IF WE DON’T TELL THE TRUTH WHO WILL? – ZOLA NTUTU

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It’s difficult. I am at a loss for words and a piece of me is still hoping that it’s not true.  My former SABC Radio News Assignment editor and Veteran  Journalist  Zola “The General” Ntutu has passed away. Found dead, in bed, alone in his flat on Sunday the 20th August 2017. I was talking to him just the other day, about work. I wondered if what I was proposing was worth his time he said no, he doesn’t think it would be worth his time. I agreed with him and wished him well. Just a few days ago. How could he now be no more? Yes, my Facebook timeline was often filled with regular updates regarding his health. He was frequently in and out of the hospital, I would comment on his thread at times; “Strength to you Zola” or “Get well soon  General” (a name he got for his struggle days in Port Elizabeth). But lately he had been posting cheerful stuff, jokes about women, men and soccer fans being sore losers.  So I assumed all was well. After our conversation, I had no reason to believe that those would be the last and final words I would say to him. Stay well. You see I had a vested, selfish interest in his survival, in his life because I was hoping to eventually give him a copy of my book one day, a book inspired in part by him and journalists of his generation. I had hoped that he would open the book and read about himself, through my eyes.  Read about how he was such a strong and ever-present dependable influence and character in my tenure as a radio journalist at the SABC.  It was my way of thanking him for teaching me how to write, how to tell a story, a great radio story – more importantly he taught me how to think, how to defend, clarify, argue my positions when we debated stories in diary meetings or when he’d call me to sit by him while he edited my stories. Think Jedi…. What do you mean by this….  Nooo man Jedi but this does not make sense, what are you trying to say?  I can still hear his voice loudly in my head as I write this. What am I trying to say? Gosh it was meant to be a surprise.

To be honest there was something stinging about his last words to me.   When he replied that it wasn’t worth his time.  I mean I knew it wasn’t worth his time, I was surprised by his interest. But I still felt a tinge of sadness, I wanted to know what he was busy with instead.  I didn’t want to pry into his private life yet I  knew  I could trust him to be honest, to always tell me the truth even if I didn’t want to hear it. Like when I returned from my first international assignment. He didn’t mince his words, “You f***d up” and he was right. Or when I refused to get married “you must light other people’s candles, don’t be selfish” or when I was job hopping “You’re all over the place, you need to settle down”

Why didn’t I think to say thank you then while I still had his attention, why hadn’t I told him then that I thought he was one of the best editors/journalists I knew?

Why hadn’t I told him that despite everything, I respected him?

Because I thought I had time. I thought I would walk into the Johannesburg SABC radio news office, my second home for close to ten years and still find him sitting there, at the corner wearing his black leather jacket or an African print shirt, a black beret, or rolled up woollen hat on his head, editing radio scripts or asking yet another radio journalist what they meant by this sentence – place the book next to him on his desk and say thank you. Enkosi. Check.

Ours was a largely professional relationship. I met him when I was 20 while still an intern, lost and confused at the World Racism Conference in Durban, 2001. He was loud, boisterous, argumentative, playful, witty, dark, broody, moody, his laugh was lyrical, loud, and foreboding all at once. I didn’t know what to make of him. He put the fear of God in me and I was a born-again Christian. It took a very long time for me to warm to him and relax. Because I didn’t know how to deal with I treated him like a distant father figure, an elder, a strict, wayward but favourite uncle.

And yet Zola Ntutu was no respecter of titles, positions, hierarchy, social class, power structures he was, for the most part, the most irreverent person I knew. I was curious about him and found him simultaneously open and closed off to me. I stalked him in other ways, by listening to his archived radio stories, in particular, those he produced around the TRC, and I caught glimpses of him in Antjie Krog’s book of the on the TRC hearings, Country of my Skull.  He reported extensively on the pre-election violence in the early 1990’s in various townships, particularly on Johannesburg’s  East Rand. But for a large part he remained a mystery to me, a Pandora’s box I was afraid to open. I didn’t know about his background in photojournalism, though he liked my photojournalism after I had left. He seldom spoke of himself. And so for years, he remained to me an elder and boss but never a peer.

