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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QUIET DIPLOMACY : MY SECRET LOVE AFFAIR WITH WEST AFRICA

30-LOVE

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

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

IN HER FOOTSTEPS…

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

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

WAAW!!!

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

DOUBLE- SPEAK

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

SENEGAL CHOSE ME….

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

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

DARE TO INVENT THE FUTURE…

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

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE…

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

MONEY TALKS

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

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

BUT MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE…

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

AT LEAST WE ARE STILL FRIENDS…

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

POWER + LOVE = PEACE

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.

THE GLOW OF BLACK WOMEN

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

RISE AND SHINE!

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

 Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Love. You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ends

THE FIXER: DAY-UNKNOWN

The second coming?
The second coming?

“It’s always impossible until its done” Nelson Mandela

A DAY OF PRAYER AND REFLECTION.

ON SUNDAY – I was at the most famous church in Soweto, Regina Mundi where activists organized, held meetings prayed and were attacked by apartheid police during the 1970s, 80s and 90s The Church has to be rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by Apartheid police in pursuit of comrades. The service was e presided over by Bishop Sebastian Rousow. I spent most of my time outside, catching up with old friends and scouting out potential interviews for my clients . Trying to find the  right people for my people to speak to everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s story is important, but finding the right one out of billions is a skill.  While waiting outside I met tata Patrick, now a very old man. He tells me he has lived in  Rockville  Soweto since 1962, he was part of the Soweto Action Group Committee which was set up following the banning of all non-white political parties in South African, notably the  ANC and PAC.  He tells me with a faraway that police used to stand right where all the media cameras are, surround the church and shoot at people coming out of the church. He was even there when it was built. I can smell the whiff of stale alcohol on his breath. But he tells me that Mandela is a great man. A great tree has fallen he says. If you go to freedom Park which just behind the church you will see there are 95 indigenous trees which have been planted in honour of Mandela each year on his birthday the 18th of July. His son says each time he walks past those trees they represent freedom for him. Long Live they both say. But no one bothers to speak to Patrick. His old and rugged. The media crisscrossed past them waiting for the “big” political and international personalities. There are rumours that Winnie-Madikizela-Mandela might show up at the church, but the rumours are later proven untrue. I also meet Jane Nhlapho who has lived in Rovilled since 1967, and her friend Elizabeth Gwele from Dobsonville another Township in Soweto. They both describe  how police used to frequently surround the church with caspers, mellow yellows, police and army vehicles, and shoot and throw tear-gas at activists locked up inside. Elizabeth told me that, as parents they frequented the church in search of their children, to see if they are okay, still together in one piece.  Jane lost a family member right here at the church, a brother who disappeared – last seen at Regina Mundi Church. It’s pain-full to think about. They were running halter and skelter she says. Not knowing where to go or what to do. We were not free. We had not freedom of anything, movement, speech, anything. She looks as lars tall overwhelming  Master-like figure. “Today I can stand here and speak to you like a fellow human being “she said. And that simply brings me to tears.  I think of My brother Thente.

ROOM 209 – CHIEF ALBERT SISULU FLOOR – SOWETO HOTEL

Later in the day we go to the Soweto Hotel for the NRK team to edit and file their story  of the day. I chose Soweto hotel, because of where it is and it represents with uncanny accuracy the current state of our country.  It embodies in a few kilometres the character of South Africa.  Because the contrasts in South Africa from here can’t be more jarring. Our window is face the Union Road – Shop names have changed but the buildings are still the same buildings from 1955 when more than 3000  South African of all races gathered to sign the freedom charter – a blue print for a democratic South Africa – During the darkest period in my country.

They unanimously declared:

  1. The People Shall Govern
  2. All groups shall have equal rights
  3. The figures shall share in the country’s wealth
  4. The land shall be shared among those who work in it
  5. All shall be equal before the law
  6. All shall enjoy equal human rights
  7. There shall be work and security
  8. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened file and edit and file the story of the day. I choose the Soweto hotel we go back to Soweto …
  9. There shall be houses Security and Comfort
  10. There shall be peace and friendship.

You can have all of the above in South African today. If you have money.Only.

BUT ON MONDAY

To say I’m broken would be an understatement. I am trying to be brave and say it’s okay. I’m here at the media centre as I write this. I imagine how full this room will be tomorrow frantic with journalist filing stories minute after minute, second after second, and I won’t be a part of it. I won’t even be at the FNB stadium tomorrow – because as a fixer my team does not think I should be there.get one. So I’ve been literally crying and I feel cheated somehow, except who can I tell. Except you. While noting instructions from my team Clinton my former boss walks past and say to me “where’s my script” and  it brings back old memories of being in the news room where he would say the same thing to me… it took me while to write a story.  I see Sam, waiting in line and she gives me the warmest hug and I start crying I try to walk away. Later Hajra comes and gives me a hug and says hello member of the A team. She is a sweet woman. I start crying. I leave because I’m now too emotional. “Are you OK my dear” Havard the camera–man asks me. “You seem, quite frankly – shattered” he says. I tell him I will be fine tomorrow. Yet in my heart I wonder if he wouldn’t be shattered like me if it were him in my shoes.

MEET THE FIXER

Jedi Ramalapa a South African Female journalist for 13 years. Maybe you don’t understand. I have covered Mandela stories so many times in my life and the one time it matters, not one is willing to hire me, except as a fixer. It’s maddening, I want to scream, tear off my clothes, cry, and what not. But it’s not the end of the world. I will tell my story here. As a blogger – because that will be the most authentic story I could ever tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job – work to do , to be involved. It’s just I never thought that I would be a fixer in the biggest event of my country’s history instead of being the one telling the story.  Not even have the memento of a press tag. But life does work in mysterious ways and I have to be grateful for what I have.

They are on their way to pick me up. It’s 8:12 am South African time. We’re going to the Stadium. I’m driving them

 

RED ALERT: I HAVE A DREAM.

Martin Luther King Jr. African-American Civil Rights Activist.
Martin Luther King Jr.
African-American Civil Rights Activist.

14 October 2013. This morning I tuned in to SAfm’s morning news and current affairs radio talk show program and  listened with interest as the  presenter of Morning Talk,  Rowena Baird interviewed the organizer of the Red October Campaign, Soenet Bridges – on their recent protest marches across the country, against  what they called  widespread genocide targeting white Afrikaner farmers.

