ABOUT LAST NIGHT: Africans & etc

Good Morning, Coffee, anyone?

I wanted to start this week’s blog by writing about the recent e-tolling saga ( formally known as the Electronic Toll Collection or ETC) in Johannesburg which has had Johannesburg motorists up in figurative arms. I wanted to note and remember with you what happened in Johannesburg’s streets after the ETC, went live in December of 2013.  I wanted to remind you of  the three most outspoken and loudest voices against etolls in Johannesburg with the exception of the Opposition for Urban Tolling Alliance OUTA: Ousted Cosatu president, Zwelinzima Vavi,  Patrick Craven, who resigned as the labour union federations’ spokesperson in April this year and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) which has since been expelled from the Union Federation.  I thought it curious that the panel of experts resolved to continue with the etolls despite widespread public opposition, and that Cosatu under the new leadership has all but changed its line and has tacitly endorsed the new dispensation, urging Gauteng citizens to just pay in not so many words.  I thought it was a curious coincidence then I thought; wait a minute, this is much deeper than I thought.

Eish Joe…

This feels like a long hang-over:  The Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project ( GFIP) which includes the two main ETC methods: the “boom-down” electronic toll collection and the ” open road tolling” (ORT) which went live in Johannesburg in 2013 were implemented in 2007. Which means that the decision to install ETC in Johannesburg was taken in the early 2000’s under former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration with minimal to no public consultation with the caveat that perhaps in this instance a majority vote for the ANC was enough of green light for all of the ANC government policy positions.  The project which  was largely completed by April 2011, is ostensibly not the incumbent President Jacob Zuma’s decision even though he served as former President  Mbeki’s right hand man for much of his tenure.  In fact these decisions were likely taken and implemented in mid to late 90’s, with the first casualty being the controversial Arms Deal  Saga.

It’s so boring though…

You may think that this is effectively a moot point, but I think it puts the issue in context and makes very clear the country’s policy of  privatizing some key national assets; which  I think (though I will stand to be corrected) will in time include Eskom, Telkom, Sanral etc. Which has not shifted since the country’s democratic dispensation. This follows to the tee former President Nelson Mandela’s plea to the International community for foreign direct investment  (FDI) in public-private partnership deals which formed the basic foundation for the country’s economic policies over the years: Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP), Growth Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) and now the National Development Plan (NDP).  President Mandela urged investors to come to South Africa saying ‘ We have many public assets, and we have the workers and labour unions under our control, we would like to partner with you” during his maiden trips as the country’s first democratically elected president. So what? Perhaps giving in on economy in exchange for “political” freedom was the only peaceful option for transition available to him and his team at the time. Perhaps he hoped that in time we’d gain some ground and through some  sheer force of political will gain some control over our economic future, perhaps it was just a foot in the door,  perhaps it was the best way to avoid a civil war. Again so what?

 Consider God’s Bits of Wood

As we mark and celebrate  Africa Day this week, we do so soberly in South Africa on the back of brutal attacks against our brothers and sisters.  And boy do they have a lot to teach us. They’ve been there before. Take a look at the  book, God’s Bits of Wood, a seminal work of literature by Senegalese writer and film maker Ousmane Sembene, in which he fictionalizes a historical account of the 1947/8  Senegal-Niger railway strike which changed the course of West Africa’s  political history.  For six months workers demanded salary increases, back pay, family allowances and pension funds – equal to what railway line workers in France were earning. A preposterous request by any stretch of the imagination at the time. Africans were not even considered human, let alone workers who deserved to earn salaries equal to white people who were then considered superior by virtue of the colour of their skin which also offered them a higher level of education, training and skills.   The striking workers were ignored and during the course of six-months, had to survive without food, water and money.  However they refused to relent, instead they united with other workers in Mali and Senegal and refused to go back to work on the repeated promise that their concerns/needs will be gradually addressed. Their employers argued that they had already benefited from Frances’ civilizing mission to Africa and a family allowances would prove too expensive as the Africans kept more than one wife, calling all African women concubines and or whores in short. Following a march from  Mali to Dakar, Senegal led by those very concubines ( Women’s march) the striking railway workers received all of their demands in full; effectively forcing the French to recognize black African workers (African labour) as fundamentally equal and worthy of the same benefits as their European (white) counterparts when performing the same tasks. The book is a work of genius.

You’re not serious…

I think the ETC saga in Gauteng presents a similar opportunity for motorists in the province ( and South Africa citizens in general) to stand for what is right, but of course the battle will not be won by three of the estimated 3.5 million registered motorists in Gauteng. It will  only work if all motorists stay united so that government understands that since it did not consider it necessary or imperative to fully and properly consult tax/rate/ payers/users of highways before signing said deals, it is equally and just as unnecessary for them to expect them to pay for something they never endorsed in the first place. It is a matter, indeed, of principle.  Government cannot continue to pay lip service to “Batho Pele’.  Perhaps in this way, this and the next administration will know to actually put people first when making plans for the country,  as it is ultimately this country’s citizens who will have to pay. This might, hopefully,  pave the way for  government to re-consider its fiscal policy to date and maybe think about truly restructuring  South Africa’s economy in a way that truly creates and sustains real growth. Because try as we might, we are not France nor are we Norway, Denmark or any of these European countries we are meant to emulate and impress. We need to create our own economic policies and plans that are tailored to fit and suit our unique economic position and  not size zero designs meant for models who live on coffee and cigarettes – we cannot unfortunately copy and paste development. I have faith that if we truly apply ourselves we will find the best economic solution for ourselves, but it has to come from South Africans and not as has been the case so far, our benefactors.

Yoh, dude! So you wanna be starting somethin’

It will be useful to quote here, political economist Mary E Clark  when she said “In life some things can be counted and others cannot. Those things which matter most – Beauty, faith, friendship and self-expression – are immeasurable. There is no way to count them. They are not marketable. As soon as we put a price on them they are debased and prostituted. Yet as a society this is exactly what we do. Only what can be bought and sold is given value” I think this is one of those “things” in life, that just cannot be bought or sold: the right to self-determination.

