MIRIAM TLALI: OUT OF PRINT?

I hung my head in shame when I heard the news of the passing of South African author, journalist and anti-apartheid activist Miriam Tlali (83) on the 24 of February. I hung head my in shame because despite having been a supporter of the Miriam Tlali Book Club run by Writes Associates’ Raks Seakhoa, I never once read a book of hers. I’ve been meaning to but never quite got around to it. This is a particularly shameful admission because not only was Miram Tlali the first black woman in South African to publish a book under the title Muriel at Metropolitan (1975) – she was also a journalist. I had never come across any of her works, it was never a part of the curriculum when I was studying journalism at Natal Tech now the Durban University of Technology. I hung my head in shame because I wanted to write something moving and meaningful about her but realized that actually, I know nothing. I didn’t know her and I had never had an opportunity to speak to her or to interview her, let alone read her books. This of course, was going to remain a private shame, I was going to keep this shameful fact to myself and try correct it through other means. By reading her books. So I made a request through my book club: The Joburg African Literature Club if we could read her next month.

None of her books are available for purchase. They are out of print. With the exception of used copies on Amazon.

This turned my private shame into a public one. It was so shameful it made me recall the piercing words of Ghanaian writer, Ama ata Aidoo during her tour in South Africa last year when she confessed that she was too shocked to learn that Rhodes University students didn’t know who Lewis Nkosi was. It made me flinch. It’s a sad day for South Africans indeed. It is regrettable that we have not been admirable custodians of our own history as black people – that we are neglecting our ancestors (read answers) even as they live and breathe among us. We no longer see any value in their beings. No only are we failing to acknowledge and honour our living legends – even when they have left something of value – we throw it to the dogs. We don’t take it, treasure it, feed it to our children, so they never forget.

Tlali’s first book published at the height of Apartheid in 1975, gave the world an inside view into what it was like to be Black, Female and oppressed living in South Africa. When she published her second book Amandla! which was banned because it chronicled the 1976 Soweto Riots she wrote with us in mind. In her interview with Steirn from 21 Icons she said she put her hope in  future generations.

“I knew it wouldn’t be accepted I really didn’t mind about that, I knew that coming generations would pick it up and publish it. I was already now infused with the idea that I have to write everything.”

She continued to write – documenting the lived experiences of millions of South Africans – in the hope that we would one day read them, know them and ourselves. I suppose the greatest honour for any writer is not just to receive awards of which ma Tlali was a recipient of many. The greatest honour for any writer is to be read, and read widely by her own people.

Are we going to fail her? How can Miriam Tlali rest in power when we don’t even read her?

The best way we can pay our respects to those who paved the way for so many of us, is to read and teach about who they were, at the very least.

And it’s a real shame that none of her works can be found in our country’s leading bookstores today. As Jodi Picualt said if we don’t change the direction we’re headed we’ll end up where we are going.

Miriam Tladi’s story is one of unmitigated courage, strength and determination against an oppressive regime which not only saught to control the black body but the black mind.

She demonstrated through her dedication and fearlessness that we are greater than our physical circumstances. She epitomised the kind of leadership our country sorely lacks in this moment. Leaders with a vision not only for themselves but for future generations.

How can we become such leaders if we have no models of it. If we don’t know our own herstories?

It is sad to realize that the Apartheid regime succeeded in conquoring us. We have been conquered in the cruelest way possible. We have internalized the oppression so much that we don’t even see how we are still living in subjugation and bondage. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves bear testament to this. We are missing out on a chance to change – a chance to become more than we thought we could be.

This time there’s no one else to blame. It is simply too soon for Miriam Tlali to be out of print. It is way too soon for that. We don’t know nearly enough.

“A good book, if it has the right messages in it, it can change a whole human being into something he never thought he would be” Miriam Tlali

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!

 

 

INTERVIEW:WHAT’S WRONG WITH BREAD?

