FORGIVENESS: IT’S NOT BLACK OR WHITE. IT’S PERSONAL

It came out of nowhere, just like Die Stem, South Africa’s national anthem from 1957 to 1994. I thought we were all singing Nkosisikela when the veil was finally lifted and sommer Uit die blou van ons se hemel – she dropped a bomb on me.

It was not so long ago when I met her, but when I saw this picture (pic credit ANA)of her at the Memorial service of the Apartheid-era South African Foreign minister, Roelof “Pik” Botha memories began flooding back, to another lifetime.

When I worked as a radio journalist for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC).
My colleagues and I took regular breaks in the smoking room on the second floor of the TV Building in Aucklandpark, Johannesburg.

The smoking room was partitioned with glass walls within the canteen area making all smokers visible to breakfast, lunchtime and afternoon traffic. Despite it being a fishbowl it soon became our ritual to get our refill of coffees and then go in there to join others in innocuous conversations about weekends, leave-days and holidays.

It was during one of these visits to the smoking room that we met. But not in an official sense. I accepted her name without question “Hi, Ina, I’m Jedi – Nice to meet you”

I liked Ina and her crew.

I liked them because they were older women, which meant I could learn more from them.
I liked them because they spoke Afrikaans which was a rare thing to hear in the corridors of the SAUK.

You see, I had gone to an Afrikaans School at some point during my varied school career.
I had been taught Geography, Art and Maths and other things by Afrikaner teachers.

There is something about the language which remains alluring to me. Perhaps because it was for a large part of my life, like English, a language of power and access.

There were parts of it which were beautiful, poetic and sentimental – despite its bloody past.

Imagine, I can still hear the voice of our Afrikaans teacher Meneer Badernhorst screaming loudly in his baritone; se agter my! Liewer Meneer Henshaw! When we recited a book we read in Afrikaans-language class.

Although we all assumed it was an Afrikaans book, it was in actual fact a translation of the award-winning book written by American writer Beverly Cleary called, Dear Mr Henshaw. The book explored difficult topics like divorce, insecurity and bullying through the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy as he writes to his favourite author, Boyd Henshaw. Issues which resonated with me.

And I was not alone. We all loved the book: our multiracial class of Taiwanese, English, Polish, Portuguese, Indian, Coloured and African children from different backgrounds – even if the book was in Afrikaans. We went to an experimental school called: Cultura High.

Even as I write this I can still hear our voices harmonising together at Friday’s assembly to Coenie de Villiers’ Karoonag, a song praising the South African’s semi-desert released in 1990, the same year former President Nelson Mandela was released from Polsmoor prison. I can remember panting to get to my favourite part of the chorus;

“Ruik jy katbos and Kambro, as dit reen in die klein Karoo, my hantemwind, my optelkind vanaand” with my Schoolmates at Hoerskool Newcastle.

And so Ina and her crew filled a part of me which appreciated Afrikaans.

For numerous reasons the language resonated with me; after all, it was still the language spoken in the black townships of Johannesburg encased in a delirious mix of dialects called tsotsitaal.

It was still the coded language used by old topies who were forcefully removed from Sophiatown to Meadowlands under Apartheids’ Group Areas Act of 1913. For them, it was a language of romance, of charm and nostalgia for a time and place they could never return to.

It was the language of style, it was fashionable. It gave you some street cred, it could get you out of trouble with street gangs or the police for that matter.

And so years went by with Ina and I (and others) talking without a care in the world in the fishbowl. Most of our conversations were about pot-plants, decoupage projects, pets, some or other art and crafts which had caught their attention.

Ina loved to play Soduku, she said it was her favourite game especially when she was travelling. Her life was so very different from mine which is what made our conversations interesting.

Ina also gave great advice. She told me I was not ready to own a pet when I mentioned during a conversation, that I was thinking of getting a dog.

“I also want something to do at home in the afternoons and on weekends,” I told her. I needed a reason to be home since I spent most of my time out at work or out with friends. I thought getting a pet would be good for me. “A dog is a very big responsibility,” she responded.

“You have to take it for vaccinations, feed it three times a day, potty train it, take it out for walks. You can’t just go out all night or on holiday and forget about it, you have to make arrangements for the dog.” she said “ Not only that, it can be frighteningly expensive”

After she listed all the responsibilities which come with pet-ownership, I decided against it. I would not be good for the dog, even if the dog would be good for me.

Besides – the truth was I didn’t like dogs. They brought back bad memories. They scared me and I could not imagine keeping one in my yard or home if it had the potential to one day turn on me and bite. I had seen too many children bitten by dogs in Meadowlands.

Our conversations went on like this until one morning. I walked into the canteen, as usual, to find Ina and friends sitting and chatting over pictures of someone who looked familiar to me.

I sat down.“ Why do you have pictures of Pik Botha on the table?”I asked almost in an accusatory tone.
Everyone around the table looked at me and then at each other in slow motion, silently. I could tell there was something wrong.

Until someone ventured to ask, “You don’t know?” “Do you mean you didn’t know?” They asked almost in unison.
“Didn’t know what?” I asked growing concerned.

Ina sat up, straightened her back on the blue chair, flicked her cigarette into the ashtray and folded her red-painted fingernails around her wrist. “Pik Botha is my husband, I am married to him, which is why I have pictures of him on the table,” she said.

I must have looked crestfallen because then she said “Maybe it might change things for you, so I understand if you don’t want to talk to me anymore”

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. My head was spinning. I froze.

Senzensina, senzenina, senzeni na. Senzeni na, soneniana? Sonenina? Jopi!Thente! Bhut’Vusi! Sono sethu ubumyama, sono sethu ubumnyama.

How was this possible? Sitting across from Pik Botha’s wife was akin, at least for me, to a jew sitting across from Adolf Hitler’s wife. I had never been so close to someone who was part of a regime which was instrumental in my oppression, someone who was so close to the centre of the Apartheid machinery.

You see I was raised in Soweto, on a steady diet of struggle songs most of which spat-out and trampled on the name of the Apartheid-former Foreign minister Pik Botha beneath the thud of worn-out converse soles on dusty streets.

Back then Pik Botha along with South Africa’s Apartheid-Era President PW Botha were the boere black people sang about killing and “shooting.”

It didn’t make sense to me that I was now suddenly sitting in front of “one of them.” Not only just sitting with her, but I was also enjoying her company.

What did that make me?

What was more surprising to those sitting around the table was that I didn’t know. How was it possible for me not to know who I was talking to, wasn’t I a “journalis?”

