OF MICE and MEN: “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.…

Nelisiwe Xaba in X-homes 2010, Kliptown. A Project by the Goethe institute which was a collaboration between South Afrcian Artists and German Artist who staged performances in people's homes while they continued with their lives in the background. Neli the Kliptown Open Air Museum where people are not performing. Her interpretation was amazing. She threw her urine at visitors ( asking them was they want to "see") revealing her bare breasts and a bit of her buttons, I almost cried. Now I get it.
Nelisiwe Xaba in X-homes 2010, Kliptown. A Project by the Goethe institute which was a collaboration between South African Artists and German Artist who staged performances in people’s homes while they continued with their lives in the background. Neli the Kliptown Open Air Museum where people are not performing. Her interpretation was amazing. She threw her urine at visitors ( asking them what? they want to “see”) revealing her bare breasts and a bit of her buttocks ( I was in the audience on a guided tour like so many of the ‘tourists” I almost cried. Now I get it.

30 September 2013: This has to count  as one of my favourite books of all time, which also left  an indelible mark in  my childhood memories.  My older sister and I loved the book.  I enjoyed reading  this book enormously  and watching the movie afterwards  completed the story for me.  The saying goes “ Won’t believe it, till I see it”.   It’s a  must read  novel in my books – if you haven’t  read it yet – do! I  am reminded of it yet again in my  reflections  about time spent at the  Soweto Kliptown Youth center or SKY. Which I am immensely grateful for the experience – a place to sleep and a world full of books. Thokoza!.

I admire Steinbeck’s writing and his willingness and effort to  “understand people” as he cites in his journal:

“In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.— John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry[

Of Mice and Men is a novella written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in California, USA.

Based on Steinbeck’s own experiences as a bindle stiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mouse”, which read: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

Required reading in many schools, Of Mice and Men has been a frequent target of censors for vulgarity and what some consider offensive and racist language; consequently, it appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century

This book comes to mind as I write this series of “curious-incidents” in Kliptown  and  the story or base theme of , Of Mice and Men is at the core of this series  – especially with regard to how I got there in the first place ( in search of my brother) and our subsequent combined  search for a “home”  and the relationship(s) we  have developed since then.  All done in an effort to “understand”  him, myself , and  the world in which I found myself in. It’s the news story which could not let got of me somehow! I am waking up to the “connections”that have led me here ( both personally and professionally) and it all began with a search for a home just like George Milton and Lennie Small the main characters  in the book “Of Mice and Men”.   Over the years there have been many protests in Kliptown demanding service delivery and housing by the Kliptown Concerned Residence (KRC) , a detailed account of all their demands and troubles is listed in the Anti-Privatization Forum’s Website. As this account from 2008 suggests – their protests and demands have fallen on deaf ears in all these years. Because as I mentioned in a “A TWISTED HERITAGE” Kliptown was sold as an “open air museum / ecomusee” the first of its kind in South Africa. Following very closely on the  failed model of development through Privatization (Restructuring).  an economic policy strongly  pushed during Former President Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki’s  tenures.  Which has meant that Kliptown ( and most privatization cases) has relied  heavily on (FDI) from foreign tourists for sustenance over the year. Kliptown Concerned Residents have been systematically silenced over the years by the police. No one is protesting Anymore. At least not recently.  I have chosen this entry because it’s the most recent and was published on my birthday:

Arrested for demanding housing – the trial of Kliptown protesters continues

4TH APRIL 2008

Friday 4 April 2008 by Ahmed

On the 03rd September 2007 more than twenty comrades were arrested in community protests organized by the Anti Privatisation Forum against the slow or non-delivery of services in Soweto (Kliptown and Protea South). Fourteen comrades were arrested in Protea South though only four of those charged were taken to the Protea Magistrate’s court on the 4th of September 2007 and the others were released after being held captive for more than 24 hours without any charges being laid. In Kliptown, twelve comrades were arrested for public violence including five juveniles (underage, school-going children) and have been appearing in court since September 2007. Their next appearance is scheduled for 16 April 2008.

Criminalization of protest

Public violence ranks as a criminal charge which allows the state to demand higher bail amounts. The Kliptown defendants were all released on R500 bail each. The reason given by the magistrate for his heavy hand was that communities have to be discouraged from taking to the street to demand service delivery while there are other options to ensure their voices are heard. Since he’s been granting the police ever-extra time to ’investigate’, the trial has not got underway and he doesn’t yet know the lengths to which the Kliptown community has gone to raise their grievances with the municipality and the Department of Housing. On the 14th of August 2007 – less than a month before their arrest – the Kliptown community handed over a petition together with a memorandum to the Eldorado Municipal Offices, demanding the recall of the useless ward councilor and further demanding that the Department of Housing address their housing needs. No response to the memorandum was received from either the municipality or the Housing Department.

