A LOVE LETTER TO TATA MANDELA

lindiweA LETTER TO TATA NELSON MANDELA

From  your forgotten grand-daughter.

Dear Tata

Not sure where to start – so much has been said about you from all corners of the world by those who knew you, claimed to know you and from everyone who admired you around the world. Anyone who has a voice has said their piece, claimed a piece of you and ripped you apart into all kinds of objects and mementos, from bank notes to t-shirts, skirts, shops, street names, township names, shopping malls, even the ground I walk on. Tata you truly are legendary.   I have watched silently from a distance, jealous of course of all the time that these people got to spend with you.  I am hurting so much – because I have been so angry with you for a very long time, because I never understood you, I never understood why you took the decisions you did, why you spent so much time with everyone else but me. But now I understand, even though it hurts to admit, that they needed you more than I did.  For the past ten days I have gone through all manner of  emotions imaginable, from anger, sadness, joy, indifference, pain, disgust, disbelief, madness, grief, delirium you name it.  I felt as if once again I have been  silenced; my voice drowned out by the loud  trumpets  announcing your  passing  which  screeched  from every imaginable crevice of this country, I have Mandela coming out of my pores.  People can be so cruel when they think they are the only ones in pain. Everyone knows so much more about you, everybody knows what you think, how you felt, how you would want them to think to feel about everything. I have been trying to run away from you, but you are every-where – I go.  Everywhere I look. The radio has been all about you, TV, newspapers, conversations, street lamps and post. Someone said I should look for you, but now it seems I don’t have to look anymore for you. You are everywhere I go.  Maybe you’ve been trying to get my attention and what a way to do it.  You’ve  got my full attention now.

Behind the Rainbow.

Can you imagine I had to become a journalist just so I could be near you?  Close to you, follow you around? Be in your presence?  I laugh about it sometimes. I thought everyone else was crazy for claiming you as their father, grandfather, their leader, their liberator, their this and that. How could one single living human being be everything to everyone? I still struggle to remain true to myself let alone the entire universe.  But I guess I was the crazy one for refusing to see  the truth. I remember our brief conversation about politics. I was still angry with you then, my anger masked by a mix of admiration fear, awe and sadness.  I remember once I was forced no, let me say coerced into a conversation about you with Cornel West. He asked me about you and I told him and everyone who could listen that I didn’t care about you. That you were nothing to me, in some ways it was true in others in was a complete and utter lie because I loved you, love you now more than the first time I knew that your name was not Manelo.  And then came that time when you asked me if I had registered to vote and I said yes. You asked me who I would vote for.  I knew you were joking with me, but I didn’t have a sense of humour at the time. I couldn’t imagine why on earth you would want to discuss such private family matters in front of all those people when you knew very well that I couldn’t be a card-carrying member of any political party because of my job.  But thank you for saving me from myself.  You shielded me and made it a huge joke; everyone says you were such a joker in your later years.

Today I am filled with gratitude, because even though we never had a normal grandfather and granddaughter relationship, even though I spent the past 32 years living in your shadow, you were still with me everywhere I went.  You opened doors for me everywhere I went, just by your name.  Where ever I travelled when people heard that I was from “Mandela land” they would go out of their way to make me comfortable and to feel at home. You have shielded me in war zones, in dangerous places and saved  me more than once from myself.   In 2008 I took off my journalist jacket and decided to follow you to London at the 46664 AIDs Benefit Concert in Hyde Park London, I was so proud of what you tried to do. It was your  last public appearance and I was there among the roaring crowds as myself, off duty. I thought it was so sweet how you protected Amy Winehouse and held her hand through a dark period in her life. I fell in love with you then, how gentle you had grown to be.  Last year when you were admitted to hospital, I grieved for you, I shaved my hair and decided to leave this country because I just couldn’t imagine living here without you. I arrived in Dakar, Senegal,  naked, to everyone I sounded Senegalese, but one man took one look at me and said – You look like Mandela. I laughed for days, because in all my living years, no-one has ever said that to me – you found me in a place of utter hopelessness. When things didn’t work out I found myself back here again in this country I love so much, that has brought out the worst and best of me. I didn’t understand why. Now I know that I needed to be home for such a time as this. I was even more frustrated when journalism couldn’t bring me any nearer to your bed-side, at your home in Houghton, I felt like an outsider looking in, invisible. But now I understand that it was meant to be this way, how can a granddaughter report on the passing of their grandfather? I can be so silly sometimes.

It is a bitter-sweet moment for me, Tata,  in the past ten days I learnt so much about you, it is as if you were showing me again who you are, not anyone’s version of you, but really who you are. How it was for you when you were barred from attending the signing of the 1955 freedom charter, the drawing up of which you worked so hard to achieve.  I began to understand in real terms how difficult it must have been to face your enemy and forgive them, sit with them at the negotiating table, to reach out to someone you knew  hated you and would kill you given the chance. You taught me what it is to fight – hatred with love, because love is the only thing that saves. Through the work of Cheryl Pillay, you showed me your  ideas of restorative justice – how love and forgiveness is the only thing that can turn someone around, the only thing that can change people’s minds and hearts. Unconditional love.   You showed me that even though at times everything and everyone may seem to be against you, if you hold on to love things do work out in the end. And oh so Beautifully too. Violence has never and will never be the answer, I am so glad you changed your mind about that too while in prison. So proud of you.

Today I have so much to be grateful for, not only have I met the man of my dreams, the one I asked for, a man who loves music, who loves art, respects the spirit world and thinks with his heart, I am also starting a new job.   My dreams are coming true at a time when I had given up hope, when I said goodbye to so many of them. My dreams are coming true because you died. And it is a sad reality for me. Thank you for the small stolen moments, when I was so close to you I could hug you.  Thank you for trying to do what was best for everyone, and being  selfless  at a time when you had every right to be selfish.  I know you were just as human as me and that it is only our creator who lifted you to  where you are,  and to who you have become to billions upon billion, imagine!? It it only our creator who could have given you the power and strength to go  against the grain and alone in love, when loving was probably the last thing you wanted to do. Thank you  granddad, Tata, for freedom, now I can come out and be myself again, because I know now that you’ve got my back for real.  I don’t need a picture with you or any proof what so ever –  that you are mine- blood is thicker than water. Your spirit will live on in me and through me and through everyone you’ve touched with your exemplary life. The road ahead will not be easy as you know, but I know  that you are  in a much better place to help me when I need it. Even though I knew it was your time I am still sad that you left, because it was good to know that you were hanging out somewhere having fun. Or that I could meet you one day on assignment.