They all assumed that I had been sitting across from her with the full knowledge of who she was and what she represented.

I was blindsided, I did not expect to be working with Pik Botha’s wife.  Never in a million years. Didn’t she have more important things to do than be a producer for SABC?

I couldn’t decipher my feelings at such short notice.

I began to experience a case of cognitive dissonance; a moment of extreme emotional and mental discomfort. I had been holding on to too many contradictory beliefs, ideas and values. Justice versus forgiveness. Peace versus Love.

This new information about who Ina was, clashed with my ideas about race, injustice and relationships.

I didn’t know how to feel. Why should I care who she is married to? She was not responsible for Apartheid even though she had benefited from it.

She could not be racist because I had been happily talking to her for years. But Pik Botha’s wife?  Didn’t he spend his career defending and supporting Apartheid? Didn’t he call black people “terrorists?” On the other hand was he not, like Mandela, capable of change?

I cannot remember what happened next after that revelation, but regardless of the conflict Ina posed to my psyche I chose to continue to talk to her.

Until one day she, through a mutual fish-bowler, invited me to a luncheon at the home she shared with Pik Botha in Pretoria, the capital city of (Apartheid) South Africa.

I didn’t know whether to be afraid or happy. Scared or ashamed, to feel welcomed or feel like a traitor.

I was tongue tied, as I watched Pik Botha sitting at the head of white table sharing stories which were relevant to Ina’s friends who’d met him many times before I had. He was working on a book, a biography, she told us. So that’s why he can’t stay for too long.

Soon enough “Pik” disappeared behind the walls of his leafy mansion into a study filled to the brim with books whose titles I could not imagine.

I was mesmerised. Ina later led us to her art studio where she was busy creating a mosaic made of broken mirrors – is was beautiful. She was indeed an artist, a beautiful, tall thin woman.

She was also fragile. And this was the hardest part for me to witness, on top on the luscious green lawns and her artwork – she didn’t have it all figured out, she cried.

Her heart still broke with the distance that existed between her and her husband which no art project could fill.

She was much younger than him. They married on the 27th of April – Pik’s Birthday and South Africa’s Freedom Day. In 1998 four years after democracy. She was his second wife. That’s all I knew.

Ina had never been mean to me.

So it was hard for me to read all the hate which was flung at her husbands’ feet from white and black people alike.

True, Pik Botha was a polarising character. Hated, with good reason by black people for his support of successive Apartheid governments who entrenched the system of racial segregation and the subjugation of African black people. White (Afrikaner) people hated him with equal venom, they called him a traitor for betraying white people, for being a liberalist-reformist and selling out the party and country to black people.

Either out of convenience or moral conviction, he later became a card-carrying member of the very party he had labelled a terrorist organization – the ANC.

As an experienced negotiator Pik Botha may have assumed along with his compatriots in the ANC, that the negotiated settlement was a win-win situation; South Africa’s new democracy was the best alternative to a protracted civil war. They surrendered, they did not capitulate.

But now as younger generations of (black), South Africans begin to reassess the terms of the agreement – many are beginning to believe that what was once thought to be our best alternative to a civil war, was, in fact, the worst alternative to a negotiated settlement – for black people. The deal was a win-lose arrangement.

And yet this is not what I thought when I heard that “Pik” Botha had died. My immediate response to the news was compassion; “Oh my God, Ina must be devasted”, that’s what  I was thinking.

I knew her personally. So I can not advocate for her demise.

The closest way I can think to describe this episode in my life is through the award-winning German book, The Reader:

When the main character Micheal Berg struggled with the revelation that a woman he’d had an affair with in his teens – Hanna – had been, in fact, a guard at the infamous Jewish concentration camp,  Auschwitz:

I wanted simultaneously to understand Hanna’s crime and to condemn it. But it was too terrible for that. When I tried to understand it, I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding. But even as I wanted to understand Hannah, failing to understand her meant betraying her all over again. I could not resolve this. I wanted to pose myself both tasks – understanding and condemnation. But it was impossible to do both

The German law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink who wrote the book, published The Reader in 1995 to deal with the difficulties post-war German generations have had in understanding the Holocaust. It was a book written specifically for those who came after.

jediwinnie

How are we grappling with Post-Apartheid South Africa? Do we need another book?

Perhaps I can never make you understand anything. But I have chosen to forgive (her).

Forgive in the same way that I have had to forgive the mother of our nation, ANC stalwart and freedom fighter Winnie-Madikeza Mandela, for her role in my favourite uncle’s ultimate death through the Mandela Football club. However, remote the two events may have been.

Even as this brave woman, who was herself tortured, humiliated and locked into solitary confinement for more than 400 days was being honoured and celebrated for being so strong and making the Apartheid enemy bow at her feet.

In my mind, she also contributed to the slaughter of the innocent.

While these were the unintended consequences of the struggle for freedom. For me, it was personal.

As South African women came out in all their glorious beauty,  adorned in colourful African “ Doeks” celebrating Mama Madikizela’s life. Who I also loved. One day in April I walked into the quiet South African Embassy and sat alone and did what I should have done a long time ago.

I decided to make peace with her. Because things did go horribly wrong.

And hate is too much of a burden to bear.

Our predecessors with their flawed and subjective natures tried to combine the best of all of us, South Africans, in one song.  The New South African Anthem, sung in multiple languages represents the past, present and the future we hope for.

As their light is beginning to dim, what remains clear in the spotlight are the bitter facts of the past.

We must all think very carefully about the South Africa we want to live in and who we want to be in it. Peace is a process and a choice we must constantly make in our private and public lives lest we become like the America James Baldwin describes in his 1955 essay,  Notes of a Native Son;

Nobody was interested in the facts. They prefer invention because this invention expressed their hates and fears so perfectly…”

 

 

 

 

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SOLD: How Ramaphosa Managed

This picture of former South African President  Jacob Zuma with the newly elected  South African President Cyril Ramaphosa  brought to mind a 1975 transhistorical film by Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene.  It is a story I will never forget.

Xala! (meaning impotence)  is an adaptation of Sembene’s book with the same name.

If you have time to fill in the gaps with regard to recent events in South African politics, you can watch the film here.

Enjoy!