Until he showed up one day after a group of us (women) journalists while off-duty had been robbed at gunpoint at   Johannesburg’s’ Zoolake, he drove out to the scene to make sure that we were all still breathing. I saw how unbelievably tender his heart was. I got a glimpse of what was hiding behind his loud, witty and brooding often hung-over face. He was a softie. Tender and kind. A man who cared deeply about life,  he was perhaps a closet idealist. I found a new fondness for him and in my heart, he became more than a comrade, more than an editor and more than my boss. He was a Kindred. He made a fuss. He cared. He was passionate, compassionate, loving.  Even when he barely grunted a hello on Monday or weekend mornings walking past my desk, or when shouted where’s your script or bellowed my name at the top of his voice from his office, even though at times I dreaded it when he was the editor on duty because he would (not) let things slide; he would interrogate you, send you to stories you didn’t want to cover or make you write about subjects you didn’t think were newsworthy because he had won the argument about why that story was important. He was intellectually rigorous.  Could debate you on any subject.  He was tough, stubborn, relentless and often difficult, he challenged me and sometimes this made him seem impossible. But despite all of that I knew that he was my comrade.

He was with us in the trenches. He defended us at Line talk. He was a journalists’ ally.

Before I finally left the SABC for the second time, post-Marikana we had a difficult conversation. About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst journalists an underlying theme of the book,  I’ve been working on. He said it was a huge problem in South African newsrooms. One which both editors and journalists neither dealt with or were prepared for.  I was trying not to lose my temper and argue with him.  Because he was not well.

It’s hard to describe a  journalists’ relationship with an editor. It’s personal, intimate, often vacillates from love to hate in a matter of milliseconds. Sometimes frustratingly hostile, bitter, competitive, tearful and at other times joyful, funny, sarcastic other times endearing, full of tension, admiration and mutual respect. It is also at the same time distant, detached. Alien, foreign, clinical.  More than that though the editor knows things about you. They know all the unedited parts of you. They see you every day, raw and unpolished and like a parent, they clean you up, show you how to do it, and hope you can one-day do it yourself and surprise them, in a good way.

It’s hard for me to describe my relationship with him and for all these reasons I couldn’t for the life of me ask him. I couldn’t get the question out of my mouth. What I wanted to know the most during our interview.

There was so much that was left unsaid.

What I know for sure though, is that Zola Ntutu always had time for me. He had time for me and my fellow (former) Johannesburg Radio News Journalists.  He fought with and for us, he forced us to grow. He pushed us even when he himself was weak and, barely breathing.  He made the time for each and everyone of us.  My words, our words mattered to him, not because he was paid to look at them, but because we shared the same belief about the reason many of us had become journalists.

“Our job is to tell the truth if we don’t who will?”

And for that, I will be forever grateful. I never thought I’d see these words so soon.

Zola Ntutu,51, has died. Checked.

Out and I am heartbroken.

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LOAD-SHEDDING: CONVERSATIONS IN THE DARK

Years ago I discussed a desire with friends to graffiti-bomb all the walls in Johannesburg with these words “we need to talk”. I imagined the words printed in large bold fonts everywhere on bumper stickers on cars, on posters held by the homeless, jobless, hopeless, entrepreneurs standing on street corners and traffic light intersections. Under bridges, and in huge neon signs in Hillbrow. I saw the words all over on billboards in Sandton, on the M2 Highway and all the way to OR international airport. On shop windows and kitchen doors. I wanted the message to be as loud and clear as John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s  World peace campaign of 1969 –  in which they printed huge posters and billboards saying the  “war is over – if you want it”.