My primary curiosity in this case was to hear how the interviewer would handle this particular interview, due to  its highly emotive content.  The Interview started on a curious note with Rowena the interviewer asking her guest to explain why they chose to invoke or use a quote by African-American civil rights movement leader Martin Luther King, which she admitted on air that she didn’t know ( the quote in question: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”) – inferring that the organizers had no right to inversely use his message to further their cause, which by the tone of her voice she believed was an illegitimate one.  Ms Bridges defensively responded that they also believed in the universal message of non-racialism and their use of Martin Luther’s messaging was vital to attract a wider audience.

Incidentally, Martin Luther King is not the only black leader quoted on the RedOctober website, South African President Jacob Zuma is also quoted saying:

“You can’t have a union of half a thousand people because you have declared it as the union then expects to have the same rights. Sorry, we have more rights here because we are in a majority. You have fewer rights because you are a minority. Absolutely, that’s how democracy works. So, it is a question of accepting the rules within democracy and you must operate in them”

Which the interviewer didn’t know about either, and under the circumstances, the RedOctober are well within their democratic rights to raise awareness and demand answers to concerns that affect them, the South African constitution guarantees the protection of minority rights. There’s another quote on their website which the group used to highlight their plight:

 “Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats, discrimination and racism, and are frequently excluded from taking part fully in the economic, political, social and cultural life available to the majorities in the countries or societies where they live” Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Now, before I entangle myself in the complex web of race politics in South Africa, let me say that yes one might argue (facts aside) that the Red October campaign is disingenuous in its use of the selected quotes, using them to a larger or lesser extent out of context to serve their interests.

But these arguments are old. Not new. And more importantly are not solution orientated, in that they continue to entrench, reinforce and enslave all South Africans within the limitations of the colour bar.

So what happened? As black South Africans (black in this case includes all shades; coloured people, Indian People and all other races that are not ‘white” by definition) we are still hurting from the past, our wounds are still gaping, open, aching and still dripping with blood from gashes experienced over generations and generations and that is precisely why we cannot hear, we cannot listen, we cannot understand anyone else’s pain, let alone the pain of our  “former”oppressors in this case. The exchange between Ms Baird and Ms Bridges was a good demonstration of this. Rowena was not ready, to hear the plight of Ms Bridges, she couldn’t understand where she was coming from.  Ms Bridges in turn could not hear Rowena, or understand why she (and dare I say a great majority of black South Africans) would find the position of the Red Campaign problematic.

It was a hard interview to listen to as it did not offer any new insight into the plight of Afrikaner farmers in the country, and how their campaign relates to the very real and widespread problem of violent crime in the country which is not only directed against white Afrikaners but one which equally affects  South Africans as a whole – especially with regard to the liberal use of the word “genocide”. The Interviewer was  very antagonistic, highly emotional and her questions were peppered with sardonic passive aggression. She routinely cornered; “shouted” ignored, and cut off her guest.

Protesters against white genocide " Red October" campaign. South Africa
Protesters against white genocide ” Red October” campaign. South Africa

At the core of the Red October campaign is a “belief” that white (Afrikaner farmers) South Africans are targets of hate crime, which is so grave it amounts to an effective genocide. “17 white people are being brutally killed every month in South Africa” Bridges responded to questions of why the “red campaign” was necessarily.   She added that they wanted answers to pertinent questions affecting the Afrikaner community. “The South African Constitution is failing Afrikaners, It’s not right to carry on with policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and Affirmative action! How long will it continue?” She asked. “But how do you expect the government to equal the playing field for the majority of  marginalized South Africans?” Rowena asked angrily. “18 percent of the white population is now living in squatter camps.  You don’t solve the problem of unemployment by firing one person to replace them with another, there will still be a person without a job! I don’t have a problem with government improving the lot of black people. I’m just saying that they must not do that at the expense of white people” She concluded.  There are 4 million white people in South Africa. If they were the only ones living here, 17 deaths a month, give or take, could amount to genocide. Who knows we can all do the math?

To that, callers, encouraged by the interviewers’ air of righteous indignation, asserted that in fact – the ANC should have been more aggressive in their approach an in negotiations with the Apartheid regime. The interview quickly nosed dived into an argument similar to those you would hear at a bar.  “They are inciting violence with the song Dubula Ibhunu” – they want to kills us she said. The interviewer interjected saying the song did not really say what she was saying and the discussion became about the semantics of what the words in the song actually mean.  In fact there is no mystery in the song (which has been banned by court order in South Africa) as the Zulu words are translated into English from one verse to another – Dubula Ibhunu simply means “Shoot the boer,” The interviewer then asked what about all the black people killed by white people in the past, recounting some incidents in the recent past, to which Bridges responded “Is it right that our elderly, should be tortured, mutilated, with Pangas and all manner of instruments?” she added equally righteously “ these are racist attacks, we would like to speak outside of race, but unfortunately it is a racial issue” to which the interviewer cut her off and went on a break.

It is “racial” in as far as  it is black people killing white people.“It is not us killing these people, it’s black people, doing the killing”.  By this point it was clear that there was no more room for discussion, the interview had reached a point of no return. The Interviewer could only respond by saying, “black people also kill other black people”, which ironically only served to add fuel to Bridges’  argument “black people can kill each other fine, but not us”. Dead air.

The interviewer  ended the interview saying: “Thank you for indulging us with an interview” effectively dismissing her concerns, as non-entities within a broader framework of the larger problems facing the country, especially a large majority of black South Africans who share similar stories of torment but which (for whatever reason) do not garner such  widespread public debate – black people  are in the majority so crime and violence in a way has been normalized within the black community. White people are “new” “victims” to violent crime and murder. But regardless of who is doing it, it  still does not make it okay – right?

This type of interview – by its very nature, required a higher level of “maturity” and I use the word “maturity” with lot of hesitation ( and with respect to the Interviewer-Rowena here). I use the word   “maturity” to demonstrate a general lack of  “emotional growth” in  our collective understanding our “human” condition. Our ability as citizens of this country (world) to “step” of our own insular perspectives, and at the very least attempt to view our experiences in the context of wider inclusive view.  The subject of “genocide” against white (Afrikaner farmers) people by its very nature raises deep-seated emotional scars, and  for many (black) people is  down right  insulting.