Change: Angazi, But I’m sure

I was still mulling over a conversation with Frantz Fanon which began a few years ago – about Black Skin, White Masks (1952) when the story of  H&Ms’ Coolest Monkey in the jungle hoodie, made social media headlines
Fanon wrote a number of interesting things in Black Skin, White Masks, but two ideas stayed with me. The first one read like a confirmation letter to something I have always felt but never knew how to pronounce and it is this:

“I am not a potential of something. I am wholly what I am and I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is. It is its own follower” – (Page 103, The Fact of blackness; Black Skin, White Mask)

There’s nothing missing in me. The seed is in the tree. The tree is in the seed. I am whole. I can only grow into what I already am; i.e unless genetically modified an apple seed does not grow into a pineapple tree or into a monkey for that matter.

So what’s the fuss about?

The second idea was more interesting – and perhaps more relevant to our times – so I soaked in it. Remember that Frantz Fanon was not just a political activist.  He was a trained and qualified psychologist whose primary preoccupation was the mind and how colonialism was affecting the minds of black people in  France and French-Martinique – Black Skin, White Masks –  is a collection of his findings and personal reflections based on actual cases of psychiatric patients observed. So while his work was specific to the Black experience of the white man – mutatis mutandis – this quote can be applied to humans as a whole.

“Man is human only to the extent to which he tries to impose his existence on another man in order to be recognized by him. As long as he has not been effectively recognized by the other, that other will remain the theme of his action. It is on recognition by that other being that his own human worth and reality depend” (page 169 – The Negro and Recognition; Black Skin, White Masks)

Imagine the magnitude of such a statement. Fanon is saying that as humans we are ostensibly slaves to one another, we are not human until our humanity (humanness) has been effectively recognized by other humans.  Can you see why most of us ( especially the oppressed) have the need to believe in a higher power – a benevolent God and saviour  who will recognise us when those with whom we share our lives do not or cannot affirm our humanity?

Without a higher power, we are bound, victims of each other’s neurosis.  This neurosis, it seems continues today regardless of the fact that racial segregation laws have been repealed in South Africa. The discourse around race, racism and who is to blame remains unchanged. It is as if we are still living under white minority rule in Apartheid South Africa circa 1981. Fanon has an explanation for this phenomena and it is rightly rooted in the psyche of the black man;

“There is not an open conflict  between white and black, one day the white master, without conflict recognized the negro slave, but the former slave still wants to make himself recognized”

Triggered

So despite having gained freedom and political emancipation from the white man, the black man is still mentally enslaved;  the incidents or periods of trauma are still kept alive psycho-somatically until triggered by  Monkey business. The black man will be obsessed with being recognized by the white man through his academic, cultural, social or financial institutions.  In this context, the black man will not be fully human until he is given the Oscar, or until Ngungi  Wa Thiong’o is awarded the Nobel prize for literature, only then will he become human. And once they have gained the full recognition they will want full control or  the power to retain their right to recognize others or not and the cycle will begin again with white people feeling victimized and marginalized by a loss of power – they will also begin as they are already doing in South Africa, to demand that their humanity, be recognized.

This theory – the need for recognition is the source of almost all conflict in the world and can be applied to most people, communities and nations.

In South Africa today we have an opportunity to begin a new cycle, which does not degenerate into a downward spiral of repeating old habits.

So what does this have to do with the law?

Let me try to explain: Mutatis Mutandis is an archaic, Latin term,  used mostly in the law  which means with “all the necessary, changes having been made.”  It is often found in contracts (and our constitution) to indicate that whatever new terms or changes which have been made in past or present contracts will be applied to all future contracts.

Angazi, but I’m sure,  while not a legal term is a form of defence. It is a vague answer often given to “difficult” questions. It might seem contradictory to you to hear someone say I don’t know, but I’m sure, but in the (black) South African parlance, it isn’t. This is the standard answer given when people know the answer to a question but are not sure if the person asking the question can be trusted with the information.  So Angazi, but I’m sure, means, I know but I don’t know if I should tell you.

I’m sure – in this context – also does not mean that one is certain of what one speaks of, it is used to infer doubt; perhaps/maybe.

It is often used as a response to a question: searching for something or someone.

i.e Q:  Have you seen Jedi? A: Angazi, but I’m sure she’s  around.

In serious circumstances, it is equivalent to pleading the fifth by refusing to answer incriminating questions. It is a non-answer.

This could explain why no one seems to know anything about what is going on in government today, especially ministers and government officials.

Angazi, but I’m sure is a historical colloquialism which carries within it expired struggle codes used to deflect further inquiries by unknown inquisitors. The language was used loosely in the vaguest terms so that the speaker and the listener could not be held accountable for what was not being said.  The term leaves enough room for interpretation – and evasion.

This year members of parliament (our elected representatives) have been tasked with removing the Angazi, but I’m sure, a clause in our collective subconscious and in the practical application and interpretation of the law. They have to define in concrete terms what constitutes a serious violation of the constitution which will be applied henceforth mutatis mutandis to future presidents who may be in the very committee tasked with drafting the rules for the impeachment of a president. As is now the case with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who is being called to defend the very constitution he helped the draft in the 1990s- even though he might ostensibly be guilty of violating its terms.

Will members of parliament draft laws based on the lowest common denominator or are they going to hold themselves and future presidents to the highest ethical standards which are not open to Angazi but I’m sure?

The caveat, of course, is this:  it won’t matter how brilliant our laws are at safeguarding our democracy or bill of rights if they are routinely circumvented by politicians and public officials who are intent on abusing their power.

There needs to be a commitment to hold not only others accountable for their actions – but we must also commit to holding our ourselves accountable to the laws we collective create and agree to; i.e The Constitution.

If we don’t we will continue to say,  Angazibut I’m sure –  Mutatis Mutandis.

 

Unveiling Democracy: It’s A Mirage

I’m here watching as the brilliant pallet of hopeful colours democracy once painted for us in vivid penetrating hues of bright reds, warm oranges, sunny yellows, soft airy blues which so mesmerized the eye that some of us had to squint just to see the picture clearly;  begins to fade.

The dazzling ideal which democracy once hung in front of our eyes is grey now no longer black or white.  Bold or striking in crisp sparkling white or deep saturated blacks – the colours have bled into each other so much that while we are too petrified to pronounce the words describing what this image is fading into – we know for sure that it is not what we once hoped for. It is not about freedom, equality or justice.

The grey clouds in our democratic winter accomplished something remarkable – they have removed the illusions and pretences which we are so desperate to cling to.

It is about money

The tragic election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States has done us, the global public, a favour. In Trump, the true nature of the political system which has been governing our lives has been unveiled in all its raw-callousness.

