October 6, 2015 § 1 Comment
Originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian 05 Nov 2014
By Khaya Dlanga
I have been hearing some disturbing news over the past week about what is happening in some industries to deserving black talent.
There is a false notion that black talent feels entitled to seniority at a fast pace. I don’t believe this is true. Those who are great at what they do know that it takes time to hone their skills to be at the top of their game. They don’t expect to get into a company today and be chief executive tomorrow. They just want a fair chance.
But how do you get a fair chance where nothing is really fair?
We hear and read in the media that black people are getting all the jobs. This is not true. Of the 18-million black people who are of working age, only 10-million are employed. Of the 2.1-million white people of employable age, less than 200 000 are unemployed. This equation does not suggest black people are getting all the jobs.
There is the false idea that affirmative action is about kicking people out of jobs. The way I see it, it’s about creating an expanding economy. Giving a black person a job does not mean getting rid of a white person.
This perception is further exacerbated by the ads people see in the newspapers asking for affirmative action candidates. What people fail to grasp is the reason for affirmative action legislation in the first place, which is that some companies had to be forced to look for, find and hire black talent.
In the past they simply refused and said there were no qualified black people. Yet many people who begin their jobs are not qualified for it anyway, they learn on the job and become qualified while doing it. On-the-job training is one of the best tools available.
As a black person in corporate South Africa, you have to prove that you are good enough before your presence is acknowledged. Black people are presumed to be inept until they prove otherwise.
White people, on the other hand, are presumed capable before performing any task. Black people have to prove they are up to the task before they are given the task.
Black people have to be given opportunities too and not have to work twice as hard to simply be given half the chance of a white person. Someone who does not experience this and does not live it will view this as black entitlement.
We know that the working environment is not purely based on merit; the abilities of many black people have not been recognised within the corporations they work.
I recently heard of a disturbing story of a black person who works for a reputable firm in the financial sector. A senior individual was going to vacate the position; the process took almost two years.
It was a given that the person who would logically fill the post was a black female who had been with the firm for some time and had been performing some of the tasks. During the two years, she prepared for the position. Yet, when the time came, she was passed over and the job was given to someone who was her junior – and white.
A staff member in the HR department questioned this decision. The head of the HR department simply responded by saying the order to pass over the black woman for a junior white person came from above and there was nothing he could do.
Now this is the dilemma black people face.
There are so few black people in management and with decision-making powers that they can hardly make an impact on the lives of those who are starting out in their organisation and who need people to look out for them.
It is difficult to make it in your career when there is no one looking out for you, no matter how talented you are. Talent and hard work alone will not get you far – you need to find favour. Without it, the road to the top is slow or nonexistent. I am fortunate that I now have a senior executive who takes an interest in and plays an active role in my growth.
I heard of another case where an intern went to a financial institution where the directors talked about how they had produced the most black people who had qualified.
The intern then asked a question: “If you have produced so many black people who have qualified in this sector, how come there isn’t a single black person in senior management?”
He was told that his question was ridiculous. When his internship ended, he did not get paid.
Two months later, he called to find out what the matter was and they said there was a problem with his tax number. When he asked why they hadn’t called him to find out, they didn’t have an answer. He asked if the reason he wasn’t getting paid was because of his question. The conversation ended quickly.
He was paid that very day – and they hadn’t even asked him for his tax number.
It looks like there is a fine balance that people have to maintain – between being outspoken and the danger of losing employment as a result of being outspoken.
October 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
*Originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian 31 Jan 2013, so some references will obviously be outdated.
There came a time when the people of Twitter were no longer a marginalised community. There were more than half a billion of them. And the people were looking for a code to live by, a code they could of course break with impunity. For, the people asked, what is the point of having rules if you cannot disregard them? It is written: “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.”
- In the beginning, Twitter created avatars in its own image, the image of an egg, and hashtagged #Favourite
- Come unto Twitter, all ye who are weary and burdened by Facebook and it shall give you rest.
- Blessed is he who always has 3G.
- Thou shalt not steal tweets and pass them off as your own on Facebook.
- He who starts twars shall not see Twitter paradise.
- Verily I say onto you, to block another is to pinch the tithing of the internets.
- Woe unto them who follow others, yet protect their tweets, for it is written (see points eight and nine):
- No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.
- Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.
- Behold, tweeps, I say unto you, that if ye mute, ye shall profit nothing.
- Rich is he who asks not for a follow back.
- Seek ye first to build with thy tweets and all these followers shall be added unto you.
- Blessed are the retweeters for they shall inherit the internet.
- Tweet unto others as you would have them tweet unto you.
- Be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove, for Twitter giveth and Twitter taketh away.
- When I was a Facebooker, I updated my status like a Facebooker, I thought as a Facebooker; but when I became a tweep, I put away those childish things.
- For I know the tweets I have for you, sayeth thy handle, tweets of peace and not of evil.
- Verily I say unto you, there is a special place with no 3G signal for them who put up avatars of themselves that make them look unrealistically better than they do in real life.
- As far as the east is from the west I say unto typo Nazis, you shall not see joy in tweets.
- Verily I say unto you, woe unto them who subtweet, they shall feel the wrath of frozen BBs and GSM signal.
- Woe unto them who only Instagram pictures of their food.
- Woe unto them who have had the same avatar for the last three years, and woe unto them who never show their faces.
- Though I read through a valley of subtweets, I will fear no subtweeter, for thy tweeps are with me and thy tweets they protect and comfort me.
- There is a tweet for everything, and a tweet for every activity under the heavens:
- a time to LOL and a time to tweet: -_-;
- a time to DM and a time to subtweet:
- a time to tweet your friend: “Check DM now!” and a time to twitpic.
- a time to tweet about that time you spent R24 000 at the club, and time run out of BIS.
- Thou shalt not twitlonger, it is 140 characters for a reason,
- Thou shalt not OMG in vain.
- Thou shalt actually be laughing when thy tweeteth, “LOL” or “LMAO”.
- Woe unto false prophets who anoint people twelebs
- I say this to you this very day, you will accidentally tweet a lewd DM and then deny it and claim you have been hacked before the cock crows three times.
- Love thy tweep
And the Lord sayeth, “Dear Christians, I have a sense of humour, so chill on this column.” Oh, how I wish Jesus would tweet that.
September 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
*first published 2011-02-15 12:43
Our official languages are only official on paper. The Constitution. It is time we became honest about this. One is almost inclined to say that that part of the Constitution was written to make us feel good about ourselves and congratulate one another on how tolerant we are as a nation because we were able to accommodate all 11 official languages. It is just make up. It was done to make us look good. English is South Africa’s official language whether we like to admit it or not. This is good and bad.
When white schools were opened to black kids in the early 90s, black parents sent their kids to white schools, not just for a superior education, but more importantly, so that they could learn to speak great English; so that they could get great jobs, not just in South Africa but anywhere else in the world. It went so far that some parents in the various townships barred their children from speaking their mother tongues but English at home.
It became the hip thing to do. Black parents would ask their young children to bring Coke with Choice Assorted to visitors so that they could speak English. In reality what they were doing was just showing off how well their little black child can speak the white man’s language.
Ironically, it was a British weekly magazine that wrote an article detailing the slow decline of South African languages just a few weeks ago. Yes, even Afrikaans, in case you were wondering.
The great, conservative and informative British publication, The Economist, published an article with the headline “South African languages, Tongues under threat” with the sub heading, “English is dangerously dominant.” Yes. The Economist said that English is dangerously dominant in South Africa. So dangerous in fact that it is eating away at Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele, Afrikaans and numerous other South African languages.
I am not unaware of the irony of writing this in English. This is obviously a clear demonstration of the powers that we have given the language in this country. I must confess, I am far more proficient in English than I am in my own language, whether it be reading or writing. I have not read a single Xhosa novel in my life, yet I have read so many English novels I have lost count.
The colonisers may have left, but they certainly colonised our tongues. At least back when the colonisers had guns, we resisted them. We fought. People died. This time we participate in the colonisation of the tongue. We encourage it.
I was fortunate enough to be in a group of 20 people invited to share our views on the African continent with Thabo Mbeki. One of the people there whispered to me and said, “The colonisers haven’t left, they just changed complexion.” That cut me deep. It’s true.
There is painful truth behind those words. We laugh at those who can’t pronounce English words properly.
What are we to do to prevent a spectacular demise of our languages? If we are not careful, our languages are going to end up like Latin, only studied by people who enjoy languages. They will become extinct. This undervaluing of our languages needs to end. It demeans us as a people and robs the world of rich culture. With our languages gone, the understanding of our cultures will also go.
I am not saying English must end. We must speak it. It is the economic language of the world. To call for it to be abolished would be foolish. It ought to be compulsory for every single child to learn English first language and another South African language, first language.
Is it too late though to save our languages? Many are not learning South African languages in schools. We have come to believe that there is no financial value in learning our languages, consequently, the incentive to push them in our schools and universities diminishes with each passing year.
Even if black parents’ kids go to English language instruction schools, they must only speak a South African language to them at home. Yet the parents have a dilemma, make sure that their children are not left behind, they assume that they need to speak English to their kids at home too.
We should be less inclined to applaud someone who only speaks English fluently but doesn’t speak an African language with equal eloquence. There should be no pride in only being able to speak English well while you can’t speak your mother tongue well. I have seen some people speak with pride almost when they say they are not very proficient in their mother tongues. Shameful.
We need to be proud of our languages. It is the only way we will be able to preserve them. Not only should we preserve them, they ought to thrive. Peoples from other nations should want to speak them too. How about we start trying to export them too?
Let the French, the Germans, the Chinese want to learn to speak Xhosa or Zulu. How we do that I don’t know. Someone else must come up with the how. Ndiqhibile, ndiyekeni ndihlale phantsi.
May 12, 2015 § 1 Comment
*originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian: 01 May 2014
Unfortunately many see Mmusi Maimane as a puppet; there are people behind his rise, and those people are not black.
South Africa still lives with its past. It is ever present and confronts us in every way. We are unable to shake it even when we desperately want to and we are still going to vote along racial lines.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been trying to destroy this voting pattern by putting black faces at the forefront of its election campaigns. One of its tactics has been to portray its premier candidate for Gauteng Mmusi Maimane as a Barack Obama-type figure.
There is a very clear, calculated reason for this: to attract young, black, middle class voters and the born-frees all the parties have been trying to secure. Unfortunately, only 33.6% of born-frees are registered to vote – compared to 60% of those in their 20s and 90% of people older than 30. This means one million born-frees are not interested and have not at all been inspired, even by the Obamafication of Maimane.
Of course it is a huge problem for all political parties, not just the DA, which has banked on them because, as their logic went, since the born-frees have no experience of the struggle, they won’t feel compelled to vote for the ANC. It seems they were wrong.
The born-frees don’t feel compelled to vote for anyone. The excitement deficit our leaders have generated is demonstrated by the lack of these young ones’ interest in voting.
US President Obama’s strongest supporters in 2008 were first-time voters, and this was the same strategy the DA attempted. The difference for the country’s Democrats then was that Obama actually generated excitement because of who he was and his story. People don’t know Maimane. He came out of nowhere for them. He is manufactured in their eyes. Obama introduced himself in 2004 to the American public and ran for president for two years so that by the time elections came, they knew who he was and what he stood for.
DA party leader Helen Zille knows that black South Africans are suspicious of the DA, not necessarily because they believe she is racist and will bring back apartheid, but they just don’t feel they would be a priority under DA rule.
The DA has done a remarkable job in making Maimane seem like he is, in fact, the leader of the party. He is on almost every DA poster one sees in Gauteng, for example, and there are a few posters peppered with Zille just to remind you she is still in charge. Even though she says the party is not about racialising politics in South Africa, the DA is practicing racial politics. The thinking is that Maimane is black and will therefore appeal more to black voters than Zille will, so the party put him on TV and posters so that the voter can see the DA isn’t a white party.
