The Pink Brigade of India
The Pink Brigade of India


This week has been a challenge..

You see I have been trying to write positive stories about this continent I love and was met with perplexed faces.  Wait, have you seen the news lately?

” What is it with you and your obsession with Africa?  We want news, real stories.  We want to the best in the game. We want traffic to our site.  The stories you want to do are issue based. You can’t tell an issue based story in less than 2 minutes. In 200 words.   Lets talk about politics, can you tell me what’s going on in the DA? Can you predict who is going to be the elected the premier of Gauteng? Can you file stories under pressure? Can you meet deadlines? Being a presidential correspondent can make or break your career it’s about money you see.  We can’t  spend 300,000 on you to fly somewhere and you don’t file a single story those things can break you as a journalist. Are you sure you want to be a political correspondent?” 

Now it was my turn to have a perplexed facial expression.

“you missed your calling, you should have been a porn star” says an old friend of over evening drinks. That’s a  good one I  reply. I was just thinking that I have been feeling increasingly like a pawn in an elaborate political chess game, in which no one really cares about me whether I succeeded or fail  I am just a means to an end, because either way it makes no difference.  I’m what you would call, collateral damage in an inevitable war over the power to control. A tool, expedient.  My presence or absence is all the same to those who are at war with each other.   I am being used in a negative way and I feel empty. “You mean Pawn, not Porn!” Another friend corrects me later.  Ah well I guess it’s time to brush up on my isiZulu language skills I tell her. That’s the best way to learn a new language, by using your mother tongue to understand it. “yes” she, a consummate polyglot, agrees ” I was surprised to find that isiZulu is based on the same grammatical principles as Hungarian, so It’s easy for me to understand the grammar ” she says. ” yes well language is the basis for everything in life, once you understand the language then most things are easier to understand”


I cannot begin to describe my feelings around this recent media phenomena. In fact I have been trying very hard not to think about the multiple ways  in which  this is disturbingly unacceptable. Why it should not be allowed to continue for yet another day.  I did say I am  not an angry black woman. But I am angry.  Except this time I  want to  channel my “anger” in a positive way.  In a way my work situation(s) have allowed me to tap marginally  into how the  girls must be feeling, to somehow imagine what they must be going through. It’s incomparable I know, because I will never know what it must feel like to be abducted and trapped, stripped and made to say  and do things for a war you know nothing about, where you, regardless of what you do will be the loser. There’s no way of knowing this unless you’re in it.  I have been trying to find a way of acting positively, of speaking life to a situation that is so complex it’s simple.  I have been thinking about this while Nigerian president  Goodluck Jonathan is wining and dining in South Africa on President Jacob Zuma’s second presidential inauguration. Kinda brings back memories of American President Bush junior who was telling children stories while 911 happened. But of course the two things are completely unrelated.” That’s the problem with you women, you see connections everywhere even where there are no connections to be made. you think too much” a man once said to me.

” Fair Enough – It’s just a Moon Shot”

The United Nations Security Council has issued sanctions against  Boko Haram. When I read this I wondered how they could do this unless they know who Boko Haram is. In a recent interview with  South African TV Journalist Deborah Patta for CBS news,  a Boko Haram  representative said they are “everywhere” in Nigeria. They have “assimilated” into Nigerian society. “we  plan to kidnap more girls” he told Ms Patta who looked frozen in her seat.  This man could have been lying or telling the truth, but the fact is we have no way of knowing.  So who will these sanctions affect? It’s not like they’re going to arrive at the airport with a sign that says I am a member of Boko Haram unless they do as evidenced in  Ms Patta’s recent interview. So What is the point? Boko Haram have been terrorizing Nigeria for years. President Jonathan has always maintained that they had it all under control.  I remember three years ago while working for the West African Democracy Radio, reading the news, daily there were bomb blasts in Northern Nigeria orchestrated by Boko Haram, every single day multitudes were  dying. Now Nigerians want cessation. “let them go and form their own Hausa nation” some Nigerians have commented on news reports. ” South Africa has the capacity to sort this mess out” says an insider. ” But Goodluck Jonathan won’t have it, they don’t want anything to do with South Africa, we’ve tried but they are not giving in” he said ” Now he’s allowing the Americans and the French to go in, once they’re in they’ll never leave” he said.  There is still oil in Nigeria, but anyway in all the discussions no one is thinking practically about the girls. Who is thinking about the girls?