American prof of Linguistics Noam Chomsky spoke about the construction of a  political system which is  “moving towards a real articulated expression of contempt for the general population,” 30 years ago. In the interview on dissent and democracy in 1988, Chomsky observed a trend in which the political system run by the elite including the intellegencia – increasingly operates without public participation, “where elections have been almost removed from the point where the public takes them seriously as involving a matter of choice.”

In the interview, Chomsky describes a system which we are all too familiar with  by now: A political figure (democratic or republican/ liberal or conservative/ right-wing or left-wing) who represents something, is supported by certain interests, has certain commitments comes before us  produces and says things which the polls  and his advisers tell him  will increase his chances of gaining office; after which he will dispense with everything he has said before to gain office and then proceed with his own commitments,  interests and what is demanded of him by those who supported him and those who provided him with resources. Chomsky noted that while this has always been true  what is interesting now is the extent to which it is recognized to be the “democratic system.”

The election of Donald Trump has caused an uproar among the ruling elite precisely because he has let the cat out of the bag; the political system exists only to protect privilege and power at all costs. Not only has he revealed that the ruling class does not care at all about the so-called ” people” or “general public” –  he has made it clear that it is not in the interest of power for the public to be well-informed, empowered or participate meaningfully in the decisions or choices that government makes. They don’t want that; dissent is a crisis for democracy and since they can’t force people through violent means to do what they want, they have employed sophisticated ways to control what people think; through media propaganda and coercion by pure charm: saying everything we want to hear and then doing the opposite.

While democracies who have bought into the American political ideology of Democratic Capitalism are still pretending that the public has a “choice” – Donald Trump has pulled the hat out of the rabbit.

Even as our politicians continue to say one thing and do something else, we can no longer pretend that the ruling party or opposition parties in our parliaments are there to serve the interests of the public. We cannot pretend that the newly elected president of the ruling ANC in South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is representing the publics’ interest. No matter what he says in eloquent well-crafted speeches. He is only representing the interests of a privileged class the private sector of which he is a high-ranking member.

It is not a conspiracy

We know now from the events of Marikana where at least 34 striking miners were killed in order for Lonmin to continue production – whose side Ramaphosa is on. We know that he ordered government officials to end the strike by any means necessary. We know whose interests the police served when they opened fire. We know whose interests Ramaphosa will serve once he is sworn into office in 2019. We can’t pretend that he has not been obvious about it. We also know from the incidents surrounding the publication of his sex-scandal story who the mass media in this country will support.

Patrons of Power

The elite class including the media exists to serve the interests of power. Chomsky observed  that in this deck’ If you want to be an expert or part of the specialized class you have to be able to serve the interests of objective power – that’s an institutional role that has to be played and if you do it, if you’re able to articulate the interests of people with power, you’re in ‘

The same applies to journalism -if you want to be a journalist he said,  you have to accord the needs of the institution; imbibe its culture and values. Mass media are major corporations (monopolies)  and like any other business, they have to make a profit.  It doesn’t matter what you say to the people, as long as there’s a profit at the end of the day. In this context then the primary function of mass media is to mobilize public support for the special interest of the dominant class.

The role of the government in a capitalist democracy then is also similar; to make laws which protect the property rights and interests of a minority who own and control natural resources, industry and transport.

So, while we continue to live under an economic system where a few private individuals control the means of production and distribution of an entire country – democracy will remain what it has always been. Just a Mirage.

It’s not real  

We are free to the extent to which our freedom serves (profits) the interests of those with power.  That’s the reality.

 

 

Coconut: Soothing oil for growing Afros

I do not know how to make it pretty. I do not know how to mask it. It is not a piece of literary genius. It is the story of our lives. It is our story, told in our own words as we feel it every day. It is boring. It is plain. It is overdone and definitely not newsworthy. But it is the story we have to tell – Coconut (2007), Kopano Matlwa

Done.

Within a few hours of picking up the book from a family friends’ impressive bookshelves, it was all over. I didn’t understand why I had been so resistant to reading it when all those years ago,  I stood hiding behind bookshelves listening to Kopano Matlwa; a precocious medical student then and now qualified medical doctor, health activist, Oxford Scholar and  author of three successful manuscripts (Spilt Milk, 2010 and Period Pain 2017) answer questions about her debut novel, Coconut (2007) which had also scooped the  European prize for  literature in 2008.

It was interesting.

Her audience at the time, composed mostly of white people with some highlights, including myself.  I can’t remember everything that was being said. But I do remember watching myself watch her sitting there, a young woman just like me who had achieved more with her life than I had in my entire my lifetime. Was it jealousy? Envy? Bring her down syndrome? “It’s a day in the life of a black school girl, it takes place in a day,” she said shyly. I wanted to ask a question but I had not read the book so I let the moment pass and continued to inhale the intoxicating smell of new books. I may not be a writer nor a published author but I can, at the very least, read.

It took me a decade, 10 years to be precise to finally read the book which peaked at me from other people’s shelves as if to ask, and me? Yes, yes she’s a gifted writer I would say each time her name came up in conversation about new reads. But I had no idea what was between the books’ covers. Now  I understand why it took me so long to read it from cover to cover in just four hours.

Coconut.

The title of the book rubbed me up the wrong way. I couldn’t get past it even though the cover clearly said; A Novel.  But now that I’ve read every word, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter and all its parts – since I have gone through it. I get it.

I was a victim of words; language meant a lot to me.

I had been called a coconut ( a derogatory term used to describe black-African people who could speak English fluently – i.e black on outside and white on the inside) for so long that by the time Matlwa came out shining in all her brilliance I couldn’t bring myself to purchase or read the insult. It was too much, I didn’t want to relive the experience. The word Coconut had taunted, haunted, bullied, sneered, laughed, humiliated me at every turn. She wants to be white they whispered in front of me, who do you think you are, trying to be better than us eh? they shouted behind my back.

Instead, I drifted to the academic section at the Boekehuis and picked out a much lighter read than what Matlwa offered, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952).

It’s been a rough ride.

Today most (aspirational – middle class) South Africans appreciate that fluency in English(the imperial language) does not mean that the speaker desires to be white nor does it make the person more or less African or more or less intelligent.  Neither does it make them a nice, good, evil or a bad person or vice versa for African language speakers. All these appendages depend on the speaker’s individual character and their motives for speaking or not speaking said language notwithstanding the power structures or systems governing society.