People kept saying to me, because I can be very timid believe it or not, that confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am glad to finally know who I am.  It brings joy to my tears to know that despite what I thought  you never forgot  me.  That you loved me even when I thought the worst of you.

Did I tell you have a million dollar smile? That melts my heart still today? You do.  I will hold on to that smile.   Apparently I have a million dollar smile too, according to mom. So each time I think of you, I will smile. Because what you have given me is a beautiful gift. I will never stop smiling. Never stop loving.  And I have you and Love to thank for that.

Lala NgoxoloTata.

Ndiyabulela.

Enkosi.

Camagu!

 

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

 

THE FIXER: DAY-UNKNOWN

The second coming?

The second coming?

“It’s always impossible until its done” Nelson Mandela

A DAY OF PRAYER AND REFLECTION.

ON SUNDAY – I was at the most famous church in Soweto, Regina Mundi where activists organized, held meetings prayed and were attacked by apartheid police during the 1970s, 80s and 90s The Church has to be rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by Apartheid police in pursuit of comrades. The service was e presided over by Bishop Sebastian Rousow. I spent most of my time outside, catching up with old friends and scouting out potential interviews for my clients . Trying to find the  right people for my people to speak to everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s story is important, but finding the right one out of billions is a skill.  While waiting outside I met tata Patrick, now a very old man. He tells me he has lived in  Rockville  Soweto since 1962, he was part of the Soweto Action Group Committee which was set up following the banning of all non-white political parties in South African, notably the  ANC and PAC.  He tells me with a faraway that police used to stand right where all the media cameras are, surround the church and shoot at people coming out of the church. He was even there when it was built. I can smell the whiff of stale alcohol on his breath. But he tells me that Mandela is a great man. A great tree has fallen he says. If you go to freedom Park which just behind the church you will see there are 95 indigenous trees which have been planted in honour of Mandela each year on his birthday the 18th of July. His son says each time he walks past those trees they represent freedom for him. Long Live they both say. But no one bothers to speak to Patrick. His old and rugged. The media crisscrossed past them waiting for the “big” political and international personalities. There are rumours that Winnie-Madikizela-Mandela might show up at the church, but the rumours are later proven untrue. I also meet Jane Nhlapho who has lived in Rovilled since 1967, and her friend Elizabeth Gwele from Dobsonville another Township in Soweto. They both describe  how police used to frequently surround the church with caspers, mellow yellows, police and army vehicles, and shoot and throw tear-gas at activists locked up inside. Elizabeth told me that, as parents they frequented the church in search of their children, to see if they are okay, still together in one piece.  Jane lost a family member right here at the church, a brother who disappeared – last seen at Regina Mundi Church. It’s pain-full to think about. They were running halter and skelter she says. Not knowing where to go or what to do. We were not free. We had not freedom of anything, movement, speech, anything. She looks as lars tall overwhelming  Master-like figure. “Today I can stand here and speak to you like a fellow human being “she said. And that simply brings me to tears.  I think of My brother Thente.

ROOM 209 – CHIEF ALBERT SISULU FLOOR – SOWETO HOTEL

Later in the day we go to the Soweto Hotel for the NRK team to edit and file their story  of the day. I chose Soweto hotel, because of where it is and it represents with uncanny accuracy the current state of our country.  It embodies in a few kilometres the character of South Africa.  Because the contrasts in South Africa from here can’t be more jarring. Our window is face the Union Road – Shop names have changed but the buildings are still the same buildings from 1955 when more than 3000  South African of all races gathered to sign the freedom charter – a blue print for a democratic South Africa – During the darkest period in my country.

They unanimously declared:

  1. The People Shall Govern
  2. All groups shall have equal rights
  3. The figures shall share in the country’s wealth
  4. The land shall be shared among those who work in it
  5. All shall be equal before the law
  6. All shall enjoy equal human rights
  7. There shall be work and security
  8. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened file and edit and file the story of the day. I choose the Soweto hotel we go back to Soweto …
  9. There shall be houses Security and Comfort
  10. There shall be peace and friendship.

You can have all of the above in South African today. If you have money.Only.

BUT ON MONDAY

To say I’m broken would be an understatement. I am trying to be brave and say it’s okay. I’m here at the media centre as I write this. I imagine how full this room will be tomorrow frantic with journalist filing stories minute after minute, second after second, and I won’t be a part of it. I won’t even be at the FNB stadium tomorrow – because as a fixer my team does not think I should be there.get one. So I’ve been literally crying and I feel cheated somehow, except who can I tell. Except you. While noting instructions from my team Clinton my former boss walks past and say to me “where’s my script” and  it brings back old memories of being in the news room where he would say the same thing to me… it took me while to write a story.  I see Sam, waiting in line and she gives me the warmest hug and I start crying I try to walk away. Later Hajra comes and gives me a hug and says hello member of the A team. She is a sweet woman. I start crying. I leave because I’m now too emotional. “Are you OK my dear” Havard the camera–man asks me. “You seem, quite frankly – shattered” he says. I tell him I will be fine tomorrow. Yet in my heart I wonder if he wouldn’t be shattered like me if it were him in my shoes.

MEET THE FIXER

Jedi Ramalapa a South African Female journalist for 13 years. Maybe you don’t understand. I have covered Mandela stories so many times in my life and the one time it matters, not one is willing to hire me, except as a fixer. It’s maddening, I want to scream, tear off my clothes, cry, and what not. But it’s not the end of the world. I will tell my story here. As a blogger – because that will be the most authentic story I could ever tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job – work to do , to be involved. It’s just I never thought that I would be a fixer in the biggest event of my country’s history instead of being the one telling the story.  Not even have the memento of a press tag. But life does work in mysterious ways and I have to be grateful for what I have.