  “What  we need is the pink brigade”

So imagine if all those people who’ve posted pictures of themselves with #bringbackourgirls banners and posters  would actually act horizontally. Imagine if we all could take matters in our own hands and not ask for permission, and go and get our beloved girls back? I  can hear you say oh that’s a suicide mission. But is it really? You see this is how I know it’s possible. Can we forget about “politics” for a moment? Life is politics you say, fair enough, but can we try a different political experiment? In India there’s a group of women “vigilantes” they call them. Who are doing just that, taking matters in their own hands. Dealing with “politics” in a very unpolitical way as in: they are not running for office in any parliament.  It’s not up to Boko Haram or the Presidents of the world to decide what happens to the girls.  What do I mean? The group in India clad in  electric pink saris dubbed the Pink Vigilantes  have been shaming abusive husbands and corrupt officials in India’s agricultural town of Baduas  not far from the Taj Mahal…  their movement started with five women and now has a following of 20 thousand women  who  physically march to  and confront (sometimes beating them, though I am not advocating for violence, just a physical presence that won’t be moved) men who abuse their wives and children, because they’ve been abused themselves.  Boko Haram has guns, you say, and bombs. Sure, but how long will we wait? How much do we value our lives ? How much do we value the girls’ lives. Do we really care? If we did actually care then  all us African women, activists, politicians, celebrities, can stop screaming at men asking them to something they have no intention of doing. We must wear our  pink scarves and  or Hijabs for that matter and physically go there and  fetch our girls. That’s just how I see it. There’s power in numbers. That for me would be the ultimate act of love. Someone once said it’s impossible until it’s done. The question is, are you willing?






ANT Cafe Melville, Johannesburg
ANT Cafe Melville, Johannesburg

I was fixing to write some lengthy essay about Google… the search for information on just about anything engine. I found myself sitting at a candle lit table at ANTs quite surprisingly as if I had been sleep walking from my bed to the restaurant maybe I was. So Google will have to wait until some other time while I tell you about this little nook of love called Ants Café on 7th street in Melville, Johannesburg. It’s somewhat of an institution in this popular artist/media village. It is 19 years old this year – as old as our democracy.

The First Time Ever I saw Your Face...

When I walked in alone and heavily draped in my Lufthansa airline blanket, jacket and long dress the host showed me to a table by the fire-place. The exact same table I sat at for the first time at ANT almost 13 years ago with my friends, Maceik, Allan and Tom. We were there to eat our last meal pizza – together to wish Tom well on his trip to Argentina South America where he now runs a backpackers with his partner. Maceik now lives in Poland with his grandmother, while he writes, makes films and teaches. Allan the musician is now as we speak currently enjoying the summer in the UK and has been there for close to ten years. I realized for the first time that of the four friends who sat animated and chatting about the future – I was the only one left at the table – literally. I have travelled a lot since then and have lived in another country, but still I find myself so many years later once again at ANT on a date with Jedi.

Lemon and Salt…..

Being there made me feel so nostalgic of all the friendships and happy moments I shared with so many. I felt nostalgic about what ANT has meant for me over the past decade living in Melville. Almost everyone I have ever loved – and loved – deeply has shared a meal with me under the warm dim light of candles at ANT. It somehow brought love back to me. Because you see I always went or invited people I love to Ant. There is something about rustiness of the place that says ‘home’ to me in so many ways. I have always felt safe at ANT to open up and be my authentic self in a public restaurant. It has none of that pretence – it’s a place you go to talk to the one you love, to tell truth about you somehow. Ant has been a sacred place for me, a hideaway. A love-filled kitchen I couldn’t provide for my many friends, many of whom were in various stages of transit and many of whom have since left the country or chapters in my life. Ant was a place where I could have conversations about love – all kinds of love – and leave feeling happy and secure. ANT is famous for its thin base pizzas… and they are all quite good and until recently you could only pay in cash for the food and service. A trait which added to the restaurants quirkiness. I remembered bringing my younger sister Didi to ANT for the first time to get to know my new partner. I remember countless nights sipping red wine with Gina, who is now a lawyer living in Canada, or stolen lunches from with Adel who is now an award-winning journalist and mother of one, sipping whiskey, it was a place where I went to if I didn’t want my conversation to be interrupted.  The many nights with Ms Walker, Jane and countless other friends.  Because on Melville 7th street nothing was sacred. I chose ANT to celebrate my 30th birthday three years ago, entering a new phase of my life with old and new friends. There was no other place that could hold my heart as gently as this restaurant did.

