THE STAR: FRAGMENTS OF A TRUE STORY

“Philile is this not your cousin?’ Karabo shouted loudly across the newsroom. “Who?” Philie asked suddenly feeling uneasy. She rose from her desk and ambled across the room to Karabo’s desk who was holding up a copy of the daily newspaper. Philile berated herself for neglecting to read the papers as vociferously as Karabo did. But before she could get close enough to read the story, she saw it, pictured on the front page. She knew that kitchen better than the back of her hand. How could it be she wondered.  She felt her stomach churn and wondered why her childhood home kitchen made the front page of The Star Newspaper.  She cringed. She couldn’t think of anything to say in that moment except to convince herself that it was some kind of mistake. But there was no mistake. The number was there too, as clear and as real as sunshine on Sunday: 7224, in black and yellow, the first number she memorized in her entire life. The picture told a story of black poverty, suffering, persistence and the triumph of the human spirit. The story of the previously disadvantaged.  She moved closer as if approaching a dangerous animal and read that a young girl had written an exceptional essay which touched the heart of the richest, most famous and influential black woman alive, Oprah Winfrey.  She felt as if she was dreaming.  She read the story as if it were about someone else as if it had nothing to do with her. The young girl demonstrated exceptional talent and strength of character the article continued. She dodged the bullet of poverty, she was now the answer, the only hope for the Zwide family who lived on top of each other in near abject poverty, dependent on a government grant. A symbol of unemployment in one single picture, and yet its poverty was unremarkable, she thought sadly. 7224 was a typical black household in which 11 people shared a three bedroom house. It was not a unique situation in black townships in the country.  She couldn’t read any further. She suddenly felt unwell. It was too much to take in. The kitchen was as she remembered it in her mind, the interior was exactly the same as it had been when she was a little girl, except this time the ceiling was falling apart. It was dramatic in its demise – a large square piece of plasterboard hung loose, revealing a darkness which seemed to pour over the green enamel kitchen table with silver legs.  She knew that table too well, that’s where she often sat and plastered her grandmother with a million questions or watched as her Mamani’s square fingers carefully cut slices of buttered brown bread into squares, dip them into her milky tea. Philile would follow her grandmother’s fingers as they placed the bread on the open tongue leaving traces of the caramel coloured tea between the crevices of her tiny lips, blackened from cigarette smoke. Her grandmother would wash down the creamy paste of bread with a gulp of tea and exclaim “mmtah Ahhh” with satisfaction.  It was during those times, usually Saturday mornings during breakfast when her Mamani would look back at her and say “What are you looking at?” puckering her lips into a playful kiss while rolling her big brown eyes. “Nothing” Philile would say smiling. She enjoyed gazing at her Mamani who had the most fascinating face her five-year old self could imagine. Mamani’s face could change from sweet, playful and coy to angry, sad and frightening in a millisecond. Philile studied her face with the concentration of a student cramming for an important exam, the only difference being that she was not going to be tested on it and she enjoyed every single moment of it.  It calmed her to watch her grandmother breath in and out,  inhaling  and puffing out smoke from her favourite Rothmans King Size cigarettes or chewing on her gum, making sharp sounds as if she was hand washing it vigorously in soapy slippery water. This picture worked for news, she thought coming back to reality. She wanted to look away but she could not peel her eyes away from the picture, it suddenly came alive and she was stuck watching her life as if it were a movie. She couldn’t even blink, her eyes were fixated on that kitchen, which stood starkly bare as if stripped of any comfort resembling a home. It looked as if a gush of wind had swept through it taken all the warmth and left a gaping hole in the middle of the kitchen.  The cold hug of shame embraced her, forcing her head to bend over, her knees were weakening.  Her shoulders drooped slightly, her heartbeat perhaps had stopped or maybe it had become too loud to hear. She hoped that her face would not betray any emotion. Was it possible that such good news could strip her naked and make her feel so vulnerable and insecure? The story was not about her after all, she thought. Yet Philile was haunted by the ghost of the kitchen. She just couldn’t believe that it was on the front page of a national newspaper, a national newspaper? “Here” Karabo interrupted her thoughts which seemed to flood her mind faster than the speed of sound. “It says here her mother, Nana Zwide says the family is proud of Pretty. She’s your cousin, didn’t you say Nana was your cousin? I saw you with her the other day” She said glancing at the paper and continuing to read “look, her daughter, pretty, has been chosen  for a scholarship! She’s going to the Oprah school! Why didn’t you tell me?!” Karabo turned to look at Philile who smiled, but couldn’t find anything of significance to say. She was feeling dizzy now. “Wow” she said clearing her throat “I didn’t know Oprah was opening a school for girls” she said pretending to read further but her eyes took her into the kitchen. “Vanessahhh! Melitahhh! Come here my children.”She could hear her grandmother’s sweet voice calling which meant that nice things were about to happen.   “Philile are you listening to me, you didn’t know Kanti?” Karabo nudging her. But Karabo’s voice was drowned out by the music growing in Philile’s head. “Are you lovo this time, forever be my sweety!” Nhlanhla No popi! Wozan’la! Amakhekhe Mntanami. Cula! Ngiyidlabha min’angizi thandi mina! Futhi! Ngiyi dlabha Mina angizithandi Mina!

