Coconut: Soothing oil for growing Afros

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I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. It is the story of our lives. It is our story, told in our own words as we feel it every day. It is boring. It is plain. It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell – Coconut (2007), Kopano Matlwa

Done.

Within a few hours of picking up the book from a family friends’ impressive bookshelves, it was all over. I didn’t understand why I had been so resistant to reading it when all those years ago,  I stood hiding behind bookshelves listening to Kopano Matlwa; a precocious medical student then and now qualified medical doctor, health activist, Oxford Scholar and  author of three successful manuscripts (Spilt Milk, 2010 and Period Pain 2017) answer questions about her debut novel, Coconut (2007) which had also scooped the  European prize for  literature in 2008.

It was interesting.

Her audience at the time, composed mostly of white people with some highlights, including myself.  I can’t remember everything that was being said. But I do remember watching myself watch her sitting there, a young woman just like me who had achieved more with her life than I had in my entire my lifetime. Was it jealousy? Envy? Bring her down syndrome? “It’s a day in the life of a black school girl, it takes place in a day,” she said shyly. I wanted to ask a question but I had not read the book so I let the moment pass and continued to inhale the intoxicating smell of new books. I may not be a writer nor a published author but I can, at the very least, read.

It took me a decade, 10 years to be precise to finally read the book which peaked at me from other people’s shelves as if to ask, and me? Yes, yes she’s a gifted writer I would say each time her name came up in conversation about new reads. But I had no idea what was between the books’ covers. Now  I understand why it took me so long to read it from cover to cover in just four hours.

Coconut.

The title of the book rubbed me up the wrong way. I couldn’t get past it even though the cover clearly said; A Novel.  But now that I’ve read every word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter and all its parts – since I have gone through it. I get it.

I was a victim of words; language meant a lot to me.

I had been called a coconut ( a derogatory term used to describe black-African people who could speak English fluently – i.e black on outside and white on the inside) for so long that by the time Matlwa came out shining in all her brilliance I couldn’t bring myself to purchase or read the insult. It was too much, I didn’t want to relive the experience. The word Coconut had taunted, haunted, bullied, sneered, laughed, humiliated me at every turn. She wants to be white they whispered in front of me, who do you think you are, trying to be better than us eh? they shouted behind my back.

Instead, I drifted to the academic section at the Boekehuis and picked out a much lighter read than what Matlwa offered, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952).

It’s been a rough ride.

Today most (aspirational – middle class) South Africans appreciate that fluency in English(the imperial language) does not mean that the speaker desires to be white nor does it make the person more or less African or more or less intelligent.  Neither does it make them a nice, good, evil or a bad person or vice versa for African language speakers. All these appendages depend on the speaker’s individual character and their motives for speaking or not speaking said language notwithstanding the power structures or systems governing society.

A language is a tool (a means to an end, not an end in itself). It can be used for just about anything under the sun if one has the power and influence to lubricate its application. I have spoken Afrikaans with white English-speaking South Africans in the Middle-East just so that the Arabic-French- English-speaking taxi driver would not hear what we were saying.   In school, we invented code languages so that we could confuse others but understand each other just for the fun of it. We pretended not to understand others so we could hear them speak freely in languages we were fluent in. So we could see or know the man behind the mask.

Obvious. ly

The more languages a person cultivates the better. Words are only as powerful as the value you place on them regardless of where they come from – of course, life is easier if one can use and understand the dominant syntax (power and ideology).  But what you believe  ( i.e hold dear, value or love: the philosophy you live by ) is more important than anything else.

So, I am happy to finally put this delightful, sometimes funny and discomforting story about being a black African in the world today along with its long list of relatives including but not limited to race and identity to bed.

Besides, coconut oil is all the rage for growing  Afros, naturally.

Read it if you can.

 

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EXCUSE ME WHILE I WRITE: THE WORLD IS WHAT YOU ARE.

Late last year I picked up VS Naipaul’s book exploring the origins of African beliefs from my archives The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010). I bought the book back in 2011 in preparation for a trip to West Africa. While I travelled with it, I never actually finished reading it until I picked it up again last year. I was curious about what people knew, understood and thought about African belief systems, religions and or cultures. I wanted to know what was out there since I had never fully explored the topic before then, owing to my historical status as a born-again Christian. The subject of African faith or belief systems was often a no-go area, just like the elephant grave-yard created a dangerous, forbidden blemish in an otherwise beautiful and tranquil landscape of the Pride lands in Disney’s The Lion King. It was demonic to even think about it.