The interviewer in this case needed to interact with her guest much like a psychologist or therapist would to a patient. She needed to be the “bigger” person and allow the guest to speak. She needed to listen.  Not in a “patronizing” way but in with an “open” and non-judgmental attitude, even as she “personally” disagrees with what the guest was saying. And gently bring her to the “other” daily and very similar realities faced by black people.

We live in  a  country divided along racial lines. Black = Victim. White = Oppressor/perpetrator. And we seem to be eternally stuck in that narrative that never, ever ventures to see/hear the other side. There is so much that happens between the lines. Pain is Pain. Black or White.

I was disappointed to observe that we had not moved  an inch from that narrative. And the Interview clearly demonstrated that. But more than that  I was even more disappointed that this was displayed on a public forum like the national broadcaster:  we vilified the experience of white farmers, made it sound like, 17 white farmers being killed every month is okay, in fact it’s nothing compared to the number of black people being raped, killed, mutilated every month. Welcome to the club. So in effect white farmers should be grateful that only 17 of them are being killed. This is the impression I got from the tone of the interview. And I am a black South African. The interview left me with no solution,  no way forward – it left me at a dead-end, with bad taste in my mouth. What now? it was as if it was  it said  – an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth.

I truly hope we never go back there, and this type of discussion on this platform concerns  me as a citizen of this country. I don’t want to be a part of it.

The problem is huge, but is it really genocide? hard facts do little to ameliorate  the hurt in this issue. There was no empathy; from both sides – which is “fine” when you’re sitting around a dinner table, with friends, and not so fine if you are in a powerful position of a national broadcaster informing public opinion.  We cannot always get it right, but we can at least try – especially on an issue as sensitive as this one to “listen” and “hear” the others perspectives and engage them with respect.  If we can’t we need to find a mediator, someone  who can listen to both sides with understanding which is what was supposed to have been the role of the Presenter in this case.

In fact I think this interview was a missed opportunity, to talk about how we as a society should begin to address the rampant problem of  violent crime in the country, and  remove it from the insular – linear perspectives of just black against white or black against black crime, just women, just  queers etc. We need to find ways to respect human life – regardless of the shades in comes in.

Can we have a sober discussion? White people historically have a “louder” voice, resources, capital and know how to mobilize action as they did in this case for their narrow interests,  we cannot ignore them. We cannot dismiss their pain. We need only look at the example of Apartheid to see the result of what happened when they dismissed our pain.

How do we “combine” our voices, resources, know how to tackle the problem of violent crime against all citizens and non-citizens of this country?

Charlie and the Sky Factory

Love at first sight. Charlie  arriving back from School
Love at first sight. Charlie arriving back from School Pic: Jedi Ramalapa

By Jedi Ramalapa

October 2013.   On the 31st of August during a fundraising event for the Soweto Kliptown Youth   (SKY) Center, Charlie called me “mama” and I was so touched to hear this – I didn’t even know I yearned so much to have a child of my own or that I had hidden secrete desire to be called “Mama”. And there he was, ready-made, calling me mama and I took the bait. It wasn’t much but he came to me saying his hands were dry and I had a number of  hand lotions.  I physically oiled his hands, with natural honey face cream, vaseline-hand lotion, baby oil, all the lotions I could find in my bag  and then some. I bought him food – hot-dog- he in turn looked after my bag. For a day I could  pretend that I was actually his real mother. I was a guardian to someone, was responsible for somebody’s existence. Somebody needed me, wanted me, somebody’s life depended on me.  For a day I fully belonged somewhere – to someone, at least in my mind.

I first noticed Charlie during  my day visits to SKY while making preparations for the fund-raising-event.  Unbeknown to him he got me  at my softest, softest spot  the very first time i laid eyes on him – through his  books.

I was sitting out in the sun taking pictures of an artist painting a portrait of the late midwife and  Kliptown community  worker and builder   Eva Mokoka on the wall of her former house (which she used as a  community clinic). I was also taking pictures of sister Ntombi and Gloria  who were busy cooking the days’ meal on an outdoor fire, with extreme dedication and focus. They spent the whole day cooking!

I was truly minding my own business when Charlie arrived back from school, neatly  kitted out in full school uniform.He me  greeted respectfully  and stood to stare at  the evolving  picture of Eva Mokoka, in what I read as complete admiration (see above) and then he proceeded to go the book storage/container kept outside bob’s door – I assumed they kept their home-work.  He took his books out  and proceeded to show Jabu and other volunteers his work. They all sounded impressed with his achievements. I  thought wow, at least they are getting something right.

So I was already in love with Charlie by the time he uttered that four letter word. Mama. I wanted to adopt him, make  him mine.  I already had thoughts of having a constant, loyal companion ( life can be unbearably lonely sometimes, when you are me: -an independent, single,  childless ,uncompromising woman), travelling the world etc. I told my brother that Saturday.  “Something amazing happened today – Charlie called me mama” I exclaimed. He just looked at me and smiled his beautiful big eyes. I had now found another solid moral reason to exist.

The next day, Charlie watched me gather my things and asked me where I was going, and when I would come back.   He wanted me to stay he said. “When people come with bags it means they are staying” He said removing a piece of paint from the wall. Mama I would like you to stay he said. It broke my heart to leave him there in that place like that – what kind of “mama” am I? I felt as if I was betraying him, abandoning him “again” –  taking away his only chance at being “loved, cared for”.

When I returned to last SKY and this time to stay I was looking forward to seeing Charlie and  to spending more time with him. But Charlie had disappeared, he was nowhere to be found, nobody knew what had happened to him.  I was quite surprised  and shocked that nobody seemed too bothered about his where abouts. People just moved on.

