POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

[LISTEN]

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

Everything seems set in stone until…

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

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

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

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

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

He explains

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The question is, will you choose it?

 

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“SECRETLY WE ARE GAY” – MY ANC, MY SWAG CAMPAIGN

One of the Embassadors of the" My ANC My Swag" Campaign  being Interview i n Umlazi  at the Weekend.
One of the Embassadors of the” My ANC My Swag” Campaign being Interviewed in Umlazi at the Weekend.

Did You know?  That back in the 1960s a new word  emerged. Swag. An acronym used by those  in the know to communicate  that aha   ” Secretly We Are Gay” and the word/slash acronym soon became a popular word used world-wide to  describe  really cool people who more often than not tend to dance to their own tune and possess copious amounts of style  and were more often than not – quite simply fabulous people to be with.  So it was with a great sense of irony and (private  humour  on my side) that I observed  that the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANCYL) has adopted this term for this year’s election campaign in an effort to lure  young voters  to join and vote for the party.

It was actually quite hilarious to watch  the ANC’s General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, former National Police Commissioner (a man with a lot of “swag” read style ) Bheki Cele,  KwaZulu Natal Premier – Senzo Mcunu and a host of other ANC provincial and national officials literally shaking their bosoms to the South African hit song and now the MetroFM  song of the year “Y-Tjukuja ” by Uhuru, next to skimpily clad young girls wearing the Yellow Black and Green  T-shirts with the tag-line “MY ANC MY SWAG”

They all clamoured on stage  and  jokingly tried to out-do each other with their skillful dancing: shaking hips, waists, bottoms and stamping their feet at the launch of the  ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal “ANC Friday ” campaign. It was meant of course to be a hip cool event with the goal  of projecting the  ANC as a current and relevant professional party, not stuck in old traditions and customs , but a party  which is truly moving with the times; one which is relevant and accommodating of young people’s love for fashion, accessories, music and the good times.

I mean it was really funny to observe because though the ANC was at the helm of ensuring human rights and dignity for all including LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex) people;  although both party and government policies are quite progressive on that front: I  honestly doubt that the ANC would have approved such a campaign in aid of the LGBTI community.

The ANC and government have maintained a very  contradictory (if not schizophrenic) narrative when dealing with issues pertaining to the  LGBTI community.  Two cases spring to mind.  Comments by the former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xigwana in 2010  after viewing  Photographer Zanele Muholi’s work at a collective art exhibition held  at the Constitutional Court’s Women’ Goal labeling her photographs; portraits of women in same-sex relationship as  ” non nation building” as she angrily walked out of the exhibition co-funded by her own Department  of Arts and Culture. She was indeed quite disturbed that she had been made  party to such “wrong behaviour, which disturbed core  South African society, it was simply not nation building”.   We can also  similarly recall hateful  comments made  by South African Ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane in his July 2008 article  published in the Sunday Sun titled: “Call me names, gay’s not okay”  which he skillfully penned at the height of brutal killings of black lesbians in the country. Though the Human  Rights Commission (HRC) launched a case against Mr  Qwelane for Hate speech. Mr Qwelane stood by his words asserting that he too has a right to freedom of expression and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution. Not surprising the Department of International Affairs and Corporation (Dirco) said in a statement responding to President Museveni’s draconian  new  anti -gay law  would see  queer people being sentenced to life in prison, that  ” The South African Government will adopt a quiet diplomacy approach on the Ugandan issue”. Constitutional Court expert Pierre De Vos says there is untold danger in this particular type of quiet diplomacy:”

Sometimes absolute silence becomes politically impossible. Those who are not prepared to embrace the full humanity of fellow human beings because of prejudice or self-protection will then hide behind impersonal statements or will make hollow declarations devoid of any real compassion.

It is the absence of any words or actions that display true solidarity with the oppressed minority that is usually the dead give-away. Such statements impose a different kind of silence – even as it pretends to speak about the love that “dare not speak its name” – which can often have equally devastating effects. This silence – which hints at but never names or describes the oppression of gay men and lesbians and its often devastating effects on fellow human beings in full – is the silence of the hypocrite and the closet homophobe. This, unfortunately, is the quality of the “half-silence” of the South African government about the horrors faced by many people who experience same-sex sexual desire in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

So while this may have given me a chuckle and some much-needed comic relief,  it left me with more questions than answers. I wondered if they would have danced and jived, with such glee had they known what  Swag actually stands for. I wondered if they would have approved the SWAG campaign had they  known  that SWAG is in actual fact an acronym declaring that they are secretly gay.  Imagine if  Secretly We Are Gay was an actual ANC election campaign – what difference that would make to so many people on the continent….  but the ANC’s SWAG is all about appearances as concept developer (pictured – far left)  explained on Friday that the  campaign was to lure  young people who love fashion, to express themselves in ANC colours. The MY ANC MY SWAG  Facebook page states:” MY ANC MY SWAGG AIMING @ KEEPING ANC MEMBERS ON A SWAGG ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE THIS IS A ONE OF BIG CAMPAIGNS MOVING TOWARDS 2014 N BEYOND THAT WILL KEEP ANC IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE THIS WILL ALSO ASSIST IN KEEPING BORN FREE GENERATION MOBILIZED ”

One can only sigh at the missed opportunity.  More than anything though,  the recent events both in South Africa and in Uganda make one thing crystal clear: Those in power will do just about anything to get votes and  remain in power for as long as it is humanly possible. They will do so by any means necessary even at the expense of minority groups, the poor , the young and the uninformed. They will hold on to power even at the expense of everyone’s most basic human rights.  Which means we must equally stand up and  defend minority rights and the basic human rights for ALL  by any means necessary. Because power plus love equals Peace.

Ends