I expressed this desire because I was a little frustrated with the huge elephant in the room that I kept bumping into which no one seemed to want to talk about or even name. I was restless perhaps a little frustrated. I didn’t want a confrontation, just a simple conversation, even though the words “we need to talk” have an ominous ring to them and are bound to send one into a fit of panic and anxiety. How else should one say we need to talk?

When I was sharing this desire with friends I imagined  “we need to talk” as a three month long advertising campaign for my upcoming  radio show in which I, as the host will talk to anyone and everyone who needs to talk about something important to them. A show similar to an appointment with a therapist, a psychologist or seeing a councillor. The guest would choose the subject to be discussed, the role of the host would be to guide the interview and give it some kind of structure from which to navigate.

A conversation with no preconceived ideas, or prejudgements. The topic under discussion will of course be of relevance to the public or be of public interest. There will be no open lines. No comments read on Twitter threads or Facebook timelines. Just one guest and their story. A radio conversation with a mystery guest and a known host. Jedi Ramalapa.

We do talk a lot as a nation, turn on any radio station or television set and you’ll hear lots  of chatter and people talking about a lot of things. Yet we still  ‘need to talk’ as a nation. We need more than just talking actually, we need more than just one voice talking at us, or shouting, or instructing or ‘advising’. More than just talking we need to listen as a nation. We need to hear the heart of the nation, of our grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, uncles and aunts, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends, neighbours, colleagues, street kids, the homeless, the home owners, tax payers, non-tax payers, the wealthy, the poor, the politicians, workers, servants, drivers, butchers, bakers, nannies, teachers and their students.  No pointing fingers. No blaming. No forgone conclusions. Just a conversation.

I came to think more about this concept now that we’re going through load shedding also known as electricity or power cuts in South Africa. An how this down time, for most our electrical appliances, is an opportunity for us to do some load-shedding of a different kind. The kind one does at a confessional booth or on a sofa with a therapist.

STAGE 1

At first I  suppose as with most South African without alternative sources of energy such as a generator or gas, I was  simply at a loss as to what to do in that time.  If your phone or laptop is not fully charged, there’s not much else one can do but read, write or talk to someone without power. The darkness  revealed so much to me about how much I had become attached to the internet, to my laptop or computer, to music playing in the background, to tea and coffee every five minutes,  to filling my time with things to do, with movies on youtube and searches on google.  I watched with the same fascination how lost my family members became. At first we tried to endure the darkness on our own and in our own terms. Some went straight to bed, some held on to the last green bars on their phones and tablets, others paced around looking helplessly for a miracle for the lights to come because when there is electricity, when we have power we don’t need each other so much, everyone can be absorbed in their own individual world, and individual experience on laptops, tablets or phones, television cooking and music. There’s always something to do when you have power and electricity.

STAGE 2

After a few naps and time alone in the dark I started to use the two hours to have conversations with my sister. In the dark. We started talking and listening to each other, without the spot light, as if in a dream. We started having conversation about life and these were what I missed the most when the lights came back on. We started having candle lit dinners at home. And having conversations around the dinner table. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do in the dark, we were obliged to be with each other in ways that were not possible when the light is on.  A lack of power or electricity, has brought us closer, made us more patient, and more ready to listen to another, because let’s face it it’s not fun to be alone in the dark.  Amid the bad news of the economy going down, decreasing levels of productivity in the country and all the other  negative side effects of power cuts,  being able to have down time and talk to those near and dear, with no distractions has been a blessing.

STAGE 3

As if Eskom once upon a time read my mind, and decided to launch my campaign pre-maturely setting a  talking schedule renamed load shedding. We now have at the most 6 hours each week for quality talking time for the near future. Even though not having electricity or power is more than just annoying we can use the time to do other things that we would not do if we had the power, such as listening to the radio in our cars, listening to our mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, sharing our deepest dreams, and deepest desires out  of the spotlight. The benefits of talking and listening without judgments can be incredibly beneficial, life changing and freeing.  It is as if the cloak of darkness somehow as in a radio show, makes it easy for one to open up outside of the constant spotlight. I for one look forward to loadsedding.

