Sunday, 31 July 2016

Homeless and Destitute, Not a Spectacle

CEOs and other business leaders reportedly raised R31million to help the homeless. This they did by sleeping out, on the cordoned off Nelson Mandela bridge, exposed to the elements – not. When this fundraising effort first caught my attention, I without much thought declared it an insult to the homeless and a farce. I saw some justification for the effort by way of a quote attributed to one of the organisers; something along the lines of this being an opportunity for the top of the pile to experience life of the bottom of the pile. The sleep-out hardly achieves this but that is hardly the point or is it?
Those who support the sleep-out argue that the homeless need all the help they can get. A caller on Radio2000 impatiently asked, shouting actually, “if these guys did not do this, who was going to do it?” I presume the caller was referring to the fundraising and not the sleep-out but I can’t be sure. Here is the thing, the fortunate and well to do should give and should help, where possible, the less fortunate, no question. Any effort to help make this here country better for more than the CEOs should be applauded. Generosity however, does not buy anyone the privilege to denigrate those that stand to benefit – or not – from such generosity.
Marvin rings my bell from time to time and with as much dignity as he can muster, he asks for R10 so that he can be allowed into the shelter for the night. He is homeless. On nights that he can’t raise the entrance fee to the shelter or maybe choose to buy food with the money or a drink; he sleeps on the street, literally. He does so without a windbreaker, beanie, wifi, fire or security. This is Marvin’s reality, being homeless. The CEOs and those that organised Wi-Fi, fire and catering are not homeless. Reasons for being homeless are varied mainly, the homeless are destitute. These are the people who do not know where their next meal will come from. The sleep-out was fully catered.
I write this from the comfort of my living room. What right then do I have to speak on behalf of the homeless? None at all. I do however have the privilege to speak my mind when the privileged buy their way out of common decency. This is not an attempt to spend the night and time with the homeless, to understand their circumstances or plight. It is almost like that dwarf-throwing thing in the US and Canada. Those who supported it argued that the dwarfs got paid good money for it. Those against it argued “these are human beings”. Would people react differently to this sleep-out effort, I wonder if CEOs did it merely for the experience and raised no money for any cause? Without the R31million, would this be just a “let’s see how the other side live?” No it wouldn’t because what happened on the Nelson Mandela bridge resembles more an open air concert than an experience on the streets, with nothing to your name. I’m told not to forget the R31million. Yes, the R31million is there and much more and it should be given abundantly to help the less fortunate.
The CEOs are some of the smartest people I know. Surely 5 minutes of thought about this would have dissuaded participation? No, instead the sleep-out happened for the second time and seems set to continue and probably get bigger. No surprise there, the Americans voted for George W twice. Money can and does buy pretty much anything. The Sunday newspapers will have the pictures of the well-meaning CEOs out in the cold, for a good cause. They would not have been cold, hungry or unsafe – the stuff the homeless face every day and night. The same CEO’s could have agreed to raise the money over a conference call, on a golf course, through a gala dinner or even at Polo. They chose to make their giving more meaningful I guess. “Not only will I raise lots of money for you, I will share your daily experience, for one night. Wait, ok not really your experience but imagine what R31million can get you – whole new shelter or may be extend two others.” Privilege is truly a nice thing. Like the goose down K-Way jacket, it insulates you from the ravages of poverty. Like that liqueur it numbs you and allows you not to see or hear the call: “I am human too”. Privilege should not however protect you from the obligation to be considerate.  There is no worse form of violence a human being can be subjected to than poverty; I would rather you did not make a spectacle of it.  Put differently, just because another is caught in the pouring rain, it doesn’t make it right for you to piss on him on some “he’s wet anyway and besides, I am giving him a set of fresh clothes anyways”. You are privileged, you have 2 and a half houses and good shoes. Just drive in your lane.  

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.