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.
I found him sitting at Cramers café in Johannesburg’s Marshall town. I noticed that tome of a book which I recently inspired myself to read. Former President Nelson Mandela’s’ autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom” under the nest of his crossed arms. “Excuse me; can I please borrow this chair?” I asked settling next to him at the café’s window seat. “Sure” he said without any pretense at being nice. He looked very young, so I thought I should ask him. “So how are you finding the book?” I just started he replied, so I don’t have an opinion yet. I have just read it I offer. How was it? He asks, inspiring? “You can say that, so you’re a leader in waiting?” I said trying to find out just why a guy his age would be reading Nelson Mandela’s biography when so many of us “older” folks still feel tired at the thought. “Yes I guess you can say that, I always knew that I was born to do great things and I am in a way searching for inspiration.
After a few questions chatting about this and that, we got to the part where I just fell in love. Here is his story:
I grew up in Yeoville, was raised by my grandmother after both my parents passed away. She was a tenacious woman, sent me to a private school in Houghton even though she couldn’t afford it. It was hard to lose her you know. I’m a little bit nervous, he offered looking down. Why I asked? “I am studying business science at the University of Cape Town, I on holiday now. The thing is, our results are coming out and they put them up on the notice board for all to see. I have one subject that I have been struggling with, all this year and I’m afraid I will either fail it or get a supplementary exam.” Really I say, don’t worry. I offer knowing that it would do nothing for his anxiety. We can’t always get everything right I say in a way of encouragement. “Yes that’s what my mentor told me. He said life is not a linear process.” He offered quietly and I know he’s now more worried than before. So I tell him my story.
He offers me some advice. “One of my mentors went to India on a spiritual retreat, and every day he wakes up he repeats these five sayings to himself:
This moment is inevitable: This conversation is happening so allow it
I have an infinite capacity to respond to whatever happens: You can handle any situation you’re confronted with.
I am responsible for everything that happens. This is the law of Karma: Many people shy away from taking responsibility for their choices, if you made a girl pregnant it might be a mistake but you still have to take responsibility for your actions since she didn’t fall pregnant on her own for example.
I am a mother to the universe: This one is about love, love everything and everyone and treat all people with kindness and understanding even if you know they don’t feel the same about you or hate you.
I am not the body; I am not even the mind: I still don’t get what he means by this but I was encouraged he adds.
“I guess I’m just learning to be grateful “He says putting down his blackberry “I was just congratulating a friend of mine who was accepted for an internship we all applied for. I am learning to be grateful and happy regardless of my circumstances – whether I get it or not to be happy and grateful for the experience, to learn you know. To dream big and know that even if I don’t get this internship, maybe the one who got it needed it more or that it was just not meant for me, I’ll keep trying but I won’t dwell in the negative. I believe that God has a hand in my life and that everything happens for a reason.” I am now holding my breath not sure what I could add to that mouthful, so he cuts the silence.
“So I’ve been trying to get on to SABC’s Morning Live, how do I get there?” He asks me.” Oh well I don’t know why do you want to be on Morning live? I ask “We just started an organization called Amadoda, an NGO about raising responsible men.” I ask him to tell me more ….
The story starts in the streets of Johannesburg. “We were walking down town and we met this woman who was asking for money to buy meat. She told us her story. She was forced into marriage to a man who is abusive emotionally, financially and physically. She is struggling to make a living, and comes to Johannesburg to get bread from a Senegalese guy who runs a shop in town. He regularly gives her food, though her husband works she continued; he drinks all of his money. She was so grateful, and told us that we’re the first people to even take time to listen to her story. She encouraged us to stay as we are, offered us blessings and told us to love and protect women”
“After that incident I started thinking about my grandmother who passed away last year, and I was wondering why I was thinking of her so much. Then I started thinking about how I view women, I looked at the media and the type of music I was consuming, and decided then and there to change. I stopped listening to rap music and hip-hop, which is in large part responsible for the prevailing attitudes that men have about women. They perceive women as mere sexual objects and things to be had, accessories. This comes through in rap and hip-hop music, now I listen to different music that is in line with what I believe to be true about women. When I went back to University, my friend and I talked about this and decided to start an organization that can act as a social vehicle committed to building a generation of African men that fulfill their role in society by exhibiting Ubuntu and servant leadership”
Men often use culture as an excuse for having multiple partners and being abusive towards women. We believe that men and women are created equal. So we want to bring men into the conversation, a discussion about what is Manhood- Ubudoda really? I’m a softy, and I don’t think being hard,harsh or violent is what makes me a man.
