2018 Budget: In a Cartoon

This Cartoon by an anonymous Japanese illustrator titled ‘Vegetables are Expensive”  perfectly illustrates the (potential) impact of the 2018 budget in South Africa. But, if you still need to understand more about what the one percent increase in Value Added Tax  (VAT) will mean for South African people  in general and poor people in particular researchers at the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Actions (PACSA)  who’ve been keeping tabs on the price of food for many years in their  Food Price Barometer, have some insight.  See statement below:

“Since the announcement of the increase of VAT from 14% to 15%,  many politicians, economists and other ‘experts’ have argued that working-class households are protected from the negative impact of the increase in VAT because certain foods are zero-rated.  We would have done better to listen to the voices of ordinary women who prepare food for their families to understand the impact of a raised VAT level for working-class households.

The underlying assumption of the ‘experts’ is that working-class households only eat zero-rated foods.  This assumption is flawed and could be construed as having racist overtones.

  • PACSA tracks 38 foods on a monthly basis that working class households have identified as the foods which they would buy should they have sufficient money to do so.  20 out of the 38 foods are vatable; 18 are zero-rated.  Of the total cost of the basket of R3129.84, a 15% VAT component is R221.59.  The total contribution of VAT to the overall PACSA Food Basket is 7.08%.
  • In order to provide a meal working-class households don’t just use zero-rated foods.  A mother does not send her child to school with a few slices of brown bread; she sends her child to school with a sandwich that in addition to the brown bread will require margarine, peanut butter,  or jam, cheese, polony – these are all subject to VAT.
  • The same applies to cooking a meal for a family.  Working class households do not only use maize meal, brown bread, dried beans and rice which are zero-rated.  Mothers prepare meals with more than just these zero-rated foods.  They also require other foods in order to create a meal.  A chicken stew served with maize meal requires salt and spices and chicken.  None of which is zero-rated.
  • All of our basic foods (even the zero-rated foods) require a cooking process to be made into a meal and this requires water and electricity which is subject to VAT.

By arguing that increasing the VAT rate will have no impact on working-class households because certain foods are zero-rated reveals a lack of understanding of what people eat and how meals are put together.  There is just no way in which households are able to escape this increase in VAT when it comes to food.  The only way in which households can escape the impact of VAT is if all foods are zero-rated.”

 You can learn more about PACSA’s work here

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AT LAST: YOU’RE YOUNG, GIFTED AND BLACK

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A once dear friend of mine loved to compare me to the American singer, songwriter, composer and pianist Nina Simone.  He would send me messages saying he was listening to Nina, who reminds him of me. Instead of accepting the compliment I  resisted the temptation to lash out at him and chose only to focus on the fact that he missed me.

But in the privacy of my own mind,  I resented the insinuation. Don’t get me wrong, to say I loved Nina would be an understatement; I soaked my soul in her music and I truly felt that she was the only artist dead or alive at the time who could define the sound of my heart beat one small cardiac vein at a time. Her conflation of classical, jazz and pop improvisations hit just the right notes with me.

Indeed while there was a whole squad of great American soul sisters who rocked my world such as Ella Fitzgerald,  Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan,  and Dinah Washington, and they all still do,  there was something distinct about Nina which rattled me, her political being got right under my skin.

A child prodigy who started playing the piano when she was three years old, she personified the ideal of black power in her body while articulating black pain and aspirations like no other male or female artist I have known of in my life. Busi Mhlongo comes a close second.  She was a perfect paradox and I could relate to her.

And yet the idea that my friend whom I loved and respected saw something resembling Nina Simone in me filled me with enormous indignation. I was convinced that he must have fundamentally misunderstood who I was and what I was about,  because how else could he compare me to Nina Simone?

I was scared of Nina Simone. I was startled by her genius and the fact that she got me and all of us from the past, present and future stupified me. The magnitude of her ability to feel left me nauseous and sometimes seasick in a dry Johannesburg winter. Her agility in navigating swathes of pain which seemed so infinite in a voice which could be as rough as gravel or smooth as coffee and cream left me simply unhinged. She peeled off my skin as if were a bandage covering ancient scars which were as fresh as if they had been inflicted mere minutes ago. Her grief poured out of her fingers and left me panting with awe, out of breath. Until it filled her body so much so that she could no longer contain it, it poured out of her eyes, her mouth, her skin, her nostrils, and every single breath. It was raw, and sometimes too frightening to watch.

By the time she died in Paris, France in 2003, I had read her autobiography I Put a Spell On You (1992) and heard anecdotes from those who had met her that she was a brash, bitter and unfriendly woman – an insufferable prima donna to the very end. I was greatly disappointed. Though I admired her talent I didn’t want to end up bitter and alone or spoken of in such disparaging terms by those who knew me intimately. How could someone so talented and great who fought so hard not to be minimized as an artist be reduced to nothing because of her love for whiskey and cigarettes?

