TRUST YOURSELF: SA ELECTIONS 2014

Trust Yourself.
Trust Yourself.

I WISH I COULD TELL YOU IT GETS BETTER WITH AGE.

Last night at dinner my teenage brother started giggling and smiling widely exclaiming “ah teenage problems!”  While fiddling on his phone. I looked up from my plate of rice curious to find out what the source of such an “adult” statement was. “You know” he said looking at me with a bright smile. “Yes…?’ I asked quizzically. “You’ve watched enough movies on this subject” he said.  “Teenage crushes?” I guessed.  He nodded in agreement. “I wish I could tell you it gets better with age” I replied with a sigh. “I know. It doesn’t” he replied with confidence while shaking his head from side to side and returning to his mobile phone where the real action was happening.

CRUSHED: CRAZY, STUPID,  LOVE

This conversation is a good analogy for what I have been thinking about for the past few days, months and maybe even years. I think it also serves as a good example for the state we are in as a nation. There’s so much at stake for a teenager with a crush. It’s very awkward, all-consuming, the most important thing in your entire life, and the subject of every conversation or secret diary entries, endless doodles on desks, skin, paper, in fact any surface. I mean a crush is a serious thing. And can get friends, families and teachers even the entire community involved.  But there is one element about crushes which I want to highlight in this conversation. Crushes do by their very nature almost always, with very few documented cases, cast a negative focus on the beholder of the crush, a self-imposed negative  self-image not based in reality.  The person who has a crush on the other does not feel worthy of said object of affection.  The person one has a crush on assumes a Godly, Idolized status in one’s eyes and can never do wrong. They are holy, perfect and indestructible. Even all the things that would make a sober person  a little circumspect  are cute to the one with a crush. Crushes as I am sure we can all remember – can be quite painful and humiliating,  a source of much scorn, embarrassment and jokes at school or at home. It’s generally a painful state to be in – being in a crush. It is simply not sustainable: it’s a place of enormous tension and struggle especially within the mind and heart of person with a crush. Should I tell or shouldn’t I, does s/he love me?  Does s/he love me not?  Should I write to them? say hello? How? When? What will they think? Oh is s/he looking at me? Oh my GOD s/he smiled at me! Oh No it was for someone else etc. Until one finally gets to the conclusion that: “I can’t keep these feelings in anymore!!!”  Something has to be done.

A FORK IN THE ROAD

In order for something to happen (for action to take place), one must make a decision, a choice.  One must choose between knowing (if the crush feels the same way?) or not knowing (deciding not to pursue the issue) remain stagnant.  Sometimes, as in a fork in the road, the choice or decision is by all accounts and purposes not an easy one to make. As in a crush, the decision is daunting and has consequences one invariably does not wish to confront: you discover your crush likes someone else, does not feel the same way about you, considered you for a split second and decided you’re not worth the trouble, doesn’t even know you exist, uses you and discards you or worse they like you too and have been just as afraid as you were to tell you – so what now?  The consequences are so grave they can make one freeze, in a state of panic unable to make a decision either way. So how does one know how to make a decision that would have the best outcome for all concerned, especially you?

CONSULT YOU: WHAT DO YOU THINK?

I have been thinking quite loudly about my decision-making processes over the last decade. And I have made a startling discovery. Many of the decisions I made, I used “someone else”as the reason.  I made someone else take the “fall”, I made someone else the main reason or foundation on which to base that decision. i.e. I came back to SA because I wanted to be with my mother or my mother missed me;  He or she didn’t love me, like me, wasn’t there, didn’t support me, I didn’t have money, it was too hot, my sister said so, they chased me away, she said she needed me etc.  All of the reasons given most probably are valid and true but ultimately it is not my mother or anyone else who made the decision. I chose to come back. I made the decision to book my ticket and took all the necessary steps to make that decision a reality. I simply used my mother as a mitigating/aggravating circumstance among other reasons in my argument. What is startling for me is that I didn’t realize how afraid I had been of making decisions and being personally held accountable to myself for the consequences that came with them.  My mother may have given some advice, provided some support, influenced my decision but she did not by any stretch of the imagination force me or could not force me to leave or to come back. I was the one responsible for all my decisions and consequently the actions and reactions that occurred after that.

But it’s easy to have someone else to blame other than yourself. In fact  it’s comforting to know that there’s another person who will take the fall or stand with you or by your side for decisions you took or failed to take  on your own behalf. It’s harder to say yes, I alone and no one else did it, and I alone and no one else  will accept all the consequences that come with my choices/actions. I stand by my decision. Instead of owning up and being accountable we look for any and every reasonable argument to take the decision process out of our hands. We want to “share” the responsibility of making decisions at best or simply abandon  the responsibility altogether by making someone else in one way or the other make the decision for us  and ultimately be the one(s) responsible for the state we are in.  She said, he did this, they didn’t do that, so I did this because of that.

I based my decisions on what I thought others wanted, desired, or expected of me, hoping to please them. It all came from a genuinely good place, I honestly meant well, and thought I was doing what is “right” and responsible.  However noble and understandable my reasons were/ are, the truth is,   I am, was and always will be the one who decides.

MAKE ME AN OFFER I CAN’T REFUSE.

So I have been speaking to voters during the municipal by-elections held in  KwaMashu KwaZulu Natal this week. I asked them as they walked out of the voting booth – why  it was important for them to vote.   Their initial responses  obfuscated any form of responsibility:

Q: Why was it important for you  vote today:

“I don’t really know why it’s important to vote– but I vote because it’s important, they say it’s important” said one IFP member.

“It’s important to vote because I will get a house, and all my needs will be met” said a mother.

“I’m not really sure why I vote really, because nothing has changed in my life, I just know that I have to vote, why I don’t know” said a pregnant widow

On further probing… Q: Why was it important for you to vote today?

“ I voted because I need a job, I work part-time jobs, sometimes there’s no work for long periods, I am a father with children I have to support, so I’m voting so I can get a job, I vote for those I think will help me” said the IFP member

“ I think if you vote you will have services delivered to you. Like now I’m waiting for a house, I don’t have a house I live in a room with three people so If I vote I stand a better chance to get what I want” said the mother

“ I think I’m voting to promote those already in power to higher position in office, actually that’s what my vote is good for I think” said the pregnant widow.

TRUST YOURSELF.

It is  not always easy to know whether one is making the right decision in a state of a crush. One only knows that a decision must and should be made. When it comes to voting one has the luxury of openly and  without shame  blaming someone  else  for any negative outcome . They become the fall guy, the ones who are ultimately responsible for the x you made on the ballot paper.  So whatever the outcome, whether you get that job, or the house or the person you voted for get’s the position they wanted – they will ultimately forever remain responsible for the state you are in good or bad, because you gave them the power to decide what happens to you. If you get what you were hoping for,  you can be happy because you made the decision that proved to be of benefit to you.  But there is no way of knowing the outcome without making a decision.

What I am learning from this  teenage-adult-in-crush-state  is that they are ultimately necessary, to teach us to learn to make decisions both collectively and individually. You learn with each crush that it will pass, that the passion you feel however all-consuming in the moment  will be history one day, you learn that there will be others who have a crush on you too, and you will also have to break their hearts sooner or later. You learn that a crush is not love, it’s a momentary infatuation that is here today and gone tomorrow. You learn that  love is built on friendships with  people you can actually talk to about all your “crushes”, who will make jokes with you and still look at you like you are magic even when you are in the throes of making a fool of yourself. You learn that love is equal, is a negotiated agreement which is not one-sided. You also learn that crushes are necessary because they can and often do show you what is really important to you. You learn that in the end you are the most important person in your life, and those who are important to you only want you to be happy, to see you being the best of who you are, and you learn that you cannot be the best  of you until you decide for yourself what it is that is ultimately the best for you.  The more crushes you experience in your life  the more you learn, to listen carefully to you,  to carefully consider all available options with openness, you learn to whether the storms (remain still in the noise). You learn that the only thing that is constant is change. You learn also that change – is an important, essential ingredient for any and all  GROWTH to happen.