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“Phi. Li. Le!!!” Karabo was now desperate for her attention. She looked up at her and thought maybe she was still reading. “Philile!!!”  She tried again, but Philile didn’t seem to hear Karabo’s repeated calls. She was listening to something else, a sound she would never forget. The noise the gate made each time someone opened it was unmistakable.  She heard it keenly this time. Maybe a mix of a shrill soprano, the sound of a metal a sheet of glass, the treble and bass were the final sounds which repeatedly banged a hello and goodbye every single day. No, she thought, the sound of thunder was a more accurate description of the sound. She could visualize the gate under her bed-covers while looking through the tiny holes in the crocheted red bedspread at night.  She would try to fit her finger through them, making the holes bigger while willing sleep to come or go away depending on the intensity of conversations in the kitchen. 7224 was a loud and proud household. Her ears never got any rest. They were always pricked up like that of a puppy each time she heard something new.  For as long as 7224 was her home, the black corrugated iron gate was like a door to her heart,  each pull meant love was coming or leaving.  On some very rare occasion she would be able to guess who was coming and who was leaving.  When she was not at school she would sit perched on the family’s apple tree, her eyes pinned on the gate, waiting, for someone to open and come in.

A romantic serenade

Philile shared her bedroom which opened out into the  kitchen door with her older sister Khethiwe.  Together they enjoyed making up stories with characters who came alive in miniature plastic figurines and teeny tiny dolls their Mamani had brought from domestic work. Each character was given names to fit every story her sister Khethiwe came up with. One of Philile’s favourite characters was a green tennis ball whose face had been drawn on with a red crayon. She was particularly proud of the tennis character. It was the best looking of them all she thought, round and pretty like her Mamani. She also enjoyed the shell, a silver and coral seashell. It was her, she was the tiny seashell. Those were her favourite toys. Her sister loved the little dolls with multi-coloured hair. There was never a day without a party in their plastic universe. Romantic ballads were popular with party goers too, even though they were monotonous.  “Are you lovo this time, forever, be my sweety!” That was their Island theme song. Philile loved it because they came up with it all by themselves, it was their song about love. Khethiwe enjoyed telling love stories, she was good at creating beautiful dialogues which often went well into the night and lulled Philile to sleep with her left thumb firmly placed inside the crown of her mouth. Her stories always involved people falling in and out of love, kissing and getting married. Khethiwe was three years older than Philile, and much wiser.  “It’s my turn now” Philile would say, but found she could not make up stories as easily or as creatively as her sister could. So she opted to sing instead, because Khethiwe’s tales were far superior. “Are you lovo this time, forever, be my sweety!” It was Khethiwe who had come up with the song too.  The storytelling and singing would continue indefinitely until their Mamani’s voice would interrupt their carefully constructed scenes with her questioning calls.” Nhlanhla no Popi”?! Her voice would bellow over their plastic story scenes making their heads to spring up, alert like chicken heads. They would respond “Ma?!” in unison hoping they had not done anything wrong. “Nenzani? What are you doing” she would demand, worried that they had become too quiet to be up to something good. “We’re playing” they’d say. In the quiet Khethiwe would look over at Philile and say “Ayeye Phili! What have you done this time!” hoping to scare Philile even more than she already was.  Philile was the naughtiest of the two girls, her inquisitiveness often put her in hot water. They listened for a follow-up question but their grandmother had already moved on to adult conversation. Mamani called them different names for different reasons. The names Nhlanhla and Popi were reserved for serious occasions.