A language is a tool (a means to an end, not an end in itself). It can be used for just about anything under the sun if one has the power and influence to lubricate its application. I have spoken Afrikaans with white English-speaking South Africans in the Middle-East just so that the Arabic-French- English-speaking taxi driver would not hear what we were saying.   In school, we invented code languages so that we could confuse others but understand each other just for the fun of it. We pretended not to understand others so we could hear them speak freely in languages we were fluent in. So we could see or know the man behind the mask.

Obvious. ly

The more languages a person cultivates the better. Words are only as powerful as the value you place on them regardless of where they come from – of course, life is easier if one can use and understand the dominant syntax (power and ideology).  But what you believe  ( i.e hold dear, value or love: the philosophy you live by ) is more important than anything else.

So, I am happy to finally put this delightful, sometimes funny and discomforting story about being a black African in the world today along with its long list of relatives including but not limited to race and identity to bed.

Besides, coconut oil is all the rage for growing  Afros, naturally.

Read it if you can.

 

THE LEADING SEX: DOES GENDER MATTER?

The incoming president of the Business Woman Association of South Africa (BWASA) Happy Ralinala has challenged women to put their money where their mouth is and support at least one of the three women candidates running the presidential race of the African National Congress (ANC). Speaking at a leadership dialogue in Sandton, Johannesburg Ralinala said women hold the majority vote in elections and it is they who have the power to elect a female president – if they so choose. The former managing Executive of Private and Wealth Banking Africa at Barclays Africa Group Limited said women are the ones who put presidents in power because they are the majority but for some reason, they don’t choose well. “We are forever choosing wrong,” she said.

The three senior long-standing members of the ANC; Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the current minister of human settlements and stalwart daughter Lindiwe Sisulu have thrown their hats in the ring to contest the presidency amongst five men in the upcoming ANC Elective Conference in December. Makhosini Nkosi manager for Lindiwe Sisulu’s campaign said Sisulu like Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbethe is running solely on a gender-card. In an interview with Timeslive, he said, “Comrade Lindiwe Sisulu believes now is the time to elect a female president. She is of the view that the more female candidates there are the better. As far as we are concerned we are trying to get Lindiwe Sisulu elected president. That is the mandate of the branches that nominated her,” said Nkosi. According to recent polls, Sisulu has surpassed Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma with a 52 percent approval rating which has seen her being ear-marked as Cyril Ramaphosas’ deputy.  At the same time strongest candidate for president based on experience, Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma’s campaign has failed to take off due to her links to the president and the embattled Gupta family.

So, Happy Ralinala’s comments forced me to reflect on what it actually means to be a woman in politics today. It made me think about the countless women politicians who have repeatedly told me in interviews that once elected into political office women must, just like men, tow the party line since anything else would result in political suicide.

Their sentiments were echoed by one of the panellists at the leadership gathering who said that women often face obstacles in business because they don’t want to play by the existing rules. “ Someone put it very clear to me and said you know Lizzy if you are playing Soccer don’t come with Rugby rules because the Rugby rules won’t do you any good in Soccer. Women, women (we) believe in working hard, we don’t believe in getting sponsors from the corporate world. From the corporate world, one of the most important things is, find yourself a sponsor. Find yourself someone who at the table if no one else mentions your name, they are going to mention your name. Sometimes we think our work is good enough to talk for itself but in the corporate world, it’s the opposite. Those are the soccer rule games, and we want to come with rugby rules in the corporate world. You talk to lots of women and you ask them, who is your sponsor? Some of them don’t have sponsors and you know they start blinking, some of them confuse a sponsor with a coach. Finding a sponsor is someone who is at an influential position who can position you in the organizations. There comes a certain level where your growth is no longer about what you deliver, it’s about who knows you, who knows what you’re capable of and who can vouch for you. It gets to a point where you have to balance those two things of thinking your work will sell you versus getting other people to sell you” she said.

So where does that leave women? What about the case of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who has played by the rules of the party since she was elected into office in 1994 and has never violated party protocol. Not only was she nominated by the ANC women’s league which is infamous for repeatedly nominating male candidates for the ANC presidency in the past, her campaign has been endorsed by one of the most influential men in the country at the moment; President Jacob Zuma. Despite her excellent sportsmanship throughout the years, her presidential campaign has fallen in the shadows of scandals surrounding her sponsor’s camp. Are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater here? Ok. She chose the wrong sponsor, you say.

How about Lindiwe Sisulu who despite having broken protocol by launching her own campaign without the support or endorsement of the ANC women’s league – has been labelled an entitled and annoying candidate? What chance does she stand against the well-oiled machinery of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign? What does playing by the rules mean exactly? Does it mean that one ceases to be a woman when playing a pre-dominantly male game? How can you be a woman playing a man’s game and have that not be a game changer? Is the fact of being a woman in politics enough of a game-changer in and of itself?

Should it matter? Should women be judged by how well they play a man’s game since politics is a man’s game and men are political animals? Should women be playing a different game? Do women have a game of their own? Are there different standards for women in politics? Should we vote for one of the three candidates simply because they are women?

How about the speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete who went against the grain and took a decision to welcome a  vote of no confidence against her own party leadership? Will her bold move help her realise her ambitions to one day become madam president? Who will sponsor her now?

Is it not the same rules in this political game of sponsorship and name-dropping which has led to the corruption we are witnessing from the upper and lower echelons of government and business? If we are playing by the same rules how will we ever change the status quo?

Since none of the opposition political parties have put forward a female candidate for leadership – will we be forced to vote for the ANC if we want to see a woman become president in 2019?

Why should it matter that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is endorsed by President Jacob Zuma? Why can’t she be judged on her own merits? Why can’t we vote for her because she deserves it, worked hard for it, played by the rules? None of the candidates who’ve raised their hands for the presidency are scandal-free. All of them to some degree have blood on their hands. Does it matter if their nails are painted with crimson red nail polish or not?

At this point in the game, I’m not sure what matters more. The type of underwear one puts on in the morning or the kinds of thoughts and ideas one dreams up at night. Is an idea’s merit dependent on the sexual organs of the person who conjures it up or not? But what I do know for sure is,  of the two – one is an incident of nature which for the most part can’t be helped and another is a choice.

So do we choose women because their gender made it impossible for them to make different choices? Or do we elect women because they made different choices period?

Who is more deserving of the presidency between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Baleka Mbete and Lindiwe Sisulu? All of them are running on the gender-card in the same (slate) political party. Is being a woman more important than being ethical and principled? Why should we use these standards on women and not on men?  What qualifies men to be President? Is it because they are men or because they know how to play the game?