MY CUP OF TEA: VANILLA CHAI

 

photo

 

My Dearest Mam’Khulu…

[ Zulu phrase/noun.  Mam’khulu: Mama omKhulu (mama-mother) Omkhulu (Big, older, eldest, grand) colloquial translation “Big Mama”. My grandmother’s older sister, the first of ten children born to my  great-grand parents, Steven and Popane Zulu]

Sawubona gogo. I thought I should let you know even though it is now only posthumously that my favourite cup of tea is Vanilla Chai.   A beautiful friend of mine from Mumbai India, introduced me to its fragrant intoxicating aroma three years ago and it has been my source of peaceful bliss ever since.  I am sometimes completely consumed by it. Vanilla chai  replaced my all time favourite  Chinese tea  brought for me by a good friend from Berlin Germany,  in Taiwan, the  oolong tea. He said it was the best he could find!  He was an avid tea-collector. I couldn’t replace it and drank it only on very special occasions – on those occasions when I needed to write, to pray. It’s long finished now.  If it is true that there could be a storm in a tea-cup, this Chinese Oolong tea and now Vanilla chai have been my nirvana in a cup. Both my friends incidentally are film-makers.

A Family Tea

I am telling you this story  because since you moved on five weeks ago I have been consumed by memories of my childhood, in our common childhood home in Orlando West. In fact the only home you have known in all your 70 plus years. In fact it’s hard to imagine 7224 without you, because you were always there somewhere, quietly drinking your tea.   I thought I should let you know this because you are the one who enticed me, drew me to the seemingly endless mysteries of tea drinking – to its subtle secretes. I was curious to discover what it was about tea that gave you so much pleasure. In fact your tea drinking is my abiding memory of you. Do you remember the story?

You must remember this story because it came to me right after we gathered to say farewell to you at 7224.

It all started one afternoon, on the rare occasion that we spent time together. I was five doing what I loved best; lying on my belly on the hot slab of concrete in our front stoep and staring at the line of ants working tirelessly collecting food. You asked my older sister Nhlanhla to make you a cup of tea. A few moments later she came out and brought you your tea.  You held the cup of tea carefully in your hands and took one sip of  Nhlanhla’s tea and gulped  as if someone had given you the most delicious beverage on earth. Then you uttered the words  I will never forget. ” Laze la Mnadi itiye Lakho Nhlanhla!” and you finished off with that sound which we all make when we drink or eat something delicious ” Mmmmcha!”  The way you uttered those words with such love and gratification made me immediately envious of my sister’s tea making abilities. I responded, as always, with a question; ” Mam’khulu why  didn’t you ask me to make you a cup of tea?”  Because you are too young to make me tea, you responded with your  gentle calm voice. You smiled and asked. ” Why? Do you also want to make me tea?   “yes” I responded, peering into the dark liquid mixture in your hand wondering what was it that made it so delicious, so different. To me it was just ordinary tea.  “Because I also want you to say to me “Laze La Mmandi itiye lakho poppy… hmmmchah” I said mimicking you.  I remember your laugh and your eyes peering into the distant horizon perhaps pondering my  chilhood simplicity. “Ngelinye ilanga nawe uzongenzela itiye” adding that one day when I am old enough I can make you tea also. So naturally I couldn’t wait to grow up and do just that.

That day was a defining moment for me and it is only so in hindsight. I had managed to make you laugh without intending to. I derived a lot of pleasure from making people laugh through my mimicry and performance(s). I still do enjoy mimicking people and performing even today, though now in my adult years it does not always have the desired effect.  I think  that story brought us closer and highlighted an ingrained need  in me for adult approval. Your approval. You see,  your compliments of my sister’s tea meant only one thing to me, that you liked her.  Nhlanhla had become your favourite girl because she knew how to make your tea, tea that could make you, the quiet one go “mmchah!” and smile.  I also wanted your approval, to make you like me, to say nice things about  me and my tea making abilities. I also wanted a chance to please you.  Not realizing that I already had.

Around the World in search of my Family Tea

I forgot about this story. And now that I think of it, I feel an urge, a need to  apologize for my childhood silliness.  Everyone has their own gift. Everyone makes tea in their own unique and special way. I still admire my sister’s tea making abilities, but I know now that I could never make tea like she does and that it is okay. Looking back I see that this tea story has followed me always even though I never paid much attention to it.  I have been trying to be someone I was not. From observing tea and coffee-making rituals in your beloved church: The Zionist Christian Church (ZCC), to tea making in mainland China and most surprisingly in Senegal. A country I ran to in search of myself. The last thing I expected to find in this country was tea. But I arrived to find that tea and tea making rituals were a defining feature in the country’s daily activities.  In the Sahel region of Africa tea culture is thus:

“In the Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara, green gunpowder tea is prepared with little water and large amounts of sugar. By pouring the tea into the glasses and back, a foam builds on top of the tea. Sahelian tea is a social occasion and three infusions, the first one very bitter, the second in between and the last one rather sweet are taken in the course of several hours.”

This process is repeated two to three times a day after every meal and in each family there is the one person who is chosen to make the tea by virtue of their competence, passion, or talent.

A Spiritual Experience.

I observed this practice quite curiously over weeks and months. Because until then, tea had no real meaning for me. It was a simple common beverage drunk in almost every household. I had never associated tea with real spirituality, even though I had observed the central role tea had in religions. Since I was not religious I attached no meaning to it at all until I tried making tea – the Senegalese way.  I found that it was pure: Alchemy.

First Your Hands Must be Clean.

You must pay attention.

Above all, you must be patient.

Of course I was impatient with the process. I was trying fruitlessly to compete with tea makers in Senegal who had been making tea since childhood and did so everyday of their lives. I found that I had a lot to learn or rather,  to unlearn. Not only about tea culture but about life in general. I was once again that child on the stoep, who craved approval, en-flamed by curiosity, that child who wanted to know everything even though she didn’t  know what she would do with all the information she was  relentlessly searching for. Life for me has always been a kind of game, a challenge, an adventure, a curious, innocent exploration of the unknown.

Since Senegal I have acquired a healthy respect for tea and tea culture and have since come to the conclusion, however reluctantly, that this tea making business, beautiful as it is, is simply not for me.  I did it, served tea to more than 20 people at a christening of a  new-born baby at one time.  But it is  just Not My Cup of tea!

I have tried to make different kinds of tea.  I have tried to acquire the kind of skills of artfully making the kind of cup that would make tea experts smile.  Even my professed favourite cup of tea; Vannilla Chai a combination of lovely ingredients which include vanilla, Cinnamon, Ginger Peppermint Leaves, Cloves and Cardamom is not mine – I don’t make it, I just enjoy it.  I drink it simply because it brings me pleasure – I smile when I drink it. And it smells wonderful.

A Special Blend

I like to think of this tea making story as an analogy of my quest to find my purpose in this life. Of finding this unique gift which I was brought into this world to share. A skill, an art-form, or talent, that no one alive could teach me. I have been actively searching for it, looking everywhere and it has been eluding me for the longest time. I have traveled the world over in search of my purpose. The meaning of my name Lindiwe:  the one we are waiting for.  I have tried, wished, hoped, wanted to be among those considered the best tea-makers, the tea connoisseurs. My efforts did not yield  the desired results. Which, though crushingly disappointing has been a blessing in disguise. In my frustration, I even dared ask God why he brought me here,  and on top of that with nothing. Can you imagine? I had no idea who else to ask.