A 20 second sound bite

But she could still hear it. The screeching, treble and bass bangs of the gate as adept fingers hooked and pulled the lever out of its concrete hole, the soft and cold sound was unforgettable. It was as if they pulled the piece of metal out of her very own ears. She touched her ears to dust off imaginary films of earth which trickled down her earlobe as the metal scraped against dry concrete. She had never heard a sound as acute as that of the gate opening. Perhaps she had heard it so many times it had been amplified in her brain. It sometimes made her emotional. The sound was becoming louder and louder and louder and louder and louder.   “Philile!!!” Karabo hit her desk with the newspaper. “Hella ngwana” she demanded. “How many times must I call your name!”  She exclaimed with some exasperation. “Huh” Philile croaked, looking up and  surprised to find herself back at her desk. She didn’t remember when she had stopped reading the paper and returned to her desk.  But with Karabo now standing over her, she feared  it wound sound rather mental to ask her when and how she got to where she was, the best she could do then was  to just go with the flow. She really ought to remember such details she thought.  “What is it?” she asked lifting her head to meet Karabo’s confused penetrating eyes. “Do you have her number?” she asked. “Whose number? Philie asked still in a half dream state. “Your cousin, Nana’s numbers, I want to get a soundbite from her” A soundbite she thought as if she’d never heard that word before. “A soundbite” She repeated out loud urging herself to stay present. “Ja, I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me, how come you didn’t know?” Karabo continued as if Philile had been listening to her all along. “Now the newspapers have beaten me to it” She said dejectedly. Karabo was a former newspaper journalist who specialized in education. She had recently joined the radio newsroom and was very excited that she could update stories as they happened and not have to wait for the paper to go to print to be read the next day.  The idea that all she needed for a new story was a four line paragraph with a 20 second actuality from a newsmaker was the height of her excitement. She detested being the last to know, always aiming to be the first to break the news. She was a petite woman with a wide smile which revealed the gap on her front teeth. She reminded her of her older sister Khethiwe. Her loud boisterous, competitive and sometimes aggressive quest for news was mitigated by an even bigger open heart which won her many admirers.  In her Philile saw the kind of quintessential news-hound she’d only read about in her journalism classes. She not only loved the news, it was the very air she breathed. ”Oh” Philile responded wishing she were someone else, in a different world, living a different life, but she just didn’t have  a picture of that world yet, she had no idea of what this “other” life would look like.  “Yes sure” she said rummaging through her bag in search of her cell phone. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me” Karabo said again trying to get Philile to say more than the monosyllabic responses she’d given so far.  “Oh I’m sorry” Philile said finally managing to say one coherent sentence “I didn’t know” she said in a whisper. “You didn’t know, Hellang Basadi!!!?” Karabo raised her voice like the women who sold corn or mealies on random Sunday mornings. They called out as if in a dirge “Miiiiiilies, Milliiiiiies!”.   “Here” Philile said avoiding her question and giving her Nanas’ numbers on a piece of paper she had torn off her reporter’s notebook on her desk. Her heart was beating fast. “Let me call her first, to let her know you’ll be calling”

“Cool Mosadi” said Karabo giving Philile a second glance before going back to her desk.

