Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?

Quo Vadis is an ancient Latin question attributed to St Peter who, while fleeing persecution in Rome met Christ on the Appian Way and asked him, Domine quo Vadis? Which means Lord, where are you going? I am going to Rome to be persecuted again, Christ replied.  Quo Vadis,  this is the question which stared back at me while I stood on top of the Voortrekker Monument surveying its magnificent panoramic views. As I stood in reverential silence I began to think that perhaps I should have asked myself this question before getting into a car and onto a  the lift which placed me on the top floor of the monument giving me a view of Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, which I had never seen before. It took me 35 years to get here. On this monument built  in honour and praise to God who delivered the enemy (African-Bantu people) into the Voortrekker’s hands. In this context I am a descendent of the enemy.

Quo Vadis?

There have been so many times over the last decade when I have asked myself this question – and I have been asking this question more and more recently in an effort to integrate the past with the present. There were many tourists populating the Voortrekker monument when I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. The most enthusiastic of them where from China. Something which I didn’t understand at first while reading the banner at the main entrance of the hall which announced that the Monument was a winner of the Gold Award in the top category “Overall performance” at the China outbound Travel and Tourism Market in Beijing, 2013. Perhaps it had something to do with how it’s built, walking up its’ top floor with cathedral-like pillars felt familiar as if I had been there before in some other timeline.

Die Rooi Gevaar.
It is only once I had gone up to the top of the monument that I understood the connection for me and perhaps for the multitudes of Chinese visitors to the Voortrekker monument. It had similar features, and fortitude to the Great Wall of China. The irony of this situation, of the fact that the Voortrekker Monument was being celebrated by China, a former communist country which the Calvinistic, fascist-capitalist Afrikaner government was once vehemently against was lost to me as I tried to find meaning in my being there. A more grounding reason than mere curiosity.
The Vow.
How was it possible that we could all be praying to the same God? The God whom the Voortrekker men prayed to under command of Andries Pretorius before the battle of Blood River? On the 16th of December 1838. The same God contained in the Bible that the English gave to the Voortrekkers after killing their women and children in concentration camps? The same God of the bible that multitudes of black South Africans worship in the bible every Sunday? All of this killing was done in the name of the God of heaven and earth. The one in the Bible.
Reasonable Conscience.
If I were a rational human being I would say that based on the evidence of events in the Bible and those performed because of it, all of it must have been the will of God. It was all in Gods’ plan and it was his will for it to happen. He is on the side of both oppressor and the oppressed. He is both life and death. But as we know I’m irrational and Unreasonable at the best of times. So, I have to ask where are you going. Do you know?

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Proverbs 29:18.

Don’t forget, your ancestor fought for the losing side. There is no sacred ground for the conquered– Xander Feng (House of Cards)

PROF ALI MAZRUI: A MEASURE OF GREATNESS

This weeks’ post is in honour of the late Professor Ali Mazrui.  In another time I would have been ashamed to publicly admit that I did not know about this towering intellectual until his death this week. He was 81. Today I don’t mind acknowledging my ignorance because today I am wise enough to know without a shadow of doubt that I don’t know (everything) and that each day brings with it limitless  opportunity to learn.

IN MY FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS: PUTTING THE BREAKS ON EXPLOITATION

Let me first start with a personal example: Last night my father taught me that brake fluid has two uses in a car. First for the brakes which is self-explanatory and that second it is also used for the clutch. He said “come” to the garage, opened the bonnet of my mother’s car and showed us where to put the fluid for the different mechanisms. The hand brake light in my mother’s Toyota Corolla had been flashing for several days, the brakes worked fine but the light continued to flash so my mother ( being the wise woman who knows she doesn’t know about cars) asked my father who did know a whole lot about cars and how they worked. “So what do you think is the problem?  It was the first time in a long time that my father, who has been working with all kinds of engines and parts for the past 30 years or more, invited us into his world. He then explained that brake fluid is used to lubricate both the breaks and the clutch showed us the different containers.  He also explained how the signal worked, there was a sensor on the lid which monitored levels of brake-fluid and when it was below the line, caused the break-light to turn on.

I used to my marvel at my father who spoke a language I couldn’t decode. He would explain over the phone to his colleagues how to dismantle the engines caterpillar machines, and put them together again, as if he was standing right in front of them. I was always impressed by his descriptive  knowledge of each part and where it was supposed to go from memory. I admired his tone and even handedness when he explained each stage of the process without patronizing the other person.  He hardly ever raised his voice or shouted and he always asked questions in order to understand what went wrong. Moreover he always seemed to have a solution for every conceivable problem the other person at the end of the line came up with and when he didn’t know he’d say “let’s leave it for now and see what to do tomorrow”.