Happy Ralinala also noted that even though the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May is a woman,  she has not raised any gender-related issues during her tenure including how the Brexit saga affects women.  So then what does it mean to be a woman president? Should it mean anything?

In the US some women like actress Susan Sarandon who famously said “ I don’t vote with my vagina” turned their back on Hillary Clinton saying their vote was bigger than the two candidates contesting the 2016 elections. They refused to vote for the lesser of the two evils saying both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton stood for Capitalism and Financial interests which are destroying the environment, even if their approaches are different. So should South African women vote with their vagina’s this time?

What do we do in this situation?

 

 

POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

[LISTEN]

Take a trip to Nairobi, Kenya and you will find a country at war with itself where political contest continues to be a zero-sum game. Next to them in Kampala Uganda even the right to protest is under threat so, citizens and politicians wear red headbands instead.Or you can go across to Togo over Benin in the west and find multitudes of people protesting 50 years of autocratic rule or fly a take a short flight to Nigeria to find a country divided with a people still seeking cessation – Biafra calls. Next door to them in Cameroon hundreds have died in protest against a controlling government. If you like, drift placidly down to Zimbabwe where citizens have resigned themselves to their fate – President Robert Mugabe for life. Or glance up to South Sudan where millions cross the border daily seeking refuge from a hailstorm of bullets flooding their homes. Let your eyes settle for a moment in the Democratic Republic of Congo which has been in the grip of a low-level civil war since King Leopold the second of Belgium declared it his personal property. The landscape is littered with people who are in pain displaced in their own countries because even though the lights are on – there is no one home. There’s no one to listen. There is no compassion or empathy. No sense of duty except, the duty to explicitly self-enrich at the expense of all others. Greed is killing people.

Everything seems set in stone until…

Someone comes along who does something remarkable. His name. Jose Pepe Mujica. Ironically described by the media as the poorest president in the world. In an interview with Al-Jazeera’s’ Lucia Newman in 2013, the 82-year-old former president who served  Uruguay between from 2010 and 2015 …. sips bitter tea, in a small living room barely large enough to fit a TV crew and decorated with shelves full of books which he shares with his wife and a three-legged dog. He speaks like somebody we know

“No. I’m not a poor president,” he said. “Poor are those who describe me as poor. My definition of poor is those who need too much because those who need too much are never satisfied. I am frugal, not poor”

Which means he’s economical about how he spends his money, giving  90 percent of his salary back into public service.

“Frugal with a light suitcase. I live with little, just what’s necessary. Not too tied down to material things. Why? so that I can have free time. For what? to do what I like.Freedom is having time to live. Living Frugally is a philosophy of life but I’m not poor. I have a way of life that doesn’t change because I’m president.

I earn more than I need even if it’s not enough for others. My wife is a senator and she has to contribute a lot to her party. But her salary is enough for us to live. And we still have a bit left over which we put in the bank just in case. I contribute to my political group and projects like housing for unmarried mothers. For me, it’s not a sacrifice it’s a duty.”

He explains

“I don’t oppose consumption. I am against waste.  We have to produce food for the hungry, roofs for those who need a home. Build schools for those who don’t have schools. We have to solve the water problem now. If every powerful person has three, four, five cars and needs 400sq meters to live and a house on the beach and an aeroplane to get here and there… then there isn’t enough for everyone. What does modern science tell us? It tells us indisputable facts. If the current world population aspired to consume like the average American. We would need three planet earth(s). Which means that if we continue tossing out things. Naturally, a great part of humanity will never have anything. They are doomed.”

Mujica only has one car, a 1980s beetle golf. When asked why he hasn’t tried to change the status quo or how his fellow countrymen live,  he doesn’t beat about the bush.

“Because if I tried to impose my way of living on the rest they’d kill me. They’d kill me I know it. But allow me the freedom to express myself. Because we complain about global warming while we assault nature by producing so much waste. We are mortgaging the future of the next generations. I can’t fix this as a government, I am a prisoner of this myself. What I’m pointing out is where we are heading. True there is extraordinary waste here. There are houses only used 20 days a year in Punta del Est. Luxurious houses while other’s don’t even have a shack to sleep at night. It’s crazy unjust. I oppose that world, but I am a prisoner of that world.”

The former Marxist guerrilla fighter is against re-election. For him, a president in a republic is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is neither a King nor a God. He is especially not – a witch doctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant and as such he must leave and be replaced. Mujica believes the ideal way for a president to live is like the vast majority of the people whom he is attempting to serve and represent.

“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay to help the most vulnerable and leave behind a political way of thinking a way of looking at a future that will be passed on and used to move forward. There’s nothing short-term, no victory around the corner. I will not achieve paradise or anything like that. What I want is to fight a common good for progress. Life slips by, the way to continue it is for others to continue your work.”

 

Once in a while, something so surprisingly beautiful happens.Just when you think you are going to fall into an endless tunnel of nothingness suspended in space and time, you blink and there it is. A, way.

The question is, will you choose it?

 

THE EFF: AND ITS LANGUAGE GAME

Click here to listen to the audio version of this article.

It is rather unfortunate that the newest political party in South Africa chose to name itself the Economic Freedom Fighters because instead of it articulating that it is a political party which stands for economic freedom for the majority of the country’s citizens it sounds as if they are a political party fighting (against) economic freedom.

The difference here is analogous to a recent incident involving a tweet by US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. After a long day of making speeches and meeting with heads of state at the United Nations’ General assembly, Ivanka Tweeted: “Cuddling with my little nephew Luke…the best part after an otherwise incredible day”. Media personality and celebrity Chrissy Teigen didn’t waste time correcting Ivanka’s grammar and syntax. “otherwise makes it sound like you didn’t like hangin’ with this baby” she reacted to the tweet, later adding that “overall, is the word.” Twitter fell in love with Chrissy Tiegens’ comments who has been outspoken about her hatred for Trump, promptly crowning her Twitter’s Grammar Police in Chief.

The sentence construction is wrong because ‘otherwise’ in this context is an adverb that means in other respects or apart from that’. Even though most people would agree that Ivanka wrote the exact opposite of what she actually meant, she would not be forgiven for it because she represents Donald Trump – a man a section of American people and parts of the world love to hate.

