Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?

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Quo Vadis is an ancient Latin question attributed to St Peter who, while fleeing persecution in Rome met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him, Domine quo Vadis? Which means Lord, where are you going? I am going to Rome to be persecuted again, Christ replied.  Quo Vadis,  this is the question which stared back at me while I stood on top of the Voortrekker Monument surveying its magnificent panoramic views. As I stood in reverential silence I began to think that perhaps I should have asked myself this question before getting into a car and onto a  the lift which placed me on the top floor of the monument giving me a view of Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, which I had never seen before. It took me 35 years to get here. On this monument built  in honour and praise to God who delivered the enemy (African-Bantu people) into the Voortrekker’s hands. In this context I am a descendent of the enemy.

Quo Vadis?

There have been so many times over the last decade when I have asked myself this question – and I have been asking this question more and more recently in an effort to integrate the past with the present. There were many tourists populating the Voortrekker monument when I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. The most enthusiastic of them where from China. Something which I didn’t understand at first while reading the banner at the main entrance of the hall which announced that the Monument was a winner of the Gold Award in the top category “Overall performance” at the China outbound Travel and Tourism Market in Beijing, 2013. Perhaps it had something to do with how it’s built, walking up its’ top floor with cathedral-like pillars felt familiar as if I had been there before in some other timeline.

Die Rooi Gevaar.
It is only once I had gone up to the top of the monument that I understood the connection for me and perhaps for the multitudes of Chinese visitors to the Voortrekker monument. It had similar features, and fortitude to the Great Wall of China. The irony of this situation, of the fact that the Voortrekker Monument was being celebrated by China, a former communist country which the Calvinistic, fascist-capitalist Afrikaner government was once vehemently against was lost to me as I tried to find meaning in my being there. A more grounding reason than mere curiosity.
The Vow.
How was it possible that we could all be praying to the same God? The God whom the Voortrekker men prayed to under command of Andries Pretorius before the battle of Blood River? On the 16th of December 1838. The same God contained in the Bible that the English gave to the Voortrekkers after killing their women and children in concentration camps? The same God of the bible that multitudes of black South Africans worship in the bible every Sunday? All of this killing was done in the name of the God of heaven and earth. The one in the Bible.
Reasonable Conscience.
If I were a rational human being I would say that based on the evidence of events in the Bible and those performed because of it, all of it must have been the will of God. It was all in Gods’ plan and it was his will for it to happen. He is on the side of both oppressor and the oppressed. He is both life and death. But as we know I’m irrational and Unreasonable at the best of times. So, I have to ask where are you going. Do you know?

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18.

Don’t forget, your ancestor fought for the losing side. There is no sacred ground for the conquered– Xander Feng (House of Cards)

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Doomed if you Do. Doomed if you Don’t.

 

My first impulse when I saw an image of a Pastor using Doom (an insecticide) to cure his congregants or believers of various ailments, was to laugh. I mean the whole thing was ridiculous, it was unbelievable, it was shocking, it was all manner of things which made it both disturbing and funny for me. But I also had a personal reason for laughing because for me, the spread of doom into churches and timelines on social media networks mirrored an internal private struggle. So laughing  was a guilty pleasure. I know, it’s not funny.
You see my parents are obsessed with cleanliness, a trait which I’m sure is shared by most South African black parents. They hate germs with a passion and everything which could be associated with them including flies. Years ago we experienced plumbing problems at home which attracted all sorts of them. My parents often paired up in the fight against these pesty flies. They had special dish cloths for them and they would walk around the house hitting them and killing them, most times with impressive success. My father proved to be a great marks-man which delighted my mother to no end. She would call on him and say La, short for Love, there’s a fly in the room. He would walk in asking where? On her instructions he would search for it armed with his weapon of choice and strike it, dead on the floor. My mother who was sometimes not so successful  at annihilating the persistent pests would call on the name of Jesus to help her kill these flies when her marks-man was not around to assist. Generally there would be no rest until the flies were dead, swept up and thrown into the bin.
One year I decided to go home for Christmas armed with a new cook book by Jamie Oliver. My aim; to single-handedly cook Christmas lunch on my own for my family using Jamie’s’ recipes of course. It was an ambitious feat for I was generally accepted to be the worst cook in the family. When I arrived home I found that my parents had upgraded their weapons against these flies which had remained persistent despite the plumbing problem being resolved.
They found a more efficient way to kill them with  a spray, theirs was a brand called Target and not Doom. Still we call all sprays against insects and flies – doom, in the same way we call all non-alcoholic fizzy drinks, coke. Their doom, called Target,  was odourless and promised to kill them instantly. With their new spray my parents would wage biological war fare against these flies, and they didn’t have to be many, just one was enough to bring out an arsenal of weaponry.
All this time I found my parents’ obsession with these flies amusing, it was often humorous to see them trying to kill one. Until my father asked for doom while we were sitting at the table about to eat a Christmas meal (a meal, they confessed years later was inedible) which I had spent all morning preparing. He then proceeded to spray a  fly which was hovering over the table. The food was not covered and he just sprayed at the fly over the food. I caught myself afterward, Dad! I screamed – you’re spraying poison  over our food!  I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me. I was so angry it took a while to recover from that scene. It was no longer funny. We were going to eat food laced with poisonous insecticide. Even though it was not as harmful to humans, the idea of doom in my food was as frightening to me as  flies with germs were to my parents. Cover the table, he said, but it was already too late. I suppose he wasn’t thinking then about the food that we were about to eat.  He was more  focused on the invisible germs the fly must have been spreading all over the food.
Today  Doom is being used  indiscriminately everywhere including the kitchen. We have to keep all doors and windows closed so that the flies don’t come into the house especially when we are cooking meat. Target is always on hand the second a fly is spotted anywhere in the house.
Sometimes the smell of Doom is like air-freshener at home. It is no longer odourless. Even though I have tried to speak to my parents about their method of mass destruction over the years, it’s a hard one to sell. Nobody likes or enjoys having flies around. Including me.
A moment of silence came one day when my father was standing outside and there was a fly milling about, he went into the house to fetch his weapon and doomed it against the open air.  My brother in-law who was there with his wife asked for the sake of sanity. Did I just see that? His wife confirmed to him that he was still very sane. Nothing was wrong with his eyes.  Yes you did,  she responded.
And so when I saw this picture I couldn’t help but laugh, because as ridiculous as it may seem to everyone, it makes sense.
You see, my parents’ hatred of flies is not only based on scientific fact that they spread germs and are annoying, but also on biblical verses in which God says in Genesis, that man shall have dominion over animals which includes pests like flies, ants, cockroaches and so forth. In Psalm 91 God offers his protection against all pestilences (flies) and plagues.
So it stands to reason that in the evangelical, Judaeo-Christian belief systems that Doom could be a cure too. Stay with me.

