Monday, 04 July 2016

Love the Fascist

Some people just won’t leave you alone with your BS. You open your mouth, say something controversial and now you have to back it up! Thembelihle is one such person. Don’t get me wrong, I love the warm beautiful, relentlessly truthful soul she is. She fixes heads and hearts too so all things being equal, I may just need her for either or both of those so I can’t be too blasé about anything she says or better still, demands.
Love is fascist, I say. She looks at me with a mixture of incredulity and disappointment. Without a word she says, “love’s not like that my friend” or something close to that. Resounding disapproval and a challenge to back up my BS. So, instead of being on my bike to nowhere, I’m here appeasing Thembi.
But seriously, love is fascist. It has these supposedly non-negotiable premises that you should just sign up to honour and obey, for better and worse. I am not talking about relationships, no, I am talking about the concept of love. Yep, that very thing that no two people can agree it is – yes that one. That thing that Isaac Hayes, Teddy Pendegras, Barry White all bellow silky sweet nothings about. Except that it is fascist, that part they leave to me. Love demands nothing less than total submission or else… It is not like one lover man or woman can decide on their own meaning and definition of love. There’s apparently a universal meaning and definition and we all should get with it – so to speak.
I’m not easily, readily taught but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I have learned that we are disappointed by our expectations and fooled by our beliefs – not people or events. What’s that got to do with love, you may ask. Probably nothing but there’s no context that can contest with love when it comes to being fooled and being disappointed or feeling that you are. It is the stuff loving is made of no wonder the biggest love songs are so sad. Some would even suggest that love is the way it is since the beginning of loving itself so we should all get over ourselves and get with it – in a manner of speaking.
You see, that’s the BS right there! For starters, when exactly was this beginning of loving? Was it before or after that period when women were clobbered over the head and dragged to a nearby cave? Before or after Christ? So much has been written on this love thing that one’s head spins at the mere thought of the stuff. The one thing sensible, in my view of course, is MaBaeps’ favourite Shakespeare’s sonnet: … for love is not love that alters when it alteration finds. Or something close to that.
Undoubtedly, feelings are real. Feeling love and in love is equally really or thereabouts. I’m tempted to ask “what is real” but neither you nor I would want to unzip those pair of pants, would we now. The thing is this, there is a collection of feelings that commonly numbs your mind and pulverises your being into thoughtless submission. It does so about people, events and all manner of things. Tom Robbins writes powerfully and more coherently about this state and I’m not worthy to even attempt paraphrasing. The book is called Still life with woodpecker. More about that book and Tom some other time. For now, love is fascist. No sooner than you are declared or you declare to love or to be in love, you are a goner. It’s tickets. It’s no longer about anything other than you are in love. Try contesting that – it’s dawn and firing squad for you.
“How can you say you love him/her when you…?” You love him/her so… Take your children, if you have any; it is incomprehensible to some that it is precisely when you dislike your children the most that you need to love them. It is the thing that chains you to the little shits even when they push you away and act like absolute tossers.  It demands nothing less than total submission. Thought is pretty blunt an instrument when it comes to love and yes, it yields to no reason. It is reason in and by itself. It is the one thing that says “because I say so” and actually means it completely.
On what basis then do you or anyone else think that it is something to be tamed and domesticated? Circumscribed by rules and controlled? Enticed with little rewards threatened with punishment? Think of fascism. You step out of line, tries to reason or differ; you are summarily taken out at dawn, lined up and shot. Finish. You dance to the tune of the fascist -  you are spared or even rewarded. Love doesn’t even give a toss that you are in love. It does what it will do regardless. No neat little lines of reason and rationale, no balance – hence “falling”. Head over heels at that – the worst kind of fall. The down a flight of stairs kind.
So what is to be done – except steering clear of the fascist that is love? Perhaps we could take a lesson from the wild. Okay, that is too risky. How about the nature reserves or game parks? Take the lions for an example. They get together in a pack probably feeling all manner of emotions for each other. They don’t make a big deal of it. They don’t get all oooh and aaah about nothing. They get together to hunt, to eat, to survive.
How about instead of signing up with the fascist, we just get together to hunt, eat, raise the offsprings and survive? Because humans are different, better even than animals. Looking at the world and what it has come to, I very much doubt that.
I have no doubt though that love is fascist. It simply won’t let you or anyone just be. It is the worst kind of fascist too. The kind that somehow gets you to accept it as the mere order of things and that somehow it is a good thing. The kind that claims to be patient, kind and all manner of things – except it won’t let you just be who you want to be; not when you have signed up with it.
The heart, the symbol of love, the blood pump – just you cross love, blood will flow. Litres of the stuff have been spilled, in the name of love, the fascist.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Tomorrow, Us and Them