I admired him and still do but because of my inherently independent nature I never went to him for advice when I found myself in sticky situations. I thought the best way to impress my father would be to learn to do things and manage my life all by myself instead of asking him for help or seeking wisdom from him.  But last  night I saw how eager he was to share his knowledge with us, how happy he was to see us willing to learn  from  his vast  know how (skills)  of cars and machines. Only then did it dawn on me that the best thing I could have done in times of trouble or uncertainty or whatever hard decision I was facing was not to try to prove to him I could do it by myself. The best way to impress him would have been to do the exact opposite, to go to him and ask for his advice, opinion and counsel.  After all he is a man who deals with solving problems every day. I realized that my father would have been more impressed by a daughter who knew that she didn’t know (everything) and was willing to draw on the wisdom of those who loved her and who wanted to see her succeed. I realized that he would have been so happy to hear me say “Dad I don’t know how to do this, can you help me? What do you think?” Instead of me trying to do it all by myself and falling and hurting myself in the process as if he wasn’t there or willing to help me. Even if it was just to listen, which he does wonderfully.

I realized that admitting you don’t know and seeking the council of those wiser and more knowledgeable than you is probably the most intelligent thing I could do for myself. I realized that intelligence or wisdom is not measured by knowing or pretending to know everything, but intelligence is about being open to not knowing and then committing to learning every day and applying that knowledge to real life situations. It is only by knowing that you don’t know that you can learn new information – because essentially, even if we get to a point in life when we think we know a lot about something  – we still don’t know everything.  And it is precisely this arrogance and belief that we know better than everyone else who has been here before us which is responsible in large part for the failed states and or downfall of Independent Africa for hundreds of years – a subject which Prof Mazrui dedicated a large part of his academic scholarship to.

THE DUAL MANDATE: NEW FORMS OF SLAVERY

After I discovered the passing this towering legend through a wise friend of mine on Facebook. I spent the whole week listening to his teachings. I realized that I had been searching for a teacher like Dr Ali Mazrui’s who was essentially a romantic like me, but understood the roots and anatomy of  Africa’s present day challenges without being frivolous, superficial or reactionary about solutions to those problems. I was drawn largely by his calm, clear and balanced authority which spoke of wisdom beyond my own years and a mind seeped in the excavation of knowledge. He was a man who had learned how to listen and I could hear it from the way he spoke. In  short, when I watched a video clip posted by my friend, I realized that I had finally found my mentor.  I sat at his “feet” and listened as he decoded the illusion of African Independence, in a way that was fresh and empowering.  And rings ever so loudly true for  Africa today than ever before.  Instead of telling you about him I thought the best way to honour him would be to let him tell you the story of Africa. So I spent time transcribing part of his documentary – Tools of Exploitation in Africa – which is the best analysis, explanation and account of the current challenges facing the continent today.  You can find the complete version in the video on youtube or click the title below to watch it.  I hope you will be inspired as I have been to continue where Prof Mazrui, who published more than 30 books and articles and was written about and published in 50 others – left off. “To whom much is given much is given, much is required”.

TOOLS OF EXPLOITATION IN AFRICA – BY PROF ALI MAZRUI

“Many centuries ago man in this part of Africa went into partnership with termites to process copper. The  Balunda, the Baluba,  the Basanga of ancient Zaire ( Democratic Republic of the Congo) used the clay produced by termites to  help smelt copper and produce implements of agriculture, weapons of war sometimes decorations and money for exchange. A long, long time ago, a strange partnership… and then the Europeans came. Did they want to learn from the technology they found here? Oh no! At least the Baluba and the Balunda had consulted the technology of the termites and benefited from it. But European technology was more arrogant more self-confident and less compromising. It abolished the old technological order and in its wake it left new forms of desolation in Africa.”

“Yes the West arrived in Africa with a bang. The soil recoiled in a whimper. Britain’s colonial policy Policy maker lord Lugard argued that Europe had a double mission in Africa. One was to develop Africa’s resources for Africa’s own benefit. The other was to use those resources to meet the growing industrial requirements of the western world. Lugard called these two goals the Dual Mandate. Our story is about this dual mandate. This intended partnership between Africa and the west and how far it’s been fulfilled.”