Demons  (which are responsible for every human suffering  including poverty and disease) are like flies: persistent, annoying and full of germs. Tolerating one is like opening the floodgates to an endless legion of more. You must be vigilant against them. Even though the doom incident could be seen as a very literal interpretation of scripture, no one can say the Pastor did not hear from God, and the power of God is in everything, of course. No one  disputes this. I decided not to share this news of a Pastor using Doom as a cure for his  congregants with my parents because I didn’t know how they would react.

So I remained silent until  one day while with my mother in her dressing room, I saw a can of doom on one of the shelves and I just couldn’t help myself. Have you heard the news? I asked her. What news she said. The power of doom has spread across the nation, I said jokingly. What do you mean, my mother asked. Well, there’s a Pastor who is using doom to protect his congregants against demons and pestilences, to cure various illnesses. He says God spoke to him about it.  I laughed a little and said  you and dad were on to something.  But from the look she gave me I knew that it was simply too soon, to laugh.

Let’s try again next year!

 

 

TRUE LIES: MANUFACTURING CONSENT

It took a small and seemingly innocuous incident with a roving photographer to bring Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman’s: Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988) to mind. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how we all could benefit from re-reading the text,  particularly those of us who are still involved in the practice of  journalism.

The Personal Case

I was sitting  at a table next to a window facing the street at Bread and Roses, a cafe bistro  in Melville at the corner of 7th Street and 4th Avenue, typing away when I looked up to find a woman with a camera facing me. I was just putting up my head to think away from the screen as one does, when at that very moment our eyes met and  she smiled sweetly at me and asked if she could take a picture.  As usual, thinking this would make her go away I asked why? She replied that I was beautiful. I rolled my eyes thinking that if I earned actual money each time someone told me that I would be a very wealthy woman today, beauty as it turns out, does not solve many problems.

But before I could say something, she had already taken several pictures of me. So I asked feeling  less nonchalant this time, what the pictures were for? She responded looking rather annoyed herself that it was just for her own  personal use.  I wanted to ask her for her email so I can have a copy too when she started walking swiftly away followed closely by a male colleague with more cameras strapped around him which then made me think that that picture could not have been just  for her own personal use.  I was still focused on what I was doing and so I did not have the energy nor the time to run after her and ask her to delete my pictures since they were taken according to my understanding, under false pretenses.

But the picture had already been taken and she was gone.

I realized then why wildlife safaris are so popular among those who say they love and adore animals. You can take as many pictures as you like and the Giraffe will never ask why? What is it for? or What’s in it for me?

Later as I sat with an old friend, a photographer, I told her of what had just happened. I was wondering why they were taking pictures of people without any real explanation.  She said “ They’ve been doing this all day, but you know” she continued ” it’s a true lie. It’s it’s true that you may have looked beautiful sitting there working on your computer, but maybe it just made a nice picture overall not you personally, just the picture composition you know the lighting , colour etc. so it’s true but it’s also a lie.”

In short I was duped by my own vanity

So the “truth” of my supposed beauty as I typed away by the window of a trendy coffee shop in Melville masked multiple lies. The picture was not only for her personal use. I did not consent to my picture being taken, there was just not enough time for me to make a well thought out decision and if the photographer wanted that beautiful picture as she saw it  right then– she needed to act quickly, say something to distract or  placate me  so it seem  as though I have given my consent.

So what does this example have to do with manufacturing consent and the political economy of the mass media? Everything. It was economically expedient for her to lie to me about what she will use my picture so I won’t make any claims on whatever commercial gains she might make on my image in the future, it was politically expedient for her to lie about my beauty so she can get what she wanted.

This is may be simplistic but it is often  exactly how the ideological propaganda works. It is a delicate mix of truth and lies which are meant first to confuse, then to divert your attention from asking the appropriate question or probing any further. It’s that moment when someone pays you the nicest compliment as preparation for an attack meant to coerce you into doing  what they want or to believe what they say. It’s a form of psychological manipulation which is hard to pin down, identify, much less  prove.

There are many forms of deception – the local version

Let me pull up from the minutia and give you a wider angle with an example more relevant to most of us.  Let’s go back to the Marikana Massacre on the 16th of August 2012.  To say I was shocked by the public response to the incident is an understatement of the century. If I was mad, I regained the full use of my mental faculties on that day. Many people applauded police action justified by statements such as this one which littered Twitter and Facebook saying: “yeah, I mean what you would do when confronted by a mob of spear wielding men?” “I’d shoot”. Some even congratulated the police for doing a good job in defending themselves and more generally the country. This despite the fact that the previous night video footage of the murders were shown on both the privately owned E-news Channel and publicly owned SABC news broadcasts. Police were shown clearly shooting at the miners who were fleeing the Koppie. Trauma specialists and or psychologists might tell you that sometimes when people are faced with traumatic or tragic events they go through a period of denial, it didn’t happen. But despite the many interviews we conducted with journalists, union leaders and the bereaved, the official story was that the police had done their job well on that day.

Which is  true, but it is also a lie.