Today was not born at daybreak. It has been long in the making and even longer in the coming. Time, the mother of all things, is also the light that shines on yesterday’s lies, baking them into today’s truth. It is said that time heals all wounds – I say it covers all wounds, fades all memories. Sometimes, it makes fact of legend.
The people of Thokoza, Katlehong, Vosloorus didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that there will be war between their respective communities and people who lived in the hostels in those townships. These communities had until the fateful 80s lived side by side with the migrant labourers who lived in the hostels, albeit with a measure of mutual contempt. Reportedly all this was beef between Inkatha and SDUs (self-defence units).  This was a long time coming. We could take a trip back to the days of Mfeqane and the nation building efforts of king Shaka and Moshoeshoe. But then you would lose interest. The short version is that there are different nations, delineated primarily by language, customs and cultural practices. The common ingredient to the nationhood seems to be the enduring contempt of the other, whoever they may be, as long as they are not of us. Whatever that means. Sol Plaatjie writes beautifully of the bloodletting in Mhudi – worth a read.
Batswana, apparently unmatched in their cowardice (according to amaZulu), would be heard shouting “ko matebeleng”, to the Ndebeles, whenever there is a twister blowing through the township. Mind you, Matebele is shorthand for all those that are of Nguni descent.  Similarly, amaZulu would have some choice words for the Basotho and so on and so forth.  Recently, the South Africans of a darker hue refer to similarly hued Africans as makwerekwere. We all know how that all progressed; from looting businesses to torching a man alive to gruesome public stabbing of another. Then of course an elderly gentleman refers to me, by extension to be fair, as a kaffir without batting an eyelid. He too would be called something unpleasant by another group and so it goes – a series of yesterdays building up to today. Here we are, unconsciously if not seemingly comfortably standing on a ledge – taunting an avalanche.
The thing about name-calling is the death that seems to follow.  The death that is so long in the coming that the yesterday on which it rode to get here is blissfully forgotten. It is all taken to have been a sudden change of events, an inexplicable turn of relations where neighbour took arms against neighbour. A sudden madness that gripped ordinary folk who otherwise would not harm a fly? As sudden as the bloodletting that took place between the Thutsi and Hutu people perhaps?
This is an age-old science, it seems. A science as old as humanity maybe? It seems human beings simply can’t help themselves. We make less of the other and that way when the killing begins, it is not killing as it is extermination of something less than human. It is the enemy, the women, the homosexuals, the infidels, the albino, the blacks and so on and so forth. Even as we kill and denigrate and make less and all those things; sometimes in the name of a higher goal or out come – we covet. Somehow we believe that by killing off the other, we stand to attain some better position. The problem is, we can’t kill off the other. The children, even generations later, return to avenge their own. The long coming yesterday becomes a blood-drenched today – building up to a similarly blood-drenched tomorrow.
Perhaps it gets better or even stops, when we realise that as we US, we OTHER. Come to think of it, aren’t nations the cause of all wars like living is the cause of all dying?
Letting me be, offensive as my being may be to you, is the ticket to you being, whatever that may be. Let’s try a different tomorrow, we’re too late for today.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

When the children shall rise

Access to education and training is one of the few avenues out of poverty and are sure avenue to maintain pre-existing privilege.  Someone smart wrote in one of those UK publications, the kind you can take seriously, about the glass floor.  Many of us would have heard about the glass ceiling – apparently there is a glass floor too.  You can see through both even when you never breach them.