“Can you kiss your children in public, be affectionate towards them and still be a man? Can you cry and show emotion and still be a man?, help them do their homework, invest in their future and still be a man?” We are asking those questions in a quest to re-define manhood? For example why do men not go on paternity leave? It is only the responsibility of a woman to take care of a child? The current systems perpetuates the oppression of women and we want to contribute towards fixing this – because we know that men are, we are the main problem”
“Tomorrow we’ll be taking school learners to constitutional hill to teach them about their history. Today is the beginning of 16 days and we’ve partners with V-day and I Billion and Rising to raise awareness so we wanted to share and spread the message around some of our initiatives we’ve planned”
“We have a huge following in campus and through t-shirts and our picture campaign we’ve asked men all over South Africa to write positive messages about what they are doing to prevent violence and abuse against women.”
“Traditionally women shy away from guys like us saying we’re “too-nice” and they often can’t deal with that. There’s no concept of being too nice, being nice is a function of being human, to treat everyone with kindness, respect and understanding. I just celebrated my 21st birthday last week, and I had it in a nice Houghton home, when I was a child I used to dream of owning a Houghton home, last week my party was hosted in one and one day I will own one. Do I want to be successful? Yes, but more importantly I just want to be a good human being a useful man, a man of value to society, a good human being. The difference between me and the my ten-year old self who used to walk to Houghton with on an empty stomach is time – time has a way of changing things and I look forward to the future”
Meet Dalisu Jwara, 21, year old UCT Business Science Third Year Student.
PS: While we were chatting his results came in, and he passed.
I was recently in conversation with an old friend, brother and prolific South African Film-maker Teddy Mattera. (PS: If you haven’t seen his movie Max and Mona, please do! It’s the funniest South African comedy I’ve seen ever – I laughed so hard I cried, which in my books is the best way to have a laugh!) . We were talking about race, the colour bar and Otherness. He was sharing a story of how he just didn’t know which box to tick when confronted with an official form asking him to define his race: –black-white-indian-coloured-other. We laughed. In the end he said he ticked all the boxes, including the “other” Box. I have often find myself routinely ticking the “other” box just to have fun with myself, change my mind, think something else because we all know how hard it can be to remove a label once it has be firmly burnt on your back like a tattoo. Thinking can sometimes be a heavy burden to carry, as everything has to be “analyzed” but it’s also fun because how else would we discover new things, new methods and concepts? How else would we progress and change if we didn’t begin by thinking or “considering” others (ness), other things, thoughts and concepts. But we don’t have to be high-brow about it – it being the act of thinking. Thinking can be basic, and I will henceforth replace the words to think with consider, because that is a much nicer-calmer way of thinking – considering. So let’s do consider the other. What does it actually mean to be the “other”, let’s define the word:
Used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.
Further; additional i.e. “one other word of advice” synonyms: more, further, additional , extra, added, supplementary, supplemental
View or treat a person or group of people as intrinsically different from and alien to one- self.
Alternative of two: the Other side of the street
That which is distinct from, different from, or opposite to something or oneself.
Makes one wonder doesn’t it? Well I think who ever needs to keep records should just do away with all of the existing boxes and leave the OTHER as the only box to tick. We are already so different, so other than the boxes we are meant to fit into, the “Other” box seems to me to be the only box that is appropriate for everyone. We all are the other to each other.
