THE NEW DEAL: OLD NEWS, NEW DATES

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It has become phenomenally difficult to retain any level of optimism regarding African politics these days. It’s as if the new wave of cynicism is overshadowing anything positive taking place including an event which at any other time in history would have been cause for enormous celebration throughout the continent. But the removal of the oldest statesman in the world to date, President Robert Mugabe, by the country’s military has been received with mixed emotions. As young Zimbabweans took to the streets in Harare and other major cities around the world celebrating being able to  finally hoist and wrap the Zimbabwean flag around their shoulders with pride – an army of writers, political analysts, historians and arm-chair critics also took to their screens drafting opinion pieces warning the long-suffering nation not to claim easy victories; the newly installed president – Emmerson Mnangagwa – is a ruthless crocodile after-all.

A protégé who had only good things to say about the outgoing President.

In South Africa, ANC presidential candidate Cyril Ramaphosa’s New Deal speech which he practised at the ANC Johannesburg Regional Economic Colloquium in Soweto ten days ago– was overshadowed by the winds of change sweeping over Zimbabwe. Even though the South African press which is only now catching up to the story, were present to report on it, they would have found, like financial journalist Duma Gqubule nothing new in it.

I was disturbed by my former boss’ speech. It said dololo (nothing) on what he would do to get the economy out of its worst post-apartheid crisis. I got the impression he so badly wants to be president he cannot think of anything else. He will decide what to do with the economy when he is elected.” Gqubule went on to share similar sentiments expressed by a former ANC friend who opined in a chat group that; “Not just about the economy, it says nothing about everything. I don’t know what’s wrong with us about detail. It’s drivel, waffle and pointless verbiage. Ramaphosa’s  running mate  for the ANC presidency Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma who is promising “radical economic transformation” did not inspire confidence in Gqubule either, “ I also listened to NDZ’s interview on ANN7; she also said dololo (nothing) about what she will do to get the economy out of its worst post-apartheid crisis.”

Mervyn Abrahams director of the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (PACSA) shared a similar, though more detailed analysis of Ramaphosa’ New Deal – One million new jobs plan.“It’s not bold” he said,” It is a small vision which does not respond to the economic crisis,” he said in a statement released shortly after his speech.

Good For Few; Bad For Many

With 8.4million black South Africans already unemployed and with an untenable expanded unemployment rate of 41 percent: a target of one million jobs over five years is an inadequate response in terms of the depth of the economic crisis we’re in.” he added that “ one million jobs over five years translates to the creation of 200,000 jobs per year over the next five years”.

The latest jobs statistics out of Statistics South Africa for the third quarter show that while 723 thousand South Africans joined the labour force, 366 thousand became unemployed in the last year.

He also notes that since 2015 poverty rates have increased (reversed) with three-thirds of the black population (64%) living in poverty.

If you are anything like me, perhaps you are starting to see a pattern emerge – a global pattern which has been the mainstay of African politics, almost without exception, since the winds of change swept the continent in the 1960’s.

This pattern is better explained by US Major General Smedley when he appeared before the US congressional to tell what he knew of activities (business plot)  which he believed might lead to an attempt to set up a fascist dictatorship in the US by corporate America. “ A plan which was outlined to me was to form an organization of veterans, to use as a bluff or a club at least to intimidate government and breakdown government and our democratic institutions. The upshot of the whole things was that I was supposed to lead a group of 500,000 men which would be able to take over functions of government. My main interest in this is to maintain our democratic institutions I want to retain the right to vote the right to speak freely and the right to write if we maintain these basic principles our democracy is safe. No dictatorship can exist with suffrage, freedom of speech and the press” he said during a press conference circa 1933. Whether or not Corporate America ever managed to execute this plan, later on, is debatable. But the correlations of this plot with what’s been happing in African states and more recently both in South Africa with Ramaphosa as the highly favoured future president or in Zimbabwe, with Mnangagwa taking over the reins.

I would like to believe that our past, current and perhaps even future presidents succeed or fail on their own terms; that they are not operating at the behest of global multinational corporations with nefarious narcissistic interests, who decide through a variety of blackmails, debt and violent tactics, who stays and who goes. I would love to believe that we are truly independent.

But I  would be dangerously naïve.