So for those of you who didn’t know, VS Naipaul (85) is a Trinidadian/British Writer and Nobel Laureate, who has published more than twenty books of fiction and non-fiction including Half a Life, A House of Biswas, A Bend in the River and a collection of correspondence, Letters between a Father and Son. The author is not without controversy and has been accused of being both racist and having “reactionary, artistic, politics” particularly for his book, A Bend in The River (1979) which earned him as much criticism as Joseph Conrad for his seminal work in A Heart of Darkness – which chronicles in fine, colourful detail Central Africa as “a place of chaotic and violent change; tribal warfare, ignorance, poverty and human degradation… punctuated by irruptions of violent death, a tormented love affairs and complex, terror-struck responses to the emergence of “the Big Man”, an archetypal African dictator.” The book is listed No.90 on the UK-based Guardian Newspapers’ 100 Best Novels. I imagined I could trust his judgement owing to his standing in the literary world and because he was a non-white person from the outside, inside the commonwealth. I presumed he would have a different, rigorous, removed, perspective. I approached his words with an open mind, like an outsider looking in and was thus surprised to find his views on African beliefs to be no different to those dominating narratives in pre and post- colonial Africa.
The Masque of Africa considers the effects of Belief (indigenous animisms, the foreign religions of Christianity and Islam, the cults of the leaders and mythical history) upon the progress of African civilization. Beginning in Uganda, at the centre of the continent, Naipaul’s Journey takes in Ghana and Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon and ends, as the country (sic) does, in South Africa.
Regardless of my own as yet undisclosed views on African belief systems, reading The Masque of Africa; Glimpses on African Belief, I found V S Naipaul’s overall take on (them) African beliefs to be rather sardonic. He wrote as a benevolent voyeur determined to find some spiritual concept or belief system that could somehow redeem Africans and Africa from continued moral decay, but regrettably found none. From his exploration of the city-scape of Kampala, Uganda whose over-built-up poorer areas were littered with “born-again Christian structures, sometimes fancifully named with sign-boards: as though religion here was like a business that met a desperate consumer need at all levels” to his exploration of ancient Mutesa tombs where he notes how “strange it is that rituals which would once have seemed necessary and vital, serving what was divine, beyond money, have to be disregarded when there is no money”. There was nothing beautiful or redeeming about African belief systems which were imbued with (indiscriminate) traditional culture of human sacrifices, the torture of animals, child and women abuse all done to appease the insatiable demands of discombobulated gods and ancestors who rule their subjects with no mercy. A Lagos city councillor who Naipaul Interviews admits that even Christian pastors are afraid of the pagan religions “Muslims and Christians practice forgiveness and cannot harm you. In a pagan religion there is no forgiveness. It is a tit-for-tat religion, there are rules you have to follow very strictly, and if you go against them you die or you go mad” I got the impression that for Naipaul Africans were a people caught up in a kind of psychological hell where they are either brain-washed or mind-controlled through the twin foreign religions of Christianity and Islam or they are rendered slaves and human fodder for the appetites of roaming spirits hungry for fresh blood and energy (souls).
It was a breath-taking,  and rather discouraging account of what African belief systems were, are or have become. By the end of the book I was also compelled to concede and agree with him that Africans in indeed are a savage lot. In spite of myself I began to feel rather grateful that the continent was colonized as it was because now we had a legitimate target for our woes, we have someone else to blame for our savage, cruelty and mindless greedy rituals. We also now have  a redeemer, a saviour, who forgives us despite our fits of carnality. Who would we blame if the West had not come to save us from ourselves? Particularly in South Africa were race (racism) has become somewhat of a religious practice.
The book left me with a notion of Africans as a people bereft of any urgency, self-determination – or an identity of any kind being as they are like animals: slaves to the impulses of our flesh and short-lived appetites, condemned to die like turkeys at thanks giving with no legacy to speak of bar from that which we have inherited from the Arabs and Westerners, people who were kind enough to risk (lay down) their lives in their mission to civilize us. I too began to see Africa as a place where Naipaul concludes in The Masque of Africa “… a resolution is not really possible until the people who wish to impose themselves on Africa, violate some essential part of their being”.
However chilling I was content with the books conclusion, I could not objectively dispute his findings without being defensive, a clear sign of a lack of emotional intelligence or more specifically emotional self-control. I’m not an animal, despite evidence to the contrary. Then I remembered that a good friend of mine had gifted me with an authorized biography of V.S Naipaul written by Patrick French, named after the famous opening line of his book A Bend In A River : “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to be nothing have, no place in it’
The world is what it is:
It is between these pages that I found Naipaul’s subconscious motivation for his literary career and more poignantly; The Masque of Africa: Something to do with his father’s stunted writing career and eventual humiliation and mental instability – caused by his inability to find a way forward from the “Hinduism of his childhood with its poorly educated pundits and half-understood rituals” which he was later forced to perform, publicly slaughtering a goat etc, to appease readers of a newspaper he wrote for which further entrenched his mental disturbance. While at Oxford trying to outdo the English, the Blacks and others even as he sought their validation VS Naipaul begged his father to write and prove his critics wrong: ‘You have enough material for a hundred stories for Heaven’s sake start writing them…you are the best writer in the West Indies, but one can only judge writers by their work.’ It is then that I came to understand the man behind the Masque of Africa. In this sense the book, though factual and true, has nothing to do with Africa and Africans. It is about VS Naipaul’s world as it was and or is – projected on the African landscape and by extension it’s people. He was trying to find a sense of peace, to redeem his father’s demise. To appease something…
In conclusion my exploration of African beliefs through VS Naipaul’s eyes in the Masque of Africa and Naipaul’s motivations and mind through Patrick Frenchs’ The World Is What It Is’ brought me closer to understanding what Ben Okri meant when he said “To poison a nation, poison it’s stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories of itself.” And his warning to “Beware of storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts and who are irresponsible in the application of the art”
I realize that African stories including our belief systems have been poisoned, polluted not only by others projecting their own fears and demons on us, but also by ourselves. It is up to us to reverse the perceived moral decay of Africa and Africans. But to do that we have to first start with facing our fears. The ones we buried in the elephant graveyard. They are what makes books like the Masque of Africa possible. They are our blind-spots.
“To know a specie is to look at its fears. To know yourself, look at your fears. Fear in itself is not important, but fear stands there and points you at things that are important. Don’t be afraid of your fears, they are not there to scare you. They are there to let you know that something is worth it” C Joybell C

THE AFRO: WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH YOUR HAIR?

I was just reluctantly pulling out from the softest kiss, still relishing the sweet-tasting impression of our lips dancing together when he asked a question that snapped me out of my reverie “What can you do with your hair?”

I looked back at him as he moved off the bed to adjust the air conditioning in the room and I immediately felt the weight of the world return to my shoulders. I sighed. This question always comes up each time I’m wearing my hair without braids. Anything I want, I thought without answering.  I wanted to ask why he’s asking me this question before I  give him an answer but his answer could annoy me. So not wanting to spoil the moment, I changed the subject to something more pleasant, tea?

Yet I’ve been asked this question a million times before by all kinds of people.

Women Ask: is that your real hair? What have you done to your hair? If they are the hair stylist; why don’t you relax/blow your hair (a chemical process which makes the hair softer, straighter and easier to comb and or plait or braid/run your fingers through it) if they are “woke” or activists they don’t associate with people who do not have visible Afros or locks. Therefore if you are wearing braids/weave/wig you are dismissed as fake.

Men Ask: What can you do with your hair? Why do you wear your hair natural? Why don’t you put braids on? Why aren’t you natural? Are you going out like this? Take these things out! or if they are “woke” – why don’t you lock it?

These questions and statements are often made irrespective of the person’s race.  Despite consistent negative comments or innocent questions regarding why I wear my hair the way I do, I have chosen not to debate the issue any longer. But I have also been shocked to discover that this is the one question that has been, a silent deal breaker for me.  I know it’s the end when someone asks about my hair like it should look different. As we all know people like what they like, think what they think and sometimes any explanation to the contrary is futile.

Why should everything be a struggle? A fight. Can’t we just be? Do you like me or my hair?

So this week as I faced the mirror once again to undo the thin long braids I have been wearing since March I had to fight the urge to simply cut the braids off along with all my hair and start again. Because over the past four months my Afro-virgin hair (un-processed) had grown in and around the braid and had become so intertwined with the synthetic hair – it was like trying to separate salt from sugar.  At the end of 2012 I cut off my locks because they had also grown in between the braids and I did not have the patience to extricate the fake from the real so I cut it all off, until I was completely bald. The bald hairstyle while acceptable in South Africa, drew even more curious looks from men and women in Senegal “etes tu un moine femme?” are you a female monk? Why don’t you wear earrings? Lipstick, something? Are you a man or a woman? You look like  Mandela, another said at the supermarket. You look like me said another, a brother from another mother.