Today as I write this letter to you, I find it hilarious that I went out to the world, through all that trouble, in search of something I already had. Something I already was. Because  you see, before I left for Senegal in search of Love, Love had already found me. I remembered without trying to how to make my own cup of “tea”. My own special blend without even trying.  It’s not tea even. I woke up one day and just knew that I had to make this “tea”.  I have been making and drinking this “tea” since then and have made it lovingly for myself and anyone who asked for it. I even made it in Senegal while I was busy forcing myself to learn how to make their tea.

Okay it’s not a special talent really haha.. actually everyone can do it. I just have my own special way of doing it.

It’s the tea that love taught me how to make. I didn’t realize then that it was my gift because it was so easy and effortless and I could do it without thinking about it. In fact I have been doing it since that day on the stoep.  I believed for a long time that I  had to work hard to find love. I thought you had to suffer before you can love or  be loved by someone. I thought love is what you earn – a prize and reward for doing something “good”.

I am very happy to tell you that I was completely wrong. You don’t need to be or do anything to become who you already are. Love.

I am honoured each time Love calls me to make this “tea” for myself or for anyone.  Because this one has no additives. It’s simple and contains four ingredients.  Which are easily available. Lemon, Garlic, Ginger and Love. Whose healing properties are well documented the world over.  I wish I had remembered this tea story three years ago, and made you a cup.  But you never asked me to make you a cup of tea, and now I realize that this is simply because it was never my place to.

So even without uttering a single word you have taught me so much with your silence, just by your presence, and being yourself. You have taught me about respect, perseverance and above all the love of God. This tea story has taught me valuable lessons which I will carry with me forever.

1. I cannot be or do everything.

2. Everyone has a their own special gift, and role in life.

3. My role is to remember who I am.

4. Who I am is Love made manifest in this body.

5.  And this, is enough. I am enough.

 

Thank you for being a blessing.  Ngiyabonga, Gogo.

Kgotso. Kagiso.

Zulu!

NdabeZitha.

Mntwana,
Zulu kaMalandela ngokulandela izinkomo zamadoda,
Zulu omnyama ondlela zimhlophe,
Wena kaPhunga noMageba,
Wena kaMjokwane kaNdaba,
Wena wenkayishana kaMenzi eyaphuza umlaza ngameva,
S’thuli sikaNdaba,
S’thuli sikaNkombane,
Wena kasihhawuhhawu siyinkondlo bayikhuzile ngoba ikhuzwe abaphansi nabaphezulu,
Wena kanogwaja omuhle ngomlenze,
Wena kaMbambelashoba,
Ndabezitha!

 

 

 

I CANNOT EAT ALONE: THE OTHER STATE OF THE NATION ADRESS

Communal Eating In Senegal

Communal Eating In Senegal

Last week I found myself dreading meal times. Eating left me feeling emptier than before, I ate. Though my belly was full, my soul felt emptier or the ‘hunger” had not gone away as one would naturally expect after a meal.   I found that to be  a puzzling phenomena.  How is that possible? How can I eat and still feel as hungry as if I hadn’t  eaten a single thing even though my stomach is full of food? Is it the food I choose to eat?  Or is it because I am not  making it myself? Why eat if  the  hunger does not  disappear?

I found that two things happened in this case ;   I either wanted to eat more hoping that the next thing  I eat will fill that gap or I just “forget” to eat.   But because the” full but empty” feeling is stronger right after you eat, it gives the illusion that  a little more food will quench your hunger for good so the  former is much more prevalent.  address

So this “full but empty” phenomena is happening to in the same week that the subject of food and eating in South Africa was making headlines and all for the wrong reasons.   “South African members  of parliament blame fattening food in parliament for their obesity” did not only make local headlines, the story was  covered by most of the major international news agencies. It was a peculiar story to say the least. A parliamentarian was quoted blaming the caterers for their obesity.  Parallel to that story a food services company published research which found that South Africa is the third fattest nation on earth. The study found that 61 percent of South African adults ate more and exercised less. At the same time there is a new global trend of  restaurants catering for people who want to eat alone. The first of its kind in Holland, Eenmall, offers diners a chance to eat completely alone with a single chair and everything. Founders of the  pop-up restaurant say they wanted to prove to the world that eating alone is not a taboo. In addition to that there’s the growing concern about an exponential increase in genetically modified foods in the country which makes  basics such as “maize” and “milk”  not what they used to be.   There seems to be a lot of issues involved in eating!

THE EXPERIMENT

So through news and current affairs I realized that I was not the only one having  trouble eating;  it seemed that I and 61 percent of our nation simply didn’t  know when to stop, eating. Of course it is understandable, eating is necessary for life – food is our life-source. So often people are more likely to encourage you to eat and eat more instead of advising you to eat less.  It can be a touchy subject  this eating  business. Because the fact remains that regardless of your size – everyone has to eat. Everyday preferably.  So regardless of what the facts are whether you’re  eating too much or too little is never anyone’s fault (really) since everyone has to eat right? Who are you to judge?

So why are we the third fattest nation on earth? How did we get here? Why are we eating so much? We must be stuffed if we are the third fattest nation in the world right?How do we solve the problem of obesity? I  for one am generally a light eater preferring to eat small amounts of food throughout the day instead of huge meals at one sitting. So this new change in me was troubling. I won’t blame winter or anyone for it.  In  an  effort to get to the source of the problem I decided to  experiment a little.  I fasted for two days drinking only tea and lemon water, then I ate what ever whenever I felt hungry, but since I had no food where I stay I had to go out, to cafe’s and restaurants to get food fast. The restaurants I visited were disappointing.   At most restaurants I found there was no love at all in the food, there was no evidence of care  from the moment of preparation to the presentation. There are some exceptions though, which came with equally exceptional prices,  but generally food at most restaurants was treated as a means to an end  and not an event in and of itself.  Tired of  being disappointed, I then decided to cook my own meals at home  and see if that would make a difference to the “full but empty” feeling.  Since I am a minimalist,  I chose ingredients that will be quick to prepare: spaghetti basil, garlic, ginger and olive oil pasta which I found much more fulfilling both to my stomach and my soul.  Through this week-long experiment I found that  eating out at bad restaurants or having ‘take-out” food increases the full but empty feeling while  preparing my own meal at home left me feeling much more satisfied and full  but it did not close the “full but empty” feeling entirely. So what gives?