Unfortunately, many people see Maimane as something of a puppet, that there are powers behind the operation that are not black. So they are suspicious about the agenda of the people behind him. His emergence has been far too sudden for people to trust him.
He is perhaps being groomed as the next party leader after Zille. It is becoming more clear: the DA needs a black leader in order to get an even greater share of the vote. But will the DA membership allow such a thing to happen?
What the DA has done a lot more successfully than the ANC, is to come across as deracialised by making some of its black leaders prominent. In the past, the ANC had many prominent white leaders who were right at the heart of the movement. Not only white, but coloured and Indian too. We don’t see that as much any more, which seems to indicate there is an emergence of racial polarisation in the ANC, which needs to be addressed urgently. The ANC was the most racially mixed party of any in South Africa for a long time. Yes, there are still many people of other races in the ANC, but they are not prominent and are kept as workhorses. The ANC needs to be very deliberate in getting these leaders some airtime.
In this election, too, we will see people vote along racial lines, despite all the work the DA has done. The party has the right idea but it was badly executed.
January 21, 2015 § 1 Comment
*this column originally appeared on Cape Times when I still wrote for the publication. The reaction to it online and the comments which followed were disturbing and amusing all at once.
A few months ago I wrote about Cape Town’s professional unfriendliness towards black people. I stated that most black people don’t want to work in Cape Town because they come up against the white ceiling that they cannot go through, which is why any self-respecting aspiring black professional will leave Cape Town for blacker pastures in Joburg.
For there lies opportunity for them. I left the Cape because of the visible ceiling.
I had an interesting conversation with a German friend of mine who has been in Cape Town for the past six months or so.
Before that, she spent four months in Joburg.
First, she gave me the biggest shock of my life when she said she preferred Joburg to Cape Town.
Almost choking on my drink, I turned to her and said: “What? Did you say you prefer Johannesburg to Cape Town but in actual fact you meant you prefer Cape Town to Johannesburg?”
It made no sense that she didn’t like Cape Town. The city is beautiful, and she’s German, she’s supposed to like Cape Town, like the many German tourists who fall in love with the city and never leave.
Even after she assured me that she meant that she would choose Joburg over Cape Town any day, I waited for her to tell me that she was joking.
She gave me a compelling argument. She said she found Cape Town racist.
She said white Capetonians looked at one another as if they were members of a secret club. The White People’s Club.
Strangers made racially biased remarks to her, assuming that she will agree with her simply because she is white. It is something she said she had never experienced anywhere before.
One of the examples she gave me was an experience she had last week while she was shopping at a supermarket.
There was a trainee at the till. The trainee was obviously slow. The trainee explained that he was still new and figuring things out.
But the man in front in the queue turned and looked at my friend and then said: “These people are so slow and stupid and lazy. This can’t be that hard.”
My friend said she got that a lot in Cape Town.
That they are all part of the club where white people can just say things about black people and expect everyone to agree.
If this is the case, then what is it about Capetonians that they think they can get away with that kind of behaviour?
Obviously this is not everyone. All my friend was saying was that if she encountered this kind of behaviour so regularly, it could only mean that a lot of the time people say these things without being aware that they are being racist.
Am I saying Capetonians are racist?
Not at all, but I am saying that Cape Town needs to engage in proper soul-searching before denouncing what my German friend noticed. Outsiders tend to see things in a different light because they are not emotionally invested in the country. I appreciated her perspective on the Mother City because it created a mind shift.
In Joburg, she said, she never felt that she was looked at as if she belonged to this exclusive white club. She finds Joburg more accepting and more patient in letting others grow.
And, oh, one more thing: she said Cape Town was like a fishing village.
September 29, 2014 § 11 Comments
One of the things that confuses me about us modern Africans is our sudden hatred for small talk. The idea of small talk is really foreign, if not a Western one. It became fashionable to say that we hate small talk once we started hearing that there was such a thing. I don’t know when I first heard that there was such a thing even. What I am sure of is that it was not something I ever heard in the villages or the townships.
When in the villages, one always sees people talking simply for the enjoyment of engaging in conversation, not because there is some deep philosophical discussion taking place, it’s just people enjoying each other. Rarely would you two strangers walk past each other and simply exchange a ‘hello’ and carry on. They would exchange pleasantries and then carry on. In fact, the pleasantries would carry on even after they had said goodbye and are walking in opposite directions, they would talk to each other until their voices faded. This is the beauty that we are losing and will most certainly lose, probably in our life times.
We no longer enjoy each other simply for the fact that someone is a human being. There must be purpose for talking to someone these, which is most unfortunate. I suppose there was a purpose even back then, but it was simply to enjoy someone else’s voice and what it has to share. It was about recognizing the other person’s humanity – ubuntu bakhe.
As Steve Biko put it, “Westerners have on so many occasions been surprised at the capacity we have for talking to one another – not for the sake of arriving at a particular conclusion but merely to enjoy communication for its own sake.” And he went on to say that, “No one felt unnecessarily an intruder into someone else’s business.”
Which reminds me of something strange when I went to a boarding school when I was 10. A boy came up to me and asked to be my friend. I was surprised and taken aback because I had assumed that we were since we hung out together with other boys anyway. I asked him why he would even ask that. I think my question embarrassed him, but I was simply confused by the question. I had never heard of it ever being asked. People who hung around together were friends. Maybe I thought that way because I was one of a few boys who had actually joined the school who came from a village. I was friends with everyone I grew up, including the boys I fought with. Everyone else was from some town or township.
I am sometimes accused of engaging in small talk and lack an ability to wean myself from people in a social setting. Although to be honest, I get away from some conversations as fast as I can because that is what our society has become and I too am contributing to this.
In fact, in Xhosa, the language that I speak, there is no word for small talk that I can think of. I suppose what would call small talk one could call “ukuncokola”. It means much more than just chatting, it’s a conversation and enjoying what each is communicating to the other.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that the reason black people Tweet more frequently than white people (some study says this, even in the US it’s the case), it is because of our need and desire to just communicate and chat for the simple act of having a conversation. It is something we cannot shake off and I hope we never do.
Perhaps we call it small talk now because we have lost the art of ukuncokola. Or we are just too busy hurrying off to place and people and things we will forget anyway.
August 28, 2014 § 1 Comment
Our country, and nature herself, have been in mourning since that fateful day, the 5th of May, when Walter Sisulu ceased to breathe.
While he lived, there were many in our country who knew nothing about him, except perhaps what they had been told or not told by those who had been his jailers.
While he lived, there were many who did not understand the unwavering humanism of the cause to which he dedicated his whole life, who were blind to what he did to ensure that his movement and his people remained forever loyal to their humanist calling.
When these came to know that there had been such a gentle giant in their midst, hidden from them as though he did not exist, they asked themselves the question – why did we not know!
But there were many others who knew of the place he occupied among the great galaxy of leaders of our people who had given their all, to ensure that all our people and all Africa were liberated from oppression, from poverty and underdevelopment and the intolerable pain of contempt and humiliation.
These knew that Walter Sisulu belonged among those through the generations, who are the best representatives of the unheralded nobility of the masses of our people, the representatives who decided that their lives were worth nothing, unless they dedicated those lives to the service of all our people.
As they embarked on the long march at the head of the combat columns of liberators, having conquered the fear of what might happen to them at the hands of the oppressors of their people, ready to pay any price for the recovery of the dignity of the wretched of the earth, of them it could be said, as the poet did:
“Asinithenganga ngazo izicengo;
Asinithenganga ngayo imibengo;
It was not our persuasion that turned you into patriots. No material offerings induced you to choose to serve the people. It was not for dazzling wealth that you chose to sacrifice your lives for the people, nor for riches as fabulous as the stars without number.
Were these heroes and heroines to perish as they fought for our emancipation, we would sing songs of praise and say:
“Kwaf’ amakhalipha, amafa-nankosi,
Agazi lithetha kwiNkosi yeeNkosi.
Ukufa kwawo kunomvuzo nomvuka.
Ndinga ndingema nawo ngomhla wovuko,
Ndingqambe njengomnye osebenzileyo,
Ndikhanye njengomso oqaqambileyo.”
We would say the braves, who would perish rather than surrender, have died. We would say their sacrifice constitutes a command even to the King of Kings. Their death gives birth to a new life and a new awakening.
Oh, that I may be counted among them on the day of their resurrection, dancing the victory dance side-by-side with them, sparkling as bright as the new dawn!
Our country, and nature herself, have been in mourning since that fateful day, the 5th of May, when Walter Sisulu ceased to breathe.
We mourned because Walter Sisulu occupied the first rank of those about whom the poet Krune Mqhayi spoke, as though he foresaw what we would have to say when Walter Sisulu died.
The poet sang his song of praise as though to give us the words we would otherwise never find, when the moment came for us to talk about Walter Sisulu, a patriot who could never be bought or corrupted or forced by fear or fashion or love of material things, to auction his soul.
I speak for our government and people when I convey our collective gratitude to the inestimable numbers at home and abroad that stood up to pay tribute to a great son of our people, Walter Sisulu, and to his immediate neighbours in his mature age, who accepted Walter and Albertina Sisulu as their own.
I thank you that you have come from far and wide to join our leader and mother, Albertina Sisulu, and all her family, as we lay the mortal remains of Walter Sisulu to rest, and for the flood of messages of comfort and condolence.
We are honoured and moved that so many leaders of the peoples of Africa, and the esteemed representatives of the governments and popular movements of our common world, have chosen to be with us at this moment, to say to MaSisulu and to our nation:
“Thuthuzelekani ngoko, zinkedama!
Ngokwenjenje kwethu sithi, yakhekani.
Lithatheni eli qhalo labadala,
Kuba bathi: ‘Akuhlanga lungehlanga!'”
Therefore be comforted, you who are in grief. We have come among you to ask you to respond to calamity with the strength of the courageous. Hear the advice of the ancestors – that what has happened is what had to be.
Since the poets have permitted that we speak as they have spoken, I will tell of the truths that the poets told.
“Ewe, le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto.
Thina, nto zaziyo, asothukanga nto;
Sibona kamhlophe sithi bekumelwe;
Sitheth’ engqondweni sithi kufanelwe;
Xa bekungenjalo bekungayi kulunga.”
Therefore, and boldly, we say:
“Death be not proud, thy hand gave not this blow…
The executioner of wrath thou art,
But to destroy the just is not thy part…
Glory not thou thy self in these hot tears
Which our face…wears:
The mourning livery given by Grace, not thee,
Which wills our souls in these streams washed should be,
And on our hearts, (his) memories best tomb,
In this (his) Epitaph doth write thy doom…”
Death be not proud!
We challenge death’s pride because we know that even as it visits its wrath on all who live, it can never destroy a human being as just as Walter Sisulu was just.
We challenge death’s vengeful pride because we know that whatever it might do, it can never remove from our hearts the memories of Walter Sisulu, which, deeply entombed in these living hearts, are his epitaph, that shall pass on from generation to generation, alive, living, immortal.
We stand up to tell death that our black mourning clothes are not a tribute to its vengeance, but a signal of salute to him who was our conscience of courage, as we struggled to extricate ourselves from a long night of despair.
We challenge death’s certainty that it laid low such an African colossus, because:
We, who have the gift of knowledge, know that the mortal frame of Walter Sisulu has departed our midst, because had it not, it would not have been faithful to the natural order of things.
We, who have the gift of knowledge, were not surprised when he left the land of the living, because we knew that our world would have been troubled, if a human being as human as Walter Sisulu was human, had been condemned to live on, a mere shadow of he that had lived among us for many decades, everyday breathing into all of us the liberating spirit of freedom.