It’s different when someone close to you says it.

Since then I have committed to growing my hair and have had to resist cutting it every year which is why I often wear braids, first to allow it to grow and second so that I have something other than my hair to cut when I need a change. And with braids I don’t need a comb.

Determined to do the impossible I put on my favourite movie on repeat and tackled each braid until my hair was free of all of them and the morning sun sent light beams through my window. I went into the shower to wash and detangle it and that’s when I realized, what it is about the Afro/African hair which makes people so worked up about it. Including myself:

It clings-tight.

In its natural state African hair clings to everything. A fact which,  necessitated the pencil test in South Africa to help government officials determine which race you belonged to during Apartheid, if your skin was not a clear enough indication.  If they stuck a pencil into your hair and it stayed stuck,you were classified as  Black. And if the pencil fell easily from your hair you’d be classified as Coloured. The latter being a more desired classification as it promised a slightly better life (opportunities) to those reserved for black-Africans.

It’s not what it seems

The black spiral coils are so tight they are often deceiving, which is why one day you can comb your hair out have a huge big afro or a straight looking do  and then next moment your hair can be so short it’ll look like you’ve had a haircut, you can mold it into any shape you desire. Basically…

You can do anything you want with it.

You can make it curly, straight, short and long, you can lock it, iron it or braid it. Any hair style imaginable is possible with African hair.  The naturally tight spiral coils mean it can endure so much more, it is pliable, it can stretch so much further and can also allow for an infinite amount of diverse hairstyles. At its best it stands tall and firm.

When the winds blow, it is not moved!

I think the Afro is a wonderful metaphor for Africans too. Strong and versatile. Incubators of ideas, knowledge and mysteries. Stubborn yet soft inside. While we may look friendly and outgoing or loud we are also very private and inward looking people. Once we’ve grabbed on to an idea (good or bad) we cling-tight to it, making it grow bigger and larger for better or  for worse.

So while there is almost nothing I can’t do with my hair, I also know that not everything I do  with it is beneficial.

Either way, it is my choice to make.

LATVIA, YOUR FLAG IS ON MY LIPS, CONGRATULATIONS!

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Latvia is a country, right?

Imagine if I had to pitch an advertising campaign congratulating Latvia on the  successful  conclusion of its maiden Presidency of the  European Union (EU) in June this year, since it joined the union in 2004. If someone randomly came up to me and asked what my concept would be: it would be exactly  what you just saw:  The title and picture saying: Latvia, your flag is on my lips, Congratulations!

But to do that  I would have to assume that  you know what Latvias’ national flag looks like  and why  it would be significant  for me to wear it on my lips. Since I myself was simply clueless about Latvia less than ten months ago, I thought it might be cool to let you in on the thinking behind this fictitious advertising campaign of mine which no one has asked me to do by the way. I do it just because its fun to learn new things and to travel, even virtually. So my pitch is all about current history as you may have guessed so here goes:

First a disclaimer: I have never set foot in this country

So those of you who watch the news beyond your borders might be wondering why I would even bother congratulating Latvia on its EU presidency when the EU itself  is faced with arguably more pressing matters to resolve. First among them being the question of sanctions against Russia and Ukraine, should they be lifted or not? The second is the issue of  EU reforms brought forward by the United Kingdom, which wants a package of changes including tougher rules on migrant benefits and fair trade with the Eurozone.  Britain has a planned referendum in 2017 to decide on whether to stay in or out of the Union. So in light of this and many other issues concerning the EU such as Greece’s increasing financial delinquency, including an increasing wave of migrants from Africa into Europe, Riga – Latvia’s capital city’s role in the EU’s drivers’ seat for the past five months may seem well… inconsequential at best.

Think about  our younger years

I was actually quite shocked to discover that I share more in common (politically) with the small republic in North-Eastern Europe than with the rest of the  27  European Union member states combined. It was a strange feeling indeed. How was that possible right? I mean my  knowledge of Latvian history and politics was until recently, non-existent. And if on the very rare (unidentified flying object) occasion that it came up in conversation I would have automatically lumped it in the larger pool of Russia’s  (USSR) former conquests and basically left it at that.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong

Over the last couple of months, through intermittent and sporadic research prompted by a desire for something new, I found out that I do in actual fact share much more in common with Latvia  than with many of the countries in Europe I have visited or wished so fervently to see – I gave it my best shot Paris! Latvia’s history is complicated even for me,  I couldn’t keep track of the many, many conquest that took place there. But just to simplify a long story. Because of its strategic geographical location, Latvia has fought many wars with four main enemies at different times and simultaneously in its very tumultuous history: Germany, Sweden, Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. They’ve all pushed, pulled, killed and, manipulated in order to gain control of this  94 square kilometer of land.    For one Latvians are a brave and persisted lot who fought valiantly and tirelessly, with, for and against their occupiers, Russia and Germany who alternated possession of Latvia as if it were a ball in a tennis match. In fact I think at some point in history Latvian soldiers were fighting from all sides both with and against the Germans and Russians who were in turn fighting other Latvians to gain control of the Baltic nation. I never in a million years thought I could encounter a country whose history is more complicated than my own and as far as Latvia goes – it’s complicated and that’s not even an understatement.  Though Latvia gained independence in 1918, it took another 72 years of fighting off the various factions before it regained its independence again in 1990 on the fourth of May, despite having lost its independence formally to Russia in 1940.

Puts independence into perspective right?

In 72 years (and perhaps even to date) Germany and Russia could not leave Latvia alone which meant that Latvians not only had to learn to  hold on to who they were and their identity they also had to learn how the Sweet and honest Swedes, Precise and Competent Germans, Passionate and Strategic Russians and the Cynically pragmatic Poles were like and then use that knowledge to attain what they desired most of all: a right to self-determination and sovereignty.   They had to ultimately win not only just a physical, logistical or geographical war against the Germans and the Russians et al, they had to win the most important war of all:  The psychological war. Learning and understanding how the opposition thinks.

After joining the European Union in 2004 it took 11 years before the chair of the EU chairmanship  could rotate to their corner, which for them is a huge milestone. Even though the EU presidency rotates every six months to each of the member states, it shines a spotlight on the host country which is probably equivalent in my case to South Africa being included in the UN Security Council for the first time in 2007 (it was also the first time an African country was included in the SC in the UN’s history!)  So it’s a huge deal and milestone for Latvia. This is a time for them to flex their muscle and see how far their influence(if any) goes with the big boys. The country has made many gains and losses since its independence 25 years ago, but is today a largely stable country with a rapid economic growth of about 10 percent a year before an economic crisis and recession in 2009 reversed these gains. The country quickly recovered though and attained an annual growth of 5.5 percent by 2012 making it the fastest growing EU country to date.  Even so the rate of unemployment is very high (9.1%)  in a country of about 2 million people. Virtually all the previously state-owned small and medium enterprises have now been privatized with the exception of three. ( energy, oil and telecoms) two of which the country is planning to sell. With the second fastest  internet  speeds in all of Europe after Romania, it’s service sector provides about 24% of jobs in the country.