A fool for love

Later after she’d made the courtesy call to her cousin Nana. Philile wondered if she should tell her mother the news. But she wasn’t sure if it would matter. It was not like they knew Pretty, Nana’s daughter.  She remembered the first time she learnt that Pretty was coming, she had been devastated.  She remembers how sad she had been when Nana wrote her a letter saying that she was pregnant, expecting a child very soon which meant that she would have to give up school. That hurt. Because Philile adored Nana, her beautiful light-skinned cousin with a winning smile. She used to follow her everywhere as a child, she was Nana’s shadow or at least she tried very hard to be.  Philile giggled out loud shaking her head. She was laughing at a famous memory in her collection which she now gently dived into, she was always a sucker for love.  It was a memory of a day when she had forgotten to wear underwear to school because she had been in an unimaginable hurry to take up Nana’s surprise invitation to accompany her on her  trip to drop off  sister Dani to pre-school, before heading to high school.  Philile was in the second grade and her school was not far from Nana’s. In fact she had barely finished taking a bath before she was out the door running after Nana and Dani.   The story would have ended well enough if she had the key to her room and could go back home and correct her error before going to class after she felt a very fresh breeze under her dungarees alerting her of her oversight mid stroll. But even then nobody would have known that she was not wearing any underwear had she not on that very day arrived to find her classmates busily showing off their new underwear in front of very curious young boys and envious girls an event which caused a lot of  commotion and drew the entire class to congregate around an empty desk in the front row,  which happened to be hers. So that even though she could have slipped quietly by without being noticed she was forced to confront the scene. She stared at the girls as they showed each other their brand new pretty panties. She stood right in front of one newly exposed  which  was pure white cotton with a pink pretty doll in front, all the while she was freezing inside, trembling because unlike these girls she had no panties on at all.  “What are you looking at” shouted another bully at her.  How did she end up here? Philile wondered petrified.  “Nothing” she responded defiantly  yet unsure of how her look of terror became a look of contempt in the eyes of her classmates. She didn’t remember the details of what happened next only that she saw her hand pulling a girls tunic up to reveal her leopard print panties in a moment of deranged confidence. Aware of what was to come she stood stoically and accepted her fate as her classmate returned the favour and revealed her nakedness to the entire classroom. She closed her eyes tightly and let the laughter that followed sink into every pore of her body as a chorus of shrill, frenzied laughter overpowered the room, in seconds the classroom resembled scenes from born again Christian prayer lines where congregants fell on top of each other high and drunk on the Holy Spirit. Her classmates were falling over themselves, writhing  like worms on top of each other with laughter which seemed to gain increasing momentum, each wave louder than the last with every passing second. That was the biggest news at school, soon everyone will know including the teachers that she didn’t have her underwear on.  Philile was beyond embarrassed. Her morning which began with a glorious answer to a prayer had turned out to be the most embarrassing event in her short life. But all of it had been caused by love, by answering a blind overpowering desire to walk next her goddess, Nana,  to be loved, valued and accepted, cherished, wanted by her, in her quest to belong in her world she had forgotten to look after herself.  Philile loved everything about Nana, her thick head full of jet black hair, heart-shaped lips, a sharp pointy nose and inquisitive eyes. She was exquisitely beautiful, like a Barbie doll. Nana was Philile’s miss world, queen and princess of the universe, the second princess next to Philile’s own mother, who was as yet unrivaled in her superpowers. But she knew from a thousand and one repeated warnings  from her ultimate icon, her mother gave that pregnancy at a young age was bad news for young girls. It signaled the end of a bright future for all women. Children were bad news in the Zwide family.  So she felt Nana’s pain as keenly as if it were her who had fallen pregnant, as if it were her future which had been stopped mid-flight. No rock would be large enough to hide her bulging belly from her mother’s wrath she thought. She shuddered at the thought. Pregnancy was a frightening consequence of being a woman. It was something to be avoided at all costs. Even so  Philile was secretly glad and pleased in a self-congratulatory way that Nana had chosen to confide in her, that she thought her old enough to handle such adult matters.