Our thinking brains have etched on our human minds the truth that what is, including death, is what is, is what has to be, and what could not but come to be.
All mortal life that is without end turns into a curse.
Se sa feleng seya tlhola!
Sibona kamhlophe sithi bekumelwe. Xa bekungenjalo bekungayi kulunga.
Le nto kakade yinto yaloo nto!
Death be not proud! To destroy the just is not within your power!
The African colossus that lies in front of us might have fallen, but he has not died.
The flowers of the desert wither and pass beyond the vision of the human eye. And yet they live, a defining part of the uninterrupted sands of the Sahara and the Kgalagadi.
Like these living plants that clothe the African earth and her deserts when the time comes, Walter Sisulu’s life had meaning not because he lived, but because his life gave new life to the millions who are proud to call themselves African.
Even when he has passed beyond the vision of the human eye, Walter Sisulu will continue to do what he did while he lived.
He will continue, still, to breathe into all of us the liberating spirit of freedom, and give us the human courage to remain steadfast in defence of our humanity, despite the insistence of a daily world of seemingly incontrovertible truths, that instruct us that we are not quite human, being destined to beg and to bow at another’s feet, in abject and imposed humility.
While he lived, Walter Sisulu was a proud African who refused ever to beg, because his very being told him that the beggar and the benefactor would both be demeaned by the exchange. In his death, he remains an African.
While he lived, Walter Sisulu carried on his shoulders, his mind and his soul, the burdens of the poor, the oppressed and the despised of the world, forever haunted by the cries of angry despair of these teeming, toiling masses.
His living memory and the material constructions our country will build in his honour, will, for all time, tell the people he loved, the South Africans, the Africans of Africa and the African provinces elsewhere, that were carved by slavery, and the citizens of the world, that all who would rule and exercise power, must open their ears, to hear the anguished cries of the lowly folk of our world.
Though he is dead, his voice will continue to speak for the ordinary people who reside in the common global neighbourhood. His voice will continue to speak of the seeds of life that lie beneath the sands of the deserts of human poverty, to tell those who have nothing, that in time, their lives will be characterised by much, much more than a creeping accumulation of small and periodic blessings.
He will continue to talk to those who occupy the tiny spaces that provide the material circumstances for decent human existence, that are scattered in a thin belt across the face of our common globe, about the fate of those who live in the marshlands of poverty that everywhere surround the islands of prosperity.
Yesterday, our people walked bending low and low because they bore the heavy yoke of tyranny. Today they walk the land of their birth with a joyful spring in their step, as free as the birds that take to the infinite highways of the air. Today, we talk of freedom, as though yesterday never was.
Yesterday, there was fear and foreboding throughout the land. Those who had oppressed and posed as the lords of all they survey, lived in dreadful fear and trembling, seemingly protected by the same barricades of barbed wire and killer dogs and guns, that imprisoned both them and those they sought to enslave.
Today that fear of what one might to do to the other, because of the varied pigmentation of our skins, has been banished from our land, never to return. Today, we speak of a common belonging, as though yesterday never was.
Yesterday, the poor of our country knew that they were but surplus people, condemned to wither away and perish in the dehumanising squalor of conscious neglect, imposed on them by a society that had decided that to thrive, it had to feed on the blood of those it had made powerless, like a vampire.
Today, the poor of our country know that what they did to liberate themselves from the icy grip of the tyrants has turned theirs into a country of hope, dedicated to the eradication of the poverty that has been the fate of our people for generations. Today, we speak of a better life for all, as though yesterday never was.
The dreaded memory of what yesterday was, is fleeing the conscious mind as the shadows flee the rays of the sun. It has taken to flight because of what Walter Sisulu and his comrades did. Because they embedded the humanist spirit into the very soul of their struggle, their movement and their people, they defined liberty as the right of all our people to happiness and human fulfilment, though they were denounced as terrorists.
For many decades Walter Sisulu taught the mass army of liberators to hate oppression, to hate racism, to oppose the social conditions that resulted in untold violence against other human beings, to overthrow the social order that, because of deliberate policy, precise and immaculate in its design and its execution, subjected the majority to pain, indignity and humiliation and death by starvation.
But he never said that we should hate other human beings, including those that oppressed, did great harm to others, and dehumanised millions, because of the colour of their skin and because of boundless and selfish greed.
He told us that were we ever to hate other human beings, we would sacrifice our own humanity, transforming ourselves into the cannibal beasts of the wild, that do not hesitate to feed on their own kind.
He instructed us that were we ever to hate other human beings, we would corrupt a movement for human liberation, and turn it into a predatory animal whose pillars of a blind ideology would be fear and hatred that would consume us, as well.
The new South Africa that has just begun its tenth year of existence has tried to live up to these teachings, to nurture and promote the interests of all our citizens as its offspring, with none cast out as orphans.
It is because of what it has striven to do, to honour the teachings and the example set by Walter Sisulu, that today we speak of our freedom, of a common belonging, of a better life for all, as though yesterday never was.
The memory of the past flees like the frightened shadows of the night, not because we want to forget the past. It flees because we are swept along by a high tide that carries us towards the light of the rising sun.
Voices of amazement and surprise have spoken of a miracle that many things they thought impossible, have been done. They have endowed the outcomes with the attributes of a miraculous wonder.
But we who have the gift of knowledge, the people of whom the poet Krune Mqhayi spoke, know that the miracle is not in the creation, but in the creators. It is not in the outcomes, but in the blessings unbound, that gave us a Walter Sisulu, whose quiet voice and quiet ways and gentle touch, gave our people the knowledge and conscience and conviction to do what is right, the impulse to create the outcomes that evoke pride and joy in all of us, and give us cause to dance in celebration of our humanity.
A great beauty of our land and continent has passed on, a mere twenty days before we gather to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the bearer of Africa’s and Walter Sisulu’s hopes during its time.
One that was as mighty as the baobab has fallen. But because he planted mighty seeds, he has risen again, and will rise again in the tomorrows and the new births that the African sun will bring. That sun will supply, as well, the living energy that will bring to their noble maturity, the little and tender and delicate plants that Walter Sisulu nurtured with such devotion and care, and love.
As we say farewell to this colossus that lies so peacefully in front of us, awaiting his stately transport to his final place of rest, we say to him that we know that:
“The grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee.”
Dearest father and honoured son of Africa, to speed your journey to your place of pride among the ancestors who guard our fortunes, we, the living, repeat after the poet, John Donne:
“But by all souls not by corruption choked
Let in high raised notes that power be invoked,
Calm the rough seas, by which (he) sails to rest,
From sorrows here, to a kingdom ever blest.
And teach this hymn…with joy, and sing,
The grave no conquest gets; Death hath no sting!”
Death hath no sting!
The living monuments to what Walter Sisulu and his comrades did, will say everything else that needs to be said.
May 18, 2014 § 3 Comments
This column first appeared in the Cape Times in 2013. It would have been his birthday today and I felt that I needed to post this here.
Sies! How soon we forget. I fear we are forgetting a great hero. And because we want to forget, I fear that this column might not get as many readers as it should so we can remember the man.
I was angered last week when the 10th anniversary of his death went by as a mere whimper in the country he suffered for.
He did not only contribute himself to the Struggle, but he committed his whole family to it.
Walter Sisulu’s family needs to stop being humble. They are robbing a generation of young people of a great example.
On May 5, 2003, Walter Sisulu died. We are beneficiaries of his suffering.
We inherited a country he dreamed of for many years while he languished in prison, yet I fear his contribution is being forgotten; that he is being relegated to the sidelines.
He was humble, never one to boast or one to seek the limelight. It would be nice if we decided to be humble about his memory, and not brag about it, because that is what we think he would have wanted.
However, I don’t care what he would have wanted. He deserves the greatest place in the sun. He should not be hidden in the shadows when we live in the sun born of his suffering. We cannot afford to have him fade into a minor hero of the Struggle when we are what we are because of him.
Nelson Mandela never forgot him.
Who could forget the pain in his words as he spoke about his Struggle friend on May 8, 2003? “Xhamela (his clan name) is no more. May he live forever! His absence has carved a void. A part of me is gone.
“Our paths first intersected in 1941. During the past 62 years our lives have been intertwined.
“We shared the joy of living, and the pain. Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments. We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other’s bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savoured the taste of freedom. From the moment when we first met, he has been my friend, my brother, my keeper, my comrade.”
There are few men, if any, who Mandela held in higher regard than Sisulu, yet we chose to forget him.
Mandela thinks he would not be the man he is today were it not for Sisulu.
In his book, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela credits many people for his political education, but singles out Sisulu.
If we think Mandela is a great man, how much greater is the man who made him?
Few liberation moments have had people with no ego, who, even with a chance to elevate themselves, would instead step aside and say there is a better man for the job – and groom and mentor that man.
In a PBS interview, Sisulu said: “I thought Nelson had even better qualities than me, and I wanted him to have even more… I was also encouraged by his ability to change, by his attitude to people.”
Let not Sisulu be forgotten.
We need to boast about who he was and what he did. If there are no statues erected in his honour, we ought to erect his memory and what he did forever in our hearts and pass it on to our children.
He lived his life in the shadows because he wanted others to take the shine.
He does not deserve to live in the shadows in death too. Let us not forget to credit the man who didn’t care who took the credit for our victory against a great evil.
May the spirit of Sisulu burn brighter with each passing year.
March 25, 2014 § 2 Comments
*Originally appeared on my Mail & Guardian column
There is no need to be possessive. Nobody owns anybody. But unfortunately there are some relationships where I have witnessed this unnatural behaviour.
They remind me of a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, Django Unchained, where a slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio says of his slave woman, “Broomhilda is my property and I can choose to do with my property whatever I so desire.” From what I gather, there is no difference between that slave owner and what some of our fellas do to women. It is as if they believe some strange things, such as:
- If I love you, I own you.
- If I love you, you must obey me.
- If I love you, I am your master.
- If I love you, I must control you.
- If I love you, I must manipulate you.
- If I love you, there must be double standards.
It is not just men who behave this way but it seems more prevalent among them than it does among women.
Some of these women are told whose numbers they may have on their phones and who they may keep as friends. They must always answer when he calls and the phone may not ring too many times before it is answered. When they dress up, they are questioned about whom they are trying to be sexy for and told to take the clothes off. This is the most unmanly display of affection.
Then the vicious cycle of being trapped in an intimate manipulative relationship begins. If someone else is remotely capable of making you happy, they need to be cut off from your life. Nothing makes abusers more miserable than seeing someone else make you feel content – even when that person is you. They want to be solely responsible for your feelings.
What inspired this column is a conversation I overheard on a flight to Durban over the weekend. A beautiful, young woman sat in the seat behind me. When I sat down, she was on a call I could not help but overhear. She was very calm but the person on the other end did not seem to be. Her tone and calm nature told a story: she needed to remain calm to prevent making him even angrier. At one point she said: “I can’t believe you just said that. You are so evil. How can you say you hope I get gang raped?” In my uneducated estimation, I think she heard it all before.
Even more surprising was that it seemed as though they were no longer a couple. She said: “No, I have not moved on. I don’t know what you are talking about.” Yet she answered the call and listened to his rant until he was done. His main goal was to ensure that wherever she was going, she would be miserable after his call. She was as calm as someone who was used to having vile things said to her.
Sadly, people mistake a drama-filled relationship for a passionate one, which only happens because they feel insecure. But love does not flourish where there is a battery of rules and restrictions. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, love is the chain whereby to lock your lover to yourself – not threats, manipulation or possessiveness. A controlling relationship ruins your confidence and belief in yourself. It should build your character, not destroy you.
