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

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

Faction Before Blood

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

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

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

Human Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFRICA: WE ARE ONE, NO MATTER WHAT.

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.

THE BOKO HARAM OF AFRICAN UNITY

 

The Pink Brigade of India

The Pink Brigade of India

 

This week has been a challenge..

You see I have been trying to write positive stories about this continent I love and was met with perplexed faces.  Wait, have you seen the news lately?

” What is it with you and your obsession with Africa?  We want news, real stories.  We want to the best in the game. We want traffic to our site.  The stories you want to do are issue based. You can’t tell an issue based story in less than 2 minutes. In 200 words.   Lets talk about politics, can you tell me what’s going on in the DA? Can you predict who is going to be the elected the premier of Gauteng? Can you file stories under pressure? Can you meet deadlines? Being a presidential correspondent can make or break your career it’s about money you see.  We can’t  spend 300,000 on you to fly somewhere and you don’t file a single story those things can break you as a journalist. Are you sure you want to be a political correspondent?” 

Now it was my turn to have a perplexed facial expression.

“you missed your calling, you should have been a porn star” says an old friend of over evening drinks. That’s a  good one I  reply. I was just thinking that I have been feeling increasingly like a pawn in an elaborate political chess game, in which no one really cares about me whether I succeeded or fail  I am just a means to an end, because either way it makes no difference.  I’m what you would call, collateral damage in an inevitable war over the power to control. A tool, expedient.  My presence or absence is all the same to those who are at war with each other.   I am being used in a negative way and I feel empty. “You mean Pawn, not Porn!” Another friend corrects me later.  Ah well I guess it’s time to brush up on my isiZulu language skills I tell her. That’s the best way to learn a new language, by using your mother tongue to understand it. “yes” she, a consummate polyglot, agrees ” I was surprised to find that isiZulu is based on the same grammatical principles as Hungarian, so It’s easy for me to understand the grammar ” she says. ” yes well language is the basis for everything in life, once you understand the language then most things are easier to understand”

   #Bringbackourgirlsthenwhat?

I cannot begin to describe my feelings around this recent media phenomena. In fact I have been trying very hard not to think about the multiple ways  in which  this is disturbingly unacceptable. Why it should not be allowed to continue for yet another day.  I did say I am  not an angry black woman. But I am angry.  Except this time I  want to  channel my “anger” in a positive way.  In a way my work situation(s) have allowed me to tap marginally  into how the  girls must be feeling, to somehow imagine what they must be going through. It’s incomparable I know, because I will never know what it must feel like to be abducted and trapped, stripped and made to say  and do things for a war you know nothing about, where you, regardless of what you do will be the loser. There’s no way of knowing this unless you’re in it.  I have been trying to find a way of acting positively, of speaking life to a situation that is so complex it’s simple.  I have been thinking about this while Nigerian president  Goodluck Jonathan is wining and dining in South Africa on President Jacob Zuma’s second presidential inauguration. Kinda brings back memories of American President Bush junior who was telling children stories while 911 happened. But of course the two things are completely unrelated.” That’s the problem with you women, you see connections everywhere even where there are no connections to be made. you think too much” a man once said to me.

” Fair Enough – It’s just a Moon Shot”

The United Nations Security Council has issued sanctions against  Boko Haram. When I read this I wondered how they could do this unless they know who Boko Haram is. In a recent interview with  South African TV Journalist Deborah Patta for CBS news,  a Boko Haram  representative said they are “everywhere” in Nigeria. They have “assimilated” into Nigerian society. “we  plan to kidnap more girls” he told Ms Patta who looked frozen in her seat.  This man could have been lying or telling the truth, but the fact is we have no way of knowing.  So who will these sanctions affect? It’s not like they’re going to arrive at the airport with a sign that says I am a member of Boko Haram unless they do as evidenced in  Ms Patta’s recent interview. So What is the point? Boko Haram have been terrorizing Nigeria for years. President Jonathan has always maintained that they had it all under control.  I remember three years ago while working for the West African Democracy Radio, reading the news, daily there were bomb blasts in Northern Nigeria orchestrated by Boko Haram, every single day multitudes were  dying. Now Nigerians want cessation. “let them go and form their own Hausa nation” some Nigerians have commented on news reports. ” South Africa has the capacity to sort this mess out” says an insider. ” But Goodluck Jonathan won’t have it, they don’t want anything to do with South Africa, we’ve tried but they are not giving in” he said ” Now he’s allowing the Americans and the French to go in, once they’re in they’ll never leave” he said.  There is still oil in Nigeria, but anyway in all the discussions no one is thinking practically about the girls. Who is thinking about the girls?

  “What  we need is the pink brigade”

So imagine if all those people who’ve posted pictures of themselves with #bringbackourgirls banners and posters  would actually act horizontally. Imagine if we all could take matters in our own hands and not ask for permission, and go and get our beloved girls back? I  can hear you say oh that’s a suicide mission. But is it really? You see this is how I know it’s possible. Can we forget about “politics” for a moment? Life is politics you say, fair enough, but can we try a different political experiment? In India there’s a group of women “vigilantes” they call them. Who are doing just that, taking matters in their own hands. Dealing with “politics” in a very unpolitical way as in: they are not running for office in any parliament.  It’s not up to Boko Haram or the Presidents of the world to decide what happens to the girls.  What do I mean? The group in India clad in  electric pink saris dubbed the Pink Vigilantes  have been shaming abusive husbands and corrupt officials in India’s agricultural town of Baduas  not far from the Taj Mahal…  their movement started with five women and now has a following of 20 thousand women  who  physically march to  and confront (sometimes beating them, though I am not advocating for violence, just a physical presence that won’t be moved) men who abuse their wives and children, because they’ve been abused themselves.  Boko Haram has guns, you say, and bombs. Sure, but how long will we wait? How much do we value our lives ? How much do we value the girls’ lives. Do we really care? If we did actually care then  all us African women, activists, politicians, celebrities, can stop screaming at men asking them to something they have no intention of doing. We must wear our  pink scarves and  or Hijabs for that matter and physically go there and  fetch our girls. That’s just how I see it. There’s power in numbers. That for me would be the ultimate act of love. Someone once said it’s impossible until it’s done. The question is, are you willing?

 

 

 

QUIET DIPLOMACY : MY SECRET LOVE AFFAIR WITH WEST AFRICA

30-LOVE

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

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

IN HER FOOTSTEPS…

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

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

WAAW!!!

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

DOUBLE- SPEAK

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

SENEGAL CHOSE ME….

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

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

DARE TO INVENT THE FUTURE…

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

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE…

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

MONEY TALKS

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

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

BUT MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE…

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

AT LEAST WE ARE STILL FRIENDS…

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

POWER + LOVE = PEACE

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

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

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

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

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

Peace.