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LOST IN TRANSITION: WHAT FREEDOM MEANS FOR ME 20 YEARS ON…

Euridice Tala: Visual Artist, Unlike OtherSantas
Euridice Kala: Visual Artist, Unlike OtherSantas (c)

It’s Saturday Night, the 26 of April.  The suns’ glow  which lit up a  clear blue sky highlighted by wisps of gentle clouds, shone for a few hours before traveling to the west. The air is starting to bite, clinging to my clothes, shoes and linen. I love April with its changing hues of orange, brown and yellow. Autumn,  there’s a scent of freshness in the air that comes with the changing season. I  feel grateful. I am sitting on the balcony of  Brown Sugar Backpackers in Observatory east of Johannesburg. My new home. I arrived a few hours ago from Curiosity Backpackers in downtown  Johannesburg’s newly gentrified Maboneg District. A place where you the artist can live and work. “It’s a place meant for you, so you can be inspired to create” says Lunga, a 22-year-old  property  agent as he leads me into vacant flats at the Artists  Lofts building. ” I’m not selling you a dream, I’m telling you reality” he says  showing  me into a New York style loft apartment under construction, with its own private lift as an entrance. “This one has already been bought” he adds.  Lunga “the charming hustler” works for Mafadi Properties a subsidiary of  companies owned by Johnathan Liebman, the man who is currently breathing new life into what used to be a no-go  derelict  area for middle class South Africans not so long ago. The Artists Loft buildings’ entrance is on  Albertina Sisulu  street,  recently renamed from Market street: rewriting history in honour of one of South Africa’s  anti Apartheid struggle icons and a heroine of the African National Congress women’s league, near Jeppe police station, in Jeppes’s town. It’s all coming together now – my memory is returning to me  vividly as we walk with paper cups of coffee in hand. This is where I walked alone and  breathlessly in May 2008…the air had been knocked out my lungs amid haunted empty streets mid-morning …. the debris of chaos strewn on the sweltering concrete, shards of newly broken glass, velvet soot from smoldering fires…papers  garbage, abandoned splintering new stock  forgotten in a frenzy of adrenalin pumped feet.  It was Monday, the 12 of May,  a day after the xenophobic violent attacks erupted  against African foreign nationals living in Jeppe, Johannesburg and other parts of the country. I felt lost in the inner belly of a place whose blood was pulsating in my veins, not knowing what to expect, where to go or who to ask what. “They took everything” said one shop owner.”We are closing shop now, we are scared they’ll come  back again”. The air was thin with tension shimmering against the glow of the yellow sun, silver bright and blinding. “They plan to turn this building into a state of the art-gallery”  says Lunga pointing to an old Victorian building on the opposite corner.” They’ll do renovations but they will preserve its original architecture”  he says. “It’s beautiful, I can see myself living my life here riding a bike” I say ” Yes in your future amazing life” he smiles at me. I smile back and think my life is already amazing. The  offspring of the Washington consensuss.

Euridice Tala, Visual Artist, in UnlikeOtherSantas
Euridice Kala, Visual Artist, in UnlikeOtherSantas (C)

….. Curiosity Backpackers  has been open for less than four months and business is good.  All the rooms have been booked out to foreign travelers.  “Until  the end of May” the booking manager tells me to more travelers from  European countries. As I roll  my suitcase out of this inner city hide out, there’s a flurry of activity, new sheets have just been delivered, the staff is cleaning up, no stone is left un-turned. New sparkling white faces smile with wonder-lust in their eyes. “ Zwarte-piet was like just  Santa-Clause or Father Christmas , for me,  growing up  -as a child” A dutch journalism student tells in the crammed corridors of curiosity. “It’s a sentimental tradition which though I don’t celebrate anymore and can see why it can be “offensive” for  me it has  nothing to do with racism. It is a festival full of excitement, celebrations, a time for gifts, sweets and such like, whenever I think of zwarte -piet, I have good memories” She concludes.  I am reminded of how lucky I am.  A few years ago this luxury of staying at a backpackers in my own country would have been impossible. In 2004, as we marked and celebrated 10 years of freedom, I walked down Cape Town’s busy and popular Long Street, knocking from one backpacker to another. There was no room at the inn. I couldn’t stay in any of them… because I had a South African Identity book.  I was South African and couldn’t stay at a backpackers even though I could afford to pay. “It’s our policy, no South Africans” the guy said.  I was confused . “This place is cool, at least you can stay” said a friend of mine while visiting,  ” A few years ago I couldn’t find a backpacker to stay in, in Cape Town” she said echoing my experience.   The previous night we sat around a fire with a group of young South Africans, a dread-locked white guy who asked for a sip of beer in isiZulu, a 25-year-old Jewish architect who was searching for inspiration, maybe even a life changing epiphany and yet another “bornfree”  guy who didn’t want to vote  in the upcoming elections on May 7 2014. “It’s about me now” he said looking at me with such intensity I felt my words coming out of his mouth. “I have to know myself first. I need to know who I am, what I am about, I need to understand me first, sort out the issues with my family.  Find my place in the world before I can even hope to change this country” he said staring at the ashen coals of a dying fire.  He’s of mixed descent  what South Africans  call “coloured” or “biracial”.  ” They don’t see this, they don’t understand it, but I won’t be forced to vote”  he said holding on to his black label. I listen  amazed by his confidence and  resolve. ” Locals were never allowed to stay at Backpackers before, it just changed recently”  the staff at Brown Sugar tell me. Why I ask in moment of complete amnesia ” They say you locals steal, so foreigners don’t want to share with you” she says smiling ” You can’t stay in a shared room because you’re not staying for one night” she says ” you have to get a single room and it costs more” I look at her silently. “It’s the rules” she says folding her arms.