I think I must be dreaming

But that was a very long time ago. Now this gift, Pretty, who caused Nana to lay down her life had grown into an intelligent super human whose story touched the heart of the world’s most soft-hearted person, the queen of talk herself, Oprah. None of them could have dreamt of anything this big.  It was a big story, not only for the Zwide family, but for South Africa. Ms Winfrey had planted  a seed of renewed hope for the country’s promising, yet, disadvantaged young girls. The Oprah Winfrey School for girls was yet another testament to Nelson Mandela’s thriving rainbow nation.   Philile was happy for Nana, because Nana loved books. Philile loved books too, books about love. She hoped to one day write one book at least, a funny tale about love. Nana now had a second chance in life through Pretty, Philile thought. Her dreams of obtaining a great education had been made a reality through her child. She would be receiving the best education money could buy, paid with the best money in the world. She had one less thing to worry about because Ms Winfrey did not spare a dime for her girls. She went all in and all out to give the girls the very best of everything she never had as a child herself. While under Oprah’s able care the girls were guaranteed to receive the best of everything they could collectively wish for. A dream come true for any parent.  A bright future had not been lost after-all, it just came from a very different direction. She was pleased for both of them.

A dive into the rabbit hole

Yet Philile could not erase the picture of that kitchen. These good news had brought up so much confusion to her soul.  It was starkly prominent as a sign of what her parents had saved her from, open gaping ceilings with dark holes, teenage pregnancies, drug addiction, unemployment, lack of inspiration. These were hallmarks of black townships, black lives, of Apartheid. People were tired of that word “Apartheid”. What did it have to do with one teenage girl’s decision to have unprotected sex with another teenager? Did she consent to it? Was she forced? Did she even know she could fall pregnant? In any case what does Apartheid have to do with any of it? She was tired of Apartheid. Philile’s thoughts ran away with her as she packed her bag, clearing her desk to go home. Her day at the office had ended immediately when she saw her childhood kitchen on the front page of the newspaper. She couldn’t focus on anything other than the kitchen, it was on the front page, and a front page story was a big deal, the Holy Grail for any journalist. She was glad she didn’t have a story to cover that day, she needed to recover from the news. If anyone asked why she was leaving early she could just blame it on Apartheid.  It was because of Apartheid that her childhood home had become the post card image for black poverty in the country. Poor Apartheid. She felt herself feeling sorry for it, the word, she wasn’t sure how to even pronounce it, was it Apart- heid, or Apar-th-eid? She preferred the word racism. It was less complicated, it was unambiguous, at least not in her context.  With racism, she was always the victim. She was always at a disadvantage, she was morally justified to feel insecure or hard done by. It was a convenient word. Racism was as powerful as the name of Jesus Christ and likewise many did not enjoy the sound of it.  You can  bring a whole party  to a standstill anywhere in the world by pulling the race card. The word proved too heavy. Too much. Apartheid was more palatable and less overwhelming.  Racism was indiscriminate, every white person living could be accused of racism, they could be deemed racists by association, in fact, she thought there could be a new word for them, previously racist people.  All the black and brown people could be victims.  Apartheid on the other hand offered some room for exclusion – not all white people, just some white South African Afrikaaners or boers (people of Dutch, German and French decent).  Apartheid was easy to fold and pack away in a nice file, it was a deranged regime, created by a specific class of white people – bitter outcasts from Europe. It was by no means as universal as the word Racism. White people from other countries can talk with ease, concern and even display utter disgust at “Apartheid” because they were not implicated in it at all.