The police have been delaying the submission of their evidence to a court of law because it is going to be difficult to hide the facts of their brutality. The school children – who’ve missed more than five days of schooling since September – were arrested while they were crossing the railway line running away from police who were shooting randomly at anyone on the streets of Kliptown (people going to work or children going to school). Fight for your constitutional right to access basic services as a member of a poor community and you are more likely to get a bullet in you back than a roof over your head. If you have something to say, put it in a memorandum to your local ward councilor and pray if that helps you but forget about hearing a response. Ward-councilors don’t call consultative community meetings and they can’t be recalled for non-delivery of services until their term is up in five years.

In the recent People’s Inspection in Kliptown on the 6th of February this year, all relevant stakeholders were called in to come and witness the living conditions of the working class in Kliptown but there was no response from certain organisations including the mayor’s office. This further illustrates that there are issues our government officials find more pressing than addressing community concerns.

Problems with Legal Aid/Assistance

Criminalising protestors makes it more difficult to find free legal representation. In the past, there has been distrust from the community to the use of Legal Aid Board lawyers given experiences where defendants have been effectively forced to submit guilty pleas so that they could get suspended sentences. However, in recent months, through engagements between poor communities organised by the APF and the Legal Aid Board, the relationship with the Legal Aid Board has taken a more positive turn. Nonetheless, securing committed and affordable legal assistance/aid for community members arrested for legitimate social and political protest, remains a huge challenge for organisations of the poor. In this regard, the APF renews its call for progressive lawyers to step up and be counted in the struggle of the poor for their basic rights..

National housing crisis

It is our view that there is a huge backlog in the delivery of houses nationally and this can be witnessed in Durban and in Cape Town where the community of Delft has been evicted to the streets and they are left stranded with the police refusing access to anyone who wants to come and assist (with medical aid or food relief). The APF strongly condemns the police violence against the poor community of Delft, as well as the violence perpetrated by the eThekwini Municipality against the community of Abahlali base Kennedy Road in Durban whose shacks were burned down on the 16th of February 2008. More than fifteen shacks were destroyed by a fire caused by a paraffin stove after the municipality disconnected their electricity supply. A war is being waged against the poor while our country continues to have a budget surplus and poor working class communities get no relief or a better life.

There is no answer to community grievances to be found in the speeches made by ministers, mayors or premiers who are divorced from the realities of people living in Kliptown, Delft and Kennedy Road. These communities demand that police and municipal violence be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted so that justice can prevail for our people to be set free. While fighting for their constitutional rights, they didn’t violate any other citizens’ rights. The only crimes committed have been by those in authority shooting down the rights of poor people in pursuit of basic services.


Of course  the reader should be reminded that in the case of Kliptown, there has been social engineering, all of it as been constructed – designed as part of the grand plan by the JDA and Blue IQ. The  PLAN.


Nelisiwe Xaba: A Dancer With Balls

X-homes 2010.

I first met critically acclaimed dancer and choreographer, Nelisiwe Xaba, in 2008. We made T-shirts together for the anti-Xenophobia protest march Johannesburg in June. She never said a word the entire evening, (if she did I didn’t hear it ) while I and our other mutual friends chattered or argued and debated about which  slogans worked, how many we should make, the fonts, the style etc. She just got on with the work at hand.

The next time we met, it was in 2009 for an interview on the  short run of her solo-performance pieces,  “They look at me and that’s all they think” and Sakhozi says ‘non’ to the Venus,  which she self-funded at the Market Theater in Jozi .  Both works were based and  inspired by the story of Sara Baartman (1789-1815) a Khoi-khoi woman famously exhibited as a sideshow attraction in 19th Century Europe, under the name “Hottentot Venus”.   I watched both her pieces with awe, I had never seen her perform  before – she is often travelling and working abroad and on the continent.  I wondered why I didn’t know about her before (being a lover of dance and all) or why there were not many people, black women like me,  going out to see what other sisters are doing. Her performances are powerful and challenging, and thought-provoking.  I have never been left unchallenged by her work.   Her  meticulousness is evident in how her work is structured:  from the  costumes she chooses, the props she uses, body movement, facial expressions, no action or movement is wasted. All tie in methodically together into  smooth and powerfully vibrant performances only Nelisiwe Xaba  can deliver.  I have loved all of the shows she’s produced  including  that of X-Homes in Kliptown ( one of the oldest townships in Soweto and the venue where the 1955 freedom charter was signed)   in which I barely escaped her urine which she splashed angrily at her  audience as part of the piece.    If there’s a critique from a novice, it would be, she is very much more than just  “intense” .  The day of the interview was over-cast,  just  like this one today.  We sat in a cove at Gramadoelas restraurant at the Market Theater, and indulged  in what was to be the most enjoyable interview I have ever had. We both laughed, and giggled like two school girls while sipping tea.  I was surprised when I stumbled on a short transcript of the interview  the other day and re-reading now  I see it was probably the most seriously, real, interview I have ever done.  Xaba is also, as it turns out one of the funniest people I’ve met yet, with a balanced mix of irony and witt I smile just thinking of that day.  I didn’t want the Interview to end I remember… I was already in Love.