Euridice Tala, Mozambican Visual Artist: UnlikeOtherSantas
Euridice Kala, Mozambican Visual Artist: UnlikeOtherSantas (c)

I think of Lyth. An Irish- Palestinian beautiful man I met a few weeks ago, on my first day back in the city of Johannesburg. Sitting alone at a coffee Kiosk called Uncle Merves’ – paging through a thick green and yellow guide to Johannesburg. I ask him for a light and use the opportunity to ask him where he’s from. ” I’m from Cape Town, I was on holiday with  my girlfriend, who has gone to visit family in Durban, so I decided to stay a few days in Johannesburg to get a real sense of the country”. It was  his first time  on the continent of Africa. I refuse to ask him why he didn’t go with his girlfriend to see her family in Durban.  I was also simply passing  time enjoying the afternoon sun. It was none of my sun-shining-day-business.   He tells me he’s traveled from London where he lives and works as a commercial lawyer for a huge mining conglomerate. He lives not too  far from the famed  Nottinghill ” My favourite movie” I say and he smiles knowingly. But I can see how disturbed he is. ” I’m shocked that in this country I’m considered white!” he says peering at me for understanding. “I mean I am Palestinian” He says shaking his head. I smile and say ” Here you are white, brother”.   He shows me his reading material a book;  “Biko: A life” by South African Academic Xolela Mangcu.  I wince a little as images of me sitting at the newly opened, fresh out of  the box constitutional  court of South Africa,  sharing the stage with Mr Mangcu himself and African-American philosopher and Public intellectual Cornell West talking about the meaning of Mandela  flash in front of me. I surprised everyone with my analysis of our new rainbow nation. I told them I don’t care about Mandela or Hip-Hop. I didn’t grow up listening to Kwaito. I don’t believe in this rainbow. Nobody was ready for that. “You are very brave” one woman whispered to me afterwards. What a shame “young people nowadays!” more flutters of disgust hovered in hushed tones. I had shamed the country’s public intellectuals, returned exiles, academics, writers, journalists, right in the  center of a building that embodies our greatest hopes as a nation. Okay so I  have a reputation.” It’s really a brilliant book, best biography I’ve read about the man”  he says quickly putting it into his backpack like a prized possession. I agree with him desperately wanting to change the subject. I was in a cheerful mood, determined to focus only on the bright side of life and Lyth was  begging me with his silences to go into the deep political ocean with him.We talked about Beirut – a city we both love. He was also there in June 2006, dubbed the Hottest Summer in Lebanon. I bought the t-shirt but my mother promptly discarded it. “Your girlfriend is lucky to have you” I say hoping to brighten his mood. Later I discovered he’s also a curiosity resident. I invite him to the  African Freedom Station where I introduce him to Bra Steve Kwena Mokwena . There  he was immediately at peace, at home. He grew up listening to Hip-Hop.

Euridice Tala: Mozambican Visual Artists. in UnlikeOtherSantas.
Euridice Kala: Mozambican Visual Artists. in UnlikeOtherSantas. (c)

“Can we  count on your vote?” Nomsa  from the ANC says over the phone.”How did you get my number.” From the voter’s roll” she says.” Of course I’m voting” my friend  puts the phone down and looks at me and we laugh because laughing is good for you.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tell me because I often find myself in this uncomfortable space. I find myself increasingly feeling lost in these transition(s). Where do I belong?  Who speaks for me now? What has happened to my generation? We who were not “born-free”. We who were not in the “armed-struggle”  mixing Molotov cocktails and distributing coded pamphlets. We who were born into various states of emergencies in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We the ones who never “fought” in the struggle but existed side by side, with mellow-yellows and army trucks,  illusive activists, township thugs, a game of dice by the “danger”,  weed rolled up in newsprint perfuming the air at dusk, we who lived in families who tried their very best to  create heaven on earth in slave compounds. Those of us whose initiation into primary  school was the biting  sting of tear gas. Those of us who witnessed the “dying”  days of the “boogy-man” called Apartheid. Who grew up in constant fear, avoiding violence in the trains, and hostels bordering our urban villages. We  Who Never left. Is there a place for us?  We who didn’t have choices. Options. We who  watched as army trucks driven and manned by young white boys, teenagers actually,  terrorized our brothers, uncles, and made them all disappear in the name of separate but equal living. We who were left alone at night – while our  mothers organized stockvels and fathers (those who were still alive) went to work or drowned in government issued alcohol. Their dignity lost.  Those of us who knew that something was not right even as we happily and fearlessly played, diketo, skop die bollo and amathini on the “dusty” streets of Soweto?  All the running around was a  bloody game we didn’t understand. No one was happy – despite what they said. Who speaks on my behalf? Who has written that story. Yes it is not all black and white.  We listened and heard. And peered and saw through closed doors at the brutality of our white masters we all loved to fear. We who saw the pain etched in our grandmother’s faces, those who barely eked out a living as domestic workers across all of  the city’s luscious green suburbs. “the Jews are better” they would compare notes with each other on their off days.” at least they give us free good quality things we can use”. Where is that generation. That was never taught anything other than to remain silent, and never ever  ask questions. Hear nothing. See nothing. Silenced by our childhood, old enough to see but too young to comprehend the game. We who were barely sheltered from what it means to be a black African in Africa. What happened to us who picked up “sofa-sonke” (we will all die ) pamphlets which often covered the golden brown earth of our now romanticized townships,  as we  were herded pushed out of schools to struggle for a man whose face we never knew… again and again?   Don’t ask. Don’t look back. Just run. Shhhhhh..  Yes We were there. We bore witness. We may not have understood the states we were in but we do still bear the  scars of a squashed revolution  in our hearts souls and faces. We were spirit children,who absorbed all the prayers and held all  your tears like precious stones, hard-earned medals in our hearts, hoping to one day grow up and “make it all better” .  “I was born in 86″ says Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s grandson, a professional golfer.” See” he shows me the scar on his forehead. ” I got this scar fleeing from the police” He looks  at me with such a detached look I want to call him back even though he’s right here, sitting next to me. ” The police were raiding our house… my parents had to flee…. I fell from my mother’s hands while she was running” he said looking away. ” I’m not voting” he said.