I see you, Thank you for the compliment

So my campaign which is basically this picture of a black woman is exactly what Latvia is not – on the outside. But I think if you were to look deep into the heart of Latvia ( conflicted and controversial as they may be) you will find that they look just like the pictured black woman. They have a level depth which is as frightening as it is exciting. They have penetrating black diamond like eyes: mysterious, curious, playful, visionary and sad all at the same time. They are wildly free and are connected to nature ( half of Latvia is made up of forest)and most things natural. They are intuitive, compassionate and sensitive. A people of legends, myths and numbers. Practical and wildly creative.  They are not  only strong and can whether tough storms but  they are also resilient and still maintain a youthful maturity, exuberance and just a little touch of innocence or  maybe some naivety.  And finally they are passionate people: their flag is the colour of dark red  on either side representing an ocean of blood spilled for independence (the exact colour of the lipstick, a mix of browns and purples) with a strip of white in the middle (represented here by the biting pearls or teeth). And since Latvians are not known for their wide beaming smiles – the only way to wear their flag on your lips is to do exactly the opposite and yes you guessed it: smile. ( this effect also works with red-wine stained lips).  So for what it’s worth, congratulations Latvia, Paldies, for the inspiration.

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Africans & etc

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Good Morning, Coffee, anyone?

I wanted to start this week’s blog by writing about the recent e-tolling saga ( formally known as the Electronic Toll Collection or ETC) in Johannesburg which has had Johannesburg motorists up in figurative arms. I wanted to note and remember with you what happened in Johannesburg’s streets after the ETC, went live in December of 2013.  I wanted to remind you of  the three most outspoken and loudest voices against etolls in Johannesburg with the exception of the Opposition for Urban Tolling Alliance OUTA: Ousted Cosatu president, Zwelinzima Vavi,  Patrick Craven, who resigned as the labour union federations’ spokesperson in April this year and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which has since been expelled from the Union Federation.  I thought it curious that the panel of experts resolved to continue with the etolls despite widespread public opposition, and that Cosatu under the new leadership has all but changed its line and has tacitly endorsed the new dispensation, urging Gauteng citizens to just pay in not so many words.  I thought it was a curious coincidence then I thought; wait a minute, this is much deeper than I thought.

Eish Joe…

This feels like a long hang-over:  The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project ( GFIP) which includes the two main ETC methods: the “boom-down” electronic toll collection and the ” open road tolling” (ORT) which went live in Johannesburg in 2013 were implemented in 2007. Which means that the decision to install ETC in Johannesburg was taken in the early 2000’s under former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration with minimal to no public consultation with the caveat that perhaps in this instance a majority vote for the ANC was enough of green light for all of the ANC government policy positions.  The project which  was largely completed by April 2011, is ostensibly not the incumbent President Jacob Zuma’s decision even though he served as former President  Mbeki’s right hand man for much of his tenure.  In fact these decisions were likely taken and implemented in mid to late 90’s, with the first casualty being the controversial Arms Deal  Saga.

It’s so boring though…

You may think that this is effectively a moot point, but I think it puts the issue in context and makes very clear the country’s policy of  privatizing some key national assets; which  I think (though I will stand to be corrected) will in time include Eskom, Telkom, Sanral etc. Which has not shifted since the country’s democratic dispensation. This follows to the tee former President Nelson Mandela’s plea to the International community for foreign direct investment  (FDI) in public-private partnership deals which formed the basic foundation for the country’s economic policies over the years: Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) and now the National Development Plan (NDP).  President Mandela urged investors to come to South Africa saying ‘ We have many public assets, and we have the workers and labour unions under our control, we would like to partner with you” during his maiden trips as the country’s first democratically elected president. So what? Perhaps giving in on economy in exchange for “political” freedom was the only peaceful option for transition available to him and his team at the time. Perhaps he hoped that in time we’d gain some ground and through some  sheer force of political will gain some control over our economic future, perhaps it was just a foot in the door,  perhaps it was the best way to avoid a civil war. Again so what?

 Consider God’s Bits of Wood

As we mark and celebrate  Africa Day this week, we do so soberly in South Africa on the back of brutal attacks against our brothers and sisters.  And boy do they have a lot to teach us. They’ve been there before. Take a look at the  book, God’s Bits of Wood, a seminal work of literature by Senegalese writer and film maker Ousmane Sembene, in which he fictionalizes a historical account of the 1947/8  Senegal-Niger railway strike which changed the course of West Africa’s  political history.  For six months workers demanded salary increases, back pay, family allowances and pension funds – equal to what railway line workers in France were earning. A preposterous request by any stretch of the imagination at the time. Africans were not even considered human, let alone workers who deserved to earn salaries equal to white people who were then considered superior by virtue of the colour of their skin which also offered them a higher level of education, training and skills.   The striking workers were ignored and during the course of six-months, had to survive without food, water and money.  However they refused to relent, instead they united with other workers in Mali and Senegal and refused to go back to work on the repeated promise that their concerns/needs will be gradually addressed. Their employers argued that they had already benefited from Frances’ civilizing mission to Africa and a family allowances would prove too expensive as the Africans kept more than one wife, calling all African women concubines and or whores in short. Following a march from  Mali to Dakar, Senegal led by those very concubines ( Women’s march) the striking railway workers received all of their demands in full; effectively forcing the French to recognize black African workers (African labour) as fundamentally equal and worthy of the same benefits as their European (white) counterparts when performing the same tasks. The book is a work of genius.

You’re not serious…

I think the ETC saga in Gauteng presents a similar opportunity for motorists in the province ( and South Africa citizens in general) to stand for what is right, but of course the battle will not be won by three of the estimated 3.5 million registered motorists in Gauteng. It will  only work if all motorists stay united so that government understands that since it did not consider it necessary or imperative to fully and properly consult tax/rate/ payers/users of highways before signing said deals, it is equally and just as unnecessary for them to expect them to pay for something they never endorsed in the first place. It is a matter, indeed, of principle.  Government cannot continue to pay lip service to “Batho Pele’.  Perhaps in this way, this and the next administration will know to actually put people first when making plans for the country,  as it is ultimately this country’s citizens who will have to pay. This might, hopefully,  pave the way for  government to re-consider its fiscal policy to date and maybe think about truly restructuring  South Africa’s economy in a way that truly creates and sustains real growth. Because try as we might, we are not France nor are we Norway, Denmark or any of these European countries we are meant to emulate and impress. We need to create our own economic policies and plans that are tailored to fit and suit our unique economic position and  not size zero designs meant for models who live on coffee and cigarettes – we cannot unfortunately copy and paste development. I have faith that if we truly apply ourselves we will find the best economic solution for ourselves, but it has to come from South Africans and not as has been the case so far, our benefactors.