EATING TOGETHER: “VIENNANT MANGER”

I found myself thinking often of Senegal when the subject of food came up. When I arrived in Senegal it took a while for me to eat local food.  Non-Senegalese people didn’t offer much confidence in Senegalese cuisine. The food is too oily and bland they said. So I ate chicken and rice which resulted in the same  “full but empty” feeling.

That feeling lingered on until I moved in with a Senegalese family where it was mandatory to eat together twice everyday  2pm lunch and 8 pm supper by clockwork.  There I learnt a new way of eating. A knock came at the door. “Jedi viennent manger” Jedi come eat.  Whether I felt hungry or not.  I arrived to find the entire family huddled around a huge platter of rice and two fish (see picture example above). Spoons positioned in around the tray or platter in a circle. The men squatted or sat on little stools, while women sat on the floor on their thighs, leaning to one side. Each person then began to eat from their section and the matriarch would distribute pieces of fish (a staple) and  vegetables to whoever needed.  It was a much more intimate way of eating which I had last experienced as a child. This brings you closer together in a way that I cannot fully describe using words.

At the “table” it was easy to tell if someone was happy or not,  just by the way they ate. It was easy to notice if someone was not home or deliberately missing meals. In Senegal there are only two excuses for not eating at home with your family: either you are at work or you are not well enough to eat with the family. No other excuse is permissible. At first I found this practice to be too claustrophobic (going against my individualistic eat when I want where ever I want preferably on my own sensibilities).  But soon I found it was the only way I found joy in eating and meal times and eating became something I looked forward to and enjoyed! No matter how hungry I was I would wait until it was meal times to eat with the family or go to town and share a meal with my many friends. I ended up eating much less than I would  eat if I had a plate all to myself. But eating was a more satisfying experience.

Sharing food is an ingrained part of Senegalese life, regardless of class or status. It doesn’t matter who you are or even where you come from, when it comes to food – Senegalese people share.  Their way of eating is not different to one the worlds fastest growing super powers – China – where meal times have been (this is changing) a treasured tradition. There meals are severd in smaller bowls  – but families also eat together as a matter of principle. Meal times or eating becomes a key feature in a persons day.  I’ve shared food with complete strangers in Senegal – eating from the same bowl as them with no fuss. Many of them did not have a lot in a way of material things, but they had food which was almost always shared. Even a tiny cup of coffee is shared in Senegal. To such an extent that those who decide to eat alone in the presence of others have to apologize first  for not sharing before they eat. But those cases are rare since everyone shares. If you had something to eat you shared. My understanding of that was, you don’t know who is hungry and to save people the indignity of asking for food you just offer it.  I have shared food with mamas selling coffee on the street, street traders, different families, domestic workers, and even sex workers.  I ate much less than I do now but I felt fuller and happier, without intending to, just by sharing.

SO THAT’S WHAT’S MISSING

I must admit that even I could not have imagined sharing to be the answer to all our  dietary  problems. I mean seriously? Something so simple right?  So while the amount of fat in your food, GMO content, how much you eat, how you eat it and with whom you eat can contribute towards your health,  eating alone is the biggest factor which contributes to this ‘full but empty’ phenomena which causes people to eat but feel unsatisfied and eat more than they need to.  We only have to look at the American lifestyle that prizes “individual happiness” above community. They are the fattest nation on earth.

The emptiness can not be eroded by more food because it’s not the food that is the problem but what you do with it.  When it comes to South African politicians their problem is understandable:  Their works is largely desk based,  they don’t use up as much energy as they consume and more over one person will eat the same amount of food in one sitting  which a family of ten people in Senegal would share at dinner. One would have to be a construction worker lifting boulders and boulders of rock or some physically strenuous job to eat that much food or spend most of the day doing physical labour which is not the case. Maybe the parliamentarians are depressed ( depression can cause people to eat more), or unhappy or bored with the work they do, so they overcompensate by eating – because something is missing. Eating something with lots of sugar and fat is the quickest ways to get that instant gratification feeling.

Eating is also linked to our emotions.  So it stands to reason that they would increase in size. In fact people in Senegal often joke with each other when they see a man (especially) or woman who has bulging stomach. They say “oh so we see you eat alone these days huh?” Once people get high paying jobs, they start to blow up and become disfigured from eating too much on their own and then end up  paying loads of money for gym memberships and diets they never use.  Eating to fill a gap that food can never fill.

If you eat with others you are unlikely to want more than your  fair share  of what is on the plate. It causes one to be accountable. The eating process is transparent. Everyone sees what everyone else is eating. You will be more likely to consider others around you who are eating from the same plate as you. I know what you are thinking… this will take time but wait…

Haven’t  you noticed how old or  new lovers often without thinking tend to eat from each other’s plates almost subconsciously.. when people are in what we call love, children (toddlers do this too) they want to share more of themselves and more of what they have with others  and food is one of the first places where the sharing happens. So while we all do eat alone at some point by choice or circumstance – we are happier and “fuller” when eat together in the company of  others, and we are more likely to  be filled by much less food if we eat from the same plate.

BRING BACK:  LOVE TO THE DINNER TABLE

Now there are always exceptions to every opinion and rule but I think psychologically we are more satisfied with our lives when we can share ourselves with others,  the  little we have becomes more when we break bread with others. If we do this from an understanding that each person needs food as much as you do and the subtle truth we are not made “full” by bread alone,  that we are  happier together than  apart, even if the only time we are together is when we eat unless we recognize the value in sharing:  the food we eat in the privacy of our own homes or restaurants eventually becomes poison.

The  Senegalese (West African way of eating) is not a new Phenomena in Africa or globally for that matter, we just stopped sharing and because of that we have become increasingly bloated, full but empty. There are many things one can do to cure this, but the most simplest of them all is to just share – the most happiest diet on the market and it’s for free. Share. Partage. It’s natural, it’s in our nature to share.  If  I were president  this would be my state of the nation address today. Sharing heals.

 

 

 

 

QUIET DIPLOMACY : MY SECRET LOVE AFFAIR WITH WEST AFRICA

30-LOVE

” You will look back at this and be proud of yourself, you will come out of this stronger and wiser” said my  older sister – looking lovingly at me in the plane. We were on an  early morning  South African Airways (SAA) flight  to South Africa from Senegal in what is arguably the most  extraordinary life-changing experience of my life.  I was surprised she didn’t  shout and scream at me  or ask  ” what were you thinking?!”  I was in tears, barely able to say a word without crying. She looked at me lovingly though with the kindness I didn’t think I deserved. She smiled and laughed with that sweet giggle that seems to go on forever… when I heard her laughing  I knew that everything would be okay … eventually. I wasn’t  crazy and I had not imagined things.  Having her sitting next  to me  eased my nausea.  I was so heartbroken  I was sure I was going to throw up  my heart, crushed to pieces like  shards of  glass in a pool of blood and gore all over the airplane’s floor – I was so hurt. I couldn’t for the life of me  understand how my best laid plans could have gone so horribly wrong.  Why I had to leave. Why my dreams came crushing down on me like the like the twin tours, on an ordinary Sunday.