We need to hear. We need to feel. We need to understand. We need to accept. We need to move on. We need to listen.  We need to talk.

It’s time.

MY FIRST LOVE (s) : RADIO with APPLE(s).

LOVE on the RADIO.
LOVE on the RADIO.

Love is  a mystery to me…

But  it was not  always  so.  When I was little I knew what love  was without having to be told. I was living in love all the time – doing the things that I wanted to do without seeking approval from anyone including my grandmother who I feared as much as I loved. I remember always getting into trouble. Because I was always so curious.  I loved adventure. But I explored more than I talked. I did things and then asked questions later… or faced the wrath of my grandmother later.

Even though she used a leather skipping rope  to punish me as a child while I would still be  naked and  wet from having taken a bath…when she later pulled me closer to her warm soft  breasts while she smoked Rothmans  King Size cigarets  or when she gave  me amaRomantics sweets … I knew that her love for me was  just as  genuine.. even though I couldn’t understand why she would have to hit me so hard. My fear of her was as real and  as  deep as  my love for her.

I am 32 now. And I am re-living my childhood again. I suppose I am at that  age when both my grandmother and mother would tell me stories about their mother and their childhood.  This is my time for storytelling …and remembering what it was that I loved and enjoyed most doing as a child – who I am.  I realize that somewhere in my life  I somehow confused love with ‘approval”.  Through school I learnt that if I did what the teacher said, remembered everything she taught me through the text-book word for word with no Independent thought, I would get her approval  which also meant love. If I was friendly and “nice’ to everyone – never had a different opinion, agreed with everything and everyone, I would get their approval;  if I studied and passed and got A’s  I would get someone’s “approval”  and that somehow that “approval” equaled “love”  which means I would get a Job and that Job would get me money – which is the ultimate sign of Love or Approval.  If I didn’t do as they said – I would not get their approval which also equaled love and love equals money. The world is unfortunately designed this way. Everything you do has to be approved of by someone – somewhere – and this reality has  confused the living day-lights out of me.  I have read other people’s definitions of love… I had countless people tell me they love me – but many of those encounters often left me more confused about love – and what it means – than ever before.  It left  me feeling emptier and emptier  and wondering  Kanti what IS Love??kahle kahle?

I have a fond memory  at the House of Tandoor  in Yeoville Johannesburg dancing to a reggae mix  of  Mariah Carey’s song ” I want to know what Love is” —  my tearful questions fell in  rhythm with each piano chord….the beat engulfed my being with each tremor I  swam in the beat and the rhythm – my entire being  became one with the music, with light and darkness with time and space it was as though love came and said here I am can you feel me? I am all of you.want to know what love was – and that was pure love.  I truly, seriously wanted to know –  What is LOVE?  The more I  did what I wanted to do the more I felt  as though I was being punished for doing it.  For being myself – Because no one approved – there was no Love and no Money. There would be justifications for this  always : it’s not what you do its how you do it or  it’s not what you say but how you say it,  yes say what you want but it must not “upset” anyone then it’s not “right” or questions:  why are you doing this instead of that? why are you doing it this way instead of that way? if you did it this way or changed that thing , if you did it then instead of now maybe I would help you, love you, give you money etc. In short do what I want.

Doing YOU. Being who YOU ARE. Takes more courage, strength, more  will and resilience than acquiring any Academic  degree, fame or money.  Why? Because often no-one has any idea who YOU are – including your mother, father , friends and well-meaning acquaintances. Despite the fact that many people say “be yourself” , they don’t know who or what that self is. And when it doesn’t meet their pre-determined requirements for  ‘approval” then that “self’ is punished. Then being yourself is “wrong”. Even so that is the only to way to freedom’ to love. That is why being your “true” authentic self seems like the hardest thing: life is designed for you to be anything but who YOU are. And you must be brave enough and courageous enough to be  you even when no one gives you their approval.  At first it’s can be the loneliest place in the world, it can be alienating, and yes you will be called all sorts of names – CRAZY – being the most common. Because it’s easier to call something or someone crazy when you don’t understand.