Controlling people do not always come across as mean at first. They overwhelm you with kind words, gifts, and intensify the “honeymoon phase” of the relationship by talking about marriage and growing old together within the first few weeks of dating. And then, once in the relationship, no matter what happens, you are the one who faces the blame for everything that goes wrong. A controller never takes responsibility for their poor behaviour, they believe it is never their fault.
These people might not act with physical violence but the violence with which they strike the soul is almost irreparable. A lot of people who manage to escape long-term possessive relationships struggle to trust people afterwards, even those close to them.
What surprises me is that there are men who think that it is okay to be possessive and there are many women who accept this behaviour and live with it. It is crazy, really. Is it because these guys do not trust women? If you think you are not able to trust somebody, why be with them?
But I do not think it is a matter of not trusting them. It is a case of not trusting yourself to keep them. The behaviour confirms to the controlling person that there are people out there who are better and can take your lover away from you.
A fear of being alone has caused a lot of people to end up staying in bad relationships. Do not be afraid of being alone. Being single is not a curse.
The clingier you get, the looser your grip becomes on the one you are trying to hold on to.
A man who is insecure about a woman and constantly checks her whereabouts deserves to lose her. Nobody owns your life and therefore no one has the right to control it but you. Do not abdicate the responsibility you have towards your heart to someone who does not have one.
March 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
Every black woman needs to read this speech. Scratch that, every black person needs to read this speech. I agree with what she says whole heatedly. There is a terrible trap that tells black women that they need to be light-skinned to be beautiful. It is everywhere. Black is beautiful, no matter what shade of black. Be comfortable in your blackness.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”
My heart bled a little when I read those words. I could never have guessed that my first job out of school would be so powerful in and of itself and that it would propel me to be such an image of hope in the same way that the women of The Color Purple were to me.
I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. The morning would come and I would be so excited about seeing my new skin that I would refuse to look down at myself until I was in front of a mirror because I wanted to see my fair face first. And every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before. I tried to negotiate with God: I told him I would stop stealing sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted; I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because He never listened.
And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence. My mother reminded me often that she thought that I was beautiful but that was no consolation: She’s my mother, of course she’s supposed to think I am beautiful. And then Alek Wek came on the international scene. A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was. Even Oprah called her beautiful and that made it a fact. I couldn’t believe that people were embracing a woman who looked so much like me as beautiful. My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome and all of a sudden, Oprah was telling me it wasn’t. It was perplexing and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy. But a flower couldn’t help but bloom inside of me. When I saw Alek I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself that I could not deny. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, “You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.” And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.
And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us… what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.
February 26, 2014 § 5 Comments
Barack Obama delivered this speech in March 2008. His campaign was in trouble after videos of his former pastor surfaced, showing him preaching divisive sermons. He said America deserved what it got on September 11. Instead of throwing the Reverend under the bus to save himself, he gave America context of his anger and that of black America’s anger. He spoke honestly about race in America. Instead of just address Wright, he spoke about America and race in America, It was a great moment of leadership at the time. This is without doubt my favourite Obama speech.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”
Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.
The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.
And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.
This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.
Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.
This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.
And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.
On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way
But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:
“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”
That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.
But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.
The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.
Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.
Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.
Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.
A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.
This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.
But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.
And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.
But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.
We can do that.
But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.
That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.
This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.
I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.
There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.
And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.
She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.
She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.
Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.
Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”
“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.
But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.
February 22, 2014 § 2 Comments
We cannot talk about freedom of expression and hate speech, nor can we ask whether Blacks and Jews are too sensitive or not, without putting tolerance on the table.
But the question arises, if we must be tolerant, how much should we tolerate? Should we have zero tolerance in order to eradicate hate speech?
The problem with zero tolerance is that you allow hate to go underground, when it should be allowed – so that we can see it. Because when we can see it, we are able to combat it. And, to a certain degree, exert some control over it.
Zero tolerance would not only mean the end of hate speech, it would also see the end of the freedom of expression because there would be zero tolerance for opinion in case it goes against views contrary to those held by a majority. There would be no room for dissent.
An end of tolerance would mean that we would have no comedians, no artists. There’s always someone offended by their work. There would be no Spear. (That image … I’m terribly sorry for bringing it up. Do excuse the pun. Or not.)
However, does tolerance mean that we have to tolerate everything? Of course not, that would be absurd. In the words of French philosopher André Comte-Sponville, “To tolerate the suffering of others, to tolerate an injustice of which we are not a victim, or an atrocity that we are spared, is not tolerance but selfish, indifferent, or worse. Tolerating Hitler meant becoming his accomplice, at least by omission or neglect, this kind of tolerance was already a form of collaboration.”
We should not tolerate things that should not be tolerated and use tolerance as an excuse.
Karl Popper in his 1962 book Open Society and its Enemies, notes that “if we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them”.
Since we do not want to be destroyed we have to strike a great balance between what should be tolerated and what should not.
The right to be sensitive
Black and Jewish people have suffered at the hands of others, and for some time, the world turned a blind eye. It could be argued that since Jews came so close to destruction and blacks suffered so much, both groups are living proof of what lack of tolerance is capable of. Perhaps we have earned the right to be sensitive. If you have never been on the receiving end of an injustice it is easy to accuse the victim of being overly sensitive. To accuse the victim is also an attempt to force him to bury the crime that was committed against him.
Sadly, when you have been a victim of a mass humanitarian crime, the crime of the past becomes part of one’s identity. This is why blacks and Jews can be – can rightly be – sensitive when attacked. It is precisely because all things started out as language before progressing into actions that resulted in one form of oppression or another.
That is, blacks are particularly sensitive to being told to get over apartheid. Asking black South Africans to get over apartheid is like asking Jews to get over the holocaust. We will never get over it, and we should never forget what happened. The criminal cannot tell the victim to get over it.
But as much as I might not agree with a person telling black people to get over apartheid, I will defend the jack-ass’s right to speak his foolishness.
It could be argued that since Jews came so close to destruction and black suffered so much, that both groups are living proof of what a lack of tolerance can do to a people.
Let us not forget that people who are extraordinarily sensitive to slights can also be the first ones to laugh when someone who does not belong to their group is being mocked. If one is a true advocate of an equal and free society, then we must be equally offended when some group other than the one to which we belong is unnecessarily and unjustly injured. We should not remain silent when the people we do not like are the target of hate speech. You can dislike someone but still respect, protect and be a defender of their rights. If we only demand justice for people we like then we are not just.
It is inconsistent with free speech to only defend it when people are trying to silence you.
It is not enough that we are against hate speech, but we have to support free speech, especially when we do not agree with the content of what is said – within reason. Free speech is not only free when others say what we agree with, it also remains free speech even when we disagree.
Do blacks and Jews people get away with more because of the history of their suffering, for example? Do we allow blacks and Jews to get away with more? Can they say things that others cannot say? We all know that we can. Should we be more sensitive to other people’s cultures when we speak on contentious issues?
Sensitivities have to be considered. For example, when the premier of the Western Cape made her now very infamous “refugee” and “professional black” comments earlier this year, I didn’t think she was racist nor did I think she was abusing the privileges she had been given in the Constitution.
But free speech comes with responsibilities and one must also accept the consequences that may come with that responsibility. The consequences of coming close to the line are not predetermined; they often come up when one doesn’t even expect them to. Helen Zille did not expect the firestorm that came with her saying the things she said. It was just a case of lack cultural sensitivity.
At the time, I said that the premier failed to apologise but instead, went down the meandering river of defending what should not be defended. She failed to be humble yet strong. To apologise yet make a point. Which was not surprising because the humility and sensitivity index is at an all time low in politics.
Considering her position in society, she ought to have been more sensitive about what she was going to say, particularly for someone who is the leader of an opposition that is under constant scrutiny – with the ANC always waiting for her to say something which can make it shout, “You are a racist!”
The unfortunate consequence of the sensitivity deficit is that when one speaks, and the language used lacks cultural sensitivity, everything that was said before or after is lost as we all focus on the cultural sensitivities. And then the point one was trying to make gets lost.
In the case of politicians, leaders have a greater responsibility to be culturally sensitive than ordinary citizens.
We all remember when the ANC organised a march against the Goodman Gallery demanding the removal of the now very famous Spear painting. We all remember the tragic events that a few weeks ago when mineworkers were shot and killed. There was no march by the ANC. A few days after the event I wrote the following tweet, “If only the ANC could be as mad about poverty and the events at Lonmin as it was about the Spear.”
The president was offended and so was the ANC. We too were expected to be offended because the president was offended. And I did find the painting to be offensive, but it still had the right to exist.
The right not to be offended is not in Constitution. As Ricky Gervais so eloquently put it: “Just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re in the right.” We mistakenly think that because we are offended we must be right. Which of course is not always true.
As I’ve said before, “The office [of president] has to be treated with dignity, for the citizen who holds it is our ambassador to the world. He represents us equally, whether one voted for or against him, he is our president. People do not deserve respect because of the office they hold; they deserve it because of their character. If the office of the president deserves respect, then whoever holds the office should treat with the respect it deserves.”
What is the role of the artist? The artist is not meant to paint according to his or her race, but according their consciousness. Brett Murray was not being racist nor insensitive when he painted his painting. Art has a role in contemporary society to provoke, to say that which others are afraid to say in public. It is also there to reflect the views of a society at that given time in moment. It is there to be a mirror – to reveal to us what we are or what we have become. If you look in the mirror to find a fat person staring back, it’s you!
South Africa is a wounded society. The cut is too recent. The wound is too deep. The scab has not healed. And with each poke, the wound reminds us that it is still there.
We can all philosophise and discuss these things. But people are not constitutions. They are living breathing human beings. All we really have to be and remember is that we are human beings on a human journey. That if we treat people as we wish to be treated then we would all be okay and we might not need to have a written Constitution. But unfortunately we do need it for our own sake.
This is an edited version of an address Khaya Dlanga delivered at the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies “Censor/tivity” Conference: Freedom of Expression & Hate Speech in 21st Century South Africa on September 9 2012.
February 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Many years ago when I worked as a copywriter for a large ad agency in Cape Town, I was asked to answer questions for our monthly newsletter sent by some interns and people who had just started working in advertising.
I hope I have answered your questions to your satisfaction, if they are not I am not bothered because I am satisfied. No, that wasn’t arrogant at all, that was me being a humble creative.
- Well, being a creative is easier than it looks. It’s also more difficult than it looks.
- To answer your question, I don’t know what we do and I don’t know how we do it. All I know is that somehow, it gets done. And we end up with ads.
- I like my job except for the days I don’t.
- No, there is no particular place I think best. Although it’s always nice to think outside the office. I am always on the job, it doesn’t matter what I am doing. Oh, what do you know, I just had another award winning idea!
- How do I take it when my ideas get rejected? Well, I am well versed in the art of accepting rejection. I often get told, “Let’s just be friends,” at least three times a week. This is excellent training.
- Yes, I have won many awards but these awards have not been able to get rid of my feelings of inadequacy and getting laid is still proving rather difficult to impossible. Mostly impossible. Actually, always impossible.
- Absolutely, there is room for promotion, you can become a CD, no not that one, but a Creative Director, Executive Creative Director and the pinnacle is World Wide Chief Creative Officer. Or you can just start your own ad agency with your name on the building.
- Would I like my name on an agency? What kind of question is that? What kind of egomaniac do you think I am? Of course, silly.
- The great thing about being a creative is that when you daydream, nobody asks you what you are doing. This is what we get paid to do.
- Deadlines? What’s that? Oh? You mean this was due two days ago?
February 3, 2014 § 6 Comments
I was going through my stuff the other day and I found a journal I had when I was in my early 20s. I remember it, but I didn’t know what I had in it. When I went through it, it was emotional for me because it brought back some really tough moments in my life to mind.