THE DUAL MANDATE

“Europe’s’ new technology has descended upon Africa in search of the continents virgin wealth. The African landscape will never be the same again. And so they dig up Africa faster than they have ever done before. And yet it’s one of the cruel ironies of the world economy that a continent so rich in natural resources should at the same time be so poor in living standards. The factories the furnaces of the world are clamouring for African manganese, African copper, chromium, platinum you name it Africa produces it. The romantics amongst us would prefer to think of Africa as God’s treasure chest of diamonds, after all we produce more diamonds than anybody else, we like to think of Africa as a golden continent, we produce more gold than anybody else.  And yet the same rich continent, this vast Treasure Island is inhabited by poverty-stricken inhabitants. Why? Something has gone wrong, tragically wrong in the partnership between western technology and African resources. And yet the digging continues: Dig, Dig, Dig, is it for wealth? Or is it the collective burial of a people”

A FACADE

“Some would argue that the west had brought development to Africa. Perhaps by the Dual Mandate, Lord Lurgard meant an exchange of African resources for Western technology. A new civilization on wheels is now vibrating along African streets, from Dar es Salaam to Dakar. In all my travels in five different continents. I still continue to be astonished by the great variety of African skylines, every African city is a miracle of transition. The mixture is between the foreign and the indigenous, the old and the new, the natural and the artificial. But much of it is a mirage and half of it is a façade.   In Africa the glittering goods are more a symbol of imported consumption than of genuine local prosperity. We in Africa are buying goods from other nations rather than making them ourselves.  The West has given African only the shimmering illusion of technological know-how in exchange for the solid substance of Africa’s resources. In what continent am I? Africa or Europe if I am confused it’s because it’s all a façade, a façade of a western style skyline behind which lies a very different story. Westernization without real modernization Appearances reminiscent of the West behind which lie the realities of Africa. What have we got to show here in Africa, for 300 years of contact with Western technology?  We have acquired western tastes, but have we the skills to make them work?”

HUMANS FOR GUNS

“More  sad than the death of Kings is the death of ancient skills surrounding them.  Once upon a time African Kings and Chiefs were patrons to great artists and craftsmen. Civilizations in gold and bronze were maturing. Techniques had been evolving since the 12th century.  The most famous African sculpture is from Ife and Benin in West Africa. Some outsiders scoffed claiming that the bronzes came from the lost continent of Atlantis. By the time the Portuguese arrived the art had become so realistic that it portrayed the visitors in remarkable detail.   But the Portuguese and other Europeans hadn’t come to admire African skill, their eyes were on a new and fearsome trade, not in African products but in the very African producers themselves.

Slavery was not simply a denial of freedom for those Africans actually captured, it was also a denial of development for the continent they left behind. Europe not only refused to develop Africa, it savagely disrupted skills already in the making. The most symbolic western institution in Africa at the time, was the fortress. An impregnable trading factory, the factory’s merchandise human beings.  The slave trade rapidly transformed Africans into the most humiliated race in human history. Within two centuries alone over  12 million Africans were exported to the new world, the Americas.  It is estimated that for every slave who reached the America market, another died in transit.

Those who survived proved to be more durable than the Indians or Poor whites. Ironically the African Slave trade persistent partly because Africans were so tough.”

Africa had exported to the west men and women, potential implements of production. Africa had imported from the west, guns – by definition instruments of destruction. Indeed the slave trade and the gun trade were interlocked, in some cases guns were the currency with which slaves were bought. Slaves in exchange for guns. Africa had helped to enhance the industrial revolution of the west through those very slaves sent by force there. And yet the guns out here initiate a whole new culture of violence. That culture of violence extends right into present day Africa”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: YOUR RACE MATTERS

The human race and their costumes

The human race and their costumes

Recently my Facebook homepage has been populated with a litany of race commentary from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter what the topic was about. I found that the issue of race keeps coming up over and over again in politics, sports, fashion, education, you name it. First it was a white girl who painted her face black with a permanent marker to poke fun at black people. The commentary there was: the joke is on her  because she will remain black like that forever, which of course in not true. Then yesterday an admission by a Kenyan Socialite that she has deliberately lightened her skin to make money because her body is a business drew much attention from local and international networks. Comments on that story were highly judgmental against “black “women’s general lack of self-worth and self-esteem.