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POWER FAILURE: LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY’S HOME

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

Everything seems set in stone until…

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

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

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

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

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

He explains

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The question is, will you choose it?

 

The Taxi Bulletin

Robert Mugabe in 1991. Taken by myself.
Robert Mugabe in 1991. Taken by myself. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Taxi Bulletin

I have been off news in recent days,  I watch but there’s a certain part of my brain  that sort of refuses to pay attention.  But luckily my current mode of transport brings me news in the most unexpected ways.  This is news as heard from a taxi driver, two old women in the first front row. A die hard  Orlando Pirates Soccer Club fan in the front  (riding shot gun)who is later replaced by another die hard Alex man.  Destination:  Johannesburg Bree Taxi Rank From: Kliptown Soweto.  Atmosphere: late afternoon  Metro FM is  on the dial and  Eddie Zondie is playing his Sunday Ballads from  Whitney Houston to Mariah Carey softly in the background . Sad Love songs in Short. Taxi conversations like this one are rare, so I put together a little News Bulletin for you. Enjoy 🙂

Good Afternoon, In the headlines…

Orlando Pirate fans stoic despite defeat

The country’s youth is doing amazing things!

Warning;  If you’re afraid of rats, don’t live in Alex

And finally President Jacob Zuma is a stubborn man

Good Afternoon  – your top TAXI story this hour……

An unknown taxi driver says Orlando Pirate fans are brave, because they continue to wear their team  jerseys and colours  despite their loss against Kaizer chiefs at the weekend.  A man sitting shot gun at the front of the taxi almost jumped out of the car following this statement screaming, “if you are a true fan, you will continue to wear your colours, whether you lose or win, a true fan dies with his team.” He said causing the two old women sitting behind him to roar with laughter, they consoled the young man in the front seat saying pirates did put up a good fight in one of the most watched games this season.  The taxi driver told him to make a bet next time if he is so loyal to his team, put his money where his mouth is. The pirate man replied that he has mouths to feed, and that look now he would have lost money to buy food for his children had he place a bet for  Pirates.  He asked to be dropped off at a nearby a tree. The taxi driver obliged.

******

A working man from Alex has announced that a boy from his neighbourhood, his next door neighbor in fact has killed his mother and was later arrested for his crime. He told the sad news to two old women sitting at the first front row of the taxi, after he asked one of the women why she was already eating lunch en route to work in Johannesburg, “what will you eat later” he asked. “I will drink tea” the woman replied and they all  agreed that they should spoil themselves  with KFC (chicken) once in a while just as  a treat, as children nowa days often take the money to buy a new  popular drug called  Nyaope.   The women were shocked at the  mans’ horrific story. The taxi driver commented that the Children of today are doing   AMAZING things. Wonders, he keeps saying. The man from Alex encouraged by the growing interest in his story  added more details saying  “ apparently he suffocated his mother, who is a known alcoholic and a person living with  3k-three kicks or S3 a new synonym for HIV/AIDS.  After he discovered that she was no longer breathing he tried to resuscitate her with water, but she was already gone, he continued.  Police found him crying next to his mother’s body. Hmmm hmmm the women shook their heads in Unison.

******

Don’t even dare to live in Alexandra Township north  of Johannesburg if you’re scared of rats warned an unknown driver of a taxi from Kliptown to Johannesburg this Sunday afternoon. The taxi driver claims that rats in Alexandra Township North of Johannesburg are like people they just look at you.  The taxi driver’s comments caused the two elder women sitting behind him to laugh heartily like old friends at the taxi driver’ description of the rat infested township. A man from Alex sitting next to the taxi driver disagreed, saying Alex, arguably the oldest township in Johannesburg, is truly the place to be. He said despite the rats – once you live there you won’t want to leave.   Swerving his car to the left the taxi driver told his passenger that in Alex – rats are not scared of people they just look at you and move on with their business bringing the elder women to tears with more laughter, but the man from Alex kept saying, Alex is the original township, the women must come there, at least they can have a piece of land. The taxi driver replied that it’s true, we all come from Alex, but if you’re scared of rats don’t live in Alex.