So it with pleasure that I introduce to you a new grant making and fund-raising organization which also shares some of my ideas of otherness…
THE OTHER FOUNDATION
A NEW FUND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND LGBTI ORGANIZATIONS WORKING IN AFRICA.
The Other Foundation has issued a call for grant applications from human rights and LGBT organizations in Africa to access funding. The Other foundation is a joint initiative by Atlantic Philanthropies and HIVOS who have a long LGBTI donor history in Africa. The call comes as Atlantic philanthropies one of the largest grants making organization in the world, announced that it will be spending down with an aim of closing down the fund within the next seven years. The foundation issued the call during its outreach meetings in South Africa’s three major cities Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, earlier this month. The fundraising and grant making organization’s main objective is to break the cycle of dependency on international donors by creating self-sustaining and independent civil society organizations in Africa.
The Other Foundations’ Phumi Mtethwa says the fund is now accepting proposals for four types of grants to civil society organizations and individuals working in Africa for the 2014 financial year. The Namaqualand Daisy aimed at individuals who work with Human Rights issues in the Arts for up to 10 thousand rands. The Inyosi or Honeybee for community based organizations for 50 thousand rands, the fish eagle fund to support civil society organization working on 12- 24 month projects for up to 200 thousands rand and the Umbrella Thorn Tree Grant for up to 500 thousand rands.
The Foundation is also accepting application for Peer Review body which will assess all applications to ensure that they meet the criteria
“The launch of the Other Foundation has been a seven-year long process. We conducted a three-year preliminary investigation into the viability of the foundation, and have spent the last year appointing board members with a lot of experience working within the non-governmental sector and in LGBTI organizations” She said during a presentation to LGBTI activists in Constitution Hill. “Our main objectives is to break the cycle of dependency by civil society organizations on International donors by encouraging individual giving and raising funds from local businesses”
“We are currently exploring different models for funding. Those include pledges by individuals and businesses, including the establishment of the organizational stockvel model where civil society organizations make monthly contributions to help support each other’s projects on a rotational basis. Other models include raising funds from government organizations and corporates”
“ Part of this outreach programs is to engage with community based civil society organizations with a strong focus on advancing LGBTI rights on the different models, for ideas and suggestions on how the fund can help them continue with the work they are already doing with a view to making it more sustainable”
Organizations present at the meeting included the GALA, the gay and Lesbian Archive project, ActionAid and others who raised a number of concerns including how the fund will issue grants to LGBTI initiatives or project in countries where they don’t have legal status.
The Other Foundation said it would work in collaboration with pre-existing human rights organizations who would then act as intermediaries and as mentors for the grant. The Foundation will be based in South Africa from where it hopes to generate most of its funding, but the grants will extend to six other countries in Southern Africa.
“The Foundation is currently interviewing for the position of a CEO, who will then spear head the process of fund-raising and grant making. We have received 38 applications so far and should issue out a formal call for proposals after a suitable candidate for the position of CEO have been appointed” She said. If you are starting to feel like the “other” in this context, don’t despair: Membership and Grant making is not restricted to South African only or to LGBTIs only. So you are free to apply.
Johannesburg, South Africa. During one of my many (almost daily) trips to Standard Bank‘s head offices in Johannesburg hoping to be compensated for the most atrocious customer service I have ever experienced in my life; I too a brief break into the bank’s Art gallery to enjoy some art. It was in fact a poster of a woman, standing in the middle of a dark disused room littered with bright orange carrots on the floor, that caught my attention. She, a Yoko Ono look alike, wore a delicate dusty pink layered skirt, shiny black boots, a denim jacket and a light blue head headscarf. She stood quietly, effortlessly in the antique room, wearing trendy dark sunglasses, carrying a walking stick in one hand and a red string / leash on the other tied to a white rabbit which was already gnawing at a carrot closest to it. The image was beautifully haunting and with my interest peaked I decided to step in and see if there were more carrots to be found in the exhibition titled: Making Way – Contemporary Art from South Africa and China (30 January to 28 March 2013)
“One of the most critical geopolitical shifts of the 21st Century has been the rise of China as an economic power, and its venture into the global south – particularly on the African continent. Too often however, the media sensationalizes China-Africa relations, simplistically framing China as either Africa’s new curse or as the economic savior to the continent.” Read the exhibition statement.