I wrote the following paragraphs during a very difficult and challenging period in my life, I had just come out of being homeless. Literally homeless, not squatting at friend’s houses or anything like that. Having absolutely nowhere to go. (I will elaborate on this in my new book which will be released in September 2014). I was 21/22 when I wrote the journal.
I wrote the following:
I believe this to be true for anyone who wants to achieve anything in life: never accept reality as an end. If we only ever face reality as an end; if we only ever face and accept our current difficulties, our reality we are doomed. It is imperative that I live in a world inside my head, a world that is not realistic. By that I mean believing in a truth that isn’t yet. But a truth nonetheless which I will create in the future.
One must face reality and the facts, but even more important is pointing out the reality that will be to yourself. When someone says, “Face reality,” they are telling you to forget your dream and what you know you want to do with every single fiber of your being, they are telling you to forget that you know you can do it even though it is damn hard at the time. I choose to answer in the following manner, “Yes, I will, but I choose to face, to create the future reality I want, not the one you want me to.” And refuse to subject myself to the narrow present reality.
February 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
Coca-Cola chose to celebrate America’s future with this ad. A nation of immigrants and people from different nations. Americans are very touchy about their anthem, but this was not the anthem, it’s America the Beautiful. Americans also love their English. Instead of presenting us with that America, the Coca-Cola team celebrated America’s diversity… by having America the Beautiful sung in different languages by all sorts of diverse people. A brave and beautiful move. And I know I am not being biased.
January 29, 2014 § 1 Comment
They just took a story and told it brilliantly. This is storytelling.
January 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
January 21, 2014 § 2 Comments
These twerking Stromtroppers have won the Internet so far this year.
January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
The teams where tied when the kid threw that shot. Crazy that he does it again. I wonder how many times he practiced.
Here, he does it again when a reporter asked him to demonstrate. This kid must be getting a whole lot of action right now.
December 26, 2013 § 3 Comments
This is probably the most incredible thing I have seen this year.
This man drove drunk and killed a man. He got some high powered lawyers who said they could get the blood test thrown out and he would be a free man. He refused and instead posted this YouTube confession. He did it to get others to stop drinking and driving. He was found guilty and is now serving a 6 and a half year sentence.
December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
These were so heart-felt and inspiring and a few funny ones. I obviously couldn’t include all the responses. There were lots of similar ones. These were some of my favourites. These guys won my Internet on Christmas day. People are always grateful for small things because they mean the most.
I am not being biased at all by putting this up.
There was an exchange here, so it will seem longer than it is.
Below: It’s amazing how people remember things that we may pay no mind to. The reality is I don’t even remember replying to her. I get requests asking me to look at things they are working on or advice from people all the time. The fact that I don’t remember might also have to do with my bad memory, but I am glad that I helped in some small way, even though I think she gave me more credit than I deserve because she did the work.
And this likes to town. *chuckles*
Thank you everyone for sharing.
December 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
He also quotes Nelson Mandela
December 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
The first one is the funniest, the Jesus character kills me
December 11, 2013 § 6 Comments
Mandela was a G.
December 11, 2013 § 15 Comments
This was a poem Thabo Mbeki delivered at the National Assembly in 1999 to Nelson Mandela when he stepped down as president. The last part is truly great and so relevant now.
Uthwel’uthuli lwezitho zabaphambili,
Wadad’emafini nje ngokhozi,
Wadelel’inkunzana nje ngemamb’emnyama,
Lath’izulu liqulath’indudumo nombane,
Ladedel’ilanga nalo lithand’ukubuka libukele,
Azoth’ amazwe onke ngokuthethelwa ngamehlo,
Evulel’ithutyana lwemilozi kubantwana bezulu,
Ndlebe zibanzi ziphulaphul’izingqi zekhehle,
De wavulek’uqhoqhoqho siyinginginya sisonke,
Ngoba namhlanje sifun’ukukhahlela sithi,
Msimbithi we sizwe!
You have walked along the road of the hereos and the heroines.
You have borne the pain of those who have known fear and learnt to conquer it.
You have marched in front when comfort was in the midst of the ranks
You have laughed to contend against a river of tears.
You have cried to broadcast a story of joy.
And now you leave this hallowed place to continue to march in front of a different detachment of the same army of the sun.
Not the comfort of the fond superintendence of the growing stalks of the maize plant or of the Nguni herd with its milk, its flesh or its hide.
Nor the pleasant chatter of your grand-children with mountains to climb which are but little mounds.
Not the pensive silence of the elderly, whose burdened minds cascade backwards because to look too much into the future is to impose a burden on bones that have grown old.
You leave us here not because you have to stop.
You leave us here because you have to start again.
The accident of your birth should have condemned you to a village.
Circumstances you did not choose should have confined you to a district.
Your sight, your heart and your mind could have reached no further than the horizon of the natural eye.
But you have been where you should not have been.
You have faced death and said – do your worst!
You have inhabited the dark, dark dungeons of freedom denied, itself a denial to live in a society where freedom was denied.
You have looked at the faces of some of those who were your comrades, who turned their eyes away from you because somewhere in their mortal being there lingered the remnants of a sense of shame, always and for ever whispering softly – no to treachery! a thing in the shadows, present at every dawn, repeating, repeating, repeating – I am Conscience, to whom you have denied a home.
You have not asked – who indeed are these for whose lives I was prepared to die!
You have asked who am I, that I too did not falter, so that I too could turn my own eyes away from myself and another, who was a comrade.
You have stood at the brink, when you had to appeal to the goods about whether to win a dishonourable peace or to lose the lives of your people, and decided that none among these would exchange their lives for an existence without honour.
You have been where nobody should be asked to be.
You have carried burdens heavier than those who felt it their responsibility and right to proclaim you an enemy of the state.
You have to convince your enemies to believe a story difficult to believe, because it was true, that your burnished spear glittered in the rays of the sun, not to speak of hatred and death from them, but because you prayed that its blinding brilliance would tell them, whose ears would not hear, that you loved them as your own kith and kin.
You have had to bear the mantle of sainthood when all you sought was pride in the knowledge that you were a good foot soldier for justice and freedom.
But despite it all and because of it all, we are blessed.
We are blessed because you have walked along the road of our heroes and heroines.
For centuries our own African sky has been dark with suffering and foreboding.
But because we have never surrendered, for centuries the menace in our African sky has been brightened by the light of our stars.
In the darkness of our night, the victory of the Khoikhoi in 1510 here in Table Bay, when they defeated and killed the belligerent Portuguese admiral and aristocrat, Dom Franscisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy in India, has lit our skies for ever.
In the darkness of our night, Autshumato, the Khoikhoi leader who was the first political prisoner on Robben Island, shone on our firmament as our star of hope.
And so these and other since, the kings and queens and generals and warriors who resisted Africa’s colonisation, the leaders who, and the movements which fought for African emancipation – these who are, permanently, our heroes and heroines – have come and gone, over the generations, one after the other, each to take his or her place as a star in the African sky.
Among them are our own, whose names we recite to tell ourselves that we are – black liberators, white liberators, human beings, whose only fault has been to strive to live as human beings.
Among these, Madiba, we recite you name, because your fault too, for which your have paid your price, was that you strived so that you, together with us, could live as a human being.
As these human beings, we have, for five years, traversed the rooms and passages that surround us and occupied this theatre of drama and farce and the birth of the new, carrying on our foreheads the title – the law makers!
The sense of wonder still pervades our ranks that out of the tumult and the babble of tongues, the veiled enmities and the bloodless wars, there could have arisen over our devastated land, out of this house, with its own history, the sun of hope.
Though standing like little giants, because we stand on your shoulders and others of your generation, we must proclaim it to the world that here, in these houses of the law-givers, we have striven to do the right things, because to have done otherwise would have been to condemn ourselves to carry, for all time, the burden of having insulted all the sacrifices you made.
Others, before us, who also had the power to decide how each and all shall behave, according to such rules and regulations they were empowered to set, arrived from Europe at the Cape of Good Hope on the 23rd of December, 1802.
These were the representatives of the Batavian Republic of the Netherlands.
As they landed on the shores of our oceans, only a heckler’s shout from where you sit, Madiba, they carried in their heads the lesson they had been taught, on “Methods to Follow when Attending Savage Peoples”. And here is an example of their lessons:
Convey to them our arts,but not our corruption,the code of our morals,and not the example of our vices,our sciences and not our dogmas,the advantages of civilisation,and not their abuses,conceal from them how the peoplein our more enlightened countries,defame one another, and degradethemselves by their passions.
On the 10th of May, five years ago, you stood in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria to proclaim to the universe that the sun could never set on so glorious a human achievement as was celebrated that day.
Black and white South Africans had, at last, arrived at the point when, together, they could say:
Let us nurture our arts, and not our corruption.Let us communicate morality, and not our vices.Let us advance science, and not our dogmas.Let us advance civilisation, and not abuse.
After a long walk, we too have arrived at the starting point of a new journey.
We have you, Madiba, as our nearest and brightest star to guide us on our way.
We will not get lost.
A Farewell to Madiba by Thabo Mbeki – National Assembly, Cape Town, on 26 March 1999
November 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
I did stand up comedy about 8 years ago and I sort of stopped because of one reason or another. I was very awkward, well that was the character I was going for. I did stand up for about 3 years and then sort of fizzled out. It was a pretty decent way of making extra cash. I have never been able to do just one thing with my life, there is always something else I do besides whatever 9 to 5 I do. Restricting myself to a single thing would kill me, I need to be always doing something else. This was the reason I did stand – up.My first appearance on TV for stand up is also on this clip.
November 27, 2013 § 2 Comments
*this originally appeared on the Cape Times on August 27 2013
“You are lucky, you have now lived more years in a New South Africa than you have under apartheid. I have lived most of my life under apartheid than outside it.” These were the words of my uncle to me a few months ago. “And for people to tell us blacks to be over it when most our lives are defined by what we experienced for longer is asking too much.” I am still very bitter he said. And it makes me extremely bitter when I hear that we are obsessed with it by people who did not go through what we had to go through.
My uncle is approaching his 70s now. He talks fast and has a very strong voice, to the point of almost being gruff. Ever since I’ve known him, he has had way more confidence than most people I knew. Xhosas are generally very expressive, my uncle is always without doubt the loudest person in any room or kraal, which is where we were when he said what he said to me. As he spoke, the men from the village who were there to enjoy the sheep, which had been slaughtered for some family festivities, nodded in agreement.
He had gone to work in Johannesburg in his 20s to his late 30s. In that time, he was able to save enough money to start a taxi business. This was when the taxi industry was still at its infancy in the 80s. He managed to make himself and his family a lot of money in that time. His one taxi became several, employing his sons and others to drive his taxis. Eventually he had a prestigious shop in his village of Sugarbush.
He did so well that he built himself an enormous house in the village. It was nicer and bigger than a lot of houses you could find in the suburbs. It obviously had no indoor plumbing because this was a village that had no such luxuries. He also had tractors which he use to hire out to teal, plant, harvest and fetch firewood for villagers. His tractors did the work for several villages. He became really wealthy businessman in the village during apartheid. Yet, with the demise of apartheid, so did his wealth but that is a story for another day.
My uncle spoke about how he used to teach new white employees how to do their jobs. Although he taught them, they got paid more. How they acted like they knew even though they didn’t know. They couldn’t bare the thought of being taught by a black man to do anything. He told me how the same people he’d taught to do their jobs would do everything to undermine his intelligence when they had become his boss. He says that he felt as though he was a reminder to them that black people weren’t inferior like they thought.
The other men in the kraal said that there were things they experienced in the hands of white people that they did not want to repeat and reveal to me in case they wash away my idealism. They spoke of how they always had to be invisible to their white bosses. They couldn’t seem too bright or too smart because if they did, they got mocked for trying to be clever and or lost their jobs. How they had to balance between being invisible but being visible and being there when needed. There was a struggle to be invisible even though they hated the idea of not being seen.