So trust yourself – you are more than capable of making the best decision for you. Because you know what… only  YOU  can do that.

 

 

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ERROR: MIND YOUR LANGUANGE(S): NKANDLA IS BEAUTIFUL!

THE WEEK THAT WAS:

For two days last week I reported from the front-lines on what many in the media call Nkandla-Gate. But in reality I have been standing on the side of the road leading to South African President Jacob Zuma’s Private Homestead in Nkandla, in the KwaZulu Natal Province on South Africa’s East Coast.   You can see the house a kilometre or so from the road which the president constructed to make his 3hectare home easily accessible by road.  But what you don’t hear about Nkandla in the media is how beautiful it is. The luscious green rolling hills, blue skies and wind-swept landscape is breath-taking. The exquisite quiet and serene atmosphere seems to slow the ticking clock down as if silently saying: here everything is well and in order.  School children, goats, donkeys and cows all stroll languidly on the main road in no rush to go anywhere in particular. Chickens feast on abandoned plates of livers at a nearby Chisanyama (meat barbeque). It is an Idyllic rural landscape surpassed by none I have had the pleasure to visit. The environment is so fine that even South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance’s youth league leader  Mbali Ntuli couldn’t help but exclaim “It’s Beautiful! Though!” to her delegation which included an alarmed DA’s National Spokesperson Mmusi Maimane who asked her softly “do you really think so Mbali?” This was after all a scene of a heinous crime, Nkandla. The party has just laid eight charges against President Jacob Zuma on Thursday. They want President Zuma impeached and held personally liable for monies spent upgrading his unassuming kingdom. This comes after the country’s Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela on Wednesday released a report which found that South African president Jacob Zuma materially benefited from (none) security upgrades at his private residence which were initially projected to cost 27 million rands when the project started in 2009 but ballooned to more than 200million to date.  The Public Protector said without a hint of humour in her voice that “what started as a humble project to upgrade security ended up becoming a project to build a township”.

Tax-payers money or Public funds were irregularly used to renovate President Jacob Zuma’s private residence which was declared a National Security Key Point to expedite more security installations.

WHAT WE CALL GRASS ROOTS

The day the public protector Thuli Mandonsela released her report I was doing some kind of a door to door campaign myself, speaking to President Jacob Zuma’s neighbours, telling them what was going on and asking for their opinions. Most of them didn’t see what the fuss was all about. “He is the president, he deserves to live in a house better than ours, how can you question the president? He is the president. I’m not president.” Said an old man who has been living in Nkandla with his wife and 11 children for more than 30 years. “What’s wrong if the president builds a house, we see it, it’s beautiful and it makes us happy to see progress: are you suggesting that the president must come and build my house too? I am happy here, we have water, look we farm, we have livestock even though the drought has killed our crops for two seasons now. We can’t blame Zuma for the sun! All we can do is to be grateful for this life and just wait till the good lord decides to take us. You can’t hate someone for his God-given talent, that’s what God gave him and you can’t fault him for that” He said. I tried mentioning the money but he interjected “would you ask your neighbour where they got the money to build their house from? Would you? So? It’s none of my business where he gets his money. It has nothing to do with me”. His wife who was standing by the fence listening to the conversation volunteered to share her views on the matter.” I’ve lived here since I got married” She offered “then,   there was nothing in this village but since President Zuma came back we see things getting better and better, now we have a road, now we have schools and a clinic, grants for pensioners, things we didn’t have before. We have electricity, we have water.  We don’t see any fault in what he is doing building his house because we have seen what changes he has brought here, change doesn’t happen all at once simultaneously,  we have to wait our turn, we hope that one day his good fortune will extend to us too ” she concluded.

HOW CAN A THATCH ROOF HOUSE COST 215MILLION?

They were not the only ones who held this view. “What do you see wrong with the house? It is just a simple thatched roofed homestead, there’s nothing fancy there. Nothing to it. The president has built his home the Zulu way, it’s how we build our homes too and please you tell me what is wrong with that?” they asked one after the other.  I told them there are features to the house such as swimming pool, a helipad and amphitheatre they can’t see from the road side. But they wouldn’t have it.  Some even looked at me blankly as if I had gone completely mad when I told them how much money was spent on building the President’s beautiful home. “How can a house with a thatched roof cost 215million? Ihhaba lelo Impela. It’s an exaggeration. They shook their heads one after the other, Ihhaba  lelo. Indlu yotshani Ayikwazi ukubiza imali engaka.  A house with a thatched roof can’t cost so much money. “Amanga” It’s lies. It became clear that I had my work cut out for me. “If the president uses tax money to build his home… what does he do with his salary? I mean he earns a salary every month” Mr Shezi who I found sitting under a tree opposite the satellite police station wondered at me. “He earns a salary every year, millions, so what does he do with his money? What does his salary do?” he wondered to the distant hills. “It’s just lies sister, because the media lies, I don’t believe what the media says, they make things up all the time. I don’t believe it” He said.

MIND YOUR LANGUAGE AND TELL A GOOD STORY

I have been to two African National Congress (ANC) campaign events in the President’s hometown province. On both occasions the President was the guest of honour.  At one of those events held at the University of Zululand, President Zuma was honouring his friend and little known fellow Robben Islander, Riot Mkhwanazi. He announced that a stretch of road in Zululand will be named after his friend and to prove he didn’t come empty-handed, a fridge was wheeled into the auditorium, “this is to make sure that if you want a cold one you can get it” he said to him. Throughout his two to three-hour long speech he never once uttered a word in English. He told stories surrounding time spent with his good friend in exile. This is where I discovered the magic of President Jacob Zuma. He is a consummate storyteller. He has a sweet tongue and a way of communicating in isiZulu that makes sense. He sounds sober, considered and completely charming when he speaks his mother tongue. In fact he is someone you can trust.  He comes across so sincere and honest that you almost can’t fault him. He sounds like a man worthy of his word. President Zuma was the chief of the ANC intelligence operations underground for the party’s armed wing Umkhonto WesiZwe or MK.  So he is not as many would like to believe stupid.  The president knows what he is doing and how to play the game. He has the right speech prepared for everyone but his best speeches are in isiZulu which is so immaculate it borders on being perfect. And this is where the break down happens, between the middle class which is well-educated and pays taxes and the people living in rural areas governed by a Chiefs or  Amakhosi under whose traditional leadership they must abide. There are ways of speaking to the elderly, there are ways of talking and even criticising leaders that are understood based on the dominant hierarchy. Everything and everyone has their place and under this traditional system. Here there are no “constitutional rights” only laws which govern kings and servants.

So while Thuli Mandonsela’s report is damning on President Jacob Zuma’s character…the timing for the release of the report, contrary to ANC’s protestations works in favour of President Jacob Zuma and his campaign for re-election come May 7th. Because at least in Nkandla and in KwaZulu-Natal, this report is only just lies, an exaggeration on the grandest scale. A political campaign by all concerned including the public protector to discredit the President ahead of the elections. “They never probed Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela’s homes why? It’s because we’re heading to towards the elections that they come and make trouble. We will vote for Zuma, he’s been with us through thick and thin.” Said one woman.

At a fresh produce market adjacent to the police station women sat selling fruit on bare tables. They were suspicious of us. “oh you’re here because it’s elections!” they exclaimed unwilling to give interviews. “Poor Mongamenli (leader)” exclaimed one trader paging through a daily Zulu Newspaper “every day all you see are pictures of his house, Nkandla this, Nkandla that, they just won’t let him go” she said putting her hands on her head in mock horror. “we are all suffering here, we live in rural areas we are all not having a great time” said one man in blue overalls peering out of darkened doorway “what do you want to know? Zuma loves his country, that’s all I can say” a cynical smile spread across his lean bearded face “when he invites to his parties, we all go and drink and be merry. No problem. He comes out dressed in his traditional gear, he dances for us and all is well. They must just leave him alone. “Some people are afraid to talk” offered a boy in school uniform quickly adding “I know nothing”

I KNOW NOTHING.   BRUSH UP ON YOUR ENGLISH MAN!