Today I want to talk about a subject close to my heart: Food and why millions of well-fed people are dying of hunger, today. See report here.  Why do we eat what we eat? Ever asked yourself that question? Without thinking about weight loss. Why Burger King and not Chisanyama? Why Mcdonalds instead of Nandos? Why buy food at WoolWorths instead of cooking the food yourself? Why go to the Food Lovers’ market instead of the local farmer’s market or street vendors who sell fresh produce? What influences your choices? Is it the country you live in? Is it the car you drive? Where you live? Where you work? The work that you do? Where you went to school? Hygiene? Time? Social and economic status? What are the set of values which influence your decision making process when you go shopping for food or when you decide on a restaurant to eat at? Is taste the only deciding factor? Service? Money? Personal Preferences, Culture, Tradition, Politics, Comfort or Ease?

Do you ever think about it?

I started to think about these questions more deeply in the process of trying to understand how my mind works. I started to notice specific behavioural patterns induced by varying stages or degrees of hunger in my own life. When I started to pay attention to what hunger does to the physiology of the body, its biological functions – I started to see amazing connections between how those energy systems or energy in motion (emotions) influence how I felt, how those feelings influenced my thoughts, how those thoughts influenced my actions or behaviour which then produced certain outcomes or results. Food then was not simply just stuff I consumed to stay alive, but the kind of food I ate also influenced the quality of the life I led.  The more I searched deeper and deeper I began to discover that what I eat, not only influences my health or what I look like, but most importantly how my thoughts are formed. Access to food influences how I think about myself and the world around me. The food I eat on a daily basis actually directly influences the quality and kinds of thoughts I think every day.

Can you imagine that?

I suppose we all know this. The choices you make when you are hungry are very different to those you make when you are full. The choices you make after you’ve eaten a large burger are different from the ones you make after eating a bowl of fresh greens, simply because the nutritional value is different. The fuel is different. The chemical digestive Process is different.  It’s the difference between drinking water and having a shot of vodka. Not only is food essential for brain function but the type of food we eat can enhance or impair how our brain works, how we think, feel and behave.

So what’s wrong with Bread?

Paying attention to my body (biology) helped me to understand the intricacies of the global food system. While the question of how food systems work or how your plate of food influences labour and the economy is too complex to unravel in one simple blogpost, I thought we should at least start to think about how we acquire the food we eat and what it does to us our bodies and the world we must continue to live in once we‘ve eaten it.

Food like politics makes the world go round.  Whole revolutions have been started by a lack of certain foods. So I decided to enlist the help of a dear friend Brittany Kesselman who is a food systems researcher and founder of Jozi(Un)cooked to help me understand how food systems work outside of my body and how those systems impact on my food choices and ultimately my perspective on life or the quality of my thoughts. Ms K can see all the way down the alphabet when it comes to food, so I thought I should ask once and for all what, if anything is wrong with bread (read food) and what I can do about it.

JediW: What’s wrong with bread?

BrittanyK: Many things are wrong with bread and nothing is wrong with bread. The current dehumanization of bread as the evil food responsible for everyone being overweight and unhealthy I think is a bit unfair to bread. But at the same time bread as we know it today – in the mainstream in the supermarkets is in some ways worthy of that characterization because it is made of highly processed, heavily sprayed with chemicals, industrially produced artificial ingredients that are designed to travel long distances and stay on the shelves for a long time and so they are incredibly unhealthy and are responsible for people being over-weight and under nourished.

This bread is nothing like the daily bread of the past.

JW: Are you suggesting that we do away with bread? People can hardly afford it as it is.

Bk: I’m suggesting that we radically overhaul the food system so that it doesn’t produce bread like that anymore. In fact the consumption of bread as a staple in this country (South Africa) by the majority of the population is only about a 50 or 60 year old phenomena. People didn’t eat bread but in the bad old days (Apartheid/colonial era) there were farmer co-ops they artificially lowered the price of bread and pushed it to become a staple for the underpaid labouring majority who hadn’t been previously eating bread and now when the government just raised the wheat tariff to protect wheat farmers in this country, people worried that it would increase the bread price, in fact only about 30 percent of the price of bread is related to the price of wheat.  Which is odd because if you made bread properly, if you just make it and ate it, about 95 percent of your bread price would be based on wheat.

There’s marketing, transport, packaging, the price of bread is not reflective of the ingredients used to make bread but is reflective of all those other things. The costs are born out of this long distance food systems. If you had someone growing wheat nearby, if you had someone milling wheat nearby and baking bread nearby it wouldn’t have to cost so much.