To drive the point home of who exactly was the guilty party, the police arrested more than 200 striking miners. The miners were wrong, they didn’t listen to instructions not to strike, they didn’t want to leave the Koppie so they had to be shot.   Soon after, a ban on interviews with those linked to the mining incident such as the bereaved was instituted at the public broadcaster for “legal considerations” including all original footage showing how the shooting happened was barred from the news on both channels, even on radio for natural sound.  Deputy President Cryril Ramaphosa came in for an interview with Xolani Gwala on SAfm – AM Live, to explain himself and his involvement in the whole saga. The wider public believed that the police were doing their job, until the documentary on the incident Miners Shotdown proved otherwise. Now almost four years later the veil has been lifted. Those who have seen the film can only cover their wide open mouths with the palms of their hands.

Who are the worthy victims?

Let’s not forget about the most important story. The terrorists attacks in the Ivory Coast in which 22 people died following an explosion at a beach front resort in Grand-Bassam. Lifeless black bodies, of men mostly filled my Facebook timeline, arms and limbs flayed and twisted with heads buried face down on the sand. Those images caused one to look away. The one person of European descent known to many South Africans of the “political class” meaning artists, filmmakers and cultural managers, remained human even after her death. We didn’t see pictures of her lifeless, bullet riddled or mangled body buried in the sand, we only saw pictures of her radiant smile and several pictures of her while she was still alive in the Ivory Coast surrounded by artists whom she so loved. Even news reports of the incident had images of her while she was still alive and the rest of the pictures were of black bodies discarded scattered on the beach like flies.  The only image that proved that there were white people killed in the incident was a picture which only zoomed on the feet of the dead while the rest of their bodies were fully covered. You may ask why is it necessary for me go into such detail. I want to illustrate the subtle yet powerful messaging contained in these  images, how people are treated when they are dead, shows you whose life is important, which life matters most. One news outlet even went as far as saying, 22 people including Europeans were killed  at a beach front hotel in the Ivory Coast. Who will you remember?

So who knows what is  actually Going On?

Today in South Africa we’re all so preoccupied (the political class) with the Guptas and their undue influence on the President of the country. When so much worse is happening to our people.  Daily, workers are being systematically dehumanized by the thousands herded like cows or sheep into taxis every morning or made to wait while angry and arrogant taxi bosses divide the loot among themselves in Johannesburg, or kill each other in Durban.   This while those who are opposed to mining  explorations in many of the country’s rural areas are  being killed, forcibly moved from their homes, starved of land, livestock and any way to make a living. Water is cut off from river streams and what is left is for coal.  Humans drink from the same polluted, stagnant waters with dogs and wild animals, because their taps have run dry. This as the Reserve bank increases the interest rates by 25 basis points making the cost of borrowing money exorbitant (more than ten percent interest on every rand borrowed). While the Rand loses currency making it so much easier for  foreign investors to take, sorry, to buy whatever they like fulfilling former president Nelson Mandela’s promise to avail the country’s public enterprises to global capital.  The coup is happening if it’s not already finished.  This as cabinet ministers with smalla-nyana skeletons in their respective closets, watch on.

No one has the courage to say: we’ve been conquered. That one vote, that one yes in 1994, meant yes to everything that is happening now.

A lie, which is  also true.

Of course there are a  million ways in which  my words can be contradicted, proven to be false,  this is after all not a monolithic argument or position. Life is infinitely more complex and more nuanced  than we could ever imagine. But it is also just as simple. Nothing is ever what it seems.  At best all the examples I have made here, serve to remind us  that we’ve all been co-opted  at some level or another into our own self-deception.  We either choose not to see  the truth because it is completely inconvenient for us right now or we just don’t have the energy to say or ask for more. Because we’re just too tired, too exhausted by the sheer physical exertion required  to get from A to B in order to  just put food on the table. So when we get home, we just want to sit down, relax ,watch some good TV and then just as the show gets really interesting  wonder why the lights, suddenly,  go off. At least this way  there’ll always be someone else to blame.

Pictured: Henrike Grohs  one of an estimated 22 people killed at the Ivory Coast terrorist attack on the 13th of March 2016.  Picture Credit:  The Goethe Institute. Johannesburg. South Africa.

 

I AM THIS PERSON: WHEN YOU ARE ENOUGH

“Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairy-tale, by love.”
― Ben Okri

Today’s  blog post is inspired by my three-year old niece who  has this ability to sneak up on me when I least expect it and say “I am following you Auntie Jedi”.  She doesn’t just say it, she literally follows my every step while watching my every move.

Her statement which she says from a place of innocence and playfulness spreads a smile across my heart and orders my steps in ways that no other  human being can. I have to think about where I’m going and what I’m going to do there and if that is a place I would like her to be in with me. It is a  huge and  humbling experience. But more than the responsibility that comes with it, it makes me joyful and  happy. In those private moments I have this insatiable desire to be a  better person because I know without a shadow of doubt that she’s following me for real.

It never seizes to amaze me how much power we have as individuals. The realization that I, myself and I  just by living my life, minding my own business have the power to influence someone else’ choices without my knowledge is astounding to me. It is incredibly humbling to realize that even then when it seems to you that you are alone, searching for clues on your own  in the dark, in reality you are not alone at all. There are eyes watching you. There is an audience which is listening, watching and following you whether you’re aware of it or not. But this is not an audience you choose, prefer, want or know about. It is an audience that chooses you. The audience  that decides that you are the person they want to follow and you have no control over it.  You can’t say don’t follow me or don’t look up to me. You can’t say, I am not worthy.

LIFE AS A RUBIK-CUBE

I am an 80’s child. And in the years after my birth the world was obsessed with a new game among many other inventions. Solving the Rubik’s Cube.  Even though it was an invention created  by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor in the early 70’s. I think  Rubik’s Cube is a perfect analogy for (my) life, because just when I think I got it, I have to start all over again. And it is only in understanding clearly where I have gone wrong, when and where or why I have made all the wrong moves.It is then that I can learn which moves I need to make to solve the  puzzle.

So it was during an unguarded moment  with my niece this afternoon when she said something which added another piece to the Jedi puzzle when she said, “Jedi, I’m not this person”  it is after she uttered these words over and over again that my squares started to align.