I remember my frustration in my early 20’s as I entered  my working career  in Johannesburg the city of gold, sitting around a table with former exiles newly returned still speaking fondly of New York, Toronto and London, maybe even Tanzania. “You children don’t know about Apartheid” they kept saying. “Why do you speak English like that? why don’t you speak your mother tongues?”  You don’t know your histories! They shouted over clinging rocks of ice in Irish whiskeys and Cuban cigars. I was livid! I didn’t know that the struggle was about going to white schools. I didn’t know that the struggle was about living in the leafy suburbs.  Or being accepted by white people. It was nice. But I thought the struggle was deeper than that  I thought freedom meant you decide who and what you are.

I thought the struggle was about “real” independence(s). About real freedom and  African Unity. I grew up being told to learn English. But now this English I speak is a shame. You’re a coconut. Black on the Outside. White on the Inside. Why did you send us to those schools? Why didn’t you stay and teach us  isiZulu  so we ll we could write our  PHDs in our mother tongues? Why is isiZulu not first language in South Africa? Why am I writing this in English? Who was teaching us” history” educating us about our “values” and “traditions” when you were in the bush in Tanzania, fighting for liberty in London, Toronto, New York  and Russia?

I’ll tell you who was there. The TV. SABC. Television taught us about music (american) movies (american) culture (american). TV showed us what was possible. We easily identified with African-Americans ( they were the only ones who looked like us who seemed to be having a great time, Lesilo – Rula was too depressing).  We were trained  to emulate what African-Americans did. We all thought we will grow up and be stars one day! and be famous like the famed characters of FAME! or the Huckstables in the Cosby Show. The only place where the black man was free was in AMERICA – the so-called land of the free. So we took what we could from the televised Revolution. We learnt a lot from African-Americans more than you realize.  But never ever forgot, where and who we are…what we saw, what we lived and  observed with our own eyes. We are the children who fell through the cracks while you were “struggling” for freedom.  We are the children who sang “South Africa we love you! Our beautiful land, let’s show the whole world, we can bring peace in our land!” and we meant it. Do you remember? That day? My mother was teaching me to do things for myself, I was taking a minibus taxi to town by myself, for the first time.  The radio was on in the taxi, when it was 12 on the dot, a moment of silence was announced, the taxi driver stopped, and we all in the taxi observed a moment of silence, for peace in our land.   I didn’t know that freedom was for a select minority few and not for all!

In fact come to think of it, I never considered for a moment that  I was not  free. Until I was told.  ” The townships haven’t changed, people still live in shacks, in slave compounds” says Euridice Kala. “South Africans are too obsessed with themselves” she says.”They don’t understand “independence”. “Freedom is not just  about mobility” said Ayanda ” It’s about the mind”.

I was crushed by Marikana, by the 2008 Xenophobic attacks.  Everywhere I’ve been people who look like me ( or close to me) live in compounds enclosed like wild animals to be viewed from tall buses by well-meaning tourists. My soul yearns for liberation I seek it often and always in little ways. I’m not your spectacle. I own myself actually. I’m not an Angry Black. I’m a loving one. Not angry,  just full of  L . O.V.E.

This is why you are simply  off the hook.  You don’t have to do anything. I don’t blame you.  I’m not blaming you or anyone  or anything for the state I am. Actually I am grateful. But what I am saying is;  I can’t  bend and twist myself into something I am not. And never will be. I will not let you or anyone else define me anymore.

I value your contribution. I will never discount your experience or  belittle it. I will honour you. Respect you for showing  me so clearly what freedom is not.  I will use this knowledge  to fuel the flame of real liberation which still burns fiercely in my heart to shine even brighter. I will use everything I saw, everything you taught me and didn’t teach me, to be the best ME I can be. Not the best black anything.  Just to be ME. That’s freedom. We ARE the ones you were waiting for…. Thank You. You called us into existence with your blood-stained-tears.

We may have” fallen through the cracks” of time, but that as I see it now, that  has been a wonderful blessing in disguise. Because then we learnt want it means to be free.  We are the self-taught, self-educated, self-reliant generation. We are the ones who know clearly, that none but our selves can free our minds from mental slavery.  No PHDs will do that. We have found freedom in our hearts and minds. This no one can take away. So I am here to announce that this  “lost in-transition” generation is  here and we have always been “free”.