So what is it about race that matters so much? What is it about the colour of one skin that makes it so important above everything else we share as human beings on this earth that we have to kill each other for it?
Why is race important today in the 21st century when we have more than enough scientific proof that there really is absolutely no biological difference between races except of course the colour of their skin. Maybe the shape of your nose and mouth or eyes… but isn’t that different anyway regardless? Why are people judged often solely on how they look?
I met a man the other day who said he often borrows from nature to answer life’s big questions. So I will learn from him and use “nature” to try to explain why I think race matters today more than ever but of course not for the same reasons we have been conditioned to think it does.

RACE: A KIND OF LANGUAGE

To use nature to explain the challenge of race I will not go on a wild African safari. Instead I’ll start at home. Using  an example of an animal said to be the  human’s best friend. The Dog.

Yes I am comparing humans to dogs.

In the world of dogs: there are different types of dogs, different colours, personalities, characters  and  strengths. But they are all dogs though, and the only thing that helps us tell them apart – is their shape/size and colour/character. If dogs were only short and black and didn’t come in any other variety, I’m sure humans would run  experiment testing what would happen if  mixed a dog’s genes with those of cats for example. But ultimately, if that were the case we would not be able to tell the difference between one short black dog to another. To tell the difference we’d have to spend time with each dog  in order to discover its unique peculiarities which sets its apart from the packs in order to  know the difference.

So there you go. Humans are like dogs. We’re the same. And since we are so much alike in every way imaginable, race becomes important. If we were all black and looked exactly like me – exact copies of who I am, Jedi Ramalapa with my history and everything that I am now there would be no US, but only ME or as the Rastafarians like to say, there would only be I and I.  I will be the only person I know because there would be no one else who is different from me. There would be no “other”one who would be me, I would be you. So I need there to be white people, Chinese, Indian people, black people, short people, tall people, all colours because that’s the only way that I will ever know that I exist as a human being . I know I am human because you are human, but I know I’m me because you are not me even though you are, like me, human.
This is where I think where the notion of I am because you are –” umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu “– I am human because you are human comes from. I know I am me because you are not me. If you were I wouldn’t be who I am. I will not be able to tell myself apart from any other human person because we would all be exactly  the same. Imagine if we all had the same thought, at the same time, felt the same, had the exact same families, backgrounds, histories, and training, skin colouring, feelings at the same time what would make you different from me? Nothing. If you were me, the whole world would be sitting at Lucky Bean in Melville, Johannesburg writing this blog post. But there would be no one singing, cooking or making food because the whole world would think like me, feel like me want the exact same thing as I want right now. Nothing else would be happening.
You wouldn’t exist as an individual, because I am exactly the same as you so we are  ultimately,  one.

BUT THAT’s NOT THE REASON WHY RACE MATTERS

So race matters only in so far as like the clothes we wear helps us to tell each other apart even though we are all part of the same thing or source. That’s the only thing. There are of course many other things which make people different. Where you grew up,  your  environment and what you were taught. Depending on where you come from and how you were educated about yourself, that  differentiates you from the next person. The differences between humans though are beyond skin. Take for example my siblings and I. We were all raised by the same parents, lived for the most part under one roof.  But we are all distinctly different from each other and we all want to do different things with our lives. My brother has chosen a different life for himself where he feels needed and wanted as an entrepreneur, my younger sister is married with children, my oldest sister has not lived anywhere else but at home with my parents since I’ve known her, I have traveled the world and still have itchy feet to this day. We all love music, we appreciate dance, education and the value of hard work but we appreciate those things in our own unique way. So even though we share the “same” DNA we are all different, even if we may share similar features, even though our skin colour is the same and from the same person. We are as diverse as the vegetation in nature.

IT’S OUR DIFFERENCES THAT MAKES US WHO WE ARE.

So I am Jedi Ramalapa, only because there is a Peace, Victoria, Didi and Immie in my life. I am who I am because no one else is like me, even though we share the same genes. I “wear” my genes differently and how I “wear” my genes changes also with time and the environment. But Victoria the “quiet” one in my family has strengths and skills I don’t possess, she knows things I don’t know, understands and interprets the same facts we both know differently. Her perspective is different from mine. Same with Didi, Immie and Peace. We have the same reference point but not the same perspectives, understanding or way of doing things. And that’s what makes us individuals. The me I am, only make sense in the difference that makes you who you are. I need an Immie,  a victoria, a Didi, a Peace in my life, because they in their difference complete me. They compensate for my shortfalls or should I say make my strengths more visible or are strong where I am weak and vise versa. We all have a role to play in life and our roles are as unique and different as life itself. I need another to be me, you need me to be myself not a copy of anyone else to be you. That is why we’re all, regardless of our colouring, irreplaceable.