I’M NOT THIS PERSON

Is the key to who I am. In the past two weeks I have met with several old friends and had the opportunity to update them on my life so far. And while it has been a whirlwind adventure it has  also been an incredibly challenging time for me and with each disappointment, with each experiment I have found myself growing frustrated with the process. Wondering how many times I have to fail before I get it. The answer was with my niece. What I have been doing all along without knowing is an essential  process of elimination, and with each elimination I have come closer and closer to finding out what I am not actually. My adventures and experiments have helped me to peel off all the masks I’ve acquired over the years  and have gotten me to a place where I can look in the mirror and say. I am this person.

This person that I truly am is completely flawed in all the right ways.  When I  first took a look at her, all her mistakes  popped to the surface. They screamed at me. There’s something missing. You’re all wrong.  It’s not working. If your teeth were straight. If you’re hair was longer. If you’re nose was straighter. If you’re skin was baby smooth, caramel, coffee-coloured, dark chocolate, maybe. If your smile was more like this. If your hair was softer, if your voice was deeper, if your English was better, if your French was excellent, if you were more stable, if you didn’t give it up so easily… if.  Then everyone starts shouting all the my wrongs back at me.

You’re not what we’re looking for. You don’t have command. You’re too independent. You can’t follow instructions. How’s your maths? You don’t have confidence. You have potential but…  You want things the easy way. You don’t have the right  mindset. You like doing things your own way. You’re selfish, Self-absorbed. You don’t believe in yourself. Over and over. From all sides until I decided to turn the Rubix cube and discover the answers for myself.

The flaws were still there but  with each twist and focused attention on each problem I found that I could eliminate what I was not; a doormat, a slave, ignorant, selfish, inconsiderate, lazy or unmotivated.  While doing this I discovered other fun things about myself like the fact that I was playful, easygoing, open, sympathetic, forgiving and kind.

Then I started enjoying the twists and turns. That works, I have this skill, doing this like this makes me happy. Okay maybe this trait doesn’t work well here. But I could use it over there. Then I discovered that no one else but me is tasked with completing my puzzle, they can help me find clues, they can be my sounding board, they can walk some of the way with me, but the responsibility of completing my task is solely mine and mine only.

But the most surprising thing about discovering or exploring the real me is that all the character traits  I disliked most about myself, the quirky things which I could have changed already if it was possible are not only what makes me unique and different but they are exactly what I need to complete the puzzle.

So even though this person whom I have always wanted to be, the person I have given my all to be like, to emulate and imitate, is truly beautiful, truly intelligent, charming, sexy and everything I have ever dreamed of being as a woman and human being. Even though she is all wise, alluring, enigmatic,  insightful, oozing charm, even though she’s so deep I drown at the sight of her eyes. Even though I will admit that she is quite frankly a genius, a multi-talented can do most things with equal brilliance – type A person. Even though she has been my everything, even though I have tried everything I can to come just an inch of being half the  woman she is.

It gives me such a great pleasure to finally say in the most positive way possible that  ” I am not this person “- as wonderful and brilliant as she maybe, I am not her and that’s a huge relief. I don’t have to try to be her  or like her because only she can be who she is.

This person whom I have always looked up to and wanted to be all my life, this person who I have always wanted to impress,  will always be a part of me. But I don’t have to be her.  I can admire and love her for the brilliant one of a kind person that she truly is. But I’m not this person. And that is exactly  how it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to my niece for telling me who she is not,  because it  is only through this process that I could find out who I am. And the person that I am at this moment  is not so bad after all. She makes me laugh. And that’s enough.

ON THE CLOCK: THE FUTURE OF (SELFIE) JOURNALISM

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I have been thinking about my chosen profession recently. In fact for the past 14 years. Each day I have asked myself if this is something I want or wish to do for the rest of my life. I have asked myself this question on every occasion I have returned from the heat of the field, still half listening to the interviews in my head, still getting accustomed to the characters in the play let alone sorting out the facts from the truth. I have asked myself this question while still trying to find the words to describe the mood, the cadences of ordinary scenes pregnant with nuances beyond logical description.  The scars in someone’s soul.  Hours after the interview(s) I would still be listening, trying to find the best way to include into my script all the silences between words in the interviews, to find the words that could describe feelings that were never expressed, thoughts that were never uttered, the hopes and fears that were caught somewhere in someone’s throat or which silently gathered behind brave round eyes or spilled over in a moment of weakness onto curled eyelashes and leaked without a sound on firm cheeks. Spreading across someone’s face in a distant smile.

I would still be thinking, wondering if there is a way to write about the sound of a silent tear drop, the weight behind each one, and how each tastes different to the other. Some are as light as mist while others heavy and thick like a pound of dead flesh, drop loudly on quivering cheeks like a thunderstorm. Other tears flow slowly as fluid as crimson lava from a raptured volcano etching pigments of memory on tired faces long after the eyes have dried up. Each tear contains a story. A story which seconds on the clock could never contain.  In order to write I tell myself, I can do it.  I close my eyes to the silent tick of the clock, each red dot marking a second, a minute, an hour before the show is over. I close my eyes and in the darkness tell myself that somehow I can do it. I can make them hear the sound of falling a tear drop.

The pressure is sometimes so strong I need a song that can help me silence the critic inside. I need music to initiate movement. To silence the white noise. In all honesty I cannot remember a day when I didn’t ask myself if this is truly what I have chosen to do with my life. Because in many ways I didn’t fully believe or accept that journalism and I are well suited.  The pressure to file a story every hour was both a wondrous thrill and a heavy burden. It was superb when the story pumped like the inaudible flow of blood in your veins, when you knew all the elements of the story as well as you know your own name, when you knew the subject inside-out, when it was a subject you believed in, when love took over and you found yourself floating on water like a surfer who has just caught the largest wave, the highest tide, flying. In those moments time would be irrelevant, in fact, when you reached the point of equilibrium between yourself and a story it felt as though time herself was bowing to you, waiting for you.  It stood as if in an eternal salute to a master creating a timeless experience balancing the past and future fully in the present moment.  Everything would be in sync, synergized and you would never ever want time to start its relentless drill again. Tick Tock. In fact you didn’t even think about it.  But those days and moments were rare, because you were not a specialist you had to learn a story from scratch every day, like cramming for an exam every single time you go to work.  Most days putting a story on air would be as hard and tedious as trying to squeeze milk from an old-cow whose udders have lost their youthful lustre.  In those moments time would always be against you, either too fast or too slow.  In my early days as a journalist, I  found myself quite perplexed, both at myself and the nature of what I was attempting to do every day,  to write down stories I was never told.  I would have to shut my eyes tight. Forget about time, write what was not said with varying degrees of success. At times I thought I put too much pressure on myself,  which is why at least once or twice a week, I would find myself  immobile unable to move, because I was still waiting to hear the splashing sound of  a falling tear drop as it hits the floor. It never has.