I asked everyone what happened to Charlie.  The the story slowly emerged that  Charlie was not the sweet little boy I had met or thought I knew. Charlie always dressed neatly in the morning as if going to school, while in actual fact he would go elsewhere, and spent days only God knows what in  Johannesburg’s CBD. He must be around 12 or 13.  I didn’t know him well enough.  Never had a detailed conversation with him actually. I did not ask any questions. He was a great performer, and he knew exactly what to say to get the right response from adults. It was his MO they told me, to disappear into thin air. “He always used to lie to me about going to school, ha  uCharlie!’ they exclaimed.   But has anyone even tried to search for him to find him?  i asked softly, hesitantly, trying not to sound worried, alarmed or disappointed.  “Yes,  we went to his school and found that  hadn’t been there for weeks, even though he woke up every morning going to school and back”

I realized then that there  was no point  in burdening my little heart further inquiries of Charlies whereabouts.  It seemed to me right then that life for people at  SKY is highly transient and unpredictable. Members of the “youth club” came and went as they pleased and there was no one who was the wiser   about the goings’ on the children’s lives  except perhaps bra Bob Nameng who understandably shared very little about the people’s personal histories.  They were accountable to no-one, and no-one could be held accountable for their disappearance.   At the time there were no records of how many children  lived at SKY, when they came in or when they left.  Somebody later added “Maybe he is at the suburbs with a relatives, an aunt or something”.  I slowly began to realize that though they may indeed be vulnerable and be troubled – the children and the youth at SKY were not  necessarily  “orphans” and I should not get emotionally involved thinking they had no one, even if they were, orphans, I could not “save” anyone let alone myself. SKY is a free thinking society.  ‘Here you are free to be and express yourself, no one can be the judge”.

Food - Gloria's Food!
Food – Gloria’s Food!

Now that I have time to reflect, I can see how easily children can be used or manipulated. How they also quickly learn to manipulate if such behavior is rewarded. Food is  often used to lure children ( even adults) to do all sorts of  crazy things. Children are  beautiful and innocent – and that is why they will always be so vulnerable, they learn by doing what you are doing. They repeat often, always and almost without fail, the same things you say to them or to others in private or public as truth. They are sponges that take in everything – especially behaviour. They emulate. They are what we make them. They didn’t ask to be “born” or exist. So you  place them in conditions  that would generate untold sympathy from ‘adults”  who see themselves reflected in their innocent eyes, and hope to somehow use the children as a way of attaining some form of salvation – healing or “good karma”.

Mothers begging with infants on the street is becoming a common scene on the streets of Johannesburg.  People may not sympathise with you as an individual, but for the sake of the “innocent” child they will give you something, do something which you as the bearer of the child will invariably benefit from their “donations” anyway since you are the custodian.  Both men and women (consciously or subconsciously) to get their way in life sometimes, to stay together or to separate, in divorces, in marriages, use children to justify their actions “I’m doing it for the children” is always the righteous response of people who insist on staying in toxic relationships,  having children when they know they are in no position to take good care of them,  to gain power, hoping that they  can “change” people and sometimes they do, but often people don’t change for anyone except for themselves.

It tore me up inside when  in  Dakar and St Louis in Senegal. So many children as young as  two years old with huge bowls begging on the streets  at all hours of the day, working, while  their parents stay at home  feeling sorry for themselves.  Life on the streets is no childs’ play and I think that children who live like that  in many ways are no longer children, they grow up, they become mini hardened adults.  In South Africa,  I have seen and observed how women with children –  used them as pawns to keep and or control men, get cash, have a roof over one’s heads, get married etc. It works because men want to fertilize the world with their seed, leave some kind of a  legacy. In some cases children have become real life-sized dolls, their personal toys, mini-mes,  machines. ?Things people – someone  they can finally have “control” over, indoctrinate , brain wash.  A “second” chance at creating a life you never lived. Your very  own creation, personal DNA – your blood  that you can direct,  control, this is what children have become.

Their innocence is continuously being manipulated by everyone.  Everyone “says” they “care” for children because they are “innocent’ but most often as with everything else they are just using them to fill a void, to “get” something and when they become “too-much” we abandon them – discard them – blame them, for  everything. For money spent or wasted after they fail to become our perfect creations.  We do all this to suit our personal needs, dreams, to make us feel “better’ about ourselves. Who has the children’s best interest?

Children are a dream for advertisers or anyone in business, who wants to make a quick buck – ‘for the children”. They are fertile ground to plant all kinds of  ideas good and bad. Children = money. Everyone wants to give to children… something or inversely everyone uses children to gain some advantage in life, women do this more than men.

It’s a dangerous trend ( even though it’s part of human nature to have children) a fait a compli.  I just shudder when I see how people treat  children today. I am scared almost to live in a world where these children will be all grown up, all-knowing and seeking revenge.

It’s easy to want to help, to be a do-gooder, to feel good about our good deeds. But I think we should all ask ourselves more honestly,  really interrogate ourselves critically and honestly answer the question why? We do what we do  with, for, on behalf of children? Is it really for their benefit? for the benefit of the individual child? Or are we part of a machinery that is producing children who will become machines, clones, extensions of our super Egos?  Capitalism, society, is creating people machines and soon machines will be more valuable than human beings.  A computer rarely questions your motives and reasons. You press click and it does what you want, if it fails, you can always get another one.  It reminds me of a verse in the Bible where some general was asking Jesus to heal his daughter, Jesus asked him if he believed, and he said “I am a man of authority, I have servants under me. I tell this one to go and he goes, and I tell this one to do this and he does it. Just say the word and I know my daughter will be healed.” We want to live in a world where can remote control people like we do  machines, robots. We want  people we can  have complete  and “absolute” control over – children are easier to control and manipulate because they are completely powerless.  We want people to obey us, to have authority over,  we need to be needed, wanted. So we practice with our children and used them as an experiment for our failed lives, projects. We want to  own them like a prized pair of expensive shoes, which we use step on still  regardless of  their value.  Charlies’ disappearance made me realize how easily I fell into the trap of trying to “own” someone so I can feel “worthy, needed, wanted, to leave  some kind of a  “legacy”, “immortalize myself forever” .    Out of all the selfish things that we humans  do and are capable of the need to live vicariously through other human beings, to decide on people’s destiny’s to rule over and to control them; make them do our bidding – must count as the most despicable and deplorable of them all.