Obviously, this is the kind of mistake that would be understated had Ivanka been president Obama’s daughter – and in the larger scheme of things it does nothing to change the status quo in the United States government. Donald Trump remains president. Tiegen interestingly is also an admirer of Ivanka Trump. She said as much in a Glamour magazine interview last year saying she thinks Ivanka should run for office.’I think Ivanka seems like an incredibly wonderful businesswoman and mother. She has enviable poise and grace in a very difficult situation”

While the party’s inclusion of the word “fighter” is unfortunate – it was no mistake, it was a strategic and deliberate choice for them. The word holds symbolic meaning both for the party’s commander-in-chief Julius Malema who is fighting back against the man and political party which made him and a growing number of black South Africans disillusioned with the ANC who are seeking a new political home. It hearkens to an epoch which animated and motivated thousands of African black people across the country’s townships to take to the streets in an effort to overthrow the Apartheid government only to discover that the system still stands in post-Apartheid South Africa. It calls on ghosts who lie restless in a cemetery of a stunted revolution.

In this context, Julius Malema behaves much like the one eyed-character of Raletloana in the popular 1980’s South African drama series Lesilo Rula, who blew on a horn calling on the ghost of Lesilo to arise from its’ grave and attack his opponents whenever his words failed him. Fighter triggers the widely repressed belief in the psyche of black South Africans that the war was not won in 1994 and that it somehow continues on albeit in a different form. The word fighter, like otherwise, diminishes the objectives of the political party to achieve Economic Freedom overall.

Much like the overall uniforms, the party’s MPs wore in parliament when they were sworn in for the first time – did nothing to advocate for improved working conditions or the enforcement of a minimum wage for thousands of the country’s domestic and mine workers. All we’ve heard since the EFF was elected to parliament is Zuma, Zuma, Zuma.

Julius Malema rose to the top by using fear; the fear of violence and death as a weapon against his competition. He shouted from podiums that he will kill for Zuma and sang struggle songs saying “Kill the boer “or “Dubula’bhunu” which captured the imagination of all South Africans black and white for different and opposing reasons including the media which loved to hate him.

Now recently he and his fellow fighters who have become media darlings, caused a stir in parliament for calling President Jacob Zuma, Duduzane’s Father, claiming that Zuma is not their president. When reproached for using Duduzane’s Father as a pejorative he countered that in his culture calling a man by his son’s name is, in fact, a sign of respect. Which is true when you are visiting him in his domestic abode and not so much when addressing a head of state at the national assembly.

The EFFs haggling in parliament has been canonized in a house song called “ UbabakaDuduzane” featuring a variety of South African dance moves including that of President Jacob Zuma dancing outside the ANC’s headquarters in 2009 – following a victory at the polls, which Julius Malema and co. helped him win.

All of this makes the EFF look like a party which is employed to dramatically over-react in a play they did not write. While Malema and his supporters seem to challenge traditional or orthodox political thought, on one hand, they do so by deliberately manipulating language using context transcending narratives where it suits them and employing genealogical contexts when it is expedient for them, on the other. They are shape-shifting composites of multiple ideas becoming other while producing something which is continuously metamorphosing: pandering to power structures while simultaneously throwing them off.They pose in red and black academic gowns celebrating their academic achievements – while simultaneously attacking the very foundations of the education they want to make “fashionable.” Unlike Burkinabe President Thomas Sankara whose ideology they used as a red carpet on their way to claim their seats in parliament, they are not upright.

Julius Malema and his fighters are in parliament not to empower but to get their own back much like the Sicarios; zealots of Jerusalem who hunted the Romans for invading their homeland. They are agents provocateurs captured by a power unknown to us which is using them as bait or as a distraction in the real takeover taking place in the country. Their motives and overall objectives so far seem to advocate for the opposite of economic freedom, for all.

SO MUCH MATERIAL: TOO LITTLE TIME

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations” George Orwell.

Last weekend’s publication of a scandalous story which revealed that South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is alleged to have been nicknamed cupcake by one of his mistresses – has left the country’s journalists and editors accusing each other of taking sides in the current power struggles ravaging the ruling party ANC ahead of its  54th National elective conference in December.

“I must admit that I am terribly disappointed in Ramaphosa, just one affair? What kind of presidential contender has one affair? “Cyril Ramaphosa the story that couldn’t.”

“South Africans don’t care about their leader sexual lives” “No lethal blow to Ramaphosa’ Campaign Over sex scandal, yet” “Cyril’s sex ‘scandal’ a damp squib.” “Nobody Cares About The Ramaphosa Sex Scandal” Some accused the editor of being a drama queen lacking in journalistic ethics after he complained of receiving death threats following the stories’ publication.

With twitter having cooled off from posting cupcake memes the editor in question published an opinion piece midweek explaining his actions while also accusing his colleagues in the media of pressuring him to reveal his sources vowing to stand for truth. The Mail and Guardian which published his position warned journalists to manage their biases.

“Power is being contested here. And whenever power is being contested, it is ugly. It is therefore imperative that all of us who work in the media to remember what happened in the run-up to Polokwane. Journalists and publications chose sides, they were proxies for factional battles and they were betrayed.” The editorial concluded that “We are journalists. But we are not freedom fighters. Noble though our work is, we must abandon our self-righteous zeal. Truth, justice, puppies and rainbows are sure to follow if we’re able to report the news as we ought.”

In theory ethical journalism is supposed to be about constrained expression, not free expression. It is supposed to be about professionals who impose self-restraint based upon the respect for others and an attachment to ethical principles. But this can only be done in an environment free from pressure and intimidation – which is why journalists should have a vested interest in defending and promoting high standards of human rights, which includes, in this case, the right for the editor in question to publish the story instead of attacking him.

Make no mistake.

The current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is a very powerful man. He not only has deep roots within the ANC and government, but he has amassed an immense amount of wealth and influence in the business sector since the advent of democracy.  He is a man well versed in almost all sectors of South African society.

But perhaps the most telling aspect of his character lies not in his alleged extra-marital affairs which he dismissed as “dirty-war-tricks” employed to damage his campaign for the presidency but his role leading up to the 2012 Marikana massacre in which 34 Lonmin mine workers were killed by South African police.  Ramaphosa who was the director of Lonmin at the time used his influence to order the police minister to deploy close to 800 policemen to the Koppie in Marikana and later persuaded them to end these “dastardly acts.”  He was calling striking mine workers cowards who lacked courage.

These are known public facts.  In May this year, the Deputy President apologised for his role in the Marikana Massacre saying it was an unfortunate use of language. Unfortunate words from someone who is a lawyer, a skilled negotiator, drafter of the country’s constitution, a businessman, a labour union specialist who at some point in his illustrious career represented the rights and aspirations of mine workers in South Africa. It’s his about turn from negotiating a peaceful settlement to putting pressure on government officials to do something which caused a huge blood stain on the very democracy he helped to build – which worries me.