JW: But there’s a bakery  down the road here  which bakes bread every day and bread there costs twice as much as the standard bread loaves found in mainstream supermarkets?

Their bread is pricey because the current food system favours mass production instead of small scale production. So people receive benefits like access to credit and other things from the government for being large which gives them an unfair advantage and that enables them to have very low prices. But they still have all of these other costs that they then add in that makes the prices go up. If you pay labour a fair price and you grow a quality ingredient then it’s also true that food shouldn’t be super cheap, cheap, cheap. Because farming very is hard work and producing food is hard work and so it does have costs and the costs in some ways are artificially low even though they seem to be too expensive for other people because everyone is unemployed. The reality is if you had the proper cost for food to reflect its actual value – good food – then you’d have to pay more for it. People would have to be paid fairly across the economic chain in order for them to afford good food. It takes cheap food to create cheap labour and none of those things should be cheap.

JW: I’m not sure that many people would want to think about what you’ve just said when deciding on what to eat for lunch?

BK: It’s a lot to think about. But for someone who is struggling to buy that loaf of bread might wish to be aware that it’s not their individual fault that they are struggling to buy that loaf of bread but it’s the system. The system that creates that bread is the very same system that leaves them unemployed or working on a job where they can still not afford to buy bread.  And so at the moment good food costs more than it should but some of it is not that expensive. So a bag of lentils is not expensive but goes a long way in terms of calories and nutrients.  A head of cabbage is not so expensive it goes a long way as well. So someone might need to keep buying that bread and fill up on calories right now but could perhaps mixed it in with more healthy items and then we need to start advocating for changing to the systems so that people can afford good food.

JW: Oh my god lentils, I think they’re so boring!

BK: Lentils are not boring, the entire Indian Sub-continent eats them every day and they taste delicious. I mean is mealie meal exciting food? A great deal of this country according to studies live on plain bread or mealie meal, most of the time. That’s not exciting food either, it’s what people can manage, so if you can manage something else that’s better for you… Lentils are not familiar and the fact is lentils are not indigenous to this region but other beans are and nobody is eating those anymore like Bambara beans? It’s not something you see, those are indigenous to South Africa, what happened to Bambara beans? Millet is indigenous to Africa, why aren’t we eating millet?  The thing is these things can grow more cheaply, wheat is  not indigenous to this region so growing wheat here sometimes involves acquiring more chemicals or more water or more costs compared to growing something more indigenous.

JW: Is paying less for bread the solution? #BreadPriceMustfall

BK:The fact that a small number of corporations – the oligopolies of the world own every stage of the food systems in this country from the fertilizers to the seeds, to the large still white-owned commercial farms to the few dealers and a few retailers, all of those oligopolies are making billions of rands in profit while people can’t afford to eat. And the point of the BreadPricesMustfall campaign is that it’s unfair, unjust if not criminal that they could be making billions, while people can’t afford to eat. It’s not as though they are selling the bread at cost, or close to at cost, they are making literally billions! And I would agree that if you treat food as a human right which is what it is according to the South African constitution other than a commodity then you don’t make it about profit you make it about a public good. But ultimately what we should pay less for is not chemical laden, nutrient poor white bread, we should pay less for good food.

JW: How do you define good food?

BK: Good food is nourishing. Not only to your body biologically but also to your spirit. Good food is food that was not produced through exploiting workers, it was not produced by destroying the planet, it was not produced with chemicals, and it is produced with love in traditional ways that then nourish your body and your community and your planet. And Ideally you will then sit down and enjoy that good food with good people around you, so that it’s actually an entire experience and not something you eat while driving your car or sitting at your desk at work.

JW: I’ve never consciously thought of food as a human right, like water. I’ve always thought that if I want food I must go out and work for it. I’ve never thought that my right to life equates to the right to food? Is that crazy?

BK: In this neoliberal world we’ve come to think of food as something you have to pay for, in many ways water has also become something that we pay for, land is something that we pay for and before we know it air will be something that we pay for. That’s the spread of neo-liberalism, the idea that everything falls under the market place.  But I think we need to take certain key things back out of that market system or at least recognize that they are beyond the market system and food is definitely one of them. Because if you don’t have food you cannot enjoy a single other human right. There’s no point in having a right to vote, or a right to education if you don’t eat because, you’re dead.