Why. It felt as if there was some kind of conspiracy. It seemed to me impossible that people knew nothing as they so easily claimed. I couldn’t accept this. Yet I could not force people to speak either.  Everywhere I went, people were talking, whispering, but the words were empty. Hallow. Why. The radio was playing at full blast at the Chisanyama. The young proprietor sat outside under the shade listening to Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela as she delivered her report. She was indeed eloquent, soft-spoken. Her authoritative whispers blended very well with the slow quiet green landscape in Nkandla, her voice hovered patiently over the hills in harmony with a cool gentle breeze as if she was God. Yet even I found it hard to follow her delivery of the summarized version of her 400 odd page report which took two years to compile in the midst of the humid sun. She has perfect diction, her grammar immaculate she can’t be faulted with her command of the English language, a perfect mix of beautiful and cute. I wished I studied law, literature, economics, I wished I was all-knowing.  I listened, I heard, I understood each word. But what does it mean? I was searching for meaning with every sentence she uttered. I would have to read it to fully comprehend I, I thought to myself.  Yes my editor was right I needed to brush up on my English. But if I (and I may not be a great example here) could not fully comprehend everything Ms Madonsela was saying, how was everyone else doing?  I listened to the Zulu Summary at the end of the broadcast and found glaring gaps. “What is intela? (Tax) “One woman asked another at the fresh produce market “everyone must pay it” she responded “have you paid intela?” she asked in isiZulu. They all looked at each other. No one had paid tax amongst them, therefore they could not understand – what is meant by tax, public funds or how government works. And most critically they did not know where all the money comes from? If you have never drafted a budget in your life, your understanding of what budgeting actually means would be limited. It will forever remain something that other people do, that is ultimately of no relevance to you. Which means you will have no real sense of what goods and services actually cost – how much you spend on what and how. But perhaps they did understand and were – like everyone, from the police to the opposition party, in Nkandla – just playing their role in this elaborate stage play called Nkandla-Gate. I found myself feeling annoyed. Because for the first time what I heard and what I saw, and what I read made no sense. I was lost in translation. Here in Nkandla English and isiZulu became foreign languages to me. The police man could pronounced my surname fluently. He is also from Limpopo. He knows of my father’s village. . The president is not seen a Public servant, a custodian of public’s trust and well-being, but as a King… who can tell this one to go there and he goes or this one to come  here and he comes.  Had Thuli Mandonsela delivered her report in at least two official languages isiZulu and English, would that have made any difference to what people in Nkandla knew? Would it change their understanding of the meaning of the word President? Good governance. Public? Would they be critical? “You know” they said pointing at me “the media knows what is going on”. Would I be a better communicator if I brushed up on my English, and could use the correct word in the right context?

Suddenly I realized. All of it. Is simply a matter of Interpretation. The one with a better argument, not facts, wins.

“LIGHT AND FROTHY”: THE SERIOUS SIDE OF JOURNALISM

What's Coffee without Froth?
What’s Coffee without Froth?

A couple of years ago my best friends’ older sister asked me to do her a small tiny little favour, nothing much really. At first I was quite pleased because I thought finally she “spoke” to me. She was the kind of woman I wished I could be one day: smart, beautiful, sexy, independent, confident and sure of herself. In my eyes she had it all.

My friend on the other hand thought I was foolish to even wish that. She always used to roll her eyes each time I asked about her.  Anyway I thought her older sister was awesome regardless. But all that changed the night she asked me to do her this tiny little favour. As usual I was spending the weekend at my friends’ place and on this Saturday night we were not going out, but her sister was, and she was busy getting ready in her bedroom. After a while I heard her come into the room asking me to do her this tiny favour, something really small. Nothing really. “Please, please Jedi, just this once, I know you can do it Jedi”. I was quite dumbfounded, she had never asked me for anything before. She barely spoke to me except to say hi whenever I came for a visit. “What?” I asked curiously. My friend was already upset with her sister for even daring to ask me to do that. She kept saying “no Jedi you’re not going to do that!”  Do what? I asked now growing more concerned because my friend was getting more and more upset with her sister.  Her sister took my hand and pulled me towards her as if speaking to a long-lost friend she really cared about. She pulled me even closer and looked at me ever so sweetly I almost said yes without even knowing what she was asking for .”What is it” I asked as I brought my ear closer to her lips to hear her urgent request. “Please jedi, can you just fluff him for me?” she said her big brown eyes purring at me.  “Fluff him? Who? What is to fluff? I asked unsure about what she expected me to do. “Look he’s coming in now, just please fluff him for me quickly and then I’ll take over from there? Please?” She whispered desperately.  I looked over to my friend in total confusion. “What is to fluff?” I asked as she was pulling me into her bedroom pleading with me to come. “But what is fluffing?” I kept asking while reluctantly resisting her pulls.  “She wants you to play with her boyfriend, like turn him on, make him ready to have sex” My friend answered laughing and shaking her head. “What? I don’t understand” I said “that is fluffing? Why can’t you do it yourself he’s your boyfriend” I asked the older sister. “Please Jedi, I’m not asking you to have sex with him, just to make him a little horny, hard for me… please? “Huh? No I can’t. I don’t know how to turn a man on really” I said, incredulous that I was even entertaining the idea. I didn’t know how to even do what she was asking and never thought that people did stuff like that. “But you are beautiful and sexy I’m sure seeing you will be enough” I said. “Nooo” she protested “please he’s used to me by now and I don’t have time for that, like I said you don’t have to worry about a lot of things, he’s here just go and say hello for me?” Wow, I was in shock. “Don’t do that Jedi, she’s crazy” My friend  said shooing her sister off and telling her to go away and fend for herself.  My friend and I laughed together afterwards at the incident after they had left.

Of course it left me wondering why she thought I would say yes to such a proposal, why she didn’t want to do the work herself.  At some point I even thought that her request was a little flattering, she thought I was good-looking enough to turn her boyfriend on, but why on earth would she want that? In the end though I realized that whatever kind of relationship she had with this guy, ultimately she didn’t care about me or him.  She didn want to be bothered with spending time with him, and was willing to outsource the foreplay from a naïve girl like me, while she would just go in for the prize.  She was prepared to do just about anything to get what she wanted without having to compromise herself. Yes she was clever and very strategic. A woman who knew just how to get what she wants, and I almost fell for it  because I liked her and thought she was a nice person.

So what’s news?

This story would not make newspaper headlines unless the character’s involved where high-profile public personalities or politicians. This is the kind of story that is a nice to know, that kind of makes people buy the paper, listen to the radio, watch the news, but ultimately it is of no consequence to anyone’s life , it’s for gossip columns and office whispers. It is an inconsequential story, people might talk about it, tweet and facebook about it but it won’t change the world by any stretch of the imagination. This will be a tail-ender, a story at the end of a five-minute hard-news report to offer audiences something light and frothy to listen to. No one has ever won an award for light and frothy, colour , stories  (journalistic jargon).  They are not essential stories and would be the first ones to be dropped on any line up if a bigger story breaks, in other words they are not essential, just nice to have but one can do without them.

So for years I have been pushed into this corner of journalism, not by design or intent but because I am naturally creative; editors took  me for a lighty, a lightweight journalist. They consistently told me over and over again that ‘you’re good with colour pieces… you should  do colour, that’s your strongest skill” and would duly assign me stories that were considered light and frothy, which  required a certain level  of creative use of sound, words and language including voice.  So Funerals, Obituaries, Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Birthday Parties etc, became my staple diet when it comes to assignments. If there was a funeral – I would be assigned to do it, even after protesting that it had become too much for me – I would still be assignment to the same stories over and over again because ‘no-one else wanted to do it, and you’re good at this”. So out of frustration I left my job at the public broadcaster, because I so desperately wanted to untangle myself from the ‘Light and frothy” type of journalism. If all agreed that a story was boring, I would be sent to it because I would find a way of making it interesting.  Despite many attempts at trying other forms of journalism, those in charge of me would not change their minds about me, in their minds I would always be  the light  and frothy girl. I needed to find my own voice and re-invent myself.Instead of telling people I could do more “serious” stories I chose to “show” them.