The exhibition was in-fact long overdue in my opinion, and I was glad that the curator(s) were equally aware of this fact. “While revived China-Africa relations have piqued the interests of economists, little meaningful cultural understanding exists and Sinophobia is hot on the heels of Afrophobia” explains the exhibition text. “Making way addresses the various ways in which humans “make way” globally and locally through broad patterns of movement as well as small, grounded movements of performance” concluded the exhibition mission statement.
China has been making way into Africa and into us all globally in a number of ways. One of the more “obvious” ways in South Africa being China’s acquisition in recent years of the Standardbank group which along with FNB and NEDBANK claims to be South Africa’s oldest banking institutions. It celebrates 150 years this year. A quick look into the banks’ board of directors will give you a idea of who is really calling the shots at standard bank and it is most certainly not the banks recently appointed joint CEO’s Sim Tshabalala and Ben Kruger.
Since the the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)bought a 20 % stake in the bank in 2007, Standardbank now boasts the title of being the largest bank in Africa in assets and profits. In November 2012, ICBC reported that Standard Bank Argentina, approved a deal for ICBC to take control of StandardBank South Africa’s local operations, after concluding a $ 600 million USD or 5.6 billion rand deal. Standard Bank established operations in Argentina in 1998 to service corporate clients, following its acquisition of BankBoston in 2007 . ICBC now the world’s richest bank by market value will take 80 percent of Standarbank Argentina and its two affiliates StandardBank Investment and its commercial service provider Inversora Diaognal.
A quick reminder to those still oblivious to China rapid take over of the worlds asserts : China is now second only to the United States of America (USA) on the list of global superpowers and has over USD 7 Trillion in foreign currency reserves.
Locally Standardbank is a well-known as a patron or sponsor of the Arts in South Africa with a strong focus on promoting Jazz ( Cape Town Jazz Festival, Joy of Jazz) and the visual arts.
In the first room near the entrance of the gallery is a video installation, by Internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Chen Quilin. In the video exhibition titled: Colour Lines, Quilin plays with the iconic blue and white vinyl material made popular in South Africa (Africa) by street traders, refugees or travelers, and shoppers alike. The checkered blue, white red and white bags. Dressed in the same material she converts into an angel, a lost child looking for paradise. She walks slowly, aimlessly following and being followed long trail of this plastic/vinyl bag material every corner she takes. Four young boys assist her , they also wear the same material made into sailor like (school ) uniforms. The material and Quilin are the only colour that remained in the grey, deserted and degraded town of Chengdu. This according to the artist statement is Quilin’s own way of grappling with the dramatic economic and urban in relation to the development of the Three Gorges Dam.
The video art brought to mind works by South African Artist Tracy Rose (video installations) and works by dance and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba (Platicizatio; 2007) who makes use of the same material ( China Bag) her dance pieces. Both artist were conspicuously absent for this Exhibition. Quilin continues to grapple with issues of environmental degradation in a complimentary video installation called the Garden. There two men each carry a pot of large flower to a celebration of sorts or a rich individual. Again in this piece these are the only bright colours that litter the streets in the grey town.