JW: Are there healthy food systems in the world we could emulate? How can an individual affect change?

BK: It’s challenging because the oligopolistic industrial system is certainly the main one at the moment globally. To seek to imagine alternatives, sometimes it’s more imagining than seeing, but there are pockets of alternatives that have sprouted up all over the place. And are spreading and give us glimmers of hope and some examples like, in Cuba out of necessity when the Soviet Union fell no longer had support from the communist bloc , they had to make another plan because suddenly there was no  cheap petrol coming in and cheap fertilizers, so they transformed the entire agricultural system.

In Chiapas, Mexico you see more of a solidarity economy, in Malawi to a more agro-ecological approach and also changing gender relations within the food system so that they can produce healthy food by involving both men and women in these tasks, so there are little pockets. You see people occupying land in Brazil, you see people saying no to genetically modified expensive seeds and chemicals opting to use agro-ecological approaches, you see people trying to save heirloom seeds and bring back traditional varieties instead of the few mono-cultures that people tend to grow now. So there are pockets were people are either fighting back or imagining new futures or going back to traditional ways which worked well before.

JW: Does buying Organic Food from Supermarkets help?

BK: Look if you’re buying organic from the shop, yes you’re buying a product that wasn’t sprayed with thousands of chemicals and already that’s an improvement. And you’re also sending a market signal through the retailers to the farmers that there is demand for this type of alternative way of production. But if you’re buying it from the supermarket from one of those few retailers which control the entire retail sector then you’re not exactly striking a blow to the entire economic system behind the food chains. So if you have the option of doing it, it is certainly worth doing, but buying organic won’t change the system.

JW: What more would we need to do?

BK: We need to find alternative means of sourcing our food, we need to get out of the supermarkets if we can and buy from small farmers who get such a small percentage of the price when we buy from supermarkets, but if you can skip the supermarket and the other middlemen and purchase your food directly from farmers we can both negotiate a fair price. We can also communicate directly with the farmers about what we want and the types of food they can grow, so it gives the producer and the consumer more control.

JW: But wouldn’t that be inconvenient?

BK:Maybe, but it has become inconvenient because our entire systems of living have changed. In many parts of the world both in the north and the south there are weekly if not daily famers markets, people go and buy fresh things and they buy them because they are good. Why don’t we have that?

 JW: How effective are food gardens in changing the system?

BK:On the one hand they don’t have a big impact in terms of how much food they are able to produce. It’s not likely that the city will be able to feed itself ever.  But on the other hand they have a very big impact first because they reconnect people to their food. Remember there are children who don’t even know where their food comes from or that a vegetable grows from the ground and that’s extraordinary. When people in the community are growing different food they can start to trade it, they can start to share it and they begin to step out of the main economy as well. We can re-establish those community bonds over food which the supermarket takes away from us.

JW: Isn’t that like going backwards? Isn’t that old and boring, haven’t we evolved from that?

I think the modernist notion of progress is something that is questionable. It’s only the neoliberalist system that has convinced us that living an individualistic, career cantered life is of value. Many of the values that may have been lost along the way are certainly worth reviving and preserving.

JW: But Why though? I think some people might aspire to one day being able to afford Burger King…

Brittany K: And once they are able to afford Burger King they will find that they are not any happier! Once they can afford Burger KING and KFC they will still not be any happier. But they will have a higher chance of getting a heart attack or a stroke or Diabetes of Hypertension. The singular focus on wealth as the path to happiness is ridiculous, because it minimizes all of our other elements as human beings and we’re multidimensional creatures if we put all our focus on one dimension we will never be happy. It’s not as if there is a lower incidents of depression amongst the wealthy. That’s just strictly not true.

JW: So would baking your own bread be a solution to the current nutrient deficient bread sold at supermarkets?