One of the men told a story that we have heard many times in South Africa. He worked as a gardener in Johannesburg for a certain family. He talked about how the family dogs were allowed in the house at any given moment, yet he was never allowed to go inside the house. How an animal was more important than a human being was something he never got used to, even though he worked for the family for years. “I don’t hate white people. But for the majority of my life, they have treated me like I was not worthy of being a human being. I can’t trust them, but I don’t hate them. Most of my life has been under apartheid. You on the other hand have lived most of your life outside apartheid. I don’t expect you to completely understand.”
There really was no bitterness in their voices, talking about their experiences felt like a therapy session for them.
November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
I remember listening to a professor tell a story about a story he’d read in a magazine about Clint Eastwood. I’ve Googled the story to see if it’s real or not but I haven’t been able to find it on the Internet. If the story is true, it’s great. If not, it’s still good.
He’s the kind of guy who has said things like, “I don’t know if I can tell you exactly when the pussy generation started. Maybe when people started asking about the meaning of life.”
“Kids piercing themselves, piercing their tongues — what kind of masochism is that? Is it to show you can just take it?”
Clint was the epitome of cool in his heyday. Yes, even with that death stare. The story I heard from the professor apparently appeared in some magazine in the 70s. The story goes like this:
Clint was being interviewed. Then the journalist asked him, “Why do you think people think you are so cool?”
Apparently Mr Dirty Harry put one of those cigarettes without a filter on the table. Since it had no filter that meant it could be lit from either end. Just over a quarter of the ciggy was over the edge of the table. He flicked it upwards with his thumb and it spun upwards in the air, it descended and Clint caught one of the tips of with his lips. As soon as he caught it, he took a match and lit it under the sole of his shoe, lit the cigarette, inhaled, blew out some smoke and said, “I have no idea.”
November 26, 2013 § 2 Comments
I lost his first job – and used my cleaning skills to secure the next one.
The office is one of those places that no-one wants to go to after waking up in the morning. The bed is always much more pleasant. Unless you are that guy who is having an affair with someone there. Which can make going to work very inspiring.
I was retrenched from my first job, nine months in – like a pregnancy. My boss at the time called me into his office and told me that the agency was going through a really tough time; we had lost a major account within three months of me joining. I managed to survive the first massacre of retrenchments. I didn’t survive when we lost another account in the next six months.
I was then summoned to the owner and founder’s office. I wasn’t upset by the summons because his PA was hot. I had no idea why. His office had a nice couch and glass table. He pointed to the couch and I sat down, and he sat opposite. Although it was comfortable, I felt uncomfortable on the couch. He told me the agency was going through a difficult time. “Although I think you are very talented, unfortunately you are one of the people I must retrench.” Inside, I was very relieved to hear it. I hadn’t thought of the fact that I was now unemployed.
Looking back, I respect that he told me himself; he didn’t get my boss or one of his underlings to do it. As a fan of the Game of Thrones books, I am reminded of the motto of the Lord of Winterfell, Lord Eddard Stark, when he passes a death sentence by beheading. He said: “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword,” although he never took joy in the duty.
He asked me how I felt about being retrenched. Looking back, it would seem I’ve always lacked tact. I paused for a second, thinking of what to say, then said: “I’m glad actually…”
I hadn’t even finished my sentence when he interrupted me with: “Why would you say that?” I told him I felt I wasn’t been mentored; I was being left to my own devices and to teach myself. I felt ignored no matter how much proactive work I did. I felt more like an irritant than someone who was needed.
I still don’t believe I said it because it’s not like I had a job lined up. He looked absolutely horrified and said he hated hearing that. He wanted employees to hate leaving his company – they should never be happy about leaving, he exclaimed as he slammed his fist on the glass table.
He was nice enough to say he would call a couple of agencies to see if any of them had a slot for a younger writer.
A few days later, I got a call on my landline. “Who wants me?” I asked.
There was a stammer on the other side of the line and a voice said: “It’s So-and-So, Executive Creative Director of So- and-So advertising agency.” Had I been a white man, I would have turned beetroot red on the other end of the line.
Fortunately, I am a man of the melanin-advantaged persuasion. He was calling me about an interview because he’d heard that I was retrenched, would I like to come in for an interview he asked?
I met the Executive Creative Director of this particular agency. His office reeked of cigarette smoke. The stench in his office was probably no different from that of Mad Men. He had his Apple MacBook open and there were brown envelopes stuffed with briefs. He rested his elbow on the table with his cigarette hand by his ear. He didn’t care that it was illegal to smoke in the office. It would seem everyone was too scared of him to tell him to stop. His hand would go between his ear and mouth between puffs. He offered me coffee, which I declined, but he had a cup.
The interview hadn’t even been going for five minutes when I accidentally knocked over his mug, spilling coffee all over his desk and the briefs. He had to jump up suddenly because some of it splashed on his crotch. Luckily, I don’t think the hot liquid did any damage to his member. I remembered seeing the kitchen not too far from his office. I thought quickly and ran to get paper towel. When I got back to his office it was quiet and I was convinced I’d lost any chance of getting the job.
I folded the paper towel and started wiping his desk in the middle of the world’s most awkward interview and found myself saying: “As you can see, I’m really desperate for a job, even if it’s a cleaning job”. He suddenly let out a huge laugh. The awkward-ness left the room and returned to wherever the hell it had come from. At the beginning of the interview he had told me that there was a hiring freeze, as they also had to retrench people a month before. At the end of the interview, after going through my thin portfolio, he stood up, shook my hand and said: “To hell with it, rules are meant to be broken, I’m hiring you.” After hearing those words, the smoke in his office didn’t bother me any more.
*this originally appeared on Visi magazine
November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
I suspect I’ll be like these dads. Yes. An embarrassing dad. My kids will be well versed in the art of rolling their at me. It’s going to be fun. I think I’ll have more fun as a dad than they will as my kids. Shem. I pray for my future kids shem.
This dad breaks the news
Dad gives a child his number
November 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Actor David Duchovny on the coach who taught a reserved, scared, outwardly blasé teenager to care
To me, he was always Coach Byrnes. As if his first name were “Coach.” When I heard other teachers call him “Larry,” it rang like a sour note, vaguely disrespectful. Larry may have been his name, but his essence, his true name, was Coach.
I had come into high school figuring I’d play some basketball but also terrified of not living up to academic expectations and loath to let sports siphon away study time. My future was built on a house of cards, the bottom floor of which was a scholarship to a prestigious private school in Manhattan called Collegiate. If I didn’t perform academically, I thought, it would start a chain reaction that would lead to me in the gutter somewhere. I was 14 and scared.
The basketball program was in disarray. My sophomore year, we were 5-18. Our warm-ups, vertically thick-striped orange and blue, snap-button flared at the ankles, looked liked the bottom half of a clown suit straight out of the Tony Manero fall ’78 collection.
I was concerned with how many points I scored. I wore my hair not quite Frampton long and tamed only by a terrycloth headband. I had no idea how silly I looked. I cursed loudly and often when I missed a shot or disagreed with the refs. Off the court, I was quiet and well mannered. On the court, I was an ass. Everything about me said “I don’t really care.” My father had left my mother a couple years before. I guess I had some issues.
My junior year, Coach Byrnes showed up. He was about 6-foot-4. He looked like a man. He told me to cut my hair because I would play better if I could see. He told me to stop cursing and to direct that fury into my desire to win. He told me not to celebrate when I hit an important shot, but to act like I’d been there before. You hit shots at the buzzer—that’s what you do.
Team shot- 1976-77 Varsity Team with Coach Larry Byrnes used in the 1977 yearbook, “The Dutchman” Collegiate School Archives
Coach Byrnes told me I was worthwhile and good and that we could win. He talked to me as if I were someone worth telling a story about, subtly enjoining me to become active in that story. My father was mostly gone by then, and now here was a man who respected me by demanding that I respect myself and a game. I never knew if he liked me. That wasn’t so important. He saw potential in me, and I began to respect myself.
That is what a good coach does. He fills you with a belief that may or may not be justified. As you make the dangerous crossing from unproven belief to actual accomplishment, from potential to reality, a good coach holds your hand so expertly that you don’t even know your hand is being held. I got better because Coach Byrnes told me I was already better. It was that simple—a magic trick. And every success I’ve had ever since has had some of this same magic in it, either at the hands of other skilled teachers or by the generous trickery of the voice inside me that they instilled.
I stopped caring about how many points I scored. I even played some defense (though some still argue that point). I would dive after loose balls, rebound my ass off. I was learning what it meant to want to be good for someone else—to be good for an idea, for a team.
That is why, after so many years, men will tear up talking about a high school team that competed in what Coach Carill, my basketball coach at Princeton, called “the argyle socks league.” It didn’t matter that we weren’t close to the best. We were the best that we could be, and once you have tasted that, anything else is bitter and false. There is no longer any fooling yourself.
I spent just two seasons, a mere 50 odd games, with Coach Byrnes. How is it that he got through to me in such a short time? That’s the genius of a coach. They talk to you between the lines, but then you take them with you outside the lines.
One memory stands out, not of winning, which fades, but of losing, which hurts and lingers. My junior year, we lost an important league game to an arch rival. We could have won if we’d executed perfectly. We didn’t choke; we just didn’t finish the game strongly. It was a respectable but devastating loss.
After the game, all of us were assembled in the locker room waiting for Coach Byrnes. I know I felt like we had let him down. The door to the locker room swung open, and Coach walked in, put his hand over his heart and said, “A pint of blood. Right from here.”
It was a simple gesture—a bit corny but true to the moment. A few of us started crying. He had given us permission to care enough about a game to cry. Now that I have my own family to love, it seems strange to still care about a silly game so long ago, but there was blood in that too. Coach Byrne was still coaching after the buzzer, teaching me—a reserved, scared, outwardly blasé teenager—that men could care like that. No one was to blame, but it hurt like hell nonetheless—like much of life, as we all find out eventually.
I don’t remember, but I think I cried. I hope I did. I feel like crying just remembering it. That’s a coach—a real coach.
—Mr. Duchovny is an actor, writer and director and was the captain of the 1978 Collegiate School basketball team. This essay is the preface to a new edition of “Coach: 25 Writers Reflect on People Who Made a Difference,” edited by Andrew Blauner.
November 19, 2013 § 3 Comments
That was the question I posed on Twitter last night. The answers were heartfelt, some just heart-breaking beautiful moments. When given an opportunity, Twitter can be a beautiful genuine place, instead of the often cynical one because cynicism is “cool”. I think there is nothing cooler than being sincere and real and raw.
The best memories people shared were the simplest. If these don’t inspire you to be a great father I don’t know what will.
The thing I loved the most is how many people mentioned their dads. You don’t always get that, most people always talk about their mothers. It was great seeing fathers getting some sun. We need more fahters who create great memories for their children.
Below are the responses:
I thought this exchange was beautiful
November 5, 2013 § 2 Comments
David Ogilvy is generally regarded as the father of advertising. Think Abraham in the Bible, Washington in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa and Jacob Zuma in Nkandla.
On September 7 1982, he wrote this memo and called it: “A memo drafted by David Ogilvy for the management to circulate as they see fit”.
How to write
The better you write, the higher you will go in Ogilvy & Mather.
People who think well, write well.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.
Here are 10 hints:
(1) Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. * read it three times.
(2) Write the way you talk. Naturally.
(3) Use short word, short sentences and short paragraphs
(4) Never use jargon words like reconceptualise, demassification. Attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
(5) Never write more than two pages on any subject.
(6) Check your quotations.