As a freelancer I felt I could decide what stories I got to do, frothy or hard or a combinations of both  would ultimately be my decision to make and I would not be forced by someone else. Freelancing offered me the opportunity to negotiate as an equal with the editors  and not just “follow the orders”.  This weekend while on a light and frothy assignment; Durban was  attempting to break the world record of the most sandcastles built-in one hour.  Germany set a world record of 2,230 sand castles built-in 60 minutes in July last year.  South Africa however,  did not manage to break the world record, managing only 1,160 sandcastle in 60min. They had not done the calculations: how many people would we need to build say 1,231 sand castles in 60min? How many castles would we need to build per minute to achieve this goal?  How far should our water sources be in order for us to save time? etc. So though the company which organized the event achieved what they set out to do  ” a fun day in the sun for our employees” they did not manage to break the world record because they overlooked the details of what it would take to build record-breaking sandcastles.

One of the most hardest dishes for any chef to master  in the world of food is a perfect souffle. Whose excellence is judged having the perfect fluffy lightness that melts in your mouth. A perfect Souffle needs time, perfect planning, with all the tiny little details considered.

After looking down on myself for many years thinking I was “less” of a journalist because I was always given “light” pieces to do, I finally saw the light. And for the first time in my career I was genuinely grateful for a title that was a source of much frustration in my career as a journalist – being in the “fluff-colour-piece” corner.  For the first time I was grateful because by being in the fluff corner – I have acquired skills that I would otherwise not have had if I were a considered a ” high-flying-top-notch” journalist. Because it takes someone really strong, it takes a calculated person, who is both patient,  keen sense of attention to detail to appear light – or to produce lightness, everyday.   I was forced to think creatively everyday, how  can I tell an interesting story about watching paint dry? Hard news stories, often do not require much thought, you simply  just  tell it like it is.  Being forced to be creative, however, is probably the best gift that all those editors who frustrated me over the years gave me. So this is to say  THANK YOU.  Finally I recognize the power of lightness. It sharpened my ” thinking out of the box” skills, which have made me to be a unique  type of Journalist, unlike anyone I’ve met before. Basically in a  league of my own.

The simple things in life, are not always easy to master.

QUIET DIPLOMACY : MY SECRET LOVE AFFAIR WITH WEST AFRICA

30-LOVE

” You will look back at this and be proud of yourself, you will come out of this stronger and wiser” said my  older sister – looking lovingly at me in the plane. We were on an  early morning  South African Airways (SAA) flight  to South Africa from Senegal in what is arguably the most  extraordinary life-changing experience of my life.  I was surprised she didn’t  shout and scream at me  or ask  ” what were you thinking?!”  I was in tears, barely able to say a word without crying. She looked at me lovingly though with the kindness I didn’t think I deserved. She smiled and laughed with that sweet giggle that seems to go on forever… when I heard her laughing  I knew that everything would be okay … eventually. I wasn’t  crazy and I had not imagined things.  Having her sitting next  to me  eased my nausea.  I was so heartbroken  I was sure I was going to throw up  my heart, crushed to pieces like  shards of  glass in a pool of blood and gore all over the airplane’s floor – I was so hurt. I couldn’t for the life of me  understand how my best laid plans could have gone so horribly wrong.  Why I had to leave. Why my dreams came crushing down on me like the like the twin tours, on an ordinary Sunday.

We went through all the  different scenarios on the flight home. I kept going over and over what had happened. I had to make absolutely sure for myself that I had made the right decision to go home.  She assured me I had.  Still  I wasn’t sure that leaving Senegal, the country of my  re-birth  made  for a bright idea. But I had doubts, many doubts in fact about a lot of things and needed someone better skilled in the art of diplomacy and crisis management  to help me figure things out.

IN HER FOOTSTEPS…

I was there in part because of her, my sister.   She doesn’t know this because I’ve never had the courage to tell her. She was (is) my inspiration – she was (is) the reason I wanted to do TV reporting and not just on any old subject. But on the subject of African Politics or should I say the  Politics of Africa.  I used to watch her  religiously on  Television as she reported from one country after another. She would come back briefly, and I would joke with her  little just to see her smile or  offer to make her coffee just to be near her. I admired her work. I admire who she is. But she was always busy and always on the road. In the early 2000’s working as a radio journalist I often  read up on the Organization for African Unity ( OAU) the formation of the new body the African Union, the formation of  the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)  the PAN African Parliament,  South African Development Community (SADC).  And  tried as much as I could to keep myself informed about issues relating to Africa’s re-birth, though at the time I thought I had no practical use for the information. I always made a mental note to research any story or country she reported on. If I had an idol in TV  journalism she would be the first  Ms MS, then  Christiane Amampour  and Paula Slier.  She made journalism  beautiful, lyrical, a moving living, tangible history lesson. My love for her was intensified by a common vision and life purpose. It has been my best kept secrete love affair, until now, because I’m telling you.

So that is why when the opportunity presented itself back in  2011 to visit  Senegal in West Africa I did not hesitate.  Up until then I had not travelled to West Africa or Senegal and had no experience of the region. I called everyone but her  letting them know I was leaving.  I knew that the best way to learn anything is by doing (experiencing it) at least that has been the best way  I learn.  Though I had planned to  visit  Senegal  for a month-long holiday,  at the back of my mind I was prepared to stay for as long as possible and thus do some kind of “soft launch”of my free-lance  career as a  West African Correspondent. So I packed accordingly. I was prepared to give my all in pursuit of  a dream. Purpose.

WAAW!!!

The first six months were a whirlwind romance. I could not have hoped for a better landing.  It was full of exciting adventures  and nights filled with milk and honey on cloud nine. I mean I could not believe how beautiful the Senegalese  were. Inside and out. I found myself a new home, I loved the language, and enjoyed the general lifestyle, the tea, food,  dancing, the art, reggae, fabrics, fashion,  I didn’t have to wear a watch as calls to prayer would tell me exactly what time it was, fish and rice were abundant…the beach was always around the corner, the streets were a sight for sore eyes: colourful, bright and full of  well toned men with lean muscular bodies,  similarly tall skinny, well-shaped women in colorful dresses and elaborate hairstyles. There was a  gentle harmonious, peaceful rhythm to Senegal that made living and being alive there a pleasure.  I made a million and one radio sound-scapes and documentaries in my head.  I could step right out of my room into a cab or car-rapid, I could turn a corner and get tea or coffee at less than a rand a piece, airtime was being sold at all corners…fruits, vegetables everything I could think of was at my fingertips.  All of it made absolute sense to me. I was HOME. Even the things I would not ordinarily “agree” with or “accept” back in South Africa would not bother me so much here in my very own paradise.  Even their working hours – late nights – were more in tune with the natural rhythm of my physiology.

DOUBLE- SPEAK

South Africa and Senegal at the time still enjoyed a cordial diplomatic relationship even though relations had soured  bitterly  under former Presidents Abdoulaye Wade and  Thabo Mbeki  who were engaged in a  protracted  tug of  war over who had a better plan for Africa:  President Abdoulaye Wade with the Omega Plan  or Thabo Mbeki with the  African Renaissance.  Eventually it was agreed that both documents  which had slight differences be merged into  one plan  called the New Plan for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  A plan  which President Wade later  became one of its  fiercest critics accusing the body of wasting money in talk-shops  instead of putting NEPAD’s plans into actions on the ground in other words implementing, this despite him being a sitting chairman of  NEPAD.  Never the less South African citizens during this time did no require visa’s to enter the West African nation famous for its friendliness. Which is another reason why it was an easy choice for me.