They are on their way to pick me up. It’s 8:12 am South African time. We’re going to the Stadium. I’m driving them

 

THE FIXER: DAY ONE – FRIDAY: GOING BACK HOME

Português: Brasília - O presidente da África d...

Português: Brasília – O presidente da África do Sul, Nelson Mandela, é recebido na capital federal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This morning duty called, our father passed away, on the day that our brother, struggle Icon and Pan African Congress (PAC) party leader Robert Sobukwe was born on the -5th of December 1924.  He died in a prisoner inIsolation on Robben Island in 1978. Members of the family have been called back home to mourn.  I didn’t know what to do or where to go.  I kept asking myself what I can do. So I am doing the best I can.

 

 I didn’t know what to expect on my drive down to the South Western Townships of Johannesburg –Soweto.  A place which, 36 years ago marked the turning point of South Africa’s struggle for freedom against the regime.  The 1976 Soweto Uprising by school children from Phefeni Secondary High School, commonly known as “PHESESCO” – where my mother went to school, Thloreng Primary, where both my mother and I began our primary school education, Bhele Secondary school including most schools around the township staged a protest march against an Apartheid government plan to introduce the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction at schools.  It was the last straw.  The world Watched as Police and the army opened fire to thousands of unarmed school children dressed in uniforms.  The picture of a limp Hector Peterson, carried in the hands of a grief-stricken Mbuyiselo, and Peterson’s sister running by his side, painted an iconic image of the cruelty of the Apartheid government.

 

 Happily, my brother Sechaba working as a car guard – was stationed at the make shift parking on Khumalo Street adjacent to the bottom of the Vilakazi street.  Where Nelson Mandela first own a house in 1946, and where he lived with his first wife Evelyn Mase, then later with his second Wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela and their children.  Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu also lived in this street, PHESESCO, the high-school I couldn’t wait to grow up and attend is also on the same street.

 

 “ Silahlekelwe sisi” ( it’s a great loss my sister)  he said of our father’s passing – the death of South Africa’s  First President and liberation leader  the late President Nelson  Rholihlahla Mandela. “Kub’hlungu” He says. I know. I can see the pain in his eyes. We get to chatting a little bit while the crew gathers their staff and he tells me that he’s afraid. Tata Madiba was the one holding us all together he says he’s the one who told us to stop fighting and I am afraid that now that he’s not here anymore, the children might start fighting again. Do you really think that? I ask. He says yes. The tension is bubbling he says. I refuse to go there with him.  The conversation leaves a sting in my heart. Don’t worry about your car he says, I’ll look after it. We thank him and proceed.

 

MADIBA- MAGIC. THRIVE.

 

 All I can hear as I cross over are drums.  A group of young drum-majorettes dressed in pink are marching down to the beating drum.    As we get nearer to the center I notice a new restaurant, it was not here a few months ago. It’s at the Corner opposite – to the famously packed Sakhumzi restaurant. The mood is festive. People are sitting outside on the pavements people gazing as they sip on their cold drinks and coffee. The building is a duplex concrete and glass structure, modern, minimalistic, with white plastic art deco chairs. It looks like my kind of space. For a moment, I don’t feel as if I am in Soweto, Orlando West: my home town.  I walk in and order a cup of coffee while I wait for my phone to recharge.  Then my eyes find the man who seemed to run things, the man taking the cash from waiters who have him inundated with orders.  With a wide smile he happily shared the miracle of THRIVE the restaurant, with a tagline “Appetite for life”.   “We opened the restaurant four weeks ago, he tells me. The restaurant is a beautiful 50 percent Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) deal he continues brimming with pride. It is the first black female owned restaurant on Vilakazi Street. He points at her, Thembi Mahlangu a native Sowetan.  She used to work for me as a barrister at one of my restaurants, Bellini’s in Illovo. She worked as a barrister there for two years.   She told me that she wanted to start a coffee trolley business in Soweto, and I decided that let’s build a place. I couldn’t get a view of Thembi Mahlangu only her back, she was facing the industrial coffee machine. Doing what she knows best. Making- coffee.

 

THE DEAL.                                               

 

So I used the opportunity to get into details about the BEE deal. Stop me if I’m rambling he says with excitement. I tell him not to worry. It’s an upmarket restaurant. We’re targeting 50 Percent Tourists, 25 percent black middle class, and another 25 percent for the locals.  The most expensive meal on the menu is a stake fillet at R150 (plus minus 15 USD), the cheapest is breakfast for R20 (2USD), the pricing is 10 percent below Tasha’s, one of the most successful restaurant franchises in Johannesburg. We’re also trying to introduce locals to different foods which they are adapting to very nicely. We have some local stuff he says, Boerewors for the Afrikaners and Kota’s for the local.  It’s not a party venue, he emphasizes for clarity, we’re bringing the North to the South – an upmarket restaurant in Soweto basically he says.  How did you get the land I ask? We got the land from the neighbours next door on a lease, we’re paying them rental, we built this place for them basically he says. And how is business so far? It’s picking up nicely he says looking out to the horizon, and with Mandela’s passing we’ve just been overwhelmed. I have never worked so hard in my life. We’re still facing some teething problems, but so far so good. I thank him, polish up my coffee which is good and head out to the crowds.

 

IN MOURNING.

 

Opposite Madiba’s former home, now a Museum called Mandela House. I see her. Dressed in her green and black African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) uniform, Khosi Masondo. Standing alone and forlorn. She really looks sad. “Sizilile M’tanami” she says, we are in mourning a leader, a visionary. But we just want to thank Tata Madiba for what he has done for us. He really helped us. You see, at a time like this, you can’t just sit in your little corner and cry by yourself you have to be with others. I really don’t think we will ever have a person like Madiba, not in the near future, maybe centuries from now but I not for a long time. His Patience, his Resilience, His Humility. You know Madiba had the ability to make you feel very important. Even when you felt that you as a person are nothing. Madiba made you feel like you’re human being, that you are worthy, that you can do something.