Today, I would like to believe that I can look at what I do with a certain level of professional dispassion.  Perhaps I am mature enough to capture a tear-drop and tell a timely story.

Technology is ever-changing the way we consume and understand news and current affairs. To a large extent, the tools we use, the technology itself has become news.  What makes the headlines today would probably have never made it onto a national news bulletin when I started working with words and silences over ten years ago. What would make headlines ten years ago, is not even considered news today.  Reporting/Journalism has never been as fast as it is today, it has never been so easy nor so convenient for any journalist, reporter or ordinary person with the right tools to break a story and make headlines.  There are a multiple ways in which stories can be told and often new reporters and journalists are expected to have an ability to use all of them with equal competence. From filing radio hard copy, voice reports from the field, capturing video footage,  taking photographs, getting the interviews, tweeting about it, posting (selfies) with news makers on Instagram, Facebook, liveblogs and podcasts while simultaneously conducting live television reports with a selfie stick for a camera operator. Then there are infographics, photo snacks and hashtags, meant to compress everything to 70 characters and 30 second videos.  Your value as journalist is embedded in your ability to do all these successfully, and by success we mean your tweets must go viral, your story must be shared by millions, reposted by a hundred thousand more, tagged, favoured, and retweeted, liked, by your followers around the world. That has become the bottom line. Any errors made we can apologize for later.

There’s no time to pause before we report what we see.   The story of the sound of a tear drop is out of sync with the times, it is old news. What  we are asking journalists to do today, is like asking someone who was trained as a  General Practitioner, to start doing brain surgery, be a  vet, an obstetrician , an ophthalmologist among other things all in the course of one day. Any self-respecting medical professional would refuse such an assignment not only because it is impractical but simply because such an assignment is a recipe for failure and the worst case scenario would result in one of the patients suffering from lack of attention and or expertise advice. Whatever the outcome we can all expect the results of this to be average at best.

While it sounds very impressive to say you can and have been able to do all of those things, it is ultimately not sustainable. Perhaps not so much for the corporation itself as it operates on the belief that it can just as easily “replace” you with someone younger and more eager to not only do all of the above, but to also run and build a website from scratch and do marketing and publicity while you’re still trying to figure out how Twitter works.  The question is not whether one person can  perform all those functions, it is whether doing so would be in the best interest of the profession and the bottom line.

I understand. I was trained in all the imaginable methods of reporting from what we called desk top publishing (DTP) at the time, to photojournalism, TV, radio journalism, online journalism. I’ve learnt how to edit words, moving and still pictures, design websites, edit documentaries, write scripts, shoot video footage, and produce essays, learn history, politics, and a few foreign languages in three years.  I know how it feels like to be turned into an octopus with suctions on every imaginable aspect of journalism, a jack of all trades but a master of none. It is wonderful to have a working knowledge of these tools of telling stories, but ultimately what matters most is the story. You can have the best and most technologically advanced story telling tools – but they will never tell a story like a human being can.

So in the past four years as freelance journalist I have seen how amazing it can be to be a one man show on the rare occasion that it works, and how devastating it can be when everything comes falling apart like a deck of cards. Because in the end we only have two hands, two eyes, two ears and two feet.

I have enjoyed working in solitude as a radio reporter for eight years. Yet nothing is sweeter and is more wonderful and fulfilling that embarking on a creative project with like-minded people. I have tasted the undeniable high of working with others. Nothing surpasses a High Five with another hand at the end of a long day.  No technology can replace another human being. The Technology we use is just a tool, it will never replace another human’s eye, another person’s perspective. It is a delicate balance between being independent, versatile and being unreasonably narcissistic.  An inanimate object, no matter how technologically advanced and innovative it is, can never replace a human mind heart or soul. And if one day we wake up and think  it does, then we will do so at our own peril.

The bottom line is,  life is better when we’re doing it two-gether.

COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 10 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DENMARK

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Before I tell you my list of ten things I didn’t know about Denmark,indulge me as I tell you a little story. A story I was told by an old friend of mine over dinner during my recent visit to the Scandinavian country which boarders Sweden and Germany.
The story concerns an erstwhile Danish-American chef who wanted to cook a traditional Danish dish it could have been dessert but I don’t remember exactly. He searched the web for a recipe and found one written in the Danish language, which he duly translated into English.
According to the recipe the dish required sweet milk, written as sød mælk in Danish. So off went the American-Danish to purchase condensed milk and then preceeed to add it to the ingredients which resulted in a less that perfect dish. The Danish-American soon found out that while sød mælk literally translated from Danish to English means Sweet milk – sød mælk – in Danish actually means full-cream milk.  Which means that in the Danish language sweet-milk is not sweet even if it is called sweet milk. This made me more curious about the etymology of the term or word, a curiosity which sparked a series of questions which led my friend to retort with some irritation that: ‘I didn’t invent the language.’ So perhaps there is a reason for this perhaps there is no reason – but this particular story sums up my overall impression of Denmark.  But as with most things, places and circumstances in life things are often never what people say they are nor are they what they seem. So Denmark in this context is not in any way peculiar. So without wasting any more of your time here are some fun facts about Denmark. Yes it’s an odd country.

1. THERE ARE MORE PIGS THAN HUMANS IN THE COUNTRY

Denmark produces approximately 28 million pigs a year, that’s five times the Danish population of 5.6 million people according to 2013 populations figures. The pigs are reared in around 5,000 pig farms, most pigs are slaughtered at the co-operative abattoirs Danish Crown and Tican. In addition, a substantial number of live piglets are exported, mainly to Germany. Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports and for more than 5 percent of Denmark’s total exports.