Perhaps this is only a notion parents with more than one child can understand, but I’m definitely sure that if I can understand this so can you, child or no child.

So in all the debates about race, the issue is not race necessarily, but the desire to control and have power over another human being or a particular group of people that we decide at some point or other is inferior. They are not intrinsically inferior they just have different strengths and weaknesses to us. In order to control anyone or anything, you must insist on their weaknesses, highlight the points at which they are wrong, more than the points where they are strong and ‘right’.

Needless to say there is no wrong or right necessarily, what exists are the norms which we decide as a community should be deemed right or wrong in order to further perpetuate the notions of superiority, power and ultimately control.

In the cycle of life we are all equal, yet different. What makes nature so magnificent is the one thing we refuse to acknowledge in our human relationships. Difference makes  harmony possible.  There is no harmony without difference.

So yes you matter,  your race or whatever colouring you are matters. But not anymore or less than the next person who appears different from you. They make you who you are. Without them. You can’t be. You.

So instead of focusing on the superficial race arguments, lets talk about how to change the systems that make discrimination based on skin or anything else possible. Why should we fight about the very thing that makes us stronger as a human race. Why should someones skin be the basis on which you decide how to  treat them, when you yourself need and want the very same things as the other person? Food shelter, love, community, understanding, freedom. Why should someone else die for your comfort? Why can’t we use our strengths as individuals, races  and or communities to build a better world. We all need each other. No one is wholly and entirely self-sufficient. Not even the people we label crazy. I cannot exists without you, is the bottom line, and neither can you. Even if we all looked exactly the same,  we’d still be different or find  reasons to discriminate against each other based on other differences such as country or continent, age , gender, sexuality. Race would not matter then.

So why should it now?

What you choose to do with your body or skin, is ultimately up to you and no one else.

AFRICA IN THE WRONG BUS

BOOK REVIEW:  The challenge of Africa by Wangari Maathai.

I don’t think  I have ever read a non-fiction book that has brought  me to tears in quite the same way as that of Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai’s : The Challenge of Africa.   The book was borrowed to me by a friend a month ago and now looks like a rainbow coloured index for easy reference on almost any  subject concerning the African continent today.   I do hope that the  new chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma  has a copy of it somewhere for  inspiration.

Like so many good things in life the book is unassuming, it is small enough to  fit into almost any size bag. It is just short  300 pages of easy but loaded reading. The Challenge for Africa, offers the kind of political discourse (forward thinking)  sorely absent on  Africa’s  political round tables, be it news-rooms or Presidential suits.  She puts the truth of  Africa squarely on the table, unapologetically and without the common defeatist attitude, that often polirizes the debates around how to solve the continent’s  problems.  She is also a realist using popular idioms and euphemism or poetic language only to illustrate a practical point.

A CASE OF THE WRONG BUS.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma recently told a friendly gathering of Umkhonto Wesizwe Veterans Association :

“You don’t want to be in a wrong bus, a bus that you don’t know where it’s going….. I don’t just want to be a passenger in a bus , I want to be the conductor, because if someone else is driving this bus, the destination of the bus could be the end of you” – I am speaking as your commisar.”

The wrong bus is the opening theme of The Challenge for Africa. In the books’  introduction Maathai  says of the concept she developed during her 30 years of environmental activism, through her Green Belt Movement for which she was awarded th Nobel Peace Prize:

” Like travellers who have boarded the wrong Bus, many people and communities are heading in the wrong direction, travelling on the wrong path, while allowing others (often their leaders) to lead them further from their desired destination. It is my analysis that much of Africa today is on the wrong Bus”

She further explains this the wrong bus syndrome by offering practical examples of how this plague can be avoided.

” The current (financial) crisis offers Africa a useful lesson and its greatest challenge: Nobody knows the solution to every problem, rather than blindly following the prescriptions of others,  Africans need to THINK and ACT for THEMSELVES and learn from their mistakes”

And that is just the introduction. That paragraph is perhaps the most affirming and empowering statement I have seen or read in a long time. From a leader, a woman, a mother, a healer.  It is both liberating and empowering to think twice before I get into a bus driven by someone who doesn’t know where they are going.

THE GREEN REVOLUTION.