 

COME THE TABLE

 

“My fondest memory of him” she tells me as her eyes fill up with tears. Was at a dinner party organized by my husband, former Mayor of Johannesburg to Amos Masondo to commemorate the June 16 Anniversary for the first time after his release. I ran away. I ran away when I heard that I was going to sit at the same table with Madiba.  I went to hide. But Madiba called me, sent people to fetch me to say you “Khosi” you have been called to duty, come and sit at the table with South Africa’s first Black President. He could make you feel really important.  Tata has taught us a lot, we’ve seen, we’ve learnt the most amazing lessons from Tata.

 

AN END OF AN ERA

 

 As day became night, I found myself at his last home in Houghton estate, amongst fellow mourners. I think it became real when I glimpsed the sea of lit candles, flowers, wreathes, images that I had until then only seen on Television, about other people. I am alive at this moment in time in history and suddenly I felt overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s my last assignment as Africa foreign Editor” Lars Sigurd Sunnana. A Radio and Television Journalist with the  Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) , for more than four decades. He is an award winning journalist. A true professional. ” Its a  it’s a fitting conclusion to an illustrious career I say. He says yes. It’s fitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T BE TOO EMOTIONAL…! CRY MY BELOVED COUNTRY

Former South African President Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. Dies.

Former South African President Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. Dies.

“I write emotional Algebra” Anais Nin

If I could tell you the number of times that I have been told to not be “too emotional” about things I would be a rich woman today. And for years I have struggled with my  character and the fact that it doesn’t take a lot for me to  tear-up,  both good and bad things  make me cry. Crying is not a hobby for me or my favorite past time. For many years I have been annoyed with myself for crying so easily.

Someone who is deemed too emotional is understood by all to be generally irrational, erratic, someone who lacks control, who is both mentally and emotionally unstable, too weak to cope with stressful situations. In other words someone you generally can’t rely on because their emotions are too unpredictable, they are like a ticking time bomb. I don’t think anyone would like to be described as “too emotional” in light of the above.

So where am I going with this?  Because I am a naturally sensitive person – I cry a lot.  I feel deeply and I am deeply moved.  I am moved by other people’s pain and suffering just as much as I am moved by my own pain and when that happens, tears come out.  So being a journalist I figured that being tough means that one must never under any circumstances show signs of emotion, and crying would be showing excessive emotion in this case.

I think people assume that I decide to cry. But I don’t. I never decide that when I hear this persons’story or that person tragic loss that I will cry, and there have been times when I have not cried in situations where crying would have been acceptable.  It’s not something I turn on and off at will, it is something that happens in spite of me. And no I don’t walk around in tears all day, every day though there was a time when that was true.

Believing that my crying was a sign of weakness, and not wanting to have that label attached to me, especially as a journalist, I thought the best thing to do was to hide it, avoid crying at all costs. To do that I would just have to act like I don’t care, pretend to be unmoved by any pain or suffering, or love including my own.  But that almost killed me. Because hiding my emotions and burying them was tantamount to killing myself and hiding myself under the carpet until I couldn’t keep it all in anymore.  All the pent up frustration, angers, disappointment, hurts had to come out somehow.

Then one day a kind soul told me something that saved my life.  There’s nothing wrong with you she said, you are allowed to cry, crying is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. What? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I am strong because I cry? Yes she said. But all this time since childhood I have been told never to cry, to stop crying, why are you crying, if you cry we’ll give you something to cry about and would be beaten up because of that so that I could have something to cry about. “Promise me you won’t cry” was always a promise I could not keep.

But this woman told me that crying means you are strong; because you are willing let go of control, to be vulnerable and to allow yourself to feel your pain,  and open up to the healing waters of tears. Really? Yes you are not weak because you cry, it’s not crying that makes you weak or feelings or emotions, it’s the opposite.  Really? Yes she said. When cry and feel  it is out of control it’s because you haven’t allowed yourself to cry for a long time and ultimately the system will collapse. There’s a reason for everything, and we have tears for a reason and that reason is for cleansing. Just as you wash your body every day to get rid of excessive dirt accumulated during the day, to be fresh, clean and rejuvenated  whether the dirt is visible to the naked eye or not,  so tears do the same for our emotional and mental well-being.  Kanti? I’ve been thinking that people who don’t cry are the strong stable ones but they’re not? No they are not any stronger or weaker than you, we all have our ways of dealing with stress, some are constructive and others are destructive, but our feelings and emotions including especially tears, are our inbuilt tools to help us release all kinds of tensions. Wow. I didn’t know that.

And I think many people in our country didn’t know that either: that it’s okay and natural to cry. We all reserve our tears for “special” occasions at funerals and at weddings.  Because we have been taught that must not be “too emotional” we  suppress our negative and positive emotions  until we can’t anymore keep it all in anymore and we lash out, through aggressive behavior, stabbing our neighbor, shooting our wives, raping children and infants, engaging in brutal acts of violence, hatred because we can’t feel anymore.  We don’t feel our own pain and therefore can never feel for another for their pain or loss or tragedy. We become callous, hard; we lack empathy because we have never allowed ourselves to feel compassion for ourselves first.   So then with dry eyes we walk around blind to each other’s pain and we bulldoze our way through situations, hurting each other in the most unimaginable ways  because we’re too afraid to stop and feel and cry. Why do we have such high crime rates in South Africa? Violent, brutal murders?  Raping infants, children, girls, mothers, grandmothers? Why are we blind to other people’s suffering and pain?  It’s because we don’t feel anymore. We’ve gotten so used to not caring. Because we don’t acknowledge our own pain and suffering, we don’t feel compassion to ourselves first, therefore we can never expect to feel for another person. We can say sorry, shame, too bad, but until you feel the pain you can never truly empathize with another.