  To Build a home

Three years later I found myself at Ant sitting across from someone I have always loved, unexpectedly consoling them about a love they’ve been chasing for almost ten years since we last met. It’s a place of untold beauty because of the people and characters I shared this place with. So as I was sitting at his table thinking about my next adventure I read a story about ANT that I never knew before in all the years that I have walked in each time with renewed hope for new beginnings. The story – which I image now in hindsight represents some of the struggles that we spoke about in this very same place about belonging, identity and life. It’s a piece of Johannesburg history with a surprisingly positive ending or should I say beginning

    That  Next Place

The story behind the ANT café is as fascinating as its décor. Ronnie van Der Walt (owner) moved to Melville in 1979 and began a studio and art gallery called “things Ceramic”. With the change in government in 1991, however, he decided that in order to survive and prosper in the new South Africa he’s need to go into either tourism or security. Having chosen the security option, the opened a locksmith shop, selling remote controls and security keys to various hijack and mugging victims. After a while though, he found himself becoming increasingly aggressive and paranoid and started thinking of alternatives. It was a friend’s comment that he’s make money without selling a thing if he simply made his own coffee instead of ordering it every day from the house of coffees that convinced Ronnie to kick-in the security business and turn it to something more fulfilling. Work begun at the shop almost immediately. The security business was gradually phased out as renovation began and in a little more than five weeks the locksmith had been transformed into the ANT Café. Short of mixing the concrete and pushing the wheelbarrow – Ronnie did all the renovations himself. Upon entering the café one immediate impression is that of a rustic farm kitchen – wholesome and comfortable. Dried bunches of flowers hang from the ceiling. The compelling smell of brewing coffee all combine to create a homely and appealing sunny ambiance. Colours are earthy and rich, with wooden tables, homemade iron chairs and wall have been plastered with pigments.”

Because I’m Happy

Then it dawned on me, again, that the pursuit of happiness is not as selfish as it may appear; to seek joy in your life, to seek to do what makes you happy is to seek to give joy to others too. Because I have found untold joy at ANT and all because Ronnie decided to do something that would make him joyful that was fulfilling. Through his labour of love he has brought joy to thousands of travellers and locals who have walked through its glass doors. Because, how can you hope to share joy with others if you don’t have joy within yourself. Or love for that matter? ANT was not Ronnie’s first choice, he tried two business before he found one that was just right for him, and it has stayed open in Melville longer than almost all the restaurants and bars on the street today – it’s almost two decades old and still provides that warm homely feeling, same welcoming atmosphere, service and food that stole my heart the first day I walked in.  It’s as if when you enter… time stands still just for a moment.

And that’s a beautiful thing.



IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com
IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com

“ The floor plan for this place looks like a trading floor” one  newspaper journalist remarked. We looked around with renewed eyes and yes it did!  He had just come out for a break from doing spread sheets calculating which party is likely to get seats in parliament after the IEC had concluded its “mathematical calculation to allocate seats, a two stage process.”   There are left over seats? “Yes but you can’t use words like that, you have to be careful with how you word this practice – I wanted to say you can “buy” votes but  my newspaper would not allow it. It would be wrong to say that. All that you see on the board amounts to 400 seats in parliament, and the “left-over-seats” will be allocated to parties who are closer to the 45 thousands votes needed for the them to get a seat in parliament, so for example, though AGANG didn’t do that well they might end up having a three seats in parliament according to my calculations.”  He said. I asked the IEC guy in charge of doing the actual calculations to explain the mathematical equation to me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked extremely tired, he didn’t want to be recorded. “It’s a mathematical calculation” he said as if expecting me to turn away. “We calculate according to decimal points. You know a decimal point… so if a party gets x amount point something, the figure after the point we go by the highest number after he decimal point, x point 6 is higher than x point two for example and we do that in stages” He said. So it’s possible that my vote for a smaller party could end up being allocated to another party in this rotational mathematical calculation system? “No, no that’s not how it works, be patient we’ll give you a press statement, today if you’re lucky” he said walking away. I was still none the wiser.  But here’s the formula, which happens in two stages:


The Seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region, a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the IEC determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region.  To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated by the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. It this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level to obtain the number regional lists seats allocated to each party.”


This stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the national Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of seats in the National assembly, plus one. The result, plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this is smaller than the number of seats in the National assembly, unallocated seats in the National Assembly are awarded to the parties according to a descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.  The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.


“wow” I exclaimed feeling my brain expanding for the first time since I arrived at the IEC National Results Operation Center – “so it’s like gambling” I said, feeling instantly wide awake.  Yes agreed the newspaper journalist “it is”, “in fact” he added “it’s pretty much how corporate shares work, that’s why it’s often hard to for companies to know who gets what and it’s all about rounding it off the next 1000.” I had never heard it explained that way before. “So does that make the process more or less democratic?”