The Interview:

SWA: How did you navigate your way through the dance industry  almost two decades  down the line?

XABA: ”  I had to fight. Nothing was given to me, all I had (have)  I had to do it myself. I know that for  my male counterparts  things were just given to them and they didn’t know how to handle it, because it was given to them.  No one gave me anything. I had to build my name, build everything myself.  So, no one can say I gave her something, including all these Dance Institutions for all I care. The dancing industry is full of men, and no they’re not better.

SWA: Is there  a need then to build support structures for young (female) dancers? Would you consider perhaps setting up a something to train aspirant dancers?

XABA:  Sometimes I dream of having my own studio, my own Non-Governmental – Organization (NGO). But at the same time I don’t believe in NGO’s…. to keep giving something to people, maybe they don’t need it. They don’t need it so they don’t know what to do with it. So I would like to create something where young girls or boys, if they want to be dancers, would have to make an effort.  I don’t want to open another school where I have to rely on funders to give me money for the underprivileged, I don’t believe in that. It’s a great gift from NGO’s or from Europeans, but it doesn’t help.  How many NGO’s do we have in Africa? What do they do? If NGO’s were helping Africa, Africa would be at the same level with  first world countries today.

SWA: In Sakhozi says “non” to the Venus, you tackle Immigration Issues amongst other pressing issues, tell us more.

XABA: It boils down to the relationship that Europe has with Africa. It’s  the superiority complex that they have with us. Also it’s not only Europe that should be blamed. We’ve been blaming Europe forever. I think our Governments will blame Europe until I’m dead.  Africa needs to start having balls. Africa needs to stop having her legs wide open and cross them probably, and start having some dignity. Europeans are closing their gates to Africans, and we’re opening them wide, I don’t understand that.   I don’t know what we gain from them. Europeans gain money from doing business in Africa. I don’t know what we gain.

SWA: Who are you  Challenging?

 XABA: Unfortunately cabinet ministers or parliamentarians  won’t attend the show. They are too important (laughs).  I grew up in Apartheid – South Africa, then there was a movement of consciousness,  ( Black Consciousness Movement/ BCM) especially with the youth.  We made  each other conscious, but that’s all gone and I don’t understand why it’s gone when it should be starting,  beginning actually. So I look at my work as a form of creating a consciousness.

SWA:  You’ll also be performing your 2006 piece, they look at me and that’s all they think, what does this piece relate to.

XABA: This goes back to exoticism. When you’re performing in Europe, people are mainly interested in seeing your body. Sometimes they don’t actually care about what you’re saying. The black body is still so exotic. When your  body is your tool to make or create art, then it becomes a challenge.  How do you get your message across when someone is actually not listening and they’re just looking at your body? How do you get them to listen? That’s the challenge. They look at me , was also a challenge to Europeans that the black body is just a body “actually”. So you can listen to what I’m saying, or see what I’m talking about, to open a dialogue”

SWA: How do you deal with your own personal narrative? The irony your work evokes?

XABA: This time it is a choice. It’s not like Sara Baartman who had no choice, a contract or costume. Of course it is an art-form that gets abused. My challenge is how do I use my body in a way that exhibiting it does not degrade it, and how do I do that with pride.

SWA: Why do you think, many women, like Sara Baartman are still “caged” today?

XABA: The problem for me starts with the basics.  If we women don’t teach girls to be powerful  girls,  they will never be powerful women. You can’t expect a 21-year-old to be a powerful woman, when you’ve  never taught her when she was  five how to be a powerful girl. The state of women in Africa is still ridiculous. Men are still men. Men haven’t changed despite the fact that we marched in the 60’s . It’s like the struggle of being black, you have to fight everyday of your life. Same with being a woman, you fight everyday of your life. We live in a man’s world.  We live in a White world. Until we change that world, nothing can change for us.



Sakhozi says non to the Venus

Nelisiwe Xaba was born and raised in Soweto (South Africa), and received a scholarship to study at the Johannesburg Dance Foundation. After studying dance in London (with a 1996 Ballet Rambert Scholarship) she returned home to join Pact Dance Company, where she was company member for several years, and with whom she toured to Europe and the Mideast. She worked with a variety of choreographers, visual and theater artists, particularly Robyn Orlin, with whom she created works such as Keep the Home Fires BurningDown Scaling downLife after the credits roll, and Daddy I’ve seen this piece six times before and I still don’t know why they’re hurting each other, which toured for several years in Europe and Asia, winning the Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. In 2001, Ms. Xaba began to focus on her own choreographic voice, creating solo and group dance works that have been performed in Africa and Europe, includingb Dazed and confusedNo Strings Attached 1No Strings Attached 2Be My Wife(BMW)(commissioned by the Soweto Dance Project), and Black!.. White and Plasticization. Ms. Xaba has also collaborated as choreographer and dancer with fashion designers, opera productions, music videos, television productions, and multimedia performance projects.