So baby here’s my love story… a piece of it at least. It’s short. Don’t worry.

Two things come sharply into focus… or at least became  clearer in recent days. What I loved doing most as a child.  Because I go through these moments when I’m like… what? who am I? he he it’s really fun to be me! Each time I ask I get different answers…. this time  the answer was sweeter, simpler and  as most answers often are, right under my nose.

The apple tree at the back of  our yard +  Listening to  stories told by my mother and grandmother and telling stories with my older sister.

 My mother  and grandmother used to tell us stories of my great-grandmother Popane.  Of how was the most fiercely feared and loved Queen of the Zulu-Household.  “You could hear her coming from miles away …..the shwooosh shwoooosh of her flat slippers would wake you up even before she knocked on the door” Said my grandmother as she cut her bread into tiny little squares dipping them into her cup of milky tea.  She looked so cute when she was eating. She had a round face – with dark perky tiny lips and expressive eyes I always looked at her mouth when she spoke. I found her lips beautiful… i found the sound of her voice amazing and I always looked into where the sound came from.    The apple tree was my friend. I knew it before  I was conscious of myself in this world – and the only picture I have of as a baby is taken against that tree. It was an apple tree.  Did I say it was an apple tree? Yes it was and  I loved it. From the tree I would wonder and observe and create the kind of life I would want to live.  I watched our neighbours lives change from that Apple tree. There was a  wedding  one day, then the  married couple come home each Sunday to visit the grandmother ” gog-Sheila” they called her. She would walk out, hands on her hips with a smile on her face to greet them on the front veranda of her gray house. They would  disappear inside for hours. I would watch their lives an intensely as I watched ant’s crawling in line from one hole to another. Later they would come out of the house with more smiles, she would have goodbye as they stepped into the car parked on the pavement outside and disappeared.   Soon they came with a baby and the same story of going in and out of the house would repeat itself. I wondered where they lived, and what they did on those days that they didn’t come home to visit.  

Radio Zulu! Because we had no TV – the tree, my sister, ants , my grandmother and the radio where my greatest source of entertainment.  We listed to the radio during the evenings at 7 when my grandmother was back from work. While eating supper. I would sit right next to the big speaker… as if I wanted to be Inside the radio where the sound came from.. same idea with watching my grandmother’s mouth. I fell in love with the voices…which were beautiful sweet and free sounding — “Amakhekhe….mtanami” beaming out of the speakers would scare the living day-lights out of me, but I would never miss it.

The word love has been pouring out of my fingertips  lately… more often than not I just want to type the word, do the word LOVE. over and over again. As if to call LOVE into my life…. only to discover the biggest secrete of them all … .that I am LOVE.  That What I yearn for and wanted the most has always been inside of me. The voice. The apple. The Tree. I am all those things.  All I need is a Mac! lol

How did I come to that conclusion?  To  put it simply….I came to that conclusion because love is all I have ever wanted, All I have  been searching and  searching for everywhere and anywhere.  All  over the world  I went searching for  something,  I already had but couldn’t see. It’s amazing to me.  Love?

It’s me.   And you know what I  love most in this world?  well story-telling and the  Radio!  I love moving pictures too. Radio is my first. love.

Music and dancing.

Why  I didn’t know this  all this time  remains a  mystery to me!

But of course that’s the beauty of life.

What I know for sure – do  what you love and love will take care of you.

What you LOVE is  WHO you are.  ( not something that hurts others : in this context I’m talking about love in its “highest” form)

I Love and Adore Radio Story telling. It’s what my dreams are made of. Voices, sounds rhythms…vibrations … me!

And guess what? I have you to thank … Dear  Monti. For reminding me of that.