Yoh, dude! So you wanna be starting somethin’

It will be useful to quote here, political economist Mary E Clark  when she said “In life some things can be counted and others cannot. Those things which matter most – Beauty, faith, friendship and self-expression – are immeasurable. There is no way to count them. They are not marketable. As soon as we put a price on them they are debased and prostituted. Yet as a society this is exactly what we do. Only what can be bought and sold is given value” I think this is one of those “things” in life, that just cannot be bought or sold: the right to self-determination.

AFRICA: WE ARE ONE, NO MATTER WHAT.

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My fellow Africans.

Many of us are reeling, we are feeling broken and unsure of just how or where to start processing the recent month-long attacks against African citizens in South Africa. The latest spate of violence has created a continent-wide chain reaction against citizens of South Africa in an ugly tit for tat war of words which is pouring salt into the already open and gaping wounds littering our beloved continent. My body. We are all bleeding, some more than others. There is no justification. No mitigating factor or extenuating circumstance for this.   This has been a flash of anger and hatred which has been hard to bear, and has sent many of us  convulsing into waves of anguish, weakened by ancient sorrows.

Yes there is poverty, but poverty is not new. Unemployment is not a new phenomenon to hit South Africa, nor is a lack of resources. These are not unheard of phenomena in mineral rich Africa. The texture of these recent attacks has an other-worldly feel,  something close to an out-of-body experience which  has left even the most ardent supporters of  (South)Africa with sand in their mouths.  It is as if we’re all in a collective dream, a nightmare which our forefathers could not have dreamed or imagined possible even while they preached and advocated for African Unity.  Today on the podiums of social and news media, radio, television and government there is no voice that clearly captures the nascent hopelessness which these attacks have embossed on our aching souls. There’s a kind of madness, an insanity which no reason can rationalize. It is like a wild-fire that only gains momentum, power and strength with every drop of water thrown at it.   There is so much anger, bitterness, grief, agony and frustration. We have become like hungry lions and lionesses feeding off of our own offspring, digging deeper and deeper into the raw and fresh rare wounds in our hearts, leaving no space or room to heal. And we must heal.

We are drunk with grief, high with sadness, intoxicated with fatigue. We can no longer see, hear or speak clearly. Everything we say is like venom, poison, administered from a place of  searing pain and unending agony and distress. We are outstretched, spread thin everywhere and any more pressure or negative energy will see us snapping,  tearing  each other apart or boiling over because there is no one well enough in the house  to see that all is not well. Everyone is hurting.

It is not just South Africa it is  Nigeria, Somalia, Namibia, Mozambique, Guinea, Kenya, Egypt, Zimbabwe; all 54 of us are in pain. We can’t eat, we can’t sleep, we can’t rest. Everything is aching, everywhere is war. Day and night have become a long and unending nightmare,  a dream within a dream within a dream, with each dream becoming worse than the last.

You see I know this, Africa, because you are my body. My heart is in the east, and one rib in the west so are my lungs and breasts,  my belly is in central Africa, my head is in the north, my legs and feet in the south, you are me. Whichever part of you hurts, hurts me too. I carry you in my veins, in my skin, and my sweat. You are everything to me and I am your everything too. I walk like you, talk like you, do everything as you do because we are one.

The current backlash against SA seems to me like a person whose foot has been badly hurt and instead of putting it in a cast and letting it heal, he becomes angry with himself, punishes himself and inflicts more pain on the very foot by stabbing it with a knife, exacerbating the damage to the point of amputation.

Nothing will replace that foot.  Some South Africans have done wrong: so our solution is to take bread from  the mouths of children and send them off to starve  and be  drugged into worse crazed futures,  so that we can prove a point.  A point that we all know is true.  An undisputed fact. What has happened in South Africa is wrong. Nothing can be said to make it right or acceptable. All we can say is this:

We are sorry, from the depths of everything I am. On behalf of my country and countrymen. Unequivocally. Sorry.

We are still young and we have thought for a while that we knew everything. We have failed to consult and ask you, our elders to guide us into adulthood. We thought we had it figured out and yes for a while you  too were indeed very proud of us, and the progress we were making and as a result abdicated your responsibility for leadership.  The truth is we are still hurting and now that you can see just how much we still have to learn please don’t let go. Don’t abdicate your responsibilities now. We still don’t know what it means to be African, some of us don’t even know that we are African to begin with.  You have seen us kill each other brutally with no reason. In your anger you have laughed and called us names instead of stepping in and giving us guidance.  You have been  free for decades more than we have. Help us deal with this. Lift us up from our fallen state, because you can not walk without us.  And we cannot breathe without you.  We are one body. We thought we could handle all the responsibility of taking Africa forward, but in reality, it is too much. Help us and  lighten our load. We cannot do it on our own.  I am not blaming you for what has happened, I am trying to  illustrate just how much we need you now.

This is a critical, defining and historic moment for Africa, and for us all. How we choose to address this issue, this wound now, today, will determine our future.  What future do we want for Africa?

The last thing we need is to be isolated and ex-communicated from each other.  Because no matter where we go in the world we carry Africa in us and with us. Though we’ve tried to escape her woes many times and  in boat loads from all corners of the continent, we have taken her with us. Her joys and sorrows have been permanently etched on our foreheads.

Africa. She decides our fate.

This is the time for us to join hands in unity and fight to stay alive together.  From South to North, East and West. We need to hold on to each other now. We need to keep talking to each other until the words we speak become medicine to our wounds, until it stops hurting.  This is the time for us to stay together anyway we can  and weather the storm.  I know that we are strong enough, brave enough but most of all, I know that we have enough love in our hearts to heal recent hurts. Let’s draw strength from those who’ve come before us. Let’s draw strength from what we have already overcome. I know we have enough love to build a better future for our children.  I know that we can change.  We have everything we need to make us work.