Maathai puts the environment and its conservation at the core/center of the African continent’s hopes for development or progress.  By using nature and the environment and its conservation as springboard for development we can learn from our own and other mistakes and avoid going ont the wrong bus. Africa, she says has an opportunity and a challenge of taking a different bus, that would ensure that most if not all of its citizens enjoy justice, wealth, peace and respect. But in order for the environment to make sense within the current socio-economic conditions, Africans will need to go back and remember who they are. Me too.

CULTURE AS THE MISSING LINK

She is not blind to the legacy of colonialism and how it continues to play a  critical role in Africa’s development.

” while colonialism was devastating for Africa, it has become a convenient scapegoat for conflict, warlordism, corruption, poverty, dependency and mismanagement in the region. Africa cannot  continue to blame her failed institutions, collapsed infrastructure, unemployment, drug abuse and refugee crises on colonialism, but neither can these issues  be understood fully without acknowledging  the fact of Africa’s past”

And here she refers to the self confidence that Africans lost with the arrival and introduction of western ideals through the colonial bus.

“Indeed through their power of suggestion, foreign cultures may reinforce a sense of inadequacy and nurture an inferiority complex in those constantly exposed to them as “better”. She adds ” This is partly why foreign cultures play an important role in power politics and in economic and social control. Once people have been conquered and are persuaded to accept that they not only are  inherently inferior but also should gratefully receive  the wisdom of the “superior” culture, their society is undermined, dis-empowered and becomes willing to accept outside guidance and direction”.

She continues to speak honestly about the use of language as a form of exclusion and dis-empowerment of the majority of Africa’s citizens who may not speak and understand the lingua franca or the chosen national language.

“Language is an important component of culture and an essential means of binding micro-nations together…..

” if people are not allowed to communicate with, at minimum, their local government in their own languages, it is almost as if they are living in a foreign country or being governed by a foreign power.”

The lack of attention to this issue by African governments (leaders) has spurred countless divisions and civil wars between the continen’t micro-nations. I can’t help but think of the current political situation in South Africa including concerns uttered by South Africa’s Deputy president Kgalema Mohlanthe  recently about rising tribal divisions within the country.  The fight for power and control has already begun in Kwazulu Natal and was recently displayed in open air killing of a rival party member outside a magistrates court, in front of the South African Police, Journalists, and the public at large earlier in the week.  You can read about the incident here.    It’s the kind of madness she says her own government in Kenya dismissed back  in 2000 elections –  warning signs which were left unheeded, or unattended to  until they festered and created the kind of election violence which  killed many Kenyans along micro-national(tribal) lines, in 2007.

We should all heed her warning as we prepare for the ruling party ANC’s  elective national conference in December this year and as we move to the national elections  in 2014,

” Where there is poor leadership, Africans need to stand up for the leaders they want and not settle for the leaders they get”

She continues by stating a fact that I am certain resonates, sadly, with too many of Africa’s leaders today:

” Too many African leaders have been the narrow heroes of their micro-nations ( the hutus, zulu’s, kikuyus etc) rather than genuine statesmen for the whole macro-nation (country).  They have played upon people’s desire to follow someone who will lead them from their difficulties into immediate riches rather than joining with them to solve their own problems by exploiting their own talents”

I get chills just reading that quote. The book touches also on the continent’s  ever present cycle of indebtedness,  the land question, its distribution and exploitation, agriculture, education, technology transfer and new skills, the question of the migration and the brain-drain facing the continent. All essential ingredients to peace and democracy on the continent.   I will allow you to read the rest  of  Wangari Maathai’s wisdom and insight for yourself and   trust that between it’s pages you too will discover your own path  – as I believe it’s a book which has something for everyone,  the exploiter and the exploited.  But before I leave you to it, I want to share with you two passages that summarize the essence of Maathai’s message for me (for us).   These are the passages that brought me to tears, and reminded me of who I am, and where I was going before I jumped on the wrong bus….

” In seeking restoration for my continent, I am quite literally restoring myself – as I believe, is every African. Because who we are is bound up in the rivers and the streams, the trees and the valleys….”

And this is MY AHA moment…

“Planting trees, speaking our languages, telling our stories, and not dismissing the lives of our ancestors are all part of the same conservation – all constitute elements of the broader ecosystem on which all human life depends”

My book of the The Year! GREEN POWER!

Poverty Porn & Fake Benevolence

That’s  what Zz;  a good friend and former colleague of mine told me she’s so tired of, over her  plate of garlic chicken and fries at the  Goldmine Cafe  on Anderson street downtown Johannesburg.