A girl Childs' Shoes. Pic Jedi ramalapa
A girl Childs’ Shoes. Pic Jedi Ramalapa

 

BLIND SIDED BY JOZI’S MINISTER OF SOUND

English: Hillbrow and the Hillbrow Tower
English: Hillbrow and the Hillbrow Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read with interest today, an open letter directed to one radio talk-show co-host on Metro FM’s morning Breakfast Show (South Africa).  The loyal listener told Unathi, exactly what she thought of her as a radio talk-show host in a way of offering some much needed constructive criticism.  She loves the show and it’s the only show she can listen to in the mornings she said in the letter.  But I guess after years of being “tortured” as she put, it was time for Unathi to hear some choice truths.

I thought about it and prayed that should I ever be in the public eye or ear in this case that I should have the grace to listen to “constructive criticism” from where it comes and hopefully learn from my mistakes without any major collateral damage.  Before I lose you please stay- with me because this post is neither about the disgruntled Metro-FM listener nor Tips on how to be a “good” radio talk show host, but I sight it because gosh, I just thought if people can be so passionate and fearless about their criticisms constructive or not, we should be just as passionate and fearless in showing love and appreciation for each other.

I love radio and I love sound (music) and in my opinion radio is so much more, so much more personal than what you read or even see sometimes.  And if you listen to the radio you are bound to form very personal relationships with the people you’re listening to consciously or not and along with those personal relationships – strong opinions.  You can hear when someone is losing their temper, when they’re pretending, when they’ve lost interest, when they’re being sarcastic or fake, feel insecure, enthusiastic, even chemistry between two people is palpable on radio. Of course this is not always the case but most often after you have listened to  the same voice for long enough you can  tell with some level of accuracy what mood they’re in that day. People fall in love with voices or sound, even of their own voices as the disgruntled listener pointed out about Unathi.

The act of listening means you’re involved. Something about sound has a way of reaching you in places you never thought possible. It has a way of taking you by surprise, off guard.

Like I was blindsided by this one artist, musician, experimental sound guy, whose sound I have been hearing all over town. But before I knew his name before I could hear his sound, his name caught me unawares, unexpectedly, repeatedly.  As if the universe knew how easily I can forget people’s names; I heard it almost every day or every other day in conversation, in passing.  I had been hearing his name so much around my place of residence at the time that I took the opportunity to go see and hear him play at the Bioscope, on Main street life in downtown Johannesburg.   I went on my own, and thought how odd to be playing music in a cinema. But you see that was all part of the performance.  His sound silenced all the noise in my head and shot straight through to my heart in the same way that classical music  comforted me when I was very young. I left the cinema feeling quite lost for words, how do you describe this, what?!  I think I went temporarily out of my mind. Disjointed that line I had heard over and over again sung by Louis Armstrong (and Billie Holiday) echoed in my mind… “You go to my head like a glass of burgundy blue, and I find myself spinning around like the bubbles in a glass of Champaigne”   Now I knew what  that meant, what that felt like. Even the annoying Vuvuzela sounded like a double base when he  played it. I felt almost as ecstatic as the day my brother said, listen to this the Cinematic Orchestra’s Arrival of the Birds and transformation, and I cried out in total bliss while I danced my heart out! But his amazing was one I wanted to keep wrapped around me like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.  Never to let go.

I continued on with my life as if nothing ever happened until one day, I needed someone to create a certain sound on a project I was working on. His is the only name I could think of despite mine. But I had too much on my plate and too little time. I was afraid to meet him, in person, so, so very close.  But I asked to meet anyway to talk about the project.  He had a cold. You should try Garlic lemon and Ginger, I told him like a well-practiced school nurse. I never get tongue tied. But I was and I desperately wanted the meeting to end even though everything in me wanted it to last for as long as it was humanly possible. I never saw him again.

Until one day, I found myself sitting two empty chairs away from him in a theater. I didn’t know what to say and kept my eyes on the stage while hearing his lyrical voice laughing every now and again through and into my left ear.  I walked out with a honey pot/jar:  my thanks giving prize from the actors for participating in their experimental play.   I love honey.

Three years after I first heard him play I haven’t listened to his music as intensely again, ironically. But I know it’s good… and has been getting better judging by his ever-growing popularity.  Recently two weeks ago in fact I found myself in his house on yet another project, with two others this time.  It was a not unlike the day I imagine Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi sat down to pen these lyrics “I’m feeling low, I’m feeling low, oh Help me lord I’m feeling low”.  I was not sure why I was there in the first place. But I was.  He listened carefully and long to what they wanted.  Later he asked if I was angry with him.  And  apologized. For something I had long forgotten.  A gift in fact. I remembered the music that first day I heard him play and wanted to say “I don’t think you know this but three years ago you ministered to me through your sound.  Your music touched me in a way I never thought possible.  If I never told you I appreciated it. I do. If I never said thank you I do. If I never said I love your work. I do. But I love you more for staying true to your gift. Thank You Joao Orecchia. You are Amazing”. But, I just couldn’t find the words.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo6LCcV-o84

When Does Nudity Become Art ?