BK:Your questions don’t have easy answers. In some ways yes, of course it would. Baking bread is extremely therapeutic you knead the bread and it’s like giving yourself a massage! But if you have to buy the mainstream bread of that flour to make that bread, it’s not significantly radical and in our rushed time pressed world people will find that they don’t have time to bake bread or don’t want to make time to bake bread. But if you start to break bread, if you find it therapeutic then you might look for better alternatives to the flour, find someone who is producing or selling such a thing and in another way then you’re getting out of the main stream and finding another way and you might find yourself baking more bread and sharing it with your neighbours. And then yes the might be a change.

JW: So the problem with bread is the flour?

BK:The problem with bread is the ten things I’ve said before. Certainly, flour is sprayed with chemicals and refined  to  no longer resemble the wheat that it once was in any way shape or form, our bodies don’t even recognize that it’s a food by the time it get into our system. There’s nothing so wrong with Wheat per se, human beings have consumed wheat for about ten thousand years but by the time it becomes that white flour in the supermarket it’s not food anymore.

JW: So are you saying that there’s not nutritional value whatsoever in the bread we buy at super markets even though they say it’s got added vitamins?

BKRaj Patel gives an amazing talk about poverty and added vitamins. Taking all of the nutrients out of an ingredient that originally had them because it looks better and lasts longer better and then pumping all the vitamins at the end is the ultimate capitalist way to approach food. Whereas using the fresh ingredient in its natural state with its original nutrients and then consuming it fairly quickly meaning there’s no shipping or transportation costs would be a better approach. But multinationals don’t benefit from that.

JW: So if I stopped buying from them would that change anything?

BK:Having worker owned co-operatives is certainly a solution. Places like Brazil and Argentina they have a lot of worker own co-operatives which tend to have more than just a profit motive, they have other social objectives to their businesses and they of course would want to make enough money to benefit those who participate from it but they care about their communities as well. Because they understand that they are embedded in those communities. So I cannot just say walk away from your job to those people who need that job but those who are in a position to look into alternatives and eventually create jobs from them should certainly do so.

Brittany Kesselman is a food systems researcher and founder of JoziUncooked, Johannesburg’s first raw food company. You can visit her website at JoziUncooked.com

*pictured: Bread-seller turned model, Olajumoke. credit: cnn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

THE SILENCE OF NKOSAZANA DLAMINI ZUMA: IS SHE OUR HILLARY CLINTON?

I have been a long distance admirer of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the current chairperson of the African Union (AU) commission. I have admired in particular her resilience and yes, her  acute silence over the years. Someone once wrote a flattering opinion piece about her in the City Press. A formidable character made even larger by an unshakable cloak of mystery which seemed to consistently shield her from any controversy. We don’t know much about this woman who some of us had hoped would one day take over the leadership of the country and become South Africa’s first female president.  But then again, perhaps we do know a lot about her.   A trained medical doctor from KwaZulu Natal  she met the current president Jacob Zuma  while working at a government hospital in Swaziland together they had  four children one boy and  three daughters one of whom, Gugulethu  graced our screens as Lesego Moloi in the once popular local soap Isidingo. Their 16 year long marriage ended in 1998.

Faction Before Blood

Before she is the president’s former wife however she has held her own in the political corridors of South Africa, becoming an active  underground member of the ANC and deputy president of the South African Students Organization in the 70’s, then she became the  minister of health during  the first  non-racial democratically elected government of South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s presidency in 1994  which would later put her right in the eye of the HIV/AIDS awareness storm, in which the public protector called her out on irregularities in the financing of the play, Sarafina II. Then former president Thabo Mbeki removed this hot potato from her burnt  fingers  when he took office and handed it over to the late health minister Manto Shabalala Msimang who held on to it until her death on December 16th in 2009.

Hands free and still a little soft Thabo Mbeki moved her to head up the then ministry of Foreign Affairs (International Relations and Corporation), a position which seemed to fit her like a glove – and where she showed her mettle as a formidable leader and negotiator, helping Mbeki launch his African Renaissance dream in the form of the New Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) which put him at logger heads with former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wades’ OMEGA,plan for African Development. Wade conceded  defeat and elected to erect on his own behalf  a towering statue in the same name (The African Renaissance Monument) before being unceremoniously deposed from power in 2012 by his former ally, confidant and protégé, Macky Sall.