We went through all the  different scenarios on the flight home. I kept going over and over what had happened. I had to make absolutely sure for myself that I had made the right decision to go home.  She assured me I had.  Still  I wasn’t sure that leaving Senegal, the country of my  re-birth  made  for a bright idea. But I had doubts, many doubts in fact about a lot of things and needed someone better skilled in the art of diplomacy and crisis management  to help me figure things out.

IN HER FOOTSTEPS…

I was there in part because of her, my sister.   She doesn’t know this because I’ve never had the courage to tell her. She was (is) my inspiration – she was (is) the reason I wanted to do TV reporting and not just on any old subject. But on the subject of African Politics or should I say the  Politics of Africa.  I used to watch her  religiously on  Television as she reported from one country after another. She would come back briefly, and I would joke with her  little just to see her smile or  offer to make her coffee just to be near her. I admired her work. I admire who she is. But she was always busy and always on the road. In the early 2000’s working as a radio journalist I often  read up on the Organization for African Unity ( OAU) the formation of the new body the African Union, the formation of  the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)  the PAN African Parliament,  South African Development Community (SADC).  And  tried as much as I could to keep myself informed about issues relating to Africa’s re-birth, though at the time I thought I had no practical use for the information. I always made a mental note to research any story or country she reported on. If I had an idol in TV  journalism she would be the first  Ms MS, then  Christiane Amampour  and Paula Slier.  She made journalism  beautiful, lyrical, a moving living, tangible history lesson. My love for her was intensified by a common vision and life purpose. It has been my best kept secrete love affair, until now, because I’m telling you.

So that is why when the opportunity presented itself back in  2011 to visit  Senegal in West Africa I did not hesitate.  Up until then I had not travelled to West Africa or Senegal and had no experience of the region. I called everyone but her  letting them know I was leaving.  I knew that the best way to learn anything is by doing (experiencing it) at least that has been the best way  I learn.  Though I had planned to  visit  Senegal  for a month-long holiday,  at the back of my mind I was prepared to stay for as long as possible and thus do some kind of “soft launch”of my free-lance  career as a  West African Correspondent. So I packed accordingly. I was prepared to give my all in pursuit of  a dream. Purpose.

WAAW!!!

The first six months were a whirlwind romance. I could not have hoped for a better landing.  It was full of exciting adventures  and nights filled with milk and honey on cloud nine. I mean I could not believe how beautiful the Senegalese  were. Inside and out. I found myself a new home, I loved the language, and enjoyed the general lifestyle, the tea, food,  dancing, the art, reggae, fabrics, fashion,  I didn’t have to wear a watch as calls to prayer would tell me exactly what time it was, fish and rice were abundant…the beach was always around the corner, the streets were a sight for sore eyes: colourful, bright and full of  well toned men with lean muscular bodies,  similarly tall skinny, well-shaped women in colorful dresses and elaborate hairstyles. There was a  gentle harmonious, peaceful rhythm to Senegal that made living and being alive there a pleasure.  I made a million and one radio sound-scapes and documentaries in my head.  I could step right out of my room into a cab or car-rapid, I could turn a corner and get tea or coffee at less than a rand a piece, airtime was being sold at all corners…fruits, vegetables everything I could think of was at my fingertips.  All of it made absolute sense to me. I was HOME. Even the things I would not ordinarily “agree” with or “accept” back in South Africa would not bother me so much here in my very own paradise.  Even their working hours – late nights – were more in tune with the natural rhythm of my physiology.

DOUBLE- SPEAK

South Africa and Senegal at the time still enjoyed a cordial diplomatic relationship even though relations had soured  bitterly  under former Presidents Abdoulaye Wade and  Thabo Mbeki  who were engaged in a  protracted  tug of  war over who had a better plan for Africa:  President Abdoulaye Wade with the Omega Plan  or Thabo Mbeki with the  African Renaissance.  Eventually it was agreed that both documents  which had slight differences be merged into  one plan  called the New Plan for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).  A plan  which President Wade later  became one of its  fiercest critics accusing the body of wasting money in talk-shops  instead of putting NEPAD’s plans into actions on the ground in other words implementing, this despite him being a sitting chairman of  NEPAD.  Never the less South African citizens during this time did no require visa’s to enter the West African nation famous for its friendliness. Which is another reason why it was an easy choice for me.

SENEGAL CHOSE ME….

By February 2012, three months in the country I was working as a free-lance  journalist for  South Africa based media houses, I had already auditioned and landed the job anchoring a  Weekly current affairs TV show called E-mag on Radio  Television Senegalese (RTS). I was also working as a producer and anchor for a  local regional radio station, West Africa Democracy Radio (WADR)  funded by OSIWA. I was having a great time actually. I knew – despite the many  obstacles and challenges which faced me each step of the way, I knew in the pit of my stomach that  I was meant to be there.
Senegal Celebrates it’s Independence on the 4th of April – my birth date. We were meant to be.

I was just about to say “I do” when my mother called to say I should come home before I make any major decisions.  I agreed. And soon found myself back home in South Africa, unsure of  how to proceed with my vision. I found work  and decided in my heart that I would save up and let everybody know that I was going back.   I kept this dream alive everyday and  worked hard with a single-minded  focus of going back “home”. Making sure to plan everything better this time. The first time I went at the invitation of a friend – armed only with a dream in my pocket and nothing else.  This time would surely be better…

DARE TO INVENT THE FUTURE…

” Are we not cool with anyone?” A friend of mine, Visual Artist Breeze Yoko recently asked on his facebook page. He has just been selected to be part of this year Invisible Borders Trans- African  – an art led initiative, founded in Nigeria in 2009 by a group of passionate artists mostly photographers with a drive and urge to affect change in society though art. The artists  are meant to travel around the continent creating and thinking beyond borders.  Yoko lamented “South Africans need visas for almost all the countries on this continent. Out of 11 countries I’m passing through, i need a visa for all 11. What the fuck is that, are we not cool with anyone?  Nigeria – Benin – Togo – Ghana – Cote d’Ivoire – Liberia – Sierra Leone – Guinea – Senegal – Mauritania – Morocco. Then who are our friends, tell me who? In South America a lot of the countries don’t want a visa from us… but my own continent, why mara why?”