She is  wearing her Geeky-in-fashion glasses, but hers are prescription glasses, like mine;   White triangular earnings… a beige  thin and loose wollen top, and an above the knee animal print skirt (not sure which animal) and brown floshem looking shoes – they are in fashion. She looks great. We were both highly traumatized by our last place of employment  and she’s still ridding herself of the sickening dust from the the from the blue-carpet floors and paper brown walls. I left before she did.

I’m joining the ANC Womens’ League she says to me with a straight face.  I admire her. South African politics have become that serious   “You know they have endorsed President Jacob Zuma in the next election?” I say to her.

Their statement reads:

There is consensus among seven of the nine provinces who support continuity within the organisation, and therefore support Comrade Jacob Zuma for the position of President, Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe as Deputy President and Comrade Gwede Mantashe as Secretary General. Limpopo province differs in opinion as to who should be nominated in these positions and Gauteng have been busy preparing for their provincial conference and will contribute once that process has been finalised.

The ANCWL is an advocate of the 50 – 50 principal including the top six officials of the ANC, discussions and consultation is still underway regarding the remaining three positions.

Yeah I heard, she says, but I really want to know what goes on inside, like, What are they thinking? What are they doing?

I sent them ( the ANCWML)  an email the other day,  she continues, asking them what are they doing and they told me about women representation in government  and Nkosazana-Dlamini-Zuma…  and I was like, no like, what practical things are you doing, like what are you doing in Marikana…  ” She dips into her tomato-red fries.

The ANC Womens’ League has been a  key supporter of Zumas’ presidency, including Cosatu – The Largest Labour Union in the country (whose members are now in revolt re:Marikana)  since the ruling liberation party’s  elective conference in 2008. The Limpopo Elective Conference left many in tears of sorrow and jujubilation. It was out with the old ( Former President of the ANC and the country Thabo Mbeki) and in with the new ( enter President Jacob Zuma). I remind her of history,  and it makes me feel slightly old.

They were Zuma’s  key allies during his very controversial rape trial. A trial in which he confessed to having forced himself on his deceased best friends’  daughter who is HIV positive without a condom, and then proceeded to say she wanted it. He used baby oil and a shower as his protection against a  disease which has (is) ravaged the country.  The country was divided.

The ANC women’s League wasn’t, in fact they were more vocal and supported Zuma’ innocence in the trial. They called the rape victim/survivor a whore and a slut. Old/grown women in traditional Zulu costumes  sang, danced and slurred insults at the rape complainant,  exposing their bare bottoms at her for daring to  speak out and stand up for her rights.

They also stood steadfastly by him (silently this time)when in another court trial in 2004 for corruption this time, his friend and financial advisor  Shabir Shaik was convicted of fraud and corruption.  Zuma was implicated and was fired from his  job as the country’s Deputy President.     After along and muddy battle in Polokwane Zuma was made president,  and  Shabir Shaik was released soon after  on medical parole after serving 2 years and four months of his 15 year prison term.  Not only that they have supported him (remained silent) when  Zuma told South Africa recently  that unmarried and childless women were a problem to society. Women needed to be trained through marriage and child birth.

But in the midst of that I found it generally shocking that the ANC women’s league continuously failed to speak out against the many many many cases of  women and child abuse in the country.  I too was made speechless when  they still remained silent when the country stirred after a woman was finger raped by a group of men at  Noord Taxi Rank in downtown Johannesburg because she was wearing a short skirt and therefore had invited them to violate her.

Or their silence on the increase and seemingly targeted rape against Lesbian women living in township. In June at least 10 Gay men and women were killed in South Africa.

“It would be interesting to find out what  they actually do at the ANC Women’s league” I say cutting up a piece of hake.

Ag It’s Angie, she says dejectedly, She wants to keep her job, that’s why the ANC Women’s  league is endorsing Zuma. The road to Mangaung,   (the next ANC party’s elective conference in the North West Province is to take place in December)  is not paved with good intentions.

Angie Motshega is the current ANC Women’s league President and the Minister for The Department for Basic Education. Her department has been marred in  controversy over the The Limpopo Text Book Saga, in which her  department failed to deliver textbooks to primary school children at the beginning of the year. They still don’t have textbooks, even today, it is said by some.

An anonymous teacher had sent an e-mail to Section27 reading: “The minister of education came to our district and threatened us not to talk to the media about the book shortages if we value our careers.”