The answer to our current problems is an unwavering commitment to one another, to African Unity. A commitment to face our challenges head on and together.  It is time to focus on us, Africa. It is time for a mutual commitment to go directly to the root cause of our problems, no matter what they are and stand together committed to solving them. We’ve tried doing things apart and  “Independently” before. We’ve all gone our own separate ways at different times and it has not worked. All we have achieved is slow progress with heightened strife and more pain. It’s time to commit.  Now is the moment our forefathers dreamt of. Now is the time to show unity in the face of opposition like we have never done before. Now is the time to break without exception all the boarders in our hearts and minds and  occupy  our land in peace.  Let us free ourselves now and let love in. It is the only way. We are an amazing and beautiful people, who deserve love, peace and harmony in our  daily lives.  We need to remain committed to one another, remain committed to loving each other. We need to commit to peace now anyway and no matter what, because that’s the only way any of us will survive.

I commit to you wholeheartedly and without reservation. I pledge my love for you now and forever. Because you and I, are one mind, body and soul. Africa is one and indivisible. No matter what.

Thank you.

HEALTHY SUCCESS:  WHEN LOOSING MAKES US ALL WINNERS

Is that even possible? I mean everyone wants to win and the more you win the more addictive it becomes.  No one bats an eyelid to the addictive nature of winning, of striving to be at the top of your game all the time because, everyone either wants to be a winner or to be permanently associated with winners or people who come highly recommended by champions. In fact we’re all encouraged, urged, to win at life. So what am I even talking about here?

THE PITCH

Consider the story surrounding the death and funeral of late Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain Senzo Meyiwa.  At the time of his untimely death Meyiwa had earned six national caps playing for the country, a promising international career which started a year ago.

In the field of soccer he was considered a winner, someone who was flying the flag high for South Africa.  But  the story which made headlines, which captured the imagination of the nation, which literally had the country divided in two camps on Facebook and Twitter and even national newspapers, radio talk shows and news bulletins was neither his career as a footballer nor how he died: he was followed and shot and killed as if by hired hit-men.  The story which dominated national discussions was his marriage and extra-marital affairs. On one side the country supported Senzo’s long suffering wife, on the other  side the country supported Senzo’s publicly shattered mistress Kelly Khumalo. Tongues wagged until it emerged that Senzo and his wife were actually either separated or separating.   They were already living separate lives. The minister of sports and recreation came on national radio to honour Senzo and apologize on his behalf  saying “We all make decisions that those close to us may disagree with, but who is to judge, Senzo did what made him happy”.  President Jacob Zuma shared his sentiments in news bulletins with a special message meant to comfort the nation at a time of mourning.

Meyiwa was given a provincial state funeral which was broadcast live on national Television. Moses Mabida stadium was packed as if a soccer-match was underway.

LOOSING SIGHT OF THE GOAL

But his private life is what took centre stage. Simply because his private life was scandalous, better than the drama in two of South Africa’s most controversial and most watched soapies, Generations and Skeem Saam combined.  His mistress and sister were arrested and appeared in court for assaulting his estranged wife and were due to appear in court a day before Meyiwa  was buried.  Senzo for his part apologized a month ago, admitting that he and his wife of seven years had been living separate lives. He also  admitted that not telling his new girlfriend about being married was a mistake and he apologized to his fans.

But Meyiwa is not the only successful person whose personal life surpassed all the achievements they had made on the professional arena. We really don’t have to go too far for examples of this: – our very own Olympic medalist Oscar Prestorius is a leading international example of when winning defeats the purpose. When winning amounts to being a loser.  Cyclist Neil Armstrong is another example what winning at all costs and by any means necessary can do to a person and to those that love them. When that discipline and the single-minded, religious focus of achieving one single goal can lead to psychopathic behaviour or become unhealthy.  At each stage these winners – had to chip little parts of themselves away, to compromise  everything in service of their goal, in order to stand at the podium with their shiny trophies.  What they had lost in the process was their integrity. They have learned to be in control of everything in their lives so much so that they believed they could in some ways also  control others, or manipulate situations in order to win and while they succeeded for a time it was never sustainable. Perhaps Oscar thought if I can run and win a medal without legs then I can make people love me. It is  this  inability to lose or to see loss as a possible outcome, which destroys a winner.  It’s the inability to have limits, and see your own limitations that ruins even the best of intentions. Passion and Obsession from a distance can a look alike but they are two very, very different things. One comes from a place of love, of worthiness and security , nurturing of sharing and giving– Passion. While the other comes from a place of fear, insecurity and a need to control everyone and everything – Obsession. They are very close but the two  never actually touch.

THERE’S NO RUSH

Many years ago when I was young, I gained a very bad reputation in the office after I became completely obsessed with winning against a colleague on the opposing team during a night out bowling  – an office team building exercise.   I hadn’t dealt with the reasons why this particular person made me so uncomfortable or “got on my nerves” but subconsciously I was hungry for a chance to put her in her “place” so to speak by winning at all costs at the bowling game. The result of that is I ended up screaming and shouting  at my team mates urging them, pushing them to go faster and harder  against the other team, to such  an  extent that I ended up snatching a  bowling ball from one of them when it was not even my turn to play because they were not  “doing” it right  or winning in my opinion. I ruined the game for everyone.  Needless to say, no one wanted to go bowling with me afterwards, my team lost, and I turned out to look pretty ugly after the game. I later asked my boss why he put us on opposing sides when being in the same team with my office rival would have been a more strategic “team” building exercise, his response was “there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition”.  But I didn’t like what I saw in me. My competitive side had brought out the very worst in me. I was ashamed of myself and my behaviour and that team building exercise revealed a side of me I found repulsive. It revealed to me a person I never ever wanted to become or thought I could be. I learnt how a bit of healthy competition can become a bit toxic. That experience helped me to grow.

THE PURPOSE. WHAT DRIVES YOU?

As fate would have it, life brought the three of us together again to work under one roof a few years later.  My former boss and my former office rival and I, all working under the same team. By then I had dealt with the reasons why I behaved in that way. And they had nothing to do with her.  I was unhappy with where I was and she represented the kind of drive and passion for her own career development that I wished I had. She had the kind of influence over people (especially men) which I admired. Those things came naturally to her and I was angry with her because I didn’t have them.  I mean it’s not easy to admit that to yourself and let alone to  tell the world that I had allowed jealously, bitterness and anger, fear, a low self-esteem and a lack of love to take over me, cloud my judgment and make what could have been  a healthy, fun game into a nasty cat fight. It’s not easy to acknowledge my flaws, failures, but acknowledging them is what makes me human. My willingness to be vulnerable, to be weak, showed me that I was not perfect nor will I ever be. And that is fine because no else is perfect.  Being perfect is the grand illusion and trying to be a perfect person – who is never sad, disappointed, confused, lost, hurt, angry, jealous, insecure, unsure, or doesn’t know– to pretend that I don’t have these  feelings is what makes me hard, callous, angry, bitter and jealous. Facing these feelings and moving on from them is what makes me beautifully human. I had to learn to love myself for who I was, not who I hoped to be, wanted to be, or aspired to be.  I had to love me for me because no matter how hard I tried I could never ever be anyone else.  And more than that I  learnt that I could never complete another  person nor could another person complete me or make me happy.   I learnt that life is not a just black and white.   I can always try something else, find another way, I can start again. I can find what I am good at, I can use my skills in another way. I don’t have to be right. It’s ok to be wrong. I can learn from others, I can teach what I know. I can love again.