To be empathetic with another does necessarily mean you must cry like me (that’s just how I am) but you must allow yourself to feel. Feel for another person, and you can’t feel for someone if you don’t feel for yourself. And if you truly feel for another it will show through action, you will do something not to hurt someone, to help where possible and maybe you will just cry with them where it isn’t. Heres the thing, people often say what’s the use of crying? It won’t change anything? But crying is not meant to change the situation or circumstances which are causing you pain. Crying is meant for you, so that you can release those negative emotions, so that compassion can replaced hatred, anger, feelings of revenge, of wanting to hurt someone because they have hurt you back. Crying softens your heart, because when you cry and feel the hurt and the pain, you are less likely to want to inflict the same pain to someone else. You become more compassionate with another.  You don’t wake up and say what’s the use of bathing, it won’t change anything when you wake up in the morning or after a hard days work. You wash everyday anyway because if you didn’t you know you will start smelling, collecting germs – eventually you end up looking like a hobo, someone who chooses never to bath. So you bath so you feel fresh. So you should cry to feel fresh emotionally and mentally.   But society has taught us crying is bad, so we suppress all the pain until we explode. Until the sadness, becomes pain, becomes anger, and becomes rage, a blaring furnace that is expressed through cruelty to everything and anyone. Most of the tension can be diffused if we cried a lot more. Because that softens the heart and we can think more clearly, better after we have cried.  Feel. Cry.  Many of these violent crimes are because we say and believe things like, I won’t allowthem to see me cry. Crying is for Sissies, I want them to suffer like I am to inflict the same pain on them and it becomes a vicious cycle.  Instead of acknowledging those feelings for yourself, the pain, the hurt, the anger, the disappointment and allow the tears to cleanse you of them. You do something that hurts you and the other even more.

Yes it’s not an exact science but I know that our emotions drive what we do, motivates us to change something, do something for ourselves or another. Without feelings we become callous robots. In-humane. So because we are human,  who feel all the time all manner of things, we need to constantly cleanse ourselves as we do to our physical bodies, by allowing ourselves to cry and be more balanced human beings. You don’t have to wait for something gruesome or violent or bad to happen before you can cry because many of those huge catastrophes can be avoided if we allowed ourselves to cry when we experience small little hurts.  We don’t need to pile it up until it becomes an irreversible volcano. Cry Baba, Cry brother, cry my sister. We cry not because we are weak but because we feel pain, we hurg, and that hast to be expressed by a biological self-help mechanism called crying, when you feel the sting allow the pain to come out in tears, that’s healing. That’s why it happens, your body says “this is so Hurtful it has to come out you can’t keep it in, that’s why you’re eyes tear up, it’s necessary. Cry. There’s no shame in it. It’s another way to show love.  Some of the strongest and most loving men I know cry. It doesn’t have to be public – just like you don’t take a shower publicly for all to see, but you do take a shower every day. It’s human, natural, like taking a piss or a dump. Honestly.

My mother tells me that I should never wish that I didn’t cry. She says being able to cry, release negative emotions through tears is a gift. Because it’s healing, it’s a good thing she says. Because many people wish so much that they could cry but their eyes are dry and that is a very sad thing.

Yes too much of anything is not good, and that includes crying, but if you asked me I’d say we don’t cry nearly enough in this country.

Cry My Beloved Country.

 

AMADODA: RE-DEFINING MASCULINITY

Amadoda Co-founder Dalisu Jwara with Jonathan Jansen the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Free State

Amadoda Co-founder Dalisu Jwara with Jonathan Jansen,Vice-Chancellor of the University of Free State

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:

  1. This moment is inevitable:  This conversation is happening so allow it
  2. I have an infinite capacity to respond to whatever happens:  You can handle any situation you’re confronted with.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 ….

AMADODA

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.

 

A TWISTED HERITAGE

Lerato: A teenage girl in the room she shares with other orphaned girls at SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth)in Kliptown, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. Pic: Julia Seister

Lerato: A teenage girl in the room she shares with other orphaned girls at SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth), a youth center looking after disadvantaged children and orphans in Kliptown, Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. pic/copy right: Julia Sestier

So It is True…

I thought it was  my little bit of a sick joke, journalists are famous for those. And for that reason I sometimes think I could be a comedian, people always laugh when I tell the truth.  I must have verbalized my thoughts out loud in an unguarded moment.  Because I lie awake at night sometimes, trying to make sense of it, to find out what is really going on in Kliptown, because something did not sit well with me Though truth be told, lately I must admit that I find it is the mosquitoes and various other as yet indefinable bugs and rattling rats that keep me up and night waiting for the soothing rays for the morning sun.  Until this one day, while on volunteer duty cleaning-out the learning center at the Kliptown Soweto Youth Center (SKY) that I found my first piece of evidence to add to a very large jigsaw puzzle.  A copy of a newspaper article, written to my calculated estimation in 2001/2, as there was no date on the page.  In its “development” Kliptown was always meant to be a tourist attraction. It’s a place “designed” for the tourist market.  In other words, the current seemingly dysfunctional state of Kliptown was “planned” to be that way.   When developers, Blue IQ and JDA (Johannesburg Development Agency) were planning the development of Kliptown, their aim was to show case the past, present and future of the historic town, and keeping old Kliptown as it was when the freedom charter was signed in 1955, was part of the plan. Why? Tourists would not really have an interest in Kliptown because had old Kliptown been developed  in the style of the RDP’s  houses we see today  there would be nothing extraordinary to see other than the Walter siSulu Square of Dedication, with a flame long-gone out, which was meant to burn 24-7 – 365 days a year.  Other than that Kliptown would look much like the rest of communities in the greater South West Township (SOWETO) region, more especially the famed A – list tourist attraction Vilakazi Street in Phefeni, Orlando West.    That is where  the first black  democratic  president, Nelson Mandela  bought his first property which he shared with his first wife Evelyn and later after a divorce, with his second wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela and their children, before being shipped to  Robben Island for nearly three decades.  Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world in which two noble peace prize laureates, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela once lived.  No one is as famous worldwide as these two men in South Africa. So Kliptown had to offer something different – but within a controlled environment to attract tourist/ visitors called “The Open Air Museum/Ecomuseums” .  Ergo. I have retyped the article below, verbatim.