Same same Auntie

Apartheid was surpassed only by the Holocaust in its brutality, and crusades by the Klu Klux Klan of America were simplistic by comparison. Yet how did it come about that a minority group could over power, a whole continent of people? Wasn’t it proof that the former is indeed superior?  Even so Apartheid proved very handy, it was a great place to put all your worries, it accommodated everything.  You can place all your fears, troubles, weaknesses and or anything that could go wrong in one’s life in that simple box.  Tick.  Oh what do I know, Philile thought out loud to herself, greater men than I have thought deeply about racism and all forms of oppression. They were still being quoted today as if nothing had changed;  Franz Fanon, Du bois, Amilcar Cabral, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Angela Davis,  Toni Morrison, Steven Bantu Biko, Thomas Sankara, Nina Simone, Kwameh Nkurumah, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe even Nelson Mandela himself and thousands more who had written, thought and  spoken about race, racism, colonialism, capitalism, globalization.  Yet  black nations were still crawling.  They were still on their knees, praying, asking, and hoping for freedom to come.  Apartheid. Was it really the cause of all her misery in life? She asked herself as she walked back to her house which was next door to a private home for mentally and physically disabled children, in fact in had been the matrons home until they decided that some distance from the madness would be advisable and opened it up to the public for rent, it was affordable, close to work and a lucky find for Philile. The children’s screams were loud, and present all day and all night. She had become accustomed to the sounds the children made which ranged from wild frantic screams to deep moans, grunts and groans. She made for the bathroom and ran herself a bath, making sure to pour a generous amount of foam bath liquid.

Apartheid. Really? Get her a Kleenex

Hadn’t she, a reporter with the national radio station, received a good enough education in spite of it? She  thought as she turned on her  radio dial and listened as the newsreader announced the latest news. Had her parents not sent her to the best schools their money could offer? Had she not learnt about journalism at best place for the profession?  Wasn’t she a success? But why did they have to show this, this, this poverty. Why didn’t she know about it? Of course she had long-lost the right to know anything about Nana’s life. Even if it was a good story. But she felt her heart sink as she sunk into the warm water, she couldn’t get that picture of the kitchen out of her mind. This was her family. This was her home. But she wanted to hide it, sweep it under the carpet and pretend the whole thing never happened. But Oprah, Oprah Winfrey had opened Pandora’s Box. She giggled to herself.  Oprah was her favourite, she was everyone’s favourite in fact. Philile had read her biography in her early teens and hoped that one day she would also become as successful. The memory of afternoons spent watching Oprah were now projected on the white bubbles in soft foam that covered her hands and the length of her near naked body, she had the habit of bathing with her underwear on, it was the last thing she removed. Back then watching the Oprah show with her mother was the best part of Philile’s day, the highlight of her life in those days. She often dreamed of going back home and having jam and butter sandwiches with her mother and little brother Christian. Those unremarkable afternoons in Newcastle were a great comfort to her. She loved Christian who was then only a few months old, she made it her business to wash him, to make him milk. She thought of him as her friend, a silent understanding  friend who never judged her and was always happy to see her. She learnt how love felt like with Christian, even though she couldn’t explain it at the time that is how she learnt to love.  There were times she thought that  her mother physically resembled the image of Oprah, except that her mother of course was more beautiful. Both were incredible storytellers.  Philile admired Oprah, looked up to her because in many ways she saw her mother in Oprah. Philile’s mother was just as giving and  open to helping people. She often made other people’s problems her own.  But Oprah and Philile’s mother were separated by one crucial difference.   Oprah bared her life, her private struggles and pain to the world. Oprah cried often, every day in fact and made millions with her tears. Kleenex was making money from her show.  Instead of popcorn her audience received a box of tissues  and then some.  The Oprah show had become a free therapy session for a world full of hurting hearts.   Philile’s mother never cried. She was an extremely private person who kept the details of her daily struggles safely secured and sealed in invisible vaults. There were two big scary eyes which could stop anyone attempting to approach anywhere near the vicinity of those vaults.  Philile’s mother was also equally if not more protective of those she loved. She was more fearsome than a hungry lioness when the lives of those she loved were under threat.  So Philile’s love for her mother was one which vacillated from intense tender love and admiration to extreme debilitating fear. Now Oprah had gone and done it this time! Philile knew that her mother who didn’t read the papers would at least be spared the sight of her cherished home. But she, Philie couldn’t deny that she was from that decrepit, poverty-stricken house. And she wanted to hide it. Sweep it under and pretend it never happened. She wanted to build a new house.  She didn’t want to admit to anyone, that she was ashamed – embarrassed in front of the entire newsroom room to see her childhood home, her great-grand mother’s house, the house her mother grew up in h, displayed so unapologeticly for all to see. She was deeply ashamed of everything it represented the less said about it, the better. But there was a time when she had been proud to be there.