******

And finally……Two elderly female passengers travelling from Kliptown to Johannesburg say President Jacob Zuma is a stubborn man. “He has umuti (medicine/ behavior)of  Mugabe so what are we going to do”?  They recently asked on their way to work. They were referring to a possibility that South African President Jacob Zuma may refuse to step down as president of the country when the time comes and like Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe continue to contest elections after almost four decades in power.  Zimbabweans will go to the polls this week. However  the man from Alex refuted their claims, saying that though he agreed that the President is a stubborn man, he refused to believe that  South Africa would allow him to stay in power beyond a third term. If he is not doing the right thing, he added, he will be voted out. The elderly women were not convinced.

That’s all the news we have from the Taxi.  Thank you for reading.

Saturday Night live – Jozi Style

What the picture may have looked like on a Taxi to Cresta

Bree, Johannesburg South Africa:  The Taxi Marshall, acts as a bus conductor, except he is doing it at a taxi rank.  He peek’s into the taxi bound for Cresta, ensuring that all the 16 seats in the minibus taxi have been occupied. A woman sits in the second row from the front, holding a child. The seat next to her is empty.

“Is that child, under three-years of age” He asks the woman holding the little boy comfortably on her lap.

“He’s three” The mother replies  hesitantly as if considering in hindsight what the right answer would have been.

“Well then, let him sit on the seat” He says closing the door loudly.

“No but it’s fine, someone can take this seat, someone can sit here” She repeats her voice almost desperate.

” No Sisi, sisi, I  asked you how old is the child, is the child under three years?”  The taxi marshall asks  again.

“He’s three, I told you already that he is three” she says argumentatively. The taxi driver comes in and asks again how old the child is after having noticed that the taxi door had been closed but there was still an empty seat in the front row. It’s not ready to move yet, the taxi must be full before it leaves the rank. All 16 seats must have passengers, sometimes a 17th person can be squeezed in just – nje.

The taxi could be well on its way to Cresta now.  It is already seven o’clock at night, on a month-end Saturday in Johannesburg. Many of the passengers had places to go, people to see,  not to mention having to walk for however long at night to their places of residence. Minibus taxi’s don’t drop passengers at their front gate. Passengers in this taxi were already not so keen on a protracted waiting period while the woman makes an  argument no one seems to understand.

” Sisi, put the child on the seat, it’s not me, it’s the  government” He says banging the door once again. Then he opens it again as if pleading with her “the insurance is not going to pay for your child if something happens and it was found that you were holding him”

His last statement almost pours petrol into a fire already burning invisibly inside this woman. She seethed.

” Don’t you tell me about government insurance! We have been involved in so many taxi accidents, I have yet to see  insurance! don’t tell me about government insurance, government insurance where? Kuphi? Where did you ever see government insurance for  Taxi’s! Nxaaa!”

Terse conversation begins to bubble up in the taxi. Other passengers don’t understand why this woman is  being so difficult. “What does she want, she says the kid is three, so she much pay, if she said the kid is two and a half we could be going now” They mutter to each other.

Finally the driver comes and settles the dispute. “Mama, you said the kid is three, so he must sit on the next seat”

The woman dumps her child on the seat next to her, which then means the taxi can get going.

This eases up the air in the taxi, passengers are now preoccupied with their wallets and getting the right fare and change to the driver. The hum of the traffic barely subdues whatever conversation was going on in front.

“You must remember you taxi drivers, that your money comes from people, we pay for taxi’s you can’t treat us like this so badly, your business depends on us. We are the ones who pay for these taxis’, telling me about government insurance!” Hmmph.  It is the woman with the child again. She still hasn’t stopped.

Her voice disappears , four – three – three. Passengers collect their taxi fare.

Then a few minutes later the taxi driver says ” No no no,  Sisi, I don’t want imali yezinyembezi, imali oyikhalela kanga” He continues ” Why are you crying over this money, I asked  you if the child is under three years of age and  you said he’s three. Now you are crying when you have to pay, no’   He says swerving the taxi to a stop by the curb. You can take another taxi if you like take your money.” He says ” I don’t want money that’s been cried over  like this”

The Woman Screams. “How dare you!  you can’t take me from Bree and come and dump me here in the middle of no-where! take me back to Bree if you want. But you are not leaving me here! I am not getting out!”

The woman is now very angry, it is clear that the conversation between her and the driver continued while the passengers were counting their cents and now it seems it has escalated to such a degree that they might have to go back to the rank and drop this woman off. It’s a conundrum. It’s now up to the driver to decide if he is going back to Bree or if he’s going to take this women’s “tear” money and proceed further.