The way the glass floor works is that once your family reaches a particular level of material well being, you as a child – no matter how shitty- will never fall below a certain level or standard of living.  One of the many reasons for this is the childhood and upbringing you get to experience and enjoy.  In Cape Town you would have attended SACS, Rondebosch, Bishops. In Johannesburg you would have attended St. Johns, St. Stithians, King David.  Yes, these are all boys schools.  You would, depending on your family choices, proceed to UCT, Wits, Stellenbosch.  Sometimes with the mates you made in prep (they are not called primary schools like in the townships and other suburbs close to railway lines.

These relationships persist and are generally mutually supportive too.  The relationships help with employment opportunities later in life and provide access to various other opportunities that are not readily available for Sue Ordinary or Normal Sibeko.  The material wellbeing and social standing of the families provide a safety catch, the glass ceiling through which the children will hardly ever fall. 
Keeping the status quo means that these unearned privileges persist and the membership of the smart class remains fairly monolithic. Of course once in a while a son of a convicted felon, a poor mother struggling to make ends meet – so bad that the son has to grow up in a children’s home – breaks the glass ceiling and becomes one of our finest judges.  This is hardly the point.

Hopefully the events of the past couple of weeks will go a long way to start a proper rethink of access to tertiary institutions.  Of course along the way you will be met with asinine comments aplenty.  Some are so cleverly disguised you will get tempted to engage them.  One that caught my attention is how the question of universities autonomy is suddenly muddled up with governments obligation to fund universities.  I always try to have civil engagements on Twitter – except with Helen Zille, Dan Roodt and Steve Hofmeyr – I find it very difficult, especially with the two of them who are reasonably intelligent folk.  This autonomy versus government involvement debate tested the limits of my civility.  Anyhow, I suggested, as I do now that the autonomy of the university is and must remain in respect of what to teach, how to teach and who to teach it too. This limited only by the anti-discrimination constitutional safeguards.  Similarly, the government has a role to play in the access to tertiary education and to ensure that this right is realised by all – subject of course to the constitutional limitations of the right.  In fact the government is enjoined to protect and safeguard the autonomy of the universities – this is almost as right as we are told paying TV licences and e-tolls is. Just because government coughs up the money – rightly so as it is its duty and not a favour to the citizenry -  the government doesn't buy the right to meddle.  The flip-side is that the universities may not use autonomy to implement discriminatory policies or policies meant to benefit only a few privileged members of the university community.  Be it language or basic amenities such as a beer once in a while.  Being poor at Bethel High School near Bodenstein is not an issue.  Even the “rich” there struggled – there was nothing to buy, the whole experience of the school was pro poor.  Being poor in Rosebank Cape Town is a whole different proposition. The emotional and mental toll of it is largely ignored because those who suffer from it don’t really want to talk about it and for the rest, such do not really exist. It does however make the tough environment that much harder. Throw in the under-preparedness of the same students the  you have the perfect academic/financial exclusion cocktail.

These are difficult issues to address. No wonder they are the problems of governments and universities.  The smartest among us are rightfully tasked with solving the toughest of our challenges.  A pissing autonomy/funding contest just make me want to choke the pompous out of them.  Both sides have performed poorly in managing their respective sides of this complex. Both sides have now been emphatically reminded whom and what this is all about – the students (present and future) and SA’s tomorrow.  Now, will that rumoured 3 year old report that apparently contains the making of free tertiary education see the light of day and scrutiny?  Will the funding and expenses of the universities become more transparent and have people on them who have more than the glass-floor perspective?

As for the student movement that put a pause on our business-as-usual asses I can only say, congratulations and well done. It also showed me the wisdom of my grandmother – which I never doubted past the age of 38 – that if you want anything DONE, give it to the WOMEN, if you want anything DISCUSSED, give it to the men. Which brings up another question, why is having a penis still such a thing? 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Spear has fallen, broken, rusted, lost. . .