SENEGAL CHOSE ME….

By February 2012, three months in the country I was working as a free-lance  journalist for  South Africa based media houses, I had already auditioned and landed the job anchoring a  Weekly current affairs TV show called E-mag on Radio  Television Senegalese (RTS). I was also working as a producer and anchor for a  local regional radio station, West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR)  funded by OSIWA. I was having a great time actually. I knew – despite the many  obstacles and challenges which faced me each step of the way, I knew in the pit of my stomach that  I was meant to be there.
Senegal Celebrates it’s Independence on the 4th of April – my birth date. We were meant to be.

I was just about to say “I do” when my mother called to say I should come home before I make any major decisions.  I agreed. And soon found myself back home in South Africa, unsure of  how to proceed with my vision. I found work  and decided in my heart that I would save up and let everybody know that I was going back.   I kept this dream alive everyday and  worked hard with a single-minded  focus of going back “home”. Making sure to plan everything better this time. The first time I went at the invitation of a friend – armed only with a dream in my pocket and nothing else.  This time would surely be better…

DARE TO INVENT THE FUTURE…

” Are we not cool with anyone?” A friend of mine, Visual Artist Breeze Yoko recently asked on his facebook page. He has just been selected to be part of this year Invisible Borders Trans- African  – an art led initiative, founded in Nigeria in 2009 by a group of passionate artists mostly photographers with a drive and urge to affect change in society though art. The artists  are meant to travel around the continent creating and thinking beyond borders.  Yoko lamented “South Africans need visas for almost all the countries on this continent. Out of 11 countries I’m passing through, i need a visa for all 11. What the fuck is that, are we not cool with anyone?  Nigeria – Benin – Togo – Ghana – Cote d’Ivoire – Liberia – Sierra Leone – Guinea – Senegal – Mauritania – Morocco. Then who are our friends, tell me who? In South America a lot of the countries don’t want a visa from us… but my own continent, why mara why?”

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE…

After Seven months of working in South Africa, I was finally ready. Already relations between South Africa and Senegal were  becoming quietly hostile.  And despite admonitions from home to refrain from going back to Senegal, I was intent on going despite what anyone said.  News of the 2008 Xenophobic attacks against African foreign nationals in South Africa were a hard pill to swallow for many Africans who still held the country in high esteem. But the Marikana Massacre in which more than 50 protesting miners were killed by police, left many stone-cold, and revealed just how much Apartheid had destroyed South Africa’s humanity, the nations’ psyche. We were not well. I couldn’t explain this on my arrival in January 2013 to my family in Senegal. Visuals of the killings were a common sight on many television screens.  But it was South Africa’s refusal to grant visa’s to 10 Senegalese journalists travelling to South Africa to cover the  Soccer confederations cup that broke the camels back. Senegal’s  newly appointed  President Macky Sall  wasted no time announcing that South African citizens  be required to apply for  visas to gain entry into the country. By then at least two South African women had been found dead under mysterious circumstances in Senegal.  The South Africa Embassy in Dakar warned.

MONEY TALKS

Nigeria – Benin – Togo – Ghana – Cote d’Ivoire – Liberia – Sierra Leone – Guinea – Senegal – Mauritania are all part of the 15 countries which make up the economic Commission of West African States or ECOWAS, which Senegal was chair.  I soon found out that South Africa had no  real economic (commercial – trade)  ties with Senegal, through an unfortunate banking problem.  French West Africa was not a priority for  South Africa’s economic /foreign strategy.  With no other common interest – including political solidarity – the only way to gain investment from South Africa ( seen throughout the continent as a wealthy nation) was is charge its citizens who wished to travel there an entry fee. Are you sure you want to come here?

France a long-time  investment partner with Senegal has now become South Africa’s 3rd largest trading partner  – taking away much-needed investment from Senegal which depended on its former benefactor.  Though the country is now diversifying its investment portfolio to include China and North America ( Canada and the USA).

BUT MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE…

The lack of money was the sole – main – reason I came back  the second time. In fact it was not so much the a lack of money  per se,  but a technical – red tape – problem of not having access  to the  money I already had. I had a cash flow problem which made trying to do  business (anything) in West Africa nearly impossible.  The South African Embassy …. turned me away when I went to  seek help. All I had been my passport. ” I’m sorry we can’t help you, we don’t make phone calls for people here, we cannot assist you with that” said the woman behind the glass  panel.   It slowly began to sink in, that if they could treat their own citizens like this, what about other Africans? I was persona non-grata. My South African friends had long turned their phones off. Numerous calls through banks to South Africa, brought no joy, they could not assist me with a small technical problem. ” You have to come into our offices….go to your nearest branch”. I am in Senegal West Africa – I repeated like a crazy woman for nearly two months only to be met with ” where is that? just go to your nearest branch.” There is no Standard Bank Branch in Senegal.

AT LEAST WE ARE STILL FRIENDS…

My Senegalese Brother’s and Sister’s held my hands in support, paid for my rent, bought me food, airtime and provided me with what they could to help me survive at great personal cost.  They remained hopeful, but the stress was tearing me apart and I didn’t want to see them suffer like that for me. So I decided to swallow my pride and concede defeat. Go back home to my nearest Standard Bank Branch.  In all my life I have never experienced love like I found lived and experienced in Senegal. Everyone from street trader to Bifal, contributed with a cup of coffee here, bus fare there,  to help me  survive on a daily basis. They loved and accepted me without any questions, loved me through thick and thin, and never turned me away even when they had all the power, ability and reason to. I learnt a powerful lesson about myself, my birth country in Senegal, that Power and Love Equals Peace. It was not Senegal or the Senegalese that let me down. It was my own country. South Africa that didn’t care or seem to care an inch about my well-being. I have thought things through and looked at my story from all possible angles, everything I did wrong, all my mistakes and all the subsequent events that followed from that and I always reach the same conclusion.  I guess hadn’t had the time to realize just how much that incident hurt me.I have been going through the motions of living ever since.

POWER + LOVE = PEACE

I love Senegal with all my heart. This land of the  Baobab, the Lion, of Milk and honey. This  the country made me more of who I was, and showed me my all weakness and  all my strengths and loved me despite  of what I could or could not offer.  With all my imperfections: they told me: you are strong, we believe in you, you can make it.  I honestly cannot think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I never knew love like this before.  No money in the world can ever replace the  life this place breathed into my lungs into my very being.

To quote French Writer and philosopher Anais Nin who once said :“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Three years ago I threw my dreams into space like a kite, and found all of the above in  Senegal.

“I do”.  Now and forever. You will always have a special place in my heart. Thank You for the love  and all the  hard lessons.

My sister was absolutely right!. I am stronger and wiser because of you.

Peace.

THE GLOW OF BLACK WOMEN

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”– Maya Angelou

Lupita Nyong'o  at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Lupita Nyong’o at the 2014 Academy Awards.

I have been more than a little disconnected from recent news and current affairs surrounding the commencement of Olympic Medalist   Oscar Prestorias’s murder trial and the film academy awards in Hollywood otherwise known to many as the Oscars. I have observed both news events on the periphery through status updates on Facebook. I have not had much time to think about the Oscars or Oscar Prestorius’ much publicized murder trial ( which I will not mention again in this blog) because I have been searching through the corridors of my mind for a way to become effectively… a “successful” human being.  I have been trying to figure out once and for all what it is that I love doing  actually so I can do that  and do it  so well  that people won’t be able to keep their eyes off me just like African-American writer Maya Angelou says.

I have been staring at myself in the mirror in an effort to unlock the answer.

Writing this down now makes me feel extremely vain and self-absorbed. This is something  which does not sit well with me, however I do find it a necessary exercise at this  stage in my life when I’m not exactly sure I know what I’m doing in it,  but then again who does?  So I have been meditating on how to make this life of mine work. I considered that if joy and fulfillment come from doing what you love then I should waste no time in  doing just that.

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?