Do.LOVE!

ON-AIR!

Radio Rocks my boat still. But I have been hard-pressed to find a program I can listen to here at home – a program I can be in tune with,  an artistic creative  radio show that can draw me in so high on air  I start to dream big… this Talk Talk Talk has turned the air-waves  into a  black board with chalk screeching and scraping down your ear over and over all over …..  talking heads, music being the only peaceful break we get from loud screaming, shouting, voices laughing, talk,talk,talk,talking heads about nothing on a stale formats. Maybe it is a South African thing, what’s on air in your country?

What made me fall in-love-so deeply with radio was its captivating quality,  in the form of  radio Dramas and Plays, which left room to be a little creative about what I was hearing, I engaged in a creative-give-and take relationship with my radio.   And the  any beautiful voices that presented dry(news) information or difficult subjects as if it were the most delicious dish on earth, sultry and beautiful, oh, the hair’s on my back stands up at the thought.

A good  radio voice does not seem to be part of the requirements of being on air. if you can talk its cool, which is also cool but…

I have fallen in-love with radio voices, even though the people behind the voice were well not exactly my type. But there is some-thing in the voice that can just speak to you, touch, pierce deep into you (if the messaging, content is right)  in places only you are aware of  or never thought anyone could reach,  people who can sing well understand the power of voice – which can at once captivate, and transfix people, regardless of their race, colour and or creed. Music is Powerful still.

So you would think that those given that platform (radio-platform) today, would know what to do with it  and be aware of the power they have in their hands, on a daily basis, and treat their work with the serious consideration it deserves. But very few people seem to think about radio beyond the sound of their egos. I’m still working on mine. I think the radio platform is still an underused even – abused canvass… people are not using it creatively  enough in the same way they are on print and television, everything today is about the image…. the face

There is something about it that so captures my imagination in a way that Social Media still doesn’t for me today. Sometimes I wonder why with all this technology we have at our disposal, we still  have tired and boring radio  formats, like how many talk-call-in-shows about Politics do we need? Anyway to be fair, I have tuned out of what’s on air  because it hasn’t captured my imagination least of all “entertain me” we’re all sounding like each other, doing the same thing everyday, someone has got to try a pie in the sky method to make radio  the theater of the mind it once was.

I used to enjoy the World Radio Network, (WRN) I would listen to it around midnight while sleep paid visits to more deserving people, it felt like i was travelling around the world listening in to what makes other societies tick, what problems they are facing and how they are dealing with them. It almost always felt like eave’s dropping in private nocturnal conversation people were having around the world, but as an invited guest. For an hour or so I could step out of my bedroom and spend time with this woman living in a monastery in Holland talk about the flours that were booming there and how she ended up living there alone…

The US-based National Public Radio (NPR)  – has good examples of what makes for a  good news and current affairs radio show, just the right balance in terms of pace, delivery, content and intensity. The hosts have nice warm pleasant voices that really want to make you listen, as if to say, come in you are  invited.

In Africa? BBC Africa is what Africans listen to if they want to know what’s going on in other parts of the continent. I still haven’t found one that speaks to me. With all my varying tastes, languages and my short attentions span there’s not a calm voice I have found on-air.  Radio is still the most basic way to communicate on the continent, now people listen to radio on their phones every-where they go, imagine how that could revolutionize the dissemination of information… educate, inform, entertain.

This America Life : Is FUN and FACTUAL, and is indeed the theater of the mind. This I used to spend hours and hours listening to online, because you can and it sounds like its recorded live – and really its a good example of what we can do with radio, while driving, or waiting for something to happen.

Radio is not only about the personality, it’s not only about the  voice, it’s not only about content, it’s not only about the presentation, but if you can get all these ingredients together in a nice mix then I you have a captive Audience. But if you ask me  the Voice is still remains the most important ingredient of all.

So I think I might just have to do something about it…..Image

Stay tuned….