While I loved her and felt immense gratitude because she helped me to dive deep into the ocean of my feelings, I didn’t want her life, it seemed too hard, too painful, too haunted, too lonely and just too much.

So when my friend compared me to her it felt as though he was putting a spell on me, telling me that I was like her, a talented black woman with a heart as big as Wakanda but who would always live to regret not being able to reach her fullest potential. I was like Nina who still thought, three years before her death, that she would have been happier had she achieved her goal of becoming the first black woman concert pianist in the US. She thought she would have been a happier person had she went to the most prestigious music venue in America, Carnegie Hall and been the first black woman to play Bach, Carl Czerny and Liszt.

Despite her enormous success – in her mind, she had been effectively cheated out of her dream when she was rejected by the Curtis Institute of Music because of her race. Not only that but music her first love had robbed her of her desire for a life-long companionship in marriage.  She still craved the kind of love which would take all of her brilliance in. Not just the fame, influence and potential to make loads of money, but the other side as well; the grieving,  lonely, suffering part of her  which  still  held on to all the loves and lives she had lost –  the little girl who was still playing Bach in music halls across the world, not just My Baby Just Cares For Me or I loves you Porgy. 

And yet the lady doth protest too much.

Indeed there is some element of truth in his comparison. Perhaps not in my level of talent nor in my activism which has been minute, to say the least. Perhaps we are similar in that we are both, Nina Simone and I, collectors of a vast array of human emotions through space and time. Hers found expression in her music and activism while mine… well that’s a story for another day.

In many ways I am like her, I hate  being pigeonholed and I often find that I do have to “constantly re-identify myself to myself, reactivate my own standards, my own convictions about what I’m doing and why.” I am sold out to freedom.

Last night as I sat up reflecting on my life so far and what’s next – I thought of Nina Simone – who taught me so much about my own life by fully living hers. Even though I hate to admit, we are more alike than different.

So as I  made peace with her, with the fact that just as she knew the contents of my heart without looking in, I could see her tears without her shedding any. As I accepted parts of her I was uncomfortable with, afraid of even, I remembered that there is someone who once loved Nina Simone as much as I did. He was able to show me another kinder and gentler side to her.

My Father.

Many moons ago, my father sang a Nina Simone song for me after I informed him of my discovery of her music. I was all caught up in my feelings about the strange fruit in Mississippi Goddamn while trying not be a misunderstood blackbird wishing it knew how it would feel to be free when he interrupted me with a smooth rendition of, “to be young gifted and black oh what a lovely precious dream, to be young gifted and black open your heart to what I mean…”  A song Simone named after an unfinished play by her friend Lorraine Hansberry, who was the first black writer to have a hit Broadway show. I was impressed by him, he sang it until I started to feel, Good.

I began to understand a little about what love is. My father is able to find me, wherever I am, in whatever language and cultural iconographies I may have adopted in my explorations of what this world has to offer. It’s incredible to know that I am a recipient of such an immense well of unconditional love and freedom. Through this song, my father showed me a side of Nina Simone which I was unaware of,  which helped me understand her humaneness, her fragility. This song allowed me to embrace all of her. Embrace her completely and unconditionally.  She was visionary, a warrior who loved in extraordinary ways. Finally, my father helped me to accept myself, through Nina’s music.

The fact that we can we can look around today whether we are in Africa or in the diaspora in Parliaments or the classroom, from the streets corners to the worlds’ stages – from top to bottom, east to west, the fact that we can look  at the world around us today and be genuinely proud to say that despite everything we still need to do -“to be young, gifted and black, it’s where it’s at!!!  – is because of Nina Simone, my father and generations of black people who saw a future beyond the pain.

Carnegie Hall and the Curtis School of Music could not contain Nina Simone. And that’s a fact!

Click here to listen to the song.

 

SOLD: How Ramaphosa Managed

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Inxeba: Tradition VS Culture

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Back when I was a journalism student at Natal Technikon now DUT I attempted, rather poorly, to articulate the continuous tension between tradition and culture which created a fair amount of conflict within my own mind and in the public sphere. I used the traditional practice of initiating boys into manhood in African-black culture as an example of when culture and tradition can be at odds.

In the piece I attempted to explain the practical reasons why male initiates went to the “mountain” during winter months for circumcision; first for privacy and second; the cold weather would speed up the healing process for their wounds. I argued that while living conditions and medical treatments had advanced to a point where male circumcision could take place almost anywhere in any season;  initiation schools continued to perform the rituals as they were done 200 years ago as if nothing had changed. My analysis was made in the context of a rising number of botched circumcisions which killed a number of boys and left many others injured and or castrated.