2 . FOREPLAY IS KEY TO THE FLOURISHING PIG INDUSTRY

I’m sure you’re wondering how it is that Denmark’s pig population is larger that the human population, the reason is quite simple. Researchers found that if female pigs are aroused before insemination they are likely to become more fertile or produce more piglets.  So farm workers are tasked with performing professional foreplay on the animals before they are inseminated to increase fertility rates. You can check out the actual video here to see how it’s done.

3. ANIMAL BROTHELS ARE A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Laws in both Denmark and Norway are fairly open when it comes to a person’s legal right to engage in sexual activity with an animal. The law states that doing so is perfectly legal, so long as the animal involved does not suffer. According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this interesting gap in the law has led to a flourishing business in which people pay in order to have sex with animals. On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. The newspaper contacted several such individuals and was told that many of the animals have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation. The newspaper found that the cost charged by the animal owners varied from DKK 500 to 1,000 (USD$85 to $170).

4.    AT HEART DENMARK IS A GREEN COUNTRY

Denmark is well-known the world over for its progressive environmental policies and sustainable living. From cycling to work and recycling of waste products but within Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen, there’s a different kind of green living. In Christiania, Copenhagens’ worst kept secret, is a free green zone. Meaning once you enter, you can buy and smoke  weed, marijuana, or cannabis, freely without fear.  You only have to obey three rules: Take No pictures, Don’t Run and just have fun.  It’s a fascinating place. My friends took me there one night at my request. It was as if I was walking into a western-cowboy movie set at Universal studios in Hollywood without the proverbial image of the bumble weed floating aimlessly against the piercing sun. The lighting was dim and the walls were illuminated with green lights which made the place suddenly feel like a ghost town. Being winter, there were braziers lighting the way to the main eating areas.Vendors sold their products behind camouflaged tents which looked like set-dressing from low-budget horro movies.

Everyone spoke in hushed tones and whispers and is speaking anylouder will alert the the police. No music could be heard, only the faint sound of money exchanging hands and the thick scent of purple haze which danced around nostrils on pusher street. Christiania had a distinctly illicit-lane feel about it, far from the breakfast at Tiffiney’s boutique or silicone valley start-pu image I often associated with the free or ‘legal’ consumption of weed. 

It’s a place for the city’s hippies, for stoners, it’s off the grid, or rather it is a town withing a town. It an autonomous city because by  law it’s allowed to exist. Police conduct raids once in while but it’s not frequent. The last time they tried to close down Christiania, drug peddlers scattered around the city increasing crime rates in an otherwise peaceful city. They caused choas in a well ordered environment. So authorities changed their minds. This way it’s all under control. Everyone knows everyone. It is crime but it is also organized so for the most part it’s fine. Everyone raises their eyebrows in shock at the sound of the word Christiania. Most people would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Everyone has a relative like that.

5. DEMOCRACY WORKS IN DENMARK

Not far from Christiania is the country’s parliament, the Christiansborg Palace –  the only building in the world to house three of the countries executive branches of government. The country is proud of its democracy, because as residents like to say, Democracy works in Denmark. I imagined it would work but what I didn’t know was that until recently the Danish parliament was the only parliament in the world to offer free access to the public. You can still walk through the building but since the cartoon incident – Denmark has earned the wrath of the Arab-Muslim world which has necessitated the screening for those wishing to attend parliamentary proceedings. There are sporadic bomb threats in the city every now and then.

6. CHRISTMAS IS NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW.

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is a song almost every Dane sings even if they may not know the words or had never heard the song before. This is because in Denmark, Christmas is not Christmas without snow fall. I was quite surprised when people openly expressed disappointment at the warm temperatures (+5 degrees Celsius). Many lamented at the possibility of not having snow in the winter. It is beautiful, pretty and everyone looks forward to a white Christmas every year. People were downright depressed that they would not after–all have a white Christmas. Apparently when it snows it’s not so cold. Anyway it made no difference to me. The air was always fresh and crisp. There’s a euphemism for everything.

  1.  YOU CAN PARK YOUR BABY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU SHOP

I forgot about the chills beneath my feet for a moment when I noticed that parents routinely parked their baby strollers and prams on the pavements outside before going inside shop buildings. Perhaps there is nothing strange about that, except that they left their babies in the prams/strollers parked outside while they continued to shop inside. No one seemed to worry that their children would disappear or get cold, because no one steals in Denmark. Children learn to live with the cold from a very young age. It took me a while to get used to seeing that. I had wow moments each time. Possibly the coolest thing about Copenhagen if you love shopping. You don’t need a baby sitter! You can just leave your child outside!

8. FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS ARE COOL

There are approx. 70 folk high schools spread across the country, most of them are situated in rural areas or smaller towns, and they are typically named after the local district. In the early 1800’s, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national romanticism were developing. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 -1872) was deeply inspired of these thoughts, and after personal experience from the Trinity College in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school. Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society – a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enroll at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the folk high school was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means  to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders. Key feature of folk high schools is the fact that there are not exams or age restrictions with two or three exceptions to the rule. Some schools are specialized ( film, music or sports) while others are more general and any community can start a folk high school which is funded and or subsidized by the state.

9   THERE ARE HOLIDAY TAX RETURNS

Though Denmark maybe one of the richest countries in the world its citizens are heavily taxed in order for the government to afford social services such as free health care and education among a host of other benefits. But what surprised me most is that there is a holiday tax too. Government deducts a certain amount from your salary every month and then refunds it when  you go on leave or holiday.  Many Danes use the money to travel the world; having a Christmas office party at a Michelin star hotel in Italy over the weekend is not unheard of. It’s par for the course.

  1. IT’S BASICALLY THE LAND OF FAIRY TALES

Fairy-tales have a huge following in Denmark, especially those produced by Walt Disney. They feature prominently on people’s TV screens around Christmas time. The Danish National broadcaster screens a series of Walt Disney Movies and the latest animation film for that yea each christmas. It is now part of the Danish tradition. The fairy tale reaches its zenith on Christmas eve when families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree while singing traditional Christmas carols. Christmas would not be Christmas without singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Most adults acknowledge that it’s a strange practice – but they do it anyway, wherever they may be around the world because it is their heritage after all.