There was a time, not so far in the past but far, far away from memory, when the refrain "pick up the spear has fallen!" would have reverberated around and defined the mood at FNB stadium. In truth, the spear fell a long, long time ago and was not, as required, picked up. It is lying, probably broken or rusted, somewhere between the release of Nelson Mandela and the conclusion of CODESA II. It has, sadly, been downhill ever since. Of course there is another view: that the spear was picked up and that it continues to pierce the way forward for South Africa and for Black South Africans in all their glorious shades and hues.

Today, there's no chants of "pick up the spear has fallen". Today there are boos and cheers, song and dance and tears and smiles. Today we celebrate a life lived and cherished by many. Today is about reflection, recognition and understanding. Reflecting on the time Mandela was active in South African political history. The time interrupted by some 27 years. The time rebooted in 1990 and shut down in 1999. A short time in the history of the struggle for a free and equal society. It is time to recognize the contribution of Nelson Mandela to the emergence of the South Africa we know today. From the instruction he issued to Umkhonto we Sizwe to defend Shell House, the headquarters of the ANC, as it then was. To defend it against the attack by Inkatha. To the decision to disband Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Throughout his political life, Nelson Mandela remained, in his own words, a disciplined member of the ANC. In this capacity he championed the cause of non-racialism, justice and peace. Contradictory as these may sometimes be. For the ANC and for Nelson Mandela personally, these were not up for discussion. He declared "I have fought against white domination. I have fought against black domination. . ." The fight against white domination seems to have ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as president of the Republic of South Africa. That I believe was the beginning of the fight against black domination. He may have been the face and embodiment of the struggle against Apartheid but he was so as a member of the collective that is the African National Congress. A collective he would never cross or be against. Always a disciplined cadre of the ANC. The collective that is always at the ready to fight black against black domination.

Nelson Mandela is not by any means unique in any of the attributes for which he is revered around the world. These attributes are in fact the stuff Blackness is made of. From the time he went on a visit to Orania, that enclave of Afrikaner separatism, where he is reputed to have shared a cuppa with the wife of apartheid's architect. To the time when he led the springboks onto the field when they scored a rare victory against the All Blacks to claim the rugby World Cup in 1995. This turning of the other cheek is what millions of black people do and have always done. When it comes to other black people though, there's no turning the other cheek - there's black on black violence. It is not about peace and reconciliation, it is about self-defence units and about destroying the opponent, defending the ANC. The kindness he is reputed to have shown his enemies is not unique. It is the same kindness that black women continue to raise white children, often at the unavoidable expense of their own. The tolerance and accommodation for and of whiteness is what black people do and will continue to do. The tolerance and accommodation that we show the 2 white people at a township funeral by conducting the proceedings in English/Afrikaans. The courage of Nelson Mandela was etched on the defiant faces of children who faced the brutal might of apartheid forces. The women and men of the unrelenting defiance campaign. The church and civic leaders who took to the streets to claim their humanity. Their struggles created the legend that is Mandela which in turn sustained their struggle.

Nelson Mandela like everyone and everything, is not just one thing. He is many things, some contradictory, some beautiful, some ugly. He is as much the Nelson Mandela of the Magoo's bomber as he is of St George's cathedral peaceful demonstrators. He is the Mandela of the self-defence units and of the mourners at a mass funeral in Boipatong, Soweto, Ulundi. But history is written by the victors; or is that rewritten? This is the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela that I pause to pay tribute, respect and gratitude to. As Jacob Zuma said in that BBC interview: "there are no more Mandelas".
Just Iike with his release from prison, the first democratic elections, the victory of the springboks, the victory of Bafana-Bafana, the hosting of the soccer World Cup - the euphoria of unity, of the rainbow nation and of nonracial South Africa, will pass. We will go back to the two in one South Africa, back to life as we have come to know and expect it. We will return to the crazy normal that is our South Africa. We will move on to the politics of electioneering and finger pointing, of lies and empty promises, threats and fear-mongering.

Until then, I pause to pay respect to Madiba. To celebrate his life and to wish his family and loved ones well and condolences. Hamba kahle qabane, the spear has fallen, broken, lost.

The Spear has fallen, broken, rusted, lost. . .