The children: who entertain tourists on the other side of the tracks

The children: who entertain tourists on the other side of the tracks. pic copyright: Julia Sestier

“Kliptown Ready to become a Tourist Attraction

“Kliptown has made a start in becoming a major tourist destination in the city. Already in time for the World Summit (World Summit on Sustainable development 2002), a visitor’s center has been established to showcase the past, present and future of this historical Soweto area.  There is a hive of activity with artists and crafters on the premises showcasing their talents. A video and CD are available showing the future developments of the area. A model of the new Freedom Square of Dedication which will be erected in Kliptown to commemorate the launch adoption of the freedom charter is also on show. The formerly neglected area of Kliptown and its surrounds will soon become a mixed-use area of residential, commercial and retail with a new freedom square as the centerpiece. The area is expected to be revitalized with 6 900 new housing units, shopping, tourism and markets. The redevelopment of Kliptown and the development of Freedom – the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Soweto were recently added as a Blue IQ project.  The area is of historical importance because it was where the freedom Charter was signed.  Thousands of people have been living in squatter camps in surrounding areas, says Kliptown project manager, Aubrey Manganye. “ We have planned a holistic approach which entails several different aspects.” He says. One is the environmental development of the area. A major part of this is the clean-up of the Klipspruit River which is severely polluted. An environmental consultant was brought in to investigate the problems of river, and its environment. “The river will form an important part of the development and we plan campaigns to educate the public on keeping the river in a pristine condition. “ He says. The Economic aspect of the project is also vitally important. “We have to find ways to create employment for residents and we are looking at the establishment of markets for this. The Metropolitan Trading Company is assisting us in this regard.” He says. A consultant is currently doing an economic impact assessment in the area to establish the economic needs status quo and growth potential. Infrastructural services designed for the housing component and the upgrading of existing services have started. The first phase will see the construction of 1200 units. A community Development Forum has been established to represent community needs on the entire project. “Ultimately the project belongs to the people of Kliptown and we will aspire to improve the lives of the people of Kliptown and therefore it is essential that their needs are taken into account guided by their wishes” he says.”

The Future is now

We know what the future is – we can see it over the railway tracks.  The Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication (WSSD) with its Monument greets you in the morning with its grey walls. A tourist trip to the  Soweto Hotel , revealed how architects designed  building , – and the hotels  boardroom so that – the small Kliptown valley servers as a beautiful (living painting it has nice panoramic views of Kliptown. The hotel offers three to four star living for travellers, with interior township designs –romanticizing the ghetto, poverty. On the other side of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication are  new housing units, flying the new  flags of present day South Africa; White DStv Satellite Dishes, whose window frames are painted with soft pastel colours speaks  of the future, which  those who were signing the Freedom Charter could have never imagined possible at the time.

The Real Truman Show.

But Old Kliptown, remains unchanged. No new roads, no electricity, communal portable toilets, on the other side of the future of Kliptown, meaning the past. I’ve gone to tourist attraction spots, all around the country, of course I have not visited all of them but it’s always been clear that what was happening in the tourism compounds was part of a show. Not how South Africans live today. But in Kliptown it’s another story. It is real. This thought I’ dismissed at first and quickly chided myself for getting lost in the  images of  The Truman Show: a movie which when I first saw it was close to a psychological thriller though it was sold as a comedy, staring Hollywood’s funny man, Jim Carey. I’m grateful that there is a movie I can use as a form of reference – because it will help you see what I see and help me feel less crazy because – someone has already thought about this and done it.

The Truman Show is a 1998 American satirical social science fiction film directed by Peter Weir and written by Andrew Niccol. The cast includes Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, as well as Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Ed Harris and Natascha McElhone. The film chronicles the life of a man who is initially unaware that he is living in a constructed reality television show, broadcast around the clock to billions of people across the globe. Truman becomes suspicious of his perceived reality and embarks on a quest to discover the truth about his life.

In the movie – Truman – the main character is living in a live 24 hour 365 days reality show or commercial. Everybody but Truman is “playing a role” or acting. They go “Home” outside the walls of the studio which Truman is oblivious of.  Everyone including his parents, his best friend, his wife , work colleagues are all following the script, Truman is the only one being real, as in being himself, everyone else clocks in and out of duty and goes back home afterwards. His home, his house is all a commercial, with advertisers placing their brands for breakfast in the kitchen, everything he uses touches is part of a prop in the “show” of his life. Think Big Brother. Watching that film made me feel  a little claustrophobic,  and looking back to this article I feel even more claustrophobic because I’m in some kind of a show – a tourist attraction, while I was blissfully unaware, thinking I was doing my “bit” for the community, making a ‘difference”.  This article confirms my suspicions – at least in some small way – along with other documents which I found – it’s all very  “legitimate’ everyone knows what to say, there are tour guides for Kliptown, well-spoken young men  who can recite the history of Kliptown in their sleep. They are always here, ready to receive tourists. Which was another thing I couldn’t understand why Kliptown?  Foreign visitors would arrive, and there would always be someone to escort them along the Kliptown trail. The speech goes on about the communal taps, communal toilets, lack of water, electricity, the polluted Klipspruit River (which for WSSD see above) was meant to be kept in pristine conditions. About the history and famous politicians who lived here including Ellen Khuzwayo – whose book – Call me a woman is still on my list of to finish reading books. They come back to the center, which feeds little children, who live in these substandard conditions, who despite their poverty, rise above it and put on a splendid performance.   How does one pose the question, how does one frame it, in the face of real struggle, unpretentious a struggle.  Who does one ask, the question – if the poverty in Kliptown, the lack of development, is orchestrated, an organic design which runs itself without much interference from anyone.  In one of the documents I found addressed to the Kliptown Market Community on the 7th of May 2003 the Johannesburg Development Agency states three agreements:

  1.  A list of potential beneficiaries obtained from the housing project manager (Aubrey Manganye) within the Kliptown Market Community will be screened.
  2. And those who qualify for the housing subsidy as per the Gauteng Department of Housing Criteria will be allocated with housing within phase one of housing development per the housing program of action.
  3. Those who do not qualify will be allocated with alternative accommodation if they occupy a land for more than six months as per the policy on illegal occupation of land.

The letter concludes with a promise by the JDA to fulfill its legal obligations by ensuring that the Kliptown Market community has access to basic services.  Of which Kliptown has, only the basics: water and portable toilets.  In a twisted way, Kliptown has upheld at least one principle of the Freedom Charter – All the land shall belong to those who work in it.