Instead of torching the streets and screaming from podiums, I will use  the power you gave us. The one you  say is in our hands, in me, to light up  my own path to the real African National Congress….  and if I find as I’m slowly discovering that it actually doesn’t exist… I will create one with other loving souls  just like me … we are many… and we’ll do it with so much love  it will light up the sky with all the  brilliant colours of the rainbow!

Power + Love = Peace.

 

Thank you!

Happy Free Yourself Day!

 

 

 

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THE MONDAY LOVE EDITION: TEN REASONS TO FALL IN LOVE IN JOZI

Jozi Jols: A cultural guide to the city. first edition.
Jozi Jols: A cultural guide to the city. first edition. Cover by : Wayne Barker Model: Jedi Ramalapa

 

Welcome and thank your for reading Between The Lines with Jedi Ramalapa. There are times when it is unbelievable that I have been writing this blog for three whole years! It’s an achievement I am proud of and has for the most part been a mixed bag of everything that has moved me. It’s also been an amazing learning curve. Thank you my dearest for encouraging me and taking this interesting experimental journey with me, thank you for your precious time. Maybe if you read this blog’s “about” section and the actual content of the blog you may be confused about what this blog is actually about. Perhaps you find there is no point to it.  Depending on how you look at it, you are most probably right. I often say I don’t expect people to read my blog when I am asked about it, and people often ask me …what is the point of writing it then? I do write because I love to, I’m free to write, what I choose to write about is  limitless and that in and of itself is amazing. I’m moved to write and I share what I see, think and feel with whoever wishes to listen or know about what I see think and feel.  It is something I do freely and always from a place of love. So I would love for it to be received like that, as something free or freeing which comes from a place of love – which means that though you are reading this now, I don’t expect you to read it. You are under no obligation to read my words. Even though I do sincerely appreciate each moment you spend reading each and every letter. Someone once said “words are the least reliable form of communication” and I’m sure you will understand why. Someone also once said “you teach what you need to learn”.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” Leo Tolstoy

I have been writing this particular blog post, the one you are reading now, for over a week and it has been brewing in my mind perculating, roasting like a strong cup of coffee. I have been turning myself upside down trying to answer this question: who am I? What am I here for? Why am I writing this blog? Why am I a journalist? What am I doing with my life? How long will I keep doing this? What have I been doing with my life?So what now? So where to from here? How can I make an impact in a field where everyone is ultimately a writer, a journalist: as long as you can read and write and use your phone, anyone can be a journalist if they so choose.  This must be the easiest profession in the world. Your job is to go out to the world and ask whoever you meet five simple questions: Who (are you?) What (are you doing?), When (did you start doing it), Where (are you doing it), Why (are you doing it) and How (are you doing it).  Arrange the answers in the most interesting way you can find and that’s it. Your job is done. You have a news story. This afternoon on my way here I bumped into an old artist friend of mine, I love artists. She was looking so cool in her rust –coloured scarf, grey and maroon t-shirt or jersey, dark grey track pants and sneakers. I thought she looked fabulous. “Every time I see you, you look different” she said sizing me up and looking at my grey-oversized-haram pants, a Lufthansa airways blanket worn as a scarf, long thick braids twisted with it, and an off the shoulder loose grey top, revealing a darker grey tank top and black bra strap. I said “Really?” A word so present in my lexicon I ‘m telling you really it’s true. I was surprised because I am always the same – in fact I have had the same grey pants for close to five years now…  “Or maybe it’s because I don’t see you that often that it seems that way” she added. “Maybe” I said trying to remember what I looked like the last time we saw each other. “I like this look though, I like it” she said nodding.  I thanked her, at a loss for words again (I often don’t know how to respond to people on the spur of the moment because tomorrow I might look completely different again, depends on the weather of my soul). Eventually I found my words somewhere and managed to say “you look fabulous”. She looked down at her track pants revealing paint stains and said “But I’ve been working”. I said you look cool none the less hoping I didn’t sound insincere or forced which can happen when you’re always searching for the most appropriate thing to say in a situation which should have been a light and simple case of hello? How are you and see you later.  

But it’s the Detours that make life interesting…

So I started asking myself the same question. If I don’t expect people to read my blog, then why do I write it?  Why keep it up for three years? Why not just keep a journal privately somewhere, where no one has to see it? Why do I have to make what I see, think and feel a public issue, why can’t I just observe what I observe and let it be just that – a private observation?

Because I am a journalist.  This is who I am. The words could not have been clearer when I woke up on Good Friday to go to work. I woke up with this answer, speaking directly from that place on the left hand side of your chest near your breast. It was as if each  beat uttered these syllables. Because I am. I am a journalist. I am a good journalist. And I don’t even care what you think Jedi. I don’t care what you think. I have been asking these questions since I could speak and it was often a source of embarrassment for my family or whoever I was with who happened to be uncomfortable with the questions I was asking or the person from whom I  expected  the answers. I kept asking questions despite how people reacted or responded to them. “Nobody likes to be asked questions” my younger brother once said to me. I know this. Who the hell do you think you are to ask me who I am, what am I doing, Why am I doing it, When will I stop doing it, How am I doing it? Who the hell are you? Yes I have been asking myself this. Who am I to ask people these questions? What gives me the right to pry into someone’s life, thoughts and feelings and use them to sell a story? What’ the point of it all. So I ask myself those five questions every day too and give you the answers for free.