But it’s not that simple

This week a better example presented itself through the banning of Inxeba, – The Wound, a South African film which explores tradition and sexuality amid  Xhosa male rites of passage or male circumcision at some Cinemas in parts of the country.

The film hit a raw nerve among ( Xhosa) traditionalist who see it as a violation of a sacred tradition.  Lwando Xasa and Zukiswa Pikoli opined that the filmmaker, William Trengove, a white male had no right making a movie about us.

“Telling our stories through a white lens ensures the dominance and centrality of whiteness.We don’t know Trengove or his reasons for making the movie and showing it to a foreign audience. What we do know is that he made a movie on Xhosa initiation that is off-limits to him.”

The pair along with many who are opposed to the film argue that it is a  continuation of a white supremacists policy of demeaning and bastardising African cultural beliefs.

Others said the film, which I have not seen, is less about Xhosa initiation rites and more about homosexuality. A subject which was the motivation behind  the films’ creation according to its director  William Trengove,

“In writing ‘The Wound’, inspiration came, unexpectedly, from Robert Mugabe. Statements that he and other African leaders have made since the early 90s imply that homosexuality is a symptom of Western decadence that threatens ‘‘traditional’’ culture. And so, we thought ok, let’s use that idea. Let’s imagine ‘‘gayness’’ as a kind of virus that penetrates and threatens a patriarchal organism, and let’s see how that organism responds to being penetrated.”

Not very well it seems.

In the film, he used a cast of untrained actors who were all former Xhosa initiates who re-enacted some of the rituals involved in the initiation process including a sex scene which is the main bone of contention. The inclusion of the sexual act during the initiation ceremony has angered many people including the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (contralesa) who said the movie “wounds”  African cultural practices.  Contralesa’s Prince Manene said in a Mail&Guardian interview that they are not opposed to the film’s gay content.

“If people do that thing, they can do it somewhere else — not within our cultural practice. It doesn’t happen in initiation schools. This is ridiculing our cultural practice. We are being embarrassed. The things that are being shown there is not what is happening in the mountain. It is disgusting and disrespectful of our cultural practices. People making love in an initiation school is not something we see,”

And this is where the conflict between tradition; the passing of beliefs and customs to the next generation and culture; characteristics which describe a particular society at a particular time, takes place.

Trengove is well within his rights in a democratic society to use his imagination to explore and probe subjects which fascinate him which are not only limited to his own culture, tradition or lived experiences – irrespective of his privileged power position as a white male. The constitution guarantees him this right.  Despite his own admission that doing the film is problematic…

“As a white man, representing marginalised black realities that are not my own, the situation is of course complicated. Even highly problematic – It was important to me that the story mirrors this problem. The character of Kwanda is an outsider to the traditional world; he expresses many of my own ideas about human rights and individual freedom. He’s also the problem. His preconceptions create jeopardy and crisis for others who have much more to lose than him. This was my way of saying, ‘‘I don’t have the answers and my own values don’t necessarily apply here.’’

In this way Trengoves’ “The Wound” shares a similar narrative tackled by  Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene  whose last film Moolaade (2004) which depicts women’s’ resistance against the practice of  female circumcision (FGC) in a small village in Burkina Faso, was criticised for being a  ‘staging of a human rights drama;  a performance of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights by employing an “ethical and political category that takes as its departure point a modernity rooted in colonialism.” A slight supported by it being awarded UNESCO Felini Medal, for a long career depicting the struggle for Women’s rights, asserting the role of NGO’s and the United Nations as long-term supporters of Sembene’s films.

Through Moolaade we are made to understand that female circumcision prevalent in West African countries is a tradition clung to for no other reason than to maintain the status quo of male supremacy and patriarchy; by making females docile and marriageable. In Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, Amy Boden argues that by, “writing the Islamic male elders of the village as one-dimensional characters who seem to oppress their wives and daughters solely for the sake of religious tradition and their own sexual desires and egos, Sembène avoids staging a dialogue between the cultural factions advocating for and against genital cutting”

True, only those who are passing on traditional customs can speak highly of its merits both for an individual and community.   Yet this should not automatically disqualify them from performing such customs as a consequence of incidents of malpractice including accidents.

A character flaw 

Even though traditionalists might have a point about the inaccurate depiction of male initiation rights in the film, their protestations however valid make them appear mean and homophobic.

Similar to an incident in the UK, when the Australian teenage heart-throb and former Neighbours star  Jason Donovan sued The Face magazine in 1992 for claiming he was gay. Although he was successful in the case, he also successfully alienated the gay community which resulted in an overall loss of support from his fan base;  who saw his court action as petty and unnecessarily vindictive. Though by all accounts he was entitled to defend himself and his honour – doing so was interpreted as “hate-speech.”  His defence inferred that there is something intrinsically wrong or unacceptable about those people who are, in fact, homosexual.