And people in Kliptown, especially the women labour much, doing domestic work which involves an endless cycle of back-breaking hard labour: cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, cleaning and more cooking and washing clothes.  Labour which is made even harder by the lack of electricity (a day of cooking may resemble a scene in traditional rural homes of old were fetching wood and water to do at these domestic chores was part of the daily routine of life) It is almost astounding that in 2013  authorities could not find a way to provide  electricity to Kliptown “ They say they  can’t put electricity  because  of the wetland area” Aletta my tour guide at the Soweto Hotel told me when I asked why she thought there was still no electricity to this day in Kliptown.  These are the conditions under which many people   have to live.   But without access to enough money to buy water, electricity and proper homes, this is the only way that people can live. Nobody knows why there has not been any improvement in the living conditions for the people of Kliptown. Maybe some original members know…. But the TRUTH is it was DESIGNED to be this way.

A former resident of Sky, when first interviewed she told me she was orphaned. Which was later found to be untrue. She now lives with her Parents.

A former resident of Sky, when first interviewed she told me she was orphaned. Which was later found to be untrue. She now lives with her Parents. picture copy right: by Julia Sestier

The French Connection: ” Open Air Museum”

Eventually I found more concrete evidence – A business plan which explains the idea of an open museum /ecomuseum for Kliptown:

“An Open Air Museum is a particular kind of community museum, which sees itself as a tool for community development as well as a means of promoting cultural conservation.  Initially developed in France in the 1970s under the name ‘Eco-Musee’, Open Air Museums traditionally originate from the need of a community to search for its ‘roots’, and establish or re-assess its own identity, making the Open Air Museum first and foremost a bond between a community and place and the development thereof. One definition of an Open Air Museum is “an expression of a community which is rooted in a sense of place that is ‘unique’; the link between the land, livelihoods, industry, customs and identity’ is inseparable.”3. This type of museum’s primary concern is ‘preserving’ people and ‘culture’ rather than artefacts. Open Air Museums differ from living-history museums in that they do not attempt a ‘re-creation’ of the past for visitors, but rather use cultural preservation as a tool for the further development of the community and community structures. Open Air Museums offer an ‘in situ’ experience that tends to spread over more than one space. Thus, the museum is not necessarily confined to 4 walls and a door. Rather, an entire area its environment, people, culture, customs all comprise the Open Air Museum.”

 

WHY KLIPTOWN?

“In terms of cultural tourism, Kliptown is seen as having a heritage resource that is of significance nationally and internationally i.e. the spaces and buildings that commemorate the Congress of the People and the historic signing of the Freedom Charter in June 1955. Arguably, Kliptown can also be seen as having particularly unique ‘cultural resources’ that lie in a combination of tangible and intangible cultural heritage assets that mark Kliptown as an important site of public memory. These resources, which characterize Kliptown as having “a character and ambiance that distinguishes it from other places and makes it special and unique”6, are also a potentially strong tourist and visitor attraction, in the ways in which they present Kliptown as a microcosm of a township as it develops throughout the 20th century. Unlike in many other locations, whose similar resources have been eradicated through a process of apartheid urban planning, and the forces of contemporary development, Kliptown retains much of its historical character from the 50s.”

 “IPI-INTOMBI EFFECT “– EXHIBIT ONE – 12

The reader will note that none of these “nodes” withing the KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM, are in existence today  with the exception of the Squarer ( Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication). So the plan can be deemed a failure, but which on the other has deepened poverty and the decline of the Kliptown Community for which this project was meant to empower uplift.  These sights one is onlytold” about during the “tours” but they don’t exists as envisaged in this plan:

Exhibitions will play a central role in the interpretation and development of the stories of Kliptown, marking those spaces within Kliptown that ‘belong’ to the Open Air Museum. As a dominant visual experience, exhibitions will provide an important opportunity to interpret both the core values of the Open Air Museum and the heritage values of Kliptown. Exhibitions, as a mode of interpretation, will help create a clear and defined visitor experience, without eliminating the choices and chance encounters that are part of everyday urban experience.

In order to account for the inherent tension between community and visitor needs in the Open Air Museum, the role and function of specific exhibitions in Kliptown needs to be clearly orientated in terms of these two target groups. Thus the first distinction in the exhibition strategy is between community exhibitions and visitor exhibitions. Different combinations of exhibitions will occur at the various nodes in the Kliptown Open Air Museum. And while an exhibition might be produced with the ‘community’ in mind, it does not preclude a tourist visiting this exhibition, and vice versa.

The success of exhibitions in environments such Kliptown depend on active community consultation and participation in the exhibition making process. Creating a culture of inclusiveness will ensure a community-driven exhibition programme that not only expresses the different voices of the people of Kliptown but also captures the critical and contested debates around history, contemporary life and its representation. It is critically important to establish an Exhibitions Advisory Group as part of the Programming Advisory Group. This Group should not only reflect the different nuances of the Kliptown ‘community’, but also include a fair and adequate representation of people involved in heritage, education and tourism in Kliptown. The Group will become the link between Open Air Museum and the ‘community’.

The exhibition programme is presented in terms of the five different nodes in the Kliptown Open Air Museum (see Fig. 2- Spatial Map). Each node includes at least one exhibition that ‘anchors’ the Open Air Museum experience.

The Exhibitions are as follows:

KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM BUSINESS PLAN 22

• Behind-the-Scenes Exhibition (Dairy Farm): The Kliptown ‘Open Air Museum’ is a revolutionary approach to memory and heritage that facilitates community control of its own cultural resources. This exhibit invites both community and visitors ‘behind-the-scenes’ to see how it all works, as well as participate in exhibition making. The Behind-the-scenes exhibition is at the old Dairy Farm- one of the oldest buildings in Kliptown, and one that conjures images of a communal working space

• Freedom Exhibition (The Square): A dynamic multimedia exhibition that explores the history of the Freedom Charter as a nationwide call for Freedom and Democracy in the footprints of the historic Congress of the People on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. This exhibit also explores contemporary experiences of ‘freedom’, explores icons of freedom- such as Walter Sisulu, and makes links to today’s Constitution. Jada’s- a historical building whose owners were actively involved in the organisation of the Congress of the People, and which played a significant role in the history of Kliptown, is used as the main indoor space for this exhibition.