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE…

After Seven months of working in South Africa, I was finally ready. Already relations between South Africa and Senegal were  becoming quietly hostile.  And despite admonitions from home to refrain from going back to Senegal, I was intent on going despite what anyone said.  News of the 2008 Xenophobic attacks against African foreign nationals in South Africa were a hard pill to swallow for many Africans who still held the country in high esteem. But the Marikana Massacre in which more than 50 protesting miners were killed by police, left many stone-cold, and revealed just how much Apartheid had destroyed South Africa’s humanity, the nations’ psyche. We were not well. I couldn’t explain this on my arrival in January 2013 to my family in Senegal. Visuals of the killings were a common sight on many television screens.  But it was South Africa’s refusal to grant visa’s to 10 Senegalese journalists travelling to South Africa to cover the  Soccer confederations cup that broke the camels back. Senegal’s  newly appointed  President Macky Sall  wasted no time announcing that South African citizens  be required to apply for  visas to gain entry into the country. By then at least two South African women had been found dead under mysterious circumstances in Senegal.  The South Africa Embassy in Dakar warned.

MONEY TALKS

Nigeria – Benin – Togo – Ghana – Cote d’Ivoire – Liberia – Sierra Leone – Guinea – Senegal – Mauritania are all part of the 15 countries which make up the economic Commission of West African States or ECOWAS, which Senegal was chair.  I soon found out that South Africa had no  real economic (commercial – trade)  ties with Senegal, through an unfortunate banking problem.  French West Africa was not a priority for  South Africa’s economic /foreign strategy.  With no other common interest – including political solidarity – the only way to gain investment from South Africa ( seen throughout the continent as a wealthy nation) was is charge its citizens who wished to travel there an entry fee. Are you sure you want to come here?

France a long-time  investment partner with Senegal has now become South Africa’s 3rd largest trading partner  – taking away much-needed investment from Senegal which depended on its former benefactor.  Though the country is now diversifying its investment portfolio to include China and North America ( Canada and the USA).

BUT MONEY CAN’T BUY YOU LOVE…

The lack of money was the sole – main – reason I came back  the second time. In fact it was not so much the a lack of money  per se,  but a technical – red tape – problem of not having access  to the  money I already had. I had a cash flow problem which made trying to do  business (anything) in West Africa nearly impossible.  The South African Embassy …. turned me away when I went to  seek help. All I had been my passport. ” I’m sorry we can’t help you, we don’t make phone calls for people here, we cannot assist you with that” said the woman behind the glass  panel.   It slowly began to sink in, that if they could treat their own citizens like this, what about other Africans? I was persona non-grata. My South African friends had long turned their phones off. Numerous calls through banks to South Africa, brought no joy, they could not assist me with a small technical problem. ” You have to come into our offices….go to your nearest branch”. I am in Senegal West Africa – I repeated like a crazy woman for nearly two months only to be met with ” where is that? just go to your nearest branch.” There is no Standard Bank Branch in Senegal.

AT LEAST WE ARE STILL FRIENDS…

My Senegalese Brother’s and Sister’s held my hands in support, paid for my rent, bought me food, airtime and provided me with what they could to help me survive at great personal cost.  They remained hopeful, but the stress was tearing me apart and I didn’t want to see them suffer like that for me. So I decided to swallow my pride and concede defeat. Go back home to my nearest Standard Bank Branch.  In all my life I have never experienced love like I found lived and experienced in Senegal. Everyone from street trader to Bifal, contributed with a cup of coffee here, bus fare there,  to help me  survive on a daily basis. They loved and accepted me without any questions, loved me through thick and thin, and never turned me away even when they had all the power, ability and reason to. I learnt a powerful lesson about myself, my birth country in Senegal, that Power and Love Equals Peace. It was not Senegal or the Senegalese that let me down. It was my own country. South Africa that didn’t care or seem to care an inch about my well-being. I have thought things through and looked at my story from all possible angles, everything I did wrong, all my mistakes and all the subsequent events that followed from that and I always reach the same conclusion.  I guess hadn’t had the time to realize just how much that incident hurt me.I have been going through the motions of living ever since.

POWER + LOVE = PEACE

I love Senegal with all my heart. This land of the  Baobab, the Lion, of Milk and honey. This  the country made me more of who I was, and showed me my all weakness and  all my strengths and loved me despite  of what I could or could not offer.  With all my imperfections: they told me: you are strong, we believe in you, you can make it.  I honestly cannot think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I never knew love like this before.  No money in the world can ever replace the  life this place breathed into my lungs into my very being.

To quote French Writer and philosopher Anais Nin who once said :“Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.”

Three years ago I threw my dreams into space like a kite, and found all of the above in  Senegal.

“I do”.  Now and forever. You will always have a special place in my heart. Thank You for the love  and all the  hard lessons.

My sister was absolutely right!. I am stronger and wiser because of you.

Peace.

A LOVE LETTER TO TATA MANDELA

lindiweA LETTER TO TATA NELSON MANDELA

From  your forgotten grand-daughter.

Dear Tata

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

Behind the Rainbow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lala NgoxoloTata.

Ndiyabulela.

Enkosi.

Camagu!

 

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED?

 

Power + Love = Peace

Power + Love = Peace

“We saw sanctions as an instrument to assist in the liberation of South Africa which they did. The effects of the sanctions were felt in the 1990’s here when the then minister of finance argued that White South Africa could not continue anymore. So in the end it was Economics, not racism, ideology that drove them to the negotiations.” Kader Asmal

I have learnt a lot these past three years about myself, friends, my family, my country, my continent, the world.  This year I learnt a lot about politics. Most of what I learnt about politics though had nothing at all to do pas du tous with universities and Ivy League institutions of education around the world. I learnt a lot about politics by living.

What do I mean?

Let me start with three smaller nyana stories, which I hope will best illustrate my point. I’ll get to the point – so Don’t despair.

True story. 1 RACIAL PROFILING

I have a brother in Senegal called Allasane Ndiaye. He is a talented fellow and last week he lamented that though he speaks better French than the French, is a better orator, writer and linguist than many of the French people he comes across, the French Government still won’t grant him a visa to visit their fairest country. It doesn’t matter that he shares the same ideals, quotes the same authors and reads from the same books. He is still not good enough for them. Though he’s helped countless Europeans to write books, do research, offered himself, his knowledge and skills. He could never be enough. Sorry it doesn’t count.