So that by the time she was giving me instructions to do this and that in office I was fine. By the time she was watching my work and sending me constructive feedback I could take it, I could listen to her, because she knew something I didn’t.  She could do something I couldn’t do and I  was grateful for that.  I was actually happy to have her on my side. I respected her, because I had learnt to respect myself. I accepted her for who she is but more importantly I had accepted myself for who I am and that has made all the difference. I also had to forgive myself for being so hard on myself and with others. While I admire who she is, her talent, value her work and strategic thinking, I didn’t want to be her. I was happy being me. She in turn recognized my strengths as a storyteller and gave me an opportunity to do a story close to my heart through her influence in the newsroom.  We worked together as a team and this brought-out a side of me that I was proud of. and happily surprised to see that we actually worked well together and our differences – the reason I didn’t like her became the reason I appreciated her and admired  her more.  I had so much fun I wanted to do it again and again Her strengths complimented my strengths, it was amazing to see how fear blinds us to our own gifts.   I had changed and I was happy with the person I had become.

THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES

The reason(s) I live my life, and why I continue do the work that I do have become much more important to me (than winning any prize). So that even when something looks good on paper or in words, or feels good,  but  goes against my principles, if it is not good for me or the collective or the bigger picture it is not something I am willing to do. Perhaps there’s another way of achieving the same goal  which causes less harm, to myself and others? There must be another way. It is true that I can not eat principles for supper and I am certainly not without my flaws,  I don’t know what I am doing on most days.  But for as long as I can sleep at night, for as long as I can look at myself in the mirror and smile,  I know I have already succeeded. And for as long as I am alive, there’s always an opportunity, always a chance to try again, to learn,to create, and finally to love over and over and over again.

NB:  With that said I am very happy to announce that I will be taking a holiday from blogging to attend to matters of the heart, love and family.

‘The art of living is neither careless drifting nor fearful clinging. It consists in being open and wholly receptive to each moment’ Alan Watts

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”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

Troyville. Monday, 6pm CAT.

This little village where I fell in-love with artists so many years ago and for a little while lived vicariously through the lives of eccentric artists such as Karl Gietle who now lives in a coastal French town in Sett, Wayne Barker my former landlord who found love and is now remarried to a French woman and is living happily in suburbia, Mervin  Dowman the Mosaic artist who also is a keen craftsman, is also making a home somewhere else.  Bra Peter, the disgruntled writer who used to live on the top floor, is now also selling and moving on to his real hometown, Brixton London with his girlfriend.  Jessica the artist and mother of one sweet molly, Kacia the architect who wanted to be an artist is now a mother living in Cape Town, her brother Maciek is now living in Poland, writing, teaching, making films and looking after his grandmother. Katlego the singer with three beautiful children. Bheki the little guy on the stoep is not so little anymore, he now owns backpackers in the new gentrified Maboneng precinct and works a photographer. And then there’s me, the radio- journalist who was always in search of the meaning of life. After all these years  the people, characters, that made this little town so fascinating have all moved, left in pursuit of happiness.  I find myself now on the eve of my second departure from this institution called Berly Court, much clearer than when I first arrived. This little village of Nostalgia, of broken dreams, hearts, and friendships has made me realize just how fragile we all are. And how though we try to hide behind wide smiles and optimistic grins – we all feel a little lost, with a constant need, urge to belong somewhere, to someone, to something. To be relevant and understood without question. To be home.

The past two months here have been intensely emotional, I have met old friends, like Pamela whose now back in town and is living with her daughter and partner after years of being lost in Cape Town. Phibia who is now living in town with her new love. Mbali, the DJ who is now pursuing a career in photography and is on her way to Belgium to re-invent herself.  Fumi  a former colleague at the SABC whose wealth of knowledge about South African politics I never had time to discover,  Nicole also a former colleague, is a writer and researcher who lives a mostly solitary life.  Katarina, the German artist whose friendship has made my life a little easier to bear. Carole whose smile always reflects my own. Neli the travelling dancer, whose  amazing talent persuaded  me to pursue my secrete wish to be a dancer.  Then there’s Lindiwe my name sake and an Actress who I met years ago while she was still studying drama at Rhodes University and I was on assignment.  I finally got over her intoxicating beauty  and saw for the first time that she is just as human as I will ever be. In the last couple of days there’s been a flurry of old faces, all of them once so close and but now so far, old lovers, moving on with new loves, homes, careers or maybe still searching in other parts of town or world. I’ve met new faces too, most of which I don’t remember anymore and will probably never see again. I realize as in life that this place has always been a transit-home. A station where people wait for a little while, until a dream with their name on it picks them up. People I’ve met here have always been on their way to somewhere else, to bigger dreams to a better life, to love, to something which remains even as I write this intangible, until it’s lived.  I’ve  walked these streets every day and discovered the decay, the loneliness and broken-ness hidden behind closed windows, loud music blaring from cars, TV screens, chisanyama’s , in faces who hearts are somewhere else far away.  I can taste the hardship of life in the middle of no where  between the city of Johannesburg and the airport to the world. It’s a place populated by migrants from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, France, Germany, Soweto.  I can taste the sweat of the daily  hustle, the smell the frustration in perfumes and  faces drained with alcohol.  Life in Troyville seems to hang constantly and thinly on balance. As with money, jobs and relationships.

Today I feel mostly grateful for the time spent here, largely because I have somewhere to go, I have a family waiting for me, people I’ve known all my life and who have loved me and I them through all the ups and downs of life. I have always had a home, many homes in fact, in the hearts of those who’ve loved me unconditionally –who took me as I am. I’ve always had a home in those hearts that chose to love me irrespective of my many faults.   For home truly is where the heart is.  As to the meaning of life I have found that it is in Living.  To live, with as much love, kindness, forgiveness and grace as we can possibly master, one day at a time.

Thank you all for continuing to read my blog this year, I have enjoyed the freedom of writing my heart on the page and to look at it, from time to time, again and again with you, because then I don’t feel so alone.  I hope you are with the ones you love, with those in whose hearts you continue to find a home again and again. Happy Holidays! And let’s all toast to love in the New Year! And smile not because it ended, but because it happened.