• The People’s Monument (The Square): This monument marks the gathering of people at the Congress of the People in 1955. It is envisaged that visitors can participate in the building of the monument, through placing engraved Xs (as a symbol of ‘voting’) onto its structure, allowing it to evolve incrementally over time. The monument of the Freedom Charter echoes the ‘We The People’ wall at Constitution Hill, extending the idea that ordinary people, through their participation began by ‘building‘ the Freedom Charter, which, in turn, led to the building of the Constitution of South Africa. The monument allows for visitors to re-dedicate themselves to the building of democracy and freedom. Spin-offs of this process include the development of an icon for Kliptown in the shape of a X that can then be developed into unique merchandise (jewellery, bags etc.) and art works projects.

• Visitor Centre Exhibition (The Square): This is a basic ‘teaser’ exhibition that gives visitors an orientation to the Kliptown ‘product offerings’. It aims to entice visitors to experience all the Kliptown has to offer.

• Railway Exhibition (Hoarding Exhibit along the railway): This exhibition celebrates the excitement of arrival, the defiance, the danger, and the journeys of all the people who came together for the Congress of the People. Looks at the critical role that train transport has played in the history of SA: migration, mobility, displacement and exile. The Exhibition is built as hoarding alongside the railroad, so that it is visible both by train passengers, and those walking along the railway track.

• Temporary Exhibitions (The Square) : Temporary Exhibitions are accommodated in the Multi-Purpose Centre. These Exhibitions could include community initiated exhibitions, travelling exhibitions (e.g. Jurgen Schadeburg and students’ photographic exhibition of Kliptown; exhibitions from other museums etc.). These exhibitions are not funded as part of the Museum.

KLIPTOWN OPEN AIR MUSEUM BUSINESS PLAN 23

• Greater Kliptown Orientation Exhibition (Community Node): This exhibition builds on the existing Kliptown Our Town exhibition and provides community with an opportunity to tell the ordinary and extraordinary stories of Kliptown. Includes a ‘for children, by children’ exhibit.

• Women’s Exhibition (Charlotte Maxeke House): In keeping with the spirit of Charlotte Maxeke, a teacher, social worker, politician and the first African woman from South Africa to receive a baccalaureate degree, this venue will be used for a community exhibition and resource focusing on the needs of women and youth. The Women’s Exhibition will complement programming in this space.

• Environmental Exhibition (Environmental centre): Kliptown is an ideal space in which to look at diverse environmental features of Kliptown- from flora and fauna (including those in the Klipspruit river), to the wetlands, to the open public green spaces etc. The Environmental Exhibition will seek to promote taking care of the environment in an interactive and interesting way.

• Gerard Sekoto Museum and Art School: Gerard Sekoto is recognised internationally as the father of modern South African art. He is known through painting showing everyday life in townships in the 1940s. This gallery showcases 5-10 of his important work, providing context with relevant archival material and a short documentary about his life and work. The gallery in Kliptown enriches an appreciation of Sekoto’s work by placing his paintings within an environment that still retains its appearance of the past (i.e. Kliptown). Similar to the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town. Linked to an art school that is operated by qualified external body. Located at his old house.

• Park Art: In the tradition of the “People’s Parks” of the 80s, Park Art involves the community in developing art for display that communicates their thoughts and experiences. Examples of such art could include murals, sculpture, etc. Park Art would happen at 2 parks in Kliptown (see map)

• Signs and Billboards : A form of “writing the city”, of visually integrating the different Open Air Museum spaces within Kliptown. It is also an opportunity to integrate the voices and experiences of local residents. They might inhabit the walls of Union Street, resident-orientated exhibition billboards, heritage landmarks such as Charlotte Maxeke’s house, the AME churches, etc., and that are clearly distinct from other forms of more formal signage such as street signs and SAHRA plaque.

THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

I went to Sky and Kliptown with rose-tinted eyes, completely sympathising with with community and the conditions underwich they were forced to live. I was also grateful that they were able to afford my younger brother shelter at a time when I felt I had failed him. So I believed them when they told me their story, and acknowledge that there may be some members of the community who are honest about what is going in Kliptwon and More specifically at Sky.

These are the corrections:

1. The Soweto Kliptown Youth Center – though it may “look” after “vulnerabe children” almost all of them are not orphaned, they have home and living parents, contrary to what I have been told or inversely “chose to believe”.

2. SKY functions as a “Youth Club” for children and young people interested in the “ARTS” – what they do is rehearse, gumboot dance, and zulu-dances which they perform for tourists who visit the center.  Some have traveled to France, America and many other spaces through the youth club.

3. The children who are fed at SKY, are not orphans either. Though a number of Europeans looking for children to adopt have visited the center, I  cannot confirm if they have adopted  any children from SKY/Kliptown.

4. SKY used to function as a community clinic under the late Eva Makoka whom I met at interviews in 2004.   It has since changed though under the leadership of Bra Bob Nameng – into a Youth Center. Eva Makoka’s House – where SKY is located is identified as one of the Key nodes in the “Kliptown Open Air Museum Business Plan.

5. I am in no way asserting that people are not suffering in Kliptown or that poverty is not real, after having spent two weeks living at SKY, I know that it is not as simple as that.  The community (SKY/KYP) especially do depend on “Foreign” Donations to survive, however what I am saying is it was all part of a the plan, which went horribly wrong. Which has mean that Kliptown remains a relic of the past, which explains why there has been no improvement inthe lives of the people, why there will never be change. The incredible poverty today is  a construct of the new democracy, in ways which surpass some of the apartheid  segregation laws.  YOU ARE FREE!

6. Many of the plans for  “Open Air Museum”did not happen, because of corruption or lack of management  – whatever the reason, the truth is Kliptown today is a cheaper ( and in some ways – better perverted) version of the original plan.

Khumo and Joy, members of the SKY youth club - who perform for tourist on weekends. Two of them have since been "kicked out" of the program.

Khumo and Joy, members of the SKY youth club – who perform for tourist on weekends. Two of girls have since been “kicked out” of the program. pic by Julia Sestier.