TURNING THE PAGE TO LOVE…

Most people don’t like to be asked questions if what they are doing or being is perceived to be negative. If they have something to hide. If they want to continue doing said thing regardless of how it affects other people. Everyone fears being judged. So if a large number of people are suffering, are in pain or are enslaved, or oppressed because of you, then people must ask why you keep hurting others right?  Anyone would do that. Or maybe nobody will. But I also found conversely that people often don’t mind at all talking about what they do, if what they are being or doing is motivated at the core by love. By a desire to make the entire human experience a more pleasant one, if they believe that what they are doing is “good” and comes from a place of love. So while both may be true, many of them can – through words and actions – be interpreted or explained in a way that could either be detrimental or beneficial to humanity. Sometimes people do things thinking  they are  from a place of love and sometimes those things end up having unintended consequences that bring strife or suffering to others. One has to measure the impact somehow. Or maybe there’s not point. Is my blog of greater good? Are the stories that I tell in this blog or any other media platform of benefit to anyone? Of benefit to me? Is that even a fair test? Where is the value in what I do? One way of knowing if what you’re doing is of any value to anyone is if people talk about it, respond to it somehow. So if I don’t expect you to read my blog and then you don’t read it, then how do I measure its value? My value?

So far, I have used myself as a measure. Is it of value for me to write this? Does it benefit my well-being to have a blog called between the lines that talks about everything and nothing at the same time? My answer to that is yes. I find enormous value from writing. At best it keeps me quite sane. Especially the fact that there is no ultimate moral reason why I do it. There is no greater good or a refreshing reward at end of the day. No black label for me. In my normal ordinary life I find moments of utter craziness between these lines. Ecstasy! Pure pleasure! Sometimes I lose myself completely and come back asking the same questions again and again: who am I, what am I doing here? What is this blog for? Sometimes this can be hilariously funny, so you could on a pleasant Sunday  catch me giggling by myself in a corner (can you believe I forgot who I am?). In those moments I find silence. I find peace.  I find joy In the ability to write something I have never written before, or write the same thing in a different way, or as my blog has been, tell the same story from multiple different angles. I find fulfilment in seeing some of my thoughts and feelings visualized on paper with a string of letters.  In fact it’s the same with my clothes, I often can’t have a shower until I’ve visualized what I will look like after I have had the shower, i.e. considered carefully what I am going to wear that day. Even though I wear the same clothes almost every day, I always want to look different wearing them. Sometimes I don’t wear the same combination twice. Sometimes I wear the same combination all the time. Often I wish I could just forget about clothes altogether, wake up and go where I need to go and do what I need to do. I am trying through this blog, to understand, you, to understand me. Ultimately though you are reading my blog now because you are hoping to find ten reasons why you should fall in love in Johannesburg. So far I have not listed a single reason. Or it may be that I have listed all ten. Perhaps you feel disappointed, betrayed. It was a waste of time. If you sincerely feel that way, I am sorry. If you are still looking for ten reasons to fall in love in Jozi or anywhere else in the world for that matter, I think you will be well advised to just forget about it. There is no reason why you should or shouldn’t love anything or anyone.  No reason at all. Unless there is every reason in the world to Love everything and everyone.

DEAR SOUTH AFRICA: PRESIDENT JACOB ZUMA IS YOUR CREATION.  

South African President Jacob Zuma.
South African President Jacob Zuma.

Dear Mr President...

There are many people wishing to write open letters to register their discontent with the state of the nation which South African President Jacob Zuma represents. In fact there are a few enraged open letters to the president making their rounds on the web as we speak, there are many letters of people with broken hearts about the new democracy, people who feel betrayed by the ANC, the struggle and  this and that. Radio and television personality Gareth Cliff’s wrote his and it was published this week, so has poet Nsiki Mazwaai. Still many have intimated that they are largely disappointed with the kind of political discourse populating South African Media these days. All of it they say, is just too polite. No one has so far spoken with conviction and authority regarding the state of the nation or the (un)suitability of Mr Jacob Zuma as a leader or President. Any other self-respecting President in any other country would have resigned following the damning report by the Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela (who by the way many of you have commended her on her ‘bravery” – I will expand on this concept later) you say.  Here’s the thing: President Jacob Zuma represents you and I. He is the symbol of South Africa. And by South African I don’t mean the country’s beautiful landscapes and nature. I mean people, you, human beings who call themselves South Africans by birth, marriage, ancestry or choice. He is the towering glowing example of who we are as a nation. He embodies our present day character, values, principles, our abilities, our hopes and dreams, flaws, leadership abilities, decision making abilities etc. President Jacob Zuma is you and I South Africa. We cannot conveniently distance ourselves from him and this truth. Yes, he is responsible in part for the state of our nation, but we are all ultimately responsible for what Zuma is or as some erroneously believe has become. We created him and the current state of our nation. President Jacob Zuma encapsulates what it means to be a South African today, he exemplifies the character of the majority of the country’s citizenry if not all. In other words we are all complicit in the Nkandla/Rape/Corruption scandals surrounding the President whether we choose to acknowledge this fact or not.