He lacked restraint.

This image of Deputy President is more troubling to me.  I wonder about his motivations and whose’s interests he is serving or will serve once he becomes President. This alleged sex-scandal only serves to corroborate what we already know, Ramaphosa is a man, like President Zuma, who lacks restraint.  He just goes about it in a way which is more discreet and acceptable to the majority of South Africans. It is what he is capable of doing behind closed doors as illustrated in the Marikana massacre which makes this sordid story about his alleged sexual-exploits, ultimately relevant.

The attacks against the editor in question who was granted leave this week due to stress and trauma suffered as a result of publishing the story only serves to make us forget about history. To divert attention from what matters.

The failure by most South African journalists and editors to defend the editor in question’s right to publish the story without fear or intimidation is also troubling. This year has not been easy for the journalism fraternity and while journalists came out in full support for Journalists standing up against censorship at the SABC. Their silence on the rights for the editor in question to publish a story revealing the hidden character of a man who is in the running for the highest office in the land,  even after the editor has complained of harassment and death threats – is disturbing.

What is this story about?

As with the recent saga of Bell Pottinger, we know that there are many ways to manipulate the media and or public opinion. One of them is complete censorship and suppressing of information. The other is releasing an avalanche of information some of which is misleading, false, true or useless aimed at keeping said target preoccupied with sifting the sheep from the goats. Perhaps the editor in question and his colleagues may have been the victims of a Phishing attack or suggestio falci – a case of having too much information with little time to make sense of it. Time is currency in Journalism and unfortunately, it may have worked against him this time around.  But he still has the editorial right to publish information without fear or intimidation even if we don’t agree with its contents or deem it to be a “good” story.  None of us are beyond reproach in this business.

If President Jacob Zuma and his supporters are capable of engaging in nefarious activities to hold on to power and influence – what makes us think that the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters are not when history tells us otherwise?

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
― George Orwell

 

TJOVITJO: I’M SORRY, WHAT?

The recent exchange between ‘the people’s bae’ South African Member of Parliament and Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi (PhD) and a candidate for the SABC board  Rachel Kalidass, got me thinking about the politics of representation, race and class in the country.

During the interview ‘the people’s bae‘ leaned into his mic and asked, ‘what do you think about Tjovitjo?” The respondent Kalidass, a chartered accountant and former SABC board member evidently flustered by his question, batted her eyes lids behind clear thin glasses and then answered the MP with her own question “I’m sorry, what?”

After a few rounds of clarification, Kalidass who is included in the final list of 12 names recommended to serve on the SABC board,  eventually answered that not only does she not know who or what Tjovitjo is she is, in fact, more inclined to watch SABC 3 which is a channel geared towards urban metropolitan South Africans – who are global citizens, well read, well-travelled and earn on average over 17 thousand rands a month (LSM 7-10). Tjovitjo is aired on SABC 1 which targets the often-rural peri urban working class South Africans, with some primary education and earn between one thousand and 6 thousand rand a month (LSM 1-6).

The question and her answer were laughed off by the parliamentary panel. But it got people on twitter tweeting on opposite lines of the fence. Some argued that she is not a board member of the SABC 3 channel only and should rather stay home while others countered that she can’t possibly be expected to know all programming on SABC’s numerous platforms.

Be that as it may. I sight this incident which is possibly innocuous in the context of everything else that’s happening both within government and at the SABC, because it speaks directly to what concerns me the most about the state of our nation.  The jarring,  growing and consistent disconnect between those who are elected to serve or work for the public’s interest and the actual public.

Kalidass and her colleagues are faced with a mammoth of task of restoring the  image, reputation and credibility of the public-state- broadcaster from a long history of scandals, mismanagement, corruption, undue political interference and censorship which led to the firing of its most controversial  Chief Operations Officer (COO) to date, Hlaudi Motsoeneng,  the purging of the SABC board, the firing of SABC8 journalists who blew the whistle against  increased censorship in the broadcaster’s news division. Censorship which later led to the untimely death of SABC8 journalist Suna Venter three months ago.

Viewed in this historical context, Tjovitjo a 26-part drama series about the lives of a group dancers amatjovitjo, who live in peri-urban-poverty-ridden-opportunity-less squatter camps who use dance as way to not only express their frustration with their lives but to overcome them – is the only good news story to have come out of the SABC in recent months. The drama series drew more than 5 million viewers for its first episode breaking the SABC’s own records since Yizo-Yizo, a popular youth drama series which aired in 1999-2004.

While watching episode three of the series it felt so real I cried real ones when one of the protagonists – a young unemployed school dropout and mother who pays for her child’s transportation to school with sexual favours – broke down crying saying, “I’m tired of this life, every day I must hustle, hustle, hustle for everything.” Her mother who sat quietly by responded: “don’t cry my child everyone is living this life.” Everyone must hustle.

Despite the positive reviews which praised the producers and actors for their brilliant artistry. I realized how exhausted I was by this seemingly never-ending story of black poverty. I began to think to myself  –  if I never see another inspirational story of South Africans dancing and singing their way through the dusty streets of some township, ghetto, crime ridden, corrupt, poverty-stricken, hungry smiling, disease laden squatter camp – it will be too soon. Too soon indeed.

Despite the many misgivings I may have about the stereotypes which persist in the series and questions of whether we are not in some ways continuing to monetize the anxieties and suffering of black people. I also know this:

TjoviTjo is about the 30 million South Africans who are currently living in poverty, the majority of whom are black (women) people who watch SABC1 for entertainment. It depicts in real and tangible terms what the government and the ruling party ANC have failed to do and still need to do. This is what Tjovitjo represents. The lived experiences of more than half of the country’s population.

Like Kalidass I myself am inclined towards the upwardly mobile educated lifestyle populated with people who are travelling the world and read books for leisure, who isn’t? Except that I have been there before. I have lived among those people who reside in the forgotten wastelands of our rainbow nation and together we met the glare of hopelessness in the eye and danced sePansula by candle light until midnight to while away the time. We danced, rehearsed every chance we could to stave off hunger or the desire to do something more damaging to our prospects. We danced against despair and we danced for survival.  I know how significant it is to shout or hear screams of tjovitjo!!! Amid whistles and claps of appreciation from friends as we fall into step together. So, I cannot afford not to know. I cannot afford to look away and as a public representative, neither can she. Because the only hope we all have of changing this particular story is to face it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try to understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

― Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living