There was a time, not so far in the past but far, far away from memory, when the refrain "pick up the spear has fallen!" would have reverberated around and defined the mood at FNB stadium. In truth, the spear fell a long, long time ago and was not, as required, picked up. It is lying, probably broken or rusted, somewhere between the release of Nelson Mandela and the conclusion of CODESA II. It has, sadly, been downhill ever since. Of course there is another view: that the spear was picked up and that it continues to pierce the way forward for South Africa and for Black South Africans in all their glorious shades and hues. 

Today, there's no chants of "pick up the spear has fallen". Today there are boos and cheers, song and dance and tears and smiles. Today we celebrate a life lived and cherished by many. Today is about reflection, recognition and understanding. Reflecting on the time Mandela was active in South African political history. The time interrupted by some 27 years. The time rebooted in 1990 and shut down in 1999. A short time in the history of the struggle for a free and equal struggle. It is time to recognize the contribution of Nelson Mandela to emergence of the South Africa we know today. From the instruction he issued to Umkhonto we Sizwe to defend Shell House, the headquarters of the ANC, as it then was. To defend it against the attack by Inkatha. To the decision to disband Umkhonto we Sizwe. 

Throughout his political life, Nelson Mandela remained, in his own words, a disciplined member of the ANC. In this capacity he champion the cause of non-racialism, justice and peace. Contradictory as these may sometimes be. For the ANC and for Nelson Mandela personally, these were not up for discussion. He declared "I have fought against white domination. I have fought against black domination. . ." The fight against white domination seems to have ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as president of the Republic of South Africa. That I believe was the beginning of the fight against black domination. He may have been the face and embodiment of the struggle against Apartheid but he was so as member of the collective thatch is the African National Congress. A collective he would never cross or be against. Always a disciplined cadre of the ANC. 

Nelson Mandela is not by any means unique in any of the attributes for which he is revered around the world. These attributes are in fact the stuff Blackness is made of. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Then there was Marikana . . .

The police killed black people in Sharpeville. The police killed black people in Marikana. The police kill black people. The murder of black people by police is dramatic and in your face. The murder of black people by their circumstances is a different matter - one we all wish we could avoid or postpone for another day, for someone else.

The bickering about corruption and service delivery; the rape and murder of women and children; the seemingly random murder - these are the things black life is made of. In the greater scheme of things, even the dramatic and public murder of black people on our TV screens, it's all but a flash of time. Life carries on. Come to think of it, if life was to stop every time there's a murder or rape or abuse or any other form of atrocity visited on a black life, life in the black world would stand still and never move. These horrible things are the things that define being black. Of course, those with the privilege of being outside the circle of black life get to "wonder how this can be?" 

Explanations and analyses and reports and opinions are always on offer. About "these people". These people who are not us - who are not of us. The privilege of being outside the black zone is that life moves on unless punctuated by some aberration. Rape, murder, random violence are not the stuff life is about outside the black zone. When these get to visit the normal non-black zone, it is an aberration, it is something that bears some explanation. "Normal people" do not do such things - the things of the black zone. There's always disagreement about the solutions or even appropriate actions. How can it not be? There's even disagreement about what it is that happened, is happening, will always happen. 

Outside the black zone there are normal people who live and act normally. The normal that is expected of those who live in the black zone. The normal stuff like food, space, health, fun, laughter and an odd tear here and there. The black zone is over there, not here. Never mind police brutality, how about life brutality. Imagine, because that's all you can do, imagine brutality being the word to describe your life. The brutality of poverty, marginalisation and animal-ization of people, human beings. This in the black zone is the normal. Here life is so low people look up just to see the bottom. Which rights do the humans in the black zone have?

Are they even human? Human rights are for humans.

We wait for the upheaval. We wait for the forces that will throw us into each other's shoes. The forces that will bring the flow of raw sewer to the suburbs and serenity of quiet family life to the squatter camps. It is easy to avoid what we don't see; refuse to see; avoid seeing. The value of property trumps that of human life. But then again, that life we talk about, must be human first. 

All this as we speak of "celebrating" Human Rights Day and forget Sharpeville Day. But Sharpeville Day refuses to go away, it keeps coming back.