After President Jacob Zuma did a “Macky Sall” on President Mbeki, he ironically moved his former wife “back home” to head up the department of home affairs (domestic affairs) in 2009, I had a chance to meet her. At a conference at Gallagher estate in Midrand. I was the only reporter I knew on the story and I needed a quick interview with someone big.  Our paths had never met until that moment and I was quite surprised to find that she was much more demure and  much more petit that this towering figure of strength which I had so often seen projected on my Television screen each time I watched the news.

Human Nature

She was also quite soft-spoken in person and much kinder and gentler than I had ever imagined she would be. I was as always terrified of asking (her) for an interview, but since I was quite desperate for a sound bite I bit my fear and did the job. I can’t remember what the interview was about but I do remember being struck by her, I wished she had more time in that moment for a relaxed conversation about life. But as always she was in a hurry and I had to graciously make way.

I was struck by her stature, she was so cute I could hug her.

I had long been curious about her and the African National Congress Women’s league – but my fascination with her as an individual grew even larger after our brief encounter. I started to think about her more than I’d care to think about any politician. I wondered a lot about her person, her relationship with the President. Her silence on issues which were important for women – the nation.

I became so curious I decided the only way to learn about who Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma really is would be to write about her, to study her life. Which I thought while salivating would make for a riveting read. After years of thinking about her, I finally decided to make a call to her media person, at a time when her name was a strong contender for the upcoming presidential elections. I called the man and he asked if the book I wanted to write was going to say she must be president, I said no. I want to write a book about who she is and not an ANC campaign. He said I was joking. And I thought I might as well be, I was indeed an innocent in a den of hyenas.  Soon after, a vociferous campaign for her to take up the African Union Chairmanship made Ethiopia so inviting.  I wondered how I could get through the cruel chains which the Ethiopian government had woven against independent journalists (bloggers) in that country. Some are still serving life sentences for treason.  Without some institutional support my ambitions however noble could end in tears behind bars. So I watched her disappear into the thin horizon of the Promised Land. I kissed her and all the money I could have made with her goodbye!

Today I find myself thinking of her again. From a very different context – there’s something very interesting that’s happening, something curious. She’s still silent. And her silence has permeated the soil of rural KZN so much so that mini volcanoes are threatening to erupt on women’s faces, right there on their foreheads. They are tired of the deafening silences.

So if you are reading this Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and you think it’s time to talk about life, my memory of  words that were never uttered or spoken is still in excellent, peak condition. You can always deny everything since you will not have uttered a single word. But you and I will both know that the truth about who you are and what it takes to be you will be out there releasing a million more tongues from chains of mental and physical oppression, in  languages we are yet to conceive. I am almost certain that like our once beloved unofficial first lady of a free and democratic South Africa Winnie Madikizela Mandela, no one will judge you for it. Whatever it, is.

LOVE ACROSS THE BORDER: CAN YOU AFFORD TO FALL IN LOVE?