LOVE

j

MADIBA’S LEGACY: A FATHERLESS NATION

A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela's former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.
A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela’s former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.

 “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela

South Africa Today

South Africa is leading the world in incidents of domestic violence and rape against women and children. According to research by the Medical  Research Council of South Africa (MRC) at least one in three South African men admitted to raping a woman;   at least 144 women report incidents of rape in the country every hour, which  when extrapolated results in  3, 600 reported rape cases a day across the country. Rape, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS,  are largely responsible for an  estimated 3.6 million orphans  in the country, according to figures by Statistics South Africa. “Just under one fifth (19.6%) of all children in South Africa, representing approximately 3.6 million people, are orphaned – half of them due to HIV/AIDS,” said Stats SA in its social profile of vulnerable groups in South Africa from 2002–2010.   These are  causes which former South African President and Nobel Peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to after stepping down as the first black democratically elected president in 1999.

FAMILY MAN

Despite the negative statistics, there are men who, even under great financial strain are following in Madiba’s footsteps and are taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Men like Johannes Majola, a father of three sons and four children he inherited from his late sister.  Majola opened  the Simthembile Homes for children with  intellectual disabilities in Roodepoort South of Johannesburg after being approached by a parent asking him to take care of her child or else she will kill her. “ That broke my heart, I asked myself why she has to kill her” He told BTL “ Single parents face a great challenge, especially those with children with intellectual and physical disabilities,  having to balance work and take care of their children at the same time”  said Majola “ Often they cannot afford to pay and there are not enough homes which cater for physically and intellectually disabled children – I would say the system is failing us” says Majola who runs the home from governments’ disability grants which do not cover the cost of caring for the ten residents at the home.   “Sometimes I have to take food from my own children to give to the residents due to lack of funds”.   Majola  admires Mandela and  calls him his liberator. “ he brought us freedom, liberty and I am following his example of being a father, a protector, a shepherd  who looks after his flock.  Hope and love keep me going” He told BTL “without love you cannot take care of children”.

Majola is not the only man taking care of vulnerable children, Bob Nameng a former street-kid  and an orphan himself, runs centre  for  children in one of the oldest townships in Soweto – Kliptown  -whose living and social conditions have remained almost  unchanged since Mandela’s release from prison.  Nameng told BTL that he works with children because he wants to protect them from the hardship of living on the streets “I didn’t want children to experience the pain of living in the streets like I did, I am an orphan, and I wanted to lead by example, so that other men can see that they too can contribute towards positive change in the country.” He said.  Nameng  has been running the center since the 19 80’s and remembers meeting Mandela before he  led the country through peaceful, multiracial democratic elections and becoming President  in 1994 “When he shook my hand, I felt his powerful energy and knew that  he was a man who is larger than life” He says smiling “Madiba and I share a birthday month (July) and a star sign (cancer) and sometimes I compare myself to him and say if he can do so much – so can I. He has given us a lot and it’s time for us to follow in his footsteps and give children the freedom and space to be children and take care of them”.   Nameng provides free food to an estimated 200 children everyday who come to SKY for food and extra-mural activities in addition to providing shelter to  children who at risk without any support from government. He says the need for more child support is great “we are not doing nearly enough to look after our children, especially girls who are more vulnerable to sexual violent and abuse”

Majola and Nameng share similarities with Mandela.   Nelson Mandela (95)’s iconic status as an anti-apartheid revolutionary activist, liberator, world leader and peace maker came at a great personal cost to himself.  Born in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the 18 of July 1918, he lost his father at a very young age. And while serving a life sentence in Robben Island for treason he was refused permission to bury his son who died following a car accident.   He sacrificed raising his own children from two previous marriages with Evelyn Mandela and Winnie Madikizela Mandela, to father a nation through a difficult and complex transition from White- Apartheid –Minority rule to a non-racial democratic South Africa.  In January 2005 he lost his only remaining son Makgatho Mandela, 54, to HIV/AIDs.  Then at age, 86,Mandela was the second only prominent leader in South Africa (the first being IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi) to call for redoubled efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDs.  “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary”   He said during a media briefing at his private residence in Johannesburg.   In 1995, driven by his love for children and a desire to end their suffering, former President Nelson Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) and from 1996 to 1998, NMCF successfully mobilized over R36 million to fund over 780 projects, at an average of R40, 000 per project by  giving grants to promoting a humanitarian response to the plight of South Africa‘s children and youth. Yet even those efforts did not reach 17 year old Joy Magubane a resident at the Soweto Kliptown Youth Center who says   Bob Nameng is like Madiba to her  “Well all I can say is tata (Madiba) Madiba did nothing for me, it is  Bob Nameng who is looking after me and making sure  that all my needs are met, he is my mother, my father, my grandpa,  my everything, without him I don’t know where I’ll be.”

THE MESSIAH

But for millions of black South Africans who lived under the oppressive arm of Apartheid like 43 year old Madikhomo Nkgomo,  a married mother of five children, Mandela is the  Messiah.  Madikhomo says Mandela is her Jesus. “My mother was a domestic worker and she worked like a slave. We were not allowed to own homes or a land to build one.  For Nkgomo, now a managers at one of the country’s leading banks,  Apartheid –a racial segregation law enforced across South African in 1948 by then former South African President Hendrik Verwoed as a sign of “Good Neighborliness’ meant that she and her extended family of more than twelve people had to share a two bedroom house in Soshaguve, a black township outside of the country’s Capital city Pretoria. “Things got progressively worse and as children we were all separated. My mother lived in domestic quarters in Johannesburg, while we were moved to different places to live with complete strangers” She told BTL. “ We were all arrested at different points  in our family for trading illegally, we often had to hide in cupboards and under  beds from police who would arrest us if they found us without permits to be in the city” She adds.” I was a slave, my mother was a slave – Mandela is my savior, He is like Jesus to me”

For others Mandela will forever remain an icon of Freedom “I think many people are at a loss for words on how to describe the person of Madiba, he is larger than life – and still today young people don’t understand the real cost of freedom” says Nomvula  Mashoni –Cook referring  to Madiba’s policy of  reconciliation demonstrated through the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in the late 90’s. There victims and perpetrators of violence and murders under Apartheid testified, apologized and were forgiven while some received financial compensation for their suffering.

In June 2008, Madiba delivered one of his last public speeches during his 90th Birthday 46664 AIDS benefit concert in Hyde Park London, saying “Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings have been oppressed there is more work to be done. After nearly 90 years of life it is time for new hands, to lift the burdens – It is in your hands now”

And sometimes that change can be as simple as holding a child’s hand.

Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture - Jedi Ramalapa
Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture – Jedi Ramalapa