Soweto.

“Gloom and despondency have never defeated adversity. Trying times need courage and resilience..” Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, 2008 September Presidential  Resignation speech.

The Fairy-Tale

Let’s just say I was a fish out of water. I traipsed through the darkness over the railway line in 6 inch thin Wedges to get to the other side of the tracks in order to arrive at the entrance of the Tenth Annual Channel O African Video Awards in Kliptown, Soweto.  I was there at the invitation of Mr Bob Nameng, director of the Soweto Kliptown Youth Centre (SKY) in old Kliptown. The center featured prominently during the show part of  Channel O social responsibility initiatives. The channel build a music recording studio at the center to help train aspirant musos and the youth of Kliptown  some years ago.

At the entrance I received my orange tag, tightly tied around my right wrist and was swiftly greeted by two crew members one of whom informed someone via the intercom that “We have another screamer” coming in. I asked one of them “screamer? What does that mean?” I soon found out at the entrance to the main venue when I was asked for a card or ticket which I didn’t possess. “Wait here” they said seemingly confused about where I should go.  After I was let in and showed to the “screamers” section I realized what the confusion had been about. I was not dressed like the “screamers” – a word which here is meant to describe die-hard, star-struck largely young(er) people who would stop at nothing to see their favourite artists up-close and personal and so are placed standing around the stage to shout and scream at the performers throughout the live show.  I was with those guys that the “stars/performers” shake –hands with on stage, who they throw their pieces of clothing or accessories to. Some did too, a pair of sunglasses and a hat were thrown to the “beloved” screamers “without whom the artists would not be the stars they are” (sic) 

I laughed at my own presumptuousness. I had actually asked for a chair, but realized that my orange tag only afforded me standing room in a cage –like – Kraal among screaming fans.   Seated on the gallery were Very Important People (VIPs):  the stars, musicians, artists, performers, Music industry leaders, managers, producers, the media with their wives, friends etc.  I even spotted  Randall Hall, the famed Idols judge whom everyone loves to hate, sitting in the front row seats at the gallery his demeanor unchanged from what Idols audiences have become used to.  I had been spoiled by the “perks” of being a member of the press, though admittedly I have never in the past (nor presently) used my press card to gain access to events I was not assigned to cover or invited to. Tonight I was here as myself – Jedi Ramalapa – and that only provided access to the fan section – which in production terms is equivalent to the role of an extra, without benefits (food and refreshments).

THE SHOW…

After I settled into my standing “Screamer” position and taking pictures with fellow screamers. I took out my notebook with a view to writing about the Awards from a very different perspective.  Soon darkness descended inside the Marquee erected on Walter Sisulu Square of Remembrance as the countdown to the live show began.

Fire-works, Lights, Stage Smoke erupted around the stage which lite up the dome in a spectacular fashion. The fire works though were dangerously close to the “screamers” raising  alarm from my side about our safety. Soon   Red, Green, Yellow and Red laser lights blitzed, whizzed on the stage revealing two statuette-like figures of two well-built men, who were to be the main MCs for the show. Naeto Super C and AKA, names and faces which were until that very moment were unknown to me.

BLACK & GOLD

The fashion theme for the show was overwhelmingly black and gold. Black Military-esque outfits, suits, body hugging evening dresses for the female presenters and Vjs embellished with thick gold chains and an assortment of jewelry from tooth to toe.   The show was fast-paced and I soon discovered the advantageous position I was in as I could see the performers up close and also had a view to the scripts they were reading through the tele-prompter.  From my standing position one could observe the demeanor of the performers and presenters as they propped themselves up for a cue to action and read from the set-script.  Many of them improvised, made up their own words as they went along and some did a poor job of reading which meant that had I been sitting on the main gallery, I would not have had a clue of what they were saying.   The stars read as if spitting a rap tune, but I understood this as they were in-fact artists who are more often than not prone to go off the script and perform whenever the mood arises. No one is perfect.

“I am just one poor woman among millions, in their name I want to greet a freedom fighter”   Belgian Woman to Patrice Lumumba following his release from prison and arrival in Belgium.

THE ASS (ET)   FACTOR.

What I found most interesting (read disturbing) about the show was the prominence and dominance in all music genres of male artists. Female artists were mostly supporting acts – dancers who gyrated half-naked, limbs in the air, massaging the floor with their thighs and buttocks in half-twerking-twists and splits behind King-Like- Male artists. My fellow screamers were in heaven. The women among us faked fainting and made comments to the tune of “he looks so delicious” – all is equal in love and war.  The Men wanted to leave “ let’s go and have a drink somewhere”  It was indeed a live show  true to what Channel O music videos are about –  the trusted old script of the Male lead supported by half-naked gyrating women behind them. It made me think about what it is in fact that make male artists more “successful” or prominent, hard work, less time looking after the family? Fraternal brotherhood?  Has nothing at all changed? I suppose women aspire to be background dancers because that is what popular culture sells to them, advertising excessive sexuality on the dance floor as a way to get in, be seen and admired by men and envied by other women.  I have often had my doubts about whether or not it would be prudent to force commercial entities such as Multichoice which owns Channel O to provide “diversified” forms of entertainment  thinking that it would be better for us to do our own thing on the side.

But “we” independent artists who function on the fringes of the mainstream do not have the platform, and one can’t influence popular culture if we don’t go were young people are – which is the Channel O and  MTV’s of the world. So how do we change? Change does take place yes, is taking place, but at a much slower pace – ultimately we’ll have more young people aspiring to those forms of entertainment as career options than we’d have true artists who have a real message  or craftsmanship. Independent artists need to infiltrate the established mainstream ultimately. How?

The performance by South African DJ Ganyani of her hit song  Chibombo  ( a former supporting act for Thembi Seete of  Boom Shaka) was perhaps the only powerful female  led performance act, which brought to mind images of the late 80’s singer Paul Ndlovu   and Brenda Fassie in one tiny package.  Admittedly non-gyrating-fully clothed male and female music duos received a resounding reception from the audience particularly a performance by The Soil. The audience stood up to sing with the artists word for word.  Mafikizolos’ 2013 hit song “Khona” also received a  warm reception as it brought the show down to a close with more fireworks, dancing Africans, stage smoke and confetti, to a spectacular close. Even the ever popular Alingo –  by the Nigerian duo P-Square;  which got me moving one Sunday afternoon, though popular did not  generate the massive support. It was altogether a night for South African artists, which also made me wonder where the  African(ness) was in the awards.

All things being equal, I imagine  that  certain sections of the public are also slowly getting tired of the male on top type music videos and are also looking for performances that are much more substantial – though the latter still dominates.

Michael Jackson was alive at the Channel O African Video awards, with almost all dance choreography mimicking the pop-legends infectious moves. This is also true to worldwide mainstream dance acts from Beyoncé to Chris brown. The show left me wondering if this generation has anything “original “to offer? Perhaps it’s time I considered adjusting my expectations.