True Story. 2 AFRO-PESSIMISM

Some of you might already be tired of this but here goes. I was minding my own business one afternoon when in an effort to make idle conversation with me, this white South African guy looked at my hair and said “having a bad hair day huh?” It took a moment for me to reply because I had spent hours plating my hair, caring for it and on that particular morning it was a good hair day. I left my house knowing that my hair, in its natural state was good, not only that but I had gone to great lengths to care for it. But to this guy, my hair in its natural state was bad. So I decided to play along. “It’s a bad hair day every day for me broer (brother), and you  are you having a bad hair day too? I asked pointing at his straight greying hair. Ah no he said. I just get into a shower brush it and that’s it. “I do the same” I offered.

True Story. 3. SHOW ME THE MONEY

All things, including love, being equal I would be married today where it not for the tiny little matter of not having money. First to a beautiful black woman, then a beautiful black man; we shared the same ideals, hopes and dreams. He asked me to marry him, on Goree Island, the island of  slaves, on the 11th of May, a day commemorating the death of Bob Marley.  But when it came down to it, I had nothing to offer him. No trips abroad, no lucrative deals with NGOs.  No additional access. I was just an ordinary African woman trying to live my truth. In the end I lost out to a Dutch woman. She hounded me, all of us, from his childhood friends to his housemates. Until one day she struck it lucky and took the man on a month-long holiday to visit her family in Beautiful Holland.  He was in his element. He came back calling her parents Mommy and Daddy. Well done her! In the end it was not about religion or Islam or about language, forget love. It was about money. Luxury and  comfort, an easy life. Nothing wrong with that. She would add untold status to the family. The Dutch, my former erstwhile oppressors, are well-meaning non-racists, who manage a democratic, liberal society which embraces all nations and still commemorates Zwarte Piet (black slave festival) to this day in defense of their culture. They are the biggest funders of journalism education and training in Africa.  Yes I love you, know that. But we have to be practical about it. I thank the universe for small mercies. Ah well, personal sour grapes aside, this is what I’ve learnt…

NEVER A FAILURE, ALWAYS A LESSON.

So I imagine that my African forefathers must have felt crap like me.  They must have felt, so foolish like me, like Allasane, for thinking that after trying so hard to shake off the chains of “barbarism”, to become civilized like the white man, to sip cognac, and smoke cigars in exclusive elitist and largely male establishments. After learning all they could learn, acquiring degrees upon degrees, Phds, even being honoured in the best Tweede suits money can buy. After learning to be more articulate debaters,  orators, learned men and visionaries. They were still not enough.

HEARTBREAK SUCKS, BUT YOU CAN LEARN FROM IT.

It must have really irked them, that despite their best efforts to rid themselves of their blackness, African-ness , to apply what  knowledge they gained at the master’s institutions of learning, after they had absorbed all they could. Still in the end they were no more than silly little boys to their colonizers, to the imperialist. They were never considered equals. They were still just mere toddlers in the game of world domination. Pawns still, to be moved around at will on a whim in an elaborate illusion of a chess game. Those who tried harder to beat the master at his own game, who despite all of the above retained their  “African-ness” preached unity among African nations, those who preached the good news, the gospel of  do it yourself: Were quickly silenced because words are sharper than that the sword,  mightier than the  gun. Their lives were traded for money, power and influence, sold to the highest bidder by their very own brothers, who saw them as threats to their project of self-enrichment. They must have cried hot boiling tears when they discovered that the only way to “advance” is to give everything to the powers that be, their hearts must have been broken to pieces when they realized that the imperialists were never the gentlemen they claimed to be, that they would never give in, that they would even kill their own people to keep the system alive. They said one thing but meant something else. They must have felt like rats, trapped with their molars firmly on prime-cheddar that they would never live to enjoy unless they became obedient, servants.  Their hearts must have sunk low, like mine, when they discovered that  n reality they didn’t meant it. Love was an illusion. He never truly loved me.

Those who are alive today, must feel so conflicted:

“Ons ry nou ook in amptelike slap motors. Ons word ook onderdaning ge-ja-baas, ja-meneer, ja-minister, ja-alles. Die nee-mense van di struggle het vinning en onverklaarbaar ja-gewoontes angeleer”

“Now we, too, ride in official limousines. And humbly get yes-master, yes-sir, yes-minister, yes everything. No-people of the struggle have learnt yes-habits swiftly and without explanation”   Mathews Phosa – the price of freedom

the matter that came up about sanctions, we need to encourage these other people. You need to be providing these carrots, so that when they move they take a step forward you need to say well done, in our own interest, but please take the next step. But for the positive steps you have taken, please have these carrots.”   Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

They never became respected equal partners at the negotiating table. Despite all the concessions they made,  despite  compromises  for the love of the people towards a more equitable African future the were met with dead ends.  

“We seek to ensure that we move away from the donor-recipient relationship with the developed world to a new partnership based on mutual respect as well as shared responsibility and accountability” Thabo Mbeki.

“They have defined a new paradigm for the development relationship. We are dancing to their tune, but at least it is our own dance” UK Foreign Office on NEPAD

“Let them have their experience in liberty, either they give Africa the example we give Europe of a united self-respecting, hard -working nation or else the primitive roots sprout again. In which case we have control of the army, the militias, planes, the tanks…….

“What is independence to them? They are not a nation. They are a bunch of tribes, the Bulubas detest, the Luas, detest the bacongo,  colonial rule holds the country together”  Belgian Officials discussing the The Independene of Zaire  now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Extract from the movie Lumumba.

AFTER  HEARTBREAK THEN COMES… REAL LOVE.

But our forerunners, our forefathers tried. They did they best could, given the knowledge  and understanding at their disposal. They used the tools given to them to do their best both on a personal and collective levels.  Yes mistakes were made. You make mistakes too don’t you, at work, at home? some are very bad, some not so bad. But mistakes they are still. I have the utmost respect for them and their collective efforts. They weathered the storm, they charged forward – were leaders in the truest sense that they still to this day, lead by example. The best we can do is to learn from their mistakes and continue the fight.  They  did make  significant in-roads. I thank them for their courage, their resilience, their tenacity. We can learn from them, from their efforts.

The Moral of the story? You can’t dismantle the master house, using the master’s tools. But perhaps that is actually not the point. The point perhaps is not about dismantling the Master’s house. Perhaps the point I’m making is its better to build your own house with your own tools. Is that a far-fetched idea? What have you learned?

Credits: Quotes from:

Behind the Rainbow – a documentary film on the ANC by Jihan Al tahri

Thabo Mbeki and the battle for the Soul of the ANC – a book by William Gumede.

Lumba – the film on the first Prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Patrice Lumumba.

Oh!Bama… Love is Hard!