(7) Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
(8) If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
(9) Before you send your letter or memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
(10) If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
This is the gospel according to David Ogilvy. He didn’t say this is the gospel, but you get my meaning. I think David was talking about writing memos and communicating clearly. I wonder what he thought of the Bible because it has way more than two pages.
October 30, 2013 § 1 Comment
October 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”
― Marilyn Monroe
October 24, 2013 § 34 Comments
I got this email from someone who was one, and I appreciate the honesty about it all. I have been given permission to publish.
2009. I was 18. Vibrant, spunky, outgoing. I had just settled in a new town. A new academic venture had just begun – tertiary level.
The first day of lectures, I laid my eyes on who was going to fast become my best friend. She was dark, slim, taller than average. Most interestingly, she looked foreign. Just like me! For 3 sessions per week for the following month, we always made eye contact in class. One day, I finally approached her and asked for her name. It was Vivian*. She had a nice smile. We had a very chatty introduction. The outcome was her inviting me to her hostel room. We ended up laying on the bed and talking for the next 5 hours straight. By the end of the day, it felt like I’d known her my whole life. It was the days when Mxit wasn’t a big joke. We stayed up chatting when we weren’t together.
3 months later, she invited me for a girls-night-out club-hopping mission. I lived at home with absolutely conservative parents, so I sadly couldn’t go. She asked me for my digital camera, I agreed to give it. She later told me not to bother; a friend had lent one to her. The next day, she showed me photos of the fun that was. They dominated the dance floor. She asked me if I could dance. She told me to prove if I could. I did. The slow wind, the booty hop, the Shakira – I showed her all. She recorded it on the borrowed camera, absolutely stunned. She played it back over and over again. She told me that the owner of the camera, Cyrus*, was soon coming to fetch it. She received a call and went downstairs to give it.
Within the next 10 minutes after she returned, she received a phone call. Cyrus was begging to know who the dancer was. She said it was her. He knew it wasn’t. They grew up together. He senior-ed her (and me) by 10 years. He knew her body and motions inside-out. He begged and begged. I left her room that evening with Cyrus still pleading on Mxit to know who the dancer was.
Around midnight, Vivian sent a Mxit message telling me that she’d given my Facebook name to him. I asked her if he was cute. She said I would see.
8am the next morning, I saw a friend request from someone with the silhouette of a built man as his profile photo; with a window pane as the backdrop. It was his name. I refused to believe it was his actual self on the photo. It was just too model-ish. I accepted the request and before the page could refresh, he sent a “Hi” inbox message. I sent a “hi back”. He asked for my mobile or Mxit number. He claimed to detest Facebook messages. We chatted on Mxit till 5pm. He knocked off from work and asked to meet me just for a while. I was scared to. What if he wouldn’t like me in person? I had previously told him I was on campus in the library, so he came anyway. Immediately he entered the lab I was in, I knew it was him. He was all versions of hot. Tall, dark, built, with chiselled facial features.
He located me and just sat next to me and smiled. I blushed. I heard his voice, his accent for the first time – My God! Yesssssss…
Fast-forward to a week later. We had spoken about the basics. Age, education, background, relationship status. Two single people getting to know each other. We somehow flirted to the point it got sexual. I wasn’t a virgin, but I was quite untainted. He was dirty. I was intrigued. Highly.
He said he liked my innocence. He said he liked how he knew I wouldn’t be able to handle him. I told him I could. I wanted to.
One morning, he told me he had a hard-on. Asked me to prescribe something to calm it. I sent him a nude. The first nude I had ever sent in my whole life. I told him to jack off – the hard-on would go. He called me a tease, said he wants to teach me a lesson. I told him pick me up after his work.
5:30pm, we were at his flat. We fucked. It was not sex, it was not love-making. It was intense. I bled. I felt like a virgin over again. From that day on, he became my every desire.
My days became exciting. I’d wake up to messages from him telling me how amazing and mature I was. It made me excited to go to school and get all my work done, so the evening would come quickly and I’d see him. Sometimes I’d sneak off to a toilet to send him photos. It was insane. He would just send a text: “Babe, turn me on. Now”, and I’d do it. Despite the extremely passionate, yet almost sadistic approach he had to ‘loving’ me, I felt it was the best thing ever.
One evening, he reported that Vivian was giving him attitude. That she’s not a very good person when she’s angry. I had unintentionally distanced myself from my bestie. I visited her that day. She was very cold towards me. We had a bit of a spat. I told her she’s a spoiled brat and always pushes people away. She told me I was a bad friend for going after her love interest. She added that I was not even his girlfriend. Someone called Janine* was (by the way, that’s my name too. My middle name). She went into detail about how I’m just his sexual toy.
I felt all kinds of weak. All kinds of sick. I didn’t understand the emotion. I had never been heart-broken. But I was sure that wasn’t it. It was more than that. I felt worthless, then stupid, then angry, then absolutely shattered. I wasn’t yet sure if I was in love with him; but it occurred to me that I most probably was. Or was I just drawn to his sexual kinship? He was the best I ever had. From his looks to his demeanour and all the way to the bulge in his pants. All I really thought was: why didn’t I ever know? Why had I never noticed? There were no hints in his flat. The next hour, Vivian took me through his Facebook. The little hints were here and there. I just trusted him off the bat. Never snooped or felt insecure. The posts from Janine were obvious of affection. His own statuses were too. He fondly called me “J”, I had assumed the “J” references on his Facebook were to me. It was all too easy for him. I threw up. I couldn’t believe how it all affected me.
Vivian apologised. Next blow: she confessed to sleeping with him too. Constantly for over a year. She confessed to loving him. She used to get all the attention I had been getting from him. But it all changed when I started talking to him. He had told her that she shouldn’t behave as if she was his girlfriend. That he just wanted to meet me. He told her he wouldn’t try anything with me. That Vivian was his favourite other female. It disgusted me how she was okay with it. Knowing full well about Janine. I would never – or so I thought.
That evening, I confronted him. He apologised. He kissed my hand and said he thought I knew. I just wanted to erase him from my memory. It was tough, but I stayed away from him – for a while.
Little did I know I would go on to see Janine everywhere on campus. I started to notice things I never did before. I would even see them chill on campus after 5. I had seen him pick her up before. Vivian had Janine as a friend on Facebook and I would read her posts. Once, she gushed “So happy Cy-Cy doesn’t have to stay at work late anymore.” I was that ‘work’.
I had not only found that thin line between love and hate. I crossed it.
2010. Life went on though. I got a post as columnist for the campus newspaper. Janine had a post there too. One day she clashed with a friend of mine, and it made me dislike her more. So I fell back into a bad habit I had been off for almost 3 months – Cyrus the Virus. I called him. Told him to pick me up immediately. He did. We had sex. And that’s how it started all over again. This time I was fully conscious; fully aware of my position.
I started to smile at Janine. I felt powerful. He was hers, but he was mine too. Cyrus even found a way to get us to be friendly. She even admitted once in a Mxit group chat to having a thing for me and admiring my confidence. She had no idea where it stemmed from.
The year was over. He got a new job in another province. He and Janine broke up. I and Vivian fell out completely. I got into a steady relationship. Life went on…
2011. A whole year later, now in the days of WhatsApp. He sent a message quite out of the blue and told me he’s in town for the week for an event and that I have his number. I knew what he meant. I missed him. I contacted him. We did it. I was now a cheat. I later broke up with my boyfriend. Guilty conscience took me over.
I found out a little while later that Cyrus got back with Janine. I was emotionless.
2012. Same time the following year, he was in town again. Same event. Just one week. I was in a year-long relationship. His name is Laki*. He knew about my past. He knew about my addiction to being Cyrus’ sidechick. But he still wanted to be with me. This was the longest relationship I’d ever been in. I cared about him. A lot. But we fought a lot. He said I lacked respect for him. We had a big fight the beginning of that fateful week. Sometimes I think I subconsciously planned for the fight to happen. And happen, it did. I linked up with my guilty pleasure. We did what we knew how to do best to each other. It was always the greatest familiarity that I just couldn’t get used to. I couldn’t get enough of if. Every new time was better than the last time.
I broke up with Laki after that week despite his apologies and pleas to try and sort things out. I was not prepared to tell him what I had done.
2013. Some months later. Laki did not relent. And I caved into his re-advances. I fell in love this time around, and cautiously. He treated me like a gem. He publicised us. He made sure it was known that I was his and he was mine. I initially found it hard to trust him totally, but he eliminated all traces of doubt. He still showed me respect, and I showed him the same. I really had changed. I had grown up. Not only to my credit; Laki made me feel like the only girl in the world. In a healthy way this time. Cyrus was a bad memory. I deleted him from Facebook. I deleted his phone number. The plan was to be faithful.
That time of the year arrives again. The time Cyrus always comes into town. He hasn’t outgrown his favourite event of the year. I hope he won’t contact me, but I wish he would. I want to feel like he actually wanted me because he WANTED me, not just because he could have me. He is still with Janine. Someone told me so.
2 days into the event, I get a WhatsApp message from someone with a silhouette of a masculine body; and the sunset as the backdrop.
HIM: “Hi Miss J”
ME: “Who is this?”
HIM: “Haha. Classic question. It’s Cy.”
He’s still cocky as ever. I play it cool. He does too. After a civil chat, I eventually tell him to enjoy his stay, then roll out. Laki is not impressed. He feels I’m not firm enough. He feels he’s still scarring from wounds Cy left behind. We have a big fight. I’m charged to take control now.
I open the chat again and type away. I pour out 4-years of sadness, emotional turmoil, inferiority of being second-best and ultimate guilt into a WhatsApp message. I make it clear that he is never to contact me again, and that I’m preserving what I have going on with a great man this time around. I press the “Send” button, and my heart starts racing.
The “last seen today at…” bar turns into “Online” and I hold my breath. Few seconds later, I get a new message notification.
That was all he replied. That was all it took for me to feel totally sober. Sane. Powerful.
And that was the end of it.
(* – Names changed).
October 18, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you had 5 minutes to live, who would you call and what would you say to them? Amazing Twitter responses.
October 16, 2013 § 7 Comments
Last night I asked Twitter who they would call and what they would say if they had five minutes to live. These are just some of their moving and genuine responses. Sometimes Twitter can be so mean and ruthless, and then there are moments like these from last night. You guys can be so awesome.
October 16, 2013 § Leave a comment
October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
Originally appeared on my news24 column, 2012-02-23 11:20
Land is a black and white issue, but it doesn’t have a black and white solution. Then we have land issue denialism by the likes of Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus, who wants to deny black people land by rewriting history. Mr Mulder clumsily tried to deny the “Bantus”, as he called us, claim to the land in the Cape by saying there was no Bantus when the white man came. He said that “Bantu-speaking” people had no historical claim to 40% of the land.
Mr Mulder is trying to use a strategy that was applied very well by his apartheid-loving ancestors. They divided and tried to conquer us as a people. The Xhosas were not meant to like the Zulus, the Zulus must not like the Tswanas and so on and so forth. We were to be suspicious of one another so that we didn’t unite to fight. These suspicions that were so well executed with evil genius that they led to the hostel violence between the Xhosas and Zulus in the 80s and 90s during the height of the struggle.
(Allow me an aside here.) My uncle, who is a priest in the Methodist church, went to these hostels to broker peace between the warring tribes. He told me that one of the most effective ways he employed to stop the fighting was by asking them one simple question. He would turn to the Zulus and ask, “Who amongst you has had his land stolen by the Xhosas?” There would be no answer. Then he would turn to the Xhosas and ask, “Who amongst you has had his land stolen from him by a Zulu?” Again, there would be no answer.
And then he would say, “You should not be fighting each other, but you should be uniting and fighting against those who stole your land. This is what they want you to do, to fight each other instead.” Mr Mulder is trying to decide who is South African enough, therefore dividing the black people of South Africa by saying who has greater claim to the land than the other.