President Jacob Zuma recently opened a new  school somewhere in the Eastern Cape- near Bizana in fact,  not far from where Zz is from.  He has yet to make any pronouncements on learning  without text books in Limpopo.  He is more aloof that his predecessor when it comes to matter affecting his nation.  Education is suffering in the country and he’s not even looking. The ANCWL doesn’t even seem to care.

I am just so tired of people going around painting schools, donating this and that when it  doesn’t even have to be this way! Why do we still have children learning in mud huts,  or under trees, without textbooks in 2012, I’m so tired of this Poverty Porn and Fake Benevolance! I’m angry! She said  and  we looked at each other in total agreement.

Is any one – are you angry enough to join the ANC Women’s League?  Can we still change it from within or is it time to Amputate and Start Afresh?

Would love to hear your thoughts….

Mythical African Beliefs: A lesson with Wangari Maathai

So a lovely of mine said to me the other day…. you should read this book:

The Challenge for AFRICA by Wangari Maathai, and lent  me her copy.

Normally I don’t immediately read books that people think I should read, but I’m oh so glad I’m reading this one! Perhaps this is a pre-mature book review since I am yet to finish reading it, however I am finding so much of what she’s saying to be so relevant in my own life, my community, country and continent that it’s hard not to want to share.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read non-fiction work which was so relevant to me personally and world generally! I  would like to Thank Ma Wangari Maathai for writing this book. Assante, Siyabonga.

I’m going to share a bit of what has gotten me so excited. Right now I’m in the middle of Chapter  8 in the  14 Chapter book, where she asks: Culture The Missing Link? in the Challenge for Africa and this is how she opens:

“The importance of Africans’  cultural heritage  to their sense of who they are still isn’t  recognized  sufficiently by them, or others. Culture is the means by which a people expresses itself through language, traditional wisdom, politics, religion, architecture, music, tools, greetings, symbols, festival, ethics, values and collective  identity. Agriculture, systems of governance heritage and ecology are all dimensions and functions of culture  – for instance “agri-culture” is the way we deal with seeds, crops, harvesting, processing and eating.

( my thoughts: who owns agriculture in africa? our seeds? processing of food, what we eat?)

“Whether written or oral, the political, historical  and spiritual heritage of a community forms its cultural record, passed from one generation to another, with each generation building on the experience of the previous one. Such a collective self- understanding directs a community in times of peace and insecurity; it celebrates and soothes it during the passages of birth, adolescence, marriage, death and it enables it to survive during transitions from one generation of leaders to another”

So much one can say about that first page opening! She later on adds that it is perhaps  because of this missing link that “African Culture” can be exploited and used to oppress and enslave people in this way..

“… I realized then that it was not just the poor who had been culturally uprooted. Even  those with power and wealth (political leaders; my additions again oh lalala)  were not only unwilling but also unable to protect their environment from immediate destruction or preserve it for future generations.  Since they too, had been culturally disinherited, they did not seem to recognize that they had something to pass on. Although they were the people expected to protect their countries’ wealth, they perceived themselves as passersby, and so took whatever they could on their way through. This also explained to me why many Africans, both leaders and ordinary citizens facilitated the exploitation of their countries and Peoples.  Without culture they’d lost their knowledge of who they were and what their destiny should be.

“Of course.” She adds oh i love this woman ” this problem isn’t only an African one: people all over the world, rich and poor are shortsightedly stripping the Earth of her bounty in favour of acquiring wealth today, at the expense of the survival of future generations, whether theirs or other Peoples’  and she continues on by saying this…” and yet I feel the problem acutely as an African precisely because I am within a generation or two of those who had a culture that, albeit unknowingly , contributed to the conservation rather that the destruction of their environment”

Need I say more… so many links can be made here  with the real and pressure filled struggle for  economic freedom  here in my birth country South Africa, my home country Senegal, my love country Kenya  including each and  every one of the 50 or so Nations and countries in our Beloved continent.

Reading Wangari Mathaai is empowering… because when we know what our challenges are then we can face them. Africa’s political problems have been outlined debased and discussed at Nauseam – and have powered a thousand and one careers  around the world…

This is the first time I’m reading a book is shedding some new light into an old ‘tired” problem –  on what some of the more tangible, sustainable, enlightening , practical solutions could be to these challenging problems…… this book is affirming my thoughts and feelings  in so many beautiful ways I can’t wait learn and discover more of who I am!

I support Maathai’s Vision of HOPE.

Happy Weekend Everyone!