WAAW! A CULTURAL SHOCK

In conclusion these are ten things I didn’t know about Denmark until I went there.  But the most interesting thing of all, the most heart-breaking thing I didn’t know did not make it on the list, simply because the headline says 10 things I didn’t know not 11. Another reason is because technically speaking the 11th thing is not a Danish thing necessarily.

IT’S JUST  ANOTHER BUS SCENE

Picture it.  My friend and I caught a bus on a sight-seeing mission around the city. We sit opposite a man who immediately looked to me like a West African, because he was very tall, very thin and very dark. He was speaking loudly on his mobile phone. A white old woman sat next to him looking quite distressed by his loudness. I listened to the conversation and discovered that the man was speaking  a mixture of Wolof and French, which led me to assume that he might be on a long distance call to Senegal. My friend and I were thoroughly amused by the scene as the man seemed quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing around him. Soon the old woman  moved seats as soon as one was available, and this seemed to free-up the mans’ lungs. He spoke with free abandon now that no one was sitting next to him. He laughed and said sweet nothings between exclamations of Waaw! Wolof for yes!
My friend and I laughed and I was secretly glad and pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak Wolof in Denmark, I mean what were the odds? He reminded me of home. It had been two long years since I last heard those words. Soon another black-African passenger who was sitting at the back of the bus approached the man and told him to keep quiet, to keep it down as he was disturbing the peace in the bus. The man went silent, as if he had been shot with a silencer. Even even though he continued on the phone his hello? hallo? waaw… had become lifeless. For the first time he looked around the bus and our eyes met briefly, I quickly looked down in mutual embarrassment because I had never seen the face of a man seconds after being stripped of his voice. ‘That’s a first’ my friend commented ‘seeing another African tell a fellow African to keep it down, not to embarrass us in public.’  

It was an ordinary day, in an ordinary bus, no big deal. But for some insignificant reason, in an insignificant moment my heart broke. Because for some reason, I think a man died that day.

Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year!

PROF ALI MAZRUI: A MEASURE OF GREATNESS

This weeks’ post is in honour of the late Professor Ali Mazrui.  In another time I would have been ashamed to publicly admit that I did not know about this towering intellectual until his death this week. He was 81. Today I don’t mind acknowledging my ignorance because today I am wise enough to know without a shadow of doubt that I don’t know (everything) and that each day brings with it limitless  opportunity to learn.

IN MY FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS: PUTTING THE BREAKS ON EXPLOITATION

Let me first start with a personal example: Last night my father taught me that brake fluid has two uses in a car. First for the brakes which is self-explanatory and that second it is also used for the clutch. He said “come” to the garage, opened the bonnet of my mother’s car and showed us where to put the fluid for the different mechanisms. The hand brake light in my mother’s Toyota Corolla had been flashing for several days, the brakes worked fine but the light continued to flash so my mother ( being the wise woman who knows she doesn’t know about cars) asked my father who did know a whole lot about cars and how they worked. “So what do you think is the problem?  It was the first time in a long time that my father, who has been working with all kinds of engines and parts for the past 30 years or more, invited us into his world. He then explained that brake fluid is used to lubricate both the breaks and the clutch showed us the different containers.  He also explained how the signal worked, there was a sensor on the lid which monitored levels of brake-fluid and when it was below the line, caused the break-light to turn on.

I used to my marvel at my father who spoke a language I couldn’t decode. He would explain over the phone to his colleagues how to dismantle the engines caterpillar machines, and put them together again, as if he was standing right in front of them. I was always impressed by his descriptive  knowledge of each part and where it was supposed to go from memory. I admired his tone and even handedness when he explained each stage of the process without patronizing the other person.  He hardly ever raised his voice or shouted and he always asked questions in order to understand what went wrong. Moreover he always seemed to have a solution for every conceivable problem the other person at the end of the line came up with and when he didn’t know he’d say “let’s leave it for now and see what to do tomorrow”.

I admired him and still do but because of my inherently independent nature I never went to him for advice when I found myself in sticky situations. I thought the best way to impress my father would be to learn to do things and manage my life all by myself instead of asking him for help or seeking wisdom from him.  But last  night I saw how eager he was to share his knowledge with us, how happy he was to see us willing to learn  from  his vast  know how (skills)  of cars and machines. Only then did it dawn on me that the best thing I could have done in times of trouble or uncertainty or whatever hard decision I was facing was not to try to prove to him I could do it by myself. The best way to impress him would have been to do the exact opposite, to go to him and ask for his advice, opinion and counsel.  After all he is a man who deals with solving problems every day. I realized that my father would have been more impressed by a daughter who knew that she didn’t know (everything) and was willing to draw on the wisdom of those who loved her and who wanted to see her succeed. I realized that he would have been so happy to hear me say “Dad I don’t know how to do this, can you help me? What do you think?” Instead of me trying to do it all by myself and falling and hurting myself in the process as if he wasn’t there or willing to help me. Even if it was just to listen, which he does wonderfully.

I realized that admitting you don’t know and seeking the council of those wiser and more knowledgeable than you is probably the most intelligent thing I could do for myself. I realized that intelligence or wisdom is not measured by knowing or pretending to know everything, but intelligence is about being open to not knowing and then committing to learning every day and applying that knowledge to real life situations. It is only by knowing that you don’t know that you can learn new information – because essentially, even if we get to a point in life when we think we know a lot about something  – we still don’t know everything.  And it is precisely this arrogance and belief that we know better than everyone else who has been here before us which is responsible in large part for the failed states and or downfall of Independent Africa for hundreds of years – a subject which Prof Mazrui dedicated a large part of his academic scholarship to.