It has also just simply dawned on me in the most crystal clear way now that; whatever challenges I’m dealing with in any given month become elevated and assume paranormal if not supernatural  importance in my life when I am in a pre-menstrual state or entering the menstruation cycle. I know that women in general myself included are quick to retort to those closest to them saying “don’t you dare say I’m pmsing!’  And though I will concede that some people do use that excuse against women at every opportunity.  I now truly believe that a major shift does take place within a woman around that time.  Often you don’t even know that you are pre-menstrual {over reacting} until the evidence arrives which makes finding creative solutions to manage the blood on the floor somewhat of a challenge. Having said that the menstrual cycle does not negate the validity of my concerns which are all very legitimate – what it does though is to make my response to them essentially primal. Issues which I would otherwise approach methodically in a calm, rational manner suddenly become uncontrollable tornadoes and epic tsunamis. Yes I have had to accept this as part of being a woman – we are creatures not unlike nature itself; nurturing, calm and beautiful one day and wild, moody, and unpredictable the next.  Yes I say this as we mark marking International Women’s day this weekend. I will no longer deny myself the luxury of PMSing. So this conversation with myself takes place within this context. The world will end any minute now if I don’t figure out just what I love doing and do it now, because after all everyone will surely benefit from such a grand epiphany and one more happy person will surely do the universe a world of good!

THE GLOW:  “God Please, Please, Make Me White”

Last night I had a chance to catch up on news and get updates on Oscar’s trial which though I haven’t paid much attention to has been hard to ignore ( I did say I won’t mention Oscar again, I won’t promise). Lupita Nyong’o Oscar win has similarly dominated all my social media channels, I just could not escape her.  Breath taking pictures of her draped in spectacular gowns on the red carpet suddenly threw me into that weird place where the only word I could find to describe myself in the mirror was – inadequate. Ah what have I achieved in my life? What have I contributed to this world that is noteworthy (am I not enough?)….oh here I go doing it again comparing myself to all kinds of people and judging my life based on someone else’s one night at the Oscars. Her  one  moment to shine after a gut-wrenching performance  (in the movie  12yrs a slave) and years and years of praying  and bargaining with God to “ please please, make me white, when I wake up in the morning”.  Finally God has approved. Lupita Nyong’os’ story has turned from one of self-loathing to one of self-love and public – international validation – with everyone singing in a harmonious chorus that says yes – you are worthy, yes you are beautiful Lupita! Though her skin may not have changed shades she has finally received the validation she’s always yearned for in the form  of an Academy Award.  God and all the white and coloured people of the world approve. But life continues and the next day she was pictured dressed in a neon bright oversized t-shirt a nondescript jacket, greenish blue jeans and flat shoes… her hair all messed up and straight from a recent perm. She is standing next to a man thought to be her Ethiopian/Somali boyfriend or brother ( the rumour mill is now well oiled with the latest on Lupita) holding the Oscar possessively next to her. She looked so ordinary, like a long-lost friend I suddenly felt like jumping through the internet and giving her the biggest warmest hug.  Pictures are but a split second freeze frame in a persons’ life, which makes photography such an amazing art-form.  One cannot in all honestly judge one’s entire life (or that of the person being pictured) based on a moment. That is totally crazy and yes completely irrational but it does not stop it from happening.  I suddenly thought about what one of my mentors said to me once, matter-of-factly. He won the title of best journalist of the year in his country (something close to a Pulitzer) after he broke a story which changed environmental laws in Norway and possibly even the world. After 50 years in the profession he says that award which he received aged 26, was the beginning of the end for him. How far would I go to win a prize or be validated….I wondered what am I prepared to sacrifice for a moment of glory on any  carpet?

THE WINNER TAKES ALL:“It was ALL DOWNHILL from there…”

He said. What do you mean? I asked. He told me that though there were study opportunities following a breath-taking year of publicity nothing nearly  as extraordinary has happened to him since – being the African Bureau Chief for his media house (country) was not much of an award for him.  He was effectively saying that winning that award was the end of his career in journalism as he understood it. I found his outlook on this and the concept of “award-giving” or life after winning quite intriguing. It made me think very carefully, deeply and again about why it is that I am still a journalist, why I am doing this job, writing even. What are my truest motives? Why am I doing it? What is the meaning of this that I am doing now, writing on a  Sunday Night? what is the point of  being journalist?   with so many of us doing it all the time in different ways, is my profession still relevant? to me? Am I still relevant? to you? How would winning an award change my life?  Do I want to win? Why?

The Oscar for those in the film world is like a Pulitzer for journalists or the Nobel Peace prize for note-worthy individuals of the world. What do you do after you’ve won an Oscar for the first movie you’ve ever acted in at 31 years of age? Two things, either you keep winning more and more Oscars every year or as my mentor said it’s all downhill from there. In Lupita’s case one hopes it’s the beginning of great things to come. She’s been raised by a strong woman, and has been through more than one Ivy League University, she has produced documentaries {investigating prejudice or discrimination based on skin colour},   she is a polyglot and the list goes on.  Perhaps now that the pressure for an Oscar has been taken off her shoulders so to speak she can relax into roles and movies she loves to do with less pressure and more time.

RISE AND SHINE!

Maya Angelou’s poem– Still I rise encapsulates the glow of Black women as realised in Lupita Nyong’os now iconic status in Hollywood – a moment never to be forgotten by critics and lovers alike.  I don’t think I have ever understood her lyrical poem quite so poignantly before. The glow of black women lies in the fact that no matter how badly we are treated – by all and sundry,  as slaves, caricatures, dolls, idols, sex objects, or as insignificant things to be tossed and turned, used and discarded at will. No matter what challenges are heaped, stacked on our door step for fun… just to “see” how much we can take – we still manage to smile, to love, to laugh, to give unconditionally, to be kind,  to forgive over and over again, to be generous and so understanding of other people’s inner and outer struggles even if those struggles make our lives much harder than they could ever imagine. We still manage to be ravishing while mopping the floor or cleaning up people’s underwear. Even when people don’t think, we’re beautiful, we still  rise everyday like the morning sun to claim our place in the centre of the world. Whether we’re acknowledged with awards or Oscars is neither here nor there. Because there is no one walking on that red carpet who hasn’t been loved, cared for, embraced, or served by a black woman in one way or another. There is no garment, diamond, shoe or skin that has not passed through a black womans’ hands. Black women do it all – lay down the whatever colour carpet you want to walk on, deck out  tables, cook  any meal at whatever time you want it, do the laundry,  look after  children. They council; tell you is beautiful, you is kind, you are great, you deserve good things, you are worthy, you are valid and valuable even if they have never  been told those words before – even if they have never received that love and understanding.  Even if they deserve all those things which you consistently denie them just as much as you do. They don’t complain even if  they have every reason to. I am in complete and total awe of black women, not only because they are black – but precisely because black women always Rise above colour lines. Because we are at your service, black child, black man, white man, white woman and every other shade… we serve you all with the same loyalty and care we would give to our own children if you allowed us enough time to spend with them. We still accord you the respect you deserve even as you spit in our faces and make us seem worth less than the carpet you wipe your shoes on. We continue to care and to serve you whether you acknowledge us or not. That is why we are such a wonder –” how can you be so kind, so beautiful, so understanding ?” you ask ..”after all I’ve put you through? After all I’ve done to you, don’t you give up? Why don’t you retaliate? are you not upset? or angry? Even while you think you’re using us as pawns in a chess game – we already know that we are queens. And nothing you do or don’t do will take that away from us. That is why people wonder. How do you do it Mom? How do you do it sister –child? We are born of love. And therefore we can only do loving things for you. I am in awe of black women…by an overwhelming majority you inspire GREATNESS in me and once more and again I will say…

 Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

In honour of you my mother Joy, in honour of you my loving sister Victoria, in honour of you Madidimalo, in honour of you who have served me – tirelessly – over and over again without ever complaining.  Still I will Rise and Shine in honour of all the black women who have wiped my tears, hugged me and rocked me to sleep at night, who have listened to my stories, and laughed at my jokes, provided me with shelter, words of advice and  life lessons that made me stronger. Still I will rise in honour of those  who never gave up, who never gave in, who never stop loving, believing, hoping, creating, inspiring, caring, fighting for love, being Peace for generations upon generations. Each day I will rise knowing that I stand on the shoulders of great women who may have never walked on any red carpet, and yet, these women, when they walk    every corridor, side street , pavement, gravel, mud path including the red carpet turns into pure GOLD.  Precisely because  it’s not the outside that counts. 