PRESIDENT ZUMA IS RIGHT: IT’S NOT HIS FAULT

The truth is: when we went to the polls in 2009 to elect a new president we knew the calibre of President Jacob Zuma. He was unapologetic in his much publicized rape trial about his decision to have consensual sex (in his words) with his best friend’s HIV positive daughter. Though he apologized – his words rang hallow as the complainant was assaulted and vilified by hundreds of men and women outside the Johannesburg high court, while he danced and sang bring me back me my machine gun. The courts accepted his version of events and so did the nation. We accepted this. Even when his financial advisor and close friend Shabir Shaik was convicted of corruption in a case which implicated the president with corruption which led to his dismissal as the deputy president of the country, we agreed with the courts’ not guilty verdict. We went to the polls and put an x next to his face on the ballot accepting him as our leader with without conditions – for better or worse. Once president we accepted the prisons version that Shabir Shaik was terminally ill and allowed him to be released from prison barely serving his ten-year prison sentence. We agreed with the president’s version of events. The presidents’ comments on Africa also reflect popular opinions among many of us, “let them go back to their countries – what are they doing here?” think Xenophobia 2008. Then came Gupta-gate   and now Nkandla. We never took to the streets in protest, we never called for the president to step down, account or be impeached. We sat and watched shook our heads and said such is politics and such is life and went on with our daily lives. We did nothing and therefore we are by all accounts and purposes  complicit.

WHY THE SILENCE ?

Because we are the same – we act and behave in our own private lives just like our dear president  does in public for all to see. We all want the good life, we all engage in corruption and support corrupt activities and organizations in our daily lives, we give and take bribes. We accept things we know we shouldn’t. We all want to drive expensive cars, live the lavish life, eat sushi on naked bodies, we all want to live in palaces and be kings of our respective Nkandla’s. We all are greedy, we want more and more, more irrespective of who suffers. We all want to do as little work as possible and get the highest reward for doing nothing. We force ourselves on women in private, we engage in risky sexual activities i.e. have sex without condoms. We all cheat on our partners, have multiple concurrent relationships, given the chance we’d all have many, many, many wives. We all just want to party, dance and have a good time while those who serve us starve. We all don’t want to accept responsibility for our actions. It’s not our fault that others live in poverty, it’s not our fault that we have friends in high places who can give us tenders, jobs, cut-backs, after all that’s what the struggle was about. We all aspire to be Jacob Zuma’s in our own lives. It’s not our fault that we have money and can buy justice and fund corruption. If we do not actively participate in  corrupt acts  we turn a blind eye to them, “it’s none of our business” we say. We remain silent. Why do we expect President Zuma to be any different from us? Why should he accept responsibility and take the high and noble road when we are not willing to risk positions of power and privilege for the same principles we expect President Jacob Zuma to uphold? Why should he stand for truth, justice, fairness when we do everything in our power to protect our lies /lives at all costs? We have remained silent because we are guilty of the same offense. We have remained silent because ultimately we also want the power he has. We want to do the same things we accuse him of doing  with impunity.

President Jacob Zuma never lied. He has remained consistent through-out his term in office. Doing everything that we knew he was capable of doing since he was elected as president: as promised. We cannot pretend we didn’t know who he was, we cannot say he changed – he has stayed true to himself.  When will you be true? Stop blaming the President for doing what you elected him to do. It truly is not his fault. The same goes for Oscar Prestorious, he represents all of us.

Public Protector Thuli Mandonsela was not brave, she did what any true friend would do, tell the truth without fear.

To thy own self be true. If you don’t like something change it.

It begins with you and I.

2014 ELECTIONS, ARE WE READY LADIES?

MURDER, SHE WROTE: Please indulge me as I take on the character of my all time favourite detective , Jessica Fletcher in Murder she wrote.  Google it if you’re not in your 30’s yet.

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Well I must admit my surprise at not having read anything  lamenting the  “gender” imbalances  in this year’s list of  Presidential candidates for the 2014 South African  National  General Multiparty Democratic  “sigh”  Elections.  This I surmise  is due to one of  two  factors. Either I haven’t consulted Google enough in past few months or we have all suddenly just relaxed about the whole  “gender equality”  thing. More  especially since there are many pressing issues which need our urgent attention in this here election; Nkandla, Oscar, 20 years of Democracy, service delivery protests  et al. Ah perhaps it is indeed a good sign, we have a  good story to tell. We don’t  need to harp on about the lack of  women in key  leadership positions anymore. More and more women in South Africa enjoy  numerous positions of leadership/ power in all structures of government,  including the private sector. Why…even the KwaZulu Natal Provincial  {ANC} Politics are being fought under the guise of increasing  gender  equality at the highest level.  The incumbent  Premier Senzo Mchunu, must make way post- elections  for a female Premier to step in his shoes in the province. It’s about time, party insiders proposed , besides it’s  never happened before.

INTRODUCING…. THE FOUR LEADING  LADIES.

1. HELEN  ZILLE: I  STIR THE POT  JUST LIKE ANY OTHER AFRICAN WOMAN” 

DA Leader and Western Cape Province Premier, Helen Zille. Election Campaign 2014.
DA Leader and Western Cape Province Premier, Helen Zille. Election Campaign 2014.