If food is the way to a man’s heart, 33-year-old *Thembi Nkosi seemed to have the exact Global Positioning System (GPS) co-ordinates to *Soren Adamsen’s.  The couple met ten years ago at a mutual friends’ Johannesburg home for dinner which Nkosi an invited guest and professional chef, ended up cooking from start to finish. It was shortly after taking bites of  Nkosi’s lemon chicken dish that Adamsen, a Danish national was permanently hooked on her. “Two months or so later after our first meeting he invited me to Denmark and introduced me to his family and friends” says Nkosi a South African citizen. “I guess he is only human” she says, explaining why Adamsen found her so irresistible.  After ten years of travelling between South Africa and Denmark the couple finally decided to take the plunge and build a life together in 2013.  This meant that Thembi Nkosi  and her three-year old daughter  had to  move from South Africa and join Soren Adamsen in Denmark using the family re-unification visa for entry. First the couple had to prove that they had lived together for two years consecutively in order to qualify for a visa,  an issue which presented a huge challenge for the couple.“The family unification process is a laborious one” says Adamsen, who works as a journalist for a leading investigative television program in Copenhagen.  “We had to fill out at least 100 pages of documents justifying why we wanted to be re-united or why we wanted to live together.”  He says adding that “Our initial application was rejected” Adamsen and Nkosi like many other couples who’ve had to apply for family re-unification visa’s found the process punitive and sometimes unfair. While the family re-unification laws in most EU countries require applicants to apply from their country of residence, those who do, do so at their own risk as they are more likely to be rejected from the outset. “We paid a big price for being honest, and trying to do things the right way” says Adamsen, adding that from his perspective the laws seem to favour those who are dishonest or cheat the process. The process however was even more frustrating for Nkosi as the paper work and all forms were written in Danish and she was ostensibly  excluded from the entire visa application process. Yet in the end it was not the paper-work nor the bureaucracy that would finally open the doors to a life together for the couple.  Money was the key without which it would have been impossible for them to be re-united even if they met all the other required criteria. “Soren had to get a bank guarantee loan of 50 thousand Kroner, equivalent to 100,000 ZAR  as an insurance” Says Nkosi.  Fortunately for the couple, Adamsen who is financially solvent and had not been on state-welfare in the past two to five years  qualified for a  bank guarantee  and the family was able to be re-united  six months after the initial application process.“I think it’s just another way for government to make it difficult to families to be together” says Adamsen. “For other people it may be difficult (to acquire the funds)  but for us the money issue was irrelevant. We just wanted to be together and I did everything in my power to make sure that, that happens, but it is still upsetting to know that government can have the last word on a private issue such as who you decide to spend your life with.” New family re-unification laws in the United Kingdom came under the spotlight last year  after a couple in Cornwall was denied a family re-unification visa due to insufficient funds. In 2013 the UK issued new regulations which stipulate that UK residents wanting to sponsor a loved one from a non- European Economic Area ( EEA)  should earn a minimum of 18 thousand Pounds or 311, 973 Rands a year  or about 25 thousand rands a month. The amount increases with each child a couple has.  The  British Home office staunchly defended its policy  in court  justifying the financial requirement as being part of an effort to help immigrants to integrate. When asked by a judge if the home office was suggesting that an affluent person would integrate more easily than a poor person, the response was “yes”.  London, the capital city of the United Kingdom is currently the billionaire capital of the world with a recorded 104 Billionaires  living in the city. UK officials say the new visa regulations introduced in 2012 are working as intended and estimated that the new policy would reduce family visa applications by 17,800 a year.   Under the EU directive on the right to family reunification non-EU nationals can bring their spouse, under-age children and the children of their spouse to the EU State in which they are residing. After a maximum of five years of residence, family members may apply for autonomous status if the family links still exist. The Directive only however only applies to 25 member states excluding the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland which determine their own criteria for family reunification. The UK is currently canvassing for new EU reforms which will ensure even tougher or stricter  legislation on benefits for migrants. While South African immigration law does not use money as the main criteria ( there is no financial threshold only proof of affordability) for family re-unification visa’s or family relative visas. The visa application process can be extremely tedious (littered with bureaucratic misunderstandings)  for relatives applying through the South African Home Affairs offices. *Lamya Luall, a Sudanese-American writer, married to a South African says US visa policies make it comparatively easier for families to be together. “My husband is eligible for permanent residence or green card as soon as we are married, his residence papers once issued are first on a conditional basis, to ensure people are still married but after two years the conditions are lifted and a full green card is issued which is good for 15 years.” She said.   However South Africa does not have a residency or work permit option for spouses once married. ” There’s a relatives permit, which needs to be renewed every two years pending police Clearance, a TB test, doctors clearance and a host of other requirements.” She adds “You have to hire lawyers (who don’t come cheap) to help because most people at home affairs aren’t familiar with these rules.” She said concluding “I can only be eligible for permanent residence in South Africa after 5 years of proving a marriage and/or life partner relationship. I could only apply for citizenship after 10 years”.  Lamya says marriage to a South African  does not make the process any easier. She says she will be applying for a separate special skills visa  which does not have a two-year renewal requirement.   Even though the process of applying for a family re-unification visa in Denmark would have been made  much easier had  Thembi Nkosi and Soren Adamsen decided to tie the knot Nkosi says she didn’t want to get married for a visa, she wants to marry for love. “I’m a catholic girl after all, I still want the official proposal. I want fire works!” She concluded.   *original names changed to protect identity

ON THE CLOCK: THE FUTURE OF (SELFIE) JOURNALISM

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.