Thank you all so  very much and  Happy International Women’s day Every -Day!

 Love. You.

“SECRETLY WE ARE GAY” – MY ANC, MY SWAG CAMPAIGN

One of the Embassadors of the" My ANC My Swag" Campaign  being Interview i n Umlazi  at the Weekend.
One of the Embassadors of the” My ANC My Swag” Campaign being Interviewed in Umlazi at the Weekend.

Did You know?  That back in the 1960s a new word  emerged. Swag. An acronym used by those  in the know to communicate  that aha   ” Secretly We Are Gay” and the word/slash acronym soon became a popular word used world-wide to  describe  really cool people who more often than not tend to dance to their own tune and possess copious amounts of style  and were more often than not – quite simply fabulous people to be with.  So it was with a great sense of irony and (private  humour  on my side) that I observed  that the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANCYL) has adopted this term for this year’s election campaign in an effort to lure  young voters  to join and vote for the party.

It was actually quite hilarious to watch  the ANC’s General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, former National Police Commissioner (a man with a lot of “swag” read style ) Bheki Cele,  KwaZulu Natal Premier – Senzo Mcunu and a host of other ANC provincial and national officials literally shaking their bosoms to the South African hit song and now the MetroFM  song of the year “Y-Tjukuja ” by Uhuru, next to skimpily clad young girls wearing the Yellow Black and Green  T-shirts with the tag-line “MY ANC MY SWAG”

They all clamoured on stage  and  jokingly tried to out-do each other with their skillful dancing: shaking hips, waists, bottoms and stamping their feet at the launch of the  ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal “ANC Friday ” campaign. It was meant of course to be a hip cool event with the goal  of projecting the  ANC as a current and relevant professional party, not stuck in old traditions and customs , but a party  which is truly moving with the times; one which is relevant and accommodating of young people’s love for fashion, accessories, music and the good times.

I mean it was really funny to observe because though the ANC was at the helm of ensuring human rights and dignity for all including LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex) people;  although both party and government policies are quite progressive on that front: I  honestly doubt that the ANC would have approved such a campaign in aid of the LGBTI community.

The ANC and government have maintained a very  contradictory (if not schizophrenic) narrative when dealing with issues pertaining to the  LGBTI community.  Two cases spring to mind.  Comments by the former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xigwana in 2010  after viewing  Photographer Zanele Muholi’s work at a collective art exhibition held  at the Constitutional Court’s Women’ Goal labeling her photographs; portraits of women in same-sex relationship as  ” non nation building” as she angrily walked out of the exhibition co-funded by her own Department  of Arts and Culture. She was indeed quite disturbed that she had been made  party to such “wrong behaviour, which disturbed core  South African society, it was simply not nation building”.   We can also  similarly recall hateful  comments made  by South African Ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane in his July 2008 article  published in the Sunday Sun titled: “Call me names, gay’s not okay”  which he skillfully penned at the height of brutal killings of black lesbians in the country. Though the Human  Rights Commission (HRC) launched a case against Mr  Qwelane for Hate speech. Mr Qwelane stood by his words asserting that he too has a right to freedom of expression and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution. Not surprising the Department of International Affairs and Corporation (Dirco) said in a statement responding to President Museveni’s draconian  new  anti -gay law  would see  queer people being sentenced to life in prison, that  ” The South African Government will adopt a quiet diplomacy approach on the Ugandan issue”. Constitutional Court expert Pierre De Vos says there is untold danger in this particular type of quiet diplomacy:”

Sometimes absolute silence becomes politically impossible. Those who are not prepared to embrace the full humanity of fellow human beings because of prejudice or self-protection will then hide behind impersonal statements or will make hollow declarations devoid of any real compassion.

It is the absence of any words or actions that display true solidarity with the oppressed minority that is usually the dead give-away. Such statements impose a different kind of silence – even as it pretends to speak about the love that “dare not speak its name” – which can often have equally devastating effects. This silence – which hints at but never names or describes the oppression of gay men and lesbians and its often devastating effects on fellow human beings in full – is the silence of the hypocrite and the closet homophobe. This, unfortunately, is the quality of the “half-silence” of the South African government about the horrors faced by many people who experience same-sex sexual desire in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

So while this may have given me a chuckle and some much-needed comic relief,  it left me with more questions than answers. I wondered if they would have danced and jived, with such glee had they known what  Swag actually stands for. I wondered if they would have approved the SWAG campaign had they  known  that SWAG is in actual fact an acronym declaring that they are secretly gay.  Imagine if  Secretly We Are Gay was an actual ANC election campaign – what difference that would make to so many people on the continent….  but the ANC’s SWAG is all about appearances as concept developer (pictured – far left)  explained on Friday that the  campaign was to lure  young people who love fashion, to express themselves in ANC colours. The MY ANC MY SWAG  Facebook page states:” MY ANC MY SWAGG AIMING @ KEEPING ANC MEMBERS ON A SWAGG ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE THIS IS A ONE OF BIG CAMPAIGNS MOVING TOWARDS 2014 N BEYOND THAT WILL KEEP ANC IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE THIS WILL ALSO ASSIST IN KEEPING BORN FREE GENERATION MOBILIZED ”

One can only sigh at the missed opportunity.  More than anything though,  the recent events both in South Africa and in Uganda make one thing crystal clear: Those in power will do just about anything to get votes and  remain in power for as long as it is humanly possible. They will do so by any means necessary even at the expense of minority groups, the poor , the young and the uninformed. They will hold on to power even at the expense of everyone’s most basic human rights.  Which means we must equally stand up and  defend minority rights and the basic human rights for ALL  by any means necessary. Because power plus love equals Peace.

Ends

4 MINUTES WITH THE CROWN PRINCE: IFP PRESIDENT MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI

IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
IFP President Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

” Democracy means  freedom to choose” –  PRINCE MANGOSUTHU BUTHELEZI

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I attended the Inkatha Freedom Party’s 2014 Manifesto launch at the weekend.

Sunday 7:30 am. We arrived at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Umlazi the second largest township in South Africa, and the hi-jacking capital of  KwaZulu Natal according to those who live there and  I still had no idea what was going on….. actually.

Preparations for the launch set to start four hours later,  at around 11:00 am  were already underway. At the entrance a row of women were busy at work setting up  their  stalls from which they would be selling fried, boiled and cooked meat: chicken, beef sausages, stakes, fruit and all manner of beverages to IFP supporters still on their way to the stadium.

It was as if I was intruding into a private family ceremony. Familiar images of relatives aunts, sisters, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers, husbands, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends all dressed in the tried and tested uniform of blue overalls, multi-coloured aprons, pinafores, petticoats, head scarves, hats and white face masks – helping each other off-load pots, pants, trays and buckets full of this and that, the stuff they would need to serve  hundreds of hungry men and women filled my eyes – They all worked quietly and calmly.  A  peaceful scene of activity.

During our drive  to the venue  we saw  groups  of police officers  positioned along the man road leading  towards the stadium. I couldn’t help but wonder if I should be anxious.  Armed police men leaned casually on white police Casper’s which have become synonymous with the sometimes violent service delivery protests flaring up across the country since, before and after Marikana.

The IFP – a party founded by the crown prince, Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi in 1975 is infamous for political intolerance and has been for as long as I was old enough to tell the difference between the ANC and the IFP.