Beauty . Pic credit: Jada Pinkett Smith
Beauty . Pic credit: Jada Pinkett Smith

An Exploring Nudity, Art and the Black (female) Body

What makes nudity art? Perhaps this is an elementary question but bear with me please. Your child might ask you this question one day. So it’s worth a thought.  First let’s look at the prominent spate of controversies surrounding  the artistic representation of the black body in two continents (Africa and Europe 2009 to present day).   Let’s start here at home in South Africa where  Photographer Zanele Muholi’s depiction of Lesbians (women who love other women) in 2009  was classified as  “nation- destroying’ pornography by the then South African Arts and Culture minister Lulu Xingwana who was so disgusted by the images of women showing affection for each other ( touch, hug, embrace) she immediately walked out  of the exhibition held at the  historic Women’s Goal  or  jail at Constitution Hill ( previously  known as number four ) declaring  the content of the exhibition as a danger to society. The same place, where, less than two decades ago women were incarcerated for opposing various forms of apartheid oppression or for just simply walking the city’s streets beyond the state instituted “curfew”  for black women, men, and children in Johannesburg. They conceivably sat together at some point or other ( I imagine) showing each other affection (hugs, touch, and embrace) to console each other and to give each other strength against the mammoth evil that paraded them in and out of their cells every day. Her response to the exhibition was controversial because the exhibition was in fact sponsored by her own department of arts and culture. Her reaction was shocking because she demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the artist and a complete intolerance towards a number of enshrined freedoms such as the freedom of association, sexual identity and expression. Her behavior, in my opinion was tantamount to inciting continued violence against lesbian woman in particular and fueling more hate into the raging furnace of homophobia in the country in general.  Enter artist Brett Mare with a depiction of South African President Jacob Zuma with his genitalia exposed, a public outcry divided the country along racial lines;  Mare’s work was a cheap racist art form which demonstrated a complete lack of respect for the president and his office and by extension the South Africa government. A violation of the President’s human right to dignity. Brett Mare was justified to portray the president with his genitalia exposed, because as President, Zuma is a public figure and is therefore open to criticism and or ridicule by the public or artists commenting on the country’s socio-political-landscape.  Moreover the presidents’ own private use of his genitalia played a significant role in his rise to power, as  explicitly expressed in  his rape trial in 2006 for which he was found not guilty and his current number of wives and children.  It is because Brett Mare is a white artist that so many black people were enraged? Is it because the president is black that The Spear as an art work exists? Had it been a white president would he have dared do the same thing?  Lulu Xingwana is a black woman, who walked out of another black woman’s exhibition of black women in-love with each other. Had the minister been white would the “media” outcry been any different, what difference would color make?  In Europe the Swedish Minister of Arts and Culture refused to bend to public pressure calling for her resignation after she was accused of racism and a lack of judgment for gleefully participating in the symbolic reenactment of the mutilation of a black woman, by cutting a black woman cake on her “clitoris” while the artist groaned and screamed in “mock” pain.  The minister used the right for artists’ to freely express and offend as her defense. “Art needs to be provocative” she said.  The artist did the work to create awareness on the Female Genital Mutilation (also known as female circumcision in some quarters) which is still being practiced (secretly in some cases) in a number of African countries. In this instance the artist was black, the minister who part-took in the “mutilation” white. Would the artists’ work have made a greater impact had he made a white woman cake instead? Would the minister have cut its genitalia to eat as desert with the same amount of glee? Would that change the truth of how, where and on whom FGM as is practiced? By whom? How did the Black Women Cake and the minister’s participation contribute to the fight against FGM on the continent? Perhaps the artist just wanted to “trap” the minister to “prove” that she was indeed “racist”? Now recently a gallery in South Africa took down art work depicting   South African President Jacob Zuma and former President Nelson Mandela as white. No valid reason was given except to say the gallery had a right to decide what work to put up for exhibit and had exercised its right to do so by pulling the work ahead of the planned exhibition on World Art Day on the 15th of April. The work was part of a series other prominent South African political leaders painted in races other than their own.   Does it matter today that Zuma is depicted as a white man and Pik Botha Black?

Is art, or the artist obliged to make a positive contribution to society?

Thinking about art and the black body I am reminded of the role I myself once played in this contested space as a nude model for two white South African Artists, Karl Gietl and Wayne Barker in my early twenties. I was working then as a journalist for the public broadcaster, so when they asked me if I would be interested in posing in the nude for their “Great African Nudes” exhibition I willingly said yes.  I was still nostalgic about art (having studied Art in high school) and having had to forgo Fine Art for Journalism studies.  I wanted a chance to partake in the creation of art – my job as a radio journalist not allowing me enough “creativity” in my opinion.  I also wanted to see what it is about the gaze of the white male eye on a female (because I am female) black “African” body (because I am black and African) that made so many of us desire to be “embraced” by  “them”- as a direct or indirect response to the ” The fear of the Black man”

What about African Nudes I asked, what you are saying?. They are beautiful he said, we just love women’s bodies. Black women, white women, all women are the great African nudes he said.  So I’m just going to take off my clothes and you are going to paint me and that’s it? Yes he said. But you have no control of the end product (can’t dictate the outcome of the work) I’m not going to ask you to make pornographic poses (I basically stood in front of the camera naked) etc. So I posed for them on condition that I will get a piece of art in exchange for my time and use of my image.

Why is nudity more violent and therefore less acceptable for public consumption than say a violent assault, murder or rape on a television series?          

I gathered my friends to go and see the opening of the show, curious to see how they “chose” to represent the “African” Nude aka me and other women of course.  I was surprised to see a huge life-size depiction of a black woman in a reclining position with long braids. Me.  I was truly fascinated by the work.  I was not expecting a real-life representation of my person, because I had ostensibly given away the power to control how they chose to use my image the minute I took off my clothes to pose for them.  I didn’t like the work but I was glad for the experience, the work said nothing about black women or women in general to me, it made no political statement, there was nothing provocative or offensive about the work other it being a collection of distorted women bodies painted in various positions.  There was nothing to be said about the work, accept that it was made.  Or was there?

Wayne Barkers‘ interpretation of the “African Nude” was more abstract and modern, his work in my opinion was more focused on developing a new painting technique he was experimenting with than the ‘ African -nudes”  who seemed to be more of an after-thought addition to his work.

It was art for art sake.

What did stand out for me though was the fact that there were more white women nudes in the collection compared to black women. What is to be said about that? Are white women not African? Are African women not engaged in art for art sake? Why are black women not willing to “pose” in that manner in front of the camera? Why should they have to?

“Come on Jedi we can also do this, we can also be artists if this is art” said my friend as we walked around the gallery in stitches.  The work generated no noticeable emotion on my part except perhaps some compassion for the artist (for having a sad and depressing view of the female form  I did not see the beauty he raved about while he was convincing me to take off my clothes – but beauty is in the eye of the beholder is it not?) and later a bit of bitterness after  Wayne Barker refused to give me a work of art he had promised on the grounds that it was his work and his money and it was “art” and he was “entitled” to “earn” money from it, and by asking him to give me what he had promised I was infringing on his “future” earned income. In other words, though he promised to part with one of his art pieces in exchange for my modeling services, he reserved the right to refuse compensation should the work be perceived to be of more value than he had anticipated at the time of conception/creation or agreement.  However on the other side of the coin the art work was so valuable to the artist  Karl Gietl that confessed to painting over the “Great African Nude” ( a life-size painting of me ) with black paint because it had proved to be of no value or consequence  to the gallery the audience and most importantly himself. It was his work. “I needed the canvass” He said as if to massage my barely visible ego.