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PROF ALI MAZRUI: A MEASURE OF GREATNESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DUAL MANDATE: NEW FORMS OF SLAVERY

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

TOOLS OF EXPLOITATION IN AFRICA – BY PROF ALI MAZRUI

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

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

THE DUAL MANDATE

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

A FACADE

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

HUMANS FOR GUNS

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

THE HANI MOMENT

Chris Hani
Chris Hani

10 April 2013.   I was 12 and I had just woken up from a bad dream, it was a Saturday so happily I along with my siblings would be staying in at home.   My father had recently installed black and gold iron gates the next step in the fencing off our township home.  Putting a fence around one’s   home was considered then   (as I am sure it still is now in some quarters) as a sign  of prosperity   and increasing wealth. Even though the brick wall around our home was not yet complete, it re-classified us as one of the more affluent families in the Proper Township.

My dream involved our new black gates; something horrible had happened on our drive way or somewhere near though there was no sign of the incident on the red gravel earth.  All I could see in my dream apart from the “eerie” feeling was  the ground.  Street lamps cast yellow light, highlighting menacing tall thin shadows of young men walking as if parallel to the steel rods which made up our golden black gate.

They were just shadows but I could not shake the bad feeling as I walked into the lounge in search of my mother, where I found her  and my father as if frozen in mid-action staring at the television screen as if shocked by electricity.

Noxolo Grootboom our favourite Xhosa news reader was being interviewed a crowd had assembled around her, she must have just woken up, unkept  with a doek (scarf) on her head, she was saying something I couldn’t understand. Then the camera followed the crimson trail leading to someone lying face down his head and body barely covered with red blankets. I am guessing the cameraman must have been equally stunned by the fresh blood trail which seemed to still flow from South African Communist Party Leader Chris Hani’s motionless body.  He was laying face-own-his paved driveway.  A tragic end to what had started off as a perfect  Saturday morning, it was a beautiful day.  Chris Hani in track suits had gone out to buy the paper, which I assume he would have read with a good cup of coffee on a kitchen table – why is there no movie about his life? Then came the cry that  I will never forget ; Tokyo Sexwale’s grief stricken agony reverberated throughout  multiple TV screens  all around South Africa but ever more loudly in my head! Chris Hani was dead, the nation was in morning and I didn’t even know who he was.  I had forgotten all about telling my mother about my bad dream. It had all   become too real.

SUB-STANDARD CUSTOMER SERVICE WITH STANDARD BANK – SOUTH AFRICA

standardbankI  was truly hoping that it  would not come to this but sheer frustration and a lack of any other options has brought me to this point. I have never in my life experienced such a callous and inconsiderate banking institution whose customer service has been less than below par.  I have been seriously considering changing banks after it took no less than two months for me to get an emergency banking card while travelling in west Africa in 2012, but I decided against it (foolishly) thinking that perhaps something will change… this time I am left hungry and destitute in another country because standard bank has no customer CARE services to speak of.