Upstairs I was pleasantly surprised to see the work of South African performance artist Athi Patra Ruga artist whose rise to fame surprised many insiders to the country’s Art-world. However, I was a little disappointed to see that he had offered something very similar to a piece he produced and circa 2007/8. Then another man wore high heels black stockings and was dressed in a ball of black hair pieces, the artist also walked around the streets of Johannesburg at night and at galleries back in 2007. This time his work was less dark or morbid. Ruga walked down the streets of Grahamstown in pink tights, high-heels and the main piece like in the hair piece of yore, his entire body from the bottom to his head was covered with colorful balloons full of some liquid. Making way.
Art is art. The “art” was in the public’s reaction to a man wearing high-heels walking around Grahamstown in a cloud of multicoloreda balloons. The Essay explaining the work was not immediately easy for a layman like me to understand but the gist of it was – “invited” guests were left waiting at the top of one building were the show was meant to happen while Ruga walked around the streets forcing invited guests to strain to see the moving – mobile – organic art piece. Many of them missed it – according to the write up, which is exactly what the “performance art piece was about”.
I was moved by Chinese artist Gin Ga’s 3000 kilometer re-enactment of the March of the Chinese red army. The artists tattooed a map of china on his back and etched in all the points at which he stopped in commemoration to the army and artists who had gone before him. A drunken sing-along and dance with a community of a Tibetan community revealed to me a never seen before insight into the daily lives of the community.
Gerald Machona’s work was conceptually more interesting. The artist had used de-commissioned ZIM Dollars to create different objects in his work titled Made in China. The piece in my opinion a more real account of what china has come to mean for Africans and citizens of the world in general. Thenjiwe’s Nkosi’s Boarder Farm, a re-enactment of border crossing by Zimbabwe’s refugees who re-told their story of “making way” was also touching.
China has more money than computers have Zero’s so this piece was more interesting conceptually. The exhibition curated by Dry Ruth Samba – held much promise, a vast selection of interesting works individually but failed to deliver the promised the exhibition’s objective of “an exploration of local and grounded moments of engagement in the context of broader socio-economic and political changes that currently affect Chinese and South African Societies” collectively.
It seems clear to me that the exhibition has high and low moments, but overall I got the feeling of a hurried curating process. The e pieces in and of themselves are important explorations of a people” making way” despite harsh and difficult socio-political conditions – but they do not deal effectively with the question of how the rise of China as an economic and cultural super power means for Africa especially.
The Show’s curator Dr Ruth Simbao says ” the exhibition is not aimed at either glorifying or demonizing African or Chine Culture. It isn’t about being pro or anti Chinese but about human stories and shared culture”
The latter is what I found lacking in the exhibition. I was expecting some kind of a artists’ exchange program to provide artist from both countries with a view into each-other’s worlds and then produce art-work that would at the very least challenge commonly held stereotypes on Africa and China – however from the South African/African side things I found the exhibition to be lacking in its interrogation of what China means for Africa and Visa versa. The work seems a disjointed piece of the puzzle strung together by the clever use of words
Despite the continuous backlash against China ( it’s labour law practices and its larger than like appetite for natural commodities which Chen Quilin deals with in a very clever a nuanced way in the colour line and the garden) and now more recently South Africa making International headlines for all the wrong reasons. There’s so much to be said about China’s role in future of our world – the continent as we know it and this exhibitions failed to scrape the surface of what we all already know. The exhibitions in ts failure to probe in a more nuanced way the sociopolitical and cultural challenges and opportunities China presents to Africa and the world, revealed the huge cultural gaps that exists between China and the continent. South Africa (and many other countries in Africa have had a long rarely documented history with mainland china) pre-dating the rise of China as a superpower. The Chinese community in South Africa enjoys BEE status ( officially Chinese are considered black).For me the best part of the exhibition was the poster with a blind woman and a rabbit in a room littered with carrots– because it seems even within the relatively “free-world” of art – we are all still very blindly following dangling carrots to holes of antiquity. The rabbit had the right idea. East the damn thing.
Making Way- Contemporary Art from South Africa and China is showing at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg until the 28th of March. Catch if you can.