So what is it all about then?

The great renaissance artist Michelangelo says “What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?”

Michelangelo (“Michelangelo’s David 1504)

Wikipedia described the nude as “a tradition in Western art, and has been used to express ideals of male and female beauty and other human qualities. It was a central preoccupation of Ancient Greek art, and after a semi-dormant period in the middle Ages returned to a central position in Western art with the Renaissance. Athletes, dancers, and warriors are depicted to express human energy and life, and nudes in various poses may express basic or complex emotions such as pathos.[1] The nude is a work of fine art that has as its primary subject the unclothed human body,[2] forming a subject genre of art, in the same way as landscapes and still life. Unclothed figures may also play a part in other types of art, such as history painting, allegorical, or religious art”

And here allow me to share my views. The beauty of art is that it really does neither the artist nor the audience  which consumes the art any favours. It is the great equalizer.It is like a double-edged sword in that it reveals both the motives and inner world, deep seeded secrete workings of the mind and soul of the artist creating the work as well as the persons or audiences who consume the work.  No one involved in the process of creating art is left untouched/unchanged in some way by the work regardless of the emotions it evokes or lack there of.

The artist whether they like it or not are revealing themselves, their inner core when they present their works: “throwing up” “their fears, hopes and dreams, what they think of themselves and the society in which they live, or the subject matter they tackle.   Many artists often deny that what they produce has anything to do with “them”. Often sayings it’s not “personal”. I disagree with that notion wholeheartedly I believe all artwork is personal.  However what makes one artwork different from the other is the artists’ level of  “maturity” coupled with a number of contributing factors, education, training, mentor ship, confidence, skill in the chosen medium etc.  And let’s not forget the maturity of the audience  consuming the work. The artists’ ability to come face to face with his or her deepest and darkest fears,  their  most tender feelings, their most hurt self with   distance and critical analysis employed to observe the “other”, without making excuses or shying away from what ‘hurts” is how one can possibly  “ measure” maturity.  EQ in modern terms.   You have to guess what an infant or child wants when they cry, and sometimes you have to try a few things before you can locate the source of the problem, as the child grows as they are able use  language to communicate their needs. An adult is expected to be able to identify a problem, articulate it clearly and find solutions to solve it. The extent to which an artist is able to do this in a single piece of work (not that they are by any means expected to) is a measure of their maturity.

My 16-year-old brother says if a piece of art does not evoke an emotional “response” of any kind it is not art, it is like an Ikea chair, practical and functional, but not provocative. So the examples I have used above then should qualify or meet the basic criteria of being ‘art-works’ because they have all caused enormous emotive responses  – of anger, disgust and even hate.  I empathized and appreciate Zanele Muholi’s work because I also share a need to see and appreciate black African female bodies depicted in a beautiful compassionate way, in a society which women are repeatedly mutilated/ assaulted by their husbands, boyfriends’, other women. I want to live in a gentler kinder world, love and be loved – I can identify with Muholi’s search for beauty within herself, her relationships and the world around her. I am in that journey too.  Then minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xingwana’s reaction to her work is that of disgust, anger, of rebuke.  That says a lot about her personal feelings about same-sex relationships .She is violently opposed to them and is unable to contain her feelings  despite her position as the chief custodian of artistic expression requiring that she be the “bigger woman”. She could not reason with herself. Perhaps she saw a woman, a girl, who looked like one of her daughters, her cousin, a niece a friend, someone she knows. I cannot help but feel violated by the Swedish artist FGM intervention it is repulsive for me in every way because it continues to victimize, exploit, and  offend. I am offended by  it.

The Black Woman Cake
The Black Woman Cake

 Perhaps it exposes a  dislike of white women – because at one point in my life they seemed to have access to ‘everything” a black woman was not “allowed”.  I was angered beyond belief, I was disgusted. But I have forgiven.  Myself. I love. the woman I am creating. But I first had to recognize that it was not white women who needed to change. I needed to change and then only could I move on from being a “victim”.  I feel compassion towards the artist  – because though he is black the “black woman cake” reveals so much violence and turmoil about how he feels about  his “blackness” / Africanness.  I understand what it means to be tormented by hate cloaked in so many  seemingly righteous anger at other injustices’.

 I was shocked that the Swedish minister was able to cut an a groaning piece of cake and eat it with a smile on her face. If art is meant to provoke and offend as she said, she was neither provoked nor offended by  the most grotesque piece of art I’ve seen so far. I do hope that both the artist and the minister including  everyone who laughed with them have  grown from that experience – I certainly have.  With The spear, my response is an unfair but good example of why I personally do not agree with the artist lack of depth in this instance. Newspaper cartoonist Zapiro’s clothed depiction of President Jacob Zuma’s general (mis) conduct with regard to respect for the rule of law, women and himself  is far more provocative and insightful than Mare’s depiction of his bare phallus.  Here’s Why. So What’s Art to you?

President Jacob Zuma and Lady Justice by Zapiro
President Jacob Zuma and Lady Justice by Zapiro

 

Lights, Camera, Action! Assume your Role

Are You Ready For Action?

I told a good friend of mine that I will write a book  about  dating myself one day.

She laughed.

I laughed too.

Because it’s ridiculous right  and we all do feel very  sorry for people who are alone in that sense. Ag shame she’s alone, we comment especially at  public and populated gatherings such as concerts, restaurants, big events, parties you can add more here. I wonder what is her story?. We whisper to each other, maybe she doesn’t have friends is the first obvious one, no maybe she’s going through something, or maybe there’s something  wrong with her, her life, she  must be unhappy. There are times when one  person in a group would say maybe they just want to be alone.  Then after that comment everyone breathes a sigh of relief because  – everyone is off the hook, if she chooses this alone woman person  to be alone, we can’t force her to be part of the group, us.  She  can go be all unhappy by herself it’s better that way, nothing is obviously wrong with her, we reason and anyway we don’t know her so we’re off the hook.