I arrived in Senegal on the 28thof 2012having  told them that I would be travelling to Senegal for some time and would need to have easy access to internet banking, and asked them to change all my notifications to on email.  On the 3rdof January I went to a local mall C plaza to withdraw money and my card was retained (swallowed by the ATM) thinking nothing of it I followed up with the local bank to have my card returned.  The bank told me that they had my card (VISA DEBIT CARD) but since it did not have my name on it they would require standard banks verification that I was indeed the authentic and legitimate card holder. After several calls and emails  every day for about 7 days  the local bank had still not received any correspondence or communication from my bank despite my having provided them with the necessary information via email and  by telephone.  On the day that I eventually got my bank card back the lady who was “assisting” said to me actually said “So what do you expect me to do?” I was angered by that and told her that I expect her to provide the local bank with all the relevant information that I am the legitimate the bank card in their possession is mine as I had no other card I could use to access my funds.

After faxing my Proof of Identity and spending a least three to four hours back and forth   with a local banking consultant I got my card back. The lady who was helping me even managed to say “hurry up its knock off time” After I had spent almost two weeks trying to get the issue resolved.  I answered all the security questions did everything I could to prove that I was not a fraud but a customer in a foreign country trying to gain access to my funds.  She then gave the banking consultant the go ahead to give me back my bank card after which she told me everything was fine.

My bank card was retained on the 3rdof January; I only got it back on the 10th from the local bank. In desperate need of money, I went to another bank to withdraw money and again my bank card was retained.  I called my bank again to find out what the problem was and after being referred to this one and that one and that one I was told that it was a hot card, but no one could explain what hot card meant. I asked for the bank to call me back as I had not enough credit available to stay on hold and they repeatedly told me, consultant after consultant that they are not able to do that.  With my card declared illegal I had not use for it.  On Friday I spend not less than two hours on the phone, trying to find a solution to my increasingly frustrating situation, after explaining my story to no less than 6 different consultants who each referred me to someone else for assistance, I was told that I could not get an emergency bank card, as I would need to transfer funds from one account to another in order for an emergency bank card to be issued for have emergency funds sent to me via other financial institutions. I would have to transfer the money myself via internet banking in order for them to help me. I again explained my situation to yet another call center agent saying because use my bank card had been blocked I could not make the necessary transfers on the net otherwise I would have save myself the trouble and did that the first time around.   She then transferred me to someone else who I had to explain my whole story to again, by this time it was three hours on the phone and I had run up a phone bill I could not even afford in the hope that I would finally resolve the situation  at the end of it. The lady then put me through to another consultant who deals with internet transfers; the man on the phone answered and kept me on hold without anyone picking up my call for at least 20 minutes until I could not hold on any longer because my phone bill was beyond affordable.

This week I called again on Monday to find a solution to my problem, I asked the consultant again to please call me back and he told me the same story they cannot make calls to customers, I explained my story from the beginning and the consultant told me that they cannot help me I would need to go to my local branch to get the issue resolved! I almost creamed at the poor guy saying I am in a foreign country in west Africa Senegal he told me he understood and would forward my query to my local branch and have them call me after I had given him all my details I waited for a call.  The bank still hasn’t called me back and I have no more funds to make the call to try to get access to my money that I worked hard for it is inexplicable that the treatment I have received at a bank that claims to be a leading bank in Africa, they don’t even know where Senegal is.

I may have stayed with them out of blind sense of loyalty.  I  really  don’t care anymore if the bank cares about its customers or not. A ll I want is for them to give me all my two cents and let’s call it quits.  I don’t know what else to do. Calling and  emailing has so far been fruitless and left  me with little options on what to do next since I don’t have loads of money to spend all day on the phone speaking to 10 different people  with whom I have to repeat the same story again, answer the same questions with not solution at the end.. I am still waiting for a call.  I am left trapped unable to do my work and live my life because of no one seemed to resolve the problem. There’s a simple solution.

Can someone at standard bank please give me a call??? It’s an AFRICAN NUMBER  ( DAKAR SENEGAL  WEST AFRICA) 00221773384105   I repeat  – 00221773384105  and please  give me access to my money and I promise NEVER to call  Again.

Regards

From a very disappointed customer.