Current Premier of  the Western Cape Province and the Democratic Alliance Presidential Candidate for this election,  Helen Zille is a front-runner by a few kilometers in this election  marathon.  The 63-year-old former journalist has been in the game of politics long enough to convince two former fire brand, out spoken, fiercely independent women politicians  such as  Independent Democrat Leader Patricia De Lille  and Agang leader Mamphela  Ramphele to sleep with  her.  De lille  is now the Mayor of Cape Town with a “drug problem”.  Ramphele  on the other hand quickly reneged on her decision to be the DA’ s Presidential Candidate. Actually this story was very confusing for me, but one can see how for  a moment the two let their feelings for each other get in the way of good business.   In the early 1970’s  while Zille  was working as a journalist for the Rand Daily Mail she exposed the truth behind the death of  black Consciousness leader, Steven Bantu Biko; Mamphela Ramphele’s boyfriend and “soul-mate”.  So one can cautiously  assume  that life long  bonds must have been formed between  the two women at the time. And this merger in light of this history and current context of SA politics would make sense – a perfect tit for tat. So one is left with two reasons in attempts to explain why it didn’t work out. a) They tried but the souffle crumbled before  it even got out of the oven – both women probably can’t cook to save their lives  in all honesty OR b)the merger and later divorce was planned. Perhaps it was an elaborate  publicity stunt from the very beginning to pump up media coverage for both parties who were at the time drowning under the giant black green and gold wave of the ANC. If  it was – it was simply brilliant. The two had the media practically eating out of their hands and wiping their palms clean with long salivating tongues. Which brings me to this picture. Possibly my all time favourite picture of Hellen Zille. This picture startled me at first. Then later it brought to mind similar images of  independent  Presidential candidate and fashion designer Diouma Diakhaté Dieng of Senegal in 2012, in traditional dress moving laboriously like Zille over large  pots of rice, to prove to skeptical Senegalese voters during her Televised Election campaign that she is “woman enough” for the hot seat. She can cook, sew, look fabulous and still do politics. Many Senegalese men laughed at her- she’s not serious – they said. I find it funny that women still don’t feel good enough… being kept only in the bedroom, kitchen and boardroom they want to be everywhere. No one ever asked a male candidate to prove  they can cook,   let alone drive  a car.  But even street smart, intelligent, talented , powerful  women in the form of  Zille and Dieng –  still need  to prove that they can cook in order to win votes. Even if  it’s not a cooking competition! What I like about Zille most though  is her incredible sense of humour. The things she does just makes one smile .  DA staff must be the happiest to  come up with such amazingly creative strategies to get media attention.  I admire people with a sense of humour, it’s very, very attractive.  .

MAMPHELA RAMPHELE:   I AM  IN TOUCH WITH  THE ANCESTORS”

AGANG leader Mamphele    Ramphele announcing her entry into formal politics to her ancestors. 2013
AGANG leader Mamphela Ramphele announcing her entry into formal politics to her ancestors. 2013

When sophisticated business  woman, former World Bank Chief Executive and Former Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town  Mamphela Ramphele announced  that she was starting a political party I must admit, a smile spread across my heart I  was happy. The party would be called “AGANG” a seSotho  doing word (present continuous verb) which directs listeners  ( because it is a  plural verb) to simply BUILD.   Yes we must build and not destroy.  Though many who are well versed in the art of politics found her unoriginal she was to me a breath of fresh sense in the midst of stale perfumes. I could at least listen to this, she  didn’t automatically switch off  all my vital signs. Besides we shared something in common, a love for books. Her tome ” Laying Ghosts to Rest ” was published at the right time in 2008 and provided  me with some solace during a very turbulent time in South African politics. She has a lot going for her this 66-year-old former black consciousness leader.  But when I saw this picture of her going to  her parents grave site, I thought wow, she really brought something new to the table here. It’s common knowledge that many black South African’s consult their ancestors before embarking on  life changing  projects, to inform them  as it were. And this is done symbolically by visiting the grave-sites of  said loved ones. I thought she was brave to publicly reveal her ‘belief in ancestors” in that way – especially because most educated Africans while they may practice this in private,  would not  publicly admit to it as many are also  Christians (Muslims) who are forbidden to acknowledge their ancestors ever existed. This was a brilliant decision on her part because it brought her closer to the black majority – ordinary Selaeo or  Makgathi.  Suddenly what blacks did in private was not so private anymore, people could say ” sorry I can’t do it today, I have an appointment with my grandfather at the cemetery”.  The party gained momentum until the climax of the public marriage and divorce with the DA.  Suddenly Shakespeare’s 116 sonnet comes to mind ” Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments,  love is not love which alters when it alteration finds….or bends with the remover to remove. Oh no! it is an ever fixed-mark that looks on tempest and is never shaken…”  Following this shaky episode Mamphela was on every prime-time news show in the country, explaining why she dropped Hellen Zille  at the alter. But what I found to be an interesting by-product of the fall out was that  Ramphela  could finally put a highly annoying issue to rest. Teach the nation how to correctly write and pronounce her name. The nation  had been secretly struggling to pronounce her name, even black Africans where finding it hard to get it right. Mam phela Ram phele,  M-a-m-p-h-e–l-a  R-a m p h e-l-e she repeated on  screens across of the country’s major news outlets.  I found myself repeating her name under my breath too, Mamphela Ramphele, promising myself never to forget the meaning of a name.