The taxi is quiet now.

“It’s just because you started talking about me being Zimbabwean! Kungenaphi lokho ukuthi ngiyiZimbabwean? What does it have to do with anything?!” She launches into a long monologue that swallows  the taxi driver’s attempts at an explanation.  The taxi is moving ahead, and you can almost hear the collective sigh in the taxi. The taxi driver took the Woman’s tear money. But she is not satisfied.

” Why do you say you, you Zimbabweans?!” Did I ask you about being South African? where does my nationality come in?Hhe? We are all the same maaan, we all Africans ! What makes you better than me, you, you a South African?  You black like me, there’s not difference between you and me, you driving a taxi like this at night you are no better than me, do you call this a life?”

Her voice is now the only music playing in the taxi.

” what do you have, a South African, you are black like me, we are both african,  the sun burns us the same here, we are all struggling all poor. what do you guys know? saying I’m Zimbabean, Zimbabwean?  where does being  Zimbabwean come in? huh? You South African’s you must just know that we are all Africans here, no one is better than the other… Johannesburg is a city for everyone, you don’t own Johannesburg, Johannesburg is not yours!’

Phone rings.”Hello” On male passenger answers “yes, I’m in a taxi” I call,I call, I call, but no one come, no one pick”

“are you still in town” His conversation breaks the monotony of the Woman’s speech. “well I call I call, no one pick, no one pick eh?”

The back seat giggles at the mans; fruitless journey, or accent it’s not clear.

“Hello?! Hello?! I’m coming, I am in a taxi to Cresta, Huh? I’m in taxi to Cresta wait for me” Another passenger a woman this time takes a call and begins telling the person on the other end of the line over and over again that she is currently on a taxi to Cresta.

” What do you South African’s know huh?! What do you know?! ” The Woman’s voice has found its place once again, at the top of the passenger’s heads. ” What do you know huh? You South Africans….. all you know is killing, just killing each other  that’s all you know, you are no better, we are all suffering here  all suffering”

Excuse me, a young woman interjects, ” the lady at the back says I must  give you this” she says handing the woman a R20 ( +- 2 USD) rand note.

“Na I’m fine” the woman says to more silence in the taxi.

Muttering begins again ” this lady just gave that woman 10 rands for the seat but she doesn’t want it” ” Oh she’s turning back money” “Oh Sisi, yehlisa umoya, calm down” ” Oh nami, I wanted to give her the money too,  shoo, she doesn’t even want the money”  The muttering continues, no one dared speak any louder in case the woman heard their comments and decided to turn her attention on them instead of the taxi-driver.

“You know I was fine. It’s  just that I was fine with the seat and everything until you said you Zimbabweans, You Zimbabweans for what?!  She had started again.

” We are all in the same boat here, we are all suffering, everybody is counting pennies, counting their money, that’s why we’re in a taxi, all of us… we are all in this taxi right now because we are suffering, no one is better…..”

A phone rings. “Hello” a man sitting  in front of the taxi answers his phone.

“excuse me can you please call me after ten minutes?  Yes, call me after ten minutes, There’s a problem in the taxi” he told whoever who was listening to him on the other end of the line  with such seriousness.

Silence

The the entire taxi shook with laughter.

Even the Woman was laughing and was even able to  articulate  that fact between giggles.

“We are all laughing in the taxi now,” she said her shoulders shaking.

Ends.

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PS: When I got out of the taxi,  I learnt one of the most important lessons in life. When first  got into the taxi I sat next to the Woman with the child. I moved to the back because I wanted to be more comfortable. While sitting next to  her I overheard her talking to her son saying we won’t have anything to eat tonight. But I wasn’t sure if she said that because they genuinely didn’t have money for food or  because they’ll arrive too late to start eating when they get to where ever they were.  When the argument about the seat started, I immediately thought it must be a money  problem, that’s why I passed on the R20 to her as a gift. I know from experience that however small it could  go a long way when money is too tight to mention. Perhaps it was  her pride (which she is entitled to ) or just a matter of principle, but I learnt that sometimes money is not everything, and  people just want to be heard, they want to express themselves”  No money in the world can silence that need.