THE DUAL MANDATE: NEW FORMS OF SLAVERY

After I discovered the passing this towering legend through a wise friend of mine on Facebook. I spent the whole week listening to his teachings. I realized that I had been searching for a teacher like Dr Ali Mazrui’s who was essentially a romantic like me, but understood the roots and anatomy of  Africa’s present day challenges without being frivolous, superficial or reactionary about solutions to those problems. I was drawn largely by his calm, clear and balanced authority which spoke of wisdom beyond my own years and a mind seeped in the excavation of knowledge. He was a man who had learned how to listen and I could hear it from the way he spoke. In  short, when I watched a video clip posted by my friend, I realized that I had finally found my mentor.  I sat at his “feet” and listened as he decoded the illusion of African Independence, in a way that was fresh and empowering.  And rings ever so loudly true for  Africa today than ever before.  Instead of telling you about him I thought the best way to honour him would be to let him tell you the story of Africa. So I spent time transcribing part of his documentary – Tools of Exploitation in Africa – which is the best analysis, explanation and account of the current challenges facing the continent today.  You can find the complete version in the video on youtube or click the title below to watch it.  I hope you will be inspired as I have been to continue where Prof Mazrui, who published more than 30 books and articles and was written about and published in 50 others – left off. “To whom much is given much is given, much is required”.

TOOLS OF EXPLOITATION IN AFRICA – BY PROF ALI MAZRUI

“Many centuries ago man in this part of Africa went into partnership with termites to process copper. The  Balunda, the Baluba,  the Basanga of ancient Zaire ( Democratic Republic of the Congo) used the clay produced by termites to  help smelt copper and produce implements of agriculture, weapons of war sometimes decorations and money for exchange. A long, long time ago, a strange partnership… and then the Europeans came. Did they want to learn from the technology they found here? Oh no! At least the Baluba and the Balunda had consulted the technology of the termites and benefited from it. But European technology was more arrogant more self-confident and less compromising. It abolished the old technological order and in its wake it left new forms of desolation in Africa.”

“Yes the West arrived in Africa with a bang. The soil recoiled in a whimper. Britain’s colonial policy Policy maker lord Lugard argued that Europe had a double mission in Africa. One was to develop Africa’s resources for Africa’s own benefit. The other was to use those resources to meet the growing industrial requirements of the western world. Lugard called these two goals the Dual Mandate. Our story is about this dual mandate. This intended partnership between Africa and the west and how far it’s been fulfilled.”

THE DUAL MANDATE

“Europe’s’ new technology has descended upon Africa in search of the continents virgin wealth. The African landscape will never be the same again. And so they dig up Africa faster than they have ever done before. And yet it’s one of the cruel ironies of the world economy that a continent so rich in natural resources should at the same time be so poor in living standards. The factories the furnaces of the world are clamouring for African manganese, African copper, chromium, platinum you name it Africa produces it. The romantics amongst us would prefer to think of Africa as God’s treasure chest of diamonds, after all we produce more diamonds than anybody else, we like to think of Africa as a golden continent, we produce more gold than anybody else.  And yet the same rich continent, this vast Treasure Island is inhabited by poverty-stricken inhabitants. Why? Something has gone wrong, tragically wrong in the partnership between western technology and African resources. And yet the digging continues: Dig, Dig, Dig, is it for wealth? Or is it the collective burial of a people”

A FACADE

“Some would argue that the west had brought development to Africa. Perhaps by the Dual Mandate, Lord Lurgard meant an exchange of African resources for Western technology. A new civilization on wheels is now vibrating along African streets, from Dar es Salaam to Dakar. In all my travels in five different continents. I still continue to be astonished by the great variety of African skylines, every African city is a miracle of transition. The mixture is between the foreign and the indigenous, the old and the new, the natural and the artificial. But much of it is a mirage and half of it is a façade.   In Africa the glittering goods are more a symbol of imported consumption than of genuine local prosperity. We in Africa are buying goods from other nations rather than making them ourselves.  The West has given African only the shimmering illusion of technological know-how in exchange for the solid substance of Africa’s resources. In what continent am I? Africa or Europe if I am confused it’s because it’s all a façade, a façade of a western style skyline behind which lies a very different story. Westernization without real modernization Appearances reminiscent of the West behind which lie the realities of Africa. What have we got to show here in Africa, for 300 years of contact with Western technology?  We have acquired western tastes, but have we the skills to make them work?”

HUMANS FOR GUNS

“More  sad than the death of Kings is the death of ancient skills surrounding them.  Once upon a time African Kings and Chiefs were patrons to great artists and craftsmen. Civilizations in gold and bronze were maturing. Techniques had been evolving since the 12th century.  The most famous African sculpture is from Ife and Benin in West Africa. Some outsiders scoffed claiming that the bronzes came from the lost continent of Atlantis. By the time the Portuguese arrived the art had become so realistic that it portrayed the visitors in remarkable detail.   But the Portuguese and other Europeans hadn’t come to admire African skill, their eyes were on a new and fearsome trade, not in African products but in the very African producers themselves.

Slavery was not simply a denial of freedom for those Africans actually captured, it was also a denial of development for the continent they left behind. Europe not only refused to develop Africa, it savagely disrupted skills already in the making. The most symbolic western institution in Africa at the time, was the fortress. An impregnable trading factory, the factory’s merchandise human beings.  The slave trade rapidly transformed Africans into the most humiliated race in human history. Within two centuries alone over  12 million Africans were exported to the new world, the Americas.  It is estimated that for every slave who reached the America market, another died in transit.

Those who survived proved to be more durable than the Indians or Poor whites. Ironically the African Slave trade persistent partly because Africans were so tough.”

Africa had exported to the west men and women, potential implements of production. Africa had imported from the west, guns – by definition instruments of destruction. Indeed the slave trade and the gun trade were interlocked, in some cases guns were the currency with which slaves were bought. Slaves in exchange for guns. Africa had helped to enhance the industrial revolution of the west through those very slaves sent by force there. And yet the guns out here initiate a whole new culture of violence. That culture of violence extends right into present day Africa”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

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:

CAN YOU TRANSLATE WORDS INTO NUMBERS?

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.”

THE SECOND STAGE: THE LOTTO

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.

DENUMERACY

“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.

“HISTORY IS A SET OF LIES AGREED UPON” Napoleon  Bonaparte

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.

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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!

 

 

 

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.