Well it depends said the newspaper guy, for one : smaller parties with 1 to 7 members can’t have a presence in all 53 parliamentary committees which meet on an almost daily basis. And they are more often than not out-voted. Yes their objections will be duly noted but it will not change the outcome of a vote if there is a cohort. You have to be strategic about how you use the parliamentary process in order to be effective.  You have to choose which committee you are likely to be most effective in or have the most impact. When it comes to voting bills into law (one of the jobs of Members of Parliament is to legislate) The DA for example employs various strategies. Thursday is the most important day in parliament, that’s the day when most bills are voted in, and it’s also the day when MPs from other regions want to go home early (for the weekend), so many of them are already on their way out, if 200 ANC MPs go home, and the DA is left with a 100 members who stayed they can in effect vote a bill into parliament or walk-out to delay the process if there is not cohort. Not all parliamentary members need to be in, you must have at least 200 cohorts’ votes for a bill to be voted into law. It’s a tricky game but I love it. From his description it sounded a bit like being back in school or university except this time you re not judged on personal merit but on the political party you belong to. But I guess it’s all the same.


So there you have it, democracy (majority rule) in a nutshell from a journalist who has been doing this job for 13 years.  This conversation left me animated, so infused renewed understanding I wished I had met him five days before the elections.  It left me wondering what an “actual” multi-party “democracy”, or more or less equal distribution of diverse voices (political parties) and opinions in parliament would look like. If you had five seats per party for example, laws might take longer to be enacted, but would it on the other hand make the process fairer? And more importantly could it still be defined as a democracy? Did you know that political analysts  are yet to agree on what democracy means. The word originates from the late 16th century. From the Greek words demos (people) + Kratia (power/rule) =  Demokratia, which was became the word democratie in French and gave us Democracy in English. Searching for meaning? There is no “majority” in the word democracy. People is plural, but you only need one more person (plus one) to have the word people. Meaning people with power will always rule. How? Power is attractive, people will  vote for someone who  has the means to do something. i.e If one household has  electricity/telephone in the whole village – the majority will automatically vote for them.  When everyone has electricity, then voting becomes about who has more houses with  power. What I got from it? I understood Democracy as a vehicle for capitalism in the same way that Christianity or organized religion is a vehicle for capitalism) No wonder the ANC calls itself a broad church. No church pays taxes, only church goers do and that’s not a moral judgment, it is  just how the system works. The way it is.It’s either you buy into it or you don’t.Does it makes sense? I sure hope so.


My Beloved: Tracy Chapman - Telling it Like it is.
My Beloved: Tracy Chapman – Telling it Like it is.

Good Day!

This Sunday’s blog post will be short. As I am busy telling stories at the National Results Operating Centre in Pretoria, South Africa.

We are just three days away from one of the most talked about and contested national elections since 1994. At least here in South Africa elections and Voting – are buzz words. People greet each other with ” hi, are you voting?” Instead of how are you!

It’s pretty exciting to be a part of it all.  I’m torn between the ANC’s last and final election rally at the FNB stadium and the  EFF’s Tshela Thupa (whip ’em) rally being broadcast live on  television, that and the endless stream of  political analysts and news-makers who walk through these large doors.  “It’s a journalists dream ” says a colleague.

But I woke up this morning with Tracey Chapman on my mind! I love this woman with all my heart….I never used to understand my father’s love  for her. I used to get so irritated with my father “why does he have to play her music all the time! ” oh  but now I get it, and all too well. This song “Telling Stories” inspired the name for my blog “Between the Lines”.

This is the song that woke me up this morning. It was speaking to me. My life, my blog, my writing, I always try to be true. But there is always this  “space” of “fiction”  between  me and you and all of us.

I fell in love with Tracey Chapman in my early 20’s even though I grew up with her music blaring from my father’s hi-fi system and car radio. I chose to love her on a hot-summer-holiday in Cape Town. She walked the streets with me and helped me understand who I was.  She re- introduced me to myself in a way no other musician has.

Apparently people have a short attention span these days….no one wants to read long stories that are not immediately relevant to their lives.  I think Tracey can tell you a story you don’t have the  time to read and one which I don’t have the time to write in  just under 4 minutes. I ‘ve included the lyrics at the bottom and you can enjoy her sultry voice here.

Did I tell you I lOVE Tracy Chapman? yes love this woman with all my heart and maybe one day you too, will “get” it.

TELLING STORIES  by Tracy Chapman

There is fiction in the space between
The lines on your page of memories
Write it down but it doesn’t mean
You’re not just telling stories
There is fiction in the space between
You and me

There is fiction in the space between
You and reality
You will do and say anything
To make your everyday life
Seem less mundane
There is fiction in the space between
You and me

There’s a science fiction in the space between
You and me
A fabrication of a grand scheme
Where I am the scary monster
I eat the city and as I leave the scene
In my spaceship I am laughing
In your remembrance of your bad dream
There’s no one but you standing

Leave the pity and the blame
For the ones who do not speak
You write the words to get respect and compassion
And for posterity
You write the words and make believe
There is truth in the space between

There is fiction in the space between
You and everybody
Give us all what we need
Give us one more sad sordid story
But in the fiction of the space between
Sometimes a lie is the best thing
Sometimes a lie is the best thing