It is not going to happen Mr Mulder. The Zulus, Sothos, Vendas, Khoisan and other tribes all have claim to South Africa before 1652. The land belongs to them. We just didn’t have maps or title deeds. The visitors of 1652 came and claimed the land, which was not theirs, with pieces of paper, guns and laws that were not written by the original inhabitants. But I digress.
Perhaps I should school Mr Mulder a little on the South African history he has so conveniently forgotten.
It was 500 years ago that the Khoisan established themselves as the dominant people in the Cape. Therefore Mr Mulder’s attempt to separate the original people’s of South Africa from the Nguni is rejected and deserves to be treated with contempt. In any case, before the 1600s, Xhosas were trading and intermarried the Khoikhoi in the Cape. Therefore the claim that “Bantu-speaking” people had no claim to the Cape is equally rejected.
Fast-forward to 1905 when the South African Native Affairs Commission recommended that certain areas be reserved only for Africans. In 1910, Parliament proposed legislation that included limits on African land ownership, which restricted blacks to only 7.5% of the land. Then in 1913, a Bill that would be known as The Natives’ Land Act was passed, which restricted 68% of the population to 7.5% of the total landmass of South Africa. In 1939, Barry Hertzog increased this to 13%.
The Natives’ Land Act meant that blacks could only buy land from blacks. They couldn’t buy anymore land than had been restricted to them; this meant no black could buy land from a white person.
South Africa’s economy was growing and needed cheap labour. In order to force blacks to leave the rural areas to go work and service white industry, land shortage was orchestrated. With too little land to graze and forced to reduce the livestock they had and not enough land to cultivate, people had little choice but to leave their reserves and service white industry for little money.
In proposing this land restriction for labour, the South African Native Affairs Commission recommended that labour from the black reserves should always be male, single, regarded as temporarily employed in the “white” areas and paid at a rate mining and agriculture or country could afford.
And I haven’t even touched on forced removals.
For a very long time, black people were not allowed to buy land outside their allocated 13% of the land even though they formed an overwhelming majority of the population. These historical imbalances are what resulted in the paltry black land ownership we find ourselves in today. There are millions of people who are alive today, who remember the forced removals, who remember being forced out of their land to make way for white people to move in. These people were moved to much smaller pieces of land – which they could not even harvest.
Therefore we cannot continue to sweep the land issue under the carpet. It is real for many people. The land issue is important and complex. It is not something that can simply be solved by employing the same techniques the apartheid government applied. So Mr Mulder needs to sit down.
October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment
This video is a tad hilarious. Ok, maybe more than a tad.
If you loved Rebecca Black’s “Friday”, you’ll love this more.
October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment
October 12, 2013 § 3 Comments
Let me yack on for a minute before you see a couple of extracts I’ve put down below from his Interview. You may think he is a jerk but he has some great points, but one thing he has is courage to be the kind of creative person he is. A lot of creative people lack the courage to stand up for that they believe. But not everyone must stand up for themselves the same way. You have to stand up for yourself in a manner that suits you. Kanye doesn’t mind going out there and speaking his mind. When MTV wouldn’t play Michael Jackson’s videos, he didn’t take it to the press or the public, but he fought them with his work and even collaborated with MTV and got the president of his record company to threaten MTV. He demonstrated his courage differently to Kanye West. I think Kanye’s courage is different to that of Michael Jackson, which was quieter but had a tremendous impact. Courage is courage no matter how it manifests.
Here are my favourite extracts from his interview.
“That’s the improper way to do it. I refuse to follow those rules that society has set up and the way they control people with low self-esteem, with improper information, with branding, with marketing. I refuse to follow those rules. It’s about truth, it’s about information, it’s about awesomeness, and the only luxury is time, the time you spend with your family. The concept of luxury is foreign to me. With Nike, with Apple? Did you know there were phones that cost $4,000? There are people who spend $5,000 on this bag, $10,000 on this, to say what I said before, to say, ‘We’re better than you.’ I mean, taste, culture, art, just the quality of life, this is what I’m here to do. So when I compare myself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Howard Hughes, David Stern, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Jesus, whoever it is, I say these are my heroes, these are people that I look up to, this is the type of impact I want to make on the Earth.”
This is whas my favourite part, you can see the passion as he says it. “People don’t stand up and protect their dreams, people are too scared of getting spoofed in a way. The irony of it is, think of a creative person at school, when you picture them you’re picturing someone all the way back of class, sketching and maybe getting beat up. And this is the reason why I did this, because creatives got beat up my entire life, and there was moments I stood up to drug dealers in Chicago, I said you can’t have my publishing, come and kill me, do what you’re gonna do but you’re not gonna bully me, you’re not gonna stop me, because my mother made me believe in myself… No matter how many people tell me, ‘Stop believing in yourself, stop saying what you can do, stop affirming what you can do and completing that in real life.”
“No matter how many people tell me ‘stop believing in yourself, stop affirming what you can do and then completing that in real life’ — I refuse to follow those rules that society set up in the way that controlled people with low self esteem. It’s about truth, information, and awesomeness.”
“fashion isn’t always practical, it’s about emotion and swag.”
Kanye is upset that the fashion world hasn’t embraced him, saying: “There’s no black guy standing at the end of the runway in Paris.”
Kimmel perfectly responds, “What about the Steve Harvey collection?” And Kanye responded, “There’s no Steve Harvey Collection, no extra buttons on jackets or anything.” I thought that was pretty funny.
“Michael Jackson had to fight to get his videos on MTV because he was considered to be “urban”! This is Michael Jackson!” Urban was code for black.
“I could care less about any of these cameras. All I care about is my family, protecting my girl, protecting my baby, and protecting my ideas and my dreams.”
“I feel like media does everything they can to break creatives, to break artists, to break people’s spirits.”
Here is my favourite part from YouTube
October 7, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you are from East London and you’re Xhosa speaking, you would have heard of the word igali. It is what our brothers and sisters from KZN and other such northern parts call umkhukhu and what our melanin disadvantaged brothers and sisters call shacks.
Where on earth did the word igali come from? During the apartheid era building a shack was illegal. When they popped up, police would be sent to break them down. Many people had to watch as authorities broke their homes down. Even though the government of the day never made provisions for them to have homes, they still destroyed the ones these struggling people made for themselves.
Anyway, when the policemen came, as expected in the day, they were white and would dismantle the homes. Most of the people were uneducated and could not speak English. When the cops were about to break down their properties they would say, “This is illegal!”
Sometimes people would come back from work to find that they no longer had homes. They would wonder what happened. Those who were there to witness as their own homes were destroyed would respond by saying, “Athe amapolisa ligali kaloku,” “The police said that ligali.”
When the cops said, “illegal,” what they heard was “igali”. This is where the word igali (shack).
And here is something extra, if you want to know where the term towning comes from, click here.
October 3, 2013 § 7 Comments
Sinead O’Connor Wrote Miley Cyrus a tough letter. The letter is honest and speaks about the music Industry. Those of you who may not know Sinead O’connor, google her. You might remember her song, “Nothing Compares to You”. She says to Miley in her open letter that the music business will make her think that she wants to do the things it is making her do, “let the music business make a prostitute of you.” Miley said that her hair cut and latest song, Wrecking Ball were inspired by O’Connor. Then O’Connor wrote this blistering tough love open letter to Miley. This is not just relevant to Miley, it’s relevant to many people who aren’t even in the music or entertainment business.
I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today i’ve been dodging phone calls from various newspapers who wished me to remark upon your having said in Rolling Stone your Wrecking Ball video was designed to be similar to the one for Nothing Compares… So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love.
I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping.
Nothing but harm will come in the long run, from allowing yourself to be exploited, and it is absolutely NOT in ANY way an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued (even by you) more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.
I am happy to hear I am somewhat of a role model for you and I hope that because of that you will pay close attention to what I am telling you.
The music business doesn’t give a shit about you, or any of us. They will prostitute you for all you are worth, and cleverly make you think its what YOU wanted.. and when you end up in rehab as a result of being prostituted, ‘they’ will be sunning themselves on their yachts in Antigua, which they bought by selling your body and you will find yourself very alone.
None of the men oggling you give a shit about you either, do not be fooled. Many’s the woman mistook lust for love. If they want you sexually that doesn’t mean they give a fuck about you. All the more true when you unwittingly give the impression you don’t give much of a fuck about yourself. And when you employ people who give the impression they don’t give much of a fuck about you either. No one who cares about you could support your being pimped.. and that includes you yourself.
Yes, I’m suggesting you don’t care for yourself. That has to change. You ought be protected as a precious young lady by anyone in your employ and anyone around you, including you. This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them pray [sic] for animals and less than animals (a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and the associated media).
You are worth more than your body or your sexual appeal. The world of showbiz doesn’t see things that way, they like things to be seen the other way, whether they are magazines who want you on their cover, or whatever.. Don’t be under any illusions.. ALL of them want you because they’re making money off your youth and your beauty.. which they could not do except for the fact your youth makes you blind to the evils of show business. If you have an innocent heart you can’t recognise those who do not.
I repeat, you have enough talent that you don’t need to let the music business make a prostitute of you. You shouldn’t let them make a fool of you either. Don’t think for a moment that any of them give a flying fuck about you. They’re there for the money.. we’re there for the music. It has always been that way and it will always be that way. The sooner a young lady gets to know that, the sooner she can be REALLY in control.
You also said in Rolling Stone that your look is based on mine. The look I chose, I chose on purpose at a time when my record company were encouraging me to do what you have done. I felt I would rather be judged on my talent and not my looks. I am happy that I made that choice, not least because I do not find myself on the proverbial rag heap now that I am almost 47 yrs of age.. which unfortunately many female artists who have based their image around their sexuality, end up on when they reach middle age.
Real empowerment of yourself as a woman would be to in future refuse to exploit your body or your sexuality in order for men to make money from you. I needn’t even ask the question.. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that men are making more money than you are from you getting naked. Its really not at all cool. And its sending dangerous signals to other young women. Please in future say no when you are asked to prostitute yourself. Your body is for you and your boyfriend. It isn’t for every spunk-spewing dirtbag on the net, or every greedy record company executive to buy his mistresses diamonds with.
As for the shedding of the Hannah Montana image.. whoever is telling you getting naked is the way to do that does absolutely NOT respect your talent, or you as a young lady. Your records are good enough for you not to need any shedding of Hannah Montana. She’s waaaaaaay gone by now.. Not because you got naked but because you make great records.
Whether we like it or not, us females in the industry are role models and as such we have to be extremely careful what messages we send to other women. The message you keep sending is that its somehow cool to be prostituted.. its so not cool Miley.. its dangerous. Women are to be valued for so much more than their sexuality. we aren’t merely objects of desire. I would be encouraging you to send healthier messages to your peers.. that they and you are worth more than what is currently going on in your career. Kindly fire any motherfucker who hasn’t expressed alarm, because they don’t care about you.
October 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
After Andraka’s uncle died of pancreatic cancer, he decided to go ask some cancer experts for help. Of 200 hundred he asked, only one doctor of oncology was willing to provide him with a lab he could use after school. After spending many hours in the lab, Andraka successfully developed a test for pancreatic cancer that is 168 times faster, 400 times more sensitive, and 26,000 times less expensive than the medical standard.
He looked beyond the experts and did his own thing.
Inspiring and so incredible. Here’s to Andraka who beat the experts. What a champ. He is only 15.
Well done to Intel for doing this.
October 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
This one is my favourite. This was brilliant without being controversial like normal. It drove a great point home
Pick one. Loved this.
Originally appeared here
September 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
This is terrifying. How this guy decided to just stand there even though he knows that it could be tickets. Damn.
September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
Oh man, I can’t stop laughing at this ad. Nice job Mercedes. Nice job. Good old advertising as it should be.