The party is feared from  the Gauteng province  to  the East Coast of the country for threatening bloody murder and mutiny to anyone opposed to their leader, uMtwana, Shembe, Buthelezi.  At least that’s the talk about town. Images of the ubiquitous red arm and head bands  worn by Zulu-Inkatha  warriors brandishing  sticks, pangas and  spears piercing into  the blue sky accompanied by feverish calls to war come to mind as I stepped out of the car and surveyed the large image of a smiling Buthelezi wrapped around a tall pillar at the edge of the stadium. My memories of the early 90’s are clouded with red dust.

What could Mr Buthelezi have to say that other politicians haven’t said?

Just last week the party and its break- away faction  the National Freedom Party  {NFP}  met to discuss pockets of violence  between party members in KwaMashu   in February.  Tensions had been simmering between the two parties since the break-away in 2011 when  then IFP National Chairperson  Zanele  kaMagwaza-Msibi broke away from the IFP to form a new party the orange NFP.  Tensions reached a climax outside court one day  in 2012  when an NFP member shot at an IFP member  point-blank in front of police officers, in broad day light  killing him on the spot.  The NFP member  was arrested but released due to lack of evidence.  Violence re-surfaced again last month resulting in the shooting of four women . Two  died after they were shot within days of each other,  they were friends, and  members of the IFP and NFP respectively.   An IFP youth league leader in KwaMashu has since been arrested on two charges of attempted murder for two of the shootings in which both victims survived.

“It is so much like her to call for peace talks” offered  one of  Magwaza Msibi’s admirers during an ANC rally earlier in the week after I asked her  what she thought of political violence in the province.  “She is  gifted that woman and is a  huge  threat to the IFP.  The IFP lost a great leader in her, she is a good person, a people’s person and she is a great orator too. I have so much respect for her  because of how she treats people and because of what  she is trying to do – the ANC has been trying to get her  on-board but it seems she knows her power. The IFP has lost a lot of support since her departure.” She said nodding her head emphatically. Grief stricken images of Magwaza Msibi crying helplessly while comforting the bereaved family of a deceased NFP  member come flashing back to memory. He empathy was undeniable on the Television screen.

Except it was not Magwaza-Msibi who called for the round of peace talks, it was Prince Buthelezi who requested the meeting between party leaders in writing.  I wondered why (informed) people would automatically assume that it was Magwaza- Msibi who called for peace talks between the warring parties.  Clearly the IFP hadn’t managed to shake off the image of its bloody past.  Why, I can still remember anecdotes of people accounting stories of how they were being terrorized by Inkatha fighters in trains and hostels to and from work during the 1980’s and early 90’s as black on black violence spread across the country from Thokoza, Boipatong, Soweto, and KwaZulu Natal which was attributed largely to third forces (Apartheid government) using the IFP as its front men. Prince Buthelezi was a puppet of the Apartheid government : a sell-out who used the money apartheid money to fund more bloodshed in the province which he declared a no-go area for non-Zulu’s during the 90’s. They say  he connived with the then National Defence Force (SANDF)  under the apartheid government  to fuel violence which saw at least 20 000 people being killed in KwaZulu Natal.  Whatever he may say, it would be hard to erase  memories of blood-shed which ravaged the Natal Midlands in the lead up to the 1994  National Elections that ushered in a new democratic dispensation and a government of national unity.  I personally” remember stories “I was told by my aunt Zozo who arrived one day to live with family relatives close by, of horrifying stories of the violence in the Kwazulu Natal Midlands – of people fleeing burning huts, and being stabbed brutally by unknown men, how she escaped the violence to come and live with us in Gauteng.  KwaZulu Natal was never a place I wanted to live in.

But I had to keep an open mind.

The IFP’s election manifesto messaging was surprisingly simple and uncluttered with promises, it simply read: “The power is  yours” – “You have the power” a few banners admonished followers.  The stadium which had been empty for the large part of the preparations  was filling up rapidly. Party organisers were friendly and welcomed the media with open arms. “We are not fighting with the media” newly appointed IFP spokesperson Alco Ngobese  after I requested an interview with the president  of the party.” we want to work together with you”.

The SABC’s outside broadcast vans were already stationed at the edges of the stadium. The party’s 2014 manifesto launch would be broadcast live on the public broadcaster’s 24 hour news channel and the SABC’s Nguni commercial TV channel SABC one. By the time the crown prince arrived – waiving to crowds who had filled up the main amphi- theatre the mood was euphoric. Praise singers praised and crowds sang , Is’cathamiya, and traditional hymns swaying in unison  in honour of a leader they said “never changed”. Mr Buthelezi wore a distinctive black and gold hat, a simple shirt and chino pants.  The program quickly got underway by one o’clock following messages of support from the party’s youth league and women’s’ brigade who were all very brief.  Soon it was time for President Mangosuthu Buthelezi to deliver his speech.

It was the first time in many years that I stopped to listen.

Mr Buthelezi, a former ANC youth league member, began by his speech by recounting how he was trained and mentored by the founder of the ANC, Dr Pixley kaIsaka Seme while he was still in matric ( Grade 12).  Pixley kaIsaka seme   needed help writing  political documents for the ANC while undergoing an eye operation, and asked the young Buthelezi to assist him. ” I was his assistant, I sat with him for hours learning from his  beautiful mind – of his visions and values for the struggle”

“I also learnt from King Albert Luthui, the first black Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, while still in my youth fresh from University, I learnt from him how to serve the people,  about the values of freedom and democracy.” Buthelezi  said over his 60  year career in politics and public service he learnt from men of integrity and honour, from heroes and heroines of the struggle.  As the leader in the opposition he told  his supporters that in the ten years that he  governing  in KwaZulu Natal – no single allegation of corruption was leveled against him.  He founded Ithala Bank, built 6 thousand schools, a University of Technology which he counts as one of his proudest moments in his political career as I sat next to him hours later at a sea-food restaurant in morning side.   Infact – the IFP he said was  a bridge between the values and Ideas of  the struggle and the future prosperity of the country.  On my way to the interview I asked a young IFP supporter why we supported the IFP. “Ubaba taught us values, especially respect, values that I learnt from home. That you must always remain humble, and never raise your voice even when the other  person is screaming ans shouting at you, you must remain calm and speak with them with respect, because that’s the most important thing. That is why I support him”

Between The Lines:    Are you happy with the  show of  support for the IFP today?

Prnce MangoSuthu Buthelezi:   Yes I was very happy with the turn out of voters, I had not expectations but as far as turn out is concerned I am very happy

BTL: Are you confident of increasing support for the IFP in the province  for the upcoming elections?

MB  Yes. The  recent by-Elections demonstrate that there is a growing support  for the IFP i the province especially in  Nongoma. We didn’t rig votes like others.

BTL: You have spoken a lot about the failures of the ruling party and you spoke a lot about your years of experience in politics  and public service. Are there any mistakes that you have you  have made as  the  leader or the IFP have made over the years?

MB: What mistakes are you talking about? it is for my critics to say.

BTL: Baba.. I mean  as we are all reflecting  on  what we have achieved in the past  20 years and working on where we want to go  certainly  there are things we did wrong and things we did right? at this point no one wants -to admit any wrong doing –  are the any mistakes that you could identify that we could learn from?

MB: I don’t think I should be answering questions like that, I have always been fair in my criticism of the ANC. I have praised them were they have done well and have pointed out  where they were

going wrong.

BTL:  What has been your proudest achievement in your political career?

MB:  Every victory in one way or other has made me proud, there are many  things I could talk about, one of them is building six thousand schools and the  University of Technology .

BTL:  What is unique about the IFP, why should people vote for you?

MB: We don’t make unrealistic promises. We’ve been in Government for many years, we have a track-record.

BTL:  What is Your greatest fears for this country?

MB:  Corruption.

BTL: Greatest Hope?

MB:” I wouldn’t be contesting the elections if I had  lost hope”

BTL: Thank you very Much for your time.

MB:  Thank you for taking the time to speak to me.

BTL: Everyone deserves to be heard.

Ends.