If life is a stage who is  the production-coordinator

Everyone goes out in groups, they call their friends and it is much like a  film production.  Everyone within the film industry knows that a  production coordinator is key, very key, to the success or failure of any given project.  They are the one who should be on top of the who, what, when, where, where, how, why and the in between question of a production things like ke back up for each and every element required for a successful film production, from catering to casting, to cameras, set design, extras , to the street security, to the rigging crew. The production coordinator  has to know everything about each department and also be able to trouble shoot problems as and when they occur, before, during and after the final cut. You have to have nerves of steel and be as gentle as a dove, you can’t be anyone’s enemy  – you have to be everyone’s friend  (know how to make them happy for best results) while maintaining a keen perspective on the bigger picture , able to  know and understand each stage of the productions cycle, what and who is needed when and how.

Production coordinators have to be able to make hard, decisive choices while being flexible and open enough to work with what they have and or hear other people’s suggestions. You have to be able to decide on the spot about what will work and what won’t work, for the production  in the  short  to long-term.  They also have to understand budgets – financial management – how to  use of what’s allocated optimally, know how much to spend and where to get the best available services for the production.  Production coordinators are always very busy people, always on the first ones to arrive the last ones to leave. They Never have time. I know I was “married” to one.  Respect.

So the co-ordinator is a very important person, more important than the big chief – the director of the said gig, because  directors  only focus on the details of the picture being as in the “actors ” not the entire production.  The production coordinator makes the director’s job easy, and even possible.

They  ultimately are the people who decide  who’s in or who is out in whatever gig  they are co-ordination be it  a huge  film production or a party gathering of friends.  You call up people, agencies and friends for a reason, this one is good for jokes and atmosphere, this is a good  mediator – a tutu of the gathering, this one is a shit-stirrer, this one always has stories to tell,  this one is a great cook, this one is good cleaner,  and this one will do whatever I want.  So if a production coordinator asks you what are you doing,  you better know your story, if you scratch your head, they move on really quickly  because they have no time to waste, time is precious as we speak they are on deadline  and they need to pull a number of people together so that you can watch a great picture or enjoy a good party at the end of the day.

So I imagine myself as the huge production ( a film a movie, the person I know I am is under construction )  and I play the role of the  production coordinator-assistant.  The production-coordinator being the Creator of us all. So how else will I know what I want, what I need, when and how, what makes me happy, what works, what doesn’t  which stage of the production cycle I am at, who do I need to speak to for support, for Ideas, to rest, to laugh, to cry to advise and be advised, to be nourished, pampered loved, pep-talked to?. How will I know what is going on with me, if I don’t spend time with myself?  I cannot ask to be included in any production ( with another(s)  ) if I don’t know what my role in the production is.

To everything  there’s a season, a time and a purpose under heaven.

I have found myself  involved in  productions in which I didn’t know what my role is, am I a camera woman, a writer, an extra, an assistant? What am I doing here? Why do I hang out with these people, why do I go this restaurant, why do I wear these clothes, is it what I want or am I the person who will do whatever the production coordinator wants of a film production  I think I want to be in wants?, do I even want to be in this particular  production,  do I want my name on the credits after the movie has ended? I have had  a   lot  of  people tell me, oh I thought you were this or that, simply because I was seen on that show with people who do this or that, I never really had a role, I was just there more of an extra, and entertainer, good to look at, dance with maybe.

I have spent a lot time on my own in between the few productions I have been a part of  and almost always, before I was about to be called on for another production, they’ve been quiet moments – dead silent – as in no movement.  Not even a wink in my direction.  My ability or inability to be  still in that   moment has determined to some extent the  kind of production  I will be going into next.  And with each production  I  never had an idea, never knew what I wanted or what my life was about,  any smile would do  I would be so lonely. In many of the productions I was in, I was just happy to be included, to get a call and be part of a team, any team please.  Even though in almost all of them I  was  as a standby, an under-study, body-double, supporting act, never the main character.

The lead Act

When a production coordinator calls, he or she calls people who know what they are doing what they are about,  what services they provide at what cost under what circumstances, what they can and cannot do.  If they agree they sign an agreement with terms and conditions on both sides, so that both the production and the service provider are protected and know who they are dealing with.  They call the because they often know what you offer, seen your work before, worked with you previously or they were referred to you by someone in the industry they trust.  If you are already a good production your self,  or a very good service provider people will move mountains and break budgets to have you as part of their production team because they know you will add value to the production and not the other way around.

So in order to add value to any production, you must know that you have something of value in you to add. One has to spend time alone, with you “craft” whatever if may be – or to figure out what it is .  What services am I offering and do  still want to continue in this line of business. What do I need to make my business (myself) work, function? Am I happy with myself.

So in this way it makes perfect sense for a business to function properly on its own  and optimally before it can merge with another in any shape or form be it a co-production or a collaboration of any sort.  I feel like I have been dating myself for a very long time, even when I thought I was in “relationships”.    I have found myself in conversations with myself about the different productions I have been a part of, which ones I liked, not like and why. What did I gain  from each and every one of them, what I can use what I can I throw away, forget about, I need to forgive myself for treating myself like a nothing, a nobody, a throw away, bubble gum.

When the production – coordinator is in pre-production they are crazy people, all over the place especially the week before the shoot, and often you can’t even see what they are doing running around like headless chickens.  They are trouble shooting problems as directors and executive  producers change their minds about budgets etc, they need to make sure that everything and everybody is in place and running well, by the time the director walks in to say ACTION! and they are on their toes throughout the filming or production, until the director calls out It’s a WRAP! It’s a moment of relief, and sadness and time for renewal for another productions.

The work is not over but the production co-ordinator can relax a bit, it’s now over to post production – adding the final touches to the shoot and then the moment that we all see, is the Movie , the curtain the raiser the product, that we will like or dislike but it all started back there with the production coordinator who selected, make the calls, and spoke to almost everyone in the production chain to make the production a success.  They are never in the limelight,  there’s no Best Production Coordinator Oscar anywhere, they are there somewhere meshed up with the “crew”. But without them, no production will happen. But everyone in the production line  knows her name.

So I understand the value of spending time with myself… of being alone even though it’s feels crazy sometimes, having no one to share your thoughts with, bounce of ideas. It’s  a difficult thing to maintain, but it is necessary.

I think I’m ready to assume my role in this production called life and be – the best role any actor can be given….

Myself.

Alone or in Company.

I am in suspense myself and its the best feeling ev