If Contralesa and indeed all those negatively affected by Inxeba are seriously aggrieved by the film they should also approach the Film and Publication Board of South Africa, The South African Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the South African  Human Rights Commission including the courts, for remedy.

Because this is what we all signed up for

We wanted a democratic country which embraces multiculturalism in all its resplendent manifestations. So we must protect the right to freedom of expression so that we too can practice our traditional customs freely. We signed up for a country in which we could speak freely and have open and transparent discussions about topics and practices which concern us, including those we might deem to be sacrosanct.

So, by all accounts, traditionalist must protest and protect their traditional customs from ridicule and degradation by imaginative artists if they must, but they do not have the right to block others from practising their culture freely; i.e  their right to watch a movie of their choice at a cinema.

As “they” say: it takes more than balls to be a man.

 

Change: Angazi, But I’m sure

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

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

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

So what’s the fuss about?

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

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

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

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

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

Triggered

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

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

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

So what does this have to do with the law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Unveiling Democracy: It’s A Mirage

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

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

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

It is about money

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not a conspiracy

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

Patrons of Power

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

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

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

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

It’s not real  

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

 

 

Coconut: Soothing oil for growing Afros

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

Done.

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

It was interesting.

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

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

Coconut.

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

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

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

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

It’s been a rough ride.

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

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

Obvious. ly

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

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

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

Read it if you can.

 

THE 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.

CLASS WARFARE – WHEN A LITTLE MEANS A LOT

It’s the little of the littlest things that get to you in a time of war. Like today, the 8th of November 2017 is my cousin’s 44th birthday. She was hoping to get out of her house for some fresh air. “Ngibone abantu,” she said over the phone. But she’s trapped in her house because there’s a minibus #taxistrike. The National Taxi Alliance (NTA) is protesting against the government over a litany of grievances which include but are not limited to matters related to taxi route operations, provisions in the National Transport Land Act, the controversial Taxi Recapitalization Programme, compensation for operating licenses and the taxi subsidies.

The minibus taxi is a 40 billion rand industry in South Africa which employs more than 600 thousand people who transport close to 15 million commuters a day. Commuters like my cousin who relies on minibus taxis to run their lives. “ We tried got a lift with someone but we couldn’t go any further because there were no taxis to take us where I wanted to go”

This year has not been an easy one for my cousin and I understand why today of all days she would want to be out of her house and be far away from the place which has become a constant reminder of the new gaping hole in her heart.

Her 14-year-old son whom she affectionately called her “husband” is not home or in School. It will be the first time today in 14 years that she celebrates her birthday without him. He will never grow old enough to sit for his final school exams like hundreds of Matric students who have been left in the lurch and forced to take alternative transport because of today’s strike.

He won’t be there because he died on a train. While train surfing one afternoon in June. His first time riding on top in instead of staff riding. “I used to wonder why his takkies got worn off so quickly,” she told me. “ I used to ask him why were his shoes like this, soccer, he would answer,” She said she wondered what kind of soccer obliterates the soles of his shoes to paper,  what kind of soccer makes shoes like this? “Kanti, he was train surfing” She had no idea of his extramural activities and his love for speed. “he was such a beautiful, obedient child”

So, she won’t be taking a train today or in the near future. She has to wait until Saturday to celebrate her new life when the strike is over. Because unlike two of my friends, taking a cab, a meter taxi, Uber or Taxify is not an option for her.

But life is not so simple for my friends either both of them single working mothers who live on the other side of town. They too are trapped between warring factions. They are forced to do business as if they were criminals.

This after drivers for Uber and the Estonian start-up Taxify operating in Johannesburg and Pretoria faced threats and protest from regular taxi operators who accuse the app-based drivers of poaching customers with cheaper fares.

Three cars were torched and Uber and Taxify drivers are being constantly harassed by maxi-cab drivers blocking them for picking up customers at airports and shopping centres around Johannesburg.

My friends insist on using Uber and Taxify because they are better more efficient options to the lack-lustre service provided by meter cab drivers over the years. They are often notoriously late, old and rickety and often overcharge their customers.

Now they have to hide or wait for hours just to get from A to B. To run errands, take kids to school, get groceries, while pregnant. The story of moving in Post Apartheid South Africa for them is not just about going from A to B. It’s also about power and gender.

It infringes on the women’s personal safety when maxi-cab drivers threaten them, stopping them from taking a ride of their choice. Hating them for being women who speak out, who want to exercise their right to choose. ” who do you think you are” they say “I don’t take instructions from a woman” they insist.  Today South African women, like in the past, once again have to ask for permission to live.

To move and breathe in a bit of fresh air.

It’s the little things that get to you in a time of war.

It’s the little things that ignite a fury.

It’s the littlest of things.

THE LEADING SEX: DOES GENDER MATTER?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we do in this situation?