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. VIRIN: 090120-F-3961R-919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

29 June 2013.  A year ago, I met a beautiful man. In the midst of violent protests.   In the midst of some kind of a revolution.   We were friends.  United by a common purpose. Like me he is a journalist, a brilliant mind. A walking encyclopedia of  politics.  A gentleman.  A player. A strategist.  I – a maverick in every sense of the word – the passionate go getter,  the analyst who wears her  heart  on her sleeve  most times  and a visionary sometimes.

Our meeting was a challenge.  At the edge of Independence  Square( Place de la Independence). My passion was waning.  He was wearing dark Ray-Ban sun glasses. Unlike his fellow journalists he wasn’t wearing the customary “Press” flat jacket. Actually he looked quite dapper. With just a pen  in his hand.  If he wasn’t the most sensuous hue of dark chocolate, I would have dismissed him for a  pretentious Frenchman. He laughed at me “You are crazy!” The first words he uttered to me, as if we had been hanging out together the night before “You are new here, you can’t speak French and you want to write a story about the elections?” He shook his head. I was beyond irritated. Yes the odds were against me. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do” I said like a wounded child. “You don’t know me or where I’ve been, it’s either you want to help me or you don’t” I said moving to other less intimidating male journalists. He shook his head and continued to stare at something in the distance while I asked anyone who would listen questions… “ so when do you expect the march to start” in broken English and French. My frustration was growing, like a gene he rubbed me up the wrong way and smoke was coming out of my every pore.   “Non, no English, French” they each responded to my incoherent list of questions, they were not even trying, but I was relentless.

“What do you want to know?” He eventually turned to me as if to shut me up. “Everything “ I replied  raising my eyebrows. He continued to stare into the distance and told me everything as if he were an insider, a lawyer, a protester, the activist, the public, the politician, the president, a passerby “here’s my number” he said jotting it down on my green notepad as if to a child “call me if there’s anything you don’t understand with your stories, I will help you” he said jumping into a white van which came from no-where and disappeared just as fast.

I resolved not to call him. He had given me more than enough. I can take it from here.

Time passed. Eventually, suddenly we were friends. It was not anyone’s plan.  I was in distress when he called me for the umpteenth time, in a taxi to no particular destination. He was right. I am crazy.

We became friends. Really good friends. We talked all night. He sang with Luciano and I thought how cute.  We shared a vision, a meeting of two minds. One day we discovered that love is infinitely possible and can be found in the simplest of  moments together – sharing milk and honey  – coffee and tea – fish and rice a ride on  his beloved motorbike – a football match – a football game – a basketball game, skipping – working. Listening.  Dancing. “That score was for you baby!” He would say kissing me in celebration.  I would be half reading something, half writing something, crocheting a baby blanket for his sister or mine I hadn’t decided, half marveling on how easily pleased he was by something so well… small. It was just a game. I had no doubt of his love for me and neither did he.  One day as I was basking in a vision of infinite possibilities, he took my hand lovingly and said “ It’s going to be hard,   and you will have to be have to be strong” I smiled his favourite smile. He held my hand even tighter and continued “ I believe in you Jedi, I know you, you are strong”  I believed him. My strength renewed. I thought I was ready. Come what may.

He ,dear reader, is not a  man of a thousand words, so when he spoke I listened and it is hard not to believe what he says.  It became even harder to doubt him when my mother, a woman of even fewer words said to me  “He is a man of his word”.

But I guess I didn’t believe every word he said  after all – because nothing – nothing in the world could have ever prepared me for what would follow.  Nothing could have prepared me for just how hard things would get,  how much I, we were up against. How high the mountain I would have to climb, how many lives would be at stake, hopes, dreams, aspirations would have to die in the process. How many, many very small but heartbreaking decisions I would have to take. How so many would be disappointed, angered, be  betrayed. How much I would have to compromise, overlook, confront. How much opposition would come my way from all sides, every side, everywhere I look.  I guess I didn’t quite comprehend how much hate our love would have to fight..  How much I would have to CHANGE. My mind. I didn’t know how many times I would be ripped to pieces, how much my world would be turned up-side down inside out, scrutinized, analyzed, checked, and surveyed.  I never knew how easily I could be forgotten, left for dead, made irrelevant, of no consequence even to my own blood.

I didn’t know how mad I could get.  How crazy I would become – when Isolated from you. I never knew how lonely and alone I could feel right there in your arms.  I never knew how much self-control I would need  to just keep it all together. For  you. For us.  For me. I never knew how far my heart  would have to stretch to accommodate, each and every bitterly, cold blow.  Actually, I don’t think I knew what it actually meant to be strong. To believe in something,  in someone.  I didn’t know that it would require EVERYTHING!, blood sweat and Oh so many tears. And then  some.  I didn’t know how much I could grow, how- ever soft and tender my heart could get. I didn’t know that I could be capable of greatness even in my weakest of weakest   moments. I didn’t know how much power I had in being vulnerable, how empowering powerlessness could be. I never knew that  I could be this gentle, this patient, this peaceful in the eye of a raging furnace. Yes I never knew I had so much love in me, pulsating from the very core of my being.  I didn’t know that I was love or that love is my essence .  Enfin,  what  I didn’t expect, and this is altogether laughable, I didn’t expect that I would find, in right here in me, my greatest challenger. My greatest fan. My very own  hero. Myself.

Even as I get ready to let go and to hold on, even as I from time to time lose hope, faith; even as I begin to doubt  the vision which was once so clear, so vivid, so ultimately possible . The irony of American President Barack Obama’s African Safari – from Senegal to South Africa – not withstanding – brings it all together,  my past, present and future.  I thought it can’t be true after all.  I never knew love like this before. I pick up a book on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Antjie Krog almost accidentally, briefly, takes me back to Goree Island… where we danced under the moonlight.

“I know it’s hard, harder than you ever imagined, but it’s possible, yes, we can.”  “If you believe, anything is possible” my younger sister gently encourages me every day.   And then I see her ,on her wedding day, So radiant, so beautiful  in her white and pink All Stars… about to walk down the Isle  and  suddenly, poetically her feet give way, to some kind of a dance , a cha-cha-cha,  a folks trot,  running on the spot,  a jog,  shaking it all off,  at the starting line, warming up to a  marathon of a lifetime.  I will never forget that image. I now understand what was unfathomable at the time.  Yes, I cannot say with any certainty that I know what tomorrow holds, or if I will like its presence.  All I have is now, today.  And I am excited. I am happy to be here.  To be Alive.  In  this moment in time.  I am so grateful for the gift of love, in all its shapes and forms, because love never ever fails.

“I never said it would easy, I only said it would be worth it” Mae West.

Love.

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