3. ZANELE  kaMAGWAZA MSIBI:  ” I AM  A SHOULDER TO CRY ON”

National Freedom Party Leader; Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi, comforting a grieving mother. KwaMashu 2014
National Freedom Party Leader; Zanele KaMagwaza Msibi, comforting a grieving mother. KwaMashu 2014

The sweetheart of KwaZulu Natal Politics. What I love most about kaMagwaza-Msibi is her smile so wide and beautiful it reminds me of Julia Roberts in the iconic Hollywood blockbuster movie “Pretty Woman”.  Her smile is so disarming, relaxing she is a very nice warm, friendly and approachable person….as a result… everyone(i spoke to about her) sings her praises, she is an amazing leader, truly gifted.   Her profile on Wikipedea is very brief:**** Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi is the (NFP) and Mayor of Zululand District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and President of the National Freedom Party (NFP). She was formerly chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the IFP’s candidate for Premier of KwaZulu-Natal in the 2009 general election.****

Her public break up with IFP leader MangoSothu Buthelezi was more than just rough, it was bloody violent. kaMagwaza Msibi is Popular,  she enjoys a lot of support among men (especially) and women in the province of KwaZulu Natal. I tried to speak to Mr Buthelezi about it  during lunch one Sunday afternoon, when suddenly a thick  wall of ice appeared between us, I could barely make out his face which was centimeters away from mine. ” I don’t trust anything she says” he quivered his temperature obliterating  the thick fog  to reveal eyes glistening with  hurt.  I didn’t know which side  to look after that. The IFP  has also publicly expressed its belief that kaMagwaza Msibi is in bed with the  ANC. They(NFP &  ANC) currently share a coalition government in Zululand where kaMagwaza Msibi enjoys overwhelming support and is the incumbent mayor. ANC party insiders love kaMagwaza-Msibi   and have  intimated on more than one occasion that the party is seriously courting her in its quest to finally gain complete control of the province.  Yet she is playing hard to get.  But the mutual attraction between the two parties was  more than an apparent during a Multiparty Prayer meeting in KwaMashu. The women there were so over joyed my collegue kept looking at me and saying ” yo these women are happy ne” to see kaMagwaza Msibi amongst ANC leaders on the podium to lead them to prayer. But they completely lost their minds ( as did kaMagwaza Msibi) at the sight of former Police Minister and ANC national executive member  Bheki Cele. Women ran to the front danced and swayed, shook their bottoms and raised their arms to embrace and pull Cele to the “religious” dance floor.  I must say I have never seen a reception like that before, not even for the country’s President Jacob Zuma, admittedly I have not attended enough of his political events.   kaMaGwaza- Msibi herself  couldn’t contain her infectious smile,  glancing at Cele every five minutes. Once prayer was out they quickly  huddled together like magnets laughing and giggling with each other  forgetting  about the “media” hovering about.  KaMagwaza Msibi though was on a serious mission ” We, as the NFP have done all we can to contribute  towards peace in this province, at this point prayer is our only solution”  She said referring to the recent KwaMashu  killings of two women friends, who were members of the IFP and NFP respectively. kaMagwaza Msibi smiled broadly at my questions and ask me who I was as her long red-painted  nails  lightly clawed at my torso playfully. This picture above does a great job at encapsulating her multi-layered personality.  Not only is she beautiful, admired and desired by men, she is also tender enough to grieve and cry with the bereaved. Our very own Princess Diana.

4. SHAMEEM RAJBANSI – “ I  AM THE WINNER OF THE GAY OSCAR AWARD”

And the  oscar goes to: Minority Front Leader, Shameem Rajbansi at the Gay Oscars in Durban, sometime ago.
And the oscar goes to: Minority Front Leader, Shameem Rajbansi at the Gay Oscars in Durban, sometime ago.

Minority Front Party leader Shameen Rajbansi was a complete surprise  for me. I didn’t  know much about her or even what she looked like  when I first met her. But yes you guessed it I was already in love. Because of her words.  Perhaps I should just admit that it was an emotionally charged day for me in a  positive way. It was the first time I  returned to Coastlands Hotel in Durban’s city center  where she held her party’s manifesto’s launch, after 15 years. I had to call my mother to tell her about this momentous event. I was marveling at life and was just being present in the moment when she interrupted the running order of  proceedings and said,” we must cut the cake first, it’s really important”. This was to celebrate 20 years of the Minority Fronts’ existence.  She then proceeded to say ” It’s been a very  rough couple of years, but being the lady that I am  my cake is still in tact”   she said as she brushed off  crumbs of the cake from her  fingers. She was  referring to the internal struggle for power  within the party  following her husband’s Amichad Rajbansi’s death two years ago.  During question and answer time I ask her where she stood  on the Gay issue. She said she was for gay people. She supports them.  They have a proven medical hormonal defect, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Who is she to question God about his creation. Anyway they are generally very warm and helpful people. Who always have very unique and an interesting approach to things. She is for all minority groups. After the launch she asked me in the company of her lawyer how she did. You spoke from the heart he said  and I agreed. Well you should have my number call me anytime you need questions answered. But you should go and have lunch now she advised, we’ve prepared a meal for you thank you for coming. I walked to the dining hall and sat around a crew of  6 men ( my colleague)and I was the only woman. They ranted and raved about the food.. and then came time for dessert and they all honestly couldn’t keep quiet about Shameen Rajbansi’s cake… it’s nice they talked about it and described it in ways only men can. I sat there smiling from here to ear – thinking about what she said about her cake and just thought how fun to meet  people who are in the deep end and still find a way to make fun of themselves! My team and I had never been so happy.  Many of those conversant in the art politics have already said – she might as well pack up and go or join the DA or ANC.  But I think Shameen might still have a few surprises under her Sari. Do it for  Raj, her husband, she says.